Height: 3-6' (at the shoulder as quadrupeds) | 5-8' (at top of the head as bipeds)
Weight: 175-1500 lbs
Physical Description: Alkers are furred, quadrupedal mammals with long, streamlined faces. They have slit-pupiled, saurian eyes, internal ears, wide nostrils, and rows of sharp teeth; they are exclusively carnivores, though eating some plant matter will not harm them much. They have long, arched necks, deep chests, and slimmer waists; their tails are longer than their torsos, sinuous, and quite deft. Their legs are long, powerful, and flexible; their forepaws have four longish toes and one shorter toe on the inside of the paw which is almost thumb-like, though not entirely opposable. Their hind paws have four short toes and are wider than their forepaws; all toes are tipped in long, sharp, hook-like, unretractable claws. In general, there is no sexual dimorphism in shape or size* of the alker species, and since males have internal testes and an inconspicuous penile sheath, the genders can often be difficult to distinguish by sight alone. (*In the snow alkers and rock alkers, females are slightly smaller than the males, and in the field alkers and tree alkers, males are slightly smaller than the females.) Though their basic shape remains the same, they have diversified into such well-adapted subspecies that their actual size, build, fur length/texture, coloration, and markings are determined by their race (which will be discussed later). Alkers tend to be quite deft with their forepaws and tails. Notably, all alkers can shapeshift into a bipedal version of their own bodies; very little changes except what is necessary to walk on two legs instead of four, and their forepaws' digits do lengthen into primitive but functional hands. Even when walking on their hind legs, they do not stand completely upright - their spines remained curved and at an angle, rather than strictly vertical. Most alkers spend more time as quadrupeds than as bipeds, but there is no pain in shapechanging nor any time limit in either body. Alkers tend to have excellent senses - primarily scent and sight, but their hearing is far from poor.
Coloration: Determined by race. The species encompasses nearly every natural shade of fur: black, white, off-whites (ivory, pearl, eggshell-white), greys (from silver to light to bluegrey to dark), and browns (peach to tawny to dark to red-brown to yellow-brown to greybrown), as well as more stark reds (fire-red, brick-red, dark burnished red - never straying towards violet), vivid yellows (golden, pastel yellow, dark mustard yellow - never straying towards orange), and natural blues (from pale ice-blue to nearly-black dark blue) and purples (medium to dark violet and indigo) and greens (light crystal green to rich grass-green to dark dull pine green), none of which are neon. Eyes can be any of the above colors, barring white; claws tend to range in the greyscale spectrum, from translucent to white to ivory to grey to black. Markings range the gamut from stripes of varying shapes and density and spots of any size (from dots to patches) to shading (dark-to-light going towards the underside) and points (darker/lighter face, paws, tailtip), and some are flecked/tipped (individual hairs a different color at the tip of the strand than the rest of the shaft). Some alkers combine different markings, and some have none; again, it depends on race.
Clothing & Adornments: Very, very few alkers ever wear clothing or adorn themselves with jewelry or other decorations. Only a handful of alkers have learned to skin animals and tan the hides to make clothing, and that knowledge was quickly transmuted into the crafting of sturdy leather armor. Despite the rarity of clothing, those alkers who do craft it ensure that it will stretch to fit both quadrupedal and bipedal bodies without tearing or slipping off; likewise, weapons-belts (often wrapped around the waist or a haunch/thigh) will fit both bodies without an adjustment needed.
Movement & Battle: Although general speed and running endurance will be determined by race, most alkers are quite swift when they're moving on all fours, and most can match Panthera in speed as bipeds. The fastest alkers are the sand and field alkers, topping out at around 50-55 mph in a sprint, while even the slowest of alkers (lake and tree alkers) can manage up to 35-40 mph in brief bursts of speed. Alkers rarely run on their hind legs unless they must, preferring to fall onto all fours within a few strides and changing shapes to their quadrupedal bodies while running; however, like Panthera, alkers can run on all fours even while in their bipedal bodies. In battle and the hunt, alkers rely on their claws and teeth to tear opponents and prey apart; their tails are strong and flexible enough to wrap around limbs and drag animals around, as well. Some alkers are familiar with the use of blade weapons, though these are wielded exclusively in their bipedal forms, but most alkers prefer to fight as quadrupeds. Different races have different techniques in combat and hunting, maximizing their individual strengths and downplaying their weaknesses. (For example, rock alkers will use their bulk to knock opponents off balance and to the ground; the lighter sand alkers will use their speed to dart in and strike at unguarded points, without grappling.)
Rock Alker: Rock alkers stand 4.5-5.5' tall at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 6.5-7.5' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 800-1200 lbs. They can generally run up to 45 mph in a sprint. They have shaggy, dense, layered fur of a coarse and thick texture; they have powerfully muscular builds and are generally strength-oriented. Most rock alkers are dark in coloration, ranging from black to dark grey to medium-to-dark browns; they typically lack distinct markings, but many are shaded (lighter on the undersides) or have darker/lighter points, while some have a few markings on their faces. Rock alkers are most commonly one solid color, usually a dark brown. Their eyes tend to be green, gold, or brown, while their claws are nearly always black. They prefer living in or near mountains, rocky outcroppings, or caverns and cave networks.
Sand Alker: Sand alkers stand 3.5-4' tall at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 5.5-6' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 175-225 lbs. They can run up to 50 mph in a sprint. They have thin, sleek, glossy fur of a smooth but not soft texture; their builds are very long-legged, lean, and streamlined, generally speed-oriented. Most sand alkers are medium-to-light in coloration, ranging from bright yellows to sandy browns to vivid (but not dark) reds; nearly all of them have small dark markings, usually spots or rosettes. These markings are usually densely spread out over their entire bodies, occasionally not on the undersides, and occasionally are so numerous that they blur together in amorphous patches; markings are often black but can be dark browns and reds. Their eyes tend to be blue, green, or yellow, while their claws are often black. Sand alkers prefer to live along shores, in deserts, or in scrubland - anywhere with coarse dirt or sandy terrain. They're extremely deft at maneuvering at high speeds in even treacherous sand dunes.
Snow Alker: The biggest race, snow alkers stand at 5-6' at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 7-8' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 1200-1500 lbs. They can run up to 45 mph in a sprint. They have long, shaggy, layered fur of a coarse and dense texture; their builds are long-legged, muscular, and long-bodied. Nearly all snow alkers are very pale in coloration, white or ivory or pale grey; many have darker markings, usually stripes or streaks, and some have tipping in silver or medium grey. Snow alkers are most commonly a solid color, but black and medium-to-dark grey markings are not uncommon. Their eyes are often yellow, grey, blue, or green, while their claws are usually white or translucent. Snow alkers live in cold climes, often arctic tundra or other constantly-cold areas, and are quite good at moving in deep snow and on sheer ice.
Jungle Alker: Jungle alkers stand 4.5-5' tall at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 6.5-7' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 500-650 lbs. They can run up to 50 mph in a sprint. They have sleek, glossy, short fur of a surprisingly soft texture; their builds are long-bodied and supple. Jungle alkers vary greatly in coloration and markings, having literally any possible kind of marking (see Coloration above for types) but almost never being solid-colored. Their fur ranges widely in hue, including browns, greens, black, reds, and even occasionally violet; markings can be any of those colors, or a lighter/darker shade of their fur's base hue. They eyes are often colorful, ranging in the blue-green-purple-red spectrum, rarely brown or yellow or grey, and their claws are usually black. Jungle alkers live in forests, often preferring tropical climates due to their short fur, and are well-adapted to moving through dense foliage and even into trees.
Tree Alker: Tree alkers stand 4-4.5' tall at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 6-6.5' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 350-500 lbs. They can run up to 40 mph in a sprint. They have short, thick, matte fur of a coarse and stiff texture; their builds are compact and muscular, almost short-legged and short-tailed when compared to the other races. Tree alkers are almost always brown or green in coloration, often both, and their spots or stripes are usually of a gold or red shade. Most tree alkers are a shade of brown with green in large, haphazard, amorphous patches across their entire bodies (or green with brown patches); any other markings they may have are often small and sparse, overlying both base colors. Their eyes are usually yellow, green, or brown, and their claws are often medium-to-dark grey. Tree alkers are completely arboreal, moving across and hunting from and sleeping in the trees, and so they live only in dense forests with trees large enough to easily support them. Tree alkers are quite hardy and can tolerate a wide range of climates, from tropical to seasonally cold; they are slow on the ground and hate open spaces, but they can run nearly as fast through the canopy as they can on flat terrain.
Field Alker: Field alkers stand 5-5.5' tall at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 7-7.5' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 500-600 lbs. They can run up to 55 mph in a sprint. They have short, thin, smooth fur of a sleek texture; their builds are extremely lean, long-legged, and streamlined (much like larger versions of sand alkers, really). Field alkers are often light in coloration, pale greens or light browns or medium-to-light greys; many are solid-colored, but others have brown or red (or occasionally even gold) vertical striping along their bodies. Their eyes tend to be very dark, black or dark brown or dark green or dark red, and their claw color ranges the spectrum from pale grey down to black. Field alkers are extremely fast and prefer open, level ground - savannas, plainslands, fields, even large meadows within forests - and tend towards temperate to warm climes.
Lake Alker: Lake alkers stand 3-4' tall at the shoulder as quadrupeds, 5-6' tall as bipeds, and weigh between 175-250 lbs. They can run up to 35 mph in a sprint, but they can swim nearly as fast if not going against a current. They have sleek, water-resistant, short fur of a glossy and smooth texture; their builds are short-legged, long-bodied, and sinuous. Lake alkers are predictably water-colored, usually blue, but many are violet, green, or grey; few bear any sort of markings other than darker/lighter points or silver/grey tipping. Many lake alkers have mottled colorations, often mixing in greyed shades of their base color, especially along their spines and flanks; this pattern mimics the dappled look of sunlight through water. Their eyes are almost always blue or green, though yellow and grey are not unknown, and their claws are usually a medium grey. Lake alkers live near bodies of water - both lakes and ponds as well as rivers and marshes - and are extremely skillful swimmers. They prefer temperate to warm climates, since it's rather difficult to swim and fish in ice, and spend large parts of their day in the water.
Social Groups: Alkers live in packs, the size of which is largely determined by local population, abundance of resources, competition in the hunt, and racial inclination. [Note: In order from smallest to largest packs, if all other factors are equal: tree alkers (as few as 3-4 individuals), jungle alkers, rock alkers, sand alkers, snow alkers, field alkers, lake alkers (as many as 100+ individuals).] Packs are led by one alker of either gender; the pack leader is respected and trusted, but not venerated or hailed as infallible - it is acknowledged as one of them and obeyed so long as its leadership is beneficial for the pack. Other than the pack leader, all alkers are equal in the pack, regardless of ability, age, and gender. Despite the relative anarchy of the alkerian pack structure, the social atmosphere is generally laid-back and quiet. If there is dissent in a pack, the pack leader will call for a vote and will generally allow the majority to choose the course of action, though large packs have split into two smaller packs through similar courses of action, especially when there is no clear majority. Alker packs often fight with each other, usually over territory (especially if it involves a food source), but will also combine packs and territories if their numbers get too low or if there is an outside threat. Within a pack, there usually aren't any specific 'social circles' or whatnot; each alker has its own strengths and duties and hobbies, and it does those with little loyalty to any contrived group of peers.
Daily Life: Daily life in nearly all alker packs is quite simplistic. Every alker acts as a provider for the pack, whether it be in hunting, fishing, scavenging, or even finding and collecting eggs. Although most adult alkers take care of their own needs on a day-to-day basis (food, water, rest), they do make sure to tend those who need it - the elderly and the young, as well as any sick, wounded, or heavily pregnant packmates. All alkers are capable of bringing fresh food to the non-hunters, and some alker packs will even go so far as to construct water-proof hide bags or craft makeshift buckets to bring water back to those who cannot walk to the nearest stream or pond. Few alkers spend their time working with tools, but those who do dedicate long hours each day to their chosen craft, be it blade-making (stone or bone blades; they aren't metalworkers) or leatherworking. Except for the necessary hunting, and the occasional battles against enemies, alkers are generally free to spend their days as they choose.
Technology: Alkers have no real technology. Even the very few packs who have blademakers are not metalworkers; their weaponry is made of bone and stone, only moderately sharp and often brittle unless a wide, heavy, short blade. For this very reason, alkers prefer small knives (usually for skinning) or machete-like blades - 3-4" wide, 1-2' long, and often up to an inch thick on the blunt side. Alkerian leatherworkers craft armor of varying weight and stiffness to both protect the body without hampering movement and also to snugly fit both bipedal and quadrupedal forms without needing adjustments. Though alkerian armor is plain, simplistic, and somewhat crude, it is quite effective against most opponents and competing predators.
Magic: Traditionally, alkers use no magic. Those who claim to commune with elemental spirits, hear music that no one else can hear, or feel the flow of magical energy around them have usually been derided as mad or delusional. However, the newly-formed Bladeheart pack, comprised entirely of rock alkers, has changed this attitude. Guide, the leader of the Bladehearts, has encouraged her alkers to investigate these strange callings and develop them into worthwhile skills, so now the Bladehearts are discovering what talents they possess for the perception and manipulation of magical energy. Alkers draw on the life-force in all living things (much like Panthera lifewalkers), as well as ask the elemental spirits for power (much like Lupos shamans); they do not venerate gods nor ancestors, and they do not truck with arcane magic. Alker healers, using the transfer concept of magic, are not easily tired or burnt out by extensive or prolonged magic-use; however, alker mages receive their power from elemental spirits, and they burn out very quickly, despite having immense bursts of power. Alker mages also often risk their own health and even lives in handling dangerously large amounts of magical energy.
Religion: Alkers have no religion and no gods. They do not have an afterlife, though they do honor the remains of a fallen comrade by eating it - this lets the dead provide one last service to its closest packmates and family, and allows those closest to the deceased to take in some part of the dead's essence. These 'feasts of the dead' are limited to two to five alkers, and it is a very private affair; it's also considered dangerous for only one alker to honor a dead one's body in such a fashion, as the deceased's spirit may be too strong for the living alker to handle. There are conflicting views on what happens to the spirit after one dies; some think that it stays in the physical body, later to integrate with whomever eats it, and others believe that it is freed from its corpse by the act of being eaten, thus released to rest in peace. Alkers do acknowledge that living things have a spirit which animates the body, and they also consider the elements to have their own spirits as well - sometimes archetypally (the spirit of fire) or specifically (the spirit of this particular ember or torch-flame).
Reproduction & Parenting: Alkers tend to be quite casual about mating, although it is never regarded as trivial or unimportant. Few alkers mate for life, and those who do find such a long-term partner will often still breed with other alkers; mates are chosen by physical compatability, both in mutual attraction and in what genes will combine to produce the best pups. Though a mating pair will trust and like each other, a sense of commitment and exclusivity is distinctly lacking from the coupling. Most alker pups are raised communally, though their parents will often take a leading role until they are at least out of toddler stage (a year old); on occasion, a pair of lifemates will raise their own children exclusively, but this is generally frowned upon as narrow-minded by the rest of the pack. Gestation is four to five months, depending on race, and most alker litters are one to five pups, typically two or three. (Lake and field alkers can have up to eight pups.) Pups are born fairly well-developed, their eyes opening in a day or two; they walk within the first week. They're weaned within half a year, considered open to communal raising by a year, and enter adolescence at five years; they're adults at seven or eight years, and most alkers will live past fifty, with some nearing seventy before they die.
Please note that this section only applies to the rock alkers of the Bladeheart pack. No other alker pack has specialized into paths. Also note that, due to the newness of these developing paths, they do not have branches or specializations, unlike the paths of the Lupos, Avans, Panthera, and humans. Similarly due to the newness, all alkers are still very competent at physical, unarmed, unarmored combat.
Guard: By far, the most common alkers are guards, the warriors - they comprise nearly three-quarters of the Bladehearts. They wear the heaviest (thick, layered, and stiffened) leather armor and are trained to wield blades, most of which are machete-like but some of which can be short swords or small war axes. Guards are usually the largest and strongest alkers, well-enduring but slowest of their packmates. They rely on their size, strength, and high pain tolerance in combat.
Fey: Fey alkers are those who commune with elemental spirits - they are alkerian mages. They wear light leather armor to preserve their mobility and flexibility, as well as to keep their speed unhampered; it's usually just enough to protect them from glancing blows and light strikes. They need their fleetness and agility to help them get to the very middle of the enemy, where they can do the most damage before they're exhausted by their own unrestrained magic use. They are often still considered somewhat delusional by their comrades, despite the obvious success they have in communing with the elemental spirits that no one else can sense or hear. Fey alkers are often smaller and faster than their packmates (though not always as much so as morphs), and they have an extremely high pain tolerance, seemingly in exchange for their low endurance while using magic. (While not actively using magic, their endurance is decent.) Like Lupos shamans, fey alkers pray to elemental spirits (not gods, not ancestors) to lend them magical power to use. Most of this magic is used in an aggressive fashion, suitable for the battlefield but little else; feys can unleash a terrific amount of power on one or more enemies nearby, hence their tactic of putting themselves in the middle of the enemy before truly beginning to fight. All of their magic is elemental in nature, never arcane or healing; they do not transfer magical energy from its source to a recipient, but rather take the magical energy that the spirits place into them and push it outwards at a target. This can manifest in various ways, such as fire magic ranging from a blinding light to searing heat to an actual stream of flame. Fey alkers have little control over their magic and so do not use it when not on the battlefield; their non-combat magical uses are limited to sensing elements around them.
Morph: Alker morphs, like fey alkers, tend to be smaller and faster than their most of packmates, even many of the feys themselves. They also wear light armor for much the same quickness and agility that fey alkers do, though their reasoning is different - rather than trying to seed themselves deep into enemy ranks, they need to be able to move swiftly through a fight to the side of a wounded or fallen packmate in order to heal them. Like Panthera lifewalkers, alker morphs heal by transferring the energy of the wound from the victim to another recipient, like a tree or an enemy; they can also swap pieces of life-force between people to greatly dilute pain and physical damage. (This is the source of their name.) Morphs are purely magical in technique; they do not know any kind of first aid beyond setting a bone and putting pressure on a bleeding wound. Because of this, alker morphs can steal pieces of life-force from enemies, weakening and disorienting them. (Theory goes that, as their proficiency increases, they'll be able to be as dangerous as Panthera deathwalkers, if any of them learn to specialize in sucking the life out of victims. There are also new indications that, as they grow in power, they'll be able to physically transform a creature or person simply by exchanging enough of its self-energy with something else. However, at the moment, morphs are quite focused on keeping their packmates alive with healing magic.) Like fey alkers, morphs usually don't use weaponry.
Bard: While alkers do not currently have any kind of animal companion, alkerian bards are similar to Lupos rangers and Panthera beastwalkers in essence. They work to understand and preserve the natural balance of the wilderness, living without disrupting the cycles. Whereas fey alkers commune with elemental spirits, bards communicate with the animals and even plants around them. Usually smaller than guards, but larger than feys and morphs, bards wear medium leather armor and occasionally bear a machete-style weapon. In physical combat, they strike a balance between strength and agility, speed and endurance. Bards have a natural knack for language and a strong inclination towards music of some kind, be it vocal or wordless, percussive or melodic. Many bards have learned to use music - often simply chanted verses or sung tunes - to affect the physical fortitude and emotional morale of themselves and those around them, both allies and enemies. Some bards claim to be able to hear music that no one else can; it apparently changes to reflect the situation and their surroundings, so some bards have begun to use it to almost predict how an encounter or event will proceed. Despite their linguistic and musical skills, bards are still primarily physical in combat.