Chapter 1

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Nole gazed up at the night sky from where he lay on his futon, listening to the peaceful snores of his siblings. He had tried a few times to get some rest, but as usual, sleep eluded him. Late at night was one of the few times during the day in which he felt no pressure; no pressure to provide for Caden and Suri, and no pressure to survive. The downside was that he always spent that time overthinking the past.

“One year ago tomorrow,” he murmured to himself quietly. He replayed the day in his head, every small detail vividly recalled in his imagination. Although he tried to force the appalling thoughts out of his mind, it was futile. He glanced over at Caden and Suri, still sound asleep. If anything, he wished only he carried those chilling memories.

Knowing that sleep was no longer an option, he sat up and approached his siblings, careful not to disturb them. He readjusted Suri’s blanket, tucking it in around her snugly, and checked on Caden. Nole sat by his brother’s bedside and let out long breath. “You guys always look innocent when you sleep,” he whispered to sleeping ears. “I wish you were this peaceful the other sixteen hours of the day.” He smiled as he went on, “It’s pretty remarkable, though, considering all we’ve been through.”

When he thought about it, during the past year Suri had become more sensitive to his absences, often growing exceedingly anxious before he left each day. Caden, on the other hand, had become noticeably distant, constantly avoiding interaction with his older brother. They were both more independent, occasionally going off into Nova City alone despite his strict rules. The behavior was more common for Caden, but Suri had done it a few times as well.

Nole tucked Caden in as he had done to Suri, and let his hand linger on his brother’s small shoulder. He couldn’t help but feel like he was failing them. “I really am trying, guys. I know this isn’t the best situation,” he paused, looking around their rooftop home, “but it’s something.”He rose and quietly climbed down the fire escape of the rooftop. It was notorious for squeaking at the slightest movement, but Nole discovered a way to maneuver it so that it produced no noise whatsoever.

When he got to the bottom, he did a perimeter walk of the building. Despite the fact that he and his siblings discovered the City Library to be uninhabited when they first found it a year ago, it wasn’t uncommon for people to linger around the property as they came and went. For that reason they had decided to live on the roof instead of the inside. And although it wasn’t as sheltered as the interior, he had tried his best to create the safest living conditions possible for them.

Thanks to the gangs, the ways of Nova City’s night and day life were on opposite ends of the spectrum. Day life was bustling and loud, while night life was sparse and threatening; so while trekking through the dark alley, he was especially cautious. Even though it was the dead of night, he heard a few people walking around. Not wanting any trouble, he hid until they passed and were out of sight.

There were never civilians out after daylight hours because of the growing gang population overtaking the city. Growing up in the town’s outskirts, Nole witnessed the gang violence first hand at a very young age. And when he lost his mother to gang violence, he learned right away that they meant business.

No one really knew what instigated the new gang era taking over the city, but due to the rising number of citizens moving from the outer edge to the city’s center, it became widely believed that the outskirts were where the gangs originated.

Despite the temporary relief he and his siblings experienced during their first few days living in the city, it was short-lived when the violence followed shortly thereafter. Eventually, the citizens found nowhere else to go. With the outskirts riddled with gang members, everyone was essentially surrounded and forced to live in the core of Nova City.

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