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In the 21st century, humans began to explore the power of genetic engineering. At first, genetic modifications were used therapeutically – to eliminate disease and to improve quality of life. In time however, some people ventured into the realm of augmentation. Though this was initially taboo, progressively more people became interested in changing the human species in fundamental ways.

A group that came to be known as the therians established secessionist movements around the world – breaking off into new states and provinces where therianthropy, as it came to be known, could be explored without social or scientific impediment.

In therian settlements, speciation programs were established over many generations. These programs were enacted in order to create new therian species. These six therian species would come to be known as boars, foxes, cats, ravens, lizards and carp.

The core philosophy of therian society is one of romanticism. Therians believe that the creation of their species is a means to not only grow closer to nature, but to preserve nature through embracing the bestial qualities of vertebrate species through new living races.

Unsurprisingly, therian philosophy catalyzed and reinforced pagan revival movements over the next few centuries – something that soon became essential to the culture of their society.

Among other things, the naturalistic and spiritual dimension of therian society encouraged them to explore lives with a stronger ecological and environmental focus.

Over time, coastal and tropical cities became dominated by carp as advanced underwater buildings were constructed nearby. Warm or arid cities attracted populations of lizards, while cooler regions attracted boars, foxes and cats. More temperate regions were most attractive to raven and fox therians.

In the western region of North America is the State of Mojave. To those that live there, it is an idyllic therian settlement. Though the deserts that dominate Mojave are quite favorable to lizards, its long coastal regions, cooler mountain communities and mild valleys – all within a short distance from each other, make it an excellent place for therians of all types to live.

In the state of Mojave is a particular city named Rancho Duna. Like many contemporary cities, Rancho Duna is full of pagan temples and spiritual centers of all kinds. Though occasionally desert mystics try to proselytize, they are heavily fined and often leave town after spending a night in a jail cell. In the bookstore and gift shop of one of Rancho Duna’s many temples, Eugene works as a cashier. He sells not only books but also sacred charms and spiritual supplies to the general public, and also offers consultation to those who need it.

The grounds of Wellspring Temple are even more lush that the rest of Rancho Duna. Tall, elegant juniper trees line the cobblestone pathway leading to the main temple. The whole area where the temple sits is just as much an arboretum as it is a temenos – possessing well-maintained shrubs, various herbs and flowers of many types and colors. These are all regularly maintained.

The main temple and the bookstore next to it are made in a modest Gallo-Roman style – with bright pillars, simple doors and windows, and terracotta shingles on top. In addition to European influences are Near Eastern motifs from various places, but most especially Ancient Egypt. Approaching the entrance to the bookstore, Eugene takes a moment to admire the work his community has put into the temple – before readjusting the bag on his shoulder and opening up the store for the beginning of the day.

Eugene is a middle-aged male boar with a full frame, pointed ears, a porcine snout and bristly brown fur. Like most days, he is currently dressed in casual clothing – but not without a heavy chain around his neck, large gauges in his ears and rings around his adult tusks. Like his younger years, Eugene’s love of underground culture is evident in his bold personal style, but is tempered by his gregarious countenance and mystical mindset. This is the spirit he brings to his work at the bookstore and the consultations that inevitably follow.

After taking some time to settle in and tidy up shelves, the bell above the front door of the Wellspring bookstore chimes brightly as a new customer arrives into the space. Unlike Eugene, this young, male fox is short and slender – with vulpine features and reddish fur. He has the more reserved and hesitant attitude of a uncertain, fresh-faced college student exploring the world on their own for the first time. In contrast to Eugene’s more seasoned, alternative look, Preston has a more understated aesthetic – preferring muted tones, a comfy hoodie. He’s wearing thick framed glasses and has a set of black headphones around his neck for private listening.

“Welcome! Is this your first time in the store?” Eugene says cheerfully.

“Yes, it is.” Preston says plainly. “I was invited here by a friend.”

“That’s wonderful! Your friend has good taste.” Eugene replies. Noticing the headphones around his neck, Eugene continues, saying, “It seems you have your own sense of good taste with music. Is there anything you like to listen to especially?”

“I listen to a little bit of everything” Preston says with a bit of a guarded expression. “I like to get lost in the vibe of a particular album on my walks.”

“It’s good to keep an open mind” Eugene says with a smile, “but it’s okay to prefer certain things over others. My boyfriend Magid and I love underground music the most.”

Relaxing his posture, Preston replies, “Lucien has been introducing me to a lot of new genres. It’s been a lot of fun. He’s the guy who invited me here too.” Preston smiles nervously and strokes the back of his neck for a moment.

“My name is Eugene. What’s your name?” Eugene says.

“Preston. It’s nice to meet you.” Preston replies.

“It’s nice to meet you as well” Eugene says.

After a brief silence, Eugene says, “We have a lot of books here in the store – including many about fairly germane subjects. Feel free to take a look at them while you wait for your friend. We have a dedicated study area in the back if you find something you want to explore further.”

“Thank you” Preston replies quietly.

Taking some time to peruse the shelves at the bookstore while Eugene deals with a steady stream of customers, Preston takes a few books and passes through an open hallway to the study room that Eugene mentioned earlier.

Passing through a short hallway, Preston notices a small kitchen to the left and a door past it that leads to a back patio. Further down, the hallway opens up to the main room. It has comfortable couches, a coffee table, and a small nook surrounded by shelves of obscure books. There is a draped window with midday sunlight pouring through and soft incandescent lighting around the whole space. Preston decides to take a seat in the cozy nook at the far end and enjoy the quietude of the study room.

After some time of reading, and a little bit of daydreaming, Preston hears the soft steps of someone down the hallway. Looking up, he sees Lucien gazing at him with a soft smile and a confident, masculine, foxy pose.

“You look cozy” Lucien says playfully. “Did you find anything good to read?”

“A few things” Preston replies sheepishly while looking at the sizeable stack he brought into the study room before Lucien arrived.

“I can see that!” Lucien says with a laugh. “So, I heard that Eugene talked to you a little bit about music when you first arrived. Him and Magid can’t get enough of the underground. I’ve definitely picked their brains about music, art and culture many times.”

“How long have you known them?” Preston inquires.

“I’ve known them for a few years now” Lucien replies. “Right around the time I was first looking for a new temple – something different than the one my parents go to, I met Eugene and Magid at a music concert. They invited me to the Wellspring bookstore shortly afterward.”

“Do you go to the temple a lot?” Preston asks.

“Sometimes” Lucien replies. “I often make offerings before big exams or when I need some spiritual motivation in my life.” Lucien looks at Preston intently with a soft smile. “You should come with me during the summer solstice. There’s a big midsummer festival coming up. There’s tons to do.”

Preston is hesitant, but he has trouble saying no to Lucien’s brilliant amber eyes.

“Alright. Let’s do it!” Preston says.