A/N: Just a quick reminder of some of the minor characters as there are a fair few in this chapter. Whilst it's not necessary to know them, this might help - Cassia is Connor/Vice's stylist. Surius was Circe's stylist. Connor/Vice's prep team consists of Fabius, Pollia and Carvilia. Okie dokey, enjoy!
-April 11th, Year of the 46th Hunger Games-
Snyde stands with a smirk across his lips, as the snakes pour out of the ground. They tackle me and I'm screaming. Screaming muted cries, the sound refusing to escape my lungs. The snakes lunge into me, and with every bite, the pain grows sharper.
Suddenly, they transform and they're not snakes anymore. They're figures – people I recognise – Teal, Ace, Vice, Brutus – all of them stabbing at me. And I hear more cries in the distance. Pura and Tristan wail for me, but I can't see my siblings. Nor can I see my friends – Kennedy and Shay cry out my name. And Tabs is there. Tyga's sister's screams perish the dark red clouds. And Snyde is still laughing. As the people I love scream, and I get beaten to shreds, he continues to laugh. And the stabs become more painful and the dark becomes darker and the screams become louder and–
I awake in a cold sweat, my lungs exhausted from screaming. Today's the day. We'll crown a Victor today.
We're not in the mentoring room anymore. We're up on floor 5, and the whole team is here – me, Tyga, Decimus, the stylists and the prep teams. We've passed the point where we are no longer allow to give parachutes, so there's nothing more we can do. There're three tributes left – in an unexpected twist, the District 1 tribute, Lux, mistook some poisonous berries as edible and it didn't take long for the cannon to find him after that. It's just Vice, the boy from 9 and the girl from 12 left now.
A fire started in the arena about fifteen minutes ago. It's moving slowly – clearly not intended to kill, just to draw the tributes together. And it's working. Caesar Flickerman is kindly showing us a map of the arena, with the tributes highlighted, and they're less than half a kilometre away from each other.
'Can you imagine?' Decimus begins with glee, 'Three Victors in five years!'
'It's unheard of!' Surius adds. I imagine he's probably a little depressed following Circe's death. He was her stylist, after all. But if he is saddened, he's not showing it. 'Well, at least in the non-Career Districts.'
Tyga and I are watching the screen warily, but the Capitol citizens of the room are positively celebrating. They've been chitchatting about the tributes all morning.
'Did you see when Niall died? I wept, honestly, I wept.'
'Me too! What a character!'
'Tell, you what – I bet Glynn was gutted. Must be infuriating to never have a winner.'
'Mm-hm. I said to Fabius, I said imagine what Art must be feeling.'
'Which one's Art?'
'The guy from twelve. Older bloke. Honestly, Lucia, you should know this.'
'Oh, him. Has he ever mentored a Victor?'
'Gosh, must be awful.'
'You're telling me. Every year, they go into the arena and then they don't come out. Makes you glad our District has such a high success rate of late.'
'What's that I smell? District promotions?'
They all laugh. I don't get it. Frankly, I've tried to fade their ramblings out in my brain. Their conversations are inane, naive, and for the most part, offensive, but ignoring them has proved all but impossible. And I suppose it's a welcome distraction from the Games. In fact, their excited squeals draw my attention to the action that is just entering the screens.
The girl from twelve has just been spotted by Vice, but she hasn't seen him. His eyes turn to slits as he silently stalks his prey. You can hear the fire gently crackling away through the forest, as Caesar has taken a break from the commentary as this vital moment takes place. The girl's eyes flit around the forest, but Vice has kept himself well-covered.
Suddenly, with a burst of motion, he leaps out of the bushes. The girl's eyes widen and the fear paralyses her. Seconds before his knife lunges into her throat, she manages to break through the terror cocoon and dart to the side but, for all Vice's flaws, he is good at predicting people. He skids to the side and scrapes a maroon slash into the girl's ribs. She falls to the floor, and Vice is on top of her in seconds. As though some invisible creature has yanked at my hair, my head whips away from the screen. And unfortunately, I'm all too familiar with the sound of a knife making a kill to be prepared for the cannon that quickly comes.
'Come on Vice!' Fabius cheers, and then I hear the clinking of glasses.
Tyga's hand grips forcefully onto mine. 'Don't,' she whispers, 'They just want their tribute to win.'
I'm glad she did this because I don't like hurting people and I definitely would've hurt Fabius. Although I also feel like she's gripping onto my hand just as much to keep herself down as she is for my benefit.
'So, two left!' Caesar Flickerman continues his commentary. 'And here you can see the odds. Who are you betting on?'
The District 9 boy's odds are light years away from Vice's near-certain odds, and this warrants another whoop from the prep teams. I begin to realise that there's actually a strong possibility that Vice could win this. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but surely he's done all the damage he'll do. But my mind keeps playing on what Snyde had planned.
Vice and the boy from 9 are moving ever closer and I can feel the tension building in the room, although the way the prep teams are acting, you'd think they'd have already won. I haven't been in this situation before and I think it's really showing to me how everyone on the District 5 team operates.
Pollia, Fabius, Cassia and all of the other prep team are stood up, clinking glasses and helping themselves to canapés that the avoxes are handing out. Surius and Carvilia are sat, happy but calmer. Decimus is happy, but I can see the doubt in his eyes that runs through Tyga and my veins. And all eleven of us watch as Vice and the boy from 9 meet.
The boy is probably about fifteen with ginger hair and a skinny build. I hear Caesar refer to him as Colt. He spots Vice before Vice spots him and a knife flies through the air towards the District 5 boy. Luckily for Vice, Colt's aim isn't on point and the blade lodges itself in a nearby tree. Eyes filling with fury (and just a hint of fear), Vice charges at Colt.
His muscles are bulging with energy. He doesn't have that many muscles, but they've developed in the arena. He's fast, but so is Colt. A pebble flies through the air from Colt's slingshot, but Vice has dodged it and before I know it, he's tackled Colt to the ground.
Both of them are crying out, their voices gritty with determination. Colt bites into Vice's arm, enough to draw blood, leaving his mouth reddened, and earns a punch around the cheek for this. Vice reaches for his knife, but Colt has batted his hand away – this boy is stronger than I expected. I can hear the doubt in the room now, as an ooh comes from the prep teams as Colt punches Vice in the gut.
And suddenly, Vice has grabbed his knife. The blade is high above Colt's chest ready to make impact. The boy fights but it's now use. The blade comes down. The flesh gets ripped. The boy's heart stops. The game is won.
'Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present the Victor of the 46th Hunger Games...Vice Taybridge!'
The room erupts in cheers. I hear fireworks from outside as this year's Games end. Vice is bloodied and beaming. And unexpectedly, I smile. It's like it's all okay now. I didn't expect to react like this, but I'm happy Vice has won. It was like when I saw Tyga win – I didn't even know her then, but there was an immense pride that swept through me as someone from my District won. We've won. We've done it. We've won.
It's several hours before Vice is released. Unlike my Games, this year Tyga, Decimus and I are to immediately greet Vice upon his release from the post-Games treatment, where his injuries are sorted, and he is psychologically assessed. This happened to me, but I remember very little of it – it was mostly a blur after being announced Victor. We'll then take Vice back to Floor 5 and the celebrations will commence.
Eventually, the rugged figure of Vice emerges and Decimus wraps his arms around him.
'You did it, you did it!'
Vice can't help but smile. Tyga gives him a courteous hug and I pat him on the back, as we congratulate him. I don't like Vice, but this is a happy moment. It's as if we can just forget the Games for a moment and embrace the victory. We hop into the car back to the training building, insect-like paparazzi swarming around us. We have several dozen bodyguards fighting to keep them away, but eventually we make it into the car.
'Vice the Victor – it has quite a ring!' Decimus remarks with glee, as we travel.
'The party will be a lot bigger at Floor 5 than yours, Connor – all the mentors still in the Capitol will be there, plus some of the stylists,' Tyga adds, 'We decided not to have this when you won – I didn't think you'd deal with it well.'
That's understandable, what with me fainting upon victory. We arrive in lightning speed – it would appear the roads have been closed off for our journey. We are ushered into the building, as the paparazzi get shoved aside by bodyguards. Crowds cheer congratulations from behind the sea of cameras. We make our way up to Floor 5, and we can still very vaguely hear the crowd outside chanting Vice, Vice, Vice over and over when we arrive.
The elevator doors open with a ding. Inside Floor 5, everyone is happy and cheering – the room buzzes with excitement. Floor 5 is glistening with people I recognise. The sly grin of Miami. The lilac eyes of Cassia. The bulging muscles of Brutus. The ginger hair of-
My blood turns cold. I twist round to face Tyga.
'What?' her eyes dart with confusion.
'Turn around. Just go downstairs.'
'Connor, what are you-'
'Just please, Tyga. Just trust me. Go downstairs. Turn around, don't look.'
'Connor, I don't understand-'
'TYGA! Please! Trust me!'
But her eyes widen now, her face turns white as a sheet and I know she's seen what I saw. Because standing there, entirely in red, with sorrowful eyes, is a person we both recognise. And just one word slips out of Tyga's mouth.
'Tabs' she croaks.
A crystal tear works its way down her sister's cheek until it drips off her chin, leaving a damp spot on her scarlet outfit. And it's an outfit we all recognise.
It's the outfit of an avox.
A/N: Ooh! Did you see that coming? Let me know what you think! Anyway, apologies for uploading this a week late - I hadn't finished it and I didn't want to rush it and end up not giving it its full effect, especially as this is an important chapter. So, I hope that's alright. Anyway, I REALLY appreciate your reviews, so PLEASE let me know what you think. And I'll see you next week!