Chapter 4: Solitude
“I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude” - Henry David Thoreau
“Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god.” - Aristotle
Cassidee glanced over at Jaylon as they went their separate ways at training. She'd felt horrible explaining to him that she thought it would be best if they trained separately, but she really did feel as if it would be the best for both of them. This way they could each train in what they were good at without weighing the other down. The boy had looked slightly forlorn but had agreed readily, which only increased Cassidee's unfortunate fondness for the boy that she was beginning to see even more as someone she needed to protect.
Not wanting to wander and seem completely clueless, Cassidee headed straight for the nearest station, not even looking to see what it was until she was standing right in front of it. Plants. Well, Cassidee figured she might as well. Growing up in the district responsible for the Capitol's power had left her pretty clueless about both plants and animals, and she'd have to find something to eat in the arena.
Cassidee didn't pay much mind to the younger girl already present at the station until the girl spoke up.
“Um, hi,” Jocelin spoke softly to gain Cassidee's attention. “I'm Jocelin, one of the District 9 tributes.”
Cassidee stared at her for a moment in surprise. Then again, Cassidee reminded herself, Jocelin wouldn't be a career. Neither one of them wanted to be here.
“Cassidee. District 5,” she muttered before turning back to the screen full of pictures of various plants. “Not to be rude,” she spoke again after a moment. “But why are you at this station? District 9 is grain. Don't you already know about plants?”
Jocelin laughed for a moment. “I know about grains, sure, but the only thing I know about wild plants are the weeds that grow up in the crops, and those are only there until we kill them. I may be better off than you in this particular area, I guess, but not by much.”
“Oh, I'd never thought about it that way. I just figured it was all basically the same thing.”
Jocelin shrugged. “Nope.”
The two girls fell into an awkward silence as they continued looking through the long list of edible and poisonous plants.
Kahner had abandoned her. That was all Chloe could focus on as she halfheartedly worked on a snare. It had been difficult for her to process. The two had been friends for so long, and he'd just declared out of the blue that they were better off staying as far away from each other as possible. Chloe had already lost almost everything, but she'd thought she'd at least get to keep Kahner for a bit longer.
She glanced over to where her former friend was attempting to wield a trident. She scoffed, something she didn't usually do, but she couldn't be bothered to reel in her anger. What was the likelihood of the arena having tridents? And even if it did that boy would never be able to wield one correctly. She would have told him that if he hadn't blown her off so cruelly.
“He your boyfriend or something?”
Chloe looked up to find a small boy standing a few feet behind her. It unnerved her that she hadn't noticed him there. That was obviously something she needed to improve. He looked maybe two years younger than her own age of fourteen, which meant it had probably been his first reaping. She pushed down the sympathy she felt.
“No,” she replied shortly. “But he used to be my friend.”
The boy looked somewhat longingly at an older girl over at the plant station. “These games kind of kill friendships don't they,” he muttered quietly.
Chloe willed herself not to get emotionally involved in this conversation. “They kill everything, kid.”
He snorted quietly. “I'd quit calling me a kid if I were you. It's harder to kill a child. You'd be much better off thinking of everyone as equals. That way you don't get too stuck up, but you also don't feel as bad when you kill someone.”
Chloe couldn't hide her shock at the boy's words. This kid was far too wise for a twelve-year-old. He was right. As the boy had said, she needed to stop downgrading the competition when they could have surprising advantages.
“What's your name?” She figured getting as much information as possible could only help her.
“Jaylon,” he responded. “District 5.”
“Chloe,” she stuck out her hand to shake his. “District 6.”
The two young children proceeded to work quietly on their snares. Neither one dared to strengthen their acquaintanceship into something far more dangerous.
How Emilia had found herself at the shelter station she wasn't really sure. She'd wanted to be at a station far from the others, and it had been deserted and tucked somewhat into a corner far enough away from the action for Emilia to pretend that she wasn't being watched. It was odd to feel so alone when her every move was being tracked by at least one person in the large gymnasium.
No one approached, and Emilia was left to learn in peace with no one but the trainer placed at this station. She focused as much as she could. She knew nothing about finding shelter, but she knew that it was fundamental to survival. Food wouldn't be difficult for her to get, so Emilia figured if she could work on the shelter stuff she'd be a lot better off. As long as she forgot about the murdering part.
Whispers pulled her attention away from the trainer and towards two younger children that had come closer to the station. At eighteen, Emilia was one of the oldest tributes that would be going into the arena. These two looked to be the same age, probably thirteen or fourteen. One boy and one girl. She couldn't place their names, but she knew they were from Nine and Four. The District Four girl was even a career, which made it a bit odd that she was with a boy from Nine. It unnerved her how often they glanced her way as they talked. It wasn't the first time she had felt like prey, and she assumed it wouldn't be the last.
Cassidee scowled at the tribute she could hear laughing from across the training center. He'd just ran a dummy through with a sword, which was something Cassidee didn't find nearly as hilarious as he did. Jocelin had wandered off to another station and had left Cassidee to her own devices at the plant station. Cassidee still wanted to figure out more about these plants, as she figured it might be useful, and she had to admit to herself, she was kind of reluctant to head to any of the weapons stations.
The District 5 tribute startled as someone appeared beside her.
“Jumpy,” the District 2 male tribute, who appeared to be about her age, commented with a smirk.
Cassidee rolled her eyes and turned back towards the quiz she was trying to take. She didn't want to give this guy the time of day. Instead of taking the hint, he leaned on the wall beside her and watched as she touched various plants on the screen.
“I haven't seen you over at any of the weapons stations,” the boy smirked as he crossed his arms across his chest.
“Haven't gotten there yet.” Cassidee's heart thumped heavily in her chest as she tried to come across as calm.
“Well,” the boy's smirk widened. “We'd love to see you over there if you ever get the time. It's only fair for us to see how good you are after you've seen all of us.”
“What makes you think I'm even paying attention to your little pissing contest?” Cassidee snapped.
The boy appeared slightly shocked by her words. “Because that pissing contest could be what keeps you alive.” He watched her closely for a moment before moving to whisper in her ear. “We all need to know how to fight each other, and you need to know how to use weapons. It's a beneficial situation for us all so just think about it.”
Cassidee shivered as the boy stalked off.
Kendrick knew he was making a fool of himself. He hadn't been expecting to be able to handle the weapons, but he knew that this would be his only chance to learn. The snickers he kept hearing only hardened his resolve. He'd chosen the knife station because it was the most light-weight of the weapons, and he wanted something that he could wield easily even with his lack of strength. Still, working with knives required one to be extremely agile because of the close proximity required to use them, and Kendrick had never realized just how hard it was to move quickly and with precision. Maybe he would be better off yielding a heavy bow. He had time to try and build up his strength, and aiming from a distance had to be easier than this jumping around business he was currently trying to master.
Another outburst of snickers from somewhere behind him made Kendrick growl in frustration. His thoughts had made him lose focus, and he'd paid the consequence in his fight against the trainer. He got back up, not willing to leave the station after such a humiliating defeat. He had to prove himself at least a little bit before he let himself give up. Kendrick wasn't letting these assholes think about him as if he was a piece of meat they could kill off that easily.
The spear hitting the target caused Coale to smirk. He'd never used weapons before, but Coale was learning that they were really useful for releasing some of his anger about the situation he'd been forced into. Still, they were only releasing some of his anger, and the boy wasn't sure he would ever be entirely free from the emotion that now fueled his entire existence. He would die hating everything and everyone because weren't they all responsible for this horribleness to some degree? They could be angry at the Capitol all they wanted, but everyone here was going along with it. They could have agreed to not become murderers and just let the Capitol murder them themselves, but they wouldn't. Because in the end, they all wanted to live. They were all monsters really. And the fact that he was a monster pissed Coale off more than anything.
Ezra watched Coale strike the target with fear. There were so many tributes who could handle weapons, and every single one of them looked capable of murder. Very few seemed as terrified of killing another human being as Ezra was, and that was one of the single most terrifying realizations of his life. He was going to be slaughtered just like the cattle that his family raised. He couldn't trust anyone because they were all cold-blooded murderers. All of them except him. He wouldn't become like that. He wouldn't.