GEOFF KAZARIAN, 16, ONE DAY BEFORE OPENING CEREMONIES, THE TRAIN

Sitting by the window, Geoff watched with fierce curiosity as the world left him. The muted plains, sad blocks of abandoned towns, and concrete dams melted away into dead stretches of hills and rock. The boy furrowed his blocky brows, scrutinizing the landscape- juts of orange rock tucked behind green bushes, windswept hills and the endless cerulean sky. Somewhere in the background, Thea and Guillotine chattered, the younger girl unaware of her own volume. He tried his best to ignore it all, focused on the view. Just look out the window and we'll be there in no time… No reason to keep thinking about this all. Just- look and see the nature…

"What are you looking at?" a voice interrupted. Geoff looked up as Corrigan, victor and mentor, stood by his side. He looked down at the young tribute with smooth brown eyes, the musk of his cologne simple and clean. Geoff's gaze was hesitant- legs tucked up into his chest as he sat on the velvet couch. Corrigan offered a grin known by many hearts in the Capitol. Geoff couldn't muster the energy to smile back.

"Oh- nothing." Geoff muttered, glancing back out to the sea of sunset stone and brown flats. Sitting down next to him, Corrigan glanced out the window.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah…" the boy paused. "I uhm- I don't think I ever realized how gray home was,"

"Wait till you get to the Capitol. The colors-"

"Can we not?" Geoff interjected, his sentences broken with unease. He looked down into his lap "I don't mean to be rude sir. I just- I need a moment before,I think about all of that,"

"I understand," Corrigan replied."I appreciate the honesty kid," There was a lull, Thea's awe filling the train car with a certain frantic energy. Geoff overheard the girl asking Guillotine something about the Capitol. How can she seem so freaking okay with this all?

" Yanno kid, I am here to help you." Corrigan had spoken up once again, casually leaning his head against the window. "I don't wanna push cause I know this sucks but you'll have to open up eventually,"

"Yes. I know. Just-"

"Spiraling?"

"Yeah- that."

"Then why don't you get out of your head. Talk to me," he began to convince the boy. Geoff noted the casual yet mediated way in which he spoke. He had vague memories of Corrigan in his own games, a friendly kid with dark brown eyes and a mop of curls, like himself. He remembered the hearty laugh and the crooked white smile. Nobody had ever been able to suspect he'd mastermind so many deaths in the arena. He didn't even need to fight the others- it was just him and his brains, he briefly thought before his mentor spoke again.

"How about you tell me about yourself Geoff. What do you like to do?".

"I uh- I'm a writer," he replied.

"A writer? What did you write?" Did?

"Um- Newspaper articles, school life editorials. Things you find in the papers and magazines, Journalism." Geoff continued somelemly, pulling out a folded piece of gray paper from his pocket- his token. Unfolding it he gave it to Corrigan.

"There's one of the first articles I ever published," he hardly muttered. It was a bittersweet feeling. In the calloused palm of Corrigan's hand was one of his proudest moments. And I may do anything like it again.

Corrigan took the piece of paper and carefully looked over it. He didn't look terribly entertained but he pressed on.

"How old when you got this published?"

"Fifteen"

"Impressive kid. See- you've got a good head on your shoulders. The next few days will be a cake walk," the man started, patting the kid on the shoulder. Geoff's distracted eyes cleared, for a moment. "You just have to play smart. Make good allies- learn the basics- and when the time comes, just show the audience who you are,"

"Noted," Geoff nodded. Good allies, basics, show the audience-

"Speaking of which- who is Geoff Kazarian going to be?"

"What- what do you mean"

"Who are you? Besides a writer? C'mon man gotta give me something to work with when sponsors start asking about ya. And they will. Any spectacular backstory, quirky traits? Anything at all?"

Oh.

The two looked at eachother, Corrigan noting the spasm in Geoff's expression.

"I'm a writer and-"

"Besides that,"

Geoff was frozen. What do you mean besides that? I'm an editor and run the school newspaper… That's what I do. I take notes, write ideas, and make a story. I'm a journalist and…

"I uh. I'm," Geoff sputtered, breaking eye contact. Panem sakes… the boy began to think, his view flickering to the blur of sunset landscapes swallowing the train. But I may never write again… I'm a journalist who may never write again. What does that even make me? What am I? Am i nothing or-

"It's okay. We'll… We'll work on that part later," Corrigan spoke up with a fabricated smile. Geoff snapped back up with a quick exhale. " Just think about it kid," he finished. He stood up. "But for now you're Geoff Kazarian! Writer and journalist!" he enthused. Geoff felt light headed. He pushed a chuckle out anyways, wishing the conversation would end immediately.

"Yes. That," Geoff said.

Thea looked across the car at the word journalist- instantly perking up from her thoughtful sitdown with the escort.

"Wait what?! You're a journalist?" she asked, instantly getting up from her seat at the dining table and scurrying to the older boy. Geoff's heart began to race. C'mon girl- just give it a break.

"Oh yeah haha,"

"That's so cool. I actually read the Gazette all the time! Have you ever had anything in there? If so, I betcha I read it!"

"Oh um- I had maybe one or two articles in the big one,"

"Really? What were they about?"

"I uh-"

" C'mon you don't gotta be nervous! I always love the gazette," she tried urging him, comfortably plopping herself down next to him. She was smiling. Thea had grown quite comfortable on the train. Crying for only a few minutes, she quickly regained her composure in a way Geoff hadn't. She marveled at the goblets and silver platters, asking the oddest questions about the upholstery and-

"Hey um- perhaps we should leave him alone," the older mentor suggested. "Hey um Geoff- maybe you should go take a nap or something. We got a long night of planning for the Ceremonies ahead of us," he suggested. Geoff nodded. Dragging his feet across the ground, he slowly exited the room. I can't even look at them. What an idiot. He left, head hanging low as the rest of the room looked his way.

The room was silent. Thea's face went red.

"Did I do something wrong guys?" she asked. Corrigan was silent.

At the opposite end of the room, Guillotine laughed.


PEACE PATCHOULI, 16, THE DAY BEFORE OPENING CEREMONIES, THE TRAIN

Peace was all alone. Sitting at the train's dining table, a feast was spread out before them. Cakes rested lopsided, embellished with shallow bites and finger marks; shining candy wrappers spilled from their empty plate; a glass filled with tangy pink liquid sat untouched but for a lip gloss stain at the rim. They had tried all the foods- satisfied a burning curiosity to what the luxury of the Capitol may actually taste like. Peace had done it all sober, afraid to touch the small baggy of weed hidden in their underwear. Tasting the thick icings, sugar coated candies and exotic fruits had sounded so exciting, something to chase off the fact that Panny,their mentor, and that strange boy from home had abandoned them. Even Doe-Doe, the pun-centric mentor who wouldn't stop pestering Panny had disappeared off somewhere.

So now I feel overstuffed- and alone. They contemplated, lazily playing with a golden candy wrapper in their fingers. Rolling it into the shape of a blunt, they imagined offering it to one of their friends- and chuckled. As they raced off through literally like the middle of nowhere, at least they had the memories. They were mostly hazy, glowing scenes set on the same stages- the warmth of their childhood living room, along the suny fields back home or maybe even along the hatched surface on their roof. Peace tried to not think too far into it.

Keep thinking like this and I'll freaking drive myself crazy.

And so Peace got up with a mission to quench their boredom. Their green eyes scanned about the long and needlessly decorated train car. They smiled. The glittering chandeliers, lacey tablecloths and sculpted adornments about the room were quite beautiful in a sense. Pointless, fake, somewhat soiled by the clear ostentatiousness of it all- but still beautiful to the eye. If anyone could appreciate that- it was Peace.

It's dumb- but at least it's kind of pretty, right?

They wandered about the car, still wearing their grandmother's old silken gown. There was more sugary rich foods, a chattering table of glass bottles filled with pungent liquids, and the everchanging view of the sunset horizon out the window.

None of it satisfied them. Perhaps I could find Doe-Doe, they lamented. At least she'll bother talking to me. I just can't spend another second by myself on this train,

Walking over to the doors leading to the next car over, Peace had stopped. There was a voice on the other side, a soft drawl, punctuated with the occasional meditative pause. Pressing their lips into a flat line, Peace approached the door and stopped. Looking over their shoulder, a thought occurred to them. Can't help just listening for a moment. I don't wanna interrupt any uh, important business. And so Peace bent down and carefully pressed an ear to the door with a coy smile on their face.

"I'm simply proposing a um- Romantic storyline," the voice muttered. It was Abhijeet.

"With Peace?" asked Penny.

"No no of course not. Why would I ally with that, stoner?" the boy continued, uttering the last word as if it were a slur. Peace looked at their feet, containing a frown. Hey! What's wrong with me?

"So you're proposing to ally with another tribute and sell it as a romance to the audiences? Sounds pretty hefty Abhijeet. Everyone and their grandma's have tried that shit ever since Katniss,"

"I'm a better actor than she ever was,"

"I don't doubt that," Penny deadpanned before Peace separated themselves from the door with a jolt.

Wow. they swallowed. Continuing to stand in the doorway, Peace took a moment. The calm curiosity in them died. I guess I really do suck- oh stop it Peace. Let's not get negative here. Abhijeet is a freaking weirdo anyways. All smiley and shit when Penny is looking at him- then giving me fuckin death glares? Well guess what Abhijeet- I don't wanna ally with you anyways. I-

"Peace?"

Turning around with unexpected speed, Peace saw Doe-doe walk into the train car from the opposite side of the room.. Getting themselves away from the door, Peace gave a polite wave to the strangely tall escort.

"Oh hiya there,"

"Hiya there Peace- I am simply so glad to see you are here! The storage car was getting quite toasty," the woman smiled, displaying a set of multicolored grills. Peace chucked, awkwardly leaning against one of the hand carved chairs.

"You were in the storage car?"

"Why yes- now don't you go off worrying up a storm but I was escaping Penny for a moment. She doesn't seem to be the biggest fan of muah,"

"Yeah I'm not sure those two like me much either" they blushed, scratching the side of their head. Doe-doe leaned forward. "But it's really nothing. I don't wanna make a big deal. I'll be fine!"

"Are you sure? I am always prepared to listen to a good rant!"

"No no-" Peace began, tripping over their words. Why am I lying? Perhaps Doe-doe actually does care…

" It's just sad I guess. Penny and Abhijeet are all buddy-buddy it seems," They awkwardly laughed off." And well here I am. Just kinda alone, I suppose," they admitted, their freckled cheeks flaring a muted pink.

"Yes yes… I understand,"

"You do?"

"Of course! I've been working with Penny for years. In fact I'm the one who came up with the nickname "Panny" for her in the first place!" Doedoe enthused. Peace smiled. "Don't you pay any attention to her. She may act all fierce but in reality I think she is quite kneady- wouldn't you say?"

"I suppose," Peace laughed- not wanting to speak negatively of the woman, no matter how calloused she seemed. "Just don't tell her I said that. Or anything at all!"

"Oh why of course! It's the yeast I could do!"

Peace laughed again, giving a lazy smile to the escort. Doe-doe giggled at her own joke, before becoming quiet once again. She leaned even closer- Peace afraid to move back and seem rude to the only person who had been nice to them all day.

"And yanno Peace- If you truly feel lonely- once we get to the Capitol, you'll have plenty of opportunities for making friends! Ignore the ones like Penny and Abhijeet. Yes, yes, they tend to win these things- but sometimes the Losers like you and I are strongest in numbers," Doe-doe said, pointing a slender finger into Peace's sternum. Did she just call me a loser?

"Oh… Yeah- you're right,"

"I know Peace!" she laughed, backing up again. "You simply need to find your own kind!"

My own kind...

"Stoners?"

"No silly! Other people who don't wanna be around the Pennys of the world. I'm sure you'll find em Peace. And when you do- all the other tributes will be toast!" she continued to giggle. She grabbed a pastry off the dining table and began to head back towards where Peace assumed was the infamous storage car.

"Well I ought to sleep! You should too!" the woman recommended as she opened the door.

"Are you sure you want to sleep in there? I'm sure Penny won't bother you in your room."

"I much rather prefer the storage car anyways," Doe-doe smiled before slipping off. Whatever floats your boat...

When Doe-doe had left the room, Peace had begun to smile again, taking a seat back at the table. The escort's words floated about their head (not including the bread puns of course). Find your own kind… they said over and over.

Yeah. I'll find my own kind. I'll find other cool people. Just one or two- that's all I need! They thought, an image of their old friends popping into their head. They imagined Diana and Mason smiling at them from across the table in visceral detail: Diana with her swooping blonde hair and Mason with the tremendous bass in his laugh. Peace had always felt so powerful around them; safe with those who could make them laugh and knew when it was okay to let them cry. Peace pushed a frown aside- opting to smile through the citrus taste of nostalgia.

Maybe I'll find a new trio? Just some people to laugh with a little before everything gets bad… And perhaps Doedoe is right.

Maybe, together, one of us could win this.


LUDWIG KANTERO, 18, THE NIGHT BEFORE OPENING CEREMONIES, THE TRAIN

Ludwig locked the door to his room in a swift and sufficient manner before collapsing on his bed for the night. He stared up at the ceiling. Everything was so incredibly dark, the hanging moon outside his window the only source of any meaningful light. Despite the rushing of the train towards the Capitol- the world was quiet and still; ringing with the static of an empty endless space. Ludwig's tense muscle tensed against the soft cushion of the bed- his heart a steady drum. The day seemed to have come and gone in a hot flash- one moment he was reaped before the eyes of the Nation, next he was all alone. Contemplating the silence, Ludwig knew it was something to savour. The countdown's already begun, hasn't it? Once the gong rang, he'd never know silence again.

He lied down, the brink of exhaustion lapping at his thoughts. They wandered, running in circles around him. He closed his eyes, yet his mind never stopped. Everything is different now.

He took a deep breath- focused on the soft expansion of his ribcage. Just breathe man. His head buzzed with a million questions sparked by the peculiar circumstances he found himself in. When his heart steadied, breath slowed, and mind cleared- one final question still remained.

Why me?

Ludwig thought back to his childhood. He remembered the first months of the war, the air in Seven humid with tension. His father was loud from the beginning; preaching and voicing his support for the Capitol. Their neighbors hated the Kanteros. Ludwig hid, never leaving the house without a hoodie, even in the dry summer heat. Noone wanted to talk to him; all of his friends abandoned him. Everyone knew the Kantero's were a clan of "bootlicking assholes". But Ludwig didn't understand. He saw the bits of footage from Eleven and Twelve. They were lucky. The Capitol took care of them, and in turn they should be thankful right? We gave up everything for the Capitol. Dad did so much for them and yet-

And yet Ludwig still paid the price,

Why is this still happening- especially for people like us? Ludiwg thought, the boy having always been ambivalent about the games. War after war has occurred under the power of The Games. Are they really doing their job of keeping the District's in check? He asked himself, afraid of the answer. He knew the power of the Capitol. After the war- who didn't? We don't need the games to remind us stir the pot in Panem even more? His inner thoughts rambled. His stomach curdled, confused and lost amongst the sea of his own logic.

And not to mention we helped them! Why should the fucking good Districts pay the same price as the rebels who brought this onto all of us?

Tears threatened to spill over from his eyes, dead set on the silvery moon outside his window. He wiped his face with abusive aggression. Panem fucking stop it Ludwig, he scorned himself. You're not going to cry dammit. There is no time for that crap. You're going to get up, clean up and get ready for tomorrow.

The battle is just beginning.

Ludwig sat up. His bottom lip quivered, his face beet-red. Standing up, he took a series of deep breaths walking over to the small sink in the corner of the room. He haphazardly found the lightswitch next to the mirror, filling the compact room with cool yellow light. Looking up, he was met with his reflection. Ludwig stared into himself. Tilting his head to the side, the reflection followed. Panem… his thoughts flickered, imagining the very same reflection up in the night sky above the arena. He clenched his teeth together, his stomach struck with sudden anxiety.

I can't end up another statistic in the name of scaring the fucking rebels, he told himself. I'm no rebel. I don't deserve to die like this. He acknowledged the anxiety, standing up straight, and staring his reflection in the eye. The spirit of renewed conviction began filling him from head to toe- I have to win this. Ludwig saw the hard lines of his father's face in the mirror; he saw the same cold blue eyes and ghostly pale skin and mousy brown hair. I have to win for him.

The coarse whisperings of his father's voice filled his head. Ludwig had held onto every story his father ever told him. He knew the war like the back of his own hand; stories of cavernous holes filled with bodies, the stench of blood and rotting meat on a windy day, the dark masses of bugs crawling over the dead. Listening closely, he could hear his father's slow drudging sentences in the back of his head.

"You don't know the things I've done kid," he once said in the empty living room of their new home. Ludwig had asked why the war made them move. "Perhaps one day I'll tell you. Then you'll understand,".

But now Ludwig did know. Every word of the last story his father ever told him held onto him like ticks on a dog. If I don't win- it was all in vain. Every drop of my dad's blood and suffering will be for nothing. His father was a warrior- fought for the glory of the Capitol.

And though his head spun with doubt- Ludwig was ready to fight too.


Hiya folks! surprised? why oh yes- i did an entire chapter in a week. im growing in power folks, better watch out. now due to another project I have due at the end of the month, the next CW chapter may take a little bit longer to manifest but it won't be too much longer I promise haha.

WELL WE ARE PAST THE INTROS THOUGH. can we talk about that. it seemed like id never get to this point anymore. we are so close for the kids all meeting, something i've been looking forward too for so freaking long. I hope yall are too.

Anyways, see yall soon!

xavi