So, after a very impromptu vacation in which I was in a hotel with a cruddy laptop that strongly dislikes the internet, I am back with a chapter for y'all! A few little notices.
A) This chapter is especially long but I think it flows enough that it didn't really need to be separated into two, B) the one-shot entitled "The Statue Inside Me" for the late District Twelve Galla Cinder is now up, check it out, and C) We are still accepting submissions for Hello Darkness, My Old Friend. Keep sending them in guys, they're fabulous and I'm excited on how this will turn out!
Hugs and kisses
Lucian Drake of District Twelve
"Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there."
"It's alright. We're almost there."
An older man and his daughter walked swiftly through the streets. The man, looking to be of 30 years talked in hushed tones, but remained calm and composed as he tried to keep the small girl at his side harmonious. The girl, silent and porcelain-skinned, looked up at him, two glassy oceanic orbs widened in silent inquiry.
He breathed, sending a cold vapor into the sky, "It'll be alright. Just try to walk quickly, and before you know it, we'll be home."
The little girl nodded and gulped, and brushed away what little she could of her fear by humming an old melody to herself. In the distance, mockingjays could be heard humming the same tune. This made her smile.
The crisp, cool air swept through the empty streets, sending a pile of colorful leaves on the ground fluttering about around their feet and into the hazy sky. The leafy twisters up above looked almost magical—in the way they danced and whirled about. The air casting the bewitchment was perverse—a particular presence, one that was not living, but neither was it a presence that remained calmly concealed. It carelessly played with the dying foliage like a cat did with a mouse, making the dead things frolic on the dirt road, causing them to descend like silent waves.
These leaves rained down upon the two travelers. His gloved hand encompassed his daughter's smaller pale one like a cradle. The two were inseparable, even physically they shared the same ebony locks of hair, as well as the same pale complexion.
He occasionally glanced down at the child, smiling at her sweetly as she did in unison. She knew her father did it to reassure her. She did not like this area of the District; it made her feel nervous. Her father liked to go for walks in the Seam; he said it was to look at the mountains. Something told her it was more than that...but she never asked. She did like to go with him, but the people in this area did little to make her feel safe. They were dirty, unkempt, and quite frankly, a little frightening. People from where she lived were none of these things.
Father told her not to worry—that they would do her no harm. She was much too young to understand or comprehend the poverty, the illness, or the darkness in these areas, and he didn't care to explain what she didn't need to know about.
But still, he couldn't help but notice how hesitant and tense she became when they walked through the streets of the Seam.
They were haste in their venture through the dim light. The man was a curious fellow—he didn't much mind the dirt or air, but it was wise to be as careful as possible in these areas. There was always the occasional swindler or pickpocket. Sometimes there were those escaped convicts...it was a mess. Everything here had fallen apart. It was nothing compared to how it used to be before the Dark Days. Legend has it, District 12 used to be a wondrous place. It was later that he began to wonder if everything he had heard was just a product of some wishful fantasy. His daughter went along with it, at least.
They sped past the last row of Seam houses, and with a satisfied sigh at the sight of the first merchant shop, he finally let go of his daughter's hand. It was then that they heard the barking. It was a loud, terrible, and ferocious noise. It reminded him of the grating machinery he heard at the Mines.
The little girl gasped and hugged her father's leg in fear.
It sounded like a large breed of dog; sloppily tucked behind that flimsy chain link fence. The loud and guttural growling and barking of the dog indicated that it wasn't necessarily friendly. This wasn't the first time he had come across this dog. Truth be told, the man passed the yard on a nightly basis. It was usually never out in the day. The man never would have thought they would come across it if they were fast enough. He grabbed his daughter's hand again, knowing her fear of the animal would prevent her from even moving.
"Why is that dog mad?" The little girl shook, blue eyes wide like saucers while her father sighed lightly at her fear. He wasn't frightened of the dog—more annoyed.
"It's...I think it's alright. It shouldn't be able to get out—you'll be fine. I promise."
The girl shook her head profusely. The black dog tore at the links with powerful jaws, gnawing and salivating on the steel. If they remained here any longer, then they'd have something to worry about.
The girl tugged at her father's hand, trying to lead him back towards some thick shrubbery so they could hide.
Then she suddenly stopped. She didn't know why she halted in such haste—it was that certain feeling. It was a feeling that encompassed the fear of the angry animal. It was a feeling that told her there was something dark nearby. Something bad. Like at home—when she hid her head under the covers when she thought a monster was in her closet.
Then she looked over near the shops...sensing that maybe...just maybe the ghoul had followed her and daddy.
That's when she saw him. Except it wasn't the thing in the closet...it was something else. It was tucked away under the shade of an antique looking floral shop, paper-white face hid behind a leather-bound book. She knew it was looking at them by the way its shadowy eyes were raised.
It was not the monster at all. It was just a boy.
He looked like her. Black hair, pale skin, and his eyes were...dark, but not really brown...nor black—almost a steel gray in nature. Was that possible? Such a color was unheard of in any District besides that of Twelve...and only the Seam people had eyes like those. The boy looked about her age as well—maybe 5. He looked very small on the bench. The girl stopped tugging at her father and stared surprised as the boy slowly closed his book, and got up off the bench.
The father also noticed the boy head toward their direction. The boy didn't seem afraid as he walked past the corner and stood in front of them. The girl got a better look at his eyes, and they were definitely gray, but they seemed more distant and unfocused than they seemed from afar.
"Is something the matter?"
The man laughed at the young boy's obliviousness to the dog's barking. His voice was something else—elegant and soft, almost proper. It was interesting, though, because he looked like he was definitely from the Seam. He wore ragged clothes with holes in them, and had dirt under his nails. He looked like a typical street urchin, but there was something about him that was almost enigmatic. He didn't even think most people from the Seam attended school...and yet...
Where were his parents? Or...did he even have any parents?
"Hello there, young man. We were just passing through but it appears this...dog—uh, well, she's afraid of dogs," the father said sheepishly, gesturing to his silent daughter.
The boy turned his head toward the sound of the barking—not even flinching, and then looked at her. The man didn't know what to think as the young boy stared at her. Usually people didn't take much interest...maybe he just needed some friends.
Yeah, that had to be it.
The man didn't exactly know the boy personally, but he had a feeling he attended the same school as her. It doesn't appear they know each other. When he spoke again, the almost angelic sound of his voice was like music to his ears—soft and delicate.
How does such a young child speak so eloquently?
"Do you want the dog to leave you alone? If you want it to go away, I can help. The bad dog will go away—forever. Do you really want it to go away?"
The man stared perplexed at the boy's bizarre choice of words, but he was even more stumped by the fact that the boy didn't even once glance at him, but rather, his daughter. Hell, just the way he so intensely focused on her was just a little frightening.
He cleared his throat, "Uh—yes, if you could, we would really appreciate it. Though...I can't imagine it will be easy," the man said, amused.
He's...just a boy after all. What could he really do? He'll just go along with it. I mean, why not?
The boy smiled at the man alluringly, and calmly turned the corner in the direction of the barking. Even though the man couldn't see the dog or the boy anymore behind the vine and shrubbery covering the fence, the barking seemed to get louder as the boy got closer. The dog probably moved away from the leaf covered fence, running somewhere into the yard.
The man was unsure of this boy's abilities, and began to consider his options. How exactly was he going to make it "go away"? Perhaps he knows the neighbor—maybe he owns a dog himself.
He gave his daughter, who was now oddly silent, a small smile and a squeeze of the hand. If it came down to it, the man would have to check to see if the boy was alright. He would hate to be responsible for a child's death because of some rabid animal.
The air no longer howled through the streets as it did before. It was deserted. A loose window pane smacked against old glass. A bottle rolled across the cobblestone. The leaves ceased to dance, and all was...suddenly silent. It took him awhile to realize that the barking had stopped—miraculously. There was not a peep or shout of the boy, but nor was there a single sound of the dog. Not a yipe—not a howl...absolutely nothing. The man scrunched his eyebrows as he wondered what sort of magic trick the boy did to calm the beast.
He began to feel uneasy as the sudden wave of silence encompassed the ghostly streets. He glanced at his daughter out of the corner of his eye, and she remained as frozen as before. The man frowned—something was wrong with her. Something was wrong in general. But what was it?
That boy...something about him...It was strange, and for some reason, the man wanted to run. He wanted to grab his daughter by the hand and run as fast as possible down the road, forgetting about everything and just getting the hell out of there. He'd never felt anything like it...not in his entire life. He felt vulnerable—funnily enough. An adult, broad-shouldered and tall...vulnerable. It sounded ludicrous, but it's exactly how he felt. If something or someone were to suddenly attack or rob them...would anyone come?
The man cleared his throat, and stepped forward. He needed to see what was going on around that corner; the shrubbery by the fence prevented any visibility. His daughter refused to move, though. As he tried to grab her hand and take her with him, she stubbornly yanked back with a force he didn't know she was capable of. He was perplexed.
"We need to stay here, daddy."
The man grimaced and obliged.
Finally, the young boy appeared again; he wore a charming smile, and his eyes—cloudy, seemed to dance with...something. It was a little...strange to say the least, but right about now, everything seemed weird.
"It is safe now," the little dark-haired boy mused in the softest of voices.
The man, almost abashed, gasped and laughed a little to disguise his nervousness. "Uh—why, thank you very much, young man. Whatever you did, it sure worked."
The boy nodded, hands clasped behind his back and rocking back and forth on his feet as if he were being awarded candy. The boy really was something, the man thought. He'd never thought a child could be so good at handling animals. Perhaps these Seam kids could teach him a thing or two.
"Well...we'll be going now. Thank you again, young man." The man waved and quickly passed the boy with his daughter in tow. She had barely uttered a single word, and it was giving him this nagging feeling. As they passed the dreaded corner, the yard which held the dog appeared to be empty, and the man shrugged to his daughter as they ventured home.
The feeling was gone.
The girl at his side, ever so silent, ever so observant, noticed the red coloring splattered across the boy's hands and fingernails when he returned. She noticed the barely concealed glee in his eyes—a blankness no longer so apparent afterward. She noticed the way the boy looked at her with such intensity...
The girl noticed a lot of these things. Although, she was still curious—she just had to know. She waited for her father to begin whistling to himself distractedly before she looked back towards the distant yard with the dog. Chills ran down her spine as she turned her head back around, tugging a little harder at her father's hand as she promised herself never to look back.
It was the carcass of an animal—a dog perhaps, gutted open and tongue missing, hanging from the branch of a dying tree.
"Hey, wake up."
In the abysmal darkness that is my dreams, a voice pierced its way through the black. It is a familiar voice—it belongs to someone that I once knew or currently know. How did they get in here, anyway? Why are they in here? Cannot they see that I'm trying to slumber?
"Wake up, damn it!"
There it is again. It's not a particularly young voice. Though, it's not necessarily very old either. It is feminine, and it sounds...like a young adult. Who could it be? It could be my demons. They jest at me—the little devils. They taunt me in the later hours. They chant about wild things and feral beasts—their petty attempts to frighten me have only managed to make me laugh at inappropriate times. I am only now beginning to grow impatient with these little voices they're using to communicate with me in my nightmares.
I burst out of my slumber; the first one in days. Sweat coats my entire body, and my hair is slick and wet. My panting is incredibly audible as I scramble to my feet and hit my back against a rocky material. I am beginning to feel a sense of deja vu; I had experienced the same feelings of pure joy waking up back at the Capitol, except of my own accord.
What is the meaning of this?
I turn my head in hopes of finding this intruder, already rummaging for my blasted sword in the trench I'm residing in...much to no avail. I'm nearly knocked over by a tin can, and when I come face to face with a certain red-head, I grimace.
I massage my neck as I glare at her. "Is there a particular...reason you awoke me from my sleep?"
Atalanta, otherwise known as Conquest, snorts and crosses her arms. "Would you rather I left you here to die? I have no problem with that, Drake. No problem at all...just say the words."
I clench my teeth and swallow, tasting traces of bile rise up in my throat. "Conquest, judging from the amount of light in the sky—or lack thereof, it looks to be about two in the morning."
Atalanta rises, shaking her head. "Yeah, your point?" She kicks at some strewn debris in the trench, "You know, I hate those stupid nicknames of yours. Anyway, I'd say the earlier, the better. I'm not about to get ambushed in my sleep because—"
Blah, yip, yap...I don't care, Atalanta. I really don't care. All you do is complain, whine, and moan about being alive. I roll my eyes and stab at the ground with the heel of my boot.
This girl...is driving me mad. The demons appeared to have relocated, and one is standing before me.
Currently, there are quite a few things to be mad about. This alliance, for one. When I initiated Plan X and gathered these children together, I expected this team to remain as a solitary, imposing figure until the Enemy was subsequently and successfully destroyed. My strive for perfection contrasts with the convenience of chaos that has been tearing this Arena apart. My brilliant plans for the Horsemen have been crushed into fine dust, while I am helpless to stabilize it. This just goes to prove that the Capitol has complete control over everything—even over alliances bound by myth and legend.
I breathe in long and heavily, unsatisfied by the alliance's current status. As of yesterday, Famine has left us. No—Erik Fiske has left us. Erik, the overly cautious masked menace. Erik, the traitor. He's deadly again—always was. I never thought for a second that boy would remain with us. The entire time he's traveled, he's been toying with my mind. I know for a fact the boy didn't trust me. This alliance was founded on the fundamental concept of trust, and this is the respect I receive?
I shudder with fury and kick at a rock in the trench. The resulting tink of stone against rusted steel sends a look directed at me from Conquest.
Erik is gone; our last meeting wasn't a pleasant one. He threatened me...and he put his hands on me. I wasn't armed. I didn't realize he would discover the truth. The truth about...particular things. But...the sly fox uncovered it. Well—he almost uncovered it and had the audacity to try to kill me in retaliation. I had to do what I had to do to allow myself another day to live. I wasn't going to die embarrassed, and I wasn't going to die by his hands. Not like that.
Erik...has things to settle. Frankly, I'm glad he's moved on with his goals. Whether or not he's dead, is not of my concern. It never was. Erik Fiske was a threat, and so I quickly decided to relocate the group to the trenches near the east. It was much too dangerous to remain in our previous location any longer. Then, in the likely case Erik came back for me, we would be far away by then.
I wince as I feel the still stinging scar below my eye. It continues to pester my nerves—resulting in my foul temperament. It also serves as the only indication that I had ever killed Bianca Neve. It serves as the only memory of Bianca Neve—the only evidence that she had ever been in my presence.
Poor Erik never even knew—even when it was staring him right in the face. He was smart, but emotions got the better of him. That tends to happen in the Arena. People die, and people react with emotion, causing a long list of problems that lead to more death...essentially, it becomes a domino effect. I've seen it happen time and time again. It's a mindless loop of nonsense that will just not stop until the root cause is targeted. I just see it as trivial nonsense.
Besides, death is only the ending of this particular plane of existence. The children should rejoice in the fact their brethren no longer have to face this crude reality. Whatever is next in store, be it Heaven or Hell or a continual darkness, I can't imagine it could be much worse than this.
"You think too much."
My eyes tiredly flicker over to Atalanta. "That's my job. I construct ideas, you listen, and then we act upon them."
She gives me another one of those weary looks under that tangled scarlet mess that she calls her hair. Scars line her arms and a few dot her face as well. I feature the same mess. My arms are covered in scabs and little bug bites. I stopped itching after we received the ointment. They are the result of those bloody plagues. We got the worst of it. Nearly two weeks of plague after plague...it tires a man out. It messes with your head. I thought I had gone berserk on the first day the plagues began. Blood filled the water I drank and I remember staring at the liquid, unsure of my mental capacities. I considered popping the single pill in my journal, but I know now it wouldn't have done anything.
After the first day, I had begun to realize that these series of events were not the result of hallucination, but were indeed a Gamemaker scheme. I recognized the plagues from the scriptures I read back at home. My memory has become significantly clearer ever since I entered this dreaded arena. My dreams, however, are becoming more and more realistic. I cannot pinpoint an exact reason for this—and I highly doubt it has something to do with the environment. The dreams I experience now have become so powerful that they threaten to crash through my very skull. At any moment's notice...it will happen.
I rub my chin in lost thought, "Dreams..."
Atalanta scoffs at me, "Dreams? Those never get you anywhere—especially in the Games."
I give a squinted glance in her direction, "Dreams are the only place where we possess free will, Atalanta. Dreams, however, can as well land you into an asylum if you think too much of them. But these particular dreams feel strangely...nostalgic."
Atalanta rolls her eyes as she blows strands of hair away from them. "Maeve has been running her mouth about the same thing. 'Death told me this. I dreamed about that'; it's really annoying...and just stupid."
Maeve. Of course...only she would know what to think of this madness.
Unfortunately, Maeve has become mute ever since Erik left. I have the strangest feeling that Maeve feels angry about his departure. Horsemen are not supposed to reflect on a fallen comrade, they pick themselves up and move on. My cavalry are supposed to be brave. Maeve has been distant, and she has been undeniably taciturn to Atalanta and I. I do hear her whispering to herself in the later hours. She reminds me of that insane Career boy from Two, and this worries me. Something here is not right.
This doesn't answer the question of the blasted nostalgia in my dreams. I've had a single distinct dream before Atalanta rudely awakened me. I have been having several of these dreams in the past week, but never did they feature that boy, and never were they so incredibly vivid. It disturbs me. They are beginning to feel almost like memories.
Are they memories? Are they visions? Are they revelations? Does Maeve's erratic behaviour have something to do with it? Is she experiencing the same thing?
I silently smack my head, trying to manually adjust my brain.
The one with the barking dog...who was that boy? What was wrong with him? That one was less specific, but it disturbed me. Those people looked oh so familiar, but not a single face was recognizable. I've all but forgotten the details.
That cursed dream...
The demons laugh at me giddily now—the cursed bastards.
I clench my teeth and shut my eyes, banging my head on the trench wall profusely.
What do I do?
Where do we go from here?
Give me an answer!
"So, what exactly do we plan on doing about Erik?"
I sigh at the intruder, keeping my eyes tight shut, "We are not going to do a thing about Erik. It was his choice to leave us."
Atalanta gives me one of her trademark villainous glares, accompanied with a harsh sniff, "You do realize that he was our only chance at fighting off the Careers, right? He had a scythe," she whispers.
"Yes, I understand that. We are in a plight at the moment; but remember, you have your knives and I have my sword—"
"—That you never even use."
I want to strangle her. I want to clasp my hands around her thin little pale neck and strangle her. It would be rather simple.
Tisk, tisk, tisk. I can't be doing that though, now can I? My precious sword is to be used as a last resort. Words tend to cut better.
"Lucian, tell me. What exactly is our plan?"
I hesitate. I flicker my eyes to the dark, star-filled sky and ask myself the same question. Planning to kill the enemy was one thing, but actually taking the steps to achieve this goal was another. And then we have to take into account the viewers at home—which I cringe at the thought of. If they get bored, then the Capitol will take notice. When the Capitol takes notice, spontaneous combustion of tributes could be the result.
I regard Atalanta again with finality, "We wait until the sun rises." Atalanta looks like she wants to continue, but she's smart enough to leave the matter at bay.
Silence ensues the trench, and I close my eyes to think again, while Atalanta grabs her knife and practices her throwing skills on the dirt wall of the trench. Maeve sits in the darkest corner of the trench near a barrel, clutching her knees to her chest and conversing with her own little demons.
Darkness threatens to claim me once more. I try to fight it, but the effort is futile.
"Mr. Drake, with all due respect, I think the environment could also be playing a factor in the developmental processes of your son. Tell me...have there been any problems with the family—uh, perhaps a divorce?"
Henry Drake rubbed his aching temples with coal stained fingers. Scars and callouses adorned the skin around the knuckles, and his fingernails were all but absent—he had a history of biting.
Henry sighed and scratched his eyes, leaving small specks of coal dust on his eyelids. "Well, my wife and I had some...issues. She, uh, left us quite a while ago."
The worn and chalky looking psychologist looked intrigued with everything Henry uttered. The man has held that same mouth agape expression since Henry entered the damned clinic. The psychologist wore an ancient looking brown suit and tie. His stark white hair contrasted with his dark chestnut eyes, giving him the appearance of something older and wiser. The man had a habit of fiddling with his pocket watch, twisting and turning the knob on the golden object as he listened to Henry's responses. He could be likened to a mad scientist—examining the bizarre insect that is Henry under the microscope. Henry made a note to self about being potentially hypnotized.
Henry scratched his head and looked impatient as he patted the obnoxiously loud leather seat with his hands, trying somehow to quell the uncomfortable environment he was being forced to settle in. Honestly, Henry didn't want to come here at all—if you had asked him, he would have just left the kid with Cyrus. He really didn't give a damn about anything but his earnings. He wasn't going to get paid until the end of the week, and he was unfortunately going to have to sit through the rest of today being sober. He had a pounding headache, and his nose was stuffy from the clogged interior of the clinic.
"I'm sorry...was it because of the flu? That newest influenza strain has afflicted my granddaughter—poor thing has to miss school."
"Ah no, she, uh, actually ran away from the house. Haven't seen her in about two—three years?" Henry coughed into his hand and looked for a clock, eager to end the session.
The psychologist tightened his lips into a firm line and nodded, crossing his legs and rubbing his bearded chin. "I see."
Henry's anxious plight quelled a little when Cyrus entered the clinic, a tall and rather imposing man who has done more for the family than he can count. He was a Peacekeeper, respectable and honest, good friends with the community—he's a really great guy. Henry liked to think of the man as a sibling of sorts—one who hangs around much too often, however. Cyrus was the one who wanted this in the first place; Henry regrets ever telling the man of the kid's problems. Ever since he confided in him about it, Cyrus has gotten attached to the kid, for whatever reason.
The psychologist stood up and shook Cyrus's large hand, "Ah, hello there. You must be Cyrus. It's a pleasure to meet you, my name is Dr. Jenner."
Cyrus shook his hand firmly and stood next to Henry's seat, patting him on the back. "So, has there been some sort of diagnosis made?"
Dr. Jenner seated himself once more, offering Henry a rather confused look. Henry was too encumbered by his headache to notice these small gestures, and only wanted to get out of there as soon as possible. One thing was for sure, whatever the kid had, he wasn't going to be dealing with it. He'd as soon lock him up in a cage than try to cooperate with the little devil, but he wasn't going to tell anyone about that.
"You're just in time, Cyrus. I do have a diagnosis. However—"
"—Now he will have a diagnosis, right doctor?" Cyrus interrupted.
"I was getting to that—but see, that's where the issue begins," the doctor winced.
Henry leaned forward, scratching the stubble on his chin. "Issue? Where exactly is this headed, Doc?"
Dr. Jenner heaved a sigh, "The diagnosis..." Dr. Jenner stammered, "...does not exist. Your son has nothing wrong with him at all."
The oak-wood clock in the corner of the room ticked and tocked— the concept of time seemingly becoming irrelevant now in the dusty, forlorn clinic.
Henry was dead silent, and the only thing that registered on his gruff face was that of disbelief.
Cyrus's eyebrows were raised in surprise as he shrugged, "Well, we appreciate your help, doctor. Henry..." Cyrus gestured for Henry, but failed to get a response from the man. Cyrus stroked his goatee—waiting for anything at all to happen.
Dr. Jenner hesitated. "Understand, the boy appears normal, Mr. Drake. He didn't seem to have any sort of...inner turmoil. Nothing suggested that he was depressed, delusional, and nor was he angry or corrupt like you claimed. He didn't even appear anxious or nervous in here like most people. As a matter of fact, I'd say your son has some of the highest intelligence I've ever seen. You should be proud to have raised such a charming boy. You really have nothing to worry about," he said with a reassuring smile.
It had no apparent effect.
Henry stared at the doctor incredulously, "I—I don't understand, doctor. How do you explain the—the animals he drags into the house!? Doctor, he's a little thief, a...a criminal! He—he even watches the Games! Give me something to work with here, doctor!"
"From the meeting we had this morning, he exhibited absolutely nothing that would indicate he commits such heinous acts..."
Henry leaned forward, teeth gritted and eyes widened. The man looked insane as he whispered hoarsely, "Doctor, it's what he wants you to believe! He's done worse things...terrible things! I—I can't even begin to explain it. Doc, please...there's gotta be something, man."
Cyrus placed his hand on Henry's shoulder, "Come on, Henry. If the boy's alright, then he's alright. No problems. It's great news..."
Henry shrugged the hand off, flashing Cyrus a dirty look. Cyrus walked away, defeated. "Look, Doc. The kid is abusing my younger daughters. He kills animals...be it fish, rodents, even...even house-pets. He's been having trouble at school, but I know he's book smart. He's got the brains, Doc, but not the heart!" Henry beats his chest with his fist, and breathes to compose himself.
"There's just no heart there. The boy can hide it...but I've seen it! Can't you see it? Why can't anyone see it? I just don't get it."
Dr. Jenner's face was grim. He didn't exactly know how to tell Henry his son was completely normal—to slap a disorder on a boy who exhibited normal symptoms? That would ruin the young man's life. Then again, Dr. Jenner, did in fact, know about some of the troubles his young patient subjected on the District. He couldn't imagine a handsome, innocent boy like that could even do such things. Henry was in disbelief, yes. Dr. Jenner always had a diagnosis. But this time? The boy was too young anyway! In order to be properly diagnosed in the District, one must be of at least 18 years of age or older. It would be preposterous to diagnose a child!
But as Dr. Jenner viewed Henry's almost impotent expression, he faced a great deal of inner turmoil. The man needs some hope. He lost his wife, and he's a known alcoholic. It's not unusual to find escapists in this District. Alcoholics, junkies, all sorts of fine folk come in to find out what's wrong with themselves. It's only understandable that the man be worried his son will not follow the same path.
Dr. Jenner was a widely renowned psychologist—the best in his field. He transferred from the Capitol at the request of President Finn himself. District Twelve had become the only District without a professional psychologist present. It was by Capitol law that each District should have a Psychiatric Clinic within. Dr. Jenner was shocked at first that he was going to be transferred to the most destitute and filthy District of them all, but over time, he began to enjoy the comfort of never being hassled as he had been in the chaotic streets of the Capitol. When Mr. Drake walked in with his son yesterday evening, it had been his first customer in weeks. Doctor Jenner had to do something. Yes, he had grown envious of his colleagues and their successes in other Districts, and he admittedly needed some coins to fill his pockets. Dr. Jenner had been slacking compared to the rest. His success was declining. He needed to do something...anything of interest that he could share with his mates over the phone.
Dr. Jenner had become so lost in his thoughts, that when he raised his head again, only Cyrus remained in the room. "Wait, where did Mr. Drake leave to?"
Cyrus paced around the room, gazing at the pictures on the wall of the clinic. "He needed to take a breather. If you need him I could catch him."
Dr. Jenner waved his hand, "No need. However, Cyrus, I—would like to suggest, perhaps if the boy needed some form of diagnosis..." Dr. Jenner hesitated, staring fixedly at his pocket watch.
Cyrus stopped in his tracks, and craned his head toward that of the doctor. Cyrus was also in turmoil. He had duties to fulfill, but none were more important than his promise to the Drakes. He supported them as a whole, but now he had become concerned for Henry's son. His behavior had reportedly worsened, and something needed to be done. Henry wasn't going to do it. He was a poor sap, admittedly. But if he wasn't going to take initiative for his own son, then it was going to be Cyrus.
"I'd like to hear it, doctor."
Dr. Jenner tapped his chin with a shaking finger. "I could only think of one possible cause for his behavior. He didn't exhibit any symptoms during our session, but if the rumors are true about his...deviant tendencies, then he would fit the criteria for that of someone afflicted with...Conduct Disorder." Dr. Jenner shuddered.
Cyrus was interested now, and took out a cigarette from his pocket, "Do you mind?"
The doctor grimaced, "Not at all. Now...this diagnosis is but a speculation of course. Obviously, this is something I would normally hesitate to do—it's against standard protocol, but I suppose it can be waved in this situation if this is an...'immediate threat'. Anyway, it's a disorder only for adolescents, and it involves a chronic assortment of behavior problems which may intervene with the child's developmental skills. Defiance, aggressive tendencies; he said fire-starting, uh, the animals of course...It's the only thing that makes sense—and it's really the only thing I can offer at this point."
Cyrus nodded as he exhaled smoke in the air, "Could it lead to anything in the future? Would it affect his...let's say, his abilities to interact?"
Dr. Jenner sighed, "It's a unique disorder, and I am not sure any sort of cure can come from his own environment if it is actually the root cause. As for the future...most of the time, it could manifest into some severe problems."
Cyrus took another puff of his cigar and squinted his eyes, "How so?"
"Well, from my knowledge in the field, such a disorder is a precursor...it could lead to a more dangerous disorder in adulthood known as Antisocial Disorder. It...affects the personality I believe. I personally have never met someone with this or dealt with a patient with this but nor do I care to. Some of the most horrible men in Panem are affected with such a condition, and many of them are in prison. Some however—can be found in those ruthless Career districts. You'll see a few pop in the Games every now and then...But for all that is good sir, I would very much dislike having to label that boy as a potential killer! He reminded me of the Mayor himself; noble and charming. I'm telling you right now, that boy has a future in politics."
Cyrus needed time to piece the information together, and took a long pull at his cigar as he focused on the main points. 'Antisocial Disorder'...could such an innocent boy be a potential criminal? Unlikely, Cyrus thought to himself.
"If...for example, he did have this...Conduct Disorder, is any sort of cure available?"
Dr. Jenner licked his dry lips and winced in spite of himself. "Impossible through counseling. See, I know a fellow psychologist; just recently got transferred to District One. He's currently seeing a few children, one of them being a French boy afflicted with Pyromania. Now, it's simple to counsel a pyromaniac, a few key words would help them with their impulse problems but dealing with such a misunderstood disorder—it can be difficult."
Cyrus tapped his cigar impatiently, "Surely there has to be something."
Dr. Jenner raised his bushy eyebrows in unfocused thought, "If there was a cure...it would have to be in the Capitol. The Capitol is home to some of the most brilliant minds in the world...they would surely have some form of medicine. I can't imagine why you would even want to obtain something for a child that is perfectly normal in nature, sir."
Cyrus threw his cigar on the ground and stepped on it, swiveling the nicotine onto the rug with his boot. Dr. Jenner scowled, disgusted. "Thank you for the info, doctor. You have a good day."
Dr. Jenner gasped as Cyrus promptly exited the clinic. He slumped into his leathery chair and sighed heavily. Sweat lined his brow and he loosened his tie and unbuttoned his suit jacket. He tiredly walked over to the sign hanging on the door, and lazily flipped it over.
Now, Jenner thought, it was time to go on holiday.
Cyrus ran to meet up with the slouched form of Henry, now realizing that whatever the doctor told him, he had to keep it to himself. Henry was grumbling to himself when Cyrus walked beside him.
"So, you sure you didn't act like him when you were a kid? Perhaps bad behavior just runs in the Drake blood," Cyrus joked.
Henry grew noticeably pale at this sentiment, "Impossible."
Cyrus chuckled to himself, "How so?"
Henry clenched his teeth, blood turning to ice, as he whispered, "He's no Drake, Cyrus. We don't share any blood."
Cyrus slowed, and stared long and hard at Henry's eyes before a scowl crossed his hardened features. "...You've been drinking."
Henry spat, "Drinking?! Don't you get it? Do I have to spell it out? I'm not the boy's father! He was there the whole damned time..."
Cyrus stopped, dropping the cigarette he was reaching for, as his fear had become a reality.
Time seems to blur as I sit—dreaming within the deep trench. I'm not sure whether an hour or simply a minute has gone by when I finally raise my head and open my eyes. The darkness still remains and the only sound to be heard in the distance is that of crickets and owls from the nearby forest.
Atalanta has her leg propped up on a piece of debris, making adjustments to her boot. Maeve is now curled up in the fetal position, back turned to Atalanta and I. She looks like she's shivering.
Atalanta notices the shivering Maeve at the same time I do. She pauses the work on her boot and whispers to Maeve, "You cold, Maeve?"
Maeve flinches and raises her head, tucking a strand of dirty blonde hair behind her ear, "What?"
"I said, are you cold?"
Maeve's voice is barely audible, "Only a little."
Atalanta crosses her arms and breathes, sending cold vapor out of her mouth. She slowly rises to her feet and trudges over to me.
"I'm going to get wood."
I lick my chapped lips, "No. You're staying here. I can't afford to lose another."
Atalanta, sure enough, gives me a scowl. "Maeve is cold, and so am I. We need a fire, and we need something to eat. It wasn't exactly a question anyway. Maeve, you can come with if you want."
I stare at my reflection through my knife, noting the almost onyx colored dark circles under my eyes. "It's dangerous you know. Death is a real possibility—especially at this stage in the Games."
Atalanta kicks my knife away with her boot and smiles darkly, which causes me to frown, "Don't bluff. If I died, you wouldn't spare me a single tear."
I sigh through my nose, and flash her a strained smile. "Do what you will, then."
Atalanta quickly retrieves her knives and climbs out of the trench. Her footfalls are not detectable, even in the drowning silence. Maeve chooses to stay, but remains in her fetal position.
I am not exactly fond of Maeve's current state. Death should not be acting as so.
"What's the matter, Death?"
Maeve does not answer my call; I begin to feel the slightest hint of betrayal. "Death, I will not hesitate to use force..."
At this admission, Maeve almost literally pounces up and scoots into the farthest corner of the trench. Her voice is icy and her eyes dangerous as she speaks, "You wouldn't."
I stifle a laugh, "You're right, Death. I wouldn't."
Maeve doesn't trust me—she doesn't trust anyone but Death itself.
"Answer me, Maeve."
Maeve lowers her head so that a veil of her blonde hair covers her sickly face. I cannot determine the emotion she exhibits. She sounds tired, and her voice is a pathetic whisper.
"I'm weary. Death...is slipping from me—our connection."
I frown, "Well, that is...unfortunate."
If what Maeve says is true, I will have to get rid of her. She is of no use to my plans.
I grimace as she continues to ramble on about her dreams as if it all really mattered to me anymore. I am trying to decide the best decision to make in this given situation.
Should I kill the girl? Lead her astray? Let her stay?
"I am growing weary as well, Maeve."
"You should get some sleep," she whispered.
I chuckled, "Maeve...we both know that is never going to happen. Sleep, I beg of you. You look...sickly."
The fidgeting movement of Maeve's silhouette indicated that she was still shaking from the cold. "You're not going to kill me in my sleep, are you?"
I shrug, "It will be quick and painless."
I can feel Maeve's incredulous stare focusing on me—I thought I even heard the click of teeth hitting teeth as she angrily clamped her mouth shut.
I smile, "I am only kidding."
Maeve plays along, "Sure. Just try not to wake me up in the middle of it."
I grin at her dark humor, "You have my word."
I lower my head, rubbing my hands together and using friction to gather some warmth.
Foolish girl...if I really meant to harm her I wouldn't have spoken about it anyway.
I run my hand over my dirt coated and scarred face and rise to my feet. I wince as my back cracks from the cramped space of the trench and I climb out, using a barrel as leverage.
The smell of rainwater and smoke hit my nostrils as I breathe in the musky air. Our trench is situated near the forest...several miles out. The guard towers are now empty husks; solitary steel giants with the hazard lights no longer shining. Barrels of the turrets can still be seen sticking out of the steel reinforced windows, but the only things that inhabit the towers now are ghosts. Smoke plumes billow out of the still burning guard towers of 1, 2, and 4. It was Famine's idea, and a brilliant one at that. We seemed to have made our mark.
I veer my eyes towards the dark forest, feeling those familiar chills creep up my spine again. I squint my eyes as I stare at the forest in disbelief.
A single orange light sits deep within the trees to the far east of the forest. It is a ways from our trench, and there is no imminent danger. Atalanta had to have seen it—she would be stupid to go near it. Either it is the Careers, or just a single tribute. The fire dances in my vision, reminding me of tales I've read about the mythical Will-o'-the-wisp. I have a burning desire to run out there and see who or what it might be. It is two or three miles out—I can't afford to run such a distance.
Some questions are better left unanswered.
I swallow my temptation and clasp my hands behind my back as I watch the dark sky.
I...am addicted. I've become addicted to things no man should become addicted to. This is not your typical drug addiction, but it would be more enlightening if it were so. I lust for dark things—unspeakable things. Maeve has asked incessantly about my well-being. Atalanta even asked how I fared once. And what was I to tell them? That I wanted to kill more? Was I to tell them that killing a tribute affected my mental conditioning so much so that all I thought about was the blood-curdling screams? That every time I blinked, a flash of horror filled my thoughts?
They would think me insane—they would abandon me. Maeve shares a link with Death itself, but she certainly doesn't obsess over controlling an abstraction. The purpose of the Games is to survive—not to go on some homicidal rampage because you so desired it. That is the work of a psychotic—a—a criminal. An insane sadist! I am not insane or mad—I'm not! The Careers are mad—they kill for mere whimsical entertainment. But me? I am on a different end of the spectrum. I have not succumbed to madness. For I am completely aware of my actions.
I have become affected by Bianca's death in such a way that I want to experience it forever. That...that feeling. The adrenaline. It was a delightful divergence. It satisfied me. It saturated me. It pleasured me. I have come to discover I am not obsessed with death.
I am intoxicated by it.
I shove my hands in my pockets and laugh to myself. Small chuckles at first, but then it became full blown laughter. I was in a fit of hilarity, and when I realized that I had gotten away with Bianca's murder more than once, I laughed even more. I almost collapsed in my jest. Then I realized Death was in the trench, and I coughed the fit away.
A familiar face popped into my head as I gathered my thoughts.
My District partner was murdered in the first week. When I witnessed Galla's face burst through the sky, I could not sleep. I could not function. After Galla died, anger consumed me. I could not control myself. I left the Horsemen for a night. I told them that I was going to scout ahead.
In reality, I did not.
I tried searching for her body—some little remnant of her existence or that Galla Cinder had ever existed at all. I thought I had imagined things again—I thought I saw her asleep under a tree. When I approached the shade it flashed me a wicked smile and disintegrated into a fine powder. Then, I had realized that this arena was nothing more than a translation of my imagination into reality—every little shadow was a jest these Gamemakers threw my way for their own pleasure. I could imagine the lot cackling to themselves in their pristine palaces. I wanted to watch them suffer—but that was impossible.
At first, I assumed a tribute had killed Galla. I then had the misery of coming upon a mutt. It was a barely mobile mutt—a giant, mutated ferret with a particularly fattened gut. A tangle of dark hair hung out of its wretched row of knife-like teeth. It wasn't until I left the mutt-filled area of the forest that I put two and two together. The mutt I had come across had taken part in the feasting of Galla's body.
My very blood boiled at the Gamemakers' little tricks. That fat ferret was placed near me on purpose. They had to have controlled the thing to wander near my direction. I walked back to the Horsemen...fuming, and I had some difficulties trying to hide this rage.
Overall, I became to feel...displeasured by Galla's death. I was disappointed in the girl. I would have thought she had a plan in mind—some sort of strategy! Galla was invisible! She failed me. Galla Cinder, the one sweet girl I could trust, had failed me. Yes, Galla has been on my mind for quite some time. She is dead, and now I cannot use her. Should I have let her accompany me? I think not. Galla is going home in a box, and my plans have been halted, and there is nothing I could have done. I was not there.
I clench my fists, sharp, uncut nails digging into my skin with such force that blood begins to seep through fresh cuts. My breathing becomes labored and my heart pounds with such fury.
I begin to pace above the trench, waiting for any sort of plan to claw its way through my skull. These plagues, the death of Galla, Erik's departure...it has caused me to become a very dangerous man. The darkness within my heart seeks to explode out through my chest, and if that happened, I could do little to control it. I know how to contain it—I have had 16 years of experience.
Anger slithers through my very veins as I kick a rock on the ground, sending it tumbling towards a piece of steel debris with a clink.
I rub my chin in contemplation. Something else has been bothering me. Something dark—something frail. I was unsatisfied with Maeve's behavior. Her effectiveness in the group has done me little good. What has the girl done?
Maeve Morghal tags along with her own motives and goals in mind. This is not what bothers me. What disturbs me is the fact that Maeve Morghal is beginning to remind me of a small creature. A small creature which has migrated to a more comfortable, warmer habitat. A shield from the cold, desolate environment. She has become nothing short of a house rat. They are a pest—an abomination. They are useless and frail.
I dislike rodents.
Erik Fiske contributed a great deal to this companionship before he became a bother. Without Famine, the Horsemen would have been pathetic. Famine was intimidating—he exhibited strength, leadership, independence.
Conquest was a valuable asset—she was cunning, fast, and unpredictable. She looked small but dangerous. She was the greatest female threat outside of the Careers. It was why I chose her.
And Death—she was a name. She was here to make a fourth. She had not earned her keep. Her mind was brilliant—but she never said a word. Her skills were incredible—and yet she withdrew them. She was good at first—we shared a bond. But I've noticed things. Maeve has never shown me any indication that she possessed the abilities she's claimed to have. If she cannot have them, I want them. I deserve them.
I storm over to our trench and leap into the dark pit. I stand over Maeve's sleeping frame.
"Maeve," I whisper.
"What do you want from me, Lucian?"
I step back, startled by her sleepless tone. "Maeve, I need to consult...the other Death."
Maeve opens a single eye, only but a small speck of lightning blue on her pale, sickly face. "I'm sorry, Death is not available at the moment. If you'd like to leave a message—"
I lurch forward and grab her by the collar of her jacket with a snarl. "I am not playing games with you, Maeve. I require use of your skills, and you've done a poor job of convincing me you're not just simply insane!"
Maeve shoves me away with incredible force for someone so frail. "And so you resort to physical violence to make your point? I've told you. I've grown tired—I am not sure what is happening. I can't hear anything..."
I curl my lip and brush down my jacket with disgust, "Your lies sicken me, Death."
"Lies? And who is the one who said 'he hadn't killed anyone'?" she retorted.
My eyes widen and I spit, "I have not touched anyone."
Maeve gives me a blank stare and speaks in something reminiscent of monotone, "Your lies sicken me, War."
I clench my teeth, "Mockery? Come now, Maeve. What about Jules Serket? You spoke to Jules, correct?"
Maeve's eyes glass over, "Yes...but I...I can't hear even her."
I am reaching my breaking point now. Everything is falling apart—and I'm trying so hard to keep it from hitting me. "What do you mean you can't hear her? Are you saying...?"
"I'm saying it's over! There's nothing I can do anymore! I can't hear Jules, I can't hear Diode, and I can't...I can't hear Death! I don't know what's happening to me..."
Anger consumes me, "You betrayed me, Death."
Maeve shakes her head and slumps down, looking weaker and more tired than before. "I wouldn't call it that—"
My eyes are wild, what little morals I have ignored as my hand meets her jaw, clenching it with barely contained force. "YOU TOLD ERIK, YOU FOOL! I KNOW YOU DID! THIS TEAM WAS FOUNDED ON TRUST ALONE! YOU BETRAYED ME! WE COULD HAVE KEPT HIM. HE COULD HAVE STAYED!"
Maeve squirms out of my grasp and pulls away, massaging her now bruised jaw with an almost passive expression, "It was the right thing to do and you know it."
I laugh bitterly, "And now we are defenseless. He was our shield! We could have used him to entice the Enemy!"
"Is that really how you saw Erik? As bait?"
I tap my forehead, infuriated. "Nonsense! This fault is but your own, Death. You have caused dysfunction...and we have lost a valuable player."
Maeve shook her head, "That is cowardice. You would rather have lied to him than admit to your mistakes?"
"Mistakes..." I whisper to myself. I kneel down and take her skinny, pale hand in mine, massaging the cold, white fingers.
I smile, "I would do anything to survive, Maeve."
Maeve yanks her hand away, apparently disgusted. "That explains everything."
I bite my lip and clench my fists, standing and turning away to place on another mask of palpably composed sanity.
When I turn around, a small smile washes over my blank features, and I clasp my hands behind my back—all previous anger receding into my tainted core. "Forget it. You need your rest. I am sorry for the interruption."
Maeve stares at me in disbelief, a speck of blood upon the side of her mouth from my assault. "You're insane," she whispers.
I give a tort nod, "That may be true. But, my dear Death, my insanity is bound in reality. Delusions and abstractions have no place in my mind."
Maeve turns away from me, scooting back into her dark corner and whispering. "Death warned me...I should have listened. I am just so tired..."
I climb out of the trench again, taking my place in the darkness and looking at the distant forest.
"I never thought Death itself was blind. It failed to detect the devil who led its faithful messenger," I muse with humor.
The sound of labored breathing and footfalls disrupt my thoughts, and I quickly throw myself onto the ground to conceal myself in the darkness. I reach for a hand-crafted short-sword in my cargo pants pocket, and tighten my grip on the wiry handle, prepared for a scuffle with an ignorant child.
A dark figure approaches the trench, throwing down some sort of object. The darkened sky hides any sort of attempt at facial recognition, and I hide the short sword behind my back as I crouch-walk to the figure. I raise the sword in the air and am silenced by the knife already aimed at my chest—Conquest's knife.
"Too quiet for you?" Atalanta looks apparently unharmed from her venture into the forest—though she's drenched in sweat and mildew.
I lowered the hand-made sword. "Perhaps you should have announced your arrival," I remarked. "Did you find wood?"
She lowers the knife and gestures with her foot to the two small brown logs on the ground.
We decided to move deeper into the trenches before we set up our fire. I was skeptical about it at first, mainly because we didn't have any matches. Atalanta somehow did it the "old-fashioned" way. When the fire finally lit, I was unsure of how bright it would actually be. We weren't in the open, and our camp was set up inside a trench itself—this time above the ground. The towering sandbags would do well to conceal our new settlement.
Maeve sat near the fire with her arms hugging her knees. Her eyes were half-closed and red from sleeplessness. Atalanta tended the fire with a knife. I simply stared into the flames—trying perhaps to look deep enough that I would eventually discover something. An answer to my problems—an escape into a world without limits. But, I sat here just as I was several minutes ago. Nothing has changed, not even the silence. Not even the darkness, nor the darkness on the inside. This darkness that threatens to shroud my thinking.
The assumption that darkness has overtaken and consumed me is false. I have come to realize that I am the darkness.
"What should the alliance be called now that there are only three of us?"
I glanced at the hunched form of Atalanta. "I don't know."
Atalanta is sharpening her knives. The sound of steel on steel makes me wince. "I don't think The Three Horsemen sounds like a fearsome name for an alliance."
I smirk, "No, it does not."
"Unless of course Erik comes back."
My eyes dance with the fire. The beautiful source of energy attracts me like no other. Every little crackle sends a spark shooting in the air like a miniature missile, where I attempt to follow each one as closely as I can. "No—I don't presume Erik will ever come back. He is gone, and most likely has perished."
Atalanta eyes the fire as well, staring at some misshapen demon within. "District Eleven is out then. Poor girl didn't have much of a chance either."
I place my hand on my chin, rubbing it and concealing the small grin that threatens to peek out. "Yes...I would have liked to see her make it far. Her killer is a cruel man indeed."
Atalanta's eyes flickered to mine. Her head shifted a little to the side, "So, Lucian...are you just a compulsive liar or do you just do it for kicks?"
My entire world goes silent. The hand on my mouth no longer trembles, the smirk underneath shatters and my eyes remain permanently fixated on the emerald ones across from me. I want to be able to make a sound—anything to revert back to a regular state.
Atalanta, the snake without a rattle. She must have seen the conversation between Erik and I...
But I never said...
I smirked—one of the only expressions I feel naturally inclined to do without breaking this mask of normality and sanity. "You followed."
Atalanta smirked back, as if this were some sick joke she was all a part of. "I didn't believe your story to Erik for a second. What did poor Bianca ever do to you?"
I clench my teeth. "If Erik would have lowered that sword, would you have come to my aid?"
Atalanta pretended to think for a second before answering, "Maybe."
My smirk fades, and the world only slowly returns to normal.
The girl snickers at me, "I know a lot more about you than you may think."
We will have to change that.
I toyed with a stick, snapping it into smaller bits and throwing them into the flames—piece by piece.
"Bianca wanted to be with her family again—to go home. And so I helped her go back home."
"In a box," Atalanta snorted.
That was my breaking point.
To have my reputation ruined—destroyed by some little girl who couldn't and wouldn't shut her bloody mouth? It was my little secret, and it will forever remain my little secret. My hands were clean.
I am clean.
I am an honest man.
I drummed several fingers on my knee, "You know...the girl—Bianca, she was not the happy, innocent girl we all saw at the interviews. She was...rather depressed—nihilistic even."
Atalanta placed the tip of her knife on her lip in concentration, "Your point?"
I licked my lips, "My point...is that I never touched the girl. Not once. She was killed by her own hand. I merely implanted the thought in her mind."
Atalanta dropped the knife. "Suicide? I can't see it," she stabbed her knife into the ground and continued, "Then again, I couldn't see the girl from Two last year doing it either."
I nodded slowly, "The girl confided in me before her death. She wanted an alliance, and I told her it would never work. I told her that the skills she possessed would never get her past the Bloodbath. And so she saw a landmine...she threatened herself in front of me. I tried to stop her...I honestly did. The girl was a mess, inside and out. She entered the Games in hopes of dying."
Atalanta laughed to herself, "And you didn't care? You just...let her off herself like that?"
I wanted to pretend to be sad—to remember what it was like in the books. I wanted to cry like I did with Erik. For some reason, I couldn't control myself. If I had a pill, I knew I could have done it.
I leaned forward, almost until the tip of my nose would have brushed the flames had I inched closer. "I didn't even flinch. Her death meant nothing to me. Not a damned thing."
"So how do you do it?"
Atalanta pulled her knife out and flipped it. "How do you not care about...death?"
This question confused me; I hesitated. "I—I never cared, really. It's—I'm afraid I don't understand this question."
Atalanta aims her knife at Maeve's small sleeping form, "Let's say I was to kill her...right now. No hesitation. Would you be mad at me?"
My forehead crinkled in confusion, "I would...be upset, I suppose."
"Suppose? Huh...I'd never be able to kill her—not my own ally, no matter how nuts she is."
There's that darkness again—ticking and tocking in my skull. The gears in my abysmal head turned. "You're asking me for advice—on murder?"
Atalanta shook her head. "No. I'm simply asking if in the event I wouldn't be able to do it, you could. And judging from your expression, it appears to me like you wouldn't care. I have a feeling you would kill me right now without even a wince."
She is right. Oh, she is right. I would stab her right in the jugular. She would just have to leave this alliance—that's all it would take.
I wave my hand, "Nonsense. I would never be able to kill you, Atalanta. That would be...insane. I couldn't imagine it."
She squints. "We'll have to see about that." Atalanta stabs her dagger in the dirt, "Regardless, I came into this for a reason. Not because you asked, and not because I needed protection," Atalanta crosses her arms and sniffs harshly, "I came because we're one in the same, Lucian. You and me...we're not so different. But if there's one thing setting us apart, it's the fact that you could kill without a second thought—and I just can't help but admire that."
I rub the hairs on my chin, slightly disturbed by my companion's admissions.
I continue staring at the dancing flames when boredom begins to overtake me. My eyes flicker towards a makeshift knife upon the ground near Maeve's foot. I pick up the knife and stare at the edge; the blade was created from loose shrapnel. It is misshapen and crooked, but rather sharp to the touch. I place my finger on the tip and only slightly press down. When I remove my finger, a dot of scarlet liquid appears on it. I stare curiously at the liquid.
I reach into my pocket and take out the golden coin of Con Rossencourte. I flip it once, but fail to catch it in the smooth and charming manner in which the boy had done so. Every flip of the coin pierces the air with a distinct and familiar "ding" sound that I begin to recognize from the past.
Atalanta stares curiously at the coin, and then realization takes over her features. "Is that...?"
I smile and nod, flipping the coin.
Atalanta stares at the golden object curiously, drawn in by the shining steel as many others have in the past. "How did you manage to get it off the Career kid?"
I stop flipping. "I found it. It was lying not far from the Cornucopia. My guess is he dropped it on his way there."
I flip the coin once more, but before I can catch it, it lands into the fire. I gasp and reach for a stick. The coin is light enough that it can be dragged from the fire with the wood. I scowl as I reach for the slightly smoking coin, expecting to see a ruined piece of history. I am shocked to see the coin in the exact same condition as before. A little hotter, but exactly the same. Golden, shiny, and untouched by the elements.
Upon closer inspection, the front of the coin featuring the head of a noble man surrounded by stars is blackened. It is the only part of the coin that was damaged. It looks like ash on the face, but even when I rub the blackened face, the black dust, almost symbolically, remains the same: charred and darkened.
I frown, disturbed.
"So...got any family back at home? Lovers? Friends?"
I place the coin within my pocket and sigh, "Why are you asking me this, Atalanta?"
She shrugged as she poked at a sandbag with her knife, sending a small stream of sand pouring over her general area, causing her to scowl. "Just trying to get a conversation going."
I grab a stick from near the fire and break it apart. "Love is one of humanity's greatest delusions."
Atalanta directs some sour look at me, "Says you."
I shrug, "It is true. 'Love' is the folly of youth. It is all basked in material and immaturity. This whole idea of 'love' being mystical and alluring lacks any coherence. Besides, who would care to love in a place like this," I gesture towards the sky.
Atalanta appears grim, eyebrows raised and lips tightened. She simply shakes her head and stabs at the ground with her dagger. "You've always thought this?"
She looks intrigued, but it also looks as if she's holding her tongue in restraint. "Is that how you ended up here? Killed all your lovers?" she muses.
"No," I sniff, distracted.
"Then why did you?"
I look up wearily, "Reasons of my own."
I pause, unsure of why she had even said anything about it.
An unsettling plume of smoke and sparks from the fire causes me to look towards Atalanta's now hasty form.
She's putting it out.
"What the hell?"
Atalanta's eyes are wide and alert. "Hush! Don't you hear it?"
I stare at her perplexed for a moment, but then I do hear it. A distant rumbling sound. I put my ear to the ground and listen, but it doesn't appear to be coming from underneath. I then veer my head towards the sky, and my face pales as a line of war planes with bright lights fly toward the trenches.
Explosions rip the distant field and Cornucopia apart. The planes fly in a strange, arrow-like formation, reminding me of geese in the winter.
Atalanta is already hastily grabbing for her weapons, and I follow suit. "We have to get the hell out of here. The trenches are being bombed!"
I wince as the rumbling sound within the dark sky grows louder. As I strap the wicked Khopesh behind my back, my attention flickers to the still sleeping form of Maeve near the dying fire.
Can she not hear the planes?
I shake her—with no reply. "Maeve, you have to rise. We're being bombed," I say in the quietest of voices.
Atalanta, now fully prepared, begins to find an escape route out of the trenches. "Wake her up!"
I pace around frantically, still unsure of what exactly is happening.
I kick at Maeve, desperate to awaken her. I begin to shout at her, to no avail. I run my hand through my hair in anxiousness as I search for the right thing to do.
Should I just leave her? We can't possibly escape in time if we were to carry her. She may be frail and light, but with the steel we have on our backs, there's no way we'll survive the attack.
I pull at my own hair as I pace back and forth.
"Lucian, I think this way is clear!" Atalanta has left the trench, making a left in the darkness. She will make it with her agile form. They won't get her. If I followed her now, I could make it out alive.
I stare at Maeve's pathetic form, curled in her fetal position, a navy jacket draped over her body. She's sick, she even told me herself. What use is a sick girl?
'I'm weary. Death...is slipping from me—our connection.'
Death is gone. Her abilities are fading away. I no longer have use of her. I could kill her right now. What would Atalanta say? She already suspects I've killed Bianca. She knows I let Erik leave the group. If Maeve doesn't make it out...
I reach for the short sword strapped to my leg, and exchange glances between the steel and Maeve.
Would this do the trick? Will she wake up in the middle of it?
The planes are close—very close. The white lights are blinding me, and a few trenches away from me are being barraged by a torrent of gunfire. Sand begins to fly everywhere. Sandbag after sandbag begin to burst and tear open from the vibration.
"Lucian! Where the hell are you?" Atalanta's voice is distant—most likely already half a mile away. The bombs make the rest of her shouts unintelligible. There isn't enough time to kill Maeve.
I have to get out of here.
I trudge over to Maeve's form and regretfully drop a short sword beside her. If she lives, at least she'll have a fighting chance.
In the chance that she does not, I make it an effort to lean down and whisper in her ear, "Farewell, Death."
I run from the trench, taking a left and doing my best to follow Atalanta as the bombs rain down behind me.
My legs are burning and my heart pumping with adrenaline as I reach the edge of the forest. Atalanta is resting upon the ground, trying to regain her breath as I tiredly walk-jog towards her. I glance behind me—the planes continue to tear the trenches apart some couple miles out. We are far away now.
"I didn't think they'd attack us so early..."
Atalanta laced her boots up with shaking fingers. "Maeve?"
My eyes cast downward. "She decided to stay."
Atalanta scoffs at me as she wipes her sweaty brow, "Wait, she stayed or did you just leave her behind?"
I rubbed my eyes. "She told me Death had other plans for her."
Atalanta shook her head in exasperation. "And you just let her? She's nuts! What the hell were you thinking?" Atalanta rose and placed her hands on her hips. "That's great, now there's only Two Horsemen."
Atalanta stares at me, green eyes glistening with some sort of emotion—my guess being...agitation? Anger, perhaps?
I stare back, bewildered at her silence. "What?"
Atalanta throws her arms in the air. "Well is she dead?!"
I shrug, "I didn't hear a cannon." Atalanta gives me that stare again—the one she usually gives before going off on some sort of tirade about something or another.
"Don't give me that look, Atalanta."
"How can you be so oblivious?! How? I'd really like to know!" she throws her arms up, frustrated.
"Would you have rather I dragged her by the hair?"
Atalanta curls her lip in disgust, "Yeah, actually that would have been nice...smart-ass."
I clasp my hands behind my back and observe the menacing forest and the war-torn arena.
The rumbling of planes becomes more audible and we both turn to see them flying dangerously low, and heading towards our current location. Lights from under the planes sweep back and forth across the ground.
"Shit—they've got search lights. We've gotta head in."
I stare at her retreating form. "Where are you going?"
Atalanta pauses to look up at the towering trees. The canopy rises some hundreds or perhaps even thousands of feet above us. I've never seen trees grow this tall before, and I'm certain District Seven doesn't even have trees this tall.
"It's either stay out here and get shot down or head into the forest. You make your own choice. I'm heading in."
The sky above is less dark, and it appears the sun may be rising soon. She is right, if I stay out here, the planes will surely end me. I once again stare into the darkness of the colossal forest. Never in my life would I have imagined I'd end up in a forest. They terrify me, and I have yet to understand why. My dreams haven't even shown me a reason.
I punch my gut and hold my breath as I walk through the underbrush, and into the darkness beyond.
The first thing I notice is the darkness. Outside in the trenches, it was dark. But there were stars speckled in the sky. Now that I have entered this forest, not even the sky is visible. Everything is dark. I am not one to be afraid of the dark—my chamber at home had no light at all in the evening hours. But this...this was a nightmare. Atalanta's fiery red hair wasn't even visible.
The next sensation I felt was that of entering something very, very old. This was a forest that even being technologically created specifically for the Arena, seemed to emit a feeling of something ancient and powerful.
"Atalanta," I whispered into the black.
I continue to walk through the black, feeling with my fingers and only touching rough bark which reaches for who knows how many miles above me. The cry of some forgotten creature. A creature I could do little to dwell on.
I begin to panic. My breathing felt quick again, and my body was so tensed that if I were to touch even a branch, I would freeze.
The muffled sound of gunfire and bombs exploding sent me to my feet in panic. With the trees being so towering, however, there is no way even a plane can penetrate through this foliage.
I collect myself and clench my fists with a shaky breath.
When I feel the cold skin of another human being, I almost bolt. "Atalanta, is this you?"
"Yes, it is. Where the hell are we going?"
Relief claims me and I follow the sound of her footfalls through the prehistoric trees. "I don't know. The forest wasn't this large in the beginning of the Games, was it?"
"No, it wasn't. It's those Gamemakers. They're screwing with our heads. They made this forest much, much larger."
Her whispers would be barely audible out there in the trenches. In this forest, even her heartbeat can be heard.
"We're lost. There's no way we're going to get out of here alive."
"I saw a fire in here back at the trenches," I stammer.
Atalanta pauses in her tracks, "I saw that too. I didn't want to go near it though. Didn't think it was the Careers—they wouldn't be that stupid."
Then I see her. Black hair, dark green eyes, scowl across her face as she moves lithely through the darkness. It's my partner. It's Galla Cinder.
I begin to follow. This is another jest at my intelligence. But if the Gamemakers want to play a game, I'll let them have their fun.
Wherever Galla may go, I will follow.
She leads me somewhere.
In order to get out of this forest, I must follow.
"Lucian!" Atalanta trailed after me. "Where are you going?"
"It's Galla—we need to follow her through the trees. She leads us somewhere."
"Galla? Your partner? Isn't she dead?"
Oh. Yes—that is correct. She has perished.
Atalanta groans, "We need food, and we need to find a place to rest."
I shake my head, "What we need is a source of light. This forest could go on for miles in either direction and we would be unable to see anything."
An irregular and more lit spot near a patch of underbrush catches my eye. I take a step forward to examine it but end up losing my footing.
Before I can stop myself, I'm tumbling full speed on a downhill slope. Everything around me is a dark blur as I slam butt-first onto the ground, bruising my tail-bone in the process. I curse and wince as I grab onto a branch and steady myself.
Atalanta carefully follows behind, both cursing and sliding down and slowing her descent with her foot. "Looks like we've found ourselves a clearing."
My eyes widen as a single ball of light shines in the distant black. I walk towards the glowing blue ball in wonder, but halt as I feel a presence near me. I can't explain the feeling.
"Something doesn't feel right."
I nodded, "It shouldn't. Something has been following us."
Atalanta suddenly throws me into the underbrush, away from the glowing orb. I hadn't realized why until I heard the grotesque and gutteral growls coming from the abyss. The leaves shielded my view, but the misshapen form of whatever lurked near the light was nothing of this world.
Atalanta already has a knife in each hand as she crouches near me. "What the hell is it?"
My eyes squinted, unable to discern the thing that growled and padded around the light. It looked like a giant wolf—its eyes were unfocused, yet it was attracted to the light. Its sinewy muscles were covered in corded veins. As it breathed, its muscles rippled with some wild energy. I begin to notice that the monster was covered in a steel coating.
It was covered in steel, head to toe. This mutt was not engineered to attack in swarms. This mutt was engineered to kill, pure and simple.
A droplet of sweat ran down my forehead, and I licked my dry lips in anxiousness. I glanced at Atalanta, and she looked to be in the same state.
"What do we do?"
I stared intently at the beast circling the orb, looking for some way out—some way to create a divergence as I fetched the stone. All around, nothing but black surrounded the orb and the beast. There was no running—we had to fight.
I studied the mutt. It was covered in steel—any attempt at penetration would only backfire. It was built to destroy, and I then realized its tail wielded a spike. Its neck was the only thing uncovered by steel. "We go for the neck. Whatever you do, don't let it touch you."
I pull out a hand-crafted knife and firmly place it in Atalanta's hand, "Throw this. It will serve as a distraction."
Atalanta looked at the knife and twirled it—and the more she twirled it, the more I remembered how mesmerizing she really was with a knife. Never have I seen a human being as skilled with a knife as Conquest is.
Then, the familiar whizzing of the knife is heard and I emerge from the bushes.
Unfortunately, the steel coated beast completely ignores the knife and immediately charges for the source. Atalanta takes out her stronger blade and slashes at the mutt. It does nothing, and instead of faltering, it charges at an otherworldly speed, hitting Atalanta in the abdomen and sending her flying towards a tree.
I am able to see the beast more clearly now in the blue light. Its snout is long, and resembles that of a jackal, and its body that of an oversized wolf. It almost reaches my shoulders, even on all fours.
I hastily search for some sort of trap I can use against it, but I don't have enough time before I'm charged at. I attempt to sidestep, but it skims the heel of my foot and I go sprawling on the ground. I curse at the Gamemakers as I crab walk over to a tree stump. The beast pounces, and by some miracle, I manage to roll away as it hits the tree near me.
The grotesque thing whines—an ear piercing shriek that sounds more machine than beast. I wince and spot the knife Atalanta threw. I yank it from the ground and prepare to strike as I turn. I become surprised when the mutt doesn't appear directly behind me, but instead lowers its head toward the ground as it searches out its prey.
The mutt is blind. An obvious flaw that I overlooked.
I taunt the mutt and it quickly detects my presence. The mutt charges much too fast for my liking, and my left arm becomes caught in the maw of the beast causing me to lose my grip on the knife.
It tears at my limb and I clench my teeth in agony. I ignore the trapped limb and reach with the other for my boot, scratching and clawing for the hilt of the makeshift knife I attached to it. The mutt bites down harder on my limb with steel jaws and I groan as I fiddle with the hilt on my boot. Finally, I manage to tear the knife from the webbed taping on the boot.
I struggle to sink the blade into one of the black eyes of the mutt and it releases immediately, shaking its head violently in an attempt to get rid of it. At its release of my arm I yelp in pain; several streams of blood drip down my arm like crimson waterfalls.
I examine my blood soaked arm and become agitated with the injury. There is a possibility of infection, and I could perish at any moment.
It's too damned fast.
I search for Atalanta and fail to see her where the mutt had dropped her. She couldn't have left me...
The mutt slams me against the ground with its steel coated tail, placing about a ton on my chest in such a way that I cannot possibly move. I kick at the mutt's legs but its hold doesn't loosen. Then, Atalanta leaps from who knows where on top of the mutt, choking it with her own bare forearm.
The mutt growls and slams her into the ground, releasing me of its hold. I clutch my chest in pain, spitting out more strings of curses as I witness my ally getting mauled.
She saved me—I suppose it is only fair I do the same.
I quickly unsheathe the Khopesh from my back and run over to the mutt. The mutt may be able to detect body heat, but not if I approach from behind.
I raise my Khopesh and send the hooked blade around its neck, dragging it with all of my strength away from Atalanta—long enough for her to grab her knives from off the ground. I quickly unhook the sword and slash it quickly along the seam of its bare neck, sending a fountain of blood spewing into the air.
Atalanta sends a knife careering toward the mutt, striking it in the eye. The beast is bloody and crazed, untamed and dysfunctional. It slams repeatedly into the trees, and it yelps in pain. Before we can attempt to weaken it more, a large and foreboding shadow envelopes the beast, appearing to swallow it whole. In the blink of an eye, the once struggling beast has ceased to exist. All that seemed, is but nothingness. Silence is only heard once more. Something huge snatched up the seemingly small fellow, and it retreated into the darkness too quickly to be seen. This forest is teeming with beasts.
My arm is bleeding profusely, and I collapse on the ground. Atalanta is also injured—her stomach is soaked in blood. Atalanta falls to one knee, clutching her scarlet drenched center. "All that...for this stupid stone?"
I sheathed my sword, wary of any more mutts the Gamemakers may want to throw at us. I limp over to the glowing blue stone sitting upon a granite pedestal. I read the text carved into the granite, "May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out."
Atalanta scoffed, "And what is that supposed to mean?"
I stared at the glowing stone, entranced by its almost supernatural light. "It's a lantern of some sort—it will help us navigate this dreaded place."
I grab the glowing rock from off the pedestal, and it begins to glow brighter at my touch. I stare in awe at the small rock and raise it into the air, letting the miniature sun guide us.
Our venture ends shortly when I spot a small alcove sitting within the ground. It was a cave; a pocket within the ground that shone a strange light when looked inside. Upon close inspection, it looked relatively free of mutts. It was rather simple entering. The glowing tendrils above our heads mimicked the night sky and it proved useful in our short venture through the rocky interior. It wasn't before long that the cave ended, but even the small cave alone provided sufficient shelter from the impenetrable darkness of the forest beyond.
Upon the walls and hanging among the stalagmites of the cave, thousands of glowing neon lights—tendril-like in nature lit up the majority of the rocky interior.
And so I sat, looking upon the spectacle around me in silent amazement as I tried to stop the bleeding of my arm wound. Atalanta didn't seem to care about the mysterious lights among the blackness, and instead focused on trying to regain her bearings after the mutt encounter.
Due to my...sleep difficulties, I simply sat and pondered about the morning's events. It could have been a day already—I wasn't for certain. All I knew was that we were inside this damned forest, and there was nothing to indicate that we would ever emerge back out into the battlefield. I was weary, in pain, and my mind threatened to explode.
Atalanta had collapsed near the opposite wall, massaging her bleeding core and wincing as she adjusted herself to look at me. "So, tell me again, Lucian. What now?"
I believe I had discovered just the answer to this question—I had been pondering whether or not our goals as the Horsemen had been all but abandoned. Famine left, and Death most likely perished in the bombing. They mean nothing to me anymore.
I rub my chin, "Well, we are weak. Obviously we're going to need some time to rejuvenate. In the meantime, we will camp here."
Atalanta winces again and sighs, "So...that's it? Rest? And then what? You going to kill me in my sleep or something?"
I snort to myself at the comment, "What? No, you can rest assured I am not going to 'kill you in your sleep'". I examine my bloody forearm, bite marks—small incisions sunk deep into my skin, nearly piercing bone.
I press my lips together, frowning. "We're going to need to focus on our priorities before we begin planning our next course of action. That mutt caught both of us off guard, no doubt about that. Whether or not the diversion was planned—we gained something valuable in the process."
I reach for the stone; now glowing a dim blue light, drowned out by the thousands of small glowing lights above our heads. The rock attracted that mutt...but the rock was placed there for a reason. It couldn't have been coincidental.
Atalanta snatched the rock from my hands, tossing the thing between her hands, "Valuable, huh? It's a damned rock!"
"It's a navigator. This forest cannot go on forever—it's merely an illusion by the Gamemakers. It wasn't this large before."
Atalanta throws the rock back and lays down, looking uncomfortable lying on the cave floor.
"Where were you injured?"
Atalanta lets out a shaky breath. "My ribs I think. They're sore, and it doesn't help that my stomach was nearly torn open. And you?"
I scowl grimly. "My arm...left one. Several deep puncture wounds...thing would have taken it right off had I not had that knife on me."
"You don't think the mutt was poisonous?"
I lick my dry lips, slightly disconcerted. "I'll admit I'm not sure. It's impossible to tell, and too late to do anything about it now, regardless. I suppose a bit of optimism couldn't hurt in any case, right?"
Atalanta shrugs silently. "And after we heal...and get food and find water. What then?"
Whether or not Atalanta chooses to pursue other goals in the meantime, one goal shall remain throughout the Horsemen's existence—whether we're one rider short or two.
My eyes look deep within the glowing rock, searching for fragmentations of some ill-fate or some fatigue-induced hallucination. I find nothing. I only see what lies ahead.
"We destroy the Enemy," I whisper.
Atalanta's silence thereafter tells me there is nothing more to be said. There was finality, and even she could tell nothing more needed to be said. We both understood. It seemed to be the plan from the beginning.
I take it upon myself to write an entry within my journal once Atalanta sleeps—I perfect the plan, considering every fault, every possibility.
There was nothing which could go wrong if it worked.
As I placed the journal within my jacket pocket, I realized there was one last thing I had hoped to re-look I focused on the blue stone in my palm, examining the intricacies and indentations. I traced every line, every little speck. I could not yet determine the source of its power or where it got its light. The darker it became outside, the brighter it became in turn. It was unusual. It became hypnotizing. As I stared deeper into the sapphire depths, I found myself becoming drowsy. And then the lights within the cave began dimming, and my world went dark once more.
Margaret Drake was a sophisticated woman. She never preoccupied herself with sewing or knitting—she was a woman who liked to take initiative. When there was a problem, Margaret wasn't the one to run away. If something needed to be dealt with, Margaret tackled the situation head on. She was a steam engine—which is why she remained in such a negative environment for so long. It was hard dealing with her husband's irate personality—when she met the man, she assumed his passion for alcohol was because it was all he had at the time. Indeed, she was correct. Henry Drake was a man who was indeed in love with the brew more than his own wife and children. Henry was a man whose body would naturally accept an alcohol transfusion in place of blood if the situation required it. It was just becoming increasingly bad after Katherine's birth.
Margaret worked as a florist, but the earnings she made wouldn't help the family in the long run. When Henry wanted his alcohol, it was to be given to him immediately. It didn't matter if she could barely afford a loaf of bread, and it certainly didn't matter that the three other children in the household needed clothing. None of it mattered to Henry except his alcohol. Margaret dealt with the pain, and she dealt with her son's issues, but tonight, Margaret needed to readjust her life. She needed to look to the stars for comfort. That's what would help her as a child, and she liked to venture out into the forests on clear nights like this.
Margaret wasn't suicidal, but she also wasn't particularly delighted with her current state of life either. Sometimes, a mother needed time for herself. Henry was a miner, one of the best actually, and she knew that all the coins he came home with would soon disappear when night fell. Margaret learned to handle that prospect—she also learned to work around it. Sometimes, when some of his coins went missing, like tonight, a shouting match would envelope. Henry wouldn't dare touch Margaret when not under the influence. Normally, he was a calm man. He often shouted, ranted, and grumbled.
Tonight, was a time for Margaret to recuperate from their latest argument. Henry said he'd promise not to drink anymore—how is that possible for an alcoholic? Give him a coin or two and he's off bartering at the inn. Henry was never going to change. He wasn't going to change for her, he most certainly wasn't going to change for the children, but most of all, Henry doesn't even have the pride to change for himself.
Margaret smiled to herself as she combed her midnight hair, highlighted only by the silver rays which shone like a lighthouse through the kitchen window. Margaret would never be able to say that to Henry...there are just some things women can and can't do. If only Margaret had the height of the man, and if only she had the muscle, she would be able to put the drunk in his place.
When she met the man, she wasn't looking for anyone in particular. She needed to meet someone from the Seam, and so she did. She needed to make a home for her son. And so, as a mother, she did. Everything she has done has been for her little boy.
Margaret never knew how it happened—the birth. It was something she attributed to fate. The boy was a gift in the darkest of times. The boy was a reminder that not all was lost. But it was only a matter of time before his darkness began to bloom. Every time she thought her boy a wicked child it made her tear up. Of course, Margaret had two sweet daughters to take her mind off the troubles of her son.
Could her son really turn out like the monster his father was?
Margaret took one last look in the cracked mirror and put on her leather shoes. She maneuvered around the small Seam-styled house with utmost secrecy—a talent she had picked up from years of living in a house occupied by a raging alcoholic. The house creaked—it was inevitable.
"Where the hell you think you're going, woman?"
Margaret cursed under her breath. "I'm just going for a little walk...Is that alright with you?"
Coughs emanated from the basement of the house, "You ain't' going alone. Luce, get your ass outside—go walk with your mother!"
Margaret was infuriated on the inside. She loved her children more than anything in the world, but she'd never had them walk with her...not since they were toddlers. They knew the rules about bothering her—they're usually understandable. Why does the bastard care about her so much, anyway?
"I was going to walk with you anyway."
Margaret froze in place for a second at the sound of her son's voice. That is something Margaret will unfortunately never get used to. It's an innocent melody—yet so innately hollow that it causes a slight chill to run down her back every single time. Neither Katherine nor Amber possesses this tone of voice. With them, it's evident that something is wrong. Whether they need to go the bathroom—or they feel ill. With him, she can never tell if something is on his mind. It frightens her.
Margaret couldn't have him with her. She needed to be alone tonight. It was her alone time. None of her children could see her in such a fragile state. When she was arguing with Henry on a daily basis, she put on a stone-cold demeanor—she could never be broken. It was times like this, however, that she was so easily broken. She was already cracking, and she couldn't let her children see her...never. Most of all, she couldn't let her son—one of her growing troubles, see her.
Margaret turned to her son. "It's alright, I'll be fine. Go lay down for awhile, and I'll be back shortly. If Henry says anything, tell him he can talk to me when I come back".
He didn't even react. He stood there, blinked once, and pursed his lips in some strange form of pouting. It didn't even seem right for him. He wasn't the one to use whining tactics. She knew he was a brighter child than that.
"I want to walk with you, mommy."
Margaret swallowed, and with the last of her calm composure, with what little mental strength she had, she shouted. "I said I'm fine! Please! Go talk to your father! I can't have you with me."
Margaret slammed the door. Was she too harsh? Did she yell too loud? Nevertheless, a single tear rolled down her pale cheek. He would understand.
When Margaret finally reached her spot near the fence, she breathed in what little fresh air she could that emanated from the forest. The moon was at a crescent. Margaret liked to come out when it was at its brightest, but she needed this tonight, regardless of the phase. She sat near a post of the fence and hummed to herself. In her reflections, she liked to pick flowers from the dirt. They were usually petty little things...at times weeds.
But any sort of foliage would do. She would toy with the roots and the petals. She liked to think her tears would somehow restore the plants back to life if she stuck them in the ground again. It was a little joke of hers. She didn't cry as much tonight—it was much too surreal of a moment to do that. Taking in the beauty and scenery was all she really needed—to be one with the nature around her. If her children had been here, it would have only caused more issues.
Margaret glanced at the small lily in her palm. It looked healthy despite growing near a place devoid of water. Nobody ever liked to feed the flowers. Margaret was the only one who ever tried. She gave them life, and she liked to think a small part of her became one with the plant she cared for once it grew. The lily was stark white, a rarity. It had a few velvet markings along the tips of the petals. It was a color combination she had never seen before. All in all, the colors were gloomy, but quite magical. If Margaret were to perish, she would like to reincarnate as a flower. It was a silly thought, but one could dream.
She touched the petals and let a solitary tear fall into it, before placing the lily roots first back into the hole she tore if from. She sensed a presence...a life form of some sort. It wasn't uncommon to find a small doe near the fences. Perhaps a deer had been curious. She thought nothing of the feeling at first as she concentrated on settling the roots. The unshakable presence only grew stronger as she packed the dirt in with her fingers.
Margaret once again shook off the feeling; instead she hummed a tune to the small flower. Margaret heard stories about how flowers were said to be able to whisper to those who cared for them. Margaret heard that in order for that to occur, a flower must feel cared for. Margaret didn't believe the rumors, but she's admittedly been trying to speak to the earth for some time now. Margaret has tried and tried again to give her flowers the utmost care and love in order for them to be able to give her that feeling in return. That was her only wish. Could flowers really whisper? Was it but a legend for the children?
Margaret froze, eyes still fixated on the lily in the ground. Could it be?
A sharp and quick pain pierced her spine for a split second before dulling to a slight throb. Margaret collapsed, only her head raised inches above the lily she just placed into the ground. A sense of being drained of her energy took hold on her, and she entered into a state of drowsiness. Everything became a blur as she wondered if this was all part of the legend. Flowers were supposedly said to connect with those who cared for them enough. Surely, this flower couldn't have chosen her...
Another sharp pain pierced her spine and then dulled again, and warmth spread over her entire lower half. Margaret then entered a state of calmness. The white lily, dotted in various velvet specks, appeared to gain a few other specks of color. Margaret couldn't believe her eyes when the flower began to exhibit maroon specks upon its petals. A deep and pure shade of red which glistened in the moonlight. They were small, and they had the consistency of a liquid.
More red droplets fell on the flower, and when Margaret licked her lips, the taste was metallic and bitter. Margaret opened her mouth and a stream of red liquid cascaded onto the lily petals. Margaret, horrified, began to realize that this was no legend. Margaret turned her head only slightly behind, and her heart's melody was silenced.
Margaret knew of the monsters that inhabited the world. Margaret Drake had danced with monsters all of her life. When you danced with monsters, the consequences became all too serious. Margaret knew that wherever she ran, these monsters would follow. Margaret Drake knew that one day, one monster would catch up to her, and it would take her. Margaret Drake knew all of these things.
If only she had realized that her son would be the monster to catch her.
I awoke with a start, suddenly and unexpectedly. I glanced around in a bizarre and rare overpowering sensation of fear, but everything appeared normal—Atalanta slept soundly, the glowing lights above shone brightly. Nothing was out of the ordinary.
The dream. Had it disturbed me so much that I awakened out of pure will? Was it true?
My skin crawled and my blood remained frozen as I sat staring at the opposite wall. Something inside me had awakened after this final dream. Something old...something forgotten.
Then I realized. I fumbled within my pocket and unfolded the memories. I was driven insane with rage once I had realized what the final plague was. When the planes dropped the photos from the sky, I panicked more so than I had ever before.
Every sin I had committed—every intricate detail about my past had suddenly been ripped away from the darkest recesses of my mind. My mask was becoming torn. This false image that I had perfected—this lie I had been living for what felt like an eternity. I was more than enraged. I could not accept it. I could not blame myself for anything. I was at fault for none of it.
I was perfect. I was the little Narcissus flower—paper white and beautiful to behold. Not a flaw had been erected from the pitiful ashes of my past. Lady Snow has tried to destroy my image and break down this sculpture. She has tried to crack my mirror. To rip apart my painting. She has attempted to ruin me. To dethrone me she will not. I was birthed from a darkness I cannot yet explain, and when I finally began to remember it all, I had come to accept it. I had come to accept what was and what will be.
It took some time—oh it did. I would often spend my hours meddling in contradictions, putting together pieces of a puzzle that weren't meant to be attached. I banged my head in frustration hour after hour. There had to be a reason for Snow's decisions—I tried to dissect her like mad. But, I've began to realize it.
Snow had not destroyed me. Snow had helped me recover. She had picked up the pieces of this life that was scattered.
If I could thank anyone—it would be that woman, no matter how vile or cruel she may seem. I was indeed still perfect, and because of her, I have remembered. The pills never helped. The pills were a lie. Cyrus would not betray me...he—he wouldn't. Why would he?
The pills were not there to help. He must have known that! The pills were there to prevent me from developing! He had to have known! Anger attempts to consume me. I refrain from shouting...or strangling my ally.
Snow, I would thank you. Snow, you helped me remember who I was. Snow, you helped me realize the god I wish to be. I am not Lucian Drake. I am simply Lucian.
A monster. A shell. One of life's little mistakes.
No matter how many times I've tried to fit in, something had always told me it was an impossible feat. I try to understand my wrongs, and I understand that the things I seek to accomplish will get me in trouble. But, you must understand, everything that I do is necessary.
I am a human being, made up of all the standard human components. On the outside, there is skin, there is hair, and there is a face. It is crystal clear. But there is one thing that has been easily overlooked, and that is the unfortunate fact, that I, Lucian, am perpetually and irrecoverably...empty.
My goals were different. I am different. These dreams...they were not mere delusions. They are not the product of insanity. These dreams are memories. These memories are revelations. They are reminders of what once was before I became subdued. They are messages sent from the heavens.
My true goal has revealed itself.
I now know what I must do. It was a promise I had made to one...so long ago.
I must facilitate myself.
A king stands here, but what kind of king is one that does not reign over all and everything?
As I rip and tear and crush at all the photos, one remains intact. It is the first photo I caught in the rain.
The photo of the burning school. I paused, reflected, and I smiled. It was a chilling smile. It was an honest reaction.
I now remember that over forty children and staff members perished in that fire.
I fold the photo back up and place it back within my pocket.
I stare again at the shining rock, smirking all the while as I realized—
I have been playing these games a long time.
"Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God."
2 Thessalonians 2:3-4