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PostPosted: Mon May 18, 2015 1:28 pm 
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Shell-Shocked
by RavenoftheBlack
Status: Public :diamond:
Word Count: 5113


“How’s this one, Ethas?”


Ethas turned as he felt the voice of his friend Mordis as vibrations through the water. His broad, muscular shoulders flexed briefly as he felt the long waves of his friend’s low voice wash over him like the tide. Had they been above the surface, the humans would have termed his voice “deep,” but here in the Deep, his voice was long. Ethas’s keen eyes followed the vibration to the ocean floor a short distance away from him, cutting through the darkness to where Mordis was. He held something up in his right hand.


“Let me see,” Ethas answered back, his own voice only a bit shorter than Mordis’s. With a slight motion of his flesh-covered arms and a powerful flap of his scale-covered tail, the merfolk pushed his body through the currents and closed the distance between himself and Mordis almost instantly.


Ethas looked over his friend as he approached him. Like Ethas, Mordis was strong and muscular. His shoulders were perhaps slightly less broad, but his pectoral muscles were slightly wider. His abdomen was shorter than Ethas’s long and sinewy midriff, but no less muscled. Where Ethas was lean and tight, Mordis was thick and strong, but both were superb specimens of the athletic prowess that their school was known for. Mordis’s flesh was a bit paler than Ethas’s owing to the latter’s love of the surface and his other, even more distant travels of late. Ethas’s tail was thickly covered in scales of a deep bluish green, whereas Mordis’s tail was closer to red, the scales lined with streaks of yellow.


As Ethas swam up next to Mordis, he saw his friend was holding a shell, exquisitely formed, rounded on one side and shimmering a dull sort of orange in the little light that found its way down through the water. Ethas took the shell gratefully, admiring its weight and proportions. It was a very good shell, although not the example of perfection he had hoped to find. The color, while beautiful in and of itself, was not precisely what the merfolk was searching for. With a slight frown on his smooth and handsome face, he handed the shell back to Mordis.


“It is nice, Mordis, but not good enough.”


Mordis glanced at the shell, as if trying to see whatever imperfection his friend had seen, and then simply shrugged. “Perhaps I’ll keep it then. I could give it to Noral. She would love it, I think. Or, if you prefer, you could offer the shell to Theral. She missed you while you were away, you know.”


Ethas nodded. “As I did her,” he said mournfully. “And you, my friend. I missed the school. I missed the kiss of these warm waters against my skin and the caress of these currents across my scales.”


Mordis shook his head, tossing the apparently imperfect shell to the sand below. “You know, I had always heard of planeswimmers before, but I never dreamed I would meet one, or that one of my own school would be one.”


Ethas’s genuine laughter rippled the waters around him. “Nor did I! I certainly never expected to become one myself!”


Mordis made a pretense of returning to his study of the ocean floor, but the casual vibration he attempted to put into his voice felt immediately false to his friend. Subtlety had never been a strong point of the merman. “I’ve been meaning to ask you about that,” he said as he prodded at a suspicious mound of sand. “What was it like? How did it happen? What does it feel like?”


Ethas laughed again, but there was a slight, uncomfortable waver in his reply. “One question at a time!” He laughed again, trying to decide how to answer. They were questions he had often asked himself over the past several months since it first happened. “Mordis, do you remember when we were children, and we would play swimming games?”


Mordis laughed. “Of course, I do! We were so competitive, you and I! I remember our fathers were sure we would become rivals as we aged, we battled one another so much! You were always the faster swimmer, as I recall.”


Ethas nodded. “And you, the stronger. But speed and strength were not always the ways to win the games. Do you remember Dead Man’s Float?”


Mordis stopped his search, the sudden memories of his comrade’s words jolting his head upward and plastering a smile onto his face. “Ahh! I haven’t thought of that game in years! Who taught it to us? That other boy who used to swim with us. By Phirsdon’s Trident, I’ve forgotten his name.”


“Orras,” Ethas said simply, a wide smile coming to his face.


“Oh!” Mordis exclaimed, the water bubbling slightly at his mouth with the effort. “Orras! I remember him. He was won by one of the Corral Clans in the Games, what, about four Chills back?”


“I would have guessed five,” Ethas said with a slight shrug, “but you may well be right. But planeswimming feels a lot like that game. It feels like floating, and trying to get somewhere with neither speed nor strength, but simply will, patience, and knowledge of the currents and the tides.”


“That sounds easy enough,” Mordis said.


Ethas grew suddenly sad. “It is the easiest thing in the ocean, my friend, and yet somehow the most difficult.” He looked back at his friend, who felt the disturbance in the water and moved to meet the gaze. “It hurts, Mordis. Worse than any wound I have felt in defense of the school. It is as though the Tides of Being are pulling at you from every side at once, and no amount of strength or speed can save you.” Ethas looked away. “It…” he paused, meaningfully. “It is terrifying.”


Mordis was momentarily surprised, as he had rarely heard his lifetime friend ever speak of fear. Moved by the uncommon action, Mordis covered the distance between them with one powerful swipe of his tail and laid one hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I can only imagine, my friend. I’m certain even the bravest of our warriors would have been frightened, and you have never been the bravest of us.”


Ethas shot an angry and offended look at Mordis, but his friend was grinning at him in jest. “Oh, really, Mordis? And when that hammerhead attacked the school, which of us stayed to battle it with spear and net, and which pulled back?”


Mordis laughed briefly. “The one with better ears, the one who heard the orders of the Elders to withdraw, it was he who pulled back, my friend. It was the fool who stayed to fight.”


Ethas nodded. “Damn shark swam off with my best net, too!”


Both friends laughed hard at this, sending ripples through the water in every direction. Ethas was about to say something more when he noticed something half-buried in the sand off to his left. He swam down to it, unearthing another shell, but it was nothing special, a simple and plain specimen that would never do for his purpose. The merfolk sighed deeply and continued his search. After a few minutes, Mordis spoke again, continuing the original purpose of the conversation.


“So, how did it happen? I mean, how did you become a planeswimmer?”


Ethas shook his head. “I have learned I was born with the Spark.”


“Spark?”


“That is what I have learned it to be called, by others who are like me. I dislike the term myself, but I have yet to discover a better one.”


Mordis glanced around and, still looking for shells, spotted a small cluster of oysters below him. Mordis smiled. “If it is a beautiful and valuable gift within you, my friend, then perhaps it is your ‘pearl’.”


Ethas looked over at Mordis, and then down at the oysters, and then he smiled. “My ‘pearl.’ I like that, Mordis. Thank you.”


Mordis nodded. “But that still doesn’t answer how it happened. I mean, sure, you’ve had this ‘pearl’ since you were born. But, when we were children, you could never swim the planes. Something must have happened to pry this ‘pearl’ from its shell.”


Ethas was silent for a few moments. When he spoke, his vibrations were much smaller than usual. “I was having a conversation with my mother.”


“Your mother?” Mordis said, confused. “But Iral is such a sweet woman. The stories always spoke of people becoming planeswimmers in moments of pain or terror, like in war on the battlesea. What could you have been discussing with your mother that could have been so bad?”


Ethas made a show of thinking about this question for a while, but eventually he simply shook his head. “I do not recall,” he lied, hoping Mordis wouldn’t feel the deceit in the vibrations of his words. “But I do not believe everything we have heard of planeswimmers and the other worlds they have seen is all true.”


Mordis nodded. “You would know much better than I,” he admitted, choosing to ignore his friend’s lie. “So, what did you see out there? What were those other worlds like?”


“Well, they were certainly strange. I think…” Ethas stopped suddenly, spotting another object mostly buried in the sand. He swam over to it quickly, gently brushing away the sand to reveal a flawless shell. It was the right size, nearly as large as his palm plus the first knuckles of his fingers, and its color was a fascinating shade somewhere between purple and pink. He looked it over with the careful eye of an educated connoisseur, while Mordis stared at him, his attention caught by the abrupt silence. Finally, after a long moment, Ethas smiled and nodded. “This one is perfect.


Mordis swam over and looked at the shell, unsure of just what his friend was looking at, but happy he had found it. “Excellent. Should we head back to the school, then?”


But Ethas shook his head. “No. Now is the difficult part. I need another one just like it.”


Mordis stared at him for a long moment. “Another one? Why? What do you need these for, anyway?”


Ethas smiled a sad sort of smile. “That, my friend, is a secret.”


Mordis narrowed his eyes in histrionic suspicion of his friend. “Just what are you up to, Ethas? And why did you drag me all the way out here to hunt for shells?”


“As I recall,” Ethas said, “I merely said that I was going, and you insisted on helping. In fact, I believe I told you no fewer than three times that it was unnecessary.”


Mordis laughed. “Well, fine, I suppose. But you’ve never been one for mystery before.”


Ethas looked away, making a show of scanning the nearby seabed for another shell. “More than you think, my friend.”


Mordis shrugged and returned to his search. “Anyway, you were saying? About the strange worlds you have visited?”


“Oh, yes,” Ethas said as he searched. “I think the strangest thing is the feel of the water. It is different everywhere.”


Mordis shrugged. “The same is true here, though. The waters feel differently in the Reefwaters than they do down in Marrey Trench, which is different still from Great Floe in the north.”


“Yes,” Ethas agreed, “but those differences are slight compared to the differences I am talking about. Here, you mentioned the Great Floe? You know how cold it can get up there? Well, imagine a cold twice as deep, and scraping against your skin like an anemone, not just once, but each moment you dwell there. The first world I swam to felt like this.”


Mordis stared at his friend in disbelief. “That sounds horrible, my friend. I would hate such a world.”


Ethas laughed slightly. “I would, too, did I not feel eternally indebted to it. I do not know how long I could have survived in those waters. But that world taught me how to control my ability to ‘swim the planes, which is what many who know call the worlds.”


“How have you learned these terms?”


“In my travels, I have met others like me, those who travel the worlds as I do. They seemed strange to me, as I must have to them. Some ‘walked the planes on legs and feet like the humans above us do, others flew on wings as the birds above them, and some, I still have no words for, even after meeting them. There are beings out there you cannot imagine, my friend.”


Mordis felt a slight sting at this last comment, a pang of jealousy perhaps, or even the slap of an unintended insult, but Mordis knew Ethas well, and he knew the planeswimmer was a kind and humble man. Mordis forced himself to ignore the comment and think the best of his friend. “What else did you learn when you were swimming the worlds, then?”


“I have learned that some waters feel more like the air above the surface, and swimming there required little more effort than floating does here. I have learned that some worlds have no merfolk, some have no folk of any kind, and some even have no seas or oceans!”


“Impossible!” Mordis said, his head snapping in Ethas’s direction. “No seas? How can a world survive without seas?”


Ethas shook his head. “I asked that very question, but those of that world looked at me like I was mad, even after I explained what an ocean was. Imagine, having to explain what an ocean is!”


Mordis thought for a long moment, and then threw up his hands. “I don’t know if I could! It’s…it’s an ocean!”


Ethas laughed. “That was my first attempt at an explanation, as well! Or course, some of what they attempted to explain to me were equally difficult for them.”


“And you have never been a fool,” Mordis said lowly, trying to fully comprehend his friend’s words.


“Nor were they,” Ethas said. “That is the difference worlds can make. This is a wide world, my friend, and yet existence is far wider than even we imagined.”


Mordis stopped swimming or searching at that point, the full breadth of his friend’s meaning finally hitting home. The merfolk had known for generations of the planeswimmers and the existence of other worlds, but the deeper implications of these truths had never really occurred to Mordis before. “That’s a hard truth to learn, Ethas.”


His friend nodded. “Yes, I know. But, there were kinder truths to discover, as well. There were many I encountered who were fearful of me, as a stranger and an alien to them, but there were also many who showed me kindness, expecting nothing in return. I learned that some worlds have massive, sprawling kingdoms of merfolk who live together in comparative peace, and who know nothing of the nomadic lives that we lead, which makes me hopeful for our people’s future. But most of all, Mordis, I have learned that even when we feel most trapped within our own realities, none of those prisons are truly inescapable.”


“For you, perhaps,” Mordis said with a brief smile. “You’re the one who can ‘swim the worlds, remember?”


“There are deeper prisons than the planes we are born to,” Ethas said, his vibrations low. “And better ways to escape them than ‘swimming away.”


Mordis nodded, but was confused by his friend’s words. They seemed to have deeper meaning than Ethas was letting on, but Mordis didn’t want to press his friend on the issue. Ethas had been through much since he had first ‘swam from the world, and whatever secrets he had, he would share them when he was ready. Mordis was just about to respond with a simple, noncommittal agreement when he noticed another shell in the sand. It was difficult to tell, but from his position, it looked much like the one Ethas had found. Mordis turned and swam down to it, pulling it roughly from the sand. It was the same shape and coloring as the first, and perfect except for a small piece chipped away at the side.


“What do you think of this one?”


Ethas swam over to examine his friend’s find. At a distance, Ethas smiled in joy at the shell Mordis held, but frowned when he saw the small chip. He looked over the shell very carefully, running a finger along the jagged break several times. Finally, Mordis offered, “If it’s not good enough, we can keep looking.”


Ethas glanced over at his friend, and then looked back to his shell. Then he pulled the first shell out of his sack of netting, he compared the two. He ran the same finger along the first shell in a mirror of the other shell’s missing piece, and finally smiled broadly.


“No,” Ethas said. “This is perfect. Thank you, Mordis. I really appreciate your help.”


“You’re welcome, Ethas,” Mordis said, laying his hand on Ethas’s shoulder one more time. “So now, back to the school?”


“Yes,” Ethas agreed, “but then I will need to be alone for a while.”


“I understand,” Mordis said. “Well, I suppose I don’t understand, but I will leave you alone if you wish. Will you be attending the Gala tonight, though? The whole school will be there.”


Ethas nodded, still looking with pride at his newly acquired shells. “Yes, I will attend. My father and mother will certainly be there, and I believe both my sister and brother will be there, as well. I…” he paused, taking a deep breath. “I would not miss it for the world.”


Mordis slapped his friend’s shoulder lightly and grinned. “Which world?”


The two friends laughed heartily, their voices reverberating throughout the waters as the two merfolk warriors turned their path back toward the rest of the school. Although Mordis joked and both laughed on their way, Ethas didn’t say another word. He was preparing himself for the most frightening journey of his life.



* * *


“Mordis, son of Kruvis!” The Speaker called as Mordis entered the Bed. The Bed was a large, circular recess painstakingly dug into the ocean’s floor. The nomadic merfolk of the Maelstroms wandered further than any of the other clans. The Corral Clans wandered, as well, but usually stayed near the Reefwaters up and down the coasts. The clans of the Trenches typically held themselves to the furthest stretches of the Deep, and the harsh merfolk of the Great Floe rarely if ever ventured south of the Kraken’s Teeth, an ocean-wide stretch of undersea ridges. But the Maelstroms clan traversed all of these areas, and several more besides. But each year, they returned to an area of the Vast that was their namesake, the Maelstroms, a turbulent stretch of ocean where the cross-currents formed numerous whirlpools, deadly to the human ships that sailed above.


In the approximate center of this region, however, the waters were remarkably calm, and usually free from outside dangers. The other merfolk rarely came here because it was too far removed from the ancestral homes of the other clans, and humans never risked the whirlpools to explore the waters between them when they could sail around in friendlier waters. Unfortunately, food was scarce in the Maelstroms, which was what led the clan to wander in the first place. But it was still a place that meant a great deal to the clan, and it was here that the annual Gala was held, a time for everyone in the clan to celebrate themselves and each other.


As Mordis swam into the center of the Bed to present himself to the gathered, a high vibration of murmurs came from the mermaids who had already been introduced. Mordis was a handsome man, with a muscular build and long, light hair tied up in the style of the male warriors. He was considered by many of the young women of the clan to be a strong choice for a mate, and although he was informally pledged to Noral, a beautiful mermaid of fair standing, until their engagement was official, the other women of the clan were optimistic that they could turn his eyes toward them.


“Karas, son of Chrolas!” As the Speaker’s voice reverberated through the waters, an older merman made his way into the Bed. He was a well-respected warrior and the father of Ethas and his siblings. His hair was graying already, although his body was still as strong and sound as it had been in his youth.


“Iral, daughter of Voshal!” Before Karas had gotten more than a few yards into the Bed, the next name was called. Karas and Iral were married, and as such, entered the Gala together. Iral had been a beautiful mermaid in her youth, and the general consensus was that her loveliness had only grown with her age. Neither she nor Karas had been appointed to the Tribunal of Elders, but it was a common belief among the clan that Iral was the next in line for that honor. Together, the two merfolk moved into the center of the Bed, graciously presented themselves to the clan, and awaited their children.


“Addas, son of Karas!” Addas floated confidently into the Bed. He looked much like his brother Ethas physically, with a muscular figure and a thick head of black hair tied back into a tail, but Addas was a bit less defined than his warrior brother. Addas was less of a warrior and more of an academic, although like all the clan, he could lift a spear in defense of his family and his clan. His ambition was to one day become the Speaker, which his studies and his lineage made quite likely.


“Ashal, daughter of Iral!” Ashal swam quickly and confidently after her older brother. She was a respected member of the warriors, just like Ethas, and served most often as a scout for the school. She was athletic and toned, and generally considered one of the fastest swimmers of all of them. Her hair was long, flowing, and black, like that of her brothers, rather than the more flaxen shade of her mother’s. Just as the mermaids had murmured excitedly amongst themselves when Mordis had entered the Bed, now the men whispered in quiet admiration of one of the most sought-after hands in the entire school.


“Ethas, son of Karas!” The murmurs stopped immediately as all eyes fixed on the entrance, awaiting the first official presentation of the planeswimmer, the Maelstroms’ favorite son. He had always been well-loved and well-respected, and his awakened ability to wander the worlds was an honor felt by the entire school. Just like his father, his mother, his brother and his sister, Ethas had excelled at nearly everything he had attempted, and was in many ways the pride of the Maelstroms. It was because of this honor that his friends and family were chosen as the last names called in the Gala, and his, the last of all.


Surprisingly, no one entered the Bed when Ethas’s name was called. The assembled school waited in stark anticipation for several long moments before murmurs of confusion and concern began to break out. The Speaker, perplexed by the absence of the Maelstrom’s honored guest, repeated the name, even higher and longer than before. When Ethas still did not arrive, the school, collectively, began to grow nervous. Karas, Iral, Addas and Ashal all turned to one another to speak in low whispers, trying to keep their worried vibrations between themselves. This was an unheard of event, and speculation began to spread, most of which centering around questions of whether or not Ethas was still on this world.


Suddenly, to those in the school who were most perceptive and best attuned to the vibrations of the waters, a small commotion arose above them, where the Speaker floated. He had been joined by another figure, though it was impossible for those below to recognize who it was, and they were discussing something in an animated fashion, though quietly enough that the vibrations dispersed before their words became clear. Finally, the two seemed to come to some sort of understanding, and the new figure swam off to the entrance of the Bed, while the Speaker waited and composed himself. Finally, the ripples of concerned conversation below him died down, and the Speaker spoke one final time.


“Ethal, daughter of Iral!” There was a collective gasp that bubbled the water as Ethas, as she had previously been known, swam into the Bed with as much confidence as she could manage. Her thick, black hair was flowing behind her, rather than tied up like Mordis’s, Addas’s, and the other male warriors. Over her pectoral muscles, usually bare, she wore the two beautiful shells she had found earlier in the day. The small chip that had been present in one of the shells had been cleverly covered with a shark’s tooth, and an identical one was present on the flawless shell, affixing them together in the center. The rest of the piece was tied around Ethal’s neck and around her chest, in the traditional style of all mermaids.


The reaction of the gathered school was initially one of shock. They had never seen anything like Ethal and her unexpected, expected appearance. The silence that accompanied that shock hung like a strange stillness in the ocean, the only vibrations in the water coming from Ethal’s movements. As she swam toward the center of the Bed, she made a point of holding her head high, and she refused to look into the faces of anyone in the school, particularly her family. What she was doing now was the most difficult thing she had ever had to do. Looking into the eyes of her parents or her siblings seemed to be even harder still.


Then the whispers began, almost as if a silent and instantaneous agreement had been reached by the stunned merfolk of the Maelstroms. The whispers and murmurs converged into a constant wave that felt nothing like voices to the young mermaid planeswimmer. No voices could be detected amongst the tumult, it was merely a constant shaking of the waters, as if a quake were rattling the ocean floor. Still, Ethal continued to swim slowly and surely toward the center, where her family waited, their expressions still unknown to her. The vibrations grew in strength as she moved, only lowering slightly as she passed nearer to the loudest of them. The sea was practically raging with the cacophony of their murmurs, and finally, unable to stand it anymore, Ethal came to a halt a dozen yards from her family.


For a long time, Ethal floated there alone, wondering what the rest of her school was thinking, and what they might be saying. A part of her, of course, didn’t care. A part of her knew that she had been trapped by far more than the aether boundaries of their planes. And now that she had the means of escaping those boundaries, she finally felt she had the strength to break through the other cells that had been holding her prisoner. She knew she was doing what she needed to for herself. But still, this was her school. These were her people, her friends, and her family. These were the people she had known and loved her entire life, the people she had fought with and fought for, the people she had laughed with and sang with and cried with. As Ethal floated there and thought about it, she was preparing to cry with them one more time.


Suddenly, a form broke away from the crowd of the school and approached Ethal. The movement caught her attention, and as she looked in the figure’s direction, she immediately recognized Theral. Ethal and Theral had always been close, and they had been informally pledged to one another, just as Mordis was to Noral. Theral approached Ethal slowly, her long blonde hair tossed slightly by the currents of voices whipping around her, her light blue shells flattering as she swayed toward Ethal. The planeswimmer forced herself to look into Theral’s face as she approached, but the other woman’s features were unreadable. Theral stopped within an arm’s reach of Ethal, and hesitated for a long time as the crowd quieted, every eye trained on the pair in the center of the Bed.


Finally, Theral pointed to Ethal’s newly acquired vestment. “Those shells…are beautiful, Ethal.” She smiled broadly at her friend.


Ethal grinned back at her, her sense of relief so profound that she did, in fact, nearly weep. “Thank you, Theral,” she whispered before closing the distance between them and embracing her.


Moments later, Ethal seemed to be surrounded. Her family was there first, and Mordis and Noral shortly after. Their reactions all varied slightly, but most of them who chose to comment praised Ethal for her fine taste. Her mother, Iral, was particularly fond of the color, while Addas and Ashal were more fond of the shark’s teeth. When Ethal’s attention turned to the stern face of her father, she saw disappointment mirrored in Karas’s eyes.


Ethal gulped as the others became quiet. “Father, I…”


“Save it,” the old man said sternly, his voice long in the water. “How could you do this to me? How could you risk this shame on your family?”


Ethal looked down as her sister Ashal came to her defense. “Father, there is no shame in…”


“No shame?” Karas said, shocked. “My own daughter!” He looked back toward Ethal. “Late to the Gala! Were you raised by a mudskipper? Or by Karas and Iral?”


Ethal looked up at her father’s bearded face and saw a warm smile there. She moved next to him and embraced him. “I am sorry, father. I will not be late again.”


“See that you’re not,” Karas said.


Finally, a strong hand grabbed on to Ethal’s shoulder and gently pulled her away from her father. She turned around to see the smiling face of Mordis staring back at her.


“You could have told me, you know,” he said.


Ethal shrugged. “Would you have done what you did for me, with the shells, if you had known?”


Mordis scoffed a low vibration through the water. “Of course not.” He pointed at the shells across Ethal’s chest. “I would have insisted on nicer ones.”


Ethal smiled, and then embraced her greatest friend, both of them laughing, along with the others around them. She was, for the first time in a very long time, happy. She was relieved, she was grateful, and she was excited. But most of all, and most importantly to her, Ethal was finally free.



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PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2015 6:48 pm 
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does ethal pass as a female mermaid

are other mermaids secretly laughing at her because they think she looks ridiculous

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I think that people who are like that are really deep. They have a sense of understanding things and are vague and quiet and mysterious you know? Like a cello. It plays depressing music (that's how I think of it) but it's so beautiful. It's a beautiful instrument and it's so. You know. Like really emotional. Yeah. Emotional is the word. :)


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PostPosted: Mon Dec 28, 2015 8:21 pm 
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io wrote:
does ethal pass as a female mermaid

I would imagine that she has a non-traditional look.

io wrote:
are other mermaids secretly laughing at her because they think she looks ridiculous

At least judging from the initial reaction of that particular society, the mermaids there seem to be pretty accepting. How other merfolk on other worlds or even from other schools might react is largely a matter of their cultures and their personal attitudes. However, as with many transgender people, she may have a tough time in certain, less-welcoming communities.


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