"In the midst of chaos lies opportunity."

Day Nine, The Fortieth Hunger Games

Lorayn Alden, District Two Female

How long is he going to make me wait? For how long will he deny me the pleasure of either his death or my own? Stalling will do him no good now. Payton and I have to meet soon; later is non-existent. We are the finale. The curtain call for the 40th Hunger Games. Every show must end. Every act comes to a close.

Even this one.

In the big top where the acrobats once flew and the animal tamers guided their pets through brightly colored hoops, I stand on the blood-stained ground. It's like a timeline for the Games; at the door, you have the pool that was once the boy from Nine's. At least before my blade was embedded into his throat. Closer in, next to the ring which marks the center circle, you see the drops of Meredith's crimson. That was when I caught her trying to escape with our supplies on the first night. Lucky for me, paranoia is an excellent way to ignore sleep. The first cut left a trail that went all way to just outside the ring before she stopped moving and started dying.

Scattered all around the circle is my own blood. Some of which is because I got hit, others bits are there because letting it stung, letting it burn and cling to my skin helped me deal with it. Deal with what I'd done. Seeing the marks on my arms and legs proved it, that I had killed. I killed a boy and a girl. I killed people who had families and friends. I killed people.

In return for their death, they gave me scars. Scars which only I can feel.

I need them to know they are there. I need the Districts, the Captiol, the tributes to know. To know I am now scarred because of what I have done. Their blood, what little remains of it, will forever mark my hands.

What little of my life I have left I will spend in pain. My punishment will be short but sweet. No one else will punish me, they would said I did what I had to in order to survive. Therefore, I shall be my own judge, I shall decide what course of action needs to be taken.

The options are limited as there is only one.

A life sentence of internal torment is what awaits me in my future. I look forward to it with an ironic smile.

Until then, I'm forced to feel the pain of living. Every part of my being aches. My legs because all of the walking and the running and the standing. My arms because every time I think I can let go of my blades, a faraway stone is kicked and the ripple of its noise won't let my grip slip. My mind because if my statistics come in and say I've slept more than two hours in a row during the entire Games, I will be wholeheartedly surprised since I've just been told a lie by the Gamemakers. My heart aches most of all. What's left of it aches.

With his last breath, the boy from Nine cracked my heart from deep inside where you couldn't see it.

With those bright green eyes of hers, Meredith devastated me. She looked not at me but into me, straight into my chest where her gaze caused the cracks to appear of the surface of my heart. A little jolt was the only thing it needed to fall, to fall and leave me for the rest of my life collecting the pieces of my splintered soul.

The little jolt came in the form of the girl from Three. She was small, thirteen. Young, free, immature, the things she should have been. I had seen her with her allies, a chirpy bunch of… of children. Nevertheless, she isn't. None of them are. Not anymore.

The Games had changed her. The others died before the true effect kicked in, but she lived long enough to feel her joy seep from each cut, each wound. A child dragged up the queue to face death way before her time. Death is accepting of everything and anything. It doesn't care. It doesn't care if it's tomorrow or the day after that or a week or ten years from now. It will take you when you arrive at its door.

It knows you're not meant to be there now. But it doesn't care.

What makes it worse was I was the one doing the dragging. I took her to death's door and when it gazed down at me and smiled, my heart fell. It hit the ground and it shattered.

Thousands of pieces that will forever be lost in all corners of this arena.

In my sorry state, I've walked over in a haze to the bottom row of the bleachers that line around the circus ten. I lower myself down onto it and lean back, keeping my eyes on the entrances.

Please come soon Payton, I need it to be over. The Games or my life. Something needs to end.

Payton was always the favorite. The trainers thought he was the most gifted of our year. The Capitol was in love with his and Grant's story. Back-to-back Career victors from District Two who just happened to be brothers. Those oblivious fools couldn't have it written a better tale if they tried.

The Academy chose me to accommodate to their fairytale ending. No self-respecting trainer could believe I of all trainees could win. Not then, not now. I'm here to fulfill Payton's destiny. I'm his last step to victory, freedom, fame. And I will make it the longest step of his life. Because in reality, that's all I can do now. I'm no Victor.

I would have to live with not only my scars but the ones I caused. The ones I put on Grant.

I can't win. I could never win. I just never realized. Until now.

Something moves in the corner of my eye. I'm up and into my stance before I know what I'm doing and he's just looking at me. Payton's standing there, a shadowed figured in the doorway, a pike held rather loosely in his hand. The only sound is my breaths that come quickly and quietly. Anything could set me off.

"Do you like keeping me waiting, Payton?" I hiss.

His face is as stalwart as it has ever been. Always in control, always knows what he's doing. I'm the opposite. I've never known how he does the things he does and I never will.

"Maybe I do, maybe I don't," he replies. How can he be relaxed, I don't understand. This is the finale. Do or die. No more fight or flight. There is only victory and death now. Relaxation isn't supposed to play a role now, but it runs freely on Payton's face.

He thinks he's going to win. He'd never say it aloud, but I can see it in his eyes. In the way he stands. He's already one foot out of this arena. His mind has practically already left. But I'm prepared to drag him back to this arena for eternity.

As much I don't want to feel anything, I don't want to die. I'm sorry Payton, I am truly sorry. I'm too far in to go back now, and the only way forward is through you.

"You know what," I say with a smile, "I wish I could just let you win. I wish I had the strength to put down my weapons and beg for a quick death."

His hand tightens its grip of his weapon. His jaw clenches as he studies me carefully.

"So why don't you?" Payton breathes lightly.

"I'm done following you around. I'm done with living in other people's shadows." I turn to the arena, surely laced with cameras in every corner. "You want blood? You want screams?" I can almost hear the screams from the Capitol.

My dead eyes return to Payton. "You heard them. Let's give them what they want."

I take off towards him, my arms tense, ready to swing my twin blades as soon I'm within striking range. In the few seconds it takes me to reach him though, Payton's set himself to parry, letting my blades hit off his pike before bringing it down and trying to drive it through my side.

Turning my body to dodge around it, I take a step forward, trying to take advantage of his position. Somehow though, Payton manages to parry me again and this time it was him trying to take advantage of my unbalance. However, I find the strength to push aside his pike just enough so it misses.

This is how it carries on for who knows how long. Back and forth between the two of us; attacking, dodging and parrying. Strangely, it's very similar to all of the sessions we had back in the training center in Two. Occasionally, someone would land a hit; nonetheless, it would only be a glancing blow which the other would blow off and continue fighting.

We're both beginning to tire, we both becoming slower and more sloppy. This will be decided not by who makes the smartest moves but who makes the first mistake.

The audience must be very surprised since it's their golden boy who makes the mistake.

During the fight, we had moved closer to the ring. Sweat and blood pouring off us as I go in for yet another slice. Payton takes a step back to try and get his footing. He ends up stepping on the ring itself and in a second, he's stumbling and falling onto the ground, the pike hitting the ground before he does.

The last thing Payton does is sit up before I move my blade across his throat, revealing a crimson spray that covers everything around it. His suit, the ground, my body. A few seconds later, he's back on the ground again and a few seconds after that, I've forced my blade through his torso and into his heart.

The cannon follows for the last time.

My hand slips off the blade in Payton, leaving it there. My other hand lets its blade go. I turn them around so I can see my palms. My palms which are once again coated in blood.

Twisting them in front of me just confirms it. Just confirms I've done it again.

Raising my right hand to my face, I drag my index finger down my face from my eye to my jaw. I lift my face so the darling audience can see it clearly. For my tears will no longer be clear and innocent. From this day on, they will reek of pain and suffering and death. Crimson droplets that will show the world who I truly am.

My own tears will forever scar me. Just as they should.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the Victor of the Fortieth Hunger Games, Lorayn Alden of District Two!"

A/N: Welcome to Eternal Penance: The Forty-First Hunger Games! Submission guidelines are on my profile. District-specific information is provided in addition to basic Panemian history in my verse. The Victors' blog and the tribute count are both on my profile, as well.

As many of you have come to realize, this is a collaboration between myself, Aspect of One, and The Lunar Lioness, who wrote this piece.

From now until the 8th of February, submissions will be open. The second prologue and the blog will be posted on the eighth. I'd suggest sending your tributes in early as spots tend to get harder to grab as the deadline comes to an end. Have fun with your submissions! We're all very excited to see what you have in store for us.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding anything at all, message me. Otherwise, we'd love to hear from you in a review! Until next time!