Chapter I: Spring
~Don't wanna live as an untold story
Rather go out in a blaze of glory
I can't hear you, I don't fear you
I'll live now 'cause the bad die last~
I step into the tube, take in a deep breath, and close my eyes as the air cuts off all around me and the plates lift. Sunlight hits my eyelids and I open them to the sight of a bright arena in front of me. The sun is bright and unobstructed, a perfect spring day without a cloud in the sky, the temperature not hot or cold.
Behind me to the south and west are sparse green forests carved through with natural dirt trails. In front of to the north is open plains, a slowly descending hill that eventually leads to a large, baby blue lake with rivers running off of it in all directions. Finally, there's the east, jagged rock faces giving way to a mountain peak in the near distance.
It's a beautiful arena, but I don't spend too long on sightseeing. My eyes focus on the cornucopia as the countdown timer hits 40. Backpacks, sleeping bags, and a handful of knives scatter the ground leading up the metal hull at the center. The real loot is there, a small collection of swords, bows, knives, spears, shields, and a small, bright red backpack.
The timer hits 20 and I take a moment to look at the people surrounding me. Jedediah and Lakin are to my left, Azai to my right. Three of our five competitors are right beside me. My eyes fall over a small, hooked dagger laying on the ground about forty yards in front of me, right between my and Jedediah's path.
I take in a deep breath, hands running over my sides as I close my eyes for a brief moment and set myself into a running position. This is it. A lifetime of training is all up to this. How many Careers just like me have fallen during the bloodbath because they weren't strong enough? What's going to separate me from being just like them?
The thought worms its way into my mind at the worst possible moment. It's just a single second of hesitation, but the shudder runs through my body and my feet slip just as the timer hits 0 and a gong rings out.
I recover fast enough that it barely looks like anything has happened, but Jedediah is fast. I'm two paces behind him by the time I leap off my pedestal. Beside him, Lakin is dashing across the field to the center of the cornucopia faster than my feet can carry me. I refocus on Jedediah, eyes locked on him as I hope Azai has other worries on his mind than trying to blindside me.
Jedediah has the same idea that I do, and he leaps toward the dagger on the floor, his hands grasping around the dagger just as I arrive. I focus my momentum into a running kick, knocking the dagger out of his hand with a swift kick to the wrist.
I slow down into a roll, fingers tracing the handle. But he's quick to react, diving at me and tackling me to the floor before I can get a good enough grip. The dagger bounces away harmlessly as he lands on top of me. Luckily for me, he's not that strong, and a quick shove is enough to get him reeling off of me. I scramble to my feet and now it's my turn to tackle him, diving at his knees and picking him up. His head slams forcefully against the dirt, breaking his fall as the air expels from his body.
The dagger is in my hand a moment later. He attempts to crawl to his feet, one hand holding tightly to his ribs, but I don't give him the chance. His eyes shoot up to meet mine just as the dagger digs into his throat.
The motion is too drilled into my being, the look in his eyes too familiar, for it to slow me down. A flick of the rest and his throat spills open, his knees crumpling as he falls back off his knees and sinks into the grass.
I hop up to my feet, dagger held in defensive formation as I do a full spin to check my surroundings. Nobody else is looking to join in the fight. To my left, Pierre is closing in on the girl from Six, Kiera, a spear twirling in his hand and a smile on his face. To my right Ethan is on his knees, blood covering his hands as he kneels over a small corpse, his breath ragged.
I switch my focus to the cornucopia, slowly moving in as I grip the dagger, eyes shooting from side to side as I move towards the tall, golden longsword leaning against the metal at the center.
May is at the center, earbuds in as she holds a drawn bow in her hands, spinning in place as she scans her surroundings. Ainsley is rapidly sifting through the pile of weapons, her head on a swivel as she does so. Neither of them seems to notice Azai Zoltankild as he sprints away from the cornucopia, a spear in his arms, headed directly to where Pierre is standing over his district partner.
I shout out to Pierre, but he doesn't seem to hear, his lips moving as he twirls the spear in his hand dramatically, the girl from Six uselessly attempting to crawl away, a gash across her hamstring making it clear she's not threatening running any time soon. My eyes dance between the broadsword at the cornucopia, Pierre, and the boy from Six, and my decision comes without any sort of internal argument.
I flick the dagger to the best of my ability as I run, and it sails harmlessly to the side, accomplishing nothing but drawing Azai's attention my way. He looks away as quickly as he sees me, but the momentary distraction is enough for Pierre to stop playing with his food and finish his kill. His spear drips with blood as he digs it out of her chest.
Azai screams something unintelligible and throws the spear with all his might at Pierre. Some sort of sixth sense seems to kick in, and Pierre weaves to the side, the small movement being just enough to make the spear miss his gut and instead only slice against his thigh.
It's still enough to drop him to one knee and I bend down, scooping up another dagger that I run past and throwing it at Azai. This time I'm more on target and Azai has to fold back to avoid it, sliding to his knees as he drops under the blade.
He doesn't seem to need to stop and think about his next choice, quickly hopping back up to his feet and turning on a dime in the opposite direction, back to the cornucopia. I chase after, and seem to just barely be making progress, slowly closing in on him. Then he suddenly skids to a stop, his hand closing around a metal water canister that he throws at me.
I barely have time to react, my hand managing to shield my face even as the metal crashes against the side of my head. The pain is searing for the flash of an instant as I drop to the ground, hand instinctively going to cover the mark. I'm back up on my feet in another moment, pushing the pain and instinct away, but by then he's gone, sprinting through the now-empty cornucopia and toward the rocky mountains in the distance.
Pierre grunts as he limps up beside me, a spear in his hand and anger burning in his eyes as he watches the boy escape.
"Fuck," he says, slapping the butt of the spear into the ground. "How the fuck did he just run through the middle of the cornucopia? Where the fuck are our allies?"
I rub the bruise on my forehead and stalk over to the metal center of the cornucopia, sighing as I take the golden longsword in my hand and look over the battleground. "I don't know," I say, my voice robotic and automatic, not leaving room for a second of thought. "Let's go find out."
The plates lift.
Beams of sunlight fall over me, fresh air filling my lungs. All the opposite things of the stuffy, dark, boring catacombs I waited in all morning. Directly behind me there's the outskirts of a bright green forest, but my eyes fall right away to my left, the slowly descending hill that leads to a lake that looks all too familiar.
Memories flash through my mind, pleasant daydreams interjected by that one single moment.
The feeling of being totally submerged, saltwater on my lips, and a rumbling stillness in my ears. My head, bashing into the rock.
The cold quiet of a dark fall night, the wind biting bitterly at my skin, the loud uncomfortable chaos of their parties breaking into the calm of my lake, but it not meaning a thing because Nefeli is there, and there is quiet and calm and warm. Blood, trickling down my forehead, droplets of water still trickling through my fingers.
Ashuah and I, the world still young and bright and ours as we do cannonballs and frontflips into the water, our laughter rippling through the waves every time we're pulled under. The summer heat beating down on me, the world a dizzy haze, the blood and water dried around my fingertips as I stare up at the sun.
The gong rings, and I remember where I am. Not District One. Not yet. Just a bit longer. Then, I can take those memories and tear them in two, ripping the stitches that tie the good and the bad together. And it can be just the good.
I hop off my pedestal and it takes me no time at all to pass by the kids running beside me. I can't even be bothered to remember their districts, much less their names. District Eight, or Nine I think, all that matters is they're the small, tiny ones and they don't mean a single thing.
I ignore them, running until I reach far enough in that I find what I'm looking for, two bowie knives laid out elegantly on the ground. My hands wrap around them and that feeling surges through me. The feeling that only comes with my hands squeezing a cold steel handle and knowing there's nobody who can stand in my way.
One of those tiny outlier boys is scrambling to pick up a bag and I kick him in the back, forcing him to the ground. He doesn't even try to run, just covers his head as a meek squeak escapes from his throat. I grab him by the hair and lift him up, my blade slicing neatly against his throat before I toss him back to the grass.
"Elias!" a shrill voice shouts out. The source of the voice is the other of the two tiny outliers, the name Cyrus appearing in my head. He has a dagger in his hand and makes toward me, but one of the small outlier girls is there in an instant, shouting at him and grabbing him by the waist, trying to drag him away.
He shakes her off though, and she falls to the ground as he runs at me, screaming as he holds his dagger in the air. I drop one of my knives and grab his wrist as it's mid-motion. His battle cry turns to a pained yell. I turn it to silence a moment later, my knife digging into jaw and jutting out into his mouth. I yank the knife free and jab the blade into his eye a moment later.
His body falls to the dirt just next to his ally's. The girl seems locked in place, either frozen in fear or anger as she stares me in the eye. I take a step toward her and that's enough to get her to scurry off, bag thumping against her back as she sprints down the hill and off to the lake below. I don't bother following.
I walk back over to where I dropped my knife and pick it up, taking a moment to wipe off the blood with the sleeve of Elias's shirt. And it strikes me that there's no tingling in my gut. I don't feel strong or powerful or free, back to the person that I was before everything was ripped from me. I don't feel a single thing.
I look around, the knives held loosely in my hands as I wait for somebody else to appear in my sight. But there's nobody else. I can hear the sound of fighting loosely in the distance, but my feet don't feel spurred into action. There's no chaotic energy rippling through me, no sudden flip of the switch. My head still has that faint dull pain that's been stuck there since it hit the rock.
I feel exactly the same. I set down my knives, sit down in the grass next to the two boys that I killed, and I look out at the lake in the distance.
Ainsley Maris Sims
The plates lift.
The casual outfit they stuffed us in makes perfect sense as soon as I feel the warm, fresh air of the arena. Unless they turn down the temperatures to frigid levels when the sun falls down, the beige t-shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes they put us in will be more than enough to endure the weather. There don't even seem to be any bugs in the air or clouds in the sky. Every blade of grass is unbent. It's like the picture-perfect image of a spring day.
I'm not naive to think that it's going to stay that way.
Dead ahead across the cornucopia is a forest, while a hill and a lake is to my right and a mountain to my left. On the mountain-side of me are two of the smaller outliers, Tamika and Basila, then May. On the lake-side are Ceeja Giles and Thom Easton, the people that were our number one and two competitors, until the latter broke his leg.
My eyes are stuck on the boy from Ten. He has a boot on his foot, but that clearly isn't enough to support him. He's forced onto one knee just to keep his balance and is looking helplessly around him, peering from side to side. His eyes lock with mine for a second and they fill with fear as he quickly averts them.
I shake it off. There's no need to worry about him, he's not worth paying any attention to. Not when one of our biggest competitors is right beside me. I scan the cornucopia until I find what I'm looking for, a Katana sitting on a rack of weapons besides a handful of swords. I suck in a deep breath, crack my knuckles, and ready myself.
The gong rings.
I break into a sprint, eyes deadset on the Katana. But I'm distracted for a fraction of a second as I look to the left and see Tamika and Basila both running head-on for the cornucopia, May right beside them. It only slows me down a half of a step, but that's enough. Somebody collides into me from my right side, my balance nonexistent in my dead-sprint as I tumble roughly to the ground.
My ankle rolls and it screams out in protest as I hop back to my feet, but there's no time to waste complaining about pain, and nobody that would care. I bring up my fists, ready to fight back, but the culprit never even slowed down, Ceeja dashing through to the center of the cornucopia. He's the first one there and I follow after hesitantly.
Luckily he doesn't seem interested in doubling back for a fight, slowing down for just a half-second to grab a large backpack and a short sword before going right back to sprinting through the cornucopia towards the forest on the other side.
I shake my head and pick up my speed, eyes still locked on the weapon that I need to get in my hands. I look back to my left and Basila is gone, but Tamika is still sprinting to the Cornucopia, not seeming to notice anything else. She veers off to the very center and I think to follow, but May is closer to her and so I leave her to handle it and stay on my track.
I reach the pile of weapons and quickly shove aside the collection of daggers, spears and swords. I keep my head on a swivel, scanning my surroundings to make sure I don't get blindsided again. It slows me down, but it still isn't long before I get my hands on the Katana, the grip feeling familiar as I balance it on my finger to check the weight.
Once that's done, I turn to check my surroundings more carefully. The Cornucopia is oddly empty. May is the only other Career here, digging around in the center metal hull for weapons, her earbuds in leaving her completely helpless if anybody were to sneak up on her. If it were anyone else I might go to cover their back, but I can't be bothered to go for her. If the idiot wants to listen to music instead of her surroundings, let that be her own cannon.
I do another scan of my surroundings, and this time my eyes land on somebody. My muscles tense up, but I force myself to walk toward him, Katana held tight in my hands. Thom Easton has only made it a few feet from his pedestal, his hands digging into the ground as he does an awkward half-crawl towards the hill.
He seems to hear me coming and snaps his head around, that same rabid fear back in his eyes as he continues to crawl away. I push aside my feelings and focus on the physical, the feeling of the grip, the balance and weight of it in my hands. The soft insoles of my feet. The light breeze that carries the scent of flowers and budding grass and the ever-so-faint traces of death.
"Please, please, just wait," he begs, looking up at me now with water in his eyes. "You don't have to kill me, I– I can't even hurt you. You could just let me go and it wouldn't matter one bit, please I don–"
His voice cuts off as the blade cuts through his heart. He gasps for air and I pull out the blade, flicking the wet blood away before bringing it to my side. I look away, not wanting to see him anymore. Not wanting to hear him or even think about him or what I just did.
Because I shouldn't have to. I'm just doing what I'm supposed to, what has to happen. It's nothing more than that. It's nothing about me or who I am or what I want.
I turn around and head back to the cornucopia, shoving aside the thoughts that I don't have answers for right now.
The plates lift.
The paper is still in my hand, so I shove it into my pockets. The arena comes into view, and it all suddenly feels a thousand times more real. I've never been stupid enough to not believe that I was going into the Games. From the moment that my name was called, I've been expecting to die a sudden pointless death in this arena, just the same as Amara. But bitter thoughts and resignation are a lot different when the moment is actually there.
One of the Careers is to my right, the small one from District One. Cambria is to my left, and another Career is right to the left of her. She offers me a meek wave and mouths good luck to me. I clench my fists to stop the shakes that want to run through my body and nod back.
The first temptation is to ignore the cornucopia in front of me and run as far away from it as possible. But behind me is rocky terrain and a towering mountain. I would have a hard time staying alive in a forest bursting with berries and nuts and wildlife. How am I supposed to survive in a barren mountain with nothing but the clothes on my back?
I look back to my left. Cambria isn't looking at me anymore, her face set in determination as she eyes the cornucopia. Next to her, the Career from District Four is looking between her and the center, his feet shifted ever so slightly in her direction. I bite my tongue and look closer at the Career to my right.
Her hands are shaking as she plugs in a pair of earbuds, readjusts the clip of a small orange box at her waist, and clicks a button on it. Her eyes are closed, hands curling and uncurling at her side, and I decide to take my chances, shifting myself into a running stance.
The gong rings, I hesitate for just a fraction of a second, and I break for the cornucopia. I run by flasks of water and small knives, not wanting to slow down and stay here for a moment more than I need to.
A beige backpack is sitting on the floor just beside a rolled-up sleeping bag and I make for that, scooping up the sleeping bag before going for the backpack. My hands loop around the strap at the same time as somebody else, and I look up to see myself face to face with the girl from Eight.
I hesitate, unsure of what to do. She does the same, but recovers quicker, swiftly kicking me in the ankle and diving for the bag. The girl is tiny and the kick hardly hurts, but just the surprise of it is alone enough for me to stumble back. By the time I recover the bag is looped around her back and she's sprinting off in the opposite direction.
I make to follow for a second but then quickly shake it off. The last thing I need to do is get in a chase around the cornucopia. It's just a backpack. There has to be another one somewhere around here. I just need to find it and then follow her example and run as hard and fast as I can in the opposite direction.
With that decision made, I spin around and continue my search. I don't have to look far. Lying dead on the ground just a few dozen yards away is Cambria, face in the dirt and backpack still strapped to her back.
The Career that killed her doesn't seem to notice me, his focus on the center of the cornucopia as the girl from Twelve sprints across, scooping up a backpack as he dashes by. I scamper over to Cambria, dropping to my knees at her side. My hands are shaking as I fumble with the straps, looping them off of her shoulders.
I flip her onto her back as I rip the backpack off of her. I'm ready to throw it on and run away before a sound stops me in my tracks, a quiet whimper escaping her as I'm stuck looking face to face with my district partner.
Blood is pooling up at her stomach, soaking through her shirt and dripping onto the grass beside her. Her skin is already pale and her hand is cold as it reaches out desperately to try to take hold of mine.
I lurch back and am ready to run, but find my feet stuck in place. Her eyes look unfamiliar. The whole time I've known her she's only ever been smiles and joy and laughter. Now she just looks sad, scared.
"Please," she stammers out in a soft voice. Her lips are shaking, her bright blue eyes soaked with tears. "Don't leave me alone."
Adrenaline is still pumping through my system, making it impossible for me to land on any rational thoughts. There's no stream of consciousness running through my mind, just instinct and fear and action. So I don't know why, but I find myself dropping to my knee, taking hold of her hand.
I see Amara in front of me, spear in her gut, alone in that cold forest while I sit a thousand miles away in our living room. And I hold her hand tighter, squeezing as if to make her know that I'm here, that she isn't alone.
Her hand goes slack. I let go and it falls to the floor, her eyes locked open as she stares up at the sky. I stand up slowly, carefully putting the backpack on as I turn around.
And see the girl from District One, bow drawn, aimed at me.
We're both locked in place. She's only a dozen yards away, her body completely still aside from the faint expansion and compression of her chest with every breath. I wait for the arrow to come, for her fingers to release and send me away.
But it doesn't. We both stay frozen, unmoving, her narrowed eyes staring at mine, an angry look etched onto her features. I take a step back. She flinches, but her fingers stay unmoving. I take another step back. Another. And another.
Before long I'm back to my pedestal and I turn around, breaking into a dead sprint as I head for the shallow treeline in the distance, trying not to trip over rocks with each step. I keep waiting for the arrow to whistle through the air, for a sharp feeling to pierce my chest and my breath to suddenly cease.
But it never comes. So I just keep on running, until I'm far away from the cornucopia and Cambria and the girl from District One, and the cannons begin to fire off.
A/N: And the Games have officially begun. A quick couple notes about what to expect: first of all I don't do confirmed kills or eulogies until the faces show in the sky. Second, I'm going to structure these games the same way as I did in Last of Us, which is to say that on top of having the games split into chapters, they'll also be split into, uh, "chapters" (books? idk, I need a name for them). Basically, every 3 or 4 updates or so make up one "chapter" and each "chapter" focuses on one location/event/group. So sometimes a character might disappear for 4 updates and then suddenly have a pov in every single one for the next 4.
And that's about it. I'm so excited to finally be in the arena, and have so many exciting things planned that I'm looking forward to y'all seeing. With all that out of the way, I hope y'all enjoyed, and I'll see y'all next time. Peace.