Disclaimer: This may be my seventh SYOT, but I still don't own The Hunger Games.
Note: Okay, here's the SYOT. Information and the tribute form are up on my profile. The deadline isn't for a while because I want some wiggle room to get a bit farther in Mistakes of the Past before diving into this one, but after people kept asking, I figured I might as well post the prologue, because I had it written, anyway. So ... here it is.
Hide Your Fires
Prologue Part One
When It Is Done
Autumn Porter, 18
She'd never seen him this nervous.
Autumn watched as Eldred continued to pace about his office, glancing occasionally at the clock, the pictures on his desk, the books on the shelf. Anything to distract him from what was about to happen. What he was about to do. The card was on his desk – the card that held the twist for the Second Quarter Quell. She'd been tempted several times to look at it when he'd left the room, but fear had stopped her every time.
Not fear of him. She'd never been afraid of him. She hadn't been afraid when a strange man calling himself Edsel had appeared beside her at work one day, or when Gran had offered him a place in their small apartment. She had been afraid when the Peacekeepers had caught the pair of them sneaking out of District Six, when they had brought her to the Capitol and made her an Avox. But though the Capitol was terrifying at first, she had never been afraid of Eldred – not even after learning that he'd been appointed Vice President. He'd taken her in, treated her well – almost like another one of his daughters. He'd never been anything but kind to her.
But the Quell … that was anything but kind. What he had planned for the Games, she didn't want to know. But they would all find out soon. There was no stopping it.
She was safe, of course. Here, in the Capitol, she was safe from the reach of the Games. But her brother Angelo, back in District Six, would be twelve in four days – just in time for the reaping in a few weeks. Bianca was a few years younger, but there was no telling what the Quell twist might be. If the reaping ages were changed…
There was no reason, really, to think the twist might have anything to do with the tributes' ages. The twist for the 25th Games had been an increased number of tributes – three per district – and a ban on volunteers. But ever since the 42nd Games, District Six – along with most of the other districts – had been required to send extra tributes, anyway. And volunteers weren't exactly a common occurrence in Six. So neither of those would be particularly devastating.
But the twist wouldn't be the same as last time. That was the point, after all – the surprise, the suspense, the threat of never knowing what the Capitol might have planned.
A knock on the door interrupted her thoughts, and Eldred, too, nearly jumped. "Come in!" he called, turning sharply as the door opened.
A young man, his clothes formal and his demeanor stiff, entered. "Mr. Vice President. I'm here to escort you to the ceremony."
Eldred chuckled a little. "All right. If it makes you feel better."
"You can never be too careful."
"Well, good thing I'm here to protect you, then." Eldred scooped up the envelope from his desk and turned to Autumn. "Help yourself to a cookie or two if you like." He nodded towards his stash in the second drawer. "I'll be back soon."
Autumn nodded, but she couldn't help but notice the other man's uncomfortable look as the pair left. It wasn't usual for Capitol citizens to address Avoxes, unless they were giving them orders. Certainly he hadn't expected the Vice President of Panem to offer his Avox a cookie.
But Eldred never treated her like an Avox. A servant. A slave. Officially, she was his assistant. His aide. His secretary, maybe. Unofficially, he'd worked as a secretary himself long enough to do her job much faster than she could do it herself.
So, instead, he was teaching her – and not just how to file his papers and clean his office. Back in District Six, she'd had to drop out of school early to take care of her younger siblings after her mother's death. Eldred and his family were slowly filling in the gaps in her education. She spent most of her spare time in his office reading, a luxury she'd never imagined. As the Vice President, Eldred had access to all sorts of books – even some that would certainly be banned in the districts. How he had come by them, she had never worked up the courage to ask, but the first time she'd asked if there were any she wasn't allowed to read, he'd assured her that nothing in his office was forbidden.
Especially his cookie stash.
Autumn helped herself to one, trying to calm her nerves as she turned the screen on. She didn't want to watch, but refusing to watch this moment wouldn't change the Quell. It wouldn't make her brother any safer. And it certainly wouldn't calm her down.
So she closed the door and watched silently as the Hunger Games' new host, Malchus Fritz, introduced President Silas Grisom, who only a few weeks ago had announced that he would be stepping down after this year's Games, and that Eldred would be replacing him.
Eldred would be president. She was still trying to wrap her head around that.
As a sign of the peaceful transition – certainly more peaceful than President Snow's abrupt assassination only nine years before – President Grisom had offered to let Eldred read the Quell card this year. So Malchus introduced Eldred, as well – as Vice President Brand, of course – and then ushered him to the microphone. His wife, his daughter Ellery, and his son Milton stood proudly behind, and his daughter Rylee, only a few years younger than Autumn, was holding the envelope he had brought from his office.
"Welcome, everyone," President Grisom began. "And to those watching throughout Panem, thank you for joining us tonight for the announcement of the Second Quarter Quell. During the First Quarter Quell, as a reminder to the rebels that the horrors of war show now partiality or distinction, the names of the eligible tributes were placed in a single reaping bowl per district, and three tributes were chosen without the possibility of volunteers."
Autumn wasn't old enough to remember the first Quell, but she'd seen the tapes. The difference between the confident lawyer who had mentored District Twelve's first Victor during the Quell and the man who stood at the microphone now was striking. Grisom's hair was greyer, his face wrinkled, his eyes tired. But there was still a certain dignity about him as he stepped aside, allowing Eldred to take his place at the microphone.
Eldred nodded to Rylee, who brought the envelope forward. Without any flourish, Eldred opened it, quickly scanning the contents before reading it. It was all for show. He already knew what the twist was; she was sure of that. But the illusion of surprise had to be maintained.
Eldred took a deep breath. "This year, as a reminder to the rebels that every success brings a greater danger, thirty-five tributes will be reaped in proportion to the number of Victors in each district. These tributes may be any combination of male and female, but no volunteers will be permitted."
Thirty-five. That wasn't much of a surprise. Since the 43rd Games, there had been thirty-five tributes, although President Grisom had promised that the number would be reduced back to two per district following the Quell. But 'in proportion to the number of Victors'? So more Victors meant more tributes. But what did that mean for District Six?
As if in answer to her question, numbers began scrolling across the bottom of the screen. Apparently, someone had been smart enough to realize not everyone was going to be able to do proportions in their heads. Four tributes for District One. Five for District Two. Two for District Three…
District Three. They had three Victors. So did District Six. So that meant only two tributes for District Six, as well, didn't it? Autumn held her breath as the numbers continued to scroll. Four tributes each for Districts Four and Five. And two for District Six.
Two tributes. That was nothing compared to the four tributes they'd sent every year since the 43rd Games, and the six they'd sent to the 42nd. Two tributes for Seven and Eight, as well. Three for District Nine. Two for Ten, three for Eleven, and two for Twelve.
Autumn let out a deep breath. Okay. Okay, that wasn't so bad. The poorer districts with fewer Victors had been spared the brunt of the twist. The Career districts might have been happy with their increased chances, if it weren't for the other part – no volunteers. That wasn't likely to have an impact in Six, but elsewhere…
Elsewhere. That wasn't her problem. As long as her family was safe, the other districts could send as many tributes as they liked.
Autumn blushed, glad she hadn't said that – or written it, really – around Eldred. He would be disappointed. If there was one thing he was adamant about, it was that what happened elsewhere in Panem mattered. Everything seemed to matter to him. Maybe that would make him a good President. Or maybe…
Stop it. That wasn't her problem, either. Eldred had been kind to her, but how he ran the country was his business, not hers. She was just an Avox. Just an orphan girl from Six who wanted her family to be safe. Maybe it wasn't much, but it had always been enough for her. She couldn't afford to worry about all of Panem's problems; if she did, she was certain, she would go mad. There were too many to worry about. Too many to count.
But maybe – just maybe – Eldred would be able to fix some of them.
"Stars, hide your fires. Let not light see my black and deep desires. The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be which the eye fears, when it is done, to see."