In the cold noon of the beginning, the shifter danced. He danced and fluttered and slithered and strolled, with feet of a thousand shapes. For in the shifter was every beast and creature that ever was, or could ever be. In a moment he was loping as wolf and lynx, in others skimming the sky as eagle and owl, while in a second he stood prancing as stag.
The shifter danced as slender beams of sun and moon coloured his wild hair and flowing feathers. He spun and rose and plummeted, swirling in cascades of colour. So great was the shifter’s joy for dance, that as his deer-shod hoofs struck the dark, four trees grew around him and raised their branches high. As hyena, he laughed for the splendour of it, and his laughter was the wind which made trees dance.
The shifter cantered on; as mole he dug with his hands and brought earth from the dark. As hare he ran and jumped in joy; his droppings fell on the earth and from them grew grass. As fox he laughed on the newly-green earth; valleys and vales were formed where he rolled. He raised his snout and howled in love; in answer, rain poured down and filled the valleys with water. He leapt and dived into the ocean as salmon, then paddled on the surface as duck. The shifter spread his wings and took to air as crow. As he shook the water from his wings, the droplets caught in the sky and were stars.
As his laughter ruffled his feathers, the shifter marvelled at what he had done. Then, in a swoon, he fell to earth. But when he touched the ground, he landed on a sharp rock pointing to the sky.
The shifter’s cries echoed through life. He lay, for a moment, impaled, while shifting from one shape to another. As redness darkened his feathers and fur, the shifter closed his countless eyes, and breathed.
In the instant the pain consumed him, the shifter’s body erupted, and out of him poured all the animals he had embodied. They swept out to fill the world: stag and deer; fox and vixen; sheep and ewe; all the fish of the sea; all the birds of the sky. And in each was a gleam of the memory, that they had once been the shifter, and that the shifter was them.
But where the shifter had been, there lay a single, lonely creature, curled against the cold. Small and pink, with only a little hair. Birds flew down to look upon it; deer regarded it as they passed; wolf and fox sniffed its warmth; trees leant over to see.
The creature opened its eyes and looked at the world. It was only a child, fresh from birth, with a memory of pain in its heart. The creature was man.
It learned to walk with the animals of earth: to hunt and live and cry. And though it was kin to bird and beast and humble insect, it was unique: because man, unlike animals, could not remember its time as the shifter. But it is said that of all creatures, man alone could dance.