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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.”