Once upon a time, further back than anyone could remember, there were Dragons. Of course, no one believed in them anymore. They were just legend. A legend that said the Dragons came first. They were the first Shifters. They were the only shifters of their time. They walked the world and one day they left. Or died. Or fled. No one was sure. But everyone agreed that Dragons were no more. And that after the Dragons vanished from the world, leaving only whispers of their existence, the other Shifters showed.
First were the main Tribes. The sphinxes, the Crows and Ravens, the Wolves, the Bears and the Lions. These are considered the Elder Tribes. Next to show were the Young Tribes; this Tribe consists of everything from the Squirrel shifters to the Whales. Of these Young Tribes, only a few have gained respect from the Elder. Nevertheless it was soon apparent that none of the Shifters could live with other animals. They were just dissimilar enough that there was constant fighting between the Tribes.
The Sphinx shifters isolated themselves in the Great Desert, in Oasis. Oasis was one of the oldest cities in the world. No one knew who built it, only that the technique to build the hard black adobe had been lost to the sands. Sadly, the skills of building such a marvelous city were not the only thing lost to the sand. Miles of Oasis had been covered by the desert. Only a small bit remained. Still, it was large enough to house the entire population of the Sphinx Tribe.
What remained was now Oasis. There were tall trees, bigger than three men standing side by side and high enough to reach over the tops of the buildings. The buildings were all three stories tall, each level the height of two shifters stacked vertically on top of each other. The trees shaded Oasis during the day and trapped the heat during the night. There were three great bathing pools in the city feed by an underground spring. The water was always cool and tranquil.
Oasis was the jealous homeland for the Sphinx. They guarded it against all the other Tribes and greedily kept it for themselves. The Sphinxes were a traditional and superstitious people. They kept to Oasis and never went into the rest of the city that had been devoured by the desert. Anyone who did never came back, or was killed for it. The Tribe itself was ruled by the family of the First Sphinx. The current head was a woman shifter named Green. She ruled firmly over the rest of her family and Tribe. Everyone was ranked by their birth. Soldiers were middle class, the council was upper and the workers were lower.
Ivan Farace was none of these things. He was the abomination to the perfection of tradition. A blight on the entire Sphinx society. He was a reminder of impurity. You see, Ivan was special. He was a Sphinx without the ability to shift into his cat form. He was only one side of a perfect union. And to make matters worse, his bloodline was untainted.
They would have killed him. Perhaps they should have. But never before had a Sphinx killed another Sphinx because of their differences. Tradition won out and Ivan lived. But it was a hard life. His mother killed herself, his father disowned him, and his brothers wouldn’t even look at him. For while the Tribe wouldn’t kill him outright, they didn’t have to save him. They left him to die as a little boy, but he had survived.
The Crippled Cat they called him. He didn’t deserve a name in their eyes. By the time he hit his early twenties he was used to being ostracized from the Tribe. In secret he explored the ruins outside of Oasis, trying to find meaning to his life. Everything had settled into a pattern. Then one day everything changed.
A Sphinx died. It was nothing new. Death wasn’t uncommon. At first everyone ignored it, than it happened again. Then the rumors came trickling in. A Crow talked about other Tribes falling asleep than dying. It was all over. What started as something so small became a huge epidemic within a few days. It was called the Sleeping Death. First you fell asleep, then you died. Men, women, children, the young, the old, everyone was at risk. There was no rhyme or reason for the deaths. It was terrifying. Isolation didn’t work, neither did any remedy the healers knew. Shifters just kept dying.
The Sphinx council convened when Green died in her sleep. The First Family sequestered themselves away for three days. On the fourth they came out of the meeting hall and announced their plan. A Great Gathering of the Tribes. It was shocking. If there was one thing the Sphinxes loved more than tradition it was their isolation. But that was over now. Shifters from all the tribes within two week’s distance were to come to Oasis to try and find a cure.
Ivan was in the market when this was announced. It had floored him and made him hope. If the council could change tradition, then maybe he could go home? Of course he squashed this thought as quickly as it bubbled up in his brain. No, no matter what, he’d never be accepted and as long as he knew that he’d never let his Tribe beat him down.
In two weeks the Tribes would try to find a cure. The waiting was the worst. Three more shifters died before the fifth day of the ninth moon. The middle and lower classes, which could be spared from duties, huddled around the meeting hall waiting to hear good news. A week passed. Two. Still, no good words. The Sphinxes began to get restless. Rumors said that they were not getting to a cure; they were too busy bickering with each other.
Ivan had tried to stay away from the meeting hall. One of his elder brothers was a guard: Vessey, the second eldest. He knew if his brother saw him, he’d not escape the meeting without being beaten. Being a crippled cat meant he couldn’t take on a shifted Sphinx. He wasn’t strong enough. He hated that. Hated that he could only see better in the dark, had quicker reflexes than most, but not the ability to change into his other half. A half of himself that he wanted more than anything, more than his family, more than one memory of his mother. Maybe even more than he wanted a cure for the Sleeping Death to be found.
[[The opening post is a little cleaner this time. :P ]]