The town of Vendelle is dark and dirty, and a cloud of smoke and pollution lingers over it every day. Between its narrow streets a dysfunctional assortment of drunkards, thieves, sexual predators, and teenage troublemakers with odd magical powers run amok. Theo, a child of the worst Quarter the town has to offer, is one of those queer teenagers, blessed with one of the rarest of the descended abilities. Using his affinity, he listens to whispers of the dead and pieces together their stories of a curse that has forsaken the town for centuries, and of a girl who will be able to break it. When the time comes and the girl of prophecy reveals herself to him, Theo takes it into his own hands to make sure that Vendelle is freed of the darkness that afflicts its skies and its people, once and for all.
in a world where the skies were dark and pain was normal, where she was named after a nymph and his name claimed him to be godly when he was not;
she was the light,
and he was the one who told her so
dedicated to everyone who had an idea,
but was too scared to write it.
Smoke rose above the city, amassing itself into a large cloud that choked all its inhabitants and killed them a little bit more each day. Theo sat on the roof of his house, watching the sun set. He was nowhere near high enough to get above the pollution, but he was high enough to see above all the other houses and crowded streets. Sometimes he told himself that the city hadn’t been planned out at all—it was just pure luck that the spaces between houses formed streets. Every map of the town looked like a goddamn mess.
The boy coughed as he leaned forward. The pollution kept getting to him more and more. Getting fresh air was a nice experience, but he often questioned whether it was smart in the long run. Maybe by going to places untouched by the pollution, he was taking away from his resistance to the muck in the air.
There was one place there the pollution almost ceased to exist, but it was far. The distance became irrelevant once you got there. The air was pure, and every breath made you feel alive again. It was an area on a nearby mountain. It wasn’t too high, so it wasn’t freezing and was perfectly pleasant in the summer, but it was high enough to escape the smog as it wafted through the air. Aether, one of Theo’s friends, had discovered the place with him. Aether said it was probably something about the winds that kept it so clean. He said it was like walking into the eye of a tornado. All around the area, wind kept the pollution away, but inside the circle it was calm.
The sun had finally disappeared over the horizon, and the darkness took over the town. Theo’s world was dismal and filthy. He doubted that anyone was truly happy. The smoke rose up above them, sometimes blocking out the sun and threatening to asphyxiate everyone below it. Every day, a thief ran through the narrow cobblestone streets, disappearing into a haphazardly placed pothole. Every day someone died or had a loved one attacked or murdered. Every day someone attempted another murder. Hopeless kalopsiacs with flowers in their hair clashed with people riddled with a depression that creeped into their bones and stole sleep from them night after night. Abusive partners, siblings, and friends roamed the streets as if they weren’t a danger to their society. To leave the house without a weapon was effectively suicide. You weren’t guaranteed to be attacked every time you left the house, but the chances of it were not small enough to ignore.
Though nobody knew how, some part of the normal population had abilities. Odd things that they could control or do. It was theorized that the powers came from ancient genes that would become active by chance when a child was born. Others said that it was the pollution and radiation that changed these children and made them freaks of nature. Whatever it was, they were common enough to be given a name: workers. It wasn’t anything fancy on its own, but when added to a specific power, it sounded a little bit more interesting.
It was never completely obvious who was a worker and who wasn’t. More often than not, there were tells, but you’d have to actually be paying attention to notice them. Aether was a wind worker. He was tall and lanky, but he could hold his breath for an inhumanly long time. Whenever there was a change in the wind, he was the first to notice it. Theo’s tell was his bright blue eyes.
Theo was an aura worker. His kind were considered to be the oldest group of workers, dating back to the first kingdoms and empires. Although the ways he could manipulate auras weren’t physical, like making the wind blow faster or lifting a blob of water from a river, they were just as important. Every person had their own aura, and Theo lived for them. Whether they were dark or light, heavy or carefree, pure or tainted—Theo strived to find out everything he could about them. From each aura, one could produce an item. Usually they were static and something symbolic that represented the person’s disposition or their place in the balance, but sometimes a traumatic or life-altering event could cause ones aura to change form. It was once said that two people with the same items were soulmates, so people like Theo were called Soulbinders in the old days. Now, however, they were just nuisances. So curious and full of life, always trying to find out what your aura will birth. Theo was no exception.
His name had been the subject of many jokes in his family. Theo had come from theos, which meant god, but he was far from godly. From the moment he came out of the womb, he was trouble. As a baby, he would cry when he needed nothing at all, just because the way his parents ran around for him was funny. As a young child, he was bothersome and was often scolded by the parents of other children. When he hit puberty, he decided it was high time to start disappearing for hours on end without leaving any kind of clue as to where he might be. He worried his parents sick, and always came back with a long-winded excuse that left more questions than answers.
One thing that captivated him enough to keep him home was the night sky with all its stars. On the nights when the smog decided to go easy on them, he could see all ofthe stars and would sit on the roof for the entire night. On rare occasions, he would fall asleep on the tile and would have to be carefully extracted the next morning by his father, lest he slid off the edge in his sleep. Though waking up to find your son asleep on the roof wasn’t the most pleasant thing, it was always more appreciated than waking up to find he still hasn’t returned. Whenever he dozed off up there, his father scolded him, but they knew nothing would change. He was born trouble.
Theo’s bedroom was in the attic, and he had a large window in the middle of the room, just above his bed. When he was younger, his parents tried to keep him away from it, telling him how he would fall and die instantly, never to get tucked in or read a bedtime story again. It worked for a while, until one winter night he managed to pry it open and swore he heard the stars calling him. He crawled out onto the window sill and stared at the shimmering dots in the sky, trying to hear the voices of the night as they reached out to him. Since then, it had become habit. Whenever he wanted to think, let out his pent-up emotions, or look into the auraspace, Theo got on the roof.
Theo listened closely. He could hear the whispers of the stars.
He knew the stars weren’t really talking to him, but it was nice to think of it like that. The things he heard whenever he sat on the room were actually fragments and lost auras, sometimes ancient ones. He could hear the dead whispering to him of their past and of the people who wronged them. He could hear the broken crying out, trying to find their missing piece and never becoming whole again. Theo was lucky that he could choose whenever he entered the auraspace, which was the plane on which auras existed. It was audibly cluttered, full of voices talking over each other. Visually, it was clouds or rings of auras surrounding people, with fragments showing up as stray flashes of light. The roof under the night sky was the perfect time and place to fully immerse himself into auraspace. If he was forced into the auraspace, like some people, all he would be able to do was pray. Theo knew from experience that listening to the auraspace during the day was a bad idea. The town was loud on its own, but having to hear the voices of fragments and ghosts on top of that almost drove him mad.
Even though the dead usually only speak of themselves, there was a benefit to having a bunch of fragmented auras floating around. Sometimes Theo would be lucky enough to come across an ancient fragment that was older than his father and his father’s father. They spoke to him of the past and of a time when his home wasn’t covered in darkness and smog. They told him stories of an empire than spanned over many leagues and was destroyed from within by the greed of a jealous heir. They spoke of a curse that had yet to be broken, one that would require a long journey and a destined child whose aura was golden and whose heart was pure.
Theo had been listening to these fragments all his childhood. He knew the prophecies like the back of his hand, and he had taken it as his own responsibility to make sure they came true. One day, a girl’s power would flare, and he would be the one to find her and guide her. Together, they would break the curse and drive off the darkness. She would be the light, and he would be the one carrying the lantern.
She would be a dandelion, and he would be the wind blowing her seeds away, so that they might sprout and bring hope wherever they land.
He knew that his biggest problem wasn’t finding her, because all he had to do was wait for some kind of sign. It would be significantly harder to convince her of her importance to the future of Vendelle and that the prophecies were real. He’d spent night after night going over all sorts of scenarios, toying with different possible temperaments the girl could have. He tried to convince her in his head and tried to argue from her point of view that he was wrong. Sometimes he managed to convince the faceless girl in his mind, other times he argued against himself so much he was forced to give up. One thing was for sure: telling her that he learned all he knew from whispers in the night was definitely not the way to go.
The whispers got louder. Something was happening. Even though he didn’t know what, he picked up bits and pieces. Things about a girl and about a power that had been dormant for a very long time. They became rushed words with a tone of urgency. Theo could feel something was coming. It was like the rumbling sound one heard before an avalanche, except this was more like a feeling. Theo focused on looking into the auraspace to try and see what was going on.
In the distance, there was a faint yellow light between houses. It pulsated like a star. All the voices seemed fixated on that light. He could see other colors and glows moving around and circling the area. The light got brighter and brighter—then it burst.
Theo jerked himself out of the auraspace. The yellow glow had turned into a yellow explosion, but it seemed to have affected nothing outside of the auraspace. He glanced back into auraspace just in time to see a bolt of yellow shooting straight at him. The force of the fragment pushed him back against the roof as it injected itself into his body. Theo held the aura back. Fragments always tried to escape if they entered someone else whose aura wasn’t the same as theirs. He crawled to the window and dropped himself onto his bed. He reached into a drawer next to his bed and pulled out an orb of refined milky quartz. He held it in his hand and focused on directing the aura inside it and relaxed.
Holding an aura inside one’s body was highly stressful and restricted proper movement because of the energy it required. The quartz orbs he had next to his bed were refined with his own aura to trap fragments inside them, so he wouldn’t end up accidentally killing himself if he wanted to study a fragment. He held the orb up to his face.
A yellow cloudlike substance curled like smoke inside the orb. Theo had no doubts that this was the sign he had been waiting for. This was the girl. His time had finally come, and the prophecies were coming true.
Took ‘em long enough.