When the goddesses woke up after the sea was created, they had no knowledge of the world or the people in it. The world was only ocean, a great blue pearl floating in the starry sky.
But Zzoriel, mother of the land, realized that though the oceans were full of life, they were limited, held back by very water that sustained them. She dove down to the seabed and grabbed great handfuls of earth, gouging deep trenches in the ocean floor. When she rose up, dirt and sand trailed from her fingers, scattering across the ocean; where it fell it formed great ridges and mountains. When she surfaced, she tried to build landmasses with the earth, but it sank beneath the waves.
Zzoriel turned to the ocean creatures. “One of you,” she said, “come to me, and I will build a new world on your back.”
Two creatures came to her: a turtle and a great fish. She placed the earth upon both of their backs, and they grew to tremendous sizes, losing their flippers and fins and becoming stone and soil. They became the two great continents of the world.
“Sister,” said Athu, from the waters, “you cannot leave us to go onto the land. You are bound to the sea, like we are.”
“Of this I know,” Zzoriel said, and grasping a piece of sharp coral cut her right arm away from her body. It fell onto the smaller continent and became the god Mehlitte, the progenitor of the land, and those who dwell upon it.
He gained form and stood up. Zzoriel pointed to the land with her left hand and said, “go, child, and give this land life.”
“What will I do?” the new god asked.
“Whatever you wish,” Zzoriel said, “but beware, child, for if your creations stray too far from the land, they will answer to us.”
“I will watch over him from above,” Kulari said, and her voice was booming thunder. “I can see even onto the land, for my reach is wide.”
Zzoriel returned to the sea, tired, and slipped below the waters to lay on the seabed and sleep.
Mehlitte turned to sea. “Any who wish it,” he said, to the animals and plants of the sea, “may come upon the land, and I will reform you so that you may thrive here.” For he knew he could not create things of his own, but could change the shape of the creations of his mother and aunts.
Seaweeds and sea-ferns and fish and shelled bugs all came up to the shore, and when he touched them, they grew into new forms with legs and necks and dry scales and skin. Some of them Mehlitte took into himself, and thus he gave birth to strange creatures with hooves and fur, and the creatures he birthed laid no more eggs, instead birthing their own young as he had them.
Some of his creatures went back to the sea, finding the land not to their liking. Some remained on the land, exploring their new home. Some, even, looked upwards, and begged Kulari for wings; and she granted them, and the skies were filled with birds.
Humans were different. They saw all the world, and sought to inhabit it; but they did not ask the gods to be changed, and changed the world instead. They built houses and roads and cities and kingdoms and ships, ships to traverse the seas, ships to go far and find new things.
The first time a human sailed out past the breakers, Zzoriel tested them with rocks and reefs, sharp stone and coral, the sacred tool she’d used to create their all-father. The humans were frightened; they turned back, fled from the ocean.
The second time humans pushed their vessels out beyond the waves, Zzoriel tested them again, and they passed. Then Kulari tested them, sending a great storm to overturn their boat, and again they fled, back to the safety of the land.
The third time, they braved both Zzoriel’s reefs and Kulari’s winds. The storm overturned their ship, and threw them into the water, and it was there that Xikaalothirivaani tested them, to see if they would survive.
They failed, and their bodies drifted into the waves, and did not wash up on the shore. The sisters turned away, sighing – all but Athu.
Athu rose from the depths and pondered them. “You were so brave,” she said, “and you tried so very hard. To see you die now is a sad thing. I will not spit in my sister’s face and bring you back, but I will take you, and turn you into something new. Transformation is ever possible.”
She took their legs, giving them a smooth sea-beast’s tail instead, and covered them in the tough, rubbery skin of dolphins and whales. She gave them powerful claws like sea-glass and basalt, and eyes that reflected the light like flashes of lightning on the waves, and strong bodies to push through the strongest currents. Then she took them, and breathed new life into strange forms, and sent them away, into the sea, to be the first of the merids, Athu’s children.
They sang, and grew, mer-maids growing to mer-matrons. They had their children, raised them, and sent them out into the ocean to make their own lives. And when they were finished with children, the oldest mer-matrons sought Athu out.
“We are tired,” they said, “for we have lived long, and we no longer take joy in the light of the surface. We long to embrace the deeps, mother Athu, to lay in the dark and sing to each other. Let us go, let us be free. We do not wish to die; we just wish to move on.”
And so Athu took their bodies and transformed them again, slowly and carefully, and each matron regained their gills and swam down to the seafloor and grew and changed, and became vast and terrifying and beautiful.
Thus they became the first matriarchs, and since them, there have been few who have received such honor, such powerful blessings from the goddess of the deeps.
In the darkness at the bottom of the sea, the matriarchs sleep. When another joins their number they wake and sing, and that song ripples through the world, stirring all living creatures. But they slip away again not long after. They do not remain awake, only stirring when called.
One day, they will wake for good.