Beware the Children

Alabaster has planned for this moment her entire life...soon, she thinks, she will be a District 1 Tribute, and soon after that she'll be a Victor. It should be simple for someone so strong and ruthless to win...but there are surprises waiting for her in the 57th Hunger Games.


1. Well-laid Plans

It's still dark outside when the usual hard knock sounds on the door to our dormitory.  Instantly we roll from our beds, some complaining, some still half-asleep.  None of us laze in bed for a single extra second, however.  Today is too important.  It's Testing Day.  

Let the children of the outer districts feel safe for another twenty-four hours.  Reaping Day is still tomorrow, they can still hope and pray that their name is not called.  By Reaping Day, our decision will be made.  Those little pieces of paper are meaningless in District 1.  

We splash our faces with water and pull on our uniforms, dark red pants and matching high-necked shirt before joining the stream of others pouring from other dorms towards the ground floor of the School.  I pull my pale blonde hair back into a bun as I walk, looping an elastic band around it to hold it in place.  Normally I'd be chatting with my friends but today I need to focus.  Many others have the same idea, and the hallway is quieter than usual.  Some still chatter or swagger forward as if they haven't a care in the world.  I know better.  I can see the worry in their eyes.  Are they worried they'll fail?  Or are they worried they'll be chosen?  Not everyone has what it takes.  I wouldn't be surprised if someone found being this close to actually entering the Arena a little scarier than they expected and threw a match.  I don't know who'd dare, if you get caught you get beaten within an inch of your life and thrown out.  Still, a coward might be willing to take the risk.

No breakfast today.  This is the first part of the test, adding the "hunger" part of the games.  We go straight for the Assembly Hall and line up in our rows.  Teachers survey the crowd, assessing us.  I catch my combat coach whispering to one of the fencing instructors and glancing at me.  I stare back, impassive.  They nod at me and move on.  My name is Alabaster.  I will approach today like a piece of cold, lethal stone.  They will not see my nerves.

In groups we enter the various Training Rooms and our grueling morning begins.  Hand-to-hand, wrestling, obstacles, running lap after lap between each challenger to remind us that durability is as crucial as skill.  Finally, I get my chance to shine.  Swords.  A rack of various large blades stands just outside the ring.  Some are heavy and wide, some are curved, but I know exactly what I will choose.  This is as much about our personalities and problem-solving as it is our foot or bladework.  We are being watched to know if we can act on our strengths and avoid our weakest choices.  When my name is called first I step to the rack and select the sword I've been eyeing from the first moment.  It is light, thin, and bright.  While it has no sharp edge, it can bruise easily enough.  It's what my fencing instructor calls a "duelist" sword.  It isn't for crude hacking.  It's an elegant weapon.  I happen to be an expert with it, the best they've ever seen.

Within moments my partner is marked as dead and I am thanked for my demonstration.  Later we work with knives and axes, and then our day is over.  It is only 4 in the evening and we are all exhausted, but nobody dares sleep or do more than eat and sit to breathe and rest.  

Soon the decision will be made.  

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