Under the glistening, refracting sunlight, deep below the crest of the waves of the Western Sea, a world very much like our own lays in the cliffs and shifting sands of the ocean. And one special day, all seemed to be quite at ease for the denizens of this world.
But what sort of denizen, you ask, could live so peacefully beneath the blanket of the vast, blue sea? Well there are fish, of course, but there are many more things that make there home in the ocean than just fish. One of which we are about to meet...
The current was rough that day, a tugging force of flow that urged a young merman forward on his morning's mission. Unlike most other days, he didn't bother himself with the many creatures he passed by down the aquatic avenue. His mind, and his heart, were both set on one goal--probing the coral fields just beyond the sea cucumber farms, south of the town limits.
The brown-haired merman dove out of the highway of current that whisked through the edge of the reef, his reef. For Prince Shoma of ReefRealm was he, a young noble of the Merfolk of the Western Waters.
Shoma was a little merman of a little kingdom, for while there were many dominions amid the waters, deep and shallow, ReefRealm was the tiniest of them all. This was due in no small part to the size of its average denizen; for while the expansive reef sheltered many fish, shrimp, zoo and phytoplankton, and more, the average dominant life of Merfolk were all of the smallest berth. Average Merfolk grew anywhere between a couple of inches to a yard long, though Shoma and his people were of the smaller end of that scale at about six inches from the top of their heads to the tips of their tails.
But latitude has never been much of a concern to young Shoma, nor was it today. Instead, he bobbed and swam between the folds and crests of bright pink, plate-like coral, just near the southern drop-off. He sang as he searched, a song as potent as a siren's love ballad yet without the unfortunate ending that scenario would provide. The object of his desire this day was among the folds, a fleshy-looking stone that was slowly eroded by time. By swaying in the colored streams of phytoplankton that flocked to the coral, many pebbles from the ocean floor would gain a rose-pink hue, honed over time into the simple treasures ReefRealmers called Heartstones.
One such stone had finally caught the cheery prince's eye, and he halted his song to focus on claiming it. Nestled in the rungs of the larger coral, Shoma gritted his teeth and slid his hand into the sharp silicone wall--only to dodge the pincer of a rather frustrated crab!
"Whoops, sorry there, small fry," Shoma said. The creature had apparently already claimed this stone as its own, for whatever reason. Shrugging, Shoma went on with his work. The crustacean had little enough time in these waters, anyways; as its ruler, Shoma felt a little more easy knowing that small pleasure would be had by it.
And anyways, the crab's claim had been for the best, for a matter of minutes later Shoma found another Heartstone even larger and more pure in size than the other. Shoma clapped with delight, then held his wrist up as high as he could to expose his timepiece, a simple sundial adjusted to read the time of day despite the bent light beneath the waves.
"Oh, perfect. Not a minute too soon, by my guess!" Giddy as a clownfish cozying up to an anemone, Shoma braced his long tail against the edge of the coral for support then pulled with all his might. But, try as he may, he was unable to pull the stone free! The process of forming that smooth, pink edge had seemingly wedged this Heartstone into the coral tighter than ever.
"Not to worry," Shoma said to no one in particular, humming at his own ingenuity. From the sheath slung across the human torso of his back, Shoma pulled out a very curious looking sword--a long, thin rapier with a strange bulge at one end of the hilt. But before he could make more than a few strokes back to the Heartstone, two sounds caught his ears:
The first was of the sneaking, anticipatory hiss of a Eel-kin merman of the Southern Trench.
The second was the cry of a mermaid, probably one of the farmers' daughters.
Shoma's resolve changed faster than the direction of a shark darting towards as bleeding body. Glad I already drew my sword, he thought as his body undulated in the strokes of a strong merman's swim.
Just beyond the drop-off, an overhang of barren black rock and sand concealed a small hideaway. Little more than a rut that juts out from the cliff wall, this overhang allows for a relatively private location, where a not-so-welcome private meeting between a ReefRealm mermaid and the much larger man was taking place.
"Well, that'sssss just uncalled for, sallie," the merman crooned. Eel-kin merfolk, particularly of the Southern Trench, were of the larger end of that 'average' spectrum. Stretching almost two and a half feet long to as much as four or five, though thankfully this one in particular was only about 3 feet. While not as strong as swimmer as Shoma and his pureblooded Merfolk brethren, the assailant was more than a size match for his 'sweetheart.'
"Y'ssssee, if you scream, someone might find out about our little deal." He waggled a finger beneath her chin, its curved nail almost scraping her. "Now now, you know I won't hurt you at all. Hate to prick the pretty little girl, and spoil such a lovely face."
"P-please--" the farm mermaid stammered out--"we just can't go on like this anymore. My father, he knows, he knows about our arrangement--"
"Ssss-so what?" The merman's sly demeanor was growing more grim every moment. "If you ceassssse supplying me with the sssea cucumbers, my pet, we WILL have a bit of a...problem."
"But we can't," the mermaid sobbed. Her concern seemed less out of direct fear but more for the fellow she was addressing!
She's compassionate, Shoma noted, his analytical mind already off on a tangent. And i'd bet all the coral in the kingdom that he knows that. He's working her for sea cucumbers...for what?
The mermaid has ceased blubbering and began again. "My father knows our crop's been low, and he's not mad at all--just sad, knowing he won't be able to sell enough at harvest time if we keep this up. Please, Nopette, I-I'm so sorry but I have to think of my family!"
"I thought you understood me sssssoooo very clearly, Miska. I've been trying, and you've been aiding, not some grand scheme or special, strict task!* His touch across her back was sickening for Shoma to watch, but he daren't interrupt yet. "I'm merely trying to change the error of my wayssssss! Switching to softer, stringent dietssssss...you were aiding a lost ssssssoul."
Miska's eyes teared, salting the water even more. Of course, her tears were innocent and pure, unlike the impartial, shifting seas swaying around her.
"Then again, you never know, Misssssssska. If I don't stay on my sssssspecial supplement, I could get hungry for sweeter stuff very quickly..." The merman licked his lips, a menacing grin appearing behind them. "In fact, you look so very tasty!"
"AIIIEEEE!" Miska screamed again, swimming away as fast as she could. Again, Merfolk of the ReefRealm are agile, quick swimmers, but even then speed is not everything when in pursuit from such a large predator.
Of course, if your predator stops suddenly, that helps. Such was the case when Nopette felt a solid, strong whap on his forehead from a decently sized pebble!
"OW! Curses, what?" He scanned, seeking out his assailant. To his surprise it was another small merman; only this one held a drawn sword.
A tiny drawn sword.
"BWHAHAHAA! Oh, that'ssssss rich!" Nopette pointed and laughed at Shoma's stance, patting his belly at the same time. "Defenssssssse is one thing, but this is Chess; castling still lets me take a piecccccce." Nopette licked his lips raised both palms, ready to reach out and clutch his new prey. "Ssssself-sacrifice does you no good, merman."
"And breaking the law does none for you, Southern Eel-kin."
Nopette was concerned and even a bit fearful with the confidence and strength in the little fish's green eyes.
"You're treating with one of my subjects, Nopette, in direct violation of a trade embargo currently in place between our realms. What's more, you have threatened one of them on the border of my sovereign sea and our open waters. This, you understand, I cannot allow."
"Who are you, sea brat?" Nopette spat out with disgust. His impending meal was becoming less and less appetizing.
"I am Shoma, Prince and Captain of the guard of ReefRealm. Your trespassing will be pardoned if you can answer me why you have come to this border, whence you first began harassing my subjects, and upon whose authority you are acting. However...for the attempted assault, I am afraid I must penalize you." Shoma braced his right arm with his left, brandishing his rapier boldly.
"All you get to know, Princeling," Nopette growled, "is what it's like to spend your last moments squeezed down my throat!" Slick as an eel, Nopette reached out in a grapple to grasp Shoma's tiny form. Yet, despite his size and speed, the Eel-kin was nowhere close to capturing the Prince.
Shoma dove down, dodging the anticipated strike and swimming around the larger merman's arm. "I've tried that before, fiend. You should really meet my girlfriend."
Confused, Nopette spun around, using his slippery form to try and bat Shoma backwards so he could have a better look. The only good that maneuver did was smacking his shoulder on the rocky cliff of the drop-off, while Shoma swam aside.
"In fact, you should REALLY just meet her to get some tips on how to treat women," Shoma quipped. In a fight, he understood the tactical advantage of taunting an overconfident opponent. But more importantly, it was just fun to do.
"Get back here, you ssssslime!" Nopette lunged again, reaching with his left arm and then his right. Both missed as Shoma slipped between his fingers, tracing a line even across the larger merman's nose before swimming back again for another dodge.
"But honestly," Shoma continued, "You should meet her. She'd even let you know how doomed you are in this fight. She's great at giving advice."
"Ssssseriously, what'ssss wrong with you?" Nopette sneered. "Why won't you shut up about your sssstupid wench?"
"Because," Shoma said with a more serious glare, "I'm currently late to meeting her because I had to stop you. So please, no more games. I intend to end this."
Nopette's rage finally snapped and the beast within him emerged. Foregoing his human half at all, he propelled his streamlined form straight at Shoma, mouth open wide with sharp, jagged teeth.
But Prince Shoma was more than prepared. In a skillful sweep that showed his prowess, he looped backwards just below the bite and stabbed up, catching his would-be predator in the soft skin below the jaw.
"AUUUUGHHHHHHUH!" Nopette cursed and screamed as the water below him clouded with his blood. "My own jaw, you sssssadissssstic wretch!" The wound was nowhere near fatal, but certainly a discomfort. Shrieking, Nopette bellowed out blood from his lip; he must have bit it in the shock of feeling Shoma's stab.
"Now you will see how lucky you are, Eel-kin," Shoma said calmly but stern. "You have encountered one mercy after another with me, but I am only so forgiving. Leave now or face certain terror."
"Y-you're a shrimp!" Nopette howled. "A weak, pathetic ssssstupid fishman of such low stature. You're nothing to any of ussssss!" Nopette bared his claws and struck out, surprised when Shoma blocked the blow rather than dodging it.
"Ah, in your feeble eyes, perhaps," Shoma accused. "But I am more than you can ever stoop to recognize...as are my people. See, what power remains in ReefRealm!"
Suddenly the rapier trembled as Shoma gripped the rounded handle that stuck out from its guard. From the sword's tip a gleaming blue light, brighter and lighter in shade than seafoam, emerged, releasing the rarest of gems into the ocean: Magic. Even among Merfolk magic is a scarcity, in many cases considered only myth. But ReefRealm wielded some of the last great Magic Arts, in craftsmanship and courtesy. For these reasons, and from the hearts of its people, the tiniest realm in the seas still stood.
So there, at the edge of the drop-off, Shoma released the power of the Reel Rapier, a blade fashioned by Magic with the design of the strange, bipedal giants known as Shallowers, who some rumored could even live above the waves. The tip of the blade flew off in a bright arc, and the trail that followed it wrapped around Nopette with a few flicks of Shoma's wrist.
The Reel Rapier, designed off a strange giant's artifact known to you and I as a fishing rod.
In seconds the Eel-kin was bound, fully lassoed by the line of light. Its head had jabbed into his side, sticking to him despite his thrashing. Amid the chaos Shoma swam up to the Eel-kin's head and gripped into his greasy black hair, steadying himself in a bizarre undersea rodeo.
"P-leasssse! Enough, I sssswear!" Nopette's voice had changed to a hushed reverence and fear of something else.
"You're frightened now because of what i've done? Bound you, and forced the bleeding to continue?" It was true; though still not a serious wound, Nopette's jaw injury was spurting out a whole cloud of red particles into the salty water.
"Y-yes, pleasssse! I ssssssubmit!"
"Hmmm...Yes, I suppose you do. But not to me; you'll submit when the scent hits the deep sea and the sharks arrive."
"N-NO! PLEASSSSSSSE, anything but thisssss! Pleasssssse!"
The terror on the Eel-kin's face was a genuine fear felt by most of the ocean's inhabitants. Yet, despite the thrashing, slippery shape, those cords of light never once budged as a shadow began to loom in the deep water below the drop-off.
"Well, It's only fair to say I warned you it would be this way, Nopette," Shoma said.
Shoma grinned from ear to ear, like he had earlier. "I told you I thought you should meet my girlfriend."
A dark clouded shape from deep below them was steadily rising up. As it did it became more clear and defined; a long, curved dorsal fin--a sleek, thin body, several times larger than Nopette--and finally an open mouth with rows of sharp teeth!"
"EEEEEAUUUUUUUGHHH!" Nopette let out the most emasculating scream you can imagine, and just as he did Shoma released his bonds. The merman bolted into the deep blue, panicking and babbling about girlfriends and sea cucumbers.
Shoma relaxed, finally sheathing the sword on his back. "Ah, another excellent arrival, dearest," he said happily.
For as you may have guessed, the shape below was no mere shark. In Shoma's terms, it was a Whalekin--that is, any Merfolk of a larger size, correlating to the greater creatures of the sea. The long, tan-and-grey scaled body, smooth and strong as the very stones Shoma had been hunting, emerged with a front half of a young woman, nearly ten times Shoma's size. She blushed as she saw Shoma's smile, mirroring it with her own as her red hair flowed in the current it barely touched.
"Hello, little love," the Tiger Shark-kin mermaid spoke up. Her voice was calming as the tide, slow and soft with a hint of the bubbling foam found breaking against any beach.
"Coraline," Shoma sighed and swam towards his much larger mate. Despite her only being about the size of the 'typical' human mermaid, Coraline dwarfed her dear loved one. Yet, as I mentioned before, stature meant little to the stout-hearted Shoma.
"You really didn't need to stab him to get your point across, Shoma," Coraline said as her boyfriend swam up and cuddled against her left thumb. "That blood was so salty and coarse, too--not the blood of a kind man."
"Ah, he's an Eel-kin," Shoma dismissed his kindhearted girlfriend's concern with a wave of his small hand. "His skin's like taffy anyways. I doubt it'll even be a wound tomorrow. Let's just hope the lesson of mortal terror remains."
"Oh, indeed!" Coraline giggled. "I was really scary this time, wasn't I? I pushed out my extra rows of teeth and everything, just for that nasty little man!" She blushed, embarrassed. "The only times I ever feel like a great, strong predator are when i'm over here with you, with ReefRealm. Everyone else considers me to be soft in the belly!"
Shoma grinned again, swimming down and poking into her inward-facing navel just for a second. It was the perfect paradigm of the opposite of the drop-off's secret spot; not hidden and dark and jagged, but exposed and soft and warm. "You'll find no disagreement from me there, dear. You ARE rather soft...at least this half of you is!"
Coraline fidgeted from the tickling sensation and cupped her hands below Shoma, creating a current as she pushed him up towards her face. "Hey, stop it, you're supposed to be supporting me in this!"
Shoma merely swam forward and kissed Coraline on the nose. "I always will, love, though that doesn't always mean what you think it does."
"Oh! And what does that mean, hmmm??? I was the one who thought of our first date, and I was the one that came up with the plan to stay near the reef in the first place, so I could help you on patrols! So are you saying it was wrong to support me there, hmmmm?" Coraline laughed, her brown eyes blinking in a pretend pout to appeal to Shoma.
Her little lover merely swam over to one side, pressing his whole body against her cheek. "Happy Hug-a-Giant day, Coraline. It's such a strange holiday, but...one that means so much for our seas. “ His thoughts drifted back to the creature he’d just frightened away. “It represents the unity between all us Merfolk, large or small. I'm surprised the Eel-kin hadn't even mentioned it...perhaps one day he'll be on the donating end of kindness instead of leeching off those who would give it."
"Shoma, that might be the least romantic thing you've ever said to me," Coraline crooned. " But I understand your mind is occupied. Here, let me help you with that..." In a sudden move, Coraline slid her tongue out of her mouth and slurped up Shoma's stomach--both his seaborne half and human torso.
Shoma blushed at the warmth of his lover's lick, and chuckled to himself. "You know, that could be seen as a declaration of war, assaulting a prince and all."
Coraline's sweet grin never faded as she drew even closer. "I'm just celebrating a holiday, Shoma--and I know how to give the biggest hug of them all."
With that, Coraline opened her mouth wide and beckoned Shoma to enter in. Sighing with acceptance of the moment he slipped right inside, swishing around above her tongue with his tail and hands, before diving down straight into her throat.
Coraline sighed and cooed at the cozy feeling of her closest friend squirming around, then swallowed with a muffled ~Glp! She traced the path his pleasant movements made inside her gullet all the way down to her first stomach, tucked inside her human half.
"Mmmmmmhhhhhhh...thank you so much for the hug, little one," Coraline whispered as she felt Shoma slip into an internal embrace within her stomach folds. There was absolutely no danger within her there; as a Tiger Shark, her stomach would naturally take days if not weeks to fully digest anything, and that was her oceanic side. Her human stomach was completely neutral to flesh, dissolving only the fibers of seaweed she'd often dine on.
Shoma didn't even remember his intended gift for her of the Heartstone he'd found until later, but his love's gentle hold and warm surroundings made him at ease about it. As for the strange Eel-kin and the sea cucumbers...that could wait for another day.
This afternoon, in the warmest season of the sea, the two sweethearts of different sizes and shapes drifted lazily in the afternoon current, caught up in the sweetest embrace they could make.