“Said the Niirkal: 'Now stand, and tower over the beasts in the field, as a lord towers over his subjects. Direct the crown of your horns to the skies, and let your [field of vision/insight] be expanded.'
Upon hearing this, the [beast/creature] stood upright on two legs, where once he crawled on four. And indeed, from this new height his [field of vision/insight] was greatly expanded, and for the first time he looked upon himself and knew his own mind.
Said the Zakul: 'Be proud! You have pleased us greatly. Few animals ever learn to see as you do, though animal you are no more. From this day forward, you are avorn, which means chosen.'”
- - Avnageta, Book of Creation
Natural selection is the only natural part of Aphor evolution. They are the product of millions of years of slow guidance, the end result of artificially-induced global cataclysms, climate change, external eugenic selection, and subtle genetic manipulation.
All of this has resulted in the modern Afor: massive, vaguely bovine bipeds, shock troops for unseen masters. Evolved and abapted to be the most dangerous organisms their homeworld of Menadh could ever produce.
They're big, strong, smart, and fast. They're not the biggest species in the galaxy, or the strongest, or the smartest, or the fastest, but what they are is all four at the same time. Also, they're all latent Essence users. Patience pays, especially when you're trying to grow super-soldiers via millions of years of natural selection.
“This is what counts for "well-rounded" in Tuuros.”
Aphor are physically formidable. Their biology is tuned for a healthy combination of strength, speed, and durability. Heavy musculature over disproportionately long arms gives them both impressive reach and considerable upper body strength; digitigrade legs ending in hooves gives them a respectable degree of agility on top of natural "boots" capable of tackling almost any ground without suffering injury. Natural plates of bony armor protect their chest, shoulders, and head. Combined with their claws and horns (normally two, sometimes four), a head-down-horns-up Aphor in full charge is unlikely to be turned aside by injury.
These features were evolved for competition and self-defense. On Menadh, Aphor were once prey items for larger and more dangerous predators -- their horizontal bar pupils are a remnant of that time, giving them a wider field of view than regular circles.
Aphor fur comes in various shades of grey, brown, and black, which slowly fades to white as they age.
Aphor are as intimidating internally as they are externally. Two notable features are their two hearts and four lungs (two smaller and "secondary", but fully capable of taking over respiration if necessary). This provides several advantages, besides being a reason for their impressive stature: for one, having redundant organs makes them that much harder to kill; for two, their blood gets oxygenated extremely well, contributing to their inhuman endurance; for three, they can function normally at elevations or atmospheres that would have other creatures dizzy and fainting for lack of air.
Furthermore, Aphor are notorious "regenerators." Injuries suffered by an Aphor heal rapidly -- oftentimes within hours -- and completely, without scarring or loss of function. This includes damage to nervous tissue, up to and including most of the central nervous system. Breaking an Aphor's spine will just put it out of commission for two months. It'll be walking again at three, and running after four, probably at the bastard who broke its spine. Even amputated limbs can be regrown, though the process takes years to complete. This exceptional regenerative ability makes Aphor lifespans considerably long.
It also makes cancer in the Aphor species particularly dangerous and tenacious. Contemporary Aphor may live well over a thousand years, but this is only because they've conquered the killing tumors that usually sprout up after the first century of life.
Aphor are omnivores, and their complex digestive systems are both robust and extremely efficient. They can eat just about anything and digest it too: rotting food, cellulose, all are safely broken down and absorbed. This is a good thing, because their monstrous metabolisms require equally monstrous amounts of fuel.
“An Aphor friend is a friend for life. An Aphor enemy is your enemy til death.”
Owing to their long lifespans, Aphor are said to experience life at a slower pace than other creatures. Their emotions attenuate for a far longer period of time. Aphor can have courtships that last a century, mourn for decades, hold grudges for longer than a human lifespan. Some would call them obsessive, but this is only the natural functioning of a mind that is evolved to experience the passing of millennia.
Aphor are herd animals, and therefore their psychology is marked by intense social grouping and self-categorization. They ingroup hard and outgroup harder: anyone in the ingroup must be defended and supported, and everyone in the outgroup can go to hell for all they care. This "us over them" mentality is marked by a sort of "situational empathy" in which Aphor are willing to protect members of the ingroup with their lives but cruel and brutal towards members of the outgroup.
Aphor are not an inherently violent race -- rather, they have nothing restraining them from violence. If an Aphor feels it will be better served by talking an issue out, it will talk it out. If an Aphor feels that force would be the easiest solution, it will use force. Treat them well and fairly and they'll be as placid as any cow. Provoke them and they will rip your face off. Hurting people comes naturally to the Aphor, but hurting people out of hand does not.
Through some quirk in their thought processes, Aphor take to Essence like a fish to water. Essence, above all else, is what gives the Aphor their edge in the ruthless environments of Tuuros. However, no Aphor had ever actually accessed that power until the simultaneous rise of Holy Tenet and the Niazanad Creed.
Early in their development, their makers twinned their Essence potential to a secret factor or power such that it would only become active once the two were combined, limiting their full potential as a race until their masters could take control. Somewhere in the rituals of Niazanad is the one that completes the circuit, so to speak, tapping into the secret and unlocking the species' hidden potential. Even then, most Aphor are unable to properly make use of their powers without first learning to obtain gnosis -- though once they have the knack, it's all uphill from there.
“They don't step out of their kingdom often. But I saw a trader try to cheat one, once. I wasn't close enough to hear the details -- this was in one of the big slave markets -- but I saw this big brute of an aphor just lash out, fast as a blink, and just slap that weedy little trader to the ground. Broke his jaw in two places. So, word to the wise: they might look big and slow and dumb, but that's two-thirds wrong. Don't underestimate their smarts.”
- - Anonymous slave merchant