Month: December 2014

Chapter 35: The Sleeping Dragon

Sigurd examined George’s prone form carefully. He had removed the fang six hours ago now, and the hole had healed into a rather nice scar. He checked his pulse again, feeling the skin of his neck rhythmically press against his fingers.

He was definitely alive.

Sigurd closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, they glowed a deep red. He looked over George again. From what he could tell, the soul rift had been healed, and his nerves flowed with magic.

The merging hadn’t failed.

He checked George’s eyes, they both reacted normally. So he wasn’t in a coma, at least, not a medical one. That left magic.

Sigurd huffed. Dragons practically breathed magic; it was hardwired into their brains. Unfortunately, that made it difficult for them to understand it the way a human could. As far as he could tell, the boy’s magic was flowing properly, which meant that this wasn’t something he could fix. Of course, it also meant he couldn’t afford to move the kid.

If he was being kept asleep by something in the area, leaving could let him wake up, or it could overload his brain and he’d never wake up. He would have to bring someone who could wake him up here. But medical magic wasn’t exactly a common art, and the few people he knew who he could trust with it were at least a day away if he took wing.

If this was magic, then leaving the kid alone that long could be worse than not getting him help at all. He huffed again and started pacing around the cave.

If he waited long enough, then someone might come looking for the kid. They were used to him disappearing, but one of the kid’s friends would notice soon enough.

But if they couldn’t find them, then he’d be stuck with the kid until he woke up. And that could take weeks, which would mean he’d have to be patient. Sigurd didn’t do patience. Not while he was awake at least.

Sigurd sat down and rested against the wall. He’d give it two days, then he’d try and get in touch with someone back in Macropolis. Someone there had to know a good healer.

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Will gritted his teeth when he walked past the stadium. He hated game days. Even outside the stadium there were so many people. So much noise bouncing around his skull.

Normally, he wouldn’t be anywhere near here. But Muse had told him that Thoth had told her that Aidos had told him to get a message to Will about one of his charges. They hadn’t given him any real details of course. Tels were, ironically, some of the more secretive heroes.

But it had been enough. If it was Aidos, then he needed to find Mach. And, as little as he knew about the mecher, he knew she lived on the far side of the stadium, and that she’d probably want to talk if she saw him. And that she was a she.

He finally broke free of the crowd and let out a relieved sigh. Now came the tricky part. If Mach flew straight, then there were two or three places she regularly stayed near. The first one should be decent clip north. The other was about half his far and a couple miles further west, but it would take him past the largest collection of bars in the city. Not a fun place on game days. Not for him at least.

He kept north. He’d probably have to walk past the crowds eventually, but he could put it off for an hour or so.

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The coffee escaped the vibrating mug and scalded her hand.

Tina gritted her teeth, but the mug still managed to slip from her hand. Applause followed the loud crack of the mug shattering at her feet, but it quickly died down when Janet’s glare swept across the room.

Tina groaned and made her way to the backroom. This was the fifth cup she had spilled today, and the second she had broken. She took her time grabbing the broom.

Before she walked back to the front she paused. She took a deep breath and forced a light smile. The perks of customer service…but she chose this job; bad days were not an excuse to do it wrong.

Janet was making a new cup of coffee with a smile on her face, but there was a slight nervous twitch in her eye that nearly had Tina scampering back through the door. There was no way she would get fired over this, Janet was not nearly that vindictive, but she would probably end up doing inventory for the next couple of weeks at least.

She avoided looking at Janet while she swept up the shards on the floor, but she could feel her eyes watching her, even when she was sure Janet could not be looking at her. Janet was good like that.

At least it was pretty empty today. It was too hot for coffee, and too muggy for most people to handle their colder, sweeter drinks. But there were always a few stragglers wandering in, and today was no exception. She had at least until the shop was empty, and probably until closing before Janet would do anything. That either gave her a couple of hours to cool down, or a couple of hours to boil over. Tina would have to keep her fingers crossed.

She dumped the shards into the trashcan and disappeared into the back again. The door to the shop opened and she heard someone talking to Janet. Tina hurried to the front and grabbed the order from Janet before she gave her another reason to shunt inventory her way.

‘Large double chocolate caramel frozen with whipped cream and extra sprinkles’

Tina nearly gagged at the thought of that much sugar but she grabbed what she needed and began to feed the blender.

Once the noise had stopped, she grabbed the largest cup they had and watched the half frozen goop slide into it like an especially thick milkshake. A glance at the ticket told her the name to call.

“Will! Order up!”

It took her a minute to recognize him, and she had to stop herself from jumping when she saw his face. She mostly succeeded. He didn’t look twice when she handed him the cup, so she guessed he did not recognize her. But why would he? She always wore here suit when she saw him, and her voice changer never failed, so there was no reason he should recognize her.

He walked out the door.

She looked over at the line. All she saw was Janet, arms crossed and foot tapping. Janet twitched her head towards the back and Tina slowly followed her.

When they reached the backroom, Janet turned and raised an eyebrow.

“Sorry. I do not know what has come over me today.”

Janet tilted her head.

“Okay, I do know, but I cannot really explain it. It is not my story to tell.”

Janet crossed her arms again.

“I mean it, Janet. I found out a friend’s secret by accident. If I follow up on it, I could end up really helping him out, but I am not sure what he will say when he finds out I know.”

Janet rubbed her forehead, sighing. She looked over at the clock. After a moment she waved Tina to the door.

“Really? I know we close soon, but are you sure you can do it alone?”

Janet nodded, smiling slightly. But she also gestured to the schedule stuck to the wall. Tina groaned.

“Right, right. Just…not tomorrow? Give me a chance to tell my mom what days I’ll be late.”

Janet nodded again and Tina rushed out the door.

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

Tina ran home. She knew better than track him down on her own, but if Will was still in the area, he could call everyone together. It would just be a little sooner than they agreed.

Her suit was hidden in the basement. Her parents had long since ceded the space to her, after the pile of her stuff had devoured both of their workspaces.

The suit was easy enough to get on. All the pieces split open and she could just slide into it. Getting out was a bit harder, she really needed an emergency switch to take care of that. Maybe she could add extra seams along the-

“Not now, Tina.”

She pushed the thought out of her head and jumped into her suit.

Getting out of the house had been difficult at first, but she’d managed to convert the old cellar entrance into something a bit more secure. From the outside, you couldn’t even tell it was there, and there were sensors to check if anyone was watching.

It gave her the green light, and Tina rocketed out of her basement and into the sky. She’d seen which way Will had gone after he left the shop, but that only gave her an idea of where to look. Hopefully, he would see her and find a way to call her down. Otherwise, she would have to make her landing obvious enough for him to see, and they would have to move somewhere else to talk.

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Will had been suppressing his power for the most part, but he had learned a long time ago to never stop checking up. The moment he realized someone was flying above him, he had reached out. Mach was easy enough to identify and he let himself relax a little.

Mach landed on a building further down the block, and he made a show of stopping to tie his shoe. Once the majority of the crowd had passed him by, he ducked down an alley, and slid his way down the back roads until Mach jumped down in front of him.

“There you are,” Will said. “I heard you might need to talk.”

Mach paused for a moment before responding. “Yes. I believe I know where Burnout has gone.”

Will hid his surprise. Aidos’s message seemed more worried than that. “Is that all?” he asked.

Mach stared at him.

“I meant that we were going to meet about that tomorrow anyway,” Will said quickly. “I thought it might be more pressing.”

“In a way, there is.” Mach took a deep breath. “In order to discover where he went, I had to look up some of what he mentioned during the meetings. And, as a result, I had to learn his name.”

She tensed.

“…Oh. That’s-“ Will shook the thought out of his head. “That’s something you two will need to talk about later. I’ll be there too, if you want, but right now we should focus on what you found out.”

Mach let herself relax a little. “There is a small town half a day out by train. That is likely where he received his power. I think he went there to figure out why.”

Will nodded. “Makes sense. I’ll get word to everyone tonight. Tomorrow’s Sunday so nobody should be working, but we’ll see who can make it out there.”

Mach nodded. She opened her mouth to say something.

“Don’t worry about it for now Mach. There isn’t anything we can do about it until we get him back. Just go home and get some rest, watch TV, read a book. Keep you mind off of it, okay?”

Mach nodded, more reluctantly this time.

“Good, we’ll meet at the train station around sunrise.”

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Chapter 34: Fire

A bead of sweat rolled down George’s forehead. It slid between his eye and his nose, and around his mouth. It slowly crawled to his chin and hung there, suspended by forces that Sigurd never really understood.

Despite the large amount of effort it took to keep the boy’s blood flowing, he couldn’t help the thought that popped up in the back of his head. It wasn’t a new thought, but it was a persistent thought. But perhaps for the first time, there was no one around to hear him if he voiced it. Maybe saying it out loud would finally get rid of the thought for real.

“Humans have no idea how lucky they are that they can sweat.”

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A bead of sweat rolled down George’s forehead. . It slid between his eye and his nose, and around his mouth. It slowly crawled to his chin and hung there, suspended by forces that Azor never really understood.

As he stared at the boy, carefully examining the intricate shapes he had instructed him to make out of fire. A thought popped into his head. But he couldn’t say it out loud, not unless he wanted to interrupt, and possibly negate, hours of work. So he would hold it in.

For now.

“Next,” Azor said. The shapes around George vanished.

George gritted his teeth. A long thin strand of fire slithered its way out of his arm. He could feel it fighting his control, reaching out from its shell to grasp at the oxygen it knew was just beyond its reach (George didn’t know how it knew there was oxygen, when he was quite sure that there couldn’t be, but Azor had encouraged him to ignore thoughts like these).

George felt through his arm, reaching for the point where the fire was connected to him. An imaginary hand grasped the flow and began to squeeze. Azor had been particularly specific on that word. If he thought of it as cutting it or shrinking it, the flow would be lessened or removed.

He felt the speed of the flow increase as he squeezed it tighter and tighter until it could be threaded through a needle.

The next part was harder.

The fiery snake started to stretch itself across the swirling void of colors. Its girth shrank as it reached for the ceiling that wasn’t there, growing longer and thinner and longer and thinner.

And when it couldn’t reach any further, when it had long past grown beyond what George had ever believed he could control, it doubled back, looping in and over itself.

It passed itself, going over and under and through its own trail again and again. When it touched itself, George had to fight to keep the strands separate, to keep the fire under his power.

When the two ends had almost met, he forced them to turn back, through the loops once again until they could go no farther.

“Now,” Azor said. “Hold it. Remember, the fire is yours; it comes from you, from your spirit. If you do not believe in yourself, then it will not believe in you. Doubt is your greatest enemy.

“If you doubt your strength, you will never be strong.

“If you doubt your intelligence, you will never be capable.

“If you doubt your power, you will never be powerful.

“If you doubt your friends, you will ever be alone.

“If you doubt your resolve, you will always fail.”

The dragon had repeated this mantra to him time and time again. The first time he’d heard it, George’s concentration had faltered. There was something inherently silly about the mantra. Looping in on its own self-evident truths.

But despite that, or maybe even because of it, it stayed in his head. Swirling around, spiraling inward and outward in its endless cycle.

Azor could see it. The veins of blue were moving, never merging with the other colors, but swirling with them all the same.

It was old logic, nowadays they would call it hypnosis. The single thought endlessly repeating in his mind, logical but constantly ignored by most people. The goal wasn’t to alter George’s thoughts, the compatibility didn’t require anything that severe, but the swirling motion would force his thoughts inward.

The fire shapes weren’t a part of it really, but they kept his mind distracted while the logical loop was ingrained in his consciousness, forcing his thoughts to turn inwards and examine his past, his reactions, his choices, forcing him to examine who he was.

And the pattern emerged. George was unconsciously forced to look at who he was before, before the earthquake, before his powers.

He felt nothing. The person he was before wasn’t evil, but there was nothing good about him either. He was just a presence, an anonymous blip on the fabric of reality.

It was almost a revelation that George didn’t hate who he was before. Even now, he realized that a large part of who he was existed even back then, but that he’d never acted on it, he never had the courage to break free.

His powers had given him something other than the flames. If had pushed him off the cliff when he’d been too scared to jump.

He hadn’t actually changed, he’d just stopped doubting himself.

He remembered the day he had first lost control, when he’d met his classmate. That night was the first time his fire had tried to fight him.

Doubt.

The word rang through the void long after Azor had stopped speaking, echoing off the walls that weren’t really there.

Then it began to fade, slowly easing its way out of existence, but not vanishing.  He could still feel it bouncing around, trying to force its way back into power.

The braided strand in front of him grew brighter and hotter, but even so, it wasn’t fighting him anymore. A wide smile formed on George’s face.

“Good,” Azor said. “Now…let it go.”

The strand faded, then vanished completely.

“Look around.”

Geroge opened his eyes. The colors were swirling around, all of them. He stared at the blue veins winding in and out with the others. After a moment he saw it, one of the other colors managed to mix with the blue. It was small, but once he saw it, it started happening all over.

“It’s working?”

Azor nodded. “It’s weak, but it’s working.”

George collapsed onto his back. He took a deep breath and began to laugh.

Azor waited for him to finish, a light smile on his face.

“So,” George said. “It’s fixed, we won’t die?”

Azor shook his head sadly. “Not quite, but for now we’re safe. Siggy will let you wake up in a few minutes. After that, it’ll be up to you if it sticks.”

George sat up slowly. “What do I have to do?”

“…It’s not simple enough that I can just tell you. Each of my species has a mark that dominates their will. That is what decides compatibility. Mine is Certainty.

“Right now, the doubts that made you lose control in the first place have been resolved, but doubt is an ugly enemy. If you lose yourself, even for a moment, then it will try to destroy you. But if you keep fighting, then we will merge more and more. You may not ever become a true dragon, but you will become something more than human.”

George opened his mouth to respond but no noise came out.

“Looks like your about to wake up. Don’t worry about this for now, just keep doing what you have been and you’ll be fine.”

George nodded.  He stared at his hand and watched it fade. He looked up and waved at Azor, it was all he could do.

“By the way,” Azor said. “Do you have any idea how lucky you humans are that you can sweat? I mean I have a fire literally burning in my lungs and I haven’t been able to sweat in centuries.”

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Chapter 33: The Name of the Dragon

Tina slowly trudged her way through the rain.

Honestly, she didn’t need to go anywhere to do this. She could probably get it done in five minutes with a computer and a cup of coffee, same as any other research project.

But it wasn’t that simple.

She wouldn’t be finding new tech, or tracking down a villain, she would be betraying one of the few friends she had. She might be saving him, but she might not. Either way, he could never trust her again.

And she wouldn’t want him to.

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George opened his eyes.

Or he thought he did.

He looked around, but there wasn’t anything to see, or rather, what he saw made no sense.

There was no floor, but he was standing on it.

He could see the edge of this world, but no matter how far he walked it never grew closer.

He was in a field of colors. Most of them were  swirling around each other, combining and separating in and unending dance. But among them were veins of bright blue; every time one of the other colors looked like it was about to merge into them, it would bounce back, like the blue veins were pushing them away.

A chill ran up George’s spine and he slowly turned.

“What?”

A darkness was seeping along the walls. Flowing along the blue, consuming everything it touched. A pain ripped through George’s chest and his legs gave out beneath him.

A light voice rang out through the room. “I wondered if we would ever meet.”

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Tina ducked under a bookstore’s awning. She sighed tiredly as she leaned up against the window. The wind and rain had grown steadily worse the closer she got to the library, until she had to struggle to take each step.

“You’re conflicted, young one.”

Tina stiffened at the voice.

A man stepped under the awning, but he was completely dry despite the storm.  He wasn’t very tall, a couple inches shorter than Tina at most, but his presence created a pressure in the air. He was a predator and nobody who saw him would ever think otherwise. He was perfectly groomed, his hair cut into the neatest business cut that she had ever seen. His suit was fitted to him precisely and even his fingernails looked perfectly trimmed.

“Who are you?” Tina asked. She knew exactly who he was of course. Aidos was not the most powerful tel in existence, but passive empathy was more dangerous than most people believed. He was also her contact for the meetings, but he shouldn’t know her real face.

“Don’t try to be coy, young one. I might not know you’re real name, but a mind as unique as yours stands out, especially with no one around to interfere.”

“So you know who I am?” Tina took a step back.

“I know your face. No more. I told you that I wouldn’t seek out your name, this doesn’t change that.”

Tina relaxed a little.

“That’s better. Now, has Will been bugging you kids? He’s not exactly the most subtle person, but he does mean well.”

“No. He has been…supportive. But one of our group has vanished. I believe I know how to find him.”

“And this upsets you? That sounds like good news.”

“Except in order to find him-”

“You’d have to find out his identity.”

Tina’s eyes widened. “How-?”

Aidos chuckled. “You’re far from the first, child. Every walker I know knows at least one other’s identity. A lot end up learning them your way.”

“So,” Tina hesitated. “You do not think I should be worried?”

“You should definitely be worried.” Aidos answered quickly. “No matter how this turns out, you’ll end up regretting it, and it could take years before he trusts you again. Of course, you might end up saving his life. If he doesn’t need your help, then you’d hate yourself for this. If he does, you’d hate yourself for not doing it. It’s a tossup really.”

“Then what should I do?”

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George turned around, but there was no one to be seen.

“Right, sorry about that.”

A man appeared and George jumped back.  “Where-?”

The man stood at six feet, then seven, then five, then ten. His hair was blonde and blue and green and red and everything in between. Even his clothes were constantly changing.

The only constant was the light smile resting on his face.

“This is your soul, did you think I’d have to walk?”

George looked round again.  “My soul?”

“Well, our souls. The melding hasn’t exactly worked like it should. I guess that’s why you’re here.”

“Yeah, uh…Sigurd stabbed me with one those fangs.”

The man whistled. “That serious huh? Well ole Siggy might not be the nicest guy, but he knows what he’s doing well enough.”

“Okay, so what is he doing?”

“Right now, he’s using my fang to force you down here. He’s going to be keeping you alive for as long as he can while we sort things out down here.” He gestured to the darkness. “You’re lucky you came when you did, we only had a few more months before that killed us. Of course, now we only have a day or so to fix it.”

“A day?!” The darkness swelled up behind George.

The man’s eyes widened. “Whoa, calm down, buddy. You’ll burn us out way too fast like that.”

The darkness flared up again, but George forced himself to close his eyes. He took a deep breath. “Come on, just like the flames.” The darkness behind him slowly receded back to where it had been.

“Not bad, not bad.” The man nodded. “Good to see you haven’t been wasting these months away. Should make this easier.”

“Make what easier?”

“How much did Siggy tell you about the soul meld?”

“Not much.” George shook his head. “But he said both our souls would be lost if we didn’t get it to work.”

The man nodded. “Then let’s get started. Lesson one, if the souls are too different they can’t meld. Honestly, ours are about as incompatible as they come.”

“Please tell me there’s a but.”

The man nodded. “But, you’ve spent the last few months as a hero. And you’re not half bad at controlling my fire. You might not realize it, but you’ve changed over these months. Part of that might be me, but not all of it. Look over there.”

He gestured to a small section of the wall. George looked closely.

At first he couldn’t see anything different, but as he looked closer, he saw it. There was a small crack in one of the blue veins. It was barely there, but the swirling colors were beginning to merge into it.

“That’s a good sign. It means that at least a small part of you is beginning to recognize my soul as a part of yours. If we can stress that point enough, then the crack will spread and we’ll be able to fight off the rejection.”

George nodded. “So how do we do that?”

“Keep it simple for now.” He held out his hand. “I’m Azor. It’s nice to finally meet you.”

George hesitated before grasping his hand. “George Sadler. Good to meet you too.”

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Tina hesitated before clicking the link. This was the last chance she had to turn back.

She took a deep breath and opened the article.

“George. His name is George.”

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