Month: November 2014

Chapter 32: Soul

“You did.”

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.”

“Decided?”

“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.”

George grimaced.

“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.”

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Chapter 31: The Dragon’s Tale

Tina woke up.

Her eyes drifted over to the clock. The glowing numbers told her it wasn’t even 3 yet, but she could feel her traitorous body waking up against her will.

She knew why they shouldn’t go after Burnout right away, but she felt like she was betraying him. After they had taken out the shadow manip, she had finally managed to have an actual conversation with him.

He told her about the urges, about the way his flames tried to take control. He had told her about the night The Court had found him.

He’d told the group that he’d only been taking out a few muggers, but that was a lie.

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George sleepily walked down the street.

He hadn’t slept much since he ran into John. If George hadn’t called out to him, he doubted his old classmate would have ever recognized him.

He had spent every night since staring up at the ceiling, wondering what had changed. Had getting powers really made him that different? Or had that cave done something to him?

Now, he was on his way to the library again. Magic books were rare, even at the university, but right now they were the only lead he had on what that cave could have done to him.

His footsteps echoed off the empty shelves. He hated that sound. Anywhere else in the library it would have been fine, but in this dimly lit corner of the basement, it became unnaturally deep.

He checked his list again. It had been three days since he printed it off, and he was barely half way done.

It would have helped if they books would stay where they belonged, but magic texts, even ones that didn’t have a single spell, didn’t like to stay put. He’d found magic history books hidden between theory books, theory books among magical philosophy, and a lone physics book crushed under the weight of a book on magical flight.

The book he was looking for now was about the introduction of Norse magic to the states, but for all he knew it was on the other side of the country.

He sighed heavily and started his way down the too long aisle. His eyes carefully scanned up and down the-

“That can’t be right.”

He checked the list again.

The book was right there in front of him. It wasn’t supposed to be possible to find one of these books that easily.

He carefully pulled it off the shelf and carried back to the table.

Someone screamed outside the library.

George didn’t hesitate. He vanished deep into the shelves and grabbed his goggles out of his bag.

Burnout slipped out of an open window. He had lost a few minutes changing, but he quickly found the small crowd huddled in front of the library.

He floated over their heads, and landed next to the man lying on the ground.

He was still conscious, but he was hyperventilating and the way he clutched at his leg worried Burnout.

“What happened?”

The man spoke through chattering teeth. “J-just a k-k-kid. F-f-f-froze my leg. That way.”

He pointed west and Burnout saw his leg. The bottom half of it was coated in a thin clear ice, and he could see the man’s ankle reddening from the cold beneath it.

“In a minute,” he said. “Let me see if I can help you first.”

Burnout took a deep breath and focused a small warm flame over his hand. He slowly ran his hand along the man’s leg. The ice began to melt away, but far more slowly than it should have. The flame around his hand grew thicker, and hotter.

The ice melted away almost instantly and Burnout had to tear his hand away from the man’s leg before it started to burn him.

He looked at the crowd. “If no one called an ambulance do it now. Make sure he doesn’t move the leg until they get here.”

He didn’t wait to see if anyone answered before he took off and veered west.

Whoever this guy was, he wasn’t worried about leaving a trail. A long path of ice wound its way along the streets, zipping around parked cars and wide-eyed pedestrians.

Burnout’s eyes followed the path ahead of him. Even with it, the prowler shouldn’t have been able to get too far.

There he was, half a block a head and still moving down the same street. His pale blue outfit blended in well with the ice, but he was hard to miss.

Burnout smirked. He drew his hand back and threw a small ball of fire right in the kid’s path.

He watched the kid hit the edge of his path. He tried to reform it, but the flames burned hotter than his ice could take and he had to jump to the side to avoid them.

Burnout landed behind the kid, who turned to glare at him.

“What the fuck?! You trying to burn me alive!?”

Burnout felt a drop of sweat sliding its way down the back of his neck. He hand’ meant for the fire to burn that hot, but he couldn’t let this kid know that.

“I wouldn’t have let that happen. You weren’t as nice.”

The kid smiled widely. “The old ass had it coming. Bastard made me lose my scholarship.”

The air around Burnout grew warmer. “What?…He could have lost his leg. If your ice was colder it could have broken right off.”

“Yep.” The kid nodded. “Shame really. If he hadn’t screamed I would’ve had time to really get to work on him.”

The air was smoldering now, but the kid didn’t seem to notice. Burnout felt a white heat growing in the back of his head.

“Hey? Do you know what happens when you freeze a guy’s leg solid, and leave the rest of him be. The blood starts to pool around where it’s frozen. The oxygen? Gets sucked right out of it. The cells around it start to die off, one by one.”

The kid started chuckling.

Burnout thrust his hand forward and a lance of nearly white flames shot towards him. The kid’s eyes widened and he tried to dive out of the way.

He was too slow.

The lance clipped his right arm and the kid screamed. His outfit didn’t catch fire, the flames were to focused for that.

It began to melt.

The kid tied to pull at the melting sleeve. He managed to peel away his glove, and Burnout felt himself gag.

What was left could barely be called a hand. Where there was still skin, it was black, cracking. Blood oozed between the cracks like lava seeping its way out and dripping to the ground below.

But it was the screaming that would haunt Burnout, that loud, screeching sound that no one should ever have to make.

Sirens rang out behind him and Burnout dashed off to the alley.

The scream followed him.

The smell of burning meat stung in his nose.

Burnout collapsed.

He could feel the air around him start to thicken with heat.

Flames sprouted all along his body, spreading until he was completely encased in their warm grasp.

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Burnout had lost track of time then. He told Mach that The Court hadn’t found him until after sunset.

Tina couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like, but the look in his eyes when he described the way the flames crawled over him…

She had seen that look before. It was the same look Azriel had when he was healing her, absorbing her illness, that look of loss and confusion that had bored its way into her skull.

Whatever Burnout was feeling right now, Tina knew he shouldn’t have to face it alone.

The glowing numbers ticked to 3:00, and Tina knew why she couldn’t sleep.

She knew how to find Burnout, but she couldn’t do that.

Burnout hadn’t told them much, but he had said enough. Tina could figure out where he was.

But it mean figuring out who he was.

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Chapter 30: Keep

George slammed his fist into a tree. “Dammit! Where the hell did it go‽”

It was nearly sunset already. He was sure that he had turned off the main path at the right spot, and he’d been moving more slowly than that day to make sure he wouldn’t miss the cave. But he should have reached it over an hour ago.

He sat down on a small boulder and pulled a water bottle out of his bag. He could see the sun resting on top of the mountain. He guessed there were a couple of hours at most before it disappeared. He had plenty of food and water for the day, but he hadn’t counted on needing to camp.

There was no way he could find his way back in the dark, but he couldn’t go back either. He didn’t know why, but knew he had to find the cave today.

In the other direction, he could see a line of dark grey clouds crawling their way towards him, but he couldn’t see any rain falling from them.

While he rested, he held his hand out in front of him. A small ball of fire grew above his hand. Patterns of darker blue crawled across its surface, each threatening to escape the pull of the orb. He focused o the ball, causing it to spin over his palm. It spun faster and faster until the varying shades of blue vanished into a single hue. The ball began to stretch, flattening into a disk.

He gritted his teeth and the lighter hotter flames began to move to the edge of the disk. The center grew darker and darker; then it vanished completely. The hole kept growing, and the edge of the disk grew brighter and brighter until it was almost blinding.

It was strange. Before he had entered the woods, he had never even considered trying something like this. Even now, he felt new information about the ring seeping into his head. He knew it had no mass, so it could fly as fast as he willed it too. He knew that it was hot enough to vaporize water before it could come close to touching it.

Most of all, he knew that this was a weapon. It he used it, it would ‘slice’ through anything it touched with no issue. It couldn’t be used to intimidate, or incapacitate. This ring would, at the very least, maim anyone it hit. If he hit them anywhere but an arm or a leg, it would probably kill them.

A cool wind rustled through the trees. Thunder boomed in the distance.

George banished the flames. He thought he’d heard something, just before the thunder. For a moment he swore…the wind came again and he focused. A quiet, high pitched whistle came rang through the forest as the wind blew.

He rushed north, toward the sound, as fast as he could. He made sure to stop whenever he heard the wind coming. The whistling grew louder the further he walked.

The cliff face was up ahead. It was the same cliff, he was sure of it. He recognized the way the stone darkened as the cliff rose higher. He could see the fallen stones and boulders littering the ground beneath the cliff. The same stones that he had watched come tumbling towards him almost a year ago.

His eyes trailed over the cliff carefully. The sound was definitely coming from here, but there was no cave in sight.

George walked along the cliff, searching for anything that even hinted at a cave hidden behind the rocks.

There was nothing. Not even a hint of a cave. He searched up and down the cliff face, looking for a crack, an odd stack of stones, anything that could suggest a covered entrance or a collapsed tunnel. Every fiber of his being told him that this was the cliff, the same cliff that had almost killed him, the same place where he had become Burnout. But there was nothing. No matter how many times he walked back and forth along the cliff, there was nothing to be seen.

George sighed deeply and sat on the ground. The bag on his back felt heavier and he began to slump forward. His face was cradled in his hands, and his forearms were resting on his knees. Above him, the thunder rolled again, louder and closer than before.

“It’s not here.” The words tasted like cold coffee and felt like cooking oil spilling out of his mouth.

And then it began to rain.

The cold water began to soak into his clothes. His hair wasn’t long enough to stick to his forehead, but he could still feel it matting to the top his head. He closed his eyes and tilted his head back toward the sky.

He started to laugh. He couldn’t help it. There was no mirth; it was an empty laugh, and it left him unfulfilled. He didn’t know what else to do. The cave was gone, vanished, and there wasn’t anything he could do about it. There wasn’t any way for him to find the answers he ahd been searching for. There was no way for him to find out what he was supposed to be.

George opened his eyes and the laugh changed. His lips curled into a smile and he let out a loud whoop.

It hadn’t been there before, he knew it hadn’t. But there it was not even 20 feet back the way he had come.

He jumped up and ran toward the cave.

Then his heart began to race, pounding loudly in his ears.

His blood seeped away from his face.

His tongue felt like chalk.

His legs grew weak.

His breath grew ragged.

His bag grew heavier.

A voice in the back of his head screamed at him to turn back.

He shoved it away. He wasn’t going to let this stop him. He wasn’t going to turn back now. A low growl rumbled from his throat and he stepped into the cave.

The cave grew dark quickly, far more quickly than it should have.

He summoned a small flame ahead of and above him. Its light pushed back the darkness, but not nearly as far as it should have.

The wind entering the cave grew louder. The sound of it echoing off the walls was deeper than it had any right to be.

George willed the flame to grow brighter and continued into the cave.

Something was wrong. It was the right cave, he was sure of it. Its mysterious appearance was more than enough to prove that to him.

But the walls were wrong. The first time, they hadn’t just been reflective or sparkling, they’d glowed. Now, he could barely even see them through the oppressive darkness.

He saw the darkness fighting against the light of his flame once again. This wasn’t some passive defense; it was attacking his light, growing stronger and forcing its way into his defense.

He’d been in the cave at least 20 minutes the first time, and possible a lot longer. He’d only been in here 15 now, and the courage he’d built to walk into this deathtrap was beginning to fade.

He felt a pressure building on his forehead, like somebody was pressing their finger against it. It didn’t hurt, but there was no rest. His heart beats felt smaller, weaker.

Still he walked on.

The echoes of his steps became the only measure of time he could rely on.

Step.

Had he been in here hours, or minutes.

Step.

They might have noticed he’d left by now, but they couldn’t know for sure yet.

Step.

Even if they did, they couldn’t find him here.

Step.

He hadn’t told them enough to find him.

Step.

None of them would even know where to start.

Step………ep.

George paused. He pulled the half empty bottle off of his bag and tapped it against the wall.

Tap………ap.

He hadn’t been hearing things. The echo had changed.

He had to stop himself from moving too quickly. He couldn’t see far enough ahead to watch his footing.

Step…….ep.

The darkness wasn’t fighting as hard anymore. He could see a few feet further than he could before.

Step….ep.

The echo was growing shorter. He was almost there.

He could see the cave’s walls now, but they still lacked the entrancing glow they had held the first time.

Step..ep.

The cave opened up before him. The darkness vanished almost completely and the light from his flame leapt dozens of feet further than it had ever reached before.

And there it was.

The bones were just as massive as he remembered. But even here, something was wrong.

The scales that had once covered its eyes were faded. They had lost the otherworldly glow that had fooled him into believing the beast was still alive. Even from here, he could see the scales peelig away from their sockets.

The teeth that had seemed brighter and more precious than any jewel were yellowed and cracking. Even in this light, they no longer gleamed.

The bones that had held their shape for who knows how long were falling apart. The tail was now in pieces, and the wings were unrecognizable.

George felt his eyes begin to water. “What…what happened to you?”

“You did.” A familiar voice came from behind him.

 

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