George turned. “Who…?”
The old man from the train stepped into the cavern. At least, George thought it was him. He looked exactly the same, but he seemed younger, more confident in his stride.
But that was only half of what struck George. Something he should have done all along but never even crossed his mind.
“…Why don’t I know your name?”
The old man smiled. “You never asked. Of course, you weren’t ever supposed to. It’s an easy trick; you’ll figure it out eventually.”
“Figure what out? What do you know? What’s happening to me?”
The man walked past George and laid his hand on the dragon’s nose. “Honestly, you should have learned most of that already. It’s not too surprising I suppose; he never was particularly good at the subtle arts. If he had prepared it properly, then you would have been gaining the knowledge over the last few months without issue. As it is, it could take you a century to catch up.”
Fire began radiating off of George as he clenched his teeth. “What are you talking about?”
The man reached over and cupped some of George’s fire in his hand. Its color began to change, becoming a bright emerald as he gently swirled it around in front of him. “Please stop with these parlor tricks. You have so much more potential than this. I’d hate to see my brother’s power go to waste.”
“Brother? You’re a…”
“Dragon, yes. You’re people call me Sigurd.”
And just like that, the illusion around the man fell. He still didn’t change, but George could recognize him now. His face, his voice, even the way he stood, it was suddenly so obvious who he was that George couldn’t believe he ever saw him as an old man
“Sigurd? But I thought you were an alter?”
Sigurd shook his head, grinning. “Human classifications mean little to us. Most of us don’t even bother with human names. I have chosen that city as my home, and thus I have taken upon self a name given to me once before. Humans tend to feel uncomfortable when things don’t have names.”
“So then, who was he?”
Sigurd stared into the empty eyes of the dragon. “I called him brother before. It’s about the closest analog you humans have to our relationship. A few decades ago, he decided it was his time to die.”
“Again, the closest word you have. Our species talks through a form of telepathy. We don’t actually need words for most concepts. When we grow tired of life, we find a cave like this one, set up our defenses, and eventually we just stop thinking. Sooner or later, our gifts will be passed on.”
“That’s what happened to me? I…inherited his gifts? Am I gonna turn into a dragon?!” George’s voice grew more excited and more alarmed after each sentence.
“You will not. Or, you shouldn’t. You entered into the cave far earlier than should have been possible. Normally, only someone with an incredibly similar mindset to the occupant would be allowed to enter. They would then be given a choice and a test to determine their ability to inherit the dragon’s soul. In your case, the earthquake which killed your friend caused your mind to enter an extremely unstable state. And with the cave’s defenses weakened, you were able to enter the chamber.”
“So I’m an accident.” George sat on the dragon’s foot. “The claustrophobia, losing control of my fire, the personality changes; the powers are rejecting me aren’t they?”
Sigurd nodded. “Your situation isn’t one that comes up often enough to say for sure. Usually, it works out fine. The souls find a balance between each other and the new host is able to wield a reasonable portion of its full power. But, your situation was more dramatic than normal. If you cannot find a balance with my brother’s soul, it is entirely possible that both of your souls will be lost forever.”
“Lost? It’ll kill me?”
Sigurd shook his head forlornly. “Death would be a better fate. A lost soul is doomed to wander the spaces between realms for all eternity. No matter your faith or your philosophy you will be placed in eternal anguish. Or so it is said.”
“So how do I stop it?”
“First you must make a choice. The dragon’s path has never allowed us to force our gift into a new host, no matter the cost. You can choose to give up your powers. It is the only way to guarantee your safety.”
“And…if I don’t”
“Then there is a good chance you will die. But at least, we should be able to prevent you from becoming a lost soul.”
George paused. “If I give them up…what happens to your brother?”
Sigurd looked to George. “A dragon’s corpse can only hold his soul so long as his eyes remain closed. If you were to reject him, then my brother would be lost.”
After a moment, George met Sigurd’s gaze. “I always wanted to be a hero. Everyone does. I may not know what I want to do with this power, but I’m not letting someone else suffer because I was a coward.”
Sigurd smiled. “Good.”
Sigurd reached into the dragon’s mouth and yanked out a long fang. He held it up and it began to glow a deep blue.
George felt his chest growing warm. He reached in his shirt and pulled out the fang Sigurd had given him in town.
“There are a few options for dealing with this situation. Most would require stripping one of your souls of the conflicting natures. It would be very unpleasant.”
“This method requires much more effort but it will allow both of you to exist in harmony until it is time for the soul to be passed on again. It will not create a true meld, as is supposed to happen, but it will allow you to retrain the gifts you have received already.”
George stood up. “What do I have to do?”
“First, I’m going to take this fang and stab it into your heart. If you live through that, we can start the hard part.”