“I think I was most surprised by your level of interest, really. It isn’t often that someone comes to us with so much curiosity and understanding.” The man looked at Alquis hopefully. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay? You’re more than welcome to join the order.”

Alquis shook his head sadly. “I appreciate the offer, and I’m sorry to decline. I have a commitment to another order, which I’ll admit is part of the reason for my interest in the first place. Still, I find your organization both refreshingly open and at the same time intriguing. I only wish the Order of Orion were less clandestine at times, I should think I have a great deal to offer them.”

The cultist nodded slowly. “Your answer saddens me, though it remains your decision.”

Alquis rose to his feet and nodded to his host. “I thank you for your generosity in hosting me these last few days. I have an investigation I must attend. I hope I haven’t been too much of a bother.”

“You’ve been no trouble at all,” said the cultist, who rose to his feet as well. “You aren’t leaving us?”

Alquis shook his head. “I’m afraid I must. As I said, I have a commitment to another order, and my duty calls to me.”

His host reached to Alquis and clasped his hands in his. “You are more than welcome to return whenever you like, to stay for however long you like.” He gestured toward the door. “I will see you off, of course.”

They walked together, and when they stopped at the entryway, Alquis bowed deeply to his host, thanking him again for his hospitality. “If my travels bring me to Ephine again, I will be sure to visit, my friend.” He smiled and turned to leave, but his host bade him stop. “I really must go.”

“Wait a moment, I’ll be right back.”

Alquis stood in the entryway and waited for his host to return. A few moments later, the cultist came back, carrying a weathered scroll, which he offered to Alquis.

“It isn’t much, but I hope it’s something to remember us fondly by.”

The two embraced, and Alquis departed the cultist’s home, to seek out his companions.