Agathe couldn’t sleep.
She lay on her sleeping mat and stared at the ceiling. The hint of treachery had been bad enough—she did not like to think of her friends as traitors. But then to see Nicolaos die so horribly in front of her, and to know that the poison had been intended for Tlalli, and—worst of all—to know that one of their other friends was responsible. The Circle was turning against itself, and all for the promise of power. Agathe had never cared for power, but she was beginning to understand the fury that could drive a traitor to acquire it. She had joined the Circle because Alekos had, and had stayed with it after he died because the kraken offered the best chance to avenge his murder. But now? Now that she knew it was likely someone in the Circle who had killed him? Yes: now could she feel the bloodthirsty urge to claim the kraken for her own, and destroy the others utterly.
She sighed, for possibly the twentieth time that night, and turned over in her bed. That wasn’t her—she was a cultist, yes, and a killer because of it, but she was not a traitor. The difference mattered. She would kill only those who deserved it.
But if someone in the Circle had killed Alekos, didn’t that mean they deserved it?
She turned again, trying to find a comfortable position. She was too hot and too anxious and too filled with disquiet to sleep. At last, long past midnight, she sat up in bed. There was one way to know for sure. And it would not be pleasant.
She shoved the bed forward, and tilted it on its edge to make more room on the floor. She had one small chair; she moved that as well, and the small shelf with her clothes, and her knife and her sword and her armor. Then looked at the cleared area, hoping it would be large enough, then dropped to her knees, lit a candle, and began dripping melted wax in a wide, careful circle. It took two full candles to complete it, making sure not to leave a single gap, and then with her knife she pricked her fingertip and began writing symbols on the floor with her blood. She didn’t know what they meant, but she had seen them in Nicolaos’s books, months ago, and she had memorized them knowing that one day they might save her life. She hoped that was today. When the symbols were finished, she pulled the final component from her pocket—a scrap of her brother’s death shroud, which she always kept with her. She would be heartbroken to lose it, but saw no other recourse.
She held the scrap to the flame, and said her brother’s name as it burned into nothing.
She saw nothing at first, but soon she heard a trickle of water, like a spilled jug or a distant stream. A tiny trickle creeped across the floor, toward the circle of wax; she couldn’t see where it came from, but she didn’t dare to leave the circle. Soon more water came, turning the trickle into a flood; it filled the floor and wrapped around the circle and began to rise, and when it grew higher than the circle of wax it didn’t spill over but kept rising, held at bay by the circle’s invisible barrier. In moments the room was flooded, floor to ceiling, and peering into the water Agathe could no longer see her walls or her belongings—just the deep, endless darkness of the sea. Two points of light appeared in the distance, moving toward her slowly, and when at least they reached the edge of her circle she saw them for what they were: her brother’s eyes, cold and blue, glowing through the death shroud that still concealed him.
“Alekos,” she said again.
“I am here, sister.”
He seemed to float before her, legless and perhaps bodiless, covered in sailcloth and wrapped in chains. Part of her longed to touch him—to reach out through the barrier of water and embrace her twin once more—but another part of her knew that this was folly. The creature before her, though it once had been Alekos, was now something far more dangerous, and far less human.
The ritual she had memorized allowed her to ask one question. She straightened her spine, facing the wraith with courage, and asked it.
“Were you killed by a member of the Circle?”
The wraith hesitated, and she dared to hope that he would answer no—that her friends could unite against a common enemy, instead of tearing each other to shreds in a spiraling nightmare of betrayal. She watched, and held her breath—
—and he nodded.
“Thank you,” she said, though her heart felt anything but thankful. “I love you, my brother.”
He nodded, and retreated to the deep, and moments later the water drained away and the room returned to normal.
Not a single item was wet.
Agathe pondered, and scraped away the circle, and lay back down to rest.
She would be busy in the morning.