Under Feet of Clay
Myth of Erebus
Erebus was an island kingdom south of Calopius in the age of heroes. For centuries, it was ruled by a lineage of kings known as the Minarestean Kings. Much that was known about them was lost, save the memory of their great marble walls and towering columns. When Calopenes were young and the metropolises were still growing, Erebus stood a dominant force over the land. However, the tale of the Minarestean Kings is also a tale of liberation, tragedy, love, invention, and heroism.
The story begins with King Minorestes and his wife Hoplita. Minorestes ruled nearly all Calopius, demanding gold, silver, and grain from the cities to fund his island kingdom. Perhaps it was his hubris, or a madness set out by the gods, but Minorestes began to snub the gods their due portion. Where once he was a favored adherent of Thalattos, the king ceased his offerings of annual hecatombs to the god of the sea, and declared himself the sovereign master of the seas. Enraged at his audacity, Thalattos appealed to Cytherea to meddle the minds of the royalty to begin his retribution. And so Cytherea came to the queen in a dream, and planted a seed that would be the source of all the misfortunes of Erebus for its final generation.
The goddess of love descended to Queen Hoplita, and stirred her thoughts toward the ancient prize of the Minarestean Kings, their great azure bulls. Inflamed with lust for the beast, she sought some way to satiate her desire. She heard report from a tribute ship that sailed from Cleobonomos that there was an artificer named Taitalan who could fashion incredible wonders. Secretly, she sent summons to the gnomish inventor, and he arrived not long after. Informed of the problem, Taitalan utilized his cunning to fashion the image of a heifer to entice the bulls, with a chamber so the queen could enter within. Taitalan was paid handsomely for the device, and was given a home in Erebus by the Queen for his discretion. There he and his son Icaranas would dwell until the royalty came once more for them.
Hoplita used the device, mind still clouded by Cytherea, and conceived from her union with the mystical bulls, sacred gifts from Thalattos long ago. The King was delighted to see his wife with child, as they had a young daughter, still an infant, named Araxnia, but he as of yet had no heir. Minorestes waited outside the birthing chamber, only to see the midwives fleeing in horror; he entered in to see his wife sobbing and the form of a bull-headed child laying on the ground. Initially, the king and his wife determined they would conceal the beast in a wing of the palace, sending it food and keeping it away from all. But it grew quickly in strength and size, and its appetite was insatiable. When a serving maiden disappeared in the wing, the wicked reality of the beast was known; only human flesh would satisfy its endless hunger. Soon, the king would demand tribute not in coin or grain, but in the form of humans to be given as tribute. In a cruel twist, the creature feasted only on the young and virile, so each month one of the metropolises would send as tribute to Minorestes fourteen young women and fourteen young men, one to be consumed each day. This continued for years, as the rulers of the cities were helpless against the dominant fleet of Erebus and its deadly soldiers.
As the creature grew, Minorestes knew he could not contain it within his palace forever. So when he learned that Taitalan, the peerless inventor, was living on his shores, he immediately sent for him and commissioned him to create a labyrinth that not even the gods could escape if trapped within. The gnomish patriarch was offered endless supplies, as many laborers as he needed, and the promise of an entire city in Calopius as his prize for furnishing the accomplishment. It took him three years of planning and ten years to build, but finally after thirteen years, the spiraling, twisting Labyrinth of Erebus was complete. Corridors rose and fell in an unknown number of layers, spiraling allegedly a mile into the stone beneath the palace and existing beneath the whole of the island. When the great maze was complete, Taitalan encouraged the king to drop the beast down a shaft or well into the complex, rather than utilizing the gates, and so it was done. The floor was sealed, and the Minotaur of Erebus was sealed within. For years, citizens would hear from beneath them the slamming of hooves and a distant growl echoing through the stone.
However, the King knew that the workers and the gnomish inventor would understand the secrets of the maze, and might reveal the means of escape for a price. Unwilling to take that risk, King Minorestes hurled the three hundred laborers, Taitalan and Icaranas into the maze. Clever Taitalan had made arrangements for this, however, and secured a workshop with an escape route should the King turn on him. However, a few of the laborers were loyal to the king, and revealed the treachery, so though there were completed wings for the cliff-side escape, there was no alchemical glue to affix them. Forced to use the wax from the candles, the pair soared away to the north. Icaranas wouldn’t survive the journey, believing he could race Pallas in the Sun Chariot, and the wax was melted. Mourning his son, Taitalan landed in Periandropolis and retired to a small country home where he took ill several weeks travel north.
And so it would have stayed, the Minotaur devouring sacrifices as they were sealed in the labyrinth and doing unspeakable things. The beasts very presence allegedly began twisting the hearts and minds of the citizens, who became cruel, dark, and began to see monsters as superior to the gods. However, when Araxnia was just shy of her nineteenth year, there was a young noble warrior of Periandropolis named Thenius who had seen too many friends taken by the beast-worshipers of Erebus. From his father, a high priest of Xiphios, he received a sword that could pierce the hide of foul creatures, drenched in a soft golden glow. With the blade in hand, he sought out Taitalan to reveal the mysteries of the Labyrinth. He found the gnome on his deathbed, only strong enough to impart some basic knowledge before he died. Unable to truly navigate the maze, Thenius took it upon himself to become a sacrifice so that he might slay the beast.
Dressed in rags, the noble youth smuggled his sword illuminated in a soft golden glow. As the King and his family watched the Periandropolene sacrifices, Princess Araxnia watched Thenius disembark and fell instantly in love with him. Unwilling to let him die, for she remained resolute against the children of Gaia as her father and mother were swayed to worship of the monsters, Araxnia secreted away to the prisons where the sacrifices were kept until the new moon ritual when they were cast into the labyrinth. There, she met Thenius and begged him to put an end to the horrid creature within. Though her father didn’t know, she remembered seeing the beast that was her half-brother when she was young, and knew its horrible manners. She made Thenius swear an oath by the Scythe of Grandfather Time that after he had slain the Minotaur, he would return for her and make her his wife. Oath so sworn, she presented him with a magical spider from the king’s silk looms, which would never run out of thread for him. Thus Thenius entered the Labyrinth, and readied himself to face a monster like no other.
None will ever truly know the nature of the fight between Thenius and the Minotaur, but a few details are known. The hero earned a scar on his thigh in the fight, and the beast was ended by a sword plunge through the heart. However, as it happened, the Minotaur was not the final threat to the island, as Thenius found deep within that the Minotaur had built from the bones and skulls of its victims a grotesque shrine pulsating the unholy energies of Gaia. With the blade blessed by Xiphios, Thenius shattered the bloody monument to the Mother of Monsters, and so ended the curse begun when Hoplita gave her monstrous birth. Price paid, Thalattos began his final vengeance, and struck the island with an incredible earthquake. With the ground shaking beneath him, Thenius led his countrymen out of the maze and made his way to the docks.
Whether he knew that he was leaving the Princess Araxnia behind or forgot in the chaos of the escape, Thenius set sail while Araxnia watched from a nearby hill, where she was awaited her beloved. Earlier that day, she had informed her parents that the Minotaur would soon be dead, and Erebus would be delivered from the calamity the wrought by a hero like no other. Hoplita, overcome with sorrow, hung herself in the bedchamber. Minorestes was enraged, and rose to slay his traitorous daughter with his scepter, but then the quaking struck, and one of the famous columns collapse and crushed him. With the signs of the monarch, Araxnia set about preparations to guide her people as their new Queen, uniting with Thenius to move her capitol to the mainland. But when the sails furled and oars feathered out to leave her behind, Araxnia despaired. At that moment, sh heard a whisper of comfort, and took refuge in the motherly voice.
Thus, the last Queen of Erebus gave herself to Gaia. Wrapped in fell powers, she merged her form with the spiders she smuggled from the looms, and rose up with untold power. Erebus shook and sunk, but to the south, Thenius saw a flash of green and violet. For him, not only was the threat of the Minotaur gone, but Erebus itself was crushed forever, and Calopius would be free. Its cities could flourish independently, and no one would impugn on that liberty so long as heroes such as he rise to defend it. But soon people knew echoes of Araxnia’s voice, and there are those who fear that Erebus may again rise from the waves, an immortal queen of monsters ready to reclaim her lost kingdom with armies that were once Calopene mortals.