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Challenges 2 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
Challenges 2
I can't remember if you've ever shown us this, but I'd be interested to see some of Seeder's Games. for Maraudercat

----------
Mags comes to sit with me after the Inner District Alliance manages to commit group suicide.

They don't really -- even they're not that stupid -- but they did go into an early melee over nothing at all, and five of them, including Mags's tribute, went over the big waterfall at the center of this year's arena. The last one standing was the boy from One, who was bleeding from six places, but, like an idiot, decided to look over the edge of the gorge to make sure his erstwhile allies were dead. He passed out and fell sixty feet to his death on the slick rocks below.

"Not our finest hour," Mags says, sinking down onto the barstool beside me. "Glass around?"

I shudder and shake my head. He left after our tributes went down at the Cornucopia, and I haven't exactly been anxious for him to come back. "Sorry about Fee," I say.

She nods and sighs. "Girl should have run days ago. It's my life philosophy: Never bet your life on a stupid man. She thought it would make them easier to beat. Can I see your grandbaby again? I could stand to see something cute."

I reach into my purse and pull out my string of photos. Most kids on the Seam don't exactly get this treatment -- and Jasper looks all Seam, like his father; he barely has any of Sheba in him -- but I've got a camera, and I use it. Sheba, of course, complains that I never took pictures of her, and says it's because she looks like her father, which may be true. I don't know anymore, and there are days I'm ashamed to admit that I don't care. But Jasper never looks at me like that. He's a good little boy. His third birthday is next week. Mags has already seen these, but she coos over them anyway, filling her eyes and her head with the living.

Finally, she gets her fill and looks up. "I'm going to go help out at Eleven's station," she says. "Want to come?"

"Isn't Saffron volunteering for them this year?"

"She's sick. I don't think she's gone this long without a drink in years. We can go and let her puke for a while. She hasn't had any luck with sponsors."

I follow her. I have no idea why Saffron's had bad luck with sponsors. This is the best Eleven has ever done. We're down to seven and the girl is still in the mix. They haven't had anyone in the final eight since… I think it was actually Mags's year. I decide not to do the math. It's been a while. They've often had strong-looking contenders, but the Gamemakers have targeted them from the start, same as they target us. The outer districts. I was never supposed to win, and I'd be surprised if the Capitol anticipates another victor from Twelve, or any victor at all from Eleven. We were Thirteen's before we were theirs, and therefore, we are clearly still the most traitorous.

But still, they're doing well, and the girl, named Seeder, is beautiful. They put her in the usual cut-off overalls, with a stalk of hay in her mouth and a kerchief on her head, but it fooled no one. Mags was sitting beside me at the time (she usually is), and she said, "They could bury that girl in hay, and she'd still look like a goddess."

Usually, that helps with sponsors. I figured that out pretty early in my arena, and tied my bosoms up so they were half-showing, and got all kinds of food for it (traveling with raiders as a girl taught me some lessons). But Seeder doesn't have much in that area. She's tall and lithe, with huge eyes and coffee-colored skin. Her stylist sent her up into the arena with her hair puffed out around her head in a wild thundercloud, but she quickly found a pair of sticks and tamed it into an exuberant bun. Little girls want to be her -- when I've been out on the streets, I've seen any number of them with jeweled sticks making X shapes on their heads -- and artists have painted her as an angel, but the high rollers haven't been much interested in her.

Maybe it's just that she's playing the smart game, sticking to the flats by the river, where she's only had to dispatch the venomous snakes that live in the tall grass, something she's obviously had practice at in District Eleven. They sent a wildcat after her early on, but she brained it with a rock. Now, the Gamemakers seem to be planning to starve her until she comes upriver to fight along the gorge.

"She's chasing a rabbit," Saffron says when we get to the table. "It'll probably turn out bad. They won't let her feed herself." She lurches as she gets up, and goes green. She won two years after Mags did, but a couple of decades at the bottom of a wine bottle have left her looking older than either of us.

"Go on," I tell her.

She nods and runs off in the direction of the shared bathrooms.

I sit down at her station. Mags takes the always-empty second chair, looking at the blank screen of Seeder's district partner, dead at Mags's own tribute's hands, not that we actually mention these things.

Seeder takes a leap at the rabbit she's chasing, but it darts into a hole and disappears. She doesn't curse or even lose her temper. She just closes her eyes and counts to ten, then starts looking around for something else to hunt. She was already thin when she went into the arena and has lost weight since, but instead of looking skeletal, she looks like some kind of air spirit, who's just waiting to melt into the wind and rise up into the sky.

Up on the main screen, the District Nine boy is also hunting, though his prey is the boy from Six. I certainly hope he doesn't plan to eat his kill.

Mags pokes my ribs and I look at the District Ten screen on her far side. Before Toffy has a chance to turn it, I see that his girl, Mabel Foote, is headed downhill. She's got a bow and arrow, and she's taken out three tributes. Now, she's headed for Seeder.

I quickly check Saffron's funds to see if I can scrape up anything at all, figuring a parachute might at least alert Seeder that something's different, but I couldn't send her a slice of bread if I wanted to. All I can do is watch.

Mabel spots Seeder and runs up the embankment, going for the high ground, aiming carefully. It should be a clear shot, but a gust of wind comes up, and the arrow goes wide. Not wide enough for Seeder not to see it. It lands five feet away from her.

She freezes, then dives into the grass and makes a grab for the arrow. Mabel runs, but she must have decided that Seeder is her target no matter what, because, like a fool, she runs to the low ground, weapon raised, searching for her prey. We're on the main screen now.

The chase goes on for an hour, and the cameras lose interest, since it looks like Mabel taking a walk from their angle. From Seeder's personal camera, I can see that she's pressed down on the ground, winding in an almost snakelike way through the grass. Mabel should be able to hear her, but the river is a fast flowing one, and even away from the waterfall, it rushes over rocks and pours over little dips in its bed. Mabel is standing almost at the center of it, now distracted by the possibility of a shooting a fish, by the look of it.

She doesn't see Seeder come out of the grass, or hear her as she steps lightly on the stepping stones. She doesn't know that's she's not alone until Seeder taps her on the shoulder.

The arrow turns out to make a good spear.

Seeder looks at it with great distaste as Mabel falls away, but before she leaves the body for the Games crew to carry away, she takes the bow and the remaining ammunition.

Upriver, the boys from Nine and Six engage in a fight, and the boy from Six goes down.

The field is down to five.

Seeder looks at the bow in her hand for a long time.

Then she climbs up the embankment, slips into the shadows, and begins to hunt.




From the time that Snow is taken out of the greenhouse and tied to the post, to the time that Coin is shot, in both Coin's and Snow's POV. for Tom

----------
"She didn't believe you," Alma Coin says as soon as the guard leaves, leaning in over the chair where they've tied me. She's holding the rose bud that Katniss Everdeen clipped yesterday when she came to see me. "In fact, she asked me to make sure you were wearing this when she shoots you."

"I expected no less," I say. This is true. I imagine that was what passed for an aim in the girl's head, at least consciously. I don't expect to live through the day. But I do expect to know that I will not be going down alone.

"She also voted with us." Coin smiles that tight, annoying little smile, like she's sitting on top of some kind of spindle that's filling her up with the vapors of her own righteousness. "We will hold the First Capitol Games, with the consent of the victors. Katniss Everdeen even stipulated that her vote was in service of vengeance for her sister's death." She waves a paper in front of me, which says something about a "final" Hunger Games, though Coin's tone suggests otherwise.

"Of that," I say, "I am quite certain."

I could point out how absurd the notion is. Oh, from Johanna Mason or some of the other firebrands, I might expect it, but District Twelve has always been particularly maudlin about the Games. The deathless verse of Haymitch Abernathy -- which was thrust into my hands shortly after my arrest, and which I unfortunately wasted my time reading -- likens them to a fairy tale witch eating children in the forest, and next to Everdeen, he is actually the cynic he pretends to be. But it isn't in my interest for Coin to question it, any more than it's in Everdeen's. At the moment, Coin is entirely certain of herself.

"You're the past," she tells me. "The future of Panem -- the real Panem, the Panem of the districts -- begins today. Your people will be executed, you know."

"You've already gotten quite a few of them."

"Only the Games workers so far. Your government workers will be tried and executed in the coming weeks."

"Haven't you skipped convicting them?"

"I beg your pardon?"

"You mentioned trying them and executing them. Oughtn't you actually convict them?"

"They're guilty. We already know that. The trials are a formality. Or do you really intend to suggest that people involved in your own government weren't complicit in your government?"

"The question is somewhat circular."

She nods, as if this means she's won the point somehow. "We will find your granddaughter. She will be the first reaped for the Capitol Games."

I don't answer, or allow anything to surface on my face. Caesar must have hidden her before they caught him, then. I knew they would show it to me if they killed her -- I suppose I have my own maudlin side, which can be played as easily as anyone's -- but I wasn't sure whether or not they'd caught her until now. All I say is, "That's not how the reaping works."

She snorts. "Oh, please."

"It's true. Doesn't it occur to you that it's considerably more terrifying if the tributes are random? If they could be anyone at all?"

"At the moment, I'm interested only in cutting off your vile lines."

"It seems to me that you've been quite invested in terrorizing the Capitol. Re-education, executions, threats of genocide -- "

"Genocide?"

"You're not as subtle as you think you are, going on television and talking about how you have some idea about how to assuage the anger of the districts, which will otherwise pour in and murder every Capitol citizen."

"Genocide requires that the victims be innocent. Capitol citizens are not."

"A point made by every genocidal maniac in the history of the world."

"They are guilty of complicity in your atrocities." She waves it off. "My point is that you have played your last gambit. A desperate one, at that."

"In my current situation, desperate ploys seem to be in order."

"But surely, you must have realized -- whether Katniss Everdeen dislikes me or not, she would never believe you -- you, who used her life for entertainment, who twisted everything around her. All you did was push her to me. To supporting me, like I told you she would in the end, no matter what you said to her."

"Yes, why would she believe the truth?"

"What do you know about the truth?" She sneers. "You killed those children as surely as if you dropped the bombs from your own hands. You made them your human shields. Only a monster would do that. A monster who deserved to have his own people drag him into chains."

"I note that you aren't giving me an opportunity to say a few last words to those people."

"They wouldn't believe you any more than the Mockingjay did."

In fact, they would probably believe me less than she did. The Capitol has always had its malcontents, and Odair's petty little monologue didn't help me there. But I have never been less than perfectly honest with Katniss Everdeen, and she knows it.

"Why did you really do it, anyway? Was it just to kill the girl's sister and unhinge her? Did Heavensbee suggest it?"

She wrinkles her nose. "I told Heavensbee that the plan was to show us giving Capitol children food and warm blankets, and show it all over Panem. He thought it would be a marvelous way to show generosity. He's a Capitol fool. My people in the districts would never put up with such coddling. He didn't know that I'd ordered the seal changed."

This actually surprises me. I assumed Plutarch would be in the thick of it, trying to frame me. I don't let it show. Never letting anyone see you cry is child's play. The real trick in gambling is to never let them know that you're surprised.

She pulls a pair of handcuffs out of her pocket and grabs my arm. "It's time for you to face the end, Snow."

I stand up on my own. I will not be dragged around by this woman. "You're not going to call the guards?"

"You rely on others to defend you," she says disdainfully. "I am fully capable of taking you down on my own."

Given that I've lost more blood in the last month than I can keep track of, and the medic from Eight told me that one good shock could, at this point, burst my heart without the assistance of an arrow, I don't doubt this. I hold my arms out and let her cuff me.

Prisca is safe out there somewhere, and I certainly hope she remembers the defense skills she's been taught. I am dying anyway. I see no particular reason to fight, especially since I'm quite curious about Everdeen's plan for the endgame. I wonder if she's involved Abernathy in it. I am reasonably certain that he hates this woman as much as she does, and that's without knowing who set off the bombs. He's always had a weakness for his women, and I know from the guards' gossip that the Trinket woman was targeted. I could have warned Coin about this, but it seemed better strategy to let her make her own noose on this matter.

She marches me out to the balcony I've used to give speeches. It commands a fine view of City Center. Not a bad final sight, as such things go. The people are already gathered, and the cameras are on us, but the microphones aren't.

"This the end," she says. "You see her there?" she nods to an open spot below, where Katniss Everdeen is coming out, bow in hand. "She's mine now. You've lost your last gamble."

With that, she moves away from me, standing off to one side, elevated on a little platform.

If she talks, I don't listen. I just look down at Katniss Everdeen. She is looking back at me, and I know she's trying to make what I said into a lie, somehow redeeming her rebellion, absolving her friends.

But she has never been a stupid girl. Unlike Coin, I have never pretended to believe that.

Everyone in the country is watching her, but I am watching her more closely than any of them.

I see her bow come up. For a split second, she points an arrow at me.

Then the tip of the arrow comes up, just a fraction at this distance.

I start laughing even before Coin falls.

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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2015 07:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I love that Seeder's games were from Duronda's perspective. Poor woman had so little joy in her own life, it seems. Doubly sad to see how much she adores her grandson only to have him reaped later on. I appreciated seeing Mags in any form, I do love her. I've always enjoyed Seeder and wondered what her games were like. She seems to be such a nurturer, that it makes sense she'd conduct her games in rather a business-like manner; distasteful, but must be done. I love the contradiction of Rue being so nimble and silent in the trees while Seeder is just as capable on the ground.
Snow...Snow was deliciously evil. I loved that Coin was showing her true colors, monster to monster so to speak. Snow overestimated Katniss's actually physical role in the rebellion (or voice as far as Thirteen's leaders), but he seems to have a good understanding of her, maybe because he actually seems to have a pretty good understanding of Haymitch.
I also just have to say, you do his voice so well. Everything about it, just brilliant.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 8th, 2015 05:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the fact that she adored her grandson was the precipitating factor in her suicide -- the one good thing that had come out of her life, as she sees it, and the Games took it.

It's fun sometimes to just let out the stops and write villains, because you can indulge whatever evil things happen to float around your brain.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2015 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)

Seeder and Coin/Snow

I like the first story, with Seeder as tribute. As Anonymous commented, Seeder is a practical person, and she would take a practical approach to winning her Games: "If the only way I can leave here is by killing people, then I'll kill people."

The second story (the one you wrote at my request): Um, wasn't Snow the despot who ordered Effie imprisoned? Yet you write that "the Trinket woman was targeted" by Coin.

Donald Sutherland has an interesting theory about Snow: that underneath it all, Snow actually loves Katniss, like a daughter, because of all the people he has ever known, she alone is his equal. I think this theory is true, because Snow has an iron will ("I WILL rule"), and Katniss has an iron will ("I WILL remain true to my values").

Snow spent over a year trying to kill Katniss, because he saw her as the biggest threat to his rule; but now he ends his life convinced that Everdeen deserves to be president -- over Coin's dead body. Anyway, that's how I interpret the final Katniss/Snow scene in _Mockingjay_, and I like that your story builds on that.

Thank you for writing it.

-- Tom
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 8th, 2015 05:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Seeder and Coin/Snow

Um, wasn't Snow the despot who ordered Effie imprisoned? Yet you write that "the Trinket woman was targeted" by Coin

He was referring to Coin's post-war rampage, where Plutarch and Haymitch had to work so hard to keep her alive. He knew he was targeting Haymitch, to make him crazy and therefore less effective. Coin's just hammering on his crazy button when he's at strangling distance from her.

I love how much thought Sutherland put into this. I can buy it, inasmuch as Snow loves anyone. He seems to love people in the sociopath's way of loving them, which is in the sense of being willing to see them as a kind of extension of his own value. But given the way he twists her, I'm not sure I'd want to be loved by him!

I'm not sure he wants her to be president, but he definitely wants her to be leader.
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2015 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Seeder and Coin/Snow

_I'm not sure he wants her to be president..._

I do. I think Snow is _offended_ that Coin, whom he sees as a only "a district mayor with delusions of grandeur," is getting his job. Given that Snow is about to lose the presidency, and given that canon doesn't mention him grooming a Capitol-citizen successor, I think that he would be thinking very much outside the box in his last days.

Who are Snow's choices for his successor? Plutarch Heavensbee (traitor), Alma Coin (opportunist), or Katniss Everdeen (the only person Snow respects). I think he'd go with Katniss.

Besides, Snow would _delight_ in the idea of Coin underestimating Snow and Coin underestimating Everdeen, then together Snow and Everdeen bring Coin down.

-- Tom
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 8th, 2015 08:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Seeder and Coin/Snow

What stories or challenge-stories of yours have Prisca (Snow's granddaughter) in them?

-- Tom
sonetka From: sonetka Date: August 8th, 2015 09:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
These are fantastic. It's a good fic that makes me think "You know, Snow's got a good point there." (Though why shouldn't he? He's clearly very intelligent). Poor Duronda and her daughter and grandson -- I can't remember, did her daughter ever figure out who her father was? It does make me wonder again about just how random the selection process is -- I know in your verse, Effie doesn't know anything about the reapings being rigged, and I have a very hard time picturing the canon version knowing anything either. Yet, the children of victors are said to be reaped often enough for people to notice it, and since they'd presumably not need to take tesserae, they really should have lower odds than anyone. I think I'll have to file this along with "Why has no visibly pregnant girl ever been reaped?" in the Seeking Tentative Explanations folder.

On a random note, my just turned ten-year-old son has started reading the Hunger Games series and is now halfway through "Catching Fire." This is extremely weird for me, since in the back of my mind he's still approximately 2 years old. However, I am looking forward to showing him some of your fic pretty soon :).
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 8th, 2015 11:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sheba did know the circumstances of her birth, though I think Duronda regrets telling her, since it opened up all kinds of suspicions.

My best guess on the reapings is that they're random, except when they're not. For terrorizing the whole country, the random reapings are better. For keeping the victors in line, making sure that now and then, their kids get reaped? Definitely rigging. Effie would have no reason to know about it, because Snow didn't reap anyone during her term particularly to bother Haymitch until the second Quarter Quell (and even Violet Breen, during Glass's tenure, might have been coincidence... but probably not). Glass just wouldn't hesitate to call whatever name he was told to... or whichever name he chose on his own.

I don't think we need to look TOO far beyond the odds on the pregnant girl issue. The number of girls visibly pregnant at a given time vs. the number of possible people who could be reaped; it's possible for those two groups to not intersect by chance. I'd expect that ones who get pregnant in Cray-like situations probably have the "problem" taken care of quickly by the father, and other situations... well, with the reaping, it's probably a bigger deal to prevent it from happening in the first place.

Edited at 2015-08-08 11:44 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 9th, 2015 01:18 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the similarity between Seeder's response to getting her hands on the bow and arrows and Finnick's reaction to the trident Mags sends him. You're suggesting that there's a kind of recognition of what is required, and an acceptance of that necessity, that marks a certain group of victors (and naturally draws them toward rebellion and some form of government that similarly requires citizens to acknowledge the consequences of their actions and act with that knowledge?) The narrative and moral arcs make me think of the fifth act of Hamlet, when having delayed for four acts Hamlet finally accepts the necessity of avenging Claudius's crimes and assumes the responsibility for all the actions that will be entailed in carrying out that revenge.

That's it: if I ever manage to catch a challenge call again, I'm going to ask for Hamlet in the arena!

Sarah
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 9th, 2015 02:01 am (UTC) (Link)
Heh, I'd have to re-read Hamlet -- it's been a while!

I think one of the things that makes HG an interesting fandom, in terms of character work, is that the main characters simply can't get away from the problem of the Games, and what you have to do to get through them.

From: (Anonymous) Date: August 9th, 2015 03:46 am (UTC) (Link)
And one of the things that makes your fic so interesting is the way that you develop different responses to that problem in such compelling characterizations, and particularly (for me) that self-aware victor. For me, what makes Hamlet a tragedy isn't the fact that he dies; it's the fact that he dies as the logical outcome of accepting an enormous and terrible responsibility, having first thought through both the ethics and the emotional aspects of that acceptance--struggling with that decision turns him into a man who would make a good ruler if only his death weren't a necessary outcome of those struggles. It's fascinating to watch your victors who have developed that kind of moral clarity having to live beyond the point at which narrative tends to cut off such stories, in a world that denies them the agency to act on the ethical sense they've acquired except in heartbreaking compromises and half-measures. Thanks for another great, thought-provoking read!

Sarah
(Apologies if the Hamlet reference comes across as pretentious--it's not intended that way! I teach it nearly every semester, so it's usually on my mind, and with all the press for Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet in London at the moment it's become the textual equivalent of a song stuck in my head.)
From: (Anonymous) Date: August 9th, 2015 10:44 am (UTC) (Link)
Yay! Not only a great take on Seeder but more Mags and Duronda and behind-the-scenes mentoring too. As several other commenters have mentioned it really does make sense for her to take the practical approach to finishing her Games, and also amusing to see a big screw up by the career pack to help her on her way.
I'm curious, what started the melee? :P

-Maraudercat
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 9th, 2015 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
Someone insulted someone else, probably, and a weapon was drawn. And they started fighting. As Duronda says, essentially it was nothing at all.
Tracy Wood From: Tracy Wood Date: August 9th, 2015 02:04 pm (UTC) (Link)

This one shot on Snow and Coin

It reminds me of another one shot you wrote on this site where Snow was taking over leadership from his predecessor Antonius Clemm (at least I think that's what you called him). He thinks Clemm is being too lenient with district 13 by allowing them to let everyone think they were destroyed. I recall you had Snow tell Clemm, "If this mistake of yours comes back to haunt me, I'll spend my last breath laughing at you", or something to that effect. What was the name of that one shot? I can't find it again. Or do you have a link to it?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: August 9th, 2015 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: This one shot on Snow and Coin

That one's here. I thought about having him reference it, but he had other fish to fry. :D
redrikki From: redrikki Date: August 10th, 2015 05:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another great set. There's a hard practicality to your victors. Duranda sexifying herself and Seeder preparing herself to kill all seem to come from the same mindset. Haymitch had it, Katniss had it, but I don't think Peeta really did.

As for the second one, it's strange how you can take a horrible person and still make him both reasonable and right.
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