You actually thought we could find a quote to describe the victors trying to teach?- Us
One would think that someone who's lived in Florida their entire life would be tanned. That someone who spends hours on the beach, lazily basking in the heat surrounded by her sun-kissed friends, would not be as pale as a sheet.
However, it appears that the odds have never been particularly in my favour. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder if karma – or whatever higher being out there – just holds an unspoken, unexplained grudge against me that just causes everything in my life to go wrong.
I don't have a tan.
I'm not super tall.
I'm not as thin as my friends.
I don't have a tan.
I didn't get to meet my favourite boy band when they came to Florida last year.
Daddy put a limit on my debit card.
I don't have a tan.
My hair is ridiculously difficult to manage.
I don't have a tan.
Some people don't like me.
I'm pasty. With no tan.
Oh, and I was kidnapped in the middle of a shopping trip to take part in the Games. I mean how embarrassing. There were people everywhere. And it was filmed.
I know the whole saying 'karma's only a bitch if you are,' – but seriously? Even if I did make off with Camilla Prescott's boyfriend, I certainly don't deserve pasty skin.
Oh, or a death sentence.
And as I find myself sitting on a plush sofa before the craziest people in America's history, examining the bruises on my extremely pale, pasty skin, I wonder just what I did to make the universe hate me so much.
Whatever it was, I'm sorry.
I clear my throat for the billionth time, my eyes flicking between the five figures before me, waiting for one of them to speak first.
None do. Which I should have expected, really, judging by who they are. What they've been through. What they're being forced to do.
I should hardly expect any words at all to come from the lips of the dark-haired young women sitting on the edge of the sofa opposite me. There's nothing warm or inviting about her, not from her washed out skin to her cheekbones basically popping out of her face to her huge, dark brown eyes, hazed and foggy but with a look so haunting I can barely stand to look in them for so long.
She clutches a cigarette between her fingers – lit. God knows what she's been dragging this entire time, but judging by her obvious disconnection to the current situation, I'm guessing some sort of anaesthetic. I've never been all that knowledgeable on drugs – I always stayed away from that scene.
Lulu, however, is barely the worst one: she's leaning into a stocky, broad-shouldered boy who, despite his extraordinary beauty, looks just as out of it as she does. Ryder Fletcher, for all his God-like structure, crystal blue eyes and hair that would land him in a shampoo commercial, is pretty much the craziest of the fivesome. His lips part, muttering words under his breath that I can't make out, and a shiver goes up my spine.
"Kill. Blood. No, Arthur, be quiet. Cut their veins, watch the blood pour-"
I shudder, turning my eyes from him to the little girl sitting directly in front of me. She's just as much in her own world as the other two, but she's shaking so much one would think there was an earthquake in this very room. Ash Lee, thirteen years old and with so much potential – and yet here she is, changed, another messed-up example of the outcome of the Games: a trembling, shivering, emotional mess. She turns her eyes towards me and immediately lets out a little yelp, averting her gaze quickly and pushing a strand of her dark hair from her face, whimpering softly.
Finally, the two on the edge of the sofa: Jared Klerk and Rose Eveleth. It's a well-known fact that those two would be described as the most "helpful" Victors, but as I look upon the two somehow I don't think they'd be of much use to me.
They sit a good distance apart from one another despite the fact it's been on gossip pages around the country that they're what would be described as "f*ck-buddies." Jared, his muscles bulging from his shirt, shoots me a hard look, his gaze steely and cold and he flexes absentmindedly, barely paying any attention to me, sneering whenever his eyes fall on my face before turning them away to scrutinize Ash.
Rose is just as disinterested, and I doubt she'd be of much use to me either. Rose Eveleth won her Games because of her cunning, quick thinking, and incredible looks. Flowing blonde hair, big blue eyes, perfect, porcelain skin, she looks like one of my old Barbie Dolls complete with a smirk that makes you feel inferior, or like the scum she's wiped off of her stilettos.
Rose was my initial plan, the Victor I would ask for help, to follow her lead, but it becomes immediately clear that winning the way Rose did would never work for me. I'm not stunningly attractive like her, no way: with my pasty skin, tangled blonde hair and one-too many freckles, it was my Daddy's money and my confidence that got me all my friends, my adoring followers.
Somehow, I don't think saying "My Daddy owns lots of businesses and could sue your sorry ass into oblivion unless you bow down and kiss my feet," would go down all too well with the Victors, much less the tributes.
I take one last look at the group before me, taking in their silence, before I turn my eyes to my shoes.
"I want to go home," I whisper softly. "Let me go home, please, I don't know… I don't know how to fight, I just… please. My Daddy will pay you whatever amount you'd like, my friends would want me home…. I don't want to die, let me go home, please-"
"-oh my God, enough with the whining," Rose says, cutting me off immediately with a scathing look. "Wah wah, boo hoo. Trust me kid, it's not just you; enough of those others waiting outside that door much less any of us want to be here. Quit it with the tears, por favor."
Immediately, I stop. So it speaks. "Then tell me what to do. How do I survive? How do I win? How do I fight?"
"Grab sword. Stab people. Run," she replies sarcastically, crossing one leg over the other.
Irritation seeps into my tone as I quickly brush away my tears. "Yeah, no shit, Sherlock. Question is, how?"
Rose scowls at me and sits back. "I wouldn't be getting all smartass on me, kiddo. We're the ones who are supposed to tell you how to stay alive."
"Well, you haven't been doing so so far, have you? I reckon I'm pretty entitled to do whatever I want."
"You're from Florida, right?" Jared interrupts, cutting off Rose, who's eyes blaze with fury.
"Yes. Florida. I'm Maddison Harris, you know. My Dad is Mark Harris, surely you've heard of him, and I'm sure he'd be very angry to know that his money is going to waste on teaching me to stay alive. So – either you can give me some tips on how to live, or we can ask my Daddy to buy me out of this whole thing. I prefer the latter. Lovely talking to you, but-"
"City kids," Jared growls, interrupting me again. "The lot of them."
"You're not getting out of here," Rose adds on, rolling her eyes. "Sorry to break it to you, but you either win, or you die. So I suggest you shut the hell up, wash out that smartass mouth of yours and try listening."
The meeting with the past victors is almost surreal. Basically I got dragged out of the room with my arms still around a chick and then after a quick nap I'm looking into the eyes of the five most insane people in the country. Rumour has it the sessions are worse than useless but since the only four people ever to have lived through them are still here now, it isn't exactly proven fact. Even so, I doubt my dad would ever let me go into the Games without at least trying to get me any help I could; I guess sometimes there's a reason to own a casino in Vegas and get to rake in the money while the other suckers only lose it.
I throw an easy wink at Rose; I guess it's hard to weed out a bad habit. Sure I have a girlfriend but I won her with a few grins and the odd wink plus fact has it that Rose is easier to get to than a 10th grade Honours student. I don't even bother with Lulu whose head is settled in Ryder's lap, her eyes completely glazed over as he sits rock solid, staring at a fixed point on the blemish-free walls as though his life depends on being able to pick out that exact colour of paint down to the molecule when at a store. Ash is a different level of unwinkable- it'd probably a.) give her a heart attack or b.) get me arrested even before I back up the wink with some action.
Jared's the guy I'd pick in a fight and watching the Games I reckon he's the guy to ask for advice as well; the only other one with a good strategy that didn't go nuts after a snake bite was Rose and I'm not exactly up for shagging every guy in a 100 yard radius and killing them. The chicks maybe but I think they'd have at least enough brain cells to realise that no one comes along for a night together in the Games without bringing the knives along as a 'third wheel.' Ash and Lulu's strategies worked for them as well, to an extent, but asking them where to hide's just weird and if I can't work that out on my own while on the run for my life, I deserve to have to use Jared's strategy and try to rip someone's ribcage open with my fingers.
I haven't been able to grip my thumb and forefinger around my bicep in a year and I'm definitely not overweight. Obese twelve year olds will be no match for my might and knowledge of kung fu from the Karate Kid movies. Plus the rule of action movies tells me that the fit eighteen year olds from Hicksville will always get annihilated by my extreme underdog status. All I need is that edge on the other ones in my underdog class who will undoubtedly try to kill me- brutally.
The problem with Plan 'Ask Jared' is the death stare he gives me as soon as I enter the door. Initially I wonder if it's a thing with the victors to hate people like the ones they had to kill but the others just look uninterested. It seems like Ash wants to be hiding under the table but keeps casting nervous glances at it as though it'll collapse and sits in a ball in the corner instead. Lulu and Ryder barely look at me while Rose gives me an eye over before winking back; causing Jared to snarl under his breath and whip his head towards her while I sit down, completely ignored.
"Nice to see you're all getting comfortable but out of curiosity, I was under the impression that this is draining the family fortune to help me? I really would like not dying- I don't think it sounds all that fun to be honest," I send a winning smile towards Jared. For a moment nothing happens and I can almost hear the cogs turning in his brain until his pupils shrink and then dilate rapidly. His eyes are almost black as he leaps over the table and slams me against the wall by the neck.
Bemusedly I think about Ash not sitting under the table because it might collapse and then Jared kicking it over before his face appears directly in front of mine.
"No one gives a shit about you and your 'family fortune' city scum. I couldn't care less if you died in the first minute as someone carves that stupid grin into your neck. You don't know what it's like to be us, to have to live through the Games and then put up with arrogant little shits like you trouncing in here and demanding that we tell you how to win. Maybe your stupid little rich brain can't process the fact that there are 49 kids out there more deserving of winning the Games than you rich shits who've spent your whole lives getting pampered and now. Have. Your. Comeuppance," Jared hisses, punctuating his last words with punches to the ribs that feel like they've shattered the bones.
He doesn't even look finished yet and while I wheeze, I try to think of any benefits possible from being punched in the ribs and wondering how to activate ultra underdog status. Right now I'm really hoping it kicks in before Jared does the same to my head. A voice hisses from the corner and Jared turns away to see Ryder's head forward against his chest as he talks to himself, "Should I do anything about it?"
"But what if the kid dies and then we all get screwed over because of Jared?"
I don't get the chance to wonder what exactly Ryder's afraid of as Jared drops me to the ground, charging towards Ryder and attempting to deliver a crushing blow which Ryder grabs, his eyes blank as he turns away Jared's fist like he was the obese twelve year olds in my victory fantasies. Jared's other fist comes around, aiming for Ryder's jaw and it occurs to me that maybe the Karate Kid wasn't the best source of information for not getting annihilated in a fight. Bruce the bouncer did try to teach me to punch once and I forgot it about twenty minutes later when Dad came in with a Matrix movie marathon. Now would be a great time to learn if it weren't for the part where I can't see straight because of the pain in my ribs. Somehow I don't think I'm meant to use seven fingers to punch but hey- maybe they're just channelling the spirit of a fighter in one of those weird Japanese video games Dad bought cheap off EBay when he was trying to coax me away from the drinks floors in the casino.
This time the fist connects and there's a sickening cracking noise as Ryder's jaw moves fractionally to the left and stays there. I wasn't exactly planning a practical lesson when I walked in- least of all when I only managed to let my mouth run away from me once, my friends would've been impressed- but I am learning. Most importantly being the lesson that I never want to get punched in the jaw. Ever. I would sooner step on a Lego than have to do what Ryder does as he clicks his jaw back in, still devoid of emotion or pain, and slams his fist into Jared's abdomen.
Apparently Jared is a nutter with balls of steel- even as Ryder's punch goes low he still retaliates in kind while Rose tries to step in between them with a kiss on Jared's neck as she tries to move him. "You slut, piss off. It ain't any of your business who I fight with when you go and wink at some stupid city shit with his nose practically poking clouds in the ass he's got his head so high," he snarls and pushes her away from him as he turns back to Ryder. Lulu stands watching them both, clearly unwilling to pull Ryder away in case Jared kills him. He isn't doing too badly to be honest but I still like Lulu's strategy better. It's like in Skyrim- you let the giant and the dragon fight it out before you run in and finish one of them off.
It seems like no one outside the room gives a flying shit about Ryder and Jared's fight until Ash starts screaming. Hands over ears, she lets out a bloodcurdling screech that makes the hair rise on my neck and even stops Jared and Ryder in their tracks as they put their hands over the ears. Apparently it breaks some kind of wall with Ryder as he collapses and Lulu grabs him, finally pulling him away from Jared while Ash wails like a banshee- and I don't think it's their deaths she's predicting.
After a minute of wailing, Jared finally decides to take the advantage and kicks Ryder in the guts, causing Lulu to leap on him and tear at his face with her fingernails. You'd think that the opposite of pristine, inch long nails like Rose's would be bitten to stumps but apparently there's a mid-stage of 'claw-like' that leaves Jared bleeding from the eye to his mouth. Five men in suits charge in through the door, causing everyone in the room to freeze as though they're terrified. Lulu attempts to surreptitiously move her hand away from Jared's face and takes her place back beside Ryder on the floor, Ash stops shrieking to cover her eyes and curl into a seemingly impossible tighter ball while Rose puts her arm around Jared as he growls at the suited men.
"We leave you lot in here for five minutes and you're already fighting like animals. Jo, separate 'em and make them spend the rest of the day here and see how they like it. Maybe they'll start behaving like humans," the front suited man commands as the rest of them drag the victors out of the room.
His hand curls around my collar as he pulls me out of the room to be met with horrified glances from the others waiting for their turn. I turn to a brown haired girl and wink at her, "This ain't even the best I can do."
She just scowls as I get pulled out of the hallway and dumped outside the victor's suites and meeting rooms.
Lessons learned today:
1.) Dislocated jaw= bad.
2.) Skyrim logic is the best logic.
3.) Wailing= great tactic.
4.) I'm so likely to win- no I can't even handle thinking that without snorting- I'm dead.
5.) I'm so dead.
6.) I'm so dead this needs to appear a third time. If the Games don't do it I reckon Jared will.
So if I'm f*cked anyway, maybe I can get Rose in on that part of the deal...
When they came for me, I fought.
It was the first time I ever got into a physical spat with anyone. But in the long run, I suppose it had to happen sometime. Else I would have been going into the arena completely unblooded, without a whim of how to throw a punch or wither in a way that lets you shimmy free of those out to get you. My hunters were particularly good at what they do, however, and that fight was lost before it was even considered by anyone besides me.
Logic – my best friend, my only friend – sunk its teeth into my mind later on, as I sat huddled into the corner of that terrifyingly white van. These Games were meant to control the rates of crime and death throughout the fifty states. Yet, I fought against them, quite simply because they went against everything moral and good and logical in the world.
Why kill to control killers? I wondered, constantly. If the ploy was meant to unite the American people, against the government, then they had succeeded in that at least. Accomplished that very thing by the corpses of forty-nine children a year. To stop the crime sprees rampaging throughout the country... well that's why they had the infamously broken victors.
And they were all I had as well. My lifelines, my mentors. The people my rich, uncaring parents paid for me to receive just because I was a charity that needed tending.
The first day, the first mentor I got to receive for an hour, tops, was a man known for his blackening rages. I remembered his Games vividly... the way he clawed himself into a tree just to push out the girl who teased him from above. The boy whose neck he snapped. Another time where he was cut across the chest and he ripped apart the other kid's ribcage in response.
I couldn't be him. I knew this and he knew this so we sat in that room staring at the walls. He took pity on me, even while I disgusted him. "Don't let them trap you, little girl," he said. Grunted, actually. His tone had almost been kind and hummed with an emphasis of the south. A place I've never actually seen before. Maine was a cold, rocky state that I called home. I missed the snow even with how little I had strayed from my computer's screen.
Jared's accent only made me remember how much I lost. All the things I would be losing in a short amount of time.
When he looked at me, critically, I shrunk on the inside. Fidgety, I pushed up the thick-framed glasses sliding down the bridge of my nose and shifted. Around us was a room big enough for a gym. Weapons slung themselves across the walls of all different kinds, mats spanned out on the south end of the wooden floors and we sat on the awkward array of seats in the middle of it all.
"What?" I asked. I wouldn't let my insecurities show. He could think I'm ugly. This stupid, rage-induced victor could think me stupider than a rock or cleverer than a fox, as dead as a doornail in a few days time, or whatever he wanted to judge. I couldn't change that though...
...the thought he might be judging me secretly bit into my heart like inch long fangs. A similar sort of pain I got when thinking of my nonexistent parents.
As a reflex, I resented them. Jared. Mother and father. All those other illogical people out in the world. I shut them out. They couldn't help me, I was going to die in these Games.
But oh, how much I wished for a savior.
As the Games were mandatory to see at any age, they became a part of my world at the delicate age of nine. They weren't too scary, really. Not when my gentle spirited housekeeper, part-time caretaker, and mostly the only real mother I'd ever known, held me. Loretta would whisper into my ears that they were only a Game. Just another television show with special effects and actors. They only pretend to scream in agony while allies turned on them to cut open their throats.
That may have worked with some other child, but not me. I was insightful even when I was so young. Not afraid to accept cold, cruel truths. Not afraid to face the world. And I knew they were real. They were our nation's punishment for misbehavior. Our redemption for all those sins they blamed each and every one of us for.
The second hour during which I was submitted to a victor's fabulous advice was spent worriedly looking at a girl-woman clearly on the verge of an over dose. I could not say what age she was and, at first, I mistook her to be Rose, the oldest female victor of the lot, because she just seemed so aged. A hundred years of misery gleamed from the girl's eyes. It was only when I noticed the drool on her chin that she was obviously our drug-crazed victor, our first victor. The government's pride and joy, groomed straight from the fires of hell.
Lulu didn't even seem to look at me, let alone criticize me.
I stayed well away from her during the session. I didn't trust any of those victors, no more than I could throw them. Logically, Lulu may have been the only one who could help me. She was the first victor. She beat the odds at the young age of twelve, and I was fourteen, hardly knew a thing about nature and spent the better half of my short adolescence in a library or in front of a computer screen. I couldn't stand out in a crowd, couldn't sweet talk allies. Fights were not good for girls as skinny as me, with long unruly brown curls vulnerable to pulling or being used as a leash. As blind as a bat without my glasses. My mother and father, who gave a great deal of grudging kindness to their only daughter in such a dire time, forced me to accept the contacts they purchased as a gift.
I puzzled myself over them. One part of me saw the logic behind their reasonings. If I lost my glasses, if they were taken from me or broken by mishap, then I was virtually only a girl waiting around to die, stumbling and reaching out with my hands for the nearest tree. Trees were more trusting than people, in my mind's eye.
The other part, the little girl in me, the one that hated my workaholic parents, the same ones I only got to see every Sunday, wanted to refuse their pity gifts. I loathed their money. I loathed everything that was them. The way my mother laughed, got her nails done and urged me to like make-up or boys. All the times I'd seen my father drunk, blundering on and on about business deals.
Hiding in my room became a hobby. I was too ignorant to see the bigger picture and accept those contacts. I liked my glasses. I trusted them. The thought of changing that one small comfort while surrounded by all this other change unnerved me. They seemed uncomfortable to set in my eyes, they weren't going to help me get sponsors, or an interview, or allies. I had to do all that on my own.
By the time I found myself in a third hour of victor instruction, I wondered how much money I was wasting for my parents. Did they care for what they had to spare? Were they just tossing a few pennies to their hopeless mess of a daughter while they just sat in their fancy house and drunk from pretty glasses? Would they miss me, or buy a new daughter to replace me the moment I fall? I had my father's dark green eyes, they couldn't buy that in a new kid.
That opted a few inches of pride in me. Something that rarely burrowed itself above hidden doubts and insecurities.
Proud of being something that was theirs, something originally unrepeatable in some sense, I took up a knife on the far end of the hall. My father's knife had been shinier and its blade was smoother to work with, less choppy, when carving into the block of wood I asked a nearby worker to bring me. Father taught me few things and most of them I disliked so greatly he gave up trying by the time I was eleven. One thing stuck, something he taught me at a young age, a crafty thing he did as a boy: carving wood.
That was how the third victor found me. He grinned wickedly at the sight of the knife. The first smile I'd received since coming to these tribute confinement buildings. Temptation leaked into my soul like an inky blackness seeps through thin paper. An urge to smile back washed over me. My walls of indifference tumbled down by just one twitch of a stranger's lips. I tried desperately to bury my want to trust him..
"You're Ryder," I said instead, smiling faintly. There were only two male victors in existence, and I'd already met the other one, so I knew who this was immediately. Logically, people assumed the majority of the victors would be male. The numbers shown now-a-days, of a more female to less male ratio, confounded them. Not me. It made sense to me that all those tributes that went in the arena focused more on killing other males, than the inconvenient females. In the end, frailty outwitted and out assumed the Y chromosomes.
"They told me your name is Lauren, the ones that stand outside the door..." His voice lowered a few tones as he dropped himself on the ground next to me, criss-crossing his legs. Something was in the back of his eyes that I hadn't noticed before, his beauty seemed to fade and waver momentarily to reveal an entirely different creature.
The smile on my lips curled up and died.
"That knife, it's very pretty. Don't you think?"
The Mad Victor. It was always a joke in my town and in my social circles. The Mad Victor was the interchangeable nickname, the one that everyone dubbed on the only male winners of these Games. Both hopelessly, brokenly mad. One was in the sense of rage and the other literally insane.
I didn't respond to his question; it was my first mistake. My hands deftly worked at the wood, carving the resemblance of a flute. If I worked at this piece for a few days, it might have actually been an instrument meant to sing prettily... I could do that much, at least. Otherwise, my second mistake, was that I had decided the best course of action was to ignore the Mad Victor, just as I did with the victors before him.
Paranoia seeped into his tone. "What do you do with pretty knifes?"
Stubborn and uncertain, but clever enough not to make eye contact, I stared at my work in complete silence.
"You're planning something aren't you!" He stood so abruptly I bristled underneath my skin, overtly aware that he towered over me like this. Slowly, I inched away from his legs, eyes down. "They sent you here to kill me- just like before.." Ryder looked around the room, seeing things that I could never imagine. People, children who tried to kill him, who he killed, trees that were in a big arena...
I was nearly pulling myself up on the chair when he began to whisper, "No, no Arthur. She looks so nice... Well, no, but.. Yes! She's holding a knife, but she's just..." He argued with inner beasts, with other people made up in his head.
I was unprepared when he lunged at me.
The knife clattered to the floor, spinning, whirling around, glinting in the light overhead. His hands wrapped around my wrists tightly, threw me against the silk fabric of the chair and his breath clouded my face. Ryder's weight against mine made me powerless, helpless.
It was gone in moments. Before he had any real chance to harm me. Capitolite attendants tore him away. The man thrashed in their arms, kicked the floor with his heels, threw his head wildly... back and forth, back and forth. Crazed.
Huddled up on the couch, arms wrapped around my shoulders, I stared after them. Attempting with all the thought I possessed in that moment to come up with a logical reason for any of this. It all came back to that. But this time, I was blank. Why would he think I meant to kill him? How could there be other people inside his head, truly? Was he really meant to help me win these Games? Would my parents actually send me a homicidal, mentally unstable boy as my only hope of living?
Most of all, I wondered: Was this my future? Would I come back like him? Another Mad Victor, full of resentment, ready to join the array of broken artifacts. Angrier than Jared. Vaguer than Lulu. Crazier than Ryder. Lauren, the nerd that blew a fuse.
The nights I had spent in the assigned, cold and unused bed that felt so strange to me were inundated with nightmares. Even before the slaughter I feared to sleep. As a child, I never had this problem, but with me so restless, so uncertain, the world of unconsciousness was one full of truth.
On the last session of training, I got the "lucky" chance of being with two of the victors in one hour. They came in at the same time, one swaggering and the other led in by a care-taker who uttered soft reassurances, at a respectable distance, so as to not frighten her.
Rose was the sort of girl who I avoided at school. Pretty, confident, with make-up and boys and basically everything I'm not. But she was clever, as clever as me. I knew she would slice me to pieces moments after those beautiful eyes found mine. To her, I was a boring cause. A lost cause. She was the same sort of person that would tease me, like all those others, and I wanted to hide from her. Shut her out just like the rest. There was not even a sliver of hope in trusting her.
She was the only one who helped me.
Ash squeaked when I looked at her. Brown skinned, little and meek, she looked like a puppy in that chair, curled up around herself. I felt old looking at her, and also, a smidgen of hope. Logically, if someone as little as her could outlive forty-nine other kids, I could too.
They were both content on ignoring me. Ash was peeking at me constantly over her kneecaps, expansive brown eyes shadowing a world of fear. Rose sat languidly, sprawled out, one manicured hand running absently through the length of her shiny blonde hair. I thought about it ten times over, what words I might have said. I hesitated more than once, opening my mouth, then closing it. Was there even a point? Would she be any different from the others?
Logically, there was only one question to ask: "How do I win?"
Rose looked up, as if surprised to hear me speak. As if she was just noticing me for the first time. Expressions changed a million a minute with her; relaxed and calm, to startled and wavering, then annoyed, amused... all the way until she fixed onto one hard thin-lipped facial expression that made me grimace inwardly.
To be perfectly honest, I don't get why this whole thing is such a big deal. I watched the first five Games and in actuality, I was surprised the government actually found the balls to take action like that. So when I was taken in, like so many other kids before me, I didn't fight it. Why would I? Why fight what's inevitable? The fighting should be saved for the battles where it counts. In the arena I bet there will be plenty of them.
Of course my parents forked out the money to hand me over for some quality time with the Victors. They were constantly trying to please me, appeal to me. What they didn't get was that I was a solitary person by nature. I didn't need them, I didn't need friends. I mean, all I really did was surf the internet. But whatever. When it comes to the Games, I bet I'll be glad of my antisocial nature. There's only person you can ever trust in life, and it's yourself.
We're here to pay for what others have done. Fifty kids, all dragged in kicking and screaming, to suffer for one nation's struggle for total control. The sacrifices known as our lives are meant to exert some kind of control over the US, to whip them into shape. It's meant to wipe out crime, and for once I think the government's got it right. You don't win the hearts of the people to keep them in line. You make sure they respect your authority. That they fear you.
I'm ushered into the training room to meet with the Victors. Most people would be nervous, trying to make a good impression. After all, these people are pretty much celebrities. Sure they're pretty much all screwed-up in the head, but that's because they're weak. There's one that seems strong, one whose tactics I scrutinized with great interest. But she's still pathetic, because she was afraid. Fear is what makes you weak. I glance at the Victors when I enter – and hell, they're nothing special.
Lulu St Clare, the Victor from the 1st Games, stares right through me into nothing. Her eyes are glassy and lifeless, and she could almost be dead except for the fact that her breath rattles out from between her lips. God, what a joke. The dark-haired girl just sits there on the couch, oblivious to everything around her. She's probably in her own little world right now – or maybe she's back in the arena. I guess I'll never know what goes on inside that fractured mind.
Rose Eveleth is sprawled across the couch like she owns the place, her glossy blonde hair falling nearly to her waist. Sure, she's hot, and it's her tactics of manipulation that I plan to use, but that doesn't mean I admire her in any way. We're both self-centred, caring for nothing beyond our own survival. Arrogant, in a way. Her overconfident air is a bit spoiled by a bruise on her cheek. She observes me with a saccharine smile across her lips, but I know the game she's playing. It's the same one I intend to play. This time, she loses.
Jared Klerk stands around with his arms folded. He's the Victor of the 3rd Games, and he's always thought he was such a big man. Like the whole country doesn't know he's just as feral as the rest of them. I'm guessing he's where Rose got that nice purple bruise from. Jared watches me with an accusatory glance as I cross the room. From his reputation, I suppose I should be lucky he hasn't chosen to land a punch.
Ryder Fletcher is sitting down muttering to himself. He's beside Lulu, which doesn't surprise me in the least. Those two seem to have some psycho-f*ck relationship going on. He doesn't even look up at me, still too involved in his internal debate. Well, I think I'll leave him to it then. Getting advice from him seems like it would be getting the opinions of three different people at once.
Ash Lee whimpers and looks up at me with wide, frightened eyes. I remember now – the kid that's afraid of everything. I smirk and lean closer, causing her to leap backwards with a cry of fright. Jared scowls across at me, but makes no move to help Ash or harm me. Rose glances at Ash with a wryly amused expression, before she lazily pats the spot beside her, still with that falsely charming smile.
"Come sit down. It's Seth Collins, right?"
Jared rolls his eyes. "Like you don't know that, Rose."
I shrug and sit down beside Rose. They think they're big tough people because they've won the Games. They think it gives them the right to look down on me. Well, I'm not just some other kid being thrown into the arena. I'm going to show them I have what it takes, and I'm going to start by messing with them first. Rose puts a hand on my leg and I let her. If she thinks she's winning, so be it.
"You're Jared Klerk." I glance at him. Across the room, Lulu has started to brighten, chattering animatedly to Ryder. He nods every now and again, seeming to depart slightly from the mental shell that he's trapped in.
"So?" Jared scowls again. I wonder if this guy ever smiles. He seems like he hates everything and everyone. Well, he can be happy sometimes I guess…but not when it involves having to advise weakling kids going into the Games. "Look, kid, let's get this straight. Once you're in that arena, you're playing to survive, not win. There's a difference. That's the first thing you've got to understand."
"Not again!" Ryder suddenly shouts, startling Ash who nearly jumps out of her skin once more. Lulu places a hand on his arm but he jerks away, curling his knees to his chest, holding himself tight because that's the only comfort he can stand. "Keep them away from me!"
I watch impassively. Jeez, what a madhouse. As Ryder's violent bout of insanity worsens, Lulu hauls him up and leads him from the room. Ash has her hands pressed over her ears and is rocking to herself, eyes screwed tightly shut. Once the druggie and her ranting friend have left the room, I turn my attention back to the remaining Victors.
"What scares him so badly? The arena? Is that what scares you?"
Ash yelps in fright at the mention of the place and Jared's eyes narrows. His large hands clench into beefy fists and I know that he wants to punch me. Rose remains indifferent, studying her French-manicured nails like the topic bores her. Deep inside, she's screaming, I know. I just want to see it on the outside, too. Jared snarls and takes a step towards me, but he doesn't touch me. He desperately wants to hurt me, I know he does. That's what makes it all the sweeter.
"Aren't you scared?" Rose inquires calmly, raising an eyebrow. She's so cool about this, so collected. I just want to shake her until I see the fear in her eyes, until I have the knowledge that she isn't as unbreakable as she likes to believe. I just want to say 'scream, damn you!'. I'm the only one who has no mercy. She isn't as heartless as she likes to seem.
Ash is always afraid, but I can tell that Jared is on edge as well. He is watching me uneasily, and his fists remain tightly clenched. I've struck a nerve, good. I smile innocently and he bares his teeth. I know all about how violent he can be and I think there must be some contract about not hitting the tributes, because otherwise I think he would definitely have punched me out. He so wants to. He's scared, so why isn't that stupid blonde bitch scared too?
"Are you?" I ask of Rose, before my hands tighten around her slender neck. Her eyes widen and she starts to choke. I see it then, what I've been looking for – there is something she's afraid of. Ash is crying loudly as I tighten my grip, almost hysterical. Rose claws at my hands desperately until someone lifts me and throws me across the room. Jared stands over me, looking incensed. I don't think it's because I hurt Rose, but rather because he knows I'm a threat.
"You're not scared," Jared observes, sneering, "So already, you lose."
This probably should have been at the start of the other chapter but anywho~ We're really sorry we couldn't take in all the tributes. We probably could have done the Games only using females considering all the submissions that we got so we apologise that we couldn't take all of them but that's how it is. Some were really unlucky in being submitted right after we finalised the list so if yours was one of them we're also sorry. Hopefully you all keep reading even without your tributes in it because we loved reading through all your tributes and appreciate your support in helping us start the Games.
To explain the huge break: we had a few people ask if this was Summer Break. It was sort of anti-summer break. 80% of us are Australian so we're reaaaaaally busy right now and you'll actually get more updates when we're really on our summer break.
Why are there only 4 POVs? There's an accompanying video to this chapter that'll be up soon in the place of POV 5 but there's some technical difficulties on that end so you'll have to wait.
Posted by the occasionally tacit approval of:
Taryn, Maddie, Lulu, Ashlee and Ryder