Ohwa, a mermaid and Appa, her half-brother, came out of their home cave together.
“Today’s the first day of our apprenticeships! I’m so excited!” said Ohwa.
“Yeah, me too. It sure was a grueling series of meeting with the elders until we got these.” Appa shook his head. “I knew that I’m not cut out to be a hunter but I like to work with my hands. I still don’t understand why I had to endure the Elders five times. Five! Until they finally decided I could weave seaweed into nets and sharpen driftwood into spears. I think you had it a little easier.”
“Only a little bit.” Ohwa flipped her long red hair over her shoulder. “I met with the elders four times. They wanted to make sure I was capable of killing an innocent life. Apparently, the larger fish we eat are capable of having feelings too. Personally? Blood excites me. I’m looking forward to my first kill.”
“That’s a warning for the elders too. I remember when we played games as kids. You were always looking for ways to hurt people. The elders had our caretakers report to them. I’m surprised you aren’t being expelled!”
“Yeah, I know. That’s why I was surprised when they wanted to know if I could kill. I think they thought it isn’t as easy the first time you actually kill. That all my fantasies and smaller attempts wouldn’t be able to actually follow through. They told me I have a little extra human blood in me that is making me bloodthirsty but all the other merpeople who contributed to me and my line always had-“
And here Appa joined in with the familiar line-“a healthy respect for nature!”
They laughed. “Yeah, and the respect for nature supposedly makes it difficult to kill.” She rolled her eyes. “We’ll see.”
“Well we’d better get going. I’m headed to the artists’ cave and you’re headed to the open ocean to meet the hunters. See you soon!”
They exchanged kisses. “See you soon.”
*Ohwa, whose name means egg in one of the ancient human languages that had been bastardized into mersong (Appa’s name means water in the same language), swam until she came towards the edge of her village’s territory. The territory wasn’t particularly large, the whole area could be swam in about two hours and it only took Ohwa 20 minutes to reach the hunter who would be teaching her.
She looked around for a bit, contemplating Melloasis. From where she was located, she could see a crowd of older mermen and mermaids assembled around a collection of spears. Further north, she could see the school of fish they’d be hunting – Plattyies. The plattyies were around the length of Ohwa’s tail and were covered in green scales with typical fish faces and fins. Ohwa loved the taste of plattyies, at home she usually went through three plattyies a week with a little supplement with seaweed and plankton, while a typical merperson barely ate two because they had a more well-rounded diet. That was probably why Ohwa was a bit rounder than your typical mermaid. She was active enough, but now as a hunter, she’d be putting in a more strenuous workout.
She swam over to the hunters. “Hey guys, I’m the new apprentice.” She held out her hand. “Ohwa.”
“Hey Ohwa!” The leader of the group looked up at her with a big smile and took her hand. “I’m Ette. You’ll be training under me.”
Ohwa was suddenly silent. Ette had cut his hair short and dyed it in black and white stripes, and his scales had also been dyed to match. He was… attractive. Really attractive. She had never seen this combination before and suddenly wondered if mating season was coming up. She didn’t normally feel this way.
The mermaid next to Ohwa must have noticed the look on Ohwa’s face because she whispered in her ear, “Not just you. Last mating season, the eggs he helped conceive had the highest hatching rate of that year’s batch. I think our bodies can tell no matter what the season. He’s a good guy too and you’ll learn to work with him.”
Ohwa whispered back. “Does he know the effect he has on mermaids?”
“No, and I’m not going to be the one to tell him.”
Ohwa nodded and hoped Ette hadn’t caught the conversation. She raised her voice. “Hi Ette, I’m a bit shy.”
“It’s okay. We’re running a bit late so take a spear and we’ll head to the plattyies.”
Ohwa looked at the spears and chose a long yellow one with a nasty looking barb on the end.
“Good choice. That can slow down a platty that’s running away and it’ll stick good.”
Ohwa took a place towards the end of their loose v-formation so she could talk to her new friend. “I didn’t get your name.”
“Oh sorry, it’s Echa.”
“Oh you’re related to Ette?”
“Loosely. His father and my mother are part of the same mating cluster but we’re not directly related. Are we related? Our hair is the same color and I don’t dye mine.”
“Me either. Uh, my mother is Agua and my father is Iba.”
“My father’s brother’s name is Iba. We’re cousins!”
“That’s so cool!” The two mermaids hugged.
Ette cleared his throat. “Ladies?”
They had arrived within spear throwing distance of the plattyies. Now that Ohwa could see them up close and was going to actually get to kill one, her stomach was all knotted up. It didn’t feel like excitement. It felt like… nerves? Could the elders be right after all? To prove them wrong, she spoke up.
“Ette, can you show me how to throw the spear?”
“Sure. Come out in front.”
She swam out in front of the group slowly. She noticed that the plattyies could see the spears and were swimming closer together, in a circle. They appeared to be trying to eat seaweed really quickly so that they could run away right after. A knot came up into her throat.
“You know, I don’t think this is going to be as simple as I thought it would be.” Her voice was hoarse all of a sudden.
“It’s okay, Ohwa. My first time I ran away. My second missed its mark and hit a wall. Finally, the third time I went out hunting, I was able to wound a platty and help bring home dinner. If I can do it, you will too. Eventually.”
Ohwa smiled and nodded. Inside she was thinking that she wasn’t going to run away – couldn’t – not after how long she’d dreamed of this moment.
“Alright,” Ette lifted his spear in his right hand and held it horizontal in front of him. “Lifting the spear and throwing the spear are the easy parts. The difficulty is hitting a moving target. It’s easiest to aim at the center of a platty or a group of plattyies at first. You’re more likely to get a hit that way, especially with your barbed spear. I’ll go first, then you try if you can.”
Ette heaved his spear at a platty that was towards the edge of the circle, still eating seaweed. He wisely realized that if he hit the center of the circle, the whole school would flee and Ohwa wouldn’t be able to hit any of them. His spear flew true, and pierced the center of a platty. The surrounding plattyies, seeing that one of them was hurt, started to flee.
“Your turn, Ohwa. Be fast.”
Ohwa lifted her spear, put it into position, aimed at the center of the school, and heaved. Somehow, it ended up spearing through a platty’s eye and it started making horrific noises.
“Oh no!” The sight of the poor platty was too much and Ohwa threw up her breakfast –half-digested chunks of platty! – which made her throw up even more and start crying.
The school of platty had mostly fled by now and Ette heaved another spear and put the wailing platty out of its misery.
“It’s okay, Ohwa. Look at me.” He tilted her head up towards him and wiped away her tears. “It happens to every hunter their first time. None of us thought we could do it. It’s in our nature. We’re peaceful merfolk. We don’t have war, we bred those human genes out of us. We still need to eat but because we don’t have fangs and claws, our killing requires more equipment, more effort, and it can be traumatizing. It’s okay, Ohwa. Do you understand?”
Ohwa nodded as the tears kept streaming down her face. She sniffled. “It’s just that I always thought I had extra human blood in me… that I was bloodthirsty. I always liked attacking other merkids in our games. I was looking forward to this. Now that I’ve done it, it sickens me.”
Ette nodded. “I understand. You thought you were an outlier, that you’d be expelled?”
Ohwa nodded. Maybe he did understand.
He continued, “There have been far fewer expulsions the past few generations. The elders figured out that remnants of humanity were causing it so they had the caretakers develop an oil that they could rub into developing eggs. It deactivates the human genes. In some cases, an egg has so many it can’t hatch without them. In others, which was probably the case in you, there were enough genes that the remnant remains, an echo of a human you that never was. This echo made you bloodthirsty… but the oil ensured you can’t go through with it. It’s the elders way of keeping our villages safe. Humans destroyed each other. We don’t want their genes to destroy us too.”
Ohwa stopped crying. “So there’s a reason for why I am the way I am.”
“I don’t know whether I should thank the elders or stage a revolt. They took away my free will. My life… what just happened… they knew exactly how it would play out even from my hatching.”
Ette nodded. “I understand. The same process happened to me which is how I know about it. It’s not common knowledge and the elders would like to keep it that way. After all, Melloasis is in –“
And here Ohwa joined in with the familiar refrain – “perfect harmony with nature!”
*Ohwa and Appa are Romanian words.