Monday, December 23, 2013

The Fourth Hunger Games Chapter 7: Mother

Chapter 7: Mother

That strong mother doesn't tell her cub, Son, stay weak so the wolves can get you. She says, Toughen up, this is the reality we are living in.” - Lauryn Hill

No mother would ever willingly sacrifice her sons for territorial gain, for economic advantage, for ideology.” - Ronald Reagan

The cannon blast signals the beginning of the games, and suddenly, twenty-four tributes are fleeing from their platforms. There's no time for audiences at home to process everything, and even the tributes seem to be narrowly focused only on those who pose the biggest threat. Some flee for the trees in the distance, but half the tributes run inward, towards the large cornucopia loaded with useful supplies.

With all of the chaos, it takes the audience a few moments to pick up on the young boy foolishly running into the middle of the carnage. Jaylon, one of the youngest tributes and most certainly the smallest, is picking up supplies as quickly as possible with determination written across his face. It's as if he believes that his only hope is to get something to bring with him.

Unfortunately, Chloe zeros in on the young boy. Her two extra years of life afforded her with more height, and even though she appears to be nothing but skin and bones, she thinks this young boy may be the only tribute she can kill. She liked the boy, she really did, but the opportunity seems too great to pass up. The sword she's discovered reaches far, and she doesn't even have to touch the boy. She's happy that it happens from behind so she doesn't lose her courage before the deed is done.

Chloe hears the boy make a horrible sound before he collapses on the ground. She runs. There is little hope that he will survive the gruesome wound she just inflicted, but she doesn't want to stay around to find out. In fact, she's so horrified by her actions that Chloe immediately flees towards the woods. She wants no more part in this blood bath, and she vows to survive with her sword alone. As long as she can find food and water, it will be enough.

Not far away, Joelle and Fayth are locked in a fierce battle. It's a shock to the audience, who didn't expect much from either girl. Joelle with her religious beliefs that shone through even though they were secret, and Fayth with her panic attacks. Neither had held much interest for the audience, but currently, they're locked in an almost equal struggle. Fayth's holding a knife, but it seems to have been in Joelle's possession at some point. Even so, the fight is primarily a physical one. The girls are matched in height and build, and neither is proving very successful at overpowering the other.

The audience watches intently as the knife in Fayth's hand gets closer and closer to Joelle's throat. Joelle continues to struggle against it, but it's becoming clear that she may not be able to for long. Fayth has maneuvered herself onto Joelle's stomach, and it's turning into a struggle for Joelle to breathe. There's a split second where Joelle realizes that it's over. She releases her pressure on Fayth's arm and lets the knife go clean through her neck. No one hears the internal prayers she speaks before giving herself up to death, but there is an oddly serene smile on her face that leaves the Capitol audience intrigued by this girl that they'll never really know.

Fayth jumps back in surprise as soon as she realizes what has happened. Joelle's blood seems to have flowed over her arm out of nowhere, and Fayth feels a gurgling in her stomach that isn't a good sign. In theory, she's just succeeded, but it's the worst success Fayth can ever remember having. She glances around quickly before taking an abandoned backpack a foot away from Joelle's dead body and sprinting for the woods.

Only two of the careers remain behind. The rest had left long ago with as many supplies as they could carry. Tiara and Troy remained behind to guard them from any would-be attackers, but it seems as if no one would dare to attack the careers. Not tributes to pass up an opportunity, however, Tiara and Troy have none-the-less found themselves a couple of victims.

The audience gasps as it sees Troy take down his fellow district tribute. For all intents and purposes Brianne should have been another career. And no doubt she had planned to fulfill that role, but Troy, who knew of her reluctance to volunteer, decided to take matters into his own hands. It's done quickly. The people from his district would have to give him that. Killing your district partner wasn't common, but District 1 wouldn't judge harshly. They raised winners, and winners had to make sacrifices.

Let's go!” Tiara shouts harshly from where she stands over Emilia's corpse. Troy almost regrets for a moment that Emilia is gone, as she had been quite attractive, but he pushes the thought from his mind as he and Tiara flee the now deserted cornucopia. They might have a bit of a trek now in order to find their fellow careers, but with any luck, there will be some sort of sustenance waiting for them.

Five children are gone now, and although many watching feel sympathy for the children who had their life ripped from them, very few think of the families at home who just watched their children and siblings die.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Fourth Hunger Games Chapter 6: Break

Chapter 6: Break

If the machine of government is of such nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law.” - Henry David Thoreau

When I fight someone, I want to break his will. I want to take his manhood. I want to rip out his heart and show it to him.” - Mike Tyson

The silence rang in their ears as they stood in their claustrophobic tubes. Their emotions ranged from psyched to an overwhelming sense of panic. It was past the point of no return. From here on out they would either kill or be killed. Twenty-three of them would never see their homes and families again. The other would be damaged beyond repair because, regardless of what some would like to think, no one made it out of these games unscathed.

All of Panem sat at rapt attention, as their own excitement and fear built with each new second. Some were looking forward to the next several days and some dreading them, but no one could look away from the screen as the tubes rose from the ground.

The twenty-four children took in the woods surrounding them as quickly as they could before turning to analyze the cornucopia in the middle of their arrangement. Now was not the time to be distracted as the countdown reverberated in their ears. Now was not the time to break as the cannon rang out. Now was the time to prove themselves.To stay alive. Or die.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Fourth Hunger Games Chapter 5: Relaxation

Chapter 5: Relaxation

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.” - Herodotus

True relaxation, which would do me the world of good, does not exist for me.” - Gustav Klimt

Alani Veron bounced excitedly across the stage as he spoke to the countless Capitol citizens who had gathered to watch the interviews and the countless more citizens of Panem who were being forced to watch the ceremonies from their homes and district squares.

Alani was a kind and happy looking individual, although his style was a bit eccentric even amongst the Capitol citizens. He was always ahead of the game and wearing what would become popular the next week. His signature, however, was a stylized cane that was always a part of his outfit. The only thing to ever change about it was the color. The cane seemed utterly unnecessary as the man had no limp or visible injury, but none of the Capitol citizens seemed to find this odd in the slightest.

The applause died down enough for the interviewer to let out, “Please welcome our first tribute: Brianne Abercrombie of District 1!”

Alani wasn't able to get all of the words out before he was again drowned out by the applause of the excited Capitol citizens. The sixteen-year-old tribute came out in a dress finer than many of the citizens of Panem would ever see in person. She held her head high as she regally walked across the stage. A smile never left her features as she shook Alani's hand and sat gracefully in the chair beside him.

Brianne,” Alani began with a large smile. “It's so nice to get to speak to you.”

Well, I'm thrilled to be here speaking with you too, Alani,” Brianne lied. This had been a part of her training as well. Granted she hadn't spent nearly as much time going over how to get through the interview as she had the fighting, but it had been there, for which she was thankful. Hopefully none of the Capitol citizens would have a clue that she really just wanted to bash all of their heads in and end this horrid display of power.

Now,” Alani quieted the audience as he got to the questions. “Brianne, you volunteered.”

He stopped speaking for a moment and gave Brianne enough time to nod her head in confirmation.

Tell us, why did you come forward?”

Brianne had known this question was coming. It was always asked to at least a couple of the careers every year, and she'd planned exactly what to say in response.

I knew I was capable. I can handle myself a lot better in that arena than most of the other girls back in District 1, and I knew that I would be more capable of bringing honor to my district, of course.”

It was all true, which Brianne knew would help her seem more genuine, but she purposely left out that fact that she'd actually volunteered in order to save those countless other girls who wouldn't have been able to defend themselves and even the ones who would have stood a chance.

And I'm sure you're very capable. As we all know, you managed to score an 11 during training.” Alani leaned forward as if he were speaking to her conspiratorially and there weren't millions listening in. “That's pretty impressive. I wonder what the competition thinks of that.”

Brianne held back a shudder. She knew her high score wouldn't gain her friends in the arena, and Alani's words felt ominous to her.

Well,” Brianne replied with a fake, bright smile. “I always try my best. I can only hope the other tributes are prepared for what they're up against.”

She made sure to flash a confident smile towards the audience to show that she wasn't afraid of what the other tributes would do to her.

I'm sure everyone is anticipating seeing your skills during the games, and I'm sure your district is already quite proud.”

I hope so.” Brianne spoke in a voice that was intended to portray her as eager to please.

How does your family feel about you volunteering?”

Well, it's just me and my parents, but I think they're very proud.” It was probably the biggest lie she'd spoken, and Brianne had to work to keep the images of her parents' broken faces from her mind.

Luckily, the buzzer announcing the end of her interview went off moments later, before Alani could voice another question. Brianne flashed one last big smile to the audience before escaping backstage.

Up next,” Alani proclaimed. “We have the male tribute from District 1: Troy Camoys!”

The crowd cheered as the haughty looking fourteen-year-old stepped onto the stage.

Troy,” Alani began seriously. “You volunteered at quite a young age. What made you think you could go up against the older tributes, especially the other careers?”

“Well,” Troy chuckled arrogantly. “Age is just a number, Alani. I know I'm more than capable of competing against the others. I think my training score shows that.”

Indeed it does,” Alani laughed before turning to speak directly to the audience. “He got a ten, in case you have forgotten. Rather impressive for his age.”

I work hard,” Troy smirked.

And it has definitely paid off. You tied for the second best training score with the District 4 female, who also happens to be only fourteen. I guess that's a lesson to all of the other tributes to not underestimate someone based on age.”

Troy nodded. “Definitely. I've seen Tiara at work in the training center, and she's a force to be reckoned with. I'm sure the two of us will squash any comments about our age quickly.”

I'm sure watching the two of you compete against each other will be marvelous, and your district partner, who had the highest training score, that will be some entertaining competition as well.”

Yeah, I'll be on the lookout for the both of them in the arena, that's for sure.” Troy's smile was laced with maliciousness. “But I think I have a pretty good shot as long as I don't underestimate them.”

I bet you do too,” Alani chuckled.

Troy continued to boast his way through the interview until the buzzer sounded.

Joining us now is District 2's female tribute: Alissah Vasser!”

Alissah's stylists had clearly tried to emphasize her beauty with the dress they had placed her in. Her shoes were heels that would be difficult for most to navigate in, but she wore them confidently as she strutted across the stage towards Alani.

Alissah, how nice to meet you.”

And you, Alani,” Alissah greeted warmly. “It's fascinating to meet someone I've seen on television for years.”

Alani chuckled a bit at the complement. “Please,” he covered his cheeks as if they were growing red. “You're going to make me blush.”

Alissah giggled, “It's true though. I've just been so amazed by everything in the Capitol. It's wonderful here.”

I'm delighted that you seem to be enjoying your stay.”

Oh, I most definitely am. I'm honored to get the chance to see it all.”

Tell me, what's been your favorite part of it your time here?”

Alissah seemed to ponder the question a moment before looking down at her dress and smoothing it out with her hand. “I think the pampering by my prep team and stylist. I've never gotten to wear such a gorgeous dress as this.”

It is absolutely beautiful on you,” Alani flattered her.

Thank you,” Alissah replied graciously.

She smiled brightly through the rest of her interview.

Next up,” Alani announced grandly, “we have District 2's male tribute: Huntur Sherman!”

Huntur didn't even attempt to appear friendly. He scowled as he crossed the stage, and his smile to Alani as they shook hands was menacing at best. It was clear that he was going for the tough, intimidating strategy. Fear was his ultimate weapon.

Now, Huntur,” Alani spoke as they settled into their seats. “I'm sure no one doubts that you will be a formidable opponent in the arena.”

I'm pretty sure myself, Alani,” Huntur replied with a smirk.

It shows.” Alani praised. “None of the other tributes will want to go against you, I'm sure.”

Well,” Huntur shrugged. “I don't mean to underestimate them as some are extremely capable, but I also feel pretty confident. As long as I keep my guard up, I'm confident that I'll make District 2 proud.”

A loud cheer rose from the audience, and Huntur nodded their way in acknowledgment with the closest thing he had shown to a smile that night. The cheering continued as the buzzer rang signaling the next tribute's turn. Huntur seemed to have established himself as a favorite.

Next is Mina Murdoch!”

Mina's small size was emphasized by the fact that her interview followed Huntur. It seemed that she couldn't quite hide her discomfort, and she appeared uninterested in even attempting to appeal to the audience. The applause was more subdued than it had been for any other tribute as she scurried off of stage. She just barely made it out of view of the cameras before collapsing in a heap on the floor where the sobs wracked her body.

And now, our District 3 male tribute, Kendrick Jobs!”

Kendrick looked just as unimpressive as Mina had in build, but he had managed to compose himself in order to come across as more appealing. He sent the audience a wave as he approached Alani. Kendrick's weak appearance would have normally granted him a lukewarm greeting from the crowd, but after Mina's disastrous interview, the slightly more confident boy appeared much more impressive than usual.

What skills are you bringing with you into the arena?” Alani asked the boy.

Well, I'm from District 3, so I suppose it's no surprise that I'm quite good at electronics.” The audience laughed lightly. Kendrick appeared startled, not having meant to make a joke, but he went with it anyway and continued. “I know that's not typically a useful thing in the arena, but I think it's helped me in a lot of ways. I think about things differently than the other tributes. I think that could be an advantage.”

It definitely could be,” Alani nodded in confirmation. “That's how some of the best attacks are planned. You have to surprise them.”

Right,” Kendrick appeared proud that Alani had agreed. “I'm sure I can pull a few tricks out of my sleeve.”

And I know we're all dying to see them.” The audience's cheers confirmed Alani's words.

Tiara King was up next, and the girl appeared the perfection of calmness as she met Alani in the middle of the stage.

Tiara,” Alani spoke the name with more fondness than he'd shown for any tribute so far. “You are by far a favorite this year. Beautiful and an eleven in training. It's marvelous.”

Tiara smiled brightly as she took the praise. “I've been very fortunate, and I've worked hard, of course. I'm so thrilled to have the honor to compete.”

Yes,” Alani's smile widened. “You're one of our volunteers this year.”

I am,” Tiara acknowledged. “I've always known that I wanted to bring honor to my district by competing. I'm so thrilled to finally be here after watching the past three games from home.”

I'm sure you are,” Alani chuckled. “I don't think I've seen you without a smile the entire time you've been here in the Capitol.”

Tiara laughed along with the host. “It's hard to hold it in when you're as excited as I am.”

The rest of Tiara's interview continued in a similar vain, with Tiara appearing happy and relaxed and Alani praising her greatly. Soon, her fellow District 4 tribute, Boston Jacobsen was being called onstage.

Now, Boston,” Alani began. “What do you think will be your strong point in the arena?”

Boston froze, not knowing how to respond. His biggest problem was that he didn't have any strengths, at least not any that could keep him alive in an arena.

Well, I'm not stupid, I guess.” It had been the only thing he could think of, but Alani and the audience took it as a joke. Their loud laughter caused Boston to flinch as he sunk down a little in his seat.

It's nice to know you're not an idiot, Boston,” Alani spoke while trying to contain his own laughter.

Boston tried to stop the blush from creeping up his cheeks. He stumbled unsuccessfully through the rest of the interview and seemingly contradicted his assertion of his intelligence. Boston was extremely thankful when the buzzer announced that he was able to exit the stage.

Next up,” Alani annouced. “We have the District 3 female tribute: Cassidee Powers!”

Your younger brother didn't appear too thrilled with you being chosen.”

It was the first thing out of Alani's mouth after he greeted her, and Cassidee had been expecting it. Her biggest weakness thrown right in her face. Still, she had to struggle to retain her composure as Alani spoke.

No,” Cassidee's voice broke. “He wasn't. I don't think he likes knowing I won't be there for a few weeks at least.”

She knew that she was expected to talk as if she had a chance, and she didn't want her brother sitting at home listening to her talk about her impending death. Somehow though, pretending she had a chance seemed to make things worse for her as she smiled tightly out at the audience.

But imagine if you go back.” Cassidee had to resist the urge to glare at the man. "Your brother would be so thrilled.”

Yes, he would be,” she whispered.

After a near disastrous interview almost entirely about her family, Cassidee's time was up, and Alani was announcing Jaylon Arlington to the audience.

One of our youngest tributes at twelve,” Alani reminded the audience. “That's got to have you a bit worried, Jaylon.”

Jaylon's smile faltered as he thought of how to respond. “A bit, yeah,” he allowed. “I think I've got a fighting chance though.” He smiled brightly, which managed to convince the audience of his chances in the heat of the moment.

I'd say you do too,” Alani enthused. “A training score of seven for someone your age is quite impressive.”

There are advantages to my age, Alani,” Jaylon suddenly turned mischievous. “But I don't want to let you in on those secrets.”

Alani laughed loudly. “Well, I suppose you are entitled to your secrets, young man, but rest assured that we'll be watching out for them when the games start.”

I hope I don't disappoint.”

Next up,” Alani spoke loudly after Jaylon had left the stage. “Is our District 6 female tribute: Chloe Faden!”

The young girl couldn't help the soothing melody that had been running through her head all day. Music was always a part of her, and she found it comforting as she faced such a daunting crowd.

Her interview was a near disaster. A disappointing training score and no noticeable advantage in the games, not even Alani could put a positive spin on Chloe's situation. She didn't let it faze her though. She'd grown used to ignoring her fate over the past several days. Instead, Chloe let the soothing tune run through her head as she answered Alani's questions succinctly. She didn't bother to even glance at the audience as she rushed off the stage with her footsteps keeping the rhythm of her song.

Alani's announcement of Kahner Kid brought a much more enthusiastic cheer from the audience as they all quickly forgot about Chloe.

Despite being from District 6, a district not known for producing formidable tributes, Kahner actually seemed like he could put up a fight. He was large for fifteen, and there was no doubt his size would be to his advantage. He also came across as much tougher than many of the other kids who weren't tributes, which was nothing but an asset.

Now, as we know,” Alani spoke excitedly. “District 6 is well-known for transportation, and this doesn't often lead to any potential victors. Yet you, Kahner, have managed a training score of ten. How did that happen?”

Alani spoke jokingly, as if Kahner should just brush off the insult to the past tributes of his district. Kahner struggled to smile as he felt the anger bubbling up inside of him.

I'm just skilled, I suppose,” Kahner tried his best to smirk, but he wasn't sure how successfully he was pulling off being imposing.

Ah,” Alani smiled. “That means we're going to have to wait for the games to find out your secrets just like all of the others, doesn't it?”

Kahner shrugged good-naturally. “Would they be secrets otherwise?”

I suppose not,” Alani chuckled. “Rest assured that I'll be keeping just as close an eye on you to see what you can do as I am the other high scorers.”

When it was finally her turn to take the stage, Joelle Parson decided to grace the audience with a sad attempt at a bright smile. The girl came across as somewhat timid, and Alani smiled down at her kindly as they took their seats.

Joelle wrung her hands nervously. Her family had secrets, and her greatest fear was leaking those secrets to the Capitol. She'd been worrying about this interview since the train ride to the Capitol. If they were to learn of her family's religious activities, Joelle didn't want to think about what could happen. She sent a quick prayer to God as the clapping died down amongst the audience members.

The girl couldn't imagine what they were going to ask her about. Her training score hadn't been all that great, and nothing remarkable had happened to her since the reaping. She was as boring and forgettable as it was possible for a tribute to be, and she liked it that way. It was better for everyone.

Sure enough, Alani asked her boring questions that Joelle could tell arose from his inability to come up with anything on her. Joelle played into it. She answered all of his questions with as much truth as she could afford and got out of the interview as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Even Alani seemed somewhat relieved when the unremarkable girl's interview was finished and he was able to announce the other District 7 tribute, Bryan Kennedy, to the audience.

Bryan appeared to be Joelle's opposite in every way as he walked out onto the stage. He smiled charismatically at the audience and immediately had them wrapped around his finger.

Bryan,” Alani greeted warmly. “I do believe everyone's excited to see you.” He motioned towards the audience, whose cheering only increased at the acknowledgment.

Bryan looked out at the audience with a look of awe on his face. “It's all pretty surreal, Alani.” He shook his head as if he were truly amazed. “I never expected any of this to happen. I'm just your typical twelve-year-old from District 7.”

Alani chuckled, “I think you've proven yourself a bit beyond that, Bryan. Your training score was the highest ever received by a twelve-year-old.”

Yeah,” Bryan shrugged. He wondered how well the modest thing would work in the Capitol where, as far as Bryan could tell, bragging was a way of life. “But that's not saying too much. Who knows how many others there are out there who could do it if they had been given this chance.”

That may be,” Alani shrugged. “But you were the one given the chance, young man, and you've done well with it. You don't have the highest score of course, but rest assured you've proven yourself as competition.”

And that was exactly what worried Bryan.

The applause was quieter than expected as Ahnette Phryne made her way towards Alani, but it wasn't for the reasons to be expected. There was a sense of awe in the air as the Capitol citizens watched the young fifteen-year-old. There was no denying that she had looks on her side. She had a beauty not often found in District 8, where the citizens were forced into factories almost from birth and nearly worked to death. Somehow, through all of that, this girl had maintained looks impressive enough to grab the attention of the Capitol citizens who spent more money than Ahnette had made in her lifetime to look “perfect.” It was true that hers was a more natural beauty compared to the manufactured, fake looks that the audience was used to, but that just made it all the more enthralling.

Ahnette,” Alani spoke with a fond voice that left Ahnette feeling slightly violated. She pushed down the feeling to offer the man a smile.

Alani,” she spoke as brightly as she could. “How nice to meet you. It's so odd to see you in person.”

Ah,” he smiled brightly. “I live up to expectations I hope!”

Of course,” Ahnette laughed as if it was unbelievable that Alani Veron would ever not live up to someone's expectations. “I've been looking forward to this since I was reaped!”

She couldn't help the slight cringe as she spoke the lie, but no one in the audience seemed to notice as they chuckled in approval of her enthusiasm. None of them seemed to find it the slightest bit odd that a teenager who had just discovered she would die would by excited about an interview in front of the entire nation.

Well, we'll have to make it worthwhile then.”

Regardless of what Alani had said, the interview was anything but worthwhile as far as Ahnette was concerned. Still, she put on a convincing smile to assure him that it had been a grand time as the buzzer rang out, and she acknowledged the audience one last time before slipping off of the stage.

Gerald Chayse's demeanor was a world away from that of the girl he was following after. Much larger at the age of seventeen, Gerald was clearly going for the threatening approach. He carried himself in a way he'd been told would show off his bulk, and although he did allow the audience a slight smile, it was more threatening than kind.

Gerald shook Alani's hand firmly and made sure that he did nothing that could be interpreted as weak by those closely examining him.

You worked in a factory back in District 8, correct?” Alani questioned.

Right,” Gerald responded shortly. “I put buttons on shirts every day after school.”

His face remained neutral as the Capitol citizens laughed. Gerald wasn't sure what exactly had been funny, but he refused to appear confused or stupid.

I'm sure it's a relief to know you'll never have to do that again, huh?”

Alani's words were like a double edged sword. All Gerald could think of was the fact that he was more likely to never go back because of death than because he was a rich victor. Although Alani clearly wanted him to focus on the less likely possibility, Gerald wasn't sure that he could.

I suppose,” Gerald said. “Less time to think though.”

Alani clearly wasn't sure how to continue after Gerald's short and cryptic answer.

And your family,” Alani finally continued. “If you win they'll never have to work a day in their lives again either.”

Gerald shrugged. “True.” His parents would continue on with their monotonous work forever. Alani and Gerald were both aware of it.

The short answers continued for the rest of the interview. Gerald was sure that he had made no fans in the Capitol, but he had managed to show very little emotion, which he considered a success. He may not be getting any sponsors, but he would not be viewed as weak.

Jocelin Aurora's interview was just as unremarkable as her entire stay in the Capitol had been as far as the Capitol citizens were concerned. The boring girl seemed to have given up all hope of impressing the audience and made no attempts of answering Alani's answers with any more elaborate answers than what she could get away with.

Jocelin's fellow District 9 tribute, Etin Faal was likewise uninteresting to the majority of the audience, but there was a slight optimistic air about him that managed to capture the attention of a few of the more easily impressed audience members. For all intents and purposes, he should have been just as boring as Jocelin, but Etin seemed to have failed to get this memo. He appeared optimistic and made sure to keep a small smile on his face. For, while Jocelin had all but given up, Etin wouldn't allow himself to do the same. If there was a way he could help himself, he'd do it.

Emilia Arnout had quite a different demeanor as she strutted onto the stage. She was one of the older tributes at eighteen, and she had also been blessed with height. Clearly trying to use her size to her advantage, she was as straight as she could be as she walked towards Alani with her head held high.

The Capitol citizens seemed thrilled to finally have another tribute who seemed promising. This girl would clearly not go down without a fight. She didn't come off as threatening. In fact, her smile seemed warm and inviting, but it was clear that she was strong and willing to fight for her survival.

Emilia, I've learned that you grew up in a butcher shop,” Alani spoke with keen interest.

I did,” she smiled slightly. “I spent years helping my dad kill the animals and prepare them for customers.” Emilia made sure to speak with a somewhat threatening tone. It was clear that it was a warning to her fellow tributes who dared cross her path.

There's no doubt that that could be useful,” Alani allowed. “But they were animals given to you by breeders. How do you think you'll do with the hunt part of the challenge?”

I can do it,” Emilia replied shortly. “I've been training hard. My score shows that.”

Clearly,” Alani smiled as the audience cheered to show their own confidence in Emilia's abilities.

The interview continued on in a promising manner, with Emilia clearly obtaining her fair share of support amongst the Capitol citizens that admired her confidence and somewhat cold but not entirely indifferent nature.

When Ezra Barton was forced to take the stage, it was a much different story. Unlike his district partner who had spent her entire life killing animals, it was clear that this boy had a different story.

Your father raised cattle for Emilia's father, I heard,” Alani spoke. “Did the two of you ever help with the slaughtering together?”

The man seemed excited to uncover a possible connection between two tributes before the games and was probably hoping to uncover something promising from Ezra himself.

Um, no,” Ezra muttered softly. “I never helped with any of the slaughterings. I just helped with the animals while they were alive.” He stopped himself before he could mention that he often worked as a veterinarian when the cost for the one in town was too much for them to afford. That probably wasn't the sort of thing they wanted to hear. Tributes didn't want to leave wounds that could be healed.

Well, I'm sure you still know more about butchering than many of the other tributes.”

It was true. In order to heal animals, you had to know how they were hurt in the first place. Still, it didn't make it any more likely that Ezra would be able to stomach such violence. The boy who couldn't leave a hurt bird to suffer couldn't kill another human being.

I think my knowledge of anatomy, even in animals could be useful.” Ezra nodded. “I do know how to kill. It's just that it's all mostly theory. Still, I have no doubt that it's all the knowledge I'll need.” If he was willing to use it...

The interview continued with Ezra trying his hardest to put a positive spin on things. Even Alani seemed to help him to the best of his abilities, but Ezra still couldn't help but believe that he'd come across as a scared little boy with nothing but textbook knowledge, which was unfortunately true.

The silence that accompanied Tifanee Timotheus' appearance on stage was more one of captivated silence than indifference. Every single member of the audience could remember the girl's panicked display as soon as her name had been pulled out during the reaping. The sight of the peacekeepers hauling her to the stage was one that not many would soon forget. It had been a foolish move, but one that made the otherwise unremarkable thirteen-year-old girl memorable.

Tifanee,” Alani spoke in a soft tone, as if he needed to be gentler with her than any of the past tributes. “I must say, you made quite the impression the other day.”

Tifanee couldn't stop the blush that spread over her cheeks as she listened to the light chuckle started by Alani spread through the audience.

It was all just a bit overwhelming.” It was what she had been coached to say, but Tifanee knew that she could do nothing to erase the damage done by her outburst. “I'm grateful to be here now that I've seen how wonderful the Capitol is, but at the time the thought of leaving home was just a bit too much to handle.”

Yes, you are very young.” Alani smiled gently at her. “I imagine it would be scary to have to leave behind everything you know.”

Tifanee smiled as if Alani had read her mind. “Definitely. We always hear about the wonders of the Capitol. It's like being so curious about something but also a bit scared of it at the same time. I didn't know if I could handle being away from District 11.”

You seem to be doing just fine,” Alani spoke as he seemingly inspected Tifanee for any harm. She resisted the urge to tell them that he would have to look inside her in order to find any damage.

Instead, she nodded. “I am. It's been wonderful to see for myself how amazing it is here. It's something I'll always remember.” Even if the days of her always were numbered.

Glad to hear it.” Alani smiled widely. “What's been your favorite part so far?”

Oh, the food.” It wasn't too difficult for Tifanee to force the enthusiasm into her voice. After all, the food really did have her mesmerized, even if she often thought it decadent. “It's unlike anything I've ever seen before.”

That does seem to be a favorite among the tributes. Your favorite dish?”

The cake,” Tifanee blushed. “I had never had something so sweet before. I could only manage a few bites.”

Ah, yes,” Alani smiled. “One of my own favorites as well. Chocolate cake with chocolate icing has always been a simpler favorite of mine.”

I don't even know what flavor it was that I ate.” Tifanee hoped she wasn't coming across as stupid to the Capitol citizens. “I think I would take whatever flavor they'd give me though if it's anything like what I tried.”

Alani chuckled. “As I'm sure any child of your age would.”

Tifanee walked away from the interview feeling as if she was viewed as a helpless child as much as she had been before, but there was a seed of hope that she was now more of a helpless child that they felt sorry for and wanted to help. There had to be a way to work that to her advantage. There had to be.

Demetrius Iver was quiet as he walked across the stage. It was clear that he wasn't even attempting to appear happy with his position. Alani smiled at him but was unable to get a decent response from the young boy.

Demetrius, we all saw the kind way you tried to help Tifanee during the reaping.” Alani shook his head as if remembering the pitiful sight. “How well did the two of you know each other beforehand?”

I didn't know her at all,” Demetrius muttered. “We came from completely different parts of District 11. She worked in the fields, and I worked in the orchards.”

Ah, so you helped a complete stranger.”

Demetrius shrugged, unsure of where this was going. “Of course. She looked pretty bad, so I helped her up. What else was I supposed to do?”

Well,” Alani appeared taken aback. “She was competition by then. No one would have blamed you if you'd kept your distance.”

Demetrius' brow furrowed. “Competition or not she was hurting, and we weren't in the arena yet.”

Yes, yes. Very true. You have a good head on your shoulders, boy.” Alani spoke fondly, but Demetrius couldn't help but feel as if the man believed him to be a lost cause.

Finally, it was time for the District 12 tributes to come onstage. It was a wonder that the short attention spans of the Capitol citizens were still glued to the interviews as Fayth Ammadon approached Alani.

Now was not the time to hyperventilate, but there was no stopping it when her lungs refused to cooperate. She tried to control her breathing as the panic hit her. Maybe she would appear a bit shaken as opposed to crazy like she was to the residents of District 12.

Fayth,” Alani greeted. “How lovely it is to finally get to speak to you.”

Fayth got the impression that he was trying to be comforting, but his tone sounded more condescending than anything. Fayth wanted nothing more than to scoff at him, but the panic refused to leave and maintained almost complete control over her body. Unable to work her own vocal cords, Fayth managed a sharp nod of acknowledgment instead.

Tell us about your life back in District 12,” Alani offered.

Fayth's voice sounded scratchy and unused once she finally managed to get something out. “Nothing special,” she all but whispered. The unimpressed reaction from the audience causing the panic to rise yet again.

Surely you have something to share with us,” Alani smiled. He clearly wasn't giving up hope that Fayth would have a story worthy of the audience's attention.

Fayth had already decided she wouldn't play this game. She was already a lost cause, and she wasn't going to make any sad attempts at winning. With a short shrug she replied, “Not really. My dad works in the coal mines every day, while my mom takes care of things around the house. I go to school. It's not any different from the lives of the countless other people in District 12.”

Alani appeared somewhat agitated at Fayth's indifference, but he pushed on.

Anything in particular you enjoy doing?”

What's there to do in District 12?” she asked. If the panic hadn't still been bubbling up in her stomach, she would have added, “other than starve.”

Alani didn't seem sure of how to respond to that, but the audience members were whispering away amongst each other, no doubt commenting on how bland life must be in the outlying districts.

Fayth's interview continued on with no tidbits of information that could feed the Capitol citizens' curiosity. Fayth would be just as unremarkable know as she had been before. Perhaps less so considering the intrigue caused by her very public panic attack had now been almost entirely replaced by indifference.

Coale Marcellus made quite the different impression on the audience. He was visibly strong and confident. Two qualities that Fayth had quite obviously lacked. He also didn't appear adverse to playing it up a bit for the cameras.

Coale,” Alani began. “You're training score was impressive. I'm sure everyone is expecting you to do well in the arena.”

I think I have a few advantages,” Coale smirked.

None that you want to reveal, I assume?” Alani leaned closer as if he and Coale were sharing a secret.

Sadly not, I'm afraid,” Coale chuckled. “You'll just have to wait for the games.”

The crowd let out load moans of disappointment, and Coale apologized yet again with a large smile.

Now, now,” Alani hushed the audience. “It will only increase our excitement in the long run. Let the boy have his secrets.”

Thank you, Alani,” Coale smiled brightly. “I knew you would understand.”

Of course,” Alani laughed loudly. “I wouldn't dare of messing up any plans you have forming in that head of yours. Just put on a good show for us, yes?”

Coale smirked up at the interviewer before replying with a simple, “Of course.”