POV: First person
Subject: Fire, Knowledge & Shivering
Outwardly Cardastan was, by anyone’s standards, a frail and withered old man. But to those who knew him well he remained a respectable scholar in possession of a wiry and tenacious disposition. He was not one to give into flights of folly or fancy. So I feel more than justified in my actions of accompanying him to this place: the very ends of this earth.
When a man like Cardastan slips so easily back into your life after a nearly thirty year hiatus you may begin to wonder, as did I, just what had prompted such actions; such a change of heart, if you will. But when the very same man also declares that he has discovered a powerful artefact long thought to be nothing but mere fantasy, all misgivings tend to give way to curiosity.
‘The fires of knowledge,’ he had said simply, his tone inferring no more outlandish a sentiment than had he declared our destination as the local tavern.
What followed was a heated and rather predictable back and forth as to the legitimacy of his claim. I don’t quite recall the details but I can still feel the very energy that radiated from him, the sense of genuine urgency and burning passion that a true discovery could ignite in one such as he.
‘So what exactly would you ask of me?’ The inquiry would mark the beginning of my own downfall.
‘The fire burns eternally. It is said that should the flames ever extinguish all knowledge in the world will die with them. If the legend is true then...’ He trailed off to a whisper. I didn’t need to hear any more to guess his intent.
‘You mean to gain forbidden knowledge from the very source. Is that wise?’
The old man laughed. It was a hollow and croaky laugh that rattled inside his chest but it lacked none of the intended mirth. ‘My dear boy, there is but one way to obtain true wisdom and we’re going to do it!’
I should have seen it earlier. The signs were all there. Cardastan was always a subtle one, perhaps spending too much time pouring over dusty tomes filled with indecipherable runes and ancient drawings; it was little wonder their cryptic nature had an influence. But the one thing about Cardastan that you could always count on was his ability to conjure an answer, one way or another. I posed many questions, pitched a wide range of theories and possible outcomes but each was stonewalled, met with closed mind and impatient tone. His mind was set and there was no turning back.
The journey was a long and arduous one. I can only imagine the toll it must have taken on a man the age of Cardastan. We crossed sodden fen and moor, scaled rocky slopes and treacherous ledges before finally delving deep into the cavernous system of caves stretching beneath the old ruin of Anuldran Fest.
No one had dared to tread the path we followed, not in the three hundred years since the fort’s collapse. It was said to be haunted by the souls of those who died there. Then again, a lot has been said of Anuldran Fest and none of it came to pass during our time there. No, instead something much worse happened.
Time is irrelevant without a device by which to track it and we spent what seemed like days inside those dank, dusty holes. But eventually we found the eternal flames in a large chamber deep within the caves. Cardastan proved to be as good as his words. At least, the ones he had actually spoken out loud.
When he gained sight of the flickering motes of orange against the pitted surface of darkened rock I swear he nearly wept for joy. Then, as swift as a mountain goat, he leapt forth and was consumed instantly by the flames. Time stood still within the fire. Cardastan’s body hung, suspended within like a puppet abandoned by its master. Then he began to shiver.
At first I believed it to be a trick of the light, the natural distortion caused by the rising waves of heat but no, no he was shaking, convulsing within the fire like some kind of terrible reaction occurred from within. Then, as calmly as he had appeared to me those many days ago, he slipped from the fire and approached me.
If you had told me that Cardastan had remained unchanged his entire life, that from the age of ten to one hundred he had not seen the world differently for a single day, I would have believed you. For a scholar he had remained almost impossibly impartial, never allowing his knowledge to alter him. But that day I saw a man changed in ways I could never have imagined.
He stalks me still, to this very day. He carries that fire with him now. Wreathed in flame, his very skin bubbles and erupts into flame over and over. His human form no more than a perpetually molten core. And always that same expression burned into his warping face; the calm acceptance of one who knows how it will end.
By the Gods, I’ll make damn sure he’s wrong.