Rebirth: A New Era of the Hunger Games- Palmer Willows' Story

In an alternate universe, where the assault on the Capitol failed, and District 12 was blown to smithereens, the Hunger Games restart. Only this time, they'll be more brutal than ever before.

Follow the journey of 16 year old Palmer Willows from District 7 as he fights for his life to return home in this deadly competition, but in an arena like this, who, and what, can be trusted?

(Weekly updates, as it is a write up of an RP tournament I'm part of on deviantArt- Fingers crossed that Palmer makes it through alive!)

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1. The Reaping

Palmer walked wearily down the street, the result of a long day getting to him. Despite the fact that his job wasn't very physically taxing, it required 100% of his attention and focus. But at the end of the day, he really shouldn't be complaining; it was what secured his family their reasonably decent house.

The scent of pine filled Palmer's nostrils as he passed by a large truck that was delivering the lumber from the lumber yards to the train station, where it would be transported to the Capitol. Normally, Palmer's father would be on one of those trucks, but not today. It was pre-reaping day, as Palmer's friend Oak liked to call it; most workers and businesses operated for less time, so that the whole of the district could be organised and prepared to be televised for the reapings.

Palmer continued down the street, quickly crossing the dirt road, arriving in the considerably richer section of the district that he was proud to call home. It wasn't quite all rainbows and sunshine, but more middle class than anything else. Which was fine; his situation meant that he still was in relative comfort and luxury, without having to worry about the more desperate citizens attempting to steal his possessions to make a quick bit of money for themselves. Sure, the state of some of these people broke Palmer's heart, but he drew the line at still feeling sympathy for them when theft was in the equation. After all, theft was a crime punishable by death, and Palmer had seen his fair share of public executions in his time.

Returning to the solid pavement, Palmer walked along the grey tiles, each one giving off a slight golden sheen, courtesy of the evening sun. Sunsets always were a thing of beauty to Palmer; they gave off a calm feeling of peace and relaxation, an extreme contrast to the considerably busy lives of the citizens of District 7. As the flaming circle of reds and oranges lowered further and further into the horizon, Palmer found himself falling to the ground, followed by hearing the sound of mischievous laughter.

"Got you!" The husky voice of one of Palmer's best friends, Larch, reached his ears, and Palmer turned his head, moving his brown hair out of his eyes of the same colour, to come face to face with the redheaded girl.
"That you did, Larch." Palmer mused, stifling a laugh. If there was one thing that Larch was known for, it was her brash, tomboy-like nature. She worked in the lumber yard, alongside her parents, and the job suited her like no other. After all, swinging a massive axe gave her a sort of rush that jobs in the factories didn't satisfy. "Now, could you kindly give me an explanation as to why you've just tackled me to the ground?"

"Oh, that!" Larch exclaimed, quickly getting off her best friend, blushing slightly, "Sorry if I hurt you, but this is really really important!" Yet again, she was practically bouncing off the walls. It didn't take much to trigger her hyperactive nature at all.
"What is it?" Palmer questioned, getting to his feet, wiping the dust from the floor onto his shirt.
"Oak finally managed to save enough money for the three of us to go out to the café!" She cried out, and Palmer had a hard time supressing an excited scream as well.
"Seriously?!" He exclaimed, a massive smile growing onto his pale face. Compared to his friends, Palmer's skin complexion was rather pale; Oak did work in the same factory as him, but he did spend weekends out with his family, and Larch practically lived outdoors, contributing to her constant tan.
"I'm deadly serious!" Larch replied, before running down the street. She reached the corner, before stopping, looking at Palmer. "Come on! He's already there, waiting for us!"

Shaking his head slightly at Larch's seemingly endless pile of enthusiasm and energy, Palmer picked up his pace, reaching Larch quickly. The two quickly matched each other's pace, and they were soon walking side by side.
"Hey, Larch," Palmer began, as they walked through a massive pile of pine leaves that Larch wasted no time jumping into, "How come we're going today? Most people do this sort of thing after the reapings."
"I don't know," Larch replied, climbing out of the pine leaves, "All I know is that Oak wants us there now," Suddenly, she stopped still, and gave out a slight chuckle, "Hey, Palmer..."
"What now?" Palmer asked, sighing. "If this is another one of your-"
"Surprise!" Larch suddenly sprang to life, and threw two fistfuls of pine leaves at him. They quickly got into his hair, and all over his face. 
"Oh, you didn't just do that!"

Wiping the majority of the leaves from his hair, Palmer reached into the pile, and began to continually toss them at Larch. She kept dodging, and retaliated by throwing even more at him, becoming harder and faster with each throw. Eventually, the large pile ceased to exist, and the two friends lay in a heap, laughing and smiling. They continued like this until Larch looked up at the sky. In the time period that they had spent bombarding each other with leaves, the sun had nearly disappeared entirely.
"Oh no!" She yelled, before leaping to her feet. Palmer did the same, and the two exchanged an uncomfortable glance.
"What is it?" Palmer asked. He felt that there was something that he was supposed to remember, but could not recall it at all. 
"Oak!" Larch blurted out, before sprinting down the road, Palmer right behind. How could they have forgotten! That was the whole reason they were out at all. 

How brilliant, Palmer told himself as the pair of friends darted through a section of houses, heading slowly towards the commercial side of the district, leave it to you to forget something like that so quickly. They crossed yet another road, before the slight scent of burning fires filled the air; the smell of the commercial section.

Finally, Larch turned one last corner, and stood completely still, allowing for the now panting Palmer to quickly catch up with her. He reached her, wiping a thin sheen of sweat from his forehead, and Larch let out a smile, pointing in front of her. Palmer followed her gaze, and also let out a grin. There, standing just in front of them, was the café, its clear glass doors allowing a sneak peak into the second most homely building in District 7- second only to their own homes. Even then, there were some people that spent more time sitting at one of the wooden tables than with their families.

"Let's go in!" Larch eagerly exclaimed, and ran up to the doors, before pushing them open. The scent of brewing tea instantly reached Palmer, and he found himself being pulled in by the mouth watering aroma alone. Soon enough, they had both crossed the threshold, and the doors swung shut behind them, allowing for the quaint atmosphere of the place to be properly absorbed.

There was a black and white checker pattern that covered the entirety of the floor, each little square being large enough for Palmer to step both of his feet into. Several lampshades hung from the roof, giving the entire place a warm, welcoming glow, along with the ceiling fans that were strategically placed throughout the room, keeping it at a constant refreshing temperature. And all of this, combined with the idle conversations of customers over hot mugs of tea, and other various beverages, gave the café a sense of nostalgia to Palmer.

"Hey, you two!" A voice carried out over the rich atmosphere, and Larch and Palmer turned their heads to see their long time best friend, Oak, sitting, almost ironically, at a rather large oak table, holding several notes of money in his hands.
"Hey, Oak!" Larch called back, before rushing over to their dark blonde haired friend, "Come on, Palmer!" The three of them all let out a laugh as Palmer sauntered over to them, barely avoiding running into a woman as she bit down into a small cake.
"Sorry!" He quickly called out to her, and the woman shook her head at him, smiling softly.
"Just be more careful next time. There was no damage done, so it's alright." Palmer nodded apologetically, before reaching the table. He grabbed a seat, and sat down next to Oak, Larch sitting on the other side of the blonde boy.

"I'm sorry we took so long," Larch began light heartedly, "It's just that there was this pile of leaves, and me and Palmer sort of declared war on one another." In response to this, Oak began to laugh.
"And you didn't think to let me know?" He wiped a stray tear from one of his eyes, "Shame on you."
"I would have," Palmer added, "But you try doing anything when you have a ruthless redhead assaulting you with a pile of leaves, each one acting like they were being fired at a hundred miles an hour."
"True, true," Oak continued, his expression one of deep thought, "But, I don't know, couldn't you have developed telepathy just to let me know?"

This last statement caused all three of them to simultaneously burst into a fit of laughter. Fortunately, the sheer amount of conversations going kept people from being distracted to the point of staring.
"Look, Oak," Palmer giggled, a wide grin crossing his face, "You can't just develop telepathy; it doesn't work like that!"
"I know," Oak replied, running a hand through his hair, "But if you could, imagine the possibilities!"
"Yeah!" Larch cried out, "You'd be able to have conversations when you're on seperate sides of the district!"
"It'd be cool," Palmer began, "But unfortunately, it doesn't exist." This caused an exasperated sigh to escape from Oak's lips. 
"A guy can dream!" Palmer's blonde friend replied, before standing up, "Well, I suppose I should be getting something to fill our stomachs. What do you guys want?"

"Ooh!" Larch practically leapt up into the air, "I'd like a mug of hot cocoa, and one of those little cakes! You know, the ones that have those delicious jam fillings!"
"I know the type," Oak said with a smile, before turning to Palmer, "What about you?"
"Me?" Palmer paused for a moment, "I'd like their speciality tea. Ask for a dash of sugar, and a hint of cream; it really brings out the flavour."
"Got it." Oak said assuringly, and crossed the café, joining the queue of people.

With it only being the two of them remaining at the table, Larch turned to Palmer, her face hard, and full of concern. Palmer instantly noticed the change in her expression, and faced her, his own expression softening.
"Hey, Larch. You okay?" He asked softly. In response, Larch simply shook her head, tears dripping from her cheeks.
"No, I'm really not." A sob briefly burst out of her, and a stabbing feeling of sorrow filled Palmer at the sight of his best friend breaking down into a sobbing fit. "Palmer, I'm scared."
"Scared of what?" Palmer questioned. The three of them were enjoying themselves together in the best place in the whole of District 7. What was there to be scared of? The realisation hit Palmer an instant before it spilled out from Larch's lips.
"The reapings." Larch said darkly, her voice trembling. "Palmer, I had to take out tesserae this year."

This realisation struck right into the core of the brown haired boy. Of course, he always knew that Larch wasn't as financially well off as himself and Oak, but he'd never have imagined it was that bad.
"How come?" Palmer asked, confused and concerned.
"Well, you see... My mother. She's, um," Larch took a series of deep breaths, and wiped a tear from her face, "Pregnant."

So that explained it. After all, there were only so many mouths that could be fed on only the money supplied by working in the lumber yards.
"Oh, Larch," Palmer began softly, his tone full of concern and consideration, "I had no idea. No wonder you had to take out tesserae." He stopped talking for a moment, to clear his throat, "Just out of question, how many times do you have your name in now?"
"Ten." She replied bluntly, trying to get her voice under control. "Ten times."
"Larch, that isn't that much," Palmer said, a warm smile on his face, "I know some people in school that have double, no, triple that amount. It's nothing to worry about at all." Saying this had the desired effect; Larch's features relaxed, and a ghost of a smile appeared on her face.
"Thanks, Palmer."

Just then, the sound of a chair being moved reached their ears, and they turned to see Oak, holding a large tray, with three drinks, and a small cake; their orders.
"Here you are," Oak said, handing Palmer the cup of tea, and Larch the mug of cocoa, "Exactly what you asked for." He smiled at the two of them, before taking a drink from his own cup.
"Thank you!" Larch exclaimed through mouthfuls of the cocoa, the brown drink coating her mouth, "It's delicious!"
"You're welcome then," Oak said sheepishly, "And how's yours, Palmer?"
"Perfect." Palmer replied, taking another sip, "Just perfect."
"That's what I love about this place," Larch began enthusiastically, "You're never disappointed!"
"Amen to that." Both the boys said in unison, before Oak lifted his drink into the air,
"I propose a toast: To the perfection that is the café, and to our friendship." Palmer and Larch were quick to raise their drinks, and they gladly toasted, before finishing off their drinks.

As Oak took away the empty drinks, and Larch devoured her cake, Palmer looked out of the window. It was now dark outside; the sun had set rather quickly, or they had been in there longer than he thought. He'd best be getting home soon if he wanted any hope of waking early enough to not miss the reaping. Since if he missed that, he'd never see anything again; the Peacekeepers would quickly gun him down, leaving his corpse wherever he died. Just another nasty aspect of the reaping day; be there, or die.

Palmer looked over to the other side of the café, and watched as Oak returned to the table, his hands empty. Without warning, a yawn escaped from the brown haired boy's mouth, and Oak and Larch looked at him, trying to hold back a laugh.
"Seems somebody's tired." Oak said jokingly, before yawning himself.
"You're one to talk." Larch chipped in, "Look at the two of you. If we don't get home soon, I'll have to tuck the two of you in right here!" She then began to giggle uncontrollably, her sombre tone from before all but gone.
"Alright then, let's go home." Palmer decided wearily, and his two friends nodded in agreement.

They got up from the table, and walked across the café, thanking the owner for such a good time. She smiled in response, and the trio walked out of the doors, and into the night time streets of District 7.

It was dark, but not cold, Palmer noted. He guessed it was due to the somewhat warmer climate of the district that prevented it from becoming extremely cold at night. But that didn't mean that it was all bright and sunny; it was practically pitch black.
"So," Larch began, and if it weren't for the lack of visibility, Oak and Palmer would have clearly seen the devious grin on her face, "Last one to the housing area has to buy all of our next meal at the café!" The last of her sentence drifted in the wind as she darted off down the road.
"Come on!" Oak called to Palmer, "Let's make sure she doesn't win this time!" Palmer nodded, and after letting out another laugh, darted off into the darkness, following the airy giggles of Larch.

"I'm catching up to you!" He called after her, panting heavily.
"Wait for me!" Palmer heard Oak's cries behind him. Not that far behind, but far behind none the less.
"Come on, slowpokes!" Larch called behind her, to both Palmer and Oak.
"Oh. That's it!" Oak yelled, but Palmer remained silent, a smug grin crossing his face as he swiftly matched Larch's pace. He turned to face her, and sensing another presense, Larch turned to face him. Upon seeing Palmer catching up with her, she let out a slight yelp.
"Palmer?! How?!" She shouted at him, but Palmer simply laughed, before running across the road, ahead of her.

Palmer's hands flew to the nearest house, and he let out a cry of triumph. He had finally beaten Larch!
"I win!" He shouted into the night sky, "Take that, Larch!" The sound of panting filled the air, and soon enough, Larch and Oak dragged themselves to the house, gasping for air. 

After a few moments, Larch managed to regain her breath, and took Palmer's hand in her own, shaking it.
"Congrats," She panted, "Guess you won." The weary smile she was wearing turned confident yet again, and a cocky laugh broke free, "But you won't be so lucky next time."
"We'll see, Larch." Palmer said, laughing. "We'll see."
"Not to be a party pooper or anything," Oak began, "But it's quite late, and I don't know about you, but I'm rather tired." Oak was right; it was late at night, and they had the reaping ahead of them.
"Alright then, let's go home." Palmer declared, earning two nods of approval.

Wordlessly, the three of them walked to the end of the street, stopping in front of a house with all of its lights still on; Palmer's home. Palmer walked up to the front door, and before opening it, he turned to face Larch and Oak.
"I guess I'll see the two of you tomorrow then." He said, about to walk into his house, when Larch began to speak.
"I just had an idea! You know how the reaping's not until the afternoon?"
"Yeah," Palmer replied.
"Well, how's about we spend the morning together!"
"Doing what, exactly?" Oak questioned.
"I don't know right now, but I'll figure out something!" She declared brashly, before waving to Palmer, "See you tomorrow!"
"Same." Palmer said, opening the door. He stepped inside, and turned to face his friends, but they had already run off, racing to whoever's house was closest. A smile crossed his face, and Palmer closed the door behind him, finally home.

Almost instantly, the sound of small feet running down the stairs echoed throughout the house, and Palmer had no time to react as his younger sister, Magnolia, tackled him to the ground in a fit of childish laughter.
"Palmer, you're home!" She laughed, as her older brother stood up.
"Yep, I'm home." Palmer replied warmly, before embracing the little girl in a hug. As far as relationships with people went, there wasn't anyone closer to one another than Palmer and Magnolia. The small eight year old girl always managed to put a smile on his face, no exceptions. She had their mother's fair brown hair, and their father's friendly green eyes.
"I'm so happy! I haven't seen you all day!" Magnolia continued, her voice full of positive energy. "At least we can be together tomorrow all day!"
"Actually, Magnolia," Palmer said, stroking her hair, holding her close, "I promised Larch and Oak that we'd spend the morning together,"
"Oh," Magnolia said, deflated.
"But I promise you that as soon as the reaping ends, we'll spend the rest of the day together."
"Pinky promise?" Magnolia demanded. Smiling, Palmer offered his hand, and their pinky fingers intertwined.
"Pinky promise." Palmer said, before kissing her on the forehead, "And look at the time. If I were you, I'd be asleep. After all, we have to be in the town square by lunch time."
"Okay!" Magnolia replied, before running off upstairs, giggling all the while.

Letting out a tired sigh, Palmer walked down the hallway, and into the living room. It was empty, but the light was on. His parents weren't there. They were probably in the kitchen. Palmer walked out of the room, turning the light off, and entered the kitchen. Yet again, nothing. But before he left, Palmer caught the time.

23:40

It was nearly midnight. They were all probably asleep, with the exception of Magnolia, who refused to sleep until Palmer was home. Letting out another yawn, Palmer became aware of just how tired he was.

Walking out of the room, Palmer turned the light off, and made his way up the stairs. He looked at the door to his parents' bedroom, and listened in. A faint snoring sound could be heard. He was right; they were asleep. 

He walked across the landing, to Magnolia's bedroom. He pushed the door open, and found his younger sister laying on the bed, fast asleep. She was known for being able to doze off remarkably quickly. Palmer blew her a kiss, and walked out of her room, and into his own. He turned the light on, and took in his room.

In the corner, there was his bed; a small wooden one, but sturdy enough to survive an apocalypse. On the other side of the room was his closet; made of sturdy wood, and containing Palmer's few outfits.

But what Palmer loved the most about his room was the wooden shelf on the wall above his bed. It was full to the brim with books, and not just the kind that the Capitol endorsed, or rather, enforced upon the citizens. No, this was old world fiction, full of controversial tales about futuristic dystopian societies, gritty tales full of life or death situations, saucy love stories, and massive fantasies involving creatures that could have only been imagined by the greatest of authors. Of course, these books were completely banned in all of the districts; reading was classed as an extreme waste of time and resources, and these books were probably restricted in even the Capitol. After all, if the wrong person read a book about how the loveable underdog manages to completely tear down an oppressive government, they might have the intelligence and resources to create a full-scale rebellion against the Capitol.

Sighing at the thought, Palmer walked over to his bed, and pulled back the covers. He then sat on the edge of his bed, and went to work untying his work boots. Once that was done, he pulled them off, and placed them neatly in the corner of the room. They had to be in decent condition for use the day after the reaping, along with the rest of his work attire. That in mind, Palmer began to swiftly unbutton his shirt, pulling it off, and carefully hung it up on the wall next to his boots. The same went for his work jeans, and soon enough, his work outfit was hanging on the wall next to his bed, leaving Palmer in his undershorts.

Making sure that his work outfit wouldn't come loose in the night, Palmer crossed the room once more, and crawled into bed, sliding the covers over him, and drifted off to sleep, his thoughts being those of the next day.

He would have the entirety of the day off tomorrow, and would be able to almost whatever he wanted. Sure, the reaping would cut off three hours of the day, but still, what was three hours compared to the 24 hours of freedom from work and school? When he would wake up, he would waste no time in going out to find Larch and Oak. The three would do whatever they would be doing until about noon, when Palmer would go home, and change into his reaping clothes, before heading to the town square with his family. After that, an afternoon with Magnolia. After all, she had been looking forward to this for weeks on end, and it was sort of impossible to not cave in to an eight year old's demands.

When Palmer opened his eyes again, the morning sun was streaming through his window, right into his eyes. He blinked several times, before sitting up. This day had come around too soon for his liking, but what could he do except get on with the day's events?

Palmer climbed out of bed, and walked across the room to the closet. He swung the wooden doors open, and pulled out his reaping outfit; a simple dark suit, with formal dress shoes. He hated the outfit, but it was an unspoken rule to look as smart as possible for the reaping. Regardless of his sentiments towards it, Palmer placed it neatly on his bed, before pulling out his other outfit to wear until the reaping; a plain, grey, sleeveless shirt, and a pair of worn jogging pants that Palmer had outgrown several years ago, meaning that they only fell to halfway down his shins. Good thing it was summer, or he might have found it slightly uncomfortable.

After putting the outfit on, along with a pair of worn running shoes, Palmer opened the door of his bedroom. The smell of freshly cooking meat reached him, the aroma wrapping itself around his nostrils. It smelled delicious; another thing that Palmer loved about reaping day; a delicious breakfast. After all, it could potentially be the last meal he ate before being shipped off to die, but the odds of that were so low, it was more probable that he'd be hit by a train than get reaped. Either way, it meant good food; the local butchers and bakers usually sold food at a discounted price the day before reaping day.

Following the scent of the delicious breakfast, Palme descended down the flight of stairs, and turned left, entering the kitchen and dining room rolled into one. His mother and Magnolia sat at the table, talking, whilst his father was standing near the oven, preparing breakfast.
"Good morning, Palmer." His mother said warmly, and motioned to the table, "Come, sit down." Palmer complied, and sat at the table, opposite Magnolia. His mother was a rather pretty woman, with brown hair that fell in waves down her back, and dark brown eyes that always seemed alert.  She was also quite caring; always putting her family before herself. That was probably why those she worked with loved to be around her. Luckily enough, both her children had inherited her rich brown hair, giving them attractive qualities.

Palmer's father was also a decent looking man, with thinning dark blonde hair, a constant layer of stubble over his face, and dulled green eyes. From a distance, he looked rather plain, but if you got close to him, physically and emotionally, his eyes almost seemed to light up, becoming a brilliant green. Magnolia had inherited those eyes, making her the more beautiful of the two Willows children. If she was anything like her parents, Magnolia would grow up to be a very beautiful woman indeed. Palmer, on the other hand, would probably end up with the rugged qualities of his father, with the soft features of his mother, making him not bad looking, but not in the same way as his sister was predicted to be.

"I hope you've all got quite the appetite," The voice of Palmer's father rang out. His voice was quite deep, but with an almost melodic quality to it; it was one of the things that his mother was attracted to. Ironically enough, Palmer's father had the musical ability of a dying tracker jacker, despite the musical quality of his voice. "Because we have a large amount of breakfast."

As the plates of food were placed onto the table, both Palmer's and Magnolia's eyes lit up with joy. Their breakfast consisted of several slices of toasted bread, eggs, and a few slices of bacon. Sheer bliss. Without another word, Palmer began to devour the meal in front of him. The toasted bread was delicious; Palmer could tell straight away that it was freshly baked, the eggs ran down his throat, bursting with flavour, and the bacon... Words wouldn't suffice for the sheer bliss that was thrown on Palmer's face with each and every mouthful. He wanted to savour this meal forever, yet at the same time, he wanted to just shove it all into his mouth in one big gulp, it was that delicious.

However, it didn't last forever, and soon Palmer was licking the remainder of the juices from the egg off of his plate, his stomach bloated from the delicious meal. He felt so satisfied, that he nearly didn't want to go out and meet Larch and Oak. Nearly, however, wasn't quite entirely, and Palmer found the energy to get up from the table, and head towards the hallway.
"Where are you going?" His father asked, concerned. Oh, right. He hadn't told his parents about the plans for this morning.
"I'm gonna go out and see Oak and Larch," He explained, before quickly adding, "Don't worry. I'll be back in time for the reaping."
"Okay then," His mother replied, "Just be careful." Her voice was full of caring concern, just like always.
"I'll be fine." Palmer exclaimed to his family, "See you later."

Walking out of the room, Palmer made his way down the hallway, and to the front door of the house. He reached out, and grabbed the door handle, pulling the door open.

The sound of birds chirping reached Palmer's ears, and the warm summer air wrapped around him. It was a beautiful day, perfect for a day off from life. He shut the door, and ran down the empty street, eagerly awaiting the fun that today would bring. Palmer picked up the pace, and turned the corner, the sound of his feet running on the slightly dusty floor drowning out all other sounds. In the distance, Palmer could just make out the sounds of people talking; probably the Capitol workers preparing the town square for the reaping. Judging by the position of the sun, Palmer had about three hours before the reaping began. Which was enough time for him.

Palmer slowed down, and walked across one of the several roads that led from the expanse of forest that surrounded the district; they were used by the transport trucks to deliver lumber to the train station. Palmer shook his head, and began to laugh. Why had he stopped? The trucks didn't operate on reaping day; nothing did.

Grinning to himself, Palmer ran across the road, and headed towards another section of houses that were more run down than his own; Larch's house. The scent of pine was strong in the air as Palmer made his way into the small cul-de-sac of houses. The path here was covered in dried up mud from the forests that the workers in the lumber yards had dragged in every single day. Following the trail of dirt, Palmer made his way to one house in particular.

After wiping the slight sheen of sweat from his brow, Palmer knocked on the door of the house. He waited several moments, before it slowly opened, Oak being revealed to Palmer.
"Hey," Oak said, fully opening the door, revealing the insides of Larch's house, "Care to come in?"
"Why not?" Palmer replied, flashing a smile at Oak. He stepped inside, Oak shutting the door behind him.

Palmer took in Larch's house. The layout wasn't too different from his own, but the atmosphere was different. It was almost as if he could feel the poorness of the house; the mood of the house contrasted with the personality of Larch entirely.
"Hey, Larch! Palmer's here!" Oak cried out, and seconds later, Larch emerged from around the corner, wearing what Palmer imagined was her reaping outfit; a green sleeveless tank top adorned with several pinned on flowers, and a bright coloured skirt. It was rather feminine, but it still screamed of Larch's tomboyish nature.
"Palmer!" Larch said, running up to him, before looking him over, "I didn't know you were going for the revealing look this year." She teased, patting Palmer's bare shoulder.
"This isn't my reaping outfit," He explained coolly, "I'm just wearing this until the reaping begins."
"Oh, alright then." Oak let out a smile, and Palmer looked at his friend's reaping outfit. It was a checked button up shirt, with the first two buttons undone, and a pair of smart jeans. Very down to earth, and very Oak. Upon seeing this, Palmer realised that his reaping outfit was the only one that didn't compliment his personality. Then again, neither did this outfit; it did a poor job of covering him up, but it did allow for him to be cool in the summer heat.

"So," Palmer began to Larch, "What're we going to do?"
"That's easy," Larch replied, "We're going into the forest."
"What?!" Oak and Palmer replied at the same time. Neither boy had ever set foot in there, and Palmer planned for it to stay that way. The forest was full of bugs, and bugs creeped him out.
"Don't panic," Larch explained, "It's not forbidden, or whatever you thought. And besides, it's nice and isolated, away from the frantic nature of reaping day."
"Alright then," Oak sighed, "But if we get punished for this, I'll say it was all your fault.
"Oh, Oak," Larch taunted, "And all this time I thought that Palmer was the whimpy one." She glanced at the flustered Palmer, and let out a laugh, "Don't take it personally." Larch winked at him, and rushed towards the door, opening it.
"Guess we'd better follow her." Oak mumbled to Palmer, his tone uneasy. It made sense, considering they were going somewhere that they didn't know about.

The two boys walked out of the front door, and down the path, following the excited Larch. She reached the road, and turned to face them.
"Come on, we don't have all day!" She called back to them, and Palmer and Oak exchanged the same grin.
"She is way too excited over this." Palmer said, Oak nodding in agreement. They then reached up with her at the grey road, and followed her down the road, towards the forest. The warmth of the summer sun seemed to spread to the various brightly coloured flowers that bloomed all along the road side, and even into the forest. The road curved left, and Palmer, Oak, and Larch all followed the concrete as it became dirt, and then, the natural forest floor.

Palmer looked around with awe at the massive trees that grew up from the ground, casting a calming shadow of green along the ground, rippling in the slight breeze; a natural patchwork. Everything smelled of pine, and Palmer found himself greedily taking in the scent. It was almost as enticing as the smell of his breakfast. A bird suddenly shot up from the bushes, a mockingjay, and vanished into the canopy up above, its melodic cries ringing out through the trees. Only one word described this place to Palmer; beautiful.

"So, where are we going?" Oak asked Larch, who had lost herself in the nature. Snapping out of some sort of trance, she pointed straight ahead.
"Just a little further; you'll love it when you see it." She replied, and ran off down the natural clearing of the bushes. It looked like a path formed of grass and flowers, almost giving off a magical atmosphere. 

Oak followed Larch, and Palmer lagged behind, taking in everything. The grass below him had managed to join together; blades of grass becoming twisted braids that made tiny pathways for smaller animals. Palmer stopped as a small rodent darted out from one bush, looked at him with its large black eyes, and vanished into the bushes again. Palmer looked ahead again, and caught up with Larch and Oak.

Suddenly, Larch looked around, her eyes plastered with fear, and leapt into the bushes. She poked her head out, and motioned for Oak and Palmer to do the same. They both hit the floor, sinking as low as possible. A small spider crawled across Palmer's hand. He resisted the urge to cringe as it walked off of his hand, disappearing from sight.
"Larch, what was-" Oak began, but was cut off by Larch shoving her hand onto his mouth.
"Not so loud!" She whispered, before motioning to the same bush that she was hiding in, "Get in here, if you want to live."

Something was off here. Something was very off, and an odd feeling filled Palmer's stomach; fear. He knew not to ignore such a feeling, and darted into the bush, alongside Oak. The three of them moved deeper into the massive bush, and it revealed itself to be a small cave made of leaves and branches. As soon as they were securely in the bush, Larch let out a small sob.
"Larch, what is it?" Palmer asked, his voice low, and full of concern, like normal.
"I'm so stupid!" Was Larch's reply. She whispered the words so harshly, it was like a muted hiss. "How could I have forgotten?!"
"Forgotten what, exactly?" Oak asked, his voice tense, "Larch, what was it?" This time, his tone was agitated. Another sob escaped Larch's lips, and she cleared her throat.
"It's illegal to be in the forest on the morning of the reaping day."

All of the positivity in the air disappeared with that single statement. They were in the forest illegally. As in, if they were found, it was punishable by death. The thought of death sent a chill down Palmer's spine, and he began to wish that he had brought something with longer sleeves.
"It's fine, though," Oak spoke up, "After all, we haven't seen any Peacekeepers, have we?" In response, Larch pointed in the direction of where they were. Curious, Palmer poked his head out. It still looked calm and beautiful, like-

Three pairs of white boots came stomping down, crushing the small, intricate pathways made by the grass. Peacekeepers. And as if to make matters worse, Palmer could see that each Peackeeper was carrying a rifle, probably with the instruction to shoot and kill. Palmer quickly retreated into the bush, and saw Oak and Larch both looking out too. They returned in, both of their faces white with horror. Larch began to shake and sob, holding her mouth to stifle the sound. The stomping quickly grew distant, and Palmer let out a breath he wasn't even aware that he was holding.

"Now what?" Palmer asked urgently. He could see why it was illegal to be here; potential tributes could hide away, maybe even managing to vanish forever in the depths of the forest. All to avoid the reaping.
"Isn't it obvious?" Larch let out a choked laugh, "We get out. Now."
"But the Peacekeepers-"
"Oak, we need to get out before they get back!"

They didn't need telling again, and all three of them stood up, looking out of the bush. Palmer couldn't see the Peacekeepers, but he could see the destruction that they had left in their wake. However, there was no sign that the road was close either.

Larch was the first to move. Furtively, she leapt out of the bushes, and into a clearing. Palmer and Oak followed her. She then looked around, before running to the cover of the trees. It only made sense; remain as hidden as possible to get out alive.

Not even daring to breathe, Palmer followed Larch's lead, sticking closely to a tree. They then remained still for a few moments, before moving out to the next tree. They repeated this a few times, continually headed in one direction, but there was still no sign of the road out of there.
"Larch," Palmer whispered. Larch snapped her head around, and gave a questioning glance that was easily interpreted as 'what?', "I'm sure that we managed to get from the entrance to where we were in this amount of time; what's taking us so long."
"Well, think about it logically," Larch replied quietly, "They probably have a whole swarm of Peacekeepers surrounding the entrances. We need to find a secret way out."
"Secret way out?" Oak said quizzically, "What do you mean by that?"
"Oak, do you really think the starving citizens of the district just sit around, waiting for tesserae to fall from the sky?"
"Well-"
"Don't answer that." She snapped, "And the answer is: They don't. They sneak into the forest, and steal natural fruits and berries, and occasionally, a brave soul may try hunting. And how do they get in undetected? Secret entrances." Oak remained silent, whilst Palmer made a murmur of approval. It made sense; they would have been idiots if they relied solely on tesserae grain; it barely lasted one person, never mind large families.

"And do you know of any of these secret entrances' locations?" Palmer asked. Larch faltered, and stumbled, tripping onto the ground. Oak and Palmer quickly ran over to her, and helped her up. But when they saw her face, what little hope they had forced themselves to believe in had vanished. Larch was sobbing, and shaking her head.
"No," Was all that she could say, "No, no, no, no!" She stood up, shakily, and punched a tree, slamming her head into it. "I don't know where any of them are."

Palmer felt his own resolve break. Nobody had any idea of how to get out. None of them. They were trapped in the forest, with the Peacekeepers patrolling every easy exit, with less than two hours to get to the reaping, and if they failed to attend, it meant certain death. Palmer felt a sudden urge to help out, to do something, but what could he do? The only one that knew anything about this forest was Larch, and she was currently a sobbing wreck under a tree. But there was a nagging feeling that kept grabbing at Palmer, and he had no idea what it was. Whenever he tried to think about what it was, all he got was the image of the small rodent, vanishing into one of the bushes. Wait a minute; vanishing into bushes!

"Guys, I think I know a way out!" Palmer suddenly exclaimed to his two friends. Oak looked at him in disbelief, whilst Larch's expression was different, as if she had the faintest trace of hope.
"You do?" She asked, her voice shaky and raw from crying, breaking on every other letter, "Where?"
"The bushes near the entrance; I saw a small rodent crawl into it. By all means, I should have been able to hear it hiding in the bush, but I couldn't. And now that I've thought about it, I think it was a tunnel dug out as an easy way in and out!"
"Are you serious?!" Oak exclaimed, before clamping a hand over his mouth.
"Deadly serious, my friend." Palmer said, full of confidence, whilst Larch's face was deep in thought.
"You know, I think you're right! I remember one of my neighbours continually going into their back yard with a shovel over the course of a few months. Which means that if it truly exists, it should bring us out right near my house!" She stood up, a hopeful grin on her face, "Come on! We have to see if Palmer's right!"

The three of them desperately scrambled through the foliage, batting back leaves and jumping over roots, until they reached the section of large bushes. There was a slightly more prominent breeze now, and it was doing wonders by cooling off Palmer; sweat was trickling down his forehead. After remaining at mercy to the wind for a brief moment, Palmer took the lead, heading to the bush where he saw the rodent. Yep, this was definitely the one.
"It's this one!" He called out, and Larch and Oak ran over to him, looking at the bush in question. 

Upon closer inspection, it appeared that something was off about this bush; the colouration of the leaves was different. Suspecting something, Larch picked one, and ran her fingers along it.
"It's plastic!" She cried out in a mixture of shock and joy, before bending down. She grabbed the bottom of the bush, and with a little effort, lifted the whole thing out of the ground. And right there, under the bush, was a large hole.

Palmer didn't know what to do. He felt several emotions: joy; triumph; surprise; fear. After all, there still wasn't the guarantee that the tunnel was one hundred percent safe.
"Do you guys think it's safe?" Oak voiced his concerns, and Larch ran up to the hole.
"Guess there's only one way to find out!" She leaped towards the gaping hole, and vanished down it.

Palmer and Oak quickly surrounded the hole, and looked down. Larch was at the bottom, looking up at them, smiling. The hole was roughly two metres deep; easy enough to climb out of, even if it took a little effort.
"It seems to be holding up alright." Larch said to Oak and Palmer, before walking down the tunnel a little. She returned, nodding in approval. "It'll manage to stay in one piece as we get out of here."

Needing no further invitation, the two boys both leapt down into the hole, landing securely on the ground. The force of the impact sent a brief wave of pain throughout Palmer's body, but the sensation quickly passed, and he followed Larch and Oak down the tunnel.

Size wise, the tunnel was about two metres, both vertially and horizontally, meaning that the three of them just about had enough space to move about freely. The dirt walls were compacted, and some parts were lined with logs and sheets of wood, to prevent a cave in. Had that happened in the past? Palmer didn't really want to think of that; they were in too deep to do anything but move forward. Which brought forward the next problem: It was pitch black, as in Palmer couldn't even see his own hand which was mere inches from his face. At this current moment in time, he was grateful for not being claustrophobic.

Eventually, a faint trace of light leaked into the tunnel, and Palmer could quite clearly see brightness at the end of the tunnel. The size of the small amount of light kept growing, until Palmer was able to see both Oak and Larch clearly. They were out.

Larch was the first to reach the end of the tunnel. After quickly looking up, she jumped upwards, and pulled herself out of the hole. Oak followed suit. Finally, Palmer leapt up. But he missed grabbing the top of the hole, and began to fall. Luckily, Larch managed to grab him just in time, and pulled him up.
"Thanks." He said to her, gasping for air. He stood up, and wiped the majority of the dirt off of his clothing. He would have to change his outfit quickly, since there was no way that his mother would let him be seen at the reaping like that. It seemed there was some sort of unspoken rivalry between various families when it came to reaping day; as if it was a competition to see who could show up with the most presentable kids. But then, another feeling filled Palmer, and he listed intently to the background noise. Instead of the usual bird chirping, he could only hear one thing; voices.

"Guys," He began, looking around, "We're late for the reaping." The words sank in, and Palmer quickly looked around. Larch was right; they were only two houses down from her own, and they could get to the town square rather quickly.
"Let's go!" Larch exclaimed, vaulting the fence. Oak and Palmer, however, ripped open the gate, and joined their friend in the mad rush to get to the town square.

The trio of friends panted desperately as they ran down the clean grey road, leaving a trail of dirt behind them as they rushed to get to the reaping, turning corners at paces Palmer didn't think he was capable of. Then again, when his life was on the line, what else could he do but get to the reaping as fast as humanly possible.

Finally, they were rewarded, and managed to reach the queue of kids just outside of the town square. They were very late, Palmer could tell; the majority of these kids were starving twelve year olds that looked like they could barely stand. But it didn't matter, they hadn't missed the reaping. Oak and Palmer, Oak behind Palmer, looked to their right, at Larch. She exchanged a nervous glance, before giggling, and pointing at their outfits. That was right. They all looked like complete wrecks. The pretty flowers had vanished from Larch's top, and her legs were caked in mud. Oak's shirt had a massive tear down the side, revealing part of his bare torso whenever the wind blew, whilst Palmer looked disastrous. His hair was a mess; he had a small gash on his arm; the lower part of his shirt was in tatters; his pants had gone from grey to brown, and his shoes were splitting apart. As far as appearances went, they could have been a lot better.

"Next." A woman's voice with a Capitol accent called out, and Palmer looked to see that the line had vanished. He quickly rushed up to the desk, and the Peacekeeper grabbed his hand. His palm was lined with tiny scars from his job at the factory; he had received more papercuts than he had sneezes. Using a needle, she pricked his fingertip, and shoved the bleeding finger onto a sheet of paper. A small monitor lit up, and displayed his name in bright green letters.

WILLOWS, PALMER. AGE 16

"You may go through." She said sternly, and Palmer nodded, rushing into the crowd of sixteen year old males. Several of them gave him disgusted glances as he made his way to a free space, followed shortly by Oak. The two of them had to hold in their laughter as they eyed each other up. They looked disgusting, but somehow, it was hilarious.

"Welcome, welcome, welcome!" Suddenly, a high pitched voice filled the air, and Palmer looked up to the stage to see a fashion challenged person on the stage, holding a microphone. They were so doctored by make-up that Palmer had no way of distinguishing whether or not it was a man or woman. It seemed that in recent years, the Capitol's fashion statements had just gotten wilder and wilder. "Welcome to this year's Hunger Games!"

How fun. This man, no, woman, no, thing, was practically bursting with joy at this, and its voice... Oh, how it grated on Palmer. "Now, we already know about the history of Panem, so this year, we'll be skipping it, and going straight into the selection of our courageous young man and woman!" It did a strange little dance, and clapped its hands a few times, before heading over to one of the two large reaping bowls. Both were filled to the brim with names of kids from District 7, each name representing a chance at being selected to be sent into an arena to die.

"Now, as with tradition, ladies first!" The escort cried out, before shoving its hand into the reaping bowl. It fished around for several moments, before finally deciding on a slip. It pulled out the tiny white square, and unfolded it, about to read out the name that was printed on there in careful handwriting.

"Ella Lawson!"

The entire square went completely silent, as the crowd of seventeen year old girls parted, revealing a rather tall, with soft features, and dark hair. She looked quite pretty to Palmer. After taking a series of deep breaths, Ella walked past the crowd of girls, into the clearing between the two gender groups, and made her way up to the stage. By the time she had climbed the last step, her face was white, her eyes wide.

"Your age, dear," The escort said to Ella, and handed her the microphone. After clearing her throat several times, probably to keep calm, she spoke into the microphone.
"Seventeen." Her tone came off surprisingly calm, enough that Ella herself was surprised that she had spoken like that given the situation.
"Ah, excellent! Now, hold your applause, since we still have one more tribute to announce!"

It moved over to the next bowl, and shoved its hand deep into it, searching for the perfect slip. As this happened, time seemed to slow down for Palmer. An anxiety was building up, like every year when this was happening. It didn't feel any different than normal, so he relaxed; there was nothing to worry about.

"Palmer Willows!"

Well, that was completely unexpected. Palmer tried to move, to do anything, but found himself paralysed by fear. Was this real? Had he just been selected? No, he couldn't have! It was more likely that he'd be hit by a train! He couldn't have been picked!

"Palmer Willows, could you please make your way to the stage." The escort repeated, its tone more agitated. Palmer glanced around him. The Peacekeepers were closing in on the males, prepared to open fire until he presented himself. Swallowing his fear, Palmer took a step forward, then another, then another. It was like he had learn how to walk all over again; it wasn't a pleasant feeling.

The boys around him parted slowly, to let him pass. There was no sound in the square as Palmer reached the clearing. Taking a deep breath, he began the slow walk down the aisle to the stage. 
"Stop!" A voice rang out, and every head in District 7 turned to the beaten up boy that now stood in the same clearing as Palmer. Oak. "I volunteer to take his place as tribute!" Palmer looked in horror as Oak stormed forward, tears in his eyes. No, he couldn't let him!

"Oak, get back!" Palmer yelled in despair at his best friend, in an attempt to get him to stop. But it didn't work, and Oak continued to storm towards the stage. There was only one option left to save his friend's life.

With sudden strength, Palmer propelled himself forwards, delivering a punch to the back of Oak's head. It wasn't enough to knock him out, but it knocked him down, and Oak collapsed in a sobbing heap as Palmer passed him. Palmer looked back, and whispered faintly to Oak as he stood on the first step.
"I'm sorry."

Fighting back tears, Palmer climbed the stairs. It felt like he was climbing a mountain, but somehow he managed to get onto the stage, a small sheen of sweat breaking out as he realised another horror. His actions with Oak had just been broadcasted all over Panem. The Careers would see him as a fighter; someone to kill quickly.

"Ladies and gentlemen, your tributes for this year: Palmer Willows and Ella Lawson!" The crowd performed the mandatory applause, and Ella extended her hand. Palmer did the same, and the two shook hands. But Ella's piercing brown eyes glared cooly into his own, and Palmer couldn't help but feel distressed all throughout the time that it took for the Peacekeepers to drag the pair into the justice building.

Palmer was thrown into the first room that they encountered in the building, and the door slammed shut behind him, leaving him prisoner in a very plush cell. The amount of rich fabric was suffocating. He was barely alone for a single moment, however, because the door slid open, and a small sobbing figure ran into him.

"Palmer, you promised!" It was Magnolia, sobs continually shaking her tiny form, "You said that we'd spend all of this afternoon together!" A choked wail burst from her lips, and her tear stained face surfaced from Palmer's chest. Her eyes were red and raw from crying, and tears began to spill from Palmer's eyes as he clutched his little sister close.
"I'm so sorry, Magnolia," His voice was shaky, "I'm so, so, sorry." The last of the statement came out as a faint whisper and sob. Palmer looked up, and saw his parents walking in. Both were sobbing profusely.

His mother was the first to envelop both of her children in a tight hug.
"Palmer, I-I..." Her voice failed her as she realised nothing she could say would fix the situation. She broke down into a sob, and held him tightly, "My baby boy..."

Palmer's father was the next to join the sobbing mass of hugs and tears. He held the three of them closely together, his face completely stoic. Palmer turned his head, and his father's facade shattered, tears pouring down his cheeks.

Nothing else was said for the next few minutes, until a loud knocking filled the room. The door burst open, and a Peacekeeper glared at Palmer's family.
"Your goodbye time is up." He said firmly, and emotionless, like a robot. Then, one by one, each member of Palmer's family pulled themselves off of him. First, his father, who clutched his hand, then his mother, who kissed his forehead, and whispered an 'I love you' into his ear. Then, finally, Magnolia. 

It was heartbreaking, watching the small girl force herself to let go of her big brother for potentially the last time. She managed to make herself get off of him, and looked up at him with her bright green eyes.
"Palmer, please don't die." Her voice was faint and raspy, but the message was clear.
"I won't," Palmer told her, his heart shattering with each word, "And when we get back, I'll spend the whole day with you." He knew it was completely false, but he had to make this as comfortable as possible.
"Pinky promise?" Magnolia whimpered.
"Pinky promise." Palmer said, his tone sombre, and the two locked their pinky fingers together. Then, Magnolia let go, and began to walk out of the room, before facing him.
"I'll always love you, Palmer. For ever and ever!" Then, in another fit of choked sobs, Magnolia disappeared behind the door, and Palmer sat there, controlling his own sobs, but the lump in his throat never went.

A few minutes later, the door opened again, and for a moment, Palmer desperately wished it was his family, but instead, it was the people who were second closest to him; Oak and Larch. Instead of an emotional goodbye, like Palmer expected, Oak ran up to him, and gripped the front of Palmer's shirt.
"Why?!" Was all Oak said, "Why didn't you let me volunteer?!" Tears spilled from his eyes, and Oak slumped to the floor, "Why?"
"Because I couldn't let my best friend die instead of me." Palmer replied, his voice sounding wiser than ever before.

"You know, that's a really brave thing." This time, Larch spoke up, "I mean, refusing to let someone else take your place in the Games? I know I would have let them." She swallowed hard, then walked up to him. "Don't die, you hear me? That's the coward's way out." Her words were empowering, and Palmer couldn't help but smile. Then, she shoved something into his hand. "I swear, if you don't wear this during the Games, so help me I will come in there and kill you myself." Palmer looked down at his hand, and saw what Larch had given him. A wooden bracelet, woven using willow; his namesake.
"Larch, I don't know what to say." Palmer said honestly.
"The thing cost me a fortune, so you'd better wear it with pride." Larch spluttered out, before helping Oak up from the floor.
"I will." Palmer said, a now determined smile crossing his face.
"So, see you later?" Larch said, a twang of sorrow in her voice.
"Of course." Palmer replied, and Larch moved in for a hug. As the two of them closed in, Palmer wrapped his arms around Larch. The two of them remained like this for a few moments, before Larch began to shudder; she was crying. However, as soon as Palmer became aware of his friend's emotional state, she pulled herself off of him, and gave him a salute.
"Take care." This was the last thing that she said, before she grabbed Oak's hand, and pulled him out of the room. The door slid shut slowly, and Palmer could hear the sobbing of his two friends grow distant.

Now that he was certain that he wouldn't receive any more visitors, Palmer placed the bracelet on his wrist. It fit tightly enough to remain secure, but not in a constricting way. No, it was a source of comfort, and of memories of District 7 that he would carry with him until his death.

Suddenly, the door slammed open, and Palmer turned his head, coming face to face with a Peacekeeper.
"Time to go." He said gruffly, before pulling Palmer out of the room, and into the main hallway of the justice building. He spotted Ella, his district partner, just ahead of him, and watched as she was pushed out of the doors at the back of the building, disappearing from sight. The Peacekeeper in charge of Palmer began to pick up the pace, causing Palmer's shoes to squeak on the shining floor, the sound bouncing throughout the spacious hall. Palmer stopped moving, and looked ahead as the Peacekeeper pushed the doors open in front of them.

The afternoon sunlight met Palmer straight away as he stepped outside, the warm air being a contrast to the chilling air conditioner that was continually freezing the justice building. He walked down the stone steps, and reached a road. This road was different than the other ones; it was black, and slick, looking as if it had been recently laid. There was a car in the middle of the road, and Palmer saw Ella and the escort inside. He walked over to it, and opened the door, climbing inside the black vehicle. Next to him was Ella, and the escort was in the front, alongside the driver.

The car took off at speed, and all that Palmer could do was watch as his home faded from view, potentially for the rest of his life. Deciding not to dawn on the thought, he turned his attention to the inside of the car. The escort was going on about something in its impossible to understand voice, and Ella was pretending to listen. The more Palmer thought about it, the more he realised that Ella actually looked rather similar to him; brown hair and brown eyes. It was almost comforting, knowing that he had someone that looked like him, but he quickly reminded himself that this girl would probably try to kill him in order to return to her home. He decided that it would probably be best to leave her alone.

The car pulled to a stop, and the doors were opened by Peacekeepers. Palmer jumped out of the car, and was instantly met by white. Hundreds of Capitol journalists littered the street surrounding the train station, each one desperate to snap up a million pictures of Ella and himself. Palmer gave an awkward smile, and sighed in relief as the Peacekeepers quite literally ploughed a path through them up to the platform. Palmer walked forward, falling just behind Ella, trying to not focus on the thousand voices screaming his name at once in their high pitched accent. It grated on his brain.

Finally, he reached the platform, and wasted no time in climbing the stairs. It was about the same height as the reaping stage, yet he had no problem climbing these stairs. It was probably due to the fact that the fear of imminent death had passed; he had the next few days to look forward to meeting the other tributes. That would most certainly return the feeling, and with a sickening punch to add to the torment. After all, any one of the kids could potentially be responsible for his death. Or not, and by some stroke of luck, he might actually get home. But that was highly unlikely.

A Loud hissing drowned out the other sounds, and Palmer watched in awe as the silver train's door slid open, the smell of sugar filling the air. That was right; the tribute train was always full of delicious food to consume. Perhaps it was a way of reducing stress.

Casting these thoughts aside, Palmer followed Ella and the escort onto the train, stepping inside. The air in here was much clearer than the air surrounding it; probably some sort of air quality control device. As Palmer thought about the wonders of the Capitol's technology, the silver door of the train slid shut, sealing both his, and Ella's fates for good.

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