The Hunger Games

Black Snow

Chapter 3

Tilly and Tam

The train to take us to the Capitol is probably the most expensive thing I've ever seen in my whole life. It's huge and decked out for a king. The walls of my temporary room are dark blue with light cream flowers curling up the corners. I can't tell what kind of flower they are and I wonder if they're made up.

There's clothes for me here, in the massive closet that's bigger then my entire house. The clothes come in all sizes, probably because they didn't know how old the male tribute would be. I head towards the section that houses the smallest clothes. I find a soft green cotton shirt and a pair of strange blue pants made out of something that I've never seen before.

I walk out of the closet and towards the small bathroom attached to my room, pushing open the door and catching sight of the pristine white tub. I place the clothes on the sink and strip down, turning on the water and jumping when I find that it's warm. I've never had a hot shower before and it feels so good that I just close my eyes and let the water wash over me. I am so caught up in how good it feels that I almost forget to wash myself. There's soap for my body and hair, which I make quick use of.

I stand in the stream of hot water for so long that someone knocks on my door and tells me that it's almost time for dinner. Reluctantly, I turn off the spray of water and step out, drying myself off with a fluffy white towel hanging on the back of the door. I stand in front of the long floor length mirror, staring at my body in slight awe. It's the cleanest I've ever been. I can see the sharp pale lines of each of my scars. We don't have a mirror at home. This is the first time I've seen myself like this.

It's ugly. Each scar brings back memories of a man who still haunts me. I tear my eyes away from the mirror, resisting the urge to shatter it, and reach for my clothes. The shirt feels good on my newly cleaned skin, soft and light. The pants, I find, are incredibly soft and they fit to my legs perfectly. They stretch a little when I move to make it more comfortable. Capitol clothes are strange, but I like these.

I pull on my jacket from home, touching the small pine cone necklace around my neck to make sure it's still there, and step out into the hall of the train. The train is moving so fast that the trees blur past but I can barely feel it.

I walk quietly towards the dining car, my hands in the pockets of the pants.

Johanna is already there, sitting across from Mila Kaylem who is chatting away with two of the victors who will now act as our mentors. I stand in the doorway until Johanna looks up and smiles at me. She beckons me over and I take the seat beside her. Her hand finds mine and I squeeze it tightly. It's comforting having her here. As much as I wish that she was back home and away from this place, the feeling of her hand in mine calms my racing heart a little.

"Oh good!" Mila squeaks when she notices me. "You're here. Johanna, Dath, these will be your mentors."

She gestures to the four women sitting at the table with us. The youngest of them is only a couple years older than Johanna. She won the Hunger Games five years ago when she was 16.

Mila points to each of the women in turn, introducing them.

Cylee, the youngest who sits across from me, has dark brown eyes and hair to match. Her skin is tanned dark and her arms show which district she's from-huge muscles from swinging an axe all day.

Tam is blond, probably in her early 30's, and has an odd twinkle in her eye that suggests she's much more than she looks. She sure doesn't look like much. She lacks the muscles of the three other mentors. I can't remember how she won, but I have a feeling it had a lot more to do with brain than brawn.

The other two, Ella and Mint, are sisters. Twins, if I remember correctly. They won one year after the other. Ella won first and then the next year a frail young girl was picked so Mint took her place. They were definitely the swing first ask questions later type of Victors.

Tam is watching me closely, studying me as I study them. I meet her eye and don't look away. Neither does she. We stare at each other for a moment or two before a smile cracks over her lips. "I can tell that there is a lot more going on in that head of yours than you would like people to think," she says, pointing her fork at me.

I blink at her and scowl a little. She just laughs.

"I like you, kid. I could teach you a few things, that's for sure."

I'm not sure if I like her much, but given the choice out of the four women sitting at the table, she is definitely the one I would listen to the most. She knows things. She didn't win the game just by swinging an axe at anything that moved. She thought her way out of that arena, planned for what move to make next. That's what I need to do. I need to plan. I need to carve a way for Johanna to get home and that's going to take more than brute strength, which I'm slightly lacking considering my size.

Dinner is quiet. Tam takes me aside after Mila shuffles us off to bed.

"I know what game you're playing," she says, sitting me down on one of the couches in the dining car beside her. "You want to help the girl get home. I can tell that you're not going to play this any other way. You love her a lot, don't you?"

I don't answer, but I know she knows she's right.

"You're smart for a kid your age," she says absently, flicking a piece of my hair out of my face. "You'll do anything to protect her."

We stare at each other silently before she smiles warmly.

"I'm going to help you get her home," she says softly.

I blink in surprise. That's the first time anyone seemed to agree with my being here to protect Johanna. She laughs roughly at the look on my face.

"Don't look so surprised, kid. That girl isn't going to get out of that arena without help, I can promise you that. She's tiny and sickly looking. They'll try and pick her off first. Make sure that doesn't happen. You need all eyes on you. Be the center of attention so everyone forgets about her at first. If that happens, you'll be able to get her away from the starting fray without any problem. You're small, which gives you an advantage. You can move faster than the other, bigger tributes you'll be facing. Speed is your best friend. The second that you can step off your platform, run. We'll talk to Johanna and get her to run as far and fast from the cornucopia as possible. You, on the other hand, I'm sure can get there and out without any problem. I've watched you over the years and I know that you can go unseen if you want. Get a knife. That knife will be all you need. It will protect you and the girl and help you with surviving in the wild. We don't know what kind of place they're going to dump you this year, but I assure you-you will always need a knife.

"Once you get that, get out of there. Pick off people if they get in your way but do not under any circumstances engage anyone first. Your task is to get away and get to Johanna. Watch where she goes when she runs and follow her. We'll set up a call for you two so you can signal each other once you're away. If there are trees, climb. I know you know how to climb a tree. Find water and shelter. You can last a day without water but any more than that is too risky. You need to find water."

I listen to her, enwrapped in everything she's saying. She's really going to help me save Johanna. I instantly decide that I like Tam a lot.

She gives me a few more pointers-distract before attacking, find high ground, ration food and water-before she sends me off to bed. Everything she told me is spinning in my head, making me dizzy. I'm in my bed before I realize it, having walked down the hall in a daze. With Tam's help, saving Johanna seems all the more possible.

I stare at the wall for an hour, two hours, three, until I sit up defeated and slip out of bed. I'm going to take a night walk around the train when I stop, looking at the cream flowers climbing my wall. I recognize them now. They're the small bud like flowers of ivy. It's ironic, I think, that something poisonous is so beautiful.

I turn my head from the flowers and step out of my room, walking down the hall. I stop in front of Johanna's room and stare at the hard metal of it. I push it open as quietly as I can and slip inside.

Johanna's room is almost an exact copy of mine except mirror image. The walls are a pale dark red instead of blue but the same cream ivy climbs the corners. Johanna has her back to me, facing the wall. I walk towards the bed and stare down at her. The minutes tick by before she turns, looking at me with a sad smile and unfolds her arms, lifting the blanket so I can slip in next to her.

She's warm, the blanket sealing in the heat of her body. My fingers are ice cold and she holds them in her own, pressing a kiss to each knuckle. We lay there in silence, taking comfort in each other's presence.

"Johanna?" I say softly, making her look up at me.

I open my mouth to continue but nothing comes out. I look down at our hands before slipping mine out of hers and wrapping my arms tightly around her. She smiles into my hair, hugging me back. She knows the words I cannot bring myself to say. I know if I do I'll start crying again. Our days together are limited now. These are the last days I will spend with the woman who I consider my mother.

"I love you too," she says in response to my silent words.

I fall asleep in her arms, peacefully now that she's here to scare away the nightmares.

"We're here!" Mila shrieks, jumping off her seat and ushering Johanna and I to the window. I stare out as the train exits a tunnel and moves past a huge, screaming crowd. It's amazing, how many colours I see. Everyone is dressed in the same ridiculous way that Mila is-bright colours, strange wigs and make up, alterations to their appearance that make them look more like freaks than beauties. They're waving and cheering for us, blowing kisses and screaming their love. It's disgusting to me. These people are going to watch 23 of us die for their own entertainment and they're acting like we're celebrities. In a way, I guess we are.

I turn from the window when I can't take it any more, sinking myself into a plush chair across from Tam. She looks up at me with a raised eyebrow and smirks a little.

"Don't like the attention?" she guesses. I don't answer, just huff and pull my legs up so I can tuck my knees under my chin. She snorts and looks back down at what she was doing before, knowing she's right.

I watch her as she stitches small red flowers into a piece of cloth. My eyes follow every move, fascinated by the steadiness of her hand. Tam has nice fingers, I notice. They're long and thin, making quick movements that my eye can barely follow. I know she knows I'm watching her but she doesn't seem bothered. The train wheels to a stop, causing me to look up from what she's doing. Mila is fussing about keeping us on schedule so I stand when she waves for me. Tam stands as well and puts what she's doing away in a small box, slipping the box into her coat pocket before following me out of the train. The Capitol is even louder now that we don't have a wall of solid metal and glass in between us. I resist the urge to cover my ears. I hate it here already.

Mila leads us up a set of stairs that lead into the training center. We'll make our first appearance soon, riding in on the chariots. We first have to meet our stylists and prep teams first. Mila ushers us into a room where they're waiting for us. She shows me to a small, happy looking woman and three brightly coloured men behind her.

"Dath, this is your stylist, Tilly, and your prep team. Bosh, Dire and Neptune. Make yourselves acquainted and let them make you look amazing!"

She skitters off to go and talk to Johanna and her team. I look up at Tilly and force a smile. "Hello, Tilly," I say softly.

She beams at me. "Hello, Dath. You're a brave one, aren't you? Stepping in for your friend like that." She gave me a soft pat on the cheek and skittered behind me, pushing me into the hands of my prep team as they drag me away to strip me down.

They make me bathe in some concoction that smells disgusting and makes my skin feel strangely soft. I've never felt my skin this soft before so it's a little odd. They pull me out and put me into some other tub. It doesn't smell nearly as bad.

"Bosh made the recipe for the baths," Neptune tells me. "All the prep teams use it now. He's wonderful with herbs."

Once they've washed me till I'm pink, they dry me off and sit me in a chair. Beauty Base Zero, Dire calls this.

I'm prodded and pulled and kneaded like dough but I don't complain. Neptune almost faints when he gets a better look at all the scars on my body but they work hard to make them look almost invisible. Can't look like a beaten child when I ride to meet my adoring fans, now can I?

I'm not sure how I feel about my prep team, they're so different from anyone that I've ever met. I'm pretty sure Neptune has never seen a scar before because he keeps looking at the places that he knows they are and wincing.

"What happened to you?" he asks, only to get smacked on the arm by Dire for asking a rude question. I shake my head. I don't mind.

"My father got drunk a lot. He hit me whenever he did," I say, staring straight ahead and feeling Neptune's fingers still in my hair. Bosh, who had been fixing me nails, looks up at Dire and then back at my hand. Dire looks the least distressed. Neptune actually starts sniffling behind me.

Out of the three of them, I like Dire the most. He has green hair and black swirled tattoos all over his body. He's fit and manly looking-he has the body type of the workers in District 7. Neptune is the youngest of the three. He has long blond hair that almost goes past his waist. He keeps it up in a high pony tail, so I'm sure if he let it down it would be at least at his thighs. His hair is pulled off his ears, which have been surgically altered to be pointed. It actually looks pretty cool, though the thought of changing your body surgically is something that will never not frighten me. Neptune is a very pretty man. I almost thought he was a woman until he'd started speaking. He has long fingers with perfectly sculpted purple nails which feel good running through my hair. He keeps chattering on about things that seem a tragedy to him but are nothing more than a finger prick to me. I don't understand him. Bosh is somewhere in the middle of the two of them. He's quiet. I don't think that I've heard him speak once since I arrived. His hair is short and black. His eyes are the same black. All of his eyes, no whites. It's a little bit strange to look at. I find myself watching him more than I probably should be just because I can't get over how creepy it is. He has dark brown skin. It's natural, not altered.

I blush when he looks up at me, catching me staring. His smile is warm, somehow still reaching his eyes even though he has no pupils. Something about him makes me think of the people I've seen in District 11.

"Bosh?" I ask after he goes back to my nails. (He's working on my feet now)

He looks up again and tilts his head to the side but doesn't say anything still. "Why don't you talk?"

Neptune's fingers grip my hair tightly for a second before loosening. Dire's brush stills against my cheek. I have the strongest feeling that I've said something wrong.

"Bosh can't speak," Dire says kindly as Bosh looks back at my nails.

I look up at Dire and frown. He answers my question before I ask it.

"Bosh came from District 11," he said, continuing to paint on my cheeks and eyes.

So I was right about that, I think.

I frown. How could he come from District 11? No one from the districts ever came to the Capital for anything other than delivering goods and the Hunger Games.

"He attacked a peacekeeper who'd killed his daughter," Dire continues. My eyes go wide when I remember another reason people from the districts come to the Capitol. I stare down at Bosh with my mouth hanging open. I felt a horrible crushing weight hang over me. Bosh had seen his daughter die and tried to get revenge. He'd been punished for it. "You're an Avox," I say. I don't mean to sound rude, it just come out. I can't even imagine what it would be like. He'd had his tongue cut out of his mouth for breaking the rules, taken to the Capitol away from his family to be a slave. "But how come you're about to… do this. How come you're living normally here now?"

Neptune sighs loudly, drawing my attention up to him. I reflexively try and look up to see his face but both him and Dire shove my head back into place because I've disrupted their work. "He was an Avox," Neptune said, taking over for Dire. "One year he was serving one of the District 7 tributes and Tilly noticed him playing around with herbs when he thought no one was looking. He'd given them to the female tribute to use in her bath and afterwards she'd raved to Tilly about what Bosh had done. Tilly wasted no time in trying to convince the Capitol to let him become part of the prep team. It took a couple years, but she worked it into existence. Ever since then he's become famous for his bath mixes and herbal remedies. He lives with Tilly now." Neptune leaned down to my ear and whispered loudly, "They're engaged." He sounded so excited, like he was about to bubble over. I could tell that Neptune was as excited for this wedding as he would be for his own.

By the time they're done with me I feel raw but I look almost like a completely new person.

My hair has been cut and slicked back off my face. A smudge of dark grey eye liner has been put around my eyes, making them look… What was the term Dire used? Smoky. There are brown and black patterns painted onto my cheeks starting at my jaw and going up in triangles so the point of them stops at my cheek bones. I look probably three years older because of what they've done to me.

Tilly comes in once they've wrapped me in a robe. She looks me up and down and nods in satisfaction before shooing the others from the room. I notice the small silver ring on her finger as she does and I can't help but smile. I'm glad that somehow Bosh was able to start living like a normal person again, even if it was in this crazy place and he'd still had his tongue removed. At least he had Tilly and he was happy. Tilly hangs the bag she was holding when she came in on a hook and undoes the zipper. She pulls out a tight looking suit with what looks like scales covering the entire thing. She strips me of my robe and helps me step into it. She takes one look at my pinecone necklace and for a second I'm scared she's going to take it. I start to move my hand to cover it protectively when she just smiles and continues to zip up my costume.

She takes something else out of a box and fixes it on my head from behind so I can't see what it is until she turns me around and has me look in the mirror.

I stare at the boy in the mirror, wondering who he can be because he looks nothing like me. The suit I'm wearing, I quickly realize, is made from thousands of small pinecone scales. It's skin tight and goes up to cover my neck and my hands. It's cut off at the ankles, knuckles so each finger slips out, and the top of the neck so my head is free. The neck covers a bit of my jaw so it looks like the marks on my cheeks are part of the costume. On top of my hair is a crown of pine needles. They stand up in a flurry of green, splaying out a little at the sides with tiny pine cones scattered throughout it. I'm not sure whether I like it or not. I feel slightly silly, but I definitely look better than other years tributes did. Since it's so tight, it hugs every curve of my body and shows off my strong arms and shoulders. I know that I'm extremely strong for someone my age. I've been swinging an axe for as long as I could remember and because of it my arms have gotten thick with muscles. Lack of food has kept my skinny, but that doesn't take away from the abs I'd managed to get. My legs are thick-strong from hours of running around in the woods. This outfit makes me look extremely threatening which I suppose is a good thing.

"I love it," I say, even though I still haven't made up my mind about the outfit yet. Whether or not I'm sure I like wearing it, I have to tip my hat (er… crown?) to Tilly for the amazing designing job she's done. Tilly looks pleased with my response, taking my hand and leading me out of the room where I find Johanna waiting for me. She's wearing the exact same thing as me except her make up is a little darker around the eyes. Unlike me, the outfit just shows off how tiny she is. I almost wince. It hugs her waist and rib cage. I'm sure there's padding in it because I know from the times I'd hugged her that she didn't have that much meat on her bones. Even with the added stuffing, the tightness of the outfit shows off how unready for the arena she is.

She smiles at me, oblivious to my thoughts. "You look amazing," she says happily. I'm not sure if she's making fun of me or not but I glare at her anyway. She just laughs and reaches out for my hand so we can walk towards the waiting chariots together.

The rush the people here are giving me is getting to me because for some reason I don't feel as nervous as I know I should. I can tell Johanna is feeding off of it as well. A lot of the other tributes stare at us as we pass, finding it strange for us to be holding hands and looking so close. It's like they're asking, 'You know you're going to die, right?' and I do know I'm going to die, but I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that Johanna doesn't.

Tilly and Johanna's stylist, Cap, show us to our chariot and fix us up a bit before letting us climb on. It's brown and made out of logs which have been cut in half to make a smooth surface for us to stand on, but the outside look like full logs.

"Now remember to smile," Cap says to Johanna, straightening her crown. "And wave. They love waving."

Tilly doesn't say anything to me at first, just looks at me quietly and lets out a soft sigh. "Good luck," she says, touching my cheek.

They step away as the chariots begin to take their formation. I look out at the chariots in front of me and behind, trying to see the other tributes and get a read on them. There are a couple other young ones, my age or a little older, but most of them are older.

The chariots begin to move, the first two tributes entering into the crowds. Screams erupt through the open doors, washing over me and almost knocking my crown off. It seems like ages before our chariot breaks through the doors. I'm still clinging to Johanna's hand as we start to wave. I forget to smile because I'm so dazed but I remember when I look up at Johanna and see the bright grin on her face. I force a smile and wave weakly at the groups of people. Some of the girls around my age scream my name and others actually faint. It's both embarrassing and dumbfounding. What is wrong with these people?

Our chariot pulls to a stop in front of the high podium in front of the Presidential mansion. President Giles, a man who I hate more than anything else, stands from his seat when the last chariot pulls in. He waves to the crowd and waits for them to settle down. He's wearing a disgusting looking red suit. His hair is grey and thinning, combed back off his face.

"Welcome to the 41st annual Hunger Games!" he calls out over the crowd. The screams erupt again.

He quiets them once more and starts to make his announcement. I'm not really listening. I'm focusing too hard on not passing out on the spot. The costume is hot and there are so many people around me, so many colours. It's overwhelming my senses. I can't focus on anything.

It's not until Johanna squeezes my hand hard and hisses to me to focus that I realize I'm hyperventilating.

I stare at my feet, determined to look strong and not weak like the other children my age. It seems to go on for hours. When he's finally done and we're all dismissed, the chariots make one more circle to please the crowd before marching us back into the training center.

We're swarmed by our prep teams, letting them pull us off the chariot and gush about how amazing we both were. I let go of Johanna's hand so that Tilly can give me a tight hug. I hug her back, even though I'm still slightly dazed. "You did so good," she whispered softly, pulling back and brushing a stray hair out of my face. "Let's get you into something more comfortable." She takes my hand and leads me away, my team following behind me. I look over my shoulder for Johanna but she's already being shuffled off by Cap.

They pull me from the heat suit and dump me into a hot bath. It smells like roses. I sink into the water and let them scrub me down again. I don't mind this as much as I did when I first met them. It's a little abrasive to have people you don't know pulling at you and shaping you into what that want, but they're nice and they have some pretty interesting conversations.

Well, I say conversations, but it's mostly just Neptune talking a million miles a second and Dire offering a bit of dialog every now and then. Bosh just nods.

Neptune's sister had her sweet sixteen a couple days ago (the day before my birthday, I notice, but I don't point it out) and she got a horse and a car as presents but she threw a fit because neither were the colours she wanted. I can't understand people like that. The thought of being given a horse for my birthday is so beyond my wildest dreams that I would probably pass out on the spot, not cry because it wasn't the right shade of brown.

I open my eyes when Bosh finishes scrubbing my nails and reaches into the tub to drain it. I force myself to sit up and let them dry me off with one of those big fluffy towels I'm getting so used to. I can see my scars clearly again. I can tell they upset Neptune, but he doesn't say anything about them again. His eyes glisten with tears though, and I'm not entirely sure why. I'm certain he's seen a million scars in his life.

Tilly comes in with a fresh pair of clothes for me-soft black pants and a long sleeved blue shirt-and helps me into it. She tells me that she can get my scars all removed for me but I refuse without even thinking about it. I don't want to look like a new born baby in the arena. I need them to fear me. I know it will be hard to get to that point because of how small and young I am but that's what training is for. I hope my muscles and skills will prove to them that I'm not someone they should mess with. The scars might help with that.

She doesn't question why I want to keep them but she turns to my prep team, telling them not to cover them any more. I can't help but smile at her as I thank her. I like Tilly. She's a little strange, but so is everyone else from the Capitol. She leads me towards a big steel elevator, Bosh following close behind her. Dire and Neptune have both gone home already but I guess since Bosh and Tilly are engaged that he gets to stay with her in her room on District 7's floor. Every district has a floor in the training center. The floors are specifically for tributes and their parties. Mila is already in the elevator when we climb inside. There are two people with her. They're both dressed the same way and they have their heads down. I know what they are. Avox. Slaves. I try not to look at the petite blond who will serve as my personal Avox until the Games. Looking at the two of them makes me think of Bosh and what he had to go through. I hope that somehow these two will have someone like Tilly to save them from this life. I notice that Bosh stands as far away from the both of them as possible. Tilly has her hand in his, squeezing it tightly. I have to look away because the thought of what Bosh went through is almost too much for me and I start to feel sick.

Johanna and Cap meet us in the elevator and we ride it together up to the 7th floor. I swallow hard, not sure what to expect. My eyes nearly bug out of my head when the elevator stops and the doors slide open. The entire condo looks like it was ripped right from the forest. They've obviously tried to make us feel comfortable here. It smells like pine and the chairs and table are rough looking and freshly cut. I walk slowly into the apartment and slide my fingers over the surface of the table, smiling when they come off with a thin layer of sawdust. I look around the rest of the room. There are big plush couches and chairs-all brown and green and sandy in colour-around a huge fire place. The fire is burning blue and green and I wonder what they did to it to make it that colour. Johanna comes up beside me and slips herself into one of the chairs. She looks ready to fall asleep. I sit down on the floor in front of her and she instantly starts to card her fingers through my hair. Mila, Cap, Bosh and Tilly take seats around the fire as well, seeing as it's obvious the two of us aren't going to move.

"This will be your home until the start of the Games," Mila says, gesturing her hand around the apartment.

"It's beautiful," Johanna says as she twirls a piece of my hair between her fingers. I look up at her and smile. Her hair is down now, not up in a ponytail like it was when she was in her pinecone costume. I notice that they've taken a couple inches of length off. I reach up and catch a strand of the soft rusty hair. It's so soft now that it's been properly washed and pampered. I wonder if that's why Johanna still has her hands in my hair. Does my hair feel like that?

The two Avox girls set the table for dinner and bring in plates of food. I didn't eat on the train because I hadn't had much of an appetite. The food on the table smells delicious and I suddenly realize that I haven't eaten since dinner the night before the day of the Reaping. I'd gone two days without eating anything and I was starting to almost feel nauseous I was so hungry.

I stand from the floor and move towards the table, slipping into one of the seats. The others follow. We sit down at the table as the elevator doors open and the four mentors walk inside. I had noticed there were four extra places. Tam winks at me and takes a seat beside me, Johanna on my other side.

We start to eat, the amazing food causing silence. I finish my plate first, getting a second helping right away. I'm stuffed to exploding point by the time Mila calls that dinner is over and we should get to bed if we want to be up ready in time for training.

I take one last look at the food on the table and grab a bun before the food is taken away.

I slip from my seat and give Johanna a hug goodnight before walking towards the bedrooms. My Avox girl shows me to my room and I thank her quietly. I look down the hall before taking her wrist and pulling her into my room with me. She looks slightly panicked, not sure why I've brought her inside the room. I hold out the bun to her, waiting until her eyes land on it. She stares at it for a moment or two before looking back up at me with wide, confused eyes. I didn't know how the treated Avoxs here but I knew that it couldn't be nice. I don't know when the last time she ate was but she was startlingly skinny.

"Take it," I say when she doesn't move at all. "You must be hungry."

She looks at the door behind her before looking back at me and shaking her head.

I sigh and take her hand, placing the bun in it and taking a step back. "Just eat it here. I won't tell anyone."

She looks down at the bun for another moment or two before taking a deep breath and slowly taking it to her lips. She takes a bite out of it and for a second I catch a glimpse of the inside of her mouth. She really doesn't have a tongue. I fight to keep my face straight and my food down. She eats the bun quickly, making slightly loud noises as she does because of the extra effort she has to put into eating without having a tongue to help her. She looks back up at me when she's done and tears well in her eyes.

I smile at her. "I'll give you some more tomorrow," I whisper, moving close and taking her hand again. I feel the need to be like Tilly, taking care of these people who were treated like slaves for wanting to live a better life. I knew that this girl couldn't have done anything to seriously warrant what she'd received as punishment.

She nods and hesitates for a moment before leaning down and kissing my cheek. She turns away from me and slips out the door without another word.

I try to fight the blush off my cheeks and fail. I clear my throat awkwardly even though there's no one in the room but me and turn to take in my surroundings properly.

My room is almost as grand as the main room. It's huge, even bigger than the room I had on the train. The walls are pine green and the plush carpet is thick and grey. I shed my clothes and slip into the silk sheets naked, loving the feeling against my raw skin. I'm exhausted but sleep doesn't come. I lay there for hours, eyes closed.

I can't stop thinking. Thinking about Bosh and the Avox girl-I don't even know her name. I keep thinking about what I'm going to have to do. I don't want to kill people. I don't want to die. I don't want to go into an unknown place and have to fight to keep Johanna alive. I have resigned myself to the fact that I'm not coming out of this but I'm terrified. What if I fail? What if I don't get Johanna out of here? What if neither of us go back and we leave Rule alone all by himself?

I force my eyes open, banishing the thoughts from my mind. I slip from the sheets and climb back into my clothes. I take a deep breath before stepping out of my room. It's dark in the hallways of the apartment. I make my way into the main room and stop. Sitting by the fireplace are Johanna and Mint. I watch them closely as Johanna braids Mint's long hair. I stand there until Johanna senses she's being watched. She turns her head and smiles at me.

"Couldn't sleep?" she asks, causing Mint to look over her shoulder as well.

I shake my head and walk over when Mint waves me forwards. I sit down in front of the hearth and watch Johanna work at Mint's hair some more. Mint is watching me closely, the same way that Tam did the first day on the train.

"Try not to think about what you're going into," Mint says. It's the first time I've heard her talk since we met. Her voice is surprisingly soft and sweet for the way she looks. "It only makes it harder."

I nod but I know its impossible not to.

None of us had slept in our beds the last night except for Mila. She looks well rested when she makes her way from her room, stretching and yawning. "Good morning, everyone," she sings. I don't even bother to try and smile or greet her.

As the night had gone on, slowly more and more people had filtered out into the main room. Tam first, then Ella and Cylee and Cap. Tilly and Bosh had come in last and sat down by the fire, Bosh with his back to the wall and Tilly sitting against his chest, in between his legs. We hadn't talked much, just watched the fire and listened as Johanna hummed a soft tune. I joined in once she started singing the actual words. Tam and Cylee had joined in, closely followed by Mint and Ella. Tilly and Bosh had just sat quietly and listened as we sang songs from home. Cap started humming along when he picked up the tune, though he didn't know the words. Tilly fell asleep in Bosh's arms and Ella and Mint curled up in a chair together to sleep as well. Cylee was really nice, I found out. She was a quiet person, so she didn't speak much, but she had a beautiful singing voice. It turned out we both liked to sneak out at night and sit among the trees, listening to the sounds of the night and watching the moon. We had more in common than I thought we did. Tam stitched her flowers and hummed along with Johanna and Cap as Cylee and I talked. I fell asleep with my head on Tam's lap. By the time I opened my eyes, it was morning.

"Are you ready for training today?" Mila asks as we sit down for breakfast.

I nod, stuffing a bun in my mouth. I'm actually looking forwards to training. I can't wait until I can start practicing. I need to sharpen my skills before I go into the arena. Mila seems happy with my answer because she starts to talk to Cap about one of the latest fashion don'ts she'd seen on the street the other day.

Tilly pulls me from the table when the rest of my prep team arrives to get me ready for training. We go into my room and they get me to bathe quickly before slipping me into the training uniform. It's lightweight and comfortable, which it doesn't look. I'm glad I can move easily in it but I suppose I would have to be able to, since its for practising combat skills.

I meet the others in the elevator which takes us down to the lower levels of the training center which houses both our apartments and the training rooms. I step out into a large room with padded walls and floor. There are dummies everywhere. A couple other districts have already arrived. I can see the two tributes from 2 already hacking away at some of the dummies. District 4 and 11 are down here as well. One of the District 4 tributes is around my age. She looks terrified. The trainer is trying to get her to try fighting with a knife but she's clinging to something that I can't see, shaking her head because she's determined to use that. I realize when she shifts a little that it's a net. Did she make that herself? I wonder to myself. She is from District 4, which is the fishing district. I wouldn't put it past her.

The trainer gives up and lets her practise with the net instead. She's surprisingly good at throwing that thing. She captures a dummy without even looking. Nice shot, I think.

Johanna and I walk into the room, looking around. Johanna moves towards the camouflage station and starts working with the trainer there. I go straight for the weapons, picking up a knife and inspecting it. The trainer who was trying to get the District 4 girl to use the same knife smiles at me and nods, like finally he's found a decent student to deal with.

He teaches me the proper way to hold it, but I already know all this. He says he's going to teach me how to throw it, which is supposed to be very hard, so I just toss the knife at a nearby dummy. It hits him in the forehead and the dummy topples over. The trainer blinks at me in surprise and claps. I know about knives and axes from living in District 4. The trainer still seems surprised, but he looks at me more closely and makes out my muscles. He nods, impressed, as I examine the weapons again.

I pick up some throwing axes next and kill about 5 dummies in under 30 seconds without missing once. The trainer leaves me alone after that, realizing that I can handle myself with the weapons.

I've caught some of the tributes attention. Good, I think. Look at me, not Johanna. See me as a threat.

The boy from 2, Jaz, comes towards me. He towers over me, being one of the oldest tributes here. He looks me up and down and scoffs.

"Who knew that the little woodchip had some power?"

His tease barely even fazes me. Short and young I may be-a woodchip I am not.

I want to throw my knife at him.

"I've been knocking trees like you down since the time I could stand," I say, putting as much venom in my voice as I possibly can. I don't even look up at him. I whip another knife at a dummy which sinks into the target over it's heart.

It's not true, of course, I didn't knock down a tree until I was 9, but he didn't need to know that. He flinches all the same. He tsks softly and turns on his heels. He walks back towards his fellow 2 tribute, Nell, and the two tributes from 1 who have just arrived-their names are Cotton and Sheen, I'm pretty sure. Nell glares at me hard but I just stare back at her, void of emotion. I hate the career district tributes. They always think that the games are theirs. It's their biggest downfall. They never expect anyone to be better than them, so when someone shows up who can easily take them down they never see it coming.

I'm glad I succeeded in scaring the careers a little bit, because as strong and fast as I am, they are much bigger than me and just as strong. I had speed on my side but if one of them got their hands on me I wouldn't stand a chance. I might mess them up a little bit but there would be no way I would make it out without loosing a limb at the very least.

Johanna joins me after a little while. I teach her how to hold and throw a knife. She feels more comfortable with a small axe, though. It's perfect for her. I make a mental note to grab something like that for her when I get to the cornucopia.

The District 4 girl is named Rachael, I find out from Johanna who had had a good conversation with her at the knot tying station. I look over my shoulder at her and her district partner, Cod. Cod is a little older than Rachael. She's very pretty, I notice. Her smile seems to light up the whole room. I don't know what relationship Cod and Rachael have but it looks like a good one. Some of the district's tributes don't get along so well.

District 10's tributes, Alissa and Marcus, are almost constantly squabbling over something. District 6's tributes, Rust and Katch, seem to be unsure what to do with each other. Rust keeps trying to get Katch to work with him, but she's stubborn and suspicious of him. I feel sorry for those districts.

After finishing up at the weapons station I make my way over to the knot tying station. I want to get acquainted with some of the other tributes. Mint had given me a lesson last night about making alliances. I hadn't seen any appeal in it before, knowing that our goals would be completely different in the end, but thinking about it again made me reconsider. Maybe it would be good to have other people on our side. If we did then I wanted the District 4 tributes. I don't know why, but they seemed to be the type of people that I would be able to work with. I could also protect them for as long as I could. They were both young and not as strong as I was. I don't know why I had a strong urge to take care of them, I just felt the need to. I didn't want them being picked off by the careers right away. Besides, if there was any form of water in the arena, then they would come in handy.

"Hi," I say as I slide into the station beside Rachael. She looks up at me and blushes a little, looking back down at what she was doing.

"H-hi," she says back. Her voice is barely a whisper and I wonder if she's always this quiet.

"I'm Dath," I say, wanting to get her talking. She nods a little, already knowing who I am. I figure as much, since Johanna had been talking to her.

I look up when Cod comes over and gives me a strange look. He's taller than me, probably no older than 14, and skinny as a rail.

"Hey," Cod says, nodding at me. I nod back and pick up a piece of string. The trainer begins teaching me but Rachael glares at her so hard that she starts and moves away. I blink at Rachael in confusion. She smiles triumphantly. I couldn't help but smile with her as she turns to me and takes over teaching me how to tie the knots. She was a good teacher. I had been right, she had made the net all by herself. I could tell that she had been doing this all her life. Her tiny fingers flew so fast I had to ask her to slow down because they just blurred to me and I couldn't follow. She doesn't talk much when she isn't explaining how to do something, just blushes and smiles. She was cute. She was 12 like me, Cod tells me when she runs off to try throwing a new net that she'd weaved in under 10 minutes. I really like her. I would have to let my mentors know that I wanted to team up with these two so that they could let the District 4 mentors know and work something out.

By that time, all of the districts had arrived in the training room. It was packed full, but I don't mind. I like watching everyone else while I work. After I've mastered a couple knots and I move on to the physical track. I don't want to show off my speed, knowing that that would be an advantage I would need, so I just climb some things. There were structures made to be shaped like trees and bars hanging from the ceiling. I scamper up the metal tree and swing my way across the ceiling. I was enjoying it a lot, despite myself.

I slowly move back to the weapons station and start tossing knives again. I keep throwing them until my arms start to feel heavy, but my aim never wavers.

A couple more hours of training go by and we're called to go back to our floors. I'm so drained that I don't even bother to put the knife in my hand back, I just drop it on the floor at my feet and walk back towards the elevator.

I'm rushed off to my room by my prep team the second I'm back onto the 7th floor. They scrub me down and slip me into pyjamas before pushing me off towards the dining room to eat. Tomorrow we have to prove to the Gamemakers that we're worth sponsoring. If we get a high rating, people are more likely to pay attention to us. I need to impress them. If I get a high rating then I can use the sponsors to keep Johanna alive.

Dinner is delicious, but I almost fall asleep at the table, I'm so wiped.

I manage to sneak a bun into my shirt and wave for my Avox to follow before Tam carries me to my bed and lays me down under the sheets. I thank her quietly before she leaves.

My Avox girl just stands there and looks at me sadly. I smile and pull the bun out, reaching it out to her. She smiles and rushes forwards, taking it from me and taking a quick bite. She looks down at me as my eyes start to flutter.

"Stay with me a while?" I breathe quietly, my eyes closed. I feel the bed shift after a moment of hesitation. She slips her hands under my head and lifts it from the pillow. She slides onto the bed fully so she's leaning against the headboard and lays my head on her lap. I feel a rush of warmth run through me. I can't even begin to imagine what she had to have done, this small girl only a year or two older than me, to have become an Avox. I wonder if she was born into the life. Could that happen? I wonder silently to myself as she starts to stroke my hair with one hand as she finishes her bun.

I start a little when I realize she's humming. I didn't know that Avoxs could hum. I guess it made sense, since humming didn't actually involve the tongue in any way. They could still make sounds, laugh and hum and scream.

She stops when I open my eyes and look up at her. Suddenly I don't feel quite as tired. I stare at her for a moment or two before smiling.

She's beautiful. Her blond hair shines in the dim light like gold. Her eyes are so light of a blue that they look like the early morning sky. Her skin is as clear and pale as porcelain. Defined features and angular cheek and jaw bones make her look more like an angel than a slave.

"Please," I say quietly, "go on. It's a beautiful tune."

She smiles down at me and starts humming again. I wonder which district she's from. Her blond hair and blue eyes suggest District 1 but I don't even know if there were any Avoxs from the Career Districts. It would make sense though, every district had people who were poor and oppressed and felt like finding a way out.

I start to drift to sleep again, my eyes fluttering closed to the sound of her humming and the feeling of her fingers in my hair.

"I wish I knew your name," I whisper softly as I drift off to sleep.

So this Chapter is a little longer for you guys. Next chapter will get the ball rolling a bit more. I hope you're enjoying the story!

Please review! Constructive criticism is incredibly helpful, so don't hesitate to state your mind.