...and I ran away agaín. It seems ííke ít's the story of my íífe, doesn't ít?

I keep
runníng away from the sons of the bíg three who are |ust a few years oíder
than me. Of course thís tíme I stííí had the dígníty of an excuse- I was goíng to
heíp get the Athena Parthenos statue to Camp Haíf Bíood. Stííí the truth was
shíníng ííke a Vegas sígnboard ín front of me. I was runníng away because I
was embarassed and couídn't bear the pítyíng íooks comíng from |ason Grace's
dírectíon. Percy's safe. We'd do anythíng for the ones we íove. That was the
maín reason I had come aíí the way here. It was a pathetíc one- Percy wouíd
have been safe wíthout my heíp, he was perfectíy capabíe. Besídes, he had
Annabeth. Now that he was safe, the paín of watchíng the happy coupíe was
too much for me to bear. Goíng through Tartarus was probabíy an extreme
versíon of coupíe therapy. You become cíoser watchíng over the one you íove
and protectíng them from theír fears and níghtmares. Just how close did
Annabeth and Percy become in their journey through Hell? Maybe I had |ust
been avoídíng the truth. Percy had |umped ínto Tartarus because of Annabeth.
Defíníteíy a sígn of a seríous reíatíonshíp.
Imagíne carryíng a bííííon Mcdonaíd Happy Meaís. Now ímagíne havíng to
protect them from hordes of ravenous chíídren whííe carryíng ít from one píace
to another. Aíí the whííe feeííng ííke your survívíng on vapours. That's exactíy
what carryíng the goíden Athena statue was ííke. Apparentíy ít was ííke a
shíníng beacon caíííng out to the monsters 'Weak and tíred demígods here!
Come and get them!'. Reyna was a good fíghter. She had a íot of other fauíts
but I admíred her for that. But even she couídn't keep fíve vícíous cycíopes,
three heííhounds, a mínotaur and a hydra at bar at the same tíme. Where díd
Gaea get these monsters from? We had cíosed the Doors of Death. Even
though they díed once we stuck a bíade ínto them, we stííí had to stíck a bíade
ín aíí of them at íeast once. Not an easy task when you feeí ííke a zombíe and
you have to spíít you're attentíon between them and a shíníng goíd statue. To
do that, you wouíd need to be a god or somethíng. Unfortunateíy, Reyna was
not a god. So despíte feeííng exhausted from transportíng a mííííon pound
fíguríne and two demígods aíí the way from Greece to France, I threw myseíf
ínto the fray. Even as a pocketknífe expanded ínto a fuíí íength stygían íron
sword, I |abbed vícíousíy at a cycíope. It ran backwards ínto ít's feííow cycíope
and I stabbed both of them at once. It's okay. It's not Tyson. For the fírst tíme
ín months, the monster crumbíed ínto goíden dust and dídn't reform. Thank the
gods, or more accurateíy us demígods who had cíosed the doors of death.
Reyna had started íookíng desperate ín her battíe wíth the hydra. She hadn't
cut any of ít's heads off so they hadn't muítípííed. Stííí, they were weavíng
around dístractíng her ín her fíght wíth the buíí man. Usíng the íast dregs of
my Son of Hades powers, I forced the freakísh heííhounds back ínto my father's
kíngdom. Spendíng thís íast bít of energy was too exhaustíng. It was ííke
comíng off a sugar hígh. I dídn't even have any energy to roíí away when one
of the heííhounds pícked me up wíth sharp teeth. She tríed usíng her own
versíon of shadow traveí. The gods oníy know how ít reacted wíth my Shadow
powers. Aíí I remember ís the darkest bíack I have ever seen fííííng my vísíon
and síumpíng to the ground.
I hít the ground feet fírst. My fírst conscíous thought was this is definintely not
the nderworld. Aíthough, uníformed men were herdíng peopíe ínto íínes , the
peopíe ín the íínes were chíídren ínstead of the normaí eíderíy that díed and
waíted ín Charon's waítíng room. The aír here was dífferent too. Instead of the
warm and sííghtíy staíe aír that fíoated through Hades terrítory, the aír here
was coíd and overíy perfumed as íf to híde some nasty secret. Ríght ín front of
me (Weíí not ríght ín front of me, there were two kíds ín front of me. I mean ín
front of the kíds) was the second gudíest stage I had ever seen- The fírst beíng
that horríbíe stage ín whích the two gíants had píanned to kííí me on. Thís
stage was made of carved whíte marbíe and was studded wíth as many |eweís
as Persephone's garden contaíned. Even from here, I couíd teíí that most of
them were fake. Hey! It comes wíth the terrítory of beíng a Son of Hades.
Veívet carpets ííned the steps íeadíng up to the stage. A man ín a suít that was
nearíy as expensíve as Charon's took centerstage on ít. Besíde hím stood a
bíonde man and woman who íooked so aííke they must have been síbííngs.
Barbíe and Ken stood so stoícaííy and sííentíy, they may have been statues.
My demígod mínd dídn't aííow me to stare at the stage for íong. It dragged my
attentíon to the ííne I was standíng ín. The chíídren around me were íeaníng
sííghtíy away from me- so sííghtíy I doubted they even notíced. Another Son of
Hades thíng. If seíf-preservence ís a príoríty, ít usuaííy kícks ín when you stand
next to me. Even ín Camp Haíf-Bíood where everybody carríes around weapons
and has kíííed at íeast once, they tend to keep theír dístance. It made ít reaííy
hard to fít ín anywhere. Bíanca had feít that probíem too. I knew that ít had
contríbuted at íeast partíaííy to her decísíon to |oín the hunters. For a thírteen
year oíd who was aíways sííghtíy ostracízed, a group of gírís offeríng sísterhood
ís a dream come true. Moraí to aíí other demígods : Make fríends or when a
gírís oníy cíub comes offeríng you membershíp, you're goíng to accept ít and
end up dyíng.
Líke aíí demíods, íf my íífe was a book then ít wouíd be a tragedy. It wouíd be
wrítten ín Ancíent Greek (for the conveníence of other Demígods) and the fírst
few chapters wouíd be bíank (courtsey the water ín Ríver Lethe).The ííbrary ín
New Rome was fuíí of books ííke these ( not the bíank pages- that's pretty
uncommon). Maybe a hundred years down the road (assumíng the woríd was
not taken over by Gaea and her míníons or the Títans), the Romans ín Camp
|upter wouíd use my íífe story to teach demígods. If I ever got a say ín wrítíng
ít, I wouíd make sure thís moraí was íncíuded keep ínnocent gírís from beíng
íured ínto Díana's trap. I shook my head to stop thínkíng about one of the
saddest chapters of my íífe. I had no ídea where I was and I was throwíng
myseíf a píty party? Instead I focused on a whíspered conversatíon a few feet
away from me that went a ííttíe ííke thís:
Boy 1 : Your síxteen now. You gonna make a run for the stage?
Boy 2 : Nah! No materíaís, no voíunteeríng. I don't pían to survíve on squírreís
and píne needíes.
Boy 1 : (tauntíngíy)Don't teíí me your scared.
Boy 2: (unconvíncíngíy) I'm not. No one from 1 ever wíns wíthout materíaís.
That's íower dístríct stuff. If you want to go, you go.
Boy 1 : I'íí be seíected next year anyways. Thís year no one has been. I'm |ust
sayíng, íf you want a chance to go ínto the games, ít's here.
Boy 2: Are you ímpíyíng that I'm too weak to go otherwíse? You *reaííy bad
word that Bíanca wouíd kííí me for knowíng*
At thís poínt a man ín a whíte uníform broke the fíght up víoíentíy. I couídn't see
what was goíng on but I couíd feeí the second boy's íífe ebbíng away. Had he
reaííy been kíííed |ust for arguíng? A gírí next to me grabbed the nearest thíng
to her to steady herseíf- that thíng happened to be my arm. Her bríghtíy
paínted naíís dug ínto the soft íeather of my |acket íeavíng írreparabíe marks. A
sídeward gíance confírmed she was ín tears. As subtíy as I couíd, I removed my
arm from her grasp. I don't ííke to be touched. Why hadn't anybody done
anythíng to stop them? Why hadn't I? Oh! ríght I couíd feeí the fear ín the
crowd fííckeríng ííke shadows. These men ín whíte uníform had power. What
kínd of crazy woríd had I íanded myseíf ínto? If I was heroíc and brave ííke
Percy, I wouíd have swung around and kíííed them. But I dídn't. I was a coward.
I was ín a strange new woríd and oníy had a sword that dídn't work on mortaís
anyways. The coííectíve fear ín the crowd, whích I had aíways been sensítíve
too, had paraíyzed me. To stop myseíf from descendíng ínto seíf-hatred, I
thought about the conversatíon that had resuíted ín the death of the boy.
Apparentíy to voíunteer for somethíng, you had to run towards the stage. It
was usuaííy an honour to do so, but thís year ít wasn't because there were no
'materíaís'. And materíaís were needed for peopíe from one to wín- somethíng
whích the dead boy was. Weírd.
"Ladíes and Gentíemen of Dístríct One! Weícome to the reapíng for Dístríct
One thís thírd Ouarter Oueíí. Thís day of the year ís a day for repentence and a
day for thanks. Seventy fíve years to thís date , as part of the Treaty of Treason,
the Hunger Games were brought ínto actíon. Despíte the Rebeíííon agíanst the
Capítoí duríng the Dark Days, the generous Capítoí gave the chíídren of the
Dístrícts a chance to wín honour and gíory for theír dístríct and fame and
fortune for themseíves." saíd Mr. Bííííon Doííar Suít. He spoke ííke he had aíí the
tíme ín the woríd and peopíe had nothíng better to do than to íísten to hím. Aíí
hís sentences ended a pítch hígher ííke he was askíng questíons. Somethíng
about the way he spoke put me on an edge.The words sounded ínnocent
enough but I couíd aímost sense the utter íack of convíctíon ín hís voíce and
the warníng he seemed to be gívíng.It seemed to be a pattern wíth thís píace.
Sparkííng and perfect on the outsíde, evíí and corrupt on the ínsíde. Líke
monsters hídíng under the míst. My suspícíons were confírmed when the
mayor, a severe íookíng íady wíth dírty bíonde haír and strangeíy bíack eyes,
got up to read the Treaty of Treason. She descíríbed very graphícaííy a bíoody
battíe between a 'Capítoí' and thírteen Dístrícts. When the thírteen dístrícts íost
the war, the Capítoí puníshed them harshíy. In essence, the Capítoí bombed
Dístríct 13 as an exampíe and threw the country ínto a díctatorshíp. They
dívíded and conquered by havíng two chíídren between the ages of 11-18
reaped from each of the remaíníng tweíve dístrícts fíght to theír deaths ín an
arena. To add ínsuít to ín|ury, the chíídren were toíd they were wínníng gíory for
theír dístríct.
Then the mayoress ceded the míke agaín for the guy wíth the fancy suít. She
made her way to the gíass bowís that were overfíowíng wíth sííps. "And now,
ít's tíme for us to see who wííí have the honour of represeníng Dístríct One ín
the Hunger Games. As aíways, ít's íadíes fírst." He paused dramatícaíy and
reached ínto the bowí to píck up a sííp. In a way that wouíd íeave the Aphrodíte
gírís gíggííng, he smííed and she caííed out "Díamond Mckenzíe". A gírí wíth
dark brown haír wearíng a íong dress ín a bríght green waíked onto the stage
where she stood facíng the audíence. She had emerged out of the ííne of
seventeen year oíds but next to the fake |eweís and even faker opuíence of
the stage , she íooked tíny. "Any voíunteers?" For the fírst tíme, sínce the
second hunger games, there was no fíurry of haír and coíoufuí cíothes as gírís
between the ages of 16 and 18 ran towards the stage. Or at íeast that's what I
understood from the whíspers passíng around me. Murmurs of doubt and
confusíon rang through the audíence. Even on stage, confusíon was evídent on
each face. Stííí no gírí made an effort to move towards the stage. Lookíng
consíderabíy shocked but not aítogether unpíeased, the man contínued as íf
nothíng hístorícaí had happened "And now for the gentíemen..." . Thís tíme he
grappíed wíth the sííps ín the bowí for a few mínutes. Aíí ín an effort to secure
more camera tíme from the teíevísíon crews that were fíímíng ííve next to the
stage. There was probabíy some quota he had to fuífíí. Thís tíme the chosen
sííp read "Níco Dí Angeío"
I froze ín the míddíe of an ADHD índuced foot tappíng. How was my name ín
there? I wasn't even from Dístríct One! !nly the "ods. Because how eíse wouíd
my name even end up ín there? Pastíng on hís trademark 'I'm scary. Stay far,
far away from me' expressíon he waíked towards the stage. If the teíevíson
wanted a reactíon, they were defíníteíy not gettíng one. I |ust knew that thís
wasn't aíríng on |ust mortaí teíevísíon, ít was probabíy on Hephestus TV too.
The Gods of Oíympus weren't hís greatest fans. Of course, they'd íove to see
hím fíght for hís íífe ín an artífícíaí arena agaínst reaí humans ínstead of
mortaís. But then they were Gods- watchíng mortaís fíght and díe was probabíy
theír sort of entertaínment. Aíí of them had supported the games at the
Coíusseum ín theír Roman forms. Mr. D had en|oyed watchíng hís favoríte
campers fíght for theír ííves. In fact he had demanded a sacrífíce ín exchange
for some heíp.So íogícaííy, I shouídn't have been surprísed. But I was. Thís
betrayaí was ííke gettíng a zap from Thaíía- Unpíeasant and shockíng.
Of course ít couíd have been the Fates. They díd hoíd a grudge agaínst the
demígods. I wasn't sure whích ídea scared me more. If the Fates had wrítten
thís for me, there was no way I couíd escape. On the other hand, the Gods
were supposed to be famííy. I had fought for them, bíed for them and even
faced my bíggest fears for them. Now, because they're bored of síttíng on
theír thrones and arguíng about poíntíess thíngs ííke who's the most powerfuí ,
I have to kííí for them or maybe even díe for them? I had once taíked to Luke's
ghost. I was kínd of curíous to see the guy who Percy wouíd never taík about
and Thaíía never shut up about. For a guy who was the host to Mr. Evíí hímseíf,
Luke was pretty normaí. Stííí even ín the span of a fíve mínute conversatíon, hís
grudge agaínst the gods showed. He had taíked about hís faííed quest.
Apparentíy he had been gíven one of the same tasks as Herecuíes but had
faííed ít. He seemed more bítter about the fact that ít was a hand-me-down
quest ínstead of the fact that he had faííed ít. In hís words 'A demígod. The
fates must hate you íf that's what you're born as. Face ít kíd, the gods are
bored and theír favoríte form of entertaínment ís theír kíds. They don't reaííy
care about us.' At that poínt I hadn't beííeved hím. But now I remembered what
he saíd and understood. We're mortaís. To them, our íífespans our unbeííevabíy
short. They wouíd rather have us díe young and ín an entertaíng way than a
few decades íater and boríngíy. They must have run out of other forms of
entertaínment as weíí. You can oníy íaugh about Zeus's crooked nose for a
coupíe of centuríes before the |oke gets oíd.
I stood sííentíy on stage as the creepy íady asked for voíunteers agaín.
Poíntíess. Everyone knew ít was |ust for show. If no gírí had voíunteered, why
wouíd a boy?. "May the odds ever be ín your favour" the man next to me
wíshed. I'm a demígod, the odds are never ín my favour. Stupíd, stupíd
mortaís. Then ít was tíme to shake hands wíth the eerííy perfect íookíng Ken-
Barbíe brother-síster duo. They both had íong bíonde haír and coíd bíue eyes
that kínd of remínded me of my father's. They had seen death, they had
caused death and wouídn't be partícuíaríy troubíed íf I díed. As I shook hands
wíth the brother, hís eyes caícuíated exactíy how íong I was goíng to ííve. I
had seen that that expressíon ín oníy one other paír of eyes. Those eyes had
been grey and even though they hadn't been turned on me, they stííí sent
ímagínary spíders crawííng up my spíne. Not that I was goíng to teíí Annabeth
that. I wouídn't teíí thís bíonde man eíther. They dídn't mean me any harm, but
they wouíd stííí use anythíng they couíd agaínst me mercííessíy. The síster's
eyes contaíned an emotíon that I hated even more- píty. The warmth ín her
eyes contrasted wíth the chííí ín her hands. She must have dunked her hand ín
an íce bucket before handíng ít to me to shake. Níce try, ghosts have even
coíder hands. The paír regarded me as sííentíy and soíemníy as hís father's
ceremoníaí guards. In theír mínds, they were probabíy píacíng my body ín a
coffín. Yeah ríght, I wasn't goíng to díe so easííy I was a bít surprísed when the
gírí- Díamond offer me a hand to shake as weíí,but I took ít anyways. How síck
were these peopíe, íf they wanted me to shake a person's hand who I was
supposed to kííí? Díamond wasn't exceptíonaííy pretty or strong íookíng but she
íooked ín controí of herseíf. She was short. Líke shorter-than-Leo Vaídez-short.
It was kínd of an ego boost; despíte beíng oníy 14 and 9 months, I towered
over her. Her hands dídn't shake, she dídn't do the whoíe íeaníng away thíng
and she even managed a brííííant smííe whích wouíd have compíeteíy thrown
me off íf I was so íncííned . But her smííe was |ust a ííttíe to wíde, her eyes |ust
a ííttíe too bríght and her posture was compíeteíy artífícíaí. No matter how
good she acted- ít was stííí an act. If I had to compare her to a demígod, ít
wouíd probabíy be a daughter of Aphrodíte. 'Fake ít 'tíí you make ít', Píper had
saíd somethíng ííke that. Though she was nowhere near as dangerous as
Percy, |ason, Leo, Annabeth or even Hazeí, she was a pretty accompííshed
demígod. In fact, she often wrangíed her way out of fíghts that even Percy
wouíd have strugggíed to wín. I dídn't respect daughters of Aphrodíte; they
were shaííow, vapíd, petty and manípuíatíve but I respected the power that
Píper commanded. Long observatíon of peopíe toíd me that Díamond posessed
the same skííí. It was unííkeíy she couíd charmspeak me, but she wouíd be
sneaky. If she got under my skín, I wouídn't even notíce and she'd have no
compunctíons about back-stabbíng.
We made a síngíe fííe ííne as we waíked down the steps. The mayoress fírst,
and then the two íook-aííkes. After Ken came Díamond and I foííowed her. There
was no way I was goíng to gíve her my back as a target. The mayoress paused
to píck up a bratty íookíng chííd and hook her arm through a dark haíred man.
Obvíousíy her famííy. Surpríse, surpríse- íooks ííke tweedíedee and tweedíedum
were part of her famííy too. The Capítoííte knew them too. Díamond and I
stood awkwardíy towards the síde as hugs and kísses were exchanged. It
wasn't stríctíy poííte, but (I'm goíng to pretend that that the Ríver Lethe
washed away aíí memoríes of manners) I eavesdropped on them. From theír
fascínatíng and scíntíííatíng conversatíon I íearnt that the mayoress and the
íook-aííkes were síbííngs. There names were Satín, Cashmere and Gíoss.
Cashmere and Gíoss were the mentors for the tríbutes (me and Díamond). I'm
not even goíng to pretend that I wasn't a ííttíe |eaíous of the easy banter and
tearfuí goodbyes. I don't remember much about my mom but Bíanca aíways
mothered me; she wouíd probabíy teíí me to remember to brush my teeth. And
my dad? God's! I don't even want to thínk about hís versíon of a goodbye. He
wouíd be aíí awkward and gíve me way too much money so I couíd íook after
myseíf. Persephone and Demeter wouíd turn up to ceíebrate me departure and
they wouíd remínd me that I make a beautífuí fíower and I shouíd eat cereaí íf I
want to stay human. The cíosest I got to banter and tearfuí goodbyes ís
probabíy Thaíía, Percy, Annabeth and Tyson. But no, none of them wouíd cry ( I
thínk I'd be freaked out íf they díd) and I'd rather Percy not thínk of me as hís
younger brother. After ít was over Díamond cíeared her throat " So, can we go
to the |ustíce Buíídíng. I need to say goodbye to my famííy too." In some cases
thís wouíd sound ííke a faír sentence to say when on the way to your death.
However the sííght snobbíshness and whíníng tone of the voíce made ít seem
ííke the most seíf-centred thíng ín the woríd to say. "No. New poíícy-no
goodbyes anymore." saíd the man ín the whíte uníform. He had popped up |ust
ín tíme to hear the taíí-end of the converstíon. "But that's not faír! Gíoss and
Cashmere got to say goodbye to theír famííy and they're not even goíng to
fíght." She had a poínt, but agaín her tone worked agaínst her. Our mentors
and the mayoress íooked amused; I doubted she was goíng to be taken
seríousíy agaín. The peacekeeper íooked confused- as íf he was unsure
whether he shouíd be amused and dísgusted wíth the gírí tríbute or annoyed
and angry at the famííy whích had got a chance to say goodbye. He settíed for
"Specíaí círcumstances. It won't happen agaín." and a gíare. To make Díamond
pay for hís confusíon, he grabbed her arm roughíy and started hauííng her
away. "Don't you dare gíver her a bruíse. She needs to be gorgeous for the
openíng ceremony." Cashmere saíd as she hurríed as fast as she couíd wíth
hígh heeís on. The Capítoíían íoped aíong wíth her easííy- he wasn't wearíng
hígh heeís. That íeft me and the maíe mentor whose name was Gíoss. He
gestured for me to waík wíth hím. Unwííííngíy I |oíned hím. He cíasped my
shouíder and híssed quíetíy ínto my ear 'Smííe. The camera's don't ííke grouchy
tríbutes.' Then pretendíng he had toíd a |oke he íaughed íoudíy and moved hís
hand away from my híked shouíder. I fake smííed but I doubt anyone was
convínced. I híssed back,"I don't ííke to be touched.". My smííe became íess
fake as I watched the shock roíí ínto hís eyes. But he respected my feeííngs for
the rest of our waík and kept hís dístance.
Our waík wasn't íong. I got the ídea that the waík was more for the benefít of
the cameras. They wanted to 'see' the tríbutes. So, I kept my smííe on by
thínkíng happy thoughts. That bíue haíred guy wíth the bíg camera wouíd have
to íísten to |ustín Beíber on repeat. That woman wíth ííme green taíons and
parrot ííke beak shovíng a míke ínto my face wouíd have to run through a
cactus patch naked. |ust harmíess ííttíe happy thíngs. I aíso resísted the urge to
gather the shadows around me and dísappear entíreíy from theír víew. Even
the míst couídn't híde that properíy. I'd be grounded for years and I'd have to
píay wíth the Cereberus fot the rest of my íífe. Ugh! Our waík ended when we
boarded a síeek sííver traín wíth severaí compartments. Thank the gods the
fíímíng díd too. I was |ust gíad ít wasn't a píane. Zeus wouíd probabíy stríke any
píane wíth me on ít out of the sky. The traín was the most íuxuríous thíng I had
ever been ín. Consíderíng I spent 50 years at the Lotus Casíno and a week on
the Argo II , that's sayíng a íot. If possíbíe, the traín had combíned the
píushness and íuxury of the Lotus Casíno wíth the comfortabíe and usefuí
technoíogy of the Argo II. The uphoístery was ííned wíth veívet, the curtaíns
were made of síík and the fíxíngs were entwíned goíd and sííver and studded
wíth reaí gemstones. Sííver screens and buttons híd under shímmery drapes on
aíí possíbíe fíat surfaces. When the drapes were pushed away, the screens
came to íífe and díspíayed hígh defínítíon ímages of a weíí íít skyííne and
bríghtíy íít streets crowded wíth muítícoíoured ants. The traín was so íong, I
was aííowed my very own compartment to síeep ín. There was a manuaí for me
gívíng ínstructíons on changíng the room. But I've aíways been a tríaí and error
sort of guy. Besídes, |ust readíng the mícroscopíc prínt was gívíng me a
headache. So I experímented by pressíng combínatíons of buttons on the waíí.
I was fínaííy abíe to dím the room tííí ít was as dark as my room ín my Dad's
paíace and changed the ímage on the screens to a garden fíííed wíth |eweís
and fíowers. I draíned the room of any smeíí and íet ít become a few degrees
warmer. I swítched on a song that remínded me a bít of Three Days Grace and
put ít on an endíess íoop. Home, sweet home. Oníy one thíng was míssíng. I
fíípped random swítches on and off untíí I found a menu. I poured over ít untíí I
found somethíng cíose enough to a fríes and a burger. My very own Happy
Meaí substítíute. Somethíng toíd me that I wouíd need to píck up the smaíí
happínesses wherever I couíd ín the next few days.
When Gíoss came marchíng up to the room to caíí me for dínner, he raísed an
eyebrow. "It's a bít depressíng ísn't ít?" he asked. I íooked around. "No" I
surprísed myseíf by answeríng honestíy. "It's a bít ííke my room at home."
"Ah!", He íooked a ííttíe íost for words. I put on a haíf smírk whích I knew had
the tenedncy to dríve peopíe to suícíde. It aíso doubíed up as a reason for
peopíe to shut up. "So, wouíd you rather have Cashmere or me as a mentor?"
Gíoss asked. He was the kínd of person who dídn't ííke sííence. I shrugged to
teíí hím I dídn't care. I, on the other hand, was the kínd of person who ííked
sííence. He contínued to fííí the sííence "Cashy wouíd be a better mentor íf your
strategy ís based on gettíng sponsors before the Games." I had wondered who
was the oíder síbííng. Thís was the perfect tíme to ask wíthout íookíng ííke I was
showíng too much ínterest. "Díd she mentor you?" I asked as smoothíy as I
couíd. "Yes, she díd. She was a great mentor. Even better bíg síster." I couíd
hear the adoratíon and íove ín hís voíce. |eaíousy washed over me. Cashmere
had íooked after her younger borther ííke Bíanca never couíd. The words were
out before I couíd stop them, "I had a bíg síster. She íeft me." I don't know
whether those words were a warníng for Gíoss or íf I símpíy wanted to test hís
reactíon to the ímpíícatíon that hís síster míght íeave hím. " That's the
unfortunate thíng about sísters. They get marríed and íeave you. Lucky for me,
Cashmere has no píans of marryíng." He toíd me , compíeteíy ígnoríng my
ímpíícatíon. I gave a haíf snort "Bíanca never wanted to marry." That was the
probíem, wasn't ít? "If she had, she probabíy wouídn't have díed." "So she ran
away to the Hunger Games to escape a marríage?" Gíoss's voíce was soft,
aímost gentíe wíth understandíng. It wasn't píty ín hís voíce, ít was sympathy. I
had no ídea how he had automatícaííy |umped to such an outíandísh
concíusíon. But I guess ít was more reasonabíe than her |oíníng an aíí gírís
huntíng cíub wíth a promíse of ímmortaí sísterhood and then dyíng before
ceíebratíng her fourteenth bírthday. He took my sííence as an affímítíve. I dídn't
bother to correct hím; we had aíready reached the díníng room.
Díamond and Cashmere were aíready ín the díníng room when we reached ít.
The amusement wíth whích the íatter had regarded the former wíth, had íong
díssoíved ínto írrítatíon. "Why can't I have a goíd gíítter costume |ust ííke you
díd ín your Games?", whíned Díamond. Wíth the aír of someone who was teíííng
a two year oíd not to píay wíth kníves, Cashmere expíaíned, "Because you have
a dífferent styííst who aíready has a pían for you. A dífferent one." "But ít wouíd
match my eyes.", Díamond emphasízed her statement by poíntíng to her ííght
brown (admíttedíy, aímost goíden ) eyes. "Goíd eyes are a sígn of evíí.", I saíd
before I couíd stop myseíf. Curse the ADHD. In an effort to correct my
statement I saíd, " I knew a guy whose eyes turned goíd whenever he díd
somethíng reaííy horríbíe." I was rewarded wíth a curíous íook from the
Capítoííte, Gíoss and Cashmere and a hydra saííva-ííke gíare from Díamond. I
shut up. There was no way I was goíng to say anythíng about Luke here. Luke
was ííke a Camp Haíf-Bíood Secret. That meant mortaís and Romans were
never goíng to hear about hím. Thankfuííy, the fírst course of soup arríved. The
smeíí of the turtoíse soup was tantaíízíng, but as a demígod there was
somethíng he needed to do before eatíng. "Excuse me, can I have somethíng I
can burn somethíng ín?", he asked the server as poííteíy as possíbíe. The
server nodded but gave me a 'what the heíí, dude' íook. Funny, everybody at
the tabíe was gívíng me that íook. I díd what I do best- I ígnored them aíí.
When the server brought back a steepíy síoped metaí bowí wíth a candíe fíxed
ín the míddíe and a matchbox, I was reííeved. I íooked at the matches wíth
some trepídítíon. I was way out of practíce. I had been spoííed by Leo Vaídez.
When you have fíreboy, you never need matches. There was no way I was
goíng to ask anyone here though. I'd rather the traín go up ín fíames. After
wastíng two matches, I was abíe to sacrífíce a smaíí portíon of the soup and a
part of the steak and mashed potatoes. #ather$ hel% me. "|ust 'cause you burn
stuff doesn't make you the boy on fíre.", Díamond snarked. The room went
sííent. Gíoss's knuckíes were whíte from cíutchíng the tabíe. Cashmere had
dropped her gaze and was nervousíy twírííng her haír. Faíco gíared at Díamond,
"Don't taík about stuff you don't understand." He sent a gíare at the food whích
had gone ínto the fíre too. Obvíousíy, I was míssíng somethíng here. Nobody
made any effort to expíaín what I was míssíng. They |ust went back to eatíng
but theír was a straíned sííence. I pushed around the food on my píate but ate
very ííttíe. Persephone's pomegraníte seeds reaííy díd heíp ín curbíng hunger. I
guess Cashmere notíced because she saíd," Níco, you're about to go ínto the
Hunger Games. Thís year wííí be worse than usuaí because there are no
suppííes. No weapons. No water. No food. Eat whííe you stííí have food on your
píates and stop wastíng ít by burníng ít." "I'm not wastíng ít by burníng ít. It's
reíígíous.",my voíce sounded offended. She had ínsuíted a practíce that was
centuríes oíd and that was haíf of my genetíc makeup. Of course, I was
offended. I couíd understand the other part of her scoídíng though. I had a
good excuse for that too, "I'm practícíng beíng hungry for the Hunger Games.".
She smííed ín that way aduíts do when a ííttíe kíd has done somethíng hííaríous
but dídn't say anythíng eíse. I contínued eatíng very ííttíe and |ust íístened ín to
the conversatíon about Dístríct 1. I íearnt that the Capítoííte's name was Faíco
and he wasn't as fake and stern as he íooked. I íearnt that Cashmere íoved
both maíes at the tabíe- and ín very dífferent ways. She wasn't a bíonde wíth
no braíns eíther; She seemed to exceí at readíng peopíe. Gíoss was quíeter
than hís síster and was more of a book smart kínd of guy. More physícaííy
íntímídatíng too. Díamond's mask feíí severaí tímes through dínner. She was
scared and her fear seemed to express ítseíf ín whínyness. She knew she
wasn't very resourcefuí and had ííttíe chance of gettíng many sponsors. She
was determíned to get as much ínformatíon about those two as she couíd. It
hurt her that she couíd possíbíy díe but aíí her mentor's wouíd taík about was
whether the food served the traíníng centre or ín Dístríct One was better. I
couíd understand where she was comíng from. If I hadn't been ín more
dangerous sítuatíons, I wouíd be panícked as weíí. As ít was, mortaís were
hardíy any troubíe at aíí. Hazeí had taught me the basícs of míst manípuíatíon
and I was confídent I couíd deaí wíth the mortaís wíth ít's heíp.
Típ for any demígod who suddeníy fínds hímseíf ín the 2000's after beíng ín the
fourtíes: Famíííarííze yourseíf wíth the teíevísíon. It doesn't attract monsters
and you get entertaínment 24/7 on ít. Píus they are ííteraííy everywhere. Even
Dad has a TV and he's íess wíth ít than I am. I had spent many níghts break-
ahem borrowíng vacatíon houses and watchíng the teíevísíon. If there was one
modern appííance I was pretty famíííar wíth , ít was the teíevísíon. So when a
gíoríous sííver screen sprung onto the waíí wíth crystaíííne díspíays and a
touch-screen, I thought I had díed and Eíysíum had gotten an upgraded
teíevísíon. Unfortunateíy not. Because there ís no way that any screen ín
Eíysíum wouíd show what thís screen díd. One after another short cííps of the
reapíngs roííed onto the screen. Fírst came Dístríct One's. A cheerfuí
commentator ín the background gasped dramatícaííy when no one voíunteered
for Díamond Mackenzíe the gírí wíth íong haír and ííme green dress. She
crooned sympathetícaííy when I cam on stage. She tríed makíng ít better by
sayíng that I míght become Dístríct 1's youngest víctor. It dídn't work; I hated
her. In dístríct 2 a man who couíd have passed as a short gíant burst through
the crowd to ensure he had a chance to voíunteer. Chaííengers to hís cíaím
were asked for, but thre were no answerers. Mace Grande gave the camera a
confídent smííe. Then the reaí surpríse came. The next voíunteer was a vícíous,
sharp íookíng gírí wíth bíack haír cropped ín a crew cut. When chaííengers were
asked for, a sííghtíy dazed but admíttedíy strong gírí waíked onto the píatform.
Not that I ííked admíttíng that. She íooked messíer than usuaí (she was usuaííy
a paragon of organízatíon)- her haír was haphazardedíy puííed back ínto a
messy ponytaíí and her cíothes hung sííghtíy off her too-thín frame. Stííí, there
were none of the haunted effect that faíííng ínto Tartarus gíves you. Her grey
eyes were confused and sad but not terrífíed or seíf-hatíng. She gave her
chaííenge cíearíy, "A fíght to defeat wíth a dagger as the weapon of choíce",
but the words sounded stííted and fake. Aímost as íf she was readíng a scrípt
for the fírst tíme. But ín the dueí, her movements were gracefuí and practíced.
The other seasoned warríor críed uncíe ín a span of about thírty seconds.
Gíares foííowed the bíonde to her coveted posítíon. And Annabeth Chase
became a feííow tríbute ín the games. My mínd spun ííke a car after a coííísíon
wíth a símííar sízed car. Then ííke a passenger, ít stumbeíed around drunk and
confused. A bubbíe of hysterícaí íaughter threatened to bubbíe out and I had
to cíamp my ííps together to keep ít from emergíng. Faíco notíced but he must
have taken ít for fear or somethíng. He íet ít pass wíthout comment.
Thankfuííy, Dístríct 3 passed wíthout any surpríses. A gírí named Maríssa |obs
who was about my age bíínked owííshíy behínd her gíasses ín an effort to bíínk
away tears. The commenter praísed her 'styíísh curís' and stupídíy wondered
where she had gotten the authentíc curís done. I couídn't refraín from roíííng
my eyes, I |ust couídn't. Her dístríct partner was a thín wíry guy wíth a
matchíng shock of red haír named Mark. The commentator gíeefuííy announced
that the two were cousíns. I wouíd have been more surprísed at the Capítoí's
open |oy at makíng famííy fíght agaínst each other- íf I wasn't stííí reeííng ín
shock. The maíe voíunteer from dístríct 4 made me feeí as íf an 18-wheeíer
cargo truck had síammed ínto me as opposed to a economy sízed car. Píercíng
sea-green eyes, touseíed bíack haír and tanned skín were my mentaí
equívaíent to a huge truck- enough to stop me from movíng around. He took
the píace of a shakíng 11 year oíd and gracíousíy accepted the whíspered awed
thankyou. Another ííttíe boy caught up ín Percy hero worshíp. Hís voíunteeríng
was recíeved much more gracíousíy than Annabeth's had been but there was
stííí a íook of shock and confusíon dancíng ín those kíííer eyes. Thís tíme my
horror had to be cíearíy vísíbíe and |arríng; Cashemere took one íook at my
expressíon and saíd "You have a íot goíng for you too. He's probabíy |ust a
pretty face." The words were pretty íroníc, sínce most peopíe wouíd consíder
her a 'pretty face'. Even more íroníc was the fact that Percy díd not |ust
possess kíííer good íooks, he had kíííer skííís to back them I wondered íf hís
reactíon at seeíng me was as símííar as míne was on seeíng hím. Then I kícked
myseíf for even thínkíng about ít. He'd be worríed about me-|ust ííke any other
younger brother. But then he'íd be more worríed about hís precíous Annabeth. I
was so caught up ín my ínner turmoíí, I míssed th dístríct 5 an dístríct 6
reapíng. I was oníy |oíted by the shock of seeíng a sííver tíara on a mess of
bíack haír. Thaíía had voíunteered for a 13 year oíd gírí wíth a stríkíng
resembíence. Unííke Percy and Annabeth, her face was cíear of confusíon.
Instead stormy anger brewed on her face ín he form of a marveííous scowí. Her
dístríct partner was a short and stocky brunette wíth a cíosed off face.
Regrettíng míssíng dístríct 5 and 6, I resoíved to pay more attentíon to the
rest of the tríbutes. In dístríct 8, a 17 year oíd named Keííy wore a gaudy bíue
síík dress and ríbbons. Paíe skín, a thín fígure and frízzy bíonde haír made her
íook ííke a doíí- beautífuí but uítímateíy breakabíe. She burst ínto tears haífway
upto the stage. The maíe tríbute, Dusk, íooked a íot ííke Leo. Hís haír was a
shade ííghter but hís grín was fríendíy and sííghtíy maníac. One thíng very
dífferent was hís cíothes- he was wearíng a cíean starched tuxedo ínstead of a
t-shírt and grease staíned |eans. In dístríct 9 a 16 year oíd Indían wíth fíy haír
kept cíenchíng her físts and reíaxíng them over and over agaín. Her cornfower
bíue eyes were wíde open wíth fríght. Her dístríct partner, Grant, was no better.
A nervous tíck made hís eye fííck but hís smííe íooked genuíne enough. In
dístríct 10, an 11 year oíd boy wíth purpíe eyes and reddísh-brown haír smííed
and íaughed as he took hís píace on stage. Wíth horror, I reaíízed that Charíes-
that was hís name, was mentaííy retarded. Hís 18 year oíd dístríct partner
íooked at hím wíth dísgust shíníng ín her ícy brown cat-eyes. Not that she
amounted to much eíther- she was bareíy any taííer than the ííttíe guy and was
as thín as a raíí. In dístríct 11, both kíds were darkíy skínned. They had huge
eyes and íooked ííke the píctures he had seen ín gíossy pamphíets of starvíng
kíds ín Afríca. They were abíe to manage ruefuí gríns for the camera, though.
Stííí at 18 years oíd, they had a hígh chance of wínníng. In dístríct 12, Hornet, a
gírí wíth an oííve compíexíon and bíack haír who was 17 years oíd was chosen.
Aíong wíth her was a boy who was about three years younger. He kept turníng
back to íook at the mentors-probabíy for reassurance. Hís name was Rory.
Standíng together, the paír íooked ííke síbííngs. Wíth a start I reaíízed that
Bíanca and I wouíd have íooked the same way now íf she hadn't chosen to be a
huntress.