“Is he always that scary?” Sean asked when they were safely out of the castle.
“No sometimes he’s far more genial,” Rakcigion replied. He smiled at Sean. “You should run if he is though.”
“Oh,” said Sean. “One of those.”
“Yep,” replied his father.
“What did he tell you? When he spoke in uh...mer?”
“He said you might not be such a lost cause,” Rakcigion told him.
“Wow,” Sean said flatly.
Rakcigion laughed but stopped swimming and turned to face Sean. “You impressed him.”
“I what?!” Sean sputtered.
“You did,” Rakcigion said. “He doesn’t hand out compliments easily.”
“I didn’t do anything,” Sean said.
“You did enough,” his father replied firmly. “Now let’s go meet the rest of the people joining us in The Circuit.”
“Are they all detectives like you?”
“Yes,” his father replied. “We’re sort of like your police force but our duties are…wider I suppose.”
“I figured from the apparent roaming-judge thing you’ve got going on.”
Rakcigion snorted with laughter. “Gosh I did not know having a child will be this entertaining.”
“Well I’m happy to bring joy into your life,” Sean replied.
Rakcigion’s expression softened. “You do.”
Sean felt somewhat speechless and then decided once more that having a father was officially weird.
“Too much?” Rakcigion asked.
“Hell yeah,” Sean said. “I mean, I’m happy and all but damn that’s going to take some getting used to.”
“Eh, we’ve got a whole month or two to work on it,” Rakcigion replied.
“If we don’t die horribly from some quick, clever thing moving beyond your sovereign’s lands,” Sean snorted.
“Exactly,” Rakcigion agreed.
“You sound like that sort of thing is disturbingly familiar,” Sean said, frowning at his father.
“More than I’d like,” Rakcigion told him. “But this one sounds more serious than usual. He hardly alludes to anything so directly.”
“Huh,” said Sean. “So where are we actually going? I mean, is there like a building we’re heading to?”
“Not what you’d call a building,” Rakcigion told him. “See that green dome?”
Sean looked to where his father was pointing. Sure enough, in the distance a billowing, green dome stood on the edge of the city limits.
They continued the rest of the way in silence. Sean taking the time to sightsee as they headed towards the dome. They gathered a fair bit of attention as they passed. Most of the merfolk stopped what they were doing to stare at them. The attention was a little off-putting but Sean figured it wasn’t everyday they saw an almost-human in their city.
The very streets themselves were fascinating. Sean tried to find human complements to the things that he saw. He was pretty sure he passed a market of some kind and several stalls and shops. The sheer variety of the merfolk kept capturing his attention though.
Rakcigion seemed to be the exception not the rule with the typical silver scales of a fish. Most of the mers had color, different variations of blue and green, though he saw several shades of red, purple and once, a mermaid with ivory scales that made her look like a statue in motion.
At last though, they arrived at the green dome. Up close Sean realized that it was made of seaweed, carefully woven together, to form the structure. The seaweed was rooted in the seabed and the whole moved with the soft underwater currents giving it the billowing effect he’d noticed from afar. The walls of the dome were at least two feet thick, made of layers upon layers of woven seaweed and though it was not completely opaque, it gave enough privacy.
“Here,” Rakcigion said. He carried Sean over to an opening through the seaweed. “You’ll have to swim through.”
Sean nodded. The opening wasn’t very large. It was circular and clearly made for a mer to swim through. Sean carefully grasped the seaweed and pulled himself through the opening, kicking his legs every now and then to give him a boost. The rough leaves rasped against his skin but overall, it wasn’t too bad. He emerged from the passage and oriented himself feet down. In another moment Rakcigion came through the passage gracefully.
He touched Sean briefly on the shoulder and then swam to meet the little ring of mermen hovering towards the top of the dome. At his approach the mermen turned and then after a moment their gazes shifted to Sean.
Sean tried not to shrink under the scrutiny. He didn’t think he was very successful. These mermen did not look friendly. They didn’t have the cool impassivity of the castle guards. No, they all carried an edge to them and their faces were set into hard lines. Sean couldn’t help but compare them to Rakcigion who always seemed to be laughing at something or the other. These mermen did not look like they laughed much. And at the moment, they did not seem to be very pleased by Sean’s presence. Sean dearly wished his father would give him a heads up about these things.
After a moment they turned their attention back to Rakcigion. Sean watched them as they spoke, only soft echoes of the merfolk’s guttural speech making it to his ears. That was going to be a bitch to learn, Sean thought idly.
The conversation went on long enough that Sean plopped down cross-legged onto the sand and started trying to coax one of the tiny snails living on the seaweed onto his finger. It took a good ten minutes because the snail kept giving him suspicious looks but eventually it deigned to crawl closer to the finger Sean had extended. It stopped just shy of his fingertip and appeared to be seriously contemplating something.
“Don’t eat me,” Sean told it. The snail gave him an affronted look. “I mean it.”
The snail gave him a distinctly unimpressed wave of its antennae and then crawled into his finger. Sean gently rubbed the edge of its shell with a finger and the snail settled down happily on his hand.
◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌
Gethain stopped speaking abruptly and shifted his focus to something behind Rakcigion. Rakcigion frowned and then turned to see what it was that had captured his attention. The sight of his son sitting on the ground, apparently playing with something greeted him.
“That’s one of the caretaker snails,” Gethain observed.
“Yep,” Rakcigion said.
“They bite everyone,” Gethain told him.
“He doesn’t seem to be in pain though,” Rakcigion pointed out.
“I’ve never known them to not bite someone right away.”
Gethain raised an eyebrow. “Maybe they don’t like how he tastes.”
“I don’t know if to be happy or offended by that,” Rakcigion mused.
Gethain let out a sub-vocal growl. “This child of yours had better not slow us down.”
“You know,” said Rakcigion, “I was worried that he might. But now? Now I don’t think he will.”
“And why,” Gethain asked, “is that?”
“Because he surprised me,” Rakcigion replied softly. “And he surprised our sovereign. He has a keen eye. He just doesn’t know it yet. And if we hone that? I think he could be very valuable.”
“And how does he feel about that?” Gethain asked tilting his head at Rakcigion.
Rakcigion huffed out a laugh. “Oh, I think Shenaragle will do as Shenaragle wants. He reminds me far too much of myself for anything else to be true.”
“I hope not,” Gethain growled. “One of you is enough.”
They both looked back at Sean who was still playing with the snail.
“I should get that away from him, shouldn’t I?”
“I’ve never been a father,” his unit commander said, “But I’m going to say yes.”