Chapter 14

What happened before and meanwhile...

Caius had not known what was happening when, out of the blue, the half naked boy tackled him outside his cave. He had been merely sitting there, sharpening his sword and watching the gurgling water from his self-claimed spring, when the kid had jumped from the tree and knocked his sword out of his hand. At first, Caius was too stunned to do anything, but then his fighting instincts took over. He managed to fend himself off long enough for his brain to process all that was going on, and then his defenses became less instinctive and more tactical.

He knew at once that this boy was a victim of the naevlynd poison –– the dilated pupils and the strange, jerking actions gave what signs he needed to determine this –– which would give him extreme endurance and unnatural strength. He wouldn't last long against the mad boy. Just as he had been thinking it, Amadeus slammed a rock into Caius's head. Before the rock had connected with his head, though, Caius had managed to partially deflect his arm, slowing the momentum. It was lucky that he had done so, because a rock traveling at a speed and force like that would have otherwise smashed his skull to pieces. Instead, it struck only a glancing blow and Caius fell limply to the ground, out cold.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on his back inside his cave. Amadeus was standing above him, holding a sword that Caius instantly recognized as his. It was held with the point resting on his chest, and when Amadeus saw that Caius was awake and breathing, he started to laugh insanely.

That was when the girl entered and saved Caius's life.

Amadeus would have delivered a death blow to Caius, just a simple thrust through the heart, if it hadn't been for her. "Amadeus?" she said. Amadeus swerved around and held up Caius's sword. "Amadeus? It's me, Augusta," the girl said. Caius wanted to yell to her. He wanted to tell her to run. But he couldn't do anything. Amadeus had one foot resting on his stomach, and when Caius tried to breathe in, he stomped down and drove the breath from him.

"Amadeus?" Augusta said again warily. "Are you all right?"

Then Amadeus started to laugh. He took his foot off of Caius's stomach, and started to laugh even harder. The girl at the mouth of the cave seemed petrified. "AMADEUS!" she shrieked, but her brother did not respond. He approached her, with his sword held up as if to attack, and that's when Caius got up.

Amadeus didn't see him. With all the strength he had, which was surprisingly much for his skinny frame, Caius shoved him down from behind. The weapon fell out of Amadeus's hands as the boy stumbled. "Give me back my sword," Caius growled, scooping it up by the hilt. He didn't mean to be threatening towards the unfortunate girl, but when he looked at her, she gasped and ran out of the cave. "Wait!" he called. He tried to go after her, but in that moment of distraction he had forgotten about Amadeus and was suddenly shoved down from behind, just as he had done to Amadeus only a second before. The lithe, bare-chested boy leapt over Caius and sprinted after Augusta with the agility and speed of a deer, drawing a knife from his belt. Caius recognized it as the same knife he had stolen from Petronius, and was filled with a familiar rage. So he scrambled up and went after him. He knew that, in the Games, it was better to leave a dangerous assassin alone to his prey, but he couldn't let the girl get killed.

They plunged into the woods, but Caius was far behind them. Augusta was completely gone, and Amadeus was only a shadow now, and when he took a turn through a patch of bushes, Caius lost him. He scanned the trees desperately, but it was only when he heard the scream that he knew which direction Amadeus and Augusta had gone.

He raced off in the direction of the shriek. When he reached the victim, he found that it was not Augusta but another girl, his district partner and older cousin Callia. She was doubled over on her knees, clutching a wound on her stomach. Caius raced to her side.

"Callia!" he gasped, kneeling next to her. "Let me see it. Are you okay?"

"What do you think? A crazy wackadoodle with a knife and no shirt just let my intestines out," she groaned, withdrawing her arms to show the wound. "Would you be okay?" She sounded more annoyed than in pain.

Caius winced more than she did when he saw it. "I think you don't have long. You've lost so much blood."

"Thanks, Doctor," she said sarcastically. "Your diagnosis is so helpful."

"I'm serious."

"That's your problem. I only have a few more minutes. Give me something to laugh at."

Caius couldn't help but smile at Callia's sarcastic optimism. "I'm not sure how to say this next."

"Say what next? That I'm about to die, so you'll be saying your last regrets to your dear cousin who you almost never talked to?"

He bowed his head gravely. "Yes."

"So get it over with!" she snapped. "Let me die while I'm still in a good mood. Even though you're quickly changing that," she added sourly.

Caius couldn't stop the sad grin or the tears that followed. "I'll miss you too, Callia."

The hard façade fell, and his cousin smiled faintly. "Same. Win the Games for me, okay?"

"I'll try."

"And try to do it without letting that Artemis girl die. She's cute."

"Only one of us can win, Callia."

"Only? Katniss Everdeen proved that 'only' is overrated."

Caius considered this. "True."

"And if not, I'll see you soon." He found her grim humor funny in a sick way, but it wasn't particularly uplifting.

"Can't you die peacefully?" he asked, a tad impatiently. He hated goodbyes, and actual tears were starting to pool in his eyes. "None of the other tributes joked on their deathbeds."

"This ain't a normal Games, boy," Callia snapped, not even noticing the dribble of blood trickling out of her mouth. "This is the last. Now make it memorable. Make it yours. Ours. Theirs."

Her passionate voice started to crack and fade at the end, and Caius grasped her hand. "Callia!" he begged, but she was gone. The cannon fired.

Caius started to really hate that cannon.

I feel ya, kid. I hate it too.

Caius: Shut up.

Seriously! I'm sorry for killing Callia. I really liked her, and I wish I could have gone deeper into her background, maybe made her more of a major character. But she didn't come in until the final draft, so it was kind of too late.

Come on! We can get to twenty reviews this time!