Werejaguars are known throughout Meso-America as balams, or naguals. Balam is from the word b'alam, jaguar in many of the Mayan languages. The nagual is a shifter, a term associated with shamanism, and coming from the folk knowledge of the werejaguars. The word is occasionally applied to werewolves who make their way into the southern hemisphere. They were deeply entwined with the cultures of Meso-America, coming into great strength with the Olmec, continuing into the Mayan and Aztec cultures. Often the blood of balam flowed in the lineage of kings of these nations.
A Balam is born, to any combination of mother and father. As long as the jaguar-shifter gene has the potential to be present, there is at least a 50% chance that the child will be born a balam. Unlike werewolves the ability is entirely inherited, and therefor a balam cannot infect a human. They are extremely xenophobic.
Like the other non-wolf shifters, balams are not associated with astrological events to the degree that their canine counterparts are. While they still have a connection to the night sky, they are associated with the stars, and certain constellations. Balams do not have Phase-forced transformations, but rather they gain power and can more easily attain the power-state at that time.
Human form and fully jaguar form (tonal) are the two most easily achieved states, although the anthropomorphic state can be reached. Unlike Fire blooded state with werewolves, the anthropormophic state of a balam can be voluntarily reached, although it still happens under periods of extreme emotion.
Balams are solitary creatures, with territories varying in size depending on the individual and the resources available. They have heightened senses, inhuman strength and speed, the ability to see in near-total darkness, and a supernatural ability for natural stealth. They also have decelerated aging. Unlike werewolves, the aging is not as slowed, and they do not have the wide array of disease resistance. They have a natural hardiness, like all Shifters, and a strong immune system that almost always fights off bacterial infection, but virus resistance is barely better than that of a human. They are weak to wounds inflicted by obsidian blades, but can handle the material.
As an entire species, werejaguars are capable of Necromancy. They do not have other Gifts, and they are not afflicted by Callings. However, they are susceptible to the instincts of a jaguar, that being territorial in nature, extremely stealthy, and creatures who are used to being in power.
Due to the invasion of the Conquistadors and the downfall of the native cultures, as well as the subsequent colonization, the balam have a severely reduced population, and have shrunk to their deepest territories, refusing to interact with non-natives.
DETAILED BALAM DESCRIPTION
The shapeshifting ability is a genetic mutation similar to the lycanthropy mutation, with some differences. The largest being that the gene cannot be passed through Infection, only through direct inheritence. The gene is a dominant gene, and there is no issue with human parents, of either gender. Young are born as human infants, with the gifted abilities of the gene remaining dormant until puberty. Once a certain level of hormones have been reached, the child is driven by a strong need to Shift, and they experience their first Transformation.
Balam are extremely xenophobic, as a species. They will not associate with people outside of the native cultures of South and Central America, and even among the different human cultures tend to discriminate. Because of this, there are no balam who are not of a genetic background of the indigenous groups of South and Central America. The dominance of the gene ensures that the gene cannot "hide" in a human child and be passed on. It should be noted, however, that balam generally do not discriminate between the different groups among themselves. A balam from the far north edge of jaguar territory, even so far north as what would have been the southern states of the United States of America, would not have issues with a balam from the deep Amazon, at least in regards to slight cultural and type differences. But they may find it difficult to willingly join a different human tribal culture.
Balam may shift between human and tonal form at will, day or night. The process is very quick, but is an actual transformation, and a quick eye will notice the changes as they happen. Clothing remains untouched throughout the change, necessitating a style that can be easily dealt with and will not be damaged by the transformation. Wounds and scars do not change from form to form, and jewelry is often designed keeping the measurements of the larger animal forms in mind.
Balam are capable of achieving three different stages of transformation, all of them voluntary to some extent. A human form, which leaves no indication of their genetics other than their abilities; a full beast form, that of a larger-than-average jaguar. The tonal form, the full beast form, follows the many colour patterns of the natural jaguar. The markings occasionally form irregular patterns, being specific designs and markings that do not occur in nature. These types of markings are usually restricted to the extremities of the body, or smaller areas. In some areas, the melanistic gene has dominated the population, leading to a large influence of "panther" balam. The Inca lands being the prime example. Vary rarely, even leucistic individuals show up.
The third form is an anthropomorphic form, a powerful form with elements of both the human and the tonal.7 This hybrid form is very powerful, similar to a werewolf Fire Blooded state, although the individual retains more control than their canine counterparts. This form can be reached voluntarily, and is not solely fueled by emotion. However, it can be triggered by extreme anger, and the individual is less self-aware when this happens.
All shifters have inhumanly strengthened senses, with the strength of the various senses themselves varying between the species. The balam have above-average senses smell, sight, and hearing; but their sense of smell is slightly less than that of an average werewolf. Their night-vision is extremely strong, being able to see using the tiniest shred of light.
Being jaguar-shifters, a balam has a compact, exceedingly dense muscular form. They share the same ranking abilities of their animal kin, leading to amazing abilities. Balam exhibit a supernatural strength, second only to that of the bjorn. And were they the same size, that might be challenged. They possess a natural affinity and physical predisposition to stealth, and their ambushing skills are unmatched in the entire animal or Shifter world. Only a master Shadowstepper matches their abilities. A balam's bite force is also unmatched, able to easily crush skulls of most animals and shifters.8 They also possess enhanced speed, and a mildly decellerated aging process. The age cycle takes on that of a cat, reaching maturity quickly and remaining in their prime well past what would normally have become middle age for humans, sometimes even into old age.
RELATIONSHIPS AND TEMPERMENT
Family structure: solitary, mostly, males mate and then leave, females take care of kittens, males leave family early. STRONG bonds between female relatives. Often having neighboring territories in clusters.
Balam are creatures who like their space. They tend to balance the jaguar's solitary nature with humanity's social aspects by forming small matriarchal family groups. Males tend to take on aggressive roles, joining and leading separate soldier groups when they are within human societies, or maintaining their own territories when not. Females maintain territories and small families, in and out of human influence.
Relationships form, but it is moderate-to-uncommon for the pair to stay together. Balam who spend a majority of their lives within human society are more commonly found to stay together, picking up on this human influence. Balam/human pairs are the most likely to stay together. Such a pairing is not uncommon.
Balam were respected, and often worshipped among human societies during the prime of their era of power. To be chosen as the mate of one was often looked upon as a blessing from the gods, and a promise of children who would bring you great honor.
Before humans were strongly entwined with balam culture, or when in the wild, the natural structure tends to be a cluster of territories belonging to related females, with satellite territories patrolled by single males.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AMONG HUMANS
Among human groups, balam were viewed with great respect, sometimes trepidation and fear. They were the embodiment of the jungle's most powerful creature, come to walk among them. They had great powers, compared to the humans, and could speak to the ancestors. It's no wonder that many came to play a prominent role in religion. Jaguar-temples of all but the lowest order had a balam for a priest or priestess, and the highest temples often had blood ties to royalty.
Balam also played important roles in the military of many of the great cultures, with males often leading groups of "jaguar warriors" in battle.
It was not uncommon for the nobility to occasionally have a balam in the bloodlines, usually during periods of great progress for the empire.
Wounds made with obsidian blades can be fatal if they are severe enough. The material itself is not a problem, as a balam is quite capable of handling the stone with no side-effects. Many use it themselves for weapons, and jewelry. Obsidian can fracture along break-lines capable of leaving an edge only microns wide. The edge is literally molecularly smooth, and therefor infinitely sharp. It has been noted that any wound of severe enough damage can kill a balam, but it is easier to create deep and life-threatening wound with an obsidian blade. The Mayan god Tezcotlipoca has an association with obsidian, and as his tonal is the jaguar god. It's possible that this association is partially based on this weakness.
Decapitation is a surefire way to kill a balam. It's just rather difficult to catch them, get them to hold still, and then systematically saw their heads off. If someone were to use this method, they'd better be quick and efficient.
Viral Infection can kill a balam, if they do not have any resistance to the disease. The diseases brought by the Conquistadors spread as easily among the balam as they did among the humans, and many were felled.