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The coyote-mongrels of Ceniza Valley are fire-worshipers and tricksters living in what was once the Texas-Mexico borderlands. Though the deserts are unforgiving, the valley's denizens emphasize tradition and history and have learned to adapt to the ever-evolving culture around them.
1.1 Geography & Climate
The most significant feature of Ceniza Valley is the Rio Grande, a river that once helped form the border between the United States and Mexico. The rugged land is arid but fertile, with riparian forests and desert on the outskirts. Oxbow lakes decorate the valley. Much of the region is former ranch land, and the deteriorated ranch houses and barbed wire fences still crouch among the rugged hills, amid newer Luperci huts and construction.
Much of Ceniza Valley is semi-arid -- with hot summers and mild to warm winters with rare snowfall (usually three inches or less). Though overall precipitation is low, there is a wet season (called a "storm season" by the locals) that sometimes sees floods -- and the climate is overall wetter near the Rio Grande.
1.2 Fauna & Flora
Few non-canines are significant in the Cenizan's culture, although their lifestyle revolves around typical prey (such as jackrabbits and prairie dogs) -- and, in the case of the dogs, the cattle left over from humanity. The advent of horse riding is relatively recent, and there are quite a few horses among the community. Some other wild animals are "friends" (such as the badger), while large predators like pumas and bobcats compete with the Cenizans for food or prey on pups.
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Javelina, armadillo, black-tailed jackrabbit, desert cottontail, longhorn cattle, horses, Mexican free-tailed bat, coati, badger, prairie dog, crimson-collared grosbeak
Most of the flora in Ceniza Valley is desert-adapted or found in the forests along the river. In addition to the mesquite and other wild plants, overgrown crop fields dominate much of the land beyond the river; cotton, corn, grain sorghum, and wheat are common sights.
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Honey mesquite, prickly pear, mountain laurel, barbed-wire cactus, star peyote, grama grass, hooded windmill grass
Though Ceniza Valley is home to a good population of coyotes, hybrids, and dogs who live their lives alone and in peace, a central community is evolving and expanding. This community is one of fire-worshipers and playful tricksters, superstitious coyotes and coy-mongrels who live their lives in accordance to their personal traditions. Though a good amount of the Cenizans are feral and live on the outskirts, the community shows considerably more advancement -- employing fire, tools, and even horses, all things "granted" to them in a trade long ago. The Cenizans put an emphasis on history and keep old friendships -- and old grudges -- alive through storytelling.
- Coyotes and coyote hybrids are the most populous canines in the valley. The native Lower Rio Grande Coyote is the most seen, but vagrant coyote subspecies from surrounding regions (especially the Texas Plains Coyote) are not truly strangers.
- Dogs -- mainly curs, hounds, and other hardy landrace mongrels -- are also very common; they occupy the old ranches sprinkled throughout the territory and have their own culture and superstitions. Most of the mongrels are dark-muzzled and tan, with short fur and erect ears, but the odd merle or piebald pattern will turn up from specific past breeds. However, the most common "dog" is the coydog; interbreeding with the coyotes is common enough, as they are old allies.
- Rarer than their desert-adapted counterparts are wolves -- the native Red Wolf has all but disappeared via hybridization with the coyotes, though vagrants of the Mexican and Great Plains subspecies will turn up. Wolves are generally run off by the dogs, and while generally nonviolent unless provoked, the coyotes often refuse to help the wolves thanks to their superstitions.
Luperci & Shifting
Most canines in the valley have the ability to shift -- and among the coyotes this was rumored to be a "gift" from the dogs in exchange for their help, allowing the coyotes to tame fire and use tools.
Because of the obvious advantages the Optime form provides, refusing to shift is looked down upon among those involved in the community -- but it is even more looked down upon to utilize only the Optime form. The coyotes remember their pasts and frequent their four-legged forms to hunt, scout, and relay messages, among other things. Playing and socializing in Lupus form is seen as tradition that strengthens the bonds of the clan.
Non-shifters -- whether non-Luperci or those who prefer not to use Optime -- are not uncommon in the valley. Neighboring coyotes tend toward very feral lifestyles, and no Cenizan forces the virus onto another. (In fact, they'll ask for a "trade" if a coyote wants the virus, usually for favors.) The usual belief is that if a non-shifter doesn't expect to involve themselves in the community, it's good to leave well enough alone.
The dogs' views on shifting are far more lax in that they "plain don't care" what form one uses. It's not uncommon for ranch hounds to live out their lives in Optime form, but neither is it odd for herders or hunters to stay four-legged.
- Various Texan and New Mexican English dialects have intermingled for a couple generations to produce an "accent" that may differ even among neighbors in the valley. The few features most common to the English dialect is use of Mexican-Spanish loanwords, interjections, and other slang. Typically, a Cenizan's accent is fast-paced in spite of vocal pauses/filler words ("uh," "este"), double modals ("she oughta could", and evidential predicates ("I reckon").
- Mexican Spanish is very commonly spoken -- usually a first language among coyotes on the outskirts.
Cenizan Luperci are in the Stone Age -- utilizing stone tools, simple construction, and semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyles. Most canines are still feral, but simple bows, knives, spears, and other weapons are used by individuals to hunt larger prey than what they can catch in their Lupus forms. Primitive art, such as petroglyphs, paints, and dyes are commonplace, and the Luperci have learned how to create simple instruments, from wooden flutes to hide drums.
The most technologically advanced among the Cenizans are the dogs, who have a tendency to build simple structures with wood beams or use tools scavenged from human ruins -- usually to repair old ranch houses or create simple pens.
The domestication of the horse is still new among the Cenizan coyotes, learned from the old ranch dogs. Their role in Cenizan culture is still developing, though the fire-worshipers use them as pack animals as well as a show of wealth. A flashy youngster with a fast horse is usually popular among their peers! Usually there is one horse for every five Cenizans, though the care is often shared between families or friends.
Most horses in the area have American Quarter Horse blood, specifically of the working stock horse type, though bloodlines have muddled and the horses do not show identical traits to pre-apocalypse animals. The horses tend to be compact, quick, and agile, with powerful hindquarters; they usually stand between 14 and 16 hands.
Selective breeding -- or any real arranged breeding -- is almost unheard of; the Luperci have little concept of how it passes down traits and little desire to cultivate breeds. Most horses are captured from semi-feral bands that roam along the river, or accidentally born of two Cenizans' horses.
The hardiest livestock left over from humanity still roam the old ranch lands post-apocalypse, and their care has fallen mostly to the dogs. Bands of animals usually wander over the fields and are herded to the river; the dogs protect them from outsiders and keep an eye on them, though they aren't heavily involved with feeding or care. Sick, old, and lame animals are culled and eaten when found, while healthier specimens are occasionally captured and traded.
The Texas longhorn, though its image has changed since humanity's demise, is one of the more iconic animals in the region; its horns are coveted by the Cenizans for use in ceremonial carvings.
Rarely will a "pet" be found among the Cenizans -- again, usually as a show of flashiness. Pretty, vagrant bird species from Mexico or young felines raised with the Luperci sometimes live in the camps, but more often than not the Luperci aren't capable of caring for them; exotic animals die or pumas grow up wild and turn on their owners. The development of falconry is in its beginning stages, however, and hawks can sometimes be seen in the camps. The one animal that has become a popular pet is the coati -- though again, results may vary!
- Few Cenizans wear clothing, especially because it restricts shifting. Fabric is very rare, but leather and hide is sometimes fashioned into loincloths and wraps.
- Simple piercings, such as plugs, are common. Though metal piercings are rare, the Cenizans will wear materials such as wood, bone, and horn in their ears.
- Decoration, from necklaces to bangles and belts, is often worn, especially for ritualistic purposes. Leather, horn, wood, stone, and bone are very common materials, and often carved, burned, or painted to be made more attractive.
- Scarification and branding are relatively common. Ash is often rubbed into scarring cuts, creating darker scars. Incidental scars are also marked with ash and worn with pride.
- Ash is an important part of Cenizan culture, and most of the fire-worshipers carry markings of ash on their bodies. Common markings include stripes around the face, hand-prints on the chest or shoulders, and bands around the arms. The ash is easily rubbed away, but it's re-applied at least daily from the central campfire.
The inner community of fire-worshipers live on campsites along the river; they are nomadic and shift sites often, necessitating that they have few goods that cannot be carried along with them. Their homes are either earthen dens or simple huts similar to wigwams, and there is always a fire pit in the center of camp.
Outside the community, many dogs live on old human ranches, content to use the farmhouses with some repairs. Loners tend to live as their ancestors did, sleeping out in the open or in hollows and dens.
2.4 Practices & Traditions
History and Tradition
Tradition is considered heavily important to the Cenizans. Their belief is that the past must never be forgotten, and so past events shape much of their culture and behavior. They honor the past through dance and oral storytelling, keeping the memory of family, friendships, and events close.
- Acknowledging the "old days," before the coyotes were given the gift of the Luperci virus, is meant to ensure that the Cenizans never lose their instinct or wit. Pre-virus coyotes were adaptive creatures, and so no Cenizan looks down upon the Lupus form; it's especially desired for hunting and bonding.
- Old friends are never forgotten. This is evidenced with the coyote-dog relationship in the valley; the dogs once gifted the coyotes, and so they remain friendly.
- The other side of this is that old grudges are never forgotten. Families will feud for years unless reparations are made, and old enemies -- like wolves -- are viewed with suspicion even generations after an incident. A coyote would likely deny help to a wolf, even if they tolerate their presence otherwise.
- A young coyote is expected to know and be able to recite who their ancestors were. Children are encouraged to emulate their ancestors' good qualities as well as learn from their mistakes.
Gender and Sexuality
- There are no strongly defined gender roles among the Cenizans; both sexes can serve any role, and there are few expectations (e.g., a man is not expected to be a fighter, a woman is not expected to prioritize child-rearing over personal pursuits).
- There are no strong views on sexuality or relationships with the caveat that there's no drama or bad feelings. Polyamory is fine as long as all parties are okay with it; similarly, adultery may be forgiven by the community if the partner is forgiving. Divorce is tolerated if it's amicable; violent or dramatic break-ups are not.
- Homosexuality is tolerated but not really acknowledged; it isn't something most Cenizans understand at this point. A same-sex couple is treated as if they were very close friends, and same-sex relations viewed as experimentation rather than a legitimate orientation. No Cenizan thinks badly of a homosexual individual, and their "friendships" are seen as legitimate and deep bonds, but if that individual openly declares love or attraction for someone of the same sex, eyebrows might be raised.
- Any arrangement where consent is questionable is shunned by the Cenizans, including sibling or parental incest, age gaps, and even dominant-submissive roles. "Strange" sexual practices, such as BDSM, would be similarly looked down upon and might incur investigation and punishment.
Families and Family Structures
"Family" is a very fluid term among the Cenizan coyotes -- as few differentiate between relatives and non-blood "family." An individual's family can consist of anyone from brothers, aunts, and cousins to the coyotes who babysat them, their best friends, and stragglers adopted into the group. It's considered an honor to be invited into a family, especially as a former lone coyote, and it's not uncommon for a coyote to join another family and adopt their surname in the event they feel closer to them than their birth family. Similarly, the bond between siblings and friends is viewed as equal and identical; a coyote might call her best friend her sister.
The basis of this comes from shared parenting roles -- as the coyotes often babysit and nurse other's children so the parents can catch a break or do their own thing -- as well as the emphasis on remembering old friends, ancestors, and favors. If a coydog once saved a family's puppies from drowning, he might be invited into the family; even if he declines, his children will be seen as friends of the family and might join it in the future.
Little fuss is made of heritage and inheritance, as most of the community's goods are shared, and an individual is just as likely to pass their treasure onto an old friend as their children.
The old ranch dogs have a more humanistic view of "family," with blood-given surnames and direct heritage. Most dog families consist of parents and children, with older litters sticking around to help with work. Parents usually choose a child (based on birth order, but also work ethic) to inherit property and belongings when they pass away.
The fire-worshiper coyotes are stereotyped as playful tricksters -- and wily acts of intelligence and ability are indeed encouraged among the coyotes. Games and pranks are old pastimes because they demonstrate a coyote's capability. Theft (of a minor sort), scuffles, sneaking and spying -- all demonstrate skills that their ancestors needed to survive. The model coyote is one who is friendly, playful, and wily.
The general mantra of the coyotes is work hard, play hard -- bonding and playing make up as much time as hunting or scouting. An outsider might see the coyotes as lazy or childish, but generally they take pride in their ability to work. There are the few who would prefer playing to hunting, though.
- Substance use is common. Cannabis is cultivated in small plots or picked wild, and some Luperci know how to ferment and distill sotol juice. Additionally, the spiritual (or very bored) eat peyote to fall into a trance-like state.
- Gluttony and avarice common among the coyote's community. Though they are a friendly people, their love of new and flashy things usually leaves them with goods they can't adequately use; they are very popular with traders passing through. Owning a horse is like owning a cool sports car, and irresponsible Luperci might find that horse escaping camp or being "repossessed" by a solemn neighbor.
- Hospitality is a virtue among the coyotes where it pertains to like individuals and old friends. Most Cenizans gladly open their home for dogs, while most trip over themselves to help and spoil a lone coyote. Additionally, being giving shows you have something to give; owning things and being able to spare them is a good thing.
- In contrast, showing hospitality to an old enemy (whether a specific individual who wronged them, or an ancient enemy like a wolf) is seen as foolish and opening an individual up to being tricked. No coyote should go out of their way to harm another, however.
2.5 Outsider Relations & Travel
There are no prominent settlements close to Ceniza Valley currently -- and few of the semi-feral canines who live in the valley have a reason to travel. However, it isn't strange or unheard of for a coyote to get wanderlust and want to see what's out in the world, especially if they're lured with the idea of wealth or new experiences.
The closest large city or urban area is San Antonio, which is a twelve hours' journey for a coyote to trot without rest.
The journey to 'Souls territories is a grueling one overland and would take upwards of two months -- though it is possible for one to catch a trading ship and sail from a port city (such as Corpus Christi or New Orleans) to Maine, if one has enough to trade for passage.
- Traders, regardless of species, are popular to the coyote community; a savvy merchant will find many opportunities (and victims) among the coyotes. The farm dogs might trade away livestock for a good price, though they aren't as excitable as the coyotes.
- Wandering coyotes and dogs are usually invited to stay for a while; the coyotes are very hospitable! They like meeting new canines and sharing stories. Many an outsider has found a new, good home in the community.
- Wolves face a little discrimination in the valley; dogs distrust them and will run them off, and the coyotes -- though they'd never attack a wolf without provocation -- don't offer them the same hospitality they do coyotes.
Ceniza Valley's close-knit community has no singular leader. It operates somewhat like a council, with the most respected coyotes -- family "heads," elders, shamans -- usually discussing matters relevant to the community's future. Experience and wisdom garner the most respect, but occasionally a "flashy," popular youngster will have a stronger voice. These individuals might override other decisions, but most matters are only escalated after individuals have failed to resolve an issue. Oftentimes, coyotes participate in minor scuffles over disagreements.
Otherwise, the structure is lax. Crime is punished on a case by case basis, and punishment usually enacted by the victim's family (which, again, can involve a number of unrelated friends). Offenders are usually chased out or attacked until they learn their lesson; major crimes are always met with exile, though the Cenizans avert their eyes when a banished member is killed. However, theft is tolerated, to an extent -- stealing from someone lesser is seen as dishonorable. There is usually little sympathy for "wealthy" victims of theft, however; they should have been more clever!
The central coy-mongrel community of Ceniza Valley is said to worship fire. Their religion is based around tradition and superstition rather than deities and laws, and their beliefs and practices emphasize community, history, and features of the coyote (luck, adaption, and wiliness).
The Cenizans believe the coyote is a timeless, honorable creature -- one who has adapted throughout the span of time using its wit and luck, competing with wolves and eking out a living in the harsh desert forests. This did not change until the time of the Luperci, which the coyotes believe were a gift from humans to dogs -- who, in turn, gifted the virus to the coyotes. Some (especially of high dog content) say that it was a selfless gift, while most believe that the coyotes helped the dogs adapt to the new world by hunting and teaching them tricks in exchange for the virus. Because of this, the coyotes were able to discover the magic of fire.
There is no all-powerful deity among the coyotes -- the only gods are wild gods, and fire is one of them. Fire is worshiped because it does not exist "naturally" in the world; one cannot stumble across it like water or grass, but it's instead created through acts of nature (like storms) or by hand. The coyotes believe that fire exists in another world and comes to this one to help or hurt; they often pray while starting their fires because the very act is asking fire to come into the world to help them.
There are other "wild gods" in Ceniza, so named because they don't bow to the coyotes' whim. Gods are often everyday things, like wind and rain, or small and specific phenomena like rocks that trip prey or sicknesses that steal the lives of babies. None is worshiped like fire, though the Cenizans will speak of these "gods" as personified entities: "The rain did not want to fall today," or "The wind wishes us a good hunt; he's blowing the right way."
- Fire: A powerful symbol that encompasses the religion; fire is seen as divine, almost a creature in of itself -- mystical, conjured from another world, something benevolent but dangerous in the wrong hands.
- Ash: The remains of fire and burning, ash is symbolic of the past and appearances. Most coyotes mark their bodies with ash regularly.
- Stripes: Streaks are often worn around the face, or banded around the hands, bringing good luck -- often said to bring oneself closer to the wild.
- Pawprints: Pawprints or hand prints represent community, as they usually need to be applied by another. Marking oneself with their own paws is considered ill luck.
- Scars: Coyotes rub ash into their scars to darken them, drawing attention to them -- whether a past mistake that one will learn from, or a badge of victory.
- Bones, Horn: Prey bones or cattle horn are often used both for decoration and divination, and are symbolic of the link between the real world and the divine.
The Cenizans believe that any coyote can act as a "shaman," if they are devoted and dedicated. The coyotes usually learn from one another; if a coyote wants to learn osteomancy and shows aptitude in it, they defer to other osteomancers' interpretations -- or sometimes argue and come up with their own, which might be accepted as the new interpretation or might end up with them being ridiculed.
The community as a whole enforces Ceniza Valley's ideals, though the oldest and wisest shamans might have the final say on interpretations. As such, specific beliefs are always changing as the community evolves.
Divination by fire, also called pyromancy, is practiced often by the community; they look for signs in flame and burns to foretell future events, read omens, and other things. There are several types of pyromancy, and different coyotes might be "experts" in various kinds.
- Osteomancy: divination using bones, the most common form of pyromancy in Ceniza Valley. Bones are heated to produce cracks, which are then read.
- Botanomancy: divination by burning plants, tied into capnomancy -- though scent and the way sticks break and leaves curl plays a part, too.
- Capnomancy: divination by smoke. A thin, straight plume of smoke is thought to indicate a good omen whereas the opposite is thought of large plumes of smoke. If the smoke touches the ground, this is thought to be a sign that immediate action must be taken to avoid catastrophe.
Ash marking as mentioned above, is often a communal activity -- though even alone, it shows deference to past events and is a common style in the community. Marking one's body (or another's) with ash is considered good luck.
- General ash markings, from body smudges to dusting on the hands and tail, is for general luck.
- Marking the face with stripes emphasizing on the eyes and nose is said to increase perception.
- Emphasizing the mouth with ash stripes brings good luck to one's verbal ventures -- making them a better liar or giving them the courage to confess love, for instance.
- Marking the face with many stripes increases one's attractiveness.
- Pawprints, as mentioned before, are meant to bring the community together. Pawprints are most common over the heart or on the shoulder. Applying pawprints to oneself is bad luck.
- Bands on the legs or arms brings swiftness and agility, either for running or weaponry.
- Rubbing ash into one's scars shows that one is willing to learn from their mistakes, or that their wounds are a badge of honor.
- Many Cenizans apply ash markings to their horses; these usually follow the beliefs above.
The most skilled and devout coyotes entertain the community or act out stories using fire performances -- from spinning poi to fire-eating and other pursuits. Fats and oils are often used for fuel. Being a fire dancer is a great honor, and expected of the most devout and honorable families; many coyotes bear scars from these performances, but they wear them with honor.
If your canines celebrate particular holidays or religious observances, describe them here. This space can also be used for the description of rituals and the like.
4. Significant Families
Other families beyond these exist, especially small nuclear groups, but these families are the largest or most commonly "heard of". Players are free to create characters originating from one of these families, as long as direct relations aren't made to existing Cenizan characters (without permission).
- Del Bosque: One of the largest families in the community -- more due to the number of coyotes "adopted" into the family than indication of their prolificacy. These coyotes are tricksters and traditionalists -- and showy ones, producing some of the best fire dancers in the community. While they care greatly about the community's ideals (never is one seen without ash on their fur or in the same form each day), they seem to care a little more about popularity and fun than the future.
- Espinoza: Heavily coydogs, the hybrids of this family are the fighters of Ceniza Valley. Superstitious and yet more level-headed and distrustful than the usual exuberant Cenizan, they protect the community in times of need, and are the least enticed by the outside world.
- Rivera: Devout coyotes who nonetheless have a weakness for games and horses. While they respect the past and are the first to defend Ceniza Valley's traditions, they're also inventive and try to find new ways to incorporate things into that tradition, especially horses and other tools.
- Casales: A family of mongrel cur dogs (resembling black mouth curs) who own the largest, best-maintained ranch in the area. Though they mostly care for the semi-feral cattle that roam their pasture, the family is also well-known for its horses; they have a herd of six and trade away the incidental offspring to the coyotes.
- Villaverde: A family of mongrels descended from hunters and herders; they spend most of their time on four legs, chasing their livestock across pastures and subsisting on lamed animals and smaller prey.
- Inferni was a home to some Cenizan coyotes, including Diego del Bosque, Ignacio Rivera, Fang Espinoza, Laurel del Bosque, and Trinidad Casales.
If there was a massive war or other large scale occurrence here, you may include it here, however, please keep in mind that these events don't have a lot of meaning for characters who did not originate from the place during that time. A generalized summary is much better.