In a time long since passed, in far south-west Nerrona, where people fight not against each other, nor the evils of Kainorh, but against the heat of the sun, there lived a village of folk who made a mistake in their worship.
They were not, on the surface, foolish people. They carved out a place for themselves on the hot, flat savannah. They learned which animals to hunt and which ones to keep as livestock. They learned both how to forage and how to cultivate the land. They learned how to build their homes and weave their clothes to deal with the baking heat of the day and the chill winds of night.
They knew enough of the workings of the gods to know that the Holy One created the Nine Realms, and that from her, the other gods came forth to maintain her creation. They knew that Maela, fire goddess of the Aurelian Ennead, had domain over fire and light and the sweltering heat of their days, but this is where their mistake began.
They did not hate Maela, for they knew that the light of the sun provided for their crops, and that without it, all the world would be cast into dark shadow. They did not hate her, for she provided the heat of her hearth, and they knew that there was no malevolence in her heart. Nevertheless, one does not need to hate in order to blame.
The people of the village respected Maela and the other members of the Ennead: Manirik, for the cool touch of the night breeze; Schiizar, for the fertile earth and the sturdy clay of their homes; Lokyah, for their crops and their livestock; Coralome, for the rains that came and filled their cisterns to the brim; and all the others besides, each of whom held domain over an aspect of their lives.
They respected the Ennead, but there was one they held in higher regard, and that was the beginning of their downfall.
Each of the Nine Realms is held in balance by an Ennead of its own. The Aurelian Ennead are the firstborn of the Holy One, and they hold power in Aurelia, the Realm of the Gods. Most beings on Aurelia worship one of them, or one of the Free Gods of Aurelia, who cover domains outside of the Aurelian Ennead’s influence.
The people of that village in the south-west did not worship a member of the Aurelia Ennead, though they respected them; neither did they worship one of the Free Gods of Aurelia. They were not evil, however: they did not worship members of the dark Kainorhian Ennad, nor any of the dark gods of Kainorh.
No, their mistake was simpler: they gave their worship to a member of one of the lesser Enneads, and one who detests worship, for she is not a true deity, but only something resembling one. They worshipped Sheth, the Flamesmith, who resides in the Soul Forge, Taar.
Shyar, Goddess of Magic, is Lord of Taar, and under her, the ennead known as the Masters oversee and participate in the production of spirits and souls. Sheth is one such master. She is known for her affiliation with fire and her deep, undying respect for the goddess Maela. As informed as the village was — or seemed to be — about theology, they overlooked this one important detail.
The village, in their hearts, took Sheth on as their patron. It was their belief that she forged their souls and spirits personally. Their shamans preached her praises, and they told their flock that she had imbued in them the strength to resist the burning power of the sun. They believed that it was, by the blessing of Sheth, that they were able to survive Maela’s harsh treatment.
They did not question that their prayers to Sheth were unanswered, they merely came to accept her as a quiet, but powerful, force in their lives. They did not question why she did not grant them small trinkets of her power, as the Ennead does for its faithful, for they believed she had given all they were worth upon their birth, by strengthening their souls against the heat of the savannah.
These were their warning signs, but they ignored them.
It came about that a group of travelling missionaries arrived in that village. With them they brought the word of Maela.
“Maela opens her arms to you,” they said to the village shamans.
“We feel her touch upon us,” the shamans said, which was their way of giving a respectful reply.
“She is strong here, in the savannah,” the missionaries said.
“Yes, her heat bears down on our backs every day,” the shamans said.
The missionaries did not like the tone of this reply. “Her warmth is a blessing to us all,” they said.
“Her fire is a blessing, yes, but it is also something we must endure,” the shamans said. They were not adept at diplomacy. “We are lucky to have the strength to bear it.”
“Who do you think grants you that strength?” By now, the missionaries were frustrated and offended.
“Why, Sheth, the Flamesmith, of course,” the shamans proclaimed. “In her forging, she hardens our souls against Maela’s heat, allowing us to survive even overwhelming temperatures.”
“Sheth is not a deity,” the missionaries said.
“She is our deity!” argued the shamans. “She has done more for us than any member of the Ennead.”
The missionaries, who felt anger overtaking their sense, left the village. They intended to return later, knowing that anger never helps when trying to find accord, but they never had the chance.
The missionaries travelled onward to the next village, where they found a warlike people who nevertheless accepted the missionaries with open arms. They, like the missionaries, worshipped Maela. Here the missionaries found themselves without a mission, and so they spent their time in that village resting, relaxing, and telling tales of their travels.
One such tale they told was of the village to the southwest, where they worshipped not Maela nor any member of the Aurelian Ennead, but Sheth, Master of Fire. The leaders of the warlike village decried such worship as heresy, and insisted that surely something must be done about such wrongful beliefs.
The missionaries argued against any action, saying that they would later return to peacefully teach the southwestern village the error of its ways. After they left the warlike village, however, they no longer had any influence. They warlike leaders were free to do as they wished, and they did: they traveled across the savannah, and without warning, they attacked the village of Sheth-worshippers.
The villagers and their shamans did not know what to do. They had spears for hunting, but not for fighting. They were not the sort who waged war on other humans. The very concept felt foreign to them.
While their men and women died in their defense, the shamans huddled together in their hut, crying out their prayers to Sheth for her aid. For the first time in any of their lifetimes, she answered. She answered not with her blessing or with power granted to the shamans, but by appearing bodily in the middle of their circle.
An avatar of Sheth appeared before them, with her long yellow hair flowing about her body and her skin as black as a starless, moonless night. Her eyes, looking down upon the shamans who cowered before her in awe, glowed with the smoldering red of burning coals.
She did not speak to them, though they thanked her for answering their call and wept with joy at her arrival. Instead she reached out her four arms wide. In one of her four hands, a falchion of the same coal-red light as her eyes manifested. In the other three she brought forth a sphere of flame.
The first of the shamans to die to her blade still believed her to be their savior, even as the falchion cleft him in twain. The others surrounding her, eight in number, died to flame and blade in turn. Upon the death of the last, fire poured forth from her hands, and the clay of the hut itself began to burn.
Sheth’s avatar stepped forth from the burning hut, and with the callous ease of an angered divine being, she brought the village to ruin. When she had finished, only the attackers remained. They knelt before her, trembling with fear, but she brought now harm upon them.
In a voice that crackled like a sparking flame, she spoke to those who remained. “I am Sheth, Master of Fire. You may respect me. You may thank me, and my brethren, for your souls. You may not, and you must not ever, place me above the Lady of the Flame. Maela is the one true Goddess of Fire. Not I, nor any other. Those who make the mistake of acting as though anyone has a place of Maela shall meet with my sword, as these fools did.”
With her proclamation complete, Sheth’s avatar dissolved into floating embers, which dispersed across the village, setting flame to those few structures and crops which she herself had not yet burned.