Day Eight Part Two

"Kile, get behind me."

Mortimer held his knife perfectly steady as Katica clambered up the slick bank towards them. Kile squeaked and ducked behind his ally.

"And perhaps you might want to consider picking up a branch or something?" Mortimer continued, lashing out with one booted foot at the dead girl. Katica fell with a sickening thud, rotting fingers digging into the mud, and another crawled over her – brown hair slicked across his forehead, grey eyes burst and leaking down his face.

Kile whimpered.

"A branch, Kile." Mortimer had backed him into the single tree on the little island, a scraggly, twisted thing barely six feet from root to tip.

"What for?"

"You are an idiot. I thought as much." There were six of them, now, Marianne and Karsa and the two Career girls and two boys that Kile didn't quite recognize (District Eight, maybe, and the other one could have been a very decayed Five and the fact that he was thinking about this rather than his imminent death was slightly worrisome and maybe Mortimer was rubbing off on him). "To protect yourself, fool – or did you expect me to do all the work?" Mortimer punctuated this with a sudden feint at the zombie-Kalliope. The former Career staggered in that direction, thrown off-balance by the sudden movement. Mortimer reached forward and shoved her into the water with his bare hands.

Kile covered his mouth with both hands, the urge to lean over and throw up nearly overwhelming.

Branch. Right. Just – don't think don't think oh my god–

He reached up and grabbed the lowest branch. It was thin and spindly enough, but surprisingly tough to break. He leaned into it with all his weight, panting, and heard Mortimer's knife impact dead flesh.

–oh god oh god we're gonna die–

"Hurry up," Mortimer hissed. He had backed up as far as he could, keeping the tree behind him and Kile behind the tree. The five remaining tributes (mutts, Kile reminded himself, dead flesh given twisted life, not fellow children) were shuffling towards him, feet catching in the roots and clumps of grass that turned the grassy hillock into an obstacle course.

At least they don't have their arms outstretched as they moan for braaaaaaains, a terrifyingly calm part of his mind supplied, and Kile felt an insane giggle welling up in his throat. He redoubled his efforts on the tree branch and was rewarded with a soft groan from the wood.


He spun, gasping for breath, and saw Karsa bearing down on Mortimer, pale hands knocking aside his knife and locking around his throat. Mortimer plunged his knife into her side over and over, something black and sticky spreading sluggishly across his hand, but for all the zombie reacted he might have been hitting her with a leaf. There was something like fear in Mortimer's eyes, and for some reason that scared Kile more than anything else.

He slammed his body into the branch and felt it give, cracking and splintering under his weight. There was a small spike of pain as he grabbed the end of the branch and swung it as hard as he could, the bleached wood smacking into Karsa's head. She staggered back, and Mortimer slipped free.

"Watch the others," he snapped, voice hoarse, and Kile whirled to find the District Seven boy approaching.

"Alexei," he said suddenly. "That's his name." He heard Mortimer's noise of frustration from behind him.

"Of all the – it's not anyone, idiot, it's – just kill it again and be done with it–" There was another splash, and Kile wondered if that was Karsa, if Mortimer had just shoved his dead District partner back into the water. (And it shouldn't have mattered, but it did.)

He held the branch out at Alexei, watching it tremble. "Don't come any closer," he heard himself saying.

Mortimer snarled something unintelligible as he drove the other Career girl back, thrusting his knife up under her chin. Kile wondered where he had learned such skills – then again, it didn't seem to take much in the way of fighting to take down one of these zombies. Maybe being half-decayed had a major effect on one's motor skills, all things considered. Did decayed muscles have the same strength as non-decayed muscles? Probably not. But if muscles depended on the peripheral nervous system and cellular respiration to function, how could they–

Alexei's arm shot out, knocking the branch out of his numb fingers. Kile twisted away, gasping, and tripped over a protruding root. He fell hard, scraping his hands on the ground, and felt Alexei slam into him. The boy's skin was cold and somehow damp, his fingers too heavy as they clamped down on his throat.

Kile spasmed, trying to turn over, and Alexei moved with him. He ended up on his back with the dead boy kneeling on his chest, pressing down with rotting hands. Kile clawed at him, fingers ripping through decayed flesh.

"Stop," he managed to choke out, voice a soft whimper. "A–Alexei, please–"

The fingers slackened and he sucked in a frantic breath, snapping his body up, kicking the dead boy away. Alexei didn't fight back.

Are you still there? What did they do, will the Gamemakers do that to me when I die, isn't it enough that they have our lives – do they have to have our deaths, too?

Mortimer appeared at his side, knife dripping black, something dark staining his cheek. There was a cut on his arm, shallow and weeping blood.

"Run." He grabbed Kile's hand and dragged him to the edge of the island. They splashed through the knee-deep water, mud sucking at their feet, and Mortimer didn't sheathe his knife until the hill had faded behind them. He didn't look back.

Kile did. There were dark humps scattered across the ground, crumpled piles of clothing that hid dead limbs, and a dead boy leaning against the twisted tree, watching them go (letting them go). He bit back the words he meant to throw at Mortimer – they weren't just mutts, and you knew it – and followed him deeper into the swamp.

"Making any progress?" Calixe poked his head out from behind the door that he had wisely chosen to take shelter behind. It was about mid-afternoon, and Jacquelyn still stood in the middle of the roof, regarding the chained beasts there.

And a good thing they were chained, too, because about an hour ago Jacquelyn had decided it was a good idea to kick one awake. If she had asked Calixe about it beforehand, he would have soundly denounced that route as foolhardy and dangerous. She hadn't asked him, of course, and so now there were two fully awake winged mutts.

Jacquelyn stood just outside the reach of the chain, regarding the larger of the awake ones with a small smile. "I think I've got it, Cal. Hold on just a second."

She reached into her pocket, pulled something out. Calixe squinted against the sun and realized that it was her pendant, the sapphire catching the sun as she swung it back and forth in front of the beast. She was humming under her breath, and–


No, there was no way she was trying to hypnotize that mutt, and there was no way that that would ever work, no matter how lucky she seemed to be–


She shook her head, pendant continuing its slow arc, and to his complete surprise the beast seemed to be quieting down, luminous eyes following the sweep of the golden chain. Jacquelyn took a step forward, then another, and before Calixe could call out a warning she had set her hand on the beast's head, just between the ears.

And here's where it leaps up and bites her head off, he thought, and prepared himself for the spray of blood and cannon shot. It was as Fate would have it, he reminded himself, and Fate decreed all, even if it was Jacquelyn's death.

Instead, the beast let out a low grumbling sound, deep and rumbling. If this had been some sort of giant cat, Calixe would have called that sound a purr. Regardless, there was no decapitation, no blood.

What the hell, Fate?

"I don't believe it," he said aloud, stepping out form behind the door. "I don't – how did you do that?"

Jacquelyn smirked. "I'm a Pirate Queen, Cal. I can do anything."

Natho was getting stronger.

Or perhaps it was only that Violet was getting weaker – being the one in control meant constant vigilance, meant being guarded even while she slept, because if she let down her defenses for even a second Natho could surge through, seize control once more.

She was getting weaker, and they both knew that. (Inevitably, since they inhabited the same mind.)

Violet had given up on trying to hide her (their) apparent insanity from the cameras. Talking aloud to Natho gave her a foothold, something physical to hold on to. He was the one who spoke with his mind, she was the one who spoke actual words into the empty air.

Sometimes the words she spoke might have been his words, and sometimes her half-formed thoughts would be picked up by Natho, shot back at her until the words bounced around in her (their) head like bullets ricocheting off concrete, sending shrapnel everywhere.

Getting tired, Vi? Natho nudged her, and she could feel his mirth shining like a beacon in their mind.

"Not at all." Her fists were clenched – he felt that pain as much as she did, and so it was worth it.

You can always let me–

"I'm not going through that again, you're out of your own mind for good–"

Am I, though.

"Yes. Yes, you are."

Then who're you talking to, huh?

Her mouth worked, forming words she couldn't express, words Natho could hear anyways. She settled on, "I hate you."

And I hate you too, Vi. Funny pair we are, huh?

"You're the one who invited me into your head."

So what do you do now, Vi? Kill anyone, and you get them in here too, fighting for control – and do you really think you can beat off two at once, three at once, when you can barely handle me?

"I can handle you," she whispered, lips barely moving.

Natho gave the equivalent of a mental snort. You're doing such a good job at that, yes.

She squeezed her (their) eyes shut, snarling her hatred under her breath, digging their fingers into the dirt as Natho laughed on and on inside their head.

Tributes remaining (11 total): Jacquelyn/Calixe, Raziel/Harora, Grimmjow/Anarion/Radagast/Thorin, Mortimer/Kile, Natho

Take your bets on who dies next (and we'll see next chapter, won't we).