May The Odds Be Ever In Your Favor

BY : CJ_Wallace
Category: G through L > The Hunger Games Trilogy
Dragon prints: 8771
Disclaimer: I do not own The Hunger Games Trilogy and make no money off the posting of this story.

Chapter One

I jerk from my sleep, sitting up in bed, as I generally do.  It isn't uncommon for me to wake like this.  I never seem to have a reason, excep-


Right... That's why I wake like that.  I sigh and hit the STOP button on the tiny, albeit loud, alarm before falling back onto my pillow.  After a moment, but before I fall back into my slumbering solitude, I throw back the light blanket I sleep with.  Although it's too hot to sleep under a sheet, I can’t help but sleep with something covering me, and the blanket is all I have.  Slowly, I stretch my body without sitting up, a simple pleasure I allow myself every morning before my mind registers what I am about to do.

"Get up," I finally command to myself aloud after a few minutes of motionlessness, my voice slicing through the deafening silence like a knife.  I had three hours before I had to leave, and in that time I had many things to do.  Lifting up my bed, I carefully open the trapdoor beneath it and slip into the gaping hole, letting the door, and my bed, fall back into place over my head.  Tying my long hair into a sloppy ponytail, I begin my morning exercises.  Having already stretched, I fluidly flow into my first kata and do not stop, simply remembering the moves from years and years of study and practice.  Aikido, Judo, Jujitsu, Karate, T'ai Chi Ch'uan and, for extra measure, a little bit of Taekwondo.

If the Peacekeepers knew what I did in my hidden room, I might be killed or possibly tortured, but no one even knew this place existed. It was probably the safest place in Panem, if there was one, and just under my floorboards.  Even if it was found, there was nothing but earth in it.  Just a regular cellar.  Even though those in our District generally look the other way when what poorer districts call "career tributes" train in their Academy; in my case the things I practiced unsupervised could be considered "dangerous to society".  Considering my heritage, I wouldn't get the same treatment as the rest. 

I had been watched from a very young age by the older members of the District, but when I was old enough to be entered in the Games... well, I became less of an interest to them.  I hadn't rejoined the other kids who started practicing early, I hadn't talked about entering the Hunger Games yet, and my parents had died...  I fended well for myself, started working in a jewelry shop learning how to make pieces of art with metals and gems, and when I still wasn't making enough to live comfortably, I took out tesserae.

After an hour of constant motion, my joints and muscles ache, and I let them relax as I shower the sweaty grime from my body.  It wasn't just my martial arts practice that would get me in trouble; if anyone knew about my late night Kenjutsu training, where I perfected both Iaido (an ancient form of Battoujitsu) and Kendo, I would be publically executed for sure.  It sounds contradictory, given the circumstances they put us children through for years, and given my District...  However, sword practices had been outlawed a few years before the Districts were separated, the rebellion, and The Hunger Games began.  They were too dangerous for civilians to use.  Being a civilian with the knowledge I had, I knew what could happen to those who didn't do as the government commanded.  If found out, in the offhand chance I may be able to keep my miserable life, I would be controlled and ordered by the government to become a soldier.  That wasn't the life I wanted.

I turn off the water, climb out the narrow shower and slip into a thick robe, wrapping my hair up in a towel.  I carefully pick out an outfit to wear to the Reaping and toss it onto my bed.  A plain emerald colored dress that fell to my knees to match my eyes, which are a shade darker, the color of the glass bottles we drink our water from.  Feeling a little edgy, I choose my heeled boots that zip halfway up my calf and add a blue sash to wear about my waist for visual effect, as well as the comfort the tightness would offer.  I towel dry my hair as quickly as I can manage, run my brush through it, then towel it again to soak up the access water.  The last touch is a silver wire headband that used to be my mother's.  I trace one of the sapphire dragonflies with my finger before slipping it into my hair.  I'd keep it as a token from my District.  It’s the only thing I had of any value, having sold everything to support myself after I was orphaned.  Normally I would braid my hair into a single plait or up in a ponytail, however I knew today my hair would look best cascading down my back with a jewel of the family holding it in place.

After the money ran out, I applied for the tesserae option, which, luckily for me, wasn't denied.  So I put my name in extra, what did it matter?  With how many volunteers there usually are, and the number of other girls...  For a while I felt safe, protected almost.  Year after year after year I stood, fearing no one would volunteer, that my name would be called, and no one would step up for me.  Yet, here I was, my last year to attend the Reaping and I'm still here.  Despite that fact, despite all my fears, I plan on volunteering this year.

Not that it mattered for very much longer, or so I told myself as I cooked from the last bit of food I have left of this month's tessera.  I like the first meal of the day to be a light one; despite the hunger pangs, my stomach can't handle a lot of food before noon.  Besides, it's not like I had to go to work today, not that my job was difficult.  I live in District 1, so my life is relatively easy compared to the other Districts.  However, to say my life was easy is comparable to shoving a stick into your throat and twisting.

The lump in my stomach refused to be easily swayed by the sweet rice, and the pickled plums were no better.  Having enough to eat, and time to spare, I carelessly toss my dishes into the sink.  I refused to wash them; I don't plan on seeing them or my shack again, unless I was lucky...  Well, then I'd get a new house!  Which would be nice.  To return to the Victor's Village after being cast out into this... hovel.  The death of my parents cost me more than the loss of my home though, and I considered myself lucky.

I wasn't doing this for my District.  Not for future glory.  I was doing it for my parents.  To follow in their footsteps, to The Hunger Games.  And maybe I would die... but most likely, like them, I'd win.  Win or lose, I'll end up dead.  It wasn't a question of how; it was a question of how long.

I look around my home once more before heading out, shutting the door softly behind me.  I try not to think of the shack that would sit empty as I walk down the street; nor the lack of parents that wouldn't miss me.  I count myself lucky in that regard, having no one at home to worry for my safety.  That doesn't mean I don't have friends, I do.  Just not like everyone else. 

Speaking of friends...

Sensing something off, I turn my head and narrowly avoid being caught in the face by a slender fist.  Catching the owner's wrist, I easily use the momentum to throw the shorter figure's body to the ground.  Laughing at the spectacle of the girl in the dirt, I offer her my hand to help her up.  "You're getting better, Chiara dear," I compliment, shaking my head at her ridiculous choice in color.

"You've ruined my dress!" the salmon-haired girl cried, trying to brush the dirt from the fancy white skirt, but to no avail.  "Chise!  Did you really have to throw me like that?!"

"I don't know Chiara... you did attack me.  On Reaping Day, no less!" I chide, poking her forehead with a smile.

She scowled, rubbing at a small scrape on her cheek.  "You always seem to know when I'm there!" she wailed.  "I was extra quiet!  There's no way you heard me!"

I sigh and shake my head.  "I didn't hear you," I told her, wrapping my arm around her shoulders.  "I just felt you there."

Chiara shook her head, but held me about the waist in a similar fashion.  "Eyes in the back of your head, Chi.  I swear it.  Like an owl!  At least if you get picked for The Hunger Games, you'll be safe."

Maybe, maybe not.  Regardless, it was good to smile.  Chiara had that effect on people.  She put them at ease, made them smile and laugh.  It was easy to forget the darkness ahead with her there with me.  We arrived at the public plaza and lingered together for a moment longer until I pulled away.  "Well..." I said, wanting to tell her my plan, but knowing I never could.  I didn't want to hurt her, even though I knew I would.  I also didn't want her to cause a scene.

"Well," she echoed, sounding more resolute than me.

I brush back her pink hair and bend down to kiss the top of her head.  "Don't be so worried, Chiara.  You're only fourteen, and people volunteer every year!  Trust me."  The promise rang differently in my ears, but it was confident and reassuring.

She grinned up at me and nodded, not suspicious in the least.  "I know.  I'll see you after the Reaping, okay?  I have a present for you!  Don't let me forget!"

"I won't," I promised, smiling sadly.  I couldn't do it.  I couldn't tell her.  Then my moment was gone as we got into line, pulled in different directions, processed, bled and spilled into the square with the hundreds of other scared children.  I found a spot to stand with those of the same age, and I waited.

It wasn't long before the screen behind the figure walking across the podium lit up, giving us a better view of our Mayor, a plump, short woman.  I knew her well, and was even lucky enough to be living in her "guest house".  She had been kind to me since my parents were found dead in our house on my twelfth birthday.

I giggled to myself as I watched her wobble towards the mic, trying to think of what she reminded me of.  Before I could put my finger on it, she tapped the microphone and then spoke the words I'd been waiting to hear.

"Welcome to the Forty-Second Annual Hunger Games Reaping!"

I, along with many others, let out a loud cheer and threw a fist up into the air.  I wasn't afraid this year!  I felt joy, excitement and the anticipation was wearing at me, like it had since I made up my mind to volunteer.  The woman launched into the story of the past, the reason we have the Hunger Games, a speech most of us knew by heart.  In fact, I even started to mouth the words along with her, all the while mocking her, and the story, in my head.

Then came my favorite part, the reading of the victors from our District.  When my parents names are read off, I stand a little taller, a smile on my face.  Soon the Mayor introduces the Capitol escort for our District, Aollie Kingfevin.  Sauntering across the stage, he stood before the microphone, leveling his amazing silver eyes that matched his hair on all of us gathered.  He smiled brilliantly and raised his arms.  "Let's begin!"

As the bowls were brought out with our names in it, I had a sudden lapse of dread.  It was so great that I had to wrap my arms around my stomach to keep from vomiting.  My fists squeezed so tight my nails dug into my palms, causing me enough pain that I gasped a breath I hadn't realized I was holding.  Looking to my hands, I could see the half-moon holes that started oozing blood.  It was then I realized I had missed the call for volunteers, had it come at all?, and when I came to my senses, Aollie had drawn the first name.  When the silence fell over the crowd, I realized that no one had stepped up.  No one wanted to volunteer this year.  No one was...

"Our girl tribute this year is Chiara Plum-Kyte!"

My mind went blank and I heard the small cry of my best friend.  I turned, as if in a dream, and saw her being pulled from the crowd and dragged towards the stage.  I saw the dirt on her dress.  The red of the scrape on her cheek.  Her pink hair fluttering as she tried to escape them.  Fighting to get away...

"I Volunteer!" my dry mouth calls out, but it's too quiet.  They're ignoring me.  So I decide to give them something they can't ignore.  "I VOLUNTEER!"  I shoved the girl next to me out of the way and strode confidently out of the crowd.  I'm quickly joined by the two Peacekeepers on either side of me, bringing me to the stairs up to the stage.  I bounce up them happily, forcing myself to grin like an idiot.  I ignore the plump woman who was between horror and shock at the sound of her daughter’s name.

"A volunteer!  An eager one too!" Aollie says, reaching for my hand.  He was acting as if this wasn't out of the ordinary.  "The first of many I'm sure!  Anyone else wish to volunteer for this fine girl!  Come on up, sweetness!"

I give it and blush for the cameras, trying to hide my puzzlement as we stare out into the crowd.  People were cheering, laughing, waving... but no one else was volunteering.  I felt ill and jerked away from Aollie to step away.  "I'm sorry!" I exclaim, quickly pulling my hand away.  "I don't want to bleed on you!"

Aollie looked perplexed and dismayed, but he handed me a handkerchief elegantly, and just as smoothly picked up where he left off.  "You're bleeding?  A little too excited?"

I nod enthusiastically.  "I meant to volunteer sooner!  I was distracted by your shiny hair!  It's so beautiful!"  Yes... that was it.  Whatever.  Anything to keep from looking at the slip of paper in his hand.

Aollie laughed and flipped his hair for the crowd.  As expected, the crowd went wild.  "What is your name?" he asked, when the crowd died down again.

"Nara.  Chise Nara," I answer, looking to the only person who mattered.  A small girl who had been left where she'd been when the Peacekeepers had taken me instead, collapsed on the ground and looking at me in horror.  Never could she have imagined the girl who wanted her position would be me.

"Nara?  Not the 19th Hunger Games Nara?!" Aollie declared, incredulous.

"My father," I said, with a short nod, my eyes as hard as steel.

"Well well, you are full of surprises!  You volunteered so quickly!  Was it when you saw that poor girl crying?  Is she precious to you?" Aollie asked, a smirk on his face.

I gave her a quick look, hoping she would understand.  "No.  She works with me, that's all.  I just know her.  I was going to volunteer anyway... I just-" I make the blood rush to my face, a talent I picked up as a child, and look at the stage, mumbling.

"What's that honey?  You have to speak up.  Panem can't hear you!"

I chuckled in my head, but I speak louder.  "I have stage fright," I admit, holding up my hands.

Aollie laughed and the rest of the crowd joined him. 

I suppress my anger, and blurt out, as if I'm frantic.  "When no one volunteered, I lost my nerve.  So I just waited for someone's name to be read.  I thought for sure someone would volunteer!  They always do..."

Aollie waved his free hand, shushing me, giving me a quizzical look.  "Is there anything you'd like to say to the girl you saved?" he asked, being uncharacteristically kind.

I nodded.  "You better come and thank me, for saving your miserable life!" I exclaim, pointing at her.

The crowd laughed gaily once more, then I was waved on.

I fell back obediently, glad to see a kind girl helping Chiara to her feet.  I wanted to be the one to comfort her, but I took her place on the stage instead.  That would have to do.  I watch as Aollie reached in and drew out a name for the male tribute.  My heart leapt and jerked in my chest.  Chiara's name had been drawn, seemingly an admonishment for my failure to speak sooner.  I felt apprehension as the slip was opened.

It was then I realized no volunteers for the boys had been called.  They usually had volunteers sorted out before the tribute is picked due to the sheer numbers that there usually were.  I heard it used to take weeks before the Reaping and people used to sign up and petition...  but lately we had been having different methods of picking volunteers.

"Emery Crowley!"

I bowed my head, knowing what was coming next.  Aollie surprised me by asking if there were any volunteers for the boy as he walked forward and towards the stage.

"I VOLUNTEER!" a deep voice called out first, then a second voice echoes, but only the second voice.  A talk dark figure was already pushing and shoving people out of his way as he moved forward to the stage.  He caught the small boy who was passing with the Peacekeepers and put a hand on his shoulder, saying something.  I see a boy in the aisle, fuming, his face red, shouting something in the back.  A small boy tugged on his hand and whispered something which earned the poor thing a smack to the face.

I could see Jet's mouth moving, but I couldn't make out what he was saying.  I had caught 'I'll go,' but the rest was lost in the small scuffle that broke out between them.  It was quickly broken up by the Peacekeepers, one who dragged the Emery away screaming and making rude gestures with his hands, and the second who pulls Jet up the stairs.

"Looks like we have a pair of volunteers!" Aollie announced.  "Very good!  District One follows tradition and sends two eager volunteers to the Capitol!"

I knew them both, not personally, but we'd had a few run-ins.  I knew Emery better, and from what it seemed, no one really knew Jet, not even his brother.  The names drawn today had to be a sign.  It couldn't have been rigged, there was no way.  This year's Hunger Games would be one to watch.  That was certain.

"And who do we have here?" Aollie asked, his hand on the dark-haired man's shoulder.

"Jet Crowley," the boy answered.

"And that was your brother?"

Jet nodded, looking sternly at the second volunteer who stood in the middle of the empty aisle staring him down.

"Well, that's touching!  Not many brothers would step up to take the place of their sibling!  Especially one who seemed so eager to go!"

Jet shrugged and without being dismissed, turned to join me as the anthem starts playing.  He doesn't look at me, he has no reason to.

My thoughts were with Chiara.  Today, she lost two people who were precious to her, and only one could come back.  I had known of her fondness for the boy for a long time, after she had told me in hushed tones as we worked.  She didn't care about the age difference she told me, she drawn to his silence.  I wondered for a moment, which of us she wanted to come back.  Then Aollie broke through my thoughts.

"District One!  I present your tributes!  Why don't you two shake hands?  It is customary!"

I turn to the boy and stick out my hand, smirking for the cameras.  He shook it impassively, his eyes a dark depth of apathy and impatience.  Then I was being ushered into the building, down the halls, and into a small room.  I sat in the chair for wait for my only visitor. 

The minutes tick by and just when I thought Chiara would never come, the door opened.  I stood as she walked in and closed the door.  She was motionless for what seemed like forever, and then in a flurry of movement, she was in my arms, holding me tight enough to stop my breath.  Her tears soak into my dress, her salmon-hair hiding her face.

"Now now," I chide, pulling her away from me.  "It's okay."

She shakes her head, her hair flailing wildly.  "It's NOT okay!" she shouts.  "You have to promise me you'll come back!"

Her request surprises me, and tears spring to my eyes.  I wipe them away before they can fall and I take the headband from my hair to run my fingers through it, a nervous habit of mine.  "I thought you'd ask me to spare Jet!" I say.

"I don't care about him!" she wailed.  "I never cared about him!"

This shocks me.  "Chi?"

She smiles, despite her tears and reaches up to touch my face.  "It was always you, Chise!  Ever since we met!  Why else would you think I mimic you?  I loved how our names were so similar, and how you always called me Chi when you were happy.  I loved how you smiled around me!  I loved you... I STILL love you, Chise.  I’ll always love you."

"But... you said-" I try to say, confused by her outburst.  "Jet..."

"I trying to make you jealous!" she cried, wringing her hands.  She pulled a small ring from her shoulder bag and took my hand, slipping it onto the left hand ring finger.  "This will keep you safe.  I meant to give it to you later... to tell you how I felt!"

I look at the small blue rose on the black band, then to the eyes that matched its hue.  "Chiara..."

"Come back to me," she insisted, taking my hands in hers.  "Swear me a vow!"

I hesitated.  Never had I seen her so desperate.  Never had I seen her in pain such as this.

"Do it!" she demanded.  "Tell me you'll kill everyone in my place, everyone, and come back!"

I nod.  "I will," I say, fingering one of the dragonflies on my mother's headband.  Without a second thought, I slip it into her hair, and admire the color contrast between the gems and her silken hair.  "Keep this as proof of my promise.  It was my mother's given to her by my father before she went to the Hunger Games."

"Both of your parents were in the Games?" she asked softly, reaching up to touch it, as if to reassure herself it was real.

I smile softly, remembering my reaction when they told me why we lived where we did.  "Four years after my father won.  You're going to learn a lot of things during the interviews.  You're going to see me do a lot of horrible things, and say things that aren't true.  I will do what I have to.  It'd be best if you don't let on that you care for me other than a friend.  And above all else... don't believe anything I say!  I will make it seem like you're unimportant.  Like everyone is unimportant.  Even myself."  Her eyes were watering again, and it broke my heart.  Sighing, I bend to plant a kiss on her forehead.  "I love you, Chi," I say softly into her ear before I straighten.

She smiles and gives me one last hug before the door opens and she jumps back.  Looking awkward, she does the unthinkable and bows to me.  "Thank you for saving my life."

"Don't think you're safe from another Reaping," I say tersely, glaring at her.  "I won't be able to save you next time."

The blood drained from her face, but she nods and leaves at the Peacekeeper's urging.  The door closes behind them, and I'm alone.

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