Part One: Tides
Two small children crowd into the hut I call my home as I finish demonstrating my latest creation. The hut is full of other citizens of District Four, all gasping at what I have to show them. Other faces that could not find room in my abode can be caught peeking through the windows, and some more are waiting outside. I decided to let the more, influential, people inside first, as I know my new tool will bring more renown to Octavius Industries. At least, that’s what I refer it as. Others just call my creations “Another life-changing creation by Octavian” or “The new fad”.
The Mayor and his advisors clap as I finish my demonstration. My latest creation sends a sonic pulse through the water, bringing every kind of mobile underwater dweller to the surface to investigate. Once they come to the surface, they become easy pickings for the workers on the top of the water to collect at their leisure. Its not as complicated as my last invention, a fishing bobber that releases artificial mating hormones that affect every kind of fish, or can be programed to only attract a certain species. But I still draw in crowds, so I’m pleased.
“Now, my fellow denizens of the District, I am sure you fine, wealthy, people are already wondering, ‘How can I get one of these things?’” A tremulous uproar of laughter comes from the assembled crowd. It wasn’t really all that funny, but I suppose they’re just trying to suck up to me. Flattery, from the Mayor of all people. Take that Capitol! Your lapdogs are eating out of my hand now.
“I have five of these Pulsars with me right now. Five lucky members of civilization will be leaving with them. May the odds-“ I start, knowing the famous line will soon be completed by the crowd. I am not disappointed.
“Be ever in your favor!” They yell at once, and I could swear the glass jug of purified water by my desk begins to crack. I wait until a civilized line forms before me, and I make sure the first five people in it are the managers of the different fishing areas. I hand out five Pulsars, and they are greedily snatched up. I can almost see the Capitolia bills in there eyes. Well, if my face wasn’t disguised by its mask of humbleness, I would be sure any psychologically adept person in the crowd could tell I had the crisp, green bills in my eyes too. Luckily for me, I am the only one of those in the District. Maybe even in all of Panem.
The crowds soon go away, small group of people I paid to be here. I receive a few pats on the back as the rest of them leave, congratulating me on my latest invention. I laugh, trade jokes, and try to make merry with a few of my most “devoted” fans. I even see a few wearing the skintight bodysuit I designed a few years ago. I created those after a day of roasting on the beach, and then freezing at night. The bodysuits react to the air temperature, either thickening to protect you from the cold, or thinning its fabric to let the air cool you. I made a pretty penny off of those. I even had Peacemakers coming to buy some.
I wait until all but two people remain. They are about my age, fourteen. The male has sandy blonde hair, a common accurance in District Four. His green eyes look at me, admiration behind them, like always. He is garbed in a long blue robe, with a chestplate carved out of a massive seashell covering most of the robe above his torso.
The female, with long black hair, is garbed in a similar robe, and a similar chestplate. However, she has a very highly illegal sword in a sheathe on her belt. Her blue eyes are scanning the landscape around my hut, which is only a long beach with a few palm trees waving in the evenings breeze. The largest buildings of District Four can be seen looming behind my house, in the area more dominated by rivers and plains.
The two teenagers before me salute me as I go back inside the hut. They place their right hands over their chests, and twist there palms towards me. I nod, and beckon them inside. They know the routine.
Both bring up chairs fashioned from palm wood towards my large desk. I offer them a drink from the jug, which they both decline. The girl smiles, and the boy keeps his stoic face.
“Status report.” I say, all joviality disappearing from my voice. I do not have to keep up any facades around these two.
“Two dozen more recruits have enlisted. They come from a community about a mile off of the center of the District. They all seem to know each other, so we are splitting them up into separate groups for training.” The boy hands me a portfolio of everything our various agents have discovered on them. “None are Trained, sir.”
By trained, I know he means that none of them are what all of Panem refers to as Career Tributes. Careers are children who were raised from birth to enter the sadistic Hunger Games, an ongoing yearly punishment by the Capitol wrought upon us. District Four was the least involved, so we have more influence in the center of power in all of Panem.
“Good. You do well here, Puffer. See to it that never changes.” I say, letting the slightest hint of order creep into my voice. He nods.
“And now, my lovely Pearl, production status?” I ask the female.
“Two hundred percent increase in production from our Dens all over the District, sir.”
Dens refer to the warehouses controlled by Octavius Industries. The workers are always those who can’t work the fisheries, due to either age, criminal backgrounds, or disabilities. They get fed, paid, and are guaranteed a home nearby the Den. As long as they follow the rules, they live pretty easy compared to the other destitute classes of Panem.
“Good, good. And I’m assuming profit has increased as much.” I say, curious and unwilling to have failure anywhere close to me.
“Of course, sir. However, a small protest occurred in the Den closest to the Left Ocean, but we had a Peacemaker squad nearby. It was dealt with publicly.” Her eyes were hardened by the life she had previously lived as one of the impoverished, but as soon as she joined the Industry, she quickly rose to the top and could support her family. They now lived in a large house in the center of the District, along with Puffer and his siblings.
“Excellent. Any news from the Capitol, Puffer?”
“Yes, sir. One of our agents in the Presidents retinue of Advisors says that in an interview yesterday, he was asked about a certain organization in District Four that had its reach all the way to the Capitol. He denied any knowledge of the group, and said that such a thing would be so terribly illegal, any members of such a thing would be killed, along with the remainder of their family trees.” Puffer said, amuzement showing all over his face.
I allow my laughter to fill the hut, and the two infront of me quickly join in. I take a few sips from a glass of water, and again offer them some. They accept. I let the cold, icy water to slide down my throaght, knowing that I was swallowing bags of money. Ice was rare in the District, and was a delicacy. I sold it by the ton to rich families who wanted to flaunt about their wealth. Nowhere in the all of the District was cold enough to freeze water, except for a few Dens by the Right Ocean. They were a very good investment, on my behalf.
“Interesting. Send two pounds of ice cream to Finn to make sure he knows who’s really in control here.” Finn was the Head Peacemaker of District Four, an incompetent who was only elevated to the position by my removal of any other possible candidates for the post. He made sure I got what I wanted, when I wanted. He overlooked all of my illegal enterprises, like all of my weapon creating Dens. We bribed him with ice cream, because it was a delicacy in the District, both because of the same reason ice was so expensive, and we had to either illegally import the ingredients from other districts, or harvest them ourselves from cattle and sugar farms in the area. Only two of each farms existed in the District, both funded by Octavius Industries.
“As you will, sir.” Pearl says, jotting it down in a notepad she keeps in a pouch on her weapon belt. As Head of Production, she makes sure things go where they need to go, when they need to go, and that there is something that goes.
“Dismissed.” I say, allowing both of my Lieutenants to leave my hut. They salute, like all members of my Industry, and leave, robes billowing behind them. Pearl turns back to look at me for a moment, like she has something to say. But, after a few seconds, she seems to change her mind about it and keeps on her way.
I make sure both are far away before I lock up my hut for the night. I change out of my formal attire, which I only wear when I have company, and open a secret trapdoor I have under one of my thatched bookshelves. It opens, and I close it as the bookcase returns to its original position, hiding the trapdoor from view. I clap my hands three times, and a higly illegal generator powers everything in my large basement on.
A whole quarter of my basement is taken up by my gym, the place where I make sure I can be ready for anything whenever I need to be. Weapon racks line the walls, and a humanlike shape stands in the middle of it, lifeless. The shape is a practice droid, one of the first robotic creations in all of Panem. I intend to reveal it and its kind to the Mayor next Harvest Day. Ironically, Harvest Day in District Four is always the same day of the Reaping, when all the participants of the Hunger Games are chosen. It has become somewhat of a joke in the District.
I do not want to use the droid, since I am too worn out from the demonstration. I do a few push ups, stretch a bit, and then do a handstand for about ten minutes. The bare minimum for today. I exit the gym the same way I entered, and survey my underground living quarters. Up against one concrete wall is the bedroom, with a small door leading to the bathroom. When building the bedroom, I fought over putting the bathroom in plain sight, as no one but me has ever come down here, but I decided just in case, I shouldn’t. You never know, one day I could fall in love.
Like that is ever going to happen. That would mean someone would have emotional power over me, which was something I could never allow. Well, maybe Pearl has some control over me, and whether she knows it or not, I would be quite disturbed if she was hurt.
I walk over to my bed, which is a comfortable water filled mattress, and draw the rare woven sheep’s wool blanket over me. The last thought before I have to go to bed rings around in my head for some odd reason not even I know.
The reaping is in two days.
Two Octavius Industry guards follow me as I enter my favorite bakery. The baker is a portly woman, who always smells of burnt bread. Either she is wearing a very bad perfume, or burns bread a lot, I am not sure. All I know is that even when Octavius Industries was a small group and used her bakery for meetings, she always smelt of blackened bread.
“Why, hello Mr. Caesar! What can I get you today?”
Octavian Domitius Caesar. My name. I was named after two great founders of the Roman Empire, Gaius Octavian Thurius, who later became Augustus Caesar. The knowledge of the Roman Empire and Republic is taught to every schoolboy and girl in Panem, but mainly only how they’re great Empire compares to our great Republic. Funny how in a Republic, the people aren’t slaves to a President. I make sure to teach all members of Octavius Industries the difference between to the two government types.
“Two loaves of sea bread for my companions, and the saltiest bread you’ve got for me.” I say, almost feeling the admiration in the two guards behind me. Most of the members of the Industry could never get a whole piece of anything on their own, especially not for free. I always make sure to give them things they don’t ask for. Helps with moral.
I wait for her to get the bread out of the oven, which is full of loaves of bread, all different sizes. She hands a mint green loaf of sea bread to each of my guards, and then a loaf of regular looking white bread to me. The sea bread is a combination of seaweed and wheat, something that completely disgusts me. I tried some once, at the Mayors mansion for a dinner. Puffer had to carry me to the bathroom, I was so sick.
I tear pieces off the loaf of bread as I make my way through the city. People move out of my way in the streets, partially because everyone knows me and adores me and my creations, and also because both of my guard are wearing highly illegal armor and armed with highly illegal rifles slung over their backs. Probably more of the first reason, though.
I feel a light tap on my left shoulder. I turn my head a few degrees; enough to evaluate any possible threats and make minimum eye contact with the tapper. The guard on that side leans towards my ear.
“Den Nine-Nine-Omega reports a small uprising. The workers have armed themselves with the Sonix they were producing.”
Den 99o is a small den, within the slums of District Four, that create weapons that fire controlled bursts of sound that break glass, concrete, and eardrums. Luckily, the versions 99o produce are only the kind we sell to civilians who live in the more shady areas of Four, so they will be easy to take down. I decide to go myself, just to make an appearance and show that no rebellion will be tolerated. Kind of like the Capitol. I take a chapter from their book on rebellions. Nihil sympathia, nec misericordia. My personal motto. No sympathy, no mercy. If they stand between me and my goals, they will fall. Simple as that.
I look down at my clothes as we begin the short walk to the Den. I am dressed in a black tunic with a matching pair of long, black pants. Sadly, the tunic is sleeveless, so my arms are showing. I can’t stand how I look, but I tolerate it. Its all calculated for public approval. Black is a popular color recently, and I have no idea why. Fashion isn’t my strong sense. I slip into a back alley, and hold my hand out behind me. A guard removes a large backpack they have on there back, and I feel the comfortable feeling of a illegal shell breastplate. It was made personally for me. I find shells to be stronger than metal when sprayed with the right amount of chemicals. I’ve taken bullets, darts, and spears thrown at me, and I obviously have survived.
I put on the breastplate and matching legs, and put the helmet over my head. The comfortable smell of the sea finds its way into my nose, and I smile as my weapons belt is strapped to my side. I check to see if my weapons are all in place, and pull on my gauntlets that accompany the armor. I modified them to have dart launchers, laser sighting, and retractable stun whip. The stun whip was another creation of mine, and is now used by Peacemakers all over Panem. Quite handy for the troublemakers who won’t stay down. I make sure to take only back alleys now as we go towards the Den. It wouldn’t do for the citizens to see me striding down the street with the gleam of weapons on me. Bad for public approval.
We make it. I smell smoke, and the Peacemakers are keeping civilians from investigating. A Peacekeeper nods to me, and hurries over. “Do you require assistance?” he says, his voice gruff.
“No.” I say plainly. I see the gleam of a sniper rifle stick out a window, and I tackle the Peacemaker to the ground as the bullet shatters a piece of tiling. I sigh to myself. Peacemakers just get in the way more and more recently.
I grab my forearm, and line up the laser pointer in my arm with the chink in the glass where the assailent’s weapon was fired from. I fire two darts, and hope one hit skin. My guards are already charging the door to get in, and I follow them inside.
Two bullets and a piece of pottery come flying at me as I enter. I quickly get my stun whip out of the gauntlet, and crack it. The eerily happy sparks of electricity dance all over the body of a rebel, and I remove my whip from his body before the voltage consumes him. I spin and crack my weapon again at a small rebel who thought he could hide from me in the corner, with only his knife to protect him. He blocks, and I quickly teach him that metal is a conductor. He spasms to the ground.
My guards are doing an excellent job of doing nothing, only hiding behind a flimsy piece of a table which is burnt in a corner. How, I don’t know. I haven’t been in this Den for so long I forgot what it made. I’m jerked out of my surroundings as a small explosive rolls towards my feet. I kick it back to where it came from, and grin as the crowd dispersal gas sends a few rebels to their knees. I crack the whip again, this time only for intimidation.
A boot comes at me from my left, and I grab the connecting leg and break the knee joint. The cry of pain tells me I was successful. I crack the whip again, and as it goes backwards before the forward flick, it hits another rebel behind me. Either a rebel or a guard; I didn’t even know anyone was back there. Both spasm to the ground. I step over the bodies and make my way upstairs. Two more assailants come at me, but I disable them with two darts in each ones neck.
I grin… until I hear the click of a trigger behind me. I feel a dull thud as something hits my helmet. I turn around to see an odd sight. I assume I must be hallucinating, as the only person behind me is a Peacekeeper. Must have been some sort of odorless, clear gas, because I did not notice any gas bombs thrown at me. Whats even weirder, is that the Peacemaker is holding a sort of peculiar looking gun. I hold my hand up to my helmet, and I feel the crack in the shell covering the back.
I must be dreaming. Or so I think, as the ground seems to be falling towards me. Which shouldn’t be happening.
White lights, bright tubes of a bluish liquid, and the smell of disinfectant. People come and go, but I never can remember what they look like. And then there’s this pounding in my temple. I must be dreaming, but then why do I feel pain? I recite the first few lines of the Iliad, an extremely rare book I picked up from a street-side urchin who had no idea what they had. I recite it in Latin, and I hear a voice to my left.
“Good. The sedative wasn’t too much.”
I try to turn my head, but I realize its held down by something. So is the rest of my body.
“Don’t try to get out, we’ve been preparing this place for you for about a year now.” The voice says, obviously amused by my struggle. When, not if, I get out, I’ll tear out his heart with a toothpick.
The Voice moves closer, saying things I only pick up snippets of. Something about a secret plan.
I finally look upon the face of my enemy, and am sad to see they’re wearing a medical facemask. Their eyes are covered by a pair of one-way goggles, made so only they can see through them.
“What do you want?” I try to say, but it comes out more like “Whutdayawunt”. Curse their sedatives.
“Certain people in the Capitol don’t approve of you and your little gang, Octavian. Sure, the President nods his head, says ‘Taking advantage of the situation’, and speaks of his admiration of you, and how you are helping Panem every day, but others wish your head to be on their fireplaces.” The Voice says, slipping a needle out of its protective case and filling it with a clear liquid. The stab the needle downward, and I feel the tiny pain in my right arm. My mind clears immediately.
“Let me guess, the Gamemakers.” I have no idea why I say this, it just pops out. I know I am right after a long pause by the Voice.
“My Employer wants you dead.” I notice he quickly turns away as he says this. “They asked me to give you two options; let me kill you now, or you-“
I cut him off. “Or I volunteer as Tribute, which means that the Gamemakers can arrange the arena so there is no possible way I could win. Not only that, but my death would be public, so other gangs could take advantage of the situation caused by my removal from power.”
He turns back around, and I know he’s staring right through me. I can actually feel his hatred for me in the air.
“Little Octavian, always the smarter than everyone else. I bet he doesn’t even remember his own mentor, who fed him for seven years. Who made sure he stayed alive. Who shared with him all he knew.” He slams his hand on a table, and I can swear I hear something shatter out of my vision. But I don’t pay attention to that sound of glass hitting the floor; I know this man.
“Lepidus. And here I thought the bomb killed you.” I laugh, but its more a nervous laugh than a I-can’t-believe-this-just-happened laugh. Or maybe it’s a mixture of both.
“Oh, it killed me alright. Inside. Everything I did for you, just to have it blow up in my face.” I almost comment on the pun just made, but I decide it would decrease my chances of survival.
“I’ll volunteer for the Games tomorrow. Just let me go, and I’ll forget about this.” Until I win, I add in my head. Then I’ll see you hung from the palm tree by my hut.
“Good,” He says, shooting a hypodermic needle (also known as a hypo in District 4) into my arm. “I’d really hate to pay you back so quickly.” He adds.
The next feeling I have is of being shaken. A lot. Incessantly. A some wet stuff on my face. Rain maybe? Blood? I know the instant my eyes open.
I bring a hand up to her face, and I am conscious of my hand being soaked with blood and tears. In case of eavesdroppers, I speak in a language I teach all members of the Industry.
“Margarita, ubi sumus?” I croak out. That just makes the crying worse. She bends down and hugs me around my neck. This is a new development. And to think, the other day I was just thinking how no one would ever have any control of me
“Hospitalum. Satis nos esses anxius.” She says, finally done hugging me. She blushes and uses a tissue from a nearby box to wipe off her face. She seems embarrassed by what just happened.
“quamdiu sum ex?” I ask, drinking from a paper cup. It contains mineral water enhanced with painkillers and healing properties. Its mainly just water with some herbs squeezed into it. It tastes like rotten apples, with some mint leaves that have been urinated on by a dog. Tasty.
“quattor horis.” Pearl says, plucking a clipboard from the end of my bed. I look around, and find that I am in a large room, and machines make odd noises and show my condition in over a hundred ways. One makes a beeping noise whenever my heart beats. Another shows my blood pressure. I must have been out cold. Did I miss the Reaping?
Pearl looks straight at me for a while, and I look back. Something’s wrong. Terribly wrong. I can almost feel the tectonic plates of fate shift climatically. The past hours have gone by too fast.
“Octavian,” She says, timid and shy. Compared to her normal stoic composure, this is a change. I don’t think I have ever truly pitied someone before. It’s a terrible feeling. Her voice cracks. Tears start to flow down her face. She starts to croak something out, but her voice is muffled quickly.
By my shoulder. As I hug her close to me. I guess somehow I always knew. Just never could see it straight, always some mental barrier between the obvious answer. Sometimes the answer is the one science can’t prove. I feel Pearl’s tears fall down my neck, and she sobs seemingly uncontrollably. I feel terrible, as all I can manage myself to say is “I know.” Over and over. It seems like a century until she stops.
I look her I the eyes, and for the first time, I understand her. I don’t know how, but something has just told me all that bothers the girl before me, what keeps her up at night, and what makes her happy. My gut tells me it’s her body language; but it hasn’t changed. I snap myself back into the situation. It’s odd though.
“Pearl.” I say, looking straight into her eyes. “I need to do something. Whatever happens, I will come back. I promise you.”
“What is it? What’s wrong?” She pleads, desperate to know. I have to tell her, for my sanity. Things are going too fast. If I don’t live through the next month, at least I won’t stay up at night full of blame.
“I need to volunteer for the Hunger Games.”
I see the deepest reaches of Hade’s realm stare out at me as I weave grass basket after grass basket, a skill I thought I would never need. My mentor, the Capitol’s sex figure Finnick Odair, stands over me, arms crossed, with a infernal smile on his face. He looks down at me, laughing once in a while. I can imagine cutting him open with a sharp blade of grass, and weaving a rope and letting him drag behind the train for a while. I’ve been making baskets for hours at least. Damn the Capitol for building District Four on the farthest peninsula south of the Rockies.
It has been at least a day since the Reaping, which was a nonevent compared to the hospital scene with Pearl. I made a statement to the Magistrates of the Industry, who are the little council I have set up to argue over things and do an excellent job of doing nothing. I told them I was putting Pearl in charge, and Puffer as her second in command. Afterwards, I realized I was blinded by my emotions, but I was already on the train.
The Reaping went fast, with shouts of encouragement at me. The other tribute from 4, a sixteen year old girl who is drop dead gorgeous, but her eyes are hardened from the life she had to live. Something tells me she has had to sell herself for enough money to live by. Another revelation from someone’s body language. I know no human psychology books have any indicators of prostitution.
After the Reaping, we were both led into the Justice Building, which look the same inside and out in every district. I was visited by Pearl and Puffer, who expressed sorrow at my leaving, but only for the recording devices hidden in the room. Pearl controlled herself from doing anything more than giving me a kiss on the cheek, and Puffer shook my hand. He takes these kind of things in his stride.
Before they left, Pearl handed me a long black cane, with a round, dark blue sapphire on the top. The cane was about the length of my arm, made out of an extremely rare metal that almost impossible to break, Pandorite. I know, because I designed it in a laboratory myself. I had scrapped the project after a shortage of graphite and heavy water for the nuclear reactor in a den on the borders of District Four.
I was hard-pressed to take the cane, because I know how much it would be worth to Pearl. But she wanted me to have it. As my Token. The cane has never left my sight since I got on this train.
“Again.” My mentor sent to me by Hades himself orders, as I throw the light grass basket to the side, getting some childish enjoyment as it knocks over a glass of water. It takes me five minutes to weave another basket, and this time the long strands remind me of a noose. I have no idea why.
“I quit.” I say, throwing the finished basket into the pile with the rest. Almost seventy green, perfect, bucket sized grass baskets rise towards the ceiling. I look over the other side of the pile, and see my fellow tribute, whose name I learned was Coral, already laying on her back on the plush carpet.
I feel a strong hand on my shoulder. It pulls me back towards the owner. “You can quit this, but we will continue to evaluate you. The both of you.” I look as Annie Cresta, a young woman in her early twenties, goes back to her normal place by Finnick’s side. The two are so obviously in love its impossible how no one in the Capitol knows it. Yet, I only know they are deeply in love because of my new acumen for body language. So maybe it isn’t impossible.
“Fine. What do you want us to do now, pluck gnats out of the air with twigs?” I say, layering my words with the sweet power of a condescending tone. Let my hatred be known to all throughout the land.
“I think that’s been done before.” Oh, softspoken Annie, the crazy from Four, finally speaks. I can’t wait to hear her scream in terror at some unseen horror like she did at lunch. I don’t know why I hate my Mentors, but it seems like a good distraction from the Games which soon approach.
Finnick grins. “I have an idea.” I have to admit, I can see why he has a throng of lovers in the Capitol. His causal personality mixed with his good lucks could get him to see the President himself if he needed too. He just would have to find the female dominant chain of command.
“Think of a number of things you think you are skilled in, and can do better than everyone else you know. And demonstrate. And Octavian,” I look him in the eye, glancing up from the emergency escape hatch hidden underneath the carpet. “Being a pain in the dorsal fin doesn’t count as a skill.” I almost give him a rude hand gesture, nicknamed the “Single Shark” in Four. Oh, so tempting.
I begin to comprise my mental list. Creating things is obviously one, but that’s too obvious. Who doesn’t know of my creations. Then I start thinking about my skills with the whip, and realize I could easily use a whip better than a Peacekeeper, and they just have the flogging kinds. I can flog a man to tears from a few yards away in just two flicks.
Then I debate over whether or not to talk about my newfound skill. Of course I will, in the end. Most people can’t believe anyone knows their deepest secrets. I decide to use it on Annie. I recall from the Games she won that her fellow tribute was decapitated. I’ll make some head jokes.
A few minutes pass, and Finnick snaps both me and Coral out of our thoughts. “Now, Coral, you first.”
She walks over to the table where a few hours ago we had ate, and takes a spoon and chucks it at a light fixture. She then proccedes to hitting various other objects in the room, from small, hard to hit targets to huge targets she knocks off of their stands by hitting the weaker points. Then she spins in a circle and manages to throw a knife right next to my boot.
I instantly decide I want her as my ally. Which is funny, since we’re representing the same District.
Then she stands still, and looks at Annie for comment. Doesn’t she get that Finnick is running this show yet?
He just nods, trying to look impressed but I can tell he’s not. He then looks at me quizzically.
“Impress me, before I keel over and kiss the ground at Coral’s feet.” He says, which just infuriates me and locks a single sentence into my head. It just pops up out of the blue.
I make a show of looking him up and down, letting my eyes rest on certain points of his body, and then whisper the sentence into his ear.
“You are bothered at night by the fact that you try everything you can to protect the one you love, but you are always afraid it’s never enough, and that she can be taken from you at any moment.”
I have seen many broken people in District Four before; you can always tell by how they seem to be staring off into the distance, pondering life itself. They shuffle in the streets, hunched over trying not to be paid any attention too. They don’t ask for help, and pick the scraps off the street at night. It’s a sad sight.
That’s how I recognize the effect I just had on Finnick. He zones out, probably pondering what I just said. I can imagine what a scary thing it would be, to have all of your fears you stay up fretting over, all of your mental nightmares, your flaws and weaknesses, said aloud by someone you have never even met. I just elevated myself in his eyes. I have power over him. I feel terrible though. I feel like I have to do something to make this right.
“But,” I start. “You can protect her, and you are. As long as you stay on your path, she will always be there with you, no matter what.”
Finnick zones back in, and stares me in the eyes for a while. I feel like he now hates me and wants to crush me in a hug at the same time. Mentally, I just fit a key into a lock, and opened a door so all his fear could go away. Alarm bells are going off in my head. I have no idea how I’m doing all this, and I probably never will. I have a gift, and I’ll use it.
He finally speaks. “Well, it seems that as long as you can talk, you have a chance.” I can tell that underneath that statement, he is both grateful and furious for my brutally honest dagger of words. I don’t care, to be honest. He asked for it.
Sadly, he still finds the need to criticize something. “But, I still want to see what you can do in combat.”
So, for a few minutes, I make a poor example of myself by doing some slashes at an invisible foe that only a master could counter. I finally end by rolling forward, and then throwing my two knives to either side; barely missing Finnick with the one thrown from my left hand. Darn. Life is full of disappointments.
“Good. It seems District Four has a chance.” He stares at me, and gives his head a slight tilt like an ignorant child. The pursed smile doesn’t help either. “A slim chance.” He’s still mad that I told him the truth. I’m appalled that he’s acting so immature. He’s never like this on the television. He’s supposed to be keeping me alive, too.
It hurts me inside, but I know soon I will have to do something I have never done before in my life; apologize.
The sweet smell of new pond lilies. The constant hum of life as the tide crashes upon the sands. Infernam, I’d take even the roar of the passing fishing boats over the annoying chatter of my design team. I have been soaking in a tub of green solution for at least an hour, and have had to change tubs over ten times. I feel like slapping one of them, who keeps asking the others why no dirt is coming off me. Ever thought that I know how to clean myself?
Obscenities threaten to come forth from my lips as I am scrubbed down with a sharp brush. I clamp down on the side of the tub, splashing the liquid inside all over the apron of my only likeable stylist, Balba. A very petite woman, she has to be at least in her early twenties. Her long purple hair goes down to her shoulder blades, which I assume is supposed to match the rest of her purple clothing. I can imagine her spending hours putting on makeup in the morning, because every time she scratches her cheek, maybe an inch or so of makeup comes off. I pity her for her unfortunate name; she seems a very intelligent young woman.
The rest of my prep team consists of two other young women, the oldest maybe in her late thirties. Her name is Flore, and she has tattoos of flowers all over her body. She has short, raven black hair, and I think her eyes were altered to be as green as a palm tree frond. Flore is wearing the most provocative clothing, but her body language has implied to me she feels extremely uncomfortable in it, and the way the other team members are looking at it tells me they can’t wait for her to change her clothes.
Lupa, the other member of my prep team, is wearing a long, gold robe I’m assuming is supposed to look like a Roman toga. If it wasn’t for the two absurd fake eagle’s wings coming out of the back, I would almost be convinced. She is of larger build, with her stomach bulging out from the front of her dress. Her blonde hair is up in curls.
“Still no dirt.” Lupa says, but only after she pulls a ultra-violet light from inside her robes, and scans my whole body, and when I say my whole body, I mean my whole body, with it.
“Maybe he took a shower before he left?” Balba says, her high-pitched girly voice surprisingly being the voice of reason. Jupiter bless you, Balba.
“Should we get Eligus?” Flore says, uncomfortably shifting in her clothes. Can’t blame her.
Screams of delight sound in unison, and my prep team scampers from the room. Idiots. Can’t hate them too much though. If being sculpted gets me sponsors, I’m all for it. Sponsors mean gifts. Gifts mean survival.
I slowly rise from the tub of green liquid. The cool air blows on my naked body, and I immediately grab the nearest towel to dry off. I inadvertently glance at myself in the mirror, and stare for awhile. In my little hut, I deliberately have no mirrors, and no too reflective surfaces. I remember hating how I looked as a child. I hated everything about me. Since then, I stay away from mirrors.
But now, I look upon my bare flesh. A slightly tanned young man with piercing unnaturally blue eyes gazes back at me. I slowly look at the rest of me. Slightly muscular, but not someone you would choose first for at any sport. A lot of brown hair that covers his ears, and another inch growing in the front would probably cover his eyes. Shorter than most people his age. The height bothers me the most.
I stare at myself until the head stylist comes in. I know it’s him by the slight aura of superiority surrounding him. He looks at me for a while, circling me like a sea gull.
“Quite an interesting specimen.” He says, his voice deep. It has a certain grace to it. I take in the tall, black skinned man before me. He wears a long, blue robe that scraps the floor. Unlike the rest of the Capitol, he has altered himself with only a large gold ring hanging from his right ear. His left cheek seems too tiny to be real, as if he got surgery to alter his appearance. Maybe it was a defect from birth. Such things are common in District Four, where most children are conceived without the conceivers knowing anything about the others genetic profile. Too many parties. In Four, we party hard.
“I try my best.” I say, returning my eyes to my reflection in the mirror. All I can look at are my eyes. I am enthralled by myself. How ironic. I look at myself awhile longer, and then hear the clank of a metallic teapot against a fine plate. I have become so distracted, my stylist has already begun setting out a small tray of tea and cookies by a window I haven’t noticed until now. Two chairs sit by it, perfect position to watch the traffic below.
I gather a paper thin robe around me, the green colors reminding me of the dappled sunlight at the bottom of the ocean. Surprisingly, I miss District Four. It has a very quaint feeling to it.
Eligus pours tea for both of us, and I give a small nod of my head in thanks. He looks at me awhile longer, then snaps his fingers abruptly. “Sapphires.” He says, quickly jotting something down on a small notepad that I think came out of his sleeve.
“Hmm?” I ask, terribly confused by his statement.
“Your eyes remind me of sapphires. Blue, with a certain grace to them that demands respect and attention.” He says, giving me a genuine smile. I have to return it, because I enjoy compliments when I can take them.
“Will that affect my costume?” I say, taking a bite from a cookie. It crumbles in my mouth, and my right hand clenches under the table so I don’t spit it out.
“But of course!” He says in a very matter-of-fact tone, like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. I remember this stylist now. Last year he worked with the District One tributes, who he garbed in a mixture of precious metals and gems. Things I wouldn’t even be able to afford if I wanted too. “Everything matters when it comes to your costume! Hair length, posture, even diet!”
I understand how all of that would help, besides the diet. I’ll take his word on it though. “So, may I see the costume?” I ask pleadingly. If it’s a fish, I will pinch my jugular vein on the spot. Then Eligus’s eyes tighten slightly.
“Thing is, I haven’t made it yet.”
I spill boiling hot tea into my lap. My robe gives me no protection from the eruption of pain. I throw a cookie at a expensive looking vase on a pedestal. It and the cookie shatters.
“You’re kidding me.” I say, staring him in the eyes. If looks could kill.
“Nope.” He seems completely oblivious to my murderous tone, he even seems amused. “This year, the stylists have all agreed to base the costumes not on Districts, but on various talents. So, for the next few minutes, I want you to tell me all of the special things you can do, or things about you.”
I stare at him for a while. It certainly explains why Finnick was so persistent on the train. “I can break people’s mind, or fix it. I look at people, and their body language is another language to me.” The words just come pouring from a hidden reservoir in my subconscious. “For instance, I can tell you can’t stand the color green by the way your left foot is pointing slightly upwards at me.” Did I just say that? It doesn’t even make sense. But I know I’m right a second later as Eligus’s mouth opens an inch.
“I can persuade people to do whatever I want. I can hit a gnat from meter away with a whip. I can hide from anyone, indefinitely.” It’s true. Once, when I was seven, I hid in a sand dune for three days without anyone finding me. Too bad no one told me we stopped playing hide-and-seek. I haven’t had much reason to do it since.
“Interesting.” Eligus says, quickly jotting things down. “Now, let me see you walk.”
I pace back and forth around the room, until he is finally satisfied. “You walk with a grace I have never seen before. You seem to be seeing everything, perfectly calm, but at the same time you seem ready to pounce at any time.” He looks at me for a while, taking measurements from his seat with his thumb. He grins at me again, and rubs his hands together.
“Ever heard of a top hat?”
A few hours later, I am dressed as what I can only describe as formal. I wear pitch black pants, the void only filled by the glowing blue strips of sapphire color going down the sides. My feet are comfortable in a black version of what Peacekeepers wear, tall boots that lace up the side. My chest is first covered with a dark blue button up shirt, which changes colors to all different shades of blue as I move. Over this goes a long, black tailcoat, which is basically a tuxedo with two long flaps of fabric going down the back.
Finally, on top of my head goes a top hat, which is a hat with a large cylinder coming out the top. All over my costume are sapphires, implanted with at least an inch between each. I pull on black gloves, the tips protruding what I can only describe as sapphire fingernails. How quaint.
I don’t fully realize the irony of it all until Balba (Who came back with the rest of my prep team to help me get dressed) hands me the present that Pearl gave to me when I left the District. The black metal cane, crafted from the artificial metal I created, made to withstand almost anything. On top, the sapphire sparkles in the bright lighting of the room, the light creating a blue rainbow of hues on my gloves.
So, now I assume they built the costume around the cane. My thoughts are proven when Lupa points at it in my hands. “What a lovely thing! How did you get this in District Four?” She asks in her high-pitched Capitol accent. Should I tell the truth?
“A very close friend gave it to me before I left. Spent all they had on it, I think.” Each word was not apparent until now. The sapphire cost at least few hundred thousand Capitolia; it’s the size of my palm. The rod, scavenged from ruins of shut down Dens, maybe another few hundred thousand if they knew what they had.
“Oh, how lovely! I wish my friends gave me such lovely things! All I got for my birthday was another diamond ring. And it was from my husband, too!” She begins to complain about how all her friends couldn’t attend her party, but my mind is still stuck on her last statement. Another diamond ring? I can’t even afford one.
Time passes, and I am soon whisked out of the room. My feet walk of their own accord. People flash by. All I comprehend is other people being swarmed by prep crews, including Coral, who is garbed in a silver dress made of… fish scales? I assumed she can swim well, having to work with the fishing companies on their boats. I’ve never worked the boats in my life, so I wouldn’t know how much swimming it would require. Probably a lot.
Eventually, my prep team gives me a final thumbs up, and I step onto the cyan chariot. The chariots are part of the opening ceremonies for the Games, the first time to show off the Capitol’s newest animals for slaughter.
I step onto the chariot, and wait until District Four is next to go. Eligus gives me a thumbs up, and I decide to trust him. Coral looks at her shoes, nervous. I give her a comrade-like slap on the back. “Don’t worry.” I say, giving her a smile that could burn through metal. “They’re only betting on your survival.”