Hey guys! Time for the next chapter of Tears of Blood! We really hope you enjoy this, everyone has really stepped up their game. Things are beginning to get...super interesting.

Next update should be Thursday for a one shot death scene of Onyx Marshall (provided the site doesn't break AGAIN). Next story update Saturday. XD

Oh, and don't worry if you haven't seen muttations yet. They're coming...


Ari Locus, District 9

By nightfuries


"Remembrance is a golden chain
Death tries to break,
but all in vain.
To have, to love, and then to part
Is the greatest sorrow of one's heart.
The years may wipe out many things
But some they wipe out never.
Like memories of those happy times
When we were all together."

—Author Unknown


Running. That's all I should focus on. Just run Ari. As fast as you can. As far as you can.

But my body is protesting; after a year in that little cell, I've gotten somewhat out of shape. I know I can't keep going, I need to stop.

Sometime around yesterday evening I noticed that the hedge maze began to thin and turn into something more like a forest. I guess the maze really is more intricate than I thought, but at this point I don't really care. Finally giving into my protesting body, I collapse against a tree and take a tiny sip from the water bottle I managed to grab during the bloodbath, though my supply is quickly depleting and I know I'm going to have to find some sort of stream or pond to fill it up in. Fortunately the vegetation around me looks very healthy; there must be some sort of water source here.

I try to sit up but my limbs are rebelling, refusing to get up until they've had a rest. But I'm starting to panic; I can't rest, I need to keep moving, I need to go now. Not because of the worry that someone might find me, I think I've gotten a fair distance between myself and any other tributes. It's not them I fear, it's the memories, memories of three days ago when we first rose up to see the arena.

Green hedges lining either side, the golden Cornucopia at one end while a long hallway framed by the walls of the mazes goes off in the other. I can't see around me, can't see the other tributes, I have no idea where to find Sapphire.

I put my head in my hands, as though they could block out the memories. But it doesn't work.

The gong sounds and I take off running. I can hear the other tributes running behind me and I falter before pouring on the speed again. "Don't think about the consequences Ari," I say to myself as I dash by two tributes already locked in combat. I don't stop to see who they are, I just keep running around the Cornucopia, hoping with each new step I take my district partner will come into view. Something whistles by my ear, a knife maybe, but I don't stop, I just keep running.

I clench my hands tighter around my head, trying in vain to stop the flow of memories because I know exactly what comes next.

Suddenly I see it, out of the corner of my eye, a flash of blonde hair. I turn and it is her, grabbing a small backpack. My heart swells with the fact that I've finally found her but then drops to my stomach as I see someone coming up behind her. The boy from District 2, I forget his name but does it really matter? What matters is the slightly sorrowful yet determined expression on his face and the extremely menacing, sharp sword he clenches in his hand. My whole body freezes, and I can't do anything but watch as he swings his sword, cutting a deep gash into her wrist.

Despite the fighting going on all around me, I can hear the scream she lets out as she falls back, and it's her voice that snaps me out of my trance. I take off, running for her, but part of me knows that I won't get there in time.

Not Sapphire. She was too young, she was so innocent . . .

I'm helpless to do anything but watch as she tries in vain to fight him off. I franticly try to speed up but still it's not enough and my heart stops as her opponent swings the sword once more, reducing her arm to nothing but a bleeding stump.

She screams and I'm pretty sure I do too, but both of us are drowned out by the fights going on around us. But I still think there's hope. I've seen worse injuries from winners coming out of the Games. She can still win, and the Capitol can fix her up.

Though sometimes, hope isn't enough.

"No!"

I realise what the boy is going to do a second before he does it, but of course my shouts don't stop him as he kneels beside her and raises the sword. I resume my sprint towards them (I hadn't realised I'd stopped) and am a mere fifteen feet away before he stabs her in the neck.

He turns to run but I don't bother with him, only trying to reach her. Him, the pudgy boy from District 6 also leaving, someone I didn't notice before, none of them matter. I fall to my knees as I reach her body, which has stopped convulsing and now lies still on the ground.

"Come on, come on," I mutter, nudging her shoulders, trying to stop the bleeding in her neck even though part of me knows it's futile. She's gone. She's really gone.

Shudders run though my body and I have to take deep slow breaths to try and calm myself, but it's not working. I'm losing it, I can tell. My entire goal was to bring Sapphire home, what am I going to do now? She was too young to die, too sweet and kind for the Games. Why did it have to be her?

I rub my arm as the memories of the bloodbath remind me of the injury I got during it. A cut on my arm, somewhat large but nothing too deep, courtesy of the District 4 girl. I knew I should have just left immediately, but after what her ally did to Sapphire I couldn't just leave. I don't know what I would have done if I'd had the chance, and there's a small part of me that's glad she stopped me and sort of brought me back to my sense. Still, there are plenty of nicer ways that don't involve sharp objects in which she could have done it. I should be taking more care of it, making sure it doesn't get infected but beyond ripping off the sleeve of my shirt and tying it up with that I haven't really bothered to do anything else. What's the point anyways?

The memories of my fight with Elia, I think her name was, come back to me and I rest my fingers on the hilt of the only other object I managed to grab from the bloodbath. A wickedly sharp sword, curved slightly at the end as it glints in the sunlight of the arena. I'm aware of my heart beginning to pound louder and louder as I stare at the weapon, two conflicting thoughts bouncing around my head. I could keep it, should keep it; it's the Hunger Games, what kind of an idiot wouldn't keep a sword? But still, I remember the anger I felt when Sapphire had died – first the sadness, but then the intense fury. Even now, the thought of what I would have tried to do, wanted to do so badly if I'd caught up to the boy from District 2 scares me.

Slowly, my fingers trembling so hard it's a miracle I've been able to hold onto it this long, I drop the sword out onto the ground in front of me, where it lays in the dirt and if it had eyes I'd swear it was staring up at me, waiting for me to make a decision. A drop of moisture rolls down my cheek and I realise that I've broken into a cold sweat as I stay unmoving in my spot, nearly burning a hole through the blade with the intensity of my gaze. A few weeks ago, back when I was home and hadn't volunteered and was safe, I would have thought that someone staring at a motionless sword like it's going to leap up and attack them was either crazy or really, really stupid. But now, I've been in the Games; that sword equals power, power I'm not sure is entirely good for me. What's the old saying? Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Still, I am in the Games . . .

Hesitantly, my hand slowly creeps towards the sword again, and by now my whole body is shaking with fear of the weapon, and fear of myself. One finger reaches falteringly out and pokes the hilt with so much reluctance it might almost be considered funny. I swallow hard as I curl my finger around the weapon and slowly the others follow suit until my thumb is the last digit to wrap around the familiar metal hilt. Familiar. Like this object used for killing has already become a part of me.

I pause for a second, suddenly exhausted at the amount of tension my body is in right now. Come on Ari, I think harshly. It's just a sword. It's a freaking piece of metal, there's no reason to be so terrified of it. With that in mind I steel myself and, grabbing the sword more firmly, bring it closer to me. No reason to worry. Just a sword. Something that's necessary in the Games. Just a-

My eyes flit across the surface of the blade and my heart nearly stops as I catch sight of my reflection before flinging the sword as far away from me as I possibly can. My eyes. They've got the same look as . . . his.

Murder is not a common thing in Panem; obviously because most people aren't stupid enough to attempt it since they know the consequences. But there was one man, about six months ago in District 9, who was accused of killing another. His wife worked in one of the many labs in town and one day, just like any other, she went into work. The drastic difference was how it ended.

Another thing not common to our district is malfunctions in the labs. Most of our equipment needs to be imported from the Capitol so our work can be done properly, and as a result most of it is topnotch stuff. But occasionally, mistakes are made.

Three people were killed in the fire that ravaged the building, including the woman. Her husband was devastated, but angry too – when I'd heard about it I wasn't exactly sure why. After all, no one was really to blame, right? But I guess fury sort of messes with your mind, changing your thoughts and making you believe someone was to blame because for some reason or another, having a scapegoat seems to lessen the blow. The one this man chose was a drunken co-worker of his wife's, who hadn't gone to work that day as usual. I guess he thought that somehow, if the man had been there, the fire might not have occurred. That they could have done the experiment safely or something. He wasn't genuinely mad at the guy, and if he'd just been left alone to vent, he'd probably have been fine. But alcohol, like anger, does funny things to people's brains. So instead of being sympathetic or even just sitting passively and listening, the drunk goaded him on, almost laughing in his face about what had happened. I guess in the man's state of mind, that was just too much.

He didn't even deny it when the peacekeepers came and found him covered in the drunk's blood. I guess it wouldn't have been possible to deny it; he was still holding the knife when they found him. He was arrested on the spot; but no killers just get put in jail for their punishment. Still, it took a little while to prepare for the hanging – there hadn't been a need for one in ages – so he was placed in a small cell adjacent to the one the seven of us stayed in. I remember watching him, eyes wide as he cowered in the corner of his space, trying to get away from himself and the monster he'd become in that small moment of loss of control. It was a terrifying experience, seeing him as he cried over his wife and what he'd done, but scariest of all was the expression in his eyes. All the hurt, the pain, the fear that was present there; well, I'd vowed that no matter what happened in my life I'd never end up like that. And now look at me.

I pull my knees up as close as I can get them and bury my face into them, feeling the hot tears flow from my eyes and stain the material of my arena outfit, but I couldn't care less. I'm losing it, I think to myself, clenching my hands around my legs so tightly that it hurts. I am completely and utterly losing it.

Suddenly something falls out of the pocket of my shorts. I pay it no attention, still wrapped in a cloud of unrelenting, bitter misery, but as it rolls across the forest floor a melody begins to play.

The darkness holds all sorts of monsters and creeps,

It's oh so pitch black, so dark and so deep,

But when you let your eyelids sink and slip into sleep,

Darkness becomes your guiding lead,

Rock back into goblins and fairies and elves,

Witches and princes and lords a'leaping twelve,

Let the darkness consume you until you're no longer yourself,

Lean into hurricanes and wishes to delve.

And once your face pales and you give yourself a fright,

You'll know it's more than the werewolves' bite,

It has to be something that is to do with that Light,

So fall backwards into the night

I recognise the song at once. Sapphire's district token. Another memory from the bloodbath returns to me. Right before I left her, when I'd been trying to stop the bleeding, do anything for her, my hand had curled around her remaining one. I hadn't really registered the fact that she'd been holding something in her hand, and I guess I sort of just slipped it into my pocket without realising. Another old saying comes to me. Old habits die hard.

The song ends and then begins all over again. Part of me is wondering if I should turn it off; I might as well be waving a flag over my head and shouting, "Come and get me!" to the Careers. But it's nice having it on. It reminds me of her interview where she sang along to it, her young voice echoing off of the area as everyone in the Capitol quietened to hear her sing. Slowly the sadness begins to creep away as I raise my head to hear the melody better. It's almost as if she isn't entirely gone.

But she'll never be gone, at least, she won't as long as people remember her. And I find myself getting the same urge I had in my room in the Capitol, the overwhelming feeling of doing something right here so that no one will ever forget the kind, gentle-natured tribute that was Sapphire Tree.

Although really, what can I do? I have barely any supplies and I'm surrounded by a dense forest. There's also the possibility of another tribute sneaking up on me around here; I really should get moving. Besides, it might help distract me from having to think.

I stand up and go to grab her district token, which rolled off down a small hill. I chase after it and shut it off and just like that, the melody disappears from the woods, and the feeling of Sapphire being still here goes with it. Once again I'm overwhelmed by loneliness and misery and I'm just about to give up on the Games and wait until someone comes and kills me when I notice what stopped the token's tumble. A young sapling is poking out through the ground, stretching out its few leaves as it tries to bask in the rays of sunlight not obscured by the other trees. It looks as if it's only been in the ground for a few months, but if the rest of these trees are anything to go by, it'll live for ages, growing larger and stronger with each passing year. If only humans were like trees; sturdy and strong, almost invincible in a sense. Then maybe Sapphire wouldn't have . . .

And suddenly an idea pops into my head. A ridiculous, crazy idea, but I guess that in the state I'm in, it suits me. After all, I wanted to do something to remember Sapphire.

I scour the ground, looking for every sort of rock I can find. Once I've gotten a large handful I get down on my knees in front of the sapling and begin to lay them out carefully, one by one. After each has been placed I stand back to look at my handiwork. Something's missing, I can feel it. I look down at my hand, still tightly clenching Sapphire's district token and I notice the long string attached so it could be hung around someone's neck. Slowly I reach out and hang it on one of the tree's thin branches and press the button. The haunting melody fills the forest again and I step back to read the words I wrote in the rock once more.

In Loving Memory

Sapphire's Tree

I almost let out a small smile at that point; it just seems so perfect; I think she would have agreed. The small sapling, her small sapling with the necklace playing her song, no one can forget her now. And this time I do smile. I've heard trees can live for hundreds of years, growing bigger and stronger all the time. "You'll be remembered Sapphire," I whisper softly, staring at the tree and letting the melody fill my mind, clearing out all the thoughts of sadness and misery, replacing them with a feeling of simple happiness. At least, as happy as you can get in the arena.

As if cued by my thoughts reminding me where I am, a voice rings out behind me. "Not the smartest thing to do when you're in the Games."

Immediately, my whole body tenses, and I whip around to see the boy from Eight, Oak, emerging from the trees behind me. My brain whirs into motion, trying to rid itself of the sleepy contentedness it felt moments before and come up with a plan for how to survive this inevitable fight. But really, short of bludgeoning him to death with a water bottle, I've got nothing; the sword is still lying at the top of the hill. And even if I did hold it in my hand, I don't really think I'd have it in me to kill him. Not after everything that came to my mind when I thought of the weapon.

Oak walks forwards, but not in a menacing way at all and he doesn't bother to pull out the knife I can see poking out of the backpack he holds. He's not even looking at me; just watching the little memorial I made to Sapphire, as though trying to figure something out. And then he asks me the question. "Why?"

I look at him, wondering if he's joking, but he seems dead serious. It's not an easy question to answer though, and I struggle to find words to say. "Because . . ." I make a wide hand gesture, as if that could answer for me. "Because she deserves to be remembered," I finish.

He still doesn't look at me, just continues staring at the tree. There's something in his eyes though; sadness, sorrow, the same expression I'm sure I've worn since the beginning of these awful games. Slowly, the memories of last night come back to me, when they showed the faces in the sky of those who had died. I wanted to look away, not to have to see her face, have the Capitol confirm that she was dead, but I couldn't stop myself. And right before her face showed up and I pretty much collapsed in despair, another young face shone through the night. Delicate figure, black hair slicked back into a neat bun; Maia Spring, the District 8 female tribute. Oak's partner.

We're both staring at the sapling now, and out of the corner of my eye I see Oak step forwards. But I don't flinch this time; I don't think either of us are looking for a fight right now. He just kneels on the ground, grabbing the pile of rocks I had left over, and begins to add something else. I watch him work, waiting patiently until he stands up from the ground, and I take in the new extension of my message.

In Loving Memory

Sapphire's Tree

And Maia Spring

For a while, the two of us just stand quietly, letting Sapphire's melody fill the silence. Finally, I say, "Now they'll never really be gone." Oak nods, just as an idea pops into my head. "And maybe . . . somehow, they'll find each other.

Oak turns away from the sapling and looks at me for a second before cracking a small smile. "Maybe."

The sound of rustling trees reaches our ears over the music, bringing the two of us back to the reality of where we are. "We should go," Oak says, turning back to the memorial and whispering something too quiet for me to hear before heading in the opposite direction of the noise. I stare at him for a second, somewhat confused. We should go? Wait, does he mean . . .?

"You coming?"

I look at Oak, wondering if he's joking. But once again, I realise he's not. "Yeah," I say, after a pause, still a bit in shock. "Yeah, I'm coming."

He nods and heads off, leaving me to fully take in what just happened. I guess . . . we're allies. Just like that. I make to follow him but pause, glancing back towards the hill where the sword lays. Once again, the tension returns as I ask myself the question. Should I get it?

Most people would. No idiot would leave a perfectly good sword behind. So call me an idiot, and a coward. I've seen tributes before who leave behind weapons because they're 'good' and 'pure' and could never kill anyone. Me, I'm just scared of what holding a blade in my hand does to me. And I really don't have the courage to deal with that problem right now. So I'll leave it behind, just run from it. Besides, I have something better.

I smile, and turn towards Sapphire's tree one last time. "I'll see you around Sapphire," I whisper, just barely audible over the music. "Stay safe."

And then I head off after Oak, my heart a whole lot lighter than it was earlier today. I've gained an ally. Not that I really ever lost one. Sapphire will always be here; you just have to listen for her.