EDIT: This has been nominated for the Energize WIP Awards! There is a link on my profile if you want to vote. Voting ends March 20, so don't forget to vote soon.

Twilight die-hards: although this replaces Breaking Dawn, Bella and Edward are only seventeen. Don't shoot me.

Also, please forgive the Purple Prose (TV Tropers will know what I mean).

The Reaping

"Change me."

My voice cracks as though my throat is parched and I've been screaming. I prop myself up on my elbow. My eyes examine Edward's perfect face one last time, searching for relent and pity. I find none. He scans me slowly before tracing his ice-cold fingers down my cheek. I shiver, though I've long become inured to his frigid touch. His black eyes frighten me today more than usual. Perhaps I'm worried that, in the panic and horror of today, he'll lose control. He shakes his head. For a moment, I wonder if he's answering my unspoken question.

"No, Bella. It's too dangerous," he replies.

"Edward, please. You said you'd do anything to protect me."

"Rob you of your soul?"

He hates himself more than ever for allowing this to happen to us. I can't stand seeing him hurt himself like this. I bolt upright, suddenly furious.

"No!" I yell at him, hoping I don't wake any of the others. Well, they're not sleeping, so I guess that's impossible. "You are not a monster! They're the monsters, Edward! They take children to use in their games. They watch people die for fun. You're no monster... you, Esme, Alice, Emmett, Rosalie, and especially Jasper. You sacrifice what you need to live so that people won't die... they kill for fun!"

Edward rests his hand on my shoulder. "Bella, you know I'll never let anything happen to you."

"Even today, when one of their bullets could kill even you?"

He doesn't reply, only gazes at me sadly. His eyes say everything. We're not supposed to be here.

Volterra was bombed years ago, and vampire clans have been slowly hunted, by humans, off the face of the planet. Even the conspiracy theories have died. Finally, he says,

"Let's hunt." We slip outside.

Our part of District 12, nicknamed the Seam, is usually crawling with coal miners heading out to morning shift at this hour. Their faces are plastered with dirt, scars covering their hands and face. Even Edward, after his time in this outlying district, no longer possesses the perfection I once adored him for. I've become accustomed to it. But today the streets are empty. Of course. The Reaping isn't until two. Most people take it as an opportunity to sleep in. The coven takes it as an opportunity to hunt.

It's early morning; the sun hasn't risen yet. Edward is a bit luminescent, though it isn't enough to notice. I used to find it funny that vampires, the all powerful creatures of the night, who could rip apart trees and stop cars with their bare hands, sparkled. Not anymore. There isn't any beauty in the Seam. Nothing's shiny, nothing gleams. Except my vampire family.

We live near the edge of the Seam. We only have to glide past three houses, the Everdeens' and two more, to reach the field known as the Meadow. It's nothing compared to where Edward and I used to spend our days. The grass is tall and chaffy, like straw. Sometimes, during the spring, we like to pretend that we're back home, he letting me trace patterns on his face as he gleams like a thousand diamonds. That era is over. Our meadow is underwater.

Separating the Meadow from the woods is a high chain-link fence, enclosing the entire District, with barbed wire protruding from the top. It's meant to be electrified twenty-four hours a day to keep away predators in the woods— wild dogs, cougars, bears, mountain lions, and nomadic vampires, though the latter would have no trouble— that used to threaten our streets. Edward says it's meant to keep us in as much as to keep things out. Then again, we're lucky to get two or three hours of electricity in the evenings. It's usually safe. Edward doesn't pause to listen. He wraps his arms around me, sweeping me off my feet, and leaps into the air, clearing it by at least ten feet.

Trespassing is illegal, not that we really care. So is vampirism, which is rare but a commonly known fact. They've developed a sort of "cure" for it, and any vampires who don't turn themselves in immediately are subjected to it and publicly executed. It's rare, these days, but the Cullens have been more careful since Carlisle's death. He was burned and blown to bits in a mining explosion. It reminded us that even the ageless are mortal. Some nights I still wake up screaming for him to run.

Last fall, as I've been told, a few souls snuck into the woods to gather apples. I arrived in the winter and tried to find what was left, but the dead plants reminded me all too much of when Edward had abandoned me in Forks. Alone. I shiver even now, with my hand in his. The depression has returned.

Most of the Peacekeepers pretend not to know about Edward's hunting abilities. Humans prefer their game without blood. Vampires prefer to drain that blood themselves. He sells the meat. It keeps us alive and keeps our cover. I know I would be executed for interaction with Mutts, or Mutants, as they would be called. Some people have guessed the truth. I'm sure we'd all be dead if it weren't for Alice's foresight and Edward's telepathy.

In the woods we can be ourselves. I can feel myself relaxing already. I sigh. Edward smiles. My pace quickens. I'm anxious to get to the our place, a rock ledge overlooking a valley, where I can be certain that no one is watching. A thicket of berry bushes protects it from unwanted eyes. When we reach it, Emmet is already waiting.

"Hey, Bella, Edward." He grins. "Look what I shot." He holds up a piece of bread with an arrow stuck in it. I know he doesn't need it, and the gesture makes my eyes water. I haven't tasted real food in ages. I know it was meant to make me laugh, and I begin to feel guilty. Either way, he tosses it to me. This is real bread, bakery bread, not the dense loaves Esme desperately tries to make me eat. I take it in my hands and I pull out the arrow— really just a sharpened stick, and smell it.

"My gosh, is this real?" I question, my mouth watering. He nods. "What did it cost you?"

"Rosalie got it. Managed to coerce the old man into giving it to her. . . wonder how."

I nod anxiously, my teeth ripping into the crust. It's soft and buttery. Emmet grins and disappears into the woods. I'm alone with Edward again.

"Why do you think—" I begin.

"We're worried about you. You're depressed again, and shallow. She says you look like you did when I left you."

I examine my skin. I'm a bit more tan than usual from all of the sun. I feel the bruises underneath my eyes and can tell how my ribs show through my skin. Everyone in District 12 is this thin, though. It's not a big deal, is it? I wish Edward would just bite me already. I could help defend us if we ever needed to. Three vampires were executed— Garret, Peter, and Charlotte, all old friends of my family— last month in the public square. It happens about once a month. But surely we'd be safer in numbers?

Suddenly, Edward leaps into a tree, after a bird. There aren't many large animals out here, and he isn't comfortable hunting anything that big with me still around. He could still lose control, despite everything we've been through together. He snatches his prey out of the air. I half-laugh. He gnaws into it and tosses it aside. It was disturbing at first. He's unwilling to leave my side in the turmoil that is Panem, so I've had to become accustomed to watching vampires hunt. It almost began to seem like a game after a little while, especially after encounter humans doing the same. Edward tried to teach me to shoot, but I fumbled too much with the carefully carved bow he gave me.

A deer darts out of the woods, away from something. Someone else lost their catch. Edward takes his chance and attacks it. I hear an angry female voice in the distance. Well, at least someone's enjoying it. The deer's dead in seconds. After all this time, I still feel a bit guilty. Blood or no blood, it'll earn good money at the Hob, District 12's black market.

"Venison," he reminds me, sensing my discomfort. I groan. If this is the price for Edward, I'll pay it. It still makes me sick.

A few birds and an angry mountain lion later, his eyes have returned to their liquid gold. He leads me back towards our place. It reminds me too much of our meadow to ignore. We relax there until I feel calm again. The sun passes from behind the clouds and suddenly he's gleaming. I gaze at his now sparkling figure, now nostalgic for the beauty that surrounded my time. I miss being clean. I miss Charlie and Mom and Jacob. I'll never see them again. Life will always be like this.

We recline in the soft grass. I gaze into the expanse of the sky and pretend for a moment that I'm home again. Edward and I lay apart from each other, just relaxing, his fingers still intertwined with mine. I would be happy to lay here forever. But the world isn't like that. The reaping is today, whether I want it to be or not. It is just like before. He's shocking, his pale white skin literally sparkling in the sunlight, like thousands of diamonds glittering as if imbedded in his skin. He's like a statue, the gorgeous renaissance variety, his entire body too perfect to not be sculpted. It's as though he's carved in some unknown stone, marble smooth, too beautiful to have been discovered yet.

Except Panem had discovered it. It's called Vespillian, and it's an element of its own. It couldn't be manufactured and was "useless" to them.

I bask in the sun, the air crisp. Panem does have some beauty, I supposed. I curl up, gazing at him for seemingly hours. He knows how much I enjoyed doing so. I'm afraid that he will fade, nothing more than a mythical imaginary friend. The gentle breeze ruffles my hair and his. It's the only thing that separates him from a well-carved rock. Even so, he's magnificent. I have to laugh at myself. I never seem to get over it. I glanced away for a brief moment.

"We could do it, you know," he suddenly whispers quietly, breaking the spell. He had almost convinced me that he was a rock.

"What?" I question.

"Take off, live in the woods."

I don't know how to respond. The whole idea is ridiculous.

"If we didn't have everyone else," he adds quickly.

I wish it could be that simple. But the fact is that the Cullen coven is too large for that. The District is small; everyone would notice. They'd send a hovercraft for us. Edward, Esme, Alice, Jasper, Rosalie, Emmet— all executed. My life would be spared, but I would be sent to the Capitol and have my tongue cut out. Maybe, if I was lucky, one of the Cullens would have bitten me by then so I could die, too. I used to think that a life without Edward would be so completely pointless. I was so wrong. It was completely pointless. There was nothing worth living for in the whole of Panem save love.

"What do you want to do?" I ask hesitantly. He turns towards me, his face still sparkling with the light of a million diamonds, casting rainbows onto my face. He grins.

"What do you think?"

He cups his hand to my face, the sun glistening off of my skin as well. The light embraces me. He still glimmers with all the sun's radiance. I stroke his shimmering hand as I had all those months ago. He presses his flawless lips to mine briefly. I'm shocked, as usual. I glance down. With his hand on mine, I look almost like I'm sparkling, too. I remember the last time in our meadow. His golden eyes mesmerized me, as they do now.

"You're afraid, Bella," he whispers. I shiver. He exhales, his sweet scent making my mouth water. I leaned in, but unlike last time he doesn't shoot away from me. I lean my head on his shoulder and sob. I know I'm going to be picked, I have to be. It's only my luck. It's like one of those cruel jokes. I should laugh at it, now. I can never have my forever with Edward; the universe doesn't work that way. Then he shot away from me, grabbing a branch from a tree.

"... Edward?.."

He did this our first time in the meadow. He was trying to scare me away. This time he only grins as he effortlessly snaps it in half. He is back next to me in only half a second, presenting me with the remains of the branch.

"I won't let them hurt you." He takes a rock from next to him and crushes it in between his fingers. His velvet voice makes me shiver uncontrollably, despite his attempting to comfort me. Everything is... wrong. He glances in the sky.

"It's time to go."

Edward has adapted well to life in the wild. He instantly learned hunting— for humans but not for humans— to keep me alive, and has become accustomed to telling time by the sun. Something about this rural life suits him. I'm far too clumsy for this "lifestyle." I want more than anything to work in the mines, it ought to help, but everyone tells me it's too dangerous. I think all of us are traumatized after what happened to... Carlisle. I force myself to think the name and swallow.

The two of us stand. As we make our way out of the woods we gather a bit. When we first made it to Panem, my vampire family had insisted that I learn a few survival skills. I could barely manage a simple trap at first, and I would've taken Jasper's head off if he was human. But Emmett was originally from the wild, and Jasper was from the West. They taught me to handle a knife and handle it well. It's the one thing I can do without seeming clumsy, except for bow hunting, which is a sort of hidden talent of mine. In the end, I was one of the better hunters in the family, although I did it with an arrow, not my teeth. Today, though, I only gather berries, herbs, and a couple of squirrels that crossed my path.

On the way home, we stop by the Hob. Edward had been cautious with me going in there at first, but now he's confident that, even if they did realize what he was, they wouldn't turn us in. I'm sure some would be terrified, but the legends of murderous vampires have faded and morphed into the myths of the lithe and elegant ageless, so envied and loathed by the Capitol. The girl next door to us and my school friend, Katniss, knows of Edward's "nature." She hates the Capitol and sees hiding my family as a form of small scale rebellion.

The Hob is an abandoned warehouse near the edge of the Seam. When they realized that it was more efficient to transport coal directly from the mines to the trains, the place slowly, as I've heard, became breeding ground for outlaws, smugglers, and anyone else out for themselves. Eventually it became a black market. Most businesses are supposed to be closed by now, but not so the Hob. It isn't as crowded as usual, though, as most are still submissive to the government. But Edward and I don't role over and play dead. Today we trade about a gallon of blackberries and three birds for a soup from Greasy Sae, the bony old woman who I can't seem to get along with. Today she seems in a better mood, despite the murky black cloud lingering over the District. She takes half of the greens off our hands in exchange for a few chunks of paraffin and a bowl of soup. We might do a tad better elsewhere, but Edward says it's best to stay on good terms with her. She's the only one in the Hob who consistently sells great beef, although I suspect it might be something else.

I head over to the mayor's house. The sun is out from behind the clouds and is high in the sky; Edward's cap isn't enough to hide the sun from his face. I know that they have frequent visitors, just like during Girl Scout season back home, but Madge and I have been good friends for awhile. I beg Edward one more time for immortality on the way. Even if it's too late for the change to take place, at least I could miss the Reaping. Edward had gathered a basket of blueberries, knowing that the mayor adored all things wild. His favorites are strawberries, but half the town will be trying to sell them today. Madge cracks open the door to see who it is. Most people expect her to be a snob— I expected her to be a Jessica— but a disrespected father and a constantly ill mother have granted her tenderness and modesty. She's more of an Angela. We're in the same grade in school, and we seem to end up in a lot of classes and activities together. Ever since I encouraged Edward not to form the "Cullen table" at lunch, we've sort of formed a group of friends. She, Katniss, and I are the quietest of the lot. We're friends nonetheless.

Today her drab school uniform has been replaced by an elegant dress, her blonde hair curled and pinned up around her face. She's used a bit of dried strawberry powder for makeshift blush and a few other substances I can't identify around her lips and eyes. Reaping clothes, I realize with dismay.

"Pretty dress," I awkwardly comment. She shoots me a look.

"Mom wanted me to look my best in case I ended up going to the Capitol. But obviously that isn't going to happen." She rolls her eyes at an unseen person. Someone else must have commented on it when she told them that. She won't have signed up for any more name entries. Neither have I, so I don't comment. I shrug and offer her the blueberries.

"How much?" Madge inquires.

"Just the usual price."

Her eyes flash to meet mine and I realize that she's been crying. I don't know her to be a sensitive girl, but the aura of unease settling over the land like a deadly mist sends everyone into a cold panic. My emotions have been more volatile than ever. I sigh as she passes the coins into my hands. I finger them briefly before tucking them into my pocket. I wave goodbye and turn away home.

I wonder who had taken a stab at her wealth. I know they were right, but that doesn't mean what they said was right. The reaping system is unfair, with the poor getting the worst of it. You become eligible for the reaping the year you turn twelve. That year your name is entered once. When you turn thirteen, it's entered twice. And so on and so on until you reach age eighteen, the final year of eligibility, when your name goes into the pool seven times. That's true for everyone in all twelve districts of Panem.

But there's a catch. Say you're poor and starving and have nothing to keep you alive. You can opt to add your name in more times in exchange for something called tesserae. Each tessera is worth a meager year's supply of oil and grain for one person. You may do this for each of your family members as well. So, at the age of twelve, my friend Katniss had her name entered in four times: once because she had to, and three for she, her sister Prim, and her mother. And the entries accumulate. So if you do this every year, you'll eventually have your name in the pool forty or fifty times. I think Katniss has her's in at least twenty times. But, if you're rich, though, you have no reason for this. So your name only goes in a maximum of seven times.

I have a feeling that Gale Hawthorn, a frequent seller to them, was the one who set her off. He sits with us every day. Although he keeps quiet, Edward tells me about the rants he has in his head over the Capitol, which he never thinks without a swear word or two in front of it. Madge probably made him jealous. She's never been at risk of needing tessera, and the chance of her name being drawn is minuscule compared to those of us who live in the Seam. Not impossible, but very slim. Even though the rules were set up by the Capitol, not the Districts, and certainly not Madge's family, it's hard not to resent those like her, even for me. I may not have to sign up, but I'm far from well-off.

Edward would probably resent her, too. Some days, deep in the woods, I listen to him rant about how the tesserae are just another tool to cause misery to our district. He used to consider himself a monster by nature, and to see human beings acting like Volturi really makes him smolder underneath his icy cold skin. He is usually furious at himself for getting us into this, at the Capitol for setting up these horrors, at Carlisle for dying, at Carlisle for making him immortal, at God for creating vampires, at God for creating man, at nature for evolving vampires, and at nature for evolving man. He isn't really sure what he believes anymore, but I think he prefers to believe in a Creator if only for someone to be angry at.

At home, I find the Cullens ready to go. Esme wears a fine silk dress— one that she refuses to sell because of its sentiment— from the days when Carlisle was still employed in apothecary. Although doctors receive few customers because of their high prices— not to mention the cost of medicines— apothecaries are our healers. Carlisle had often used hunting as an excuse to gather herbs. They had made good money this way, until the Capitol ruled that these unapproved shops were illegal. With the exception of poaching, we strictly followed the rules in those days. Carlisle, Emmett, and Jasper began working in the mines while Edward and I began our work at the Hob.

Alice and Rosalie wear slightly ruffled cotton, loose in the skirt and gathered at the hips. They've both managed to make themselves look stunning. They've decked it with something that looks like a mixture of small pinecones and buttons. Although it's dirty, their senses of fashion have overcome, even in these hard times. Edward, Emmett, and Jasper wear the same white that is customary on reaping days. It doesn't suit them.

A tub of lukewarm water waits for me in my room. I scrub off the grime of the woods as best I can and run a brush through my hair before pinning it back. It takes a few stumbles with it before I manage. Even then, it's not my best work. To my surprise, a lovely blue dress is left out for me with matching shoes. I look mediocre at best, although Edward continues to insist that I look beautiful.

"Are you sure?" I ask Esme, stepping outside. I hate it when people give gifts to me, and this is something special. I know anything that Carlisle gave her is special to her.

"Of course," she replies slowly, as though every word pains her.

"Let's put your hair up, too," Alice offers. She pins my hair, a special sort of style, folded upwards onto my head and braided. She says it's what I would've worn for my wedding if we'd ever had it. It only takes a few seconds.

"Thank you," I manage, staring at myself in the cracked mirror. I don't look nearly as out of place among the vampire coven today, although my plain face refuses to change at all. But something about my blue dress brings out the brown in my eyes.

"You look beautiful," says Edward, standing next to me. I give him a quick hug. I know he's worried about me. The unthinkable can and will happen to anyone. I wonder if I'd be more protected as a vampire. Suddenly I think of something.

"Edward, how are you going to... they're going to try and take blood!" I gasp. He shrugs.

"Venom will work if I mix it with something red. It still has our DNA," Alice explains.

Leave vampire things to vampires, I chide myself.

I'm not hungry for lunch, and as I'm the only one who actually needs it I don't eat anything. I let myself panic instead. We sit on our beds, unmoving and silent. My vampire family reminds me of statues when they're like this. They neither blink nor breathe, and they don't adjust their positions. They look like exquisite sculptures, the perfect lifelike variety, as they recline like fossils from Pompeii, forever frozen in time. My breathing accelerates rapidly. What will happen if one of them is chosen? The Capitol would find out about their vampirism and execute them on the spot. I start clench my fists to keep from shaking. The adrenaline courses through me. I try to hold still, but it physically pains me to hold still. My legs quiver despite my efforts, each jerk of the leg painful from the way my muscles tense. I'm having a panic attack.

Jasper is by my side in an instant. "Bella, Bella, stop," he interrupts me, his words pouring out of his mouth like sweet honey. His words make fear physically impossible. Calm spreads over me. I shiver. "Do you think we'd let anything happen to you?"

Edward wants more than anything to help, but he knows that Jasper's influence over emotion is what I need right now. I have been staring down at my hands, which are resting in between my crossed legs. I glance up at him, my eyes watering. "But the Peacekeepers. . ."

"They won't be a threat, not with us."

"They executed an entire coven last month, just for what they were..." All vampires rely on animal blood now. It's unacceptable to risk human life when they're the ones actively hunted. They were like the Cullens, attempting to erase the red off of their record. And they were killed just for their species...

"Three. Three vampires. How many of us are there?" he asks, trying to reason with my emotion.

"Sev—" I cut myself off. "Six."

Jasper nods. "Six. There are six of us, Bella."

It's not really me I'm worried about, though. They prick your finger at the Reaping to test your identity. What if Jasper loses control? What then? What if... Edward would read his mind and hold him back. Alice would see before it happened. Emmett would be present, and I don't think anything could get past him. But Edward... I'm going to prick my finger, too. And under all of that pressure, will he snap? He's already struggling enough.

I glance at Edward. He studies my face, and I can tell that, in this moment, he hears my thoughts as clearly as a bell. I want more than anything to increase that number two seven. And I wish so much that it would be eight, Carlisle still by Esme's side. She gazes into the distance, her face frighteningly blank and her eyes glazed over with sadness, love no longer emanating from her like it once had. Jasper returns to where he was. I hold myself together for another half-hour in silence.

At one o'clock, we head for the square. Attendance is mandatory unless you're on death's door. This evening, officials will come around and check to see if this is the case. If not, you'll be imprisoned.

It's too bad that they hold the Reaping in the square. It's one of the few places in District 12 that can be pleasant. The square's surrounded by shops, and on public market days, like my first Christmas here, especially when it's either blanketed by snow or warm sun, it has a wonderful holiday feel to it. Today, despite the brightly colored banners and flags hanging and fluttering over the buildings, everything is dull and grim. Camera crews are perched on rooftops, adding to the effect. We're being herded like cattle for slaughter, and they're watching.

It's burning daylight. Before we left, Esme rubbed a sort of cream on her family's faces. It doesn't change their skin tones, but it prevents sparkling. It's odd to see Edward in the sun like this. He's abnormally pale, although most of the community has noticed by now. The cream is rendered unnecessary, though, as clouds settle over the region.

People file in silently and sign in. The Cullens use some sort of slight-of-hand when the officer makes us prick our fingers for identification. The Reaping is a good opportunity for the Capitol to keep tabs on the population as well. Twelve-through-eighteen-year-olds are herded into roped off areas marked off by the ages, the oldest in front, the young ones toward the back. Family members line up around the perimeter, holding tightly to one another's hands. But there are others, too, who have no one they love at stake, or who no longer care, who slip among the crowd, taking bets on the two kids whose names will be drawn. Odds are given on their ages, whether they're Seam or merchant, if they will break down and weep. Most refuse dealing with the racketeers but carefully, carefully. These same people tend to be informers, and who hasn't broken the law? I could be shot on a daily basis for being with Edward, and for my pathetic excuse for hunting, but the appetites of those in charge protect us. Not everyone can claim the same.

Then again, if I had to choose between dying of hunger and a bullet in the head— which I do — the bullet would be much quicker.

The space gets tighter, more claustrophobic as people arrive. I can barely pick out Edward in the crowd, now. He's on the other side of the roped off areas, as boys and girls are kept on separate sides. The square's immense, but not enough to hold our district population of eight thousand or so. Latecomers are directed to adjacent streets, where they can watch the event live on screens as it's televised live by the state. It's like American Idol or SportsCenter, except they're televising the destruction of lives.

I find myself standing in a clump of friends from school. Madge stays right beside me. Normally the huddles of people are divided by wealth, but the advent of the Cullens seemed to change that. They still carry themselves like the incredibly rich, and their low Seam status seemed to change something in my age range. We all exchange terse nods then focus our attention on the temporary stage that is set up before the Justice Building. It holds three chairs, a podium, and two large glass balls, one for the boys and one for the girls. I stare at the girls' ball, my heart heavy. Only a few of them have my name. Only a few have Alice's and Rosalie's. I have six, Alice has six, Rose has seven. But together we have nineteen. Our names are in the pool nineteen times, and, including the boys, thirty-eight. I shudder. The odds are most definitely not in our favor.

Two of the three chairs fill with Madge's father, Mayor Undersee, who's a tall, balding man, and Effie Trinket, District 12's escort, fresh from the Capitol with her scary white grin, pinkish hair, and a spring green suit. Her face looks like plastic, as though she's had too many operations on her face, and her hair curls in unnatural ways until I'm sure it's a wig. Her skin is paler than a vampire's. The two glance at the empty seat in concern before murmuring anxiously to each other.

Just as the town clock strikes two, the mayor steps up to the podium and begins to read. I listen intently. I've only picked up bits and pieces during my time here. He tells of the history of Panem, the country that rose up out of the ashes of the United States and Canada. He lists disasters, droughts, storms, fires, and seas that swallowed up the land, and the war for what little remained. Eventually Panem arose, a "shining Capitol" ringed by thirteen districts, which brought "peace and prosperity" to its citizens. Then came the "Dark Days," the uprising of the Districts against the Capitol. Twelve were defeated, the thirteenth obliterated. The Treaty of Treason gave us the new laws to guarantee our peace and, as our reminder that the Dark Days must never be repeated, it gave us the Hunger Games.

The rules of the Hunger Games are simple, if morbid. In punishment for the uprising, each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called Tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the Tributes fight to the death until a lone Tribute, now called a Victor, remains. I've gathered this information slowly, but this is the first time I've heard it in its entirety.

I don't care what words they use to justify this; it's wrong. The message is clear. "Look how we take your children and sacrifice them and there's nothing you can do. If you lift a finger, we will destroy every last one of you. Just as we did in District 13."

To make it worse, the Districts are forced to treat the Games like a festivity. They like to humiliate us as much as they torment us. It's like the football games they had back home, only deadly and hated. The last tribute living is showered with gifts, prizes, and ease. Their District is given food and relieved of starvation.

"It is both a time for repentance and a time for thanks," intones the mayor. Then he reads a list of the past victors from 12. In seventy-four years, we have had exactly two. Only one is still alive. Haymitch Abernathy. I've never met him, although he has become a source of gossip over the past several weeks. He's a middle aged man, who now appears bellowing something incoherent, staggering onto the stage with the gait of an intoxicated man, and falls into the third chair. He's drunk. Very. The crowd gives a big applause for him. His eyes narrow like a confused toddler, and he attempts to give Effie Trinket a large hug. She fends him off, but only just.

Mayor Undersee looks distressed. This is being televised, so District 12 is likely the laughingstock of the country. Even I'm having trouble holding back my laughter. Haymitch is as pathetic as the girls had said he was. The mayor pulls back everyone's attention to the Reaping by introducing Effie Trinket, who has been a source of gossip all year. She's effervescent, true to the name I suspect her parents were dancing around. She trots to the podium. Her lithe, lively, enthusiastic movements remind me of Alice, but it isn't a natural grace. It's artificial and repulsive.

"Happy Hunger Games! And may the odds be ever in your favor!" Her pink hair is definitely a wig, judging by Edwards chortles. It's off center since her encounter with the drunkard. She goes on a little about what an honor it is to be here. She's a worse liar than I am, unless she really is that strange. Her accent is hilarious and frilly, like a bad impression of cockney mixed with the odd inflections of the French. Everyone knows she's only aching to be bumped up to a better District. Some of the girls had spread a rumor that she would, but evidently they were wrong. They don't have victors here, just drunks who assault you in front of the nation.

Through the crowd I find Edward, who gazes at me with the ghost of a smile. I'm shaking now. Alice is by my side already, and she strokes my hand as comfortingly as a vampire can. I wonder if all Reapings are this entertaining, or if it's normally pure horror. My mind snaps like a rubber band back to our thirty-eight names in the glass balls. There are thousands of slips. We'll be fine, we'll be fine. . .

It's time for the drawing, so abruptly. "Ladies First!" she shouts gleefully. Effie Trinket gives a big grin. She lilts in her pink, ridiculous heels to the girls' bulb. She reaches into it, her hand pointing downwards in an odd position. It's like a dance for her fingers, and I wonder if there's choreography involved. As she opens her palms and skims the bowl, I begin to panic again. Alice smiles faintly at me. Her expression says everything. The decision hasn't been made. She doesn't know until Effie touches the slip. Without warning, she does just that, snatching it out of the bowl without questioning her decision. I'm feeling nauseous, desperately hoping it's not me, it's not me, it's not me.

Effie Trinket crosses back to the podium, smooths the slip of paper, and reads out the name in a clear voice. And it's not me.

It's Alice Cullen.

An Author's Note

Any praise, complaints, or constructive criticism (though not necessarily in that order) you have to offer would be much appreciated. Please feel free to flame or review (but I won't respond to flames that don't have a basis in reality).

This fanfiction is going to be long, perhaps over 100,000 words. Two sequels, of even greater length, will follow. I know it's a lot, but I'm asking you to take this fanfiction journey with me. I will write this, and I will not give up. I will update every week, aside from an occasional "dramatic pause" in between cliffhangers (I know, I'm evil).

The next update will be Sunday.

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