“There’s been a great deal of silence lately. Not a lot of discussion. Some loud thinking, perhaps, but not conversation,” said Alquis. “If thinking counted for conversation, we’d be greater socialites than sages.”

Mercer stopped digging. “I’m no sage.”

“True enough,” said Alquis, and he stopped rooting through the debris to wipe his brow. “It seems we’re neither, in this case.” He shifted his weight, and considered his uncomfortable stance on the pile of refuse. “Don’t give me that look.”

“What look?” asked Mercer.

“That look like I’m hiding something from you.”

“Does this have to do with the beast at all?” asked Mercer. “Didn’t Nicyes talk to you after I went to sleep? The lad seemed pretty keen to keep some morsel he learned to himself.”

“You know what I know,” said Alquis. “Or, perhaps that isn’t being fair. Let’s just say I don’t know any more about what Nicyes learned yesterday than what he imparted to us afterward. I wouldn’t dare suggest that you know as much as I do.” He went back to sifting through the garbage. It wasn’t the most pleasant of tasks, but if there was something for him to find, he was sure to find it.

“You’re lying.”

Alquis looked up again, and shook his head. “I wouldn’t waste one on you,” he said. He held up a strange, discus-like object about two feet cross, and traced a crack in it with his fingers. “This might have been a good focus at one point,” he said, and casually tossed the thing aside.

“Then if you aren’t lying, what are you doing?”

“I’m obfuscating the truth, Mercer,” said Alquis without pausing. “See, I don’t have to lie if I answer the questions you ask, and you ask me the wrong questions. It’s far more elegant than lying.” He tossed aside another broken object.

“I, but, what do you accomplish by keeping me in the dark? I thought we did everything together now? No one works alone?”

“You’re here with me, aren’t you? I’m not alone, and neither are you,” said Alquis.

“But that leaves Nicyes–”

Alquis interrupted, “Nicyes isn’t alone either.”

“That leaves Nicyes,” Mercer started again, and stopped. He stared at the space in front of his face, and behind his remaining eye, he pieced together a new realization.

“He’s keeping an eye on Simona, right?”

Alquis nodded without looking up.

“Wait, is that all he’s doing?”

“You picked a poor time to start asking the right questions, Mercer,” said Alquis. “You want to help me out, here?”

“What is Nicyes doing?”

“I don’t know.”

“You’re lying!”

“I’m saying I don’t know what he’s doing right now,” said Alquis calmly, “but I do have an idea of what he’s been up to while we’ve been away.”