Prologue; Part Un

Tonight, the World Dies



The digital record plays itself out just as my hands place the hollow syringe, the last awful one of the pile, back on the birch table by the bedside. Mother likes- liked - to keep the mahogany table clear but for one weathered sepia-photograph of three girls, two identical, laughing. I stare at my hands, expecting to see them show some indication of what I have just done.

They remain deceptively unblemished.

The stillness of the room is stifling, the darkness choking as I force myself to creep back towards the bed my breath stirring stale air around me. I hold the mirror up to her mouth - just like this Margaret darling, press the syringe down, yes sweetie, right into Mummy's arm and – no foggy breath spreads across the surface.

Dead; as still and peaceful as if she were sleeping.

"You had no choice." I tell myself, shimming dust particles whirl around my form as I move and throw the curtains defiantly wide to allow the warm light of dusk to filter in for the first time in months, years, decades even. I can't even remember when this room wasn't used as a sickbed.

But you did. A hardened logical voice reminds me.

"It was Mercy." I plead the excuse with myself fruitlessly. "She was my Mother. I didn't want this."

You didn't stop it.

"I should have said no."

She shouldn't have asked you.

Startling me out of this brief moment of insanity are all too familiar sounds. The creak of footsteps on the landing outside, the scrape of the leaves across the window, the low alien droning as though from a large engine far, far away. The last sound alerts me, saves me, anchors me to the present.

To the here and the now.

The here being our condemned district and the now being our impending doom. Swallowing down bile I brush pointless tears that have barely even formed from my face and focus. Daddy, I remind myself forcing trembling legs to the door. Now you must focus on Daddy.

He's waiting there and I lean up on tip-toes to plant a small kiss on his cheek at the reassuring smile he gives me, not even having to ask to know what it is I have done. I realize as he pulls me into an awkward embrace that I can barely remember the last time he held me like this.

My father is not an emotional man. He cannot afford to be; weakness is not rewarded in the world he lives in. Burdened weekly by draining and complex strategic political ploys by Capitol fat cats, greasy officials or pushy representatives from the coal distribution agency of District 2, my father is no easy prey. It is not childish boasting when I say he is equally if not more skilled in underhanded politics than those who seek to take advantage of our district or its citizens. He has spent decades deftly honing these skills, out maneuvering every attempt to lower our minimum wage, reduce export taxes or other restrictions which would otherwise not benefit the helpless populace of our district. A sudden sadness hits me at this thought; I am the only person who will ever even really know, let alone appreciate, his borderline genius or the effort he has invested in protecting this district, our coal dusted home, from those who would make it an even more miserable place to reside.

Even I, as skilled a snoop as I am, will probably never fully understand the things he has had to do to keep it safe, the things he has had to give up.



It's just as I'm herding the Everdeen's through the Square; Mrs E a few paces ahead of me as I half carry Prim with Rory, who never listens when he's told to just stay put, close behind me at a quick trot a couple of their bags slung over his bony shoulders - that I remember her.

I remember her because we pass the whipping post the pavement beneath it stained a murky brown, the colour of dried blood, some of it mine. For a singular moment the memory of pain, excruciating agony like white hot fire opening up under my skin, over and over and over again is all I recall. Until I remember the relief, cool liquid relief and the press of Catnip's lips against mine, hot and chapped, but sweet and –fucking dammit- I just can't leave her.

They probably evacuated her and her important Daddy hours ago. The logical hardened part of my brain sneers in rebuttal.

But what if they didn't...

Wheeling around I set Prim down and almost go back on my decision when I look at her shaking, little blue eyes wide with fear.

"Gale?" Rory begins and the panic in his voice is palpable. He has to raise his voice over the sound of our approaching death to be heard. "What are you-"

"I've got to get someone." I explain shortly, my mind already tracing the path to the Mayor's house. It's not far from the square, thankfully.

"You're leaving?" Real terror flickers in my kid brothers eyes; it's like a physical kick to the gut. I try for a bracing 'I've got it covered' smirk and ruffle his hair with a cavalier grin.

"Don't worry Kid. I'll meet you at the meadow, just like I said."

"I'll come with-"

I don't have time for this.

"I said no." I snap gruffly, harsher than I mean too. He flinches back clearly hurt and my gaze softens. "No, look. Rory you've got to get the Everdeen's to the meadow - tell Ma I'll meet you."

Prim takes his hand, her lower lip trembling. "Come on Rory," She pulls him in the opposite direction to where I am headed, her voice barely more than a hush whisper. "We'll see Gale soon."

Thank the stars for Primrose Everdeen.

Roary swallows thickly, eyes wide but determined, trying to be brave, wanting to be a man. I know the feeling – I had wanted that too once. Difference between us is I got my wish which goes to show that kids are idiots.

Soon I'm watching the three of them as they resume their half-jog half-run to the other end of town. And then I'm sprinting hard and fast, skidding down the laneway behind the bakery. The lights are on. Briefly I consider stopping, but decide against it just as quickly, if I try to save every snotty merchant around here I might as well slit my throat now.

Besides, I owe the Baker no favours; his son is as good as dead anyway.

Volting high over the hedges of Fort Undersee with its three stories and impeccably maintained garden, I'm once again struck by the sheer pointlessness of the place. Three people live here and yet you could easily fit in half the Seam if you wanted. Do they really need that much space? I'd be happy with a relatively flea-free mattress on the floor, hell who am I kidding? I'd make do with a good soft bit of dry dirt if I had to.

Before long I'm hammering on their large oak front door hard enough to break my arm. An odd experience since we're were always required to go round the back and use the helps entrance when peddling our strawberries.

"Open up." I bellow after precious seconds go by without an answer. Maybe they did evacuate- but the thought is cut off when I spy movement in my peripheral vision; the swish of blonde hair disappearing behind a curtain. I thump my fist on the window just enough to make it rattle in the pane but not to shatter it, hoping to at least get someone's attention.

"Now is really not the time to be picky about your house guests." I yell out, slamming my hand against their door. "Open your goddamn-" .

It is wrenched open so suddenly that my fist comes down in thin air and misses her shoulder by inches. Stunned for a moment, I stare into wide green eyes rimmed red and liquid with unshed tears.

"You." The Mayor's daughter, district 12s very own frigid princess, gapes at me. "What are you doing here? Don't you have a family you should be off, you know, preparing to die with?"

"Maybe later." I retort as my hand encloses around the soft skin of her wrist which is almost luminescent in its paleness. I bet she bruises like an over-ripe peach. I've got her well over the threshold before she gets her wits together and begins to fight me. Why is it that the quiet ones are always the most trouble?

Take Mellark for instance.

First time I heard the guy open his mouth, he ruins my life.

"Lemme go!" She screeches like a banshee right in my face. Not like I needed those eardrums anyway, though got to hand it to her, she's impressively loud over the droning that signals our immanent and fiery death.

"Yeah, not a chance Princess." I reply grunting in my effort to pull her through the threshold of the doorway. And we really don't have time for this. Does she not hear the planes? The fucking firebombs? She's must have seen the Hob go up surely?

"Unhand me!" She demands in a voice which is all venom, unsuccessfully trying to pry my fingers off her arm digging into me with long sharp nails. "How dare you! Who do you think you are?"

Catching her other hand as it comes up in a pretty respectable attempt to slap me I use it to pull her in so our faces are inches from one another, my impatient breath whipping up her perfect golden fringe. Her eyes widen, long lashes flickering at our proximity and for one blissful moment she is still.

"I'm the guy who's saving your ungrateful little life." I snarl impatiently. "So shut your god-damn noise maker and don't make me regret this."

At which point she spits in my face. Nice, real ladylike. As she hocks one back and lobs it right in my eyes I come to the conclusion that if, by some miracle, the bombs don't kill us I'm going to strangle the bitch.

"Go back to your family." She orders in a voice like acid with eyes to match. "And leave me to mine. Maybe you'll even get to see them one last time before you die."

Like hell. If I came all the way down here to get this snotty little bitch there's no way I'm going back empty handed - even if I have to knock her out and carry her there myself. I'm not the type of guy who'll hit a girl. But this, this is pushing it.

"Margaret?" Heh. So that's her name. Then the Mayor, tall, pale and balding; clad in a deep red expensive looking dressing gown is standing in the doorway behind her. "What is the-?"

Great. With her saliva still sliding down her face I wheel his daughter around so I've still got her in my grip but with her back facing me. Wouldn't put it past her to, you know, spit in my face again. Or worse.

"Daddy!" She immediately begins squirming, bucking and writhing against me. "Daddy help, he's trying to-"

"I've come to sa-" I cut her off quickly since to the Mayor it probably looks like I'm trying to have it on with his daughter right in his front yard. I have to almost yell in order to be heard over the droning, and we really really don't have time for this.

The Mayor is pretty sharp for an old guy though and seems to be in-step with the plan, unlike his daughter.

"Take her." He orders me – no, begs me. "I've engaged the manual override. The fences won't be live. Take her, run!"

I'm startled for a second at the desperation in his tone. Old stone face begging. My father and a few of his card pals had called him that in their cups and even then with low voices. Of the few public penitence spectacles that had been issued by the Mayor in my memory Old Stone face was present at each and every one; I even heard back in the day the guy used to personally carry out his own execution orders.

I still remember his face as impassive as concrete as they hauled me into the square, pronounced me guilty of a crime under Panem law and that sadist piece of shit peacekeeper had drawn his whip.

This is the man begging me to save his daughter. I give him a curt nod and tighten my grip on her.

"What!?" She screeches as I drag her away. The Mayor makes no move to follow us.

"No, Daddy, no! Please come, you can make it. PLEASE!" The last word is a rough scream that tears at her vocal chords. The Mayor shakes his head and mouths something that is unintelligible to me over the humming and her screams. I get to hear her reply though as it is shrieked right in my ear.


It does not take her long to realise that her protests are falling on deaf ears and when she does she turns her attention back to me, somehow managing to twist her little wrist out of my hand and with a wordless snarl- Son of a bitch! –she viciously claws her nails down my face.

Fresh pain erupts above my eye but despite this I don't let up my grip on he even as I blink, blinded, another hot liquid mingling with her saliva on my face. She drew blood, that little-

"Put me down you son of a fucking bitch!" She screeches still writhing like a maniac even as the whole world seems to vibrate with the noise of our impending death. "Put me down, put me down, put me-"

I'm not dying for you, I think contemptuously as an image of my little baby Pose pops into my mind. I drop her bodily to the ground. She staggers slightly and then without a backward glance at me starts running for her house.

Which is when the whistling begins; low at first then higher and louder.

What the-?

Madge, who skids to an almost stop understands what it means one second before I do.

She screams for her father.

And then her house explodes.



All I see, all I know, all I feel is fire.





I turn away at just the last second; the image of my father being swallowed by flames burned into my retina.



The sky lights up with glittering heat and I'm aware of my body being hurled back and slamming into something hard and unforgiving. There's pain, oh shit is there pain and for a few agonising moments I can't see, can't move, can't think.

Breathe dammit, breathe.

Sucking air into my lungs is one of the most painful things I've ever experienced, having my back ripped to shreds included. I'm wheezing, trying to get rid of the tightness in my chest knowing that best case scenario I'll probably be coughing up ash for the rest of my natural born life.

Which, if I'm honest, might not be that long anyway. But I can't die. Not here anyway. I told Pose I'd be back. Promised her I would.

Get up, I tell myself against the gamut of agony that is my body in this moment. Get up, get the hell up. Staggering into something faintly resembling upright, the world has picked a really great time to start spinning. Immediately I gasp at a jolt of pain which is sharper than the others, my hand going to my ribs. Definitely cracked, broken probably. I grit my teeth against the pain, blinking ash from my eyes. The Mayor's house and all of those surrounding it have been incinerated.

I begin picking my way through the rubble as everything around me seems to be on fire; I hear bombs drop in other parts of the district with eardrum shattering proximity and every step is pure agony.

Move dammit, move.

And then I see her, well step on her. The fucking Mayors Daughter luckiest god-damn girl in the world, covered head to toe in ash and rubble. Her nightgown melted into her shoulder and back, the fabric twisted and fused into charred, mutilated skin on her shoulder. She is not moving. She's probably dead.

But if she isn't...

God dammit.

Picking her up brings a fresh wave of pain and it doesn't exactly help either that having been well fed and pampered for her entire life, she's not exactly light.

More like a dead weight. No pun intended.

It is immediately obvious that right now the best way to carry her is slung over my shoulder, like I would a deer carcass or a dog. My ribs protest violently. Fire roars around us and distantly I hear screams. No, don't stop. Blinking stinging embers out of my eyes I stagger across the decimated square. The bakery is gone, the butcher non-existent, the florist a crater in the pavement. Keep going. Bodies litter the ground. Out of the corner of my eyes I see a pillar of flame, moving. Waving its arms. Screaming. No, Don't look. Nausea bubbles up but I push it down focused, singled minded on one goal; getting out of this hellish nightmare alive. Stumbling through the threshold to the Seam, around us the entire place blazes. Heat licks me everywhere. My arms, my back, legs, everywhere. On the line of the fence there are bodies, twisted, charred and blackened. Some are still recognisable. People I know - people I knew -neighbours, colleagues, friends.

Adverting my eyes, numb and mindless I heave us forward, one foot and then another and another towards the meadow. It is clear of corpses which means they managed to cut through the fence, which means they survived.

All around me fire dots blaze at odd intervals, honeysuckle bushes burn.

I push Madge through the gnarled twisted hole that has been cut out of the fence, since it does not electrocute her I can only assume he father was telling the truth about shutting down the power. She drops to the ground, boneless, like a sack of damp tesserae grain and then I ease myself through gracelessly, jagged wires tearing at my arms.

Picking up Madge is a monumental task in itself but once I do I get the first scrap of good news since this clusterfuck of horror began; she groans.

I position her this time like I would Posy with one hand under her lifeless knee, hoisting her other up and relief washes over me when it clamps around my waist of its own accord and I am favoured with another groan. Her head lolls on my shoulder and some of her hair gets in my mouth. I feel her fingers curl into my shirt, her heartbeat pulsing or is that mine? Ragged shallow breath on my neck tickles the skin behind my ear.

This is good. More signs of life are good.

Staggering though the undergrowth I am barely able to see through increasingly blurry vision and the pain. Everything feels heavy. And then I see it; fire. Only not in the trees, or on live burning, screaming, corpses but on the ground.

Dark shadows around it. Moving dark shadows. People.

Yes! Some inner voice exults; I firmly tell it to shut the hell up because thinking, breathing and walking at the same time are getting increasingly harder to do.

Just a little bit further dammit, just a little bit...

My foot catches on something and we go down, Madge tumbling with me. Dimly somewhere I feel mildly confused because I never trip. With strength that I didn't know I had left I manage to push myself over onto my back so that I'm not crushing her.

The last thing my gaze finds before darkness closes in around me is tendrils of golden hair.



Somewhere through in the swirling darkness I dimly hear someone slurring the words;

"Don't you... don't you dare die on me."

A/N 8/06/2015 – Changes made during the great edit of '15.

Hope you like it.


- Is.