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
“Come on, it’s safe. I know it’s safe!”
The others didn’t share Jeremy’s enthusiasm. The bridge looked to incredibly old and swayed in the wind. Far below the deck they could make out the sounds of waves crashing against unseen shores. The dense fog kept visibility to no more than a few feet, which further unnerved the group.
“Lad, you know it’s safe, but we don’t. Just take it slow, and stay where we can see you, ok?”
Jeremy tilted his head upward and, even though he couldn’t see it in the mist, Walter could imagine the young man rolling his eyes. “OK, Walter. But please come as soon as you can. I want to get home.”
“You remember home now, Jeremy?” Ama called out from behind, her voice strangely distant in the surreal environment.
Despite his urgency, Jeremy stopped and turned at Ama’s question. “I… remember a lot. My family lived over this bridge, and we’d go into town every few days and even spend a night here and there. But I can’t remember why we lived so far from everyone else.”
“Do you remember why you were sent to us, lad?”
Jeremy closed his eyes in concentration, but slowly shook his head. “Not yet,” he said. “It’s almost there, but things are still foggy.” With that the youth turned and continued walking once more. “Let’s go, we’re almost there!” His friends followed on in silence.
When the party reached the opposite shore they encountered a world which seemed completely alien. The sky was an endless grey, and nothing living grew from the ground. Here and there skeletons of ancient trees continued to stand as mockeries of their counterparts in the vibrant forests to the North. Visibility increased once they left the bridge, but the absence of life seemed unchanged for miles. There was nothing but rock and barren soil. It was a depressing place.
“You grew up here, kid?” Tollen whispered. No on else said a word. Jeremy, his eyes wide with anticipation, simply nodded.
The road they’d been following continued beyond the bridge, but on this side it showed signs of wear and age. The strange black material from which it was constructed was cracked and thin, and the surface was marked with potholes. Carefully, the group walked on toward a low rise of hills several miles distant.
All was silent. No birds sang, no insect buzzed, and no wind blew. The only sounds the party heard were their own footsteps striking the pavement. The land was dead. It wasn’t until they neared the crest of the hills anything appeared to break the horrible oppression of the landscape. Michael noticed it first, a tower peaking above the hills, its top obscured by a bank of low clouds.
“Look at that!” he called, pointing forward.
“Is that a building?” Tollen marvelled. “It must be hundreds of feet high!”
“Jeremy,” prodded Ama. “What is this place?”
The young man smiled sadly. “Come and see,” he replied.
Now curious, the companions renewed their efforts to reach the crest of the hills. When they arrived everyone but Jeremy gasped in shock. There, in a valley far below and hugging a large bay, was city unlike any they’d ever seen. In the middle stood towers taller than any of the Valley-folk would have ever dared imagine. As they explored the details of the massive structures they noticed signs of damage. Their facades were pocketed with holes blown into their sides. The smaller buildings further from the center showed the signs of their long abandonment, roofs had caved in and walls had collapsed. The city was crossed by an impressive grid of roads, but these were in even worse shape than the path they had just walked. Here and there they spotted collapsed bridges and signs of flooding. Further out South from the center there was utter devastation, the ruins there looked as though they’d been violently destroyed.
“Lad, what is this place?” Walter asked in a whisper.
“It’s the city of the Prismatics,” Talum blurted out. “It’s amazing. We thought it had been destroyed in the war.” The Um Healer rushed to Jeremy’s side, almost visibly shaking in excitement. “How did they build these towers? The materials used must have a tensile strength beyond our imagination! And I see there are strange tracks. Was there some sort of transportation network for people? And what was the economy based up…”
“Talum,” growled Walter.
Startled, Talum turned. “Yes, Walter?”
“We have other things to worry about. Please shut up.”
For a moment Talum looked as though he would protest, but ultimately bowed his held with a sulk and said, “Yes, Walter.”
“Talum might be a bit over-excited, Old Fox, but who can blame him?” Tollen cut in. “I’m looking at the answer to every question the Seekers have ever asked.” Michael, Jeremy noticed, was also looking down at the city with unsuppressed awe.
“You can get your answers, later. This trip isn’t about you, remember?”
Tollen was clearly not pleased with Walter’s lack of excitement, but nodded silently. Jeremy hadn’t moved from the spot where he’d stopped at the crest of the hill. Ama came up to him slowly and laid a light hand on his arm, a calming sensation flowed through the youth which seemed to free him to move once more.
“Thanks,” he said with a sigh, turning to Ama with a smile. “I’ve looked down from this place so many times, but after being away so long it really struck me.”
“What did, Jeremy?”
“All we’ve lost, and all we might still lose.”
“So you remember now?” Ama asked, hopeful.
“Yes, mostly. We have to keep going.”
Jeremy pointed to a building off to their left. Made of brick and well-maintained, it was the first sign of current human activity the group had encountered this side of the bridge. It looked incredibly out of place.
“Over there, it’s where I’ll find my answers.”
“To what?” Walter asked.
“To everything, I suppose.”
Jeremy lead the group on the short walk toward the building. As they grew closer the utilitarian nature of the structure grew more apparent. In contrast to the majestic towers of the ruined city, or the stately structures of the communities across the bridge, it was a simple rectangle with a flat roof and numerous windows.
“It reminds me of the hostels back in The Valleys,” Michael said, clearly unimpressed.
“You’re not far off, I guess. This place was built based on function, not beauty, but indoors is another story. There’s gardens and greenhouses out the back, buried under the rock and fed wth artificial light.”
“And you grew up here, rather than across the bridge?” Ama inquired.
“Yes. It was dangerous for us to stay too long over on the other side.”
“You mean your family, Jeremy?”
“Yes, he said. There were… nineteen of us, I think. I was the one chosen to go.”
“To come to us?” the Am healer continued to prod.
“Yes,” he replied, quickly holding up his hands. “But don’t ask me why, I don’t know.” Reaching forward toward the handles on the strange glass doors, he tugged. They opened silently. Holding the door for his friends he waved them on in, “Come on.”
The interior of the building, as Jeremy had warned, was nothing like the outside. The floors were hardwood and well maintained, the walks were painted in vibrant colors and adorned with artwork, potted plants stood in corners and hung from hooks in the walls. While the plants drooped from neglect, and a fine layer of dust had begun to cover surfaces, this was clearly a space in which people took pride and was meant to be comfortable.
The party marveled at the sights which surrounded them as Jeremy led them down a long, windowless, corridor. He stopped at a nondescript door marked with a sign reading, “Monitoring room.”
Jeremy opened the door and flicked on a light with the same type of switch they’d found in the buildings across the bridge. With the darkness scattered the group saw the room was lined with what looked like small windows, looking into a dark night. As Jeremy entered and sat in the single chair in the room, these lit up and showed images of places none of them recognized. In the center panel a single word blinked.
The youth reached out and touched the word with an outstretched finger. As soon as he did so the image of a man appeared in the glass, sorrow and worry etched on his face. After several beats a voice could be heard saying, “OK,” and the man began to speak.
“Jeremy, if you’re watching this it means you succeeded and managed to return with the people necessary to wake the Silent Ones. I’m sorry we weren’t here to meet you. The haze hasn’t been broken yet, but we’ve witnesses several patrols coming close to our borders. So we’ve activated the sanctuary protocol. I tried to get the council to wait for your return, but no one wanted to risk being discovered on the surface.”
Tears began to fall down the man’s face. “This shouldn’t have been put on your shoulders, Son, and you’ve no idea how grieved I am that you should have to bear this burden. But now, our future is in your hands. Wake them son, save our people, and know your mother and I will always be with you. Goodbye.”
With that, the glass reverted to utter blackness. Ama was first to respond, firmly grasping Jeremy’s shoulder and squeezing it sympathetically.
“Jeremy, was that your father?”
The youth nodded, tears rolling down his own cheeks.
“And the ‘sanctuary protocol?’”
Wiping his eyes, Jeremy cleared his throat before responding. “It means they’ve sealed themselves underground, in our sanctuary. There’s no way in or out, and no lines of communication.”
“And how long will they stay there, lad?”
“Fifty years. After that they’ll open the doors and see if the threat has passed. But until then there’s no way to communicate with them.” The tears came back and with a sob Jeremy added, “They’re gone. They’re all gone.” His sobs broke into an agonizing wail, and Jeremy fell into Ama’s embrace. The others looked down at their young friend, recognizing his pain but unable to find any words which would offer him comfort.
They stood, uncomfortably, for several minutes as Jeremy passed through his wave of sorrow. As he collected himself he wiped his nose on his sleeves and rubbed the tears away from his eyes. Standing, he turned his back on the displays.
“OK, we can go now.”
“Where to now, Lad?”
“Down to the city, we need to wake them. It’s why you’re here.”
“Wake who, Jeremy?” Ama asked.
“The Guardians who helped us survive the war, the Silent Ones.”
Jeremy stood and pushed his way through his friends. He said nothing, expecting them to follow. They trailed in his wake, confused and yet oddly expectant. The youth led them back out of the building and turned left down the road as it descended to the city below.
“No one has walked this path for hundreds of years. Once we left the city it was decreed it would remain untouched until the Silent Ones were needed.”
“So we’re the first people to enter the city since the end of the Extinction War?”
“Yes, Talum,” Jeremy responded. The weight of the moment fell over the group as they continued forward, and all grew silent.
Jeremy, however, had someone with whom he needed to speak.
“Sheilak, are you ok?”
“Frightened, sad,” she replied.
“Why are you sad?”
“For your loss. Because they dream.” She responded.
“We have I wake them,” Jeremy said, voicing his thought with an apology.
And then Jeremy fell silent. Finally, the group reached the valley floor and stood in the bounds of the once great metropolis. The young Prismatic spread out his hands and cried out into the silence.
“Friends of old, we call you from your slumber!”
As first nothing seemed to happen, and Jeremy began to look worried. Then, slowly, it appeared a patch of the grey clouds which covered the sky reached down to the spot where Jeremy stood, growing black as it descended.
“Why have you awakened us to our regret, young Prismatic?” a voice boomed into the air, causing the party to jump.
“I am sorry to wake you from your dreams, friends of old. But the treaty is broken, the purity have found our children. We need your help or they will succeed where they once failed. I’ve brought witnesses of their lives, and some of your kin from far away. You’re needed once more.”
“We see your witnesses, but a hue is missing.”
Jeremy’s face drained of color. “The violet went their own way, long ago, these are all who inhabit The Valleys. Will you not help them, and help your friends of old?”
“Regretfully, we cannot. Only when all the hues are restored can the Prismatics be re-established. By waking us you have only added to our sorrow.”
“But,” Jeremy almost squeaked. “What is to be done?”
“Find the missing hue. Search for them and find them. Then we will awake into our regret and and stand by your side once more, even though it will shatter our hearts. Until then, we must return to our slumber. Our dreams are tortured, but our waking grief is too much for us to bear. Goodbye, young Prismatic. And good luck.”
The pillar of cloud then slowly dissolved into the air, leaving nothing behind. Jeremy turned toward his friends, his eyes wide with fear and shock.
“I’ve failed,” he groaned as he collapsed on to ground with sobs of anguish.
—— Here ends Welcome to the Valleys ——