They got to route-most-likely quickly and then started down it. Or rather up it because the route took them towards slightly shallower waters. The sunlight streamed down far more easily to this depth and schools of fish swarmed down the path. More vegetation bloomed on the ocean floor here and Sean felt for a moment like he was in a movie or a dream because it was all so stunningly beautiful.
Some of the fish brushed against him easily, clearly not worried about him. Sean was relieved that none of these seemed to be able to talk. On the other hand, even if he did get lost maybe he could ask the talking fish for directions.
They moved down route-most-likely at a cautious pace because they didn’t want to spook their drug dealers and have them run and they also didn’t want to deal with the possibility that the drug dealer would see them and decide to ambush them instead.
As they continued down route-most-likely though the mers seem to perk up and their eyes slitted with a feral pleasure.
“What is it?” Sean murmured, conscious of the merfolk’s exceptional hearing.
“Scent,” Rakcigion hissed softly. “Our discilin friend….and others.”
The mermen’s movements changed. One moment they were stealthy, the next they were still stealthy but coiled for a fight. The pointed fin ears spread and went back, their claws were stretched discretely and their scales flattened tighter against their skin. They went forward a few meters and then Rakcigion and Caniciat stopped. They moved their heads in a similar sinuous motion and then nodded to each other and left route-most-likely.
Once off the route, Sean’s instincts began to prickle at him, telling him in no uncertain terms that he wasn’t in a safe area. He wasn’t sure what he could do if he was attacked but he definitely made sure to keep aware of his surroundings.
As they swam forward the seabed became increasingly rocky and then larger stones began appearing until they were wandering among rock formations a little taller than Sean himself. The stone was covered in oysters and mussels and tiny fish pecked at the moss growing there. The ground itself seemed like it’d been broken, little trenches gaping open here and there. Flashes of movement confirmed that the trenches were indeed habited. They stuck close to the rocks and close to the ground, camouflaging themselves as much as they could as they moved forward.
The cluster of rocks came to an abrupt end. Rakcigion, who was point, stopped suddenly and then darted back. Caniciat left his position behind Sean and crept forward to see what it was. After a moment Sean copied him, despite Rakcigion’s disapproving frown. What he saw when he crawled up next to Caniciat had his eyes widening. Just in front of them, the ocean floor sloped down steeply. A whole section, bordered by the same rocky environment they’d just swum through was simply sunken. It was a valley, sitting in the middle of mediocre, moss-covered mountains.
And in the dead center of the valley was their drug dealers’ camp.
Sean carefully crawled back to his father. Caniciat watched the camp for a few more long moments before he too slunk back. Without a word the three of them then retreated further into the rocks. Once they had a somewhat secure position, Rakcigion carefully indicated using hand gestures alone that he was going to swim the circumference of the valley and then report back. Caniciat nodded, and then in a flash of sliver scales Rakcigion was gone.
He was back in fifteen minutes and then Caniciat was gone in a flash. Sean remained crouched under a rock outcropping feeling rather useless but not wanting to do anything that would put the operation at risk.
Caniciat returned some twenty minutes later. With a claw, he quickly made a rough sketch of the area in the sand and pointed out the guards and the schedule they had. The schedule wasn’t rigid, the guards not being particularly disciplined, but there were enough guards to make up for the lack.
Rakcigion eyed the crude map thoughtfully and then shrugged and indicated he’d go back to the other side of the valley and chase the drug dealers to Caniciat. He apparently meant to use it as a pincer motion trapping them between the two of them and then, as far as Sean could tell, take down the entire group of mers.
Sean shook his head at them, to convey just how terrible he thought this plan was. Rakcigion nodded. Sean shook his head no. Caniciat nodded. Sean gave them both a wide-eyed look and stabbed at the sand map to show that the drug dealers far outnumbered the two members of the circuit. Both mers shrugged seeming unconcerned. Sean threw up his arms in surrender and then mouthed to Rakcigion:
“If you die and leave me alone in the ocean, mom will bring you back just to kill you again.”
Rakcigion gave a silent laugh and then slipped off his pack. He rummaged in it for a moment and then handed Sean a short sharp dagger. Sean gave him another wide-eyed look but took the dagger carefully. Rakcigion tapped the wrist that Sean had the rope tied around and Sean nodded and removed the rope. He coiled it and hooked it over a shoulder. Rakcigion nodded approvingly and then gave Sean’s shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Then he bared his inhumanly sharp teeth in a smile and flitted off through the rocks.
Caniciat dropped his pack next to Rakcigion’s and rummaged through it as well. This time though he emerged with two long, thin swords, whose tips had a hook on the other end, looking like half an arrow head. He strapped the weapons on causally and then gave Sean a look and pointed downwards in a clear order to stay where he was.
Sean blinked and then shook his head. Caniciat looked like he considered arguing but then decided against it. He shrugged and gave Sean a lazy look that somehow conveyed the sentiment of ‘if you get in trouble, I’m not coming to help you.’
Sean nodded and then Caniciat was slipping out from under the outcropping and making his way to the edge of the valley.
Sean waited a bit and then slipped out himself. He moved in the opposite direction of Caniciat and managed to gain some distance between them by the time they both had arrived at the rim of the underwater valley. Sean crouched, peering out from behind a rock, holding his borrowed dagger tightly in one hand and waited for whatever it was that his father planned to do to drive the drug dealers toward Caniciat.
Whatever Sean had imagined though, had nothing on what actually happened. Without warning, a blast of sonic waves descended on the camp. The pure sound blasted back the sand, expanding as it went forward and causing the camp to descend into utter chaos. Sean ducked behind his rock and covered his ears as the effects of the sonic wave rolled over him. There was a sharp ringing and then the wave was beyond him. He peered back out from behind his rock only to find that he couldn’t actually see anything. The sand raised by the blast had shrunk visibility down to zero.
Sean could hear other blasts of sonics in the now opaque battlefield but though some of them came close no more touched him. He was suddenly, viciously glad that he had the goggles because the sand in the water might have been awful on his eyes and he couldn’t afford to be actually blinded here.
A disturbance in the water near him made him look up just in time to see a mer fleeing the valley. For a split-second Sean froze and then he slipped the coil of rope off his shoulder and tossed it at the fleeing mer. It wasn’t a very good throw since throwing anything underwater isn’t easy and throwing something like rope is never easy to do, even on land but the motion of the rope, which did in fact miss entirely, caused the mer to veer slightly which allowed a thrown dagger to pierce his arm. The mer spun away from the force of it and before he could regain his equilibrium, another mer appeared out of the gloom and dived at him. To Sean’ surprise it was one of the other drug dealers. The drug dealer who’d just appeared, clawed at the hurt one who tried and failed to repel him. Sean thought that he must have been high because his movements were sloppy and not altogether coordinated. The second mer finally slashed across the first’s throat and then rummaged in the small bag strapped around his waist. In a second, he’d extracted a small pouch form the bag, drugs most likely, and was about to speed away.
Sean threw the knife before he was aware that he had. Unfortunately like the rope it missed utterly. Fortunately, like the rope it distracted the fleeing mer enough that Caniciat could dive out of the billowing sand cloud and ram hard enough into the mer to knock him unconscious. Caniciat shook himself from the collision, picked up Sean’s knife and tossed it to him and then swam back into battle.
Sean followed the motion of Caniciat and this time was able to pick out figures moving in the swirling sand. It was just flashes really, and the figures were barely more than silhouettes but Sean could tell that the drug dealers were not equipped for fighting like this. Even if they had, some of them were too slow, many were sluggish, one of them just drifted along like he didn’t know what was going on and didn’t care.
Discilin was a hallucinogen, Sean remembered. And the drug dealers were addicts themselves. A flash of sliver appeared in the flurry of sand signaling that Rakcigion was in the throes of the fight and then Sean was almost bowled over by another merman seeking to escape. He reached out and managed to snag a strap that the merman had around his waist which disoriented the merman who flailed. The merman managed to rip himself free but instead of escaping he turned and rushed at Sean. With typical merfolk speed he was on top of Sean before Sean even released what was happening. Lines of pressure were felt along his sides and back, just where his gills were supposed to be and where the armor he wore was thin and porous. The first attempt at clawing his gills out had failed but Sean was pretty sure the second wasn’t going to.
He remembered the knife he held just in time and sliced frantically down the back of the merman. The merman hissed and jerked back and little and Sean kicked out at him, his foot catching the attacking mer square in the chest. It felt rather like kicking a rock and the shock jarred him more, he was sure, than it jarred his attacker but before the mer could attack him again someone rushed from behind Sean and slapped their tail viciously against the drug dealer. This time the drug dealer moved backwards from the blow and Sean’s father, for it was Rakcigion who’d come to his rescue, whirled again and racked his claws down the front of the mer. A second swipe took out the drug dealer’s gills on his left side and a quick elbow to the chin knocked him unconscious.
Sean gaped as the unconscious mer fell slowly to the floor. The whole thing had happened so fast he wasn’t quite sure what happened. He twisted in the water to look behind him and the sight of unconscious bodies lying on the ground as the sand slowly settled greeted him. Caniciat was hovering somewhere in the middle of the battlefield whipping his swords through the water to wash the blood off. Sean blinked at the whole scene and then turned back to find Rakcigion watching him carefully.
“Are you all right?” Rakcigion asked.
Sean thought about it and then said, “I think. I need to sit.” He promptly suited his action to the words and sat down on the sand and then put his slowly spinning head between his knees.
“Are you okay?!” Rakcigion repeated, a little more urgently.
“Yup,” Sean said, his voice muffled. “I’ll be fine as soon as I stop freaking out.” He paused.” I might throw up. But otherwise I’m fine.”
“I don’t think that’s the definition of fine,” Rakcigion said decidedly. “Did you get hurt Shenaragle?”
“What?” Sean lifted his head. “No. I think the sharkskin armor saved me.”
“Let me see,” Rakcigion said.
Sean uncurled and twisted to show his side. Rakcigion inspected him and then traced his claws along the score marks left by Sean’s attacker.
“You were lucky child,” he murmured grimly. “His claws didn’t catch in the holes and tear your skin. And you’re also lucky in that your gills are on your neck. Even if he hadn’t torn them, that hit would have hurt and you are not prepared for that kind of pain. It would have disoriented you and you’d be up shit street.”
Sean laughed at the unexpected slang from his father. “Hey not like I’ve never been in a fight before,” he joked weakly.
Rakcigion’s eyebrow raised. “Really? And does Zaira know about this.”
“I’m sure she has an idea,” Sean said, “And I’m a surfer. Idiots dropping in on your wave deserves a punch.”
Rakcigion laughs but Sean can see that he’s still concerned.
“I’m fine really,” Sean assures him.
“Next time stay where I tell you,” Caniciat says from behind him.
“I intended to stay out of the line of fire,” Sean said in his defense.
“Your intention failed,” Caniciat said flatly.
Sean slumped. “Yeah, sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Rakcigion said. “Now stay put and recover for a bit while we make sure these guys don’t go anywhere.”