The Atonian Steppe refers to a thin strip of land bordering the Inner Sea on the western side of Onich. Once a sprawling and fertile plain, The Flood of 816 claimed most of the region, sparing a small swath in which several canyons and intricate cave systems still remain. Partially destroyed and abandoned, a sole remaining structure stares off into the sea, colloquially referred to as "The Church".
Several large and aggressive creatures have come to inhabit the area in the many centuries since it was abandoned. These threats, alongside a hefty amount of fear and superstition regarding the ancient practices of former inhabitants, help to account for its lack of habitation, despite its desirable river access and port availability.
The region was first settled by Human explorers some three hundred years into their discovery of Onich. As it became increasingly clear that the fledgling kingdom known as Sallasat was poised to become the premier regional superpower, it seemed inevitable that this newly-discovered region would be swallowed up quickly. Instead of resisting this change, the inhabitants embraced it and formally became part of Sallasat a short number of years after having originally settled the area.
As Sallasat's cultural and technological dominance expanded, the Atonian Steppe first came to the attention of several leaders as a site in which advanced and sometimes clandestine research could be conducted. Specifically, the labyrinthine network of caverns and sinkholes dotting the steppe was considered a prime location in which to test new theories regarding the nature of the natural energy source, called Ont, that lay at the heart of Sallasat's strength.
While it is not known what kinds of results were obtained over the course of the many decades in which the region was operational, most research was eventually abandoned in favor of diverting efforts towards Sallasat's war efforts as well as the efforts of others who had resisted the new invaders that had appeared in the southeast of Onich. It was speculated that discoveries made upon the Atonian Steppe allowed the critical blow that enabled the Humans of Onich to ultimately prevail.
Shortly thereafter, the Flood of 816 devastated the region and many others, bringing to an abrupt end any further Sallasatian plans within the steppe. The kingdom was hit particularly hard in general, losing a large amount of territory, an unfortunate consequence of lying around and below sea level. Sallasat's influence gradually waned over the years, their borders eventually contested by the northern nation of Auvane and beyond.
What remained of the Atonian Steppe remained uninhabited for the next few hundred years until an influx of refugees, fleeing from the ruins of Sallasat, passed through the region. They began settling there, weary from travel and presumably far enough from any lingering energy as to be free of its effects. By this time, Roots had appeared in the northern most regions of Onich, resulting in other settlers traveling south, both sets of refugees sandwiched in the region north of Sallasat, the northerners attempting to place as much distance from them and the Roots as possible.
From this disapora came terrible stories of carnage and bloodshed, entire villages and families decimated by the scourge that they described as 'Roots'. With the influx came many different theories and beliefs regarding the Roots, a small sect of travelers eventually settling directly in close proximity to one of the many test sites used by the Sallasat civilization. This particular sect, believing that the Roots were a direct punishment for man's iniquity, preached that the only way to eradicate the blight was to 'atone' for the sins of their ancestors, hence, the Atonians, the region known as Atonia, and moreover, the Atonian Steppe.
For a time, Atonian beliefs were greeted with reverence and appreciation, Humans having tried everything else. When their brand-new suggestions too failed, adherents grew skeptical, hearing stories still of Roots slowly sweeping across the northern reaches of the continent. With the advent of Merovianism, many previous devotees flocked to the new and numerous denominations presented therein, choosing to follow a system that placed blame instead of taking it. Meanwhile, the Atonians came under increasingly intense scrutiny and pressure to leave the region.
With Roots to their north and south, many Atonians chose to tough it out, hoping that they would be able to solitarily live out their days peacefully. As it was, the term Atonia had begun to refer to the region itself and not the religion. Many who had lived in the region had denounced Atonian beliefs and were compelled by outside influences to turn on their once-neighbors, sacking, pillaging and destroying homes and properties.
Eventually, Atonians were all but purged from the region, scattering towards the far corners of Onich, their controversial beliefs eventually dying with them. While there were other opportunities for habitation upon the steppe, by this time, well-established settlements already existed in Cephaline, Auvane and Molsha, among others. Only the foolhardy dared dwell beyond Human settlements, whether by tiptoeing as to avoid the indigenous wildlife or simply not caring one way or the other about the sorts of terrors that awaited them in the vast wilderness.
Atonian CanyonWhile historically used to access the Atonian Steppe, and not technically part of the steppe itself, it became the prominent area after the region became submerged. The cave system that the river uses to enter the canyon sprawls beneath the terrain and opens up into many caverns and grottoes, providing shelter to much of the fauna.
Feared and largely forgotten, this present-day region is rarely visited by Humans. With the fauna growing increasingly violent and stories of ghosts and Roots a favorite around campfires, few people dare venture into the canyon. A few notable characters, however, have determined the risk worth the isolation and have set up residence or operation within.
Atonian BeachOnce the site of a vast steppe, The Flood rendered it nothing more than an isolated beach, a lone church-like structure overlooking the shores. It is thought that the Sallasatians built the structure and brought with them their knowledge of the Springs and their power as well as great technological feats, eventually repurposed by the wayward Atonians who had found refuge there.
After the flood, immigrants from both Sallasat and the northern reaches settled areas nearby. They began to attach some unfounded and irrational signifiance to the structure itself, setting out immediately to restore and repurpose it for their budding religion. It is thought that this is why the structure looks like a church, although it is unknown what it looked like before the changes.
Rumors of ghosts and apparitions of those deceased have kept the area isolated over the centuries, although The Church, as the last remaining structure has become known, shows signs of ransacking and grass and dust alike shows signs of disturbance. Most simply attribute such phenomena to roaming wolves and curious gastornis.
Atonian Cave SystemThe vast caverns and tunnels of the Atonian Cave system were formed over the millennia by the nearby river and, more recently, the massive geological and ecological transformations caused by The Flood. The shifting of such massive amounts of water agitated the land and many clefts and passages opened, combining many small chambers and caverns into a larger system. With no human contact, and newly formed shelter to take advantage of, many different creatures encroached. Drones have aerated several caverns with their porous nest, grotts crushed or moved rubble aside while rolling through, and the large spiders that roam the canyon have brought carrion into the caves supplying nutrients and livelihood to a new ecology of mushrooms and other fungi.
Today even the bravest human refuses to enter the system. The animals have become protective of their new home and no rumors of hidden treasure or precious metals have ever made the risk worth the reward. Despite the accepted belief that no one ever enters, however, there has been recent hearsay of Roots infesting the deepest recesses as well as possible Rootsoul sightings. Most assume the rumors are nothing more than a lazy attempt to explain how the fauna has grown larger and more aggressive than normal; accepted Root growth theory could not account for their presence here and few have ever been close enough to a Root field to confirm that they adversely affect living creatures.
Bihrun is known to most as a hermit, and while very few people have ever talked to or even seen him, there is a good chance that he has fed any human who has eaten fish west of The White Marsh. He chose this spot more so for the fishing grounds than for the isolation, although the latter has proven a great asset as well. And even though he is protective of his trade he gets great pleasure in teaching others the art and listening to their stories of fish abroad.
Both he and his cabin show wear from living in such a hostile environment, but he and the local fauna have learned to live by the "it won't bother you if you don't bother it" mantra. Few gastornis ever get a second chance to pilfer his fish stores and even the wolves have learned to leave him be.
Shortly after humans abandoned the area the drones moved in. Over the years they have created a vast network of interweaving tunnels and caverns to call home and store their prey. Known for their ferocity and wanton aggression, they are one of many reasons to avoid the canyon, if not one of the largest.
No one knows for sure how many drones inhabit the area or how far down the nest reaches because no one has ever attempted to find out. It is believed, however, that the air from their tunnels and the remains of their victims are largely responsible for the vast cave ecosystem growing underground... until that ecosystem encroaches on their nest.
The Atonian Steppe is one of the first locations encountered during the plot of Bevontule and is the location in which the main protagonist washes up along the shore. He regains consciousness, confused as to his whereabouts, and slowly makes his way towards the nearest structure, which happens to be The Church. He enters the dilapidated structure and after an intense, blinding flash of light, falls to the floor.
Meanwhile, a Human known as Moroch happens to be milling about the area and notices the flash of light emanating from the building. Against his better judgment, although not one to believe in superstitious stories, he rushes to the site of the flash. Upon his arrival, he finds a person, slumped over. He is able to recognize that this stranger, in fact, appears to be an Onichian, although this is not something an average person would realize. Without having witnessed the flash of light and having known that Onichians were historically capable of generating these 'energy bursts', it is likely that Moroch would have thought the stranger to be Human.
Nevertheless, Moroch is able to goad the stranger back into consciousness and fiercely interrogates him to his origin and purpose. The stranger, while speaking a common language, is unable to satisfactorily answer any of Moroch's questions, claiming amnesia. While not entirely swayed, Moroch elects to take the stranger to his nearby dwelling under the guise of protecting him. In reality, however, Moroch can think of nothing but the potential payout for having discovered what he believes to be a living, breathing Onichian; after all, they have been completely absent from the continent of Onich for only 800 years or so.
After consulting with a friend of his known as Apolith , the two decide to have the stranger show them the exact location in which he washed up along the shore. Apolith is highly suspicious of this newcomer, looking for any evidence that the person is, in fact, an Onichian. They head to the nearby village of Cephaline to stock up on supplies before heading out into the Atonian Steppe, following the winding canyon path towards the beach. Upon arriving, they briefly enter The Church, Moroch expecting a similar scenario as before, in which a teal light was emanated. Much to his chagrin (and possibly relief), nothing happens.
Undeterred, Apolith has the stranger lead them to the nearby shore. Upon arriving, they find the beach empty as the stranger points out the exact spot where he appeared. Apolith continues to look around alone, eventually finding a few pieces of a strange, unknown metal, which Apolith surmises belonged to some kind of sea-faring vessel, seemingly far beyond the construction or capabilities of anything known. On a part of the wreckage, they find the word "Bodom" written and as such, decide to refer to the stranger by this name going forward.
While this does seem to corroborate at least part of Moroch's story, the discovery does not indicate conclusively whether or not Bodom is, in fact, an Onichian, nor does it convince Apolith that Bodom is being entirely truthful. For that reason, Apolith elects to take Bodom to a group of trusted associates to attempt to lend some veracity to Moroch's claims.The party does not return to the Atonian Steppe until an unfortunate sequence of events forces them to flee the Cephalinian region altogether.