“The cave system runs under the lake,” said Myrtle, “and it could well run under the entirety of Chaika, as well. It was quite extensive. If Esther was here, it’s possible she found the caves and decided to go exploring.”

“It’s probably how their cult was able to escape notice all this time,” said Alquis. “Neither the temple of Hestia nor Demeter would allow the presence of such a destructive cult if they could help it.” He nodded to Myrtle.

“What about the Hermetic Order,” asked Nicyes, “and the Gilded Flame? And Heros’s cult, out in Ephine? I mean, someone had to know something, or else one of them must have been helping to cover their tracks.”

“Pan is the son of Hermes, is he not?” said Arturo. “The Hermetic Order enjoys a great deal of power and influence in Chaika, is it possible they are working in concert?”

Nicyes opened his mouth to speak, and at the same time, Mercer and Myrtle voiced objections, and whatever was being said was lost for a moment in the confusion. Nicyes crossed his arms and Mercer scratched his beard.

“It seems there’s some question over whether or not the Hermetic Order may be involved,” said Alquis.

“I worked with Valare and I got to know her pretty well. She was only interested in helping others,” said Mercer. “I can vouch for her and the Order.”

“As can I,” said Myrtle. “Valare is one of my friends.” She reached into the small satchel she carried with her and held up the wax figure from her laboratory. “I think this is another factor in how the cult was able to avoid notice. Each wax figure can send or receive whispered messages depending on its configuration. You can move its hands, you see,” she demonstrated with the figure in her hands, “and I believe it can also be made to listen in on nearby conversations.”

She handed the figure to Mercer, who examined the figure closely with his good eye before handing it to Nicyes. Nicyes glanced over the figure momentarily and handed it to Alquis.

“Simona,” said Myrtle, and she looked to Mercer. He avoided her gaze, so she continued, “I believe she’s the one who made the figures. I don’t know if she’s a member of the cult, or if she’s just working for them, but if she gave you one of these figures with the intent to overhear whatever you might discuss–”

“She told me it was a lucky charm.” Mercer was looking down. “Arturo was there. She convinced me I’d come to her in confidence with the thing, and that it was important somehow, and I just believed her. How could she know that I didn’t trust my own memory — how could she have known to take advantage of such a thing?”

“I think it’s likely she’s one of Pan’s brood,” said Nicyes. “It seems straightforward enough.”

“So, what do we do now?” asked Alquis. “It looks as though we have a way off the island, it may not remain open to us for very long. And we have no way of knowing if Esther is even alive, or where she might be. It was simple enough when all we needed to do was locate her on the island–”

“Aye, and she could be anywhere. She could be in the caves, or on the bottom of the lake,” said Mercer. He glared at Arturo. “It’s on your head, lad. She was watching over you, while the rest of us went on to Ephine. You ought to have returned the favor and kept an eye on her.”

Arturo stood up suddenly. “You all left by your own choice, as Esther did. I didn’t ask her to watch over me, and she didn’t ask me to do anything of the like for her. And she disappeared after you arrived back in Chaika, Mercer. You’re just as responsible for losing her as I am.”

“Let’s raise those voices a little higher, boys,” said Myrtle. “I’m sure there are some of Pan’s cult that hasn’t figured out where we are yet. In the meantime, why don’t we go over what we’re going to do, rather than what anybody failed to do?”