I fly up in an arc and hover over the city lights of Minimagemma.
When I reach the peak of the arc and hold steady, my hoverpack hums a little louder. I’m not supposed to do this because it wears down the hoverpack faster. But there are so many rules under the Republic, who can keep them all straight?
Minimagemma means little jewel.
At least, that’s what I’m told. I don’t know Latin. I keep meaning to learn because the leaders in the Republic eat up all that ancient Roman stuff. Statues, robes, pillars. All that random debris.
To honor that tradition, the leaders of Minimagemma re-covered their aboveground fiber channels to look like an aqueduct. I don’t know what that is, exactly. It looks like a bridge to nowhere, to me. But I heard the local Republic delegation was very impressed.
They covered the thing in blue lights, so you can’t miss it.
“Hey,” says Jolo, breaking my reverie. “You gonna hang up there all night? Or are you gonna do your job?”
Jolo is joking of course. He doesn’t care about the job any more than I do. And why should he?
The job is basically to terrorize the good folk of Minimagemma.
We are the Sur, the guardians, the watchful eye from above. Sent by the great and beneficent leaders of the Republic to protect this petty little planet. But protect them from what? This planet is so far from any of the Republic’s enemies, there’s no chance of an invasion. And what could Jolo and I do, just two lances, against a determined invading force?
That’s right, two lances per shift to protect the whole city. And some of the smaller cities only get one lance.
So . . . think about it. Two lances flying over the city day and night. Showing off their flashy compound wings like some kind of Angel of Death and carrying glowing lances. Are we really there to protect the city from the Republic’s enemies? Or, just maybe, are we there to remind the good folks of Minimagemma that the Republic is watching over them?
Here’s a hint. The Republic always sends Sur from other planets. We never protect our own planets, our own homes. Wherever we are sent, we are always strangers. And on this planet, also called Minimagemma, I don’t think any of the Sur are even from the same planet. We’re all strangers to each other. Makes it harder to get chummy. Makes it harder to trust each other.
Jolo is in charge tonight. He’s more senior than me, been on planet maybe three years, which is apparently a long time. He decides we’ll do some maneuver practice, which is my favorite.
Jolo and I are the lucky ones. And we know it. Even though we were both basically kidnapped from our homes as children and shipped off planet, there are a lot worse things than our current duties. We could be serving as Auxilia in the Republic’s wars with the Polity and other enemies. Because of our skills and test results—and passing all the necessary loyalty tests—we joined the Sur. And, for now at least, we “protect” Minimagemma by flying overhead most nights with our glowing lances.
And let’s face it, flying with wings is pretty cool.
My first station with the Sur was on a massive farming planet. We actually rode these smelly, native beasts called Loxo. They were twice as tall as me, covered in tangled hair and smelled like waste matter. But they were very loyal, and some of the lances taught their Loxo to do tricks.
My second station was only one year on an Inner Ring planet. There we actually flew patrol ships with our traditional glowing lances built into the ships’ weaponry. Now that was a cool station. There was so much to do there that I blew through my stipendium fast. I still owe a few guys back there, but it shouldn’t take me long to send the credits. There’s really nothing worthwhile to do here except fly, and I can do that for free.
I’m not gonna lie. When I saw my first set of wings, I thought they were hokey. And on the transport here, I’d heard some stories about Sur falling out of the sky because the old machinery was so busted. But that was mostly legend. Despite a few falls, almost no Sur has actually ever died “in harness.” As they taught us in training, as long as the hoverpack is operational, the worst that will happen is a slow descent to the ground. The magneticallyarticulated wings do take some of the burden off the hoverpack by allowing for gliding and breaking a dive, but they are not essential to staying aloft. Which is good because it’s the vaccing wings that are most likely to fail.
I follow Jolo down to an altitude just above the building tops. For practice, we follow the network of streets. We are playing a game of “Match This” with me trying to imitate Jolo’s moves. I’m pretty good in the harness—a natural some say—but Jolo has two years on me, and he can still trip me up sometimes. We work our way towards the city center, which is a little odd. The city center is where the most elite and loyal of society live. Not that we care about local crime, but there’s rarely even a mugging in the tightly guarded center. We only go there to stand pretty behind the leaders giving speeches. Our brilliant, white wings, our glowing lances and our silver “veil” masks are paparazzi favorites.
Jolo flits between the arches of the aqueduct, blue lights playing over the constantly moving testa of his wings. I follow, trying to make the minute adjustments to replicate his flares and barrel rolls. It takes all my concentration, and I barely notice we are approaching the Forum Romanum. He exits an arch at near top speed and follows the top of the blue-limned wall surrounding the Forum Romanum. Every planetary capital in the Republic has a Forum Romanum sealed inside a wall. Some even have an inner wall and an outer wall. What are they so afraid of? Mixing elbows with the dirty masses?
“Evasive maneuvers!” Jolo shouts through his Veil right into my ear.
Without thinking, I bank a hard left downwards while Jolo banks a hard right upwards. I assume we’re still drilling until I see the glare of the rocket tail, a shimmering trail of light pointing straight at Jolo.
I see him hanging there in the dark, night sky. An unearthly figure, with white wings outspread, his dark flightsuit lit beneath by the city lights and in the reflection of his Veil I see the rocket’s bright glare.
Then the rocket explodes between us. The brilliant explosion blinds me before my Veil’s autodimming feature kicks in. I’ve drilled for blind flight. I follow the Veil’s audio prompts until my flight is level. It will take precious seconds for my vision to clear and taking evasive maneuvers while blind is probably more dangerous than any rocket fire. So I take a moment to send a distress signal to Sur headquarters.
I make a guess as to the last direction I saw Jolo and I begin a gentle glide path in that direction. It’s a stupid move, but instinct tells me that the rocket exploded without hitting Jolo directly. He knew something was up and had begun evasive maneuvers, so maybe he survived the blast. But if he did, he’s likely injured.
My nightvision returns, and my eyes sweep the horizon and then the streets below for any sign of Jolo. Instead, I see dark figures emerging from almost every building on the outside border of the wall. They are flowing towards one of the major gates to the Forum Romanum. The Righteous Victory Gate, I think it’s called. They are chanting something, but I don’t know enough of the local dialect to understand it. Jolo has learned a good bit of the local patois. Too bad he’s not here to help me
I see a flash of white in the dimness. It disappears in an alley. I bank hard to follow.
Then I see something I’d never expect in a million years. A tank is crawling up the avenue that leads to the Righteous Victory Gate. It’s a homemade job. Really just a heavy hovercraft with a plasma cannon mounted to the top. But I’m pretty sure it can take out the gate.
Wow, I think, what has happened on Minimagemma? This is a full-scale rebellion!
I take careful aim and zap the tank with my lance. A golden shaft of light—a very powerful laser—strikes out and destroys the tank. That probably leaves one more charge in the lance. It’s powerful, but it sucks juice like a Loxo sucks water. It’s hard to believe the lances once were actually considered good weapons.
I rise higher, ignoring the crowds and looking for any sign of Jolo. Any reflection of samite white. Any glow of a yellow lance.
I follow my Sur training for nighttime maneuvers. I close my eyes for ten breaths and when I open them, I keep them unfocused. I pay attention to any change in my whole peripheral vision. Only then do I detect the faint yellow glow, moving along an alleyway. It’s headed towards the gate, not away.
Silently, I alight at the mouth of the alley, my lance at the ready.
A handful of dark figures running towards me pull up sharply. Two of them awkwardly carry a set of wings. A third carries the lance. And at the back of the group is Jolo. His silver veil hangs around his neck.
By the light of the glowing lance, I can see his eyes widen. “Leila!”
The lance fires. Its flash rips through the air straight at me.
I trigger the emergency release and uncouple my harness. My wings and veil explode in a deafening blast. Sparks rain from above as I drop, free-falling to the ground.
This is going to hurt.
I smash against a pillar, slamming my lance against the stone. The blow breaks my fall, along with a bone or two. I ride the lance down the pillar’s side. More sparks erupt as I slow. I hit the cobbles, and blood drips from my arm. My knees roar. But I’m alive. And my lance is intact. Just about.
I rush through ancient streets. These ridiculous Romanesque structures look smaller from above. It’s easy to forget how big the sky can be when I spend most of my time flying through it. From down here, the buildings tower with a menace that unsettles me more than the numbness creeping up my leg.
Ahead, a mob emerges from the tank’s flames, brandishing weapons.
“Stay back!” I shout, raising my lance. “I mean it!”
From the crowd, a figure approaches, regaled in a Senator’s robes. Their bodyguard holds Jolo in a vice-like grip, before throwing him to the ground.
I can’t believe my eyes.
“Senator Braxis. You’re behind this?” I ask. “But why? Why would the Republic mutiny against themselves?”
Braxis smiles. “You know, if the people of the inner worlds believe the Polity are mounting uprisings all the way out here, don’t you think public opinion might be more favorable to a . . . shall we say, a more assertive stand against them?”
“You’re kidding! This is all to get support for a war that’s happening hundreds of planets away?”
“Surveillance is a weapon, my dear. One just has to know how to use it. I’m sure the final readings from your veil will be most useful to the Senate.”
“You won’t get away with this.” I aim my lance at Braxis’s heart, if he even has one. “Let him go.” I nod towards Jolo.
Braxis laughs. “You have done well, Leila. You’ve rendered a valuable service to the Republic, and we thank you for it.”
“I said . . . let him go.”
Jolo lifts his head. “Leila. Don’t . . . This is bigger than us.”
“Do you still have access to your nesting protocol?” I ask him.
He nods, but his eyes widen. “Leila. Don’t do this.”
“Time to fly.”
Jolo shakes his head. “You can’t win, Leila.”
“Being a Sur isn’t about winning. It’s about protection.”
“Protection?” Braxis balks. “And what exactly are you protecting?”
I smile at Jolo. “My minimagemma.”
I set my lance to overdrive and slam it on the ground. In the moment before it detonates, Jolo taps his wrist. His wings shoot across the crowd, clasping around him. Nesting protocol, engaged.
A fiery blast spreads outwards, demolishing pillars around me in a fury of light, and I glimpse Jolo’s shadow rising through the destruction—the prettiest jewel I ever saw.
I hope you enjoyed this piece of flash fiction thatFrasier Armitage and I wrote together. He’s a great collaboration writer and one of my favorite Sci Fi writers of all time!
If you enjoyed Frasier’s prize-winning ending, please make sure and share some kind comments below. You can also find tons more Sci Fi stories by Frasier by following any link with his name.
Raindrops slashed at Solanio’s face as he and Butch made their way up the river. Solanio pulled the hood of his cloak up and hoped the storm that was brewing would give them the cover they needed. Two quick flashes of light shimmered through the tall grass when they reached the mouth of the inlet.
“Drop anchor,” Butch said.
Solanio cut the engine and steered the skiv silently through the reeds. Three ragged shadows slinked toward the skiv.
“Oy, we ain’t got all night lads. Quick step,” Butch growled at his companions.
“And quietly, while you’re at it,” Solanio hissed.
A stout, barrel-chested man stomped aboard. His matted hair was tied back into a rattail that wagged down his sweaty back. He gave Solanio a toothless grin before moving aside for his mate. A wooden peg jabbed the deck, nearly missing Solanio’s well-oiled boot. The peg’s owner sat his skeletal frame on the crates next to Butch, his gaunt face glowering. Lastly, a brute that matched Butch in size and number for belt-knives sagged the skiv even further in the water.
“Tiny, Bones, and Dagger, at your service.” Butch gestured to each of his mates.
“Pleasure. Shall we?” Solanio swallowed hard and started the engine.
The pelting rain blurred Solanio’s vision, making it difficult to scan for the barge. Tiny gave a low whistle and nodded ahead into the growing darkness. Sure enough, the lights of the barge twinkled in the rainfall and river mist.
Solanio scanned the skies.
“What are you looking at?” Butch snapped.
“Do you see any drones?” Solanio asked.
Butch laughed. “Trust me. There won’t be a Whitehall drone pass over this side of the river for some time.” He tapped his temple, as if he kept the inner workings of the drones inside that thick skull.
“Alright. I’ll pull alongside the barge and then you do the rest.” Solanio gripped the controls.
“We know the plan. Smash and grab. Done it a thousand times.” Butch drew a pair of knives from his belt and ignited their laser blades. “Ready, boys?”
Solanio shuddered under their unnatural glow and silently nudged the skiv to the starboard side of the barge.
On the barge, the barge he owned but had been tasked with raiding, his trusted crew relaxed on the deck as if the rain were a summer breeze.
Butch and his men secured rigging, and silently attached the skiv to the barge, entwining them in a lattice of knots. Solanio rubbed his gold signet ring–a ring signifying his membership in the Guild–trying to summon any last luck it might supply.
The skiv aligned with the barge, and in that instant, everything stilled. The river seemed to pause, even the breeze dropped, as if the world held breath for what was about to happen.
But the moment soon passed, broken by the pirate crew bounding onto the barge’s deck and mounting their attack.
“Pirates!” the barge captain bellowed, snapping his crew to attention.
Solanio sunk further into his hood, not only to hide from his barge crew but also from the squelch of soggy punches and the metallic clang of blades connecting. A mighty clap of thunder shattered the sky above, tearing at the frayed edges of Solanio’s nerves. He flipped the helm to automatic and scurried below deck as mist engulfed the skiv and barge.
Solanio paced in the darkness, shaking his head. The clash of steel rang out from the deck above. A sickening thud pounded the boards. He closed his eyes and tried to push out the screaming voices.
“Where is he?”
Ghost? That wasn’t one of Butch’s pirate friends.
A gust of wind ripped through the hull, shaking its metal plates. Terrified shouts and shrieks pierced the air, drifting down to him in echoes.
“There’s another one!”
A second thud sounded, followed by a splash on the port side.
“Coward! Show yourself!” Butch screamed through the raging storm.
What was going on up there? This was supposed to be a simple smash and grab. Butch had said as much.
Another clap of thunder shook the skiv, threatening to roll it. Solanio knew he was needed at the helm, otherwise this hover would become his coffin. But he couldn’t bring himself to enter the fight.
His fingers tapped the pistol below his cloak, remembering Prospero’s promise that its wide beam would eviscerate anything in its path. He breathed deeply, tightening his hood to mask his face. Prospero had better not have been exaggerating.
As the skiv rolled in the rising river, Solanio crashed onto its deck. He squinted through the rain and mist to steal a look at what was happening on the barge, but he couldn’t see beyond its prow. The sounds of the fight quieted and all Solanio could hear was the lapping of water against the barge’s hull.
Solanio blindly scrambled up the rigging, and pulled himself onto the barge. He tripped and crashed onto the deck, glancing back at what had sent him toppling. Tiny’s limp body twisted, soaking the deck with crimson blood.
Solanio scrambled to his feet, drawing his pistol. He whirled around to find the bodies of the three barge crewmen gruesomely slain. Dagger lay in two halves, cut clean through. The crate containing the eye still sat on its pedestal in the center of the barge next to Butch. Butch’s eyes widened in a maddened frenzy. Beside him, Bones quaked.
“Come out, ghost!” Butch shouted into the air, drawing the thunder closer.
“What the—” Solanio’s voice caught when, from nowhere, ten silhouettes of men surrounded the barge. They drew swords which flashed like lightning in their hands.
All the blood drained from Solanio’s face as he aimed his pistol at the closest silhouette, but before he could fire at the man, their body vanished into mist. Butch lunged at another attacker, nearly falling over the railing. Bones threw himself at the specters. Solanio continued to aim erratically at each figure that appeared before him, but each disappeared before he had the chance to shoot.
In no more than a blink, all the shadows vanished. Bones lay on the deck, blood spilling from a gash on his neck that no medicine could mend.
“I said show yourself!” Butch bellowed.
A figure landed in front of Butch. The mysterious man knelt, his face obstructed by the pitch-black cloak he wore, before he theatrically unsheathed a long, gleaming sword. He brought the blade in front of his face ready to strike. Solanio beheld a piercing blue eye in the sword’s reflection. A Newlondoner?
Butch roared, daggers gripped tight, and pitched himself at the assassin. The man swiftly dodged Butch’s attack and swung his sword, catching Butch in the arm. Butch howled in pain through gritted teeth. The figure stood motionless while he waited for his opponent’s next attack. Solanio watched the mysterious man perform a graceful ballet of parries and feints as Butch lumbered clumsily, failing to land a single blow.
Butch slammed his body into the man and stabbed his attacker’s cloak. It rebounded off their armor plating, sending Butch crashing to the deck. Butch grabbed an edge of the cloak as he tumbled, entangling the two. Butch swung his fists wildly, finally connecting with his foe’s face to land a satisfying crack. Solanio tiptoed toward the crate which held the kraken’s eye, never daring to look away from the fight. The man spun and expertly pinned Butch. He pressed the edge of his sword against Butch’s pulsing neck.
“Who ordered you to this shameful task?” The man pressed the edge deeper into Butch’s skin.
“The Guild. It was the Guild.” Butch lifted a bloodied finger toward Solanio. “Ask him. He’s one of them!”
Solanio froze with his hands hovering just above the crate. The figure flicked his wrist toward Solanio while maintaining his hold on Butch.
“Your disgraceful deeds have sealed your fate.” The man bowed his head and, in one fluid motion, killed Butch with a slice of his sword.
As Butch crumpled to the deck, the man flicked his wrist again. A drone cut through the mist to face Solanio, a red light near its lens flashed. Solanio swerved to avoid the drone’s rotors. It was no Haller drone. He aimed his pistol at the figure as they approached.
“Stay where you are!” Solanio’s pistol hand shook.
“Everyone will know what you and the Guild really are.”
Solanio caught a glimpse of the blue eyes beneath the hood again.
“I said, stay back!” Solanio yelled.
“You cannot stop what is coming.”
“Maybe not. But I can stop you.” Solanio pulled the trigger of his pistol. A crack boomed through the air and a flash of light illuminated the dense fog, blinding him. He stumbled backward, shielding his eyes with the crook of his arm. The pistol’s blast shrouded everything in its hot beam. What did Prospero need a weapon like this for?
The gun’s glowing report relinquished itself to the darkness. Surrounded by shadow once again, Solanio peered across the deck at where the man’s body should have laid in a charred heap, only to discover that the man and the crate with the kraken’s eye were gone.
“No!” Solanio slammed the pedestal that once held the crate.
He ran his fingers through his drenched hair when Leonardo’s words echoed in his ears. Shadow Walkers. Could they actually be real? He knew his fair share of skilled Newlonders, but this man’s skills were unlike anything Solanio had ever witnessed. He was more than a myth. More than a ghost. He was real.
Solanio forced the madness of what he’d witnessed out of his brain. He had larger worries to contend with than a fictional group of mysterious crusaders. What would that man do with proof of the Guild’s misdeeds? Of his misdeeds? Mind racing, Solanio jumped back to his skiv to race back to Newlondon. He had to warn the Guild, find a way to shore up the damage before it was too late. Before the shadow struck again.
Balthasar steered his skiv towards the Westminster dock. Sebastian and Gonzalo stood waiting.
“What happened to the barge?” Gonzalo asked.
Balthasar said nothing in reply.
“This isn’t good business.” Sebastian frowned. “Who are you, and where is the barge?”
“I believe this is yours,” Balthasar growled, unloading the crate single-handed, as if it weighed nothing.
Sebastian and Gonzalo’s mouths gaped like a couple of river fish.
Balthasar bowed towards them and pulled away from the jetty. An honorable trade. When he was out of sight, he angled the mirrored panels to disappear into the coastline.
Balthasar found the mouth of Limnoreia Estuary and guided his skiv to a pocket behind the high reeds. He closed his eyes to listen to the wind on the water. He placed his sheathed sword before the shrine in the skiv and bowed.
“I thank the wind for its power, and the ocean for its patience,” whispered Balthasar.
He recalled the drone and replayed the attack on the barge. Holograms projected everything it had recorded. A smile played at the corner of his lips. The effort to reprogram the drone had paid off. The drone’s duplicate projections of himself around the barge proved to be perfect decoys to confuse his quarry. Balthasar tapped his wrist to enable the audio playback when the hologram replayed the moment he had pinned the pirate to the deck.
Who ordered you to this shameful task?
The Guild. It was the Guild.
Balthasar flicked his fingers and the hologram spun to show the face of Solanio approaching the crate. He paused the recording and keyed in a command for the drone to deliver the recording to Leonato.
“It is done.” Balthasar watched the drone disappear down the river. He snatched the communicator from his buckle, knelt before his shrine, and sent a message through the water to every Shadow Walker on the Globe. All at once, their pendants would shimmer with the same call, the same cry, the labors of their purpose realized at last. Just as every dawn began with the smallest glimmer, so too, they would rise with the words that every Shadow Walker had been waiting for, and Balthasar had finally spoken. Those fateful words could not be undone, could not be escaped, nor could the raging storm that came with them.
His message was simple. “Out of the shadows, there shines a light.”
If you enjoyed Shanel and Frasier’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Newlondon, read “The Beast Below” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Solanio led Captain Ward and her litany of bodyguards along the pier and up the steps of the Guild Hall. Through the large double doors, they entered the Guild’s chambers. Robed figures wound a route between the soldiers to the semicircular desk and took their respective seats. Prospero reclined in the central throne.
Ward crossed her arms and tapped her foot. “Are these the city’s leaders?” she asked Solanio.
“Captain Ward of the Polity, may I present you to the Guild of Fisherman.” Solanio gestured in a reverential bow between Prospero and the Polity.
“And why are you not among them?” Ward asked. “You were the one who represented the city on the eve of our arrival. Did Newlondon not consider the Polity important enough to send one of their own?”
Prospero rose from his seat. “Captain Ward, allow me to introduce myself. I am Prospero. And it was my choice to send Solanio to meet with you for the simple reason that he was best qualified in the art of diplomacy. The same reason he was selected as our auctioneer. Surely you can appreciate that holding a rank does not necessarily make a person the best equipped for a given task.”
Ward heaved a sigh. Politicians. How many more of these insufferable double-talkers would she have to suffer? Just once, she’d have liked to draw her weapon and put a bullet through the forehead of these so-called diplomats. Bullets were the plainest form of communication.
Leonardo blundered his way to the front and took Ward by the elbow. “Captain, Prospero is an honorable man. You will find no greater authority in Newlondon.”
At least she wouldn’t have to repeat herself. Saying it once was painful enough. “Very well. Has Solanio informed you of the purpose of my visit?”
Prospero took his seat once again, the balance of power restored. “He advised us of your tour. You would be visiting each city to assess what resources could be of use to the Polity. I trust the auction was an adequate demonstration of the esteem in which Newlondon is held by the rest of the Globe.”
“I don’t care for your little rivalries and power squabbles,” Ward said bluntly. “I’ve seen places like Newlondon on every planet I’ve ever stepped foot on. It has that same stink to it. This city is nothing but bait.”
“It’s a place for reputable folk to hide their dirty, little secrets. Where husbands can attend ‘business meetings’ with their secretaries, away from prying eyes. Where gamblers can place their bets at a card table or backstreet fight. This city’s an enticement, and you think it’s hidden behind the netting and the fishing and the family-friendly amusement arcades. But we both know that nothing remains hidden forever. Time has a way of exposing all things. And the time for Newlondon has come, Prospero.”
“Why, Captain, you make it all sound so unseemly. Newlondon has its fair share of amusements, but we take pride in the services we provide. Wouldn’t your men benefit from a little relaxation when they’re off-duty? Where better to find a pleasant diversion than in one of our motels, where I hear some wonderfully talented ladies are currently performing. Would that not be something of value to men who’ve spent years stuck inside one of your sterile ships?”
The soldiers glanced between each other with a spark of giddiness.
Ward turned her head, her glare snapping them back to attention. “All bait is dressed up to appeal, Prospero. But it doesn’t stop it being bait. Where others might look at this city and see the glamor and the lights, all I see are a sorry collection of ramshackle buildings and some fishing nets. What have you got to offer the Polity which we could make use of?”
“What of the pollium? There are always more krakens in the sea. I’m sure with the Polity’s resources, and our fishermen’s skills, we could collect enough pollium for the entire Polity of Planets.”
Ward cackled a laugh. “You think the Polity have any need of pollium? It’s garbage. We have more power in a single engine cell aboard the smallest of our ships than a thousand eyes of pollium could ever produce. What can you give us, Prospero? Leonardo tells me that you Newlondoners can do much for us. But all I see is trash. Give me one good reason why Newlondon shouldn’t be torn to the ground and stripped for parts like the scrap it is?”
The Guild members turned to their leader, and Prospero clasped his hands together, reclining in his chair. “Tell me, Captain. The other cities you’ve visited—have you found minerals and materials that might be of value?”
“There are resources on this planet that are of value,” Ward answered.
Prospero smiled. “And I take it your men are experts at transporting such ‘resources’ across the Globe.”
“My men are capable of almost anything.”
“Is that so? Do they know where the Mirrim lurk? Have they mapped out every turn of the river? Can they recognize the roar of the savagelands or sense the ambush of bandits? How many of your men can feel a ripple on the river and know whether to run or hide from what rises below? There are beasts on this Globe that would swallow your men without a sound and slither into your skin without you even knowing. And this cargo, these minerals, are fodder for these creatures.”
“We carry weapons. We’re trained in combat. I think you’ll find we can handle ourselves.”
“Of course. Your men have nothing better to do than babysit cargo, have they? And their weapons work against enemies you cannot see, or hear, or touch?”
Ward bit her lip.
Prospero opened his hands and gestured around the table. “We understand if you take no pleasure in our city. But we of the Guild are tasked with the burden of setting the rates of guides and transporters who can protect the many assets of this world. We are its guardians and its shepherds. Ask your friend, Leonardo here. How long would Whitehall last if Newlondoners did not protect the oil pipeline hovering above the sand? All the way from Westminster to Whitehall, we guard it.”
Leonardo blushed, but he remained silent.
“Come, Leonardo, there is no shame in admitting that you wish for us to strike a deal with the Polity for the sake of Whitehall. For the sake of all the cities. And for the sake of the Polity. After all, without Newlondoners, what would be left on the Globe for the Polity to take besides corpses and beasts? These resources you speak of are valueless unless they can be transported safely to your vessel. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Ward gritted her teeth in the knowledge that the old man spoke the truth. She only had so many Marines at her disposal, and she couldn’t afford for her best Marines to become couriers and delivery pilots. Any goods she mined from the planet would be worthless if she couldn’t transport them to her ship and lift them to the UPS Pacifica. “What would stop us from hiring our own guides from among your people?” she asked.
“Newlondoners know better than to work without the Guild’s approval. And they’d never be granted a license unless it was passed by one of us. Without a license, they’d be no better than smugglers. And if you knew anything about Newlondoners, you’d know that they’d sooner kill you than let you call them a smuggler.”
Ward nodded. “Alright. Let’s say we came to an arrangement. What price would you name to extend these services to the Polity?”
“My dear, we would be only too happy to assist the Polity. We Newlondoners are traders at heart. What do you propose would be a fair trade for such services?”
Ward pinched the bridge of her nose. This is the part she hated. Playing diplomat was just another form of haggling. “You spoke of the technology to hunt krakens. Would that make a fair trade?”
Prospero shook his head. “It’s a fair place to start.”
“What else do you want?”
“Were you not at the auction?” Prospero raised an eyebrow and stroked his whiskers.
Ward sighed. “Fine. We’ll match whatever doubloons you deem appropriate. Name your price.”
“Why, Captain. How generous. I believe we have an accord.” Prospero rose and extended his arm to Ward.
She stomped across the chambers and grasped it, grimacing, as if she were dipping her hand in a nest of eels.
“As a courtesy,” Prospero said, “allow us to welcome your Marines in the truest Newlondon tradition. Free drinks at any tavern they desire.”
Ward’s skin crawled, but she could hardly refuse. “Very well. They could do with some time to recharge.”
The Marines around her loosened their shoulders and beamed smiles. Leonardo breathed a sigh of relief.
“If that is all, Captain, then we have business with Solanio,” Prospero said.
Ward stroked her chin. “There is just one more thing.”
“Leonardo was telling me about a group known as Shadow Walkers. I was hoping to meet one.”
Prospero gripped his stomach and howled in laughter. “Oh, Leonardo. You should know better than to play pranks on the Polity.”
Ward scowled. “What do you mean?”
“Stories of the Shadow Walkers are just tales told to children. They’re nothing but myths. I mean, really, who could appear from the shadows to fight for justice and disappear just as quickly? Such warriors exist only in stories.”
“But,” Leonardo spoke up, “if they aren’t true, then what of the rumors about—”
“Rumors?” Prospero interrupted. “Leonardo, you know better than to listen to gossip. The Shadow Walkers are just a fairy tale, I assure you.”
Captain Ward turned to her Marines. “Right, you jarheads. All who wish to return with me, get ready to depart. The rest of you, enjoy your drinks. Dismissed.”
The Marines rushed out of the chamber, their tongues wagging.
Ward marched out of the chambers with Leonardo in tow.
Solanio stood before the Guild. “Fairy tales, Prospero?” he said. “Were not the Polity a mere fairy tale? Yet, here they are.”
“Don’t tell me you believe in the Shadow Walkers, Solanio?”
“Not at all. But who knows what else she might have given us if she’d been allowed to think they were real?”
Prospero nodded, casting his glance across the chamber. “What did I tell you, brethren? Will he not make a wonderful addition to our Guild?” Prospero extended his palm, and inside, a Guild ring shimmered gold.
Solanio stepped forwards and took the ring, placing it on his own hand.
“Congratulations, my boy. You have business to attend to, I believe?” Prospero asked.
The image of Butch flashed across Solanio’s mind. “Yes, I have a customer waiting. Thank you.” Solanio bowed and turned on his heels, cradling the signet ring that commanded the respect of all. Inside the fold of his jacket, the pistol Prospero had given him—the one that would wipe out everything in its path—felt insignificant when compared to the power in the band of gold wrapped around his finger. If only Bianca could see him now.
Perhaps Bianca suffered from the same delusion that Ward did? That there was no value in the Guild. How could a woman so calculating as Ward be so naive? Dismissing Newlondon and all it had to offer—was she even human?
Solanio shook his head.
“Shadow Walkers,” he scoffed below his breath. “The Polity have much to learn.”
Balthasar watched from his skiv on the water. The two men with purple eyes lingered with the crate and the bounty of the kraken’s eye within. Another Newlondoner guided them away from the amphitheater and across the dockyard to a pristine barge. They boarded the polished hovercraft, outfitted with the finest weaponry across its mount, and surveyed it. The men nodded and returned to the dockyard as Newlondon haulers lifted the crate onto the barge.
All the while, the bandit at the window stalked the crate like prey.
Balthasar gripped his buckle in one hand, and the hilt of his sword with the other.
“Grant me patience,” he whispered to the ocean, “so that I do not strike too soon.”
Solanio slipped along the crowded thoroughfare, past the taverns where Polity Marines indulged in pitchers of ale, surrounding themselves in the skirts of blue-eyed beauties.
From the amphitheater behind him, the Polity flier lifted in a whirlwind of salt and sand before it blasted heavenward, its roar fading into the distance. Goodbye, Captain.
Across the docks, Solanio crept to his barge. The brothers Sebastian and Gonzalo of Westminster waited by the hovercraft.
“Gentlemen,” Solanio said, approaching them. “Is everything in order?”
“The eye is on board. But are you certain it’s safe on your barge, Solanio?” Sebastian asked.
“If you wish to tour the barge, I have no objections.”
“We’ve already checked it over.”
“And . . . ?”
Gonzalo shrugged. “It seems in order.”
Solanio smiled. “Excellent. Do you have the contract for the Westminster Brides?”
“Signed and sealed.” Sebastian handed over the documents. “And we deposited the doubloons with one of your Guild people at the amphitheater.”
“Then I wish you well. My men will see you in Westminster.” Solanio bowed and stepped back from the berth. He gestured to the men aboard the barge, and the engines fired, lifting it from the water.
Spray dashed the brothers Sebastian and Gonzalo, and they watched their cargo shrink as it disappeared up the river.
Solanio darted across the harbor, and from his pocket, he removed his chain of keys. He bounded up a flight of stairs to his office on the first floor of a building overlooking the sea. When he reached the top, he selected the key, but the door was broken in two. Splinters of wood covered the floor.
He entered the office, and Butch stood by the window, surveying the dock.
“Was it really necessary to break the door down?” Solanio asked.
Butch bared his teeth, flashing Solanio the look of a growling wolf.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Solanio said. “Are you ready to depart?”
“My crew are waiting in an estuary up the river.”
“Then let’s go and meet these fine fellows of yours.”
“After you,” Butch snarled.
Solanio led the giant down the steps, but he hesitated before emerging into the street. He turned back and placed a hand on Butch’s chest, stopping him dead.
“It’s better that we’re not seen together,” Solanio said. “Watch where I go, and follow without drawing attention to yourself. Can you do that?”
Solanio paced over the cobblestones, through the berths to a sleek skiv with all the trappings. He boarded, and from his keychain, selected the combination of keys that would start the engine.
Butch blundered a path behind him, and when he stepped aboard the skiv, it dipped and rocked under his weight.
“Stay down.” Solanio turned the keys and the engine ignited. With movements swift as a striking snake, Solanio piloted the boat out of the bay and up the river.
He pressed his hand against the pistol in his pocket and prayed that he need not use it. The craft skittered over the waves with the speed of a skycrawler’s dive, following the barge which held the eye. The eye he was about to steal from his own men, trained to withstand any ambush. Trained to kill.
He rubbed the ring on his finger. This had better be worth it, he thought.
Balthasar watched the soldiers emerge from the Guild Hall. They entered taverns and swigged ale in a raucous manner that befitted animals, not officers. He shook his head at these so-called “warriors.” Where was their code, their creed, their honor? The only war they seemed capable of fighting was the one with their liver, judging by the amount they drank.
Through these louts, Solanio–with a Guild ring on his finger!–made his way to the barge, and with a wave of his hand, the kraken’s eye began its journey upriver.
Balthasar’s fingertips bristled with the urge to follow the eye. But the bandit in the window didn’t move. Something else was going on here. Something else lurked in these shadows.
The two purple-eyed men returned to their hovercraft, and its violet sail followed the barge. But Balthasar focused on Solanio. He entered a building and appeared in the upper window with the bandit.
The Guild in league with bandits? No surprise there.
Balthasar traced Solanio and his bandit lapdog as they boarded another skiv and ventured up the river. Balthasar adjusted the mirrored panels of his hovercraft to better reflect the riverbank and struck after them, carrying the storm with him. For plotting with criminals, Solanio deserved all that was coming to him. They all deserved the thunder. And Balthasar would bring it, for there was no stopping the wind.
If you enjoyed Shanel and Frasier’s story, feel free to leave comments below.
And in just two more days, on Friday, we’ll bring you the exciting conclusion of “Out of Shadows” in Part 3!
If you would like to read more about Newlondon right now, try “The Beast Below” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Sea fret clouded Newlondon’s winding streets, hiding Solanio as he scurried to the dock. The tang of salt tinted the air, stinging his eyes. His keys jangled at his side, masked by voices which echoed from the harbor, filling the narrow alleyway with a clamor of anticipation.
“Solanio,” a voice whispered, and a shadow cut through the air.
“Is that you, Prospero?” Solanio asked.
“The same. And we have company.”
Solanio ducked around the corner, following Prospero’s shadow, and stumbled into the hulking frame of another man. His tattered camouflage and the scars down his cheeks revealed him better than the knives he carried.
“Solanio, meet the ‘Butcher of Wildcat Fields.’ ”
“You can call me Butch,” the man said through gritted teeth, with a grimace that Solanio interpreted as an attempted smile.
“Butch has served the Guild for many a cycle,” Prospero said. The Head of the Guild seemed out of place in this alleyway. Solanio had witnessed Prospero granting waivers of entry to the auction over the kraken’s eye these past few days, his gold chains radiating an aura of invincibility about him. But here, crouched before a giant whose reputation as a bandit haunted the nightmares of many a Newlondon boy, the glint of Prospero’s gold could not stave off the frailty of age. Beneath his chains hid a shriveled old man, exposed by the gloom.
“What use has the Guild of a man with Butch’s talents on such an auspicious day?” Solanio asked.
“You already know that delegates from every city are coming to bid for the eye.” Prospero ran his thumb across his whiskers. “When was the last time pollium washed up on our shores? This is an opportunity too good to pass up.”
“But Prospero, it didn’t wash up. Antonio slayed the kraken and retrieved the eye.”
“Details best forgotten, Solanio. How much would the pollium in that eye be worth if it were dissected and sold to friends of ours, like Butch here?”
“You mean bandits?”
Butch snarled a grunt at Solanio’s carelessness.
Solanio patted him on the arm. “No offense, friend.”
“A guaranteed fortune,” Prospero said.
Solanio frowned. “I doubt even the richest bandits could afford to compete with the other cities in the auction.”
“Precisely. Which is where Butch comes in.”
Solanio scratched his head. Even the depths of his cunning could not fathom Prospero’s machinations. “How?”
Prospero rolled his eyes. “By stealing back the eye after it’s been sold. Think of it. We shall take the profit of the sale, and then double it once the eye is returned to us by Butch and his companions.”
“But what of the reputation of our transports?” Solanio balked. “Would the Globers not think we’ve lost control of the riverways? What security would they trust to us then?”
Prospero rubbed his eyes. “Solanio, you think so small sometimes. Really, I’m surprised at you. This wouldn’t be the first time the Guild has elicited the help of roamers and bandits. No offense, Butch.”
Butch grunted once again, crossing his arms.
“Sometimes, ” Prospero continued, “it’s good for the other cities to be reminded how dangerous the riverways can be. Help them see why they need our guides and protection. Isn’t that so?” Prospero nodded to Butch.
The giant smiled, or at least, that’s what Solanio hoped the baring of Butch’s sharpened teeth meant.
“And you—” Prospero turned and placed his hands on Solanio’s shoulders, “—you shall be right by his side the entire time, my dear boy.”
Solanio’s eyes bulged. “But, Prospero, am I not needed here?”
“Your barge is being used to transport the eye, Solanio. Don’t you want to make sure nothing happens to your ship when it runs aground?”
“Well, of course, but—”
“Besides, Butch and his cohorts will require a skiv to derail the transport. And who better to supply one than your own reliable self?” Prospero raised an eyebrow.
Solanio was shrewd enough to know when he’d been backed into a corner. But there are opportunities even in the darkest corners. “Does this honor not belong to a Guild member, Prospero?” Now it was Solanio who cocked his eyebrow.
Prospero’s lips curled. “Of course. If all goes well at the auction, your membership will be assured. You’ll accompany Butch with a Guild ring on your finger.”
Solanio reached across to Butch and offered his hand. Butch shook it, his grip crushing Solanio’s fingers.
“I believe we have reached an accord,” Solanio said. “Do you know of my business? My office on the docks?”
Butch nodded. “Prospero told us where to find you.”
“Meet me there after the auction, and we’ll take the swiftest skiv in my fleet.”
“As you wish.” Butch released Solanio’s hand and disappeared into the fog.
Prospero tapped Solanio’s shoulder and lowered his voice to barely a whisper. “It’ll be up to you to make sure those fish-brained thugs don’t get greedy and keep the eye for themselves. Take this.” Prospero slipped a pistol into Solanio’s hand. “It’ll fire a wide burst, killing everything in its path.”
“If you have a weapon such as this, what use have you of me?” Solanio concealed the pistol in the folds of his jacket.
“This is a task for a younger man, Solanio. Besides, the first thing a man of influence must learn is the art of deniability.”
With knees as weak as Prospero’s, it’s no wonder he wanted Solanio to take the fall. “All eyes will be on Newlondon at the auction today. Do not let us down, my boy.”
“Have no fear, Prospero. It won’t be the first auction I’ve helmed.”
“And may it not be the last.” Prospero’s good wishes were always laced with the menace of an underlying threat. The old man withered into the alley, leaving Solanio to navigate a path through the cobbles to the harbor, to the auction that would determine his fate.
Ripples washed against the side of Balthasar’s skiv. A whisper of grass swayed across riverbank meadows. Pale light from the moons above reflected across his face as Balthasar opened his eyes, finished his meditation, and stood from the shrine aboard his skiv.
He breathed a lungful of river air and sensed he was alone. With one swift motion, he lowered his arm through a gap in the hull and adjusted the mirrored panels to better reflect the riverbank, concealing his craft from any who might sail across it.
Satisfied that nobody was watching, he straightened his back, and removed a long samurai blade from its sheath. He pulled a hood over his face, completing the full suit of his black, armored robes, and activated a drone.
“My blade is the wind,” he said aloud.
He swung the sword in a perfect circle, as one with the breeze.
“Gentle, yet strong.”
He pirouetted and lunged the tip of his steel at an invisible enemy, sweeping back in a lightning-fast arc that sliced the air.
“I command the quietest breeze and the fiercest hurricane.”
There was no sound to his movements. Only his whisper, and the whistle of the sword as he wielded it in a ritual that sharpened his mind, his senses, and his muscular frame as well as the blade itself.
“The wind obeys me.”
He finished in a flurry, missing the drone by no more than an eyelash, before the blade came to rest in its sheath, and he knelt before the shrine to bow one final time.
With a flick of his wrist, he recalled the drone and projected the holographic recording it had captured across the deck. The machine had kept up with his movements, and he watched the transmission from beginning to end, satisfied his reprogramming of the device was finally complete.
From the buckle of his belt, a light emitted, blinking a code.
Shadows meet at dusk.
A message from Leonato. Balthasar knew his task. He understood his mission well enough.
Balthasar took the talisman from around his waist, the eel that looped to eat its own tail, and composed a sonar-gram in reply.
I walk among them.
Balthasar sent the message through the water, carried up the river along the network of sonar relay units the Shadow Walkers used in secret. He had accepted the task. His path would be in shadow.
In a single leap, he bounded to the navigation console of his mirrored craft and pitched it across the water towards Newlondon and the auction, the wind whipping his hood and watering his eyes.
Solanio slipped slicker than an eel through the bustling dockyard. The rising sun had sent its heat to accompany the light reflected from the moons, and it burnt through the smog to reveal barges and sails littering the bay. Finsbers, Hallers, and Westies flooded the docks, filling taverns with their cheer.
Solanio wouldn’t have minded sharing a drink with a Finsber or a Westie. But the thought of Hallers swigging good Newlondon ale churned his stomach tighter than a stormy sea.
Those brown-eyed lubbers thought they owned the Globe. Solanio still remembered the tales his father had told him—how the men of Whitehall long ago had dumped waste from their engines and factories into the ocean. How Newlondoners had objected to the pollution of the sea, and the Hallers dismissed them as simpletons. And how the creatures of the deeps absorbed that toxic sludge, and grew into gigantic monsters.
Scores of fishermen lost their lives to the beasts that glowed in the dark and swallowed ships whole. Cycle after cycle, ever more ferocious krakens demolished the city when they crept out of the ocean in search of food, before the pulsar cannons warded off their attacks and confined them to the abyss of the ocean’s deep. Sure, the creatures’ bodies may have become a source of pollium, a mineral precious to the Globers which Newlondoners could sell, but at what cost? All those lives lost because the Hallers thought they had the right to dispose of their garbage in Newlondon’s domain. Because they thought they were better.
And here they were, brown-eyed Haller knaves filling Solanio’s city with their pomp and snobbery. He wished he could put them all on deathships and sail them into the waiting maws of the creatures their arrogance had made. The way he’d sent Antonio to his supposed death. But look at how that had turned out.
Now his only friend, his brother, Antonio, festered as a smuggler in the Hallers’ cells. And Antonio had only himself to blame for it. No. It was the Hallers. It was they who’d sent their drones and recorded Antonio when he’d defended himself against men like Butch. The Hallers had driven Antonio to that deathship. And if Antonio had not betrayed him by stealing Bianca, then all would’ve been well between them still. Antonio’s haughtiness had put him in that cell, with the Hallers, where men of his sort belonged.
Solanio passed the amethyst sails of barges from Westminster, the emerald flags of Finsbury farmers, and the pearlescent glow of Whitehall’s insignia as he reached the amphitheater constructed on the pier specifically for the auction.
He took his place on the podium, in front of where a curtain hung to hide the kraken’s eye displayed behind it. A breeze fluttered the drapes, the fringe of a storm at sea. He glanced across the seats laid out in a semi-circle, and beyond them, to the horizon and the roiling waves.
Guild members entered the arena. Prospero approached, his beaming chains strengthening him with the air of dignity and authority.
“Greetings, Prospero!” Solanio waved as if they hadn’t seen each other in an age.
“Solanio, how goes it?” the old man replied.
“All is well. Have representatives from each city arrived safely?”
“Indeed they have. Allow me to summon them, and I shall introduce you.” Prospero turned and nodded to another Guild member, who vanished, and a great horn blasted across the dock.
Crowds of Globers swarmed the amphitheater, the many colors of their eyes sparkling in a kaleidoscopic mix.
One by one, a chosen few emerged from the audience and approached the platform.
“This is Egeus of Finsbury,” Prospero said.
A robed figure bowed to Solanio. They wore the sleekest apparel to cover their portly frame, but despite their finery, the trace of soil beneath their fingertips revealed their Finsber roots. No farmer could disguise their true station, not even in the noblest garb. “We hope the kraken’s eye will add to our storehouses.” The Finsber licked their lips. “Quite a delicacy, or so I’m led to believe.”
“Trust a Finsber to think of food,” Prospero said, and the men laughed, before the farmer took their seat.
“Next, may I present the honorable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of Whitehall,” Prospero continued.
Solanio gritted his teeth, but he managed to smile ingratiatingly at the two men whose smug demeanors made them tower like Whitehall’s city spires.
“The Governor looks forward to when the eye will be delivered to Whitehall,” Rosencrantz said.
“As does the Mayor,” Guildenstern added.
“Will you both be bidding separately?” Solanio asked.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern flashed each other threatening looks before Rosencrantz forced a laugh to break the tension.
“We are together in everything. Are we not, Guildenstern?”
“Most assuredly. Have you ever known the Governor and Mayor to be at cross purposes?” Guildenstern rolled his eyes, yet, behind the show, the two men itched beneath their collars like hunters competing for prey.
“The eye will replenish our pollium reserves, tripling the efficiency of our energy supplies,” Rosencrantz boasted, as though the kraken’s eye were already his.
“I wish you success in your bidding,” Solanio said.
“The sooner this is over and the pollium is in our factories, the better.” Guildenstern swept his cape back and impatiently took his seat.
“And finally,” Prospero said, “may I present the brothers Sebastian and Gonzalo of Westminster.”
“Ah, Eglamour’s sons, yes? We met the night of Captain Ward’s arrival. Is Eglamour unwell?” Solanio said.
“Thank you for your concern about our father. He entrusted us with his invitation to ensure we win the bid,” Sebastian, the taller brother, said. A sly smile slid across his narrow face, and his violet eyes gleamed.
“We think you will be pleased with our offering,” Gonzalo added. He flicked his curly brown hair and grinned widely at his brother.
“Welcome, then. Please take your seats.” Solanio gestured to the chairs before them. He watched the brothers as they stationed themselves in their chairs. Their boyish excitement betrayed their inexperience in official affairs such as these.
Solanio scoured the audience, where people strained themselves for a view beyond the edges of the amphitheater. Where was Bianca? She should have been here to see him taking the lead, center stage, in command of all the Globe. But she was nowhere to be seen. He sighed and extended his arms, calling for quiet. The curtains parted, revealing the glowing, green eye, and a hush descended on the crowd.
“Welcome, one and all, to the—”
A crash of engines whirred overhead, interrupting Solanio’s speech. The cobalt hull of a Polity flier thundered down in the center of the theater. Its thrusters pushed chairs out of place to make room for its bulk, and the landing gears crunched as it settled on the ground.
From inside, Leonardo led Captain Ward of the Polity down a ramp, and onto the stage. Solanio recognised Leonardo from that first night when the Polity arrived. Kite Night. Was Leonardo to play tour-guide to the Polity? Trust them to put their faith in a Haller. Fools. Behind Ward, Polity officers swarmed out of the small craft.
“Captain Ward,” Solanio said. “How good of you to join us. Are you here to bid on the kraken’s eye, too?”
“What does the Polity need with a trinket like that? We’re not here to pick up souvenirs.” Her expression was as stern as her marine body armor.
Leonardo stepped between Ward and Solanio. “I think what Captain Ward means to say is that she would like to tour the city, and assess its value to the Polity. If you would permit her the honor to do so?”
Solanio cast a glance at Prospero, who nodded.
“I believe that we can accommodate the good Captain. But there is no finer place to analyze the value of Newlondon than right here. Let the bids of the other cities show the Polity that Newlondon is a treasure of the Globe.”
Captain Ward shrugged. “It’s not like there’s anything else here besides a few brothels and casinos masquerading as hotels and taverns along this crummy dock.”
Solanio forced a smile to slither across his lips and pointed to the few vacant spots around the theater. “Won’t you and your men take a seat, Captain? I’m sure you’ll find it enlightening to observe the auction.”
The other delegates made way for the Polity officers to station themselves around the arena. Guild members smothered the newcomers with welcoming smiles. The esteemed bidders from the remaining cities crowded in front of the flier.
Solanio silenced the fury that burned inside his stomach. Ward had made him look a fool in front of the entire Guild. But he’d defused her condescension better than any Guild member. Still, her presence in the auditorium made him question what else could go wrong.
“Now that we’re all here, is everyone ready to begin?”
Balthasar throttled his skiv around the bay. He angled the mirrors to reflect the ocean back towards the coast and powered around the multitude of barges competing for space at the docks.
A crowd surrounded an open theater constructed for the purpose of pure ostentation. Inside the arena, a metallic flier rested. The Polity, no doubt.
He eased off the throttle and let the rising tide sweep him closer.
On a stage, he spotted his target. The kraken’s eye. It bulged in a greenish glow, radiating pollium through the swollen gloop of its hide.
Balthasar knelt before his shrine and closed his eyes, whispering in a voice soft as moonlight. “May the ocean forgive me for what I am yet to do.”
Solanio turned to the kraken’s eye displayed on the stage behind him. It sat on a hand-carved pedestal, it’s dripping, green goo contained within a custom-made glass-and-metal globe handblown and crafted by none other than the reclusive and mysterious Artist of the Wildcat Glassworks. Solanio himself had commissioned the work, insisting to Prospero that the extra cost would easily be recovered in the enhanced bidding the functional artwork would attract.
“Shall we start the bidding at ten thousand?”
Egeus raised an eager hand, though it looked more like a grubby paw to Solanio. “Thank you to our Finsbury delegate for opening the bid. Do I hear twenty thousand?”
“Twenty thousand,” Rosencrantz and Guildenstern echoed in unison.
“Twenty thousand to Whitehall.” Solanio watched them smile at each other through gritted teeth. “Thirty thousand?”
The Finsber raised their hand again. Solanio swore he could see saliva dripping from their chin as well.
“Thank you for thirty thousand. Forty?” Solanio avoided looking in Prospero’s direction, fearing what he would see in his expression.
“Why don’t we make this interesting, shall we? One hundred thousand.” Sebastian stood, smiling broadly to the crowd.
“A generous raise from the Westminster delegate.” Solanio nodded to Sebastian. “One hundred thousand. Any other offers?”
Egeus wiped their mouth and looked sullen. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern exchanged tentative glances, waiting to see if the other would bid any more.
“It is an impressive bid, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! Any other takers?” Solanio gestured to the eye as enticingly as he could.
“One hundred and fifty thousand!” cried Guildenstern.
Rosencrantz gaped, red-faced. He opened his mouth to speak, when Gonzalo of Westminster jumped to his feet, next to his standing brother.
“One hundred and fifty thousand and ten of our Brides. One for each of the Guild House members!” Sebastian said. Sebastian’s eyes swept the crowd, from Solanio to Prospero, finally landing on Captain Ward.
Gasps rippled through the audience. Gonzalo proudly preened under the attention their bid gave them. Sebastian had not taken his eyes off Ward. A hint of malice swirled in his violet eyes above his ever present smile. Ward crossed her arms and returned her attention to the podium. The murmurs grew until Solanio pounded his fist on the podium.
“Quiet, please!” Solanio demanded.
“I was under the impression only monetary bids would be accepted! This is outrageous!” cried Guildenstern.
“Whitehall controls the employment of Brides, not Westminster.” Rosencrantz stamped his boot. “The Governor will not stand for this bid to be accepted!”
“Don’t be sore because you cannot outbid us, Whitehaller. Our Brides are just as valuable without your surgical intervention. And I am sure members of the Guild will be glad to utilize all their skills, not just their vision.” Sebastian winked at Prospero.
Solanio looked to the Head of the Guild. A chuckle rippled through Prospero’s thick gut, and he nodded for Solanio to continue.
Solanio raised his hands to calm the crowd. “Gentlemen, please. Your invitations indicated that the most valuable bid would win. There was no mention of what form the bid must be made in. Can anyone match the value of ten Westminster Brides?” It was a pointless question. Who on the Globe could have matched the value of even one Westminster Bride? Let alone ten! “Very well. If there are no more bids, I will close the auction.”
Solanio paused for the delegates to respond.
Egeus shook his head, his eyes already scanning for the nearest pub to get something to eat.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern steamed, but their hands remained firmly in their laps.
Solanio clapped his hands together three times. “Sold. The eye belongs to the brothers Sebastian and Gonzalo, representing Westminster. Congratulations, gentlemen.”
Sebastian and Gonzalo bowed and waved to the crowd. A round of uncomfortable applause broke out among those who had gathered to view the auction.
“As agreed prior to the sale, I shall arrange transport of the eye to Westminster,” Solanio said.
“Thank you, Solanio. We are most grateful that you accepted our bid. You and the Guild will not be disappointed.” Sebastian placed his hand on his heart in an exaggerated gesture of sincerity.
“This concludes the auction. Peace be with you all.” Solanio exited the stage, and Prospero was the first to greet him.
“It sold for more than any of us had hoped for. A fine performance, Solanio, despite the interruption.” Prospero glanced at Ward, who stood and marched directly towards them.
She carried herself with an assassin’s deliberation, deadly as a bullet.
Solanio puffed out his chest. The other cities were willing to pay such a high price for the eye. Surely she could see how valuable the Guild’s cooperation would be to the Polity. How valuable he might be. This was a victory even she would have to concede. With the riches this haul of pollium had drawn, Newlondon would no longer be the city on the edge of the world. It would emerge from the shadows as a beacon to the Globe. A lighthouse on the shore. And Solanio would be at the heart of the resurgence, casting the light where he wished.
“Captain Ward,” Solanio bowed. “We meet again. How did you enjoy our little gathering? I trust you found it . . . educational.”
Leonardo hurried behind her. “But there’s so much they can do,” he said. “You don’t need to go through with it. Newlondon is rich in—”
“Pack it in, Leonardo,” Ward snapped, batting him away like an insect. Her men swarmed around her, hands on their weapons. She glared at Solanio with a look so sharp it could cut a kraken’s hide. “Gather your leaders.” Her voice boomed with the authority of thunder. “We need to talk.”
Balthasar watched the commotion unfold on the shore until Solanio clapped thrice. The woman in the sleek white uniform–the one from the Polity flier–marched towards Solanio.
The Guild members followed Solanio out of the amphitheater, down the pier and into the Guild Hall, towing Polity soldiers in their wake. Balthasar did not know Solanio well, but everyone in Newlondon knew everyone else to some degree. He always thought Solanio smiled too much; had never fully trusted the man. Clearly, Solanio had risen in station lately.
Balthasar tracked the green eye. Men packed it in a crate and lifted it from its pedestal.
Two purple-eyed men signed a contract, and handed over bag after bag of doubloons.
The crowd dispersed along the harbor wall, and from a window above them, Balthasar spotted the outline of a giant peering down at the dock. A bandit. His scarred face glowered at the crate which held Balthasar’s target.
Balthasar reached for his blade but checked his hand. He could afford to wait. The time would come for the storm he carried within his palms to break. But not yet. Now was the time for stealth, the time for shadow.
In the distance, on the horizon, the air grew hot. He closed his eyes and sensed the war between sky and sea. He felt it on his skin, on his breath, on his blade. The coming storm.
“The wind obeys me,” he whispered to himself, and he opened his eyes, cemented them on the crate, and waited for the thunder.
If you enjoyed Shanel and Frasier’s story, feel free to leave comments below.
And in just two more days, on Wednesday, we’ll bring you Part 2 of “Out of Shadows” and on Friday, we reveal the exciting conclusion in Part 3!
If you would like to read more about Newlondon right now, try “The Beast Below” which kicked off the Newlondon stories in the Globe Folio series.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning: