No, I haven't died! Sorry this took so long! I kept getting really stuck on it, and then there was school and such and bleurgh... But I really am sorry! I got so stumped I made a new cover while thinking of what to do. I even started the first chapter of the sequel, which then makes no sense. So sorry if some of this is word vomit. And some bits seem a bit implausible, but that's my crazy mind that came up with half this stuff in May, and my mind's wandered since then.
Anywaaaaay... I hope you enjoy this despite the long wait! I shouldn't ever take this long again for anything, I hope!
Chapter Twenty-Five – It Begins
I'm worried as Tobias tells me to close my eyes. I'd say I'm scared, but I'm not. I didn't know the meaning of the word before that morning of the reaping. I gradually discovered the definition.
Soft, fluffy material is wrapped around me. It's a dress, but unusually heavy for one, even if just by a smidge. The outfit clings to my body tightly in its exact shape, which has scarcely avoided major surgery – apparently permission is needed for artificial limbs, but not for them to jumble about straightening and whitening your teeth, or breaking your toes so they don't curve inwards, or altering your cheek muscles so you strain to get out of a sideward-smirk. They would have changed my hips, waist and breasts too if I was taller, only they plan on giving me growth hormones first, or else it won't 'go right'. I've heard where they get those from. Taken from the brains of children. Can't be adults, because adults have used it all up by the time they're full-grown. I don't want to have bits of... kids in me. For all I know, they could come from my fellow tributes. Not that I could ever find out, of course, with my prep team – green with envy from my 'full body polish' – gobble, gobble, gobbling about all the amazing things they did whilst watching children murder. It makes me sick.
"...And I think we're done!" Tobias declares, answered by delighted squeaks from the prep team. "Open your eyes now!"
"Do I have to?" I ask.
Tobias snorts. "Don't be so ridiculous! I can tell you're dying to see yourself!" Dying. I was a few days ago.
My eyes reluctantly open to spy my reflection in the mirror. I wear a furry dress that doesn't cover nearly enough – my bum cheeks would likely be visible if I sat down. My shoes have fur all over them too, and are those flat-soled ones with no tongue that easily slip off. My hair flows out in a red mane, going partway down my back. The costume fur and my hair almost match exactly in colour. I didn't think it would be anything like this. There's even a pair of ears sticking off my head band. And if I reach behind... yup, there's a tail; it bounces back up into a wavy position if I try to pull it down. Shall I ever escape this nickname?
Tobias gasps. "Breathtaking," he says, "fur is definitely coming back in fashion!" Unlike dignity.
Tobias takes me back to the lift which goes up until we're at the floor where we did our original training. I remember all the faces that once came here but now never will again. A lot of them deserved to much more than me – no, all of them. I am lead into a room I have never seen before. In the centre is a metal plate extremely similar to the ones that lift tributes into the Arena. This one feels worse than those.
With this one you're supposed to know exactly what you're getting. That means when you don't get what you expect it's more confusing. With the Arena you expect twists and turns everywhere, so they aren't that surprising. Here I don't. The mindset that I'm safe now refuses to budge, simply because I'm tired of being on edge. I'll only get through this if I relax.
"I need to get ready!" Tobias trills excitedly, "But I think Lillian will be coming in before the show starts!" He squeals again as he dashes off somewhere to get ready for his entrance. Well, I suppose he hasn't ever been stylist for a victor before.
I sigh and sit down awkwardly on the plate. As I should have known, the dress goes up as I bend and my bottom gets a massive chill without extra fabric for insulation. I should have asked for thicker underwear if I'm stuck with this dress.
How long will Lillian be? I haven't seen her since that final night before the Games. It must have been almost twenty minutes of thumb-twiddling before she comes in. When she does, she's beaming ear-to-ear.
"Well done!" she cries, throwing herself around me, "Our plan worked!"
"Plan?" I growl, "What plan? We never made a plan!"
Lillian looks confused, letting go and stepping back, "What do you mean 'what plan'? The plan. We've always had the plan."
"From the moment we met on the train 'till now, you've never spoken of a plan."
"Didn't need to, did I? We already started it!" I don't like how this is going. This is just... out of the blue, whatever this even is. Lillian is mad. Somehow she hid this behind a cool, collected persona. I miss that Lillian. But it seems she wasn't even real. If only Saint were my mentor. He's saner than this.
"What?" is all I can muster.
"It started in the Fifty-eighth Games, right? When I won. On the eleventh of June. When you were born – I checked the registers. So you'd have to be special. I knew you'd be the next one from Five to win – and you'd win when you were sixteen, too – like I was."
"You're talking like destiny. There's no such thing." Lillian ignores me and I miss some of what she says.
"-fixed the Reaping-"
"You fixed the reaping?" I yell. I hope these walls are soundproofed. Lillian shoots me a glare meaning 'be quiet' before carrying on. How can this make sense to her?
"...That's why I fixed the Reaping. Of course, you were fifteen then, but the Games always last for so long, and we couldn't wait another whole year, could we?" A brief pause. I don't know what to say so I leave it alone. "And so you learnt the wrath of the Capitol, I planted Avox clothes in with those ill-fitting ones on the train. That gave you a good scare, so you'd know all the seriousness." It did? "And then I drugged the Gamemakers in your private session so they would give you a low score." Lillian must be lying about all of this, she must be. Although, the Gamemakers did look rather subdued when I went in. And the door closing... was that Lillian leaving? But how did she even get in there? "I made sure you were cunning for the interview, so you could play up that whole 'fox' thing." She looks over my outfit. "And that clearly worked. You made it harder in the Arena, of course, faffing around with Saint's little wimp and that useless boy from Ten-" At that moment I snap.
"Ivan is not a wimp and Raven is not useless!" I yell once again. Yeah, they'd better have soundproofed these walls. I retreat slightly. "I mean, they weren't. They weren't those things." Lillian stops for a second, but then continues on like nothing happened.
"It was also awkward with that whole Eleven and Twelve affair, but at least you severed it pretty quickly. That left the final stage of the arm. Sending the serum to stop you losing too much blood was tricky, but I knew I could only hide it in food. As so much of your diet had been fruit, I knew to send you some would raise your suspicion and know they must have another use than to help your hunger. After that, exhauri-bugs often make their nests by ponds, so we had a bit of luck for you to find one, but I always knew you would anyway. I never doubted you. You had to pull through. It was your destiny." Destiny? Destiny isn't pre-decided. Destiny is what you make it.
Something in Lillian's Games must have really messed her up. Or maybe she's always been messed up. Right now she's sick. Sick. Who am I kidding? Everything's sick in this sick, sick world.
There's only one thing I can do right now. My fist is slamming into my mentor's jaw within a fraction of a second. "Just get ready, Lillian," I bark through gritted teeth, my muscles all tensed with fury, "go now." I'm surprised when she actually agrees and walks away, while my mind is left reeling with thoughts of what's happened. I only come to when I hear the voice of someone I've seen many times but never actually met. I forgot he was even in the Capitol with us, because he keeps to himself so much. Well, if I was a victor but not mentoring, I suppose I would as well. So why is he here now?
"Medea," says Emmett Roscoe, wandering over to me, "I know you've been through a lot." His words feel rehearsed. Perfectly tailored to do what they must, but avoiding trouble at the same time. Wait... trouble? ...Oh. I bet they have cameras everywhere. How could I be so stupid as to forget that? While I've been worried about soundproofed walls, the Capitol's likely been taping mine and Lillian's entire conversation, which includes her admitting to fixing the reaping and drugging the Gamemakers. Doesn't bare well for either of us. To hear her tell it, I was in on the whole thing. Emmett's aged eyes lock on hard with my own. "Well done for making it this far," he says before placing either hand on my shoulders. He pulls me in for a hug, and I don't resist, even though it feels so random and alien. I don't even know him. I haven't even met him. His lips are swooping by my ear and whispering eight short words, clothed in my hair, "Be careful. This is only where it begins." Then he disguises it as a peck on the cheek before zooming out of the room at a speed no seventy-year-old should be able to master.
Something beginning at what's meant to be the end. Something worse than the Games? I guess we'll find out.
I'm watching the highlights. I don't want to. I don't want to watch it all again. I was hating that moment five minutes ago when I had to twirl around and show off my ridiculous outfit; according to Caesar Flickerman, fur looks amazing on me – yeah, right. Now I long to go back to that time when I wasn't watching this. The whole of Panem is right now. But then they're watching me as well, in the corner of the screen on the stupid, frivolous Victor's chair. A lot of shots it looks more like a photo rather than a live feed; I'm frozen stiff.
They start with the Reapings. It goes from One through to Twelve, only skipping out Five until the end to play it in full. My 'hopefully reassuring' smile to Myra I put on there has practically become a trademark – and it's the reason I can barely keep my face straight, as somehow they altered the way my cheek muscles work so they rest in that odd, sideways smile unless I really stretch them, like I do now. When Ivan mounts the stage, it's as clear as I've remembered it. Shaking hands thrust in pockets, tears brimming in eyes, the eventual pour-down in the middle of the stage. They show the two of us shake hands – focusing the camera mostly on me – before cutting to the chariot rides. Same as it was, showing all the districts and then blabbering on about District 12's entrance – though they've edited it so there's some more attention on Ivan and me. You're not fooling anybody. Well, maybe the people in the Capitol. Fine, rephrase; you're not fooling anybody with half a brain.
Next they have the training scores. Quick comments on a few, including how I may be 'keeping my talents hidden', and they have to include their surprise at Katniss obtaining an 11. Now for the interviews. I look so much younger in mine. Feels like I acted much younger too – I was calling Katniss 'Steal-a-name-niss' at that point. I don't care if she stole my name now at all. I'll never be known as 'the girl with the fiery hair' any more, even to myself.
In the Arena I watch people die. I grip the arms of the chair tight as Cuthbert Number Two gets a sword through the heart, Talia decapitated, Hunter literally backstabbed. Ivan receives that spearhead to the calf just running away, yet somehow Rose collects a backpack unscathed. Nothing of what I see greatly surprises me – except one thing. Raven told me he got his pack from a dead guy. He never mentioned how he killed that guy himself. Though I suppose I never mentioned about how I murdered his district partner. Speaking of which... they're doing it now.
"Oh! Let me do it so it's quicker!" Rose snatches the berries from the girl's hands and spurts the juice into Ivan's mouth. The life drains out of him, his eyes going blank, and the girl is frantically slapping his cheeks in a vain attempt to wake him.
Rose stands in indifference while the camera focuses in on the girl's expression. There's something broken at that point – snapped. Fire in her eyes; a raging ball of madness. She's become some sort of wild, feral creature. Seconds later and it's her first kill made. She's left there in shock at her actions as cannons start to fire. They show the girl meeting with Raven as well as showing brief clips of other tributes. Then it's faces in the sky, the close encounter with the Careers, the girl collecting water and watching Cuthbert Number One, just before they show the murder of Megan Crimson in extreme detail. It was Peeta in the end. Just metres away from Katniss hiding in a tree.
It shows the red-haired girl panicking at the cannon fire, but skips to later, showing every tribute getting along with little problem. Cue the fire.
When she runs into it, she appears much calmer than I thought she was at the time. She throws water over herself like she's planned this her whole life, running through it simply. It's a little funny to see the jacket – so long on her at first – deteriorate to barely a shawl. Most of the others run from the fire too; Silas is even burnt to death. They make the girl's and Katniss' time by the pool last just seconds before the girl climbs her tree, warns Rue about tracker-jackers and falls asleep. I find out that Rue warns Katniss, who later drops the nest on Glimmer and the rest.
The girl finds Raven not much later going by screen-time, they have a good snog, and then not long after, he dies. I force myself to feel nothing. There are prickles in my eyes and my cheek has been bitten into the next century.
I discover the girl isn't too shabby at acting when they show her by the supplies. She truly does look sneaky hinting at Katniss that the pyramid is mined and that she has to shoot at it and blow them up. Not that I remember her acting much at that particular stage.
Then the girl teams up with Katniss. She appears manic as she walks steadily towards where I know, but she doesn't, Marvel will be. She crazily jumps upon him, knife blade in hand, at the same moment Katniss fires an arrow at him. It doesn't hurt where it hit any more – I haven't any scars at all, unless you count the whole missing-an-arm thing as a scar. Yeah, maybe you would. I suspect that if I already had some scars that they'd be gone too, only my only previous scar was on my left elbow. I still feel my left elbow, and whole arm. Brains are silly like that. They can't comprehend that one of your limbs has disappeared, and so compensate by make it feel like it's still there. If it wasn't for that, our brains would be telling us how to grow it back.
As Marvel's throat is slit, in the girl's eyes you can see so is some of her sanity. Some of his blood dries on her nose and stays there until the water, when Clove dips her head in and out, as well as making it bleed from the knife's sharp blade.
Rue clings to Thresh's back as he swims away – just about – to a particular part of the field where the crops are taller and seem stronger. Cato and Clove make it over but Thresh grabs Clove, dunking her underwater while Rue holds her breath to tie the crop around her legs, too tough for Clove to wriggle free from, so she drowns. Cato doesn't even try to help her, but merely observes Thresh. That's when the water begins to lower and Cato is swept far away from Thresh and Rue. Suppose they just didn't want to have all the drama in one go.
For the next day it's just clips of Katniss and Peeta. Guess their whole couple thing was popular enough to reshow, even if they didn't win. Of course, then they announce the Feast and those two get all dramatic about it while the others just get on with what they're doing. The amber-eyed girl needs a sleeping bag.
They show her running into the Cornucopia, shivering from both the cold and from fear. I witness that Thresh didn't want Rue to risk the Cornucopia or the Feast at all, but she runs off anyway. My heart races because I know what's about to happen. Shadows creep around the girl and her face contracts until she simply charges forward blindly to attack the perpetrator. Then she realises it's her once-ally. She is filled with remorse. She slows down the bleeding and sings to Rue not too badly, but the song is a terrible choice. Running out at dawn, she grabs her pack and surprises them all in the process. Katniss runs out next, narrowly avoiding being killed by Cato, who gets distracted by Thresh. When Thresh seizes 11's pack and runs into the Cornucopia, Cato can't help himself and goes after the trapped prey. Thresh puts up a good fight but is eventually overpowered. Cato discovers Rue a few minutes later, so then she's gone too.
And then there were four.
Day after and the girl is looking for water. She somehow ends up sawing off her arm. The sound on the clip is distorted.
The final tributes make their way to the lake. The girl takes a dip in it, being the closest. Cato gets there next, quickly filling bottles. Lastly are Peeta and Katniss. They are chased up the Cornucopia by gigantic dogs, along with Cato. Cato is killed and the mutts run away. The girl moves round the edge of the woods to get closer to her opponents.
The older boy and girl threaten to commit suicide. And it isn't a bluff. They take the berries in their mouth just as the fox-faced girl jumps out, unavoidable. The 'star-crossed lovers' swallow and collapse on the ground.
"Uh... congratulations to the victor of the Seventy-fourth annual Hunger Games! Err... I give you – Medea Travex, female tribute of District Five! You came out of nowhere!"
Yes. That isn't just a random girl. That girl is me. I've been fooling myself. The girl on that film is me whether I like it or not. That very edited piece of film. I could list what they've changed or missed.
Me skipping away from the Cornucopia. Me sitting Ivan up against the tree like he's asleep. Me locking eyes with Peeta so he doesn't give me and Raven away. Me later dragging Peeta to the stream in return. Me and Raven mouthing before he dies...
Of course there's been more omitted. They make it like I barely said a word to Katniss as we went to Rue. But the most obvious part was where I 'died'. It simply doesn't happen. Using bad quality footage they must have never aired, they make it appear that my sanity was so overtaken, I simply sawed my arm off for no good reason. Fake birdsong covered the sound on that part. Covered the cannon. Covered their mistake. And then they deleted any images of that small, reddish mutt with amber eyes, too.
Will anyone realise just how massively changed this is? In the Capitol I doubt it. They could announce the sky was green and we're all made of orange juice and they'd take it as infallible. The district people are a different matter... We have minds of our own more, at least most of us. Maybe that's why they removed anything that could mean something from the highlights. Risky for the Capitol, but this is unstable ground. Nobody's ever had the potential to die twice.
I'm walking on ice. A frozen pond I never meant to help create. Surely they must know that? But now it's like they're trying to make me retrieve something from it. A ball accidentally kicked on it. I may be rather small and light, but that doesn't mean I'm not enough to still plunge in. Enough to make a large splash. I'd better hope that ice will strengthen, and the ball rolls no further away.
But how? I hate metaphors.
I'm coming home. Right now, I'm coming home. The train speeds on.
Last time I was on here, I was scared of the Avoxes. Now I'd welcome them as friends. If they were here. I checked through the end of the train, but there's nobody there. Like I'd imagined it. Maybe I did. Maybe I imagined everything. Maybe this has actually all just been a dream; I haven't entered the Games, we're heading to the Capitol now and any minute Ivan is going to walk along and ask why I've been staring out this window for over three hours, clutching the metal frame with a white-knuckled hand. If he did I wouldn't answer. I'd more likely cry and he'd ask why and that would make me cry more. He was just a kid.
So was I.
The only reason I can't convince myself of this dream is because my arm's missing.
There are two less in our party now. Ivan. And Lillian. The last we saw her was at the party after the crowning ceremony. The president had to position it very carefully to avoid it falling off completely then. I didn't like the way he looked at me. I couldn't figure out what he could be thinking in the slightest, which was worrying. I normally have at least a hint.
Tyranny told us that Lillian had some 'very serious business in the Capitol' and said that she apologised she couldn't be travelling back with us. She also tutted her for this 'ridiculous display of manners', scolding her, despite her absence, for going as low as to make an Avox give her the note about it. Tyranny is oblivious to any of the suspiciousness of this, but then so is Saint, shoving his face in more cream-filled platters. What annoys me most is Tyranny now pretending to like me. Luckily, annoyances don't bother me much any more.
Emmett acts the same as on the train ride here. Inconspicuous, staying inside his room the whole journey. Perhaps I should try disturbing him, but I don't see the point. There's nothing wrong with me staring out at the rain, is there? I'd stick my hand out if I could, if the train weren't so fast, feel the water droplets splatter my hand, the unsteady hits massaging my palm. The rain likely has acid in it. That acid will almost undoubtedly have come from District Five's power plants, which are looming over the horizon now.
Before I even know what's going on we're pulling in to the station in District Five. There's a crowd of people but all I see for the moment is my father and Myra. Even just these few weeks away from them has slightly distorted their images in my head. They are the only ones I want to see right now. They are the only ones I truly care about in the world.
When I charge into their arms, I cry. It isn't because I've missed them. It isn't because of the astonishingly eye-watering pollution I've only just discovered was here.
It's because I don't know how long I'll be able to stay here. Don't know if I can stay here, safe. I am reminded of my dad calling me that stupid old nickname. Maybe he didn't think, didn't realise, when he came up with it. Hair burns.
And thus, after six months (I think?), this story ends. Thank you all you guys so much for supporting me through this! It's really just changed so much... at first I was pining for even one review... now it's the most reviewed Foxface story on the site :-) And that's all down to you guys! I love you all! :-D Just... just thanks so much to anybody who has ever added this story to favourites, alerts, or left a review! Now, here you all are by name (bear with me here):
Black Wolf Zombie
Ember A. Keelty
Future Fantasy Writer
Innocent Primrose Everdeen
Kid Justice In Pink
The Phantom Mockingjay
Ya Its me
Yay! I love you guys! :-D But you don't want to know just how long it took me to gather all your names up... And then I felt the need to alphabetise because I'm just like that. I really, really, really hope I haven't missed anyone off.
Hm. It feels weird that this is the end now. I've never ended a multi-chapter before... Huh. I guess I have now.
I can't say when the start of the sequel will be up, but just keep an eye out. And please rest assured that it will not just be a rip-off of Catching Fire with Katniss replaced. I've already got some very different ideas which may or may not end up coming in to play.
So... one last review? ;-)