The stone felt rough in his hands, and everything seemed to go silent around him.
There was nothing left for him here, except for the stones that he surrounded himself with.
There were dark times ahead, and Arthur could not fathom how he was going to prepare for the next games. He had a feeling that the quell was going to be something dangerous, something that no one would expect, and that horrified him.
His hands molded around the stone as his hand struck in places that people didn’t know you could strike.
His hands felt course against his own skin, but against the rocks they felt smooth, because they mimicked the feel of the rocks that he held.
He chipped away, waiting for something to happen. Anything to happen.
The games were getting more and more interesting, and just when Arthur thought that district 12 could have had another victor, but when he watched as Cassia fell in the feast, he cried.
He didn’t cry for her, but he cried for the fact that yet another person had to die in order to punish the districts for whatever rebellion they caused.
However, that pain was what made him want to turn to his art.
In its way, returning to District Twelve is always as hard as leaving. Not bad—much as Aranica hates leaving her family, it's always good to come back to her friends—but it's difficult to get back into the rhythm of life while she's busy processing the flood of everything she compartmentalized during the Games. She can't smile at anyone in the shop, can't relax enough to dance, spends too much time holding Liddy and Sycamore and staring at nothing.
Getting out helps. Sometimes the woods that shaped her, the furthest thing she can imagine from the glitter and clatter of the Capitol, are the only place she feels genuinely at home. She'll never feel twelve again, but with her toes in the dirt under a sky broken by trees, she at least feels grounded.
After so long Aranica knows the quiet landscape of District Twelve like the sound of her own breath, so the distant clacking—too slow to be a bird, too sharp and light to be footsteps—surprises her. She follows it slowly to the source, which turns out to be a kid—Kieran's age, maybe a touch younger—intently focused on something in his hands. Aranica can't see it from her angle, but every time he moves the sound cracks again, resolving into something like metal on rock. A carver of some sort, then.
"Hi," she calls, hoping it's soft enough to not startle him.
Nothing was simple. Nothing ever was simple for the boy from twelve.
It was hard enough for him to adjust to the depravities of this district, but Arthur should have known better.
Nothing was ever going to be normal, or easy for that matter, for a boy who did not know how to stick up for himself.
He tried his hardest to keep a calm mind, the smack of the chisel on the rock made that easier, but still, he thought about how much time he spent in places that didn’t involve people.
It crushed him from time to time, but still, he felt more at peace with himself when he decided to come to the woods.
He always had a spot. One that he would call his own, where rocks were plentiful and it was always silent. It was a tacit feeling really, one that he wouldn’t never quite understand because unfortunately, Arthur Luna would never feel like he fit in here.
He tried his hardest to be like the kids that he met in school, but most of them went to the mines right after, and Arthur’s family was blessed to not have that type of life, something that he seemed to be reminded of everyday.
So that is why he came here, to smack the edges off of rough stones instead of interact with the population of twelve.
And the cracks grew harsher, this time, pieces of rocks falling to the ground around him. He could feel the pressure of them falling on the ground, and he wondered if anything was going to be normal for him here in twelve. Ever.
And then he noticed a woman, rather older, looking at him with eyes that seemed as lost as his. ”Hello. Im not disturbing you am I?” Arthur asked, his creation fell to his lap and he sat there with a dumbfounded look on his face.
It was like his worst fears followed him wherever he went.
The stranger drops his rock. Aranica starts to step back, an apology halfway to her lips, but when he doesn't make any move to scramble away she settles and moves forward, not close enough to hover but close enough so they can see each other properly. This is a nice spot he's found for himself, rocky and serene. When she greets them silently, wiggling her toes a little, the stones chatter back cheerfully.
"I'm not disturbing you am I?" His expression doesn't change, and he doesn't retrieve whatever he was working on. She can't tell whether the surprise is at seeing anyone out here, where the only other sounds must usually be the rustle of leaves and the occasional bird, or at seeing her, specifically. More people recognize her in the Capitol these days than at home. The arm tips them off sometimes, but she spends so much time handling background work now that she doesn't make it into the nationwide Games coverage as often, and she doesn't look like the twelve-year-old that people remember watching years ago—if they're old enough to remember at all.
Asking feels too weird. She sets it aside for now, vaguely hoping he's only surprised to be interrupted.
"I should ask you that," she says with a smile, shaky but genuine. "I heard you, but I'm not bothered, just curious. Do you want me to leave you to work?"
Arthur paused for a moment, not sure how to correctly approach this. If he was being too loud, then he needed to obviously move. The forest was large here, but that did not mean that there weren’t people that lived around here. Sometimes he wished he was daring enough to go out of district lines, but he knew that if he was caught he would have probably been kill.
They didn’t mess around here in twelve.
And even though he was here first, he felt like he was being the nuisance. Blame it on the fact that he was always taught to have some sort of decorum around people that he didn’t know, but whatever the reason he concocted in his head, he knew that something had to change here, he just wasn’t sure what it had to be.
and so he meandered on the decision while the woman, regally, spoke to him about being the one to disturb him. Arthur let his head hang down for a moment, not sure how to approach this because it was in his nature to blame himself rather than anyone else.
That was why he usually tried to do his work in seclusion.
He knew that the sound of a chisel on rock was loud, so loud that it could fill an empty space with harmonious sounds that could reach the heavens, and that was the reason why he was feeling like he was the problem, because he did not stop to think that he might be too loud.
And when the woman tried to say that it was her fault, Arthur felt even more guilty, but there was a decision to be made here.
Did he tell her to go away or to keep on working as is?
He pursed his lips, knowing well that he rarely did ever have an audience watch him as he created.
He was conflicted for that exact reason.
His art was usually private, or at least the making of his art, because Arthur never knew how to let his emotions out in a healthy way.
Whenever a reaping came around, he was more resigned to working on his pieces in private, and while his father was the same way, he learned at a young age that it is hard to hide your art.
Arthur though, had not learned that yet, and that was why hesitation made him freeze on sight.
So it was the moment of truth. Did he learn how to show off his art in front of people, or did he choose the other route, where he did not bother with the woman and simply retreated to come back another day.
”No. You can stay.” Arthur decided. He wasn’t sure how this was going to work out in the long run but he at least needed to be courteous to his guest.
”Reaping day just has me on edge. I come out here from time to time to just work and create.” Arthur reached down and pulled up the chisel, placing it on his knee and looking at the woman with a smile. ”I didn’t mean to be rude about it, I just, don’t know how to work when strangers are watching.” Arthur was an honest man, he couldn’t lie.
And so maybe this was his chance to try to do so while he had an audience.
An audience of one wasn’t much, but it was a start, and maybe one day he could try to work his way up to performing in front of crowds.
After all, he did want to be known around the district for his artistry.
And so he was going to need to put himself out there for the world to see.
"It takes a hard heart for it not to," Aranica says softly. "Or a tired one." The point where exhaustion grinds grief down to resignation has always escaped her, but the older she gets, the more she understands how someone could get there—how sometimes a person watches a Reaping come and go without so much as a flinch not because they think it isn't horrible, but because after years of death upon death and ends that don't meet they simply no longer have the energy for horror. In a kinder world she would say this kid looked too young for that anyway, but he's too young to face down the specter of death every year, too, and too young to live in a district where the most important factor in avoiding starvation is luck.
At least he's found something that helps, even if only as much as anything can when no one can solve the real problems.
"I didn’t mean to be rude about it," he adds with a smile that Aranica answers as encouragingly as she can, "I just, don’t know how to work when strangers are watching."
Aranica shakes her head as she clears a small space with one foot. Even if she cared for social graces as anything more than a Capitol survival tactic, being courteous to a stranger who startled you hardly clears her bar for rudeness. "Don't worry, I interrupted you. I'll try to be a good audience to make up for it." She sits at arm's length with her bare feet folded out to one side, smoothing a crinkle in her dress where it snags on a twig she missed, then looks back up, still smiling. "They enjoy it too, you know." She nods down at the unfinished piece. "Rocks don't have much sense of art. They think it's interesting." It confuses them—she's never explained to her necklace's satisfaction why someone might have wanted it to look like an acorn—but she also gets the sense that they find it something of an honor for a human to spend precious hours from their firefly life on shaping them with a deliberation that wind and water never have. Certainly the one in his hands seems content to rest there, buzzing with idle curiosity. "What are you making?"
Arthur didn’t know how to respond to anything that the woman had said to him. Reaping time was always hard for him, he knew that, after all, there wasn’t much that he could do here anymore. ”Do you think the district is just a tired one?” he spoke as his hands started to find solace with each other. His thumbs moving up and down as he tried to not stare too much at the woman. After all, she did look familiar to him. He knew better than to ask awkward questions though, his parents taught him manners after all.
She closed the gap between them though, making it clear that she had no intention of leaving him be. Arthur knew that he could have stood up and made his way elsewhere. He could have taken the opportunity to just go home and do anything else at this point. Even though he did want to stay.
He did want to stay, and as she spoke, his resolve became clear here. ”Okay.” he smiled as he started to tap the rock lightly and hold his chisel firm in his hand. He still wasn’t sure what he was making at this point still, but he knew that if he kept going, he would figure that out. He kind of just let his hand guide the chisel instead of letting his brain do the thinking. He learned that his best work came from this technique. But now he had to show someone what he could do. ”Well, if you want to be my audience, I will not stop you.” He gave a light smile as he tried to peter out what to do next. His hand moved and his eyes gazed at the woman. ”I don’t know if they willingly watch though. They cant move after all, they don’t have a choice but to watch me create.” Arthur offered a small smile after realizing that what he had said probably wasn’t the best choice of words. ”Its kind of like the reaping in that way… huh?” he sighed. ”I don’t know what I am making to be honest. I just need something to keep my hands busy. Keep my mind off things. You know?” his hands kept working as he focused on both subjects as much as he could. ”I cant help but have this feeling my time is up, and im bound to be called up to that stage to my death.” He gave a light grimace. ”I wish I knew why.” He said before looking at the woman. ”Do you have a clue?”