Sorry this took a bit longer than the other chapters. Back-to-school season, you know how it is. Anyway, I'd like to give a shout-out to the story's first three followers: lisa1996, bookbookbook3224, and 12lawmanj. Welcome! Thank you! You guys are awesome. Hope you enjoy! :)

Chapter 5

At the training centre, they all had to cluster around a lean, handsome man who introduced himself as Ares, the Head Trainer. He explained the rules and gave them some general advice – focus on more than one station, learn something new – before setting them off.

Effie stayed where she was, observing the other tributes.

This is just like a party, she told herself. There would be cliques based around skills and friendships and dealing with them would be based off all the individual members. The best way to stay alive when surrounded by wolves would be to appeal to the strongest among them.

Her eyes fell on the tributes from District 1, 2, and 4. Haymitch called them 'the Careers'. They were together at the sword section, laughing like best friends. They'd fallen together almost instinctively, except for two of the tributes from 4 and one of them from 1.

The boy from 1 who didn't appear to be part of the alliance was called Lush. He was a huge hulk of a boy, with muscles that bulged, but not particularly handsome. Presumably, he was so confident as a loner because of his strength.

The two tributes from 4 appeared to have created their own alliance and were at home in the knot-tying section, where a complicated hammock seemed to be coming into existence. The girl was Ondina, and it took Effie – who had an amazing knack for names – a moment to identify the boy as River, because he'd been so withdrawn at the opening ceremony that Effie hadn't noticed him.

Effie wasn't sure that Lush or the Careers would accept her, but the duo from 4 were definitely out as allies. They were too close to each other to want to look out for another tribute.

Most of the tributes had stuck to the survival stations, as Effie's mother had told the four District 12 tributes that morning. It was probably standard mentor advice.

Not a lot of them posed threats or appeal. District 8 seemed to have a fairly strong team, and a girl from District 7 seemed to be doing well with the edible plants section.

Haymitch was at the fire-making section and seemed to be having a considerate amount of success. Sash was with Maysilee – good, acting as a team had proved to be a useful technique for District 12 – at the first aid station, practicing something with bandages.

She was tempted to join her teammates – maybe Haymitch, seeing as he was completely alone – but the loner boy from District 1 caught her eye again. He'd begun throwing knives, with a startling accuracy.

Useful, she decided, seeing him. Vulnerable, the separation from his team told her. If she could form some sort of agreement with him, it could help save her or her team in the arena.

She sauntered over, coming to a stop a little behind him, watching as he threw three knives in quick succession – face, heart, abdomen.

He threw a quick glance towards her, slightly thrown off by her presence. When he threw the knives again, the third was off and hit the crotch.

"Do you mind?" he snapped at Effie.

"I'm so sorry," Effie gushed. "I promise, I didn't mean to stare, it's just that I've never seen anybody throw knives like that before. How did you become so great?"

His shoulders relaxed, almost imperceptibly. It was hard to notice amongst all that muscle.

"I guess I was just born great," he told Effie, a familiar leave-me-alone tone to his voice that reminded her of Haymitch.

"Wow. It must make you so popular in your district. Back home, I swear, none of the boys would even be able to hold the knives properly."

The right corner of his lips quirked, nearly a smile. That hadn't been so hard. But then, most men liked having their egos stroked.

"Yeah, I guess I'm pretty popular at home," he said. His eyes flickered to her cleavage, and she pretended not to notice.

"I can't imagine how popular you'll be after you win. Will there even be room in District 1's Victors' Village?"

"Well, we've had a lot of Victors, but they built a few more houses after Brutus won."

This time, when he threw the knives, he went for something a little more impressive: the eyes and mouth.

She made her best impressed face, widening her eyes and opening her mouth in a cute little 'o' she sometimes practiced in the mirror as a reaction to surprises. "That is just, like, crazy." She lowered her voice conspiratorially and fluttered her eyelashes. "Do you think you could teach me?"

Lush laughed. "So you can stab me in the back when I'm in the arena?"

Effie wrinkled her nose. "I don't like blood."

It was true; she'd never liked it. When she was little, and she cut herself, she went into hysterics and sometimes fainted. Even now, when she scratched herself on the thorns of a blackberry bush or sliced her thumb while she was chopping up herbs for a face mask, she felt the familiar nausea bubbling in the pit of her stomach.

On pictures and screens, it didn't really bother her. Effie had grown up watching the Games, looking forward to the bloodbath. But there was something about sensing it all in person – the metallic scent, the sticky feeling, the sting of it leaving her body – which made her lose her mind.

"Nice try, doll," Lush said. "The trainer's over there." He pointed to where the trainer was demonstrating how to grip a knife to a boy from 3.

Effie pouted. "But you're so good! And I like you much better than the trainer."

"What if I teach you wrong on purpose?"

"I guess I'll trust you to teach me right if you trust me not to stab you in the back." She veiled it behind her words – the possibility of alliance – and he peered at her, distrusting.

"I'll teach you how to style your hair better," she sweetened the deal. "Your stylist yesterday was good, but I'm better."

He shook his head, turned around, and went back to throwing knives.

"Fine. Don't complain to me when you win and the only question they ask is: how could you find the will to live with that hairstyle?"

Effie grabbed a knife, chose a fairly close target, and aimed for the heart.

The knife clattered to the floor barely a metre away, nowhere near the target.

She sighed and picked up another knife.

"Not like that!" Lush corrected, grabbing her wrist before she could make the throw. "Your stance is a disgrace to knife throwing."

"Why do you care?"

He glowered at her, grumbling. "I care 'cause I don't want your inexperienced ass skewering me by accident before we're even in the arena. Now watch."

He showed her how to stand, how to hold the knife, how to aim and throw. He had his arm around her, showing her the exact movement to make, when a knife they hadn't thrown hit their target.

It was a mediocre shot, only barely hitting a shoulder at the close distance, but it was a shock and both Effie and Lush jumped.

Haymitch was stood by them, scowling more than usual. There was already a new knife in his hand. "D'you mind?" he snapped. "The two of you are blocking the course."

"Go around us," Lush retorted, sounding similarly irritated.

"I shouldn't have to. This is the experienced section."

Lush snorted, looking over Haymitch's previous shots. They were nearly all hits to the edges of the targets, nothing that would have caused much injury in a battle. "What experience?"

"Piss off." Haymitch directed his next words to Effie. "We said we'd go to the edible plants section together. Remember?"

Had they said that?

Oh.

Effie threw her hands into the air, shaking her head with a self-deprecating smile. "We did, didn't we? Silly me! I'm sorry, Haymitch, you're right. We can go there now. I'll see you later, Lush."

"Don't expect any favours in the arena," Lush told her, and then he sneered at Haymitch. "Especially you, kid."

They must have been the same age, or at least around it. Haymitch glared at him. "Yeah, sure. I'm terrified. Come on."

He grabbed Effie by the wrist, pulling her along to the edible plants section. Between him being much larger and fitter than her, she struggled to keep up with his long strides.

"That was rude," she frowned at Haymitch when he finally let go, rubbing her wrist. "I believe my mother told you not to antagonise people."

"He started it. What were you doing in the first place, fraternising with the enemy?"

Fraternising. So Haymitch did know big words. How impressive.

"I wasn't fraternising with the enemy," she retorted, annoyed. There was only so much one could take, and Haymitch was constantly giving. She hadn't heard him say a single 'please' or 'thank you' or even 'sorry' that day. Not even the previous day, if she remembered correctly. "I was getting to know my competitors. Possibly forming an alliance. Actually improving my odds, instead of making enemies left and right."

"He was a Career! As if he would have allied with the likes of you!"

That insolent, infuriating, idiotic boy! There was nothing wrong with 'the likes of her'. She was smart, pretty, likeable, and polite. And judging by their respective lives, she was the better for it.

Haymitch could have learned a lot from 'the likes of her', if he could just pull his head out from his behind.

She wanted to shout all this at him, and more. Wanted to wipe that superiority off his face – as if he, a Seam boy, could be better than her, a Trinket.

But she couldn't. It would be rude. She had to think of the gamemakers watching them. She had to think of the other tributes. So she swallowed all the rage and smiled. She knew he would hate the reaction and that was a small consolation.

"I'll have you know that lots of people would want me as an ally," Effie informed Haymitch brightly. "Now, we may as well get on with learning about plants. Come along!"

The instructor at the edible plants section tested their knowledge, where they both did fairly well. Effie knew most of the plants native to District 12, but couldn't separate many of the edible ones – and of course there was a massive gap in her knowledge to plants grown in other Districts. Haymitch fared almost as well – he didn't know many plants, but he which were edible, like dandelions and cattails.

"Have to eat something, don't I?" he said when he saw Effie staring, surprised at his skill.

She hadn't realised the Seam people were that poor. And Haymitch, apparently, was among their wealthier families. She'd seen the skinny bodies and gaunt faces, of course, but had never done much other than envy them; skinny was always en vogue in the Capitol, regardless of current fashions. Could people have really been starving when her fridge was stocked full?

She'd always been taught that they were lucky. That the Capitol took care of them.

But the way Sash ravaged his meals like he'd never eaten before… Maysilee's matchstick wrists, which looked so easy to snap… The meagre feast 12 presented during the Victory Tour, which Effie had always been so ashamed of…

That didn't look like a district cared for by the Capitol.

"What do you think this is?" the instructor told them, holding up a plant.

It was dotted with fruit – small, round, and blue-purple.

"Some sort of berry plant?" Effie proposed. The only berries they grew in their garden back home were strawberries. She'd seen the other kinds in passing, during trips to the Capitol.

"It's not blueberries," Haymitch declared. "There's a spot in the fence where you can reach through and pick the nearest bushes. There's always a rush of people heading there in the summer to see who can pick them first."

There it was again, that casual mention of how desperate everyone was for food.

Or maybe he was exaggerating. Maybe it was just fruits and vegetables they lacked, because District 12 couldn't grow many and District 11 wasn't large enough to supply everywhere in large amounts, and maybe that was why everybody was so skinny. The Capitol could hardly be blamed for that. Maybe the Capitol didn't even know.

"You're correct – this is a type of berry, and it's not a blueberry. This is actually nightlock – it's quite common in arenas, because it grows in forests. Nightlock is extremely poisonous and will kill you in a matter of minutes, so don't eat it no matter how hungry you are."

Nightlock could be recognised through its ribbed, oval-shaped leaves and the fact that it grew in clusters, usually at the bases of trees.

"So in general," Haymitch concluded. "If you're not sure what the berry is, stay away from it."

The instructor nodded. "And if you're desperate for food but you're not sure about the berry, try smashing it against your skin and rubbing it in. If your skin becomes irritated, the berry is most likely poisonous."

"Or you can always test them on other tributes," Effie added, absent-mindedly. Slipping the berries into Career food supplies, for example, would be easy.

Haymitch gawked at her, as though he hadn't expected her to say that sort of thing. He never thought anything good about her, even though she'd never done anything to him. It was unfair – it would have been nice if their whole team could be friends.

"Cat got your tongue?" Effie jutted her chin challengingly. She could take his cruel remarks; it wasn't like she hadn't heard the whispers following her around the district.

He smirked, the surprise gone in a millisecond. "No, my tongue's fine, sweetheart. Why are you worrying about it?"

Boys.

"I can be ruthless too, you know," Effie told him. "I do want to win these Games. It would be a shame not to carry on the family tradition."

"What, the family tradition of using mediocre looks to cheat the other competitors into letting you win?"

"My mother won based off brain not looks, thank you very much! If anything, the other competitors cheated themselves by underestimating her.

"Yeah, well you've got neither brains nor looks, so what about you is anybody underestimating?"

"It shouldn't matter. You're underestimating me right now, when you've just seen that I'm perfectly good at some of these activities. That's hardly the best Games mentality, you know."

"Oh, sorry," he mocked. "Let me get into my best Games mentality! I'm being sent into an arena to kill people against my will, but I have to do it because if I don't, four years from now my brother could be in the same place because it was the only way he could get money for new shoes. Yay, happy murder time!"

He'd forgotten all about the point of the Games. How the sacrifice of twenty-four was necessary for the survival of thousands.

What about the honour? The glory?

"Right," the instructor said, somewhat awkwardly. Effie had forgotten they were there, which was bad manners, but it would be even worse to interrupt them now to apologise. "This plant is…"

"Ground-ivy!" Effie identified quickly, at the same time as Haymitch said,

"Creeping Charlie!"

The instructor smiled. "You're both right. Ground-ivy – or Creeping Charlie – is known by many names…"

They ended up staying at the edible plants section until lunch, which was also in the Training Centre but on an upper level. The tributes would all be eating together.

Everybody stuck with their districts, except for the Careers. Lush ate with them, but the duo from 4 stayed separate.

"He was quite nice," Effie told Maysilee and Sash, of the loner boy from District 1. "A bit grumpy, but then, that's typical of District 1, isn't it? They're not a very warm people. His accuracy when he's throwing knives is astounding-"

"We get it, sweetheart. You may have a big, ol' crush on the beefcake, but we don't need to hear about how dreamy his eyes are."

"You shouldn't interrupt people," Effie reprimanded Haymitch, which she hadn't done yet during their stay in the Capitol even though he did it constantly and it was the height of bad manners. "And you shouldn't have been so rude to him. I thought the two of you had similar personalities."

It was true – they did have similar personalities – but she also loved the way Haymitch recoiled at the prospect.

"I'm flattered," he said – sarcastically, judging by the disgust still smeared across his face.

"Anyway, after that Haymitch dragged me to the edible plants section, and we stayed there. The instructor was an absolute delight, we had the most interesting conversation about the properties of plantain – Haymitch thought it was just a garden weed!"

Haymitch scowled.

They talked a little more about plants, and then Maysilee and Sash shared their own experiences. After the first-aid station, they'd learned the basics of hand-to-hand combat (Maysilee, supposedly, had a natural gift for this, which Effie found hard to believe given her tiny stature and quiet disposition) and visited the fire-making station, where they'd noticed the tributes from 5 did well.

After lunch, they were allowed three more hours of training before it was time to return to the penthouse. This time, everybody split up; Haymitch decided to try his hand at throwing spears; Maysilee headed for the edible plants section that Effie had praised so highly, and Sash attempted knife-throwing.

Effie spent most of her time at the snare station with one of the female tributes from District 6, Metra. They were both rather hopeless at snares, only entangling the wires and ropes provided with, but it was at least an inability they could bond over, and by the time their combined efforts had resulted in a lopsided, loose snare which seemed to bring the instructor physical pain, Effie had awkward, self-conscious Metra laughing.

She decided she quite liked these people, no matter what Haymitch said. Sure, some of them were a bit grumpy or stand-offish, but at least they gave her a chance – in that, they were nicer to her than District 12 had ever been.

There wasn't much time left, after the snare station, so Effie spent a small amount of time at the fire-making station and managed to create a tiny wisp of smoke. It was far harder than watching Haymitch had led her to believe.

At dinner, they relayed everything to Effie's mother and Hubby Hark. The two adults relayed advice and strategies. Haymitch complained about Effie and Effie complained about Haymitch. Effie was praised for building friendships – people are less willing to kill people they know. Haymitch was scolded for creating potential enemies.

Over the next few days, this became their routine – breakfast, training, lunch, training, dinner, bed, rinse, repeat.

Effie found a kindred spirit in Annette, the District 4 girl who stuck with the Careers, who was bubbly and chatty and wouldn't teach Effie anything at the knot station but did show her a pretty way to braid hair. The older boy from District 8, Cotton, was well-spoken and mild-tempered – very high-class for a district person – and they spoke at length about the intricacies of Capitol fashion while creating shelter from only natural resources. Gypsy, from District 10, was even surlier and meaner than Haymitch – a complete no-no. Didget, from District 3, was twitchy and fearful and couldn't wait to get away from her. Generally, unremarkably, boys tended to like Effie more than girls did.

Haymitch invested a lot of time and effort into the knife-throwing station for someone who thought it was pointless trying to learn a weapon in three days; Effie suspected he only did it because of Lush's words on their first day. He didn't get much better, but his knives did get slightly nearer to the targets, as long as the targets stayed still.

However, Haymitch was good at the practicalities; fire, food, shelter, water. He was strong and fit, and liked outsmarting opponents.

There wasn't much Effie had a talent for, beyond the edible plants station. She learnt some passable fire-making, knot-tying, shelter-building, water-finding-and-purifying, and scavenging. She enjoyed the similarity of camouflage and makeup, even if she wasn't that good. With some reluctance, she paid a second visit to the hand-to-hand combat station, and later learnt where to stab and how to gut.

Maysilee proved to be the star of the group, with an aptitude for many of the activities and a gift for hitting targets when provided with a suitable weapon. She told them this was because she was good at maths – Effie couldn't imagine what that had to do with it.

Sash tried hard, but – like Effie's efforts – it didn't amount to much. Knowing how to gut an animal was only useful if you could catch an animal in the first place. Knowing how to wield a knife was only useful if you were willing to kill.

She could see in Haymitch's eyes that he'd already written the boy off as a goner. A part of Effie agreed; it made sense that he didn't want an alliance with them.

But she wasn't about to give up on Sash when he was still alive. She made it her mission to fuss over him and drag him around the Training Centre to talk with people at different stations. She told him to sit up straight and not to talk while he was chewing.

When the private training session finally crept up on them, the four of them sat together in the lunch hall, Effie filling the quiet with chatter about the next day's interviews.

After District 11's last tribute left, they were the only ones there. Being District 12, they would be last to see the gamemakers – a clear disadvantage. Effie had run out of chatter, which she hadn't known was possible.

"Let's fix your hair," she said to Sash, trying to flatten the messy mop. He would be the first of their team to go up. "Try not to mess it up when you go in. And remember to greet them nicely, and act polite, and thank them for their time."

Haymitch snorted. She ignored him pointedly.

"Do you need to use the bathroom? You'll have to hold it once you've gone in."

"Stop coddling him," Haymitch told her. "He'll be fine."

She pursed her lips. "I know he will." She smoothed down the shoulders of Sash's training shirt.

His name was called. Effie gave his shoulder a final pat and a bright beam. "May the odds be ever in your favour."

"Thanks," Sash mumbled, already slouching again as he left the room.

Effie deflated into a chair, hoping he at least got above a five.

What would her score be? She knew it wouldn't be anything impressive – she was planning on heading for the edible plants section, to take the test. It wasn't flashy or exciting. Probably the gamemakers wouldn't notice her, even with her hair.

She would just have to dazzle everybody at the interview instead, she told herself, sitting up straight and squaring her shoulders. It was far too early to accept defeat.

"Would either of you like some water?" she asked, lifting the jug sat on their table. "Maysilee, you're looking pale. We wouldn't want you to faint."

"I'm fine, thanks," Maysilee replied. She was a tough nut to crack. Effie had plenty of experience in breaking shy people out of their shells – she'd already done it with some of the tributes – and yet Maysilee remained virtually a mystery.

Maybe that was her angle. She could have passed it off better with more confidence.

"Are you going to throw knives?" Effie asked Haymitch. He was pacing up and down the room. He'd never admit it, but she suspected he was nervous.

"What, so they laugh me out of the room? No. I'll do something else. I might head for the spears. I'm better with one of those."

Effie felt dread broiling in the pit of her stomach, and her shoulders slouched forward – which they never did – as she closed her eyes and rested her forehead on her hand. "Please tell me you aren't about to head into your private training session with the gamemakers without a plan."

He shrugged. "Fine. I'm not."

It was the height of irresponsibility! At his own cost! Effie couldn't understand what was possibly going on in his head – he was so smart, he was always reading and strategizing, and she knew he'd been a good student at school, so why was he being so dumb?

"I do my best work in the heat of the moment," Haymitch defended himself.

"That's just something lazy, procrastinating people say to make themselves feel better. Your performance would have probably been more successful if you'd planned it."

"You've been planning your private training session all week, princess, and I have no doubt that's going to be the opposite of a success, so shut your big mouth and leave me alone."

She couldn't find it within herself to argue. He was right.

If only she could do anything she knew she was really good at… But the gamemakers would hardly be impressed with a pretty outfit or charming disposition. That wasn't what they wanted.

Haymitch got called in.

He would be fine, Effie told herself. This wasn't about personality; it was about skills, and Haymitch – though she'd never tell him for fear of further blowing up his ego – had plenty of those.

Maysilee reached across the table, taking Effie's hand in hers. "You'll be okay," she promised with a quiet confidence that almost did convince Effie. The change in Maysilee's demeanour was small, but startling. "As long as you never stop hoping, they won't win."

Effie smiled weakly but didn't say anything because she didn't understand. Was Maysilee talking about the other tributes? Hoping wouldn't give her any advantage over them.

"Effie Trinket!" the voice called. Had the time gone already?

She stood, trying to conceal the trembling of her legs. "Thank you," she told Maysilee, and then she entered the training room.