Great! I'm Half-Fish!

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Chapter 22

He felt like he’d barely slept when he was shaken awake. He flailed, sucked in a breath through his mouth which meant he sucked in water and then spent the next five minutes coughing it out. Rakcigion helpfully pounded him on the back. Sean expelled the last of the water and then glared at his father.

“Call me next time?”

“I did,” Rakcigion said. “You didn’t hear me. Though I didn’t expect that.”

“I’m used to waking up in an air rich environment,” Sean mumbled. His throat felt sore. He looked up only to find the rest of the circuit looking at him, some in amusement, some in confusion and one in disgust (Extinrel).

“Uh, sorry,” he said.

Gethain apparently decided to let the whole thing go because he turned to the others and snapped something in mer-speak. The others scattered and Sean looked to his father for a translation.

“Get a move on,” Rakcigion translated grinning. “Come on let’s eat.”

“Right,” Sean said. “Long day ahead. I suppose you guys don’t have coffee?”

“A sad lack,” Rakcigion said. “You’ll have to suffer like the rest of us.”

“How will I ever survive?” Sean sighed.

“Seaweed, yum,” Rakcigion teased.

Sean groaned.

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The circuit had to take formal leave of Itait. They stood in front of Karlenae and Gethain spoke in mer-speak, the words seeming ritualized. Karlenae replied, words also seeming very ritualized. The two mers gave each other stuff nods and then the circuit swam off.

They split up not too long after leaving Itait. Fassleti peeled off first heading to where Narmik had disappeared. Sean, Rakcigion and Caniciat left next making a left while the rest of the circuit had gone straight ahead. The separation was without any fanfare and at the regular speeds the circuit travelled at, they were soon out of sight.

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Sean looked in the direction they’d gone and then said, “It didn’t occur to me last night but shouldn’t more than three people be sent to destroy a drug ring?” Rakcigion and Caniciat both looked at him.

“Why?” they asked in concert.

Sean blinked and then gave up. “So, what do we do now?”

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Apparently, what they had to do next was swim around a lot. For mermen the pace was pretty leisurely but they were still going far faster than any human could. Sean was getting a hang of actually being able to process his surroundings while moving quickly so everything didn’t look like a blur this time.

“Okay so here’s how it goes,” Rakcigion told him. “You don’t swim blindly through the ocean. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re liable to get lost. Even if you do know where you’re going, you don’t swim everywhere. The reason being, you can step on someone’s space and they may not like that. So, there are routes we follow just like roads. They’re the safest way to get anywhere and also the way that’s less liable to leave you wandering around for ages. But that doesn’t mean that that the other areas are… uncharted for lack of a better word. In other words, for every official route, you have at least ten, cutting through the areas that the official route snakes around.”

“So, they are the safe paths in an unsafe area?” Sean asked. “I guess like a path through the woods?”

“Yes. Currently we’re on the normal routes. We’re making our way to the closest of the unofficial routes. We call them gray routes because they’re in a gray area, so to speak.”

“Uh huh,” Sean paused.

“Yes,” Caniciat said, correctly interpreting Sean’s pause, “We are sometimes terrible at naming things.”

“At least I don’t have to break it to you gently,” Sean muttered. “So, are we just going to wander down these gray routes and just hope that we find our drug dealers?”

“We’re going to wander down the routes and look for clues that our drug dealers are there,” Rakcigion corrected.

“And what are the kind of clues we’re looking for?”

Rakcigion bared his teeth at him in a frightening grin. “I’ll show you.”

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As far as Sean could tell there wasn’t anything that marked what was an official route from an unofficial one. In fact, as far as he could tell, there wasn’t anything that marked any of the routes at all. The ocean looked the same from where he was floating in the waters. It was blue, vast, sunnily lit at the moment, and dotted here and there by the movement of fishes slicing their way unconcernedly through the salty water.

“How do you know where is dangerous and where isn’t? How do you know where the routes are?” Sean asked as Rakcigion towed him along.

“Memory,” he replied, “Instinct. Artae.”

“Well I never learned the routes and the instinct seemed to have bypassed me,” Sean pointed out. “And no one has actually explained what the heck artae is.”

“Well you should start memorizing landmarks. The instinct needs to be a bit honed but it’s there and artae is power built by the ocean,” Rakcigion replied.

“What?” Sean asked, blinking. “I need you to explain more than that.”

“Artae is formed from the interaction of the ocean and the things that exist in it, be they living or dead,” Rakcigion. “Just us moving through the water generates artae. And because we live here, because we were born to be a part of the ocean and are a part of that which generates the artae, we can use it.”

“And what can you do with it?” Sean asked.

“It’s actually really, really flexible because it’s made in so many ways. Artae is replaced when we die. It’s formed from our actions, it grows with our memories; it is the very essence of living, captured in the ocean, because of the ocean. We can do a lot with it, if we can actually manage to use it. Competency is difficult to attain and any use is difficult to sustain. If you ever find it easy you might as well just set up a kingdom of your own.”

Sean blinked. “Oh,” he said. “Oh. Your sovereign. All the other sovereigns. They use artae to hold their kingdoms. Um somehow, I guess.”

“Yes,” Rakcigion told him.

“So…what can’t it do?”

Rakcigion looked at him out of the corner of his eye, and gave a pleased little smile. Sean felt something warm blossom in his chest at the obvious pride.

“Well we can’t bring back the dead,” his father said, “Can’t really heal either thought artae will boost you, like a shot of adrenaline. It can also keep bodies in hmm, stasis I guess and let them heal on their own. But trying to use artae like that is draining and very, very few save for the sovereigns can do it. And even those can’t do it for long.”

“Artae is also…imprecise,” Caniciat said. “That’s not to say it can’t be used precisely but such precision requires a lot of skill and is difficult to sustain. If you’re trying to do something, simple actions will work best. Push or pull. Trying to find something or someone, which is what we often use artae for in our line of work, often just gives you an impression of movement, temperature, direction.”

“Huh,” said Sean. “That’s interesting. I honestly don’t think I can wrap my head around the whole thing yet.”

“That’s fine,” Rakcigion said. He opens his mouth to say something more and then snapped it shut, eyes narrowing to slits. Without a word, he unwraps Sean’s rope from his wrist and throws it to Caniciat. Sean wants to ask what is happening but fears making a noise at the moment. Caniciat winds the rope around his wrist and tugs Sean back. Sean throws him a questioning look but the merman’s face is expressionless. Sean turns his gaze back to his father who is moving quickly but stealthy through the water. He goes straight down to the sand, his silver scales blending with the white sand below as he barely skims the seabed.

Caniciat drags Sean back to a large boulder they had passed not too long ago and they both peer out from behind it as they try to follow Rakcigion’s progress.

Rakcigion’s pace starts to slow until he is only inching forward. He winds up softly to another boulder and carefully curves around it. Then he’s disappeared from view and Sean promptly starts to get worried. It’s an agonizing five minutes before he reappears. He swims back to them quickly, grinning, his sharp teeth pale and deadly in the sunlight.

“They’ve been here,” he announced. “Caught traces of a hunt and a faint trace of discilin. Another drug,” he explained at Sean’s confused face. “It’s not a lot, probably a single scout sent in to find new prospects. But he passed this way and that means that they’re in the area.”

Caniciat nodded. “Think you can get a direction for us?”

Rakcigion laughed. “Don’t I nearly always do?”

Sean watching his father, with his eyes alight, his whole face alive with the hunt, eager to ferret out the hiding places of the drug dealers, realized that this, tracking, was something his father loved to do.

“You’re a tracker,” he blurted.

Rakcigion cocked his head at him and gave a little smile. “Yes, I am. Very good, Shenaragle. Now come on. We have a scout to track.”

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