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Brace Your Emotions! Read the First 4 Chapters of ‘Infinity Son’ Now

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Brace Your Emotions! Read the First 4 Chapters of ‘Infinity Son’ Now

Brace Your Emotions! Read the First 4 Chapters of 'Infinity Son' Now

Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt emotionally attacked by an Adam Silvera book. We can’t see you, of course but we imagine there are a lot of raised hands. Until now, Adam has written contemporary novels that are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Today, we’re excited to show you something entirely new from the author.

Infinity Son is a story of two brothers, except one is the Chosen One, and the other is not. It has a wonderfully diverse cast of characters, except they have magical powers. It’s very much an Adam Silvera novel, except there are phoenixes. Infinity Son, you see, is the first book in Adam’s epic new fantasy series, a book that he’s been working for years.

And today, you can start reading it! Meet Emil and Brighton, brothers fiercely devoted to each other but couldn’t be more different. And they have no idea how their lives are about to change…

 

Infinity Son

 

Chapter 1: Brothers

EMIL

I’m dead set on living my one life right, but I can’t say the same for my brother.

No one’s expecting Brighton to be full-grown when we turn eighteen at midnight, but he needs to step it up. Long gone are those days where we were kids acting like we have powers like all these celestials roaming the streets tonight. Their lives aren’t all fun and games, but he stays ignoring the dark headlines we see every day. I can’t get him to see the truth, but I can check myself. I’m done dressing up as the heroic Spell Walkers for Halloween, and I’m done watching celestials and creatures wrestle in steel cages with their natural-born powers. I’m done, I’m done, I’m done.

I got to chill because we’re close as hell, don’t get me wrong. You step in his face and you’ll find me in yours, even though I can’t swing bones for the life of me. But man, there’s been a few times I wondered if we’re actually twins, like maybe Brighton got switched at birth or is secretly adopted. That nonsense no doubt comes from all the comics about chosen ones I’ve read over the years.

He’s running wild at this all-night block party, trying to score interviews left and right for his online series, Celestials of New York, but no one’s about it. Everyone’s busy celebrating the arrival of the Crowned Dreamer, a faint constellation against the dark sky, which is hanging around for most of this month and then goes back to sleep for another sixty-seven years. No one really knows how far back celestials have existed or how they first received their powers, but all signs throughout history point to their connection with the stars. Like maybe their eldest ancestors fell out of the sky. Whatever the truth is, constellations are always a major event for them.

It’s good to see celestials partying for a change. The only time I see gatherings like this lately is to protest the acts of violence and injustice against them, which have doubled in the last nine months. Being gay isn’t rainbows and sunshine all the time, but ever since the Blackout—the worst attack New York has seen in my lifetime—people have been treating celestials like terrorists.

Tonight reminds me of when I attended my first Pride parade. I was out to my family and friends, and all was good there, but I couldn’t pretend there wasn’t still a knot in my stomach from wondering if strangers would be cool with my heart; reading minds would’ve come in handy. During the parade, I felt relief and security and happiness and hope, all tied up like an indestructible rope that bound us together. I breathed easy around strangers for the first time.

I wonder how many celestials are taking that breath tonight.

Brighton is standing behind his tripod, capturing footage as people course through the tents before angling his camera toward the massive and flickering crowned figure in the sky. “Everything is changing tomorrow, I can feel it,” Brighton says. “People are going to want to film us too.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

Brighton is quiet long enough for it to be awkward. “You never believe me. Just watch.”

“Maybe this is the year we let it go,” I say. “You got a lot to be excited about already with college in a new city next week and your series and—”

“People can gain powers on their eighteenth birthdays,” Brighton interrupts.

“In books and movies.”

“Which are all based on celestials, who’ve historically come into their powers when they turned eighteen.”

“But how rare is that?”

“Rare makes it unlikely, not impossible.” Brighton’s always got to win an argument, so I shut up. I’m not trying to fight while we ring in our birthday. Problem is, he doesn’t recognize silence as a white flag. “The timing is perfect, Emil. The Crowned Dreamer is elevating every celestial’s power, and if we have even a flicker of gleamcraft in us from Abuelita, it might ignite into something greater. I just . . . I sense it already.”

“You sense it? This another psychic prank?”

Brighton shakes his head and laughs. “Good times, but nah. I’m serious. I can’t explain it, but it’s this tightening feeling in my blood and bones.”

“Let’s bet twenty dollars on this blood-and-bones feeling.” Easy cash to buy another graphic novel.

“Bet.”

We fist-bump and whistle, our signature move.

Brighton’s had his eye on this rooftop rave, and we get in line as more people are being let into the brownstone. We’re behind two women who are wearing the half capes that are customary to celestials. I fight back an epic cringe as I remember how up until two years ago we owned some for fun, completely clueless as to how sacred the capes are until our best friend, Prudencia, explained the traditions. I quickly donated ours to a local shelter. Once the women are let in, we go up the stoop, but this low-key bouncer blocks the door.

“Celestials only,” he says.

“That’s us,” Brighton says.

The brown of the man’s eyes is swallowed by glowing galaxies for a few moments, the telltale sign of every celestial. “Prove it.”

Brighton pointlessly stares back, as if his eyes will swirl with stars and comets if he tries hard enough.

“Sorry to bother you.” I drag Brighton down the steps, laughing. “You thought you could lie about having powers, like your eyes are some fake ID?”

Brighton ignores me and points to a fire escape. “Let’s sneak up, get some exclusive footage.”

“What? No. Dude, it’s a party. Who’s going to care about that?”

“Might be a ritual.”

“It’s not our business. I’m not going up there.”

He detaches the camera from the tripod. “Okay.”

I check the time on my phone. “It’s our birthday in fifteen minutes, let’s just hang.”

Brighton stares at the rooftop. “Give me five minutes. This could be good for CONY.”

I sit on the curb with his tripod. “I can’t control you.”

“Five minutes,” Brighton says again as he climbs the fire escape. “And stop slouching!”

Not everyone cares about stiff posture or toned muscles. Some of us camouflage our scrawny bodies in baggy shirts and slouch, just waiting for the day when we can fold into ourselves and vanish completely.

I can’t beat the Instagram impulse while I’m waiting for Brighton, so I hop online. My favorite wildlife videographer pops up first. She captures phoenixes—birds of fire that
resurrect—in all their glory. Her latest is a video of a blaze tempest phoenix flying into a storm in Brazil. I scroll to find the fitness dude whose abs I’ve become very familiar with the past couple months, and even though I’m playing around with his workout plan, I’m nowhere near looking like him or the dozen other gym bros I follow. His motivating caption isn’t doing it for me tonight, so I put my phone away and try to breathe in the real world.

This block party is everything.

There are children running on air and people grilling food with sunlight beaming out of their palms. I hope Nicholas Creekwell, the first dude I ever legit liked, is celebrating in his own little way tonight. He was my lab partner, and he loves chemistry so much he’s going to pursue alchemy lessons for potion brewing in college. He was good-looking and better company and surprised the hell out of me when he dematerialized the door of my busted locker so I could get my calculator for my algebra midterm. I kept Nicholas’s secret from everyone, especially Brighton, but even though he trusted me, he claimed he wasn’t ready for a relationship, so we stayed friends. Can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if I had a six-pack going for me.

Someone’s selling these beautiful silver binoculars. I’d love to drop bank on a nice pair, but Ma will be the first to remind me that college textbooks don’t pay for themselves. Especially since she’s still caught up paying Dad’s mountainous medical bills from an experimental trial with blood alchemy that made his bone cancer worse before he died in March. Dad was fascinated by the stars and looking forward to the Crowned Dreamer himself. Maybe I’ll get to see the full marvel of this constellation when I’m older and can afford binoculars, and Dad will see it in another life, if you believe in that kind of thing.

Heeled boots pounding the gravel catch my attention, and I turn away from the tent to find a twentysomething woman approaching. Sweat glistens like she’s been running for blocks. She’s wearing an ill-fitting blazer that’s missing a sleeve, and her arm looks sunburnt compared to her pale face; not exactly dressed for a late-night jog. Two figures are pursuing her from the air. One is a girl who’s about ten feet above the ground, and the other is a boy who’s being carried by winds that are sweeping up all sorts of trash as he passes.

I jump to my feet and backpedal from whatever is about to go down. I turn to the fire escape, where Brighton is four stories high. “Brighton, come back!”

The woman trips against the curb and slams into the concrete. I should stop being a punk and help her, but fear has a tighter grip and pins me to the wall. She stands and grabs the pole of the tent, and it glows orange. White fire runs up her arm as if she’s been doused in gasoline and set alight. The canopy stands no chance—a mountain of fire bounces to the other nearby tents. This pandemonium definitely isn’t going to help how people view celestials as dangerous.

Someone grips my shoulder, and I drop the tripod.

“You okay?” Brighton asks. He was quick getting down here.

I catch my breath. “Let’s go.”

“Wait a sec.” Brighton is spellbound by the mayhem and holds up his camera.

“You’re kidding.” I grab his arm, but Brighton breaks free.

“I got to document this.”

“The hell you do.”

For someone who was our school’s salutatorian, Brighton can be pretty damn stupid. If he were anyone else, I would straight ditch. This is why I don’t have it in me to be a hero like I used to pretend. I want to live too much to risk my own life. But Brighton dreams of getting this kind of action for his series. Most of the celestials in the area are smarter, not sticking around to see how this will play out. Some are teleporting so quickly I would’ve missed them if I’d blinked.

The figures in the air break out of shadow and into the moonlight, the Spell Walker emblem on their power-proof vests glistening like the constellation that inspired their name.

“Maribelle and Atlas!” Brighton shouts, pumping his free fist.

What has this woman done that she’s got the Spell Walkers chasing her? As her arm lights up again in white flames, I get a clear look at the woman’s eyes. There are no astral bodies swirling within like a celestial’s. They’re dark except for one burning ring of orange. An eclipse—the mark of a specter. Now I know why the Spell Walkers are after her. I don’t always agree with their violent, vigilante methods, but the Spell Walkers seem to be the only handful of heroes brave enough to admit that specters need to be stopped before they drive creatures to extinction and ruin the world. I hope every last specter gets locked up. Stealing blood from creatures to hook yourself up with powers, just because you weren’t born a celestial, is a heartbreaking crime. Regular fire-casting is scary enough, but we’re not about to hang around here if this specter is burning up with phoenix fire. I’m about to drag Brighton away, but I’m haunted by the glint in his eye. We know damn well how risky it is for someone to consume creature blood.

Specters trade their lives for power, and I pray my brother never mistakes this tragedy for a miracle.

 

Chapter 2: Heroes

EMIL

The specter hurls a stream of white fire through the air, its flames spreading like wings and screeching like a phoenix.

“Bro, she’s a specter,” Brighton says.

“Probably got her power from a halo phoenix or—”

I shut up as Maribelle Lucero gracefully spins away from the flames and torpedoes directly into the specter. Maribelle’s young—I’m going to guess our age, though Brighton can no doubt list off every Spell Walker’s age and favorite color—with light brown skin and dark braided hair that whips like a rope as she lays into the specter with right hooks. Atlas Haas’s blond hair is windblown as he hovers over the tents, doing his best to keep the fire at bay with gales shooting out of his palms. It’s a losing battle. The fire spreads toward apartment buildings on one side and a run-down bar on the other, residents and patrons vacating as quickly as possible.

My heart hammers—get out of here, get out of here, get out of here, get out of here.

“Bright, we got to bounce.”

“Then go.”

I’m a millisecond away from snatching the camera and hurling it like a football when the bar explodes with a deafening roar. The blast catches Atlas off guard, and he flips out of the air and crashes into a parked motorcycle. We take cover under a bodega awning as bricks rain from the sky. The waves of heat remind me of baking flan in our late abuelita’s tiny kitchen except magnified by a thousand.

Maribelle rushes to Atlas’s aid, and the specter casts white fire again.

“Maribelle, watch out!” Brighton shouts.

She spins, but the fire drives her into a car door with sickening force, as if she’s been shoved by someone with powerhouse strength.

“No,” Brighton breathes.

Most of the patrons and residents cleared out already, like geniuses with A-plus survival skills. A short woman with stars for eyes busts open a fire hydrant and guides the water into the roaming flames, but the job is too big for her. A crowd cheers on the fight. A few feet away, a pale guy with dark blond hair under his hoodie is recording the whole brawl on a phone that has a yellow wolf on the case. He doesn’t look freaked out. Probably not his first time witnessing a battle, but he’s also not staring in wide-eyed wonder like Brighton, who catches thrills from filming.

Atlas struggles to his feet. The specter is bent over, taking deep breaths as she charges up another blast of white fire, its screech weaker this time. She extends her arm to attack but stops short when a gem-grenade the size of my fist rolls toward her. The citrine blasts apart in thick shards, and currents of electricity strike the specter. She collapses, writhing in pain.

I might throw up, maybe even piss myself. Seeing people attacked online is one thing, but it’s different in person. Maribelle is sweating and limping toward Atlas. She has one hand pressed against the center of her vest, which seems to have absorbed most of the blow.

“That’s what I’m talking about!” Brighton shouts, like whenever he gets an aced exam back or wins a game. He rushes off toward Maribelle and Atlas.

I’m dizzy and frozen for seconds that run like minutes before I finally follow Brighton. I try to tune out the specter’s screams, but I can’t help but wonder about her life and everything that led up to this moment. I snap out of it. Sirens blare through the streets as ambulances, fire trucks, and metallic-gold enforcer tanks seal off the corner of one block. I run to Brighton, my back to the demolished bar still blazing with white and orange fire, casting stretched-out and terrifying shadows across the street.

Brighton is kneeling beside Maribelle and Atlas as they catch their breath. “You guys were amazing,” he says, still filming. “I’m a huge fan.”

Maribelle pays him no mind, only tensing up as enforcers exit the tanks. “We got to go,” she groans.

“Yeah, they’re not going to like that you used a grenade,” Atlas says.

“I could’ve thrown snowballs and those bastards would still accuse me of turning the streets into a war zone,” Maribelle says.

Brighton’s phone is at the ready. “Mind if I get a quick picture with you two?”

“Bright, dude, let them go,” I say.

“Right, right.”

Four enforcers shout for everyone to freeze as they approach with wands. I don’t move a single muscle. It’s not uncommon for celestials to sign up to become enforcers, but the majority of people on the force don’t have powers of their own, so they’re trained to cast attacks at the first sign of danger. Too many celestials have been stunned and met untimely deaths because of hotheaded enforcers.

“Don’t move,” I tell Brighton.

I watch all the enforcers, wishing I was also geared up in their bronze helmets and sea-green power-proof vests. My breathing speeds up, and my legs tremble, and I’m terrified the enforcers will mistake my shaking for an ability I don’t have.

In the middle of the street, an enforcer trains her wand at the specter as another secures her with gauntlets and shackles to render her temporarily powerless.

Atlas’s back is turned to the enforcers, and he has a wordless exchange with Maribelle that makes me nervous. She takes a deep breath and nods, and her eyes burn like sailing comets while Atlas’s swirl like billions of stars caught in a black hole. Atlas rolls to the side while Maribelle levitates. A gust of wind knocks me and Brighton into a car as spellwork explodes around us, loud like firecrackers. I make sure Brighton is all good before checking out the action from underneath the car. Enforcers are swept off their feet, wands rolling away from them. Strong winds lift Atlas, and he grabs Maribelle out of the air. They fly over an apartment building and out of reach of the spells being shot their way.

“Emil, let’s go. Get up. Come on.” Brighton crouches as he runs in the opposite direction of the enforcers. Now that the Spell Walkers are gone, he finally wants to leave. Of course.

I was never the sort of kid who ran in the halls, talked during class, or crossed the street when it wasn’t my light, because I hate getting in trouble, but right now it’s as if I’m possessed by the bravest of ghosts as I pound the pavement, zigzagging away from the enforcers in case they take another shot at me. If it weren’t for Brighton bouncing, I would’ve hung tight, my face kissing concrete and arms outstretched in the hopes that the enforcers would realize I’m not dangerous. Being associated with the Spell Walkers after the Blackout is a gamble we can’t afford to take.

Couple blocks later, we hop on a bus that’s headed home. We take advantage of how empty the back is, stretching out. We’re drenched in sweat, and I desperately want a gallon of water to drink and pour over myself.

“You okay?” I ask, while massaging the elbow I landed on and trying to breathe past the sharp pain from my rib cage.

Brighton’s arms are scraped up from the fall, but he doesn’t seem bothered. “That was a rush! We got to meet the ultimate power couple!” He sounds like he’s bottled all the joy in the world, and I really wish I had some to drown out my panic. “Atlas even used his winds on us. I hope the camera caught that.” He stares at me. “Where’s my tripod?”

“Oh, I don’t know, I left it behind somewhere between the specter burning the street down and enforcers shooting at us. I can run back and get it.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Brighton says.

“That wasn’t a real offer.”

Brighton rewinds the footage. “The ad money I should be able to make off this video will pay for another one.”

“How can you think about your video right now? Enforcers shot at us, and Maribelle almost killed someone.”

“No one would’ve blamed her if she had. That specter was raising hell.”

I don’t know the specter’s name or anything about her life to argue that there’s a good bone in her body, but I still didn’t like seeing her on the ground with a wand aimed at her. Who knows if the enforcers will lock her up in the Bounds with everyone else who has powers or make her disappear completely.

I’m not about where this conversation is headed. This isn’t over something stupid, like Brighton wearing my shirt because he needs to rock something new for a video or me borrowing his bike without checking in.

My phone buzzes. It’s Prudencia texting to wish us a happy birthday; for the first time ever, we’ve missed celebrating our midnight minute. Eighteen is off to a rough start. Dad would’ve been disappointed. I’m so tight that Brighton’s not going to catch me throwing out a fist bump and acting like everything’s good.

“Why are you mad?” Brighton asks, taking his eyes off his camera. “Because I would’ve been fine with that specter dying? The Spell Walkers save more lives than they take, but if they have to kill, I trust they’re taking the right lives.”

I don’t want to engage—I’m one of those angry criers, and Brighton is straight pissing me off—but I can’t shut up. “We don’t get to decide which are the right lives to take.”

“Ever since the Blackout, the game isn’t what it used to be,” Brighton says. “I’m not going to get mad at good people killing bad people.”

Truly tempted to get off the bus and walk home alone. “It’s not a game.”

“You know what I mean. People die in wars, that’s inevitable.” Brighton leans forward and nudges my knee. “If we had powers, we could’ve helped them. The Reys of Light, right?”

He’s been calling us that since we were ten, right after we found out our last name, Rey, means king. You couldn’t stop us from fantasizing about how our name was probably some prophetic code that we’re destined for greatness—the heroic twins who are doubly strong and can communicate across the city without phones. We’re not special at all, but the name stuck, even though our brotherhood seems to be getting dimmer and dimmer by the day.

“Yeah, well, I thank the stars we don’t have powers,” I say. “Not trying to find blood on my hands.”

“Killing to save the world is different, bro.”

“Heroes shouldn’t have body counts.”

For once, he’s quiet.

We stare each other down like a game of chess that’s hit stalemate. Both kings live but no one wins.

 

Chapter 3: Dreamer

BRIGHTON

The world’s about to find out I’m the real deal.

I struck gold with this video, not even playing. It’s not the first time I’ve seen celestials perform miracles with their powers. One of the craziest was when this Suit fell onto the subway tracks as the train was approaching; kind of cliché, but it happened. Before I could be his hero, this little kid grabbed the man’s wrist and lifted him onto the platform as if the Suit were as light as the doll clutched in the boy’s other hand. Problem is, moments like that are too quick to catch on camera. That’s why the power brawl I’ve just finished uploading is going to make waves.

I play the video over and over. Right as the enforcers cast their spellwork for the millionth time, Emil shoots up from bed and tells me to turn it off already, but I just throw on headphones and crank up the volume. I really should get some sleep so I have energy for all the fans I’m meeting tomorrow, but I can’t help staying up and refreshing the video every minute to track views and read comments. Half an hour in, the stats are good, but this late-night crowd isn’t coming through the way I hoped they would. Still, I know my thirty thousand Brightsiders will do their thing and get this circulating by the time I wake up—it’s too irresistible.

I close my laptop and leave it on my desk, which is cluttered with my Nikon camera, candy wrappers, comics, and an ongoing list of videos I’m hoping to film once I get to Los Angeles. In bed and under the covers, I relax on my back because my shoulder is sore. I can’t wait to show off the bruise to my fans. This is a war wound I’m wearing with pride because not many people can say they’ve been thrown by Atlas’s winds.

The Crowned Dreamer needs to come through on our birthday and bless us. If our latent powers kick in, I know Emil will change his tune about living out our original fantasy of being the Reys of Light, the people’s champions. We grew up on books and movies where ordinary teens discover they’re special—chosen ones, long-lost wizards, whatever. It rarely plays out that way in real life, but who knows.

Unlikely but not impossible are the best odds for any dreamer.

Our bedroom door slams against the wall so hard that my childhood drawing of the Spell Walkers falls. Ma is standing in our doorway, breathing in and out as she holds her chest; her heart must be attacking her again. I nearly trip over my covers to get to her.

We’re about to watch Ma die, so soon after losing Dad.

“Call 911!” I shout at Emil, who is frozen in bed.

Ma shakes her head. Her eyes are watering. “The block party was attacked, and I have to find out from the news? I thought I was coming into an empty bedroom. . . .”

Emil snaps out of it and comes to hug her. “We’re okay, Ma, sorry. We got in late, and I was in shock, I think.”

Hold up.

“The news? My video got picked up?”

“You filmed it?!” Ma shouts.

I grab my phone while Emil tells Ma how he tried getting me away from the action last night. Judging by all the notifications on my phone, I’m damn glad I stood my ground. I check YouTube, and my video is coming up on ninety thousand views, which is more than triple what I’ve ever received but it’s not skyrocketing the way I was expecting. It’s still early, and I’ve gotten a few thousand new subscribers too. Everyone’s thanking me in the comments for capturing this fight, and I smile when someone calls me a hero in my own right.

I wonder which stations and websites have circulated the video, so I hop on Twitter, where I get all my news. BuzzFeed tweeted out an article titled “Vlogger Films Explosive Battle with Spell Walkers.”

“BuzzFeed covered my video!”

I’ve done hundreds of quizzes on BuzzFeed, and now I’m featured. What is this life?

I open the article, and there are GIFs galore, but they’re capturing angles that my video doesn’t. I scroll back to the top of the article. They’ve linked to another YouTuber’s account, MinaTriesThis.

“No way.”

Her video has hit over one million views.

I press play: it looks like Mina was vlogging, trying out a celestial’s homemade moonbeam ice cream right as the first tent lit up in flames. So many people run past her, but she just had to go ahead and keep filming.

To steal my spotlight.

I keep tuning out Emil and Ma as I bounce around online. Screw BuzzFeed for highlighting Mina’s video instead of mine, but I must’ve gotten some love somewhere to reach my stats. The brawl has been covered by the New York Times, CNN, Time magazine, the Scope Source, and Huffington Post, but Mina’s video is embedded in all of them. It’s the top trending video on YouTube.

“This isn’t fair,” I say.

“What’s going on?” Emil asks.

“I got screwed. Some other video has gone massively viral.”

I work too hard to keep being the runner-up. My motivation for top grades throughout high school was dreaming of the moment when I’d get to walk across that stage while everyone applauded me so I could deliver my valedictorian speech about what it feels like to be a kid from the Bronx who no one is expecting to take the world by storm. The only reason I didn’t flip out when the vice principal brought me into her office to congratulate me on becoming salutatorian was because I couldn’t risk losing that spotlight, even if it wasn’t as bright, to whoever was below me academically; sitting through one speech by someone I know I’m smarter than was bad enough.

Ma sits on Emil’s bed. “You hurt my heart, and you’re upset over people not watching your video?”

“I’m sorry, okay?” I can’t look away from Mina’s increasing views.

“Don’t take that tone with me, Brighton.”

“Ma, you don’t get how much money I could’ve brought in if my video took off.”

“No money makes me feel better knowing I could’ve lost the rest of my world because you’re pretending to be grown.”

She doesn’t look at me as much as she used to. Sometimes I think it hurts her so much since I really take after Dad, green eyes and all. Other times I’m sure it’s because she’s in denial that when I leave on Saturday afternoon to study film and reset my life, it’s only going to be her and Emil, who’s staying in the city to attend some third-best community college. No one can pay me enough to stay in this place where I watched Dad suffer for seven months, where I got my hopes up when alchemists called to accept him into a clinical trial to test him with hydra blood. The idea was, their blood contained their essence, so it would transfer all the properties that allow those serpents to heal themselves and regrow their multiple heads.

I was the only one home when my father choked to death on his blood.

I am grown.

 

Chapter 4: Ordinary

BRIGHTON

I cage myself in the room until I can trust myself not to go off on anyone. The door is locked, and I ignore Ma when she calls me out for breakfast. I’m starving, but I’m done eating toasted tortillas with refried beans and avocado without Dad. It’s an easy enough dish, one that Dad learned to prepare to better connect with Ma’s Puerto Rican side, and his were so crispy. I’m just not ready to pretend Ma’s are the same. I’m especially not ready to have family breakfast in the living room and talk about how this is our first birthday without him. It’s too much.

It’s better in here, anyway. Dad once said our bedroom is just a celestial shrine with beds. Years ago, when the Spell Walkers were more embraced by the public, they licensed their image to help bring in money, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on them before manufacturers stopped making them. By the window is a poster of Maribelle and her parents, Aurora and Lestor Lucero. Limited-edition Funko Pops of the original Spell Walkers—Bautista de León, Sera Córdova, the Luceros, Finola Simone-Chambers, and Konrad Chambers. The playing cards I used to bring to school before we graduated. Key chains with the Spell Walker sigil—a constellation of a being who is taking a step, with the brightest of stars lighting up their fists, feet, and heart. There’s nothing official for the new wave of Spell Walkers, but I do have these framed art prints of them hanging above my desk, one signed by Wesley Young as a perk for donating to a campaign to fund supplies for one of their hidden havens.

I’m the one who should be famous today. Not some twenty-one-year-old who’s probably going to write a memoir about this gap year when she traveled the country taste-testing food.

A few hours later, I drag myself out of bed and get everything ready for the meet-up. I threw down money on custom glow-in-the-dark gel bands for my Brightsiders, notepads with my logo to encourage everyone else to take interest in the celestials around them, and a few T-shirts. There’s this local YouTuber, Lore, who always sells out on their swag whenever they host meet-ups. I told Emil I would call the day a win if I make back at least sixty percent of my money this afternoon, but I’m counting on a stronger profit and will hype myself up hard later when I hit it.

I leave the room so Emil can come in and get dressed. He’s stretched across the couch and reading a graphic novel, and Ma has the news on, but her eyes are distant.

“We got to go soon,” I say.

“You done torturing yourself?” Emil asks.

I scratch my chin, then realize that’s what Dad always did with his beard whenever he was upset. I cut it out. I turn to the news.

“. . . we’re waiting on Senator Iron’s statement on the death of an unidentified specter in the middle of the night,” the Channel One anchorwoman says.

Emil turns away from his book. “She died?”

Viewer discretion is advised before the clip comes on. It’s not the woman from the block party, but instead a man standing on the edge of a roof. This specter also has white phoenix fire, but unlike the woman from last night, both his arms are blazing, and the flames stretch like massive wings—wings that are holding their own against the pummeling winds. The man looks hesitant, but he jumps anyway and takes flight, rising higher and higher until one arm snaps clean off his shoulder. He howls in agony and panic while plummeting like a bird shot out of the sky.

The anchorwoman returns before the station can show the impact. “Medical officials arrived to the scene to find the specter near death, expecting a recovery, as his arm was growing back, but he died minutes later.”

“He regrew his arm?” Emil stares at the ceiling as if answers can be found there. “Song-rooks are the only phoenixes who can regenerate body parts like that, but it takes hours. And their fire is violet, not white.”

“Guess there’s another phoenix out there that can,” I say. I’m not up on phoenixes like Emil is, but he wasn’t exactly acing all his coursework on creatures either. “Not the first time blood alchemy failed someone.”

We’re quiet.

The alchemists who were working on Dad didn’t exactly promise a full recovery, but they sure were arrogant about how brilliant they were for developing a potion with the regenerative properties of a hydra’s blood and introducing it into the systems of sick people. I wonder how much more time we would’ve had with him if we’d let him waste away without their help.

The anchorwoman cuts to Senator Iron, and Ma groans as she raises the volume.

New York’s senior senator, Edward Iron, has a full head of dark hair, pale skin that’s gone a few rounds with Botox, thick glasses, and a suit that probably costs more than our rent. “Last night’s specter incidents, hours apart in our city, are disturbing signals of the crisis our country hasn’t escaped. If elected president, Congresswoman Sunstar will create more opportunities and freedom for her people, when we need stricter regulations to avoid the horrors many woke up to this morning. My opponents campaigned against me, claiming this was only a conflict with specters, not celestials, but the Blackout sadly proved me right about how dangerous the Spell Walkers are. . . .” Senator Iron closes his eyes, takes a moment, and nods. “We’re working around the clock to locate and apprehend the Spell Walkers.”

The station cuts back to the anchorwoman. “As you can see, Senator Iron remains troubled discussing the Blackout after losing his son, Eduardo, who was on a class trip in the Nightlocke Conservatory when the Spell Walkers demolished the building with their powers, taking the lives of six hundred and thirteen people this past January.”

I stand by the theories I voiced on YouTube about how someone else must’ve framed the Spell Walkers for the Blackout to move their own agenda.

But what do I know? Go ask a valedictorian.

As for Eduardo Iron, I’m not dropping tears for him. When he was alive, all he did was bad-mouth and bully celestials and incite more violence. There are better people to mourn.

We get it together and head out. When we reach the park’s entrance, Prudencia is waiting for us. This day has finally brought me something good.

Prudencia Mendez is glowing in a knotted T-shirt, navy shorts, boots that make her look like an archaeologist, and her late mother’s watch, which doesn’t work but never leaves her wrist. Her black hair is pulled up in a long ponytail. When I go in for a hug, her brown eyes narrow and she shoves me.

“I almost didn’t come, but then I wouldn’t be able to hit you,” Prudencia says. “You idiots could’ve died.”

“We were fine,” I say.

“We’re not fireproof,” Emil says.

I glare at that traitor. “Prudencia, even you have to admit I was brave to record that power brawl like a true journalist.”

“Not a journalist. You’re being a fanboy who doesn’t care about his life or his brother’s.” There’s no lightness in her voice. “Your life isn’t worth fifteen minutes of fame, Brighton.”

“Tell me about it. My video hasn’t even reached a hundred thousand views yet.”

“That’s a new record for you,” Emil says. “Wasn’t that long ago when you were celebrating one thousand views.”

“Dreams grow,” I say.

“Last night was a nightmare,” Prudencia says. “One I know well. Losing my parents to wand violence was already too much, and if you can’t promise me that you’ll leave the next time there’s chaos, then I don’t want you in my life.”

I’m not going to be responsible for breaking her heart.

“I promise,” I say.

“Same,” Emil says.

Prudencia lets out a deep breath and hugs Emil, then me. I relax into her hug, which seems longer than the one she shared with Emil—probably something to do with our whole will-we-or-won’t-we thing we’ve had going on since meeting in high school.

The timing has always sucked. I dated my first and only girlfriend, Nina, through freshman and sophomore year, then broke that up after finally admitting to myself I saw Nina more as a friend and Prudencia as more than that. Before I could express anything, Prudencia started flirting with our classmate Dominic. Definitely didn’t help that of all people Prudencia could’ve dated, she linked up with a celestial who could travel through shadows. For weeks after, I was nonstop calling Dominic a snob for not agreeing to be on my series, and I’ll never admit this out loud, not even to Emil, but my recent buzz cut may have had something to do with modeling it after Dominic’s hair. Their downfall was a combo of Prudencia’s aunt being as intolerant as they come, and Dominic’s parents only wanting him dating other celestials to preserve their bloodline, as if he was trying to be some young dad. Secret-keeping got to them, and they broke up.

I’ve still got a few days before I go; maybe Prudencia and I can click into place before then. Find a way to make it work across the country.

We get deeper into Whisper Fields, named so in honor of Gunnar Whisper, a late-bloomer celestial who took charge in the Undying Battle of Fountain Stone against gangs of necromancers. The textbooks of course credit the win to ordinary soldiers who fought off those ghost-raising maniacs with wands, gem-grenades, and gauntlets—all man-made by celestials, though people are quick to forget that—but I’m not shy about making sure anyone and everyone knows about Gunnar’s glory and how proud I am to share Bronx roots with this hero who truly saved the day. The statue is erected by the lake where Gunnar first came into his power of clairvoyance at twenty-three years old, and I always feel this electricity in the air whenever I’m near it, like maybe I’m moments away from discovering I’m a celestial too, who will one day have a park named after me, or that Prudencia and I will take a step into a cooler future together.

But as I approach Gunnar’s bronze monument today, there’s this dread unlike I’ve ever had before. I expected to find dozens of Brightsiders waiting for me underneath the shade provided by Gunnar’s salute, but I can only make out . . . one, two, three, four, five, six . . . seven. Seven people.

“No one showed,” I say.

“There are fans literally waving at you,” Emil says.

“Seven people.”

“It’s still early.”

“And train traffic,” Prudencia says.

“Got any more excuses?” I point at the blue skies. “Should we blame the weather too?” I put on a smile and wave back at my fans. “Let’s knock this out.”

I chat with the six Brightsiders—turns out the seventh person is a friend tagging along—about their favorite videos. I grow more and more self-conscious as Emil films, my original vision for the video with big crowds surrounding me completely collapsing. Someone of Lore’s caliber—a successful YouTuber—would never have to learn their fans’ names or have lengthy conversations outside the comments sections, because of their high demand. I bottle those ugly feelings and put on a grateful face as a couple more people trickle in for quick hellos before the hour is up, and I’m left lounging by the lake with Prudencia and Emil, using the unsold T-shirts as a pillow.

“I know it’s not what you wanted,” Prudencia says, dipping her feet in the water. “But you made their days.”

“I’m a failure on every level. I had the superior video, and it didn’t go viral. I mean, come on, I was deep in the action. And now this meet-up was a bust, and . . . whatever.”

I shut up because complaining isn’t a good look in front of Prudencia; I’ll be a punk in front of Emil later. I gather all the swag and beeline toward the exit. Celestials are bravely playing beam-disc, which is basically Frisbee with someone’s conjured energy, but I’m not in the mood to watch other people show off their powers, so I keep it moving.

Hours pass, and I become more tightly wound, waiting for something extraordinary to happen. During my shower. When I’m changing. While we eat dinner with Ma at Emil’s favorite vegan diner in Brooklyn. After we get home, I spend time alone on the roof, staring up at the faint outline of the Crowned Dreamer, barely noticing when Emil climbs up the fire escape.

“You good?” Emil asks, tossing me my hoodie.

I’m freezing, but I can’t bring myself to put it on. “It’s not going to happen, is it?”

“No, but it’s okay. You’re already a hero because of all the stories you’re telling with Celestials of New York.”

“More like a sidekick,” I say. “Aren’t you bummed we’re not going to be the people’s champions?”

“We don’t have to be chosen ones or whatever to do good.”

We sit in silence as I pray to the Crowned Dreamer to change my life. But when midnight hits, I turn my back on the stars. We go down the fire escape, through our window, and straight into bed, where we fall asleep, as painfully ordinary as we’ve been the last eighteen years.

 


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