"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain." - The Wizard of Oz
Within a matter of minutes, many of them – if not most - will be dead.
He wonders if the thought is crossing their minds as the tributes emerge into the arena. It certainly has gone through Seneca's as he watches them standing there, giants on the massive screen that's at the end of the Square.
"Ladies and gentlemen, let the 52nd Hunger Games begin!" Claudius cheerfully calls before the countdown starts.
59… 58… 57…
The camera panes over the tributes' faces. Some are terrified, their eyes darting around towards their various competitors. Others are focused towards the large batch of supplies in the middle of where they all stand, their bodies facing forward, twitching in anticipation. The rest seem somewhere in-between, almost as if trying to come up with a last-minute strategy. Literally.
He's seen it all before; every year in fact. The same countdown actions, just being done by new tributes.
30… 29… 28…
A cheer erupts as one particular tribute comes on the screen. It's the male from District 2; Marcus. A favorite among the crowd, which is no surprise really. He will do well in the arena; Seneca's sure of it.
Someone is squeezing his hand. Seneca looks to find his sister Lelia glancing his way. Her face is ashen with worry. He squeezes back, trying to assure her. She gives a small smile, although the look remains.
12… 11… 10…
Tributes begin to fidget more openly on their platforms as the seconds click down to single digits. This is it. The anticipated bloodbath is about to begin. Those in the crowd become more restless, too, as excitement mounts. Many are counting with the clock, their voices becoming louder with the passing seconds.
9… 8… 7…
The screen once again shows Marcus, who is no longer looking at the stockpile but rather at his fellow tribute from 2. The female who earlier seemed as calm as her companion now appears anxious, her hands shaking. Marcus remains steady, holding her gaze. Sends her a wink. They're both counting, too, except…
A sudden flash erupts not once, but twice as explosions fill the air.
The gong sounds, signifying the official start of the Games. Seneca can only stand there, blindly watching the tributes run, grab, search and attack. Those who hesitate become easy targets as others reach weapons. It's like any other Games. Yet it's not. He continues staring, his mind in shock and unable to register any of it.
The gong jump-starts the crowd as well. Shouts and angry voices replace the earlier jubilee. It's total brouhaha. A hand grabs at him, then another. He's confused, unable to react as Seneca's pushed down, pulled up again, and a fist flies towards him.
"Lelia!" he cries out instinctively, searching for his sister.
Another hand – Lelia's – pulls him out before any fists can strike. She tugs him along, away from the screen and the crowd. Yet she can't stop the replay, which Seneca sees from the corner of his eyes as it appears in the upper screen corner. Nor can she stop the announcer's voice which carries into his ears as they hurriedly escape the Square.
"Have you ever...? Both tributes from District 2 prematurely stepped off their platforms!"