It takes all their combined skill and the use of artae in some rather creative ways before they finally picked back up the trail of the doctor. They’d found where the mermaid had transferred the doctor off to someone else because it was where her trail ended and a second trail was found curving back. The trail made by the new set of kidnappers had been hidden by artae and since there were no close routes in this area, it was very difficult to trace where they had disappeared to.
Rakcigion had had to use artae several times, trying to find an aspect of their passage that they hadn’t hidden before he’d picked up on the faintest of things: the waste products of a popular sleeping concoction, that was expelled through the gills. It was often used by doctors to knock out their patients if the pain was unbearable.
They followed the trail as fast as was possible hoping that they could catch up with them but to no avail. The trail petered out on them. It ended in a confluence of the echoes of artae. Much of what was done was covered up but Rakcigion thought that three people had used artae here. One of them he was sure was the doctor. The other two carried a taint. Something darker, artae made from events that were harsh even by the ocean’s standards.
Cabrako eyed and then asked, “Do you have a trail?”
It galled him to say it but he shook his head. “No. The trail ends here. There are a million paths to go from here. It’s why they chose here to wipe their trail from. And the currents here are strong as hell. Barring the fact that our doctor left breadcrumbs, we’re out of luck. The hunt ends here. We’ve lost our doctor.”
Cabrako was silent for a moment and then he said, “We’re doing a grid. We’ve lost two to this already. If we keep up this streak we might as well go back and tell our sovereign we’re planning to destroy Teroceanican ourselves.”
“Quick and clever,” Rakcigion muttered under his breath. “Just what you don’t want them to be.”
◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌
It turns out that the seer isn’t the only thing Argan has hidden away in his backpack. Armed with their kelp map of blood patterns they go looking to prove their theories.
From the blood patterning, they assumed that the killer had entered through the front door which was consequently the only exit there was. Pacniet had been surprised but he’d obviously read the situation and reacted very quickly. He’d thrown one of the knives he used for his trade but it had been a distraction. The knife had been batted away giving Pacniet time to dive onto his opponent.
His opponent had been too fast though, slipping back and delivering a blow of his own. That blow had been one of the firsts that had delivered the series of blood patterns that Sean and Argan had so painstakingly put together.
Still all of the blood at the scene was only Pacniet’s. Whoever the killer had been, he was very good at combat. Pacniet hadn’t even managed to scrape him. In the end he’d fought a defensive battle against his killer but the killer won.
“Well,” Argan murmured, “That’s one point in Ukendrel’s favour, oddly enough.”
Sean tilted his head inquiringly.
“He has no marks on him. I doubt there are many mers who’d manage to get out of a fight like that without a single mark on them.”
“You think Ukendrel can?” Sean asked.
“You think he can’t?” Argan asked raising an eyebrow.
“So how do we trace the killer? How do we find out where he went after?” Sean asked.
“Let’s say for a moment that Ukendrel is telling the truth. Then whatever blood of Pacniet’s is scattered too far for us to trace it back. However, he might not have thought about hiding another aspect.”
“What other aspect?” Sean asked.
“Scale shine,” Argan said.
“That sounds like a polish,” Sean said blankly. Rakcigion would have laughed. Argan just gave him a Look.
“So, what is it?” Sean asked opting to ignore the look. With merfolk behavior being what it was there was only a fifty percent chance he’d be eaten.
Argan flipped his tail up and scratched at a scale with a claw. After a moment he held out the claw to Sean. Sean drifted forward and inspected the claw. A little green shimmer glinted on the claw, matching the color of Argan’s scales. When he looked at the place where Argan had scratched, he could see that a layer of the scale had been scraped off, leaving behind a clear underneath layer. The underneath layer was still a light green and Sean realized the clear look was because of the sheer thinness of the remaining layer after the shimmery part had been scraped off.
“So,” Sean said, we can track this stuff? “
“We can,” Argan said but it isn’t going to be easy.
“It never is” another voice cut in.
The two of them looked around the see Caniciat.
“Hey,” Sean said. “Wherever have you been? I thought we’d have seen you with Extinrel.”
“You visited Extinrel?”
“I was there,” Caniciat said “but I left to investigate some possible weapons that might have been used in the murders.”
“Well as you can see, we’re trying to see if we can follow mer polish to see if our murderer is actually our murder or if he’s an unknowing distraction,” Sean said brightly.
Caniciat frowned at him and then said slowly, “Did you just call scale shine, polish?”
“It sounds like a polish,” Sean says in his defense. Also, the pinched look on Argan’s face is everything even if he might get killed for it.
Caniciat blinks and then laughs. “What are we waiting for?”
“You’re using it this time,” Argan says pushing another odd device at the circuit’s third in command. Caniciat takes the device easily and orients it correctly. Like the seer this one is littered with crystals. It’s set into rock however and a little pole is fitted into the bottom. The device itself is mostly round. There’s a major crystal in the middle, something blue and grey, that Sean can’t recognize. Around the main crystal are other smaller crystals, most of them diamonds, one or two sapphires and emeralds and a fine splattering of blue carbuncles. These are set into the stone rings that holds the main gem in such a way the ends of the gems are exposed toward the outside and almost touching the blue-grey crystal in the middle.
“What is this now?” Sean asks.
“The closest translation is ‘spectrum’,” Argan informs him.
Caniciat holds out his other hand and Argan drops another strange thing in it. This looks like a semicircle of stone and has something tucked into the sunken part. To Sean’s surprise, Caniciat clicks the semicircle onto the spectrum. He then cups his hand behind the curved stone and something shivers in the air around him and then an almost blinding white light is streaming out from the spectrum. Caniciat removes his hand from the shell quickly. Sean understands why in the next moment. Heat is streaming from the spectrum, causing the water to bubble and steam a little. On the other hand, light is now spilling out from the gems. Sean blinks and realized that they have just set something on fire. They’ve set something on fire in the freaking ocean.
“What the hell?!” Sean demands. The two mermen give him biting smiles clearly enjoying his confusion.
“I take it chemistry wasn’t a favorite of yours?” Argan said.
“Or geology,” Caniciat said.
It’s the geology that sparks understanding.
“Magnesium,” Sean says, flatly. “You guys were just wandering with magnesium in your backpacks.”
“It wasn’t lit,” Argan pointed out, like that was the important thing here.
“It is now!” Sean almost shrieks. “How are we not dead?!”
“Ratio’s,” Argan replied. “It’s like your underwater flares. They don’t kill people.”
“You do like geology,” Caniciat said like it was the other important thing in this situation.
“I can’t even right now,” Sean said disbelievingly. “Show me how to look for polish.”
◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌ ◌
Looking for scale shine, Sean soon learns, is a lot like looking for an emptied packet of shining dust in your room. Of course, it’s like looking for red shining dust when the entire colour palette in shining dust has exploded in the room.
Scale shine is pretty much everywhere because mers don’t really bother about brushing up against building and things as much as humans do. It doesn’t help that they are currently in Nailecta where the buildings are kelp and thus soft, so one minds brushing against them.
“Of course, his scales are black,” Sean grumbles. “He couldn’t go for the traditional colour. No, my boy had to go for the goth look.” He’s been set the task of looking for black scale shine while the other two are ruling out the other colors that appear around Pacniet’s home in case it wasn’t Ukendrel who’d killed him.
“I feel like I should point out that he didn’t have a choice in his scale colour,” Caniciat calls over to him distractedly.
“I know that,” Sean says, rolling his eyes.
“And yet you complain.” The merman doesn’t sound like he’s judging, he just sounds honesty confused.
“Yeah well, complaining makes things better. It’s like getting a little of your own back against the task.”
“But…. the reason you’re doing the task, isn’t the task’s fault,” Caniciat said slowly. “Since the task is incapable of doing anything as it is not alive.”
“Yes,” Sean said, “Don’t worry about it. It’s one of those things adults don’t get.”
“I think it’s less to do with adulthood and more to do with the fact that you’re ’Cigion’s child,” Argan said dryly.
“Oh, is he as random as I am?” Sean asks.
“For a mer,” Caniciat said. He gives Sean a sidelong glance. “You shouldn’t take it to mean he isn’t dangerous.”
“I know,” Sean says looking at him. “I kinda figured that innocent and harmless didn’t actually fit in with you guys.”
“Well, at least you aren’t that naive,” Argan said. He is studying a piece of kelp intently. From what Sean can see there’s about five different colors there.
“Naive enough,” Caniciat said. He’s obviously thinking of when Sean stopped them from torturing the drug dealer. Sean doesn’t care. They can consider him naive all they want; he isn’t changing his stance on torture.
Argan raises an eyebrow at Caniciat’s comment and glances at Sean. Sean shrugs unapologetically. Strangely enough this makes the second in command pleased. Sean wishes that learning merfolk body language wasn’t essential to his survival so that he can just throw his hands up in the air and yell, ‘I give up!’ Argan seems to sense this as well and gives him a faint smile and then they resume their work.
Sean finds and loses black scale shine several times. It does take him some time to get a hang of realizing what’s actually scale shine and what’s just a tiny piece of glittery glass stuck somewhere. When he finally thinks he is getting better at identifying the scale shine, he hits on two different trails. Careful examination shows that they’re actually from two different mers. Sean dithers for a moment but chooses the one that’s a slightly glossier black. Ukendrel is young, so chances are the glossier scale shine would be his.
Around this time though, Argan and Caniciat have decided that the other colors have actually failed to give a consistent trail, unlike the black scale shine that Sean is following. It’s a good thing too because not long after they join him in following the trail, Sean loses it. If neither of the mermen had been there, chances were that he’d never have picked it up again since the trail went through someone’s home.
The mermaid who lived there wasn’t particularly pleased when she opened her door to find three circuit members outside and asking for permission to search through her home while bringing in a light-emitting tool that was burning underwater.
Sean gave her a charming smile only for her to bare her very sharp teeth back in him in a manner that said she wanted to strip the flesh of his bones but had to refrain because the sovereign of Teroceanican wouldn’t like it. He drifted back from her and then stuck to Argan and Caniciat under the pretense of looking for black scale shine. They finally found another patch on the edge of the mermaid’s window. Argan spoke to her in merspeak and she answered sullenly but waved them out with a gracious air.
They found two more streaks of the scale shine that most likely belonged to Ukendrel but then there was no more. They’d hit a popular area of Nailecta and there was so much scale shine here, the whole place looked like a swirling piece of contemporary art under the light of the spectrum.
“What do we do now?” Sean asked.
Argan laughed. It was a surprisingly light and made Sean want to smile. “We have eighteen other crime scenes, Shenaragle,” he said, eyes twinkling.
“Shit,” Sean said, “I should have stayed at home!”
Argan and Caniciat both laughed at him.