Update 11 Jan 2015: I've been going through all the chapters so far to take out some mistakes that I discovered. Chapter 10 is also coming up soon! I'm busy with university work at the moment so it might take me a little longer to update, but I hope you enjoy the story anyway. :3 Feedback is always very much appreciated.
The sky is decorated with strips of orange as the sun is setting in District 1. I'm relieved to see the source of the searing heat disappear below the horizon as I make my way through the crowded streets of the district. It's early in the evening, just after dinner. That usually means that there are children playing on the streets, their parents not too far off, watching them. Something crunches underneath my shoe which makes me stop in my tracks. I look down and see that I've stepped on some paper. It's not some ordinary paper: it's a poster. It's one of the reaping day posters that have been spread throughout the whole district. I've seen this poster so often in the past few days that I already know what it says without actually reading the words.
57TH ANNUAL HUNGER GAMES.
REAPING TAKES PLACE THIS SATURDAY.
CENTRAL SQUARE, 11 AM.
- Attendance is mandatory for all citizens. -
Reaping day is only two days away, and I want to be as ready as I can be. I look at the golden watch on my wrist and see that it's almost time. I continue walking and fasten my pace, not wanting to be late. Soon, the houses and the playing children are behind me. They are replaced by the factories and empty streets of one of the many industrial sites in the district. As soon as I've reached the glassworks factory, I turn around the corner. On the left side of the building is a rusty iron door, built into a brick wall. There's a small, plastic box on the wall next to the door that once contained a safety alarm system. I grab hold of the iron handle and push it down, but the door doesn't open right away. It takes a good yank or two before the door finally opens. I quickly sneak inside and close the door behind me. On the other side of the door is a small hallway, with nothing but gray, concrete walls and a metal staircase that descends into the abandoned parking garage that's very familiar to me by now.
"And there she is. Never early, never late. Always right on time." I hear a voice say as I walk down the stairs. The voice belongs to Blaze Argentum, the boy with the dark blonde, almost golden hair and dark green eyes, who happens to be a dear friend of mine. I smile at him sheepishly in response.
"You know me well." I tell him.
"I think I would be doing something wrong if I didn't, after eight years." Blaze replies.
There it is again. The strange feeling I get in my stomach when he starts talking like this. But I have no time to think about it now. I have better things to do.
"Let's just start." I change the subject. "Reaping day is only two days away, and I want to be ready."
"Where's Salem?" He asks.
Usually, my brother Salem and I always train together. The moments when one of us shows up alone are very rare. Salem was supposed to come with me today, but he had been acting strange. He told me this morning he couldn't make it to training. When I asked him why, he only gave me the vague answer that he had things to do. I tell Blaze about this.
Blaze nods and starts walking towards the training dummies that are positioned in the corner. I follow him. We pass another group of teenagers who are practicing one-on-one combat with swords. I hear that they are shouting at each other, but I can't make out the words over the sound of the swords clashing, echoing against the concrete walls.
"I don't know what it is exactly, but I feel as if something's going to be different this year."
Blaze gives me a serious look at first. Then his expression turns into a less serious one.
"Yes, maybe this year will be the year that the princess of District 1, Satin Charbrooke, will finally be reaped to compete in The Hunger Games." He announces mockingly. I walk up to the baskets with weapons and take out a few knives.
"And then what? Do you think you really have a chance of winning?" Blaze asks me.
I walk back a few steps, until I'm a few feet away from one of the training dummies. Then I turn around to face it.
"More than most of the other tributes do, I guess." I say, as I throw a knife towards the training dummy. The blade of the knife slides into the dummy's chest with ease.
I don't reply. Why is he acting like this?
"You're good with knives, I have to admit that. But what if there are no knives in the arena? What will you do then? What else are you good at?"
"I can wield a sword if necessary. I've also been during endurance trainings. And if I remember it right, you were there with me." I remind him, as another knife flies through the air, towards the dummy. This time the knife digs into the dummy's stomach.
He nods, and then turns his head. I follow his gaze and see a figure coming our way. It's a girl of my age, with green eyes and brown hair that falls in a wavy tail over her shoulder. Her name is Amelia Harrington. I've met her here in the garage, not too long ago. We've been doing a lot of training together. She and I are both tiny. But where I am strong and hard to escape, she is quick and hard to catch. This keeps it interesting for both of us.
"Hello Amelia." I say.
"Hello Satin." She says. "Do you want to practice wrestling?"
I nod and I follow her to the wrestling mat. It's not really a mat, since it's not much more than a few layers of blankets. But it's all we could get for here. We are actually not supposed to be doing what all of us are doing here: Training and preparing for the Games. If the peacekeepers ever find out, I don't know what they are going to do with us. It won't be anything good. Fortunately, there are barely any peacekeepers around in this part of the city, at this time of day.
Amelia and I take our places on opposite sides of the mat. Blaze stands on the sideline, apparently playing the referee. I scowl at him.
"There will be no referees in the arena either."
"True." He replies. "But nonetheless, I wouldn't want any of you to hurt the other outside of the arena."
I sigh. Then I turn towards Amelia. I take a step towards her, and within half a second she's a step closer to me as well. Her reactions to my actions are swift. I take another step in her direction, and almost at the same she takes a step as well. I try to grab her shirt but before my hand reaches her, she's already holding my wrist. With my other hand, I try to grab her arm. As soon as I have hold of her arm, her other hand is locked around my other wrist. I'm standing so close to her now that I can feel her breath on my fingers. Then she does something I do not expect: she releases one hand, then tries to pull the other one back but I'm not giving in. While she is still trying to free her arms, I put my right foot behind her left leg and pull it towards me. She falls to the ground and I sit on top of her, pinning her arms and legs to the ground. She squirms and tries to get away, but I am stronger than her.
"And we have a winner!" Blaze announces.
I let go of Amelia and help her up. Her grip on me is now much stronger than it was in our battle, which makes me frown.
"Were you even trying?" I ask her.
She shrugs. "I didn't really feel like it today." Then she walks away from me.
I walk after her, leaving Blaze behind by the mat. "Didn't feel like it today? You can't say that once you're in the arena, you know."
Once we're out of hearing distance, Amelia speaks again.
"That doesn't matter." She says softly. "Because I'm not going to be in the arena."
"What?" I demand. "Why?"
"I don't want to."
Her words surprise me, and yet they don't. The first question that comes to mind is: 'Why wouldn't you want to be in the arena? We are District 1 - the Capitol favorite - we win most of the Games. It is a great opportunity to stand out.' But I keep it to myself. Soon after that I realize that – now I think about it – Amelia never has been much of a fighter. She told me that her parents had asked her to go train for the Games, but I never realized until now that that might not be what she really wants.
And she's right. In our district, you don't have to go into the arena if you don't want to. There are always plenty of people who'll gladly volunteer for you. Because of the many volunteers, the reaping routine in our district has changed by now. Once a tribute has been reaped, he or she is asked whether they want to participate in the Games or not. If the answer is yes, they will participate. If the answer is no, the volunteers can sign in again for a so-called 'Second Round of Reaping', in which only the volunteers can be reaped. In the second round of reaping, there is no such thing as volunteering. So if you are reaped in the second round, you're going, whether you still want it or not.
"Okay." I reply to Amelia. I do not completely understand her, but I will be accepting. Not wanting to compete in the Games is an exception in our district. Winning the Games has given great opportunities to its Victors, especially in the districts closer to the Capitol. I remember Sparkle Lockheart, who became a model in the Capitol after winning the 49th Hunger Games. She's famous all over Panem now. Sparkle's story always inspires me to work and train harder; I aspire to be just like her one day.
After our short conversation, Amelia is going home. I thank her before she leaves, then I carry on training for another hour with Blaze.
An hour later, Blaze and I walk up the metal stairs again. When we're in the small corridor, Blaze walks past me quickly. He opens the door carefully and peeks outside.
"The coast is clear." He says. Both of us walk out and make our way home.
Even though the sun has set hours ago, it's still warm enough outside to walk around in shorts. As soon as we near the residential area of the district, Blaze and I both know we have to be careful for the peacekeepers. By now, the streets have all become empty and quiet except for the peacekeepers standing guard. Just as we expected, there are peacekeepers here too. Blaze quickly grabs my hand and squeezes it, and I give him a kiss on the cheek. This is an act we do more often: When the peacekeepers see that we're just another couple who sneaked away for a little while, they are often easy on us. This is not unusual in the district and the peacekeepers often don't see it as a complication.
When we're a few streets away and out of sight of the peacekeepers, Blaze lets go of my hand. He walks all the way to my house with me today. When we're at the front door, he turns to me.
"Since Salem wasn't with us today, I just wanted to make sure you got home safely." He says.
"Thank you." I nod, then smile at him.
His eyes meet mine. For a second, he opens his mouth as if he's going to say something. Then he seems to change his mind and closes it again. He folds his hands behind his back.
"Goodnight, Satin." He says eventually.
"Goodnight, Blaze." I reply. Then he turns around and walks away.