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Darkest Before the Dawn: The 71st Hunger Games

By TJ_Flynn

Action / Thriller

Prologue

One Week Before the Reaping

The Capitol

Chace Castellan

My hand moves on its own across the paper, I've done this so many times before that it's become instinctual at this point. It's my skill, all victors have to learn a skill, and mine is charcoal drawings. It's different than the coal from District 12; this coal comes from burning special trees from 7 in a specific way. I've been to both Districts a couple times, and I remember how shocked I was at what I saw the first time. The first stop on the victory tour was 12, I couldn't believe the way they lived, they practically had nothing. That was three years ago, after I won the 68th games.

"Hey," Edmund, District 5's victor from a few years ago, slaps me on the back, "What ya drawin'?" I draw all kinds of things for the Capitol, but there is only one kind of drawing I do for myself. Portraits, specifically of those that died in my games; Finch, Dale, Azeika, even my old district partner Storm. The one I'm working on right now is the same one I've drawn a hundred times before, Proxy. "You're drawin' Proxy huh?"

"Yes," I answer quietly. I can hear Edmund shuffling his deck of cards, and I know what's coming next.

"Pick a card, any card." Of all the talents to choose from Edmund chose magic tricks.

I sigh. "Why magic?"

Edmund cocks his head to the side as he so often does and smiles wryly. "Magic is just like the Hunger Games, which you and I had the good fortune of surviving."

"How?"

"Both are made to entertain, but both are about deceiving the viewer, and distracting them." He shuffles the deck once more. "You think you see one thing, but you only see what the one holding the cards wants you to see."

"Alright fine, I'll play along," I shrug. I draw a card; it's the eight of clubs.

"Memorize it," he informs me. I nod letting him know I've committed it to memory. "Now place it back in the deck and shuffle the cards."

"So how is this like the games?"

"You have selected, seemingly at random, a card, much like the tributes are drawn from the reaping bowl. This is the first part of the trick, a selection."

"Do you really believe the reapings are always random? They know what name will come out of that bowl whenever they want," I sneer.

"Do you really believe I didn't know what card you would draw?" This catches me off guard, but I know this is just part of the deception, he couldn't possibly know what card I would draw, I didn't even know. I quickly check the cards making sure that there aren't duplicates or something, but it seems to be a real deck. "Alright, hand me the deck please," he asks. I place the deck in his hand and he inspects it searching for the card.

"So this is…"

"This is like the games themselves, I'm shuffling through the cards, but you aren't sure what will happen, some cards are discarded," He tosses a card to the floor, "Others kept, for a time…" He slips a card back into the deck. "This is the main event, when I have your attention, when you are most distracted…"

"Fine where is my card?"

"It's not in the deck," He answers simply.

"What?"

"You see this is the last part of the trick, the finale, where all the distraction pays off." He smiles.

"So this is like the end of the games, the victor and all that?"

"Yes, but of course, like myself, the gamemakers are nothing if not theatrical, so any good trick, or Hunger Games won't end the way you think. Check your pocket."

Slowly I reach into my pocket, and sure enough there is the eight of clubs.

"Very nice," I think I'll get back to my drawing." I say dismissing his impressive trick.

"I hope you learned something…" He smiles and walks away to talk to some other victors. Edmund only the second male tribute in District 5's history, and the only one in the rebellion. Edmund's mentor, Onyx Amarous, is a worse drunk than even Haymitch, and he never seemed to be the rebellious type, he was practically a career from District 5.

There aren't many careers in the rebellion; there are only a couple others besides myself, people like my friend Finnick. The Capitol has really done horrible things to him, to all of us. Of course everyone in this room has done horrible things. I killed three people in those games, my closet childhood friend, my ally and a defenseless little kid. I've drawn all of them in charcoal again and again.

That's why I joined the rebellion, to fight the evil of the Capitol. But the more time that goes by, I can't help but wonder if I've traded one devil for another. The deeper I get into the rebellion, the more frustrating it becomes. Some in the rebellion seem more concerned with seizing power for themselves than freeing Panem, chief among them is District 13's president, Almia Coin. She is difficult to read, she's shifty, unpredictable. At least with Snow I know where I stand, he deals in cruelty, while Coin deals in deception.

It seems that I have to choose the lesser of two evils, Coin is not killing twenty-four children in a giant spectacle, however I wouldn't put it past her to do it if she thought it would put her in power. While we have never met face to face, I've spoken to her over video transmission many times. I push for us to rise up and rebel, but Coin insists the time isn't right. Every year more die in the games and we do nothing, and things are getting worse. The C.U. the self-righteous Citizens United, are responsible for the death or arrest of hundreds. They accuse and report rebel sympathizers, or just plain harass anyone they dislike.

Snow will take vengeance on the people of Panem as well, between Proxy at my games, and Annie Cresta winning last year the Capitol will want to remind everyone who is in control. We have people working undercover, including two gamemaker, Pluarch Hevensbee and Virgil Williams. Pluarch is with Coin, always scheming, laying in wait to take power. Virgil is different however, I really do trust him. He wants to end the games as soon as possible, he sees the twenty-four who die each year as people, not just statistics.

The Capitol continues to send these children to their death and we only watch. I'm glad there are so many other victors from 2 so I don't personally have to mentor the children who will either die or become murderers. If what Virgil tells me is true this year may be one of the worst ones yet.

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