My first year mentoring I was so hopeful. I thought that I could make a difference in Twelve. I knew that we would never be a Career District, that the majority of the tributes I mentored would have to die. I knew that most of my tributes would be fare more like Staiger than me. But I still had hope that, maybe, we could be like Three or Five or Seven, and win once or twice every fifteen or twenty years.
Now I knew better. Our lack of mentors was not what made our tributes die in the Games. It was our tributes. The Seam kids, the majority of my tributes, listened to me, but were too weak from starvation to do anything in the Games. The Merchant kids were strong enough to stand a chance, but all thought they knew better than a Seam whore who managed to get lucky in her Games.
"Please," she said, rolling her eyes. Her bright blue Merchant eyes were bloodshot. She had been crying recently, but was too proud to admit it. It always was funny to me how the tributes didn't seem to realize that we had been in their exact position just a few years ago. "I've been running a shop since I could talk. I know how to get someone to like me."
She was a friendly girl, that much I remembered. I knew of her even before she was Reaped. She was only a year younger than me after all, my first tribute. Her family ran the sweet shop, a shop only kept open by Victors and other merchants rich enough to enjoy something like that. I'd bought a few chocolates from her the day of the Reaping actually, and gave one back to her for good luck. The rest were going to whatever tribute I mentored. Honey ended up eating all of those chocolates I bought for her.
"It doesn't matter how much they like you." I argued. "When you're in the arena, people will do anything to survive. It doesn't matter if they like you or not. They will kill you if they get the opportunity."
She glared at me, tears welling up in her eyes again. Merchant, I reminded myself again. She wasn't used to the constant reminder of death, two of your neighbors being taken every year to fight to the death. She wasn't used to all the empty spaces in the Seam, the places where a boy or a girl used to be. She was used to fullness, to a security that we didn't have. "You're right." Honey replied, her voice shaking. "You killed her."
It was a generally unspoken rule that you never talked about a Game in front of someone who won them, or lost a family member in them. They had to bring it up first, and even then you didn't talk about their allies or whatever they did to win. Even the tributes were supposed to avoid it, and just trust that whatever their mentors were saying was good advice.
Nobody had talked to me about my Games in a whole. Thankfully, they were unremarkable for the most part. Nothing really out of the ordinary had happened in my Games, save the fact that I won them. They were like the Games that I was watching right now. Unremarkable, except for that a girl from Twelve was in the top three. And that I was rooting for her to die.
Moving to Two had been one of the easier decisions of my life. It wasn't like I had much in Twelve after the Games anyway. My dad died less than three months after I got back. He refused to quit work, saying that the money I got from my Games was blood money. There was a freak mining accident, they said. He was the only one to die.
Once Onyx proposed, moving to Two had been a no brainer. In Twelve, I was seen as a martyr, one of the only Victors from Twelve. In Two, people practically ignores me. I was no more important than any of the other Victors, and there were plenty of those in Two. The only time I ever had to go back was for the Reapings.
I watched the Games intently, not letting my concentration slip for a second. If I looked away, that could be the moment when everything changed. It was the top three after all. In the top three, there wasn't a moment of rest. Any of the three girls left, Starling, Simona or Delilah, could win the Games. I should have been rooting for Delilah. She was my tribute after all, the one who would bring honor back to Twelve. The first Victor from Twelve in twenty five years. I couldn't though, and not just because she reminded me of Honey.
"Mommy, we learned about your Games in school today." He said softly, putting a slice of roast beef into her mouth.
I tended. I had never told my kids about my Games, or that I had even been in a Games before. I told them the Games were just that, Games, and that the kids who went off to Training were just doing extra schoolwork. That was the best way to keep them away from it, I figured.
"Yeah." Staiger said. "We learned about the Hunger Games, and why we have then and everything. My teacher said you won them, so we watched them. It was gross."
I swallowed my food, hoping that would steer the conversation away.
"Was Mommy good?" Starling asked excitedly. She was just old enough to be eating on her own. She had to sit on her feet to reach the table, but she was adamant that she could do it on her own.
"Mommy was amazing!" Staiger said, flinging his food across the table. "She won the Games in the end. It was so cool. They had sword fights, and there were explosions, and at one point they all had diseases, it was so cool. The end was sad though. This girl named Starling gave Mommy some medicine cause Mommy was sick, and then Mommy ki..."
"That's enough, Staiger." Onyx said, giving me a concerned glance. "Mommy did what she had to do to make it out of the Games alive."
"When I get older," Starling said through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "I'm going to be just like Mommy."
Starling stabbed Simona, her last remaining ally, through the stomach. I was suddenly nauseous, remembering how I killed Starling. It was just like that. My sword through her stomach. All she was trying to so was help me, and I killed her for it. She saved my life and I killed her. I was no better than the monsters who killed my first baby.
"And. Is for the grand finale." One of the announcers, a new one this year, said. "The Gamemakers have been planning this one for a while, and, trust us, you'll enjoy it."
"Yessir," the other announcer said. I could practically hear his flashy, artificial smile through the television set. "These Mutts are specifically designed to target these tributes' worst fears. According to our sources, those are death and abandonment. These will be a fun Games indeed."
A grand finale. I laughed. They didn't need a grand finale. They would get one no matter what.
The Cornucopia was shockingly empty. I remembered just being here, days before. All twenty four of us had fit in the Cornucopia. Now only two of us needed to. Coral and I were supposedly the two strongest tributes. We were only the two luckiest though. The boy from Six, the other Careers, Staiger, any of then could have carried the title of strongest, and they were all dead.
Fanta didn't make an announcement this time. And just let us fight. I didn't see what else they would need to do. Coral and I were going to fight to the death regardless. Neither of us was going to pull an Everdeen. Nightlock wasn't in the arena anyway. The fighting was vicious. She was a Career, and I wasn't going to give up. I hadn't made it this far just to die.
I lived though. I hadn't own but I had lived. Out of the twenty four of us who entered the arena, I was the only one who was still breathing, who still had a beating heart. I couldn't say that I had won though.
No one could see the Mutts they made for Starling and Delilah, not the parts that did the fighting anyway. You could only see the teeth and the claws, the parts that actually did the killing. You could see their reactions though. You could see their reactions, and you could see the blood, and you could see the death. You could hear the cannon too.
I picked up Onyx's Peacekeeper gun, the one that he hadn't picked up since he came back to Two. The Trainers only used fake guns. It was too dangerous to let them use real ones apparently. It was surprisingly light in my hands, although undeniably cold. I tested the weight, and checked the safety. It was off.
I raised the gun to my forehead. Twelve had just gained a Victor; they could afford to lose one now.