Thanks for the reviews, everyone! And for this week's chapter of Anon Reviews I Am Unable to Reply To Via PM:
Riley: Ah, thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it!
You all voted (At least, four of you did!), so here is the Highlights-canon fate of Seeder and Rep: The sand stops moving just as Rep's head goes under. Seeder immediately jumps down from the tree and digs him out, shaken and coughing up sand, but relatively safe and sound.
This option, while saving Rep, might actually just leave him alive for an even worse fate…But hey, let's not go into that! I have no intention of giving Rep a horribly violent death because that was (probably) the last I'll write of the 31st Games. As usual with The Highlights, we'll keep moving forward until the next full-Games story based on a chapter (In this case, Fearless) is finished. Which won't be for a while, since I've only written Chapter 1…
Okay, I'm going to stop rambling and just write the chapter.
32nd Hunger Games
"Nah, I ain't ready to handle a sword, not gonna have time for that. I spent yesterday training with axes." I haven't taken my eyes off my fire, but the girl from Seven is still watching me closely.
"Are you any good? I practiced archery yesterday, I'm definitely getting better." I don't know if she's looking for an ally or just someone to talk to. Hell, I don't even know this girl's name. But, in spite of that, she's been following me since today's training session began. I lean over and start to add wood to my igniting pile of kindling.
"Build that up in a pyramid. It'll last longer." I frown, irritated.
"You listen, I've been taught how to build fires already—"
"Oh, just try it. I know what I'm doing, Hue." There's a brief hesitation as I decide whether or not to reply to her. Doubtfully, I poke the existing wood out of the way and start leaning branches in towards the center, crossing the pieces over one another and forming a rough pyramid over the kindling. I have to admit; it looks like a real-life campfire. The kind we never had in Ten.
"So how come you know my name, but I don't know yours?" I ask. I sit back to admire my handiwork, balancing on my knees and the toes of my boots. I have to crane my neck to look up at her; she's taller than I thought. Now that I think about it, she looks sort of like my aunt Abigail; just a lot younger, without the grays. The girl from Seven's hair falls over her shoulders in dark curls. Salt-free pepper, that's what my aunt would say. Just like mine.
"I know your name because I pay attention during the reapings recap."
"Well, that's awful considerate," I try to sound genuine, "Learning everyone's names like that. I couldn't hardly focus on the TV once I got on the train. That one car coulda fit my whole family inside better than our house can." The girl looks at me blankly. Suddenly, I realize I know exactly who she is. Merchant-class from the middle districts, born well-to-do and stuck up something terrible. They're all the same.
"Oh," she says, "Well, I'm Cypress Hanlon. I think we should get to know each other better during training. Find out our strengths and weaknesses. Then, in the arena, we might be able to watch each other's backs." I expect her to turn away, but instead she stares me right in the face, studying my eyes for a reaction. Seems like she really does want that alliance.
Well no-thank-you, Cypress Hanlon. I know your type too well.
"I've gotta go." I stand up quickly. "Trainer's expecting me back at the axes. We'll talk later, you and me." Cypress opens her mouth to protest, but my back is already turned. As I walk towards the axe station, I hear her speak up.
"Hue, your fire!"
"You keep it!" I call back, and keep going.
There's no trainer waiting for me at the station, but there is another tribute, an older boy with ginger hair and a spatter of freckles across his face. Taller than me, but skinnier, too. It doesn't look like he's grown up with enough food on his plate. Which, for me, is easy enough to relate to. He picks up an axe with a shaft the length of his forearm, which is about all he can manage to lift. He sees me watching.
"What is it?"
"Nothing," I tell him, looking away.
"Hmph. I'd like to see you try it," he mutters, shifting the weight of the weapon in his hands. Well, it's what I came for. I pick out my large axe, the weapon I've been training with since our first day. Granted, I'm not very good at wielding it, but at least I can lift it up properly.
"Wanna fight?" I ask, giving the blade a spin in my hand. The boy grimaces.
"We're not allowed," he reminds me, "Although, I appreciate that you seem to want to put me out of my misery as soon as possible. That's nice to know." At this, the tension breaks, and we both get out a bit of a nervous laugh.
"I'm James," he tells me. "District Seven. At home I'm called by my last name, though."
"Hue Hawkins. Ten. No one at home calls me nothin' but Hue." It takes the length of a handshake and a half for me to realize. "Wait, you're from Seven?"
"You can't barely pick up an axe!" I laugh out loud. Talbot waves his weapon.
"What's this, then?"
"Ah, I'm only joking, you're doin' fine," I say, "But for a Seven…"
"Oh, I know. A Seven who doesn't spend all their time in the forest, big shocker. I mean, with the amount of expert lumberjacks we're obviously raising there, I'm surprised the forests aren't getting overcrowded with them."
"Alright, I get it." The corner of his mouth turns up.
"You know, I've got three older brothers working out there already," he says, "Someone has to stay in school. Right?"
"Sure, right." I don't mention that not one member of my family stayed past grade eight before they dropped out to work on the ranch. I made it all the way to the end of grade seven, but then Selby was reaped and they needed me working again.
"You know, I like you, Hue. So I'm just going to say it," Talbot glances away. "I need help. And if you haven't already got someone, I promise I can contribute to an alliance just as well as you can." With one more day of training left, it looks like everyone wants to find an ally.
Before I can reply, I get a funny feeling in my stomach. Just looking at Talbot, a voice in the back of my mind starts whispering that he's going to die. He has to, if I'm going to get out of here. I don't want him to be killed. Really, really don't want him to. I've only had half a conversation with the boy from Seven, and it looks like we've already become friendly.
Even so, in the arena, I won't need a friend. I'll need an ally, and a powerful one. And Talbot, who can barely lift a weapon he grew up around, doesn't exactly fit the bill. Pair that with the fact that I don't think I can handle watching him die, and I immediately want to distance myself from the boy from Seven. The arena is no place for emotional attachments. When he's killed, I decide, I want to be as far away as possible.
There's a lot I have to sacrifice if I want to make it through the Games. If I want to avenge Selby. Become a victor. Stop the ranch from going bankrupt. It all comes down to the deaths of twenty-three other kids that I hardly know. If that's what it takes, I can't afford to make friends.
In all honestly, I don't trust Cypress as far as her district partner can throw that axe, but allying with her is the best option I've got. Powerful ally, zero emotional attachment. Now I just need to find her again.
"Well?" Talbot already looks like he regrets asking. "Are you in?"
"I can't," I say with a slight sigh, "Sorry. Already in an alliance."
FATE: That day, Hue tracked down Cypress and took her up on her offer. As, it turns out, he was completely right about her—in that she would make a fantastic ally. She knew how to hunt, trap, and identify berries, and was deadly with a scythe. However, there was one thing that Hue didn't foresee. In the arena, Cypress would turn on her ally the moment he had outlived his usefulness. Which, in Hue's case, was about a week and a half into the Games. Cypress badly wounded her former ally, but before she could finish him off, her district partner showed up out of nowhere.
James Talbot proved to be, in reality, an expert axe-wielder. Cypress was killed, and Hue finally took Talbot up on his offer of an alliance. He discovered that Talbot lied his way through the Training Center and interviews by assuming the role of his younger brother (There was one member of the Talbot family still in school and useless with an axe, but it sure wasn't James!).
Hue and Talbot were allies for a while, before splitting up in the final five. Unfortunately, they both made it to the final battle, and were forced to turn on each other. In the end, Hue was able to kill the injured and worn-out Talbot, who had (at that point) long-since abandoned his hopes of making it home alive. Back in Ten, rather than saving the family's ranch with Hue's winnings, the Hawkins family ended up dropping the ranch business altogether, as they had more than enough money to retire early. Hue's memory of the redheaded boy from Seven plagued him for the rest of his life.
(I couldn't do it, I couldn't kill Hue!) Sorry about the wait! Next chapter: The girl from Three and her two allies stumble upon the site of a recent battle.