Lexa scanned the rolling plain that stretched out in every direction, virtually featureless beyond those dips and swells, wondering which way would lead to water and which to death.
There were some things one never got used to--not really--hunger, thirst, being too cold or too hot, being so tired you felt like you would drop where you stood and simply cease to live ... being afraid. Lexa had never been able to get used to it, at any rate.
She'd hardly known anything else in her life, and yet there'd been moments, brief segments of time, when none of those things had been the case, and it only took the absence of complete misery sprinkled throughout her memory to make being miserable from one thing or another, or many of them at once, nearly intolerable at times.
She didn't remember 'before', at least not the 'before' that most people meant when they talked about before. She remembered her before. Even though the memories were faded and ragged around the edges, she remembered Sir, her mother's man. She vaguely remembered her mother. She remembered best the baby brothers and sister she'd helped Sir take care of because her mother was gone. 'The day', her day, was foggy in her memory, not because there were gaps but because it had been like an explosion, so many things happening at once that it had been hard to grasp anything but terror.
It was the day the raiders had descended upon them and her whole world changed.
Most people, though, were referring to 'the day'--before 'the day'. There'd been an explosion then, from what she'd heard, but she'd been born after that. She wasn't certain how long afterwards, but the only world she'd known was nothing like the one she'd heard olders talk about. That place was so very different from everything she'd always known that she wasn't completely convinced it had ever existed. So much of what they talked about was hard even to imagine.
Like the cold that was no more than a 'season' and then went away--a blue sky, green things everywhere.
She'd seen blue sky, though--not when she was young. It had been after she'd finally escaped King Ralph, after she'd fled the nightmare her life had been since 'the day' because she'd finally realized that anything was better than that. Even death would have been more welcome. When she'd realized that truth, she'd ceased to be afraid of being alone, of facing the scarred Earth, the unknown, by herself. It had given her the courage to flee.
The first time she'd seen blue sky, she wasn't sure whether she'd been more awed or terrified. No one else had been certain either, at least no one who, like her, had been born 'after', she supposed because they hadn't really believed in it either. But one day the thick, boiling clouds that formed a roof over the world had seemed to thin and then tear, and there it was, pale streaks briefly visible far above and a near blinding glint of something up there that poured heat down on them. She'd thought it might be the sun, but it was a monster unlike the hazy ball of light she was used to seeing when night gave way to day.
That warmth had felt glorious at first. It had warmed her like no fire ever had. It seemed like she'd been cold her whole life, sometimes colder than other times, but always cold and she'd thought it must be a good sign. But then the numbing cold had begun to subside and she'd gotten warmer and warmer until she'd begun to fear she would catch fire.
The first few times she'd seen blue sky, she'd felt much the same--not quite as awed, not quite as frightened, but still uncertain of whether or not she liked it or should be afraid. Slowly, so slowly she was hardly aware that things were changing at first, the thick, boiling gray and white clouds she was so used to began to vanish little by little and she could see blue sky more and more often. And, as it did, the ice that covered everything began to shrink and melt away. The mud and the heat from that enormous, fiery ball in the sky began to war with the misery of cold and then she began to see green things, many green things, not just the occasional stubby brownish-green things she was used to, but tiny, bright carpets of green bursting from the soil almost everywhere she looked.
It was scary the way things had begun changing. She wasn't certain if it was a good thing or a bad thing. Mostly it was just something else to worry about--whether it would make life harder than it already was or not.
Lexa stopped abruptly as she topped the rise she'd been struggling up, realizing she'd allowed her mind to wander from her purpose to her misery--a very dangerous thing to do.
Before her in the gathering gloom of dusk was a village. Her throat closed. Her stomach growled and her heart commenced to pounding more rapidly with a combination of fear and excitement.