This is what Vella remembers:
Her mother's hands kneading bread dough in the mornings, the flour turning her mother's dark skin pale and white. Her mother's voice bright and cheery in the warm morning sun. Poking at the dough as it was rising, feeling it give way underneath her finger.
Her father's icing on the tip of her tongue. The first shock of sugar before the underlying flavors of the butter and the chocolate kick in. Stealing a bowl of the leftovers away from him before he can wash it out. Trying to spread the icing evenly over his cakes with tiny, shaky hands.
Her sister, down by the lake, screaming and laughing as she jumps in. The sunlight on the water, best in the late afternoon, when the whole world turns orange and the water looks like pure gold. The horizon in the distance, where if she squints, she can almost imagine the plague dams beyond it.
Her grandfather's voice. "Girl like you should know how to use a knife and not just for cutting cakes." His smile, dangerous, all teeth. The shiny metal medals that he wears every day and that her mother refuses to explain to her.
The whispers of the Maidens' Feast as soon as she's old enough to understand them. The knowledge that she'll be fourteen when the next one happens, the right age to be volunteered for it. The other girls her age chatting, excited, eager. What if I get to be one of the ones picked? The cold knot in her stomach at the thought.
Her mother's tight hug. Her sister tugging her dress into place. The tears in her father's eyes. A dark shape in the distance, coming closer.
And knowing that no one could save her but herself.