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Pita and I were speechless; his family and my sister were distraught and bawling at the foot of the stage, but the two of us were just speechless.  None of Pita’s brothers could offer as a substitute because they were all boys, and Dew’s brother didn’t seem to be interested in leaving his pregnant wife and several children (that, and he was too old to compete).  Dew was only twenty-nine.  I always spoke about how he was thirty, but that wasn’t until tomorrow…it wasn’t for another twenty-four hours he would finally turn thirty, and so he was still eligible for one more drawing.  Little Rye had just turned twelve, she was freshly able to be drawn for the games and the look on her little frightened face was terror-struck.

 I could just imagine their names being drawn, first Rye; her father having to let her march onto that stage in front of everyone in town, her brothers helpless to do anything about it.  Young children never won in the Hunting Games, it was just a known fact.  Some of them made it close, but never did any of them win, and none ever made it to Bind.    Then Dew would have been called, my sister holding his hand until he could pry himself away to take his place on the stand.  Dew wasn’t tough, he never fought, and he could hardly pick me up, let alone handle whatever weapons and muscle could be in the games with him.  I kept looking for a voice, any voice to take their places, but none came.  No one could do anything.  Until, I heard a low voice scream out, “I volunteer myself, instead of Dew Ark!”

It was Pita!  His hand raised high and waving for Cost’s attention.  Why would Pita sacrifice himself for Dew, he didn’t even know him----unless, unless he did it to protect Rye---to keep an eye on her in the games.  That way, he could sacrifice himself in the end, so that maybe if they survived into the Bind, she could go free.  That was the key word here, “IF,” there was no way Pita could hold off a horde of tributes and still keep Rye alive, not in the games…Definitely not in Bind, and everybody here knew it, even Pita.

“I volunteer to substitute Rye Avery!” a girl’s voice finally hollered back. 

I could hear the relived sighs of the Avery’s, but the startled gasps of everyone else in the crowd.  Never before had two people not even mildly related to the chosen, offer willingly to take their places just to die.  I searched for the woman who offered herself up, until soon realizing how many faces were watching me do so.  My mouth was still open, my throat still vibrating from the exclamation I’d made a few seconds ago.  I had just volunteered. White Capitol men took the two of us, and escorted us both onto the stage next to Cost.  Meanwhile, they took Dew and Rye away while they kicked and protested to stay on stage and change our minds.  There was a lot of shouting, and even more confusion, until Cost bellowed, “That’s enough!”  The sheer power from his voice and that glare from his golden eyes were enough to silence anybody.    

“Alright, we have two late substitutions,” the president said, while reading our names on a newly received piece of paper, “Your district’s female tribute will now be Kat’sTail Ivey, and the male will be Pita Avery!  There will be a short time for discussion amongst the families before we board the train and head for Yorkshire…”  He held his hand over the mike and turned to Pita and me in a softer tone, “My men will take you to your mayor’s home, where you will have ten minutes to say your farewells.”

We were once again escorted by the men in white to the Mayor’s house behind the stage.  He had a three story estate of white concrete, which was the nicest house in all of Pauper, but the Capitol men did not seem even the slightest bit impressed.  Inside, his home was all a light tan color with cream colored furniture and a hanging chandelier made from silver.  Although, this glamour soon vanished, when we walked up his stone staircase to the top floor where the meeting rooms were located. Up here, was made of all wood and resembled the rest of Paupers’ rooms from town.  I was placed in one on one side of the hall, and Pita on the other.  My solitude was nerve wrecking, until Terrain and Dew finally made an appearance.

“What were you thinking!” My sister screamed at the top of her lungs, tears filling her face at the mere sight of me, before they could even close the door.

“Why would you do that?” Dew asked, in a hurt, yet calmer tone than Terrain was using, “I was already out of the games, you had nothing to lose.”

“I don’t know, it was just, all so fast---Pita took your place so he could protect his sister, but everyone knew that was impossible, so I wanted to save Rye by volunteering myself.  In a way I saved her, and Pita saved you.”

“You owed him nothing Kat!” Terrain exclaimed, “I can’t stand by and watch my baby sister die!”

“And I couldn’t watch my sister’s husband die.  Think about it Terr, you’ve been dating since I was born practically, you can never find another guy like Dew; he’s literally my brother!  Plus, let’s face facts, I could probably last a little bit longer in the games than either of you.”

“And when you get to Bind---then what?  This is just like Tracker…” she pressed.

“Look Terrain, I don’t want to spend my last conversation with you, fighting.  I love you and I love you too, Dew.  I don’t regret what I did for a second because I saved an innocent twelve year old girl from certain death---at least I could have a chance.”

Speechless, they wrapped me into a group hug and all they did was cry.  A few minutes later, a Capitol man knocked on the door, telling us our time was up, so my sister and Dew released their grips hesitantly.  They were escorted out of the room, and I waved lightly in goodbye before my sister turned and sobbed, “Promise me you’ll win.”  I don’t think she could hear my answer, but I promised back to her… I would win.

“Miss Ivey, you have another visitor,” the Capitol Guard warned.  The door opened slowly to reveal a sad looking Mr. Avery standing in the doorway.  He made his way over and kneeled below me, my hands gripped within his.  He seemed nervous and depressed, yet filled with gratitude that literally groveled at my feet.  “You’ll never know how much it means to me, that you saved my baby girl.  The boys and I don’t know what possessed Pita to take your brother-in-law’s place, but the fact that you did that for Rye---thank you, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so very much.”

“You’re all welcome Mr. Avery---I just couldn’t let Rye go in, Pita couldn’t have protected her.”

“I don’t believe Pita went to protect his sister?” Mr. Avery added in confusion, before exclaiming and pulling out a small piece of tin foil beneath his jacket.  “Pita told me chocolate was your favorite, so I brought you this fudge.  It should last you on the train ride to Yorkshire.”

“Thank you Mr. Avery,” I gasped, overwhelmed by his offer, “But, what did you give Pita?”

“I gave him life, and I gave him a farewell with my blessings.  His brothers did the same, as did Rye, and the four of them were escorted out of the room shortly after, for bawling over-excessively…”  He sighed and changed subject, gazing off into the window, “To think just this morning you came asking for one of my sons, now look at you, going into the Capitol!”

“Do you even care that your son might die, Mr. Avery?” I spat, while setting the fudge down cruelly.

He stood and stared at me as the Capitol man led him out the door.  “Of course I do, but I always knew it would end this way Kat, that’s why I never got too attached.  Just like his mother…” I barely heard that last part, but I didn’t need to.  Poor Pita, his family were all upset like mine, but his own father doesn’t even care that Pita may die because he’ll finally be able to rid himself of his wife’s memory.    

The guard came to retrieve me a moment later, and I just left the fudge offering from Pita’s dad on the couch.  Suddenly, it had turned to muck in my mouth.  Later, I was placed into a large train while the white Capitol men disappeared behind me.  Once again I felt all alone and forgotten, yet I wasn’t scared.  I felt nothing, which was weird considering that back there, was the last time I would ever see the town of Pauper.  Quietly, I inched my way down the train walls; they were lined with red velvet and the floors were a shining polished wood, that was lighter than any tree I’d ever seen before.  I crouched down to touch it quickly, and noticed for the first time, my reflection in the floors. I’d only ever seen my face blurred in the waters of the lake, but now, for the first time, I could see myself…  I looked the same as I had before the drawing---only braver, and kind of toneless as though my face just didn’t care to make an expression.  My boots and pants were still caked in mud and my shirt had sweat stains from my apparent discomfort.  I spoke to myself in the floor, saying, “What did you get yourself into Kat?”

“Ahem?” a voice cleared.

I shot up off of the ground and watched the woman in shock.  She was a short old-thing, brown hair that poofed about two sizes too high.  Her eyes were dyed Pink, and her lashes a neon blue.  She frowned at me with her golden lips and clasped onto a tiny clipboard pressed against her chest. In a high pitched, nasally voice, she gave me a curtsy and grinned, “Hello Kat’sTail, my name is Archie Porter, but you may just call me Archie.  The train is about to cast off, so I am here to take you to your seat, seeing as though you aren’t there already, like your counterpart.”

“So, Pita’s on the train then?” I asked dumbly.  I already knew the answer, but still, a reassured voice seemed more believable to me, considering how my world has been turned upside down in just a few short minutes.

“He is,” Archie nodded slowly, “And we are all waiting on you, so if you don’t mind?”  She ushered me into the next cart and to my seat.  This train car was lined in gold and the walls looked as though they were made of bronze.  Each seat was as white as the Capitol and made of some soft material I couldn’t begin to describe.  There were two long benches that lined the walls and a single table on one half that contained a mountainous feast of foods I’ve only ever seen in pictures.  Archie crawled around the buffet and sat me next to Pita, who was already seated with his legs crossed and his hands held over his mouth in concentration.  His hair was still wet from the shower, and even the collar of his shirt had been coated by its dripping.   We forgot about the Reaping today.  I didn’t even remember it was this month that the games were even drawn; last year just came and went so fast.  I took my seat near Pita and Archie sat across from us, her legs crossed femininely wile I stared at her flawless complexion, wondering if it was actually her legs, or the thin cloth lining she wore? 

“Alright, here’s how the games are going to work.  You will both receive stylists; your sponsor, that Newark man; and lastly myself who will act as your schedule keeper.  This train has already picked up the two tributes from Washsea, as well as, Orchard, so Yorkshire is all that’s left before we head back to the Capitol for the Ameera Games.  These games will be posted on television 24/7, so try to look happy in training and you’ll become less of a target for the Capitol spectators, who are very greatly known to spice things up, if things should ever grow boring.” 

“So what you’re saying is the Capitol can intervene at any time they feel like making our lives even worse than they already are in the arena?” Pita specified.

“Precisely!  Oh,''' and you will need to gather some wealthy supporters at a party we hold before training day.  These eccentric philanthropists can send you supplies from the outside world through your mentor, Newark,” She replied, “So the wealthier and more numerous you obtain, the better you shall be.”

“By the way---where is Newark?” I asked.

“He and the other sponsors have their own carts like the two of you.  Why, the other tributes have been on this train for three days or more just to collect the other tributes.  Now, get some rest, both of you; tomorrow will be the trip into Yorkshire, and then we’ll be in the Capitol for the party and about a week of much needed training,” she clapped.

Archie left us through the door I’d come through.  Now it was just Pita and me, and we were so dazed, all of this just didn’t seem real?  Somehow, we had both been chosen to fight in the Ameera games.  We both had fine chances of winning, whether it be from my weaponry skills, Pita’s strength, our ability to starve ourselves longer than the other competitors…we actually had a very good chance, and that was what I was holding onto; that one spark of hope that the two of us could survive.   I didn’t know if Pita thought the same, perhaps he did, but what if he was slowly planning out my death?  Maybe not in Ameera, but in Bind, surely, both of us couldn’t make it out of there together.  I looked up at Pita, he was sitting across from me, quietly, confused, frustrated, amazed---I’d only known him from the whole deer fiasco before the Reaping, that, and the whole squirrel ordeal.   I came too quick to judge him.  I mean, Pita seemed like a nice guy, clever too, or else he wouldn’t have done anything about his sister’s Reaping.  Putting himself into the games to keep an eye on her, that was genius…I could have done that for Dew at the very beginning, then Pita wouldn’t be here, but I never would have thought to volunteer for Rye, if Pita hadn’t---                        

It seems, all through our lives, he’s been so quiet.  I doubt he would have said two words to me in Pauper if I hadn’t started the conversation---or his father didn’t tell him to talk to me.  I underestimate his silence.  He’s obviously a thinker, and in a death competition that’s dangerous; so is not being able to see your enemy’s next move.  But enemy?  I don’t think of Pita as an enemy, not just yet.  He’s always been really nice to me---the two times we’d spoken---he was always sweet to me, even if I was being terrible back at him.  The games will most likely change that fragile relationship we have, but I guess if we need to think about something before he drives a knife into my heart, we can always remember that we are from the same district, and that’s something no one can ever change.  We are Pauper tributes, and that will rein true until the day we die.

When the rumbling train jolted to a sudden stop, I flew out of my bench and fell harshly onto the hard polished wood.  My drowsy reflection looked up at me through a squirrel’s nest of matted brown hair and exhaustion.  There was a thick cotton sheet wrapped all around me and I literally had to wrestle to get it untangled from my newly woken body.  After I slammed the blanket into the ground, I looked up at the roof of the train only to see Pita sitting upright in his seat, smiling at me.  He was just looking down at me, smiling with his flawless Capitol smile.  For a baker’s son, who probably gets all of the desserts he wants, Pita’s teeth were always so white.  I never thought I’d see a smile again, not from Pita of all people.  Yet, there it was, laughing at me as I tried to put together two and two to rise up off the floor.

“Did you sleep well?” he asked smugly.

“Besides the wakeup call, yeah---Did you?” I replied sorely, rubbing the palm of my hand against a red mark on my forehead from past impact.

“As well as I could,” He smirked, “Do you know that you talk in your sleep?”

“What, no I don’t!” I squeaked defensively.     

Pita laughed for a second and looked back at me, “Yes Kat, you do.  You were talking about your sister, Terrain, and then I think I even heard my name thrown in a few times.”

“You’re making that up, Pita.”

“Hey, I’m not the one who talks in their sleep.  Do you dream about me constantly then, or is this something new?”

I think I was turning red again.  The only thing I felt was embarrassment and rage.  I know I talked in my sleep sometimes, but only when I was dead tired, and worried about the day ahead.  Terrain told me I used to wake up, screaming my parents’ names the week before they died.  The night before they---I surely hope Pita was joking, or else he might be in danger.  I know we are in danger, but it just isn’t looking good for him, my dreams, my nightmares, they have a strong hunter’s sense about these kinds of things.  The sad expression my face must have been twisting proved concerning to Pita, and he placed a hand on my knee from across the aisle.

His bright eyes looked into mine sternly, and his voice was low and firm when he told me. “I was kidding about that last part, Kat.  I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to upset you.  I just thought it might lighten the mood, was all?” 

I didn’t really say anything, but nodded unsurely until he removed his hold on my knee.  We stared out of the black windows for an endless amount of time before Archie finally burst in through the darkness, By-the-Hand’s-Guns!” she exclaimed, “Why are you two still in sleep mode?” She pressed a knob near the door in, and the black glass on the windows faded away into clear, revealing the big city of Yorkshire glowing, and spontaneous.  It lit up our cart and half blinded the two of us from sheer amount of new light.  Archie let out a feeble sigh and then said, “Now, isn’t that better?  The two of you and Newark, are scheduled to tour Yorkshire while they prepare for the Reaping.   You can meet him outside.  But first, we’ve provided you with some clothes to help you blend in.  Your current clothes reek of Pauper, and need to be cleaned severely, I’m sorry we didn’t do it last night while you were sleeping---”

“No, it’s nothing?” Pita tried to sound grateful, “Thank you Archie.”

“You are most welcome sir!” She laughed, shaking Pita’s hand as though she hasn’t heard a compliment in a while.  Being a crew member for the Reaping train, I seriously doubt she has.  “Okay then, you two had better get going.  The Reaping doesn’t last all day!”

After we were dressed in the odd, bright clothing, Archie pushed us out of the train and we slowly had to readapt to our land legs.  I wobbled and almost fell over a few times, while Pita seemed to be having much less trouble as I was.  The fact that the train made the land move beneath our feet made my legs feel useless, and now that we were on solid ground again, I still found my feet uncooperative.  The odd shoes weren’t helping in the slightest, and I’m pretty sure the dress was going to blow away any moment; it was so lightly fabricated and revealing!

“Do I need to carry you, or do you think you can manage walking?”   At first, I thought it was Pita who asked me, but the voice was too warbled, too full of spite to be Pita, and judging by the smell of burning coal and liquor, I can only assume it was our mysterious sponsor, Atom Newark.  I got over my land issues and straightened out while Newark made his way over to us.  He was wobbling a little, but not like I was earlier.  This was just the normal way he walked, drunk and on the support of a small wooded cane, with a half emptied bottle of alcohol in the other hand.  The people of Pauper had a nickname for him, Unstable Atom.  His name was a dead giveaway; Atom was short for Atomic, and that was a word the people used to use before the sky lit up with fire.  Like those Atoms, Newark was extremely unstable and could literally blow at any moment, so it was always best to steer clear of him when he was drunk, and by that, I mean always avoid Newark whenever possible.

“You just gonna stand there and look at my pretty face all day, or do you want to get this tour on the road?” he mocked at me.

“Are we going to meet the other tributes then?” Pita asked.

“No, not until the party tomorrow; they don’t want anyone getting into fights or getting too attached,” he said gruffly. 

Newark took another large swig of his liquor and motioned for us to follow him away from the train.  Even he was wearing these odd district clothes to look normal.  The people of Yorkshire obviously loved a lot of bright, elaborate things considering I was wearing a neon blue dress and green shoes that barely covered any part of my feet.  My hair was all strung up underneath a pink hat and to top it all off, Archie had given me a small empty bag that was supposed to carry all of my belongings---if I had any that is.  Pita and Newark were wearing similar orange pants and yellow shoes.  Newark had on a green and black shirt, made in a zigzag pattern to reference some sort of animal, and his face was nearly masked by a pair of large purple sunglasses.  Pita, he only had a silver vest that was reflective like floors of the train, and he had a red bandana tied across his forehead letting his golden strands of hair wave over the top.   We were nothing compared to the actual residents of Yorkshire though, they wore clothing that didn’t look as though it was meant to be put on a human being.  The buildings here were all uniquely massive and towered into the sky at angles I could hardly bend over to see above. 

Instead of grey clouds like we had in Pauper, there were electrical patterns of lightning that stretched across the whole city to create a kind of blue sky that might have been like the one before the wars? I thought.  Everywhere else in the town, was platted in concrete or glass and not a speck of nature was naturally anywhere, unless it had been purposely planted there.   Televisions, big and small, filled the windows, and the streets were busy with civilians, all laughing, shopping, and hustling to get to where they needed to be.

“How can somebody live like this?” I asked, while in the short time that I’d stopped, three people ran over my foot.

“This is nothing compared to the Capitol,” Newark laughed, “But, this is the city you two.  It’s about as opposite as you can get from where we’re from, and just remember to stay close---don’t want to go hunting for you just yet.”

As I stepped closer into Pita, we continued following Newark to who knows where? I thought Archie said that this was supposed to be a tour, but so far all Newark’s done, is tease me and allow Pita and me to be trampled in the streets.

“What exactly are you supposed to be showing us, Newark?” Pita finally asked.

“What?  You actually wanted a tour?” He grumbled, “The last tributes I was supposed to babysit ran off the first chance they got.  I’m going to the bar, where else?”

“Whoa, whoa…You’re the one person who can give us tips on surviving in Ameera and you’re just going to go drink?” I exclaimed.

“There’s nothing I can show you here, that can’t wait until training week.  Go away.”

“But---” I began, before Pita caught me.  He bent down and whispered, “I think Newark might be telling us to go have some fun?”

I looked to our mentor for reassurance and he gave me an annoyed glare while turning the other shoulder.   “Just meet me at the train before they announce the tributes---and don’t draw attention to yourselves!” he said, and as Newark disappeared within the crowd, it was just Pita and me against all of Yorkshire. 

We tried a few stores at first, but the only things they sold were too eccentric for our taste, plus Archie only gave Newark enough money for lunch.  When he was done taking a share for alcohol, Pita and I were left with ten dollars each.  I thought it was weird that these people actually used paper money to purchase goods---I mean, that’s what trading was for, and I seriously doubt I could get a glass vase for my pink hat? 

That’s when I saw a small necklace with a crystal heart made of some dark green stone. Instantly I thought of my sister Terrain, and wanted desperately to buy it for her.  The necklace came in all sorts of colors: red, clear, and then a golden, brown one that was the exact color of a sapphire, but it was the green one that caught my attention, it was this one that I knew was meant for my sister.   I took it off of the hook and up to the store owner asking her, “Excuse me miss, but how much does you charge for this necklace?”

She gave me an odd look and looked over the little necklace gently.  A scowl ran across her mouth while her blue eyebrows rose in confusion and pity.  Her voice spoke oddly with an accent that reminded me of crunching rocks, and the clerk looked back at me, piecing slowly, “Well, this is not my store lady…I just work here, and the price tag right here says that this little plastic piece of knock-off jewelry, is only a dollar?”

“We’ll take two,” Pita cut in smoothly, as he handed the worker a pink necklace that looked identical to mine.

“Whatever?” she hummed, her eyes rolling through the back of her head as she skid the two articles across the table.  Apparently something happened because her machine let out two sets of beeps, and the store woman turned and took Pita’s money.  When we left the store, I looked up at Pita and was baffled.

“How did you do that?” I asked.

“Simple,” Pita smiled, handing me my necklace from out of his plastic bag, “I was pretending the paper was one of your squirrels.”

“Oh, ha ha, very funny,” I spat, looking over the small trinket.  Never before had I seen anything like it, not in Pauper at least.  The store lady back there didn’t even look interested in it, she said it was plastic, yet it felt like glass?  I suppose it wasn’t the real thing, but why would they make fake copies of it?  Was a real green stone so expensive?  Was the Pink one for Pita even worse---why did they come in so many colors?  Why aren’t they spending their money on food?  Everything about the way these people shopped was unbelievably insane to me. 

We tried to shop a little bit more after that, but it was just too weird.  In Pauper, all of our funds would have gone to feeding the family or paying off old health debts.  The way Yorkshire uses it so recklessly---it disgusts me; they flaunt it for shopping, trends, and never ending electricity…literally watching televisions all day and night, with every light on in the city, there’s always a store open, and always something being wasted by Ameera’s favorite producing city.  And to think the Capitol was ten times worse?  Pita and I eventually did buy two---well, I don’t what they were called exactly, but they seemed to be strings of meat trapped inside of a bread fold.  They were good, but the odd city taste lingered to them, and that only made me want to give it back.

The sky started fizzing, and everybody looked up to see the lightning take form of a television screen.  President Cost was looming above us, the eerie image of his head smiling falsely down at Yorkshire.  “Attention citizens of Yorkshire, the 85th Ameera Reaping is about to be underway.  I want all stores to close business at the following time, and I want every city body in the town square to pay their respects to their tributes. “

Pita and I each continued to look up at the empty, electric sky while the once crowded street turned completely vacant. Somewhere in the next minute, two poor souls were going to be picked to fight in the Ameera games like us.  They would become our competition, our prey, while they would lose their innocent lives and leave their families behind forever.  Pita and I were supposed to head back to the train now, but our feet insisted on moving with the crowd.  When the mob stopped, we found ourselves in the square of Yorkshire.  It was surrounded in towers, but this one tiny black lot was completely flat, with one large stage up ahead.  On stage, instead of seeing Cost, surrounded by his Capitol guards, was another television, although it was the size of a building all its own.  Cost was on the screen though, holding a sphere that made his hair stand on end in a funny way? 

The anthem of the Hunting Games sounded, and Cost looked out towards the crowd.  He pressed something on the round device and it zapped two cards into the air in a big blue bolt of lightning.  The circular machine disintegrated around Cost’s fingertips and he was able to catch the two flailing cards with ease.  The suspense was excruciating---was this what it was like for the other tributes to watch Pita and I accept the Reaping?  Of course our Reaping wasn’t as extravagant---our names were drawn from a small bronze box, written on crumpled, brown parchment.  Above, Cost cleared his throat once and looked down at the paper to read off the chosen, when a hand grasped roughly around mine and Pita’s shoulders.

“I told you to be on the train!” Newark roared, as the crowds’ cheers quickly drowned him out.  Colorful blasts of sparks lit up the sky with loud booms as the people cheered even harder.  Obviously a Reaping in Yorkshire was a happy thing, or else nobody here would be celebrating?  Newark shoved me and Pita off towards the train, but I turned my head to try and catch a glimpse of the person called.  Only Cost’s face was shown, but I never got a chance to look back again because a sharp pain cracked against my skull and everything went black.