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A Deadly Spark

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Chapter 1: A Sparked Drowned By Water

I awake to the darkness of my room, the salty, stale scent of dried seawater invading my nose. I try to roll over and fall back asleep, like I do on any other holiday, but then a lightning bolt seems to strike me out of bed. This is different. This is Panem's trademark. The Hunger Games. I leap up like I've been burned by my sheets. The day of the reaping. "Ladies and gentlemen, let the sixty-sixth Hunger Games begin," I mutter, stifling a yawn.

And then I remember the other reason why today is different. Today, exactly seven years ago, when I was nothing but a ten-year-old at the reaping, standing with my grandmother, I received the awful news that my parents had been shot and killed by the Capitol. They were rebels, both of them, and named me Spark. "The spark of rebellion," my mother used to say, tucking a loose strand of my light brown hair behind my ear.

But now they're gone. I only got to keep my name because of the Capitol. "Why should a spark be a problem, in District Four?" asked President Snow, when the issue of my secretly 'rebellious' name was brought up. "She's surrounded by water. We can drown any rebellion." I was supposed to pretend that I didn't hear the last part, but it registered as Snow muttered it under his breath. "Or we can drown her, if she gets out of hand."

I can't let anyone drown me. I vowed that to myself the first day that my grandmother took me in, as my guardian appointed by the Capitol, since the rest of my relatives are rebels. Or, they were, until the Capitol executed them for treason against Panem. I stare into the cracked mirror on my wall. My pale blue eyes stare back at me, disturbingly light against my tan skin. My light brown hair is choppy and hanging short above my shoulders. Spark. I should have been named something darker, since the Career tributes regularly call me Sparky, because I'm not a Career like them, even though I train regularly for the Hunger Games. I would be a Career, but I hate the Capitol.

It's only dawn, so I manage to slip down the creaking stairs, past my grandmother, who is sprawled out in an armchair and fast asleep. I've been watching reaping preparations since I was twelve. Now that I'm seventeen, I've gain a few tactics. I pick up a chunk of driftwood from the street and throw it hard at a window across the Square to divert the Peacekeepers' attention. Sure enough, the ten white-clad figures whip around to find the source of the noise of shattering glass, and I bolt behind them, my bare feet silent on the brick street.

The stage is empty, and the tributes' escort, Miranda Sanrough, is nowhere to be seen, so I mount the steps while the Peacekeepers investigate the broken window. My hand dips into the female's reaping ball, and I pull out three slips. Then my mouth drops open as I read the first one, unfolding it so quickly that my fingers almost tear it, and only the years of tying knots keep me from ripping it in half.

The name is mine. Spark Reviz.

I have no tessera, none. I have my name in the reaping ball six times. What are the odds of that? I drop the paper back in, burying it to the bottom of the thousands of slips. Then I read fistfuls of paper, and they all read the same thing, even when I am far past six slips. I stop counting when I reach somewhere around twenty. The slips read the same thing every time.

Spark Reviz... Spark Reviz... Spark Reviz...

I take a deep breath, running back down the steps. I have to get home, to my grandmother's house. My feet fly as I run past the Peacekeepers again. I unlock the back door of my house, shoving the key back into my pants pocket, crashing up the stairs, and I flop over on my bed, my face buried in the pillow. The musty scent of sweat and salt wafts into my nose as I think.

The Capitol did this. They rigged the drawing so I would be chosen. I try to calm my breathing, pulling the sheet back up over my head, suffocating. They did this. And there is only one reason- my parents. The Capitol needs to eliminate any possible rebels. And since I am a rebel myself, apparently, and am the daughter of rebels, they want to make me a contestant in the Hunger Games. A tribute to the Capitol. I imagine a victory feast for another tribute, one where every citizen of the Capitol drinks my blood from wineglasses and roasts my flesh and seasons it with herbs and spices... because the Capitol has been wanting me dead since the deaths of my parents. So, now that I am far too old to be considered a little girl anymore, they can kill me and act like I am just another unfortunate tribute.

I groan into my pillow as I hear my grandmother's raspy voice. "Spark?" she calls up the stairs, sounding like a piece of metal that has rusted in the rain. "Are you all right?" I hear her as she painstakingly navigates the staircase. With her old age, I'm glad I am young and strong. I am needed more every day. "We need to get you dressed up nice for the reaping, Spark."

I roll over to see her standing over my bed. With a sigh, I stand up, feeling heavy and slow. "I'm fine," I say. She nods and smiles, showing gaps between her teeth. She walks slowly down the stairs as I sit down in the kitchen at the small table. I barely pick at the fish that my grandmother set out for me. My stomach is in knots. I can't eat much, because I know that I will be reaped, no matter what. That I will be a tribute, and that from now on, I have to be not just a tribute, but also a possible victor.

Before my grandmother has a chance to ask what's bothering me, I speak quickly. "Look, Gran, you know that the Capitol wants me dead," I say quietly. Her blue eyes widen. She's so old that I sarcastically asked her one day if she remembered the Dark Days and the foundation of the Hunger Games. "You know that I check the girls' reaping slips on reaping day, right?" She nods. I sigh, about to speak the most difficult part of my story. "Those... those damn Capitol bastards rigged the reaping!" I burst out. My grandmother has never criticized my rude language. "Every girl's slip says my name. Spark Reviz. Spark Reviz." I take a deep breath. "So... don't expect me to make it out of the reaping unless it's by train to the Capitol."

Gran sighs. "Spark," she says gently, her withered hand touching my face. I jerk away, raising my hand to slap her, but then I remember exactly who I'm talking to and lower my arm. "This is a Career district. There ought to be a volunteer."

"No, there won't," I snap rudely, staring at the floor and scuffing my heel against the floor. "The Careers hate me. You know that. They call me Sparky and think that I'm a rebel. And you know that they're practically polishing the Capitol's floors for them, the Careers love President Snow so much. They - hate - me." I shiver, despite the warm sea air, when I picture who my male partner could be. "And they have a reason to hate me."

Gran sighs again, louder this time, shoving my plate toward me. "Eat," she says. "You need to keep up your strength. And don't try denying that you're strong. I've never seen anyone stronger, except maybe a few Careers." I scowl across the table at her as she pulls up a chair, and she laughs, almost sounding like a little girl. I eat with my fingers as usual, picking out the fish bones and eating the flesh. It isn't very filling, but Gran's right that I need to keep my strength up. "Spark, you know that you'd be the victor."

"The Gamemakers would have it out for me the minute I step into the arena," I say tonelessly, tossing the fish bones left over from my breakfast out the window for the birds to pick at. I set the chipped plate in the washing bucket and start to walk up the stairs, but Gran stops me.

"If you're going to be a tribute, at least look nice for the reaping," she says. I twist my face up in a scowl again, and she grins, reminding me again of a mischievous young girl. "Oh, come on." After minutes of me complaining and her picking out a dress for me and doing my hair, I stand looking in the mirror again, an expression of disbelief reflected on my face. My hair is brushed smooth and perfect, in a simple braid down my back, and I am wearing a short, strapless, light-blue dress that brings out the colors in my eyes. It is cut very low in the front, showing off my bare arms and half of my chest, and the dress comes down to halfway between my hips and knees. I look... strong. Strong, a bit sexy even, poised to kill.

"I look like a slut," I say, but I'm laughing despite myself. I have never thought of myself as pretty or ugly, just strong. But the muscles in my body actually make me look beautiful, though a bit slutty, like I said. But Gran only smiles at me, tears in her eyes.

"You'll always make me proud, Spark," she says, tucking a loose strand of my hair behind my ear. Just like my mother did. I blink away the tears in my eyes. "And you're beautiful. Who says rebellion can't be beautiful?" My father would always call me his beautiful little girl. "How's my beautiful?" he'd ask, when I was a small child. I would squeal in happiness and let him hug me. Then he'd kiss my mother and say, "Of course, I've got my other beautiful here, too." I bite my lip. I can't cry now, not when I look so beautiful and feel so strange inside.

The clock tower in the Square is chiming nine in the morning, the time of District 4's reaping. Gran and I walk out to the square, her in an old gray dress with a lacy white collar. We separate when I have to go off with the other seventeen-year-olds. Immediately, I am noticed. Usually, I can manage to blend into the crowd, but when I am around Career tributes and dressed provocatively on reaping days, I am noticed easily.

"Hey," someone says, a Career. "It's Sparky. Look at sexy Sparky." He whistles under his breath, and a Career girl giggles stupidly from behind him. "Look at Sexy -I mean Sparky." By now, a crowd of Careers has grown around me. Some are laughing. I glare at them. "Hey, Sparky, after the reaping, want to meet me in the alley behind the Justice Building? It's pretty dark back there." He grins. I'm silently fuming, trying to think of a response, when Miranda Sanrough climbs the steps of the stage.

She's wearing bright yellow, with six-inch high heels to match, along with neon green makeup that makes her look like she's been rolling around in florescent grass. "Welcome!" she trills happily. "I'm so happy to be here in this beautiful sea district!" She gestures to someone sitting in a chair next to her, and my heart skips a beat, and I know what she'll say even before she speaks. "This is Finnick Odair, one of our mentors. The newest victor, but who says we can't have two District Four victors in consecutive years!" she chirps optimistically. Finnick is younger than me, only fifteen, his first year of mentoring. He has beautiful green eyes that entrap me instantly, and deeply tanned bronze skin. "And Mags, our other mentor!" Mags is old and withered, like Gran. She looks almost shriveled, covered in wrinkles and using a cane.

"Now..." Miranda Sanrough says ecstatically, almost hysterically elated. "Now, it's time to read the Treaty of Treason!" She grins, like this is the big event of the day. I almost yawn loudly, but then I catch myself. After that, it will be the time for the tributes to be drawn. And I will be in front of the nation without doubt.

Mayor Samuelson begins to rattle off the Treaty of Treason, which I find boring. I close my eyes, listening to the familiar words being read off the official document. As the treaty reaches the end of the gruesome account and official words, I open my eyes again, taking a deep breath. I wipe my sweaty palms on my dress, trying not to look worthy of the mocking nickname Sexy Sparky that the Careers have given me. No, I just want to be strong, not beautiful, although that could be an advantage when I am trying to get sponsors in the preparation for the Games.

Miranda expertly maneuvers on her high heels over to the glass reaping balls. "Now that that's over with," she sings out musically as a bird, "time to draw... our female tribute!"

Let me die now, I think. Damn it, I have to be a tribute. The Capitol rigged this... I'm going to die... But then the thought hits me, as I sink into despair, as Miranda Sanrough fishes around dramatically in the girls' reaping ball with her heavily ringed fingers.

If I'm such a rebel, why don't I die as a rebel? I'll die anyway. So why not die knowing that I might make an impact on my nation?

Just as I think this, I look up at the stage to hear my name ring out through the salty District 4 air.

"Spark Reviz!"

Chapter 2: Far From Shore

I try to stay calm, acting like a normal girl from District 4 who didn't expect to be called. I know that I'm glaring at the crowd by the way people flinch when they stare at me, by the way they look the other direction when they see my eyes. Miranda Sanrough is beckoning me up to the stage, acting like this is perfectly natural. Only, it isn't. Because she has never looked this tense at a reaping. I walk up the steps and stand on the stage, staring out across the faces of District 4.

I'm expecting Miranda to ask for any volunteers as she usually does, but there is something that gives it all away. She just grins out at the crowd, like there is no such thing as volunteering. There are Career tribute girls shrieking at her, "I volunteer as tribute!" But she ignores every one of them, and goes on like this is normal.

"Well, well!" she says, as if this is the most beautiful statement in the history of the Hunger Games. She beams winningly at the scowling, cursing, or whispering crowd. "Let's all give a round of applause to our new tribute, District Four... Spark Reviz!" She claps so fast that her hands blur, still baring those artificially white teeth in a smile. "Go on now, isn't she beautiful in that lovely dress of hers?"

The crowd is dead silent for a second. Then some of the adults clap, although very half-heartedly. Like they actually feel sorry for me. But everyone in District 4 and the Capitol, and many more in Panem, know that I am the daughter of rebels and a rebel myself. The older adults whisper about rebellion and the Capitol among each other in hushed voices. The Career tributes start up a mocking and envious chant of, "Sexy Spar-ky! Sexy Spar-ky!" that quickly dies down when no one joins in.

My eyes find the crew of the fishing boat that I work on. Mostly men, a couple of women, all barely over reaping age. In fact, I am -no, was- the only worker under nineteen. They knew me, barely, but no one knows me but them and Gran. They never acknowledge me after our fishing shift on the boat, which lasts from sunrise to sunset in almost any weather. Except... there is one time when we all have a sense that we are connected. When we are heading back to shore and singing a traditional song of District 4 that has been around since the Dark Days.

Sure enough, but to my surprise, I hear the song. One voice becomes two, and then more and more until almost the whole district is singing. Most children learn the song when they are around four years old. It is traditional, symbolizing District 4's fishing industry and the workers. The words are a bit cryptic, but they are about a man at sea returning to his lover after a long day of working. The notes to the song are repeated the whole time, almost never changing, but it's beautiful, and as we get closer to shore, we repeat the whole song louder and louder on our way home. Most every day, even in the rain, lovers or wives of the boat workers come out, hearing the song, and sometimes the women embrace their men and smile. Sometimes the district citizens sing along. It makes happiness out of a gray sky.

But not now. Now, every word breaks my heart, because I know that I will never sing it with my district again.

"Bravo, bravo!" cheers Miranda Sanrough happily, loving the moment. I'm sure that she thinks it would be good camera footage, the district serenading a tribute. But she knows that I am a rebel. The district serenading a rebel could result in horrible things. "But onto things, now! Got to stick to the schedule!" She points at a slim, green watch around her wrist, tapping it in a punctual manner. "Now, for our male tribute!"

She totters on her high heels over to the boys' reaping ball, fishing around in it. The crowd is silent, listening for the dreaded name. She pulls out a slip and reads the name clearly.

"Thor Crethil!" she squeals happily, waving the slip like a banner. "Come on up, Thor!"

I groan inwardly as I see a very muscular Career tribute boy walk up to the stage. Several people look like they're about to volunteer, then say something about Thor deserving 'the honor' more than them. I recognize Thor's dark brown hair and deeply tanned skin, the latter of which is a trademark of District 4's boat workers and fishermen.

The district applauds regularly, and the Careers scream their appreciation and whistle until Miranda's glaring at them as well as a five-foot-tall Capitol women wearing neon green makeup and six-inch heels can. "All right! This concludes our District Four reaping!" she says happily. Out of the corner of her mouth, she whispers to Thor and I: "Shake hands, tributes."

I want so badly to break every bone in Thor's hand, but I restrain myself. Better save that for later. His strong hand clenches around mine, and I shake it dully, trying not to touch him more than absolutely needed.

The Peacekeepers lead us off the stage as the crowd trickles away back to their safe homes. They lead us into the Justice Building, into rooms that look so luxurious that I barely can stop staring at the soft carpet and the lush fabric of the curtains. But I just want to be in the old house that I call home, with Gran and in my room. I want to fall asleep and wake up somewhere else, where there are streams full of pure water and trees that grow endless food and money. I use to fantasize about that when I was young. But now I'm older, and I know that there is nothing. Nothing but Panem and the Hunger Games and President Snow's power.

"This is your time to say goodbye to family and friends," a Peacekeeper barks in my ear. Then, before I have a chance to snap back at him, he shuts me in one of the beautiful rooms. The windows are perfectly polished glass, not just holes in the wooden walls like at home. I sit down on a comfortable armchair, but I feel like I can't touch anything. It's too perfect for me, the rebels' daughter. The boat worker. The girl from the poorest part of District 4 who lives with her grandmother. Sexy Sparky, as I am to the Careers.

The heavy wooden door opens without a creak at all. Gran hobbles into the room. "I knew you'd be right, Spark," she says softly, rewarding me with an embrace. I breathe in, trying hard not to cry. "Look, Spark, you can make it." I start to protest, saying things about the Gamemakers having it out for me, but she stops me. "You're strong. You're fast. And as far as I can see, President Snow hasn't drowned you yet." I manage to smile.

Gran presses something into my hand. "You need a district token," she says in her frail voice. I look down and see what she has given me. I examine it closely. A necklace, on a thick silver chain. There is a fairly flat seashell strung on the chain, with a hole to let the chain through. I undo the clasp and fasten it around my neck, a lump in my throat.

"Thanks," I whisper.

Gran smiles and kisses my cheek. "Spark, I'll be watching every moment of the Games for you," she says. "The Opening Ceremonies, the interviews..."

"The arena," I mutter downheartedly. "You'll be watching that, too. Me dying when the Gamemakers send their fucking mutts after me. Or when a Career slits my throat." Then I look up from the floor to her eyes. "I'm not going to let them kill me before I die, though," I say. "The Capitol. I'm not going to let them get me." I pause. "But I'll get them. I know that I'll get them."

Gran smiles shakily. "Don't be afraid of anything," she says. She points one gnarled finger at my necklace. "This was your mother's," she says. "Your father gave it to her. She always used to say that it was good luck. My beautiful daughter, shot through the head by a Capitol firing squad." She sighs, smiling wistfully. "She would have loved the way that the district sang that song. But you know, the song is about two separate things." She looks into my eyes. Hers are the blue that dulled down into almost gray with the generations that passed. "It's about a man coming home from a day's work on the fishing boat to someone he loves, yes. But it's also about a victor. A victor who is coming back to District Four to someone they have missed." She kisses my cheek quickly again as she hears the Peacekeepers' boots on the carpeted hallway, coming to the room. "So find someone to miss. Just not a tribute. You know that there's one victor only. Find something. And survive. Come back." She starts humming the song under her breath.

And when the Peacekeepers take her away, she whispers, "May the odds be ever in your favor, Spark."

As time passes, I begin to doubt the possibility of others coming to visit me before I am sent off to die. I fall into a sort of trance. Thinking about death -endless nothing- makes my stomach feel hollow. So I try to dream of a sunny day on the fishing boat. Where seabirds swoop around us, adding their shrieking calls to our song. Where we are turning to the shore. Where every person is singing. I sing now quietly. "Here we are again..." I get out, and then the lump in my throat grows, and I can only hum.

Then I stand up again and walk closer to the door. I hear it. I hear the song being sung. Continued in a hearty voice, a man's voice. Singing as he walks down the hall to my room. "Here we are again," he sings in his rich, beautiful voice. "Death is not far again..." Then I hear a Peacekeeper saying something full of cursing to him, and he stops singing.

The door swings open, and a fisherman walks in. I remember his name. Jake Paylor. The one who always complains about fishing, claiming that he's from District 8. Hard to believe, with those deep brown eyes of his, and the dark tan skin, and the dark hair. District 8's people are never tan, since they work in the textile factories. Jake Paylor's handsome, I'll give him that, and I love his voice when he sings the fishing song, which he claims is called 'Here We Are'. The title makes sense, especially since all of the females on the boat are entranced by his singing.

"Hey, Spark," he says, embracing me. I let him. Even though he's twenty or so, out of the reaping, and safe here in 4, I feel happier, knowing that someone cares about me enough to come. Then he smiles, showing a mouthful of even, white teeth. "I started the song, you know that?" he says teasingly. "I couldn't just stand there and watch you look at me like that. You look beautiful in that dress." His tone becomes serious. "I know that this isn't right," he says quietly, barely audible. "They rigged it. But you know that. I've seen you distracting the Peacekeepers and looking at the names in the reaping ball."

"Yeah," I mutter. His eyes are making me want to say more. They are so dark that they appear black.

"I'm a rebel, too," he whispers in my ear. My whole body tenses. A rebel? How could Jake Paylor be a rebel? He seems just like the average fisherman, except for his distaste of seafood and occasional far-fetched tales. "And yes, I'm from District Eight. At least, I was born there. My parents were rebels. They dumped me on the doorstep of the Justice Building when I was barely a year old and then went and drowned themselves in the sea." I wince at the gruesome story. I wasn't expecting that last part. "Luckily for me, a woman saw me and took me in before the mayor found me instead. She looked enough like me to say that she was my mother. I knew my name, though. Even back in Eight, I was Jake Paylor, and that was my real name. But only to my parents. I had another name then, I heard, a fake one."

"Why didn't they rig it for you?" I ask as he straightens my necklace. "Did they ever figure out?"

Jake shakes his head. "Oh, Spark, you know I never mentioned District Eight except on the boat when I'd had to much to drink," he says lightly. "And that was when all the fishers were saying stupid things. The usual. 'Oh, I met the President of Panem one day when he took a boat ride'... 'My daughter's mother was from the Capitol'... you know the type." He turns serious again, his eyes darkening.

"Look, Spark, I came because I want to tell you to make it back here, okay?" he says. I nod wordlessly. "Like the song. 'Darling, we'll meet again...'" he sings. I grin. "But, Spark, please." There's a rebellious gleam in his eyes. "You'd better stir up some rebellion before you go into the arena. Just in case."

The Peacekeepers come in. "Reviz, your time's up," he growls to me. "Paylor, out. Go back home."

He nods, squeezing my hand. "All right," he says to the Peacekeeper. To me, he says, "Like the song. You might have someone you love to come back to, Spark."

Jake Paylor's final gift to me is a kiss. It lasts barely a second, but it's enough to make the cold in me warmed by happiness.

And as I am led to the platform, onto the train, and as the doors shut ominously, I squeeze my necklace and stare out the window while the ocean whirls away into a line on the horizon, then nothing at all.

Chapter 3: Farther From Four

I stare out the window even after I can't see the water of the ocean. Gran's safe at home. My crew from the fishing boat is safe in their homes. And Jake Paylor's probably already forgotten that I am more than a tribute. That they rigged it for me. I stare out until District 4 is gone, and I am moving farther away from it with every second I spend on this damn Capitol train.

I feel Miranda Sanrough tapping me on the shoulder after a bit. "Dear?" she asks in a falsely kind voice. Dear? Her Capitol is the one that got me in here. "It's time to eat."

Annoyed, I sit down in one of the intricately carved wooden chairs, the legs scraping across the floor. The others -Miranda, Finnick, Mags, and Thor, my fellow tribute- sit around the table. Avoxes clad in perfectly ironed tunics offer us food silently. I know that I shouldn't be gladly shoveling down Capitol food, because who knows what they might put in it for me, but my defenses crumble when I see the bowl of puffy rolls. The fruits that are uncommon in District 4 sprinkled with sugar on a platter. My eyes widen when I see the meat, and my mouth is watering. The only meat I have ever had is fish. I serve myself, piling a plate full of buttery rolls, sliced fruits, rice, and a huge slice of the meat. Then I pile everything I can see on the plate. An Avox pours me a bowl of soup. I think I'm drooling. Being as poor as I am means that this would be impossible back home. If I'm going to die, why not enjoy myself while I'm at it?

Mags is unimpressed by the food, after years and years of mentoring. Finnick is eating sensibly, also. Thor's plate is even more piled up than mine, and he's wolfing down the food. Miranda Sanrough is eating daintily, true to the Capitol, and wiping her fingers on a still-pristine napkin. "Don't eat too much," she warns, giggling at our poverty-stricken images.

I shoot her an evil look and start in on my food. I stuff an entire roll in my mouth as Miranda asks, "So, have you met your mentors before?" to Thor and I.

"Everyone knows 'em," I mutter through the roll, still chewing. A bit of my saliva spurts out of my mouth as I speak and lands on the rich red velvet tablecloth.

Miranda has a fit. "Oh- oh my!" she wails, leaping up out of her chair, somehow managing to stay standing up on those high heels. She busily wipes up the spit from the table. Thor, who has surfaced from his bowl of beef stew, is snickering. Finnick is grinning. Even little old Mags is laughing, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. I swallow my roll, almost choking. "Spark!" she cries. "That is- it's so- barbaric!"

I shrug. "Barbaric?" I ask. To prove my point, I get out my knife and toss it in the air leisurely, tipping back my chair and putting my feet on the table, moving my plates of food aside with a nudge. "What's that supposed to mean? Just because I'm poor doesn't mean I'm-" I grab her wineglass with a bit of effort and drain the whole thing. The spirits swirl in my mouth, and I like the taste of her wine. "-barbaric."

Finnick snorts with laughter. Mags excuses herself, hobbling away with her cane, and I hear her in the restrooms in fits of giggles. Thor has stopped eating almost quizzically, seeing my feet in his face. I sigh. "Oh, fine, I guess that's rude or something," I say. I do pretty much anything at the table at home, so what should it matter? It was especially fun at home when I sneaked to the black market and bought myself some liquor to share with Gran for a special feast to celebrate not getting drawn in the reaping... The memories stab at me, but I try to concentrate. I put my feet back on the floor.

"What're these for?" I ask, motioning toward the metal things next to my array of food-piled plates. "These weapons or something?" I pick one up and examine it. Finnick loses it laughing, smiling at me. If I were a couple years younger, and if there were no Jake Paylor back in District 4, I would be staring at him, probably drooling like I do with the food. I throw the metal things over my shoulder, and they hit the wall. "Oh, what the hell."

I dig into my food, shoveling the rice into my mouth with my bare hands, barely bothering to chew. It tastes like nothing I've eaten before. I wipe my hands on the tablecloth, smearing the buttery sauce on the velvet. Miranda's mouth becomes a straight line when she purses her lips, which are laden with smeared green lipstick. Then I tear off chunks of meat with my teeth, chewing rapidly. My stomach's already full, and I think the dress feels tighter around my middle. Then I eat everything on my plates, leaning down and slurping up the soup like a thirsty dog and scooping the meat and vegetables out afterward with my fingers.

After a bit, all that's left on my plates is bones from the various meat and crumbs, and between the food and the fast motion of the train, I become increasingly nauseated.

Then there's the dessert course, and I still have the Avoxes cut me a slice of every pie or cake. I eat something cold called ice cream, and it's delicious. I could sit here and eat chocolate forever. Well, forever's getting shorter, because I feel a bit sick to my stomach from the food. Then the Avoxes serve us bottles and bottles of spirits. I take a swig from every one. I take a bottle of the strongest kind and drink the entire thing. Wow, they don't make this stuff in District 4. I grin at Mags, who has returned to carefully eat a small slice of pie.

'"Hey, Finnick," I say. My voice is a bit slurred. I raise my bottle up in the air. "To District Four?"

Finnick's drinking water. Crazy. Doesn't he want to make it all go away? Or maybe he hasn't realized that mentoring a tribute like me will be a pain in the ass. He raises his water glass. "To District Four!" all of us bellow out. True, Mags looks a bit disapproving. And it is a bit of a stretch to say that it's all of us, since Miranda is looking on with pressed-together lips. Thor shouts the toast out so loud that my ears ring. I roar it at the top the lungs. It's so fun to stop worrying about the arena.

I frown. "Hey, M'randa," I slur drunkenly. My stomach hurts. In fact, I feel like I'm going to be sick. "I'm gonna just go to the-" Finnick stands up abruptly and starts pulling me down the hallway. I feel too tired to protest much. "Finnick, I don't feel good," I whine as he hauls me down the hall.

"I know," he says with a sigh. "Believe me, I got drunk last year when I was a tribute, and ate way too much of this damn Capitol food. But you're making me look sober." He opens the door to the women's restrooms. "Here, go in here," he says. "I'd take you to your room now, but you'd probably throw up on the carpet, and Miranda would have another panic attack over you." I stand there uncomprehendingly. Finnick groans. "Go in, Not-So-Sexy Sparky," he says, annoyed.

I try to answer, but then I'm retching all over the clean tiles. Finnick swears rudely at me and drags me into the bathroom, muttering something that sounds suspiciously like, "If someone catches me in the women's restroom, it'd be all over the Capitol. I'm famous, you know." He drags my vomiting, miserable body into a stall and holds my head over the toilet as I lose all the Capitol food and the liquor. I'm shaking, trembling, sweating.

After a while, I'm done. Finnick sighs, dragging me down the halls again. He lies me down in my bed, in a room that he says is mine. I stare up at the ceiling. "Look, Reviz, you'd better sleep this off," he says, pausing at the threshold. "The Capitol hates you. And you've got the Capitol to look forward to tomorrow." Then he slams the door shut, and I think I fall asleep.

I wake up to a pounding headache and to the sunrise. Apparently, I slept some of yesterday away, and last night. I stagger out of bed. I've slept in my blue dress and shoes. It takes me a moment to remember that I'm not in District 4 anymore, that I'm on a train to the Capitol and hungover. I groan and look in the bathroom mirror. My braid is rumpled and frizzy, so I undo the tie and let my hair flow loose. I strip quickly and step into the shower, experimentally pressing buttons. After a few minutes, I step out, feeling refreshed, but the water was freezing on my skin, and I smell like lemons. But my hair's straight and smooth, and I am cleaner than I have been for a while, though I'm still filthy by Capitol standards. I tie my hair back and open up the closet in my room, wrapped in a towel and wearing nothing but my undergarments. I finally find the perfect outfit- all black. Black boots, tight black pants, a black shirt, a black jacket. There. Maybe now I can face the others.

I somehow remember where we ate yesterday, and I orient myself and go there. Everyone's there but Finnick and Miranda, which leaves Thor and Mags. I sit down. As soon as I am seated, Avoxes offer me food. I decide not to eat quite so much, and fill up a plate of rolls and sausages.

I feel Mags tap me on the shoulder. She stands up with a lot of effort and grasps my hand in hers. She's even more withered than Gran. "Spark," she says. "Your mentor's still asleep." Then she picks up one of the metal weapon things, which seem to have magically appeared next to my plate again. She slides one between my fingers. "This is silverware." She's trying not to laugh. She guides my hand. "Don't stab like a knife." She demonstrates how to use the silverware. "I'm only doing this for your own good. Miranda would have my hide if she knew that you really didn't know what silverware was."

I sigh and grudgingly eat with the silverware. Mags advises me to wipe my hands on the napkin, and not the tablecloth. I wipe the sausage grease on my cloth napkin, feeling like a dainty Capitol girl. I'm already turning into someone else, and I've barely been a tribute for a day.

"Hey," mutters Thor through a mouthful of food. He's eating an entire bowl of rolls. Stupid Career tribute boy. He swallows. "You all right, Reviz? You look pretty bad." I scowl defensively. He continues. "Not that way. I mean, you really got yourself drunk yesterday at lunch." He grins. "You looked fucking stupid, Reviz."

Miranda would probably have a heart attack to hear Thor talk like that. But Mags just smiles. I, however, am furious. "God damn it, Thor!" I spit, standing up. I'd call him by his surname, but I forget it. "Shut the fuck up! Damn Career tribute bastard! You eat like a pig, why's drinking so bad to you?"

This time, Mags intervenes. "Calm down, both of you," she says, holding up her hands. Then she stands up. "Oh, you two, look out the windows! We're at the Capitol!" She smiles and walks slowly to a window. I leap up, wanting a glimpse of the hated city. It's like Mags has just said that we've reached hell. I guess to the Capitol, that's where I came from. I glance out the window, and my jaw drops.

Skyscrapers. Glittering skyscrapers that seem to literally scrape the sky. The streets flash past as I stare. Then come the crowds of the inhuman monsters that are the Capitol's citizens. All of them are wearing hideously eccentric clothing. Many have so much makeup on that I can hardly see their real faces. And all of them seem to have surgery, disgusting surgery. Skin dyed electric orange, gems lining the eyes, enhanced features, and so many other things fly past that I feel nauseated. How can they do this for fun, having surgery that makes them look horrifyingly inhuman? They look like they come from a different world. A world where food is everywhere and no one starves. Where everything is vivid, bright colors. Where the buildings glitter like a thousand diamonds.

"That's... amazing," says Thor in a voice low with awe. "I've heard things, but seeing it is so much more than television broadcasts."

I just stare. The crowds shriek when they see the tributes coming. But some whisper nervously when they see me. I'm tempted to do something that could give me a lasting impression on the Capitol forever. But I have to bide my time for the right moment. I wish that Snow were as fragile as these people.

But then I remember. All you need for a fire is a spark. And fire melts snow until it is water.

Chapter 4: Glitter and Chariots

"Ahh!" I yelp in pain as my prep team pulls every strand of hair from my legs. "Ahh! Go to hell!"

The male in the group of three -I know the womens' names, but not his- scowls. "Excuse me?" he asks in his accent that I curse with every syllable, every letter. "What was that again? I must have heard you wrong." Before I can answer, I'm shoved to my feet. "There, we're almost done!" he trills encouragingly. "Let's just see if we need to pull out some more hair, okay, miss?"

It's very much not okay, considering that I'm stark naked and a lot of the nation -damn those Careers at the reaping- knows me as Sexy Sparky. But I have no choice. They probe every inch of my body, shrieking like they've been shot whenever they find an imperfection. "Oh, your eyes! They're so bloodshot! Spark, dear, have you been-" a horrified gasp comes out of one of the women's mouths "-drinking?" "Oh, no, your hair is a mess! Really, we can't have that!"

When they're done with the insults to my body, they start complimenting me. Strangely, they sound sincere. "You really do have good skin!" squeals Isabella Marie, who is wearing a neon orange dress with metallic gold tattoos to 'match'. Her shockingly yellow hair clashes with the outfit and is obviously dyed or a wig. She runs her perfectly manicured fingers down my arm. It takes everything I've got to hold off from slapping her and yelling. "It's so... tanned! And not sunburned." She shudders in horror. "Remember the girl from last year? Burned red as a strawberry. But Finnick!" They all sigh dreamily. "He was every prep team's envy! He's gorgeous! A natural miracle of beauty!" Isabella Marie giggles, sounding like a songbird on drugs. "He had such a nice body," she says, giggling devilishly.

>"Didn't you notice?" says the male, whose name I still don't know. "Spark's got a nice body, too." He reaches out to touch my, probably to feel my supposedly nice body. For a second, I feel those Capitol hands on me, running down my my neck, down my chest, to my stomach, on my arms... His eyes are hungry, and he licks his lips with implications. Pulling me onto the table that they prepped me on with strength that I didn't know could come from a Capitol man. He touches my lips with his fingers, as a warning. Be quiet.Then I can't take it. It's like Snow himself is stroking me.

I leap up abruptly and shove him away into the wall. He shrieks in pain, and Isabella Marie and Opal, the other woman, cry out with shock. "Get away from me!" I yell, fury running through me. I don't care if I'm stark naked in this tiny room with nowhere to run. "Don't say that! Do you hear me? Don't - say - that!" I'm screaming so loud that I think I feel the floor vibrating. My eyes dart around the room to find some kind of weapon, but even the razors are in locked drawers. Then I see the leftover, empty plates that the prep team ate from for what they called 'brunch'. It's still before noon, so what's the point of that? I see my only chance. A butter knife, the blade slick with melted butter.

I lunge for the table and grab the knife. Before I know it, I've got the knife by Isabella Marie's face. She squeaks in terror. It's just a butter knife, but even a Capitol woman that stupid should know that, if I stabbed her in the eye, it would be extremely painful. "If you say anything more..." I pant, breathing hard with anger, "... if you think you can just touch me all you want..." I bring the knife right between her eyes. "... and if him over there thinks he can get away with raping a tribute..." She's going cross-eyed from looking at the blade. "... then I've got plenty of places to stick this thing. Even if it isn't sharp, I think I heard that dull knives are worse, actually."

Opal is running around in circles like an overexcited dog. At least she isn't a real dog, or I would have gotten bitten by now. Or, on second thoughts, she'd be one of those worthless pets in the Capitol, the dogs that do nothing but shit and piss and yip in your ears. "Oh, no!" she wails. "Peacekeepers! We need Peacekeepers!" Actually, I'm having third thoughts. Of course she's a dog. She's a bitch, after all. "Peeeeaaacekeeeeeeeeeperrrsss!" She hisses on the letter s, like everyone in the Capitol.

Very punctually, a squad of Peacekeepers burst into the room. Shocked, to see three Capitol citizens taken down by a naked seventeen-year-old female tribute. In other words, taken down by me. Instead of giving up, I stab at Opal's face as she runs by. Unfortunately, I miss. But I open a gash in her neck that's good-sized for a butter knife being the weapon. Blood trickles down her neck. I rip the butter knife from her throat.

A Peacekeeper pulls me away from her. I start screaming what is a beautiful array of swearing, if I do say so myself. "Take her to Snow!" shouts a Peacekeeper over my yelling. "That little brat's gotten away with being alive for seventeen years, so we should just shake her up a bit!"

"No!" calls another Peacekeeper. "We should just take her to her stylist and punish her after the ceremonies. If we took her to Snow and gave her stylist less time to get her ready, the nation'll be wondering! We wouldn't be shaking her up then, we'd be starting rebellions in the districts if a tribute was missing from the Opening Ceremonies!" Obviously, this one has more authority.

The Peacekeeper dragging me down the hall looks at me. "After the Opening Ceremonies, you'll be summoned to President Snow's mansion. This kind of thing doesn't go unpunished. We demand..." He looks down into my eyes cruelly. "Justice. For rebels and criminals. Putting them in their proper place, to use my term for it."

"I was almost raped!" I yell in his face. "Look at me, I can't be much more vulnerable, can I? In your motherfucking city with President Shit -I mean, Snow- and you think that I can just let them do that? Unless my proper place is getting raped in your own precious city!" I'm filled with rage now. Luckily, I'm old enough and strong enough to get away with sounding less like a small, cranky child throwing a tantrum and more like a legitimate rebel. "Well, this city's going to burn to the ground someday, and there'll be no - more - Hunger Games!" I yell.

"Shut her up," growls another Peacekeeper to the one that's dragging me down the hall. Then he opens a door. He faces me. "Spark Reviz," he snarls. "You'd better stay in line with your stylist. It's noon right now. In about eleven hours, you're going to be visiting President Snow. In case you've forgotten what his name is." Then he shoves me in and slams the door behind me.

The room has one large window that lets in the sunlight. There are two couches facing each other, with a table between them. In one sits a man. Surprisingly, he doesn't look as insane as the others, with skin the color of dark chocolate, a shaved head, a yellow shirt, white pants, and a double-pierced lip. I sit down on the other couch tentatively, feeling unprotected.

"Here," he says. His voice is accented heavily, but in a different accent than that of other Capitol men. My stylist's is less high-pitched, very deep, almost echoing. He hands me a robe. I nod silently and stand to tie it around myself, sitting again. I feel less exposed than before, but still strange. "My name is September. I'm your stylist." He offers one dark-skinned hand, and I shake it after a second of hesitation. I can't mess this up now. Or they'll be torturing me for days when I'm in the arena, and I don't want that. I just want rebellion. To avenge my parents. To avenge myself when I die for the rebellion.

"So," I mutter sullenly. "What's it going to be this year, for the hideous costumes you always put us in? What are we dressed up as? Seaweed? Fish? Seagulls? Fishermen? Starfish? Fishing nets? Boats?" The last suggestion makes September laugh. His laugh is not the high-pitched Capitol laugh that I know. But it sounds as if it's masking something, something that all the non-Peacekeeper Capitol citizens try to hide. Hate for me. But underneath even that, I can tell that he really enjoys being a stylist.

"Boats?" he asks, smiling widely. His teeth appear blinding compared to his dark skin. "Oh, no. My goal as a stylist is to make you look beautiful for your time as a tribute. Opening Ceremonies, interviews..." He smiles wider. "No, you're going to be a pleasure. Any tribute I've got is a joy to design new outfits for them to wear. And..." He squints at me, his dark eyes slitted. "Oh, you're perfect for what I've got in mind." He sees the impatient look on my face. "I'll tell you, I'll tell you."

"Now?" I ask. For some reason, I am a bit happier now. I've never met someone from the Capitol that actually loves what they do. "I want to know. Don't want to be delayed and have to go out in front of the nation dressed as a boat, after all."

">September laughs boomingly again. "Well, in the past, because my first year to get District Four as a stylist was last year, the tributes have been dressed in costumes that relate to the sea or fishing. Keep that in mind. They relate to it. But my goal this year is to make you and your fellow tribute look as good as possible, with the help of my partner, Aria. And we believe that this year, we could use a change." I groan silently. September must see the look on my face. "We've thought that it would be best instead to portray the sea itself."

"So..." I stop for a second, trying to think of the horrible possibilities that could unfold from the sea. "So, we're going to be out there naked and covered in water? And stinking like seaweed and salt?" It sounds awful to me. I imagine the transition from Sexy Sparky to Sexy Sparky the Stripper, or something along those lines. The Careers will never stop laughing. Or, maybe while they're on the letter s, they'll come up with something really horrible- Sexy Slutty Sparky the Stripper of the Seas, maybe? I almost giggle thinking about it, because it's so stupid-sounding.

"Oh, no, definitely not," says September. "We want to portray you as... the sea. Powerful. Endless. Strong. Relentless." He spreads his hands, indicating the sea. "We'll get started with your hair and makeup and all of that after we eat. You haven't eaten since dawn, have you?" He sees the curious look on my face and adds, "Oh, believe me, I know how you fishers and boat workers rise with the sun." He presses a button on the side of the table, and the top opens and slides away into two halves, revealing a second tabletop piled with food, though not quite as much as on the train here. "Go on, eat. You've got a long day ahead of you."

And night, I think. What with my meeting with Snow after the Opening Ceremonies. But I can't exactly ignore the table of food. Even though I could survive the day on what I had at breakfast alone, I have a feeling that I should put on a few pounds before the arena, in case I start to starve. Besides, I don't think I'll have a chance to eat tonight, unless it's late. I fill a plate with a slice of ham drizzled in sugary glaze, vegetables in a pale brown broth that brings out their flavors, and a fluffy mound of mashed potatoes. Eating's a bit of a chore, with the silverware that Mags taught me how to use only hours ago, but September doesn't seem to mind how I stab with my knife at the mashed potatoes and then remember to use a spoon or fork. Or how I lick the plate clean. He makes small talk, saying that he's been a stylist for the Games for six years, and that he had District Twelve for four of them. That likely explains why he doesn't care about my table manners, like Miranda did.

After we eat, September gets to work on me. He applies makeup to my face -not too much, he assures me as he paints eye shadow on my eyelids. He tells me to close my eyes, but apparently I look stunning already, even naked. He sprays my whole body with something that feels like mist, telling me to raise my arms or turn when he sprays other parts of me, until I am fully sprayed down with it. My entire body feels a bit wet. Then he's brushing my hair and curling it. I feel the curls cascading over my shoulders. Then he's spraying down my body again, this time with something else. He tells me to raise my arms, and he slips what feels like a dress over my head. It feels even shorter than the dress that I wore to the reaping, and covers even less of my chest. Then he holds my arm as blindly step into a pair of shoes.

"All right, open your eyes," he says.

I open my eyes, startled at first by the bright light after what seems like years of darkness. Then I look in the mirror, and my eyes widen. I see... someone else. No, something else. Because my skin is sprayed with something that feels like liquefied silvery-white glitter that sparkles when it hits the light and reminds me of sunlight on water. I smell like a faint sea breeze, though not the fishy, stale stink of the fishing boats back in 4. My shoes are sea-blue and thankfully not too high-heeled. And I'm wearing a beautiful dress that's made of sea-colored silky fabric. It's very, very short, hardly covering my ass, showing a lot of my chest, and strapless. It emphasizes both the curves of my body and my muscles very nicely. I seem to be glittering. The dress is the exact shade of the sea that I remember so perfectly: strikingly blue, a shimmer of green, and with sunlight glinting from it.

I am the sea on the same kind of lovely summer day that I left behind.

"How..." I asked, amazed. "How did you do this? It looks just like the sea."

The stylist shrugs, grinning that wide, white smile at me. "You pull off the look just right," he says, still smiling. "I've had the pleasure of visiting District Four for a few interviews last year, considering that I was Finnick Odair's stylist instead of the female tribute's stylist, like this year. I was inspired by your sea." He studies me for a second. "You look stunning, Spark. Let's get going to the bottom floor of here, so you can get to your chariot and find your district partner."

I nod, and he directs me to the elevator. I'm still not used to the swooping sensation, and I can only hope that I'll keep my lunch down. The elevator chimes merrily, and the doors open automatically, as if by some sort of Capitol magic. I step into the room, which is large and leads out to the streets. The streets will lead to the City Circle, which will take us into the Capitol's prison that they call the Training Center. The room is filled with horses that are all different colors. District One's are shining white, while District Twelve's are black as the coal that the district mines for industry. District Four's chariot has light brown horses.

I walk over to the chariot, seeing Thor. September trails behind me. I notice a Capitol woman with curly green hair talking to Thor that must be Aria, September's fellow stylist. Thor's skin is sprayed like mine, and he's wearing shorts and no shirt. Of course. The Capitol likely wants to make us look like a sexy pair of tributes, and that we will be. I secretly file away the information that Thor is well muscled.

"Hey," I mutter. Aria smiles in greeting, and then I hear the opening music of the ceremonies played. The anthem of Panem is blasted so loud that I feel the chariot vibrating beneath my feet. Thor stands next to me.

"Thor, Spark!" calls September, as our perfectly trained horses get into position behind District Three's chariot. "Don't smile at the crowd! Look strong! They'll be blown away by you! Because you don't look stupid!" That's all I can hear before the giant doors slide open, and District One's horses prance out into the streets as the anthem pounds away deafeningly. Then District Two follows, then District Three, and then our horses are following. I feel a bit shaky, but I keep my shoes firmly balanced on the chariot as we move into the streets of the Capitol.

People are cheering for the tributes of the first three districts, and start roaring their approval at us. The Capitol becomes a hazy blur of twilight sky, bright colors, and skyscrapers as our horses faithfully trot down the streets. The people are throwing money at us, money and perfect white roses. They remind me too much of Snow, who always seems to have a rose on him. My stomach twists at the thought of meeting him tonight. I'll be punished in the arena, that's for certain. The Gamemakers probably have designed it specially for me. But I focus on what's happening now. The cheers of our names. The flashes of cameras. The Training Center looming nearer and nearer. And I realize that I love this. Getting to be in front of the entire nation. I like being famous, yes, but I want to be infamous instead.

The chariot stops in the City Circle, the loop of street surrounded by buildings. Every building in the Circle has open windows with Capitol citizens sticking their heads out to look at us. It's not until a second later that I realize we've stopped outside of President Snow's mansion. The anthem ends. He's giving his usual introductory speech from a balcony. The screens of the cameras show the faces of the tributes, and I see that Thor and I are getting more shots than any other district. I glare up at Snow's face, with its puffy lips and white hair and hollow cheeks, though not of starvation. Then the anthem's playing again -can't they think up new music for the Games?- and we're pulled into the Training Center.

The prep teams wait inside, along with September and Aria. They are full of praise, except for my prep team. Not them. Opal's got a bandage on her neck, and they all do nothing but give me dirty looks and compliment Thor. They're miserable. I guess I'll have to try to tell Snow that I was almost raped. Maybe he'll let me off the hook for punishment. I start towards an elevator, wanting to go up to my room to scrub off the glitter and change out of my dress, but I'm stopped by an Avox. She motions silently for me to come outside through a side door. I obey and try not to be too obvious, letting the door shut behind me.

I am led to a sleek black car, and I slide into the passenger seat next to the driver without any words coming out of my mouth. I see the lights of the buildings, the shining skyscrapers, and the thinning crowd. But all too soon, we're at the mansion, and I'm escorted up a set of polished marble stairs, glitter and all, to an office. The Avox who is guiding me knocks sharply on the door. "Come in," calls that hated voice. The Avox opens the shining oak doors, and I step inside. They slam behind me, and I hear the Avox locking them as soon as they shut.

I am trapped.

Chapter 5: One Red Rose

"Sit," President Snow hisses, pointing at a large, wooden chair on the other side of the desk.

I don't move, just stare. The room is furnished in dark wood, the floor shining like polished glass. President Snow's sitting there, sipping tea from a china cup that's painted with pink and yellow flowers on a pale green vine. He has a vase of roses sitting on his desk. All white. But there's one red rose, lying next to his teacup. The vile scent reaches me. It doesn't smell like a normal rose at all. It smells like poison. For all I know, it could be toxic just to inhale the stench.

"I said to sit," snarls President Snow, glaring. His eyes are a sharp blue below beneath the thinning white hair. "Or are you too rebellious to even do that?" He stands up, his eyes daggers. "Sit down, Miss Reviz."

I feel very conscious of my slutty, glittery costume as I pull out the chair and sit, facing him. I somehow manage to look up into his eyes. "If this is about my prep team," I say heatedly, "then one of them almost raped me. He shoved me down on a table and started stroking my body." I glare at Snow. Maybe my spark can melt him, just like I thought. "I think there's a law against abusing the tributes, sir." I force the sarcastic last word out of my mouth. Even sarcastic, it's hard to manage, calling my worst enemy sir.

Snow starts laughing. "Miss Reviz," he says, when he's stopping laughing. He looks into my eyes, and I keep staring at him, glaring venomously into those blue eyes. "Yes, there is laws against sexual abuse of tributes. But unfortunately for you, there are also laws against the tributes stabbing and threatening Capitol citizens. Even if they try to rape you." He stares at me. "I must admit," he says, tipping back the cup of steaming tea, "you look quite... provocative tonight. Your stylist is the best out there, in my opinion. Always wants his tributes to look their best."

"Get to the point," I spit. "What else do you want about me? Was it that I got drunk and ate like an uncivilized barbarian? I think my escort would suggest that one. Or that I practically made Finnick Odair go into a women's restroom? Or that I look too - damn - sexy?" I spit. "Or is it just because I'm alive?"

"All of the above, I believe," Snow says dryly, wiping his mouth on a white cloth napkin. "Actually, you're here to discuss that last one." He pours another cup of tea. "Would you care for some tea, Miss Reviz? If I do say so myself, it's divine. Made in the Capitol."

"Well..." I pretend to think about that for a second. "No, actually. You have anything stronger than that, that isn't poisonous?" Snow shakes his head. I feel the anger filling me again. Anger at this man who rigged the reaping so I would be torn away from everything I know. Who executed my parents. Who will likely kill my grandmother when I have been killed. "You rigged the reaping so I'd get chosen!" I burst out, standing up abruptly. My chair falls to the ground behind me. I grip the edge of the desk so hard that my knuckles turn white. "You want me dead!" I yell furiously. "YOU WANT TO KILL ME! I HATE YOU!

Snow looks equally angry. The feeling's mutual, I guess. "Control yourself, Miss Reviz," he says. "Sit down. Do you really want the Peacekeepers to pay you a visit again?" I sit, shaking with fury. "Yes, you are quite right," Snow says calmly. "I rigged the reaping. You deserve it for what your dear parents did." He strokes the white stubble on his chin. "What were their names again? Liana and Christopher Reviz, maybe?" I grind my teeth. He's being so infuriatingly calm. What a menace. I want to hit him. I want to knock him unconscious. I want to kill Snow. I will kill him someday. Or now. Maybe now would be a good time, if he isn't smart enough to shut his mouth. "Yes, they died rather slowly. Firing squad, I recall. A beautiful moment in my life. But then you had to be there, too. A silly little girl with dreams of rebellion in her pretty little head. And now you want them to be more than dreams. Isn't that right, Spark Reviz? Now that you haven't drowned in District Four, now that you're away from the water, sparks can burn." His eyes glitter in the dim light. "Fire should be carefully controlled by trusted people such as myself."

"Oh, really?" I ask. I hate him. Trusted, my ass. "Trusted? Since when are you a trusted person? I'm not the only rebel in Panem, you know."

Snow nods, picking up the one red rose to sniff it delicately. "Ah, roses. Such an exquisite scent."

"Get to the point already!" I yell. Him and his damn roses. I wish I could burn every one.

"I was saying," says Snow calmly, setting down the rose as if nothing at all has taken place out of the ordinary. "I know very well that you are not the only rebel in this fine nation of Panem which I happen to lead. I know about many things. Such as... what is his name, again?" Snow muses, stroking his chin again. "Oh, yes. Jakob Paylor. Born in District Eight, actually. You know Jakob from your shift on the fishing boat back home in District Four, don't you, Miss Reviz?"

I take a short breath. Jake. Jake Paylor, who gave me song, aid, a goodbye, and a kiss of farewell. Who sang the District Four fishing song every evening when we headed back to shore, and he never complained of my wind-roughened voice. Who got drunk on the wild nights of district-wide celebration, bragging that he had defied the Capitol, and there would be gasps from the prostitutes who he has a knack for attracting, with his good looks and arrogant personality. "Yeah," I mutter, staring down at the wood of Snow's desk, trying not to look at the foul red rose or the vase of its white sisters. "Yeah, I knew him."

Snow's mouth curls into a twisted smile. "Oh, really?" he sneers. "Looks like you knew each other very well. We tape all of your beautiful, heartbreaking goodbyes to your families and friends. The Capitol has done that since the very first Hunger Games." He twists the words 'beautiful' and 'heartbreaking' to make them sound sarcastic. Like the tributes are weak. I clench my fists under the table. I've got to control my temper, just like Snow says, but I will never admit that he is right. "We thought that your goodbyes were... interesting, to say the least. What a beautiful necklace you have." My hand flies to my neck, where my necklace still sits. I guess that my stylist -no, September, that's his name- thought it went well with my outfit. "Your grandmother is very kind to you, Miss Reviz. Consider yourself lucky."

"Lucky?" I growl. "You rigged the reaping so I'd be a tribute and you could get away with torturing me without stirring up new rebellions! What if I survive, then? What'll you do if I get past your Gamemakers and the Careers and manage to get myself out of the arena? Tell me! I'm dying to know!" I'm practically shouting now. But Snow stays calm.

"Ah," he says. "So, of course you know that it was rigged. It's a criminal offense to trespass on Capitol property. And I am afraid, Miss Reviz, that sorting through the reaping bowls qualifies as trespassing. But a good defense, though," he adds. "It's quite a shame that you are failing to see the benefits of working for the Capitol. You would make a simply marvelous Peacekeeper. Or a soldier, if we ever were to find ourselves in a civil war." I grit my teeth. I'll be a Peacekeeper when hell freezes over. And I'd be a soldier, oh, yes. A soldier on the rebel side.

"I was asking what you would do to me if I became the victor," I say coolly. "Don't get off topic. And if you sniff that rose one more time, I bet on the Dark Days that you'll get high on whatever amplified rose scent is leaking out of that thing."

Snow chuckles. "Very nice, Miss Reviz," he says. "But, yes, I believe that topic has come up. First of all," he says, and his eyes are cold as snow, "first of all, it's hard enough to survive in the first place. Now picture the scenario that you are in just like it is. Every Career tribute, as you call them, out for your blood. The odds not in your favor. The arena mind-blowing, to give you a hint of what to expect. Every Gamemaker ready to kill you if you pull through for long enough." He smiles cruelly. "And after that..."

"What?" I ask, because I've heard awful things about what happens to innocent children who become victors, and then these very victors become broken wrecks or things only mentioned in the worst rumors that every Career tribute denies right off. "What are you going to do to me if I make it through?"

"It depends," he says honestly. "Sadly for Panem, executing you would look very fishy. So that leaves me with one option that I admit is a very good reason to keep you alive and in line." His breath smells like blood. Disgusting, wet blood. Does he drink it? I peer suspiciously at the teacup, which sits innocently on the desk.

"You do you that, even as president of Panem, my wages are low compared to other rich Capitol citizens?" he says suddenly. "I make most of my money from other things. Because having a pocket full of famous victors is always an advantage. You have a very good appearance, Miss Reviz." His eyes study me. I suddenly feel hate for my stylist, that I look so beautiful and glittery in front of the president. "You were quite poor back in your district. Did you ever resort to prostitution to make enough money for food?"

I want to beat Snow bloody for saying that. "No," I say forcefully. "It wouldn't have worked, anyway. Most of the district either hated me or was terrified of me. And why the hell should it matter to you? You're a bit old for that, I think."

Snow laughs, then coughs into a pristine white handkerchief. "Oh, no, Miss Reviz," he says. "No. A few of my special victors are perfect for giving me some extra money. The Capitol loves it. My best-looking victors are given that... duty. And you will be one of them if you are a victor. You will also be a Peacekeeper."

"No," I say immediately. "I may look like a slut, but I'm not. So you can just go to hell. I'd rather get killed in the arena and stir up some rebellions in the districts -and maybe even the Capitol- than survive the arena and have to sleep with a load of Capitol bastards every night and be a Peacekeeper by day. Besides, that puts the money in your pocket, not mine. So what's the reason for victors being forced to sell their bodies?"

"The reason?" says Snow. "The reason is... Well, look at Haymitch Abernathy. The only living victor from District Twelve. The drunkard. But right after he won his Games, he was young and handsome, though it's hard to believe. I considered selling him. He refused and started drinking. Do you know why he's alone? Because I killed his entire family. I killed his parents and his brother. I killed his lover." Snow grins evilly. "And I could easily kill your grandmother. And Jakob Paylor, while I'm at it." His eyes glitter. "Do you understand me?"

I nod, a sick taste in my mouth like I'm about to throw up.

"Good," says Snow evenly. Then he points to the doors. "You are dismissed, Miss Reviz. And..." He sips from the teacup, and I get another whiff of blood and roses. "And may the odds be ever in your favor."

Chapter 6: Deadly Eyes

"Wake up!" Miranda Sanrough squeals in my ear. I sit bolt upright, then relax when I see that it's just my overly enthusiastic escort. Oh. Training starts today. I vaguely remember leaving President Snow's office, running down to where the Avox drove me there to see the car waiting. Then I ran up to my room in the Training Center, stripping off my dress and left it in a heap on the bathroom floor, took a shower to scrub the glitter from my skin, and fell asleep in my huge, comfortable bed. "Today's training! You must be delighted!"

In answer, I slump back down and roll over with my face smashed into the pillow. I pull the covers over my head. "Go away," I groan sleepily. The late-night visit to President Snow's office really took a toll on me. Training starts at ten, so I think I'm safe for now. "What kind of pervert watches tributes sleeping?"

Miranda gasps in horror as she pulls the covers off of me. She gasps again even louder when she sees that I'm stark naked, not even wearing underclothes. "Spark!" she reprimands. "Your mentor would like to speak with you! And, dear, put on some clothes! How about a dress? No, wait, you're training. Ah, well." She sighs. "Your stylist has laid out some clothes for you. And, Spark..." I know that whatever she's about to say can't be good. "I must say, congratulations."

"On what?" I ask, getting out of bed and locking myself in the bathroom. I don't expect her to respond, but of course, being the persistent bitch she is, she does. "The Opening Ceremonies?"

"Oh, no!" she shrieks. "I mean, you're the first tribute I've had in years that doesn't snore loudly! Even your district partner, Thor, sounds like he's choking on his pillow! Even Finnick Odair, your mentor, snores!"

I bite my tongue to keep from laughing right here and now. Especially when I hear a noise outside. Finnick's voice. I pull on the outfit that September laid out for me -black leather boots that go up to my ankles, tight black socks, tight brown pants, a black tank top, and a black leather jacket. I look in the mirror. Yes, this is Spark Reviz. The rebel who didn't waste words at all with President Snow and made every second count. I open the bathroom door to see Finnick standing in my room saying to Miranda, "What was that about me snoring?" He's handsome, I'll admit, even though he's younger than me. But secretly, I think that Jake Paylor is better looking than him in a different way.

Miranda ushers us to the dining room so we can eat breakfast. I glance at the overly fancy clock on the wall. I have half an hour. I sit down, and Avoxes come to serve me right away. I take a glass of orange juice and fill a plate with scrambled eggs, sausages, and rolls. Thor is nowhere to be seen. I suspect Mags has cornered him and is discussing training strategies with him at this very second. As I eat -more sensibly, but still more than I would at home-, Finnick sits down across the table from me.

"So, Spark," he says as I drain my glass of orange juice, and the Avox takes away my glass and empty plate, "do you have any weapons that you're particularly skilled with, or any other skills?"

I nod, wiping my mouth on the back of my hand, much to Miranda's disapproval. "Yeah," I say. His eyes are so strikingly green that it's like the piercing of a sword to look at him. "Yeah, I'm good at throwing knives. And I know some survival skills, too. I can fish. Obviously." My hand reaches up to touch the flat shell on my necklace. I feel its light ridges. "So, what do you think I should do?" This is really such a joke. Finnick is younger than I am. I wonder why I'm even taking him seriously.

In the second that he's thinking, I continue. "Why the hell should I even trust you? You're younger than me. You just got out of the arena because you've got good looks that sponsors like. You think that everybody loves you, right? Because they think that you're handsome, and you're a victor. But I hate you. Why should I even ask you for advice? I'd do better on my own."

Finnick's eyes get hard. "You should take me seriously," he says quietly, "because I'm a victor and you're not. I'm your mentor. And if I really was so weak, I would've been killed in the bloodbath. You know that, Reviz." He looks very serious. It doesn't match the permanently etched wrinkles at the corners of his eyes from smiling often. "It isn't as easy as you think it is, to win."

"All the odds are against me!" I snarl, so loudly that Miranda gives me an affronted look and leaves, pushing in her chair neatly. My hands are clenched into fists. "You know that," I say, quieter this time. "The Gamemakers'll blow me to pieces the second I step off my damn land mine. The Careers will tear me to pieces. Or I'll starve. Or a pack of starving mutts are going to eat me alive. How the hell should I know? I just know that I'm going to die, Finnick, so what's the damn point?" I think I might start really yelling now, but he speaks first.

"I know that the odds are against you," Finnick says calmly. "Believe me, I know. They want you dead, Spark." He pauses. "But it looks like you haven't quite accepted that you're not going to make it."

I almost yell in frustration. "Well, sure as hell I've accepted it!" I say heatedly. "I know that I'm going to die! I know that I'm going to have to die for the rebels and not be just another fucking Capitol victim! I just don't want to die, Finnick, ever think of that?" I have to take a deep breath then, because I'm in danger of crying. "I don't want to die!"

"Exactly why you should survive against the odds," says Finnick. "Are you all right? You look kind of..." He knows that I'm about to cry. "Look, you've got fifteen minutes until you need to be at the bottom floor to train. Just... don't do anything stupid. That's all the advice you need. And don't be afraid to show off. The tributes from the outlying districts need to think that you've trained for this just as much as a Career."

"I've trained more than any Career," I say. "My parents told me that I needed to. They knew that the Capitol would draw me sooner or later."

Finnick nods and takes a sip of coffee, cringing. "Ugh, I've never gotten used to what they eat here," he says, dumping in so many sugar cubes that the coffee almost overflows the cup. "That's better," he decides after mixing it in and taking a huge gulp. "Anyway, how do you feel about alliances?"

"No allies," I say immediately. "I don't exactly want anyone innocent to get killed just because I'm their ally. You know that the Gamemakers would torture and murder any ally that I'd have."

Finnick nods slowly. "Well, glad to see you've got some kindness in you," he says under his breath. "But I'll give you some advice now: some of the lower districts aren't as bad as they seem. If you end up with allies after all, go with District Seven, Eleven, or Twelve. Their tributes are always underestimated. But they're good some of the time. The ones from Seven usually are strong from chopping trees. The ones from Eleven can have some good survival skills. And the poorest ones from Twelve..." I make a disgusted face. "No, Spark, they're the best tributes that I've seen when it comes to survival skills."

"Ha," I mutter, standing up. "Twelve's had two victors. One is dead and the other's an insane drunk. You really think I should get myself an ally?"

Finnick nods. "You better leave now, though," he says, pointing at the clock. Then he answers my question. "An ally would do you some good," he adds. "Just don't get too attached. Or..." His voice starts fading away as I leave the room. "Don't get them killed unless they deserve it."

Ten o'clock. The Training Center gym is full of tributes and instructors as the clock bongs out ten times. My eyes survey the tributes, particularly the Careers. The girl from One has black hair that she keeps braided down her back. She's staring impatiently at the head trainer, who is in the middle of a long-winded speech about the training. I make a mental note: She's got to be killed. And I call her. She looks more than a bit slutty, what with her district partner and a few other male tributes staring at her. Thor's staring, that's for sure. The District Two male sends shivers down my spine, with his deep brown eyes and dark skin and terrifying strength. His district partner has short blond hair that she has in a high ponytail on top of her head, and she looks like she's ready to run and start fighting someone. So far, the most dangerous look like the pair from Two by far.


When the head trainer tells us that we can begin, the Careers go for the weapons right away. Only the scrawny little brats from the lower districts try to work on camouflage or survival skills. I don't bother with that. I already know that I'm going to die, just like I told Finnick, so what's the point of learning to survive? Besides, I already know how to survive easily. I have experience. So I head over to a rack of beautiful, shining, throwing knives. I feel almost intoxicated by the shine of electricity on the blades, the hilts that seem shaped for my hands. I may be left-handed, but I can still throw knives better than most Career tributes that I've seen.

I take five knives to start with, and face the targets. Easy. Standard bull's-eyes, with the yellow center. I decide to warm up on those. I remember what my father taught me, so many years ago, and I can almost imagine his face again. Breathe out. Arm back. Breathe in. Breathe out. Throw. I follow these instructions perfectly. Some of the tributes stop to stare. The girl from Twelve, who looks around my age, is watching me closely. Then I throw hard, the knife spinning end over end, until it hits the target.

Right in the center of the bull's-eye.

Then I'm surrounded by Career tributes. Naturally, they're jealous. Or maybe they want me for an alliance, which seems laughable. The girl from Two strides confidently up to me. "So you're Spark," she says. Her eyes are hazel, and her lightly tanned face is sprinkled with freckles below her eyes and across the bridge of her nose. She extends a hand. I take note of the callused fingers from years of handling weapons. I refuse to shake it, though, glaring at her stubbornly. Trying to stare her down. But, like the dog she is, since she looks like such a bitch, she's just provoked. "I'm Sage."

"Since when did I ask what your name was, damn it?" I ask, before I remember what Finnick said. Not to do anything stupid, and this is one thing that I really can't take back. "I'm not going to be in any alliance with you, if that's what you and the other Careers are going to ask. Alliances are full of shit." I don't break her gaze, just staring at her. She looks like one hell of a bitch to take down in my opinion. But I'd bet my nonexistent money that I can get some knives at the Cornucopia when the Games started.

Sage's hazel eyes narrow, looking purely deadly. If only I knew how my gray-blue eyes look right now. But I'm sure that I'm matching her glare. "You're full of shit if that's what you think," she says coolly. "Run along, then, Rebel Girl. Throw your knives at the bitch from Twelve or something." She jerks a thumb at the girl who was watching me. "Hey, bitch!" she yells. "What's your name, little-bitch-from-Twelve?"

The girl looks up. Yes, years of watching the Hunger Games for mandatory viewings have taught me that she must be as poor as me. Her eyes are deep gray, almost a dark silver. "Tess," she says, smirking with an arrogance that I've never seen from a District Twelve tribute, much less any tribute that isn't a Career. "And why the hell are you asking?" I can tell that she's teasing me a bit, because she winks at me quickly. Her stare is almost as strong as mine.

"Hey, Silver!" Sage calls to the District One boy. "This little bitch's name is Tess. Is that short for tessera, or something? Which I'm sure you had a lot of to get picked in the reaping." Then Sage looks at me, with false kindness like poisoned sugar in her eyes. "But you didn't need any tesserae, did you, Rebel Girl?" she says sweetly, grinning wickedly and baring her perfectly white teeth. "The Capitol's going to kill you. Either that, or it'll be one of us." She's almost purring. "Right, Rebel Girl? We're going to kill you. No more Rebel Girl."

I'm practically shaking with anger. In my mind, Finnick is screaming, "Don't do anything stupid, don't do anything stupid!" But I want to ignore him. If I show the Careers what I'll do to them in the arena, like a preview... well, to hell with the Peacekeepers and President Snow and punishment. I don't care anymore. I'll save surviving for the arena. For now, I know that they can't kill me without causing a mass uprising across Panem. So I pay attention to the other voice in my head, the one that isn't Finnick's. In my mind, Jake Paylor is telling me how to throw a trident. Well, this is close enough, just smaller.

Breathe in.

I take a breath, my head spinning in anger when I see the Careers laughing at me.

Aim.

I raise my arm, a knife clenched tight in my hand. I focus on Sage's heart, positioning the knife in my hand. The Careers' laughter dies down.

Breathe out.

I let my breath out, the air hissing. The Careers now look a bit nervous, although they're trying to hide it.

Throw.

And just as the knife starts to fly, it's thrown off course by the movement of my hand as I hear an alarm sound.

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