The Seamage’s Heir
*Your son lives, Trident Holder,* Chaser signed, foregoing his usual formal greeting as he entered Broadtail’s grotto.
*Where has Eelback taken him?* Broadtail surged up to the scout, his fins flaring with his temper. Six tides had passed since the mer had waged war against the landwalkers. Six tides since he had discovered that the school had been betrayed by Eelback. Six tides since his eldest son, Tailwalker, had been abducted by the traitors. His brood of young finlings, barely longer than his hand, scattered into every nook around the room, while his wife, Silverfin, hung back, well acquainted with her husband’s temper.
*They swim to the south, Trident Holder. The undine aided us in tracking them through the southern trench, but they refuse to go farther.*
*And what of Seamage Flaxal’s Heir? Did he slay her for betraying us against The Voice?*
*Seamage Flaxal’s Heir lives.* Chaser signed, shifting dark, then light, a sign of confusion or fear. Broadtail also noticed other signs in Chaser; sunken cheeks and sallow eyes that spoke of fatigue and hunger.
*Do not fear my anger, Chaser. It is not directed at you.* He swept his arms wide in a proper welcome. *Come, eat and take some rest while you sign to me. Silverfin, we have some fresh mussels, do we not?*
*We do, my husband.* Silverfin flipped her tail and swam into a smaller grotto, returning in a heartbeat with a double handful of succulent mussels and a shucking knife.
*Thank you, Trident Holder,* Chaser signed, gobbling down the first of the tasty mollusks as he continued his report. *The scents the undine followed were confusing, Trident Holder. Seamage Flaxal is alive, but is no longer with Eelback’s school. She has returned to her own grotto.*
*He released her?* Broadtail’s eyes popped wide, his color shifting in horror.
*Yes, but there was also some of her blood scent, and another scent, another landwalker, like her, but male. This second scent went with Eelback and your son.*
*A second landwalker? Where did it come from?*
*That is the confusing part, Trident Holder,* Chaser said, gobbling down another mussel. *The scent came from nowhere. It was very strong at first, like Seamage Flaxal Heir’s, but different.*
*Her finling!* Broadtail’s color blanched almost white with the horrible realization of what Eelback had done. *He took her heir, Chaser! Holy Odea, Kelpie was with him! She took the landwalker child for Eelback! Seamage Flaxal will now surely destroy us!*
*Took her finling?* Chaser’s features showed only confusion. *But why?*
*I do not—* he began, but Silverfin’s hand on his arm stopped him.
*You say they swam south, beyond the great trench, Chaser?* she asked. As the trident holder’s wife, she was also one of the school’s lore-keepers.
*Yes, Silverfin. The undine trackers would not follow into the vast emptiness beyond the trench that the landwalkers call the Fathomless Reaches, but the course was true.*
*And he took the seamage’s heir.* Her eyes flicked between her husband and Chaser, worry darkening her features. *Akrotia,* she signed, her delicate hands shaking.
*What is that?* Chaser asked.
*Akrotia is a city, Chaser,* Broadtail signed, though his eyes remained fixed upon his wife. *An ancient mer city, built and shared with landwalkers. But it is dead.*
*Dead?* Chaser asked, still obviously confused. *How can a city die? Did its coral become diseased?*
*Akrotia was not built from coral, Chaser,* Silverfin signed. *It was built of stone, metal and the magic of the landwalkers and mer alike. It lived, infused with the life of a landwalker…a landwalker seamage.*
*Eelback!* Broadtail signed, his choppy motions making the name a curse. *You think he plans to bring Akrotia back to life with the seamage’s heir?*
*It seems the only explanation, my husband. I will search the scrolls, but why else would Eelback take the seamage’s heir? Nothing else makes sense.*
*One thing is clear to me,* Broadtail signed, his attention turning back to Chaser. *Seamage Flaxal must be told what has happened, that Eelback manipulated The Voice and has taken her child. If we can direct her wrath to Eelback, she may not destroy us.*
*You wish me to tell her what we have discovered?* Chaser asked, flushing pale. Being sent to confront the seamage after what had happened, after her child had been literally ripped from her womb, could be a death sentence.
*I do, Chaser.* Broadtail grasped the scout’s shoulders briefly, a sign of confidence and friendship. *Tell her that we submit to her. Eelback manipulated The Voice for his own ends and tricked us into a war with the landwalkers. We seek to help her get her child back as atonement. Whatever she asks, we will do. Whatever allies we have are hers. If we do this, perhaps she will not destroy us all.*
*And Tailwalker?* Chaser asked, his eyes shifting from the trident holder to his wife and back.
*Tell her he is Eelback’s captive. We do not seek her aid in freeing him. That will be our task, Chaser.* Broadtail looked to his wife, then back to the scout. *The force I send with you will have this one secret from the seamage: I charge you with freeing my son.*
*If Seamage Flaxal does not kill me before I can deliver this message, I will be honored to go with her to find Akrotia…and free your son.*
*Thank you, Chaser.* Broadtail grasped him again by his shoulders and nodded gravely. *But have a care. It is said that Eelback has many allies, and we know nothing of Akrotia. He is not foolish. He must know that the seamage will come after him. He may have already made alliances of which we know nothing.*
*I will go to the seamage now, Trident Holder,* Chaser signed, gulping down the last of the mussels and nodding his thanks to Silverfin. *If I return, we will discuss Akrotia.* Chaser bowed formally in farewell, and took his leave.
*You ask much of him, husband,* Silverfin signed, her features grave.
*Yes, my love. For our son, I will ask much, perhaps all, and not only from Chaser.* Broadtail took up his staff of office, the trident of the school. *I will tell all theschool ofEelback’s treachery, and I will ask their help. Any who offer their service will accompany Chaser to Akrotia. Our war with the landwalkers is over, but I will not rest until Eelback is brought to justice.*
*Very well, my husband,* she signed, raising one hand to brush the fine scales of his cheek, *and thank you.*
*Thank me when Tailwalker is home safe,* he signed, leaving the grotto, his wife and his curious brood behind.