RADIANCE

~ Chapter IV ~


Emmett Montgomery, 18, District 2


I've always been big.

Ever since I was a kid, I've been bigger than everybody else. I've forgotten what it feels like to look up. It gets easier. I'm kind of used to bending down in door-ways or peering down when I talk to people. But my neck isn't. It's really bad on my joints, but for the most part, being a giant is easy.

Except for a few things. A few things people don't really consider. People always want to be big. That's the dream for a lot of people. To grow up big and strong.

Most of the kids I've talked to all tell me the same thing. That they wish they could grow as big as me. That being tall would be 'awesome' or 'cool'. That being tall means you could beat anybody up.

It makes me smile even now, thinking about the stuff those kids used to tell me.

I have to admit, being super-tall is pretty cool. But then when you're told that you're the only person in the country — the world for that matter — your size, then it starts to feel kind of...lonely. Scary, even.

But I'm not feeling sorry for myself. I used to. But not anymore. Now I'm just angry. I'm not sure when it started. Maybe in high-school. When the hundredth person walked up to me and asked me...that question.

People always asked me that same goddamned question. Every single time. I heard it at least five times a day. In whispers. When I passed people in the street, when I went to the Academy, or when I went to work.

Usually by a kid, because the adults were all afraid of me.

They thought I was a monster or something. I don't know; I never asked them, but it has to be the reason. They assume because I'm bigger than they are, that I'm some sort of serial killer that feasts on human flesh. That I'm an ogre or something. People always gave me those looks. The kind of look you get when you walk in on somebody in the commode. Or when you catch someone without their clothes on.

They look at me that way, and then I end up feeling guilty.

Guilty.

Guilty because I'm the bad guy. To them, I'm the guy that breaks into your house at night and kills your wife and children.

And when I feel guilty, or embarrassed, I get angry.

Really, really angry.

And then something ticks me off and I go crazy. I throw things, or I break something. And then I really do become the bad guy. Then people have a reason to be afraid of me. But I'm not angry because I feel like it. I'm angry because of them. Because I'm big. Because I'm a freak of nature.

Everyday was hell for me — just walking anywhere. School, work, the markets. They'd look at me weird, or whisper to each other, they'd treat me different. People were a little clumsy around me. They made mistakes because they were scared. I wasn't even trying to be scary in the first place, but I couldn't tell them that.

And sometimes I'd get that question, and through my gritted teeth I'd answer and they'd laugh or make a remark and we'd both walk away and that would be the end of it.

It's funny that all the times I'd been asked, not once has anybody ever bothered to talk to me like a normal person. They get their answer, they laugh, and walk away.

It became the commentary of my life.

I like to think that is what made me walk up that stage today. I like to think it's that simple.

But, as cliche as it might sound, my life has never been that simple. When I was a kid, maybe. Things were good back then. And then I started growing, and everything turned to shit.

All these expectations from my step-mother. She wanted me to do something in my life that would bring us money — actually, bring her money. Everything was about her. She was fully aware of how big I'd become, and she tried to exploit it. She wanted me to do more than just play basketball. She wanted me to go to the Academy. My dad tried to talk her out of it, but she was manipulative. She wouldn't hear it.

She talked with the right people — coaches, athletes — who finally convinced me to go train. I didn't want to go, I never wanted to go, because I knew where it would lead. Kids always talked about the Games at school, and it used to scare me real bad.

Yeah, the big bad giant...scared.

But I couldn't reject the offer. I wish I had, looking back on it. I wish I just stood up to my bitch-mother and smacked her down. Me and my dad could have left — just the two of us, like I wanted.

Dad…

I can't think about him. I can't. Not right now. Not in front of these people.

I rub my face with both hands, the unkempt stubble on my face causing me to wince at the scratching noise. But it's no better than hearing the continuous low-rumbling of the train — silverware shaking and furniture creaking on their wooden feet. I'm still in shock they even managed to fit me in the cabin.

Another disadvantage of being tall: I have to duck all the time in trains. Granted, this is the first train I've ever been on.

These people really need to work on the accommodations. After all, if I'm going to die, I expect to be comfortable.

"Emmett, Emmett," the bald Mentor whistles, walking through a door with a huge grin on his face. "You weren't lying when you told me he was big, Karla. But man, is he big."

I don't know whether I should smile at them or not. I don't smile at anybody, regardless. Plus, these people creep me the hell out, especially the bald guy. He's been staring at me ever since we left the Justice Building.

I know I shouldn't be getting worked up about all this. I could smash their faces in with one hand tied behind my back. But I'm on high-alert right now. My heart's beating unusually fast and my chest hurts. I'm experiencing some kind of anxiety, but I wasn't mentioning it to anybody.

"Good news, tributes! Your dinner is warm and ready to be served!" Karla, my Escort, garbed in china-white, starts snapping her fingers around. Then these people come in through another door — they've got this proper get-up, with slicked-back hair and nice clothes. They bow their heads like slaves and start rolling the food carts toward our table.

I'm not big on asking for help. I could have gotten my own food, and I would have. But Karla snapped at me the last time I even tried to take my own jacket off. She told me I was a tribute. That now I was special. Now, I don't have to do anything anymore. Everyone serves me.

I don't know, it rubbed me the wrong way. Kind of ticked me off and she must have picked up on that earlier and left me alone.

She's just like my step-mother. Always ordering people around, thinking she's on top of the world or something. People like that disgust me. They leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I get really annoyed as soon as the mentors sit down. I was under the impression we'd be eating alone. Karla told me we would. Why would she lie to me?

Then Baldy sits next to me, that same grin on his face. "Emmett," he says, "My name is Brutus, it's so great to meet you, buddy." He holds out his hand, and I look at it for a second before firmly shaking it. Firmly. So firm, I almost think I broke it.

By the way he looks at me, he knew it too. "Whoa, little easy there, Emmett!" He laughs nervously, but doesn't back off. In fact, he scoots a little closer.

This guy think he's my friend or something?

"Before anything, I just want to say, I'm allergic to fish," Leah sniffs, leaning back in her chair. "I get these rashes on my arms and stuff when I eat it." Everyone just sits and looks at her for a bit, almost as if we forgot she was there. And then Karla laughs through her nose, patting Leah gently on the shoulder like a puppy-dog.

Leah hasn't said much, so I don't really know what to feel about her. She seems nice, but I don't think she likes me very much.

She's weird. She talks like a snob, but she isn't one. She acts like a boy, and as far as I know, she isn't one. She's very complex. Bossy, argumentative, a little snappy. And really short.

She also sighs a lot. Talks to herself too. I don't think Leah and I have much in common, but she's always angry. I am too. That counts, right?

The aroma of the food makes my mouth water. There's all sorts of stuff these people bring out. Chicken, steak, meats of all kinds with various sauces lined up beside them in these little bowls. Stacks of fruits, vegetables, and drinks I'd never heard of before.

The funny thing is, they could feed a damn province with this whole table alone. All this food, and what do they do with it? Feed it to sniveling teenagers who'll be dead before the week is done.

My dad used to bring home fowl from work sometimes. Apparently he worked with a guy who hunted. Dad made me promise not to tell anyone, or it'd be both their asses. It was great, because growing up, we had to ration a lot. We weren't poor. But we weren't well-off.

My dad scraped the bottom of the barrel just to bring home a small supper. So to get meat like that — well, it was precious.

And then one night, dad just stopped bringing fowl home. I can remember that night clearly. I was eleven, just started my growth-spurt. I was sweaty from playing basketball all day, and my dad was really pissed-off when he walked in. There I was, laying on the couch trying to fan myself off, and dad just storms in like a bat out of hell. Didn't even say a word.

It scared me. My dad was a happy guy. Always smiling. But that night, he wasn't. He came home empty-handed, and it didn't take me long to figure out something must have happened at work.

I got up the courage to ask him about it later, and he just told me he couldn't bring fowl home anymore. Word came out that his friend was hunting illegally. The Peacekeepers came into work that day and dragged his friend out into the mountains and he never came back.

Dad was real sad about it too. I can remember that pain in his voice. The guilt. My dad couldn't even look me in the eye. I guess he thought he failed me by not bringing the meat home.

And then I remember just hugging him. I hugged him, and he hugged me back. He told me he was sorry, and that was the end of that. I realized how much he cared about me in that moment, and I'll never forget it. But I also realized in that moment, that you shouldn't ever take food for granted. You shouldn't ever take life for granted. You learn, and you adapt.

Sitting here now, looking at all the piles of food laid out here in front of me, I just got a weird feeling. I just kept thinking about my dad, and what he would say now.

I didn't have the right to eat any of this. This food was stolen from the hard-working people. People like my dad. People who never tasted meat before in their life.

I shake my head. Nobody sees me do it — Leah keeps yapping, distracting the dark-skinned woman and Karla. And then Brutus catches me eying the food with disdain. "Something wrong, Emmett?"

I regard him with a sharp look, large knees jamming sharply into the bottom of the table — threatening to break through. "No, nothing's wrong."

Brutus gives me that look again – a ravenous up-and-down glance like he's witnessing something spectacular. Like he just saw a magical creature and doesn't want to tell anyone about it. "Go ahead and eat, Emmett. Most of this is for you, buddy."

My teeth grit at the sound of his voice. At the sound of Leah's high-pitched voice, yapping away like nothing is happening. How could she be so calm? How could these people – these bastards, laugh about this? Everything starts to close in on me, and I get this powerful urge to walk up and leave the room.

Hell, if I did, who could possibly stop me?

All my life, I've held back. I had no choice. Because if I wasn't gentle, anything I touched would crumble into pieces. Because of my size, I had to re-adjust in order to fit in with everyone else. And when I got angry...bad things tended to happen. My dad taught me to manage my anger by counting down from ten in my head, or leaving the room before I snapped.

"Emmett?"

I saw Karla laughing out of the corner of my eye, bits of food flying out of her red lipstick-lined mouth. The crazy-teeth lady poured herself another glass of champagne – her third one this evening, cackling with Karla over some stupid joke.

"Emmett?"

The more I stared at these people, the more I began to heat up. I'm staring at a bunch of murderers. I'm eating dinner with a bunch of murderers.

How many people have they killed? How much blood have they shed? Karla has been an Escort for years. I remember seeing her on the stage when I was a kid. Same red lipstick and everything.

How many kids has Karla seen die? This must be just another day at the office for her. I bet Karla tells the same stupid jokes too. Every year, the same conversations with different kids.

And she knows. She knows for a goddamn fact that none of us are coming back. And yet the lady laughs and smiles at us.

These people are monsters.

"Hey, Emmett!" Leah shouts at me from across the table, a balled-up napkin bouncing off my face.

I glared at her, but she didn't see me. She'd already gone back to picking at her meagre dish.

What the hell was that about?

Brutus taps me on the shoulder. "I needed to get your attention somehow. Emmett, you've been sitting here and haven't eaten a thing for the past twenty minutes. Is something wrong?"

Yeah, something's wrong.

I don't know why I'm here. I don't know what I'm doing. I wanted to go back home and see my dad again. To be by his side and comfort him as he lay dying in the hospital. I wanted to tell him that I'd come back with enough money to pay for his medicine. I wanted to tell him I loved him.

Instead, my dad is in a coma, while my bitch step-mother sleeps with the next-door neighbor and drains the rest of the money out of dad's savings.

And here I am on a fucking train to Panem's capital, with people I don't know or care about telling me everything's going to be okay.

And I'm probably going to fail. I may be big, and that might just help me, but all it takes is one blade through the back and I'm done. All it takes is one mistake.

That's what's wrong.

I stare at Brutus with a vacant expression, looking into the eyes of a murderer, knowing that I too, will become just like him. I was staring at my future. And this disturbed me.

"I just need to use the commode," I stated, shrugging off Brutus's hand and heading down the narrow corridor before anyone could stop or assist me.

I found what I thought was the latrine almost immediately – a small grey door tucked off beside a sink and some mirrors. I shoved my way through the small door, ducking my head so low that I was practically crouching.

I punched the door shut, at last completely alone to my thoughts.


The increased rocking of the train in this room did little to comfort me. But if this was the most privacy I could afford, I'm willing to take it.

I sat on the tiled floor, my head leaning back against the edge of a tub and my long legs cramming into the walls. I looked and felt ridiculous in this tiny space. I felt like I was in some doll-house. A little toy to be played with.

I sighed and placed my hands over my ears, trying to drown every single sound out of my head. In a perfect world, I'd be deaf. If I'd been deaf, I'd never have to hear people's remarks. I'd never have to deal with bullshit. Everything would be silent, and I'd never get angry.

I knew why I was angry, but I guess I just didn't want to accept it. I didn't want to accept that I fucked up. I fucked up and now there's no going back. If my dad were awake, I knew he would have never wanted me to do this. He would have scolded me.

'Emmett, what the hell is wrong with you? You had a whole life ahead of you.'

"I know, Dad. I know," I mumbled, my eyes stinging at the threat of tears.

'I thought you wanted to play basketball. Isn't that what you told me, son? You told me you were going to play ball and never stop. Do you remember?'

"Yeah, I remember."

'What happened, son? Why did you go and listen to your mother? You...you were doing so well, son. Why didn't you keep at it?'

"I—I don't know..."

'Now look at the shape of you. You went and did it. Do you feel better about yourself?'

"I don't know what I feel, Dad."

'Well get used to it, son. There's no turning back now. You made this choice. It's time you step up and take ownership. You're on your own now.'

When the tears fell, I wasn't expecting them. For years, I'd been a stone. But now, I've been stripped and laid bare for God to witness. I wasn't some angry giant. I was just a kid.

'Don't cry for me, son. You keep thinking about me and you'll never make it. I don't have much time left on this earth. My train's coming and...I'm ready to board it. You have to start thinking about your life.'

"No...No I don't believe you. How can you say that to me, Dad?"

'You chose this path, son. Not me. You. And now you have to accept it.'

I shook my head in my arms, low sobs escaping my lips. "I fucked up, Dad."

'Listen to me, Emmett. Stop crying and listen to me. You have to man up. You have to make a choice, and you have to make it soon. Do you want to live, or do you want to die?'

What kind of sick game was this? After everything I've done to get here, all the anger and misery, and now I'm forced into this? Hurting people – hurting kids. Taking away their future.

This is fucked. This whole thing is fucked. And now I've become apart of it.

And I want to hate myself for being such a hypocrite.

But I'll be damned if I let my father die. I don't want to become a memory. I wanted to see my father smile again. I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted him to see me grow up. I wanted him to meet my future wife and children. I wanted to make him proud.

"I do want to live, Dad. I want to live."

'Then go and win for me, son.'

My head snapped up, as if I had suddenly burst from a pool of water. The muffled sounds of the outside world burst forth at me so unexpectedly that my ears popped.

Everything had become somewhat clearer to me now. I needed to win for my father, but I needed to win for myself just as much. What good would I be to him if I didn't care about my own well-being?

Hesitantly, I wiped my eyes of the tears and gripped onto the edge of the sink and stood as high as I could get in the cramped room – joints cracking.

When I looked in the mirror, I instantanously shied away at my disheveled visage. I looked like an angry hobo. No wonder people were afraid of me. I wanted to shave as soon as possible, but couldn't seem to find any sort of razer.

I turned the water on and splashed cool water on my grizzled face. I didn't stop until my eyes were no longer puffy. If those people knew I'd been crying – well, I'd be fucked. To them, I'm a monster. I have to keep that angle going.

I brushed my long ashen bangs away, making sure to tuck them up and to the side behind my right ear.

Now I just looked like a hobo with a bad comb-over.

I sighed to myself. For the time being, it would have to do. I knew just from the brief times I'd glimpsed at the Hunger Games, that impressions meant everything. It's one thing to look scary to other tributes, but to look scary to the Capitol people could really ruin my chances of getting them to sponsor me.

My height alone would scare most, if not all of the competition. Well, except for Leah. For some reason, she didn't seem to be too scared of me when we first met. She looked like she wanted to beat me up. Girl's got some guts.

When I was pleased with my touch-up, I opened the commode door with a not-so-gentle shove. It wasn't intentional, but it did get the entire dinner table to shut their mouths when they saw me. Even the mute servants glanced at me – a twinge of fear reflecting in their dark eyes as I stomped passed them.

As soon as I left the commode, I realized that I needed to make a slight change in my behavior. In order for me to make a lasting impression, I needed to act like the monster they expected me to be.

I had to go against everything my father taught me about respect. That's why when I finally got back to my seat, I grabbed an empty plate and began slapping as much food as I possibly could onto it.

Chicken, turkey, fowl, beef, lamb, venison – all of it went on my plate, piled up like the Capitol tower itself. I even grabbed fist-fulls of vegetables and crammed them to the side as well.

By the time I was finished, every inch of my plate was covered in food. Was I hungry? Not really. But did they know that? Not really.

Leah stared at me with her mouth half-agape, her eyebrows scrunched up in utter disgust as I began shoving minted lamb down my throat.

And it was good. Better than anything I'd ever tasted. The insides of my mouth watered at the prospect of having more. Never in my life have I eaten anything so delicious. And yet, these Capitol bastards got to eat this every single day.

Brutus chuckled loudly, elbowing the other Mentor. "See, what I tell ya', Enobaria? I knew he'd come to sooner or later."

There was a distinct lull in the conversation as I chowed down, which was awkward to say the least. But if there was one thing I wasn't going to change about my personality, it was my uncanny ability to focus solely on the task at hand – in this case, my big-ass plate of food.

The conversation sort of picked up a few minutes after Brutus was done laughing about my ravenous appetite, which I was silently grateful for.

Out of the corner of my eye, I spot Leah with her hand over her mouth – fork lazily dangling between her fingers. The look of utter disgust is so obviously played out on her features that I just about burst out laughing. I don't quite know how long Leah has been watching me, but the fact that the giant slice of key-lime pie remains relatively untouched on her plate tells me it's been awhile.

Karla's reaction isn't far off from Leah's. Their expressions are mirrored exactly to the smallest detail. Karla clears her throat and tries hard to ignore the licking of my fingers, but something tells me she couldn't take it any longer. She promptly gets up and struts off somewhere.

After several minutes, a large pile of bones and fat lay scattered across the ceramic like a graveyard – the sole remnants of my feast. With great diligence, I begin slurping up the rest of the vegetables with my tongue, mostly to annoy Leah.

The response I get is exactly what I was looking for.

The sharp clang of her fork on the table makes even Karla peek her head up from the sofa at the back of the train. "Oh my God, I can't handle this. Seriously, you are freaking disgusting," Leah says. Her expression echoes her statement completely.

I try not to smile, but I'm pretty sure one settles on my face.

"He's just gross," Leah gestures wildly at Brutus and Enobaria. "Isn't he gross?"

Brutus howls with laughter, but Enobaria seems to agree with Leah the more she watches me lick my fingers.

And then I realize something. Something that I wasn't even aware of until now. I feel comfortable. Not in the whole laugh-and-share-stories kind of way. But I feel...I don't feel angry anymore. And I only started to feel this way the more I teased poor Leah. I realize I felt comfortable at the cost of Leah being totally annoyed with me.

I'm not as happy as my father was. And I wish I was more like my father. Cheerful, optimistic, able to laugh at himself when he made mistakes, singing songs in the kitchen when he cooked. I want to be like him, but at the end of the day, I will never be my father. I'm short-tempered and don't like people. I don't like joking around and I couldn't give a damn about anyone else if my life depended on it.

I know nothing about Leah or her life. I've never seen her before at home nor do I know why she volunteered, but messing with her is fun, in a lighthearted kind of way. I know that if I keep this up, she could end up hating me and ruin any chances of forming an alliance.

After all, Leah's all I got left from home.

"Is that all you do?" Leah asks in her condescending tone. "I mean, you come in here and you don't even say anything. You just...eat!"

She's a bright one, isn't she?

"You know, it isn't going to be like this in the arena. You're not gonna have a buffet to chow down on in the middle of it. You do know that, right?" Leah huffs, looking at me hard like she expects me to respond.

"Mhmm," I mumble, reaching over to grab another slice of pie with my bare hands.

"Oh my God," she repeats, clearly beyond annoyed with me at this point – which wasn't difficult to accomplish. I'll have to keep that in mind.

"I've never seen anyone eat that much," Leah pouts. "That really can't be healthy for you."

I glance at Leah's unfinished slice of pie. My stomach protests with a loud groan, as if it knew what I was thinking.

Eh, I can make room for more.

Plus, I really, really wanted to annoy the piss out of Leah. I jab my finger in Leah's direction, "You gonna finish that pie?" I blink, "I mean, unless you wanted it."

That was the final straw. Leah storms off, completely ignoring me. I stare at her with amusement as she pouts down the train corridor, shouting something back about me being the worst District partner.

I shrug and grab her pie, wolfing it down without any mind.

But Leah had one thing right – I sure as hell wouldn't be getting this treatment in the Games. There won't be minted lamb and chowder neatly laid out for me to eat. This might very well be the only chance I'll ever get to have a decent meal. Why not make the most of it?

Brutus chuckled softly, despite Enobaria's fierce glares directed at him and myself. I'm not sure what her problem was.

Enobaria huffed and rose from her seat, snapping at one of the servants. "Well, I'm heading to my quarters for the rest of the evening – give you two some time to discuss early strategies." One of the servants glanced at me nervously, tapping a finger at my plate with a questioning look.

I turned my body towards the slender man in white, gulping down the last bit of water. "Is there a problem?"

The guy just stares at me with a quizzical shift of his eyebrow. The hell am I supposed to do in this situation? What's wrong with these servants, anyway? I'm not scared of much. But these people are going to give me nightmares.

Brutus nearly chokes on his glass of wine in a fit of chuckles. "Don't bother, Emmett," he says. "They're Avoxes. They can't speak."

I feel like I'm on the receiving end of some stupid joke. "They can't speak?"

Brutus shook his head, "No. It's hard to explain, but, just remember that they're here to serve us – serve you, more importantly." Brutus gives the servant the go-ahead to pick up my plates. I lean back and stare at the servant long and hard, my mind conjuring up disturbing thoughts about what the Capitol does to ensure that these Avoxes are unable to speak.

I can't even imagine. What a bunch of twisted fucks.

"So, Emmett, I figure this is a good time to get down to the nitty-gritty." Brutus scoots his chair toward me, turning it around and sitting on it backwards, his beefy arms flexed around the frame.

I'm immediately uncomfortable in the silence of the train cabin. Now with Leah and Karla gone, I've got no one to help break the ice. I've never been a talkative guy. I'm not afraid to talk, but I am afraid of the attention.

Brutus is a strange guy. He's a real meat-head – the kind of guy who has a lot of energy and needs to constantly get rid of it by moving around. The way he speaks is off-putting. He's very invasive – ignorant of social conventions in his eagerness to talk. People like that have always bothered me.

"Tell me, Emmett, I'm really curious. Why'd you decide to volunteer?" He asked with interest.

"I needed the money," I mumbled offhandedly, looking around for something to fiddle with.

And I did what I always did when I was nervous: eat.

I grabbed another glass from across the table and poured myself some fizzy substance. I sipped it and my mouth and nose burned in response.

Brutus grinned. "Seriously?"

"Seriously." I brought the glass to my lips and took another much longer swig. This time, my throat burned and the taste wasn't as bad. It was a sweet taste, with a fruity tang to it. Not bad at all.

Brutus didn't seem convinced with my answer. I guess he was used to kids coming in saying they just wanted to kill people. It would have been a joke, but in my short stint at the Academy, it was quite disturbing to me just how many kids I heard express that exact sentiment.

"It's just that – uh – I never saw you at the Academy or anything. Did you train?"

"I did a thing there." This fizzy drink is really good. Really good. "Not like I was hard to miss," I mumbled, pouring myself more of the delicious fizzy substance.

"Oh, certainly not. It's just...You know – usually volunteers are chosen a week before." Brutus gave me a weird look. A look of suspicion. I knew it anywhere. I've seen it about a thousand times in my life.

I returned the look. "Like I said, I'm doing this for the money," I slammed the glass down after taking a big gulp. I didn't really mean to do it.

Brutus glanced at the now cracked empty glass, laughed nervously, and began patting my left knee. "No, I understand, Emmett. No hard feelings – just wanted to be completely sure."

Brutus and I went on to discuss a variety of topics after that. Some more boring than others. Like, for example, he asked me earlier whether I preferred spears or halberds. I didn't know what to tell the guy. I don't know weapons, and I don't much give a fuck either way. If it's sharp and pointy, that's all I care about.

I wasn't really happy about having to kill people. It's one of those things I tried to mentally block out, but he kept asking me how I felt about it. It was getting tiresome. You'd think these coaches would be more considerate – give me time to process the idea of it. But no, Brutus really wanted to know how I felt. I think he was testing me.

And then came the 'big' question, according to Brutus. I knew he'd ask it eventually. I figured someone would have to.

"Alright, so Emmett, I'm just going to ask you straight-out. How tall are you?" Brutus didn't seem nervous about it. He didn't strike me as the insecure type. But even he chuckled as he asked it. I'll give him something to chuckle about.

"Five foot six."

"Ah come on, Emmett! Don't leave me hanging. So, seriously, what's your real height?" The man was relentless. Even kids at home weren't this bad. At least they took a joke.

I sighed, shoving back the dark hair that had fallen in my eyes. "I'm seven foot-even, last time I got checked."

Brutus whistled, crossing his muscular arms behind his head. "That just might be a record. Don't think I've ever had a tribute your size before."

I found that hard to believe. I'm tall, but I wouldn't consider myself muscular. I saw some big kids back at the Academy. Nowhere near my height, but I know for sure they were stronger.

"Listen, I have no idea what these other kids look like, but I'm positive you're the biggest this year – if not ever," said Brutus.

Well that's nothing new. It wouldn't be the first time someone has told me I'm one-of-a-kind. See, I don't take it as a compliment. I get really nervous. I feel this pressure. Like if I don't succeed, or I don't do something, my life is going to be a waste.

"Emmett, you're going to be a target. As soon as they see you, they're going to make you a target," said Brutus, his voice firm. "It doesn't matter how much you say or not say, because – from my experience – they always put a target on the biggest guy in the room."

Brutus leaned forward more, his voice sinking down to a loud whisper. "I want to know if you're prepared for that, Emmett."

"Yeah, I figured as much." I instinctively went to pour another glass of fizzy-drink, but it was all gone. I frowned. "But I'm not scared. They can't do nothing to me."

Brutus nodded encouragingly, dark eyes following my every move. "Damn right, they can't. And if they provoke you at any point, don't be afraid to rough them up," Brutus punched the air for effect. "Sponsors like a good scuffle, you know. Shows them you're not to be messed with."

It was strange how different this felt. It were as if I had stepped into a different world once I walked up that stage. In a single second, I'd gone from being a deadbeat son to making headlines across the country. My father taught me to control my anger and put it to good use. If I got angry in public, I'd only be embarrassing myself. But now Brutus was encouraging me to be angry and violent. That if someone messed with me, I could slug them in the jaw and nothing bad would happen.

It gave me a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach.

"You're saying I could just beat the other kids up? And nobody's gonna say anything about it?"

Brutus laughed. "Well, their escorts aren't going to like it. But at the end of the day, you're the most important tribute in this thing. Nobody's going to care about the pipsqueak from Twelve that got his ass kicked! But they will care about the bad-ass who did it."

Brutus poked his finger at my chest. "That's you, Emmett. You're the bad-ass. You're the monster. And really, what's the President going to do? Punish you?"

Maybe. Maybe he'd kill me because I'm too big and strong. I have an unfair advantage. These other kids don't stand a chance. The President can do whatever he wants.

Brutus suddenly leaned into me, grabbing onto my right shoulder. "Do whatever you want to the others, but do not kill them before the Games begin. You kill any one of them, and there's going to be serious consequences, understand?"

I have to say, I didn't much like getting lectured. I wasn't an idiot. I pulled away slightly, "Who would do something like that, anyway?"

"I did – well, almost did, anyway," Brutus nodded, a haze forming in his eyes like he was recalling something he did long ago. "Yeah, this little punk from Five had the nerve to shove me at training. I don't know what I did to piss him off, but I must have done something."

Brutus began to chuckle lowly as he remembered – a scary glint in his eye. "It was during break. We were all sitting down, and I was so mad that I couldn't think about anything else but this stupid kid. Then when I saw him going for seconds, I just made my way to him and beat his ass to a pulp. Right in front of everybody. Then I shoved an apple core down his skinny throat."

"Took four guards to pull me off him," Brutus said with pride.

My face went pale a little. Even I never got that angry. I couldn't comprehend ever doing that to anyone. I got angry, but I never tried to kill anyone over it. But curiosity must have got the better of me, because my lips moved before I could stop myself. "So what happened after that?"

Brutus took a swig from an unmarked bottle. "Nothin'. The day went on as normal. I think I remember one of my coaches saying I broke his jaw, a few of his teeth, his nose – now that I think about it, I think I popped his eye out too," he laughed, tapping me again on the knee. "Eye for an eye, right?" He joked.

What a crazy bastard.

Brutus sighed and appeared forlorn. "It's a damn shame I never got to finish the job. I think he – uh – died in the Bloodbath. Yeah, I think one of my allies cut his throat. I do remember pissing on his body, though. That was real fun. But not killing him is one of my biggest regrets."

I almost wanted to vomit. I tasted bile rising up my throat, and had to put my hand over my mouth to keep it down. The fact that I was sitting across from a guy who casually poked light at gouging someone's eye out and urinating on their corpse really opened my eyes as to how crazy these people were.

I wanted to walk away, but I didn't want to be seen as weak. To Brutus, I was a monster. He told me so himself. I couldn't ruin this image I had built up. If I broke, he'd see it.

"Well, anyways, what's done is done. Just don't be like me. Give them a good punch, right in the jaw, and then another near the nose for good measure."

Brutus retreated into his quarters not long after finishing our discussion. He was tipsy, and said something about wanting to re-watch a Games. He invited me to watch it with him, but at this point, I wanted nothing more than to lie down.


Karla passed by me. I don't remember what she said. Leah never came back out of her room. I must have annoyed her real bad, then.

I glanced up at the metallic ceiling from my seat, inspecting the shining lights. I imagined that if I died, I'd be seeing something relatively similar. A shining, shapeless light.

I wasn't really religious, but my father used to tell me stories about the old Gods. They were called the Greek Gods or something. Zeus, Poseidon, Hades. A lot of people in Two worshiped them, apparently.

My dad used to say that if you died and lived a good life, then you'd go to Elysium. Elysium was a great place only for great people. But if you fucked up, you'd go to Tartarus instead. In Tartarus, you'd be punished and lashed for eternity.

That always stuck with me.

I guess I've already fucked up in some ways. I've hurt people. At school, in the streets. There was never a point where I felt like killing someone. Because I knew how strong I was. I knew I didn't need to try if I really wanted to hurt someone. All it'd take was the slightest increase of pressure.

But I never wanted to kill anyone.

That was then.

But now I'm here. And I realized today that if I wanted to come back home, I'm going to have to kill people. There's no easy way out of this one. There's no alternative. I can't just punch someone in the Games to eliminate them. I have to completely end their life.

But if I killed someone that was trying to kill me, would that still make me bad?

Brutus mentioned the Alliance briefly. He said I should lead it, no question. He said I was so big, so intimidating, that people would just listen to me out of fear. They'd be too scared to disobey me.

I didn't have to ask him anymore about this Alliance. I knew what it was. I knew it was a big deal. I knew someone would have to step up. I wasn't prepared though, when he said it should be me.

I was never comfortable leading anything, and the fact that I'd be leading these strange kids around, telling them to kill this and that – it bothered me, at first.

And then it dawned on me: I didn't have to kill anyone.

If I led that Alliance, I'd just let them do it. If that's what it took to win this thing, then so be it. If Brutus or Leah thought I was a coward for doing so, then fuck them. If that's what it took for me to go to Elysium, then so be it. I have to start thinking about myself now. And that shouldn't be hard.

I'll win in any case. I'll win and come home, no matter what it takes.

Outside, the sun had painted the sky orange and pink, dusk creeping over the snow-covered valley. Something resembling a ball of light – a star perhaps – zipped across the sky. I glanced for a second in wonder, but decided to lie down on a sofa near the window instead, my feet hanging uncomfortably off the edge.

"I'll see you soon, Dad," I mumbled to myself.

My final thoughts were of my father, before the tantalizing tendrils of sleep ensnared me.


Apologies for the terribly long wait. It's become — not intentionally — a bit of a pattern for me to update every four to six months. I just wanted to give a proper thanks to everyone that's followed and favorited this story. I don't really respond to reviews, because I'm an awkward idiot that way. But to everyone that's read and reviewed, or even took a glance, it means the world to me. Writing is therapy for me, and I don't have any agendas with this story, but the fact that people actually read and can enjoy this makes me incredibly grateful.

I've been debating whether I should release a proper SYOT. Like, an actual one. I dunno, I feel like if I don't do it now, I'll never get the chance again. This fandom is kindaa dying. My friends have all but quit. So I feel like I need to act quickly if I decide to do it. But it definitely won't be a serious SYOT or anything. I do like comedy. I like writing off-the-walls, completely ridiculous characters. I like making people laugh. So if I do release one, it'll be like a satire/comedy. I'll re-hash 'Noob Games' if I need to. I think it would be a fun experience for everyone. So, yeah, look out for that!

Well, hey, Emmett isn't so bad, right? :P