The city would roar to life with a whistle.
Jasper Offright. The man who awoke the glorious beast known as Reniere. With a back covered in soaring skyscrapers and endless waves of flickering lights for eyes, Reniere was the only city that Jasper has ever lost himself in. The shadows themselves ran from the light and with good reason.
“Good Morning, Jasper!” said the girl with broken glasses and eyes like the stars. She slid down the fire escape ladder and straight into the arms of the raven-haired man. While her joy remained unmatched, it refused to waver that Jasper’s frown.
He grumbled as he continued to flip the switches and tap at the light-filled in the glass bubbles. “What do I owe for the intrusion, Opal?’ His brow cocked, though his hands moved with each flicker.
Opal scoffed, “can I not show my favorite Lightsmith some love?” She wrapped her arms around him but he quickly shoved her off, a grimace stricken on his wrinkled pale face.
“No. You do this before the lights come on, every day.” But how would he know if the day had passed and another had come? Simple, the Daybreaker, a clock with a chime, a timepiece with a song, and the one thing that kept the city breathing.
Opal leaned in as he worked, watching with an amused gaze as his noble fingers brought the light that the city desperately needed.
Reniere, unlike the rest, needed a smith, or smiths. A legion of warriors trained to fend off the darkness that continued to creep in when the switches go off, to keep the shadows at bay for the sake of every soul, small and large, that walked its streets.
Jasper knew this better than anyone. Every dial he turned pushed the darkness back. Every switch he flipped fought the shadows. Every move he made against the bustling, vibrating, screeching ,machine brought the light.
And that was what Opal watched. That was what she wanted to do. That was why she woke before the crack of neon.
“Because I want to see.” She said with the largest smile anyone could muster so early in the morning. “You know this is what I want, Jasper. I want to do what you do.” Jasper nearly laughed at her only to earn himself a shove. He scolded Opal for it, complained that she could have made him break something.
“Reinforced steel does not break from a shove, you whily man.”
“Not the point. It takes years to become a smith and you barely have the attention span to read a book.”
Opal huffed, “the book you gave me is an utter bore.”
Jasper snickered, “bore or not, every smith has to read it to be successful.”
“I say, if I can watch your every move then I can be a great smith.” The snidely girl reared her head with pride. To Opal’s dismay, being on her own meant she had to find her own and if that meant sticking to Jasper’s side, then she did.
“Creep.” He nudged her playfully.
“I’m serious. From the moment I knew what you did, I have watched you and seen what you do. I have marked each step you take, each dial you turn, every switch flipped, all the gas that leaks, and the neon you replace. I know it all.” Jasper looked at her as if she had gone delirious.
“You’ve inhaled too many fumes.” Jasper rolled his eyes.
“I’m serious! Quick, ask me anything.” Opal looked at him with a glimmer in her eyes. She was determined, more than ready to prove that she was capable of this. Despite Jasper’s feelings, despite his lack of eagerness, he looked at the girl, the one he had taken in and she saw more determination in her than he felt in himself. He sighed and then pointed at a switch.
“Turns on oscillator-4. Alternates the electricity.” She said quickly as if the faster she answered the more respect for her he would have.
He pointed to a dial, this one blue with a red arrow on the end surrounded by a curve of numbers. “Turns on the electron accelerator. Provides the neon with a steady supply of electricity to keep them going.” Jasper sighed and continued, pointing and gesturing to different parts of the control panels, asking her questions, trying to trick her but every time she was right. Every single piece of the machine, Opal identified. It was more than just a game to her. This was what she wanted. And she knew how to get it.
That is until Jasper asked her about the filaments, the pieces of steel and neon that gave the city its light. He held one up, a small silver piece that almost glowed a dim light. Opal stared at it. She knew what it was, but there were nearly hundreds of filaments and every single one brought light to the thousands of neons across Reniere.
Opal swallowed, stammered for a moment then looked away. Shame seemed to flurry inside her cheeks. Jasper came over, hand clasped over her shoulder.
“Listen, I know you want this. I want this for you. But watching cannot be all you do. You need to read the book and you need to take that test.” She opened her mouth to object but he cut her short.
“You are ahead of the game for the next session., so if you read and you find someone who will take you under, you will be more than ready for the test. So, go on. Watch the lights, and read.” Jasper gazed at her a moment longer, a small smile slipped over hisc tight skin and then he pulled her into his arms, held her there so she knew he believed in her, and then let her go.
Opal left the smithery with her heart hung in the air. She thought she had it. She did have it. But…
She swore that she would have it next time, so as she climbed her apartment building fire escape, lifted herself up, and over onto the roof, she began to plot. She plotted a plan to heed Jasper’s advice, as much as she hated it, she knew he was right.
The cityscape, dark and nothing but a black canvas whirred slowly. The lights were coming. Somehow, Opal found peace in the shadows. The calmness that rang throughout Reniere before the lights allowed her to think. No hum. No whistle. No noise. Just stillness.
Until something flashed in the corner of her eye, golden piercing light beaming towards the sky that snuffed out. Then the lights came on. Opal had seen the city come to life before. The lights came in waves. First, a ring of white and then the colors splashed in. Pinks and blues. Green and purples. The city awoke like a flower blooming, but that beam was not the city.
Jasper always said curiosity killed the cat.
Her chest thrummed as the lights around her flourished, but she couldn’t help the tug that pulled her to the fire escape stairs and down the ladder to the now bustling streets.
The cat had nine lives.