Warmth. That was the first sensation that Alanna perceived. Followed by light, and the soft beeping of a hospital monitor. Her dulled blue eyes fluttered open, and she absorbed her surroundings. She was in a small, white room, laying on a sterile hospital bed, wearing some sort of wristband that hooked her up to a machine that pulsed occasionally. She pulled the covers off, and looked at her other arm, and gasped in surprise at its condition. It was perfect, any trace of injury or dirt gone. She lifted her hospital gown, and found that the puncture wounds from the club had vanished from her torso. Gingerly, she touched her head, and found that the bandages had gone, and her sandy blonde hair had returned to its normal length. The Capitol really did work wonders when it came to making people look as good as new.
The door at the other side of the room opened, and Alanna's mentor, Sandria, cautiously walked in, holding a tray of food.
"How are you feeling, Alanna?" She asked softly as she set the meal on the young girl's lap. It was a roll of bread, a bowl of soup and a glass of water.
"To be honest, I'm actually overjoyed that I can feel anything." Alanna said between mouthfuls of the bread. It was delicious and fresh; her stomach welcoming the food.
"That's excellent. You've made a full recovery then." Sandria said warmly. "And I take it you're well enough to get up? After all, today is the victor crowning ceremony." Alanna's mouth opened ever so slightly as she heard the words. She was a victor; a winner of the Hunger Games; a survivor. And after today, she'd be free of the Capitol and the Games.
"I have to go prepare my things to leave now; your outfit is on the bed." Sandria smiled sweetly, and left.
The largest of smiles exploded onto Alanna's face, and she pulled the wristband off her arm, leaping out of the bed. She had won. She had won! She was going to go home, to see her family once more. And Zach... Alanna threw the gown off, and leapt into the simple outfit left behind. She finished the meal, and swung open the door of her room, walking down the luxurious hallway. The walls were covered in a thick red carpet that seemed to radiate warmth, and was soft to touch. Alanna ran her hands through the fabric, relishing the comforting feeling it gave off. She reached the other end of the hallway, and pushed open the golden doors, finding herself in a living room, with several large sofas, and a TV with a countdown. Alanna looked closer, and saw that there was a message under the timer.
TIME UNTIL VICTOR'S CEREMONY:
5 HOURS, 12 MINUTES, 49 SECONDS
Five hours until the ceremony, and the final interview with Caesar Flickerman II. Which meant only eight hours left in the Capitol. Suddenly, the doors to the room burst open, and Alanna was met with a death hug by her stylist, Celesta.
"I'm so happy for you, Alanna! After all, this is the first Quarter Quell in fifty years that wasn't won by District 12, and the first one by anyone under sixteen!"
"Thanks." Alanna responded, her throat suddenly feeling dry.
"Now, we have the crowning ceremony in a few hours, so I'm actually here to take you to the make over centre." Of course. Even as a victor, Alanna had to go through the horrific ordeal of being coated in makeup and revolting outfits. "And I just know you'll love the theme we've gone for!"
"Can't wait." Alanna said dryly. Even though she had already figured out that satirical dialect was a wasted cause with the Capitol citizens, it still felt good to let it out. "But before we do, could you get me a glass of water?"
"Sure, sweetie." Celesta kissed Alanna's head, and teetered over to the water dispenser. She gave it a long, hard glare before pressing a button, causing a foam cup to pop out of the machine, landing under a pipe, which then began to release water, flowing into the cup, filling it until it overflowed, the water flowing everywhere. Just like the fountain water in the arena, which turned to blood, slowly filling the room with the foul liquid. Alanna shut her eyes as the flashback began to completely overwhelm her, the memories so strong.
"Oh, horsefeathers!" Celesta exclaimed, snapping Alanna out of her shocked state. "Sorry Alanna, but the machine's broken. I'll get an avox on this ASAP." She handed her the full cup, shaking her head. "Sorry that it's so full, but it's the best I can do."
"It's fine, really." Alanna took small sips from the cup, lowering the volume of water until nothing remained. She placed it on the side, and Celesta took her hand.
"Come on, it's time to prepare you for the interview."
Alanna was lead down a white sterile hallway, looking like the room she had woken up in, the scent of disinfectant very powerful, almost overwhelming, even. They reached the end of the hall, and Celesta began to punch a combination of numbers on the security pad on the wall to their left. The silver wall in front of them parted, revealing Alanna's prep team, who instantly flocked to her.
"Oh, Alanna! I always knew you would come back!"
"I absolutely loved the way that you handled yourself when they said that you had to face an opponent against your will!" Alanna lost herself in thought as her prep team trilled about what they did during the Games; where they were, how many parties they attended, whilst they scrubbed her down with a warm foamy liquid that Alanna felt as if she was going to melt into it. After about two hours of repeated rinsing and mindless gossip about pointless matters.
"And then, she went as far as saying that tropical décor wasn't in this season! And we all know that's a lie; last weeks episode of Life as a President clearly showed that the President himself had palm trees growing in his garden! The nerve of some people!" Alanna rolled her eyes as the disgruntled purple woman let out her complaints. The Capitol was so ridiculous; only they could spend half an hour arguing whether or not palm trees were in at the moment. Then a thought occured to her; if she was born in the multicoloured freak circus that governed Panem, would she also get caught up in heated arguments about the colour of someone's hairline? No, Alanna was never one to follow the crowd. She would have ignored the petty debates. But would she have, really?
A cold jet of water cascaded down Alanna's back, bringing her to reality once more.
"And, done! You're now ready to see Celesta!" One of them piped as the three of them left the room, Celesta walking in straight after, holding a package.
"Your outfit." She said before the young girl could even open her mouth. Alanna stood out of the bath tub that she was in, and dried her feet on the rug below.
"Now, close your eyes." Alanna did as instructed as Celesta lifted her arms, the cool fabric sliding down her body. She then felt Celesta putting her feet into a pair of soft shoes, and patting her face with a make up brush.
"Open your eyes." Alanna opened her eyes, and took in her outfit. She was wearing a long, flowing white dress that shimmered in the light, the sleeves flowing outwards like wings. She was also wearing a shining pair of white pumps, but what really caught her attention was her face. It was coated in a fine powder that blended with her skin tone, but with little gold flakes here and there. It made her face look like it was bathed in a holy light.
"We decided on making you an angel. After all, you did transcend from the most unholy of depths, and managed to attain the ultimate reward. And your glowing face represents immortality; you have avoided death itself."
Alanna looked at herself, and found that she did indeed look like an angel from one of the books she used to read as a child. But those books had always said that people became angels when they died after doing good things all their life. But what Alanna had done, killing two people, was anything but pure and good.
"It's time for the interviews." Celesta said warmly as she guided the young victor to an elevator. Alanna stepped inside, and the doors shut behind her, leaving her alone in the elevator. Alanna stood motionless as the elevator rose, anxiety suddenly building up. This was the exact same type of elevator that carried her into the arena. Claustrophobia threatened to take over as the platform rose into the open space of the interview hall, Caesar Flickerman II waving at Alanna as she came into view of the cameras.
"And here she is, the girl herself! Ladies and gentlemen, give a warm welcome to the victor of the one hundredth annual Hunger Games, and the first Quarter Quell! Alanna Pyre of District 6!" Caesar flashed Alanna a smile, and the crowd exploded in joy. "Take a seat!" Cautiously, Alanna crossed the gleaming stage, and sat on the interview chair, her small body comfortably fitting into the fabric on the seat.
"So, Alanna, how does it feel to be the youngest ever victor of a Quarter Quell?" Caesar asked with enthusiasm.
"Well," Alanna said slowly, thinking of what to say, "I'm still having a hard time getting the reality to sink in." In response, Caesar ruffled her hair, and smiled brightly at her, his golden hair shimmering in the spotlight.
"I bet you are. I know I would be if I ever won the Hunger Games!" Yeah, as if you could last three seconds in the arena, Alanna thought as the crowd began cheering her name loudly. "Now, for the first question: What made you decide to join that massive alliance?"
"To be honest, after seeing the way Caleb nearly died during training, I did it more or less to protect myself from the psychotic killers." Alanna replied calmly, and Caesar nodded, before pulling out another question card.
"Excellent, which brings us on to our next question: During day five, what convinced you to help Markus with the super Muttation?" Caesar asked, his eyes glowing with curiosity.
"With that one, Caesar, it was obvious; help him, or die." Alanna responded flatly, eliciting a roar of laughter from the audience. The interview continued, with Caesar asking Alanna various questions on her opinions about the other tributes, until he got to the last question.
"And for the final question: Why was it that you decided to give Markus Lucian the bloody end that he received so violently?" Alanna tensed up. The corpse, torn open, blood everywhere...
She covered her face with her hands, feeling sickened. So she had done it. She had brutally slaughtered him. It was disgusting. But she swallowed her disgust, and answered the upsetting question.
"I honestly don't know Caesar; one minute I'm looking at him; the next, I'm looking at his body through a red haze." The words flew out of Alanna's mouth with incredible speed, and she looked away as soon as she had said it.
"A shame you don't know," Caesar began, motioning to a cameraman, "But you'll get to see all the action again! Roll the recap!" Oh dear god, no... Alanna thought as a large screen descended, the anthem blaring out.
The film cut to President Tisiphone Snow, grand daughter of Coriolanus Snow, giving the Quell announcement, then to the reapings. All the tributes looked so alive. But now they were all dead; two of them at the hands of Alanna Pyre. The film cut to the chariot parades, and the hideous outfits the tributes had to wear. She saw the way Caleb and herself held hands, waving to the crowds. A twang of guilt coursed through her. But he had to die in order for her to live. But the guilt was still eating away at her. Alanna looked back to the screen, as it showed the training scores. But what was coming next was what bothered her the most.
The airy background music became an intense drum beat, as it showed the twenty four tributes all standing on their plates, eyeing up the Cornucopia. Then it zoomed on the girl from 3, who was sobbing hysterically, as she stepped off her plate, leaving the Games before they began. The gong sounded, and all hell broke loose as the tributes scrambled to grab weapons and supplies. The boy from 7 wrestled with the girl from 1 over a dark bag, before both of them were impaled by the boy from 12, who shoved two spears into the battling tributes. He grabbed the dark bag, and nearly made it out of the bloodbath, but ran into the boy from 2. They both engaged in a brief battle, before the boy from 2 was shot by the girl from 11. She fired another arrow, this time catching the boy from 12, killing him. She ran to retrieve his bag, but the boy from 4 pierced her back with a trident. In retaliation, she fired an arrow into his heart, and both tributes collapsed to the floor, dying. It then cut to the pair from 8 as they embraced, then showed the boy from 10 desperately hiding, and the girl from 5 running quickly, clutching her whip for dear life.
The film then showed Alanna and Caleb escaping into the tents, and April, Caera and Aluma meeting up, then the the psychotic boy from 5 crawling into the Cornucopia. It then showed the girl from 10 running to the small housing area, and the boy from 1 entering a large building.
The cameras cut to the boy from 3 as he ran from a screaming woman in the early morning night, unfortunately not being able to outrun her, her razor sharp claws making quick work of him. It then showed both the boy from 1 and the girl from 10 as they also outran undead Mutts, both of them getting injured in the process. Then it showed Caera and April fending off the zombies whilst Aluma gathered their things, and they ran. The film then cut to Caleb and herself as they leapt into the Ferris wheel, then focused on the tiring girl from 2 as she was showered in the corrosive vomit from one of the zombies, melting into nothingness. Alanna resisted the urge to gag as the dissolving mess began to steam. Thank goodness she had decided to escape when she did. And finally, the cameras focused on the boy from 5 as he darted into the treeline of the lake, meeting up with one of his allies.
The film cut to the next day, and the boys from 9 and 11 as they both filled their canteens from the same fountain, filling their stomachs with the toxic water. Then, without warning, a knife stuck through the boy from 11's back, coming out through his stomach. Blood poured from his mouth, and he sank to the floor, a clown Muttation brutally clawing at the boy from 9. He managed to use his knife to kill it, but stumbled into another one, the rusty knife decapitating him. It then showed the others fighting their Mutts, and Alanna and Caleb meeting up with their alliance, and the Cold Killer alliance making quick work of their clowns. Meanwhile, the girl from 4 was running, two clowns on her tail. She climbed a building, desperately using her knife to fend them off, but lost her balance, falling into the clutches of the clowns. Alanna shut her eyes as the girl's screams filled the interview hall.
The next few days were uneventful; just more Mutt killing and an alliance forming between the girl from 5 and the boy from 10. It then cut to the morning of the feast, and Alanna gulped in anticipation of the bloody day ahead.
First, it showed the Cold killers looking quizically at the boxes. After several minutes, the girl from 10 sighed, and lowered her head as the boy from 5 swung his club at her head, sending her flying into the Cornucopia. Their chest opened, and the remaining two members grabbed their packs, and disbanded. Next up came Alanna's alliance, and the pair from 8. April, Caleb and Caera fought them off whilst Alanna and Aluma tried to open their crate. They remained this way until the boy from 8 shoved his trident into Caleb, the boy falling to the floor, clutching his wound. A single tear escaped Alanna's eye as she watched her district partner slowly perish on screen. Taking mercy, Caera swiped her scythe across Caleb's throat, ending his suffering. They then chased away District 8's tributes, and their chest opened, the Anti-Careers taking their supplies, then leaving. But the girl from 5 and the boy from 10 arrived on the scene just as they were leaving, and the girl from 5 struck at Caera with her whip, knocking her scythe to the floor. She charged at them, grabbing her weapon, but not managing to land any hits. The other tributes retreated into the treeline as Caera caught her breath, not noticing the girl from 10 get up. She slammed the girl from 7 to the floor, tearing her chest apart with her teeth, before leaving the bloodied mess on the floor still alive, ambling away from the Cornucopia. The girl from 5 and the boy from 10 returned, and finished the job, ending Caera's life, opening the third chest. The crowd cheered at the brutal deaths, whilst Alanna could feel her stomach flipping. How could they enjoy this so much? Taking away the fact it was innocent kids killing one another, all that gore was enough to induce vomiting for a week.
The next day brought the forced killings, starting off with the undead girl from 10 wandering towards the boy from 1, as per instructions. She eventually found him, immediately overpowering him, feasting on his major organs. Alanna felt the bile rising in her throat; she wouldn't be able to take much more of this. It then cut to the battle between Markus from 5 and Zayn from 8. Markus fired taunt after taunt at Zayn, until he played dead, lowering Zayn's guard, then fired a crossbow bolt at point blank into the boy from 8's chest, sending him flying into a tent, instantly killing him. Next on the list was the first part of the battle between Alanna and Aluma, complete with the deluded Aluma and the endless stream of knives and darts. Before getting to Aluma's death, it cut to the boy from 10 and the girl from 5, who were both hugging and crying. The younger boy then pulled out his mace, and bludgeoned his older ally to death, collapsing in a fit of sobs afterwards. The film then cut back to Alanna as Nova's cannon disturbed her from her power nap. She leapt from her tree, and faced off with Aluma, eventually overpowering the crazed girl, knocking her into the false pool ending her life. Another stab of guilt attacked Alanna; why was she so remorseful? Aluma wasn't hesitating to kill her, or was she?
"I thought we were friends!" The words came back to Alanna as she let out a choked sob, unheard under the dramatic music of the Games. She had killed Aluma, and now felt awful for it. Tears silently flowed down her face, the Capitol oblivious as their eyes were glued to the face off between April and Sarah, Sarah disembowelling the young girl from 12. It had finally hit Alanna; all the killing and deaths. She couldn't control the waves of sobbing as Markus attacked the scarecrow Mutt on the screen, throwing the head in the toilet. Alanna choked back her tears, and returned her attention to the Games as she watched Tavish from 10 get devoured by rats in his sleep. He was only a child... He didn't deserve to die like that. None of them did. Alanna watched as the remaining three tributes battled the flaming Mutts and the undead tributes, Alanna sustaining major damage that would actually be the key to her victory. Markus beat the corroding remains of Emily to a pulp, and Sarah burned Gryffon to shreds, wiping out the undead tributes from the arena. They had been reduced to nothing but Muttations, designed to challenge the surviving tributes. They probably had friends and family back home that had to watch them meet those horrific fates. This was sick; it was wrong. It was bad enough they had to die, but turning them into Mutts was going overboard.
Alanna redirected her attention to the Games as she watched herself leap from the Ferris wheel, hitting the floor. It was extremely surreal watching herself die, and then get immediately picked up by the hovercraft after Markus looted her items.
It was the final two now, and Alanna watched as Markus and Sarah battled it out over the course of the day, arrows flying everywhere, both dealing major blows to one another. The battle moved swiftly towards the Cornucopia, where both tributes were met with a hideous looking wolf Muttation, that fired countless spines at Sarah, turning her into a living pin cushion. She managed to crawl into the mouth of the golden horn, and the wolf picked up on Markus' presense. Alanna watched Markus fire a crossbow bolt at the Mutt, knocking it to the floor, the creature writing in pain as the life leeched from its body, similar to Caleb. Alanna tried desperately to block out thoughts of her district partner as Markus bludgeoned the Mutt's head into oblivion, leaving nothing above the neck. Sarah then began to climb the Cornucopia, desperately trying to reach the free item in the chest, but Markus caught her in the act, and fired at her, knocking her to the floor. She leapt to her feet, and charged at the psychotic boy, and the two engaged in a gruelling showdown, Sarah eventually ending on top of Markus, choking him as she talked to something that was clearly not there at all. But just before he lost the spark of life, Markus jabbed something into Sarah; a poisoned dart. The girl writed in agony as spasms overtook her, and she fell back, lifeless. Markus had done exactly as Alanna was planning to do with her darts if she was in that situation. Markus then grabbed a healing potion, and retreated to a small housing area for the evening.
Instead of cutting to the next day, the Games switched to an interview with the head Gamemaker as a medical team worked on something in the background; Alanna. The interview ended, and it cut to the Cornucopia, the early morning's rays reflecting off the horn. A hovercraft materialised above the area, and gently deposited a very pale Alanna onto the Cornucopia, before vanishing once more. Alanna watched, mesmorised as her undead self wasted no time in tracking Markus, grabbing a katana as she broke down several doors, hunting the crazed boy from District 5 down. What happened next horrified Alanna entirely.
Her eyes misted over, and she began to relentlessly stab Markus, nothing stopping her. She chased him out of the housing area, and towards a barn, where she ended up stabbing him once more. Markus then lead the chase towards the Cornucopia, and the two faced off, mimicking the battle between Markus and Sarah that had occured twenty four hours previous, but Alanna was overpowering Markus, causing the massive brute to flee the scene, heading to the lake where they worked together to kill the super Muttation. Another battle played out, until Alanna tackled Markus to the floor. The young victor watched in horror as she tore open Markus' torso, pulling his intestines out, and wearing them like a scarf. A fashion accessory made of human flesh. Alanna could feel herself on the verge of blacking out, but she kept it together as she watched the next part of the torture session. She pulled out Markus' tongue, forcing him to eat it, before he spewed it back out. This was repulsive and inhumane; all caused by the Capitol. Alanna felt sick, both physically and internally at the Capitol for what they had made her do. Or did they? Perhaps this monster was lurking inside Alanna all along, and it just took becoming a zombie to coax out of her. No, she told herself, that's stupid. No person, not even Markus, would be that gruesome on their own accord.
Alanna looked back at the screen as she saw herself squeeze Markus heart, bursting the organ, instantly killing him. No, she refused to accept that she had done that. Alanna watched as she saw the mist lift from her eyes, and saw as she noticed the remains of Markus Lucian, eyeing them with extreme curiosity. The victory tune played, and she was announced as victor, the hovercraft lifting her into the large vehicle, and the video ended.
"Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Alanna Pyre: The girl who defied death itself!" The crowd exploded in a bout of sheer joy as the anthem sounded out, everyone standing as President Tisiphone Snow herself appeared, holding a silver crown with the number 100 etched into it. She approached Alanna, and placed the crown on the small girl's head, flashing her a smile. But the smile was completely false; almost with a malicious undertone.
"Congratulations to Alanna Pyre from District 6 for acheiving the astounding victory of winning the one hundredth Hunger Games, and the fourth Quarter Quell!" Snow announced, and the crowd erupted once more, before Sandria walked on stage, and guided Alanna backstage, where Celesta was waiting.
"Well, that's that," Celesta began, wiping a tear from her eye, "The train is ready outside to take you home, so I guess this is goodbye."
"I guess." Alanna replied as her stylist crushed her in a death hug. Celesta finally let go, and Sandria took Alanna into the elevator, going down. It opened on the ground floor of the train station, and the two victors made their way across the golden platform to the train, stepping on board. They walked into the dining cart, and the train pulled off from the station, slowly maneuvering through the cheering crowds in the streets, the evening sun giving everything a golden sheen to it.
"So," Sandria began, "What now?"
"What do you mean?" Alanna replied as she looked out of the window at the screaming Capitol citizens, "I've won the Hunger Games, what else is there to do?"
"Well, you have your family for starters; what will you do with them?" The mention of her family sent a smile bursting onto Alanna's face.
"My family... Well, I'll definitely get help for my parents' drug addiction. Then my brother, Zach... I think I'll spend every single day with him forever."
"Seems you're close to your brother." Sandria said softly.
"You wouldn't know the half of it." Alanna said brightly, looking out of the window as they drove through the mountainous tunnel, out of the Capitol. The train sped up, the magnificent city slowly becoming smaller and more distant, until it was nothing but a shining blip in the distance.
Alanna stood out of her seat, and crossed the room, pouring herself a steaming mug of hot chocolate. The beverage was so sweet and energising as it passed her lips. Still holding the mug, Alanna began to walk towards the back of the train, until Sandria noticed.
"Where are you going?" She asked quizically.
"I just need a moment to think, is all." Alanna replied softly, and turned, walking down the hallway. She pushed open the first door, and walked through the hallway, bedrooms lining the cart. Caleb had slept in one of them. Alanna opened the door to the room Caleb had slept in, and took in the sight before her. The bed was still unmade, Caleb's reaping outfit strewn across the floor. It was chilling to see, making Alanna feel like she was intruding on something private and sacred. The train passed a few trees, and the evening sun reflected off of something in the room; a picture frame. Cautiously, as if not to disturb the scene, Alanna walked over to the picture, and picked it up, before leaving the room, shutting the door.
Alanna walked down the plush hallway, to the door at the back of the train, opening it. She stepped outside, and a cool breeze whipped around her hair and clothes. The fresh air was very welcoming, and Alanna sat down on the large bench, her feet dangling over the edge. She clutched the picture frame close, contempt with just holding it, but there was a nagging urge to see what made this photo so precious to her late district partner. Giving in to the temptation, Alanna flipped over the picture frame, and took in the image. Tears began to form in the corner of Alanna's eyes as the went over the details of the picture.
In the middle of the photo was Caleb, smiling, surrounded by two older males that looked very similar to him; his brothers, Alanna guessed. And just in front of Caleb was a small girl, that looked no older than Alanna herself, and very similar in appearance. The two appeared to be extremely close, echoing Alanna's relationship with Zach. Alanna let out a choked sob as she realised that that young girl would never see her older brother again. She felt awful for depriving a family of such a loved member. All because the Capitol wanted to make sure that the districts wouldn't rebel. It was sick, and wrong. If anything, the Hunger Games actually fuelled the districts' hatred for the Capitol, but obviously their simple brains couldn't comprehend that fighting fire with fire was the most ineffective method in the history of subdueing rebellious populations. The tears were flowing down Alanna's face as she stared into the innocent eyes of the young girl in the picture frame. She was old enough to be reaped, yes, but she still carried an air of naivety about her. And now she had lost her big brother. Alanna took a sip of the warm chocolate drink, and watched as the train passed through a wooded area in the dimnishing sunlight, strange shadows being cast from the dancing limbs of the trees, the brief whisper of bird song distinguishable in the howling wind that whipped through the branches. Then, through the forest, Alanna caught the glimpse of an electrified fence. They were obviously passing by a district; one that had lost both tributes.
A sudden strong gust of wind slammed into the trees, causing the porch that Alanna was sitting on to be covered in pine needles. It was then that she recognised the district they were passing by; District 7. Caera... The thought of her late ally once again caused Alanna to well up. Out of all of her allies, Caera's death had been the most gruesome, perhaps the second worst death in the Games. She had a fighting chance, fending off four powerful tributes on her own, not even expecting the undead girl from 10 to try and eat her. But that was how the Capitol loved to play this; killing tributes in unexpected manners, it added to the entertainment value. Alanna didn't doubt that Emily would have tried to kill Caera, but not in that manner. That was beyond human capability; not even Markus, the most twisted tribute out there, would have resorted to eating his foes. It was crossing some line that defined whether or not you were human, and the Capitol had forced both Emily and Gryffon to cross that line, and Alanna, to an extent. At least she didn't crave eating Markus' internal organs. The memories of the recaps caused Alanna's stomach to prepare to throw her hot chocolate back up. She shuddered, and swallowed the rising bile, focusing on the fading light of District 7 as it vanished beyond the horizon. She wondered if the families of Caera and her district partner were mourning the fallen tributes. At least Alanna didn't have the guilt of knowing that she murdered them; those honours went to Nova and Ovid.
The heat began to fade from the air, and Alanna stood up, shivering slightly, from both the cold and the immense guilt. She walked back inside the train, shutting the door, finishing her hot chocolate, wiping the pine needles off of her dress. Fatigue suddenly overcame her, and Alanna retreated to her room, placing the photo on her dresser, and crawled into bed, accepting the welcomed sleep.
But her sleep was anything but peaceful. Alanna's subconscious brought her outside a brightly coloured building, the sun giving off a soft glow, warming the air pleasantly. Alanna looked around, and saw a figure emerging from the trees that surrounded the area.
"Hey." It was April, still clutching her bow. She walked towards Alanna, and wrapped her in a tight embrace. "I'm so glad you won, even if you killed us all." The pleasant feeling left immediately, and Alanna pulled herself off of April as the girl from District 12's eyes glazed over, and a massive gash appeared in her stomach, blood pouring freely as she melted into the ground, disappearing.
A cannon sounded out, and Alanna ran from the spot where April had once stood, into the building. The inside of the building looked similar to the restaurant back home, and Caleb and Caera were sat there, each drinking a glass of fruit juice. Caleb smiled, exactly like in the picture frame, and waved at Alanna, motioning her to sit with them. She obliged, and joined the two as they drank their drinks.
"Isn't the weather marvellous today?" Caera said sweetly, taking a sip of her drink. "Everything's so full of life," Caera's eyes lost their light, and her face began to peel off slowly, blood pouring from her body.
"Everything, except me." Caera's voice was flat; dead. She melted into a pool of blood on her seat, staining the white fabric a deep red.
Alanna cried out in horror at the remains of Caera, and looked at Caleb, who was oblivious to the fact his friend had just died in front of him.
"Caleb, didn't you see that?!" Alanna yelled, but Caleb continued to stare blankly into the distance.
"My family will soon join me." He finally said, and the colour of his drink went a deep red, his eyes becoming blank ovals on his face. Blood then gushed from his mouth, and Caleb collapsed into the table, melting away.
Alanna ran out of the restaurant, screaming, trying to escape the horror. She ran into the woods, not stopping until she ran into a figure with bright red hair. Aluma turned to face her, still holding her knives.
"Alanna! It's you!" She embraced Alanna closely, smiling brightly, "Have you seen the others? We agreed to meet up in the woods." Aluma looked slightly into the distance, as if seeing something Alanna couldn't.
"Well, Aluma. The others... They... Um..." Words became sobs as Alanna tried to explain her allies' fates to Aluma, who looked at Alanna, somewhat confused.
"Alanna, why aren't you telling me?" Alanna looked up as Aluma's eyes lost their colour, and red tears began to drip from them, "I thought we were friends!" The words sliced right through Alanna as she watched Aluma convulse as a pool of blood formed around her.
"I thought we were friends Alanna, I really did!" Aluma was beginning to melt now; her legs becoming one with the blood. She looked up at Alanna, her face contorted in despair, tears of blood flowing down her face. This was too much. Alanna screamed, and ran from the melting mess that was Aluma, through the trees. Aluma's cries of pain could still be heard as Alanna ran down a hill, tripping on a tree root. She tumbled downwards, crashing at the bottom, now in a clearing. She stood up, and looked around, and gasped at what she saw.
Every last tribute from the arena was standing in a circle around Alanna; all of them pale and lifeless. Alanna could feel the panic rising, and her head began to spin as they chanted.
"You killed us. You killed us. You killed us. You killed us."
"Make it stop!" Alanna screamed, curling up in a ball as the chants intermingled with Aluma's screams, creating a hellish cacophony. Then, everything went silent, and a spiked club flew towards Alanna's head.
Alanna's eyes shot open, grateful for the sunlight that was streaming in. She looked around, expecting to see her cabin full of corpses, but instead found the plush red carpet. She got out of bed, and walked into the shower, causing a stream of hot water to cascade down her back. Suddenly, a sharp scream cut through the air, and Alanna tensed up at the voice. It was high, but carried an air of maturity about it. The scream reminded her so much of Aluma. Alanna turned off the shower, and stepped out, wrapping herself in a large towel, embracing the protective feeling it gave off. It reminded her of that winter a few years ago. As Alanna dried off, the scream sounded out again.
"My dress has a tear in it! This is the worst possible thing!" It was just Alanna's escort, to her relief. Aluma hadn't come back from the dead to haunt her. Yet. That would come after the victory tour; after she had come face to face with Aluma's family. Just another wonderful thing to look forward to as a victor. It seemed so hopeless to carry on living, and Alanna wondered if dying in the arena would be more preferable than the life she would have to live from now on. It reminded her of another time when she had lost all hope in life, and she had found hope back then, so perhaps this time wouldn't be so different.
A few years back, when her parents had first started taking drugs, losing their jobs, a terrible blizzard struck District 6, killing the power for the poorer section of the district, where the Pyre family lived. A few days into the horrendous conditions, their measly food supply ran out, and Alanna began to starve. Her parents were stuck elsewhere in the district, so she couldn't rely on anyone for help. After a week of living off virtually nothing, Alanna began to hear the whispers of hope. Apparently, there was a family in the western section of the district that gave away food to starving children. The idea sounded ridiculous, but at that point Alanna was willing to follow any lead if it meant food.
The following morning, Alanna left her house, and began the journey to this so called charitable family. She knew that if these people really existed, then they were being very stupid, as what they were doing was highly illegal. But if the rumours were true, then it was worth travelling halfway across the district. The snow was bitter and freezing as the white flakes whipped around the young girl's hair, but Alanna pressed on, her agonising stomach compelling her to continue onwards.
Eventually, Alanna found a boy, about the same age as her, carrying a loaf of bread. It's golden tinge, combined with the aromatic fragrance was enough to make Alanna's stomach protest in agony until the food was inside of it.
"Hey," She began, "Where'd you get the bread?" The boy looked at her for a moment, as if weighing up the sincerity of her tone, then smiled slightly, and pointed to a street.
"There're some people at the end of the street that give away free food. I got this loaf of bread from them." The boy looked around, and shoved the bread inside his jacket. "Well, I've got to go now, hope you get some food."
"Thanks." Alanna replied, and she watched the boy dart into the snowstorm, vanishing from her sight forever. Now fully aware that this family really did exist, she picked up her pace, and ran down the road, to the house at the far end of the street. She reached the door, and hesitated for a moment. What if that boy lied? What if they turned her in to the Peacekeepers for begging? No, Alanna could see the relief in his eyes as he took in the heavenly aroma of the warm loaf in his hands. He wouldn't lie. Gathering herself once more, Alanna knocked on the door, the cold air causing her to shiver.
After what seemed to be an eternity in Alanna's mind, the door opened, and a dark haired woman opened the door.
"Oh my. Dear, are you okay?" Her voice seemed to radiate warmth, and Alanna found herself on the verge of tears.
"I-I'm cold, and hungry. My parents have gone, and I'm starving." She barely choked out as the woman picked her up, comforting her.
"There, there. We'll get you nice and cozy." She carried Alanna through the warm house, and into the living room. Alanna was placed on a large sofa, next to a boy that looked about three years older than her.
"Ollie, get the oven fired up. We have to help this young lady here." The boy instantly stood up, and nodded.
"Alright," He turned to face Alanna, and smiled warmly. "I'll get you something warm to eat in just a moment. What's your name?"
"Alanna." Her voice was barely a whisper as the warmth of this boy and the heat from the house seemed to melt her into happiness.
"That's a wonderful name. My name's Oliver, but you can call me Ollie for short." Oliver left the room, and went into the kitchen. Oliver's mother pulled out a blanket, and wrapped it around the shivering girl.
"It's alright now, you're safe and warm."
The memory caused Alanna to smile. Back then was bad, too, and she managed to find happiness. Why should now be any different? Alanna pulled out a plain outfit, and slipped it on. She crossed her room, and grabbed the picture of Caleb, and left the bedroom, heading to the dining cart.
When she arrived, Sandria and her escort were already there, eating some fruit.
"Good morning, Alanna," Sandria said with a warmth that matched the family from all those years ago, "Sleep well?"
"No," Alanna mumbled as she grabbed an apple, sinking her teeth into it, "I had a horrible nightmare that all the dead tributes were yelling at me that I killed them all." She shivered slightly as she remembered Aluma's screams, and the way she melted. A stream of tears fell from her eyes, the clear fluid glistening with sorrow. Sandria walked over to Alanna, and embraced the young girl.
"Alanna, I'm so sorry to hear that, but it's a natural occurrence, especially for new victors. For the first few months, you'll have nightmares every night, with the dead tributes haunting you. But they can't hurt you; they're just your brain's way of coping with the traumatic experience of spending two weeks in hell." Sandria held Alanna closer for a moment, before letting go.
"Besides, you shouldn't be sad today. Since later this morning, we'll be arriving in District 6; home." All sorrow melted away at that moment as Alanna's mind raced with the thought of seeing her family once more. She would see Zach, hear his innocent giggles once more, and see her parents, even if they preferred their hallucinations to reality. Alanna was nearly bouncing off her seat as the familiar electric fence came into view outside of her window. The train slowed down as it passed through the barriers, and Alanna let out a squeal of delight as she set her eyes on District Six once more; the place she thought she'd never see again.
Suddenly, a loud noise registered to Alanna. At first, it was like a dull humming, but as the train approached the station, the mystery noise became more distinct. It was a crowd; a cheering crowd. The train turned a corner, and Alanna saw what looked like the entire district cheering and waving to the young victor as the train pulled to a stop.
"Well, this is it for me..." Alanna's escort began, suddenly emotional, but Alanna's mind was elsewhere at that moment, "I guess I won't see you again until this time next year; you'll have a different escort for the victory tour." She pulled into Alanna for a hug, and she awkwardly obliged.
"Thanks, and be careful. I don't want you escorting next year's tributes in several pieces, now do we?" Alanna said, the words sounding strained.
"I don't know; after your stunning victory they're thinking of promoting me to District One's escort! The most prestigious of all the positions! I'll of course be sure to say hello to you if I get the chance though."
"Thank you." Alanna said again, astounded at how this woman went from a snivelling wreck to a bubbly self centered woman in the matter of a second. Sandria pulled Alanna's hand, and the two victors watched as the train doors opened. The sound of the crowd intensified, and Alanna and Sandria stepped off the train, and walked down the steps to the road, where a car was waiting for them. They climbed inside, and the car sped off, past the cheering crowd, to the Victor's Village.
"Well, this is it." Sandria said as the golden fencing surrounding the village drew into sight, "Now beings your changed life."
"I know," Alanna replied, watching as the driver exchanged a brief word with the Peacekeeper on guard, and opened the gates, "I just hope that the nightmares don't last too much longer." The car slowed down, and stopped outside one of the mansions, and Sandria opened the door of the car, stepping out.
"Come on, your new home." Upon hearing these words, Alanna burst out of the car, and ran up the concrete path, passing by the fertile garden, and to the front doors. She pushed them open, and stepped inside. The house smelled clean, and new. Alanna turned to face Sandria, and hugged her.
"Thank you," She choked, welling up with a vast range of emotions once more, "Thank you so much for keeping me alive."
"Don't mention it," Sandria replied, glistening tears dripping off her wisened face, landing on Alanna's soft hair, becoming entwined with the blonde strands, causing the hair to shine ever so slightly, "I just didn't want you to die."
"But what about Caleb?" Alanna said suddenly, clenching the photo frame in her hands.
"Listen, Alanna, as harsh as this sounds, I knew Caleb would never make it out alive. But you, on the other hand, had enough drive, and passion, to just maybe pull through. And you did."
"So, all this time..." Alanna stared at the tear stained photo frame, "You knew Caleb wasn't going to survive? When did you figure this out?"
"Alanna, you won't like this, but as soon as I laid eyes on him. I knew that he would last a week tops. I'm sorry if I'm coming across as a harsh person, but after mentoring enough tributes, you tend to know when certain ones have no chance of making it back, and Caleb, unfortunately, fit that category to a T."
"Oh..." Was all Alanna could say, before a wave of sobs wracked her tiny frame as she once again was hit with the reality that Caleb had died.
"Alanna, don't cry. It's bad for your health to dwell on the past's negativity. Instead, focus on the hope that the future will be better; it's how I've been coping."
"Al-Alright." Alanna stuttered as she walked further inside her new home. "I'll guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
"Of course; we are neighbours now, after all." Alanna smiled softly, and ran inside her house, eager to explore. She ran upstairs, and opened a door that had her name engraved on it.
The bedroom was massive, with a huge bed, lined with velvet sheets, and a large mahogany dresser. Alanna walked over to it, and placed the picture of Caleb on the dresser, facing the bed. There. Now she'd never forget the wonderful person that had been her district partner.
Suddenly, a figure moved near the doorway, and Alanna cried out in response as the tiny dark haired toddler wrapped his arms around her leg.
And in that moment, all the sorrow and despair in Alanna's life seemed to vanish as she held her baby brother close, cherishing every second that Zach clung to her leg. She was filled with a joy like no other as she kissed the top of his head. Maybe Sandria was right; perhaps the future would hold brighter things. And with the penultimate source of joy in her life right next to her, perhaps the nightmares would not be so bad that night.