Height: 5-7' (5-5.5', 5.5-6.5', 6-7')
Weight: 100-275 lbs (100-130 lbs, 140-225 lbs, 200-275 lbs)
Physical Description: Panthera are short-furred, bipedal felines. Though they have a variety of ethnic builds and colorations, only their height and stockiness varies greatly among different tribes and bloodlines. Their faces are very cougar-like, with medium-short, rounded muzzles and almond-shaped eyes; their ears are rounded, and they have natural ruffs or manes that begin between the ears, encompass the back of the head and neck, and taper off along the spine between the shoulder-blades. Most Panthera find the mane to be inconvenient and keep it cropped short with claw or blade, especially along the lower neck and shoulders (for ease of wearing clothing and armor), but those who don't engage in physical combat and exertion will occasionally keep it long. Though their shoulders are capable of a similar range of movement as a human's, they are not broad-shouldered or square as humans are; rather, they have sloped shoulders with arms that are capable of supporting their weight in a four-legged run. For this, their arms seem long and their legs usually held bent, so that, if necessary, they can drop to all fours easily. Their hands are five-fingered, human-like but for having shorter and thicker fingers that are tipped in retractable, hooking claws; these claws are quite sharp and grow back very quickly if broken. Panthera hands have callused pads on their fingertips and palms, much like a cat's paw. Their torsos are somewhat humanoid, with the females sporting small breasts that are only awkwardly large (ie, human-sized) when pregnant or nursing. Lower female genitalia is nigh-invisible beneath the soft pelt, while male genitalia is visible as a sheath and nothing more. Neither gender has a flat chest, instead having a slightly angled chest reminiscent of a quadrupedal animal. Their waists are narrower than their chests but, even in females, do not flare out to wide hips - instead, Panthera have lean hips and muscular haunches that lead into powerful digitigrade legs. Their feet are paws, four-toed and callus-padded, with unretractable claws that are thick, heavy, and semi-blunt that serve as traction when running. They have long, thick tails that help to balance them; some Panthera have a tailtuft, but most do not. Panthera fur is short, sleek, and can be very soft or somewhat coarse, depending on the ethnicity.
Coloration: Panthera are naturally-colored with a wide variety of markings. Their fur comes in black, white, off-whites (ivory, pearl, eggshell-white), greys (from silver to light to bluegrey to dark), and browns (gold to tawny to dark to red-brown to yellow-brown to greybrown). Types of markings include points (hands, paws, tailtip, muzzle, and ears are a different color than the rest), shading (lighter underside/face and/or a darker head/face/back), stripes (in any length, density, and thickness), spots (in any size, shape, and density, from tiny speckles to large patches), and rosettes (hollow spots of medium to small size - may be "closed" circle, like a donut, or a semi-circle). Marking types can be mixed occasionally or only appear on certain places, such as striped limbs and tail but a solidly-colored body and face. Very few Panthera are one solid color, and those few tend to be melanistic, but often with some subtle marking - usually stripes or rosettes - visible within the black. Panthera that are brown tend to have markings, whereas grey, white, and black Panthera often only have shading or very few markings. Most markings are black, though some are simply a darker shade of the innate fur color and others are white or off-white. Panthera who have dark fur and lighter markings (other than shading or points) are sometimes regarded with superstition. Pantheran eyes tend to be gold, though brown is also very common, and green and blue are not very rare. Their hand-claws are off-white if their fur color is light and their pawpads/nose are pink; they usually have black hand-claws if their fur is medium or dark and their pawpads/nose are black. Some Panthera will have hand-claws of both colors, if they are heavily marked with light and dark colors. The heavier claws on the paws are almost always black, except in very pale or albino Panthera.
Clothing & Adornments: Panthera wear hides and leather almost exclusively, though not all wear clothing regularly. Since the females do not have heavy breasts when not nursing and the male genitalia is largely internal, clothing is not strictly required for modesty or support. Most Panthera wear at least a loincloth - a strip of hide around their hips, like a belt, and then two longer flaps of hide on the front and the back, the latter with a slit for their tail. Full clothing often consists of a slit kilt (a knee-length kilt/skirt with several slits up to the hips for movement) or loose leggings with a belt, as well as a sleeveless, open vest or a long, loose tunic. Armor fits more closely but is not commonly worn when not hunting or on guard duty or out in dangerous terrain. Panthera also wear painted or dyed bands made of leather around their arms, legs, tails, and sometimes necks. Small bones, teeth, or claws strung on leather cords often dangle from manes or necks, sometimes in such a number that they rattle when the Panthera moves. Certain rocks are prized and hollowed out to string onto cords, usually given as rewards or used in magical talismans - the two most valued rocks are an opalescent teal rock, often found in rivers, and a blood-red gem usually found in caves. Other adornments include ears, tails, feathers, and scales or snakeskins. Most hunting Panthera have no more than a single tooth or claw that is blessed by an elder, but that same elder might be bedecked in many strings of bones, feathers, and painted bands. Panthera who have chosen a path will always have a leather cord with ivory or bone beads on it; each bead indicates a level on their path, and ten beads indicates a master.
Movement & Battle: Panthera move like the wild animals that they call brothers. Capable of running up to 30-32 mph on all fours, they can also run quite swiftly on just their hind legs (up to 25 mph). They are not prone to running for long periods of time; instead, they will dash forward to a place of shelter or a high place on which to perch, and then pause, watching around them, before dashing forward again. Only if pursuing or pursued will they run on all fours in any sort of straight line without stopping. In battle, they use their size to their advantage - if small and light, they dodge and leap about, and if large and muscular, they wield their bulk to overpower. They are, largely, hand-combatants: if unarmed, they use their clawed hands first to bleed their opponents, preferably in vulnerable areas like the face, throat, or stomach, or to sever vital tendons and sinews, especially the hamstrings. Smaller Panthera do not like to grapple or wrestle, but if pressed, they will use the heavier claws on their footpaws to gouge at the stomach or legs of their attacker; larger Panthera welcome the chance to crush their opponent's chest with their arms alone. Teeth are only used if the attacker is not wearing armor and if there is little or no chance of exposing the Panthera's throat when it goes in to bite at the neck or arms of the enemy. Whether large or small, Panthera do not stay still in battle, preferring to dart around and circle often. If pressed, they will flee; if wounded and unable to outrun their opponent, they will attempt to blind or hamstring their enemy, and then escape.
Social Groups: Panthera band together in tribes. All but the Walker and Hunter tribes are nomadic, wandering a certain area or following a certain large herd of herbivores in order to sustain a source of food. Tribes are fed by the beastwalkers, who often have animal companions, and protected by the bloodwalkers; lifewalkers mix magic and first aid to tend the wounded and ill, while the spiritwalkers lead the tribe as the elders and elders-in-training. Some few tribes are led by bloodwalkers or beastwalkers, but spiritwalkers are still kept close as advisers and the wise ones. Some tribes are extremely primitive, having no tools or clothing and only a very basic form of vocal and physical communication, whereas other tribes become quite sophisticated in using the resources around them to produce shelter, clothing, medicine, and weaponry. The Walker tribe is the only tribe that settled in one set area and built permanent residence on a land; the Hunter tribe that grew as a splinter tribe is also stationary. Other fairly large and advanced tribes include the Fisher (nomadic along a series of rivers in a delta), Bleeder (follows a large herd of ungulates and tends to bleed prey to death), and Planter (very flora-oriented and ecological) tribes. Tribes do not often fight, having as they do very different areas in which to roam, and if two tribes were to meet, they would likely part in wary peace. Bloodlines are often mixed as youths strike out on their own or small hunting parties become estranged and picked up by other tribes. Inbreeding does not seem to be a cause of damage to the health or mental intelligence of Panthera even in the more remote tribes.
Ethnicities: Traditionally, there are two ethnic builds of Panthera - nomad and warrior. (There are also variants within these types.) Nomadic Panthera are thin, compact, wiry, and very light, using their speed and agility; warrior Panthera are tall, muscular, heavy, and powerful, using their strength and bulk. Warrior Panthera tend to follow herds of ungulates that move slowly and require great strength to kill; nomadic Panthera tend to be fishers, bird-hunters, or nomads that pick off smaller wildlife, such as wild pigs, rabbits, and small deer. With the capture and enslavement of the Walker tribe, a middle ground has been created that meshes these two extremes into a well-rounded build that is both strong and fast. The Walkers are the only tribe to have this sort of crossover in great numbers, though other tribes usually have a few hybrids of the same sort. There are ethnicities as seen in fur coloration and markings, as well - most distinct and longest-lasting is a black-pointed tawny variety of small Panthera who are arboreal more often than not. Other ethnicities include a black-pointed dark-red-brown variety of warrior (and sometimes hybrid) Panthera, a white-shaded steel-grey maned variety of warrior Panthera, and a partially-red-spotted yellow-brown variety of nomadic Panthera. The Walkers were originally maned, tawny, and small, though sufficient breeding with other stray captives increased their ethnic variety.
Daily Life: The day-to-day life of Panthera varies greatly between tribes, and even within a particular tribe. Cubs are tended and guarded by their parents and immediate family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, older siblings) and taught by the elders (rarely bloodkin). When old enough - normally in early to middle adolescence, depending on the individual - the youth is guided to pick one of the four lifepaths - fighting, spirits, hunting, and healing. The specifics of these paths vary immensely from tribe to tribe - for example, some tribes consider hunting to be solely done in another skin, whereas other tribes don't ever shapeshift; some tribes consider healing to be purely magical work, while others only use herbs and bandages and salves. Once the youth chooses its path, it's trained for a number of years - normally into young adulthood. The youth does not have to reach mastery of its path - it can stop whenever it likes, so long as it has proven that it will be a useful and productive member of the tribe in some way. Those who reach mastery normally become lesser leaders and eventually elders of their paths, training the next generations. Some nomadic Panthera can specialize in things like woodworking and leatherworking and butchery. In the Walker and Hunter tribes, young Panthera have a much wider array of choices, including metalworking, weaponsmithing, armorsmithing, leatherworking, tailoring, woodworking, herbalism/foraging, and messenger, as well as the traditional hunter, guard, healer, and adviser positions. In the process of training young Walkers in one of the four paths, they are often sent to do certain tasks or assigned certain responsibilities for a time to ease the burden on older Panthera, as well as to help hone various skills.
Technology: Panthera have no real technology beyond stonework and woodwork in the nomadic tribes. The Walker and Hunter tribes are decent metalworkers, using copper and steel for weaponry and other tools; all tribes know leatherworking to some extent. For nomadic Panthera, the standard is skinning and tanning a hide, using the bones and teeth/claws/antlers/hooves for weaponry or tools, and crafting spears, knives, and/or bows and arrows out of wood. For the Walkers, they have metal and ceramic pottery to cook with, metal and wooden weaponry, good bows and arrows and spears (bone- or metal-tipped), and very good leather armor and tents.
Magic: Pantheran magic is drawn from living things - the changing of skins from Panthera to animal, the properties of certain plants and flowers, and the elemental forces that exist in the natural world. Pantheran lifewalkers can give the life of another living thing to a wounded individual, or take the spirit of the wound or disease from a sick person and implant it into a tree or another creature that will heal from it more easily. Other healers transfer a particular curative attribute from an herb into an injured person. Pantheran spiritwalkers work with the elements, often fire and air, to find guidance, wisdom, and - sometimes - protection and power. Some Walker spiritwalkers have learned from the Lupos how to draw on their ancestors' power. Some Pantheran beastwalkers use the forms of other creatures to travel and to hunt, to provide for their tribes, since their weaponry is normally very primitive and ineffective against many types of prey that are too thick-skinned or too fast. The beastwalkers normally form a spiritual bond with the creature whose skin they wish to mimic, and most hunters can assume more than one form, or lose old forms to gain new forms over time. "Arcane" magic, or magic with no living source, is an alien concept to Panthera. Some few beastwalkers or spiritwalkers can assume the form of a tree or other plant of approximate size, but these are rare and considered less useful than those who can change skins to strong predators.
Religion: All tribes of Panthera share the same religion, which might seem unusual or surprising, given their other discrepencies and variances. Panthera view all living things as equals - trees, animals, fish, birds, and sentients like themselves. Certain inanimate objects like stones, gems/crystals, soil, water, air, bone, and fire are also revered as being the parts that come together to make or support life. Panthera view it as their duty, their responsibility, to protect the balance of life as best they can - some tend to the trees, others to the waters and fish, and others to the balance between predator and prey. They don't value themselves or other sentients as "more important" than any other life, but they understand that all things have a right to live, and they do kill to eat, and they will kill what threatens them or their tribesmen. Although they try to maintain a healthy balance in the lives around them, they will fight to stay alive. The only god of the Panthera is called Hunter, a genderless, faceless god that is the very epitome of the hunt, the constant struggle between predator and prey. Not many Panthera pray to Hunter other than the beastwalkers, who consider themselves the Hunter's chosen; what prayers come are for successful hunts and abundance of prey. Hunter is never manifested, seen, or heard to answer Its supplicants, and those who pray don't expect any sort of miraculous sign. There are some stories of dead Panthera meeting Hunter in the otherworld and being sent back to the living realm, but these are merely rumors, legends, myths. Hunter is sometimes regarded with bitterness or resentment when hunts fail or starvation sets in - It is not a well-loved god, but It is considered as real as anything that can be physically seen.
Reproduction & Parenting: Panthera do not always mate for life, though it is a choice in the more advanced tribes, including the Hunter and Walker tribes. In some tribes, couplings are arranged to produce the best children - the elders pair a strong and skilled male with a female who is also strong and intelligent. In other tribes, males court females and may have two or three mates, not necessarily lifelong mates. In yet other tribes, one male and one female come together only to produce one 'litter', raise the cub(s) to a certain point, turn the cub(s) over to the elders, and then part peacefully. Those of the Hunter tribe rarely mate for life, instead coupling with their current interest, weaning the cub, and passing it off to the elders to finish raising; Walkers often mate for life and do not breed young, usually personally raising their cubs to adulthood or at least to adolescence. Mating in nomadic tribes and the Hunter tribe is considered a necessity and a biological, rather than emotional, process; only some tribes attach emotional and/or spiritual significance to the act of coupling and parenting. In the Walker tribe, choosing a mate (even if not a lifemate) and raising cubs is honored and emphasized as an emotional commitment. Gestation is 7.5 months and a mother can bear up to three young, though two is by far the most common and one is more common than three. When three cubs are born, one or two are often stillborn or unusually small; mother deaths during birth is largely dependent on the mother's health, the environment (temperature, etc), and the number of cubs being born. Nomad-built Panthera usually have one to two cubs, while warrior-built Panthera often have two or three; small mothers are more likely to die in birth, especially if they bear three cubs. Cubs are born small but furred, with eyes unopened, and the mother does nothing but tend them until they are weaned, normally at one year of age. Panthera are grown quickly, becoming adolescents at seven years and considered adults at eleven. When around eight or nine years, they are urged to choose one of the four paths. Most Panthera begin seeking a mate and/or breeding around twelve years of age, though the average age for Walkers is fourteen or fifteen.
Bloodwalker: Nomadic tribes arm their warriors with wooden spears with stone or bone blades on both ends, with other warriors armed with throwable wooden-and-bone knives or with crude longbows and stone-tipped arrows. They wear layers of leather as armor, covering all but their eyes, hands, paws, and tails. They are trained to be strong, absorb blows, ignore pain, and block any foes - be they sentient or otherwise - from getting past them to the archers or the weaker members of the tribe. Nomad-built Panthera warriors die often, so their shamans and healers are better at bringing them back; tribes that consist of mostly or all nomadic Panthera are more accustomed to fleeing from real threats than fighting, so their warriors are there to simply stall the danger while the rest escape. Walker and Hunter warriors, called bloodwalkers, have harsh and thorough training to increase their pain tolerance, their strength and endurance, and to build their loyalty, protectiveness of others, and rage at being confronted with a challenge or a threat. Bloodwalkers can specialize in one of three styles, and many take a second style as an auxiliary skill. The styles are martial bloodwalker (unarmed and armored in leather, using only the physical body as a weapon), arms bloodwalker (dual-wielding daggers or small swords or fist weapons, armored in leather, fast and lethal), and shield bloodwalker (armored in mail, wielding a two-handed sword, axe, or occasionally mace, but also bearing a shield). Shield bloodwalkers are the first line of defense, usually the biggest Panthera, whose purpose is to survive and keep holding the enemy back. Martial bloodwalkers are the second line of defense, also trained to hold the enemy back, very capable of dodging and parrying various attacks - even when the opponent is armored and armed - so that the enemy cannot pass. Arms bloodwalkers mingle with those two, finishing off wounded opponents or taking on especially dangerous individuals one-on-one so that the lines of defense are not broken. Arms bloodwalkers are often considered the "elite" bloodwalkers, but they cannot hold the enemy back easily, nor can they battle large groups like the other two styles can.
Spiritwalker: Nomadic shamans use the elements to enhance their senses and guide them through the lands, so that they may guide their tribes safely. Usually scouts, elders, and leaders, shamans can summon manifestations of the elements - a flame in the palm, a wind from a good direction, water from below the earth - in order to find and share wisdom. Some shamans are capable of using their elemental control if pressed in a fight, sucking their enemy into the earth or lighting the air in their opponent's lungs on fire. Those few shamans who are combat-capable are greatly revered within their own tribe and feared by all others, as such magic is rare for nomadic tribes. Walker and Hunter shamans, called spiritwalkers, mix the traditional elemental form of magic with the teachings of the Lupos shamans, who work with ancestral spirits and the Lupos gods. Spiritwalker training encompasses communion with the Lupos gods, the elements, and the ancestors, as well as manipulation of elemental powers and abilities normally attributed to only the dead or the incorporeal, including involuntary transformation of someone other than the caster. Much like bloodwalkers, spiritwalkers have three styles within their path; they usually specialize in one alone, but are allowed to take a second as a minor focus. The styles are elemental spiritwalker (like traditional Panthera shamans, working solely with elements to gain guidance and to participate in combat with raw power), primal spiritwalker (those rare few who follow Hunter very closely, they enhance the senses and physical abilities of themselves and others, often driving towards a battle-frenzy), and ghost spiritwalker (those who follow the Lupos gods, commune with the ancestors, raise the dead, and transform or weaken enemies). Elemental and ghost spiritwalkers are often the leaders, with elemental spiritwalkers also functioning as scouts and messengers, since they can tell the lay of the land and what walks upon it. Primal spiritwalkers are few in number but well-respected, often feared, for the Hunter's power lies in their hands, and they can use it with devastating effectiveness; they are often sent to guide and aid the bloodwalkers in battle. Ghost spiritwalkers can, sometimes, transform themselves into a visible but intangible spirit-form in order to travel more easily in hostile territory - they can neither strike nor be struck while transformed. Because Walkers and Hunters are no longer nomadic, spiritwalkers have shifted focus from guiding their tribes through evolving landscapes to building a peaceful and productive community within their territories, training the youths in various professions and in the spiritwalking path, and for some, battle has become their main focus.
Lifewalker: Nomadic healers are of two sorts: herbal and magical. Herbal healers use the properties of various plants, herbs, flowers, and roots to heal and ward wounds and to prevent sickness; they often supplement their work with talismans from the tribe's shamans. Herbal healers can bind a wound with cloth, some can stitch flesh closed, and they can all set broken bones. Magical healers do not often bother with herbs or sutures; at most, they will bind a bleeding wound with cloth before they heal it. Magical healers heal by transferring a measure of health, or the full measure of a life, from an uninjured creature or tree into the wounded individual; they do not have to touch or be close to the individual, but they can't be miles away, either. If the individual is very badly hurt, this transfer of spiritual health may disorient what healthy spirit remains, and the individual may act like whatever its health-donor was - hence many healers using trees, as trees can heal easily and do not have violent instincts to fear. Magical healers can only approximate how much life is needed in the transfer, and often they will simply transfer the spirit of the wound or illness from the hurt individual to a healthy tree or a nearby enemy. That allows the individual's spirit to rest and not have to integrate a new piece of spirit into itself, as with the other transfer method. In many tribes, magical healers are supplemented by herbal healers, so that magical healers only deal with life-threatening wounds and those who are not badly hurt do not lose a piece of their spirit. Walker and Hunter healers, called lifewalkers, are solely magical healers. Unlike in other tribes, their skills at transferring health into and sickness out of wounded individuals is highly honed, and they do not need herbal healers to make the finer adjustments to health. As before, there are three varieties of lifewalker: the traditional lifewalker, who heals by embuing with life and who cures by dispelling sickness into another living thing that can heal itself; the deathwalker, who engages in combat by transferring wounds from its comrades or itself onto the enemy, and by sucking life-force away from the enemy directly (not always to heal); and a hybrid of these, the grey lifewalker, who is capable of healing and also of leeching life from the enemy, but only to small extends, so that it more enhances and slowly regenerates life for its comrades, and weakens and withers the enemy so that its comrades can more easily kill their opponents. Deathwalkers in the Walker tribe are rare, but there are quite a few who are Hunters; they tend to be feared, sometimes shunned or reviled, but they are often unmatched when it comes to battles with long odds, for deathwalkers can heal themselves by killing others. All the same, no lifewalker bears a weapon more potent than a staff, and they wear only cloth; they are not meant for melee combat, and physically they can be quite weak, since almost all of their training involves spiritual focus and the ability to sense and manipulate life-force. Grey lifewalkers are also few in number, being seen as less useful than a "white" lifewalker but more acceptable than deathwalkers; some also consider grey lifewalkers to be deathwalkers in training, though no elder or master will actively train a lifewalker to become a deathwalker. Deathwalkers cannot heal well, if at all, and when they are forced to heal a comrade in order to save it, the individual being healed often experiences great pain while the wounds are removed.
Beastwalker: Nomadic hunters are often capable of shapeshifting and/or befriending a wild animal to be their companion in the wilderness. Hunters who cannot shapeshift and who do not have an animal companion are rare; they tend to be nomad-built Panthera, rather than warrior-built, and they use almost-magical camouflage to move about undetected as they hunt with bows from the trees. Shapeshifting is not a painful process, nor does it take more than a heartbeat or two for a practiced hunter, but being able to change into a certain skin can be an involved process of bonding with the chosen animal-type and obtaining permission to use its skin. Most shapeshifting hunters have two to four skins that they can use at any given time, and most skins are not kept for very long - almost none are for life. Hunters cannot shapeshift into a beast that does not exist, nor can they alter a skin to add claws or horns or etc. The process of obtaining an animal companion is much like the process of trying to get a new skin, except the hunter is bonding with a particular animal, rather than an animal type. Animals usually stay for as long as they are healthy, which is often several years, but the hunter normally releases them when they become unfit or too old. Those nomadic hunters who can both shapeshift and acquire an animal companion normally only use their companion's skin, so that they are more alike and the animal is more likely to stay around. Walker and Hunter hunters, called beastwalkers, can both shapeshift and keep an animal companion - occasionally two animals, though they are rarely seen together. Beastwalkers have three varieties; they choose one main focus and then a second minor focus. The styles are kin beastwalker (focusing on the relationship between the animal companion and the Panthera), feral beastwalker (exploring the different skins and fighting unarmed as a Panthera), and arms beastwalker (the only mail-armored type of beastwalker, usually dual-wielding swords/daggers or using a spear or staff, as well as archery). It is rare to find a beastwalker who combines feral and arms training, if only because it is very difficult to shapeshift with metal; feral and kin beastwalkers wear leather armor. Most beastwalkers are mainly feral with a side of kin, or mainly kin with a side of arms. All beastwalkers can shapeshift into four forms: wind form (a winged animal that best fits the individual), water form (a swimming animal that also best fits the individual), kin form (the same species as the animal companion), and self-form (a unique animal-form determined by the beastwalker's training and personality). Wind and water forms are for travel only, and only feral beastwalkers ever learn to strengthen those skins enough to survive combat. Feral beastwalkers are trained to fight and move in all of their skins, including their Panthera body when it is unarmed and unarmored. Kin beastwalkers develop the bond between their animal companion(s) and themselves to such an extent that they can share wounds, life, and one can die to fully heal the other. (This is a manifestation of lifewalker abilities.) Arms beastwalkers are allowed to wear mail, although they normally have trouble shifting quickly and fluidly while armored in metal; they are trained to dual-wield smaller blades, be a very precise shot with a bow, and some specialize in wielding a staff or a spear instead of the blades. Some arms beastwalkers prefer ranged, while others will melee right alongside bloodwalkers. Beastwalkers are also expert trackers and usually the ones who bring in the food for the tribes, keeping with their original role as hunter.