Merquid (singular, plural), gill, or waterlings to the avian people, are relatively benign, reclusive creatures, and are believed to be the oldest intelligent species on Aenya. Tales of sailors encountering merquid can be found among the most ancient of Hedonian and Shemseliniharan texts, featuring prominently in the Ages of Aenya and among the myths and lore of coastal cities and villages. Before the Great Cataclysm, merquid dominated the planet, living in ocean-vast cities that have since become desert. What remains of their species is now concentrated along the coasts and depths of the One Sea.
PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES: Merquid are amphibious anthropoids, but despite their humanoid-like appearance, differ biologically in significant ways, having evolved independently, and are of no relation to humans or other humanoid species. Their hide consists of a waxy membrane not dissimilar to jellyfish, which is reinforced by chitinous, fish-fish-like scales. Their torsos narrow much more than a human’s, so that a fully grown adult, at 5′ in height, measures 1′ from shoulder to shoulder, which tapers to a waist half that width. This shape allows the merquid to glide effortlessly through the water, but on the surface, it acts as a disadvantage. Being top-heavy and unaccustomed to bipedal movement, merquid move slowly and awkwardly on land. While merquid possess both gills and mammalian-type lungs, allowing them to breathe in and out of water, their tender membranes are prone to severe dehydration. Without moisture, a merquid can die of bodily “thirst” after a single day. Benign in appearance, merquid can become terrifying when threatened or hunting prey. With a set of retractable teeth, much like those of an angler fish in appearance, barbed claws, and wide glossy eyes the size of teacups, a distressed merquid can give any sailor pause. Depending on the region of the Sea from which they spawn, merquid may differ in size, color, and with regards to the shape and location of their fins, as might types of shark. These other groups, or schools, are thought to be of another species, but this is a misconception. Since most merquid are encountered in and around the coast of Sarnath, little to nothing is known of their kind from the lesser-explored parts of the Sea.
Like the Ilmar, merquid do not wear or even understand the need for clothing, often mistaking human attire, particularly the use of armor, as natural bodily extensions.
HISTORY: While next to nothing is known of their history, merquid once congregated along the coasts of the One Sea, building strange monuments of coral. But with the rise of human settlements, violence against the species became common. At Sarnath, upon which the city of Hedonia was founded, merquid were hunted down and burned, and as the species is relatively peaceful and soft-bodied, they had no recourse but to return to the depths. For this reason, it is believed, merquid avoid confrontations with humans to this day.
CULTURE: Owing to their abstract way of thinking, comprehension of merquid culture may be nigh impossible, which explains the many misunderstandings and resentments between humans and merquid over the ages. Among their many oddities, there are no verbs in the merquid language, nor any way to verbally express an action. To the merquid mind, everything is in a state of either “being” or “not being.” Their perception of time also differs, in that they cannot easily distinguish between past, present, and future.
Vocal sounds are made through several water-filled cavities in their skulls, making their language impossible for others to learn or speak, but varies enough so that merquid can mimic any sound to communicate with any other species.
Females lay spherical eggs the size of melons, which are often mistaken for giant pearls, due to their color and texture. Every year, tens of thousands of eggs are produced. Males move the eggs into protective coral houses, known as pods, while fending off predators. After thirty days, eggs from the same pod hatch simultaneously. Newborns swarm among the females without any affinity for their biological parents.
Merquid exist solely for the community and do not possess any concept of marriage or family. In defense of their offspring, however, they can be aggressive and violent, and will not think twice before giving their lives to preserve their species.
Though rare, merquid may go rogue, separating themselves from their schools to explore the Sea. Encounters with humans have sometimes resulted in trade and emulation of human habits. While land fabrics typically disintegrate in saltwater after time, rogue merquid develop aquatic alternatives, using shell, pearl, and seaweed to adorn themselves.
TECHNOLOGY: Merquid use primitive tools made of shell, coral, and barbs from urchins and mollusks. Much of their technology is based on symbiosis with other aquatic species. While the nature of their relationship with other living organisms remains a mystery, merquid have been known to manipulate massive crustaceans and cephalopods to serve their purposes.
RELIGION: Even less is known of merquid religion, if one exists, as humans understand it. According to the High Priests of Hedonia, merquid worship an enormous squid god, Gulgola, which may or may not refer to Tsunamis, a monster described by Omeos, a Hedonian poet.
I looked out across the waters
and there came Tsunamis
mightiest of the depth’s demons
that with flailing arms,
shook the seas,
and split beams of ships,
and made cities fall
—Omeos, Hedonian poet