“It’s a shame Arturo ran off the way he did,” said Mercer. “You know he was worried something awful about those Gilded Flame thugs. He’d be pleased to know they’ve been chased off.”

A silent sigh passed through the room, or the equivalent thereof. It was an oppressive thing, a combination of anger, disappointment, and heartache over their recent failure. The silence, however inaudible, was nearly deafening.

“What is there to do now?” asked Alquis. “We’ve lost now Esther and Arturo. Do we look for them? What can we do? What can we do? Does it even make sense to remain in Chaika at this stage?”

Nicyes shook his head. “This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Both of them should have known better. The lot of us should have been able to do something.”

“This place is cursed,” said Mercer. “All of Chaika, likely the whole region. Cursed to fall. There’s nothing we can do.”

“There has to be something,” said Nicyes. “We’ve come this far, there must be someone we can help — something we can do.”

“Which brings us back to the question,” said Alquis, “does it even make sense?”

Mercer sighed, and scratched at the cloth covering his wounded eye.

Nicyes grumbled. “We’re here, aren’t we?”

“Yes, and clearly ineffective,” said ALquis. “For all we know, for all we’ve learned since our arrival, there’s nothing we can do to change the fate of Chaika.”

“Truly?” said Mercer.

“You, yourself, said it was cursed. It would seem so,” said Alquis.

Nicyes shook his head again. “I can’t believe that,” he said. “The Order of Orion sent us here with a mission. You know them, they wouldn’t send us here for nothing.”

“They sent five of us here, Nicyes,” said Alquis. “We’re the ones who made a mess of the mission. It’s on our heads.”

“Then that settles it, doesn’t it?” said Mercer. “It’s as you said, Nicyes.”

Nicyes and Alquis looked at Mercer.

Mercer continued, “we stay here ’til the bitter end. It was our mission, our failure. We stay here until it’s over. We go down with the city.”

“That’s foolishness,” said Alquis. “Our deaths would help no one, least of all the Order. We ought to report back to them with news of our failure, and let them make the decision.”

“We don’t know that we’ve truly failed,” said Nicyes. “We slew the beast the cult summoned.”

“One of how many?” asked Alquis. “They seem to have every intent to call more. We can’t fight them all. And recall that our numbers have dwindled since the last encounter.”

“We could seek aid from the people,” said Mercer. “Call upon the aid of those who remain, those with power.”

“To do what?” asked Alquis. “They owe us nothing and have not a shred of evidence to prove our claims. They’ve been blind to the activity of Pan’s cult thus far, what’s to say we can convince them of it now?”

“We have Myrtle,” said Nicyes. “Mercer, weren’t you working on something with the Hermetic Order? Didn’t you have a contact within their Order?”

“I, er, I don’t know if I can be much help there,” said Mercer. “We had a bit of a falling-out.”

“Well, it seems the time for a last-chance course of action,” said Alquis. “If ever there was a time to call in any favors we might have, it would be now.” He added a moment later. “Fortune may smile on us.”