The Legendary Four were the founders of the First Village, and mythical heroes.
There was a time when the vast land stood silent. The bustling of traders or the laughter of friendly guilds was not to be heard, nor did spinning wheels busily creak, or hammers tap cheerily away. It was a time of stark isolation and division, when ancient secrets were fiercely guarded, and distrust of outsiders ran deep. Consequently, the mighty Warriors remained aloof atop the mountains, the spry Hunters kept to themselves in the forest, the mysterious Wizards stayed deep below in the caverns of the earth, and the noble Priests sequestered themselves along the white pebbled shores of the sea.
How Mallok first came to arrive in the land, or where it was that he had come from is not known. But the young man’s raggedy clothes, his gaunt face and matted red hair, and the scars, angry gashes and faded welts that adorned much of his thin body, spoke of hardship. The wandering stranger went first to the majestic forest, where, upon seeing the Hunters’ eerily powerful connection to the creatures of the wild, and awed, too, by their skills of archery, he asked to be admitted into their fold. But the Hunters rejected Mallok, for he was not one of them. Their leader, graceful Celestia, whose swift arrows matched the quickness of her mind, forbade the stranger to ever set foot upon their forest soil again. Angered, Mallok withdrew. His hands, well-practiced in the art of thievery, had been so deft that not even Celestia realized, until much later, that her enchanted silver arrow had left with Mallok, too.
As he nimbly darted up the jagged mountain, Mallok discovered that his speed was now like that of a stag, his eyes sharp like an eagle, and his blood, pulsing and pounding with a new savagery, made him yearn for something he could not name, but could give voice to with a howl. He quickly reached the top of the snowy peaks, and it was here that he found the indomitable Warriors. Impressed with their brutish strength and mastery of swordsmanship, Mallok asked if he might be allowed to live among their kind. But the Warriors rejected Mallok, for he was not one of them. Their leader, honorable Marat, strapping and rugged like the mountains, his fierce gaze equally impenetrable, ordered the stranger away. Incensed to have twice been turned down, Mallok departed with such startling swiftness that even the warriors doubted their eyes. A moment later, Marat discovered that his treasured war horn had likewise disappeared, too.
When he came upon the massive pile of heavy stone slabs barring the cavern entrance, Mallok felt strangely undeterred, like gazing at a stack of twigs he knew he could brush aside with ease. Despite his thinness and weakened frame, with a bellowing war cry, Mallok launched himself at the great stone pile and hurled it away with such force, and with such brutish intensity, that even nearby trees were toppled in the havoc. With the thrill of victory, Mallok strode into the dark cavern, his brisk steps taking him deeper and deeper into the belly of the earth, until he reached the lair of the Wizards, where his thirsty eyes drank in sights of wonder.
Bolts of fire blazed through the air, soaring and dipping, and seemed almost to dance with the icy hail and fluttering snow that fell from, what looked to Mallok like, an infinite bluish sky. Astonished by such feats of magic, he asked the sorcerers if he might be allowed to join their ranks. But the Wizards rejected Mallok, for he was not one of them. Their leader, alluring Calypso, her voice silky and enigmatic like her spells, cautioned the intruder to never return. With a roar, Mallok pounded the cavern wall till it cracked under the might of his fury, and then he was simply gone. Calypso quickly reached for her wooden staff to heal the fissure left in his wake, but found that, like Mallok, it, too, was simply gone. As Mallok loped along the rocky sea cliffs, a murky fog rolled in; he could hear the crashing ocean waves, but could not see them. In the same way that he might whistle for a trusty horse to join him, Mallok discovered that he could likewise just as easily summon the wind to do his bidding. He called it now, as he did other elements. A swift breeze promptly carried the fog away, revealing a thrashing ocean which Mallok bade cease its pounding. The ocean obeyed, and soon its waters lapped gently against the pebbled shore, where the Priests made their home.
Expecting the men and women on the shore to treat him with hostility, as the other groups had, Mallok warily kept his distance. But just as a chilled person is drawn to the warmth of a fire, so, too, was Mallok similarly lulled by their kindly voices and soothing demeanors. He drew closer and marveled at their mending hands, which, with only a passing touch, could heal bleeding wounds and broken bones. Awed, Mallok asked the healers if he might be allowed to join their group. But the Priests rejected Mallok, for he was not one of them. Their leader, noble Voltan, honest and austere, his principles as unyielding as his iron scepter, told the stranger to leave and to not mix with their holy order again. It lasted only moments: there was a burst of thunder, followed by a torrent of violent rain and howling winds, and then the brief gale was gone. So was Mallok. And so was Voltan’s holy scepter.
Mallok’s brooding steps were contemplative and unhurried. He soon came to a jutting ridge, one that overlooked the vast ocean, and from where, too, he could see the whole of the majestic forest, and all of the snow-topped mountains, and every valley and crevice that lay between. It was here that the young man in the raggedy clothes halted his steps. Later, there would often be whispered speculations about this moment. What did Mallok see, when he gazed out at the land? Had all beauty now been extinguished in his eyes? In those final seconds, did his soul briefly flicker with just the tiniest flame of light before going out entirely? It is not known.
Mallok lifted his chin, his gaze fierce like the Warriors, and he turned slightly with a strange smile, enigmatic like the Wizards. He slowly raised his arms, his motions fluid and graceful like the Hunters; and, then, with an austere grandness befitting that of a god-like priest, Mallok let loose his wrath. There was a deafening roar, whether from the beasts in the wild acknowledging their new master, or from the savage winds that ripped and tore at the land, or from the ocean as it rose up in all its punishing might, or from the ravaging fire that erupted forth from the earth, it is hard to say. There were other sounds, too, but they were devious and shadowy, and barely discernible within the chaos. Their malignant echoes would be heard later. For now, Mallok contented himself with planting their seeds, and turning the sky to night.
Many perished in the devastation. Afterwards, in those first few weeks, when the majestic green forest lay blackened and charred, and the rugged mountains quivered like soft lumps of warm clay, when the glorious light-filled caverns of the earth had shriveled into an ugly nest of dark little caves, and the ocean’s white pebbled shore lay despoiled with untold filth and debris, the people of the land were struck quite helpless by it all. A numb confusion set in, as did a sense of abandonment. For it was almost as if the land, in turning so violently against its people, no longer wanted them. Consequently its people were not unlike dazed children who had just suddenly and cruelly been rejected by a once loving parent.
In the dark years that followed, only foulness seemed to thrive. Ghoulish new monsters sprang forth from the unending night and roamed the wasted land in nasty little hordes. Where once had flown pristine waters, now sat only fetid swamps, ripe with disease. Pitiless Mallok, his powers greater and increasingly vile, built for himself, upon the ridge where it had all began, a great obsidian tower, where he lorded over the barren land. Shadow magic had sunk deeply into the veins of the earth so that nothing grew, save for the seeds of corruption planted by Mallok in the hearts and minds of its people. These dark seeds flourished.
In the withered forest, grace and elegance had been replaced with a squalid meanness. The Hunters, now much like vicious hyenas and mangy coyotes, prowled the skeletal woods, greedy scavengers who were quick to turn on one another with a ferocity that made Celestia weep. Clever and strong though she was Celestia’s efforts to restore harmony among her people or salve the wounds of her beloved forest were as fruitless as the barren trees around her. But she remained determined. Long ago, she had heard tell of the existence of an oracle. And, so, for the first time ever, a hunter left the forest.
Ugly mountainous lumps now sat where once jagged snow-topped peaks had stood. Gone was the integrity and shining fierceness of the warriors who, having devolved into a sluggish band of boorish thugs, now often slaughtered each other for the sheer sport of it and cared for little else other than satisfying their own base pleasures. Only honorable Marat remained true. Desperate to heal his people, he, too, remembered hearing tales about an oracle said to dwell far across the land, in a peculiar castle. And, so, for the first time ever, a warrior left the mountains.
Insidious shadow magic polluted the underground lair of the Wizards, whose cunning minds had grown twisted and paranoid. They no longer reveled in exploring the beauties of the unknown together. Instead, jealous, secretive and rabidly distrustful of one another, the wizards lived apart, each sorcerer creepily holed up in their own dark little cave where they obsessively hoarded and concocted menacing new spells. Unwilling to lose her people to their own magic and madness, Calypso, too, recalled hearing a legend about an oracle said to exist in a castle of glimmering crystals. And, so, for the first time ever, a Wizard left the caverns of the earth. The white pebbles of the ocean shore had blackened, and stank of rot and disease. There was little kindness to be found in the now sneering Priests who had grown vain and cruel. From their mouths streamed, not gentle blessings, but vindictive curses, and hands meant to heal chose instead to conjure forth ugly illnesses and foul blights. Only Voltan remained pure. He thought now of the Crystal Lady, a woman whose words, like the glowing gems she was reputed to be made of, were said to cast illuminating light on all those in need of answers. And, so, for the first time ever, a Priest left the pebbled shores of the sea.
It was not a tangible castle. Or, rather it was, but it was not rooted to land. Celestia stood on the marshy banks of the enormous black lake and stared hopelessly out at the floating turret in the distance. Aglow with dazzling reddish-gold crystals, the bejeweled castle shone like the sun and felt just as inaccessible. Marat’s exasperated bellow so perfectly matched her own feelings of frustration that Celestia did not draw her bow upon the roaring man in iron, but smiled at him instead. The smile was returned. A few days later, Calypso appeared. Dismayed to find her destination unreachable, she was further troubled by the sight of the malevolent green flames rippling ominously within the lake’s inky black waters. It was then that she heard the startling noise from the meadow, a warm sound, light and musical, a collection of bubbling notes heard so infrequently that Calypso doubted it could truly be laughter. But it was. On the eve of the following day, Voltan arrived. As he grimly contemplated the floating castle in the distance, his thoughts were interrupted by a frenzy of commotion in the meadow – crashing thuds, fire sizzling, and a steady rhythmic pounding. He watched them. Then the priest joined the hunter, the warrior, and the wizard in helping to construct a boat, large enough for four.
Over the next few days, something lasting and true began to take shape. As they felled timber together, the barriers existing between the four strangers came down as well. And every day when they stripped away the rough tree bark exposing the tender wood beneath, so, too, did they similarly lay bare their own innermost thoughts and feelings to one other. As their boat steadily rose, ideas and a plan for the future began to rise with it. Soon their impassioned talk matched the speed of their skilled hands, which chiseled and hammered away at an effortlessly rapid pace. Iron was poured, bolts were fastened, and an unbreakable friendship was solidified.
The black lake’s sinister greenish flames leapt hungrily at the boat, only to violently recoil and dissolve into a grainy powder. The magnificent vessel bore the strengths of all those who had made it. Struck from only the mightiest of trees and intricately crafted with a graceful artisanship, it was threaded with powerful magic and christened with a protective holy blessing. But when the hunter, warrior, wizard and priest at last reached the glittering castle and heard the words of the Crystal Lady, they knew it was not their boat she spoke of. Emerging from a shining pool of turquoise gems, the luminous crystalline woman, eyes of the purest diamonds and lips of sapphire rubies, uttered identical words to each of the four friends: the solution lay in that which had just been forged.
It began at dawn, under the ethereal glow of a pale moon, in a valley where the shadow of the great obsidian tower loomed darkest. The four stood together as one. Marat, indomitable in his glistening Titan armor, issued forth the battle cry with a thunderous trumpeting of his war horn.
In answer to the summons, a hideous lustful shrieking came from both sky and ground. Winged harpies, fanged and grinning, sailed viciously through the moon lit air as snarling hordes of fiendish creatures swarmed the valley hills. And at the center of it all, lean and hooded, was Mallok. An outsider no more, he now led hundreds. And yet, when he saw the union of the four individuals in front of him, for a biting, splinter of a second, Mallok felt jealous of their closeness. And he hated Celestia, Marat, Calypso, and Voltan all the more for it.
Though only four, it felt like many as the friends, in a blinding eruption of steel, speed, might, and fury, like a perfectly orchestrated hurricane, simultaneously struck at once. Calypso’s unrelenting meteors of fire blazed down from the sky in deadly harmony with the onslaught of piercing ice javelins she hurled at the screaming harpies. Graceful Celestia, with the ferocity of a wolverine, smoothly dipping and darting between the ghoulish beasts on the ground at an unseen speed, let loose a thousand arrows and rarely missed her mark. Voltan’s powerful hands conjured swirling healing spells around his friends, while alternately striking down his enemies with ghastly disfiguring ailments. With his flashing sword of steel, Marat, bellowing and charging, moved like a shining avalanche crushing down all those who stood in his furious path.
The grueling battle wore on for days, until the valley sagged from the weight of those slain. But on the fifth day, when only a handful remained, it drew to a close. Flanked by two of his bloodthirsty Zingara, reptilian beasts of the swamp and perhaps the most vicious of all his creations, Mallok faced the four friends. There was also another presence, but she blended artfully in with the shadows, a silent observer and unseen but for her ever watchful silvery eyes.
A quiet stillness crept over the valley, and color, too. In his exhaustion from battle, Mallok’s iron fisted grip on night had weakened, and it slipped from him now. The golden sun emerged, shyly at first, but then bolder until it shone with a forgotten brilliance and the sky was drenched in the brightness of its rays. The light drew others forth. Confused and blinking, several hunters and warriors appeared, as did a few suspicious wizards and wary priests. They hovered uncertainly above the valley, and soon bore witness to a startling sequence of events.
The glorious sun warmed her face. Feeling the sanctity of the moment and the breadth of their accomplishment, Celestia, just as she had done on that first day by the lake, now briefly lowered her bow and smiled at Marat. With great joy, he smiled back at her. And in that pulse of a moment, Mallok struck. His swiftness was blinding, and the blow of his sword was fatal. Celestia fell. It all happened so quickly after that. With a guttural howl, Marat lunged at Mallok; the warrior’s anguished frenzy was such that he was unmindful of the Zingara, whose scaly bodies instantly engulfed him. Marat soon lay still. Voltan’s healing hands could not wake him; he could do little save for gently murmur a final blessing over his friend, which Voltan did, and then the priest rose with an unholy vengeance, matched only by that of Calypso’s.
Mallok deftly slipped from their sight, but liquid black rot and scorching flames assailed the Zingara as Voltan’s plague-filled shadow bolts and Calypso’s javelins of fire struck the reptilian beasts without remittance. Perhaps if the two had paused, if even for only a second, the outcome might have been different. But Voltan and Calypso did not. Such was their grief and rage, so raw was their pain that, as with starving people whose agonizing hunger cannot be eased, they fed their vengeance and were oblivious to all else. And, so, Mallok struck again. A battering wind violently assaulted them. The force of its turbulence was so jarring and so chaotic that it was several moments before Calypso, when she opened her eyes and saw Voltan lying on the ground next to her, was able to understand what had happened. Now it was she, who gently murmured a final blessing over her friend. The priest wore only a simple robe. Undeterred by armor, Mallok’s arrow had been met with no resistance.
Calypso tried to stand, but found she had little strength. She, too, had worn no armor. She could feel the deadly poison from Mallok’s arrow moving quickly through her, dulling her, slowing her, like being mired in wet clay. Her arms and legs felt as useless to her as the hollow words of the Crystal Lady now did. Bitterness flooded Calypso as she watched the victorious red-haired man stroll leisurely toward her, a smug sneer on his thin lips. She sought her magic, but the poison wriggling through her had taken it; she felt only an empty space inside of her where it ought to have been.
Her vision tilted in and out, as did her thoughts, slipping and spinning, drifting away from her. Wanting something solid to touch, she found a tiny scrap of wood in her pocket and feebly held onto it. Mallok ambled closer, and from the fluttering motion of his hands, Calypso knew he was conjuring up some final punishing present for her. She thought now of her three friends, of their strengths, and of their goodness, and of how near the four of them had come in reaching their shared dream. It was then that Calypso wondered anew at the words of the Crystal Lady.
Mallok hurled a shadow bolt at her. So Calypso held it up, that tiny scrap of wood from their boat. Though small, it bore the combined greatness of the four, as well as the love from which it had been forged with. The speeding black shadow ricocheted violently off the piece of their vessel and shot back at Mallok, striking him squarely in the chest. His sneering face quickly turned to that of surprise, and then agony. Calypso lay back, wanting now simply to gaze upon the rich blueness of the sky above her. With the warmth of the sun on her face, she closed her eyes and felt only peacefulness, for she knew the sun would continue to shine.
The stunned onlookers atop the valley, as if awaking from a deep sleep, their dulled minds slowly churning and growing sharper, the pace of their rusty steps quickening, now streamed down the hillside. They gazed solemnly at their fallen leaders. The hunters gathered around Celestia, the warriors around Marat, the wizards hovered above Calypso and the priests over Voltan.
A great silence and stillness pervaded. Then, like a pebble tossed into an unmoving pond, it began with a single warrior, and the effect gently rippled from there. The warrior walked away from his group. He joined the wizards, and knelt to pay his respects to Calypso. Soon a hunter joined the priests and knelt before Voltan, and so it went until within moments, wizards and hunters, warriors and priests, as a softly murmuring, intermingled group of one, paid tribute to the four leaders alike.
Amidst the shuffle of the commotion, an outsider with silvery eyes went unnoticed. She alone paid tribute to Mallok. Wearing a cloak of glittering black crystals, her head shrouded beneath its dark hood, Veluspa knelt over her fallen master. With thin, but strong arms, she lifted his body and carried him regally back into the shadows from where she had come.
It was decided that the slain leaders be laid to rest together, in the valley where they had fallen. The hands of many put the four friends into the earth, and built a stunning pillar of sculpted marble above them. Afterwards, instead of splintering back off into their isolated corners of the land, the hunters and warriors, priests and wizards stayed in the valley and continued to build together. They called their village Ardent.