Chapter VI

The Pool Of The Homolicule
By: DOlarnick

Craven Justice closed his eyes and slept.

Had he retained any memory of "The Dream" he would vow that it had not been a dream but a nightmare in disguise.

It should be noted, Dear Observer, 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 Crystal Skull channeled its thoughts towards the sleeping dwarf and smiled.

The Dream

Craven Justice wiped the sweat from his forehead. The back of his hand now wet and sticky from his perspiration, as he moistened cracked skin around his dry mouth savoring his own healing moisture.

Craven wrinkled his brow by 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 silver skinned, green-eyed, black haired dwarf...silver skin. Good God, I'm as much a freak as Malef, he thought.

He inhaled deeply, then quickly exhaled, shrugged his backpack further up his shoulders, touched Odeliss the Lute, and continued on the spiral path down the ancient dwarven trail toward Talos Valley and the sanctity of the Red Gryphon Inn.

His mind began to deceive him--of this he was sure--telling him that he had been traveling for days on end, yet there was no daylight to be seen ahead to signal his journey had come to an end--even his amazing dwarven sight failed to reveal the end of The Vent.

The hand-chiseled path of the Vent of Gloom now changed its direction. How strange, he thought. No, it must be an illusion. The path cannot be changed, he thought. Completely impossible

Craven, emotionally weakened, tired of running away; hunger pangs attacked his consciousness, causing Craven Justice to smile at the thought of his hunger. He had always been hungry, hungry for wine, and hungry for food, hungry for success, fame and fortune. He heard his stomach growl aloud.

The dream-image now guided him to a place outside of The Vent. The entrance of Talos Valley loomed directly ahead of him, then appeared to be further and further away.

Lightening flashed overhead; 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. An electrical storm raged overhead, whipping the wind and the rain into his face.

Craven 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 rune markings, dwarven in their nature, markings he could not decipher but knew he should have been able to.

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. "Malef will catch you this day, Craven Justice--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 called out his blood brother's name, "Malef finds you today."

"The chase ends today...and once again begins."

Fear of the anger and power of Malef leapt into his mind and clutched at his heart.

Craven Justice approached the old crone his mind filled with fear and trepidation.

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 dwarf, 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 parents--," Craven Justice found himself blurting out.

"Why bother asking? They're not yours. They are Malef's," said the crone, her face beaming with her tart and truthful reply.

Her body reminded him of a starving raven about to drop, yet knowing it only needs a worm to continue on living.

She lit a rolled cigarette, exhaled a cloud of smoke, 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, evil.

Craven Justice'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 a 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; she peeked under the card in front of her.

"The Pool of the Homolicule. I must tell you about it."

Craven Justice sat down. He listened intently to the old crone's drowning voice, wanting to run away.

"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 a benevolent being, employed its omniscient powers to save the island, its creatures, its humanity."

"The gods attacked the benevolent being. He, BeNob, knowing that its worshippers were about to be destroyed 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, Craven Justice?"

Craven Justice 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."

"Want to know the real purpose, changeling?" she taunted. "It is to serve the benevolent being."

"The being is able to pierce the future, you know. Once it finds that it is in need of--shall I call it a 'messenger,' one who is to be a catalyst--it will impregnate the woman with its Homolicule."

"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.

Craven Justice continued to dream. It was a frightening, never-ending dream, or so it seemed: He was drowning in a raging waterfall; a crystal skull laughed and laughed; an impossibly giant white dog appeared, its jaws held wide--the glistening skull inside of it. The crone changed shape, and Malef appeared in her place. The skull, the dog, flashed before his eyes; over and over again the dream repeated itself, expanded upon itself.

The power darkened and became consumed by evil. Something tore at the very soul of whatever its light touched. Craven Justice turned and ran out from a crystal cavern, being chased by the laughing crystal skull that demanded that he awaken.

With a forceful shudder Craven Justice's journey from the dream world ended, and he woke, sitting upright in a startled state.

With a sudden start Craven Justice's journey ended and he awoke.

The path Craven Justice walked upon become steeper, an uphill incline that angled on and on, deeper and deeper into the unexplored path of The Vent. His muscles ached, but he drove himself further into the depths of the unknown.

To the right of the footpath, he 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.

Craven paused for a moment, weighing the possibilities. He looked behind him, at the path he 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 him forward; the humidity became denser, the sound turned into a roar--the background sound in his dream--the dream that kept fading from him mind, only to return whenever it chose to.

Turning into yet another unexpected corner he was convinced that the clerics those so-called masters of dwarven Mapology had failed in their endeavors to map The Vent in its entirety; he made a vow to denounce them should he ever find his way out.

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 him, filling the passage with warm vapors.

Through the mist, standing on the far edge of the pool, he saw a young, handsome man, naked, except for his silken loincloth interwoven with white and gold crystals--an odd sight for so young a day. The young man began to perform some ritualistic movements that reminded Craven of a warrior about to enter the pit of no return, preparing himself to meet an undefeatable adversary.

That loincloth is worth a tidy fortune, he thought and schemed on how he would get it off the lad--a lady's knight would pay a small fortune for her lover to wear into battle. Yes, indeed, a small fortune.

A keening sound was heard reminiscent of a wolf cub baying at the moon, waiting for its littermates to find it. A howling sound, he thought with a satisfactory smirk of dreamlike recognition.

"Who are you," asked the young man, his blue eyes stared at Craven Justice, piercing the silver dwarf's mind and body.

"I am Craven Justice, poet, minstrel, teller of tales, singer of songs, Master of Odellis the Lute. And you, young master, whom might you be?"

"I am the Scribe. Do you know of me?" the young man asked in innocence.

Craven Justice instinctively took a step back, reaching for his bolo's handle, ready to send its deadly song towards the man should he be attacked.

"I know of no human called The Scribe. Who bestowed you with that title?"

"I cannot tell you--my head, it hurts. How do you come to be here? Did the Benevolent One send you to aid me?"

"I know of no one called the Benevolent One. I journey to the Red Gryphon Inn in Talos Valley. And you, sir, what are you doing here? The path of the Vent is unknown to humans."

Confusion flickered over the young man's face. A tale of old rushed into Craven's mind, as he recalled a fable sung by the elders of his village, that of a mystical human scribe, one adopted by the dwarven race, taken in as one of their own for a deed unknown, one hidden in ancient mystery, but one which every dwarven mystic nods his head and smiles:

The Sad Tale of the Death of Odan the Scribe!

Supremely confident he would prevail
Odan quietly prepared to sail
Upon the sea, or upon the moor
Where he was charged to record the lore.

Setting out upon his maiden quest,
a pouch bulging with life-gems in his vest
he happened upon the crusty Four
and danger jangled to his core.

But it wasn't the Horsemen he need fear
but the evil skulking at his rear.
With a magnificent swipe of his terrible blade
at Moultrance's feet Odan's head was laid.

But for swift action of White Howling Beast
Odan's life might now have ceased.
Life-seed planted in the bubbling pool
Bijou took Odan to depths so deep and cool

Why had this tale always fascinated him? Odellis had been enacting this tale of verse and song since Craven had fled Gayere.

"Do not speak, poet, the Skull comes."

"The Skull, did you say?" astonishment rushing to Craven's eyes.

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 upon a crystallized boulder, and immediately disappeared.

Craven Justice 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.

Thoughts became words, as Craven Justice hid behind a boulder, his bolo in one hand, a knife in the other.

The Benevolent One desires that you come home, intoned the scribe, his thoughts orating as words.

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 Skull? For what reason, scribe, should I voluntarily return to the Pool of Life?"

"So that the Benevolent Being may study you."

"Well, old BeNob has really outdone himself this time, sending you, you pious idiot. Get off your knees. Go back to the Pool of Life; tell BeNob if he wants my essence, he's got to come and get it."

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, race to the Pool of Life.

The white dog 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.

"Seven brave warriors BeNob has sent in the past. All failed. See there," said the Skull, beams of light coming from his eye sockets, focusing upon eight crystallized, mummified beings, 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 the Pool."

"Do you know what he did, one who calls himself a scribe? Fed them to a hatchling dragon, and turned the beast into a living, flame breathing dragon-god."

"And now BeNob sends you, a coward, a coward in my own mold," sighed the Skull

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."

Craven Justice did not understand why he did what he was about to do, as he came out from behind the boulder.

"You, you, there. The one they call Craven Justice. Come forward. Surely a bard who plays a lute can't be afraid of an old crystal skull," channeled Odan the Skull.

"What's going on here," demanded the silver-skinned dwarf, "who drew me here? I recognize the work of magic when I see it."

"Ah, well-done and well-reasoned, Craven Justice!" The Skull glowed with shades of radiant light.

Craven Justice placed both hands to his ears, drowning out the skull's thoughts.

"Not very nice, you know. I mean, it is not as if I have a throat or anything. How do you expect me to communicate?"

"I have no idea," said Craven Justice. "I am a bard by trade, minstrel..."

"A ballad singer! I'll have need of a ballad singer. Here, Craven Justice, a gemstone for your beautiful lute."

"She is called--" Craven stood wide-eyed as the skull spit out an ebony crystal that rolled over towards Craven's boots. He picked it up, felt warmth running through the stone, as he held it clenched in his palm.

Craven Justice placed the crystal structure in his lute. He felt compelled to play the stone's tale through the lute called Odellis.

Craven Justice could tell a tale,
Kings and dragons he would regale.
Short of stature but oh so loquacious,
Prone to embellish, oh so mendacious.

"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 the fear of the truth being said aloud. "Odan the Scribe sinned, he was punished and died. Moultrance the Scrivener records the tales of this world."

"I am here. I am Odan. You are but a vessel. Come, join with me."