interlude: stormbringer

They say that all your dreams will come to pass; that someday we will all forget an ambition made of glass.
(They say the storm's a one-eyed fraud, its raging surface just an act.)

"He's going to kill him."

Senn's finger dips into their whiskey glass, swirling the ice around inside the cup. Inebriation is already starting to settle in, the warm burn in the back of their throat setting their nerves alight with pleasure. At their side, Circe Medina cackles, holding the bottle up and tipping it out to pour another glass, the liquor streaming down over their fingers, making their skin feel sticky.

They don't care, though. About the whiskey or the Capitol or the Games. Snow made their bed, and they're going to fucking lie in it, whether or not they actually want to. So much for ritz, fits and glamour, they're stuck with the coalrats and District Twelve, grand little hellhole that it is. Doesn't matter if they think they deserve another post – if they're good enough for somewhere else, be it Tal's successor, an escort, or some dipshit on the Gamemaking team. Twelve's their domain, now and possibly forever, because let's face it, in what universe do those lepers actually wind up with a Victor? Hollister might be the only one that's made it past the bloodbath, and we all know he's fucked. Vampire, my ass. I give him two more days, tops. Probably less, though. That brat from Six is playing him hard… and he's just falling for it, pathetic bloodsucker that he is. I'd pity him if he weren't so fucking stupid.

"Oh, less work for you. Such a shame," the Four mentor teases, snapping him away from his monologue. Reaching over, Circe socks them in the shoulder, the force of the hit causing Senn to rub at their arm, stifling a wince behind a sly grin.

"The only shame is being stuck in that shithole for another year," they reply, sighing dramatically. "Like, don't get me wrong - it's nice to be the only person in a hundred miles with actual physical appeal, but the coal dust is really cramping my style. A victor can't come soon enough. Well - barring Hellister."

"Is that what you call him?" Circe laughs, a tear seeping from the corner of one of her bloodshot eyes. "Hellister? That's fucking hilarious."

"No, what's hilarious is watching him suck face with the boy from Six," Senn says, pulling their finger from their glass and raising it to their lips. And sure, I'm a fine one to talk, but at least Sev and I were practical eyecandy. Ugh.

They slam their glass back down on the bar.

"I mean, everyone can tell that he's just toying with him. Wrap the monster around your finger, and you've got a nice meat puppet to help you through the Games. It's less romance than it is logic."

"Sounds like you're speaking from experience."

Across the counter, Ambrosia Salazar takes a seat atop one of the bar stools, her dark hair pulled back into a knot, save a few loose strands that trail down past her shoulders. She gives Circe a polite smile, then turns her focus to Senn, lifting her chin just so in a display of dominance that they're sure is meant to rattle. Not that it really matters - they aren't taking the bait.

"I'm sorry," Senn says rudely, their tone lapsing into something cutting, meant to sting his fellow victor if only so she'll take the cue to butt out. "But did I ask for your opinion?"

"You didn't have to," Ambrosia replies, still in that dull, unaffected voice. "I gave it freely."

"You know, people like you are the reason I self-medicate." Senn draws their finger around the rim of their glass, a shiver coursing down their spine. "If I throw a stick, will you leave?"

Ambrosia sighs. "I would love to insult you, Senn, but I'm afraid I won't do as well as nature did."

At that, the District Twelve mentor's mouth falls open, hanging ajar for a handful of seconds as blood rushes to their cheeks.

"Fuck you," Senn hisses, only for Ambrosia to quirk a brow at them, seemingly unfazed. Their hand takes hold of the empty wine glass sitting on the bar next to Circe, fingers curling around the stem. At their back, a door slams open.

"Turn on Capitol News!" A frantic voice calls out.

Senn smashes the glass on the counter, shards sliding off the edge to fall against the tile at their feet. Anger pulses under their skin - a byproduct of their embarrassment, and ire at Ambrosia's taunting - and the flush of alcohol through their system is hardly something to help. They're practically steaming as they lean forward, dropping the sole shard remaining in their palm down on the open counter, their teeth gritted as they snap.

"We were having a conversation."

"Yeah, I'm sure you were. And you know what? It can wait."

"Wait?" They question, whirling around. "Why, so we can listen to another pointless news broadcast from my fucking cousin? News flash, Ten, nobody cares about Capitol News –"

"Listen, Senn, I don't care what your damage is. Right now, all of us have problems that are far more important than your feud with Ambrosia."

"Why are you getting on my ass over this?" Senn asks, unable to keep themself from sounding affronted. "She's the one responsible for the ruckus. I was perfectly happy to just sit here and down my drink in peace, but you lot had to barge in and –"

"And be that as it may, the President is dead."

The room falls silent.

From across the counter, Senn can see Ambrosia's eyes widen a fraction, the only indication of surprise their former mentor seems willing to give. Her jaw fixes in a firm line, mouth staying stubbornly closed as she turns her head, glancing away from Circe and the wine glass that's been shattered atop the counter, courtesy of the Four woman's ire. For a long moment, her body remains rigid - unmoving, unspeaking, looking every bit the ice queen that One had previously termed her, back in the days before her victory. She's shaken.

As much as Senn hates to admit it, they can almost understand why. Still, though…

"I don't see how that's our problem," Circe pipes up from the seat at their side, pushing herself up and away from the counter. "Sure, it sucks for the Capitol, but why am I supposed to give a shit about yet another dried-up old dickwad kicking the bucket? He's got a successor, anyway."

"They're saying he was poisoned," another voice sounds from the end of the bar, where Malin Calumet of Nine is sitting beside Theron Markom from Five, his skin tinted a shade of sickly yellow from the neon flashing above his head. When he realizes the others have turned their attention in his Direction, he raises one hand and gestures idly at the tele hanging across the room, mounted on the wall of the lounge in full view of the tables. Senn runs their tongue along their lips, sparing Ambrosia one last glimpse before they redirect their attention to the screen - and the broadcast playing out upon it.


"... the Panemian figurehead was found by his wife earlier this morning, and has since been seen by a medical examiner. While the breadth of evidence seems to support the theory that Eli Newmahr suffered an ischemic stroke, one mortician claims to have found traces of ricin in the President's system, a lethal poison derived from the root of castor beans that can mimic the effects of cardiac failure. The deadly toxin is purportedly tasteless, odorless, and primarily untraceable in terms of origin…"

"They're blaming it on the rebels?" Ambrosia asks, her brow furrowed. She turns back to Verity, an expression of genuine consternation plastered over her features, coloring her dark eyes jet. Senn laughs, propping their arms back on the bar and stretching out, languid and lackadaisical as ever.

"Let's face it, the most important thing for the Capitol is getting a headline. Rebellion is unoriginal, but after last year, it's got people worked up. The drama's already been stirred up by the Games… but now, they're drizzling the cake with icing. Isn't it scrumptious?"

"Of course you would think that," Verity shakes her head, turning her back in their direction. "To the Capitol, political drama's just another form of entertainment. In my District it's a death sentence."

Down the line, Theron gives a sage nod, his exhaustion causing him to look as if he's aged a decade.

"They point fingers anywhere, it's going to be at Ten," he concedes, glancing to his feet. "If not Ten, then Six or Four. There's plenty of Districts that have become rebel hotbeds. Peacekeepers are going to be cracking down."

"Exactly. Exactly!" Verity agrees, flinging her arms out. "You saw what they did to Seven, and that was only because of Elowyn. The people here were scared to death of Verduin. If they think someone's trying to replicate his legacy, they'll do everything they can to stomp them out. They can't have rebels gaining influence - can't condone the rebellion of Victors, because the majority of us have a following. If we so much as strain against the rules they've bound us to…"

"They'll kill us," Ambrosia finishes, utterly stoic. Rising from her chair, she steps around Verity and Circe to reach Senn, her fingers trailing briefly along their arm, over the crest of their shoulder. Then, she looks to the door.

"I'm stepping out for a smoke," she states plainly. "Care to join me?"

Senn tilts their chin up, defiance in their teeth as they flash them at their former mentor, knowing full-well why she's called them aside.

"What, are you trying to get on my good side now?" They question, blithely cracking a smirk. Nonetheless, their posture deflates when Ambrosia withdraws her hand. "Fine, whatever."

They try not to pay attention to the watchful gazes of the others as they stand to their feet, following along behind Ambrosia like a good little lapdog, exactly what she probably wishes them to be. Once they reach the door, they pause to blow Circe a kiss, waggling their fingers at her in a sarcastic goodbye.

"Try not to miss me too much, okay?"

"Fat chance," Circe rebuttals, lifting an uncorked bottle to them in toast. "No Senn means more booze. Why would I miss you when I've got an entire jug of bourbon to keep me company?"

"I dunno, you tell me," Senn says, more manic than they rightly should be. Then, looking back to the rest of the assembly, they give a jaunty wave, followed by a middle finger. "Toodles!"

The door slams as they let go of the handle, knocking back hard enough to rattle the frame. Ambrosia stands before them, still as a statue, watching their antics with a tired bemusement. A glint of familiarity holds in her eyes as she watches them, not backing down. Obviously, she wants something. But what?

She's been bothering them for awhile. Pushing her nose into their business, trying intentionally to rile them up; Senn isn't sure exactly what her goal is, but the fact of the matter is she's a problem.

They hate dealing with problems.

Especially problems related to the past.

Especially problems that concern a certain tribute by the name of Varsen Santana, someone who could be dead, should be dead, and yet by some miraculous twist of fate has proven to be anything but.

There's no way Ambrosia hasn't figured them out. Because of her, their little facade has been doomed from the get-go, and now that she's got them alone, they're stuck. Who knows what she's got it in her mind to ask them - what lies she might be preparing to spew, the blackmail that her mother was so known for on constant threat of surfacing in regards to their identity, their unbelievable undeath?

Senn shoves their hands into their pockets, matching her gaze head on.

A ghostly smile turns up Ambrosia's lips. Then, she gives them a nod.

"Alright, Varsen. You ready to talk?"

The world is falling apart.

Alright, that's a bit of an exaggeration; there's no impending doom waiting outside Oberon's window to taunt him with the threat of imminent death. There's no widespread plague of illness, no rioting in the streets or violent fists banging against the doors of his car as he makes his way to Capitol Square. Rather, his arrival is precluded by a mass of bodies; undulating, writhing, clamoring for his attention. Microphones being shoved in his face, while a dozen voices scream at him for answers, demanding information he's not cut out to give. Cameras trained on his driver-side door, much as they'd been trained upon the door of his home a mere forty minutes ago, because gods forbid anyone in the Capitol is able to leave well enough alone!

So, yes. The world is falling apart. Not coming to an end, but certainly caving in on itself as a result of the country's love for voyeurism. In fact, under any other circumstances, Oberon might find the attention endearing. But knowing what he knows…

This entire situation is bound to be his undoing. Already he can feel his composure fraying; Snow's machinations, Tal's needling… now he's meant to deal with cacophony on top of it? No. No, this is… he's not prepared to –

He pushes open the door to his car, then closes and locks it behind him. If he's lucky, he can take advantage of the crowd, use it to slip away. Perhaps then he won't have to concern himself with being bombarded…

A frown tugs at the Gamemaker's lips. He's not going to be lucky; after what he heard on the morning broadcast, there's as much room for luck today as there is for calm, which is to say there's none at all. He'll just have to suck it up and deal. Unfortunately.

(It doesn't take a genius to realize what's happened; the death of any official would be enough to cause a stir, much less a President. Oberon's not sure how the press found out, but ultimately it doesn't matter - once something's out, it's out for good. A leak of this magnitude isn't one that will fall to the wayside…

Regardless of how much he wants it to.)

"There he is!" A shrill voice calls out, his chances of breaking through the flood of newscasters, reporters and Panemian Press liaisons dwindling by the second. A sigh leaves his mouth as heads begin to turn - one after another after another - and as the bloodhounds catch his scent, he can practically feel his soul departing his body. Talk about starting the day off on the wrong foot.

"Mister Lavellan –"

"Head Gamemaker Lavellan!"

"Mister Lavellan, do you have anything to say about the President –"

"- left wondering about the fate of the Games. Can we really celebrate the Quell under these unique circumstances?"

"Is there any truth to the rumor of rebel involvement?"

"How does Vice President Snow plan to deal with the impending consequences?"

"- stuck in yet another interrim, though many citizens have voices their suspicions –"

"- have anything to do with the recent activity coming out of District Four –"

"- and should Snow fill the shoes of the presidency, will the Capitol aim for retaliation?"

"Is there any truth to the rumors, Mister Lavellan? Was President Newmahr poisoned?"

"Mister Lavellan –"

"Gamemaker Lavellan –"

"- standing here with Oberon Lavellan, Head Gamemaker and successor to Maryse Delacroix –"

"Will all of you just shut the bloody hell up?!"

Oberon's hand trembles around the carry of his briefcase, heat rapidly spreading from his chest up to his face. He can feel his heart speeding - his breath halting, staccatoed gasps of oxygen incapable of permeating his lungs. Slipping his free hand into his pocket, he removes a handkerchief, dabbing at the sweat that's begun to pool on his forehead. He feels faint. Is he supposed to be faint?

"If you would excuse me," the Gamemaker says, trying to force his tone to remain even, "I don't have the time to answer your questions. I'm late for work."

Before another word can be uttered, Oberon turns on his heel and strides toward the Tower's stairs, doing his best to shake the incident off. The guard at the door steps aside as he flashes his keycard, Oberon's sharp glare seeming to cow him from asking questions. Which is fine, really. No, better than fine, it's fucking tremendous, entirely splendid, there is nothing he'd like better than to be left alone, just for five Capitol-damned minutes. He's not at the tower for the purpose of making small talk; if the man's looking for amicability, he can spend his time engaging with Tal, or Snow, or even Oriana - and fuck it, so can the ruddy press! This mess is not his to deal with!

(Stars, but he's exhausted.)

"Sir," one of the Junior Gamemakers pipes up as he reaches the elevator, only for Oberon to stuff his kerchief back into his pants and greet her with a raised hand.

"Juliana, I am not in the mood."

The girl blinks at him. Her hand slowly reaches over to press the call button on the car, a forced smile remaining on her lips until the light above the door lets out a ding.

"H-Have a fine day, Sir," she stammers as Oberon slips past her to enter the cramped space, dropping his briefcase down on the floor.

"Doubtful," he says, pressing the button for floor sixteen. Juliana takes a step back as the doors slide closed, leaving Oberon to enjoy his fifty-seven seconds of silence in total reprieve. Which is, admittedly, unexpected.

Oberon closes his eyes, leaning back against the metallic wall. His hands wrap about the rail, left idle at his back, relieved to find that the hold is stabilizing. The last thing he needs is to experience a panic attack in front of his two-dozen underlings.

"I swear by Val Verduin," he mutters, breathing in deep through his nose. "Am I the head Gamemaker, or the ringmaster of the government's shitshow?"

Above his head, the floor indicator comes to a stop. A sharp ring pitches from the speaker affixed to the door, and Oberon exhales his breath, righting his posture with stiff shoulders. He leans down, retrieves his briefcase. Then, nervously, he steps out into the Vice President's hall, eyes fluttering as they try to adjust to the starkness of the fluorescent lights.

"Oberon," Snow's voice greets from somewhere on his right. The Gamemaker turns his head as his boss rises from a plush bench, making his approach with one arm outstretched. "I was beginning to think you'd declined my invitation."

"Is this your doing?" Oberon asks, his mouth running ahead of his brain. "The announcement, the reporters, people hounding me from my home to my car, to anywhere they might be able to follow? What happened to hushing it up?"

Snow's carefully-practiced charm dispels in lieu of a glower. He takes another step forward, fingers curling into the back of Oberon's coat, his hold stern as a literal vice.

"Why don't we discuss this in my office?" The Vice President questions, taking up post at Oberon's back. His head inclines forward, breath teasing along his fellow Capitolite's ear. There's no room left for argument as he steers Oberon right, then left, then right again, nudging him along until he's standing outside a familiar door, goosebumps crawling over his skin.

"Forgive me my imprudence, but are you not the one who said 'secrets always have a way of getting out?'" Snow reaches around Oberon to unlock the door, punctuating his words with a little push. His hand releases Oberon's jacket, and the older man stumbles forward, one hand moving toward the doorframe in order to right himself.

He shouldn't have let his anger get the better of him. Not after what Snow did to Hellebore and Maryse and – likely Newmahr as well, regardless of his desire to admit it. The boy is a fucking snake. He has no problem silencing those that challenge his authority, no problem with lying and cheating and killing his way to the top, so long as he doesn't damage his reputation. Engaging with him is little different than playing with fire, just as Oriana warned that last day in the training room, after they'd watched the girl from Five demolish half their equipment. She knew he wasn't to be trusted.

(Oberon knew that, too, but he wasn't about to turn against his benefactor. Snow's schemes won him his position - won Tal the name of Capitol darling, gave them riches, power, influence and everything else they could have wanted. If the price of fame was no more than a handful of political overtures, a few envelopes stolen and slipped under the table, and falsified evidence planted in a bureaucrat's office, what right did either of them have to complain?)

"I apologize," Oberon speaks in a small voice, observing Snow as he settles into his seat behind the supervisor's desk. Crossing one leg over the other, the Vice President reclines in his chair, raising a single brow in response to Oberon's condolence. "This morning has been… stressful, sir, and because of it, I foolishly allowed my temper to get the best of me. Please excuse my impudence."

Snow draws a pen from his pocket, clicks it open, and taps the end against his chin. He appraises Oberon, mouth drawn in a line, then chooses to avert his eyes, turning his attention to the stack of papers stretched over his desk.

"You're excused," he responds calmly, "but you'll need to earn my forgiveness."

Oberon nods, biting down on his lip, the skin puffy and scabbed over from stress. He can feel the gloss across them smearing as he worries his flesh, unable to serve as a deterrent when his tension is so high.

The seconds tick by, until a minute has passed.

Snow declines to spare him a single glance.

"... and how might I do that?" Oberon asks, finally, biting at the lure he's sure was intentionally set. Snow's shoulder shrugs, his fingers scribbling the pen against a piece of parchment, a seeming nonchalance emanating from his body.

"Finish the task I've already laid out for you," he replies. "That, I think, would be a fitting start."

Oberon's lips part, twisted around another question. "The Five?" He says, and his throat starts to close up, feeling suffocated by nothing more than Snow's evident displeasure. The politico's eyes flit upward, rewarding him with a look. Suffice it to say, he's unsettled.

"The numbers are dwindling, Oberon. I suggest you work fast."

"... but sir, short of mutt interference, there's only so many ways we can dispose of the tributes without admitting our bias –"

Snow snaps the current folder atop the stack closed, tossing it down on the office floor. "Lavellan, you're a smart man. Figure it out."

Oberon's teeth relinquish their hold on his lip, whatever words had been circling around in his head slipping from his skull altogether. He gives the new President a nod, palms clammy as he flexes them around the handle of his briefcase, now held in front of his body like some abject barrier. Spinning on his heel, he reaches for the door handle to tug the exit open, wanting nothing more than to break free of Coriolanus and his thousand-yard glare, piercing daggers through his back even as he makes his exit.

I can do this, he tells himself, fear leaving a bitter aftertaste in his mouth. I know I can do this. Dispose of the tributes on Snow's list – it's a third of the competition, but quantity is irrelevant in the arena. A well-timed incentive can bring anyone to blows against their rival… even those who would typically be keen to see them live. If I can stack the odds against Snow's problem kids… no, if I can shift the odds to those who favor the Capitol… play on their malleability…

I think it's time the Gamemakers initiated Blueprint Seventeen. The hunt will be slow going, but it should prove effective… and if nothing else, we'll bring forth a delightful display of drama. There's nothing to retain viewership better than a hefty dose of betrayal… I suppose the only question that remains is…

Who should we target first?

A/N: Stormbringer by Ashbury Heights.

I hope to have Day 6 up in about two weeks.