A/N: Here we are at the end of the story. We had a wonderful time sharing the sexual innuendo ball. We hope you'll enjoy reading it.
Rhia: Part of this was written with the song "Machine Head" by Bush stuck in my head and repeating one line over and over and over AND THANK GOD I bought Imaginaerum to get it to go away. If any of you know Machine head, you may recognize a couple parts.
Warning: Bit more cussing in this one than last chapter.
As always, we don't own the Hunger Games.
Read, enjoy, and review!
Insert Reality TV Gone Wrong Here
The forest canopy rang with the cheerful tweets of mockingjays as the sun broke over the treetops...until a knife thudded into the soft feathery body and the birds took flight in alarm. Roxelana stood over the limp body of the dead mockingjay, retrieved her knife, and began pulling its wings off, humming a cheerful tune as she walked.
Up in the control room, the mockingjays had been muted (their constant imitation of the noises around them gave Order a headache) but the room was by no means silent. Michael, Valerie and Jared had been sleeping on the pile of cushions for about three hours now, and the British mentors were bright eyed, bushy tailed and full of tea and bacon rolls (provided this morning by Harriet's scantily clad male slaves). Creation was in a similarly cheerful mood, spooning sugar into her tea and splashing drips of it on her sketchbook. Even the other Sovereigns looked content despite having no sleep, helping themselves to their own coffee.
Passion alone was not in a good mood. He had been easily distracted by the evisceration the night before, and had not been made away of the "No Smelly Boys" spell until he had attempted to approach the bed and kick the British agents awake earlier that morning. The morning sunshine now found him dealing with the two large uncomfortable consequences of his actions.
"...I think they suit you Pash-"
"Shut up!" Passion tried to fold his arms to sulk, but he was hampered by his newly acquired set of female breasts.
"Aww don't pout, Passion...or should we call you Pashmina now?" Harriet snorted. "In any case, that's what you get when you try to wake girls up in their beauty sleep."
"Be thankful that a pair of breasts is all you got," Creation advised. "I've heard Harriet and Tash did kickboxing. You could have lost something far more valuable to you."
The surface of her voice was casual, but there was an undercurrent of threat in her voice that made even Passion whimper. Hands cupping protectively between his legs, he scooted to sit by Order and Purity.
"From now on, you go wake them," he insisted.
"Why us?" Order demanded irritably.
"Because two don't use your balls! You've got nothing to lose!" Passion hissed, but everyone heard him regardless. Harriet inhaled tea up her nose, and Life began laughing hysterically.
"Wait...seriously?" Creation asked, looking between the two male Sovereigns with her mouth hanging open.
"Duh!" Passion rolled his eyes, ignoring the death glares from his two colleagues. "Come on Creation, think about them both! Purity is an angel. Completely chaste – as in, no sex. And Order is...well, Order. And sex is –"
"Chaotic," Life put in.
"Confusing," Tash nodded wisely.
"And just plain messy sometimes," Harriet was stroking an imaginary beard as her scantily clad male slaves knelt at her feet like students eyeing their mentor.
"Where did those slaves come from?" Resolve whispered in confusion.
"Exactly," Passion concluded with a broad smile. "Sex is everything that Order hates, ergo he's still a virgin too."
He beamed; satisfied that he had imparted some wisdom today. Creation applauded his efforts, while Harriet and Life continued to giggle.
"I swear I am going to kill you," Order growled under his breath, his bacon roll being squashed to mush in his hand. Purity meanwhile blushed every shade of red in the spectrum.
"Oooh! Oooh!" Tash suddenly squeaked in excitement. She spluttered and struggled over finding the right words, pointing her left hand between Order and Purity, a frighteningly high pitched squeal coming out of her mouth. Harriet was the first to get it, her face breaking into a mad expression of excitement, and Creation and Life were not too far behind, gasping dramatically, before all four of them squealed out a lone word that made every man's soul flee the building in terror.
Apparently sensitive to disturbances in the Yaoi Fangirl Force (or perhaps just very loud noises), the three agents on the bed of cushions woke up instantly at the squealing. What they came face to face to, was Passion dying of laughter in the middle of the table, clutching his nice plump set of DDs as he sank into a curled position unable to support his own weight. Resolve's mouth was twitching as he tried desperately not to laugh at the looks of pure embarrassment on Purity and Order's faces. It was too much for Purity and he hid himself in his wings. All the while, Harriet, Tash, Creation and Life had hauled themselves over the table and watched the pair with magnificent sparkles in their eyes and mad grins on their faces.
"...huh?" was Valerie's semi-coherent response. Michael however, recognised the signs, and got to his feet with a resigned sigh heaving from his chest.
"Alright girls, back away," he said in a firm and solemn voice, pulling them back into their seats two by two. "Save it for the Rule Thirty Four Contest."
"Awww!" Came a series of whines.
"But we didn't even decide whose uke!" Creation pouted adorably.
"No Rule Thirty Four!" Michael, Order and Purity commanded in firm, slightly loud voices.
Still pouting, they went back to their bacon rolls, and Valerie, Jared and Michael went back to sleep now that the disturbance was over.
"Speaking of Rule Thirty Four," Tash eventually said, swallowing her mouthful and peering over to the map. "My yaoi senses are tingling!"
A still mortified Purity spat his mouthful of coffee all over Order. Tash rolled her eyes.
"Not you, dummies."
She sat on the edge of the table and enlarged the image of the Society tribute's hastily made campsite.
"Oooh that's why!" Tash said delightedly. The scene was not exactly 'yaoi', though it did involve Cristoph and Ben. Even in sleep (or meditative dozing) the ninja looked dignified, body straight and arms folded across his chest. He was a stark comparison to Ben, who was sprawled and seemed to take up twice as much space as everyone else. He was also snoring lightly. His dramatic sprawl had taken him to within grabbing distance of the ninja, his hand only inches from his face.
They slept side by side, with their respective girlfriends on their other sides, and Avak on the other side of Lily. Rhia was cuddling her frying pan in her sleep like a safety blanket, and Avak appeared to be drooling.
Tilting her head at the scene, Tash shrugged.
"Eh, close enough," she declared. Harriet approached and winced.
"Oooh I hope Ben doesn't roll over," she said.
Murphy's Law seemed to have taken Harriet for a pet that morning, as Ben stretched in his sleep like a lazy cat, letting gravity pull him onto his side, his arm flopping out to full extension, palm landing straight in Cristoph's crotch.
For a second there was silence.
And then an earsplitting scream followed by a painful 'CLANG!' rang through the forest.
There was a chaotic scramble as everyone shot awake, but not completely aware, feeling like something had stung them in the rear. Rhia shot straight up to her feet, arms still outstretched from swinging her frying pan. She blinked and stared, wondering why exactly she had swung. The ringing continued to echo around the abandoned skyscraper.
Cristoph was still on the ground, his eyes wide, hands protecting between his legs and a nearly impossible combination of embarrassment and anger on his face. Avak and Lily had sat up enough to see what was going on, but sleep still clouded their faces. Ben was sprawled fifteen feet away from the ground, a Looney-Tunes style lump growing from the back of his head. A muffled "ow", came from somewhere in the floor.
"...y'know, an alarm clock would have worked just as well, Rhia," Lily groused, rubbing sleep from her eyes.
"What the hell happened?" Avak asked, yelping in fright as he stepped on a broken shard of glass. Around them, the sounds of morning echoed through the steel frames.
"That's what I'd like to know!" Rhia thundered, standing over both boys with a menacing look on her face.
Cristoph barely quailed under his girlfriend's glare, shooting one himself to the groaning lump that was Ben. Ben himself was slowly dragging his body off the ground, rubbing at the lump on his head.
"Ah...sorry?" he situated himself into a cross-legged position, slumping. "Rolled over and got a little close."
"A little close?" Rhia growled. "You grabbed him in the crotch!"
Lily and Avak snorted with laughter. With as much dignity as he could muster, Ben got up, and dusted himself off.
"Okay, we're all embarrassed, and I've been punished – even though I had no control over myself – so now can we just pretend it never happened and move on?"
He sounded so solemn that everyone took pity on him and nodded. As they packed up the camp and prepared to move out into the sunshine for fresh water and food, Ben's face broke into a smirk as he passed Cristoph and whispered, "Besides, I'm bigger."
The group stepped into the sun, occasionally yawning from wake-up juice deprivation. Both Rhia and Ben sorely missed their daily coffee. The grass beyond the edge of the skyscraper was damp with dew, and Lily stripped off her socks and walked barefoot in the direction of the lake. In the trees, a few mockingjays observed them curiously, but otherwise the area was devoid of life.
By the time they got to the lake, the caffeine withdrawal was starting to show. As Cristoph kept guard, Avak began refilling the bottles. Lily sorted through the packs for food while Rhia and Ben threw water on their faces in an effort to shock their brains into life. It did not work.
"Hey guys!" Rhia tipped back her head to yell. "If you're not too busy making sexual innuendo up there, we could use some coffee!"
"...are you talking to our mentors, or to the authors?" Lily asked curiously. Rhia shrugged.
"I don't care if it's our mentors, the Sovereigns or God himself – just give me coffee, damn it!"
A thermos flask clunked solidly onto her head.
A wicked grin crossed Ben's face. "Hey, I want a nuclear missile and two tonnes of high grade explosive!"
"NO! NO! BAD JARED! PUT THE MISSILE DOWN! YOUR GM COMMANDS IT!"
"No fair..." Ben scowled, slumping to the ground and sulking.
After cups of coffee had been passed around, and everyone was much more awake, food was distributed and the flasks of water had made the rounds, everyone was willing to face what was still in front of them.
"Hey..." Lily paused, a finger on her chin. "Wait a minute..." a slow grin grew on her face. "We have a twipire to hunt."
The grin that passed Rhia's face was completely unholy. She rubbed her hands together and grinned. "Okay, how do we find a twipire?"
There was a long silence, with only the mockingjays imitating a few choice words and notes from the conversation.
"Umm...we look for sparkles?" Avak suggested nervously.
"Okay, but what do we actually do when we find him?" Cristoph asked. "How do twipires fight?"
"Err...with tragic, heart tugging angst," Ben said bluntly. "Should be pretty easy. Maybe if the mentors send down some anti-depressants or something we can trick him into swallowing them..."
"Don't be stupid," Cristoph growled, still sore about the groping.
Rhia rested her weight on one hip, thinking. "Well in the first book, there was much fire and ripping of the limbs. But it was the other twipires doing it." She sighed. "One of your nukes would come in very handy right now, Ben."
"Yeah...hear that guys?!" Ben yelled skyward again. "A nuke would come in really handy right now!"
"Shut up!" Cristoph snapped. "The twipire and Roxelana are still out there! Do you want them to find us?!"
"Yes, maybe I do!" Ben snarled back. "Then we can win this game, kick Passion in the nuts, and go home!"
"But we wouldn't go home..." Lily said quietly. Everyone turned to stare at her. She was picking at the grass by the lake, staring off in the distance at the skyscraper which they had camped in.
"Even if we kill the other two," she said. "Do you really think that Passion is going to let all five of us go? That's not the way the Hunger Games work. The rules only allow for one victor, and you know how fixated our GM is on the rules."
They all swallowed. Avak had gone bone white.
"I..." Cristoph shook his head. "No. I refuse to do that."
Ben, in a rare moment, agreed. "Me too. We have to agree for it to work. We'll find our way out."
The other three nodded, their grips tightening on their weapons.
Rhia growled softly. "Let's get that twipire dealt with."
High up in the control room, Passion folded his arms and ground his teeth together, a growl working its way out of his throat as his folded arms were hampered by his breasts once more.
"So you think you can outsmart my rules, do you?" he snarled softly. Everyone jumped as his subdue behaviour suddenly became violent and he flung a china cup at the wall. "Cheating bastards!"
"Umm...Passion..." Creation said slowly. "Calm down-"
"I AM PERFECTLY CALM!" the Gamer Sovereign roared, causing the three sleepers on the cushions to groan in frustration.
"Shut up already!" came a muffled growl from Michael, and he biffed a pillow (with startling accuracy) at Passion's head. He yelped and went flying off the table, landing half sprawled on the floor and half on Order's lap...
...well...almost his lap...
"My yaoi senses are tingling again!" Tash giggled brightly.
"GET YOUR FACE OUT OF MY CROTCH, PASSION!" Order shrieked, backhanding Passion into the floor.
"...do I detect a hint of frustration?" Harriet asked sweetly, as the scantily clad male slaves massaged her feet and fed her pieces of fruit.
"Where do those slaves keep coming from?" Resolve whispered to Creation anxiously, but the artist Sovereign had flipped open her sketchbook and gone into that special place where only the paper, pencil and the images in her head existed.
"Right..." Passion clawed his way up from the floor, like some kind of creature pulling its way up from the underworld. "You all think this is funny? You want fun and games? HERE!" He reached over and slammed a finger on a button on the table console. "LET'S ALL HAVE SOME FUN!"
"...hey, do you guys hear something?" Lily asked, straightening up, still cupping a handful of dirt to smother the fire.
Cristoph cocked his head to the side, looking for all the world like a dog hearing a far off whistle. "It...sounds like buzzing?"
He gave the rest of the group a confused look.
Fear is not always a conscious reaction, and so though none of them completely knew the reason why, the Society agents clutched their rucksacks tighter to their backs, as the faint humming swelled to a low droning noise. The pitch rose and fell again like a wave, less like the hum of electricity and more like the angry buzz of a thousand insects.
Ben's eyes went wide, as an inkling of what exactly the buzzing was revealed itself to him. "Are you guys thinking what I'm thinking?"
Lily swallowed, backing away one step at a time from the growing drone of sound. "Tracker Jackers?" Her voice was high and soft, all the moisture having vanished from her mouth a heartbeat before.
Ben nodded, his face white.
"Run!" Rhia let the word fall from her lips, doing exactly that a second later.
All four of them took off from the clearing, with a confused Cristoph leaping into the trees as the golden cloud burst through the forest, humming angrily as they took off after their newfound prey.
"Wasps?" though he leaped from tree to tree, Rhia still heard him over the menacing drone.
"No, Tracker Jackers!" Even in immediate danger, Ben could not help but correct his rival. "Wasps are their harmless cousins."
Rhia chanced a look over her shoulder, blinked at the sight behind her, and ran even faster. The swarm behind them was enormous, a black humming cloud that covered everything they passed in death. And it seemed said humming death was gaining on them. Over and over they rolled and surged like a wave waiting to sweep them down.
There was a screech, as a tree root found the toe of Lily's boot, and she plummeted to her hands and knees. Ben and Avak skidded to a halt, turning to haul her back onto her feet. The glittering cloud of Tracker Jackers now clearly visible behind them like an oncoming storm. Squinting, Cristoph thought he could make them out – bigger than regularly wasps and a solid gold in colour – before Lily straightened up with one boy on each elbow, and they continued their mad dash.
"Where do we go?!" Avak shrieked in fear.
"Water!" Rhia replied, jumping over rocks and branches that tried to trip or snare her. Too late, they all realised that the nearest source of water (the lake) was in the opposite direction.
Minutes...hours...days...they lost count of how long they had been running. Only when another branch nearly concussed Ben did they realise that they had come full circle back to the west side of the mountain. The group scrambled around a large pile of rocks, only to nearly run smack into the pale, glittering mass that was the twipire. He snarled, but ignored them, dashing madly up the mountain as the second swarm of Tracker Jackers exploded out of the trees behind him.
Frantically, the agents spun on their heels and shot towards the mountain after the twipire, losing precious feet as they scrambled to regain lost momentum. Avak gave a sudden yelp, and Rhia seized his hand and pulled him in the right direction. It sounded like one of the Tracker Jackers had found him, and she prayed to every deity that she was wrong.
"Now there's two of them!" Lily yelled. "What do we do?"
"See any water, Cristoph?" Rhia called into the trees.
"Not a drop of liquid for miles!" the ninja replied, darting ahead into the higher branches as they ran.
Rhia cursed. "Death by Tracker Jackers. Not the way I wanted to go. Anyone else got any ideas?"
From the side, Ben's voice came out loud, clear and confident. "I do!" He skidded to a halt, braced himself, and thrust his hand forward. "MY COFFEE-MAKERS ARE NOT CONTROLLED BY HOOVER DAM COMPUTERS!"
Everything, including the Tracker Jackers, and the fleeing twipire froze, as a low bass rumbling shook the mountain, scattering pebbles from their quiet resting spot. It stopped, and the hum from the Tracker Jackers returned.
"Oh shit. Didn't work!" Ben swallowed.
Then the coffee gates opened from above, and dumped them and the surrounding area with thousands of gallons of coffee.
The group flailed in the hot, aromatic flood, as trees and bushes were submerged. The Tracker Jacker hum was lost in the rush of liquid, and the agents struggled to stay afloat.
"You're either mad, or a genius!" Rhia called from her position, clinging to the midriff of a pine tree as the coffee bobbed around her.
"I'll take both!" Ben called back.
With the heavenly downpour of coffee, the horrifying drone of the Tracker Jackers had faded away. Avak heaved a sigh of relief from his tree. "They're gone..." He blinked and rubbed at his eyes with one hand.
"Does anyone else see those two pizzas dancing a waltz?" He pointed, but the rest of the group ignored his hand to stare at him.
"Dude..." Ben said slowly, sliding out of the tree as the coffee drained away, leaving a squelchy forest floor behind. "Come out of the tree..."
But Avak was still staring at something that was clearly beyond the range of anyone else's understanding. He rubbed his eyes again and again, and muttered something about sparkles, and then went limp against the branches, slumping down into a heavy drop.
In a blur of black, Cristoph caught him and settled him gently on the ground.
"What's wrong with him?" the ninja asked.
Lifting Avak's foot, Lily yelped at the tennis ball sized lump on the back of his ankle. "Stung!" she said, digging her nails in to find the stinger. Avak yelped and his head began to loll as though drunk.
"Hallucinogenic," Rhia explained, slapping Avak's cheek lightly. "Targets the fear in the brain-"
No sooner had she said it, when Avak began to shriek hysterically. She winced at the sheer volume and pitch Avak could reach, before wiping the sweat that had started to form on his brow. "...and he's got a bit of a fever." She bit her lip. "I think he's going to be out of it for a while. I mean, unless we can figure out what plant will help him with this, we gotta wait until his body works through this."
"Dammit," Ben swore, and kicked at the coffee soaked ground.
A new voice came from their left. "Course you could just leave him. He's dead weight now."
"I smell angst!" Lily warned, as everyone turned to glare at the twipire. Up close, and now that they had time to study him, they could see that he was pretty attractive (though his skin was already starting to glitter in the sunlight) and seemed none the worse for spending a night in the woods. Rhia shuddered as she realised just how easily he would have been able to satiate his hunger with so much prey in the forest.
Ben rolled his eyes and strode forward. "Oh, just go away you overly-sparkly, My Immortal attempt at real vampires. You're lucky. We'll take you out later."
The twipire tilted his head, smiling, before taking a deep breath through his nose. "Threatening me, when you're at a position of weakness? Not smart."
"Weakness? There's five of us-" Lily broke off as Avak gave another scream, and hastily amended. "-four of us, and one of you! I'd say the odds are in our favour!"
The twipire stalked closer to Lily. "You're forgetting everything I can do." He smiled, and for a moment, he looked almost handsome. "Come with me, beautiful. You'll live a bit longer."
Ben snarled. "Get away from my girlfriend!"
"What are you gonna do about it?" he smirked.
Positively growling, Ben's arm snapped skyward, just as a plothole conveniently slid open.
"Hurry up Jared! Passion's flushing the loo!"
"I'm going as fast as I can! This hole is really small!"
"DON'T MESS WITH NUKES!"
For a second, there was only the serene sound of silence...and then a whistle, subtle at first, but suddenly bursting through the trees as the unsuspecting Mockingjays took up the sound, the nuke slid through the sky like a majestic piñata.
Everyone looked up into the sky, seeing the head of the nuke come screaming down at them. The twipire stared, bewildered, as everyone else scattered out of blast range.
"Fire in the hole!" Rhia yelped, diving for cover.
The nuke exploded head-on with the twipire in an example of the most contained nuclear explosion ever. The shockwave still blew coffee soaked leaves everywhere
For a moment, nobody moved, staring at the empty, smouldering crater...and then quietly, Ben let out a snort of laughter, which quickly evolved into chuckling. Soon everyone was doubled over in fits. Even the stoic Cristoph was cracking a smile.
"I nuked a twipire!" Ben could not contain his joy any longer, picked up the nearest person (Cristoph, who let out an undignified squawk) and twirled him around.
"...does anyone want to explain to me," Passion said in a slow and deadly voice. "Just how that crater got there?"
Valerie, who had been woken along with Michael and Jared at the first sign of the Tracker Jackers, gave her most innocent face. "I can't possibly imagine Passion."
Across the table, Order barely repressed a snort of laughter. Next to him, Purity was sulking.
"Cheer up Purity," Life said bracingly, toying with a bit of string between her fingers. "We always knew the twipire was a suckers bet. Frankly I'm amazed he lasted this long."
"Oh yes, because you did so well yourself Life," Creation put in dryly. "How long did Sparrow last? Oh yeah, a minute and thirty seven seconds. At least mine made it to midnight."
"Barely," Life scowled. Next to her, Order looked torn. It was clear he still hated Roxelana – her very nature was repulsive to him – but he was obviously starting to realise that he had backed an exceptionally good tribute, who now had a very real chance of winning. Despite his disdain for Passion and his games, the lure of being able to win was clearly strong.
A harsh grinding sound was filling the room, and it took the Society agents a moment to realise that it was coming from Passion. His jaw was clenched and he seemed to be doing his best to grind his teeth into a fine powder.
"So..." his voice was low and menacing. "They think they can win this so easily? They think that I will just let them stroll out of here with the prize?! WELL THE GAME DOESN'T WORK THAT WAY! YOU GAVE UP YOUR RIGHT TO A VICTORY WHEN YOU KILLED WISDOM!"
Harriet, Michael and Tash exchanged quick glances, but Harriet shook her head firmly. Telling Passion now would probably just make him angrier still. Maybe when he was calmer...
"You wanted water did you Rhia?" Passion's voice was frantic and intense. "You wanted to wash the Tracker Jackers away?! HERE!" He slammed a finger on another button. "HAVE SOME WATER!"
Something jerked deep in the ground, and the laughter around the crater immediately ceased.
"Oh for God's sake, what now?!" Lily demanded irritably. Above their heads, the cannon finally sounded for the Twipire, but that was the least of their concerns. At Lily's feet, Avak had given up on screaming for now, curling up into a tight whimpering ball instead as his mind twisted and turned through its hallucinations.
The rumbling was getting closer, sending adrenaline pumping through everyone's already wired bodies. Something was rushing like a flood of Ben's coffee, and something huge and dark swelled in the distance, blotting the sun from view.
The group stared at the incoming darkness, and somewhere in their hind brains, they all knew they were screwed.
"Oh dear God." Rhia whimpered, and tried not to panic, though the rest of her was all for it.
The wave crested like a monster reaching out its powerful claws, before crashing down hard over the landscape, sweeping through the forest in a rage. Trees snapped like twigs against the rushing water, and animals screamed from around them. Through the wind and spray which threatened to blow her over, Rhia saw Cristoph reaching out his hand, just as the full force of the water hit.
Her lungs collapsed against the pressure, the strength blowing her off her feet and into the water's murky embrace. Dullness pounded against her ears, a stark contrast to the chaos swirling around her. Rhia flailed and tried to grab something – anything – to cling on to, but it was all she could do not to lose her backpack and keep her frying pan in her grasp.
The raging waters pushed her along in its furious current, tossing her tail over teakettle until she didn't know which way was up. Her lungs burned for air, but she knew if she gave in she was dead. Panic started to eat at her mind, starting at the base of her skull and going up.
The water flipped her one more time, and the glimmer of sunlight just pierced through the darkness. Rhia gathered the little energy she had left in her limbs and swam as hard as she could for the surface.
The rushing wave was losing energy fast after its dramatic entrance, the water level dropping as the momentum slowed to a gentle river pace. Gulping in grateful mouthfuls of air, Rhia flipped onto her back, letting the current settle to a slow stream, before petering out into a shallow puddle, leaving her bruised, battered and barely coherent on the forest floor. Her vision was obscured by matted hair and mud, and her damp body was already starting to shiver (Passion was having fun with the temperature, she thought vaguely) but she was alive...damaged, in pain, but alive.
She focused on that.
Breathing was beyond painful. It was like someone has set his lungs on fire. Body convulsing in panic, Cristoph rolled onto his side and vomited violently. Muddy water and bile soaked the already sodden ground. The forest was silent except for him. All the animals had either run or been washed away. A soft moan by his side from Avak was all he could hear, as his body finally stopped malfunctioning, and he rolled onto his back trying to catch his breath.
He did not recognise this part of the forest, but he suspected that even if he had been here before he still would not have been able to tell – whole trees had been snapped in two by the force of the waves, and those that still remained upright had been stripped of all but their topmost leaves, which he could hear dripping steadily around him like a light shower of rain. The flood had been fast and violent. It had been all he could do to grab Avak and keep his colleague's head above the water line, and his own body had suffered greatly for his efforts. Everywhere ached.
"So much for the stoic ninja," he thought dryly. Luckily he had managed to hang onto his backpack, and he gingerly wriggled it off to check the supplies. A quick pat down of his body revealed that most of his knives were gone – washed away by the raging water. He found the water bottle in his bag and began to take gentle sips, before turning his attention to the clearing.
Panic rose in him as he realised that aside from Avak, he was completely alone. Like lightning he shot to his feet, wincing as his body protested loudly at the movement. There was no sign of anybody else, and he had no idea how far the flood may have taken them.
Shouting was not in Cristoph's nature, but he was so rattled that he barely stopped the names from bursting off his tongue. Instead, he picked a tree, and carefully began to climb it. It was soggy, and he slipped a lot on the broken and torn branches, but eventually he was high enough to survey the immediate area. In the sea of muddy brown forest floor and trees that had been shaved of their greenery and wildlife, he saw no splash of colour that may have indicated another human being.
The panic was threatening to take hold, as it occurred to him that one of them could have easily died in the flood and the cannon fire would have been masked by the roar of water. All of the agents on this mission could swim enough to stay afloat, but he knew that in water like that, it would have made little difference. He remembered stretching out for Rhia in the last moments before the chaos had swept over them, and his resolve crumbled into dust.
Gripping the sides of his head, Cristoph fell back against the shredded bark of the tree trunk, struggling to hold everything together. From the ground Avak gave a whimper and he latched onto the sound like a lifeline. Avak was still here. They had to find the others – dead or alive – and he had to see to his companion first if that was going to happen. Taking slow, deep breaths, Cristoph slid out of the tree and crawled carefully to his friend, not trusting his legs to support himself just yet.
The agent was still tightly in the grip of the Tracker Jacker venom, moaning and whimpering at things Cristoph could only guess at. Examining the lump on his ankle, Cristoph tried to remember if there was anything in the rucksack that would assist him, but most of the first aid supplies had been basic. Avak was bruised, but nothing seemed to be broken, so perhaps there was a deity watching over them, Cristoph mused.
Still under the hallucinations, Avak would be going nowhere under his own power. Cristoph wondered if maybe Valerie would send down some medicine again – in fact, 'why hasn't she already?' he wondered – but there was no sign of a silver parachute, and he guessed that he was on his own.
There was no choice – he would have to get them moving. The idea of staying here until a wild animal, a Mutt or Roxelana found them was intolerable to Cristoph. From what he recalled of the short conversation before the twipire had appeared, he was sure that the poison would work its way out of Avak sooner or later, so for now, he would have to carry him until help arrived or he caught up with the others.
The decision helped him focus, and he set about emptying Avak's rucksack and repacking all the supplies into his own larger rucksack. Slipping it onto Avak's shoulders, he then hauled the boy over his own shoulder in a fireman's lift. It took a few attempts to stand up, and his legs shook from the extra weight. Cristoph ignored it. Once the shock of the flood went away, his body would start behaving again. But for now, he weaved slowly between the trees, keeping a keen ear out for any signs of life.
Ben had already decided that he hated nature.
Falling in mud, being chased up a tree by a werewolf, being set upon by a swarm of Tracker Jackers and almost drowning in a flood would do that to you.
He didn't know if he was alive or dead. He suspected the latter. After being tossed around by the waves his bruises were deep and the cold had numbed his right arm completely.
Something was squeezing the air out of his lungs and he opened his eyes. Lily was latched around the front of his body limpet style, her eyes squeezed tightly shut. She seemed to have retained her backpack, which was something. Ben could feel from his own back that his was gone.
"Lily?" he tried to speak, but his voice came out a whisper. Clearing his throat, he tried again. She was shaking like a leaf, but his voice seemed to jolt some sense into her, and she slowly began to uncurl from his chest. Ben breathed deeply as her death grip eased.
"It's over?" Lily asked. He nodded.
"Yeah. Feel like getting off me?"
She squeaked and bolted, examining the nearby tree anxiously. Ben could not blame her. If Roxelana showed up, they were in no state to fight.
"I don't see the others..." Lily said, pushing sopping hair out of her face. "I don't see anyone..."
Only now did Ben register the problem. They were a team and half of their team was missing. He pushed himself upright, and fell back into the dirt with a scream of pain. His right arm wasn't numb anymore. It hurt. Badly. He turned to look, and his head reeled at the sight. Below the elbow his arm hung at an unnatural angle.
"Oh God!" Lily looked ill. Ben had to admit, he did not feel stable either. Of all times to break a bone, now would not have been his first choice. Now that he was conscious of it, the pain was unbearable. It was all he could do to grit his teeth together and try not to cry.
"Am I bleeding?"
"What?" Lily was sheet white – not that Ben could blame her. But shock would not help either of them now.
"Am I bleeding?" he repeated. He was not a first aider, but instinctively he knew their problems would be five times worse if the fracture was open. "Please Lily. You need to help me."
Were it anyone but him, he was sure she would have bolted. To his relief, she took a deep breath, and looked at his arm. She swallowed thickly a few times before finding her voice.
"No. It's not."
Ben sighed in relief. That was a good start.
"Okay, that's a plus. Right, Lily, you need to get your first aid kit out of your bag. I've lost mine," he said with a touch of his usual sheepishness.
She wriggled the bag from her shoulders and unzipped it with shaking fingers. Everything was soaked, but still in one piece. She pulled the first aid kit open, and several of the large dressings tumbled out. Ben gave a dry chuckle which turned into a yelp as he tried to shift over to give her more space. His shoulder hurt too. That would complicate matters.
"You'll need those," he said, nodding at the dressings and hoping she had not seen any evidence of his newest injury. "But give me some of those painkillers first, okay?"
"They're too weak," Lily said. She sounded frightened and hopelessly lost in the face of their inexperience.
"I know," Ben assured her. "But it's all we've got. It might take the edge off. Just give them to me. We'll worry about consequences later, okay?"
The pain in his shoulder was so intense as he propped himself up to swallow the drugs and water that his head swarm. But they went down finally and he forced himself up all the way. Now he was up he wanted to stay up.
"Okay," his jaw was starting to hurt from all the clenching, but it made him focus. "Pass me those bandages?"
She scooped the scattered rolls of cotton off the ground and got to her feet jerkily. "You need a splint," she declared. "We'll have to make you one. Have you got any wood?"
Eyebrow quirked, Ben turned his head and surveyed the shattered trees and debris that littered the clearing. Lily went pink.
"Right. That was a really stupid question," she said sheepishly, and both of them laughed. Ben was relieved to see some natural non-blush colour coming back to her face, and she hurried off to scavenge.
It was not easy. The task of straightening Ben's arm was excruciatingly painful. In the end, Lily gave him a wad of bandages to bite while she gently pulled the limb straight with shaking fingers. Despite promising himself that he would not scream, Ben could not help the choked cries coming from his throat as bone, muscle and nerves rubbed in ways they were never supposed to. By the time she had stripped the branches down and secured them on either side, the bandage in Ben's mouth was a ragged ball of threads.
Tying the arm into a sling was even worse. Neither of them had a clue how to do a sling, so they improvised. A regular support proved unbearable for Ben's shoulder, and eventually they sacrificed his shirt and one of the long bandages to support his elbow with the arm across his chest.
"Great," Ben nodded, scooping the rubbish together as he got up (less anyone call him eco-unfriendly). "You okay?"
Lily spluttered. "Am I okay? You're the one who's got a sling!"
He gave a shrug with his good shoulder. "Val will patch me up when we get home. It's fine for now. You did a good job."
She gave him a look that only women could achieve – the one that said "don't you dare try and pull that with me."
"Okay, I'm not quite up to playing in one of Harriet's spontaneous cricket tournaments, but I'll live."
Lily was shaking again, but a strangled laugh appeared from her mouth instead. Ben snickered. Maybe the paracetamol was mixing with the coffee in funny ways, but laughing did make him feel better.
"Seriously though," he said, after the giggles had subsided. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "I was clinging pretty tight – you cushioned most of the falls."
"Oh thanks," he said dryly. "All the women in my life are out to abuse me – if it's not Shirley, it's you...or a Sue...or Harriet's cricket bat-"
"Oh shut up."
It took a moment for Ben to connect the fond reprove with the lips against his. His good arm slid around her waist and pulled her close. She was hungry – desperate almost – catching him off guard until he remembered that they had just survived an attack meant to kill them. This was probably long overdue...too overdue, he realised. When was the last time they had kissed like this?
The cannon boomed overhead and they broke apart startled.
"Please let it be Roxelana..." Lily was white again. Ben squeezed her hand, but he could not tell if the tremor was from him or her.
"Come on. Let's go find out."
It was not Roxelana.
Passion's butt had backed into the button accidentally.
"Hey Tashy," Harriet peered over her knees at the crouching Society leader. "Y'know our TVTropes Wild Mass Guessing page has that theory about Val snapping one day?"
"Yeah?" From the other side of the floor, Tash nodded.
"Well, I think we may be about to find out if there's any truth to it."
"If we survive," Life growled, wincing as Passion's hand slipped and he clunked backward onto the table above their heads. She and Creation had retreated under the table with the rest of them, while Purity and Resolve had backed into a corner watching nervously as Passion picked himself up off the table console.
Valerie stood over him, arms still outstretched in front of her chest from where she had pushed.
"What the hell is your problem?!" the GM demanded. He quailed back into the holograms as Valerie advanced.
Harriet had no magical abilities herself, but she had been around her friends long enough to be able to sense when people were using it (it tasted like sugar). And Valerie, usually a calm blue lake of magic, was behaving more like the flood that had just burst through the arena; powerful, and completely unpredictable.
"My problem!" Valerie towered over the Sovereign, who had gone back to sprawling on the table. "Is you! He needs my help and you are telling me that I can't do it! That's my problem, Passion!"
"Yeah well, you playing nurse makes the game boring," Passion shot back. "Let them suffer."
He scuttled fearfully back and Harriet was not blind to the power spike that filled the room. It was like someone had stuffed candy floss in her mouth. Sure enough, all the Sovereigns slipped into battle stance, and Tash and Michael fingered the swords on their backs. Only Order remained where he was, grey eyes locked thoughtfully onto the furious healer.
"Uh...Val," Jared began carefully. "Ben will be fine. Shirley does worse to him every day."
"I'm not talking about Ben, I'm talking about Avak!" Valerie roared. "I promised him I would look after him!"
"What is he, your boyfriend or something?" Passion sneered, pushing himself up and glaring straight back into Valerie's face. "You think that this is the worst I can do to him? He's not even bleeding yet! I'm the GM – I run this show. He's only still alive because I like an interesting game! This world does what I want it to do, and if I want to rip your boyfriend's head off then I will – and I'll laugh while he screams!"
The step back Valerie took might have looked like one of horror, until Seiryu burst into life, loaded, aimed and ready to fly. Energy exploded through the control room, dazzling the other occupants, and striking out violently at the furniture. In all the years Valerie had used her bow, it had never looked so bright, or powerful...or deadly.
"Val!" Tash was up as Passion advanced towards the bow with a mad gleam in his eyes.
"I've got her angry! Is that a challenge? You want to go into the arena and go a few rounds?"
"Val put it down!" voice raised, Tash reached for her shoulder, but the magic lashed out, zapping her arm away and shocking her into a quick retreat. She got the message – in Valerie's state of mind right now, she was just as much a threat as the Sovereigns. Michael sprang up, tendrils of Darkness reach to pounce.
"Passion, back off!" that was Creation, reaching for his arm as he started for the healer. Seiryu tensed ready for blood, and everyone moved to take sides.
Seiryu dimmed, and the black madness lifted from Passion's eyes. His palm was glowing.
Half crouched where she had stumbled into the wall, Creation turned her head up, red painting the left side of her white face. No one was breathing except her. Passion withdrew his hand quickly as if hoping he could take it back.
She was off, brushing away Purity's help and running for the bathroom.
"Creation!" Passion made to follow, but Resolve held him firm. Valerie was blinking heavily as though not quite sure why she was there. The energy was retreating back, and there was no hint of the blinding light that had swallowed the healer. Seiryu's bracer was inert. The spell that had held the room was broken.
Harriet's eyes darted around the table and landed on Order. He had not moved an inch through the whole incident, despite how close he had been sitting. One hand was resting on his chin, and his eyes never left as Valerie was steered firmly back into her seat by Michael and Tash. Harriet was less than pleased to see a smirk sliding silently onto his features.
Whatever was interesting him would have to wait. Harriet had other things on her mind as she hurried into the bathroom.
"When did we get so angsty?" she wondered, as a nasty answer occurred. "Oh dear...must be getting close to the story climax."
Rhia took stock. Her backpack was an extremely uncomfortable lump under her, and her left hand was cramping around the handle of the frying pan. She wiggled her right arm, and while the shoulder was sore, the arm was functional. Her ribs ached, and her lungs were all but screaming that she do nothing but lay there and breathe.
Sitting up hurt like hell, but she did it anyway, feeling her wet hair plaster itself to the back of her neck. A chilled wind blew through the forest, and her teeth audibly chattered. Rhia growled at the unfairness of it. Passion just couldn't wait, could he? He had to try to kill them all in painful, violent ways.
But somewhere in the back of her head Rhia had known that the safety of the group would not last long. It was spitting in the face of the Hunger Games. Contestants had formed alliances before, but they had always turned on each other in the end. The agents would not turn on each other. Since this would be unacceptable to Passion, Rhia assumed that he had tried to split them up, instead of kill them. But, if they drowned? Well, it was a bonus.
There was absolutely no doubt that the rest of her team was still alive. Even Avak, still dealing with the Tracker Jacker poison, would have survived that flood. She hadn't been able to grab him—or the hand Cristoph had reached out to her with, she was still regretting that—but no one would leave him to drown.
The earth-shattering boom that was the Game's death knell exploded sound into the arena. Rhia felt her heart stop, just for a moment, as the sound faded away.
It wasn't supposed to happen like this, with the whole group separated.
She brought her hand to her water-logged boot, and felt the hilt of her last knife. One sharp object and one frying pan counted as her weapons. Rhia stood, wobbled, leaned against a tree, and straightened up, feeling her back protest and pop. Wiping the last of the mud out of her eyes, and spitting out the taste of the flood water for good measure, she peered at the sky. Eyeballing it, she guessed it was early afternoon.
Taking a wild guess, she dragged herself off the tree and started heading west back towards the mountain. If she was lucky, (she hadn't been this entire trip) everyone else would regroup back there. If nothing else, it was good high ground. It was Roxelana who was dead. No one else. It had to be that way.
A small voice in the back of her head thought that denial was awesome.
What information Cristoph knew about the Hunger Games fandom was what little he had gathered after a day and a half of trying to survive in it. He made a mental note to read the books if he ever got back to the Library, if only to fully understand the effects of the Tracker Jacker poison. Avak had only been stung once, and he had drifted in and out of coherency for the last half an hour of walking, occasionally screeching at horrors that only he could see.
One of the few things he did know was what the cannon fire meant. And the noise not a minute ago had shaken him to his core. Only Avak's weight on his shoulders prevented him from breaking down in panic. The events of the day had rattled him worse than anything. If he did come across the dead body of his friends...he could not think about it.
Passion would pay for this.
"Mmmeeehhnnn...Cristoph..." Avak was coming around again.
"I've got you Lord Avak."
"...where are we?"
"The Hunger Games."
Deciding that conversation was pointless right now, Cristoph pressed on.
"Where are you Roxelana..."
Something was making a lot of noise nearby, and he slipped behind a tree. Avak groaned in confusion, making odd clawing motions at Cristoph's back.
"How do we even know that they'll be around here?"
Cristoph had never been so pleased to hear Ben's voice.
"Well...the flood was going in one direction. They would have been washed in that direction. So I guess if we just check the edge of the waterline we should find them eventually."
"Huh...that does make sense."
"You sound surprised."
"Hmm..." slung over Cristoph's shoulder Avak seemed to be drifting off again, but not before he added curiously. "Is that my arse?"
Cristoph faceplanted into the tree, catching both Lily and Ben's attention.
"Who's there?!" Lily demanded, her voice high and anxious.
"It's me!" Cristoph said, stepping out from behind the tree. He had never seen Ben so relieved to see him – and he could honestly say that the feeling ran two ways.
"Thank God you're alright!" Lily said, racing over and hugging Cristoph. The ninja was pretty sure that the affection was really meant for Avak, but it sounded like the hallucinations had just returned, so she settled for squeezing his hand instead.
"It's just you two?" Cristoph asked hopefully. "No sign of Rhia?"
Both shook their heads.
"We hoped she was with you," Ben said, and for the first time, Cristoph noticed the makeshift sling. On the plus side, it was Ben's nuking arm, which at least meant he would be quieter from now on, which was music to the ninja's ears.
"Did you hear...?" Lily did not need to finish. Cristoph knew what she was saying. The cannon had sounded, and if it was none of them, it could only mean that Roxelana and Rhia had found each other, and one of them was now dead.
"It'll be Rhia still alive," Ben said firmly. "Roxelana got the best of her once – Rhia would never let her do it again."
Cristoph glowered at him, but he did take a slight amount of comfort from knowing that it could not have been half an hour between the flood and the cannon going off. Roxelana would never finish Rhia that quickly – she would draw it out as long as possible. The odds were that it was Rhia standing triumphant. But even so, he would not rest until he knew for certain.
"Come on Ben, you carry Avak. I'll scan from the trees."
"Are you mad?! I'm injured! I'm not carrying anything but my own arm!"
"Man up. Your other shoulder is working fine."
"Okay, one, I am all man. Second, just because you can't handle someone as lightweight as Avak-"
"I swear if you both don't stop arguing I will photoshop you both into the most embarrassing pictures I can find!"
"Ten bucks on Ben being smacked first!" Life called.
"Twenty bucks on Cristoph!" Resolve said.
"Thirty quid on Avak!" Tash interjected.
In the middle of the table, a despondent Passion headdesked.
Amused by this exchange, Harriet went back to checking updates on Suebook via her phone. In her lap, Creation wriggled, and placed a tiny peck on the Society leader's cheek. After a few cuddles in the bathroom and an ice pack on her cheek, Creation had remained rather attached to Harriet, crawling into her lap and snuggling in her neck that would almost have been adorably innocent if the Society agents had not caught the devious smirk in her eyes. In an effort to make the male Sovereigns (particularly the GM) as uncomfortable as possible, Harriet and Creation had been exchanging sultry pouts and the occasional flirty wink whenever they sensed somebody looking at them.
The reactions varied from sad to highly amusing. Purity had spat out three cups of tea in succession, and an irate Michael was now drenched in it across the table. Order was rubbing the bridge of his nose as if to ward off a headache, and Life kept snickering. But it was Passion who was being affected the most. He had apologised (after several nudges by Life) but Creation had been completely indifferent, and had showered all her attentions on Harriet in a manner specifically designed to get on Passion's newly grown tits. Still, nobody could deny he had deserved it.
"Where are they all now?" Michael asked, tapping a few keys and pulling up a holographic image of all the tributes.
"Less than a mile apart from each other," Life reported. "Although they don't know it, your friends are not that far from the Cornucopia."
"Ben is not looking good," Jared muttered. "Or Avak for that matter."
Valerie gave a soft growl, but Passion paid no heed.
"Maybe I should set the cannon off a few more times," he mused. "Let them think that they're losing all their friends..." He seemed to brighten a little for the first time since the fight. "Yeah...let's see them cry over that!"
He reached for a button, and four of the Society agents leaped from their seats, arms outstretched to stop him. The fifth, a certain founder and leader, merely leaned over the table, picked up Order's still full cup of tea, and poured it over the console. The electrics hissed and Passion leaped away as though bitten.
"Hmm...I do believe we are out of tea," Harriet said in a musing voice, replacing the cup in front of Order. "Someone should make some more."
There was a general murmur of agreement, and eventually Purity, Resolve and Order got up to boil the kettle (a task apparently so complicated it required three men to succeed). Passion mopped up his keyboard, glaring furiously at Harriet all the while. The leader merely smiled serenely as her phone buzzed gently on the table. Creation snickered into her shoulder, and high fived with Michael behind Harriet's back.
Harriet stared at her phone...blinked...blinked again...and then burst out laughing.
"What's so funny?" Passion demanded irritably.
"Oh nothing," Harriet's grin was rather unholy. "Emily's been...busy while we've been in here."
And, waving Creation, Life and Tash to her side, she showed them the screen. The yaoi sparkles returned to their eyes, and they all squealed in unison.
"Oooh she's good!" Life exclaimed, enviously.
"Excellent detailing on the feathers," Creation was nodding. "She's got a very fine hand. Look! She even got that scowl right!"
"Yeah, but I think she was a little...over generous in some places," Tash said thoughtfully, pointing to the screen. "There for instance..."
"Oh Tashy," Harriet patted her friend on the head. "Fanart isn't supposed to be accurate!"
"What are you all looking at?" Order demanded in a clipped tone, as he, Purity and Resolve returned with their mugs of tea.
"Nothing," Harriet said innocently, slipping her phone down her cleavage, where even the bravest Sovereign feared to tread.
Grumbling, the rest of the table settled back down, and Harriet leaned back against her chair, digesting the information that she had just received. Emily's message had not just been a simple piece of yaoi artwork.
"I know. Ready to jam media signals. Keep safe."
Giving their current circumstances, 'I know' could only be referring to Wisdom, though Harriet was perplexed at how she knew about him. She, Tash, Michael and Adrian had been careful to cover all their tracks so that none of the other agents – and by extension (a) – knew about the situation. But then again...Emily was becoming notorious for finding out secrets she shouldn't know. It was not that uncommon to find her nestled in cupboards, boxes, even air ducts, taking advantage of her small size to listen in on people's private conversations. Being the youngest sister in a house full of secrets had made her unquenchably curious for straight answers.
So in retrospect, it was not too surprising that the Society's youngest agent would have found out. And Harriet knew she would not have told anybody else – though she went out of her way to find out secrets, Emily did make sure she kept them. In fact if the rest of her text was anything to go on 'ready to jam media signals' was a sure sign that she understood the severity of the situation and was doing her best to keep (a) out of the loop. She had prepped the entire Hunger Games fandom so that if the opportunity to tell the Sovereigns that their comrade was alive came, they would be safe.
Now the only question was when would be the best time to tell them? Wisdom or no Wisdom, Passion's erratic behaviour was doing nothing to reassure Harriet that telling him would be the best course of action. In fact he was so unhinged that it was entirely possible that he would just blow the arena sky high for a) putting Wisdom in hospital in the first place, b) not tell them about it straight away, or c) just for shits and giggles.
"Heads up!" Passion announced, sounding cheerful for the first time in the last hour. "Two of the tributes are about to engage!" he stretched his arms above his head, a maniacal gleam in his eyes. "This ought to be good."
No, Harriet decided firmly, telling Passion now would do them no good. They would tell him later – when they could get him on his own, away from his array of shiny buttons, and when all five of their agents were safely out of the arena, and away from the whims of a psychotic GM.
The bottoms of her feet were starting to complain. Rhia had been walking for a good while. Leaning against a tree, she pulled off one boot to rub at her ankle. The fact that they were wet was not helping things any.
The mockingjays went suddenly, abruptly silent.
The hair on the back of her neck stood straight up and froze there.
There was a crack of a twig breaking in two off to her left.
There was a soft, high pitched laugh from behind her.
Rhia jumped and spun, frying pan held tight in both hands in front of her. It was her. Every fibre of her body was screaming it. She hadn't seen hide or hair of Roxelana since last night, and Roxelana had probably heard the boom of the cannon over the flood, signalling the twipire's death (what had been the poor thing's name, anyway?). The shadows grew oddly darker in the afternoon light, and each twitch of a leaf in the wind was the only signal of Roxelana leaping out to kill her.
Her heart pounded like a drum in her ears, feeding her barely controlled panic.
"I know you're there! Stop playing games and face me properly!" Rhia challenged, throwing her command into the forest.
There was a soft, gentle scoff from Rhia's right and her own personal demon came into view, stepping out of the shadows like she was one herself. "Oh, my dear, have you forgotten you're just playing one big game? You obviously aren't enjoying yourself." Roxelana grinned. "I'm sorry this has been such a horrible experience for you. I could always make it better for you, if you wished." She sighed and put a hand to her cheek. "You'd last longer than your other…friends. I can promise you that."
The pit dropped out from the bottom of Rhia's stomach. "What. Have you. Done?"
Roxelana rolled on the balls of her feet, putting her hands behind her back and smiling like an innocent child. "Oooooh, not much. I put the poor guy with the swollen ankle out of his misery. Half drowned and whimpering…" She tsk'ed. "Such an inglorious way to go in this game."
"So that was his name? Thank you." The sociopathic Sue stalked around her silenced prey with sinister strides. "I can understand why you would want to date such a handsome piece of meat such as Cristoph. He really is very tasty." Her face, for the shortest of moments, reminded Rhia of her cats, after they had stolen some steak from the kitchen table; so very, very smug. "I am going to have lots of fun with him, my dear. And I'll even let you watch."
Most people think they get enraged when someone crashes into their car to give them a fender-bender, or they get cut off in line. That emotion can barely be considered anger. Rage, true, proper rage is when absolute hellfire rises up from your gut and all you see is red. All your aches vanish in the dark fire and everything in your path dies.
To say Rhia was mad was an understatement.
"You GODDAMN BITCH!" One moment, Rhia stood in front of Roxelana, clutching her frying pan hard enough to leave indents, and the next moment there was a dull thud and the insane Sue had gone tumbling, tail over teakettle, ten feet away from where she had originally been standing. "You Goddamn. Fucking. Bitch." Rhia snarled, teeth bared, as she loomed over Roxelana's fallen and dazed form. "You aren't going to touch anyone ever again! It isn't enough you have to kidnap me and torture me, slowly, giggling all the while. No, you go and kill someone that has nothing to do with this. That's enough for me to tear you to pieces right now!"
Roxelana regained enough of her senses to start crab walking backwards from Rhia.
"Oh, no…it's never enough. You threaten Cristoph as well." Rhia grinned as a dark idea slipped into her thoughts, sending the first spike of fear through Roxelana. Prey wasn't supposed to grin. "I'm going to slit your throat." She reared back for another swing of her frying pan. "And no one will ever see your body ever again."
Rhia swung, and only hit leaves as Roxelana moved out of the way. A blade came flashing at the side of her head and she ducked, only to roll away as another knife tried to come down on top of her. Picking her gaze up, Rhia saw Roxelana holding two knives in a reverse grip, bouncing lightly on the balls of her feet. "Oh, bring it on, bitch."
There was a blur and a clang, the two knives impacting on the frying pan as it came up to block. Rhia's foot shot out and Roxelana fell on her back, air forcibly leaving her lungs. A second later Roxelana was straddled and her hands pinned, knives officially useless.
Roxelana struggled, bucking her hips in an attempt to throw Rhia off, but there was too much of a difference in their mass. It was useless. "Let me go!"
"Sorry. But I can't give you another chance." Bringing Roxelana's hands together, Rhia kept them pinned with one hand as she threw one of the knives away with the other. Taking the other knife, she grabbed Roxelana by the hair and stood, pulling the Sue up with her.
Rhia gave Roxelana a good shake, dazing her again, making it easier for Rhia to wrap an arm around her, press Roxelana's back to her front, and place the knife at her throat. "Last words?"
"Goodbye, my dear. I'll see you later!" She giggled, one last time.
A cannon boomed.
Michael and Jared leaped out of their seats and punched the air, while Tash and Valerie high fived across the table. Harriet stood next to Passion, her thumb still depressed on the button to signal the cannon fire. The GM himself, was staring at the table, eyes wide and unmoving at the sight of Roxelana drowning in her own blood.
Across the table, Order groaned in disappointment.
"Loser! Loser!" Tash taunted, ignoring Valerie's elbow in her ribs as she held her fingers in an L shape against her forehead.
"I suppose the concept of 'humble in victory, gracious in defeat' slipped the WARGS by, did it?" Resolve sneered.
Tash blinked at him innocently. "What is this 'humble' you speak of?"
"Being humble is boring," Harriet agreed, clapping her hands twice, and sending her slaves scurrying around the room to clear up the teacups and crockery. "Come along children. We have agents to-"
"STAY RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE!"
Everyone froze. They had not even seen Passion rise from his seat, but he towered over the group now, his face a mask of rage.
"Uh oh..." Life muttered, taking a step back from the table. For the first time, most of the Society's usual wit failed them as they remembered just who (or what) they were now faced with - a furious Sovereign, whose game had just hit a potential wall.
"They think it's all over? That just because the Sues are dead the game has been won?" he lashed out across the table, shattering one of Harriet's prized teapots. "LEAVE IT!" he roared at the scantily clad male slave that had materialised out of nowhere to sweep up the mess.
"Passion, the game IS over," Resolve said firmly. "The Society has won."
"NOBODY HAS WON!" Passion snapped. If Harriet's mouth had not been swamped with the taste of candy floss and the hair raising sense of danger, she would have found the sight of the Sovereign acting like a spoiled child highly amusing.
"The game is not over yet!" Passion declared. "The Hunger Games are a battle royale! Only one may leave the arena!"
"They're not going to kill each other," Purity said patiently. "We all knew that from the start."
"Well they're just going to have to!" Passion's fist slammed again, this time, into the table. "Or they will never leave that arena again!"
"Look at them," Valerie said, her voice dark and serious. "Do they look like they're going to kill each other?"
The table holographics provided a clear answer - at the sound of the cannon, the group of four Society agents were running hard towards the clearing where the sounds of battle had been present not moments ago, all of them anxious and frightened as to what they might find, with no hint of malice in their expressions.
"They won't do it Pash," Creation said, addressing the Sovereign properly for the first time since their fight.
"They have to!" Passion repeated, furiously. "These are the rules, and they cannot be broken! I won't allow them to break any more rules than they have already!"
"Passion, dear," Harriet said, in her most patient tone. "Haven't you ever heard of the old adage?" She leaned in, sweeping up the messy remains of her teapot into her handbag. "Rules are made to be broken."
For a moment, with the Society leader right in his face, Passion looked like a child once more - lost, like he had just learned the fictional properties of Santa Claus. Slowly, he cast around for help - for someone to tell him that this was not the case - but nobody was on his side anymore, and nobody would offer him any comfort.
Slowly, the despair was wiped away, replaced instead by confusion and then, in a flash, blind anger. Lashing out swiftly with his right hand, Passion backhanded Harriet into her chair, causing broken china to rattle about her handbag. Tash and Michael were by her side, but the furious Sovereign had a hardened look in his eyes, and in a flash, a plothole materialised behind him, and he vanished through it.
A little winded, Harriet did not have to think very hard to work out where he had gone. Into the arena, to restore the status quo, and to uphold the one thing he had left - his own rules.
"We need to get down there," Harriet said, getting to her feet, cricket bat in hand.
"Seconded," Tash nodded, getting up to join her.
"Not if we have anything to say about it," Resolve growled.
"Oh what are you going to do?" Harriet said condescendingly. "Throw a can of Red Bull at us?"
"Not quite," Order picked up. "You see, Passion's game is over. We are no longer mentors. And we no longer have to do what he has instructed us to do. So we can revert to the original plan."
Before anyone could enquire as to the nature of the original plan, Order was out of his seat. Harriet felt a punch land solidly in her gut and she slammed backwards into Tash. There was a crash and a scream (though Harriet was not sure who from) and the lights all went out, leaving only the neon glow from the table and buttons to light the room. Michael's eyes glowed orange, and the Darkness tasted blood, seizing the nearest Sovereign (Resolve by the throat).
All this happened in the second it took Harriet's brain to register the pain. She gasped, half crumpled on the floor and over her second in command. She caught sight of Creation diving fearfully beneath the table for safety, and Seiryu flaring into life. There was a yelp as one of the arrows found a target, but in the hazy half light of the control room it was impossible to tell who.
"Right...the original plan. Kill us all. How droll," the leader deadpanned. She was rolled onto the floor, as Tash sprang back up and dove into the fray, with Nephthys. The sword illuminated the room once more, as Harriet pushed herself upright on her cricket bat. Scanning the room, she picked a target, and charged in.
Around the room, the chairs suddenly shifted before flying across the room and slamming straight into Jared. He crumpled beneath them. Life stood over him, her fingers twisting rapidly through her strings as the chairs backed away to allow a look. Before she could do anything else though, she was tackled from behind by Michael, who had just been sent flying by a powerful punch from Resolve.
"Uh no! Bad idea!"
The subsequent charged attack blew everyone but Order and Resolve off their feet. Resolve recovered instantly, gauntlet flashing as he charged back to do battle with Michael, while Order scanned the room and located his one and only target - Valerie - scaling the full sized shelving unit that Creation had designed to hold all the tea. Clearly the healer was looking for a high spot to get clear shots. In a flash, Order was across the room, smashing the shelf to pieces. It rocked ominously and Valerie screeched as she toppled down towards a waiting fist.
Before the healer could tumble into the attack, something dull and heavy struck Order in the head, and he stumbled away, clutching his ringing ears. Cricket bat hefted onto her shoulder, Harriet picked Valerie out of the wreckage and turned just in time to duck a hail of icy spikes fired by Purity. Tash was there instantly, Nephthys causing flames to latch onto the broken wreckage of the tea shelf.
Fingers twisting in midair, Life's puppet strings shot out and wrapped around Jared's Boomhammer. He yelped as it was torn from his grasp, and screamed like a girl as the heavy end struck the floor with a thunderous boom. This time, only the Society agents went down, the air knocked forcefully out of their lungs. Pleased by it, Life raised it to strike again, screeching and flinging it to one side again as Resolve was thrown into her.
"You okay?" Michael was panting, and bits of his Darkness armour were cracking away.
"Define 'okay'?" Jared groaned.
"He sounds okay," Creation put in helpfully from under the table.
"Why aren't you helping them?" Michael demanded angrily. She shrugged in response.
"I've had enough violence for one day," she pointed to her still pink cheek.
Getting to their feet again, Michael and Jared yelped simultaneously as the entire floor was coated in ice and they went tumbling back down. It did not last very long - thanks to Nephthys, both boys could see that fires were breaking out all over the room, and the rest was catching fast.
"Smart Tash!" Valerie called dryly, firing off another shot at Order, and cursing as she missed again. Something heavy and powerful ploughed between her shoulder blades, and knocked her into the floor. She lay there gasping as Order appeared behind her.
"Didn't your mother ever teach you not to hit girls?" Harriet snarled, charging in again with her bat. Order moved to strike again, but instead of punches, powerful blades of air sliced their way through the room. Harriet yelped as her cricket bat, and a good three inches of her hair were shredded to pieces.
It was hard to tell which destruction made the leader more angry, as she palmed the nearest pointy thing in hand (her own three inch heels) and hurled it at Order's head. With a bowling speed of sixty miles per hour, the blow struck the Sovereign hard, and sent him staggering. Pausing only to blink in surprise, a winded Valerie fired off another shot that struck Order in the shoulder.
"Shoe shopping this weekend, baby?" Tash called across the room.
"Yes please!" was the response.
Tash's snickering halted abruptly as a huge icicle came close to impaling her through the stomach. Her slow dodge sent it spearing her left leg instead.
"Pay attention dear," Purity called, as the ice rose up from the floor and tried to swallow Tash whole. A swing from Nephthys took it all down, but Tash still sank to the floor, gasping for breath. The room was thick with smoke now, and she was not the only one suffering.
"Go go!" tentacles of Darkness shot across the room and punched through the wall, the sudden draft fanning the flames higher. Seizing Jared in another tentacle, and throwing the chunk of wall at Life with the other, Michael raced for the newly created exit.
"Sounds like a plan!" Harriet said, replacing her high heels, seizing her handbag and running, with a bruised and beaten Valerie right behind her.
As they breached the exit, Order materialised beside them, punching out again at Valerie's ribs and sending a nasty cracking sound out into the room. Harriet snapped her fingers and a group of her male slaves appeared to pick the stricken healer. She ducked just in time to avoid being hit in the head by Jared's Boomhammer as it was flung across the room impatiently by the Darkness. It hit Order's head with a clang, and he did not get back up.
"Why do things always seem to get him in the head?" Life asked, trying to untangle her puppet strings from the burning bits of wood.
"Where the hell do all those slaves keep coming from?!" Resolve demanded angrily, charging up for another strike as another two more slaves hurried past him, carrying Jared's Boomhammer.
"Juari-Ken – Tairenso!" Not for the first time that day, Resolve went flying into Life as Tash barrelled past them in a fiery blur. Skidding to a halt, she dropped instantly to her knees again as her injured leg refused to support her weight, leaving Michael to pick her up in his other arm.
"Well I can't say it was fun," Harriet quipped over her shoulder. "But so long, and thanks for all the tea!"
Wincing as her injured body protested at the movement, Valerie pulled back Seiryu and fired again, shattering the ceiling of the corridor and causing the approaching Sovereigns to yelp as they were buried in burning rubble.
It was the yelling that first got their attention.
"You GODDAMN BITCH!"
The voice pierced sharply through the mostly quiet forest, causing three of the four heads to whip in that direction. Avak just groaned.
"Did you hear that?" Ben whispered. Lily nodded, and the two of them turned to the third conscious member of their group, only to see him already heading towards the angry yell.
"Cristoph! Wait for us!" Ben yelled, wishing he had the use of his arm – he would feel a lot better about running into an ugly situation if he could nuke things. As it was, all he had to rely on was a surly ninja who disliked him, and his girlfriend. Not exactly confidence inspiring...
The tree branches reached out to snag Cristoph as he ran, but he burst through them, ignoring the scratching at his face and eyes. His sharp ears were picking up new sounds. The faint scuffles of two people struggling for dominance.
He was getting close now. His eyes, narrowed against the attack of whipping branches, made out the shape of two forms, one pinning the other against it. Cristoph felt his heart pounding, begging his body to go faster through the trees. One figure jerked hard and the pinned one fell to the ground, twitching. The first fell to their knees, staring.
The cannon boomed just as Cristoph broke through the trees, the rustling of branches going unheard in the explosion. He froze for a moment, eyes fully taking in the scene. The girl fallen eagle spread on the ground was a study in extremes, black hair and pale skin splashed violently in blood. The second was quietly shaking, hyperventilating as she stared at the first form.
Cristoph could feel the blood draining from his face at the sight of the violent kill. But that paled in comparison to one very important fact. "Rhia?" His voice did not register to the hyperventilating girl, as her body surged and she went down on all fours, bile splashing on leaves a moment later. That, if nothing else, broke Cristoph out of his trance and a moment later, he was at her side.
"Shh...Rhia, it's okay..." He placed a hand on her back.
"No!" she jumped, one arm pushing him away, before his face registered in her mind and she crumpled.
"I'm here. Shh..." His arms went around her form and she whimpered, curling into him.
A volley of swearing indicated Ben's arrival, followed closely by his exhausted girlfriend, who was panting as she dragged the comatose Avak (dropped unceremoniously by Cristoph when the fight had been heard) behind her. "Is she...dead?"
"I hope so!" Ben snorted, hurrying over and prodding the Sue's unmoving body with his foot. "Yeah she's dead."
"Oh thank God!" Lily dumped Avak not too far away from the couple, and collapsed on the floor. "Can we go home now, please?"
"I DON'T THINK SO!"
All five of them peered up (Avak was slowly coming out of his Tracker Jacker induced coma) at the new arrival, Rhia peeking out from behind Cristoph's arms. "What the...?"
A pillar of light descended into the arena, lightning flying around the trees and causing the damp trunks to smoke. When it finally cleared, Passion stood in the middle of the clearing, eyes blazing.
"I thought," he began in a quiet and measured voice. "I made myself very clear. I. HATE. CHEATERS!"
Another burst of lightning ripped through the forest, and the nearby trees evaporated into ash.
While the lightning made all five agents tense, Rhia squirmed to a sitting position behind the shield of Cristoph's arms. "I know you do."
Passion glared at her. "THEN WHY AREN'T YOU ALL KILLING EACH OTHER?!" Thunder rolled in multiple explosions.
"I thought this was a game of Sues verses Agents, like it always is," Rhia replied, completely blasé. "Last sue is dead."
Passion stared at her, his face completely gobsmacked.
Rhia grinned, thinking she had outsmarted him. "Game's over. We win."
This time, the very earth rumbled and actual flames flared in Passion's eyes.
"NO! YOU KILLED WISDOM! IT'S NOT OVER UNTIL YOU'RE ALL DEAD!" This time, even Rhia flinched.
"Wait...we killed who now?" Ben was frowning. Rhia looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"DON'T YOU TRY ACTING INNOCENT!" Passion roared.
"Stop acting?" Ben exclaimed in disbelief. "I've had a two-and-a-half foot tall, sentient, homicidal stick with three inch claws make it her life's goal to eviscerate me multiple times to get me to stop acting. And even SHE can't do it. What makes you think you can?"
"THAT IS ENOUGH!" Passion yelled, reaching into a back pocket. "Y'know I was going to use my own die for this, but your leader gave me such a nice shiny one earlier..." an evil grin grew on his face. "It'd be a shame not to use it."
"Say what?" Lily's delivery was dry, but nobody missed the excited glint in Passion's eyes, and as he slid the sapphire D20 from his pocket, they understood – the deadliest game was about to begin. Another bolt of lightning crashed into the ground, and the tree tops began to burn.
They broke for cover as the dice thudded to the muddy ground.
For a long moment, nothing happened...and then something bright red and rubber slammed into Cristoph's face and exploded. Everyone shrieked, and Rhia raced forward brandishing her pan. But Cristoph was not hurt, just damp and startled as he watched the remains of the water balloon drop to his feet.
Passion huffed. "Damn. Bad roll. Oh well." He gestured loosely to the gobsmacked agents. "Your turn."
There was a long silence, broken only by the crackling of burning trees.
"We don't have a dice..." Avak said, in a woozy voice from his position flopped on the ground.
"Oh for God's sake..." Ben rolled his eyes and brandished his left hand shakily. "My Coffee Makers are not controlled by Hoover Dam Computers!"
"NO!" everyone screamed, as the floodgates appeared and washed through the clearing. Injured and confused, everyone flailed, struggling to keep their balance.
"Why is that your answer to everything?!" Cristoph demanded furiously.
"Didn't see you doing any better!" Ben retorted, spitting out a mouthful of coffee before it burned his tongue.
Yanking on Rhia's arm, Lily started a mad dash into the forest. "Head for the cornucopia! I have an idea!"
With Cristoph grabbing Avak, the five of them headed for the golden cone in the short reprive they were given as Passion tried to drink as much of the coffee as he could.
Stumbling through the undergrowth, the group tore through the trees, tripping over the tree roots as they went, until they burst into the clearing. The launch platforms ringed the golden horn, which was stripped of all its goodies. It threw Rhia for a moment – she had almost expected to run into the middle and find Roxelana still here, stabbing Sparrow on the ground as people snatched and scrabbled for the precious bags.
What they found instead was Passion, already sitting on top of the cornucopia, rolling the dice between his fingers. On cue, another bolt of lightning flashed and the trees ringing the clearing erupted into flames, trapping them within.
Passion's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "DM SMITE!"
The blood drained from everyone's faces, including Avak's, who had finally regained his feet properly. The sky darkened to a near pitch black, and thunder rumbled like a combination of a full bowling alley and a jackhammer. A great column of lightning flashed, and Ben went careening across the field, bouncing and landing on the other side of the cornucopia. He was smoking, and his hair had gone from corkscrew curly to porcupine straight, a near copy of Goku's.
"YES! Now we're getting somewhere!" the Gamer Sovereign punched the air and bounced on the balls of his feet, a maniacal laughter bursting from within. Growling at the sight of a comrade down, Cristoph blurred into the shadows, materialising just short of Passion with a knife in each hand. To everyone's astonishment, Passion sidestepped the swipes easily as though in flashstep.
Lily froze, torn for a moment, staring at Ben's smoking and blackened form. She shook her head, made a decision, and ran for the cornucopia. Diving for the very back of it, she practically disappeared from the fight. Instantly she began to sweat. With the forest blazing all around them, the gold was almost red hot.
"ARROW TO THE KNEE!" Passion roared happily.
Rhia eeped, and rolled, using her frying pan like a shield for the second time that day. The arrows clanged against the metal surface and fell to the ground. She grinned and kissed the pan afterwards. Passion growled, staring at Rhia and leaning over the edge of the cornucopia.
"Aww, that's no fun!" he leaned a bit too far forward and toppled face first into the ground with a thud. "Ow!"
He pulled his face out of an indent in the ground to find Lily right next to him, loaded up with everyone's weapons. "HOW DID YOU GET THOSE?! I DIDN'T PUT THEM THERE!"
Lily grinned. "It's a plothole! I'm not explaining it!" she raised a wrist. "Top Gear!" Responding to the command, Abraxis, Bahamut, Incandescent Silverreign and Ninjato all shot into the hands of their owners.
"CHEATERS!" Passion roared, tossing his dice to the floor again.
A plothole opened and a rocket launcher dropped from the heavens into Passion's waiting hands.
"Aww frig!" Rhia exclaimed, raising Incandescent Silverreign and locking it against her shoulder. She fired at the same time Passion pulled the trigger, the shots colliding in midair and causing everyone but Lily to be blown backwards. The green haired agent had activated Top Gear, and blurred into nothingness.
As she vanished from view, Passion frowned, his head snapping here and there, trying to pinpoint where his enemy had gone.
"Merlin!" he roared, in a perfect old-lady voice. "No disappearing!"
The ground trembled beneath the Sovereign's feet, as a huge deadly icicle erupted like a geyser. Squeaking in horror, Passion leaped away with millimetres to spare to avoid being speared. He tumbled away and landed badly, his mouth opening and closing aghast as Lily appeared once more, scowling.
"I...! You...!" Passion made incoherent sentences, gesturing to his crotch, while Ben watched his girlfriend in approval.
"She's evil," he concluded. "Even Shirley knows better than to go for THAT bit on a man..."
Lily grinned at Passion's obvious terror. "You threaten my friends, I threaten your parts."
Passion spluttered and growled in rage, his face turning red as he got to his feet, die in hand. "Oh hell no!" The die dropped.
The rocket launcher hummed once more, and Passion grinned, raising it slowly across the group, picking his target.
"Let's see...how about I begin an age of nuclear peace?!" the Sovereign giggled madly before pulling the trigger. Still smoking from electrocution and struggling to handle Bahamut properly with a broken arm, Ben had just enough time to look up and see the rocket descending on him.
"Dude, really?" Letting the guitar dangle from his neck by the strap, he took the fastest swig of Firebrand Whiskey in his life. The sugar surged through his body and he dodged the rocket by a hair. The explosion still sent him flying into Cristoph.
"My yaoi senses are tingling again."
"Don't you think we have more important things to worry about?! Like outrunning the murderous Sovereigns and finding our teammates?!"
"That's what I'm trying to say, brother of mine. My senses are tingling in that direction!"
"Onward my fangirls! For victory!"
"I'm not a girl Harriet-"
"You will be a girl if I say so!"
"Get OFF me Ben!"
"Dude, with pleasure. You're really bony. How can Rhia possibly find you cuddly?"
"BOYS!" Lily and Rhia's voices cried in stereo. "Focus!"
There was a giant grunt and a 'shing' sound from the side, and all four heads turned to see Avak leaning on Abraxis, axe heads extended.
"Yeah...stay in the game," he started to heft his weapon, only to wobble slightly. "Ugh..."
"...uh, dude," Ben sounded a little anxious and nobody needed to ask why. Despite no longer hallucinating, Avak was far from stable on his feet.
"My turn!" the agent said, readying Abraxis for a devastating attack.
"Bad idea!" Rhia shouted. "Very bad-"
Avak went running up to Passion, who stared at him like he was a puff of fluff coming his way. Avak yelled, swung, Abraxis's blades flashing, and missing by three feet. Passion laughed and pointed, only for Abraxis to swing Avak around and around on unsteady feet, and collide right into a disbelieving Passion, who finally went flying from a hit.
"YES!" Ben and Lily high fived, and an excited Rhia glomped Cristoph.
"Nice shot!" Ben bounced. Beaming with pride, Avak tried to bow, but ended up stumbling on unsteady legs, turning it into more of a sweeping bow.
"I'm still here, y'know!" Passion growled furiously. He was getting slowly to his feet, but he did not sound half as strong as he had a moment ago. Breathing seemed to be causing him some pain. Avak's glee vanished and he backed away nervously as Passion tossed the dice to the ground hard.
A swirling mist of energy gathered around Passion and left him sparkling like the twipire had earlier. All his bruises faded back into his skin like they had never been there and he gave an overdramatic sigh of pleasure.
"Ah! Much better!"
He did not have long to enjoy his newfound burst of health, as Rhia took an almost suicidal run at him with her frying pan. He lazily caught it in midair.
"I watched you attack with that thing in Invader Zim! D'you really think I'd fall for that too?"
Rhia smirked. "Who said I was attacking?"
There was a dark flicker of reflection in Rhia's eyes, just as the knife stabbed deep into Passion's ribs. The Sovereign twitched and gasped in shock, only to find himself staring at the sky with a hand clamped to his side, stars flashing.
Rhia shook out her fist, jumping away. "Damn, Passion, you have a hard jaw!"
Over the Sovereign's shoulder, Cristoph grinned at his girlfriend, his face snapping into a painful gasp as Passion lashed out backwards with his elbow and nailed the startled ninja under the chin. Arm free, the dice spun again.
Rhia had reared up for another strike with the frying pan, but the bolt of lightning hit her and the pan hard before it could connect with his head. It didn't feel like a simple static shock – real lightning burned. Her skin was on fire and she crumpled instantly as the rest of the assault ripped through her.
She thought her eyes were open but all she could see was white, and it was all she could do to keep breathing after the attack, fighting through the extreme spasms. Her nervous system was screaming in outrage and pain. She thought she felt arms under her back and knees, but that easily could have been false messages trampling through her brain.
She thought she heard a yell of feminine rage, but through the haze she could not see a thing. A warm smell of habaneros and incense caught her befuddled mine through the smell of grass and mud. She was safe, her racing mind told her. Cristoph was there. There was a whistle of arrows and a shriek of pain from nearby.
Lily toppled over, screeching in pain, hands wrapped around the arrow in her knee, gritting her teeth against the pain.
"Gotcha!" Passion cheered.
"Fuck you, Passion!" Lily snarled, wincing as she tried to stand.
There was a growling sound and suddenly Avak was in front of Lily, his eyes locked on Passion and all traces of the venom's haze gone. Abraxis was in his hands, the dial twisted all the way up to ten, axes gleaming and ready for battle.
Passion snorted. "D'you honestly think that's gonna hur-"
There was a horrible crack through the cornucopia, followed by a shower of blood. Whether from anger, traces of venom affecting his aim or Passion's bones being made of iron, the blade had stuck hard in his shoulder instead of bisecting him diagonally. Avak roared, and tugged hard, clearly intending to finish the job. But Passion, blood pouring from his shoulder and back wounds, had already dropped the dice.
There was a poof of smoke, and a rat on a stick appeared in the Sovereign's hands. Through pain and blood loss, he glared at it.
"Not helpful!" he informed his dice angrily.
Cristoph stood from where he was crouched over Rhia, his mouth hanging open slightly. "A...rat on a...stick?" There was a pause, and then, unbelievably, Cristoph started snickering.
Passion growled and chucked the stick at him, missing by a couple of inches. Cristoph kept snickering. The Sovereign gave a snarl as Avak finally ripped Abraxis free and raised it again, blood dripping from the blades. Shakily, Passion dodged, but he stumbled over his own feet and the attack tore down the front of his chest.
"Are we winning?" Rhia's mind was still humming, and she pawed for Cristoph's attention.
"I think we are, my Lady."
"Not in a million years!" Passion slurred, dropping the dice again.
The light was blinding this time as it enveloped Passion. Avak lifted Abraxis again, but the Sovereign was too quick, missing by a hair. Though the hideous wounds still gaped on his body, they were no longer bleeding, the blood sticky and rusty on his skin.
"We can't win..." Ben was sluggish from being thrown around as he pulled himself up.
"F-fuck that..." Rhia snarled, pulling the completed Silverreign up to aim. "I didn't survive Roxelana to die here..." she wrapped her hands around the pommel and put a finger on the trigger. Cristoph, who was supporting her from behind, frowned down at her head.
"Brace yourself. This thing has a punch."
She pulled the trigger.
It did punch. The wind was knocked out of her lungs, and she felt her injured body crumple again, but she got the satisfaction of seeing Passion skidding backwards head first into the dirt as the gun blast caught him in the collar and dislocated his shoulder with a loud popping sound.
"Rhiannon!" Cristoph was clinging to her tightly, and she gave a low moan in response. Hissing and snarling, Passion rose up from his landing space, one hand braced against his shoulder.
"Wake up and smell the coffee, agents. This IS the day you all die, just like you killed Wisdom!"
Rhia groaned weakly. "Passion-"
"NO! Enough of your lies!" the Sovereign kissed the dice and threw it again. "It ends here, NOW!"
It clattered against a stone before spinning over once more...
All sound went out of the clearing. Passion stared, all of the blood draining out of his face. "What? But..." The sapphire die started to glow and hum ominously, rising off the ground to float in front of his face.
Passion simply could not summon up any other emotion but disbelief. "No..."
The dice exploded in his face with the power of thirty pounds of TNT.
Everything was white and hot again, but unlike the lightning, which raced from the inside, this burning pounded against Rhia's skin from the outside. She could smell flesh and hair succumbing to the heat, but she did not know if that was Cristoph or her. Someone was screaming – Avak? Ben? Passion himself? – and the whole world echoed away like a heartbeat around her.
The world tilted sickeningly as she opened her eyes. Her mind was still reeling from the attacks, and she could still feel fire on her face. She batted it furiously, feeling heat sear her hands. She may have lost an eyebrow and a bit of hair, and from the feeling, she had ruined her shirt, but otherwise, she had been lucky...
Or at least, shielded by a boyfriend. Cristoph's teeth were gritted as though he were trying to bite through steel. His whole back was a shiny red, and his shirt was crumbling in the faint breeze. There was a faint moan from nearby – Avak, who had been closest to the blast, was in a painful world of his own again. Lily was the only one unhurt, though her injured knee had slowed Top Gear enough to turn her clothes to ash.
"Did we win?" Ben asked, getting to his feet slowly and painfully, gripping Bahamut unsteadily in one hand as he went. Rhia felt immediately better feeling Incandescent Silverreign still in her hands, though her frying pan had been blown to who knew where.
"Maybe..." Lily whispered, holding Ben up on one side and Avak on the other.
"Cristoph? Cristoph!" Rhia had pulled herself out from under her boyfriend and had spotted the huge, searing welt on his back. "Oh sweet God...Cristoph!"
"I'm...alright, milady," he bit out, arms and legs shaking as they kept him up.
"Alright my ass!" She squirmed under him again, supporting his weight. "I've got you..."
There was a hoarse, choked yell from the epicentre of the blast. Everyone froze.
"No! I can't lose! Not against cheaters! No!" Charred and flesh oozing, Passion held a remote in a death grip. Ben hissed, struggling for something.
"Avak?" Lily was cautiously checking the most injured of their party, but half dangled over her shoulder, all he could do was moan.
"What the-" Rhia's sentence hung unfinished as Passion's maniacal grin came into view, with the triumphant desperation of a man about to do something drastic.
"This place is rigged to blow!" Ben yelled, chugging a mouthful of Firebrand Whiskey and throwing it to Lily. "Drink!"
Rhia's mind, still scrambled from the lightning, fight, explosion and her injured boyfriend now struggling upright, fought to make sense of the situation as Lily gulped down the drink, hauled Avak over her shoulders by his arms, and tossed the bottle at her. It thudded to the ground by her knees, just as the click of Passion's button filled the arena, and faint electronic beeps began to count down.
"Oh shit!" Tossing her head back, Rhia swallowed as fast as possible, the raw sugar burning a trail down her throat, and filling her body with a violent rush. She shoved the bottle into Cristoph's hands and yanked Incandescent Silverreign on her shoulder, before racing to Lily and pulling Avak up on the other side.
The beeping was pounding frantically with her heartbeat. Everything felt sharper and more acute in the sudden rush of energy, and the noise pierced her each time. Cristoph scrambled to his feet and pulled them along as the explosives reached a crescendo.
There was a moment, filled with nothing but Passion chuckling weakly.
And then the whole forest erupted into chaos. Ground burst upwards in a dramatic spray, followed by pillars of hungry fire that swallowed everything in the clearing. Trees already burning and crippled, were flattened by the blast, and all noise was swallowed up in the roar of the explosion.
The five scrambled as fast as they could away from the growing blast. It didn't matter where they went, as long as it was away. The Whiskey would only last so long, and at this point, they were all ready to drop. On and on they ran, feeling the heat bear down on their backs even as they put distance between them and it. Around them trees, buckled and swayed under the force, and a lone mockingjay shrieked before being swallowed by the din.
Ben was the first to drop, stumbling onto all fours and pulling himself along in a crawl. Around him, the rest of the team began to fall as the Whiskey's effect vanished, leaving them all for what they were – broken, battered, and exhausted. Passion was dead, but none of them were ready to process that yet. So none of them spoke, laying there and breathing in the smell of mud and burning wood.
It was Lily who first heard the voices.
"Oh God...I hope they weren't caught up in that."
"Harriet?" Lily whispered.
"Nah..." a shaky female laugh. "That was probably Ben nuking the place sky high. They're close. I can feel it."
Lily whimpered and swallowed whatever moisture was left in her mouth. "Tash! Oh god...Tash!"
The rest of the mostly conscious, battle-scarred agents twitched at that.
"Here!" Rhia yelled, and peered into the trees for movement. Her eyelids were drooping with fatigue, but she willed them to stay open. There was a bumbling crash, and the five mentor agents came into view, Tash gasping, Michael and Jared swearing, Harriet issuing orders to her slaves that made no sense to any of their ringing ears, and Valerie taking in the scene before rushing to help with the worst of the injuries. As the boys got to work on a plothole, Rhia felt herself being rolled over and assessed by her mentor.
"Can we go home now?" she asked weakly. The leader managed a smile.
"Yeah, we're going home now. Go to sleep hon."
Emily weaved her way through the corridors, trying desperately not to topple the stack of pizza boxes in her arms. She wished Harriet could have sent her slaves to get these, but apparently the slaves had more important things to do, like fetch smoothies and cricket magazines for the leader.
She was technically off duty, but she had made sure to unlock the jamming system and close Passion's file down before she had left to play delivery girl. Everyone was very confused – the cheerful atmosphere that usually surrounded a victory for the Society was missing with this one. It felt almost wrong to celebrate a success that ended in death, so everyone sticking to relief as the emotion of choice instead. Not that she could blame them. Relief was much easier to deal with than conflict.
Personally Emily was not sure what to think. She was glad that Passion was dead – he had tried to kill them, and had apparently gone completely nuts at the end of his life. He was probably a lot more content now that he was free of it and had gone to that big Xbox in the sky (or whatever version of the afterlife awaited him). But at the same time, she remembered hours of playing PVP Minecraft with him, and could not help but feel a little sad.
"Mourn the person he was, not the person he became," a voice that sounded like her sister advised her in the back of her head, and she smiled. Yes, that sounded like a good idea. After all, she could not be totally miserable. The fandom was safe, another Sovereign was down, therefore weakening Runoa, and nobody knew about Wisdom – though (a) was in a full on sulk about being blocked from the Hunger Games during those last ten minutes, even though she had worked her way around it in time to see the agents helping each other through a plothole back to the Library.
Feeling pretty pleased with herself now, Emily elbowed the hospital wing doors open and marched into the chaos. The room stank of disinfectant and burn medicine.
"Aha!" Harriet exclaimed, seeing her charge walk into the room. "Our sustenance!"
"Shh!" Valerie hissed, her finger on her lips. She had ignored most of her own injuries initially until everyone else had been stabilised. Now she was fixing a proper support for her shoulder after declaring Harriet and Michael to have minor bruising and telling them that they could leave if they wished. Needless to say, they had not wished, and Harriet's scantily clad male slaves now filled the room, doing her bidding. All other visitors had been banned from the room until the next morning.
"Oh, they're out like lights!" Harriet waved a hand at the sleeping members of the team. Lily and Avak's beds were side by sides, Avak moaning and mewling occasionally in his dreams. Lily had got off easiest out of all of the tributes, with the arrow to the knee being her only major injury. On her other side, Ben had suffered the worst, with a broken arm, burns streaked all over his body and his hair refusing to flatten after the electrocution. Like the ninja he was; nobody had even noticed the burnt Cristoph waking up long enough to slip into Rhia's bed, and the two were now cuddled together, prompting many squeals and taking of photographs from the other invalids.
"Not anymore," Tash pointed from her own bed, as Rhia gave a cute snuffling sound and blinked awake slowly. She gave a groan, and Valerie hastily upped her painkiller dose. But the complaints vanished as Rhia found Cristoph's head snuggled into her breasts. She gave a silly grin and began stroking his hair.
"Aww that is too cute!"
Rhia immediately turned crimson as she saw every pair of eyes fixed on her.
"Evening dear," Harriet chirruped. "Welcome home."
"Nyeeeeh..." Was about all the chef managed to get out, burying her face in her boyfriend's hair.
"Don't be pouty," Jared said, balancing a box carefully on his good hand. He had somehow managed to break two fingers on the other hand – nobody was sure how. "Look, we have pizza!"
Had Rhia been in the possession of a pair of kitty ears, they would have pricked up in excitement.
"You got pizza?" she asked weakly, coughing and clearing her throat. "In hospital?" she looked at Valerie. "Are you feeling alright?"
The healer pulled a face and went to get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the secret stash in her desk.
"Well I got a call from Pizza Hut," Harriet explained. "They said 'you haven't ordered pizza for six months – are you ill?'. And I figured it would be a nice after eating that rubbish in your rucksacks!"
Rhia's mouth watered and Emily took pity and handed her a large box over. Her sketchbook slipped out from where it was clamped under her arm, and she gulped as Harriet swooped down on it.
"Oooh I wanna see the yaoi again!" the founder giggled, plopping herself onto the end of Rhia's bed. "How long did that take you, Em? It was really accu-"
It was rare that Emily could make her mother's jaw drop. But drop it did as the book fell open on the bookmarked page.
"Emily, you naughty young lady!" she finally exclaimed, and everybody who was mobile staggered to have a look.
"Whoa!" Michael exclaimed. "Creation is hot!"
"She's not the only one," Unseen by everyone, Ben had awoken and crawled over to the bed, his dirtiest smirk directed at Harriet. "Where have you been hiding such a nice pair of –"
"Ben!" Lily's voice, groggy with sleep, was still disapproving enough to make him cower.
"Feet. Very nice feet, Harriet."
Embarrassed beyond belief, Emily thought perhaps she had better at least try and explain. "Look it's not weird, okay! I have a life drawing assignment over the summer holidays and I saw you three cuddled on Creation's bed of cushions and...well I...thought it was a good picture..."
Harriet looked about ready to burst with pride. "My artist in the making! This is some of your best work!" she flipped onto the next page and the yaoi image she had so desired to see, along with a few rough sketches of other Society agents – all completely naked. "How on earth do you do it?"
"Yeah, how do you do it?" Valerie asked, torn between awe and embarrassment. "Spy on us all when we're having showers?" She turned fuchsia as Harriet found a vague sketch of her on the next page.
Face flushing, Emily made a mental note to find new air ducts to hide in. "I'm curious about the human body!" she finally managed to splutter. She was engulfed in a hug by her excitable mother.
Grinning as Emily flailed in Harriet's grasp, Rhia took the sketchbook from where it was perching on the end of her bed. As everyone dispersed to get pizza before it went cold, she flipped it open and scanned the images at the back, chewing on a slice of pizza as she went. Emily had been busy while they had been gone – half drawn sketches of people filled the pages. Cristoph half way up a tree. Marama in midsprint for the cornucopia. Rhia herself roaring at a mountain lion. Ben and Lily in a clearing, kissing. And other less friendly ones – Roxelana polishing a knife. Passion rolling the dice between his fingers. She snapped the page shut and turned instead to the front of the book.
She choked on a slice of pizza as she opened it again on a page of naked bodies, these two instantly recognisable to her. Her face coloured brilliantly, and she glanced at the sleeping ninja in her arms before allowing herself a closer look.
"How much does she see?" she wondered, glancing over at Emily, who was still pouty and pink cheeked as she munched her way defiantly through her meat feast. Smirking in a naughty fashion, Rhia pulled the page out of the sketchbook, and tucked it under her fruit bowl for safe keeping.
"Sorry Emily, but that's a picture I want to keep for myself."
AN2: A little Munchkin reference for those of you who spotted it. Hurricane's Quill? That one was for you! *grins*
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