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
Jeremy hadn’t been enthused by Satal’s command to get a haircut, but as the lift descended to the Senate Floor he had to admit he felt better. His head felt lighter, and the fresh clothing Ann had laid out for him was soft and comfortable against his clean skin. He’d even been given a shave, though Michael had joked it would be six months until he needed another one.
“You look good,” Terrin remarked as he gave Jeremy a gentle nudge in the shoulder.
Smiling, Jeremy turned toward his friend. “It’s weird, but for the first time since Walter woke me up, I feel like me.”
Michael tiled his head in contemplation. “Really? Perhaps you’re already familiar with the role you’re about to take up.”
“He is chosen,” voiced Sheilak.
Terrin and Michael exchanged a quizzical look as Jeremy turned his mind inward.
“What do mean I’m ‘chosen?’” he asked. But Sheilak wouldn’t elaborate further. Slightly annoyed by her silence, as well as the vague sense of smug assurance the Guardian was feeling, the youth shook his head in frustration.
Michael broke the silence. “We’ve come to accept Sheilak as a companion, but she remains a great mystery.”
Frustrated, Jeremy nodded.
“All will become clear, echoed the Guardian in his head.
“You be quiet. If you’re not going to tell me more than you already have, I’m not speaking with you.” Jeremy thought back. He felt slightly guilty as he sensed the Guardian slinking back away from his mind, but at the moment he didn’t care. He had enough to worry about without being reminded he really had no idea who he was.
The doors to the lift open and the trio exited the car. They’d emerged into a large atrium, capped by a brilliantly lit crystal ceiling and filled with various plants and trees. A stream flowed through the hall and people meandered along it’s banks, following various paths which passed through the foliage. It was the last thing Jeremy expected to find this deep down in the Ravine. It felt like a park, rather than a cavern.
“This was the first refuge,” Sheilak announced.
“Refuge from what?” thought back Jeremy.
The youth could feel Sheilak’s unseen form smile. “Oh, I’m sorry, no talking” was all she’d say back.
“Fine, be that way” grumbled Jeremy in his head. He pointedly ignored Sheilak’s silent chuckle as he immersed himself in the sights of the hall. Amazed, he actually felt a breeze wash over him. As he turned his face toward it’s source he actually noticed birds flying overhead.
“I can see you like it,” said Terrin, who had stepped beside Jeremy. He glanced over to his friend, and noticed Michael in conversation with several men who also wore the uniform of the Presidential Guards. They were standing before a small gate, and Jeremy determined it was a security checkpoint.
Shifting his gaze back toward the birds he replied. “I do. This was not what I expected. I mean, The Ravine doesn’t feel cramped at all, but this is amazing.”
Terrin nodded. “It is. I used to come here when I was a child. What little we know of our history tells us this was the first refuge our people had after the Extinction War. The first Um healers created it so the people wouldn’t forget the world of the surface. Even today there’s said to be at least a hundred Um healers who maintain the systems which keep the park alive and make sure the animal populations are kept healthy. It is truly a wonder of our world.”
Jermey nodded in awe. “I believe it. Shelter was amazing enough. This is… wow.”
Terrin, pleased with Jeremy’s appreciation of the wonder before him, steered the youth over toward Michael. He had completed his conversation with the other guards and was waving the pair forward.
“Alright, Jeremy, I’ve moved us up the security line so we can go right though.” Michael waved toward the gate and, for the first time Jeremy noticed a line of a few dozen people impatiently waiting to pass through the checkpoint.
“But what about all of them?” Jeremy didn’t feel it was right to cut in front of so many people.
“Normally, Jeremy, I’d applaud your willingness to wait your turn. Right now, we have presidential orders to bring you to Satal as quickly as possible. This means invoking some privilege. Let’s go.”
Michael pointed to the gate, which was no being swung open to permit the trio entry. Jeremy head some grumbling as they moved forward, and he didn’t dare to look at the queue as they passed through. To his shock, the guards waved them by without so much checking his shoulder bag.
“They aren’t going to make sure I’m not carrying anything dangerous?”
Michael chuckled. “Jeremy, you’re with two Presidential guards bearing written orders from Presidential Satal to afford you all courtesy. You could go almost anywhere in the city without being challenged. After you’re introduced this morning you won’t even need Satal’s orders. As a new representative Senatorial Privilege will be yours.”
“I don’t think I like that idea.”
Michael smiled more broadly. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Ama and Walter won’t ever allow it to get to your head.”
Jeremy smiled back and allowed his two friends to lead him through the park, which was larger than he could have imagined. As they followed one of the larger paths he was reminded more and more of Shelter, and some way off he even spotted a field of wheat growing happily in the depths. Michael then suddenly took a turn to the right and led Jeremy toward an open archway, framed by two massive metal doors opened wide in welcome.
Passing through the arch, Jeremy discovered the natural beauty of the cavern replaced by the sculpted magnificence of the Senate chamber. The large room was round, and tiers of desks descended in half circles toward a dais in the center, upon which stood a single podium. Behind the dais rose rows of seats, which were were being filled by a mingling crowd. Terrin laid a hand on Jeremy’s shoulders and guided him down toward the Dais as Michael cleared a path. The youth kept his eyes lowered was he walked the steps, but he could sense conversations pause as he passed. The gathered Senators and their staffs wanted to see this new unknown as he descended to the depths of power.
Jeremy grew increasingly uncomfortable, until he dared to look up to look around. Almost immediately he spotted Ama seated in the first row behind the Dais. Seated next to her were Talum and Tollen, and all three smiled and waved as he approached. Suddenly feeling emboldened, he dared to look directly at the raised platform and saw Senator Kaitlyn speaking with Walter. She noticed his gaze and nodded in greeting, which caused Walter to turn and beam his own welcome. The old trader excused himself from his conversation with Kaitlyn, which she accepted with a flicker of annoyance, and he descended the platform to give Jeremy an embrace.
“Well, lad, here you are at last. It’s been quite a trip, to be sure.” When Jeremy only grinned weakly in response, Walter added, “Nervous?”
“Yes,” he managed to blurt out.
“That’s understandable. To most of the folks seated out there you’re a new unknown chip in their games. But don’t worry. Satal, Kaitlyn, and I will steer you through. OK?”
Again Jeremy nodded. Not worrying, however, was impossible. His stomach felt like it was in free-fall, and he could sense Sheilak was tensing herself for the road ahead.
He was brought out his revery by Satal’s voice. “Well, Jeremy, here’s where we see if everything I’ve invested in you has been worth it.”
That didn’t make him feel any better.