Though not a sound had disturbed the peaceful glade, the apprentice felt a sudden chill on the back of his neck. Having learned to trust such things, he immediately bolted away from the shimmering pool.
He ran but a short distance down the forest path before a pine tree leapt out onto the path and ensnared him. The master appeared from behind the tree.
“Will you never learn, boy?” The master despaired.
“No fair! You were going to assault me at the Scrying Pool,” the insolent apprentice interjected, uninterested in yet another of the master’s bizarre lessons.
“Was I?” the master replied, his voice full of cool certainty.
“I felt the danger! You planned to hurt me!”
“What makes you sure t’was I who meant you harm?”
“You’re the only one here!”
“Indeed, and at this very moment, the clouds above the glen are raining shards of ice which would have flayed the flesh from your skin. What is the lesson in this?”
“You’re a bastard!”
“No,” the master replied through clenched teeth. “That assumptions can kill you!”
The apprentice shot back, “The Founder says that all answers are correct!”
“All answers are correct, if you stop and think about it!” the master corrected hotly. “Did you stop and think about it?”
This finally got past the child’s insolence. “No....I just felt the danger and moved. I never had a second thought.”
“No, you failed to have a first thought. Had you thought before acting, you might have remembered that I also can see into The Unwritten Now.”
“But if I had stopped to think, I would have been caught in your attack. I knew that I had no time to think.”
“Indeed. Now, what is the lesson?”
The boy thought long and hard before it came to him. “You’re a bastard!”
“Yes,” the master admitted. “If you stop and think about it. I really am.”
The master waved his hand dismissively at the tree, which put the apprentice down.
The boy explained his comprehension. “You knew that I didn’t want you to catch me, again, at the pool. But if I sensed your anger coming then I would have fled as you entered the glen. So you attacked the glen from the opposite direction, forcing me to run into you!”
“Yes,” the master preened, basking in the brief burst of affection from his hot-headed disciple. “It was rather long-sighted of me, wasn’t it. Now, I have told you many times, child: If you spend all your time looking out into the world, no one will be able to look in. You have seen one meaning behind this wall of words, now I shall show you another. Come.”
They returned to the glen, now encased in a thin, even sheet of ice. The master looked up, and beckoned for one of his eagles, who came willingly, landing with exquisite grace on branch. The master gestured at the tree, and it opened, revealing a hollow space inside with many trinkets. The master began to reach for one before pausing. “Never trust your premonitions, boy. I think I know what is needed, but were I to act before confirming, precious time may be lost.”
As he spoke, the scrying pool began to shimmer and glisten. The trees around him began to sway in the stillness, producing a singsong rustling of leaves that traveled throughout The Common Forest. A voice spoke, and soon the apprentice could see a face in the water -- a face, covered in stigmata and contorted in pain.
“Eagle One to Base! Eagle One to Base” cried the brother, somewhere far away into a muddy pond. “Eagle One to Base! The rabbit has landed in the soup! I repeat, the rabbit has landed in the soup!”
“I hear you, Resting Walnut. What is your dilemma?” the master replied.
“Charlie is in the house!” the Criamon who called himself Resting Walnut replied. “I say again, Charlie is in the hiz-ouse! Jesus Christ, captain! It’s raining fire down here! We need backup!”
The master merely smiled and nodded while more seemingly nonsensical drivel poured out of the scrying pool. The apprentice listened attentively, seeking the string of sanity that he knew was within the words.
After a few minutes, the master raised his hand to silence his raving lunatic brother. “Easy, now, Walnut. I want you to listen very carefully to me. That thing you are holding right now is the ground. You want to place it against your back, breathe slowly and then count backwards from 42. When you wake, you will have journeyed through the Alam of Repose and come back the other side.” He shifted his gaze slightly as the other man obeyed. “I say, is anyone else there? Yes, come closer, it’s alright. There’s a good chap. And, oh look! It’s Diana! Thomas, look, it’s your friend Diana from Horn’s Hill. My, you look good. All grown up! And looking good in that armor, I must say. Don’t you think so, Thomas?”
A slightly baffled “Hello, Gregarius,” emerged from the pool. Though the apprentice could not see her, he dully replied to the familiar voice, “Hello, Dogsbreath.”
“Gregarius, what’s going on?”
“Yes,” replied the ancient, wizened master. “What you and your companions are dealing with is not, I’m afraid, a creature of Infernal origins. It is what we Criamon refer to as an Adulteration, which is to say that it is a being of Magic, whose thoughts are solely of the particular experience that it craves. In this case, a homosexual appetite.” The old man pronounced “hom-o-sex-ual” as if it were a street in Barcelona that he'd read about.
“Where did it come from?”
“Alas, I cannot explain that to you without obfuscating matters further. Not to worry though, your fiery friend’s habit of firing first and asking questions later should, if I judge correctly, still be of enormous help. Though Walnut would appreciate it if he wore looser pants.”
A third voice came out of the pool. “No way is that a Criamon. He makes far too much sense.”
“So,” the master replied cryptically. “It would Seem. Goodbye, Diana. Say goodbye, Thomas. Diana is off to fight evil now.”
This last sentence he said in a tone which was meant to sound genuinely impressed but which every child who has ever lived in the history of the Cyclical and Countercyclical Alams has found unbearably condescending.
When the pool’s inner glow faded back to reality, the apprentice was full of questions, but the master raised a hand, silencing him.
“No more questions, no more sitting by the pool. If you spend your whole life looking out, no one will ever be able to look in. There is no telling how many of our brethren you have left friendless and alone as they face the Hypostasis. For those who walk the Path of Seeming, it is our duty to translate the Enigma for those without understanding. Only through us can our House can and keep allies in the fight against Strife. Go! The forest shall be your labyrinth. Meditate upon what has happened thus far today, and when you come back, we shall discuss it like proper Criamon. In riddles.”