A Song of Snakes and Rats

Day 9 in the Arena (Midnight)

Female Tribute from District Nine, Tassia Morrone

The two canons sound back to back and I'm up, wide eyed and awake. I scold myself that I drifted off. That I fell asleep. I was supposed to kill Proteus while he slept. And there goes that plan. More than likely, he's wide awake now too. The canons acting as some sort of alarm.

I pull the blowtorch from my bag, preparing myself for the inevitable. It's the finale. The time for Proteus and myself to give them all a show. Nerves flutter in my belly at the thought of it all ending soon, but I push it away. Not now, I tell myself.

An echo of hissing comes from behind. I turn around, searching, scanning for whatever muttations the gamemakers are sending to round us up. It doesn't take me long to figure out what they are. The hissing becomes louder by the second. Of course, they sent snakes to kill me. Only seems fitting. Since Rahni yelled, "Snake!" across the arena when she saw me.

Snake or not, let's show them I'm not going down without a fight. I press handle of the blow torch and the device spits out flames. Hues of orange, purple, and blue cover the ground, roasting the leaves and burning up the large circular plants.

When I start to run, I stop every few seconds, only to spit more flames across the edge of the jungle. The snakes squeal as they hit the wall of fire. But I don't stop. I keep holding down the handle of the blowtorch, engulfing the arena in flames. Let's see the snakes survive this sea of fire, I think.

Then I'm running out into the clearing, stepping on ash and nearly slipping. Proteus is there, standing, club in hand. He doesn't say anything, just takes me in. Fire builds around us, the smoke filling the air as the jungle burns to ash.

A snake to the left of me burst through the wall, covered in flames, skin flaking into burnt crisps. It leaps at me, but doesn't make it. It dies mid air, crumbling to the ground with a thud.

"They have feet," Proteus says. Of course, he'd state the obvious. Of course, he'd warn me of the muttations.

"Well, they better run then," I say. He looks at. The smoke fills between us and I have to swallow down the urge to cough. "Let's finish this."

"This is for Rahni," he says to me.

"This is for me," I say back. Because there's no one I'm fighting for but myself.

He steps towards me and I step back. Behind me, I feel the heat from the flames approaching. I know I don't have much room for error, but the only way I'm going to kill him is if I get into the flames. He has the strength, I know it. But I have the speed, and I have a knife, not to mention a blowtorch. The odds seem in my favor. I just have to play them right.

Proteus steps forward again, and I know he's going to need an incentive to pursue me. Quickly, I rack my brain for what might be the right words to set him off. What emotional strings to play to get him to fall into my trap.

"She didn't suffer," I say. He looks me. "Rahni, I mean." I add.

He stumbles a bit at that.

"Not like Denim," I continue. "Poor boy burned to death. You could hear the screams."

"There weren't screams," he says.

"There was," I say. "You just blocked them out."

The flames grow higher around us, bringing in more smoke. I cough, inhaling it the bitter taste. My eyes go glossy a little. I know the smoke is effecting my vision. I know I'm running out of time. If we don't kill one another now, we'll burn to death. Or worse the snakes will get us. I hear them across the arena, moving, slithering past the wall of fire. They'll be on us soon.

But I don't plan to die today.

"I didn't," he says.

"You did," I say. "But it's fine. We all do things to survive."

"It was your trap!" he yells. "You got him killed." He steps forward, moving in my direction. Good. "You got Rahni killed, too."

"Correction," I say. "I killed Rahni."

And that it's. Strings played. Trap set.

Male Tribute from District Seven, Proteus Anche

"I killed Rahni," says Tassia.

I am rage. My heart pounding. My mind fogging. I don't think. Just run. Just act on impulse.

And I'm sprinting, moving towards her. But so is the flame. I take it in too late. And Tassia is moving, leaping out of way, and I'm feeling the heat licking my skin. I scream, before throwing myself back, before barely avoiding the lake of fire that wants to consume me.

My back hits the dirt and I'm rolling, moving. I see Tassia leaping towards me. She has the knife. She's throwing it. And then I'm jumping, moving, but there's more pain. I scream. My body slams into the dirt again. Pain electrifies my ribs. I see the knife in my side. Feel the blood slithering down to my hips. I stumble to get to my feet. Tassia is there, holding the blowtorch. Immediately, I step back, swallowing down the fear, swallowing down the pain that ignites my back and arms.

I pull the jacket from body. It smokes. My skin feels inflamed and hot and I can't look at it. Tassia stares at me, calculating. It clicks in my mind that I fell for a trap. She wanted me to run into the fire. Wanted the burns to wound me, so she could gut me.

Pain throbs though my abdomen, but I don't pull out the knife. I've got enough sense to leave it in. For now, at least.

Blood runs down my stomach, warming me. Sweat lathers my forehead and I wipe it away. Around me, the smoke darkens the air. It makes it harder to breathe, too. I cough, tasting smoke and blood and dirt.

We're both going to die here, if we don't end it now, I think. And I don't want to die. I want to live. I want to go home. I want to do things differently. Maybe even take less orders this time around. Maybe listen to some of my own thoughts for once.

Then kill her, says the voice. Go home.

I exhale. Okay. I can do this. I can kill her. I can end this. Once and for all, it'll be over. I'll be free.

Suddenly, a snake hops through the fire, nearly striking me. I swing out with the club, bashing it in the head. It crashes to the ground. Body curling, it goes still. I let that be my motivator to end this. I let that send me into killing her now, before more snakes come.

With all my speed, I'm running towards Tassia. She doesn't flee. Instead, she's pointing the blowtorch towards me. Then there's fire rushing as me, spewing from the device, and I'm running to the side, avoiding it. Then I'm swinging out with the club, attempting to hit her. It catches something and I hear Tassia scream.

The fire continues. It wraps around us, fiery tentacles grappling at everything and turning whatever it touches to ash. I step back, avoiding a burst of orange and yellow blaze. I look for Tassia, but can't find her. The smoke is too high. The flames too bright. I feel my burns boiling. My hands squeeze the club. I tell myself that I'm not going to die. But I'm burning up.

And then I'm sweating, pooling, melting it seems. My skin feels sticky. I can't swallow, despite all the air I inhale. I cough, blinded now by smoke and sweat. My eyes water. I feel my heart slamming in my chest. A picture of my family comes to mind. My mother is shucking corn, humming. My father milks a cow, singing. I'm laughing. They always made me smile, despite the circumstances. They always taught me to find the exception. To see the good.

They're joy gave me my own, I suppose. And I'm determined to get back to them. I'm determined to save them from the farm, from the poverty, from the long winters with barely anything to eat.

I'm not letting Tassia rob me of my victory.

And so, I move. I run through the flames, dashing through heat. Then I'm landing on dry earth. I stand, panting. Twisting around, I search for Tassia. When I see her, she's running, sprinting for the gap between the walls of flames. Mind emptying, I tell myself to run. I tell myself to give it all that I have. My mind goes still. My legs are all I'm aware of.

I sprint. And then I'm on her. She turns the blowtorch, but I'm swinging. She falls, the flames going out with her. And then she's crawling through the smoke, but I still see her. Without thinking, I swing down, connecting to her left leg. Tassia screams, but I block it out. I swing again and again and again. With each swing, there is only crushing. Tassia screams again, louder, but I don't stop. I keep swinging, keep crushing. Then there is only silence. There's only the blasting of a canon.

The rain comes, pouring, flooding the arena, and I'm falling, barely registering the announcement. Barely hearing anything but the pounding of water in my ears.

"I give you the victor of the Forty-First Annual Hunger Games!" says the muffled voice. "The boy from District Seven, Proteus Anche!"

I sit there, hands in face. I killed her. Water pounds the back of my head. Now, I'm drowning, I think. Drowning in raindrops.

A/n:I can't believe the Games are over. Wow. This was a ride, ya'll. My heart is still pounding. I can't believe I'm one chapter away from finishing this.

Questions / Interaction:

Thoughts of the overall chapter?

Thoughts on Proteus as victor?

Would anyone be interesting in submitting to another one of my stories?

Deaths are based on realism, plot development, and if I struggled to capture your tribute's voice.

2nd. Female tribute from District Nine, Tassia Morrone. DA Member Hogwarts, Tassia was my favorite female tribute in this story. I can now admit this, haha. From the start, I had her pegged for top 5. Really, I wanted to take someone who resembled foxface (sly and calculating) but make them more confrontation and combative. I loved how calculating and observant she was. She truly was the one to beat from the start. And definitely a snake that kept her fangs hidden until the end. Thank you for submitting such a fiery character to my story.

Victor. Male Tribute from District Seven, Proteus Anche. Congratulations to Sophia. Truthfully, Proteus was my pick for victor from the start. After receiving his form, I wanted a character to win these games who didn't think for himself, who seemed lost, who would operate as more as a pawn until he had to be a leader, and who would really struggle with saying no to things after the Games. I wanted a character to win that wasn't a show stopper or wasn't the most predicted to win (hence, Rowena, Avanelle, Rahni, or Tassia). In the end, Proteus seemed like the character I wanted to take until the end.

Thank you all for submitting to my story. Last chapter should be posted soon-ish, as I'm excited to finally mark this story as complete.