Cinder Men

What does a fire feel when it dies?
Cinder-men are not, as their name suggests, men. Nor are they undead, as their appearance would offer.

They are much like corpses, dried and charred flakes of skin clutching desperately to raw flesh, grey like smoke, blackened like burnt paper. Their eyes are like coals. Small cinders and embers seem to glow from beneath their cracked and pitted flesh. When they howl in despair, their skin flares with tiny, pathetic flames. Smoke and tiny cinder-flakes surge out in a gout of the memories of old infernos. They are a sad people. All of them to a one are the relics of times long past, of flames long died, of passion long extinguished.

Sometimes, once in a decade perhaps, if that, two people will fall utterly and totally in love. They will be inseparable and they will be devoted to each other fully. Which is what makes the resulting and inevitable death of one or the other all the more tragic. This tragedy is the spark that is fanned into a great inferno of rage and despair. The now bereft-of-half will ignite, and rampage in a whirlwind of flame and anger, but every fire will eventually fade and burn out, and a Cinder-man is what is left. Cold, and terribly alone.

They wander an earth that they perceive as being as ruined and grey as themselves. They can find no solace in any relief, and nothing will assuage them, nothing can console them. Which makes them easy pickings for the cruel and manipulative. Cinder-men are highly sought by the wicked and vile, for they can be easily incited to wrath, and in their wrath, they are pliable, and unstoppable.

Cut them and they bleed ash. Bludgeon them and you will be repaid in a burst of smoke. Pierce them, and a gout of cold flame is your only reward. Magic can hurt them, but more often than not will also serve to invigorate the flame within them for a time. When they fight, it is with fury. Pounding fists unstoppable with the weight of sorrow, a burning grasp hot with rage for what is lost.

That is not to say they cannot be stopped. Just as the wicked can manipulate the Cinder-man into any misguided cause, so can the Cinder-man be talked down from wrath. Appeals to love, to the memories of when everything was good, to the ghost of the gone, these will strike deeper than any blade to the Cinder-man. They will remember, and they will pause, and this is the moment you must strike, and you must not stop until they are butchered utterly, no matter how hot the flames burn beneath your blade, no matter how scorched your hands become as you pound the gritty flesh beneath your fists. Only when the Cinder-man’s heart is cooled with joy can the flame finally gutter within them and die.

If ever a Cinder-man were to somehow be reunited with whom they have lost, by powerful magics or the mercy of gods, rare as either might be, then the tragedy might possibly be turned around. The spark of the Cinder-man can be offered by one to their lost love, and if accepted, both will flare up in flame, and be gone, totally consumed. Even gods deny knowledge of where they depart to. If anywhere.

Of course, at that point, the difficulty isn’t in convincing the other half that potential oblivion is worth the chance of a reunion, lovers rarely consider such things. The difficulty is in preventing the Cinder-man obliterating the lost love as an illusion or trick, in preventing the rage-flame from blossoming outward again. The land has already had to go through that once from that Cinder-man. The final irony is that it is often with the promise of reunion with the love long gone that the wicked will compel a Cinder-man to their service. If any of them actually followed through with such a promise, it is unlikely the Cinder-man could even accept it.      

Once, in all the histories of the world, has one Cinder-man met another. The story tells that one came upon the other in a scorched field, one having finished its transformation to the charred husk they are destined to become. They faced each other wordlessly for many days. Some claim that they were whispering their tales to each other. As the dusk of the sixteenth day came and went, the older Cinder-man reached out and touched the newly cold one. When they touched, they flared a brilliant, like phosphorus set alight. When the light faded, the arm of the older had been obliterated, and the shoulder and chest of the other too. They both remain there still, quiet as stone, smoldering lightly, gazing in despair at the other.

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