ALIS GRAVE NIL (THE HUNGER GAMES)

❝knowledge may be terrible, but we can only prefer it to ignorance. light may be terrible, but we can only prefer it to the dark.❞

it is the 74th annual hunger games, and rebellion is stirring in the districts.

nyx montenegro-palmer, games commentator and daughter of district five victor carlos montenegro and former commentator cecil palmer, searches tirelessly for her absent brother, once a scientist for the games, who is believed to have defected and joined the rebellion.

mayzie sycamore, district three victor and adopted daughter of augustine sycamore, has been part of the rebellion since the beginning. she won her games at the age of twelve by outsmarting the other tributes, using every aspect of the arena against them.

nyx's search for her brother leads her to mayzie, who may very well end up being her only chance to change what the capitol's done and what it will continue to do. the only question is: will she take it?

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2. CHAPTER I

When they call his name, Blake Dustfall resigns himself to death. In District Three, people didn’t volunteer—they weren’t a Career district; they worked with technology, they were hardly bound to win.

 

He doesn’t remember the name of his fellow Tribute. He stopped paying attention after getting reaped.

 

They’re brought into the Town Hall afterwards, which is as dull and lifeless as Blake remembers it to be. He folds himself into a corner, letting his companion do all the talking to their Victors.

 

The Sycamores he remembers, if only because of Mayzie, who’d won her own Games at the age of twelve. Her father was…less memorable. Blake vaguely recalled that Augustine Sycamore’s arena was practically stacked in Three’s favor, being set in some sort of abandoned factory full of technological parts.

 

Their other two Victors, though…Blake couldn’t recall their names, but then again, he didn’t remember anyone’s name. He wasn’t fond of socializing. He’d much rather stay inside and read—but he guessed he wouldn’t be doing much of that anymore.

 

“Blake,” Mayzie says, suddenly at his side. She looks sympathetic, although the young woman’s face revealed nothing more than that.

 

Blake startles, nearly falling into at least three things.

 

Mayzie’s expression stays the same, simply waiting for him to fix himself. He can’t help the way his face burns in embarrassment; she must think awfully of him now, he was so clumsy—

 

Before either he or Mayzie can say anything, his father arrives for their allowed goodbyes. Mayzie steps back, seemingly disappearing into the background. He can hear her murmuring something to her father, catching the tail end of something that sounds like a name. (It was his, wasn’t it; they had to be talking about him—)

 

“We have to go to the train now, right?” his companion asks, thankfully noticing how awkward he was, or maybe she just felt bad for him. Either way, he was glad she was the one doing the talking.

 

“Of course!” the announcer trills, piping up after what seemed like a lifetime. “Right this way!”

 

The train isn’t very far from the Town Hall, only a few minutes walk at the most. It’s more lavish than anything in Third, but it is Capitol. Still, it’s impressive, and even if they were going to their deaths in just a few weeks, at least they would spend some of that time in style.

 

“Wow!” his companion marvels, starry eyed and obviously excited.

 

“You might as well enjoy it while you have the chance,” their other Victor says, solemn and stone-faced. He seems to be talking more to Blake than to the girl.

 

“I should hope that you get more chances than this one, though,” Augustine pipes up, ever hopeful. “But Lysandre is right; Three is, ah… not really known for winning the Games,” he adds with a small, self-conscious laugh, “if the four of us are any indicator.”

 

Mayzie snorts incredulously, half a step behind her father. “Great confidence booster, Dad,” she says, although there’s no malice in her tone and it’s clear she’s teasing him, even if only partly.

 

“I don’t think we’re likely to win, anyways,” Blake says quietly; these are the first words he’s spoken all day, and his throat feels scratchy from disuse. “I’m not that good at fighting, so I’d just be dead weight in any alliance; I’m probably going to get killed in the bloodbath and Nyx Montenegro is gonna turn it into some pun or some other thing to make light of it and—”

 

He pauses for breath, realizing that he’d started rambling again like he always did.

 

Mayzie is at his side again, her brow furrowed in concern.

 

It hits him, suddenly, how young she is—she’s only three years older than him, how did he never notice? He’s always thought of her as an adult, as impossibly older than him even though she was a child, as all of them were, when she won the Games.

 

“Nyx Montenegro would never,” she promises, looking him dead in the eye. “She rarely does that, anyways, if at all. That was Cecil’s thing, not hers.”

 

“She’s still implicit,” Blake points out, glancing away from Mayzie’s intense gaze. “It’s—whatever she does, she’s still implicit; she’s still Capitol. Just because one of her fathers is a Victor doesn’t make her any less of either of those things.”

 

Mayzie smiles, her expression shifting from concern to bitterness. “Yeah, I guess you’re right about that, kid.”

 

“You’re only three years older than me!”

 

***

 

They arrive at the Capitol in a matter of hours, and Blake is still very much disoriented just from being reaped.

 

Nyx Montenegro-Palmer’s familiar voice pours out from PA systems, talking about the reapings, announcing their arrivals in real time.

 

“…and District Three will be arriving right about now; I hear their Tributes this year are promising—possibly even having a fighting chance in this year’s Games!”

 

(A faint, “Nyx, stop selling the tributes, we’re not even to that yet,” is heard, but only if you’re listening, which Blake is. He wonders what that says about Nyx’s character, that the Voice of Panem apparently keeps trying to “sell the tributes” before she’s even had the chance to interview them.)

 

Mayzie snickers, Lysandre rolls his eyes, and Augustine lets out a laugh that’s somewhere between a chuckle and a titter.

 

“Does she do that every year?” his companion asks curiously, gazing around the train station with wide eyes.

 

“Oh, yes,” Mayzie says, clearly amused. “Not that we’re gonna stop her—we need all the sponsors we can get—but still.”

 

Blake can’t help but think that there must be some sort of history between Mayzie and Nyx, because the way Mayzie speaks of her, it seems like they know each other personally, at least on some level. Mayzie certainly seemed to know Nyx well enough that she could attest to the other woman’s character.

 

“Stop feeding them gossip,” Lysandre chides, although the small smile that flits across his face doesn’t go unnoticed.

 

They start heading towards the Remake Center, where they would be prepped for the parade later on—Blake is rather dreading this, mostly out of worry that they’d end up in some awful, gaudy outfit that didn’t reflect District Three at all.

 

“It’s closer than it looks, don’t worry,” Augustine promises—he was one to talk, Blake thinks, because the man was just over six feet tall with impossibly long legs, like seriously, what the hell.

 

But if Augustine was tall, then Lysandre was even taller, towering over the rest of them. He stood out from the rest of the Capitol, if not because of how distinctly District he was, then because of his sheer height. That, and the primarily red and black clothes he seemed to prefer.

 

Blake hid himself among the group, desperately trying to not to make eye contact with any of the Capitol citizens roaming the streets. After what Nyx said about them being promising, he’s bracing himself for people suddenly taking an interest in them. Fortunately, their brief walk to the Remake Center is uneventful, with most people not even sparing them a second glance.

 

As with everything else in the Capitol, the inside of the Remake Center was far more sophisticated than anything in the Districts. Even he found himself marveling at it.

 

Blake and his fellow tribute get whisked away by their respective prep teams fairly quickly, almost as soon as they walk in.

 

His stylist was named Solenn Yew, a petite woman who couldn’t have been older than Augustine. She and his companion’s stylist—Trillium Amber—had designed glowing outfits for them, meant to be a combination of both old and new tech.

 

The outfits used stylized gears as embellishments. When the outfit lit up, the gears “inside” appeared to move, meant to look as though they were working together to power their outfits.

 

The outfits were amazing; stunning, even—but he worried it wouldn’t be enough to get them sponsors, even with Nyx…sugarcoating it like she was doing with them just hours before.

 

He was nervous, especially since it was just him and his dad. He didn’t want to leave his dad alone, but he didn’t want to have to kill other kids his age—what if he had to kill a twelve year old, he couldn’t do that!

 

He was starting to see why the non-Career Districts just didn’t even try anymore.

 

When he steps onto their chariot—pulled by greyish horses with white spots—his companion looks as terrified as he feels, and nearly as queasy.

 

Wordlessly, he holds a hand out to her. If anything, at least they could get through this parade together, even if they didn’t survive the Games.

 

She takes his hand, gripping it tightly. “Thank you,” she says, so quietly that Blake could’ve sworn he imagined it.

 

The parade passes in a haze, Nyx’s voice washing over him, the sound of it almost hypnotic.

 

He only snaps out of it when they reach the end, the doors of the Training Center slamming shut behind them. They’re engulfed by their prep teams, each of them singing their praises to Solenn and Trillium.

 

“You two were great out there!” a young, blond Victor exclaims. All they really did was stand there on the chariots, so Blake doesn’t really know what was so great about it.

 

“Clemont, all they did was stand there,” Mayzie points out.

 

Clemont rolls his eyes, turning to Mayzie and retorting with, “Well, they stood there great.”

 

That remark gets a laugh out of Lysandre, which is surprising considering how serious his expression always was.

 

He’s weak at the knees, and he doesn't realize that he hasn’t even gotten off the chariot yet until Augustine helps him down.

 

“You really did do great out there,” Augustine tells him, a warm smile on his face.

 

And for the first time since he got reaped, Blake smiles back.

 

***

 

Blake finds himself unable to sleep that night. The whole day has been…eventful, to say the least. From being reaped to getting prepped for the parade, it was tiring and more socialization than Blake ever asked for in his life.

 

He wanders up to the roof, expecting it to be empty at this time of night. Instead, he opens the door to Panem’s very own Nyx Montenegro-Palmer.

 

Blake freezes, unsure how to react to her presence. On one hand, Mayzie seemed to be on relatively good terms with her, but on the other hand, she also provided live commentary on a literal death match that involved glorifying said death match.

 

She hasn’t noticed him yet; her back is turned to him, and she’s wearing a set of wireless headphones, along with a nearly invisible mic. From what Blake can see, there are no cameras around, so she must be doing some sort of radio show, though why she’s doing it all the way up here is beyond him.

 

Her back is turned to him, the glittering lights of Panem turning her into a silhouette. She’s leaning against the roof’s railing, the light breeze blowing her pure white hair back.

 

“Panem, my sweet and only Panem,” she’s saying, “may you find love; may you find it wherever it’s been hidden. May you find who has been keeping it and exact revenge upon them. As the old song goes, ‘Love is all you need to destroy your enemies.’ Finer words were never chanted.”

 

Not wanting to be rude, he waits for Nyx to lean back from the railing, for the telltale static of the headphones shutting off.

 

“I beg to differ about the song,” he says, making Nyx jump. She presses herself against the metal fence lining the roof, eyes wide in surprise, whirling around to face him.

 

“You—When did you get here?” she gasps out, looking like she would jump if it weren’t for the force field the Capitol kept around the roof.

 

Blake shrugs, staying where he was rather than stepping forward to better talk to her. It seemed rather ironic, how surprised she was at him appearing. She was a radio host and the Games commentator; you’d think she’d be better at hiding her emotions.

 

“I showed up right as you were saying your last line,” he tells her, fidgeting with the sleeves of his jacket. “It would be pretty deep and profound if not for the part about destroying your enemies with love.”

 

“Well,” Nyx says, relaxing somewhat, “you know what they say: kill them with kindness.”

 

She still seemed kind of wary, though, but Blake can’t think of any reason why.

 

“Not very helpful in the Games, I’m afraid,” Blake says grimly, only partially joking.

 

Nyx’s expression shifts to something that he can’t quite place—was that guilt in her eyes, or was it just a trick of the light?

 

“No, I suppose it’s not,” Nyx murmurs, her eyes cast down to the ground, contemplative in a way Panem has never seen her.

 

Blake is surprised at how vulnerable she’s being; he’d always imagined her to be calm and collected and all suave. But he supposed that went to show how bad he was with people.

 

“What are you doing all the way up here, anyways? It seems kind of late to be doing a radio show,” Blake points out, suddenly feeling awkward now that he realized he was alone with Nyx Montenegro-Palmer.

 

Regardless of who she was, though, it was strange to have found her in such a vulnerable moment when he came up. It hadn’t felt like she was talking to the Capitol, whose citizens treated the Hunger Games—treated them—as nothing more than a source of entertainment. For once, it felt like she was talking to Panem as a whole—Capitol, Districts, and all.

 

“Time is weird. So is space,” Nyx responds, breaking him out of his rambling inner monologue. Her eyes seem all-knowing, and the weight of her gaze still lingers even as she walks past him to leave. “Until ours meet again.”

 

***

 

The actual training area of the training center is the first floor underground, the only light down here being artificial.

 

After a brief explanation of the rules—which basically amounted to “Do whatever, as long you don’t kill each other before the Games”—they’re let loose, and Blake sets out for the weapons, knowing fighting was his weakest point.

 

He takes a spear, thinking that if anything, at least he could just whack someone over the head and hopefully be done with it.

 

“You’re holding that wrong.”

 

Blake glances up, only to find one of the other tributes standing there. District Four, he thinks it was.

 

He hesitates, frantically trying to think of something to say back.

 

“You should be holding the spearhead below your neck,” Four says, reaching over to fix his hold on the spear. “Also, if you’re fighting someone, you should be standing perpendicular to them. Bend your knees, too; it’ll make you harder to push over, and put more of your weight on the balls of your feet so you can move more suddenly.”

 

“Why are you helping me?” Blake blurts out, avoiding eye contact. “I mean—we’re going to be fighting to the death in a few days, we might even have to kill each other; wouldn’t you rather keep all that information to yourself?”

 

Four’s tribute shrugs, crossing her arms. “I’d rather fight someone who knew what they were doing with a weapon. It’s…easier, knowing they at least put up a fight.”

 

Blake falls quiet at that, the realization that they would be killing each other settling in. Before, it felt like it wasn’t really happening. It was only becoming more real with every day that brought them closer to the start of the Games.

 

Four rolls her eyes in exasperation at his reaction. “Just fix your stance already, turd.”

 

Blake does as he’s told, frankly kind of frightened of her.

 

“My name’s Blake Dustfall, by the way, not ‘turd,’” he says, moving swiftly forward to attempt an attack on her, which she deftly avoids.

 

“Lorelei Jade.”

 

He stumbles over his own feet in his next attempt, nearly falling into Lorelei. Fortunately, she was quick on her feet and more often than not dodged his “attacks,” calling out criticisms each time.

 

By the end of it, he’s sweatier than he’s ever been, but at least he knew his way around a spear now.

 

They spend the few days like this, helping each other build on their weak points.

 

It’s nice to have a friend for once, even with the threat of death hanging over their heads.

 

***

 

He’s nervous, needless to say, about the interviews. He’s more nervous than he probably should be, considering he’d met the Voice of Panem only a few nights before.

 

But said Voice was also a major player in potentially getting them sponsors, and she could quite literally change their chances in the Games simply by saying a few words.

 

“You’ll be fine, kid,” Mayzie tells him, patting his shoulder in sympathy. “Nyx will hardly throw you to the wolves—that being said, she won’t coddle you, either.”

 

“You seem to trust her an awful lot,” Blake points out. He might have caught her off-guard before, but he regarded all Capitol citizens with wariness, Nyx included.

 

Mayzie doesn’t dignify that with an actual response, only saying, “I never said she was trustworthy, only that she’s not as awful as the rest of the Capitol.”

 

“ …thank you for that thought-provoking reflection, Tassel; do try and come back here again! Now, onto our District Three male: Blake Dustfall!”

 

Blake sets his shoulders, takes a deep breath, and walks out there with as much confidence as he can muster. He’s met with applause, though not quite so raucous as the Careers had gotten.

 

“Blake! I’ve got to say, you’ve pulled the short straw this year, being reaped the last year you’re eligible!” Nyx’s smile is dazzling, her white eyes and hair a startling contrast to her dark skin.

 

He grips the arms of the chair, his knuckles turning with strain. He tries not to look too nervous as he responds, “Yeah, I guess it was just a stroke of bad luck. I was hoping not to get reaped this year, because it’s just me and my dad…”

 

Nyx and the audience wince in sympathy, then she goes on to say, “Ah, so you want to win so you wouldn’t be leaving him alone?”

 

“Of course,” he says softly, eliciting a chorus of Awwws from the crowd.

 

“Speaking of the Games,” Nyx continues, leaning forward slightly, barreling straight on, “I hear you got an eight on your training score; it’s rather remarkable for someone outside the traditional winning districts!”

 

“I guess so… to be honest, I wasn’t expecting an eight—I didn’t really think that what I did was that impressive,” Blake says, blushing slightly at the praise, even if it was only for show.

 

“It must have been, or else you wouldn’t have gotten it! I’m sure everyone is dying to know what you’ve got up your sleeve for the Games,” Nyx jokes, getting a laugh out of the audience.

 

Blake opens his mouth to respond, but before he can get a word out, the timer sounds to signal the end of his time with Nyx.

 

“There’s our time! And, Blake?”

 

There is the slightest crack in Nyx’s carefully crafted expression, a thin line breaking the image the Capitol groomed her for.

 

“Death is only the end if you assume the story is about you.”

 

***

 

Blake finds himself nervous yet again—well, he was always nervous, anyways, but this was the Hunger Games.

 

They’re being sent up into the Arena, and he’s terrified.

 

The outfit he’s given to wear in the arena is form fitting, meant to be durable and withstand any and all kinds of weather—Blake doesn’t want to think of how…creative the Gamemakers will get with the weather.

 

“Good luck out there,” Solenn says, offering a weak smile as reassurance.

 

“I’ll need all the luck I can get,” he mutters, stepping on the metal plate that would bring him up to the Arena.

 

The single intercom in the room crackles to life, Nyx’s voice coming out of it as clear as it was the night he met her, the timbre of it lower and somehow…calming.

 

“Panem, welcome to the seventy-fourth annual Hunger Games!”

 

And with that single declaration, the plate rises, plunging him into absolute darkness, with nothing but the familiar, whirring sound of technology accompanying him.

 

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