We can only breathe when we’re near plants. We learned from the namiccians, who learned from the tache, whose intersun ships had to carry a belly full of forest in order for the warriors to breathe when they sailed from one world to the next. The tahori who go to Nami Ka bring back stories of namiccians who have learned to fly, but they can only go so far from the plants on the surface of their world before they, too, can’t breathe any longer. There is an invisible dome around our worlds, a sphere wherein which life exists, and the plants somehow create it.
Between the worlds, there is blackness. Void. Nothingness. There are winds, currents – the tache used them to sail to us – but we cannot breathe them. There is no weight, no up or down. If the winds move you like they move the great ships, you don’t know it; you have no way to tell if you’re moving.
I learned to teleport in tiny steps. Inlanlu almost never have that ability, and no other tahori were friendly enough to help me learn, so I taught myself. I discovered my talent as a child, startled by my brother’s surprise pounce; I vanished and reappeared two feet over, wide-eyed and stiff-tailed. I explored it, learning to move one foot, five feet, fifteen feet. I learned how to pop back in a few inches above the ground and avoid getting my feet stuck in the dirt; I learned how to drop onto a sturdy tree branch twenty feet up, and only once did I miss it and fall all the way down. I learned how to move by inches only, enough to dodge a strike with hand or paw or stick.
In time, I learned how to go to places I couldn’t see from where I was. That was harder – I had to remember how everything looked and hold that in my head – so, instead, I started trying small distances again with my eyes closed. Once I got the hang of visual memory, I could do longer jumps easily. By then, I had met Tari, a fast-talking young man with a brilliant smile. He, too, could teleport, and if my packmates were uncertain to have me spending so much time with a non-inlanlu, they didn’t stop me from meeting with him. Together, we explored our abilities.
I was two years from adulthood when I first tried putting myself into the sky. It worked– I started falling, the ground an uneven patchwork of greens and browns below me. I didn’t have time to think: instinctively, reflexively, I teleported back to the safest place I could think off, three inches above the ground where I slept. It was still a hard landing, my momentum half-preserved. I was shaking.
Tari’s father took him to Nami Ka, enough times that he learned how to go on his own. That was exhausting, he told me, making a jump that far – but he got better, and without his father’s knowing, he took me. I met namiccians, heard their language, smelled their air, drank their water. I tried to remember what it looked like; after I went with him three times, I tried to go by myself.
I didn’t make it.
The distance was too great, and inlanlu don’t have the sheer amount of qki flowing through our bodies that Tari’s people do. I hadn’t known that I needed to develop such a flow, let alone how to do so. I hadn’t known how much was needed.
So I found myself in the void between worlds, bitterly cold, weightless, and unable to breathe. My lungs seized up, and my heart fluttered like a bird inside my ribs. I couldn’t feel my skin within moments, but my bones hurt from the deep chill. As before, I didn’t have time to think: my reflexes tried to take me back to my safe place, where I slept, where I could breathe.
But I was exhausted. Going halfway and then back again was like going all the way, and I couldn’t do it. Panic rose in me as my eyes felt like ice; I couldn’t close them, even to blink. My mouth felt fused shut. I couldn’t feel my hands, my feet, my tail, my face– and, swiftly thereafter, my arms and legs.
At some point, only a few eternal seconds past the realization that I couldn’t teleport home, I realized what I was seeing. Our sun was a tiny ball of fire, making a triangle’s third point with my home and Nami Ka; I was on the invisible line that linked Nami Ka and my world. The worlds were discs, huge in comparison to the sun, facing its warmth; behind them, I could see the cloudy underside of a third world, Ayunra Ka. The sun must swing a circle around all three, once every day. That’s why our nights are longer than our days.
My back was to the sun, and I kept my eyes away from it but for the brief glance over my shoulder; but, even so quickly, the frigid chill lessened, and I could blink again.
I’m in the middle of the universe, I thought to myself, calming. I was surrounded by all we knew, ka, the sum of everything. It was not a bad place to die, even young, even alone.
But the word die scared me again, and reflexes kicked in, trying to take me home, to a safe place–
I woke up a week later, cradled by my brother in his black-furred sanero skin. My pack had gotten so scared when they found me comatose in my sleeping spot that they actually allowed Tari’s family to come onto our territory to look at me. Tari’s father told them that I had used up more qki than my body had in it, an impossible thing, a fatal thing. Having no qki means your body shuts off: heart stops, lungs stop, head stops. You die when you do what I did.
No one was sure how I survived. But, as the years wore on and I learned more, trained more, and did more, I could do it again and again – I could use more qki than my body had and still not die.
Five years after I saw the center of ka, I was the most powerful warrior in my pack.
I will protect them, the wolf had said to the human. That was before she learned what Retka thought of the tahori. He called them monsters, raging mindless beasts whose prowess was destruction and battle. He had said that, and she had stopped walking, turned to look at him with flashing eyes and bared teeth, fangs longer than his fingers– and he cowered back, surprised and afraid.
He didn’t realize the white wolf was the monster he’d been raised to hate and fear. She stopped before she could snarl and snap at his face.
Yagir hadn’t had her hesitation; he swung hard and sent the half-tache stumbling backwards, a hand clutching at his chest where the blow had landed. She had to take the human’s collar in her teeth to keep him from lashing out again, and the fabric of his vest made a curious ripping sound.
Yagir spat and cursed, but with a wounded namiccian still holding fast to the wolf’s back, he couldn’t spare the time for a shouting match, let alone a fist-fight. He swore one last time at Retka, then turned back and kept walking; the wolf let him go and followed, her jaws tense. Without anywhere else to go, lost in the middle of uncivilized wilderness, the half-tache trailed them.
Retka didn’t understand until he met Dienn, a man who gave the namiccian a quiet, dark place to recover. Yagir snarled a few words in the language Retka didn’t know, then stalked off, trailed by the giant wolf. Dienn pulled Retka aside and spoke softly.
Yes, they knew Retka was half-tache. Yes, they also knew he was half-tahori, though Light only knew how they figured it out. Yes, they understood that Retka had been raised as half a person, shunning part of his heritage. But no, they would not let him continue to spout such lies.
They weren’t lies, Retka insisted. They were truth. Dienn just didn’t know – he’d never met a tahori, after all.
The white wolf returned, then, and sat within touching distance, gold eyes watching them calmly. Dienn pressed an open hand against the wolf’s thickly-furred chest. Yes, I’ve met a tahori, he said. So have you.
Retka still didn’t understand until he looked at the wolf – really looked, saw the fine whiskers and the proudly erect ears and the glint of more-than-animal intelligence in those frightening yellow eyes.
When he reeled backwards, Dienn caught his sleeve and kept him for running for his life. This is a tahori, the human said. This is an inlanlu tahori. She saved your life. How monstrous is that?
I don’t believe you, Retka answered, his heart climbing into his throat. Tahori are shapeshifting demons. This is just a wolf. This is just–
And the wolf leaned back on her haunches, and Retka’s vision seemed to blur as though Dienn punched him in the side of the head, and by the time he could focus again, there was a woman standing where the wolf had been.
Dienn let go of his sleeve. This is a tahori, he repeated. This woman is your worst nightmare. Terrifying, isn’t she?
She still had yellow eyes and a white tail, but she looked like a human in every other way. She could have even passed for a tache, although her hair was brown and not black. She gave him the same level, unreadable, impassive look that the wolf had given him.
She isn’t terrifying, Retka lied, unable to look away from those eyes, those predator’s eyes. He couldn’t bring himself to say ‘she’s just a girl’ because, no matter how human or tachian in appearance, every inch of her was still wolf – and if he said that, she would rip his throat out with her falsely-human teeth.
As though she could smell his fear, the tahori smiled at his lie, no warmth reaching those wolf eyes.
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.