Throughout November I’ll be concentrating my posts on Welcome to the Valleys in honor of NaNoWriMo. If you’d like to catch up on this story, the first post of this story can be found at this link
By the time Walter got done recounting his story of their group’s travels in the Inner Valleys Jeremy thought “story” was a good way to describe the tale. It’s not that what Walter told Kaitlyn wasn’t factual, it simply committed large portions of what had been driving the party forward. Jeremy’s mysterious origins were noticeably absent from the rendition, as were their encounters with Shadows in the Tunnel and the conversations they’d had with Sheilak. The story Walter recounted explored only their encounters with the decaying political situation in the Inner Valleys, claiming it was the rumors of Merkot’s road block with lead them to Meadowrun.
Kaitlyn’s eyes narrowed more and more tightly as Walter wove his tale. By the time he finished Talum was staring at the old trader in disbelief, and the others of their party seemed confused. Even Ama wore a puzzled expression. Kaitlyn, however, was not amused.
“That is an amazing story, Old Fox. Now how about you tell me what’s really going on? Why don’t you start with the mystery boy over there?” She pointed to Jeremy while keeping her eyes locked on Walter.
The Old Fox grinned. “It was a good story, Kaitlyn. Show some appreciation.”
“You’re wasting my time, Walter, and I don’t think you realized how limited that is at the moment.”
“Fine, I’ll fill in the rest, but we’ll back up to just about six months ago.”
“About the time Merkot began his dig?”
Walter nodded. “Yes, though I didn’t know abut that until just this evening. No, my story begins out in Highcliff when, one evening, some of the local miners returned with a rather starling discovery.”
Walter glanced around the room, then leaned in and said quietly, “They found of seam of evercoal.”
Kaitlyn’s eyes widened, Terrin whistled, and Talum muttered, “How fascinating.” Ama and Michael, who knew about the evercoal, merely nodded.
“How? It’s never been found outside the Inner Valleys!”
Walter spread his hands. “Who knows? One day they were digging, and struck the most valuable material on the planet.”
Kaitlyn was expressing noticeable excitement. Her breath became short and she flung out a string of questions. “Did you test it? Did you measure the seam? What did Highcliff do?”
“Yes, we tested it. Highcliff is currently lit by the only evertorches in all The Valleys which were not made from an Inner Valley deposits. As near as we can figure, the seam may be the largest ever discovered. And as for what they did, well it’s what they didn’t do that matters.”
“What do you mean?”
“They wanted to declare themselves the capital of an independent governance.” Seeing Kaitlyn’s eyes widen in shock he continued, “Well who can blame them? You lot in the Senate treat them like non-persons, you refuse to connect them to the roadways, and the trade of evertorches out to The Coast is so limited that the settlements in that region are forced to remain tiny. They way they saw it, they suddenly had wealth and power, and they were going to use those to blow a rather large raspberry in the direction of the Senate.”
“Careful with the ‘you lot’ talk, Walter. Many of us have tried to see the coastlands recognized.”
“But you’re always blocked. I know.” He wave his hands as Kaitlyn tried to continue the discussion. “It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I was able to see what a watermelon of an idea that was, and managed to try a different plan.”
“They sent me here to negotiate full membership within The Valleys, using the evercoal as leverage.”
Kaitlyn smirked. “So instead of a declaration of independence you’d sponsor a political reformation. Well played, Old Fox.”
Walter nodded. “I do my best. Anyway, that is what brought me on my way back to the Inner Valleys. I left about six weeks ago, and spent some time in Plantation getting ready to walk The Boulevard.”
“Fine. And the mystery boy?”
“Well, that’s just it. The lad’s a mystery.”
“Don’t play games, Walter. Where is the boy from?”
“Kaitlyn, it’s not game. We don’t know where Jeremy is from. I found him sleeping by the side of The Boulevard outside Water Gap. I assumed he was some spoiled Inner Valley kid chasing the dark, but when Jeremy awoke the lad didn’t know where he was and barely remembered who he was. So I took him along and brought him to Ama.”
“Still picking up strays.”
Walter shrugged. “Old habits. Anyway, Ama attempted to restore his memories and was unable to do so.” Kaitlyn’s eyes widened once more. “So, on a whim, she decided to give him the test.”
Kaitlyn shifted her gaze to Jeremy. “And he passed?”
“The stones glowed bright as the day. The lad still couldn’t remember where he was from, so Ama and I decided to bring him to The Ravine and see what can be done with him.”
“One of the more sensible thing’s you done.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that. Given Merkot’s behavior I’ve half a mind to take him out of this place and go back to Highcliff.”
The air around the table was subjected to a sudden chill. Jeremy spoke in his mind, “Stop! Walter hasn’t told her about you yet!” The air quickly warmed, Kaitlyn shuddered at the temperature change.
“Anyway, after we started on our way to The Ravine things began to get weird.”
“They weren’t weird before?”
“Not anywhere near as weird as what began happening in the Tunnel.”
Kaitlyn leaned back, skeptical that Walter was again trying to weave her a fabrication. “OK, I’ll bite. What happened in the tunnel?”
“We were just about to Shelter when the lad, here, turned around and noticed something odd. The Evertorches were going out.”
“They were going out behind us, so we began to make a run for shelter. And then we saw something that was truly terrifying.”
“The evertorches were also going out in front of us.”
Kaitlyn’s face had turned white. “That’s not possible.”
“Oh it’s entirely possible, they do that you know.” Called Talum’s voice from the opposite end of the table.
“Healer Talum, the evertorches are our only defense against the shadestalkers,” the Crystal hanging from Jeremy’s neck grew cold, “if they are able to extinguish them, then what hope do we have?”
Talum raise his hand to his mouth and muttered, “Oh dear.” Lowering his hand his smile returned, “I really do need to find time to publish my paper, don’t I?”
“Paper about what?”
“About the Guardians. Or are we not talking about the same thing?”
Kaitlyn turned toward and gestured to Walter with motions which seemed to say, “Can you make him make sense please?”
Walter grinned, but turned to Talum, “Talum, perhaps you’d like to inform the Senator about who the guardians are.”
“Oh. Of course. Well, first, I should point out they do not like the term ‘shadestalker.’ In fact, they find it quite offensive. I guess it’s also important that the evertorches do not keep the Guardians away from people. Quite the opposite, in fact. The evertorches allow the Guardians to dwell close to people safely.”
“Now I know you’re joking. Everyone knows the evertorches keep the…”
“Guardians,” Talum smiled.
“… Guardians away from people. They keep us safe.”
Talum was beaming as he fuller entered the conversation. “Oh yes they do keep us safe, just not the way we’ve come to believe. Isn’t that right, Sheilak?”
The evertorch on the table dimmed and the air around the table grew cold as Sheilak spoke. “Yes.”
The eyes at the table were focused on Kaitlyn, who had turned frightening pale. She collected her nerves for a moment before declaring, “This can’t be real.”
“Oh but it is,” assured Talum. “Isn’t it fascinating to have your common-held assumptions broken?”