"Rescue Sirens" World-Building: Classes and Guilds May 31, 2021 09:00
Long time no sea! I think it goes without saying that this past year has been a hard one for many of us, myself included, and it's been hard to concentrate on "Rescue Sirens" with so much else going on in my personal life and around the world. Chris and I jumped straight out of him wrapping "The Call of the Wild" -- it was literally one of the last films to get a theatrical wide release in 2020 -- to dealing with a pandemic, which you would think would be super conducive to writing, what with all the free time we suddenly had at home during lockdown, but I was in no state emotionally to pen happy stories about mermaids.
I'm still not in a great place creatively, and now Chris has begun development on his next directorial project (leaving me without a writing partner once again!), but I wanted to contribute something to Mer-May this year after dropping off the face of the planet in 2020. Thus: I'm sharing some amazing concept art sketches by artist Erin Shin! (Colored with varying degrees of success by yours truly.)
I've mentioned before that my dream project is a faux natural history guide to the mermaids of "Rescue Sirens," since world-building is more my jam than writing dialogue, and here I'm giving you a peek into my notes about the types of merfolk you'll find in the "Rescue Sirens" universe, as well as some of the different roles they assume as contributing members of their communities.
Mermaids (used in the plural form to refer to both mermaids and mermen) in "Rescue Sirens" are divided into different Classes (like submarines!). There are twelve Classes in all, so you can think of this as the "Rescue Sirens" zodiac -- and like the zodiac signs, each Class is known for distinct traits, both in terms of personality and the marine life that their tails resemble. I wrote up little rhymes to briefly describe each one, which I imagine being used to teach young mermaids about the Classes.
In addition to the twelve Classes, I asked Erin to illustrate examples of the Guilds you'd find in a mermaid tribe. There are many Guilds to choose from (not just the twelve I've shown here), and anyone -- from any Class, mermaid or merman -- can join the one they're drawn to most (although some Classes have a natural preference for certain Guilds based on the skills utilized).
Without further ado: the sketches!
NEREID CLASS ("nee-ree-id")
Intuitive, wise, and full of compassion,
With a fairy-tale look that's always in fashion,
The Nereid Class's tails are fantastic
When you think of mermaids, these are the "classic"!
ANIMAL TRAINING GUILD
The Animal Training Guild works closely with local marine life, teaching creatures like dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, and octopi to help with various tasks such as salvaging, hunting, moving objects, or even serving as a "guide dog" (or guide dolphin, as the case may be) to assist mermaids with disabilities.
Known for their power, instinct, and mystery,
The Shark Class values tradition and history
From dogfish to whale shark to thresher to nurse,
The forms their tails take are very diverse
The simple weapons used by the Hunting Guild are crafted by the Weaponry Guild, using all-natural materials like sharpened shells, animal teeth, flaked stone, and wood (salvaged from shipwrecks or found as driftwood). Metal is uncommon and can only be used as discovered in shipwrecks; because they live underwater, merfolk are incapable of metalworking on their own -- except those who live near volcanic vents, who can trade their items with other tribes.
Supreme self-reliance, strength, and speed:
Sportfish Class mermaids like taking the lead
Marlin and sailfish and tuna so quick --
Their tails make this Class the most athletic
Merfolk are opportunistic feeders, so members of the Hunting Guild make a conscious decision to prey upon the weakest fish in a school. This takes less effort while also leaving the healthiest specimens to breed and continue the species. Using as many parts of an animal as possible, merfolk kill only for food, never for sport, and do so in as quick and painless a manner as they can. Because no attempt is made to hunt the largest or fastest individuals, a tribe's Hunting Guild lacks the machismo so often found in human hunters. Both mermaids and mermen hunt.
So playful, kind, and imaginative,
The Pinniped Class needs fun to live!
Like seals and sea lions, twirling and spinning,
Mermaids like these are always found grinning
Weaving Guild mermaids preserve fronds collected by the Foraging Guild and then weave them into items of clothing; sailcloth and other fabrics recovered by the Salvaging Guild may also be integrated. Mermaid apparel is mostly decorative in nature and designed to interfere as little as possible with swimming. In addition to clothing, the Weaving Guild is also responsible for creating products like nets, hammocks, and woven containers.
Social, intelligent; graceful as dancers
Dolphin Class mermaids have all the answers
Colorful common or gray bottlenose,
They're often seen leaping or striking a pose
Members of the Trading Guild love to travel, chat, and haggle! Some of the resources that a trader could offer to far-off mermaid tribes include sought-after jewelry from a well-known member of the Jewelers Guild, sunken treasure, local foods, fabric, medicine, special forged items like weaponry (this would come from a tribe living near a superheated underwater vent and able to work metal themselves instead of merely salvaging parts), and even human books carried in watertight pouches. Each tribe might have something that it's known for, based on the talents of the mermaids in that tribe and/or the resources in their specific region. (One thing merfolk DON'T do trade in is live plants and animals; they understand the dangers of invasive species and won't introduce non-native flora and fauna to another community.) Traders are accompanied by porters if what they have to trade is too large or heavy to carry on their own; they also may enlist the assistance of friendly sea turtles or whales, particularly those trained by a member of the Animal Training Guild (and sometimes the animal trainer will even tag along on the trip, too).
Skilled in healing, independent and shy,
There's more to the Porpoise Class than meets the eye
They may not be flashy or splashy or loud
But their quiet smarts set them apart from the crowd
While mermaids recover quickly from surface wounds like cuts or scratches, trained members of the Healing Guild are still required to attend to more serious injuries like broken bones or damaged tails. You might see a healer secure a broken arm in a seaweed cast, for instance; remove a barb from a little merkid who got too close to a stingray; or apply a thick salve and bandage to a fire coral, jellyfish, or anemone sting. He or she can also administer medicine -- derived from plant and animal parts -- to ill mermaids and mermen.
Depth, creativity, communication
The Whale Class resembles the largest cetaceans
Belugas and narwhals, humpbacks and blues,
If you're seeking advice, this is who you should choose!
Like some cetaceans, mermaids sing very beautifully in haunting voices. Their sole accompaniment is that of percussive instruments, since wind instruments require air to play and the only material that mermaids could fashion stringed instruments from is discarded monofilament, which they abhor for the role it plays in needlessly harming sea life. Members of the Musicians Guild are the creative (and often flamboyant) performers of a mermaid community, which is important because the vast majority of mermaid history is oral. While the mystical Songwriter is the recorder and living repository of that history, it's the Musicians Guild that performs the songs teaching lessons of the past. Of course, members of the Musicians Guild also sing and put on concerts just for fun, too -- entertainment is vital in any society!
Humor, gentleness, tranquility
Tails like a dugong or manatee
The Sirenian Class takes life slo-o-ow
Enjoying the scenery wherever they go
While the Songwriter -- a mermaid community's mystic and history recorder -- is responsible for passing on lessons from the past, everyday knowledge is taught by the Teaching Guild. Reading and writing, mathematics, general biology, human lore, and (of course) how to be a Rescue Siren are just some of the things that young merfolk will learn from the Teaching Guild as they grow up.
Understanding, teamwork, the will to persevere
The Pisces Class gets along with their peers
You'll find them in pairs or swimming in schools
Working together, obeying the rules
While hunting takes a certain amount of strength, speed, and skill (as even weak fish are hard to catch!), foraging can be done by anyone: young, old, and in-between. Merfolk without an interest in or aptitude for hunting can still contribute to a tribe's food collecting by joining the Foraging Guild and searching for oceanic plant life like seaweed, kelp, seagrass, and algae. This Guild also gathers echinoderms (sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars) and mollusks (clams and oysters) for their spines or shells in addition to their edible parts.
REEF FISH CLASS
Whimsical, beautiful, and charming, too
The Reef Fish Class displays every hue
Angelfish, clownfish, and parrotfish bright
These colorful tails create quite a sight!
Because mermaids generally aren't capable of working metal, the adornments created by the Jewelers Guild are either made from materials found in nature or repurposed items from sunken ships. Favorite natural materials include unoccupied seashells, small fossils, humanely acquired animal teeth, sea glass, found bits of coral, ivory (collected in the frozen seas from deceased walruses), and pearls, while the outer shells of mollusks and echinoderms are fashioned into accessories, as well; man-made objects most often used are beads, coins, and existing jewelry pieces. Members of the Jewelers Guild are often accomplished carvers and may whittle small charms from wood or even stone.
Adaptability, concealment, and wit
Cephalopod Class mermaids are always a hit
Need a hand (or eight) with something? Just ask --
Their tentacles mean they can multitask!
TATTOOING & BODY ART GUILD
In addition to jewelry and accessories, merfolk also enjoy expressing themselves through body modifications, which is where the Tattooing & Body Art Guild comes in. Using traditional tattooing methods like stick-and-poke, mermaid tattoos are simple and graphic: geometric designs, lines, chevrons, spirals, etc. Ink is harvested from squid, or derived from sea urchins or even bioluminescent sources. (Imagine a tattoo that glows in the dark!) A mermaid or merman who acquires an ornament from a trader or the Jewelers Guild will then visit a member of the Tattooing & Body Art Guild to receive a piercing, which may be in their ears, face, or even fins.
APHOTIC ("DEEPER") CLASS
Sensitive, patient, and very precise,
Aphotic Class mermaids always think twice
These "Deepers" hide down in the inky black sea
Like an anglerfish, glowing dim and ghostly
While the Foraging Guild focuses primarily on collecting edible items, the Salvaging Guild collects--well, everything else! Salvagers seek out anything that might be useful to a mermaid community, from sunken artifacts to trench-mined resources. When merfolk and humans still interacted, members of the Salvaging Guild were also responsible for treasure recovery: retrieving the riches of downed ships and returning them to sailors in exchange for other valuables or services. Today, though, a salvager might find a gold coin and trade it to a mermaid from the Jewelers Guild to be turned into jewelry, and then it could end up as a piercing via the Tattooing & Body Art Guild, or maybe go on to another mermaid tribe through the Trading Guild. Finders keepers, humans.
What do you think? Do you enjoy learning more about the world of "Rescue Sirens: Mermaids On Duty"? There's so much more that I like to play with beyond our five main modern-day Miami Beach mermaids, and I hope to be able to assemble it into something like the 1976 book "Gnomes," written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet (or its 1978 spiritual sister "Faeries," by Brian Froud and Alan Lee). I love exploring the biological and cultural aspects of my mermaids, not only in today's world but throughout history. "Rescue Sirens" has always been really scaleable -- it can be aimed toward different age groups, focus on a variety of topics, and take place in multiple time periods -- and that makes for a fun sandbox to play in.
With our five main mermaid characters, the twelve Classes, numerous guilds, and other world-building material, I easily have enough topics to create a daily MerMay prompt list for next year. Mermaid artists, would you participate in something like that?