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Chapter 16

Before attending assembly, we are all guided towards an outside drinking fountain which is attached to a wall and guarded by a male leader. We wait in our lines, all of us desperate and impatient to get to it--but remain controlled and silent. After minutes of waiting in queue, it’s finally my line’s turn. Because I’m at the back, I’m the very last person to have my turn. Mentally I’m jumping up and down with joy--physically, I’m still slightly swaying and seeing spots cloud my pupils.

Ruth walks forwards, she presses the button upon the fountain and drops her head onto the flow of water--I watch her with envy as she gulps down the water as though she’s been deprived of it for much longer than I have.

Finally, she wipes her mouth and walks back towards me, passing me to get back to the end of the line. All that stands between me and the fountain is a few short steps. I push myself forwards, giddily approaching the fountain with a desperate waddle.

Pressing that button and hearing the water pour from the tiny pipe is the sweetest sound in the world. I lower my head, bringing my mouth to curve around the edge of the opening, gasping as the water drizzles down my throat--healing the sore, dry patches of my temporary insanity. I don’t want it to ever stop. It’s orgasmic. It’s heavenly. In this moment, it is a life saver. Just a few droplets of water, just a few seconds of something so simple, and I’m me again.

It hasn’t quenched me completely, but is enough to last a while. It is enough for the blinding spots clouding my vision to disintegrate and for the muscles of my legs to harden, giving me a better sense of direction when I finally release my lips from the pipe and walk back to the line. I’m still weak, and I’m still nauseated, but I see the world so much more clearly. I see everything.

I straighten my spine behind Ruth, rubbing my fingers gently against my dirty jogging bottoms that are smothered in soil, grass and insects. I copy what everyone else does and I accede to the instructions of the blonde supervisor to follow her. We begin moving across the wide landscape--and I suddenly become aware that no one else is around.

No leaders, no members, no supervisors. . . no one.

“Move it!” a supervisor shouts. “We’re late!”

The line picks up the pace, our bodies move as one as we begin hurrying towards what looks like an ancient chapel in the near distance. The building is made of rusty stone--with a pile of white steps that lead up to two enormous, high pillars that are engraved with swirling patterns that entwine up and down in spirals. The building itself looks thousands of years old, and it makes me wonder if the entire Academy was built around it.

Every other building looks fairly new, not brand new--but newer than crusty, rotting stone that shakes gravel onto my head as I walk underneath it. This building must be important, it must hold some kind of particular history, something that the founder of the Academy viewed as a center piece to their artwork. It could hold answers.

I follow my line into the entrance of the chapel. Inside, it resembles a giant church, except every inch of it is light grey and there are more pillars holding up the sky-high roof than brick. It smells of nothing, literally nothing. There is no fragrance of warmth, no aroma of pleasantry, there is no odor but the strong stench of sweat clinging to my armpits.

The chapel is layered evenly. Around the level that I am standing on is the platform of leaders and supervisors that are standing at steel railings with their hands behind their backs, staring downwards. I look downwards to where my line is heading--I begin walking down another set of steps that lead deeper into the depths of the chapel and towards all the uniformed, silent bodies that are organized in categories.

As I reach the final step, falling behind my line that leads me left, I take notice of every member that is here. The women and men are separated. The men take the right side, and us women take the left. And then we are split into our groups. At the front of the platform I’m assuming is group A, followed by group B in the middle region, and my group at the back.

That’s the logical sense of organizing this.

Every single head is down, every single body is stiff and rigid. I can’t get a glimpse of any face clearly, but almost every member has uncanny resemblances--partly because they all wear the same colour, have the same shaped hair and proclaim the same soulless aura. I’ve never experienced being with such an enormous amount of people in one room before, and yet I still feel as though I am standing alone.

As I take note of all the groups that are divided evenly with large spaces between them, one thing becomes clear: group D isn’t here.

“Children!” a voice suddenly exclaims from the lifted-up stage before us all. Duncan wanders across it, his hands spread out through the air as he looks over us. “I am deeply sorry for interrupting your daily activities, but the assembly had to be brought forward due to unforeseen circumstances. As you know, it is a breach of the rules to engage in what could be perceived to be sexual activity with any other member. It saddens me today to report that these rules have been breached.”

I observe curiously as group A and group B let out shrills of gasps between them, glancing around in a state of disgust. I was right, they’re definitely gone.

“Rule breaking will not be tolerated here in Cross Academy!” Duncan continues. “And as a result, I will present to you the two shameful members that will be publicly punished as a consequence of said breaching.”

He turns to his left and rubs his fingers together, issuing a signal towards someone in the shadows of the stage. A few seconds later, two male leaders emerge, both of them clinging on to the hair of one female and one male. The female is a young girl, hardly a teenager, and the male looks young too, his body is flimsy and weak, he struggles in the grasp of the leader, but he cannot break free.

The leaders throw them down onto the stage, and their bodies smack into the ground while peeking up in terror to meet the eyes of group A, who are snarling and spitting at them. Hands dive up to try and grab them, to try and pull them into the crowd because of irrational fury that doesn’t make sense to me. The girl treads backwards on her knees, trying to get as far from group A as possible while her eyes hold so much fear that she begins to hyperventilate.

“It’s time for judgement,” Duncan says. “The Lord will rule!”

“The Lord will rule!” Group A repeats in unison.

Duncan unleashes a long, thick piece of metal that he rises above his head for a moment, before swinging it down and plying the girl with unbearable pain. Her screams fill the entire chapel, they echo throughout the walls, bouncing from one to another. He doesn’t seem to stop, he kicks her stomach as she rolls over onto her side, then proceeds to slam his boot into her face.

I begin to fidget, feeling adrenaline course through my bones as I fight with what to do. I can’t watch this, everyone else can, but I can’t. I can’t stand here and be silent. I can’t stand here and cheer. I can’t hear those loud, agonizing screams coming from such a small, petite person and do nothing.

I begin to pace a little, moving side-to-side while I clench my teeth and ball my hands into hard, thorough fists. I glance up to the top platform of all the male leaders and my eyes find Elijah, he is staring at me, he shakes his head at me as though he knows what I am thinking.

The cheers from the groups fuel my anger, how they can be happy to see this? How can they praise such a malicious and evil act?

No, I can’t take it.

I begin to move towards the stage, even if I have to take the place of that girl, I will--I’ll take every beating for her. I’ll take anything they throw at me, I just can’t listen to her screams any longer. I direct myself from the group and I cross over to the path in between the two sides that separate us, I put myself in the dangerous line of sight of everyone around me.

My eyes fall on Duncan and I narrow them slowly, before I charge.

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