As I headed back into the elevator, I was mentally beating myself up. What was I thinking? They'd probably drag me down into the dungeons beneath the palace, and torture me in odious ways until I begged for death.
I savored the ride up to the top of the building where I would probably spend my last night before being taken away in the morning. It's funny, how your mind works when you're in impending danger. You rarely can focus on the problem at hand, and your mind drifts off to think of other things.
It was a cold morning in the winter, the sky grey, and the streets of District 12 greyer. Coal dust mixed with the freshly fallen snow to make a disgusting slush, and the homeless in the streets slowly froze to death. Peacekeepers would come the next day to disperse of the frozen bodies.
Roseluck and I were at the barbed wire fence that marked the end of our District, looking out into the large pine forest. It was calm, peaceful, serine. I wondered what life would be like, out there. Every year, ten to fifteen ponies would just up and leave, sneak out and head off. They never made it far, though. Sometimes they would come back with their bodies as an example of what would happen to us if we attempted a similar stunt.
Roseluck nudged me. "Come on, I know where there's a grove of Snow Lilies that only bloom this time of year. Let's head off and grab them, it'll be quick!"
I gave her a skeptical look. "Roseluck, I already skipped rehearsal to come and look at the forest with you, I'm not about to go and risk my life for some dumb flowers. It doesn't make sense."
Roseluck grabbed my hoof, and slipped under the barbed wire. I was almost thrust into it, so I had to roll very quickly underneath the offending wire to avoid getting cut. The snow, here untainted by the coal dust, felt pleasant and cool on my coat.
"Roseluck, you could have hurt me!" Roseluck grinned.
"Well, next time you'll learn to just go along with my ideas!" I shook my head at her. Even though she was my best friend, at times I felt like strangling her.
We trotted off into the woods, the world growing darker as the trees obscured the little sun that was able to get past the clouds. It was beautiful, serine. Here, we were away from the troubles and woes of the District. I was instantly glad I had gone with Roseluck.
We spent some time exploring, then remember our whole purpose here. We couldn't dawdle any longer. The Peacekeepers would come, and find us... I didn't want to think of what would happen next.
We came to the frozen pond where the curious lilies grew. I inspected them while Roseluck picked the choicest of them.
They were similar to the lilies that bloomed in this pond during the spring, but were snow white all over, instead of just the petals. Their roots boor into the ice, being able to draw sustenance from the water. They were cold to the touch, like the very ice it grew on. A very strange plant, indeed.
"Alright, Tavia! Let's head back, I got the good ones," Roseluck told me as she slung her saddlebag back on. I nodded, and the two of us trotted back the way we came, hoping we could get back in time.
About halfway back, we heard voices. My heart skipped a beat, and I dragged Roseluck into a small hollow beneath a Snowberry bush. We heard hoofbeats breaking the previously untouched snow, and fearful and tired voices. One belonging to a stallion, one to a mare. The stallion, grey furred with a map cutie mark, spoke first.
"Listen, we can't run any longer, my legs are too tired."
"But we've come this far! We can't give up now!" The mare was white, and sported a hatchet for a cutie mark. They were both earth ponies.
"They'll catch us no matter what we do! We were safer in 7."
"What, we were safer there? Even if we weren't going to be picked for the Games, we would just have to live our lives out as woodcutters, or sawmill workers. You know how high are fatality rates get to!"
"Oh, so that was just enough reason to go on the word of a crazed mare who wailed that District 13 was still here, somewhere out in the wilderness? Look, we're nowhere near 12, and even then, how can we be so sure where 13 is? It's not like the Districts are in a perfect line, they taught us that in school!"
We heard the mare snort. "Well, fine then. Maybe my judgment was wrong. Maybe. But we're better off here then we were in 7. The 'crazy mare' told us to look for the ruins of Ponyville. But where would that be? I brought you along, brother, for this very reason. You know old maps, and you know star positions. You could find us Ponyville."
"I'm sorry, but most nights were cloudy, I had no idea where we were going. Damn... I wish I knew where 12 was..."
I saw Roseluck about to head out, but I stopped her. Rightfully so, as I heard another crunching noise, this one not from the two from 7.
"Oh no! They've found us! Come on, let's-" The stallion's voice ended in a cry of pain as we heard a metallic whirring noise. The mare shrieked, and blood splattered the snow next to us, staining it crimson.
"NO! NO!" The mare's voice was hysterical as we heard a slightly mechanical sounding stallion speak to her.
"Fugitive from 7, you are under arrest. Comply, or meet a similar fate."
We heard more sobbing, and the hoofbeats receded from the area. After we were sure they were gone, we emerged from our hiding spot.
The snow was red all in the clearing, mostly in a spot about eight feet from where we were hiding. It had sunken into the snow, it's heat melting it a bit. A trail led off deeping into the woods, where they must be taking the body and the mare.
Roseluck and I headed back to the fence, not speaking the whole way. We never once discussed what had happened that day. I rarely thought of what happened to the mare, but whatever it was, I was sure it wasn't pleasant.
I was shaken from my stupor as the doors of the elevator slid open with a soft hiss, and I was faced with my suite. Everypony who was affiliated with District 12 was seated around the table, staring at me.
"Ah good, our little troublemaker has decided to join us," Hayseed sr. snarled, taking a swig from a tankard of hard cider.
I was confused. "Wait, how did-"
"Oh please, I already know what happened down there. We all do."
"But that was supposed to be private training!"
Hayseed laughed, spilling some of his drink down his front. "Please! Anypony can watch as long as they're a part of the same District team as the tribute! Now, about your performance: I'll expect them to come and kill you any moment now."
I grew angry at our drunken mentor, and this time, I didn't try to hold it back. "Look here, you drunken slob, they weren't paying any attention to me, AT ALL. So, I had to do something a little absurd, to catch their eye. And like I said, I don't care about being killed. Besides, it's too far into the Games to replace me now."
Hayseed was about to reply, but his son stopped him.
"Dad, their showing the scorings!" Hayseed sr. grumbled, and took a big swing of cider as the scorings were shown.
District 1's stallion scored an 8. Not bad. The mare got a 5.
District 2's stallion scored a 10, no surprise there. The mare gathered a 9.
District 3's stallion scored a 6, and the mare scored a 9. That was good, I thought. Twilight obviously knew some tricks.
District 4's stallion, Poor Little Pip, scored a 4. I groaned. He would most definitely be targeted. Good thing Rarity and Twilight would protect him. The mare, the cockeyed pegasus, scored a 7.
District 5's stallion scored a 7. The mare, Rainbow Dash, scored a marvelous 10. She had that look about her, the one that said "I'm the best, and you better believe it," So I wasn't all that shocked to see her score so high.
District 6's stallion, the caramel coated one, scored a 7. The little filly, Scootaloo, the one I had tried to reach, got an 8. I couldn't help but smile a bit at this.
District 7's young colt got a 6 for his score. The mare, the yellow shy one, scored the same.
District 8's young colt scraped a 5. Rarity scored herself a 9. She was very capable of fighting if she needed to.
District 9's male tribute ranked in at a 7. The pink mare fared a bit better, getting an 8. I wondered what her attack style would be. She was always so happy, always making friends with everypony, talking about the party she was going to throw when she won...
District 10's stallion ranked a 7, and the mare ranked a 5. Nothing special about this district. District 10 was the least impressive in my mind.
District 11's brother and sister both scored 10's. I nearly applauded them out loud, but stopped myself. They were going to be fierce opponents... not that I would have to worry about that.
Now, came Hayseed jr. We all held our breath, and he showed up as an 8. Hoity Toity and Hayseed jr's prep team applauded him. I help my breath, as I waited for a 2 or 3.
The number 11 flashed by my name.