Sidon’s Tale 02: Curse of the Gills

Thirty centuries years ago, the first Aquarian race began to record their own past. During this time, a dozen city-states rose to prominence, populated by fishfolk, mermen, and a dozen other ethnicities, each inhabiting their own city. The two modern capitals of Aquaria, Aidaros and Coraljen, were then but young kingdoms that would eventually spread their peoples, the fishfolk and mermen, to encompass all of the Aquarian Ocean. Though Aidaros’ influence is now dominant, Coraljen was the first to expand beyond polis.

After mastering the art of ocean floor farming, mermen began to explore. When the initial pioneers returned, they brought with them gold and magic. The gold came from Aidaros where it was essentially unvalued by the fishfolk. The identity of the giver of the magic was lost when the mermen histories were burned. The mermen believed the god Kuru taught their most daring explorers the secret language, which was not the Sacred Tongue but a similar dialect they called the Holy Vernacular. All that is known for sure is that none of the other blue skinned races of the Aquarian Ocean new a lick of magic and none would know, thanks to mermen efforts, for many, many years.

The Golden Trade Route created a bipartisan elite in Coraljen, one of the academic magicians and the other of the athletic explorers. The first mermen magicians refused to spread their mystical wisdom to any merman that had not yet shown their worth to Kuru by slaying a sumarii, an act that only one in ten had accomplished. Even without the prerequisite, the common people of Coraljen had little time to learn magic or adventure, but they coveted the efficiency magic brought into their society and the luxuries imported from across the sea floor. While magic, once amongst the mermen, wasn’t going anywhere, the stock of exotic goods required constant replenishing. The explorers coveted gold because most of the Aquarian city-states valued the metal, which gave mermen the upper hand when trading with foreignors and this upper hand intern made their influence amongst their own people more affordable.

Originally, Aidaros mined for Coraljen, but overtime the fishfolk miners and mermen wayfarers found a better way, the Indention Mining System. Workers were brought to Aidaros from Coraljen by the adventuring elites to work for the mine owners of Aidaros. These workers were lured into the mines by contracts promising to send them home with a large sack of gold so that, those that didn’t die on the journey or in the mines, would never have to work another day in their life. It was this exchange that swelled the power of Coraljen and Aidaros above those of the other ancient ethnic kingdoms.

While this system gave the magicians and adventurers authority in Coraljen, these groups did not appear in Aquaria. The mermen would not share the Holy Vernacular and the fishfolk were unable to travel like the mermen. In the days before the first Aquarian Dome, the oceans held ten times as many of the giant, three finned sharks known as sumariis. In both regions, the cities were essentially safe. Great nets had been constructed around them. But in the wilderness, it was dangerous. In the south, between the rigid coral branches of the Wobniar Woods, the peoples had learned how to fight, or at least escape, the beasts. As many sumarii killed men as men killed sumarii. However, in the north, along the flat lands where there was rarely more than a tangle of kelp to hide behind, the people rarely even tried. If a northerner ran into a sumarii, outside the nets of their city, they almost always wound up in the beast’s belly.

Despite the dangers of travel for both peoples, only moreso for fishfolk, King Ju Gill of Aidaros sent his son to Coraljen with an army of hired mermen to guard his passage. The growing power of mine owners in his city-state had begun to worry Ju that eventually his authority would be bought out from under him. He decided that if his royal family had magic, the people would need them to stick around. Knowing how prude the magicians of Coraljen were, he hoped Thompthou could force them to overlook racial prejudices and recognize, by economic-threat if necessary, how much Coraljen needed Aidaros. What good would magic do them, when there was no gold to pay for it?


– – –


Using Sidon’s rhetorical pause, Joe interjected, “If this was before there were Aquarian Domes, then…was everything sort of…uh…just floating around?”

“Ya,” Zalfron concurred, “did everayone have to swim everaywhere?”

“Indeed,” Sidon nodded.

This brought on a slew of other questions, Joe settled just to ask one, “How’d the cities work?”

“I’ve heard them described as tree like,” Sidon turned to observe the coral that walled their trail, “much like these corals you see here. Some roads, I’m sure, ran parallel to the ground, just as they do above water, but many also ran perpendicular. Rather than walls, they enclosed their settlements in nets. We know very little of what our ancestors would’ve considered general knowledge, though they recorded what happened, the only records that survived were legends like these.”


– – –


Prince Thompthou Gill left Aidaros with a band of other royal family members guarded by mermen paid off by the king. The group made it to Men and from there halfway to Coraljen, having fended off two sumarii attacks before being overcome. Even the mermen mercenaries were bested. Only Thompthou survived. By then, they were near enough to Coraljen that mermen scouts had been watching. They revealed themselves after both sumarii had been killed, which thoroughly enfuriated the prince who could’ve used their help, and guided him onwards into the city. The people of Coraljen were captivated by Thompthou. As a fishfolk that managed to kill two sumarii, he was yet another exotic commodity they could not get enough of. The magicians were less excited, except for one: Jawow Hwali.

The masters of Holy Vernacular were reluctant to strike a deal with Thompthou and the prince himself, with his contempt for mermen, was not the most diplomatic. One of the newer masters – a young woman who had killed a sumarii on the way back from her indention and used her gold to learn the Holy Vernacular – was interested in helping as much as she could. She was tired of her people’s self-induced suffering in the mines of Aidaros and believed the process could be made safer through magic. Jawow showed Thompthou some of the magical inventions she’d devised in hopes that he might see the potential benefits (unfortunately for Jawow, fishfolk didn’t feel the same about preserving the lives of the miners as many merman did). It was one of her less altruistic ideas that caught Thompthou’s attention. In one of the merman expiditions, the mermen ventured onto land using enchanted necklaces which let them breathe above water. They brought back plants and a few birds and kept them in tiny magical domes. When Thompthou, without a necklace, walked inside one to look at the novelties, Jawow had thought he wouldn’t be able to breathe but, as it turned out, he could breathe above and below the surface. Intrigued, Jawow wanted to travel back to Aidaros with Thompthou to investigate further – was Thompthou unique or were all fishfolk capable of amphibian life – and Thompthou wanted to bring a dome back to Aidaros to explain an idea to his father. Thompthou invisioned a submarine world safe from sumarii.


– – –


“So you can’t breathe above water?” Joe asked.

“No, remember this was long ago, Thompthou was born over five hundred years before the First Hatching,” Sidon explained, “Whatever the gene that caused this phenomenon was, it was dominant. As domineering as the fishfolk were themselves one might say…” Sidon cleared his throat, “Back in Aidaros…”


– – –


Thompthou asked Jawow if the mermen were capable of building atmosphere-altering domes large enough to enclose an entire city. She told him that if there was enough gold on the table then there was no limit to what her people could create through the manipulation of their Holy Vernacular. Thompthou had her repeat this to his father and within a week after this proposal, construction began on the first Aquarian Dome. These were far less complex than the domes that stand in modern times. These domes completely cut out the ocean water, leaving only air as the atmosphere. As mermen worked on the dome, fishfolk worked to reconstruct the city for this new lifestyle. It took ten years to complete the project (during which Jawow and Thompthou got married). Centuries before the first moon dragon landed, the first Aquarian Dome was built.

The fishfolk had many difficulties adapting to this new lifestyle. The fishfolk had believed that their food needs could be met by landlubber crops and cattle grown within the dome and regular submarine food stuffs raised in the traditional-style suburbs outide the dome. It took the fishfolk years to perfect the techniques of above-water farming and by then the fishfolk villages outside of Aidaros-proper had been abandoned. With a large chunk of previously-free ocean off-limits to marine life, monsters began to cluster around the edges of the dome. This led to common instances of sumariis breaking into the netted suburbs to kill unassuming civilians. As those farmers within the dome approached competency, farmers outside the dome abandoned their lands to start from scratch in Aidaros-proper. Even before the entire population had crammed themselves beneath the magical membrane, the fishfolk had been unable to sufficiently provide for themselves and had relied, at least to some extent, on imports – this spike in population threatened to bring with it a famine.

The initial solution was to prohibit merman access to Aquaria, except for under special circumstances (such as for the king’s daughter-in-law). This came natural, after all, the mermen could no longer breathe within the city. Instead of paying mermen to mine, they began to pay mermen for their crops. The poor fishfolk took the mermen’s place in the mines since now many were unable to farm (there just wasn’t enough space within the dome). Rather than using the typical method of trade, paying with each purchase, they stuck to the same method they had used in the Indention Mining Sysyem. After ten years of service, they would receive a fat sack of gold. The rich land owning farmers of Mirkweed were outraged and refused to comply. Unfortunately, the thousands of suddenly jobless mermen that had left Aquaria with the rising of the dome were willing to obey. Fishfolk enticed more by paying them half the sum up front, though this meant they would only receive half of the second half after the ten years. Still, this exploitative market was not enough to sustain Aquaria. Ju Gill’s second solution was to conquer.

Thompthou Gill and the Aquarian Army were sent to invade Men which was ruled by a race called the shiyans. In the eyes of their contemporaries, the shiyans were fools. When the first merman travelers wandered north and discovered them, Men was more of a cluster of small hunter-gatherer villages than an actual city. But, since the shiyans sat at the midway point of the Golden Trade Route, as Coraljen and Aidaros grew, Men did too. A division of labor was formed and a city center was created where the female chiefs could maintain a traveler’s market for adventurers and laborers. These cheiftesses did not hoard their profits, instead, they splurged what they did not need on the villagers of their individual tribes. This maintained a similar peacefulness to the egalitarian society they had enjoyed before. The fishfolk and mermen saw this as a weakness, just as they saw the shiyans’ matriarchy, and, in the context of these competitive, imperial neighbors, Men’s lack of a guard and military proved to be fatal. The first battle concluded in a tragic defeat of the shiyan people. What little resolve the shiyans had to resist was squelched on the battlefield. When Thompthou approached the nets for a second time, he found the gate open and the people on their knees. As a fishfolk territory, half their crops were to be shipped to Aidaros. As Thompthou left to target the next victim, his wife remained to work with the new leaders to construct another Aquarian Dome.


– – –


“Wait…they took over their neighbor because they couldn’t produce enough food under the new dome, but then they built another dome over the city they captured?” Joe ran a hand through his hair, “Wouldn’t that defeat the purpose?”

“Men is not in North Aquaria, its located in the Wobniar Woods of Mirkweed. Despite their peaceful relationships with other Aquarians, the shiyan were more apt at fighting sumarii than the mermen.” Sidon explained.

“So…those living outside the new dome were able to handle it?”

“No. Though mermen, shiyans, and other inhabitants of the Wobniar Woods were able to fend off sumarii at least half the time, whether it was pride or arrogance, they claimed to have far better records. And the fishfolk, most of which never had heard of shark attack survivors, took their southern cousins’ claims at face value. King Ju figured that some of those crowded beneath the Aidaros dome would relocate to Men while the shiyans would live happily around the dome, ably protecting travelers from the increased sumarii aggression.”

“And the shahans didn’t say somethin?” Zalfron piped up.

“I wouldn’t have, dink about it, mon. Dats all dey had up on da fishfolk.” Nogard said.

“And,” Sidon added, “though folks knew that Aquarian Domes could protect a city far better than any net, at this time, few outside of Aidaros realized the danger the dome brought to its borders.”

“Hold up, ain’t the fishfolk the only ones who can braethe under them?” Zalfron asked.

“Correct,” Sidon nodded, “the wealthy shiyan, those cheiftesses, were able to afford some of the enchanted necklaces that the mermen explorers had used to go above the surface but they could not afford one for every villager. This eventually shattered any symblance of egalitarian society among the shiyan and, eventually, dissolved their culture altogether.”

“To get beneath a dome, shiyans tried to marry in. Though marrying a fishfolk would not save them, it would guarantee their children access to the domes. Unlike the mermen, who feared diluting future generations of their ethnicity, most fishfolk were eager to mate with other races. This doesn’t mean the fishfolk were anyless prejudiced than the mermen, in fact, the fishfolk saw interracial marriages as a way to replace other races with that of their own. King Ju even began a program called the Amphibian Movement, this provided enchanted necklaces for non-fishfolk parents in interracial couples. Over centuries, this program would be responsible for the merging of the Aquarian races. While a few did manage to gain access to the dome, most shiyan died to sumarii. Others simply fled Men, becoming ethnic minorities in other seafloor city states.”

“The new dome rose in two years, their was minimal reconstruction necessary thanks to the smallness of the actual city center of Men, plus, Jawow and her team were getting increasingly quicker.” Sidon turned back to the story, “But, Men was still not enough for King Ju and his people…”


– – –


After Men, Thompthou and his soldiers moved north to attack a city parallel to Aquaria: Rendashu. Like Men the people of Rendashu, the shiyu, lived in a society of hunter gathers. Unlike the Men, the society was ordered in a strict patriarchal hierarchy. The most notable difference was that while the shiyans had accepted travelers with open arms, the shiyu did their best to repel outsiders. Rendashu was not the shiyu name for their little state, this was a name given to them by the fishfolk which translates roughly to “People of Blood”. Needless to say, shiyu resistence was far stronger than what Thompthou had faced in Men but, with superior numbers and armaments, Thompthou completely obliterated the shiyu warriors in less than a month. But Rendashu had no intentions of surrendering. Wielding pots and pans, the villagers met Thompthou and his troops as they entered the city. After two weeks of trying to subjugate and pacify the population, an order came from King Ju to exterminate the city. Once nothing was left but ashes and sand, the fishfolk founded a new settlement, Aquaros, and it was to be domeless. A city devoted to the growing of crops and the training of soldiers, who could then defend the farmers from the sumarii.

With three cities under the growing Aquarian Empire, Thompthou now turned west. His father’s heart was set on two rival sea elven city-states that had been feuding with each other since the dawn of time. The first, Shwayjen, bowed without a fight. They had heard of the destruction of Rendashu and the defeat of Men. Those in Shwayjen that opposed this decision put their differences aside and fled to join the ranks of their arch nemesis: Gongchan. Initially, the citizens of Gongchan were determined, like the shiyu, to go down fighting, even after witnessing a series of brutal defeats. They were finally cracked after a battle, the first battle where it looked possible they could have a victory, was interrupted by a pride of sumarii. The sharks routed both armies. After this, Thompthou came, unguarded, to the gates of Gongchan and requested the audience of their leader. The leader had died in the retreat, swallowed by a sumarii, so instead the royal family met him. He offered peace and, in honor of their loss, he promised them an Aquarian Dome if they would bow to King Ju. The family, distraught from the loss of their patriarch, knowing that their only options were defeat or surrender, conceded. Now, Ju’s hunger drove his gaze south, into the Wobniar Woods and the territory of the mermen.

Ju did not want a war with Mirkweed. After all, the majority of what Mirkweed’s mermen produced were shipped to Aidaros and the other cities of the Gill Empire at a price that could not be matched anywhere else. In fact, at this point, Ju could have quit and maintained his empire easily but Ju had long been jealous of the luxuries enjoyed by the rich and royalty of Mirkweed – specifically the magic. So, for the second time, he sent his son to Coraljen to bring back the Holy Vernacular, only this time, Thompthou went with a threat of war.

Thompthou met with Mirkweed’s king, Wooshin Linja, and proposed that he join in alliance with Aquaria so that he would not have to worry about the fishfolk military attempting to steal his city as they had four others. This alliance would cost Wooshin very little, all he had to do was send a group of magic teachers to Aquaria to teach a handful of students the Holy Vernacular. Wooshin saw this for exactly what it was: Ju was demanding the blueprints to their magical technology under threat of war.

Wooshin was a smart man. He knew that Ju could not afford to go to war with the mermen. If he did, his mermen indentured servants would drop their hoes and pick up blades. The fishfolk would not only be bearing the toll of battle but they would also be forced to endure a food shortage. Wooshin was confident that Ju was bluffing. Even if Ju wasn’t, Wooshin was unwilling to cooperate. His devotion to Kuru was so strong that he was known for expelling mermen that worshipped other gods from his city, he perceived the fishfolk worship of Barro as barbaric. Then there was race, Wooshin believed mermen were Kuru’s chosen people and that mermen, thanks to Ju’s Amphibion Movement, might be that last pure race on the sea floor. If the messenger had not been Thompthou, Wooshin would’ve sent him back as a head on a platter. Instead, he sent Thompthou back alive but with a bold and undebatable, “No!”

While Thompthou marched back to Aquaria, Wooshin changed his mind. He sent troops after the prince. To dodge the assassins, Thompthou had to change course, heading east of Men. Then, to make matters worse, Thompthou accidentally ate some aquannabis and wound up wandering out of the Wobniar Wood and into the Submarine Canyon where his hunters finally caught back up. He managed to fight most of them off before being struck down. If it weren’t for Namrem Shelmick, then Thompthou would have died then and there. Fortunately, Namrem and his disciples had stumbled across the Gill, recognized him, and followed him. They swooped in at the last moment, killing off the assassins and toting the foreign general back to the safety of the Stronghold.

As Namrem’s healers tended to Thompthou’s wounds, the fishfolk and merman became friends. Namrem explained that he had been exiled by Wooshin. Namrem had been taught the Holy Vernacular in his youth but, once older, he came to favor Barro and the ability to manipulate the mystical never abandoned him. For this reason, many considered Namrem a prophet. He taught Barro’s words in the streets of Coraljen and other Mirkweed cities. Once his popularity grew, Wooshin plotted to get rid of him. To protect himself, Namrem fled and, ever since, had been hiding out with a group of devoute worshippers that seemed to grow daily. Namrem even admitted to planning a coup on Wooshin – to make Coraljen a place open to all religions – once his movement got big enough. Thompthou offered to take Namrem to Aidaros saying that his father might be willing to work out a deal and provide the extra reinforcements needed to make the coup happen as soon as possible. Namrem thought about it then, once Thompthou was healed, he agreed and together the to traveled to the ancient capital of the Gill Empire.

No one knows what was said between Ju and Namrem but they left the room in agreement. Together, Namrem and Thompthou invaded Mirkweed and with minimal casualties. Early into the siege, Wooshin fled then, not long afterwards, his soldiers laid down their weapons and sang the name Namrem Shelmick. Namrem and Thompthou shook hands then the prince left him to consolidate his new rule. Thompthou returned home to find Jawow happier than he’d ever seen her. She considered her husband as one of the key factors in what she claimed was the liberation of her people. Sadly, Jawow would never be this happy again.

Not long after the coup, Ju had Thompthou take their team of dome building magicians to Mirkweed. They began construction around a portion of the city without saying a word to Namrem. Ju claimed this was part of the deal but when Namrem heard this he was livid. He warned Thompthou that he would not be forgiven if they continued but Thompthou would not disobey orders (and disliked Namrem calling his father a liar). A week into the project, which was moving along at a snails pace because the magicians themselves were nigh unwilling to cooperate, Namrem mobilized his troops and marched towards the construction site as the sun rose over the ocean. When they arrived, they found that the rising walls had already been destroyed. In the night, Jawow had snuck out and, with the magicians to help her, destroyed what progress they had made. Thompthou attempted to restart but the magicians would no longer obey him – even for more pay. Instead, he returned home empty handed. Surprisingly, Ju did not retaliate. Still, from this incident onward, the friendship shared between Namrem and Thompthou would twist into a bitter hatred.


– – –


“Seems like Namrem and Thompthou’s relationship wasn’t the only one taking a hit.” Joe muttered.

Zalfron concurred, “Sounds lahk Jawow was fixina rahlave ol Thompthou of his marital duties.”

“The couple stayed together.” Sidon stated.

Joe and Zalfron’s awe was simultaneous, “How?”

“Love, my boys!” Nogard smirked, “Love be a terrible, terrible ding.”

“I must agree.” Sidon nodded, “Historians still debate over why and how. Some argue it was a political marriage and nothing more. From what little texts that remain from this era, most of which I have read, it seems that the two genuinely loved each other. They disagreed on just about every level except for their mutual affection.”

“That seems unhealthy.” Joe remarked.

“Aye, mon,” Nogard smirked again, “sometimes, it ain’t da love dat keeps a couple togedder…sometimes it be da love making.”

“Who is to say?” Sidon shrugged, “Shall I proceed?”

“One more question.”

“Go ahead.”

“Why did Ju want to build a dome over Coraljen?” Joe asked, “I thought this entire conflict with the mermen was over magic, how would a dome help?”

“No one knows exactly why,” Sidon responded, “but it is known that Namrem did not agree to immediately give the fishfolk the Holy Vernacular. Many people believe there was some sort of vague agreement – either teach the fishfolk magic or make a fishfolk-section or domed-section of Coraljen.”

“Ah, I see.”

Sidon nodded then proceeded.


– – –


The longer Namrem ruled, the more outspoken he became. He denounced the Aquarian Domes as blasphemous behavior, spitting in the face of Barro, and put King Ju on blast for the exploitative practices that had enslaved the mermen for decades. Meanwhile, Ju was back to scheming for new territory. His eyes had set on a city-state in south Mirkweed called Sanction. Ju’s army received permission from Namrem, thanks to Jawow’s influence, to use Coraljen as a base of operations and sent a regiment led by Thompthou to the city. The invasion failed. The rennians of Sanction were small in number but, as long as they remained in the confines of their city, far too able fighters to force into submission. So many of Thompthou’s men had died that he was determined to find another way. He would force the rennians out to fight him on his own terms. Jawow’s crew of magicians would no longer work for the fishfolk but Thompthou was able to find a group of mermen more loyal to their wallets than to the policies of their people. With his soldiers stationed around the edge of the netted city, he began the construction of an Aquarian Dome around Sanction which, the magicians claimed, would take an estimated amount of months rather than years.

Again, the rennians proved themselves a worthy adversary. A group left the city unnoticed, somehow slipping within the ranks of the fishfolk, and kidnapped Thompthou Gill. Taking the prince hostage, they warned the soldiers of Aquaria that if they completed the dome then their beloved general would die with the rennians.

As soon as word reached Aidaros, Ju sent reinforcements but construction of the dome was not halted. Jawow was devastated. Jawow pleaded to Namrem for his help and the king succumbed to the pressure. Not only was Namrem and his mermen able to free the prince, but they were able to defeat the rennians. Without meaning to, Namrem had conquered Sanction.

Ju was more furious that Namrem now owned the city than he was relieved that his son had been saved. Instead of thanking the King of Coraljen, he demanded the king hand over Sanction. Offended, Namrem sent word back to Aidaros that if Ju wanted it, he could take it himself. Ju planned to. No sooner did Thompthou make it to Coraljen than did he turn back around. Armed with the forces that had arrived from Aidaros – the forces that had originally been sent to liberate him – he marched to Sanction and laid siege to the city oncemore. Before any blood was spilled, Thompthou and Namrem spent a week trying to talk things out.

What is known of that conversation is only what Thompthou reported. Thompthou claimed not to want to fight Namrem, Namrem was unconvinced. Thompthou claimed that if he didn’t, Aidaros would send another general, but still Namrem would not concede. Ju sent the entirety of the fishfolk military. “I have the armies of five cities gathered here to take one,” Thompthou said, “to fight us is suicide!” But the prophet would not back down. The merman king had grown tired of the way the fishfolk treated his people and Ju’s lack of appreciation was the shell that broke the oceantelope’s back. Namrem refused to bow, to show any respect, to anyone that refused to respect his people.

The night after the final discussion, Namrem told all his soldiers to go home, that only those willing to die should remain. Many did remain, but most left and Thompthou ordered his men to let them pass. If more had stayed, then the mermen might’ve stood a chance in the battles that would follow but no one will ever know.

The battles were brutal. The soldiers of each side despised each other. Each blow was meant to inflict as much pain as possible. With the dome soon to come up, there would be no captives. On the third day of fighting, Thompthou came face to face with Namrem. The two drew swords against one another. Neither man could dupe the other. Legend has it they were the last two still to be fighting and that the rest of the soldiers gathered silently around to watch the sword play. Then, before blades could decide it, the Aquarian Dome went up.

Thompthou sheathed his sword as Namrem gasped for air. The fishfolk rushed forward, ready to offer his breath, to blow it into the merman’s gills and force it into his lungs but Namrem refused. He claimed that he had died the moment Thompthou had raised a weapon against him. Supposedly, tears rolled down Thompthou’s cheeks – the first and last time tears would ever stream from the eyes of a fishfolk. Then, with his last breaths, Namrem Shelmick cursed the Gill family.

“One day the Gills will breathe through my gills and become the champions of righteousness and repay the debt now owed to our people but until then their blood will boil with molten steel and their nerves will never know what it is to not feel pain.” This is what he said, in the Aquarian Dialect, before using the Holy Vernacular to bind this promise by magic. Instantly, Thompthou Gill fell to the ground, writhing in pain, and thus began the Curse of the Gills.


– – –


“Jesus,” Joe murmured.

“Does it hurt?” Zalfron asked Machuba.

The fishfolk’s lip curled in what was either a snarl or a smirk, “No, it feels great.”

“What happened after Namrem died?” Joe asked.

“The Aquarians conquered Sanction, then Coraljen.” Sidon said, “Jawow went about burning all texts containing Holy Vernacular so that fishfolk could never learn their magic then she and a group of mermen rebels set to destroying the domes.”

“She still didn’t leave Thompthou?” Joe asked.

“No.” Sidon shook his head, “After his cursing, Thompthou rejected civilization and went to live somewhere in the Wobniar Woods, supposedly taking Namrem’s place at the Stronghold. By the time Jawow assassinated his father, Thompthou might’ve even approved.”

“Have there been any attempts to end the curse?” Joe asked.

“Millions.” Machuba stated, “The one evil of Namrem Shelmick was that he lied when he told Thompthou this curse could be reversed.”

Joe frowned but when he glanced back at Sidon, he could tell from the fishfolk’s silence and his expression – pursed lips, arched brow, and folded arms – that Machuba’s response might’ve been more opinion than it was fact. Settling back into his corner of the cage, Joe thought over the story he’d just heard and continued to swing the Suikii.

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