The Capitol: Part I
It feels strange to be leaving District 9 behind, I've never been outside of it before. Kasha has disappeared, wandering the train I suppose. I'm content to stare out the window, seeing parts of Panem I've never seen before, and will probably never get to see again. The flecks of rain that fell on the window in the station haven't dried yet, despite how far we've traveled.
"Hey Evander," my mentor has entered the train, "The last of the reapings have wrapped up, would you like to take a look?"
"Sure," I say standing up. "You seen Kasha, maybe she'll want to watch them too?"
"I think she is with Rallon, going over strategies" I shrug and follow him to the car with a T.V. I officially met both my mentor, Kain, and Kasha's, Rallon, at the station before we pulled away.
Kain flips on the T.V. "Looks like its about to start over."
He's right, District 1's reaping is up first. The boy is reaped first, but someone is quick to volunteer, a typical career by the look of him. He has sort of an insane look about him. Next is the girl, but this time there is no volunteer, which happens every so often in 1 or 4, its rare, but it does happen. Still she looks like she will fit right in with the careers. As always, both tributes from 2 volunteer, the girl right away, but the boy seems to hesitate. I look at the girl, she has dark brown hair, and an athletic build, she might actually be pretty if it weren't for that constant scowl on her face. In 3 a nervous little fourteen year old is reaped, and then when the girl's name is drawn, she refuses to move till someone comes to get her. The reapings in 4 are odd as well, first a confident looking girl heads up and then no one volunteers for the boy. He looks a bit ridiculous standing next to the girl on the stage, she is both much taller and muscular than the boy, who unlike the girl from 1 probably wont make it into the career pack. In 5 a scrawny girl is reaped followed by a young boy, who cries his eyes out. Once he reaches the stage, however, an older boy volunteers to take is place. The girl almost looks mad at the volunteer for this. The boy in 6 practically sneaks up on the escort when he gets to the stage, then he goes on about slitting everybody's throat in the games. I don't think we'll be allies. The girl makes a break for it once her name is called, but doesn't get far. Both tributes from 7 seem a bit strange, and act like they know each other. When a girl is reaped in 8 her sister takes her place, which I understand, I'd do just about anything for Della. There is something about the boy from 8 that puts me off, but I can't quite put my finger on it. Next up is Kasha and I. I see myself with that serious look on my face, and Kasha is standing next to me, looking confident. The boy from 10 looks like he knows how to do a hard day's work. He is slim but muscular, and I think I notice a scar on his chin. The girl doesn't look like she is a stranger to hard work either. I instantly have respect for both of these tributes. I can't say the same when I see the girl from 11, apparently she is a mayor's daughter. Probable never had to work a day in her life. The boy is another sad fourteen year old, but he manages to hold his composure. Finally we get to 12. A boy with a fresh bandage on his arm heads up and is soon followed by a young girl who completely breaks down. I flip the T.V. off never wanting to watch another reaping.
"So what do you think?" Kain asks me.
"About what?" I say somewhat frustrated.
"I don't know, I might ally with the ones from 10" I say exasperated.
"Well, lets see how it plays out, we don't even know if they will be allies with each other."
"Yeah, I guess so."
"I don't want you ruling out any more lucrative options." The way he says this bothers me a bit.
"What do you mean by...lucrative options?"
"What were you thinking?" Azeika snaps at me.
"I was thinking about that little kid, how he was about to die." I say back, trying not to show any emotion.
"Really, so if I wasn't reaped would you still have taken his place?"
She has me there. "Well...maybe not, maybe I wanted to protect you, but its not like I have that much to go back home to." I may have said too much, I bit my lip nervously.
Azeika begins pacing, and finally comes to a stop by the compartment's door, resting her head against the wall. "Dale, Dale, Dale." After repeating my name she lets out a sigh. "You think I want to loose you?"
"It isn't the same." I say shifting my eyes away from her.
"What do you mean Dale? If you have something to tell me, now would be a good time." I wonder, as I did in before in better circumstances, does she even feel a fraction for me of what I feel for her?
"How I feel doesn't matter, I'm keeping you alive."
"How can it not matter? You have just as much to live for as I do!" I finally look at her now, she has tears in her eyes. I can't tell if they are from anger, sadness, or something else entirely.
"You don't get it, my family isn't like yours, and you have Alex to go back to, if you died I'd have nothing, alright!" I say a bit angrier than I really feel.
"Alex? What are you talking about, what does Alex have to do with any of this?" I turn back to the window, not willing to look her in the face as she asks me this.
"Nothing, he has nothing to do with us."
"Dale," she says softly walking over to me "You know how much you mean to me, don't you? It was bad enough that I had to go to the Games, and then you stepped in."
"I just couldn't live with myself, letting you go in alone."
"Oh Dale" She is right next to me now, her hand on my face, turning it to hers. "How did you feel when I was with Alex? Tell me the truth."
I think about lying to her for a moment, but I doubt I could fool her, and a part of me has wanted to say this for a long time, so I don't fight the words. "It was agony."
"Dale, I'm so...sorry." For a moment I'm sure that if I lean in and kiss her, she won't object. Just for that moment everything would be perfect. I'm not planning on living much longer anyway, this may be one of the last chances I ever get at real happiness. But the moment slips away. That was always the difference between Alex and I. He acted when I wouldn't, and thats why he got the girl, even if it was just for a little while. The only real thing I've done to show my affection to Azeika is volunteering, but that wasn't like kissing her or holding her hand, or even asking her on a date. I guess my friends were always right about me being a geek.
Azeika has sat down in a booth next to a window now. "I'm not about to let you die in there either." She says more to the oil fields flying by the window than me.
"You are the one getting out of here not me." I say, there must be some way to convince her. "I'm protecting you till the end."
"Oh, I know you are, but think about it realistically; what are the chances both of us make it to the final two? One of us will get killed at some point then the other will be on his or her own. The best we can do is make it as far as we can together."
I've never really thought about it along those lines; I just went in with the blind notion of protecting her. Could we really make it to the final two? What would happen if we did, would I have to convince Azeika to kill me, or would I have to find some way to take myself out?
"I'm gonna try and find something to read on this train," I say.
"Hah, there the Dale I know and lo..." her voice trails off and she turns her attention back to the window.
"Try to stay out of trouble Zee" I say trying my hardest to smile, as I head for another compartment.
I'm left sitting alone naked after my prep team has finished with me. When my stylist finally comes in, I recognize him instantly, he has been a recurring face in the games forever, I think Ziggy is his name. District 8 has always been one of the most desired districts for stylists, so it makes sense that I'd have an experienced stylist.
"Well, I'm glad I have something to work with, you're quite beautiful." I feel myself blush a little, I never really have thought of myself as beautiful. "If you would like, you may put your robe back on." I quickly grab my robe. I wonder what kind of outfit I will be put in for the opening ceremonies, with textiles as our industry, the options are nearly endless.
"So what exactly will I be wearing for the ceremony?" I ask timidly.
"This year, we, that is myself and my partner Stefani, have decided to go with a more simplistic theme. I notice something about Ziggy I hadn't thought of before, how plain he looks. Aside from his eyes which have famously always been different colors, he appears very normal. Whenever I've seen Ziggy in the past he has been in some outrageous getup, complete with crazy makeup. I remember one year when he had a lightning bolt painted on his face. To see him like this is strange.
Within a couple hours I'm in the most amazing dress I've seen in my life, yet it doesn't have a ridiculous amount of flash. It seems to highlight the fact that it is hand stitched, almost looking like patchwork. Somehow it still manages to have an elegance about it.
"Turn to the left," Ziggy instructs. "Turn to the right." He smiles, apparently satisfied. "Excellent, follow me to the stables, Stefani and Allan should be waiting for us there."
Allan, my fellow tribute, I'm not quite sure what to make of him. He came to me on the train, suggesting an alliance, saying that we should stick together being from the same district. I agreed, not because I trust him, I don't, but because I don't think I could trust anyone else either. I won't go into these games alone, and Allan is the closest thing to a friend I've got.
I'm practically invisible as I sit in the corner of the stable, clothed as I am. I've always had a knack for finding a small space and disappearing from view. I watch all the other tributes, in their various outfits. I try to learn as much as I can about them, but there is not much I can tell at this point, I'm not sure if my display after being reaped has made an impression or not.
I had two goals when I began talking about how I would viciously kill my fellow tributes. The first was to impress the careers, if I can get in with them I like my odds a lot better. The second goal of that speech was to intimidate everybody else. Fear and intimidation are the most important tools I possess. It seems to have worked to some degree on my district partner, Amata, she avoided me the entire train ride. I'll just have to wait for training to see if it was as successful with others.
The District 1s have just left, and I casually step out of the shadows, which startles the boy from District 11 who was walking by. I smile, he is a bloodbath for sure. I make my way to my district's chariot where Amata is waiting. Her outfit is similar to my own, shiny black form fitting suits, with all of our skin covered in make up of the same color. It is supposed to represent our district's industry, oil. Even our hair is laid flat and colored black. It suits me.
This is the closest Amata and I have been since shaking hands on the stage. I see something on her face I wasn't expecting. Hatred. Maybe I misjudged her. Maybe she wasn't so afraid of me, maybe she was more furious with me. This isn't good, going into the games with someone holding a grudge against me is not something I want. I will have to take her out as quickly as possible.
"What kind of horses do you think these are?" I ask Tawny as she helps me into the carriage.
"I suspect that the have been genetically modified to be more obedient." she answers.
"Technically, but the are very close to the original, not like those we may see in the arena or even the jabberjay."
"Oh...alright." The District 5 chariot has just left and the District 6 one is in position. I can barely see the tributes from 6 in the dark, they are all covered in black. I really like seeing all these interesting costumes. I think mine is kinda boring, I'm a tree just like everyone always is in 7, but Tawny really likes it, she says it makes it feel more in touch with nature. I'm glad she is happy, and as far as tree costumes go I guess this one is pretty cool.
Before I know it we off the city circle. The crowd is almost deafening. I've never seen this many people in my whole life. Even though we aren't the most popular ones, that would be the tributes from 2, many cheer for us. I'm not sure why they cheer for us, we aren't strong tributes, and there seem to be smarter ones, like Leexon or Matt, but there is something about the pair of us they seem to connect with. Maybe it's the exact same things that annoyed our shift manager.
There are so many things I want to ask someone, but there is no one nearby except Tawny, and she wouldn't be able to hear me. After a bit more circling we arrive at our destination, right in front of President Snow's mansion. He then emerges from his palace and gives a speech, Now that is someone I would love to ask some questions.
After his speech, we are back in the Training Center. We disembark and I'm asking my prep team as many questions as I can about how we appeared during the ceremony, and they take terns answering while Tawny examines a leafy pattern on her arm.
We head to our floor in the training center and after dinner my mentor tells me to go to sleep, he says he can always answer my questions in the morning. As I'm heading to my room I hear something.
"I don't mind staying up and answering your questions." It's Tawny, of course it is. How lucky I am to be going into the arena with one of only two people I've ever met who doesn't mind answering my questions. Although neither of us ever mentioned it, we understand we will be going in as allies.
"So what do you think will be in this year's arena?"