D.O.B: 5th December, 2018
Origin: Missoula, MT
Current Location: Moscow
Reborn God: No
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Played By: Thal
“In ages past, our old ones were the storytellers. This was the way things were passed along to the generations that followed. For this reason, the aged people made it a point to remember every detail so they could relate it at a later time. They were the word and picture carriers making history and spiritual values alive and important. In recent times we have made our old ones think they are not so important. We spoof their stories and make them feel foolish. The truth is that we are ignorant of what is precious and how to ‘a da li he li tse di — appreciate age. Rigidity can creep in and set even the young mind if there are no soft memories, no laughter, no times too deep for tears. Age is grace — a time too valuable to waste.”
::::A Cherokee Feast of Days – Daily Meditations, Joyce Sequichie Hifler
Newly arrived to Moscow to further her research goals. Tehya’s life revolves around being Atharim.
Tehya takes her work seriously; she is a hard task-master and brooks no excuses, though is equally firm with praise. Most would see her as quiet, perhaps intimidating. Of necessity, she holds herself to a high measure of control; particularly when at work. There are some amongst her peers who do not approve of what she does – who say she is too interested in understanding more about the Atharim’s enemies than simply how to eliminate them. But there is no denying she is good at it, or that she has been a valuable asset to the Atharim. Her high rank alone attests to it.
Beneath the layers of stoic professionalism lies a sly sense of humour and a wicked grin. She appreciates honesty and has high moralistic values – at least when it comes to the important things. Mostly she prizes a sense of balance. Those who show kindness to, and awareness of, others usually earn her respect – if not necessarily her friendship. She has inherited a deep-rooted sense of duty from her father, and an endless well of compassion from her old Dustu. And from them both – from a rich familial legacy – the ferocious desire to protect. It’s in her blood.
Tehya is tall for a woman, and statuesque. She has bold, handsome features; a strong jaw, defined cheekbones and night-dark eyes. There’s languidness to her gaze, and a lazy elegance to her movements; easy, calm confidence. Predatory. A thin pale scar knicks her forehead, just below her hairline, and another, thicker one dissects the top of her thigh – each old remnants of her Hunting days. Her skin is warm gold, her hair black.
Though they lived in the city, and had done for generations, Tey grew up on the ancient stories of her grandfather; tales of tricksters and spirits and the Little People who hid among men. She knew these things were not true, because the world was not so benign; and she knew the world was not so benign, because it needed guardians to separate the innocent from the supernatural. Grandfather knew it too; a curled snake marked the puckered, crepey skin inside his arm, just as it marked her father and mother and brother. Just as it would one day mark her. They called themselves Alisdelisgi – protector, in the old language – but also bore an older name. Atharim.
Tehya grew up in the dregs of a dying economy, in a society on the fringes of civil war and poverty. The haze of instability, of misery, inevitably drew the sorts of dark creatures that made her education a frank and practical one. No academic textbooks, no abstract lectures, and no gentle introduction to the world beyond their own: it simply was, from the very beginning, her reality. Beyond her Atharim education, she, along with her brother before her (he was six years her elder), were taught by their mother. As such Tey had few friends outside her inner circle growing up; she was just the weird, Native American home-schooled kid of the neighbourhood, and since she was quite capable of looking after herself, was pretty much just left alone. Not that she ever considered her life lacking from the social exclusion; she had no idea what the life of a normal girl her age was like, nor really cared to know. Despite the fractures cracking deeper breaks into the heart of her country, despite the humble living that was nonetheless considered above the poverty grade, she was happy.
Tehya adored her grandfather – grandfather frog, she called him sometimes in jest, for he sat in his chair like a wise old frog sits on a lilypad. Her beloved Dustu (spring frog, which was also a joke; grandfather was not in the spring of his youth). So many wizened lines cased his face their weight had pulled his skin south … or maybe he had shrunk and left his skin too big – regardless, every crease was a wisdom, every strand of white hair sprouting from his scalp a truth. His words were more important than knowledge, for knowledge was of the past and wisdom was of the future. When Tehya was not schooling, or learning the ways of the Atharim, she was most often found at her grandfather’s knee. Listening. She soaked up his stories with a solemnness belied by her years, though as a child of the Atharim she was hardly ordinary. Sometimes he told the history of their people – the Cherokee, not the Atharim – and of the traditions her family embraced, and of others that had been lost to time. Other times he spoke of his own youth, of its build and apex, of how his left arm had become a stump at the elbow. When he spoke of the Atharim, it was different, somehow, to how her parents taught it; deeper, like it etched a tattoo on grandfather’s very soul. It transcended the simple duty that had been drilled into Tey since she was old enough to understand words. For him it was not simply a calling but formed the ethos of his world.
She was fourteen when she first started to notice the signs something was wrong. A touch of fever, an unusual amount of clumsiness. The odd headache. Tey knew of the Sickness, of course, but it was her old Dustu who pieced it together while the symptoms still wobbled about in those infant stages, before the diagnosis was even clear to those who knew what to look for. She had never seen her father argue with Dustu before that day, if what transpired could be called an argument. There were no raised voices, but their words were nonetheless like the rumbles of mountains. The foundations between them shook.
“If they discover her, it will not stop there,” her grandfather said. And he was right; it wouldn’t. Such secrets did not openly filter so far down the ranks, but the Regus obviously believed the Sickness to be hereditary. The Atharim assigned to the task always ensured such an heirloom was never passed down, and they did it in blood. If Tehya was exposed, she would not be the only one to pay the price. Their family, their history, their lineage; it would become dust. Unless her father acted first. Heavy silence reigned, as her father’s eyes turned to where she was wrapped in a blanket on the couch. Despite the broad strength of him; the severe cast of his features, his oft unsmiling mouth and all the memories of blood on his hands, she had never been afraid of her father. But his expression now was grim, and what Dustu said next punctuated a grimace with each word.
“You will kill your flesh and blood, son?”
Her father hesitated from an answer, and Tehya felt the first little fissures rent through her heart. Her eyes grew wide, and fear settled cold, because she realised then what they were talking about. And what it meant. Her old Dustu shook his head, and the lines in his face deepened like shadowy crags. He looked gravely wounded. “In my day, Gawonii, the Atharim did not slaughter children and call it for the greater good.” Tehya knew, then, that the conversation was serious; that it was an argument – when Dustu used not a moniker or an endearment, but her father’s name. Grandfather had lived in a time before the Sickness. He had lived in a time before the ASU that became the dictatorship CCD. He had lived before the returned god, the Ascendancy, and in a time when the enemy did not lie hidden in the flesh of men, but in the flesh of monsters. His aged wisdom dwarfed them all, but even addled by fever Tey could see those doubts in her father’s face; the damning consideration that Dustu was old and no longer understood the world in which they lived. So when Dustu straightened and said, “Let me heal her pain,” he could not quite disguise the sharpness in his eyes, nor in his tone.
“Even if you cure her, old grandfather, she will be changed.”
Tey was still a child; a strangely solemn one, granted, but too young to really understand the ramifications of what was happening. She was scared, but she also trusted her family. Her father did not stop old Dustu when he gathered the materials for a smudging ritual. Sage to burn out the bad spirits, cedar for grounding and protection, and braided sweetgrass to attract positive energies. He didn’t stop Dustu, either, when he burned the ingredients and murmured the prayers and palmed the smoke. Nor did Atharim storm the house to take her away and nullify her family line. Through blind eyes and averted faces, the foundations of secrecy took root. Months went by, and they performed the ritual often; sometimes by her grandfather’s hand, sometimes by her own. Always Tehya waited with dread for the first pangs of a headache or the first waves of nausea – because each time the Sickness came, so too did the threat of watching Atharim eyes. Of discovery. Or worse, the moment her father realised the mistake he had made in letting her live.
Sometimes Tey sent prayers while she breathed the smoke; other times her mind was silent and open, willing positive energies to rid her of the Sickness and what it would leave behind if she did not die. One day, the positive spirits answered, and that was the first time she felt it. Pure calm, luxurious and lulling, like soft hands and a mother’s comfort. The world grew a little brighter, a little clearer, and then in one quick flash it was all gone – gone but for the burn of its memory. She confided in her grandfather, kept nothing secret in the same way he had never hidden anything from her, and he listened with a thoughtful stare. Spirits, not Sickness; how could something so unsullied be so corrupt? She posed it to her Dustu, hopeful, but he only looked at her, silent and pensive.
At first it was only when she burned the sweetgrass that she could touch that intense, floating joy. Later she discovered that opening herself to the spirits was enough, though she always felt safer doing it during the smoke ritual. Sometimes her grandfather would watch her when she did this, but if he sensed anything unusual he never said. His silent presence always gave her confidence, and it was under his watchful gaze that she began to realise there were shapes in the light. Distinctive shapes that had form and tangibility and allowed themselves to be moulded.
She did not get sick again.
When her father noticed, he could no longer ignore it. In hindsight, Tehya understands why he allowed old Dustu to try and heal her. Nearly all girls lost their battle with the Sickness. It was a heinous breach of his Atharim oaths to have allowed that chance to run its course, but it was the lesser of two evils at the time. Perhaps he hoped the choice would be taken away from him; that he wouldn’t have to murder his own daughter. But she didn’t die, and the decision weighed as heavy a burden as ever. When faced between your obligations to the world and your love for your family, how do you choose? Her chest tightens at the memory, even now; looking back, she does not know how she ever missed the softness in her father’s hard lines, the aching conflict of duty and love. Back then she only ever saw the furrows in his brow.
He wanted to know, of course, what she had become. The change had been far subtler than either distant legend or recent history told it to be; he wanted to know if she was truly different. Maybe she had simply been ill. At the time Tey felt as though snared in a terrible net. If she lied he would believe her; she knew that. Perhaps he willed for her lie, to absolve them all of the horrific consequence that loomed ahead if she didn’t. If she lied, she wouldn’t have to die; she could hide this gift, control it, and no-one would ever know. The fate of her family would rest in her hands – discovery of her betrayal would burn them all – but they were hands she trusted, hands that had been born to shelter the world. She would protect her family. But the poison couldn’t pass her lips, and when she told the truth she witnessed the pain crush her father’s brows low over his eyes.
Even then, still so young, she understood. The Spirit-gift was sweet and beautiful, but Atharim law was clear. She never pleaded her case, as she had with Dustu. “I’m a monster.” The words were level – far too calm for the amount of years she had seen – but girlish tears welled up in her eyes regardless; big, fat uncontrollable tears that welled on her lashes and plopped down her cheeks no matter how grown-up she tried to be. Her father’s face was stoic; the square lines of his jaw hard, his eyes like little chips of onyx. She could feel the hysteria bubbling, and was ashamed; she was Atharim, or would be one day. Would have been. She would do her duty, even if that duty was to die. But was it so wrong that she was scared? Dark brows drew further over her father’s eyes, until they closed completely, as though he could not bear to look at her. In the same moment, though, he pulled her close, tucking her head under his chin. “When will it be?” The sobs broke free. She cried hard. “Will you do it, father? If it needs to be done, I want it to be you who—” kills me. Only she could say it; couldn’t say anything after that. Her father held her close, his big swarthy arms blocking out the world and its cruel rules, like a bear hiding its cub. But he didn’t answer.
For days she expected it, waited for it; feared it. She was sitting cross-legged on her bed, a compendium of creatures she was memorising open flat on her lap, when her father knocked and entered. Ice froze her blood, though she set the book aside bravely as he sat next to her. Silence spread in great, frigid waves, and a warm buzz in the back of mind begged her to embrace the warmth of her gift. And curse. She refused.
He gave her the option to leave. His willingness to loose her on the world was startling, and for a moment she was horrified at how easily he cast aside his Atharim vows. Then came guilt, for having forced the toll of such awful choices on him. To kill his flesh and blood, or to break his promises to a society that was his blood’s legacy. If she left she would relieve him of the heavier burden, but Tehya couldn’t turn her back on duty, no matter what she was. Her eyes closed, her head bowed. She shook her head. The mattress lightened as her father sighed and stood, its springs creaking heavily. Tehya’s heart was like a jackhammer as the warmth of his hand pressed against the back of her head. At the time she had thought it meant goodbye; only later did she realise it was his unspoken acceptance.
If words give substance to secrets, then this one never existed. No-one ever spoke of it, and only her Dustu ever alluded to it. There had always been morality to his stories, and this was never truer than in the years that passed after: he shaped many of Tehya’s principles and morals as she grew older. She only ever touched her gift with Dustu or when she was alone; learned it little by little, one tiny cautious step at a time. Control was paramount, no matter how desperately easy it would be to lose herself to the sweetness of it. The responsibility she carried was engrained in her, that and the necessity to protect her family from the thing she had become. To protect the world. As her discipline and understanding grew, her Atharim studies deepened. Her father’s frown intensified when he learned her intention, but he never stopped her – his only words on the matter a stoic warning. No children, Tehya. The line must end with you.
Her old Dustu; he was proud.
At eighteen, Tehya took the pledge and received the ink. She resolved to reward her father’s faith and honour her old Dustu’s memory – after he passed when she was nineteen – by being the best she could be. Even to this day the Atharim is her life. As such, she rose the ranks with single-minded ferocity, as if to prove herself worthy of the simple serpent inked on her wrist would blot out the secret mark on her soul. She started amongst the Hunters, but quickly began to specialise in the development of weaponry and methods for detecting and capturing/incapacitating creatures, in order to learn their weaknesses. She excelled at it.
There were a few close calls in those early days; sometimes it was achingly tempting to call on the spirits to help the Atharim, despite knowing how it would damn her – and, worse than that, the consequences it would cause her family. By now, her brother had children of his own. The difficulty was that when attacked it was almost a reflex – one reason she was glad to step down from the front-lines. She doesn’t use the gift in her work, but continues to study it in private. To learn its shape and form and uses. To uncover its weakness.
Over the years her reputation swelled. And then the phonecall came.
Her father begged her not to answer the summons to Moscow, to stay away from the heart of the Atharim, where it will be all the more difficult to conceal her nature and the sheer depth of her betrayal. Their betrayal. But they offer the facilities to further her research; the funding and the equipment and the expertise. She will be heading a whole team of others. It’s an opportunity she simply can’t refuse, despite the dangers. A golden opportunity.
Even within the Atharim, there are factions. Tey belongs to a quiet undercurrent – quiet because it is a subversive view, and opposes the directive of the Regus – who, nonetheless, do not believe that eliminating the gods will ultimately prevent another godswar. All it will take is some small few to slip the net, to begin to understand the devastating power bequeathed to them, and how many the Atharim culled in their infancy will make little difference: the Apocalypse will happen anyway. Tehya’s answer is simple. Her people have always believed in the circular nature of life and death; logically, then, a cycle simply can not end with death. Killing the gods only perpetuates a circle – life, death, life, death. What lives, dies. What dies, lives again. The only way to prevent the end of days is to nullify the destructive powers that enable it. To incapacitate the gods.
And the only one who can do it, is one of them.
- Full Biography
- A Long Way from Home
- Hidey Hole
- The Divine Truth
- Vague Truths
- Library of Wonders
- (Archangels) The World is Changed