The Curse of Metamor:
History | Variants | Limitations | High-Generation Effects | Administration
The Curse of Metamor was a complex, persistent magical phenomenon that grew out of the spells used by Nasoj and his lieutenants during the Battle of Three Gates. For a description of this battle and how the Curse functioned in its early years, see the Metamor Keep description on the Worlds page.
In the years after the Great Fall, Kyia devoted a great deal of time and study to uncovering the inner workings of the Curse and how it might be controlled. It had already been decided by Duke Thomas and the mages' council that the Curse should never be revoked entirely, even if such a thing became possible, because a number of people who had been cured of lethal medical conditions by the Curse's effects would then be returned to their former state, including Prince Phil of Whales and Rickkter. If the effects of the Curse were ever to be reversed, it must be done on an individual basis, without unraveling its overall structure.
After studying the Curse for the better part of a year, Kyia announced in early 709 that its power could not be broken or altered as long as Nasoj lived. The dark wizard had bound the threads of the three spells into the life-energy of his own body; without breaking that bond, any change Kyia attempted in the Curse would inevitably be undone.
The discovery put new impetus behind Metamor's attempt to bring down Nasoj. While the Keepers had made extensive incursions into the Giantdowns in 707, liberating lands as far north as Caralore and seizing the fortress of Arabarb Pass, no attempt had been made to take the cluster of larger cities that surrounded Nasoj's citadel in the Death Mountains. In 709 the campaign was renewed, as the armies of Metamor and her allies drove straight for the capital of Nasojassa and the citadel beyond.
Nasoj did indeed perish at the end of that campaign, though not by the Keepers' hands -- see History for details. The wizard's death opened the way for the Curse to be controlled by Kyia; after that, it was a matter of working out the details.
As it happened, working out those "details" would take the better part of a century. While Kyia was able to learn relatively quickly how to allow the Keepers a greater range for their shapeshifting abilities, it was not until 801 CR that she and the Keep's mages developed a way to prevent the Curse from taking hold of someone in the first place. At first this required a large and fairly heavy amulet, which was worn around the subject's neck; later, smaller and more comfortable methods of shielding against the Curse would be developed. The invention of miniaturized spelltech in the mid- to late 20th century allowed these anti-Curse charms to be made so small that they could actually be implanted under the skin, rendering them invisible and impossible to lose by accident.
Even today, the Curse has not been "cured". Those who are Cursed remain so for the rest of their lives, and not even Kyia's power can reverse the process or change the nature of one's Curse once it has taken hold. Because of this, accepting the Curse is a serious and life-changing decision, and is usually not undertaken by adults without a great deal of prior thought. For some families, however, a particular variant of the Curse has become a tradition, and parents living in Metamor often decide on the nature of their children's Curse even before they are born.
Area of Effect
The increase in global mana levels, coupled with the influx of power into the Keep at the Great Fall, as resulted in an increase in the geographical area affected by the Curse. In its early years, the Curse affected only the inhabitants of Metamor Valley. After the Great Fall, it expanded to cover the territory from Starven in the north to Midtown in the south. It has slowly increased since that time, following the cycle in global mana levels; at the present day, with mana levels at the highest they have been in 6,000 years, the Curse reaches from Caralore in the north to Ellcaran in the south. The Curse's power wanes at these outer limits, and the amount of time it requires to take effect is lengthened to around three weeks near the perimeter, but magical countermeasures (see below) are still required to keep it under control.
The Three Variants
The Curse of Metamor still comes in three broad categories, counterparts to the three spells cast at the Battle of Three Gates.
Androgynes, also called gendermorphs, teegees, or trannies, can take on the form of the opposite sex from the one they were born to. An androgyne's alter-ego has certain facial features and physical traits that resemble his/her original form, but the alter-ego is almost always highly attractive and well-endowed (in the gender-appropriate sense).
Androgynes can assume any body form from a highly exaggerated masculine or feminine physique (whichever was the opposite to their born sex) to an androgynous figure whose gender is difficult to identify. Some skillful androgynes have learned how to acheive a truly hermaphroditic form, possessing fully functional genitalia of both sexes. Kyia's modifications of the Curse have also allowed androgynes to return to their original sex, though there is a limit to how long this can be done (see Limitations).
Androgynes are the most common type of Cursed individual in Metamor City, comprising 20% of the overall population, or about 3 million people.
Theriomorphs, also called morphs, animal-morphs, fleabags or furballs, have been given the ability to transform into a particular kind of animal. The variety of animals allowed by the Curse is essentially unlimited, and can even cause the subject to become a species he or she has never heard of. It is unknown where Nasoj got the templates for this spell, but some have speculated that Klepnos himself designed it to include every form of land-dwelling beast he had ever encountered.
A theriomorph can take on a body form that completely mimics the animal in question (called fullmorph form); a humanoid form that borrows some of the animal's features, such as fur, teeth, and claws (called anthro form); or anything in between. Some particularly clever morphs have also learned how to assume a bizarre-looking tauric form, with four walking legs and a humanoid torso where the animal-form's neck would be. Kyia's modifications of the Curse have allowed theriomorphs to also assume their original human form, but there are consequences associated with this (see Limitations, below).
Theriomorphs are the second most common type of Cursed individuals encountered in Metamor City; when all animal-morph variants are combined, they total to 17% of the overall population, approximately 2.55 million people.
Pedomorphs, also called the age-regressed, ARs, or squirts, can reduce their apparent age to that of a child. Their form mimics their past appearance at any stage of their own childhood, though a pedomorph who is substantially heavier or skinnier than he or she was during childhood will take on a form consistent with his or her current body condition. Heavy musculature, however, is practically impossible to maintain in child-form; the most ARs can typically manage in this regard is a sort of wiry athleticism.
Though ARs do not age naturally after being Cursed, this does not usually lengthen their natural lifespans; instead, during the last few years of life, the AR's body withers rapidly without growing any larger, and shapeshifting becomes difficult. Pedomorphs can assume any apparent age from infancy up to the very beginning of sexual maturity, about fourteen years of age. Kyia's modifications of the Curse have also allowed ARs to also return to older apparent ages, up to and including the age at which they were Cursed; however, this has consequences (see Limitations).
This is generally considered the most debilitating form of the Curse, and pedomorphs have become very rare since the Curse was brought under control. Those who request it are usually members of long family lineages descended from particularly heroic ARs, or else suffer from an especially severe fear of aging. Only about 600,000 people in Metamor City today, or 4% of the overall population, have accepted this form of the Curse.
Limitations on Control of the Curse
Kyia's modifications have allowed Metamorians to turn the Curse into something that is, more often than not, an advantage, opening up new ways of experiencing life and fresh prespectives on what it means to be human. Nevertheless, there are some consequences of the Curse that even Kyia could not circumvent.
Once an individual becomes Cursed, the new body form acquired becomes the dominant form. In theriomorphs, this is the fullmorph form; in androgynes, it is the opposite of the individual's born sex; in pedomorphs, it is a childhood form of 3-4 years of age.
The dominant form is more than physical; it also has psychological effects. The behavioral tendencies associated with the dominant form -- bestial instincts in theriomorphs, increased libido in androgynes, and childlike urges and impulsiveness in pedomorphs -- become magnified when the body is in this shape. Most of the time these impulses can be resisted if the Cursed person chooses to do so, but when the body has recently been under shifting stress (see below) this becomes more difficult.
Whenever a Cursed individual takes advantage of Kyia's modifications to the Curse, pushing his or her form beyond the usual limits, it causes a subtle strain on the body, called shifting stress. The sensation is barely noticeable at first, but after 8-12 hours it develops into a notable feeling of fatigue. The more dramatic the departure beyond the Curse's original limits, the greater the strain, so (for example) a theriomorph who becomes fully human will accrue strain faster than one who simply uses an anthro form with more human characteristics than usual.
The only way to recover from shifting stress is to return to the body's dominant form and spend an amount of time in that form that is at least equal to the amount of time that the limits of the Curse were exceeded. Thus, an androgyne who spends eight hours at work in his original masculine form will have to spend at least eight hours in her dominant female form before she will be able to shift again. Likewise, a wolf-morph who becomes fully human for twelve hours will then have to spend at least twelve hours as a fullmorph wolf. The Cursed individual must not shift away from the dominant form during recovery, even to assume a form that is within the normal bounds of the Curse; doing so will halt the recovery process, and is extremely difficult and painful to do in any case. For practical purposes, except in a dire emergency, assume that a Cursed individual is unable to shift away from the dominant form until the shifting stress has been paid off.
Within limits, a Cursed person has control over when he or she switches back to the dominant form. Most people can endure shifting stress for up to 12 hours with little trouble, which is long enough for most purposes. Up to 18 hours can also be done by most, but with increasing discomfort and fatigue. Beyond that, the effects are similar to the effects of going without sleep. Few people can last more than 24 hours without losing control and switching back involuntarily (though spies who make use of their alternate forms for extended intelligence operations can be trained to last up to 72 hours).
In all cases, a person reverting to his or her dominant form after a period of shifting stress will find that the behavioral tendencies associated with that form are more intense and harder to resist. Theriomorphs will find their bestial instincts governing their behavior, as logical, conscious thought becomes difficult. Androgynes will feel an increased need for sex, and a general lowering of inhibitions about sexual activity. Pedomorphs will lapse into temper tantrums or periods of simple, childish play, and will find adult speech patterns or focusing on any extended task to be more difficult. The strength of these impulses increases geometrically as the period of shifting stress lengthens: anyone reverting back to his or her dominant form after more than 24 hours will be essentially unable to function in polite, civilized society until the recovery period is completed (though, in certain settings, an androgyne in this condition could be enormously popular).
An individual who never ventures beyond the normal limits of the Curse will never experience shifting stress, and may assume any form within those limits for any length of time desired. Because of this, many theriomorphs choose to spend the vast majority of time in their anthro forms, which allow them to function reasonably well in human society without the inconvenient down-time associated with shifting stress. In contrast, androgynes usually alternate between highly masculine and highly feminine forms, building up small amounts of shifting stress and then paying it off while the effects on their libidos are still mild enough to be controlled. Some have taken this practice to an extreme, wearing loose-fitting (or enchanted) clothing and switching between forms dozens of times in a single day. On the Street, and among young people of all social strata, this is known as hot-swapping -- a metaphor drawn from modern computer technology, which allows "accessories" to be swapped in and out quickly and easily. Pedomorphs vary between these two methods, living as 14-year-olds most of the time and switching to adult forms (for as brief a time as possible) when a larger, stronger body frame is required.
The Curse does more than simply change people's appearance and thought patterns; it actually alters them on a fundamental level, influencing them in ways that are passed down to their offspring. This was not immediately obvious after the Battle of Three Gates, but it became clearer as subsequent generations were subjected to the Curse.
Certain Curse-related phenomena only manifest themselves when individuals receive the same form of the Curse that was received by their ancestors, usually for several consecutive generations. Even if the Curse is not passed down directly at birth (see Form Retention, below), bestowing the same Curse on a child that was present in the parents has a compounding effect, as the effects of the child's own Curse interact with the genetic effects of the parents' Curse. Phenomena that result from this compounding are called high-generation effects of the Curse, and they are a cause for forethought and careful family planning in the old Keeper family lines.
This phenomenon was observed even in the second generation of Cursed individuals, during the early 700s. When two theriomorphs with the same template species have children together, there is a certain probability that they will be born as theriomorphs of the same type as the parents. This is in contrast to the usual pattern with Cursed individuals, whose children are generally unaffected by the Curse when born. Children who display form retention usually also mature faster than mundane humans, especially if the template species is a short-lived one.
The actual probability of form retention increases with the number of generations that the same Curse has been carried in a bloodline. For example: a pair of mundane humans come to Metamor and are Cursed as wolf-morphs. If they have never had any wolf-morphs in their ancestry, the chance of form retention is approximately 40%. If their child is Cursed as a wolf-morph (whether because of form retention or by deliberate choice) and then marries a wolf-morph himself, the probability of form retention occuring in their children rises to 60% -- or more, if his wife is also a second-generation wolf-morph.
In practice, there is always some chance that children will be born human, even if the odds of form retention are very high. This is due, in part, to the fact that high-generation theriomorphs have problems with feralism (see below), and must periodically "outcross" to people who do not carry the same type of Curse.
Feralism (Feralistic Psychosocial Developmental Disorder):
This phenomenon appears in theriomorph families in which the same Curse has been passed down through multiple generations, either by form retention (see above) or by choice. Feralism -- or FPDD, as it is known to the medical community -- is a disorder in which the brains of high-generation theriomorphs develop more like animals than like humans. Symptoms include deficient language skills, mental retardation, inability to assume human form, and increased instinctive behavior. In the most severe cases, the individual is completely unable to shift out of fullmorph form, and exhibits behavior indistinguishable from a common animal of the template species.
There is no risk of feralism in first-generation theriomorphs, or in theriomorphs that are descended from ancestors with a wide variety of template species; the problem only crops up when the same template species is reinforced through multiple generations. Feralism is very rare in the second and third generations, with mild cases occurring less than 2% of the time.
The problem becomes more noticeable beyond the third generation. Fourth generation theriomorphs usually display some mild symptoms of feralism (80% probability), and in the fifth generation the symptoms become more severe. In the sixth generation all individuals display moderate to severe feralism. Seventh-generation theriomorphs have almost never occurred, but in the few recorded cases they were completely indistinguishable from the template species.
There is no cure for feralism, but it can be easily prevented. Outcrossing to non-theriomorphs, or morphs of a different species, in every third or fourth generation virtually guarantees that feralism will not occur. In order to facilitate this, many of the old family lines in Metamor have taken to keeping meticulous genealogical records, particularly those families that have dedicated themselves to represent some past hero by sharing his form. The Matthias clan, descended from the legendary Rat of Might, Charles Matthias, is especially well-known for this.
High-generation pedomorphs can suffer from a disorder similar to the feralism seen in theriomorph lines. Instead of becoming bestial and animalistic, however, high-generation ARs show stunted growth and the retention of childlike traits (both behavioral and physical) into adulthood, a phenomenon called neoteny. This begins to appear in the fourth and fifth generations, in which the body stops developing somewhere in the teenage years. In the sixth generation, development is halted even earlier, often at a prepubescent stage; obviously, this makes it impossible for any higher-generation children to be born.
Like feralism, there is no cure for neoteny. ARs who are dedicated to preserving the trait in their family lines engage in careful geneology and family planning, much like the theriomorph families. ARs often have difficulty finding non-ARs who are willing to marry them, however, and often they simply choose to let their children grow up un-Cursed, hoping that some later generation will again take up the memory of their heroic ancestors.
Bifurcation (Identity Splitting):
High-generation effects are much less severe in androgynes than in the other variants of the Curse; unlike theriomorphs and ARs, high-generation gendermorphs never lose the ability to revert to their original sex. Instead, succeeding generations of androgynes display increasing psychological separation between their male and female personas, a process called bifurcation (which means "split in two").
In all cases where it occurs, bifurcation is made more intense if the Curse is administered at an early age. However, high-generation androgynes who are Cursed later in life often develop behavioral or personality disorders because the persona of the dominant form has not had the opportunity to grow and develop naturally as a member of that sex. This can cause the dominant form to be emotionally and socially stunted, sometimes leading to psychopathic or sociopathic behavior. Because of this, sociologists recommend that high-generation androgynes be Cursed very early, at no later than 3 years of age; this allows adequate time for both personas to receive healthy socialization as members of their respective genders. Since most androgyne family lines that extend past the second generation are already strongly committed to raising their children as androgynes, this recommendation is almost always followed.
First- and second-generation androgynes essentially have a single mind with a single perspective on the world, whether male or female. They will experience certain biological impulses and hormonal effects in each gender, which will be somewhat stronger in the dominant form than in the born sex, but the mind's outlook is essentially the same; the only time they will act "with a mind not their own" is when recovering from severe shifting stress. They may act differently in either sex, but this is a result of conscious choice to behave in a gender-appropriate manner, with some influence from the way other people treat them. When forced to act quickly, on instinct, they will usually choose the same response regardless of their current gender. These individuals are said to be non-bifurcated, or unified.
In the third and fourth generations, there is a noticeable and instinctive difference in thought patterns and reactions depending on the individual's current gender. Asked to describe the same scene when male or female, the subject will often notice different details, use different language, and have different emotional responses. Performance in mental puzzles known to show gender-specific biases, such as 3-d spatial manipulation puzzles or object-placement memorization games, is significantly different depending on the individual's current sex. The individual probably thinks of him-/herself as a single individual with a single identity, but there are clear signs of a gender-specific mindset. Such individuals are said to be mildly bifurcated.
In the fifth generation, differences between the two alter-egos become more distinct. The individual may display different tastes in entertainment and recreation, as well as different posture, sexual preferences, speech mannerisms, habits, virtues or vices. Significantly, many of the differences between alter-egos that occur at this stage are not related to gender-specific strengths and weaknesses -- they are simple differences of opinion or behavior, which might develop between any two individuals who were raised together. The individual may still consider him-/herself a single person, or each half might see its alter-ego as an "evil twin" or "split personality". Both personas, however, share all the same memories, and events will affect both personas to an equal degree regardless of which form the person is in at the time they happen (though the interpretation of these events may differ greatly between personas). Fifth-generation androgynes are considered moderately bifurcated.
The sixth generation is considered strongly bifurcated. In these individuals, the two personas are essentially two completely different people sharing the same set of memories. Personalities of the alter-egos can be wildly different, and essentially develop like a brother and sister who have to take turns sharing the same body. Each persona has its own name, usually decided on by the parents even before birth, and a very strong sense of "self" as being distinct from the alter-ego. Events experienced by Persona A will be remembered by Persona B, but will sometimes seem less real and distinct than events that happened when Persona B was in control. Sometimes one persona will "sleep" while the other is active, remembering their actions only upon waking; at other times both personas will be active, with one acting as a "rider" in the body while the other governs their actions. The two personas can even fight for control of the body, which leads to a corresponding change in outward form; or one can hand over control to the other peacefully. (The effects of shifting stress still apply, however, and the dominant form will inevitably regain control no matter how strongly the born-sex persona wishes to hold on to it.) Memories will likely be interpreted very differently by the two alter-egos. A great deal of compromise and mutual understanding between personas is needed for a sixth-generation androgyne to have a happy, successful life.
In androgynes of seventh generation or higher, there is total bifurcation between the two personalities. This is similar to the sixth generation, except that no memories are shared between personas, except for any memories of events before they were Cursed. The two personas cannot communicate directly or share sensory input -- each one "blacks out" or reverts to a dreamlike state when the other is in control. It may be able to sense some of the emotions of the alter-ego, but nothing more. Totally bifurcated androgynes often come up with creative means of communicating with each other, such as sitting down with pen and paper and carrying out a written "conversation", with each one switching off to the other after writing his or her response. This, of course, means that it is possible for one persona to lie to the other, concealing facts and events that it wants the other to remain unaware of. The persona that is currently "disconnected" can still attempt to forcibly regain control of his or her body, but it is difficult, like attempting to wake oneself up from a dream. The dominant form generally has an easier time regaining control than does the born-sex form, though the dominant's control will weaken if it goes a long time without letting its alter-ego out to play. Totally bifurcated androgynes are particularly likely to switch personas when subjected to physical or emotional trauma, as a defense mechanism to attempt to avoid the pain.
In most total bifurcates, the two personas are able to coexist peacefully, if not without some inconvenience and the occasional counseling session. However, there are a few particularly memorable cases in which one alter-ego displayed psychopathic or sociopathic behavior that the other persona was completely unaware of. (This was more common in the days when androgynes tended to be Cursed later in life; the incidence of it falls sharply in individuals where both personas have had time to develop normally.) Two such cases involved androgynes wherein one persona was a serial killer, committing murders without the knowledge of the other. Another case involved a persona that was a serial rapist; in several others, one persona was embezzling money from their employer or otherwise engaging in theft without the knowledge of the other. Perhaps the most dramatic case of all was that of Gwendolyn Chase, who in 1892 was caught selling Metamor's national defense secrets to the militaristic Republic of Telvar, even as her alter-ego Kenneth was working tirelessly to defeat Telvar in the last "world" war. Chase was convicted of treason in a trial that captured the attention of the entire Western world, but because she could not be executed without also killing a loyal son of Metamor, she was sentenced to life imprisonment instead.
Over six hundred thousand children are born every year within the region affected by the Curse of Metamor. Except for any theriomorphs that display form retention, every one of these children must be tracked and recorded to ensure that the Curse is either suspended or activated -- and, if activated, what variant of the Curse is to be applied to the child.
Except in cases of form retention, the Curse does not naturally claim people who are under the age of sexual maturity -- historically, sometime in the fourteenth year was the most common time for the Curse to take hold. However, Kyia's control over the Curse now allows her to administer it at any age, and to give the individual whatever variant of the Curse is requested. Keeping track of who needs what, however, is a process that involves a lot of paperwork.
When a birth certificate is filled out in Metamor City or the surrounding lands -- anywhere that the Curse holds sway -- the parents are required to indicate whether they want the child to be shielded from the Curse, and if not, which variant of the Curse they would like the child to be marked for. They may also choose to take no immediate action with regard to the Curse; however, this is not recommended for prospective androgynes who are likely to be bifurcated. Children whose parents have not decided on a course of action are flagged for later follow-up to be sure that the Curse does not take them by surprise.
If the parents request shielding from the Curse, they will be contacted by social workers with information about the types of anti-Curse charms available. The basic models, which cost between 50 and 100 marks and are distributed freely to lower-income families, are simple amulets that must be worn around the neck or wrist. The more high tech solution, popular with those who can afford it, is a technomagical chip that is surgically implanted just below the skin. The chip is powered by the body's own natural life energy, and laboratory stress-tests have guaranteed its performance for up to fifty years, after which point it needs replacing. The chip costs about 300 marks. Most people don't bother with the procedure until the child is at least ten, since there is no risk of the Curse claiming them before then.
Parents may request that the Curse be administered to their children any time before the age of six; after that, if no decision has been made, they must equip the child with an anti-Curse charm. Once the child reaches adulthood, at the age of eighteen, she may decide for herself if she wishes to receive the Curse (which requires filling out another form to notify Kyia of her preferences).
Applications for the theriomorph or androgyne variants of the Curse may be processed immediately, at any age. Applications for the pedomorph form are registered, but not acted upon until the child reaches adulthood; otherwise, the child would be unable to attain any form older than the age at which he or she was Cursed. If the child decides, before the Curse takes effect, that he doesn't want the variant his parents selected for him, he can cancel their application by sending in another form.
When a person moves to Metamor, it is his or her own responsibility to procure an anti-Curse charm to forestall the Curse's effects. These charms are available at the Citadel and several government offices throughout the city. Even if the individual plans to accept the Curse, a charm must be leased from the government until the paperwork can go through, to ensure that the person does not end up with the wrong variant of the Curse. Applicants are notified by phone or electronic mail when their forms have reached Kyia's desk, at which point it is safe for them to remove the charm. The Curse generally takes effect within three to seven days after this time; no return to the Citadel is necessary, as Kyia can touch anyone within the Curse's range. The total waiting time between filing a request for the Curse and actually receiving the change is typically four to six weeks, though it can be somewhat longer for infants.
If an un-Cursed human ever changes his mind and decides to accept the Curse, it is a simple matter to remove the subdermal Charm-chip -- it's an outpatient procedure, performed under local anaesthetic in about ten minutes. As with newcomers to the city, the chip is not removed until the person receives notice that Kyia is ready to process his application.
While it represents a great deal of red tape for her staff, from Kyia's perspective administering the Curse is really very little trouble at all. Each request takes her less than ten minutes to process, as she seeks out the person's aura within her territory and weaves the requested form of the Curse into place. On a typical day Kyia processes between fifteen and twenty-five Curse applicants, often late at night or in the early hours of the morning when most of her staff is asleep. This means that the Curse applicants themselves are usually asleep when the change takes them, which is generally much more convenient than having it hit them in the middle of the workday. Whenever possible, Kyia tries to keep an eye on the new applicants as they awaken -- these days, receiving the Curse is usually an occasion for joy and celebration, and Kyia is always glad for the chance to witness it.