Unpacking Taking Stock

There aren’t that many section remaining in Welcome to the Valleys, and the descent into Woodhall Grove is allowing me to spend some time with each of the characters as they prepare for the final leg of this story. Let’s unpack.

Michael’s doubts

Michael was ready to soon retire before Walter showed up at his post several months ago. The shift in guard behavior was burning him out, and he had been looking forward to a quiet life with his wife. He’d even considered moving West and purchasing a small orchard as a retirement project.

Walter’s arrival, of course, changed all that. Michael suddenly became embroiled in the controversies which were leading to the transformation of the Guards, and he felt honor-bound to contribute in some small way to the proper restoration of order in The Valleys. His success only further tied him to Walter’s work, for which he feels honored. Yet he also feels his connection to Walter is undeserved. He knows of several other guards at his post who would have happily stepped in and rescued Walter from abuse, yet it was he who simply happened to be at the right place at the right time.

Michael undersells himself. While it is true there were other guards who would have helped Walter out of his jam at the checkpoint, none of the others would have made certain he reached his destination safely. For that, he is rightly honored. It’s one of the reasons Satal incorporated him into her personal troop.

The stories

So how widely are the stories of Jeremy and company traveling through The Valleys? Meels brings up specific tales involving both Walter and Terrin 1, and later in the warehouse hints he knows more than he is willing to say about the Party’s intentions. Walter’s been keen on keeping Jeremy’s true identity secret, have his efforts been in vain?

Not necessarily. Senator Fellows is a voracious gatherer of information, a wise move given how often The Ravine has tried to maneuver the interests of Woodhall into a corner, and he makes certain the guards in the settlement are well-informed when it comes to current events among the political elite. Meels also happens to be a Seeker, and that sect has managed to figure out there is something “unusual” about Jeremy. At least when he began appearing by Walter’s side… interesting things started happening.

So, Meels is in a rather unique position to have heard of the exploits surrounding the party. Yet, at the same time, his awareness shows how the information Walter has tried to keep secret is out in the open. At least for people who know how to listen.

Terrin and Michael exchange notes

Michael and Terrin both like and respect Walter, but it was interesting to see how they joked about the senator’s “unique way with words.” It was a humanizing moment, and I enjoyed writing it.

This humanizing exchange also carried over when Meels attempted to treat Terrin as a personal hero. The way Michael continued to exaggerate Terrin’s role in standing up to his squad made me smile along with him. When Terrin reminds Michael he actually fell unconscious when he “stood up” to his squad 2, I chuckled Terrin’s blush deepened.

In this passage we were able to see how these two men are friends, and it was a nice aspect of their characters to explore.

The Glowing Grove

The spectacular vision of the glowing Birch Grove is something one would expect to be heralded as a wonder of The Valleys. So why didn’t either Michael or Terrin know about it?

Mostly because the Woodhallers try their hardest not to let people know about the phenomenon.

The Settlement of Woodhall is below the grove, and the light is pale enough it doesn’t pierce the honey glow of the evertorches in both the town and the great hall. Visitors are almost always shepherded to the main town well before moonrise, and the fear of darkness encourages flight to safer confines as evening rolls in. This leaves native Woodhallers free to enjoy the white light of the Birch Trees. In the winter a pond is even formed under the empty branches, and people spend the coldest month of the year skating under the brilliant white light.

No one knows what causes these particular trunks to glow they way they do, as no Um healers have ever been permitted to study the process. To Woodhallers, the grove is to be treated as pristine, and almost sacred. Spoiling the mystery would ruin it for them. Michael and Terrin were afforded a special honor, requested by Senator Fellow himself, to behold the splendor of the Birch Grove. They are some of the first outsiders to see the white light in over two generations.

As beautiful as the light is, however, no Guardian will approach the grove after moonrise. Something about its luminance troubles them deeply.

  1. Though he’s a bit foggy when it comes to Terrin. 
  2. Sheilak actually knocked him out with everyone else in his group.