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Illustration from Les Fleurs Animees by J.J. Grandville, 1847

The joke hits its mark; Paintbrush tribe members are typically extra hairy before they go to town shaving their legs, so the razors Lily has delivered in front of the drama department turn Lemon's face pink and she runs out crying. I'm not there to see it but Rose shares the news with Scarlet in Biology.

It should feel even, but instead I am shamefully hollow to be a part of some ridiculous game of insults. Lily gloats like now I owe her, but all I can muster is a thanks whisper without any appreciative punch.

Mom would be upset with me if she knew I'd forgotten one of the ten rules of worship: Revenge is God's Alone. Tribe members are not supposed to retaliate, just give up their problems in prayer for God to solve. But if the way God handles conflict is beheading us, maybe Lily's right to take action after all.

These worries mingle as I get ready for the Bloom Fest. Everyone has to go whether they want to or not. My leggings have a tug of war with static as I straighten the green flowing skirt around them. I try to straighten my hair too but it rebels as usual. I feel like ripping the whole shebang off and going for a swim.

The festival starts when the sun is high above the Grove and blinding us. Aspen leaves shade as they tremble in the breeze, making a papery sound. The Green Gentian tribe member named Pearl is celebrating her fiftieth year. Her gown is intricate. White, lavender and pale green beads bedazzle her tall, thin frame. She is the shining example we all strive for since fifty years is as close to immortal as we get.

We lift our faces to the sky, sing and give praise for the hand that beheads us with no warning, and then we dance in the breeze like we actually love this God. What is wrong with us?

I glance over at Del and Lemon. He seems to be comforting her after this week's tragedy, the beheading of an innocent grandmother. We are living in a war zone, so who can blame him? It's still hard to watch so I focus instead on the ceremony.

Right on cue, the legend is told as we gather to listen. I've heard it before, a popular choice for fall before the snow returns and we hibernate beneath all that white again. It's a classic tale of paranoia to remind us what happens when we let our guard down.

Fog is from the Harebell tribe, known for their magnified voices. He looks about the crowd for us to quiet down long before he begins.

"Once, in a valley not far from here, an ancestor of the Toadflax tribe crossed dangerous territory to put roots down in what was then the Wild West. Even today, Toadflax members are known for their cheerfulness, and it did not take long for them to make friends in the valley bustling with pioneers. The natives welcomed them as Toadflax children multiplied and generations began to populate the valley. Soon there were more Toadflax polluting the water and air in their constant growth and search for prosperity, until the native species, our ancestors, were choked out and died of suffocation, many forced to leave. Even today, members of the Toadflax tribe compete for space in that valley, a constant reminder that a nice appearance may hide danger. We must protect our valley from such an invasion."

Everyone sighs. Del nods with Lemon as we all absorb the caution in the tale. A cloud passes in front of the sun, shadowing us as I try not to focus on the couple. But it's no use; Del and Lemon are an item now and Burnish might as well send that promise―my kiss―her way. Even though Burnish and I are now on a first-name basis, he must act the part. Messengers aren't supposed to care who a Promise Kiss is between as long as it happens since they only get payment when the deed is done.

I see Del summon the messenger with a tip of his hat. Burnish glances in all directions before heeding the call, like he's not in charge of his own actions. Well, he isn't really. Messengers have to do what our males tell them. Burnish does exactly what I dread. He cycles over to Lemon and bows.

I'm so immersed in my own pity party that I don't clearly see what happens next. Later when others mention it in shock and horror, I'll piece together the images to go with the scream―and then silence―coming from Lemon.

As usual, the Columbine guards can't prevent the tragedy, only strut around in false protection, their spurs clicking at their heels. When the giant hand of God hovers in the cloud shadow, they will shout in warning, but there's nothing they can actually do. The hand rips all the color from Lemon in one swift yank and then disappears into the sky. Her body falls to the ground, limp.

Cord's tribe, Arnica, is the only chance to save her now. Their blood has healing powers and if the Sunangels can spread it to cover the wound, Lemon may just live for another season. But the promise is clearly over for now. No one can kiss someone headless.

A/N: What do you think a beheading by the Hand of God really is?

a. a human picking a wildflower

b. a sacrifice one must be prepared to endure without warning

c. a metaphor for the brevity of life

d. all of the above

This chapter is dedicated to: dreaming_in_seattle , who is so supportive of Fuchsia and isn't afraid to ask great questions while reading. She has written an intriguing story called HOPE about a girl starting over with a new, well, everything, so be sure to check it out!

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