Prologue One: The Loss

As the Capitol-bound train pulled out of the District Nine train station, Rusk Flanders pressed his face to the window like a little child, blankly watching the station disappear with his soft grey eyes. He was what—thirty-one years old?—but it was something he did every year, remembering the first time he saw the town of District Nine disappear into the distance, the first time he whizzed past the waving fields of grain, the first time he rode a train to the Capitol, right after the Reaping for the 126th Hunger Games. Fourteen train rides later, the same emotions still welled up inside. Fear. Despair. Sadness. Every year, he still had to remind himself that he was now a Victor, not a Tribute. Instead of going to a deathmatch, he was going to a party. He wasn't going to meet his potential killers; he was going to see his fellow murderers.

He sighed, peeling himself away from the window, pacing back and forth alone in the District Nine train car. He wasn't sure why he attended the pre-parties every year. Some Victors went to meet friends. Others went to attract sponsors. It seemed like he only went to sit awkwardly in the corner, nodding politely whenever anyone spoke to him, desperately hoping that nothing would trigger anyone's PTSD (which inevitably always happened). Some years, he would consider staying in Nine until the Reapings, but he knew he'd just sit around alone in his ghostly mansion, watching the clock tick as he penned depressive stanza after stanza, hoping that one of the five other District Nine Victors would remember him yet simultaneously dreading the proposition of spending time with them. He shook his head. That in itself was enough motivation to attend the pre-party.

People sometimes said that Victors were like one big dysfunctional family. If that was true, then the District Nine Victors were one useless cornhusk of a family.

He jumped when knocks rang through the door. Slowly, he inched towards the handle, staring at it as if a monster stood on the other side—in his Arena, there were literal monsters behind every closed door.

He cleared his throat, phlegmy from long periods of silence. "Who is it?" he croaked.

"Open the door and see!" The warm, familiar female voice penetrated the metal barrier, instantly melting the fear that kept his muscles frozen.

He stumbled across the car and turned the handle, flinging the door open to reveal Faridah Hormuz, District Four Victor of the 125th Hunger Games, the 5th Quarter Quell. Faridah Hormuz, whose luscious brown hair rolled down in mesmerizing curls that reached mid-way down her upper arm. Faridah Hormuz, with her welcoming brown eyes that warmed him to his core as she looked him up and down.

"Oh my gosh!" she said, "It's so good to see you! It's been so long!"

"Yeah." He cringed internally and cleared his throat again when his voice came out raspier than a dehydrated frog. "Come on in." He gestured to one of the extravagant plush sofas. "Have a seat—How have you been?"

She sat down and flipped her hair back over her shoulder. "Good! Nothing interesting, other than the regular loyalist against rebel stuff. At least nothing important burned down this year." She grimaced momentarily, but her signature smile soon returned. "I was really disappointed when you didn't show up at the winter party—is everything going okay?"

What was he supposed to tell her—I'm sorry, I was going to come but then I just… didn't? "I… wasn't feeling too well," he said, searching her expression for any sign of displeasure. "Emotionally."

"Are you feeling better now?" Her eyes were like deep pools of healing salve, boring into his heart, leaving him feeling open, vulnerable, exposed. But somehow, with her, he didn't mind it too much. It was almost… therapeutic.

"Kind of," he said, half relieved that she fully believed him, half guilty for partially deceiving her. "A little." He originally did plan on going to her party; he really did. But then the date came up and the trip felt overwhelming and he ended up spending the entire day huddled under his blankets in bed.

She smiled. "Well—if there's anything I can do to help, just let me know, okay?"

He nodded, promising something he knew he wasn't likely to ever deliver. "Of course."

"You've got to talk to someone when things start going wrong inside your head," she continued. "I hope you'll let me help if the other Victors from your district won't help you."

"It's not that they won't help me…" He grasped for straws in his head, trying to find a way to defend the other five Victors, the ones he dreaded to be with, the ones that sent nervous shivers up and down his spine every time he got in a conversation with them. "I… just don't get along with them. They're always 'eff the Capitol this' and 'eff the Capitol that.' "

"And you disagree?"

"Yes… No…" He threw up his hands. "I don't know. it makes me uncomfortable; that's all."

She nodded empathetically. "I don't make you uncomfortable, do I?"

Did I imply that? His eyes widened as he quickly tried to backtrack. "No! That's not what I meant… It's… It's…"

"Relax!" She laughed. "You're fine."

He chuckled to ease the creeping embarrassment that crept up his burning red cheeks. "Sorry."

"It's all good," she said, standing up as she prepared to leave. "You matter so much to me, you know? I want you to be happy."

"Yeah. You too."

She beamed at him, her brown pausing for a brief moment in his grey before she said goodbye again, and he waved, and she left to visit another friend. But even after she left the train car, leaving it cold once more, his gaze lingered on the door. He wished he had said more than just a stupid "You too," done more than just talk about his issues, made it more clear how much he valued her companionship, that she was one of the reasons he even bothered to attend the pre-parties, that no one else seemed to care about him the way she did.

He never got a chance. The next time he saw her, she was in a gorgeous mahogany casket, lying unmoving with her brown curls under her head like a cradle for her face, her once warm eyes shut away behind a thin yet impenetrable wall of cold, dead skin.

Well hello! Submissions are now open for this SYOT, even though I still have a ways to go on Premonition. The goal is to be able to jump right in to this one once Premonition is done. As always, the Capitol subplot matters, and this one is going to revolve around the Victors in this AU-verse (which I'm calling the Joseph-verse for now). Hope to see y'all's submissions!

Guidelines, the Form, the History of this AU-verse, and the Victors can all be found at:

rebellionbringsruin. weebly. com