And so BNTN put down the first volume of Victory and assured herself that she would never write a Career ever again... Famous last words. Marvel just wouldn't get out of my head, despite my dislike of Careers, and so I wrote this in an attempt to get him out, and also as a stylistic experiment. I hope it worked.
It seems so simple. In-out, in-out, one fluid movement. Just like you practiced in training a million times until it became routine. Until the spear was just a deadly extension of your body.
It's the deadly part that seems weird, though. Back home it was a natural word – just another adjective of well deserved praise. But here it takes on a new, totally different meaning.
Here, deadly means deadly. Dangerous. Lethal. Bound to cause immediate cessation of bodily functions, as Uncle Nautilus would say, sounding fancy to rub in his higher status.
In short, deadly means you kill a person.
They say you don't feel anything in the Arena. That the in-out, in-out is as routine as it was on the practice dummies, as smooth, as simple, as satisfying. They say that guilt only comes later. The other Districts, the stupid dirty lesser Districts, the unenlightened, they say that you don't feel guilt at all.
Oh, how wrong they all are. Or are you just weird? You haven't even killed her yet. It's just you, standing here, spear poised in your trademark Marvelous pose. Taking aim. Take it easy, boy, one step at a time. It'll be just like those training dummies back home. In-out, in-out, it'll be over before you know it.
Oh, did I speak out loud? My mistake. But really, little flower, it will be over just before you know it.
The words sound strange, coming from your throat. The voice of a killer, full of menace. Not like you at all. The words don't reassure her; she screams anyway, calling out desperately for someone to save her. The big boy from her District, the Girl on Fire. Someone, anyone.
It'll be just like a dummy. You can do this. In-out, in-out, and then you're one step closer to home. Oh, why are you psyching yourself up, Marvel? You've done this loads of times at home. You've killed before, too. Two at the bloodbath, Six and Nine. A boy and a girl. Don't make such a big deal out of this one.
Except those two were killed in the heat of battle. They would have gotten you if you hadn't gotten them first. That girl with the knife you now carry in your belt? She was downright crazy. This will be in cold blood.
Except when you trained you never expected it'd be for real. Training was just a way to get extra status and to bring honor to your family. Every family had their Chosen; you were yours. It didn't mean you'd actually volunteer, of course not. There are lots of ways to fudge the process, if you know where to look. You never thought you'd have to use these skills on a real person.
Except you never thought they'd be twelve. You always wanted to leave little Eleven alone. Cato could be the child-killer; he'd no doubt enjoy it. You wanted to stick with people who could fight back. But you set the nets anyway.
Except the traps were just a handy escape route for when the Cato-Clove Coalition finally decided your time was up. It was obvious which way the alliance was going to split, and with Glimmer gone (and good riddance, too) you needed a way out. In an Arena this big, what were the odds of someone getting caught?
Don't worry. It won't hurt for long.
A few words of attempted reassurance and you draw your arm back, poised to release. In seconds, it will all be over. In-out, in-out, cool as clockwork. But you can't do it.
The amazing Marvel, unable to do something. What a surprise. Is it the dawn of the apocalypse? No, it's just the Hunger Games. Dystopia now, as District Four called it.
Except… except… except. Is killing one child to save another really worth it?
And then you almost scoff, but manage to catch yourself before it looks like you really are going insane and not just feeling like it. She's Ruby. Your little sister, who would have turned seven two days ago. The little fragile girl dying of a rare disease. Who needs you to win these Games so you can get enough money for her treatment. Of course it's worth it.
Ruby, Rue. They even sound the same, almost. But why? Why do the two of them seem so similar? They look nothing alike. One dark, the other fair. One almost twice the age and thus the size of the other. Rue might look small and fragile, but Ruby is infinitely more so.
So what is the link? What is the defining factor that's seizing hold of you and making what should be this simple action, in-out, in-out, so difficult?
And then it hits you, and you lower your arm. They both share a sense of fragility, of misfortune despite all odds against it. Of having a very rare shot at death, but now an even tinier one at survival.
You turn away. It will be so easy to just leave her for someone else. And someone else will come, sooner or later. They want to get out of this place alive as much as you do. Only none of them have another life riding on their shoulders like you do, not even stupid Everdeen. Just get out of here, let someone else kill her. That way, guilt can be kept to a minimum.
Only…only. You hear it now, someone crashing through the trees. They'll be here soon. No time to run.
Instinctively, your arm goes up.
And the girl is yelling again now, louder than ever, telling you who's on their way.
And you know there's no mercy from the Girl on Fire, not after what she did to Glimmer (even if there was anyone who deserved to die like that it was her). So you do what you can to slow her down – hurt the ally.
The in-out, in-out is like butter. Over before you know it. But the crashing is closer, and the bow (Her bow) is at the ready, and the arrow is flying. Still flying, so you rush, and the in-out, in-out isn't quite on target. She doesn't die instantly.
Neither do you. There's a few seconds of burning pain between the arrow hitting and the blackness. Enough for
As the red begins to fade.
To so many people and for so many things. To Six and Nine, for killing them. To all the people back home who want to see you again and won't. For all the promises made and not kept.
To Rue, for lying twice, and Ruby, for dooming her along with yourself.
I'm sorry. To everyone.
(Except Glimmer. Because some things can never be forgiven.)