'Of the Rising Sun'
Nora reached up and ran her fingers over the necklace resting calmly against her chest. She'd worn the circular, metal medallion since the day she was forced to abandon her family and the tranquil life she once knew. The lone candle's light reflected off the tent's shiny interior, bouncing small beams of light around the room. Her eyes welled with tears as she stood in silence for a moment.
“I think you are my sister,” Nora said, stunned. She exchanged a long look with Grace, and then lunged forward and grabbed her, sobbing hard into Grace’s shoulder.
“You saved my life!” Nora cried out, her voice muffled from her face still being buried in the layers of Grace's brown canvas clothing. Nora felt her emotions bubble up within her, and when she spoke again her voice broke with the intensity of her feelings. “Every night, you came to me and warned me of my impending death. All those nights that I spent studying your face—I never imagined that the woman from my nightmare in the woods was my sister.”
Grace reached up and caressed the back of Nora’s head for a moment. She then pulled back slightly to get a good look at Nora. The flickering candle nearby threw shadows across both their faces.
As Grace reached up and thumbed away one of Nora’s tears, she addressed her sister in a soft tone. “Nora, I had no idea that you were in trouble until just now, I swear.” As she spoke a single tear fell and rolled down her cheek. “Otherwise I would have climbed back over that wall and saved you from that evil world myself,” Grace sniffed.
They both smiled weakly at each other before Nora’s face scrunched up even further and more tears spilled onto the dirt ground below them.
“What is it, Nora?” she asked.
Nora sniffled before responding. “We have a brother too, his name is Will,” she choked out. As she spoke her brother's name Nora felt overwhelmed with disgust in herself. Her head fell towards the floor before returning to see Grace covering her mouth with her hand--her eyes widened in amazement as a gasp left her lips.
“We have a brother?! ” Grace exclaimed excitedly.
Nora sighed, hesitant to tell her sister of the last few moments she had spent inside of the city of Constance. “He is okay, for now. But eventually he will catch up with the horrible line of events that unfolded.”
Grace looked at her quizzically and Nora attempted to clarify what she meant. “I brought Will back to the past. I left him alone with all of those memories of a future that is sure to come--in the time before I had to run from the Agency. His consciousness is trapped in those moments now, forever reliving all of the pain he experienced until I eventually send him back again.”
Nora glanced up at Grace again. “I need to get back inside of that city. I need to rescue my rebel companions and fix this horrible mess so that I can bring Will back with me into the world he deserves to live in. I can’t go on knowing that I abandoned him to live through the same time line over and over again for eternity.”
“I’m sure you only did what you thought to be right in the moment for him. He will understand that when the time comes,” Grace attempted to reassure Nora.
“It’s not just Will, I left them all.” Nora spoke louder and with more frustration than she had meant to. “All of them are still trapped in that awful city, without me in there to protect them! I need to go back.” Nora began to abruptly move around the tent, rubbing the back of her neck as she paced the small room.
“Nora, I promise you that I will do everything in my power to help you change this world for the better.” Grace sighed as she looked down at the ground again, noticing the drops of tears that had pooled below them and dampened the dirt floor. “Unfortunately, I cannot alone give you the permission you need. The council will have to approve this.”
“Can I speak with them then?” Nora asked simply, a glimmer of hope returning to her voice.
“Yes, but not tonight,” Grace answered matter-of-factly. “Come now, let's get into bed. We have a big day tomorrow.”
Grace escorted Nora to the far side of the tent. “You can sleep in this cot here,” she said as she placed a few hand-knitted blankets onto the cot. “And I'll be right over there on that one,” she gestured to the bed on the opposite side of the cozy room, which was faintly illuminated by the single candle's flame.
Nora laid down and immediately realized how tired she was after the long journey away from the towering walls of Constance. Once Grace had blown out the single candle, and the two sisters were plunged into darkness, Nora's thoughts began to race.
“Grace?” Nora asked in a small voice.
“I’m glad you made it out of the city safely. My thoughts for your survival helped me through some very tough times inside Constance,” Nora said sleepily, her body sinking into the stiff cot as she thumbed the cold medallion on her necklace.
Grace smiled, although Nora could not see it through the dark space between them. “If I had to guess if, or when, anyone would travel past those city walls, I never in a million years could have fathomed that person would be a girl wearing my necklace and claiming to be my sister.”
Nora smiled too, her face buried in the pillow. As her eyes fell shut, Nora's mind swirled with geometric patterns dancing along to an unknown rhythm. She peered deeper into their ever-changing colors and began to see into the hidden world on the other side of the twirling shapes.
Slowly a white room with a large machine in the center crept into her thoughts. Nora's sleepy mind watched silently as three consoles latched firmly into place inside of the developing room. Her mind gave in to the weight of sleep at the same moment the body of a dark haired boy appeared inside of her vision.
* * *
As the midday sun glowed in the distance, Nora walked on the edge of the Outsider’s camp, escorted by Creel. Nora yawned widely, regretting how late she and her sister had stayed up the night before.
Creel kept quiet behind Nora for the most part, and Nora tried not to let the nagging thoughts in her head get the best of her. She gazed out in the distance and was only able to see the tiniest speck of the wall. Despite how hard she tried not to think about it, a slight pang of guilt rose up within her, and she swallowed hard. The facts were that she had left Bray and the rest of the rebellion behind. With no way of knowing what kind of fate had been placed upon them, her mind’s only options were to hope for the best or think of something else.
She sighed heavily before turning back towards Creel. “You told me that you had been with others when you first arrived at the walls of Constance. What did you do before that?”
Creel shuffled his feet, gazing down at the wild grass. “We've not been as free and protected as those who live within the walls of that world,” he announced as he jutted his chin towards the isolated city in the distance for emphasis.
“And exactly what is the world out here?” Nora quickly followed up.
“You must know by now that these types of questions are best suited for the council Nora. Although I have applied for a seat with them, I have not been allowed to join.” He ended with the usual light hearted response that Nora had become accustomed to expect from Creel.
Nora stopped pacing abruptly and bent down to pluck a blade of long grass that had grown around the edges of the camp. Its lush deep green contrasted with the brown dirt and tanned tarps which covered the tents. She raised the blade of grass up to her nose and inhaled deeply.
“You know, for my whole life I thought that finding anything growing as alive as this blade of grass seemed like such an impossibility. I yearned to be outside of those walls and feel the world growing around me. Now that I am truly here, I can only think about being back inside of that cage, helping out the ones I left behind.” Nora smiled at Creel, happy to be able to open up to him, before lowering her gaze again. “Sorry, I shouldn’t be putting this all on you right now. You're just really easy to talk to.”
“Your words are very kind Nora. I feel responsible for your pain as Traxton and I were the ones to wake you from your perfect world,” Creel responded, deep in thought.
“Oh, trust me, my world was far from perfect. Although it seems that by the time any real change had been made, I was forced out here with all of you.”
“My hope is that one day, you will not see any of this as being forced,” Creel replied. His gentle tone made Nora feel more comfortable with her current situation.
Nora contemplated the old man's words and resolved herself to continue focusing on the present moment. “So, if you cannot tell me about your life before finding me near the wall, can you tell me about your life now?”
“I suppose I could. What do you desire to know?” Creel kept his answer simple enough.
Nora bit the inside of her lip, trying to choose the right words in order to exude an honest answer from the man. “If I hadn't arrived out here yesterday, what would you be doing today?” She finally asked.
Creel thought about her question before responding. “Well, seeing as how I had been gone for five days, I would have been enjoying some time in my tent, relaxing. Maybe enjoying another quiet trip through one of my favorite books. As I will not have to go out to the wall again for another year's time, I would eventually need to return to my regular duties inside of the camp after my allocated break.”
Nora’s interest was piqued by his talk of life inside the camp. “What kind of things do you have to do?”
“It is my duty to make sure the other members of the camp continue to receive the basic level of combat training that is required by the council,” Creel replied.
Nora instantly dropped the blade of grass that she had been twirling around between her fingertips, and placed a hand on Creel’s shoulder. “Can you show me, or um, teach me some of this combat? Because of how quickly everything moved once I joined the rebellion, there was not a ton of spare time for me to grow stronger and become a better fighter.”
Creel smiled big, his mustache reaching across his entire face. “Now you are talking, come let me show you the training field just over this hill here.”
Together they walked in stride. The excitement grew inside of Nora to new levels as her mind raced with the possibilities of what she'd be capable of if the right type of training was available to her. She focused on the idea of returning to the city and meeting up with her old rebellion again. The thought of finally taking down the evil that grew inside of Obsidia made her heart race with excitement.
As they stepped up onto the clearing on the top of the hill, Creel bent down and retrieved a long thick wooden stick from the dirt below his feet. He playfully began to spin the long mast in front of his body while ushering for Nora to pick up a staffed weaponed of her own. Without warning Creel's arm swung forward wildly, striking the wooden shaft against the similar pole that Nora held—her body vibrated along with the stiff rod as Creel's weapon made the harsh contact. The sound of the wooden pieces slamming together echoed through the hills around them.
“Are we starting already?!” Nora gasped, shocked by the old man's actions and abrupt transformation.
Creel circled around her, spinning the stick again in a taunting manner as Nora twisted her body in order to stay focused on him. “First rule of combat, there is no starting. This war began long before your time.” Before he finished the final word, Creel lunged with the wooden rod again--striking forward with the blunt end towards Nora's chest. Nora tried her best to block the advance, but she fumbled her movements, causing Creel’s shaft to ping off of her own and jab her square in the stomach. She took a step back, wincing in pain.
“I wasn't ready that time!” Nora exclaimed in exasperation. She shifted her weight, and kept her eyes focused on Creel.
“Second rule, don't defend or attack the position I am in, aim for the position I am heading towards.” This time Creel swung the rod with frantic speed at Nora’s shoulder instead of jabbing forward. Surprisingly Nora was able to move her own stick upright and thwart the advance as the two weapons collided sending another stiff sound through the air around them.
Creel continued to move in circles around Nora, impressed that she never once took her eyes off of him. “I see you are already aware of the third rule. Never take your eyes off of your opponent. For what you don’t see, doesn't exist, and that which does not exist can and will surprise you.” Creel extended his free hand out towards Nora and as her eyes followed his movements, the old man swung upwards with his shaft, making hard contact with Nora’s undefended chin, causing her to let out a painful and surprised yelp.
Nora staggered backwards, her legs threatening to give out and throw her to the ground as she tried her best to regain focus. Creel playfully strutted and shifted the rod around, taunting Nora further with his movements.
He peered at her from behind the spinning shaft as he spoke again. “Fourth rule, because the fight has never started and always existed, it will never end. Even after I am gone from this world, same as for you.” Creel proceeded to advance forward towards Nora, and delivered blow after blow to her, despite her frantic attempts to evade him. Nora stumbled against his aggressive onslaught and finally fell backwards onto the hard dirt ground. Instantly Creel moved into position over her and stood with the blunt end of the shaft pressed into Nora's chest, a smirk growing wide on his face.
Creel stared down at Nora helplessly laying still under his control. “Not bad for a first lesson, maybe your time inside of that blast city wasn't all for naught.” He then removed the pressure of the shaft from Nora’s chest before he extended his hand out, offering to help her to her feet.
Nora reached for Creel's outstretched hand before a wicked grin crept onto her face. “I do believe that you are forgetting about rule number three old man,” she teased playfully, holding onto Creel's hand, her body resting on her elbow as it dug deeper into the dirt below her.
“I think the third rule only applies if you are able to move from your current position young one,” Creel quipped back with a smile on his face.
Before he'd even finished speaking, Nora closed her eyes and focused back into her mind. Creel’s words slowly sounded in reverse as the recent events rewound themselves. Nora relaxed and released Creel’s hand, standing up on her own accord. The world around her appeared frozen in place inside the past and her recent memory.
As she focused her mind, time flowed naturally again and the sound of Creel’s voice continued. “…Current position young one. What in the world?!” He exclaimed in surprise, as he quickly twisted his head to see Nora standing behind him unexpectedly. His eyes widened as she swung her shaft directly into his backside. Nora let out a loud laugh of excitement but her laughter was cut short when Creel stumbled back a few steps, his mouth falling open.
“I’m sorry,” she immediately began to apologize. “I didn't think I swung it that hard. I was just trying to surprise you. Please believe me!” She begged, afraid that she had done wrong by her new companion. Nora knew that she didn't have many friends in this new place, and she couldn't go around alienating one of the few people who seemed out to help her.
Creel fumbled for words. “No, Nora. It’s not that at all. What you just did, is that a common thing people can do inside of Constance now?” The intensity of his voice made it clear that this was a very important question.
Nora instantly knew that she had crossed a line, and immediately regretted what she had done.
“Nora, why did you not tell me of this ability?! This is something the council needs to know about promptly.
“No please,” Nora begged of him. “I don't want to cause any trouble while I’m out here.”
“Trouble?” Creel asked, his voice breaking with excitement. “Oh no no no Nora, this is anything but trouble!”
Nora sighed and continued to walk towards the edge of the flattened training area, feeling foolish for what she'd just done and worried of the potential consequences.
“Fifth rule,” Creel started, his voice booming from a few steps behind Nora. “Training isn't over until I say it is.” He tossed his rod at Nora and she caught it as it flew through the air with her bare hand.
Nora smiled and walked slowly towards the old man, filled with relief. As she approached him she bowed slightly in a sign of gratitude towards him.
Creel smiled and spoke, “I supposed we are going to need a sixth rule in the Creel survival training program now.” Nora tilted her head, trying to catch his meaning. “You can’t connect with something that isn't there, and you cannot defend against that which does not exist.”
Nora nodded in partial understanding, her mind already racing with new ideas and possibilities.
“That being said,” Creel continued. “If your only skill is offense, you will easily become a victim to defense.” Before he'd even finished his sentence he took a sudden swipe at Nora with the full length of his stick. In his eyes her body disappeared moments before the rod made contact with her shoulder. Creel continued to swing the rod around his entire body, feeling it land squarely against Nora in the space behind him.
He turned and saw a look of shock and surprise on Nora's face. “Learn to fight my way, here in this world, and you will become unstoppable in that world,” Creel said with a smile as he leaned his weight against the strength of the wooden shaft.
Nora understood his full meaning and nodded. Her free hand rubbed the spot on her shoulder that Creel had connected with moments before.
“That is all for today. Please join me on the bench over here and have a rest.” Creel spoke as he moved across the field and sat on a wooden bench outside of the training field. Nora sat next to him, still rubbing her shoulder as Creel removed some food from his bag, offering some to her.
She devoured the offering ravenously, barely chewing properly. “Are you going to tell me about your past now?” Nora asked him through a mouthful of food.
Creel smiled, “Oh I have a feeling that even if I didn’t, you’d have your own ways of finding that information out for yourself anyways.”
Nora's eyebrows scrunched together as she ran a hand through her long black hair. Creel returned the look, mimicking her expression playfully. “I have been out here with other Defected from Constance for a long time, young one. I know what you are capable of. That being said, moving your position in the world, well that’s a new one for me.”
Nora liked how good it felt to be open with her abilities around Creel. “So do I need to dig through your memories, or are you going to tell me what happened out here?” She asked him playfully, widening her eyes and lifting an eyebrow as she stared at him.
Creel took one last bite from his portion of food and sighed. “If you must know, I once had a son before all of this came to pass. Samuel. He was young just like you.” Nora waited and listened as the older man took a drink of water from his canteen before continuing. “He was stationed in a camp with the NonCivil Coalition, far from where we sit now.”
Nora tilted her head in confusion at Creel's words, and he quickly caught on to his mistake. “The NonCivil Coalition would closest be compared to how I understand the Agency inside of Constance to be, but on a much larger scale and with a very different agenda.”
Nora nodded without speaking, afraid she would derail the conversation from the information she ultimately desired. Creel continued talking.
“When all of this began, Samuel shipped off to a land even farther from here, separated from us by an endless body of water.” Creel raised his arms far ahead of himself, gesturing towards the landscape beyond them. “Unfortunately for me and the rest of my story, this was the last information I was able to gather from him. It seems that Samuel became caught up in—”
Before Creel could finish his sentence, another younger voice filled the empty land around them. As Nora craned her neck towards the source Traxton appeared at the top of the hill, waving his arms and yelling to get their attention. Quickly and out of breath, he approached the bench Nora and Creel rested on.
“Nora, your sister Grace sent for you immediately. I've been looking everywhere for you! I didn't expect to find you two up here in the training fields,” Traxton said, breathless.
Nora turned to look at the exhausted young Traxton. “Did she say what this is regarding?” She asked.
“No, Nora. Only that you should head back to her tent as soon as possible. I wish I had more information for you, but Grace and the other council members rarely include the rest of the camp in their goings on.” He placed his hands on his knees, still attempting to regain the air that he exasperated running around the area trying to find Nora.
Creel stood from the wooden bench and helped Nora to her feet. “I suppose that concludes today’s lesson. Head back to the camp with Traxton, I’ll stay here and clean up. Nora, I would like to continue your lessons on combat, if this would be of any interest to you.”
Every fiber of Nora’s being pressed against her leaving Creel’s information of a past world she had never known existed before yesterday. Reluctantly she said goodbye to him with a short bow and began to walk off with Traxton.
As the two made their way back towards the camp, Nora was tempted multiple times to reach into the gray world around her and pull more of Creel’s story from his memories. Convincing herself time and again that her intrusion into other’s lives was a line she shouldn't cross, she was able to restrain herself.
Nora sighed heavily through her cheeks as she stepped from the crisp green grass back into the brown dirt ground of the Outsider's camp. She resigned herself to being patient, and maintained confidence that her and Creel would spend more time together again soon, at which point she could press him into finishing his story about his son Samuel and what became of the world he once existed in so long ago.