Brutus must learn how to keep faith in the Burning Flame

In “Pillars of Smoke,” Lorenzo escaped Belmont and an arranged marriage. But he left behind his parents, Brutus and Ophelia, and the twins. Three days have passed since the “Night of the Rocket,” but none in Belmont are allowed to know of the life outside. In the city beneath the mountain, the Belmontians try to preserve their way of life and stay faithful to . . .

The Burning Flame

Part I

BY FRASIER ARMITAGE

Three Veils passed, but Lorenzo hadn’t returned. 

“Where can he be?” Ophelia asked. 

Brutus sat with his hand on his chin. 

“Brutus! Didn’t you hear me? Our son is missing these three Veils, yet you say nothing?” 

“Where are Sylvia and Roderigo?” he said, absently. 

“They are readying themselves for the service.” 

He nodded. “That’s good.” 

“What of Lorenzo? What did you say to him?” 

Brutus scowled. “You think this my fault? That our son would flee and not return because of me?” 

“You were the last to see him! To speak with him! What else am I to think?” 

“I have done nothing but care for this family and honor the flame. What more can I do?” Photo by Chirag Nayak.

Brutus stood, rising with the fire that burned inside him. “Our son is missing, and now you lay the blame with me! I have done nothing but care for this family and honor the flame. What more can I do?” 

“Please do not scold me. I worry for my boy. Is that so wrong a thing?” Ophelia shrivelled, tears cascading down her cheeks. 

Brutus unclenched his fists and wrapped his arms around his wife. “Come now, let the twins not see us like this. I’ve sent word to the Council. There are eyes in the smoke. If he is in the city, we shall hear at the service.” 

“And if he is not in Belmont?” 

Brutus released Ophelia and retired to his chair, his hand returning to his chin. “Worry not, my love. If he cannot be found in Belmont, it will fall on me to decide what must be done. Let’s not fret over what we do not know.” 

Ophelia wiped her red eyes and puffed her chest, forcing an empty smile to her lips. “Sylvia! Roderigo!” she called, and the twins ran through the hab. 

Sylvia reached around her father’s leg and gave it a squeeze. He didn’t stir. He just sat there, staring into the distance. 

“Come,” Ophelia said. “Let us go and pay our respect to the flame.” 

The family departed through the airlock into the smoke-laden street. They grasped each other’s hands and peered through their breathing masks at the shadows of the other families of Belmont, all mingling outside the Pillars of Belmont. The whole city crowded around the sacred monument, and a single light blinked from a balcony cut into the foremost pillar. 

“Children of smoke,” a voice boomed through the city, bouncing off the stone which encased them in the mountain’s core. “We gather to cleanse ourselves. Fire purifies all it touches. Let us pass through the fire as one.” 

“Amen,” the crowd responded. 

“They grasped each other’s hands and peered through their breathing masks at the shadows of the other families of Belmont, all mingling outside the Pillars of Belmont.” Photo by Jacob Boavista.

A horn blasted three times. 

“Confess, and let your sins burn away.” The voice of the minister resounded among the people. Whispers echoed from each of them as, through closed eyes, they made their confessions. 

“Forgive me,” Brutus whispered so quiet that none might hear. “I should’ve listened better to Lorenzo. I should’ve heard him, instead of dismissing him the same way I would any fool who questions the wisdom of fire. I am as blind as a man who stumbles in smoke. And now my son is missing. Let him come back to me. Guide me to him. Let me see him just once again.” 

The horn blasted three times more. 

“Your words have been heard,” the priest’s voice thundered. “Now let the fire answer.” 

A scorching mist billowed from the pillars, blown across the river of purified ore that flowed from between the two titans. The mist spread through those gathered, dispersing its heat among them. 

“You have been heard. Now let the smoke wash you clean, children. May this Thickveil be a Holy Veil. And may you have peace.” 

The horn blasted a final time, and Thickveil struck. 

“Amen,” the people parroted before they turned back to their habs.

“Let me see him just once again.” Photo by Om Prakash Sethia.

Brutus turned, and Ophelia squeezed his hand. 

“Brutus!” a voice called from the crowd. “Brutus!” 

Brutus stopped and waited for the shadow that rushed towards him. Antony emerged from the mist. 

“Brutus, the Council will meet with you,” Antony said. “Come. They gather as we speak.” 

Brutus looked to the pillars, and offered a silent prayer of thanks, before he twisted to his wife. “Take the children, Ophelia. I shall return shortly.” 

She vanished into the mist with Sylvia and Roderigo. 

Antony led him through the milling crowd towards the foremost pillar. A stone door scraped open, and they moved inside the pillars. A crunch brought the stone behind them, sealing Brutus in. 

The hiss of air sucked the smoke out of the chamber, and Antony unhooked his breathing mask. Brutus followed, and the floor shook. 

Gears whined. A rumble caused Brutus to stagger as the lift drew him up the colossal shaft, through the pillar, to its peak. The lift emptied him into a dimly lit room, where men and women gathered in a circle, their bodies covered in hooded robes, and blood-red eyes glowed from the shadow where their faces should’ve been. 

“Come.” One of them beckoned Brutus into the circle. It was the same voice which had led the people in the cleansing ritual. “Speak.”

Brutus stepped into the midst of the Council of Belmont. “Is there news of my son?” he asked. 

“He is not in the city, my child. If he lives, he has abandoned us.” 

Brutus’s shoulders slumped. His fingers rubbed his forehead. “He may still be covered in mist. You know the mountains conceal all. It may not be too late for him.” 

“You know the law of exposure. Not even the minister at the gate has the freedom to reveal his face to an outsider.” 

Brutus shook his head. “If I could just get onto the mountain, I’m sure I could bring him back without anyone seeing.” 

“It is forbidden.” 

Brutus’s lips quivered. “But . . . he’s my son.” 

“He is a child of smoke. We all suffer this loss. But you know the writings of the Guardian. The Gospel of Portia clearly states that none may leave the mountain. You wouldn’t question the founder, would you?” 

“No.” Brutus clenched his fists. “I’m a loyal Belmontian. I follow the path of fire.” 

“A pure soul of Belmont. May the flame always warm and feed you. Amen.” They moved their hands up, rising to mimic a flicker of flame; the time-honored symbol of worship. 

The Council dispersed and Brutus turned back to the shaft. A hoodsman joined him as the lift descended. He peeled back his robe. “Brutus, I am truly sorry for your loss.” 

“Thank you, Councilman.” 

“Please, call me Julius.” 

Brutus bowed to him, but Julius grasped his arm and lifted him upright. 

“My friend,” Julius said, “not all among the Council approve of its piety. Or its decisions. In fact, there are some of us who are even—” Julius looked around him, although he knew they were alone as the chamber whirred lower and lower still. 

“Even what?” Brutus asked. 

“Can you be trusted with a secret, Brutus?” 

He nodded. 

“There are some among us,” Julius whispered, “who believe that Belmont should not be cut off from what lies beyond the mountain. That if a fire cannot spread, it will fade and die.” 

Brutus’s eyes bulged, and he grasped his chest. 

“Does this shock you?” Julius said. “When the Guardian wrote her manifesto in which she recommended to limit contact with the others beyond the mountain, it was only so that those who mined inside this rock may not become discontent. Complete seclusion was never her aim. She sought contentment for the people. How much contentment do you see among this new generation of Belmontians? Was your son content here, Brutus?” 

Brutus shook his head, stifling the lump in his throat. “He wished for a life beyond this place.” 

“And he was wise to do so.” Julius rested his hand on Brutus’s shoulder. “The priests preach that segregation is purity, but what is worth more: a lump of pure iron, or the mountain in which it forms? Blind devotion to smoke and fire will only lead to ash. I know you are loyal to the flame, and this talk is new to you. But I sense a purpose for you which Portia herself would smile upon. One in which you may prove yourself a true Belmontian.” 

The war within Brutus erupted across his face. The hoodsman spoke heresy. Yet, instead of rejecting it, Brutus listened. And more than that, he saw a spark of sense in it. Was this the heat that had tickled Lorenzo’s ears and led him to abandon his home? Lies. Lies. All these words, lies. And yet, they spoke to Brutus as the lift lowered through the pillar, and he couldn’t turn his ear away.

“What would you have me do?” Brutus asked. 

Julius smiled. “For many Veils, our group of adherents have sought to start a fire of our own in Belmont. But we’ve yet to find the spark to ignite it. Your son could be that spark, Brutus. I saw you clench your fists when you were denied the chance to search for him. What if I could give you that chance?” 

Brutus’s eyes danced aflame. “You mean it? You can get me past the Gatekeeper?” 

“Bring Lorenzo back to Belmont, and we’ll burn through this mountain.” 

Brutus nodded, but his chest sunk. “Julius, none will be hurt when this fire of yours is lit, will they?” 

“Brother, we seek harmony with those beyond. Peace brings no harm with it. You know this.” 

Brutus pictured Lorenzo’s face. He’d petitioned the flame to see his son one time more, and he had been heard. He grasped Julius by the shoulder. “I will be your spark, Julius.” 

“Meet me at the gate at Halfmist.” Julius returned his hood to cover his face. “For Belmont.” 

“For Belmont,” Brutus repeated. 

The lift hit the ground, and they disappeared into the plumes of smoke shrouding the city. 

Brutus’s breathing mask hissed as it worked to stave the smog of Thickveil from his lungs. He strode a path along the river, its molten heat radiating with a comfort that settled his beating heart. All the omens favored this decision. He glimpsed shadows through the mist, knowing the smoke held unseen eyes. Always had he believed the smoke concealed them, yet now he knew that all things were exposed to it. That even the shadows were consumed by its all-seeing haze. 

He scanned his hand against the access panel of his hab. Beyond the airlock, Ophelia waited for him. 

“What news?” she asked. 

“I must leave at Halfmist,” he answered. 

“Leave? Where?” 

The less she knew, the better. He trusted his life to Julius, but the lives of his family were another matter. “I cannot say. But know that there is hope, my love.” 

Tears welled in her eyes. Her hands quivered. “You speak the truth?” she said. 

“It is all I know how to speak.” 

“Oh, Brutus. Do you have to leave? I’m not sure I can cope without you.” 

“All will be well, my dear Ophelia. Light a fire for me, and hope it doesn’t fade.” 

“Hope. Is that all you can give me?” 

Brutus folded his arms around her. “What else is there to give?” he said.  

“Hope is a dangerous thing to possess, husband. Hope alone would drive a person mad.” 

He pulled Ophelia to his chest and cradled her. He wished to tell her that he would bring their son home again. That all would be well. But silence settled in the hab, a silence he couldn’t bring himself to break.

“A father will always find his kin.” Photo by Ante Hamersmit.

Sylvia squealed from the playroom, and Ophelia pulled herself from his hold. 

“It’s okay,” Brutus said. “I’ll check on them.” 

Ophelia nodded, her shaking fingers covering her lips. Brutus entered the playroom and roared as loud as a kiln. The children scattered through the room, fleeing his stomping feet as he bellowed, giant as the mountain. 

“Where are those children? I’ll lick them up in my flaming arms!” 

The children ran, but he caught Sylvia and swept her into his grasp. He nuzzled his head on her stomach and blew kisses over her. She laughed, kicking her legs. Roderigo tapped his father’s knees. Brutus slipped Sylvia under one arm and scooped Roderigo in his other, peppering him with the same affection. 

“Father’s a fire!” Sylvia said. 

“Nice and warm,” Roderigo answered. 

“I burn for you, my children.” Brutus remembered the same game he used to play with Lorenzo. “There’s no hiding from your father, no matter how hard you try. A father will always find his kin.” 

“Is that true, Father?” Sylvia asked. 

Brutus pictured Lorenzo, lost in mist. “If I said it, it’s true.” 

They played the game again and again. Ophelia sat in the doorway and watched them play. Then the horn blew across the city, chiming an hour until Halfmist. 

Brutus kissed his wife’s cheek and left his family playing together. He grabbed his mask, his pickaxe and his jacket, and without another word, vanished into smoke. 

Through the city, Brutus ascended one level at a time. He climbed beyond the colonnades and above the pillars, where the once colossal drill had first chiselled out their mountain home. Smoke rose in a cloud, growing ever thicker as he reached the top of the shaft.

“Smoke rose in a cloud, growing ever thicker as he reached the top of the shaft.” Photo by Adam Bixby.

Julius waited for him in shadow. “Brother,” Julius said. “You are ready?” 

“More than you know.” 

A smile crept through the glass plate of Julius’s breathing mask as he shepherded Brutus along the passage towards the gate. “Have you ever met a Gatekeeper, Brutus?” 

“Not that I can recall.” 

“They are the most loyal of all Belmontians. They serve in isolation, shielding the mountain from outsiders. And yet, they must touch the outside and allow it to pass in safety within this rock once every six Veils. For how else are we to be fed with food and air? You see, Belmont is not so alone as you might think.” 

Brutus remembered Lorenzo speak of food and air, which Belmont traded with the other cities of the Globe. He had not wished to listen then. But he listened now. 

“We had a Gatekeeper join us once,” Julius continued. “Many Veils ago. But the Council discovered the plan to drop the gate, and he was banished forever. The gate opens once every sixth Halfmist to allow goods safely in and out. But we would’ve smashed the barrier that blocks us from leaving, the same wall which keeps that Gatekeeper from ever returning. So I ask you, are you ready, Brutus? You know what is at stake?” 

Brutus imagined the smiling faces of his dear wife and children. He must return those smiles to their eyes. Until Lorenzo was found, their eyes would never gleam again. What choice did he have? Even if he, too, might become banished from Belmont, he had to try. “I understand the risk.” 

“Good.” Julius clapped him on the back. “Here.” From beneath his robe, the hoodsman pushed a small device into Brutus’s palm. “This will draw the gate once, and once alone. It is how you must return, with Lorenzo in your arms. Do not use it until you are finished in your search. One use is all that it can produce.” 

“A gift from your Gatekeeper friend?” Brutus asked. 

“A relic from a former time. Which is what we will all become, unless you can bring your son home.” 

Ahead, the smoke thinned, and a group of Belmontians with ore-scorched masks huddled, waiting. Julius guided Brutus into the core of them. 

“We are the mountain, and you are the flame,” they chanted. “Rise and burn. Rise and burn.” They stomped their feet as they pushed through the thinning barrier of mist, repeating their chant. As their footsteps quickened, their voices raised, until they were running in the clear air, screaming the anthem at the top of their lungs. 

Through the thrashing limbs of those around him, Brutus glimpsed the giant air vents sucking up the smoke, and the tunnel which led to an amber force field, shielding a huge drawbridge and open gate. Beyond the gate, a cavalcade of hovercraft lined up with supplies for the Belmontians. 

The Gatekeeper stood at the far end of the drawbridge, between the open gate and the misty mountain beyond. Photo by Sergey Nikolaev.

Halfmist struck, and the force field collapsed as the horn shuddered the walls, rippling up from the kiln below. The Gatekeeper stood at the far end of the drawbridge, between the open gate and the misty mountain beyond. 

“Hold!” the Gatekeeper roared, as he ignited the laser of his axe and scythe. 

The masked men swarming around Brutus lit their picks. They broke formation, charging at the Gatekeeper. Shards of electrum flashed where the laser of scythe met pick, and the men wrestled the Gatekeeper from his post. 

Momentum carried Brutus ahead. Julius was nowhere to be found as Brutus left through the open gate, stumbling onto a new kind of rock. The men behind him dispersed, and a force field shot up the side of the mountain, masking it in an amber haze. 

Brutus gathered his footing. The mountain beneath him splintered into pieces. It seemed so unsteady, so fragile. Not like the solid stone carved inside the city. The safety of his refuge crumbled with the pebbles which scattered at his feet. 

“Lorenzo!” he called out. His voice carried through the mist. “Lorenzo, my son!” 

Brutus unhooked his breathing mask, and gulped the air. It dizzied him in an intoxicating rush. Never had he tasted air so light and yet so dense. It enveloped him, more so than the fog. 

He staggered down the mountainside, the only sound his echoing cry and the scuff of his footsteps over uncertain clumps of disintegrating rock. 

“Lorenzo!” 

He wandered for hours, calling out. As he neared the foot of the mountain, golden rays of sun broke through the mist, and he threw his hand up to shade his red eyes from the light. Never had he seen so bright a flame as the ball of fire in the sky. Everything blurred, so intense was the glow of morning. The stone reflected the light back to him, forcing his eyes shut. He stumbled blind until the ground leveled off, weeping tears in the heat. His skin burned. Sweat poured from his tattered clothes. 

“Lorenzo!” 

His foot struck a lump. It wasn’t rock. A soft, spongy form stretched out below him. He knelt to feel it and recognised its touch as flesh. 

Brutus ran his fingers across the body that lay before him. He dared to open his eyes, and there he saw the scorched remains of his son. 

“No!” he wept. “Lorenzo. My son. My boy.” 

He cradled the limp body to his chest. Tears drenched his child. Brutus cried out, his voice louder than the horn blast at Thinveil. 

“I asked that I see my boy once more. But not like this. You deceived me!” 

He slammed his fist against his chest, beating it as he screamed at the fire which had brought him here. 

“Why would you do this to me? Were the omens not good? Did you not answer my plea? Fire is supposed to be pure. But you are not a pure flame! You lie. Lies. Lies. All these lies. No more! You are to blame for this! I curse you, and I curse this ground, and I curse the world. Oh, Lorenzo, my boy. Can you ever forgive me?” 

Brutus picked up the body and turned back up the mountain. Into the mist, he disappeared, to return his son the way he’d come. All the while, he kept repeating the chant of Julius’s men. “We are the mountain and you are the fire. Rise and burn. Rise and burn.”


If you enjoyed Frasier’s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. If you would like to see how this story began, read Frasier’s “Pillars of Smoke,” which kicked off the entire Globe Folio series, and then Frasier’s “The Voice of Beasts.”

On Friday, we bring you Part 2 of “The Burning Flame.” Brutus returns to the guarded entrance of Belmont with what he assumes is the body of his son. He is called before the very Council he defied. And he must reconcile the loss of his son with his faith in the Burning Flame.

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

Will interrogation reveal the secrets of the weapons cache?

Interrogation

by Matthew Cross

Fear washed over Panthino as he carefully made his way down the stairs into the darkness below the warehouse’s butchering floor. Desdemonia led the way, sure-footed and calm. How she could remain so calm when they had been kidnapped, he did not know. But she seemed to know the pig butchers that had swept him from the village alleyway, and she had acted as his tour guide of the giant warehouse in the Shambles on the west side of Southwark, Finsbury’s center and marketplace. 

Panthino’s bulky, mechanical exoskeleton that wrapped around him from the waist down worked much better in large open spaces, so he had to inch his way down the stairs carefully. Fortunately, the stairs were made of plascrete, stable as rock, so after the first step he was not afraid they would collapse under his weight. Even so, the servos whined as he struggled to make the complicated series of small movements necessary for walking down stairs. Even in the darkness, Panthino blushed at the whining noise they made.

By the time he reached the bottom, his eyes had become accustomed to the dim lighting. Some hallways branched off into complete darkness, but the dour driver of the pig truck that had brought them here and Desdemonia walked straight through an open doorway into a long room. It was a meeting room with a long plas table meant to look like wood and an assortment of beaten plas chairs. There was dim overhead lighting and a spotlight shone on one long wall. On the wall was a large decal, a large oval logo in black, nearly as tall as Desdemonia. The logo was of a circle of men facing outwards, away from the circle, and holding a variety of weapons. After a moment, Panthino recognized the shape they formed was roughly the outlines of the borders of Finsbury.

The driver took a seat at the head of the table and Desdemonia and Panthino took seats near him. Panthino’s legs were quaking and he laid a large hand on them to keep them from activating the exoskeleton servos. The room was cool, like a cave, and he tried to pretend that’s why his teeth started chattering.

Somehow, he knew all this had to do with the cache of weapons he had found on the Night of the Rocket beneath one of the border fields. But how did they know? Panthino had not told anyone but his father.

“Well, lad, Desdemonia speaks well of you,” the driver said at last. “Says your a smart one and you’ll help us. We already know about the weapons you found, and a pulse cannon. All we need you to do is tell us where to find it.”

Panthino was confused. Desdemonia had told them about him? What did that mean? Why had she been talking about him to their kidnappers? And when? And, again, how did they know about the weapons?

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

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

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

The City of Finsbury

The green-eyed farmers of Finsbury feed the Globe and furnish its timber from the rich bottomlands. Though spread far and wide, the brotherhood of Finsbury will band together to protect their lands from invaders, whether they be brigands or Whitehallers.

Panthino had promised Da not to say anything about the weapons. Panthino didn’t know what these pig butchers knew or how they knew it. But they didn’t know everything. They clearly didn’t know where the weapons cache was hidden, so they hadn’t seen him that night. Panthino had not told a soul, so the only person they could have learned from was Da.

“Where’s my Da?” Panthino suddenly demanded. His normally low voice came out hoarse and high but forceful just the same.

The driver smiled. “Don’t worry. Your Da’s still meeting with the Council. But we have friends at the Council, too, and we know everything your Da knows. We know you found the weapons buried in a capsule under a field. And your Da says there’s more like it. Says he knows where to find ‘em all. But the real question is, do you know where to find them all?”

It was a meeting room with a long plas table meant to look like wood and an assortment of beaten plas and metal chairs. Photo by Daria Nepriakhina.

Panthino shook his head. He didn’t know what the man was talking about. He had only found one capsule. An image flashed through his head, an image of his Da’s desk at home littered with paper maps. And then his father had closed the door and locked it, which he had never done before. Panthino shook his head violently to clear it. 

“We assume it’s on one of the three farms your Da manages. We’ll find it eventually, even if you don’t help us, but we’d be grateful if you saved us the time.”

Panthino looked at Desdemonia. She gave a small smile and nodded, encouraging him to speak. Her large, dark green eyes glistened in the dimness. She looked so beautiful, dark curling hair framing a heart-shaped face. He leaned forward, his mouth opening. And he almost yielded. He wanted to do what she wanted. Whatever she wanted. But he tore his eyes from hers and stared at his lap, at his exoskeleton. He had promised Da, and a promise was a promise. He could not break it. Not even for Desdemonia.

“Well, then?” asked the man.

“Give him a moment,” Desdemonia said.

“‘s alright,” the man said. “I’ll give you two some time to talk and an’ him some time to think about it. Lads, put ‘em in the other room.”

Men materialized from the dark and grasped Desdemonia and Panthino by the arms, practically lifting Panthino, even with his heavy exoskeleton. Behind him, on the opposite wall from the logo, was a wall of glaze windows from waist high to the ceiling. In the center was a sliding glass door that Panthino had not noticed before. Before he could even think to resist, or where to go if he broke free, the men had hustled him into the adjoining room.

With one push to the chest, his legs gave out and he collapsed into a hard, metal chair. They strapped his arms and struggled to work the straps around his legs, finally just running the straps through his exoskeleton. Seeing two men strapping Desdemonia to a chair facing him, he struggled, but it was too late.

“Lads, cut it out. This ain’t funny,” Desdemonia said.

But in mere moments, the door slid shut and the men were gone.

Panthino looked wildly about. They were in a long, dark room the same size as the meeting room on the other side of the glaze wall. On this side of the window, the glaze was dark and opaque. There were no lights here, just a dim trickle of light from far overhead. He could hear the machinery of the slaughterhouse floor above thrumming and there was a thump.

“I’m sorry, Panthino,” Desdemonia said. She was just a dark shape in the dimness with the hint of a halo on the crown of her head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into him. When my Da hears about this, there’ll be Hell to pay.”

Desdemonia’s voice was filled with anger, not fear. She knew these men. She was not afraid of them. But she was surprised by their violent methods, and Panthino found himself trembling. He gripped the arms of the chair to steady himself. It was sticky.

With the slightest whisper, the ceiling far above slid open and light shone down on them. Large, blocky shapes filled most of the ceiling, but around the edges was a metal grid, and white light shone down through it.

Large, blocky shapes filled most of the ceiling, but around the edges was a metal grid, and white light shone down through it. Photo by Ali Tayyebi.

“Slavering beasts!” Desdemonia cursed, something Panthino had never heard her do. “We’re under the guillotine. I never realized . . .”

Panthino heard another hum and saw the disorienting colored lights from the guillotine room above. The conveyor belt hummed, and he realized where he was. Horror filled him. In the room above was the conveyor belt, and the laser guillotine, and the hog about to be beheaded. It was nearly silent, but then he heard the head drop onto the conveyor belt with a thump and roll loudly into a metal chute.

Then he felt it. A spray of warm liquid and the smell of copper.

“Ugh!” Desdemonia said at the same time.

To his rising horror, Panthino realized what the liquid was and what the sticky substance covering the chair was. It was pig’s blood.

The conveyor belt hummed again and Panthino heard the sound of the door in the room above. It slid up for the next hog to be sacrificed. The colored lights flared. It was happening all over again. That’s when Desdemonia began cursing loudly. And someone else began screaming. Panthino realized it was him.


The men made Desdemonia and Panthino sit through five more beheadings before the ceiling above them shut. With each slaughter, the pig’s blood spurted down on them. It was not a lot, but every time the light spray seemed to speckle Panthino’s head and drip down his face. Panthino struggled in his chair and shook his head wildly, but he was trapped and there was nothing he could do to move or even just wipe the warm blood from his face.

Finally, the sliding glaze door to the meeting room slid open. The large men swarmed through the door. They swept Desdemonia and Panthino back into the meeting room, pushed them down into the chairs and stepped just outside the zone of dim light. The man, the one who had driven them here in the pig truck, materialized out of the darkness. He threw each of them a towel and Desdemonia and Panthino wiped wildly at their faces and their hair.

The man waited patiently.

When Panthino had calmed enough to look at him, the man spoke.

“Now, I can make threats,” he said softly, reaching down and lifting Desdemonia’s hand. She struggled to pull it free, but he held it fast. He lifted it into the dim light so Panthino could see Desdemonia’s fine, thin fingers. “I could lop off one of these beauties, and I bet you’d spill everything you know, son. But we’re all friends here, and there’s no need for threats among friends, is there?”

Before Desdemonia even snatched her hand away, Panthino was talking. Gibbering really. He told them everything he knew about the the capsule filled with weapons. He talked and talked and talked. Anything to postpone more torture. Anything not to have to go back into that room slicked and sticky with pig’s blood. Anything to protect Desdemonia.


Panthino sat in the back of the hover as the men emerged from the ground, grinning and carrying an assortment of weapons. They had all returned from Southwark in an odd collection of hovers, bypassed the village and reached the field where Panthino had dug up the hatch to the capsule. Unlike the slow trip in the pig truck to Southwark, it seemed to take no time at all. The flow of men coming up from underground stopped and there was a huddle around the hole. The men mumbled excitedly, but they were too far away for Panthino to hear.

The huddle broke up with some men going down the hole and others walking to their hovers. After some time, there was a rumble and the ground shook. Then, to Panthino’s amazement, a huge hole opened up and the round, metal nose of a machine emerged from the dark soil. An engine revved and suddenly the ground erupted in dirt and dust. When the sound stopped and the dust settled, there sat in the middle of the field a huge, oblong vehicle on treads. “Tank” was the word that came to Panthino’s mind, even though he had never seen one.

Then he realized what it was. It was the outside of the capsule. Or rather, the buried capsule filled with weapons was actually just the inside of a long tank.


I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share any comments below.

Make sure to check back next Friday week–in a fortnight–for the next flash-fiction story set on the Globe, “The Burning Flame,” by Frasier Armitage.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

Panthino’s kidnappers take him to the Shambles

Shambles

by Matthew Cross

Two things don’t last: good luck and good weather.

It’s something the farmers of Finsbury liked to say.

It seemed fitting here, Panthino thought, as he sat next to his kidnapper, a skinny man with skraggly teeth and a strong smell Panthino could not immediately place.

They had kidnapped Panthino right off the village streets. He had just finished his errands for Da and gone into the alley to fetch the hover home. He had been lost in his thoughts and not noticed the growing rumble until the huge vehicle came to a grinding halt at the end of the alley, blocking the morning sun with its bulk.

A heavy door opened with a clank and the skraggly tooth man shouted at him.

“Oy, get in!”

The figure sitting next to Skraggly Tooth leaned toward the door, revealing the nervously smiling face of Desdemonia. A beautiful face. A face he could never refuse.

Even so, he hesitated. These men and their ponderous caterpillar-track vehicle were not from the village. Not from any farm within hundreds of hectares, Panthino knew.

Then Skraggly pulled the gun from his waist and pointed it at Desdemonia’s middle.

What choice did he have? He climbed in the green monstrosity and closed the door behind him with a clang. As soon as the door sealed shut, all sound fromoutside cut off, even the final ringing of the metal door.

The cab was large, and there was plenty of room for all four of them: Panthino, Skraggly, Desdemonia and the dour driver, who just gave Panthino one appraising look and started the vehicle forward with a lurch. The wide seats, each with their own wide elbow rests, even allowed lots of room for Panthino’s bulky, mechanical exoskeleton that wrapped around him from the waist down.

Panthino desperately calculated a way he could overpower the two men and pull Desdemonia to safety. Even though Panthino was larger than both men, they were adults and their arms bulged with sinewy muscle and blue veins. And even if Panthino could wrest the strangely shaped gun from Skraggly, there was no telling what the driver could do to Desdemonia in the meantime or what weapons he might have hidden nearby.

For the first time since he was kidnapped, Desdemonia, a school mate Panthino had crushed on forever, spoke directly to him. “He’s just joking, Panthino. Ignore him. He wouldn’t hurt anybody.” She smiled at Panthino. A small, nervous smile, which impressed Panthino, considering they had both been kidnapped at gunpoint.

The Globe Folio: Tales from the Five Cities

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

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

The City of Finsbury

The green-eyed farmers of Finsbury feed the Globe and furnish its timber from the rich bottomlands. Though spread far and wide, the brotherhood of Finsbury will band together to protect their lands from invaders, whether they be brigands or Whitehallers.

“Never killed a man yet,” Skraggly said, giggling, “but I kilt more pigs than you’ll see in a lifetime.” He giggled eerily.

Suddenly, a few things became clearer. The two men were butchers, pig butchers, from the Shambles in Southwark and he was in a pig truck. He had only seen them from a distance. That also explained their shaved heads. And Skraggly was probably taking the Formula, a drug cocktail that most butchers took to handle the horrors of their job.

“What am I doing in a pig truck?” Panthino asked.

“I’m sorry,” Desdemonia said. “We were sent to fetch you and it needed to be inconspicuous.”

Inconspicuous? In a caterpillar-tracked pig truck? Then again, even though they were not common out this far, the pig trucks did run the main roads from time to time all over Finsbury.

“Fetched a load of pigs,” Skraggly said, giggling. “Fetched a big boy, too. A big ‘un.”

“Hush now,” said the driver, in an oddly gentle tone. “Dezzie, put some music on.”

As Desdemonia fiddled with the console, Panthino realized to his shock that the driver had just called her “Dezzie.” Panthino did not know anyone from school that called her Dezzie. How did she know these men?

Over the next hour, Panthino had a lot of time to think about his situation. Somehow, he knew it had to do with the capsule full of weapons he had found buried beneath a field the night of the Moon Dance. All manner of weapons and a pulse cannon.

After fixing the broken tiller and covering the hole, Panthino had driven the trac back home through the darkness, thinking what he would tell Da. Whether he would tell Da.

Panthino had known the buried pulse cannon was trouble. Known as he dug in the dark, wet earth that he was digging up something old and evil, and yet he still dug. Now look where his curiosity had landed him.

But Da was the smartest man that Panthino knew, and Panthino found himself spilling out the story as Da sat in the home office from which he managed three farms for the bank. Da’s face lit up with the telling. He thought the hidden armory in the capsule-shaped room was Elizabeth-sent. A miracle that would make the family’s fortune.

Da swore Panthino to secrecy and then sent him to bed. Da stayed up the next few nights, poring over printed maps of Finsbury. When he saw Panthino look at them with a silent question, Da locked the office door. This very morning, Da had set out for Southwark to meet with the Council. As important as Da was in their village, Da had never been to the Council, as far as Panthino knew. But Da would not explain anything to Ma or Panthino as he set out at first light.

And now, Desdemonia had been pulled into it. He did not know how or why. Did not even know how anyone other than Da knew about the capsule. But it could be no coincidence.

Skraggly stayed behind and unloaded the pigs from the truck into a giant complex of pens. Photo by Diego San.

Panthino thought back on that night, the night he had skipped the Moon Dance because Desdemonia had gone with Gobbo. The old jealousy flamed up anew, even though Desdemonia was not his girl. Never had been.

“Did you have fun at the Moon Dance?” Panthino asked suddenly. His voice started low and harsh but then broke pitifully. Why had he asked that? Skraggly giggled.

Desdemonia ignored Panthino’s accusatory tone and Skraggly’s giggle. She smiled at the memory. “Yes, I had a nice time, thank you. I wish you had come.”

Panthino did not know how to respond. All he could think of was how much he hated Gobbo and, a little bit, resented Desdemonia. And his only other thoughts of that evening were about the capsule beneath the field, and that he had sworn not to tell a soul. So he sat in silence. Unlike his Da, he could see nothing good that had come from the night of the Moon Dance. The night most people were calling “The Night of the Rocket.” The night the dreaded polity of ancient myth had appeared from the sky and landed at Whitehall.

Kneeling in the field in the darkness, Panthino had been one of the few in the village to have seen the purple streaks the rocket painted across the sky. That, too, Panthino had taken as a bad omen, and that was even before he knew the purple streaks signalled the arrival of the Polity.

Panthino’s stupor of gloom ended with a shock.

He recognized the outskirts of Southwark, the commercial center of Finsbury that sat on the Elizabeth River. Da had gone to Southwark to see the Council. Could they be taking Panthino and Desdemonia to the Council? Did Da know about this? None of it made sense.

But the truck bypassed the domed Council House and the marketplace. It went south and rattled across the sturdy Caliban’s Bridge, the only bridge on the Globe that crossed the Elizabeth. The truck entered the Shambles, the sprawling maze of giant, aging warehouses where livestock was turned into meat for Whitehall and the richest Finsbers. Growing up on a farm, Panthino only ate bacon and eggs once a week on El’s Day. The rest of the family’s diet came from plants.

It made sense, a pig truck going straight to the Shambles. Where else would it go?

Even so, Panthino was a little surprised when the dour driver parked and led them into one of the oldest warehouses in the center of the Shambles.

To Panthino’s relief, Skraggly stayed behind and unloaded the pigs from the truck into a giant complex of pens. He whistled to the pigs and said “Home again, home again, jiggity jig.” As Panthino passed into the dimness of the warehouse, he heard the pigs grunting nervously and Skraggly giggle shrilly.

As the drones did not need visible light, there was only a glowing path along the floor to guide humans safely through the room. Illustration by Joe Cross.

Panthino’s nerves were so taut that he jumped when Desdemonia slid her arm into the crook of his. Or he would have jumped, if his heavy exoskeleton had allowed it. Instead, he lurched awkardly forward, pulling Desdemonia a step forward. It ruined what otherwise would have been the highlight of Panthino’s life: Desdemonia’s smooth skin touching his own. Desdemonia was the smartest, most beautiful, most talented girl at his school. And it did soothe him, but his emotions were all a jumble. Embarrassment and nerves mixing oddly with pleasure at Desdemonia’s touch. A shiver went up and down his spine, and from which emotion, he could not say.

They passed through a loading station, dark except for vehicle lights, and followed a lit path through an invisible force wall. The force wall was holding the cold in a frozen section full of boxes and warehouse drones. As the drones did not need visible light, there was only a glowing path along the floor to guide humans safely through the room. Desdemonia shivered and snuggled up against him, and Panthino forgot for a brief moment the peril they were in.

They passed into a dark, refrigerated section where robot arms packaged cuts of meat. Finally, they exited into the open expanse of the massive warehouse, which was dimly lit only by skylights far above and pockets of electric glow spread around the workstations of the killing floor.

Desdemonia seemed to awaken after leaving the cold rooms behind and gave a chirpy commentary on the warehouse’s operation. It was one of the original warehouses built by Finsbury’s founders and one of the few to do live butchering of hogs. Most hogs were fed a pig version of “The Formula” at the farm to calm them and then asphyxiated by pumping gas into the trucks that brought them to the Shambles. But true connoisseurs said those methods affected the taste of the pork. So the finest quality pork was still processed here in this warehouse and then shipped to fancy restaurants in Whitehall.

They exited into the open expanse of the massive warehouse, which was dimly lit only by skylights far above. Photo by Marten Bjork.

Panthino enjoyed the rare treat of bacon, but in general he did not care to consume meat. This warehouse was not changing his opinion. He asked Desdemonia about the weird, dreamy music playing through the tall shadowed spaces of the warehouse. She explained the soft music and the dim lighting was all designed to keep the hogs calm as they were moved from the stocks outside to the guillotine. 

And only too soon, he saw what she was talking about. They passed human butchers quickly and efficiently cutting whole hogs into cuts of pork with their laser knives. They moved so quickly that the hog carcass almost seemed to melt into pieces on the table as blood gushed down channels in the tabletops and the floor. But even creepier than the nearly silent work and the blood were the eerily smiling faces of the butchers and the occasional giggle. And then the driver walked them right past the guillotine.

On the other side of a huge window of glaze, Panthino watched in silent horror as a single hog walked through an automatic door and along a raised conveyor belt. It’s face was hit by a disorienting blaze of colored lights and it stumbled forward. When it reached the exact center of the room, a red laser as wide as the room dropped from the ceiling to the floor and then turned off. The hog’s head fell cleanly to the floor and then it’s body collapsed. Channels in the floor carried away the blood as the carcass was moved by the conveyor belt into the butchering room beyond.

Panthino, shocked, stood rooted to the spot. To his horror, as soon as the carcass passed through a final set of doors, the first set of doors opened and another disoriented hog stumbled in. He could not watch it happen again. He stared at the floor and rushed to catch up with the driver. 

Desdemonia patted his hand. “I’m sorry, I should have warned you. I’m just used to it after all these years. But if it helps, we designed it this way so the hogs never have to be scared. They never know it’s coming, and it happens so fast, they probably don’t even feel any pain.”

It did not help. Not even Desdemonia’s hand on his own or her soft voice made it better. Panthino felt sick and he rushed to the door held open by the driver. Only as he passed through into near darkness did he realize he had much in common with the hogs. He was also being led quietly through a dark maze and through an open door into an unknown doom.


I hope you enjoyed my story. Feel free to share any comments below.

Make sure to check back next Friday week–in a fortnight–for the next flash-fiction story set on the Globe, “The Interrogation,” where we learn Panthino’s fate.

In the meantime, you can enjoy the Globe Folio from the beginning:

Act 1: Night of the Rocket

Act 2: Nights of Revelation

Be stellar!

Matthew Cross

New release of the conclusion of “Eyes Up the River”

After Antonio slayed the kraken, the Newlondon Guild inducted him as a member. They sent him to Whitehall as Newlondon’s ambassador to greet the spaceship from the Polity of Unified Planets.

Eyes Up the River

Part II

by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage

A line of hovers stretched up the river, veering off along the road to Whitehall. Antonio hated the thought of skipping ahead of his fellow Newlondoners on their way to the city, but he had no time to wait. Antonio swerved over the riverbank and thrummed across the savagelands. His barge shook as the dust beneath his skiv plumed to cloud him in sand. He grasped the knife from his boot, and his keen eyes darted around, ready to pounce on any wild beasts hunting in the low plains that sensed the vibrations of his engines.

Drones appeared overhead. They cast their shadow across his scow, and scanned him, emitting a buzzing whine to ward him off. He rammed the throttle, but the roar of his hover couldn’t outrun the buzz of the pests above.  

He raised his hand to shield his eyes from the sun as he scoped the trajectory of the drones. A green glow flashed over his body and his hand. Upon reaching the gold of his ring, the glow emitted by the drones faded, and they vanished, skimming ahead of him to the gate. I guess Prospero was right. This ring gets you out of just about anything. 

A beam of light shone from the city gate across the sands, guiding him to the entrance, and clearing a path for his arrival. Walls surrounded the towers of Whitehall. Blue lightning fizzed across them as the shields’ halo danced over iron and stone. Behind the colossal walls, glass shards loomed into the heavens, light skimming over the sand from the reflections. 

Antonio swerved over the riverbank and thrummed across the savagelands. Photo by Alessio Soggetti.

Antonio’s skiv rocked, slowing to approach Whitehall’s officers, who guarded the city gate and checked each hover seeking entry. 

“State your designation!” The guard’s voice boomed through his helmet. 

“I am Antonio of the Newlondon Guild. I was summoned to Whitehall.” He raised his hand and showed them the ring. 

The guard strapped a set of portable anti-gravs to his boots, which lifted him above the surface, and he drifted towards Antonio. He tweaked the visor on his helmet and verified the gold ring. “Antonio. Welcome.” The guard raised his helmet’s visor, flashing a toothy smile. “You don’t mind if I search your vessel? Just as a formality. We wouldn’t want anything unsanitary smuggled into Whitehall.” 

Smuggled?” Antonio spat the word. “Are you trying to offend me, Whitehaller?” 

The guard’s smile widened. “You people really don’t like smugglers, do you?” 

“Smuggling is the worst crime a Newlondoner can commit. Not even the scum who board the deathships would stoop so low.” Antonio wiped his hands on his chest, as if to rid himself of the accusation’s stain. 

“Then you won’t mind if I search your craft?” the guard asked. 

Antonio crossed his arms. “I hide nothing.” 

The guard landed on deck and passed a cursory glance over the oddments scattered about. He ruffled the nets and kicked at the helm-panel. “Looks clear.” 

“Then I can pass?” Antonio reached for the throttle. 

“Just a moment. I haven’t searched the underside.” 

Antonio frowned. “Since when did a Whitehaller search the underside of a skiv?” 

“What’s the matter? You nervous?” The guard cocked his head. 

Antonio flapped his arms. “Fine.” 

The guard returned his visor over his brown eyes and stepped off the deck. Anti-gravs floated him beneath the hover. “Well, well, well. What have we here?” The guard reappeared on deck carrying a satchel. He emptied it, and a glut of weapons spilled over the barge. 

Drones appeared overhead. Photo by Karl Greif.

Antonio straightened. “What is this? What are you trying to pull, Whitehaller?” 

“I could ask the same of you.” The guard trained his gun on Antonio. 

“You set me up!” 

The guard’s smarmy grin returned. “Not me, friend.” 

Antonio lunged for the guard. The man loaded a blaster round, but Antonio flew so fast, his knuckles slammed across the guard’s helmet before their arms had even lifted an inch. Beneath Antonio’s fist, the guard’s visor splintered and cracked, knocking his anti-gravs off balance, and he lurched unsteadily, grasping the hull’s edge to keep upright. 

Drones swarmed the craft, darkening the sun from Antonio’s pale face. 

Antonio stopped. His chest pumped. From the guard’s pocket, a trail of doubloons scattered, all bearing Newlondon’s seal. Antonio stared at them. His jaw gaped open at the familiar crest stamped on every piece of silver. 

The guard readjusted his helmet, stooped to collect the precious coins, and approached through the swarm of drones. “I’m placing you under arrest for conspiracy to smuggle, Antonio of the Newlondon Guild.” He bound Antonio’s wrists in iron manacles and removed the Guild signet ring. 

Antonio was hauled from the skiv on an anti-grav platform. Drones forced him through the city, to a chamber in the city walls. Bars sealed behind him, and he looked through a slit to the desolate plains of the savagelands beyond. 

When I accused the guard of setting me up, he said, ‘Not me.’ But if not him, then who? 

Antonio paced the cell, his manacles weighing on his arms and his heart. Those doubloons remove all doubt. Someone is behind this. Someone wants to paint me as a smuggler. Whose mind would be so sick to arrange such a thing? The thought of being branded as the lowest of men made him wretch. 

He slumped on the iron floor, raking his fingers through his hair. From his pocket spilled the crumpled note he’d found hidden on his barge. His eyes ran over the words. 

The gold a monster slain bestows. His signet ring! Once the drone had scanned it, the ring had led him straight to the Whitehallers. Straight into the jaws of their trap. Conceals a secret hid below. The weapons had been snuck on the underside of his craft. Below. Whoever had made that note had known. They’d tried to warn him. Beware of what you think you know.

From the other side of Antonio’s bars, a latch cracked open, and footsteps ricocheted beyond his cell. Antonio scrambled to his feet and clanged his manacles against the bars. “Hey! I’m not supposed to be here! I demand to speak to someone!” He shouted to the newcomer walking toward the cell in the darkness.

“Oh, but you are right where you are meant to be, dear brother.” Solanio slid into the sliver of light from the slit in the wall of Antonio’s cell.

You!” Antonio lunged at the bars, trying with all his might to reach far enough through to get to the monster looming before him.

You are right where you are meant to be, dear brother. Photo by Larm Rmah.

“Come now, Antonio. Calm yourself. Don’t make a scene.” Solanio surveyed the dingy cell.

“If there is a scene to be made, it is of your own making,” Antonio roared. “Or would you still claim that putting me on the deathship was all a mistake? What have I done that offends you so that you wish me dead or condemned?” 

A shadow swept across Solanio’s eyes as he pursed his lips and shook his head. “You always had the luck, Antonio. Ever since we were children. Oh, yes. My father might’ve owned half the boats along the dock. I may have had fish on my table every night, and a free room in one of those sordid little hovels on the seafront. But you? You had everything. It was as though Elizabeth Hathaway looked upon you from the heavens, and smiled.” 

“What are you talking about? You know better than any how I used to scrounge bread from your own table.” 

“Bread, maybe. But affection? You were never in want of heart, Antonio.” 

Antonio gripped his chest. “And neither were you. You have been loved, Solanio. I loved you as a brother.” 

Solanio grimaced. “And I you. But she should’ve been mine. Do you understand? You’re nothing. You’ll always be nothing. A woman that beautiful should see straight through a dock rat like you.” 

Understanding flashed through Antonio, and he rubbed the twine around his finger. “Bianca?” 

Solanio nodded. “She would never have loved me while you still lived. You came and boasted of your engagement that day on the pier, and I had to stand there and smile, all the while thinking, knowing, it should’ve been me.” 

“Who Bianca loves is not for you to decide. It is her choice, and hers alone.” 

“I know it. She chose you, and all I could do was sit and watch. I spent that afternoon in the company of thoughts darker than the night itself. And then you came to me and begged for my help. I thought it would be easy to fix. With you locked on the deathship, she would never know the truth.” 

“You were supposed to be my friend, Solanio. My brother!” 

“And you were supposed to have suffered an unfortunate death. She would’ve turned to me in her time of despair. She’d have found solace in me, first as her friend, and then, as her husband. But then you went and cheated death, and even returned with a kraken in tow. It isn’t fair, Antonio. It’s never been fair!” 

Antonio raged, his manacles tearing at the skin of his wrists as he flung himself at the bars. “Bianca would never fall in love with a snake like you, Solanio! She already sees through your gutless, vile ways.”

“That might be true,” Solanio responded simply. “But what respectable Newlondon woman would love a smuggling criminal? That is something even Bianca can surely not forgive.”

“It was your silver that bought the Whitehall guard, wasn’t it? Just wait until Prospero finds out that you’re the reason I didn’t make it to Whitehall as he commanded. When the Guild realizes you’ve threatened one of their own, what do you think they’ll do?” 

Solanio tossed his head back and laughed. “Why don’t you ask them yourself?” 

New footsteps echoed in the metallic chamber. “Greetings, Antonio. How do you like Whitehall so far?” 

No. It can’t be!  

The gold from Prospero’s chain rattled into the light. His waxed moustache and beard framed a sinister smile on his smug face. “Come now, don’t look so surprised. Who else could have sent Solanio to take your place at the summit?”

“Prospero? What trick is this?” 

“No trick, Antonio. I’ve actually come to thank you. You’ve brought great wealth to Newlondon. Well, I should say you brought great wealth to me and the Guild. But the Guild has never been overly keen on sharing.” 

“The kraken’s eye? Is that what this is all about?” 

Prospero rubbed his portly stomach.

“Well, we couldn’t let you sell it and keep all the wealth for yourself, could we?” Prospero said. “So we welcomed you to the Guild to split the profits. But of course, with you out of the way, there’ll be no need to split anything.” 

Antonio’s nostrils flared. “I’d have given it all to you. I’d trade anything for a chance to live free with the woman I love.” 

“You betrayed me brother.”

“Foolish child. Did nobody tell you that trading for love will get you killed? Or worse? You really are as gullible as Solanio said.” Prospero laughed heartily. 

Antonio closed his eyes. “You betrayed me, brother.” 

Prospero shook his head. “You think this was his idea? When you landed with the kraken, I checked the deathship’s manifesto. It didn’t take long to track the Tempest back to Solanio. If it hadn’t been for this woman of yours, I’m not sure I could’ve convinced him to turn on you. You should have heard him beg for your life. Pathetic, really.” 

Antonio looked at Solanio, who turned his face away. 

“You won’t get away with this,” Antonio said. 

Prospero raised an eyebrow. “And who’s going to stop me? You? What are you going to do, appeal to Whitehall for compassion? Perhaps it would’ve been kinder to have killed you than leave you to the mercy of these ’Hallers.” 

“Is that why you stole the body from my scow? So there’d be no way for me to appeal.” 

Prospero frowned. “What body?” 

“The pirate. From the river.” 

Prospero waved his arms. “I assumed you’d dumped the body. Besides, who needs a murder charge when you’ve been caught red-handed smuggling? You know the penalty for smuggling, Antonio. I’m sure the Whitehallers will be delighted to exact every last morsel of your sentence.” 

“Solanio, please.” Antonio stretched his hands towards Solanio, but the young man turned away. 

Prospero held up the signet ring the guard had taken from Antonio and twisted it in the dim reflection of the light. “You’ve proven useful, both of you. But I think I’ll have to wait to see how you handle the summit, Solanio, before I can place it on your finger.”

“We had an agreement!” Solanio sputtered. “Frame Antonio, and in return, I’d be a member of the Guild and have Bianca’s hand.” 

“Report back to me in Newlondon, my dear boy. I’ll keep this ring warm for you while I wait. Perhaps the young lady will need some company, as well! Goodbye, Antonio. And thank you again for the riches, and all the, shall we say, benefits that come with them.” Prospero chortled as he left.

“Stay away from her, you fiend!” Antonio yelled, but the door slammed shut on his words.

Solanio stared at the door, trying to calm his ragged breathing. 

“What have you done?” Antonio said. 

Solanio wheeled on him. “Do be a good friend and stay put this time. I’m running out of favors to counter your incessant heroic returns home.” 

“You really think you’ve won? That they’ll let you have her?” 

Solanio snarled, and a serpentine smile crossed his lips. “Everybody’s luck runs out eventually. Even yours.” 

Solanio slipped out the door, his footsteps fading into nothingness. The blood drained from Antonio’s head, and the room started to sway. He grasped the edge of the slit to steady himself. Beware what you think you know. The words rattled in his skull as he tried to comprehend all he had just heard from Solanio and Prospero. He was friendless and hopeless. He laid his head against the wall as tears stained his cheeks.


Nightfall darkened the cell. Loud pops and booms drifted to Antonio from beyond the shields, followed by cheers. Colorful bursts filled the sky through the slit. 

Fireworks? Antonio had heard of them, but he had never seen them with his own eyes. What are the ’Hallers trying to do? Show off for the Polity? Make friends before enemies? The commotion grew. It reached such a fever pitch, Antonio shivered as if the celebrations were an ominous warning. 

Isolation crept into Antonio’s skin. He lost himself, giving his mind over to flashes of memory, closing his eyes so as to better glimpse the way Bianca had looked the last time he saw her on their cliff top. How she’d told him to return to her. They’d stood so close to the precipice. So close. 

Time passed without meaning while Antonio remained locked in his cell. He lost count of the days in his solitude. 

“My Bianca,” he said each day, reaching out for her. “My darling Bianca. I didn’t sail too close to the wind, but it caught me nonetheless.” 

Time passed without meaning while Antonio remained locked in his cell. Photo by Diego González.

His voice bounced from the walls, the only response to his call. But he never let up. Every day he closed his eyes to speak with the memory of her. 

“My beautiful Bianca. I’m here, my love. Keep your eyes up the river for me.” 

‘Always,’ she had told him, a promise he replayed in his mind over and over. 

One night, a low whistle stirred him from sleep. He followed the sound, and it led him to the window slit. An exterior floodlight shone a narrow path around the prison wall, but all was dark beyond its beam. Antonio’s eyes strained to see into the darkness beyond the light.

He heard the whistle again. The tune seemed so familiar. And then he placed it. Yohoho, row, nonny, row.

Antonio returned the whistle and waited.

A flicker of a shadow cut through the light, but Antonio’s eyes weren’t fast enough to see who it was. Something came flying through the slit above his head. It clattered on the iron floor. Antonio dove to the ground feeling his way through the dark. His fingers brushed the cold, small object.

Antonio held it up to the light of the slit. A small key with a familiar piece of twine was tied in a bow at the top. 

“My clever Bianca! You did it, as you said. You kept your eyes up the river for me.” He snatched the key in his grip. “And now it is my turn to come back to you.”


If you enjoyed Shanel and Frasier‘s story, please make sure and share some kind comments below. We will be seeing more of Antonio, Bianca and even Solanio in the coming weeks. But in two weeks, we turn our eyes down river to Finsbury, where young Panthino discovered on the Night of the Rocket a cache of weapons buried beneath a field. In the next installment of Nights of Revelation, a secret society turns Panthino’s life upside down. Somehow, they learned his secret and kidnapped his unrequited crush, Desdemonia. Check back next Friday week for “The Shambles.”

If you would like to prepare for “The Shambles,” you can read “The Buried War” by Matthew Cross and meet the hulking-but-shy Panthino and the talented and popular Desdemonia.

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

Antonio returns a hero after slaying the kraken

The waves of the South Sea break against the docks of Newlondon on the morning after “The Night of the Rocket” . . .

Eyes Up the River

Part I

by Shanel Wilson and Frasier Armitage

The Tempest’s engine sputtered to a halt as the deathship reached its berth. Creaks and moans rippled through the ship, its ropes straining against the hull in the still churning water. Laid strewn across the deck, the massive creature’s corpse towered above the sail. The only piece missing was its grotesque, green eye that Antonio cradled in his hands. 

“Your valor will not be forgotten, men,” Antonio said to the few remaining members of the crew.  

Footsteps pounded down the dock toward them, shouts growing louder as they approached. 

“It’s true!”

“A kraken! I never thought I’d see the day!”

Antonio scanned the crowd for Bianca’s blue eyes. 

Prospero, the head of the Guild, pressed through the masses and reached the ship first. “Antonio? Is that you?” Prospero gawked. His gaze slipped from Antonio to the eye in his hands and then to the slain beast. 

Footsteps pounded down the dock toward them, shouts growing louder as they approached. Photo by Doruk Yemenici.

“We have returned with a slain Kraken, and here is the eye.” Antonio stepped off the ship next to Prospero. 

Prospero gingerly accepted the eye as if it were a bomb ready to detonate. “But how? Why are you here, on this deathship?” 

Antonio searched for words when his eyes landed on Solanio lurking toward the back of the throng. Antonio flushed with anger, forgetting Prospero altogether.

“I’m sure there’s a perfectly good explanation for all this, but now is not the time. There are more pressing issues,” Prospero said, grabbing Antonio’s attention. “We will secure the beast and you can report to the Guild House as soon as you’ve cleaned yourself up. Agreed? To think, all on the same night as the Rocket.”

“The rocket?” Antonio asked.

“Ah, yes. You’ll be filled in at the Guild House.” He turned to his men and motioned to the beast. “Get to work!”

Antonio twisted back to the crowd to find Solanio, but he was gone.


Dressed in his best shirt and pants, Antonio wound through the narrow streets of Newlondon to the Guild House. He wanted nothing more than to find Bianca, but he couldn’t keep the Guild waiting. The kraken would ensure a better future for them both. Besides, whatever the Guild decreed, Bianca was sure to find out soon enough. 

The jingling of keys caught Antonio’s attention. He turned down the alley toward the metallic rattle. “Why didn’t you stay at the docks and greet my return, brother?” he said to the figure who slipped a key in the door in front of them.

He turned down the alley toward the metallic rattle. Photo by Edoardo Frezet.

“Antonio!” Solanio stepped out of the building’s shadow. “Hero of the day! Quite the feat you’ve achieved, dear friend.”

“Yes, dear friend. An opportunity I would never have been given if it wasn’t for you, I think.” Antonio’s pulse raced as he approached the man he’d wrongfully trusted.

“A happy accident. You are alive with quite the prize in hand. No need to thank me for your good fortune. I wished only to help you in your time of need. Who knew I’d be more successful than either of us could’ve imagined?” Solanio’s tone dripped with affection to mask the biting jealousy barely hiding below the surface. The effect was not lost on Antonio. His rage burned brighter as he loomed large over Solanio, whose back was now pressed against the door he was trying to open.

“Solanio,” Antonio menaced, his finger digging into the other man’s chest. “Your great help was to lock me on a deathship knowing full well that none have returned before today. That is no ‘happy accident.’” Antonio reeled back to swing at Solanio’s smug, rat face. 

Solanio raised his hands in defense. “But it was an accident!”

Antonio dropped his fist, his shoulders still vibrating. “Enlighten me, then! How did this accident come about?” 

“You came back in the pitch-black, foggy night, desperate for my help!” Solanio roared in Antonio’s face, stepping forward. “Between the fog and darkness, I thought I was stowing you on one of my father’s ships. I returned to the docks this morning to fetch you when the deathship moored up. I was as shocked as anyone to discover you there.”

“Do you think I am that stupid? You can navigate the docks blindfolded!” 

“Stupid, no. Could a stupid person defeat a kraken? It’s clear you are exceedingly clever, dear Antonio. And as you can see, even I can make mistakes. I am just so thankful this mistake turned out so well. For you.” A mocking smile spread across his lips. “Aren’t you due at the Guild House by now?” 

Antonio glanced down the alley toward the street, then he turned back to Solanio. Before he could open his mouth to speak, Solanio had vanished. The door in front of him locked from the inside.

Antonio blew out an exasperated breath from his lips. “Will you stop disappearing like that!”

Solanio’s apparent betrayal churned in Antonio’s mind like a restless sea on his walk to the Guild House. Everyone makes mistakes, but Solanio wasn’t that careless. Was he? What would he gain if I hadn’t returned? 

People skittered in a frenzy along the dock, where seedy rooms-to-rent overlooked the bay. Trawlers queued for a berth to land. Everyone seemed to be searching for a skiv bound for Whitehall. All these people, and Bianca nowhere among them. Where can she be? 

Antonio passed through the milling crowds to the building jutting out at the pier’s end. He traipsed the stairs, his footsteps following him in echoes. A huge door with an emblem of a fish barred the way. He took the fish by its fin and knocked it thrice on the iron door. 

Creaking open, it swung on its hinges, and Antonio entered a lavish room. A dozen people sat in a crescent behind a ceremonial table. They sported the finest garb, all ruffles and trims. And their white moustaches were waxed with the utmost care. 

“Welcome, Antonio!” Prospero’s voice boomed from the center of the crescent. Golden chains hung around his neck. “On behalf of the Guild of Sailors, may I be the first to congratulate you on all you’ve done for Newlondon.” Applause shook the glass windows overlooking the sea. 

When was the last time any of these men were actually on the water? They might have owned the boats and gleaned the city’s wealth, but they’d lost their sailing legs a long time ago. 

“It takes a lot to impress the Guild, Antonio,” Prospero continued, rubbing his paunch. “But bringing back a Kraken? There’s enough pollium in the eye alone to restore prosperity to this city.” 

“I wish only enough to buy a ring for my bride,” Antonio answered. “As for the rest of it, you gentlemen would know far better than me what to do with it.” 

A murmur of smiles swept the room. “Your words do you credit, Antonio. And I think we’re all in agreement. Among the Guild, we recognise a good catch when we see it. And there’s no finer catch among men than you. Which is why we’re electing you to be a member of this Guild, for the services you’ve rendered to Newlondon. What do you say?” 

Antonio’s eyes popped. He’d have chosen wrestling with the tentacles of a kraken over facing the false smiles of the Guild any day. But how could he refuse? He knew better than to cross these men, or else any life with Bianca would sink to the bottom of the ocean. They might as well have placed an anchor around his neck. “I am honoured,” he said. “But what would be expected of me?” 

Prospero toyed with his golden chains. “Even when bestowed with this great honor, you are still thinking about how you may serve. Bravo, Antonio. There is one thing we were hoping you may do to cement your place at the table. I take it you saw the purple lights in the sky last night?” 

Antonio nodded. “They appeared after the battle with the kraken. I thought they were another beast coming for us.” 

Prospero raised an eyebrow. “You may be right about that. A Polity rocket landed near Whitehall. You know of the Polity, I take it?” 

Antonio frowned. “I know that Captain Elizabeth of the good ship Shakespeare warned of them when the first settlers landed all those generations ago.” 

Prospero folded his hands together, leaning forwards in his chair. “History is a funny thing. It has the habit of repeating itself. We heard from Leonardo at Whitehall that the Polity seek an audience with a representative from each of the five cities. We can think of no better sailor to send than you.” 

“You want me to go to Whitehall?” The blood drained from Antonio’s face. The drone. The pirate. That’s what landed me on the deathship in the first place! 

Prospero smiled. “It seems like all the world wishes to go to Whitehall. I take it you already have a skiv?” 

“Is there no one else more deserving of this,” Antonio paused, “privilege?”

Prospero shook his head. “None.” 

If the drone had reported back to Whitehall, I’d already be under arrest, from the moment I landed. Maybe it’ll be alright? Antonio chewed his lip. “Then I have no choice but to accept.” 

The only other chains he’d seen like the ones they’d bestowed upon him were the kind they kept in prisons. Photo by Vishnu Prasad.

“Excellent. Welcome to the Guild, Antonio.” Prospero stood and beckoned him forwards. He approached, and Prospero lowered the golden chains over Antonio’s head as the others applauded. The only other chains he’d seen like the ones they’d bestowed upon him were the kind they kept in prisons. 

“May I see my bride before I depart?” Antonio asked. 

“Of course. But don’t take too long. We don’t want to keep the other cities waiting. Or the Polity for that matter. Find out what they want and report back to us. We can then decide what should be done about the newcomers. And in the meantime, we’ll make arrangements to auction the kraken’s remains. Here.” Prospero took a signet ring from his pocket with an anchor engraved upon it. He placed it on Antonio’s finger before he lifted the chains from Antonio’s shoulders. “The ceremony is complete. If you get into any trouble, just show this ring. You’re a Guild member now, Antonio. Remember that.”

“Thank you.” Antonio stroked the ring as it pinched his skin. He bowed, and hurried out of the chambers, back along the pier. Bianca. I must find Bianca. 

Antonio sprinted to the one place he hadn’t looked for Bianca yet, their secret hideaway on the cliffs above the sea. He could barely fathom that it was at that very spot, two days ago, where Bianca agreed to be his forever. As he came over the crest of the hill, there she was. Her chestnut curls gently swayed in the breeze as she stared at the horizon.

“My sweet Bianca,” Antonio said quietly.

She spun toward him, her eyes wet as she wrapped him in a tight embrace. “Bless the Arrant Moon you are safe.” Bianca clasped Antonio’s face in her delicate hands, studying his face. 

A storm knitted in his brow and a fog clouded his eyes. 

Purple clouds over the cliffs of Moher. Photo by Simon Moore.

“I heard about the kraken,” she said. “I thought you had a trade run. And that same night, the Polity arrived? I believed they were little more than legend. Has the Globe changed so much in so little time?” 

Antonio looked away from her searching eyes. “The only thing that has not changed is my devotion to you, Bianca.” He took her hands in his and kissed her finger with the small cord wrapped around it.

“What are you hiding from me, Antonio?”

“I hide nothing. It’s just . . . there is so much to share but no time to do so.”

Then she saw it. The Guild ring on the finger where his matching cord had been. Bianca eyed the ring with surprise as she pulled her hands from his. A blush of suspicion spread across her cheeks to the tips of her ears. She knew his distaste for the questionable nature of the members. “There is no hiding that ring. Guild membership? How, when?”

“It is just one of the many things I wish to tell you about,” Antonio said. “The slain kraken secured my membership. You must understand, I could not refuse without risking both our lives. You know the rumors of what happens to those who oppose the Guild. And I am now to meet the Polity as their representative to Newlondon.”

“Luckily for you, that isn’t the strangest thing I’ve heard today. And how were you on the Tempest?”

“My trading run, well, let’s say it did not go as planned. I turned to Solanio for help and instead he locked me aboard. He claims it was an accident, but I have my doubts.” He paused and looked out over the sea. It had brought him a fortune. Perhaps it had really brought him a curse. 

“I cannot make sense of it. I have so many questions.” 

Antonio turned back to her. “Bianca, let’s stem the tide. Forget the Guild, the Polity, all of it. Let’s run, now. We can be free together.” The fog lifted from his eyes, revealing the man she had fallen in love with. Trusting, naïve, wistful. It made him beautiful, but also doleful. 

Bianca closed the gap she had made between them. “Why do I love you so much, my dear fool? You know we cannot flee, and that you must fulfill your duties. You have no choice in the matter.”

“Then come with me. To Whitehall. You are my compass rose. I have never needed your direction more.”

Bianca’s head fell. “I must stay here. Don’t forget, my dear, you managed to defeat the kraken. What awaits you in Whitehall cannot be worse, can it?”

Antonio swallowed hard, thinking of the chains and shackles awaiting him if the drone had indeed captured the ill-fated encounter on his skiv. And then he shook off his doubts. “No matter what awaits, know that I love you, with all the deeps of my soul.” Antonio looked deeply into her glistening blue eyes.

“And I love you.” 

“Keep your eyes up the river for me,” he said. 

“Always. Don’t sail close to the wind and return home to me.” Bianca cloyed at the twine of her ring as they parted, and she watched him leave. There wasn’t time to explain to him what had happened, why she must stay. And she couldn’t bring herself to burden him more. Not with the rocket waiting for him, and the Polity breathing down both their necks.

You are my compass rose. Photo by Aron Visuals.

She remained on the cliff for as long as she could, clutching her ring to her heart, knowing that beneath the Guild’s signet which weighed upon Antonio’s finger, the twine that bound them still remained. “Antonio, my love, you are right. If only we had more time.” 

Antonio forced himself away from their cliff top, wind scolding his cheeks with its frigid bite. He descended down the hidden path to the pier. Sea fret rolled in to cloud the air with a salty tang, masking the rush of crowds. 

He shimmied a route to the visitor’s slip and found the dock where he’d stored his skiv. There his ship hovered undisturbed. Waves sloshed beneath it. A roll of tarp made for a poor man’s casket, covering the body of the dead pirate. Antonio’s chest sagged. He glanced over his shoulder, but between the dense fret and the frenzy of the crowds, all eyes were up the river, and no one saw as he reached for the tarp’s corner to pull it back. 

He winced, and then his eyes widened. Where a body should have been, bundles of netting clumped together. A shiver swept through Antonio. He yanked the tarp back, scouring the empty nets, but found not even the trace of blood. Bodies don’t just disappear. Not without a reason. Who could’ve done this? 

A leather cylinder fell from the web of netting, and he scooped up the container, popping it open. From inside, he unfurled a parchment. In blotches of ink, a note was scrawled — 

The gold a monster slain bestows,
Conceals a secret hid below.
Beware of what you think you know.
Yohoho, row nonny, row. 

No signature hinted at the author of the elaborate handwriting. Antonio scrunched the parchment in his hands. His eyes flashed everywhere at once. I never told Solanio where I’d docked the skiv. And the weasel would never have left a note like this. Who else knows of what I’ve done? 

A storm tossed the waves of Antonio’s thoughts into chaos. He reached for the twine, and the comfort of Bianca’s promise to him, but he found the anchor of the Guild instead. The Guild. Could they have done this? He had no time to think. No time for doubt. He must get to Whitehall, and trust that with the body gone, he had nothing to dread from the city’s drones. 

I must get to Whitehall, no matter the cost. For Bianca. For both our sakes. 

He pocketed the crumpled parchment and swung the hover from its berth, charging upstream amidst the cavalcade of rocket-chasers. Spray kicked up from the hover’s pads. The Elizabeth River undulated beneath the pressure of so many barges all heading for the city, and the purple light of whatever monster waited for them.


On Friday, we release the conclusion of “Eyes Up the River“! The tentacles of Newlondon’s Guild of Sailors grasp Antonio’s future more closely than even the kraken’s deadly grip, and the unfaithful Solanio reveals his secrets.

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

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