“I survived because the fire inside burned brighter than the fire around me.”– John Gonzalez
Nighttime set upon the two strangers. Only the light from the small campfire illuminated the surroundings.
It was the first day of Garod’s journey. The first journey of his life and he felt well out of his prime.
He invited over another weary traveler to share the fire. It was under the guise of conversation, but truly, Garod was just terrified of the things which lurked in the night.
“You got a name, friend?” Garod asked, surprised that it took him this long to ask such a thing.
The stranger looked up. “I have many.” He said, his voice rough almost beyond comprehension.
Garod could not see much of the stranger’s face as it was shrouded by the hood of his long dirty cloak. He could just catch the shadow of a scar running from his chin up through his lips. “You mind telling me one of them?”
“Hmm.” He thought for a while. “These days, most call me Cedric.”
The name did not ring any bells. “Well, got any tales to tell? Surely, a man with a multitude of names has something interesting to say.”
“You’re in luck. I have as many tales as I do names.” Cedric reached for his satchel with a bandaged hand and pulled out a large tome. “I happen to be a collector of them.” He began flipping through the pages. “Have you heard of the Champion Osiris?”
“I may have been a hermit, but who hasn’t heard of that bastard?”
A slight smile crawled along Cedric’s face. “Then I shall relay his rise and fall to you now. Though, before I begin, I only have one request, that you do not speak whilst I am. I do not like being interrupted.”
All Garod could do was nod.
“Good.” Cedric cleared his throat and began to speak, though not even looking down at the pages in front of him. “Osiris wasn’t always a Champion of our Lord. He was once nameless. In his youth, he was strong, ambitious, beautiful, but reckless. He joined the festival of combat nine times, nearly dying in each. You may think it strange now, but he never won a single time, though he grew stronger, keener, and wiser from every attempt. His great axe soon became iconic, symbolizing the man who, try as he may, could never grasp at the throat of victory. Everyone scoffed at him, even the Lord of the Land. Osiris grew more determined with every jeer, and it was on his ninth attempt at glory that he had enough of the mockery. He leapt from the pits and slew every guard that threw himself in front of our Lord, even mighty Lanius. Oh, it’s true. I can see you do not believe me, Garod. They told the Kingdom that Lanius died fighting against our enemies in the east. But I know the truth. He died by the hand of Osiris. After Lanius fell, Osiris then stood there, face to face with our Lord. Osiris held the blade of his axe to the Lord’s neck, ready to strike. Everything could have been changed, then and there. Perhaps it should have. But no, Osiris wanted to show the world that no one could stop him but himself, and so he stepped back and kneeled before our Lord.”
Cedric stopped and stared deep into the pages before continuing.
“People took Osiris seriously after that day, and when the Lord granted him the name of Champion, Osiris took it gleefully. Under such a name, Osiris would go on to slay all manner of men and foul beasts in the name of our Lord, and he would go on to acquire more. Osiris the Destroyer, Osiris the Invincible, Death Incarnate. He conquered foes and allies alike. Never once did Osiris lose in battle. His men may have, but Osiris himself always reigned supreme. His golden pauldrons glinted in the sunlight and blinded those around. Enemies could see him coming from miles away, and he preferred it that way for a fearful foe is a weakened one. He was becoming quite popular amongst the people. Who doesn’t love hearing the stories of victory, that your kingdom was winning, and all by the hands of one so strong and beautiful?”
“Which Osiris is this?” Garod interjected. “All the stories I’ve heard are how Champion Osiris slaughtered thousands. That he brought shame to the empire. That…” Garod stopped when he saw the steel piercing gaze that Cedric was giving him. The light now showed more of Cedric’s face, and it looked incredibly charred. The one eye Garod could see appeared entirely white and blind. “My apologies.” Garod said softly.
Cedric stayed staring, but then lowered his head back down to be shrouded once more. He returned to the pages. “Do not listen to the drivel of liars and snakes, Garod. The people loved Osiris. There are those that still do.” He paused at that. “Back to the story at hand. After one of the grandest victories of all, against all the odds, with Osiris single handedly defeating hundreds in combat, the Lord and the kingdom held a celebration in his honor. The music played and the wine flowed. The city was on fire with revelry. Now, no one knows why it was done. Some think the Lord never quite forgave Osiris for threatening his life during the ninth festival. Some think the Lord felt Osiris was stealing the spotlight of glory from him. Whatever the case may be, Osiris was betrayed by his own people.”
Garod raised an eyebrow in confusion but dared not interrupt a second time.
“He was to make a speech to all the citizens of the capital.” Cedric continued. “Not once in the speech did Osiris mention his own feats, he felt the victories were owed to those who fought alongside him, and those back home giving them support. It was a victory for everyone. But this message was not relayed in its entirety. Halfway through his oration, the guards attacked him. Word spread to the people of treachery and treason, not on the Lord’s part, but of Osiris. Over the course of the night, the entire capital guard was killed. Osiris fought back and was unceasing in his anger. Eventually, he was drenched in oil and lit ablaze. He fell from the balcony of the Lord’s own home down to the cliffs below. They saw him strike the side of the mountain and continue into the forest. Never did they find his body, but no mere mortal could survive such a fall. This is the time when people’s stance on him changed. The name of Osiris was dragged through the mud. One moment, he was a hero, beloved by all. The next he was the scourge of the land and the devil himself.” Cedric couldn’t help but let a soft laugh escape him. “Funny, how quickly people’s perceptions can be shaped and changed. If anyone even tried to question Osiris’ drastic fall from grace, they would be silenced. And that is the end of the tale of Osiris, at least the end of anything important that is.”
“Always a thrilling one, albeit with some slight iterations.” Garod stared into the fire. “I wonder though, do you claim the Lord’s betrayal to be of truth, or your own concocted theory?”
“Oh, it is the truth, that I can promise you.”
“How can you be so sure? The specifics of these events are so muddled with time, who knows who’s right these days?”
Cedric cackled hoarsely now. His laughter echoed throughout the forests until it was stopped by his coughing. “You really haven’t caught on, have you?” He said after calming himself.
Garod did not want to speak, but he did anyway. “Caught on to what?”
Cedric gripped his black cloak. He waited a moment in silence, seemingly in pain. He ripped the cloak off swiftly and revealed more burns covering his entire body. Bandages were wrapped around most of it except for the battered but still golden pauldrons which laid across his shoulders.
“You…” Garod knew not what to say.
“Yes. Say it, Garod. Tell me one of my names.”
Garod kept his mouth agape in horror.
“Osiris!” Garod answered compulsively. “But it can’t be. Everyone knows you fell. How?”
“I survived because the fire inside burned brighter than the fire around me. I fell down and down, but the flame burned on and on. It never stops burning. My skin. Every day I have to unwind the bandages and replace them. I only go on to keep my story alive. I cannot be forgotten. The truth of it must reign. The Lord will get what’s coming to him. The foul always do, in some way or another.” Osiris got up slowly, his face grimacing. “I care not where you are going or what you plan to do, Garod. I only ask that you do not let my truth die. Let it be known that Champion Osiris gained one more name before death. Osiris the Burned.” He hobbled to his horse, and after some struggle mounting it, he rode off into the unknown.