An unclouded sun sat proudly in the sky. Harsh rays beat down to make for another unnaturally hot in the city of London, and to make matters worse the bus was late. Jacquelyn sighed, as rivulets of sweat poured off her face, and ran her fingers through her long, black hair. Closing her eyes she blinked hard repeatedly as though attempting to banish painful memories from her mind. This heat was doing nothing for her throbbing headache, and she felt the world was spinning around her. Wiping at some of the sweat from her brow with the back of her hand, she stepped back from the curb where she'd been attempting to peer around the corner, hoping to catch sight of the bus, and sat on the bench in the little bus shelter.
It was late summer, and London was going through an unnatural hot spell for this time of year. It didn't help that she was bundled up in sweater, jacket jeans and a scarf in thirty degree weather. She couldn't help it; she had to be prepared because it could happen at anytime. It'd be any day now. Jacquelyn chewed on the inside of her bottom lip and cursed the warm fall weather – she would take an in ice cold, snowy, winter day over this any day.
The cold was refreshing, the cold was revitalizing, and most importantly, she couldn't feel the cold. If anyone were to reach out and rest their hand on Jacquelyn Meryck's bare arm they would be surprised by just how cool her touch was. Most people didn't think much of it, they simply believed she was most likely cold, and in need of a sweater, or perhaps she had bad circulation; they had no idea about the truth behind her cool skin. And that was exactly the way Jacquelyn Meryck liked it. The fewer people who knew the truth the safer she was.
Her thoughts were interrupted with a new surge of searing pain radiating from her temples. She hated this part – never knowing when it would happen. It was like a cross between falling asleep and receiving an electric shock. On the one hand its gradual just waiting to fade away, but still she could feel it deep down inside her body, everything speeding up with an excited nervous energy that could hardly be contained.
She hated it. It set her apart from the other children in her town. She remembered the remarks the other children made on their way to school as Jacquelyn stood quietly at the edge of St. David's property line, desperately wishing she could be amongst them. They'd make fun of her for wearing old hand me down clothes, instead of the newest fashions, they insulted, belittled and taunted her as she watched them walk with their back packs on, going to spend the day in some bright fluorescent lit classroom learning about the likes of Henry VIII, or Napoleon. She bet none of them ever had to spend all day in the gardens identifying what kind of roots could be boiled to serve as antidote in the event of monkshood poisoning, or what could be used in place of rubbing alcohol to prevent infection – lucky little bastards.
The children could be cruel sometimes, but sadly over the years she learned that they often parroted what their parents were saying at home. Mothers gossiping amongst each other in the grocery store line, while after a few pints all the men were spilling their guts down at the local pub – all discussing their own theory as to why Father Malcolm wouldn't allow little Jacquie Meryck to go to school. Some thought that maybe she was too stupid for school, and he was sparing her feelings from the other children's mockery. That one wasn't so bad. There were worst theories floating about out there. Once that made Jacquelyn grit her teeth and clench her jaw was when she over heard one woman tell another that Father Malcolm must be abusing her, so he kept her tucked away in the church so no one else would know.
None of that was true. But they, Jacquelyn and the others of her kind living in the sleepy little town, went on allowing the others to believe what they wanted, simply because if almost two thousand years of history taught them anything, it was that people could very seldomly handle the truth.
The truth was that Jacquelyn was different. Very different from most people, in fat there were some who might say she wasn't even human. Given what she was, there was no way of knowing when a jump would occur. It was beyond the realms of her control. How could she possibly explain why she was gone for three months, or even three weeks to a teacher, or an employer, without alerting everyone to what she was?
The other thing she had hated about being a shadow walker was the fact that it was damn inconvenient. The idea of a normal life, a life where she would get up and go to work, as perhaps a doctor or maybe a lawyer, was nothing more than a dream for her. No such thing would be possible until she was out of the grey, and no one ever knew when their grey ended. All they knew was that if you were still living and breathing in the era in which you were born – you weren't out of the grey.
A breeze shook the small tree next to the shelter, and quickly brought her back to the here and now. She stood up and walked back out to the curb and looked down the street to see if she could see the bus. She didn't live directly in London, but rather in one of the many neighbourhoods on the outskirts of town. It was quieter there than it was in the heart of the city, but it was still busier than her home in a small fishing town of Wales. Her flat was small, there was no way more than one person could live in it, but it was cozy and it was all hers. There were a lot of immigrants, like her, in her neighbourhood. Which meant there were plenty of new cuisines to try and endless possibilities for her to explore. She smiled to herself as she thought about the Costalano's, her Italian landlords, and how every Sunday night they invited her over for dinner to meet one of their many ' good catholic boy' sons.
Looking back out at the curb Jacquelyn saw that the bus was still nowhere in sight and walked back to her bag as it sat perched on the bench, with a tube shaped bag and cap beside it. She sat beside her large brown leather satchel and dug out her phone began to scroll through her messages.
Usually, when she was waiting for a bus that never seemed to be on time, she'd just turn her headphones on, and tune the rest of the world out, but something told her music would only make the throbbing pain in her head worse which made her even more bitter. One of her few salvations in life was music, listening to it, making it, just music in general, didn't matter the genre. It was actually one of the few aspects of Shadow walker culture she liked, the songs. Shadow walker music was heavily based in drums, violins and other Celtic roots, simply because the shadows walkers had come from early Celtic origins. Out of habit she pulled her phone out of her satchel.
She noticed that She had missed three calls and two texts from Father Malcolm – the texting monk, as Sister Benedictine called him. He had been a prophet, unlike most of their kind, who like Jacquelyn were historians, so texting was considered to be an extraordinary concept to the Father, who vowed to use it as often as possible.
Are you alright?
Jacquelyn, answer your phone, I'm starting to worry about you.
She smiled in spite of herself and quickly texted him back that she was on he way but the bus was running late. She looked at the texts again and couldn't help but hear his deep Scottish brogue reading them aloud, the thought made her stifle a giggle. She missed Father Malcolm, more than she had ever anticipated. She tried to picture him in her mind with his looming six foot four, stocky frame, and his thick black hair that had recently become peppered with white and grey flecks. She thought of his reading glasses perched on his nose as he'd read stories of their people to her, sometimes late into the night. This image of a kind father figure was greatly contrasted to the image of the fierce warrior who could silently kill a man from hundreds of meters away. She wondered to herself how many people saw both sides of Father Malcolm the way she had – how many people would see both sides of her? There had been one already, but that was a long time ago, and she had forbidden herself from thinking about him, but that didn't mean that her mind wouldn't drift back to him late at night. Instinctively her hands reached up to the silver chain, and traced around the large turquoise pendant surrounded by a plate of silver and small sparkling gems. Her breathing still wavered when she thought of him and that night – it was the one memory she would never relive, never. She jerked her hand away from the pendant and tucked it back under her jacket and looked back out to the empty street.
Where the hell is that damned bus? She tucked her phone back into her bag. Her 'travel bag,' as Father Malcolm called it when he gave it to her for her eighteenth birthday. The bag was to be stocked at all times with essential items: basic medicine; clean bandages; a guide to various plants and their purposes; sets of sharp throwing knives; hunting knives; assorted daggers; and a leather holster for them that would drape against her hips and thighs for easy access. There were a few other items in there like: her good grey cloak that Sister Marielena had made for her, it was lines with the same fox fur that lined Jacquelyn's black leather boots. Then there was her pride and joy – her arm braces. They were made of sturdy brown leather, and hand carved with an intricate Celtic knot featuring three hawks following one another in a circle; her nickname back at St. David's cathedral had been the Hawk. It had started out as a joke amongst the Sisters and Brother Jacob, because of how protective Jacquelyn had become when they began to bring in children to the Cathedral, children like her, and like everyone who lived in St. David's. For a few years she worked at the cathedral training the children on how to survive after a jump by hunting, identifying the various plants and how to use them to heal various injuries or illnesses, and what to do when they came across 'the locals.'
That was always the most dangerous part, surviving alone in a forest was easy, but what happened when they came across a village? That was what Jacquelyn taught the children – the art of lying. She explained things such as how to explain their strange, modern appearance, and how to make up a simple yet detailed story of how they came to a small fishing village in the South of France while speaking with a thick Scottish accent. All were survival basics every Shadow Walker needed to master if they wanted live to see the rising of the moon every night.
Children are prone to telling the truth – no secret is ever safe with a child, Jacquelyn knew that. Her job was to erase that trait in the children at St. David's. As children they were usually safe; what self-respecting adult would believe a seven year old child's claims of coming to thirteenth century Spain from twenty-first century Wales via the shadows of time? The dangers came when they became of age to be regarded as an adult, one who never mastered the art of lying, and learning to support false stories. That was, more often than not, how their kind ended up tied to a stake with a pyre beneath their feet.
Trying to explain what a shadow walker is to a human is never an easy feat, which is one of the reasons why so few of them even bother to try. It's always amazed Jacquelyn how long she could go with no one suspecting what she really was simply because they look and act just like humans. In some ways they were human, but more like just a different breed of human. Father Malcolm explained it to her that it was like with dogs, and how there are numerous breeds and types; shadow walkers were merely a different breed of human. Some considered themselves to be on the same plane as demi-gods, or monsters. Jacquelyn tended to agree with the latter. Just because it was nearly impossible to kill a shadow walker did not mean it couldn't be done, and in her mind, they were cursed souls, and this life was their punishment.
Her kind went by many names over the course of history. Some ancient tribes the shadow walkers had encountered, like the Jutes, called them Time Lords. The name was catchy, so much that they became famous in the BBC sci fi series Doctor Who, except her kind had no control over when and where they travelled in time, so using the term 'lord' was a tad presumptuous. The druids, and other pagan cultures, had referred to them as the Shadow Demons. There were numerous other names for her kind, but Jacquelyn preferred Shadow Walker; it was the closest to a translation of their name, cysgodrhodwyr, in their native tongue. It was also the closest to the truth; they walked in the shadows, the shadows of time and memory.
Thinking about it all only made her head hurt even more. Closing her eyes tightly, to block out the sun that was now poking through the branches, she massaged her temples trying to dull the pain.
The wind picked up causing the leaves, that had already fallen in anticipation of autumn, to dance and swirl around her feet. Leaning against the back of the shelter Jacquelyn felt her strength fade, and soon it was a struggle just to keep her eyes open. Closing her eyes she felt the warmth, and sun on her face slowly retreat in surrender of sharp cold winds of winter.
It was starting.
She couldn't have closed her eyes for more than a couple minutes, but by the time she opened them again, she was no longer sitting on a bus bench outside of London. She was lying in the snow somewhere in the middle of a forest, in the dead of winter, with several, heavily armed, knights surrounding her.