In some distant corner of the world, Solomon Rhodes sits around a camp fire. He is on the verge of a great war, yet he takes this time for contemplation.
“The smell of soot and burning lumber, cloth and flesh permeated my nostrils. Embers all around me added an orange hue to my skin, covered in sweat, grime and droplets of tears. You see, I sat there in front of the door of a burning house, weeping bitterly and endlessly. The sky was smothered by smoke, like a cloak of death. The crackling of fire and the harsh howling of the wind added a deathly dirge for all those lives lost. At the center of them all was Solomon Rhodes. The cause of it all was the Dragon that lived inside him.”
Poking at the fire with a stick, the Dragon’s eyes cast downward.
“It wasn’t me, I repeated over and over again like a chant, trying to deny in vain. Maybe it’s just a dream. Maybe I’m having a nightmare. Maybe if I keep on believing, I will wake up and forget all of this. This can’t be real! I’m not a killer.”
With a coldness that only comes from extreme flame, Rhodes stands to his feet, speaking out to one who is not near.
“But, just as you are Hysteria, I am a killer. You’ve seen the power I wield. The world now calls upon the Dragon for protection, but none were there when I cried out for answers and received silence. You know of what I speak. Don’t you? The regret. The need for vengeance. Even behind the mask you wear, I see the struggle in your eyes. I feel your anger. I feel your longing. I can see through you to find that which lies inside.”
Rhodes looks up into the night sky.
“You fight to bring back those you lost and avenge them, yet you cannot fight yourself. And in that battle, you truly lose every waking moment of your life. Because I once fought that battle, too. And you saw the broken man I was, body wracked with scars and addicted to pain itself. You saw a man who chained himself to every platitude that would give power and forgiveness. I tried to become the Nightmare itself, but I was consumed by the same power than created it. You scream out into the night for your daughters to return to you, but receive nothing in response.”
Looking down, Rhodes walks up to the fire, staring into it.
“But now you see a man that has risen above that. The Dragon is here, because I stopped fighting it. Because I did what had to be done. The good man inside you will never die, Hysteria. He will only continue to fight to reclaim what is his. Your wife and children will never return, Harrison. In your selfish quest for glory, you allowed a madman to burn down your life. And in your mourning for what you have lost, you only spin the wheel of madness that has plagued you since.”
The fire seems to reach out to take the Dragon’s hand.
“I will break that wheel. Yet in the swirling maelstrom of pain and suffering that you live within, you will find that you are unable to break free of the burdens that you laid upon yourself. But in breaking your wheel of madness, I come with two new daughters for you. These daughters are not comely or innocent. They have been around since this world began. But what they will do is guide you back to those you have lost. Perhaps you remember them?”
The campfire slowly forms into a large wheel, a portal of some kind. Rhodes has business to attend elsewhere.
“Fire and blood.”
Stepping through, the fire is extinguished, and the world is silent again.
For a time.