Ondine, a coral reef mermaid leads a peaceful life as an enchantress crafting elaborate magical artefacts for her city. However, she has the bad luck of coming to the attention of the leading politician of the city. Worse, her attention brings that of her renegade nephew, the Emperor of the Abyss, leader of the most dangerous cannibalistic mers.
This worldbuilding article was written in preparation for writing a short story.
A big group of closely related subspecies that share characteristics:
Intelligent (vs animals, "fish" is an insult),
Can reproduce together regardless of physical differences.
Influenced by lineage but can be changed with magic to adapt to environment and societal taboos,
Everyone can eat algae and plankton,
Most merpeople eat animals and raise schools of fish,
Some social group accept or even encourage cannibalism and the eating of defeated enemies are important magical rituals that help gain power.
Influence on physical appearance
Lineage - both their parents and the House that has raised them,
Aesthetic - a mix of conscious control with magic and unconscious influences,
Special magical abilities.
Appendages - fish tail, tentacles, legs...
Accessories - hair, eyes (& wavelengths seen), ears, nose, teeth, venom, electricity, bioluminescence, fins, lure, organ to detect vibration or electromagnetic waves...
Females carry eggs,
Males carry sperm to fertilise the eggs,
Hermaphrodite do both but cannot impregnate themselves,
If not satisfied with birth sex, merpeople can petition their community to organise a complex ritual for them to change sex.
People of different sexes are treated the same so choice of a given sex is mostly aesthetic,
For some subspecies, a given sex can make adopting certain physical appearances easier.
Whatever appendages the male has fertilise the female's eggs,
For a few months, the female carries the eggs in her body,
When the eggs are strong enough, they're expulsed, and both parents and close friends and relative carries them around in a natural or artificial pouch to feed them magic and form a bond with them,
When ready to hatch, the eggs change colour and everyone gathers for a big ceremony to welcome the new mer in the community and name them.
When the waves in the water became too much and there was no way Ondine would be able to work any of the delicate magic required to craft her artefact, she gave up with a huff. If she was going to be bothered by all the gossips anyway, she might as well go see the show herself...
She put the artefact-to-be ring back onto one of the metallic hooks fixed on the algae wall and gave a twirl of her tail to propulse herself out of her workshop and of her home pod. She navigated through the cramped corridors of the city, easily following the troublesome waves to their source. Unsurprisingly, they led her to the inner centre of the spherical city and its big open space. It was packed with mers, and the excited tail swishing and gossiping made a deafening cacophony.
Ondine pinched her lips. There was no way she would be able to forced her way through the crowd, but there was also no point in going away if the entire city was invaded by the noise.
Alarmed shouts suddenly erupted, and the crowd surged away from the centre. Ondine's warding amulet automatically activated and kept the other mers from crashing into her.
Ondine ignored them and looked through the gap the movement had created in the crowd. Her eyes widened at the sight of creepy red tentacles and of the sharp teeth sticking out of the mouth of their owner. What was an Abyssal doing all the way up there? And what was the government and the Corail thinking, letting one of those cannibals among them?
She stood frozen there until some movement at her side caught Ondine's eyes. What? Those bright red fins and golden hair, that was Madam Nérissa Corail in person!The unquestioned leader of the city.
The elderly woman smiled benignly and gestured at Ondine with one of her fins.
Made with algae fabric, metals and stones, and kept floating by a mixture of magic and gas produced by domesticated organisms,
Buildings are vast caverns or little nooks and pods,
Fixed-location cities (in coral reefs and hydrothermal vents),
Moving floating cities travelling alongside powerful oceanic currents (nomadic trading cities) or semi-fixed that move closer to the surface during the night (Abyssal cities).
Cities form alliance groups by subspecies, lifestyle/philosophy, and environment types rather than based on physical distance (e.g. coral reef cities allying together against abyssal cities),
Being allied in war does not prevent a great deal of politicking and drama,
Trade networks are extremely important and nomadic trading mers are often protected by laws.
Animals or plants that can only be grown in specific environment,
"Spices" made from ground minerals or the poison or toxins of some organisms,
Mined minerals and stones,
Different types of fabric made with different plants, the leather or carapaces of animals,
Main alliances & enmities
All coral reef cities have kinship links but are also constantly quarrelling,
Coral reef cities and Abyssal cities are always at war
Hydrothermal vent cities each have a favoured coral reef city with which to trade,
Cities that move through the open seas hunting for big schools of fish fight together for preys.
The trenches are full of brainless monsters.
Inter-subspecies relationships are common,
No need to change subspecies to fit your partner, magic allows sexual relationships and child bearing regardless,
What is taboo is relationship between specific groups, e.g. between "naïve and weak coral reef fish" and "cannibalistic monsters of the abyss".
Marriage is done by the couple being bound together by the magic of a chosen person that is then considered a relative.
For traditional courtship, show off skills (e.g. wining a competition, craft a gift), taste (e.g. choice of gifts), compatibility (e.g. similar life goals),
Need to convince both families as the Houses will become allied,
Courting someone in the same city is preferable as stay close to family and support group,
If need to move to another city, show off ability to protect them (e.g. strength or alliance network) and help them adapt (e.g. listening skills).
Ondine dutifully followed Mistress Nérissa to the palace.
She had never been to the building before but had little time to admire the complexed bioluminescent artwork on its algae wall, for the woman only led her to a private nook close to the entrance. It was not overly vast or decorated, contrary to the corridors, but as soon Ondine went over the threshold, magic washed over her.
Private wards, of course, as befitted the house of a politician. No waves or magic would go beyond the walls of this room without their mistress' permission.
Mistress Nérissa took the time to float to a wall to get the twirl basket anchored there. A shift of her tail brought her back by Ondine's side and she open the basket to present her with its content.
Ondine glanced inside. Berries. Out of season too. She warily pick one and thanked her host.
Nérissa smiled benignly. "I'm happy to finally have the occasion to speak with you, Mistress Naïa. I have heard a lot of positive things about your talents and the artefacts you craft."
Ondine put her arm across her body and bent her head in a gesture of gratitude. "You honour me, Madam." Then she forced herself to dutifully add as expected, "And I would be even more honour to gift you with one of those artefacts so that you might ascertain the truth of those rumours by yourself."
"Of there is no need of this, young one. I have no compunctions in paying you for a heat-protection artefact. And if you are indeed as talented as they say, it would be in the interest of both of our Houses to further our acquaintances. I have a few young nephews around your age that would be delighted to meet you."
... did she got a marriage proposal into the House of Corail? But this was absurd!
Although—Was that not how the Corail had maintained their ruled for so long? By bringing in anyone they judged to be "talented" enough to have a positive impact on the genes of their descendants? And those damn fish were not the kind to take no for an answer. Whatever more graceful hints Nérissa might offer Ondine today, they would soon morph into something more forceful if she was not agreeable enough to them... Damn.
Tournament sport stars - admired but also considered low class,
Healers - respectable job,
Apothecaries - make medicines, spices, dyes...,
Soldiers - essential with the frequent wars,
Craftsmen - contrary to enchanter, follow a plan and do not create new enchantment,
Farmers for algae, fish... - low class.
Activating an artefact
Fancy and less fancy weapons,
Jewellery with wards protecting against hostile environmental conditions or magical attacks,
Tools to help with mining, building, spinning/weaving/sewing...,
Toys such as animated figurines,
Jewellery that enhance appearance,
Tools for communicating long distance,
Tools that enhance physical capacities and help travel faster,
Enhance physical abilities,
Temporary protect from hostile environmental conditions,
Reinforce the strength of scales or carapace,
Attack enemies or prey, enhance the effects of poison or electricity or the sharpness of claws or teeth.
Made with magic and dyed algae, coral, shell, stones, pearls...
Have protective magic to help adapt to local temperatures and protect against aggressive animals or enemy mers.
Mostly loose shirts or robes with billowing sleeves they float in the currents,
For fighters, tight-fighting shark-skin shirts.
Ondine raised the metallic into her hands and closed her eyes to focus on her magic. Once she had achieved the right state of focus, she left her power flare out of her body and coalesce inside the metal, rushing through the grooves she had carved there, and filling it to the brim.
She maintained that level as long as she could, losing all sense of time. Only once her heart was about to burst did she let go of her magic and of the ring, gasping and bending and twitching in the water of the worship.
As usual, it took her a few minute to recover from the dangerous expenditure of magic and to feel good enough to open her eyes again and look for the newly crafted artefact. It had not floated very far away and Ondine quickly grasped it and eagerly activated, before going to the numerous artefact-holding hooks on her wall to pick up another ring. Activating that one resulted in the immediate vaporisation of the air in front of her and in the creation of a bubble of boiled water.
Ondine steeled herself before reaching out and gingerly letting her fingers touch it.
Only a cool comfortable sensation meet them. Success.
Before she could celebrate, something hit her on the back of her head and she fell unconscious.
Néreus Num, Emperor of the Abyss
The most feared being in all the oceans.
His father was from the Abyssal House of Num, his mother from the Coral House Corail.
His Father kidnapped his mother, and when she escaped and came back to the coral reef she was pregnant with Néreus.
Néreus grew up ostracized in the coral reef and when he reached adulthood he left to join the Abyss.
There, he fought until he became the leader of a minor city, before slowly conquering cities one after another.
He's known to be cruel and manipulative, but also very clever and to love studying magic and experimenting with it, coming up with new forbidden rituals to use during war or on prisoners.
Nérissa Corail, coral reef politician
Cousin of the Abyssal Emperor.
She loathed him from the start and was one of the main driver of his ostracisation - She considers him a member of House Num and not Corail.
She's a haughty, arrogant, backstabbing politician, and the leader of the Cnidaria coral reef.
An enchantress from the Cnidaria coral reef.
She has strong skills in manipulating very subtle magic while making enchantment and the artefacts she crafts are in high demand.
She's being courted by House Corail to marry one of their members and join their House.
Creatures of the sea: Delphine (dolphin), Greta/Gretta (pearl), Corail, Kelpie (Scottish), Nykur (Faroese, water horse), Selkie.
Name examples 2
Sea/of the sea: Marin/Marine/Marina/Delmare, Moana (Maori, ocean), Nausicaa/Nausikaa, Océan/Océane, Osea, Pontius/Pontus/Pontos (Greek, sea), Kai (Japanese & Hawaiian, ocean), Caspian, Mira (Sanskrit, ocean), Bahari (Swaholi), Mur/Muir/Murdoch/ (Scottish, sea/sea warrior), Samudra (Sanskrit), Mira (Sanskrit), Maya (Hebrew, water), Anat (Semitic, spring water), Marley (English, lands of lakes), Malik (Greenlandic)
Sea phenomenons: Tide, Marée/Marella (French, tide), Naïa (flot), Pélagie (high sea), Rosemarie/Rosmarinus (dew of the sea), Mortimer (French/English, still water)
Others: Morgan/Morgane (Celtic, born of the sea), Dylan (Welsh, son of the sea), Cordelia (Celtic, daughter of the sea), Merlin/Myrddhin (Welsh, sea fortress), Zalé (Greek, strength of the sea)
As soon as Ondine woke up and opened her eyes and squinted, but only deep darkness met her everywhere that she looked.
Except... There was a faint light in the distance over there.
She almost rushed over, eager to find help and some reassurance, but she knew how those stories went and what happened to anyone foolish enough to follow a lure in the darkness.
She held still and silent did her best to stop her breath and any vibration she might sent in the water.
A full minute later, her patience was rewarded.
"Hello, little fish, and welcome in to the Abyss."