Chapter 1:

Character Select: Theodora

Theodora Plays to Win (With Cheat Codes)

Theodora was the youngest of four sisters, and the unplanned daughter of a dalliance between her mother and a dashing, nameless sailor, or a drunken one-night stand with Mr. Colley who passed away not two nights before she was born. The Kissing Disease. His tongue swelled and his privates exploded. The disease was not uncommon among frequent brothel goers, and it mainly afflicted men but women could be carriers. Children born from a man with the disease were often born without magic and were often sickly, dying young as was the case with Theodora which made Mr. Colley a likely candidate. It didn’t particularly matter who her father was, in the end, she had reason to curse the entire town and everyone in it, starting with her sisters.

Her sisters – half-sisters – were products of Dahlia’s second marriage. There were three of them, all older. Cambria, Rhonda, and Edith from oldest to youngest. Edith was only a year older than Theodora, Rhonda three years, and Cambria four years. Each one, seemingly corresponding to their age was meaner and more beautiful than the last. If the rumors were to be believed then the oldest had long gorgeous blonde hair, large blue eyes, and a smile to make the sun jealous. She was tall, graceful, and very agreeable, if the rumors were to be believed. All Theodora, saw were three balloons with a face drawn on, that spit poison obscenities at her whenever they crossed paths. I wonder what would happen if I popped them, she thought. A snake shaped balloon always trailed behind her along with a monkey clutching symbols. Rhonda and Edith respectively. Wherever Cambria went those two happened to be close behind. Rhonda was a mess of brown curls and ugly botched make-up, who seemed to only speak in snake hisses, maybe she occasionally said words but not in the presence of Theodora. She was generally referred to by everyone as “that girl who always rides Cambria’s petticoat.” Though I’m sure she’s unaware of this moniker. Theodora shoved this insult away for later. Edith, the youngest, was a cute 15-year-old, even Theodora had to admit Edith had a certain charm. Older men flocked to her like a perv to a peepshow and she adored the attention. All three of her sisters had some appeal to someone, even if it was lost on Theodora. Yep, they’re going places. Sigh.

Meanwhile, Theodora was known as the town’s problem child. She was born without magic, the only case in town; though it wasn’t super rare in the world at large, people like her were not given the best treatment. On top of that she was born from an affair, and she was always laid up in bed, she was lucky to have made it to 14. 14-years-old, huh.

“Happy birthday, Theo!” exclaimed a woman in a blue dress.

“14, time sure does fly!” Random Villager A shouted.

A prince in his finest attire approached Theo, eyes dazzling with romantic intent, “Congratulations.” Heat rose in Theo’s cheeks.

“This ball is quite exquisite, just like you.” The prince gazed down at her. He raised his hand, lifting her chin up.

“Oh! My!” Flustered giggles bubbled up escaping her lips.

“Would you like to dance?”

“With a prince?!? Oh, well, how could I refuse?” The prince took her hand and lead her to the center of the room. This was everything she could have every wanted, in fact it felt like a dream. Her own giddiness overwhelmed her as she twirled around the ballroom. The scene shifts as her foot slips under a tree root.

“Ow.” I should be more careful. She laid on the ground catching her breath. Today was one of her more healthy days. On days like to today she snuck into the forest to catch bugs, play in the mud, climb trees, and most of all to get some solitude. No one came out here except for game hunters when the town became desperate for food. It was still fairly early in the morning, the sun was still rising over the trees, and the night chill and fog had yet to fully clear. No one would miss her for a couple more hours if they even noticed at all. A twig snaps, she raises her neck toward the sound.

“Theo?” A boy with silver hair, looks down at her, disappointment clear on his face.

“Ah, my guardian angel, Callum, appears to sweep me off my feet and return me to my tower.”

“What are you implying?”

“I’m not implying anything. It just seems to me, whenever I sneak off to be by my lonesome, or try to run away you always appear out of nowhere to take me back, is all.”

“Er, well-”

“I know you’re not being mean or anything. You obviously aren’t malicious. In fact, you’re a complete pushover.”

“Well, I certainly-”

“So, why do you always take their side? I can’t figure it out. You know how my sisters treat me. I know you do.”

“I’m just looking out for you! You can’t just run away from your problems. You don’t have to face them, but you do have to stick it out, just for a little while longer. Save up some money and do this properly.”

Theo picks herself up, takes a deep breath, then exhales. Is she angry? Callum had been through this with her plenty of times and he still had trouble reading her. He kept back, it would be bad if she were to try and touch him, this was a body he possessed whenever he came to see her. It was cold and had the smell of decomposing flesh, so it was best if he kept his distance. What does she want to hear?

“Cambria’s leaving next month, right? For the academy?” Callum shoots Theo a concerned look. Cambria was the main source of Theo’s torment and as was tradition in this country, the most gifted child in one’s family is sent to the capital to receive secondary education. Cambria was without a doubt the smartest girl in the village, and also the vilest. It pained Callum to see Katya in this predicament but he also wanted her to have a stable life, somewhere better than here.

“Stop trying to cheer me up!” She glared at him but a smile was threatening to break out. “Fine. I’ll go back home, but first…” She threw herself at Callum, attempting to capture him for the billionth time. Theo chased Callum around for a while before he finally took his leave.

“Where’d you go? Come back here. Ugg! Every time. I know your secret! Teleportation magic isn’t fair!” He could hear her calling from several yards away. His secret? So close, yet so far. He swore he’d never tell her. A reaper’s job is simply to guide people from point A to Point B and send them off. It was a walk from one shore to another, so to speak, and that’s it. Callum wasn’t a Reaper; he didn’t have that sort of resistance to sentimentalism. An angel’s job is to care for the living, not look after the dead, but he couldn’t drive the guilt from his mind. I’ll get you somewhere safe, where people actually care about you, and maybe you’ll find someone you can care about in turn. That was the promise he made. Someday, I promise you’ll be happy and loved. With that Callum vanished, leaving Theo to walk home on her own. 

Syed Al Wasee