Worldbuilding Vargr is a fun and tough journey into my own country’s past and the old mythologies. To couple it and bridge it with modern day life and our current view of wolf shifters is an amazing challenge, and I seriously don’t see it ever ending because it’s grown so big and complex in such a short time.
This is the overview that’ll help explain what can’t be gathered in the novels without info-dumping it all in the same place. And that would be boring. But, if you’re here, it’s because I’ve managed the feat of making the world interesting enough for you to WANT the info-dump, and I’m happy to provide it.
If there are aspects of the Vargr you’d like more of, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’d be more than happy to fill in gaps.
The Vargr are called the sons and daughters of Loki. They are gray wolf shifters and said to stem from Fenrir (son of Loki)
Vargr live to be between 350 and 500 years – the stronger the Vargr the longer they live.
Vargr are born in human form no matter who their parents are (human or Vargr). To maintain the Vargr form, especially Alphas breed with wolves. The strong Vargr offspring then share the Vargr strength with their packs through bites.
A special kind of wolf is called the Feral Vargr. They’re born in feral form, live in only that one feral form, and cannot talk. They have the average intelligence of a 10-year-old child. The Feral Vargr are recognizable from regular gray wolves from being bigger and having broader skulls. They live far longer lives than regular wolves and in packs with many Alphas.
A Vargr mother and a Feral father will produce a human formed pup to rise as any other shifting Vargr.
A Vargr father and a Feral mother will produce Feral Vargr pups, born as wolves, and unable to shift.
Vargr pups and how they mature
At age 15, the Vargr in the shifter is awakened by the bite of the Vargr parent (MUST be direct lineage. An uncle or aunt can’t give the bite unless they’re the identical twin to the Vargr parent as any other bite will provoke the Vargr to rise before its time).
At age 20 the Vargr rises from the Bite of the Pack Alpha (must be the bite of a powerful Vargr to secure the strength of the rising Vargr). The Vargr rises through a rebirth that is painful and can take upward to 24 hours. The stronger the Vargr, the less time the rebirth takes. It ends with the human body shifting to Vargr for the first time. The Vargr form is humanoid and has the ability to speak, albeit a bit slurred.
At the end of the first shift, the newly risen Vargr run to merge the human and Vargr form, which finalizes when the Vargr shifts back to human form. They run with pack to form the pack bond to the running members.
1 to 2 years after the Vargr's rise, the human can merge with the feral Vargr, too, and take full wolf form. They are then considered fully grown Vargr.
Personality traits of the Vargr
They are fiercely loyal, playful, and fight a lot but mainly with each other. And they love to run! They have a pecking order, and everybody is happy once they know their place in it, yet they always test it. This is where their urge to fight comes in.
They heal fast.
Vargr ability to shift comes from their bones having break plates that is mainly made from cartilage. That’s part of what allows them to shift. Bones break easier in human form and is at their optimal strength in the Vargr form.
Soft tissue damage heals faster even in pups and speeds up after their parental bite at age 15.
Extreme anger can cause the Vargr traits to step forward, like their eyes will get that feral sheen to them. The “early sneers” can even be seen in pups from they’ve received their parental bite.
Females have four ovaries, and it’s unlikely for them to carry only one pup at a time. It happens with early or late pregnancies.
Vargr male hormones can influence a human female mate’s ovaries to produce more ripe eggs per cycle, so twins and triplets are most common with human mothers after their first pregnancy.
Vargr hug a lot. They bond and grow stronger from physical contact—that includes with humans. The instinct is awoken from childhood, and pups will "pup pile", while grown Vargr will "pack pile". It's snuggling up and drawing security from each other, strengthening their bond as pack.
Pack and Mate bonds explained
There are two kinds of mate bonds. One is to a procreating human or Vargr. This is a love mate bond. The other is a true Alpha mate bond.
True Alpha Mate bonds form between Alphas with active embers, and they are always male pairings as embers rise to face adversity and battle. The Alpha with the need for support chases down the ember needed, and the ember responding will bond to that Alpha for life. It is the Vargr in them that mate, not the human sides. An Alpha mate bond is not from romantic love but merges ember strengths. This urges the Vargrs to bond through physical contact, too, which is often instinctual sex. When an Alpha mate bond locks, two become one, and their heart beats can sync.
There are four primary kinds of pack bond, which are created and maintained through bites and pack piling in bitten and risen Vargr. It’s all in the saliva and hormones.
Pup bond: There’s no biting with this bond. Pups include everyone who has not yet received the Bite from a Pack Alpha. Pup bonds are forged through fighting, running, and pup piling (lots of hugs and physical contact through cuddling—hormones through touch.)
First bond: Family/kin/relatives/human mates (romantic mate bonds)/extremely close friends (Vargr and humans alike). Pups have this, too, because it’s not formed from a bite but from hormones during hugs and “piling” which is high-level cuddling.
Second bond: Pack members. Pups have this through their first bond’s second bond to pack members as it’s a combination of bites and the pups’ first bond that binds them to the second bond.
Third bond: This bond is a diluting second bond to pack members of a previous pack/member who moved to another pack. This bond dims with time, too, if not maintained by physical contact, running, and bites. Pack and Regional Alphas don’t have this bond as their second is very strong. (Pups don’t feel the third bond.)
The last bond is a running bond. While especially Alphas run together, they can form a running bond that makes them temporary pack. Their embers get a clear view of the Vargr's core person. Running bonds release faster than any other, but the longer they run together, the longer the bond will take to release. This bond is not painful to lose like all the others are, but it is felt. It's one of trust because embers who don't agree won't bond.
The Vargr social structure in Denmark
At the onset of the Ember series there are 13 Sköll Hati Regions and 6 Geri Freki Regions in Denmark, each run by a Regional Alpha.
There are 1345 territories divided under these 13 Sköll Hati Regions. Each territory is run by a Sköll Hati Pack Alpha. Each territory also holds a small Geri Freki pack, also run by a Pack Alpha. The Sköll Hati Pack Alpha is to them called Territory Alpha, and all decisions are made by him.
There are three levels of Vargr. Alpha, Beta, and Omega.
All Vargr have embers, but Alphas (both male and female) are driven by theirs. Embers are what binds a pack together through fighting, biting, and piling, yet Alphas' power and aggression is powered by their packs to secure them, both against threats and as a whole. Because Alphas can feel the pack's needs, they can lead through insight.
Betas and Omegas are physically the same, but Omega is a social level within the packs. In Sköll Hati, it's a time of punishment to contemplate a wrongdoing that had a negative consequence for the pack as a whole. The Vargr is placed in the communal building to constantly be among those they failed to strengthen bond and the sense of pack that they failed.
Pack Alphas and Pack Alpha Bitches
Pack Alphas and Pack Alpha Bitches are mated as a custom that dates back to the Great Pack War. It was suggested as a means to raise the number of Alphas after so many had died in that war. The dynamics are no longer needed, but they're kept because it's also acknowledged that a male Alpha may overlook female needs if power is not balanced between the genders.
Bitches (Alphas and Betas alike) are fierce and respected by males. Where a male shifting to Vargr to face his Pack Alpha is a direct challenge, a Bitch shifting to fight her Pack Alpha is seen as the greatest sham. He will immediately concede, and all Alphas will run to find a worthy Pack Alpha. A Bitch going at a Pack Alpha means he failed her in securing her the prosperity to raise pups in happiness, which is the driving force of Sköll Hati packs.
The Great Pack War
This war ended in the year 604 on the borders between Denmark and Germany after almost 30 years of increasing hostility and fighting between packs.
The feuds ended up being between the two packs today knows as Sköll Hati and Geri Freki—both named after the legendary true Alpha mates who led the packs. The Alpha mates Sköll (white wolf) and Hati (black wolf) stood victorious, and the Vargr who followed them were from then on called Sköll Hati packs. Those who followed the losing true Alpha mates, Geri and Freki (they had mirroring half moons on their chest), were since then called Geri Freki packs and now live on “borrowed territory” under Sköll Hati rule.
The two packs differ on many customs, others are the same.
Both packs recognize Alphas as having an ember.
Betas with the kim of an Alpha (slumbering ember) are by Sköll Hati called Beta Protectors, and strife can awaken their ember to draw Betas to them. Geri Freki, due to their low number of Alphas, raise this kim to Alpha status in their packs. Geri Freki may even raise Betas without a kim to Alphas if they don’t have any with an active ember because their packs are small due to poverty. Sköll Hati only raise Alphas with embers.
Omegas to Sköll Hati is a punishment for neglecting the pack in one way or another. To Geri Freki, they’re a sign of weakness and an embarrassment to the pack. In Geri Freki packs, someone rising by the Bite to become Omega may never rise to Beta. Poor fighting skills is often the reason for someone to rise as Omega in Geri Freki, while lack of pack bond and trust in the pack is what will see an Omega rise in Sköll Hati. Here, the pack will try to support the Omega to rise to Beta.
Sköll Hati Pack Alphas rise to that position through a run where they pull the most Vargr in the pack. Geri Freki are always conquering Alphas, meaning they fight to the death in Vargr form. The winner becomes Pack Alpha.
To challenge a Pack Alpha, the attacker must do so in Vargr form. If they lose, they will be killed for treason by the pack (called nidhug). If they win…well, only one Sköll Hati has, and that’s Steffen, and he’s on a 100 year probation to prove he’s not rabid.
Where Sköll Hati focuses on prosperity as their guiding value, Geri Freki values strength and the ability to fight.
Other than the Vargr wolves, there are the Völsung wolves.
Once, they were Vargr, yet they focused so hard on breeding for power that they’ve almost lost their human side. They now have to breed with humans to be able to shift to and keep human form. Their natural form is a halfway form between feral and Vargr form, and they're born in that form--even by a human mother. If not, the offspring is killed for being too human (weak in Völsung eyes).
They are ruthless. The main purpose of their existence is, from birth, to train for war and conquest. Fortunately, they are not numerous. In Denmark, at least.
Völsung even tend to eat humans. The humans kidnapped to forcefully be made to carry Völsung pups are killed ritualistically and fed to their children as a last sacrifice to strengthen their Völsung offspring.
The name of a fallen Völsung is stricken from all records and forbitten to ever be said again. Only the weak die in battle.
They don’t have Alphas, Betas, and Omegas. They have Warlords and Warriors. If a Warlord dies from old age with his power intact, he will be remembered forever. This is the only instant a name is ever remembered.
Another sibling race under Loki is the Sleipnir – from the eight-legged horse that Loki got with a Jöttun stallion to win a bet.
They are centaurs and can shift to a full horse form. This is where the legend of the eight legs come from – four in each form. Also, they’re strong, so they can pull as if they pull with eight legs.
The Icelandic Horses are the closest and purest left of the ones that ran with Sleipnir.
Sleipnir are bigger (averaging 4 inches taller) and more muscular than the regular horses, though.
They’re stubborn, have high work ethics, and they are true to their words at all costs.
They love to challenge their strength and seek out challenging works to be done.
They are only males, and they live with and breed with regular mares. They are far more animal than they are human, but they are highly intelligent. Their intelligence reaches beyond human understanding as they can talk to plants and animals, and the wind and soil will whisper them news, while changes to the world echoes across the land for them to pick up on. Changes mean someone did work, after all.
A Sleipnir is born as a horse, but their intelligence is quickly seen in their eyes. When they are around the age of 3 to 5 years old, they shift to Sleipnir form for the first time.
Their eyes remain that of a horse, their torso is humanoid but holds no organs. They have no nipples or bellybutton. Their ears remain horse-like, just smaller, and their nose ridge and mouth are not fully human. Their mane still runs down their back, and their skin is still covered by hair, just very short and fine. They freeze easily in this form.
Like all horses, they see well at night and have an excellent hearing.
When a young Sleipnir reaches the age of Bachelor (around age 30), they leave their band to seek out those who have earned their and their father’s respect. It’s to ask for a single piece of advice to help guide them through life as they build their own band and matures to find the work that will fulfill them in life. That piece of advice is sacred to them and the giver and is rarely shared with anyone it doesn’t directly concern.
All bands are led by an Alpha whose vision to be worked toward speaks to the Betas then choosing to follow. All mares in a band belongs to the Alpha (his responsibility to balance the needs of them), but outside that they’re pretty equal.
Betas readily change band if another Alpha’s work speaks to them, but he cannot bring the mare who birthed him a son. It’s seen as extremely rude to leave if a mare is pregnant or before the young is old enough to run without his mother as she’d then have to follow the Beta to the new band.
Once in a rare while, a mare will be born. She will seek out and tempt the Stallions to find the strongest and hardest working to give her a son. The father is called the Chaos Stallion, and his work is to tear down the old, and the son, called Change, will work to bring about a new world. She drives their work and is respected as an omen, a goddess, and a queen to the Sleipnir people.
The above details of the Vargr Worldbuilding will be furthered as it unfolds in future books.