Chevalier writes "The secret story of how the Poisoner murdered the Lady of the Hearth, and the unholy legacy of that dark deed.
LEGEND OF PYREMIUS AND RANET
An age past, when the Suel were still a young people, and fire was an important tool for survival, the goddess Ranet watched over those men and women who used it (1). They called her the Kindler, and the Lady of the Hearth. Also she laid down the laws of hospitality, for those who made the fires hosted many around its warmth. She was beloved of singers and tellers of tales, who plied their trade by the flickering lights of Ranet’s fires. Her close friend among the gods was the smith Fortubo, and with him she built great forges, and the other gods loved her fierce spirit and warm heart.
Lurking in the shadows of Ranet’s flames, however, was another god, lesser in power, and less friendly to humankind: Pyremius, demigod of poison and murder. Pyremius disdained the life sustained in fire’s warmth, and loved rather its power to destroy, to reduce life to charcoal and ash. Though he was skilled at killing quietly in the shadows, he envisioned a great conflagration that could devour thousands at once, erasing all living things in its reach. And so Pyremius loved and hated Ranet, who withheld from him any dominion over fire; he grew to covet Ranet’s power, and devised a dark plan to take it by force.
Pyremius came to the domicile of Ranet, feigning humility and devotion, and praising her beauty and the flames that made shadows possible. Ranet felt pity and received him, speaking kindly, but her kindness was her undoing. She obeyed the same laws of hospitality that her priesthood enforced, and so invited her guest to share a cup with her. From her divine hearth she drew a cup of her own mulled wine, offering it to the lord of murder. As he bowed in gratitude, his shadow self stole to the hearth and poured a dark draught into the pot. When Ranet turned to draw her own cup of wine, she sealed her doom: she drank, and knew her betrayer. The cup fell from her hand as she lost the power of her limbs, for Pyremius had given her a terrible poison, that would freeze her limbs but let her feel every prick of pain (2).
He laid her body on her floor, stripped her of her godly raiment, and drew strange signs and sigils around her, preparing his vile ritual. None now know the exact manner of the rite, for it is too foul for mortal comprehension, and Pyremius will not share it. What is known is that he took her, there in front of the hearth consecrated to her sacred fire, and befouled her. But even as he did this, Ranet’s rage burned fiercely within, and the heat rising from her beautiful form charred her attacker’s skin, flaking it to ash. It is said that to this day, he is blackened by that fire, and trails ash and smoke behind him wherever he walks.
So he ravaged her, reckoning not the terrible heat, and as his rite neared its culmination, he took up an unholy knife, a dagger filled with the venom of his hatred, lust, and jealousy, and plunged it into Ranet’s heart. The poison spread quickly, seeking out every vein and vessel, and forced from her body a single breath in a puff of flame. This Pyremius swallowed, thereby absorbing her power and portfolio, magnifying his own essence at the expense of hers. He was now become a true god, dread master of fire and murder. He rose, leaving the dagger behind, and it melted into smoke in the heat of her pain as he left her to die. The great hearth fire flared, then perished and went cold; it is said that fires died the world over as the Lady of the Hearth passed. Yet even as Ranet’s life ended, another life quickened within her: from the deceit of Pyremius and the rage of Ranet was conceived a monstrosity, a foul abomination known as a Phaethon. It burst forth, consuming its mother’s body, and none have seen Ranet the Kindler again in this world or any other (3).
Now the gods were aware of these events, for the shadow of secrecy Pyremius had cast over his actions fell away before the Phaethon’s boiling rage. It was yet small, but swiftly growing more powerful. But the gods, appearing suddenly, withstood its advance: Fortubo, weeping, struck it a blow with his hammer, stunning it; great Lendor spoke and froze it in time; and Wee Jas wove a cage of ice around it to contain its heat. With the sight that is given to them, they beheld the treachery of Pyremius, and Ranet’s fall, and were silent. Even then, the Phaethon was straining against their bonds, and they knew they could not quench its flames forever.
The gods of the Suloise conferred in solemn sorrow. Kord took up arms and would have pursued Ranet’s killer at once, but he was restrained by Lendor, who knew their battle was not yet to come (4). Wee Jas confirmed that Ranet was in fact lost to them, only an echo of her divinity now drifting through death’s realm. After some debate, they decided to imprison the creature, in hopes that Ranet might one day return to life and redeem it; for it was yet her child, misbegotten though it was. Fortubo chose a great chamber of magma within the earth, far from the lands of the Suel, in which the young Phaethon could grow and yet be harmless, its rage barred from the world above it. They hallowed the chamber, and laid powerful enchantments on the prison, so that none should find it and free its inmate; so mighty that not even a god could reveal its location (5). But a prison needs a lock, and in a cavern above the magma chamber the gods set a black stone of basalt, with curious runes swirling about its surface, and on one side a strangely shaped indentation, as if made to receive a large piece of worked metal.
For a lock needs a key. Far from this prison, high in the Tyurzi Mountains on the western edge of the Suel basin, a remote Lendorian monastery accepted the responsibility of guarding an unknown artifact. This object, personally delivered by their deity’s chief herald, was kept safely within a leaden coffer. They were charged not to open it on pain of death, for its secret could destroy the world. This was indeed the great key forged by Fortubo himself; by this key alone could the Phaethon be freed. For thousands of years the priests held the secret in good faith, and the coffer was secure in a chamber deep underground. Even when the Suloise Empire was burned to dust and ash, the monastery survived in its mountain fastness, spared from the fiery rain (6). Cut off from the Suloise survivors, they recruited new members from the peoples west of the old empire, and still the secret was safe. As far as anyone knows, even now the key remains in its coffer, the lock lies untouched in its cave, and the Phaethon’s prison stands undisturbed, its prisoner forgotten by all (7).
But a prison needs a lock, a lock needs a key, and even a hidden key may be found. What once was locked may be unlocked, and the anger and hatred of the Phaethon yet burn a path through the world...
I wrote this as the deep back story to an epic-level adventure I am very slowly designing. Someday the rest of it may see the light.
Note 1: I’ve seen some reference to the murder of Ranet coming later in the history of Suel, but I like it better in a more remote past.
Note 2: If you said to yourself, “Hey! That’s just like Exorcist III,” you get a cookie.
Note 3: Some say she now takes the form of a serpent-goddess. Personally, I don’t buy it. If she does come back, though, she’ll be bent on vengeance, and seek to burn the Pyremians in their own fires.
Note 4: I like the thought of a prophesied mano-a-mano with Kord and Pyremius, along the lines of Thor and Loki.
Note 5: In the adventure I’m designing, this is a key point. No divination spell will reveal its location while the prison is whole. Pyremian priests, however, do feel a vague tug in its direction, for the Phaethon is their god’s offspring, a loophole unforeseen by the prison’s makers. But even Pyremius cannot divulge any information unless his priests are already inside the area of effect. I have placed it, for various reasons, in the foothills of the Rakers on the northwest fences of the Pale.
Note 6: While he had nothing to do with the Rain of Colorless Fire, doubtless Pyremius was laughing at this turn of events, not caring that his own followers were among the burned.
Note 7: My adventure assumes of course that this is not the case. Details to come...