Hey guys, so sorry that reapings have been going up later in the day than intended. My computer crashed, plus I've been sick with this concussion. I'm doing…somewhat better? I've got a bad sinus infection now, so they're hoping that that's what's causing me to be so freaking dizzy all the time. I'm hoping so, so that it's an easy fix.

I've lost a lot of stuff I was working on—hopefully only temporarily by my computer being out of commission. I'm using my hubby's laptop but it's slower and the keyboard is like…really weird.

Thank you for your well wishes. Let me try to tackle a few things since my computer is currently too slow to do many reviews right now.

Non-Career tributes having Career-like tributes—well, it's a Quell, people vote in who they hate, who they think will suit them best (i.e. who could win), by fluke, or by who's different. So stronger or weird tributes are more likely to be voted in.

There may be a few errors that we let slip by, and we're sorry for that. Belles and I are the ones that spend hours combing over chapters and correcting them and changing last-minute things and asking the authors to change things that don't agree with our chapters or canon. Typically, that's when we get a complete revision so that our now pristine proofread chapter is obsolete and have to start over. I just want you guys to understand the time and effort we put into this. I may spend 2-3 hours (when I'm not concussed) a day working on my fanfiction for reviews. But at any one point I can wind up spending 4-8 hours a day working on this collab.

That being said, eventually we'll go back and try to clean up continuity errors etc. We're just now ourselves getting to look at/receive part of 24 Capitol chapters that will give you a chance to get to know the characters more. We want to hear your comments and thoughts on them; like all writers, we take them into consideration as we develop the plot our story.

Now for a little…teaser. We've had the arena planned for…three months I think. I think in some ways, it's more terrifying than most arenas we see. There are clues in Tears of Blood for Bring Them to Their Knees about what's coming, but I don't think you'll get it. Point is, no one is ready for this, and none of our authors even know yet. When they find out in a week or two—selectively, as we start handing out arena chapters and deciding deaths…well, be terrified.

We've also planned out two more Gamemaker chapters so far. One will be right after the bloodbath to recap on the reasoning of the arena and the second will be when it's time to pull a big muttation/terrorizing on the tributes.

But anyways, I'll shut up. Now on to the tributes!

Damian Blackwater of District 8

By xXTeamFinnickXx

"I'm slowly getting closure, I guess it's really over,
I'm finally getting better,
And now I'm picking up the pieces, I'm spending all of these years,
Putting my heart back together
'Cause the day I thought I'd never get through,
I got over you."
— Daughtry

The sound is candy to my ears, like a sweet lullaby would be to a small child. The loud, angry, confused shouts of the pair of Peacekeepers behind me brings a smirk to my face. This has to be the best part of my life; watching as these people, the ones who are supposedly the brightest and strongest in the district, trip over their own feet, screaming unintelligible insults at their number one most wanted criminal. And he happens to be only seventeen years old.

He also happens to be me.

My booted feet make next to no noise as I retreat down the alleyway, my loot in hand. Stupid baker. He left his door wide open and went a few shops down to discuss some trading with another merchant. He was basically asking for someone to steal from him. This bag of food and money should keep me satisfied for another few days. Thank God. I haven't had something to eat for…Well, for a long time.

I shouldn't be surprised that the baker was such a moron. I mean, about ninety-seven percent of the human race is like him. Alright, maybe not exactly like him. Personally, I believe there are three standard types of people. The first group—Class A, as I like to call them—consists of the people who never know what they're doing and are constantly making fools of themselves. Like the kind of people who can't do simple math, who have to think ordinary actions through several times before finally getting it right, who—

"Quick, he's getting away!"

"I can see that. Your gun, use your gun!"

"Right! I've got it, I just…Watch out for that—"


Yeah, like those two ingenious law-enforcers behind me.

The second classification of humans, Class B, is a lot more serious. These are the people who may have the common sense and book smarts, but what they do with it is completely wrong. I've seen some pretty good examples of these type of people. They're the kind who come home late at night, drunk and in a rage. The kind who take their anger out on their poor, defenseless son who hasn't done a thing wrong. They'll beat him and scold him and scream at him for no reason other than to get some sort of twisted satisfaction. Sometimes this type of idiot isn't even the direct offender, just a bystander who won't get off their lazy ass to help out the victim. You know, like the wife who simply sits and watches her husband take a belt to his son's face, not even attempting to take a stand.

…Not that that's ever happened to me or anything.

Anyway, let's move on to Class C. I thank my lucky stars every day that I happen to belong to this rare group. You see, unlike the other two classes, the people who don't even deserve to be walking this earth, the third kind of human is a lot more intelligent and rational. We know what we're doing most of the time. We're grateful for what we've got and we don't take anything for granted. We plan out our actions and evenly ration our resources. And most importantly, we're kind, generous, and eager to stand up for what's right.

Okay, I know what you're thinking. How could I, a renowned thief, possibly be grateful, kind, and generous. Let me explain a few things for you. Most people would think that I am the complete opposite of grateful. I should be happy and content with what I've got. The thing is, I am. I'm grateful for my backpack, my clothes, and my life. That's about all I have to actually be grateful for. Food, money, that's all stuff I wouldn't have if I didn't steal it. I have to make the most of what I was given. I wasn't given riches or anything like that, but instead, I was given the gifts of stealth and speed. So, I use them to my advantage. I use those skills to steal things that I can be grateful for.

If that makes any sense. After all, I wouldn't expect this complex way of life to be something you'd be capable of understanding. It's very rare to come across a person like me, you know.

Still, I'm leaving out some numbers from the equation, aren't I? I haven't told you how, despite common belief, I can be kind and generous. This is very simple, actually. I'm nice to those who deserve it. If a truly good-hearted person ever needs my assistance, I assure you, I will be as loyal as can be until they get their justice. But, as I said before, people like me, genuinely caring and compassionate, are tough to come by. We're so rare that I haven't actually encountered another yet. That may be why I come off as arrogant, rude, and abrasive to most people. Those people are idiots, so I treat them how idiots deserve to be treated.

You probably think I'm a mind reader or something, because yet again, I know what you must think of me. You think I'm a jerk, a petty thief, a heartless monster. Hopefully, one day, I can prove to you that I'm not. I'm just highly misunderstood.

Think of it this way. Have you ever been one-hundred and ten percent sure of something, so sure that there was never even the smallest doubt in your mind, but then had the rest of the world say you were wrong?

My life is like that.

…You don't get it, do you?

Why am I even wasting my time? This lifestyle isn't the kind that just anyone can understand. Odds are, you're either Class A or Class B anyway. You'd never understand me. No one does. Then again, no one has been through what I've been through.

That's the trouble with the members of Class C. We never lead easy lives. We're always the thief or the abused child or the homeless beggar. Sometimes, we're even all three. People just don't know what we're going through. They assume that because our way of thinking is different that we're no-good, law-breaking scumbags. Yes, some of us may be law-breakers, but we wouldn't have to be if society wasn't jam-packed with morons! While we may be outlaws, I can assure you that not one of us is a hardcore villain or a legitimate jerk. Maybe, just maybe, people would see that if they gave us a chance.

I guess I've kept you long enough. Let's get back to the story, shall we?

As I weave my way through these alleys which I've come to know very well, a glance over my shoulder reveals to me that the two moronic Peacekeepers, who I've managed to shake long ago, must have called for backup. Unfortunately for me, he appears to be much more intelligent. I'd put him in Class B.

The man in all white draws his gun and fires a clumsy shot. I don't even think he really aimed, as the bullet strikes the brick wall of a building to my left, causing a puff of dust to form. I bet he doesn't want me dead. He wants to bring me in alive to get the reward placed on me. I'm honored that these guys are going so far as to offering money to whoever turns me in, but it pains me to let them know that it's never going to happen.

I can discuss that later. As of right now, I've got a cop on my heels, and he's much faster than the oafs I was eluding before. I need a plan. He's going to be on top of me in less than a minute.

My mind is beginning to formulate an escape when it's interrupted by loud crash. I whirl around to see a pile of wooden crates, probably stacked by the owner of a shop, crashing down on the Peacekeeper. He grunts as he's taken down, his gun skidding a few feet out of his reach. I begin to chuckle, slowing my pace and turning back to approach the pinned man.

That's when I see it. From the crates' original home, a small, dark figure darts across the ground and bounds up my leg, scurrying up my body until it rests on my shoulder.

"Bandit," I say with a smile. "How did you do that?"

My companion squeaks, a noise that I guess is the rodent equivalent to a laugh.

By the way, Bandit is my pet ferret. Or weasel. Or mouse, rat, squirrel, I don't even know. His actual species is unknown to me. I just call him a ferret to make things simple. I found him a few years ago and named him after his appearance. His long, sleek body is a dark gray and over his eyes is a darker patch of fur. I always thought it looked like the kind of mask a bandit would wear, so that became his name. Ironically, I had no idea at the time that my future would include actual robberies.

Sometimes I wish Bandit was human. If he was, he'd definitely be in Class C with me. He's my only friend, the only person (can he be considered a person?) I can trust. He aids me in my heists in any way he can, which turns out to be more than you'd expect. Sure, taking care of him is a pain sometimes, but hey, this is where my other personality, the kind and caring side, takes over. When I met him, he was just a baby, abandoned by his parents to die on the streets. I couldn't just let him starve, so I took him under my wing. He doesn't eat much, so that's a relief.

Now looming over the trapped peacekeeper, I throw him my winning smile. "I suppose you're going to shoot me now?" I taunt. "Oh wait! That's right." I step over to the gun. "You need this, don't you?" In one movement, I scoop up the weapon and aim it straight for the man's head.

"Please!" he exclaims, burying his head in the ground, the rest of his body shivering in fear.

I laugh at him, lowering the gun. "Pathetic," I mutter. Isn't he supposed to be fearless? Strong? Noble? Like I would actually shoot him. I'm a thief, not a murderer.

Nonchalantly, I toss the weapon to the side before kicking some dirt in the peacekeeper's face, spinning on my heels and retreating as fast as possible.

"Knock it off!" I yell, my laughter making it choppy and uneven. Bandit scurries around my neck, his dark fur rubbing against my skin all over, making me laugh uncontrollably while I try to digest some of my food from earlier. If anyone else were to ever try tickling me, they'd most likely be on the floor right now.

Unfortunately, our good time is interrupted by the loud voice of the head peacekeeper. Even here, in the most remote corner of District 8, we have the speakers set up, just to keep everyone informed and, most importantly, brainwashed. There's a slim pole with the device set up on the very top just a few yards away from my shack. Believe me, I must have disassembled it a billion times, but the peacekeepers keep fixing it, letting me know that I can't escape their power.

"A reminder to all citizens," the peacekeeper says into the microphone. "Today is the marvelous Reaping Day. Remember, attendance is mandatory, and to all the eligible children, we wish you luck. Hopefully you've made a big enough impression on your district to have the honor of fighting for us in this year's Games."

"Shit," I say out loud. I had almost forgotten, this year isn't any normal year. Thanks to the outburst from the boy from District 4 last year, we've all been royally screwed. Word on the street is that from now on, every twenty-five years will bring a twist to the Hunger Games, just to remind us all of the Capitol's might.

And this year, the tributes were all voted in. Fan-freaking-tastic.

Not that I have anything to worry about. Sure, you'd think with all the robberies I've been staging I'd have every citizen in the district voting for me, but there's a catch. I happen to be extremely elusive. Not even the Peacekeepers know who I truly am or where I live or who my family is. Of course, there's still the suspicions, but all anyone can do is assume I'm responsible. There's no concrete proof, and as long as there's no proof, there's no punishment. So for now, I'm safe.

Speaking of where I live, I guess I should fill you in on all the details. Well, this place is definitely…cozy. My current crib used to be a small storage unit where materials would be shoved if there was no more room in the main facilities. That being said, it's not very big at all. Maybe about the size of an average living room. In the corner is a curtained-off area with a toilet for any workers who needed to "go", and the rest of the space was barren until I showed up.

Like I said, it's abandoned, so there's no one around to fix it up. I'd do it myself, but let me remind you; thief. No money. Ring a bell?

The windows, or what's left of them, are cracked, shattered, and filthy. The door has been knocked off its hinges years ago, leaving me exposed to the harsh weather outside. The floor was torn up, revealing the dirt ground with patches of dead grass here and there, and the walls are made of uneven, jagged planks of wood. The entire building is shifted to one side and I was forced to position a few crumpled pillars to keep it upright.

There's no place like home, eh?

Of course, I always have my real home to fall back on. You know, where my parents live. But we haven't spoken in years, not since I ran away. I don't really like to talk about them much.

Anyway, I decide it's in my best interest to head for the town square now. While I may remain a mystery to the public, the government keeps tabs on me. They know I exist and that I'm a citizen of this district. So, even though I couldn't care less about who this year's tributes are, I pick myself up off the ground and head for the door.

On my way out, I pass by a window and figure I might as well look somewhat presentable. I comb through my overgrown, but somehow still spiky, jet black hair, ignoring the excessive amount of oil l I can feel in it. My narrow, gray eyes scan my pale face for any visible dirt that can be picked off right away before deciding I look fine and stepping out the door (or lack thereof).

"Stay here, Bandit," I order. "I'll be back."

My friend squeals in protest, but he plops his butt down on a pile of trash and watches me leave.

It looks like the ceremony has already begun by the time I reach the square. The escort, an absurd-looking woman I've declared to be in Class A, has already picked the name of the female tribute, and I hear, "…Powers, the lucky girl with the most votes in the district!"

Powers, Powers, I think to myself. Where have I head that name before? After I sign in and begin making my way to the seventeen-year-old boys' section, I catch a glimpse of her, standing on stage while the escort babbles away. Right, she's the crazy drunk. I've seen her around a few times. Oh God, she looks like her stomach's about to blow. Too much alcohol maybe? Well, not enough is the more realistic answer.

And just like that, in only a few seconds, she does it. I can't shake the feeling that it was intentional as the escort shrinks away from the mess, screeching like she was just shot in the throat. I, on the other hand, crack a smile and begin to laugh to myself. You know, if I didn't hate people, I might actually like this girl.

"Ah!" The gasp of pain escapes my mouth as my face collides with the cobblestone ground. I got distracted by the show onstage that I wasn't watching where I was going. I must have tripped… right in front of the entire district. A whole section of people shift their gaze to me to see what happened.

Geez, haven't they ever seen someone trip before? Morons.

As the escort carries on, I get to my feet and begin to wipe the dirt off my pants. Being in the middle of the large aisle that splits the crowd in half, the clouds of dust fly right into the faces of some other audience members, causing them to cough hysterically. Oops.

Suddenly, shaking me out of my own little world, I hear it. The name of the male tribute. Oh, trust me, I'm pissed. Actually, I'm flat out infuriated. These people voted for him. My fellow citizens, my neighbors. Yup, definitely feeling the love.

"Do we have a…Damian Blackwater?" the escort gags.

Immediately, the crowd starts to mumble things to each other, searching for the master thief of District 8.

Idiots. I'm right here, standing in the middle of all of you. Are you blind?

Somehow, my anger transmits to sarcasm as I laugh loudly, "Would you look at that." Now, everyone's eyes are on me, every single one of them.

Well, you got their attention. Now what, genius?

Casually, I begin to walk to the stage, hiding my emotions behind my stoic expression. If I had my way, I'd scream out of rage and head for the hills, but let's face reality here. I'm fast, but I can't outrun an entire army of Peacekeepers.

You know, now that I think about it, I really should be upset or something. I mean, when's the last time someone from District 8 made it home alive? I'm as good as dead, everyone knows it.

Then I remember, I'm not as good as dead. The fact of the matter is, most of the tributes will belong to either Class A or B. I'm bound to be the most intelligent one out of the bunch. I stand as much of a chance as one of those brutal Careers, maybe even more.

Besides, what do I even have to go home to?

Stepping onstage and taking my place beside the girl, Anya I think it is, I remember exactly what I have to fight for.

Didn't I tell him to stay at home?

Bandit comes scurrying up the steps of the stage, barreling towards me like a child who's had way too much caffeine. I curse under my breath as he bounds onto my foot, climbing up my leg. The escort screeches in terror and steps into Anya's mound of barf, sparking an even louder shriek. She runs around in a small circle as if it'll teleport her away from this mess.

"Rodent!" she screams. "Someone do something!"

"On it," barks one of the Peacekeepers from the side of the stage. He jogs up to me and prepares to snatch up Bandit and do who-knows-what with him.

Call me crazy, but this animal is the only thing I care about in the world. He's the only thing worth caring about. I won't let him get hurt. I haven't before, and I won't today.

"Back off," I mutter, shoving away the Peacekeeper's hand. By this point, the crowd is in a state of confusion and amusement. After all, you've got the escort running around and making noises like a deranged dolphin, me defending a ferret from a cop, and Anya snickering at the entire scene.

The Peacekeeper glares at me like I'm a criminal. Well, technically, I am, but that's not the point. "Young man," he says with a tone he probably thinks intimidates me. "You know this counts as assault, correct? Do you realize how much trouble you could be in for assaulting a Peacekeeper?"

Are you kidding me? I pushed your hand. It's not like I stabbed you or anything.

He reaches for me again, but I back up. "And do you realize how much trouble you could get in for assaulting a tribute?"

The man makes a desperate lunge for Bandit, but I'm not having any of it. We go into a fit of shoving and punching until a few others show up to defend him, two of which restrain my arms while Bandit is kicked off the stage by the first man. I can hear the yelp of pain all the way up here.

"Bandit!" I shout, kicking behind me at the Peacekeepers. "Let me go, you imbeciles!"

Despite my protests, the Peacekeepers lift me by my arms and forcefully drag me towards the Justice Building.

Quite honestly, I didn't expect any visitors. I mean, who would want to see me?

That's why I'm surprised when a middle-aged woman walks through the door, her dark red hair cut short and her gray eyes looking into mine. Her face is heavily wrinkled, making her look older than she actually is.

"Damian," she starts in a frail voice.

"Do I know you?"

The look on her face displays sorrow and pain, but right now, I don't even care. All I can think about is poor Bandit. He's just a harmless ferret. Why were they making such a big deal over him? Who's going to feed him, assuming he's still alive? The drop from the stage may not seem like a lot, but he's a small little dude. That fall was lethal.

"Yes," she says. "It's me, your—"

"Did I rob your house before or something?"

"Your mother!" she says in a sudden outburst.

I blink a few times. My…My mom? That can't be…But she's…She's so…

"You're old," I finally say. Most teenagers would be at least somewhat sentimental if they were being reunited with their mother after three years, but not me. Our history isn't the cleanest.

"I'm forty-eight," she says calmly. "They're called stress wrinkles."

I roll my eyes, a bored chuckle coming out before I spit, "Great, thanks for the notice. I guess Dad couldn't get off his drunk ass to come with you? Still as lazy as before, I see."

That's when her eyes tear up. Should I say something to make her feel better? …Eh, she'll get over it.

"That's not it."

"Oh really? Maybe he's out cheating on you again."


"How do you—"

"He's dead, Damian!"

The words hit me like a cannonball. I raise my head to look into her eyes so I can determine whether she's telling the truth or not. My heart stops and my lungs cease to work. For a brief moment, only a split second, I feel something unknown to my body. There's a sort of emptiness in the pit of my stomach. I get woozy and feel ready to puke, but nothing comes up. My mouth is completely dry and won't let me form words. I feel…No way. Is this…?

No, it's not. That man was always a douche to me. I don't care whether he's alive or not. He was a terrible father, and I have the scars to prove it. As quickly as the foreign emotion emerged, it disappears, leaving my heart as cold as it was before.

"How?" I say lowly, more like a demand than a question.

"Two years ago," she speaks softly. "He was…He wasn't himself."

"He was drunk," I cut in. "That is himself."

"Fine, he was drunk. He was walking around the district, looking for you. He wanted to find you so badly. He wanted you to come home again. But he…He went to go cross the street and…"

"Get out," I order. "You're a liar. Get out of my face."

"Damian, I—"

"You're lying!" I scream. "He wasn't looking for me, he didn't care about me! You didn't care about me. You just let him get his way and beat the crap out of me whenever he felt like it. You could have stepped up, intervened, but you didn't because you're a coward, and now you're a liar. Get out!"

"That's not how it happened."

"It is how it happened, you're just too stupid to see it!"

When the appearance of despair crosses her face this time, I don't feel even the slightest bit upset. I'm glad. She deserves this after the way I was treated. This woman should be dead right along with her husband.

My message must have gotten to her, because she stands from her place on the couch and walks to the door. After pausing for a minute, she places something on the ground and whispers, "Your token."

"I don't want it."

But she doesn't answer. She just leaves. Fine, good riddance.

I stay on the couch, tapping my foot anxiously until curiosity gets the better of me and I walk over to the object on the ground.

"You have got to be kidding me."

It's his amulet. I know it is, because it has his initials engraved on the front. DB. Yeah, that's right, I had the misfortune of being named after him.

I rub my fingers across the cheap metal necklace. The surface is smooth, but weak. It must be decades old by now. Slowly, I pop open the rust-covered lid, revealing a picture of me when I was a child.

A wave of confusion takes over my mind. He always had this locket on. He wore it no matter what he was doing. And it contained a picture of…me? Is this my mother's way of trying to convince me that he cared?

I smile, and it's genuine, heartfelt. Why? Because it brings me such joy to crush the pathetic little accessory under the sole of my boot.

Anya Powers of District 8

By nightfuries

"Alcohol is necessary for a man so that he can have a good opinion of himself, undisturbed be the facts."


Ah, mornings. The epitome of worldly beginnings. A time for new things to dawn. Who couldn't love mornings? What, with the first hints of a gigantic fireball rising into the air and dooming us to hours of awful heat and drought as it continuously goes about its day attempting to blind us all. Oh, and the little demons trying to pass themselves off as 'birds,' squawking and cackling out raucous laughter that no ear can hide from. And who could forget the fact that each time that fireball rises and those demons come out to play, it's a bright, loud reminder that all of mankind must draw themselves reluctantly from the comfortable clutches of sleep and rise for yet another dull, dreary day full of nothing but work and pain.

Okay, so I'm not exactly a morning person. But hey, I have a good reason for it; a reason that can be explained in the one simple word that is a—

"...hangover." Merie shakes her head. "Don't say I didn't warn you."

"If I had a nickel for every time I heard that," I grumble as my head pounds, sending agony shooting through my brain at regular intervals. Come on, Anya, this isn't exactly your first hangover. Get it together and remember the tests.

Test one: attempting to sit. Slowly, my aching muscles begin to move, almost like rusted joints (though in light of the events of last night, I'd say it was more a case of the joints being too well-oiled) as they work to pull me into a sitting position. But eventually, I make it. Good. Very good, Anya. Keep going.

Test two: opening eyes. I remove my hands from my face and gradually lift my eyelids, the pain of the headache causing me to squeeze my eyes tightly shut. Okay, back to being closed normally, as though in sleep; now let's just open them a wee bit more...

No! No, no, no; bad, should not attempt this test too early in the morning. Abort mission, close eyes again, sink back into the blessed darkness that isn't populated by evil, agony-inducing light rays. Yes, isn't that better? Ahh...

While I attempt to clear away the burning image of the bright sun that seems to have been seared onto the back of my eyelids, I listen for the sounds of everyone else waking up. As Merie is the only one who doesn't drink, the task brings about just as many groans and grunts of discomfort as I emitted when I was first woken up. Our group's numbers are constantly changing, people coming and going about as often as I wake up with a hangover (which is really often), but we were "founded" by Gerier and Losan, two old guys whose levels of sanity are quite debatable. The two both lost their jobs in the factories around twelve years ago, when the employers found easier, more efficient ways of transporting the textiles from the factories to the trains that shipped the products off to the Capitol, thereby getting rid of all the employees whose work focused around this task (i.e. Gerier and Losan). Without the minuscule paycheck they were granted from work, the two lost their tiny homes and were forced to either find new jobs or live on the streets.

Let's see; on one hand, we have a life spent in endless, dull toil, working until you're ready to collapse just to make enough to barely keep yourself from starvation, or you could watch from the comfortable sidelines of the streets and laugh at the other people stuck in that kind of life, getting food by 'politely asking' the generous citizens of the district or just scrounging around in those convenient, gleaming silver bins people leave outside their houses with leftovers contained inside.

Well, you can tell which option I prefer. And my opinion seemed to be shared by the two men as well. Banding together, Gerier and Losan formed their little homeless duo, taking turns to beg for food (speaking from experience, people don't tend to like one person asking twice for something. But if there's two of you asking once, everything turns out just wonderfully), searching together for the best alleys to sleep in and, of course, keeping an eye out for the Peacekeepers. Technically being homeless isn't a crime, but believe me, I've tried using the 'victim of society' excuse on them. Does not work. And if one of them's in a bad mood and just feels like hitting something, they come along and arrest one of us for 'harassment' (which we call begging) or 'disorderly conduct' (which we call enjoying the lovely effects of a drink or two). For the most part, though, the Peacekeepers leave us alone, and in return, we find more secluded alleys to sleep, beg, drink and...Nope, come to think of it, that's pretty much our entire schedule.

"Why're we up so early?" Gerier complains, his words still sounding slurred despite the night's sleep in between the time when we had all of the drinks.

"It's nearly noon."

"Why're we up so early?"

Merie pauses uncertainly, and at the look on her face, I almost feel bad for her (I finally managed to open my eyes and tolerate the sun. Jeez, why does that thing have to be so freaking bright?). As I said, people come and go from the streets, and she's the newest addition to our little crew. It was only a couple weeks ago that some machinery in one of District 8's many textile factories malfunction and started a fire, killing six or seven people including Merie's husband. Fabric burns fast, you know.

Anyways, the part that interested us was that Merie received a small amount of money in compensation for her husband's death during "actions to help better the society of Panem." Before she knew it, Merie was standing outside the Justice Building with a handful of coins and a mind full of grief and sorrow, with no idea how to get rid of her depression. Of course, being the kind, caring folk that we are, we stepped up to offer her one of our many ways of banishing nasty thoughts (and pretty much everything else, for that matter). This was providing she buy drinks for all of us. And, surprisingly, she did. People do strange things when they grieve. She'd only had one or two rounds, but apparently that was more than she could handle, and after what she called "a terrible, sickening experience" (in other words, my, Gerier, and Losan's definition of 'fun'), she decided never to drink again. Well, the three of us made bets on how long that resolve would last. Unfortunately, she's still all for the idea, and my bet of a month before she cracked is quickly running out. Maybe I should start persuading her to go back to the bottle...

"The reapings are today," Merie finally says. "Don't we have to...prepare?"

I snort at that, and both Gerier and Losan laugh outright. Yes, she's new, and we should probably be more understanding. Hey, everyone has flaws, alright? Besides, you'd think our methods of preparation would be pretty obvious. But eh, I guess people tend to miss the things that are non-existent.

"Sure, let's prepare," I answer and turn to the shiny metal trashcan that is currently the alley's only other resident, making a big show of primping myself in the makeshift mirror, messing my hair this way and that which puts the two guys in hysterics. As always, the uneven, greasy black stands just fall back into the same knot they're always in, though I do decide to actually cut one part of my bangs with the broken piece of a knife we found while scrounging around inside the bins one time for dinner. It's been bothering me for a while anyways, that one chunk of hair is always hanging in my eyes. Unfortunately, my coordination is a little off this morning (through no fault of my own...sort of), and I end up cutting a lot smaller than I intended, making the bangs uneven once again. Ah well, it doesn't matter. If one bit of your hair is different than the other, people whisper about it being a failed attempt at a nice hairdo. But if it's all in one nice, uneven, coordinated mess, you can call it a style. That's what our escort's been doing for the past few years, after all.

Anyways, I couldn't care less what anyone thinks about my appearance. After a few years spent living on the grungy, dirty streets of District 8, you really can't fool yourself into thinking that you've still got supermodel-type looks. Plus, if you're too egotistical to notice your own image, then there'll always be the oh-so-kind citizens of the district to walk by and make totally polite, with the best intentions comments like, "God, take a bath!"

Merie seems to have gotten the idea that there's really no ways for us to prepare, so she gives up trying to suggest it. I begin to wonder if this makes her yearn for her life before, back when she had a house to go home to; I'm sure she'd try to go back to it, if the house hadn't belonged to her husband's mother. Apparently it was only with begrudging acceptance that she'd come to let Merie stay in the first place, and after the death of her son, the woman wanted nothing more to do with her supposed daughter-in-law. So, really, we're all that Merie has.

Strange, that statement came across as vaguely pathetic. Wonder what that's all about.

"Well, I'm not going anywhere today," Losan groans, lying back down with his hands over his face. "I'm just going to lay down here and die."

"As legitimate as that excuse sounds," Gerier begins, crossing over to his friend, "I don't think the Peacekeepers would be as understanding. Besides, we've done this a million times. What's the matter with you?"

The matter was that on the night before the reapings, people tend to be feeling a bit more generous, and as a result we managed to scrounge up more money, resulting in more alcohol. Gerier may be a heavy drinker like the rest of us (excluding Merie), but he, at least, knows when to stop. Losan and I, on the other hand, we kept up until there was no more money left to buy the stuff. But hey, you can't blame us. Everyone hates the reapings. And what better way to make them disappear than to drown yourself in a beautiful, alcohol-induced haze?

Some more incomprehensible mumblings are heard from Losan as Gerier grabs one bottle that somehow managed to keep its contents after last night. "Here," he says, shoving it in the other's face. "Makes it go away."

"Really?" Merie asks, the doubt in her voice evident.

"Of course," I answer. "You know the saying: The only way to get rid of the side effects of alcohol is by drinking more alcohol. Or maybe it's...oh, just give me the bottle."

Losan takes a long swig and then hands it to me before wiping a hand across his mouth. "So, we planning on betting again this year?"

The reapings can actually be a wonderful money-maker for us on the streets; all we have to do is get a hold of some cash and then bet on what two kids we think'll get reaped. Sure, most of the time we're wrong, but I remember the year when I was sixteen our guess had been right; we'd gotten so drunk that night. I don't remember it, but I'm pretty sure it was awesome.

"We don't have anything left," Gerier says, checking our secret money vault (okay, so it's a dingy cardboard box shoved under a pile of trash).

"Someone'll give us something," I say, finishing taking the drink and passing the bottle to Merie, who refuses. Damn. "It is reaping day, after all."

"Speak of the devil," Losan says, gesturing down the road to the figure walking towards us. Excellent.

We quickly hide the bottle (people seem to disapprove of it) and try to make ourselves look as pitiable as possible. By now though, most people in the district have seen us, so it's really not an act we can pull off anymore. Still, can't hurt to try; at least until I manage to identify the figure we've picked out as our begging target.

I swear under my breath and then sigh. It's Mrs. Marlow, the butcher's wife. She never sympathizes with us; in fact, she's usually one of the ones shooting those terribly polite comments about bathing at us. There goes our chance at making betting money today. I sit back against the wall of the building behind us and frown, but apparently Merie still hasn't caught on to the people you can ask for handouts and those you can't (begging's an art form to be perfected, you know) because as the woman walks by she still holds out her hands and asks, "Anything you can spare, ma'am?"

Mrs. Marlow stops at the sight of her, but the usual expression of contempt that she wears seems almost watered-down. Still, she makes to continue on her way and ignore our group, when all of a sudden her blue eyes lock with my own grey ones and some sort of emotion seems to flash in them. Then she reaches into her pocket and tosses a few coins onto the street in front of us before hurriedly striding off in the direction she was heading.

"Well, I do believe we've got a professional on our hands," Gerier says, scooping up the coins. "None of us can ever get anything out of that old bat. What's your secret?

Merie shrugs. "For starters, I don't go around calling people old bats."

The two men crack up again, and after a brief second, Merie lets out a small smile as well, but I'm too caught up in my own thoughts to pay much attention to them. What was the emotion I saw in Mrs Marlow's eyes? Fear? Hate? No, that's not right; it was determined, yet at the same time, guilty. Like she'd made a decision, and she was sure she was right, but she still felt bad about it.

Ah, it won't do any good to think about it. People like that just make my brain hurt. Seriously, why can't the entire human race just settle for feeling only one emotion at a time? When I'm angry, you can tell, when I'm happy, you can tell, and when I'm snarky, you can damn tell. And I'm never any of those at the same time. Simplicity at its finest.


I snap myself out of my reverie and turn towards Gerier.

"What are you thinking about?"

The idea of telling him about people and their messed up emotions doesn't even cross my mind. "Just who we should be betting on for the reapings," I say, grabbing the bottle again and standing as the others do too. We set off for the square at a slower pace than the others around us, trying to tune out the noises that seem incredibly amplified thanks to our hangovers.

"So, who do you think'll be picked? I have to say, you can rant all you want about the Capitol and their evil methods, but this Quarter Quell thing certainly makes our job easier." Gerier grins, and honestly, I have to agree. Usually it's a game of chance betting on the reaped kids, with the occasional tip of the odds when it comes to tesserae. But this year, we can just pick the most despised or hated kids and bet on them. "For the girl?"

"Petunia Venkle," I say, practically spitting out the words and the others make hopeful noises. Petunia Venkle is this daughter of a rich merchant in town and the snobbiest, most conceited teenager who ever lived. She's the pure embodiment of a spoiled brat. Not to mention that when she sees us, she never fails to mention how disgusting she believes we are and how she'd rather feed a crazed mutt than one of us. I'd like to take a crazed mutt and shove it up her—

"Wishful thinking, but probably not," Losan says. "Doubt her father would let that happen." Unfortunately, he's right, and our four votes against her probably won't do anything to get her picked. In the end, we decide on a weird, slightly crazy seeming fifteen-year-old, figuring that she'd probably be a likely choice.

"And the boy?" Gerier asks.

"What about that Blackwater kid?" I say, remembering the supposed 'thief' that runs amok in District 8. Apparently the Peacekeepers can't keep a handle on one seventeen-year-old, yet they can find the time to bother us (please, let's have a round of applause for our fantastic law enforcers). I can imagine that he'd have made quite a few enemies; truth be told, I voted for him myself, just to see if he'd show up.

"So that's that, then," Gerier says, committing our choices to memory just as we reach the square. "Well, see you, Anya."

"My last reaping and a Quarter Quell," I say, right before the Peacekeepers comes to lead me off to the eighteens section. "If we win those bets, we're getting so drunk tonight."

"Like you even need to say it," Losan says, and we all laugh (well, Merie does a sort of hesitant smile) before parting ways; the three adults head to the area where all those who bet gather, and I'm left with a Peacekeeper towering behind me, ready to take my name and age.

"Anya Powers, eighteen," I say, wanting to just get this afternoon over with, but before I can head into my section, he stops me and points at the bottle I hadn't realized was still in my hand.

"You can't take that in there," he says gruffly.

I eye him for a second, trying to focus my eyes into the intense, intimidating gaze my mother used to pull off, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to work. There's also the option of using sarcasm or just being outright rude, but I have a feeling that'll only make him start yelling, which my terribly sensitive ears might not be able to take. So I just drain the contents of the bottle before shoving it into his hands and pushing past him into my section. One afternoon full to the brim with boredom—begin, I think dryly, watching as the mayor takes to the stage.

Jeez, do these things really take this long? I find myself wondering approximately two hours later, while the mayor is still droning on about the Dark Days. Time seems to pass by so much quicker when you're drunk. I sigh and try to will myself into the same state of careless oblivion that alcohol can bring, but it's not that simple. Too bad there wasn't enough of the drink left to get the job done properly; the only thing it left me with is a nauseating feeling in my stomach, most likely because of drinking while still suffering from a hangover. Yeah, probably not the smartest idea.

To pass the time, I find my gaze wandering through the crowd in front of me, my eyes skimming over each person. Thank God I managed to escape the fate that so many in my district are forced into (i.e. a dull, boring life manufacturing textiles). They just all look so...similar. I can't imagine how they can stand it without falling into depression.

Unexpectedly, my eyes lock with those of another boy, who must be my age to be standing in this section. I'm used to getting odd/disgusted looks from people at the reapings, but this seems like more than that. Argh, another case of these multiple emotions people enjoy feeling so often! Why, oh why can't things just be beautifully simple? But then with a start I realize that I sort of recognize this boy; I mean, we see most people in the district pass by us on the street, but I had a slightly bigger interaction with this teen about three weeks ago (before Merie was with us), around the time we were all forced to head to the various voting stations set up throughout the district to choose which kids we thought deserved to be going into this year's annual Hunger Games.

"Look at them all! Lining up like a herd of cows!" Gerier's statement makes Losan and I crack up; the drinks we'd had making everything seem much funnier than it should have been. We're currently sitting outside one of the voting stations, watching as people file nearer and nearer.

"And here comes another one! Looking just about as serious as the rest of them!" Losan laughs again as he points at the two boys heading for the station. They catch sight of us and can't help but stare slightly, though they've probably passed by us before.

"Going to a funeral, boys?" I call out to them, and we all burst into laughter again as they awkwardly shuffle away. One seems to get up the courage to answer though, because he steps protectively in front of his friend and says, "Why would you think that?"

"I've seen happier faces on rocks," I say, hiccuping slightly on the last word and, of course, we dissolve once more into peals of laughter. Because really, it was quite funny. Happier faces on rocks. Rocks don't even have faces! Hilarious!

Ah, the beauty of drunken logic.

"We're going to vote off children to die," the boy says, keeping his voice carefully in check. "And you're expecting us to be happy?"

"Well, you could lighten up a bit there, chap," Losan says, chuckling. "After all, you've got a chance to get rid of someone you don't like!"

The boy shakes his head. "You think I hate someone enough to want them dead?"

"Everyone hates someone," I say. And then we all burst into laughter like it's the funniest thing we've ever heard. Gotta love alcohol; makes everything seem brighter.

"Right," the boy says, turning back to his friend, who's glancing nervously at the three of us. Apparently, he thinks the conversation's finished. But as they walk away my drunken mind seems to think it's a good idea to shout after them, "Well, if you ever want to lighten up, boys, you know who to call!"

Alright, yes, sometimes the alcohol makes me act a bit...idiotic.

The nervous boy looks like he just wants to keep walking and not look back, but the other stops, not turning to face us, but just staring off down the street as though he's thinking of something. Then, ever so slowly, he turns back. "Who would I call?"

Even with the alcohol in me (or perhaps because of it), this catches me off guard. "What?"

"Who would I call? What's your name?"

It takes my drunken, addled mind a second to comprehend what he's saying; when I do, I start laughing again. "Anya," I say after the chuckles have subsided, though a giant, most likely goofy-looking grin still remains on my face.

"Anya what?"

"You're really serious about this, aren't you?" I say, managing to keep the laughter out of my voice this time, though I'm sure my amusement is still written all over my face. "Anya Powers."

Now it's his turn to be caught off-guard. "Powers? Like...Qwella Powers?"

My expression hardens; I've yet to get enough drink in my system that the name of my mother doesn't have an effect on me. "No. Anya. Ah – Nn – Ya. Got it?"

He stares at me for a moment, then nods. "Yeah, I got it."

It tends to be nights like those that, if the drink doesn't already do it for me, I try to forget. Not that I mind my mother being mentioned after all. I don't care if people are always comparing me to her. I think I've made it pretty obvious that my lifestyle is going to be very different from hers. Especially since I'm still living. But I don't care. Really, I don't.

Jeez, where's a drink when you need one?

Luckily, the escort chooses this moment to jump onto the stage and drag me out of my thoughts. Seriously, if you don't have the option of being distracted by alcohol, then our escort, with her purple skin, bizarre, yellow hair and revoltingly colored shoes is definitely the next best choice. Her voice is so shrill, you can't possibly think with it blabbing away. Unfortunately, this also means that my sensitive ears have to bear the brunt of the awful noise, and I find myself wincing while the teens nearby give me weird looks. Suddenly, I remember the boy from before and look towards him, but he's turned back towards the stage, firmly facing away from me. What's up with him? It couldn't be embarrassment over that night; I'm not the slightest bit embarrassed, and I was the one doing most of the talking (and the laughing). So what...?

And then, despite the alcohol I've already had and the hangover from the night before, it clicks, just as the escort brings out the slip of paper that contains the name of the girl who got the most votes to go into the Games. Surprisingly, my first thought is, Damn, we shouldn't have bet on that crazy girl. Should have placed money on—

"Anya Powers, the lucky girl with the most votes in the district!"

I had a split second head-start on knowing what has coming (or at least, guessing), but somehow having the escort say it out loud makes it seem more...final, somehow. Everyone turns to stare at me, as though it was some sort of rehearsed display they'd all been waiting to do, and I just stand there, looking vaguely surprised, trying to figure out how I'm feeling about this. Eventually, though, my brain registers that I should probably start walking, and I begin to make my way to the stage, but I feel almost disconnected for the scene as I search my mind frantically for...what, exactly? The barrage of emotions most tributes seem to get when their names are called? Like fear at being sent to my death? Or anger at the fact that everyone voted me in?

Now, the Games may like to try and change people, twist their personalities, but the first thing I'm resolving to do is not let that happen to me. So don't turn into some complicated, depressed tribute with a whirling mass of feelings, I tell myself as I climb the stage, being careful not to fall over or trip. Just keep it simple, Anya. Deal with feeling only one thing at a time.

Yes, I do like simple. And despite the fact that some part of my brain is bursting into tears while another part is raging around in anger, I allow myself to just relax. Try and accept my fate and not make a big show of it. After all, that is what the Capitol wants this year; force people to vote on kids, thereby making said voted child hate the rest of the district. Yeah, well, I already take people and their feelings towards me with a grain of salt. So good luck making me cry, Mr. All-Powerful President Finn. The only possible way that could ever be achieved would be if someone officially decided to destroy all of the alcohol in District 8.

Wait, do they allow even liquor in the arena? Oh dear...

As this newfound problem rises up, I hardly pay any attention to the escort, who goes on and on about what an honor it is to be reaped for the Quell. In fact, I don't really register anything going on outside of my frantic thoughts until my stomach churns unpleasantly. Must be my body's reaction to the shock of being reaped. Or the combination of drinking while on a hangover. But whatever it is, I'm starting to feel sick. Not sick like having a sick mind; sick like nauseous. Extremely nauseous. Like about-to-vomit nauseous.

"So, Anya, why do you think everyone decided to vote you in?" the escort asks, acting like it's an honor, and I must have done something really special to win people's votes.

"Stick around for a minute and you'll see," I mutter. The escort looks at me in confusion, and there's a split second where I wonder if I'm really going to do what I think I'm going to do. I mean, can you do that at a reaping? Then again, how exactly would they punish me? Hello, sentenced to death by being forced into an arena with no alcohol here (oh yeah, and the fact that there's twenty-three other tributes in there trying to kill me). Not like there's anything worse out there. Besides holding it back would be terribly unpleasant. Plus the escort's face might be pretty funny to watch.

"Y-You...You..." The escort stares down in horror as I straighten up from my position bent doubled. "EWWW!"

With that high-pitched shriek echoing around the square, I try to resist the urge to either stuff my fingers in my ears or punch the escort in the face. "Look on the bright side," I say, trying to sound upbeat despite my still-churning stomach and the burning sensation that now coats my throat. "I think it really improves the color of your shoes."

Whether she heard me or not is impossible to tell, as all she does is just keep shrieking. But the audience is laughing; at least, Gerier and Losan are, a bit too loudly, but hey, it makes me feel better. My eyes find them in the crowd, and they both wink, still chuckling to themselves while a few other members of District 8 seem to be holding back smiles as well. And then there are those that just look disgusted; well, tough. This is what they wanted, after all; you vote in Anya Powers, you get all of Anya Powers. Some tributes have a whole bunch of roiling emotions rising in them when they're reaped; I just have, well, the sick mess that the escort is currently shrieking about while a few Peacekeepers arrive with some cleaning supplies. They glare at me, but I guess they can't really do much more than that; besides, I'm going into the Hunger Games. What more of a punishment could I need?

So I am scared, then? I allow myself a few moments to think while the escort tidies up. Of the arena? Well, who wouldn't be? But surprisingly, my biggest worry when I think about the Games is the significant lack of alcohol that's present. That's not going to be fun. Wow, Anya. All the horrors you've seen on TV, and you're worried about that? Wow.

It does seem slightly odd, but I just can't find it in myself to get worried about it. Living on the streets, you really don't worry about tomorrow; when you're drinking, you're especially not worrying about tomorrow. So I'll deal with things as they come, I guess. I can win these Games; Anya-style. Which hopefully won't involve any more stumbling around and throwing up like a drunken idiot. Because so far, that seems to be all there is to Anya-style.

"Alright," the escort says, trying to keep the shudder out of her voice as the Peacekeepers leave, her shoes returned to their normal, just-as-ugly selves (I don't know how they managed to clean it up so fast. Capitol technology, I guess). "Well, let's move on, shall we?" She hurriedly strides away from me and grabs the second envelope containing the name of the "lucky" boy who got the most votes. "Do we have a...Damian Blackwater?"

I smile at that, though considering I was already laughing from the escort's reaction to my little "demonstration," there isn't really much of a difference to begin with. We guess right. Well, at least the crew should get some money out of that bet. Then we can go all-out tonight, or maybe just start drinking right after the reaping...

Oh, right; not going to be there, taking the train to my doom and all that. There goes my happy mood.

But apparently not someone else's. Honestly, I think it should be a crime for people to be overly joyful when I'm standing here contemplating a bleak, no-alcohol future. Unfortunately, that doesn't stop whoever it is in the crowd from letting out a loud laugh. The crowd turns, but they're less coordinated than they were before; I guess when my name was called, they knew exactly who to look for. Or maybe it was just the smell that tipped them off. But whatever the case, it seems like almost no one could previously identify the infamous Damian Blackwater before he decided to make his way to the stage. Idiot; if none of the citizens in Eight could tell who I was, I certainly wouldn't have answered the escort. Then again, I guess somebody had to know him; we all have to sign in before the ceremony. Peacekeepers probably would have been able to pick him out.

Suddenly, something small, furry and apparently very friendly streaks up the stage and onto the thief's foot, making the escort shriek and step into a pile of my little present to her that the Peacekeepers must have missed. But even that seems like a miniscule problem compared to this new development. "Rodent!" she screams. "Someone do something!"

If she keeps up using that shrill voice, soon she'll be attracting bats instead of rats, I think, wincing again at her god-awful tone. Still, the show is well worth the crappy audio; the escort keeps shrieking while Damian and the Peacekeeper charged with the extermination of this new intrusion duke it out on the stage. Man, I wish I had some popcorn; this reaping is more entertaining than any I've ever had to sit through before. We haven't even hit the arena yet, and we've already supplied the Panem viewers with a mysterious young thief, a cute, cuddly animal, some entertaining action sequences, and hilarious, riveting comedic relief (not to be immodest or anything). Honestly, what more could you ask for in a television series? I hope President Finn and Head Gamemaker Snow are happy with their little Quarter Quell, because if all of the other districts are like this...Well, the Capitol will be in for a very interesting Games.

Unfortunately, Damian's little squabble with the Peacekeeper doesn't last, and soon he calls in reinforcements, one of them kicking the animal off of the stage as they go, leaving me to watch as they drag my district partner away, still shouting angrily at the law enforcers. Two approach me as well, seemingly with the intent of taking me away too, and I ask casually, "What, no anthem? Don't I get to shake my partner's hand as a semblance of peace before we're sent to kill each other?"

"We think you've had enough excitement for one day," the taller of the pair says, and I shrug. But the idea of just leaving the audience without some sort of big finale just won't do, so I begin to sing Panem's anthem myself, in the loudest, most drunken-sounding voice I can manage; which, when you consider all of my prior experiences, is a pretty darn good imitation, only slightly aided by the drink I had earlier this morning. They frown and reach out to escort me to the Justice Building, but before they can grab hold I jump off of the stage, landing right near the rodent that was kicked off the stage. Out of curiosity, I glance down amidst my singing to see if I can spot what I'm sure is now a very dead ferret, but my eyes don't find it. Instead, I feel something soft and furry scamper up my leg, hidden from sight by the folds of my greying pant legs.

Now, living in the derelict alleyways as we do, I'm quite used to seeing rats and even finding the occasional one attempting to make a home in my coat. Still, my thoughts are somewhere along the lines of Holy crap as the little animal curls itself around my knee. I freeze, mid-song, and the Peacekeepers take advantage of my pause to come up behind me and roughly grab my arms.

"Ready to go?" one asks in a tone that clearly means it's not a question. Neither of them seemed to have noticed the ferret/squirrel thing though, as they make no references to it.

"But I'm not finished yet," I protest innocently, but he just snorts and they begin to lead me off. I do manage to start again, though, and I finish the anthem before we've completely left the square. I can't resist throwing out one last "Goodnight District 8!" to the citizens before the doors of the Justice Building slam shut behind me.

Honestly, the Peacekeepers can hold their guns with such delicate caring that it borders on creepy, yet they can't be a little gentler in this case? I think as they shove me roughly into the room allotted for my goodbyes. Then again, I did make them clean vomit off of the escort's shoes. But, come on, that was funny! At the very least, it was more entertaining than District 8's usual reapings. Seriously, these guys need to learn to laugh a little more. Maybe someone should get them drunk (actually, there was one occasion a while ago when one of the other homeless people did try to slip them a few drinks. Yeah, it didn't really turn out well for him).

The lump on my knee moves slightly and I make an odd noise between a laugh and a cough in surprise, earning myself a strange look from the Peacekeeper guarding the door. I couldn't really care less about the animal currently wrapped around my leg, but one way or another he's going to have to find a new spot to rest; not only are his sharp little claws digging into my knee, but the fur is tickling me and I've never liked being tickled.

Eyeing my guard one last time, who's still staring at me, I glance down at my shoes and make a little "Oh!" of surprise before shaking my head and bending down in the act of tying my shoes, facing away from him. Unfortunately, my shoes, like the rest of my wardrobe, are falling apart and barely have soles, let alone laces, so I still look ridiculous, but eh, I'm used to getting weird looks. A big reason why we drink: so we can blame everything on the alcohol.

The Peacekeeper looks at me in contempt, the expression on his face clearly conveying the fact that he thinks I'm nuts, but after I remain on the ground for a good while attempting to tie the non-existent laces together, he shakes his own head and goes back to staring at the opposite wall, refusing to look at me as though my insanity might be hazardous to his health. Any other time this might have bothered me, but focusing his attention elsewhere is exactly what I needed as my hands move from my feet to my knees, trying to push the lump down and out of my pant leg. What follows are a few mumbled curses from yours truly, as the animal rakes his little claws all the way down my shin; the little pest just does not want to come quietly. Finally I give up and reach my arm under the material of my pants, wrapping a hand around the body of the rodent and yanking it off with a triumphant "Hah!"

"Something funny?"

I turn back to the Peacekeeper, subconsciously shoving the ferret into my pocket before he can notice, hearing a little squeak of protest. The man's eye raises further, and I quickly make an attempt at imitating the sound to detract the attention. "No. Why do you ask?"

"You just laughed."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"You...Never mind."

I throw the Peacekeeper the same look he gave me earlier, implying that I think he's just as crazy as he thought of me. He goes back once more to staring at the wall, and I start to open my pocket to deal with the animal when the door bangs open. I whirl around, shoving the head of the animal back into my pocket as it attempts to take a peek at this new disturbance, which of course is none other than the crew.

Both Gerier and Losan are still chuckling from my little 'exposition' during the ceremony; as for Merie, arms outstretched somewhat as if to offer me a hug, but then glances at the other two men to see their reactions and stops. Good thing, too; people who try to offer me any sort of 'comforting' gesture tend to wind up with their heads bitten off. I'm not exactly a fan of sympathy.

"Well, you certainly made a name for yourself," Gerier says, calming himself down, except the odd snicker or two. "At least the sponsors'll take notice."

"Excellent. You know, I was wondering, do you think they're allowed to send me alcohol in the arena?"

Losan laughs. "Maybe, if you spin it to make it look like it's for 'medicinal purposes.'"

"Good plan," I say, smiling. Then I clap my hands together. "Well, will you look at that? Just been reaped and I already have an arena strategy. I think I'm set."

"Y-You're not...worried?"

The three of us turn to stare at Merie, who's staring at me with eyes so wide I try and resist the urge to use them as makeshift dinner plates. And it's not like she'd be all that undeserving of having a bodily organ turned into a matching part of a china set. Am I scared? Who the hell asks a question like that when someone's just been reaped? No, of course I'm not worried about being sent into a giant deathtrap filled to the brim with bloodthirsty mutts, equally bloodthirsty Careers, and a handful of other kids who're all going to want me dead. And let's not forget about the lack of food, water, or, more importantly, alcohol. Yeah, that doesn't worry me at all.

Jeez, Gerier and Losan may be old and slightly crazy, but at least they have the common sense to joke around and lighten the mood during what may be my last moments in District 8.

"Of course not," I say casually. "After all, everyone must have voted me in for a reason. Obviously they think I can win this thing."

"Definitely," says Losan with a grin. "Because, you know, it couldn't possibly be the fact that they consider us to be nothing more than trash on the streets."

"You gotta remember," I answer back, "One man's trash is another man's treasure."

"So just try not to come home in a box," Gerier says with a wink as the Peacekeepers come to escort the group out. "I'd hate for you to wind up as a buried treasure."

I can't help it; despite what I'm sure is supposed to be the sober mood the Games inflict upon the tributes and their families, I burst out laughing. Seems like a better way to pass the time then sobbing our eyes out, recounting all our fond memories and feelings for each other.

Besides, none of us are ever sober anyways. No use changing that now.

The shouts of our group slowly quieten until the room is filled once more with silence, bringing with it the mixed up bundle of emotions I was trying to push away. Throwing some sort of moody tantrum won't do me any good now; I just have to figure out how to distract myself. Admittedly, without a drink, it's a bit tougher to do. Well, I just have to make do with what I have. Turning to the Peacekeeper who stands by the door, I'm surprised that he hasn't moved to either tell me where to go (preferably without swearing) or just come and roughly escort me to the train. Does this mean I have more visitors? Nah, most likely Damian's just taking his time saying long, depressing goodbyes to his friends. Though what acquaintances a thief could possibly have I can't guess at. Alright, well, if I've got time to spare, than I might as well have some fun with these guys.

"So, when are we going?" I say loudly, in the obnoxious tone that usually only presents itself when I'm drunk or acting like it. "I've got a tight schedule to keep, you know! If I'm going to get killed in the arena I don't want to spend my last week of peace waiting for you people to keep up! When we get to the Capitol, I want you to know that I will most certainly be filing a complaint on the lack of speed our law enforcers seem to have. Come on now! Let's g—"


Definition of awkward: Your father, whose existence you haven't acknowledged for more than four years, slipping into the room unnoticed with the intention of saying what might be your final goodbye, only to find you yelling drunkenly at a Peacekeeper, an act which he most likely believes to be real.

Yeah; awkward.

I tense and slowly turn my attention away from the Peacekeeper to the owner of the voice that just spoke, praying that I misheard and my guess of the identity of this person is wrong. And, for the second time today, as I take in the small, meek figure, the glasses, the plain, unassuming clothes, I realize that even though I wished I was wrong—I wasn't.

Wonderful; Dad's here. Now it's really a party.

For the majority of the first minute, the two of us just stand and stare at each other, both lacking the ability to speak; him because he never knows what to say on occasions like this, me because, well, my brain seems to have frozen over in shock. Then, as expected, the silence grows too much for him to bear he nervously speaks up. "I wouldn't have even recognized you if they hadn't called your name. What happened to your hair?"

My hand rises unconsciously to the mess of knots that currently reside on my head. He's not referring to the tangles though; I never really cared all that much for my looks even when I lived back at home—probably would have hacked the annoying curls off if my mother had let me. No, he's most likely wondering about the color; blonde hair does not just suddenly go black without any help. Shortly after I'd left, I wandered across a vat of black dye that had been tossed to the curb outside of one of the district's factories. I'd figured that changing my appearance would be a good way to not be recognized anymore (plus, I thought it would look cool), so I'd doused my hair in the stuff. And after analyzing myself and deciding that it was an improvement, I just kept up the routine whenever a few blonde strands started to show. One perk of living in District 8: the world never seems to run out of dye.

However, I feel as though my reasoning would be somewhat lost on Dad and his mild, non-rebelling attitude, so I settle for a simpler response that's much more my style anyways. "What happened to yours?"

He blushes at the mention of his own mop of brown hair, which has definitely receded since the last time I saw him. Mind you, that was quite a few years ago. People change; although it's clear that the opposite personalities Dad and I had still stand. Him on one side—meek, calm, and dull—and me on the other—loud, sarcastic, and like a nice breath of fresh air amidst the boring throng of Eight's other citizens.

We were just so different that we never really knew what to do with each other; unlike Mom and me, who got along on an uncomfortable road of indifference/irritation for reasons most people say stemming from our way-too-similar personalities. Say that to my face and I'd most likely punch your lights out, but sometimes I could see where they were coming from; if anyone dared try to compare Qwella Powers to anyone, she probably would have punched them as well.

"You'll do fine," Dad says suddenly, seeming to be thinking along the same lines. "You're a lot like her; it should help in the Games."

See, that's exactly what I hate hearing. The only thing worse than hearing how much like Mom I am is hearing how much I should be like Mom. Oh look, it's Qwella Powers' daughter. What is she doing with her life? Shouldn't she be trying to help people like her mother? Listening to comments like that makes me sicker than drinking while on a hangover.

I. Am. Anya. Powers. Not Qwella Powers. People really need to start getting that idea through their thick skulls or I'll start smashing it in.

"Well, I hope I don't," I say with an edge in my voice that's usually never present (Why is the alcohol never around when I want it most? Then again, I want it pretty much all the time...). "Do you really want me to end up just like her? Maybe get us a double grave or something?"

He flinches, as though my words literally punched him in the chest. More than four years, and he still can't get over her death. Well, if he can't handle talking about it, then he shouldn't bring her up at all. Every time people start mentioning how wonderful she is, I can't help but correct their grammar; she was amazing. She used to be a great soldier during the Dark Days, in the first rebellion of the districts against the Capitol. And after the Capitol took over again and bombed Thirteen, she decided to be a good little citizen and settle down, have a family. But when a group of people grew unhappy after twenty straight years of Hunger Games with no signs of them letting up, she signed up with a bunch of others to try and start a rebellion. Their plan? Form a mob in the town square and shout angrily at the Peacekeepers while waving around whatever weapons that were common to the district (i.e. needles and small pairs of scissors. Real intimidating).

Well, the guns came out and the Peacekeepers ended that little rebellion pretty quickly. The district was in complete lock-down for a few days, and when we were finally allowed out of our homes, we found a big pile of bodies dumped unceremoniously by the graveyard. I remember waiting at home while Dad went out to try and help identify the bodies, though he was really only looking for one person. And when he came back with the news, tears in his eyes, I felt...nothing. Not like the depressed, hollowed-out feeling people sometimes get. Just...nothing. A burning sense of apathy. Mom and I, we were never close.

A few weeks later I realized that I needed to find an escape. Every day was exactly the same: wake up, go to school, learn lessons containing information about becoming a textile worker which I never bothered to even look at, get scolded by the teachers for leaving yet another piece of homework unmarked and untouched, go home with new work, put it off, eat dinner, go to bed. Always the same. Every. Single. Day. And Dad didn't seem to want to change our comfortable, dull little lives anytime soon.

So, I left. Figured I could have a more interesting life on the streets than cooped up in a little gray house surrounded by similar little gray houses with their ordinary occupants leading ordinary lives. It wasn't running away; I don't really do running. Instead, I told Dad point-blank that the typical District 8 life wasn't for me, and just walked out the door. Surprisingly, he didn't say anything to stop me. Maybe he thought I'd come back. Or was in shock. Or just didn't know what to say.

And yes, I admit, saying I left home because I was bored sounds pretty bad. But hey, I'd say it wasn't the stupidest decision I ever made. Not that I've made any stupid decisions.

Anyways, the point is, Anya Powers equals very much alive, Qwella Powers equals the exact opposite. So having people say they wished I would have turned out more like my mother tended to make them get on my bad side. And sure, maybe they weren't referring to the fact that she was dead; probably the fact that she was a brave, independent woman who fought for the lives and rights of those around her. Saying I should have ended up like that annoys me nearly just as much.

"I'm sorry." I glance back at Dad, still glaring slightly. Back when Mom was still alive, she had this certain way of making her stormy gray eyes seem to pierce right into your body, making the bravest of men quake in their boots. And though my eyes match the colour of hers, I've never been able to master that glare. Then again, most of the time attempting to even just focus my gaze is too hard for me to try and bother with.

Great, now I'm trying to act like Mom.

Focus Anya, I scold myself. Don't compare yourself to her. You don't care about what she did and how everyone admired her for it. You don't care that people wish you were the same instead of being something they consider to be below the scum on their boots. You. Don't. Care.

Yeah, I really need that drink I was talking about. Or two. Or ten.

"Time's up."

For the first time in my life, I'm glad to see a Peacekeeper. This supposed 'three minutes' contained enough heavy silences and awkward chatter to last at least four lifetimes. But just when I get my hopes up, Dad steps away from the man's outstretched arm. "Wait." He quickly closes the distance between us and holds out his hand. "I just need to give you this."

Of course, he had to bring a token. And of course, it had to be Mom's old necklace. Yes, when I was little I thought it was pretty awesome, for a piece of jewellery: a silver circle, outlined by that hat/weed thing Romans used to wear, what was it called? A laurel wreath. And inside the circle is a fist, punching upwards and looking like nothing can stand in its way.

It's cool. And as tokens go, it's not awful or sappy or anything else that makes me want to throw up on our escort again. But still, my answer is, "I don't want it." Harsh, yes. But I can't take it; it's the principle of things. I can't go around saying I don't care about my mother and don't want to be like her and then turn around and start wearing her stuff. Don't want to be a hypocrite, now, do I?

Dad's expression droops into one of hurt, but he knows not to argue further. For one, arguing isn't really Dad's 'thing.' He's too meek for that. But he also knows that urging me to take it won't get him anywhere. People say I'm stubborn as a mule. I prefer to think of it as I'm determined as the sterile offspring of a female horse and a male donkey. Doesn't that sound nicer?

The Peacekeeper steps forward, clearly deciding my father's pushed the goodbye time-limit to the max, but before he can escort him out, Dad pulls me into his arms, giving me an awkward but genuine hug. "Good luck, Anya," he whispers, before allowing himself to be pulled out of the room. Meanwhile, I'm completely paralyzed; as I've said, expressions of sympathy are a big no-no with me. Normally, my reaction would be some sort of sarcastic remark, or just punching the sympathizer. But, for some reason, my brain just shuts down, and I can't think of anything to say or do; emotions whirling around inside me so quickly I can't even tell what they are. In fact, I don't even register anything going on around me until the Peacekeeper by the door comes over and says snobbishly, "It's time to go. I thought you were on a tight schedule."

"Oh, shut up," I snap, heading out the door before he can attempt to 'escort' me. Okay, yes; not the best comeback I've ever said. But give me a break; after waking up with a gigantic hangover, drinking despite that, getting voted to go to my death, throwing up on live TV and talking with the father I hadn't spoken to since I was 13, I think I deserve some leniency.

I'm still deep in thought over the encounter as I'm ushered outside to the station, where the sleek, gleaming Capitol train is stopped. As expected, all sorts of reporters and photographers wait for us, wanting to be the first to get the exclusive scoop on this year's tributes. I notice that they all keep a safe distance from me though, just in case I get the urge to vomit again. I smirk at that and thrust my hands into the pockets of my ragged, torn coat, actually excited to get on the train just so I can check out what sort of alcohol they had on it. I've heard that these Capitol people really knew how to live; hopefully that includes knowledge on how best to get drunk too. With all the surprises and thinking and remembering I did today, I'm quite ready to blast the thoughts away with a nice, long, very overdue drink.

But apparently, the surprises aren't over yet; as my hand fingers the shredded material of the pocket that doesn't contain Damian's little friend (I'll have to figure out how to get it back to him at some point), it brushes against something cool and metallic and most definitely not a normal part of my coat. Frowning, I grasp hold of what feels like a chain and pull it out.

That sneaky rat, I think to myself, taking in the familiar necklace. He must have slipped it into my pocket when we hugged. Huh. Who would have thought that meek, mild Dad was capable of defying my demand that he keep the token? Maybe he's more like me than I thought. Looks like he's got some Anya-style in him after all.

Anya-style. The phrase makes me want to laugh; it just seems pretty absurd. Yeah, Anya-style—drinking, making sarcastic remarks, and generally acting like an idiot. That's totally going to win me the Games. But still, the words stick in my head. Obviously, no matter how drunk, hungover or overall irritated I am, I'm not going down without a fight. And if I do manage to win the Games, I won't do it like my mom would, or my dad, or any previous Hunger Games victor. I'll do it like I would.