A Vivid Note: I'd like to apologise for the periods of inactivity between updates. Let it be known that I have a deadline for this story, and that deadline is June. I have every intention of having the Capitol Games finished by that time.
Thank you to all the readers who have picked this story up along the way and left me feedback, it's really been a lovely surprise to see a new reader leaving their thoughts on the story so far. I'm sorry I don't reply to reviews, but if you ever want to talk about something my inbox is always open, even if it's just a chat.
I've been receiving a lot of messages inquiring about openings in future stories. I'm afraid that I've filled up my tribute quota for the Capitol Games series (this includes the Vicious, Revenge, Torture and Revenge games) …however, I am now considering starting a second series to run alongside the Capitol Games. Considering, since it's not the best decision since I'm already undertaking quite a bit with the Capitol Games series.
The winner of the third 'Special Event' is announced at the bottom of this chapter. Thank you to everyone who participated, it was fun to read your interpretations!
Capitol Question #29; if you could magically be skilled in any one aspect of your choosing what would it be? (E.g. Archery, running, climbing, punching, smooth-talking etc.)
The Capitol Games
Faye-Anna Cholores; 14 years; the Capitol Sector 6.
I feel numb. My whole body is tingling with an unfamiliar sensation, almost like it has been engulfed with hot and cold together. It's strange and frightening and makes me want to cry before I even open my eyes. What will happen when I wake up? Will something horrible be waiting for me when I open my eyes? I don't want to wake up. I don't want to see it. Can't I just keep my eyes closed and fall asleep here, forever…?
But I can't sleep. My body is sprawled out into an odd position, and it twinges and trembles in an unsettling way when I try to curl myself up onto my side. For a few minutes I simply lie still and wiggle each of my fingers and toes, one by one, just to make sure that they're all still there. Little by little the numbness subsides, and I'm left with a funny sort of buzzing rippling through my veins.
What happened? It was raining. It was raining really, really hard… and Ferroh and I were running. But why were we running? My head hurts as I struggle to remember the reason. Were we being chased? I don't… no… I don't remember anyone chasing us… only all that wind and rain… and…
My eyes finally flutter open as there's a faint flashing of light inside my memory, then a strong, blinding flash of light.
We were running from the lightning. Ferroh and I, we were being chased through the forest by great bolts of lightning. I struggle to push myself up out of the clotting mud, my arms shaking tremendously under my weight. That's right. The lightning… the Gamemakers' lightning was attacking us, but… but I tripped. Sitting up slowly, I delicately reach up and brush my fingers across the top of my forehead, the beginning of my hairline. A painful, scabby wound throbs beneath my fingertips and I intake sharply.
"Ouch…" I wince, pulling my hand away. A smidgeon of blood stains my middle and index fingers, and I wearily rub it off on my soaking wet tribute jacket.
So I fell down and hit my head… that much I understand. But… where's Ferroh? I can feel my deadened nerves springing to life as I remember my ally. What happened to him? Where is he? I begin to look around, slowly at first, but rapidly descending into panic. He should be here. There's no way Ferroh would leave me here alone… would he? There's just no way he would do that… not after everything else we've been through together.
But that tiny little voice of paranoia begins to whisper nastily in the back of my mind-
He could have… there's nothing stopping him, after all… leave you here… leave you to die…
Clenching my eyes tight and fighting the aching pain in my head, I banish the little voice far away. Ferroh wouldn't leave me unless he absolutely had to. If he isn't here, he can't have gone too far.
It's still too hard to stand on my feet, so I drag myself across the forest floor in search of any sort of sign of Ferroh. The ground is still heavily carpeted by the fallen orange leaves, but it's clear to see where someone has or hasn't stood. I can make out the deep dents of my own footsteps only a few feet away from where I passed out. And there are Ferroh's! But these aren't leading away… at least I don't think they are… so where is he? He's got to still be around here… I'm just not looking hard enough…
Since the sun hasn't fully risen yet it's a little hard to see too far, but I can make out most of my surroundings as my eyes adjust the low light level. With the help of the nearby tree I manage to pull myself upright, and after a few false starts that almost end with me face down in the dirt I begin to walk. My head throbs and I feel slightly nauseated. I think I might be concussed. Clutching my head, I stagger to the next tree, and as I go to rest against it my foot nudges something heavy.
Hidden in the dark and blurred by my vision, I am not at all prepared to find my foot digging into Ferroh's side.
My scream is heard only by the birds nestled high above our heads. Ferroh shows no signs of movement as I drop to his side; gripping at my hair and feeling my body overcome with panic. Is he dead? Oh god, oh god- he can't be dead! My chest tightens around my heartbeat. Ferroh can't have died. There's just no way. There's no way—!
Without any of the hesitation I had when I examined his rib, I press my ear hard against his breast and stop breathing entirely. Give me a heartbeat. A sign. Something that proves you're alive, Ferroh. Please. Please give me something…
I'm trembling with fear and desperation as I press my ear as hard as I can into the folds of his soaking shirt jacket. I can't hear anything but the sound of my own heart pounding inside my eardrums. This isn't working. It's the clothes—they're in the way. Disregarding my squeamish nature, I don't waver in unzipping Ferroh's jacket and peeling it from his skin before yanking his thin tribute shirt up to his chest and then ramming my ear back against his chest.
Come on… something… something…!
Tears are starting to creep sideways from my eyes and drip onto his still body, but I don't budge out of fear of missing that tiny sign of life I'm holding out for. It's there. It has to be. He's cold but he's alive, I know it. After all, would his body have been taken away by the hovercraft if he was dead? My heartbeat relaxes a little as I think of this. That's right. They'd have taken him away. He's alive. He's alive. Ferroh-
Slowly, biting back my bottom lip as I start to cry, I pull up his sleeves and press my thumb against his wrist. The veins are strangely prominent, and when I push the pad of my thumb into them I almost jump from the amazingly strong beat that pulses through him.
A smile springs across my face even though the tears continue to fall. "You… you are alive—!"
Thank Heavens! I throw my arms around Ferroh and wriggle them under his back in order to hug him. I know he probably can't feel it, but I need to express this gratitude somehow. It's as I'm pressed against his cold, wet skin that I realise that I'm hugging a half-naked boy and my body reverts from being joyous straight back to alarm.
Embarrassed and wondering what my family thinks, I pull his shirt down over his stomach. "B-Better cover you up, Ferroh…"
Water welts up out of the fabric as I squeeze it. This makes me pause. There's no telling when he'll wake up; is it safe to keep him clothed in these freezing wet garments? I remember reading somewhere that doing that is dangerous. He could come down with hypothermia or something worse that I don't know about.
Blushing madly, I remain completely still as I think hard on what it is that I'm seriously considering doing.
…if… if it's to keep him from getting sick… I'm sure he won't mind if… if I do this…
So, with extreme caution, I begin to remove his tribute jacket.
'Sorry for this, Ferroh! I swear I'm only doing it for your well-being and not… not any other reason!'
Francesca von Bardot; 16 years; the Capitol Sector 3.
Sunlight! Sun, sun— it's the sun! I'm so excited to see the brightness twinkling about the cavern when I wake up that before any of the others have even woken up I've already sprinted out of the cave's mouth and lifted my arms up in the biggest stretch I can manage.
"Yahoo~!" I sing, a little louder than I probably should. "Good morning, good morning!"
Letting my arms fall back to my sides, I smile as wide as I possibly can and hope that somewhere nearby there is a camera to show Mirabelle and Charlotte that I'm alright. That last night's awful weather didn't put a damper on my spirits in the slightest. To bring it home I do a little spin on the balls of my feet before sitting down to bask in the sunlight beside our little pond of clear blue water so I can dip my toes in.
It's a really beautiful day. The sunbeams are warm, the water is cool, and the grass is so lush and soft under my back as I lay down just to enjoy the rare tranquillity of it all. I even take off my jacket and fold it under my head for a pillow. Everything is so comfortable compared to the cold insides of the caves that I find myself drifting into pleasant daydreams. Even that tiny voice of reason that feels the need to constantly remind me where I am falls silent and enjoys the peace.
Minutes pass with nothing but the sounds of the trickling water and a few singing birds far in the distance. It's so warm and cosy that I seriously consider falling asleep, only for a shadow to suddenly eclipse the sunlight and my warmth to be stolen. I feel a chill run through my arms as something soft brushes against my forehead.
A leaf? I go to swat it away with the back of my hand, but my hand connects with something that feels nothing at all like one. Startled, the foreign object yelps.
"A-Ah, Chess! I thought you were–"
Opening one eye, I'm a little surprised to see Holland stumbling back a step and waving his arms frantically at me. I swing upright and twist around to face him, smiling a dopey grin at my alarmed friend.
"When did you wake up?" I ask cheerfully, amused that he's suddenly become so ruffled.
Holland covers his eyes with his hand as he slowly begins to calm down. "You… you woke me up when you left… I just uh… didn't want to disturb whatever you were doing…"
Ah. He thought I had run off to pee. No wonder he's so embarrassed. I try to look appreciative but I'm positive that he can see right through my polite little smile and see that I'm giggling like mad on the inside. He knows me too well. I'd like to think that I know him well too, but there's so much doubt in him that I guess I probably don't.
Oh well. I'm comfortable enough with what I do know about him. He crouches down beside me and stares down at the little pool of water, and I turn to watch him as his face relaxes into a happy expression. The sunlight reflecting on the water causes a nice effect across Holland as if he were underwater.
This is a nice moment. I grin a little and playfully nudge Holland with my shoulder. He's confused for a split second before he smiles as well and gently pushes his shoulder against mine.
"I like it here," I say, looking at him for a moment before going back to gazing at the water. "It sure beats wandering about through the forest or those ice caves."
Laughing awkwardly, Holland nods once in agreement. "Yeah, it's much nicer here… you know, for… for here."
For an arena, I think he means.
Silence settles down on us as we simply sit together, side by side. Suddenly the sense of peace I was enjoying is back, only this time I'm no longer alone in appreciating it. Having Holland beside me somehow makes everything so much nicer, even when it shouldn't be. Even when we were struggling through those ice caves with Kori' supported between us he still managed to make it feel like fun rather than a chore.
I do wish we had our cannon though. I purse my lips a little as I think of our baby made of welded steel. Maybe we could convince everyone to head back through the caves once Kori' is better. I'm sure they won't mind since it's only natural to move camps now and then to be safe.
Studying my no-doubt vacant, wistful expression, Holland tilts his head with confusion. "What are you thinking about?"
"Nothing," I say automatically. Holland looks a little dejected at my blank answer, so I give him a weedy smile. "…our cannon."
Hearing the word 'cannon' makes Holland's eyes widen in surprise. He no doubt had forgotten all about it. All too quickly his body tenses and he sucks in his bottom lip as he begins to worry about our little power house.
"Right, I—uh—forgot about… the cannon…" His eyes dart about his outstretched feet so not to look me in the eye. "…can't we just… forget about that thing?"
The sheer level of disappointment I feel is astronomical. Holland almost throws himself backwards from the appalled expression I give him.
"Well, it's n-not like we can even get it right now!" He explains hurriedly, waving his hands about as if they illustrate his point. "A-and what would we even use it for? There's nothing here that can't be t-taken down with swords or, or something—!"
I don't even bother to pretend that I'm listening. I scoot forwards towards him with such intensity that he falls onto his back and just shrinks into the ground as I hover above him with my nose almost touching his.
"Holland," I scold, pointing my index finger against his chest. "That cannon is important to 's a precious symbol of our supporters! We can't just ditch it because it's too heavy and inconvenient. Would you ditch me if I was heavy and inconvenient?"
My friend and Sector partner doesn't budge. In fact, he doesn't even breathe. His eyes are fixed on mine and his mouth is slightly ajar. Narrowing my eyes and fighting back a smile, I raise my voice and repeat myself.
"Would you ditch me if I was heavy and inconvenient?"
Surprised, I relax my accusing finger as Holland stares at me with an uncharacteristic certainty. I wasn't expecting him to answer with a 'maybe' or anything, but I wasn't really counting on Holland suddenly looking so serious about it.
Still, it's a welcome surprise. My mouth curls into a smile. He's really changed from the downtrodden boy who confided his worries in me back on the chariot.
Although, there's one thing that still bothers me about what he said. Just as Holland begins to smile, I push him back down again. Before he has the chance to struggle- not that he seems to be doing much struggling- I jam my finger back against his nose.
"Why didn't you deny that I was heavy?"
The terrified look on his face is absolutely priceless. All of his courage from before drains out of his face and he's left with nothing but a flapping mouth trying to apologise. I'm enjoying the moment, but suddenly Holland's eyes light up with surprise.
"Chess! Up there-!"
Tilting my head upwards to where Holland is now pointing, I see them.
Holland Wickbird; 16 years; the Capitol Sector 3.
Ten days in, and we're still getting sponsor items! This is so much more than I could have ever expected. Chess scrambles off me and stands upright, reaching her arms up to catch whatever it is that's slowly making its way down towards us. I sit up and watch as what initially looked like a small sponsor gift grows larger and larger as it descends. By the time it reaches Chess' outstretched arms it proves to be a bulky backpack as big as her torso.
"What is this?" Chess asks curiously, pulling the large shimmering parachute from the bag. "It's really heavy…"
As I pick up the parachute and begin folding it—it might be useful later— she turns the pack around in her hands to inspect it. Her mouth opens in a little 'o' of surprise, and before I ask her what it is that's puzzled her she shows me a little embroidered patch on the arm of the bag that shows a rectangular looking number eight.
My hopes sink through my stomach. So it's not meant for us, it's for Diego or Koriana. Judging on their current states of health, probably Diego. For a moment there I thought this was a gift for Chess and I, but I guess we've already been sent our extravagant gift… in the form of a bulky cannon too hard to move.
Thinking about the cannon makes my face feel hot as I remember what Chess and I were just doing. She was on top of me with her face barely inches from my own. I was so nervous I thought I was going to vomit again, or at least spew out everything I've been feeling these past few days. Since my talk with Marshall I've been thinking a lot on this friendship between Chess and I, and how I'm beginning to realise that I feel so much more towards her than just… 'Friendship'.
But I don't want to tell her. As Chess tells me to wait here while she gets Diego I know that I couldn't say anything like that. These are the Hunger Games and if I said something stupid like 'I think I'm in love with you' it might… it might cause trouble for her.
So I swallow my feelings again, and decide to be content with what we already have. I'm lucky enough to be friends with such a wonderful, beautiful girl; I don't need to ruin that. This much is enough.
At least that's what I'm going to keep telling myself.
"See? It's right there!"
Francesca bounds out of the cave with all the energy of a firecracker as a very groggy looking Montserrat staggers after her. Diego mustn't have wanted to leave Koriana's side. Chess picks up the bag and graciously hands it over to Montserrat, who takes it with a strangely puzzled expression. Guess he wasn't expecting any more sponsor gifts either.
"We best take a look." Montserrat kneels down and unzips the first of three pockets that make up the middle section of the pack. "Let's see what we have here…"
With meticulous care, Montserrat begins to unpack the bag onto the dirt in front of us. The back pocket houses three neatly folded blankets and a rectangular piece of foam, most likely to be used as a pillow. The middle pocket has spare shirts and socks, and beneath it has a pair of boots obviously sized for Diego's large-set feet. There's also a pair of goggles- the ones that enable night vision- and a nose plug for swimming. Then there's the third pocket that has a tent kit, an empty canteen of water and a tiny box of biscuits.
But it's the front pocket that really surprises us. It can be entirely unattached from the bag and become a little pouch all on its own. Opening it up reveals a cruel looking knife with a serrated edge, a lighter, a coiled length of copper wire, a shiny compass, a whistle and a circular metal object all neatly arranged inside. We're all so surprised at the contents that no one speaks. We just sit there, marvelling at this extravagant gift meant for Diego.
It's hard not to feel jealous of Diego's sponsors; they've really gone all out for him. Completely above and beyond. This pack alone has everything a tribute could ever possibly need. It must have cost an absolute fortune to send. Enough to buy a house. That's how much he's worth to them.
A tiny little voice inside me thinks, how much am I worth?
Montserrat reattaches the front pocket full of treasures to the bag and stands up. Thanking us for being outside to receive the gift- who knows what might have happened if it fell down with no one to claim it- he takes it back into the cave and says that he'll be back out shortly. It'll be time for breakfast soon and they'll be refilling the canteens. After spending all night in the ice cavern with the rain screaming outside it's really hard to blame any of us for wanting to enjoy the sun while it lasts. While we can.
Just as Montserrat has disappeared inside of the cave and I'm ready to sit back down again I hear Chess give a little shout of surprise. I spin around, alarmed and thinking the worst- only to hear-
"Another one! It's another one!"
My jaw falls open. This time it's me twisting my neck skywards and reaching up to grab a hold of whatever is coming down. Is this one for us? Chess is hugging me from behind and still points up at it, this little tiny silver dot that doesn't really get that much bigger as it drifts down to meet us. The moment it's within my reach I manage to catch the little box, but Chess steals it away and goes to unwrap it.
I practically screech as I rip the half-opened box from her hands. "Chess! You can't just open it up!"
The cute little sour expression of hers is back. She wants to open this one, even if it isn't for us. Perhaps she would've if it wasn't for me being here to tell her not to. With a big sigh that she's clearly putting on to let me know I'm being no fun, she hands over the box and gives me a little smile to show that she won't hold it against me.
"Thanks," I murmur, a little embarrassed at my outburst. "Let's go tell the others and—"
Whatever I am saying is interrupted as the shouting starts. I almost drop the box when I hear the sound of a girl shrieking inside the cave. Screaming out someone's name, as the guys come piling out of the cave with supplies and the still unconscious Koriana slung over their shoulders.
Natalia Marinos; 17 years; the Capitol Sector 2.
I really underestimated how quickly Brandit and I were going to blow through our water supply. We've only been out here a few days and we only have a mouthful each left in our canteens. I want to kick myself for being so wasteful. If only we had thought to use that horrible rain to refill the bottles instead of just falling asleep!
Brandit sighs loudly next to me. "Natalia, you really need to stop making that noise."
"What noise?" I ask, feeling offended. "I'm not making any noise!"
"Yes you are," he says dully. "You keep wheezing. If you're tired we can take a break?"
It isn't until he points it out that I notice that I've been huffing and puffing with every step that I take. I'm so embarrassed that I stop breathing entirely for a moment and, after a moment, inhale as deeply as possible. This is humiliating. Here I am, constantly wanting to look strong, and I'm panting out loud like some worn out mongrel. God.
"You know, it's not a sin to get tired," Brandit says with a weary smile. "If you keep this up-"
I tune out before Brandit embarks on his sure to be pointless lecture. I'm well aware that I don't have to push myself this hard. I'm doing this because if I don't I'll regret it if I die. I'll blame myself for not doing everything I could.
So I can't take a break. Not now. Not ever. Not unless I want to die with more regrets than I already have.
"—and I thought you agreed yesterday that going back was the best option?" Brandit stops me by grasping my shoulder. "Did you forget?"
Cringing at the memory, I quietly wish that I hadn't agreed yesterday. Or that Brandit at least had the courtesy to forget I had agreed.
"I didn't… forget," I mutter quietly, avoiding Brandit's stare. "I just… I changed my mind, okay? I don't want to go back to the cornucopia, I want to keep moving. I want to find those idiots and-"
"And what?" Brandit's smile slips from his face. "Do you really think you're going to be able to kill them when you're like this?"
Hearing him say that ticks me off, and I don't even bother hiding the fact I'm annoyed. With a sudden sweeping motion I push Brandit's hand off my shoulder and step away from him, wanting as much distance as possible between us.
"Like this?" I repeat coldly, narrowing my eyes. "Can I ask what you mean by that, exactly?"
Rather than backpedal as fast as possible from his careless statement as I had expected him to, Brandit's now free hands clench and unclench as he surveys me with a surprisingly stern expression.
"Natalia, you barely have the strength to walk." His voice is hard and cold. "Do you really believe that you have the power to fight? To kill?"
"Yes, I do actually!" I try not to snap, but it's a force of habit to get angry when I'm being called weak. "What, do you want me to prove it? Want me to demonstrate on you or something?"
This is his chance to save himself a lot of pain. I'm giving him an opportunity to stop belittling me and let us get moving again. I stand and wait for his sheepish smile to return or for a look of alarm to quickly retake his features- but I don't at all expect the scowl that appears instead.
With his legs slightly parted, fully prepared for a blow, Brandit clenches his fists. "Try me."
…is he joking? I do my best not to gawk at him and hold his stare. A chill runs up my spine and makes its home at the back of my neck as I try and size up if he's being serious or not. Is Brandit challenging me? Is he goading me into hitting him so he can kill me? Or is he just convinced that I won't have the guts to hit him, thereby admitting defeat?
Whatever the reason, my anger quickly replaces my surprise and builds quickly into fury.
Okay. I'll call his bluff. I'll smash that stupid look right off his face if that's what it takes to keep moving-!
The second I leap towards him I realise that this is the first time I've fought since I attacked Cotton. Brandit doesn't dodge me, instead catching me by the shoulders and flinging me aside like a child discarding a doll. I drop to one knee, barely avoiding the fall. Suddenly I realise that Brandit isn't looking to hurt me, he's just looking to show that I can't bring him down.
My resolve to punch this idiot in the face burns stronger.
"Do you think I won't hit you—?" I hiss through my teeth as I lunge again.
Jumping aside this time, Brandit narrows his eyes as he crouches slightly, awaiting my next move. "It's not that I think you wouldn't. For you just hitting someone is fine."
As he says this, his body suddenly twists to face me. Before I can even try and guess what his intentions are- his clenched fist comes lashing out of nowhere and cracks hard against the same cheek Marshall hit during the bloodbath.
'—just hitting someone—"
He doubles back as I hunch over. Shock seizes each of my limbs as I try and register what happened. Brandit just punched me. Brandit just punched me. I glance up at him whilst clutching at the side of my bruised face as it throbs and aches, feeling oddly terrified at the boy who looms over me, fists still at the ready.
"You… you seriously just…?" I can barely form the words. "Did you just punch me?"
Brandit's severe expression hardens. "If it's alright for you to punch me, why shouldn't it be alright for me to punch you?"
For a second I want to blurt out 'because you're a boy', when I realise how ridiculous that sounds. I've been punched by a boy before. By my brother, and by Marshall. But this is different. Nate would punch me in play. Marshall was trying to hurt me. What is Brandit trying to accomplish by hitting me?
"Natalia, I know you can't kill anyone. And by that I don't mean that you're too weak to kill a person."
Kneeling down in front of me, Brandit gently raises his fist and taps it against my nose as I continue to stare blankly at him. Slowly, his apologetic smile forms across his lips once more.
"I mean that you aren't willing to kill them. You just aren't prepared to murder someone," he says, unfurling his fist and placing his palm against my forehead. "Just hitting them is fine. Cutting them is fine. But killing them isn't."
You're wrong, I want to say, I can kill them. I can kill them all. I could kill you.
But instead, I feel my cheek sting as the tears begin to trickle out of my eyes.
"I…" My body trembles. I break eye-contact and stare at our boots. At the dirt. "…I…"
I haven't killed anyone. I've had the chance, and I couldn't do it. With Jason, and with Cotton. I had them there, but something in me held me back. Something jammed and my whole body would stop moving. So Brandit finished off Jason, and Brandit chased off Cotton.
Brandit is the one who has done everything. Right from the very beginning, he's the one who has done everything. I have done nothing.
And the realisation makes me feel so hollow that I want to scream.
No more than a whisper, but he can hear me. The pad of his thumb touches upon one of the embedded gems in my cheek in response. He's always listening. I swallow the lump in my throat as more tears creep down my burning cheeks.
"...what am I going to do… when we're finally in a situation where it's… where it's kill or be killed…?"
Without any real reason to, Brandit laughs quietly.
"You're going to live."
There's the slightest of pauses. Then-
"Because I would kill the whole lot of them for you."
Montserrat Saint-Phillipe; 18 years; the Capitol Sector 9.
Cotton Ferier; the girl from Sector 11. Just like the rest of us it looks like she's seen better days. She comes crawling out of the mouth of the ice cave we were just taking shelter in, dragging along not only a beat-up leg but what looks like a broken arm. Breathing hard and heavy, Cotton stares about with manic eyes for the one she's looking for. She screamed out 'Vinel'- the name of the last tribute who died- almost like it was a battle-cry. It's hard to tell if she's screaming for him or to him.
Not that it matters. The second we make it to where the trees meet our ice cave's clearing we're preparing ourselves for the inevitable fight that we've all been waiting to present itself. Diego takes Koriana, still wrapped up in her sleeping bag, and hides her amongst the tree roots while dumping his new pack behind him as if it was worth nothing in comparison. Marshall practically tears his way through two of the four duffle bags, emerging only when his knuckle dusters- still dirty with the blood of Natalia's cheek from our first day- are fitted snugly over his fingers again.
"Let's take her down now," he spits, narrowing his eyes with intense dislike. "Before the bitch gets the chance to try anything."
Diego throws his arm in front of Marshall and quickly shakes his head. "Do not be rash. We have no idea how dangerous this girl might be."
Marshall relents and backs away a step, but his fists are still raised and clenched tight. It's clear to see that he's desperate to do away with this girl as quickly as possible. For the first time I find myself agreeing more with his reasoning than Diego's. Regardless of her allegiance now, she was part of Natalia's career group. That alone certifies that this battered girl is trouble.
Something hard is pushed into my hand, and I'm surprised to find the handle of Diego's brand new knife being pressed there. Diego looks at me with that intense stare that says he knows what he's doing, and I don't question it. I could never question it. I grip the handle and feel a familiar surge of power ebb through me as my fingers curl around my new weapon.
Turning, I watch as Cotton steadies herself on her feet, saliva dripping from her gaping mouth as she heaves out of exhaustion. She truly looks mad. Cotton wipes the drool away with the back of her hand and flicks it somewhere to the ground. She doesn't give a shit about appearances right now. Her wild mismatched eyes finally find where we stand and, her entire body rising up like an angry snake; she lets out an ear-piercing shriek.
"WHERE IS HE?"
I wonder for a moment if this is the first time I've heard Cotton speak, when I realise that her voice has changed dramatically since I last heard her speak during the interviews. Her young, feminine voice that spoke lovingly of her family has fallen into the harsh, cold tone now harassing us. Everything about her has changed, and whoever she was before is long gone.
Bristling with irritation, Cotton strides forwards past the pond towards us and shouts again. "Vinel! Where is he? Where the fuck is Vinel?"
There's no beating around the bush with this girl; it's clear that she's not looking to make friends. Cotton steps forward again and reaches over her shoulder for what must be her weapon, and that's finally when Diego stands out of Marshall's way. I catch his eye before he kneels down and picks up the lance he took from the cornucopia. He's ready for the worst. She's ready to fight us, so he's willing to fight back. We all are.
But it's the only one of us who isn't armed that responds first. Francesca, shielded only by a horrified looking Holland gripping to an unused knife, watches Cotton with what looks like pity.
"Vinel is dead," she says slowly, her hands clutching Holland's sleeves. "He died. He died two days ago. We saw his face up there."
Feebly, Francesca points to the sky with a trembling hand. Cotton's rasping comes to a sudden stop and, as if trying to discern whether or not Francesca is making it up, she looks up at the forest canopy and stares blankly. She opens and closes her eyes, and for a moment it's like she's seeing something she wishes would go away. Cotton's entire body begins to shake.
"…you're lying…" Her voice cracks as her eyes open and close a few more times. "You're lying, you're lying, you're lying, you're lying, you're lying—"
"We're not lying!" Marshall shouts, interrupting her muttering. "So hurry up and scurry back to tell Marinos the bad news, or else the next face in the sky is going to be yours."
Freezing at the mention of Natalia's name, Cotton slowly looks at Marshall. Then, like remembering something long repressed, a scowl spreads across her face.
"So, this is where you've been hiding?" Cotton hisses, gripping the hollowed out stick she had slung over her back. "Seriously? For all this time… while everyone else out there is fighting… and dying… and struggling just to keep going… what are you lot doing…? You're all just sitting around having some damn picnic?"
With a shriek of frustration, Cotton digs deep into her pocket and brings out a metal object and wedges it in the top end of the tube. Suddenly realising what it is that she's holding, Diego, Marshall and I lunge forwards as she screams again-
"THESE ARE THE HUNGER GAMES—!"
It's Marshall who reaches her first. He strikes his fist so hard into Cotton's eye that she is sent flying back a foot that she barely remains on her feet. Her injured leg buckles slightly under her, but as Diego swings the sharp end of the lance at her knees she does the impossible and jumps clear of the swing. Staggering back, she struggles to keep herself upright as she runs as fast as she can towards Holland and Francesca, her blow-gun readied again-
"—SO STOP DAMN PRETENDING THAT YOU ALL LOVE EACH OTHER!"
Ducking and running, Cotton skids to a brief stop as Holland waves his knife out at arm's length towards her. With a burst of laughter, she rams forwards and knocks the boy onto his ass, but the second she's doubled back to move again Francesca has thrown herself on top of her and the two disappear a whirlwind of hair and fists.
"Chess!" Holland throws himself forward, trying to pry his friend free of Cotton's thrashing. "You- you- GET AWAY FROM CHESS-!"
And, as Cotton pins down Francesca with a triumphant grin on her face, Holland swings his knife down hard into the Sector 11 girl's shoulder blade. Yelping, the girl snaps backwards- the knife still embedded deep into her shoulder- and shoves Holland away from her. He tumbles backwards, and Chess protectively pushes herself on top of him, flattening him against the ground and out of Cotton's sight. There's no point though, Cotton has something worse to deal with now.
Now that Diego's found her.
Her legs sprawled out beneath her, shivering and shaking in pain, Cotton barely has time to look up when Diego's lance comes thrusting down through her stomach. Everyone stops breathing as Diego's grip tightens around the staff, eyes contorting with anger as the girl stares up at him in horror and disbelief. Even I stop dead in my tracks behind him as I watch Cotton's mouth open and close noiselessly.
'Is this really happening?' her face asks. 'Did you just…?'
Answering her unasked question, Diego suddenly rips the jagged blade from the teenage girl's stomach, pulling along with it a length of fleshy viscera caught on the lance's head.
Her silence finally breaks into a series of blood curdling screams. No words are made, just unintelligible shrieks of pain as she thrashes about in intense agony. With each jerk her guts are pulled tauter against the spear head. Diego takes a step back as Cotton's body quickly begins to convulse even harder, and suddenly she rolls onto her back and wedges Holland's knife in deeper. A gurgling noise spews up out of Cotton's mouth along with a fountain of vomit; stomach fluid, spit and blood splatter down her chin and across the forest floor.
Through the girl's inhuman cries of distress, Marshall grips his forehead and stares down at the bloodied mess that is now her stomach. "…fuck."
That one word sums up everything I'm feeling right now. It sums it all up. Fuck. The expression on all our faces as we remember exactly where we are and what is happening to us. Cotton may not have been right about us not caring about one another, but she was telling the truth about the reality of the situation. This is no picnic. This is an arena.
And these are the Hunger Games.
Cotton's hands try to push her intestines back into her stomach, but it just seems to be instinct. Her head is tilted all the way back as she curls onto her side in the pool of her own vomit and blood, but her eyes are wide and full of tears. Slowly her mouth opens and closes, but no sound is made but a quiet, pitiful whimpering.
"Finish it, Diego." I murmur, unable to continue watching the once strong girl deteriorate into this writhing being on the ground before me. "Just… just end it."
Stiffening his jaw, Diego gives the slightest nod and readies the lance again. It's bloody and covered in the grime of Cotton's guts. But as he raises it above her, Cotton suddenly cries out- throwing her free arm out to hold him at bay.
Surprised, Diego pauses. Cotton continues to heave on the ground, the fingers of her left hand digging into her stomach as blood continues to seep through her tribute jacket and collect in the dirt around her. With extreme difficulty, she looks up at Diego. Her eyes, both blue and green, focus on Diego through the tears and- opening her mouth once more- she spits out the words-
"…I'll… I'll see to it that you all… that you all burn in hell…!"
Teeth bared and face screwed up in agony, Cotton forces a terrible smile that hides her fear. Diego, calm as ever, lifts his lance up once more.
"I'll try not to disappoint you."
And he jams it through her throat, grimacing as Cotton's cannon booms. A few seconds of ringing silence passes before Francesca suddenly screams in agony and buries her face deep into Holland's shoulder. Marshall drops to his knees and digs his hands into the blood-soaked dirt, hiding his face from us all behind his fringe.
But it's Diego I watch. His face is stony and unmoving, but his eyes are filled with remorse. He didn't want this. His hands are still curled around the weapon, and from the way he's holding so tightly I don't think he's able to let go.
Slowly, I reach forwards and place my hand on his. I gently pull his fingers free of the lance's rod and place his hand back at his side, but my hand lingers there. Should I hold his hand? Unsure, but not willing to leave him be, I rest my hand upon his shoulder.
"…thank you, Diego," is all I can say. "…you… you did what you had to do, man."
His throat clenches a little. Then, as if to say thank you, he nods.
Nothing else is heard but the sound of Francesca's crying as blood continues to bubble and dribble out of Cotton's body and into the dirt beneath our feet.
…even… even if we're going to hell for this…
…I don't regret… being by his side.
Whether you believe it or not, Cotton, this love is real.
Vince Pace; 12 years; the Capitol Sector 11.
Another day and yet another cannon has gone off. I wonder for a split second which tribute it might have been, but it doesn't take long before the curiosity wears thin. It doesn't matter who died; it just means there's less people for me to kill. Whether that's a blessing or a shame I can't really decide.
It's a blessing if it was someone I might have had trouble dealing with; one of the larger male tributes, for instance. It's a shame if it was a weakling that I could've added to my tally of kill. I remember watching the recaps back home during the previous Hunger Games. Next to my name there'll be '2', unless Laco or Cotton, someone I have injured directly, has died without my knowing- and then there'll be a crisp little number '3' after my name.
I can't help but wonder if another tribute has surpassed my kill count. It'd be easily done, since it's impossible to tell how tributes die without witnessing it firsthand. The thought of coming second to some second-rate tribute makes me feel a little irritated. It's a pity I wasn't able to finish off the Capitol's songbird and her dog while I had the chance.
Still, there's plenty of time to make up for lost time. The game is still quite young, after all.
The ground has basically transformed into a marsh from the intensity and amount of yesterday's storm. I didn't move much at all yesterday, particularly because I was certain that doing so would be a mistake. Extreme weather conditions may seem like enough of a trick in itself, but they're always used to hide something else. A mutated animal or some sort of 'event' like the ground opening up and swallowing several tributes. Those sorts of things always happen when the tributes let down their guard.
But I refuse to be that careless. Tricking District children year after year like that is standard, but it'd be unacceptable for a tribute from the Capitol- someone who has no doubt watched years of Hunger Games, and should therefore know better- to be so stupid. If that weren't the case, there'd be no point in differentiating between Capitolites and District children then, would there?
'That's right,' I think, glancing up at the midday sun spilling through the tree tops. 'Right from the beginning, we've been given an advantage. And yet, no one else seems to be taking it…'
All of them are ridiculously stupid, making the same mistakes that have been made every single year before us. Tripping off a starting plate, falling for a fake alliance, silly romances that'll never become real and simple tricks such as an innocent child hiding his true intentions. They're all such standard tricks! I won't be surprised at all if the 'career' group turns on one another in some second coming of the bloodbath.
They're all weak; too ignorant to use their heads and avoid repeating the failures of the Districts' games. I realised it when I ran into Cotton, how even though she somehow managed to survive this long into the games- she was still too stupid not to let her feelings cloud her judgement. Even though anger and rage can be useful at times, it's no good if a person makes such silly mistakes like underestimating their opponent.
Well, no good for them.
Remembering the horrified look on my sector partner's face makes me bristle with excitement. Did she die? Oh, I hope she died. Covered in dirt and blood with tears streaming down her face. Just like Sapphire did, the blood pumping out of her neck like a broken pipe. Or Liotta-
Gripping my head, I clench my eyes shut as a sudden throb of pain tears through my skull. A flicker of blue and gold ripples in my mind, and suddenly I'm overwhelmed by the memory of Liotta on the night of the party, shyly watching me from my side. More scattered memories follow her in quick succession, and not just Liotta- but Lily. Smiling and giggling and batting their eyelashes-
Shit. Shit- shit- shit-!
I cringe as the blonde haired girls and their deep blue eyes fill my head. Without thinking- unable to think- I shake my head frantically to rid myself of their ghosts. Why is this happening now? I don't give a shit about Lily or Liotta. They have no place in my victory, and no place in my head—!
Opening my eyes, my throat clenches itself shut as I see it, and my mind is wiped clean of the pair of golden haired girls disappear as quickly as they appeared.
It's the dome of roses.
I'm back where I started.
Stumbling back a step, I contemplate turning and running until I realise the dead silence in the air around me. There is no sound of voices, whispering or crackling of thorns under foot. This is no doubt where the cornucopia is, and the clear choice for a camp. So shouldn't there be someone here to protect their camp?
With great care not to make any noise, I edge towards the thick wall of vines and thorns and listen as hard as I can for any sign of life. When nothing answers, I decide to risk it. Pulling out my knife, I wedge it under a particularly thick rose vine and begin sawing upwards.
'Didn't think I'd be back here so soon.'
How many people were cut on their escape from the 'bloodbath'? I managed to break through with minimal scratches, but there were others who pulled these things apart with their bare hands. And then there was one who couldn't escape at all-
Before I can think of Liotta any further I stop myself and focus harder at the task at hand. If I'm right about this, there could be supplies in there, ripe for the taking. There's no time to waste thinking about past kills when there are future wins to plot.
As the fattest vine splits over my knife, the tinier ones are easier to wedge apart with my sleeved arms. A few thorns still manage to puncture through and claw at my forearms, but I ease myself through with no problems. And once I'm inside, I stand and stare at the glorious sight that greets me.
The cornucopia, no longer as glistening clean as it was the last I saw it, is still full of crates and supplies. I can see weapons; swords, lances, spears and more, and even barrels of apples and tankards of water. It has obviously been picked at- everything has been rearranged to someone else's liking- but there's so much left that whoever left it behind is either confident no one will be able to take their supply cache or incredibly, unbelievably stupid.
For a moment I consider booby traps. I walk closer to a starting plate and eye it suspiciously. There was once a game where these were dug up and rigged as make-shift land mines. But that was by a boy from District 3 who had experience with such things, not by a pack of idiot girls and guys who don't know their asses from their elbows.
Sure enough, the cornucopia poses no threat to me as I approach it. My hand shakes as I reach for a sword, wondering if this is actually real or just another cruel delusion of the mind. But, yes, my hand clasps over the hilt and brings the sword out of its barrel, and a great rush of adrenaline courses through me. I grip it tightly, bringing it in close to me as I greedily look over the rest of the cornucopia.
It's all mine for the taking. Just thinking it sends a wonderful chill of pleasure down my spine.
There's no reason to dwell on the past and those kills.
Because there are about to be so many more.
Capitol Question #29; if you could magically be skilled in any one aspect of your choosing what would it be? (E.g. Archery, running, climbing, smooth-talking etc.)
The winner of Special Event #003; which seven tributes of the original twenty-four do you feel match with which of the seven deadly sins? is Europa22, for their answer of- "Pride – Natalia, Greed – Ari, Envy – Cotton, Wrath – Vince, Lust – Vinel, Gluttony – Galaxy and Sloth – Marshall."