Here’s an in-character historian’s description of the known history of the World of Five Moons.
One hundred and twenty-five years ago, the Entities brought thousands of people from another world to this one. These first people, called the Pioneers, came from many parts of their world, and brought their many cultures with them. How they were brought here is unknown–their histories passed down through the generations can only agree that they were going about their normal lives, and suddenly awoke in this world, after a Great Sleep that claimed them in the middle of their current tasks.
Their world, Earth, was a strange place, with large land masses and little magic, but advanced knowledge of crafting. They had one moon, not five, and daylight came from a great star called “the Sun” rather than our Sunspider moon. They had machines called “cars” that would transport them at great speed on the ground, “planes” for traveling through the air, and “phones” for speaking to each other over great distances. They had wars over land, resources, religion, ideology, the color of skin, and the shapes of eyes. In their ignorance and malice, they had poisoned their world, and had come to the bring of destroying all life at least once. Most Pioneers realized our world was a fresh start for them.
Even the best minds among the Pioneers were unable to recreate their strange devices in our world; they claimed that physical reactions that should have worked as they did on their old world simply did not. Much of our world–like walking, swimming, farming, and hunting–was as it was on Earth. Other tasks which were impossible on Earth–like conjuring fire, or healing with an act of will–were possible and commonplace here. Not knowing how to return to their world, the Pioneers resigned themselves to their new island home, built simple shelters, and got on with living.
A few months later, the changes began to appear. Human eyes enlarged and functioned better in dim light. Noses broadened and became sensitive to faint odors. Other people grew new teeth or shed the ones they had. Their flesh rippled and contorted, forming knobby tumors and pustulent growths. The Pioneers called it cancer, and feared they were all doomed, for all of them were affected in some way, and speculated the green moon was poisoning them with radiation. The changes got worse, and some people grew too weak to work.
And then the Second Sleep happened–every man, woman, and child awoke in the middle of the day, their flesh healed and strength restored. The Pioneers recognized the same after-effects of the Great Sleep that brought them to this world, and knew this was another intervention by unknown Entities. A few Pioneers had lingering memories of strange glowing creatures inspecting their afflictions with multiple spindly arms. The wiser Pioneers speculated that the Entities who brought them to our world had also cured them of their new illnesses, and granted some of them the power of shaping.
Shapers could read the language of flesh–what the Pioneers called “DNA”– as a scholar studies the pages of a book. Through intuition and practice, the shapers understood the writings of life hidden in the smallest piece of a creature’s body. They saw that that book not only contained pages about humans, but about the many other creatures from Earth, as if our flesh were made an archive of life from another world. This mixing of pages had confused the Pioneers’ flesh, but the shapers were given the power to control and enhance these changes so the Pioneers could survive in our world. The shapers could give enhanced vision like a cat, a keen nose like a dog, or countless other features from Earth’s animals. The earlier, unchecked changes were the Pioneers’ bodies trying to recklessly adapt to whatever threat or challenge presented itself; the shapers were created to be the guides, advisors, and menders of flesh. Shapers were compelled to look after the sick and driven to help the Pioneers thrive in the coast, mountain, forest, and plain. They understood the connections between every human–that we are all pages from the same book, whether my skin is brown and yours is white, I am a woman and you are a man, or whether we are short or tall, for these are but words in the book that may be skipped over by some, whispered by others, and shouted by a few.
In time, the Pioneers had explored the borders of their island and had made forays into two others nearby. Those who set out to see lands beyond that soon encountered the Barrier, a magic wall of water and storm winds that prevented any progress. Dozens of expeditions attempted to breach the Barrier, and all failed–something, perhaps the Entities, wanted to keep the Pioneers in place. So the Pioneers created families on the First Isles, studied magic, told their stories about war and music and obsolete technology, grew old, and died. Generations of humans lived their lives on those three islands.
Now, 125 years later, explorers have reported that the Barrier is gone, and return to the First Isles bearing news of other settlements of people–people with cat eyes and ears, or pig snouts, or bat wings, or bear claws and teeth. Humans whose forms have taken a different path, despite or perhaps because of their shapers. Some of these settlements are hostile, some are wary but willing to trade, but–verified by shapers on both sides–undeniably human at the core.
Shapers have been able to duplicate or reverse these transformations, going to or from these new “races” of people. After living for over a century without conflict over physical appearance, old bigotry raises its head in a new form. The cat-like “elves” are aloof and arrogant. The pig-like “orcs” are brutal and gluttonous. The bat-like “goblins” are paranoid and cowardly. Yet they have the same flesh as us, and some of our people manifest the very physical and mental traits these other races are criticized for. It seems that whoever added animal DNA to the human book neglected to remove the chapters that made us inclined to fear and hate that which is different. In our world, where the old definitions of race are but dust on the skeletons of the long dead Pioneers, there are communities people who prefer their “own kind” and shun outsiders over superficial differences, like the people of Earth who killed each other over different interpretations of a religious document.
We are doing this to ourselves. Again. Humans were given a second chance on a new world, and some insist on waging war. Against other humans.
So our young people set out on boats and travel from island to island, looking for trade, battle, knowledge, or just to see what other secrets are hidden in our world. News has trickled back to the First Isles about strange sources of magic, old civilizations that predate the Great Sleep and may be completely inhuman, and encounters with the elusive serpentine dragons who manipulate flesh and magic more easily than any shaper or wizard. Our civilization was isolated since its inception; it seems we have reached the point of transition to adulthood and decide if our place in this world is traders, explorers, conquerors, or destroyers.
If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!