There were five great mages from the House of Frogs who mastered magic that they used to serve their fellow humans. Their House was named for the animal their founders chose as their totem. The reason was long forgotten by the time these five mages came to be. They too used totems to perform their magic sometimes. Sometimes they would even give the totems to people afterward as tokens of remembrance or good luck. And some believed a bit of magic remained in those totems.
The Malachite Mage used tiny frogs carved from malachite to focus her powers and help people heal their bodies and their spirits. The Ruby Mage had ruby frogs to help guide her powers of fertility and birth. She was a midwife to many a grateful mother. The Obsidian Mage knew the secrets of the link between the mortal and spirit realms. He could see into the spirit realms and gain wisdom that others did not have, concerning the past and the present, and sometimes even the future. The Turquoise Mage was a jolly old girl, and hers were the powers of metamorphosis and transformation. The Jasper Mage was the youngest of them, and he knew the paths of the mortal realm better than all, for like the frog, he could travel through water, earth, and air. He was a powerful swimmer and could leap great distances.
The Frogs were envied by other Houses for the greatness of their five great mages. And so they were spied upon by those who wanted to learn their secrets.
The House of Frogs thus became quite suspicious and secretive. They still helped people, but they kept to themselves and they never shared their precious totems again.
Little did they know that the danger to their House would not come from another House but from another realm. And little did they know that the danger would be discovered by one they would deem an enemy.
For many moons, a spy from the House of Monkeys had been gathering information about the mages and the Head of the House of Frogs, and about other spies in the Frog territories. Many times had she shaken her head at the folly of the Frogs, who had cut themselves off from the other Houses and made themselves vulnerable.
She was shocked when she realized that she knew many stories about the House of Frogs that even the Frog scholars did not know. For her own House was one skilled in collecting information, knowledge, wisdom, and lore. That was likely why she saw the signs of danger before the Frogs did.
The Monkeys knew of some lore regarding the House of Frogs that the Frogs seemed to have forgotten or lost. That tale was the reason she had been sent to spy, not to steal secrets, but to gauge how close the Frogs were to making a legend come true. That story was the story of why they were named the Frogs. In an age long past, when the stars were younger and brighter, and the world was only just begun, their founders had discovered a living frog that connected all the powers of life, afterlife, and the cosmos. They named it the Empyrean Frog. The empyrean was said to be the highest of heavens. A frog was a creature of all realms, water, earth, and sky. And this frog seemed to be a creature of heavens as well. They studied the frog and saw that it was no dumb beast but wise beyond their wisdom. Some stories say the frog could speak their language. Some stories say that the frog spoke to them through their dreams or that it sent its thoughts directly into their minds. That was how they learned the most amazing secret that the frog held.
The Empyrean Frog had the power to transform the mortal world into a paradise for all.
That was the frog’s purpose, its chosen destiny. A happy destiny that. So the founders named themselves the House of Frogs and swore to guard the Empyrean Frog, to serve it and learn from its wisdom until the day came when it could fulfill its destiny.
But before that day could come, some evil interfered and killed the frog. Again, the stories were vague on whom and how. Those who had been tasked with protecting the Empyrean Frog were brought before an angry sovereign who wanted to punish them. And in their self-loathing and grief, they would have accepted any punishment. But one of their number stepped forth and vowed to avenge the evil deed not by dying in a war with unknown enemies, but by restoring what was lost, by learning all the secrets that the Empyrean Frog had known. They would pass on their knowledge to their children, who would gather more and more knowledge and pass it on to their children. And so on, until all the wisdom, knowledge, and virtue that the Empyrean Frog contained would be restored to the world. And so too would be restored the destiny of the mortal world to be transformed into a paradise for all.
The House of Frogs as it was now seemed to have forgotten that story and their vow. And yet they strove and learned and produced five great mages of great power and knowledge, mages who knew secrets of the mortal and spirit worlds. And so unknowingly, they were still keeping to their vow.
When the mysterious fires began to sprout up in the territories of the Frogs, the Monkey began to suspect that the Frogs were being targeted, plotted against, not by another House but by a far more sinister force.
The Monkeys knew of a tale about a realm of fires. Immortal beings resided there. And like mortals, some of these beings were good and some were evil. The evil ones were called demons and they had a king, a clever and ruthless king, who was envious of mortals, covetous of the mortal realms, and who had tried on more than one occasion to gain dominion over the mortal world.
The Monkey spy wondered if this Demon King could have been the one who killed the sacred Empyrean Frog. Perhaps he had. Perhaps not. But if he coveted the mortal realms, he had every reason to destroy the House of Frogs. He must surely know of their vow, even if they had forgotten it. Or perhaps they had not forgotten, but been made to forget. The Monkey stopped spying on the Frogs and began to focus her spying on her fellow spies. She discovered that there were at least three demon spies in the House of Frogs. They were clever, but so was she. And so she learned that the Demon King was indeed plotting against the House of Frogs. He had indeed managed to steal enough of their knowledge of their own history that they forgot their ancient vow.
Each House kept its own history and was too proud to listen to anyone from another House if they should have any additional or contradictory knowledge. That was a folly that all Houses shared, the Monkey realized. Only her own House knew the whole histories of all Houses, not out of respect but because her House believed all information was useful, even rumors and gossip.
With the House of Frogs isolated by suspicion and caution, they were weakened. The Demon King was likely expecting that no other House would ever help the Frogs, though all should have been seeking to. For if the legend of the Empyrean Frog was true, then all mortal beings, not just humans, not just frogs and monkeys, had a stake in preventing the destruction of the House of Frogs. But if any other House remembered the legend, none believed it.
The Monkeys believed. They were clever and sometimes vain, and would have wished that they were the House destined to give paradise to all. But their longing for a beautiful and ideal world was stronger than their envy and pride. They sent their spy in with knowledge of the old legend and tasked her with helping the Frogs at the right time. The Monkeys were known for being nosy and spying. While their cleverness was valued, no one trusted them completely. They had much to overcome, but even someone from a House known for its honesty, like the Hounds or the Horses, would have had much to overcome. And the Monkey spy had an even tougher job of convincing the Frogs than she had anticipated. The Frogs were so secretive that the Monkeys had not known they were unaware of their ancient vow. The Monkey spy would first have to remind the Frogs of that vow.
Then she would have to convince the Head of the House of Frogs that they, unbeknownst to even themselves, were getting close to restoring the Empyrean Frog, if not as a living frog, at least as a totem. The five mages had learned so many of the long-forgotten secrets. And if they then discovered the proper spells, they might be able to fulfill the ancient vow and redeem their ancestors’ honor.
All immortal beings would be locked out of the mortal paradise realm. The Demon King’s desire for dominion would be forever thwarted.
The Monkey fretted and wondered what she should do. And one day, when she caught one of the demon spies setting fire to a library, she sounded the alarm and decided it was time for her to act. She asked to see the Head of the House and was brought before him. She confessed who she was and what she knew.
The Frogs were, as the Monkey had expected, furious at her spying. Moreover, they did not believe her story about the demons. The Monkey admonished them to protect the five great mages of their House. The Monkey was jailed for her spying. For a fortnight, she tried to convince her jailers to let her see the Head of her own House. But she was denied. She knew that representatives of her House were likely speaking for her, and likely speaking to deaf ears. The Monkey had forfeited many of her House rights by admitting to being a spy. Worse, her jailers had given her only one piece of news, that she was being accused of starting the library fire and others in the Frog territories.
By turns, the Monkey spy despaired and railed both at the Frogs and at herself. She paced her cell, thinking mad thoughts. Thinking she should have done something radical, like kidnapping the mages and hiding them away. One night, she was considering such rash alternate plans to her ill-conceived action of just telling the truth when she received some visitors, visitors that the jailers did not welcome from the looks of their fluttering and fussing.
Four of the five great mages of the House of Frogs swept into the Monkey spy’s view. They peered at her. They seemed suspicious and cautious and curious all at once. Each wore robes dyed the color of the stones that he or she used to focus power. So when the red-robed woman stepped forth, the Monkey knew that was the Ruby Mage.
“Tell us the story you told the Head of our House,” the Ruby Mage said. “Tell us the story of the Empyrean Frog.”
The Monkey asked no questions of her own. She suspected that something had happened. She did as she was asked and recounted the legend of the Empyrean Frog and how she believed the House of Frogs was close to restoring it. She noticed that the one mage who was missing was the one who wore black robes, the Obsidian Mage.
The mages were not pleased to hear her story. They could not believe she knew legends of their House that they had never heard.
The Monkey dared to ask a question then as the mages whispered to each other.
“Where is the Obsidian?” she asked. He who had the power to connect the mortal realms with the spirit world. And even as she asked, the Monkey’s clever mind found the answer and the mages with great hesitation confirmed that answer.
The Obsidian Mage was missing. He had been taken, and they knew so because the Ruby Mage had almost suffered the same fate. She would have been alone, the Ruby, but for a change of heart. At the time she usually retired, she went out on a whim. So she was not alone when a band of ruffians tried to abduct her. She and her companions fought them off and gave the alarm. That was when they discovered that the Obsidian was gone. There was no evidence of abduction, but the Ruby had seen through the disguises that her would-be abductors wore. She had known them to be demons.
With even two mages under his control, the Demon King would weaken the House of Frogs. But he likely had plans for the mages he took. He must have sought to steal or harness the Obsidian Mage’s powers and use them to travel to the mortal realm. And to use the Ruby Mage’s powers of fertility and birth to birth demons into the world. Perhaps he sought to take the other mages as well. Perhaps not. But with access to the mortal realm, he would bring a war of dominion to all.
The four mages wanted to rescue their comrade, but they realized that would be unwise if not altogether foolish, if the Monkey’s story was true. And it seemed they had already decided to believe her. They had her removed from the jail, vowing to guard her themselves, and warned her not to resort to any Monkey trickery.
But the Monkey assured them that it was no time for trickery, unless the tricks were on their common enemy. The four considered what they should do. They did need to get the Obsidian back to stop the Demon King from using him to enter the mortal realm. But they also needed to assure that their own powers remained protected from all, not just from demons, but from mortal enemies of good as well. They could not allow themselves to be captured or trapped in the realm of fires.
The mages focused their energies and locked their powers into solid form, four totems in the shape of frogs, more powerful than any other totem they had ever made, for these contained the very essence of their powers. They made the totems so they could be destroyed and the powers lost if there was danger of them falling into the wrong hands.
Even as they plotted, they received news that demons were crossing into their territories and seemed to come out of nowhere. Watchers and spies reported entire squadrons of demons appearing where nothing had been before, proof that the Demon King had tapped into the Obsidian’s power. There was news of alarm from the other Houses, who were fortifying their borders. The mages kept the Monkey spy with them, and she told them all she had learned from the demon spies about the Demon King and his plans.
And the mages hatched a plan of their own.
The Ruby Mage bore powers of fertility and birth and would be able to bring the Obsidian Mage back into the mortal world. As it would not be a natural birth, she built a great ruby frog and two ruby frog’s eggs, one for Obsidian and one for his rescuer. The Malachite Mage would use her powers of healing and regeneration to restore Obsidian and his rescuer to their full-grown selves. But first, they had to find where the Obsidian Mage was being held in the demon realm. The Turquoise Mage transformed herself into a demon and went amongst the demon forces that were amassing in the Frogs’ territories. She watched and transformed into higher and higher ranking demons until she was able to learn the location of the Obsidian Mage. The Jasper Mage then used his powers of traveling to bring himself as close as he could to the realm of fires and to where his comrade was being held.
While they argued over whom should go and rescue the Obsidian Mage, the little Monkey spy volunteered herself. She argued that even with their powers locked away in the totems, the mages were too important to risk themselves. She swore to follow their instructions and to triumph or die trying. The mages argued over her offer, over the great danger to her, over whether or not she could be trusted, over the chances of her succeeding without the skills to use the powers she would be given. But finally, with great reluctance, they handed her their totems and told her what she must do.
The Demon King had warned his minions that the House of Frogs would fight. The demon guards who guarded the Obsidian Mage were taught the smell, the look, the feel of a mortal from the House of Frogs. Even the Turquoise Mage, who had fooled a common demon, could not have fooled the elite guards who guarded her comrade. But the Demon King had not expected the Frogs to have any allies. So the Monkey with a little luck, great skill, and even greater courage made her way through the realm of fires to the territories of the demons. She used the Jasper Totem to find her way to the Obsidian Mage. She used the Turquoise Totem to transform herself into a demon when she came closer to the dungeon that held the prisoner she sought.
The Obsidian Mage was heavily chained, his eyes and ears covered. Had he not been so encumbered, he might have escaped by himself, using his power to link the worlds of spirits and mortals. But the mage’s powers had been greatly sapped. The Monkey used her quickness and cleverness to hide from the demon guards. She freed the Obsidian Mage, who was quite startled to see who his rescuer was, even after she transformed back into her mortal form. She knew that even with a transformation, she would not be able to hide him for long. She brought him out of the prison, for it was shielded and the mages had warned her that she must first go out of the prison walls before trying to return home. She carried the weakened Obsidian Mage far enough away that she would have time before they were discovered. She took out the Ruby Totem and cast the spell that the Ruby Mage had taught her.
As she heard the cacophonous sirens yowl and the sounds of demons scurrying and scrambling toward them, the Monkey spy felt a sudden warmth, not stifling and rotten like the heat of the demon realm, but a safe and cozy warmth. A glowing soft red light encompassed her and the Obsidian Mage. The demon realm vanished. She was floating in a sphere. The Obsidian Mage was gone and the Monkey felt helpless and small. The sphere suddenly burst and someone caught her. A giant. A giant speaking a foreign language. But as the giant spoke, the Monkey began to understand the words. The giant began to shrink, or rather the Monkey began to grow.
It was the Malachite Mage and she was growing the two strange babies that had hatched from the ruby eggs. The Monkey was all right. But the Obsidian Mage was very weak. He knew nothing of what had happened to him. His fellow mages explained everything. When he had rested, with his energies restored, he too placed his power into a totem, an obsidian frog.
And while he rested, his fellow mages helped his House fight the demons who had managed to cross into their world. The Monkey spy returned to her own House and rallied the Monkeys to aid in the battle. And seeing their example, a few other Houses joined the fight. They defeated the demon army. Most were destroyed. The Demon King was not among them. Some demons ran off and would likely wreak their separate havocs somewhere. So the gathered Houses agreed to search for the escaped demons and for their King if he had managed to cross into the mortal realm himself.
The battle was not the worst ever known in the mortal realms. But it still took its toll in lives lost and forever changed. The mages did their work, using their totems to heal and comfort and guard.
The House of Frogs set aside their suspicions. They gave each of the five frogs, the Totems, to each of the Houses that had joined them in defending the mortal realm. The Totems, even when hidden, would give the House that held them great powers over time. The Frogs tasked each House with ensuring paradise by hiding the Totems from each other and from the Demon King. For the great mages still had the skill to practice their powers for the benefit of all, so long as the Totems remained whole. They had much still to learn before they could bring the Totems together again and restore the chance for paradise.
The House of Frogs, having learned from their folly, entreated all their fellow Houses to strive for reaching that paradise for all, and to be ever vigilant against the Demon King. And they thanked the Monkey who helped to save all mortal realms. They forgave her for spying. Indeed, her House was the first to receive a Totem, and it was of her choosing. She chose the Obsidian Totem, for her House was ever curious about the spirit realm and what wisdom and knowledge lay there. The Monkey wondered if perhaps there were stories of her House, of all the Houses, that were lost to them or taken from them, some by forgetfulness, others by purposeful malice. She would restore those lost stories.
And one day, the House of Frogs would call upon their allies to bring forth the Totems. And the five frogs would be joined into one, the Empyrean Frog, and it would bring paradise to all.
Copyright © 2015 by Nila L. Patel