Sean walked to the house while the other two mermen swam lazily above him. When they arrived there, they found Zacklani and Jenaicra waiting for them.
“We were going to go in but we saw you approaching,” Zacklani said.
Fassleti took the lead, carefully brushing back the frond curtain and peering inside. “Harmless,” he announced after a moment. He carefully pushed inside. Jenaicra followed him inside and then Argan. Sean and Zacklani opted to stick their heads in rather than try to fit themselves inside. Sean promptly got stuck in the gills by a frond. He coughed, pulled the offending frond away from his gills and noticed Zacklani trying not laugh.
“I think we all know I am far from the definition of cool,” Sean sighed.
“So far,” Zacklani said smiling.
They then turned their attention to the scene inside. The whole dwelling was in a state of disarray. Everything looked tossed. Several things were broken. The sand on the floor still had deep furrows in them despite the fact that the two weeks’ time lapse had started filling them in.
“Did the fight happen here?” Sean asked.
“No,” Jenaicra answered. “The neighbors would have heard. They found Ocknian’s body away from the settlement.”
“So Narmik came back and looked through his stuff?”
“Or he did so before he killed him,” Argan replied.
“Have you seen what you need to see?” Fassleti asked Argan.
Argan replied with the mer-speak word for yes, one of the few words Sean could reliably identify.
“Good,” said Fassleti. “Now get out.”
Sean blinked and then hasty backed away from the opening as mermen poured out.
“What now? “
“Now we regroup,” Argan told him.
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The only person at the little structure that held Ocknian’s corpse was Extinrel. He was sitting in the sand scratching notes into broad kelp leaves with his claws. He glanced at them when they came up but didn’t say anything.
Argan asked him something in mer-speak. This time Sean was fairly sure he didn’t need a translator to know what he’d said. It was obvious that he was asking where the others were.
Extinrel jerked his head in the direction that Rakcigion had disappeared in earlier. Argan nodded apparently satisfied. After about a minute of standing awkwardly Sean copied Extinrel and sat cross-legged in the sand to wait for the others.
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Some distance away Rakcigion, Caniciat, Cabrako and Gethain were floating above the ocean floor, the faint sunlight filtering down to these depths drawing dappled patterns of black and grey over their skins. The crossroads of the currents nearby was the focus of their study.
“This is as far as we could trace him,” Rakcigion told Gethain. “We followed the obvious streams, the only streams. He did not go in their direction. Every trace of him has disappeared.”
“The ocean has swallowed him in its teeth then,” Gethain replied, “And has thus served its own justice.”
“Perhaps,” Rakcigion replied just as Caniciat said:
Cabrako was silent as customary.
“Why then have I journeyed without a hunt at the end of it?” Gethain asked. “You could have told me your stories when we met.”
Rakcigion pointed to an area just off to the side of the convergence of currents. “Because that should be gone.”
Gethain turned and inspected the area. There was much sand but also much rocks. The sea bed was especially rocky here. Half of it was stingingly sharp from the erosion, others were worn away to a smooth finish. There in the seabed was several large divots in the sand. He frowned and swam up to the divots and then said after a moment.
“The hunt led here. These are tracks.”
“The hunt led here,” Rakcigion agreed. “But the hunted fled. But the tracks remained. For many, many clicks, they have remained. The currents are strong here. Can they not move the sand? How then are the tracks here? How then is this, still as sharp as the day it was broken?”
Rakcigion let his hand hover over a piece of rock. Like the sand there was a deep groove in it, the edges sharp and wicked.
“He did not do this,” Gethain said.
“He didn’t make those tracks of his own will either. He was hurt,” Caniciat replied.
Gethain frowned. “Now that, that is a hunt worth following. My interest is peaked. I long for the scent of blood in the waters of this mystery.” Grimly he lifted a hand, orienting it as if he were about to grasp something just above him.
The ocean hummed in response. And then, slowly, gently, white stars blossomed into being above his extended fingertips. The humming did not dim, the vibrations, unseen, unfelt in any physical way, did not stop. The ocean sang, and the mermen could feel the movement of the currents along shores far away, feel the rasp of the water filtering through their gills on a far more profound level, feel the plants swaying in the ocean’s gentle strum, knew the fierce thrum of a shark as it charged through the water. And they felt, for just a moment, the faint traces of something dark and quick and clever slipping away.
Gethain extended his hand and the artae, the ocean power that all merfolk and those who inhabited the vast waves were blessed with, followed striking quickly at the dark slip of something. But whatever it was evaded him. It is too little to grab onto and small enough to dissipate entirely when he finally thinks he has a grasp on it.
He drops his hand and the ocean’s singing quiets.
“I think,” he says, swallowing with effort, and reverting to English. “that our sovereign was not wrong. And that Karlenae was right to worry. Something happened here and hell if I know what it is. But now I hope Narmik is dead. I don’t think I want him alive. I don’t think he would want to be.”