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.
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.
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”