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It looked as tall as a house and half as wide. It wore scarlet bleached by time, moth-eaten and tattered. It came up the street in a short of shamble, now fast, now slow. Wild, stringy hair tangled around its head. Its bramble patch of beard was so thick and matted with filth that its face was all but invisible.

Croaker, The Black Company

Shapeshifter, or simply Shifter, was one of the immensely powerful sorcerers known as the Ten Who Were Taken and a key enforcer in the Lady's Empire. He was an unparalleled assassin, and personally slew many of the Lady's enemies – members of the Rebel's Circle of Eighteen – throughout the events of The Black Company. He was thought to have been killed during the climactic Battle of Charm, but reappeared years later and thousands of miles south during Shadow Games. There, he provided invaluable military intelligence and life-saving battlefield assistance to the Black Company during the early Shadowmaster wars... but was betrayed by them on the first night of the Battle of Dejagore.

Shifter was an extraordinarily huge man with grey hair and a filthy, thick beard which covered most of his face. His clothes were scarlet-colored and heavily tattered, and his hallmark was a bizarre staff in the form of an elongated, beautiful female body. There was a credible rumor that the staff was once a real woman who had been turned solid by his sorcery for infidelity.

Before Croaker's Annals[]

The Domination[]

Prior to the era known as the Domination, Shapeshifter was initially an independent wizard-king. Then he was enslaved by the infamous sorcerer known only as the Dominator, becoming the first of the group that would come to be known as the Ten Who Were Taken. As such, Shifter was forced to become one of the Dominator's enforcers and generals, but presumably was also one of his subordinate lords with control over much territory. At some point, he was in an intimate relationship with a beautiful woman. But, she was unfaithful to him and had an affair with his despised rival, the Limper (another member of the Ten). Upon discovering her infidelity, Shifter was reputed to have transformed this woman into his hallmark staff. The unmitigated hatred between Shifter and the Limper would become well-known throughout the Domination. He was also known to wear a suit of armor during the era, which was recovered by the wizard Bomanz centuries later.

After a dark period of rule, they were all defeated (but not killed) by the original White Rose and her armies. Shifter, alongside the Dominator, the Dominator's wife the Lady, and the other nine Taken, were all imprisoned in the Barrowland alongside a considerable number of horrendous demons. The imprisonment was meant to last for eternity.

Liberation and service to the Lady[]

Several decades before The Black Company (and 370 years after being interred in the Barrowland), Shapeshifter, the other nine Taken, and the Lady were freed from their prison by a group known as the Resurrectionists. To keep power to herself, the Lady orchestrated this event such that the Dominator and his "pet" demons remained imprisoned. Shifter and the other Taken would soon join the Lady in building their headquarters, the Tower at Charm. After that, the Taken served as the Lady's generals in the consolidation wars, helping her establish her own dominion, the Lady's Empire, over a huge span of the northern continent.

The Black Company[]

Shapeshifter by Ebuin

Shapeshifter by Ebuin

Disguised appearance in Beryl[]

The forvalaka which attacked the Paper Tower in the Bastion of Beryl toward the beginning of The Black Company was almost certainly Shapeshifter. Although Croaker and the rest of the Black Company at the time did not know it, Shapeshifter must have sailed with Soulcatcher from Opal to Beryl aboard the Imperial flagship The Dark Wings. If this account reported later by Croaker and One-Eye is accurate, it would mean that Shifter took on the form of the forvalaka and killed those dozens of people, including Company brothers like Tom-Tom, in his hunt for the Syndic. The true forvalaka was subdued and caged by Soulcatcher for later use, and Shifter, undetected, sailed back with them all across the Sea of Torments to Opal.

Rivalry with the Limper: Elm[]

Shapeshifter and Soulcatcher both despised the Limper, another one of the Ten Who Were Taken. Despite the ongoing Imperial war against the Rebel armies of the Circle of Eighteen, they both found ways to discredit and antagonize the Limper. After the Limper left his headquarters in Elm for an unsanctioned personal mission to Roses, Shapeshifter and Soulcatcher leaked the intelligence about his absence to the Rebel. This spurred a genuine Rebel uprising in Elm. Shapeshifter conveniently arrived and quashed the Rebels there. Soulcatcher proudly informed the Limper in Roses about this, and the Limper was horrified to learn that the Lady would soon confront him about it.

Rivalry with the Limper: Oar[]

Shapeshifter by Artem Parkinsun

Shapeshifter by Artem Parkinsun

The Black Company encountered Shapeshifter in his true form for the first time outside Cornie's stable in Oar. Despite his unsettling appearance, his first action was to immediately heal Raven with a simple touch of his staff. Croaker, the Company surgeon, summoned the courage to request that he heal some other men as well, and he did so, earning Croaker's respect. The Company then helped him to organize a trap for their shared rival, the Limper. Shapeshifter transformed himself to look like Cornie, and then used a glamour to make several Company men look like Rebel leaders: Raven appeared to be the general Harden; Elmo appeared to be Field Major Reef, Harden's chief-of-staff; and Croaker appeared to be Motrin Hanin, Harden's nephew and a vicious assassin. In these disguises they infiltrated a Rebel torture room where the Imperial colonel Zouad – the Limper's infamous enforcer – was being interrogated for information. Right when the Limper entered the chamber to rescue Zouad, Shapeshifter suddenly stunned the Limper with magic and buried him alive under the collapsing building with help from Croaker.

Shifter then joined the Black Company in wild street combat that resulted in many Rebel deaths. During this melee, Croaker noticed that Shapeshifter had some kind of protective spell that "turned" enemy swords and arrows, so he protected himself by staying very close to Shifter. After the fight, Shapeshifter abruptly disappeared from Oar. (The Black Company was called away as well, to garrison at Elm, and Oar was rapidly recaptured by the Rebel general Raker who easily overcame Limper's leaderless forces.)

Subsequent events[]

Shapeshifter next appeared in the Annals during his brief visit to the Forest of Cloud, where Croaker and Raven had subdued the Limper (now exposed as a traitor) and the Rebel general Whisper. Shifter had been summoned by Soulcatcher to be given the opportunity to execute the Limper, whose life was now forfeit. However, Shifter refused and flew away on his flying carpet. Just like Raven and Soulcatcher herself, Shifter did not want the final responsibility of finishing off the vile but defenseless sorcerer.

Shapeshifter was subsequently sent to defeat a Rebel siege of the Imperial city of Rye, located south of the Salient and north of the Tower at Charm. Croaker recorded a rumor, soon proved false, which stated that Shifter was killed in the fighting at Rye.

Versus the Rebels in the Windy Country[]

Across the Windy Country and then at the Stair of Tear, Shapeshifter secretly crossed into Rebel lines on several occasions to spread terror and death. While a major Rebel force was flanking the Black Company on the Stair, Shifter personally attacked three members of the powerful Rebel Circle of Eighteen: he assassinated Moth and Linger, and grievously wounded Sidle.

Versus Harden at the Stair of Tear[]

Shapeshifter was next a critical participant in the successful ambush and killing of the Rebel's most senior general Harden. Again behind enemy lines, he transformed himself into Harden's large black horse, and waited until the right moment to strike. This moment came when Harden was distracted by a diversion of enemies consisting of three of the other taken: Soulcatcher, Stormbringer, and the Hanged Man; as well as Croaker and Raven from the Black Company, and at least 4 veteran Imperial soldiers. Harden quickly slew two of the soldiers and then immobilized the three approaching Taken with a very powerful spell. But he was soon trapped by Shifter, who transformed into a nightmarish creature and kept Harden defenseless while Stormbringer's two soldiers hacked the Rebel leader to death. Shifter laughed victoriously and kicked Harden's corpse, but immediately his mood changed. When Shifter realized that the Hanged Man was fatally impaled by Harden's thrown sword, he was deeply disturbed and attempted to help his fellow Taken. But Soulcatcher and Stormbringer made it clear that the Hanged Man should be left to die, causing Shifter to feel betrayed.

In a discussion with One-Eye and the Captain, Croaker would later surmise a conspiracy among some of the Taken to explain the Hanged Man's death and Shapeshifter's reaction. Croaker proposed that Soulcatcher and Stormbringer, both women, were secretly loyal to their former lover, the Dominator, and that they allowed the Hanged Man to die because he was a genuine supporter of the Lady, who was keeping the Dominator trapped in the Barrowland. Dramatic infighting among the Taken at the Battle of Charm would soon support this theory.

At the Battle of Charm[]

At the Battle of Charm, when the Tower was besieged by a quarter of a million Rebels, Shapeshifter was given command of 1,000 soldiers, all sourced from the western and southern portions of the empire. His men were situated on the right side of the third (and topmost) wall in front of the Tower. He would not get a chance to personally command these men however. On the first night of actual battle, he penetrated enemy lines on one of his usual sneak attacks to target members of the Circle. In the form of a forvalaka, he single-handedly assassinated the Circle members known as Whiskers, Roper, and Tamarask, as well as "several score" other senior Rebel functionaries. Croaker and One-Eye soon surmised that it was Shapeshifter who murdered One-Eye's brother, Tom-Tom, back in Beryl (before the Company was hired by the Empire), and not an actual forvalaka. But that same night, Shifter was also rumored to have been killed, so One-Eye was absolutely furious that he could not avenge his brother. Shifter's force on the third wall then fell under the command of Lord Jalena.

Shapeshifter would be the first of eight Taken to be reportedly killed during the epic battle. The circumstances of his death were "questionable" and the Black Company was ordered to remain alert. Croaker would later clarify in the fourth chronicle that Stormbringer was responsible for the harm that befell Shapeshifter. She was one of the three female Taken who would all betray the Lady during the battle. However (like Stormbringer, the Howler, and Soulcatcher, other Taken thought to be killed) Shifter survived, and was never seen in the Empire again.

Before Shadow Games[]

Shapeshifter had actually survived the Battle of Charm, and was secretly "salvaged" afterward by the Lady. Although no details are supplied in the Annals about this, it was presumably the same kind of very painful process that had been used by the Lady when she salvaged the Limper after his extreme mutilation in Shadows Linger.

The Lady then sent Shapeshifter, with Lisa Daele Bowalk as a new apprentice, to the southern continent. She may have been motivated by the premonition that she would disappear from the north, and wished to have a powerful supporter planted in the south for her eventual arrival. Shifter readily followed the order, because he knew something even the Lady did not: the traitor Stormbringer, thought to be dead, had fled to the south. It was Stormbringer who had nearly killed him at Charm.

Near Gea-Xle where the Nar called home, Shapeshifter took on the persona of a local wizard called "Eldon the Seer" (also spelled "Eldron" in the Annals). Although he altered his appearance enough to be unrecognizable to northerners, his skin remained white. He remained in Gea-Xle with the undisguised Bowalk for some time. As Eldon, he proactively heralded the forthcoming arrival of the Black Company throughout Gea-Xle. The leaders and merchants of the city built a huge barge in anticipation of the Company's arrival.

Shadow Games[]

Versus the Howler in the swamp[]

Shifter, still under his guise as "Eldon", emerged when the Black Company itself finally passed through the region with Lady. Riding aboard a fortified river barge, at first Shifter remained below deck, unseen in Lady's quarters. Then, their flotilla on the great river was ambushed by the notorious native river pirates operating between Gea-Xle and Thresh. One-Eye and Goblin detected the presence of a sorcerer of high magnitude among the pirates. When this mysterious sorcerer joined the battle directly, One-Eye and Goblin were no match. Croaker then forced Lady on deck, and eventually had the imp Frogface return Shifter's bizarre staff to "Eldon the Seer". Now in his true form, Shifter used the staff to dispense a firestorm of explosive sorcery. Then, hearing the Howler's signature screams, the Company realized they had crossed paths with another member of the Ten Who Were Taken who had been, until that moment, incorrectly thought dead. Shapeshifter's explosions chased the Howler away.

Battle of Ghoja Ford[]

After his firestorms on the great river, Shifter restrained himself until his major actions at Dejagore. However, in the meantime, he did assist in less showy ways. Before the Battle of Ghoja Ford, he gathered and shared absolutely critical military intelligence with the Black Company. The Shadowlanders had cleverly built a levee on the Main, such that they could partially dam it and divert water flow into a low lying area and thus open up the Ford to foot traffic a day or more sooner. Shifter notified Lady, who was now the Black Company Lieutenant, the second-in-command of the outfit. This critical revelation gave Croaker the time to counter the planned enemy assault by bringing the battle to the Shadowlanders on his own terms. Without Shifter's intelligence, the enemy would have crossed at Ghoja, unchallenged, in a single day. Croaker openly admitted in his Annals that Taglios would have been defeated afterward.

Very shortly before the battle proper, Shifter created a patch of fog to conceal a cunning trap prepared by Croaker.

Battle of Dejagore[]

At the Battle of Dejagore, Shapeshifter contributed his nearly unrivaled sorcery on several occasions. At very start of the battle, he took the form of a wolf and caused lightning strikes from the Shadowmaster known as Stormshadow to miss Croaker, Murgen, Goblin, and other nearby riders. He next helped dispel Shadowspinner's protective sorcery, leaving him vulnerable to conventional weaponry. Spinner was gravely injured as a result.

That night, after the Company breached the city, Shapeshifter took the form of a forvalaka, scaled the citadel's walls, and personally attacked Stormshadow, who turned out to be Stormbringer under a new name. No one other than Shifter, not even Lady, knew that Stormshadow was one of the Taken until he unmasked her. Shifter and the tiny but powerful woman fought ferociously until they were both immobilized. As the two fought, One-Eye reminded Croaker that Shapeshifter, disguised as a forvalaka, had actually killed his brother (the wizard Tom-Tom) in Beryl roughly 15 or 16 years ago. Although Croaker was uncertain if this was true, he did not stop One-Eye from taking revenge. Since both Shifter and Stormbringer were now defenseless, One-Eye took the opportunity to knock them unconscious and suture their mouths and orifices shut. Taking Lady's advice, One-Eye and Goblin ultimately burned them both to ashes, removing "two great wickednesses" from the world. However, Croaker and the others spared the life of Shapeshifter's apprentice, Lisa Daele Bowalk, herself now trapped in the shape of a forvalaka. Years later this would be One-Eye's undoing, as she would relentlessly hunt the wizard to avenge her mentor Shapeshifter.

Ten Who Were Taken
Soulcatcher • The Howler • The LimperShapeshifterStormbringer
The Hanged ManBonegnasherNightcrawlerMoonbiter • The Faceless Man