This came up in the fan forum, so I am reposting it here to clarify some things.
A word of caution: we are dealing with very wide categories to make sense of a complicated fictional world. For example, Jesus, Christopher-Deimos, and Erawan would be all classified under the same heading of “divine beings,” even though their cultural impact is incomparable. Inclusion into a particular category is not intended to diminish any mythological being in any way.
Mystical and “Natural” Shapeshifters
A shapeshifter in KD world is defined as a being that can assume both human and animal forms. For example, Saiman was not a shapeshifter, because he couldn’t turn into an animal. He was a polymorph.
Shapeshifters can have different origins, but can be broadly classified into 2 groups: mystical shapeshifters and “natural” shapeshifters.
Natural shapeshifters obtain their abilities as the result of Lyc-V, the “lycanthrope virus.” They typically do not use magic.
Mystical shapeshifters obtain their abilities by other means, such as divine power, curse, and so on. Mystical shapeshifters may still have Lyc-V present in their bodies, but they usually have other abilities and do use magic.
A vast majority of the shapeshifters are natural shapeshifters. There are only four prominent mystical shapeshifters who reoccur throughout the series: Dali, the mystical white tiger; Naeemah, the werecrocodile; the villain in the final book, whom we won’t name to avoid spoilers; and Yu Fong, who is technically a type of a shapeshifter.
It must be said that these categories are very broad and are not meant to suggest that all beings included are on the same level. Yu Fong is much more than just a “weredragon.” He is a mystical being with vast powers, and the concept of “dragon” in Chinese culture is layered and complex with a deep, profound significance. But technically, because he can assume human shape in KD series, he can also be classified as a mystical shapeshifter. Technically, Roman is also a mystical shapeshifter, since he can turn into a raven. One can be a deity and a mystical shapeshifter at the same time. 🙂
A person can become a natural shapeshifter in following ways:
- If one of their parents is a shapeshifter. Lyc-V is a very invasive virus. If one parent is a shapeshifter, the children will be shapeshifters.
- If they are bitten by a carrier of Lyc-V, such as another human shapeshifter or animal infected with the virus.
- c) You could theoretically catch it from body fluid exposure but the chances of that are relatively low. Mostly it’s spread by biting.
In overwhelming majority of the cases, the virus transfer between the species happens from an animal to a human. An animal who is a Lyc-V carrier bites a human, and the human gains the ability to shapeshift.
Very, very rarely, this process happens in reverse. A human shapeshifter bites an animal, infects it, and the animal gains the ability to shift into a human. Such animal becomes an animal-were, a wolf were instead of a werewolf or a lynxwere instead of a werelynx. Animal-weres are severely handicapped in their reasoning. Most can’t speak and the majority of them are not sure what is happening or why.
In extremely rare occasions, shapeshifters and animalweres produce an offspring. They are called beastkin.
Animal-weres are exceedingly rare. Most shapeshifters are larger, faster, and stronger than their natural counterparts, and they typically kill their prey. Even when an animal somehow manages to fight off a human shapeshifter and survive, they usually become a carrier of Lyc-V rather than animal-were. Nobody knows what causes some of them to cross the transformation threshold.
Some mystical shapeshifters were born as animals, but they are typically in control of their faculties and they derive their powers from a mystical source. Such mystical shapeshifers are not referred to as animal-weres.
Types of shapeshifters
Mystical shapeshifters exhibit any number of animal forms, while natural shapeshifters usually end up as predatory mammals: wolves, bears, hyenas, mongooses, and so on. Creatures who bite and species who are “wild.” There are no known instances of getting Lyc-V from domesticated species, such as dogs and cats. There are, however, weredingos.
The exceptions to this general rule are larger herbivores like bison and rhino. Nobody on record has actually caught Lyc-V from a bison. Most likely these strains of Lyc-V originated from the Firsts who made bargain with these large animals in prehistory.
The process of infection requires a lot of mixing of body fluids. The carrier of Lyc-V has to rip into the flesh and essentially chew on their victim, so their spit can mix with the victim’s blood. For those reasons, if a buffalo or a goose, as has been suggested in the fan forum, was a carrier of Lyc-V and bit a human, they are not likely to pass their viral load onto their victim. The lack of fangs is a factor.
In prehistoric times humans worshipped dangerous animals as gods. Some of these animals eventually gained godhood, and humans made bargains with them in exchange for power. That’s how Lyc-V came into being.
These first humans who bargained with their predatory deities became the first shapeshifters and they then spread the virus to others. Their direct descendants are referred to as the Firsts. The strain of virus they carry is more potent and other shapeshifters tend to recognize it and naturally want to follow the Firsts.
This is explained in detail in Gunmetal Magic.
There is only one First in the series – Curran Lennart. There are no other Firsts. Stop obsessing about the Firsts. There is only ONE. Like Highlander. Every time someone mentions shapeshifters, you guys bring the Firsts into it. Again, there is only one. He is an exception to the rule. Avoiding spoilers here as well. 😉
During the Shift, when magic first appeared, some people changed shape. They carried Lyc-v in their bloodline, but it had fallen dormant without magic, and the first magic wave activated it. Mahon is such a shapeshifter. Doolittle also. Nobody bit them. They already had the virus.
Loupism is explained in detail in Magic Slays and Magic Rises. Lyc-V produces a cascade of hormones and endorphins, which enables people to grow new bones, etc., in an instant. Sometimes it goes horribly wrong, and a shapeshifter turns loup. Loups are sadistic insane killers. The saturation of Lyc-V in their system is extremely high. One of the visual characteristics of a loup is inability to completely shift into animal or human shape. They are stuck in an in-between stage. Sometimes they can almost pass for a human, but a close examination will reveal that they haven’t fully assumed human form.
Onset of loupism is usually triggered by extreme stress or severe injury. Shapeshifters may go loup at any time, but the most vulnerable times for them are during birth, at the beginning of puberty, and for those who were not born as shapeshifters, immediately following the infection.
Loupism has no cure.
The catastrophic explosion of hormones that results in loupism is typically directly related to the mental state of the shapeshifter. When a shapeshifter is injured or severely scared or angry, Lyc-V goes into overdrive and multiplies in huge numbers in anticipations of having to repair the current or future injuries. I know this is an unfortunate timing, but we modeled it on cytokine storm, which is what right now causing a lot of deaths in COVID patience. Like cytokines, Lyc-V in huge numbers becomes harmful to its host.
Shapeshifters have a great deal of control over their bodies, much more than a typical human. They can slow down their heart rate, reshape their bones, and push silver out of their bodies with proper training. To combat loupism, they developed the Code, a way of life and mental conditioning that allows them to maintain lower numbers of Lyc-V under stress and enables them to undergo training to expel silver and projectiles out of their bodies and do other things that help them survive.
Panacea is an herbal remedy that lessens chances of loupism onset and can sometimes reverse the “bloom” of Lyc-V that can trigger the shift to loupism.
Panacea isn’t a cure. A cure is a successful remedial treatment. Panacea helps but doesn’t ultimately guarantee success. Its best use is as a preventative, which is why it is administered to volatile teenagers going through puberty and pregnant shapeshifters.
Suppose you have some dry logs and they catch fire. You have one pitcher of water available. If the fire is raging, you pour that pitcher on it, but the logs might still burn, because what you have isn’t enough. The longer you wait, the bigger the fire becomes and the less effect your water will have. But if you dump the water on the logs before the fire started, they won’t catch fire in the first place. Panacea works like that. It is most effective before the fire started or when it’s very small.