Thanks for the reviews. It's nice to have you back Well of Wishes.^^
Sleeping in a comfortable bed had been glorious. Undisturbed, they had shamefully overslept. It was past eleven when she and Fife joined Constantine.
"Good morning, ladies."
He was lying clothed on his mattress, a pensive expression on his face as he gazed at the ceiling. Mags wondered how long he had been lying there and what was occupying his mind.
"Nice eight in training," Fife said, "Jason and Mirabelle looked like they would burst from envy. I wonder if someone will ever get a over a nine."
Mags dearly hoped that, despite the new training centers, few would ever surpass Vicuña at the gruesome art of killing, especially people who threw their lives away, volunteering in the name of a warped ambition.
Constantine smirked. He straightened. "A seven and a five. Reasonable scores for outliers."
Mags mock glared at him. She was beginning to have a good overview of the five days she had spent in the Capitol - they had mostly consisted of wary observation- but lacked many details still. Her final training session remained a blur. But with so many more memories of the Capitol, she was reverting to her Games mindset and found herself looking at her companions in a different light, one heavily tainted with suspicion. They made a good team, but their days were numbered and Mags would soon see them die. She had to get detached, and fast.
Fife sat at the edge of the bed. "No talent shows here, so we just chat until they give us something? How long before their big move anyway? Days? A week?"
"I promised Teal that I would visit again," Constantine said. There was something in his tone and the way he clenched his hands that went beyond simple concern.
A horrible suspicion entered Mags' mind. She'd assumed he'd been more emotional since their escape from the Scavengers' den because of their close brush with death, but it also coincided with the moment they'd met Teal.
"Constantine, are you in love with her?" Mags said, hoping she was imagining things. Surely he was more rational than that. Yet she knew more than one person prone to instantaneous and inexplicable crushes. But not when their lives were at stake, not like this.
Fife let loose an incredulous breath. "She's in her mid-twenties, freshly widowed and about to march on the Capitol, or whatever they have planned. You've barely met her and-" Fife dropped her arms in frustration- "Do you have a thing for women you can't have? You can't bring her back to One."
"Mags doesn't need me and you, I'd cage, Fife."
Mags rolled her eyes. She'd heard that one before. She'd kissed a few boys and received her share of attention but she had never dated. Maybe one day she should just trip and crash at a boy's feet, maybe then she wouldn't be so intimidating. She was independent and sure of herself, but that didn't have to mean she didn't need anyone. Dating considerations aside, she was much more concerned by the absence of denial. Constantine couldn't possibly be serious.
Fife snorted, a small smile on her lips. "I was not making a passive-aggressive request for obscure compliments, Constantine. Who were the last women you fell in love with?"
Mags frowned. What point was Fife trying to make?
"They are not important. I realize now my feelings were superficial."
Fife arched an eyebrow. "You weren't as obsessed with them as you are now with Teal?"
The aristocratic boy's diffident expression said it all. Mags forced her jaw to stay shut. This wasn't the first time? Seriously?
"Did they eventually fall for you? How did it end?"
Mags put a restraining hand on Fife's shoulder. "What are you getting at?"
"Tabor, my brother, is like that. He meets a girl, falls desperately in love with her, spends all his aces until she succumbs - which they mostly do because it's rare to find a handsome guy who lives and breathes for you - and then dates her for less than a season. He predictably falls out of love and finds a new obsession. He's genuine from beginning to end, but it's a destructive love. The difference is that he goes after single girls his age, doesn't go beyond kissing, and he's fourteen."
"I am not your brother," Constantine said, his voice trembling with rage, "I would never take advantage of her."
"Of course you won't and of course you aren't," Fife said with a soothing smile, "you're an adult and more charming. Have you ever been told no? Who was your most impressive conquest?"
Fife seemed to have given up moralization for sheer curiosity. Mags still couldn't believe her ears. With everything happening he was now concerned about a woman returning his affections?
Constantine flashed her a crooked, somewhat apologetic, smile. "Bijou was married, faithful by principle, but highly neglected."
Mags winced. Married. She should have predicted he'd be the kind of man prone to grand passions. What else could motivate him enough to reach out from behind his general disappointment at the human species? His infatuated mind doubtless transformed a woman into the embodiment of perfection and would give him no rest until he settled in a relationship. Predictably he'd discover the one he believed to love so dearly was normal and lose his interest. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
"How happy was she when she realized she'd risked her marriage for a younger man who soon fell out of love?" Mags said, hoping he'd realize on his own that this could not end well, even for Teal.
"She demanded a divorce when she realized she would never be content with her husband again and I take pains to avoid her. I did not ever wish to hurt her. There were simply no feelings left."
He sounded both unremorseful and disinterested, as if he was humoring them out of respect. It was obvious there was only one woman on his mind now.
Mags was appalled. She debated warning Teal. Constantine was young enough that he couldn't have had dozens of 'conquests' and maybe he'd matured over time, but she couldn't let him take advantage of an emotionally vulnerable woman, no matter how genuine he was. She nevertheless also doubted that Teal would fall into his arms and maybe Constantine could help her through her grief without becoming obnoxious.
She caught herself. She was still thinking as if they were not in the Games. It had gone on long enough.
"Constantine," she said, her voice graver the other two had ever heard it, "would you be prepared to die to give Teal a future? We still can choose what to do here and how to die. Would it have more meaning than your life?"
Fife gasped. She paled, stumbling as if she would faint. Mags tensely wondered if she was being disgustingly manipulative or actually fair to Constantine. Dying for what you retained paramount, even if she felt that his sudden obsession with Teal was unhealthy, was better than living a life of regret in chains, and the rebellion needed people ready to give their lives.
"One victor," Constantine repeated, his eyes going from her to Fife. A small smile graced his lips. "I would rather die a heroic death than live a mediocre life. If I must, I will not let the occasion pass."
"You are an arrogant man with little to no empathy," Fife said, her eyes wide, as if she couldn't process they were having this conversation, "but a noble one and...-" her voice dropped to the barest whisper -"I'll miss you, damn it."
Mags knew Fife would never give away her own life. She swallowed painfully, deciding to deal with it later. After all, if she found a way to do more good by giving her life for the rebellion, here, with Sylvan, than by the hypothetical training teenagers in Four, she would be the lowest of hypocrites if she let that chance pass.
She said so.
Fife steadied herself on the wall, still as pale as death. "You two are crazy. A... good crazy in this case... I guess we need more people like you in a fight." Fife tried to smile but it came out as a grimace. "I'm sorry, I just can't feel that way."
"It's alright, you're hardly a terrible person," Mags said, putting a compassionate hand on her shoulder.
There were much worse things than a successful rebellion and Fife telling stories about her to Esperanza.
A rumbling sound put an end to their conversation. A jolt of fear caused Mags to straighten and strain her ears.
"The walls are closing down completely," she said, stepping out of the room, "something is happening."
The three broke into a run. Sylvan intercepted them on their way to the bunker entrance, an intense but unreadable expression on his features.
"Follow me, now."
"What's happening, Lieutenant?" Constantine asked stiffly, his hand on the handle of his sword.
"Atli's gone bonkers. He used Will to crash a hovercraft. What fools the Cestoda make! But it might give us information on their motives."
Crash a hovercraft? Over them?
"We've got how many tons of metal about to crash on the sewers?" Fife whimpered, voicing Mags' exact thoughts.
"Bonkers," the muscled man repeated, "Not that he was right in the head before. Vengeance must have clouded their minds. They probably still think you're spies or whatnot."
Sylvan led them to a wide room where Lila was already waiting. Flat screens covered the walls. They were almost all on, showing camera readings of the tunnels and the outside. There was no sound and the imaging was rather poor, but what was surprising was that the cameras moved.
The cameras had wings? Mags stared in amazement.
"Birdies… She told us about them, the scavenger girl," Fife said, a tight smile on her lips. "Cool."
Camera-robots camouflaged as birds? Cameras that could fly? What had happened to signals not getting through thick rock and the scramblers?Electronics were so damn confusing! Maybe those had been the things watching them in the ruins. Mags' eyes fastened on the screen numbered two.
Over seventy feet above the ground, a hovercraft lurched. It seemed trapped in an invisible net and lost altitude with every passing second. The two pilots were shouting in the microphone, their terror clear despite the blurry image. The other three passengers were scrambling for crash suits. Will was among them, alive. His broad frame was unmistakable. Mags ground her teeth together, her chin buried behind her knees on her chair. Not alive for long. How had he gotten on there? Mags tensed as she saw the hovercraft lurch and drop over four feet. The hovercrystals' lights had almost petered out.
"Chase sends birdies to sniff out moving steel. He makes the jets sing and the snoops go still," Fife muttered, reciting the scavenger girl's words.
They had been supposed to get from those obscure words that Chase had a way to shut down a flying hovercraft and make it crash? "In hindsight it was glaringly obvious. How could we possibly have missed it?" Mags said, sarcasm lacing her voice as her eyes stayed glued on the screen.
She took a sharp intake of breath. The hovercraft lost its grip on the air and plummeted down. The camera turned and moved away at full speed.
The noise was deafening. Dust covered half the screens. The second screen flashed and suddenly turned black.
Sylvan cursed. "Those robots are a hefty pain to build." He clasped his hands together, his anger giving way to sorrow."Poor lad..."
Mags shut her eyes. Dulled crashing and collapsing noises could be heard everywhere above them. Half a minute later, they were getting louder. Explosions reached their ears despite the many layers of stone. Fire in the ruins, fueled no doubt by the pools of chemicals. Mags shivered at the thought of being trapped in the bunker. She rubbed her eyebrows as a dull pain shot through her head.
"A remapping of the tunnels might also be in order," Fife said, wringing her hands in distress. Her voice dropped to a nervous whisper. "I think the Scavenger problem has been dealt with."
Her eyes were wide in horror, in contrast with the vengeful satisfaction radiating from Constantine.
Mags couldn't find it in her to feel happy. The Scavengers had been rebels, frighteningly misguided ones, but still people who had fought until the very end to retain their freedom, and who should have had access to healthcare and psychological support. She blinked, realizing one could say the very same thing of Capitol citizens, brought up not to see the suffering they caused. She pushed such thoughts aside. Capitol citizen has access to all the information they wanted if they just bothered to open their eyes.
"Excuse me, Sylvan, but what happened? Lila said, her lips still parted in shock. "What's all this about snoops and jets? What was the first noise?"
Sylvan cracked his knuckles and squared his shoulders but failed to conceal his wariness. "Atli got the Capitol's attention. He must have left Will outside alone and waited for him to get picked up. Before the hovercraft left, the Scavengers activated the scrambler. I'm no specialist, but the scrambler is used to protect the sewers from Capitol electronic signals, to avoid them getting any information if they send in robots or use radars. Our birds were built at the same time as the scrambler, so they're not affected by it. The scrambler can also be used to focus a scrambling beam on a small area. Anyway, it messed up the hovercraft's control system. That's why the thing crashed." Sylvan brought a large hand to his head, as if he still couldn't believe this had happened. "The first noise had to have been Atli collapsing the walls that would have interfered with the scrambling beam, since they didn't bring the scrambler to the surface. They must have used all their supply of dynamite. They're completely mad."
The tributes were silent as they digested the information. Mags paled at the thought that the Scavengers had had dynamite. If the fire Delphin's group had lit had accidentally reached the stash...
A sharp knock resounded on the door. "Lieutenant, Chickaree is here, alone."
Mags turned in surprise, but after Teal's revelations she wondered if Chickaree wasn't also the official emissary between the two rebel groups. She was inexplicably glad to see the woman. Chickaree's guilty expression as they had left the Citadel had made Mags believe that lots of things had been left unsaid.
Sylvan stood up abruptly. He shrugged at the four, as if to say What do I know?
"Come in," he said.
"Hello, fair lady," he greeted, as if there was some private joke on. Chickaree bowed her head. "Sylvan."
"Hey, we missed you! We figured grenades were cheap so we chucked a hovercraft on Atli," Fife said with a broad fake smile.
Chickaree snorted. She didn't meet their eyes. "A slight overkill. The last of the scramblers are fried, now the Cestoda can send radars. If they realize this, they'll succeed in mapping the bunker's outside. That's not good."
"Why in heaven did the Scavengers have the only scramblers?" Mags said, horrified. Such a gross oversight shouldn't have been possible.
"Because scramblers don't work from inside the Citadel? Too deep?" Fife guessed. She then burst out laughing. "Excuse me," she gasped, blushing. She walked to a corner of the room where she dissolved into gales of nervous laughter.
Mags shook her head, wondering what her twisted mind found so amusing.
"You hate each other, yet you're all so inter-dependent," Constantine said, shaking his head. "It's absurd."
Mags doubted they were dependent by choice or that Sylvan actually hated Chickaree. They didn't behave like enemies.
She shared a weighted look with Lila. "What now? You have to hurry," Mags said.
"May I have a chance to speak, Wanderlings?" Chickaree said, her arms crossed in annoyance.
"Your niece thinks Hunter is an asshole who strings you along, just saying," Fife said from the other side of the room. "Oh and her husband Nexus was murdered two days ago by Atli's men. Just so you have news of your family," she added, her tone cold and biting.
Chickaree stumbled as if struck. All color had drained from her face. She stared at Fife, horror and shock etched on her features.
"What was that for?" Lila whispered to a similarly appalled Mags.
"I think Fife resents Chickaree and the others for what they made us, and especially her, do more than she lets on," she answered carefully. She hoped the peacekeeper's battered face would one day fade from her memory but she agreed wholeheartedly with Lila. That had been cruel. Fife should have discussed this with them earlier instead of letting anger and guilt poison her.
"Order!" Sylvan said, a hard ring to his voice. "Chickaree?"
The woman straightened her shawl and took a shaky calming breath. "We can count on -" she glanced at the tributes - " the amount I mentioned last time. I will call an alert. The Council won't be able to stall or stop us. The names Wickers and Grey still command great respect. They'll come if I tell them it's the last chance they may have before they get too old to hit a target. It's a real battle, not a skirmish. They'll come."
Wait a sec. Chickaree was the one who wanted the Citadel to fight? What else had they missed?
"Don't you want to see Teal?" Constantine said, his disapproval evident.
Mags glowered. Chickaree was old enough to make her own decisions. This was emotional bullying. "How about a relevant question, say, why did you ask us to bomb Atli's den in the first place if he was useful after all?"
"The scrambler is away from the dwellings and doesn't need much maintenance. Atli wasn't useful. The majority of the Council wanted him gone and the Capitol has already decreed you three would have a very short lifespan. Atli would have killed us on sight. You had a chance to get close," Chickaree said with a tight smile that didn't reach her eyes. "You were convenient," she added, looking suddenly exhausted.
This was war. Mags didn't argue further even if they could have debated this at length. The world wasn't fair but that didn't make the rebels evil.
"Do we stay here and wait for your return?" Lila said.
Chickaree turned to her, her gray eyes hard and alert. "We need to check which sewer paths are still intact, at least to know what exits can be used. You can help."
"I'm in," Fife said, raising her hand like an eager student.
"We shouldn't leave here," Lila said with a glare, "we can't risk it. They have enough people for the job."
"But the Capitol won't bomb the sewers further if our trackers signal that we're in them. They want us. It will buy us time and I doubt they'll be able to do much in the next two hours, too much dust and debris," Fife quickly replied, already half-way to the door.
Mags nodded. She was just as desperate to do something useful. "We'll be careful. Were there people outside?"
"No, the last came back in last night," Sylvan said, his voice thick with relief. "Just some birds checking the ladders of the fifth and sixth."
"Chickaree, may I please have a word?" Fife said after a pause, an odd expression on her face.
The woman looked all but inclined to. She grudgingly walked up to the brunette.
Mags grabbed Constantine's wrist before he could attempt to go eavesdrop.
"You have three hours," Sylvan said, "we'll give you some masks. Careful, they only protect from airborne fumes, not from sprayed acid. We'll give you protective coats too. You want to go with them, Lila?"
"I'd rather stay with people who wouldn't mind talking about how things were, before the rebellion, in the other districts," the girl said, shooting Mags an apologetic look.
Mags nodded, signaling it was fine. She was astonished that Lila could stand it, knowing nothing, doing nothing. Maybe she was the bravest of them all.
"Sure, lass. Let's move." He turned to the man who'd knocked. "Randall, do what Chickaree says, within reason."
Fife was back by their side in minutes, a pensive cast to her features.
"So?" Mags said.
"I apologized," Fife said, not meeting her gaze. "I shouldn't have said that. I have never asked anyone to kill, but getting all wound up because someone manipulates me to do what they think is right…" She flashed Mags a weak smile. "I'd have to start hating myself... and I doubt that grand idea was hers in the first place now. Or that she even approves. She seems much too guilty and ill at ease. Something is bothering her, and it's bigger than any of us."
Mags frowned. Fife had proven to be a good judge of character before. Who was responsible then? She then let a small smile grace her lips, at least one of her companions was not too conceited to recognize their mistakes.
"I'm proud of you," she said.
Fife chuckled dryly. "Yeah yeah, be proud of me when the three of us survive the Games,"
Mags repressed a glare. It was futile to think like that. She found herself thinking about Lila and the fact she hadn't considered to let her win, not once. She respected Lila's profound rebel streak but knew a victor from Eleven would be all but physically imprisoned by the Capitol. Yet she still felt guilty. Mags had been impressed by the way Lila had escaped from Atli. Lila had claimed to Chase that she had spotted peacekeepers lying in wait in the sewers. Since Lila had been so adamant at warning what she thought to be poor but genuine rebels that the tributes were dangerous, the Scavengers had believed her brilliant lie. Of course, Lila was also the reason the Scavengers had gone looking for the train wreck so quickly...
Mags hadn't told Lila about the eaten bodies and hoped it would never come up. She couldn't find it in her to blame the girl.
Mags opened her mouth as a suspicious thought entered her mind. "How did they use Will?" she said, loud enough for Sylvan to hear. "They put him outside and the hovercraft just came for him?"
"Seems like it. The Capitol probably figured he'd seen enough of this place."
Mags wasn't reassured in the slightest. She was missing something. Something big. She feared they had underestimated the Capitol, after all the team of gamemakers had prepared this for months.
She winced. Her headache had gone as quickly as it had started, but new memories were surfacing again, demanding her attention.
"She's wants us to believe that rope thing works as a fishhook?"
Mags kept her eyes down, hiding her anger. They could at least address her directly, although after ten minutes of showing her best snares, she had low expectations. They made her dismissive escort seem like the embodiment of manners. She walked up to one of the heavy straw dummies, planted her makeshift hook in its eye and pointedly lifted it off the ground. The line held.
The gamemakers just stared at her. A few nodded with appraising expressions.
"Chuck it over, Four, I want to see how it works."
"Don't waste our time, Clodia."
Mags did, hoping the woman would stab her hand with it.
"Now show us weapons," a man said.
It was time to put her nine months of training to use. The lances were all on the target, although some of her throws were too weak for the lance to stick, and her thrusts didn't look ridiculous. If the gamemakers weren't convinced, the corpses in the arena would be tragically so. Mags' face darkened at the thought. She hoped she could leave as many kills as possible to others.
"Alright, clean up for the next tribute. Put the snares you can't undo in less than a minute in that box."
Mags strained her ears as she undid her snares. The room's acoustics were excellent. She doubted that the whispering gamemakers realized how much.
"Won't be a lot of fishing done, you think... bad camera angle."
"Only if the tribute is alone. But what if...no technical information..."
"...rely too much on records... die underground?"
"...rebel tributes... will keep them alive... without sound can't..."
"It's stupid to favor the rebellious ones."
"Why don't you go tell the President how you feel, Clodia? And keep your voice down."
"...too many players... choices...interventions limited... master the delays."
"Four, hurry up!"
Mags stacked the lances on the rack before curtly taking her leave. Her brain was whirling, trying to memorize everything she'd overheard.
"I hate that," she venomously said, drawing surprised glances from the other two. "Just enough information to know I'm missing things."
"Your escort blabbed something?" Fife said.
"Gamemakers. They had issues about favoring rebellious tributes and probably can't get sound records. Nothing new except about camera angles being bad only if the tribute is alone. I think that's what they said... And they don't seem convinced everything will work out but the whole was done on President Achlys' orders so they had to comply."
She hoped it would make sense before it was too late. Why would a tribute being alone change things? Did they need to triangulate somehow? The part about favoring rebellious tributes was only a small relief. She doubted her and the Capitol put the same meaning behind the word favor.
"The rebels checked for electronic devices in our body and clothes and we visually checked too. A concealed camera in the folds of our clothes would be useless," Constantine pointed out.
Of course, and they already knew that. But they obviously hadn't thought of everything.
Trivia: Names (2)
Teal: duck-like bird. symbolism: person of many resources.
Sylvan: 'of the forest'
Quark (Fix): elemental particle. Very useful in nuclear physics.
Wickers (Sylvan's Captain): from wicker, a hard woven fiber (usually plant) formed into a rigid material, mostly used for baskets or furniture. Guess what District he's from.^^
Achlys (the President): Greek mythology, the eternal night or mist of death. The first created being, before even Chaos.
Styx: a river of the ancient Greek mythological hell. Because District Two likes antique ominous names.^^
Kopis: Greek curved short sword.
Jason: Greek mythology, a hero.
Delphin: dolphin (just in case people hadn't seen it ;D)
Robin: early-rising cheerful bird
Will Pulaski: Will as in willpower (Hope's a name, Will doesn't have to be for William.^^) and he's of polish decent. Or *cough* I'm just a Star Trek TNG fan and got inspired. Your pick xD.
Lila: (arabic) dark beauty. And it means Lilac in many languages, so it's also a flower name.
Keane: Irish name that means 'fighter' 'sharp' and 'bold'. There's a nice bit of history/legend attached (High King Brian 'Boru' and his warrior clan).
Yes, I have a lot of fun coming up with names. xD
Please review and make my day^^.
Next chapter: how the Capitol has been monitoring them. And some dogs.