Among the numerous magical beings of Erde are the shape-shifters, people who are able to change their physical form and take on the bodies of other animals. There are three types of shape-shifters, and each has its own special abilities and weaknesses.
Lycanthropy is a blood-borne curse, its origins lost to time. The curse bestows great strength, speed, and endurance but it also bestows the moon-madness. For the three nights of the full moon, the lycanthrope is transformed into a ravening beast, driven by the need to kill. Lycanthropes cannot change their shapes at will but are locked into the cycle of the moon. When they are mad, they will attack anything or anyone. They have no awareness or sense of self and little sense of self-preservation. Any creature can be afflicted with this curse, which is transferred through a bite, but animals very rarely survive an attack. Magical creatures are much more likely to resist the curse.
Lycanthropes who survive the Bright Mother’s Fountain are cleansed of their taint. They can choose to return to their previous form, or to retain the animal form they were given with the curse. They retain much of the strength and endurance they were given with the curse, and gain the ability to shift at will. They are still vulnerable to rages, especially during the full moon, but they no long lose themselves completely. They form clans, often called packs or prides, based on their animal form. Rarely, a cleansed lycanthrope will be allowed to join a shape-changer clan.
Erde has a variety of sorcerers and among them are the skin-walkers: people who have the power to steal the likenesses of other creatures. Becoming another creature involves a gruesome ritual during which the skin-walker flays the other creature. The skin must be removed carefully since any mistake or missing piece is visible on the skin-walker while he is wearing the other skin.
Most skin-walkers carefully preserve the skins they’ve taken. They build up a cache of alternate identities and forms, and keep them hidden in a safe place. It takes time to change from one skin to another, and while the skin-walker is changing he is vulnerable to attack. In addition, skin-walkers are feared and reviled throughout Erde because of their ability to completely assume another person’s identity. For these reasons, skin-walkers become obsessive about their privacy and safety. They tend to be solitary people.
Though some people fear that skin-walkers are everywhere the truth is that they are quite rare. Heads of state fear that they and their closest advisors and family members are prime targets for skin-walkers. But those who have tasted the freedom and power of walking in another’s skin seldom wish to burden themselves with something as mundane as ruling a nation.
The true shape-shifters, these beings are born to their abilities. Shape-changers have a humanoid form, which may resemble any one of Erde’s sentient races, and a mundane animal form.
Shape-changers are Yokai-kin – direct descendants of powerful spirits or fey beings who chose to mingle with mortals. Shape-changers are often sorcerers, though very few of the Yokai-kin are shape-changers.
Shape-changers align themselves into clans based on their animal forms: deer, bear, wolf, crane, eagle, etc. Except at the Bright Mother’s Fountain, the clans do not mingle much, and they never inter-marry. One of the reasons for the Ritual of the Fountain is to allow lovers from separate clans to be together.
Only one clan has the animal form of a magical creature: the Dragon Clan. Members of this clan are descended from one of the ryu, the dragon lords of water and luck. They tend to be aloof, holding themselves apart from other shape-shifters.
This work by Jean Headley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.