Merpeople live around the globe, often indistinguishable from anyone else - at least, while they're outside of the water. Read on to find out how they work, where they came from, and what they're doing on our world now!

Basic Characteristics & Vulnerabilities

Merpeople are essentially enchanted humans, able to shift between their terrestrial and aquatic forms at will. Their tails, like any other tetrapod tail, are extensions of the spinal column. Thus, they do not have "knees" in the middle of the tail. If anything, their legs are approximated by a pair of pelvic fins. The scaled skin on their tails gives way to human skin around their waists. They have gills on the sides of their bodies.

Merpeople can reproduce in aquatic form as regular humans do (the relevant organs being kept under discreet folds of skin when not in use). Children who are born to mer mothers will themselves be merpeople, having absorbed the enchantment into themselves from their mothers' bodies. Young mers start out with plain, dull-colored tails, but come adolescence the colors will become bolder and they'll begin to develop patterns. Their hair will begin to undergo a similar process at this point; it may develop a colorful tint, or colored streaks may appear. Someone who has black hair, for example, might develop a purplish tint, making it appear a deep purple color. Or it might have rich purple streaks, or a bit of both. Someone with very light hair might have it turn a pale blue or pink. Their hair might also take on multiple hues. Whatever colors they develop, they usually match their tails. (Important to note, however, is that should they take human form, this coloration will vanish and their hair will resume its ordinary human coloration as long as they remain in human form.) Some merpeople believe that one's future can be predicted based on the colors and patterns that one develops, but there's no evidence that this is actually true. Merpeople's coloring finishes developing around their mid-twenties.

Non-merpeople can also be changed into merpeople. To do this, the person must stand out in seawater under the light of the full moon. At least three merpeople stand around this person, then draw upon the power of the moon and the sea. Then they each place a hand upon this person (usually on the shoulders) and will this power, along with some of their own magical essence, into this person. Contact must be maintained for approximately thirty seconds. Should the process be interrupted before it's completed, no harm will come to the person; the enchantment simply won't take effect, and the ritual can be attempted again at the next opportunity. If it works, the person will be transformed into aquatic form for the first time. Their coloring will depend on their age; IE, adults will have more vivid and defined coloration than adolescents.

When they change, they can selectively will clothing items that stick close to the skin to change along with them. Thus, someone can go into the water wearing a two-piece bathing suit, morph the lower part into the mer form, and keep the upper part as-is. The same can be done with leggings, underwear, etc.

Merpeople's innate magic also protects their human skin from maceration due to long-term water exposure (this sort of thing can lead to the potentially-gruesome condition known as trench foot in humans) and protects them from hypothermia even in near-freezing waters. Likewise, it protects them from high pressure up to around 5000 feet, and enables them to see clearly in dim lighting. They are also capable of communicating telepathically under the water, though this only works under the water and has a range distance similar to hearing distance above the water.

They can safely take aquatic form in both salt water and fresh water, but that doesn't mean that they should just swim in any water. Chlorinated water, for example, is highly dangerous; the chlorine will cause chemical burns to their gills, just as inhaling chlorine would burn your lungs. Other pollutants create their own dangers. If it would sicken or kill a fish, or cause mutations in its offspring, a merperson should definitely stay out of it. Their magic will help them resist many water-borne pathogens, but should still take care to avoid consuming anything that might contain parasites or pollutants.

All merpeople have a magical affinity for the moon and the sea. The magic that makes them merpeople must be charged by the moon in particular. If it runs out, they will be forced to revert to terrestrial form, which can be very dangerous if the water is cold or if they are far from hospitable land. So, merpeople are careful to make sure they spent adequate time in the light of the moon when possible.

On the night of the full moon, and on each night before and after the full moon, it takes only about fifteen minutes to recharge fully. At three quarters full, it takes closer to half an hour. By the half moon, it takes about an hour. When it's a quarter full it takes about two hours, and on the night of the new moon, there's just no getting energy from the moon at all. Additionally, cloud cover can also slow the process down. One full charge is sufficient to hold them until the next full moon, providing nothing happens to deplete it early.

Merpeople can also become mages. (In fact, simply making someone a merperson will jumpstart that person's magic field.) Their own personal magic fields are separate from the magic that makes them merpeople, though should they exhaust their personal magic, they might end up drawing power from their mer magic instead. However, this leaves them especially physically tired (even casting just a few spells this way can be exhausting), and it quickly depletes their mer magic. Even just casting three of the types of spells one can do with a magic field at the 4-5 range can use up nearly all of one's mer magic; attempting just one 9-10 range spell can easily use up two thirds of it. (Many mages report that this sort of thing is common issue with trying to use magic already configured to one purpose for another one.)

If merpeople have reason to believe that access to moonlight might become an issue, they will often charge objects under the moonlight to use as a backup supply. (It's important to make sure that the materials won't be damaged by water or salt!)

Merpeople can also usually sense each other magically when they are fairly close together (five to ten feet is usually enough). So if two merpeople who don't know each other meet on land, they may recognize each other thus.

In 1992, Rosalie Su'apaia of Honolulu, Hawaii took to filling small bottles with things that could hold a magical charge. This included things like bits of copper wire, small pieces of sea glass or quartz, mother of pearl from oyster shells, pieces of broken jewelry, and suchlike. Once the bottles were filled, they were sealed and had wires wrapped around them so as to make a way to wear them on a necklace chain - usually ball chain, as it was quite strong. To draw the magic back out, they usually hold the item in their hands and will the magic to come back out to them.

Merpeople cannot draw power from the sun, nor from arid land. They cannot draw power from fire, nor can they manipulate or create it. (Some can heat things up to boiling temperatures, but they cannot make anything combust into flame.) Furthermore, if they fail to fully immerse themselves in a large body of water every so often (a few hours every month will usually do), their mer magic will begin to fade, and in around 2-5 years disappear entirely. If they wish to take mer form again, they must retake the ritual. They can also be hindered with wards, just as vampires can.

Merpeople do not have enhanced lifespans, and so live as long as humans do. Aside from the aforementioned resistances to cold, maceration, and water-borne pathogens, they are prone to suffering the same health issues as any other human.

History Of The Merpeople

A few thousand years ago, the terraforming of the Earthlike planet Leshk was complete, and myriads of humans came to settle there for one reason or another. With them they brought their own ideas and values... but not all of them were positive ones.

On a space station inhabited mainly by people whose ancestors had come from the Fertile Crescent region, a small group of people (perhaps a few thousand or so) known as the Ashtuin held some extremely repressive ideas. Very few Ashtu women were taught to read, and if one was too opinionated or free-spirited it was often seen as a sure sign of demonic possession. Such women were often subjected to exorcism rituals that could last for days, and in some cases were extremely brutal. Women were also expected to keep themselves busy with domestic life and work; and as one Ashtu man had written, "there is always work to be done in the home and the gardens around it; if a woman cannot be satisfied with that alone, the only possible cause is some infatuation with useless fancy, no doubt planted into her head by some slack-minded fool who still believes dragons nest among the nebulae." Because it was believed that fancy beget fancy, women who showed too much desire in anything other than their domestic lives would have anything they occupied themselves with during their spare time might be taken away or destroyed, and they would be forced to engage in more "useful" activities for as long as deemed necessary. It was not unusual for women to be forced to watch their paintings, drawings, tapestries, or other forms of self-expression torn up and turned. They were also forbidden from learning magic.

Men, on the other hand, were expected to be strong, assertive, and smart - natural leaders, essentially - but also to be unwaveringly loyal to their superiors and never undermine their authority in any way. To show too much emotion invited scorn and shame. Men who were seen as too soft or who seemed to be showing signs of too much ambition might be sent to work the most difficult and unpleasant jobs available. This was done in the name of "toughening them up" or "teaching them respect," but some of these jobs were so dangerous, almost everyone knew that it was nothing more than a death sentence. (Ordinarily, these dangerous jobs would be done by robots, but the Ashtuin believed that robots made people lazy.) And while not precisely forbidden from learning magic, it was seen as a waste of time that distracted one from learning more useful and "honest" skills. Being too lenient with wives and daughters was also seen as a sign of weakness, and while it would not ordinarily incur a punishment, it could easily end up being social suicide.

In the rotating habitat station they had called home, their views were not well-regarded by most other people. The ideals of the Ashtuin were largely considered backwards and unrealistic. Many of them were only too glad to assist Ashtuin who wanted to escape and find a better life for themselves, whether in another community on the station or on another station altogether. Over time, the numbers of people who upheld the rigid ideals of the Ashtuin dwindled.

Many Ashtuin felt threatened by this, and they came to the decision that it would be in their best interest to leave the space station and leave for someplace else. The recently-habitable world of Leshk was perfect - so few people lived on it that they could isolate themselves with ease. Several hundred chose to move to an archipelago which became known as the Zunan Islands. There, they built their new homes.

However, they already had far less control over things than they imagined. Years before they left the station, a 28-year-old Ashtu woman named Tialen Shemasku had secretly developed her own writing system. It looked like simple depictions of flowers, and when they were painted or embroidered in lines they easily passed for decorative embellishments. (The fact that it was written boustrophedonically, that is, with each line alternating from left to right and right to left, made it even harder to recognize it as writing rather than random designs.) Shemasku taught her sisters, daughters, and nieces how to read and write with this system, and encouraged them to collect and record any useful knowledge they could find. Everything from practical household advice to tips for escaping dangerous situations ended up on handbags, blankets, jewelry, and even dishware.

Some Ashtu women who were able to escape learned how to read the regular alphabet, and they wrote guides to read it in the flower script. These guides, printed into thin booklets, were smuggled in with women's undergarments, soaps, and suchlike. Once they were received, the women began teaching themselves how to read - and read they did. A few of them were able to get their hands on devices that allowed them to access the station's library archives. Tialen Shemasku's now-teenage daughter, Temeneth, made a personal quest out of digging into their history and lore. Temeneth discovered that their people used to have a rich tradition of magic, though over the generations it had fallen out of favor as a worthwhile endeavor. Temeneth also discovered that the myths she had heard as a child had at some point been distorted. Everyone had always been taught that the goddess Nanya, who in olden times was believed to have emerged from the primordial seas to create the world and give birth to the other gods, had eventually turned on everyone and had to be imprisoned on the moon. And yet, it seemed that long ago people believed that Nanya had simply gone to live on the moon to watch over everything.

When these women learned that they were going to be relocated to Leshk, they lost no time in securing the information that they had found, whether that meant putting it on devices or writing it down in the flower script. They had been kept in the dark once; they were not about to go back into it.

Getting settled in on this new world was hard work, but whenever they had any spare time, they would read and many of them would practice magical techniques. So it went on for nearly fifteen years. Temeneth, now a woman in her thirties with a husband and children of her own, had been among those who had studied magic - but that was not all she was studying. She had hoped to find a way to help people escape if they wished. Portals were useless; it was impossible to make one from here back to the station, and none of them knew enough about Leshk to visualize anywhere but the archipelago, limiting where they could go on the planet's surface. Boats were useless for a similar reason - they didn't know where they'd even go. There was only the sea around them. And then the worst happened. One young woman had been caught reading a book, and when interrogated ultimately confessed that many of the women knew how to read. Most of them were arrested (Temeneth included); the few who weren't fled to hide. The leaders convened to decide what they should do. Some called for death. Some suggested more traditional punishment, feeling that death was far too harsh and cruel. One said that the women ought to be able to read if they want; it clearly hadn't stopped them from doing their important work, so what's the harm? The final decision was that a few of them would be made an example of, punished by death, and the rest would be punished less harshly. Though this didn't sit well with all of them, they felt that it was the best compromise that they could possibly get under the circumstances.

Temeneth soon learned that she was to be among those executed. When one of the men came and informed her thus, she wanted to seem brave and defiant, but that was not to be - because in that moment, she felt as if she had lost everything, that all her work had been for worse than nothing. It was overwhelming, and she collapsed to the floor and cried. Had it even been worth it? If she hadn't done this, perhaps no one would be facing execution. Their children wouldn't face losing their mothers. Thus she remained for nearly half an hour. Then the tears passed, and she found herself desperately trying to think of a way out. Although the local jail didn't have high-tech security, the concrete walls and metals bars were still effective enough at holding her in. Magic could not get her out, because there were far too many people around and she would almost certainly be seen and stopped before she got very far, and she had no real skill in transformation (not for lack of trying).

When night fell, Temeneth was up all night with her thoughts racing between thoughts of getting out, whether her life choices had been a mistake, and how things would carry on when she was gone. But what she did not know is that one of her fellow mages, skilled in illusion, had escaped capture by disguising herself as one of the men. Kebita was her name, and she came disguised as one of the men supposed to guard the place. Kebita released Temeneth and the others, and together they all cloaked themselves so they could slip off into the night unnoticed. Kebita lead them down to a boat and took them into a sea cave where it would be hard for them to be located. There were nine of them in all, and together they began to discuss what to do. They couldn't stay in the cave forever - they had no supplies, and it would only be a matter of time before they were found. And yet they couldn't go back; death awaited most of them.

They were exhausted and desperate, and ready to try nearly anything. Someone suggested some kind of spell, and someone wanted to know what kind. One woman suggested they put their powers together and call up a terrible storm to destroy their enemies, but Temeneth pointed out that even if they could succeed at that, it would do nothing to solve their problems in the long term. Then someone mentioned Nanya; perhaps they could ask for her help. Not everyone was even in agreement over whether Nanya even existed, but they supposed that at the very least it couldn't hurt. Then Kebita suggested that what they needed, perhaps, was the ability to live in the water. Temeneth agreed, and asked everyone to put their heads together as to how to make such a spell work under these circumstances. It would take a tremendous amount of power and concentration. Temeneth came up with a simple chant for them to sing together on the spot, and they took hands and stood in a circle and began. They focused on having the ability to live in the water, and implored Nanya to help them in their hour of need.

They had been at it for what felt like hours when the air seemed to fill with electricity that permeated their entire bodies. None of them were able to remain standing.

When it faded, they found that their bodies had changed. Their legs had become tails, and they had large gills on their bodies. Once they'd all gotten their bearings, they slipped off into the water, down into the safety of the deep.

If this were a fairytale or legend, they might have vanished forever, never to be seen again. But this is not a legend, nor a fairytale.

They were safe, but there were many questions to be raised. What of their families? What about their children, their husbands (they weren't all completely terrible - or so they hoped), their siblings, and their parents? They discussed among themselves, and they eventually decided that they would go back to speak to them again, and to see what happened. They waited a few days, in the meantime exploring the place and practicing their swimming, and finding out just what they could do. They found that they could retake human form on the land, and they discovered that the moon's light replenished their magic. They also discussed exactly what they would say and do once they returned to the village, and

Then they came to the shore and walked into the village, six of them taking point to make shields if they needed to. They were soon surrounded by people: friends and family who were terrified that they'd drowned, bewildered village leaders, and people who weren't directly connected at all but couldn't help but hear about everything. They all had their own opinions, and they all had to know what happened next. Those who felt that they had deserved lenience were even more convinced that they had treated them wrongly, while those who felt otherwise were more certain than ever that they deserved retribution for their disobedience. Some people were called in to apprehend the women, but they were repelled by the shields.

Temeneth stepped forward and spoke the words that she had been forming in her mind over the last few days.

"The sorrow that has been caused brings us no joy, but we believe we have done no wrong in seeking knowledge. No harm has come of our own actions; the pain and strife that we see comes not from us, but from those who would punish us. We would love nothing more than to be reunited with our families and live among them again, but as people here call for our deaths, we cannot stay. But should these people ever change their minds, or should anyone want to leave a place that condemns people for death for wanting knowledge, come to the sea on the full moon."

And then they bid their farewells through the shields, and they turned and went back to the sea.

The moment they were gone, village leaders tried to declare that they were selfish and cared for nothing but themselves and proclaimed that they should all be considered as good as dead. Some believed it. Those who knew them better or felt sympathy for them did not.

For weeks, it was almost all anyone could think about. People discussed it among themselves and tried to sort out how they felt about it. Some believed they'd done exactly the right thing, some thought that their actions were sympathetic but ultimately unjustifiable, and others believed that they were wholly condemnable. Many had mixed feelings, or just didn't know what to think.

One thing was certain, come the next full moon there was so much fear that others might take the women up on their invitation that guards were posted outside, and many people stayed up all night to make sure no one in their homes would sneak out. But nonetheless, a few were successful in slipping off to the sea. The same thing happened every full moon night, and when a few months later they began increasing the numbers of guards keeping watch on full moon nights, people simply began to take off earlier, leaving at the first opportunity. Sometimes entire families would go. Several months after, Temeneth's own husband and children vanished in the night.

Occasionally some would come back onto the land to visit or trade. Although the leaders had tried to order them not to speak to their friends and relatives from the sea, few obeyed. Once they arrested some of the people who'd failed to follow their orders, but then a dozen merpeople showed up and rescued them, and proclaimed that they'd do the same again should they arrest more people for the same. In the meantime, young men being sentenced to work dangerous jobs were often rescued by friends who'd already joined the merpeople.

Eventually it became clear that it was impossible to keep people under their thumb as they had in the past. A few people on the land even decided to start a school for girls, and when they feared that it might come under attack or sabotage, the merpeople agreed to help protect it. People who had been afraid to speak out against the punishment system began making their displeasure known.

Over the years, things gradually got better. There was conflict along the way, of course, but the events set in motion could not be stopped. In only a few generations, the authoritarian ideals of the past seemed utterly ridiculous to most Ashtuin (most of whom were merpeople by this point). Centuries in the future, the Ashtuin lived mostly underwater, using much of the archipelago's surface space to procure solar energy to power their undersea homes. Furthermore, they had by now spread Nanya's gift (as they called it) to many parts of the world.

Eventually, news reached Leshk that humans from Earth had finally made contact with people outside of their world. Among those who heard and whose curiosities were piqued were merpeople, and some of them signed up to visit the Mother World in person. Thus in 1984, five merpeople came to Earth, first choosing to visit Key West, Florida. Along the way they made friends with 19-year-old Lashanda Williams. At first they tried to keep the details of who they were a secret, but Lashanda found them out swimming one night in mer form, and naturally she wanted to know. They ultimately decided that there was no harm in telling her the truth, so they did - they told her where they'd come from, how merpeople came to be, and so on. Lashanda immediately wanted to become a mermaid herself, and after a few days of deliberation, they decided to grant it to her. In time, some of Lashanda's other friends were let in on the secret, and were similarly changed. Over time, similar incidents happened around the world in various coastal areas.

Merpeople On Earth Today

It's difficult for anyone to be certain how many merpeople live on Earth. It's known that the numbers aren't especially high - perhaps in the hundreds or so - but that's all that's known. In 2004, a Californian mage named Nancy Iokua interviewed several merpeople (promising to keep them anonymous) and determined that quite a few of them were worried that if they were ever found out, they'd be kidnapped and vivisected by the government. She also found that merpeople tended to live in small communities away from large populations and near fairly clean water. She found that all of them lived primarily on land, maintaining their regular human lives in addition to whatever they did as merpeople. Iokua supposed that this might be because trying to live underwater full-time might be like trying to live out in the wilderness - largely impractical, and often very unpleasant.

Fortunately for these merpeople worried about vivisection or any kind of government study, the US government already has just about everything they care to know on them. Back in 1994, a 23-year-old naval officer and merman named Riley Levinson (he had been the latter since he was eighteen) exposed himself to non-merpeople when he chose to take aquatic form to save some fellow officers when a boat they were in capsized. Naturally, when his superiors found out from other officers that Levin had shapeshifted into a merman, they wanted to know all about it. Levinson informed them of everything he knew. After some deliberation, certain officers in the navy decided that having merpeople would be a good idea, and so they selected a few to receive the enchantment from the merpeople who had shared it with Levin. After finding the merpeople who had done it, they explained to them that they would be very interested in having some merpeople in the army, and impressed upon them the importance of doing their patriotic duty and protecting American interests. Exactly how far the merpeople bought into that (if at all) is unknown, but they did ultimately agree to share the gift with a few young officers. (The fact that they were offered monetary compensation probably didn't hurt any.) Once they'd done that, they took body scans and DNA samples, tested how fast they could move and how strong they were, and other such things. They also had a few mages come in to see what they could sense from them. At this point they are fairly well understood, and a number of merpeople serve in many water-oriented divisions of the military and law enforcement. (Though, this last fact is not exactly advertised loudly.)

Many merpeople are also marine scientists, and due to their ability to sense each other in close proximity, many have ended up meeting each other at relevant events. Around 2013, some of them started an informal group known as the Scierens, who keep in touch and collaborate with each other. Today, the Scierens have members all over the world, including places such as the UK, Ireland, South Africa, New Zealand, the Philippines, Brazil, Norway, and others. The Scierens work to raise awareness about the ocean and the problems it faces, and they have a website with educational articles and videos, though they have not openly disclosed themselves as merpeople as of early 2018.

Related SoulMettle content:

Magic: An Overview
The History & State of Civilization In Space (As Pertinent To Humans)

Other pages of interest:

Mer Tail Generator

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