Arva Morwenna volunteered for the 68th Hunger Games in order to spare her twelve year old sister from darkness and death but the delicate and frail-looking girl of District 4 isn't much of a better replacement since everybody believes her as good as dead once she's brought out to the Cornucopia. However, nothing is ever as it seems and there is more than meets to eye, especially when it comes to Arva...
Disclaimer: All OCs belong to me while Hunger Games belongs to Suzanne Collins. The picture used for the book cover belongs to its original owner. I've only done some edits to it.
**EDITED as of 8/3/2016
Gently, softly, I hummed the lullaby as my fingers nimbly weaved the top half of my little sister's golden—a rare shade in our district—locks into a fishtail braid. I wore a calm exterior and my lips were curled up in a sweet smile but through that façade, I was frightened. I was in fact, terrified—just like how I would every year on this very same day since my little brother was of age and now, my little sister. Today was the day that everyone but the volunteers dreaded. Today was also the day of dear Cordi's very first reaping.
"Arva, I'm scared…" Cordi whimpered, her back still facing me. Without even needing to ponder, I knew why. In the previous years, Cordi's fears were only for our brother and me, but this year, her fears included herself as well. Every child had a right to be scared of the reapings. The entire idea of the Hunger Games was sick and twisted. In what way was the notion of children killing each other in order to survive as a game entertaining? How was it fun to watch a twelve year old murder? How was it fun to pit two friends against each other in battle? Moreover, how was it fun to watch the life slip out of the eyes of twenty-four 'tributes'—where twenty-three literally die and one would return a victor but no longer his or her self—each year?
"It's alright, Cordi," I assured my little sister, dropping the finished braid. I stood up and kneeled in front of her to plant a kiss on her forehead. "Your name will only be in the ball once and there are several hundred more slips in there that could be picked."
"But, yours is in there six times and Arlen's in there four times!" Cordi cried. She clutched my hands and the tears that pooled in her oceanic eyes began to slip. My smile never faltered as I wiped away her tears. Trust sweet Cordi to be more worried about Arlen and me.
"We'll be alright, Cordi," Arlen's smooth voice came from the door. His footsteps grew louder as he neared us. "You know that despite what everyone believes, Arva is a fighter. I can take care of myself now too. I can take care of all us."
"I know but…but Arva…" Cordi trailed off, unable to complete her sentence as a sob escaped her lips. I knew what she was implying. Everybody in the entire district who knew of the Morwenna family could tell that I—even if it were only a glimpse at our profile—was frail and delicate. I was a faulty fishing hook, made blindly, and too thin to withstand the force of struggling fishes. Although some people lent a hand, it was still a wonder how I had managed to care for my siblings and myself when our mother breathed her last breath, especially considering that we had no other living relatives to take us under their wing since father and our only uncle had long passed in an accident on their jobs at sea as well.
"Like I've told you many times before and now, Arva is a fighter," Arlen's gaze hardened, though it softened soon after. "Never doubt her, okay Cordi?"
I was touched by my brother's words and his firm belief in me. His words had a lot of underlying meanings that the both of us could only understand. After all, he was the only person who witnessed all of the sacrifices and efforts I made in order to raise and care for him and Cordi.
Slowly, Cordi nodded and my smile widened. I kissed her forehead again before standing up straight. Then, I made my way towards Arlen to place a loving peck on his forehead as well, though I had to get on my toes just so I could reach him. I knew how much they loved me and they knew how much I loved them both back as well.
"We must get moving. We can't be late," I told my siblings while taking Cordi's hand in mine. Meanwhile, Arlen—despite being younger—stood taller and visibly stronger than I am on my other side. The three of us exited our home and together, we headed towards where the reapings were held yearly.
I stood like a statue among the other female seventeen year olds after sparing one final reassuring smile towards Cordi who stood next to her friend far back and whose scared eyes were trained on me. I didn't look for Arlen because I knew well that regardless of his age, he could easily blend in as one of the older boys. Besides, I could feel my brother's protective stormy-grey eyes on me from wherever he was.
"…And now, I shall begin the drawing of the tributes! First up, the ladies," Elodea, District Four's escort, announced. Her heels clicked behind her, echoing as she walked towards where the paper-filled reaping balls were situated. My eyes flew shut and I began to pray like how I always did each reaping. I prayed to the heavens, I prayed to the sea and just as I was about to pray to mother and father, the name for the female tribute of this year's Hunger Games was called out and my eyes snapped open.
For a second, things didn't register in my mind. It was blank as my head automatically whipped around and when I saw the peacekeepers heading towards my shaking beloved Cordi, I knew what I had to do. Without a second thought, I pushed towards the isle and shouted the very two words that finally made Cordi wail.
Few whispers echoed through the square as I made my way towards the stage. Peacekeepers surrounded me to ensure that I wouldn't run away or did anything out of line. Even though I ensured that my lips held a gentle smile, every watchful eye could tell that I was tense from the way my fists were clenched. I paid no heed to the few sympathetic and shocked gazes; I forced myself not to run towards Cordi just so I could comfort her. Even if the residents of District Four barely knew me, I could tell what was going through their minds. They believed that I had volunteered for my own suicide. No matter how admirable my actions to save a poor child from her early demise may be, I was the helpless lamb sent for slaughter. After all, I wasn't Career material—but nobody else volunteered to take my stead.
"What is your name and age, dear?" Elodea inquired happily once I was next to her.
"Arva Morwenna, seventeen."
"Oh!" Elodea clapped her hands excitedly as a small number of gasps were audible from the crowd. Now, everybody understood why I had volunteered. "I take it that the little darling is your sister?"
"Yes, miss," I answered, looking from my crying sister's eyes to the angered ones of our brother. His anger wasn't directed at me. I knew that it was directed at the fact that our sweet Cordi's name was pulled out—one unique tiny white slip instead of the others' who shared certain printed names. There are people who applied for tesserae.
"Lovely!" Elodea brightened further. She gestured to the side and politely told me to stand there. I obeyed, the gentle smile continued to be plastered on my face. All of Panem was watching the chosen tributes and waiting for any possible slips. I couldn't afford to lose any chances I have in order to survive the Hunger Games.
"The male tribute is…Atl Fontanne!"
A boy with copper brown hair and cerulean eyes stepped out from his spot in the line of eighteen year olds and climbed up the stage. He was tall, broad—much like Arlen—and his muscles were visible under his shirt. There weren't any volunteers to take his place. Of course, there wasn't any need, seeing his built. Everybody was confident that he would be fine. For a foolish moment, I wanted to drop my act and gaze fiercely at the crowd like how Atl was doing. I wanted to show them that despite my I was strong despite my stick-like frame. I wanted to show them that I had the determination burning deep within my gentle gaze. I wanted the people to have confidence in me as well. However, it wasn't wise and the promise I made to mother on her deathbed would be a waste.
"Be wise like the owl, my dear. For wisdom is far more fearful than brute strength."
Mother's final words echoed in my mind as Elodea told Atl and me to shake hands. The male tribute's eyes were wary while we did so—a smart thing to do. What a shock it would be when a wolf sprung out from under the sheep's coat.
The both of us smiled for the photo—well, I continued to smile, and we faced the audience while the anthem played, followed by a message from President Snow on the large screen. After that, Atl and I were brought into the Justice Building behind us. We were led into separate rooms. Patiently, I waited for my siblings. This would be the final time we would see eye to eye, touch skin to skin. There would be no further chances unless I emerged as victor. The door opened and Cordi came running into my arms. Her eyes were puffy and bloodshot whereas Arlen's was only the latter. He stood near the door even after it closed and watched Cordi and I embrace.
"Arlen, come here," I beckoned him and that was all it took for his tears to fall. My little brother fell onto his knees and hugged us. I patted their backs and pulled away to kiss their foreheads for the last time.
"Don't worry about me," I was smiling but my eyes were wet too. "I'm a fighter, remember?"
"You have to come back, Arva," Cordi sniffled. "You must!"
"I will. I promise," I replied, wiping away her tears just like how I did earlier in the morning. "Be strong, Cordi."
Then, I turned to Arlen.
"Protect her and take care of yourselves," I told him. "You're a fighter too—a lion."
Cracking a smile, Arlen nodded. He embraced me and this time, it was he who kissed my forehead. Meanwhile, Cordi took out a sea glass bracelet and clasped it around my left wrist.
"It's supposed to be your birthday gift," Cordi's lower lip trembled although she had pulled on a brave face. "We'll be waiting, Arva."
"Good luck, sister," Arlen gazed sternly into my eyes. He was trying to cover up the pain and grief they held. At that moment, a peacekeeper opened the door and announced that their time was up. I quickly embraced them once more, telling them that I loved them, and watched them as they left. Once the door was shut again, I dropped onto the carpeted ground, blinking furiously and trying not to cry—futile because the tears leaked out anyway. I took a shaky breath and examined the bracelet. Immediately, I recognized Arlen's craftsmanship. He probably had accompanied Cordi to the beach to collect sea glass so that he could turn it into a bracelet for me.
I lifted my head to the ceiling and allowed the salty liquid to flow freely this time. I hadn't imagined goodbye to be this hard. Although I had thought of the possibilities years ago, I didn't even dream that Cordi would be picked and for things to turn out this way. The peacekeepers appeared again and I was ushered out into a car where a solemn Atl sat waiting. We exchanged no words as we watched the scenery change from the windows. I shut my eyes and prayed for the second time today, hoping that my siblings wouldn't be facing my coffin when I returned home…
But, every other tribute deserved to continue living too.