In Maeyah Vale, anyone who could speak magic became a part of a Quartet, because four was good here, and would always be good because that was just tradition.
No one Maeyah in Vale questioned it, and in a place where nearly everyone could speak with magic, look forward to casting a secondary family. Quartets were balance, brought elements together to do good works. And it wasn't because Terra and Aer and Mist and Flame needed to be balanced: there were plenty of that were all rough earth or gusting wings, rushing water and sparking, sputtering flame. There was balance to be found in all, in difference, in halfing.
So the Quartets were cast on Evermoon, with crackling boar bones cast into a fire and acrone to read them. It was just tradition, and everyone in Maeyah Vale liked tradition.
Thus, bole Sappha Echospark, umber Prosa Castmoor, tawny Rabby Heartsworn, and midnight Kathil Skyspinner sat in their small home on the fridge of Maeyah Vale, eyes cast up through their large, four paned circular window to the teal hills, all properly dotted with sheep and bright purple plonaberry bushes, ladden with tart fruit. They wove a path that followed the ribbon of twinkling, jewel studded stones that the carts would trundle up and down from far away. They followed it until it disappeared over the peak of a grassy knoll, leaving only the tip of Hypogean.
The Hypogean Spire, as it was better known, was flame to moths: at some point, nearly everyone was drawn there, just to glimpse. But then a puff of smoke or a rumble would shock them back to their peaceful lives, working on behalf of the element's and the voices of the land in kind stewardship. It was a mysteriously beautiful with its jewel-toned stones, layered upon each other without seams. It was the kind of thing a Stitchwitch would have dreamed of, but would be cautious enough -in Vale- to avoid at all costs, life included.
But Sappha, Prosa, Erix, and Kathil had not been properly shocked by the ten times they'd ventured near. They loved serving the land true, but when they went to Hypogean, they smelled adventure, not sulphur, and heard the call of steel blades from the parties that came to Maeyah Vale's taverns to recover, wanted to whisper magic
"Peace above all else" was the promise tucked in their hearts. It had been the first full thought that everyone in the vale recognized as children: it was what they whispered before bed, before leaving, when the day's service was done, when the fields grew green.
But what was peace and keeping it worth if there was never adventure?
Slowly, Prosa let her eyes drift from the window to the path before their home, then turned, sighing low and deep. It was echoed in three different, low voices. She cast her pale eyes over her shoulder in a quick glance, then steadied herself.
"Tonight," Prosa declared. "We have to go tonight. We've already packed everything up: we just need to add a few more potions and some of the preserves, but tonight."
Rabby's brown nose twitched, and she twisted in her seat at the dining table, tugging on one of her long, navy curls. A bit of magic sparked from her cheeks, betraying her nerves, but she spoke anyways because that felt brave. "Are we… sure?"
"I am," Kathil said in her clipped, skipping voice. "As sure as the weather magic wound in my hair." She gave a tug on a thick, auburn dredlock, winking playfully. "I'll even spin a storm so they can't get the dogs to scent us." Prosa managed a small smile.
"Once we leave, we can't ever come back here," Sappha stated. "No one in Maeyah Vale would take in someone who would betray the code. You remember what happened to Dedicate Forma." And they all did: the day that Dedicate Forma had come back from Hypogean with tattered robes and a broken staff, all of the elders had gone to spit on ver, and then had tugged every bit of magic from ver too. Dedicate Forma -reduced now to just Rimra- had been barred from the village by marks, magiced to thrum if ve came close.
"I know," Prosa whispered. She got up and crossed to the dining table where everyone else sat, and took a slice of bread. Quietly, she scooped up a bit of jam, and smeared it right to the edges. "But I want to know. Hypogean… there's more than just that pretty point above ground. I bet it's like the ice mountains out on the seas: that's only just the tip."
Silence grew as Prosa chewed. When she finished and was licking jam from her thumb, Sappha spoke up again. "We all know the risks, Prosa. And we... Well, I, want to take them." She sniffed and looked up, black eyes flitting to each of her family. "I can't think of anyone else I'd rather risk this with."
"Same for me. Once a Quartet, always a Quartet," Rabby stated, slapping her hand on the table top. The jam jars and empty tea mugs rattled. "Plus… I've been wondering."
"We all have," Kathil whispered. "Why can the rest of the world go into Hypogean, but… us Vale Folk can't? What's so special about us but not the rest of existence?"
Wondering in the vale was a bit like sin: it was aimlessness, unproductivity. The land didn't need wondering: it needed service. Yet this Quartet disobeyed that daily
"Tonight," Sappha declared. "It's Gone Moon anyways: and I smell a thunderstorm on the horizon. Maybe a matter of a few leagues off?" Kathil took the hint and flashed a quick smile, snatching her cloak from her chair to go outside and beg a storm.
And of course, at the strike of ten bells, the storm came, called up and begged and promised sweetened wind and a bit of tree to devour if it didn't kill. The storm came and filled Maeyah Vale with rain water, and all turned to bed early, extinguishing candles and lamps just in case.
It was then that the Quartet snuck out, heads tucked beneath black oiled cloaks, packs thumping against their back. It was easy to decide what to take: home was home, but had never been Home, and thus they left behind all of their Valeness and took only necessary goods and valuables that touched their hearts.
Their staves -one such valuable- dug into the stones that threaded a path to Hypogean. As they came closer, the spire grew just like an ice mountain: teal grasses -now black under the moonless, clouded night- gave way to lumps of white stone peppered with jewels, which gave way to a large dias of white stone, beckoning them forward to the labyrinth. They came closer, just as close as Dedicate Forma had before ve went int, and stopped, looking down a dimly illuminated maw into… something new.
A gust of air belched up at them, and the could smell fire and underground pools, decaying leaves and the faint, tinny smell of weapon oil. Rumor had it that there were settlements on the first level, places that supplied those smells and even the scant sounds they could pick out: blades hitting bone, someone singing. It all felt more like home than anything before.
Yet, how could this smell like home, they all wondered? Wasn't home peace, harmony, plonaberries and food from wet earth? But the draw, indeed, tugged at their navels, and they knew they were heading into some kind of home, if anything. Maeyah Vale was behind them: Hypogean and it's mysteries lay before, waiting for them to poke and prod with the right questions.
Their staves thudded on the entryway of white stone, threaded with all the colors imaginable, and some that they had no proper name for down in the vale. The sound echoed briefly, cut off by a boom of thunder overhead. The storm would only last so long before it wore itself out: it was time to do, or return back to a mindless life of peace.
"Still sure?" Kathil asked. "I can make a path back through the rain, and no one would ever know." They could make it back before the first sentries took up sighting for any visitors from Beyond even, and could ciam a need for a rest day or two to unwind their potentially dangerous whims.
"No," Prosa whispered, and she reached behind her for a hand. Three came to grasp hers, finger tangling together for strength. "Let's go," she whispered, and she took a step forward, ducking her head and heading down into Hypogean.