Cylus 9th Arc 721
Despite the season of Cylus being known for darkness and snow and ice and cold, in a small clearing within the North Woods there existed an abundance of heat and light. The area could be found near a loggers’ camp, and used to be fairly unremarkable, safe for its shape. Rather than a standard circular path of forest without dense trees, this one looked more like a ‘c’. Perhaps once upon a time it had been circular, but trees had trespassed little by little, creating a wedge.
Recently, someone had made changes to the environment here. Large holes had been dug, one at a time, rectangular and about six feet deep. Once one had been refilled with dirt and only dirt, the digging of the next one begun. Until there were four holes in total; three closed up and one still bare.
While these had gone undisturbed for a couple days, left alone in the dark of the season, only ever touched by the occasional critter or bird and the light of the stars and moons, now shadows danced wildly atop the loose earth. A roar replaced the usual serene silence, smoke obscured the sky, and the patches of stubborn grass had been leveled. Heat haze caused the air to dance a little jig, waves of hot air rippling towards the edges of the little clearing.
“Please stop eating the tree!” Rokas yelled, shielding his face against the sweltering heat with his hands. His eyes felt wrinkled like dried dates, and he had to blink furiously to keep them moist. “You promised! Just the body, only the body!” Charring wood crunched and crackled, and a large stick tumbled down, ricocheting of the lower branches. Rokas followed it with his gaze, stepping aside when the flaming piece of tree turned out to be heading straight for him. It thudded down into the layer of moist earth Rokas had leveled, more or less harmless. It wouldn’t ignite anything else there.
“Don’t you throw sticks at me! I kept my promise! You’re the one breaking your word!” He jabbed a finger upward repeatedly, as if that’d have any effect. Fire continued its banquet, feasting on spruce needles and bark, slowly creeping higher up the canopy, eyeing nearby foliage and licking its lips with orange tongues. It absolutely shouldn’t be allowed to spread itself out any further. One tree laid into ash was one thing, but a whole swath of forest gone up in flames… that’d provide the Tower with incentive to sent patrols to investigate. Which would spawn rumors that, upon reaching the wrong ears, would cause an alarmed Daggett to spontaneously vanish.
All because of a lapse in judgement.
Fire’d been nagging for food, as per usual, complaining about its hunger while gorging itself on twigs and kindling and lamp oil. It’s bottomless appetite could not be sated, and the act of eating itself did nothing to still the hunger for even a moment. Though most of all, it desired something tasty. Something different from its everyday sustenance. Like that corpse, for example, swaying from a rope in the woods. Couldn’t it eat that? Surely that wouldn’t be harmful. Surely Rokas could grant that tiny request. It’d just eat the corpse, consume flesh and clothes and hair and bone. And maybe the rope too. But no more! Promise!
And Rokas, like a fool, believed every word. Helped fire’s flames to reach the shell that once housed a man, and stared in wide-eyed, slack-jawed surprise when the element decided promises meant nothing in the face of its overwhelming cravings. So it grabbed onto the tree, growing and spreading as it fed, refusing to stop. Quite the opposite, in fact. Why stop at a single tree when you could devour an entire forest?
Wood snapped and splintered above, and another branch came tumbling down. It landed in the wet dirt a few feet away from its cousin, slowly sputtering out. In the canopy of the torch-like pine, flames scoffed as it ate away at the needles.
“I’m not overreacting!” Rokas said, “It’s not—No! No! Shut up and listen! Shut! Up! Lis-ten! And who’s fault is that, huh! Don’t ‘don’t yell at me’ me! I’m yelling because otherwise you ignore what I’m trying to say!” Though raising his voice and screaming his lungs out did not seem to help much either. Fire refused to listen, too engrossed in its feeding, transfixed on filling its unfillable stomach and disregarding everything else. “Oh no! Don’t you dare! Don’t you fucking dare--”
Flickering orange tongues lashed out in spite of his warnings, stretching out to lick a neighboring giant -an oak, if the thickness of its trunk and the color of its bark were any indicator. Rokas cussed, then swatted diagonally upward with one hand, bringing it down immediately after. Acting like an extension of his limbs, the wind swelled into a forceful gust. It slammed down like a heavy curtain, smacking away the greedy flames trying to leap to the other tree. Fire hissed in frustration, showering Rokas with a torrent of sizzling needles and a few burning pinecones. The flames stung a little when coming in contact with his skin, but no damage was done.
Just one setback proved insufficient to make fire give up though. Again it encroached on nearby foliage, and again Rokas tasked the wind with blocking the attempt. He asked it to swirl and swoosh, encircling the tree and cutting it off from the surrounding plants. Yet this was but a temporary fix, a patch job. Sooner or later the wind would grow bored and whatever sway Rokas held over it would fail to compel the element. In the meantime, fire would feed off the tree and wait impatient for its chance.
But it bought some time.
Time to stop and ponder –though not for too long if he'd wanted his ether to last—how to make fire stop. How to convince it to cease consuming the tree. A hard thing indeed. Fire was fickle. Fire was volatile. Kept small, the element usually remained calm. It was weak, always on the verge of dying out. A breath, a breeze or even too much candlewax could smother it. It tended to listen more to requests to shrink back down. Of course, it always remained eager to grow, eager to consume and spread and burn. But as long as it didn’t expand past a certain point, it retained its cognitive reasoning.
Problem being that crossing that line was easy. Too easy. And it could happen so quick. When it happened, when the feeding frenzy set it, a peaceful flame transformed into a gluttonous inferno. Like it had moments before. So, how to talk it down?
Yelling didn’t work. Arguing did not either. Rhetoric… laughable. The conflagration cared not for words, it cared for food. There were only three ways to suppress it. One, force it to shrink. Tear away chunks of its body, steal away its fuel, choke it out or drown it or bury it alive. A good option, if not for the fact that it was far too large for Rokas to handle. Mobilizing enough earth to bury the entire tree was beyond his power, as was calling forth a torrent capable of extinguishing the blaze.
Solution two was starving it; without fuel the fire died. However, with this much trees and flammable wood and leaves around, that’d only happened after the entirety of the North Woods had been consumed.
Option three, then. Satiety. End the feeding frenzy by filling its bottomless stomach. An impossible task. Although…
Rokas focused on the voice of fire once more, letting the crackling and hissing and screaming of flame be translated into meaningful phrases and expressions. The rage and frustration hit him at once, washing over him like the heat fire expelled. Yet those were surface level, obvious. The more important, more crucial ones hid further down. The crux, the core.
He muscled past the anger, past the bright orange tips so characteristic for the element. Past the blazing blue, the hunger, the foundation of fire’s nature. Deeper still, to the very center, the black zone in the middle. There where the flame did not seem to exists.
And Rokas understood.
Unlike its siblings, fire was not a constant element. Water was, always. Either as ice or liquid or vapor, water always was. Earth was too, always. Hard as rock, soft as sand. Fertile soil or dependable brick. Gargantuan mountain, and speck of dust. Air as well, always. Trapped within water or stone or lungs, or floating above Idalos as the body of the sky itself. It traveled as wind, always in flux. Sometimes more present, sometimes less. But never not. Even in fire it existed, albeit very briefly, as the flames ate it without hesitation.
But fire? Fire was temporary. Called into being if the circumstances aligned. Unable to persist on its own. Capable of sustaining itself, true, though it required sustenance. As a small flame, its form was fragile. The runt of the four. Length of its existence dependent the whims of its siblings. Extinguished by air and earth and water. So easily snuffed out, returned to non-being. Frightened, terrified. What if it never returned to being? What if no-one ever called it into existence again? So it hungered, and ate, and grew.
Yet the more it grew, the more it consumed, the hungrier it became. The more sustenance it needed to remain on Idalos. The more the awareness of the inevitable set in, the more despair sunk its teeth into its soul. Realizing that eventually it would slip back into non-existence. Now it was, but not always. Soon it would not be anymore. And so it trembled and feared and ate everything it could. To remain big and strong and here. Growing frustrated at how fast its fuel ran out, how little it filled it. Anger at being here, existing, but unable to enjoy it, unable to do anything but desperately seek out something to eat to keep away non-being for just a minute longer… Helpless, powerless, and still not constant.
So Rokas comforted it. Soothing, understanding. No longer yelling and screaming, no longer angry and feeling betrayed. Sending sensations through their connection, feelings of a full stomach and contentment. Of loosening your belt and unbuttoning the lower part of a shirt after a large meal. Numbing the endless hunger with experiences of his own, until the flames grew less frantic, less desperate. Until its faculties returned, and it appreciated reason again.
And finally, they talked and listened, addressing the fear. Continuing as time passed by too quickly. Fire did not spread, gradually regaining its composure. Rokas asked, words hesitant and barely a whisper, whether fire did not trust him. Whether it truly believed he would not call on it again, if he’d ever given the impression he did not care for it. He apologized either way, and reassured the flames of his friendship.
They spoke about the hunger, the need to burn and consume, and the paradox of growing more starved the more it ate. Why not shrink to a manageable size, too strong to be easily smothered, but not so large to need copious amounts of fuel? The smaller fire remained, the less its hunger tormented it, the longer its food could sustain it. And, Rokas was there to assist if need be, more than willing to lend a hand when fire required it.
All the while, fire diminished little by little, gathering in one spot and leaving the rest of the charred pine to smolder and smoke. It shrunk to a size comparable to the flames flickering atop a torch, burning at the tip of one of the lower branches, then smaller still.
Eventually, Rokas extended a hand, finger out as if to offer a perch to a small bird. Fire leapt from the tree, just a tiny flame but kept strong by Rokas’s ether. Floating just a little above the layer of dirt atop his flesh, fire burned blue as it always did when sustained by ether only. He placed it back in the lantern, nudging it to hop onto the oil-soaked wick, and closed the door.
Safe from water and wind, provided with plentiful fuel, fire settled in a near-motionless state, and sighed with contentment.