Chapter One: Reaping
'Mummy come on! We'll be late for the reaping!'
In the crowded square of District One, the young man was forced to lurch sideways glaring ahead of him. A little girl had broken free of her mother and run ahead, and the mother had nearly bowled him over trying to catch her. He gritted his teeth holding back the sigh of exasperation and shook his head to himself. How was he the only one who hated this day?
There was something inherently depressing about how excited the people around him were. It seemed to go straight over the heads of the other District One citizens just what today would be choosing. Twenty three children sent to be slaughtered and one to be psychologically tortured for the rest of their life after being forced to murder. Yet they were putting on their best clothes, fixing their hair and chatting excitedly waiting for it all to begin.
He knew he probably had a unique perspective on the proceedings of the day; both of his parents were victors. He may have seen the glory they and the others in the Victors Village were showered with. They were financially supported for the rest of their lives; heroes and celebrities in the eyes of the rest of the world. But he had also heard his mother walking aimlessly around the house in the middle of the night, unable to shake the dreams that haunted her. And he knew all too well of his father's inability to handle even the slightest crack of lighting in the air. They were proud people, they would never speak out against the games, but he had seen what their experiences did to them.
'Hi Orion,' came a synchronised purr from nearby.
Shimmer and Glimmer appeared on either side of him, the identical blonde twins fluttering their eyelashes at him flirtatiously. He gave them an awkward look as Glimmer stroked his arm and Shimmer planted a kiss on his cheek. He pulled his arms out of their possessive grips and disappeared into the crowd as fast as his legs would carry him. He sniffed his shirt slightly, picking up the overpowering scent of their perfumes that stuck to him despite the brief contact. Why would those girls not leave him alone? The fact that they were both set to volunteer today ensured his dislike. Their superficial personalities only intensified his general loathing of the two girls. Quite frankly their presence alone induced the urge to slam his head into a wall.
He found himself in the line for sign in, and after a few moments he got to the front. His finger was pricked by the peacekeeper who just smiled at him, recognising the family name. Instantly he jumped to the same conclusion that everyone else pushed on him, that he'd be volunteering today.
'Good luck Mr Ehra,' the Peacekeeper said, but Orion's glare very quickly told him to keep his mouth shut.
He was almost grateful to be so close to the back of the square as he fell into the line of seventeen year old boys. But a few of them looked at him, clapped him on the back and shoved him further to the front of the pack looking encouraging. Like everyone else they all expected him to volunteer. No matter how many times he had insisted he had no intention to. He was probably surrounded by at least a dozen guys who were planning to, and those were just the boys from his age group. He buried the inclination to bang his head into a nearby wall and looked over at his best and one of his only friend's Onyx. Giving him a perplexed look, curious at how he'd gotten stuck up here.
His friend just shrugged in response and jerked his head towards the platform as Orion hung his head noticing the Mayor and the escort taking to the stage. Followed of course by the long trail of victors, the two who had died since their victories were being displayed on the screens. If the consensus he should volunteer wasn't enough, he could see his own parents taking the stage, waving to the crowd. Two of the twelve victors District One had amassed over the years. Throw in his grandfather who begrudgingly acknowledged the crowd and the image of his great-grandfather on the screen… The tremendous amount of pressure building up in his system was starting to refuse to let him ignore it.
'Welcome District One! Welcome!'
'Here we go...' he muttered.
He stared at the human imitation that was the Capitol lady on the stage. Epsilon had been in charge of this district for around two years, and somehow had become more plastic since the last time she was here. Her silver hair, multi coloured eyelashes and hoop skirt made her appear like an alien. He could see a few of the twelve year olds in the front rows look scared at the sight of her. Not that he blamed them; the Capitolites were just generally creepy.
'Welcome!' she cried again in her high pitched accent, 'to the Seventy Third Hunger Games!'
At this the entire crowd launched into a plethora of applause, he once again made a face and looked around him. He was the only one not clapping as far as he could see. This only lead him to contemplate whether if he grabbed one of the nearby peacekeepers guns, he'd be shot by another. It seemed better than living through this stupid event for the fifth time.
'It is an honour for me to call forward the noble tributes who shall have the coveted task of representing their District this year. Shall we begin with the gentleman?'
More cheering rang out at this, and he could hear a few shrill screams of approval from the female section. Onyx just nudged him, looking excited, he'd been planning to volunteer for months now. Orion merely gave him an all too familiar look of "you have a death wish," and turned to face the front as Epsilon tottered in her high heels to crystal reaping bowl. There was a dramatic pause as she delicately reached in, extracting a small slip of paper before sauntering back to the microphone.
'Representing District One… Platinum Montague!'
There was a sufficient amount of applause at this as the fourteen year old took the stage, but it was nowhere near what it had been previously, for one simple reason. Everyone knew that it wouldn't be him who would face the arena. No, the district was far too competitive to allow that even if he was a decent archer. It was then that Epsilon asked the districts favourite question.
'Do we have any volunteers who'd like to take his place?' but the sentence had barely left her lips when the loud outcries began.
'I volunteer as tribute!'
The word reaping alone was taboo in District Seven. They understood what the day meant, decreeing which two families would never see their child again. District Seven wasn't the most barren of places for victors; in fact in the earlier years of the Hunger Games the district's experience with axes brought quite a few home. But now in the age of the careers, only five still survived. And only one of them even bothered to show up to the reaping's anymore.
The perspective that the district took on the Hunger Games was enough to dissuade even the gutsiest of people from wanting to volunteer. In fact over the years, several had even committed suicide on the way there; choosing to die by their own hand opposed to someone else's. But this had stopped after the Capitol had developed a nasty habit of selecting either a sibling or a close friend to take their place, punishing them even in death for their defiance.
An angry looking teenager stood in a stare off match with a peace keeper, who continuously cleared his throat, holding out his hand to take the blood sample. The girl just glared at him evenly, and it wasn't until the man grabbed her arm and forcefully took it that any result was taken. With a haughty glare she continued into the town square that had been cleared of merchants for the day. A few younger people hastily scurried away as they noticed her nearby. She wasn't surprised, let alone did she seem to care falling into line with the other sixteen year old girls.
There was an instant reaction and several took a step away from her. They were all on edge as it was reaping day, and her appearance didn't make it any easier. She was hated in District Seven, and she hated them in return. A fact of which she made obvious due to her rather lengthy record of incidents of throwing things at peacekeepers and other civilians. And her most frequent target was currently taking the stage.
Her eyes met the Mayor's son with a challenging glare, the animosity between the two was borderline legendary. Toby had caught her stealing from his home when he they were only children. Yet despite the years which had passed since the incident which had her sentenced to a public flogging, the war had not ceased. He was now old enough not to be at risk of being reaped though he still looked grim and dignified as he took a seat beside his father. Noticing her looking at him he made a face at her and mouthed something which only made her direct a rude hand gesture at him. His suspicions were accurate of course; she had stolen the dress she was wearing. If she'd been asked though, she would have insisted it was borrowing without permission and with little intention to return. Besides, she hadn't even bothered to steal shoes; she wasn't being as much of a "thieving street rat," as she could have been.
The sound of a fingernail banging against the microphone was heard, and the shrill noise that followed made everyone flinch. But it wasn't the microphone; it was the voice of the Capitol women who spoke into it. Coloured in varying shades of purple from her skin, to her hair, to her clothing, Gertrude made the hit list of nearly everyone in the district. Seeing two children sentenced to death was not the most painful thing about reaping day since she showed up, it was her yammering.
'Hello District Seven! It is now time to begin this year's Hunger Games!'
The girl made an annoyed noise, not bothering to suppress it due to the fact she knew she wouldn't be on camera. In her second year of reaping's she'd been standing behind the twelve year old that had been selected to compete. The curse she'd let off had caused her to be tasered by a peacekeeper, and they weren't stupid enough to put a camera on her again.
'Shall we begin with the ladies?' she paused as if expecting applause only to be met with stony silence, before she turned to the reaping bowl on her right and delicately plunged her hand in and selected a name, 'This year's female tribute from District Seven is...'
The pause for effect was once again met with boredom from most, but the slight clenching in the heart of every girl who may be selected. Dead quiet fell over the district, even the constant chirping of birds had fallen away. Gertrude enjoyed the control for a moment or two longer than necessary before she read out the name that was embellished onto the scrap of paper.
Every person in the square slowly turned around as the one person they were fine to get rid of was called. The cameras focusing on the face of the teenaged girl who hadn't quite processed it was her name being read out. But as everything around her seemed to freeze for a moment, she knew it was true. She was the one this year who'd been condemned to death.
A set of twin boys laughed loudly throwing a hat in between them as a slightly younger girl ran between them snatching at the air, 'Give it back you two!' she complained loudly.
The people of District Ten took no notice of the interaction, all too used to it from the younger members of the Vee family. They simply went about their business, pulling animals off the streets and into pens, and brushing the mud and hay off their clothes. The boys continued to laugh as their little sister leapt for the hat only to brush it with her fingertips and miss. But they stopped as they heard a sharp bark from their father.
'Hayden. Hunter. Give it back to her now. Show some respect for what day this is.'
Both boys' expressions blanched and one hastily placed the hat back on his sister's head, 'Sorry Astra.'
'You're not but okay,' she said smiling good naturedly and stuck her tongue out at him.
Her elder sister Sera came over to her and said 'Here let me fix your hair.'
'It's fine,' she said adjusting her hat but her sister just laughed and took it out of her hands.
Astra giggled as Sera attempted to smooth the blonde frizz that was starting to pop up along the crown of her head regardless but as usual it refused to stay down and she was left to comment, 'And that's why you're wearing the hat.'
'I'm wearing the hat because I like the hat but sure let's go with that.'
'Come on,' Sera sighed, 'Let's go sign in.'
The sisters held out their hands in front of the nearby peacekeeper table and while Sera just took it without complaint, Astra made a little squeak of annoyance, 'Why would you do that to me? That's just mean!'
Sera smirked before pulling her along, 'Don't terrorise the peace keepers sis, now stand in line with the other girls your age. I'll find you after the reaping's over okay?'
'And no singing.'
'No promises,' Astra smiled, before falling into line with the other fifteen year old girls and finding a friend.
Rini smiled at her anxiously, but then instantly looked away as Astra's nervous response was to do exactly what her sister had just told her not to do. But her voice slowly faded away as the Capitol Escort took the stage. Staring at her in fear, the usual smile wiped clean from her face.
'Welcome District Ten to the Seventy Third Hunger Games!' Druella announced sauntering forward, fake yellow hair gleaming in the sunlight, 'It is simply an honour to be here to select this year's tributes!'
This was only met with silence, District Ten held disdain at the very least for the Capitol, and the women's patronising smile only made it grow increasingly more, 'Shall we begin with the boys?' she offered happily.
Astra looked around to where Hayden and Hunter were standing, begging internally that neither would get drawn, or that they would have the good sense not to start heckling. The only relief she had was that her three other elder brothers had already grown old enough not to be at risk, one even missing out by a few days. She stared at the slip of paper in Druella's hands, as she slowly unfolded the slip, pausing for dramatic effect as she read out the two words that would forever change a family:
She watched in sadness as the slight thirteen year old boy shivered and walked up the stage, face having drained of all colour in an instant. He stood beside Druella, positively shaking, the only respectable thing he could do was not weep uncontrollably. But the Capitol women took no notice of this, congratulated him and walked to the other reaping bowl and selected another scrap of paper. She glanced behind her at Sera, continuing her internal pleading that her sister would not be selected. Though her worry for Sera was short lived, as the one thing she hadn't stopped to consider happened, as Druella read out the words: