A race of shape shifters who have lived peacefully and, for the most part, unnoticed, amongst the other humanoid races of Tamriel. Going out of their way to blend in, the shifters are a secretive race; even they do not know exactly how many of them there are.
Physical Description Edit
Generally, a shifter will adopt the form of a humanoid that will not stand out amongst the local population - for instance, an Imperial in Cyrodiil, a Khajiit in Elsweyr, a Dunmer in Morrowind, etc. - and is content to build a public identity around that, considering it their 'true form'. Most shifters can alter this appearance, but few bother with this.
Although loath to acknowledge it, limoth shifters still retain the ability to assume a form resembling their Lilmothiit ancestors: short, lightly-built humanoid foxes, similar in stature to the Suthay khajiit, with fur in colors of red, black, yellow, or even white. They have long bushy tails that they are able to wrap around themselves or others for warmth.
With training, a shifter can adopt a greater variety of forms. Without the proper training, one who tries to push themselves to adopt an unfamiliar form experiences painful feedback that forces them to return to their most familiar form within a varying amount of time, possibly incurring physical damage in the process if the change was great enough. In severe cases they can even temporarily degenerate into flabby, vaguely-humanoid blobs that some outsiders might mistake for their 'true' form.
The Limoth shifters are descended from the Lilmothiit, a race of fox-like beastfolk once native to the southeastern lands of Black Marsh. During the rule of the Akaviri Potentate during the Second Era, a powerful being called Khang, described variously as a demon or a dragon, attacked the Lilmothiit homeland and attempted to exterminate the race. (Why exactly it would do this is unknown; the Limoth legends claim that it was out of pure malice and the Lilmothiit were innocent victims.) The Lilmothiit called out to their patron deity (TBD); in order to help them, the deity granted them the ability to change their forms and hide among the other races of Nirn.
Khang was ultimately destroyed by the guile of a group of heroes known as the Four First Shifters, but it cursed the shifter race such that if they were ever discovered, the other races would destroy them. Thus the shifters were forced to disperse and blend into other societies, leaving their lands and ruins behind. The Lilmothiit race was effectively extinct.
Since then, the shifters have more or less successfully blended in with the other races, taking pains to avoid calling attention to themselves. Many people in Tamriel live side by side with shifters without being even aware of the fact, and the shifters are content to keep it that way. Still, there have been slip-ups from time to time, giving rise to urban legends of doppelgangers.
Signs & Code Phrases Edit
Despite being widely dispersed, Limoth take efforts to enable themselves to identify each other in a pinch. They have an elaborate series of signs and code phrases that enable mutual identification and communication in the presence of non-shifters.
Signs identifying the owner of an establishment being a shifter willing to lend a hand to a fellow member include arrangements of 9 items, frequently with the ninth differing in some way; or fox imagery along the lines of a visual pun or a play on words. It's up to the individual shifter in need to be clever enough to spot these signs.
Once a location has been identified, contact is established by a shibboleth such as a lame joke from the visitor and a mismatched punchline from the shifter on staff. For example, the following exchange:
"What's purple and very dangerous?" - Alberich Ashfield
"I don't know, but when I woke up my pillow was missing." - Townname librarian
The way it works is that someone not in the know will answer either with the 'correct' answer, "Slaughterfish-infested grape jelly!"; a poor guess at the punchline, or an 'I give up' answer. The proper mismatched punchline is such that someone is unlikely to stumble on it by accident.
Following that, there are a few code words used between shifters to pass along information where they might be overheard by those not in the know. A list of those established so far are below.
companion - a friend but one not aware of the shifters' existence
itchy feet - when said of someone, it indicates that they are a shifter
The Shift Edit
The Shift is both the name the shifters give to their natural shape shifting ability, and a philosophy and martial art built around making use of it. According to the Master Shifters, The Shift is the embodiment of the idea that "Everything Changes" - nothing is permanent, and the shifters must change along with it. The combat techniques of the martial art revolve around defensive movement and altering ones' form to adapt to changing situations.
Master Shifters Edit
Although greatly dispersed, the limoth shifters share a community and culture, thanks in part to the role of the so-called Master Shifters. These four figures form the nucleus of their culture and serve as teachers, training others in the way of the Shift. In addition to their role in passing down the teachings of the Four First Shifters, the Master Shifters also function as loremasters and bards for shifter communities, and also grant True Names to young shifters.
There are a total of four Master Shifters, each taking the title of and passing on the teachings of a particular member of the First Four.
Representative of drive and passion, Zan's martial arts teachings focus on offense and quick, decisive action in the heat of the moment. The current Master Zan is deceased, having been murdered by Khang. He lived in the city of Sentinel in the province of Hammerfell and trained Alberich Ashfield for a time, though his training was incomplete at the time of his mentor's death. His associated magical school is Destruction.
Solidity and stubbornness, knowing when to hold'em. These are the themes taught by Master Chay. The teachings espoused by this Master Shifter emphasize strength and endurance, being a wall against which the enemies of the limoth break. The current Master Chay is said to reside in Imperial City, in Cyrodiil. His associated magical school is Restoration.
Moreso than the other Master Shifters, Shu is all about adaptability. The reed that bends does not break. The art taught by this Master emphasizes flexibility, the use of one's environment, and what's at hand to one's advantage. It encourages calm, logical assessment of a situation before action. The current Master Shu may live somewhere on the coast of Valenwood. Her associated magical school is Alteration.
In opposition to Chay's art teaching how to take hits, Fan teaches how to avoid taking hits in the first place. Emphasizing speed and freedom of movement, Fan's art is all about knowing when to fold'em, to prevent being too tied down to act. As a result, the current Master Fan (and in fact all his predecessors) has never stayed in one place for long, wandering Tamriel with a small group of devoted disciples. His associated magical school is Mysticism.
The Fifth Mastery Edit
There is a fifth Mastery. Some call it a union of the other four styles. Others say it deals with that which is beyond mortal experience. The other Master Shifters do not speak of it and discourage its discussion. Its previous Master was said to reside in Black Marsh, possibly within the infamous Blackrose Prison itself. Not much else is known of it, not even if there is an associated magical school.
"The way I heard it, doppelgangers were once a tribe of witches who struck a deal with Clavicus Vile to gain shapeshifting powers. Being the jerk he is, though, Clavicus Vile cursed them, transforming them into these horrible flesh blob monsters that feel constant pain as long as they remain in their natural forms. This drives them to kill people and steal their identities by literally ripping their faces off and eating them.
"A doppelganger hungers for one thing: more identities. This hunger forces them to never stop at one face. They're very tricky and clever, and it's rare to find their victims' remains. The only way to kill one for sure is by liberal application of fire.
"Me? I thought they were just legends. But then I ended up rooting out an enclave of them up in Skyrim. Paranoia and mass hysteria follow in their wake. They're monsters all right - just like vampires and werewolves. And nobody sheds a tear over them, right?"
- Serrata Starwander, Nord crusader