Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Strange Secret of Echo Valley

Amongst the hills north of Big Eagle Mountain, there lies a small, verdant valley the locals call Echo Valley.  Those few outsiders who know of it, avoid the place, having been shooed away by the residents.  And surely the valley is a kind of paradise worth defending - flush with swaying pines, grumbleberry bushes and fruit trees, and thick with deer.  The small town at the base of the valley, surrounded by idyllic farms, seems quaint enough.  But the secret of Echo Valley is amongst the most bizarre in Wampus Country.

The original Tanner cabin, Echo Valley.

Jim Tanner moved to Echo Valley some years ago, with his young bride Lena.  They built a small house, worked the land, and hunted the plentiful deer.  After a few months, a grizzled swagman called One-Eyed Pete came riding through, and hired on as a farmhand.  For weeks, all was well - then poor One-Eyed Pete was killed when he fell off a roof.  To remember the man who had helped them get their farm off the ground, the Tanners named their baby boy Peter.  In fact, little Peter even bore a resemblance to One-Eyed Pete; thankfully the timing was such that there was no question as to the boy's parentage.

As the months turned into years, little Peter came to look more and more like One-Eyed Pete.  Finally, when the boy was five years of age, he had an accident that cost him his eye - the same one old Pete had been missing.  Suspicions stirred in Jim and Lena Tanner's hearts.  And those suspicions were confirmed later that year, when Jim Tanner - another Jim Tanner - rode into the valley with his young bride, Lena.

No doubt you're starting to understand, as the Tanners came to, that there is something dreadfully wrong with Echo Valley.  Time seems to do as it pleases there - past and future colliding, even different futures, all existing simultaneously.  After the second married couple arrived, another Pete - a teenaged version - showed up, looking for work.  Then another  Then Jim as an old widower.  Then a pregnant Lena who'd lost her Jim in a war nobody else remembered.

This continued for some time, until there was an entire small town's worth of Jim and Lena and Pete, all of them at different ages, different points in their lives.  No two had identical memories, although there were commonalities.  And as the population increased, so did the weirdness of the valley - it wasn't long before they realized none of them could ever leave.  One of the Petes tried to leave, and he exploded into yellow vapor when his horse hit the ridge.  Whether he returned to some other point in the time-stream, or ceased to exist, nobody knows.
About a year ago a young, enterprising wizard named Axel rolled into town.  The Tanners warned him about the Valley, and told him it wasn't safe to stay more than a night before moving on.  But Axel wouldn't listen.  And by the end of the week, there were two more Axels.

These days Echo Valley has settled down a bit, and its population has remained fairly stable for the past several months.  Thirty-four Jim Tanners, twenty Lena Tanners, sixteen Petes, and five Axels now comprise the citizenry of the town and the farms surrounding it.  Visitors are forbidden, and the men-folk patrol the border of the valley carefully, usually with one of the wizards in tow.  There is a merchant who comes by the ridge every few months to trade outside goods for the plentiful leather and venison the valley provides, but he never comes more than ten or fifteen feet into the valley, and only stays about half an hour each visit.

The folks of Echo Valley are keenly aware that the situation in which they find themselves is untenable.  Thus far every baby born to a Lena has been a Pete, but there is growing concern amongst some of the elders that it's only a matter of time before one of the Axels impregnates a Lena and produces a Jim; it is perhaps inevitable, and they fear that day's arrival.  Further, they have become cognizant that all living things in the valley are effected by this strangeness now.  The pear-trees in the orchard grow ever closer together, sometimes springing up overnight.  And the deer which make for such easy hunting are replicating like rabbits, through a combination of breeding and the importation of time-swept deer from other pasts and futures.  One of the wizards - Handsome Axel - has been studying the deer, and documenting their degeneration; he believes that they are all the same deer, even the does.  Handsome Axel has not yet advanced his pet theory that all the Lenas - even the original one - are perhaps gender-swapped Jims.  Within a few generations, Echo Valley will either be overcrowded to the point of starvation or civil war on a micro-scale, or merely a fine habitat full of drooling inbreds.

Notable citizens of Echo Valley include the following:

Big Jim (42), the original Jim Tanner.  He is looked up to by many of the citizens as a de facto leader.  He is cautious in his dealings with outsiders and appears to care greatly for the well-being of his extended family.

Old Jim (69).  Old Jim is the wise-man of the village, often founding sitting on his stoop, smoking a pipe and stroking his long grey beard.  Old Jim hates all the Axels and would rather see them gone.

Clumsy Pete (29).  Clumsy Pete is constantly getting himself into situations where, by rights, he should be crippled or killed, yet he always manages to avoid losing an eye, arm, or his life.  A few of the Jims and Axels have been talking - perhaps fueled by cups of grumbleberry wine - and they're starting to think that every Pete is meant to be crippled, and that perhaps 'taking care of that' for Clumsy Pete would lift the curse.

No-Legs Pete (17).  This gregarious amputee will gladly follow anyone around on his trolley - especially outsiders - talking a mile a minute.

Lena 'the Knife' (28).  Bearing a steely stare, this Lena is best known for having dispatched a wayward bear with a kitchen knife, knowing that if the bear were allowed to live in the valley, it would soon become an entire herd of bears.  'Knife' is quick-witted and sarcastic, and wishes she could get some of the quieter Lenas to speak up around here.

Momma Lena (24).  Not the original Lena, Momma Lena is so named because she was pregnant when she arrived, and is still exactly as pregnant now, three years later.  It seems the Pete she carries is frozen in time, and her womb along with it.  She is understandably grouchy.

Axel Whitebeard (53, 5th-level mage)  Whitebeard seems to know the most about what's going on, phenomenologically, in Echo Valley, yet he doesn't always share what he knows.  If the other Axels figure out where he's hidden his spellbooks, they will assuredly kill him.

Axel Mushmouth (19, 1st-level mage)  An apprentice version of Axel who, soon after arrival, got into a fight with two Petes and took an axe-handle to the face, shattering his jaw.  He has a very difficult time casting spells, and is often relegated to gathering herbs and other components for the other wizards.

Dead Pete (38?, vampire)  Goodness only knows what happened in Dead Pete's timeline before he got to Echo Valley, but he's definitely a vampire, and he certainly doesn't want to be stuck here.  Dead Pete spends his days in a shallow grave on the edge of town, and by night socializes with his family.  He primarily feeds on deer, which keeps him very weak, but occasionally he is forced to drink blood from a Jim or a Lena - he dare not feed on a Pete, for fear of creating himself.

((note: this all came about from a G+ post wherein Zak was asking for ideas regarding a city of wizards; I suggested 'unstuck in time', and thinking on that generated Echo Valley.))

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