This is my first story on the site, and I'm sort of just testing it...It will have 27 chapters, like the Hunger Games books, but its parts will be divided unevenly. Feel free to review, comment, or flame, if absolutely necessary. Let Battle of Freedom begin!
Part One: Testing the WatersEdit
Life is unfair.
It's supposed to be fair, but it isn't.
Whoever created the world didn't have the foresight to see what will become of the world. Sure, there's been unfair situations before - when your parents buy your brother a video game but buys you a cracker, but this is completely different.
Forcing kids to work under the hot sun, to jump from tree to tree a hundred feet in the air, twelve hours a day and still starving us, there's nothing more unfair than that.
Well, that's when I had my brilliant idea.
"Go home!" shouts a Peacekeeper. I drop my basket, exhausted. We've been working six hours straight since one, and all of us are tired. We get exactly one hour for lunch, and then it's back to work. I didn't get to finish my bread and cheese fast enough so I had to work on a half-full stomach.
Everyone harvests during the harvest seasons. The sun is broiling down on us, threatening to bake us as we troop back to the village. On the way out, I poke my best friend Holly on the arm.
She turns to look at me, but not talking. I breathe in her ear, "Meet me at my house at eight thirty, in the yard," and she nods, scampering away. I have my brilliant idea ready.
When I get home, Amy's already there. Of course she would be - her work ends at six. There's a huge mountain to the west, so there's always an early sunset. They don't want people bumping into each other in the fields, or swinging a sickle the wrong way. All the night-vision goggles go towards the foragers.
"Holly's coming after eight," I tell my sister. Alright, we're orphans, but I'm still the older child. Our parents were killed from that muttation attack years ago. Our aunt took care of us but eventually passed away from a serious fever. I hate the Capitol that way.
That war which made Panem rise happened forty-nine years ago. This year, in December, they'll celebrate the 50th anniversary of Panem. I don't want that to happen. My plan should be obvious now, shouldn't it?
I had managed to slip a few strawberries in my pocket, and no one noticed. Amy finds the bread they gave her today, and slices the loaf into fourteen slices. One for each of us, enough to go for a week, when they'll give her another loaf. I put out some basil leaves and mint leaves, and so we have our tiny dinner.
No wonder we're both as puny as a twelve-year-old instead of fourteen.
"So, did anything happen today?" Amy asks after ten minutes of silence.
"Ruth fell out of a tree. She gets a week off work," I grumble. "Lucky."
"But her family can afford a week without her share of pay," Amy points out. I nod unhappily.
"Unlike us," I say. It's true. We rely on each other. Amy brings the wheat and bread. I bring the leaves and berries, occasionally nuts. Never meat. We might be hungry sometimes but we've lived on each other.
"Yeah," says Amy gloomily.
We sit like that until we finish off our bread. It takes time to work our muscles, stretching our limbs, massaging each others' sore muscles. By the time we are finished, it's almost eight thirty.
Amy and I chat for a few moments, but there's nothing really to chat about. Eight thirty comes and goes. By the time it's nearing eight forty-five I'm beginning to get worried.
"Holly should be here by now!" I cry out.
"Why is she coming anyways?" Amy asks. I don't bother asking what's on her mind. I already know. Obviously, it's our parents, before they got killed. Killed in that stupid muttation attack.
"Because I don't want to work like slaves," I say fiercely. "Haven't you thought about it, Amy? They work us to death out there. We never get enough food. We never get a good night's sleep. We never even get to see the moon because of how tired we are! I'm sick of this, Amy! I want this to stop!"
Amy's silent for a few moments, and then she speaks.
"What can we do about it, Aryn?" she asks. "We're just kids."
Yes, we're just kids. Amy's always been the cautious type, whereas I'm the action type. We might be twins, but we're not alike.
"How can you not care?" I ask. "How? They killed our parents! They killed them!" I point to the only photograph in the house, a small black-and-white photo of my family. My mother, my father, Amy and I. We were only nine in the picture. Two months later, two of those people died. My parents.
"I do care," says Amy softly. A knock on the door disrupts the tension between us. It's Holly.
I unlock the door for her. She shakes her sopping hair and steps into the threshold.
"It's pouring out there," she says unnecessarily. "This has better be good."
"It is," I say. "Holly, have you ever gotten tired of the foraging?"
"That's obvious," she says. "Yes a thousand times over."
"Do you want it to stop?"
"If we don't starve, yes."
"Maybe... we can do something about it," I say. I'm sick and tired of it. I really want it to stop."
"But how?" Holly asks, quoting Amy. "Aryn, three kids can't exactly stop the force of the entire nation of Panem."
"Not the entire nation," I remind her. "I'm sure that the people of the districts will agree with us. It's just the Capitol."
"The Peacekeepers," Amy interrupts. "I want to chip in, Aryn, but you must know what you're getting into!"
"Well, everything begins with one small step," I say. "Tomorrow, you guys ask around. Don't let the Peacekeepers hear you. If we can outnumber them, because we're the largest district around, then maybe we can break out and warn the other districts. I want this to end."
There's silence. "You're asking for one hell of a miracle," Holly finally says.
"But what are we going to do once we get the districts to ally with us?" Amy asks. "We're still kids."
"But we're kids who can lead the uprisings!" I shout. "The fiftieth anniversary is coming up. Now's the time to smash the Capitol's dreams. It's time for it all to end!"
"Please tell me I heard you wrong," says Amy finally.
"You didn't," I reply back. "This calls for a rebellion."
"Rebellion, you say," says Holly.
"Yes," I tell her. "I've been suggesting that ever since you got here!"
She stares off into the distance, as if trying to pull our conversation from the past.
"Aryn," says Amy quietly. She repeats my name again, only louder.
"What?" I finally ask, irritated. Is anyone going to side with me? These two are so stubborn!
"Well, how exactly are we going to incite a rebellion? How do we overthrow the Capitol? You've got to think this over, Sis!"
I take a deep breath. "Well... we'll talk about that later, okay? I mean, like, you know..."
"No, I don't know," says Holly and Amy simultaneously. Sometimes I think that they should be twins, not me and Amy. They're so alike - both shy and quiet, willing to think before acting.
I'm getting annoyed. "Once we've got this thing planned out, I promise that I'll tell you, okay? The moment I deem our district having a chance against the Peacekeepers, I'll call a meeting and reveal my plan."
"How do we even gather people?" Amy asks. "The Peacekeepers watch our every move. Meetings will be impossible."
"Even Peacekeepers have to sleep," I tell her. "At midnight, when the guards shift stations, we gather in the Underground."
Amy doesn't say anything. Neither does Holly. But finally I do.
"If you two are such big cowards you're fearing the Underground, I'll get Sage to come with me. He hates the Capitol too, you know."
Sage. I've never spoken to him, only saw him on one occasion. About five months ago, a woman was publicly executed for stealing food. Her family was hungry; all she took were a couple of strawberries and died for it. She had three kids. Her husband had died from hunger recently, and she didn't want her kids going the same way. Now, her kids are orphans.
Sage is her eldest child, sixteen now and from what I hear, almost seventeen. He has two younger siblings, I know. Pine and Mint. I think Pine is thirteen and Mint is nine. I'm sure that they'll side with me.
What am I talking about? I'm about to side with someone I've never spoken to. Never made any gesture of each others' existence. We've never looked at each other in the eye. But I know that he'll be my first choice as a recruit.
"You must be kidding me, Aryn," says Holly. "If you dragged me all the way over here, only to talk about overthrowing the Capitol, forget it. I'm not doing it. It's hopeless, buddy. The Capitol's got strong firearms, we've got nothing. Only in terms of numbers, but the Capitol's weapons must outnumber that fifty to one. No, if we have any chance of success, it won't be to charge. We need someone smart for that!"
"Yeah, we do," I say simply. "I know just the perfect choice."
"Who?" Amy asks, a bit accusingly.
"Maybelle Waters. The mayor's niece. She aces every test in school, never gets in trouble, but I know personally that she's the one who grafittied the school walls with berry juice without getting caught. She's that smart."
"Maybelle Waters..." Amy murmurs. "Well, she's a good choice, I suppose, but who knows if she'll side with us? She's the mayor's niece. She never starves."
"But she watches other people starve," I counter. "They fall to the ground every day, Amy! Too tired to get up again! The Capitol ignores them. The Peacekeepers walk past them. It's only us who stare at them pitifully, but can't afford to give them food to keep going!" I pause to draw in a deep breath but Amy cuts me off.
"Maybelle Waters has food. Tons of it. Her uncle must get a steady supply of them. I've seen her pass the starving and the ill on the streets. She never glances twice at them."
I give my only answer available. "Because she's too smart to do it."
Amy and Holly stare at me in confusion. What do I mean by that? I don't really know, either, but suddenly, out of the blue, I do.
"What-" Holly starts off, but I cut her off.
"She knows that her parents, her uncle, her relatives, the Peacekeepers won't approve of that. She'll only bring trouble down on her and her family!"
"How do you know, then," Holly asks snarkily. "She might just not care. She's going to bust you to the Peacekeepers and surely you're a goner. Aryn, please, don't do it!"
"Even if I die, at least I can say I tried!" I yell in her face. Amy takes a step back although it's Holly I'm yelling at. She's never seen me so enraged before.
"Then you do it yourself," Holly says angrily. She storms through the house and wrenches open the door. For a split second, the room echoes with the angry patters of rain against pavement, the thunder striking the sky, and then the door slams open and she's gone.
I stand in silence, and I see that Amy's shocked still, too. It seems like a long time before either of us move, but in truth it's probably only a few seconds.
"Aryn-" Amy tries to say, but she's cut off by a long, loud scream. The wailing continues for a few seconds but suddenly is cut short. Amy stares at me as the realization dawns on her.
I leap up, and run out the door, slippers bashing against the wet pavement, the rain soaking into my sweater, but I don't care. All I care about now is to reach her...
The bloodcurdling scream was Holly's.
"Holly!" I scream, running out into the cold wind. The bitter blows to my head make it dizzy for me to stand upright. Through the pouring buckets of rain, all I can see is a black veil of hopelessness. Holly screams again, and I run faster.
Feet pounding on the streets, sloshing through more water than air, I finally locate Holly. She's flat out on her back, a Peacekeeper hovering over her, gun in hand. I slow down, not wanting the Peacekeeper to hear me.
Some Peacekeeper. They don't keep the peace. They keep the violence.
Amy's caught up with me now. I wasn't exactly hard to follow, even in the loud claps of thunder. Amy touches my shoulder, but I wave her off with a finger pressed to my mouth.
"On the count of three," I breathe in to her ear. I nod at the Peacekeeper. Amy nods back. She understands.
"One," I murmur. I can hear the Peacekeeper yelling at Holly, but I can't focus on that now.
"Two," Amy whispers. Her sodden hair is whipping freely across my face, but I don't care.
"Three," we say together, and charge at the Peacekeeper.
He doesn't hear us coming in the cold night wind, and he's not exactly big. We tackle him, piling onto the pavement, limb over limb. He screams, and I stop.
I know that voice, too.
"Sage?" I ask quietly. What are the chances of running into him in the rain on a sodden evening? "I... but... I'm sorry, I thought you were a Peacekeeper!"
"Why would a Peacekeeper attack Holly Millson?" Sage asks angrily, rubbing a ferocious burn on his arm caused my the friction between gravel and skin. The cold water helps, but he's still wincing.
"I don't know," Amy says sarcastically. "Maybe she was shouting about a rebellion?"
Even here, in the dark, I can see Sage's bright green eyes flicker with excitement. "Rebellion?" he asks in a hushed tone. "I... I... why didn't I hear of this?" His face melts into an unreadable blank sheet of paper.
"Because the first idea only started tonight," I reply, pulling him to my feet. "Sage, will you join the rebellion?"
"I'd sacrifice myself for it," he replies. "Ever since they killed Mother..." His eyes flash off to the distant past, back when his mother was still alive and well. "You're Aryn Rosalina."
"Yes," I say, gratified that he actually pronounced my name right. Hardly anyone does on the first try.
"I'm Amy," says my sister, holding out her hand. Sage doesn't take it, but nods at her. By the look on her face, I think Amy's convinced that we should actually try. Sage might be a kid, too, but he seems so strong and... superior. He makes us think that we actually have a chance.
Then I hear Holly whimpering, and I gasp. How could I forget about my best friend, even though she just left me a couple of minutes ago? I can't see any blood on the ground, but it's probably washed away by the thundering rain.
But it's starting to end. The rain falls in light, shimmery drops of water as the pale moon shows. Sparkles dance off water. If there is one time to get Holly out of here, it's now.
Sage takes her back without question. Amy takes her legs, I take her middle portion of the body. Whatever happened to her is unknown, and I'm desperate to find out.
"Sage," I say. "Why were you yelling at Holly?"
He looks down. "She was crying and cursing things I couldn't hear. Right outside my front door, she collapsed and began screaming. I headed out."
"What were yelling to her about?" Amy asks softly. Holly gives a grunt as she hears Amy's voice.
"I wanted her to talk to me... I was afraid that she was going to... to die. I already saw my mother dead, and I don't want an innocent girl dying, either," he replies, voice full of sorrow.
"Oh," I say. I look down at Holly's torn and fragile body, her rain-sodden clothes, and wish that I hadn't.
Right across Holly's left arm is a very nasty cut, no, more of a hole, blood slowly pouring from it. I give a grunt of disgust and look away, hoping that Amy wouldn't look.
Of course, that's too much to hope for. She stares down at the gaping wound and gives out a cough of surprise.
"B...But..." she stammers. "But the only thing that can make that kind of wound is a gun!" she cries.
The three of us look at each other, and the realization dawns upon us.
There is only one kind of person in District Eleven who can use the gun freely.
"We need to get her to a doctor," I say fiercely. "And if we avoided the Peacekeepers before, it's even more important that we escape their fingers now. It's their gun that made this wound."
"She can't go back to the foraging, that's for sure," says Sage grimly. He readjusts his grip on Holly and she moans.
"Go to sleep," says Amy softly. She takes Holly by the legs again. I take care to avoid her arm, now.
Holly's eyelashes flutter, her chocolate brown eyes showing through even in the night. "Where... I..."
"Go to sleep," I say, quoting Amy. "When you wake up, all of this will be gone."
I suppose that it's a bit hard to believe that you've woken up in the middle of the night with your two friends and a stranger carrying you. Well, Holly seems to think so because she sighs into sleep.
We begin walking. There seems to be an unspoken agreement to go to Dr. Anne Perils's place, because she's the best doctor around. We try to go as fast as possible, but with the constant fear of Peacekeepers it's hard. So we stick to the shadows.
Luckily, the bullet didn't go straight through Holly's arm, so it's still lodged instead. Serious, yes. Fatal, with the right treatment, no. But what worries me is what we'll say to our bosses tomorrow. The ones who pay us, work us, feed us. They can't know why Holly was shot, because I've no doubt that someone was listening in on our talk, and the Peacekeepers must be hunting for me, too.
I freeze in my tracks. Sage, whose mind must be occupied, nearly bumps into me. Holly stirs in her sleep.
Amy looks back, irritated. "What?"
"Amy," I say, as calmly was I can. "There's only one reason why Holly was shot. Someone was listening in on us."
She shrugs. "Yeah, it's occurred to me."
"If they've got Holly, then they'll be after us, too."
Unlike most people, when Amy gets surprised, she seems to get calmer. "Well, that's a bummer."
We look at Sage.
"What?" he asks, uncomfortable with people staring in his eye.
"They can't know you're in the plot, too," I say. "We talked to you outside. There's no way all of the houses are bugged... So in other words, you're the only... rebel," I say in a hushed tone, "they don't know about. Tomorrow, Amy and I will go into hiding. It's up to you to bring them to our hiding place."
"Well, we do have to hide," says Amy, biting her lower lip. "But where? Somewhere big enough to contain the residents of District Eleven? Unlikely."
"There's one place," Sage says carefully. "But..."
I catch his drift. "The Underground? That's what I suggested to Amy!"
"No!" my sister cries, on cue.
"Well, District Thirteen uses their Underground, so why not us?" Sage says, the exact thing on my mind.
Amy studies his expression. Fierce eyes, lips set together in a line, slight frown. He's serious.
The Underground was built by the Capitol, one for each district. The districts use them to store things, like electronics, fabrics, fish, crops, berries. Each one is like a maze and not all of them are used. It'll be a perfect headquarters.
"There's only one entrance," I tell him. "And it's heavily guarded."
Amy stares at the two of us. "Maybe we should start walking."
Right. As much as the rebellion is important, so is Holly.
"There's another entrance," Sage says. I stare at him in confusion, but this time I don't stop walking.
"Another entrance? But... I thought the only one was in the Peacekeeper's Headquarters!" I say, struggling to keep my voice down.
"The mayor's house," says Sage. As if on cue, Amy and I look at each other.
"Maybelle Waters," we say together.
"Maybelle?" Sage asks. "The mayor's niece?"
"She doesn't live at the mayor's house-" Sage begins, but Amy cuts in.
"She sometimes stays after school to look after her cousin," she says. "Maybe I can... I mean, maybe you can talk to her after school."
"I'll try," says Sage, a frown line appearing on his forehead. "Look... it's just that... are you sure that your plan's going to work? Aryn, you're the mastermind of this, right?"
"What's your plan to rebel?"
"I have one," I say mysteriously. I do, actually. I'm just not ready to tell them yet. If I do, they'll abandon me utterly. If I have a full district under command, then it's too late to step down. Then they'll have to stick with it. Which is why I say, "I'm just not going to share it."
Sage sighs. "I figured you would say that. But Aryn, take notice that this'll be hard. We mean next to nothing to the Peacekeepers; we're just here to fill in the gaps. They can kill all of us."
"Then they lose their supply of food," I say simply. "We harvest the food for them. The Underground storage can't last forever. If it works, we can use it."
"Perfect," says Amy sarcastically. She rolls her eyes and turns around to walk. We've already left the main road and onto the doctor's street.
Sometimes, I think Amy doesn't take me too seriously.
"So Maybelle can help us," says Sage.
"Yeah," I reply. Just then, a cold breeze comes by and I shiver. I've just noticed how cold I am.
"Amy?" I ask. "Are you cold suddenly?"
She turns around. "Now you tell me? Before I wasn't but now you asked me I am!"
"Keep your voice down," Sage urges her. We're almost at Dr. Perils's front door. I wonder what she'll say about three kids turning up in the dead of the night, but I can only hope that she agrees to help us.
We knock on the door. Everyone knows that Dr. Perils is a light sleeper. We continue knocking until a light flickers on in one of the windows.
The door opens and a warm, golden glow spills from inside. "Dr. Perils-" I begin to say, but I freeze.
It's not the doctor. It's her daughter, Chime Perils, who is in my class at school. We're not friends, but not enemies. Just classmates. She stares us down.
Fortunately, I know Chime as a kind one. Once a squirrel got hurt and she treated it herself. Being a daughter of a doctor helps, but I think that she's started showing more compassion because of what happened to her father. He died after a fatal injury when a tree fell on top of him. It's a long story.
"What are you doing here?" she hisses at us. "It's ten already!"
Only ten? It has felt like four hours since I argued with Holly…
"Someone's hurt," I say. At the word hurt, Chime's nasty expression melts off.
"Why're you wet?" she asks. We're all soaked to the skin.
"Rain," I reply. "Chime, please, can you help us? She's got a gunshot wound!"
She immediately turns serious. "Mom!" she yells to the upper landing. Another light flickers on, and Dr. Perils comes down in her nightgown.
"What?" she asks, clearly tired.
"Gunshot wound to the arm," says Chime. Her mother doesn't ask anything, simply nods and takes Holly in her powerful arms. My friend looks like a crippled and fragile doll in Dr. Perils's arms.
"You can sit down," says Chime hastily, pointing to a few wooden chairs to the side of the hallway. "Don't worry about being wet... Um, you can go home and change."
I shake my head. The moment Chime leaves to help her mother, I collapse in one of the chairs.
"She has to be okay," I say, exhausted.
Sage sits down next to me. "She will."
We sit in silence for a few seconds, and finally I can't stand it. "Do you think Maybelle will help us?"
"She's arrogant, yes, but she's not a snob. Besides, we'll need her intelligence."
"Right," I say.
"She'll be valuable in a rebellion," I say. "It's helpful for someone smart when you're trying to overthrow the Capitol."
Sage sighs. "Aryn Rosalina," he says, pronouncing my name right, "We don't even know for sure if we're going to go for it!"
"You said yourself that you're going to help!" I say, hushed but on the inside, my temper is flaring.
"I just want our chances to be as high as possible!" he retorts. "I want this rebellion to succeed on the first try!"
I'm about to yell out a comeback to that but suddenly, I take notice of something beside me.
Chime, her face drained of blood, ashen white. She speaks in a hushed tone.
"What did you just say?" she whispers. "Something about... a rebellion?"