They made their way back to where Ocknian’s body had been laid. Gethain and Cabrako were outside the little structure talking in soft tones. Extinrel was apparently still inside.
Gethain cocked his head at them, obviously not expecting to see them back so early but said nothing. Argan handed Sean back the rope and swam inside the structure. Sean coiled the rope as he drifted down to the ocean floor and then walked inside.
There was a soft stinging feeling on the edges of his gills. Sean grimaced and brushed a hand over them.
“It’s okay,” Argan said, “It’s just part of what was used to preserve the body.” Extinrel glanced at Sean, frowned but said nothing. Sean, for the first time focused on the corpse. He almost took a step back.
“Don’t see many dead bodies?” Fassleti asked.
“No,” Sean said as he regained his composure. “They don’t really let us play in the morgues.”
“Ah that is where you keep your dead bodies right?” Fassleti said.
“Yeah,” Sean said his eyes still riveted on the body. He couldn’t help it. It was a sort of morbid fascination.
The merman lay on the ground surrounded by little rocks and some of the strange crystals Sean had seen before. His skin was pale and his scales were grey. The only splash of natural colour was his red hair. The rest of him was in ruin. His stomach was torn open, intestines floating up and out of the tear. Claw marks littered his arms and some crept to his back. One set of his gills was completely destroyed. The tail fin, already shredded, was almost severed from the rest of his tail and he’d lost scales in the fight. Sean could see where they’d been torn off. He was also missing a claw on his right hand. More claw marks were gouged into the merman’s tail.
It had been, Sean concluded, one hell of a fight.
“If this guy was a soldier,” Sean said, “how the hell did the other guy do this to him?”
“I guess that’s why Serenti’s father thought it was strange,” Argan observed. He kicked his tail and tilted his upper body down to better inspect the corpse.
“On a scale of 1 to 10,” Sean asked. “How normal is it for a corpse to come out of a fight looking like this?”
“5 maybe,” Fassleti said.
“No,” Extinrel replied. “If both combatants were Ocknian’s skill then yes, 5 and up. But not against a combatant of Narmik’s skill.”
“Okay,” Sean digested this. “So, on a scale of 1 to 10 how often are we going to find people of Ocknian’s skill level?”
“3-4,” Argan replied, “in the unruled lands. Closer to 6-9 in ruled lands.”
“Huh,” Sean muttered.
Argan continued his close-up inspection of the body and Sean finally drifted closer and stooped down just outside the ring of rock. He could see now that the preservation process wasn’t perfect. The ragged ends of flesh were beginning to rot. Some of the claw marks were deep, others superficial.
“There’s no blood,” Sean observed.
“No,” Extinrel said grudgingly. “Merfolk bleed out fast if pressure isn’t applied quickly and if the wounds are bad.”
“So always have pressure bandages on hand, gotcha,” Sean murmured.
He eyed Argan who was staring at the body with single minded focus. “What are you looking for?” Argan bared his teeth in a feral smile and said, “Not what Extinrel is looking for.”
“I’m staggered by the sheer amount of information that was. So, what are you looking for?”
“Not what Extinrel is looking for.”
“So, what is Extinrel looking for?”
Sean looked at Extinrel who snapped, “Not what Argan is looking for.”
“Oh happy day,” Sean said blandly.
Fassleti laughed and Argan flicked him another razor smile. “Tell me what you see Shenaragle.”
Sean stood up then and viewed the body as a whole again. “Anger,” he said after a moment. “No, fury. Determination.” He struggled again for a second and then said, “Intensity. He didn’t just want to kill him. He needed to kill him. This whole fight was wreathed in emotion; on Narmik’s end. I don’t know about Ocknian but if I had to guess, I’d say he’d fought clinically. He was a soldier and from what you all said, he was a good one. He’d never have fought with enough emotion to make him sloppy. Not unless the argument or instigating factor was intensely personal.”
“Hmm,” mused Argan. “Look again and tell me what you see.”
Sean looked down at the corpse that had once been a powerful warrior in life and said, “He didn’t expect it. And he didn’t fight as hard as he could have from the start.”
“Well,” said Argan. “it will take a lot of work. Perhaps more time than your half-breed lifespan has, but we might be able to turn you into something useful.”
“Come now. To the house.”