Herein Lies the Stone of...
by Daniel Olarnick
The Omniscient Voice: Our Story Continues
"Accundus made an offering of soul-stones. And this mist . this Dragon-God ate them. I heard the moans coming from the stones, begging not to be consumed. The Dragon-God ate and ate. It pointed to me. Accundus nodded. He came to the cavern where you found me, demanded that I go forth and sing his praise and that of the Dragon-Gods."
The tiny man woke, his mind still blank, remembering nothing of his delusion.
The mongrel howled and raced into the cave.
"What are these words, scribe," demanded Utre.
TXSXOF QOXM ETX MEYFX YB
"I cannot decipher them. There is no time. The mongrel is dying. We must complete our mission."
They entered the cave, only to find its inner entrance blocked by a gigantic boulder. They tried to move it, but it would not budge. Then the mongrel began to dig underneath the huge stone. They all joined the dog, as he scrambled underneath the stone. Within a few hours, they had dug their way underneath the stone, crawled under it and found the long lost Vent of Gloom - or perhaps it had been called the Vent of Doom - the records are not precise as to its actual name.
The last leg of the quest lie ahead of them, as they traveled down the vent.
Ebon Grupe closed his eyes and slept. Had he retained any memory of his dream he would vow that it had not been a dream at all, but reality in the guise of a nightmare.
It should be noted, according to scribal legend, that, "...Aulofu must first appear in the form of a dream..."
The dream served its purpose. It was, after all, only a gateway to the infinite future.
The Relic channeled its thoughts towards the sleeping Halfling and smiled.
Ebon wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand, using his own perspiration to moisten the cracked dry skin around his mouth.
Ebon wrinkled his brow, raising his nose up as he passed by a frozen, underground pond of water. He enjoyed mocking his reflection, as his own image disturbed him. His reflection stared back at him with intense scrutiny. Must be the difference in the thinness of the air , he thought. Humph, an image that stares back.
His image often intrigued him. It wasn't as if he thought about it every day, but, sometimes, it disturbed him. Often he refused to look at himself, refusing to believe what was there to be seen: A golden-skinned, green-eyed, black haired Halfling ... golden skin. By the Dragon- Gods, time has marked me.
The scribe lead the way, carrying the mongrel in his arms, but appeared to be in an hypnotic daze ever since entering the cavern, as they continued down the ancient carved spiral path that would lead them to the end of their journey.
Something in the atmosphere had begun to deceive them, of this Ebon was sure. Their minds were tricked into telling them they had been traveling for days on end. Even Utre's amazing underground sight failed to reveal the end to this underground vent.
The hand-chiseled path, which they had named as the Vent of Gloom changed its direction. How strange, Ebon thought. No, it must be an illusion. The path cannot be changed, he thought. Completely impossible
Ebon, emotionally weakened, tired of the constant travel, his legs still unaccustomed to walking, hunger pangs attacked his consciousness, causing Ebon to smile at the thought of his hunger. He had always been hungry, hungry for wine, hungry for food, hungry for success, for fame and fortune. He heard his stomach growl aloud.
The dream-image now changed and guided him to a place outside of The Vent. The entrance to Talos Valley loomed directly ahead of him, and then appeared to be further and further away.
An electrical storm raged overhead, lightening flashed illuminating the countryside; rain poured down on him. He pulled his collar up around his neck, and picked up his pace, all the while looking for a place offering shelter. The wind and the rain whipped into his face.
Ebon felt a chill enter his body, coldness settled into his bones--yet he was sure he was still on the path in the Vent of Gloom, of this he was certain.
An old crone appeared off the main road. She was sitting inside a tavern that had but one wall and a roof. She beckoned for him to approach.
A table appeared, crystal Tarot cards lay face down upon the table, which bore ancient runes, markings he could not decipher, but knew the scribe should have been able to - where was the scribe? Nowhere to be seen, yet he knew the scribe was nearby.
The old crone beckoned him to come forward. "Come off the path, and rest your weary body," he heard her say. He wanted to run in the opposite direction.
"No need to continue to fear," she called out, seeming to consult a crystal skull, nodding and smiling. "Utre will catch you this day, Ebon Grupe--or should I call you, 'The Bard?'"
"Be assured. Today the pursued meets the pursuer." She laughed and laughed.
For an instant, he thought her features changed into that of a skull.
The old crone continued to smile at him. Spittle appeared on her lips.
She sang out the first stanza of what appeared to be a ballad, "Utre will turn upon you one fine day. Brother of Blood, he'll find you and have you . the chase ends today...and once again begins anew."
Ebon Grupe listened to the old crone, his mind filled with fear and trepidation at the anger and power of Utre leapt into his mind and clutched at his heart.
The Old Crone sat at her table, drumming her fingers. A single black candle stuck in the middle of a dragon's skull illuminated the room.
"Sit, boy," she said, dismissing the fact that he was, obviously, a mature Halfling, skilled in...
"Bah," she cut off his thought. "You're not fully skilled yet. Now what is it you want old Aulofu to tell you? What secrets should I reveal?"
"My future." Ebon Grupe found himself blurting out.
"Why bother asking? Your future is not yours alone. You are bound to the scribe now, that confused being that he is," said the crone, her face beaming with her tart and truthful reply, as she turned over one tarot card after another, revealing, past, present, and future.
Her body reminded him of a starving raven about to drop down on some dead thing to begin its feast. The thought frightened him, and he put it out of his mind.
She lit a rolled cigarette, exhaled a cloud of smoke, and allowed it to drift over her face, obscuring her ravaged features for a moment, giving her the illusion of being in another plane or dimension, one just beyond his reach.
"Wouldn't you rather learn about yourself?" she asked her smile now gentle, coaxing, and evil.
Ebon Grupe's body stiffened at the barbed question. He braced himself, about to lash out at her, orally, when she stopped him in mid-thought, holding her hand up to his face, her nails, long and cracked, yellow with age.
"You'll find out--soon enough," she nodded her head rapidly, as if assured by her statement, as she peeked under the tarot card in front of her.
"The Pool of the Homolicule. I must tell you about it."
Ebon Grupe sat down. He listened intently to the old crone's drowning voice. He wanted to run away but felt compelled to stay.
"It has been rumored that Archangel Island is but a remnant of a great island continent, one long since sunk beneath the Savage Serpentine Sea." She watched him intensely, forcing him to meet her stare.
"The natives of the island angered the gods as they attempted to make themselves immortal...a mere step towards achieving their own god-hood. The old gods demanded worship, not competition, and punished them by sinking their continent...The First of the Great Deluges..."
"One fragment of the continent, an immense island within the island continent itself, an area long under the domination of the Benevolent Being, who employed his omniscient powers to save the island, its creatures, its humanity."
"The gods attacked the Benevolent Being. He is, sometimes, called by the name BeNob. Knowing that his worshippers were about to be destroyed, the Benevolent Being used its waning powers to create the Homolicule, infinitesimal men and women, animalcules, and placed them into an enchanted pool."
"Of course--one to be called, 'The Bard'-- this is all legend, but in legend, there is fact, or so it is said. Wouldn't you agree, Ebon Grupe?"
Ebon Grupe listened silently, unable to respond verbally, equally troubled by her change in speech, the high manner in which she spoke marked it as a lecture in fact not a legend.
"The males of Archangel Island, following an ancient tradition, one long-misunderstood, bring their newly deflowered brides to these pools. The women immerse themselves. Should all go well, within the normal birthing period, a healthy child will be born to them, but it will not be theirs."
"Want to know the real purpose of this journey?" she taunted. "It is to serve the Benevolent Being, to bring to him the remains of the one who defied him and was punished."
"There are many birthing pools on Archangel Island. The one of legend, of course, has never been found. But we have been told that it does exist; that it is buried beneath a great monolith; that it tunnels itself deep into the ground, goes under the sea. There the child of the Benevolent Being will come forth into the world, live among the mortals, disguised as one of them, only to return to tell the Benevolent Being of its travels, and whether the world is ready for a new awakening--or so the legend goes.
"Of course, this is all legend," she repeated with a smile cracking her wrinkled face.
Ebon Grupe continued to dream. It was a frightening, never-ending dream, or so it seemed: First, he was drowning in a raging waterfall; a crystal skull laughed and laughed; an impossibly giant white beast appeared, its jaws held wide--the glistening skull inside of it. The crone changed shape, and Utre appeared in her place. The skull, the dog, all flashed before his eyes, over and over again, as the dream repeated itself and expanded upon itself.
With a sudden start, Ebon Grupe awoke, realizing that he had been having a walking dream, but now he was aware of the downward path they followed.
Utre lead the group, followed by the scribe who carried the stricken dog in his arms. The path become steeper, an uphill incline that angled on and on, deeper and deeper into the unexplored path of The Vent. They drove themselves further into the depths of the unknown.
To the right of the footpath, they saw a glow, more radiant in the darkness of the Vent than anything he had ever seen before. Another glimmer appeared to the left, breaking off into a series of trails of light.
Utre paused for a moment, nudging the scribe out of his apparent fugue. The scribe seemed to weigh the possibilities. He looked behind him, at the path they had just strode down, contemplated the possibility of backtracking, shrugged his shoulders and moved steadily forward towards the first path of light.
A low, indistinct sound now drew them forward. The sound turned into a roar. A great bubbling underground lagoon of water threw off radiant colors of blue, white and gold as it shot steam vapors into the air, its mist passing over them, filling the passage with warm vapors.
The scribe pushed them aside, passed through the mist and vanished. Utre and Ebon paused, momentarily, before passing through the mist. The sight that greeted them was strange, for standing on the far edge of a great pool of crystal waters stood the scribe. He stood naked, except for a silken loincloth interwoven with white and gold crystals -- an odd sight for them to behold. How had he changed? Perhaps it was a distortion brought on by the vast amount of crystals that seemed to grow from the very walls of the cavern.
The scribe began to perform ritualistic movements that reminded Ebon of a warrior preparing himself to meet an undefeatable adversary.
A keening sound was heard reminiscent of a wolf cub baying at the moon, waiting for its littermates to find it, followed by a great howling sound.
"Who are you," asked the scribe, his blue eyes stared at Ebon Grupe, his voice piercing the Halfling's mind and body.
"You know me. I am your blood brother. I am Ebon Grupe."
"I am the Scribe. Do you know of me?" the young man asked in innocence.
Utre came up alongside Ebon. "He knows not who we are. The Scribal Priesthood has implanted this mission within his mind. We are nothing to him."
A voice rang out, "I know of no human called The Scribe. Who bestowed you with that title?"
Utre shifted his war club from his back to his hands, looked around the room trying to trace where that voice came from.
"I cannot tell you -- my head, it hurts. How do you come to be here? Did the Benevolent One send you to aid me?" asked the scribe.
"I know of no one called the Benevolent One," said Ebon.
"An ancient cursed god," said Utre.
"We are brothers in blood," said Ebon. "Think, remember."
"If you fail in your mission, you will meet death," said Utre.
"We traveled together, scribe. We had many adventures, victory after victory. You cannot have forgotten," said a frustrated Utre, anger filling his mind.
A tale of old rushed into Ebon's mind, as he recalled a fable sung by the elders of his village, that of a mystical human scribe, one adopted by the Halfling race, taken in as one of their own, for a deed unknown, one hidden in ancient mystery, but one which every Halfling mystic knows:
" The Tale of Death of Odan the Scribe!
".it wasn't the Horsemen he needed to fear.
.an evil friend hidden, striking from the rear.
".a magnificent stroke of his terrible blade.
Moultrance victory at hand . Odan's head lying in the sand.
"But for the action of the Howling Beast
Odan's life-force would surely cease.
"Soul-stones lie in the bubbling pool."
Why had this fable always fascinated him?
"Do not speak, one called Ebon Grupe, the Relic comes."
"The Relic, did you say?" astonishment filled Ebon's voice.
The scribe placed the dying mongrel at the water's edge. The dog began to lap the water, and then swim to the center of the pool, where it vanished beneath the waters.
The pool began to bubble, rays of light and heat simmered.
A crystal skull appeared from the depths of the pool, carried in the jaws of a great white beast who leapt from the pool, then placed the skull, gently down on a crystallized boulder.
Then, with a terrible howl, the white dog-like beast disappeared.
Ebon Grupe backed away.
"Say nothing," warned the scribe, "for his voice will poison your mind."
The scribe bent to one knee, thrusting his arms out open and to his side, bowing his head in supplication.
"The Benevolent One desires that you come home ," intoned the scribe.
"Never," answered the skull. " So, is there anything else? If not, be gone.
"You mean you won't come with me? I was promised you would," the scribe's voice breaking with astonishment and fear.
"Ah, you speak. Tell me, scribe, have you not committed a transgression speaking to the one you call The Relic or The Skull? For what reason, scribe, should I voluntarily return from the Pool of Life?"
"So that the Benevolent Being may study you," said the scribe.
"Well, old BeNob has really outdone himself this time, sending you, you pious idiot. Get off your knees. Go back to the Scribal Priesthood. Tell them you have failed. I will never return. Tell BeNob if he wants my essence, he's got to come and get it himself."
The scribe stood motionless, speechless. No one should be allowed to talk about the Benevolent One in that manner. I will strike the skull, he thought, gather him in my arms, and return to the Scribal Priesthood."
The white dog-beast suddenly reappeared, a soft growl escaping from his throat. Fear overcame the scribe. I have spoken to the Skull, he thought, astonished that his training had failed him, training that had been implanted in his mind, reinforced over and over again during his years in the Scribal Priesthood.
"Think you are the first, Scribe? Seven great warriors have been sent in the distant past. All failed. Want to see how they died?" said the Skull, as beams of light shot forth from his eye sockets, images of seven crystallized beings appeared, great holes ripped from their chest.
"Moultrance plucked their life stones out, and laughed as they died, clutching their hearts, begging Moultrance for mercy. Begging the bastard to return their life-gems to this cavern, to the Pool of Life.
"Do you know what he did -- one who calls himself the scribe -- Moultrance fed them to seven hatchling dragons, and turned the beasts into living, flame-breathing dragon-gods.
"And now Old BeNob sends you, a distortion, a distortion in my own mold," sighed the Skull, "to retrieve me so that I too can serve him, so that Moultrance can win and rule."
Do not call the Benevolent Being by that name. It is a transgression. The scribe channeled his thoughts back to the skull, avoiding speaking aloud.
"Ha," thundered the skull. "Return to your studies, little scribe. You will be safe there. You don't want to deal with me, and my oath."
Ebon Grupe came out from behind the boulder. Utre was nowhere to be seen.
"You, you, there. The one they call Ebon Grupe. Come forward. Surely a long-lived and cursed Halfling can't be afraid of an old crystal skull," channeled the Skull.
"What's going on here," demanded the Halfling, "Why did you draw us here? I recognize the work of magic when I see it."
"Ah, well-done and well-reasoned, Ebon Grupe!" The Skull glowed with shades of radiant light.
Ebon Grupe placed both hands to his ears, drowning out the skull's thoughts.
"Not very nice, you know. It is not as if I have vocal cords. How do you expect me to communicate?"
"I have no idea," said Ebon. "I am a bard by trade, a minstrel..."
"A ballad singer! I'll have need of a ballad singer. Here, Ebon Grupe, a gemstone for your beautiful flute, the one you will fashion soon enough."
Ebon stood wide-eyed as the skull spit out an ebony crystal that rolled over towards his boots. He picked it up, felt warmth running through the stone, as he held it clenched in his palm.
"Want to know why you possess no name, scribe?" the Skull paused, laughing aloud, "because it's mine! I am Odan."
"No," shouted the scribe, tears filling his eyes, his voice trembling with fear, fear of the truth being said aloud.
"No, you lie, Skull. You are but the Relic. You are created and meant to deceive. Odan the Scribe sinned. He was punished. He died. Moultrance the Scrivener records the tales of this world."
"I am here. I am Odan. You are my vessel. Come join with me."
| Send your comments on this story to the author: