*Trigger Warning: This story contains brief descriptions of violence and gore.
As we continue our sea voyage, you spend much of your time on deck, staring out across the ocean. Your mind returns to the bima over and over again. “What happened to them?” you ask me at least once a day. I always tell you the time isn’t right for that story. We’re not at the proper stage in our journey yet.
Tonight is different. As we gather together, I tell you we’re almost back to land. We have two more nights aboard the ship. Now it is time for you to learn of the bima’s fate.
* * * * *
Near the coast of the ice continent Tusavee, the bima council of elders gathered to discuss their ever-pressing issues. Two young men listened in on this conversation.
The seas had been warming for decades, but now they were unbearably hot near the equator. They were also polluted with toxins and physical waste from the durmiads’ unchecked development. The bima had been forced to migrate south where the water was still cool, but even Tusavee was rapidly melting.
The bima knew the durmiads wouldn’t stop. They had talked to them about it more times than they cared to recall. The durmiads didn’t respect the bima or Kareena. Now the bima were forced to make a decision, as their very survival was at stake.
“We could go to war,” one elder suggested. He had a long scar that cut across his shoulder. The magic the durmiads had discovered in the last century had given bima the ability to trade their fins for legs, but they kept it a secret. They wanted to appear less threatening than they actually were since the ability made it possible for them to fight on land.
“Our weapons aren’t advanced enough for that,” another elder countered as she fidgeted with her bracelet of pearls. “The durmiads could wipe out all of us with the push of a button. Without a workspace on land, we have no hope of developing similar weapons. War isn’t a feasible option.” She paused. “We could continue what we’re doing now and use magic to purify the water. When it gets too hot, we can adjust the temperature as well.”
“That may work in the short term,” an ancient elder with cloudy eyes said, “but it requires much energy from our people. We cannot sustain such a high use of magic in the long term, especially with the durmiads adding more waste to the ocean at the rate they are.”
The scarred elder gestured to the young men. “Terro and Zanar could have the answers we seek,” he said. “Give us your report.”
Terro swam forward and bowed his head in a gesture of respect before speaking. “Zanar and I have been observing activity in the Moroko Ocean between the Utab Islands and the continent Shika where the portal to Tuema is located. We noticed some durmiads have been fleeing Kareena through that portal. We followed them to determine where they were going. They’ve taken up residence in the deserts, savannahs, and rainforests on the continent at the other end. They’re living among the sentient beings there. I believe the durmiads refer to them as temas.”
The dozen elders murmured to each other. Then the ancient one spoke up. “I thought temas were primitive, still in their foraging stage and living in small, egalitarian bands. Why would the durmiads sacrifice the advancements of our world for such old-fashioned ways of living?”
“I know only what I saw,” Terro said. “Perhaps that way of living is preferable to dealing with the climate crisis here.”
“Is it possible we could live there?” the female elder asked.
“Perhaps. Zanar and I haven’t thoroughly explored Tuema yet, but we know there are many oceans there.”
“Then explore it,” she said. “I believe I speak for all of us when I say we must pursue this option for our people. If the durmiads are abandoning Kareena, then there is no hope for us here.”
The scarred elder spoke. “Terro,” he said, “your second name comes from the adventurer of old. You show his passion for exploration. We need you and Zanar to scout Tuema and determine if there is a suitable location for habitation.”
Terro and Zanar bowed their heads and agreed to complete the task presented to them. After packing the few belongings they would need for the journey, they teleported to the portal. They were glad for the magic: The journey north would have taken weeks without it.
Filling their lungs with air, both bima ducked their heads beneath the surface and swam down to the trench that cut through the sea floor. Within its dark depths was the portal. They pressed downward, their lungs burning. The durmiads had to use magic to travel through the portal, but the bima were just barely able to do so on their own. The journey used to be easier, but all the melting ice had caused sea levels to rise significantly.
Suddenly, their surroundings were pitch black, and there was nothing. No water, no air. Then they were submerged again, but this water wasn’t salty. They stroked to the surface and surveyed their surroundings. They knew from their previous venture that they were in a lake toward the eastern edge of a continent.
Terro was grateful he and Zanar had been to Tuema in the past. They can only teleport to places they’ve been to before, and their current mission would have taken much longer if they hadn’t been able to teleport to sea.
The oceans surrounding the continent were a comfortable temperature, but most of the water was too deep for bima. Terro and Zanar travelled east across the great expanse of water, searching for a large area of shallows. Once again, they were glad for their magic, as it allowed them to travel at faster speeds than they would have been able to naturally.
They swam across deep waters lurking with fearsome predators, using magic wards for protection. It was difficult to maintain two forms of magic simultaneously, so they took turns placing a small ward beneath them. Unseen predators were more dangerous than the ones they saw. After several days of swimming like this, Zanar began to lose hope.
“Will we ever find enough shallow water that’s the right temperature?” he asked Terro. “It seems this whole continent is either land or deep ocean.”
“Have faith, friend,” Terro said. “We will explore the entire continent if we must. Only then will we give up.” Though he was reassuring Zanar, Terro had the same doubts. Kareena had many shallows, but Tuema didn’t. Would it be a suitable home for his people? Would his explorations fail like those of his namesake?
Despite their fear of failure—or perhaps because of it—the two pressed onward.
They finally reached a sizeable expanse of shallow water. Following it to the north, they found it cooled and deepened.
“This isn’t big enough for all of us,” Zanar said.
“Let’s follow it in the other direction,” Terro suggested.
To the south, the shallows expanded, completely surrounding a small continent and many islands. The water was warm and teeming with life. Numerous coral reefs provided homes for countless species of fish and other marine creatures.
“I think we found it,” Terro said. “There are plenty of resources here.”
“Let’s make sure it’s safe,” Zanar said, “especially with all the nearby land.”
They spent many days exploring the shallow seas, the islands, and the continent to ensure the area was indeed safe and habitable. Terro and Zanar traded their fins for legs when they were ready to explore the continent. They carried hunting spears with them in the event they encountered hostile temas, though their magic would likely be a more effective weapon.
Terro and Zanar hiked across the landscape. The edges of the continent were green and home to the most lifeforms, but the majority of the surface was barren scrubland. They encountered some temas—always from a distance—and determined they were still too primitive to be a significant threat. If the bima stayed away from the shores of inhabited locations, they should be safe. At least from that potential threat.
Terro could have spent a lifetime exploring the continent. Zanar, too, was fascinated by the plants and animals who managed to survive on the dry surface. They lost track of how much time they spent wandering. Finally, Terro remembered the scarred elder’s warning. He was behaving like his namesake. They must return to the water now and confirm its suitability.
While the temas weren’t much of a threat, there was another creature that proved to be far more treacherous; and their explorations revealed there were many different species of it. Zanar studied sea creatures on Kareena, and he paid close attention to the dangerous animals on Tuema. He identified dozens of species. Most of them weren’t aggressive, but several of them were.
They were large fish with multiple rows of sharp teeth, making them fearsome predators. Terro and Zanar were forced to use wards against them on more than one occasion, forming a protective barrier around themselves until the creatures gave up. Zanar determined they were similar to four species on their home planet: losinoid, ropli, zanpone, and zoosh.
Their ancestors had hunted enough predatory fish to incite fear in them. While they occasionally attacked a lone bima in deep water, they were no longer a significant threat to their safety. The same would have to be done on Tuema if they chose to make it their home.
One night while they were resting, Zanar was woken by loud cries. Terro was beside him, his arm missing and the water surrounding him dark. Zanar placed a ward around them and put his hand on Terro’s shoulder. He summoned the healing magic, but he struggled to close such a severe wound while also maintaining the ward. He dropped their protections, and Terro’s flesh began to knit together. Then there was a large splash, and Terro was nowhere to be seen. Zanar glimpsed a triangular fin sticking out of the water and quickly placed a ward around himself.
Was this what had happened to Terro’s namesake? Was he eaten by a predator of the deep in the dead of night? Shock and adrenaline kept Zanar awake, mourning his companion and wondering about the safety of this location. How many predatory fish would they have to hunt before they learned to fear them? How many of his people would die in the meantime?
When the sun rose, Zanar decided it was time to return to Kareena. He didn’t need to experience a fate similar to Terro’s. He teleported back to the lake and swam beneath its surface until he was swept through the portal to Kareena. Then he teleported back to the bima’s territory where he met with the council of elders.
“You’ve been gone for several moon cycles,” the scarred elder said. “We were starting to worry you and Terro had taken after his namesake and disappeared on us. Where is Terro?”
“Tuema is big,” Zanar said, “and it took us a long time to explore it. Terro has followed the path of his namesake.” He bowed his head as he attempted to keep his emotions in check. He was still in shock, but it was starting to wear off.
“How?” the female elder asked.
“He was eaten by a predator similar to a zanpone.”
“When?” the scarred elder asked.
“Last night. It attacked us while we were sleeping.”
“Does this mean Tuema is too dangerous for us?” the female elder asked.
“I’ll give my report and let you decide.” Zanar told them of the warm and shallow seas to the east of the portal, describing the abundant marine life and coral reefs they had thoroughly explored. Then he told them of their discoveries regarding the tema and warned them about the many dangerous marine creatures.
After much deliberation, the elders decided they wanted to see this location to determine the extent of the threat, so Zanar took two of them back to the potential habitation site.
The two elders determined the threat on Tuema was manageable with the help of magic. While no one wanted to set up a constant watch around their home waters, it was preferable to their current situation and was most likely a temporary precaution.
Once the new location received the approval of all the elders, the bima began preparations for their exodus. The bima had few material possessions, so it didn’t take long for them to pack their belongings. Since all of them except for young children were able to teleport, they used this time-saving method, parents and grandparents taking hold of the young ones to transport them to the portal. As a group, they swam into the trench and appeared on Tuema. Again, they teleported to the new location, Zanar and the two elders acting as guides since they were the only ones to have been there before. Eventually, every last bima arrived at the new habitation site.
Zanar was reluctant to bring his people to Tuema with so many predators around, but their magic proved effective in protecting them. The bima mourned Terro and their ancestral home waters, taking time to grieve. Terro and Zanar were celebrated as heroes for finding them a new home. Though dangerous, it was safer than the one they left behind. Or so they thought.
* * * * *
After I finish the story, I translate some of the names for you. Tuema is Earth. The lake where the now-extinct portal used to be is Lake Turkana in Kenya, Africa. The tema Terro encountered were your human ancestors. The continent they explored is Australia.
Now you know where the legends and fairytales surrounding merfolk came from, but don’t be fooled. The bima are no longer on Earth. I’ll tell you the story of their second exodus another night.