Chapter Nine: Distant Dark Places
A/N: Hey everyone! Thanks so much for reading, reviewing, following and favouriting, keep up the good work! I'm pretty busy with upcoming exams, but if I get some feedback, I might be inspired to hurry up and write some more ;) Reviews are love!
"No, I don't love you,
But I always will."
- Poison and Wine, The Civil Wars
I fill up my bottle in the downtown fountain. It's probably not the cleanliest of places, but I no longer care. It should feel good to wet my parched lips, but since Dom's cannon had gone off, something seems to have snapped inside me. The things I feel aren't good. My heart cries out for more blood, but not his. It cries out for vengeance, and I know exactly who I want dead as I see him making his way to the fountain, alone, sword in hand.
"Hello, Elethea." Romulus smirks as he watches me put my bottle away. There's no Dom to protect me this time, so I have to fend for myself. I don't know if he plans to kill me outright or finish what he started, but by the bile rising in my throat, I won't want to know about it either way.
"Romulus." I smile coldly, watching as he twirls his sword boredly. "Restless? I guess you're not with Silver anymore. It's just you, me, her and District 3."
"Oh, believe me, I know," Romulus drawls.
"Do you?" I don't know a thing about self-preservation. Maybe he sees me as the falsely arrogant girl who'd come into the Games thinking she knew it all. It's unlikely that he sees the truth though, that Dom's death has made me so cold inside. "I wasn't aware you were smart enough to count that high."
"Soon, it'll be me, her and 3." Romulus lunges, slashing at my chest. The blade rips through my jacket and I stagger backwards, punching him with a small fist, hard enough to break his nose.
"I don't think so," I spit. Romulus hisses and slashes again, catching me across the leg. I stumble but force myself to ignore the throbbing pain. I cut his arm with my knife and he spins, kicking me in the chest. I cough and stumble, before I laugh manically. "Stupid boy. You're so far up yourself you can't even see the sun."
I lunge at him, teeth bared in savage rage as I stab him in the side. This boy tried to rape me. He would have hurt me in the worst possible way imaginable, if Dom hadn't stopped him. Romulus hisses and backhands me, but I manage to knock his feet out from underneath him. He retains a strong grip on his sword though, stabbing me in the ankle. I cry out and fall on him in a sudden, brutal fury. I pick up my knife and I can hear nothing but my blood roaring in my ears as I stab him between the legs, and he screams.
I laugh, the sound mirthless and unbalanced. Why am I laughing? Do I really gain pleasure from seeing him in pain? No, I don't think I do. I think I'm too deranged to know what I'm feeling anymore. He punches me in the stomach and I slam my head into his face, twisting my knife in his stomach. He coughs and spits out blood. I'm met with another fist to the face and I grimace and stab wildly, aimlessly…like I did with Dom.
Romulus's elbow connects with my face and I groan, rolling off him. He staggers to his feet, and I can see that he's changed. He's lost that cocky, arrogant attitude. I've managed to land some severe blows and we both know it. I lunge at him gain, stabbing at him. He yells and slams me into the side of the fountain, causing me to wince. I raise my knife and plunge it into the side of his neck, before ripping it free.
My tormenter coughs and crumples to his knees. I don't turn away from my dying victim. This time, I watch impassively as Romulus chokes on his own blood, writhing and wriggling on the stone, before his cannon goes off. I pick up my knives and clean them, wincing at the cuts to my leg. I pray for the end now. I don't care whether or not I go home anymore. I want to, for Leon and Mum…but I'm not the same Elethea they farewelled at the station.
I don't like the fact that Hyperion Dormer, Head Gamemaker of this year's Games, has come to pay me a visit. In fact, I just don't like Hyperion at all. He's about six feet tall and fairly slender, with dark hair and a stupid-looking goatee. There's a seemingly permanent smirk on his face. He can't be any older than his mid to late twenties. He seats himself gracefully, gesturing for the Avoxes to bring him wine. I'm tense, because I don't know what he wants.
"I'm sorry about the loss of your tribute," Hyperion drawls, swilling the wine in his glass before taking a sip. "The boy…what was his name, Dominic? Tragic…I understand it must be hard for you Victors, you do tend to get rather emotionally attached to your tributes."
"We do." I try and remain polite with Capitolians, try and stay on the good side – for my own sake, and the sake of my tributes. It was a shock to see Elethea kill Dom, but I also know it shocked her too. It was an accident, one that I know will haunt her for the rest of her life – if she survives the Games. Even if she does, I'm not sure I want to know what President Snow might have in store for her.
"I thought this year was going to be fun," Hyperion sighs, and my dislike of him hardens, as he sounds like a petulant child who's missed out on some kind of reward. "But we're not even a week into the Games and we have three tributes left. I'm guessing your bets lie with Elethea, yes?"
"Yes," I reply stiffly. I don't think I like where this conversation is going. Hyperion is leaning back in his chair and there's a smile across his lips as he examines me. "She's injured, though. She's…"
"Got that wound on her leg, I know." Hyperion takes another sip of his wine, eyes gleaming. "How long do you think she'll last with that, though? She's a tough little thing, though. I expected that boy from 2 to kill during that fight instead of the other way around."
Romulus. My hands clench into fists just at the thought of him. The memory of him wrestling with Elethea, pinning her down on the sleeping bag while he undid his pants…I don't think I'll be able to forget that. I could only sit in front of the screen, powerless to stop him. Then Dom…he did what I couldn't. He saved Elethea from that boy's depravity.
"I can give her medicine for that wound," Hyperion informs me, "For a price."
Everything's for a price with these Capitolians. I can't help but press my lips together in a contemptuous line, although I can't openly show my distaste. I raise my eyebrows and Hyperion puts down his empty wine glass, leaning forward. The sour smell of alcohol seems to radiate off him.
"If she wins the Games, I want to be the first to have her."
"Get out." I push myself to my feet, suddenly consumed by my anger. I'm starting to feel sick at Hyperion's words. What kind of bargain is that? He's trying to get me to agree to let him have sex with a fourteen-year-old girl? She's a child! The Capitol's immorality has always startled me before, but this is a new level. "Get OUT!"
"Don't be so dramatic, Finnick." Hyperion gets to his feet. "I'm not planning on having her right now. I'd wait until she's a bit older. Any man can see that girl is going to be a beauty."
Beauty is a curse in the Capitol. I'd rather Elethea was horribly ugly, because that way Hyperion wouldn't want her, that way she wouldn't be sold into prostitution as I have been. I won't agree to it, no matter Hyperion's terms. It's not my place to sell off the virginity of a young girl. Maybe, in some ways, it's better that Elethea does die in the arena.
"I'll find someone else to give her medicine," I hiss, balling my hands into fists. "Someone who isn't asking for a little girl's virtue."
I sit down heavily and examine my wounds. The one in my leg is deep, making me hiss in pain when I prod at it. I remember stitching up Dom's leg only days ago. I swallow the hard lump in my throat. Just thinking about Dom hurts – but I deserve it. After all, I killed him. Not Romulus, not Silver. Me. There are only three of us left in the arena and the end would soon come – perhaps my end. But all I can think of is poor, sweet Dom.
I push myself to my feet, biting back a cry at the pain that singes through my injured leg. A beeping nearby makes me aware of a silver parachute that's settled on the ground near me. I blink and glance around. A sponsor gift! Is it really meant for me…or is one of the other tributes nearby? Cautiously, I approach and detach the small metal container from the parachute. There's a note on the top.
Use sparingly. – F
Two words. Two little words that don't indicate at all how my mentor feels now that I've become a monster. I know that he must be disgusted at me for turning on Dom, but likely wants me to stay focused and so doesn't say it. I sit down gingerly and stretch my wounded leg out in front of me with a wince. I unscrew the cap and wrinkle my nose at the strong-smelling medicine. I swirl two fingers in the green ooze, before wiping it on the wound on my leg.
I bite my lip hard to suppress a cry of pain that could betray my location. The medicine stings as I apply it, first generously to the leg wound and then sparingly onto my other small cuts and injuries. Once I'm done, I screw the lid back on the metal container and rip the sleeve off my jacket, tying it tightly around the cut on my leg. I suppose it's going to have to do for now.
Winning seems so close, yet so far away. Can I do it? I've fought and killed Romulus, who's over a foot taller than me. It's not because I'm talented. It's not because I'm invincible. It was out of sheer luck, out of the boiling hot rage that seemed to give me strength. I know I can do it. I can win the 69th Hunger Games. Only, what will the cost be?
I dress quickly and my fuchsia-haired companion does the same. I had to thank her for the medicine I was able to get to Elethea. She's not too bad as Capitolians go, I suppose. Hasn't undergone too much surgery, although she does appear somewhat youthful for a woman in her late thirties. She ties back her fuchsia hair and spares me a glance over her shoulder.
"I hope you don't think I'm rude for saying you have to be out before ten. I have to get to work."
"Not at all." I offer her a charming smile as I tug my clothes on. Lucilla, that's the woman's name, Lucilla Asterbury. It's always horrible when you forget, because they're insulted, as if you're really their lover instead of just someone they bought. I'm very glad to be kicked out early. No matter who I sleep with, I know it's always done for money or sponsor gifts, and it leaves a sick feeling in my gut.
"Mum, you have to…" The girl stops in the doorway, freezing as she glances between Lucilla and I. We're both dressed, but the girl is about fifteen or so, likely has an idea of what's going on. I wasn't aware that Lucilla had a daughter. She's fairly plain, with none of the typical Capitol colour. It makes me a bit sick to realise I'm closer to the daughter's age than the mother's.
"Storm!" Lucilla chides, her eyes flaring with anger. "How many times must I tell you to knock? Go and get yourself some breakfast, now."
Storm spares me a shocked glance, before she hurriedly exits the room. Lucilla offers me an apologetic smile, but all I can see is Storm's accusatory gaze, still burning into me after she's left. Why am I destined to be the bad guy?
"Thank you for Elethea's medicine," I say hoarsely, swallowing the lump in my throat.
"Any time." Lucilla kisses my cheek in a familiar fashion. "Remember, there's no need to be a stranger, Finnick. If you need help, you can always ask for it."
I trail through the arena wearily, wondering if I've lost hope altogether. I'm trudging, my feet dragging behind me. I'm filthy and so very tired. I'm grateful though, if only for the medicine that might save my leg from being amputated…well, if I survive. There's barely any food in my pack, and it just feels wrong taking from Dom's although I've lugged it everywhere with me like a souvenir. Dom's ghost follows me though, and nabbing the food that was once his just feels…wrong.
I turn and corner and freeze. Because there, standing only a few metres away trying to break into one of the cars, is Silver. She must feel my gaze, because she spins around, hand going to her axe. I don't feel trepidation. I don't feel anything. I could kill Silver right here and now and I doubt the emotional side of me would even catch on. Her lips press into a thin line as she walks over to me, slowly, carefully.
"So. Romulus is gone." I state casually. "Just you, me and District 3. You were nice to me, the only one apart from Dom."
Maybe I hadn't wanted to live before, but now I do – but not for me. For Dom's sake. I killed him and I can't let that be for nothing. Silver's eyes burn with determination and I know I'm not the only one hungry for victory. Only, is my reason stronger than Silver's? I draw my knives and she lunges, slashing at me with the axe. I whirl and duck as it whistles over my head. Silver knocks my feet out from underneath me, but I catch her ankle and yank hard, bringing her crashing down as well.
It's going to be a shame to have to kill her. I don't want to draw it out like I did with Romulus. Silver at least deserves the honour of a quick death. I slash her leg, but Silver just kicks me in the ribs, making me curl up automatically. I spring to my feet and wing one of my knives at Silver. The girl from District 1 is fast as lightning, and as deadly too. She whirls out of the way and I wheel around, slashing her back. I shove her to the ground, but she pulls me down with her.
I slam my fist into Silver's face, but the blonde girl punches right back. I desperately grapple for my other knife, swinging it forth and stabbing Silver in the neck. The blonde girl coughs, choking, and for the first time I feel something other than anger or hatred. I feel sympathy. I withdraw my knife and stab her in the heart and Silver stills suddenly, awfully, her cannon resonating throughout the arena.
I get to my feet and glance wildly around, sheathing my knives. It's just me and District 3 now, and that cannon would have alerted him to the fact that another tribute had just died, and he had made the final two. I pick up my pack and swallow hard. The arena feels so very empty now. There are just two of us left…but can I win the final fight?