Nailecta was much larger than Itait. It was, Sean estimated, around eight times the size of Itait and definitely thrived better than the small community of Itait. Nailecta was basically a town and even from a distance Sean could see merfolk husting about their daily lives. The town itself was settled in another valley-like sink in the sand and there was a ring around the whole settlement made out of rock that had been dragged there and piled together skillfully. Outside this demarcation, many merfolk were swimming around. Some were hunting for food, others appeared to be hunting for entirely different things and one of them seemed to be collecting sand for some reason.
They’d arrived late in the evening so the tiny amount of sunlight that trickled down to Nailecta was already dimming and the city’s lights were slowly beginning to swell to life. Sean, watching the city get larger as they approached, had to admit that Nailecta was beyond beautiful.
Aside from the ring around the city, the structures made entirely out of stone seemed to be few and far between. Tall structures stretched upwards to the sky, giant tendrils reaching for a dream, but they swayed with the motion of the ocean. It was vegetation, Sean saw; tall, tall species of kelp rising from the ocean floor in a parody of skyscrapers. The strands of kelp were woven around thin poles of coral and limestone which acted as supports. From the kelp strands, hung woven rooms like corn bird nests.
These woven rooms were homes and businesses. Thinner kelp strands connected the larger stalks together, each one increasing the support that the major stalks had. Lights bloomed along the tall kelp plants poking out from here and there and making the entire thing look like it had appeared out of a fairytale. Each little woven room also had a light within, so that it looked like little gems were dripping off the main plants. Merfolk threaded their way through the plants, scales catching the lights and reflecting the different colored lights, their motion making Nailecta look like a bubble filled with dancing light.
Sean tried to whistle and discovered abruptly that that didn’t happen when you were underwater. He settled for mummering, “Okay I’m impressed,” instead.
Rakcigion heard him and gave him an indulgent smile but otherwise didn’t say anything else as they quickly came up to the city limits. They crossed the barrier of stone and would have kept going if a voice hadn’t called out to them.
Rakcigion and Caniciat stopped and turned while Sean kept going due to Newton’s first law. Rakcigion gave a quick jerk to the rope and Sean came to a stop and turned to see that the person who’d called out to them was in fact Zacklani.
“Hey,” Sean greeted.
“Hello Shenaragle,” he replied.
“Waiting for us?” Caniciat asked.
Zacklani nodded. He gave a grim smile. “We’ve had a most interesting day already. Gethain is waiting for both of you.”
Sean calculated and realized that the circuit had only arrived about a day before they had.
“Where is Fassleti?” Zacklani asked, “We thought to hear from him by now.”
“We met with him,” Caniciat said. “Circumstances has led him back to Itait.”
Zacklani narrowed his eyes to little slits. “Gethain will definitely want to speak with you then. Come.”
◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌
Zacklani led them through the kelp forest to a building that was actually a smaller version of The Cupola back in Teroceanican. This one was built of a stiffer variety of seaweed though, which was threaded through whalebone struts. Kelp was rooted in the floor, almost surrounding the structure, and some of their leaves were twining into the structure making it look like they were actually growing out of the building.
Zacklani swam into the building and Caniciat followed him. Rakcigion allowed Sean to sink to the ocean floor and then removed the rope. Sean coiled up the rope, tossed it over his shoulder and followed his father inside the building.
There were several rooms inside the building, which really did look a whole lot like the Cupola, though Sean was disappointed to note that there didn’t appear to be any of the caretaker snails. Zacklani led them to a room that was almost to the back of the building and then gestured them inside.
When Sean walked in, it was to see Gethain seated behind a slab of stone that seemed to serve as a desk.
“Report!” he barked out.
It was Caniciat who answered. He spoke of all that happened in quick, precise sentences that were both succinct yet not void of detail. He explained what they’d found with the drug dealers, went through their theory that the cases might be related, told about Fassleti’s reassignment and then gave the update of their last findings about Narmik and spoke of Sean’s theory about Narmik’s usage of artae.
While he spoke, Sean took careful note on how to actually report to a superior and promptly berated himself for thinking that all the summarizing exercises they were forced to do in English class were useless.
When Caniciat finished speaking Gethain looked at Rakcigion. “Do you have anything to add?”
Rakcigion thought for a moment and then shook his head. “No.”
“And you are sure about the sedative?” he asked.
“I am,” Rakcigion replied. “If the dealers who know where to get cochlen shell deemed it too expensive to trade then that would been because it’s scarce at the moment. So how could Chantinal get his hands on some? No, it is far more likely that he’d made Reaper’s Sleep on his own.”
Gethin nodded and then sunk into thought. After a long moment he stirred and said, “Fine. We will see what Fassleti tells us when he returns and hopefully, we will get a report from the ambassador who will be sent to Teraleksan. In the meantime, we have a missing doctor and a murderer who gave himself up after killing nine merfolk over a period of time.”
All three of them cocked their heads at Gethin in confusion. “If he is caught then why is he our problem?” Caniciat asked.
“Because this hunter claims that he didn’t know he was hunting,” Gethain said. “He claims that he doesn’t remember killing any of them. When he found out on his last kill that he had killed the victim, he gave himself up. The local populace doesn’t know what to believe and since we were scheduled to be here, they left his justice up to us.”
Gethain gave them all a sharp smile. “Eat if you haven’t, then get to work. Rakcigion, I’m putting you on the case of our missing doctor. Jenaicra, Zacklani and Cabrako are dealing with the case. I suggest you get the particulars and find our doctor before we lose him altogether. Caniciat, you’re with Extinrel. He wants your opinion on the bodies he has to deal with. Shenaragle, you’re with Argan. He’s with our prisoner. Dismissed.”
The three of them nodded and left the room. Zacklani was waiting for them and jerked his head for them to follow him. He led them out of the cupola copy, as Sean dubbed it and to another structure not too far from it. This one looked like the rest of the rooms that were on the kelp stalks that Sean had seen but it was resting on the floor instead of being suspended. They entered and Sean saw that it was like a little mess hall. There was another slab for a table, long and made of white stone. Fish was piled on the table and covered with a finely woven net of fiber. Next the fish was a little pile of seaweed also covered with a fiber net. Sean stared and then felt a sudden warmth bloom in his chest as he realized that the seaweed was, in fact, for him.
“We’re on the western edge of the city,” Jenaicra told Rakcigion. “Caniciat, Extinrel is in the same place they usually have the bodies. Shenaragle, you’ll find Argan just behind the building we just left.” With that he nodded and left them to eat.
Sean made a beeline for the seaweed while the other two went for the fish. Sean, knowing that blood would be billowing once they started in on the fish, scooted away from them and ended up in the far end of the room. He sat on the sand, rested his back on the flexible walls comfortably and chewed on his seaweed.
None of them took long to eat. Sean finished his seaweed about the same time as the other two finished devouring their fish, bones and all.
“Do you want me to drop you off by Argan?” Rakcigion asked him, wiping his face free of fish scales.
Sean shook his head. “No, it’s not far. And you have to go track a kidnapper, right?”
“Are you sure?”
“It’s almost right across the road,” Sean said, “I can walk from here to there.”
“Alright. Be careful Shenaragle.”
“You too,” Sean said. His father nodded and then both he and Caniciat whisked out of the room and to their next destinations.
Sean ran his tongue over his teeth to make sure he didn’t have any seaweed caught between his teeth and then walked out of the room, heading in the direction of the copy cupola. It was only when he was halfway there, did he notice the stares that he was drawing. Many of the merfolk had stopped in their daily routine and were simply drifting above him, looking at him curiously.
The constant staring made Sean want to wiggle his shoulders in discomfort though, so he sped up his pace a little hoping to get under cover of a building to get away from all the attention. He reached the copy cupola in record time and wound his way around it, hoping that he would find the other building easily enough.
He did. There behind the copy cupola was one of the few fully stone buildings in Nailecta. It was a squat building made of grey stone and covered with a layer of dark, green moss. Barnacles crusted its roof and it lacked the blob of light that most other buildings had. It was also the first building that boasted a building material that wasn’t stone, seaweed or bone. There was a metal gate set into the stone. Stainless steel by the looks of it, so that it wouldn’t rust in the water.
Sean cautiously went up to the building and peered through the bars.
“Are you going to stare or come in?” Argan said. Sean jerked back in surprise because he hadn’t seen him. Actually, he still wasn’t seeing him. The inside of the building was dark. Sean tried to pull open the gate. It didn’t open.
“It’s locked,” Sean said, giving the inside of the building a look.
“Well, now you know to pay attention to things,” Argan said coolly. The mer appeared out of the gloom and twisted a key in the lock. The gate swung open and Sean stepped inside. Argan shut and locked the gate behind him. He looked Sean up and down and then said,
“It seems that you have managed to survive the last few days.”
“And you seem to have become testier,” Sean replied. “It’s okay, I missed you too. I’m guessing this is where our murder is being held?”
The second in command bared his teeth at Sean and then nodded. “Come,” he said. “This is where you learn to rip the scales of your catch…one by one. And then fillet them.”
Sean raised his eyebrows but then said, “I can’t wait.”
Argan grinned ferally at him. “You don’t have to.”