Esther set foot on the lonely isle, and behind her, she could hear the ferryman poling his raft away quickly. She sensed fear in him when she originally inquired about the island, but she didn’t know the nature of his fear.

Everyone in this wretched town was afraid — even her companions. Arturo, Alquis, Mercer — even Nicyes advised her not to go. But if this island was the source of the town’s nameless dread, why not strike out at it immediately? Why should they wait?

Nicyes said not to travel alone, and Arturo was in no condition to travel after his encounter with the cultists the day before. Alquis wanted time to research the history of the island with the locals before journeying there, so they would know what they were up against. Mercer had declined without giving a reason. There was a clear need, someone had to do something about the problem, so she went alone.

The ferryman was already halfway back across the lake — he’d be back before nightfall by arrangement, if he didn’t abandon her outright. Until then, Esther would have plenty of time to explore the tiny lake-isle.

It took her longer to walk around the circumference of the island than she expected. Something about the distance troubled her, but she pushed it to the back of her mind — the size of the island didn’t particularly matter, only its contents. She found evidence that the ferry made regular trips to the island, but there were no signs of habitation.

The interior of the island was thickly wooded, and Esther had no real desire to explore beyond the beach. There was nothing further to be found on the beach, however, so she steeled herself for the inland trek. As she prepared to march into the woods, she heard a disturbance in the water. She turned toward it and drew her twin axes.

Something was about to come out of the water. She welcomed it.