Many little girls want to grow up and be like their mommies. They spend their formative years dressing, speaking, and behaving like a miniature clone of their mothers and mother figures. I, too, am guilty of it. However, there is always a time when you realize that perhaps your idol, your goddess, is merely just another person, with varying emotions and ideas, like you; she has feet made of clay, the soul of a snake, and the personality of a murderous, home-wrecking dictator. No offense to snakes.
I stared, helplessly, as destructive power I’d called into being raced toward my brother, and willed him to hear my voice.
“SHIELD!” I screamed telepathically. I aimed my instruction at his mind like an arrow, hoping that he had some degree of magic in his blood, or at least the latest technological equipment on his side. I glared at my mother, my queen, and cursed her bull-headed determination to rid the world of Hunters, using me as her weapon.
I’d wasted years of my life trying to win her approval, and all along, she’d been planning something like this for me. Some mother she was. It made me wonder what kind of person Blue was, and why in the ever-expanding hell were we trying to bring her back to walk this realm again.
A booming crash so heavy and close that it shook the light fixtures and scooted the table several inches to the left had me clutching my chest, clawing at the sudden pain that bloomed there. Did I kill my brother? Was Atlantia winning? Sami’s phone buzzed; she wordlessly stared at me until I fished it from my pocket.
I tapped the power button to wake it up, then slid my thumb across the screen, unlocking it. There was text message from an unsaved number on the screen. It read: “Try again. Next time, stay out of my head.” I nearly dropped the phone as my arms drooped and shoulders sagged in relief.
Atlantia’s eyes flashed dangerously. “You warned the welp.”
“I couldn’t just kill him,” I defended my action with a whimper. I ordered myself not to look into her eyes, lest she take that as a sign of aggression. Where the average person runs to their mother for shelter and comfort, I run away from mine. Whoever said you can’t go home again was absolutely, 100% correct in my case. I’m not sure if I had a “home” to begin with. “Home is where the heart is,” but what if the person in charge of that home had no heart to speak of?
“He means to kill you, and me as well. Does that mean nothing to you?”
I hesitated at the alien emotions─doubt and fear─that leaked into her voice as she questioned me. Losing my own life, again, was one thing, and not entirely welcome. Having my mother die was something else. Was I willing to risk it? Was I willing to risk her, the person who gave my life and Power? All of her lies, and misdirection, and neglect…what did they really mean in light of her giving birth to me and giving me the tools that helped me survive in this world? In the end, I did what I did best: avoided the question and the changed the subject.
“Alright, how are we going to get out of here?” I threw out, hoping for suggestions. “If they’ve got the building surrounded like they claim, there’s no way to get past them, especially if they have spell readers and dampers with them.”
“Which is why,” Atlantia snapped, “we should just kill them.”
“What is it with you and killing people?” I turned to peer at my mother from underneath my eyelashes, adamant in my refusal to meet her gaze. The fact that she could control me with a word was disturbing and challenging, but I expected it. Giving her my full gaze would be offering myself to her on a platter, and dammit, I wasn’t going out without some kind of a fight. I shook my head to clear it. “Look. In this room, we have among us two Master Spellcrafters and a bound spirit. We can come up with something. You wanted to get over to Blue, right? Here’s your chance. Call and get some transport ready and then we’ll blast our way out of here. Somehow.” I raised my hand to my face, pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and index finger, and massaged it gently.
I’d only been in this new body of mine for a number of hours and, already, I was beginning to regret it. I was hungry, there was a ring of sweat encircling my neck, and I was fast rediscovering the inevitable reality that real bodies needed to pee every couple of hours or so. Low-grade pain jabbed me behind the eyes, and there was a soreness in my shoulder that hadn’t been there that morning. Weariness jumped on my back like a rabid monkey and sank its teeth into my spine.
“Um,” Kenzie spoke up. “If you need a distraction or som’thin, I can do it.”
“Now, why wouldja go and volunteer to do a fool thing like dat?” Jelly asked her grandchild around a mouthful of liquid.
“I’m a minor, right? So, even if they lock me up, I’ll be out in a coupla years. Plus, far as they know, I’m like a hostage or som’thin’, cuz they don’t know I moved in with Boss Lady, and am ‘prenticin’ with her, right?”
“I ain’t gon’ let you─”
“Oh, come one! Ain’t like you can stop─”
“─not gonna lose you like I did yo’ daddy─”
“─dead anyways, so it don’t matter what you─”
I squeezed the bridge of my nose harder, trying to tune out the family squabble happening in front of me. Atlantia stared at them, openly and with mild interest.
“Is this what ‘family’ is supposed to mean?” She said it softly, the end of her sentence rising only slightly, but enough for me to know that it was indeed a question, and directed to me.
“Not a clue,” I admitted. “We never did the family thing, remember? You never loved me, only raised me.”
“Of course I love you, you ungrateful brat! I would never have raised you or given you protection if I did not harbor some feeling of…of…tenderness,” she spat, “toward you.” Her eyes narrowed, and her hands flew to her ample hips. “You honestly think that I do not care for you? The child that caused these hips and these unsightly stretch marks across my belly?”
I groaned and tossed my free hand into the air. “See? See?! This is why I never say anything to you!” You manage to blame even the smallest things on me!”
“Guys?” Sami inched closer to me and tapped my shoulder. “Uh, guys?”
A deadly glow formed around my mother’s body. “You would DARE to accuse me of such neglect and disregard?”
A matching glow sprang into existence around my flesh form. “You would deny my claim?”
“GUYS!” Sami shouted, shoving me from behind. “Stop fighting! All of you! The Hunters are manipulating you and they’re using my chaos marks to do it and it’s draining me and oh my goddess I’m gonna be sick.” Arguments and conversation ceased abruptly as Sami clutched her abdomen, a fine sheen of sweat covering her face and neck.
“Samilla?” Atlantia swiftly closed the distance between them and went to her side. “Samilla! I command you: fight it off!”
She whimpered. “It hurts. It hurts. It HURTS!” She wailed her distress, but the sound was cut short by sinking to the floor and vomiting an oily white substance between her knees.
“That’s gon’ leave a stain,” Jelly Bean so graciously informed us.