Chapter 16.

I go as fast as my legs will carry me. Now I've been doing a great deal of running during my training hours, but it still wasn't enough to prepare me for this. My muscles are burning, feeling like they might give out sooner than later. But I can either keep going or be eaten alive by the mutt gulls, so I keep going. Their loud shrieking is starting to give me a headache. I try to ignore it, even though the throbbing in my head seems to sync with the pounding of my feet on the snowy ground.
I can't give up now.
This is the last chance. The last round. The grand finale.
This is the climax of the games, the final moment which it is all about.
And I need to make sure I come out of it alive.

My heart is pounding in my chest, but I will my legs to keep moving. As I get closer to the others, I recognise the red glint of Trix's hair. She and Aran are already here, so it must mean that Magnus is either dead already or close by. But I don't remember hearing the cannon going off, so he must be alive. I hope he is.

Pain sears through my left arm as one of the gulls digs into it with its beak. I suppress a cry and shake him off, even though my arm feels like it's on fire. I barely register the trail of red drops I leave in the snow.

The birds keep chasing me until I'm only a few feet away from the cornucopia. It's like the bird slam into an invisible wall. The impact doesn't stop them from flying around it like maniacs. I look around, and see that the invisible wall seems to form a perfect circle, closing in on us from all sides. I then realise that the birds were only meant to drive us all here.

I was distracted by the birds long enough to be surprised by the two hands gripping me by my throat. It's Trix, who drags me along through the snow while I try to free myself from her strong grip. When she doesn't budge, I dig one arm into my jacket and retrieve a knife, with which I stab her hand. She cries out and lets go of me, and I use this split second to stand back up and look around. To my left, I see Aran in battle with another tall, dark-haired figure, that can only be Magnus.

The next few things happen in only a few seconds, but it feels as if time is slowing down around me, turning the whole event into a slow-motion movie. Trix manages to take the knife from my hands and attempts to stab me with it, even though her injured hand is obviously bothering her. After a few failed attempts, I'm being pushed aside. Magnus has taken my place opposite Trix and swings his mace. After the first miss, his second blow hits her right in the face. She covers her face with her hands as she falls down and rolls away. Magnus lifts up his mace to deliver the final blow, but it's taken from his hands by Aran, who tries to hit him with it instead. He manages to dodge the attacks as he pulls out his sword and stabs Trix in the chest. She coughs three times, blood spraying from her wound, then she remains still and a cannon sounds in the distance.

In the meanwhile, Aran seems to have gotten the hang of the mace and manages to hit Magnus right in the shoulder. When he falls down, he grabs him by the throat and hauls him all the way to the edge of the circle, where the birds are still swarming around, as if held back by a forcefield or something.

I grab another knife from the inside of my jacket and get ready to throw it, when Aran sees me and holds up his hand.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you" He says nonchalantly. "You see, if I die, I will take him with me." He points at Magnus, who looks at me with wide eyes. I allow myself to look at him for just a second and I feel overwhelmed with emotions. I can see the surprise in his eyes, the outrage, the sadness, the love, the will to fight. But most overwhelming is the hopelessness, that seems to have taken in the upper hand inside of him, as if he's just realised he's not going to make it out of here alive. For a split-second I fear he may be right. Then I get myself together and grab hold of the knife anyway. It's strange to see him like this. I always thought of Magnus as the stronger one, the tough kid. The one who would never allow himself to be cornered like this. But now he's the one who needs my help.

"I could make this really fun, you know." Aran continues. "I could let him live, and you two will have to fight each other, and then whoever wins gets to fight me."

"What makes you think we'll let you live?" I ask him.

"Yeah, you may be right there." Aran says, pretending to be disappointed. "Why would you?"

"What's wrong with you anyway?" I say, feeling like my blood is reaching its boiling point.

"I could ask you the same." He says. Magnus struggles to break free from his grip, but Aran stomps him in the jaw in order to silence him. "I mean, something must be wrong with us, if we are the last ones to survive in this hellhole."

"Just let him go." I say quietly.

"And let him kill me? Nope, not going to happen. I'm not a complete idiot."

"Are you sure about that?" I ask sarcastically.

My remark seems to have hit home, because I see some emotion flash in his eyes "If you seem so convinced that I am, I guess I don't need him as a leverage anymore." Aran replies. And with that, he places both hands on the side of Magnus' head. Magnus manages to pull one of his hands off, but Aran kicks him in the side. Before Magnus is able to react again, Aran twists his head and breaks his neck. I cringe at the sound of his bone breaking. Then he throws his limp body into the flock of seagulls. They back up in surprise first, then they start feasting on his body

"No.. NO!" I don't realise I'm crying until my vision blurs and everything goes out of focus. This is a moment of weakness and Aran knows it. He walks up to me and grabs me by my good arm. He yanks me along so rude and abruptly I feel my bone snap and I hear it crack under his grip. The pain that follows is so intense that I don't have any power left to protest. He drags me back to the right side of the cornucopia, where he throws me on the ground.

"Not so tough without your personal guard, now are you?"

I'm still trying to catch my breath, which keeps me from coming up with a clever response.

"Look how adorable and vulnerable you are, without him to protect you. You've always been like that. You don't know how to do anything, you were just lucky to be part of that alliance."

Now he's getting under my skin. I was lucky to be part of that alliance, but I wasn't in it because of my lack of skills. "How dare y-"

"It was quite smart, I have to say." Aran interrupts me. "But don't worry, I can do what you can do, too. But I can do it better. Because there can only be one victor here, and I know it's not going to be you."

"You sure claim to know a lot." I choke out.

"Hah" Aran laughs. "Says the shrimp princess. And what do you know? How many nights have you been starving?. How many kills have you made? I think none, but I'm not completely sure. If anything, your allies must have helped you again."

Aran still seems to busy with talking rather than killing me, so I decide I need to buy myself some time. I can't move my right arm, so I reach into my jacket with my left arm and take out a knife. My good throwing arm is injured, and I'm not sure how well I can throw my left arm, but it has to be worth a try. I see Aran laugh at my attempt to throw the knife at him. The first one misses. He picks it up from the ground and holds it up with two fingers, as if disgusted by it.

"Really?" he asks. "You're actually trying now? Right in the middle of my speech? How rude."

I don't answer. He's still playing this game, but that's not what this is for me anymore. Magnus has made me realise that. I can either think of a way to eliminate Aran now, or I will die within a few minutes. My left hand reaches into my jacket again and I count how many knives I have left. Three. I have three chances at survival left. And the wrong arm. It isn't much, but it's better than nothing. It has to be. I take two more knives from my jacket.

"Hey, don't get blood on your clothes now," Aran laughs. "That would be a shame. Isn't that what you thought the entire time? That's why you let the guys make all the kills, don't you? Lucky for you, that redheaded district partner of yours had enough bloodlust for the both of you. They've made it easy."

I inhale sharply. His jokes aren't even funny anymore. I throw a second knife. To my surprise, it digs into his left shoulder, right below his collarbone. For a second he is so surprised he just looks at me with large eyes. Then he regains his focus and walks up to me, his face contorted with anger. He pulls out his sword.

"What are you even trying to do?" He asks. His voice no longer has the mocking undertone, but sounds genuinely angry now. He brings the tip of his sword close to my face, poking my cheek with it. I feel blood welling up and running over my skin. I try to move away from it but when I do so, the pain in my right arm flares up again, leaving me immobilized.

"We both know there's only one way how this is going to end." Aran says in the tone of a father reprimanding his child. Then he steps back, holding down his sword. And that's where he makes a mistake. He keeps playing around so much that he's leaving himself vulnerable to me. I throw a third knife, which hits him straight in the chest. Again, he looks at me in surprise, wondering how I've managed to take advantage of his weak moment. After a few seconds he starts to cough, blood spraying from his mouth.

"Look at you, the princess is drawing blood after all." He chokes out, then he coughs again and falls to the ground. I watch his body convulse for a few seconds, then he remains still.

A cannon goes off in the distance. As if startled by the sound, the gulls that surrounded the cornucopia suddenly fly away, leaving the arena completely silent. I don't even hear the ever-present sound of the howling wind. It sounds… empty. The silence is so demanding that it's almost eerie.

Seeing Aran die in front of me, because of my doing, presses a weight on my shoulders that makes me feel like breathing requires a lot more effort than usual. I do an attempt to get up but I'm so weakened that I'm unable to push through the pain, so I remain on the ground.

"Ladies and gentlemen," the announcer's voice sounds through the arena, breaking the empty silence. "We present you the Victor of the 57th annual Hunger Games: Satin Charbrooke!"

The announcement is followed by the Capitol anthem. I don't know how much time passes, but I'm still unable to move. There's nothing for me to do but wait it out. After a while, a black dot appears in the air, growing larger and larger until I see that it's a capitol hovercraft. It comes to a halt in the air above me. Two people are coming down and sit down next to me. I'm placed on a brancard and an oxygen mask is put on my face. It must be more than just oxygen, because I fall asleep so fast that I don't even register being pulled up into the hovercraft and leaving the arena.