The children of the Demiurge Shibboleth and the only known aquatic (or semi-aquatic) race amongst the Two-and-Twenty mortal tribes, the merill’s story is a tragic one, of a fall from grace entiry without their control.
History: like most mortal races, the merills origins date back to the Age of Myth and the Forth Great Act of Shaping. Two-and-Twenty pods were created – one for each of the Demiurges, in honour of their work crafting the Material Realm. Shibboleth the Torrent was patron to the merills and, like all mortal races, they shared many traits with the creator, not least of which was their appearance and mannerisms.
Each pod contained seven seeds from which were born, before their time, seven mortals shaped in the image of their patron. Where in other races the original seven mortals were made up of four females and three males, merills are asexual and it is believed that the seven individuals were identical to one another.
Merills pass on their memories and knowledge to their offspring in a process known as genetic memory. As a result, the seven original merills gave rise to seven distinct lines, each passing on its traits and memories to its descendants, though of these traits little is now known.
The benefits of genetic memory allowed merill culture to advance at a level far surpassing that of any other mortal race. They developed a potent civilisation with a strong trade network, armies and culture when other mortal races were living in tribes of hunter-gatherers, though due to their aquatic nature contact with other mortals was sporadioc at best. They prospered under the aegis of Shibboleth, who was proud of its children. Tentative contact was made with coastal settlements and goods were traded between merills and other races, further strengthening their civilisation.
Their rise continued throughout the early Ages of Mortal life and they became legendary amongst the other as-yet developing mortals. An individual merill carried within him the collective memories of his entire line, giving him an intelligence and expertise far superior to that of most other tribes.
At times a merill might get a flash of insight – an echo harking back to a past life. These echoes often manifested as sudden visions of dreams that felt all-too vivid. These echoes marked the beginning of the end for the merill civilisation. Once this phenomenon started it slowly increased, with every new generation suffering longer and more frequent episodes of increasing vividity. Some guessed at what was happening and saw the only way to stall the inevitable downfall of the race was by leaving the water, which had since their birth been seen as a divine link with Shibboleth.
These individuals would leave the merill civilisation and engineered for themselves amphibious traits, allowing them to distance themselves from their patron. Some grew closer with humans, leading to the race now known as selkies.
They were succesfull in that newly-born merills no longer inherited the memories of their forebears, though over the centuries their distance from the water rendered them infertile and the line faltered.
But their fortunes were not to last. The same genetic trait that saw them rise slowly took its toll on their minds. The weight of memories and knowledge of an entire race would become too much for a single mind to bear and the merills eventually lost their sanity. Every passing generation only deepened their descent into madness and the merill civilisation collapsed.
Their fall was quick – taking no more than a few generations to erase everything the merills had accomplished. In place of prodigious (if troubled) individuals arose incoherent fools, their thoughts awash with ceaseless reverberations of thousand-year old stimuli that were more vivid than their own.
Their patron Shibboleth despaired. It done all in its ken to save them, but it was for nought. It’s children had dwindled, descending to little more than animals plagued by nightmarish visions.
Shibbolerh wept, and its tears filled Elyden in a great torrent that flooded the lands of mortal races. This time became known as the Lament of Shibboleth and was ended at great cost to the other mortals when the Demiurges joined up and defeated Shibboleth, weakening it, sending it into decline. The remnants of the merills were scattered across Elydens’ oceans by the rise in sea levels, though their descent into madness only grew with the death of their patron.
Physiology: merills bear many of the traits commonly attributed to the mortal races, though in many respects are unique. They are humanoid in form, standing roughly 6’ – 8’6” long and commonly weighing around 120 lb. They are perhaps the most colourful of mortal races with individuals found displaying colours from the full spectrum, though each of the seven breeds tends to gravitate to red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo or violet, and their various shades.
From the waist upwards they follow the standard mortal template – an abdomen and torso containing digestive, respiratory and circulatory organs, a head and four limbs – one pair ending hands and prehensile fingers used for manipulating tools, and another (analogous to those of ichthons) used for aquatic locomotion. Merills possess another pair of fins, these dorsal, which are brightly coloured and aid in stabilisation and orientation.
The similarities to other mortal races ends from the waist down, where in place of legs can be found a long powerful suckerless tentacle that makes up almost two-thirds of a merill’s length. The appendage is leathery in textire and ends in two long fan-like fins – one dorsal and one ventral – that serve as the primary source of locomotion.
Their heads have characteristic deep sloping foreheads, prognathous mouth, and two large bulbous white eyes. Maxilliary and mandibular barbels, which grow throughout a merill’s life, frame their mouths. Their heads are crowned by long thing hair-like tentacles, similar to some seen in large jellyfish. When submerged the hairs protrude from their heads like a fine mane of hair, though when grounded they hang limply like wet hair.
Merills are thought to have some of the most developed sensory organs amongst mortal races, on par if not superior to those of shie. Their hair contains rudimentary taste-organs, used to detect chemicals and impurities in the water. Though most spectacular are their barbels, which are not only highly acute tactile taste-organs but are also potent mechanoreceptors (serving the same purpose of ears underwater) and firmamentoreceptors (organs designed to detect the Firmament), though the original purpose of the latter is unknown. Ironically their large eyes are not as well-developped as their other senses and are so large largely due to the lack of light in their ancestral deep-sea habitats. They posess common ears primarily used above water, though sounds are muffled and disorienting.
Depite their fantastical physical properties what is perhaps most fascinating about merills is their reproductive cycle, which revolves around the river Shibboleth.
Unlike most mortals, merills are asexual or more precively gynogenic – where a sperm is necessary to trigger embryonic development though makes no genetic contribution to the process.
Merills are born infertile though a metamorphosis of sorts takes place between their 15th – 20th year (their full lifespan is unknown though thought to be somewhat longer than that of humans). It is unknown what triggers this or what the effects are though it is commonly held that a merill just knows when this point is reached. Like fish returning to the place of their spawning, a merill that has undergone this metamorphosis leaves its present location and swims mindlessly for the source of the river Shibboleth, in lake Siballa, northern Rhinocoloura.
Records from ancient merill society show that this practive originated as a cultural ritual, likely similar to the coming-of-age quests common to many societies. The merill genetic memory has likely corrupted this into an inherent action, its significance and purpose now lost to the mindless merills of the extant world.
The river Shibboleth is well-over 5,000 miles long and merills would undertake the journey as individuals, going upstream to the river’s main source. The voyage was dangerous and exhausting and most would perish bhefore reaching their destination. After spending hours in the waters of lake Siballa their bodies would undergo an unseen change, completing their sexual cycle: the merills completing the quest were fully adults, able to reproduce. There they would mate, the male’s sperm fertilising the female’s eggs, which were left there to gestate.
Scholars think this is due to certain chemicals in the water or some other physical effect that causes a metabolic change in individual merills who spend long enough in the waters.
Sadly the proliferation of human life and pollution of the region has seen the lake shrink in recent centuries and few, if any, merills are believed to make the journey any more. The last sizeable pilgriomage to reach the lake was recorded by Rhinocolouran monks in 3377 RM, where around two-hunded individuals swarmed intothe lake. Ancient myths recorded numbers in their tens of thousands.
Psychology: the mind of a merill is an unfathomable thing and is most easily compared with that of an Otherworlder rather than any other mortal race. This is due to a genetic trait where the offspring of an individual merill inherits the experiences and memories of all its direct ancestors, going back to one of the original seven merills in the First Age of Mortal Life. With every passing generation more memories and experiences, increasingly dissonant and distant, are inherited.
This trait is known as genetic memory and was responsible for both the meteoric rise and subsequent rapid fall of ancient merill civilisations. Early on in their culture the benefits of genetic memory gave merills a distinct advantage over their fellow mortals. Where a human might spend years learning how to craft weapons or tools, all descendants of a merill who already learnt such skills would be born with such knowledge ingrained ion their genetic memory giving them more time to develop other skills or further sharpen those they already know. In the development of merills as a race, this trait was invaluable, granting them a drastic boost to their development that other races did not possess.
While other races were subsiting through a hunter-gatherer culture, merills had already settled into a pastoral lifestyle that further promoted a specialisation of profession amongst individuals. This in turn led to further advancements that allowed the first major merill civilisation to emerge unopposed when other mortals lived in little more than lose tribes.
Whatever the cause was for the turn in the merill’s fortunes can only be guessed at now, but scholars postulate that at some point the merills reached a natural threshold in their evolution, beyond which their minds could not cope with the weight of memories and information bestowed upon them at birth. Their mental degradation is thought to have begun slowly – generations born with fragile minds, prone to headaches and vivid waking dreams thought to be echoes of past lives (though some attribute the latter to the Lament of Shibboleth upon realising what was about to befall its children). Eventually these affects would exacerbate to the point of invalidity – the dream-flashes of past lives would increase, pushing aside the waking mind until they overtook it completely, leaving the merill as little more than a babbling wreck. And so a great civilisation was reduced within a few generations to nothing. Most surviving members are mad to a degree that few others can comprehend, and every generation grows slowly more maddened, or hollow, as some have come to call them. Indeed, in many respects they are the closest of the mortal races to the Otherworlders.
What merills survive today are seemingly vacant beings, the mental excesses inherent in their downfall muted by untold generations forced to live with the debilitating mania of their forebears. Any merill alive today can feel the fear, anger and love of tens of thousands of ancestors at once; there is no self only the echoes of a unnumbered individual thoughts and memories. This manifests itself in clouded and nonsensical behaviour as an individual reacts to memories and sensory stimuli from centuries past that bear no relevance to the present. What other races interpret as a hollow nature is but a mask hiding the sheer volume of emotion and passion constantly flowing through a merill’s thoughts; something manifested in the near-constant flickering of their eyes and twitching of fingers and limbs.
They exhibit a near complete disconnect from the outside world and as a result they show little empathy towards other races, or comprehension of any kind. This was once thought to be out of the bitterness and jealousy they they were ass umed to feel towards other mortal races that were not cursed by their burden, though this is now thought to be a side-effect of their minds trying to cope with the vast amounts of information, most of it nonsensical, thrust upon them.
Culture & society: extant merills are little more than automatons cursed by nightmarish visions and flashes of sensory stimuli from the past, which renders them effectively blind to the world around them. Because of this they possess little in the form of culture or society, gathering together in groups of ten-to-tweenty individuals in what is to all intents and purposes identical to a school of fish.
This was not always the case as myths from around Elyden can attest to the power and spread of their early civilisation, which was amongst the largest in the ancient world. This was late in the Second Age of Mortal Life, which by current estimates is upwards of 200,000 years past. Due to their aquatic environment and the vast span of time separating their civilisation from the present few physical merill remains have been found, so we know very little of their ancient culture. Though as Elyden’s seas retreat, the soapstone ruins of merill metropolises have begun to appear in the middle of once-submerged seas, built on volcanic atolls.
Communication between merills and other races was difficult, and they were known to have spoken in a form of stream of consciousness, with no discernable punctuation. This was rendered all the more difficult for other races to understand as merill speech was peppered with words and phrases from past lives and stimuli.
Lethean merills, whose contact with its amnesiac waters, operate on a more cognitive level to their peers and maintain small cities and towns along the coastal shelf of the sea’s southern waters. Contact with terrestrial races is uncommon though trade is not unheard of – with the merills trading items such as nacre and ambergris in return for items of terrestiralm anufacture, such as worked metals.
Philosophy & religion: One can only image what philosophies and schools of thought the ancient merill race may have developed, though whatever heights they once reached have long since been toppled, replaced by the waking nightmare that is the torrent of their genetic curse. As most merills do not function as mortals, it is unlikely that they live by any particular tenets or beliefs, other than what echos of past lives they are subjected to.
Very little is known of merill religion, particularly of their link with the Demiurge Shibboleth, if such a link remains. Shibboleth was one of the first Demiurges to diminish into langour and its influence has only waned since then, with the only records being corrupted references to the Lament of Shibbooleth and other Demiurges’ retribution at the same event.
Due to their natures it is unlikely that merills are organised enough to even adhere to any form of organised religion as practiced by other mortals. Though conversely, by dint of their generic memory, their closeness to the primordial days of their race might make them the most likely candidates at remembering their patron as it existed in its original potent state (their ability to convey such memories is another matter entirely).
Lethean merills, who operate on a more cognitive level to their peers duo to contact with the amnesiac waters of Lethea, are known to worship a dark being equitable with a god. It is a being of the abyssal oceans, dark and massive and uncompromising. Ironically sholars identify it with the Demiurge Synchthonith.
Art: next to nothing is known about the cultural pursuits of merill – both ancient and extant. We have seen examples of their architecture from ruins exposed by the retreat of Elyden’s seas. Generally composed of soapstone, with bass detailing, such structures are almost always situated on the edge of coastal shelves, overlooking the deep waters beyond.
Range: According to old myths, the merills formed a close bond with their patron Demiurge, Shibboleth, and though they spread to dominate most of Elyden’s ancient oceans, they were inextricably linked with the waters of the Shibboleth. In the ancient world the shibboleth was far larger than today with a course speculated to have extended for over 10,000 miles – well over twice its current range. It was there that all merills were spawned and there that individuals would retirn to reach sexual maturity.
Today, the influence of industry and the general waning of the natural world has left the Shibboleth polluted and all but bereft of merills, most of which now exist in the seas and oceans of Elyden.
They are commonly found in the waters of Lethea, where its amnesiac qualities alleviate the symptoms of their genetic memory. Other regions where merills are sighted include the isles of St. Uallar and the strait of Andas.
The lowering of Elyden’ seas has disrupted their habitat and coastal raids in the aforementioned regions are common, as the merills as the merills attempt to adjust to their diminishing resrouces. Similarly, the ruins of merill settlements can sometimes be found in recently-exposed coastal shelves, overlooking what had once been deep sea.
It's funny how things work out. Until recently the merills were one of the races for which I had created nothing. When asked about them I'd draw a blank and wave a dismissive hand, saying 'they're the merfolk of my world'. And to a point that statement was true, though I always knew i wanted something else, something that made them mine. I tend not to struggle too hard to find a niche or flavour for my races and wait for something to naturally present itself.
This happened a week-or-so ago when I met up with some old friends and spend a night on the beach drinking and talking about all sorts of stuff. One subject we touched upon was infinite knowledge. To cut a long story short we were trying to wonder what it might be like the moment humanity passes the knowledge threshold - at the moment we are just a push of a button away from any bit of knowledge we need, thanks to the internet. were are probably a matter of decades away from being constantly plugged in: imagine downloading all of the information available on the internet into your brain. The sum of human knowledge at your fingertips...
Overwhelming! We imagined the first person to be subjected to this would suffer what we lovingly termed a 'brain hernia', something I think encapsulates the probably feeling perfectly.
And so was the gimmick for the merills born. Everything else came as a natural progression of that and i must say I'm pleasantly surprised by the outcome. I think as a race the merills are pretty unique and tragic - two things I'd like to make sure my world is full of.
To those interest in a more visual representation, I think this painting by one of my favourite artists Brom is pretty close to what I have in mind for the merills. No copyright infringement is intended by this, just a quick example of what I had in mind.
|rootwater Hunter (c) Wizards of the Coast (artist: Brom)|