Today’s blog is the continuation of, Welcome to the Valleys. If you would like to catch up with the tale, the first section can be found at this link
Ama and Talum stepped back and allowed the rest of the party to pass through the open gate. Her eyes remained fixed on Jeremy as he begin to climb the stairs which would deliver him into the heart of Valley affairs. As the doors slowly closed she felt an unexpected anxiety stir within her. As they finally latched shut she knew something momentous was about to take place, but all around her the bureaucracy of The Valleys continued undaunted – taking no heed of the events in which it was certainly taking part.
She allowed her gaze to linger on the closed doors for a moment, only to be startled by a low voice growling at her side, “The boy will be fine, Ama. Now’s time for you to show some concern for yourself.”
Ama, turned, suddenly afraid Merkot’s guards had decided to detain herself and Talum. Before she could warn her fellow healer to flee, however, her eyes focused on a stooped older-man with a bald head and emerald-green eyes.
The retired guard smiled wickedly. “Glad you recognize me, Meddle. For a second I though you were about to run for the hills.” He appraised his environment for a moment, and then amended, “Well, cracks, anyway.”
“I almost did. Do you have any idea what Walter and I have been though since we left your home?”
He nodded. “A pretty good idea, yah. The Old Fox manages to cause trouble even when he’s only trying to get from point ‘a’ to point ‘b.’”
“So why in all The Valleys would you sneak up on me like that?”
“After all the grief you’ve put me though over the years, Meddle, I thought one moment of anxiety would be payment long over-due. I never claimed to be nice, Meddle.” Tollen shifted slightly and nodded toward Ama’s companion. “Talum, I see they’ve managed to pull you away from your writing desk for once.”
Talum nodded enthusiastically. “They did at that, and it’s been quite an adventure! Did you know that…”
Tollen raised a quick hand, warning Talum not to continue on. “Later, Talum. I’m sure the tale’s worth a pint or two, or whatever you’re drinking these days, but right now you two have got an appointment.”
“Oh? I didn’t know I’d scheduled anything. I have been a bit preoccupied since we arrived in The Ravine. Ama, did you book a meeting for us?”
Ama sighed. “No, Talum, I did not.” Turning to Tollen she added, “Nor do I have time for any detours, Tollen, I need to report to the Healing Council without delay.”
Tollen smirked knowingly. “Well, you’ll suffer one delay, oh Healer Meddle. A quorum of Seekers needs to have a chat with you both.”
“And as I said, I don’t have time, Tollen.”
“Well, now, that’s where you’re wrong. You may have just gotten here, having taken the long-way round, but I arrived the same day you left my house. I’ve got this meeting all set up, and your oh-so-noble council is more than willing to accommodate me.”
“You’ve cleared a meeting with a quorum of Seekers, with the Healing Council?”
Tollen said nothing, but broad grin sprang upon his face.
Ama nodded in defeat. “OK, Tollen, you win. But I must say I am uncomfortable leaving this level.”
“Ama, I told you, the boy will be fine. I may not care much for the Old Fox, but he’s in as good hands you can fall into as any.”
“Yes but, as you so astutely pointed out, now is the time to be concerned for myself. I have no idea what the situation on the other levels is like. How do you know Merkot won’t be waiting for us at your meeting?”
Tollen chuckled, “Meddle, if Merkot is waiting for us where we’re going the last thing you’ll need to worry about is his twisted desire to be a greeter.
“But he’s a Senator, he can go anywhere.” Her eyes slowly widened with shock. “Unless…”
“Yup, there is a quorum of Seekers meeting inside the Hall of Healing.” Ama scowled as a grin carved itself on to the old guard’s face. “I did say I cleared it with them.” With that, he turned and headed back toward the bureaucratic maze toward Hall of Healing.
Talum blinked at Tollen for a moment As Ama moved to follow the guard. “You know, Tollen, you are an odd man,” he called after their guide.
Without looking back over his shoulder, Tollen called back, “I’ll take that as a compliment from a connoisseur of oddness. Now let’s go.”
Talum leaped into to an awkward gait and caught up with the others. They wound their way back through the rows of desks and meeting areas, dodging couriers carrying paper and sliding past workers shouting conversations at one another from nearby desks. As they walked, Tollen led them closer and closer to the Hall of Healing. Around the base of the building was a wide break form the pulsating motion of the bureaucratic engine which powered the level. In this space no one lingered, as if those who found themselves trust into the circle of calmness realized just how out of place it was on such a busy level. The building itself seemed to rise from the polished stone which formed the floor of the level, and only differed slightly in hue from the floor. It’s unusual placement, and unsettling appearance, gave the distinct impression of something which didn’t belong.
Ama had stepped into the circle before, but always found the experience unsettling. Living in Water Gap for so many years had accustomed her to the noise of people going about their daily business. Her familiarity with this background static made even the odd pulsating rhythm of the Valley Bureaucracy seem almost “normal.” Inside the circle, however, the noise of the level fell away to a faint hum. Ama knew the effect was created by something the Um healers had done to partially cancel-out sound from beyond the circle, but that didn’t make the sensation feel any more welcome.
Tollen led the two healers around to the South wall of the building, where stood a simple wooden door which was the only public entrance to the building. The guard twisted the doorknob and threw open the hinges, motioning for Ama and Talum to enter. Inside a healer adorned in pale yellow robes, marking him as part of the Im Order, sat behind a tall counter.
“Greetings, healers! How many I assist you today?”
Ama and Tollen glanced at each other, uncertain how to respond. They were rescued by Tollen who, accompanied with a slam of the door, pushed his way between his two companions and said, “They’re with me, Imsel.”
“Ah, Seeker Tollen! I’m glad you found your charges.”
“I’m happy you’re pleased,” Tollen grunted. “Please send the quorum up to to my office. And if Amvat wants to join us, that’s fine too.”
The yellow-robed healer nodded with a smile. “Of course, Seeker Tollen. Shall I send up refreshment as well?”
At the sound of “refreshment,” Talum’s stomach grumbled audibly, which caused him to blush.
“Yah, you’d better, these two haven’t been fed properly in a bit.” With that, Tollen strode past the desk and into the vast hall beyond – the two healers trailing in his wake.
“Did that healer say, ‘your office?’”
The old guard stopped and turned on his heel. “Oh, yes, I forgot to mention. The Seekers’ headquarters in The Ravine is the Hall of Healing. We’ve kinda made ourselves at home.”