The Lightbath

The 100th Hunger Games went down in history for one major reason. It would not be the cast of teenagers and children that would be remembered. Nor would it be the arena, or the technological wonders (which did live on in recent memory but quickly faded as the miraculous became the mundane), or even the simple fact that it was a quarter quell.

It was the event that took place at the beginning of the second day that would make the 100th Hunger Games live down in infamy, a red blot marking it for eternity as a turning point in Panem's history.

It started as soon as the first lights of dawn cracked over the arena.

It's worth noting now the arena. It was remarkably small, only a few square miles in total. The forest was dense and the fog thick, so the Gamemakers counted on the tributes passing by each other, ships passing in the night throughout the course of many weeks.

At the start of the day, fourteen tributes remained, and all fourteen found themselves unknowingly at the outskirts of the same small clearing.

Sadie, Kiana, Haven, Tracee, Beren, Alaric, and Lana all entered the morning alone in the arena.

Sadie had barely slept a wink the whole night. She sat by the side of a tree, hugging her knees. The bag that she had taken from the Cornucopia was still on her back, an ε printed on the cloth. Fatigue finally took over, and as the events fell into place, her eyes began to slip shut, she fell backwards, and a click came from her bag as it collided with stone.

Lana had also spent the night awake, but for differing reasons. She fiddled with the oddly colored syringe in her backpack, and weighed her options. She had planned to kill Lionel at the bloodbath. Him and all the rest of the Careers, if things went perfectly. But in the moment something in her had refused. Thirteen more kills had to be made for her to win. Thirteen obstacles between her and failure.

Haven, Kiana, and Beren all slept through the night and into the morning. The moment passed without a single one of them ever realizing what it was that was occurring all around them.

Tracee Shay was also asleep. She was leaning against a tree at the center of the clearing. She was no stranger to tragedy and prided herself in never letting anything keep her down. The past was unimportant, all that mattered was the present and the future. But she couldn't stop the nightmares that filled her night. When she did wake up, she awoke with a scream.

The Careers hadn't stopped searching. The seven-strong alliance marched through the night without break. Elissa led the group, kneeling down and stopping at each landmark, digging around in bags for supplies, and sketching notes onto paper. Lola and Rai trudged lazily along. Hailey and Prestige walked alongside the rest, but their minds were somewhere else entirely. Lionel and Shiloh smelt blood in the water, and scanned the horizon at each turn. None paid attention to Elissa Briton, particularly not as she dug through one of the strangely marked bags, slipped a small glass ball into her hands, and fiddled with it underneath her sleeves.

Alaric Page heard them before he saw them. But there was nowhere to go. He scrambled to his feet, but through the fog Lionel emerged, tackling him to the ground. His head collided harshly with the ground, stars taking over his vision.

Shiloh pushed him aside, and with ringing in his ears, Alaric watched as she mouthed threats to him, dagger in her hand, red in her eyes. But Alaric's gaze fell elsewhere. His eyes were stuck on Elissa Briton as she appeared behind them. It was luck, really. The algorithm was a lie, them finding Alaric pure chance. Whether she was taken by surprise, was unprepared, or merely saw it as her only option, she did the one thing she could to keep herself alive. Alaric watch as she dropped the glass ball onto the floor and shielded her eyes.

Twelve hours into the 100th Hunger Games, a white light flashed, blinding the arena in an explosion of light.

A moment later, with light still flooding the arena, Sadie Whitaker falls against a stone, a clicking noise comes from her bag, and a shockwave rocks the arena.

The cameras of the Capitol see this: White light. A booming explosion. Fading light giving way to an unfamiliar arena. A destroyed forest, uprooted trees, sunlight beating down on the remains of a battleground. Canons.

Fourteen children, dead in the ground.

In the blink of an eye, fourteen stories were cut abruptly short. There would be no redemption. No revenge. No living on in memory. No mind-games and tricks. No desperate fights or pleas for mercy.

Levi Ezra died believing there would be some purpose to his final moments, and Tracee Shay wanted nothing more than to make that true.

Shiloh Haskell wanted more than just revenge. She wanted to make sure that nobody would suffer the way she had. The way Rian had. She wanted to change things for the better.

Lana Birkhead never was able to decide for herself whether she would be the monster she was made to be, or choose to live a life free from invisible chains.

Beren Yarrow only wanted to save her sister the way she had saved her.

Hailey Hills died believing herself a monster.

Prestige Freeman died before she ever allowed herself to begin to hope that she deserved her dreams.

Elissa Briton had a plan when she dropped that orb of light. Perhaps she meant to save the boy that had condemned her to death. Perhaps she intended to kill them all. Maybe she only wanted to run.

Their futures were full of promise and hope and potential and even darkness and horror, but through all of that it was binded together with the simple fact that their futures held life. Whether they would become heroes or villains, earn redemption or become twisted versions of themselves, in the moment before light flooded the arena their paths were not written for them, their choices still their own.

I have started with these particular Games because they best represent the most cardinal evil there is. To extinguish hope. To erase choice. To dry the ink, seal the page, and bind the covers shut.

But tragedies so severe as these do not melt away into obscurity. They send shockwaves through reality, ripples across the flow of time. Their stories were not told. Were not finished. Were not complete. A wave may crash into the beach and appear to have gone. But it remains. Droplets of water, miniscule, immeasurable, forming and reshaping into ripples and waves and tsunamis and hurricanes.

Twenty-four small waves returned to the sea, now watch closely and wait. Listen to the silence of a dead arena, and know that when the curtain falls, the show will continue. Hold the applause. Remain in your seat. And wait for the curtains to lift once again.

(Year 100: The End of a Dream.)