14-Serendipity

The first day of training belonged to Keni. The youngest of the Persimmon-Teff clan was early to rise. By the time the second sibling awoke, Keni had cleared their plate, spent a half-hour attempting to learn the controls of the shower, and slipped into the black training jumpsuit provided for them. When June stumbled into the living room, rubbing the crust out of her eyes, Keni was already waiting for the elevator to take them down.

They ended up waiting, watching as their older siblings slowly rose, nibbled on their breakfasts, and groggily attempted to fit into their uniforms. None of them seemed enthusiastic for the day's events. An invisible clock hung over them, unimpeded, constant, ticking closer and closer to the moment when the gong would ring and their lives would be forfeit. Keni didn't look forward to that moment, but they anticipated it, and they were eager to prepare in any way they could.

They were the first one into the elevator, barely hearing the words of advice from their mentor, and as soon as it dropped them off at the training floor, they leapt out. The introductory words of the head trainer went unheard. Keni wouldn't die to dehydration, or frostbite, they decided. Those warnings were for the others. They were different.

June wanted the siblings to stay together, but Keni held no such desire, and found themself slipping away from the group as soon as the head trainer let them loose. While June, Linus, Chester, and Charlotte learned to create snares and start fires, Keni made a beeline for the sickles.

For hours nobody else visited the station, and Keni was left alone with the trainer, time blending away as they went through the repeated motions. It was their ninth time getting knocked to the ground by their trainer when another group stumbled up to the station.

"Need some help up, little rat?" Aros sauntered up to Keni, the behemoth from District Two wearing a cocky grin. The rest of District Two trailed behind him, Apollio cackling while Atheline gave an amused smirk. Artemia seemed wholly uninterested, while Aphrodemia attempted to find anything else to borrow her attention.

"Just wait till we're in the arena, you-you," they struggled to find an insult. "You dumb fuck," they said, lamely.

Aros ignored them. "Trainer, give me a round."

It was over before it started. Aros never had to use his sickle, using his free hand to grab the trainer and throw him to the ground, ending the match in an instant. This time Atheline joined in the laughing, and Artemia even spared a snort.

"See you at the bloodbath, pipsqueak," Aros taunted.

Keni's fists clenched at their sides, and they took a step after him as he turned his back, but quickly stopped themself. They picked up their sickle, shaking the aches out of their back, ignoring the bruises that were forming from the constant falls.

"You're doing it wrong," a new voice stated.

"You know, fuck off, I didn't ask for any of your opinions," Keni said, readjusting their cap so that it went down to their eyebrows.

The voice ignored their request. "You're supposed to let them teach you how to use that thing, not wave it around and let them smack you to the ground a dozen times."

"Nine," Keni corrected. "And I don't need your help, so go find someone else to bother."

"You know, the whole point of training is to get help, right? Not to get beat up so bad that you can barely walk by the time the Games come around. You think Aros got that good by letting people beat him up all day?"

"I don't-" Keni cut themself off, a frustrated grunt filling in the open space. "So go help your allies then. Your sister looks like she could use some training."

Luca smiled in an attempt to hide the grimace that instinctively came. He looked across the room, to where Rosalind was struggling to complete an edible berries test. Instantly his bravery disappeared, his confidence dipping back to their normal levels as he awkwardly rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, well sorry."

"Wait!" Luca stopped from turning as Keni called out towards him. "You should practice with me," they stammered, "or, I mean, if you want to. You can. I don't mind. You-"

"Sure," Luca said. He walked up to the rack of weapons and grabbed a sickle, carefully examining the dulled blade. "I've never used these before though, you'll have to help me out and show me a few pointers."

"Alright," they said wearily, leading Luca to the practice mat. "But don't try to go easy on me, I'll know if you do."

"I never go easy." Luca smirked.

Keni smiled. "Good."

~.~.~.~

Chester had never been so relieved by lunch. It was the one thing in the day that fit into a routine. There were no unknown variables, no constantly shifting and changing realities. For a set time they sat in the cafeteria, were served a meal, and ate until that scheduled time came to an end.

The first few hours of training had been disastrous for him. No matter how hard he concentrated, no matter the effort he put into it, he couldn't figure out how to start a fire. He watched as June, Linus, and even Charlotte started a fire with matches and moved on to more difficult methods, while he still made no progress. Other tributes filtered in and out, easily mastering the task and leaving to go figure out different survival skills. He could feel himself slipping behind, becoming more and more useless to his siblings by the hour. He imagined himself in front of the Gamemakers on the third day of training, struggling and failing to start a small blaze while other tributes impressed them with their talents.

Chester groaned, letting his head bang into the table. Keni, June, and Linus were all distracted swapping stories of what they had done, and even Charlotte seemed to pay no mind to the crisis Chester felt himself falling into.

His breathing became ragged, the air around him seeming to empty out, rushing away so that when he sucked in for breath there was nothing for him to grasp. His heart raced, while his thoughts betrayed him, lingering on things that he had tried to push away. The reality that he was facing came in full focus, and fear came following in thunderous waves, all the death, the likeliness that his time was slipping away, the inevitability of it all.

Two hands reached out, gently grasping him by the hand. His eyes darted over, and he saw the little girl from Eight staring back at him with eyes that seemed to pierce through his outer shell, past the fears that rolled throughout his bones, and straight to his soul.

She smiled at him, giving a calming squeeze as she said nothing, just looked at him, patiently yet expectantly. He felt his heart begin to slow, and he forced in a shaky breath of air through his nose, and blew it out with his mouth.

He wasn't sure why, but he felt an urge to tell the girl he had never met everything. A cautious shield still in place, he hesitantly began to talk, certain to keep his voice at a low whisper that wouldn't be eavesdropped on.

"I feel useless," he said, unsure where to even start. He didn't even know what exactly he was doing, and what he hoped to gain. Still, he found words continuing to fall out of his mouth. "Everything is wrong. We're going from place to place, doing all these different things, and I just can't figure any of it out. It's like, by the time I even figure out we're doing, everyone else has moved on to something else. I just want everything to be neat and easy and make sense, but everything is just a big messy. . . mess."

She nodded her head, then made a motion with her hands, rubbing them together and making an explosion. He didn't quite understand what she was trying to say, until he realized that he remembered the girl. The puzzle clicked into place.

"You were at the station earlier, I remember. You and your brothers figured it out real easy." He scratched the back of his head, that feeling of uselessness coming back in full force.

The girl grabbed his hand, repeated the motion with her hands, and then gave his hand a gentle tug.

"You-you could help me?" Chester asked, unsure of himself. He felt a heat of embarrassment, wondering if that wasn't what she had meant, but that dissipated when she nodded her head and gave him a warm smile.

Chester returned the smile, and that smile stuck on his lips for the rest of lunch, that fiery anxiety dimming down to a few timid coals that he almost forgot were there.

~.~.~.~

It was June's turn to be the first one awake on the second day of training. Django had spoken with all of them the previous night and talked strategy on how to best use their time. Over an entire day, Keni had only worked on the sickle, and the rest of them had only managed to try fire-starting and shelter creation. Waiting for everybody to figure out each skill had slowed them down, and Django had made the suggestion to spread out and learn different skills.

With more freedom, June was ready to get to work. She was one of the first ones down at the training center, only a few others making the early trip. Luca was in a fierce sparring match with a trainer, wielding a Warhammer with rhythmic ease. Caelum, Jesse, and Suis all slumped over as they studied survival skills, while Gaspar showed no signs of fatigue as he partook in an animated conversation with the snares instructor.

June felt a weight freed from her shoulders. All of Chester's constant worrying, Linus' insistence on bickering, even Charlotte and the way that she seemed to forget where the world started and her mind stopped, it wore down on her more than she liked to admit. Just as much as the fields were, it seemed that she was in a constant state of work. It was more than just Chester, Linus, Charlotte, and Keni though. Sierra, Malachi, Isaac, they were all still back home, and June wasn't sure if her dads could handle it all on their own. She worked day in and day out at the fields, and received her share of lashings for it. The thought of shy, timid Sierra, or naive, overly-trusting Malachi filling her role, it seemed alien.

They needed her back home, she knew it. But her siblings needed her here too. She was being pulled between the two, but there was no way for her to help both. If she made it back home that would mean she failed. That Charlotte, Chester, Linus, and Keni had all died while she was supposed to be protecting them. But if she died, tying herself down in an attempt to save one of them, what would they do without her back home? Would any of her siblings be able to win if she left them on their own? If they could, what would be the point of her trying to protect them?

That line of questioning got her to a dark place, and she attempted to clear her mind. The station for knives had no trainer, but the weapons were out, a few dummies strung from the ceiling. She would make do.

The blade felt foreign in her hands, everything did, really. She felt as if she were walking in someone else's footsteps, a passive observer watching a story being told. She had been reaped. She was going to the Hunger Games. It was a simple thing, but her mind couldn't seem to wrap itself around the thought. The strangers who had become her family were going to die, and if she wanted to win she'd have to watch them get cut down one after the other. She could still remember when it was only her, the day that the "twins" Chester and Charlotte joined their family was one of the best of her life. That lonely feeling of the orphanage was still with her, even ten years later. She didn't want to sink into that despair again. She wasn't sure if she had a choice.

She slashed her knife against the stomach of the dummy, the blade ripping into the jelly-like substance and slicing across it. Her hands acted by themselves, repeating the motion. Easy as that, she thought, and June wasn't sure whether she believed it or not.

~.~.~.~

Linus and Charlotte had found themselves at the same station. As always, Linus was ready to argue, unwilling to budge from his position and stating that Charlotte would need to move. Ever the peacekeeper, Charlotte managed to convince him it would be good for them to both learn what nuts and berries would be edible. She felt that he had less argument in him than usual, but didn't push her luck by stating that hypothesis out loud.

The second day had come and gone in no time at all. For Charlotte, it felt as if only moments had passed since they had been reaped, yet in the blink of an eye the second day was crawling to an end. In just three days they would be in the arena, possibly already dead. For as much as Charlotte's mind liked to wander aimlessly, she steered far clear from those thoughts. Their floor had more books than she had imagined possible, and they had done good to distract her in the early morning and late nights. While tests on edible nuts and berries may not elicit the same joy and escapism, they at least managed to steal her concentration.

The screen flashed a score of fifty-two percent, and Linus threw up his arms in exasperation while Charlotte silently fiddled with her hair, twirling it around her fingers. The frustration was eating away at her nerves and giving way to helplessness.

"Barely better than just randomly guessing," Linus grumbled.

"It's in the margin of error, actually. So it's just as good as guessing."

Charlotte and Linus looked over to the girl sitting next to them, dumbfounded. She stared back at them awkwardly, then looked back to her own screen, tapped a few buttons, and a one-hundred percent flashed over the screen.

It was quickly wiped off the screen, but Charlotte caught a glimpse, and blurted out, "You're pretty good at this."

"Thanks," she said sheepishly, continuing to absently tap away at the screen and avoid eye-contact.

"Where are you from?" Charlotte asked, scooting closer.

"District Five," she said, seeming unsure of her answer.

"There must be a lot of these plants back there, huh?" Linus chirped in, giving up on the test and turning to face the girl.

"No, not any, actually." She turned away, finding a sudden fascination with the ceiling.

"You must have a really good memory then," Charlotte said. "By the way, I'm Charlotte, and this is my brother Linus. We're from District Eleven."

"I'm Aven," she said weakly. Aven hesitated for a moment, then turned to the pair, and spoke quickly. "And my memory isn't really that good. You just have to look for patterns, for example. . ." she trailed off, speeding through her system for categorizing poisonous berries from those that were edible. Charlotte attempted to keep up, nodding her head and managing to understand a couple of the things that Aven told her. Linus gave up a few sentences in, and zoned out, absentmindedly flipping through the test, selecting every berry and nut as 'edible.' The screen flashed fifty-three percent.

"Wow, that's. . . a lot of patterns," Charlotte said when she finally stopped to breathe.

Aven glanced between the two, and watched as Linus continued to lazily tap the screen, his cheek resting on the table as his eyes glazed over. Her cheeks flushed red and she quickly stood up. "Sorry, I-I should-"

"No, it's okay, you can-"

"I haven't, I'm going to-" Aven jumbled her words for a moment before giving up, turning and pacing away, her head to the floor as she barreled forwards.

"That was weird." Linus yawned.

"We should keep working on this test," Charlotte said, turning back to Linus.

"You have any patterns that could help us?" Linus joked.

"Yeah," she said, sparing one more glance at the District Five girl as she scurried away. "I think I know a few."


A/N: Buenos dias true believers. I have what might be my quickest update yet as I introduce our lovely District Eleven team, courtesy of Elim9, while also sneaking a bit of info about what's going on with our other 36 tributes.

Below is a list of what alliances look like as of the end of Training Day 2. These are subject to change, and some of them will. If you're confused how certain people got together, worry not, everything will be explained in due time. Without further ado, here's our first look into the state of alliances:

Careers:
Aros, Atheline, Apollio, Artemia, Aphrodemia, Jessica, Coraline, Luca

Capitolites:
Xedrake, Rhodes, Sabrina, Patrick, Divine

Splintered:
Caelum, Armitage, Bo

D5:
Rachel, Aven

D6:
Suis, Jesse

D7:
Landon, Aria, Autumn

D8:
Theseus, Soren, Moriah

D9:
Gaspar, Saint, Ignatius

D11:
June, Linus, Chester, Charlotte, Keni

D12:
Llewellyn, Raoul, Lindy, Esther

Loners:
Rosalind, Drusilla, Lulu