<----- Chapter 2 - The Arrival

The engagement between Brandon Elphabum and Sheila Callaghan had spread quite quickly through the Capitol, and Tara quickly grew tired of the visits from each of the escorts congratulating her sister. Arching an eyebrow in Effie Trinket’s direction as she came in, last like her escorted district in pretty much everything to do with the pre-Games, Tara was actually quite relieved when Carina ushered all of them out so she could actually fit the costume. Smiling gratefully at her as the ensemble was carefully organized on her, she gave the blonde a hug. “I love the added touch with the tiara, Carina,” she told her.

“It definitely suits you, you should wear it again after the Games are over,” Carina replied, a bright smile on her features.

Tara arched an eyebrow curiously at her. “You’re confident.”

“Well you’ll be getting plenty of sponsors if I’ve done everything absolutely perfect,” Carina told with a wide grin. “And I don’t doubt that it is either.”

“Nor do I,” Tara assured her, grinning. Nothing was going to go wrong. Smiling as Arsenios opened the door and ushered her to the first of the carriages, she grinned as she saw her boyfriend in a similar outfit, only in purple instead of pink. “You look great, Blaze,” she told him with a smile.

“Not as great as you are beautiful,” the male tribute replied with a smirk. “Nor as much as you are deadly.”

“Don’t let the other tributes hear that, love,” she crooned as she stroked his cheek upon getting on the chariot. There were voices heard behind them, the other eleven districts also getting on their chariots, and then they were off. Sheila had told her to act natural, and she was sure James had told Blaze the same. And natural was wanting to get the attention of the crowd. Waving as cheers erupted on either side, she gripped Blaze’s hand and rested her head on his shoulder. They were absolutely perfect, and Tara refused to believe otherwise.

Glancing behind her, however, she scowled. The district two girl looked even more amazing than she could have thought. They were both in highly decorated Peacekeeper uniforms, complete with an embroidered tiara and crown in the hoods. What made her even more annoyed was that the girl was looking pretty smug. Sods.

She refused to let the other districts irritate her enough to break the rules of murder prior to the Games’ start, however, and continued to smile and wave at the spectators, laughing as one of the males actually blew her a kiss. “Sorry guys, afraid I’m not single,” she called out, an arm locking around Blaze’s shoulders to show him off. “And we’re not looking forward to the final stages of the Games either.” Even the Capitol would be able to tell why.

Tara carefully placed her lips on her boyfriend’s cheek, not wanting to let him go, ever. Her mind was already going through various stories of several previous Games that Sheila and James had conveyed to her. There was whispering among all the escorts from what Tara could see. As they were all from the Capitol however it was understandable, but it still left a feeling of unease in her stomach. And she was fairly certain she had seen one of the faces talking on television and that he was a Gamemaker, which made her even more nervous. To put the icing on the cake, they were pointing at the chariot with herself and Blaze in it.

Some sort of chaos was clearly being brewed, and the two lovers were to be part of it. Blaze seemed blissfully oblivious, as he actually leant closer to Tara’s ear and whispered, “What’s got you all tense?”

“I don’t like the way the Capitol’s acting right now,” Tara whispered back, not ceasing the act of smiling and waving to the spectators that couldn’t give a damn about what the escorts and Gamemaker were talking about, and she was relieved to find that he took a look and nodded in agreement.

“Why are they pointing at us though?” he murmured. “You don’t think they want to sponsor us themselves do you?”

“Doubt it,” Tara replied. They didn’t say anything more until they reached the training center. Even as they approached the apartments they were silent, and Tara just gave Blaze a nod before heading to the bedroom assigned to her. She turned, wanting to say goodnight to her escort, before staring at his face. There was a smirk there, one that was so blatantly cruel that she was actually scared as he approached her.

She hurriedly stepped inside the room and made to shut the door, but a hand got in the way. Arsenios forced the door wide enough so he could get inside before allowing her to shut it. “Now now, that’s no way to treat someone of the Capitol,” he told her, grinning. “Not that it matters... there’s something big set in store for you. The Gamemakers have designed it especially for your... appearance.” He chuckled at the alarmed look Tara gave him, and elaborated. “You’re the fourth of your family to have their name announced for the Games, the first of them to actually volunteer... they’ve decided to give you a little reward of sorts for your determination to keep up the tradition your siblings had set of winning.”

“If they’re planning on helping me win,” Tara told him, refusing to let her fear show, “then they should be executed. It’s bad enough that the rest of the Capitol get to show favouritism, it’s even worse when the Gamemakers play that game.”

Arsenios stared for a moment at her response, then chuckled. “Come now, their gift won’t hurt. You won’t even notice it. It’ll be practically invisible to the human eye.” At those words he left, leaving Tara to wonder what he meant. The only thing she wouldn’t notice would be some sort of injection, and that would be if she were asleep. Invisible to the human eye... well, it was very hard to see an injection mark.

But the word human was ringing in her ears. Was the gift some sort of animal? A mutt? She was so immersed in her thoughts that she didn’t notice Carina sneak in to slip a booklet of something on her lap until she looked down. “Oh,” she murmured. “Sorry... didn’t notice you were here Carina.”

Carina shook her head, fear in her eyes. “I don’t blame you... I was overhearing some of the things the escorts were saying with the Head Gamemaker... you - you might need this.” She tapped her finger on the booklet before hurrying out of the room as if fearing at that moment they were being watched, which they probably were. As Tara examined what was on her lap, however, she realised it wasn’t just a booklet. It was a calender. Carefully skimming through it she saw that there were circles or semicircles over some of the dates... moon phases.

The way they were patterned though was the weirdest thing. It was a year length calender which should have been a full moon a month. But according to this there was a full moon every eight days. Before she could ponder on why it was so, she stood up, dropping it to the floor. There had been a scream. Only as she hurried out of the door and into the corridor did she realise why.

There were about half a dozen Peacekeepers dragging Carina away, the girl kicking and screaming. A knife was brought out, and Tara’s eyes were focused on where the blade was going, unable to be torn away. Carina was going to be murdered by them. But why were they bringing the knife to her mouth instead of her throat or heart?

The reason dawned on her a split second before it happened.

Something dropped on the floor, and the screaming ceased. The struggling was still going on, but the Peacekeepers discarded the thing and took Carina away. Tara was absolutely horrified. She had never seen anything like it. A whisper in her ear brought her attention reluctantly back to the rest of the corridor.

“You okay?”

Looking around, Tara felt as if she was going to break in two. She couldn’t speak with the horror that had taken her in its grasp and instead collapsed into Blaze’s arms and cried. Her stylist was made an Avox in front of her eyes. And she was being forced to play against her boyfriend in the Games.

Things were going to hell before she was even in the arena.

Chapter 4 - The Training ----->

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