'Of the Rising Sun'
As the sun set below a grassy hill in the distance, Nora, Traxton, and Creel made their way into the Outsider's camp. There were numerous sun-faded brown tents which lined the main dirt pathway, and which swayed ever-so-slightly in the gentle wind. Traxton broke away from the trio and sprinted down the road as soon as they got into camp, without even so much as a goodbye to Nora or Creel.
Wooden posts with torches topping them lined the walkway. They illuminated Nora's surroundings and the flames danced in the subtle breeze. When Nora entered the camp the first noises that reached her ears were that of laughter and children playing somewhere in the distance.
Creel ushered Nora hastily forward down the dirt road, which was flanked by more tents on either side of them. The dry dust was kicked up around their feet while they moved.
An unnaturally tall blonde woman, dressed in the same kind of brown clothing that Creel and Traxton wore, passed by them. As she caught eyes with Nora, her mouth fell open. The woman quickened her pace and scurried off into a nearby tent––the flaps opening and closing quickly behind her.
There was a roaring fire in the center of a large area carved out in the compacted dirt. People were gathered around the fire pit conversing. Some played instruments, others danced in the fire light. The soles of their feet kicked up a cloud of dust around the entire area.
“All in time, Nora,” Creel whispered, seeing the longing in her eyes as she watched people joyously sing and dance. “We are going to cut through here, between this row of tents for now.”
Creel gently placed a hand on Nora’s small, delicate shoulder and guided her towards the right. They moved down a narrow side path that went between more rows of dirt-covered brown tents. Nora had to turn herself sideways in order to navigate down the tight trail which snaked throughout the small housing units.
“I told Traxton to go on ahead and inform the council of your arrival. For now it is best that we do not draw any unwanted attention to ourselves, until you have had the chance to meet with them.” Creel spoke in a hushed tone. After a few minutes he guided Nora to take a sharp left turn, stepping over a small wooden post that had been buried in the dirt and tethered to a rope to hold the tent’s canvas in place.
Nora followed Creel as best as she could, trying to avoid the obstacles in their path. As she passed the dwellings, she could hear voices inside chatting. The sound of life was a comfort to her after so much of her recent time had been spent alone and unconscious, locked inside of her dark mind full of nothing but her own memories.
Suddenly Creel stopped, and Nora collided with him. “Okay, you wait here,” Creel instructed. “I am going to step into this tent around the corner and make sure Traxton was able to follow instructions.” Before Creel left, he turned to look at Nora. “Don’t do anything to bring attention to yourself, okay? I will come back for you after I speak with the council.”
Nora nodded, straightening her posture in confidence despite her anxiety about the situation. Creel disappeared around the corner and she heard him make his way into the larger of the tents. Trying to calm her nerves, Nora reached over to one of the wooden posts along the side of the pathway to steady herself. There was nothing left to do now but wait.
After standing in silence for a few moments Nora's limbs began to ache, she struggled to maneuver herself as quietly as possible. She desperately wanted to get closer to the room that Creel had gone into, hoping to overhear the conversation that was about to take place. She tried to shut out the sounds of people singing and chatting around the main campfire down the road, and strained to reach her ear to the backside of the tent. Despite her efforts, she was unable to get close enough to hear anything more than a few muffled voices through the dense canvas fabric. For the first few minutes it all sounded like garbled gibberish, until she was finally able to understand a word that Creel spoke––Nora.
Frustrated, Nora sat down on the grass and leaned back, turning her face up to the sky. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her. She closed her eyes and focused her mind towards the empty void she had so lovingly left behind earlier that day. As she took a deep breath, her consciousness leapt from her body and into the gray world around her.
In this hollow space, everything around her appeared slightly different. The tent homes were still there, but appeared as nothing more than opaque gray objects. Her shadow-world body appeared as a flickering bright red silhouette, and moved gracefully along wherever she transported her consciousness. She left her real-world body behind––still lying down in the grassy area between the dwellings, face turned up to the star-covered sky––and directed her consciousness into the council's large tent.
There she saw numerous Defected shadows just like her own. Each silhouette had a unique red hue to them, except for the one in the middle, which was a white shadow and stood out against the rest. As she drifted closer to the white flickering silhouette, the figure's mannerisms clued her into the fact that she was watching Creel's essence. Unsatisfied with only seeing the members of the council's red shadows flickering, and wanting to see their faces and hear their voices, Nora slowly lowered her mind to merge with Creel's, as she had done before with the other citizens of Constance.
As her view of the council members sharpened and the scene before her was filled in with color and sound, Nora observed without interfering. The inside of the space was larger than she had anticipated and was lit by 14 thick white pillar-style candles, arranged on a small wooden table in the center of the room. The candle arrangement looked like it'd been lit for quite some time—some of the candles had begun to melt and merge with the others, and candle wax dripped over the edge.
Creel stood near the modest wooden table, awaiting further instructions from the council. His gaze was fixed on the six other members in the room, who were all seated. They sat with formal posture, hands clasped in front of them, at a rustic, dark wood table in the shape of a semi-circle. The wood was breathtaking––it had striking grain lines which glowed vibrantly in the flickering candle light, almost as if the wood were still alive. Nora immediately noticed that one of the chairs across the room in the row of the council members remained vacant.
“Creel, you may approach the council now,” a female council member spoke suddenly, her booming voice filled the tent.
Creel walked towards the council, stopping right before the larger wooden table. His eyes settled on the long-limbed bony man who stared at Creel in disdain from the center seat. Creel stood as straight as his old body would allow him, placing his arms behind his back to maintain a formal posture, and then silently waited for the council to address him further. He turned away from the center man's scowling gaunt face––which watched his every move––and gazed at the woman who had ushered him into the tent. She had a sharply angled nose, dramatically high cheekbones, and a small, thin frame. Her light blonde hair was pulled back tightly into a bun and she had a look of unwavering intensity in her dark eyes.
“Creel, please pay no attention to Malaphin, he is just angry about being dragged from his bed so late,” she said, assuring Creel that there was no need for concern with regards to the bony man. Creel nodded in understanding. “Traxton has informed us of your recent discovery,” the woman continued. “Have any other members of our congregation been made aware of her existence as you brought her into the camp?"
Nervously, Creel parted his lips and began to speak, “Unfortunately, yes Evelyn. As I escorted the girl into camp, another woman spotted her—Lily, one of the garden workers. She dashed off soon after into... I believe it was Grace's tent.” Creel stopped for a moment and took time to think. “Yes it was Grace's tent. Otherwise, we were very careful and took our time to move between the resident dwellings instead of out in the open after we crossed the southern main walkway.”
Evelyn sighed heavily, “I supposed the outcome could have been worse, given the nature of the people involved I believe this occurrence to be minimal in effect to our camp.”
The man seated next to Evelyn nodded in agreement. He too was small in stature, small-boned, with long, brittle black hair and dark beady eyes. “Yes, Evelyn is correct. Grace would have been informed of the girl's arrival in due time and most likely would have shared this with Lily soon after, regardless of your secrecy. Good job Creel, in maintaining your stealth while you escorted your findings to us.”
“Thank you, Stellan,” Creel said as he bowed in respect.
The rest of the council members took turns bowing in return and nodding at Creel for his efforts, except for Malaphin, who inspected his long fingernails instead of paying his respects to Creel. “Would you like to inform us of any information that was passed between you and the girl as you completed your journey back to this camp, Creel?” Evelyn asked.
“Yes, Evelyn,” Creel replied dutifully, as he maintained his stiff, formal posture. The formality of the entire situation was not what Nora had been expecting. The canvas fabric of the tent bowed and constricted as a slight breeze passed through the camp. The flames of the 14 pillar candles danced in the stream as well.
“Please proceed,” the woman farthest to the right, next to the only empty chair in the room chimed in. Her brown wavy hair shimmered in the candle light. The shadows cast around the room highlighted the harsh lines caused by her skin stretching tightly over her angular features. There was something about her eyes and sharply jutting chin that looked so familiar to Nora, but Nora was certain she hadn't seen the woman before.
Creel cleared his throat. “Thank you, Davina,” he began. “The girl, who calls herself Nora, has been extremely cooperative and understanding of our situation. While we walked, I attempted to answer as many of her innocent questions as I could. She has a very curious mind.”
Davina replied quickly, “It is not uncommon for those that escape the city of Constance to be naturally curious.”
“No, I do believe it is not,” Creel replied with the typical light-hearted nature that Nora had come to know over the course of their day together.
The man seated to the left of Davina finally opened his mouth to speak. The thinness of his tightly curled hair allowed the flickering flames to dance off of his scalp and rounded cheeks as he moved, revealing the slight cracks of old age around his dark eyes. “Creel, will you please inform the council of the questions that were asked?” he questioned in a soft voice.
“As you wish, Kieran,” Creel steadily replied. “Nora has been curious of the world she has awoken into, and I for one do not blame her for being so. In the minutes after she woke, she began asking about two people whom I believe she had recently been in direct contact with.”
The edges of Kieran’s lips sloped down as he continued his questioning. “Creel, do you remember the names that the girl was interested in?”
“Yes, Kieran. The first name was Bray and the second was Secora,” as Creel uttered this murmurs immediately became audible amongst the council members, and they looked at one another in shock.
Evelyn gasped the loudest of all, but quickly resumed her professional demeanor and straightened her posture in the creaky wooden chair. She gathered herself, clearing her throat, and then interjected. “I see, and did she provide any information to you about this person—Secora?”
“No, Evelyn. She inquired about these two for only a moment before realizing that she was positioned outside of the city walls.”
The man to the right of Evelyn—Stellan—interjected again. “Are you saying that when she woke up out here, beyond the curved walls, the girl had not yet realized her location?”
“Yes, Stellan. I do believe that Nora was extremely confused as to where she was, upon regaining consciousness.” Creel’s response seemed to elicit more murmurs and worried looks amongst the council members before him.
The man seated next to Stellan quieted the murmurs of the council by waving his large, calloused hands. He was the bulkiest of the council members by far, with wide shoulders and a thick, dark beard. “Creel, did the girl mention any other details of the inside of Constance to you?”
“Yes, Lucas,” Creel replied, turning to face him. “Nora mentioned a group of rebels whom she had been working with inside of the walled city in an attempt to overthrow the Agency and Secora.”
Excitement broke out all around the room, and independent conversations sprung up amongst the council members. The lengthy, thin man seated next to Lucas, in the middle of the table, stood from his seat and slammed his large, boney fist down on the old wooden table. His dark, gray-streaked, shoulder length hair shone in the candlelight.
“Enough! I for one do not need to spend the entire night picking away at the mind of this innocent old man. If I wanted to know his answers bad enough, I would probe into his thoughts with the ease of the rising sun. Let’s end this charade and find some peace for the night.” The weight of his words seemed to cause the rest of the council to shudder.
“Creel, did the girl mention anything to you about the Cave of Eternity?” When Nora heard this she became instantly curious.
“No, Malaphin. She did not. I believe she is unaware that this camp, these people, this council, and the Cave of Eternity even existed in the world beyond her walls.” Creel said, cowering slightly as Malaphin continued to scowl at him.
Malaphin sighed and looked at the council members seated around him, “There, now that wasn't so hard was it? Obviously our faith in this girl was much higher than the level she is deserving of. I think it is time we disband the council for the night.” He sat back in his chair decisively.
As Malaphin looked around at the rest of the council, they all nodded their heads in dutiful agreement, before averting their eyes to stare uncomfortably at the wooden table in front of them. Malaphin began to rise, but suddenly Evelyn, to his surprise, spoke up, and he paused halfway through standing up, his gangly fingers pressed against the top of the wooden table.
“And what should we do with the girl for the night?” she asked Malaphin plainly. He looked at her dark eyes and sighed before responding.
“Send her into Grace’s tent,” he answered, with a dismissive flick of his wrist. “Since she decided not to participate in this meeting, let her be the one to spend the rest of the night attempting to figure out what to do with the girl.”
The way that the word ‘girl’ rolled off of Malaphin’s tongue made Nora shudder.
With Malaphin’s answer the council members stood and left their seated locations around the wooden table inside the dimly lit tent. Each of them took a moment to nod and thank Creel for his participation in the council meeting as they passed in front of him on their way out of the tent. When the last member—Malaphin––approached Creel, the two men locked eyes.
“If this happens again, you will bring the next one immediately to me, without alerting the others,” Malaphin ordered threateningly. “Can I count on you for this Creel?”
Creel flinched as Malaphin continued to loom over him in a tall, intimidating manner. “Yes, Malaphin. You have my word.”
Once everyone had cleared out of the meeting room, Creel walked slowly over to the lit candles in the middle of the wooden table, and bent over––almost as though bowing. He cupped a hand behind the back of each flame––to block the air flow––and blew each one out with a precise, almost ceremonious care, and then left the tent.
As he walked briskly towards where he'd left Nora, he deeply inhaled the crisp evening air. The moonlight illuminated his figure as he approached the grass where Nora was sprawled out between the tents.
“They have decided that you will stay the night under the supervision of Grace, the 7th member of the council. You'll remain in her tent for the time being. I have no doubt you and her will get along fantastically.” He smiled at Nora convincingly, wanting to make her feel welcome. Despite his efforts, she saw the flicker of something in his eyes, which convinced her there must be more to the story than he was going to reveal to her that night. “Come,” Creel said gruffly. “I will show you the way.”
“Was the council surprised about my appearance out here?” Nora asked, as they navigated their way back through the tent maze.
“Yes, and no,” Creel responded, ducking under a low-hanging tent pole. “You have to understand that no one has appeared outside of Constance for 10 years now. Most of us will be very interested in what you can share about the world inside of those walls.” He paused and took a moment to stare deep into Nora's eyes, “Of course, there will be a few people who won't want to hear what you have to say, out of fear that the truth could be a disappoint. Those are the ones who would prefer to remain hopeful––albeit ignorantly hopeful.”
With his words Nora thought back to Malaphin’s question to Creel about the Cave of Eternity. It seemed that the council had placed a lot of their opinions on Nora around whether or not she was privy to this information.
Finally the two of them reached the main pathway of the camp and stepped into the well lit clearing. The dirt road was still illuminated by the same tall poles as before, which blocked out most of the moonlight and caused Nora’s eyes to readjust after standing in the dark space between the tents for so long.
Before Nora could take in her surroundings, Creel placed a hand on her shoulders and guided her towards a small, tarp-covered dwelling to her left.
“Go on in,” Creel said when they reached the entrance to it. Nora hesitated a moment, and Creel gave her a gentle, encouraging push. Nora made a less-than-graceful entrance, nearly tripping on the rug laid out over the dirt on the way in. When she looked up from the ground inside the room she saw a woman sitting in the corner writing by candlelight. The sound of her quill feather dipped in ink scratching the paper filled the tent. The candle light seemed to bounce in rhythm with her strokes––the whole effect was hypnotizing.
Grace spoke to Creel and Nora without turning around. “Yes, yes, I have already been informed of the situation. That will be all for now Creel, you may leave us. Nora, please have a seat in one of the chairs, I will be with you momentarily.” She continued writing and Nora looked up at Creel with concern, not wanting the old man to leave her side so suddenly. She turned to fully face him in the dimly lit tent.
Creel nodded and winked at Nora before turning to exit the small space. His eye twinkled in the low light provided by the single flame.
“You'll be okay Nora, I'll check on you in the morning,” Creel said good-naturedly.
Once he was gone, Nora turned from the tent opening and sat in an old beaten wooden chair near the corner of the room, opposite of Grace who was still furiously writing.
After several more minutes Nora watched Grace set down her ink quill and crisply fold the paper into thirds. The woman then opened a drawer in the wooden desk she was seated at and shoved the letter inside. Pulling on a small string tied around her wrist, Grace fidgeted with the metal key before inserting it into the drawer and twisting the lock shut. Finally, she grabbed the candle that sat on the desk and made her way towards Nora.
As she approached, the dark color of her long hair became noticeable, and it bounced with her movements. Grace lowered herself into the chair, the candle's flickering illuminated her face for Nora. The flame’s light bounced off a shiny deep scar on the woman’s right cheek.
Nora tilted her head as a memory flooded her brain. She stared long and hard at Grace before allowing the words to leave her lips. “I know you,” she said softly.
The woman leaned back in her chair, and a slight smirk appeared on her delicate face, which was framed by her long dark hair. “I should hope so.” She paused, fully smiling at Nora. “You are wearing my necklace.”