The View from the Wall
BY SHANEL WILSON
Emilia shifted her feet as she stood next to the desk where Cleo was stationed. If Emilia was successful in throwing the placement test just enough to land her a spot as a Vestra, she would gain access to security systems and learn about the shielding equipment. It was the only way she could think to get the mission to help rescue Antonio back on track. She said a silent prayer to Elizabeth Hathaway as Cleo studied the results on her comm tablet.
“Alright, I have your results.” Cleo looked up at Emilia, who bit her lip. “Not nervous are you, Emilia?”
“No, I just . . . I . . . oh. I guess I am!” Emilia laughed anxiously.
“I won’t keep you in suspense. You’re designated a Vestra.” Cleo smiled.
Emilia let out a breath. “Great. When can we start training?”
“Got somewhere to be?” Cleo stood, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, no. I guess I– I am just excited to know what I will be studying.” Emilia’s face flushed.
“Glad to see you are so eager, but we can start tomorrow. Today has been long enough for you anyway.” Cleo motioned toward the lift.
“Yes, of course.” Emilia entered the lift. “Actually, I’m feeling a bit hungry. Am I able to explore the city on my own during training or am I restricted to my quarters?”
“Now that your eyes have recovered, you are welcome to come and go as you like, with a few minor restrictions. You need to be on time for training each day and you must be in quarters for nighttime curfew.” Cleo handed Emilia a miniature version of her comm tablet. “This will have your daily schedule and meeting location on it. It also has study materials you are able to look at after our sessions.”
“Thank you and that will not be a problem.” Emilia turned the tablet over in her hands. “Can you point me in the direction of somewhere to get a bite to eat?”
“I’ll do one better. I’ll take you to my favorite spot for when I’m missing home.” Cleo winked as she exited the lift.
“Lead the way!” Emilia jumped out of the lift to catch up with Cleo.
Once they exited the tower, Cleo led Emilia through the tree-lined plazas and gleaming white concourses that wound below the glittering spires. Emilia enjoyed the crisp evening air against her face as she took in all of the sights around her. Among the geometrical architecture, she felt worlds away from the warm, earthy streets of Westminster and the colorful prism of her room. Emilia realized for the first time since leaving, she missed home. Emilia was not sure why she had not felt that way in Newlondon, but she did know that whenever she was with Valentine, she felt close to home.
Cleo rounded a corner to stop at a grouping of tables under angled, glass awnings. Emilia’s mouth parted as she watched the purple hued light dance within the glass.
“This canteen reused malfunctioning photo-voltaic cells for their awnings. To the Hallers and rest, it’s just a glass awning but to violet-eyed Westies and Brides, it’s a light show.” Cleo raised her eyebrows toward the awnings.
“It’s beautiful! I could always see a bit of ultraviolet light, but this is unreal!” Emilia’s eyes sparkled as they reflected the light.
“They also have the best Westie frybread this side of the river.” Cleo found a table next to a rail overlooking a fountain and the central plaza.
Emilia sat across from Cleo, getting a better view of the fountain she had raced past this morning on her way to surgery. She saw the light posts flick on over crowds of people sitting on benches and strolling in the diminishing daylight. A golden-haired woman with blue eyes racing through the plaza holding hands with a young man in ill-fitting clothes caught Emilia’s eye. The woman’s eyes and the way she swiftly moved around the crowds reminded her of Valentine. She longed to be sitting here with Valentine, on an adventure, together.
“It’s crazy down there. I mean it’s always busy at night with the restaurants and bars to tickle the Hallers’ fancies, but with everyone coming because of the Polity, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen here yet.” Cleo peered over the railing.
“Yes, it does seem quite busy.” Emilia watched the mismatched couple.
“A little overwhelmed? It’s okay. I was, too, when I first arrived.” Cleo waved for an automated waiter to take their order.
“How long ago was that?” Emilia turned back to face Cleo.
“Long enough, I suppose. It doesn’t really matter much anymore. The Hallers are quite happy to have a Bride as a trainer so they can get back to other, ‘more important’ things.”
The auto-waiter hovered by their table.
“We’ll have two frybread-and-tuber specials, extra spice and two glasses of wine,” said Cleo. The auto-waiter beeped then hovered away.
“I’ve never had wine before. Father thought I was too young to drink.” Emilia’s eyes widened.
“If you’re old enough to be shipped here as a Bride, you deserve a drink.” Cleo winked.
“Thank you for taking care of me tonight. It’s odd being all alone in this new place.” Emilia batted her eyelashes like she had when she tried to charm the guard at the gate.
“No need to thank me, just cut out the cutesy act. I’m not some Haller you have to impress.” Cleo smirked.
Emilia covered her face, then let out a laugh. She felt her shoulders relax as the auto-waiter brought their meal. Emilia knew she should not be letting her guard down with Cleo. Valentine would scold her for that. Yet, something inside told her that she could trust Cleo.
Over dinner they shared about growing up in Westminster, Emilia in the Smith and Cleo in Wildcat Fields. Emilia listened intently to Cleo’s stories about the creatures she met with her father growing up. Cleo’s natural charm radiated from her like the lighted awnings above them. Emilia was about to ask another question when Cleo checked her comm tablet.
“Oh wow, we’ve had quite the chat haven’t we? We should head back so we are ready for training in the morning.” Cleo set her napkin on the table and stood.
“I’ve been having such a wonderful time hearing the stories about your childhood. It sounds like it was wonderful.” Emilia stood and they walked out of the canteen.
“It had its challenges, but I would gladly take those over being stuck inside these walls day in and day out.” Cleo’s shoulders tensed.
“I’m sorry, Cleo. The world is wider than our traditions and responsibilities. You’ll find your path.” Emilia linked arms with Cleo as they walked.
“What did they do to you in that surgical suite, give you a wisdom injection?” Cleo laughed.
“Very funny. Trust me, you never know what life has for you around the next turn.” Emilia squeezed Cleo’s arm.
Over the next few days, Emilia’s nerves eased, and she fell into a comfortable routine. She started each day by rising early and taking a morning walk around the city. She quickly learned it was the quietest time around Whitehall, and she could wander anywhere she pleased, as long as it wasn’t locked or guarded that is. As she learned more about the security systems, she was able to memorize all the locations she decided needed more investigation.
Before her training session, Emilia would go back to her quarters to change into the uniform Cleo gave her to wear. Emilia mainly wore dresses at home, so the pants and fitted vest felt odd at first, but soon she relished the advantages of being able to crawl into a small workspace or onto a ladder with ease. Emilia’s favorite part of the outfit had to be the smaller version of Cleo’s toolbelt. There was a place for each of the beginner tools she’d need and a small pouch for the mini comm tablet. Emilia made sure to always arrive ahead of schedule to start the training session. She didn’t want to give Cleo any reason to suspect she was snooping around on her downtime. Emilia’s plan seemed to be working because Cleo was instantly impressed with Emilia’s work ethic and how quickly she learned. Emilia even surprised herself with how quickly she grasped the skills.
In the evenings, Emilia would share a meal with Cleo in the colonnade. They spent hours laughing and sharing stories, becoming fast friends. Emilia would then excuse herself to take the long way back to her quarters. There were a lot more people out and about so she would make note of anything that caught her eye to come back to the following morning and explore in peace. When she got back to her quarters, she would check her medallion for any messages from Valentine. Emilia would send quick updates like “Learned about camera mounts today” or “Missing my Shadow.” She’d get messages like “Secured new intel” and “Thinking of my Iris” in return. It was miraculous to be able to communicate while she was away without having to use a drone, but it was limited. Emilia was keenly aware as each day passed how far away from Valentine she truly was.
One morning stroll, Emilia discovered an area by the south wall where there were more security cameras than anywhere else in Whitehall. There was no signage, but her eyes revealed that the doors in the area were protected by shielding as well. In her training, Cleo explained that shielding was generally used for exterior fortifications and rarely used inside any city in the Globe.
“Oh blast!” Emilia pulled the mini comm tablet from her bag.
She had set an alert for herself in case she lost track of time exploring. Emilia hiked up her skirt and ran back to her quarters in the tower . Sweat was rolling down her temples as she dashed into her room and changed her clothes.
“I know, I know! I’m going as fast as I can!” She shouted at her mini comm tablet.
She grabbed it off the bed as she slung her belt around her waist. She ran out her door and nearly collided with Cleo.
“Whoa!” Cleo grabbed Emilia’s shoulders to steady her.
“Oh! I apologize. I overslept and was racing to meet you on time.” Emilia panted and wiped her brow.
“These things happen, Emilia. No need to be in a rush, that’s how accidents happen. That was another one of my Dad’s favorite things to remind me of when I was little.” Cleo smirked.
“Yes, of course. I won’t let it happen again.” Emilia took a deep breath and smiled.
“That’s beautiful. I never noticed you wearing that before. It doesn’t look like something from home.” Cleo leaned closer to look at the eel coiled on Emilia’s medallion. Cleo reached a slim finger out to touch it when Emilia grasped the medallion with her palm.
“My father gave it to me. He went on many journeys and would return home with gifts from all his travels.” She tucked it quickly into her shirt.
“I see.” Cleo raised an eyebrow at Emilia.
“The schedule said our training will be on the wall armaments, correct?” Emilia fumbled to pull out her comm tablet.
Cleo crossed her arms across her chest and studied Emilia’s rosy cheeks. “A bit flustered today, are we?”
“I, I am just ready to start training. Shall we?” Emilia forced a smile and started toward the lift.
“Of course, Lady Vestra.” Cleo tipped an invisible hat to Emilia and followed her into the lift.
Cleo silently led Emilia through a set of narrow hallways inside the outer wall of Whitehall. While the exterior of Whitehall glistened in the sun like a crystal ornament in Emilia’s room back in Westminster, the worker passages were dank and dim. The overhead lights were fitted with special ultraviolet filaments, since it was mainly the Vestras that traversed them.
Emilia bit her lip, hoping she hadn’t ruined their easy camaraderie with her carelessness. Emilia opened her mouth to say something when they reached a metal ladder mounted to the wall. Cleo wordlessly began climbing the ladder, so Emilia followed behind. Cleo opened the hatch on the ceiling, letting a flood of sunlight fill the darkness. Emilia lifted her hand to shield her eyes as she climbed out of the hatch.
Emilia found Cleo kneeling beside a metal circuit box with conduit coming out of each side. The shielding at top of the wall by Emilia glowed solid purple, but a few feet away by Cleo, it erratically flickered. Cleo gazed over the wall, studying the green sea of trees that lead to the Forest of Arden while she waited for Emilia to join her.
“Any creatures out today?” Emilia hedged, as she knelt beside Cleo.
“Most don’t venture this close in daylight. Plus, the shielding is quite effective, thanks to Vestras. Just don’t let a Haller hear you say that. They’ll think you are saying their engineering is less than perfect. If it was so perfect, why do they need us, huh?” Cleo continued to look out beyond the wall.
“Must be tough to be so close to the creatures you love but stuck behind this wall all the time.” Emilia readied her tools as Cleo taught her during their previous training sessions.
“Let’s just say, shielding days are bittersweet for me.” Cleo unlocked the box to reveal wires and circuits chaotically arranged inside. “Okay Emilia, tell me where we should start.”
Emilia looked inside the circuit box and saw a bare wire that blazed purple.
“That wire needs to be replaced and recapped,” Emilia responded.
“Okay, get to work.” Cleo sat back and closed her eyes.
Emilia set to work repairing the wire in the shielding circuit box using what she learned from Cleo’s previous training and the schematics she studied last night after curfew. As Emilia’s confidence grew with each repair Cleo led her through, she knew her training would be ending soon. She needed to make her escape before the Hallers tried to place her somewhere as a Vestra, but Emilia needed to know about the portion of the south wall she had found that morning. The more she thought about it, she was sure it must be where they were holding Antonio. Her training made it clear that if they had any hope of rescuing him, Emilia would need to stay in Whitehall to disable any security and shielding from inside the city.
“You said that shielding is only on the exterior of city walls and armaments, correct?” Emilia asked casually while tidying up the circuit box after the repair was complete.
“That’s correct.” Cleo reclined against the short wall behind them picking at her fingernails.
“Well, I noticed something funny on a morning walk recently. There is a portion of the south wall that has shielding on the interior side of the wall. Why would that be?” Emilia placed her last tool back in her tool belt.
“Would ‘recently’ be this morning?” Cleo flicked her eyes to meet Emilia’s.
Emilia’s cheeks burned before she could control them. She blew out a breath and leaned back against the wall next to Cleo.
“Was it that obvious I hadn’t just ‘overslept’?” Emilia hugged her knees to her chest.
“Otherwise, you are the sweatiest sleeper I’ve ever met.” Cleo cocked an eyebrow.
“I was really sweaty, wasn’t I?” Emilia laughed.
“You did look a bit like you had just come from a swim in Lake Avon.” Cleo rested her hands behind her head.
“Oh dear, what a sight I must have been! I like to take morning walks. Normally, I am better with my time than today,” said Emilia sheepishly.
“You could have told me the truth. You were still on time, but when you weren’t waiting for me early like normal, I came to find you. And when you got so flustered when I mentioned your necklace, I figured you just wanted your privacy.” Cleo’s gaze grew long again, scanning toward the tree line.
“It’s not that. I just . . . it’s complicated.” Emilia rested her hand on her chest where her medallion hung below her shirt.
“You don’t have to tell me your business. I’m just your trainer. You’ll be placed and moving on soon.” Cleo leaned forward to lock the circuit box with the keys on her belt.
“Cleo, please. If you were just my trainer, you would not spend every evening with me. You’ve become a sister to me. The big sister I wish I had back home.” Emilia rested her hand on Cleo’s arm. “And because of that, I don’t want to get you into any trouble with the Hallers. I wish we had met under different circumstances.”
“Trouble? Different circumstances? What are you talking about Emilia?” Cleo turned to face her.
“Just trust me, Cleo. You do not need to get tangled up in all this. Can you just tell me why there is shielding on the inner wall?”
“Something tells me you already know the answer.” Cleo frowned.
“I have a hunch, but it is very important that I know for sure. Please. Will you tell me?” Emilia pleaded.
“That’s the prison. They leave it unmarked. Only a Bride would be able to see the extra shielding so the average person wouldn’t think twice about it.”
“I knew it! I finally found it!” Emilia threw her fist in the air to celebrate her guess had been right.
“What’s going on? If I’m really your friend, Emilia, now trust me. Don’t worry about me and the Hallers. I can handle myself.” Cleo caught Emilia’s fist and looked directly into her eyes.
Emilia’s smile wavered. The lines around Cleo’s eyes tightened. They seemed to beg Emilia to tell Cleo the truth. Emilia closed her eyes and exhaled.
“I’m trying to help someone that is imprisoned, wrongfully, here in Whitehall. That’s why I need to know where the prison is,” Emilia said.
“A Westie? What did they do?” Cleo’s nose wrinkled.
“It’s not a Westie. I have not been exactly honest about this being my first time away from home.”
“You’re a Globe traveler then?” Cleo crossed her arms.
“That is not quite it, either. I should have arrived in Whitehall the morning after the Polity landed. Instead, I went with the guide who took me through the savagelands to her home in Newlondon. We soon discovered that her sister’s fiancé was wrongly accused of smuggling and thrown into Whitehall’s prison. As we planned his rescue, I volunteered to come to Whitehall, since I could use my status as a Bride to gain access where they could not.” Emilia brushed the hair from her face. “When I was whisked into surgery immediately, I realized I underestimated how hard this would be. I’ve spent every morning before training trying to find where he might be without raising suspicion and how we would be able to get past the security and guards.”
Emilia waited as Cleo’s eyes pierced her own. Emilia’s ears were filled with the sound of her heart pounding in her chest.
“That’s some story, Emilia.” Cleo blinked.
“I wasn’t planning on telling you any of this. At first, I wasn’t sure who I could trust. Then, as I got to know you more, I figured the less you knew, the better. I couldn’t bear it if something happened to you if you got involved and things went wrong. Being forced to live behind one set of walls is more than enough for you to deal with.” Emilia motioned to the wall they sat on.
“My father always said that no creature should live their life in a cage. How ashamed he would be if he knew that’s how his daughter ended up.” Cleo’s eyes glistened.
“Then help me. Once we are done, you can be free to go where you please! The Hallers and the rest of the Globe are too concerned with the Polity and how they can exploit them. Plus, we can help protect you. You could slip away and finally be with the creatures you love so much.” Emilia leaned forward.
Suddenly, a skycrawler pierced the treetops, flapping its terrible, scaly wings. Cleo stood to get a better view of the creature’s stilted flight. It let out a metallic screech before diving back into the verdant canopy again. Emilia stood beside Cleo with her hand out waiting. Cleo looked down at Emilia’s hand and back to where the skycrawler disappeared. Cleo lifted her chin and grasped Emilia’s hand.
If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Shanel’s “Shadow of the Dunes,” which kicked off the Westminster stories in the Globe Folio series.
P.S. Now you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:
Act 1: Night of the Rocket
- “Pillars of Smoke” by Frasier Armitage
- “Shadow of the Dunes” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Towers of Whitehall” by Jim Hamilton
- “The Beast Below” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross
- “Kite Night” by Matthew Cross
Act 2: Nights of Revelation
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Voice of Beasts–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Sands of Change-Part 1” by Shanel Wilson
- “The Sands of Change-Part 2” by Shanel Wilson
- “A Matter of Principle” by Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 1” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Eyes Up the River–Part 2” by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage
- “Shambles” by Matthew Cross
- “Interrogation” by Matthew Cross
- “The Burning Flame–Part 1” by Frasier Armitage
- “The Burning Flame–Part 2” by Frasier Armitage
- “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
- You just read: “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