A/N: Thanks to Ways, mangesboy01, Mercoorio, Vykktor, RealFiction and boy45 for reviewing! As ever, your support is appreciated :)
With this chapter, the final chapter of the 67th Annual Hunger Games, we overtake the word count of the previous fanfic, Second Time Unlucky. I guess I've just had more to talk about in this one.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy this rather crucial chapter of the story :)
POV: Alec Flood (18), Male Tribute, District 4
12.15 pm, Wednesday 31st July (Day 11 of the Games), year of the 67th Hunger Games
I jump to my feet almost immediately, moving quickly towards where I left my sword aside Gabriel's fallen body. Somewhere, somehow, I must have lost count of the number of tributes left alive in the arena, had thought that I'd won when someone else is still out there. What a fool I must look in the Capitol, celebrating so grandly on making it to the final two! I frantically try to remember where I will have gone wrong. I've been on top of things since I've left the alliance, and half the deaths before that were caused by our alliance, and most of the others were notable such as the deaths of the Career females. It must have been right back at the start of the Games, when we were determining who had died on the bloodbath, because we missed the start of the recap. Thinking about it, I could name eleven tributes that died that day from who I'd watched die earlier at the cornucopia and from the half of the death recap I managed to watch. The twelfth kill we named that day had been Gabriel's...
And I know where we went wrong.
The girl from District 7. The kill Gabriel confirmed but did not confirm.
Great. I can barely remember a thing about her, other than that she had Vincent for a district partner.
The girl's still laughing as I watch her walk slowly into the clearing twenty yards from me. She's not that tall, probably a little over the average for a girl of fifteen or sixteen (how's she managed to survive so long at that age?) and seems to be on the slender side of average weight, but as she walks into the clearing and throws down a coat identical to mine, a pair of night-vision glasses that she slips from her face and a backpack that lands with a far too weighty thud for my liking, I can see that the girl's somehow amassed quite a following in the Capitol. Aside from the supplies she's thrown down by the entrance of the tunnel, she's heavily armed, too. I can see a dagger in her right hand, and both another dagger and a combat axe tucked into her belt. She's either found them (showing her initiative), taken them from dead tributes (showing her ability as a fighter) or gained them from sponsors, and I'm not sure which option is the worst.
She wears a pair of dark brown combat trousers that are roughly the same colour as her hair, presumably picked up at the cornucopia at the same time as her coat. I saw identical pairs on the first day but couldn't find any that fit me properly. These don't fit the girl from Seven exactly right, but she's taken the risk with them being slightly too baggy. There's a couple of gashes in them - presumably from previous battles with other tributes - that reveal bandages on her left thigh, presumably where Gabriel managed to cut her. She seems roughed up in general, with her dark green jumpsuit being abandoned and the white tank top beneath it becoming torn and frayed to reveal a bare midriff, with cuts down her bare arms, too. Still, looking at her, there's little that causes her much discomfort - it's been almost two weeks since the substantial injury to her leg - so she won't be struggling to fight by any stretch of the imagination.
The strange thing is why, if she's got so far in the Games, do I barely remember anything about her? Maybe this could have been Rebecca too, had I not ran into her on multiple occasions to tell me that she was a threat. Luck must play a part in why we haven't crossed paths in the arena yet. If we had done so only once, then I wouldn't be in this situation of thinking that I've already finished the job once.
"You really thought you'd won, didn't you?" the girl from District 7 smiles at me, her accent not quite as thick as Vincent's but unmistakably from the same place. At least my theory about who I'm left with is right. She speaks to me calmly, almost kindly, although that isn't enough to fool me.
"You should have seen yourself out there, winding yourself up into an emotional mess for nothing." She laughs quickly then stops as she starts to pace slowly around the edge of the clearing. I keep my distance, standing roughly in the centre as she walks slowly around the outside. She has her left arm crossed over her bare stomach and her right arm extended out in front of her, throwing her dagger into the air, letting it do a full flip and catching the handle over and over again as she walks. She's so familiar with the movement that she doesn't even need to look at the blade as she catches it; I don't know if she's making a point of showing her dexterity or merely keeping her hands busy but either way it's drawn my attention.
"I really hate you, you know?" the girl says, as open and frank as her body language; she has nothing to hide. For a moment I'm tempted to charge at her with my sword but something about the way she speaks, so calmly that her strong, offensive words don't seem right coming from that voice, forces my to stay my ground and hear her out.
"It's nothing personal, of course," she continues. "I hate all the Careers. You know, the way that they hold themselves, forever thinking that they are so much better than everyone else around them. You know, you can train all you want for the Games but it's not until you're in here that you really know whether you've got what it takes." I'm shocked at what she's saying; she's referencing the fact that the tributes from Districts 1, 2 and 4 are trained in advance for the Games - an illegal act in itself. It's acknowledged behind the screens but never stated on screen; that's one of the unofficial rules of the Games. I've no doubt that this will be being broadcast live across the nation right now, and I know that there will be repercussions somewhere soon because of this. At least, if she carries on with this...
"Oh, and don't think this is because of Vincent, either," she says, still throwing and catching her dagger as she paces around me. "I honestly couldn't give a damn about him, neither before he threw his hand in with your lot nor after it. But he's a disgrace to everything out district stands for. He spent his time fraternising with the enemy."
"The enemy? Is that what we are?"
She raises her eyebrows, stopping throwing for a moment to tie back her brown hair revealing the face it had hidden, elegant and unblemished despite nearly a fortnight in the Games. By District 4 standards, she's pretty, there's no denying that. Add that to her figure and she's definitely a looker. What surprises me is that she never used her looks to her advantage at any point prior to the start of the Games. I wonder why that was...
"Damn right you are." She's back to throwing the dagger as she paces. "No self-respecting district would fool its young population into spending the best part of a decade - half their lives - into training for a one in twenty-four chance of escaping a Capitol-controlled deathmatch." She's becoming visibly angry now, I can see it in her expression, although her voice remains calm. She really is an enigma.
"The way you all hold yourselves make me sick. The way you think that you're better. That you make the rules in the arena. That you are the authoritative force, the ones who demand respect from all those around them. Well let me say that that's just wrong. Half the lads in my district would be just as strong as you had they have had the same privileges as you growing up, Alec Flood."
Did she just call my troubled background a privilege?
The girl laughs to herself upon saying my name. "I bet you think you're so high and mighty that you didn't even spend any time bothering to work out anything about your opposition. Go on, humour me; what's my name?"
She raises her eyebrows at me expectantly, but I don't say anything; I can't. I'll be the first to admit that I didn't pay this brash, outspoken young girl the attention she deserved. She waits for just a moment longer then laughs, as though I have proved her point.
"Just as I expected," she says. "You really don't care. Well, let me tell you something, Alec. You really don't mean anything. Not to me, not to the people in the Capitol, not to the Gamemakers controlling our every move here in the arena. Had you not have volunteered, there no doubt would have been another seventeen or eighteen-year-old with the same training as you who would have willingly taken your place. To the Capitol, they don't give a damn whether it's you or the next man as long as they have their Career Alliance." She spits on the floor, as if to show disgust at the unfairness of it all. I'll be the first to admit that every year, out district along with One and Two are at a distinct disadvantage.
"A couple of kids about three years back tried to train themselves for the Games back home," she continues. "They didn't get away with it. The peacekeepers came for them one evening shortly before the reaping, and I didn't see them again until a fortnight ago. They made Avoxes of them, you see? Made them be a part of the Games forever by having them watch over their district's tributes in the Training Centre. And yet when your lot train for the Games, you're welcomed into the Capitol with open arms."
"Of course, as I said, they don't really care who it is, as long as they have their Career Alliance. As much as I'd hate to admit it, the Careers have become a part of the Games as much as Gamemaker traps or muttations have become. And it makes me sick, you know? To think that the Capitol have managed to manipulate a set of kids operating out of a different rulebook to those in my district to become as much a part of the entertainment as a competitor in their own right." The girl from District 7's starting to get me riled up, openly insulting all I've stood for through my teenage years. She's right that it's unfair, but the fearless way that she's stating it - in front of the entire nation, no less - just seems wrong after all the taboos that she's broken through. She's got some serious courage for saying this, that's for sure. Still, I must show her that I'm not like the rest of them; I have a reason to fight.
"You know, I'm not like the others-"
"You're exactly like the others!" she snaps at me, silencing me instantly. I begin to feel something akin to fear. This is the first time that she's raised her voice at me, and she's still got that dagger poised in her hand, ready to throw. "I heard what you were saying earlier, you and Gabriel; this is all about the glory of winning for you, not the desperation that the Games show for everyone else. You've been manipulated by the Capitol and those who surround you in District Four into becoming just another spoke on the wheel, another cog on the killing machine. The Capitol don't need you, Alec; you're worthless. You're just another Career, another piece in their Games."
I open my mouth to refute all that she's said, but before I can say anything I'm drowned out by the deafening rumble as the Gamemakers bring down the tunnel by which both of us entered this clearing. There is now no escape route, although I don't think either of us were planning on going anywhere, anyway. Now I'm absolutely certain that we are the final two in the arena. I won't be proved wrong again.
"I guess they think I've said enough," the girl says, stopping pacing and gesturing at the rubble where the tunnel once was. She shrugs. "Still, it was nice talking with you, Alec."
I nod and grip the hilt of my sword firmly as the girl wastes no time in making the first move, pulling out her second dagger and charging at me with a two-handed attack similar to that of Rebecca. If I've defeated this sort of attack once, I can do it again.
The thing I forget as she reaches me is that last time I had Gabriel's help to finish the girl from District 6; this time, I'm on my own.
The girl from Seven might not be quite as precise in her strikes as Rebecca was, but what she lacks in accuracy she more than makes up for in ferocity. Her wild swings from both sides leave me with nowhere to go but backwards at first, forcing me almost all the way back to the wall. I duck and dodge and block all that I can, until the girl forces me into a position where I have to fight. I have nowhere else to go.
I thrust my blade in between both of her arms straight at her bare stomach. The girl from District 7 realises right at the last moment, jumping backwards out of my reach, but only just, and in doing so loses her balance and ends up sprawled on the floor. As she falls she flails out with both her arms, and one of her daggers cuts through my left forearm. I cry out in pain but quickly notice that the wound is not too deep, will not be fatal. I push it to the back of my mind and advance on my fallen adversary.
The girl's more than ready for me, hurling a dagger than I only just manage to miss as she scrambles back to my feet, hurdling my sword as I swing for her shins. She dashes away as I pull back into a ready stance, giving each other a moment to breathe. Already I can tell that I've underestimated this girl, and judging by the amount of supplies that she's amassed I'm sure I'm not the first tribute to have done so, although I may just be the first tribute with enough ability to fight back. The way she's fighting, the girl in front of me would have been worth at least an eight in training, so either she's a very fast learner, riding above her ability on a wave of courage and adrenaline or she was always hiding something from the rest of us.
Whatever the reasoning is, the real question now is what I am going to do about her.
The fighting begins again, even more dangerous than before as the girl from Seven has replaced the dagger she threw from her right hand with her combat axe, a weapon with more weight to throw around and more reach than the dagger she previously held. I duck and dodge and weave out of her way whenever I can, striking back whenever I can but the pain in my left arm is becoming more intense with continued exertion, and the girl opposite me seems to be relentless. I begin to wonder if this was her plan all along; to wear me down until I can no longer fight. I may be far more athletic than your average teenager, but in the last half an hour I've sprinted to the feast, fought off Rebecca, killed the boy from Five, fought off Gabriel, chased him through the collapsing tunnels away from the cornucopia to this clearing, killed Rebecca, killed Gabriel, and now find myself in this fight with the girl from District 7. On the other hand, she has always been a step behind, avoiding violence at the feast by being the last to arrive and no doubt waiting in the wings as I finished off both Rebecca and Gabriel, saving herself until the odds had evened out for her. She's far fresher than me, and it's beginning to show.
As the fight drags on, momentum slowly starts to begin to shift into her favour as I lose energy. My swings with my sword are becoming more and more laboured, and the girl from Seven is no longer struggling to escape my grasp. She seems more calm, more calculated, more confident as the fight goes on.
She's played it smart, saving her energy for when she needs it most; a luxury I haven't got myself. Sensing that I'm fighting an uphill battle and fading fast, I decide to throw all my energy into one last set of attacks before the odds become insurmountable. I charge at the girl, taking her by surprise as I tackle her, and although we stagger backwards together and she somehow manages to stay on her feet, I wrestle the dagger out of her left hand, leaving just her axe to worry about. I reach around her body, groping for the weapon that I know she needs to be rid of to leave me with a clear shot at her unarmed; a chance for victory. She notices my lunge around her and steps back, keeping a hold on me so that I lose my balance somewhat, and when I try to reach again she powers out of my grip, pushing me backwards and I stagger away from her, momentarily disoriented as I look back at her through the glare of the sun.
The first thing that I see as the glare subsides is the blade of her axe flying straight at my forehead.
Then there is a mind-shattering crash, a searing jolt of pain and then nothing.
A/N: The 67th Annual Hunger Games are now over... I hope that you all enjoyed this long stretch of the story that has been most of the plot of Mentor.
Of course, the story is not over yet; there are still two more chapters to come before I embark on story three of what will now become a quartet. I've decided to focus more on character building with that one, although the Games will still feature heavily (I think the 70th Games will make up Part II of that story) in the plot.
Still, if you enjoyed this chapter (or the Games as a whole), please feel free to review! As ever, I'll welcome constructive criticism.
P.S. For anyone who has managed to withhold reading past Chapter 66 of 75 Games, 75 Victors, 75 Oneshots for the fear of spoilers, that is now of course no longer an issue, so go and check it out if you're interested :)