Werebears are known as bjorn. The term is the word for "bear" in many of the northern European languages, presumed to be the birthplace of the bjorn. At one point in time, the bjorn were strong across northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. But their public outlawing in 1015, by Jarl Eiríkr Hákonarson of Norway, marked the downfall of the powerful era of the bjorn, and they have been on the decline ever since.
A bjorn is born, to any combination of mother and father. As long as the bear-shifter gene has the potential to be present, there is at least a 50% chance that the child will be born a bjorn. Unlike werewolves the ability is entirely inherited, and therefor a bjorn cannot Infect a human. However, unlike werewolves, they have no difficulty in giving birth, and can even give birth to human children.
Like the other non-wolf shifters, bjorn are not associated with astrological events to the degree that their canine counterparts are. They do not suffer from Phases like werewolves do, but instead are associated with the season that they were born in, according to the nearest sun event that they were born. The two equinoxes, and the solstices. Their power grows as they near the event, and becomes the weakest at the opposite date. There are claims that a bjorn's associated season affects their personality, but they cannot be as strictly divided into categories like werewolves can.
Human form and fully bear form 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 bjorn, known as berserkir (once called berserkergang) can be voluntarily reached, although it also happens under periods of extreme emotion. Bjorn are famed for their ability to easily tap into berserkir state, such that their entire race is known and feared for it.
Bjorn settle easily into small family groups, not worrying as much about territory as most other species do. Males can be particularly territorial, though, and tend to drive off other species from their areas. They have heightened senses of smell and hearing, as well as unbelievably inhuman strength. Their eyesight is fairly poor, compared to many other shifters, on par with most average humans at best. Many will want to use corrective lenses. Their speed is just slightly above humans, but not by much. But their aging deceleration is top, as is their regenerative abilities. Like most other non-wolf shifters, they do not have the array of viral resistance that werewolves do. Their hardiness and immune system, coupled with their regenerative abilities, can fight off practically any bacterial infection, but virus resistance is barely better than that of a human. They have shown a weakness to mental Gifts.
As a species, the bjorn have natural regenerative abilities similar to the werewolf Gift Regeneration, but are still susceptible to a shot to the head. They do not have any other special powers similar to Gifts, and they are not afflicted by Callings.
The bjorn are long lived, and tend to raise their children over long periods of time. Their population does not recover from a drastic loss of numbers easily, and after their outlawing in the beginning of the second millenia, many bjorn families retreated to the high mountains of the most northern edges of continents around the world. After the outbreak of SRLV1, many of the remaining bjorn in North America and Russia disappeared. It's rumored that the highest concentration of survivors reside in Scandinavia, and in the highest reaches of the Alps.
DETAILED BJORN 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.
The bjorn are, as a rule, a slow and cautious people. They often seem to possess infinite patience, due to their long life spans, but are also quick to anger. They (usually) respect all life, and also respect signs of strength. Their species had spread across the Northern Hemisphere, and as such have no issues with different cultures. You will find bjorn of many different ethnic backrounds, but given the limited distribution of the species before and especially after SRLV1 spread, the bjorn tend to be limited to human ethnic groups along the northern edge of the Northern Hemisphere.
Bjorn may shift between human and beast form at will, day or night. The process is relatively fast, taking only a few minutes. Clothing is not incorporated into the change, meaning that bjorn generally need clothing that will come apart without being damaged (velcro is popular in today's modern world), or will need to remove clothing and jewelry before they shift. Wounds and scars do not change from form to form, and occasionally jewelry is designed with the size of the larger form in mind. Due to the size of the beast form, this is usually limited to the ears.
Bjorn 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 bear. The full beast form usually follows the colour patterns and species traits of brown bear family and subspecies, although adaptation to changing environments did lead to a section of bjorn that were much closer to polar bears. They lived in eastern Siberia and the western edges of Alaska, concentrated around and spreading northward from the Bering Strait. The colouration and markings occasionally form irregular coat patterns, drawing coat shades from many of the different subspecies of brown bear.
The third form is an anthropomorphic form, mixing the elements of both the human and the bear. The bjorn call it berserkir. This hybrid form is very powerful, similar to the Fire Blooded state of werewolves, although much, much easier to reach for the bjorn. The berserkir state is the largest shifter in existence, and also the strongest. Adult males with healthy territories can easily reach twelve to thirteen feet when standing on their hind legs, and in the fall weigh upwards of well over 1700 lbs.
The berserkir form can be reached voluntarily, and very easily by the bjorn, but is even more easily triggered by anger, and the species developed a reputation for being uncontrollable and unpredictable. The polar bjorn were almost completely unable to control their tempers, and developed fearsome reputations for being terrible monsters who would kill and eat a man.
All shifters have inhumanly strengthened senses, with the strength of the various senses themselves varying between the species. The bjorn have above average senses of hearing, and their eyesight is decent in regards to detecting colour, movement, and light, but they are near-sighted. Those with exceptional sight will have average human vision at best. Most will want to wear corrective lenses.
All bjorn, as bear-shifters, have the most sensitive sense of smell on Earth. A wolf's sense of smell is approximately 100x stronger than a humans, with werewolves having similar abilities. Most Pariox werewolves average 150x. Bears, as a whole, have a sense of smell that is estimated to be 2100x times as sensitive as those of humans. Even in human form, a bjorn's sense of smell is 500x stronger. As such, the bjorn rely on their sense of smell more than any other shifter species. They make even the werewolves look scent-blind. One of the reasons their sense of smell is greatly reduced in human form is that they do not have a Jacobsen's organ while in that form.
Being bear-shifters, the bjorn have massive muscular forms, with dense coats of shaggy hair. Their strength is unmatched in the shifter world, as well as the realm of land predators. They are capable of moderately enhanced speed, not much more than an average grizzly bear, and have significant powers of regeneration and an impressively decellerated aging process. Bjorn that manage to die of old age have been said to have reached over 200 years of age.
Amusingly, the bjorn as a whole have a very strong sweet tooth, for fat as well as sugar.
RELATIONSHIPS AND TEMPERMENT
Family structure: Bjorn form patriarchal family groups, with the males taking seats of power and respect within the family. They have balanced the bear's competitive nature with humanity's need for family by creating structured societies within their areas, and giving room to wander. Their culture has been shaped by the ancestors of the humans of northern Europe.
It is not uncommon for an adult to wander off and stake out their own place, whether alone or with a mate. Bjorn are strictly monogamous, often seeking out mates that they view as powerful as themselves, and therefor worthy. The males do not perform many of the standard child rearing functions, but fit into the protecting and providing roles of the family. Males would have often joined the ranks of Norsemen Thanes and left for long periods of time to do battle and return with plunder and rewards from their kings. It would be the role of the strong prime females and the males who were not of ages fit to join the Thane, to protect the territory.
Bjorn who were not associated with the Norseman, be it due to location or being not of that era, tended to form small family groups and strongly defend their territory, depending on the culture that they were a part of. The famed polar bjorn lived in tribes similar to the siberian and eskimo cultures around the Bering Strait.
The bjorn are, in general, a patient people, when their anger is not riled. They rely upon their strength and physical prowess to get them through most of their difficulties, and many of them rely upon an innate code of some form of honor.
SOCIAL STRUCTURE AMONG HUMANS
The view of bjorn among human societies varied greatly depending on era, as well as location.
Bjorn who lived in Scandinavia in the centuries before the great outlawing were feared warriors of the Norse Thanes, gaining power, land, and respect with their strength in service of their kings. Reactions among Norse society individuals were often mixed, many respecting but also fearing the unstoppable but uncontrollable warriors. Norseman human children of bjorn were the most likely to breed with other bjorn families, due to their seeming fearlessness. Slaves taken from other cultures as spoils of battle often did not understand and feared their bjorn masters and mistresses, and were afraid that their children would grow up to be monsters like those who had captured them.
After the great outlawing, many bjorn had to face lives outside their accustomed civilization. Some turned to the lives of outlaws, others retreated to the high mountains or other countries. As time marched on, most taught their children to hide what they were.
In Siberia, the bjorn were always secretive, choosing to hide in their small clans among the rural villages.
In North America, the bjorn were feared by the indigenous populations, sometimes even revered as living embodiments of deities. They were never threatened by the local cultures, but found it difficult to spread and multiply. The caucasian mountain men that traveled west were a surprisingly significant boost to the population over the centuries, although the continued spread of civilization and technology across the western half of North America continued to drive out the bjorn that had fought so hard to propogate their species.
The polar bjorn of far eastern Siberia and the far northwest of America were greatly feared by the human cultures, due to their inability to control their rage. They found it very difficult to spread and mingle with the cultures they found, becoming a sort of "northern boogeyman." Eventually the polar bjorn died out due to population suppression.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER SHIFTERS AND SPECIES
The bjorn are closely tied with werewolves throughout their history; fighting with and against each other in the time of the Norsemen, and dancing around each other in other lands. Werewolf mental powers were often the only way to defeat a bjorn warrior on the battlefield, and while the bjorn and werewolves would not share home territories, the bjorn clans often had a mutual respect and understanding with werewolf packs whose lands bordered theirs.
Bjorn males do not share space easily with each other, especially not with actual bears. Their size and abilities are guaranteed to lead to them becoming the top predator of any bear territory that they wish to acquire. The inland farmers are fiercely protective of the herds of cattle they raise to feed themselves, and the coastal fisherman protect their territorial grounds with unmatched vigor.
Bjorn have amazing powers of regeneration, and have no weaknesses to materials like some of their other shifting brethren. However, a standard bullet to the brain will kill them, just the same as any other shifter. On that note, any form of instant death will most likely work, but it has to be completely instantaneous, ensuring instant brain death.
Bjorn have shown themselves to have little defense against mental Gifts, being a completely physical species. For this reason, werewolf "sages" were often used against the groups of berserkir warriors by the Norse.
Decapitation will work, same as any other shifter. But the likelihood of decapitating any shifter, much less a bjorn, is slim to none.
The bjorn are also known to succumb to viral infection, although their widespread range leads them to have more immunity than some of the other, more insular species.
Compared to other species, the bjorn will have near-sighted vision. They compensate with their sense of smell, but do have problems with seeing anything that is of even moderate distance.