Author's Note: Welcome to the future of Panem, 25 years after Katniss and Peeta fell in the 74th Hunger Games, long since forgotten by all. The Capitol has evolved into a monolithic, powerful entity, and as its grip on the 12 Districts tightens, the Hunger Games intensify – the call for blood growing louder and louder.

This is the sequel to "The Blood of a Crimson Sky," where District 9's 15 year-old Skye Holdrege walked away from the 98th Hunger Games as a victor, broken but alive after a harrowing trial of violence and terror. Skye's memories of the arena still haunt her in her post-Games life, and with the Capitol turning its eyes upon her – and a new, daunting horror rising out of the darkness – Skye's journey of tears, fear, love, and hope has only just begun.

Suzanne Collins owns the Hunger Games, Panem, the 12 Districts, Finnick, Johanna, Thresh, and other original characters, items, and themes. Original stuff is mine. Enjoy! If you have questions, comments, suggestions, constructive criticism, or anything else, reviews and PMs are always welcome! Rated T for blood, violence, frightening imagery, and dark/suggestive themes.

District 9 | Year of the 99th Hunger Games

Everything in District 9 freezes during the winter.

Houses, fields, people, hearts, nothing's spared from the snow and cold of the plains. A blanket of white covers the large houses of the Victor's Village where I now live. It's always quiet here – District 9 only has three living victors, including me - but the snow makes everything silent. It's like some horrible demon has swooped down and sucked all the noise and joy from the world. The winter night watches over this quiet land with a dark, overcast pallor. It's enough to make anyone wish for summer to return, but I know what that season will bring.

The Hunger Games.

I pull a thick, furry blue blanket over my face as I curl up in my bed, trying to ward the memories out of my head. The Games are the last thing I want to think of. Even now, five months after I won the 98th Games and returned home to District 9, I can't keep the thoughts and pictures from creeping into my dreams.

The quiet, stoic girl with the green eyes from District 7, being pulled apart by the tentacled mutt. The strange boy from District 3, pleading with me to kill him and put an end to his misery. The machine-like killer from District 2, so detached, yet so lethal – nearly ending my life by her sword during the Game's finale, before the same mutt that killed my ally returned to take her out.

The boy…the boy from District 4, who saved me from the cave, protected me from dangerous tributes, and carried me through an arena I couldn't have made it out of on my own.

Why do they keep coming back? Why do they plague my mind?

I know the answer to that. I don't want to forget the boy from District 4 – Mako, the ally I never thought I'd have. I don't want to throw away the girl from District 7, Autumn, and the friendship we forged. I wish they were here now.

Forget it, I'm not getting back to sleep. Not tonight. I throw aside my blanket, frustrated at my mind as I stumble through the dark to my bathroom. The ornate bathroom, sporting a full bath (with real hot water!) and an actual toilet, is a far cry from the closet with a water pump that made up the bathroom in my father's house – the house I'll never go back to now. My older brother, Sage, still lives there six days out of the week. He's a fieldhand, but even in the winter with the fields dead, he and his fellow workers have to tend to crop stores in the landowners' silos and granaries. I don't get to see him as often as I like, but it could be worse: He doesn't work at the processing yards and factories, like the poor majority of District 9's workers do. People still die – at alarming rates – in those horrible places, all for just a subsistence living.

"You're depressing yourself again," I say out loud to no one in particular, leaning against the bathroom wall and looking at myself in the mirror. "Stop it, Skye."

A stranger looks back at me. The girl in the mirror's still Skye Holdrege, aged 16, with blue eyes and her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. That's never changed. What's beneath that face has changed, however. Gone is the optimistic and innocent girl from before the Games; in her place is one who dreads the day when the Capitol calls her back to serve, a day quickly approaching.

In just two weeks, I'll have to face the Victory Tour – the annual procession six months between Games when the previous victor tours the districts in a "celebration" of their merits. That'd be bad enough – having to see all those faces from districts with children who never came home – but something chilling hides in my gut.

Yellow eyes laughing at me from the darkness, cold fingers playing across my skin. "You're a useful tool…a lovable victor indeed, Skye. My people will want more of you, and I am only too happy to oblige. I have my uses for you…"

I shake my head, clearing my thoughts. I don't want to remember President Nero's chilling words to me after I woke up from the Games. The leader of Panem and the Capitol was the first man who spoke to me after I had returned from the arena – and in elaborate words, he'd told me that I'm little more than a pawn of his own goals and ideals.

I'm at the Capitol's mercy. Their tool. Their slave. What that entails…I don't want to imagine.

"Why can't I go back to sleep," I groan, placing my head on the marble bathroom countertop. "Ugh."


I bolt upright. Something's making noise downstairs…

No. Not this again, Skye. There's nothing there. There are no tributes trying to kill you. You're not back in the jungle being hunted by the girl from District 1.


I'm not imagining things. Not this time. I grab a candle from the counter, lighting it with a match and nervously making my way out of my bathroom.

It's probably nothing – a street rat probably broke a window or a loose board and crawled in, looking for an escape from the snow. Rats are the size of small dogs and mean as a Peacekeeper, but nothing I can't handle. Heck, I can give to one of the butcher shops in the Town Square tomorrow and feel good about a little charity. Someone can have something to eat, courtesy of a dumb animal rooting around my house in the middle of the night. Maybe that'll brighten my day.

I tread slowly down my stairs, careful not to make a sound as I look around in the candlelight. There – small, wet, dirty footprints leave a few tracks on the wooden floor before tapering out. Must be a rat.

I step down onto the bottom floor, looking left into the entrance hall. Strangely, there's no broken window or board – but the door's wide open, letting in the frigid breeze of the night. I dismiss it – I probably forgot to lock it and the winds blew it open. Still, I'm feeling nerves creep up again; the kind of feeling that comes when something isn't right.

Nothing in my living room. I peek into my kitchen, holding my candle just behind the wall to conceal the light. What I see sends a shiver down my spine – and it's not from the cold wind.

Someone's in there.

A tall, thin person – gangly, almost, with skinny arms and a malnourished torso – has one leg up on my kitchen counter, rooting through my pantry. An open can of something – it smells like beans – stands open on the counter as the intruder looks for more.

I swing around behind the wall, breathing fast and low. Okay, Skye. It's probably just some hungry, homeless person with nothing left to lose. Don't panic. Get something to protect yourself with and confront them. If they're really just looking for food, fine. If not…well…you can defend yourself. You're a victor.

I step just outside my open door, grabbing a brick lying on my patio. It's been there forever – leftover from construction many years ago, I guess – but it's as good an improvised weapon as I can think of. It'll scare away any intruder, at least; it's not like anyone besides the Peacekeepers has weapons in District 9.

Breathe, Skye. I inhale sharply, hiding behind the wall as I listen to the intruder in my kitchen. The person's not making normal noises, instead letting out what sounds like a continuous gulping of some sort. I raise the brick in my right hand, holding out my candle in my left as I swallow my nerves and turn into the kitchen.

"Hello?" I ask, shining the candlelight into the room.

The intruder turns. It's no homeless person.

A pale, skinny figure turns around and stares at me, but it's face is no human face. An elongated, hairless head is home to a wide, gaping mouth full of jagged teeth, with a mix of a goopy, white, gooey fluid and bean sauce coating its jaws. Two vacant, black eye sockets lie obscured beneath a fleshy coating that covers its faces; besides that, the thing has no ears, eyes, or nose. Long arms end in thin, talon-like fingers that grasp a half-opened can of beans; given this…thing's severely malnourished and bony frame, it looks like it can use the food.

It's not a person, however. I've seen something like this before…back in the Hunger Games.

It's a mutt.

"Aah!" I scream shrilly, dropping my candle and brick in surprise and fright.

"Waaa!" the mutt shrieks like a banshee back at me, grabbing the beans and hightailing it towards my living room. "Waa-aaah!"

I bolt out of my house, slamming open the front door and run screaming into the snow-covered street. I sprint down the Victor's Village barefoot and covered in just my light nightgown, ignoring the freezing cold and wet snow until I reach a house two doors down. Another victor lives here – the oldest of my two mentors and winner of the 75th Games, Omaha. I leap up his porch, running into the wall of his house and pounding my fists on his door.

"Omaha!" I shriek. "Omaha! Help!"

My mentor's at the door in less than ten seconds, flinging it open and pulling me inside. He slams the door with his thud, turning me around and putting his back to it: "Skye! What is it?"

"It was in my house!" I exhale, panting my words out. "It was right there in my house!"

"What was?"

"The mutt! A mutt!"

Omaha lets out a long breath, smiling ruefully and running a hand through his matted black hair: "Heavens, Skye, you scared me – I thought it was Peacekeepers trying to arrest you, or some other serious situation."

"Omaha, there's a mutt in my house! It's serious!"

"Skye – "

"It was in my kitchen! It was…eating or something!"

"Skye!" Omaha cuts me off, gripping my shoulder with his hand. "Look…sometimes these things happen after the Games. You've mentioned seeing your allies and the other tributes in your dreams, or other things from the arena…sometimes, our minds start to blend dreams and reality, memories with the present, as a means of healing."

I look up at him silently, taking a minute before replying, "You think I'm crazy, don't you?"

"I do not think you're crazy."

"Can we just…" I stop. I must sound crazy to him. "Can we just go back and look? I don't want to go back alone if it's still there."

"That's fine," he nods, picking up a flashlight from a nearby table and opening the door.

I trudge back through the snow towards my house, Omaha in tow. I'm angry at myself – of course there's no mutt! Omaha's been a victor nearly a quarter of a century; he knows much more than me. Why am I suddenly so shocked that I'm seeing things – especially after the human mutt in the arena's cave nearly killed me?

You ARE insane, Skye. Or, at least, you're getting there.

I let Omaha open my house's door, stepping into the hall slowly. Still, I'm not willing to let this go – not until I know for sure I'm crazy: "Look, on the floor – there's tracks! It left footprints or something!"

"All I see is a brick and a candle on fire," Omaha remarks, stamping out the candle with his foot. "I assume you dropped those?"

I nod, peeking around my door into the house. The living room's empty – the mutt ran this way, but there's no sign of prints or anything else.

"Look in the kitchen," I plead. "It was making noise in there."

When Omaha shines his light around, however, it's empty. A pan I'd left in the sink is overturned on the countertop, but besides the pantry doors being open, that's it. Nothing else is out of place.

Omaha's nice enough to search upstairs with me as well, but it's clear he's not buying my story. I'm not even buying my story at this point.

"Skye," he says patiently, his expression sympathetic. "Do you want me to stay here tonight?"

I feel embarrassed, heat rushing to my cheeks as I shake my head: "No…no, it's fine. Fine. I'll just…go back to bed, or something."

"Don't feel ashamed about the things you see."

"I don't. Feel bad," I lie. "I just…want some space. Alone. Please."

He gives me a sad look, patting me on the head and bidding me goodnight as he leaves. I close the door behind him, falling down to the floor and pulling my knees up to my chest. What's happening to me? Why is my mind playing tricks on me, trying to convince me I'm still battling everything I left behind in the arena? All I want to do is put that behind me…but deep inside, the feelings, the thoughts, the memories, keep bubbling back up like a pot boiling over. I can't keep them down.

I sigh, picking up the brick and tossing it back outside. Might as well tidy up – I close the pantry door, placing my pan back in the sink and my candle on the kitchen table. Stupid, stupid, stupid girl.

Something still smells strange. I take one last look into my living room, peeking behind the long plush couch in the room.

Hidden in the darkness, a pool of beans settles on my floor.