Ymiden, 417th Arc…
Ymiden, 417th Arc, Aboard the Wanderer on the Orm’del Sea.
She was called ‘The strong fin that shifts the sand’, a concept associated with her identity since her sixth Arc. The surface humans who rode the winds above the waves, the Biqaj as they called themselves in their own language, had supplied a name she took for herself, Brine. They had said it meant the salty sea, and she had liked the sound. She watched the ship smash through the waves, scattering water across the surface of the ocean. The wooden contraption creaked and moaned as if in pain with the rolling of the storm. Brine let her head drift below the surface and moved closer. She saw the rear of the ship was sagging lower in the water than was normal of a craft of her size.
As she approached the craft she identified their problem. In the storm, only the surface was disrupted with the wrath, the ocean below swirled with the usual currents. The hole in the ship was about the size of her arm. As she swam closer she raised her harpoon launcher warily. She did not trust the humans, not even the Biqaj, but nor did she hate them. The hole in the ship was trailing air bubbles as she watched it. This was dire for the land-walkers aboard the craft, as it meant the ocean was claiming the craft, and their lives. She set a blue-grey hand against the ship and latched claws softly into the wood next to the hole. She immediately felt the pull of the ship as her body shifted to match their direction of travel.
As the mer peered into the ship she saw that the interior of the deck, as foreign to her as the deep was to them, was already a few feet underwater. Humans, heavily bearded and armed with hammers, were splashing about, attempting to find a way to block such a large breach. One man approached the breach with a large bundle of cloth. Brine knew from watching the crafts that this was a tool used to catch the wind and propel the ship. Now it seemed he was trying to block the breach. As he stumbled and splashed to his knees in front of the hole he froze, his brown eyes staring into her pale, pearlescent ones. She held a hand up in greeting.
His mouth dropped open and he slowly lowered his head below the surface, staring at her. She did not hate them. They toiled across the surface, bold in their defiance of their land-locked prisons. She respected that tenacity, but this was Meerabelard territory, and they would be killed. Brine tried to imprint a vision of the ship at the bottom of the ocean, black and cold. The man looks startled and began to draw the cutlass at his waist. She reached out and with a firm grasp stayed his hand. She tried again to use her telepathy to warn him. The hole was too large to block, the storm too fierce, they must abandon ship. She conveyed as best she could this idea. He reached over and with an utterly foreign, but gentle grip removed her hand from his wrist. He nodded to her once and stood to scramble back. She watched through the filter of the water as the blurry shaped of the men all coming to surround the sailor. A few stuck their heads beneath the water not flooding their ship to peer at her. One even drew his blade and attempted to charge before he was pulled back violently by his compatriots.
Eventually a new man appeared and dove easily into the water to approach her. He was utterly beautiful and wild in a way that seemed to transcend race. He peered at her, his dreadlocks floating like eels around his strong face. The goatee of black hair framed a smile that seemed to welcome the danger of the storm and the possible danger of a strange Mer. She knew by instinct that this individual was the chief amongst these land-walkers. He closed his eyes and she felt his thoughts in her mind. He could use telepathy?! She was shocked as his mental query formed in her mind.
Are you an enemy? He seemed to ask.
No. I was curious. You are in danger.
He replied with dark humor and a obvious affirmative in his thoughts. Undoubtedly, the storm is unforgiving.
That cloth wont hold, no matter how well you secure it. You go deeper into Chrien’s wrath, turn around. She struggled to form the thoughts for the mind of a surface-dweller. He seemed not to struggle as other men might.
We can’t turn, the rudder is gone. He replied without inflection.
We can’t, we’ve lost our rowboats to the storm. He replied.
Brine stared at him. The man stared back. He could certainly hold his breath. Brine wondered what it would be like to sink to a water death. The ocean represented great danger for her, but not as it did for men. She decided she did not want these particular men taken by the sea. I will help you. She sent the thought telepathically before pulling the cloth through the hole. She heard a hammering resume as the man and his crew attempted to wedge wooden staves into the hole.
For the next break she helped the crew locate and plug holes with knocking signals. She identified some of the leaks from the outside and was even becoming hopeful of their survival. But that was delusion. The storm did not relent, and the force of the ocean’s wrath began dislodging their combined work. Brine felt herself tiring from the work, her speed and her sharpness depleting. She could only imagine how it felt for these land-walkers so far from their home environment. And the storm continued to batter away their progress.
Another break later, the ship seemed to rip along the largest hole. The sharp crack that reverberated through the water was sharp and ominous. It was the fleeting last cry of a beast going to its death. Brine watched as the ship began to descend more quickly. She raised her eyes to the surface and watched as men splashed into the water, many flailing with their ill assorted limbs. By the time the top deck of the ship finally succumbed to the ocean most of the men were struggling at the surface. Brine bobbed amongst them, searching for the leader.
There is a high reef not far from here. Perhaps you will survive there. She conveyed to him when she found him trying to aid one of his men in treading water. The big, strong man seemed unalarmed by his bleak situation, concerning himself with caring for the men that remained to him.
A high reef? Does it surface?
A trial’s swim west.
The man jerked his eyes upon her. He watched her face for a moment, as if making a heavy decision.
They may not make it. He intoned. She noticed he did not include himself in this assessment. He was separate from his men.
Some may. The ocean will take them here. She did not bother to wait and see if he followed. Brine dove back underwater and surfaced again next to another soldier nearby just as a wave crashed over his head. She drew in oxygen from the salty wave as he struggled beneath it. Brine didn’t both trying to console or calm him, she simply took hold of his collar and began to drag him through the water. It was not fast, but compared with the half-dead men it was more than adequate.
The chief was swimming behind her, keeping pace. His men struggled behind him. Brine let the man she dragged for nearly a break swim on his own one another fell back. As the breaks dragged on, more and more fell back and their pace slowed as she tried to corral them together and pull them forward. It was a losing battle, and the Mer knew it. The only one who seemed capable of keeping up with her on his own was the leader. Eventually she did not have the strength to pull them all along and had to give up on the weaker swimmers. The ocean claimed what it was due, and they were far from the sandbar she had mentioned.
But they kept swimming. As the storm raged on and their strength dwindled, so did their numbers. First one man, then a handful, then a dozen were simply gone. Either eaten or drowned. It did not matter, they were gone as completely as if they never existed. The ones who survived, the few, did not let it discourage them. All hard men, all ready to die if they must. The hardest and hardiest of them all was the chief. He had not yet wavered nor shown sign of tiring as he swam steadily through unforgiving wave and chilling sea spray.
When a school of hammerheads approached from the south Brine felt her heart drop. She knew what was coming and was struggling with whether to tell the men the danger that approached. Her eyes fell on the chief as he swam, a look of grim determination on his face.
Sharks approach. She warned, letting him deduce the danger and the chances of survival.
He stopped swimming and looked around for her face. Her pale, shark-like skin shown in the dying light of the day. The storm had settled and now the waved that slapped playfully on them did not drown men or break ships. She bobbed up and down, looking for the fear in his eyes. She found none. He yelled in his language and his men began swimming to him. They made a mass of arms and legs.
Smart. They had no chance of surviving alone, so they school together. Brine wasn’t sure it would work, but perhaps.
There are only five, and one a youngling. I will kill as many as I can. She thought to the man. He sent a flash of appreciation back, and she caught a crippling wave of ferocity that came in its wake. He was preparing for a fight to the death.
Brine dove, bringing her harpoon launcher to bear on the approaching sharks. She knew it was not spiteful, simply in their nature. Still, she felt as though she was rushing to battle now, facing off against more numerous opponents. She loosed the first of three harpoons and it caught the biggest hammerhead through the mouth. The thing went still and leaked black blood into the ocean. The others launched into a frenzy, whipping through the water in all directions. Brine picked another and watched it move as she pulled the second harpoon and set it in the launcher.
She raised the weapon, took aim, and fired. She had used it since she was barely six trials old. She had downed monsters of the deep. She had provided for her tribe. Now, here, she missed. The harpoon went careening off into the deep black and out of sight. The shark she had aimed for bit into the mass of men and pulled one deeper. She watched in horror as it and the youngling bit into the man’s flesh and inked the ocean with more blood. She hurried to reload the harpoon launcher. The man was dead before she raised it again. His corpse, however, provided a distraction to keep the sharks still. Brine made sure his sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain. As two of the bigger sharks harassed the sailors above, she embedded her last harpoon in the gills of the larger of the two feasting on the now dead man. The youngling dislodged itself and Brine charged it. This one she could take with her dagger. The beast took a swipe of the blade across the gills. It turned to lash out at her, but this was not her first hunt. She sunk the dagger into it’s black eye socket before it could bite her.
In the end the remaining two sharks feasted on five men, including the first that she had failed to save. That left Brine, the chief, and only five of his men left. They were only halfway to the sandbar reef she had mentioned. They had lost almost all of their number. Brine wondered vaguely whether she would be left with nothing more than memories of dead strangers when she reached it.
They pressed on. She heard the men groaning and gasping, their lungs and bodies working in overdrive just to move as she did without thought. She wondered what it must be like to be completely unprepared for the ocean as they were. To her the wilds of the sky and the darkness of the land seemed a hellish expanse of death. To them though, her home was that hell.
After the storm and the sharks, the ocean seemed calmer. Just as she thought they might be able to make it with a few men, they started dropping due to exhaustion. First, the chief’s strongest warrior, a man who had kept up the entire way without aid, seemed to collapse inwardly upon himself. When Brine dove to pull him up he looked at her blankly. He reached out and gently removed her hand from his arm, staring after her as he sunk. It was chilling, but she did not relent in trying to save the last few. In the end it was hopeless. They simply fell away. All but the chief, the strongest among them.
What are you called? She asked finally, not wanting him to die without her knowing his story.
Brine hesitated. Brine.
What is your people’s name for you? He asked. He had no hesitation about it. Clearly this man, whoever he was, was familiar with Mer ways. How had he become so familiar? Brine searched his face as they swam next to each other. The name had been familiar, but she knew not where from. Perhaps it was a common a land-walker name.
She projected the image, from her youth, that defined who she was to her people. The young shark’s tail, from the perspective of her looking back on herself, as it swirled the white, calm sand inches beneath her into beautiful arcs. This was her identity. Her truest self she had just shown to this stranger simply because he asked. She knew it meant a special bond. He was not of the ocean, and yet he knew her Mer name. She was not of the land, and yet here she was helping him. She knew that now their bond was tethered and she could not let him die.
That is beautiful. He thought at her, concentrating heavily on the task of staying afloat.
How did you come to know our way of naming? She asked.
I’ve been around. Long time on the road. He said simply, and they swam on.
Eventually they came to the sandbar. It was not as she remembered, however. There was seven feet of water above the tallest part of the sandy reef. They looked at each other and said nothing about the impeding failure of their plan. Cassion conveyed a feeling of intense hunger and Brine went to hunt for them. She returned with raw flounder and they both feasted while treading water.
There is another way. Possibly it was really the only way[./i] She sent him images of the Mertamorphosis. She could change him, make him more like her. It would take trials to complete and more trials to journey to the coast, but they could reach it in time.
How long to the coast? He asked. He was not concerned with which coast at all. She did not know the name of the land-walker’s territory, but she knew where it was west of Meerabelard territory.
Four trials, and four to make the change. She thought.
Let’s do it.
It will be dangerous. My tribesmer are vicious, and this is the spawn. We may be attacked.
There is no choice, unless you aren’t up for the adventure. He accompanied this thought with a wary grin. She cocked her head, staring at the man who had swam for a full day to reach this point and mock her. Then she grinned.
They spent the next four trials curled together on the reef’s highest point, covered in the egg sac. He was safe though, surviving through the gel secreted from her body. It was an unpleasant and uncomfortable process, the shift. Brine herself was not going through it, but she still felt it as she was the catalyst of these changes. Eventually they were able to break free of the egg, Cassion now with the vital gills to breath life into him. As they traveled she did most of the hunting, being faster and more agile than the man. However, on one occasion he swam out and ripped the gills of a young great white shark, making a meal of it in a matter of heartbeats. He displayed such strength and agility that she began to suspect he was more than a mere man. For his part, the foreign environment seems to invigorate Cassion rather than cause anxiety. He seemed to thrive in the newness and danger of it.
Why do you not participate in this spawn? Cassion conveyed to her as they feasted on swordfish safely tucked in a coral cave on the third trial into their journey. Brine stared down at the pink chunk of raw fish meat she was eating. It wasn’t that her shame or his perceptive nature that gave her pause. She glanced around into the depth of Meerabelard territory, the shunning of her people coming fresh to mind. Her exile and the reason she was so far on the fringes of their territory in the first place.
I have no eggs. They think me weak. She thought finally, trying to convey to him the significance of this. There was no romance in Meerabelard society, the males and females did not bond as the land-walkers did. There was the tribe and the obligation to the tribe. Hunting bonds and warrior bonds were strong in that tribe, but that obligation was the primary force which held society together. She, as a female with no fertile eggs, was breaking with her obligation. She was outcast, she was weak.
You are not weak. Cassion thought with such power it made her look up at him. I know weakness, and strength. You are not weak. His conviction in the thought was not to make her feel better. He did not seem the patronizing sort. He thought it to her with the air of someone stating a fact of life. Somehow his assurance bolstered her.
She was just wondering what this man’s full story was when he asked her another cutting question. Would you like to have eggs. Would you like to give life? He asked. He had stopped eating and was watching her with eyes that seemed to bore into her soul.
I would. For the tribe. She intoned. Her thought had deepest sorrow swirling in it, residue she was unable to cleanse it of before answering. Cassion nodded. He seemed to understand that which she had left unthought. He reached out and touched her shoulder. His touch was warm and wild. She felt an energy from it course through her.
Maybe you will yet. He thought, reassuring. Brine looked away from the man, not wanting to convey her thoughts in that moment. She didn’t want him to relinquish his touch on her shoulder either, but he did.
Rest. Tomorrow we reach the coast. Brine finally thought to him.
But she did not rest that night. Perhaps the swordfish had upset her, or perhaps their journey was finally catching up to her. Brine tossed and turned all night, her stomach in shambles. In the morning, after a night without rest, she began to think something was seriously wrong with her. Cassion watched her symptoms without remark, eating more of the swordfish that hadn’t been gobbled up by scavengers in the night.
Brine screamed, a sharp pain coursing through her abdomen and down through her tail. Without knowing why she sunk to the sand and began squirming. Cassion continued to watch, his face impassive. After a few moments Brine felt it slip from her to settle softly into the sand. Relief flooded her instantly as she turned to see a single egg nestled in the white sand. It was a bit larger than a normal Mer egg and struck with a wild blue grey deep inside. She was stunned. A single egg? Mer laid many, and she had never laid any.
She turned to face Cassion, her heart pounding with fear. How did you do this? She asked, her thoughts heavy and shaking with fear. He smiled at her faintly.
I’m sorry for your pain, but you said you wanted an offspring. Cassion thought to her.
How?! She thought again, more forcefully. She felt an urge to break the egg, to smash it with her tail. She knew that Cassion had somehow done this. He was not Mer, no Mer nor man could gift fertility.
I am no man. Cassion intoned. She sensed an ancient flickering of pride in him them. A gravity that surpassed the charisma of men or mer. I am Cassion the Wanderer. I was made by Brel’Tek. I have given you this life in payment for my own. He indicated the egg with a flash of an affectionate smile.
Cassion the Sojourner, Cassion the Wanderer, Cassion the Hungry. Cassion the Immortal. Brine felt her whole being shake with the momentum of his words. He had given her an egg, he had created in her a life so as to repay his debt to her? What kind of being had that power to on a whim grant her the deepest desire of her life?
Brine looked at the egg that now lay between them. She tenderly picked it up and held it out in front of her.
Mer younglings eat each other by the thousands. How will I know this will survive, how will I know this will even become fertilized? She asked, trying to gather her thoughts. It was beautiful, this egg that had come from her. She wanted to protect it, to guard it with her life. But that was not the Mer way. It belonged in the Meerabelard spawn.
Cassion looked affronted, his ancient pride shining through again. This egg is as much mine as it is yours. He reached out and touched it with that thought. Something within swirled and a bright blue light flickered in the egg. The youth in this is the child of the Lord of Hunger, it will not be eaten. I have given my own blood in place of a father to ensure that this legacy will be a fitting one for you. I know it is not in the Mer to know parent nor offspring, but know that this one will be mighty indeed. Cassion thought with them gravity of a shaman’s words of power.
Brine stared up at him. He had fathered her egg? How was that possible. He was not Mer. When she asked him such he tilted his head back and laughed.
I am not bound as you are, my mortal friend. I can bestow such life where I want. Cassion let his touch fall from the egg, his eyes peering past her. He was looking to the horizon, to the west, and to land.
We need to hurry if we are to get you to land before the effects of the Mertamorphosis revert. Brine thought, her attention drifting with his. Her hands still clutched the egg possessively. She felt a pang of actual pain as she tore her eyes from the thing to look at him. He was shaking his head.
We part here. My son will be hungry when he is born, you must bring him to the spawn so he may eat his fill. I will travel on alone. Cassion saw the look of concern on her face and grinned. I will be fine. The promise of the adventure excites me.
Did you even need me? She thought before she could stop herself.
Cassion’s smile faltered. Of course. Every adventure needs a hero. He winked at her and was off, building speed until all she could see of him was a smudge of black against pale blue. She watched him go though he never looked back. she wondered if someday she would be another story the Immortal told his men. A mer who saved him long ago. She wondered if he would remember the names of the men the ocean had taken.
Then she turned to bring her egg to the Meerabelard spawn. It seemed to already have a pulsing life to it. She would leave a legacy after all. She traveled for the better part of two trials to reach the spawn. Then, later, the spawn hatched and Cassion’s son did indeed eat his fill. But the small Mer youngling did not know what his mother had gone through to birth him, nor the divine nature of his father.
Crivash was always one of the larger youths in his age of Meerabelard. It meant he was ready to learn to hunt and fight sooner, and he was often expected to have a certain maturity. His youth brought with it a sense of responsibility because of this. Crivash was dedicated to his role in learning the skills of the hunt and longed for the wild thrill of the deep. He trained with the local adult Mer who took them out on hunts, paying close attention to every pertinent detail. He learned the basics of spear fighting from a grizzled, grey Mer named Neptorak. The old Meerabelard worshipped Chrien and told tales of how, through vicious destruction of humans, they would achieve her love once again. He was a massive slab of fish meat, was Neptorak, and though Crivash eventually shunned his teachings on Chrien, he would always remember those first lessons in survival and combat that Neptorak imparted, even hundreds of years later.
In those early years Crivash made a name for himself with his peers by being bold in his ventures and encouraging the other youths to come along. It often resulted in dangerous escapades with sharks, whales and sabotaging human fishing nets. Their antics drew the attention of some of the adult Mer and Crivash was brought into a hunting party by his ninth Arc. Eventually though, due to his distaste for their worship of Chrien, Crivash abandoned the Meerabelard. He hated the Immortal and wanted to experience more of the ocean world than just his backwards minded tribe. By the time he was an adult, Crivash was journeying across the oceans of Idalos on his own.
Crivash spent the next few hundred years exploring many tribes including the Akktava, Akosile, and Minisink Mer. He hunted and fought, lived and celebrated amongst them. All the while learning what made each tribe important and vital to the ocean’s well being. He earned scar and story from his hunts and pieced together his own image of what a Mer should stand for. On multiple occasions Crivash faced near death situations, sometimes coming away from them with scars and lessons learned about his own ability and that of the dangers of the ocean.
Crivash became drawn in his travels to establishing a universal truth in the Mer. He tried to spend his many years amongst the tribes to understand their values and their fears. Through this time he witnessed tragedy against his kind, oppression and violence from the land-dwellers. These experiences, many while he was still in his first hundred or so years of life, built in him a hatred for the land-walkers. His naivety clouded his memory of the atrocities he saw his own people commit against the merchants, pirates, and sailors of the seas. Crivash became a chauvinist with a sense of entitlement to the ocean and it’s resources that should be fierceless defended against land-walkers. His naive zeal often brought him to violence against land-walkers, those youthful tendencies surviving into his later years though he has grown to have a calmer nature and a reserved tongue.
Through his travels Crivash heard of a population of some Mer who had aligned themselves with the Naerikk shadow women of Augiery. The lived amongst the land-walkers in harmony, though were not as submissive as the Ryn Mer. Crivash made his way there. With such a group it would not be odd to find a full grown Mer coming into the fold on his own, as it would for one of the more traditional tribes. Crivash arrived and claimed an underwater cavern in a reef half a day’s swim from Sarraski. With little more than his weapons and a sense of a new beginning Crivash set out to once again make a home amongst a new group of Mer. Though they had allied themselves with the Naer, the shadow women’s disdain of the other land-walkers almost matched that of the Mer. Perhaps an ally was just what his people needed…