Happiness feels a lot like sorrow.
Ajax Rogue, District Two Male.
One Hundredth Victor.
"This way please, Mr. Rogue." the attendant says to me, ushering his arm out for me to follow.
I nod curtly, swallowing the lump down my throat. I walk ahead of the man, straight to my vehicle. Someone opens the door - I don't remember who and I don't want to care - and climb in. Everything seems so surreal. The car begins to drive forward, engine raring, a sound that sounds so familiar to the explosions. I wince, resting my forehead against the cool glass and watching the scenes of the Capitol blur by. I'll be back here in about a week anyway for the interview with Hermes; something I'm not looking forward to. He's a horrid person as it - tormenting us all with the videos during the interviews - but I know he'll take some sadistic pleasure in the recaps, making me watch the deaths again and again, repeating throughout my mind.
People think Careers are heartless - and before the Games, we are - but then we change. The arena isn't what we expected. It's much more... powerful and soul-breaking. Everyone comes out a shadow of their former self, reaped or volunteered. Us volunteers are just naive to the damage that they cause, whereas the reaped have no choice. In a sense, neither did I. Once you start training in District Two, there's a possibility that you're chosen. They decide and we must follow without question.
Of course, some idiots aren't skilled enough and manage to break the rules, i.e Cyra.
Her death will be something I'll watch with amusement. I'd love to know who actually killed her, who stole that chance. The others - particularly the ones I killed myself - I'll watch with hollow eyes and a sunken feeling in my chest. It's the way to cope, I guess. The less emotional attachment to each death, the less chance of their eyes boring into my skull, implanting in my brain and then haunting my nightmares.
And then there's Honor...
I've tried not to think about her. The more I try to remember her features, the harder it becomes. I've forced myself so much to erase her images from my mind, if I try to think about what she looks like, it's fucked up. I can't remember her eyes, or the way her hair was, or even the way she held herself. I can't remember much and that's my own fault. It's a conflicting feeling, knowing you can't live with her images in your mind - knowing she's dead - but wanting to remember as much as possible to remind yourself that, that one person, she made you feel human and whole.
The car comes to a stop and I climb out, rushing to the train, blinded by the cameras. They scream my name like I'm a legend. Like I done good.
But I didn't.
At least, I don't think I did.
The train ride home is just as uncomfortable as the car journey. Each time the train slows down or speeds up to get to District Two faster, my heart races at the memories of the explosion and the tube and Honor's body parts scattered in the water and the blood red sea that-
I snap out, staring at Clifford in front of me. He stares at me with careful eyes, the wrinkles above his head clear from all the stress. "Yes?"
"It gets easier kid. At least, it depends on how you handle it."
"How would you choose to handle it?" I ask, surprised at the softness in my voice.
"Well, not like him for starters," Clifford says, jerking his thumb in the direction of Maverick, passed out over his bottle of rum. "Alcohol and drugs aren't the solution."
"You didn't answer my question. How would you handle it, Clifford?" my voice is almost at breaking point. A little help would go a big way.
"By training others," Clifford says short and sweet, placing his hand up when I open my mouth to protest. "Nobody knows the pain of winning until you actually win. But you can't stop the rules of the Training Center. You can't fight fire, Ajax, because you'll get burned. The best you can do, to help you cope, is to train the trainees as hard as you can."
"Because... because if you train a child in everything, make them the best at what they do, then if they get chosen to volunteer, you're mind will be clear because you know you done everything you could to train them great. To train them to keep their life. Cyra... she wasn't ready. Use her as a method. Don't let one of the trainees become a tribute without being ready in all aspects." Clifford's voice is now grave, like his words are too huge for his mouth to form. "Then you'll be okay. You'll be able to cope because you know the trainee going in knows everything they can. Why do you think we pushed you so hard, Ajax? Why do you think that Amity spent most of her time training you hard rather than letting you mess around?"
"...it isn't a joke." I choke out, the jumbled pieces of the puzzle coming together.
"It isn't a joke. Now you understand. Just don't end up like him. Don't let alcohol or drugs or anything be the solution. Put that fear and sickness into working harder."
I nod slowly, allowing time for Clifford's voice to return to normal, the angry, flustered pink tint to fade from his cheeks. It's why Amity broke down when people joked about. She wanted us to work harder so that if we were ever chosen, we were as ready as we could be. Not like Cyra, not just hoping for a miracle.
The rest of the train journey, I sit there in the booth, too absorbed in my mind and the events to notice anything else. Clifford eventually excuses himself to his room, whilst Maverick stays unconscious. I think the quiet helps me. Every little jump or noise sends my head reeling and my heart racing. I wish I was still strong. I went in and came out a broken man. But, I need to do what Clifford says. I have to train them hard. I need to let them know that skills are going to help you, not luck or sponsors. Pure skills. I mean, I'll have to train them anyway - rules of the Training Center being that all Victors must train future generations - so I might as well put what Clifford said into good practice.
Maybe then I can fix myself.
And hopefully burn Honor away from my mind completely.
Life in District Two is different. My house in Victors Village is huge, too huge for my liking, but I live alone. Mother and father have lives outside of my training and victory. In fact, I'm almost sure that they never really wanted me to enter. They knew I trained - mother's money paid for the training after all - but I guess they never expected me to be so good. When I asked them to move in - so I wouldn't have to face the silence on my own - they declined. Mother's masonry business was far too important and father didn't want to have to keep leaving for his job as a Peacekeeper.
They left me, and I hate them for it.
I'm still a child. Well, technically. I still need my parents to help mend me. And yet, they act as if everything is okay now. My little game is over and now it's time I grew up. I have the money, the house, the independence, but at what cost? The boy from District Eight who I speared as he ran away, searching for his allies? Lamont as I speared him through the chest? What about Nine, as I sliced him open? Their lives provided me with the "maturity" that my parents - well, mother - wanted for me.
The more I stay around, the more I learn that being here, being Victor, isn't what I thought.
When you're an aspiring tribute in the Training Center, you look up to the Victors. They train you, teach you everything, sometimes even tell you the stories of how they won and what their arena was like. You admired them because they were everything you were aspiring to be. But they never told you of the emotional pain. The psychological pain. The constant fear for your surroundings, the constant emptiness in your chest that can only be filled by companionship, and yet, you're too scared or numb to be able to attach yourself to someone.
I understand why Amity cries. Why Maverick drinks. Why Clifford trains them harder or why Brick is as arrogant and almighty as he is.
They do it to fill the emptiness in their heart, their soul, the part that was ripped out by the cruel tendrils of the Hunger Games.
But they don't tell you that. They don't tell you because Training Center rules forbid it. Because, as a Career district, we're not supposed to feel like this.
We're expected to be hunters and monsters, not humans.
"Why are their more cars?" I ask Clifford, peering out the window. "Are you telling me there are more people coming?"
Clifford nods solemnly. "The other Victors are attending the recaps. It's... it's a tradition for us."
"So, everyone else will be there?" my voice raises, the bitterness clear. So, once again, I'm made to be a show.
He nods again. "Evander, Signus, Amity, Brick, myself and Maverick. We're all attending with you."
"You've got to be kidding me..."
But, I know he's not. I instantly recognise Maverick stumbling up the steps to the train, a mirror image of the day we volunteered. Brick is next, his blonde hair and chiseled face smiling, waving at the cameras as they click shots. Amity is quick, nothing but a blur. Her black hair is seen for a moment before she's gone. Evander and Signus must be on the train already. Classed as District Two legends, they need more privacy and away from the cameras. The door opens and my eyes are blasted by the cameras. I feel Clifford's hands on my shoulders, leading me through the crowd towards the door. He whispers something I can't quite say, but I smile, vaguely remembering him say something about 'teeth'. I need to look fake. I need to look... happy.
When we get inside, Clifford ushers me to the main cart, the other Victors already waiting. Maverick is in his happy-drunk state, eyes wide and smile clear. Amity, on the other hand, is buried into a seat, arms wrapped around her lithe legs. Brick grins smugly as Clifford pushes me along.
"There he is. It's about time we got to see you in person." Brick drawls.
"You live next door to him. I'm sure you've seen him before." Clifford defends.
"Not exactly. I thought I'd hold off until now. Put the face to the killings, so to speak."
His words cut me, just like Cyra's use to do. Except, with Cyra, I was angry and wanted to strangle her. With Brick's words, and now after everything, I want to sink into my seat and hide away from sight.
"Evander, Signus, you remember Ajax, right?"
"Of course," Signus speaks, a cunning smile on his and Evander's face, making them like twins. "You were in my top class, wasn't you? I distinctly recall a young man, about your height, whose aim with a spear was spectacular."
I nod slowly.
"Ah, indeed. I thought I recognise the shot. You've gotten better from the last time I remember."
I nod again, all the words I want to say, wish to say, just dying on my tongue. I didn't expect to feel so exposed. I expected like everything would be normal. That, hopefully, each of them would just ignore me or even hate me. If they hated me so openly, it would make it easy. Instead, they congratulate me and treat me like a hero. I wince as the train rolls, my head reeling from the motion. I suddenly feel so sick and dizzy, I have to excuse myself, but not before I hear Maverick speak for the first time in ages.
"I can't wait to see Zircon's face. His girl, that idiot with the dark hair, he had bet on her that she would last longer than ours. It'll be grand to see that smug smile get wiped off now that we've beaten District One again."
"Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, please welcome the Victor of the Fourth Quarter Quell, all the way from District Two - Ajax Rogue!"
The noise is deafening. I close my eyes and try to bury the thoughts, but they take over.
In slow motion, I'm falling, a blood red sea beneath my feet. It seems like time slows down as my face touches the water, coppery blood filling my nose and scorching my lungs. Then, his muffled voice, all before the explosions begin. One after the other after the other after the other, like a forever cycle of bangs and rings that blow my eardrum and cause my heart to race faster and faster and faster and faster, like it's beating out of my chest an-
I suddenly fall forward, a shunt from behind. I'm snap out of my daze, wearily, and begin to climb the steps. It's all so surreal once more. I was here but a few weeks ago, watching in horror as they showed how my brother was killed by Gamemakers without a chance to fight back. Hermes' face was so happy and conceited, I wanted to smack him there and then.
His face hasn't changed.
The claps and the hollers blast against my ears - the lights against my eyes - but I try my best to force on a smile and wave politely. Hermes seems to laugh for a moment as I take my seat in the chair. His smile is huge, cheeks rosy and eyes bright. He's almost like something out of a cartoon. He raises his hands and brings them down slowly, hushing the crowd until they're quiet.
"Ajax. Oh dear Ajax. How have you been?" he asks, eyes scanning mine for lies or hidden truth.
"I've been fine," I lie. "Just adjusting to everything around me, understanding the ropes from my fellow Victors."
The spotlight quickly shoots into the sidebar where the other Victors wait. Evander and Signus, for some reason, hide in the darkness, but the likes of Brick and Amity are captured. Amity looks like a rabbit trapped in headlights, eyes wide and accusing.
"Brick, looking as fabulous as ever!" Hermes calls, winning a thumbs-up and gracious smile from Brick. Amity next to him, however, has her hands wrapped around her body consciously. "And Amity, sweetheart, still as gorgeous, pale and anorexic as I remember!"
I can't help but glare at Hermes for his words against her, but he doesn't notice. The crowd laughs either way as the spotlight travels away from them and then back onto me and Hermes. He doesn't even do anything but whip out his hand towards the large screen besides us.
"Now, before we begin the recaps, I have one question. Honor Elliot from District One. Where did you stand with her, Ajax, because it seemed like a love story but then it also seemed rather awkward."
Her name hurts my brain. All the memories I'm trying to forget, and yet people keep bringing her up. I don't know what I felt with Honor. It was always more than friendship, but I've never experienced real love. Brotherly love, yes, but not the undying kind of love. The Training Center teaches you to hold it off until you've finished training or become a Victor. They encourage lust, not love. So... I don't know. If I can't answer it for myself, how can I answer it to the people watching? So, I go with the best thing I can do.
"Isn't this interview about me and not... n-not some girl who died?"
Hermes grins triumphantly. "Yes, I suppose. Don't think you've got off so easy, you'll be answering that question after the recaps!"
I don't have time to reply before a loud wave of static fills the air. I wince again as the lights go dark, faces of the crowd and Hermes moulding into the darkness. The screen goes from black to white, before colour begins to arise. A voice comes out of nowhere, declaring that: "Twenty-four went in, and only one came out."
The white changes to a cluster of colours that, once begin, prove to be the area of District Eight, I believe. I don't know. But, as the reapings of said district begin and a girl makes her way to the stage, before fainting and having to be held by a Peacekeeper, I know it must be District Eight. The girl, whose name I can't remember. Maybe it's better that way. The screen is enveloped with blood writing that spells out 'Fifth Place', before it changes to the placid location of District Four. I can tell instantly by the sea, and the sight brings the first real smile to my face in what feels like years. Azolla makes her way to the stage, looking innocent and placid, just like the sea behind her. She mumbles into the microphone, but the words are muted by the Capitol since her lips move, but only noise appears. Why hide what she said? 'Fourth Place', and then it shifts again, the idyllic scene of District One. I hold my breath, my head suddenly reeling once more. I haven't seen her face since the final battle. I haven't... I can't... Honor walks to the stage, her eyes hardened and solid. They zoom in on her face - they haven't done it before - so I guess that's to test me. I suddenly feel very sick, as 'Third Place' appears and the scene shifts again. The District Nine boy - Dagan Grove, apparently - is raising his fist in the air in a funny sign. The crowd doesn't say anything, but two other people follow suit. 'Second Place'.
Then it's me. I know it's me. I can't once more. I can't feel or do anything, like I'm helpless, the image of our stony streets and wooden buildings coming into view.
They show Cyra being the idiot that she was, taking away Golda's place and the fury in Golda's eyes. Then, it's me, and I can feel my knees buckling and my head screaming. Don't do it, you stupid boy. Don't bother running up there. I'm urging myself on to make the right move, to not volunteer, but the idiot does it anyway.
And, whilst his eyes are neutral, he's oblivious to the rollercoaster that is about to destroy his humanity.
The scene transforms into that of the chariot rides. I remember my costume vividly. Gods, we were going for. Feathered wings and golden tunics with matching crowns. Each district gets a few seconds as they roll down the Square, their faces pretty much hidden and devoured by the costumes. Everyone looks so... different. So... false. I twitch in my seat when they, once again, spend a little longer on the District One chariot whilst Esmeralda Snow gives her speech. It changes so quickly, the colours make my head spin. The interviews are next, and once again, everyone gets a short clip, just to highlight what their angle was. And, once more, they slow down and prolong Honor's, like some sick way of torturing me. It's like... It's like they're in my head, knowing that I'm trying so desperately hard to rid myself of images of her, so they show her as much as they can to me, just to counter what I'm working on. Lamont is quiet and cold. Cyra is loud and arrogant. Honor wavers under Hermes' questions. Marlin is calm, whilst Azolla seems oblivious to what he says, though her face stiffens at the mention of her sister. The boy from District Three is methodical, whilst the little girl from District Six happens to be sweet and genuine. Different people all brought together. My head spins from everything, from the colours and the sounds, from Honor and the other kids that died and... and... and...
The screen goes dark, the last sight being me being interviewed, a twisted replica of what's happening now. I guess I missed mine. I can't help but be thankful for that. That interview is another memory I want to burn away.
"They fought to the death. They fought for the righted place as Victor."
That's what I wanted. I doubt the ones who were reaped wanted that. They probably just wanted to live.
It then blasts to light once more and I wince, squeezing my eyes partially shut to avoid the bright glare. I say bright, but it's not. It's the bloodbath. They skip around on the faces of the other tributes, the ones that are now probably buried or burned, families still mourning. The thing is, though, the boxes most definitely look like coffins. I never really understood the point, but now I do. They're blocked from seeing behind them or to the sides, really. Everyone has limited view. They zoom in on me, my jaw clenched. I remember my feelings at this point. I was... I was nervous for the first time in ever. The woodlands I did see were a horrible replica of the woods that Axel died in. My mind raced through many thoughts. I dig my nails into my hand, eyes fuzzy from the strain of colours.
The gong sounds, but it's clouded by another sound. I can't watch, knowing what happens. The District Nine girl - Poppy - she jumps, her charred, blackened form falling to the form and rolling down the hill. They'll only show the deaths, I remind myself. They won't show you everything. And true to my word, they don't. The camera quickly shifts to Cyra standing by the Cornucopia, the little boy from District Eleven nearing behind her. They talk, he runs, Cyra catches him and almost decapitated him, head hanging by minor flesh.
His name, full name and district, suddenly enters a chart beneath the coloured screen next to the '23rd' spot. Above is Poppy.
I'll have to learn their names now. All of them.
Next is the District Three boy, Chip. He seems to be standing around idly, waiting for his allies, more than likely. He doesn't see the brute from District Twelve charge him and force him to the floor. They fight, but Chip seems almost lost, like he's expecting someone else to save him. His skull is soon crushed under the boot of Twelve, and worse of all, Chip's district partner is watching nearby with wide eyes. She might've cared about him. I wonder what it's like to care about the person who reminds you of home? My body fells hollow and numb, none of the deaths making me feel any better, but not any worse. It's like my heart is solid, stone, cold and hardened from the emotions of these tributes dying.
It'll get worse though. That's a guarantee. The more deaths, the more personal, the more it'll swallow me until it finally hurts once more.
The little boy from District Ten is next, Sawyer apparently, and I remember this one. I watch - just like I did, rounded by the Cornucopia - as Lamont takes his machete and carves a line in his chest. His ally, the tiny girl from District Six, she's screaming and screaming and her district partner saves her. I breathe a sigh of relief, realising how shaky my breath is.
It's happening already.
Ambrosia, the girl from District Eleven, she's next. Lamont kills her too.
The scene shifts, showing all the different tributes and allies scattering in different directions, the sections of the woodlands clear. A crow flies past the camera, taking away my breath for a moment.
Then it's us. The Careers. This is my first kill. This is a memory I don't want to keep. I want to squeeze my eyes shut, but for some reason, I can't. I can't do anything once more. I can't stop as Nate runs from us, and the spear glides from my hand effortlessly. He's dead. I don't even look that sorry. Was I not sorry? I feel it now. I'm sorry, Nate. I'm sorry for not giving you a better chance.
The day shifts again. Are they only showing us the deaths? That makes it easier. Less screen time for Honor and me when we were... "bonding". The word now only brings a thick lump in my throat.
The Twelve boy, Hacket, is asleep and he doesn't even see the girl from District Eight appear. He's deadweight as she knots ropes around his hands so he can't use them. He opens his eyes for a second before the blade is dragged across his throat. She was an animal? No, no she wasn't, because now she's crying and disappearing into the trees.
A black screenshot appears next, but it unfolds as shadows amongst the shadows move. I hear the voices carefully... Marlin and Azolla. Before we split up. A frenzy happens and I gasp, the crowd in the shadows gasping too. I stare out at the blackness, managing to see a few at the front. They wince and close their eyes, mouths zipped shut. This must have been the crows attacking them. Azolla finally screams before they change the scene to me, Honor and Azolla dragging Marlin's half-dead body out of the wreckage. His eye sockets are clear, little tendrils at the back so vibrant against the black. Cyra slams a scythe into his chest before anything else is said.
We split, now, and I follow Honor. My heart aches at my decision. If I didn't follow her, I wouldn't have to deal with her death hanging over my conscience. If I didn't follow her, I'd never have known what it was like to actually bond with someone. To actually form a friendship and... and... "bonded". I swallow a thick lump again.
Lamont stalks us from afar, but it takes a while for me or Honor to notice. He speeds around us, taunting us, before my spear finds his chest and kills him. My second kill. I can't help but smile, though, at the sight of me pushing Honor behind me on impulse. I guess I knew, even that early on. After that, they show a brief clip of the weird boy from District Five digging at the group, a handful of wires in his hand. They watched and let him do that? I feel anger rise inside of me but try to quell it as best as possible.
The District Seven boy is running through the forest, two tributes - identified as that of the girls from Districts Ten and Twelve - chasing him. He gets back to his allies, a slap is delivered by his worried partner, but the girls appear. I notice the District Three girl on the floor, her ankle obviously hurt. Was she the blur of blonde that Cyra was determined to kill? Could it have been my spear that caused her to trip and break it, maybe? I feel guilty all of a sudden, but again, I try to remind myself that if I didn't feel guilty then, I shouldn't now, despite knowing.
A fight is about to happen before the storm of feathers arrive once more.
They attack mercilessly and the audience within the shadows cringe once more, their muted voices barely reaching my ears. I can't stop the permanent ringing. The screams are electrifying, igniting the room and making even the most cold-hearted person feel sad for the girl - Danielle as she is now named - for being ripped to complete shreds by them. But, the fight isn't over. Two against two still. They start to fight, but it's clear the two girls have an advantage. They manage to overpower the younger tributes and, with a hesitation, Ten slices Aspen's throat. His district partner is infuriated and attempts to fight back, but she can't do it. She's broken now they've been killed. My heart goes out to her, sweat now beading on my forehead and the other alliances, the other tributes, the other lives... all of it is shown. Before, we were killing district tributes, but watching this, it's more like learning a story about someone to have them die a few seconds later.
I run a hand through my short hair, breathing heavily as the girls fight again.
All these tributes... no, not tributes, but actually people. She cared for Aspen. That slap from earlier showed that. Their disgust and fight after Danielle was slaughtered helplessly. They were a friendship, rather than an alliance. They... they cared more about each other than what skills they possessed. I only had Honor... no, don't think about it. Thinking about it only brings heartache.
Finally, the fight ends with Evy's name joining the bottom, a spear from Twelve taking her life.
But their alliance is the complete opposite. Evy, Aspen and Danielle, they cared for each other... Ten and Twelve, well, she abandons Ten when she's realised that her injury is a lot more serious than first thought. An alliance of friendship versus with an alliance of usefulness.
Whose more morally correct?
It's always the losers. The innocent victims.
My vision is becoming blurred, the sights and sounds only thudding against my brain like a dull hammering, constant and droning. It's making my head spin. My silver suit is now damp with sweat. Droplets, so clear and pristine, roll from my forehead and down my nose, the throbbing making my body exhausted.
Ten eventually finds her death when the girl from District Eight catches her and slices her throat. 'Kieran DeLuca, 12th'.
So that was her strategy? She was killing for the sake of survival. Quick, shaky jobs that probably broke her but eventually allowed her to get one step closer. I should have done that. I should have killed Cyra when I had the chance. I should have... I should have killed Honor when I had the chance, before I became too attached. I can only blame myself for allowing my heart to open up. Maybe I was vulnerable or confused. Maybe I'm lying to myself, and I wanted it. I'll never know now.
The next scene, however, lightens my mood easily. Cyra is on the screen, stumbling around the woodlands like a newborn animal getting used to legs. She doesn't even notice the way Azolla is nearby, contemplating moves from the privacy of the trees. Azolla's been there for some time before she steps out. Azolla... so, it was all an act then. Azolla wasn't so ditzy and blonde, but a Career at heart and mind. An actress, too, as well as downright cunning. They fight and I already know Azolla wins. Azolla spears her with the harpoon, but that isn't enough. Cyra taunts her, and Azolla has to overkill just to ensure the job is done. Even after the cannon, Azolla brutally kicks at Cyra's dead body.
I glance down at the table. Final ten tributes now.
This was around the time that the doubts of mine and Honor's alliance had crept into my mind. I wipe my sweaty hands on my pants and attempt to clear my face of it too. Focus, Ajax. Everything needs to happen for a reason. Your life was saved for a greater reason.
They zoom in on the District Five boy once more, his plan already set. He walks around idly before deciding on building a hut within the Cornucopia. There, he slips in and waits, just on cue as his district partner and her ally, Nine, come strolling down the hill. My heartbeat quickens at the thought. Both tributes from District Five were dead when I arrived... this must be their doom. I link my fingers together and place them in my lap, holding onto my breath for when things happen.
They kiss, so sweet and tender, and it brings a longing in my heart. They were a couple, a love story, forbidden and fruitful. Me and Honor... we never... we never got to see if we were one. Was the Capitol and audience treating us like it? District Five boy leaps out as Nine gets near his safety. There's not even a brief fight - he snags his district partner with ease and presses a knife to her neck, using her as leverage. For some time, they talk, words like fire as they try to trick the other into what they want. Then, Nine makes a grave mistake. He stabs the District Five easily with his pitchfork, the bright controller zoomed on as it flies through the air. But, at a price. Nine's ally, District Five's district partner, she's pretty much dead, a bright smile across her throat.
'Nomen Clature, 10th'.
'Hayl Gartham, 9th'.
The scene skips from Nine - a totally different person - saying goodbye to the girl he apparently loved to the next, the two tributes from District Six just walking through the darkness. I'm almost confused. I had completely forgot about them since the bloodbath. But, the boy is acting erratic, twitching and looking around, as if he's being followed and the paranoia has sunk in. Things suddenly go wrong as a figure attacks them. The boy takes control - his eyes now ablaze - and he snaps her neck with a twist. It doesn't stop there, but as he opens his mouth and is ready to sink into her flesh, it cuts black.
I'm puzzled, but I guess cannibalism is frowned upon. Yet, murdering and Mutts that claw you to a hunk of meat, yeah, that's perfectly fine.
I'm suddenly learning everything wrong with this game of cat and mouse.
The scene comes back eventually, to a different scenery. The little District Six girl is pressed against the tree, scared for her life. Her district partner has officially lost the plot, stalking her and calling her something completely different to what I assumed was her name. He attacks swiftly, like a python, but the scene cuts black once more, and the little girl's name appears in the grid.
Final six now. The District Six boy, I know he's dead next... his death was the reason why me and Honor decided to split. In fact, they show us for a brief second just walking lazily through the woodlands. Apparently, nearby, the District Six boy was hidden in the bushes. Not far from him, Azolla, sneaky and stealthily. She stops at a wall and inspects it - well, not a wall, but the dam - before running away, frightened eyes. She must have connected the sound of moving water to the sea in District Four.
She finds Six. They fight. He escapes and finds the wall. His name appears at the bottom before anything happens, a crack in the structure - not from his punching - breaks, a piece flying and hitting him directly between the eyes, killing him instantly.
The flood happens.
My heart races and I strain my eyes to watch the sweat roll down the bridge of my nose and off the end, like the District Nine girl leaping to her death.
I'll never forget, will I?
The District Eight girl is next to die. I know that. Azolla finds her and takes advantage as the floor - the once earthy, soft ground - is flooded. The harpoon finds her chest and she dies. I'm almost relieved for her. I hold my breath again, knowing how Azolla died, too... this was Honor's one and only kill. Azolla was her only kill of the entire Games. Honor's hands, so perfect and tanned, were stained with blood eventually.
I close my eyes and push the sights away as I hear a scream, followed by another and another and another, the domino effect only reminding me of the continuous explosions that ripped her to pieces and almost killed me and-
When I peel my eyes open again, Azolla's name is at the bottom, the scene being that of Honor pulling her sword from Azolla's chest.
This is it. I know everything from here on out. Does that make me feel better? Nope. I was delusional for thinking that I could handle this. Maybe I should have just given up and allowed Nine to win. Let him cope with everything, knowing that you're alive whilst others are not.
Honor begins to run through the woods hastily, chasing what I can only guess as Azolla's floating body.
But the scene has skipped to me and Nine, looking back and forth as the water rolls down the hill, flooding the pit we began our game in. Then Azolla's body comes tumbling down the hill and Honor appears, flustered and lips tight. I remember those lips. They rarely ever smiled or seemed happy. They were always hiding something, like secrets on the tip of her tongue. She done it to protect herself - she was smart, knowing not to let her past get in the way of her potential future. I should have done the same. I shouldn't... I shouldn't have opened up to Honor, no matter how much my heart is telling me that I'm lying to myself.
Honor comes down the hill steadily and I hear a rustle. I stare out at the crowd, guessing they're moving in their seats, probably sitting straight for the big finale to what can only be assumed as a very, very bloody Hunger Games.
We talk for a moment, but then I'm running. Me and Nine are fighting before I know it, and I can't bare to look. Honor tries to help, but she's shell-shocked, frozen in place from the surroundings of the dead tributes floating on the waves. She gets the forgotten controller, but Nine pushes me away and snatches it back. When he slaps her, I can't stop the burning flame of anger in my stomach. I grit my teeth, watching me run for him.
This is it.
We grapple and Nine comes out on top, pushing me towards the base of the hill, closest to the explosions.
But then Honor is running over, trying to help me or save me or take victory.
I don't realise I'm shaking violently until I clench my fist so hard, my knuckles and fingers burn from the strain.
Nine presses the button.
My eyes begin to become fuzzy.
The audience gasps.
My tongue is throbbing, furry and thick, causing my mouth to go dry. My head is spinning.
The explosions set off, louder on the screen.
Everything goes black.
When I come back around, I'm backstage, the lights from the ceiling now burning into my eyes. I blink hastily, the throbbing in my head now too much. A shadow finally blocks out the light and I squint, looking at Amity's face, dark circle around her eyes, making her dark skin seem almost... weathered.
"You passed out." she says plainly, but her voice has a different softness to it. A softness I've never, ever experienced in my life. Not from my family, trainees, tributes or mentors. No-one has ever sounded that... sad. "You hit the floor, and then the interview was cut short. Brick finished it off for you, though, but that's just him. We just lied saying that you were still adjusting to reality and it was taking you some time."
"No problem," she whispers sadly. "Wish I had someone to help me out."
I cast my fuzzy mind back quickly, trying to work out whereabouts Amity won. I think Brick was the last one, and she was around after Maverick and Clifford, so... not that long ago. It suddenly hits me what she means and, noticing it, she smiles awkwardly.
"You worked it out then."
"Yeah," I mumble. "Evander and Signus were self-righteous. Maverick was already an alcoholic. Clifford is nice... but focused. I didn't have a shoulder to cry on."
"What makes you think I need a shoulder to cry on?" I snap back defensively.
"The way you are. Survivor's Guilt, they call it. But in your case, it could be post-traumatic stress," Amity seems almost lost, her eyes watering up. She coughs and shakes her head. "I'm just saying... I don't want other people to go through what I did, all alone."
I graciously offer the extended hand to me and hoist myself up, my body feeling like it's tilted to one side.
I'll never forget. Those images, no matter how hard I try, will never be burned from my skull. They're apart of me now, like the blood pumping through my brains or the shattered psyche throughout my mind. Honor's face will always be there, I just have to remind myself that it was always going to be the way - me or her.
Amity carefully links her fingers through mine and the contact is enough to make me feel better.
With her help, I can do it.
With Clifford's words, I can do it.
I can become myself again.
All the while ensuring that the next generation aren't stupid and reckless like the old Ajax Rogue was.
The doors to the Training Centre open up and a flood of memories rush through my mind, making everything seem so confusing. I'll be forced to train the others. But, I'll take Clifford's tactic - I'll train them to win, because they have to volunteer no matter what. Evander and Signus continue to walk in front, and as expected, I fall in behind them. As the most recent Victor, I'll get to look after next year's tributes.
Signus stops whilst Evander walks into the crowd of trainees since everyone stops to stare at me like I'm some... some celebrity. They'll all want to be me; I was just like them, admiring what Clifford and Maverick and Amity had become, all whilst not realising the true emotional trauma hidden from our sights. Evander comes back, a boy and girl on either side of him.
"Ajax, here are our volunteers for next year, and the tributes you will need to train until then," Evander introduces them, a chalkiness to his voice. "This is our female, Tarzana Quake."
A girl with muscular arms and a defying glare.
"And our male, Thief Denvir. You might know his mother - she's on the board here."
And a boy, whose eyes are frightened and wide, terrified beyond belief.
He doesn't want to go in. He doesn't want to volunteer.
I wish Ajax Rogue knew that before he went in, all guns blazing.
I would finally find happiness then.
Happiness by The Fray.
The blog for this story is bttw hunger games . blogspot - all deaths are notified here.
The obituaries have been posted named 'Remember, Remember'. Learn about all the tributes and what happened to their bodies. You'll notice that Ajax doesn't have one, but that's because his future is unknown. He could become a mentor in another SYOT at a later date and so forth. His will be a mystery for you all. However, the rest are there, so go and have a look!
Now that's done, you have some more questions I'd love for you to answer:
-Thoughts on the obituaries?
-Did you enjoy Blood Thicker Than Water overall?
-Thoughts on the writing, plots, characters in general, arena in general, basically anything?
That, my lovely people, is the end of Blood Thicker Than Water. It's been a long run indeed, but well worth it. This story has been, so far, my favourite to write, and I feel like my writing has grown considerably through this.
These tributes were brilliant and I loved them all, and each kill was painful, no matter how many times I say it.
I would like to thank all the submitters for their wonderful creations, the reviewers for keeping my spirits high and providing me with unknowing support, the favourites and the followers just because you guys are adorable, and finally, the readers in general, because the view count for each chapter was unbelievably high, and I think I topped my older stories before I even reached the Games, so... love you all.
See you again soon!