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Mermaids, also known as Merfolk, are half fish humanoids found in rivers, lakes and seas all across Felarya. From the waist up, they possess the torsos of a human with fin-shaped ears and sometimes webbed hands, while their lower bodies consist of the fins and tail of a great fish. Depending on the region, the scales and complexion of merfolk vary in hue, from pale green, to blue, to yellow mixed with stripes of crimson, to gleaming silver. Their size varies a lot as well; the average merfolk typically measures between 6 and 8 feet in length, with females being slightly smaller than males, but gigantic specimens measuring over 200 feet in length are not at all uncommon, with the legendary Leviathan Mermaid surpassing them all...
Perhaps the most well-known of all aquatic races, the legend of the mermaid’s extraordinary beauty is a tale that has been told across multitudes of worlds and spanning countless generations. They possess delicate features reminiscent of elves, with females having a graceful, slender physique, and males, known as Mermen, often being chiseled and muscular. In Felarya, however, their stories are ones that inspire terror in the hearts of seafarers rather than thrill. They possess a voracious appetite, with a single giant mermaid being capable of devouring an entire crew of sailors all by herself. For any adventurer brave or foolhardy enough to sail the rivers and seas of Felarya, they represent one of the biggest dangers they must face on their journey. When whispers of a lone mermaid reach port, many savvy sailors know to give the waters a wide berth.
In Felarya, mermaids can be generally classified into two broad categories based on whether they have adapted to life in fresh or salt water, with both species possessing a number of physiological traits that allow them to better survive in their respective environments.
- River Mermaids are found in most bodies of freshwater, anywhere from frigid mountain streams, to jungle rivers, to vast open lakes. Although typically smaller and lighter than their sea-dwelling cousins, they are remarkably fast and agile, able to swim against rapid currents and leap out of the water with the greatest of ease. They are more graceful on dry land than sea mermaids, with some being even able to climb small trees to a limited degree, though they remain quite clumsy out of their element. Inexperienced adventurers often underestimate how quickly a river mermaid can move on land, believing to be safe simply from being out of arm’s reach, only to be caught off guard when the mermaid suddenly leaps out of the water and gives chase. Many river mermaids possess a long, adhesive tongue which they can shoot out and retract at great speed to catch prey like that of a frog.
- Sea Mermaids make their home in the vast, deep oceans of Felarya. On average, they are larger than river mermaids, and because their habitats are found at the bottom of the sea, they can withstand greater amounts of water pressure. They are not as swift swimmers or as capable of the same feats of agility as their freshwater counterparts, but are significantly more robust and can swim much longer distances, owing it to the pressure of the undersea depths. As the oceanic environment is far more varied than the streams and rivers of Felarya, sea mermaids come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes compared to freshwater mermaids, sporting a wild array of bright colors and exotic patterns on their tails. Some sea mermaids have the ability to change the color of their scales to better blend in with their surroundings, though this ability is not as powerful as the color and texture-changing capabilities of chlaenas.
Both species of merfolk can survive in either fresh and salt water environments, but they rarely migrate to different waters. River mermaids have a hard time adjusting to the undersea pressure, and find the wide open waters difficult and confusing to navigate. Sea mermaids, on the other hand, are made uncomfortable by the comparatively shallow waters of lakes and rivers and the near-ubiquitous presence of banks, making the freshwater environment appear unnaturally cramped and claustrophobic. It’s not impossible for either mermaids to acclimate to a new environment, but most prefer to spare themselves the trouble if they can avoid it.
Despite being classified as an aquatic race, merfolk are in fact amphibious, and although they can survive on land, they have a clear preference for life underwater, with their bodies being specifically adapted as such. Like fish, they possess a swim-bladder, a gas-filled organ that allows the mermaid to control her buoyancy and helps her swim. The lens in their eyes changes shape when their head is either above or below water, allowing them to see with optimal vision in the element they are currently in. Merfolk are able to breathe freely in and out of water, but how this is accomplished is a mystery that continues to puzzle humans to this day. Some mermaids have gill slits along the sides of their neck or ribcage, but most possess no visible gills at all. This has led some to theorize that mermaids have an organ that draws oxygen from the water they inhale. Others speculate that this is the result of innate magic that allows them to breathe water as though it was air. Obviously, merfolk are very clumsy on land, moving slowly and with none of their usual grace. For any mermaid, the feeling of dry earth and sand beneath their tail is a strange and alien sensation, one they generally find unpleasant and can never seem to get used to. A mermaid who spends a long time out of the water tends to become “landsick”, wherein she experiences dizziness and nausea not unlike motion sickness. Obviously, river mermaids are less prone to land sickness than seaborn merfolk.
Because mermaids usually sport an unassuming appearance, it’s easy to assume that they are weak and frail, but this could not be further from the truth. As much of their lives is spent swimming deep underwater, merfolk are as hale and hearty as they are graceful and beautiful. The average mermaid is oftentimes stronger and can withstand greater exertion than a human of similar size and build, making them a surprisingly powerful and hardy race.
Behavior and Culture
If there is one word that can aptly sum up Felaryan mermaids, it would be "extroverted". They enjoy company of any kind and are friendly toward other races like chlaenas. It is very rare to find a mermaid who is reserved and prefers to keep to herself. Because they are such a gregarious species, merfolk tend to form schools of friends, with some numbering in the hundreds of individuals. Although they enjoy their own privacy from time to time, mermaids typically dislike long bouts of solitude, and often get depressed if they see no interaction with another person for lengthy periods.
In a similar vein to fairies, they wear their emotions on both of their sleeves and rarely keep their feelings bottled up for long. They believe that it is unhealthy to keep secrets, and that the key to living a happy, fulfilling life is to speak whatever is weighing on their chest. They will often go out of their way to cheer a friend whenever he or she is sad or lend someone a helping hand. Because they are so honest, many joke that merfolk are the last people you should ever confide in, as they will invariably blurt out whatever important or embarrassing secret they were supposed to keep under wraps.
For any non-marine creature, mermaid culture is incredibly esoteric. Despite their outgoing and talkative nature, they speak surprisingly little of their lives underwater, and any attempt to get some sort of answer out the them is either deflected or met with silence. The reason why they are so secretive about this subject remains a mystery. What little is known, however, is that they have a few large underwater cities in the Topazial Sea. The most well-known of these settlements is without a doubt Ryzelm’oire, a haven for all underwater creatures big or small. They also appear to have an interest in jewelry, as many like to fashion accessories and some semblance of clothing using whatever they can find in the ocean, usually seashells.
Although they rarely speak of their aquatic lives, mermaids are deeply fascinated by life on land. The world above the waves offers myriads of exotic sights and sounds that cannot be found anywhere under the sea, and they find the landscape remarkably beautiful. When confronted by a mermaid — assuming she isn’t hungry, of course — it isn’t uncommon to be bombarded with dozens of questions about what life on the surface is like.
Mermaids are generally peaceful and prefer to avoid conflict and violence if at all possible. When accosted by a predator, they usually try to flee than to engage in battle. Should the need to fight arise, however, they primarily make use of their powerful tails to drive off their assailants. Smaller mermaids predominantly wield spears and other long piercing polearms in battle, as slashing and blunt weapons are too cumbersome to use effectively underwater.
Probably the most famous trait of merfolk is their alluring voices. Whether it be in verse or in everyday conversation, hearing a mermaid’s voice leaves an impression you will never forget. What most people don’t know, however, is that singing is not merely an innate talent of merfolk, but a language unique to them.
While mermaids speak like any normal person above the water, underwater is a different story. When underwater, mermaids "sing" their messages in a special language whose pitches and tones aren't distorted by water, allowing communication. It sounds a bit like whale song, but more modulated and of a higher pitch, although it also depends on the individual mermaid who sings it. Those songs appear to be just as rich and complex as regular language, with differences in pitch, tone, tempo, and structure helping to convey different, intricate meanings. This also means that mermaids possess extremely precise hearing, and are very skilled at controlling the sounds they produce. It's likely the main reason why mermaids are so famous for their beautiful singing voices; it's simply one of their natural methods of communication.
When it comes to catching food, mermaids have a variety of tools at their disposal. One of their favorite methods is to use their lovely voice to charm and attract prey. Magically inclined mermaids like to make use of illusions to lure and distract them. Others prefer to use good old-fashioned ambush tactics, hiding inside of reefs and algae and waiting for food to wander too close. Obviously, the bulk of the merfolk’s diet is primarily comprised of fish and crustaceans, as they are by far the most plentiful food found in the ocean, though they routinely supplement their diet with edible seaweed and kelp. Because elves and humans so rarely venture on the open seas, they are seen by sea mermaids as very rare and exotic treats, ones that appear only once in a blue moon, and they will rarely miss an opportunity to catch one.
The diet of river mermaids is slightly more varied than their seabound cousins, including a variety of land-dwelling animals. When they sense prey, they hide just beneath the surface and, once their target draws near to the water’s edge, they use their long sticky tongues to snag and reel in their catch. They are particularly fond of fairies and won’t hesitate to try and eat any who hovers too close to the surface of the water, as their magical nature give fairies a zesty taste that river mermaids can’t get enough of. Many river mermaids have a taste for fruits growing in the trees and shrubs lining nearby steam and riverbanks, with wafelberries being a favorite among them.
Merfolk are among the few giant sapient races to have no aversion toward eating their smaller kin. For them, they are just another seafood, and when given the choice between eating a fish and a small mermaid, giant merfolk will almost always choose the small mermaid, as they generally have a richer, more pronounced flavor. Besides giant mermaids, giant chlaenas and sea krait nagas pose an enormous danger for small and juvenile merfolk. Harpies and river nagas are the top predators of freshwater mermaids, as both species adore fish for their taste, and their somewhat long bodies make them a prime choice for a filling and satisfying meal.
When it is time to mate, sea mermaids often return to the underwater city where they were born, while river mermaids typically head upstream in search of a partner. Courtship usually involves mermen singing a ballad to their prospective bachelorette to try and win her heart. If he is successful, she will reciprocate with a song of her own. The two then engage in a romantic underwater dance as the couple sings a mesmerizing duet. If he does not manage to impress her, she will coldly turn around and swim away, leaving the would-be solicitor embarrassed and possibly heartbroken.
After a few months of pregnancy, the mermaid will lay a clutch of eggs. In underwater cities, the eggs are safeguarded inside of large clam shells where they face little risk of predation. River mermaids, on the other hand, have to be more creative. Typically, they build a nest among plants at the bottom of a river or lake and hide their eggs inside. Though they do not actively guard their eggs, they rarely stray far from their nests and regularly check up on them. As with nagas, giant mermaids typically lay only a few eggs, while smaller mermaids can lay as many as a half-dozen.
Newborn merfolk are known as fry, and although they do not carry a yolk-sac like newly-hatched fish, they are too weak to feed themselves, lacking scales and working fins to properly swim, and depend on their mother’s milk for nourishment. Once they have developed their scales and fins, the transition from a baby to a child is now complete, and are now called merlings. At this stage, it is up to the parents to teach the child how to hunt and survive in the waters. And of course, how to sing.
Credits to Anime Junkie and Rcs619 for precisions on the underwater language of mermaids and to Shady Knight for rewriting the whole entry.