'Of the Rising Sun'
A gentle stream of air blew across Nora’s face causing her hair to crawl across her skin. She winced in an effort to peel open her eyes. A white light spanning the width of her squinted vision flooded her view before her eyes adjusted to the brightness. The first thing she saw was the sun-filled blue sky above.
It didn't take long before she realized the world was moving around her. As the physical sensations of her body were restored she became acutely aware of the fact that she was, at that moment, being dragged across the ground on a weathered tarp. She could smell the earthy dust being kicked up around her, and winced whenever the ground was particularly rocky. Twisting her neck, she saw two men dressed in baggy, brown clothing which protected their skin from the burning sun's rays. Their backs were to Nora as they continued to transport her over the grassy terrain, pulling on thick ropes that were attached to the fabric she was laying on.
Suddenly fearful of getting flung off during her precarious ride on the tarp, Nora grabbed on tight to it. Upon hearing the sound of her grunting efforts, the younger of the two men slacked his rope and turned, immediately locking eyes with her.
“She’s awake!” he shouted, his young voice nearly cracking from his excitement.
“Get her some water out of my bag,” the older man ordered, and then he too dropped his rope and knelt down to peer at Nora's sun-scorched face.
“Miss, Miss, can you hear me?” the older man asked. His gray mustache wiggled under his elongated nose as he spoke, and his skin was weathered by years of being outdoors under the hot unfiltered sun.
Nora still felt woozy, and she fought to focus on what the older man was saying to her. As she regained more of her basic motor skills, reality sunk in and her eyes widened.
“Where?” was all Nora finally managed to get out of her uncooperative mouth. Her tongue grazed across her teeth before she was able to close her jaw again––her lips were so dry they were cracked in several places. She squinted and shook her head in an attempt to join the world she had awoken into. At that moment, a softer voice—the voice of the younger man––filled her ears.
“Where did you come from?” the young man asked, but before Nora had a chance to answer, the older man interrupted—snatching the water canteen from the younger man's hand as he did.
“You need to relax. Take a deep breath and focus. My name's Creel and this here is Traxton,” The mustached man said in a soothing tone while handing the water jug to Nora.
Traxton quietly moved closer and knelt beside the tarp. His light brown hair fell across his face as a gust of wind blew by. “You have been unconscious for at least the last two days. And honestly, we don't know how long you were out before that. Creel and I found you on one of our routine scouting missions.”
Nora looked at the younger man as she continued to drink from the water jug. Too parched to stop drinking, she raised one eyebrow as she stared at him, hoping this would prompt him to continue explaining the situation while she desperately rehydrated.
“Traxton, reach back into my satchel and grab a bit of food for our guest will you?” Creel, the older of the two men, instructed. Traxton began to fumble through the brown leather bag, quietly speaking to himself as Creel peered into Nora’s eyes.
“Our camp is not far from here. It’s a full three-day walk from where we found you. Lucky for you, we’ve already carried you through most of it,” he grinned. His attempt to lighten the mood with humor did little to calm Nora’s nerves and her brow remained furrowed.
“Well,” Creel ran his thumb across the thick gray hairs of his mustache before he continued, unruffled by her stone-faced reply, “Traxton and I were planning on dragging you back to our camp and letting the council decide what to do with you. Of course now that you are awake, the situation has changed a bit.” Nora, having drained the contents of the water jug, took a deep breath.
“So, now that I am awake what will become of your plan to drag me back to your camp?” Nora paused for a moment and arched her back in order to get a glimpse of the landscape beyond the two mens' boots. What she saw caused her mouth to instantly drop open in shock.
“The walls are gone!” Nora exclaimed in wonderment. She could see far off into the horizon, over the lush, rolling green hills.
“Not exactly,” Creel began, pointing a wrinkled finger in the opposite direction from where she was looking. Nora twisted her neck to get a better look. Sure enough, Creel was right—she caught sight of the familiar, oppressively large gray wall in the distance. Across the top edge of the wall was the word “ARRANT” painted in black.
“Is that Constance?” she asked.
“Yes,” Creel replied simply, clearing a small amount of phlegm that had built up in his throat. “We found you laying in the grass, just outside of those walls––positioned almost directly under that sign.”
“But––” Nora stumbled for the right words. Suddenly a wave of memories swept over her. “Bray?!” she exclaimed and scrambled up onto her feet. After only a moment of being upright her knees buckled beneath her, and her vision blurred with dizziness from getting up too fast.
With her hands spread out in front of her, she was able to soften the blow as she collapsed onto the ground below, the thick grass crunching under her small frame. Groaning in pain, she rolled over and stared up into the blue sky above as she struggled to catch her breath.
Traxton dropped the bag he was fumbling through and rushed to help her, bending over her weak body. “I don't think you should be trying to move that quickly. Your body hasn't had time to adjust since you have been unconscious for so long.”
Nora let out a small chuckle. “Thanks, Traxton. Think I just figured that out myself the hard way.”
She sat up with a wince and placed her palms on the ground behind her, allowing them to take most of her weight––the blades of grass embedded themselves into her skin.
“Well, Creel. Do you want to answer all of my questions or should I wait until we reach this mysterious council of yours?” she asked, making a concerted effort to keep her tone lighthearted and playful.
Creel smiled and reached a hand down to help Nora to her feet. “We still have another day's walk before you’ll have to deal with the council. That should give me plenty of time to answer what I imagine will be many, many questions from you,” he finished with a throaty laugh.
Nora brushed the dirt off of her body. “I suppose since we're going to be spending some time together, I ought to properly introduce myself. Creel and Traxton, my name is Nora, and I have come from inside the walls of Constance.” She reached up and touched the necklace that hung from her collar bone, thankful for its comforting presence. “I’m not sure how I got here, and I have no idea where you are taking me, but I don't see a whole lot of other options around here.” She paused, looking over her shoulder to take one last look at the massive gray stone wall behind her, exhaling sharply out of her nose while shaking her head. “Lead the way!” she exclaimed.
Once Traxton had packed up the tarp and heavy ropes they'd been using to carry Nora, the three of them set off to continue walking towards the Outsider's camp.
Creel wasted no time continuing their conversation as he gazed out at the lush green hills that rolled off into the horizon up ahead. “You know Nora, you are not the first to appear outside of those walls, there have been others of your kind.”
“Really!?” Nora asked in shock, as she deftly avoided tripping in a small pit in her path by leaping over it. The stiff green grass crunched underfoot as she landed.
“I guess someone's strength is returning to her!” Traxton exclaimed. Nora smiled in response, quickly regaining her balance.
“So how many people live at this camp of yours?” Nora continued, turning to Creel.
“73 in total!” Traxton declared. “Well, there's soon to be 74 of us! Mary—one of the camp residents—she has her third child on the way. Her belly's larger than that boulder over there, so she's counting down the days until that baby comes out.”
“She's not technically due for a few more weeks, but Mary's a willful lady, so I wouldn't be surprised if that baby came early,” Creel mused, reaching up to finger through his mustache thoughtfully. “Although not all of us came here in the same fashion as you have. Many of us found each other along the way and eventually settled the camp a few days' walk from that large structure we have come to know as Constance.” He chuckled a couple of times. Nora's eyes widened at this information.
“How long ago did your group build the camp out here?” she pressed.
Creel’s eyes lit up as he reminisced on his past. “Oh, I’d say we must be coming up on around 10 years now. Hard to believe it's been that long since we found the first of your kind.”
“And exactly how many of my kind have you found?” Nora asked bluntly.
Creel’s smile grew larger at her question, causing his grayed facial hair to form a straight line across his face. “My, my you sure do ask a lot of questions, don't you?” He paused and Nora glanced over to see Traxton chuckling. “There were 7 of you at one point. All came one after another. We got smart and had a few of our own camp out near the wall, anticipating the next person's arrival.”
“Wow, 7 huh? And now all of them stay in the camp with you?” Nora asked, astonished.
“They formed the council we are taking you to!” Traxton excitedly interjected. He spun around and flashed Nora a satisfied smile, clearly proud of contributing some useful knowledge to the conversation.
“Yes, Traxton is correct. You all kept showing up, one by one, until Evelyn, of course. After her, it seemed like that was the end of it all,” Creel appeared saddened by his last statement.
Nora bit the side of her tongue, pondering his words. “What do you mean?”
“After Evelyn, no one else came out of that blasted city. We had a few people stay near the wall for a while, but as time passed, we decided to abandon the post. Now everyone remains back at our camp. We still send out survey teams to scout the area around Constance now and then, but after 10 years of nothing, we all had given up hope that we'd find any more of you. The scouting missions have become less and less frequent as time goes on.”
“You mean to tell me that no one has come from inside of Constance in the last 10 years?” Nora asked, incredulous.
Creel stopped walking and pulled out his canteen of water. After offering Nora a swig, which she happily accepted, he took a few gulps himself.
“Well, that used to be the case. Until we found you, of course,” Creel said removing the excess water from his gray mustache.
As the trio began to walk up the large hill again, Nora let Creel's words sink in. When they'd reached the peak, the view was breathtaking.
“See that brown area out there?” Creel asked Nora, pointing ahead. Nora nodded. “That's our destination.” Her eyes widened as she saw the large, canvas saturated camp in the distance come into view. It was settled in a small valley of the massive rolling green hills. “Looks like we should be arriving just around nightfall,” Creel announced. The strong sun beamed down on the three of them and Creel wiped the sweat off his brow––they had a long journey ahead of them.