'Of the Rising Sun'
Traxton and Nora continued their trek back to the camp without speaking. Traxton appeared at ease in the silence, as usual, while Nora looked off in the distance, clearly distracted by her own thoughts. When they reached the edge of the common grounds, Traxton finally spoke aloud.
“Nora, would you like me to escort you further, to Grace’s tent? Or can you find it on your own from here?” he asked.
“I can manage on my own,” Nora replied. “Thank you Traxton, that will be all for now,” she added, bowing slightly at Traxton in goodbye.
With that the two parted ways. Traxton walked off along the edge of the field to continue his scouting duties, and Nora made her way to the main path that led to the center of the Outsider's Camp.
After she passed by numerous rows of sleeping tents, Nora finally arrived at her sister's. Navigating through the flaps at the entrance, it took Nora a few moments for her eyes to adjust to the drastic change from the bright sunlight outside to the faint candle light that illuminated the interior of her Grace's tent.
Grace was at her wooden workspace in the corner furthest from the tent's entrance, writing again. Nora’s curiosity was piqued by the ritualistic ways her sister seemed to do things at that desk. As she'd opened her mouth to greet her sister, Grace unexpectedly spoke up, without yet turning around to face Nora.
“I’m just finishing up, have a seat,” Grace called out. The flickering candle beside her crackled suddenly, as the flame burnt into the wick further.
“Okay, Traxton told me you'd been looking for me? He said it was urgent,” Nora responded as she slouched into an empty wooden chair.
Once Grace had finished writing on the paper before her, she folded it crisply, just as she had done the night before, and placed the note into her drawer--locking it tightly with the key that dangled from her wrist. She then went over to join Nora.
“Yes, I called on you because I have some news. I spoke with the council this morning,” Grace began. With the mention of the council Nora's heart began to race, though she regained her composure as her sister went on. “They have agreed to hear your request in order to determine if attempting to enter Constance would be a fitting idea for the camp members.”
“Oh, thank you Grace!” Nora said excitedly. “Thank you so much!”
“Well after our conversation last night, I know how important it is to you to reunite and help your companions who still remain trapped in the city. I do not want you to get your hopes up however, you have very little information regarding the location of your rebellion members,” Grace said bluntly.
“When are we to meet with them?” Nora asked, a small glint of hopefulness still in her voice, despite her sister's less-than-encouraging tone.
“Very soon. They want to speak with you about your life inside of Constance,” Grace said.
Nora thought for a moment before deciding to press her luck, determined to find out more information before the day was done. “Grace, why did you leave the city?” Her sister did not immediately reply, and remained quiet for a moment as she contemplated the answer.
“When you meet with the council, the information you desire will be provided. It is against our policy to divulge sensitive material until the council has cleared you,” Grace spoke matter-of-factly.
“Cleared me from what?” Nora asked.
Grace sighed, “The council needs to be certain that you are not a threat to this camp and to its ultimate collective mission.”
Nora was frustrated by the secrecy she had entered into with this Outsider's Camp. “Well, what can we talk about then while we wait?”
As if on cue, the tent flaps opened and an abnormally tall blonde woman entered, “The council will meet with her now,” she informed Grace.
“Thank you Lilly. You may resume your daily duties now,” Grace replied, her eyes locking with Lily's and a smile emerging on her face before returning her gaze back to Nora. “It seems like the time has come.”
“The time has come for what?” Nora asked, confused.
“To determine your fate, my dear sister. Come on now, let's get going,” Grace urged.
Once Nora and Grace had made their way through the main roads of the camp and to the meeting tent, Grace held the entrance flaps open so that Nora could pass through first. Everyone in the room had their eyes on Nora as she slowly walked inside. The center table was covered in lit candles dripping wax, just as before--casting a deep amber glow over everything their lights could touch.
As Nora approached and stood before the council, they each rose from their seats and bowed to her in respect. One by one, they left their places at the large table and made their way over to where Nora had positioned herself.
The first member of the council to move towards Nora was Evelyn, whom Nora remembered from her time spying on the Council from within Creel's mind. She walked painstakingly slow, limping heavily on her right side.
Finally reaching Nora, Evelyn extended her hand in greeting, and Nora responded in kind. “Hello, Nora. Welcome to our camp. We are all very excited to have you here with us and to learn of the city we all left behind so long ago.”
Nora nodded and bowed at Evelyn, trying her best to be formal and display the proper etiquette in front of the council. The next man in line to shake her hand was Lucas. He reached his meaty, calloused palm out to shake Nora's dainty hand.
“Welcome, Nora. I hope you have enjoyed your time so far beyond the walls of that dreaded city.” Lucas spoke in a deep voice, and smiled as he introduced himself, his thick beard wiggling as his lips moved.
The rest of the council members proceeded to follow suit, each shaking Nora's hand. Stellan was next and as he moved towards Nora his wispy long black hair flowed behind him. They traded pleasantries for a few moments before Kieran moved into position behind Stellan. The dark, tightly curled hair which blended into Kieran's skin tone reflected the bouncing candle light as he bowed to Nora. A bead of sweat had formed near his hair line and the tight wrinkles around his eyes showed the effects of years under the burning sun.
Nora smiled and nodded to him before their exchange was interrupted by the woman following behind him in line. She quickly jutted her hand out and began shaking Nora’s. As the woman moved her thick brown hair fell across her face, which triggered Nora to suddenly get the sense of familiarity with the woman again. There was something very familiar about her, though Nora couldn't quite put her finger on it yet.
“Hello Miss Nora, my name is Davina. Welcome to your new home.” As the words left Davina’s mouth, it finally dawned on Nora.
“Davina?” Nora asked bluntly, still holding onto her hand.
Davina squinted her eyes and was taken back by Nora’s insistence on furthering their introduction. “Yes, that is correct. Have you never heard this name before? I believe it was quite common at some point within the walls of Constance.”
Nora bit down on her lip. “Is there a chance that you have a father by the name of Jack?” As soon as she had uttered the name, Davina's eyes widened. In the instant of her reaction, the answer to Nora's question seemed obvious.
Davina's thick hair bounced around her neck line as she reached out and grabbed Nora’s shoulders, shaking her profusely, “How do you know this name?!” she asked, the intensity of her voice startling Nora, causing her to stumble backwards.
“Okay, okay,” Malaphin interrupted, waving his long boney fingers at them. “Please, we will all have time to find out what this girl knows.” Malaphin spoke in a powerful, booming voice which was dripping with condescension. He quickly shook Nora’s hand in a limp, careless manner, as if he couldn't care less about greeting her.
After the round of formal introductions had come to an end, the council members took their places at the round table, each sitting in their own predetermined spots. Grace ushered Nora to take a seat of her own in front of the large wooden table. Grace then moved towards the row of council members and took her own seat, at the far end opposite Evelyn.
Nora watched in silence as the council members folded their hands in their laps and closed their eyes. Before she could ask what was going on, she felt a sharp pain against the front of her skull. Nora squinted her eyes and twisted her neck so that her ear was nearly pressed against her shoulder, in efforts to ease the discomfort.
Another wave of pain pushed firmly against her temples, causing Nora to grit her teeth and close her eyes. The moment she did so, images of a star struck landscape flooded into her field of vision, behind her closed eyelids. Before she could observe the scene for more information, her eyes forced themselves back open, returning her to the brown hues inside of the council’s tent.
Nora peered around the quiet room, as the sound of the council members' rhythmic breathing filled the air. Their chests expanded and contracted in unison. Nora watched on and found her own body responding in conjunction with the council’s movements. As one breath after another left her lungs, Nora relaxed and closed her eyes again, instantly transporting her thoughts back into the starry world. Unwilling to let the panic push her out again, Nora took another deep breath and focused on a single star off in the distance.
Slowly a red silhouette flickered and formed between Nora and the single star. Without breaking her focus on the swirling ball of light behind the object, the waving red mass took on the blurry outlined shape of a woman. Nora finally allowed her eyes to refocus and the shapes and contours of her sister's face became visible.
“I knew you'd figure out how to join us here,” Grace said, her pulsing shadow taking on a solid form in the star filled room.
“Us?” Nora asked in return, as she craned her neck in an attempt to see more of the landscape.
“Yes, me and the rest of the council.” Grace’s mass of flickering red energy extended an arm, pointing to her left side. As Nora’s eyes followed her path, a long row of silhouettes snapped into her view. Each was a distinctly different shade of red. Nora took the opportunity to look down at her own body, noticing the rosy brightness that had replaced her normal skin tone in this new world.
“Welcome to Vera,” the third shadow in the forming line spoke out, instantly taking on the shape and features of Evelyn.
Before Nora could ask any further questions, Davina’s form took shape as her voice filled the void. “When we arrived outside of the wall all those years ago, we quickly realized that all of us had passed through this place to get there.”
“Yes, and once we realized we were not alone on this side of Constance,” Lucas' voice was audible to Nora before his pulsing silhouette had completely formed. “We all knew that we would require a safe space to communicate with one another.”
Slowly the rest of the council came to occupy their own silhouetted red shadows as they continued to speak.
“And that place is known to us as Vera,” Stellan whispered.
“The world that lies on top of our own,” Kieran chimed in as he too eventually took his place in the forming line.
An endless stream of questions bubbled up within Nora, but she kept them to herself.
Malaphin was the last to speak, although his essence had formed well before the others. “The world that will allow us to finally return all that has been lost to its rightful place.”
Grace turned and shot a glare directly at Malaphin, which Nora noticed.
“Why did you bring me here, back into the world of Program 7?” Nora asked bluntly, her words clearly upsetting the members.
Lucas gathered his own thoughts first. “What's Program 7? Have you been here before Nora?”
Nora turned to face only him. “Yes, more than once. Ever since I was taken captive into Obsidia and hooked up to one of Dr. Secora’s machines, I have been able to access this world of the Shades and Defected.”
Again her words both confused and interested the council. Davina continued the new line of questioning. “Are there more of you that have been given access to this world from Dr. Secora?”
Nora began to answer, “No––” before her thoughts drifted to the large pile of red Defected shadows abandoned beneath Obsidia. “––well, I have reason to believe there may be others.”
The council instantly broke off into individual excited conversations before Evelyn reeled them back in. “Hush now, all of you.” She brought her attention back to Nora. “These, others…” Her eyes drifted down to the stars below their floating essence. “Have you had any contact with them?”
Nora sighed, “No, but I believe Dr. Secora is using them to access this world––”
“Vera,” Lucas supplied.
“Allowing Dr. Secora to access Vera and use this place as a tool to track and locate, and eventually remove all the Defected from the city.”
Evelyn pushed her question further. “Did you come into contact with any of these… Defected, as you call them?”
Instantly thoughts of Bray flooded Nora’s mind. The other members of the rebellion held a place in her thoughts as well, but all remained secure behind the pressing thoughts of Bray. She swallowed hard before responding. “Yes, I was in contact with both members from Blear as well as the Fallow Rebellion.”
Her words seemed to strike more curiosity from the council as again they each broke off into individual conversations.
This time it was Nora who reeled them all back to her. “That is why I am here today. To ask for your assistance in returning to Constance and rescuing the rebellion from the evil clutches of Dr. Secora and the Agency,” she declared. Immediately everyone began to murmur in response.
Malaphin was the first to react verbally to the group. “Absolutely not!” The simple, flat-out rejection hit Nora like a punch in the stomach. Before she could react to his quick denial, Grace joined in.
“Nora, this council, and you, are nowhere near ready for such an effort. Now please, everyone, let us return to the purpose of this meeting.”
Nora sighed in frustration.
At that point Kieran spoke up, for the first time since the meeting in the starry landscape had begun. “We are here to prove one thing, that Nora is not a threat but is deserving of a rightful place in this council. So if it pleases everyone else, I’d like to begin.”
Everyone nodded, but no one spoke, and Kieran continued. “Nora, under what circumstances were you able to materialize your consciousness beyond the curved walls of Constance?”
Acknowledging that the formal interview had begun, Nora took a moment to collect her thoughts before responding. “I was locked in a mental battle with Dr. Secora and his son, Bray.”
Her words caused Evelyn’s eyes to drift downward to the vast landscape below their feet. She spoke to Nora without making eye contact. “What became of them?” Evelyn asked Nora simply.
Nora shook her head, “While I attempted my best efforts in keeping Bray safe from his father, my one true weakness was revealed to Dr. Secora.” Nora sighed, “By guarding the memories of Bray I left my own mind alone and vulnerable. Dr. Secora seized the opportunity and my mind was thrust into this world. Into Vera.”
“I began to fear that I would never wake up from this isolated place that had once brought me such hope.” The others around her nodded, acknowledging the pain that Vera could cause. “I did all I could to reach out to Bray in the hopes that he would find a way to access a Dream Machine and find the messages I left for him in the past of our shared memories, but I'm afraid it was unsuccessful.” Her words hung in the void. Just as Kieran was going to fill the emptiness, Nora spoke again, her voice filled with pain. “The ache of not knowing what became of any of it drives me to return to my companions and ensure that I accomplished that which needed to be done.” She paused and glanced around the room. “The death of Dr. Secora.”
Her words hit them all hard. Grace glanced over to Evelyn who began nodding her head, her fists clenched tightly. “And Bray?” Grace asked, after turning away from Evelyn.
Nora sighed, “When I left, he was still alive. I only hope the rest of our party was able to locate him inside that top floor room of Obsidia, in time to rescue him.”
Just then, Malaphin interjected, clearly annoyed at the line of questioning. “What have you learned about the Cave of Eternity?”
The mention of this specific place again snapped Nora from her darkest thoughts that had collected around her most recent memories inside of Constance. She shook her head and her lips turned down in the corners.
A sharp, loud laugh escaped Malaphin’s lips. “Well, it's clear to me that things have not progressed to the point we had desired inside of those curved walls.” He turned and looked down the row of flickering red shadows.
Stellan met his gaze and spoke out, “On the matter of Nora’s inclusion into this council, I vote Yea.”
Before the others around her could speak up, Malaphin interjected again. His patience in the matter was clearly wearing thin. “Yes, yes, we all vote yea obviously. She has the ability, although not as strong as we had hoped for. But she is standing here in Vera with us all.”
He turned to look at Nora, “As for the request to return back to Constance,” he paused as a smile stretched across his long face, causing Nora’s heart to drop into her stomach in anticipation. Slowly he stretched out his answer through his teeth. “Nay.”
The rest of the group let out a collective sigh. Nora gulped and began to prepare herself to plea for a different answer before the rest of the council chimed in.
A quick round of “Nay” echoed from the remainder of them, before the world of Vera began to dissolve around her. The stars darkened and faded from existence, and then suddenly Nora found herself back in the dim tent, staring at the long wooden table at which all the council members were seated.
She gazed at them all, her teeth clenched tight. “You must allow me the opportunity to convince you otherwise!” Nora shouted at the council, but they all simply stared back at her.
Grace stood from the table, her chair's legs squeaking across the floor, and walked towards Nora, speaking in an urgent tone. “That will be all for today.”
Nora stood and took a single step towards the wide wooden barricade separating her from the Outsiders. “We can't just leave them inside of Constance. They need our help!” she screamed at the council again, this time striking her palm harshly against the solid wood table for emphasis.
Grace deftly wrapped her arms around Nora's waist and then dragged her unwilling sister towards the exit.
“You're going to kill them all!” Nora yelled angrily, spittle flying from her lips as Grace pulled her small frame through the tent's opening. Grace was hoping she could save her sister from doing or saying anything more that might hurt her case for appeal. Before the tent flaps had even fallen shut behind them Nora had already burst into rage-fueled tears.
“I know it's frustrating Nora, but this is how it works out here,” Grace began softly, tugging at Nora to move further away from the tent. “I'm your sister, I need you to trust me, okay?”