Brace Yourself

Chapter Four: The Capitol, Part III

Disclaimer: I do not own the Hunger Games.

Warnings: Possible cursing, mention of death.

Notes: "Darla Spinsky" is Peeta's mother. Siren is Finnick's aunt. I've created an intricate web of Games participants in my mind, as you can very well see. As for the poisons, "nephrophate," "leveno," and "ethrone acid" do not exist, and have derived from Green and Latin root words for the purpose of this story only. However, the rest are very much real.

Chapter Four: The Capitol, Part III

Learning to fly
But I ain't got wings
Coming down
Is the hardest thing

-Learning To Fly, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

"Then I will fall until I reach my death." The words form a repetitive melody in my mind. "Then I will fall, fall, fall. Fall until I reach my death." I ponder them as I descend the stairs, leaving Haymitch to his temporary home on the roof. "I will fall." I contemplate them as I ignore Rosalina's questions. "Until I reach." I consider them as I wash my face until the skin is rubbed raw. "My death." I pick up my mockingjay pin, which I placed on my bedside table for safekeeping earlier, and stare at it closely. "Then I will fall until I reach my death."

When will you reach your death, Haymitch Abernathy? Will it be four days from now? Will it be fourteen? Will you make it out of these Games, and will you live to reach eighty years? Don't you know that if you live, then I will die? Don't you realise that if you live and I die, then you will fall until you reach your death?

His words tonight have told me that his death is inevitable. He will die if he wins, he will die if he loses.

I suppose it is ironic that this thought scares me to death.

As I stare at the pin, I think of the man who gave it to me. Father, I miss you dearly. I think of my sister. Myra, I miss you more than you will ever know. I'm sure she misses me too, because I am her twin, and I sense things about her that she cannot sense herself. Like, for example, she always swears her favourite candy is peanut-butter truffles, but I believe it would be lemon drops (if she bothered to try them). Myra sampled a lemon wedge when we were about two (her earliest memory), and she's avoided them ever since, claiming they are "too sour to handle." She doesn't realise the lemon drops are actually very sweet. I used to think, "oh well, more for me." Now I wonder who's going to eat them all. And the dark chocolate truffles, my favourites, are going to sell so much more slowly now without me to spend all my allowance money on them.

What a depressing thought.

My reflection is interrupted by Rosalina, who is looming over me. She is dressed in a see-through nightgown, but isn't too modest about it. I suppose with her past, she's a bit more comfortable with people seeing her body than she would be… without her past.

Also a depressing thought.

"Quit it," she says condescendingly, plucking the golden pin from my hand and setting it back on the bedside table.

"Quit what?"

"Ignoring me, of course!" She flings herself down on my bed dramatically, her gray eyes bright with curiosity. Sighing, I lie back, situating myself parallel to Rosalina. We gaze at the cream-coloured ceiling simultaneously, her long, black hair touching my shorter (but still lengthy) blonde locks.

"What do you want to know?" I ask.

"Well, I'm assuming you found Haymitch," she faces me, smirking, "because there are tear tracks on your face and you have been deep in thought these past ten minutes or so. I don't think he hurt you, though, because you aren't currently sobbing into my shoulder. So cough it up, Mays… I can call you Mays, correct?"

"Yes- everyone back home does," I say absently, sitting up and standing. I need to move, in some way… and it would be nice to get out of my tunic and leggings. They might have been clean when I returned to the flat and changed out of my training uniform, but I have been sitting on the edge of a roof covered in dirt, plants, and other natural apparatus, and the tunic and leggings are now unacceptable items of clothing to sleep in. "…And you are correct, I found him."

I open a small drawer in the bottom area of our shared wardrobe, and choose a nightgown similar to Rosalina's, albeit the fabric and cut being a bit more modest. Rosalina pesters me once again to tell her what happened, and I let out a breath, turning my back to her. "Well," I begin, pulling the tunic up over my head, "First of all, he threw himself off the roof."

"What?" The horror in her voice makes me crack up, and I spin around to gauge her expression, in nothing but my breastband. Her face is contorted, her nose wrinkled, her eyes wide, and her mouth gaping in shock. "Are you telling me he's dead, Maysilee?"

"No!" I exclaim, laughing slightly as I struggle to get the nightgown over my head. "I said he threw himself off the roof. I thought he was dead, too, which was why I started crying. Anyway, turns out there's some sort of force field that propelled him back up. The Capitol doesn't want any of their precious tributes to die before the Games start, of course," I roll my eyes.

"Oh… okay…" Rosalina tries desperately to recover, but her voice is shaking. "I just thought… if he was dead… what in Panem was he thinking?"

I cock my head at her, taking off my leggings and throwing them on the floor. "Nobody knows what Haymitch thinks. That's just who he is." Now, after dressing, I begin to pace. The room is large, but the wardrobe and our beds serve as obstacles, which makes the pacing much more interesting. "After he threw himself off the roof, though, he told me some stuff that doesn't make much sense."

"What'd he say?"

"We were talking about façades… and acting… and then he pretty much told me that he couldn't live without me." My hands spring to my temples and I rub them. A major headache is beginning to set in.

Surprisingly, Rosalina's expressions shows no shock. She mutters something to herself that is indistinguishable, and then gets up, catching me by the hand tugging me back to the bed. "How do you feel about that?" She asks in a motherly tone. It makes me miss having a mother. My mother died when I was four. Twelve years I lived without any worthwhile maternal advice, and now I seem to have found someone to temporarily replace her, possibly only a few days before I reach my death.

My life is turning out to be absolutely ridiculous.

"It's so confusing," I mumble. "And I'm so frightened, Rosalina. I like him… I can't determine how much, but a lot… and I'm beginning to think he feels the same way, if not more. But if we both… like each other… then who knows what will happen to us if the other dies? Haymitch acted like a child today. He tried to get what he wanted, even though he knows he'll hurt himself if he has it."

"What does he want?" Her voice is soothing.

"Today, he wanted to… kiss me," I murmur. "He already has a girl, but he doesn't like her much- hates her, really. He wants me to... be his."

"Do you want that?"

All of the sudden, I am so tired. Fatigue washes over me, and I slump onto the bed, trying to pull the covers over my bare legs. "Yes- but I can't," I say dejectedly, looking into her gray eyes. The depth and sadness to them is considerable, and she averts them silently, busying herself with tucking me into bed. She is so much like my mother… but she is not my mother. Rosalina is my friend, and she's so nice to me. She is doing something nice for me. It is wondrous. I am grateful. But I don't feel like I deserve it.

"Mays," her voice is quiet, but I can hear it as if she is talking loudly, "I think you are strong. I think you can handle this. I believe you can handle this. It will be hard, but it would be harder if you loved him."

Sleep is pulling me down. I welcome it, although before I drift off, I have to get the words out. "But, Rosalina," I whisper, "I think I do love him."

The last thing I see is her face. Her mouth is a grim line; her eyebrows are knitted; her eyes puddles of melancholy rain water. "I'm sorry, Maysilee," she whispers back, and I drift into the realm of dreams.

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I wake up to her face, yet again, but this time I do not think she is having an episode. Her expression is not wild; in fact, it is calm and collected. The only thing that strikes me odd is how she is staring at my forehead, but at the same time, does not seem to be looking at my forehead… more like an entirely different universe, based on the wonder that shines in her eyes. "Rosalina?" I ask, hesitantly. "Are you your normal self?"

"No," she says, albeit quietly. Well, I think, there goes that.

"What is it that you have to inform me about this morning?"

She chews her lip, and then leans in. "The birds tell me secrets," she replies. "They tell me that you love him."

I do not know what to say to this, but the pause in conversation does not stop her from going on. "The birds don't believe in love, or friendship. They're just a figment of imagination come to life, come to destroy us." Rosalina begins to rock back and forth, still staring curiously at my forehead.

"They are a figment of whose imagination?"

Her eyes narrow, and she smirks evilly, her temperament changing completely. "Whose imagination?" She mocks. "Well, obviously not yours, Maysilee Donner."

Before I have to time to be taken aback, she collapses on top of me.

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The second day of training goes much like the first… except there are no knives, broken noses, kisses on the cheek, alliance-forming, or lunch-skipping. Okay, I admit, the second day of training doesn't go like the first did. However, I continue to show my expertise in edible plants and spear-throwing; Hestia rambles on about her past late-night excursions with Hemlock's brother, Haze, who is (was?) her boyfriend; Rosalina is kind and focused on every survival skill she takes on; and Hemlock tells me a bit about each tribute.

We are at knot-tying when I begin to question her on what she knows about the others. "Tell me about Siren," I say, on a whim. "From Four."

"Ooh!" Hemlock giggles. "Siren Faith, District Four, age eighteen? Yes?" I nod, although there is no other Siren in the training room. "Well… she was a volunteer, as you know, and as you might not know, she talks a lot. I know plenty about her. She was conversing with Naiada yesterday about relatives, and I heard she only has a mother and a sister, whose name is Delphin. She lives with both of them, and Delphin's husband, whose surname I couldn't quite catch- I think it was Overthere." Hemlock's eyes glint. "And Siren told Naiada that Delphin is going to have a baby boy in early January! Isn't that wonderful? They're going to name the baby- forgive me if I am wrong- Finnick, and Siren went on an on about how beautiful he was going to be, since Delphin is the prettiest woman in the district."

I take this all in. "Any more information?"

"Oh, yes," she nods. "There's lots more. Siren's good with the sabre, but despite all she does in practice, she can't seem to improve on the double-bladed sort. She can also handle a machete, but couldn't throw one for her life. Actually, she has terrible coordination when it comes to long-range weapons. She doesn't show it, but I sort of figured she was bad, because she always avoids spears and bows and arrows… and then she went ahead and told Venom yesterday."

"Venom?"

"One of the girls from Two. Petite, black hair… that's Venom. Anyway, I think telling Venom was a terrible decision on Siren's part. Venom isn't very nice and now that she knows Siren's weakness, she might go ahead and exploit it in the arena. Not right away, since she'll probably be a pretty important asset for the Careers at the beginning. I mean, her hair? It's so pretty!" Yes, I have seen her hair. It is sleek and wavy; coloured a golden-streaked sienna. Her eyes are turquoise. If Siren Faith is less beautiful than her sister, Delphin, then I can't stand to imagine how beautiful her sister is… or how beautiful Delphin's child will be, when he is born.

Before I can agree, Hemlock leans in, grabbing the thin length of rope in my hands and shoving it aside. Her voice lowers to a whisper as she stares at me excitedly. "I also heard something really interesting yesterday," she tells me gleefully. "I don't like gossip much (okay, yes I do, but not pointless gossip), but Cleat told Quarren that Siren is his ex-girlfriend… think we could use that against the two of them somehow? Cleat sounded really sad about it. I guess she dumped him after she got all the sex she wanted."

"Hemlock!" I exclaim, hitting her on the nose. "Don't talk about that!"

"Talk about what?" Hemlock says innocently, while batting her long, dark eyelashes and giving me back my piece of rope. I perform a sloppy-looking knot as she continues to tell me about Siren. "Anyway, I got some other information out of her chattering." How much information can you store in that brain of yours, Hemlock? "You know how she's from District Four?" She begins to snicker. "She's afraid of water!"

"No way!"

"Yes, way! She and Platina must really get along," Hemlock laughs, piling on the sarcasm. "You know, Platina's phobia of fire, Siren's phobia of water… it's so funny! And they're supposed to be Careers, you know? I used to think all Careers were indestructible, but not any more. I'm starting to realise that they might be weaker than the rest of us, but they don't show it. I couldn't determine that the other years because I wasn't training with them, or observing them spout out gossip like it's carbon dioxide." She shakes her head. "Well, there you go. That's Siren."

I nod, thanking her, and then drop my piece of rope, pushing myself up from my crouched position. "I'm done with knot-tying. Want to go join Rosalina and Hestia?"

"Sure."

We proceed to set off across the room, heading towards the camouflage station.

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Thump. Thump. Thump. I watch as Haymitch throws knife after knife. They hit the flimsy dummies with varying amounts of success. Not all are direct shots to fatal points of the body, but at least they all come in contact with the false man. Haymitch will be able to easily survive the arena, I think, with the knowledge of how to throw knives as he does now.

I approach him from behind. Sometimes I think that I like him better when he isn't facing me. I'm not exactly outgoing; talking to people is not something I can always handle, and talking to him is all but nerve-wracking. Sometimes I feel like he can scope out my every emotion, and even less it seems he is clueless to what I am feeling, acting on impulse and living up to the human that he is. I cannot expect anything that comes out of Haymitch's mouth. Around him, it takes work to say what I want to say. And although facing him is worth it, it is also frightening.

It's nice to just admire him from behind, even if only for a minute or two.

I do not speak until he has run out of projectiles. "Where did you learn to throw so well, Haymitch?"

He doesn't seem to be startled. Has he seen me approach? I wonder. How would that be possible? Oh, why do I question his motives so? But before I can chide myself for thinking such meaningless questions, he replies, "I could say the same to you, Maysilee."

I laugh, waving his comment off with a dismissive hand. "I hadn't touched a spear in my life before yesterday. I suppose that Hestia throwing one at me might have knocked some spear-throwing skills into my otherwise useless body."

"Your body is not useless, sweetheart," he reprimands. Then he realises exactly what he's just said and a blush travels up his neck. Haymitch quickly covers his previous words with a question. "Would you believe me if I told you it comes naturally to me, too?"

"It depends."

"On what?"

"On whether or not it does come natural to you, or if you're just saying so," I joke, smiling. He chuckles in return and walks over to the knife rack, tugging me along. For a moment, I worry that we might cross paths with Leonardo (the creepy trainer who seemed keen to molest me), but we do not. I heave a sight of relief when I locate the said man at the sword-fighting station. I won't be going anywhere near there soon. It is convenient.

"To answer your question," Haymitch says, "I do have some background knowledge. Not on throwing, but I used to do work around the house that required knives, so I'm familiar with them. Plus," his voice lowers even more, "I've cleaned more than a few rabbits in my time. Guess being from the Seam does have some advantages, right?"

If I were, say, Darla Spinsky (the carpenter's mean-spirited daughter), then I would probably wrinkle my nose in disgust when he mentioned the cleaning of rabbits. And yes, I do admit the thought of removing a dead animal's innards is extremely unpleasant. But I am going to be in the Games, and I will most likely have to clean a few kills myself… and it wouldn't be very polite to react in such a way at the mention of the Seam folk.

Seam folk. What am I getting at? There shouldn't be Seam folk, and there shouldn't be a merchant class either. Back home, we should be equal; we should all be referred as the people of District Twelve. But, by human nature, we automatically divide ourselves further than deemed necessary. We say we despise the Capitol for splitting us into districts and taking over Panem, but that is nonsense! We are doing the same thing back in District Twelve, and presumably every other district. I am doing it now. As that old saying goes… the pot [District folk] is calling the kettle [the Capitol] black.

A silence has fallen between us, and I realise Haymitch is waiting for an answer. Alas, I do not have one. But agreeing is a better option than saying nothing, so I mutter a soft "yes."

Haymitch has chosen a large array of knives, stuffing them up his sleeves and into his boots. We walk back to a different dummy than he was using previously, but the figure itself is nearly identical to the other one. Selecting a knife with a pearl-encrusted handle, Haymitch pulls back and shifts forward, releasing the knife while practicing perfect form. The pearl knife sails through the air, and sticks firmly in the dummy's shoulder. Not bad.

"So," I say quietly. "About last night…"

He sucks in a breath of air, through clenched teeth. "Yeah. About that, sweetheart- I'd rather we not talk about it. Maybe we should just… forget the entire situation occurred?"

I stare at him in enraged shock. "W-why?"

The next number is made entirely of a reddish-brown-coloured wood. It looks as if it cannot cut through anything, for it is made of wood- however, the blade is sharpened to a deadly point. Thump. The blade pierces the dummy's neck. Fake blood coats the white figure of a man, and I have to look away. What if that's one of us in three days? What if that will be our blood, our neck, the knife we took? It makes me shudder.

"Maysilee, not that I don't like you or anything…" he huffs loudly, flinging his hands in the air. In his left hand, he now holds a large, serrated knife. I fear it will slip out of his grasp and then, how inconvenient, the Gamemakers will have to find someone else to replace the second male tribute from District Twelve. Wouldn't want that! "I just don't want to hurt you, or hurt myself, okay? I was an idiot yesterday. I normally think before I speak, but I was acting irrationally. I shouldn't have said what I-"

"So I'm not your force field," I interrupt, my voice laced with hurt.

"Of course you are! I just… I just… can't sort any of this out on my own. I can't admit things that aren't true! I mean- if they are true! Even though they-" he cuts himself off, throwing the serrated knife in the dummy's general direction. It bounces off its foot. "I don't want you to die, Maysilee Donner. If you die, I don't know if I can... can..."

He's shaking hard and beginning to hyperventilate. It's not until he grabs onto my arm for support that I realise he's having some sort of panic attack. Luckily, I know how to handle this. Fauna, my best friend, was always drilling medical-related statistics and scenarios in my head… and although she makes a better nurse than Myra and I, her words have taught me more than enough. "Get them in a quiet room," she said. "Speak to them soothingly, let them work it out on their own. Don't leave them alone or tell them to stop panicking, because that might make it worse. If they aren't getting better in five minutes or so, they might need medical attention." Well, there may not be a quiet room at my disposal, but there is a quiet corner.

I throw his arm around my shoulders and let him lean on me. He is breathing so fast and heavily that I'm sure he's beginning to feel very lightheaded. I am frightened by the terror in his eyes, but I shove the fear down and practically drag him away from the knife station, in the direction of the corner. When we finally get there, I instruct him to sit, back leaned up against the wall. Haymitch consents and I sit in front of him, cross-legged.

"Haymitch," I whisper. "It's a panic attack. It's not real. It's not real."

He does not seem to be able to say anything, but he gives a small nod of his head to show he has heard me and I am correct.

"You need to breathe," I continue. "Breathe. Can you breathe with me?" He gives me another small nod of the head, and I begin a breathing exercise that Fauna taught words come to mind clearly. "Inhale for five seconds. Hold for five seconds. Exhale for five seconds. Repeat. I call this the five-second rule, of course." I follow her guidelines, making full eye contact with Haymitch as we breathe together, until the panic is toned down.

When I'm sure he can breathe normally on his own, and the shaking is less considerable, I ask him, gently: "What were you experiencing?"

"You were…" he whispers, "You were my father, that day. It was him, but then it was… you."

He isn't making any sense whatsoever. "How did that spur your panic?"

"My father is… dead. He… drank to much. Went unconscious... drowned... when I was six."

I let his words sink in, the horror of them hitting me almost instantly. My expression crumples as I imagine a man, face-first in a bowl of white liquor. I try give Haymitch a half-smile that shows sympathy and reassurance, but I fail drastically. "It's all in the past now, Haymitch. I am not going to start drinking anytime soon, and I'm not going to… I'm not going to…" My voice trails off.

"Die?" He asks sardonically. "Of course you're not going to die, sweetheart. We're going into the Amity Games and the goal is to make as many friends as possible until the time's up. Why in Panem would we kill each other off? Why in Panem would you die?"

I ignore this pointedly, and take up the nurse-like persona yet again. "Do you experience panic attacks a lot?"

"Sometimes," he says quietly. "Not often. I used to have them about once a month when I was younger… after my father died… and we spent years saving for me to go to the doctor. When I was nine, we finally had enough, and we visited him. He said I had panic disorder, which I had already assumed. But I wanted to prove him wrong." Nobody likes the actual doctor of District Twelve. He was assigned to his position by the Capitol and although he may be on the less eccentric side of the Capitolian spectrum, he is still considered an anomaly back in the district. Most people find it quicker and less expensive to go to Fauna's parents' apothecary, but sometimes those from the Seam are turned down. It makes me dislike Fauna's parents, as kind as they have been to me. They are simply adding on the the discrimination in Twelve.

Meanwhile, Haymitch is continuing. "I did prove him wrong. I've learned to control the attacks, but…"

"…It's all too much," I finish for him. "The Games, the thought of death, the acting, the everything."

"Precisely."

"Well," I say, helping him to his feet. The shaking is absent, the hyperventilating minutes in the past, and we are ready to train again. "I don't think you need any medical attention, since you've experienced a panic attack before, and you seem to have recovered fairly quickly. Consider yourself good to go, but don't overexert yourself, Haymitch."

"I can take care of myself, thank you very much," Haymitch says, in a mock indignant fashion. "And when did you become 'nurse,' anyway?"

I laugh, towing him back to the knife station. "I never became 'nurse'… it's just Fauna's rantings finally having a beneficial purpose. I suppose they rubbed off on me, and I have a decent memory. Thankfully, decent memory is wonderful for one who is going into the Hunger Games… and probably the Amity Games as well, since you probably want to remember your friends' names." He chuckles at my reference, and I push him in the direction of the knife rack. "Now, Haymitch, I expect you to act like a good little boy and kick some fake men's asses for me while I go find Rosalina."

"Panem forbid I become naughty in a few moments' time!" He exclaims. "Because we all know I am currently a naïve young man who believes that killing dummies is an entirely innocent practice, and I will be forever guilty if I somehow defy Miss Maysilee's orders."

"Oh, shut up," I roll my eyes.

"What did I do, sweetheart?"

I don't answer him, because I am already sprinting in the other direction. If I cared to look back, I would see him smirking, and then I would watch his expression collapse, leaving a boy who is experiencing heartache, weariness, and an abundance of other extreme problems that come with being metaphorically torn to pieces. If I cared to look back, I would watch him stare at me for ages until he turned away, taking his emotions out on the dummies. But I don't look back, and I am completely oblivious to the mask he has constructed, just for me. I don't look back, and I don't realise that he is still an actor: now and for the rest of his life.

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Rosalina is erecting a shelter with Tyler. I feel like I haven't seen Tyler in ages, although I listen to his constant chatter every night at the dinner table. It is probably from lack of face-to-face conversations (not that we've exactly had any at all) and the way he has been spending his time here in the Training Centre: hand-to-hand combat. It is a skill I haven't thought of taking up, but I decide it might be worth a shot later.

"I like it, Rosalina. Let's live here!" Tyler chirps as he crawls into the small lean-to. It is made in such away that it makes contact with a fake tree, but is made of actual dead branches. They are tied together with twine to create a sort of natural plank that leans diagonally against the tree. The two siblings have disguised it by piling up leaves and other shrubbery on top of the plank, as well as the sides, leaving only a small space to crawl through. If it was built during the Games, then it would provide a great shelter from wind, rain, snow, or any other weather conditions.

"Tyler," Rosalina giggles, climbing in after him. "We can't just hole up in the Training Centre and… oh, hey, Mays!" She pops her head out of the opening, smiling at me.

"Hey, Rosalina!" I smile, "…and Tyler, of course," I add on as an afterthought.

"Come on inside the lean-to with us!" Tyler says invitingly, poking his head out from the hole in the side of the shelter as well. "There's plenty of room."

"Actually, there's not," Rosalina admits. "But the more the merrier… assuming you're not claustrophobic."

"Don't mind if I do," I say, acting as if I am some sort of princess with my nose upturned in mock superiority. I'm in a moderately good mood today- jokes and imitations seem to be the only things willing to tumble out of my mouth. I march over to the shelter and crouch, trying to successfully climb through the shrubbery on the side. It is not easy, as there is only a minuscule amount of space left. Rosalina and Tyler squeeze to the side as much as possible to give me room, but I still manage to flail around a bit to much. It's not long before my head brushes the branch-plank ever slightly and I succeed to destroy all of their hard work, causing the whole thing come crashing down on top of us.

"Whoops," I mutter as I am trapped underneath the branch-plank. Rosalina and Tyler, also underneath, glare at me for a moment. I'm starting to worry they are actually angry when Tyler bursts out laughing. Rosalina's giggling follows soon after, and by the time I remove the branch-plank, they are clutching their sides in glee, gasping for breath.

"Maysilee, you'll surely kill us with your clumsiness one day!" Tyler chokes out, tears of mirth pouring from his gray eyes.

"All I did was accidentally hit the top of the shelter! Don't laugh!" I pretend to berate them, but I'm beginning to crack a grin myself while I brush shrubbery and leaves out of my hair with my hands.

"Can't… help it…" Rosalina gasps, rolling around on the floor. Bits of dead leaves embed themselves in her ponytail, but she doesn't seem to care. They continue to laugh and laugh until I begin to think the entire situation isn't funny anymore. I decide to leave them on the floor, holding their stomachs. As much as my clumsiness may be amusing, I have to use my training time wisely, and watching my district partners chortle is a waste of precious time.

I wish there were more time. It always seems to fly by, disappearing into nowhere, like a young mockingjay flying into the clouds because it doesn't know any better. I would do anything to have more time; to train, to love, to live. But time, like all precious things, has to fly away at some point. And only fate can determine when my time will fly away, into the clouds of the afterlife.

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Lunchtime isn't long after. Rosalina, Hestia, Hemlock, and I decide upon dining together. Rosalina invites Tyler along and he complies, but Mendel and Till from District Eleven do not. Haymitch, despite my requests, is insistent upon sitting alone in a corner, content to eat by himself.

We are not the only tributes sitting in a group. All twelve Careers have taken up an entire table for themselves. Intron and Exon, the twins, are shoving each other rowdily while in the midst of a friendly argument, and Lex and Quarren from Two are quick to join. Siren is gossiping away to a silent Naiada, who seems bored by the prospect of spending an hour in her district partner's company. Cleat is talking quietly to Miracle, who is trying to seduce him (to little success, as Siren still has his attention). Venom and Platina are in deep discussion, and the more petite of the two is smiling evilly. Lethae and Frond, however, are silent, chewing on whatever foods they have chosen from the massive buffet.

Another group consists of all the members of District Seven. Pine and Harpin (I remember their names from the lift ride yesterday) are talking over each other while trying to tell the other male a story. The male, a big, bulky guy who seems more brawn than brains, is nodding along, but I doubt he is listening since he is ogling over the other female. I just glance over her, since she doesn't look like much.

Finally, there is a pair from District Three, a pair from Eight, and a pair from Ten, each sitting with their district partner but not all together. From District Three, there is a fifteen-year-old named Intella Gently and a boy that I cannot remember the name of. She is telling him something while using wild hand gestures, and he is smiling toothily (or metal-ly... what are the things on his teeth called again? Braces?) while staring at her like she is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. I feel a pang of grief- he is obviously in love with her- but bury it down in the depths of my soul. I cannot feel for someone who will (most likely) die. The two from Eight- Calico and Bolt, if I remember correctly- seem to be very good friends, because they are conversing as friends would, and Calico keeps laughing loudly. Devon, from Ten, is looking at Willie as if Willie were his younger brother; however, the twelve-year-old doesn't notice, since he is examining the multiple types of bread rolls. "This one's from Four, right, Devon?" I hear him exclaim loudly. "Since it's green. And look, here's the kind from District Six!"

The rest of the tributes all sit as far apart as possible. I observe the other boy from Three, the one that isn't sitting across from Intella- Smoke is his name. He is devouring a bowl full of grapes as fast as he can, shoving them into his mouth three at a time while glancing hurriedly around at the other tributes, as if expecting someone to attack him at any moment. As he glances at our table, he makes eye contact with me, and gives me a calculating glare until I turn away.

I focus my attention on Hemlock, who has just sat down across from me. She is grinning and holding out a bright red slice of something with a pinkish-crimson, fleshy inside. It is dripping with translucent red juice and has small, greenish-white seeds. "Here, take it," she says.

"What is it?"

"It's a slice of a tomato, silly!" She gestures to her plate, where two other slices of the "tomato" are placed on a sandwich. "Didn't I promise you yesterday that you should try one? I suggest putting it on your sandwich, though, like I have. They don't taste as good plain unless they're cherry tomatoes."

I take the slice from her, pinching it between my thumb and index finger. It is cold and looks unappetizing. "A cherry tomato?" I prompt, setting it down on the edge of my plate.

"Cherry tomatoes are miniature tomatoes," Hemlock explains. "They're sweet. Like candy."

Hestia leans towards me and says, in a loud whisper, "Hemlock loves fruits and vegetables. Tomatoes don't really taste like candy. But they're… pretty good."

"Yes, they do taste like candy!" Hemlock says indignantly.

"Okay, okay," I say, taking the tomato slice and putting it on my sandwich, wincing a bit when the juice combines with the bread. I don't particularly love when different foods combine. I am somewhat of a picky eater. But if Hemlock and Hestia say the tomato is good, it must be good… right? "Stop arguing, you two. I'll try it."

And I do. I lift the sandwich up to my mouth and I take a bite.

The sandwich, once good, is now…

Ruined!

I manage to swallow the bite without spitting it out (which is an impressive feat, I must say) and snatch up my glass of water, taking large gulps of the clear liquid until the taste of the tomato is gone from my mouth. Hestia, Tyler, and Rosalina are laughing loudly; Tyler and Rosalina's faces are flushed a bright red and Hestia is practically crying in glee. Heads turn to look in our direction and I lower mine in embarrassment when Venom from Two calls out, "Ooh look, they've managed to poison Twelve already!" And, in the midst of it all, Hemlock looks like a wilted flower, disappointed that I don't like tomatoes.

Oh, what am I saying? I hate tomatoes!

Hestia does not seem to notice the stares around us. "For Panem's sake!" She chokes out, wiping her eyes, "I've never laughed harder. No, really… you should have seen the look on your face!"

"Thanks for warning me," I grumble, as our fellow tributes begin to look away, finding their food far more interesting than the plain merchant girl from District Twelve.

"They really are good," Hemlock says dejectedly. "Nobody else here agrees with me. Maybe it's because I've been eating tomatoes since I was an infant. But there are plenty of people in Eleven who share my love for them."

"I'm sure they taste fine," I assure her, ignoring when Hestia mumbles a distinct "not" under her breath. "I'm just accustomed to different tastes. My father owns a sweet shop, so I grew up around chocolate and licorice, not tomatoes and… and…"

"Snap peas," she helps me out. "Squash. Acorn squash. You have got to try that! We never get to eat that back in the district, but now I'm in the Capitol, I can eat it whenever I want!" Hemlock springs up from her seat. "In fact, I should get you some. You'll like it more than tomatoes. Especially if there's brown sugar sprinkled on top. I tried that last night… it was delicious." She proceeds to skip over to the buffet table, retrieving the "acorn squash" for me.

I turn to Rosalina, Tyler, and Hestia, but I address Hestia in particular. "Should I eat it?" I ask.

"Yes," they respond in tandem, beside themselves with laughter, obviously excited to see my expression once again. Chuckling to myself, I take their answer as a no, and dig in to my side dish of roasted potatoes.

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It is very early in the morning: around four o'clock. I awoke a few minutes ago desperately needing water, and after I quenched my thirst, I couldn't bring myself to slip back under the covers (as soft and warm as they are). Instead, I slipped into more suitable morning garments- flowy black pants and a pale green blouse- and left the room, careful to not wake Rosalina in the process. Currently, I am walking down the hall in my bare feet, tiptoeing past Augusta's and Alder's rooms, on my way to the lounge.

I pass through the dining room, and an Avox is immediately standing at my side. She has the most beautiful eyes, but she covers them with her brunette hair as she ducks shyly. I smile at her and wave her off, whispering, "I'm just on my way to the lounge," and she disappears quickly through the third door on the far wall. I do not follow her and instead take off through the fifth door, sighing in relief when I enter the lounge.

But I am not alone.

It is a lonely room, and is often devoid of human life. But not now. It is a room with plush reclining chairs and a large, flat-screen television, and in the midst of it all there is a black-haired, olive-skinned boy who is currently curled up on a sofa, tears streaming down his face and an Avox at his side, who is holding a box of tissues and trying to comfort him. But the comforting doesn't do much good, for he just cries harder every time he looks at the elderly Avox… I assume because he is sorry for what they've done to her.

"Tyler!" I call softly. He and the Avox are startled, but the woman collects herself first and gives me a grateful, tight-lipped smile before retreating back into the shadows. I run to the thirteen-year-old, who is attempting to wipe his tears away and look as if he was not crying at all. It is no use. Tyler's eyes are puffy and red, and when I reach out to hug him, he just sobs again.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I'm sorry, Maysilee, I'm supposed to be strong, but… but I can't stand it…"

"Shh. It's okay. Shh," I say, sinking into the sofa cushions and holding him close, as if I am his temporary mother. "What's the matter, Tyler? Is it the Games?"

He stares up to me, his tear-clouded gray eyes wide and glistening. "Sort of… I mean, the prospect of the Games is frightening and all. But I don't want to die, and I don't want Rosalina to die! Or you, or Haymitch, or Hemlock or Hestia or naïve Willie from Ten or-" his voice cracks, and he doesn't finish his sentence. "I'm too young for this. I'm thirteen; I don't deserve to be in these Games. I don't stand a chance."

I cannot lie and say he does stand a chance, and yet I cannot say he doesn't. I have choose my words carefully. "Tyler, I can't say you're going to win this thing," I sigh. "I can't say Rosalina is going to win this thing, or Haymitch. I can't even tell myself that. But you have a choice… you can give up or you can fight. If you want to have a chance, you have to fight, and so does Rosalina, and Haymitch, and myself. Understood?"

It seems as if his tears have vanished, and now his eyes gleam in a fascinated way. "I have a choice," he echoes me. "I can give up or I can fight."

"Yes."

"Thank you," Tyler stands, abruptly, his voice lowering. "Thank you. I will fight. I will fight and my sister will fight and it will all turn out okay."

"Tyler," I say, cautiously, "I can't promise you that it will turn out okay…"

His hand shoots out and he covers my mouth. "No, Maysilee! It will turn out okay if I want it to turn out okay. I'm good at this sort of thing, all right? Don't worry about me. I'll make it just fine- I'll stay strong now. I'll stay strong until the end. I'll fight until the end."

Before I can respond, Tyler is out the door, leaving me to ponder what he has just said. None of it made any sense towards the end. Why is he so assured it will turn out okay? He is good at what sort of thing? What does he mean, "the end"- the end of his life? the end of the Games? Why was it that when he told me he would fight until the end, his eyes seemed to take on the look of a caged wild animal? I conclude that my fright is based on nothing at all. Tyler is just so afraid he is rambling. That has to be it.

So why do I get the sensation that I'm mothering an insane serial killer?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

At breakfast, Augusta blathers on about the newest skin dye- a pale coral pink. "It would look fabulous on you, hon!" She tells Tyler, who looks positively sick at the idea of permanently becoming my stylist Rosea's twin (at least, colour-wise). Alder stumbles in about halfway through and vomits all over the floor (to which Augusta says, "Oh, my… if you excuse me, I must go fix my lipstick). Haymitch doesn't make an appearance at all, having given up eating at the table with the rest of us- at least he can order food back in his room. Rosalina and I scarf down our buttermilk pancakes as fast as humanly possible and retreat up to our room in minutes, content to just sit together.

"What are you going to do for private sessions today?" I ask her as we change into our training uniforms.

"Not much. I think I might build a fire and… hang a dummy over it?" She shudders. "I think it's terrible, even if I'm just killing a dummy, and it's one of the oldest tricks in the books- Augusta mentioned that at least two tributes she's escorted have partook in that during their sessions- but I'll get a decent score. Four or five, possibly six. I might even get a bonus point if I throw in my knowledge of edible plants!" She laughs, feigning optimism. "How about you?"

"I honestly don't know," I confess. "Something with spears and edible plants. Might go for the friendly angle and talk to the Gamemakers the entire time. For some reason, I doubt many tributes have done that, even though it's not that hard."

"What? Talk to them?"

"Yeah," I shrug, bending over until my head is upside-down, gathering my hair into a ponytail and only standing upright when a hairband is securely tied around it. "Can you really imagine the Careers entering the room and saying, 'Hello, Gamemakers, how is your day going?' I'm thinking they all say their name and their district and simply do what they came to do."

"You have a point," Rosalina smiles. "I, personally, wasn't planning on doing a talk show-related performance, either. You're pretty smart, Maysilee… and could you by any chance help me braid my hair? I can do side braids, but not down my back."

"Of course," I say, and she turns her back to me. I'm decent at braiding, after all of the practice I've had on Myra and Fauna. My fingers are quick to divide her hair into three sections and begin the weaving process. "Thing is," I continue on with our original topic, "Let's say I use the talk show method. Then I'll have to keep up that angle all the time. The interviews, the Games, and the rest of my camera life… if I make it out of the Games. I feel like that would be challenging. I mean, becoming Jacen Iridescent? It is the worst dream imaginable!" I tie the end of the braid with another hairband, and she turns to face me. "But I better stick with what I have, since Alder isn't going to help us any." Unless I get an eight or above in private sessions.

"Well," she looks me up and down, "I trust and believe that you will choose whatever is best for you. And you look just fabulous, as Augusta would say. Ready for the last day of training?"

"As ready as I'll ever be," I say solemnly, and follow her out the door.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I spend the morning perfecting my spear-throwing technique, attempting hand-to-hand combat,and learning how to skin (and clean) a rabbit; the latter of which is not the most pleasant task. The trainer isn't pleasant either- she is a big, burly woman whose accent is one that most attain in District Ten. "Now," she says gruffly, plopping a realistic-looking rubber rabbit in front of me and handing me a large knife, "We ain't got no real bunnies up for grabs here- Capitol doesn't let us trainers kill things here in the Centre- so I can't properly demonstrate on a bunny for ya, darlin'. But I s'pose the rubber bunnies work too." She proceeds to explain that you make cuts "'round the hind legs" and then "a few slits here and there." She then goes on to show me how to "viciously slice off that damn lasso-cutter (a foul name in District Ten?) of a tailbone," and "slide that skin right off, darlin'!"

And while I perform this torturous surgery on a rubber rabbit, with a half-crazy woman yelling "don't be 'fraid to draw some blood, darlin!" in my ear, I silently believe that this is the most repulsive thing I have ever done in my sixteen years of life.

There is still time before lunch to train, so I head over to edible plants for a last-minute review (not that I need it). The trainer welcomes me loudly- I think I am his favourite student this year- but Hestia, who is also here, is too preoccupied to pay any attention to me. Her nose is buried in a large book that uses 12'' by 12'' paper, and there is an extremely worried expression painted over her normally smiling features. The trainer asks me if I want to complete the edible plants test again, but I decline, for I want to see what is in this book.

"Hestia," I say, crouching down beside her. "Where'd you get that, and what is it?"

"Oh… Maysilee…" she looks up and I can see the fear in her eyes. "I-I-I… just found this book on the shelf, and it is just so frightening, I can't possibly stand it, oh, Maysilee..."

The shelf she is talking about is located at the back of the station, holding a variety of books on different types of flora. I skimmed through a few yesterday, but none caught my interest. I must have overlooked this one, and its apparent relevance. "What's it about?" I strain to get a good look at the pages.

She holds it out to me, making my job easier. "The trainer said it was a new addition to the shelf," Hestia says. "He hadn't gotten to look closely at it yet, but he knew it was about… about…"

I close the book, glancing at the cover, and finish her sentence for her. "The Poisons of the Fifty Arenas," I breathe out the title. And then I'm flipping through the pages, taking in poison after poison. Some are those created by the Gamemakers, some are plants, some are those that have been around for as long as anyone can remember. Nephrophate, aconite, belladonna, leveno, modified dimethylmercury, modified potassium cyanide, modified hydrochloric acid, ethrone acid… the list goes on, for pages and pages.

"Hestia, there are so many! Why are there so many?" I ask, shutting the book after viewing a large picture of nightlock displayed on page twenty-three and perusing a paragraph on carbon monoxide. I'm shocked almost to the point of hyperventilation, and I hope I do not have a panic attack like Haymitch did yesterday.

"Maysilee," she clutches my shoulders, "Don't worry. These won't all be in the arena, I'm sure. After all, the title says, 'The Poisons of the Fifty Arenas,' not the 'Fiftieth Arena.' And I recognize some from past Games. Remember the forty-fourth games, when everyone who touched the pie at the feast died a few days later? That contained modified dimethylmercury, I'm sure of it. They've also used leveno, and the hydrochloric acid…" Hestia lists off a few more deadly poisons, as mentioned in the book.

"Yes, yes," I interrupt her. "But they've never used aconite before, or modified potassium cyanide, or ethrone acid… or am I just forgetting? Please tell me I'm just forgetting," I beg.

"You are not forgetting, Maysilee," Hestia whispers. "And if those poisons haven't been in other arenas, then there's only one other arena that they will be in."

We let that sink in, clutching onto each other for support, and I hope she is wrong. Because it can't be poisonous! It can't be…

The 50th Hunger Games arena.

This arena.

This year.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Lunch is strangely quiet, probably because private sessions begin in thirty minutes. Those of us who sit in groups talk softly, and most of the discussion is on the private sessions and the interviews (which are tomorrow). I ask the others what their plans are for their sessions, and they all give me varying answers. Hestia is going to throw spears at dummies, which is probably what I will do, even though I haven't given it much thought. Tyler says he's planning on building a shelter, maybe show off a few camouflaging skills. Rosalina relates to the others what she related to me this morning. But Hemlock's idea is, by far, the best.

"I'm going to tell them about the tributes," she exclaims. "Show them how good of a memory I have. I'll tell them Platina is afraid of fire and Siren is afraid of water… that'll probably give me at least a six, right there!" We all laugh.

"What about you, Maysilee?" Asks Tyler.

I shrug. "I was thinking about talking to them, like Hemlock, except crack a few jokes and be friendly. My performance will have something to do with spears and edible plants. That's all I have so far… I suppose I'll just wing it." I really haven't given it much thought. I'll need something spectacular, since I will be last to go. The Gamemakers will probably be bored to death this year, what with double the amount of tributes.

I also wonder why they didn't extend the private sessions to the morningtime, as well. Since there are so many of us, the sessions are going to run very late. The initial broadcast of the scores will probably run a few hours later, as well. Or maybe they are thinking of cutting our sessions short? I really haven't the slightest idea.

After thirty minutes, a high-pitched woman's voice rings out in the room, through the speaker at the end of the room. "Intron Thundrous" is announced, and the said seventeen-year-old stands, walking quickly and purposefully out of the cafeteria.

"This is going to be a long wait," I mumble to Rosalina, who laughs.

"Might as well kick back and relax. After all, we have hours and hours ahead of us."

And so we do.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Rosalina Dark," the voice announces, seven hours and twenty-seven minutes later. My friend stands, looking nervous.

"Good luck," I say.

"You too."

And for eight minutes, I am left alone, confined to my thoughts.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------

"Maysilee Donner."

I have a plan. Even if it is the worst private session plan in the history of the Hunger Games, I still have a plan. I am going to talk to the Gamemakers, and then I am going to go to edible plants and display my skills. After that, I will pick up a spear and I improvise from there on. It is a terrible plan, but I am sticking to it. I think Myra would applaud my dedication.

I collect myself and stand up, correcting my posture and walking briskly through the cafeteria doors, which are held open by a pair of Avoxes. They glance at me sadly, but I don't understand their pity until I am standing in front of the Gamemakers, who mill about on the balcony above the room.

It is at that moment that I realise I am in trouble. At least half of them are unconscious from the amount of alcohol they have consumed these past seven hours and thirty-five (thirty-six?) minutes, and the rest are talking amongst each other boisterously, not having noticed me standing in front of them. I feel a bit put-off in the way they are treating me: not like a dignified tribute, but a bit of dirt on the bottom of their shoe that can go unnoticed for a little while.

"Hello?" I say loudly, which makes a few of them jump. I paste a smile on my face as the half that are not fast asleep turn to stare at me intently. "I am Maysilee Donner," I begin, returning Sorphigan Pronx's- the Head Gamemaker with the long, waxed moustache- gaze. "I am the second female tribute from District Twelve, and it is an honour to meet you all."

They are a bit confused. Sorphigan Pronx recoils a bit, because I doubt many tributes say it is an honour to meet him. He searches for the lie in my eyes, but I make sure to hide it well beneath the smiley, awed façade I have currently taken on. Finally, after a prolonged pause, he says, "You may begin," although it is not so much a statement as it is a question.

"Thank you, Mr. Pronx," I reply. "Now, I bet most tributes don't talk to you all. But I'm not most tributes. In fact, I could possibly be the biggest failure of a tribute you've ever encountered. I mean, have you seen me throw a knife?"

One of the Gamemakers can't resist calling out, "Miss Donner, do you plan on throwing knives for us? I may want to flee the room before you demonstrate." This raises a few chuckles, especially when he uses his groosling leg to imitate his knife sailing through the air and hitting him on the head. I grin.

"Sir, I fully agree that it would not be wise to throw knives for you all. Panem knows whether or not one of the knives would rebound off the dummy and come sailing back at you, impaling that groosling leg you hold! It would be very tragic indeed. We would have to hold a funeral." I imitate wiping a tear from the corner of my eye, which sets a fourth of them laughing.

"No, I am planning on demonstrating my proficiency in edible plants," I explain while heading in the direction of one of my favourite stations. "My parents own a sweet shop, you see, so I know which plants are used to flavour the candies… and which candies to avoid so I do not become obese!" Some of them laugh loudly when I lift the hem of my shirt and show them my flat stomach. "I see I succeeded in staying thin, don't you think?"

Back in the district, it is a gift to be obese. Some of us are so thin you can see our bones- thin because of hunger. Some of us kneel over in the streets from starvation. But in the Capitol, it is a gift to be thin. They go through surgeries to remove access fat, gorge on food and then drink liquids that make them throw it all up again (some do this regularly- this disorder is called bulimia nervosa), or refuse to eat at all, passing by the large abundance of good, rich food (called anorexia nervosa). In the Capitol, they consider it a gift to be wasteful. It is despicable! But I have to pretend I am one of them in these five days that I am here; I have to pretend I am one of them for the Gamemakers, so they will understand me.

I nod to the trainer, who holds a bucket of various plants in his hands. He smiles at me and asks if I would like to perform the test. "Yes, please," I reply, a bit nervous. This time, in stead of writing my answers down on a piece of paper, I am going to answer aloud, for the Gamemakers. It's not that different, but it's different all the same.

The trainer puts on a pair of gloves and begins. He holds up a branch covered in light green, teardrop-shaped leaves with jagged edges and ripe, elliptical berries coloured a reddish black. Easy. "Mulberries," I spout out, without a second thought. "Genus: Morus. They grow on trees. The berries are a great source of nutrition, but the leaves are intoxicating… although they are the main source of food for the silkworm." I look up at the Gamemakers. "How many of you are wearing silk?" I ask, and a few that have been listening shout their confirmation. "Without mulberry leaves, you would not be wearing that silk. Thank District Eight for having their own grove of mulberry trees."

I go on. Black walnuts, poison ivy, spearmint, etcetera, etcetera. Three minutes later, the trainer and I are struck with consecutive thoughts, although they are not mutual. Mine is how I am going to incorporate spears in my session in a creative way, and his is how to impress the Gamemakers further. "Now-" I say, just as he says, "Wait a moment, let me get something."

He rushes to a corner and picks up a clear tub full of vials in the few seconds that I am unsure what to do. "Here I have a container full of poisons and acids," he tells the Gamemakers. "As you know, we do not show these samples to tributes during regular training. However, I'm sure Maysilee can tell you the names of these substances."

I instantly catch onto his plan, and the Gamemakers lean forward in anticipation as I say, "My ally Hestia, from District Eleven, and I found a book earlier today. It contained a list of poisons and acids that have been and will be in the fifty arenas. I am quite positive that no other tribute has ever found that book." I pause for dramatic effect, and the trainer uses this time to lift a vial of what appears to be nothing. But I'm sure it is something. It has to be…

"Potassium cyanide. Modified to kill in seconds," I say. Another vial, this with just the smallest bit of colorless liquid at the bottom, is held up for my inspection. It is… "Dimethylmercury. Severely toxic. It can be absorbed through the skin, and even if unmodified and touched with gloves it can kill you, although it would take months. Is it safe through the vial?" I ask the trainer.

"Yes. The vial is specially adapted so the dimethylmercury cannot poison, unless the vial is opened, of course," he says. We do a few more- belladonna, ethane acid, nephrophate- and then he retreats, taking the vials with him.

"Finally," I tell the Gamemakers (well, not all of them, but the half that are conscious and intrigued), "let's go back to the edible plants. One plant, the tomato plant, bears fruits that I assume you've all tried. Red, juicy, and in my opinion, absolutely disgusting. Another of my allies, Hemlock from Twelve, loves tomatoes, and persuaded me to try one yesterday. You should have seen my face when I tasted it," I smile, and they chuckle.

"So," I look Sorphigan Pronx in the eye, "I was thinking you probably have a tomato up there on the buffet table on your balcony, do you not?"

"We have one!" Yells the same Gamemaker who called out earlier, after checking.

"Sir, would you mind tossing it down for me?"

A few exclaim in surprise, but I suppose it isn't against the rules, because seconds later there is a tomato sailing in the air towards me. I catch it and set it down.

"And do you by any chance have acorn squash?"

Immediately, an object wrapped in tin foil is dropped off of the balcony, and I catch it as well. I unwrap it and find half of an acorn squash in all its cooked glory. I discard the foil, crumpling it up and throwing it in the other direction, and set the squash down carefully next to the tomato.

"How about elderberry jam?" I make it into a little game: I ask and the foods are thrown down to me. Soon I have a feast set in a line directly in front of the Gamemaker's balcony, and then I run to the right side of the room, where the spear station is located in the back.

I pick up a spear and call, "All of these foods can be poisonous or vile! And therefore, I shall destroy them." I position myself to where I have a clear shot at the elderberry jam jar. "Elderberry jam is delicious, I admit. But uncooked, elderberries are poisonous!" I pull back and thrust my arm forward, throwing the spear at the elderberry jam jar. It is a small object, but from the sound of shattering glass, I have hit the jar.

I perform this seven more times, each time hitting the food I was aiming for. And then it is time for the tomato: my final chance to prove myself. I choose one last spear and position myself so I will hit the tomato. I inhale, lean back, and then throw myself forward, releasing the spear.

Before the spear hits, I know its path is faulty. Before the spear hits, I know it won't hit the tomato. When the spear hits, it is inches away from the loathsome thing.

Silence is the worst thing to hear now, but it is what meets my ears. No applause- just silence. All of the conscious Gamemakers sit quietly, frozen in their purple-coloured chairs, staring at the spear, staring at the tomato. Contemplating what score they will give me, now that I have made a mistake. I have made a mistake! At the worst possible time! And now I don't know what to do. What do I say? What can I say to make up for this? I need a score of eight for Alder's help. If I can't cover up my mistake, then District Twelve will be doomed this year- I will have let Rosalina, Tyler, and Haymitch down without them even knowing it.

There is a single word that escapes my lips as I stand there, paralyzed. I say it so softly that I doubt the Gamemakers can hear it. I say it so softly that I cannot even hear it. But it is still said aloud.

"No," I breathe.

Because if I let my district partners down, I don't think I'll ever be able to live with the guilt.

~finis de capitulum quattuor~

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