Cetacean Ma’er by nature are rather easy going with the exceptions of most of the dolphin types. Blue Whale Ma’er – the largest of all Guardian Creatures – are stereotypical of the Cetaceans as well as possessing the Gift of Foresight. It was one of these precognitive behemoths that suddenly cocked his immense head to the side and sang out, so low it was heard for hundreds of miles.
“Danger,” he sang in the way of Cetaceans, “Danger in the waves.”
Deep beneath the cold waters of the Japan Sea, a host of the beautiful – yet, in this tribe’s case, deadly – Splendic Ma’er heard the Blue Ma’er’s call. “Danger,” a small female with a green fin murmured, “What danger would concern a Great One?”
A regal female with fins of the deepest red answered, “That is a good question Ai’nae.”
“Queen Miko’nae,” another one asked, “What shall we do?”
MIko’nae wheeled to the north. “We must travel to the seat of power in this ocean,” she replied. “Perhaps the Great White Belly ruler of the Jagged Teeth will know.”
Astonished murmurs met her announcement. Another member of her tribe, an older female with fins of blue darkened with age spoke, “That is a long journey to take on the basis of one Great One’s call.”
Miko’nae nodded. “But the Great Ones fear nothing – even Man. For one to proclaim danger is troubling and worth investigating.”
“Sea Witch!” came another call, but from the same or another Great One, none of the Splendics could tell. “Danger!”
Young Ai’nae cocked her head. “Sea Witch? There is no such thing.”
“Hush!” the elder blue-finned Ma’er snapped.
“There was one Sea Witch, long, long ago,” Miko’nae murmured.
“But I thought Kori’at noc Oseana was just a story,” another young one piped up. “Her, and the King who love Prey, and the Selkie who swam with the Sharptoothed –“
“All legends,” the elder blue-finned Ma’er stated, “Have grains of true deeds. Kori’at, Ayl’at, Set’at . . . They lived.”
Lace’at munched on his seal with a thoughtful expression. He’d heard the Great Ones’ songs of danger, but he wasn’t actually all that worried. Every so often the Great Ones would see something worrisome and low about the Leviathan or Sea Witch, but ultimately it would come to not. Sometimes the two legends of the sea would grumble in their sleep and unnerve the Great Ones, or so Lace’at thought.
What really bothered him was the fact that his sister had not called upon him recently. Set’at was generally good about speaking to him at least once a moon. But here it was three quarters full and she hadn’t called upon his territory. She always visited on the three-quarters full. Perhaps she was having issues with Cel’ian’s pod of orcas again. The two always had a couple of scuffles, but when one of Cel’ian’s orcas had killed one of Set’at’s Great Whites, it had started off a whole storm of problems.
Possibly she was dealing with that. As Lace’at watched another boat full of humans descend on the water of Guadalupe Island – his home and fief – he tossed what was left of the young seal into the water. He watched a young brother come up and abscond with it. Lace’at merely smiled. Brethren were always welcome to leftovers.
He waited until only a rapidly dissipating pool of blood was left before he slid into the water. Upon contact with the warm liquid, he changed, growing bigger, broader, legs becoming a powerful tail. Lace’at was twins with Set’at, both of them named for Sharptooth of legend – Set’at noc Oseana and Lace’uht the Great Striped Back. Their mother had hoped that those blessed names would guide her miraculous twins.
Lace’at had only begun the journey up the coast when he was met by the wise elder of the Deep, who he had not seen in years. “Good, good,” the elder – a geriatric Striped Back whose name no one ever remembered said. “Just the child I wanted to see.”
“What can I help you with, Elder One?” Lace’at could not deny a great curiosity.
“The Great Ones are disturbed,” the Elder said, “And I believe they’ve cause to worry.”
“Yes. I need you to hurry on to your sister, but do not leave her. I believe it is she the Sea Witch seeks. Before your birth she never stirred.”
Lace’at cocked his head, puzzled. “Truly?”
“I advised your mother against it, but who can deny the will of a Queen of the Deep?” The Elder shook his head. “The former Queen of the Fiery Ocean was especially hardheaded, gods rest her.”
“Yes, Mama was tenacious,” Lace’at agreed. “But what did you advise against exactly?”
The Elder shot him a look of contempt. “Your names pup! Your names! The Sea Witch burns to destroy those who bear the names of these who sealed her away!”
Before he could reply, he heard his name being screamed on the wind. “Lace’at! Lace’at!”
Lace’at looked up at the Harpy, confused. He vaguely recognized her as a Harpy that appeared near Set’at’s territory. “What is a Harpy of the Farallones doing here?”
“It’s Set’at! Humans have her!”
Lace’at’s face fell into an expression of mingled rage and surprise. “What?!”
The Elder wheeled in the water. “Come young one! Swim as if the Leviathan chases you!”
Harrison reflected later that a human’s capacity to adapt was great indeed. Almost twenty-four hours passed before the ramifications of what they’d seen and who they’d met sank in. The next day had passed in a typical way with the scientists going through their usual routines, only this time in the company of special guests. Jean and Lisa found themselves bird watching with Harpies while the shark scientists were introduced to the sharks of the surrounding islands in a whole new way.
“I’ve always liked the name you gave this gentle mother,” she said while brushing the top of the shark’s nose. “Cah-dih-lac. It’s one of my favorites.”
Harrison smiled while Pete, Al, and Stoney chuckled.
Finally, it was Jean who finally said as the motley crew met around the table at dinner, “You all realize that we’ve just made the discovery of the century.”
Stoney nodded. “Yeah. We’ve just discovered mermaids.”
“And Harpies,” Al added.
“Oh,” Zir’za said, waving a hand, “You’ve always known of us!”
“In myths and legends,” Lisa returned, “Never as fact.”
“Well,” Harrison began, “We used to.”
“Yeah,” piped up Al, “People used to believe all kinds of things. Pretty much any culture you find is going to have legends of shapeshifters and mer-people.”
“Alright,” Jean amended, “This is the discovery that our ancestors were right.”
Set’at munched on her tuna with a thoughtful grimace. “Amazing as it is, you mustn’t tell others what you know.”
“If it were just us, we’d be okay,” Zir’za continued, “But it’s not.”
IT was Stoney who nodded. “Can’t lie, I want to know and share everything about you now that I know you exist, but I understand why we can’t tell.”
“Why not?” Jean asked.
“Think of the black market in animals,” Al answered. “It’s third only to guns and drugs. If it got out that mermaids were real?” He didn’t continue, sure that everyone would get where he was going.
Jean did, and was the one who stated the unsaid outcome of the revelation. “It would become the number one industry in the world.”
Set’at had stayed mostly quiet, content to munch and listen, but now she spoke. “From our mandatory year above, I am given to understand that there is a thriving industry in creating fiction,” she began. “Why not publish your findings as such?”
The scientists gaped at the mermaid. She grinned around another bit of tuna. The grin was actually quite Satanic – her human form teeth were filed into serrated points not unlike the steak knives she called teeth as a shark. “And that first fact for your book is that we do not call ourselves mermaids. We are Ma’er.”
The seal never saw Tor’at coming. The huge male hit the smaller pinnaped with explosive force, enough to shoot both of them above the surface of the water. As they tumbled back into the water, the seal dead from a snapped neck and Tor’at with unwilling grace, he could hear the shouts of the humans occupying the boat on the bay. He was always aware of these boats, with their load of humans keen on watching the spectacle of sharks breaching.
Now safely submerged, he began to carve big chunks of meat off the dead seal, hurrying to get all the good chunks. He took liver and heart, quickly gulping them down. As his belly filled, his almost debilitating cramps faded. Tor’at knew he wasn’t the best hunter, but being a full week without food had started to take its toll.
Vigilant for the first evidence of intrusion, he gulped down more and more blubber. He screamed challenge when a dark shadow passed overhead.
“Calm yourself!” a voice snapped. He recognized it as the voice of Sov’at noc Fa’ay, King of All the Seas. By extension, King of all the Ma’er. Though they were bigger, the Cetacean Ma’er had never challenged him on this, preferring to let the King of the Great White Bellies take on the onerous job of ruling the world’s oceans. Quickly Tor’at showed his belly, and offered up what was left of his kill.
“Keep your kill,” Sov’at murmured. “I am more interested in something else you have.”
Tor’at nodded, pulling the carcass back to himself. He cocked his head. “What can I do for you, my king?” he asked respectfully.
Sov’at swam closer, gently touching Tor’at’s belt. “I was told you found something that may or may not be a relic.”
Quickly comprehending what his liege meant, Tor’at whipped out the bone flute he had found. The instrument looked to be made from the rib of a whale, shaved down and etched so that a full grown Great White Belly Ma’er could play it. The flute was covered with pictures of two figures, one a Sharptoothed Ma’er, the other a Selkie Ly’en. They were entwined, and upon first look Tor’at had thought that the Ma’er had been feeding from the Selkie. However, he realized that the picture looked more like a carving made for mated couples.
“Set’at and Ayl’at,” Sov’at breathed. “The Great King and His Beloved.”