I suppose it all started when I survived the train crash which was engineered to kill me. The trouble I mean. I stand now in the town square, watching as the children fill the space. Just last year I was one of them, oh how much can change in just 12 months. My name is Kaylar Abyss, victor of the 63rd annual Hunger Games.
The air is electric. From my place on the stage I can watch my old school mates squirm and fidget as they wait to see which of them I next for the slaughter. Thoughts of the last year's events bounce off the inside of my skull as I wait for proceedings to begin. The river of blood at the cornucopia, my ally Alix's death by acid-water, a knife sticking out of my dear friend Kesella's body and then out of my own, an exploding train, a meeting with the president and I replacement carriage home by hovercraft.
I think on what the people told me in the hours following the explosion:
"We have no punishment lined up for you tonight. You will go back to district 4 and undertake your victory tour; we can't go losing our victor now can we? It's your turn to mentor next year and I feel the games I have planned will be punishment enough." or "Just you wait until the reaping we have such an amazing surprise for you!" I guess I am about to discover just how terrible these games will be.
"What do you want Snow? I'm trying to write a speech here!" said a very exasperated Rye Malum, watching in annoyance as Coriolanus Snow paced his beautiful study.
"I'll be sure the read it for you." mutters Snow dangerously. "I don't feel you understand the state of things Malum. This will be your last day for this office; can't you fill it with something productive? I'm perfectly capable of writing your farewell speech."
"My farewell speech? But I..."
That was when Malum noticed the White cloaked Peacekeepers by the door, their guns trained on his own heart.
"Why you traitorous scum!" he yelled angrily at Snow, vaulting the desk to get a hold of him.
"Now, now Rye. Don't upset me. I'm afraid your life is now very much in my hands. If you'd like me to take it quickly then I'd suggest you sit back down."
"They won't stand for this Snow, I am the president!'
"But I'm afraid they will my dear friend. A very large majority of the government is currently on my side, don't make me persuade the others as well, have you no dignity?"
"You? How did you get them to support you, you slimy mutt?"
"I have my methods." replied Snow, digging a bony hand into his suit jacket and drawing out a small, silver tub of something which he offered to Malum. "Care for a berry?"
"Nightlock? But you can't..."
"Oh, I'm afraid I can."
The crimson blood spattered the clean wall behind as Malum fell face first to the carpeted floor. Snow blew gently on the top of his silver revolver before slipping it back into the pocket of his trousers and stepping over Malum's body, plucking his unfinished speech from the desk as he crossed to the window.
"Such a pity, the other way was so much tidier. No matter, I'll teach this nation something about compliance. Yes I think this will do nicely." he says staring out at the city that was now his for the taking before turning to read the speech in his hand. "Actually Malum, this is rather good."
Auris gives me a small kiss on each cheek as she mounts the stage. To my surprise she takes the empty seat beside me and I shoot her a questioning look as Mayor Seabright takes her place in between the glass balls bearing the names of the probable tributes.
"Good afternoon district 4! I have been asked to inform you that the Reaping will be a little different this year. Here is a tape delivered to me by the Capitol to explain everything."
She steps aside and all eyes turn to the huge screen which has been set up behind the stage. As if on cue it crackles to life and I find myself staring into the snake like eyes of an unfamiliar man. It's not the man that astounds me however; it's the office he sits in, an office I know to belong to someone else. I am filled with renewed curiosity as the man begins to speak:
"Districts! Welcome to the 64th annual Hunger Games. May I introduce myself? My name is Coriolanus Snow, president of Panem. In honour of the death of your great ex-ruler, President Malum, there will be a few extra twists to the games this year. For starters the Capitol and the district leaders will choose whose names are entered into the reaping balls. There will be no age constraints or volunteering, whoever is pulled from the balls will become our tributes. Secondly, to show that not even the most successful among you can escape from the Capitol, last year's winning district will submit twice as many tributes as usual. May the odds be ever in your favour."
Then he is gone.
A nervous buzz of chatter fills the square. People who thought they were safe are now eligible once again. At least in previous years everyone knew exactly whose name was in those balls, now it's anybody's game. President Snow is clearly determined to make his first games memorable. My stomach twists painfully as the Mayor gets to her feet again. I get the feeling my amazing surprises are only just beginning.
"Right, well, on to the official business." She says quickly.
Without further adieu she launches into the long and boring reading of the Treaty of Treason and explains to us all about the Dark Days and the rebellion of the districts which resulted in the Hunger Games. Next she reads out the long list of district 4 victors from past years, lingering a little too long over Testa's name. She finishes with her own name, Mags Seabright and then mine before clearing the stage for Auris to begin the Reaping.
I catch my breath as Auris gets to her feet. Here it goes, my tributes will soon be revealed. My heart is in my throat as I glance ruefully over at Mags. Technically it should be her turn to mentor the tributes this year but since she is Mayor she is exempt from this rather unpleasant duty until next year after the election has been called. I find myself hoping she is voted out so that I don't have to mentor two years in a row but even then I feel doubtful because if I was a tribute I wouldn't want her to mentor me, many people aren't even sure if she is completely sane. Who knows what mentoring would do to her.
To be honest, i'm so lost in thought that I don't hear the calling of either of the female tributes. When I next look up there are two girls standing shakily on the stage before me. One is small and lithe with spiky brown hair which only reaches her shoulders, she is doing her best to keep a brave smile on her face but I can see her resolve wavering. The second is quite tall and extremely slender. Her face is striking pretty and a spray of freckles adorns her button nose. She is a vibrant redhead and her locks fall right down to her shoulder blades in beachy waves. This girl makes no effort to keep the tears from her eyes and I feel desperately sorry for each of them.
"On to the boys then!" calls Auris, digging her hand into the right hand glass ball and pulling out two slips at once. "First up…oh dear…Sandy Abyss!"
I must admit that my heart stops. I jump to my feet and am screaming that I volunteer before anyone can stop me. My precious little brother, my 11 year old brother will never set foot in that arena, not if I can help it.
It takes a few minutes for the Peacekeepers to suppress me and remind me that I am a victor, I can't volunteer and besides, volunteering has been abolished this year. I swear openly and grab him into a tight hug as he reaches the stage. He looks at me in confusion, his blue eyes sparkling as he asks me:
"Did I win Kaylar?"
I just nod and watch in stunned silence as the Peacekeepers help him over to stand by Auris who shoots me an apologetic look. I'm not paying attention however; my punishment is only just beginning. Auris gives a short little cough to get the crowd's attention back on her and begins to unfold the second slip of paper. For a minute she just stares at it and then she opens her perfectly formed mouth and whispers:
"Your second male tribute is…oh, how can this be…your second male tribute is Kesella Shoal."