“What do you make of all this, Alquis?” asked Mercer.

The mage looked up from the scroll he was studying. “I can only say that if there were a worse time for Esther to go alone to explore a monster-infested island, it was a couple days ago, when she went.”

Mercer stared at him. “Meaning what?”

“Not only was trekking out there by herself ill-advised, she also did it when the creatures were at the height of their power,” replied Alquis. “If she’d waited long enough for me to research the island, I could have prepared her for what she was going to face when she got there. As it is, she went alone and,” he paused, “well, you see what happened.”

Mercer twisted a finger in his beard. “That sounds like just her luck. Was there any way she might’ve known not to go out to that island in the first place?”

“What, you mean beside the fact that the locals have warned all of us against going there, and that none of us should go anywhere dangerous like that alone?” Alquis paused for a moment, as though to give the subject some serious thought before he replied, “No, I don’t suppose there were any indications that the monsters she fought there would be anything other than insane, if otherwise completely normal, mortal men.”

He hastily added a moment later, “which I’m sure she would have cut to tiny, harmless pieces as long as she weren’t totally surrounded and overwhelmed by their obviously superior numbers first.”

Marcer rubbed his forehead and said nothing. He had a strained look on his face as he tried to reconcile several seemingly contradictory pieces of information. He already had trouble understanding Alquis at the best of times, he wondered if the mage deliberately spoke in a fashion as to send his head spinning.

Alquis had gone back to his scroll by the time Mercer spoke up again. He made an irritated noise and looked back at Mercer when asked: “Do we at least know what the creatures are? Are we sure there’s more than one?”

“I still haven’t had a chance to speak with Esther, since she hasn’t woken up yet.” He paused a moment. “Though I do have my suspicions, I won’t say anything else until I’ve gotten a description of the beasts from her. Based on her injuries, I’d say there were several. Probably more than enough to overwhelm Esther, even if she had been prepared.”