A/N: Now we've got the good chapter out of the way I have to drag myself to district nine, which they've settled on as dealing with mutations. Don't ask me, that's why I said they've settled onto it. I never get a voice in things like that... Now, after you've seen my amazing writing I expect many of you are desperate for more, but we have to deal with the reapings before we can talk about that and reveal our awesome order (created by me, the Pharoah of awesomeness of course) for the pre-games chapters. And before you start praising LegendOfZeldaFreak for her amazing song writing skills let it be known that it was I who wrote that song, on her request. If you hate it then... blame her! It was totally all her fault! Anyway, this reaping for you was written by… the psychotic LegendOfZeldaFreak (D9 female) and the delirious nightfuries (D9 male)!

Sapphire Tree by LegendOfZeldaFreak

A.N: Hello! Go... district 9! Whoo! Anyways, I'd love to have feedback, even if it's negative! And now, the moment you probably haven't been waiting for... DISTRICT 9'S REAPINGS! (Note from Snev: hyperactive much?)

"If it means my death, I don't care, because even death will be a sort of freedom." -Catherine Fisher

"Sapphire..." a bubbly voice says above me.

Without opening my eyes, I wave my right hand at the voice. "G-Go away..."

"Sapphire!" the voice says more firmly, yet not enough that it still isn't kind.

Ever so slowly, my eyelids flutter open. I see Riley, my only friend, standing above me, smiling as always.

I say something oh-so unintelligent that involved lot's of grunting and snorting. Riley giggles and says, "Sapphire! Wake up!"

At this, it's like my senses come alert and I sit up. "W-Why are you at my house?"

She just cocks her head to the side like a cute little puppy. "You really don't know?"

My eyebrows knit in confusion. I shake my head no and Riley giggles. "It's reaping day, of course!"

I sigh and my shoulders slump. "Now, for the ultimate question, why did you wake me up this early?"

Riley giggles her annoying giggle again. "Uh, Saph, reapings start in ten minutes."

My eyes literally expand fifteen times their normal size and I throw off my bed covers. I whip to the other side of the room and slip through my, sadly, expensive clothes.

Riley starts humming some tune I don't know or care to remember. I finally decide on a plain, sleeveless, black dress with ballet flats. I throw them on quickly and grab Riley firmly by the arm.

After much commotion, Riley and I make it safely to the square right on time. I would have to say, the square does look magical.

The old stone ground filled with vines and the old buildings surrounding it... Well, let's just say it's my favorite part of District 9. Plus, it gets even better after the reapings. I mean, sure, it's depressing, but it really looks magical. Multicolored lights, usually bright with the moon shining, music playing...

Riley brings me back into reality by pulling roughly on my arm. I nod at her and we both move slowly over to the thirteen-year old section.

Two people walk up to the stage, I'm guessing the mentors, but I don't catch their names. Then the mayor goes on and on with his speech. Then, the overly happy man named Odgen, dances up to the stage. "Happy Hunger Games!"

I roll my eyes. He says, "Today will be the day where one very special boy and girl will be given the honor of representing their district in the 24th annual Hunger Games!"

Yes, definitely a honor, I think, tugging at the bottom of my dress. He goes on. "Let's find out who they are, shall we?"

He walks quickly over to the female bowl and jams his hand into it. In one swift motion, he takes it out and unfolds it.

"Sapphire Tree!" I look around, trying to find the poor soul going, but then I realize.

That's my name.

Fuzzy dots dance in front of my eyes and I struggle to stay standing. I find it difficult to breathe.

The next thing I'm aware of is the sharp pain in my left cheek. I look over to see Riley had slapped me. I should probably thank her, but now isn't the best time.

While keeping my head down, I walk swiftly up to the stage. Once I get up, I plant myself in the middle of the stage and hold my left arm.

While the escort goes on and goes to the male bowl. It takes every inch of willpower in my body not to sob, though I guess I am crying.

"Callan Lou!" Odgen screeches. I look through my spikey hair. I don't recognize him.

I still watch him though. He pales and looks about ready to make a break for it, but a sound crashes all of it. "I volunteer!"

I avert my eyes over to the voice. A teen about 15 is walking up to the stage. I don't think I've ever seen him before, but then again, I am not very social.

He steps up to the stage and Odgen asks him with a swing of his arm, "Excellent! And what would you name be, young man?"

"Ari Locus," he says, as if he was perfectly fine. Oh well, it wasn't like I was going to come out of this anyway.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the tribute of District Nine!" Odgen screams and a few claps go off in the crowd. I shake hands with Ari, and then we head to the Justice Building.

The Justice Building is nice. The velvet couch looks soft, so I plop down on it. My first visitor comes in quickly.

"Saph!" Riley says. She sits down next to me and we sit in an awkward silence for about thirty seconds.

"Look, you can have a token, so take this. Please." she holds out the necklace her mother gave her before she died. I'm speechless. "Riley..."

She interrupts me. "If you press this button," she presses a button on the side and music starts to play. "that happens. My mother used to sing this to get me to go to sleep."

She waits a moment before singing along with the music.

"The darkness holds all sorts of monsters and creeps,
It's oh so pitch black, so dark and so deep,
But when you let your eyelids sink and slip into sleep,
Darkness becomes your guiding lead,

Rock back into goblins and fairies and elves,
Witches and princes and lords a'leaping twelve,
Let the darkness consume you until you're no longer yourself,
Lean into hurricanes and wishes to delve.

And once your face pales and you give yourself a fright,
You'll know it's more than the werewolves' bite,
It has to be something that is to do with that Light,
So fall backwards into the night"

I tear up when she's done. "Than-"

I can't finish because the Peacekeepers are dragging her out. Before she finally leaves, she yells. "Good luc-"

I get the idea. Apparently, my time with Riley was longer than I thought and I have to leave for the train. I get out just in time to see Ari standing on a platform waiting. I stand next to him until the train comes up.

Ari boards quickly, and I hesitate a moment. Then, I wipe a stray tear off my face and board the train.

Ari Locus by nightfuries

"I'm not afraid of death. It's the stake one puts up in order to play the game of life."

-Jean Giraudoux

"Ari . . . Ari . . ."

I groan, trying to block out the increasingly annoying voice. It can't be time to get up yet.

"Ari! Wake up, you're the only one still sleeping."

I sigh. Guess that's all the sleep I'm getting, I think, rolling over and coming face to face with a tousled mane of red hair. Hands reach up to brush it out of the way and the amber eyes of 15 year-old Webb Furmish come into view.

"What?" I say irritably, rubbing sleep out of my eyes.

"Forget what today is already, son?" I turn to see my dad grinning at me from the corner of the room. Everyone else is laughing at me too.

Today, today . . . oh, reaping day. I mentally slap myself. How could I have forgotten? Now Webb waking me makes sense. Normally we're awakened by the lovely sound of the guards tapping they're batons on the bars of our cell.

I look around at my home, the District Nine Jailhouse; population seven, if you don't count all the Peacekeepers roaming around. It's funny, the day of the reapings also marks the anniversary that my dad and I were arrested. We've been in here for a year as of today.

You wouldn't think any of us were criminals if you saw us. Any of the really bad criminals, thieves and the like, are shot immediately, leaving only those of us who seem more like the weak, underfed people who sit in alleyways begging for money. Which is what most of us are.

Not my dad and I though. Actually, when you look at it, we're lucky to have just been imprisoned. Instead of choosing the jobs typical of our district, which is in charge of creating muttations for the Capitol, my dad decided to be a bit of a con artist, and yes, occasionally a thief. But a good one. I've tagged along on a couple of his "jobs" but normally all I'd do is keep watch. I haven't really mastered the whole "keep quiet" concept yet. Ironically, we weren't arrested for theft; last year my dad wanted to spend the day of the reapings to plan one of his bigger jobs. I skipped it to help him, since I never liked going to the reapings anyways. All it is is a lot of standing around waiting, than watching some ridiculous Capitol man, who never stops smiling, draw two names out of a hat, and then watching two, usually crying, kids mounting the stage. If you ask me it's a big, depressing waste of time. Unfortunately, reapings are mandatory to attend, and the only excuse you have to not be there is if you're on death's door. The Peacekeepers came around to check if that was the case, and found us sitting by the edges of town, alive and well. Needless to say, we were arrested.

Caia, Webb's twin sister, gives a snort of laughter nearby, bringing me back to the present. "Alright, yes, I'm hilarious." I roll my eyes and stand up. "Did I miss breakfast?"

"Just in time," my dad says, pointing to the door, which opens to reveal more white-clad Peacekeepers carrying a big tray with a loaf of bread and a pitcher of water. That's all we get, twice a day. Once in a while we get a bit of fruit or a tiny piece of meat, just so we don't die of malnutrition. Aren't they thoughtful?

One of them unhooks a set of keys from his belt and uses them to unlock a tiny hatch and the bottom of the door to the cell. He slides the tray in and Paz, the oldest person here, with white tufts of hair sticking out of his head and ears, takes the bread and starts distributing it. I grab my piece and start chowing down just as more Peacekeepers file in. They wait until we finish eating than unlock the actual cell door to let us out.

"It's reaping day," Webb explains quietly as we shuffle out, noting my confused expression. "We get new clothes and clean up a bit. Got to look nice for the cameras." He rolls his eyes and I agree. We still have to go to the reapings? Great. But I'm wondering, does that mean we're still eligible for the Hunger Games?

We follow the Peacekeepers as they lead us to two different rooms. Caia and a middle-aged woman named Ione are guided through one while all of us boys are shoved into another. Inside are some new clothes and wash buckets, though judging by the murky colour of the water I'm doubting they'll help clean us up much.

I'm handed a simple black T-shirt and pants and head to a little portion of the room that's blocked off with a curtain. At least they had the decency to make sure we could change in private. I slip them on quickly and splash a bit of water on my face unenthusiastically, feeling like I'm actually getting more grime on me than what's washing off.

Once everyone's done they heard us out the door where we find the girls and yet more Peacekeepers, these ones holding guns. They keep us in a tight circle and herd us towards the door. It opens, and I have to close my eyes as pure light races into the dark building. I haven't seen the sun in ages. One of the Peacekeepers shoves me forwards and I hurriedly follow the group as we step outside for the first time in a year.

We're marched through town quickly, given nervous stares by other members of District Nine heading to the reapings. I try to ignore them, focusing instead on the warm feeling of the sun's heat beating down on my face. I'd almost forgotten what it felt like.

I can hear the murmuring of the huge crowd even before it comes into view. We're quite a well-populated district, and though the reaping takes place in the square, plenty of people are already lining up in the surrounding streets. Webb, Caia and I are ushered forwards by five of the Peacekeepers while everyone else remains where they are. We push through the crowd until we're at the edges of the square, close to where all the children of our district are grouped according to their different ages. Huh, I guess we are still available for the reapings.

Some of the kids nearest us are glancing worriedly at us, as though afraid we're going to suddenly go crazy and start killing people. Again I try to ignore them, distracting myself by thinking about the reapings and which poor suckers will get picked this year. District Nine is not known for winning; we've only had two victors in the past 23 games. I can see them up onstage now, along with the mayor, who's gesturing for everyone to quiet down so he can begin his speech.

I tune him out, not caring to hear again about the Dark Days, the rebellion, the blowing up of District 13, and the beginning of the Hunger Games. Then he introduces our escort, the ever-enthusiastic Ogden Reeves, who bounces up to the stage with a "Happy Hunger Games!"

"Today will be the day where one very special boy and girl will be given the honour of representing their district in the 24th annual Hunger Games!" he trills. "Let's find out who they are, shall we?" He struts over to the glass ball containing all the girls' names and swiftly plunges his hand into the pile. He grabs a slip, showing it all to us, before reading the name out in his accented, Capitol voice. "Sapphire Tree!" he calls out. I look around, trying to see which kid it is, but no one moves. A sound echoes through the silent square, something that might have been a slap, and then a little brunette girl from the 13 year-olds' section slowly makes her way to the stage. She stands there silently, hiding her head, but I can tell by the shake in her shoulders that she's probably crying. Poor kid. Her life will probably end soon. But I guess I'm one to talk; it's not exactly like my life's going anywhere at the moment. I frown, that thought still bouncing around in my head.

Ogden moves on swiftly, traipsing over to the orb with the boys' names, and withdraws a sheet of paper. "Callan Lou!" he calls out. Again, no one moves, but I can see a blonde-haired boy near me in the fifteen-year old group pale considerably. I realise that I recognize him. We were in the same class, back when I still went to school. He was a nice kid, and everyone liked him for it. I watch as one of the Peacekeepers starts shoving through the crowd, heading over to him. Callan takes a step backwards as though he's going to bolt and run into the streets.

I step forwards and shout, "I volunteer!" Everyone turns to look at me, while my brain still attempts to process what I just did. I volunteered? Why the heck would I do that? But then one part of my brain catches up to the other and I realise what I was subconsciously thinking. My life isn't going anywhere; I'm facing a lifetime in that dank, tiny cell. I don't know if I can go back in there after finally seeing the sun and breathing fresh air again. I swallow hard, aware that Webb and Caia are looking at me like I've gone absolutely nuts, and start heading to the stage. One of the Peacekeepers guarding us steps forwards, as though to stop me, but you can tell he's confused. No one's sure if criminals are actually allowed to volunteer for the games, and the Peacekeepers are all looking at each other as if one of them knows the answer. I don't hesitate, just keep walking. I reach the stage and see Ogden gaping at me too. Apparently nobody knows the rules around here. But he quickly recovers and gives me a grin.

"Excellent! And what would you name be, young man?"

I swallow again, aware that my throat has gone extremely dry. My brain's still fighting with itself. You'll never get another chance to escape! Yeah, if by escape you mean die! "Ari Locus," I manage to say, and he repeats it louder for everyone to hear. I go to stand by the girl tribute, Sapphire, and clench my hands behind my back, glancing at all the cameras recording the events. My dad would be watching this on a screen they've got set up in the streets; what's he think of my idiotic move?

"Ladies and gentlemen, the tribute of District Nine!" Ogden shouts to the crowd, earning a few half-hearted claps in return. I shake hands with Sapphire, and then stand back as the anthem plays, using the time to sort out my brain.

Yes, I may die. I probably will die. But is that any worse than spending my life in a cell, only getting to see the outside world once a year? Maybe to some people it is, but I figure being locked up is essentially like dying, in a way. I'm crazy, no question about it, but I think I made the right choice.

Then anthem ends and the Peacekeepers whisk us off to the Justice Building. It's still in relatively good shape, though the white paint that used to cover it is peeling off, revealing the wood underneath. I'm directed to a small room with a couch and told to wait there. This is where any of my friends or family members are allowed to say one last, final goodbye.

Oh gosh. I didn't even think about my dad. What if they don't let him in? Do they let criminals in? What if I never get to see him again, never get to explain why I volunteered? Even if I get to see him, it'll probably be for the last time. How could I now have thought of him? Sure, if I hadn't volunteered I'd be stuck in a gloomy cell for the rest of my life, but at least I'd have my dad. What was I thinking?

My frantic thoughts are interrupted as the door opens. I'm relieved to see my dad come in, along with Webb and Caia. At least they were allowed to see me. The twins plop onto the couch next to me while my dad stands facing me. No one says anything. I try to read my dad's face, but part of being a thief is being able to keep a straight face and not show any emotion.

The silence is really getting to me now, and I start fidgeting with my hands. Are they mad? I open my mouth to say something, but Webb beats me to it.

"So," he begins. "We figure you're crazy. But in a good way." I give him a look and he grins slightly. "Win for us, okay?"

"Got it," I say. He nods, looking like he wants to say more, but his sister stands and pulls him to his feet.

"Good luck, Ari," she whispers, and they leave, to give me some time alone with my dad. He's still looking at me with his unreadable face, and it's starting to make me nervous.

"Look, dad," I start to say, but he cuts me off.

"I'm proud of you Ari."

"What?" Whatever I'd been expecting him to say, that was not it. He sits down next to me and puts his hands on my shoulders.

"I'm proud of you. You saw an exit, and you took it. It's like I always say . . ."

"Find another option," I finish for him. I've heard him say it thousands of times, especially when I'd think we were about to get caught. I'd tell him and he'd always look at me and say "Find another option," and we'd always manage to get away.

"Just remember that in the arena," he tells me. "There's always another option."

"Right." I nod. We're both silent for a little while, and I'm contemplating whether it's worth it to break down and cry right now. This might be the last time I see my dad, ever. Odds are I'd be dead in a few days. But I take a deep breath and calm down. Another thing my dad always says is "never think about the consequences." I used to always be worried we'd get arrested, or killed, but he told me that a good thief focuses on the task at hand, and worries about what might happen when it happens. I just have to remember that.

A Peacekeeper comes through the door, signalling that my time with my dad is up. I give him a hug, and then the Peacekeeper's tugging him off and escorting him to the door.

"When you win, bail me out, will you?" My dad calls back to me.

I grin. "I will!"

"Good! Don't make me wait too long!" That's the last thing I hear before the door closes. I'm glad he can still joke like this. It helps me. All I have to do is just not think about the consequences.

I look at the Peacekeepers standing by the door, waiting for them to take me to the train. But they're still standing there, as though they're waiting for more people. But I don't have anyone else to say goodbye to, do I?" I'm just wondering about it when the door opens and a boy walks in. It's Callan Lou, the boy I volunteered for. He walks over to me and stops. I wait, but he doesn't say anything. We just stand there as the silence gets heavier and heavier. I'm starting to fidget again when he speaks.

"Thanks," he blurts out. "For . . . yeah."

"You're welcome," I say slowly. I don't remember him being this awkward. Then again, what do you say to a criminal who saves your life?

We stand there for a bit more, and he opens his mouth again, but stops. I figure he'll just wish me luck and leave, but he seems to be struggling to find the words to say. Then I realise, he probably knows the girl tribute a lot better than me. Even if he doesn't know her, he's probably seen her around. She's a cute little 13 year-old, and I'm the criminal who's supposed to be in jail; who would you want to win the Hunger Games?

"Thanks," he manages to say again, then turns and walks out. That seems to be all my visitors, because now the Peacekeepers move from their position by the door and usher me out the exit, where I find myself standing on a platform with Sapphire and about a thousand cameras. The train doors open and I take a deep breath, then enter it, leaving my district behind.