John's P. O. V.
I grip onto my sword tightly as I easily step under the Peacekeeper's swing. Henri's training along with that I got at the Academy has groomed me to be a more than exceptional fighter, especially with a sword, and I'm trying to brush up on everything I know with the only combat partner I can have right now. I fake left and slam the back of the blade into his right; he topples over, probably not expecting my strength. I almost want to apologize, because this guy honestly can't be any younger than Henri and has had a completely different type of training than what I'm bringing. He's expecting me to be a normal trained tribute from One, not an alien from Lorien Reaped on pure bad luck.
Or, at least I hope it's just bad luck.
He rallies quickly, stepping behind me and knocking me sharply from the lower back. I hook the grip of my blade in the space between his hand and the rest of his weapon, disarming him and catching it in my free hand. I put the swords on either side of his throat, locking him. One more move and I could jab straight through, but I don't have the same desire to kill as most Careers do. He's panting and it's obvious he's lost, so I put away both our swords and step off of the map, picking up my rag and bottle of water. At least I have them for now.
"Wow." A familiar voice comments from just behind me. "You're really impressive."
I turn around and am met by the dazzling blue eyes of Sarah Hart. She's sweaty and looks incredibly tired from her training, but with her hair tied back like it is and her cheeks flushed, she's still incredibly hot. There is no way I'm not the only guy who's can't stop staring at her when she approaches or even walks by.
"Thank you.' I feel color blossoming on my cheeks. "I bet you're really good too."
"No way." She smiles and shakes her head, looking bitter. "I'm so much better at guns, but even there I'm not impressive. My parents were always really supportive, but what will that get me here?"
Her mood chain is obvious, and it makes my heart ache. I know the odds are more in our favor than most of the other tributes, especially for me, but I hate to see her so convinced she won't win. No matter if it's true or not, I still want her to be as happy as much as she can before her death. She deserves it, probably more than most of us.
"Hey." I lace my fingers with hers, squeezing them to stop some of their trembling. "I think it's time for a lunch break. You like chicken, don't you?"
"Not really." She gives me a bashful grin. "I'm a vegetarian."
"Well, at least it'll work to your advantage in the arena. No steaks there, I don't think." I wink and she giggles. "Tell you what. You give me your chicken and I'll exchange for my salad. Does that sound good?"
"You need that protein. I'll just give you the chicken." She takes her own rag and lightly swats my arm with it and I grin bashfully.
"How about I just exchange a cupcake?" I offer.
"Oh, sure! Make me fat!" She complains, but she's laughing fully now.
I give her a bashful grin myself and we head to one of the tables. Not many of the tributes wish to sit together or near each other, even those from the same District, so there are large gaps between people on the tables as they keep their heads down and eat. Once we get our bags, Sarah and I are obliged to sit with the rest of the Career pact. The District Two girl is positively intimidating despite her smaller size, judging by her stern, though otherwise expressionless gaze, but her partner is more wirey, looking like he'd rather be anywhere but here, not unlike how I feel. The District Four male is one of the oldest tributes here and his partner looks to be about the same age, and while both of them are beautiful, they don't seem to like being here anymore than the rest of us. Despite popular belief, Careers are still humans too, at least some years.
"Hello everyone," Sarah greets, her tone hushed and subdued as we sit closely to each other at the table.
There is deafening silence for a few moments. "Hi," the District Four boy finally returns her greeting. "My name is Joseph. I too am here for a death match."
We all manage a weak chuckle at that. The District Two boy, looking even more nervous than he did before, slowly opens his mouth. When we look to him in expectancy, though, he just ducks his head. His partner sighs loudly.
"I'm Maren." She states, not bringing her gaze up from stabbing her fork through her chicken. "District Two."
"S-Sam!" Her partner finally stutters out, face flushing when we look at him instantly. "S-same as her..."
Maren snorts and I almost roll my eyes. Just because he's scared doesn't necessarily mean he's going to be a nuisance the entire time, it just means he's more open the rest of are.
"I'm Sarah." She touches my hand softly with her fingertips. "District One."
She's silently prompted me, so I stare at my cupcake as I murmur, "John, District One."
"Layla, District Four." I watch from the corner of my eye as Joseph's District partner looks around the room openly, raising an eyebrow when her eyes fall on a certain table. "Can someone explain to me why the hell District Three isn't a part of our alliance? Seriously, One, Two, and Four?"
The rest of us are silent; I don't think of us truly know. It's just always been what we've had knowledge of from the time we were old enough to understand the severity of the Games, which was the day we started the Academy at age six in our case.
"Maybe it is because they're more into technology, so they aren't as trained physically," Sam offers up meekly.
"What, like you?" Maren grumbles, shoving her cupcake in her mouth to finish up her meal.
"Hey." Sarah says this lightly, but her expression is full of disapproval. "Don't be mean to him. He's just offering up a theory."
Maren doesn't respond, but she's scowling at the tabletop now. Joseph shrugs, looking more uncomfortable as he rolls up his own empty sack. The rest of us are silent for the remainder of the time it takes us all to eat and dispose of the sacks. Nobody really wants to talk about the reality of us becoming murderers in about three days.
"If anyone needs me," Joseph finally announces when tributes begin to go back to different stations. "I'll be on the wall."
Layla, Maren, and Sam get up right after and exit in opposite directions, but Sarah stays beside me and watches him briefly with me. He meets up with a brown-haired girl, one that has a 11 on the back of her tank top. She looks nervous to be around him, but she seems delighted at the same time, especially when he says something and she laughs.
"It is so sick," Sarah whispers. "Why can't they be in the same District and not Reaped? All they would have had to have done is survive this year and they could be together."
"Better yet, why have the Reaping in the first place?" I mutter, standing up promptly when a Peacekeeper gives us a sideways glance.
"Because non-random selection would be unfair," she hisses, pulling me toward the shooting range. I know I shouldn't talk like that even with my given status, but it does make me angry.
"Come on, silly." Her voice brings me out of my thoughts, and the smile she's displaying seems strained now. "Let me kick your butt at target practice."
I laugh, but it's just as forced. We're forced to put up this facade to seem more intimidating, just to stay alive and fill the other tributes with fear. We are the warriors, we have trained for this our entire lives and I've trained for war and battle even more extensively, but seeing the faces you'll have to take the life out of makes us all sick. In a couple of weeks, twenty three of us will be dead. It disgusts me to think about that kind of slaughter, even though I know I'll eventually fight off an extensive army of Mogodorians with a brave face.
For the first time in my life, I begin to consider my enemy race just as human as these tributes and my own nearly extinct people.
Out of all of the other Districts, we have the most Victors, even pulling out more than Two by one of their former Victor's death this year. We just finished dinner as they loudly all jumped into the conversations, trying to tell their own stories of how they came out on top with large, drunken grins. They are proud of their achievements, and they should be in their own fogged minds. Sarah left the meal first, and as I finally manage to do the same, I wonder I could ever feel like about killing the off members of the race that's helped conceal us. I doubt it.
In addition to being privileged back in our home, we get even more special treatment here. Nobody is blatantly allowed to contact back home, but it's a little known fact that the Careers will be pardoned as long as they do it only once. I stare at the holgramming pad at my bedside, debating whether or not to call Henri tonight. I don't want to waste my chance early, but I miss him terribly. I know I'll probably make it out alive, but I miss his advice, his stern but loving encouragement during the hours of the training, even his scoldings when I screwed up. He's the only family I've got.
Curling my fingers into fists, I decide to save it for the night before the Games officially begin. I go out onto the deck inside, which overlooks much more to the higher levels. On the first floor, though, it's just the city, watching fancy cars whizz by and people try to get a look inside at us from the forcefield. The Capitol is still very much alive at this hour, so after about half an hour of waving at the crowds and drunk guards trying to keep them from snapping pictures, I return to my room and shut the blinds tightly, blanketing me in complete darkness.
I was four years old when we came to Earth. I remember clinging to Henri as went to the mayor's office, which was in the heart of a building I soon learned never slept. I was terrified of all of the noise, the brights lights, the people who whizzed passed. They were not at all like the harmonious Loric and I felt even smaller than I was.
The mayor found us strange at first, questioning Henri's accent and trying for about twenty minutes to get a word out of me. He did finally accept us, though, deciding we were going to be interesting 'foreigners' and that 'The boy will do brilliantly in our training program!'. He had one of his many aides set up us a rental mansion but Henri paid in full upfront, which they didn't protest at all. He didn't want me going to Academy any more than I did, but it was a part of the contract that allowed us to stay there.
Holding my hands out in front of me, I allow the heat to begin burning, creating a small fire along with fingertips. This only surfaced a few months ago; Lumen may be my strongest Legacy and has so much potential, but we haven't enough time to harness and grow it enough. I'm fireproof and my hands are deadly, but that's all I've got right now. I still have so much practice to do and I'm not going to be able to do so now.
"Stop making excuses, John." Henri's voice suddenly rings sternly in the back of my mind. "Your boundaries are only what you make them. You can do whatever you want to do."
The flames begin to climb up my arms and I yank off my shirt, staring at my dimly lite reflection in the full length mirror before me. There has never been any better time to start making Henri proud.
Five's P. O. V.
Summer always said I could make use out of anything around me. I've been practicing in the stash of ropes, tying nooses and designing potential booby traps. Sweat soaks my back and hair, but I don't stop, disregarding the blood forming around my fingers. I think we were due a lunch break by now, but there will be plenty of time to eat on the train. Right now, I have to take up as much of this precious time as I can. Today I was a fool, thinking that the others wouldn't arrive before ten in the morning. I plan on coming in at six tomorrow.
"H-hi." A timid, feminine voice speaks from above me, surprising me enough to bother looking to her. She's one of the twelve year olds, the one from District Five.
"Hi, kid. You need something?" I grunt, trying not to be completely rude, but she needs to leave me alone.
Her entire frame practically vibrating, she offers out a brown paper sack. I think it's supposed to be what we had for lunch. "Y-you need to eat th-this. The lack of food will...Will only hurt you."
I sigh and take it from her trembling fingers, giving her a curt nod. "Thanks."
She stands there awkwardly for a moment, then takes off in the other direction. She meets someone at the edge of the parition and I see a too-familiar face slip out, peering back at me. He gives me a snake-ish smile and ducks back, and with my magnified hearing, I easily tune into the conversation he and the kid are having.
"I gave it to her, like you asked." Her voice is soft and filled with uncertainty.
"I saw that. She didn't appreciate that very much, did she?" He sighs, sounding more annoyed than anything. "Well, you tried, kiddo."
Kiddo? Lovely, he's allied himself with someone he can use at bait, any easy shield if someone becomes a threat to him. He's practically flaunting it in my face because he's assumed correctly I'd never try to go through someone that young and innocent to gut him. I couldn't do that to a kid. I'll just have to work around his smarting little ass.
"What are we going to work on now, Raider?" She asks as their footsteps fade off in the other direction.
"Probably a little climbing. I heard there aren't many trees where you're from." He responds, but I can't pick up any more of the conversation.
I curse quietly and throw down the rope I was working with. My fingers are really beginning to hurt, and my body is really becoming dehydrated and needs food. He may be a bastard, but he did get me the food I need. I rummage around in sack and reluctantly down the chicken and juice before tossing the rest of it, looking around at the rest of the competition. The other tributes are, as they should be, perfecting their own skills, not paying any attention to their rivals.
For reason my subconscious only knows, I find myself looking for the other twelve year old, Kelli. I pick her out of the crowd easily, as she's holding a too-large bow in the wrong stance. Her allow misses the target horribly while I walk up behind her, keeping my footing light on instinct. She slumps over slightly, turning back toward the rack where she must have gotten the bow and noticing me from the corner of her eye.
"So-sorry," she sputters, holding the bow out to me with her head down.
"Relax, kid. I'm not going to hurt you. You weren't even holding me up. I just came to tell you to get a smaller size." I grab the bow from her hands easily and steer her forward, taking over to the racks fully.
Kelli looks petrified, but I go ahead and help her pick out a bow that suits her weight to body mass a little more. I'm not an expert, so we're nowhere close to exact, but she can do a decent shot before we're done. The sun is beginning to sink now and the tributes are beginning to leave, looking truly exhausted. By the look on her face, she wants to be a part of them.
"Good job today. Try to keep to keep practicing, okay?" I say as gently as I can.
"W...Will you help me again? Tomorrow?" Her light green eyes are darting frantically, alternating between my gaze and the ground.
She's put me at an awkward point with her innocent question. I don't want to deny giving her help, as she doesn't really deserve that with this reality she already doesn't deserve, but I've got to handle my own training. She'll probably be one of the first to die no matter I do.
A shadow practically passes over me as the largest tribute, her District partner, approaches. He doesn't say a word or give me a glance, just takes one of Kelli's tiny hands in his own and begs to walk slowly toward the elevator. Judging by the amount he's sweating, he's like me in that he'll return early in the morning or late tonight. Even so, he's indebted to this girl more than I am for reasons of being from home and him volunteering for the other kid. Just by her steady gaze up at him is enough to let anyone paying attention- meaning myself- that she trusts him.
If he's anything like me, her trust is only going to hurt him in the end, because she was destined for death the second her life began. That much is obvious right now, and the same rings true for the other twelve year old. As much as I hate it for both of those little girls, though, I only hope Raider is at least enough of a non-asshole to be affected when he makes his poor little ally die.
By the way he keeps holding her close to his side, I'm safe with the knowledge that this Stanley Worthington is going to feel it enough for both of them when he has to watch Kelli die.