Author's Note: Hey guys. "24 Tributes, 24 Wars" is a 24/24 collaboration where a number of writers come together to each take over an individual tribute as they're sent into the Hunger Games. This is a reboot of "This is War," an earlier version organized by xXThisIsWarXx which ended up flaming out. Fortunately, a number of writers (including myself) from the first came together to kick the tires and get this story going again.
The story takes place during the 34th Hunger Games, during President Snow's initial rise to power as the Capitol is still finding its legs a generation after the conclusion of the Dark Days. I'll be posting authors responsible for each chapter at the end of the respective installments, so you can get to know the writers and their tributes as a team. If I don't write an author, that means I wrote it – like with this prologue.
Hunger Games, Capitol, Snow, etc etc are all intellectual properties of Suzanne Collins. Original characters and ideas are properties of respective writers herein. The original idea of this story's first iteration belongs to xXThisIsWarXx. Original idea of a 24/24 collaboration belongs to the writers ofTears of Blood, a Hunger Games story. Rated T for violence, language, and assorted themes.
Prologue – Outside the Capitol, 34 Years After the Dark Days
There's something poetic about blood on fresh snow.
The bolt from my speargun has pierced the fallen bighorn sheep straight through the throat. Evidence of the kill bleeds out onto the crisp white scenery under my feet, ruining the serenity of this icy, alpine landscape with a fresh coat of crimson. I kick snow off of the bighorn's tawny hide with my steel-toed boot; this is a kill I want to savor. It's picture-perfect; a masterpiece laid onto this picturesque canvas. The Capitol in winter truly has no equal, even with the bitter cold.
"An excellent shot, Protector," a lanky man with short-cropped silver hair strides up behind me, stepping over a rocky outcropping and toting a long, scoped rifle over a bony shoulder. "It died of shock before it fell."
"Isn't it interesting, Atlas?" I say as I stare at the cooling animal corpse. "It tried to run even as it died. People don't do that. Too often our kind simply lay down and die. Accept what comes. The end. There's probably something to that."
"What's to that," Atlas nods at the animal. "Is that you killed the sheep, sir."
"I'm thinking too much," I mutter. Ultimately, Atlas is right. There's no thought to killing. You pull the trigger – bam, dead. You forget, you move on. One lives, one dies. Nobody remembers the dead.
There's an event the Capitol holds every year in a memorial for our dead during the rebellion of the districts, called the Hunger Games. Bizarrely, to remember our losses against the rebels, we take 24 of their children and kill 23. But even in that, we remember the victor – bathe him or her in riches, set them for life as a celebrity among our vapid, appearance-obsessed citizenry. No one remembers the 23 kids who die at the end of a sword or spear or fall to dehydration. They're just casualties in the end, paying the price for entertainment.
It's not my place to question that system, I suppose. I'm not involved, after all – I simply command the Capitol's military power. No Hunger Games for me.
As my sergeant-at-arms, Atlas keeps me grounded. I'm not celebrated as some great hero like the Gamesmakers of the Games, or the nascent President Snow (who I'm not sure I even trust yet. A 36 year-old president? I'm skeptical.) Instead, I do my work in solitude and quiet. I ensure that my soldiers, the Centurions, don't get out of line and that the districts do what we need. I keep an eye on the Peacekeepers – who really ought to be under my control.
I don't kill kids, however.
"Do you plan on keeping it, sir?" Atlas scoops the bolt out of the bighorn's neck, wiping the warm blood on the snow before pocketing the ammunition in his leather bandolier. "A fine specimen."
"No," I say, looking down at the kill. It is a good kill…but what would I do with that? "No, I'll let some other beast have an easy dinner. No doubt one of them deserves it."
"Easy dinners breed complacency," Atlas points out. "I doubt the districts would complain to an easy dinner. Is there a difference?"
"Of course, th – " I stop mid-word. Is there a difference between beast and district? After all, we in the Capitol hardly view the districts and the plebeians who inhabit them as people. They're tools. Cogs in the machine. "If they got an easy dinner, the districts would come to rely on it. That's how we spark revolts."
"You could say the opposite as well, sir," Atlas squints as he looks away, the alpine sun cresting over the mountains and reflecting off his dull brown eyes. "Too little, and you give them nothing to lose."
"I suppose I won't be president any time soon," I slap him on the shoulder with a grin. "Boo-hoo."
I'm about to propose we head back to our ground car parked a mile away in the mountains when the abrupt arrival of a loud noise interrupts me. A soft thump-thump-thump rapidly grows into a roar as snow whips into a cyclone of white powder. It's not a hovercraft as I first think – contrary to what many of the districts think, we're not actually loaded with hovercraft. The great black bird descending now glides in not on thrusters but on rotors that spin like a tornado.
The falcon-like helicopter spots us and banks, forcing Atlas and I back from the howling gusts of its rotors as it comes in for a landing. A man dressed entirely in white battle armor hops out of the passenger hold, vaulting off a mounted railgun as he instantly camouflages into the bleached surroundings.
I'll give the Peacekeepers credit: In the snow, they're virtually invisible.
Not like that entrance was invisible, given that the helicopter gave Atlas and I at least a good minute of warning. The Peacekeeper striding up to me as if he owns the world is all too familiar, however – the strut in his hips and shoulders, the long face with the high cheekbones, the coal-black eyes that radiate an intense hatred of everything alive or dead. Those grotesque, inhuman eyes scan over the bighorn corpse as the Peacekeeper steps over the animal, kicking it in the head with the back of a rubber-soled boot as he does so.
The man, Agrius, is the Chieftain of the Peacekeepers – and by proxy, my personal rival. We don't get along.
"Protector Benedict Nomos," Agrius spits, his mouth hardly moving as he speaks the words slowly. His angular, misshapen face looks even icier than our surroundings here high in the snowy mountains; his eyes appraising me with a chilly bitterness. "There has been an…accident."
"I take it you're used to those," I mutter.
It takes all of Agrius's self-control to not step up to my insult. I'm rather impressed by the way his face contorts as he soldiers on: "Head Gamesmaker Horme is dead. President Snow requests you at once."
"Dead?" I raise an eyebrow. I never liked the man, but that's an…interesting coincidence, seeing that Snow didn't like him either. "How did he die?"
"It doesn't matter," Agrius quickly rebuffs my question, spit flying from his mouth into the snow. "President Snow demands your presence immediately."
"I suppose it's better not to have faith in investigations from your organization," I say before Atlas can smooth things out.
Agrius snarls the answer I want: "He was poisoned. My men have seized his assets and close associates and are interrogating them as we speak. This is none of the military's concern."
I snigger insane. By "interrogating," he means that most, if not all, are already dead. The Peacekeepers have a way with brutality, typically involving knives, electroshock machines, and acid drips onto raw skin. I've seen a few "interrogations" myself; the most recent being a harvester from District 11 Agrius was convinced had been plotting an insurrection in the district. I, on the other hand, figure they vivisected an innocent man. Either way, it's in the past now. It's not the military's concern, right?
Perhaps our concern isn't existing as a paranoid secret police body, either.
"Very well," I sigh melodramatically. "What does the President want me for?"
Agrius's answer is far more chilling than the coldest wind here on the mountain: "He has already announced his decision on live media. You are to be the next Head Gamesmaker for the 34th Hunger Games. We leave at once."
Blood in the snow.