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Challenges 8 - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Challenges 8
You had Lyme's family wander off into the wilderness. Any chance of building on that? for Beth</i>

One of the reasons that District Two took to producing Peacekeepers was that we'd always had too much wild-land between the settlements. Even before the Dark Days, there were constant patrols of the borders, and a very organized, regimented defense. There had to be. A small village full of stone cutters, tending to the latest quarry, wasn't going to last long against a sustained attack from Raiders, for one thing. For another, they had to keep the roads open and in repair, because winter in the Rockies is harsh, and it's easy for the settlements to get cut off from food supplies.

And there are predators of the non-human variety as well.

One of them -- most like a bear -- took my sister Cinnabar. She was eight. We found… part of her. Pops said it looked like bear claws, but of course, he didn't exactly show Mica and me. Mom was never right after that.

I don't even know if we were still technically in Two at that point. Unlike some districts, it's impossible to fence us in. They count on the punishing geography and the well-guarded roads and passes to keep us inside.

There was some point in my childhood when I realized we had come back.

Not to the towns, to be sure, but to the District. Pops knew better than that. But he also knew the places where the eyes of the Capitol were dim, even blind. Because of all the Peacekeepers, lawbreakers had a habit of hiding, and hiding deep. So we worked our way through abandoned quarries, climbed steep, forbidding mountains, hid out with men who frightened me sometimes, but who Pops seemed to know and respect. I must have been about ten when I heard the word Ozeer. I didn't know what it meant. I still don't know what it means technically, but I eventually learned that it was a place, and about two years after I first heard it, we arrived here, high in the mountains. It's an illegal settlement, but an old one, known to the shadow wanderers who live under the radar in Two, whispered of like a myth by people who haven't found it yet. For those of us who have found it, it's just a particularly rough camp.

I remember old Ray, who greeted us when we got there, saying, "The air is thin, and the folk are thinner." He'd declared himself "High King and Top Banana" of the settlement, and insisted on being addressed as, "Your orneriness." He died last year. Must have been near seventy, which is pretty good in town, let alone out here, but I guess we all took care of him all right.

Pops is getting close to sixty.

Mom didn't make it. She soldiered on for the first year or so, and we all kept an eye on her, but she got away one day.

There are a lot of steep drop-offs near Ozeer.

We had to find her and bury her, in our hidden cemetery in a grove of trees. Nothing that can be seen from the air. That's the rule, or was until last month, when District Thirteen took over the air surveillance. Supposedly, they're our allies, though I haven't noticed a big exodus for the front lines.

I take a deep breath and start up the narrow path to our disguised lookout tower. My sister-in-law, Xenia, is waiting there for me. Mica didn't have the slightest problem finding a wife. The girls outnumbered the boys by a goodish number in our cohort for some reason, and Xenia had a fistfght with another girl who was after him. I like her. She has long, reddish brown hair that she wears wild, strung through with grasses and flowers. They have a four year old boy and a two year old girl.

She looks up with a grin. "Topaz! Running a little late?"

"Just a little. Woolgathering."

"No harm, no foul." Xenia looks out over the little path that snakes its way up the mountain. Murcia Danjeli thinks there used to be a train there, back before Panem. I have no idea why; there's no evidence that there was anything here for a train to come to. But she says it's why the path has stayed sturdy. Xenia peers down it like she's expecting the train to reappear at any moment. "Do you have any idea what they're sending?" she asks. "Did your aunt say anything?"

"No. Unless she told Pops. I don't think so, though. She just said it's something important for the rebellion."

"You know, I'd be a much better rebel if I knew what the hell was going on. For all I know, I'm aiming at the wrong side."

I smile.

Xenia doesn't make a move to leave, even though her watch is over. We sit on the low wall. She continues to look toward the mountain path. I look toward the semi-flat area where I expect the hovercraft will land.

I guess we're both at least a little bit curious about what the rebellion is sending. I know a little more than I let on. It's a person, and I'm supposed to take care of getting that person on to Mogotty -- a real District Two settlement, which has helped keep us criminals supplied for years -- in three days.

We talk aimlessly for a while, about her kids, about my increasing prospects for a family life now that we're in contact with the world, about the harsh winter we're expecting, about the new connections to the national media that we're suddenly experiencing. We have seen a lot of pointless Capitol television, and also a lot of break-ins from the rebellion. People are getting quite riled up by the videos, which feature a young victor. In Mogotty, they tell me that she was the one who started it all.

I guess I'm not surprised, not really, when the hovercraft lands and she comes out, flanked by a pair of cameramen, who film her arrival with great fanfare long before they deign to bring her over to her hosts.

"Well, aren't we important?" Xenia says, wrinkling her nose. "Is that the commercial girl? Did they send her to make commercials?"

"Most likely."

I slide down from my spot on the wall and go over to the clearing. Given that she didn't bother to tell her people to greet us, I half-expect her to dismiss me high-handedly. Instead, she doesn't even seem to notice me, or her people for that matter. As I get close, I can see that she's a small, fragile-looking girl. She looks about as substantial as an autumn leaf. I'd be surprised if she's twenty. Her victory must have been pretty recent. She's thin and hollow-eyed, and there's a frightening ring of healing bruises on her neck.

She blinks a few times, then looks straight at me. The startling gray eyes from the videos are clearly hers, but at the moment, they don't look startling at all. They look weary and heartsick.

"Miss…" I start.

One of her crew comes up now, his hands held out and a smile on his face. I'm not fooled. He's also armed, and very alert. "I'm Messalla," he says. "I'm looking for Topaz Serbo."

"That's me," I say.

"Ah. Good. This is Katniss Everdeen, as I'm sure you can see. She just needs a place to stay for a few nights, while we brief her on the situation here in Two. I believe your father will be briefing her?"

"Um… yes."

He pulls me aside and speaks more quietly. "You must understand that some… discretion… may be required here. She's had a rough run…"


The voice is soft, a little bit labored, a birdsong caught in the wind.

I look up.

Katniss Everdeen has come up behind Messalla. She tries to smile at me, fails badly, then lets her face go slack again. "Thank you for letting me stay," she says. "I can hunt to help with the food."

"You don't need to do that," Messalla says protectively, putting himself between us. "We've brought food."

"I can help with the hunting," she says firmly. "Please, Messalla. Let me help."

He look at her for a while, then at me. "Is it safe?" he asks.

"She can go with my sister-in-law," I say. "Xenia knows the paths, and she's a good hunter."

"I can go alone," Katniss says.

"There are a lot of sudden drop-offs," I say, and look at Messalla, hoping he gets my point: A girl whose eyes look like this, whose neck seems to have a noose around it already, does not need to be alone in a world of cliffs.

He nods. "I'll draw the line, there, Katniss. You'll go with natives who know the terrain. I grew up on the other side of these mountains. They're not like yours at home. They're nothing to play around with."

She frowns a little bit, but doesn't argue. She moves listlessly after the crew, which is headed toward the tree line and the village, which is made up of heavily camouflaged Quonset huts, stolen from the Peacekeeper supply trains. (We still have friends and relatives on the squad, and they tend to deny having the slightest idea where we might be hiding.)

Messalla hisses through his teeth. "Snow," he mutters, and shakes his head. "I hope as soon as she wakes up, she storms the Capitol and rips his balls off."

I don't say anything. At the moment, I can't imagine this girl shooting a rabbit, let alone emasculating the president of Panem. I change the subject. "You're from the Capitol?"

He nods. "To my shame."

"What for?" I shrug. "No one from the Peacekeeper district is going to hold that against you."

He gives me a long look, and must decide that I mean it, as his face softens, and he begins to tell me about the "propos" they mean to shoot in Two. I do mean it. The boy may have grown up soft, but he walked away from it in order to fight it. I doubt he had to. The rest of us do. That counts for a lot in my book.

Katniss doesn't want to sit around all day, waiting for her team to scout locations, so she goes hunting for supper with Xenia. I know I don't need to tell Xenia to keep a close eye on her. It's not exactly difficult to tell that this girl isn't exactly functioning properly.

After they leave, I join my brother, who's sitting with our father at a table in the back of the hut. He has a holo on his wrist, though it will probably be taken away once our part of the mission is over. Projected from it, I see my aunt, Lyme. She has harshly chopped, gray-blonde hair, and is dressed in an official uniform. She looks a lot more like a victor than the girl who just blew out of her on a light afternoon breeze.

"Topaz," she says, spotting me. "Your dad says you greeted Everdeen."


"Look, don't mention that I'm a victor, all right? Her mentor says, if she recognizes me, it's one thing -- but right now, the Games aren't… well, her relationship with being a victor is a little complex."

"She looks like hell. Someone tried to strangle her."

Aunt Lyme frowns. "I don't know anything about that. Strangled?" She shakes her head. "I guess they're not filling me in, either. And they probably wouldn't let Haymitch fill me in."


She smiles. "I guess you really are pretty innocent of the Games. He's her mentor. He worries about her."

"Did you have a mentor? Does he worry about you?"

"Her name was Titania Vacka. She passed away a few years back. And yes, she worried about me."

"Are you anyone's mentor?"

"I only mentored for a few years," she says. "No victors."

It takes me a minute to put together that this means anyone she mentored is dead.

She looks over her shoulder. "We best cut off. This is getting to be a personal conversation, and I know what our colleagues from the north will have to say about that. I'll try to come up soon. Take care."

"Love you," Pops says. "Don't get dead, okay?" He flips the switch on his holo, then sighs. "Twenty five years. I finally get to see my sister, and they're still rationing her time."

Mica pats his shoulder. "I know, Pops. But it's almost over."

"Yeah." He looks out the window, and I the distant shadows of Xenia and Katniss. "Yeah, I guess it is."

(Adding one, since PotterGirl didn't have an alternate suggestion)

Going back to the world of the AU challenge answer "Something Q" where the rebellion never happened: How was the meeting/interacting with the other victors at the third quarter quell with the punishment for the previous year of having the district pairs fight each other first? for P.Kala

"Let up on her, okay?" Finnick Odair barks at the paunchy, middle-aged man two tables down. "She didn't ask for this."

I look down at the table and mutter a thank you as Earl Bates stands down with an irritated wave of his hand. I still don't know what to make of Finnick. He makes a lot of jokes that are… well, mostly about what he thinks Peeta and I are doing in our new houses. During the parade, he made some kind of joke about sugar cubes, which I think was sexual, but even now, I’m not sure. At the same time, Haymitch says he's really in love with someone. And more to the point, he's the first person, other than Haymitch, who put himself between us and the rest of the victors, who've been out for our blood since the Quell was announced. Haymitch says he started doing it in District Four before he even met us.

He slips down into the chair beside me. "They'll come around," he says for about the hundredth time. "Jo did."

"Jo wants to rip Peeta's clothes off and…" I try to finish -- I'm never going to survive here if I can't learn to joke like they do -- but Johanna Mason's fantasies about Peeta were pretty explicit. He thinks she's joking, but I don't. She looked like she wanted to lay him out on a table and get the salt and pepper.

Finnick laughs. "Aw, don't mind Jo. She always has to prove she's more macho than anyone else."


"You know… manly. Virile. Plus, she figured it would get under your skin."


"You seemed pretty unflappable by any means other than what was under Peeta's backpack last year. She likes to flap the unflappable."

"I'm flappable," I say. "Really."

Finnick tugs on my braid in a friendly way. On the screen, the remaining tribute from Twelve, Cliff Gamble, is stumbling along with Kella Trillo from Four. They both fought their way out of their cages. Cliff ended up bashing Juneberry Rutledge's head against the bars until her skull crushed. The door opened for him after that, and he gathered up the supplies, pausing only to inhale the food that was left for him, since they'd starved the kids during training. (They let them eat, but gave them some kind of medication that didn't let them absorb the calories, I think, so that by the time they were locked in their cages together, they'd be so hungry that they might kill their neighbors more quickly.) He was just finishing up when Veronica Drear from Six attacked, but Kella was nearby -- she'd killed her District partner as soon as he fell asleep, by tying him up, then suffocating him by covering his nose and mouth -- and she was able to chase Veronica away.

So Finnick became our ally. Haymitch seems glad of it. He treats Finnick as his long-lost son. Peeta and I lay in bed the first night, speculating about just how it could be literally true, but I'm pretty sure it's not.

I look at my watch. "Do you think Haymitch and Peeta will be back soon? Do these things last long?"

"Sponsor meetings?" Finnick shrugs. "With Haymitch's sponsors, sometimes. Lonely little old ladies. They want to pet him and spoil him."

I raise my eyebrows. "Haymitch?"

"Yeah. And he lets them, believe it or not. Do not make fun of them where he can hear you. You won't like the results." He rolls his eyes "They'll be in ecstasies over Peeta, though. They probably begged Haymitch to bring him along, just so they could pinch his cheeks."

"And they didn't want to pinch mine?"

"They probably figured they'd burn themselves on yours." Finnick grins. "They'll love you because Peeta does. They'll have named your first six children by the time he gets back, and probably talked him into getting a dog."

"Great. My sister's cat will love that." I don't bother addressing the great romance. None of the victors believe in it, including Finnick. They all think it was some great scheme of mine, up to and including my engagement on the Victory Tour. Maybe the rebels -- and I am quite sure that there are rebels -- think it was some scheme of Haymitch's.

I don't even know whose scheme it was at the start. Peeta's announcement. My decision to play along. Somewhere along the line, it became something else. I don't know what else, and we're certainly using it to play our Games, but it's more than that now, somehow. I can never figure it out when I'm looking at the question head on, but when it's just flickering in my peripheral vision, it all makes an insane kind of sense.

As for what Haymitch was up to, I can't even guess, other than saving us both. If Peeta and I are getting the cold shoulder, I worry about Haymitch getting a knife to the back from some of these people. Not Finnick. Not Johanna Mason. They love him and treat him like family, which surprised Peeta and me to no end. Probably not Chaff and Seeder, who are off on their own errands, since both tributes from Eleven are dead. But the others? They're nuts. Haymitch is doing his best not to act hurt, but I'm guessing that he's usually friendly with District Three, and Beetee isn't speaking to him at all.

There is a thump on the back of my chair, and I look up to see Enobaria Fells. She wrinkles her nose at me and moves on. Brutus's tribute, Indiges, killed hers within minutes, snapping her neck without the slightest hesitation.

I try to think of something to say to her, but she sneers and moves on.

"Give me a break, Eno!" Finnick calls after her. "District Two tributes kill each other every third year, and you know it."

"In final combat," she hisses. "And not because someone has forced it."

"Someone always forces it," Finnick mutters as she walks away, her head held stiffly, like she's trying to keep her nose above some low-lying stink.

After Indiges got out of his cave, he gathered a trove of weapons and moved on to the nearest cage -- District Seven -- and lay in wait until the boy, in shock and sick with self-disgust after killing the girl, came through the cage door and past the forcefield. He raised his spear. The boy had time to scream, "Watch out for Two!" as loudly as he could before being impaled. This wasn't shown on the broadcast, but not only did several tributes hear it, they picked it up and started passing it around the arena from their closed cages. He wasn't able to pull the same trick again. Now that everyone is out (except for District Eight, where the two children are staring miserably at one another, waiting either to starve, or to have mutts set on them, I guess), he's forced to rely on strategic skills, which aren't really his forte. Enobaria goes to the District Two table and starts making calls for him, while Brutus arranges a parachute drop.

"Don't pay attention," Finnick tells me, noticing the direction of my gaze. "She's not exactly the friendliest person in the room."

"Who is?"

"I am, of course." He smiles brightly. "Other than me… well, if Chaff will get his tired old backside in here, you'll like him. Seeder, too. Beetee just needs to have the spear in his nether-regions surgically removed, but once he does, he'll be fine. You might even like Wiress. She's weird, but kind of cool. Johanna hates her."

"There's a character recommendation."

"Give Jo a break. She's my best friend. And your new big sister."

"My what?"

"She's very jealous that Haymitch decided to have more kids."

"Have more…" I frown. "I'm not related to Haymitch."

"You are now, sweetheart," Finnick says. "And you may as well get used to it."

"What are you to him, exactly?"

"First-born." He smiles again, and in a trick of the light, he manages to almost look like Haymitch -- if Haymitch were fifteen years younger, forty pounds lighter, redheaded, and handsome, at any rate. "Heir apparent. Someday, I mean to become exactly like Haymitch Abernathy!" He stands up and puts his hand over his heart, and I realize that he must have had a view of the entrance, because Haymitch and Peeta come in just as he does it. Finnick sticks out his tongue.

"You need higher ambitions," Haymitch says, pulling Chaff's chair over to the station and letting Peeta sit down in the second mentor's chair. I've noticed that he isn't sitting in Effie's chair. They had some kind of an argument after she threatened to tell the Gamemakers how badly the other victors were treating us, and he seems weirdly bereft. "How's Cliff?" he asks me.

"Same," I say. "I was thinking he and Kella might do all right with some bottled water. There's nothing nearby. I already looked."

He glances at the supply list and the map, then puts them down on the table. "Both of you look at it. You, too, Odair, since you never did have a head for this."

"Yeah, right."

Haymitch points to the dots he's made where he knows there are mutt attacks. "They're on top of a whole clearing full of tracker jackers. You really want to send them running after a parachute…?"

We all huddle down together, as Haymitch explains the reasons that we can't help our tribute right now, and the rest of the field glares over at us.

"It'll get better," Finnick whispers, seeing my gaze wandering again. "I promise."

I don't believe him.


8 comments or Leave a comment
redrikki From: redrikki Date: September 9th, 2015 01:16 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another great set. Loved the world building in the first one and the relationship building in the second. Seriously, Finnick being Haymitch's heir apparent was wonderful.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 10th, 2015 01:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thanks. Once I started writing Finnick, I really started to like him.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 11th, 2015 11:01 am (UTC) (Link)


This is the Hunger Games universe, so it shouldn't be surprising, but this pair were pretty bleak. That's one of the cruelest things I can think of, letting people eat food, but finding a way to keep it from meaning anything. Nice to see District 8 stay true to form, though.

Sara Libby
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 17th, 2015 03:35 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Gosh!

Unfortunately, food denial in any meaningful sense would be a real disincentive to cooperation (which is a lot, I'm sure, of how Panem runs).

From: (Anonymous) Date: September 12th, 2015 08:54 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you! Sorry for being late to comment as I haven't been online. I wasn’t expecting this after I was a bit late making my request :)

You’ve built the victors up into such a group of characters through your stories and the relationships between them are so interesting that it’s curious to see how Katniss and Peeta would relate to the other victors as you have them in a world where they actually have time to really interact with the group.

Glad to see that Finnick stood by them from the start and that Haymitch finally has a chance to actually work with him - at least something good in a year with so many against them. That and Finnick deciding the positions in their family for everyone if whether they like it or not :D

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 17th, 2015 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
I enjoyed looking at this 'verse. I don't think I could write a long story in it, but it's just so different from how canon turned out, and I think it would make for a very different Katniss Everdeen in the end.
From: (Anonymous) Date: September 14th, 2015 01:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks Fern. It occurred to me afterwards that I might have asked for something unspeakably unhappy, so I was happy that we had some survivors! And a whole new settlement introduced, one that's sounds sort of semi sane. Poor Cinebar...
Lurker Beth
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: September 17th, 2015 03:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah -- poor kid. The wilderness is not safe, and Mother Nature is not exactly kindhearted.
8 comments or Leave a comment