Hiya. I've been planning this story for a while now, and I was originally planning on writing a couple more chapters before posting this one – but Johanna won't leave me alone, she is just insisting to get out there. And so, here she is.
T for swearing, but do I even need to say that? It's Johanna Fucking Mason – of course there will be swearing. Hey, fun drinking game – have a swig for every swear word. Bet you'll be seeing double by the end of the chapter.
This story will be mostly but not exclusively in Johanna's POV – I love stories with lots of different perspectives, all of them entwining together to tell a tale, and so that is what I'm attempting to do. There will be chapters in the POV of mentors, other tributes, and even the families of the tributes. If that gets confusing, sorry and let me know – I'll try to write this as cohesively as possible, but there will be intentional loose ends – after all, not every single story can be told.
Without further ado, here is Johanna. I hope you enjoy, and feel free to drop a comment or two ;)
District Seven's Town Square Justice Courtyard – Johanna Mason
"The female tribute from District Seven is…" there was a pause as Arabella Boomhaven rooted around the bowl. Selecting a slip from the bowl, she grinned down at them all, her teeth so white they were almost blinding. "Johanna Mason!"
Fantastic. Just fucking fantastic, thought Johanna. She wasn't quite sure how to react, and for a moment just stood there, staring, before remembering a 'what if' conversation she had had with Eurydice a while back…
She dropped to her knees, sobbing, tears pouring from her eyes and mucus pouring from her nose. Her horrified wails echoed around the courtyard and the crowd fell silent and Johanna knew that they were watching, always watching, their silence saying more than words ever could. Eurydice, standing next to her, rubbed her back and whispered softly, "Jo, it's okay, Jo, you're alright." Johanna didn't know if Eurydice had caught on or not, but a quick glance up at her girlfriend told Johanna that Eurydice knew exactly what was going on.
"Johanna Mason?" Arabella said again, staring at Johanna and beckoning at her, a touch impatiently. Johanna stayed where she was – she hoped it would make her look more pathetic and helpless.
When it became apparent that Johanna would not go up to the stage by herself, two Peacekeepers took her arms and half carried, half dragged her through the sea of children and up the creaky stairs, scraping Johanna's shins as they went.
Still she wouldn't stand, and to the people watching from the Capitol, not knowing the girl personally, they saw nothing but despair. Heartbreak. Terror. They saw a young girl – surely not seventeen, surely fifteen and just standing in the wrong section – they saw a young girl crying her heart out as she contemplated her inevitable death.
What they didn't see was the wicked gleam of her downcast eyes, or the small smirk she hid behind her hands, or the snicker she masked with a snot-filled wail. It hadn't been completely spontaneous, but even so, she was glad that Eurydice had caught on to her act quickly.
It wasn't hard for Johanna to fool them. She had always been a good actress. Her great-grandmother, whom she was named after, had been a talented actress before the war, and had taught Johanna everything she knew before kicking the bucket at the spritely young age of 97, followed by Johanna's grandmother a couple of months later. If those old bags could see me now, they'd both be cheering, thought Johanna. It truly was the best performance of her life – not that she'd been in many (any) performances.
With a sigh of exasperation, Arabella turned away from the snivelling Johanna and made her way over to the other bowl, her eight-inch stilettos clicking away with every step. "Elmer Flenderson!" she announced, and someone in the crowd started to cry loudly, louder than Johanna, even.
She recognised the name. Elmer – or Elm, as he preferred – was her age, and they sometimes worked in the forest together. He was very good-looking, and Arabella nervously adjusted her extremely tall hair as he made his way up to the stage, flicking his immaculate chestnut curls out of his eyes.
He's pretty, but there's nothing below the surface. Johanna had exchanged a few words with him before, and with every conversation, she marvelled at how utterly brainless he was. A beautiful zombie, and nothing more. Johanna didn't think he'd be too hard to kill, if that's what it came down to. He wouldn't attack her, at any case, she knew for a fact that he wasn't a killer. She could hear his mother sobbing from somewhere in the crowd.
Johanna only lifted her head when the Mayor Lockehart started reading the Treaty of Treason. She looked at Elm, who was standing stiffly next to where she was sprawled, staring at his mother. His jaw twitched, and Johanna looked away, realising he was about to cry. She caught sight of Eurydice in the crowd, playing the role of the sympathetic friend. Eurydice gave her a small smile.
The anthem started, and Arabella pulled Johanna roughly to her feet, gripping her forearm tightly. "For Snow's sake, stand up, you idiot girl," she hissed, digging her long green nails into Johanna's arm before letting her go.
For a moment she contemplated tearing Arabella's hair off her scalp, although she wasn't entirely sure if it was a wig or not. It would be easy enough to find out. Save it for the arena, Jo.
The anthem ended, and Johanna looked out at the sea of faces, searching for her parents, her siblings. Someone coughed, and there was a far-off crack as a branch fell from a tree somewhere. She spotted Rowen, but just as soon as she'd seen her sister the Peacekeepers were escorting them into the Justice building. One of them held Johanna's arm gently, as if afraid she would collapse onto the ground again.
"Come on," he said softly, obviously pitying her, which was good.
She didn't have to wait long in the luxurious room – the room with items worth enough to feed every kid in the community home for at least a week. Rowan and Bear entered the room, and Johanna barely had time to wonder where her parents were before her siblings had thrown themselves at her, just about knocking her off her feet. Rowan was sobbing, but Bear was silent, as he often was.
She picked Bear up easily, holding his small body close to hers. "Jo, Jo, Jo," he said into her shoulder, repeating her name over and over as if it were some kind of prayer.
"Bear, Bear, Bear," she said back to him, kissing the top of his head. Her eyes met her sisters, full of tears, and she tried to stand up straighter.
"Jo. Jo, you can do it," Rowan said, seizing her by the shoulders and squeezing her tightly, staring intensely into her eyes. "I know you can win."
Johanna peeled her sister's hands off her shoulders and hugged her around the waist. "I'll be back before you know it, Ro."
Rowan sniffled, wiping her nose on her sleeve. "I would have volunteered, Johanna, but I just froze!" Rowan was eighteen, but Johanna was glad she hadn't volunteered, as she was prone to 'freezing' in stressful situations – how would she deal with the arena, if she was frozen? She wouldn't – Johanna knew that for a fact. Besides, Johanna was at least somewhat prepared. She had skills under her belt, she had cruelty, even – Rowan had nothing, and had she been Reaped Johanna would have probably volunteered for her anyway.
"It's okay," Johanna said, and she meant it. "Anyway, you're safe from the Reaping now."
Rowan shook her head tearfully. "No, it's not okay," she cried. "I'm your big sister. I'm meant to protect you."
"Jo, Jo, Jo," Bear continued to mutter, and Johanna stroked his dark hair.
"No, you're not meant to protect me," Johanna snapped. "I can protect myself. You have to look after Bear, and Mom, and Da. Forget about me."
Rowan stopped crying and scowled, her features contorting. "What do you mean, forget about you?"
"I mean, if I die, don't waste time moping. We all die eventually. Anyway, I'll just come back as a dryad," Johanna said nonchalantly, hoping that if she could keep up a façade of bravery (away from the cameras, of course), she would start to feel it herself.
"You're not going to die," Rowan said firmly. "You hear me? You won't die."
"Well, I can't say that I'm planning to any time soon," Johanna muttered. "But Ro, you have to get used to the fact that we can't plan everything. Least of all this." She would try to win, of course she would try, but how would she fight her way out of a scuffle with one of the bigger tributes? How would she bury an axe in someone's head if they had her neck in their big, meaty hands?
"Jo, Jo, Jo."
"I mean it! Keep up this… whatever you're doing, get your hands on a hatchet, and chop some bones. Just imagine it's wood."
"Will do. If you promise not to mope when I die."
"For fuck's sake, Johanna, you're not going to die!" Rowan shouted, her eyes blazing. Bear buried his face in Johanna's shoulder – he didn't like yelling, even though there tended to be a lot of it in the Mason household.
Johanna laughed, patting Bear's back. "Where's the girl who was crying two minutes ago?"
Rowan smiled too, her eyes cloudy with tears that threatened to fall. "She became a bitch who wants her little sister to come home."
"Jo, Jo, Jo."
"Bear, Bear, Bear," Johanna whispered back to him finally. She lifted her chin and looked Rowan in the eyes. "Well then, bitch, I'll chop some bones and do my best."
Rowan nodded, somewhat satisfied. "Good. I love you, Jo." She pressed her lips to Johanna's forehead, and Johanna felt a lump in her throat grow – maybe there would be real tears to show the Capitol, after all. Bear squeezed her even tighter, and she traced circles on his back.
"I love you too, Rowan," Johanna whispered, hugging her sister close. Bear snuggled in, happy to be with his sisters. The door opened, and the lump in Johanna's throat rose again. "And you, Bear, so much."
"Jo, Jo, Jo," Bear said in reply, his voice rising an octave. Johanna could sense his anxiety growing, and felt guilty, of all things – but it wasn't her fault she was leaving him. And that made her angry.
"Time to go," one of the Peacekeepers said. Johanna recognised his voice – he was the one who had taken her arm so gently, so nicely.
Rowan hugged Johanna one more time, peeling Bear away, who screamed and flailed in her arms. "Jo, Jo, Jo!" he screamed, turning his elf-like face towards her for the first time after entering the room. His eyes met hers, the door closed, and she was alone.
Johanna felt cold, and shivered, though she wasn't sure if it was from cold or fear. She wrapped her arms around herself and squeezed, missing the warmth of her siblings already. She hoped that she would be able to hug Bear again – she hoped that it hadn't been the last time.
"Shit!" said Johanna, and kicked a chair, made from the finest mahogany that someone in her family had probably cut. She could feel her pulse quickening, the burning feeling in her chest growing and growing and growing until-
The door opened again, and her parents entered. Her mother rushed to her, hugging her close, holding her so tight she could barely breathe, but Johanna didn't mind.
There was a muffled cry, and Johanna looked up to see her mother sobbing into her father's chest. "I haven't died yet, Mom," she said softly, her hand resting on the back of her mother's head, her fingers curling through her mother's shiny brown hair.
"Oh, I know," her mother said, sniffing. "And you're not going to."
Johanna sighed. She wanted to win, thought she had a good chance, even – but all across Panem at this very moment, twenty-three other families were saying the same thing to their children. Everyone wanted to believe that their loved ones could come home, fooled themselves into thinking that they could – and every year, eleven families were brought back to the harsh reality that their child was just a number.
"Mom," she said, glad her voice remained steady, "Mom, I might."
"Enough," her father said gruffly, and she turned to look at him, letting go of her mother.
"I'll try, Da, but you have to accept the fact that I might die, the same way I have to accept it." Johanna laughed bitterly. "I could die five seconds in, and all this worry would have been for nothing."
He stepped forward and cupped her face in his hands. "Not for nothing. Never for nothing. You know why?"
"Because you will come home, and I don't want to hear you say anything other than that."
Johanna clenched her jaw. Maybe she could be brave after all – for her Da. "I will come home."
"Good," he said, letting go of her face. "Keep up this strategy. Learn survival skills so you don't have to rely on sponsors. And," he hesitated for a second, and Johanna touched his cheek lightly. "Do whatever you have to do to come home. Nothing matters more than you getting home, okay? No regrets. You hear me?"
"No regrets," Johanna agreed. The door flew open again, and she flung her arms around both her parents again, pressing quick kisses to each of their cheeks, trying to remember how they smelled, like pine, like rosemary, like home – and then they were led out of the room, all too soon.
Johanna bit her lip so as not to scream. Five minutes was just cruel – the Capitol had all the time in the world, but they couldn't spare an extra hour or to, for people who may never see their families again? Of course they can't. Maybe in the earlier days, the games had been about the tributes, about the rebels, a true punishment. But time had warped the games, as it did to all things, and now the deaths of the children were nothing more than entertainment, their lives short, their talents wasted.
The door flew open, and Eurydice ran to Johanna and pulled her into a tight hug. "Oh, Johanna," Eurydice murmured, and Johanna swallowed the lump in her throat. Johanna leaned her head on her girlfriend's shoulder, wishing she could just pause time forever and stay right where she was.
"This is the deepest shit I've ever been in," Johanna told her as they let go. "And for once it's not even my fault."
"Fucking Arabella," Eurydice muttered darkly, kicking at the elaborately woven rug. "Couldn't she have picked a different slip? Did it have to be yours?"
"It was written in the stars, as my mother would say," Johanna replied, rolling her eyes.
Eurydice let out a short bark of laughter, and then closed her eyes, a pained expression on her face. Opening them, she grabbed Johanna by the shoulders and shook her lightly, just as Rowan had done. "I told you not to take so much tesserae!"
"Oh, well, I'm sorry, but not everyone's grandmother is a Victor," Johanna snapped, and then felt guilty. "Sorry."
"Don't be," Eurydice said, and then shook her head in disbelief. "You should have just told me! Old Noni would have given you money!"
Johanna laughed, shaking her head. "Have you even met my Da? He would die of shame." Her father would literally rather die than ask for help – he would never let his family die, of course, but it had never come to that, and if it did he just wouldn't eat to ensure that they did. There was no arguing with him about it, either.
"Still. Did you enjoy my performance?" Eurydice asked.
"It was wonderful. Very entertaining."
Eurydice curtseyed, and tossed her long blonde hair over her shoulder. "As was yours. Do you think you can keep it up?"
"Well we'd better fucking hope so," Johanna said grimly. "I've already been tempted to tear Arabella's scalp off."
"Maybe save that for when you're out of the arena," Eurydice laughed.
Johanna said nothing, what-ifs whirling around her head. "You will get out of there," Eurydice said firmly. "I need you," she said, and kissed Johanna gently, her lips as soft as rose petals.
Johanna put her head on Eurydice's shoulder, and Eurydice wrapped an arm around her. "What if I can't, Eury?" she said, trying not to crumble – she had managed to hold it together so far, but Eurydice – she could never fool Eurydice. They knew each other too well.
"You can, and you will. You're smart, you're fast, you can split logs apart like nobody's business. And you can act. That's possibly the most valuable skill of them all."
"Yeah, but how will I match up to someone a foot taller than me? Someone who could snap me like a twig?" Johanna was hopeful, sure, but it was more like she was hopeful one second and panicking the next – I can do this! No the fuck I can't do this, I'm going to die. I'm good with an axe though, how different are skulls from trees, really? Very different, oh my god, I'm going to die. No I'm not! Yes, I am.
"Ah, well, that's why it's so lucky you're an actress. If you seem totally pathetic, nobody in their right minds will hunt you down. Hell, if you play your cards right, they may forget you're alive at all, like dear old Blight! Please try to get out, Johanna. For me. I can't do this thing without you."
"Do what thing?" asked Johanna curiously. Eurydice had been working on a 'secret project' with the Victor of the 68th Games, Cypress Li, and his twin sister Myrtle. Eurydice was quite good friends with them, but she refused to tell Johanna what they were doing, and Johanna had a nasty feeling that it would end badly, whatever it was.
"Well, you'll just have to wait and when you come home, I'll tell you," Eurydice said, and waggled her eyebrows mysteriously.
Johanna shook her head at Eurydice's mischievous look. "Alright then. It had better be good."
"Oh, trust me – it's a secret to kill for."
"I love you, Eurydice. More than anyone," Johanna said, and she meant it. She and Eurydice had been friends for as long as she could remember, girlfriends for two years now – Eurydice knew her better than anyone else in the world, and Johanna knew Eurydice just as well.
Eurydice smiled, and snuggled closer, resting her chin on the top of Johanna's head. "And I love you, Johanna Mason."
"I promise that I won't die on you," Johanna told her sincerely.
"You'd better not, I'd be really pissed off!"
"And I would be really pissed off if you died – stop hanging around Cypress and Myrtle, alright? I know Cypress is a Victor and everything, but I swear they're bad news."
"Jojo, what we're doing is important," Eurydice said earnestly. Johanna smiled at the nickname – it was only cute when Eurydice said it, though. If anyone else called her 'Jojo' she would put an axe in their head.
"You're all going to get yourselves killed," Johanna said seriously.
Eurydice shrugged. "Be that as it may, it's for a good cause."
Johanna sighed – she wished Eurydice was less flippant about this stuff – sometimes it was like Eurydice didn't value her own life. "Can't be too good of a cause if it ends up with a bunch of corpses."
"It's not going to end up in corpses," Eurydice scoffed. "I'm not going to get myself killed. And neither are you, by the way."
"Don't be dumb, okay? And – look after my folks, yeah?"
"Naturally. You be careful, too," Eurydice told her.
Johanna nodded. "I will."
"We'll get through this, Johanna. You and me, we're forever, and no-one's little game will change that."
"I love you, Eury," Johanna whispered.
"Love you too, Jojo."
Eurydice shrugged the Peacekeepers arms off her, and looked back at Johanna with every step. The door closed gently behind her, and Johanna let out a long, slow breath.
She was alone, for real, now. She didn't expect that anyone else would visit her, she mostly kept to herself, only hanging out with Eurydice and occasionally Rowan and her small group of friends at school, not talking much to the people in her work group. It had always been her and her family – to her, this included Eurydice – against everyone else, and while she knew that wasn't a fantastic mindset to have, it had certainly proved a helpful one. Nobody knew her, and so nobody would expect her to act a certain way. No-one would blow her cover.
The door did not open again in the allotted hour. She wasn't expecting it to, and instead spent the remaining time working on her appearance – her goal was to make herself look as pathetic as she possibly could for the cameras.
There was a golden-framed mirror on the wall near the door, and Johanna sat herself in front of it, picking up the poor, abused chair from the ground and dragging it over. She messed up her hair, rubbed her eyes until they were bloodshot and painfully dry, pinched her cheeks until they were a bright pink – almost the colour of Arabella's caked-on rouge. She poured a glass of water and dabbed her fingers in it to wet her cheeks, and messed up her clothes even further.
When the door swung open for the final time, Johanna was ready. She rose, her cheeks wet, her clothes dishevelled, and one of the Peacekeepers took her arm. She wondered if it was the kind one – she had no way of knowing.
Johanna looked around, desperately hoping for one last look at her family, at Eurydice, but she was taken out from the back of the Justice Building with Elm, Peacekeepers holding their arms as if they were going to run off. It had happened two years ago – the boy had escaped from them and had covered about twenty metres before they caught up to him. Johanna had heard it from Magnolia. The boy – Cody, his name was – had died in the Bloodbath, his stomach carved open by the girl from District 1.
At the train station, there was only Arabella, smiling cheerily, and Mayor Lockehart, her face still and solemn, and a few lone reporters, snapping away, looking bored. District 7 evidently wasn't the most interesting District to film - they were far less interesting compared to other Districts, after all.
"Good luck," whispered the Peacekeeper holding her arm, and it was the kindly one, she recognised his voice.
"Thank you," she replied, wishing she could see his face.
A mangy brown dog wound its way around her legs, and she automatically reached down to pet it – they had a little dog at home. Cubby, her name was. She was getting on in her years, and they'd had her since Johanna was just tiny. The dog's fur was patchy, matted, and Johanna could feel its spine. She wished she had something to give it.
"Don't touch that wretched thing!" Arabella cried, rushing over and shooing the dog away. It scampered off, tail wagging like they were just playing a game, and watched them from a safe distance, head tilted, obviously wondering who this strange alien was and what rainbow planet she came from.
Johanna glowered at her, and then remembered her act, hastily rearranging her expression into one of dismay. Though it was the furthest thing from natural Johanna could do, it must have been convincing, because Arabella patted her arm. "There there," she said, in a patronising tone. "Soon you'll get to see how beautiful the world can be – there are much nicer places than… than here." Johanna wanted to punch her, and from the expression on the Mayor's face, so did she.
The Mayor stepped forward then, taking Johanna and Mason's hands in each of her own, and squeezing them tightly before letting go. She gestured for them to lean in, and they did, the Mayor throwing a cursory glance at Arabella and the reporters, (who couldn't have cared less) before whispering to them with blazing brown eyes.
"There is no point in wishing you luck," she told them solemnly. "And so I wish for you to try your best, and I wish you – hopefully only one of you – a peaceful death."
"Thanks," Elmer told her sincerely, and she nodded at him, before turning to look at Johanna, who sniffled pathetically and didn't say a thing.
"Alright then!" Arabella said brightly, her too-loud voice cutting through the silence of the train station the way a hot knife cuts through butter. "Shall we?"
Johanna thought it was very rude of her to ask them that. They had no choice in the matter, after all.
"We shall," said Elmer, and Arabella dimpled, taking them both by the elbows and charging up the stairs of the train.
"We just have to wait for the mentors," Arabella told them. "Magnolia always leaves her packing to the last minute."
They followed her like sweet little lambs off to the slaughterhouse, and Elm audibly gasped as she led them into a compartment, full of cushy furniture and elegant decorations. Oh, and tables with piles upon piles of delicious looking, wildly expensive food. They both lunged at the table, grabbing pastries and fresh, exotic fruit and filling their plates.
Neither of them was starving. Eurydice's family had Magnolia's winnings to live off, and Eurydice was always sneaking food into Johanna's house. Her parents didn't like taking it from her, and refused to ask, but Johanna didn't mind – she was just glad that Eurydice was happy to share. Their hunger had never gotten terribly bad, not compared to some people in their District. Johanna and her siblings had never been among the poor children, their stomachs bulging with malnutrition, their hands outstretched for change or bread, their eyes wide and pleading. Admittedly, there weren't too many of these children – but there were enough. Too many. Her parents had always managed to keep dinner on the table, even if dinner consisted of stale bread and pine bark. Johanna assumed that Elm's family was a similar story, as he had managed to grow to quite an impressive height. For their District, anyway.
But neither of them had ever had access to this quantity of food, and what food it was – decadent cakes, fruit sweet and plump, vegetables crisp and fresh. Arabella looked at them distastefully as they gobbled down the food like a pair of happy savages. Johanna let fruit juice spill down her chin and crumbs fall down the front of her dress on purpose, enjoying the way Arabella's eyebrows rose almost to her hairline, her nose scrunching up in utter disgust.
Arabella was saved from their wrath by the mentors, who noisily burst into the train – actually, it just seemed to be Magnolia. Blight was patiently walking behind her, carrying a small suitcase in one hand, and Magnolia's much larger suitcase in the other. Oscar Hampton and Jamie Prewett, two more of Seven's Victors, trailed behind them. Cypress Li never mentored – his mind had broken into little pieces in his time in the arena, it was no secret. He had won the 68th Games, and his Games had been one of the goriest, if that was even possible. Half the time he wasn't even lucid, but when he was, Eurydice declared him 'good fun'. Johanna didn't care to find out – she had no time for half-insane Victors.
Johanna used the distraction to go over to the window. The little brown dog was still sitting there, as polite as ever. Johanna opened the window and clicked her fingers at it, throwing a chicken leg and sausage roll out of the window for it. It watched her pensively before trotting over to the food, wagging its tail, and Johanna wished that her arms were long enough for her to stretch out and pat it.
"Johanna, stop hanging out of the window like that, I might be tempted to push you," Magnolia greeted her. Johanna smirked, before turning around, her face frightened (she hoped).
"Hello, Magnolia," she sniffled, and Magnolia's eyes gleamed – she had obviously picked up on the angle Johanna was going for.
"Allow me to introduce you to Blight McCarthy, Jamie Prewett, and Oscar Hampton," Magnolia told them, more for Elm's sake than Johanna's, and Blight stepped forward, looking the tributes up and down, analysing them with hawk eyes. Johanna had never spoken to him, but had often seen him around the Victor's Village when she was with Eurydice.
"Good afternoon," he said finally, his voice soft. Blight had won the 54th Games by being so boring that most of his fellow tributes forgot he was even still alive, which was why they weren't prepared for him to come charging out of nowhere in the final eight, tomahawks drawn. Jamie and Oscar just nodded their acknowledgement.
"I will be mentoring Johanna. Blight, you may have the boy," Magnolia announced, taking Johanna's arm. "I think it wise to begin as soon as possible."
With that, she led Johanna out of the room and into another. The train started moving, and Johanna watched District 7 go by, sad that she hadn't gotten a last glimpse of the little brown dog. She twisted her beaded bracelet around her wrist, glad that she had chosen it to be her token. Her mother had carved and painted the beads, and they were a nice reminder of home, with all their different shades of green.
"What are you doing?" Magnolia asked her, sitting down on a small armchair and gesturing for her to do the same.
"I'm removing the target from my back," Johanna replied.
Magnolia nodded thoughtfully. "You are attempting to seem pathetic so that nobody sees you as a threat."
"It won't be good for gaining sponsors."
"I know. I'll do everything in my power to not need them, though."
Magnolia regarded her silently. Johanna could practically see the cogs in her brain turning. "I can work with this. We can work on your image."
"Do you have any advice?"
Her mentor pursed her lips before shaking her head. "Not yet - I suppose just keep on crying. Make yourself as timid and scared looking as you possibly can when there's cameras around. Your stylist this year is Nona, and she's considered a joke even in the Capitol, so no effort will be required in making yourself look pathetic – Nona is the master of that, which ordinarily is a pain in the ass."
"Why is she a joke?" Johanna asked, curious. To be considered a joke even among other jokes was surely a feat beyond words.
Magnolia chuckled, pouring herself some tea, which Johanna thought was a nice change from Magnolia's usual straight vodka. "Just wait until you meet her. Now, do you want anyone to know this is your angle? I think it would be wise to keep it between the two of us, but it is your choice regardless of my educated opinion."
Johanna immediately shook her head. "No way. The fewer people know, the better. I know Elm, but not well. I don't trust Arabella at all. I don't trust Blight not to tell Elm about my angle. So no."
"You don't need to worry about Arabella or Blight. Arabella is a simpering fool, and Blight- well, Blight is just Blight."
"I don't know who Blight is."
"Blight," said Magnolia simply, and Johanna left it. "Now. Training. You will start immediately."
"In my room?"
"Correct," Magnolia said, and began barking out further instructions. "I want you doing push-ups, sit-ups, squats, all that until you can't walk. I will teach you some more self-defence techniques. You are already quite good with a knife, but I will see if I can have a target installed in your room regardless. Drink this tea, it's healthy."
Magnolia, on her sober days (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday) often taught Johanna and Eurydice skills they wouldn't have learnt anywhere else. Knife throwing was among them, along with wrestling, how to use an axe in ways other than chopping wood, and some form of martial art that she couldn't remember the name of. It involved a lot of aggressive charging, and cries of war.
Magnolia handed her a mug of green tea, and she accepted it, taking a large sip and scrunching her nose up at the grassy taste.
"What about at actual training? This tea sucks balls, by the way."
"Go. Learn as much as you can – but make it seem as though you have no idea. Go nowhere near the axes. Check out the swords, bows, maybe a spear… learn the techniques. Fail the execution, although maybe get a couple on or near the target to make your failure realistic. And you'll have to get used to the tea, you'll be drinking a lot of it from now on."
"Wouldn't it be better if I just failed on every try?"
Magnolia shook her head, tucking a strand of grey hair behind her ear. "There is no failure without a little bit of beginner's luck."
"Is that true?" asked Johanna suspiciously.
"No," Magnolia replied, and laughed. Johanna scowled at her. "Your failure would look intentional if you're screwing up every single time. And we do not want it to look intentional – we want it to look convincing."
Arabella wandered into the compartment. "Ah!" she said, making a beeline for Johanna. "There you are! I wanted to show you your room, so you can cleanup a bit before dinner." She looked disapprovingly at Johanna's too-small, too-tight dress and puffy eyes.
Magnolia sighed. "Arabella, surely it can wait. We were discussing something rather important – how she'll survive."
Arabella shook her head. "Well, it's hardly a useful conversation for her, then."
Seeing the opportunity, Johanna started to cry loudly, wringing her hands and slumping backwards into her chair. Arabella looked stricken, and Johanna thought it ironic – she was an escort for the Hunger Games, surely she'd dealt with crying teenagers before?
"Oh, now look what you've gone and done, you fool! I had just finally gotten her to stop crying, and now you go and ruin it. Get out of here," Magnolia told her rudely, and Arabella huffed, sticking her nose up in the air and stalking out. "Stupid bitch," Magnolia muttered darkly after her.
Johanna snickered. "Who hurt her?"
"I don't know, but I do wish that they had finished the job. One of these days I'll be sent to a Capitol prison for strangling her with my bare hands."
"Not if I get there first," muttered Johanna.
The shower was hot – a luxury Johanna had never had before. She came out of the shower smelling like flowers, and put on a long, pale pink dress – to make her seem even more little-girl like than she already did.
"About time," Arabella said, scrunching her nose, when Johanna took her seat at the table. Magnolia pulled a face at her, and she fell silent.
"Eat as much as you can," Blight instructed them. "The more weight you can put on before the arena, the better – a couple extra pounds could save your life."
"I'm used to being hungry," Johanna told him, and Magnolia frowned – Johanna didn't know why. "Sometimes all we have for dinner is bark."
"You eat pine bark?" Arabella gawped. "Surely that would… surely that would make you con-" She turned bright red, and Johanna bit back a laugh.
Elm smirked. "Give you constipation? Yeah. It does. But hey, at least you've got something in you." Oscar and Jamie roared with laughter, and Arabella went even more red – Johanna wasn't aware that it was possible for someone to go the exact shade of a tomato, but Arabella was just tearing down all limitations. Including, apparently, being the most irritating human being Johanna had ever had the displeasure of encountering.
After dinner, they gathered into the small lounge to watch the recaps. Arabella retired to her room, still red, muttering something about a 'very complex skincare routine' that she had to get started on immediately.
Blight handed them both a small notepad and pen. "Take notes. Write something about each tribute – their names, how they reacted, what they look like, whether they could get sponsors, any guesses you have for their strategy. Anything you notice. Even write notes on each other."
They both looked at him accusingly, and he put his hands up in defence. "You never know. My district partner and I both made it to the final four, and she turned on me – I never saw it coming, and she nearly killed me. I'm not saying you're going to turn on each other – but you might, and that's my point."
Magnolia nodded. "It could save your life, these notes. I made Blight take notes when I mentored him, and he survived."
"And I have followed the tradition since then. And you two will as well."
"We took notes," Oscar said, gesturing to himself and Jamie. "Can't say much about Magnolia's personality, but she does give good advice." Magnolia smacked the back of his head, and he grinned at her.
Shaking her head in mock disbelief, Magnolia switched on the television, and they all fell silent. Johanna picked up her pen.
District 1 – girl unusually sullen for her district, might go for typical D2 angle, looks like she could kill her in her sleep. Boy typical. Seem to be friends – hugged each other when they got to the stage. Both volunteers. Girl 18, boy 17. Both threats, both Careers. Topaz and Lapis.
District 2 – both at least 6'0, probably taller. Boy could snap my head off my neck with bare hands. Girl looks nasty. Both probably going for the ruthless killer angle. Both 18. Both definite threats, both Careers. Vita and Alaric.
The District 1 & 2 tributes seemed pretty typical. Johanna didn't like the look on Luna's face – she seemed almost bored. As if the Hunger Games was just child's play. In a way it was, though – the Gamemakers certainly seemed to have fun with it. Both from District 2 did not look like people she wanted to cross, as they reminded her of Vikings, which she had read about in an old and probably banned history book she and Eurydice had found at the Acorn, District 7's black market. They both towered over their escort, who seemed very nervous.
District 3 – girl 15, around 5'6. Boy 16, both tiny. Both reaped. Atom and Pippa.
District 4 – both 18. Girl reaped, boy volunteered. Girl is small, pretty, but looks strong, seemed upset to be reaped – didn't cry. Looked determined. Boy seems overly arrogant, very tall and strong looking but thin too, probably favours a lighter weapon despite height. Both threats, definitely Careers. Marin and Solomon.
Marin was another one who seemed interesting. She definitely seemed like a Career, with strong limbs and a superior kind of air to her, as though she thought she was better than the other, untrained tributes. But she hadn't volunteered, and she had even seemed quite upset at being reaped – normally the Careers were enthusiastic about going to the Games, or they at least pretended to be. The boy was tall, smug, handsome – he would get a lot of sponsors.
District 5 – girl 12, boy 15. Both reaped. Girl cried, boy glared – he could be a threat despite size. Eulalie and Cassian.
District 6 – girl 13, boy 14. Both small, both cried. Hugged each other like they knew each other, possibly did but maybe just scared. Peggy and Evander.
Johanna was pleased to see that she looked incredibly pathetic in her recap. She had fallen to the ground rather dramatically but that was the only part of her performance that seemed like a performance – to the untrained eye, she hadn't been acting. Elm had cried a bit too; she hadn't noticed at first. She was glad, as it meant the Careers would likely leave him alone too, despite his obvious physical strength.
District 6 usually wasn't much of a threat, nor was District 5, and it hadn't changed this year, for the most part. However, the boy from District 5, Cassian, seemed sneaky and clever, and Johanna had a feeling that he would probably make it quite far into the Games, despite his size. She doubted that he would win, but she was sure that plenty of people thought the idea of her winning was laughable, so she didn't write him off.
Johanna didn't take notes on Elm. Though they didn't know each other particularly well, she didn't think he was a threat – she remembered that when they had had to dissect rats at school, he had cried his eyes out. And if he cried his eyes out over a couple of dead rats, Johanna was pretty sure he wouldn't cope well in the arena. She doubted very much that he would suddenly fly into a murderous rage and kill everything in sight, least of all her.
District 8 – girl 16, boy 14. Both reaped. Bernina and Merino. Nothing much redeeming about them, don't seem like threats.
District 9 – girl 15, boy 17. Both reaped. Girl small but looks tough as nails, boy looks like a Career as he seems very strong. About 6'0. Both look like possible threats. Maizy and Scythe.
District 10 – both 17. Girl volunteered, boy reaped. Girl was strange – she bounded up to the stage and grinned at the boy when he was reaped. Boy looked terrified of girl. Both tall, strong-looking. Both possible threats. Natania and Angus.
The look on Natania's face was terrifying, a horrible, twisted grin. Johanna watched as she bounded up to the stage, throwing her long ponytail over her shoulder, and shaking the hand of District 10's escort enthusiastically. When her District partner was reaped, she had cheered – actually cheered – and then laughed like a lunatic, which Johanna thought she probably was, judging from the wild look in her eyes. The boy looked like he could have come from District 2, with muscles stretching out his shirt so much it looked as though the buttons might fly off.
"Stay away from that girl," Magnolia warned them. "I've seen the look in her eyes before, on tributes in my own arena, tributes from past Games, even my own tributes – they were all crazy. All of them up the damn tree. I'll bet you my last good bottle of whiskey that girl is as dangerous as the Careers."
District 11 – Both 16, both reaped. Boy looks thin but strong. Arvilla and Lynx.
District 12 – girl 16, boy 15. Both reaped. Girl pretty but scrawny, boy small. No idea about angles, probably the classic 'I want to go home, don't count me out.' Hestia and Colton.
She wasn't particularly worried about the last two Districts, although Lynx looked as though he had it in him to make it at least to the final eight. The other three seemed pretty normal for their District, although Hestia's vivid red hair was rare compared to the masses of blondes and brunettes.
After Caesar Flickerman and Claudius Templesmith had stopped talking about stand-out tributes – which included all the Careers, as well as Scythe from 9 and both from 10 - and the recap had finished, Blight took their notepads and read what they had written, handing them both back after a moment.
"Good job, both of you," he said approvingly. "I want you to keep these notes to study, and add to them as much as possible – after the parade, after training, even after the interviews."
"What's the point?" Elm asked, drawing a bird on the notepad. Johanna wondered what he had written, and if he had written anything about her.
"Writing things down helps you remember them," Blight replied. "And you know what they say – know your enemy."
Elm shrugged. "Okay. I guess I just don't see the point in learning about your enemy when your enemy is ten inches taller than you and looks as though they've been killing since they took their first steps."
"That's fair. But I can tell you for a fact that the Careers won't know as much about their competition as you do, going in there. It isn't their style to think of the other tributes as people, and maybe that's wise in some ways, not knowing the names of the kids they plan to slaughter." Blight took a breath, his eyes downcast, before lifting his head and continuing. "But you two will have an advantage. Observe. Take notes. Think about possible allies, possible threats and even possible targets. Trust me – you won't regret it. In the arena, anything you can use can be used as a weapon, even – nay, especially – your minds."
"Knowledge is power," Johanna said, remembering the quote from her Acorn book, and Blight winked at her.
"And power is a weapon."
And there you have it, folks. I'm working on Chapter 2 now.
Hope you enjoyed it, and if you would be so gracious as to tell me what you think, I will love you forever.