Hellooo, everyone. Nina has been going through a lot lately, including a terrible sickness that seems to be killing her from the inside out. Let's all wish her good health and send her HEALTHY VIBES, shall we?

The last chapter was very heavy, but it's just going to get heavier from here on out. It's that time of the games...

Just in case you all didn't know, a 24authors24tributes wiki was created by the lovely Hazelshade12, who will be the author of the District 7 female in the upcoming Quarter Quell! You can find it here: 24tributes24authors . wikia . com /wiki/24_tributes_24_authors_Wiki (Remove spaces)

It's still a work in progress, but it's lookin' good~


Claus Hendall, District 5

By PumpkinGrin


"All our final decisions are made in a state of mind that is not going to last."

—Marcel Proust


Claus, what're you doing? What're you doing?

"Running, what does it look like?"

Why? Why're you running?

"I've got two hours." Two hours to get to those vials. Dusk is quickly approaching, and I don't want the darkness that will follow it.

He knows why I'm running. He's known since it was announced over the entire arena. He doesn't want to accept it. Claus, stop running. Are you insane? Wait, of course you are. Why're you running?

"This is for both of our sakes. You know that!"

I don't know what you're talking about. We're supposed to help each other. I'm supposed to help you win! Remember that? Don't you remember?

"I-I do, and I don't know if it'll work anymore. All I've done is run away, to make sure you can't kill anyone else. This can't work. I can't go through with it."

Tree branches zip past my face, birthing scars and opening old ones. The earthy smell of the forest slams me in the face before disappearing as my feet trample through ferns and other undergrowth. It reminds me of home.

Claus, listen. There are less than ten left. Less than ten. You still have a chance to win this, and there's no doubt that you'll need my help. You won't be able to kill everyone by yourself, as the pathetic weakling you are. You need me. Don't do this. Turn around!

"Shut up!" I gasp. My toes just glide over a tree root, and I keep on running. I don't want to hear him right now. He's distracting.

Why? You promised!

"And you haven't done anything for me!" I shout back. "All you've done to me is poke at me with a knife. All these scars are from you. They all could've been on somebody else's body at this point!"

It's all your fault! You wouldn't let me go after anyone we saw!

"Too reckless, too noisy, too brash. You would've gotten me killed!"

You just got scared. Over and over and over, you backed out like some dog with your tail between your legs. You're weak. You can't win. You're nothing!

"Shut up!"

My own voice sends not shivers, but full-on bolts of lightning down my spine. I jerk to a stop, resting my hand on a tree trunk and hunching over to breathe. I barely have food in my stomach, having finished off the bread I received from my single sponsor parachute. I open my mouth and retch, but nothing comes out. I heave and gasp and choke, feeling tears prick at the corners of my tired eyes. I finally catch my breath and resort to an easier pace to breathe at, but I remain standing. I stare down at my muddied shoes and pant legs, remembering all the times I've ran in my life. I've ran to things. I've ran from things. It's always running for me. I can never stop.

I start to run again, ignoring the voice telling me to stop or he'll kill me. I want to see him try. I wonder if he will.

The plain of grass, the awfully familiar plain of grass, creeps into view. I know that I've ran through it more than twice; he finally told me about what he did as me when I was with the Careers.

I jog out of the woodland and into the tall grasses. They've grown since I've been here, so they now swish up against my waist. Whether this is the Gamemaker's doing or not, I don't know. I don't particularly care, unless it's a trap. But it can't be. The only trap set during the Feast is the Feast itself, with luring all the surviving tributes into one area in hopes they'd finish each other off right then and there. I look around me, and I seem to be the only tribute out right now. I hurry, breaking into a run.

What will await me at the Cornucopia is a mystery. This time, thinking about it is making me run faster than ever. I need that vial. I need it.

Claus, you don't need it!

"Don't talk to me. I don't want to have to listen to you."

You're stuck with me either way, buddy. Don't do this. Turn around. I'll make it up to you. I'll kill everyone else for you. I'll win the Games for you, just like that!

"I never wanted you around," I mutter. "You were only born so you could be with me. Because I was lonely. But I don't care about loneliness right now. I care about getting you out of my head!"

You know what? Fine. Keep running. I don't care anymore. Get rid of me.

He shuts up and escapes to a door I cannot follow into. Savoring the silence in my mind, I run on. "I'm one step ahead of you."

Finally. The golden horn shimmers in the peach-colored sunlight, a beacon of hope.

It seems that with every step I take, the Cornucopia grows in size. It beckons me to its spacious curvature. The vials. Mine. Finally.

The Cornucopia is so close, I can almost touch it. I can imagine the vials glimmering with their sacred contents. I can see my hands closing around one of them.

I skid around the side to face the mouth of the horn when something stops me dead in my tracks.

Two bodies on the ground, one alive, one not.

Moss and Aella.

My eyes, already sunken and haunted by insomnia-induced bags, pop out of their sockets. I stifle a gasp in my mouth by pressing my lips together. If it was someone else dead, I would spare them a single glance and a thought as to how their last moments would've been. With Aella, my District partner and neighbor for practicality's sake, being the body, I can only stare on in horror.

I watch as Moss, leaning over her corpse, looks up at me with the most despair-ridden eyes I've ever seen. It's like a ghost has pressed its hand against the small of my back, spreading a chill all over me. Moss' own misery is spreading to me, infecting me.

We have a sort of stare-down as I uneasily shuffle towards the small table where the vials are placed on a pedestal. Seven of them, sparkling in the dark sunlight. I can see the liquid in each of them; all of them can kill him.

"I…I did it," Moss murmurs, staring at me with solemn eyes. "I won…I won the Games."

No doubt, he's going mad. The death of Aella has driven him to a place he cannot escape from. "What are you going on about?" I ask warily. "There are still more tributes." My hand tightens around my bludgeon—a proper one this time, constructed of a metal club and a leather grip. I don't want to hit Moss, but I will if I have to.

"Like that really matters." Moss staggers to a stand, taking a few unsteady steps towards me. I instinctively back up toward the vials. He stares at me, lank brown hair falling limp in his sea-glass eyes. He suddenly grins as if he's heard the funniest joke in the world. He starts to laugh, a slow demented sound rising from his throat before it rises in hysteria. He sounds tortured.

The laughter dies down enough for Moss to speak. "Everyone I cared about…everyone I loved in this damn arena...Dead." As if on cue, both of our gazes travel to Aella's frail-looking body, splayed out on the ground like some sort of doll. To think that I had seen her alive not too long ago is unsettling at the very least. Horrifying at the most.

"All of them. Gone." Moss continues, his hoarse voice cracking with pure sorrow and despair. "So I must have won, right? Isn't that the point of these Games? To tear loved ones away from each other? We see it all the time back home. Those who make it out alive are never the same. I've witnessed it with my own eyes. Family members of survivors being punished, whipped, executed even, all because their victor did something wrong."

He looks up at me with pleading, glistening eyes. It looks like he's demanding an answer out of me, but I have none to give. I open my mouth to speak, but not a word comes to mind.

Moss' eyes shine, and crystalline tears trickle down his bloodstained face. There are a couple at first, until more and more fall onto the dirt we stand on. His face contorts into a mask of agony and sadness so great that even I myself can feel it within me.

"You can fight it." Moss says, just loud enough for me to hear. "You can resist it, but in the end, the Capitol gets their way. No matter how hard you struggle, you can't prevent yourself or those around you from getting hurt. Hell, I bet my own brother, innocent as he may be, is getting beaten as we speak, assuming he hasn't starved to death by now." His face hardens. "Why? Because of me. Because I'm not afraid to defy the Capitol. Because I'm sick of them getting more money than they can hold and us getting nothing. Because I'm tired of working my ass off only to give all my money to people who don't even need it. Because I'm not afraid to do this."

Moss begins to move to face the horn of the Cornucopia. Out of instinct, I back up closer to the table of vials, though I know Moss isn't making a move for them. He doesn't have any need for them now.

He looks up at something I can't see, but I automatically know he's looking at a camera. I don't know if he can see it, but it doesn't matter to him. As long as the Capitol hears him, then it doesn't matter. Dropping his sword, he opens his mouth.

"Fuck you, President Finn!" Moss screams, his face twisted in a wild rage. "Fuck you, Flickerman and all your prissy friends. And fuck the whole damn Capitol!"

Silence cuts through the air abruptly when Moss stops. His chest moves in time with his heavy breathing, brought on by anger and grief and contempt for the Capitol and their sick, twisted ways. His eyes are wide and staring around him, where all the cameras might be. He wants the entirety of Panem to see and hear him. I can only imagine how the Gamemakers and the rest of the nation are reacting. I can see frustration from the Capitol citizens and cheering and applause from those in the Districts. I think I'd be one of the latter.

Moss, apparently satisfied with his outburst, turns to me. I'm stone still, and offering my patience to this grieving and anguished tribute. It's the least I can do. The voice tells me that the most I can do is kill him and end his misery, but I ignore him.

"Maybe I am insane," Moss ponders solemnly, staring me dead in the eye. He pauses to cough; I see specks of blood erupting from his lips. "Or maybe I'm the only one who still has his sanity."

I am tempted to reply. I want to say, "If you are still sane, then I'm jealous," but I decide against it. I don't want to end up provoking him, so I remain quiet and keep on staring. Swallowing on nothing is the only movement I make.

And then, Moss Dorian of District 4 turns on his heel and breaks out into a sprint into the nearby woodland that encloses the Cornucopia. His form is swallowed up into the trees, and I cannot see or hear him anymore.

I know for certain that this is the last time I'll ever see him.

I then turn to Aella and the sword that Moss has left behind. The sword is something I'll want, but it means next to nothing right now. What does matter is Aella Dekas' body lying out in the open. She was my District partner; even though we never really spoke, I know she was a good person. I can imagine her family watching right now, seeing her dead and me still alive.

I don't have a shovel, but I can at least place her in a better place for when the hovercraft picks her up. It's the least I owe her. It's the least I owe her family.

I step over the sword, scoop up Aella's body in my arms, and I walk to the outskirts of the forest, placing her next to a tall tree. Now, it's almost like she's sleeping in the shade at home—as if she's not dead. She looks peaceful.

I stand there for just a minute. I've never given a eulogy, so I don't say anything along those lines. I just stand there and think about what would've happened if none of us had ever been chosen.

What're you doing?

He's back. I don't care. I ignore him.

She's dead. She doesn't matter anymore.

Not a word comes out of my mouth. I think it'll be disrespectful for me to talk while standing so close to Aella.

Giving me the silent treatment, are you now? How typical. You'll respond eventually.

I grit my teeth, and my hands ball up into fists at my sides.

You'll respond. You'll talk. You can't resist me, Claus. I know, because I am you, too.

That's it.

I look down at Aella. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," I murmur before I turn around and jog out of the forest.

Now, Claus, don't you want to think things through? If you take that vial, I won't be around anymore. You'll be alone again, just like you were before. You won't have me to help you kill someone this time.

"Shut up," I snap again for the umpteenth time today. This time, I mean it. I want him to shut up and shrivel up and die. The vials crawl closer to me.

Claus? C-C'mon, you don't have to do this. C'mon, turn around. We can do this together. We don't need this! This is obviously a trap!

I marvel at the panic in his voice. He's always been wistful or snarky, but now he's panicking and alarmed and—scared.

I'm at the table now. Seven vials, all filled with an antidote to the madness that runs within each of the survivor's veins. My hand closes around one of them.

No, no, stop, don't! Don't!

I pull out the stopper and raise the vial.

It-It-It's poison! It'll kill you! Don't drink it!

So what if it is? Then at least I'll die without him. I bring the vial to my lips.

NonononononononononononononoNONONONONO—

The antidote slides down my throat like liquid glass. I can taste a sort of melancholy to the substance, but the taste disappears as the antidote travels down to my stomach.

Then comes the most horrible screaming I've heard in all my years of living.

He screeches like an animal being tortured, as if his limbs are being pulled apart. He claws at me, but his hands are misty and pass right through me. I squeeze my eyes shut to keep from him screaming through me, and I struggle with all my might to keep him contained in my head. This will be the last place he'll see before he dies.

The screams die down, until they're faint echoes bouncing about in my mind. The back of my head is pounding like a hellish migraine, but that too subsides after a few seconds. Soon, all I hear are the calls of birds in the tree canopies and the swishing of grass in the wind. All that's left is just withered echoes.

I open my eyes and look around. Everything is silent in there. The room is empty, the door is slightly ajar. Nobody is inside.

I look down at the empty vial in my hand, then toward the remaining six.

Nobody must get them.

I look around, and I spot my club, where I left it in the grass near where Aella's body was. But for some reason, it doesn't appeal to me. Just the thought of destroying each vial with my own hands satisfies me. I think of it as potentially ending four other lives.

So, I head over to the small table, and in a single motion I throw it over. Little glass prisons fly into the air and land into the dirt.

And then I stomp on them. Over and over and over.

I feel the glass resisting to break underneath my shoes, but enough repeated pressure causes them to explode into small shimmering pieces. The antidote splashes out and seeps into the ground, lost forever.

A sudden shuffling behind me snaps me out of my focus. I snap around in alarm to see the District 7 girl, Nella Birchalynn, glaring at me. She bristles when I gaze at her, but I see that she has no weapon.

She glances at the broken table, and the absence of the vials. "The vials. Where are they?" she demands quietly. "Did you take them?"

I stand my ground, poised to lunge for the sword if necessary. "Gone. They're gone," I breathe. "I smashed them. They're all gone."

Nella glares at me with big brown eyes peeking out from unkempt brown hair. She spares a quick look down at the ground behind me, where hundreds of glass shards shimmer on the dirt. She knows it's true, but she doesn't want to believe it. "You have to have one. Where's yours?"

"I drank it," I reply. "See?" I hold up my empty vial.

Nella holds her ground, her eyes alternating between my vial and the remains of the other four behind me. She keeps looking at the two, refusing to believe it. However, after a few seconds, she has no choice but to believe me.

"No…No, it can't be," she mumbles hopelessly, falling to her knees. Her eyes stare at the ground ahead of her, and her lips part as if she's mouthing something.

I blink before cautiously approaching her. She doesn't seem to be dangerous. She seems defeated.

"No," Nella repeats, her voice barely above a whisper. "I…I was supposed to drink one. This isn't real. This…this can't be real. It's just my imagination. It has to be."

I swallow and dare to ask, "What're you talking about?"

Nella looks up at me sharply, surprising me a bit. "This. This all can't be real. He…he isn't dead. I just saw him. He's fine, we're just…we're just separated…"

She's like Moss, I realize. I slowly kneel down and peer at her. "Who…who are you talking about?"

"As—Araucaria…Araucaria, he's dead," Nella whispers, her lips trembling. "He's dead."

She stares at me, right at my eyes. "A-Araucaria…is he still alive?" She inquires, desperation in her voice. I can see in her eyes that she wants to wake up from a terrible dream.

I remember that night, up in the artificial sky, Araucaria Chekhov from District 7 was announced as dead. Even though he was the one that punched me in the face during the Bloodbath an eternity ago, it still felt strange to know that he was dead. Now, I don't know what to feel.

"No," I answer with a shake of my head.

Nella bites on her bottom lip, fighting against saying something. She finally looks back up at me with somber eyes. "Is…Is Aspen still alive?"

Aspen? Who was Aspen?

I realize that this must be a side-effect of the virus in her. She must be confusing Araucaria with someone else.

"No, he isn't," I say.

I had just finished my sentence when tears start pouring down her face. They had been clinging to her lashes before, but now they are rolling down her cheeks. Her eyes look glassy as she silently weeps.

"I can't do this," Nella wheezes, her fingers curling into a fist on her lap. "I can't. Just…please. Kill me. Please, just kill me."

The sky is covered in a blanket of dusk now. The orange sun hovers just above the horizon, preparing to duck out of sight. I won't need to rely on the sunlight though. Using a piece of flint I had, we've built a small campfire for heat and light anyway.

I look over from poking at the fire with a stick towards Nella. She's sitting, her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms wrapped around her shins. Her gaze is sullen and almost dead, as if she has gone catatonic. Now that I know that she's lost her District partner and lover, I can understand why. I've sat away from her for a reason. I want to give her some space before we go through with this.

She made me promise. She said that life wasn't worth living anymore, especially in the Games. I tried to console her, but I quickly stopped. I had to remind myself that keeping her alive meant that she was going to be killed by someone else, or one of us would have to kill the other in a fight to the death. The former seemed too cruel to me, even if she was pleading for death, and I didn't want to think of the latter. That was when I realized that this was the only way to go. I had to give her mercy and kill her.

I don't want to, but I know I have to. I promised myself that I would fend for myself from now on when I killed the other voice in me. I can't go back now, right? If I do give up, then that means I lied to myself. And that also most probably means certain death for me. If I can't kill a girl who's asking for death, how am I going to kill someone who is most certainly going to fight back? I promised to get stronger. Doubting myself isn't helping at all. I have to do this. She asked.

"When're you going to do it?" Nella asks me, snapping me out of my thoughts. I look at her, noticing how the light from the fire flickers on her face, giving her an eerie and grim look. "When're you going to kill me?"

I avoid her gaze. "Soon. I'll…do it soon," I murmur. My gut twists and convulses; I swear I'm going to be sick, but nothing comes up. I must be readier than I think. It can't be him…Maybe I've actually changed.

Nella looks down grimly. "I'd like it to be quick. Painless, too, if you can," she says, her voice mingling with the crackling fire.

I'm silent for a few minutes, facing the reality of what I'm going to do. "I'll do my best."

Ten minutes or so pass. The tension is a thin wire, tightening and tightening until it threatens to snap and lash out across my throat. Anxiety rises within me, but accompanying it is a melancholy calm. I convince myself that I have control, but just barely.

"Hey, will you take this?"

I look up at Nella's words. To my surprise, I see her holding out a rectangular object towards me. It takes me a while, but I recognize it as a notebook. Come to think of it, I recall seeing her with it back at the Capitol.

"What're you doing?" I ask. I understand, though.

Nella urges it towards me. "Here. Take it. I want you to burn it."

Normally, I would refuse, seeing as how I wouldn't find myself burning something that belonged to someone else. But this isn't any other situation, so I have no choice but to take it into my hands.

I open the cover carefully, skimming over inked words. "What's in it?"

Nella shrugs. "Things about me, my life. Things I want to do…or wanted, I should say. Just…it's about me," she explains, offering me a tight grimace of a smile. "Will you do it?"

I blink. I've never been entrusted with something valuable to someone else. "Why?"

"It won't have any purpose once I'm gone. I figure it'll just be easier for you to get rid of it when…I go."

I slowly nod, lowering my gaze to the journal. My grip tightens around it protectively, as if to shield it from the horrors of the arena one last time. "Nothing'll be left." I promise.

Nella watches me; I can feel her gaze travelling through the pyres, watching me vow to destroy her notebook. I can tell she's investigating my gaze especially. I hope my eyes are as true as I feel.

The fire crackles on.

To break the silence, I settle the notebook on the ground beside me. "Why don't you…why don't you get some sleep?" I suggest.

I can tell by the way that she looks at me that she knows this is for both of our benefits, as we want to be blind to what we have to witness anyway. She contemplates her decision, but she must be tempted by it. Who would want to be awake when they die?

Finally, she nods in consent. I see her throat move as she swallows before she lies down on her side, and her form almost entirely disappears behind the fire. I hear a soft exhale before words. "Thank you, Claus."

Something trembles within my chest. "…you're welcome, Nella."

An hour, and she's finally asleep. I've checked on her repeatedly, and I've caught her dozing off but never fully asleep. Now, however, she's finally lapsed into a deep slumber. It seemed impossible to me to be able to sleep after such a tragedy occurred a short while ago, but Nella must really be ready. I'm not entirely prepared, but I will be for her sake.

The sword is still at the Cornucopia, but I don't want to use it. It's too brutal for one wanting to go peacefully. I know that this is what the Capitol would want, but I'm not giving them the satisfaction of seeing such sadism during a moment of mercy. Not this time.

I have no other weapons, besides the blunt club over at the Cornucopia. It's too far away, though, and I'm definitely not going to bash her head in. What if she wakes up in the middle of it? Oh God, I can't handle that.

I try to remember science classes back at school. The nervous system. The spinal cord. The brain.

I'm definitely not strong enough to twist someone's neck with my bare hands, and the unnatural sight of the aftermath might set me off. So I have to sever it.

The sword can come in handy, but it's heavy and generally difficult to wield if the wielder is someone like me. I might slip and hit something else and wake her. I have to use something small, but I have no such thing. Something like a knife.

I look around me for any knives, in case they were left by past tributes, but I see none. I cast Nella a worried look before I jog a distance away to search for any kinds of stones I can use. I rely only on quickly-vanishing sunlight to scour the grass and roots until I find a sizable rock.

I hurry back to the site and locate a smaller rock nearby. I take a seat by the fire and try to sharpen the stone into a point. I whit away at the stone for a good ten minutes, using the fire to try to see any progress I've possibly made. After ten minutes, however, I see that I've only managed to sharpen the rock to a dull rounded end. Have I picked the wrong rock?

In frustration, I hurl the rocks away and hunch over, my hands intertwining in my hair as if I'm huddling under a table during a tornado. My mind is clouded regret and worry and grief and horror, and I can't think straight. Nothing is making sense. I got rid of the very person that can help me win. I can't kill someone who wants to be killed. My District partner, who was tougher than me, is dead. Her ally has run off, not bothering to attack me. As the end of the Games draws close to the end, I'm running down Penrose stairs, only to find myself running all the way to the top when I reach the bottom. I can't stop running.

My hands fall away from my head, and I reluctantly glance over at Nella. She's still sleeping as soundly as she can, but her features are clearly troubled, or scared. She's waiting for the finishing blow. She's sleeping, and she's more prepared than I am.

I don't think I'll be able to feel as ready as her until I've had a piece of my heart torn out and stomped on the ground. She knows that pain, and she knows that there's nothing left for her. I want to tell her that there is, but that will bring a confrontation. I can't stomach the idea of giving up, even though it's something I can see myself doing. The only thing that ever stopped me from giving up was the idea of falling into some deep abyss, where I can only be left to fall through endless regrets and second thoughts. But now, if I imagine myself slipping on the tightrope I balance on, I can see the bottom of the abyss below me. It looks soft, and capable of cushioning my fall.

Is this where Nella is going? Down through an endless ravine with nothing to ever catch her? Does she know this?

Or maybe she won't fall. Maybe she'll float upwards, to Araucaria, and they'll be together. They'll remember the Games together, and she'll remember that I was the one that brought her up there.

This comforts me. I can see Nella in a better place, much better than the Arena. I barely even know her, but this idea makes me better. I don't want to feel happy, because the Hunger Games doesn't let you feel happy unless you've won (and sometimes not even then, as Moss' speech comes to mind). I just allow myself to feel better.

So I begin to reach for the rocks again, but something rustles up in the leaves above me. I freeze, my skin bristling with gooseflesh. My head snaps up towards the tree canopy above me, and I wonder if it's a bird or some other small animal.

I push myself up to a stand and look up, scanning the dark green for any signs of wildlife—maybe a wing here or a tail there. I see none.

However, I do see a shimmering silver material, splayed out over the wooden branches. It deflects the glow of the fire, casting a blinking reflection onto the dirt. In an instant, I know what it is. My heart stops and my breath freezes in my throat. Sponsor.

Sponsor?

Why would anyone offer to be a sponsor for me? What have I done to deserve this? But this is a good thing. But why? What's the gift?

After a few moments of scouting, I see something connecting to the deflated parachute, dangling from a forked branch. I hurry and fetch a long dead branch not too far from the fire, and I prod at the sponsor gift with the branch. Finally, the parachute floats down to the earth.

In the faint light, I can easily make out what my sponsor has granted me. It's a knife, consisting of a thin silver blade and a sturdy handle. The double-edged blade gleams up at me with a malicious tinge, as if baiting me to trust it. My hand moves of its own accord and my fingers curl around the handle. It feels light and quick, yet the heavier blade reminds me of its intent, and its purpose. The fire reflects off of the metal, reminding me of who lies so close to it.

Slowly, I turn on my heel and look at Nella in horror. I finally have a weapon, but now I feel as if it's twisting in my own gut. The world threatens to pirouette underneath me, and I lean on the tree to steady myself. The knife wobbles in my hand, even though I maintain a death grip on it.

It's time.

I almost moan in despair. "Oh no…I killed you…I killed you," I mumble through slackened lips. My stomach sinks back against my spine before wrapping itself around it. My hand, the one holding nothing, quivers at my side. "You're supposed to be dead."

I was dead. No, he was. The virus was what you killed, not me. You cured me.

"Cured?" I repeat. "You're…so you're back to normal?"

I should be. I hope so.

I don't trust him. It might be a trick. "Are you lying? Don't lie to me."

I'm not. I can't lie to you. You'd know everything, wouldn't you?

I avoid the statement. "Why're you here?" I demand under my breath. "Leave me alone. Go away."

I want to watch.

My blood freezes in my veins. I forcefully swallow an invisible stone down my throat; I'm suddenly aware of how tightly my hand is clenched around the knife. "Why would you want to do that? I don't want you around anymore. Leave me alone."

I want to see if you've grown. I want to see what I've done to you.

"You haven't done anything," I mutter through gritted teeth. "Now go."

I'm going to watch, Claus. You might as well do it now.

"I am!" I snap. I hear a soft rustling, but it's only Nella slightly shifting in her sleep. I can't wake her, especially not now, especially when I'm about to end her.

I straighten up, wobbling slightly but trying to keep my balance. My head feels light as I rise, but I convince myself it's only nerves. They're screaming at me to get up and to sit down all at once, and their allegiances are blurred amongst my own growing horror. There's no turning back. Though, I can always run away, but what good what that do to any of us?

I use the tree trunk to steady myself, taking deep breaths and fending off the tendrils of nausea that begin to creep around my throat. I can almost feel myself paling, and chills swarm down my body. My spine turns to jelly, and I almost collapse once more. My hand scrapes down the rough bark, sending some acute awareness through my brain. It snaps me awake, and gives me a new determination. My eyes find Nella, and my jaw sets.

One wobbly step at a time, I approach the campfire, feeling the soft tongues of heat reach out for my skin. They almost push me forward to Nella, urging me to do this as well. Everyone is our audience, shielded in an invisible amphitheater and watching the two stars perform the final act.

I'm now only a couple of feet away from Nella, looking down at her slumbering form. She seems to be unaware of my presence, and she looks somewhat anxious. But for the most part, she seems relaxed. She told me she wanted it done in the forest, since she's from District 7 and trees always felt natural to her. It made sense to me, and it still does right now. I think it's a perfect place to lose your life if you've decided that you don't want to own it anymore.

I exhale shakily as I sink to my knees. The skin beneath my pants feels the crumbly dirt underneath me; it's almost as if my senses have been enhanced. I can hear my heartbeat rolling about in my ears, blocking out all other noise. I look down at Nella, and suddenly she's far away. I blink, and she's right in front of me. My brain is on the verge of a panic attack right now, but something is keeping it from falling over the edge. It can't be him, he's half-dead. So is it me?

The leather grip is rough in my sweaty palm, causing me to reposition my grip more than once to find a comfortable way to hold it. It soon strikes me that there is no comfortable way to hold it. It's not meant to be comforting.

With the knife ready, I examine Nella's neck. Her brown hair has been thrown out and mussed over the ground, exposing her entire neck. I can see the slight bulge of where her spinal cord begins at the base of her neck and down her back. This is my target, with a nonexistent red bull's-eye painted on her skin. All I have to do is hit the target.

My breath starts rushing in my throat as I raise the knife high in the air. My face suddenly feels prickly and wet. They won't stop. I know what they are and why they're here, but I pretend they're simply raindrops from clouds that I can't see. My biceps shake, and my knuckles start to burn. I have to move, or I'll lock up and remain frozen here forever.

I force all feeling from my mind, so I don't feel the dirt pressing into my knees and my fingers chafing as they grip the knife. I force myself to just see, to see Nella's neck, and Nella's neck only. My mind pushes everything out to the boundaries of existence, except for the bulls-eye that's not even there.

"Please…please don't make me regret this," I breathe to Nella, who barely hears me. She doesn't respond. She still breathes. She's blissfully oblivious.

Then her body freezes, but I haven't moved. Time stands still, and I can only hear my breathing in my ears mingling with my heavy thundering heart.

It happens without me thinking. The ropes holding my arms back are cut free, and pure momentum slams my arms down. The blade slices the silent air clean in two.

Then the blade stops. Stuck.

I blink, and then I try to move the knife. Oh no…I'm stuck. I didn't hit her. I missed. She'll wake up. She'll see the knife embedded in the dirt next to her, and look up at me with the most spiteful eyes. Then, I'll die.

Burden leaves my eyes, and my vision is suddenly painfully clear. My cheeks feel wet again. I can see.

I look down at the knife and prepare to yank it out of the dirt.

Except, it's not in the dirt.

It's stuck in bright red and glowing orange and stretchy skin and bone. It's caught in a net of flesh and tendon and neck and human. A human named Nella Birchalynn.

Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, God.

My hands start to shake around the handle, and I soon realize that me doing so causes the knife to tremble in Nella's neck. Horrified, my hands fly away and snap back to my mouth. They press against my lips and hope that I won't make another sound for the rest of my life.

Nella doesn't move. She doesn't breathe. She doesn't look at me with eyes of hate. The firelight dances on, moving in time to the crackling blazing music and not paying a single mind to the dead girl. The audience applauds and comes out and dances and urges me to exit the stage. Nella is supposed to remain.

My hands lock tight against my mouth, stifling any noises that threaten to make themselves known. But it doesn't stop a muffled gasp from gurgling out of my throat, followed by a low, long gasp. My eyes feel wet again, but then they suddenly don't.

A cannon booms far, far away. I cry out in shock at the sound, and my eyes snap over to Nella once more. She doesn't react like I do. She doesn't react at all.

I choke out a strangled sound that I can't identify, but it sounds horrible. I don't want to hear it again. It echoes amongst the trees. It jeers at me with its horrid sound, pointing to Nella.

She wanted this, Claus, he says. This isn't your fault. This isn't anybody's fault.

I can't say anything.

Burn the notebook. The hovercraft's going to be coming for her. You can't stay. You have to go.

I follow the directions. My legs move, but I don't pay attention. My mind and my body are separate entities. I let it take control.

Good, good. Now, take the notebook.

I hobble over to the notebook. I take it into my distant arms, and suddenly it flies out of my hands. The fire pops as the notebook lands squarely in its heat.

Now, run. Let your legs carry you to a safe place. Find a tree to sleep in for the night. Find somewhere safe.

I think I nod, but I'm not sure. I just know that I move. That's all that matters. I'm moving and she's not. I have to move. She can't.

I run. Far away from the sinister dancing flames and the body frozen in sleep. I don't care that I've left the knife. I'm going back to the Cornucopia. The sword, it's there. My body knows where it is. For all I know, the sword is in one of the stylist's rooms back in the Capitol, and I'm running out of the Arena and all the way to that damned city just to get it.

My body runs for the Cornucopia, while my mind runs down a staircase into darkness.

Down, and down, and down, and down…


PumpkinGrin's A/N: Holy crap, man, Claus is one of the five people left! Well, technically, four now. This was a hard one to write, I'm so sorry for giving you trouble for my delays, Nina/Bells!

But now, I want you all to give a moment of silence to Nella Birchalynn of District 7, and to wish her a long and happy life with Aspen.