haltev is 'the city of shifters' found in the north of the Ciasse province in Eyropa, hugging the Balshoi Morey, a great inland sea. With its unique culture and harsh magical environment, it is a Puradyne nightmare and referred to by most Marnians in a generally negative perspective.
Zhaltev is surrounded by two miles of plains outside of the city, and the city itself sits on a gently rising hill. Bordering the plains to the north and most of the eastward lands is a dense forest, while a rough road veers away to the south across the plains. The Balshoi is to the west of the city and provides fish and salt. A large river (Blyesk Reka, the Shining River) empties into the Balshoi and winds its way upstream over the northern edge of the plains and then into the forest.
Spring and summer are short in the area, spring usually coming in very late and summer leaving early. Fall is quick, and winter dominates the land. The lands south are a mild version of tundra and then get marshy in the spring and summer, sinking the road in parts. In the winter the land is covered in ice and snow. An eerie silence blankets the land as well, which can be unnerving for outsiders. The river freezes nearly solid, which includes frozen waterfalls in the forest. Great chunks of ice float in the Balshoi, making boat traffic hazardous.
Zhaltev was established by three families of shifters, the werewolf packs of Kharityn and Dveshiniy, and the mixed assortment of shifters know as the Jorvyk clan. They settled in the region because it was compatible with their animal sides. Infighting didn’t occur during the first few years of the small settlement on the hill by the Balshoi, but as other shifters were drawn to it by the promise of relative security it expanded, becoming a more permanent town, with buildings built to withstand intense cold in the winter, and feelings that the town needed a true leader emerged. Brazen young people of the original families began to argue over who should lead the town, and because their animal sides often settled disputes with force, it turned to fighting for the position of leader.
The first syordan was Evgeny Jorvyk, a bear shifter. He led the town, which had taken its name a few years before the fighting began, for three years until he was taken down by a Dveshiniy, then the leadership was taken back by another Jorvky. The syordani has shifted back and forth among the families and a few outsiders, but the original founders stillhave much sway over the city.
As the city grew larger with the influx of immigrants and children the syordani began to strengthen it with walls and gates. Syordana Svetlana Dveshiniya lived in some fear of the outside world and built great walls surrounding the city, and built up and fortified the port. She commanded a large earthwork to be dug around the city but was challenged and defeated while it was still being built. Work on the fortification ceased and it remains halfway dug, a shallow ditch backed by a rise of packed dirt surrounding the walls about an 1/8 of a mile away from the remains of the walls.
The city expanded steadily as more and more shifters flocked to it. With more people came more fights, and the populace often didn’t get along. The various syordani kept the city from destroying itself from within, but only barely. Neighbor fought neighbor, and families banded together stronger than ever. Fighting in the street was very common, and the Ohrana fought amongst themselves as well, causing even more chaos.
Syordan Aleksandr Kharityn was the strongest leader that Zhaltev has known, or at least the more forceful. He reasoned that the tension was coming from having so many shifters in a closed-in environment and he ordered the walls knocked down. He channeled the stress and strain of his people into the destruction of Syordana Svetlana Dveshiniya’s fortifications. The populace destroyed the walls quickly, and almost instantly things began to calm down. A ring of rubble still surrounds the city, almost a wall in itself. The shifters tend to have little trouble navigating over it, but a human would struggle, unless they were specially trained to climb rough rocks.
Syordan Aleksandr Kharityn was also the person to hold the title of syordan the longest. He was syordan for ten years, and the city evened out of its near-destructive state under his guidance, and no more walls have been built. Various leaders brought different changes to the city—Syordana Nataliya Kalvova (who was a descendant of an immigrant) started a library which remains small and filled with books that would likely not be allowed in the majority of puradynic libraries of Eyropa. Syordan Alexei Federov deliberately sent out traders with pelts and salt to trade with other cities and worked hard at building those relationships in order to keep in moderate contact with the rest of the world.
The citizens, being so reclusive around strangers, have never tried to draw attention to their city when they venture out into the world. They mention it as a place to live, good as any (especially for shifters), better than others and worse than some. As a result of this tactic, and lacking anything desirable by other lands, the city has never been attacked by any large armies. With no walls it would seem vulnerable, but Syordan Aleksandr Kharityn had the rubble arranged along the circle of the old wall, and it would be difficult to scale.
The city maintains its seclusion from the world almost proudly. Traders and wagon trains carrying goods from afar know of it's location, and, while the citizens don't actively try to hide their city from the world, they also do not go out of their way to proclaim its greatness... except as a place of refuge for shifters suffering from persecution.
The barter system accounts for most of the transactions in Zhaltev, though Bishan are not uncommon. Trade in and out of the city is rare, but the exports are of salt, which is gathered in great amounts from the Balshoi Morey, ivory from mammoths, and hides of prey animals, though never any furs of wolves, bears, or great cats, or any other animal that the citizens of Zhaltev transform into.
Zhaltev outsources most of its food production to a few small towns surrounding it. Nomads from the north bring reindeer down each autumn and also provide reindeer for the Great Hunt. A town in the northern forest keeps tabs on the animal populations in teh forest and surrounding it and makes recommendations to the Master of Hunt for hunting quotas for the year. Two other towns supply domesticated animals for slaughter, as well as grain and vegetables and other staples.
Any merchant who can last through the cold winters and the incredibly shaky politics can make a very good living organizing the ebb and flow of goods, as there are few people willing to do that. The Master of Trade is responsible for overseeing the merchants but, much like the Master of Defense, it is mostly an empty position now.
Most of the people in Zhaltev are shifters of various types, with werewolves as the most common. There is an assortment of shifters beyond just the wolves, though, which include bears, a few northern big cats, some aquatic creatures, and no prey animals. Humans are a minority in the city, and most don’t stay long. The changing of the politics and the often dangerous street-life is usually too much for most humans to stand for extended periods.
Population count fluctuates, but usually ranges from about 15,000-20,000. Many Zhaltevites head south to warmer climates in the winter, as the winter is bitterly cold. The population is comprised of mostly werewolves, with other cold-weather animals scattered about as well.
The three main families are Dveshiniy, Kharityn, and Jorvyk. While family members can be born into the clans, any shifter (with some exceptions, of course) can join any of the three by swearing a blood oath in a ceremony some would call barbaric and archaic. The blood oath is unbreakable except by a terrible death, with blood boiling in the veins of the betrayer. The family members born into the clans swear fealty to their family at the age of fourteen, at which point the blood oath takes effect for them as well. While members of the same family may be issued and give out challenges for anything, up to and including the position of Syordan, betraying a family or clan member by knowingly giving out information to one of their rivals or anyone who means them harm, or siding against them in a conflict, causes the blood oath to take effect. The blood oath information is no secret and therefore betrayal is almost unheard of in Zhaltev.
Kharityn, Dveshiniy, and Jorvyk were the founding families and have retained significant power over the years, and most syordan challengers are from the clans. The clans are lead by the person who wins the challenge for it, much like the position of syordan. After the leader come the Twenty, the twenty highest ranking members of each clan who look after the daily life of the clan. These positions are also challenged for.
Kharityn is the most conservative of the three clans. They accept no one but werewolves into their ranks, and they prefer the members who were born to Kharityn rather than joined it by blood oath. Most members of Kharityn look disdainfully on other types of shifter, thinking them of a lower class than wolves. Inter-species relations (sometimes even friendships) are heavily discouraged in Kharityn, to the point of exile or death for the transgressor. Kharityn has about 2000 members, with roughly 1500 of those born to the clan. Their current leader is Nadejda Kharityna.
Dveshiniy is the other wolf pack, though it has (very rarely) bloodbound someone to it who is not a werewolf. They are much more tolerant of other species of shifter than Kharityn and allow their members to engage in relationships of all sorts with other species. They are the most populous clan in the city, with around 4000 members, about half of them bloodsworn in. Their current leader is Ruslan Dveshiniy.
Jorvyk is the all-types clan. Most members are bloodsworn in and not born. Their only condition is that you must be a shifter to join, but they do not care what type of shifter. Needless to say, members of Jorvyk and Kharityn seldom get along. While Jorvyk does have a few werewolves, most wolves choose to join one of the other clans if they do join, and werewolves are a very small part of Jorvyk clan. Jorvyk has around 3000 members, about 2500 of them bloodsworn in. Their current leader is Cinder Jorvyk, an outsider and falcon shifter who joined the clan about thirty years ago.
The language spoken in Zhaltev is much like Russian. For female names, first and last, an ‘a’ typically ends the name. Dveshiniy turns into Dveshiniya, ect. Anyone freshly entering the city will note that most inhabitants can speak the common languages and pick up phrases in various dialects faily easily. Newcomers will also notice that often the people don’t talk, as opposed to muted growling, a variety of glances, and subtle body language.
Unwritten Rules: Do not wear fur that you took from someone else and do not sell, wear, or have anything to do with silver are two examples of the unwritten rules of Zhaltev. The strongest punishment the Ohrana legally gives is total expulsion from the city, though they will often turn a blind eye to harsher punishments meted out by the citizens who have been offended or harmed by outsiders. After a person has lived a year in Zhaltev they are no longer considered an outsider, and regardless of how long they have lived there, if they join a clan they are not an outsider.
The bloodoath is a tradition that goes back since before Zhaltev was founded, brought in by the Jorvyk family as a way of binding its members together completely. If the bloodoath is broken the blood boils in the veins of the betrayer, causing a very painful death. The bloodoath cannot be removed once sworn. Bloodsworn must follow the orders of their leader, and those who use the bloodoath as the means of sealing a bond or a deal must adhere to it.
A true challenge exempts the bloodsworn from the oath for as long as it takes for the challenge to be carried out. Outsiders cannot challenge for any position of leadership in the city, and cannot challenge on personal grievances either. When a challenge is issued it must be carried out immediately, and no weapons or armor are allowed. Shifted forms are allowed, though there are no requirements for both contestants to be shifted.
Wild Hunts/Great Hunts
The Wild Hunt happens four times a year, at each equinox and solstice. The leaders of the clans and the syordan each pick out fifty people (doesn't have to be from their clan). The syordan then leads the people chosen north about ten days to the mammoth hunting grounds. Each of the four packs takes down two or three mammoths over the next few days and revels and sings the praises of the syordan and the leaders. No challenges may be issued on a Wild Hunt. The Great Hunt takes place when a syordan has just come to power. The Master of Hunt (newly appointed by the syordan) sends a messenger north to alert the tribe of nomadic herders that provides reindeer eyes autumn and they drive one hundred reindeer south. Much like the Wild Hunt, the syordan then chooses their most loyal followers (though this time, as many as they please) to hunt the reindeer on the plains outside the city.
Zhaltev is a city of predominantly shifters and run by a straightforward system of government. Bids for the position of leader (referred to by the honorific 'Syordan') is settled by fighting. The strongest holds the position, but can be challenged by anyone of the city. Most syordani have been from the three founding families, Kharityn, Jorvyk, and Dveshiniy. Currently the leadership is held by Sashenka Dveshiniya, and she has held the position for the past two years. Her grip on the city is firm and most people seem fairly happy under her rule, though, of course, there are always malcontents.
All of the (very few) government positions are won by fighting. A challenge may be called by any member of the city and the winner of the challenge is the new official. Open challenges are regarded as quick and easy ways to settle disputes and are very commonplace. Fights held in secret are viewed as less honorable, and more disputable because of the lack of impartial citizens as witnesses.
Most government positions are not held for long, due to the method of open challenges. It makes the city rather rocky in regards to long-term policies and dealing with other cities for things like trade. The government positions are Master of Defense, Master of Trade, and Master of Civil Peace.
Master of Defense is mostly an empty position, as Zhaltev has not been attacked in living memory. Master of Defense is mainly responsible for maintaining the defensibility of the city - checking access to fresh water, contingency plans for an attack, ect.
Master of Civil Peace oversees the Ohrana, which is the city guard. The Ohrana supervise the entrants to Zhaltev, which include a few traders and immigrants, a diplomat once in a blue moon, and the rare person who is ‘just passing through.’ They provide a rough guide in the form of warnings to the visitors about the unwritten rules as they enter the city, and are they to give a gentle reminder the first time a visitor messes up. The second time a visitor breaks the unwritten rules, the Ohrana throw the offender out of the city, regardless of social status. This is done in the name of the general peace.
Anyone can join the Ohrana, and it is respectable to do so. The Ohrana answer to the Master of Civil Peace, then to the Syordan. Despite the various family ties, an Ohran guard is expected to be impartial in his or her dispersal of justice, and any Ohran found favoring someone or taking bribes is banished from the city on pain of death.
Master of Hunt is the one position that is not fought for, and instead appointed by the syordan. Master of Hunt is responsible for giving out hunting rights and organizing with the towns around Zhaltev that provide it with the large amount of meat it requires to function. Master of Hunt is also responsible for organizing the four Wild Hunts every year, and the Great Hunt when a new syordan comes to power.
Nearly all citizens follow the Syordan without question. Because of the open challenges, there has never been a revolution in the city. The open challenge ensures that anyone can get their voice heard regardless of social status, which in turn keeps the general public relatively complacent when it comes to their leaders. The great number of werewolves in the city also make it seem like more of a pack structure than a proper government at times, though other types of shifters don’t always agree with that idea, and syordani who are werewolves are usually challenged more than the other species.