Thursday, April 26, 2012

Avenka Cycle, Part 1

"Reclaiming Roth has been a hard-fought battle. I seriously doubt we could have done it without the help of the Shaman Avenka. You don't have to say 'the Hag' after her name, I know what you're thinking. She deserves more respect from the likes of you. Avenka is wise and blessed by Eva. Under her guidance crops flourish where none did, or could, before. What she has done for Roth will be a legacy that outlives your insults."

Doren Swiftwater, Evan Shaman

On the eastern tip of the island of Roth there is a village that bears the same name. The island is an inhospitable mix of swampy, unworkable land and ruins that have not yet been reclaimed by nature, dotted by thin stands of trees. Game is always in short supply, and the threat of Squat and Keeper raids is ever present. Separated from the mainland by the Winter River the inhabitants of the island are insular, resulting in the view from other Tribals that they are a strange lot.

In the months after the Liberation, a group of Evans were drawn to Roth by visions of a temple to the Goddess. Reaching the island, they found it not much different than it is currently, which they took as a sign they were to build the temple themselves. They sanctified the site in the name of Eva and the Goddess and named it C'nawa. A scant few weeks later the settlement was attacked by a host of undead led by a human woman wielding some unknown dark power. Many were killed defending the villagers, while the rest were captured and subjected to foul rituals. Fortunately a unit of Joshuans and Joanites arrived and rescued the Evans. All of the undead and the witch were destroyed in the battle. Miraculously, one of the Shaman did survive albeit badly wounded - her name was Avenka. She was highly respected and one of the eldest, and she stated that the settlers needed to stay to purify the island in the name of Eva few doubted her. The survivors began rebuilding on the eastern end of the island, away from the ruins.

Avenka was already old when the settlers came to the island - some claim she was born in (or even before the Camps) - and few expected her to survive the first winter. Avenka did survive, and has shown little sign of slowing down in intervening two generations. Many villagers have stories of thinking they had found her dead when she was really asleep. She is well-known for being cantankerous, mean spirited and harsh and not a small number of villagers are more than afraid of her. Few deny that her methods have allowed the village to survive and only a handful have ever left the island, mostly the youngest generation, never to return.

Recently Avenka's behavior has taken a turn for the bizarre, even for her. She has started pulling villagers from important tasks to comb through the ruins for materials to begin rebuilding the temple, despite the original decree that the temple would be rebuilt once the island was cleared of ruins. As odd as thopse orders are, another proclamation threatens to shake her supporter's faith in her to its roots: that all corpses, including those that occasionally wash up on Roth's shores, be interred in stone tombs within the ruins rather than returned to the earth as is Evan custom. Random accidents have befallen those who have attempted to speak out too loudly against her, and runners sent to Lai to beseech the other clan Elders to help them have not been heard from.

"When the Hammers reached the island, they found the witch Sh'v and her undead minions had captured a group of Evans to perform her foul magics. None would have survived if not for the Hammers... " 

Fragment of a manuscript found on a Joshuan Outrunner

Tribal legend is full of cautionary tales of what happens to Z'bri collaborators - tales which all end in  grisly, horrifying fates for the human who dared to associate with The Beasts. None of them acknowledge that any human could achieve any amount of power under the Z'bri, and certainly not that they could actually break free from them without the Fatimas' help. The truth, of course, is not as black and white.

Humanity's capacity for evil and lust for power existed long before the Z'bri. Near the end of the World Before, a small cabal of occultists were able to tap into eldritch power beyond that of any human before them. They unwittingly latched onto the downward spiral preceding the coming of the Z'bri, without knowing what was to come, and within a few short years they were able to amass a sizable cult of unwitting victims. Only one of the cabal, a woman whose real name has been lost to the centuries, foresaw the coming of The Beasts. She betrayed her companions to the Z'bri and escaped what would eventually become The Camps.

Years later she would resurface as Sh'v, a being respected by Tibor for her depravity and power, equal in status to a Z'bri lord. She was granted a sizable population of human chattel, and perfected not only her own powers but mastery of the Old Arts as well. When the Liberation swept through the Camps. Sh'v did not hesitate to abandon her Z'bri allies and escaped Hl'kar, taking with her a group of human slaves, a handful of her undead minions, and a few Z'bri.

In the hundreds of years since The Fall, Shv's body had begun deteriorating faster than she could counteract it, forcing her to research more powerful dark magics to fend off death. The Liberation could not have come at a worse time for her. In the months following the Liberation it had become more difficult to conceal herself, so Sh'v prepared to cross the Great River into the Outlands. Landing first on the island now known as Roth, she was handed an unexpected boon: the Evan pilgrims that were attempting to create a shrine to the Goddess. The power that Sh'v could obtain would almost guarantee her survival and was too much for her to ignore, so she and her minions fell on the settlers in a frenzy of torture and sacrifice. Fortunately, a group of Joanites and Joshuans known as the Hammers had been tracking Sh'v through Vimary and arrived in time to save the surviving pilgrims and put a stop to her reign of evil.

Unbeknownst to the Hammers or the pilgrims, Sh'v possessed Avenka at the moment of her death. The battle combined with this effort exhausted her power, forcing Sh'v to remain disguised as a Tribal. Fortunately for her, Avenka was the only surviving Shaman and she was able to dominate the Evan settlers into doing her bidding. Recently, however, it has become apparent that Sh'v's body is going to completely fail, and Sh'v has once again become desperate to both escape death and Vimary once and for all. To accomplish this, Sh'v needs to perform a very specific ritual. The ritual involves the requisite amount of blood, sacrifices and desecration of holy ground. It also requires her original skin, lost somewhere within the ruins of the temple the original settlers were trying to build.