Out of Shadows
BY SHANEL WILSON AND FRASIER ARMITAGE
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:
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
- “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
- “A Matter of Details” by Matthew Cross
- “Siren’s Song–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “Siren’s Song–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Head on the Wall” by Matthew Cross
- You just read: “Out of Shadows–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!