Hey guys! So glad everyone is enjoying. Working on replying to reviews. I've got a concussion and still not feeling well so Belles has done all the grammar checks and such.

Hope you enjoy these kids XD

Brennadon "Bren" Rydik of District 3

By Fritz as Pritz

"A baby is born with a need to be loved,
and never outgrows it."

Frank A. Clark

Fritz as Pritz's A/N:

For those of you who don't know, flourishing is basically twirling the quarterstaff from side to side.

Westley wipes away the sweat from his brow and twirls the thick branch around in his hand. His white Peacekeeper outfit is practically brown and drenched in his sweat. This isn't the first time I'm glad I didn't inherit his over-productive sweat glands. He bounces on his toes and makes sure to keep his feet shoulder length apart. His eyes—the same shade of gray as mine—are fixed on my shoulders as I begin to flourish the quarterstaff in my hand.

"I think that's enough," I say as I try to catch my breath.

Before he replies, he strikes at me with the branch, trying to get my exposed shoulder while my staff is on the opposite side. My hand immediately slides onto the end of my weapon so I can quickly move the quarterstaff downward, parrying his strike. I do this with enough strength to force Westley to release his grip, causing the branch to fall uselessly on the ground.

He steps back and lifts up his hands palms out. "Now you're done."

My body slumps as he says the words and I toss the quarterstaff to the side. He hands me a small bottle of water and I gulp it down easily. I then take off my eyeglasses to wipe away the sweat building on the bridge of my nose. Two hours of quarterstaff practice, not to mention the two hours of fist fighting practice before that with only an hour break in between has taken all of the energy out of me. I don't mind though, not today.

It is a tradition to train hard on the night before the reaping and into the dawn. We hold no quarter and often get bruises and cuts that last for weeks on end. It is to make sure I am ready in case I am reaped, a last effort to get as much information into my head as possible. Even though this training has been second nature to me since I was six, Westley always tells me that there is always more to learn.

Tonight is different, though. Come the afternoon of the reaping, I know that I will be on my way to the Capitol. I am expecting it. I glance at Westley as he tries to tidy up his Peacekeeper uniform as best as he can before going back home. My district hates me because of him. They hate that he is my father, and they are going to send me off to die because of it. My nephew, Faraday, tried to convince me that they would only send me away because they know that Westley trains me and that after our close-call with the Surket girl last year, they really want a victor. At this point, the reason doesn't matter. The dipshits have already voted me into the Games and now all I need to do is wait for my name to be called.

Westley put a hand on my back and glances at the rising sun. He wants me to win, though I don't think it is so I could come home after. "You did great, Bren. The Other Guys won't know what hit them." I smirk at the nickname. I have told him several times that they are called Careers, but he refuses to call them anything but the Other Guys. He said that he has been calling him that since he trained with his father and that is what they are to him.

"I'm worried about the axes," I tell him.

"They're wielded like a mace. They take two hands and have generally large strokes. The staff can take care of that." I shift a little and nod mainly to please him. I can feel my heart pound against my chest as my body stills.

"Do you think the Other Guys are better than me?" When I think about them, I imagine large monsters carrying battle axes and swords running at me with the might of Hercules.

"They've been training just as long as you have." He claps me on the shoulder.

"But they have real weapons." I remember how difficult it was for Westley to get a weapon to train me with and how he had tried to get a sword shipped in from District Two. When that busted, he decided a quarterstaff was enough even though he has referred to it as a weaker man's weapon.

"That's why I've taught you how to fight against all of them. Besides, you're left-handed. Few of them have trained for left-handed competitors. It'll be completely different for them." I glance at the hand he speaks of and shrug.

"I guess."

He lifts me off of the ground and leans me against him so I don't topple over. "Have some faith, Bren. You'll win the Games, I know it."

"What if I don't?" The fear itches at me.

"Then you don't." That's not what I want to hear. I know that there is no way I can get an "I love you" from Mom, but with Westley, it is always an option. One day, I wish he would say it, just so I could know that it's true. His chances, however, are running out.

He helps lead me back home in the dim morning. I know that he will be able to rest until he is needed at the reaping, but I still have to meet with Richard at the barber shop and make sure I see Morgan and Faraday and Ellie. The thought of doing all of these things in my current state makes me even more drained.

I take off my glasses and rub the bridge of my nose. These days, my sight is blurry even with the glasses on, and I've been hoping on getting new ones before I left for the Capitol. I don't think I'll have much time now. When we reach the back door to my little house, Westley gives me a quick kiss on my forehead and tells me to rest and shower. I watch him disappear in between the dense concentration homes.

My dog, Pretty, welcomes me as I slide in through the back door. I'm glad she isn't a barker because I definitely don't want to hear Mom complaining right now. I gently touch her head which is the only part of her that still has her fur. The rest was burned by one of the dipshits in the district. I then strip off my clothes while languidly going toward our bathroom to shower.

The Capitol may have screwed over District Three after the Dark Days, but they couldn't get rid of our sewage system, so we still have showers and decent bathrooms. They aren't as lavish as the ones we make for the Capitol, but they are better than the simple bathtubs they have in District Twelve.

I absorb the water as it cools my bruised and sore skin. I allow it to wash away all of the sweat before thoroughly washing every inch of my body. When I finish, I change into a white shirt and jeans and finish off my outfit with my glasses.

Pretty waits for me outside the door as I walk back to my room. Mom still sleeps and I can hear her snoring as I pass her room to get to mine. Sliding into my room, I plop down on my bed. Before I even realize what's going on. I am asleep.

Someone is giggling, a little girl. There is a weight on my stomach as well. The giggle is familiar. "Wake up, Brenny!" Now I know who it is. My gray eyes force themselves open and I see the dirty blond locks of my niece, Ellie.

"Hi, Brenny!" she exclaims, wrapping her arms around my neck. Her giggles tickle my skin. Past her, I see my oldest nephew, Faraday, leaning against the wall with a smile that reminds me of his father.

"How'd you guys get in here?" I ask, pulling myself into a sitting position and taking Ellie with me. Faraday sits at the edge of the bed.

"I told my dad that we were going to see Grandma, but she wasn't here when we got here." I smile to myself. Mom is never home on reaping day and he knows that.

"Faraday says that I have to keep this a secret," Ellie whispers loudly into my ear.

"Is that so?" I laugh. She nods enthusiastically.

"And Morgan said that if I'm really good and don't tell anyone that she'll buy me a peppermint stick."

I can't stop the smile that forces itself onto my lips. "Morgan's here?"

Faraday smirks at me and nods. "She wanted to let you sleep, but Ellie insisted."

"Where is she?"

"Out in the kitchen," he said, inclining his head in that direction. "She was hungry."

I nod my thanks to him and slide out of bed with Pretty at my heels. I can feel my muscles on fire from last night's actions as I move, but I ignore the pain and continue toward the kitchen. She stands at the stove with a box of dried pasta in one hand while the other rests on her hip. Her lips pucker a little bit as she runs a hand through her light brown locks.

"Careful before you burn down the kitchen." She jumps at my voice then turns around to smile at me.

"That's not funny. You know it was an accident."

"Of course it was." She narrows her eyes at me before placing the box down. I take in the space between us as she wraps her arms around my waist, burying her head in my chest. I cling to her as I feel her shoulders droop. She smells sweet and warm. I will miss this scent more than anything.

"Today's the day," she mutters into my shirt. She rests her chin on my chest to look into my grey eyes. "Are you afraid?"

I swallow. "No." Her eyes narrow.

"Don't lie to me."

"Come this afternoon it won't matter."

"Don't say that," she says placing her forehead against my chest. I rub her back to try to calm her down. "Maybe we'll get lucky," she adds.

"Luck has never been my friend." She pushes away from me and opens her mouth to say something when Ellie skips to us and taps Morgan's arm.

"Morgan, I'm hungry." She looks at Ellie then begins to move. Before she has a chance to touch the stove, I grab her wrist and move her to the side.

"I'll make something for you," I tell my niece. "What do you want?"

Before Ellie can reply, Faraday goes to us. "I'll do it. You stay with Morgan."

I want to protest against him, but he is already taking things out of the cupboards and begins to make a small pot of soup. "Thanks, kid." He nods at me and continues his work.

Morgan and I sit at the table with Ellie on my lap. We try not to talk about the Games and my impending doom. With Ellie here, it's an easy thing to do. Pretty climbs into Morgan's lap and rests her head on the table while Ellie squeals every time she licks her.

Ellie looks like her father which I'm glad for. Her mother, Trix, is my half-sister and the youngest before I came along and stole her thunder. She hates me for that as well as because I am the product of Mom's "unfaithfulness," although her father was already dead when Mom slept with Westley. I'm glad that Ellie is practically glued to Faraday's hip and that she doesn't listen to Trix's verbal abuse toward me. I don't know what I would do without her smiling face always directed toward me.

Faraday is different. He looks exactly like his father, Vinny, who is my eldest brother. Everything about him screams the domineering older brother and "man" of the family. The main difference between the two is that Faraday can see reason where as Vinny's pride blinds him to everything. For him, I am the greatest blemish on our family name. It also helps that Faraday and I are only two years apart from each other.

He makes us chicken soup and we all have a good-sized helping. When Ellie proclaims that she's full, I finish off her food and laugh as Morgan teases Faraday about having a crush on a girl in his class. He blushes and claims that there is no way he would ever date her. As he said that, he kept glancing at me. He's afraid to ask her because he knows that she would say no. Because everyone knows how close Faraday and I are and no one wants to risk getting me pissed. That is except the bullies. Perhaps when I go to the Games, he will get the guts to ask her. I hope so.

Ellie leans against me and looks up. "Brenny, will you take me to play at the junk pile tomorrow?" My voice catches in my throat and I look to Faraday for help. However, it is Morgan who gathers her wits first.

"Bren will have something very important to do tomorrow so he can't. Another time, though."

"You promise, Brenny?" I meet her wide brown eyes and swallow. Broken promises in the single thing that I hate more than the dipshits in my district. I can't lie to her about this even if I wanted to.

I clear my throat and place her on the floor to stand up. "I think it's time for us to go." She nods then clings to my leg as if she knew that this was probably the last time we would be seeing each other since I know that Trix won't let her see me after I'm reaped.

Faraday gives me a big hug then takes Ellie into his arms. He'll find a way to see me after I'm reaped, but knowing that this is one of the last times I will probably see him makes me cling to him a little tighter. He nods at me then smiles. "I'll see you later, Bren."

Morgan and I hold hands as we walk to the main square. I try to keep my head up as I watch people walk around with more smiles than normal on the reaping day. There is no fear for many children, especially the ones that are well liked. It is the ones like me that are squirming around in anxiety. Every smile they give makes me sick to my stomach and if Morgan wasn't with me, I would want to hurt them.

Klara comes toward us with a warm smile and skip in her step. She was the first person outside of my family that I considered my friend. I think it is her bubbly attitude that likes to befriend everyone that gave her the power to actually get to know me. That and the fact that I have helped her in the factory for years. Before I met Morgan, Klara was the one I saw myself with. She comes to a halt at my side and links arms with me.

"I'm sure you'll be okay," she says. Morgan and I raise an eyebrow at her. "At the reaping today," she clarifies. "Rumor has it that majority of the district voted for Mitchell because he's dying in a couple of days. They were hoping he'd actually die before the Games even started so they could really piss off the Capitol."

"That sounds like something we'd do," Morgan replies with a smirk. I don't let the hope seep through. I know better than to hope for stuff like that. I let Morgan think what she wants though. Who knows, maybe my district's rebellious nature will win over their desire to get rid of me.

An idea hits me. "Hey, Morgan, I have to meet with Richard before the reaping."

"Yeah, okay." She goes onto her tiptoes and gives me a chaste kiss on my cheek. Then she goes to one of the people off in the corner that still talk to her despite the fact that she's dating me.

Klara begins to walk away as well, but I grab onto her elbow. "Wait, Klara." She turns around to face me. "Will you do me a favor?"

"Sure," she says with a shrug, "anything."

I purse my lips then dig into my pocket to pull out the contents of my last paycheck. It was at least one hundred, but it's possible that it's more. I hold out the money to her. "Go on and put a bet on my name and if I win, give Morgan the money."

"Brennadon," she whispers, looking at the wad of money in my hand. Her eyes slowly move to my face and I take in her large brown eyes. "I told you they picked Mitchell."

"I don't believe in rumors." I shrug. I push the money toward her. "Can you please just do it?"


I close my eyes and try to find words for what I want to do. It's almost like trying to describe an emotion or train of thought. "I want something good to come out of this if it happens. At least this way I can provide for Morgan even when I'm gone."

Slowly, carefully, she takes the money from me and holds onto my hand for a moment. She meets my eyes with a warm smile and gives my hand a squeeze. Then, she releases me and goes to where the bets are placed. With a deep breath, I walk toward the barber shop.

Richard stands on the steps of the barber shop, smoothing down his annual reaping haircut. A cigarette bud pokes out of the corner of his mouth, smoke puffing out of his lips. Eventually, he turns toward me and flashes his signature nod of greeting. "How's things on the ground, kiddo?"

"About as lovely as they always are," I mutter, glancing at the glares of the people passing by. They swear as if I was some kind of rapist or something.

He takes out his cigarette and stares at the burning embers. "Heard you got in a fight the day 'fore the vote."

I swallow and glance at the floor, touching the scar on my arm from that particular fight. "You heard right." I try to remember why I punched that dipshit in the first place, but I know it had something to do with him calling Morgan a bad name.

Richard flicks off the ash from his cigarette then puts it to his mouth again. "I guess yah deserve to get reaped for doin' a stupid move like that."

"It wasn't my fault," I whisper.

"Yah think anyone cares?" Sighing, he begins to walk toward the square, and I follow behind with my tail in between my legs. "Maybe they don't hate yah as much as yah think."

"Yeah, and maybe Westley isn't my real father." He gives me a weak glare.

"No need fer yah to give me yer sarcasm. Besides, yah don' know what peoples think."

"I just have a good feeling."

"Well, cheers to yah then."

The center opens up and all of the citizens lurk around to find a place to go. My voice catches in my throat and I can feel myself tremble as I realize within the next few moments I will either be on my way to the Capitol or still living my horrible life. Both are extremely pitiful.

Richard pats me on the back then lets me walk to where I am supposed to go. Everyone avoids me like they always do, though I catch the gaze of Albaer. The fifteen-year-old would never admit it, but he does like me, or at least my company. During work, he laughs with me enough, but my reputation keeps him away in the open. I don't blame him for doing this but it would be nice for him to at least say hi today.

I stand by myself and wait for the ceremony to go by. Our creepy escort—who I have always just called Doll Girl because that's what she looks like—talks about the normal stuff that they talk about at the reaping. I never paid much attention to that because it's really boring. Our mentors are Gage and Cable who have done little over the years to get us a victor. Even Jules Surket last year got virtually no help from them. When I'm reaped, all I will have are Westley's wise words.

I tap my finger against my pants and wait for Doll Girl to be done with it. The guy next to me glares at me. I meet his gaze, daring him to do something. He looks scrawnier than I do, except he probably has no strength behind him, at least not the kind I have. He takes a step away from me and I allow a smirk to come to my face. I may not like being hated, but being feared is another thing entirely. At least when I'm feared no one tries to push my buttons.

Doll Girl finally calls the name of the girl that they voted in. Her name is Maeve Morghal. Apparently, she can see how people die. Westley told me that she's a fraud and frankly I believe him. There is no scientific way to explain it after all. Either way, she was beginning to annoy the district so they sent her in.

Now it's the boys. Doll Girl opens the envelope with the name of the boy tribute painstakingly slow and I nearly punch someone just so she could hurry. She leans into the microphone and says in her shrill voice, "Brennadon Rydik."

I close my eyes and nod. I knew it. Seventeen years of being hated by everyone I know almost guaranteed it. When I open my eyes, I walk past the others, not looking at any of them. They're all dipshits anyway. I walk up the stage and Doll Girl puts a hand on my chest.

"My, my, you're a handsome boy." I push her hand away and glare at her. She pretends not to notice.

After announcing us as the tributes of the twenty-fifth Hunger Games, I turn to Maeve and shake her hand. She looks right at me. I don't need her false gift to tell me how I'm going to die.

We're shuffled to the place where we give our final goodbyes and I wait patiently in a chair. I already gave my goodbyes to everyone that matters.

I stand as Mom comes in and gives me a hug. "Oh, my handsome boy. How will I ever go on without you?" I rub her back and sigh.

"You'll do fine and you know it." Her wiry white hair shakes from side to side.

"No. I won't be able to handle losing you. You're my favorite son." It's a lie, I know it is, because Vinny will always be her favorite. But I have waited my whole life for her to say this and if she wants to tell me this to make me feel better when I die, then I'll let her.

"I'll miss you Mom."

She pulls out a pair of black square glasses and hands them to me. "Vector wanted me to give them to you last week, but I forgot."

Vector is the only one of my half-siblings that tolerates me. He tries his hardest to hate no one and I think that is the only reason why he manages to do what he does. Being my eye doctor, he is also the only one I see on a somewhat regular basis.

"Tell him I said thanks," I say putting them on. The difference between the two is immediately evident. There's not a single blur through these lenses.

She leaves with a nod before the Peacekeeper goes to get her. I guess she doesn't care enough to stay longer than she has to. I settle back down in my chair to gather myself together.

Morgan comes in next, her warm brown eyes red and puffy. I open my arms for her as she jumps into my lap and wraps her arms around my neck. "It's not fair!" she cries. "You don't deserve this. It's just not fair."

I cling to her, trying to engrave the feeling of her against me before I go. I press my nose to her hair and take in her warm, sweet scent. She'll be the main reason for me to fight. I don't care about the dipshits getting extra food and love from the Capitol or my mother getting a fancy house or even making Westley proud. I want to come back for her, that way no one could ever say I don't love her or vise versa.

"I love you Brennadon," she says. I hold those words in my hand and cling to them. This isn't the first time she has said them to me, but this is the first time where I can almost feel the truth behind it. It isn't simply something that she said to make me smile.

"And I love you too, more than you know." Her sobs grow louder and she presses into me harder. I don't know how long we simply sit there, holding each other, before the Peacekeeper comes in to take her away. We share a brief, but lingering kiss as they lead her out the door. I stand with her and our eyes never leave each other.

Faraday's head is up when he comes in and his eyes are surprisingly dry. He swallows every few minutes, but he doesn't let his tears fall. I gently bring him into a hug and he chokes back a sob. "I have to be the man now, huh?"

"Don't worry, kid," I say. "You are a bigger man than I'll ever be."

"I don't know how that's possible Bren." We laugh a little and he moves to sit in the chair across from me. We settle down in our seats and I look into his eyes.

"I need a favor from you."

"Anything, Bren."

"If I die in the Games, I want you to make sure that Morgan moves on." He looks at the floor and wrings his hands together. "She deserves happiness after I die, even if it is in the arms of another guy."

He's quiet for a while and he keeps his eyes downcast. "She won't like it," he finally whispers.

"I don't care. I just want to know that she won't be an old maid for the rest of her life."

He nods several times. "I'll do it—" his eyes move up to meet mine "—if you promise me that you'll try your very hardest to come back."

Realistically, I know I should say no. How am I supposed to try to get back if the Gamemakers have me pinned against a wall or something? But in my heart, I also know that I am already going to do everything to get back. Eventually, I nod at him.

"Okay." He stands up and I stand with him. He keeps his eyes on me and holds out his hand. I glance at it for a while then move in for the handshake. Instead, he pulls me to him and gives me a warm bear hug. "I love you Bren." I swear I can feel his tears on my shirt. Two "I love you"s in one day. If I wasn't about to die then I would probably be crying.

As Richard takes Faraday's place, it is clear that I won't be having some huge heartfelt moment where the two of us cry and hug and such. He sits down in the largest chair and plays with all of the nice stuff on the table. "Nice job, killer," he says as he plays with the objects. "Now who's gonna take my train after I die?"

I laugh a little and shrug. "Beats me. I guess you need to hold auditions."

"I'll just give it to Faraday." He places a snow globe that he was holding back onto the table then fishes a small brown bag out of his pocket. "Here," he says tossing it to me.

I open the bag and see a wooden oval with a mouthpiece and eight holes in it. It's smooth to my touch and I notice the threaded chain that goes through the mouthpiece. "I don't know what this is."

"It's an ocarina." I nod my head as if I know what the hell an ocarina is.

"Which is?"

"Some pipe thing. I like playin' it when I'm bored on my train." I blow into the mouth piece and play with the tune by covering some of the holes. I'm horrible at it."

"I'm sure a whistle won't be helping me in the Games," I say taking it away from my lips.

"Look underneath."

On the other side there is a single hole, but there are also several names etched into the wood. I see Faraday's, Klara's, even Ellie's weak hand writing. Everyone I know and love signed their name, even Albaer. I see Westley's name along the rounded edge with a small quote: "Your left hand is an advantage. Use it." I look around more and finally I see Morgan's name neatly placed right on the mouthpiece. "She insisted on puttin' 'er name there," Richard says. "Said that if you used it, yer lips would be on 'er name. Kinda weird if you ask me."

I smile to myself and put the chain over my head. "You don't know how much this means to me."

"A lot figger." He stands up and places a strong hand on my shoulder. "Good luck, kiddo. You'll be needin' it."

As he begins to walk out, I remember something. "Wait." He turns around and catches my eye. "You'll take Pretty won't you? I just know Mom will throw her out the first chance she gets."

He gives me a toothy grin. "Don't know why you even had to ask."

I take a deep breath and admire the names on the ocarina. I love them for doing this. Now I will have a piece of them with me as I go on.

I hardly notice Westley come in as his light footfalls hardly make a sound on the hardwood panels. He kneels in front of me and takes one of my hands, drawing my attention to him. "You don't know how proud of you I am."

"Thanks Dad," I mutter.

"I'm serious, Brennadon. You've come a long way since being my bastard son." My eyes dart away and I glare at the floor. He of all people should know that bastard is the easiest trigger for my anger. "I don't mean it like that." He touches my shoulder lightly as if to try to take away some of my anger. "You're going to be the only child I'll ever have and you should know that I couldn't ask for a better kid."

"Thanks," I say through gritted teeth. I know that he's really just happy that a boy from his family tree will be in the Hunger Games. He'll call his friends back in District Two to brag about me. It's clear that I have always only been a doll to him so that he could dress me up and make me what he wants me to be. He never cared for me, he was just protecting his merchandise. He's—

"I love you, Brennadon." My eyes jump to him, silencing my hectic thoughts. He said it. He said those words that I have always wanted to hear from him. I wrap my arms around him and I feel like a little boy again, running to Westley after every fight so he could make me laugh or tell me that I wasn't just a mistake. He presses a warm kiss onto my temple and hugs me back. "Go make us proud, son."

I nod as the Peacekeeper lets him know that I have to go. He clasps me on my shoulder one last time before leaving through the door.

I may be the bastard son of a Peacekeeper and a widow. I may have a temper problem and get into a lot of fights. I may be everything that my district calls me, but for the first time in my life I don't care. For the first time in my life, their hurtful words and genuine hate is not enough to bring me down. And that's all because for the first time in my life, I feel completely and genuinely loved.

Maeve Morghal of District 3

By Falconflight

"A dying man needs to die,
as a sleepy man needs to sleep,
and there comes a time when it is wrong,
as well as useless,
to resist."

—Steward Alsop

Sunlight scatters across the room as I stare at my reflection in the full-length mirror, which is chipped in one corner, but otherwise in good condition. After examining my Reapings dress (a full-length black gown with a cobalt blue sash to bring out my eyes), I quickly stride over to the window and pull the dark, heavy, black curtains across it, cutting off the natural light and leaving my room in darkness. I allow myself to smile slightly; I have always preferred dark to light and solitude to company. I have no need for company when I have the voices of the dead; they may not visit me often, but they are the closest thing to "friends" I will ever need. Friends is in quotation marks because I don't need any of those either; all I need is my job as Death's Messenger.

My train of thought is interrupted by a knock on the door. I turn around and stare at the door; I briefly contemplate ignoring the knock and letting Mother find her own way into my room. Our relationship is not the strongest one, mostly because I want nothing to do with my family members and Mother, while she claims she loves us equally, misses Esther too much to really pay attention to me. Still, she will find a way in here eventually, so I suppose there is no point in delaying the inevitable. I walk as briskly as the dress will allow towards the door of my bedroom and open it.

Mother stands in front of me with one hand on her hip; her face is pulled into an expression that says 'sometimes, I wonder why I let you in the house'. "Good; you're dressed. Now come downstairs quickly so you can get some breakfast."

"The Reapings aren't for another hour," I remind her, following Mother anyway.

"Yes, but your father and I need to go to work beforehand, so you'll be staying with the Ohms and going to the Reapings with their sons," Mother explains before shoving an apple into my hands. "We need to get you there quickly, so eat this while I make you some toast."

I frown slightly; this isn't a breakfast for someone who can actually afford food. My parents, being the managers of the only electronics company (the entire company is controlled by some people from the Capitol, and they keep a tight monopoly on the business), are relatively wealthy compared to the rest of the District. We're rich by District 3 standards, though we have nothing compared to District 1 or the Capitol. The point is that I have the money to have a much larger breakfast than the one Mother is preparing for me, so why shouldn't I get it?

I keep all of these thoughts to myself; I'm not too keen on expressing my inner thoughts and emotions with others. Most of the time, I try to keep my mind blank and my emotions neutral; I've found that these kinds of things interfere with messages, and this interference usually leads to false predictions. Almost unconsciously, I grab the piece of buttered toast Mother has handed me and toss the apple core (which I have been mechanically munching on this entire time) into the trash can. I follow Mother out of the house in a daze, focusing on nothing but the silence and the paved road beneath my feet.


I hear a voice which has not been heard in two weeks. Jet Couplets, my neighbor, who died two weeks ago from a machinery malfunction on the same day as the voting. He came to me during the voting (after his death, obviously) and told me that it was my job as Death's Messenger to go into the Arena; that's why I voted for myself.

"Hello," I whisper. I hope that Mother doesn't notice me talking to Jet; she'll think I'm talking to myself. Thankfully, she doesn't hear me.

"Diode Ohm is going to die soon."

I pause to process this information. Diode is the youngest Ohm son past Rom and Ram, the twins, and Flash, who has been in jail for the past two months, if that's any indication to what kind of family I will be accompanying to the Reapings. I will have a chance to inform Diode of his approaching death when we reach their house, though it may be pointless. He's not going to believe me; no one ever does.

"We're here," Mother announces, stopping in front of a large and heavy looking door.

"Oh, joy," I murmur sarcastically.

"Please, try not to get into a fight with them this time," Mother requests before ringing the doorbell.

"I never start the fights," I reply quietly.

We wait a long time for the door to open. When it finally does, we are greeted by Flash Ohm, who has been let out of jail for today to go to the Reapings. His eyes are the same metallic copper color as the rest of his family, which is sort of their trademark. He instantly notices me, and his copper eyes narrow. "Oh. You're here."

"Yes, and so are you. Last time I checked, you were in jail." Flash is well-known for being the proudest Ohm son, and when that pride is damaged… well, that's how he ended up in jail.

"Maeve, what part of 'try not to get into a fight' did you not understand?" Mother demands.

"It was an honest question, though I suppose it makes sense. He needs to be there when Diode gets reaped, after all." Diode will get reaped; that has to be how he dies.

Flash's glare hardens. "Who told you my brother was going to be reaped?"

"You know who," I reply.

"Your little voices?" he asks. I nod, and he snickers. "You're shitting me, right? Everyone knows your predictions are bull—"

"Don't say it," I interrupt, gritting my teeth.

"—shit," Flash finishes, smirking slightly. He turns to Mother. "Don't worry about her; we'll take good care of her."

"That's fantastic!" Mother exclaims, almost oblivious to the conversation we just had. She kisses me on the cheek before turning around and walking briskly back towards the house.

"Get in here quickly," Flash commands once Mother has disappeared.

"Afraid to be seen with me?" I ask, stepping inside.

"Yes, actually." Flash closes the door behind me. "Rumor has it that over half the district voted you into the Games."

"Good." I had to get voted in; it's my job.

"Good?" he echoes. "How is going into the Hunger Games good? You'd die in the Bloodbath for sure."

"I have Death on my side," I reply dismissively.

"Oh for the love of –" Flash stops, closes his eyes, and exhales loudly. "You know what, never mind. IF you want to believe that you're Death's Slave—"

"Messenger," I interrupt again, clenching my jaw. Why do they never believe me?

"Whatever. If you want to believe that you're Death's Messenger and that it's your destiny to tell people they're going to die, so be it. Just keep me and my brothers out of it." To emphasize his point, Flash shoves me before stomping up the stairs to the upper level of his house.

I glare at him as he leaves. I'll show him one day; I'll show all of them. I'm sort of glad I'm going to the Hunger Games; I'll get a chance to prove my gift to Panem. Maybe when I win, the Capitol will promote my gift and people will pay to learn their fate.

If I win, I amend. There's a chance that the voices will tell me that I have to die, and I will be okay with that. I will do anything to serve Death.

I head footsteps and look up; Diode Ohm is standing on the staircase, looking down on me. "Hello, Messenger."

He's always called me that; it's a mocking and disdainful name. "You're going to be reaped."

Diode's eyes scrunch slightly as he begins to descend the stairs. "And what are you basing that claim on?"

"A little birdie told me," I reply.

"So you're hearing things again?" he asks. "Maybe yyou should have your head checked."

"My head is fine," I snap.

"Sure it is." Diode stands in front of me; he's a couple years younger than me but quite a few inches taller, which allows him to look down on me. He likes being able to do that.

"Where are your brothers?" I ask, changing the subject. Not that I really care. I don't care, and making conversation is very low on my list of things I want to do, but I might as well, if not to get away from the topic of my "insanity". That's in quotation marks because I am perfectly normal.

"Rom and Ram are fighting upstairs," he replies. "Some girl asked on of them out, and neither of them can remember who she asked."

"It's not likely it would make a difference; few can tell them apart." It's true; Rom and Ram look exactly alike with the major difference being a scar on Rom's face. He usually covers it up with makeup, and they take advantage of their similarities to mess with the pretty girls of District 3.

Diode nods. "You're right- for once. I think Rom is wearing his blush today too, which makes it even harder." Flash, Ram and Diode make fun of Rom for wearing makeup, as most brothers would.

"Are you implying that I'm not usually right?" I remand. He probably meant nothing by it, but he may have been insulting me, and it's going to bother me until I find out.

"Yeah. You're almost never right." Diode pauses and adds, "Like where you said I'm going to be reaped."

"I'm not wrong," I warn. "We're going to be the chosen tributes for District 3."

"I wouldn't be surprised if you were chosen, but me?" Diode shakes his head. "Maybe a couple people voted for me, but the word in the pub is that a bastard boy called Brennadon is going to be chosen. Some of the Peacekeepers have put a large wager on him getting voted."

The pub is District 3's closest thing to a Capitol bar, which is a place for drinking, parties, gossip, and gambling. We have all of these things, except they are much less expensive and fancy. Diode is several years underage, but when your parents have enough clout, you can get service anywhere. The pub is best known for the huge betting pool set up for the Hunger Games; if the tribute you bet money on dies, your money goes to a larger pool that consists of all the money people have lost. At the end, that pool of money is split between the people who betted on the winner. Apparently, this year, they're betting on who will get voted into the Games.

"Has anyone bet money on me?" I ask curiously.

"You're the number one girl; I'm sure you're thrilled," Diode replies sarcastically.

"Not thrilled, but mildly content," I correct. I'm going to be chosen; this is good.

"Hey! If you two are done flirting, we need to start heading towards the square!"

Diode and I turn to see Rom and Ram; one of the them is sporting a black eye and the other a bloody nose. Other than their new injuries, the two are identical. Same sandy-blonde hair, same mischievous copper eyes, same serpent-like smile.

"We weren't flirting," Diode snaps. "Mom is never going to let you go to the Reapings like that."

"Does it look like we care?" the one with a black eye asks. "I get the girl, so I don't give a fuck about what Mom thinks."

"This is our last Reapings," the bloody-nose twin continues. "As soon as we turn 19, we're outta here."

"You and you're girlfriend can have the house to yourself," black-eye finishes.

"'Cept for Flash," bloody-nose adds.

"She's not my girlfriend," Diode hisses. "I don't even want her here."

"I feel so welcome," I interrupt sarcastically.

"It's the truth," Diode reminds me. "I don't want you here; I didn't invite you here. Mom did, and Mom is going to kick our asses if we don't get going." Diode strides to the door and holds it open. "Ladies first."

"I told you he likes her," black-eye whispers "discretely" to bloody-nose. I ignore them and walk outside.

"You too, Rom," Diode adds. "You wear makeup, and that makes you a lady."

Black-eye glares at his brother through his bruise while Ram and Diode laugh. "Shut up unless you want a bloody nose too."

"Relax, Rom." The final Ohm son finally reappears from his room and ruffles his younger brother's hair. "It was a joke."

Rom still looks very pissed, though, and Flash mocking the situation doesn't help at all. "Fuck all of you." He angrily stomps out the door and joins me outside.

It's times like this when I'm glad that my only sibling was a sister and that we never had much of a relationship, positive or negative. Chaos is a constant in the Ohm household, or in any household with male siblings. I decide to remain silent on the way to the square and let the boys squabble to their hearts' content; none of it concerns me, so I don't need to pay attention to it. Instead, I focus on clearing my mind so I can clearly receive any messages that come through. None do, though, and we arrive at the square without any fights breaking out. Flash leaves to join the crowd of those too old or too young to be reaped while Rom, Ram, Diode and I check in.

While we wait in line, I notice Diode staring at me. "Yes?"

"How can you be so calm?" he demands at last. "You're going to be voted for sure, and you're just acting like it's nothing!"

"Why do you care?" I shoot back. No one's ever cares what I do as long as I don't tell them that they're going to die.

"I don't," Diode snaps. "You can die for all I care. I just wish I could understand you a bit more."

No one has ever been able to understand me; the only ones who know what it's like are the voices who visit me. "Maybe you'll learn when we go to the Games together."

Diode shakes his head. "I'm not going to be voted."

"Just keep telling yourself that." Before Diode can retort, we reach the check-in desk, and we are both quiet as they take the blood sample. After six years of this, it barely hurts any more. Diode, on the other hand, winces in pain and sucks on his finger when it's done. "I'll see you on stage," I tell him before we're herded into separate sections.

Not long after I arrive in the seventeen year-old girls section, the ceremony begins. Our escort practically skips to the stage; having a tribute make it to the final two last year has put a big boost in her energy, apparently, because she is reading even faster than usual. Her almost glass-like eyes glitter as she drags on the process, making it sound a lot more suspenseful and dramatic than it actually is.

I'll have to get used to her, I decide. After all, she is my escort, and I'll be spending a lot of time with her.

Finally, someone hands her an envelope that has 'District 3 Female' written on it in glittering gold ink. "Maeve Morghal," she calls.

I resist the urge to smile; I'm going to the Hunger Games. Yes. As I walk up the stage, trying to keep a blank face, I can't help but think that this is it. This is my destiny. Going to the Hunger Games is the moment that all of my work as Death's Messenger has led up to.

The same person hurries over after retrieving the envelope with the boy's name in it. She opens it slowly, grinning teasingly at the audience. After what seems like an eternity of suspense, she pulls a slip of paper from the envelope and reads into the microphone, "Brennadon Rydik."

There is no surprise on the boy's face as he walks towards the stage. I am surprised, however. I frown and search the crowd for Diode, who was supposed to be reaped. I find him, and he is smiling in a way that says, 'I told you so'.

"My, my you're a handsome boy." The sound of our escort's shrill voice interrupts my thoughts. I turn and see her creamy white hand on Brennadon's chest, which he shoves away. Ignoring him, she turns back to the crowd and says, "Ladies and gentleman, let me introduce to you your tributes for the Twenty-Fifth Hunger Games and first Quarter Quell! Maeve Morghal and Brennadon Rydik!" There is applause, but only because many of these people will be glad to see us leave; I notice that Diode is not among the large group of people clapping.

Our escort coaxes us to shake hands, and I turn and stare at Brennadon. He is my competition, after all. He wears glasses, which are an obvious disadvantage if they are broken or stolen in the Arena. He's taller than me and a bit scrawny, but he obviously has strength, and the void expression his face tells me that he will be fine with killing people.

So will I, I think as I shake his hand.

After we shake hands, we are herded towards theJusticeBuilding. I begin to think about what I know about Brennadon. If I recall correctly, he's infamous for being the bastard child of a Peacekeeper and a poor woman. His connection with his father is a strong one, which gives him an obvious advantage. His father could probably bribe the mentors to pay special attention to Brennadon, though it probably won't make much difference, given how helpless the mentors were last year.

When I reach the room where I will say my goodbyes, my first visitor is not a living one. "Brennadon Rydik is going to die."

I hear Jet's voice, and I can't help but scowl. "You told me that Diode was going to die."

"Dying doesn't necessarily involve being reaped," Jet reminds me.

I suppose he has a good point. "So how will Diode die?"

"Look out the window."

I frown slightly and walk over to the window at the far corner of the room. It has a perfect view of the main road, which connects the square to theJusticeBuilding. I can clearly see Diode on one side of the road; he seems to be arguing with Flash, who is blocking his path to the main road. Eventually, Diode shoves Flash away and blindly stomps across the road. A car, which is probably here to drive Brennadon and I to the train station, zips down the road and hits him at full speed. I gasp audibly as Diode flies backwards, blood pouring from his stomach. Flash runs forward and kneels next to Diode, and the driver gets out and hurries over.

I turn away from the window, and I find myself unable to look at the gruesome and tragic scene anymore. I'm not sure why; I've never had a problem with death before. I had barely blinked when my sister died; why should I be upset over the death of a guy who hates me?

"You were right."

I hear a voice that's not Jet's. Diode.

"Not about the being reaped thing, but about me dying. I should have paid more attention to your warnings."

"At least someone thinks so," I mutter. I am about to ask Diode who else is going to die in the Hunger Games, but the door opens and Mother and Father walk in.

"This is your fault," Mother announces. "If you didn't prance around telling people they were going to die, you wouldn't be going to the Hunger Games."

I resist the urge to roll my eyes; Mother is upset that I'm leaving, and this is how she's dealing with her sadness. "You say that like it's a bad thing."

"It is a bad thing!" she exclaims. "You're going to die!"

Why do they never understand? None of them ever understand. "My death is a small price to pay for fulfilling my duty as Death's Messenger," I explain.

Mother glares at me. "You don't understand how infuriating you are sometimes!" With that, she turns away and angrily walks away, slamming the door behind her.

Father is slightly less useless. He hands me a notepad and a pen. "I thought you might like to make a list like you usually do."

Since I became Death's Messenger, I've always made a list of the tributes in the Hunger Games so when the voices told me they were going to die I could mark it. My predictions are almost always accurate for the Hunger Games; they weren't for last year, though, and that was strange. Still, with the notepad and pen, I can make a list of the tributes and some information on them so when the voices tell me that someone has to die or that I have to kill someone, I will have as much information as possible. After Father leaves, I uncap the pen and begin writing.

Brennadon Rydik—District 3 Male, 17, tall, has freckles, glasses, gray eyes, brown hair, bastard son of a Peacekeeper and a poor widow, looks like he's trained, physically fit

I stop and look over my description. It seems relatively accurate, so I put the cap back on the pen and wait patiently for the Peacekeepers to come take me to the car. They do eventually, and Brennadon and I walk in silence. I notice that it is not his father who is taking us to the car, which makes sense. Our escort is waiting for us next to the car that hit Diode; it hasn't moved, though the blood has been cleaned off. Diode's body hasn't moved either; the entire Ohm family is huddled around it while waiting for someone to take it to the morgue.

Flash notices me as I try to climb into the car without drawing his attention. His copper eyes are full of fury as he glares at me. "This is your fault," he snarls. "He died trying to say good bye to you."

"Boy, if you wanted to talk to the chosen tribute, you should have visited her during the hour for good byes," our escort snaps, trying to shove me into the car.

"I hope you die," Flash hisses before spitting at me.

I want to ask Flash what he meant when he said Diode wanted to say good bye to me, but our escort successfully forces me into the car, slams the door with a huff, and climbs into the passenger seat.

"Buckle your seatbelts," our escort commands. "You're not allowed to die on me; Jules tried to do that last year, but my lecture straightened her out."

"Did you really want to say good bye to me?" I ask quietly.

"Yeah, but it doesn't matter now," Diode replies dismissively. "What matters now is that I'm dead and that I can help you win this thing."

"So I'm going to win?" I press.

"Yeah. Death told me that all the other tributes are going to die. Besides, you're Death's only messenger; he can't have you dying any time soon."

I do smile this time. I'm going to win the Hunger Games; I'm sure of it.