Her mom had to be here. Somewhere.
Sera ran between the empty rows at the stadium, tripping as she tried to jump over an upturned pair of seats. Misjudged. The tip of her shoe snagged on the metal legs and she went sprawling forward; skin scrapping open. Caught on an obstacle ripped straight out of the concrete by winds and red lightning that no longer filled the sky.
But they were imprinted on the backs of her eyes.
Red sparks of magic that had sought to consume.
Small said dunes softly shifting over the concrete ground keeping her from believing it was only her imagination.
That would have been easier. Wishes made on shooting stars.
But the air smelled like fire.
And tricks wouldn’t help her here.
Sera nearly prayed. Nearly. Prayed that it was only her ten year old imagination that left her with lightning in her eyes and an empty stadium and blood trickling down her leg to mix with the sand in a goopy mess. Dripping just past the worn marker star on her shoes.
Her mom had always said that she was good at imaging. They would make up stories to keep away the monsters. The best game was when they would sit late into the night, cuddled up on the old couch, and Sera would tell her mom about all the things she was going to do when she got bigger.
The best demi-god that ever existed.
Better than Imhotep. Better than Hercules. Even better than the Pandava brothers.
Sera was going to beat them all and Ambriel was going to come with her and they were going to be best friends forever and their moms were going to have ice cream sundaes waiting when they got home. The best kind.
The kind with extra whipped cream on top.
But Sera didn’t pray. Instead she got to her feet, not bothering to wipe aside the blood, and started running again. Sprinting up and down aisles even though she could already see were empty but hoping anyway that someone would be there.
That her mom would be there.
The stadium had been full a moment ago as it teemed with the noise and colour of demi-gods from all over the world. From every pantheon. Shooting sparks of magic into the sky until the sun vanished long before the storm clouds formed. Years of planning. The whole reason her half-siblings existed. Like her, they were the only crossovers. The blood of multiple pantheons burning under their skin.
There was a plan to deal with the emergence of an angry god.
They had promised.
Her mom had promised.
So Sera knew not to pray in the place where only moments before an angry god had stood. Even from here she could see the ground now charred black where his feet had touched the world with no body to contain them.
Her mom had promised.
She promised they would stay together and Sera was still here so her mom had to still be here too. And then they could go find Ambriel and everything would be good again.
She kept moving, dodging overturned piles of crumpled metal and plastic as the sun shone overhead. Storm clouds gone in an instant. Magic with it. No stars in the sky but the one they did not call a star. But Sera didn’t look up. Instead, her head swiveled back and forth to cover every angle. Sweep every empty space.
Mouth forming the word because she knew better than to call out.
Mom. Mom. Mom.
The panic bubbled in her stomach as she made a full round of the stadium and found nothing. Her eyes went down. Down to trace the stars Ambriel had drawn on the toe of her shoe. Swishing back and forth as she ran.
Like a shooting star.
Make a wish.
So she looked up. Her wish the unspoken word on her lips as her eyes darted to the place where she’d started. Where her mom had been. Holding her hand. Warm and big and there.
And then gone.
Mom. Mom. Mom.
Maybe in the time it had taken Sera to run around the stadium she’d have come back. Because that was the rule. If you get lost, stay where you are and Mom will come find you.
But when she looked up the spot was still empty.
Sera put on the brakes, trying to skid to a stop but overshooting slightly until she landed just past the spot where her mom had been. Tears prickling at the corners of her eyes. They made it hard to judge the distance. And she was so fast. Like all the demi-gods. So fast.
But they hadn’t let her train until the magic came.
Because they said she was empty.
So she made her own magic. And they let her train.
But she was still so far behind.
Because she had lied. Because she had tricked them. Because they were right.
Because she was empty.
Still Sera looked inward. The action so instinctive for a demi-god that she dove inward to search the corners of her soul for something that had never been there. But today was different. Today they were gone. Today. Maybe, something would be there to help her.
She turned her mind’s eye inward and the same cavern shone back at her.
The gift of the gods strangely absent. Her body was as expected, the advanced speed and strength all in their place, but the magic at the core of every demi-god had never emerged. The sparks that dance over fingers and heal sickness or hold weapons or move water or cast fire or did whatever the patron god’s magic did.
She didn’t have them.
Her mom didn’t have them either. That’s what she’d said and her mom wouldn’t lie. Never lie. Not her mom.
But Sera had lied.
Lied everyday since she turned eight and realized the magic was never going to come like it was supposed to. Her and Ambriel had made a plan. It had been a good one and no-one had ever known because Ambriel had magic. Lots of magic. Sparking silver over her fingertips as she made rooms dark and gold pop out of the ground when they wanted to buy ice cream after their moms said no and when she talked to dead people.
Ambriel was happy to share. Sera had sewn extra pockets in her clothes, pricking her fingers bloody with late night needles. Sneaking away to corner stores and coming home with a very different kind of magic tucked against her skin.
Lying had been easy.
But her mom wouldn’t have lied.
Sera squeezed her eyes tighter and clenched her fists together, using her hands to keep all the water in her eyes instead of running down her face. Her mom didn’t have magic. Her mom promised. Her mom wouldn’t have lied.
But her mom was gone.
She took a deep shuddering breath and dropped her hands. Brown eyes jumping to the charred circle at the center of the stadium, like a bullseye around the black footprints of the god. Magic had taken them away. All of their magic. All together plus the angry god.
She could see remnants of red sparks drifting lazily over the black.
The back-up plan.
She needed magic.
So Sera’s hands jumped to her chest, pulling the silver locket out from underneath her shirt and clutching at it so tightly the design engraved itself across her palm.
Best Friends Forever.
Ambriel had one too and they swore to never take them off. Never ever ever take them off.
Because they were for emergencies only. Like the money that her mom kept in her sock drawer or the knives she kept behind the cereal. It could only be used on the worst days. Their moms thought that they were just necklaces but they weren’t.
It had taken a lot of work and Sera still wasn’t sure that they’d done it quite right but what Sera knew for sure was that the locket was full of magic. Silver magic. Ambriel’s magic. Just in case she ever needed it and Ambriel wasn’t there to cover for her or her tricks didn’t work.
This was definitely an emergency.
So Sera plunged her hands into her pockets, trying to remember which pocket had the key. She shuffled through them. Pants to coat to sleeves to shirt. Pulling out flash paper and magnets and exploding powder and thin wire. Dropping the contents on the ground as though she didn’t have half a magic store’s worth of secrets just above her skin.
Forgotten because there is no-one left to fool.
She found the key under the extra smoke cannister tucked along the ridge of her spine just below the single dagger crossing her back. Key so delicate that she almost wondered how she hadn’t managed to snap it over the years.
Despite her best efforts, her hands shook as she pushed the key into the tiny slot on the locket. Bottom lip tucked between her teeth to help her focus.
The tiny click seemed to echo in the silence but Sera didn’t pause, pulling the locket open.
The silver sparks danced.
They wound between her fingers just as her own magic should have and gleefully skipped across her skin to loop up her arm and tuck under her chin like an affectionate cat. She had touched this power so many times. It was easy to use Ambriel’s magic.
Easy to use anyone’s magic really.
Raziel had gotten so mad when Sera had walked over and plucked one of her green sparks away. Probably because she couldn’t figure out how to take anybody’s magic.
Mike had just laughed and held out one of his gold sparks for Sera until she had silver, green, and gold all chasing each other across her fingertips. Easily responding to her and drawing words across the closest wall.
But Ambriel’s magic was easiest.
She giggled as the magic hopped away again to run up and down her torso, loving the way it tickled the tips of her fingers. Then she froze, eyes wide. This was not the time for giggles.
Calling it back to her hand, Sera looked down at the sparks. Not entirely sure what to do with them.
They’d never let her learn.
She spun slowly, eyes narrowed as she took in the stadium, and tugged on the tip of a pigtail.
She had to find her mom.
Her mom had to be here because her mom wouldn’t lie so she just had to send out enough magic to figure out exactly where her mom was.
Just she wasn’t sure how. Raz and Mike would know but her siblings were gone with everyone else. Plus, they’d tell her to ask her patron god and she didn’t even know if she had one. Probably not because she didn’t have magic.
Ambriel had one and she had Ambriel’s magic.
But she didn’t know who it was.
And underworld gods were scary.
Slowly she turned back towards the charred ground at the center of the stadium. The black ground that wasn’t just black ground as tiny red sparks flickered between the ash. Remnants of the biggest spell she’d ever seen. So much bigger than the bit of silver curled in her tiny palm.
Sera sucked her lip back between her teeth. She wasn’t allowed to train but Ambriel still told her whatever she could.
Like how with the proper training and gods and spells you could do big things with only a little magic but if you didn’t know the right way to do something you could compensate with just using a really big amount of magic.
And it was easy to use anyone’s magic.
She needed to find her mom.
So she took off again, running down the concrete steps this time to get to the flat bottom of the stadium. Trying not to trip as her speed got away from her. The sand was deeper at the bottom but Sera waded through it, eyes on her target. Surprisingly clear of any kind of debris. Just a charred circle of burnt magic with two black footprints at the center.
A few red sparks left behind.
Sera stopped in exactly the same place her half-siblings had been, wondering how everything had looked up close. Mike had been so excited when he’d hugged her and Ambriel but Raz had been really quiet. She even ruffled Sera’s hair like she was bigger than just three years older.
They’d gotten to stand with Dad right at the edge, helping him lay down the first layers of magic with their mom and all of the other important people.
Her Dad’s magic was red. She hadn’t seen it up close before so she didn’t know exactly what shade but she saw a picture once where he was using magic and it was red. Her mom said that he didn’t like using magic.
Which was dumb because magic was awesome.
But it was probably his magic left behind because he put it down first.
And then she could find her mom.
Sera took a step forward, shuffling forward as her foot stepped right on the charred circle of grass. She moved the shooting stars on her shoe just past the invisible barrier. Slowly. Star by star.
When her entire foot was on the black ash, a tiny smile poked at her lips and to reveal the missing tooth. Nothing bad had happened.
She could do this.
She scanned the stadium one last time for any sort of movement that her mom was out there, mouth still moving in the silent call.
Mom. Mom. Mom.
Her mom was probably knocked unconscious or had been thrown back by the magical blast or maybe she was looking for Sera. But her mom said she didn’t have magic so that meant that her mom was definitely not with all the other demi-gods in the nethersphere.
Because you needed magic to get caught up in the confinement spell.
And her mom wouldn’t lie like she had.
Her mom was like her.
Her mom didn’t have magic.
With no movement in sight, Sera took another step forward and carefully approached the lingering red magic. Eyes careful. Watching. There was definitely more than she’d thought. The sparks kept moving, untraceable as though they were expanding. Or flowing. Which was silly. Because even she knew that this was just peripheral left behind magic and not magic still attached to someone.
Sera clutched tighter to the silver magic in her palm, pressing it between her hands. There was a lot of magic here. Worse, her Dad’s magic was new power. All the other magic had come from Raz and Mike and Ambriel and was as familiar to her as breathing.
This was still new. So she took a deep breath, trying to focus. Blocking out the lightning behind her eyes and the bubbling in her stomach. She squashed the trembling in her fingers by pressing tighter against Ambriel’s magic.
Sera paused just steps from the black footprints in the center and looked down at the silver thread sparking in her palm.
“I’m going to need you to go back now,” she whispered, nudging it towards the locket, “You’re gonna be too much if you stay and I gotta focus.”
It protested, she could practically feel it curl and spark. It had spent a long time inside that locket and wasn’t particularly eager to go back. Part of it pushed at her, trying to get inside of her instead and hide inside her empty cavern. Sera shook her head and focused. Prodding it back. Gently. It didn’t belong there.
It would die if it stayed there. Demi-gods couldn’t hold other people’s magic on the inside. Just on their skin. Old old old old demi-gods had made sure of that a long time ago.
Ambriel’s magic objected to her logic but eventually it went, curling back into a silver spool of sparking threads as she closed the locket. Sera tucked it back inside her shirt.
She just needed more power and then it could come back out and she’d have all the power she needed to get what she wanted.
To find her mom.
Before the metal of the locket had warmed against her skin, Sera reached out. Jamming her hand in the red sparks.
The world blew up and shrank all at the same time until both everything and nothing were pouring through her bones and the only thing that remained was the lightning still flashing behind her eyes. Pain that was not her snaking over her skin. Looking to jump. Run. Escape. Streaks jarring through her consciousness with a vibrant red that was anything but natural. Called forth like everything that she was trying to avoid.
The magic rose to fill her and left Sera struggling, fighting to keep it back but nearly drowning under the deluge of power that washed over her. Poking and prodding and prickling it’s way over her skin to bite through that which held her distinct and sneak it’s way into her veins.
She twisted inside her own head. Writhing under the push of a few sparks. That were more than just a few. That were more foreign than she’d anticipated. Older and deeper and holding more in a single spark than most demi-gods would ever achieve.
That bled red into her veins that were supposed to only be hers.
She tried to thrust it out, thrust it away. Empty it into the locket or the air or back into the footprints but it wouldn’t go. She could taste it. Metal. Fire. Dust. Magic well adapted to fighting for what it wanted.
Her tongue went dry.
She tried reaching for the silver magic but the locket slipped through her fingertips and only the finest silver spark snuck through the crack she was able to open. Quickly overcome by the tide of magic around it.
So she screamed. Screamed as she’d been taught not to. As she promised she wouldn’t.
“MOM. MOM. MOM”
But no-one came. No reassuring hand in hers or cool lips on her forehead or scent of detergent.
Just lightning behind her eyes and red in her veins and magic that was wire instead of thread.
She could feel it. Fighting. Pulling. Attached to something infinitely larger on the other end. Something old and timeless and full of a magic that smelled like fire. She could see the faintest wire, faintest trail of sparks disappearing into nothingness.
It was pulling and tugging and clawing it’s way back.
She needed to find her mom. Her mom was here. Her mom hadn’t lied. She could still do this, she could wrestle the magic under control and send it away to find her mom. That’s what the magic wanted. She could feel it talking inside her head and she didn’t know what it was saying but she could still feel it. The magic wanted it out. If she let it go, it would check for her mom as it went. The magic rolled over her looking for any escape or a way to jump into the air be free. A deal with a god. Freedom for mother.
But she was a demi-god.
Even if they said she wasn’t.
Sera had wished on shooting star shoes and told hundreds of stories where she was a demi-god in the hopes that she could make it come true by force of her will alone.
She could keep the god from coming back.
She could trap it and stop it and and kill the magic. But then she wouldn’t be able to use it.
MOM. MOM. MOM.
She waited just a moment.
For ice cream sundaes and late night stories and worn-out teddy bears.
Her mom wouldn’t have lied.
But you can’t wish on shooting star shoes.
And she was a demi-god.
So Sera stopped pushing. With a dry tongue and tears in her eyes, she reached out to grab the magic by it’s tail and yank it back. Invisible welts from hot wire instantly searing across her palms. She let it in. On her terms. Drew it into herself and corralled it in the empty space in her head where her magic should have been.
Where foreign magic wasn’t allowed because it would die.
And this was foreign. So foreign and old and strange. She pushed it into the corner and the magic rushed along happily. Until it stopped, curling back on itself as she slammed the door of her mind closed.
And the pulling stopped. The disappearing wire stretched tight but stilling.
And then it, the magic, the remnants of the god, whatever it was, screamed.
And Sera dropped.
Dropped flat on the ground with her face in the charred ash until it coated her tongue as she screamed for her mom and her best friend and her siblings and her dad and prayed to any god who just might listen to the left behind demi-god who had no magic lost in a country that was not full of her gods with a piece of something that was not her trapped in her head that they all knew she could not let escape again because the world had fallen to chaos last time and all the real demi-gods were gone.
And now her head burned with red lightning.
First it slammed into the walls of her head, bouncing back and forth and up and down with a cascade of red sparks. And then it screamed. So that her head was filled with rushing images of red and sand and hundreds of faces and lightning in the sky and a giant snake overhead and there was a sword in her hand and a strange animal at her side and the world was so old.
There was black and nothing and just nothing nothing nothing dark nothing black nothing but feelings and thoughts and they screamed of betrayal and hurt and pride and a hundred other feelings that she didn’t even know how to label. Because they felt familiar and they shouldn’t have. But there was anger and fear and jealousy and betrayal and fear and fear and fear.
So she screamed back at the screaming. Screamed as loud as she could because if anyone was listening then maybe she would come.
MOM. MOM. MOM.
And someone came. But she had no idea who they were. Sera just knew that their hands were too big and they didn’t smell like detergent.
Familiar. But un-nameable with red lightning in her head.
Yet they held her still as she writhed along the ground, flipping her over so her face wasn’t in the ground and when their hands came up to wipe at her face she suddenly realized that her tears were mixed with sand.
Or made of sand.
Still she kept crying.
MOM. MOM. MOM.
The stranger was talking but she couldn’t make out a word. It was low and deep, something to focus on that wasn’t sand or lightning or red. Something that didn’t slam against the space inside her head.
Sera waited. Screaming and rolling and crying tears that were not water. Waiting and begging and hoping.
But her mom didn’t appear.
And there wasn’t lightning in the sky but in her head and it was behind her eyes but it wasn’t her imagination.
So she let the knocker in.
A cold wind rushed through her. Heavy and strong, it tore along only the paths she gave it until it reached the space in her head. When she opened the door it slammed past the bars that she’d hastily constructed, pushing against the red magic. Every time she hit the red wire the wind was behind her, bursting past her like the frigid chill of a blizzard.
Helping her push the wire into a tight messy coil in the corner.
Until all the red magic could give was the smallest tug.
Tug. Tug. Tug.
She punched it. Sera punched it with the tiny silver spark of magic she’d pulled from the locket. Looking behind her, she caught the faint outline of a bear in the wind behind her. Solemn and staring down.
Then the wind died. The pulling had stopped and Sera could slip back out of her own head, eyes opening to see the shooting star on her shoe. Sand coating her cheeks. Throat raw.
But it didn’t matter.
You can’t wish on shooting star shoes.
Her mom had lied too.
Her mom wasn’t here.
– – –
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