Chapter 1

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I flinch. The crack of a gunshot echoes through the alleyway, bouncing off the stone walls, causing an eerie chill to crawl over my skin. I quicken my pace, weaving through the dusty alleyways, emerging at the crowd in the square.

A brunette girl, no older than me is fastened tightly to a wooden beam in the centre of the small stand. A Tranquillity Patrolman aims a rifle at the girl's head, an X marked on her forehead in black ink. Her hardened gaze is fixed with an unnerving defiance down the barrel of the gun. She shows no fear. It is her final protest of injustice. The first gunshot was into the air, to get the attention of the crowd. The next one will be for her.

The moment the echo of the gunshot diminishes, and her body has slumped forward, the crowd disperses at an astonishing rate. Mothers in stained aprons grip the hands of their uncomprehending children, desperately tugging them away. Elderly men and women, thin and frazzled, shuffle back to their homes in a knowing silence. But unlike the rest, I remain rooted to the spot, eyes trained on the body of the girl. What did she do to wind up with such an unjust end? Usually, I do not watch the executions. But today I had the misfortune to witness it. They are a fairly regular occurrence, but it never fails to leave me shaken, especially when it is the unjust murder of a girl.

"Are you leaving, Convex?" the Tranq barks from the stand, gun now directed at me. But I am not alarmed.

"Yes," I reply curtly. Adjusting my grip on my bag of groceries, I turn on my heel and march away. The Tranq calls after me, voice laced with fury, but I simply ignore him as I disappear around the corner.

My arms ache with the strain of the load by the time I reach my old, shabby apartment building. The familiar unpleasant smell of dust and grime hits me as I enter the small, dull foyer and begin climbing the 60 steps to my apartment. Reaching the flight, my groceries almost spill out of my hands as I dig for my keys. I mutter a curse.

"Elle. There you are, I was starting to worry," my older sister, Isabelle, fusses as I enter the cramped, dimly lit apartment. She hurries over from where she was perched, a book of our mother's pressed against her chest.

I sigh in relief as I dump the groceries on the bench in our small kitchen. "I'm sorry. I was delayed."

"Unexpected execution?" Isabelle places our mother's book down gently and her remorseful blue eyes meet my grey ones.

"You got it," I reply dully as I flip my dark leather hood off my head. It was once my father's. He killed the deer in the woods and used as much of the game as he could. Its skin became the leather that the coat is made of.

"I'm sorry you had to see that," Isabelle says, enveloping me in a hug, squeezing tightly. The warm gesture acutely reminds me of our mother, and I push away threatening memories. I do not want to be suffocated by grief again.

As we pull out of the embrace, Isabelle bites her lip, fighting hard to keep the tears at bay. Today marks six years since our mother and father were banished from the Floodgates. In their wake, they left their two girls, only aged 15 and 11 at the time to fend for themselves.

Forcing the memories to the recesses of my mind, I say, "I got strawberries today."

For the Convex, strawberries are rare. A novelty. Since we are typically deemed unworthy of such novelties, it is a treat to ever be able to enjoy them. Our father used to pick them for us in the Forest when he went hunting. "Red strawberries for both my beautiful redheaded girls," he would say. His eyes would fill with adoring love for us as he placed them down on the table, before enveloping us in hugs. Hugs that would keep away the demons.

"Did Aston give them to you?" Isabelle asks, smiling, the same smile that once belonged to our mother. She reaches out and gently tucks one of my red curls behind my ear.

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