Prologue I: Blessed.
- Pushing Up Daisies -
The Twenty-Second Hunger Games
The once soft blue sky was now dabbed with dark clouds. They crackled and roared, rising to a crescendo that deafened the dense wilderness below.
Four solitary individuals ran for cover from the looming storm. One young boy ducked underneath the roots of an old oak tree. He was panting hard. His chest heaved with every breath, making his bones ache. With shaky hands, he rummaged through the backpack in his lap, praying for some nourishment.
He had no more food. No more bandages. He lost the last of it when he fell into the creek whilst running, tendrils of water that snatched away his last shred of hope.
He just wanted to go home. The only way he could do that was by winning.
Just three more people, he thought to himself, shutting away images of his district and family and friends. Just three more people.
As if on cue, a loud clap of thunder shocked him from his thoughts. He instinctively pushed himself further into the roots for shelter, waiting and hoping for it to just pass over.
The sky roared again. A fork of lightning shot down from the sky and into the trees, blasting the ground a few feet from the boy's hiding place. The earth groaned momentarily, and somewhere in the distance, he heard a shrill cry that pierced through the noise, before being swallowed whole.
He could hear his heart in his throat. A cannon. He clamped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut in a futile attempt to escape his reality. The thunder grew louder and louder until his own thoughts couldn't be rationalised any longer, as if being devoured by his own mind.
So consumed in his overwhelming fear, he didn't even notice the girl perched on the roots above him, watching.
Somewhere in the Capitol, a young boy watched in awe from the comfort of his warm and dry home.
His heart was in his throat. Excitement buzzed in his veins. The girl on the screen just sat there above the unknowing boy, watching him for what seemed like an eternity. With every spike of lightning, the boy disappeared more and more into the undergrowth. The girl, however, never flinched and her smile never faltered. She seemed surprisingly content.
His Mother groaned in displeasure from behind him. "The poor boy."
"He never stood a chance really. Personally, I think they should have just crowned her after this..."
The boy ignored his parents' chatter. They were right, of course. The girl was going to win and it was becoming eerily obvious as the footage focused on her final moments. She had hid her cards so well from the others. Unsuspecting and mysterious, she had made the other tributes helpless in her mere presence.
Eventually, the boy disappeared completely into the roots, as if swallowed by the tree. The girl arched back slowly, craned her neck, and then swooped down for the attack with her bare hands. The poor boy stood no chance.
Seconds later, his cannon sounded.
Only one person stood in her way now. The clouds grew darker and darker, bursting with rain that eventually hammered down on the trees below. The girl sat back on the roots. She was motionless. Her head hung like a broken puppet, wet hair masking her face.
The roars of anxious and excited spectators echoed outside of the boy's home as she looked up and smiled. It only encouraged the boy's adrenaline.
She leapt off of the tree and sauntered through the grey woodlands, out into an open field of thick grass. She waited once more, motionless, as a dark figure appeared on the other side of the clearing.
They stared at each other. Neither made the first move.
The final two.
Then, she began to laugh softly. The camera zoomed in on her face to reveal the faintest of smiles. "I've already won," she murmured.
"What a year this was," the Father proclaimed, "They really found their stride with this one. I remember watching it when it first happened. The excitement that built when she killed the boy. And this one..."
"Oh, I can't watch…"
But the boy could. And he did. He watched as she didn't even move a single muscle. She visibly cocked her head at the boy, and with it, the shrouded figure took a knife to his own throat. Blood sprayed into the sky as the boy crumpled to the floor in a heap. As his cannon rang out, his blood pooled and fed the earth below.
The girl looked up at the sky and smiled again, throwing her head back to taste the rain.
The young boy sat up as the final scenes melded into the music, adrenaline rushing through his body. He turned to his parents, his smile wide and toothy. "I loved that!"
The Father grinned with pride. "I'm glad you did. It's an important part of our history, but it's even more important you remember why we do it every year. The remembrance of those we have lost and their eternal damnation." He stood up, striding towards his son and patting him on the shoulder. "It's a part of your future, too. One you should uphold and cherish."
"Nothing is more important than the bigger picture. A few lives lost for the greater good," the Mother chimed in.
"I think it's amazing…I want to be a tribute when I'm older!"
The Father laughed. "It's a true honour and sacrifice. But remember son… we do it because we have to, not because we want to. The girl won because she was more special than the others. She was chosen, blessed."
"One day, Daddy, I might be chosen. I might be the next Victor!"
The Father laughed. He knew it wasn't possible - they were never to be selected as the honoured.
What started out as a punishment soon began to be seen as a reward. It was a healthy and united approach crafted into their minds by their leader, President Iris Revery. A blessing to be chosen and honoured in a way that couldn't be replicated. To help keep peace and tranquillity to a once extremely volatile nation.
Fear was for the weak. Fear never built a thriving nation. Fear might have kept people alive, but it also brought about destruction.
No, there was something stronger and more powerful than fear that kept the status quo.
It's been a while, hasn't it? I'll be honest. I'm not sure what brought me back after a three year hiatus. I'm not even sure if anyone still reads and submits to these stories as I've been way out of the loop for a while now. If you remember me, followed, read or submitted to any of my stories - it's nice to see you!
I spent three years crafting the EsmeraldaVerse that, initially, I wanted to dive right back into it. But some things are best left alone. I used to be really good at updating and finishing these stories, but I lost motivation towards the end and then vanished...twice. I even tried to reinvent myself unsuccessfully.
With that being said, this story is completely AU. No canon characters. A whole different set up for Panem and the Games. The Capitol with a more cult-esque quality to it. It'll be more fully fleshed out in the next prologue - this one is to test the waters and see if anyone bites! If you are interested, I'd love to know.
Feel free to PM me for whatever. A chat, some questions, it's open. It's nice to be back, back, back again. :)