It was a long passage yesterday. As a writing exercise, it was actually rather enjoyable for me to move the characters through both distance and time in such a compressed space. I tried to keep the proceedings engaging. I hope I succeeded.
From a story standpoint, several important things happened in yesterday’s passage. Let’s unpack.
People who remember back that far ought to catch some vague similarities between Mountain Hold and Shelter. Both are associated with tunnels, both are built inside mountains, and both make certain people dwelling in them are able to see the world outside.
Of course there are profound differences. Shelter is more like an underground valley which has been carved out of the Mountain. Mountain Hold, on the other hand, has more in common with a military complex.
One question people might have asked while the characters entered Mountain Hold is, “Why couldn’t Jeremy see the windows from below?” The answer is, “He couldn’t.” The windows in Mountain Hold are set up to be non-reflective, so from a distance they are almost entirely invisible. Once travelers are under the mountain, there is simply no able by which they can be spotted. Mountain Hold’s secrets are well-hidden.
The lack of guards at Mountain Hold’s gates is an interesting thing to note. The reality is, they simply aren’t needed. Not because there aren’t bad people or wild animals about, but because the guards of Mountain Hold have their little valley well watched. They simply don’t need to be visible to do so. The “other humans aren’t enemies” line is a convenient semi-fiction they permit to be spread. It keeps people from wondering why travelers to Mountain Hold are always expected.
Tollen, by the way, has been to Mountain Hold and Woodhall on numerous occasions. These two settlements hold the largest proportions of Seekers of any population centers in The Valleys. Woodhall is, in fact, the birthplace of the movement.
The people of “the Hold” are said to only carve out of the North face of Mount Gateway. This is true, up to a point. They will only carve from the North face. That doesn’t mean they aren’t perfectly fine with others carving out niches on other faces of the mountain.
The door Jeremy discovers is, in fact, an emergency entry way to a facility the Um healers run inside the mountain. Talum is utterly shocked Jeremy found it, as the tunnel is left rough hewn partly to make it all but invisible, and he could barely keep himself from screaming when Jeremy made to ascend the stairs.
I can’t say much more about what the Um healders are doing in Mount Gateway, but I can say the people of Mountain Hold are well aware of their work. In fact, the people of the Hold are the only ones who know anything about this secret hideaway. Not even the Senate or Congress of Healers have any clue what’s going on there.
The Road South
The Mountain Hold tunnel is at a significant elevation, but not anywhere near the tree line. Yet, the plateau upon which the party found itself was devoid of trees, even though the temperature was significantly warmer South of the mountain. This should have made it more likely for trees to grow on this plateau, so where are they?
Years ago, the plateau was actually a dense forest. The trees were removed by Um healers during the time period in which The Valleys were settled. Why were they removed? Two reasons. First, people wanted to be able to spy out this particular approach. Second, it allowed for a buffer between human settlements and the hunting grounds of the Guardians. By the time the first settlers moved out of the Inner Valleys to found Woodhall, the engineered nature of the plateau was long lost, but people have never settled along it, feeling the absence of trees from what should be an hospitable environment is a bad sign. The suits the Um healers just fine, as settlers would complicate their desire to keep the plateau clear — though even they don’t realize why is was cleared.
The moment the party stepped out on to the plateau they entered into the Southern Valleys, the only settlement of which is the great town of Woodhall.