A/N: Hello there. Sorry for leaving this story without a conclusion for so long. But now this is the final chapter, and with it, I can finally draw it to a close. Of course, in-between this chapter and the last one I've been writing the next story, which is the 69th Hunger Games - titled 23 Cannons. Be sure to check it out if you liked this story.
Now all that remains is writing up the remaining reapings for the important characters, but besides that, this story is now complete. :)
Thanks for reading.
Maia Kentner, 16, District 5 Victor
A soft humming sound draws me out of slumber, and I blink my eyes several times. A bright light greets me, and I flinch at the harshness, only I can't move. My eyes snap open. This isn't good. I look around, and notice that my arms are strapped down. But to what? I feel the cold metal pressing against my wrists as I look around. Everything is white; the walls; the ceiling; even the floor from what I can see. It's this whiteness that causes me to remember what's going on.
I won the Hunger Games; I survived everything the arena threw at me, and survived. All the other tributes have died, and I survived. Tears begin to spill from my eyes, and I begin to feel faint as I remember how I won. Afya fell off the volcano, perishing. Did I cause her to fall? Or did she do it herself; suicide? I can't remember the exact details; the final battle is an adrenaline filled blur. All I know is that I'm strapped to a bed, in a blinding white room, sobbing my heart out. As I do this, I shut my eyes, and become aware of a loud bleeping sound, before I slip back to sleep.
When I open my eyes again, a figure is standing over me. My vision is still too blurry to make out who it is, and I begin to feel uncomfortable. All I can see is that whoever it is has long dark hair in a ponytail. Like Afya.
"Maia?" The voice calls, and I feel myself on the verge of crying. It sounds so much like Afya, but I know it's not. Afya is dead, just like everyone else. All dead. "Maia, can you hear me?" Somehow, I manage to nod feebly, and let out a whimper.
The figure moves, and everything comes into focus. It's not Afya standing in front of me; it's Lucia, my mentor.
"Lucia...?" I try to say, but my throat hurts, and my voice is nothing more than a hoarse whisper. "Lucia, is that you?"
"Yeah, it is," Lucia says, smiling softly at me, "The one and only." A sheepish smirk crosses her face, and she pats my head. "Well done, kid, you managed to make it out of hell alive."
"Yeah..." I say feebly, taking a deep breath, "I did, but at the cost of nearly two dozen lives." I can feel the tears building up, and I grip onto the side of my bed to stop myself from breaking down into a fit of sobbing. Guilt flows through my entire being, and I just want to curl up in a ball, and fade away. But I must stay strong, since some part of me remembers what awaits me pretty soon; the victory ceremony, where President Snow himself will crown me as the 68th person to survive this slaughter-fest. I feel sick just thinking about it.
Lucia walks to the other side of my bed, and presses a button. A whirring sound echoes out, and I'm freed from being strapped down into the bed. I carefully sit up, stretching my arms, noticing that they have no signs of the arena; like it was nothing but a horrible nightmare. Maybe it was, and none of it ever happened, and I'm just some poor soul inside a mental facility. In that case, what is real? Is this real? I look up at Lucia, who's looking over at the wall on the other side of the room. There's a countdown timer to the ceremony, and according to it, I have about five hours before it begins.
"Maia, do you feel well enough to move around?" Lucia asks me, and I nod. In response, she passes me a tray that was resting on the bedside table. "Then eat up. We don't have long before the interviews." I nod again, and look down at the tray. There is a bottle of water and a bread roll. Nothing else. Then again, it's not as if I could really eat much anyway; the Capitol workers have probably performed so many operations that my stomach wouldn't be able to handle anything more than this.
I lift the roll up to my mouth, and take a bite. It's cold, but still delicious. I carefully eat it, but with every swallow my throat feels like it's on fire. But I still manage to finish it off, and then drink some of the water. It soothes the burning in my throat, but makes my stomach feel like it's bloated. However, this feeling definitely beats what I was feeling a moment ago: the physical pain distracts from the mental agony.
"You done?" Lucia asks. I nod again, my throat in too much pain to talk. "Then I suppose we should go. They're all waiting to see their newest victor." I detect the bitterness in her voice; clearly, she doesn't want me to go through whatever she did when she won. But there's nothing we can do but face it: it would be impossible to go against the Capitol.
Carefully, I pull myself out of bed, and surprisingly I find that I'm already dressed. I look over the outfit, and it takes a moment before it hits me: I'm in the training uniform. The same attire that I donned along with twenty three other tributes, all of which died in the arena. The same attire that Afya and Alanna donned. The same attire that my dead friends wore. And now, I'm expected to act honoured that I won, that I can't believe how lucky I am to be alive. Right now though, I just wish that the volcano had swallowed me up along with Alanna. I don't deserve to live. I'm just a nobody. In fact, the only reason I lasted throughout the Games was due to Afya. She's the one that deserved to win. But she died; she sacrificed herself to save me.
Tears drip from my eyes as I walk across the room, guilt consuming every fibre of my being. Part of me hopes that somehow the emotion manages to consume me like fire, burning me into nothingness. But all that happens is that a heavy ache is present in my chest. Lucia says something, but I'm not aware of it. My thoughts are all directed to Afya. Sweet, dear Afya, who ultimately martyred herself for a girl she barely knew. Just thinking this makes me feel as if my heart is being torn into a million pieces, as if it's a piece of paper that a child is tearing up, scattering the pieces on the wind, leaving me feeling too hollow.
We leave the recovery room, and I'm vaguely aware of my escort hugging me through my tears. She offers excited words of congratulations, but I'm too numb to pay attention. I just sob into her strangely coloured shoulder, prompting her to back away. Lucia takes my hand, and walks me through to another room. She also says something, but I'm just not registering it. Why should I? I don't deserve to be here, so why should I listen to anything? It just reminds me that I lived and Afya didn't. However, Lucia suddenly grabs my shoulders, and brings her face uncomfortably close to mine.
"Maia," she says sternly. "Listen to me. I don't care how much you're wallowing in angst and self-pity. It won't change anything: you lived, and you have to accept it whether you like it or not." I nod bleakly, the words vaguely registering. "Now, your stylist is going to dress you in your outfit and take you to the ceremony. There, you will watch the recap of the Games, and then answer some superficial questions from Caesar. After that, President Snow will give you the victors' crown at the end of the ceremony, and after a closing statement from Caesar, you're free to go home. That's it. You just have to hold on for a couple more hours, okay?"
"Okay," I say, not sure if I mean it. I haven't even thought about the interview: it just feels as if I'm eternally being thrown deeper and deeper into despair.
"Now, I'll see you after the ceremony," Lucia says, hugging me. "Good luck."
And with that, she's gone. I stand in the middle of the room, staring at the wall: I don't even have the energy to cry. I just want to cease existing; it will be less painful than living with the memory of surviving. My stylist enters at some point, and she begins to undress me and wash me. I let her, not really registering it. The only thing that I really feel is a strong ache in my chest, and with every breath, I feel closer to just screaming. But I hold it together, and move as she puts on my ceremony outfit. I look at the mirror, and see what I am wearing for the occasion: a low-cut light green dress that falls to just above my knees. It's more revealing than what I would normally wear, but I don't have the energy to care, and just let my thoughts consume me as I walk with my escort to the elevator.
I'm alive, that much is certain. But is this really living? How can anyone live with the weight of twenty three dead kids crushing down on them? Suddenly, part of me feels awful for wishing this upon Afya. It would be too harsh to make her live with the guilt of my death on top of everyone else who died. Perhaps it is for the best that she died. But as soon as I think this, the urge to cry increases in strength. Right now, all I want is Afya to be here, and let me know that it will be okay. Instead, I just have a hollow void where Maia Kentner once was. The girl that was reaped died in the arena, leaving this hollow shell in her place. I blink, and I focus on my surroundings. We're now in the elevator, heading ever closer to the ceremony, where I will have to see every last horrific event of the arena again. I just want to curl up and not move, but some part of me keeps me standing.
The elevator opens, and I follow my stylist out. As soon as we're out, I become aware of a distant cheering. I look ahead, and see a metallic platform on the far side of the hallway that mirrors the launch pad far too closely.
"Now honey," my stylist says in her thick Capitol accent. "Just stand on that platform, and it'll take you to the ceremony. I'll see you afterwards." She pecks me on the cheek, and guides me to the platform, but as soon as my heeled shoe touches it, I freeze up. No, this isn't right. This is too much like the Games. The memory of Afya jumping off the cliff appears in my mind, and I find myself unable to move. But my stylist just pushes me on, and waves at me as the platform rises up.
As I ascend, everything goes dark. Instantly, my hands reach out for the walls, and I press down on it. Panic takes over, and fresh tears roll down my face. I want to get out of here. I can't handle this: this entire thing is too much like the beginning of the Games. All the dead faces hit me again, and I barely contain my tears before the platform rises up, and I'm blinded by light.
I see Caesar Flickerman standing on the stage, grinning at me, cheering my name. Of course, I'm thrown straight into the interview. Acting on instinct I smile and wave to the cameras, making my way over to the interview seat. I sit down on it, and become acutely aware that this is the same seat all of the dead tributes sat on less than a week ago. I grip onto the sides to prevent myself from breaking down here and now. Instead I focus on Caesar, who's talking to me.
"So Maia," he says, flashing his trademark smile. "How was it in the arena?" Suddenly, I come to my senses for just a moment: to get through this, I'll need to lie through my teeth.
"Well, you know what they say," I say, putting on my best mask. "Time flies when you're having fun, and with such a short time in the arena, it feels like I was only in there for two minutes!" In reality, it felt like fifty lifetimes, but they don't need to know that. They don't need to see how they've damaged me: I will not give them the satisfaction.
"I know what you mean!" Caesar replies. "Well, I suppose it's a good thing we can all re-live the magic again today! Roll the film!"
The lights dim, and a large screen flickers to life, blaring the anthem out as the screen fades to a shot of a district square, showing the two tributes from District 1 volunteering. They are swiftly followed by 2, 3, and 4. District 5 has its reaping played in full, and we get to see my every last action, but what gets me is seeing my district partner, Scott, standing on the stage next to me, crying in a way that only a twelve year old tribute would. It feels like someone just stabbed me in the heart. So I look to the ground as the rest of the reapings play out, but I can't help but look when I hear one name get called out: Afya Zahirah.
My eyes move up to the screen as I see Afya climb to the stage, her eyes full of burning determination, and life. I don't do anything to hide my tears. The Capitol can see this: they can see how they so heartlessly destroyed the most wonderful person I have ever met. My eyes are too blurred by tears to make out District 12's reaping, and I zone out as the training and parade segments are shown, the light, whimsical music carrying my thoughts elsewhere.
The Capitol is viewing this as entertainment. They are gaining a sense of enjoyment from this. All these tributes died so that they could be entertained. And I'm their sole reminder of the events that went down on that island, turned into a glorified celebrity. Pathetic doesn't come close to how I feel. They all died so that I could be on the cover of every Capitol magazine. Their lives mean that little to these candy coloured freaks. And there is nothing I can do about it.
I return my attention to the screen as the music changes to something more heart-pounding and intense. One glance shows me the Cornucopia, surrounded by the glass tubes we were all in, obscuring our view of the arena. And then, the glass breaks.
My eyes snap shut as the sound of screaming fills the air, followed by explosions and laughter. I already witnessed the girl from 4 blow herself up, and I do not want to see the horrific sight again. I keep my eyes closed as I hear other events play out, such as the Careers burning the forest, but then, a voice snaps me from my trauma.
"I would like to propose an alliance."
I remember these words. These were the words that changed everything for me. I look up to the screen to see Afya and I shaking hands. Tears flow freely as I look at my dead best friend forming the alliance that ensured my survival. The film cuts to glimpses of the other tributes, but keeps coming back to me and Afya. It shows us sharing food. It shows us climbing trees. It show us laughing at each other's sense of humour. The sobs come loud and clear, and I just want to vomit. I'm an emotional wreck, and there is no way I will compose myself.
The film has now cut to Afya and I dealing with the spider Muttation, showing me saving Afya's life. Another blow to the heart. I cover my face with my hands, getting them soaked with tears, yet I still find the strength to watch, to see Afya alive. To delude myself into thinking that she is still there. But I know it is a pointless waste of time: I am only torturing myself.
I hear the sound of cannons as it shows tributes dying, one after another: Alanna's district partner, the boy from 4, the girl from 3, the boy from 2, the girls from 1 and 12, and the boy from 1. The screen shows the girl from 2 chasing the boy from 10 up the mountain, and then cuts to Afya and I walking along the mountainside as the sun sets. It's that simple detail that makes me remember what is coming.
And as I cry softly into my hands, I see Alanna joining up with us, and the girl from 2 appearing. I can barely watch the fight that ensues, and with every groan of pain from the tributes, a choked sob erupts from me. And then comes the moment.
It all seems to drag out as I watch the volcano beginning to erupt. My blood turns to ice as I watch Afya and I escape the volcano, and roll down the mountainside, collapsing in a heap as the eruption of lava illuminates the island. The long stare we give each other as the cannons sound out is too much, and just when I think it can't get worse, I see Afya throw knife at me.
Immediately I look away, and clasp my hands to my ears, trying to block out the screen, trying to make it go away. I keep like this for the next few minutes, until a blaring fanfare sounds out, and the sounds of the Games are replaced with cheering. Slowly, I lower my hands, and look at Caesar, who is oblivious to my tear-stained face.
"Well then," he says. "What a show!"
"Yeah," I say, trying to compose myself. Instead, I just put on a mask, and retreat into myself as I answer menial questions, such as how challenging I found surviving, and whether or not I thought I had it in me to win. Nothing personal. Nothing that could compromise this mask.
"And that wraps it up!" Caesar says after twenty minutes of this. "Now, please rise for President Coriolanus Snow, everyone!"
I stand to my feet as the anthem plays out, and President Snow emerges on-stage, holding a golden crown. He walks towards me, and once he's close enough, he places the crown on my head. I look up, and Snow smiles at me.
"Congratulations to Maia Kentner from District Five for becoming the victor of the sixty eighth annual Hunger Games," he announces. "We salute you for your victory. Congratulations." The words are all positive, but something about them must trigger a memory of the arena, as the scent of blood reaches my nose for just a moment. But then it's gone, and I'm left to wonder if I'm going mad from winning.
"Maia Kentner from District Five, everyone!" Caesar says as the anthem plays one more time, and a pair of curtains close over the stage, ending the ceremony.
Straight away, my escort suddenly appears, and takes me backstage, where I'm met by Lucia, who gives me a weary smile.
"It's finally over with, Maia," she says. "You can relax. The train is waiting for us just outside." I go to reply, but instead walk over to her, and cry into her shoulder; the mask I've been putting on today has finally broken.
"It won't be over," I say. "Not as long as I remember that Afya died for me. How will I live with that?" My voice is small, like that of a child's. I feel weak, and just want to lay down forever.
"I know, dear," Lucia says as she guides me down some stairs at the end of the hallway. "But listen to me: Afya sacrificed herself for you. Now, I don't know the reason, but it means that she would rather you live than her. And that means she probably wanted you to carry on living out of the arena, and to not let her death crush you with guilt." I'm speechless, and a tight knot forms in my chest as Lucia talks. This all sounds like something Afya would say and do. Is this really her reason? Did she want me to live on instead of her?
And then it hits me: Afya wanted me to keep on living despite the horrors, and to not let them break me. Wallowing in despair isn't living. It's just letting the Capitol win, and making Afya's death be in vain, as well as the other tributes. They did not die so that I would be nothing more than a broken shell. I will not let their deaths be so pointless. I will keep on going, and I will ensure that nobody forgets any of the tributes that have died in the arena. Not Scott, not Alanna, and certainly not Afya. Their memories will live in, even if it's the last thing I do. Because that's what Afya would do, and what kind of friend would I be if I don't fulfil Afya's ultimate wish?
We reach the bottom of the stairs, and find the train a few feet from us. With a new-found drive, I walk up to the train, and step through the automatic door, followed by Lucia and our escort. I continue through to the main cabin, and sit at the table near to the window. Lucia sits in front of me, and the train begins to speed off.
"So, Maia," she says. "Have I helped to bring a sense of closure?"
"Not at all," I reply, cracking a smile for the first time since the morning of the last day in the arena. "In fact, you have helped me to realise how I can carry on the memories of the tributes, and ensure they are never forgotten."
"That's the spirit," she says, smiling again. "So long as you never let this break you, you can keep on living. You can do this for Afya."
"Yeah," I say, looking out of the window as the Capitol countryside rolls by, bathed in a golden glow from the sunset. "I will. Now, let's go home."
Lucia nods, and I lean back, thinking about the future. It won't be easy to keep on going, and I know there will be dark moments, but if there's one thing I'm sure about, it is that I must keep my spirits up, and I must not let these Games break me. Because that's what Afya would do.
And I'm not going to let my best friend's sacrifice be in vain. Ever.