“With Simona gone and the Gilded Flame in disarray, I believe that leaves you without leads,” said Valare. “You are at a distinct disadvantage if you were hoping to do any good here in Chaika — not that I believe you would.”

Mercer hung his head in shame, and both Alquis and Nicyes looked uncomfortable with the lecture they’d just received.

“What would you have them do?” asked Myrtle. “They came here to help, and you see what has befallen the city. It was wrong for them to doubt the Hermetic Order, and it’s clear they understand their mistake now.”

Valare narrowed her gaze at Mercer. “I already know the extent of their usefulness to Chaika and Hermes. I’m of the opinion that we would do well enough without.”

She sighed and closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose as though to ward off a headache or nausea. “And yet,” she peered at Myrtle with half-open eyes, “here you are availing yourself to me on their behalf. Why, Myrtle?”

“I was there, Valare, I watched them fight. I helped them–”

“–You don’t expect me to believe the giant–”

“–What would you believe, Valare?” asked Myrtle. “What, of what we’ve told you, benefits us in the slightest. We’re not trying to rob you of your precious time or resources, we stand nothing to gain. We want to help you. And the Hermetic Order. And Chaika.”

“I would believe,” said Valare, slowly, “that this one has put a spell over your eyes.” She gestured in the direction of Alquis. “To see what is not real.”

Myrtle recoiled with a confused look, as though she’d been slapped across the face.

“I would believe,” continued Valare,” that this one has been trying to gain my trust, perhaps to discredit me as you have been so discredited among your colleagues.” She gestured to Mercer. “Everything he promised to do for the Hermetic Order was a lie. Everything he said he would do fell through.”

Mercer didn’t look up to meet her eye. If possible, he grew smaller under her gaze.

“And this one,” said Valare, with an air of finality, “has been making surreptitious forays into our temple’s inner sanctum with the goal of swaying the most powerful minds we have taken under our protection.” She concluded her speech with a dismissive wave. “Your efforts to corrupt our Order have all failed. Be gone from my sight.”