“If they went to all the trouble to protect it, there must be something important behind it,” said Nicyes.

“You’re making an assumption, there, Nicyes. We don’t know that they were trying to protect anything at all. We don’t even know who put the ward there,” said Alquis.

“But it is a ward, we can be sure of that much,” said Myrtle. “Whoever put it there could well be trapping something behind it. Something terrible.”

Mercer laughed, and everyone looked at him. “What?” he said. “I was just trying to imagine something more terrible than the cult of Pan. They’re among the worst of hedonistic death-cults. Disrespectful and debauchery-prone, worse than the satyrs they idolize.”

Myrtle laughed a little too, but the rest remained still

“They aren’t a death-cult,” said Alquis.

Mercer eyed him. “And that means what, exactly, at the present time?”

Nicyes cleared his throat, and Arturo idly kicked at the ground.

“There’s always a bigger fish,” said Alquis. “Best we don’t allow ourselves to be caught in between.”

“Just the same,” said Myrtle. “I think Nicyes might be partially right. It may not be protecting something or trapping something. It was that scroll that led us here, Alquis. It’s our best chance for finding a way out.”

“I could have misunderstood.”

Myrtle shook her head. “This is our best lead, and we don’t have the supplies to wait and try to figure out another route. If we try this and it works, we’re home free–”

“I’m sick of moldy bread,” interrupted Arturo.

“And we’re sick of you being sick of moldy bread,” said Nicyes, and he laughed. Everyone but Arturo made noises of mild amusement or disgust.

Myrtle continued, “and if we run into something we can’t fight, we’re just as dead. We’re out of safe options.”

After a long pause, Alquis said, “Well I think the three of us — you, Arturo, and myself — should be able to break the ward with relative haste. Arturo, we can get some real food on the surface. Or at least something fresher, I imagine.”

“You make it sound like we’ve been away for weeks,” said Mercer.

“Haven’t we?” said Alquis. “I think you’re confused.”

“It only feels that long, Alquis. I know what you mean,” said Nicyes. “If you three need help, just let me know. I won’t go far, but I can’t stand being around when you start your mysteries.” He nodded and walked away.

“And I’ll just be over here,” said Mercer, “not getting in the way.”

Alquis looked to Myrtle and Arturo. “I don’t understand. It has been weeks, hasn’t it?”