Will her lost love hear her siren’s song?

Bianca stands atop the seaside cliffs of Newlondon

Siren’s Song

BY SHANEL WILSON

PART ONE

The cliff-top grasses swayed in the swirling wind. Waves violently crashed against the jagged rocks. The scent of salt and sea accosted Bianca’s senses, her heart filled with dread. The knots in her stomach warned that the coming storm wasn’t the only trouble brewing in the Globe’s waters. Bianca tucked a strand of her long, curly locks behind her ear, her eyes narrowed against the spray. Her fingers found the small piece of twine that encircled her ring finger. She sang, 

Storm’s a-coming, the gale will blow,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.
Thunder claps and rain clouds grow,
The squall will turn friend into foe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.

The blue crystal eye of the eel medallion she wore blinked. Bianca closed her eyes and squeezed the center of the medallion. The automated voice relayed the message her sister, Valentine, had sent.

It’s time. Swift as shadow.

“Short as any dream! My dear Antonio, you will wait no longer.” Bianca’s pulse pounded as she raced down the cliff side towards the harbor.

Carve the waves to save my beau,
It’s time to change this tale of woe,
Yohoho, row nonny, row.
The scent of salt and sea accosted Bianca’s senses, her heart filled with dread. Photo by Gary Yost.

Tendrils of mist curled around Bianca’s feet as she strode the familiar path to her father’s merchant office overlooking the marina. She knew each cobble from years of racing Valentine to be the first to help Father open the office. The harsh shouts of the crews echoing around the harbor was the melody of her morning routine. Unlike every other morning, Bianca’s heart raced as she reached into her satchel to retrieve her key to the shop.

She knew each cobble from years of racing Valentine to be the first to help Father open the office.
Photo by Niklas Hamann.

The face of her beloved Antonio danced across her thoughts. Her wistfulness broke, knowing he was locked in some dark cell deep in Whitehall for a crime he didn’t commit. Valentine, with the help of her new love, Emilia, had vowed to help Bianca rescue Antonio. The trio had worked hard over the past week to devise a plan to rescue him. And today, that plan finally was set in motion. 

In the early morning mists of a secret estuary, Bianca and Valentine saw Emilia off as she headed upriver to Whitehall. Emilia’s ability to access areas of Whitehall as a Westminster Bride would be vital if they had any hopes to rescue Antonio without being captured themselves. Bianca remembered watching her sister say goodbye to her new flame. A bittersweet tug pulled at Bianca’s insides, knowing her sister had to part with her love in order to save Bianca’s own. Though both Valentine and Bianca had only met Emilia a week ago, Bianca could tell her sister was inextricably connected to the intelligent, brave yet trusting woman. Emilia seemed to have a knack for endearing herself to all she met, becoming fast friends with Bianca as well. Bianca still marveled that Emilia agreed without hesitation to help a group of strangers in a dangerous mission. 

The ocean breeze blew the memory of the morning out of Bianca’s mind. Bianca felt a wet splat on her head. A fat dew droplet had fallen from the wooden sign that hung above the office door. 

“Thanks for that.” Bianca raised an eyebrow to the swaying sign. 

The sign was a carved eel that circled back onto itself. Most residents of Newlondon had no idea that the nautical crest doubled as the secret symbol of the Shadow Walkers. Bianca’s father, Leonato, was the leader of the group of warriors and protectors who vowed to keep the peace of the Globe secretly from the shadows. Leonato used his merchant business as a reputable front to coordinate the Shadow Walkers’ missions under the watchful eye of the corrupt Guild. 

Bianca and Valentine grew up helping their father run the office, covering for him when he would be called out for a “meeting.” When they weren’t needed at the office, they would steal away into the misty woods or sneak out on their father’s skiv to explore and learn all they could from the Shadow Walkers. As they grew older, their paths diverged. Valentine became a Newlondon Guide–hired by residents of the Globe to provide safe passage in their travels to other cities–with hopes of someday becoming a full-fledged Shadow Walker. Bianca remained in Newlondon, running the merchant office, where she fell in love with Antonio, one of the traders her father hired. 

She brushed the water from her hair and unlocked the door. The door chimed, announcing her arrival. The musty smell of salty wood mingled with sea rose blossoms she had arranged on the front desk the day before. 

Photo by Rachael 🪐.

“Hello, Meg. Opening mode, please,” said Bianca to the automated digital assistant her father created to operate the controls in the office.

“Good morrow, Lady Bianca,” replied the AI assistant’s disembodied voice as it switched on the overhead lights. 

Bianca heaved a sigh as she rounded the front desk to begin sorting the invoices and logs left from the day prior. 

“What can I do for M’lady today?” Meg’s voice intoned happily.

“Normal operations protocols, Meg. Just another day at the shop.” Bianca tossed the stack of papers she had gathered into the box on the corner of the desk. 

But it’s not just another day, she thought. 

“Of course, M’lady,” Meg chirped.

Bianca shuffled to her desk in front of Leonato’s private office in the back and flopped into her chair. Bianca fiddled with the medallion around her neck. The design of the medallion was the same eel as the carved sign out front. Each Shadow Walker carried one as a means of communicating with the others around the Globe. Valentine had repurposed broken ones she had found in Father’s office so that she and Bianca could have their own private way to communicate. The crystal eye of the eel was dull and gray. It would blink a brilliant blue when Valentine sent a message. Bianca knew it was too early to expect any news, but patience had never been her strong suit. 

Emilia had set off on her mission, and Valentine was with the Shadow Walkers doing their part to prepare for Antonio’s rescue. All Bianca could do was go about her daily life and wait. It was only through the Shadow Walkers that they learned of Antonio’s imprisonment at the hands of his best friend, Solanio, and the Guild in the first place. It was decided that it would be best for Bianca to act the part of the innocent maiden waiting for her love to return from sea so that the Guild and Solanio believed their plan had succeeded. 

The mere thought of Solanio made Bianca’s stomach turn. Bianca’s cheeks burned as she gritted her teeth. She pushed back against her desk and strode over to the windows. The steady sway of tall ship masts filled her view. At the end of the main dock, workers scurried, carrying along wood planks and chairs. What are they up to? Bianca wondered.

Then she spotted the scoundrel. Solanio slunk around the workers, inspecting their every move. They must have been constructing an amphitheater for the auction of the kraken eye happening at the end of the week. Her fingers subconsciously found the twine on her finger. Her beloved Antonio bravely fought the kraken for that eye after Solanio locked him on a deathship. Then that snake, Solanio, ensured Antonio’s wrongful imprisonment. 

“That poisonous, bunched-back toad,” Bianca spat under her breath.

“Which mode would you like to set, M’lady?” Meg’s cheerful voice asked.

“Disregard, Meg. I was talking to myself.” Bianca shook her head.

“If you need a companion to speak with, you are welcome to speak to me. Lord Leonato programmed me with conversational capabilities.”

“Yes, I know, Meg. No, it’s fine. I’m just a little on edge today. Let’s get back to work.” 

“Of course, M’lady.” 

Bianca walked back to her desk, thankful it was so far away from the front window.


Bianca fell into her normal routine after a couple of days. Business at the merchant office picked up because of the Polity’s arrival, but there was a shortage of vessels because so many people ran to Whitehall to get a glimpse of the Polity soldiers and their lander. Everyone else was stockpiling as much as they could in case there was sudden demand for something the Polity might deem valuable. Bianca was grateful for the distraction of trying to coordinate traders and their runs to cover the new demand. Though, she couldn’t help feeling a sting each time she passed Antonio’s name on the roster. 

Each evening, Bianca would race home, hoping to catch Valentine as she returned from her day. Valentine filled in Bianca on all that her team of Shadow Walkers did for the day. After dinner, Bianca would help Valentine reassemble her pack just as Bianca had done for Father when she was young. Before turning in for the night, Bianca would anxiously wait on the edge of Valentine’s bed to hear the latest update from Emilia. When no new news came, Bianca would give her sister a hug and quietly pad back to her room. 

Before turning in for the night, Bianca would anxiously wait on the edge of Valentine’s bed to hear the latest update from Emilia.
Photo by Annie Spratt.

“This plan is going to work. We’ll get him, Bianca.” Valentine grasped Bianca’s hand as Bianca turned to leave one evening. 

“I know.” Bianca still faced the door, unable to face her sister.

“Come here. Staring out your window can wait for a few more minutes.” Valentine tugged Bianca back onto the bed. 

“That’s not what I have been doing!” Bianca pulled her hand away but stayed next to Valentine.

“I can see how you could forget since it’s only been a few days, but your sister is a Shadow Walker. We know things.” Valentine preened.

“How could I forget?” Bianca cracked a smile. “You only remind me every second you get a chance, Lady Shadow!” 

They broke into a fit of laughter. Bianca felt her shoulders relax as the giggles died down. 

“There’s my sister! I knew she was somewhere under that forlorn facade.” Valentine moved a strand of hair out of Bianca’s face. 

Bianca looked about Valentine’s room. Emilia’s hover trunk was at the foot of the bed. The glass iris Emilia had given Valentine rested on the desk below the simple paintings Valentine had created from her trips around the Globe. The piece of twine around Bianca’s finger began to burn as she twisted it absentmindedly. 

“Nothing will be the same now, will it? I mean, I knew things were changing. I was to be married and you were to become this great Shadow Walker. Each sister on her own path. But now, I’m not ready for any of it. Why can’t we just be girls again, playing our pretend games in the harbor’s shadows?” 

“I will always be your sister. That will never change.” Valentine looked Bianca in the eyes. “Besides, you will still be married. And you will be the most beautiful bride Newlondon has ever seen. Until I get married, that is.”

Bianca scowled but laughed. Valentine was right. Valentine was always there, no matter how far her travels had taken her. Their bond was stronger than even the most masterful knot tied by the finest Newlondon sailor. It was the world around them that was fraying. Once Antonio and Emilia were back with them, they could begin tying up all the loose ends and chase the life they all dreamed of.

“Then you better get more beauty rest, dear sister. You need it,” Bianca teased while wrapping Valentine in a warm hug. 

“I love you,” Valentine whispered.

“I love you, too.” Bianca gave Valentine a final squeeze and slipped into her own room. She sat in the window, staring at the sea, waiting for her love to return.

She sat in the window, staring at the sea, waiting for her love to return.
Photo by Zero Take.

If you enjoyed Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. And please return on Friday, when we’ll unveil “Siren’s Song–Part II.” In the meantime, if you would like to read more about Newlondon, read “The Beast Below,” which kicked off the Newlondon 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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Civil unrest grows, leaving new power up for grabs

A Matter of Details

BY MATTHEW CROSS

The Right Honorable Flavius, Mayor of Whitehall, Protector of the Gates and Keeper of the Seals, picked his nose thoughtfully. Ever since tramping outside the walls to that godforsaken Polity lander in the savagelands, his allergies had been acting up. He had a headache, his sinuses were clogged, and he was in an overall foul temper. As Whitehallers say, no good comes from leaving the gates of the First City.

And the protests did not help. A mob of protestors– an actual mob in Whitehall!–gathered every morning and ranted and raved outside Central Tower until very late at night. Flavius never had to see them in person, of course. He lived in the Mayor’s Mansion in Central Tower and took the elevator down to the Mayor’s Office in Central Tower. But even so, the news vids ran nonstop footage of the protests. 

Flavius flicked the large gob of phlegm at the trash bin. The booger stretched and twisted as it flew and splatted on the trash bin lid. The bin’s automatic sensors should have detected the booger’s flight and opened smoothly to catch the offending gob.

Flavius sighed. He flipped the tiny lever for his desk chair to roll him to the trash bin. From his lace-filled sleeve, he flourished a large, white handkerchief and leaned forward to wipe up the mess. As he bent, he noted the silvery, blinking light from the corner of his eye. He sat up and leaned back in his chair to watch what would happen.

The silvery light cascaded across its surface, expanding in concentric rings from the center.
Photo by Nicolas Picard

In the topmost corner of the coffered ceiling of his spacious office was a spider’s web. The silvery light cascaded across its surface, expanding in concentric rings from the center. Flavius had installed the lights as a notification system. It was unnecessary, of course, because the web also sent a signal to the comp on his desk, but he liked the little touches on his works of art. Details matter. The mechanical spider was already making its way silently down the wall to check out the top of the trash bin.

The spider was his own invention, of course. The web was actually a radio dish that monitored the room, and the spider was a hunter-seeker of bugs. It found spying threats and destroyed them. Not that Flavius was overly worried about microbot spies. After all, he was still the leading microbot scientist in Whitehall. Despite his mayoral duties, he retained an iron grip on the small Microbot Department. If not for him, there would probably be no microbot program in Whitehall Academy.

Microbots had fallen out of favor just as Flavius had managed to ruthlessly climb his way to the top of the Microbot Department. The Energy Department had determined that microbots did not use energy as efficiently as the walking automatons or specialized machinery. He still regarded the Energy Department with great suspicion, but it was one of the Academy’s most powerful departments. As a politician, you cannot hold grudges or make enemies of anyone you cannot swiftly and decisively crush. And despite himself, he liked Leonardo, who now headed the Energy Department. Leonardo was not a politician but a true man of science.

Flavius used his considerable power to keep the Microbot Department alive, focusing its efforts on military applications. The Defense Department was small but very well funded. And he kept a handful of nanobot researchers on staff as well, even though the materials on the Globe were oddly deficient for making truly effective nanobots. And something in the Globe’s air made them deteriorate quickly. Because he was the mayor, Octavius had given him a special dispensation to consult the archive records of the generation ship Shakespeare. Flavius learned that on other planets, his nanobot designs should last for years. On the Globe, where they deteriorated quickly in open air, nanobots were used mostly in one-time medical procedures. 

Photo by Joel Filipe.

His head ached. Even though his office was dozens of stories above the protests and even though it was sound proofed, he felt like he could dimly hear their harsh cries. His assistant, Menenius, assured Flavius it was his imagination. The malfunctioning trash bin lid was just one more irritant. It should have worked. Menenius would have to call the Central Tower technicians. Flavius had a mind to fire one of them over this. The problem was the Central Tower authority would hire the technician right back and just assign them to another government building. The technicians that kept the government offices running were getting older, but none of the young people these days wanted technician jobs. Everybody wanted to be a game designer, a video producer, or a data systems scientist.

But he might still fire a technician today. Even if the technician was rehired, he’d lose his pension, if Flavius insisted.

The door signal chimed. Flavius wiped up the gob of phlegm and raced his chair back behind his ponderous desk. He punched the blinking light on his screen and allowed Menenius to enter.

“Mr. Mayor,” Menenius said briskly, “I have some budget requests for you to approve. And, also, Captain Ward is waiting in the Mayor’s Lobby.”

“Captain Ward?” Flavius asked, alarmed. “How long have you kept her waiting? It better not be long, Menenius, or I’ll have your head.”

“No, she just arrived, Your Honor,” Menenius said. Menenius only used the honorific “Your Honor” when he thought Flavius was being peevish. 

“Stop handling me, Menenius, and help me with my coat.”

Menenius brought Flavius’s crushed velvet coat and helped the round man climb into the coat and arrange the sleeves. Menenius fanned Flavius with the papers he carried and then used a small brush from his pocket to arrange Flavius’s thinning, white hair. Menenius was a talented microbot designer, but he had insisted on serving as Flavius’s Chief of Staff and learning all the campaigning and politicking that came with the job. Sometimes Flavius thought it was a waste of a brilliant scientific mind. But then, the fact that Flavius had had to leave the hard sciences and enter politics himself was the waste of a brilliant scientific mind.

Menenius continued to fan Flavius’s face. Flavius closed his eyes and calmed himself. He imagined the inner workings of his spider hunter-seeker, remembering how he had arranged the hardware to fit just so inside the sleek metal body. The details mattered. The mental exercise centered him. He reopened his eyes. “Thank you, Menenius. I have a dreadful headache today.”

“Still, Mr. Mayor?” Menenius asked, his voice full of earnest sympathy. Menenius saved his sarcasm for outsiders, never using it against Flavius. “Shall I call the chemist and have them send up something stronger?”

Flavius sat up in his chair. “No, no, Menenius. Thank you. You always take such good care of me. I’m sorry I’ve been temperamental today. But that won’t be necessary. We must soldier on. Please show Captain Ward in, would you, and have Volumnia bring some refreshments.”

Menenius gave a small bow and swept out. In a moment, Captain Ward filled the doorway. She was tall for a woman, taller than Flavius himself by half a head, and as tall as Governor Octavius. But there was more to it than that. Even when standing completely still, she radiated a strong energy, as if she were barely containing a maelstrom of violence. She smiled and strolled across Flavius’s large office, her movements like that of a prowling catterwaul.

Flavius stood up and smiled broadly, rubbing his hands nervously in front of him. He gave a small bow.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, Flavius asked the delicate question.

“How are you faring in your visits with the other cities?” He wanted to know, but he also wanted to draw her attention away from the protests in Whitehall.

She grimaced. “Not well,” she said. “In Belmont, some madman has declared himself king and replaced the council. He killed two of my Marines, but before it’s over I think it will get worse. Can you tell me more than that?”

“No,” Flavius said, shaking his head. He had heard as much himself from his chief of police. And Gov. Octavius had been spreading word of the disaster publicly, blaming Capt. Ward and the Polity all the while that Ward had been gone from the city. He only seemed to quieten down after Ward returned to Whitehall. “I’m afraid Belmont is a closed book to the rest of the Globe. We have no diplomats and not even any sp– . . . er, men on the inside, as it were.”

Belmont had never proved to be a problem before. Flavius hardly even thought of Belmont as a city. It was merely a distant place where steel was made. He knew that every year the governor made a trek to the mountain to negotiate the terms of trade. The Belmontians should have come to Whitehall, of course, but none of them ever left the mountain, so the governor demeaned himself and went to Belmont. Distasteful, but Whitehall needed steel. 

And it was a good arrangement. The same deal was struck every year. The price of steel never changed. Whitehall guaranteed all of Belmont’s supplies from the other cities, and Belmont promised to provide the same volume of steel. The Belmontians must have excellent population control inside that mountain. They always delivered on time and never needed more nor less from the other cities. But if the Council had been violently overthrown, what would happen? His head pounded.

Flavius knew it was impossible, but he swore he could hear the mob below chanting.
Photo by Amir Arabshahi

Flavius knew it was impossible, but he swore he could hear the mob below chanting. If unchanging Belmont could suffer a coup, what could happen in his beloved Whitehall? Out of habit, his hand drifted toward a button that would summon the chief of police, but he drew his hand back and rubbed his hands together. Octavius was the rabble rouser. Once Flavius took care of Octavius, the mob would disappear like a handful of nanobot dust.

The captain brought him back to the present. “The Governor won’t meet with me,” she said. “If I understand Whitehall’s government structure, you govern here in the city and he handles relations with the other cities. And I was counting on his guidance with the leaders of the other cities.”

Once upon a time, the governor of Whitehall did more than handle the relations with the other cities. He governed the other cities as colonies. Over the years, the other cities grew in power and developed their own governments–actually a treasonous act–and the Governor of Whitehall, Protector of the Globe, Unifier of the People, waned in power. But those who know their history remember when Whitehall truly governed the entire Globe.

“What can you do to help?” Ward asked.

Flavius smiled and rubbed his hands nervously. “I wish that I could. I’ve appealed to Octavius numerous times, but he won’t speak even with me.”

Menenius had taken the elevator the ten stories up to the Governor’s office every day, but even the Governor’s staff would not meet with him. Flavius himself had even made the pilgrimage up the elevator once, and returned shamed-faced to his own offices after being turned away. Secretly, he had taken the elevator from his own residence near the top of Central Tower to the very top floor, called the Governor’s Mansion, where Octavius lived. Flavius went late in the evening when he knew Octavius was home and would still be awake. Octavius would not answer his door.

The Governor had an excellent selection of liquors that exceeded even Flavius’s own impressive home bar. Photo by Nick Rickert.

Octavius had refused to speak with Flavius ever since that night. The night they had returned from their first meeting with Captain Ward. The night that people were calling Kite Night. Shaken, Octavius and Flavius had returned to the Governor’s Mansion. They had stayed up late talking and drinking. As usual, Octavius did most of the talking and the drinking. He had an excellent selection of liquors that exceeded even Flavius’s own impressive home bar.

Octavius had raged and railed against the Polity, against the Polity Navy ship in orbit and against Captain Ward, whom Octavius simply called “that insufferable shrew.” The arguments were nothing new. Everyone on the Globe had learned since their first history classes as urchins that the Polity was trouble; that the Globers’ ancestors had fled the Polity aboard a generation ship, the Shakespeare, and settled the Globe far outside Polity space to be free of the Polity and its constant territorial wars. 

Captain Elizabeth–the first Captain Elizabeth of the Shakespeare–had warned them. Flavius silently intoned the words drilled into him since the first days of school. “This is why we can never return to the Polity, why we must remain vigilant to resist their false promises, why we must not look back, but fix our eyes on what lies ahead. The peace of our people depends upon it.”

And, yet, their ancestors had done nothing to protect the Globe from an invading force. Had done nothing to secure the space around the Globe. And that night, Capt. Ward had made sure all of the Globe understood the power of the Polity Navy. The UPS Pacifica’s lasers had destroyed hundreds of Whitehall’s drones in a “celebration.” Yes, Capt. Ward had bought up all the drones from Whitehall’s citizens beforehand and recruited the city’s children to pilot them. But then the Pacifica had destroyed them all in a barbaric show of raw, military power.

And the people had cheered! Flavius could distinctly remember standing next to Octavius on the grassy dunes, looking back at the glowing towers of Whitehall. The acrid smoke from the exploded drones filled the air and stung his nose. And then the people, his citizens, had raised a cheer that could be heard for hundreds of metes. Those fools had cheered!

And that night, for the first time, Flavius and Octavius could not reach agreement on how to govern the Globe together. Octavius raged and swore he would kill Captain Ward and her Marines and pull the Pacifica from the sky and throw it into the Southern Sea. And from the look in Octavius’s eyes, it was clear Octavius truly thought he could snatch the Pacifica from orbit with his bare hands and complete the act himself.

But Flavius knew that the might of the Polity, the Pacifica specifically, was too great for Whitehall to match. Long ago, the Globe had turned away from space and had lost the technology to even fly into the upper atmosphere. There was no choice but to capitulate. But Octavius would not hear it. And when Flavius would not agree to Octavius’s wild plans to overthrow the Polity, Octavius had actually cast Flavius out of the Governor’s Mansion.

Flavius smiled at his enemy across his desk. All he could do was bargain with Capt. Ward. And, on behalf of his people, he would bargain hard. But so far, she had been willing to pay for all her own expenses and to keep the Polity’s tax at 10 percent, as originally promised. And Whitehall could afford that, especially when most of the costs could be passed to the other cities. And even a full 10 percent was a fraction of the cost of a war.

“I’ll have to figure out something there,” Ward said, speaking of Octavius. Thankfully, she said nothing of the fact that Octavius was actually holding rallies throughout the city and drumming up the protests against the Polity. The idiot! That huge bombard of sack!

Something had to be done. Never in the history of Whitehall had the people protested the government. Never!

Flavius knew he had to stop Octavius. Now was the time to broach the subject with Capt. Ward. But it had to be done delicately. As they say, “In a major matter, no details are small.”

“You know,” Flavius said, “at one time, the Governor of the Globe and the Mayor of Whitehall were the same person. Some political scientists have gone so far as to say Whitehall would be stronger and better governed with a single, strong leader.”

Ward looked around the red-curtained room.
Photo by Avinash Kumar

Ward looked around the red-curtained room. Her eyes rested a moment on the spider web high in the coffered ceiling. She seemed distracted.

But Capt. Ward was a sly one. As if reading his mind, Capt. Ward said, “I don’t want to get involved in your internal politics.”

“So, you want me to take care of the problem, then?” Flavius asked, carefully.

“Yes, that would be best,” she said in an absent-minded voice. She was clearly pretending disinterest, distancing herself from an unpleasant matter.

“And . . .  you would trust me to use whatever methods I think best?” he asked slowly.

“Yes, of course,” Ward said. “You’re the Mayor.”

Flavius nodded. Capt. Ward was an occupier, but at least she had the propriety to respect the local leaders. He smiled but quickly suppressed the smile. This was a serious matter. He nodded again and rubbed his hands nervously together.

“Very well, then. I’ll take care of it,” he said.

Flavius changed the subject. They discussed the progress of the giant landing pad and warehouse complex Ward had asked to be built in the grassy dunes near the site of her ship’s landing. Ward did not seem to respect the dangers of the savagelands, but he was grateful she was building the complex outside the walls. She said she did not want the constant sound of rockets disturbing the peace in Whitehall. And space within Whitehall’s walls was always tight.

Even better, Ward was paying Whitehall’s engineers and construction crews to build the complex. So Whitehall had a chance to earn back the tax the Polity collected.


Photo by Petr Magera

Capt. Ward left the Mayor’s Office in a better mood than she had arrived. Despite Gov. Octavius’s public threats to overthrow the Polity, the city was mostly peaceful. Mayor Flavius kept the city running smoothly and construction had already begun on the space port so the taxed resources could be lifted to the Pacifica when it returned to orbit. No one on the Globe knew it, but the Pacifica had left orbit around the Globe to explore the rest of the system for resources valuable to the Polity. That left Ward and her Marines alone on the planet, but only she and the Marines knew that. For all the Globers knew, the Pacifica was right overhead with lasers and missiles at the ready.

Things in Whitehall were going so smoothly that her mind kept wandering back to the disaster in Belmont. A mad usurper king on a throne and two of her Marines dead! And, yet, try as she might, she could not think how she should have handled things differently. She had only introduced herself and the madman had beheaded two of her Marines! A diplomatic rule of first contact is that no one wanted war, at least, not before having a chance to size up the other side. But when dealing with a madman, you had to throw diplomatic rules out the hatch.

Riding the elevator alone to her own quarters in Central Tower, Ward paused and thought back on the conversation with the mayor. She did not want to make any diplomatic mistakes here. She tried to recount the conversation. She realized she had been distracted and lost focus. But everything she could recall seemed in order. Flavius was a nervous man and he clearly feared her. That could be dangerous if he felt cornered, but their interactions were always cordial. She had promised not to interfere with local politics and he would talk to Octavius. If she could just sit down with the governor and pick his brain about the other cities, perhaps she could avoid another disastrous first contact.

As for Flavius, she would let him handle the details.


If you enjoyed my story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Whitehall, read “The Towers of Whitehall” which kicked off the Whitehall 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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Strange creatures lurk out in the dunes

Feral Fields

BY JEREMY WILSON AND SHANEL WILSON

The late afternoon light trickled through the crystalline window of Verges’s home in Westminster. He shuffled around his kitchen, filling his pockets with two-day-old fry bread before he left for his shift in the Wildcat Fields. Satisfied his pockets were full enough, he turned to the two work packs that hung from wooden hooks by the front door. The smaller one was covered in a thick layer of dust. Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.

Seeing the smaller pack, Verges grumbled and grabbed the larger one.
Photo by Derick McKinney

“I should put that away already,” he grunted, as he slung his pack over his shoulder.

As Verges adjusted the straps of his pack, he squinted against the sun reflecting off a small picture frame hanging next to the wooden hooks. He didn’t need to see the picture to vividly recall its image: a smiling, curly-haired girl with a face full of freckles wrapping her arms around a jolly, bearded man in a happy hug. Verges’s beard was a lot grayer these days, and his beloved daughter, Cleo, was now grown and working as a Bride in Whitehall. He had hoped Cleo would inherit her mother’s oil-slick-colored eyes, but she had his bold, violet eyes instead. When she came of age, she left to fulfill her duty and become a Westminster Bride.

His house had grown quiet because of her absence the past few years, causing Verges to pick up as many shifts as his manager, Imogen, would allow him out in the Fields. He preferred to be out there anyway, where he could catch a glimpse of the feral creatures that lived in the savagelands surrounding the Wildcat Fields.


Verges stepped off the hover trolley when it reached the refinery. A crowd of crew persons waited to board, covered in dust and sweat from a long day managing the rigs out on the dunes. A few muttered hellos as Verges passed. He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.

He nodded in return and made his way to the hover garage.
Photo by Marten Bjork

Verges checked in on the console at the entrance. He noticed his partner, Lodovico, had not checked in yet, so he made his way to their hover to get it ready for a night out in the Fields. He threw his pack into the driver’s seat and started performing the safety checks.

“Oy there, weren’t you just here last night, Verges?” 

The voice startled Verges, causing him to bump his head on the undercarriage of the hover.  

“It’s got to be done, Aaron.” Verges rubbed his head as he stood to greet the tall, slim man.

“Well, it’s your lucky night. The rigs will get a night off from your poking and prodding. Lodovico has called out, so you don’t have a partner to go out on shift with. Something about his wife being nervous about the Polity’s captain arriving tomorrow.” Aaron leaned casually against Verges’s hover, picking his filthy nails.

“I doubt Tamera is the nervous one.” Verges scowled, strapping down the toolbag to the rear of the hover.

“You’re right about that, mate!” Aaron’s scraggly hair bounced as he snickered.

Verges‘s brows knitted together as he watched Aaron continue to lounge against the hover while Verges tried to finish the safety checks.

“On shift tonight with Tubal, are ya Aaron?” Verges shooed the younger man away from the hover so Verges could check the drill poles.

“Nah, I’m heading home. I saw you check in, so I thought I’d wander into the garage to say hello, let you know you were off the hook for the night.” Aaron perched on the hover parked across the way.

“Well, hello. I am sure your children will be waiting at the door for their dear old pop, don’t you think?”

“I suppose you’re right, as usual, Verges. You’re a wise old geezer. Want to catch the next trolley together?” Aaron hitched a thumb toward the door.

“Not tonight. I want to make sure the hover is ready for the next run.” Verges kept his eyes on the hover so he wouldn’t be tempted to escort Aaron out forcibly.

“Always thinking ahead, aren’t ya? Just don’t go out alone. You know how dangerous it is.” Aaron hopped down from the hover and started strolling to the door.

“Do you think I’ve forgotten the rules?” Verges called after him.

“Not at all, but that hasn’t stopped you before, old boy. G’night, Verges.” Aaron waved and disappeared through the door.

Verges grumbled but was glad to be left alone. Verges hadn’t gotten the chance to take the hover out solo at night in ages. While it was expressly against the Wildcat Field rules to go out into the Fields at night alone, he knew how to avoid the dangers and he knew Imogen would go easy on him if word got back to her. The rigs needed tending, especially if the Polity would soon be trying to take a share of the oil the Fields produced. Every drop would become that much more precious. Verges also would not miss an opportunity to encounter some of his feral friends, especially without Lodovico scaring them off every chance he got. Once he was comfortable that the hover was ready and sure that everyone else had gone home, Verges climbed into the driver’s seat and quietly steered the hover out to the dunes.

Just beyond the outskirts of town, Verges paused to watch the last rays of sunlight dance across the dunes. A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises. Verges inhaled deeply and smiled. He’d always loved Mary’s Irises. They were a sight to behold but nearly impossible to find, hidden among the sandstone crags and only blooming in the darkest hours of night. Their pale, translucent petals, speckled with crimson, suggested a fragile nature, but they were far hardier than most of the Smith workers he knew.

A gentle breeze welcomed him, carrying the scent of Mary’s Irises.
Photo by Christian Lambert

When the sun finally disappeared below the shifting sands, Verges eased the hover onward toward the Barren Sea, where they’d left off tending the rigs the night before. The gentle breeze grew into a steady wind and the dunes began to hum. Lodovico always complained the sound gave him a headache, but Verges found it calming. Even so, it made his job trickier by masking the sounds of the creatures in the dunes.

He glided past dune after dune, his mind wandering to thoughts of his daughter. When she was younger, Verges would bring her along on nights when he would be tending the rigs solo. Together, they would repair the derricks and marvel at the creatures they came across. He wished she could be here now, but Whitehall had demanded that she stay to train other Brides. It had broken his heart, but he couldn’t say that he was surprised, knowing the incredible young woman she had become. Love and pride began to well up in the corners of his eyes.

Abruptly, the wind turned into a gale, pelting Verges with stinging sand and reducing his visibility to almost nothing. He slid his violet goggles into place to protect his eyes and veered the hover sharply north to cut through the Rift. When he reached it, he slowed again, buffeted by the wind.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes. Passing through it always filled Verges with a mix of unease and excitement thinking of what must be lurking in the labyrinth of slot canyons and caves branching out ever deeper into the planet. Traversing the canyon was actually the quickest way to get to the Barren Sea, but Imogen’s grandfather had forbidden the rig teams from passing this way since they’d lost several teams mysteriously during the last Alignment. Not that that had ever stopped Verges on nights when he was out alone.

The Rift was a deep scar in the ground hidden by the endless dunes.
Photo by Tom Gainor.

Verges carefully navigated the hover into the canyon. On nights like this, the raging wind above would send sand cascading down the sculpted canyon walls, creating flowing curtains backlit by the blood-red Swearing Moon. A fist-sized puffadoon eyed him suspiciously from a nearby rock ledge as it gnawed on a sand hopper. It’s bloated, warty skin reflecting dull orange in Verges’s goggles.

As the canyon reached its narrowest point, the hover’s headlamps reflected off of what appeared to be a rippling, silvery pool on the canyon floor blocking his path. Easing the hover closer, he could see the pool was a writhing mass of silvery bodies. 

Verges smiled and readied the fry bread in his pocket. He tossed a piece toward the silvery mass and was greeted by a cacophony of excited clicks.

Quicksilvers.

Agile little beasts with black, beady eyes, sharp snouts, and shimmering hides that reflected light like a mirror. A single Quik was relatively harmless, but a family of them will make quick work of even the strongest man’s hubris. Normally they were found among the dunes, where many a weary traveler were enticed into an unpleasant demise thinking they had found water. Occasionally, though, a brood would wander into one of the canyons and take up residence.

Verges used the fry bread to lure the Quiks out of the way and slide the hover past, barely clearing the outcrops on either side. He had to bring the hover to a crawl to avoid wedging it in the narrow opening. Once through, he paused briefly to admire the small, silvery beasts.

The sound of rocks being knocked loose, amplified by the canyon walls, startled Verges and sent the quicksilvers scattering into clefts and crevices. He scanned the canyon walls and saw nothing, but he suddenly felt like he was being watched. Curiosity gave way to prudence, and he decided to continue on his way.

By the time he reached the other end of the canyon, the wind had died down. As he exited, he glanced back and thought he saw a shadow moving at the canyon’s mouth. He stopped the hover and watched intently, holding his breath. When nothing happened, he slowly pressed on into the Barren Sea.

He passed the first two rigs, having tended those last night. He quietly swore as he approached the third. The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.

The rig was overrun with vines of Hathaway’s Crown.
Photo by Matt Hoffman.

Early Globers discovered the flowering vine growing straight out of the dunes and had named it so because of its beauty and tenacity. Ironically, it turned out that the vine fed on the very oil they were trying to extract and could wreak havoc on the rig machinery.

With a little effort, the vines could be trained to create a barrier around the rigs to keep the Quiks out. Verges found, though, that if he didn’t cut them back regularly, Hathaway’s Crown would quickly overtake the rig and force its way into the casings, seeking oil.

It had been less than a week since Verges had checked this rig, but already the vines had overtaken the structure. Cutting them back would take considerable time. Verges sighed. No need to be in a rush; that’s how accidents happen. 

He slid the hover next to the rig and switched off the engine. Without the hover engine running, Verges paused to enjoy the sounds of the sand for a moment. The peaceful calm belied the dangerous traps the dunes held. He glanced back toward the edge of the canyon. The rig was a good distance away from it, but something in the pit of his stomach didn’t trust that the shadow near the canyon wasn’t lurking in the darkness. Once he was satisfied that he was alone, Verges dug in his pack for his plasma shears. 

“Hathaway, I better have enough charge to cut away your crown,” Verges prayed, since he had neglected to charge the battery pack after using the shears the night before. 

Vine shears were standard issue for Wildcat Field workers, but Verges had modified his with plasma blades. They were risky because of how much ultraviolet light they emitted, but they cut his work time in half. It was a trade-off he was willing to make. He ignited the blades and set to work. 

After several hours, the canvas sack Verges used to collect the vine clippings was nearly full, even though he was only halfway through his trimming. He wiggled and tamped the sack to make more room before he reached for another piece of vine on the side of the rig. When he flicked the switch on the plasma blades, they popped and fizzled instead of igniting.

“Blast it.” Verges hit the blade handles against his palm several times. The blades stayed dark.

He looked back to the rig, vines still curling around the top of the derrick. If he left those there, the rig would be engulfed before he could return. Verges climbed back into the hover where he pulled out a long cable from under the controls. He inserted the cable into the charging port on the shears and paused, taking another look around the dunes. No signs of curious creatures, yet.

The night had grown dark and still. Normally Verges would have been disappointed to have such a quiet, creatureless night in the rigs, but he knew that could change as soon as he turned on the hover. Verges reached over and flipped the ignition switch. The hover engine purred like a kittercat, and he tried the switch on the shears again. Their violet glow instantly illuminated the buzzing hover. 

Verges jumped out of the hover and scrambled up the side of the derrick to reach the remaining vines. He took a deep breath to calm himself. He hated rushing, but dawn was approaching and he hadn’t given himself much of a choice. He made a mental note to keep a spare battery in his work pack to avoid this in the future. Verges looped the cable around the upper strut of the rig and continued trimming. Clippings fell to the sand, making soft thuds and sending grains of sand cascading down the side of the dune. 

Between the purr of the hover and focusing on the vines, Verges couldn’t hear the clippings fall. He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either. It wasn’t until he felt a tug on the cable connecting his shears to the hover that his attention was pulled away from the vines.

He couldn’t hear the quiet padding of footsteps approaching, either.
Photo by Harpal Singh.

Beneath him, several bulbous eyes reflected the glow of his shears. The creature tossed its ragged, russet-colored mane and let out a low growl. It pawed the sand between them with one of its eight, spindly legs that was now entwined in the cable.

“A sand wraith!” Verges whispered into the night.

All the blood from his face drained when he locked eyes with the beast. Verges had never seen one before, nor had he met anyone who had. It was said that anyone who did never returned from the dunes. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Its head and body, it was said, resembled a monstrous, engorged lion, with jagged fangs curving out from its whiskered muzzle. It was thought that sand wraiths lurked in the canyons and only stalked prey into the dunes if they were particularly hungry. They would strike with unnatural speed, pinning their victims down in a flurry of legs while slowly ripping them apart. 

The legends described the beast as having eight, giant, spider-like legs covered in thick, tawny hair that tower over even the tallest of men. Photo by Jeremy Bezanger.

Verges noted that the legends were right about the beast’s fearsome lion and spider-like features, but its legs were not quite as tall. The wraith looked to be about his height if he had been on the ground next to it. Though, he knew those nimble legs could scale the derrick to reach him in seconds flat if it wished. Being caught in the cable would barely slow it down. 

The sand wraith’s growl grew into agitated grunts, its legs skittering in the sand as it pulled against the cable, nearly yanking the shears clean out of Verges’s hands. Verges flicked off the shears so neither of them would be sliced by the plasma. 

“Easy there.” Verges cautiously climbed down the derrick; his hand outstretched toward the sand wraith. 

It lowered its massive head and sneered; a low guttural roar shook the derrick as Verges landed in the sand. 

“I won’t hurt you.” Verges dropped the shears and held his hands up to show the beast he meant no harm.

It stepped backward, jolting the hover that was still connected by the cable to the shears and sending the hover crashing into the derrick. Verges lunged forward and rolled to avoid being pinned between the two. 

“Whoa!” Verges unsteadily got back to his feet, his sweaty face and neck now covered in sand. 

He slowly reached into the hover and killed the engine. Verges watched as the beast’s hackles seemed to drop and relax. Though he took that as a good sign, his heart pounded against his ribcage. He stepped forward, half bowed, while keeping his eyes locked with the wraith’s. The intense yellow of the wraith’s eyes glowed brightly because of his goggles, which had started fogging up from his sweat. He yanked them off and dropped them by his side. The air between them was thick with the beast’s hot, sticky breath.

“Let me help you.” Verges bent down and found the cable in the sand.

He reached a hand out, mere inches from the wraith’s trapped leg. He paused, bowed his head and then gently stroked its spike-like fur. The hairs bristled at his touch, creating a rasping sound as they rubbed together. Verges recoiled, watching the wraith’s every move. When it did not retreat or attack, he continued. Verges gingerly lifted its clawed foot pad and unwrapped the cable from its leg. Once freed, he set the leg back down into the sand and took a step back. 

The wraith snuffed and stamped its legs, stretching to its full height and causing Verges to stumble backwards a few paces. The wraith’s eight legs worked in perfect harmony as it stepped forward to close the gap between them. Verges held as still as he could, though he couldn’t mask the heaving of his chest.

The wraith crouched down, pressing its body against the sand and wrapping its legs around itself like a cage. It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 

Verges allowed himself to breathe again, watching the creature intently.

It sniffed at Verges’s boots, giving them a small lick with its leathery tongue. 
Photo by Tim Foster.

When the wraith finished slathering his boots, it stepped even closer, knocking Verges backwards, and shoved its oversized muzzle into Verges’s lap. Despite being perilously close to its fangs and nearly suffocated by its mane, Verges let out a giddy chuckle. Instinctively, he reached out and began to scratch the wraith behind its flattened ears, as if it were a kittercat.

A sudden, low, thundering noise caused Verges to pause and scan the horizon. Seeing no clouds, Verges was confused until he realized the sound was coming from the wraith. The more Verges scratched, the louder the rumbling got, and the heavier the wraith’s head became in his lap. He eventually had to stop scratching when the weight of the creature’s head threatened to crush him.

When Verges stopped, the wraith raised its head and stared at him intently, looking almost confused. Verges chuckled again and returned its gaze, losing himself in the wraith’s intense, golden eyes. After several long moments, a crackle of static burst from the comm on the hover, startling them both. The wraith leapt backward and reared up as if to attack the hover.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane.
Photo by David Gavi.

“Woah,” Verges intoned, trying to calm the beast. The creature’s many eyes darted from Verges to the hover and back.

It hesitated. When the comm remained silent, the wraith lowered itself back down but kept its distance. They stood watching each other.

The horizon began to glow, signaling the return of light and, with it, a gentle breeze that rippled through the wraith’s mane. From the direction of the Rift came a series of loud, short grunts. The wraith tilted its head toward the sound and returned a similar grunt. It padded a few steps before turning to regard Verges one last time. They locked eyes and then the wraith sped off toward the canyon, disappearing into the dunes as the first rays of light began to paint the mouth of the canyon in the distance.

Verges stared toward the canyon for several long minutes, his mind struggling to comprehend the night’s events. The comm crackled to life again, tearing Verges’s attention away from the creature.

“Verges,” came Aaron’s voice over the comm, “Verges, come back.”

He cursed and reached for the comm, unable to keep the irritation out of his voice, “What?!”

“No really, Verges, come back. You’d better get your tail back here before Imogen gets in or she’ll have your hide, gray and wrinkled as it is, old boy.”

“Yeah, yeah. Thanks, Ma!” Verges shut off the comm and collected his tools. With one last glance toward the canyon, Verges eased the hover into the rising sun.


If you enjoyed Jeremy and Shanel’s story, feel free to leave comments below. If you would like to read more about Westminster, read “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

Now you’re all caught up. But don’t worry, we have more stories from the Globe on the way soon!

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

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

Swift as Shadow

Part II

BY SHANEL WILSON

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

BY SHANEL WILSON

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


“Put this on.”

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

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

“Hold on!” Valentine commanded.

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

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

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

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

“Home,” she said.

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