Nicyes, Alquis, and Mercer stood together outside a small wooden building. A warm wind blew, but Alquis shivered nonetheless. There was a stink of stagnation about the town, not all of it from standing water.

“Everyone here is afraid,” said Nicyes. “They don’t say it with words, but you can hear it in the way they talk to us, and to each other, you can see it in the way they move.” Alquis and Mercer nodded their heads and murmured their agreement. “The folks are probably having the same problems we saw in Chaika.”

“We already knew that,” said Alquis. “Isn’t that what the message you got from the Order was about? They wanted us to come out because people were disappearing here, too. Not to mention the plague and the random deaths.”

“Whatever.” Nicyes shook his head.

Mercer spoke up. “A lad showed me around town yesterday. Reasonable fellow, very knowledgeable. Told me what’s what, where, and how.”

“Still have your purse?” asked Nicyes. “How much did it cost you?”

Mercer sounded shocked. “Of course I do, and I said it was reasonable, didn’t I?”

Nicyes snorted and crossed his arms. He took a step back and put his weight on his back leg, trying to look as casual as possible. “Carry on, then.”

Mercer took a defensive tone. “When I asked him about trouble in the area, he told me to avoid the marshes. They’ve had some strange problems out there for years–”

“Wonderful,” interrupted Nicyes. “Then let’s–”

“He wasn’t finished, Nicyes,” Alquis said. “Go on, Mercer.”

Mercer cleared his throat, and continued. “Right. Well, recently there’s been a bit of trouble with some of the farmers on the outskirts of the marshes. The land around the edge is really fertile, but there’s been a rash of incidents. He couldn’t be more specific, unfortunately. And then there’s been a lot of activity with the cult of Heros.”

Alquis looked taken aback for a moment. “Heros? Who’s that? Local deity?”

Nicyes uncrossed his arms and clapped Alquis on the shoulder. “He’s the Vagari aspect of Hades — nothing to worry about. I’m sure the cult’s only risen to prominence ’cause the locals are afraid the earth’s going to open and swallow ’em up.” He turned his gaze to Mercer. “That’s usually what happens to make a cult’s popularity soar, am I right?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked Mercer.

“It’s just a question, old man. No reason to get all defensive.” Nicyes leaned forward. “Alquis, you check out the cult. I’ll check out these farmers by the marsh. Mercer, you stick around town and wait for a messenger from Esther or Arturo. It’s bad enough we’re split up as it is.”