There once was a route that only monks could pass. It belonged to a sacred pilgrimage that initiates took to cleanse their souls of the karma from previous lives. For three-hundred miles, a monk traverses alone through sheer cliffs and narrow crevices until reaching a shrine atop a mountain. Each day, he or she burns off an article of their clothing as to release an attachment to their life. Those without the proper discipline and resolve do not complete the journey and succumb to the elements.
Legends tell of the monkey king who had once made this very trip in a bet against the Buddha. Stripped bare of his immense strength and disguised as a monk, the monkey king quickly realized that he was in no condition to finish the task. Using magic, he plucked a single hair out to make a clone fully attired and expendable. The Buddha who saw the deception transformed the clone back into a hair and hid it up the deceiver’s nose during the night. When morning broke, the monkey king attempted the same trick but without success. Realizing the ruse was up, he continued the journey with sheer willpower until by the end atop the cold mountain, all his fur was plucked gone. After the Buddha had restored his powers, the discarded fur subsequently transformed into wild monkeys that now watch the pass for cheaters.
The mirror cracked into a hundred pieces as the Countess tried to look herself in the eye. Behind her stood two young girls, both entranced from having caught a glimpse of her visage before the sound of glass shattering. Their eyes couldn’t help but fixate with envy on such beauty that turned brother against brother, husband against wife, King against Queen. As she turned to face them, the first girl began to quiver. Unable to break free of her gaze, envy turned into self-loathing as the girl’s eyes transformed from a lucid marble to a grey stone. The second girl who averted the gaze at the last moment turned envy into malice. Brandishing a dagger to stab the Countess, the blade transformed into a snake and betrayed the wielder. Afterwards, the Countess would never try to see her reflection again.
A shooting star fell from the heavens. Locked away within its core, an immortal spirit dreamt of the world below. The dreams however did not belong to her but to the men, women, and children who bore witness and wished upon the burning effigy. Legends say that if many wishes were one and the cause righteous, she would remember the dream and grant it, trading her immortality and reborn a saint.
In a proto-marketplace, the four elements debated over the future currency.
“Fire releases energy in all things. We should all trade in units of heat exchanged”, exclaimed Fire in a heated voice.
Water, who held a prior grudge against fire responded, “Nonsense! All you do with that energy is feed yourself. Try turning that into work for a change.”
“I’d like to see how Water, who always takes the path of least resistance, gets any real work done”, retorted Fire, who started to fume.
Earth, with its grounded voice then spoke, “Now now gentlemen. No need to blow hot steam. We all know that currency should neither dissipate nor sit idly. It must be parceled into measurable pieces and conveniently distributed. Air can do my deliveries.”
Air who overheard her name chimed in, “I would if Earth didn’t flake at the slightest wind of uncertainty. Besides, why should there even be a currency. Can’t we all just share that which is plainly around us all?”
The three other elements groaned in unison and the debate continued until a man showed up. Eyeing each element, he took a handful of Earth and washed away the dirt with Water to leave behind some ore. Placing the ores into Fire, the pieces smelted, leaving behind precious metals. The metals were then molded into discs and engraved with a signature as they slowly cooled in open Air. Thus, coinage was borne.
A wooden chalice hung as a mantelpiece atop a throne room. In times of drought, the chalice poured everlasting water. In times of famine, it produced handfuls of grains. However, the great bounty that the chalice gave could only be matched by the sacrifice required. That is, human blood kept the wood from turning to stone. The thief, who found the goblet amidst ancient burial tombs, warned the King of its inscription: “Beware of those who give gifts freely”. The advice was duly noted and the kingdom continued its usual business until the Great War.
The Great War taxed the kingdom and its people to its outermost limits. The human toll on all sides amassed as food and water dwindled. Discontent filled the atmosphere as talks of revolution mixed with pangs of thirst and hunger. The king, now in dire straits, started to blood-let the population, feeding both the chalice and the citizens. At first, the water and food satiated the masses as a drug would before gripping its victim in withdrawal. Within a month, the pangs returned with twice the ferocity with a new compulsion for blood. The revolution would soon turned into bloodbath as the kingdom slowly fed itself to the vessel.
By the end of the king’s reign, the chalice had grown in size of a cauldron. Its top now sealed, the artifact appeared more like a cocoon, incubating some unspeakable malice within. The throne now its cradle, a new inscription appeared along its side: “Rejoice for those who take gifts freely”.
Under the sea sat a long forgotten statue of Socrates, poised to contemplate the depths of the universe for the rest of eternity. A thousand years later, the statue was discovered and raised from the ocean’s floor. When the sailors cleared away the centuries of choral and algae, the philosopher came to and yelled. Where’s Plato? I have a word or two for him!
In the underworld, a labyrinth of tunnels separates the world of the living from Hades, the world of the dead. Souls who refused the passage of Styx found themselves lost in the maze wandering the depths for eternity. One by one, their senses would fail them: Darkness invaded their eyesight; humidity suffocated their touch. Smell and taste were forgotten. Hearing was the last to go. Thus to find each other, the souls would shout words into the abyss, hoping to elicit a response. This caused much confusion as the cacophony of voices was near indecipherable. One soul, whose name was Echo during life, began repeating the voices she heard. Hearing one’s own voices repeated, other souls were drawn to her, eventually finding one another by adopting her system. As the groups expanded, their collective voices grew louder and could often be heard by the living when shouting into the deep.