Ye who read are still among the living, but who write shall have long since gone my way into the land of the shadows.

What compelled me to enter the Fire Plains of Raal, I shall forever wonder. At the time, it seemed to be the imminently logical thing to do; my reason guided me forward, and I quashed the wavering instincts that drew me back. Trepidation and admonition filled my mind, but I ignored the fervid warnings that swept my soul and plagued my mind with lustrous images of death and decay.

The Fire Plains—the forsaken heart of Vulcana Regar, formed by a rough triangle bordered by the great pits of T'raan, T'riall, and Tregar. Beneath the burning skies, the Plains are a montage of jagged rocks and spires, many sharp enough to slit even the toughest cloth, brutal in the simple hues of red and orange. Great craters and rippled ravines, up thrust pillars and delirium-inducing cliffs, thy name is the Fire Plains.

In this wretched wasteland, not a single hint of life stirs. No animals, no insects, not even the wind to ease the fervid stench of sulfur and brimstone; the plains remain hot and still, brightly lit in places and cloaked with absolute blackness in others. Nevasa glows hot in the open areas; e'shua are said to dwell in the dimmed nether regions of this, the Gateway of Helusion.

Here and there, standing tall and proud beneath the flaming heavens, ancient stone statues stand watch over the Fire Plains. The height of several men, built by hands that predate the first awakening, they stand solemn in their duties, guarding the rock wilderness against those who would dare desecrate it.

They tell me that ancient Earth language contains the word sophomore—"wise fool." And as a logical fool, I dared enter the Fire Plains, challenging it to do the worst as I descended into the shadows.

From the Gateway, the scarcely-worn path descended quickly, curving and jutting its way to the upper floor of the Plains. The rock, the kastik-kov on either side of me, grew dark as the burning sunlight disappeared from overhead, and my eyes shifted rapidly to adapt to the anemic, despondent glow that prevailed on the roof of the world below.

The atmosphere was heavy, far heavier than anything I had felt before. It weighed down on me with suffocating effect, imparting an impalpable sense of boding upon me as it hung, stank, in the dark crevasses and shadowed pathways that threaded the lava-lined floor. I knew it was illogical—nay, it was completely irrational—but I couldn't banish from my mind the memory of Evil long gone, the remnants of once-heard fairy tales from the days when Vulcans were still foolish enough to believe in such childish things.

I saw a shadow before me, a wickedly-curved movement of black against the lava wall, and I forced myself to think meditative thoughts; for the shadow I saw was impossibility, something that should not exist—and as a mere shadow, technically did not. I had to consciously fight the unsettling feel of doom that fell upon me, chilling me with its coldness. As the shadow approached closer, I backed myself against a wall, hoping to disappear in the alcove.

For the shadow I saw should not be, and was not. Basic science can understand light and shadow; but how can a shadow exist in the absence of light? How can a shadow exist in the absence of some physical form to create it? A shadow does not exist in and of itself, yet this singular entity approached me like a malevolent being, its form constantly shifting in myriad ways that confused the mind and terrified the soul.

Oh, my inappropriate jocularity when the shadow passed! I told myself that it was only an illusion, the creation of a mind affected by the gases welling up from the world beneath my feet. It never happened, I told myself. Besides, I was safe! It had not harmed me, and I was never in any danger!

At the end of the path, where the ancient texts had promised, I found the doorway leading within. I made my way downward, through the lava tunnels guiding me to the heart of Helusion.

The way was lit. Torches were spaced every several paces, fastened into the lava walls. They were left there by the Kul'Cha'Vir: the "Brothers of Fire," a set of recluses who themselves predated the time of Surak. It was said that these tunnels contained the reliquaries of their dead; the torches led the penitent to their tombs.

Around me, the flames fought a dying battle to illuminate the tunnels. Straining upwards in tall, slender lines of light, each one cast a scarce glow about it, causing the ebony lava to glow with faint luster. The flames remained pallid and motionless; in the reflection, I believed that I could see the pallor of my own countenance.

How long I wandered, I do not know. Vulcans are renowned for the ability to mentally track time; but in these ominous hollows, I found my control slipping. It took my strength merely to hold down the growing sense of apprehension that fought my reason, and the thickened, oppressive air seemed to surround me, clogging my senses and suffocating my mind.

I passed tunnel after tunnel, nothing but black holes in the wall, and I paused to explore several of them. It was now that I pulled out my artificial light; its activation cast weak illumination in a bubble around me, barely making its way to the heavy walls that were beneath me, above me, and beside me. It gave me scarcely a hint of what was to come; the anemic effect disappeared quickly before me.

From time to time, at various junctions, inscribings were visible in the rock. They uniformly belonged to a time many centuries past, although some of the writings were far newer; the descendants of the Kul'Cha'Vir still roamed these recesses, leaving behind their signposts to guide the way.

From my studies, I recognized some of the symbols; the sign of the sirshos'im dominated, although Tevanu appeared quite often as well. Many were nearly invisible, obscured by the passage of eons, and others had consciously been erased and scratched out.

In this land beneath the world, I sought one symbol in particular, one which would guide my path. I desired to find it as soon as possible; it may have been improper of me, but the constant sense of foreboding wore heavily upon my being, and it was with great relief when I saw the misplaced symbol of the pach-te.

I turned to follow the jutting passageway, holding my light out before me. Quickly, within paces, it narrowed; I had to duck my head, then turn my body to the side as I slid between the rock walls. I lost my robes, as they caught on the edges, and I left them behind. The tunnel turned sharply, and already I could not see the main trunk; a part of me wondered how I would get back out.

It was an arduous passage, but I eventually emerged, my body scored with a hundred scratches bleeding trickles of green. It was a relief, a wholly irrational relief; I could breath clearly again, without the weight of stone pressing me tight, and I stopped in the cavern to suck in a deep breath of gas-laced air. I choked, my head swam, but I clung to consciousness.

My head gradually cleared as my body adapted, and I held the light above me as I surveyed the pocket in the rock. It was simple, unadorned, precisely as I would expect; it gave no hint of the treasure located within.

There, in the center of the room, was a simple stone altar. The lava had worn away to reveal the soft sandstone below, and in this base was erected a solitary rock. With great care, I lifted it away, and reached into the opening beneath.

My hands found something firm, and I pulled it out. It was covered with sand, and I brushed it off carefully, revealing the ancient script upon it:

It said "Surak."