The tahori are a species of shapeshifter inhabiting the Gurhai universe. They possess three distinct forms or skins and use qki, or physical energy, to change between them. Shapeshifting is nonmagical and fairly swift, taking less than a minute on a normal world and healing most wounds in the process. The first skin (hamin) is quite humanoid and may pass as a genuine human if one doesn’t look too closely and spot the tail; the second skin (sanero) is a very large beast with few visual indicators of intelligence; the third skin (emigonu) is a bipedal hybrid between the first two skins. (Please note that tahori are not shapeshifting humans, but a distinct species who happen to have a humanoid skin.) Tahori do not experience a large change in intelligence or behavioral pattern when switching between skins – they are just as bestial in hamin skin and just as intelligent in sanero skin. Though tahori usually wear clothing in hamin skin, they rarely wear shoes or metal (such as armor), and they wear no clothing in sanero and emigonu skins. All tahori retain the same coloration and pattern throughout their skins, though the colors are often desaturated in hamin skin (due to the lack of pigmented fur; their skin in other forms, beneath the pelt, is equally dull).
Tahori are striated into specific races that can interbreed in their hamin skins, but remain largely incompatible elsewise. All races but one live on Alasa Ka, a primal world similar to an prehistoric Earth with rather large fauna; the other race, keusune tahori, lives on At-lasa in a nearby sun system and are often outcast from the species by their fellow tahori.
Inlanlu tahori are lupine, living in tight-knit packs with a hierarchal structure. They’re the most populous of the tahori and hold territories in nearly every climate on Alasa Ka. Inlanlu are renowned for their physical endurance and are staunch hunter-warriors, unafraid of conflict although they don’t specifically seek it out; their trademark weapon is the double-bladed spear with a two-inch-thick shaft of hardwood with a metal core. They rarely truck with magic, although some hereditary lines have faint shamanic leanings, and usually shun technology beyond weaponsmithing. Inlanlu speak Uhjayi, which is the most common tahori language.
Atihresi tahori are feline with several markedly different breeds. Through necessity, atihresi have mimicked inlanlu pack structure and territory, though they are largely self-contained and independent individuals. They are more numerous than all but inlanlu and reside in any clime. They tend to use blades or bows and often have considerable skill with external qki, making them formidable fighters; however, few atihresi show any inclination towards magic. They speak Fulhu, the second most common tahori language. Atihresi are often rivals or outright enemies of inlanlu, and few individuals call themselves friends of the other race.
Dosa tahori are ursine. They live in small groups or alone, have a decided gift with natural and druidic magic, and are generally private people. They don’t interact or interfere much with other races. They rarely use weapons and have no love of technology of any kind, even basic smithing. They live in the coldest regions of the world, in a place where they can’t be out-competed by the more adaptive predators.
Izune tahori are avians with a wide array of breeds. They have no hair at all in hamin skin, usually refuse to wear any clothing, and tend to be vividly colored, so they rarely pass as humans, even from a distance. Renowned for their sensitivity to qki and magic, izune have keen senses and a knack for elemental magic, especially pertaining to wind and weather. They live in huge flocks, shunning technology, and are typically aloof; other races easily misjudge their calm reservation as arrogance or emotionlessness.
Ehsora tahori are equine and the least language-inclined of the tahori, often communicating solely through body language. They travel in large, nomadic herds and have nothing to do with technology or weaponry; their clothing is minimalistic and usually obtained from a hunting race. Deeply gifted with natural druidic magic with a special affinity for plants, ehsora are perhaps the most attuned to the earth of all the tahori. Being the only purely herbivorous tahori, they’re also usually wary of other races’ intentions and tend to be slightly xenophobic.
Kahashi tahori are shark-like, the only amphibious tahori – they can breathe on land and in water in both hamin and emigonu skins, but are solely water-bound in their sanero skin. They have no hair in hamin skin and most don’t wear clothing; they’re also the only tahori to have no tail in hamin skin. Kahashi scorn both magic and weaponry of all kinds, preferring to use their own bodies as the most deadly weapon at their disposals. They’re loosely social with each other but are usually viewed as dangerously unpredictable by the landlocked races. Their secondary name is sasemiyukashuh, meaning ‘death in the water’ in Uhjayi.
Keusune tahori live on At-lasa and are considered ‘Others’, having no clear zoological family (e.g. feline, canine, etc) to which they belong. Often stymying those who see them for the first time, keusunes are considered to be similar to large mammalian predators, as though a combination of bear, cat, and wolf with a long, prehensile tail. Keusunes have a more industrialized civilization than the other tahori, reaching into basic technology like machinery and refined architecture. Their trademark weapons are half-magic, half-technology: a curving blade atop a slender wooden hilt that can be folded outwards to create a double-bladed knife, then enlarged with qki to become a keusunian glaive. While some keusune communities are still very primitive, even feral, many groups are more civilized and act as merchants to non-tahori, especially k’anta, who are typically mortal enemies of the tahori; keusunes have a colony world in the same sun system as At-lasa, where most of their industry and trading takes place. Keusunes have strong inclinations towards bardic magic and are usually sound-oriented.
[WARNING: Graphic gore.]
“I like a woman in blood.”
Crimson traced rivulets past whitened knuckles, and she inhaled with a hiss as droplets split a dozen ways on the stone floor. The air was bitingly cold; her breath rose as steam from flared nostrils. “What do you want?” she asked, voice cracking and dry.
A small, wiry man in nothing but a red loincloth walked forward on silent feet, rolling his steps, rolling his lean hips, rolling his eyes like a wild horse. “You smell like blood,” he said quietly, watching her with sidelong glances. His face was fine-boned in profile.
She stared at him brazenly, daring him to meet her eyes, but he sidestepped a crescent around her and watched her stained lips. “I’m not bleeding,” she responded, opening her hand and dropping the loop of intestines she’d been squeezing. It fell like a snake’s coiling tail onto the tatters of a corpse at her feet.
“I didn’t say you were.” He paced coltishly, long-legged, prancing steps on the balls of his brown feet. “Why did you murder it?”
“Who are you?” she countered. She stood brace-legged over her kill, ripped hides hanging from her shoulders and hips like vines from a cliff face. There were no weapons in sight, bar the shortsword clutched in the corpse’s death-taut grip. It was unbloodied.
“My name is Bo,” he answered, staying away from the rear wall of the cave, keeping an ear cocked to the entrance. “What’s your name, murderer?”
She smiled, flat teeth as stained as her lips. “My name is Elisz. Why are you here?”
“You smell like blood,” he repeated, dancing backwards when she took two stiff-legged steps towards him. “Why did you murder it?”
“You’re a poor parrot.” Elisz lifted her hand to her lips and slowly licked the blood from her scarred fingers. It smeared across her cheeks, freshening the drying stains. “I was hungry, and tired. I wanted this cave. I wanted food.” She stared him down, shoulders hitched up aggressively.
Bo didn’t miss a step, watching her chin and her throat, dark lashes shielding his gaze. “And you will kill me, too?”
“Only if you plan to fight me for it,” she said, a snarl creeping into the undertone of her voice. She took another step forward.
He cocked his head like a bird, eyes gleaming. “What if I asked you to share?” he queried.
After introducing The Demon-God of Jubagh, I realized I should probably explain to you just how this crazy universe works. If you want the full, glorious detail, you can look at the mechanics page on the wiki, but I’ll try to give you a good overview here.
Gurhai is a finite universe. Like a geode, it has open space enclosed by an oval shell made of densely-packed organic and mineral detritus. There is a flat layer of sun systems that stretches length-wise in the very center of the shell. There are precisely one hundred worlds in the universe, separated into thirty-five sun systems; similarly, there are exactly one hundred sentient species in the universe, though not evenly distributed as one-per-world. All but two worlds in the universe are round and flat; Airdh (the First World) and Gurhai (the Last World) are the only spherical worlds, and they are at the far ends of the universe, a full year’s travel apart. The suns are mobile and small, weaving or springing between planets in their systems, and there are no actual moons. In the top and bottom halves of the void, which are striated by the layer of worlds, there are creatures unlike any found on the worlds, living on the edges of atmosphere and gravity wells.
Gravitic ore is the glue that holds the universe together; it is a polarized mineral found at the center of a planet’s crust. The polar side has a very strong attraction – gravity – and the non-polar side has a very weak attraction, but does not repel. Gravitic ore is dark and reflective, resembling a cross between hematite and coal anthracite. In addition to producing gravity, gravitic ore also produces the magical energy inherent in each world, similarly polarized; while the strength of gravity varies little between worlds, the magic density fluctuates greatly between planets, going from magic-dry to magic-rich. The polarity of the gravitic ore determines which face of a flat world will become the life-supporting side; the non-polar side will only be strong enough to keep very heavy objects in place, such as rocks and ore. The non-polar face of the world also contains dry ice, which creates the thick, drifting fog that obscures the undersides of the worlds. Gravitic ore can be carefully mined to be placed sparingly in the lowest decks of intersun ships, giving them gravity and a source of magic while they venture into the void between suns. Gravitic ore also constitutes the majority of the materials that comprise the shell of the universe, making it nigh-deadly to approach the rocky barrier; the intense gravity will pull any ships in and smash them against the rocks.
The worlds, as previously mentioned, are mostly flat, round worlds. They support life, have gravity, and produce magical energy only on one face; the other face is rocky, barren, and clouded with mist from dry ice. Worlds vary greatly in magical density, but less so in size; the smallest world is half the diameter of the largest world, and all other worlds range between them. There is a rim of high mountains encircling the entire planet, which keeps creatures, water, and other resources from falling off the edge of the world. Atmosphere is generated by the plant life on each world; it has no defined boundary, but simply gets thinner and weaker as travelers move away from the world, becoming unbreathable eventually. The skies look different on each world; in many cases, one can see the other worlds of the system, if the world faces them; other worlds appear approximately as large as Earth’s moon in the sky.
Travel between the worlds is common. A dozen races design and build their own intersun ships, but the most common by far are Loi ships, halasshian ships, human ships, and buthinian ships. Human and halasshian ships have always had gravity and a source of magical energy, due to being constructed with a very thin layer of gravitic ore in the bottom deck, which also holds the soil, water, and plant life necessary to maintain a breathable atmosphere in the void. Buthinian ships do not have gravity or magic once they leave the planet; Loi ships were the same at first, but many Loi ships are now constructed with gravitic ore in a manner similar to halasshian and human ships. Because gravitic ore is responsible for generating magic, and because magic density varies so drastically between worlds, intersun ships constructed on magic-rich worlds are more prized by most than ships constructed on magic-dry worlds. Intersun ships are shaped and built much like water-going ships, complete with a keel, multiple deck layers, an outer/upper deck, and many sails. All ships have an entire deck or more devoted to flora; once the ship leaves the planet’s atmosphere, all windows and doors are sealed, the upper deck is no longer walked, and the air produced by the plants on-ship keep the passengers alive until they reach the next planet. The universe is not an unbearably large place; fast ships can make the trip from the First World to the Last World in a year, with most sun systems having neighboring suns within a month or two of travel. It generally takes no more than a day to go between worlds in the same system.
Intersun ships do not land on-world once they have launched, since the world’s gravity would smash the vessel into the planet; the people build docks well above the world’s surface, where the pull of gravity is weaker, where the large ships can load and unload their passengers and cargo. Smaller boats without gravitic ore can make the trip between planet surface and intersun dock to transfer people and items. The hovering intersun docks are maintained via magical or mechanical means, depending on the world in question and the technology/magic level of the people who maintain the docks; the on-world boats that travel between dock and world are powered in the same fashion. Intersun ships themselves use a combination of magic, machinery, and void winds to move; the former two are what enable the ships to navigate within atmosphere or when close to worlds, but when between sun systems, the void winds propel the ships. Void winds are present everywhere near the layer of worlds in the universe, but they are not breathable by any world-dwelling creature; void winds are usually strong, can crop up into gale-force storms, and can occasionally die out and leave a ship idling in the darkness for a while.