I don't own ROTG or HG. Do I wish I did? By the blazes, yeah! Do I in reality? Unfortunately, no.
ONESHOT. Will not be continued.
The tributes of the Fifteenth Hunger Games rose out into the arena, and immediately every one of them started to shiver. This year's arena was an arctic ice cap. Glaciers loomed overhead. Swirling snow was swept along by the biting wind, and the silver Cornucopia in the center of the arena was partially hidden underneath a huge white drift. The only sign of the life-saving resources that would have been out in the open during a normal Hunger Games were small mounds concealed under a thick blanket of snow. The tributes, in their warm winter parkas, started to get ready for the sprint as the clock ticked down from sixty.
Perched on the edge of one of the glaciers, a thin, pale figure in a blue sweatshirt and brown leggings watched the tributes as they got in their ready stances. His bright blue eyes flickered back and forth, and his mouth, usually curved in a crooked grin, was set in a straight, grim line. He gripped his hooked wooden staff in his hand, and bowed his head sympathetically. He hated the Hunger Games with all of his frozen heart. Games were supposed to be fun, and he lived off fun.
But, like the season he represented, he was not just fun. He was also death.
Because winter incarnate would not and could not be only innocent and fun-loving. He tried to show his good side and keep the darker side hidden, but in a world where the former was nearly alien to the inhabitants, the latter could not help but break free.
No one believed in the Guardians anymore. Over the years, everything they lived and strived for gradually diminished into nothing. Sandman had been the first to go, due to the return of Pitch Black with the war of the Dark Days and the nightmares that came with the trauma of the hard times. And this time, the little golden man had not returned. Toothiana and North had followed soon after, and then Bunnymund when the last spark of hope had been snuffed out. Jack Frost was now the last Guardian. As long as the Games continued, he knew, he would never die. He had two sides of his center, and as long as one of them thrived, he would either laugh or suffer through his prolonged life. Whenever a tribute died, he felt a bit stronger.
If it was his choice, he would rather have been weakened to the point of fading than be strengthened by the death of yet another child.
So why did he stand above the ground of what would soon, in less than thirty seconds, become a bloodbath? Because, he reasoned, there was still hope. They were still children, no matter if they wielded lethal weapons or not. If he could only divert them… no. It was merely a wistful fantasy. Either way, twenty-three of them would die. He could only give them a bit of fun to cling to as their last moments slipped away.
The clock was ticking. It was now or never. Jack stood to his feet and launched himself into the air. He alighted on top of the Cornucopia, gripping his staff. The wind picked up, as if it knew what was to come. Angrily, Jack thrust his staff in the air, and the unnatural, Gamemaker controlled wind stopped immediately. The heavily falling snow lightened and slowed its descent, and the freezing tributes on their plates started to shiver less violently.
Five…four…three… the clock counted, and Jack lowered his staff near the side of the giant metal horn in preparation. Just as the horn sounded, he tapped the metal wall with the hook of his staff. Immediately, frost shot from the spot and across the snow, coating it with a layer of slick ice. And in perfect unison, twenty-four tributes slipped and fell sprawling.
Jack sprang from his perch and scooped up a snowball. Just as the first tribute, a dark-haired girl of about thirteen, got to her feet, the snowball smacked her in the face, and she stumbled again. Seen only by Jack, a mist of blue sparkles spread in front of her brown eyes, and surprisingly, she started to laugh.
"Okay," she asked in a jovial voice, smiling widely. "Who threw that?"
The words struck home in Jack's soul. Centuries ago, a boy only a few years younger than the girl had said the same words. This was significant for him, because the girl just so happened to be Joyce Bennett, from District 5. He had watched the descendants of his first believer for years.
Just as he had done in that long-ago neighborhood with those long-dead children, Jack scooped up more snowballs and pelted the other children, only just then getting up. Some of them, who had scrambled for the backpacks and resources in the Cornucopia, were hit by magical snowballs and picked up handfuls of snow instead.
"Free for all!" Jack yelled, throwing out random shots. Before long, what had meant to be a bloodbath became a full-out snowball war. Joyce echoed Jack's shout, chucking a perfect snowball at the District 7 boy. The fifteen-year-old boy saw it coming and ducked, but just in time for the snowball to smack into the head of the seventeen-year-old from District 2, who was just making his way towards a lethal-looking battleaxe.
The boy stumbled, and turned around with an angry sneer on his face. A guttural growling noise came from somewhere in his throat, and Joyce winced.
"Crud, I hit Cadoc," she whispered.
The District 3 girl pointed at Joyce. "She hit Cadoc!"
"You hit Cadoc?" the District 12 boy whimpered.
"Dang, that's creepy," remarked Jack, positioning the base of his staff on the ground.
Growling menacingly, Cadoc picked up the battleaxe and stalked forward. Everyone was too terrified to do anything until a snowball smacked the snarling Career in the face.
"Did you throw that?" asked the District 1 boy, who was no longer intent on killing Joyce but now worried about her safety from the wrath of Cadoc.
Joyce didn't take her eyes off Cadoc as she backed up slowly. "I may be impudent," she said, trying to keep her voice from shaking, "but I'm not stupid."
Behind them, Jack was balanced on the hook of his upright staff, with his arms still in the throwing position. He grinned as he watched the magical blue sparks spread in front of Cadoc's eyes. The snarl on the large boy's face turned into a smile, and the axe fell out of his hands.
Less than a minute later, everyone had taken sides in the snowball war and absolutely no one had died yet. Laughter echoed around the arena.
But in the Hunger Games Control Room in the Capitol, no one was laughing.
"What in the blithering blue blazes is going on out there?" the Head Gamemaker, Julian O'Neal, yelled.
"Um, sir, it seems that the tributes have, er, started a snowball fight," stated one of his subordinates meekly.
"I SEE that, Captain Obvious!" Julian screamed. He hesitated, not sure how to continue. "Is there any way to stop it?"
"Um… short of reactivating the mines, well… not really."
"Well then FIND ONE!"
Immediately most of the terrified Gamemakers in the room obeyed. (The word "most" is used because of one exception. At their holoboards, two certain Gamemakers exchanged a glance, and one of them mouthed, Anger management.) Within the minute, a woman at her holoboard said, "Sir? What about muttattions?"
Julian considered this. "Let's see what you've got."
She pulled up a holoimage of a wolf, and after examining it, Julian nodded approvingly. "Three or four. No more than six."
The Gamemaker pressed the confirm icon.
The snowball fight was just getting into full swing. Jack was feeling stronger than ever, fueled by the happiness and fun in the air. But the snowball fight stopped abruptly when one of the albino muttattion wolves appeared out of nowhere, pounced on the male tribute from District 12, and ripped out the boy's stomach.
The dark part of Jack's soul, which had been driven into a shadowy corner by the joy that had dominated supreme for a few quick minutes, twitched and began to rise.
A red rage clouded the edges of Jack's vision. He yelled unintelligibly and, without thinking, charged forward with his staff outstretched. He shot a blast of lightning and ice into the mutt's side, and the creature fell to the ground, coated with a thick layer of ice. The frozen muttattion crashed into another, which stumbled and turned towards the killer of its comrade. Its red eyes locked on Jack, and it growled and leapt.
Jack recalled a night long ago, when a certain dog owned by a certain boy had leapt in a very similar way, except towards E. Aster Bunnymund. Later, Jack had asked North why the dog had been able to see Bunny. The answer was simple. Animals did not have beliefs, they just saw exactly what was there just as it was. This principle apparently also applied to genetically-enhanced animals made in the Capitol's laboratories.
As the wolf pounced, Jack managed to dodge it…mostly. He stumbled to the ground as he felt the agony of a wound that scored down his back. The muttattion's razor-sharp claws had torn through the sturdy fabric of his blue sweatshirt like notepaper. The wound was not deep and did not bleed much, but it burned like the blazes.
Jack tumbled in the snow and lost his grip on his staff, and somewhere in the fringes of his consciousness he heard a girl's voice screaming his name. He rolled onto his back and sat up just in time to see a muttattion stalk terrifyingly close, ready to go for the kill. The powerful muscles in its back legs bunched, and it was about to leap at the unarmed Jack when the handle of a knife sprouted from its ribcage. The wolf dropped to the ground, stone dead.
"Jack, run!" yelled Joyce.
Meanwhile, the Gamemakers were very confused.
The first wolf to appear had pounced on the District 12 male tribute, and killed him almost instantly. That was not the confusing part. The confusing part came a few seconds later, when suddenly a streak of white lightning blasted out of nowhere and hit the muttattion in the side, sending it stumbling to the ground, seemingly frozen. Another muttattion, which had been nearby, seemed to focus on some point near where the mysterious lightning had originated. And then, as if someone was really there, it started to growl.
"What in the blazes?" Julian O'Neal whispered. No one disagreed.
The muttattion leapt at an unseen object –– or person –– but it seemed to miss its invisible target. And then…
"Pause the footage!" shouted Julian. "I want to see that again, and closer up." The Gamemaker did so. They all watched carefully. Right after the mutt had leapt, a few drops of ruby blood fell from nowhere and stained the white snow. And right after that, an area of snow not far from there was mysteriously disturbed by some phantom figure.
The muttattion got up, shook itself off, and advanced on the invisible presence. "Jack!" yelled a voice, and at this Julian ordered the Gamemaker to pause again.
"Who said that?" he demanded.
"The same one who killed the muttattion later," the Gamemaker replied promptly. "Joyce Bennett, District 5. It seems like she can…see him. Whoever's there, she can see him."
"Well," asked Julian impatiently, "can anyone else see him?"
"The muttattions can, apparently."
"Other than the stupid animals."
"No. The tributes don't seem to know what she's talking about."
It was chaos by the Cornucopia now, just like the bloodbaths of previous years, except that this time there were mutt wolves to add in on the fun. Tributes were hacking at each other and wrestling for the life-saving resources. Jack had scrambled away, because even though the physical bodies of the tributes could not harm him, their weapons could. They'd go right through him, but they'd still have an effect.
Now he was perched on his glacier again, not wanting to watch the horrible scene below but somehow unable to turn his eyes away. His strength was still peaking, but this was a different kind of strength –– not the strength of belief and joy, but the strength brought by bloodshed. The dark power raging inside of him was quickly healing the physical wounds brought by the fight with the muttattions, but the mental wounds only worsened with each shot of strength brought each time a tribute fell. "It's the fear," said a voice behind him. "Oh, so much fear and death. So much power. It is beautiful."
Jack swerved around and blasted ice and lightning from his staff, but no one was there.
But he knew that the Nightmare King was there, somewhere in the arena. He always was. He loved the Games. He relished them. He fed off them.
Just like Jack, death only strengthened Pitch. But instead of hating the strength, the Nightmare King reveled in it.
A motion caught Jack's eye, and he looked down. In the ravine between his glacier and the next, a small figure was running through the snow and ice with a pack over her shoulder. Joyce, he knew immediately. The one who could see him. The one who saved him.
And just then, as if she knew he was watching her, she stopped and looked up. She locked eyes with him, and her lips formed two words.
Even though Jack couldn't hear her, he knew what she had said.
At that moment, Jack knew that a small flame of hope still burned bright for the last Guardian.
Two weeks later
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present the victor of the Fifteenth Hunger Games, Joyce Bennett!"
Joyce almost could not believe the words. "I'm going home," she whispered. "I'm going home." Shaking with adrenaline and fatigue, she turned to Jack, who was standing nearby. "Thank you."
But Jack did not seem happy, even though the dark strength surging through his veins almost made him want to do a flip. The still body of Cadoc, the District 2 tribute, lay at his feet with the hilt of Joyce's last throwing knife protruding from his chest. "I know you were defending yourself," he said in a low voice, "but I can't stand to see this."
Joyce bowed her head. "Neither can I," she admitted. "Only two weeks ago Cadoc and I were throwing snowballs at each other. How did the snowballs turn into knives so quickly?"
Jack lifted his hand in the air, and around them the intensity and speed of the blizzard increased. Only around them, though, because he manipulated the wind to form a protective cocoon of calm air around Joyce, preventing her from exposure to the blinding snow. It would be nearly impossible, he knew, for the cameras to see anything, and if they did manage to see something, the image would be blurred and unclear.
It was for the best that he did so, because had he not, the entire of Panem would have seen Joyce Bennett, thirteen-year-old victor of the Fifteenth Hunger Games, rush forward to hug an invisible presence, crying and shivering as she embraced her Guardian.
Three days later
"It just can't be," murmured Head Gamemaker Julian O'Neal for the umpteenth time. "It's impossible. Never has anyone so young and so incompetent ever won the Games."
"It's only been fifteen years," remarked the young President Coriolanus Snow as he reclined in his desk chair. "There's a first for everything."
"But her spirit," protested Julian. "I swear, she was being helped by someone. Someone no one but she could see."
President Snow stared at his Head Gamemaker as if the man had grown a second head. "Please, Julian. Be logical. Her 'spirit'?"
Julian mulled over the word for a few moments, then amended, "No. Not exactly a spirit. More like… a guardian. I don't know who he was, but I have proof that he was there. Drops of blood in the snow that came from no one. The erratic behavior of the muttattions. And Joyce herself. She was always speaking to someone in low voices, and when she did the snow and wind always blocked out the cameras so we couldn't see or hear exactly what she was doing or saying. She was hardly ever cold. The weather seemed to bow to her will, even though our Gamemakers control it. Several times we heard her refer to him as 'Jack'."
President Snow snorted. "Jack?" he repeated cynically. "Do you mean like…Jack Frost? Oh, please. The girl is crazy, Julian. Just admit it. Even her own stylist and mentor have said so. The psychiatrists have diagnosed her as 'mentally unstable'."
Julian rubbed his temples. "No. I know what I saw. There was someone in there with her, and he was helping her. I swear."
The President of Panem rolled his cold eyes. "Don't be ridiculous."
"I'm not ridiculous!" protested the Gamemaker, his voice growing in pitch and volume with every word. "There was someone in there, protecting her!"
"Guards?" called President Snow, and instantly four Peacekeepers rushed forward and hoisted Julian O'Neal to his feet. As they bound his hands behind his back with cuffs, his protests turned into mad ravings.
"I know what I saw!" he shrieked hysterically. "She was being helped! I'm not crazy!"
President Snow waved an uncaring hand in the air. "Tell it to your counselors," he said as the Peacekeepers dragged the squealing Gamemaker out of the office. "But don't bother coming back."
The doors shut, and President Snow was left alone and in silence. Ah, just how he liked it. He made a mental note to search for a new Head Gamemaker, then leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes.
Not exactly a spirit. More like…a guardian.
"Jack Frost," he mused to himself.
He considered this for a few minutes, then smiled humorlessly at the petty thought.
"Joyce's Guardian. Right."
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