“The ferryman said he found her on the shore of the island, covered in sand and blood — that when he found her, he thought she was dead,” said Nicyes. “I told you not to go off on your own, idiot.”

Nicyes, Arturo, and Alquis stood around a cot in a wing of the temple of Demter, where Esther had been brought after suffering terrible injuries.

“Looks like they cleaned most of the sand out,” said Arturo as he inspected some deep, angry scratches on Esther’s arms. “I don’t see any, anyway. I think these are claw marks — was she attacked by an animal?”

Nicyes shook his head. “No idea what came after her. As far as the locals know, nothing lives on that island what can do that to a person.”

“You see these bruises, too? It’s like she was clawed and beaten. I’d be tempted to say it was done by several men, but these scratches are grouped together unlike any weapon I’ve ever seen.” Arturo scratched his chin. “They aren’t straight enough to be from a bladed weapon, they look more like they tore–”

Alquis shoved his way past Nicyes to stand next to Arturo. Nicyes threw up his arms in anger. “Ow! If you want to stand closer, just say so, don’t step over me–”

Alquis seized Arturo by the wrist and forced his fingers apart. Arturo snapped at him. “Have you gone mad? What are you–”

Then Alquis forced Arturo to hold his hand very close to the scratches on Esther’s arm, and his fingers nearly matched up with the ugly red lines. He released the hand and turned to face Nicyes. “Whatever did this to Esther,” he paused. “Might very well be man-shaped. Denizens of the lake, perhaps. Stronger, tougher, and with more durable nails than land-faring men.”

Arturo rubbed his wrist and let his jaw drop as he realized what Alquis was suggesting. He turned his hand over and stared at it, as though considering the possibility of his own hand tearing into someone’s arm. Nicyes scoffed. “You could have just said that and spared us the drama,” he said. “We’ll ask her when she comes around.”

Nicyes gestured to Esther’s unconscious form on the cot and crossed his arms. “Whenever that is.”