Swift as Shadow
BY SHANEL WILSON
Spray from the river studded the hood wrapped tightly around Emilia. Valentine’s face was set firmly forward as she pushed the throttle as hard as she could, steering to make their wake as minimal as possible. The rocket could not mean anything good as far as Valentine was concerned and they must get to Newlondon immediately. Emilia patiently followed Valentine’s lead. She had learned from her trip across the desert with her that Valentine worked best in silence.
“Put this on.”
Valentine released Emilia from their embrace and gave her a dark blue cloak like her own.
Emilia obeyed as she watched Valentine sweep into action. Valentine prepared the hover and unlocked the maglock holding it to the dock. She paused for a moment, then went to the controls. Emilia curiously peered toward the spot Valentine had paused. She caught a faint glimpse of a pulsing blue light under the water. She inched toward the edge of the hover to get a better look.
“Hold on!” Valentine commanded.
Emilia fell back into the bench behind her. The hover raced down the river.
“I’ll get us to safety,” Valentine said, turning to Emilia. Her expression was clouded.
Even when the creature had attacked them when they crossed from Westminster to the river, Valentine had remained calm and cool. A chill rose in Emilia that wasn’t from the wind rushing past them as they traveled farther and farther from her home. Emilia stood and placed her hand on Valentine’s. Valentine looked meaningfully into Emilia’s violet eyes and turned back to the river ahead.
Emilia gazed with wonder at the towering trees that lined the left bank of the river as they flew past Finsbury. She had never seen anything like them in her dusty desert home in Westminster. The water then became more turbulent, and the fog spiraled around them. Valentine’s shoulders seemed to relax as she steered into a pocket of fog and the world around them disappeared.
“Home,” she said.
They soon heard the cawing of sea birds through the fog. Tall masts pierced through the grayness and Valentine slowed the hover to a slow crawl.
“Welcome to Newlondon,” Valentine said, motioning to the shadows of ships and lines of docks cutting through the mist. “The grand tour will have to wait, unfortunately.”
They quietly cruised through the bay and into the docks. Valentine turned into her private dock when a loud groan of an engine behind them grabbed their attention. A dark-black ship laden with a huge creature strewn on its deck crossed into the bay.
“A kraken? That’s impossible!” Valentine exclaimed, while Emilia gawked at the size of the monstrous beast.
Shouts from the docks grew and echoed across the water.
“The Tempest returns!”
“Kraken is slain!”
“Antonio slayed the beast!”
Valentine’s face lost all its color.
“Antonio? It can’t be. The fool. I’ve told Bianca as much so many times.” Valentine wove her fingers through her curls. Emilia reached out and took Valentine’s hands.
“Tell me what you need me to do. I can help. Who is Bianca?”
“She is my sister,” Valentine responded.
Valentine reached into her cloak and pulled a chain with a medallion on the end of it. The medallion was ornamented with a swirl of long, slender body with a fin running the length of its back and a crystal eye.
“It’s an eel,” Valentine answered the question in Emilia’s eyes. “We have to see my father, but I need Bianca too.”
She squeezed the medallion, and the crystal eye pulsed a deep blue.
“That light, I saw it in the water at the dock!” Emilia leaned closer to examine the medallion.
“It’s an alert of sorts. I will explain more soon, but we must get to my father, and quick. Keep your hood covering you and follow close. We will use the distraction at the docks to slip away unseen.”
“I’ll follow where you lead.”
Hearing Emilia say those words transported Valentine back to the Westminster dock and how her heart had stood still when Emilia asked to come with Valentine instead of going to Whitehall as planned. No one she encountered in all her travels so far came close to creating these unfamiliar feelings Valentine was having. Emilia had shown strength and poise through their journey so far, through all the twists and turns that seemed to be coming faster as the day dawned. Valentine embraced Emilia and gently kissed her cheek.
She led Emilia around a long loop through the docks away from the crowd growing to get a glimpse of the kraken. They silently raced through the visitor docks when Valentine stopped short. She motioned to Emilia to stay on the dock as she jumped into a skiv covered in nets and tarps. Valentine swiftly searched the skiv and peered under a corner of the tarp. She winced at what she saw. She secured the tarp and returned to Emilia’s side.
“This is Antonio’s skiv. It shouldn’t be here, and what’s on it shouldn’t, either,” Valentine whispered to Emilia. “Come, quickly.”
They raced towards town staying in the shadows.
Bianca paced her bedroom, clutching the medallion at the end of her necklace, its crystal eye pulsing a deep blue. She stopped occasionally to peek out the window, then continued pacing. When she heard the wooden creak of the front door, she sprinted down the narrow staircase to the entry.
“Sister!” Bianca cried out.
Valentine swooped in with Emilia close behind and shut the door as quickly as they had entered. She wrapped her arms around Bianca in a tight embrace.
“Where’s Father? I sent a ping up the river after I saw the rocket,” Valentine asked.
“He’s meeting the others at Selkie’s Kist. He’s not going to be happy to learn you are the one that sent the ping. He hasn’t installed you yet.”
“What was I supposed to do? Ignore the giant rocket in the sky and not warn the Shadow Walkers? My installation is a formality at this point.”
“You know that’s not how Father feels. And who is this, dear sister?” Bianca peered into the dark hood Emilia was still wearing.
Emilia shifted quietly at Valentine’s side. Valentine looked at Emilia apologetically.
“This is Emilia,” Valentine said, as Emilia lowered her hood gently.
“The Bride you were escorting?”
Bianca couldn’t hide her shock. She had never met a Westminster Bride in person before and half wondered if it was just a myth that their eyes were really violet. She should have known better than to assume that myths aren’t real when she knew the truth of the Shadow Walkers. When Bianca looked back to her sister, she saw something else. The warmth growing in Valentine’s cool-blue eyes as she looked upon Emilia was the same warmth she saw in Antonio’s.
“I chose a different path,” Emilia said, speaking for the first time since the docks. “I am pleased to meet you.”
“The pleasure is all mine. I am sure this tale between you two is worth sharing, but there are more pressing matters at the moment.”
“Yes, more than you know. We must all get to Selkie’s Kist immediately.” Valentine motioned to the door.
“Neither of us are Shadow Walkers! Father warned what would happen if we attended a meeting without an invitation. Sending a ping is one thing, but why should we risk our lives over some rocket?” Bianca’s face flushed with anger.
“It’s Antonio. I think he is in more trouble than he is even aware. Come, I’ll explain on the way.”
Mist swirled in coils, making the air thick and humid. Silhouettes of trees and marsh grasses loomed as they got closer to Selkie’s Kist. The way to the inlet led further inland than Emilia had expected. Valentine explained that some of the natural inlets had been deepened to provide cover for meetings such as these. In hushed whispers, Valentine told Bianca of the ruckus at the harbor and what she had found on Antonio’s skiv.
They fell silent as the forms of people took shape through the mist. Valentine motioned that she would emerge first.
“Swift as shadow,” she said, signaling to the others gathered.
“Short as any dream,” a deep voice responded.
In a clearing surrounded by reeds and marshy trees, the group before Valentine was composed of about ten people with a tall, slender man standing opposite her. His face was stern and weathered from many years along the river and the sea. Some in the group eyed the newcomers with distrust, while others remained hidden beneath their cloak hoods. Emilia was reminded of the first time she saw Valentine, concealed beneath her midnight-blue cloak as they left Westminster. Valentine waved for Bianca and Emilia to join her at the edge of the circle.
“What is the meaning of this, Leonato?” said the shorter, stouter person to the right of the man in the center.
“Please, I know I have not been fully installed, but this is urgent,” Valentine said slowly.
“We don’t have time for your trifles, child,” said Leonato.
“Father, I am not a child! And I am the one that sent the ping from the Westminster dock when the rocket etched the sky.” Valentine responded with a step forward into the circle, her shoulders back.
“Your arrogance will lead to trouble, Valentine. Do you think you were the only person with their eyes skyward when the rockets passed by? We already have scouts gathering information about the landing and what the Polity are after. And you have already been warned not to interfere with our work until you are fully installed. Perhaps the responsibility is too great for you.”
Valentine shook her curls as if to shake off her father’s rebuke, but she stood strong. Emilia took Valentine’s hand. Whispers wove through the circle.
“Father, please, there is more. Please let Valentine speak.” Bianca lowered her hood revealing herself to the group.
“Both my daughters defy me? And who is this stranger you brought to our secret meeting?”
Before Valentine could respond, Emilia stepped forward and lowered her hood.
“I am Emilia, Eglamour’s daughter of Westminster. I am sorry for my intrusion here. My father hired Valentine to guide me to Whitehall for I was to be a Bride. Valentine saved my life from a beast in the savagelands. I now follow where she goes.”
More whispers rippled through those gathered.
“It’s Antonio, Father. We must help him!” Bianca interrupted as tears started streaming down her face.
“I understand he has slain a great kraken. I am sure the Guild will no longer ignore him after today. We will monitor the situation,” Lenato responded, his face troubled.
“There’s more,” Valentine interjected. “When I arrived with Emilia, I discovered a dead pirate concealed on his skiv.”
“My Antonio would never kill anyone. He is being framed, or he was only protecting his cargo,” said Bianca.
Another person from the circle spoke up.
“Aye, he may be a simple trader, but his ideals are high.”
“Yes, I know this to be true as well,” said Leonato. “If the Guild becomes aware of this, they will use it to their own devious ends. We will take care of it. Bianca, go now to Antonio. The Guild will have spoken to him by now. Find out what you can.”
“Yes, Father. Thank you.” Bianca gave a glance to Valentine and Emilia as she quickly disappeared into the mist.
Leonato turned to Valentine. He saw an echo of himself in her crystalline blue eyes. One from many years ago when he joined the Shadow Walkers to protect the peace of the Globe. Now he stood, as their leader, facing the most challenging times the Globe had seen these many years. Leonato could no longer deny that this was the path his daughter had chosen and was destined for.
“How I tried to keep you from this life, but you girls always found ways to follow my footsteps. I perhaps should have seen this coming.”
“I am ready, Father. This is the life I have chosen.”
Leonato’s eyes fell to Emilia. She blushed and gazed at Valentine, waiting patiently.
“With the landing of the Polity rocket, that peace is threatened in every corner of our beloved home. Now a daughter of Westminster is here and the word from Oberon is that another has left Belmont. We will need all of our most skilled Shadow Walkers at the ready to preserve the Globe’s peace. My fellow seafarers, I ask you to allow the installation of Valentine as a full member of the Shadow Walkers. All in favor say, aye.”
The stout person to his right scoffed, but slowly each of the members of the circle responded.
“Aye.” “Aye.” “Aye.”
“Valentine, by taking the Oath of the Shadow Walkers, you must honor all of our codes and aims. Do you accept?” Leonato asked.
“Aye. I accept.” She nodded gratefully to her father and to the others. “Thank you. Thank all of you. I will not fail.”
“You will be in charge of this mission to clear Antonio’s name. Bring Emilia to our home, and I will send instructions shortly.”
“Thank you,” Valentine said meaningfully to her father. She turned to the rest of the group and bowed deeply. “Swift as shadow.”
If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Shanel’s “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change-Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change-Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross
- “The Burning Flame–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Burning Flame–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- You just read: “Swift as Shadow–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “Swift as Shadow–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Song of Thieves” by Frasier Armitage
- “The View from the Wall–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The View from the Wall–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “Outcast of Belmont- Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “Bounty” by Matthew Cross
- “Feral Fields” by Jeremy Wilson and Shanel Wilson