Mermaids (MER-mād) are water dwelling chimerical creatures with a humanoid head and torso, and the lower extremities of a fish. There are both saltwater and freshwater mermaids. Mermaids are similar to their European cousins, the Sirens, but do not share their ability to mesmerize through song. Mermaids live in groups commonly known as stirpes (STUR-pēz) that appear to have a very rigid social structure. The number of stirpes of mermaids in North America is unknown, and some stirpes form alliances with others to pool resources and create allegiances. Many mermaid stirpes get along with each other, but sometimes there is friction. The mermaid stirpes of the Great Lakes have notoriously been at war for the span of generations. Recent developments lead many cryptozoologists to believe that these conflicts are largely around spawning grounds and unpolluted territory.
Mermaids are sentient and sapient, and many seafaring magical communities have treaties with mermaids. Mermaids have a variety of dialects, and communicate with each other through a combination of a kind of echolocation and telepathy. Mermaids do create art, and have written language that is represented in glyphs. Most of their writing is in underwater caves and caverns, but some stirpes have been known to produce amphorae, tablets, pots, statuary, and other art objects that reveal their history and philosophy. Certain worker mermaids have mastered the art of human speech and writing, and will communicate with historians and cryptozoologists if they choose. Mermaids in the area have been known to communicate in Algonquin, English, and French, but that does not mean they cannot learn other languages.
Despite this communication, mermaids never discuss their social structures with humans, mages, or Wizards.
A juvenile mermaid is called a child. The collective noun for a general group of mermaids is a splash, while a society of mermaids is called a stirp, or less frequently, a tribe.
In a student's final years at Providence Preparatory Academy for the Advancement of Arcane Arts (P2A4) they take a pilgrimage to a cloister hidden in the 1000 Islands region, where they will meditate and fast to cleanse and purify the body and mind. Afterward, they take part in a ritual that involves locating and bargaining with the freshwater mermaids, who will gift a successful student with a prophecy, revealing something of their destiny. The mermaids of this region seem unaffected by the conflicts between the stirpes of the Great Lakes, but in recent years this ritual has become increasingly dangerous. Relations between the Magimundi and the 1000 Islands stirp appear to be growing thin, and one of the prevalent theories is that this is due to the inclusion of mundane born and mixed heritage students at P2A4.
Saltwater mermaids live in tribes along the coasts of temperate climes. There are many notable stirpes of Atlantic mermaids ranging as far north as Bermuda, and as far south as French Guiana. There are several stirpes of freshwater mermaids who live in the Great Lakes of North America.
River mermaids have gone extinct in North America due to human pollution and destruction of habitat. South American river mermaids still exist in some of the more remote parts of the Amazon River.
Mermaids have one of the more fascinating biologies of any cryptozoological creature, as they possess dual mammalian and piscine nature. They may breathe air, like sea mammals, but also have gills which they may use to filter water for oxygen. It is presumed that they reproduce like fish based on dissection of mermaid bodies, but this remains theoretical.
Mermaids are omnivorous, and subsist on seaweed and sea creatures, including fish and crustaceans. They can digest human food as well and especially appreciate a home cooked meal and chocolate.
Mermaid tongues and scales have magical properties, and can be used for a variety of potions and charms. Mermaid hair is a common component for the cores of wands. Other mermaid organs have magical properties and are quite useful.
Note: Mermaids are considered a protected species by the North American Council of Five. They are considered sentient beings with intelligence equal to humans. Harvesting a mermaid for parts carries with it the same penalties as harvesting a human for parts.
Mermaids are both intelligent and magical, and should you find yourself facing the ire of one of these creatures, prepare yourself for a variet of offensive tactics, both martial and magical. The single best defense is to communicate diplomatically, and offer gifts, in order to be welcomed safely. If you are approaching their territory when they are at war however, you may find your property confiscated, in which case your best choice is to remain stoic and quiet, writing off the loss. Mermaids at war will gladly kill you, rather than listen to you complain.