The Shadows of Vellair, Part 10

Female Silhouette Enjoying View of Stock Footage Video (100 ...

There is no way to escape. “Be as merciful as possible,” I pleaded with Kikona. She nodded — were those tears in her eyes? Yes, inky black tears, filling them. 

“NO!” screamed my father again. He writhed in pain. She raised her clawed hand above my head and I tried my best not to flinch.

But then I saw terror in her eyes at what she was about to do. No, don’t! I silently pleaded. But she shook her head imperceptibly. With a terrible slash, she brought her claws down upon Vellair.

I can’t describe the sound that went through the air. It was Vellair’s death cry, and it knocked me to the ground, and the worst pain I’d ever felt wracked me. I could feel my life leaking away as wave after wave of lightning struck. I gratefully fled into the fuzzy darkness, wondering if I’d ever wake again.

When I awoke, I was on a cart again. “She’s awake!” cried a voice, and someone’s arms wrapped around me. Father. And I looked down at my arms, which were pale in the setting sunlight. I was a human again!

I wanted so terribly to tell him I loved him, that I was so sorry, but my voice wouldn’t work. I sat up and I saw a woman atop an ordinary horse riding ahead.

How long was I unconscious? I wanted to ask, but I still couldn’t talk. I was unable. Father’s eyes went confused at my frantic motions, but a heavy understanding soon settled over them. And still, to this day, I am mute from the encounter from Vellair.

“We’re going home,” Father told me. I leaned on his shoulder, feeling incredibly weak. My hands shook as I took a deep breath of biting air. “Vellair’s spell is broken.” A flood of relief accompanied his words. Kikona had saved us all when she killed Vellair.

“Indeed you are,” said the woman riding the horse. She turned around. “I am Augusta. You knew me as Kikona.”

Kikona! I wanted to tell her how much love filled my heart for this woman, even though I had hated her and feared her. Or was it just Vellair for whom I had felt those things?

But I couldn’t talk. Augusta’s eyes grew sad. “We’re going to make things right,” she told me. “We’re going to heal the wounds that Vellair opened.”

She can’t heal every wound, I thought sadly. But it’s good that we are trying.

The Shadows of Vellair, Part 9

glowing man | Tumblr

I stared into the swirling darkness. There seemed to be nothing inside the castle. “Continue,” Kikona said, stepping forward. I decided to trust her, so I walked through the arch, not knowing what lay beyond.

I couldn’t see anything. The blackness seemed to suffocate me. I could hear a whimper from behind me. My father. Echoes drifted by my ears. We seemed to be in an enormous room.

“Vellair, my lord,” Kikona said loudly. “I have returned with prisoners from the east.”

Out of the shadows came a light. I stared intently at it. It seemed to grow larger and larger, until . . .

I could see the figure man. No, not a man. More like a god, I realized as he strode nearer. He had flowing silver robes made of light, a perfect, chiseled face made of shining gold, and beautiful turquoise eyes. His hair flowed down his back, shining black, and his smile was brighter than the sun.

Despite how beautiful he looked as he approached us, there seemed to be something off about his presence. He seemed to be slightly transparent, as though not there, and his smile seemed oddly despicable. His eyes, though the most flawless thing I had ever seen, seemed to pierce me, as though he knew all of my secrets. They were cold; no, beyond cold, hating, and calculating.

There he stood, no less than five feet away from us. “Kikona, darling. I’m so glad you’re home,” he purred, stroking her cheek. She stayed still as stone, and was she flinching?

“And who are these two guests? Obsidian and Tar? How lovely to meet you,” he grinned coldly.

I was very confused. How did he know our shadow-man names? Was he Kikona’s husband? “Are you a prisoner too?” I asked. Pain bloomed through my mouth, and I gritted my teeth. This time, I saw Kikona really flinch.

The man threw back his head and laughed. Though it was the richest, most beautiful voice, ice soaked into my bones. He was cackling at me. And the strangest thing happened: with each burst of laughter, a pulse of pain rattled within me.

As soon as his laughter was spent, he looked at me, a sort of grin settled on his perfect face. “No, Obsidian,” he sneered. “I am your master.”

His words hit my mind like ash exploding from a volcano. He was . . . Vellair? Vellair was supposed to be ugly and disfigured. But this man was the most amazing I had ever seen. 

But yet . . . it made sense. He was evil, that I could see. He made Kikona flinch like he’d pierced her.

Vellair stared at me emptily. He seemed to be reading my thoughts. “I did,” he hissed. My heart jumped. His words seemed to simultaneously come from my mind and his mouth. 

“Kill Obsidian,” he instructed Kikona. “She is too defiant.”

“No!” my father screamed. Spasms of pain left him writhing on the ground. Vellair turned, and his eyes left holes in my brain. 

My mind exploded with fear. I tried to run, fighting the shadows, but pain burned my toes, forcing me to walk back to him. “You think you’re so smart,” he grinned, cupping my chin in his hand. I pulled away and he cackled again. 

The Shadows of Vellair, Part 8

Black stone castle far away from mountains

In the morning, it was still dark. The sky was permanently black now, with shades of red mixed in. Was the voice still there, or had it all been a dream? I will always be here, the voice whispered. My fists clenched at Vellair’s sentence. I didn’t want to disobey, or I’d die. But the life of a shadow-man was a terrible one.

“We are very close,” my father whispered from behind me. “Everything is full of evil.”

I turned around, my eyes stuck on him. His face was gaunt, and his frame had somehow become emaciated over a very short period of time. He was very sickly, even after I had saved him twice. I had no light left to give, and he could only be saved a certain number of times. My eyes stung, and soon my face, so I had no choice but to turn back around.

I still was a bit curious about Vellair, even though I was imprisoned by him now. I imagined he was the worst creature that ever lived, gruesome and rank and fiery. But predictions can always be wrong, as my father had shown me. So I sat, scared I would do something wrong and die, scared for my father’s life.

I shivered, even though my shadow-man body couldn’t get cold. I stared at the back of Kikona’s dark head as we continued. Who was she before her light got stolen? Did she give up her own life for someone she loved? It would all remain a mystery. 

The world was made of shadows now, only faint outlines of trees and blood in the sky remained. Ice rained down from the sky, though the sensation of it hitting my skin was no more than a light touch.

In front of us, a castle, hundreds of feet tall, loomed. It was carved from black stone. Surrounding it was towering red flames. Behind the castle, even further from us, was water. I shook, knowing the dangers of the sea. 

The ground that the aglusken hovered over was made of ice. Rather than shimmering like normal ice did, it was dull and gray. Dead trees grew out of it, cracked as if they had been struck by lightning.

I looked back at my father, lying limp against the bottom of the cart. He looked so tiny, swallowed up by the wood. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve thought he was dead. Ice rested in a thin layer on his body and his breath came billowing out as smoke. 

Suddenly, the aglusken disappeared with a whiff. Startled, I landed on my knees. The cart vanished as well. Kikona, who had landed on her feet, looked at me with her eyes narrowed. I stood up on wobbly legs. She lumbered over to my father and scooped him up. His pale face stood out in stark contrast to the dark setting of the castle.

“Why did it disappear?” I asked. I let out a sigh of relief when there was no pain for my words.

“Once the aglusken and the cart have completed their purposes, they vanish,” she explained. 

She started toward the castle. I stood, frozen. It was strange; though flames were normally bright, these were dull, barely flickering. Flames also melted ice, and these didn’t seem to affect the solid water at all.

I started after Kikona. Ice was normally slick, this ice just felt like cold stone under my feet. It was strong; it didn’t crack under my large body.

I peered at one of the dead trees. The bark was peeling away from the wood, and frost rested on the cracked branches. It was black as the sky was. I wondered how it had grown out of the ice, or if it had just always been there with Vellair.

“Come on,” Kikona growled. 

I hurried up to catch her, looking ahead again. In front of us was the tower of fire, about a hundred yards away. I clenched my fists. Somewhere, waiting inside of the castle, was Vellair.

As we approached the flames, it felt like a funeral march. I was going to die, I felt it. Some day very soon.

And then, we were there. Five feet from the flames, standing in the frostbitten air.

Kikona paused, setting my unconscious father on the ice. Then, before my murky brain could sense what she was doing, light started flowing from my father. So much. I screamed, but she couldn’t hear me. The ball of light surrounded him, until there was just . . . shadow.

The light vanished, and there lay my father, now a shadow-man.

“No!” I cried. Tears flowed down my face, leaving burns where they had been. Pain surged from my head as I stared at my father’s muscular, dark form. His eyes, misty, confused, and scarlet, stared at me. “Daughter?” he asked, and then howled and shook. I wanted so badly to tell him it was going to be okay, but it wasn’t. We were in the hands of the most evil thing who ever lived, with no hope for escape.

“Get up,” Kikona commanded gruffly. “Vellair is your master now.” Hate for her surged through me, and I wanted to slap her, but her words were true. Also, as I had figured out along the way, I didn’t know my own strength.

My father shakily stood up. “Where are we?” he asked, and clutched his head for a few seconds.

I wanted so badly to say, This is Vellair’s castle. And also, I love you, Father. I always will. But I couldn’t bring myself to say those words. Not unless I wanted to be in terrible pain.

“Follow me,” said Kikona. And then she walked through the dull flames. I gasped, and my throat stung. What was I — How was I — Pain rattled in my bones. Go forth or you will pay, seethed Vellair in my mind. The pain would keep persisting, until —

I threw myself into the fire, holding my breath. The flames licked me, but I felt nothing. Then, all of a sudden, I was on the other side. Gray stones covered the ice, which peeked through in between them. The sky somehow was blacker than on the other side of the fire gate, making everything barely visible.

Stretching far above my head was a giant arched entryway, with intricate, jagged designs covering it. Steps wound up into the entryway, and beyond it, there was blackness.“We must get to Vellair,” Kikona persisted. She was about twenty steps ahead of me. I looked behind me to see my father a couple steps back. I started up the steps, and the claws on my feet made scritching noises against the stone. The staircase seemed to last forever, and by the time my father and I reached Kikona, I was panting.

The Shadows of Vellair, Part 7

Jagged Tree at Arches National Park BW Photograph

My vision came back into focus. I was sitting on the floor of the cart. How am I still thinking? My father was sitting up, dazed. Then he looked at me. His eyes filled with tears, and I turned away, ashamed that I had disobeyed him.

Kikona turned around from atop the shadow horse. Its red eyes burned me.

One thought echoed in my mind: if I was a shadow-man, why wasn’t I mindless?

I looked down at myself. I was, as I expected, a shadow-man, muscular and terrifying. I was wearing animal skins and both of my hands were clawed. 

My father had once told me that shadow-men were just filled with evil, nothing else. Why wasn’t my brain gone?

“Come on,” Kikona said. “We must get the prisoner to Vellair.” It was strange; somehow I understood that she was speaking the shadow-man language, but I was also aware of what the words meant. She — Kikona was a she. Her voice sounded like a normal human woman.

“We can’t!” I exclaimed. “You took us and nearly killed us. I will never work with you.”

Pain coursed throughout my body. I shook with it. I cried out like a werewolf, howling, howling . . . 

When it finally stopped, I slumped to the floor of the rumbling cart. Lightning still thrummed within me. I clenched my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut. “What — what’s wrong?” My father’s face, pale and frightened, was next to mine.

My name is Obsidian. You must obey me. 

Is it real, or is it all some sort of hallucination? I wondered, still shaking.

SAY IT, OR YOU WILL BE AT MY MERCY!!! The voice commanded. Shocked tears filled my eyes, leaking onto my face. “Mmyy nnaammee iiss Oobbssiiddiiaann. Yyoouu mmuusstt oobbeeyy mmee.” I said, my voice shaking. Why was this happening to me? Who was the owner of the voice inside my head? Was I just going crazy? Was I being controlled?

YES, the voice said. It echoed in my skull. 

Shadow-men weren’t mindless, I realized. They were under someone’s control.

Vellair, came the thought immediately. There was no one else who could control them, no one else who was powerful enough to do that kind of magic.

As soon as I said the terrible words, my father gasped. “What are you saying?”

Scratch him. I could feel Vellair grinning. Make him bleed. “No . . .” I whispered. SCRATCH HIM, OR YOU WILL DIE!!! he commanded.

Then, as gently as I could, I lifted an arm and scratched my father’s face. Hatred filled my heart for Vellair. I pulled my hand away, and blood sprang to the surface of my father’s face. Four claw marks stretched across the entirety of it. He looked utterly shocked. He pressed his hand to his face, and it came away wet and crimson. I’m sorry, I thought, but it couldn’t come out. It wouldn’t come out.

“Get on the aglusken,” Kikona told me from the shadow-horse. That must’ve been what it was called, because the word wouldn’t translate itself in my mind. The aglusken snorted as I stood up in the cart, my feet heavy, my heart numb. I walked slowly to the shadow-horse and Kikona put out her hand to help me up onto it. I didn’t go through its body. It felt as solid as a normal horse.

The sky was getting darker by the minute as we rode in silence. The trees looked more and more jagged as we passed them. But I didn’t feel cold, not at all. I turned around and my father shivered violently as ice covered him. 

We waited silently for hours. The rocking of the aglusken eventually made me fall asleep.

The Shadows of Vellair, Part 6

Red light over a cloudy sky

The gray sky hung above me, tinted slightly red. But it wasn’t the sun. The sun was long gone. It had vanished when we had left the village. I sat up. I could barely move. A thin sheen of ice rested on my body. My father’s eyes had deep bags beneath them. Icicles hung from his beard. He pointed to the sky. “Do you see that?” He was talking about the red in the sky. “That’s a shadow of blood.”

I shivered. “Are you sure?”

He nodded. “When there are enough people killed, crimson hangs over the sky, as a reminder of the blood that was shed. We are getting nearer and nearer every day.”

It was true. In the distance somewhere, Vellair’s castle loomed. Who knew what he would do to us once we arrived? It was all a part of his game.

“What do you imagine his castle looks like?” I asked.

“I imagine it’s carved from the deepest black rock, surrounded by a moat where slimy creatures lurk.”

I believed my father. He was a knowledgeable man. He knew of the stars, the trees, and things far beneath the ground. If he had a guess about what Vellair’s castle looked like, I would believe him.

It was hard to describe what the cold felt like at this point. We were covered in ice and frost. It burned and stung my skin. Not even snow fell, which at least would give me something joyful. It was as if the world had turned evil; whatever we found happiness from, it would turn that thing terrible.

By now the woods had grown thicker, but somehow the shadow-horse and Kikona had found a path to travel on. They seldom made noise. I had begun to notice that the trees we walked by had protruding spiky growths pointing toward us.

I examined my shadow-man arm. It never seized to amaze me. It was warm, melting the frost on it, and unlike the rest of me, it was healthy. 

“I wonder, how strong do you think my shadow-man arm is?” I asked my father.

“What?” he asked. He blinked his eyes slowly, like he had just fallen asleep.

“Are you alright?” I asked. He nodded, but his eyelids drooped again. I pressed my hand against his forehead. He was as hot as a fireplace. He weakly slumped against the bottom of the cart, his hair falling over his eyes.

“Father? Please! Talk to me!” I exclaimed.

“I’m sorry. I’m just tired,” he mumbled.

“Please just hold on,” I whispered, feeling a sense of dejá vù. I had saved him once before, could I do it again? Would I rather give up my humanity, or live with the burden that I had let someone die?

He looked so thin, so fragile. My tears dripped onto his face, cutting paths through the ice. An impossibly cold wind cut through me. We couldn’t live much longer . . .

I sobbed. For me. For him. For Mother. For everyone. For the shadow-men. For Vellair. They didn’t know what they’re doing.

And yet, through my terrible grief, I knew what to do.

“Kikona,” I said. “Please save my father.” Please let this sadness go away. Forever.

It turned around, immediately this time. Its scarlet eyes, the color of the blood in the sky, bored through me. 

My light went quickly into my father. But this time, there was no pain. Only numbness.

Everything went black. I had let my father live.

The Shadows of Vellair, Part 5

Quiz: Crying -- Is It Good for Your Health?

“Oh no, mother,” I cried. I put my ear against her chest. A weak, almost silent heartbeat thrummed. “Father . . . no! I — I have to save her too! She’s dying!” I looked into my father’s eyes, which were clouded with sadness. “Kikona! Please! Save my —” I started to yell, but my mouth was abruptly covered by my father’s calloused hand. And then I understood. I was already too weak. If Kikona took my light, I’d become a shadow-man. 

Tears spilled over. My father embraced me, and I cried until there was nothing left.

I woke up, and it was night. My father was breathing slowly next to me, and my mother was gone. Not in the cart with us. She had probably died when I’d fallen asleep, tossed like a ragdoll into the woods by Kikona. The image made me want to cry, but instead I just felt empty.

I sat up in the cart. There was no moon, and crooked trees came into focus as my eyes adjusted to the dark. Unlike the trees in the forest before, they were barren, displaying rough patches of bark. The woods were impossibly cold, and I felt frost on the cart beneath my hand. We were closer to Vellair’s castle then ever before.

There weren’t even stars. Just a black sky choked by gray clouds. I listened to howling in the distance. My heart beat faster. Werewolves were on the prowl. A branch scraped me on my normal arm. I cupped my hand against the wound, and it came away with blood.

I laid down, the world coming out of focus.

The Shadows of Vellair, Part 4

image of a stormy sea lightening
Photo by Frank Cone on

I awoke with my father leaning over me. His eyes no longer looked dead. In fact, they were awake and alert. 

“You aren’t dead?” I asked, my throat stinging.

“You saved me,” he said, though something hung in his eyes; something haunting him.

“Why do you look so scared?” I asked.

“The shadow-man took your light and put it into me,” he said softly.

“Is that what I saw? I wasn’t imagining things?” I asked, rubbing my eyes and gagging at the effort.

He nodded. “Does that mean I’m a shadow-man?” I asked.

My father let out a breath of fear, his eyes flicking to my arm. Shaking, I lifted the arm up, which, surprisingly, didn’t take any effort at all. I gasped at what I saw.

Inky, thick skin covered it; it appeared to not be my own. Large muscles bulged beneath it, and long claws protruded from my fingers. I stared in horror at this grotesque limb that was now mine.

I sat up quickly, which I quickly realized was a mistake. Dark spots appeared in my vision, threatening to overwhelm me. The world spun. My father held me up and I gulped in the air. I examined my other arm, which was fully without shadow-man features. “Is this what a shadow-man is?” I wondered aloud. “A human with no light left?”

My father nodded. “I’m sorry. You sacrificed being a full human for my life.”

“It is a good trade.” I hugged him fiercely. What if he had died? 

The wind blew my hair into my eyes. The sky was pink, full of setting sun. Water sat against the horizon, coming up the ground in waves. The ground was made of sand, which the shadow horse hovered slightly above. Kikona sat stoically upon the creature’s back, not noticing the chill in the air. I, however, even with my ever warm shadow-man arm, was shivering. Little by little, the air chilled as the sun set.

“What is this place?” I wondered aloud.

“It’s called the sea,” my father explained. “A place where water meets the earth. It’s very dangerous.”

“How?” I asked. How could such a beautiful place be dangerous?

“The waves are evil. They can kill a man with one swipe,” my father whispered, his breath clouding. I shivered. As Vellair got nearer and nearer, the world became eviler and eviler. No one had told me this, but it was terribly clear.

I averted my eyes from the awful sea. Its beauty was tempting, reminding me of the water I hadn’t drunk in ages. 

Then, almost unknowingly, I set my eyes upon my mother. She still laid on the bottom of the cart. The only sign that she still lived was the slight rising and falling of her chest. It stole my breath away, it made my head spin to see her like this.

Resetting the Clock (Part 3)

A bright yellow school bus is shown from the front of the bus to the front door.  It is a school bus with a rounded front.

But I opened my eyes expecting myself to be in the hospital but I was in my bed and the clock was set back to the morning of the incident. How am I going to save my sister while keeping myself alive.

I got out of my bed and ran to my sister. I thought maybe I could take her to school with me, then I would be able to keep an eye on her all day. I told my sister to pack her bag so she could go on an “adventure” with me. We were on our way to the bus stop. I made sure to keep an eye out for any sign of danger. We got on the bus safe and sound.

When we got to school, I told my principal that my parents weren’t home so I had to look after my sister so I brought her to school with me. The principal told me it was fine as long as she wouldn’t be a distraction. I told my principal that I would keep her in check and went to class. The day went on smoothly, a little too smoothly. I thought that everything would be fine as we boarded the school bus to go home.

The ride home was 45 minutes long, so I kept my sister occupied with her toys. We were playing catch and my little sister missed the ball and it slid past her fingers. The ball was rolling down to the front of the bus towards the bus driver. The ball is going to get stuck in the brake and we are going to crash! What do I do? I thought. Luckily someone sitting near the front caught the ball just before it went under the brake. I let out a sigh of relief. But before I could relax in my seat, the bus skidded to a stop. Everyone on the bus was in a panic. What had happened? why did the bus stop? theses thoughts started rushing through my mind. But after a few minutes the bus started to move again. I looked out the window as we drove past an accident between a car and a truck. That could have been us, I thought.

We were ten minutes away from our house when I noticed a water bottle rolling down towards the brakes. This time the person who had caught our ball was not on the bus. This is it. We are all going to die and I won’t be able to save my sister. The water bottle continued to roll down towards the brakes. Everything was moving in slow motion. I thought maybe I can stop the water bottle in time. I leaped out of my seat and ran towards the water bottle but at that moment the bus driver slammed the brakes and there was a brief moment where everything froze. Then everything started moving and the next thing I know I am on the ground. That was close. I looked back and there was a look of terror in everyone’s eyes. I didn’t know what had happened. My mind went to the worst, something had happened to my sister. And I was right. She couldn’t take the force of the stop and she had been slammed into the seat and was slumped in the seat lifeless. I screamed for someone to call for help and ran to my sister with tears in my eyes. I thought, I had done it, I had saved my sister from death. I had beaten death. But fate could not be changed. I had been fighting a lost battle. There was no way I could save her. She was meant to die on this day. There was nothing I could do to save her. I waited for the white lights to come and to be back in my bed. If I can’t save her, I will do everything in my power so that she can have the best day of her life before she left. The white lights came as I closed my eyes and clutched the lifeless body of my sister. And there I was back in bed.

What will Eric do to give his sister the best last day of her life? Find out in Part 4.

Froyo Shop: Part Seventeen

A landscape-- a rolling field with an oak tree in the center.  There are other trees in the background. The sky is blue with some fluffy cumulus clouds.

“YOU DID WHAT AGAIN?!” Jeanette yelled at Avery, who just said a crucial thing.

“I-I saved Holly from falling off the tree…” Avery smiles nervously at her best friend, who was furious at Avery.

“Do you know what you just did?! He must have been watching you guys too! What if he suddenly got amused to you instead of Holly? You’re going to die faster than the book says if you do that!” Jeanette screams her head off as she tries to think of the best possible solution to set Holly and the prince back together.

A few hours later, Avery leaves her best friend, (who currently needs to cool off her steam), to find a place to practice her swordfighting.

Hmm.. Whats a nice place in this school ground that no one goes to?” Avery thinks to herself as she continues to walk around the school grounds. While she was walking, she noticed that the academy was bigger than she thought- there was a building for each major. Since she was a freshmen this year, all the freshmen were only allowed to go to the main building for their classes because they didn’t have majors yet. As soon as she walked behind the infirmary building, she sees a big field of grass and trees.

She then spots a very tall, beautiful blossom tree and starts climbing it with her sword. When she sat down, she was amazed by the view.

“Wow the sunset is beautiful.” she says as she smiles, “Then it is decided. I will practice here.” As she kept looking at the sunset, she was reminiscing about what has happened since she got the book.

Thanks to that book, I am now closer with my brother and Damien. I also haven’t fallen in love with the prince, thank goodness. I need to know who wrote this book though..” She thought to herself as she looked off at the sky and started to doze off to sleep.


Stay Alive- A Hunger Games fanfiction (ch. six)

Image is of a knot.

Chapter Six

Walter did wonderful with his interview, and I’m sure he won over the crowd. He charmed all those Capitol citizens with talk about his crush back in Twelve, and he gushed about how awesome his parents are.

I almost feel bad for him.

He confessed his love to all these people, and there’s a big chance he won’t be going back to Twelve.

“You ready for training?” Jason asked, coming up beside me.

We were all standing around outside the training center’s doors, waiting for it to begin. We twenty-four tributes were a sea of black training suits; the mentors, well-dressed water trash. Not that Jason is trash.

“Yeah, I think so,” I said, plastering a fake smile on my face for his sake.

“When you’re let in, the head trainer will go over everything with you. The Gamemakers will be watching, and so will the mentors. Remember our plan,” he said.

“Yes, sir,” I said teasingly, smacking a kiss on his cheek.

He beamed. “Got it, Walter?”

“Of course, Mr. Mentor, sir!” Walter said, saluting.

“You know, you two are awfully perky, ‘specially since you’re gonna go die,” said the boy from Eight, Pat. He’d snuck up behind us, making us jump.

“Jeez, man, give us some warning,” Jason said.

“Sneak attacks,” Pat grinned. “They’re my specialty.”

Walter, Jason, and I nodded, exchanging looks.

“But like I said, you three are terribly happy.”

“Have to keep our hopes up, don’t we?” I said. But I knew he was right.

“Not really. The more you prepare yourself for death, the better you’ll go when it’s your time,” Pat said.

“That’s awfully dark for a -how old are you anyway?- a kid to say,” Jason said.

Pat shrugged. “My friends and family all told me, ‘Pat, we love you, but that arena will be where you’ll go. Better prepare yourself.’ So yeah. I’m ready to die. I’ll fight my way to the end.”

“But there’s a chance you could win,” I said, trying to lift his spirits.

He shook his head, his blond wavy hair brushing across his forehead. “No way. It’ll be you that wins, Fay; I’ve seen it.”

“What do you mean, you’ve seen it?” I asked.

“The people in my village back in Eight don’t call me the ‘little seer’ for nothing,” he said mysteriously.

“So… you’re a psychic? I thought they weren’t real,” Walter said.

Oh great. Just what I need. I’m already being sent into a death trap arena where I’m expected to kill everyone, and now a psychic kid is being thrown in, too?? This just keeps getting crazier, I swear.

“It’s true,” Pat continued. “This one time, a kid was messing with me after school and I told him, ‘you’re gonna fall into a mud puddle and mess up your clothes when you leave.’ And sure enough, as he was walking away after beating me up, he slipped on a rock and fell face-first into a puddle. I never was messed with ever again by that kid, and he never wore those clothes. Guess they were ruined.” He shrugged.

“Are you sure that wasn’t just a lucky guess?” Jason asked, arching an eyebrow.

Pat shook his head. “Nope. Because when I got home, I told my mom, ‘you should board up our windows, it’s gonna rain hard tonight.’ But she didn’t believe me ’cause the skies were clear. But then the next morning, everything was soaking wet. It had rained.”

Jason and I exchanged looks.

Walter, who seemed to believe this, exclaimed, “Wow! You do sneak attacks and you can read the future! That’s awesome!”

Pat shrugged, his round cheeks going red. “Only sometimes.”

“Tributes,” a voice called from the front of the cluster, “we welcome you to our updated training center!”

The doors in front were flung open and we were ushered in.

“Ooo, updated,” Jason whispered. “Betcha that just means that they got new swords and dummies.”

I chuckled, but my voice faded when I saw the center.

“Oh,” I breathed. “Wow, this is…”

“…really something,” Walter concluded.

“Huh,” Jason said. “Guess they did more of an update than I thought.”

The watch room was the first thing I saw. Up off the ground, like a balcony, it was surrounded by glass, and in it, the Gamemakers. They were feasting and laughing, but their attention turned to us and they began talking among themselves, pointing out different attributes of us tributes, making note of who looked like the best fighter. The Gamemaker’s balcony was supported by a series of metal beams, all around it. Off to the left, towards the back, were the survival stations: fire making, knots, camouflage, edible plants, that sorta thing. The front left was the three-lane archery range, with a rack of bows and human-shaped targets. To the back of the right side was an elaborate obstacle course, the Gauntlet. The rest of the space in the center was filled with various weapon stands and chop-able targets. The entire space was focused around a silver, gray, red, and black color scheme.

“That’s where I’ll be,” Jason said, pointing to an un-closed balcony on the right wall.

“What if someone decides to shoot at you?” Walter asked.

“That won’t happen,” I said quickly.

“I don’t know, Fay,” said Jason. “Draco looks like he’s about ready to murder someone.”

The three of us snuck a glance at Draco, who was glaring at no one in particular.

“Tell him he’s got two days,” I said.

“Or he can just murder the dummies,” Walter giggled.

“Say,” Pat said from behind us, making us jump again, “what do you think the Gamemakers look for?”

“They try to spot who’s the best at what so they can use that as the tribute’s disadvantage in the arena,” Jason said. “Make sense?”

Walter, Pat, and I nodded.

“Mentors, please proceed to your platform,” the head trainer said. “Tributes, can you hear me?”

A collective shout of “yes” rose from our group. I saw Draco roll his eyes.

“I am your head trainer, Almeria,” she continued. “I know you’re all eager to start chopping each other to little bits in order to make it out alive, but the Hunger Games aren’t all about fighting. There are other things that could kill you. Dehydration, starvation, freezing, and overheating are the biggest non-human threats. Eat the wrong berry, and you’ll be dead in seconds. Got it?”

We all nodded, with a few mumbled yeses here and there.

“Very good. My biggest advice is to take advantage of the survival skills stations. You all want to pick up a sword, I know, but take a few minutes at the survival stations and you may have just pushed your life limit a couple of days more in the arena. Remember, twenty-four of you go in, but only one comes out. How well you prepare decides who it will be.”

Walter, Pat, and I exchanged nervous glances.

Almeria blew her whistle. “Go!”