Chapter 1: Drowning
“When you're drowning, you don't say 'I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me,' you just scream.” - John Lennon
“Today, human civilization is drowning in a sea of lies.” - L. Neil Smith
For the fourth time in her sixteen years, Brianne Abercrombie found herself amongst the crowd of children waiting to discover who among them would be sent to certain death. It was just four years ago that Brianne had experienced this for the first time. When she should have been celebrating her newly found teenager status, her parents were sneaking money into criminal hands in the hopes that a little training would protect their newly endangered daughter.
Brianne didn't like the training. She didn't like the violence. Over the course of the four years that the Hunger Games had taken place, Brianne had watched her district become more and more entrenched in the violence. Daily, she watched as her fellow career trainees became more and more consumed with a hunger for the “ultimate honor” and less and less with just staying alive if forced into a deadly arena. What had started as a way for parents to try and protect their children in horrible circumstances had become an apprenticeship with eager tribute hopefuls.
District 1 had produced two of the three previous victors after all, and that track record must be retained. One of those aforementioned victors just so happened to be Brianne's trainer, and Kodanda considered Brianne his best student. This wasn't because of her violent nature. In fact, compared to her peers, Brianne was as pacifist as they come. Kodanda had once likened her to a trained guard dog, something that had really angered her at the time until he explained what he meant. While most of his students tended to behave like wild animals, always ready for a fight, Brianne was as friendly as could be most of the time, but when she or someone she cared about was threatened, she could turn deadly in seconds.
Brianne looked up towards the Justice Building where Kodanda looked down at her. He shot her a quick wink, and Brianne knew what he expected. Kodanda had expressly forbid any of his other female students from volunteering this year, as he felt Brianne held the best chance at winning. Should any of them disobey, they would lose their position as his students, and should they successfully enter the games, Kodanda would refuse to help them, favoring the male tribute instead. It was an order that would no doubt go heeded. Kodanda was one of the most sought after trainers in District 1, and no one would dare do something to lose their precious position as his student.
Brianne took a deep breath as she prepared herself for what was to happen. She didn't want it. The so-called honor and glory, none of it interested her. The thought of becoming a killer just to gain money when they were already so much better off than the other districts was sickening to her. But she would be shunned if she didn't volunteer, and for that reason, she'd taken to justifying it in her head. If she were to volunteer, it would save another girl in her district's life. Brianne would fight yes, but not as vigorously as others would, she knew that much. She had no desire to live as a killer after the games.
So when the call for any female volunteers came, Brianne Abercrombie almost felt detached from herself, as if she was hearing her voice from somewhere underwater, as she shouted, “I volunteer as tribute!”
Troy Camoys smirked as he watched Brianne walk forward. That girl couldn't hurt someone if she tried, career or not. He felt a burst of confidence. For the first time he was sure of his decision. His friends had regarded him as crazy. His mother had burst into tears that hadn't stopped since he made the announcement. But he could do this.
Even his trainer Nashida, one of the two District 1 victors, had advised him against volunteering. Everyone knew that each trainer wanted their physically ablest to go into the games. If you could get a victor, you got more students. It was as simple as that. Even Nashida, with her own victor status making her popular, wanted that. he would not be happy with Troy for what he was about to do. He would prove them all wrong.
Troy knew he could do it. For the past three years, since he was eleven years old, Troy had watched the games in awe. It took a year of begging for him to get his parents to send him to Nashida. They were completely against the games and claimed that having an untrained son was better than having a killer no matter what the risk. It took Troy threatening to volunteer, training or no training, to get them to agree. Troy had lived and breathed the Hunger Games for the past three years. He knew what to do. He knew all of the stupid mistakes tributes made to get themselves killed. That was all it took really. Sure, there might be a bit of luck involved, but if you were skilled enough, you didn't need much luck at all to win.
He'd prove them all wrong. Troy was determined to be the youngest victor in history. He'd be looked at with honor for years to come. Everyone would look up to him: the boy who managed to win the Hunger Games at the meager age of fourteen.
Troy paid no mind to his mother's loud gasps and cries that drowned out every other noise amongst the crowd as soon as he proclaimed, “I volunteer as tribute.” He didn't bother to look at Nashida's scowl or his friends frightened faces. As far as Troy could tell, his district seemed to be looking at him with pride. He wouldn't let them down.
Alissah Vasser offered Huntur Sherman a small smirk as he took his place beside her to face the people of District 2. She knew him well, as they had been training together for the past three years. He would greatly decrease her chances of winning, but she couldn't help but be slightly thrilled at the same time. Alissah would be lying if she denied that she was attracted to the slightly older boy. In her 16 years, she had never seen someone so attractive as the blond. It was merely a physical attraction, although one that could have quite possibly become romantic under different circumstances. If it came down to it, she could bring herself to kill him. The only thing that bothered her was Huntur's strength. She'd struggled against it many times before, only managing to outwit him slightly less than half the time.
Unbeknownst to Alissah, Huntur had also found himself attracted to the girl over the years. She was the toughest girl he'd ever met, which held a lot of weight with him. He'd always been a bit of a charmer, but he'd refrained from pursuing Alissah because he knew how likely this outcome would be. No need to make things messier than needed. Huntur just wanted to win the games as quickly and efficiently as possible. He was in this for the honor and money, not the satisfaction of killing. He wouldn't mess around with a girl only to quite literally stab her in the back later. No, Huntur just wanted to get through these games so he could start his life as the newest victor.
The thirteen-year-old froze as she heard her name being called. No, this wasn't supposed to happen. There were so many girls in District 3. So many who would put up a better fight than she could even dream of doing. Mina wasn't good at anything. Coming from the district expected to produce technology for the Capitol, Mina had always felt like a slight outcast because of her complete lack of ability to understand anything with an electrical charge. Now she would be cast off into an arena where she would again be an outcast because of her lack of abilities. This time because of physical limitations. And this time the result would be deadly. She stood woodenly as she faced the crowd with a frozen look of terror upon her face.
Kendrick made his way up to the stage to join Mina. He was a scrawny boy, far more interested in gadgets and electronics than anything physical. Fear gripped him as he looked out at District 3. He wasn't prepared for something like this. He was smart, yes, but not about anything that would help him survive.
District 4 wasn't really full of intellectuals. Most of the citizens didn't really see the importance of books and history. That wasn't to say they were dumb. They just had different kinds of smarts.
Boston Jacobson was different. He lived and breathed history. It was the most fascinating thing to him. His access to history books was limited, but whenever he found something new, he devoured it.
Unfortunately, a love for books didn't exactly lend the eighteen-year-old much advantage in the arena that he had just discovered he would be competing in. Boston knew that a few kids in District 4 had begun training in secret, but apparently there were no boys willing to take his place this year. It wasn't as if he was entirely hopeless. Boston had grown up on fishing boats and considered himself a strong person, but there was no telling what he would be up against, and all he wanted was to observe history being made from a far. He didn't want to be a part of it. He didn't want to be one of the names read off in history books about past games, but it seemed as if that would be his destiny.
Tiara King watched Boston come forward and join her on the stage with a smirk. She knew of the boy. He was big and foreboding at first glance, but she had been trained to fight against boys with his build. He would be simple enough to take out.
She was only fourteen, but Tiara was prepared for this. She would be her district's pride and joy. The past three years she'd trained non-stop to be in this position. She was ready. She would win.
The seventeen-year-old held her head high as she calmly made her way towards the stage. District 5 was a relatively small district, and because of that, Cassidee had almost expected the worst. As one of the older children, and one who had been forced to take tessarae at that, it didn't come as a shock to her that one of her own slips had been chosen.
Cassidee heard her younger brother call out, but she refused to acknowledge him, too afraid of the tears that may have followed. She tried her hardest to come across as calm and collected, not proud to be shipped off to these games, not defiant of the Capitol, but most certainly not a scared mess. Already she was thinking of the impression she would give her fellow tributes. It wouldn't be in her advantage to come across as weak, even if she was. Fear was gripping her more than she'd ever imagined possible, but Cassidee was already resigned to her fate.
Cassidee went through the motions, knowing just what was expected of her, but she did so halfheartedly. Soon it was time for the male tribute to be chosen, and Cassidee held her breath in a somewhat foolish fear that her brother Ezekiel, with just one slip in, would be chosen along with her.
Instead, “Jaylon Arlington!” was called, and a twelve-year-old boy froze from his spot a few people down from Cassidee's brother. Cassidee sucked in a breath. She knew the boy. She knew him well. He'd been running around with her brother since they were five.
Jaylon had to be pushed toward the Justice Building, but eventually, he was making his way towards Cassidee and their escort. Cassidee saw the fear that flooded his face and knew he would be an easy target. She wanted to protect him. It was what Ezekiel would expect of her, but he would be a hindrance and she was already weak. Still, she wrapped an arm around the boy's shoulders as he made it to her side. Cassidee hadn't thought about the gesture beforehand, whether or not it would show weakness, but when she saw how thankful the boy seemed for the affection, she squeezed harder.
Chloe Faden remembered the first games. She had been eleven, and the entire thing had been terrifying as she knew that next year she could possibly be chosen. She'd made it through two reapings without her name being drawn, but now her luck had run out. As she stood before the Justice Building of District 6, she took in the terrifying sight in front of her. Her entire district seemed to be looking at her with sadness, and that may have been more frightening than the large amount of peacekeepers stationed everywhere.
Sneaking a glance at Kahner Kid, she saw that he was looking out at the crowd with a blank face. He'd always been braver than she was. Although Kahner was a year older, Chloe had known him since they were small. Chloe wondered if it was good or bad luck to be reaped with a friend. Probably bad in the long run, but for now she felt slightly calmed by his presence.
A melody began to run through Chloe's mind. It was difficult to keep herself from humming outloud, a gesture that would comfort her but look strange to the people staring.
As they were ushered off stage, Chloe tried to catch Kahner's attention before they were separated, but he only looked at her with a cold indifference before following one of the peacekeepers in the opposite direction. Chloe's shoulders fell. Yes, being reaped with a friend was definitely bad luck.
The prayers that Joelle Parson had been muttering under her breath during the entire reaping only increased once her name was called. Religion had been widely abandoned after the disasters that led to the creation of Panem, but they'd been free to practice what they wished until the rebellion. Joelle had been ten when the games had started. It was around that same time that the peacekeepers had really started cracking down on the tiny church Joelle had attended with her family in secret. Now, they were forced to gather with one other family in complete secrecy. Joelle's own family and the Shepards were the only two families left in District 7 that worshipped. At least as far as they knew.
Joelle's prayers stayed quiet as she stood before the crowd.
Even in her fervor, she was startled upon hearing Bryan Kennedy's name called. Bryan was two years younger than Joelle, but even at the young age of twelve, he had quite the reputation among the District 7 citizens. The boy was a charmer and very used to getting what he wanted. Joelle had seen him use quite a few people, but they still seemed to bow to his every whim. That would work to his advantage in the arena, and the thought made Joelle sick.
Bryan was having similarly disdainful thoughts about Joelle. Before he was reaped, he'd been quietly laughing to himself about the odd girl being gone forever. Joelle wasn't well-liked, as she had a tendency to act in very peculiar ways and had been spotted on more than one occasion muttering under her breath, although no one knew what she went on about. As Bryan took his place beside her he could hear the low murmur of words, but was only able to make out “please.” That was one word he couldn't blame her for. Bryan felt like shouting it himself. Instead, he squared his shoulders and did his best to look impressive. He'd be one of the youngest in the arena, but having a confident image would never hurt. Winning people over was his only chance.
Ahnette held her head high as she made her way towards the stage. The fifteen-year-old had no particular talents that would help her in the arena, but the one thing she did have was beauty. Most of her peers were still stuck in their awkward phases, but Ahnette was different. People were always commenting on her beauty, and beauty was one of the things most prized in the Capitol. Ahnette herself had never put much stock in it. What difference did it make whether she starved pretty or ugly? The people of District 8 had more to worry about than physical appearances. Now though she was being given a use for her beauty. It was the only chance she had of gaining sponsors, and she planned to use it.
Gerald admired the girl, though she was two years younger than him, as he took his place beside her. Even in such a serious situation it was hard not to be enamored by her. He figured he could kill her if he had to, but he prefered not to be the one to do so. Gerald didn't think he'd have much problem killing in the arena, not if he had to in order to live. He was strong at seventeen, and he figured he was more than capable of taking down quite a few of the other tributes. If violence was necessary, he had no intention of holding back. You have to do what's needed to survive. That's more important than anything else.
Jocelin Aurora had expected to have a normal life. Or normal by District 9 standards at least. She'd attend school until the age expected of her to learn things that were, for the most part, rather useless in her district, and then she'd go to work in the fields planting and harvesting grain just like her parents. It was a large district, and Jocelin had honestly not expected her name to be drawn, especially not at the age of thirteen when her name was only in twice. Her family wasn't well off, but they had managed to avoid taking tessarae.
When Etin Faal joined her, she was shocked yet again. The boy was only a year older than herself, and his family was one of the richer ones of the district. His name couldn't be in more than the mandatory three times. He was as privileged as it got in District 9 unless you were a member of the mayor's family or a peacekeeper. Still, the young boy didn't appear surprised.
Etin knew there was no getting out of this. He'd had few friends growing up because the other children were jealous of his family's relative wealth, but Etin had tried his hardest to make friends in spite of that. Over the past few years, he'd worked hard to be an amazing friend to the few he did have and keep his pride up no matter what he faced. This would be no different. He didn't expect to win, but he would die knowing that he'd done everything he could to die with honor.
Emilia Arnout held her head high as she stood in front of the people of District 10. It had been her last reaping. She'd been so close to being safe. There was no turning back now though, and she wanted to believe that she had a decent chance. She'd spent her entire life in a butcher shop. Sure it was all domesticated animals, but surely that would be of some help in the arena. She knew how animals worked, and most importantly, how they died and how to cook them. Emilia had to believe this would help her. It was the only thing she had.
Ezra Barton liked helping people. It was just who he was. His parents sometimes made remarks about how sensitive he seemed for a fourteen-year-old boy, but he just didn't like seeing people in pain. He always wanted to help. Ezra didn't like seeing people suffer, but living in District 10 he'd had no choice. The games were an annual experience that he dreaded on many different levels, and now he was going to be forced to actually live through them. He couldn't stand to watch others be hurt. How was he supposed to kill?
She was panicking. Every muscle in Tifanee Timotheus' body was itching with the adrenline rushing through her. The only thing her brain could think was “run.” So that's what she did. The peacekeepers snatched the young thirteen-year-old girl up as if she were a cardboard box. She probably weighed just as much as one. Tifanee was deposited quite unceremoniously on the stage in front of the entire population of District 11.
The peacekeepers now formed a barrier between the girl and any means of escape. It was as if Tifanee had gone from average girl to criminal in minutes. She wasn't though. She wasn't a criminal. She'd done nothing wrong. Her entire life she'd managed to maintain decent grades in school while also working as much as she could to help her family. She'd done everything in her power to do what was expected of her, and now she was being thrown into an arena to be killed. It wasn't fair. The tears poured down her face as she wept openly on the ground in front of all of Panem.
Despite being a mere year older, Demetrius Iver was much more collected as he took his own place in front of the district. The only hint of his true fear was in his shallow breathing, but Tifanee's sobs drowned out everything else in the square.
The boy looked down at the pitiful girl at his feet. She had no doubt ruined all chances at getting sponsors, and her chances hadn't been all that great before. Demetrius felt sorry for her though, and he couldn't stop himself from kneeling down and placing what he hoped was a comforting hand on her back. The girl shied away, no doubt thinking he was a peacekeeper or someone else meaning her harm. The boy persisted though and pulled her gently gently to her feet.
The girl didn't resist, but she was limp as a doll in his arms, which forced Demetrius to keep his grip on her. Tifanee quickly buried her face in his chest as their names were announced once again to all of Panem.
The thirteen-year-old had to be lead towards the Justice Building by straight-faced peacekeepers as she refused to leave the grip of her friends. All of District 12 looked on with sympathy. Everyone knew of the kindhearted girl. They cringed as Fayth stood before them. An arena was no place for someone like Fayth. It was only moments before it hit her. It seemed instantaneous to the crowd, but for Fayth it had been building up since her name had been called. A panic attack. Just one of the many that had pained her through the years.
It all rushed through her head. The games. The Capitol. Murder. Everything that would be expected from her. She'd never see home again. It was too much. Far too much. The escort looked on in fear as the young girl broke down in front of the entire country. Fayth could just hear the mayor whispering, “Agoraphobia,” in the woman's ear, as if one simple word could actually convey the terror currently coursing through her.
The escort seemed determined to ignore Fayth's break-down. She breezed through the familiar motions of the ceremony as if there wasn't a hysterical girl beside her. No one made a move to help Fayth.
Coale was Fayth's complete opposite. He made his way to the front of the crowd with his head held high. He was averagely sized for his fifteen years, and anger was the only emotion visible on his face. His fists were clenched tight, and the stiffness of his movements was noticeable to everyone. He made no move to comfort Fayth either. The district that had looked on the girl with sympathy now stared impassively at the boy who did nothing but glare back at them. His stare seemed to blame them for his predicament.
Quite a pair the two made as they were announced to the district once more. Fayth a hysterical mess. Coale an angry but composed boy. Two very different children with two very similar fates.
Twenty-four children from across the country. All being lost to their districts forever. Sure, one would make it back in the physical sense, but they too would be truly lost. Drowning in their own despair for the rest of their lifetime.