Contains - Hunger Games and Thirteenth Series *SPOILERS!!*
Merry Christmas to you all and a very Happy New Year.
A Trip to the Games!
His insistent pacing was getting under her skin. “You must not interfere; you will go and merely observe this event, in shimmer form when necessary, and return when requested. Do you understand?” The High Judge pointed a spindly green finger out from under his cloak.
He was speaking down to her yet again; that was the third time this week. Val was so sick of these people, “I understand,” she bowed her head. “Will Zac be allowed to accompany me?”
“No, you know your training means you must be alone. Go to the Games, do not interfere and bring us information on this ritual. Be aware that we’re only sending you because it’s on your home planet, Earth.”
She sighed. Her so called ‘training’ was driving her insane. Stupid time-consuming visits to planets that no-one was interested in, and no-one had visited in hundreds of years. She was sure they were doing this just to keep her busy and out of their hair. She hadn't been allowed to see Zac for weeks. “Whereabouts on Earth am I visiting?”
“The humans in the Capitol call it Panem; you may remember it as North America.”
“Yes, I had a friend…” she paused, after all this time it still grated, “…an acquaintance from there. Wonder why they've changed the name?”
The High Judge looked impatient with her questioning, “Irrelevant,” he tutted, and she knew she would get very little enlightenment from him now. “Your Collector is waiting, please observe the law. No contact with the people you cross, we know the damage that can be caused by changing the past, don’t we Thirteen?” he said, his tone condescending and cold.
She gave him the weak grin of a scolded child, “Well on that note I’ll be off.”
Her new collector was waiting for her in the teleportation room. Val didn't like her, her eyes were too close together, her mum had always said that was a sign someone couldn't be trusted.
“Thirteen, good day to you,” she enthused.
Happy as a puppy with a new toy was the way Val would have described her, all wagging tail and far too much energy. A good Collector in her mind was stern, and well - downright miserable most of the time. “Hello.” She held her bracelet out for the Collector to scan.
The Collector’s eyes lit up, “Earth, oh you’re going home! How wonderful! And it seems you’re going straight into some games. Well, I hope you have a lovely journey and I look forward to your return.” Her face lit up, a lift in her mouth revealing a row of tiny perfect teeth.
“Thanks. I guess it will be the Olympics, they’re the only games I know.” Val stepped forward as the Collector opened the portal.
“As ready as I'm going to be.” Val shrugged. She wanted to say ‘Another waste of time,’ but that would upset her over-zealous Collector. She stepped into the portal and was off home for the first time in a few hundred years.
Her first vision was of lush evergreen trees; her chest expanded taking in a deep breath as she inhaled the scents of the forest, something that would never grow old for her. Tilting her head up she could see the clear blue sky through the thick branches, it seemed to be morning and this, in her mind, seemed a very strange place to hold an Olympics.
She checked her Dellatrax. It was still had that ‘new shine’ on its dial. Since she’d received it, Zac’s only obsession had been to teach her how to read it, and it had definitely made life so much easier. The only setback was without his side of the information; it was like a phone with no numbers on it. However, from the vibrant blue lines flashing across its screen, she could interpret that there were several humans dotted around her close proximity.
Then she heard them; screams, mixed male and female. Cries that instantly gave her goose bumps. These weren't cheers of celebration or excitement - that someone had just run the fastest ten-thousand metres. They were blood curdling and furthermore, the cries were closing in on her at speed. She instinctively surveyed her environment, looking for somewhere to cover her presence, and it looked like the only way was up. Tree climbing was not her strong suit, but as the cries continued to come closer, she really had no other option. Val scrambled up the branches to a height which felt sufficiently above the runners to not be spotted.
There was a pounding vibration of blood thumping through her head; then a strange buzzing sound started to mix with it. Cautiously turning her head on her precarious perch, she was greeted by a large wasp like creature coming towards her and – unprovoked - it attacked. It was enraged, and was rapidly followed by a procession of three more. Luckily, her uniform deflected their stingers and as the screams from below faded, the volume and severity of her wasp attack rescinded with it.
Breathless, she attempted to settle onto her branch, and pulling her legs up under her, she waited, trying to compose herself after her shocking arrival. She knew from her years of training that the best option in this type of situation, where you didn't know your surroundings, was to let the enemy come to you. “Reserve energy” she heard Sam’s knowing voice in her head from past exercises he had been on with her.
Although she wouldn't have to wait long, as a flashing line on her Dellatrax told her that there were two figures coming towards her now, and they were running. Then she heard a male voice, full of anger and aggression, “Peeta, you traitor! I’ll kill you!” the voice yelled. Val allowed her top half to hang down as a young man with ashy blonde hair burst into view, closely followed by another young man wielding a sword. What on earth was going on? She knew the protocol, don’t interfere, but this was madness.
The one called Peeta tripped and the one chasing him took advantage, lashing out, his sword slicing through the other’s upper leg. That was enough for her. She shimmered the way Hadwyn had taught her, becoming invisible and leapt from the tree. Her boots coming down with force onto the aggressors back, hurtling him towards the forest floor, his face hitting it hard rendering him unconscious. Val extended her sword, prodding him on his arm to make sure he was definitely out, then turned her focus onto the injured one.
She knew she couldn't maintain her shimmer for as long as Hadwyn, so she needed to get him to safety. "Hey," she said smiling into the blue eyes that looked up at her.
The young man seemed scared, like he'd heard a ghost and she realized she was still invisible. As slowly as possible, she shimmered back into view. "Katniss." he whispered weakly, reaching a hand to her face.
Val glanced at her Dellatrax "Yeah, whoever you want, but we need to move you. I get the feeling he's," she pointed to the still body on the forest floor, "not the only person who's out to get you."
"I’m late for work at the bakery, my mother will be angry with me." He started to pull himself up, frowning in agitation at his tardiness.
Val could see he was hallucinating, which in some ways was good, she would prefer him not to remember her face and if she looked like someone called Katniss, ‘odd name’, it was convenient. As she attempted to lift him, she spotted three of the weird wasps stuck to him. After several failed attempts at removing them, she found a quick tap with her sword made them exit his flesh quite efficiently, although it left him out cold.
"Let’s go buddy," she grabbed him under the arms, starting to pull his now limp body. Suddenly, she noticed a whirring sound and giving a sideways glance, she spotted a camera stalking her like a miniature Dalek from a tree branch. "Damn," she hissed shimmering out of sight as fast as she could. She lowered herself to the ground next to the body, turning him onto his front and dragging him toward the trees for cover. As they moved, it became more apparent that his wound was deep and the trail of blood he was leaving wasn't something Val could easily hide.
Without warning, there was an explosion in the sky that made her almost jump out of her skin. It sounded like the roar of a huge cannon and it nearly shocked her back into visibility. Oddly, nothing seemed to follow the loud interruption - yet she found herself working faster in a desperate attempt to get him to safety. A thrashing of huge blades snapped her attention upwards to an aircraft similar to a helicopter that was now passing overhead. As she scrambled around pulling at branches in an attempt to cover Peeta’s body, he woke momentarily to ramble at her about somewhere he called District 12.
She moved into the clearing to get a better view of their predicament. The helicopter was now in full view and although it was advanced, it wasn't as impressive as the Prison’s craft. She'd been on spaceships that made the Millennium Falcon look like a toy plane. But she had to be aware that they might be looking for this youth or, worse-case scenario, sword-wielding boy. She saw a line dropping through the trees a good mile from their position, then in a few brief moments it rose again. She strained to see what was attached to the end of it. Was that a body suspended from it? Yes, a young girl’s body. What was going on? What were these games she'd been sent to observe?
"Katniss, run!" The young man shrieked a panicked instruction.
She darted back under cover. Pushing his fringe out of his face, she reassured him that there was no-one else here and that she was sure Katniss had made her escape. Val could see that night was drawing in and at a very odd rate. Nothing seemed normal anymore. She didn't feel at home on this Earth. This place that allowed children to just die in a forest, with the only interference being someone to take away the dead, it all seemed so wrong. She would struggle to tell the Judges what had happened, although she was bound to be reprimanded for her infraction, as usual.
She had no supplies, as her visit was only supposed to last for a few hours. Her first action then must be to get this boy something to drink. When Jason and she had been sent away for survival training, it was the first thing their instructor had told them. He was an odd character, half Guard and half Hunter. They had been in hysterics, as he could never decide what to do for the best. He was honestly the worst instructor in the world, but water was number one on his unique list. She climbed the nearest tree to the highest point it could hold her and that her fear of heights would allow. There in the distance, was exactly what she was hoping for, a river.
Nightfall was suddenly upon them, bringing with it freezing temperatures and Val felt forced to wake the boy. They needed to move. Whilst they made slow progress, with Val supporting him, he confirmed his name was Peeta, 'they have seriously weird name on Earth now' she thought. When he explained that the boy that had attacked him was called Cato she'd nearly dropped him in surprise. Cato was the name of a character in a comedy her dad had forced her to watch as a child called The Pink Panther. Obviously, Peeta wouldn't see the funny side, so she'd left well alone.
"These are the 74th Annual Games." he'd told her. From his garbled chatter, she knew that they had been taken from their District. Peeta was a baker and Katniss was a hunter. That didn't bode well, until Val realized that the only useless Hunters were on her Prison. He became weaker as they climbed the rocks towards the river. She allowed him to rest as she tried to cover their tracks, but it was almost impossible to remove blood from every stone and bush he touched.
Looking up at the stars, Val spotted a smoke trail rising into the night sky. It would have been nice to have a fire and they would have had no problem lighting it with her powers, but she knew it was safer to not attract attention to them. She checked her Dellatrax for life forms and saw the small red light in the corner that signified she could now return to the prison. She could leave whenever she wanted, but Peeta would be lucky if he made it through the night; she had to stay with him. She may not be permitted to interfere, but she wouldn't leave him to die alone. He kept talking about the girl Katniss and Val really hoped that she would find him. She had also discerned from her Dellatrax that they were inside an un-natural man-made enclosure.
Val decided it would be safe to rest for a short while and make one final surge towards the river at first light. Peeta had fallen into a deep sleep almost as soon as they had stopped. She sat absorbing the information she'd gleaned from him. The children were inside an arena fighting to the death and when one was killed, a type of hovercraft came for the body. This was barbaric. It was so unlike the Earth that she had known, although they had suffered some choice wars in the past, this was bizarre. She lay down next to him, knowing that her suit would let off enough warmth for them both. Suddenly, some pompous music began to play, then a young girl’s face was projected up onto the night sky. Her small face placed her at no more than eleven or twelve. Her face was replaced by that of a boy, who looked older. From what Peeta had told her, she knew they were now dead. Val wondered how they had died. She waited but that was it, just the two. Two too many.
From this she hoped that Katniss would realise that Peeta was still alive. She didn't know how many more children were out there tonight hiding for their lives. But she did know that Cato would be awake again soon and probably wondering what had hit him. The good news was if this Katniss loved Peeta as much as it had become apparent that he loved her, then she would come for him. If she and Sam had been in the same position, she would never give up looking for him.
Val slept longer than she meant to; sometimes Zac's insomnia came in handy, her human needs tended to hinder rather than help. As she woke, so did her hunger, but that would have to wait. She needed to get Peeta to the river - soon. He stirred when she tried to wake him but was otherwise delirious, so she was forced to half-carry, half-drag him. As she was pulling him along, Peeta called her several different names, Glimmer, and something like Rue, but she just carried on. Then the sound she had been waiting for greeted her ears, running water and she actually felt excited. "Peeta can you hear it?" she jiggled him, but he was still unresponsive.
Val hid him in some tall grass as she came closer to the river. Shimmering, she made her way to its edge. There was no-one in sight. Then she stumbled, as the ground rocked to an explosion. Although it was in the distance, it might drive unwanted attention in their direction. She ran back to check Peeta was ok. He was still unconscious, and her energy flagging now, she pulled him to the water’s edge.
An hour had passed when Peeta’s eyes finally opened, "You're still here," he smiled, revealing a boyish grin that gave Val a glimmer of hope. The harsh bang of cannon sounded and her stomach clenched. ‘Please don't let it be his friend,’ she prayed.
Then from the sky a voice spoke. "This year, two tributes can win, so long as they come from the same district."
"Peeta, you said Katniss was from your district didn't you?"
“Yes,” he nodded as she helped lower him down the bank and started to pack him into the mud next to the water.
Peeta coughed up most of the water Val tried to give him and she knew he didn't have much time left now. He was dying; if someone didn't come with medicine soon he would be lost. She could tell from the smell coming from his wound that the flesh had become infected. She wiped mud gently onto his face. "You know, when I lived on Earth, people paid a small fortune for this stuff." If she could camouflage his body, he stood a much better chance of not being discovered whilst she went and looked for Katniss. "Peeta it's going to be ok." she reassured him, “I'm going to look for your friend.”
As she left him, in her heart she wanted to take him back to the prison; he reminded her of Jason. This was a sick and twisted future that she was glad she had no part in. But maybe Peeta and Katniss could win together, then there was a chance for their love to survive. Although at this point it looked impossible, just like with her and Sam, and yet look at how that had worked out - she smiled at the thought.
She moved swiftly back towards the forest, but with caution and never losing sight of the river. Suddenly, she was halted by a snapping sound up ahead. Val leapt back, pushing herself behind a tree. Her sword extended, she waited. She would attack anyone coming for her new acquaintance.
Then a young woman appeared, Val instinctively knew it was Katniss, she was as beautiful as she had imagined. Katniss paused, bending onto her knee and turning to observe her surroundings, bow and arrow poised ready to fire. A moment later she was moving again with speed, but more like an animal, aware of every element of her environment. She paused by a rock, stooping to touch it.
She snapped her head around and Val wasn't sure if she'd been seen. She shimmered and followed her. Katniss paused to touch another rock and Val knew she’s picked up Peeta's blood marks that she hadn't managed to remove, which now seemed fortunate. Val knew she was close. "Come on Katniss, find him." She willed her to locate the boy.
“Peeta,” escaped Katniss's lips, and she looked around to make sure no-one had heard her, then fell to her knees beside him and began pulling away the mud that Val had covered him in. She knew they would be ok. Katniss held Peeta in her arms, the way Val had held Sam at Manningtree. Her Dellatrax gave out a short sharp vibration; her time was up, she was officially being summoned. One last look at the two of them was enough for her to know they would make it. Love could win any game - even one to the death.