thoughts: Head is buzzing, restless. I still can't believe they chose me.
outfit: Dark slacks, sweater, blazer.
location: City Circle, Panem Capitol.
— THE REAPING
There is no stronger sobering, humbling feeling than that of certain, impending death.
Even given the circumstances he designed himself, River wasn’t one to wallow in self-pity and begin the long process of wasting away: he still walked with his head high and shoulders back, making snide remarks to anyone who irked him.
The young man could only name once or twice in his life where a trap door opened up underneath his feet and he simply plummeted. Nothing he could recall was as devastating, as surreal and horrifyingly real as hearing his own name announced on that stage. The almost singsongy, lightly-accented voice from the Capitol that rang out his name could have been from something out of a dream. But the eyes and faces that turned to rest on him—some expressions sympathetic and pained, some cruel, many completely unbothered and indifferent—were painfully real.
Against the still homogeneity, a scream rang out from somewhere in the crowd that River knew was his mother’s. This must be real. His body moved without him willing it to; a pair of Peacekeepers had started lifting, no, dragging him down the long aisle to the stage.
Part of him wanted to feel betrayed. River tried to meet as many gazes as he could as he struggled to stay upright between the Peacekeepers rushing forward. But his mind raced, filled with all kinds of frantic thoughts and plans and panic that he could barely register those faces. Despite the (somewhat true) stereotype that the people of District Seven acted cold and distant to each other, the young man could attest to a prevailing sense of community that was somehow born out of the Dark Days and remained: out on the frontier, deep in the timber forests, you could trust a total stranger to risk it all and save your life.
It barely registered. But they fucking picked me.
No one deny that. President Huxley’s decree gave democracy a cruel twist for this year’s Games, in which he commanded an “unchoice,” as one of the other prisoners had simply put it. But the more and more he thought about the unfortunate fate that befell him, River realized that the optics of his crime was what put him here. District Seven protects their own. Common law, unconditional trust in a people that weathered all the horrible winter storms and wildfires and wild animal attacks and Peacekeeper brutality together. And despite that fraternity, he fully intended on killing a teacher that had been one of the first to begin schooling again after the Dark Days.
I should have said something. God, why didn’t he? It was true. He knew his neighbors loved nothing more than country justice. They could have believed him.
River’s hands shook when he was finally on stage, on camera, displayed to the whole world. That serious visage of his threatened to crack as he tuned out the deafening roar of applause that followed the booming mic of the escort’s voice. Even if he towered over that waify little Capitol woman who herself seemed intimidated by this year’s project, this was terrifying. The thought of being cast out, left on his own without someone who ‘had your six,’ left to face the senseless violence on television—the eyes, everywhere. It made him feel exposed, kind of shell-shocked.
— THE TRAIN & THE PARADE
He drifted through the rest of the day until his high-speed rail made it all the way to the Capitol, passively interacting with Tulle, his escort, and his mentor, Crane, who he already knew. That spinning world started moving even faster when the train stopped and they arrived in the city and the stylists swept him away. Those stoic Capitol stylists watched River as he struggled, unable articulate through the shame and denial why he couldn’t just lose the clothes like that. Logically he knew body was an art, a science to them, but having someone that close to the bare him struck the fear of God in him.
Despite his resistance, his team, lead by the annoyed but persistent Pearl, put something nice together: His suit was a hyperrealistic material that resembled a tree, with his legs and chest a trunk that faded into a snow and ice-dusted canopy of leaves. The individual grasses and leaves moved in the wind when River moved. Even if he felt silly with the tiny amount of makeup they put on him (concealer and foundation with minimal eyeliner), he had to admit, this was the most elegant someone had ever made a representative the fearsome lumberjack District look. As he held on for dear life on the chariot hurdling to the President, the young man managed a neutral, calm expression that glinted with a subtle kind of pride for his heritage, his roots, every now and then.
I could gain back favor after all of this. Still managing the unblinking expression at the balcony above, nodding to the drone of the President’s voice, his mind teemed with racing ideas. He already kind of let them down. Could a victory let him tell his story? River blinked, starting to grimace at the lights. … Did he even want to?
Would he even have the choice?
— THE DINNER
He had a busy afternoon that melted into a crucially important evening. River had his first few important conversations with his mentor, who, albeit reluctantly, began to share game-winning advice with him. Spoke to Pearl about choosing a look that reflected who he was and what image he wanted to portray: something simple, strong, no-nonsense, consistent. According to both of them, a group dinner like this one was brand new to the any of the usual pre Hunger Games events, likely due to the nature of this Quarter Quell. Commentators had already remarked there would be a desperate need for immediate ally ship for a Game with half the usual contestants, after all. Might as well begin building relationships.
Pearl sent him out in a generally dark, earth-toned grey and brown pant, sweater, and blazer combination that even he felt truly confident in: looking the part was half the battle when nerves could unsettle how one looks in training. He fully intended on maintaining his cool like he’d discussed with Crane, but the second his mind registered the spread of decadent foods at the table, River’s expression melted into a grin, eyes wide as saucers. His stomach growled. Oh, that’s right—being on edge and nauseous all day kept him from picking at the meat and cheese board platters on the train, and this was the first he’d eaten until breakfast.
He glanced around the room for any other entering tributes, he approached the table, taking the time to begin serving himself before anyone else had arrived. It’d give him more time to observe them all, and he had decisions of his own to begin making while he made impressions.
From the nature of these circumstances, River could only guess that there were a handful of tributes that had a similar story to his own: reeling from an upbringing that required violence or criminal behavior, being left with violence as the only option that would work. Those were the kinds of people he wanted to get acquainted with, he decided, and Crane agreed. Trust what you know, who you know deep down. Leave the rest to figure it out.
River settled in his chair. Legs spread wide underneath, elbows resting on the tablecloth, eyes sharp, attentive. Waiting.
Indigo didn't think she could ever quite forget her memory of the Reaping. Not because she was surprised, but because she had, in part, known what was going to happen.
Her crime kept her hidden away till the day of the Reaping, though her brother had visited her once, telling her about what the District planned to do for her. Indigo was fated to die for what she did to that Peacekeeper, but she'd been given a second chance at life, all because the people of Eight hated the Capitol and the Peacekeepers as much as she did. She didn't intend on taking that chance for granted.
While the Peacekeepers were none too happy with the choice, they made sure to send her off in bad shape. Throughout the train ride to the Capitol, Indigo's back burned from her most recent flogging. Committing a crime warranted jail time and isolation, but killing a peacekeeper? Indigo knew they'd do what they could to make her suffer, and even if her wounds were fresh, she was determined to never let the pain of her injuries show on her face.
If anyone on the train saw through her facade, they didn't say anything. Her mentor, Tiberius, seemed to defy all expectations. Everyone knew of him since he was the only living victor in their District, but what people remembered more was his brutality during the games. He lived life as a recluse, but when Indigo finally met him, she was blown away by his polite mannerisms and almost elegant behaviour.
One would never expect that he came from one of the poorer districts, and nobody would ever believe that he'd had the highest kill count during his year of the Hunger Games. Regardless, he seemed to know what he was talking about, and Indigo was able to have a few enlightening conversations with him, as well as her escort Delphi, who struck her as the most odd of all her accompanying adults — primarily because while she seemed airy, she was extremely humble and down to earth, for a Capitol citizen.
The only person she couldn't fool with her facade was her stylist. Rey noticed, that much was obvious, and her injuries were tended to with Capitol grade medicine that soothed her almost immediately, but nobody made any comment. Whether it was because they didn't care, or weren't sure how to address it, Indigo didn't know. She didn't care either, because the entire time, nobody brought up the fact that she'd already killed someone. Nobody questioned her volatile nature, or her impulsive decision making. For that at least, Indigo was grateful.
When it came to the parade, Indigo realised that Rey's style was a bit too... loud for her tastes. That being said, he sure had a way of making sure she was noticed. She stood on her chariot in bright reds and purples with an outfit made of various different materials to reflect the work of her district. It wasn't so bad as far as parade outfits went and Rey seemed confident that she'd stood out, so she supposed that was all that mattered.
When it was all said and done, Indigo actually felt tired. Perhaps she was still reeling from her recently healing injuries, or the fact that she hadn't eaten much all day, but she felt like taking full advantage of the large bed in her room. Having had barely an old, worn out mattress to sleep on back home, this bed seemed to call to her, but it would have to wait, as Delphi pointed out. The day wasn't over yet, and there was still the dinner to attend.
Indigo wasn't feeling her best when Rey dressed her up in a velvet dress — a dress that could have bought her family food for weeks, by the looks of it — but Tiberius told her that she needed to turn on her charm if she was going to make an impression with the other tributes. She didn't need to hide behind a mask. She'd already made it pretty clear what she was capable of with her crime. She just needed to chat more people up and see whether any interests were aligned with hers before she considered who to ally with. That was going to be hard, but tonight was mainly to collect intel. Then she could discuss it with her mentor tomorrow and see how to carry it all further.
When Indigo entered the hall, there seemed to be only one other person there. She recognised him from the Reapings that she'd watched on the train. She thought it would be best if she kept herself informed about all the tributes. What mainly caught her attention at the moment, however, was the large spread of food, so she made her way right over, dress swaying behind her, before piling a few things onto her plate.
In between, she glanced at the only other person seated. "River, right?" While she was sure that was his name, it didn't hurt to confirm it. "District 7?" Indigo sat down on the opposite side, simply because she felt like he wasn't a particularly chatty person. That wasn't going to stop her from attempting to learn something though, no matter how little.
It was always meant to be, but she hadn't thought that it would feel this way.
That it would feel like nothing.
She figured that she would feel something—surprise, betrayal, anxiety when her name rang out over the crowd.
Instead, she felt absolutely, positively unbothered.
At least, it hadn't set in yet.
Ellie had been bracing for this moment her entire life. The past seventeen years, she had been groomed by her parents, by the combat academy, even by her brother, who had won the Games only five years previously. This was no surprise. She was a Career- of course, her District would choose her. They knew that she had been conditioned for her prime. Ellie truly was their best option. She was top of her class and had a legend for a brother, a past victor for their District. District 1 had never been concerned when it came to choosing a tribute for the game. In past years, the District relied on Careers to volunteer as Tribute. Now they were doing the same, relying on their Career. District 1 did not care about protecting their own- they cared about strategy, about winning.
Ellie could only bring honor and glory to the District of luxury.
It was so simple, and so unlike her.
Ellie had always been blustering and bubbly, an avid party-goer and socialite. Now, she didn’t feel herself- or anything, really. She didn’t feel pride for her district, or confidence in herself. Ellie had always imagined that in this moment, she would feel glorified.
She didn’t. She didn’t feel anything.
The crowd seemed to reflect the way that she was presenting. While Ellie's emotions were quiet, the group was more subdued- silent, even. The plaza was filled with the satisfying swish of Ellie's pressed slacks and the click of her low heels as she walked to the podium at the front of the city's square.
The peacekeeper held their hand out to her, and she took it.
The gloved hand was cold.
She stood in front of the crowd, her face of stone. She could spot her parents towards the back and her brother beside them. Her parents were smiling with pride, but her brother was not. Ellie met his eye. He mimicked her stoic face, tilted his head slightly upward in an approving nod. Nothing more.
The attention he was getting would have fueled her, made her feel powerful and exclusive. And still, she felt nothing. She was not basking in the spotlight but standing in it, nothing more. She saw her face on the big screen, and it didn't look like herself.
On the train ride, she still felt nothing.
Ellie sat rigid in her seat, her eyes trained on the window- not necessarily watching the buildings whip by as the train glid across the tracks soundlessly, but instead in thought.
Though she wasn't sure what to think.
Ellie looked across the table at her brother and assigned mentor, Velvet. He had been looking right at her. She met his eye, and they shared a moment of solemn understanding.
At twelve years old, Ellie recalled when her brother, the same age she was now- 17, volunteered as a career for the twentieth Hunger Games. At his last goodbyes, she remembered holding onto his silken shirt, crying into his shoulder as he held her. He held no emotion. He didn't yell back, or shout, or even speak. Velvet was eerily quiet, processing how he should feel.
How should she feel? This was no surprise- it was going to happen eventually. It was a rare case for Ellie to be speechless. She always had something to say- which could get quite annoying sometimes. On the train ride, it was more of the same quiet.
Beside the plush seat occupied by Velvet was her escort, Bliss, whom she respected deeply. He clutched a holographic tablet, speedily moving components of their schedule around. Across from Bliss was her stylist, Idum, with whom Ellie had a fondness. She was satisfied with her team.
The compartment slowed to a stop without resistance. The had arrived in the Capitol, and rather quickly too. The buildings here were not unlike those in District 1, all tightly packed a bustling with residents. What truly amazed her was the vast expanse of the reservoir that opened up before the tracks, the gentle ripples shimmering like the city and it's people. The buildings here reminded her of her own home, in the Victor's Village. It had been awarded to her family when Velvet had won the Games.
As she stepped off the train, taking in the city before her, it's beauty; she still felt nothing for the task that awaited her- the Games.
Just this morning, Elli had been standing uniformly with District 1's youths, awaiting their fate. In the early afternoon, she stood on a platform at the front of a grand room surrounded in mirrors and bustling with busy Capitol workers. While Bliss and Velvet chatted amongst themselves, Idum was hard at work, polishing Ellie's look.
The gown was the epitome of wealth. While the skirt consisted of a mile of layered eggshell tulle, the bodice was made up of cream-colored silk that pleated to form a sweetheart neckline. What made the dress stand out was the gold plated overlay that appeared to be made of feathers, fanning out over the gown's back. At the waist flared out feathers, and plated decals fitted at her shoulders and neck. Her face was clean and fresh- pink with health and radiance. Idum threaded a gold hook earring through her lobe before adjusting bits of Ellie's icy blonde hair.
Element Wright was dripping with the grandeur and opulence of District 1. She was the living representation of luxury.
Idum had done marvelous work.
Ellie was first to race towards the President's podium at the head of the chariot line up. Up close, Huxley was just as powerful as he seemed on television. He radiated control.
At that moment, with the beat of the drums ringing clearly in her ears, she found the feeling she had been looking for.
She felt fated, satisfied.
She felt as though she had fulfilled her destiny.
This was what she was born to do.
Out of her funk, Ellie was feeling much more herself- at the demise of Bliss. His uptight personality contrasted with Ellie loose and wild one. Bliss spent the next few hours before the Tribute's dinner tracking her down, keeping her from exploring too far. Velvet also had a hard time getting her to focus during his conversation with her regarding game tactics.
Idum shook her head in defeat, at a loss for what to do with the girl who chattered away while Idum dressed her for dinner. They had little time to do so with Ellie running around the Tribute's room, looking at all of the rooms and most fashionable interior design.
Once again, Idum had chosen the perfect outfit that would represent both Ellie and her District. A black and white, lightweight striped fur coat made up the statement piece representing her family's trade as furriers. The fur was paired with a sensible black skirt, a white pan-collared blouse, and a black ribbon fashioned in a drooping bow at her neck. Her hair was pressed flat, in a pin-straight fashion the way Ellie liked, and black heels covered her feet.
She felt herself now, thanks to Idum. A bit nervous and giggly, nonetheless, but all the more assetive and expensive. Ellie knew she looked good, twirling in front of the silver encrusted mirror that curved around her and Idum.
Velvet had given her a quick pep talk before entering the dining room. Though Velvet's conversations could get quite dull, all blah blah ally yourself with other tributes, blah blah align with those at an advantage, blah blah.
Ellie did try to listen fully. It could mean life or death- literally.
Her eyes landed on the grandiose table when she walked into the dining hall, spread out with foods even District 1 rarely had access too. Fancy spreads of pastries, steaming meats, exotic imported fruits. It was indeed a sight to see.
Next, her eye followed to the other figures sat at the table—a young man, looking stone-faced and sharp. Ellie couldn't imagine how different her face must look to him; her lips parted in curiosity and delight. His elbows on the table amused her- how informal, but how cute! Across from him perched a modelesque blonde girl draped in pink satin.
Velvet had spent almost the entire afternoon pestering her about the other tributes. He wanted to be sure that she knew their names and respective districts to have a bit of an understanding of the allyships she could potentially form. Although Ellie found it annoying- he was right, so she had paid attention.
The boy must be River, of District 7- she remembered his distinctly prominent bone structure in his tribute profile that Velvet had read to him. As for the girl, she was from District 8- Indigo, she recalled. Hadn't she murdered a peacekeeper? Ellie swore Velvet had mentioned that from her Tribute’s profile.
If her mentor were here, Velvet would have told her to be wary. These people did not have the same experience of the wealthier Districts, like 2 and 4, and therefore may not take kindly to here, and may expect Ellie to do the same.
Sometimes Ellie's mouth moved faster than she could think, unfortunately to her demise. Idle pratter was one of her vices.
Ellie didn't hesitate to slip into the seat next to Indigo, and before she knew it, the words were pouring out of her.
In a rushed and breathy manner, she blurted out, "Hi, I'm Element Wright- you can call me Ellie. I'm from District 1, but you both already know that."She paused to take a breath. "You're Indigo, from 8, and you're River, from 7. I don't have to tell you that, though.”
She was rambling now. They must think she's off her rocker. So, to be sure that they knew that she meant well, Ellie flashed the two tributes a broad smile of sweetness, tossing her hair over her shoulder.
Ellie had two thoughts- the first was excitement for the next few days.
But the next pestered the back of her mind- I’m going to have to kill these people.
thoughts: I don't trust these girls as far as I could throw 'em.
outfit: Dark slacks, sweater, blazer.
location: City Circle, Panem Capitol.
He didn’t have much more time by himself in that grand dining hall; River only managed a couple heaping forkfuls of whatever looked the best from that Thanksgiving-style spread in front of him before catching movement on the edge of the room. A sudden chill ran up his spine, making him sit up straighter in his chair. Certainly it was one thing to see the other tributes on television every year, casually watching, maybe half paying attention as you did another task, looking up when one of them met an unfortunate, early demise.
Man. That’s too bad. Sometimes he didn’t even give them that much thought, even the unlucky pair from his own District. Granted, Seven had a way of consistently making it somewhat far in the Games, but he resisted being enthralled like many of his other friends were. Cheering on children who killed other children never settled right with him.
This was literally life or death now, though. River didn’t glance up when he saw a slim feminine figure sit at the chair directly across from him, feigning total nonchalance. Whoever this was would be dead by his hand or someone else’s within a week or two, tops.
He finally meet this new tribute’s eyes when she addressed him directly and quickly sized her up. Recalling what he’d already begun memorizing earlier from his talk with Crane. Indigo from District Eight—looked generally unassuming and non-threatening, but she was unhinged enough to actually murder a Peacekeeper. It didn’t matter that he was sleeping: River would have never done that. Might be best to keep your eye on this one and see what she does, who she starts to align herself with.
But he’d never been particularly great at being anything remotely close to friendly or inviting. “Mhm.” His voice was muffled through a mouthful of food. He swallowed, washed it down with a sip of water. “ ‘Sup, Eight.”
Another girl must have entered the dining hall before he noticed. Suddenly, there was a flurry of fluff and fur just off to Indigo’s side, followed by total word vomit. The young man didn’t even try to hide his expression: staring directly at—what was her name? Element? What kind of name even was that?—brow furrowed, just slightly incredulous. Where he was from, people usually only spoke when they were spoken to, preferring to have more of an understated presence in a room.
He wasn’t surprised when she announced she was from District One. Ellie spoke and spoke and spoke like she’d never starved, never suffered from exposure or genuinely wondered where her next meal was going to come from. Like words didn’t have power. He immediately began to resent her.
River sighed, loudly. “You sure do talk a lot, One,” he remarked flatly. He took a bite out of a grainy bread roll from his plate, studying the two briefly as he chewed. “So uh—“ He swallowed, wiped the crumbs away from the corner of his lips with his sleeve.
“What brings y’all here?” He raised an eyebrow expectantly, pausing. “You both got picked… Why?” He could practically see Crane’s wince as he did or suggested another horrible, rash, stupid thing. This wasn't the small talk he was told to stick to.
would killing be difficult if I don't hate them? would it be scarier if it was or if I felt nothing either way?
The air was colder on the stage. Maybe it was the height, the thousands of pairs of eyes or just his imagination. The reason wasn't important. The chill was still running down his back regardless. As he looked down at the crowd and those blurring faces stared back up at him, Lector wondered if any part of him had seen this coming. That, when that woman from the Capitol, a splash of color amidst the monochrome of District 3, had begun to read out the name of their sacrifice, it would have been an all too familiar one: his own.
Perhaps he had, because for all the discomfort that all the sudden, intense attention on him was causing, he felt no shock or despair. No fear gripping his heart. No desire to escape, or even to struggle. Just acceptance. He already knew what he did would get him a death sentence. It had simply come in a more novel way than usual. There was no mistaking that a sentencing was exactly what this was, after all. Was it a fair one? That was debatable. Or maybe it wasn't. It was the truth that he had killed people. And maybe his reason for doing that mattered only as much as the reason for the temperature of the air.
The cameras flashed in rhythm, the lights getting closer & closer to his face like they wanted to swallow him whole. Lector looked over to the blonde woman beside him smiling as brightly as the happiest day of her life, waving daintily at the crowd. He glanced at the Peacekeepers who had escorted him from that isolated cell, and had been on edge the entire time like he himself was an explosive. He gazed down at the people below, who had, through the noise and bright lights, become a mess of grey pixels — the people who had put him up here, a lamb for slaughter, a sacrifice to faux gods. The air grew colder still.
(After) The Parade
He stared blankly at the mirror. Looking back was a slender figure wrapped in black that didn't look much like how Lector saw himself, with tight pants that started way higher on his torso than he felt they should and a silk shirt that was thankfully much looser. Silver ribbons weaved through the otherwise plain outfit, running up the sides of his pants, through the sleeves of his shirt and, most notably, from those sleeves up to wrap around his neck like a choker, glittering under the bright light he sat beneath.
He would have thought the outfit much less ostentatious than one might expect from the dramatic Mesiphyr, the man in charge of Lector's look of the night, but it was clear from just one look that the focus wasn't on the clothes the clothes today — it was all that on his face. Glowing silver, even shinier than the ribbons, decorated his cheekbones and the edges of his brows. The contact lenses that he'd been forced to wear glared back at him, black and cat-like, looking even more sinister with the reddish makeup that darkened the corners of his eyes. A dark, blood-colored tint painted his lips, smudged at one corner; that had been done purposely by Mesiphyr, and Lector would likely figure out a winning strategy faster than understand why.
It's subtle but beautiful, the man had claimed excitedly to Jazz, his escort, who seemed to agree. He had to wonder what exactly about that person staring at him in the mirror was subtle. But then again, he could believe that there were even flashier things they could put on him, if all he'd seen of Capitol fashion was any indication.
"How was the Parade, darling?" A light, high-pitched voice rang through the room, pulling Lector's gaze away from the unfamiliar face he'd been studying. Jazz. He didn't answer, choosing to look away once he had affirmed who it was. The woman didn't loose her smile, catching his gaze through the mirror since she couldn't do so directly.
"You looked absolutely venomous," she told him, putting her hands on his shoulder, sounding delighted. Venomous. Was that their theme of the day? Or the color they were painting him so he could appeal to sponsors? The thought was somehow a more depressing one than any other he'd had since being called out in the Reaping. There had been sick thoughts. Cruel thoughts. This one made him want to laugh. Lector felt — knew, somewhere deep in his mind — that the day he could laugh in this competition would be the day he loses his mind.
"Can I take the lens out?" He asked instead of responding, "It's annoying."
Lector walked towards the dining hall where he would first get to talk to the rest of the tributes, seemingly calm but with many thoughts flying back & forth in his head, like children in a bouncing castle. He said "talk to" but he knew himself well enough to bet that he'd say less words than there are fingers on his hands. The others would talk enough to cover him, he was sure. This was the time for alliances, after all.
He himself would eventually need one or two allies. Sparki, his mentor, had already warned him that trying to walk alone would be an idiotic thing to do. While Lector agreed, his only way of fighting back was with hidden traps — and the point of those was for other people not to know about them, which would be difficult with people hanging around. Anyway, his main purpose was to avoid a painful death rather than winning, so he felt there was no need for him to seek out a winning plan so actively while running the risk of attracting attention.
As he neared the door, his pace slowed. There were probably quite a few of them gathered inside the hall, and he had no way of telling who since this wasn't according to the order of the districts. There were people in the list, which he already had memorized thanks to Sparki giving him a file in the waiting room, that instincts told him to stay away from. He'd expected criminals because of the nature of this year's rules, but there were more than a couple murderers among the bunch... including him.
Right. He was a murderer, too. He'd naturally excluded himself from his own perspective, but he was right up there among the group of apparent villains. He waited for that thought to horrify him. It didn't. His crime didn't strike Lector as terrible. That day when the house had gone up in flames and those bunch were dragged out, looking like burnt meat, was the happiest he'd been since he was a child. That should have horrified him, back then, too. But, of course, it hadn't.
Brushing the thoughts out of his head, Lector pushed open the door and stepped inside quietly. His gaze ran over the three already present as he walked toward an empty seat. River Calhoun, District 7, violent, killed his teacher. Indigo Lockhearst, District 8, unpredictable, killed a Peacekeeper. Then there was Element Wright, District 1, an apparent airhead who'd done seemingly nothing to be here, which could only mean that she volunteered. There was probably something wrong with her head there, too, if she signed right up for a killing game.
Taking note of all of them, Lector took his seat, not saying a word. His eyes scanned the feast laid out for them but didn't begin to eat, instead choosing to take a drink from the glass placed near him. Observe them well, Sparki had told him, it's not your thing to start alliances, but you have to choose them well. Though this was only her first time mentoring — thanks to her very student, in fact, since Lector had killed the previous mentor, his uncle —Sparki carried a strength in her words that made them feel trustworthy. Either way, there was nothing to lose from observing, he supposed. Then again, it might garner antagonism if he was too blatant about it.
A young, freckle-faced Pyra sat in the grass, cradling her bloody knee, burning tears rolling down her cheeks, "I hate him!" She managed between sobs. Her mother sat by her side, pale skin glistening in the warm sun. Her skin appeared to sparkle and alongside her gentle, healing touch, young Pyra was convinced her mother was magic.
"You don't hate him, honey..." A bandaid in hand, her mother tucked Pyra's unruly hair behind her ear, "especially your brother, he didn't mean it," she attentively applied the bandaid to her knee, "...plus you can't hate a person." Pyra's face screwed up in confusion.
"B-but daddy says he hates the men in white all the time!" Pyra protested, sniffling back tears.
"Yes, but he doesn't hate them, he...hates what they do." Her mother explained a kind smile on her slender face, "or rather forced to do." A smooth, silky hand brushed away Pyra's tears, back when she worked at the bakery and not rough and calloused from the brutal conditions in the mines. The familiar, sweet smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the breeze, leaving Pyra at ease. Huddled together, Pyra snuggled into her mother's chest as she began to softly sing.
Hate was all Pyra could see, it radiated off the miner's families in the crowd. Pyra had dealt with the death stares, scowls and hushed voices since being rescued from the mines. They blamed her for their deaths, and in a way they were right. If it wasn't anger, it was fear or curiosity from the possibility of the grisly rumours about her being true. The seventeen-year-old was situated on the worn stage, a Peacekeeper either side, gripping her arms firmly. Her left arm had gone numb.
To no surprise, Pyra's name had been called for chosen tribute. Her father and older brothers stood solemn, yet didn't protest or even gasp as she was pulled forwards by the Peacekeepers. She didn't resent them, nor did she hate them. Pyra knew they had already mourned the loss of their daughter during the cave-in. Pyra Haywood died in those mines.
The purple-hued individual by Pyra's side stood out like a sore thumb; their skin painted head to toe in lilac with rather...exaggerated features. Pyra was perplexed by the escort's appearance, yet she knew the Capitol was a whole different world. While they starved and work themselves to death, the Capitol's citizens feasted like royalty and watched children kill each other for fun. The thought made Pyra's fingernails dig into her numb palm, unable to feel the skin splitting open.
"Well my dear, would you like to say anything?" A shrill, high voice came from Penelope's overdrawn lips. Pyra had no choice to remember their name since it rung in her ears since they introduced themselves over the microphone. Not so gently, Pyra was tugged along by the Peacekeepers towards centre stage.
"Oh, heavens! You smell foul!" Penelope's pointy nose was suffocated by their brightly-coloured gloved hand in disgust, "do you not know how to clean yourself, dear?" Pyra had become unfastidious with her appearance and cleanliness since the incident; her hair was unkempt and matted, eyebrows threatening to join as one and she bathed when forced. A chuckle came from behind Pyra, belonging to someone she recognised vaguely. Firestarter, Pyra recalled. His dreaded, jet-black hair was pulled up into a loose bun and a drink in hand. His name she couldn't recall, but she knew he was the only winner from District 12.
"MURDERER!" A hoarse scream erupted from the sea of monochrome, heads whipping in the direction. The source was a greying, blonde woman dressed in distressed rags, a mining cap tucked under her arm. Pyra recognised the woman's eyes, or rather his eyes. She had those same ocean eyes as Kiln. Pyra would never forget those eyes. Her vision began to blur, head spinning. Attempting to pull herself free, the Peacekeepers grip became vice-like, keeping her still. Please, please, let me go! Kiln! Pyra began to hyperventilate, her breath quick and ragged. She needed to get out of here as soon as possible.
Without much thought, Pyra acted on instinct; barring her teeth, she sunk them into the exposed neck of one of the Peacekeepers, biting through the white cloth and into flesh. A mixture of cheers and screams rose from the onlookers as the familiar metallic taste touched her tongue. The last thing Pyra saw was the butt of a gun in the corner of her eye.
— THE PARADE
" — the rush of it all! I keep recalling the moment as though it just happened!" Pyra's head thumped, eyes fluttering open to the glass-shattering sound of Penelope's voice, "I had only seen such violence on the games, but in person! Oh my, it was exquisite, don't you agree —"
"Ah, she is finally awake." Vision clearing, the Firestarter had interrupted the giddy Penelope, still cradling a drink. Pyra tried to touch her forehead but was met with metal clacking, peering down to see she was handcuffed to a chair. "Sorry about that... it's uh, a precaution...", as though reading her mind as the Firestarter took another sip, "after you know...mauled that guy's throat like a bloody dog." The Firestarter was slumped against the wall with Penelope poised in a seat, dressed in another outlandish, colourful outfit.
Pyra's attention focused on the figure ahead of her; hair slicked back, eyebrows manicured and skin clear of dust and debris. She wouldn't have recognised the reflection as her own if it wasn't for the vivid scar; four marks began at her jaw and travelled down the entirety of her neck. What did they do to me?
"Justice is one of the hottest designers in Panem!" Penelope explained, waving a gloved hand around, "the melodrama she can create on the human canvas! You're in for a treat, dear!" Pyra didn't like the sound of that.
Before she could complain, a meek, short girl appeared in front of Pyra. Her hair was riddled with blue and purple tendrils, with a round, full face. She didn't say a word as the two locked eyes. Pyra couldn't explain it but the girl was communicating with her without a sound. It was as though she understood everything Pyra was thinking which brought an odd sense of calmness to Pyra's rigid body.
The colourful, Capitol crowd gasped and cheered in what Pyra assumed was pure delight as she was the last to enter on the final chariot. Pyra's head was covered in a red, form-fitting mask which continued on to form the bodice before falling into tattered shreds. She didn't know how to feel at that moment, the horses hurdling forwards. Justice, her stylist, didn't say a word as she worked away at crafting this look. Pyra had never seen a tribute with their head or face covered to the public, but with all those pairs of eyes staring at her, she couldn't thank Justice more.
Able to see through the lightweight material, Pyra could make out a single man dressed in a suit standing on the balcony above everyone. She had seen the man on the screens, he was the President. The man who let these games continue. That was when Pyra realised her mother was wrong all that time ago — it was possible to hate someone, and she hated him.
— THE DINNER
Hungry and restless, Pyra entered the dining room, immediately being bombarded by the intoxicating aroma of food. Justice had dressed Pyra in a simplistic, black dress with a faux-leather, oversized coat stained red. Along with a pair of chunky, black boots, her hair slicked back and eyes smeared with dark red. She could see several other tributes who Firestarter, or Coal, — as he introduced himself as earlier — had explained to her about. Both Penelope and him had encouraged her to try and make allies. However, her attention was on the food.
Approaching the expansive table full of dishes Pyra didn't even recognise, she grasped the turkey leg. Not one for manners or grace, Pyra ripped the turkey leg from the rest of the impeccably cooked bird. Taking no time at all, she tore into the white meat, barely savouring the taste or barely noticing the other tributes.
Eighteen. The number that showed not only Clay's age, but also the entries he'd amassed for the Hunger Games. Six years of claiming three tesserae a year has brought him eighteen entries this year-- would that be enough to send him to the grand roulette of life and death? Clay felt ticklish sparks stroking his stomach, as if showing his excitement and agitation.
Huxley's announcement, however, changed everything. Each district was bequeathed the freedom to choose whoever they desired to sacrifice as tributes, which meant it didn't matter if someone had zero or ninety-nine entries. Anyone could be selected. Clay felt a fusion of relief and disappointment as he headed to the square where everyone was being gathered. Young or old, healthy or sickly, rich or poor. Everyone was gathered in the district square. For so many people gathered together, the hall didn't emit much--or any noise at all. It was filled with tense silence, as no one wanted to attract even the slightest attention. For the first minute or so, Clay contributed to that silence. He felt perplexed, almost similar to the feeling of craving excessive sweets while also being on a diet. Should he volunteer, or let his hesitation reign victorious once again? The thought that this was the last chance for him to reverse his life in the Hunger Games, however, filled him with obtuse certainty.
"I volunteer! Me, Clay fucking Melchior!"
As soon as the silence was broken by Clay's confident remark, the square was in uproar. People weren't scared of attracting attention anymore, as Clay already offered himself up. Some people snickered, some people were in disbelief, others were laughing, most didn't care as long as it wasn't them.
"Magnificent! Come up here now, Clay Melchior. From the Melchior family, once Capitol favourites. It's true that the rich don't always stay rich, yes?"
The crowd filled the place with laughter as Sable, escort of district 6 practically announced his poverty to the public--not that it wasn't public knowledge already. Clay parted the people before him as if they were water, walking up to the stage with coolheaded conviction. He didn't mind the light blow to his ego, only focusing on the fact that he was going to enter the Hunger Games. He towered over everyone, standing on the stage and facing the audience with poise as he reassured himself that volunteering was the right choice. Even if many people disliked the Melchior family, no one would choose him. He was popular, a favourite amongst nobles in district six. They'd quicker choose one of the more well-off offsprings, or someone infamous for a crime. Clay secured his place before that happened.
His parents looked distraught, but not enough to actually say anything. Their faces showed both dismay and disgust towards the choice to volunteer, but he couldn't care less. If this goes well, he's going to make his mother proud, and escape his father. Clay waved to the crowd one last time before peacekeepers dragged him away, removing him from the vicinity.
"You alright?" a voice reached out to Clay, snapping him out from his abstract thoughts. It was Skye, his assigned mentor. The elder man was wearing a wool vest on top of his white shirt, which reminded Clay more of a professor rather than a Hunger Games mentor.
"I'm really okay, that's the fifth time you've asked!" Clay lied, trying to fight back the urge to vomit. His motion sickness, that caused him nauseate whenever he was inside a vehicle, was kicking in. It didn't matter if he was riding a simple horse carriage, or a fancy train like the one they're riding in. Both sent a repugnant feeling to his stomach, almost as if his body rejected transportations. Ironically, he used to be part of a transportation conglomerate.
The other man ruffled around his pockets and pulled out a vial. "And that's the fifth time you lied. Drink this," Skye said, offering the vial to Clay. Of course, Clay accepted the medicine--or whatever it was--happily, and drank it right away. He had no suspicion, as there was no way a mentor could kill his own mentee. Not to mention, days before the Hunger Games began. Still, he felt anxiety as he gulped down the liquid. He figured that he was being too trustful of a person who won the Hunger Games before. Someone who's killed others for his own gain.
"I agree. You shouldn't be this trustful to the other tributes."
"I could tell by your expression."
Clay was at a loss for words. Calculating? Guessing? Observing? No. Skye was almost piercing and ripping through his persona. Clay was usually the one able to do that to other people. Is it because he was younger, less experienced? Or the fact that he's never joined the Hunger Games? Whatever it is, Clay became more excited for the days to come. It no longer became a chance to turn his life upside-down, but also for an opportunity to grow. To evolve. Even if the chance costed him the very thing he's trying to change.
He exchanged more words of less importance with Skye and Sable as the medicine alleviated his nausea. Clay figured he should try to get on their best side if he were to survive his future endeavors. After all, winning people over is what he does best. The sound of engines and steel railings soon came to a stop as they arrived at the Capitol.
"Now that's what I call a city," Clay said, smiling from ear-to-ear. He adored the bustling crowds, tall buildings, and modern paraphernaliae. He looked forward to his days in the Capitol, be it however few. The boy couldn't waste his entire day sight-seeing, however, since Daphne, his stylist, quickly dragged him away to morph him in preparation for the parade. She was (in)famous for styling her muses in ridiculous outfits, so Clay was prepared for the worst. The outfit she picked for him, however, left him in awe and admiration--it was an outfit to his liking that showcased his prized asset(s).
She dressed him in a navy jean one piece tank top with batik motifs that extended to his crotch, almost like a bathing suit that showcased his toned arms. His lower garments were reminiscent of a biker's leather pants, except cut in the middle, exposing his thighs and crotch. They were held together by a belt that was sown inside the fabric of his pants. The pants themselves had golden fleur de lis embroidery on the sides. The outfit was completed with embossed leather shoes and a motorcycle helmet.
Fame. Money. Power. Clay had diminished his view of the world into these three fleeting commodities. They were the only things he knew of that didn't pick sides. As part of the now crumbling Melchior family, he had the experience to know that. Whoever you are, wherever you were born, which god you praised. None of that mattered. In the right moment and place, you could have the opportunity to gain or lose it all. Now was that exact moment.
Multiple horses raced forward, each of them strapped with chariots carrying a tribute, wearing diverse outfits that represented who they were as an individual. A sound that was reminiscent of a broken metronome filled Clay's minds before the orderly beats of drums, screams, and applause welcomed themselves into the district six's tribute's eardrums. The parade was live.
Sable and Skye had advised him before to pique the interest of the audience, as some of them may end up being one of his sponsors. Thankfully, Daphne's frivolous outfit seemed to have worked in getting the attention of the masses, enough for Clay to be pleased. He stood with overflowing charisma, not forgetting to smile (or wink here and there). The deafening sounds mixed between horses' hooves pummeling the field in an untidy tempo as well as the sounds multitudes of people showing their excitement found themselves into Clay's ear as he reminded himself not to be too insincere. His motion sickness was thrusting in, again, but Skye's medicine effect still lingered around enough to fend it away for as long as the parade lasted. Clay was giddy with high-strung anticipation as he let his right hand wave steadily around the air, almost as if saying goodbye to his miserable life.
Arguably one of the most critical events, the dinner, finally came around. A group dinner like this didn't usually occur before any of the previous hunger games, so Clay hadn't received any significant advice from his mentor and escort. Just the constant nagging of Skye and Sable telling Clay to 'ally himself to someone' or 'collect intel'. That was what he was planning to do from the start, anyway.
Clay requested to be dressed in a more tame get-up this time around, a low collar black t-shirt that exposed his collar-bones and some of his chest. To make his outfit more formal, Daphne added a suit with gold bands and shoulder pads. With an arrogant smirk plastered throughout his face, he entered the hall ready to meet the other tributes.
Already, he saw the other tributes grouping up in one seated area. Clay scurried over, just in time to cut into their conversation. He found himself standing behind River, the tribute from district seven.
"What brings me here? I volunteered! What about you, mister River, miss Element, miss Indigo?" Clay said with a bubbly tone, lightly tapping River on the back as he said his name, hesitantly pointing to the others, Ellie and Indigo otherwise. "Oops, sorry not sorry I'm butting into the conversation," he added, putting on a goofy smile on his face.
The reapings had taught Stray one thing: Like animals, humans were expendable. They were meat products of the capitol that went to waste in the arena annually. It was truly disgusting and Stray, throughout years as an adolescent, had been lucky enough for Novia Opilio, District 10’s escort, to skip his name over and over. The slips of paper went hand in hand with unrecognizable names, making the games easier for him to stomach.
District 10 was small and the farm he grew up on was only a portion of that. There was no school for him to go to when he was better off being put to work. Everyone was relatively friendly, but he certainly missed out on social opportunities. Trips into town were a rare but enjoyable occasion where he had the chance to talk to people other than the ones he saw every day on the farm and get to pick out what loaf of freshly baked bread his family would eat the next 2 weeks. His mother always told him to “Pick a tasty one.”
But now she was missing. Presumably dead.
Stray almost got out alive. When his name was called, it was as if Novia Opilio had personally grabbed him by the neck and choked him. The news that he would be attending the Hunger Games for District 10 was wasn’t exactly "news". Already he’d been given the time to come to terms with what he was doing. His sacrifice. In desperation after watching his father nearly get dragged away and beaten for something both the peacekeepers and Stray knew he had nothing to do with, he’d struck an enticing deal. His younger brothers and sister weren’t going to have to grow up without both their parents, just an absent mother and brother. Unfortunately, that also meant Stray had doomed his father to the next decade and a half of worrying about whether or not his kids were going to be slaughtered like pigs. In that moment he wondered if the public humiliation and placement in the grave would have been better for his father's health. The entire disaster originated with Stray's mother, though. They would never have been in this sick game if she hadn't broken the rules. It could hardly be considered a game, because as soon as it'd started, they'd already lost.
Thinking back, Stray would have rather starved.
He couldn’t help but to chuckle before the peacekeepers forced him up to the front. Stray’s mind went blank—he’d already distanced himself from the moment. The piercing screams of his siblings couldn’t even rip through the blanket of disassociation. Novia Opilio was talking to him, but he didn’t answer. All he could do was stare out over the heads of the crowd.
Finally, he glanced to Novia, who’s perfume made him miss the stench of the barns.
“It’s been a hard week.”
Stray wandered the entire train ride. As soon as public eyes were no longer on them, Novia seemingly wanted nothing to do with him. He was much more interested in interacting with Vixen Fairhill. After all, she had a pleasantly familiar face since she had won the Hunger Games. She was the pride and joy of District 10.
“I take it you’re my mentor?” He inquired, already knowing the answer as she slid an arm around his waist and let out a hearty giggle. Stray wanted to shove her away, but he didn’t.
“I’ll take good care of you.” Vixen said, resting her head against his arm. His eyes stared blankly outside the window at the scenery outside as the train passed through the other districts to the Capitol. “Novia says you volunteered. What a load of horseshit. What actually happened?”
“I’m not going to win.”
That was enough to force Vixen to peel herself off of him, standing up straight to look at him with a narrowed gaze. “What do you mean? If I can, you surely can.” She tried to reassure him.
His eyes met with hers. “I don’t think I want to.”
“You’ll change your mind in the arena, I can promise you that.” Vixen said, turning around to walk away. Apparently that conversation was enough to piss her off. Stray didn’t mind, though. So far he hadn’t been too fond of anyone. But, Vixen might have been one of the biggest disappointments yet.
There was no time to breathe. Everything began the minute the tributes arrived. The parade was immediately sprung onto them and Stray was whisked away, cleaned up, and dressed up like a doll. Elicity Hatfield, the lead stylist of District 10, was the kindest person he’d come into contact with up until that moment. She was a calming soul and the metaphorical rock that kept him grounded as he was overwhelmed with way too many people touching him all at once.
The outfit that she’d designed stuck to a cowboy theme with mostly neutral and dark tones. Plenty of leathers, furs, and layering made its way onto his body and Stray feared he might pass out from the heat, It was a good thing Elicity had made the creative choice to cover his face in a dangling array of black strings and beads, because the expression that he was making wasn’t pleasant.
The most interesting and deadly choice of them all were the black heels. Elicity promised more comfort if for the parade he’d wear the pair with thin heels for the parade.
“We’re visiting the past. Butchers used them first.” Elicity had said.
Despite his doubts, Stray was forced to comply and the parade proceeded with him overheating and barely conscious.
Stray was cleaned up a second time and given a breather in between events. Stripping him of his fanciful outfit, it was replaced with a bright red suit, a quarter unbuttoned white dress shirt, and a pair of leather boots with, once again, bigger heels than he would have liked. Elicity kept true to her promise as everything was more manageable when his outfit wasn’t the big show.
Walking into the dinner, Stray noticed several figures already seated and chatting away. Perhaps that put him at a disadvantage. The input of Vixen and was little Novia had to offer urged him to ally himself with whoever he could and gain information. On those he knew he should avoid. At home, Stray would have jumped at this opportunity, but his growling stomach and the delicious food scents wafting into his nostrils swapped some of his priorities.
District 1, Element Wright. He wanted to get to know her. District 3, Lector Giga. Stray was going to stay far away from him. District 6, Clay Melichor. He could... prove to be useful. District 7, River Calhoun. Stray was on the border of what to think of him and this dinner would probably be the deciding factor. District 8, Indigo Lockhearst. He'd rather have her on his side. And finally, District 12, Pyra Haywood. Stray wished he were her right in that moment.
Ah-- he'd stood there too long. Stray moved to sit down, electing one of the chairs placed next to River. Was he allowed to just grab and eat? Glancing around, most of tributes were chatting away. He plucked a roll off one of the plates and gnawed on it as he listened in on the conversation, trying to find a place he could hop in if he so chose to.
There was only one day a year she wore a dress. The same one since she was 12 years old. It had to be lengthened or let out a few times as she got older. Fabric and thread were much cheaper than buying all new dresses. Millet smoothed the faded rose pattern of her dress. It wasn't that she was nervous. Years past she had been at least on edge when the day of the reaping occurred. More worried about her siblings than herself. Her sisters, Mazie and Oryza, deserved better than to face that horrible fate, and her brothers, Teff and Barric, were more valuable to their mother than any of the girls. She didn't have an ounce of concern for them this year.
The thought of her brother made her throat tighten slightly. The pit of her stomach simmered with anger. She stood with everyone else, the only difference was the peacekeeper that stood stoically behind her. Millet wasn't stupid. She knew. The fact she didn't have a bullet in her skull was proof enough. Millet knew they would pick her the second the news came out about the quarter quell. Who else would they send?
Hearing her name echo, her face set in stone, she felt the eyes on her. They were watching her carefully, like she could snap at any time. Millet moved towards the stage. She drug her feet slightly as the peacekeepers forced her down the walk way. Millet didn't feel anything in particular. Standing on the stage she made eye contact with Teff. He held their mother as her body shook with sobs. He gave his sister a solemn nod. He had been the only one to visit her while being in prison. He told her all about how their mother wouldn't eat. How she wailed when she heard the news. How she said she had lost two children that day.
Millet didn't regret anything. Those two deserved to die. A penance for their crimes. That was a lie, however. She did regret one thing. The swift way she had brought about their demise. Millet felt as though she should have made them suffer. Those boys deserved more excruciating death.
As the man, who she would learn the name of later, droned on, she tried to illicit some response within herself. You are going to die a horrible, painful death. She thought to herself. She waited a few seconds. Nothing. Not the feeling of betrayal. Nor the feeling of grief. The girl almost felt bored staring into the judgmental eyes of the crowd. She was already prepared for this all to be over.
Curiously, Millet sat looking around. As the world zoomed passed the windows of the train ride, she felt generally unbothered. Picking up an apple from the wonderfully laid out tray of snacks, she tossed it up in the air a few times. Sorrel, the man who had announced her fate and became her escort, sat one leg crossed over the other. He looked over at her and then returned his attention back to the conversation he was currently having. His utterly ridiculous bright blue hair and loud matching outfit made the girl from district nine roll her eyes. Her stylist had her even more concerned. The woman was known for her love of dramatics. Couple that with a prejudice against poor districts, it made Kinniki crinkle her nose every time she looked at her. Millet was aware of both her outward appearance and her lack of fashion sense.
Sawyer, her mentor, was surprisingly timid. Millet always had this preconception about victors, that they were volatile or, at the very least, bold. Well, she knew the story, she had watched the games with her brothers when she killed the person she supposedly loved. She wondered if the whole love thing was ever true in the first place. To any extent, the older girl made her way though by sponsors and alliances. Something that Millet may have difficulty acquiring. She took a bite of her apple as she threw herself down into the chair across from them.
The three were in a conversation about their current problem. "I just don't know what I'm going to do with her. How can we make her likable?!" Sorrel complained to the others.
"Don't even get me started. That hair?? If I had 50 hours to do something with it, maybe, but how can I possibly make her look absolutely darling?! It's my personal belief that it's impossible."
"This is probably the most difficult tribute I've ever had. I'm not sure where to begin,"Sawyer spoke, the others nodding their heads in agreement.
Millet ran her tongue over her teeth, frustration building within her. She cleared her throat to get their attention. "I'm not deaf. I can hear you," Her voice walking the line between threatening and warning. Her arms crossed over her chest as she slouched in her seat. The three looked over at her. She got an apologetic smile from her mentor, an eye roll from her stylist, and a nervous nod from her escort. Millet was already prepared to grab the knife that stuck out of the cutting board beside the cheeses, but she controlled herself. For now.
Looking into the mirror was the strangest feeling she had ever experienced. Millet examined her hair as it was styled into an intricate up-do with gems and gold wheat shaped clips. Her skull still burned from all the tugging and ripping that Kinniki had done with a comb through her mop of messy brown curls. Her face felt itchy from all the makeup that had been caked onto it. The gold of her eye shadow shimmered as she moved her head back and forth. Her lipstick was really the only thing that wasn't loud, the neutral brown helped balance the rest.
The face that looked her in the mirror didn't feel like her's. Millet couldn't tell if she liked it or if she hated it.
Now in her second dress of the day, she was having all sorts of new experiences. The gold and copper hues interwoven, seemingly growing up her chest and shoulders. The skirt of the dress was stiff at the top, it was wide from the front but slim from the side. The stiff fabric ended just before her knees, replaced by tassels that dangled down past her ankles. It was...interesting. Fashion had never been something of interest to her. And capitol fashion was normally absolutely hideous. The worst part of the dress was that it was incredibly uncomfortable. She could care less about showing her skin, Millet wasn't used to it but she wasn't one to be self-conscious. No. The fabric was itchy. It felt like she had just baled hay for the past 8 hours. As soon as she stepped into the dress and zipped it up she wanted to tear it off.
Walking next to Kinniki as they made their way to where she would get into the chariot, the woman was giving her some pointers. "Give them hell Millie,"A wicked smile on her face. Millet looked back at her, her expression blank. "I don't think it would kill you to smile. Sponsors like that sort of thing you know," There was the annoyed tone she was used to.
"It might," She countered. She gave up after a few seconds of death glare from the stylist. The tribute gave her a wide smile before dropping once again into a neutral glare. Kinniki gave her a happy nod and continued on her way. Millet reminded her self one more time the pointers they had given her. Head up, bright smile, possibly a little wave or two if she was feeling bold.
As the chariot raced around, she was able to force a smile. Not that a smile really covered over the fact she was already a murderer. Ah, well, may as well try.
She had barely stepped foot into the door way of her room before she jumped out of her dress. It was fine because they were waiting for Millet with a new outfit and an ultimatum. The dinner between the tributes was about to begin. She was just glad that the outfit they had picked for her had pants. Sitting at a table in a dress may have posed a problem for her. She wasn't exactly ladylike. As Kinniki had her step into the white wide legged jumpsuit, Sawyer was trying to impart some of her vast wisdom.
"You are going to need someone on your side in there. You may be strong, but there are strength in numbers. Tonight is a good opportunity to figure out who you'd like to possibly ally yourself with,"The victor explained. Millet nodded as the back of her outfit was zipped up. Her hair was pulled down, being absolutely pin straight for the first time in her life. Allies. A necessary evil if you asked her, but a need nonetheless. Millet wasn't a person who trusted easily, but in this game she didn't have time on her side. She would probably rely on her gut reaction, which was what she was good at.
Sawyer then began to run through all the different tributes and their names again. After their little gossip session about the awfulness that was Millet as a tribute, she had been working on putting names to faces. Then learning why those faces were in the games in the first place. There were already some who had more firepower than others. Some she admired and others Millet could already tell would get on her nerves.
With that she was on her way down the corridor. She did trip once on her way there, the concept of wearing heels was still incredibly foreign to her. She was already tall, why make herself taller? There was power in towering over others, which was something she wanted to allude to. Her power was her only asset. The girl slipped into the dinning hall just as the tall, large boy started explaining how he volunteered. How incredibly noble and brave, I'm swooning. She thought to herself, awarding the person speaking an eye roll. Another boy just sitting down to pull a piece of bread off the table. She was able to identify the boy talking as Clay from District 6 and bread boy was Stray from District 10. That was when Clay went ahead and introduced the rest of the group to her. Wonderful. The less brain power she used trying to decipher their faces, the more she could use interacting with said faces.
Pulling the seat out next to Lector Giga, the boy with a name bigger than her own, and took a seat. Her eyes roved over the different dished on the table. She was tired and hungry at this point. She just wanted the day to be over. But alas she didn't have to power to speed up time. Her attention set on one particular dish. She had no clue what it was, but it looked delicious. The problem? It was out of her reach. She looked up to the loud mouthed tribute from district 6, her eyes narrowing slightly. "Yes yes, you're big, strong and tough for volunteering. I'll validate your masculinity. If you could though, make yourself useful and pass me that right there?" Her voice level and monotone as she pointed to the bowl in question, "Thanks."
thoughts: I'm hoping they won't pry. What happened isn't their business.
outfit: Dark slacks, sweater, blazer.
location: City Circle, Panem Capitol.
The dining room slowly began to teem with other tributes as they filled in, one by one. His dark eyes were constantly moving—watching the lips of who was talking, the slightest movements of those sitting near him, reacting to the moving shadows as new guests joined them for dinner. River didn’t realize his jaw was tight and one of his fists was balled tightly in his lap: this was already quite stressful.
A beautiful but ferocious-looking girl, one he recognized as Pyra from District Twelve, sat down a couple spaces away from him and began eating like she’d never seen food in her life. River unintentionally turned his head and watched her for a few short moments, brow furrowed. I wonder if those rumors are true. There were only so many conclusions one could draw from a situation like hers, after all. The thought of it was enough to make him shudder just slightly when she took a particularly big bite out of the turkey leg, and he returned back to the discussion at the table.
The sudden (strangely upbeat and energetic, in his opinion) voice from behind him, paired with the actual physical tap on his shoulder, made River flinch. He whipped around in his seat to figure out just who it was that intruded on his personal space and wasn’t surprised to see Clay from District Six. Like he just announced to the rest of them, he was the only volunteer for this year’s Games—it would’ve been nearly impossible to not know who he was, even if he hadn’t studied up on everyone.
This newcomer’s demeanor struck him as odd, like something so full that it threatened to crack and give. He thought of Element from District One, watching this all from her seat just a space or two away. Maybe it’s a rich thing? River regarded Clay coldly, saying nothing but hoping he could interpret the message he was sending with his eyes: touch me again and I’ll break your hand.
The tribute from District Nine opened her mouth before he could, and he was glad she did; he couldn’t have put Clay in his place as eloquently or as perfectly as Millet did. River restrained a small smirk as she finished, then casually, wordlessly pushed the bowl she wanted to the other side of the table. He was just a tiny bit closer to it than the other young man, and this could be a first small gesture of goodwill towards someone he could see himself allying with.
He then cleared his throat. “Thank you for your sacrifice, Six,” he answered flatly, sarcastically. “I’m sure the poor delinquent whose ass you saved is grateful and thinks of you often.”
River’s expression turned thoughtful as he considered Clay’s question. How could he possibly spin his past to make it look any better than it was? If he told the unbelievable truth or kept the convincing lie going, neither did much for his character or credibility. “… Let’s just say I’m here because of some bad behavior. There’s not much else to know.” He threw his hands up in a weak gesture, resigned to it all.
He’d only just noticed that the demure Stray from District Ten had slipped into the seat next to him. Might as well put this kid in the hot seat just for the hell of it. River nudged him gently with his elbow. “What about you, Ten? Why are you here?”
Within minutes, the table was graced with more tributes. Clay was covertly observing each and every one of them; their mannerisms, way of speaking. Ellie instantly caught his eye as she brimmed with depthless confidence. He had a hunch on where this confidence stemmed. If the Hunger Games was a tree, Ellie was a gardener. Some of the more richer districts sent out what was known as "career" tributes. Since the moment they were conceived, their whole purpose was to win the Hunger Games. Definitely someone worth keeping an eye on.
Lector was there, his presence weirdly not. He seemed quite detached from whatever was brewing. The others seemed less enthusiastic as he was; preferring to eat and let the moment pass. Pyra Haywood from district twelve seemed especially unsatiated, munching on a turkey leg as soon as she arrived. The boy from district eleven, Stray Flores, gave the sampe impression. Only, he seemed more reserved, only taking a single piece of bread. Clay grabbed an assorted cheese platter, offering it to Stray as he was munching on the bread. "You should try some of these to go with the bread. Insanely good." If the boy declined, Clay would put it on the table. He could tell that Stray seemed hesitant to start and eat the more luxurious dishes, even if he wanted to. Before he could check out the other tributes, lightning struck.
Millet Overwhill, district nine tribute. She seemed very done with.. just about everything. Even earlier at the parade, the tribute smiled as much as she glared at the audience. A few 'kind' comments later, she was already asking Clay to be her errand boy. He stood in silence for a few seconds before bursting into laughter. Clay let his cackle fill the room as his ego was being struck once.
Make that twice. His hands brushed against River's hands as the district seven tribute beat him to grabbing the requested bowl. Clay could almost feel River swearing under his breath. He also didn't seem too happy about being tapped on the back earlier, firing Clay with a 'compliment' of his own. At this point, Clay was just left confused. Embarrassment was stirring up, both first and second-hand, yet confidence was all he portrayed in his expression and pose. Clay was used to being disliked by people, even if he rarely met disgust right off the bat.
"Well, well.. not very good at being friendly, are we? Two words and two people hate my guts already! I love it here!" He scooted over to sit next to Millet, but not before grabbing two glasses of a particularly sweet red wine. "This goes well with that," he said. Whether she accepted or denied, the glass was already placed in front of her. Clay's focus was still on River, listening to what he had to say about his reason being here. He had said something about Clay saving a poor delinquent-- somewhat ironically, River could just be the poor delinquent from his own district. No one saved him then.
Something about River stirred an unknown feeling inside Clay, but he didn't know just what. Maybe it was the way he addressed the other tributes (somewhat offputtingly, if he had to say) with numbers, or the way that he was taller. Whatever it was, Clay heard him trying to switch up the conversation, passing it to Stray. "Oh, but I'd love to know what behaviour you displayed, enough to be sent here! I mean, best case scenario, we'll be leaving here alive but crazy. Slightly crazier, y'know, because I can tell we already are, haha!" Clay was trying to get closer to the other tributes (River with that conversation), but he felt a jab in his gut telling him that he probably did just the opposite.
One by one, tributes entered the hall and approached the table. While Indigo's attention had been captured by the two people she was initially seated with — River from seven and Element from one — her focus quickly shifted as more people joined them.
In all honesty, Indigo was happier about it. Element had an energy that she might have liked, if they came from the same district and weren't about to have a fight to the death for their lives. Right now though, Indigo didn't see her interests aligning with the other girl's at all. She couldn't understand how anyone would ever want to volunteer for one of these things. She supposed the money got boring after some time. In her mind, that was the only thing that could explain Element's decision to be here. But Indigo was there for something much bigger, and she had no intention of letting someone like a volunteer from District One get in her way. She quickly dismissed her as a potential ally.
As their group became bigger, Indigo's gaze flitted around and she made note of who was there — Lector from Three, Pyra from Twelve, Clay from Six, Stray from Ten and Millet from Nine. She didn't speak immediately, instead watching and observing everyone's mannerisms as they sat down. She could be sure that some of them, at least, were putting on an act. There was no way to know for sure.
Clay certainly seemed... different. His airy nature brought an amused smile to Indigo's face as she cut into her food and took a few bites. As curious as she was about the tributes, she was also starving, and she'd rather get her fill in before she was tossed into an arena and forced to find food.
Stray seemed quiet, much like Lector, and Pyra who was... doing her own thing. Indigo couldn't really blame her. All this food was probably more than some of them had seen in a year. Indigo knew that was the case for her. She mentally cautioned herself to go slow. All this rich food would make her throw it all up if she went overboard.
Millet's comment toward Clay garnered a small chuckle from Indigo. She certainly piqued her interest, at least more than the others in this room. Save for her and Element, Indigo had yet to actually have an impression of everyone else. The night was still young.
Having heard a thing or two about some of the other tributes, Indigo piped up when Clay expressed an interest in learning about what behaviour got everyone sent to the games — to their deaths. "I think we've all done some things that won't be very different from what we'll have to do in the arena to win," she said, offering a polite smile before she swallowed her food down with some water — the taste of wine was bitter and she just couldn't take to it. "I don't see why we need to pretend when most of us know what the point of this dinner is." To make allies. While it may not explicitly be for that, this was a stepping stone for sure, and Indigo wasn't making any decisions based on various facades presented to her. While she couldn't see through all of them, she'd also just rather not beat around the bush. Time was of the essence, as far as The Hunger Games was concerned.
In another world, perhaps she might have found Clay almost endearing. Right now though, everyone in that room were people Indigo had to accept could possibly die in the arena. Allowing herself to be overly friendly wasn't an opportunity. Not if she wanted to make good allies. And in any case, it seemed that a majority of them didn't seem very interested in talking too much. Not right now, anyway.
The dining had officially commenced with all of the tributes present. Ellie was excited to get the show on the road. Thankfully for River and Indigo, they had been quickly spared from Ellie’s eager small talk as the rest of the tributes filled the open seats.
Ellie followed River’s line of sight- towards, Pyra Haywood- District 12, who seemed ravenous. She had placed herself to Lector Giga, from 3. Ellie wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about Lector. He seemed a bit off-putting, creepy almost. Ellie didn’t want bad vibes anywhere near her, but maybe Lector could prove to be useful in the arena? He seemed like he could kill without getting all worked up about it. It could be annoying, really, seeing someone get all flustered over a little blood.
The girl was tearing into her plate without hesitation as if she had never eaten in her life. She couldn’t help but frown distastefully at Pyra’s poor table manners- the turkey leg had vanished instantly. Poor girl, Ellie thought. Ellie wrongfully assumed that Pyra might have just not had the stomach to eat on the train, all wrought with nerves. Ellie wasn’t aware that the girl might not have known when her next meal was coming home. Capitol imported goodies surrounded Ellie in District 1. Gratefully, here, too. How rude it would be if she had to resort to anything less.
Ellie glanced away from Pyra and back at her plate. She had the privilege of not feeling hungry at the moment. Instead, Ellie sipped at the skinny crystal glass perched next to her, filled with fragrant champagne. She swirled the glass, contemplating her option of allies from amongst the group. She wasn’t completely stupid- while Ellie wanted to enjoy her time and realized that this wasn’t the club in District 1. There were consequences to everything she did- and she didn’t want to waste any time getting to know her competitors.
Neither did 6. While it was apparent that River and Millet were not exactly warming up to him, Ellie found his eager attitude refreshing. Perhaps not charming, but she appreciated his confidence. It was evident that Clay didn’t care too much about how people thought of him. Maybe that’s what the difference was between the two. While Ellie wanted her attention to only be positive, Clay didn’t care what the focus was. Ellie could be arrogant and self-absorbed, but she always wanted to make others happy- be a people pleaser. It was apparent that he didn’t care. Maybe it was stupidity, or perhaps it was his arrogance. Whatever it was, it was not going over well with Millet and River.
Clay’s question regarding River, Indigo, and herself wasn’t long-lasting- he was quickly shut down by Millet- whom Ellie had labeled as a depressing sort. What a buzzkill. Ellie didn’t see herself bonding with her any time soon- or ever. She was too uptight for her. River’s snap at Clay’s self-indulgent announcement of his volunteering wasn’t helping the tense situation between the three.
Ellie pouted at Indigo’s response to Clay’s question. While she was correct, they were here to make allies, couldn’t they enjoy themselves for the next few nights? The night was souring, and Ellie couldn’t stand a lame party of all things in the world. Ellie decided to attempt to patch things up and lighten the sour mood.
“What’s so bad about pretending?” She said, raising the glass again to her lips and sipping politely. Ellie set down her glass. In truth, it was a bit of a catty statement towards Indigo, but Ellie hadn’t realized.
“I think we should all enjoy ourselves before the Games; have a little bit of fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun.” It was a bold statement, but honest. Ellie had been the first to mention the Games out loud, and she had hardly noticed. That was easy for Ellie to say, she had enjoyed herself her entire life.
“It’s just Ellie. And if you must know Clay, I didn’t volunteer. I was elected. Sort of took the excitement out of it, though. I was looking forward to it- you know, after all that training. Top of my class and everything!” Ellie paused, leaning back in her plush seat.
“Oh well,” she finished, smiling all-knowingly, as she swirled her glass and took a drink. Careers were illegal, of course. You couldn’t just go about saying it willy-nilly. The implied statement got her point across a bit too obviously, in any case.
At that, Ellie glanced up from under her lashes at the boy in the red suit, sitting directly across from her, next to River. Stray Flores, from 10. He had been oddly quiet since arriving, Ellie hadn’t registered that he had joined the party. She eyed him before deciding that she liked Stray. Ellie wasn’t entirely sure why, but maybe it was because he hadn’t said anything to give her a reason not to like him. Ellie appreciated River’s inclusion of Stray into the conversation.
“Yes, River. What about you, Stray? Do tell!” Ellie repeated, genuinely curious.
would killing be difficult if I don't hate them? would it be scarier if it was or if I felt nothing either way?
Lector took small, calm bites of the meat on his plate as the others streamed in. The one right after him was the girl from District 12. Pyra Haywood, he recalled. Quiet, not very noticeable among the lot, but definitely better off than certain others in terms of first impression. Same thing with the guy from Ten who came after her.
A significantly different, much less favorable impression came in the form of Clay Melchior from District 6. Lector hadn't particularly liked him from the moment he saw his cousin's likeness in the boy's face while looking through the list of tributes. He had merely memorized the others while flipping through their information. Clay was one of few that really lingered in Lector's mind. Now, with his boisterous entrance, the older tribute's status as annoying as only further sealed.
Don't make strong decisions just yet, Sparki had advised before sending him off. Too bad, Lector was a make-strong-decisions sort of person. As he scanned the growing crowd, he had already grouped the others into levels of ally-ability.
Taking another sip of his drink, his gaze moved from Clay to the newest entry: Millet Overwhill, District 9, killed two men in cruel fashion. Slowly, she got nearer and nearer to him, before finally taking a seat beside him. He glanced at her for a fleeting second, before looking back at his food. Would she make conversation with him? Judging from her demeanor, it was unlikely.
"Yes, yes, you're big, strong and tough for volunteering,"she said instead, her target clearly being Clay. The sarcasm in her tone was palpable and, despite himself, Lector let a hint of amusement show on his face. Her polite request for the other male to pass the food only made his smile even more obvious, and he killed it with another small mouthful of meat. Millet shot up his rank of ally-ability.
The rest of the conversation didn't interest Lector. He already knew why they were here. They should, too. Didn't their mentors give them the dossiers? Or was that a special effort on Sparki's part? Either way, he agreed with 8's statement. No point in saying it out or trying to cover it up. The fact that they were here said enough. They were beasts in human form, some just more voluntarily so than others.
“I think we should all enjoy ourselves before the Games; have a little bit of fun. There’s nothing wrong with having fun,” were the words that came from across the long table, once again pulling back his full attention. As Element described how she got here, Lector felt a bad taste grow in his mouth. Fun? He couldn't have fun. If he was, that would mean he had gone insane. He'd already lost quite a bit of his mind, and he wasn't sure how much more he could afford to let go. Inexplicable, was the final label he attached to Element. She was clearly a different breed of human than him.
As the question got pushed onto Stray, Lector grew uncomfortable. Was this going to be a running theme? Were they going to take turns to say it out? Because he had no flowery words to put to his crime, and no matter how many futures he tried to imagine, he couldn't see one where blatantly saying "I tried to kill my entire family with a bomb for technically no reason" was going on get him on anyone's good side. Except maybe the crazy ones.
Stray was thankful he was able to make a quiet entrance, almost entirely unnoticed. Perhaps during the games, he would be able to pull something off like that. Life was easier that way—staying under the radar and not making a scene. After all, by doing the exact opposite, Clay Melchior from District 6 had managed to earn the disrespect and hatred from a couple of the other tributes. Stray almost pitied the guy. What goal he had, Stray didn’t know. But at the moment where was really no reason to be so negative.
Then he understood. Having his presence suddenly pointed out was jarring, threatening. Being around so many people his age was odd and interacting with them wasn’t something he was used to. Staring at the cheese platter offered to him, Stray swallowed as his eyes swapped focus between Clay’s face and the food several times. Not wanting to come off as rude and being as hungry as he was, he settled on accepting.
“Thank you.” He told Clay, his voice soft. From the platter, he plucked a piece of cheese from the board and paired it with the bread he was already chewing. Clay wasn’t wrong, it was good. Better than anything his mother had made in the past. Even a simple piece of cheese told him all he needed to know when it came to the different of worth between the Capitol and his own district.
With Clay’s sacrifice of friendliness, it seemed like others were getting along. Everyone was thinking the same thing as Millet, the girl from District 9 who had just made her appearance. Or, at least in many of the other’s faces he could see the solidarity. The sudden jab at his side made Stray understood it more. Sure, they were all there to make alliances but because of Clay, others were pointing him out as well. River in particular. Subsequently, Clay’s attempt to swap the interest back over to River failed. Element expressed the desire to know as well. Clenching his jaw, he waited to see if the moment would pass. It didn’t.
Clearing his throat, he glanced between the other tributes before his gaze settled on River, the one who has initially asked. Stray didn’t want to appear weak. He wasn’t there for killing anyone or other bad behavior. But, perhaps his background of different types of slaughter would make up for that. He still wasn’t sure how to approach the question, so being as vague and honest as he could with the others might have been his best bet.
“I made a deal.” Stray tried to explain. “This was the better option.” Looking to Clay, he clarified. “But I wouldn’t say I volunteered. I’m not nearly as bold and brave as you.” Rolling his eyes, Stray turned his head back to the food sitting on the table. To be honest, he didn’t want to go for Clay’s throat like some of the others had, but it seemed to be a way into some of the other tributes’ hearts.
“If you want to win, I’m a good ally.” I’ll get you there. He murmured to no one in particular.
Stray sank into his chair and crossed his arms over his chest, the pair of bread and cheese long gone. Nerves caught up with his hunger again. More than likely, he’d said too much. Implied too much. At least he was quiet about it—to everyone else, his words weren’t worth hanging off of. No one sitting at that table was special.
Pyra decided to sit on the edge of the table, platform boots settling on the embroidered chair ahead of her. Two fingers pulled out the turkey leg from between her lips, nothing but the bone left; managing to clean the bone of every piece of meat and even cartilage. No one wasted food in District 12, yet from some of the other nimble eaters around the table, Pyra could tell they never went a day without food. The girl from District 1 for example, Element or Ellie she mentioned, her graceful fingers poised around a flute of champagne, who seemingly didn't have a care in the world. It took every ounce of resistance to not leap from the table and shove that flute down her delicate, little throat. If she kept speaking, Pyra wasn't sure she would be able to stop herself.
Brooding, brown-eyes glanced around at the others settled about the table, most engaging in conversation. Coal and Penelope — well mostly Penelope, Coal was busy downing a bottle — spoke about each of the tributes, and while Pyra was not really listening, she recalled the basics. District 6's Clay was the most talkative it seemed, and he left a bad taste in Pyra's mouth — unless that was the turkey? Yet, she also found something endearing about him, he reminded her of Blaze, her brother, who had this unbashful confidence in everything he did.
An odd sense of solidarity was found within Stray from District 10 and River from District 7, who most likely had suffered the same from the Capitol favoring other districts, leaving them to fend and feed themselves. Millet from District 9 was an interesting case, she recalled Penelope detailing the grisly murders she acted upon. However, Pyra wondered if she was misunderstood like her, surely there was a reason why she did such a thing? Don't let your guard down, Pyra forced herself to remember, you can't trust any of these people.
That left Lector from District 3 and Indigo from District 8. Lector hadn't spoken a word, his eyes were calculating and observing the entire scene it seemed. She would have to keep an eye on someone like him. Indigo expressed the facade this dinner held and honestly Pyra couldn't disagree but Pyra didn't want to make allies. Trust was something that lasted until it didn't benefit the other person anymore. People who turn on you the first chance they have, they were animals of survival after all.
Despite the fancy and exuberant setting, this dinner was parallel to her times in the darkness of the mines. It was inevitable before they were tearing each other apart. The thought made her throat tighten and without thinking, Pyra spoke, "Why bother making allies? We will all turn on each other eventually." Her voice was hoarse and deep, it felt as though she was swallowing glass but she continued, "and how is this fun? We are about to kill each other for someone's amusement." Pyra was shocked by the foreign voice that left her lips and made her realize this was the first time she had spoken since the mines.
Millet looked over to River as he slid the bowl across the table to her, the amusement on his face evident over the verbal knife that she hurled at Clay. One side of her mouth curled up into a knowing smirk. It was almost an unsaid proposal. A treaty in the works as it were. Her attention was pulled back to the large, very loud tribute who decided to sit right next to her. If Millet didn't believe he had a death wish before when he volunteered, she was sure of it now. The girl watched him set the glass in front of her, explaining that it went with what she was eating.
What the hell did that mean?
To her, if it was food, it went together. You didn't complain if you ate burnt bread and drank water for dinner. At least you ate and you could live another day. She sent a glare his way before dumping a good helping of just about everything in her vicinity onto her plate. Probably one of her first choices to kill first if he wasn't so massive. Why did the mountain have to have such an obnoxious personality? River then pointed a question in Stray's direction after vaguely describing his own reason for being there. This felt like a childhood game to her. What next? An adjective with the first letter of your name to describe yourself? Cute, but not exactly what Millet wanted to hear.
Indigo seemed to mirror her thoughts. From what Millet had heard, Indigo was much different than herself, but similar in the ways that counted. That in it's self was appealing. The fact that she had the same no nonsense demeanor made her even more likable. Well. Not really likable, tolerable was probably the better word for it. Her attempt to cut to the chaste was thwarted by Element. Or Ellie apparently. Even the name sounded uppity and annoying. Perfect for her, as she sat with dainty hands on a glass of whatever she was drinking. Meanwhile, Millet was shoveling mouthfuls of food into her mouth.
Though she paused, hearing Ellie say that there was nothing wrong with having fun put a bad taste in her mouth. Millet let out an audible scoff as she set her spoon down to look down at her. Fun? She expected fun while preparing to brutally slaughter each other. How much more dense could one get? Millet may not be dreading the games (if she was being honest she was somewhat looking forward to them), but she wasn't one to enjoy the company of her new found enemies. Because there was no fun in murdering your friends. Or maybe there was. She had never tried it before. Anyway, to let her guard down, have a few drinks, and laugh along with the person who could be the one to kill her wasn't appealing.
Ellie's overt brag about her illegal training and her abilities continued to build the growing grudge Millet had against her. Oh, she was definitely on the list. The 'i'd like to kill that person' list, if anyone was wondering. She returned to her food when the question was turned once again to Stray. His answer to the question was again, like River's, vague. Millet wasn't all to interested. His little kiss up phrase to Clay caused her to roll her eyes. Flirt somewhere else please, she was trying to eat.
Pyra, from District 12 finally seemed to be finished with sloppily devouring her turkey leg. She didn't really have any room to talk about eating habits. Millet wasn't ever one for manners. Her voice, rough and hoarse, echoed some of her own thoughts. She did, however, see value in allies unlike Pyra. It wasn't that she expected to make it out of the arena alive. She had accepted her death as soon as she watched the screwdriver plunge it's self into the other boy's skull while his eyes rolled into the back of his head. There was no escaping it, even now in the games. The probability of her surviving was little to none, so why have any hopes at all.
But she also didn't want to be known as on of the first ones to go. Which would inevitably happen if she didn't have allies. "So, Ellie, maybe a room full of corpses isn't a great place to look for amusement. The dead don't party," Millet sneered once Pyra was finished with speaking. It was interesting to her to think about how just about everyone in the room would be dead in the next few weeks. The one that remained? Would probably wish to be dead. She wasn't sure which was the worse fate.
Clay was as confused as a fart in a fan factory when all of his friendly gestures seem to have backfired. Stray caught him off guard as he came across as a nice guy (who even accepted his cheesy gesture), yet the boy seemed to join the ihate6 bandwagon. The district 6 tribute could tell that the eye roll was a bit unnatural, almost as if he did that on purpose to win the other tributes' favor. At any rate, ouch. The situation was getting kind of unpleasant as Millet kept being Millet, dragging out her eye rolls (Clay is even worried her eyes will rotate and never turn back to normal) even longer. Her deathly stare almost piercing through Clay's skull, he could tell that Millet didn't appreciate what he gave to her. Did plebeians not like wine? Was she allergic to wine? Clay had to fight the urge to ask.. until he realized he couldn't.
"I'm just curious.. are you allergic to joy, Millet?" Clay asked seriously with no added sarcasm. Then again, he felt like everyone sitting around the table was allergic to even the most petite amounts of fun and joy, except for maybe Element. The table was divided to two groups, those who do and don't appreciate Clay. Stray, Indigo, Pyra, River, Lex seemed to fall to the former category, whereas Element was still very much neutral. That left him with.. no person belonging to the latter category. Huh?, he thought to himself. What he felt slowly creeping up his throat was a mix of fear, excitement, worry and annoyance. The odds weren't turning in his favor. It took him a bit to actually realize that he had volunteered yet again to be the object of hate that brought everyone together. Clay's OCD was kicking in-- what the fuck just happened?
No, I'm dead.
No.. I'm not going down this way.
But I'm already dead..
Why the fuck did I say all of those?
What am I supposed to do now?
Clay was overwhelmed by his own thoughts. He tried hard not to let it show, but it was as clear as day that he didn't appreciate the situation that he aroused for himself. The sudden release of emotions felt raw.. reminiscent of something. His family's downfall, where everyone turned on the Melchior family. Was this what his father felt, enough to drive him crazy to the point of torturing his own son? The sudden thought of his father brought Clay back to his senses. How could he have let a simple exchange of words hurt his pride and reason-- the same thing he maintained for years? Clay may have overestimated his ability to make friends-- these weren't normal people he was dealing with, after all. But he shouldn't have let fear tear his mask away. That would be ridiculous. They were sent here to kill each other, not to make friends. The latter was only as important to fulfill the former.
If Clay wasn't doing well in terms of making friends, he just had to make everyone else as untrustworthy as possible, starting with the lady who wants to kill him the most. "You seem to know a lot about corpses, Millie-- whoops, Millet. Say, what about you? Why end up being here? It's almost clearer than everyone's distaste of me that you don't want to be here in the slightest," he said. This was going to be a long day.
thoughts: This shit needs to stop. It's irritating.
outfit: Dark slacks, sweater, blazer.
location: City Circle, Panem Capitol.
Even if River was rarely the type to feel this way about others, part of him felt bad for putting Clay in this position. All his life, in school hallways, on playgrounds, and in the lunchrooms with other tough men like himself, he’d been used to feeling fine about putting other people down. It was all in good fun, for the most part, and whoever the unfortunate target was that day learned quite quickly to stop whatever it was they were doing that put the spotlight on them.
Clay was clearly different; from what little he knew about his background, he had next to nothing in common with the lowly District Seven resident types he knew. Despite the obvious tension and resistance from other tributes that even he was brave enough to name out loud, his cheerful, bright, lighthearted demeanor didn’t change in the slightest. River found it incredibly odd. He furrowed his brow as he watched the other kid make a wine recommendation to Millet, who seemed just as confused about the concept as he was. This kind of persona had to be a rich thing. He’d never known anything like this before.
He tensed up as the attention was inadvertently brought back to him, though. Oh, but I'd love to know what behaviour you displayed, enough to be sent here! Ignorant as he knew they were, the words cut right to River’s core. He quickly found himself resisting the urge to react, or shout, or to teach this uppity little bastard a lesson in what happens when you pry too much into someone’s personal business. He met the other tribute’s eyes for just a brief moment, flashing him a dark, dangerous look, before turning back to where the conversation had gone.
Was Clay not perceptive enough to tell when someone didn’t want to elaborate on something? He’d be damned if he ever told the full version of events to anyone, especially a stranger who he’d be headhunting in less than a week’s time.
Thank God someone brought some semblance of reality back to whatever this facade of a dinner was. He listened to Indigo with muted interest, appreciating her practicality. With the unspoken idea of forming allies now more or less out in the open, River thought of Millet and resolved that he was going to pursue some kind of alliance with her. He liked Indigo’s attitude now, though, and decided to keep a careful eye on her. The next couple of days of training would no doubt be as revealing as they were helpful for his strategizing, and he’d train as methodically as he observed the others.
He grimaced lightly when Ellie opened her mouth again. As much as he wanted to see past the harmless image she portrayed, the more she spoke, the more River disliked her. The concept of approaching the Games like they were life’s greatest challenge, as if they were an opportunity to prove yourself, unsettled him deeply. There must be something fundamentally different in the cultures and attitudes of these Districts, because that wasn’t a sentiment he ever heard back home.
… Hold on. What the fuck? Training? River leaned forward in his chair just slightly, now suddenly very interested. What exactly was she referring to? Whatever it was, it made her confident enough in this circle of mostly hardened teenagers to run her big mouth freely. She did finish at the top of her class, after all. It didn’t seem legal in the slightest. Regardless, maybe he was wrong to keep wanting to dismiss her.
Pyra also made an interesting point, and he agreed wholeheartedly with Millet’s quick follow-up. Cynical as it was, they were both absolutely right about how morbid this whole thing was becoming; he’d been doing his best to keep those kinds of negative thoughts away for the sake of this precious little time he had to prepare. Unlike Stray, who seemed intent on tackling these Games with at least one partner, at least a few of these tributes could probably do just fine on their own. River considered himself capable enough to take this on by himself. Perhaps it wasn’t the most prudent of decisions, but certainly another one to consider. Who could he really even trust? River wasn’t the type to backstab a partner he’d given his word to, but he couldn’t confidently say the same of anyone just yet.
Good Lord. River sighed loudly at the sound of that infuriating voice filling the room again, finally having had enough of Clay.
“Alright, Six.” His voice was low, flat, and completely devoid of any friendliness whatsoever. “You need to ease up on everyone. Maybe you can’t even imagine what life has been like for kids like us from your ivory fucking tower, but we’ve seen some shit. Done some shit, clearly. And not all of us want to play ‘Show and Tell’ tonight.”
He folded his arms across his chest. “This isn’t gonna go well for you if you can’t—“ River trailed off for just a moment as he searched for the right phrase. “—I dunno. Stop being a psycho and behave like a normal fucking person.”
Apparently hostile phrases and eye daggers were not enough to dissuade Clay. He was either pig headed, stupid, or a combination of both. Either way, Millet looked him unamused by his question if she was allergic to joy. If she was being honest, the question sounded genuine. Which made her question his IQ and his sanity. Any one to volunteer for this brutal death match was most definitely not in the right frame of mind. She really didn't have much room to consider someone's mental state. Her own wasn't much better.
She nodded in answer, giving him an obnoxious mhm while scrunching her nose. Her little act dropped almost as quickly as it had started, the same deadened look returning before she spoke, "And stupidity. Which is probably why you sitting next to me is making me itchy." Her deadpan tone and neutral facial expression should have told him this was a joke. Millet wasn't sure that he'd get it. Clay seemed to be the type of have sarcasm fly right over his head. Or not, and she was just being...well...her judgmental self.
Joy was almost a foreign word to her. Millet wasn't sure if she had ever experienced joy before in her entire existence. It almost seemed a step up from happy, which was an emotion also almost as perplexing as joy. She lived her life on the verge of fine and not fine. The finer things of district 6 must have included fun, joy, and happiness. A luxury that she had never truly tasted. It made her feel even more disconnected to Clay, if that was even possible.
She had attempted to return to her food, knife in hand as she cut a piece of steak. Clay then spoke again, causing her to freeze part way through the piece of meat. Oh. The game finally came around to her did it? It jumped a few spots, but now it was her turn to share a little bit about why she was thrown in to the arena. The first two answers were, eh, River and Stray seemed to be avoiding sharing anything about what had happened to them to bring them to this point. River especially seemed touchy about his own experience. Millet couldn't have been less bothered to share her story. She'd explain everything to a crowd of people any day. There was no regret in what she did. Millet would have ended those two if given the chance again and again. Clay had mentioned her experience with corpses, seemingly he had heard in very little detail what had happened.
The tribute looked up from her plate, just about the answer when River spoke up. His tone obviously annoyed at the other boy. District 7 really was touchy about his past. Interesting. There was always a reason, wasn't there? Lying just below the surface of his gruff demeanor was most likely fear. He reacted like an animal in a corner by lashing out at anything semi-threatening. What he was afraid of was none of her business. She didn't want to be on his bad side for asking.
A different girl may have been grateful that he stood up for her. Millet was not. She liked to fight her own battles and use her own voice. She wasn't afraid to play 'show and tell' as he had called it. Doing so made her less trustworthy. "I'm not ashamed that I killed those two," She spoke up after the silence that ensued after River's outburst, "I'll humor you and your little game." Millet pulled her hair that cascaded down her back (which was much longer due to the lack of curls that she was sporting) to the side, shifting in her seat to show off the exposed back of her jumpsuit. Her very obvious scars on display, a crisscrossed mess from being flogged. Some were lighter due to the fact they were older than the ones on top. She was still surprised she hadn't been subjected to a third round to lashings, beating her in her cell apparently seemed like justice enough to them at the time. "They gave me these," She retold shortly before sitting back normally. "They forced themselves on my sister and murdered my brother for stealing bread to feed our family. By all means judge me for bringing those selfish bastards to justice, but don't lie to yourself and say you wouldn't have at least thought to kill them too. I was just brave enough to actually do it," Millet finished with a bit of venom in her words, fixing Clay a look that suggested he kept quiet.
She wasn't convinced that it was possible for him to shut his big mouth.
Millet surveyed the rest of the tributes at the table. This dinner was becoming somewhat of a mess, but that was to be expected. This crew didn't seem like the type to be able to have a normal dinner. "Now that the game of hot seat is over, let's move on to something else shall we? Something little more productive maybe?" She hummed, hoping that would caution anyone from provoking her further. She wasn't sure how much more of her temper she could hold back.
Ellie's attempt to alleviate the tributes' low spirits was not taken well by two female tributes in particular. Specifically, Pyra, who insisted that nothing about their situation was fun, and Millet, who elucidated the obvious- dead bodies were not a topic for the lighthearted, especially considering the circumstances.
"No, of course not," Ellie pursed her lips and set down her glass. Ellie could especially be a blabbermouth when she got especially anxious; she tended to run her mouth more. As things got heated, Ellie's anxiety in turn worsened, and before she knew it, Ellie was trying to patch up the wrong impression she had made on Pyra. She brightened her brittle smile.
"All I'm saying is, we still have a few days. We still have time to...appreciate the things we do have. Focus on the good, the present! We will have plenty of time to worry in the arena. Well, maybe we have to worry about sponsors. And training. And interviews. And-" Ellie figured it would be best to cut herself off. She struggled to shut her mouth before she said anything that may worsen things.
Back home, her big mouth helped her. Here, it wounded her. Living in her brother's shadow hadn't always been easy growing up. Those who lived in District 1 typically flaunted themselves. Ellie had to do more to get the spotlight off of Velvet and onto herself occasionally. Her brother’s substantial shadow of a legacy did not aid her in any way.
But God did she wish her brother were here.
She would see him later, of course. Ellie had the privilege of having a family member here with her as her mentor. Nevertheless, she wished he was beside her, holding her hand. Velvet was so similar, yet so different from Ellie. The two were like seltzer and tonic water, but Ellie was the latter- sweeter, to cover up her clean, bitter taste. Velvet didn't attempt to hide his acidic, neat demeanor. He was one of the only people who could tune down Ellie, make her anticipate her next actions, keep her at bay. Tell her not to worry so much about others' feelings about her.
If Ellie didn't care so much about what others thought about her, she might have left the table. It wasn't like anyone required her to be here, and with the tension growing, it might have been beneficial for her to leave the situation. But that wasn't the person Ellie was. She wanted to leave on good terms, no matter how many sweet-talking words it took. It was a selfish move of her to make, that was true. She people-pleased to make herself look good at times. Ew, she hated overthinking things. She hated thinking about anything. It was bothersome and exhausting. This fur coat was suddenly making her feel hot. Ellie smoothed her sheet-like pale hair, petting it for a moment to distract herself.
Suddenly, the conversation took a turn when River went off on Clay about the upper districts' struggles. She bit down on the inside of her cheek. She felt an urge to back up Clay, with whom she had become neutral, but she thought it better to let him defend himself than get involved and make things worse. Of course, she and Clay wouldn't know what goes on in the other districts. Ellie couldn't fathom life outside of District 1. Ellie wouldn't admit it, but she felt it unfair for River to tell Clay to behave normally. Clay was behaving what he felt was normal for his District, but that wasn't normal for everyone else. She figured it would be best to lean more towards Clay's side, as he was closer to being an ally than River was at the moment.
Ellie decided to help out Clay, while also trying to reassure River by quietly saying, "I'm sure he didn't really mean anything by what he said."
An uncomfortable silence cascaded over the table, but it didn't last long. Millet's curtain of hair was pulled away from her back to reveal a cruel pattern of the deep cuts left by the peacekeeper's flogs. Ellie, in shock, could only stare (albeit a bit rudely) with wide eyes. Ellie wasn't sure if she should apologize for her trauma, but she didn't want to belittle Millet. Ellie couldn't fathom a Peacekeeper from her District abusing their power, much less killed by a villager. There was no need for it; the crime rates were so low. There wasn't a reason to break the law.
But Ellie, at that moment, admired Millet, and her courage to avenge her siblings. Ellie loved her brother dearly and would do anything to protect him. She didn't want to dwell on the moment too long and make Millet feel uncomfortable (or herself, frankly).
"Yes. Thank you, Millet. Your, erm- display was truly touching." She said genuinly, yet a bit stiffly, but accompanied by a cheeky smile. Grateful for Millet's sudden change of subject, she offered her suggestion.
"How about this champagne?" She remarked, swirling the remnants of the drink- the fine, persistent bubbles streaming upwards. "We have nothing like it in District 1! They're all about their red wines. My father's friends own a winery, up north. We go there in the summertime." She suddenly recalled that it would be impossible for the other tributes to relate.
"Say, what about a toast?" Ellie suggested, beaming.
The girl stood, holding up the slender glass towards the obscenely ornate chandelier overhead. Ellie wasn't sure whom to toast to without stirring up unpleasant feelings, so she decided to toast to the tributes. To the present.
A short time after the communal dinner, at just about 10 o’clock at night, all televisions in the lounge area of each tribute’s quarters suddenly come to life. A lavishly dressed middle-aged man took the screen, dressed to the nines—no doubt another Capitol employee of some kind. He briefly cleared his throat before glancing into the camera, flashing a bright smile of perfect pearly whites.
“Good evening, tributes.” This figure is bright and beaming, nothing short of enthusiastic, and his voice was light, easy, perhaps just a little too saccharine. “I hope you all enjoyed the dinner we provided for you. It was nothing short of eventful, from what we’ve heard.” He grimaced lightly. “Don’t worry though—there’s going to be plenty of opportunity to make better impressions in the coming days.”
He placed a manicured hand on his chest. “My name is Pluto Eversong, and I am absolutely delighted to serve as Head Gamemaker for this year’s very special edition of the Hunger Games.”
“I just wanted to check in with you all as you prepare yourselves for your first full day in the Training Center,” Pluto continued. “It is an absolutely stunning facility with just about everything imaginable at your fingertips. You can hone a skill you already have, learn a new one, spar with our simulated tributes, and even visit with medical and physical therapy staff whenever you like. The choice is yours—I’m sure you’ve already been discussing with your mentors how to best use your time though, so I won’t try to derail those plans.”
“The Training Center technically opens at 6 o’clock in the morning, but my fellow Gamemakers and I will not be observing you all until 9 o’clock. You aren’t required to arrive at a specific time, or at all, if you so choose. Keep in mind that all observation that takes place during this time is informal: the big day where we assign you all your score isn’t until this Thursday, Day 4.”
He paused briefly before drawing in a soft breath. “Oh—speaking of, you’ve all been provided a rough itinerary for the next couple of days. Please don’t lose it. All of the information in that page is crucial to your planning and preparation for what lies ahead.”
“Well!” He clapped his hands together, smirking. “That’s all I have to say for this evening. Thank you all for your attention, and I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning.”
And as quickly as the announcement began, the television screens went dark and silent.
thoughts: This hurts like hell. There's no way it actually works.
outfit: Fitted shirt and joggers.
location: City Circle, Panem Capitol.
— 1:34 a.m.
Crane had been generous with his advice: even if River was ultimately going to follow his flighty, fickle mind, the victor could tell he did genuinely want to win this and listen to all that he could share. That being said, all the young man could think about in his bed that night was how much he’d blown every potentially lifesaving alliance
He gazed blankly up at the ceiling. Despite the subtle burn in his eyes and the weight of his eyelids, something deep inside him wouldn’t grant him the small mercy of rest. It was just going to be one of those nights, one of many, where he was on guard, hyper aware of every sound, thinking the worst, making mountains out of molehills.
… Had he completely ruined himself in their eyes? Perhaps he was being a little too self-critical, but it was difficult to not reflect on everything that had happened at that dinner. Some part of him had him wrongly convinced that he was going to be the most capable tribute in that room. Maybe it was something that Tulle had implied, in all her wisdom and experience: he had the makings of a Capitol favorite and a safe bet for sponsors, no doubt.
But every other kid who occupied that space with him was dangerous in their own unique way, and the idea of being somehow less than them absolutely terrified him. River’s mind raced as he saw himself—hardened, bitter, completely unable to accept loss as an outcome—in everyone else at that table. It was more obvious in tributes like Pyra and Millet, whose lives had obvious parallels to his own, but even in people like Ellie and Clay, who baffled him, and Lector, who’d barely said a word but sat watchful, alert, a master observer.
Perhaps blowing up at Clay wasn’t his best move. He’d never felt more scrutinized and seen in his whole life, and he didn’t do well with this kind of vulnerability.
— 4:23 a.m.
At some point, he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. But it was that infuriatingly light kind of sleep, plagued by unpleasant scenarios and dreams that he could only barely recall by the time he finally cracked his tired eyes open. It felt as if he’d only closed his eyes for a couple of seconds.
River felt exhausted, even more so than before he fell asleep. His body ached for a reason he couldn’t place—he hadn’t done anything but sit and stand for basically the entire previous day, so why was that all so taxing?
Determined to not let his mind wander back to that dark place where he fixated on every single one of his mistakes and shortcomings, River racked his mind for something, anything else. The Head Gamemaker’s announcement soon came back to him, and the sobering realization hit him that he was going to begin proving himself to the world today.
Now his mind really began to race. There was so much for him to possibly try: he recalled the documentary he now wished he’d paid more attention to where the narrators walked through every corner of that year’s training facility, exploring all the equipment and gadgets tributes could use. Everything from rock climbing to plant identification, knife throwing to a simple weight room with treadmills and dumbbells was there for them to take advantage of.
Crane advised him to prioritize only what was essential. Thankfully, he wasn’t a lost case: River already knew how to throw his weight around and handle an axe. Focus on those, he suggested. Practice your close-range combat, perhaps focus on target practice with axes or knives, and take advantage of the simulated sparring partners the more specialized rooms could provide. Crane also didn’t shy away from the usefulness of the food and toxins identification memory games, reminding his mentee that was how he managed to wait out the other tributes when he won all those years ago.
A strange kind of nervous energy filled him. He had a hard time closing his eyes to catch another hour’s sleep through the dull thud of his pounding heart in his ears.
— 5:57 a.m.
River felt fully awake and alert when he finally roused from his light sleep for the last time, and decided to start his day sooner rather than later. Might as well be one of the first people there to scope out this facility. He took a quick shower, opting to not play around with the fancy buttons and knobs that did God knows what for a day like this. He didn’t have to smell like Japanese cherry blossoms or musk, whatever the hell that was, to have a successful training day.
A plain black athletic outfit was the only thing in his closet, strangely; it had been filled with different formal wear options just the night before, so someone must have swapped it all out at some point while he was sleeping. He swallowed the uncomfortable feeling of not knowing a total stranger was in his room as he began to change, and it melted into a pleasant kind of surprise when he noticed how well these clothes fit him. Maybe taking such precise, painstaking measurements was worth it. He felt good in what he was wearing.
However, River noticed as he laced up his shoes that his bad ankle felt a little sore and stiff, again, for no good reason at all. If he was just going to head out for another day’s work in the forests, he would have more or less ignored it, but the possibility of suffering a sprain, no matter how minor, scared him. They happened all the time back home. So if he didn’t roll his ankle now during training, it was no doubt going to happen in the Games—that was the last thing he wanted.
“You can hone a skill you already have, learn a new one, spar with our simulated tributes, and even visit with medical and physical therapy staff whenever you like.” Of course. Crane would’ve been proud of his recollection of that resource. Might as well get it sorted out with them early, before other tributes possibly saw him tending to an old injury, so he’d be warmed up, loose, and hopefully stronger for the rest fo the day.
He took the high speed elevator down to the ground floor of the Training Center, watching the early morning bustle of the Capitol briefly through the transparent glass before being taken underground. The space itself was just as immense and high-tech as it seemed on his shoddy living room television set. He had to stop himself from staring around in awe once he became aware of how silly he must have looked to anyone watching—wait, there wasn’t anyone else here. River was entirely alone.
Perfect time to visit the physical therapists, then. It didn’t take him long to find their well-lit, expansive spread of exam tables and rehabilitation equipment. He was immediately approached by a youthful, eager looking young woman probably not much older than he was who lead him to a table, asking just the right questions about his medical history. When was his first sprain, how bad it was, what kinds of activities made it hurt the worst…
Before he knew it, she had him laying on his stomach on one of those tables, grimacing and holding back profanity as she used a blunt tool she lovingly called a “scraper” to… River could barley remember through the pain of the whole process. Something about the soft tissue in his ankle and a lot of scar tissue that lead to frequent sprains, maybe? And this device, and her impressive arm strength, was somehow going to physically work it out of his ankle. He could’ve cared less about the science of it all. The whole thing was painful as hell and he doubted that this could possibly heal him.
Ellie had retired to her quarters, saddened that the dining experience had come to an end so quickly. Her apartment was conveniently located on the first floor, indicating her respective District, in which she was escorted by her team members. Velvet, Bliss, Idum, and Ellie sat on the rotund leather sofa for the remainder of their evening. They were each immersed in preparation for the following days.
Idum was habitually quiet, while Bliss discussed the training schedule with Ellie for the morning. Ellie unintentionally spaced out halfway through their conversation. Her escort was overtaxed about the upcoming days leading up to Friday. He muttered to himself under his breath, whispering things like ‘so much to do, so little time.’ Ellie gave him a reassuring pat on the back and told him not to worry so much. She made the decision to turn in to bed early, and her brother offered to accompany Ellie to her bedroom before returning to his own.
Ellie frowned at the room in slight contempt. She had anticipated it to be larger. It was about the same size as her own bedroom, but it would manage. The time it took preparing for her beauty sleep was not rushed. Her skincare routine was unnecessarily long; Ellie took pride in her blemish-free, luminescent skin. Slathered on her face were layers of cleansers, glow tonics, moisturizers, serums, and creams.
The wardrobe was filled with silk nightwear and satin pajamas. Ellie selected a silk twill long-sleeve pajama top and a pair of matching shorts in a sandy cream-colored floral pattern. She settled into the bed, burying her head into feather pillows and pulling a simple black sleeping mask over her eyes.
The mattress was a bit stiff for her liking. Ellie preferred the kind that practically suffocated you. The kind that you sunk deep into, all the way to the beams. She fell asleep as comfortably as she could, though annoyed, and dreamt of yesterday. She dreamed of her parents, her best friend Topaz Hardfall, who Ellie hoped was inconsolable.
Ellie couldn’t deny that she was looking forward to the Games. It was what she had worked towards her entire life, and it was finally her time to prove herself. It was her ultimate test. But the girl couldn’t dismiss the deep homesickness for her family, for the parties back home, for her best friend. Here, Ellie had so much on the line. Too much to think about, to be worried about. At home, the Hunger Games seemed far into the future. They were inevitable for Ellie, of course, but they seemed so far away that she hadn’t concerned herself with them until now. Ellie preferred to live her life without regret- so she didn’t regret anything she did before coming. Still, she wished she could have paid extra special attention to the last few times she went clubbing with Topaz. The last rooftop dinner with her father’s business partners. The last time she had a sleepover with Velvet in the tent in the garden, pinching each other to see who could stay up the longest. She hoped that these moments were simply the last time she had done these things before getting on that train, and not the last time she will ever do these things in her long, long lifetime. Ellie fully intended to continue to do these things as soon as she returned. That is, she hoped.
The blackout curtains intercepted the sunlight from streaming in to arouse Ellie from her slumber. Even if a few rays had peaked their way through, Ellie slept too hard and fast. She needed her beauty rest, of course. The not-so-early bird had to be physically prodded before she could even think about rousing herself out of bed, which is exactly what happened. Velvet stood at her bedroom’s entrance, leaning against the doorframe and glowering at Ellie’s figure, buried beneath the sheets, breathing steadily. He crossed over to the mass of blankets and pillows and ripped the sheets off of Ellie’s body, startling her awake.
Ellie groaned out in protest, her voice a bit throaty from sleep, “Okay, okay. Just give me a few minutes.” She proceeded to turn over in bed, pulling a pillow over her face in distress.
“Get up. We can’t afford to have you sleeping in,” Velvet replied with his arms crossed over his chest. He was clearly anxious to get the day started, and exasperated that Ellie had waited for someone to actually come and get her. Velvet seized the remote at the foot of Ellie’s bed and tapped a button, which opened the curtains that covered the windows. They spanned across nearly all of the walls. Ellie pulled her mask off, allowing her eyes to adjust, squinting at the sudden flood of harsh light that entered the room.
It was Bliss’s proposal that Ellie arrive at the training center at least an hour earlier- preferably when it opened. But there was no way anyone was going to stir Ellie earlier than was absolutely necessary. If it were Ellie’s decision, she would have dozed until noon. Unfortunately, that was not listed on the schedule for today. After a mental pep talk, she swung her legs over the edge of the bed and made her way to the bathroom to shower quickly, pop on a satiny lipgloss, and a swipe of smear-proof mascara.
Ellie pulled open her wardrobe to inspect it’s contents and was happy to find that someone had already displayed an outfit for her. She didn’t think too much of it, pulling the fabric off of the hanger and onto her body, and dressed herself in clothes that Idum had not chosen. The shirt was flexible, made of cotton material and detailed with red stripes on the sleeves. The leggings hugged Ellie’s figure closely and were made of similar material and design. She tugged on a pair of black combat boots that laced just above the ankle. The only remarkable thing about this outfit was the embroidered District 1 insignia visible on the sleeves. Comfortable, but nothing exciting, she thought, wishing she had something more flashy to wear.
Ellie made her way to the common area and was greeted by Idum, who insisted on at least doing her hair with shy enthusiasm. Her stylist pulled Ellie’s hair into a neat, low ponytail, just at the base of her skull. Ellie found it strange that Idum had not ordered a single Avox for help since their arrival. Ellie had no issue occasionally asking the Avoxes to take her laundry, make her bed, and other trivial tasks that she probably could have done herself. Idum apparently preferred to work alone, but Ellie had no problem with that. The work Idum did required no help. She did a marvelous job alone.
Ellie and her team bid their goodbyes and well wishes as the elevator doors closed between them. The training center was conveniently located one floor below her apartment. She wasn’t in the elevator long enough to steal a glimpse of anything interesting. However, the elevator itself seemed glamorous. Ellie made a mental note (though Ellie could be quite forgetful) to go exploring when she got the free time, particularly to the rooftop gardens. Velvet had informed her that the view was unforgettable.
When the elevator doors opened again, a cavernous space with high ceilings stretched out in front of her. Stepping out, even Ellie was a bit in shock. The training rooms at the academy were state-of-the-art, but they were separated by type. All skills were displayed here. The gymnasium was highly technological and well-equipped for any area of focus. Her attention was quickly diverted, distracted by her own thoughts. Ellie realized that she was alone, and felt vexed with Bliss and Velvet for dismissing her when no one was here yet- or at least, no one was here right now.
Ellie turned her attention back to the task at hand. It was eight in the morning, which meant that she had another hour to go before the gamemakers would be arriving to observe. Of course, not the formal evaluations, but Ellie understood how important first impressions were. She practically skipped towards the knives, but stopped short to remind herself what Velvet told her that morning. He had said it was important to hone in on survival skills. She would have plenty of time to show off her knife work to the evaluators, and to her competitors. For now, she needed to work on skills that they hadn’t focused on at the academy. How embarrassing. At least no one was here to watch her struggle to start a fire or craft a flimsy fishing rod. She didn’t want anyone thinking she was incapable. Ellie looked mournfully at the simulation room. She heeded Velvet’s warning and wandered off to a patch of dirt and trees, and began fumbling with sticks to build a fire. There would be plenty of time to show off her knives.