"I will never rest

'Til then, this I swear

This I swear by the stars."

Signet Graymore, 18, President of Panem

"So, when're you going to tell them?"

Signet flinches, jerked back from his spiral into the past. His father is dead. He can't breathe. The whole world is depending on him. And he can't show them his sadness, his fear, because rulers of countries don't cry, they aren't supposed to feel anything because that would be selfish-

"Signet."

"Sorry." He's walking with Avarette toward the dining room, their arms loosely linked. "What were you saying?"

"When are you going to tell them about the Games?"

"What... what do they need to know?"

"Signet, Signet, Signet... Sometimes I can't believe you're President."

He almost says, 'you and me both' but restrains himself with some effort. He, too, is confused, and lost, and scared, but Ava doesn't need to know that.

"Can you tell them?" he asks quietly, almost pleadingly.

Ava stops in the hallway. She gives him a long, weighted look. "You don't know about them either," she whispers. It's not a question.

Signet's hands start to shake. "Ava, my father thought it would be best if-"

"He died before telling you?" Her voice is suddenly loud and shrill in the quiet hallway.

"Avarette, please. I'm going through enough already; will you please, please just tell them?"

Ava turns to him with uncharacteristic seriousness and places her hands on his shoulders. "Signet Graymore. You cannot lead this country in ignorance, or denial, or whatever it is you're experiencing that's keeping you from seeing the truth. You can't just make declarations like 'oh, let's make the Games public!' without looking into what you're saying first! Don't you understand? Being ignorant makes you vulnerable."

Signet squirms, stepping back and away from her grip. She just stares at him.

"I'm sorry," he murmurs, but he's still not really sure what he did wrong.

Ava exhales, a long, drawn-out sound. "Signet, honey-"

"Don't call me that," he says, but the demand is hollow and meaningless on his tongue.

"-I don't think you understand what you've gotten yourself into. And I'm a fool for getting myself tangled up in your stupidity. But I'll tell them what they're getting themselves into, because I know you'll regret this all come the Bloodbath."

"The what?" he says, his voice hoarse. But Ava is already walking briskly away.

He stands there in the hallway for a long, long time. There isn't a sound besides his ragged breathing. He just can't do this. Leaning against the wall, his head pounding, Signet sinks to the floor and presses his palms to his temples.

There was supposed to be more time. He was supposed to be more prepared. He looks down at his delicate hands, hands that have only kneaded bread and turned pages throughout the entirety of his life. Why did his father have to die? Why does he have to bear the burden, pretend to be his father when Alabaster Graymore's shoes were always too big to fill?

"Are you okay?"

The musical voice startles him, and he looks up, feeling a swell of nausea when he realizes that he's being faced with a Tribute, the girl from District Four. He stands quickly, brushes the hair from his eyes.

"President Graymore, yes?" The girl extends a hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. President. I'm Naya Illumina."

She recognizes him. He cannot be the fractured boy, the uncertain child, in front of a Tribute, so he straightens and gives a shaky smile. He is charismatic. Jovial. Polished.

"Good evening, Miss Illumina. I'm afraid I haven't been my best as of late, but I'll be perfectly fine; I'm just tired. Pardon my asking, but shouldn't you be at the dinner?"

"I just needed a break. Besides, I've already heard the speech, as I've been training at the Career academies for quite some time." She smiles proudly.

Signet nods. Although he doesn't really know what a Career is, he does know that they are held in high regard by the Capitolites, and that they've been training for the Games at their Districts, somehow.

"I see. Well, it's nice to meet you, but I should be going."

Naya smiles. "It was a pleasure to meet you." She pauses, but her eyes tell him she wants to say more. "I'm sorry about your father's death. That must've been quite difficult for you. If you can spare the time, I'd like to discuss some important matters with you at a later date."

Signet nods. "Of course. Perhaps after the Games?"

Naya looks surprised, then pleased. "I appreciate your faith in me, Mr. President, and I'll be planning on it."

She gives him one last sympathetic look before walking away.

All Signet can think is that he must've accidentally given her a compliment, and that she seemed very nice. He'd like to speak to her again, if only to have someone to talk to, some sort of balm to combat the voices that are bringing him down.

He walks back to his room. Attending the dinner sounds absolutely abhorrent to him right now, and if he's honest, it would sound unappealing at any given time. Being among all those people would only intensify his discomfort.

As Signet tries to sleep that night, he's plagued by the questions that won't stop coming. Why did Avarette look at him with so much hate? Why was she so insistent on him knowing about the Games? And why does dread creep at the corners of his vision every time he thinks of what's to come?

...

Alessio Spades, 18, District 12 Male

Alessio hasn't seen this much food in one place since childhood.

He's had enough to eat, in theory, his entire life. First, in the Capitol, where this type of decadence was commonplace. Then, in the community home, where the other kids pushed and shoved to be first, and Melinda, his sister, and him ended up with the leftovers. Finally, over these past years, when he's become the skilled thief who slips invisible through the streets and scrapes together a semblance of aliveness.

Alessio has no love for the Capitol. But he's always thought, maybe if he just moved back here, everything would be better.

Surrounding him are twenty-three other teenagers, chattering quietly, the sound of forks clinking and the low hum of voices keeping a quiet sort of rhythm. But Alessio has never felt more alone.

A few girls passed his table a few minutes ago, but Alessio kept his head low, didn't look at them, and they walked away pretty quickly. So now he just has this quiet spot at the end of the table, the closest group of Tributes a good few feet away, and he's happy that no one's close to him. But at the same time, he feels lonely, and empty, and tired.

He doesn't have much of an appetite, so he merely picks at the food heaped on his plate, unaccustomed to such heavy fare. Being here has brought up too many memories, and he doesn't have room to eat when he feels so nauseated. Because he was one of them, once. But it all fell to pieces, just as everything does eventually, Alessio has learned.

He's startled out of his reverie by the slow ringing of liquid pouring into his glass. He looks up and drops his fork. It clanks against the tablecloth with a muffled thud.

There's a girl beside him, maybe twenty, with a malnourished demeanor and sad, sad eyes. She's walking away.

"Wait," says Alessio, voice raspy from misuse, his hand reaching out to grab her sleeve.

The girl stands still, eyes wild with fear, and Alessio looks at her clearly for the first time, the fog of shock fading from his gaze.

And it's not her. It's not his sister.

He lets go of the avox, who scurries away. Alessio breathes, slowly, fighting against the irrational spike of hope and the flood of memories. He knows only one thing about his sister's whereabouts: that she's been avoxed and sent to the Capitol. That she's somewhere in this building.

But not here.

'You're seeing shadows again, Alessio,' the Fates whisper in his ear. 'Things that aren't there.'

That is his specialty. Seeing ghosts and dwelling in shadow.

After his sister was captured, the skull ring meant to be her birthday present left forsaken on Alessio's finger, Alessio had felt gutted. His mother dead, his father somewhere far away, and his sister in prison, Alessio had no one to turn to. And that's when he met his first ghost. A kindly old man, Hermes, who taught him how to fight, and where to go from there. A sketchy plan molded itself into shape, with the help of the ghosts' council and Alessio's own mind. Alessio dedicated years of his life to training, hiding away in an abandoned mine and making it his home. All so he could rescue his sister from the Capitol's clutches.

His father was already in the Capitol, but so far as Alessio knows, he hasn't done anything about it. If he had, Melinda would be there, to stroke his hair back from his brow and tell him it would all be okay.

He misses her so much. But he needs to do better, if he ever wants to find and free her.

Alessio is jerked back to the present when a woman walks up to the front. She claps her hands, and the sounds of chatter die down to silence.

"Well hello there!" she says cheerily. "My name's Avarette de la Lune, and I'm Head Gamemaker as of now. You might be wondering what that is..." She glances around, and is met with a sea of confused faces. Alessio doesn't meet her gaze. "That's the purpose of this dinner! We're going to talk about exactly what the Hunger Games are, and how you'll be preparing for them throughout the next few days."

He almost forgot that nobody else really knows what these Games are. Luckily, he's had the ghosts to guide him through it all, helping him train and driving him toward greatness. A gift, he likes to think, some side affect of being beaten mercilessly at the community home.

Though, if Alessio admits it, he may have overheard his father talking about it with some of the other cabinet members when he was a child, might have snatched a glimpse at the Games and their terrible bloodshed while Hades was watching them. Not that it matters; he knows what the Games are now, and he's ready for them. And maybe it's easier, for him to ignore the topic of his father, who abandoned his children. One was arrested and avoxed, and now Alessio's left all alone, just trying to get his sister back.

He has to win. And so far, it seems like he might have the advantage.

Though of course, that can't be true, because the Fates have played him a terrible hand so far; why would they change now?

"Look, this might come as a shock, and honestly I wasn't supposed to explain this to you all, because that's not my job normally." She takes a breath. "But oh well, we're here now! See, for the next tree days you'll be training, learning survival skills and of course, combat, among other things."

Alessio's getting impatient very quickly. Why doesn't she just outright say it?

"You see, these Games were originally a punishment for the Districts who were rebellious, but President Graymore seems to think it should also be a celebration for the Capitol. This year, there will be sponsors who will be able to buy gifts for the Tributes they favor most, which means you should all be on your best behavior. Interviews are coming up, where you'll be able to showcase your charisma and skills, and try to win over the sponsors. You'll need them. Because... well, only one of you will come out of this alive."

It could be him. It has to be him.

A few gasps throughout the room, a few uneasy murmurs.

"Yes," says Avarette. "We'll only be letting out one Victor, and the other twenty-three of you... you'll be dead."

"Dead how?" someone asks.

"That depends. But it most certainly won't be natural causes." Avarette laughs nervously. "Hunger, or cold, or insanity... or by the hands of another Tribute."

"So, we're supposed to kill each other?" the girl from One shrieks.

Avarette exhales softly. "Yes. Precisely."

An understanding ripples through the room. Alessio watches the other Tributes' reactions. He needs to scope out his targets and his competition early, if he wants to have any chance at winning. The little boy from Eight is openly sobbing. The pair of Nines are clinging to each other and the girl from Three seems forcibly calm. The boy from Two's expression is utterly unreadable.

Alessio notices a few others clenching their fists in anger. Some are hyperventilating.

Alessio sighs in annoyance. What did they expect? For Alessio, these Games pale in comparison to the atrocities he's seen, and he's already killed someone. What's a few more deaths? It'll all be worth it, in the end. He hopes.

"I know it's alarming," says Avarette soothingly. "Everything will make sense, I promise."

Alessio stops listening, continuing to look around at the other Tributes. Being a thief for the past few years has given him the talent of being practically invisible, yet also being able to notice every detail.

The boy from Four intrigues Alessio, because he seems confident, which is stark against everyone else's confusion. His dark brown eyes, which are also searching the room, meet Alessio's and he smiles at him. It's a nice smile really, if a bit manic, a bright energy seeming to gleam in his eyes. The boy is fairly handsome, with his tanned skin and full lips.

'What are you thinking?' the Fates whisper. 'He'll only betray you. And besides, how could you ever think he'd want to even be near you?'

Alessio breaks eye contact, shaking himself out of the stupor. He's had enough experience in this life to know that there is no goodness in other people's hearts, no love or mercy. Nothing ever turns out of Alessio in the end. The only people he truly trusts are himself and his sister.

And that's what he should be focusing on: getting Melinda out of this mess. All he's been trying to work towards over these last few years is finding his sister and keeping her safe. He just wants to see her again.

He has a plan, and he has a chance. He just needs to fight off a few demons before he gets there. Since he's already befriended ghosts and dwelt in darkness, he can't help but think that this won't be too different.

But if he fails, as he well might, he'll join his mother in the land of the dead, and his sister might soon join them. And honestly, if worse comes to worst, Alessio wouldn't complain. At least then they'd all be in peace.

...

Blade Cassidy, 18, District Six Male

Blade sits quietly at one of the tables, appraising the other Tributes who sit near him. Avarette has just finished her little speech about the Games, which he doesn't hear but isn't very interested in. He knew that the Capitol wouldn't provide him with interpreters all the time, if at all, and that most of the other Tributes wouldn't know sign language. Besides, Blade's good at reading other people, and he quickly deduces the topic of Avarette's speech.

She's telling them all what the Games entail.

Not one to be disadvantaged, Blade turns to the girl beside him, the girl from Ten, and tries his luck at signing something.

"What is she saying?" he signs.

The girl turns to him and smiles timidly, but thankfully signs back, her hands trembling slightly. "She's talking about how the Hunger Games are basically a death match, where only one of us will come out alive. We'll be fighting in some kind of arena and will be training for the next few days. Hopefully that helps."

Her signing is slightly stilted and hesitant, but he makes out what she's saying easily enough and nods curtly. She looks so innocent. He wishes that she wasn't in the Games, that they wouldn't be competing eventually, because Blade has experience with this sort of thing. He has killed many people over the past year, beginning with the two crime lords that killed his parents.

At the time, Blade was too little to remember much. He just recalls the explosion, the ringing in his ears and the sudden, deafening silence. His parents dead. An explosion that left the world shaking and spinning for so long afterward. He later pieced it all together, found every scrap of information he could on the people that killed his parents.

They were poor, then, and out of luck. They'd fallen in with the crime lords, thinking it would only be for a short while. But when they backed out... the bosses weren't happy. They weren't the type you wanted to mess with, and his parents learned that lesson quickly.

Luckily, Blade was there to exact retribution.

But he doesn't kill innocents. He will if he has to; anything to win. An anger seethes deep within him, a rage that's festered long throughout the years, barely satiated by his killings and the lowering crime rate in Six. Blade hates the Capitol and their sick Games. He hates the luxury, he hates their patronizing ableism, and he despises them for turning him into this. A monster.

Blade has heard the rumors on the streets of Six. A masked vigilante, creeping through the night, his combat skills unrivaled. He kills without mercy. Some think he's good, a powerful force that has lowered crime rates. Some think him evil, a man that creates more problem than he does solutions.

Blade knows that he's flawed, and terrible, deep inside. But he also knows that it's necessary, and it feels powerful, for him to kill these criminals who've hurt him and people like him, who've orphaned children and destroyed lives while the Capitol lived on atop their ivory tower. He just hopes that it will all mean something in the end.

Blade surveys the Tributes, looking specifically for Careers. The boy from One is over-the-top and smiley, his deep voice carrying as he chats with a few Tributes at his table. The boy from Two is stoic and serene, though with a slight crease between his brows as he eats in silence, looking like the perfect model for a Career, the Capitol's pet. The girl from Four is stately but not hostile. The girls from One and Two and the boy from Four are obviously not Career material, Blade can tell that much from just looking at them. But the other three seem to be trained Careers, from the way they're holding themselves and reacting to the news about the Games.

He immediately hates them, these spoiled brats who are pawns of the Capitol, but he knows that he must join them, to keep up pretenses if nothing else. He'll leave them after not too long, if he doesn't kill them first—and no, he'll have no qualms against ending their pointless lives.

Often he's thought about what he does, and if it is in fact right, and a small part of himself cringes every time he flies into a rage and destroys some evil force in Six, but the rest of him knows he can never stop. Because this is his purpose, his passion, the thing that consumes his every waking moment. And it won't end with the Games, no. It will only intensify, Blade realizes with grim determination, if he wants to kill the President and die as a martyr.

The ultimate act of rebellion. The final name checked off his grisly list. He has to succeed. If he dies in the process, that will just have to happen, because nothing will matter after that, when he finally has his vengeance.

The Head Gamemaker stops talking, and Blade leaves, keeping a wooden smile on his face until he reaches his room. Training begins tomorrow. He has to make every moment count.

Perhaps something broke inside Blade when his parents died before his eyes. Maybe he's beyond repair.

But the more broken something is, the sharper it can be. And that's ultimately what the world needs right now. Even if Blade is deeply disturbed, it won't prevent him from doing his job.

And he won't regret it, when he sees the President fall, or when he's executed for treason. Because Blade can't go back now. The only way to go is forward.

...

Mirabelle McMaster, 38, Wife of the Master of Ceremonies

She doesn't go to the dinner.

More precisely, she isn't allowed at the dinner, is locked away in her room once more. The brief excursion to Two and back on the train, familiarizing herself with her Tributes, is just a formality. The girl, Mirabelle knows, will be dead rather quickly if she's lucky, but the boy... she's got an uneasy feeling about him, something prickling the back of her neck. The way he looked at her...

But that doesn't matter right now. What matters is that she's stuck in her suite, and she has been for the large part of the day. Her rickety plan for a protest during the chariots is now burned to cinders, and she's still trapped in this cage.

She's not the only one who's agitated today, it seems, for her bodyguard is pacing in circles, tracing the perimeter of the room. Earlier in the night, she tried to unlock the door, and he moved quick as lightning to block her. His stance was firm, but his head was bowed in shame.

Well, his head is always bowed really, as though bearing a crushing weight, or afraid to look up, so this time might not have been different.

Mirabelle is feeling powerless. A single look from her husband can crush her will and ruin her plans, and now the nation will continue to deteriorate into corruption and Mirabelle will be forced to watch with no hope of escape, and this mere child blocking her path.

Unless... unless...

The boy isn't to blame, she knows. If she can just befriend him somehow, plead her case... It shouldn't be too hard, really, and she can always use new recruits for her measly resistance.

"What did they do to you?" Mirabelle asks, her voice soft and careful.

The boy stills. He turns to face her, but does not look up.

"The Capitol. What did they do to make your head so heavy? How have you come to such a pitiful place as this?"

She waits patiently, takes four deep breaths before she realizes he won't talk. Not yet. But Mirabelle is a woman of steel, forged from the hot anger and deep sorrow that have made up the fabric of her life for so long. She isn't giving up so easily.

"I'll tell you my story, then. I was once a noble, a lady, of a faraway land." Her lack of memories paints the story in a mystical light, for her tendency has always been to romanticize. "My parents sealed a betrothal with Panem, to strengthen relationship ties. They needed an ally should war erupt."

Her captor does not move as she speaks, his almost desperate motions temporarily calmed.

"So they shipped me off here, where I married not the President, but the Master of Ceremonies. And to celebrate their new betrothal, they told me, they'd like to do me the honor of putting me in their special Hunger Games. I see now that they had no need for this betrothal, though my country did. Do you know what the Games are? What they really are?"

The boy lifts one delicate shoulder in a shrug. She can't even hear the rustling of his clowns or the hiss of his breath, so silent are his movements.

"They are a match of utter destruction. Twenty-four teenagers go in, and only one comes out alive. That person was me. But the Games are meant to break you if they don't kill you. I won, and they lauded me, but I was still married to a man I did not love. And I have come to hate him over the years." She pauses, getting her memories under control. "So. Where did you come from, stranger? I promise to listen."

The boy's head finally lifts. He really is young, not much older than any of the Tributes, and his eyes are a gentle gray. He feels more real, more corporeal, now that she sees his face, though his skin is sickly in the dying light of Mirabelle's candle.

He blinks at her, and she catches the slightest trembling of his hands. He looks vulnerable, and exposed, and scared. His uncanny silence and lightning reflexes tell a different story, though, and Mirabelle suspects he could be a hero, a fighter against the Capitol, if he wasn't enslaved by them.

Slowly, the boy opens his mouth, his chapped lips parting hesitantly.

It takes Mirabelle's mind a long time to process what she sees. Her eyes skirt to other features that make sense; his chapped lips, his straight teeth, the slight tremor in his jaw. But soon her eyes adjust, for they've seen worse things before, even if they haven't quite been of this variety.

Where the boy's tongue should be is a ragged stump, a gaping emptiness. Mirabelle steps back, her breath hitching, and the boy closes his mouth quickly.

"W-what-" The stuttering voice that comes out of Mirabelle's mouth belongs to a younger girl, a child still clinging to innocence, and not the jaded prisoner she's become. So she exhales slowly. "I see that we will not be able to communicate in the usual way. Do you know sign language?"

He shakes his head, now several steps away from her. He looks scared, now that his face is in the light, as though she might strike him.

Of course they wouldn't teach him that, provide him with anything that would allow him to tell anyone of the atrocities he's faced. She'll have to think of something else.

But her mind comes up empty. She's so tired, so fed up with the world and its tricks. She just wants peace. Or if she can't have that, she wants out of this stupid country.

But where would she go? How far would she have to run to avoid the demons that nip at her heels?

"Well," says Mirabelle softly. "We'll just have to find a different way, won't we? That is, if you're interested in joining me?" She pauses for a long moment, then smiles wearily. "I'm overthrowing the Capitol. Eventually."

The boy doesn't smile, but his eyes flicker with life, and he nods once.

Mirabelle sighs. She's forgotten how good it feels to have someone on her side.

...

Yes hello besties, featured heavily in this orientation dinner is lots of people being sad, which is apt I guess, considering that I quoted Les Misérables, and the song called "Stars" to be specific. But a lot happened in this chapter, I'd wager! Signet got yelled at and met Naya, we learn more about Alessio's past and his sister, Blade is making plans and thinking about things, and Mirabelle has made a new ally! I did love writing this one, so what'd you think? I am really enjoying these pregames so far, and I appreciate you all so much for chatting with me and giving me support! I hope your week is wonderful, and don't forget to vote on the poll as I'll be closing it soon!

Much Love,

Miri