Death was natural in the Districts. It was something that would happen one way or another. Life could only be prolonged so far. It was natural and guaranteed, and they were weapons. They died young, but only after bringing death to others. They were like archangels, executing the wrath of Panem, of the Captiol, snapping necks and tearing out hearts. Blood was like water, and the crunch of a broken bone was a common noise.
They were the Career Tributes, and all others fell before them. They were machines to some, nightmares to others, and their district’s greatest pride. Soldiers, beasts, monsters. They were feared and worshiped, idolized and dreaded. Others trembled before them, before their knives and swords and spears and hands.
But they were children.
She might as well have been born with a knife in her hand. The moment the steel was pressed into her palm in the training center, she was finally whole. It came naturally, the slicing and cutting, the throwing, the thrusts and cuts. They remarked at her skill, beaming down at the small 8 year old girl, the one with the knives that would never miss. And she would smile back.
He had been there longer, for three more years than she had. He was older and was already stronger than the boys his age, than the boys older than him. He was a natural weapon, brutal and bloody and grinning. A longer blade was given to him. It fit him well. It was not graceful or beautiful. It chopped and cut so fiercely, leaving hacked, unrecognizable things behind.
Though it was not planned that way, they were made for each other. Cato was to be with a girl his age, a girl who had trained as long as he had. And Clove, the young girl who never missed, was supposed to train and practice and spar for so much longer. But they were the best. The best of the best.
When she was 15, no one volunteered when her name was called. She did not care; it was what she had wanted. It was unexpected to some, but to her it was right. This is my time, she thought as the crowd parted and applauded for her. I am meant to win. They cheered for her. They were hers, and she had them in the palm of her hand. He was forceful, too, cutting off their representative to shout out his claim. A boy reached out to pat him on his back and he snapped his hand, bending the fingers every which way. She saw, and she laughed.
That was how they worked together, joking and smiling and laughing as the blood pooled in front of him. Together on stage, they shook hands. His grip was tight, and she dug her nails into his palm.
“I’m going to kill you,” he whispered as they were ushered off stage, his hand in the middle of her back.
Clove laughed, dancing out of his reach. “Oh Cato, you should know by now that I never miss my mark.” She grinned back at him, and they both laughed, boots of the Peacekeepers marching to a heartbeat in the hallway.
District 1 is different. It is sparkling and shining and when you first see it, you can only wonder how it can be real. The streets are paved with platinum, and everything is perfect. Their tributes are hard as stone, with iron skin and diamond hearts and jewel eyes. They can cut through anything, break anything. They are strong and solid and seemingly unbreakable.
They are close to their mentors there, some more than others. It was Cashmere that taught her everything, and it was Cashmere who woke her that morning, lips finding the crook of her neck. Maybe it was wrong, but they were so close, so close in age and height and in everything. She had made Glimmer the way she was. She had gone a few years before her, winning the Games and coming back and guiding Glimmer towards the same fate.
“A woman can have different strengths than a man,” she had told her as they sat cross-legged on the balcony. “We are a different kind of weapon. And you can use it to your advantage. In the end, you will swallow their hearts.” She had liked the sound of that, and from that moment on she followed her mentor’s steps as best as she could.
When she stepped forward that day, blonde curls piled on her head, emerald eyes sparkling in the morning sun, she could feel her mentor watching her. Her voice rang loud and clear, and applause rang out behind her. She was a soldier, but her weapon was buried under her outer layers. They wouldn’t know what hit them till it was too late.
Marvel, the boy who stepped forward, sneered. He would put on a show because that was what they wanted. All eyes were on him, on his arm muscles from throwing the spears, on his grin and his eyes. On him. The Capitol had paid attention to him once before, when his father was murdered in the street by the Peacekeepers and the boy was yanked from his mother’s arms and had a weapon thrust in his hand. He would play their game, he would play the role of a pawn with a sword, of a killer for the Capitol. He would have his revenge.
They knew each other too well, Glimmer and Marvel. They were more siblings that fellow tributes. When he had first been brought to the training center and matched up with her, they had both been a mess. At night, when the halls were empty and the glittering moon was high in the sky, she would creep into his bed and they would hold each other tight, pretending and remembering the family that they would see only occasionally. They filled a void for each other.
But they were not siblings any more. From the moment that they shook hands on the podium, from the moment that their district erupted into a roar of support, from the moment their eyes met, it was over. One of them, if not both, would die at the end of the Games. It was unavoidable.
Slowly, the Capitol takes everything from you.
When the four of them were together, they were an unstoppable force. They were the Careers, and one of them would be the winner. The best of the best, the cream of the crop. They watched the others in the training center, laughing and joking and planning the death of every one in the room. Cato took the lead. He was the king, the leader; it was clear from the start. There was something about him that demanded the respect of others. He was loud and brash and bossy, but he knew what he was talking about. Every order he barked, every plan he formed, Marvel would execute. Clove watched, not bragging as loud as the others. Her words were her looks, her smirks and glares and pursed lips. And Glimmer was the eye candy. At least that was what the two from District 2 thought. Her partner knew her too well to be fooled. She stretched provocatively, flirted, giggled. And the boys watched her, thought about her, dreamed about her. But she was out of their league. She was above them all, Marvel and Cato included.
At night she grew close to the brutish boy from District 2 while his partner lurked in the shadows, watching them. But Glimmer did not care. She weaseled her way into his life, forged a connection as strong as diamonds and stone. The others would think she was shallow and foolish. They would see her as no threat. Maybe Cato would think of her that way, too. All the better, she thought.
“The less of a threat they see you as, the more of a surprise it will be when you slit their throats.” She had laughed when her mentor had told her that, but had taken in to heart. Boys would be boys, even when they were trained soldiers. Get close to him now, take advantage of that in the arena, win the games, go home to Cashmere. It was a simple plan, really, and Glimmer had played with enough hearts to know that it did work. Boys and girls had fallen to her feet. They offered themselves up to her, heart, body, and soul. And she loved it.
Together they were unstoppable. They would pave a path of blood and bodies across the arena, carving and slicing and seducing and killing. It was not strange to them, the metallic stench of blood and the sound of tearing skin. It was their soundtrack, their song, and this year they would serenade all of Panem with it.
He had been second best all his life. Second to Glimmer, second to the bigger boys, second to District 2. Anywhere else, second place was considered doing well. Not in the Games. If you were not first, you were dead.
His skill came in taking orders. If you told him to do something, Marvel would do it. His execution was perfect, down to the very last detail. He was artfully murderous, and Cato appreciated that. It reminded him of Clove. While his partner and the brutish boy were together, doing lord knows what, Marvel trained. He never stopped. Once he was in the arena there would be no down time, no chance for weakness. A chink in the armor was a matter of life and death. And he did not want to die in the hands of District 2.
So he took his orders and he did what he was told, just as he had did all his life. When his father had been killed before his eyes, fighting back was not an option. You had to know how to play the game, and Gloss had taught him that. In District 1, they played the game well. It was a different plan, a different scheme, but they would come out on top. They would.
She had been dreaming of home, of the glittering marble floors and diamond windows, of perfectly groomed citizens and of Cashmere, oh Cashmere and her training and her words and her mouth.
And then the humming started.
The pain was like nothing else she had ever experienced, and Glimmer had broken bones and been jabbed with needles and had her entire body waxed. But the stabbing and the stinging and the buzzing. It was everywhere. She had been foolish and opened her eyes for a moment, only a moment, to scream for Marvel and Cato or even Clove or useless Lover Boy, for anyone that would listen. But they had stung her there, too, and she had seen them coming. They swarmed and didn’t stop. She reached out blindly, hoping desperately for the arm that had been around her in her sleep to be there to guide her out. There was only air and more of the mutts.
She felt her body begin to shut down. It was like turning off a breaker; piece by piece she lost feeling in her fingers then toes then up her arms and legs and then she couldn’t even swat them away any more.
For a brief moment, her eyes were able to open again, emerald and watering and staring up at the sky. And then Cashmere was there, hushing her and brushing her hair out of her face, tucking the strands that had come out of her braids back in.
And then it was finally quiet.
He had not seen her body after the attack, and for that Marvel was thankful. The bile boiled in his stomach as they tended to their wounds. Between the girl on fire and the little tree-climbing brat, they were in for quite a good time. Cato was unphased by Glimmer’s death, moving on quickly, and the other girl did not comment at all. She cleaned her wounds and polished her knife.
“When we get the chance,” their leader said, “we’ll gut them both. Make it a good show for all those back home who got their hopes up.” His partner laughed, and all Marvel could think of was the absence of Glimmer’s giggle. But her cannon had sounded, and her body had been whisked away.
He was their last hope.
The explosion had rocked the pack, and had sent Cato’s blood boiling. The boy from District 3 was the closest thing to him, and his hands found the boy’s neck easily. He was dead before he could protest. The girl on fire had darted into the trees, and he had screamed for Clove to follow her, for Marvel to find the other one, the little one. They had shot off, off into the trees, twigs cracking behind them, and he had stood in the clearing and screamed, slashing at the ground with his sword.
He had expected two cannons. That was what was supposed to happen. But they were not the cannons he wanted.
Clove came back empty handed, blades free of blood, a scowl plastered across her face.
Marvel did not come back.
He had been the one to set the traps. Cato’s hands were too clumsy, Glimmer had been working her magic, and Clove had been glaring at the two, cracking jokes. It was Marvel, marvelous Marvel, who se the net.
And it had worked.
Briefly, he considered yelling for the other boy, to prove to him that his plan had worked. The young girl was squirming under it, and he could hear her screaming for the other girl, Katniss. He rushed through the woods, spear in hand. Left at the fallen tree, right past the berries. She was there, both of them, and for a brief moment his heart swelled with pride. Two for one. He could take them both out. He could be the king of the moment. He could rob Cato and Clove of the satisfaction of slicing up the girl on fire.
His spear flew straight and true as it always had. So did her arrow.
She had gone. She had told him that she had it under control. She had wanted a chance at the girl on fire, at the girl who ran like a fox, or even at the boy from 11. They had drawn straws to see who would go, to see who would get the pack they needed. She won.
She left him with a smirk and a salute, jogging out into the woods.
That was the last time he saw her alive.
She screamed for him, screamed and screamed but he was not there. The boy from District 11 had his hands around her neck, gripping tighter and tighter. For a moment she wanted to laugh. It was funny. She had always imagined it being Cato’s fingers wrapped around her throat, crushing the air out of her. She had imagined that she would have laughed at him then, laughed in his face. And he would have smiled back at her.
But this boy does not smile or laugh. He slams her back into the Cornucopia with such force that the last “CATO” bursts from her. Briefly, she sees the District 12 girl escaping into the woods.
Her name is the last thing she hears.
There is something about seeing your partner, the tribute that you trained with for so long lying dead on the ground. Something about seeing the sadistic glint wiped from her eyes, the smirk no longer on her face. It isn’t her anymore, he knows that, he is supposed to know that, but he can’t help from falling to his knees next to her. They might have survived the Games together. They could have made it, could have killed them all. He begs her, knowing that she can’t still hear him, begs her to stay with him. Her body is tiny under his massive hands, her frame no longer as strong as it once had been.
They were supposed to bring honor to their district together, to bring home the crown and the winnings.
He stood slowly, backing away to the woods to watch the hovercraft take her away.
It was time to find the boy from District 11.
When Cato was done with the boy, he was unrecognizable. He stood over the body, chest heaving, red splattered across his body. He would tell himself that this is how he killed, how he had always killed. But it was different. Something had sparked inside of him. A spark, or maybe a crack.
But he was done with him.
He was done with everything.
In the Capitol, they would remark that his fighting style had changed. His mentor would curse at the screen, shaking his head. This wasn’t how they trained him. Yes, he had been brutish and bloody and monstrous always. But there was a change, the snap, the break, something. And the whole world saw it.
They saw his speech, his death, torn to shreds like so many of his victims. But he was quickly forgotten, abandoned with the memories of the other Career tributes, filed away with other clips of bloody deaths to be replayed for future games.
Each year the Careers were the favorites, the ones that were bet on and often earned them money. They brought honor, fame, and winnings. They were the Capitol’s greatest weapon.
But sometimes, weapons break.