“These theriocephs exhibit deviant sexual behavior that I have not noticed in any prior species. Where it is normal for shapeshifting species to atypically enjoy the act of reproduction, this particular batch differs in that they pursue non-reproductive intercourse with the native animals, and not necessarily with the same species. Abzu may require correction, once I isolate the behavior. I am classifying it as the Zeus factor, after the redemption-name of the Igigi who was first reported and observed.”
— Ninhursag, Musings G-Ω-931
The Biology of the Nommo
The Nommo have an original form that they refer to as the Empty Tablet, but no one outside the Nommo or the Gods themselves has ever witnessed them in this form. They are a species of shapeshifters, able to alter their own scaffold of simple genes to incorporate traits from other species, including animals and other sentient species created by the Gods.
This is an innate shaping ability that they can only perform on themselves, but in many ways mimics the body alteration and healing abilities of the kursu. All Nommo have this ability, even those who are born without other shaping talents due to gene damage from incompatibility with Adin's environment.
The Nommo are able to control up to six functional limbs, allowing for many configurations of hooves, arms, and wings. The utility of tails can vary depending on the species the Nommo copied the tail from, and the other adaptations they carry. Their functional limits will allow them prehensile tails, trunks, or other pseudo-limbs if the precursor species had them. However, the mental effort required to use these complex structures limits them to no more than four other appendages in addition to the prehensile one.
The Nommo claim that in their Empty Tablet form, they do not possess reproductive organs of any kind. These must be adapted from an external species, but does not require a specific male or female sample. Rather, they begin with the stem cells for reproductive organs, then alter their own influence towards one sex or the other. Most Nommo consider themselves androgynous, and may change their sex multiple times during their life. Others are more comfortable as male or female and maintain that identity through all their forms.
In order to successfully breed, a pair of Nommo must be fully compatible across all the gene species currently on their template. In addition, they at least for purposes of reproduction have to temporarily be male and female, and the female must stay in this form until the young are out of the womb. Brood sizes and gestation time vary depending on the animal types involved, and may involve live birth or laying of eggs. Their young are born with the same gene configuration as the parents, with the ability to alter their own genes presenting after their first full year of growth.
Integrating the genes of a new sample must be done through touch, which must be maintained until the process is complete. This can take anywhere from a day to several weeks depending on the complexity and compatibility of the sample, and the innate talent of the individual Nommo. This transcription ability does not generate any ambrita
A sample may also be "wiped from the tablet" completely by the Nommo going into a state of hibernation for several days. Nommo that are heavily into body modification may do this often, as it is hard to maintain more than four or five samples on their gene scaffolding at once. Attempting a more chimeric form than this can result in permanent madness or mutations that can take weeks in hibernation to undo.
Once a new sample is fully integrated and the Nommo carries some traits of that biology, they are able to quickly modify their bodies to adapt other traits from the sample or remove them at will. This secondary type of modification can be performed safely within the span of a day, becoming easier and faster the more they transform that part. It can be forced into an almost immediate change, but will cause great pain to the Nommo if rushed. The actual act of transformation will cause ambrita
to be produced, the amount of which varies in relation to the change in mass required for the shift.
Genes as an Art Form
Samples can be reused if preserved correctly, and the Nommo have included this deeply into their culture. Jewelry of horn or bone, and clothing made from hide or fur are traded not only for their beauty, but for practical reasons.
The Many Forms of the Nommo
Early Nommo tended more towards a single animal for their adaptations, or a combination of two at most for added utility. They were never in their Empty Tablet forms, even partially. Once they encountered the Udug, some of the Nommo experimented with their genes but found the form difficult to integrate and uncomfortable in a way they could not quite place. The Udug also forbade taking of their forms, and once the Nommo were subjugated the Udug did their best to confiscate any Udug remains that the Nommo had obtained.
The Udug were more than happy to provide the Nommo with bone samples from their other conquests, so that they could use the Nommo as warriors and, in the case of the Adinites, spies. Adinite samples were particularly useful to the Nommo, as it managed to correct some of their own faltering genes.
After the Great War, in fact, many of the Nommo switched their form to that of the Adinites and have assimilated completely into Adinite society, some choosing to stay silent about their true origin which remains completely undetectable until treated by a kursu. Another popular form in present day is to stay mostly humanoid via Adinite or ELF samples, while presenting the head and other minor traits of an animal they favor, such as fur, claws, and tails.
The Nommo colony was established at the edge of the large temperate forest in the southwest of Babel, in a large coastal valley. Here, they had a wide variety of fresh and saltwater species to mimic, as well as birds, mammals, and reptiles. Originally established as a colony of three hundred, the versatile Nommo had already expanded their numbers to over a thousand by the time the Gods left Adin, taking sixty of their best shapers with them.
Although the Gods and their golem servants assisted the Nommo in building an initial city for their people, they did not maintain it. They preferred nature to architecture, and built temporary shelters to protect from the elements when needed. During conjunctions of Adin's suns, when the surface is unbearable for the other species, some of the Nommo do shelter in their Underworld, but others hold genes of the native animals that protect them from the harsh light and stay above ground.
The Nommo lived happily in tune with nature, expanding out along the coasts to discover new species and exploring the deep sea near their city. They intuitively learned which animals dominated each part of the food web, and adapted their hunting methods or kept to a diet of plants or ambrita. Population boomed, but was kept under control through coordinated breeding templates. They lived in harmony with each other and with nature, mostly within the boundaries set for them, and barely noticed when the deadline for the Gods' return had passed.
Then came the Udug. The horde that marched on the Nommo lands lost the advantage of stealth, not realizing at first that seemingly innocent animals in the forest were actually Nommo reporting back to their people. Nommo fought tooth and claw to defend their lands, and provided the Udug with the toughest challenge they had yet faced. The Nommo experimented more with their ability and came up with some terrifying forms that were well suited to combat, but the Udug had experience and weapons.
The Nommo suffered many losses during their short-lived war with the Udug, their sonic rifles with iron or primitive steel shots proving stronger than any natural armor the Nommo could create. Lugal Ninshuel, their immortal leader, was killed in mid-transformation by one of Lugal Sherdasu's elites as she tried to change to a sparrow to escape battle. Word spread through the Nommo that their Lugal was dead, and the remaining Nommo surrendered to the Udug.
Some of the Nommo fled, both after first contact with the Udug and more after the defeat of their Lugal, taking to the oceans or the skies and never looking back. These grew into their own communities over time, ashamed to return to their homeland or just hiding in some inaccessible mountain valley to live in peace. These communities tend to stick to a common form, and have formed their own little pocket societies. They will sometimes travel out to trade with other species, but are careful to protect the locations of their people.
Pushing Their Limits
The Udug knew they had something valuable in these Nommo. Hostages were taken back to the Udug lands and given to the kursu of their Underworld for experimentation. They forced transformations to test the limits of what the Nommo could accomplish, often pushing them too far into madness or death. They also added genes from Udug, ELF, and Netillim, and later the Sulmu and Adinites after they were discovered.
Lugal Sherdasu did not like the idea of these creatures being able to mimic the look of his Udug, and all of the hostages that had been given that sample were killed. He decreed that any Nommo caught with Udug in their template would be killed, along with their entire bloodline. Remains of Udug were confiscated from Nommo lands, and Nommo that accompanied the Udug to fight the Sulmu and Adinites were watched carefully to make sure they did not obtain Udug remains.
The Nommo were permitted to take the forms of the other species, as long as they also maintained some sort of animal trait so they could be identified. The only exception to this rule were the Adinites. Once they were discovered and Sherdasu realized how expansive the Adinite lands truly were, dozens of Nommo were given the task of integrating into the Five Nations disguised as its people.
Strangers in a Strange Land
Using the genes of the crew of the fateful Adinite ship they had captured, Nommo took their forms and sailed across the great sea in the stolen vessel, dropping a few crew at each port and taking unsuspecting Adinite sailors on to replace them. Soon they had infiltrated each of the Five Nations and began to gather intelligence.
As Lugal Sherdasu had expected, some of these Nommo disappeared soon after arriving, either hiding among the Adinites or in a few instances breaking laws in a culture they did not understand. The remaining Nommo were able to make or obtain maps, numbers, and a general idea of what the Udug would be facing. These spies were then able to relay messages back to the Udug slowly using couriers between the nations, ultimately to a cell in Eridu that would then sail back to Sherdasa in a small boat leaving under cover of night.
The Nommo spy network proved invaluable to the Udug's early campaign against the Five Nations, allowing their armed and armored fleet to quickly blockade or destroy most of the Adinites' naval capabilities. The Adinites had no ships with weapons anyway, but the Udug were able to cut off all trade and most communication between the nations in a matter of days.
After the Great War
Since the treaties that freed them from Udug rule, the Nommo have thrived. They are social people and have assimilated well into Adinite society, usually taking on at least some humanoid traits when in their lands. Some remain suspicious of the shapeshifting Nommo, because of their role in the war and their ability to mimic specific people.
Many independent colonies of Nommo still exist all over the world in areas inaccessible by most, keeping to a small community or family group and avoiding the other species entirely. The groups of Nommo that fled during their conflict with the Udug welcome other Nommo into their cities now, and some of them have changed their preferred form from strictly animal to hybrids of animal and Adinite genes.
As stated earlier, inclusion of too many samples onto the Nommo gene scaffolding can cause problems. A Nommo can generally tell when their genes are becoming too burdened, and can hibernate for a period of time to remove a gene from their template. For various reasons, some Nommo do not stop there, and push the boundaries of their unique biology too far. This can result in mutations to their body that are not present in the precursor animal, tumorous growths or open sores being the most common.
With these mutations and their overloaded genetic code, the Nommo start to go mad. If they retain enough of their mind to hibernate, or are captured and hibernation is induced by a kursu, they can still pull themselves back from the brink. Otherwise they go feral, retaining no memories of the Nommo and with no way to shift back from their form.
A Nommo that has gone feral is known as a manticora. Manticora that pass this point begin to hyper-mutate, adding to their own overworked genes those of any plant, animal, or person they digest. They begin to increase in mass as well, becoming dangerous to any who cross their path. This process continues until the manticora is killed, dies through a painful and cancerous process of conflicting mutations, or in rare cases (since they tend to be carnivorous) eating enough plant material that they become a dryadi.
Nommo also have the ability to add the genes from plants to their template, but this is rarely done due to the risks involved. Plants are not fully compatible with the Nommo genes, and adding even a single sample of plant material to their template runs the risk of starting the decline into the manticora state. If their genes are damaged badly enough by mutations, they may inadvertently inherit more plant genes through consuming other plants.
A Nommo who has slipped into a state where their body is more than half comprised of flora is said to be Dryadi. This causes a cascading failure in their genes as they begin to slow down, and unable to catch prey they end up eating more plant matter to survive, accelerating the process. Eventually the body will stop moving, and take root. Flesh is replaced by bark, and what remains of their consciousness slips away. Trees known to be dryadi are revered as ancestors by the Nommo, remembered as either a cautionary tale not to become one themselves, or in the case of manticora dryadi to celebrate that Nommo soul finally coming to peace.
Death, and Beyond
Despite their wide variety in appearance, Nommo still have people that are born kursu. They are somewhat more capable of surface travel, since they can modify themselves with fur or feathers for covering, and native species they may have adapted offer increased protection. Beneath this facade they still have the trademark blue flesh.
Kursu of the Nommo people, apart from their normal abilities to regenerate and repair the bodies of others, can also imbue others with the genes they hold on their own template. They can also remove a gene from the template of another Nommo. Neither is commonly done except to save one's life from the fate of becoming manticora, as it requires the kursu to go into hibernation with the affected Nommo for several days.
The dead of the Nommo are treated by the kursu as in all the other species, allowing the soul to be bound to the corpse with the Nommo maintaining their soul until they decide to depart. Once dead, they are no longer able to shift their forms, and remain how they configured upon death.
The Udug kursu will do everything in their power to get a hold of slain manticora for study, and post-war have experimented with making flesh golems from their corpses. The Nommo find this distasteful, and make every effort to take care of manticora without alerting the Udug, disposing of the body in ways to make it useless to the kursu.