Cantaré: Song of the Dying

Normal warnings for fandom apply.

[4/5/2014: Edited, no major changes. This story is also featured on my blog. See my profile for the link. Some extras are included there, like tribute profiles, maps, and more.]

There are more mysteries in this world than can ever be discovered in a single lifetime. While a majority of these mysteries disappeared from human memory by the time Panem came to power, there are some that live on in the shadows. And should they ever be uncovered, it could spell the demise - or the prosperity - of the tyrannical nation and its brutal Games.

This year's Games will be the most unforgettable ones yet as the long lost secrets of a world before Panem resurface for the first time in centuries.

But the 59th Hunger Games may just be fated to disappear from memory - just as the world's secrets once did for over a hundred years - because what results from this year's Games may be far too dangerous for the Capitol to allow its citizens to remember.

Prologue

All the clocks in the Capitol struck nine at once. If not for the nearly soundproof walls and lively air provided by the crowd gathered in the heart of the city, the symphony of chimes might have echoed loud enough for all to hear despite the commotion. Instead, the sounds from the ceremony could be heard from blocks away: the cheers, the screams, the pure excitement oozing through the cracks between buildings and vehicles that crammed the streets to full capacity. Everyone in the Capitol was on a night-long high, regardless of whether or not they were actually using anything.

Anton thought that he might have been be the only soul heading away from the procession of chariots riding through the streets. The chariots themselves hadn't even emerged yet, but everyone was already in an uproar over the brief previews and professional commentary airing on every screen from the reaping.

It wasn't that Anton wanted to avoid watching the opening of this year's Hunger Games. He would never dream of missing it. His sister had invited him to watch it with her friends, given that they had somehow managed to acquire front row seats to the Chariot Rides, but he had been forced to decline. He had volunteered to take the night shift at the museum, after all. And there was a nice, wide-screen TV in the staff room where he could watch the event in comfort.

Well, the amenities were nice and all, but what Anton was really there for were the books. The Capitol didn't circulate many real, hard copies of books of any kind, let alone original prints that may have graced the halls of museums centuries ago. Most of their books were electronic, ensuring that they were never lost to decay, water damage, or fire. The few that remained from ages long past were carefully preserved by the government and some were stored in the very museum where Anton worked.

The museum did allow citizens to read the reproductions of those books (government approved, of course), as well as travel through a timeline of Panem's history stretching back to the collapse of the continent they stood upon.

It was one of the most boring jobs in the Capitol, his sister insisted for years without listening to his sorry attempt at an explanation. It really was dull work, after all, no matter how he tried to glorify it. The most excitement he ever got out of his day was giving tours to kids in grade school, over half of whom weren't even listening to him or reading anything in the museum.

Tonight was a bit different from the norm. It started when he found that text file in the database's archives a few months back - he was getting a bit ahead of himself though. First, he had to watch the Chariot Rides.

Anton darted nimbly up the steps to the sleek, metallic museum building glinting in the wake of the city's never ending stream of lights and colors. The glass doors yielded to his ID card and slid open with a cold hiss. Inside the lighting was dim and the sounds from outside silenced almost completely. Sharp, gleaming display cases lined the halls.

The staff room was empty, two night shift security guards decked in steam pressed uniforms the only other people around. He'd waved to one of them as he passed through the entryway, past the information desk and the long, curved staircases that engulfed the hall.

The TV was already on by the time he slipped into the room and the door closed behind him with a silent click. He peered out the long glass window along one wall, which looked out into the lobby but didn't allow visitors to see the room where he was standing.

From the speakers built into the walls a commentator rattled off the last of the recaps for the reaping and the introductions were officially complete. The Capitol was perfectly punctual, as always.

He took a flat, sleek electronic reader and flicked through it until he reached a particularly obscure text that the Committee on Information and Intel had approved purely for the fact that was written in a language long thought dead and gone. Though unreadable, it kept the scholars busy.

The first chariot was just inching into view when he ran his fingers over a section of thick, archaic lettering printed across the screen. His eyes flickered from the reader to the TV over and over again with each pair of tributes that passed across the screen.

Anton had never believed his grandfather's tales until he'd seen that book shoved to the bottom of a drawer in his family's home, hidden under layers of old clothes and old fashioned photo albums. He had taken those stories as the ravings of a senile man - even though Capitol treatments were able to abate most of the worst symptoms of aging.

Or maybe Anton just hadn't wanted to believe his grandfather. It was ridiculous, even as a child, to believe that anything he'd said was once real in anything outside of dreams and stories.

"Someday they'll return and we'll be none the wiser, but come they will. Oh, will they come," the wizened old man had squeezed out through coughing fits and with a distant look in his eyes.

"Who's coming back, grandpa?"

"They'll come back and we can't stop it. No, no stopping fate, not ever, not even when we think we got rid of them all. We were wrong…"

"Grandpa?"

"We were so, so wrong."

It was the last conversation he'd ever had with his grandfather before he passed away, but it wasn't much different from the other conversations he'd had with the man throughout the years of his youth. His grandfather had always spoke in this low, whispering tone that suddenly broke into a high pitched and hysterical cackle and he told his stories to no audience but himself.

He was just a raving old man, too touched in the bead to be taken seriously. Long ago, before the Hunger Games were even around, he'd been injured in a war. He was never the same, although he went on to get married and have kids and a proper job. So Anton ignored him, like how everyone else in the family ignored him.

That was, until he found the book.

His grandfather had often scribbled images similar to the ones currently on the screen in his hands. He would write them on anything he could get his hands on without knowing the significance of the words. Yet, he must have known what they meant at some point. There had to be something significant there.

And then Anton found the other book. He'd burned it as soon as he committed the most important facts to memory.

Because there was definitely something starting and it wasn't the Hunger Games. Anton Hannigan was nothing, if not careful. It came with the job of preserving all the artifacts of the old and forgotten world, but in life he was careful, too.

He flickered back through the archives and leaned against the couch to watch the rest of the opening ceremony unfold.