Author's Note: Fifteen one hundred word drabbles written with fifteen prompts from Caesar's Palace Forum. Please feel free to come and join the fun.
"Do you know what this is?"
"No, it's not."
The older man tossed the weapon in the air. It spun, end over end and the child's gaze locked onto it. He only blinked when his father caught it once more.
"This is everything, understand? Your ticket to fame and money. To making your district proud."
The child nodded solemnly. It was easier that way.
When the session ended, and his father left him, he touched the leather grip, marked with his father's fingers. Then he kicked the stand that held it.
"No it's not. It's just a sword."
He flung his arm in front of her, and the blow reverberated on his wooden shield. Clove pointed her own wooden blade accusingly.
"What were you doing?"
"Protecting you!" Cato shook the dented shield in her face.
"I don't need your help."
"Cato, Clove," Brutus snapped, "you'll be allies for fuck's sake. Clove, this time, you watch Cato's back."
"Watch this," she snarled. Her sword clattered to the ground and she shoved both her hands into Cato's chest. He took two steps back and she turned away.
"Fuck you Clove," he called after her. "You're going to need me sometime!"
The wooden shaft felt so solid in his hand and his fingers naturally found their places. His body shifted automatically to compensate for the weight.
In front, was the target. Cato took three running steps and let the spear fly. The moment he let it go, his face fell and he turned away. He heard the dull thunk as the spear found the dummy, but only the leg.
Derisive laughter echoed around the space, multiplying it, until it seemed that three people mocked him, not just one.
Cato didn't even look around, not this time.
"Fuck off Clove."
Clove stepped, and across the circle, drawn in chalk, her trainer mirrored her. Cato leant against the wall. There was a smirk on his face.
The aim was simple; to get past Fallon. She moved quickly. Yet somehow still found herself pinned on her back, Fallon smiling above her. Clove swore she'd learn how he did it.
"It's not fair."
"I know," Fallon agreed, "but you'll rarely fight someone your size."
When Fallon let her up, Clove got to her feet, prim as a cat and she caught Cato's gaze.
"Let's see how you do then." Her eyes shot daggers.
"So what did he do wrong?"
Cato swallowed. He closed his eyes, but the image didn't fade. The skinny girl from 7, with her axe, and the way their tribute's stomach split open. Guts spilled out of the gash, like pale sausages and tangled around his legs.
"Pay attention," Brutus snapped.
"Lay off Brutus, he gets it." Fallon put a hand on Cato's shoulder.
"Keep the fuck out, I'm training him." Brutus turned to Cato again. "What did he do wrong?"
Brutus' backhand made his vision blur and but he could still see the girl with her axe.
"Go on, string the bows both of you," Enobaria said.
Cato bent the bow around his leg, reaching around to fix the string in place. He turned to see Clove. Her hand shook with strain, the string still three inches short of the tip. He smiled, and made no effort to hide it.
"Cato, help Clove, would you."
He plucked the bow from her hand and strung it with exaggerated ease. The taut string thrummed when he plucked it. When he held it out to Clove, she shoved it back, hard against his chest.
"Go shove it up your arse."
Cato shaded his eyes against the glare of the sunset. One whole side of the mountain was painted a delicate peach, but he looked past it.
"This sucks, he spat, you must have missed an arrow. Fallon said it should only take 'til afternoon."
"I didn't miss anything," Clove snapped.
"Well there's no point keeping going," Cato shrugged off his heavy pack. "Too dark to see them now."
"We should find a better spot."
"I'm sick of walking. Go find it by yourself then."
Clove glared, but she too dropped her pack.
Cato smirked. "Looks like you're stuck with me."
The knife made a good, solid sound when it landed in the heart of the target dummy. Clove took a moment to watch it, a fiery grin on her face.
"You're really good at that."
Clove whirled around, her hair slapping against her neck. Cato stood by the open door, leaning there like he'd been watching her for a while.
"Yeah, better than you are," she snapped. She turned back to the target.
Cato bit his lip and turned away. He'd only wanted to compliment her. On the way out, his steps dragged heavily, and his eyes were over bright.
"It's a bloody waste of time." Brutus stood up, but Lyme mimicked him.
"Give them a week of training, let them learn one simple snare."
"We can't any time off weapons this close to the games."
"It might save their lives." Lyme enunciated each word, nearly spitting in his face. "Remember Lea's year? If we didn't use all the money feeding him, we could have afforded medicine, he wouldn't have lost his arm. We'd have another victor."
Brutus looked down a moment. Lyme waited. But when he caught her eye again, his face was still hard. He shook his head.
"I'd prefer swords." Cato shifted his feet.
Fallon held out the mace, balancing the weight easily. But his biceps were tensed.
"You don't always get the weapon you want."
"If you show them how good you are, then you do."
"Not always," Fallon snapped. Cato took a step back from his trainer's rare anger. His eyes were wide. "My arena, there were only maces, like this."
Cato swallowed. He reached out and took the grip, warm from Fallon's hand. The mace was heavy, but he held it upright as Fallon had.
"It wouldn't make a clean kill would it?"
In a week's time, they would be standing on the stage in front of the entire district, the words 'I volunteer' fresh on their lips. The trainers were frantic. Brutus swore more than he spoke and Enobaria looked like she'd bite, but that was normal.
"Crossbows, Fallon muttered to himself, can't believe we forgot to teach crossbows."
"Fallon, they'll never give us these, they're too easy," Clove said.
"Knowing our luck, they won't give us any weapons at all," Cato quipped.
Clove turned to smile at him, but then she remembered herself. Looking back to the targets, her scowl returned.
"I'm sorry Cato, I heard about your father." Clove put her hand on his shoulder, gentler than expected.
But it was too little, too late. Cato felt an attack, not a caress. He shouldered Clove out of the way.
And then she was falling over the edge of the quarry. A hundred feet below, the limestone waited.
Her high scream didn't sound like Clove.
Her hands felt right though, strong, when he reached down to pull her up from the ledge she'd caught in her frantic fall.
He had nothing to gauge her lips by, but they felt right too.
The cannon had sounded several minutes ago, its blast nearly lost in the thunder. Cato heard it, but he didn't comprehend. He stood in the trampled circle of grass, the ground turning to mud beneath his feet. Red mud in places, where the dirt mixed with the dark boy's blood.
It wasn't enough. Cato kicked out at the body, again and again, denting the skull just like Clove's. When he slipped, his foot sticky with mud, and blood, he sat down, hard. In the rain, it was difficult to tell if he cried, but his shaking shoulders gave him away.
Projected onto three walls, the mentors watched Cato. They watched what was left of him, and they listened to the sound that couldn't be made a living person, could it?
"Can't stand this." Fallon's voice was raw, but he hadn't been shouting.
Nobody stopped him until he got to the guarded doors of the control room.
Now he shouted. "How the fuck can you do that to him?"
There was no reply but the cold muzzle of a gun pressed against his chest. Fallon's shout turned to a strangled sob.
"You'd kill me wouldn't you, but not that poor boy."
Brutus descended to the bowels of the tribute tower, below even the training centre. It was a place he went every year, though less than some mentors. The morgue. In a rare show of kindness, Brutus volunteered to go in place of the other mentors.
He looked down into the coffin, but there weren't enough recognisable features to touch a nerve. His face was hard.
"Well fuck," he said.
The lone mortician, a woman, glanced up at him from her work. Gloves went to her elbows, and they were stained red all the way up.
"That's what I thought, too."