Chapter I

The Pool of Life

(A Metaphorical Tale)
By: DOlarnick

Odan the Scribe walked confidently toward the terminus. He paused for a moment to observe the beauty of a vast and mystical valley, the virginal waterfalls, the mysterious forest, the seemingly incomprehensible breeding grounds of the Brewing Moors, all newly sprung, all fresh and unsoiled. He marveled at the work of the gods of creation.

He glanced over to the sealed cave of Talos the Dragon God, knowing that in the distant future its worshippers will live to fear him.

Then the day would come when the dragon-god's worshippers would be freed from Talos' yoke -- and the thought flashed in Odan's mind, "I might not be there to inscribe it. Pity."

Odan contemplated the veiled and misty future, reflected upon the Legend of Talos, of how the Dragon-God would disappear from this very realm, suddenly, without warning -- of how its worshippers will live in fear without his protection -- of how they will tremble in apprehension of the dragon-god's return.

Odan pierced the veil of the future again, envisioning warriors who will gather to face insurmountable odds, seeking quest after quest -- then Odan felt resolve building within him. He wanted to see these things occur to inscribe those illustrious events -- but first, the most dangerous conveyance in his lifetime.

Odan felt no fear in accepting what he had to accomplish. Still, the thought of facing them -- "but it must be done. I will do what must be done."

The Cloud appeared over the horizon, a moving nebula on earth, a nimbus, mortal eyes would never fathom.

Odan studied it with a mixture of fantasy and loathing, as sunlight filtered through The Cloud, revealing to him its crystalline mythical riders.

Odan the Scribe understood he was about to face the Four Horsemen of the Prophesies. He sensed the finality of it all. He smiled at the thought of it: Finally, the event of a lifetime to inscribe.

The scribe felt the weight of a crystallized pouch -- golden and transparent, commingled with traces of ebony flashing through its external skin. The pouch held within it crystal entities waiting to be released or imprisoned for an eternity.

The crystals were Odan's bargaining chip. Even those Immortal Riders of Finality desired them. Odan had within his possession that which they desired. The thought passed through his mind once again -- priceless living crystals -- even those immortals in the service of The Dark One could not resist possessing them.

"Visions of gloom or glory, Scribe? What is it to be?" challenged the Rider on the Black Horse, brandishing the Sword of the Black Prince, its 33-inch blade poised to thrust at Odan's heart.

"Sword of the Black Prince, isn't it, War," smiled Odan with an infuriating display of arcane knowledge.

"Answer the question, Scribe. Answer me wrongly, and you'll taste the fierceness of the Black Prince."

"What choice has Man but glory," said Odan, his eyes never straying from the haunting quartet, each phantom wielding weapons of gleaming, glistening death.

Odan envisioned how he would inscribe the crystal for future generations. He would use an enigma stone, one that he carried with him for these moments. Again, a strangely human thought entered his conscious mind. It lasted for a moment. It pleased him for a fleeting instant -- "If I live."

"The Four Horsemen swept down into the valley, four ambassadors of destruction, infinite in their power: Conquest, Violence, War and Death."

"I looked up, and behold -- the pale horse appeared in front of me -- and his Rider was Death."

Odan held his hand out to the pale horse, stroking the fiery-eyed charger's flaring nostrils. He withdrew an apple from inside his cloaked robe, placed it in his palm, and fed the pale horse his offering -- its Rider smiled underneath his death mask.

"What have you to offer us, Scribe?"

"These," said Odan, displaying the pouch made of the living crystalline substance. Odan opened the pouch, exhibiting its radiant presence to the riders.

"The gemstones of an entire world -- nearly an entire world's worth -- if you allow 'The Others' to live again," said Odan.

"The Others!" exclaimed War in anguished disbelief.

"These 'Others,' they are with you of their own free will," asked Death, amazement in his timbre.

"Yes," said Odan. He blew his warm breath into the pale horse's nostrils. "All are with me of their own free will."

"We can destroy you quite easily, you know -"

"Perhaps," replied Odan. "Did you listen to the Prophecy Stone sent to you at dawn? It sang for you when it spun, did it not? Do you remember its words?"

The four riders heard the crystal stone's words in their minds, "Fight the Scribe ... one of you may die..."

Odan looked up from the pale horse to observe a disquieting look on the visage of Death.

Odan felt the balanced Angelwood shaft of his feared Naginata glide into his hand. He gripped it lightly, taking a step backwards, conscious of keeping the sun against his back, as he saw the deadly riders begin to spread out.

"Give us the White Beast, and we'll call it a bargain made," offered the Rider of the Red Horse.

"Bijou?" laughed Odan warmly. "Bijou is free to come and go as he wishes."

"Where is the White Beast now, Scribe?" inquired the Rider of the White Horse, shifting anxiously in his saddle.

"Where he is always, nearby, or at my side -- or there," pointed Odan towards the western ridge, at he setting sun.

Bijou, The Terrible Howling Beast, appeared atop the western ridge. A woeful sound heard throughout the valley, deep and piercing in its pitch.

The deathless horses reared high, only the whites of their eyes visible, their faces having a wild and frightened look. They neighed with fear at the mournful sound as it echoed through their equine minds.

"The White Beast is wasting his powers remaining at your side. Tell him to come with us. We'll make him a symbol to be feared by all living beings, as we are."

"Feared?" inquired Odan, unable to understand the concept of the Rider on the Pale Horse, shaking his head in feigned astonishment and disbelief. "The Dog is Man's friend," Odan added with finality. "Do we have a bargain, Death, or shall I withdraw from the valley and prepare --"

Death gestured, no. It held out his skeletal hand towards Odan, and pointed his glistening sickle down towards the ground. "Keep those gem stones that wish to stay with you. We'll take the world they have left -- for now and forever."

"A pact," resolved Odan, extending his hand, as he placed the now darkening pouch in the apparition's hand. Death opened the pouch, looked in and smiled, and Odan heard, for the last time, soulful moans escaping from within.

"Until we meet again, Scribe," smiled Death. "Write well of us," Death demanded. He wheeled his pale horse away, and galloped out of the valley, his ghastly companions alongside of him. Their laughter echoed throughout the glen, filling the air with its mocking timbre.

"I shall," answered Odan, not knowing if they heard his reply, but confident that they had. "My crystal shall sing of your generosity."

"We should have taken him on, Death. There are four of us and only one of him," said War, an annoyed tone in his voice. The other riders silently nodding in agreement.

"And what of the Dog," asked Death. "Remember the prophecy, that one of us would perish?"

"Then, perhaps, it was time to die," said Conquest.

A collective thought of an immortal's fear of beheading entered the equestrians' minds in unison.

They paused at the top of the ridge, reared their horses, bidding Odan farewell with their taunting laughter. They sent out a psychic message, "Next time, Odan, perhaps you might not be so fortunate. Next time, Scribe, Moultrance the Scrivener will write the ending -- as he was meant to do. Until then, Scribe, farewell. We will see you in the future -- or the past -- it matters not to us."

Odan the Scribe knelt down, staring into the surface of an ancient -- even in this new world -- underground pool, enjoying the gentle radiance and warmth that came forth from its surface, its color, a deep crystalline blue.

He removed the gems he had taken from the pouch, glistening living crystals containing the essence of those he had known. He gently and lovingly held the gems in his hands.

One-by-one he held them up to the cave's eerie light, feeling the gems' warmth and power as he peered into them.

A tear escaped from his eye. He brushed it away with the back of his hand, smiling at that part of his hidden humanity that still cared, a slight sigh escaped from his body in fond memory.

Uttering a spell, or was it a prayer -- or incantation -- it mattered not at the time -- he gently tossed them, individually, into the bubbling waters, watching as they sank into the deep blue liquid.

Globules of light began to rise on the surface where the gems had entered the water.

He paused over the last gem, smiling as he griped it between both his hands, feeling the strength within the gem, as he held it up to the luminescence of the cave.

He admired the purity of the stone, a stone finer and more distinct than the others. "You were the best, my friend. I'll see you again," He tossed the blue-white crystal gemstone into the waters, and watched for a long moment as the pool bubbled with mystical foam.

Moultrance the Scrivener leapt out from behind a huge stalagmite, his glistening razor-sharp sickle held high above his shoulders, his hands clenched together a perfect follow-through to a well-practiced swing -- as he delivers a death blow with the glistening blade.

Odan's head fell from his body -- miraculously he retained thought. The pain excruciating and dreadful.

The cave filled with an inner glow of rays as they escaped from Odan's lifeless form, as his body already crystallized before it hits the ground.

Odan's eyes remained open, staring in disbelief at Moultrance, bewildered at his friend's treachery. Then Odan's look changed to acceptance, and he felt his life force fading quickly and mercifully from his mind.

In a moment Odan's head crystallized and changed into a gleaming crystal skull.

Moultrance laughed aloud. He had done what even Death had been afraid to do. He pointed his index finger at the crystal skull and allowed his laughter to fill the underground chamber with a merciless, unrelenting sardonic tone.

A long wailing savage cry filled the cavern -- Moultrance paused. He looked around the cavern in trepidation. Then, knowing the moment of victory was at hand, he leaped forward to grasp Odan's life stone.

Moultrance held the glistening stone high above his head, tightly clenched within his fist -- "I've won, you fool -" his sentence cut off in mid-speech -- The Terrible Howling Beast.

A flash of white brilliance burst across the cavern. Its movements faster than the eye of an immortal could behold.

In an instant, Moultrance felt unbearable pain coursing through his body. A powerful, terrible force clamped down upon his right wrist at the juncture of his forearm -- no power in the world could break The Howling Beast's grip as its terrible power snapped the arm of Moultrance the Scrivener.

Moultrance's screams filtered throughout the cavern.

Moultrance's hand was lying in front of him, its wrist flapping his hand up and down, as it moved steadily towards the Pool of Life.

Moultrance heard, somewhere in his conscious mind, his own screams echo and mix with the howling of the white beast.

Odan's life stone tumbled from the detached hand, and rolled towards the now bubbling Pool of Life. The white beast bit down and grabbed Odan's life stone within its mouth, and dove into the bubbling radiating Pool of Life.

Deeper and deeper the dog dove down into the water, until its lungs burst, and his dying jaws released the blue-white gemstone; Bijou's own gemstone followed Odan's into the unfathomable depths of the bubbling waters.

Moultrance, whimpering in agony, clutched the stump of his forearm, trying to stem the bleeding. He reached for his detached and twitching hand, held it to his bleeding wrist, began to utter a prayer of regeneration -- and then, as he looked down at his hand, he began to laugh, then cry, and finally scream at the horror he observed.

Odan's crystallized skull seemed to laugh at him, too.