Merfolk

Ancient and unknowable, the merfolk pose something of a problem to the Kithain. The arrogance of the mer is tempered only by their truly alien natures, for merfolk never mate with dreamers. Mating exclusively among their own kind, the merfolk claim that they are the sole legacy of the Tuatha De Danann, the oldest fae on Earth, dreamed long before any human ever set foot on land. When curious changelings ask how this could be, the merfolk are disconcertingly vague and ambiguous.

Merfolk society is complex and matriarchal, based on the same conventions of nobles and fiefdoms that ordinary Kithain are used to, but the similarities end there. These changelings almost never take their Glamour from human dreams anymore — in fact, it's as if their whole society is structured around the evasion of humanity.

More than any other Kithain, merfolk equate Banality with death — if they lose their seemings, they can no longer breathe. Instead, merfolk take their Glamour from the sea, much as Nunnehi harvest it from the land. The powerful cetaceans called Rorqual bring the dreamstuff to the merfolk in their coral cities — vast, bio-architectural masterpieces that resemble reefs to the untrained eye.

Merfolk revere a powerful entity called "Vatea" — their creator in their legendry, and according to them, the creator of all life. Vatea was the one who gave them Apsarae, or fish-spirits. All mer, merfolk or murdhuacha, have an "Apsara" which is the sea creature to which the particular mer is attuned. While the vast majority are the fish-tailed people of legend, there are still seahorse, eel, shark, turtle, porpoise and even the rare whale merfolk.

The Apsara of the changeling determines her house and even her social placement, to some degree. The majority of shark merfolk are warriors, and porpoise mer are predisposed to become scholars. It's not certain if the grafted Apsara influences the young nix's personality, or if the nereid already has a disposition that attracts a predestined sort of Apsara to the Grotto. The merfolk don't ask the question all that much themselves; what will be will be, and there's no point in arguing with Vatea's will.

Appearance: Merfolk are beautiful. Not with the unattainable beauty of the sidhe: rather, the merfolk's is an alien and seductive beauty that inspires more lust than awe. A mermaid is often a seductive mix of her two natures, her upper body is warm and inviting as her lower body tapers into a sultry, muscular tail. Although merfolk are most commonly silver, blue or greenish, some, especially those with reef-dwelling Apsarae, are awash with bright and vivid color. On the rare occasion that a mer is bonded with a particularly ugly fish, like a flounder or an oyster cracker, their features become more human, although they still tend to have the fishlike tails and coloration. A mer's sexual organs aren't fully external, although they haven't bred far enough away from their human roots that they've moved to external fertilization. When they walk on land, their tails split into humanlike (if scaled) legs, although their coloration is still piscine.

On the rare occasion that one sees a mer out of her fae mien, she is always tall, lithe, muscular and save for her head, completely hairless. These adaptations are the product of hundreds of years of breeding on the ocean floor — a mer's human body is designed to be one with the Apsara it is bonded to.

Lifestyle: The merfolk are certainly an odd lot. the product of a totally alien mindset, the mer are simultaneously deadly serious and playful, highly ritualized and completely freespirited, repressed and yet libidinous as a drunken prom date. The first thing one will notice about a mer is his incredible arrogance. Of course, as far as they are concerned, they have every right to be arrogant. After all, they do rule the world.

Unlike the prudish sidhe, the merfolk don't see a quick tumble (well, a quick tumble that isn't carefully covered up) as an affront to their dignity; sex is a popular form of recreation among their kind. They also enjoy eating, and merfolk cuisine is certainly an experience, although few would call it unpleasant. Artistic expression is very important to the mer—most of the "work" that they do is actually the creation of great undersea masterpieces. The world that the mer inhabit has just enough Banality to stave off total Bedlam, outside of that, it's all for the most part free time. The merfolk enjoy their carefree lives, but can snap to seriousness in a second.

Seemings

Nereids are indistinguishable as merfolk or murdhuacha; any one nereid could mature into either after the Rite of Vatea, and there's no telling which it'll be. They are gray-skinned, fish-eyed babies with webbed fingers and toes. Although exceptional swimmers, the babies still don't have gills to help them breathe naturally, so they must rely on their mother's milk for survival.

• The majority of merfolk are nixies. This is the most attractive stage in their lives, as well as the most energetic. Outsiders are usually surprised to find that the nix stage of life encompasses both "childling" and "wilder"; however, the process of merfolk survival requires nothing less. Merfolk nixes are always working, playing, competing and creating. At this stage, males are called "tritons" and females "mermaids," although they go by a host of regional names as well. They love the sea and relish their lives with carefree abandon.

Naugs are the strongest of their kith, their bodies honed by years of unrelenting current. At this stage, the merfolk's best years are behind her, and she "retires" to a position of advisor or teacher for the rest of the community. Most naugs have long, froth-white hair, and tritons are known to cultivate flowing beards.

Birthrights

Apsara of Vatea — The Merfolk's Apsara, or fishspirit, is more than a cosmetic change. The mer gains the abilities of the creature that she is bonded to, within reason. A sea turtle mer would have an armored shell that might grant an extra die of soak, a dolphin mer would have sonar, and a lionfish mer would have poisonous spikes in her fins. Merfolk also get an extra dot in one appropriate Attribute from their Apsarae. A shark, for example, would grant Strength, not Intelligence, and a marlin would provide Dexterity or Appearance over Charisma. This added dot can take the Attribute above 5. The Storyteller decides what Apsara is linked with what Attribute.

Gills — The merfolk can breathe underwater as befitting their Apsarae. Although some merfolk, house Melusine in particular, don't have gills per se, they still have blowholes and nostrils that close off, allowing them an average of up to six hours underwater before they need to come up for air.

Ocean's Beauty — Merfolk are beautiful and seductive. No merfolk can botch an Appearance-related roll, and all merfolk get an extra dot in Appearance, even if this carries them beyond five.

Mer Relations

Land-Based Kithain — While noble in their own way, and certainly better than the mortal dirtwalkers, these poor, deluded creatures don't recognize their true creator. While they scrabble like rats to eke out a meager living among the filth-caked humans, we rule the world without their help. We must now come to them for aid — but this does not put them ahead of us in Vatea's eyes.

Aquatic Pooka — The land-based wearers of false Apsarae speak in lies and continually play their jokes. There was a time when I would have tried to eradicate these clods, but right now any help is… necessary.

Selkies — One never quite knows where one stands with the selkies. While they make a wonderful bridge to the surface Kithain, and are certainly above them — after all, they do seem to have Apsarae, of sorts — can one ever really trust a Kithain who sheds her Apsara like a winter coat?

Menehune — The islander Kithain aren't so bad — their closeness to the sea has taught them to fear and respect it, and what more can you ask from a dirtwalker? Too bad there aren't more of them.

Water Babies and Yunwi Amai'yme'hi — The Melusine keep telling me rumors about freshwater fae like us who even have Apsarae and gills. I don't believe them — if such things existed, they certainly would have presented themselves to us by now.

Other Prodigals — With rare exception, the only thing that makes the land-based Kithain worth speaking to is that at least they are not these savages. All are vicious and insane, with no respect for the natural order and no understanding of our authority. There are a few tolerable exceptions—the shark-folk, for example, seem to understand the mind of Vatea — but for the most part, there seems to be a riot of pointless activity going on up there. The only point these beasts have in their favor is that they aren't human.

Frailties

The Coldness — Although Banality is devastating to the sidhe, it is sheer death for the merfolk. As a mer's Glamour decreases, she finds it harder and harder to breathe, until at 0, she can only breathe air, and if underwater, drowns. Even if she does survive, she is often lost, confused and naked, in the middle of the ocean with no human life to which to return.

Out of Touch — The mer have cut themselves off from human society. Because of this, there are certain Abilities that are not available to them. A mer cannot purchase Streetwise, Drive, Firearms or Computer during character creation without the expenditure of freebie points (and a good rationale).