1. being partly bestial and partly human in form.
“Karen breathed her in, and Winter knew she felt hunger. She saw herself, wounded and bleeding on the grass, and knew Karen smelled her weakness and found it good. A human might have actually felt the concern Karen mimicked well, but the predator knew only eat, and being eaten. Concern was for cubs and kin. Karen was therian. She had either never been human, or was human no longer.”
~ Faerie Rising
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
~ The Wizard of Oz
The step of a wolf falls even more silently on the asphalt of an alleyway than on the forest floor.
Eye shine reflects in the darkness, much too high to be a feral housecat.
A shape rises, the night itself taking form from the city’s shadows, rising impossibly tall, and steps forward just to the edge of the safety the streetlight promises. Its body is covered with gleaming fur from the protruding muzzle and broad shoulders to the powerful curved legs and feet tipped with lethal claws. Its eyes glitter with intelligence as it regards you taking refuge in the light, and it bears canines longer than your fingers as it says, “Lost?” And then it is on you, teeth buried in your flesh as it shakes you effortlessly as rag doll.
The streetlight lied.
Our shape shifters, the therian of The Books of Binding, range the land, the air, and the seas. Though many keep to the dwindling wilderness, as humans have spread more and more have been forced to settle down beside them in cities, and those who are predators find that humans living on the fringes of society are easy prey – or potential brethren.
Though they may come in many varieties, the one trait that binds all therian together is that they are all essentially animals that turn into people. Make no mistake, born or made, it is with an animal’s instincts guided by a human intellect that they interact with the world around them. They can cry and laugh, be your friend or lover, but they are not human and do not understand many human niceties and social cues, and can react with explosive aggression if they feel challenged. The common therian lives very much in the now; only their leaders, those who are alphas or the most powerful, the kings and queens, are capable of thinking ahead, of strategizing. It is for this reason that the majority of therian live on the fringes of society themselves, an underclass of criminals and dropouts who band together with others of their own kind for survival.
Several strains of therianthropy can only be passed down through family lines, the avian therian and the prey species in particular. All others are either born or made via magical infection. The disease is carried within a therian’s body fluids. No tiny claw scratches will make anyone furry. Only a wound severe enough to mingle the attacking therian’s body fluids with their victim’s blood stream will initiate the change – if the victim survives the initial shock. Most made therian are attack survivors, and there are more horrible ways to become a therian than by being bitten. Once begun the change is swift, happening over the course of several agonizing hours. If they’re lucky the one who attacked them stays nearby, waiting until they are ready to be taken back to the group and their new life. But if they are not, and many are not, they wake with healing wounds that should have killed them, in pain and alone in a world they never knew existed.
Once in this life, the new therian finds their body capable of incredible things. They can change forms without pain, feeling more like a truly epic stretch, and if they are strong enough they have not only their human and animal forms, but the half form, the massive “wolf-man” made famous by movies. They are much faster than a human, sight and scent are enhanced, they are capable of jumping well above their own height (higher if they are one of the great cats), and stronger than even a vampire, strong enough to crush a car door in their bare hands. Wounds heal before their eyes, their bodies burn feverishly hot with the energy of their amazing metabolisms, and despite what folklore would say they are not slaves of the moon’s cycle. These gifts come at cost, however. To fuel their powerful bodies they must eat, and the metabolism that can heal like theirs requires massive amounts of food every day, much more than a human needs. There is also a hidden cost, one that most therian are not capable of thinking too hard about, with their minds eternally in the now. Their amped up metabolisms burn them out, shortening their lifespans. Most therian, if they live to see old age, do not live past their sixties. A therian who sees seventy is ancient, indeed.
However, an early death by accelerated old age is the least of a therian’s worries. Life within the preternatural community is brutal and often short, especially for them. Outside the various groups, therian prey on each other, predators hunting prey species for food and predators hunting other predators in competition for territory. The prey species have few resources to protect them, and often turn to stronger groups, such as the vampires, for protection against predation. Vampires will still feed on them, but a little bloodletting is far preferable to being eaten. Within the groups violence determines the rule of law. The predator groups are ruled by the strongest, the most dominant, and usually the males. Males fight amongst themselves for dominance and the right to mate with females, and can move up and down the ladder of hierarchy depending on the outcome of the fights. The higher up the ladder they get, the higher the stakes of the fights get. At the top most levels, fights are to the death. Females don’t dominance fight as often, preferring to sort themselves out in a more social fashion, but when they do it is almost always lethal. The strongest female will then pair with the strongest male, and they will jointly rule the group. It is she who decides who, if anyone, will bear children in the group.
A therian female, born or made, will go into heat every 6 months for the majority of her life. The usual practice is for other females to isolate her, well away from the rest of the group, to prevent fighting among the males in their attempts to get to her. The stronger the female, the more intense the fighting can be. The most common forms of birth control are to either endure the seven day heat alone, which can be intensely frustrating for the female in question, or to enlist the company of a male of another species, as therian cannot crossbreed. When a female does choose, or is selected by her alpha female to have cubs, she will carry one or two (twins being very common) for five and a half months to term. This gives her the ability to have two litters a year, if the pressure to reproduce is high, though most therian females don’t. In an ideal setting, the group will assist in raising the cubs, protecting and nurturing them until they are old enough to begin climbing the dominance ladder themselves.
If only all groups were ideal and stable.
Hours later you’re breathing in the metallic meat scent of your own blood where it soaks your clothes, the broken asphalt of the dark recess of the alley digging into your side. The vicious wounds where the monster ripped into you with its teeth have long since healed, leaving you dressed in shredded, bloody rags, and the sunlight on the bricks above you head highlights colors you’ve never seen.
He watches you with those same cunning eyes, now a man dressed in jeans and an unbuttoned shirt as he ties his other boot. Finally he nods as if convinced of something, and grabs you by your arm, dragging you to your unsteady feet. “Come on,” he says in the same gruff voice, and pulls you out of the alleyway towards your new life.