In a time of crisis, Valentine and Emilia’s love blooms

Swift as Shadow

Part II


Emilia looked out a window overlooking the Newlondon Harbor. She had eaten the food Valentine gave her and took a short rest. She couldn’t really sleep with the events of the last day flashing through her mind. When Emilia made the choice to stay with Valentine, she imagined a beautiful world by her side, free from worry and full of adventure.

Such a world would never have been hers if she had become a Bride as planned. Once in Whitehall, she would have been registered and taken into surgery to enhance her already ultraviolet-sensitive eyes for a job either repairing defense systems as a Vestra or monitoring the beasts around the Globe as an Artemis. Neither of those tasks had ever seemed appealing to Emilia, but her eyes destined her to be prized for their usefulness instead of Emilia’s own talents and desires.

Photo by Håkon Grimstad.

She longed to get to know her beautiful Shadow, the name she had given Valentine before she learned her real name, and to explore this new world lying in front of her. Now she was stuck in a room with a window, not unlike the one she had left behind in Westminster. Emilia knew she was in unfamiliar territory, so she tried to accept her place and wait for Valentine. But waiting was getting hard.

I can help. I should be doing something! Emilia thought to herself.

But all the things she thought of would jeopardize them all by exposing her eyes to anyone in Newlondon. Instead, Emilia decided to study Valentine’s room. It was sparse and tidy. Emilia’s own room in her father’s house was filled with all types of glass blown into the most intricate and beautiful shapes. It was an explosion of color. In Valentine’s room, the only color came from a few small paintings tacked above the small desk. Each was a beautiful landscape; a lush green forest with accents of golden sunlight filtering through the branches, craggy mountain peaks swirled in grey mist, the teals and blues of an outlook over the sea. The last one was vibrant oranges and browns of sand dunes. Valentine had clearly explored each piece of the Globe, from the top of the Elizabeth River and down to the sea.

Emilia understood then just how little she knew about the Globe, and Valentine for that matter. Emilia studied the painting of the sea cliff further. She should have felt terrified to come all this way, leaving her father and ignoring her fate, to be with a stranger. Instead, a calm washed over her. She smiled at the thought of this new adventure with this new, beautiful person by her side. Emilia looked back out the window. She caught a swish of a cloak as the front door creaked open.

“Emilia?” Bianca called.

“Yes! I am here. Did you find your Antonio?” Emilia said, as she descended the stairs.

Bianca embraced Emilia and led her to the sitting room through the carved wood archway on their left. Dark wood paneled the walls, and a few paintings like the ones in Valentine’s room hung from them. Heavily carved chairs with striped cushions sat around a tea table with a beautiful inlay of sea creatures swimming in the wood’s surface.

Photo by Wonderlane.

“I did. By the grace of Elizabeth Hathaway. It is as Valentine feared. He was made a member of the Guild upon returning from slaying the kraken and was made the representative to go to Whitehall to meet with the Polity.”

“Why would they let the newest member be their representative?”

“That is a very good question, Emilia. I am positive the Guild means to use him to their extreme advantage, but there is something I am not seeing yet. The Guild is somewhat of a necessary evil here in Newlondon. Us Newlondoners are born a bit restless, with the sea in our veins. Some choose more dubious ways of life than others, but that is the charm of Newlondon. Our destinies are our own. The Guild maintains the thinnest semblance of order in exchange for carte blanche in their racketeering and shady dealings. That’s why people like my father have tried to tip those balances to protect those unable to wield such power. Those like my sweet Antonio.”

“If the Polity is to be feared, as we’ve been taught, and the Guild protects themselves first, as you said, perhaps they feel Antonio is expendable?” Emilia suggested.

Before Bianca could answer, Valentine appeared in the room.

“Valentine!” Emilia crossed the room to greet her.

“Taking your Shadow business seriously, I see. You don’t have to sneak into your own home,” Bianca said playfully.

“You never know who is watching, sweet sister,” Valentine replied.

“You sound just like Father,” Bianca said. “Come, tell us what you know.”

“We retrieved the dead pirate from Antonio’s skiv and left Antonio a warning. It’s up to Antonio for now,” Valentine shared, as they took their seats.

Bianca let out the breath she had been holding.

“We will protect him, my sister. All have been alerted along the river. And those in Newlondon have brought more news,” Valentine said, taking Bianca’s hand in hers. “Solanio has also left the harbor on his way to Whitehall. The word on the wind is that he is to represent Newlondon to the Polity.”

“That scoundrel! I knew there was something I could not see.”

“And more still, Solanio is how Antonio ended up on the Tempest. Antonio had panicked about the pirate and went to Solanio for help. The only help he offered was certain death.”

“A death that did not occur. Perhaps he will correct this error on his way to Whitehall?” Emilia interrupted.

Bianca’s hands involuntarily tightened around Valentine’s.

Bianca’s hands involuntarily tightened around Valentine’s. Photo by Zoe.

“Solanio cannot risk another failure. If he has persuaded the Guild to trust him as their actual representative to Whitehall, he certainly has been able to twist the Guild’s questionable motives to enhance his own. Antonio is the only thing in his way to a rightful spot in the Guild and to your heart,” Valentine said, looking deep into her sister’s eyes.

“Me? He knows I find him wretched.”

“Yes, but men like Solanio only want the things they cannot have. So, we must be vigilant and ready for what lies ahead. I am leaving to organize a crew of Shadow Walkers that will go to Whitehall. That way we will be prepared for any ills Solanio or the Guild, for that matter, have planned.”

“You aren’t leaving without me! I cannot rest while that vile bottom-dweller lurks toward my beloved!” Bianca proclaimed.

“But I need you here with Emilia, staying safe. I promise I will stay in constant touch,” Valentine said, touching her eel medallion.

“Dear Valentine, my Shadow, please. I can help. I cannot be confined to another set of walls when I just left my old ones behind,” Emilia said, breaking in.

Bianca stood, reaching her hand out to Emilia. Emilia stood and took it.

“We are coming with you. We will obey all your orders except those that say we cannot help,” Bianca said. Emilia nodded in agreement.

“Father will have my head if I let anything happen to you and with being newly installed . . .”

“Installed? Oh, Valentine, I am so proud! You are ready for this.” Bianca wrapped Valentine in a hug before continuing. “As far as Father goes, nothing will happen to us. We spent our girlhoods together where we both learned the skills and secrets of Shadows, yet I always knew my life and love would be bound in Newlondon. I slowly stayed behind but never forgot all I have learned at your side. Now that my love is lost in the sea of this turbulent world, I cannot sit idly by. Besides, when have you let Father decide what you did? And in the short time I’ve had with Emilia, I can tell she is wise and cunning. She has put her full faith in you. Would you not return that to her?”

Valentine looked into the two faces before her. She still had so much to prove, to the Shadow Walkers, to her father, and to herself. She couldn’t let any of them down, let alone Bianca and Emilia. Their lives had been diverging, but Valentine and Bianca were as close as two sisters could be. Halves of the same whole.

Valentine wanted to protect her sister from the dangers she had seen around the Globe, yet she could not imagine trying to take this mission on without Bianca. Valentine’s heart swelled seeing Emilia standing so boldly next to her sister. Valentine knew she was inextricably connected to Emilia, with their connection deepening every moment they spent together. Through their journey so far, Emilia had proven she could hold her own, so Valentine could not stand in her way.

“I will have to scrounge up one of Father’s broken medallions to reconfigure for Emilia. We will need to gather supplies and be ready at the drop of an anchor.”

“I knew you’d come around!” Bianca danced around the room.

Valentine brushed the hair from Emilia’s face.

“Are you sure you are ready for this?” Valentine asked.

“Of course not, but I already told you. I can help and I will follow where you go,” Emilia said with a wry smile.

In the shadows and mist, a small skiv bobbed at the secret dock at Limnoreia estuary. Bianca gave Emilia a sisterly hug and stepped aside for Valentine. Valentine hung the newly fashioned eel medallion around Emila’s neck. The amethyst crystal eye of the eel matched Emilia’s eyes perfectly. 

“It’s not too late to change your mind, Emilia,” Valentine said.

Photo by Suhyeon Choi.

“I am ready, my Shadow. This will give us the best chance to save Antonio. I can do this.” Emilia pressed her forehead to Valentine’s.

“She’s right, sister. You and I cannot go where she will be allowed to,” Bianca said, adjusting the strap on the shoulder bag she wore.

Valentine closed her eyes tight. She knew they were both right. Their admiration was blossoming into the sweet first buds of love over the past few days as they gathered information and made plans to help save Antonio. Valentine didn’t feel ready to let Emilia go. She felt a squeeze from the hands holding her own.

“It’s time,” Emilia said gently. She placed a delicate kiss on Valentine’s lips and stepped aboard the skiv with the Shadow Walker that would escort her to the gates of Whitehall to report as a Bride.

Valentine subconsciously touched the medallion around her neck as she watched the skiv unlock and pull back from the dock.  She saw Emilia touch her own before she slipped it back into her dress. Bianca came and stood next to her sister.

“Is this what I am like when Antonio is around? No wonder you call me insufferable.” Bianca giggled, lightening the mood.

“Ha! You’ve always been insufferable, even before Antonio, dear sister!” Valentine prodded back.

“I must have learned it from you!”

“No, we learned it from Father!”

The sisters laughed and shared a long hug.

“Come, sister. There is much to do,” Bianca said as she turned toward Newlondon.

“Swift as shadow,” Valentine said, and she slipped into the darkness of the wilderness.

If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Shanel’s “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Valentine always wanted to be a Shadow Walker

Swift as Shadow

Part I


Spray from the river studded the hood wrapped tightly around Emilia. Valentine’s face was set firmly forward as she pushed the throttle as hard as she could, steering to make their wake as minimal as possible. The rocket could not mean anything good as far as Valentine was concerned and they must get to Newlondon immediately. Emilia patiently followed Valentine’s lead. She had learned from her trip across the desert with her that Valentine worked best in silence.

“Put this on.”

Valentine released Emilia from their embrace and gave her a dark blue cloak like her own.

Emilia obeyed as she watched Valentine sweep into action. Valentine prepared the hover and unlocked the maglock holding it to the dock. She paused for a moment, then went to the controls. Emilia curiously peered toward the spot Valentine had paused. She caught a faint glimpse of a pulsing blue light under the water. She inched toward the edge of the hover to get a better look.

“Hold on!” Valentine commanded.

Emilia fell back into the bench behind her. The hover raced down the river.

“I’ll get us to safety,” Valentine said, turning to Emilia. Her expression was clouded.

Even when the creature had attacked them when they crossed from Westminster to the river, Valentine had remained calm and cool. A chill rose in Emilia that wasn’t from the wind rushing past them as they traveled farther and farther from her home. Emilia stood and placed her hand on Valentine’s. Valentine looked meaningfully into Emilia’s violet eyes and turned back to the river ahead.

Emilia gazed with wonder at the towering trees that lined the left bank of the river as they flew past Finsbury. She had never seen anything like them in her dusty desert home in Westminster. The water then became more turbulent, and the fog spiraled around them. Valentine’s shoulders seemed to relax as she steered into a pocket of fog and the world around them disappeared.

“Home,” she said.

Emilia gazed with wonder at the towering trees that lined the left bank of the river as they flew past Finsbury. Photo by Anna Goncharova.

They soon heard the cawing of sea birds through the fog. Tall masts pierced through the grayness and Valentine slowed the hover to a slow crawl.

“Welcome to Newlondon,” Valentine said, motioning to the shadows of ships and lines of docks cutting through the mist. “The grand tour will have to wait, unfortunately.”

They quietly cruised through the bay and into the docks. Valentine turned into her private dock when a loud groan of an engine behind them grabbed their attention. A dark-black ship laden with a huge creature strewn on its deck crossed into the bay.

“A kraken? That’s impossible!” Valentine exclaimed, while Emilia gawked at the size of the monstrous beast.

Shouts from the docks grew and echoed across the water.

“The Tempest returns!”

“Kraken is slain!”

“Antonio slayed the beast!”

Valentine’s face lost all its color.

“Antonio? It can’t be. The fool. I’ve told Bianca as much so many times.” Valentine wove her fingers through her curls. Emilia reached out and took Valentine’s hands.

“Tell me what you need me to do. I can help. Who is Bianca?”

“She is my sister,” Valentine responded.

Valentine reached into her cloak and pulled a chain with a medallion on the end of it. The medallion was ornamented with a swirl of long, slender body with a fin running the length of its back and a crystal eye.

“It’s an eel,” Valentine answered the question in Emilia’s eyes. “We have to see my father, but I need Bianca too.”

She squeezed the medallion, and the crystal eye pulsed a deep blue.

“That light, I saw it in the water at the dock!” Emilia leaned closer to examine the medallion.

“It’s an alert of sorts. I will explain more soon, but we must get to my father, and quick. Keep your hood covering you and follow close. We will use the distraction at the docks to slip away unseen.”

“I’ll follow where you lead.”

Hearing Emilia say those words transported Valentine back to the Westminster dock and how her heart had stood still when Emilia asked to come with Valentine instead of going to Whitehall as planned. No one she encountered in all her travels so far came close to creating these unfamiliar feelings Valentine was having. Emilia had shown strength and poise through their journey so far, through all the twists and turns that seemed to be coming faster as the day dawned. Valentine embraced Emilia and gently kissed her cheek.

Photo by Meritt Thomas.

She led Emilia around a long loop through the docks away from the crowd growing to get a glimpse of the kraken. They silently raced through the visitor docks when Valentine stopped short. She motioned to Emilia to stay on the dock as she jumped into a skiv covered in nets and tarps. Valentine swiftly searched the skiv and peered under a corner of the tarp. She winced at what she saw. She secured the tarp and returned to Emilia’s side.

“This is Antonio’s skiv. It shouldn’t be here, and what’s on it shouldn’t, either,” Valentine whispered to Emilia. “Come, quickly.”

They raced towards town staying in the shadows.

Photo by Jake Oates.

Bianca paced her bedroom, clutching the medallion at the end of her necklace, its crystal eye pulsing a deep blue. She stopped occasionally to peek out the window, then continued pacing. When she heard the wooden creak of the front door, she sprinted down the narrow staircase to the entry.

“Sister!” Bianca cried out.

Valentine swooped in with Emilia close behind and shut the door as quickly as they had entered. She wrapped her arms around Bianca in a tight embrace.

“Where’s Father? I sent a ping up the river after I saw the rocket,” Valentine asked.

“He’s meeting the others at Selkie’s Kist. He’s not going to be happy to learn you are the one that sent the ping. He hasn’t installed you yet.”

“What was I supposed to do? Ignore the giant rocket in the sky and not warn the Shadow Walkers? My installation is a formality at this point.”

“You know that’s not how Father feels. And who is this, dear sister?” Bianca peered into the dark hood Emilia was still wearing.

Emilia shifted quietly at Valentine’s side. Valentine looked at Emilia apologetically.

“This is Emilia,” Valentine said, as Emilia lowered her hood gently.

“The Bride you were escorting?”

Bianca couldn’t hide her shock. She had never met a Westminster Bride in person before and half wondered if it was just a myth that their eyes were really violet. She should have known better than to assume that myths aren’t real when she knew the truth of the Shadow Walkers. When Bianca looked back to her sister, she saw something else. The warmth growing in Valentine’s cool-blue eyes as she looked upon Emilia was the same warmth she saw in Antonio’s.

“I chose a different path,” Emilia said, speaking for the first time since the docks. “I am pleased to meet you.”

“The pleasure is all mine. I am sure this tale between you two is worth sharing, but there are more pressing matters at the moment.”

“Yes, more than you know. We must all get to Selkie’s Kist immediately.” Valentine motioned to the door.

“Neither of us are Shadow Walkers! Father warned what would happen if we attended a meeting without an invitation. Sending a ping is one thing, but why should we risk our lives over some rocket?” Bianca’s face flushed with anger. 

Selkie’s Kist. Photo by Kristine Weilert.

“It’s Antonio. I think he is in more trouble than he is even aware. Come, I’ll explain on the way.”

Mist swirled in coils, making the air thick and humid. Silhouettes of trees and marsh grasses loomed as they got closer to Selkie’s Kist. The way to the inlet led further inland than Emilia had expected. Valentine explained that some of the natural inlets had been deepened to provide cover for meetings such as these. In hushed whispers, Valentine told Bianca of the ruckus at the harbor and what she had found on Antonio’s skiv.

They fell silent as the forms of people took shape through the mist. Valentine motioned that she would emerge first.

“Swift as shadow,” she said, signaling to the others gathered.

“Short as any dream,” a deep voice responded.

In a clearing surrounded by reeds and marshy trees, the group before Valentine was composed of about ten people with a tall, slender man standing opposite her. His face was stern and weathered from many years along the river and the sea. Some in the group eyed the newcomers with distrust, while others remained hidden beneath their cloak hoods. Emilia was reminded of the first time she saw Valentine, concealed beneath her midnight-blue cloak as they left Westminster. Valentine waved for Bianca and Emilia to join her at the edge of the circle.

“What is the meaning of this, Leonato?” said the shorter, stouter person to the right of the man in the center.

“Please, I know I have not been fully installed, but this is urgent,” Valentine said slowly.

“We don’t have time for your trifles, child,” said Leonato.

“Father, I am not a child! And I am the one that sent the ping from the Westminster dock when the rocket etched the sky.” Valentine responded with a step forward into the circle, her shoulders back.

“Your arrogance will lead to trouble, Valentine. Do you think you were the only person with their eyes skyward when the rockets passed by? We already have scouts gathering information about the landing and what the Polity are after. And you have already been warned not to interfere with our work until you are fully installed. Perhaps the responsibility is too great for you.”

Valentine shook her curls as if to shake off her father’s rebuke, but she stood strong. Emilia took Valentine’s hand. Whispers wove through the circle.

“Father, please, there is more. Please let Valentine speak.” Bianca lowered her hood revealing herself to the group.

“Both my daughters defy me? And who is this stranger you brought to our secret meeting?”

Before Valentine could respond, Emilia stepped forward and lowered her hood.

“I am Emilia, Eglamour’s daughter of Westminster. I am sorry for my intrusion here. My father hired Valentine to guide me to Whitehall for I was to be a Bride. Valentine saved my life from a beast in the savagelands. I now follow where she goes.”

More whispers rippled through those gathered.

“It’s Antonio, Father. We must help him!” Bianca interrupted as tears started streaming down her face.

“I understand he has slain a great kraken. I am sure the Guild will no longer ignore him after today. We will monitor the situation,” Lenato responded, his face troubled.

“There’s more,” Valentine interjected. “When I arrived with Emilia, I discovered a dead pirate concealed on his skiv.”

“My Antonio would never kill anyone. He is being framed, or he was only protecting his cargo,” said Bianca.

Another person from the circle spoke up.

“Aye, he may be a simple trader, but his ideals are high.”

“Yes, I know this to be true as well,” said Leonato. “If the Guild becomes aware of this, they will use it to their own devious ends. We will take care of it. Bianca, go now to Antonio. The Guild will have spoken to him by now. Find out what you can.”

“Yes, Father. Thank you.” Bianca gave a glance to Valentine and Emilia as she quickly disappeared into the mist.

Leonato turned to Valentine. He saw an echo of himself in her crystalline blue eyes. One from many years ago when he joined the Shadow Walkers to protect the peace of the Globe. Now he stood, as their leader, facing the most challenging times the Globe had seen these many years. Leonato could no longer deny that this was the path his daughter had chosen and was destined for.

“How I tried to keep you from this life, but you girls always found ways to follow my footsteps. I perhaps should have seen this coming.”

“I am ready, Father. This is the life I have chosen.”

Leonato’s eyes fell to Emilia. She blushed and gazed at Valentine, waiting patiently.

“With the landing of the Polity rocket, that peace is threatened in every corner of our beloved home. Now a daughter of Westminster is here and the word from Oberon is that another has left Belmont. We will need all of our most skilled Shadow Walkers at the ready to preserve the Globe’s peace. My fellow seafarers, I ask you to allow the installation of Valentine as a full member of the Shadow Walkers. All in favor say, aye.”

The stout person to his right scoffed, but slowly each of the members of the circle responded.

“Aye.” “Aye.” “Aye.”

“Valentine, by taking the Oath of the Shadow Walkers, you must honor all of our codes and aims. Do you accept?” Leonato asked.

“Aye. I accept.” She nodded gratefully to her father and to the others. “Thank you. Thank all of you. I will not fail.”

“You will be in charge of this mission to clear Antonio’s name. Bring Emilia to our home, and I will send instructions shortly.”

“Thank you,” Valentine said meaningfully to her father. She turned to the rest of the group and bowed deeply. “Swift as shadow.”

If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Shanel’s “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Night of the Rocket–Westminster

The Globe

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

[EDITORS NOTE: Below is the second of six stories set on a single planet but written by four authors. We will release one story each Friday. Please bear with this short introduction to the planet and the five cities. It will be worth it. I promise!]

On the planet simply known as The Globe, all the residents live along the Elizabeth River in or near one of the five nation cities. In the wilds in between live the beasts and the bandits, but under the protection of the five cities, the people prosper. Trade travels along the Elizabeth River. Except for the Seven Day War between Whitehall and Finsbury, there has always been peace. What more could one want?

Generations ago, their ancestors fled a war among the stars and settled The Globe. They dismantled their ships and built cities. Now, they only look to the stars to admire their cold, distant beauty.

So no one expected the descent of the rockets. Only those watching the night sky on that historic night saw the lurid, purple glare as the first rocket landed in a field near Whitehall. A night that would always be remembered as the “Night of the Rocket.”

The City of Westminster

To the west among the dunes lies the City of Westminster, the only city not built along the Elizabeth’s shores. The wealthy but rugged residents of this small city pull oil and glass from the sands to power Whitehall’s machines and build their towers. Across The Globe, Westminster brides with violet eyes are highly prized.

This story is set in Westminster on the Night of the Rocket …

Shadow of the Dunes

by Shanel Wilson

The sun’s warm rays gently peaked over the dunes that led to the Elizabeth, bathing the city of Westminster in a tangerine glow. Emilia moved through a kaleidoscope of colors; light refracting through each crystalline gem, flower and creature that decorated her bedroom. She leaned on her window’s ledge.

“Good morning,” Emilia murmured, watching the city come to life.

A tidy grid of streets lined with modest, plasterwork houses spread like a carpet below Emilia. Streetlights extinguished like a line of dominoes falling in succession as the sky brightened. The first trolley of the day whirled to its nearby stop. She watched as her fellow Westies boarded, heading to the Smith or the Wildcat Fields. She knew she would miss these tiny moments.

A loud rumble rattled her window. Her brothers’ hover cruiser roared out of the hover port below. They raced past the trolley toward the Smith.

“Disrespectful rampallians,” Emilia spat. But in truth, she was still jealous.

The Smith was the city’s imminent glass factory, run by her father, Eglamour. The Smith’s glass was renowned throughout The Globe. From the most delicate lens on a Newlondon lightship to the tallest tower in Whitehall, they were all made from the Smith’s glass. Her brothers each joined the Smith when they were old enough. Emilia grew restless, unable to join herself.

Emilia lived comfortably amidst beautiful glassworks. Photo by Lydia Williams.

As Eglamour’s daughter, Emilia lived comfortably amidst beautiful glassworks. When her mother died, Emilia took over the household, ensuring it was maintained. No matter how many times she pleaded to become a glassmith, nothing would sway him.

“But Father, I apprenticed at your hand before Mother died. You know that I have the skills. Surely, I could be allowed to join the Smith. The house will not suffer for it.”

“My answer has not changed, my flower. Can you not be contented to practice at our hot shop here at home?” Eglamour would reply gently, like many times before.

Emilia closed her eyes. The very reason why she had not been allowed to join her brothers. There were none in all of Westminster that rivaled the deep violet of Emilia’s eyes. They were the color of twilight over the dunes on a cool, spring night. No matter how hard Emilia tried to deny her destiny, it was true. Emilia was to be a Westminster Bride, for a Westminster Bride with Violet Eyes is Highly Prized. And today that journey would commence. 

Even while her heart still stung from being refused her true passion, she did find solace in being free from the plaster prison her home had become. She was the first of her family, aside from Eglamour on one of his trading trips, to leave Westminster and travel through the dunes.

That fancy cruiser won’t take you where I’m going, Emilia thought with a smirk.

She folded the last of her garments and placed them into her trunk. She gave one last lingering glance around her jewel-like room. Travel through the dunes was dangerous work, so only the essentials could be taken. Her eyes came to the glass Mary’s Iris she made as a girl. It was the first complete piece she made on her own. She sourced the purple manganese herself and crafted each of its petals, replicating an iris from her mother’s simple, desert garden.

A piece of home hidden away in her trunk. Photo by Pawel Czerwinski.

“Watch over me, Mother,” Emilia whispered into the petals.

She wrapped it carefully in her mother’s scarf, which Emilia had secretly taken after her mother’s death. A piece of home hidden away in her trunk.

“It is time, my flower,” Eglamour called from the lower level.

Emilia lowered the lid to the trunk. She strapped its tether around her wrist and engaged the gravitational lift. The tether glowed turquoise. She left her room for the last time, her trunk gliding behind her.

Eglamour arranged for the escort to take Emilia through the dunes. When they arrived at Trafalgar Gate, a lone cloaked figure stood in the shade of the wall. Turning to her father, Emilia wrapped him in a long embrace.

“Goodbye, Father. I will send a comm once I arrive in Whitehall.”

He nodded.

“I’m sorry I could not give you all that you dreamed for. I hope you can find new dreams to fill your heart,” he said, as he tucked a curl behind her ear.

His eyes betrayed his calm demeanor. The violet flecks in her father’s dark eyes always reminded Emilia of oil slicks shining in the sun. She placed a gentle hand on his cheek.

Eglamour gave a quick squeeze of her hand. Emilia turned to the stranger beneath the cloak.

“I am ready when you are, sir.”

It was like following a shadow floating through the sand.

The stranger nodded to Eglamour and strode away from the city and into the dunes. When Emilia realized there would be no further introduction, she darted to close the gap growing between them. Her trunk knocked into her heels as she scurried. Emilia strained to glimpse his face, but it was shadowed by his hood. He was slimmer than most men in Westminster and taller, too. She marveled at the blue of his cloak. It was as dark as a moonless midnight. It was like following a shadow floating through the sand.

“I assume you already know my name, but I do not know yours,” Emilia attempted.

The stranger shrugged off the comment, pressing forward.

“I would like to know who my travel companion is. Otherwise, I will simply call you Shadow.”

“Do as you must.”

Emilia barely heard the words escape the hood over the sound of their footfalls. But the Shadow spoke. The mystery of her companion was a challenge she was excited to solve.

Wisps of wind swirled sand around Emilia’s steps.

“Do you work in the Wildcat Fields? I’ve never seen anyone like you at the Smith when I would visit Father.”

Shadow’s fists tightened. The sun was sinking behind them as they continued toward the river. Wisps of wind swirled sand around Emilia’s steps. Shadow stopped suddenly atop a dune and scanned the horizon. Emilia tried to peer around Shadow’s shoulder to see into the hood.

“Have you traveled the dunes many times before, Shadow? I’ve heard such incredible stories, though my father has always returned safely home. Perhaps they were exaggerations.”

“Quiet!” Shadow hissed.

“I am simply trying to be friendly,” Emilia replied haughtily. “That’s something you could learn a thing or two about.”

Shadow wheeled around to face Emilia.

“This is not some walk in the park, Miss,” Shadow sneered. “If you aren’t careful, your prattling will attract all dune’s evils.”

Emilia hushed while her cheeks blazed from the scolding. She caught sight of the icy blue eyes beneath the hood, lit by the fading sunlight. They were pools of the coolest water one yearned to dive into on the hottest day. Emilia exhaled when she realized she had been holding her breath.

“Shall we?” Shadow turned with a frustrated flourish.

Emilia nodded and followed. She spoke no further but her mind raced with questions. Shadow’s voice was stern, but not nearly as gruff as the men she heard conversing with her father. And those blue eyes. No one in Westminster had eyes like those. In fact, there was no one in Westminster like Shadow. Was he a trader her father met in Whitehall? In all the stories she had heard, Whitehallers had very plain, brown eyes. None as dazzling as the blue ones that stared into her own violet eyes moments ago.

Darkness was hemming in around them . . . . Photo by Mike Yukhtenko.

Darkness was hemming in around them as they marched on. Emilia’s feet ached, but she dared not complain to Shadow. Shadow paused occasionally, checking the horizon, then he would resume his pace about a foot ahead of Emilia.

Suddenly, Emilia lurched. Her arm was pulled roughly behind her.

“Ow!” she exclaimed, the sound echoing off the sand around her.

Her trunk’s tether pulled taut. Her wrist burned where the tether was attached. The trunk sunk into the sand behind her, unmoving. The tether was still engaged, barely glowing against the darkness. Then she heard it. A deep, ragged, animal-like breath. Emilia’s hair stood up on end. A faint outline of a huge, bristly creature grew tall, standing on her trunk.

Something swooped past her toward the creature. The sound of metal rang in the air.

“Stay down!” Shadow shouted to Emilia.

Emilia dropped to the ground, gripping her tethered wrist with all her might. The sand shifted around her. She could hear muffled blows, growls and metallic zings clanging near her trunk. It lifted once as the beast was knocked off its perch. Breathing rapidly, Emilia inched her way back from the fight, tugging her trunk toward her. She got it close enough to grasp and draped her body over it. She closed her eyes as tightly. The sound of her breathing and her heartbeat filled her ears. She pictured Mother and her pale violet eyes to steady herself.

Something brushed Emilia’s shoulder, breaking her meditation. She recoiled and growled, trying to appear challenging to whatever was going to attack her.

“It’s OK now,” Shadow said calmly. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I believe so,” Emilia said, loosening her grip on her trunk.

Emilia felt the warmth of Shadow kneeling close to her. Comforted, Emilia lifted her head toward his voice. When she looked, Shadow’s hood was lowered, revealing the most beautiful woman Emilia had ever seen. Soft brown curls cascaded around the shoulders of the dark-blue cloak. Her blue eyes sparkled even in the lowest light.

“Shadow?” Emilia gasped.

“It’s Valentine. I’ve run the beast off, but we shouldn’t waste too much time. Are you able to walk?”

Emilia simply blinked, unable to find her voice. Valentine sheathed her sword and offered her hand, helping Emilia to her feet.

“Yes. I can walk,” Emilia said, finally. “Thank you. You saved my life.”

Valentine kept Emilia’s hand as they started forward once again.

“I apologize for the pretense earlier. It is not common for women to lead journeys through the dunes. I’ve grown accustomed to letting my companions assume what they will until we reach the river.”

Emilia was mystified. She searched for which question to ask first, but the gentle comfort of Valentine’s hand in hers distracted her mind. Their grip’s warmth spread, tingling to all corners of her body.

“To answer your questions from earlier, I do not work in the Wildcat Fields. I am from Newlondon, in the south. And, yes, I have traveled through the dunes many times. It is a dangerous journey, as you now know first-hand, but I have learned the perils and how to defend against them.”

Emilia looked at Valentine. She smiled gently at Valentine’s remembrance of her questions. Emilia studied the lines of Valentine’s face. She was strong and graceful. Emilia knew in her heart she would walk wherever Valentine led.

They arrived at the Elizabeth River well before sunrise. The remainder of their journey had been calm, but Emilia’s heart began to race as they reached the water’s edge. Valentine led Emilia to a ship moored at the end of the dock.

“My ship will carry us to Whitehall,” Valentine said, helping Emilia into the ship.

“Right. To Whitehall.” Emilia said it distractedly.

Far across the river were the twinkling of lights of Whitehall. Her destiny awaited. Emilia shook off a chill that crept up her spine. She opened her trunk and retrieved the Mary’s Iris from its wrappings.

“Would this pay for passage to Newlondon, with you?”

“I committed to your father,” Valentine said cautiously.

“A new dream fills my heart; his wish for me at our parting. Would you deny me the chance of chasing it?” Emilia said, taking Valentine’s hand.

Valentine looked deeply into Emilia’s eyes.

“I could deny you no such thing.” She gently kissed Emilia’s cheek.

Valentine took the crystal iris and traced each petal with her finger. She held it up to the light from the dock post. The iris’s delicate colors refracted across their faces just as the ship violently shook on the water.

Valentine instinctively drew Emilia close as streaks of purple blazed across the sky overhead.

If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below.

Make sure to check back this coming Friday for the next flash-fiction story set on the Globe, “Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton. Set in the shining city of Whitehall, it’s filled with high-tech, a dire secret, and forbidden love.

Finally, you can also enjoy the first Globe Folio story: “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage. It’s a great read!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross