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The merfolk are peculiar among the races of Talaura. Paradoxically insular and communal, they feel a strong association with their own kind while shying away from interactions with other peoples. Historians and scholars have speculated as to the reasons for this, citing their aquatic nature as a principle factor in reducing their capacity to mingle with other cultures.
Whatever the causes, merfolk are typically viewed with some skepticism by the other races of Talaura, who caricature them as greedy and opportunistic.
Due to their aquatic origin, Merfolk of Talaura are rarely (if ever) found in Tesman or Shabar, finding the dry, cold climates too inhospitable. They can be found around the mouth of the River Jefla in Jafleaye, however, and rarely drive further inland, preferring to stay close to the sea or at least to the river. In Skoiasu they are abundant in the mangroves and swamps, whose shallow but warm water is ideal for them. The majority of Merfolk culture is found around The Aspuan where their underwater settlements stretch for miles.
Lionfish and Sharkfolk
Though Merfolk represent a single race, there is a rather large disparity between their two sub-species. “Lionfish” merfolk typically occupy warmer waters and are smaller and more agile than their Sharkfolk cousins. They have brightly-coloured skin and extravagant fins that trail like streamers behind them as they swim. They can also secrete a deadly poison, a strength valued by their hunters and shamans.
Sharkfolk are hardier and tougher than Lionfish merfolk. Larger, more muscular and with vicious teeth and hard skin, Sharkfolk are also often more aggressive and territorial. They don’t adapt as well to community life as Lionfish do and tend to be more individualistic than them.
History and Culture
Merfolk cultures are typically divided into two groups, either by distinguishing those who occupy saltwater environments from those who occupy brackish or freshwater environments; or by distinguishing them by climate, with the lionfish merfolk preferring warmer waters and sharkfolk being able to survive in colder climes.
The oldest examples of Merfolk culture have been found in artefacts from The Aspuan sea, typically carved idols of jade or soapstone, marked with runic inscriptions not matching a language known above the waves. In the shallower water, the land-dwelling races can often see their settlements constructed somewhat crudely from woven, treated seaweed and palm, along with driftwood, coral and flotsam. Many Merfolk make their homes in the vast networks of naturally-occurring caves and tunnels that stretch for miles below The Aspuan, their inky blackness threatening to swallow anyone who attempts to navigate them without a guide.
Merfolk are thought to have migrated to Skoiasu relatively recently, where they were much quicker to form co-operative communities with Elves and Humans. They brought with them the skills of carving, diving, foraging and salvaging and served as guides to the first terrestrial peoples who set out to populate The Aspuan. Examples of Merfolk (or Merfolk-inspired) carvings have been found on various pieces of ancient Skoia architecture and artefacts. The runic inscriptions seem very similar to those found in The Aspuan but again, scholars have no frame of reference to attempt to translate the etchings.
Merfolk in The Aspuan are typically secretive, cleaving tightly to their own people and breaking the surface of the water only to trade with terrestrial people. Very little is known about their society or community life. Their religious practices involve the worship of primeval deities which they believe to be linked to specific geographical landmarks. Merfolk have a particularly nebulous concept of ownership, believing that the sea washes away all of an object’s previous associations. Once an object becomes submerged, then, it becomes “fair game” for anyone to obtain. Many merfolk make their fortunes as treasure divers or salvagers, in this way, selling to merchants their own goods at an inflated price. This has given them a particularly negative connotation among Jefleaye merchants, particularly.
In Skoiasu, the animistic religion persists but finds itself combined with Skoia Religion to create an interesting fusion. In Skoiasu, Merfolk are far more co-operative and make their way constructing and repairing boats, for example, or dredging the murky riverbeds, hunting, fishing and foraging.
Merfolk religion comprises a diverse pantheon of deities, each of whom is ascribed to a specific location. The five primary deities mark significant pilgrimage sites for the merfolk, at each of which is erected a shrine or temple appropriate to the described personality of the deity. The five principal sites are:
- Dalykk’lav, a broad, shallow stretch of ocean characterised by large calciferous deposits. Dalykk’lav is almost a plateau, surrounded on all sides by a far deeper trench.
- Gor’metkar, a forest of kelp, is a calm and placid region of the sea and deified as a grove of life. Gor’metkar is seen as a patron of compassion and understanding, a nurturing and loving god.
- Re’ddakesh, a coral reef teeming with plant and animal life. Re’ddakesh is, along with Gor’metkar, one of the mother gods attributed with populating the ocean with life of all sorts. Stretching beneath Re’ddakesh is a vast network of tunnels which act as a cradle to young fish species.
- Mal’bolyg, a deep, dark point of sulphurous spires where the heat causes the sea to boil. Mal’bolyg is seen to represent the crushing weight and furious anger of the ocean and when its spires erupt, the vibrations can be felt for miles throughout the cocean.
- Jaget’rel is a gaping abyss and characterised as the most powerful of the gods. Jaget’rel is a massive gash in the seabed, filled with an inky blackness. Even the most intrepid Merfolk have not reached the bottom and it seems to stretch on forever. Jaget’rel is symbolic for the Merfolk of the power and vastness of the sea and depicted in their mythology as a slumbering leviathan, whose jaws will one day close and swallow the land.
In addition, five terrestrial sites across both The Aspuan and Skoiasu have been identified by theologians as sites of Merfolk pilgrimage:
- Jevolto, a shallow area where the wind whips the sand in violent storms.
- Therala, an explosive waterfall that cascades into the ocean over rugged cliffs.
- Ratagodh, a fertile and verdant grove in the middle of the Kaura delta.
- Trimera, a monolith of limestone that rises from the ocean.
- Alveiron, a coastal region of mangroves.