Yeah I am born again, out of the lion's den, I don't have to pretend.
Carnelian Ritter, District One Male.
One Hundred and Twenty Fifth Victor.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to present the Victor of the One Hundred and Twenty Fifth Victor, Carnelian Ritter! I give you - the tribute of District One!"
Not many people bother to visit me in the Capitol hospital.
Each time that door slides open, my heart flutters in anticipation, hoping to see someone who'll bring a smile to my face, or at least remind me that I'm not a totally bad person. Instead it's a nurse or a doctor, full of information and words that barely scratch the surface to how I truly feel on the inside.
One told me that Onatah's puncture missed all of my vital organs, so I should be very appreciative of how lucky I was. But was I lucky? I mean, a few inches to the left or right, and I wouldn't be here, Onatah would, and I'd just be in the ground, left alone.
Which is basically what I've been left to now.
My mentor, Swift, hasn't bothered appearing. I'm slightly thankful for that though. We left on a bad note, with him telling me that rejecting Temperance will lead to all sorts of trouble. I hate to admit that he was right. If I had listened to him, though, I can only imagine the shift it would've led to the Games. We might've killed more. Temperance might've killed an ally, betrayed and stabbed in the back.
There's too many outcomes. And either way, as I see it, Temperance still destructs the alliance one way or another. Without her, I was able to bond with them... and that makes me believe that Swift was right once more.
The door opens.
I don't bother to roll over and look, sinking into my bed. "You can take whatever you want," I mutter, clenching myself deeper into the cushion. "I don't care anymore."
"Well I hope that attitude changes swiftly."
I smile a little. Aphrodite has finally arrived. I turn over, my lips twisted between a smile and a smirk. "It's nice to see you, Aphrodite."
"I would say the same but it's never nice seeing a Victor, in my opinion," she takes a seat, tight-lipped and straightened. "How are you coping?"
"Fine." I lie.
She nods. "I would give you this massive speech about how it will get better, but honestly, I don't think you need yet another lie spilled to you."
I scoff. "Thanks for the consideration."
Silence falls between us as she sits there, simply staring ahead with hollow eyes. The one thing I've learned about Aphrodite Belmont is that she's a woman of very few words, but when she does, you should always listen. I've always appreciated what I've known about her.
"Swift isn't happy, is he?"
"Swift is never happy," Aphrodite rolls her eyes. "But that's mainly because he's idiotic. He no doubt hates the fact that you won without any help from him. He's whiny like that."
Bitterness floods my tongue. He had many chances and he didn't. Then again, when he did, he led me into a fight with Corin and Temperance that destroyed everyone in sight. If I ignored his advice, Kiara... no, I can't think like that... I pull myself up in bed, running a hand through my hair. "He's not going to turn up, is he?"
"You should be so lucky," Aphrodite smiles briefly. "I know he's here in the Capitol still. He has to, since he's your charge. He's not allowed to go home until you do too."
"So why are you still here?" I ask quietly.
"Refusal to go home with Temperance's body," she clarifies. "Even as a corpse I feel like she's ready to rip someone into pieces. No, she's going on her own. I'm sure her family won't care whether I'm there or not."
I'll have to face them. Whilst I barely knew Temperance beforehand, her family is a different matter. I'll have to actually face them at some point, and who knows how they'll react. I don't feel guilty since Temperance was out to destroy me and I didn't even kill her, but they'll always be the fact that I won, and their daughter was killed in the process of my climb.
"You're out tomorrow, you know."
My eyes widen. "Really?"
I'm not ready to face them all yet. Aphrodite nods, however, and I feel my heart plummet into my stomach. "They've found nothing wrong. You don't even need a therapist, apparently, so that's always a bonus. You can return tomorrow," she stands, nodding with the upmost respect I've seen from her. "I'll be waiting for you."
Aphrodite soon disappears, leaving me with more questions than answers. Will anyone understand my pain? The emotions and feelings that block my chest, my heart, my throat?
The silence suffocates me.
When a nurse comes later to take my blood, I pretend to be asleep, unable to face the truth that I might be forever alone.
The thought of seeing my family makes me sick to my stomach. I can't even point out why, but truthfully, I know it has something to do with the fact that I'm just not the same anymore. Before entering that arena, I was unsure of myself and what I could do. I was confident, but the bravado was false to hide my insecurities.
And in that last moment, the moment I fell unconscious to wake up to Onatah's dead body, I realised that I was confident in what I could do, and it made me feel sick. It took all of that to realise that I was worth something. It made me uncomfortable to even think about. And, honestly, Aphrodite's words on the matter were both a comfort and another twist of the blade in my stomach.
The train rolls by the scenery of District Two, before a tunnel transports us into District One. I keep quiet, listening to Aphrodite mumble into her breakfast about the upcoming events. With only two days of being home before returning, I apparently have a lot to do.
"You'll have to meet Augustus, you know," she confirms. "He always likes to meet the newbies."
He's a creep, that's what he was. I'm grateful that he chose me over all of the other male contenders - but that doesn't deny the fact that he's slimy. "Sounds like fun," I force a smile. "Will you be there too?"
"Not necessarily. Swift should be though, seeing as he's the mentor, if he bothered to show his face."
I pale a little. "He... he went into his bedroom with the escort, I think."
"Pervert." she grimaces.
A while later, Swift returns, a grin on his face. Aphrodite grimaces even harder when he sits near her. "So," Swift's cold eyes fall on me. "Looks like my first Victor is you. You should be honoured."
"Considering you only helped me lead my allies to their death, I don't think it's worth honouring." I bite back, full of venom for the man that basically slaughtered my alliance from his control room.
He rolls his eyes. "As a mentor, I'm tasked to make sacrifices. Your allies were in the way."
"You wanted Temperance to emerge, not me."
His lips twitch into a smile. "True. But at the same time, I didn't care. A District One tribute was walking away from that theatre either way, whether it was you or her. You just so happen to be lucky that her ally went berserk and killed her for you."
Aphrodite looks up. "I was against this plan the entire time, if you must know," she clarifies, glaring at Swift. "It was reckless and idiotic, but I shouldn't be surprised, since it came from your mouth after all."
"And Odyessa. She, too, wanted some entertainment since her tributes were more lacklustre than expected. Either way, a Career was walking away. But no-one expected three to die like that," he smirks. "It's almost poetic."
I feel sick. The bile rises in my stomach, but the anger burns in my veins. Without thinking, I rise, grabbing the nearby glass and tossing it towards Swift's head. He shrieks and ducks, the glass shattering over his head.
"No!" I flare, shaking from the anger and distrust in me. My eyes snap to Aphrodite, whose neutrality only seems to make it worse for me. "We are people! We are not toys for your entertainment! How dare you!"
"No, your toys for their entertainment," Aphrodite says calmly. "Swift was an idiot, there's no denying that, but don't follow his footsteps, throwing your weight around like a stroppy toddler. Get your act together before things grow worse."
The words die on my tongue almost instantly. I have nothing to say to that, because deep down, it's true. My life will be a lie now. I'll never be able to mention how I admired Kiara's courage to stay true to herself, or Caine's struggle with his identity, or anything. I can't appreciate my allies truly because I'm not suppose to.
I turn to leave the room, abandoning the pair of them.
I'm a Victor. And being heartless is part of the programme we all signed up for.
When the train fully stops, I head out alone, leaving Aphrodite and Swift in my dust. Even our escort - Frilla or something - doesn't bother to say anything. I need peace, and I think they've finally understood that.
The entire time I was in that hospital I wanted company, just any sort so I didn't think too much about the terrible things that happen. Now I'm out, I want to think about it, I want to dwell because they'll only steal those precious memories - the good ones, like Kiara and me smooth-talking Haven into the alliance, or the heart-to-heart with Caine - away from me, forcing me to hide it under a shroud of smiles and waves.
I cross the path and climb in the car. When the others join, they stay silent, and the entire journey to Kingston Academy is awkwardly tense.
The tall building comes into view. Kingston Academy is located between two suburbs of District One: Coventry Gardens, where the richest live, and Blackdamp, where the poorest and old jewel mines lay.
My family will be waiting on the doorstep for me. To get through to Victor's Village, I have to pass Coventry Gardens, and my house full of family members that I dread to see.
"Don't be an idiot." Aphrodite warns.
I don't say anything, simply climbing out and adjusting my suit, feeling the fine fabric burn against my skin.
Augustus Kingston stands in a white suit with white hair, a sick smile on his face. Tassel King, Amethyst Noble, and Zircon Stark surround him. His cold eyes land on me and I stand ramrod straight, staring up at the powerful man.
"Carnelian Ritter," he rolls his name off of my tongue, making me cringe at my own name. "I'm very glad you're back. It's a welcome surprise."
I smile wryly, feeling my cheeks burn. "You believed Temperance would come home, didn't you?"
"I shall not lie to you. I did believe that Miss Clarion would return without a doubt," he confirms. "However, that doesn't mean I am not pleasantly surprised by your return instead. You have the traits of a great mentor."
My eyes widen. "What traits?"
"Your resourcefulness, keen eye for detail, and your forever trust in the good in people," his smile widens now, like a snake ready to swallow the rodent whole. I shrink a little into Aphrodite's side, and despite our brief quarrel, she protectively wraps her arm around my shoulders. "I suspect that you can't wait to train the next generation. But you have quite the way to go. Amethyst, here, still hasn't completed the correct courses to take someone on. And until she's fit to go, you'll be sidelined."
Silently, I thank Amethyst for being ill-prepared or just slow. When I look her directly in the eyes, she looks away, timid at the others' side. "I understand completely."
"Brilliant," he nods. "Aphrodite and Swift can escort you to your new house. You'll be living on the other side of Tassel," he jerks his head in the blonde's direction, who offers me a pleasant smile. "And then I shall see you after your return from the Capitol."
I don't waste any time in rushing to the car, my mentors by my side. Despite not speaking to them, I appreciate the sentiment in Aphrodite's actions enough to forgive her for not stopping Swift's ridiculous actions.
But then... Swift did it for me. Or Temperance. Either way, his actions did give me the chance to continue and live.
Without it, I would've died.
It pains me to say it, but Swift might be the reason I even made it out alive.
The two days fly quickly. The house is empty, but I spend the time talking to Aphrodite about decorations, and my plans to have relatives say with me.
My parents? No.
Verity? ... no.
And after all that is decided, I meet my neighbours properly. Zircon lives alone, his cold eyes and menacing look telling me that people tend to avoid him. Tassel has a daughter, Chalice, who opted out of volunteering a few years ago at her prime. Amethyst has her two sisters, and whilst the girls are loud and carefree, Amethyst is not, polite and sweet and lonely.
Swift is on his own, too, and Aphrodite's brother left a few years prior to train as a Peacekeeper.
Augustus' family has long since abandoned him. He has a Grandson, apparently, one who he sends money too.
And then there is the house opposite me, with a single light and curtains tightly shut.
"Whose that?" I ask.
"Diamond Hanley," Aphrodite nods. "He doesn't interact with anyone. After winning his Games many, many years ago, he had a nervous breakdown, claiming to see the ghosts of the tributes. Augustus practically locked him in the house. If you do ever see him, steer clear. It's too risky."
Well, that doesn't sound great. Makes it seem like Augustus is a piece of work to deal with.
"Yeah, oh," Aphrodite rolls her eyes. Amethyst, uncomfortable by her side, sinks into her seat some more. "You know this is Sheer's house, right?"
My whole body goes numb. "As in Sheer Fontane?"
Aphrodite blanches a little. "There's no coincidence that he put you in her house, Carnelian."
Sheer killed herself through a drug addiction. People thought she was asleep. Turns out that, in the middle of the night, she popped herself a whole vial of some high-end narcotic. She was finally found dead in her bed, face down in a puddle of her own vomit.
My lips struggle to form words. Is he that pissed off that Temperance didn't win for him?
I don't want to know. No, I can't know.
So for the rest of my time in that house, I resort to sleeping on the couch, facing the door.
My hands fumble at the fabric clinging to my body, a delicate, intricate sequence of black and white to make a fashion statement. Then, I adjust the bowtie, horrid memories flashing through my skull that I have to mentally will away.
My whole body shakes. It's not nerves. No, it's never been words. But the cheering and the flashing lights only remind me of the finale, of bludgeoning Jeremiah to death, to impaling Onatah and being almost killed twice and...
I turn to Aphrodite, seeing her almond-shaped face staring back at me with such intensity, such control, that I can't help but envy her. "Easier said than done." I almost choke on my own words.
"He'll take advantage of it if you let him," she warns. "Play it normal, like a Career should. You're thankful for the opportunity. You're honoured for their love. You will do anything and everything for the state of Panem, and all that bullshit."
That makes me smile a little, but I have to look away. "What about allies? I... I can't talk about them, I just can't. Not in the way I'm expected to. I can't trash the people I liked, Aphrodite."
There's a tense silence, the crowd cheering in the background, growing louder with each beat of the musical instrument from somewhere.
I turn back to her. "Pardon?"
"Olivier, from District Two. He was a decent person," she continues. "I didn't want to kill him. But in the situation, where it was either my life or his, I chose mine. And not a single day doesn't go by when I don't see his accusing eyes staring back at me."
Before I can answer, though, I notice the crowd growing quieter. Then, the intercom buzzes.
"Ladies and gentlemen, without further ado, please welcome the Victor of the Fifth Quarter Quell, all the way from District One - Carnelian Ritter!"
My whole head swims, eyes snapping around desperately for some sort of exit. Aphrodite places her hand on my shoulder and smiles, pulling me back to reality. "Break a leg. Preferably his, if you can."
"I can't do this." I whisper.
"You'll have to if you want to live, either for them or yourself."
I take her words to heart and turn to the steps, mounting up them quickly. I take a heavy breath before striding out across the stage, breath sucked away from the sheer volume of the audience screaming my name, or the amount of banners and signs that hold my name. Hermes Abbatone is quick to appear and usher me over, a grim smile painted on his face.
I fall into the seat, quickly sticking my hands onto my knees.
"Carnelian. It's a pleasure to see you again." Hermes starts after the crowd quietens.
I smile kindly, forcing away the fear inside. "And likewise to you, Hermes. You're looking rather well for your age."
"And you're looking rather well considering the circumstances. How's the stomach?"
I wince at the words but try not to show it. "It's fine. I've been stuffing myself silly with all the food here," I smirk, turning to the crowd to play my part.
"That's wonderful. The last thing we want is another depressed Victor on our hands," he continues, oblivious to the meaning behind it. Depression is something most Victors deal with. I'm not depressed, but I wouldn't say I'm bouncing with joy either. "Now, where should I start... oh, I know, let's start with your allies. Or, more specifically, Kiara."
I'm completely caught off-guard and my heart hiccups in my chest. My lips grow dry and I have to swipe them wet with my tongue. "Oh, her."
"Yes, her," he teases, eyes glimmering with a twisted delight in my discomfort at the conversation. "Would we have heard wedding bells if you both had survived?"
Verity won't like that. I swallow thickly, shaking my head. "Sadly not. Kiara wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed."
"But she was very, very beautiful if you ask me. There was this innocence that radiated from her glowing features when she spoke," he blushes, smiling as he stared at the crowd. "She was our favourite to win this year."
Even though Hermes broke every ounce of confidence in her during her interview. It's sick; he claims to like her when he went out of his way to discredit her entire persona. "Unfortunately, I can't turn back time."
If I could, I wouldn't be here.
"It's a shame. I really did like her." Hermes frowns, pulling out something from the side of his chair. I barely see the white item before he thrusts it into my lap. "See that? It's a pillow we made for you. A crown of its own accord, if you will."
My fingers twitch as I turn the item over, revealing the picture stitched on. Every fibre in me goes numb as I stare harder, willing away the oncoming tears.
It's a picture of me cradling a bloodied Kiara in my arms. No joy, no fun memories, no kindness. Just me and her fleeting beauty and life.
I want to throw the item back in his face. Scream at him that the torment is wrong, that I don't deserve all of this at all. Tell him the many things that they hid, that they were, so nobody thinks of them as literal numbers. They were people. But not to the Capitol. To them, my allies are now simply obstacles to what was my victory in the end.
I want to scream my pain in my face. The inner turmoil that's eating me alive, leaving me a husk of a shell.
But I can't. I can't do any of that, even if I could.
"It's appreciated." I force, the words making my body shiver in rage.
"I knew you'd like it."
I grit my teeth. "I love it even."
Hermes obnoxiously waves his hands at the crowd. "What are we waiting for? Let's get this party started with the Recaps!"
The moment the lights go off, I shove the pillow onto the floor, angrily stamping on it once, just for good measure. Not a few seconds later and the large screen behind me buzzes to life, white pixels turning into colour slowly.
"Twenty-four tributes went in, whilst only one came out." a loud voice booms.
I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the emotional rollercoaster ahead of me. I'll witness everything now, even the things I didn't see. I never saw Caine kill Lyle, or how Caine got bested by the females. I never even saw how Temperance managed those insane four kills that the board claimed she had.
I can't escape. There's no going back. My eyes are wide open, and I have to drink everything that's going to eventually be the death of me.
The cluster of colours move and shape themselves into the first scene. I easily note it as District Nine, known by the knowledge I have and the fact that the bounty of different grains in the background accustom it. I watch with strained eyes as Corin Roscoe and Sian Amser are both reaped, wearing different expressions that I previously imagined; Corin looks angry, whilst Sian looks fit to burst into tears. 'Fifth Place' follows Corin, whilst 'Fourth Place' follows Sian.
Then it moves, and I notice the technological vibe that must be District Three. I grip harder onto the armchair for this one, prepared to see the worst. Jeremiah is called, and a shaky smile graces his face on the stage alongside his fiery-headed district partner, Sienna. 'Third Place'
Then, it's District Eleven, and my eyes burn as they meet Onatah who, only less than two weeks ago, was still very much alive and fighting. When she's called, there doesn't seem to be any surprise on her face, as if she's expecting it. She crosses the path towards the edges and angrily spits at a random man, before taking the stage with such fire and intensity that it's no wonder she made it to the final three with me.
'Second Place' - I'm glad to have had an opponent like her.
It skims my own volunteering, or how Temperance reacts. It's no longer important to them seeing as I'm alive and kicking and it's all for them, apparently, or so they'd like to think.
My mind blurs as the pixels alter into something else, revealing the chariots and the dark scene before us. Every costume and district gets a few seconds on themselves, a few choice words about their design, whereas District One gets longer. Me and Temperance look like packed sardines, tightly side-by-side in our costumes. When they zoom in on my face, I blush, unable to take me seriously in the feathered wings.
I feel completely uncomfortable. From the seat to the pillow, to the show in front of me. It's not normal. This wasn't what I wanted. Admittedly, I never thought much past the idea of volunteering and paving a path for myself, but this wasn't something I wanted. I didn't want to watched and adored every second of the day.
It skips to the interviews. I can't bear to watch as they highlight Kiara's meltdown, or the racism thrown in Onatah's face, or even Rhett Emery's abuse for being different.
Then I hear the change and have to strain my eyes once more. The plates descend into the arena, the chandelier taking the most attention. A few seconds later, it falls. A few seconds after that, and the chaos assumes.
I hiss in pain as I draw blood from my palm, too engrossed on rooting myself to the carefully-created wall around me.
Reed Wolfe falls first. He's one of the fastest, but so is Caine. He doesn't stand a chance as Caine runs him through with a nearby sword. I wince at the amount of blood, briefly turning my head away.
I totally miss how Quinn Tarly dies, but I know it was Nelida.
They show the next death longer, of course. I knew they would. Keeping up appearances, I turn, focusing in on Cypress Flint's reckless attack against me and Nelida. The commotion is short-lived as I manage to snap his neck. The Carnelian on screen doesn't look that fazed, but me, I feel as if the guilt is trying to eat a hole in my chest.
Down goes Rhett Emery, stabbed by Haven. His dying words are telling his district partner to run.
Then, they show a brief clip of Kiara on the balcony still, jumping up and down. I manage to smile at that; she was always too nice for there. But then it moves to a fight between Temperance and Corin, and Jute Phillips and Aubrey Turner. Aubrey Turner is soon gutted with a sword and falls, and Jute runs.
They ensure to show the full-length version of our talk. How Temperance challenges me to a duel later on, wishing me luck as they left the bloodbath with rewards. Seeing her used to bring me such anger and determination, but on screen, I feel empty, like the anger has vanished and replaced by something I can only acknowledge as freedom.
She no longer intimidates me. She's dead. Dead and gone and never coming back.
The last to fall is Audra Kincaid, falling onto the miniature grid below as Caine snaps her neck on command, a sense of misery swimming in his eyes as he does so.
The camera pans out, quickly checking in on every single tribute and their alliances, running in different directions. They linger a little longer on the Careers, though, and I see us interact in that environment for the first time. But then it's clear what they're doing because we stop by a door, and Lyle Flinch is inside, his bomb already made. Lyle fights back and in the end, I abandon the scene, unnerved by the brutality that Caine was capable of. Now, now I know it's because he knew nothing else, he believed he was nothing else.
Lyle dies. I shy away almost instantly when the bomb explodes, acid rising in my chest and scorching my lungs. The distinctive noise rings in my ear over and over, before the cannon claims Haven's life is over.
My head spins as we move on. We land on the library next, where it's clear that Angora Knight has claimed it as her camp. I frown; what are even in those books? They ensure to zoom in on one that says a name, but I can't read it through the blurry pixels and my own blurry eyes.
Her name joins the grid when Temperance and Corin storm in, and after some pressure, Corin takes his first life to be called a man. Her mental abuse to him is clear. Guilt swallows my chest whole; it makes much more sense now.
I can't do this much longer... the sticky sensation on my palm tells me I've dug into it more, turning it raw, but I can't bare to find out.
Instead, when the scene switches to the dreaded pool room with it's murky, brownish waters, I have to know. I have to find peace with Caine's death. For him, for me, I don't know... but either way, as much as it pains me, I need to know.
Caine enters the room, striking down Tierna with a slash of his weapon. She falls, bleeds out, and apparently falls unconscious. Wait, how did she end up in the closet? My mind reels for an answer but I have to focus, I have to. I keep my unsteady vision on the scene as Sienna and Onatah attack him together, an onslaught of slashing. And then, in a flash, they all fall down. Sienna is gutted through by Caine's sabre, whilst Onatah is tossed against the wall like she weighs nothing. Caine falls to his knees and a moment passes before someone stirs awake
A cannon sounds, and my heart leaps with the noise. That must've been Sienna.
Caine and Onatah don't even battle. The man I called a friend doesn't give her a chance. He tackles her bleeding body into the water and attempts to drown her.
Onatah kicks up as blood pours around her, staining the brown into red. A few moments later, as Onatah sits on the side, Caine's corpse bobs up, laid gently on the surface.
I feel sick. My stomach churns and my whole body feels numb, completely void of feeling as I stare at the body, forcibly burning the image in my mind; I might need it for encouragement later on in life.
The scene stays solid, but flickers between other things. From Calder attacking Jute, to Venice and Ash supposedly splitting up, to the art room full of disgusting murals. Then it shows Onatah dragging Tierna to the closet, cleaning up the blood, and disbanding the pack as quick as that.
I remember seeing our fallen, the ones before me. Fedora Clos, he was quite famous. Likewise was Lancel Deimos, our dubbed traitor. They all became names and warrants to not end up like them; dead and only remembered for their failures.
But then it falls back to the swimming pool and I know the outcome. I see this boy - with dark hair and now weathered eyes - as he enters alongside other people. He looks distant, but there's a fire deep within, burning away. What is he thinking? It's hard to work out. It always was when... when one of us died, and I felt powerless...
Tierna bursts free from her closet, stabbing Nelida fiercely. I chase and parry her away into the showers, where I'm almost killed by her. Calder saves the day though, gaining his first and only kill.
They turn the volume up for Tierna Rowe's final words, which only makes my heart thump wildly.
Again, a few scattered scenes appear. A wild fire in a hallway. Sian being thrown from a room, Jeremiah chasing after her. Jute falling unconscious to mystery gases. Ash and Venice splitting up finally.
The scene moves as the array of deaths fill the grid swiftly, leaving us only at eleven tributes remaining within seconds. It's going by fast, or maybe I'm only paying half-attention. Either way, the darkness and the ability to be able to feel and think what I want... it's a blessing.
Colour bursts to life as it shows Ash Terrick, alone and separated from Venice, before being struck down by Temperance and Corin. Venice shows up and the pair escape, free, but Ash becomes a martyr as he gives her a shot at freedom for the price of his own life. A sacrifice for someone he barely knew. Then again, if I had the chance, I would've done the same for any of the others. It wasn't right; from our friendship to their deaths, none of it should've happened.
It would've been easier.
Venice Woitel falls next. In the greenhouse, for a slow second, they show the wall full of deceased combatants, from Sienna to Caine to Audra to Reed, all piled on dirt mounds and against derelict walls.
Onatah arrives, clutching a note she swiftly hides in her breast pocket.
The flowers come to life.
My heart thumps and a bead of sweat falls from the edge of my nose, splashing on my shirt as the attack begins. I can't watch. The flowers growl and snarl like animals, and the sound of Venice and Onatah's desperate pleas for life and power only make it more sickening.
Eventually, though, Onatah strangles Venice Woitel to death, just as a flower attempts to gorge out her eyes. Onatah manages her escaped bruised and beaten, always stomped down, but always rising up and beyond. I still admire her, if not more now than before.
My eyes shift to Hermes' shrouded figure, before out into the audience. Their eyes are glued to the screen like it's the best thing in the whole of Panem. I swallow thickly before swiping my tongue across my lips, ignoring the run-up to the obvious.
I hear Kiara's singing, before it turns off.
Tears prick my eyes and I stare at the floor, unable to face the reality. I hear the singing turn into a gargled scream and then the sound of metal, of grunts and exhaustion, of Calder's life slipping away in Temperance's hands and then I hear my own voice, telling Temperance to be quick, only for her whisper to become a howl. A cannon soon follows.
The volume picks up. The tape slows down. The tears run freely.
She died. She died and I couldn't do anything. I was useless. Absolutely useless. Her life was in my hands and I let it slip through my fingers like dust.
The emotions tear through my body and I start to violently shake in my seat, clenching my hands together in a weak attempt to control myself. I can almost hear Aphrodite berating me from the sidelines.
Kiara Vaud, I will never forget you.
What feels like hours later, Kiara's cannon sounds, and my heartbreaking screech follows.
The crowd are murmuring now, lost in the drama. I can't bear to look at those monsters either.
I was stupid. So very, very, very stupid.
I scrub at my eyes desperately and turn back to the screen.
Three explosions rattle my brain when I focus in. Smoke and debris litter the view, but underneath, you can see the three tributes on the floor, and the three holes in the wall to symbolise the three recent cannons.
It moves quickly. Through the fuzziness, I see that Jeremiah and Sian have abandoned Jute to a feral-looking Corin. Their battle is short and sweet, before the pair are running as the school continues to explode. As they run up the stairs, it splinters in half.
Corin makes it. Jute doesn't.
Corin tries to save him. Jute doesn't let him.
Jute Phillips falls and cracks his head against the cement underneath, a pool of blood around his skull being the only sign as the scene moves to Corin running desperately through the halls, only to be thrown through the final doors for the feast and finale. A desperate conversation is shared by him and a now arriving, tearful Sian, before she sticks a knife into his battered body, taking him out.
My eyes widen; I never thought of her as capable. From viewing her at training, and her actions so far, it never looked like she would be capable. But she does it, before bursting into a fit of angry tears and curling up in a fetal position on the scattered glass.
Corin Roscoe, Placed 5th joins the grid. There's a twisted satisfaction that comes with it, but that's quickly followed by shame. I shouldn't wish him dead; he killed Temperance for me. If he didn't, I would've died. And Kiara would've been tortured even more to spite me.
Sian's name falls down next. My stomach churns more, tears peppering my eyes again.
I just want this to end. I want this to be over!
But then there's a sharp gasp from the audience, and I force my eyes to stare at the screen. Sian creeps towards the backpack, pullingo out what can only be a vial of poison. Her eyes are intent on Jeremiah, glossed over with tears, before she coughs, and a rivulet of blood pours from her mouth. The crowd gasps again when she collapses, and the boy she was ready to kill goes out of his way to save her.
My heart swells in my chest as Jeremiah lays her on the ground as the table rises. My heart hiccups but I brave the shakes, still looking as Sian, from behind, pours the liquid into her mouth instead. After convulsing and a tearful goodbye with Jeremiah - those her face says otherwise - her cannon booms.
The camera finds me next. It zooms in as I walk down the hallway, sabre in hand, eyes focused ahead. I feel like an alien. It's weird to look at yourself doing something - but this is different. This time, I'm mentally willing myself to stop, to not go in there and kill the final tributes. Don't do it, you stupid boy, don't do it!
Jeremiah is launched from the Cornucopia as they collect Sian's body. When he tackles it again, a forcefield briefly appears and the boy from District Three is hurled against the opposite wall in a ferocious attack, his ally lost to the ceiling above.
This is it. This is the moment I've been dreading, the moment where everything goes wrong.
The camera pans out to show the rest of the school first, the walls imploding on themselves, lights and lockers smashing, ceilings collapsing down on the hallways we all walked days before. Everything was breaking, including the tributes, it seems.
I swivel in my chair to Aphrodite. Her eyes - through the darkness, at least - look impassive, calm and collected. Her mouth moves and I'm able to make out the words.
I try and brighten my mood - and although it feels impossible - I manage to calm down my emotions enough to not just burst into tears...
...just as the insanity begins.
The camera jerks at every moment we make, making it seem like a budget movie.
Straight-away, it's obvious that the pair have set against taking me down. Their oh-so-subtle nod is heightened by the camera, and for a brief moment, it doesn't make me angry. Of course they'd team up against me. I'm the bad guy, the one who enjoys killing and making them all suffer at my hands. At least, that's how they see me. They wouldn't know me to understand. So the angry transforms into understanding, and I swallow the pride deep into my gut.
Onatah gets me to the floor. Then, to her side, the wall explodes. It throws her off her feet, but she lands, and awkwardly scrambles to safety near the horn before lying still.
Jeremiah is on his feet first and they make sure to slow down our fighting, the crowd antsy and on the edge of their seats. I find myself too, clutching the base of the chair, ignoring the pang of pain that aches in my knuckles. They burn even worse as I pummel Jeremiah, blinded by desperation, sadness and a longing to live. With a broken nose and choking on his own blood, Jeremiah Calvert places third out of twenty-four tributes.
The fight with Onatah, however, is more detailed. The explosions from above, and the rays of bright sunlight that lit the room in one fell swoop, sparkling the glass and golden horn, making it shimmer.
They show how the fight was even. From Onatah's punch to my face, to me forcing Onatah down with a kick of my leg. Without weapons, and from this view, it looks sloppy and violent. At the time, though, I only saw my chance for survival slipping from my hands each time she overpowered me.
I fall on the rock that crushes Jeremiah. Onatah stabs me just as I stab her.
And then the agonising ten minutes start, where we stare at each other, a long wait to see who would fall to their death first. Even as my eyes shut and my body convulses, Onatah doesn't have the will to beat me.
And like that, I'm crowned victorious. But it doesn't feel so grand.
The lights snap on and Hermes leans forward, eyeing me like a piece of meat. "Do I detect tears?" he purrs.
I force another smile. "Tears of joy and embarrassment," I lie, feeling my soul split in two. "I can't believe I looked like that. I look a state."
"But the Capitol quickly made you average once more."
"Well, I did use your people, so I was never going to be beautiful." I retaliate, repeating Aphrodite's words mentally. Smile. Smile. I have to play the part.
Hermes smirks. "I like you more now than before. Why the sudden change?"
"The Capitol's appreciation for me as altered my heart," I clutch it for different reasons though. "I want to make a difference now."
I tap the side of my nose, ignoring the taunting scream in my head. Liar! Liar! "You'll know when it happens.
After six months of avoiding my parents' calls and knocks on the door, preparing myself for the courses, and listening to Aphrodite's stony advice, I have to leave for my Victory Tour.
"Are you ready?" Aphrodite asks in the privacy of the train.
I smile sadly. "No," I bow my head. "But I've never been ready. It's never stopped me before."
"You know what you have to do."
More hard words to swallow. "I don't like it, but yeah. I have no other choice I suppose," I sigh. "At least I know the truth."
District Two is the first stop.
I stand on the stage, the dusty air floating around me. Two podiums are in the distance. On Caine's is two adults and two younger children, a teenage girl who stares at me with fury in her eyes as I take the microphone. "Caine was a formidable ally," I begin. "He was strong and a brute. He wasn't scared to kill for the future goal. With him behind my back, I was able to get as far as I did, and in the end, I won, and I place a lot of that into Caine's being."
Caine was raw. He was human, but he didn't feel like it. I'll never forget the small chat we had, where his life flashed before my eyes, like I was seeing a film that made me disgusted. He was broken - and no-one was going to fix him. Like the scars he claims were in his palm, he's left a scar on my heart.
I turn my head to Nelida's podium,
"Nelida's aim was matched by none," I admit, clutching the paper and absorbing the words. "She, too, was a formidable ally to have. Her advice and aim were a great comfort to me. I don't think we would've been the same if she had not been there."
Like Caine, I knew Nelida was broken, and that no-one would rush to fix her. She was hardened and reclusive. She kept to herself, and in the short time I spent with her, I knew that she had trust issues. But we broke that wall. I'll never forget Kiara holding her in her lap as she bled out, and the brief flicker in her eyes as she passed away. Nelida died happy, I felt it.
District Three is a blur. An elderly man on Jeremiah's podium attempts to set me on fire with his eyes. But the worse is yet to come as District Four arrives, and the sight makes me want to vomit.
Calder's podium has a woman on her own, clutching a photo. She cries - mascara smeared - but doesn't look angry. No, it's a sad smile.
This time, I don't use the note for comfort. I let the pain and fear consume me to make my words less real. "District Four played a huge part in my victory. Calder," I turn to the lady, who nods curtly. "He was a great guy. His navigation skills got us away from trouble. He didn't play a huge part, but he rounded the team perfectly. With him, I never would've survived the fight, and made it to the finale."
Calder made me realise that not everyone had to be strong, or tactical, or even intelligent. Calder was perfectly average and it worked for him. Amongst the chaos, there was a certain amount of clarity that he brought to us. I knew he missed his sister - I felt his pain, his emotions - and I know, I just know that he is in a better place, with the girl that he loves.
Kiara's podium, though, has no-one. It's empty. My heart thumps in my chest. No-one came for her? Kiara, the girl that was so sweet, has no-one? The guilt is switched with fury almost instantly.
"It goes without saying that Kiara was a huge personality, and one that brought life to the time we spent in there. She was positive and kind. She made it bright when everything was dark. Her innocence was known, and that's why she would never win. She was a great character..." I pause, swallowing the next words. I can't. I can't. I take a deep breath, body shaking with internal disgust. "But a great character doesn't make a great Victor. She would never win."
Kiara was sunshine in a bottle. She was everything that was good in the whole of Panem in human form. She didn't deserve to die. She didn't deserve to be treated the way she was. She didn't deserve no-one turning up for her obituary.
I'll never forget her. I never could. Every time I close my eyes, she'll be there. When I dream, I'll see her smile and her eyes, bright and glorious. Like Caine's scar, she's permanently etched into my skull, everlasting.
She made me feel better about everything I hated in myself.
She was perfect. She was Kiara.
Three girls stand on Onatah's podium, each burning holes through my skull.
I swallow thickly. This time, I won't hold back my words.
I scrunch the note up and toss it on the floor by my feet, stepping forward to clasp the microphone. "I didn't know Onatah. I barely knew her name until it was too late. But I respected her. It's weird. I didn't know much, but I knew she was strong, that she was a formidable opponent, one who had such passion and determination in her fingertips," I swallow thick again, the lump reforming in my throat as I stare at the three females. "I respected her, and I believe she respected me. If it was anyone I had to die to, I'd happily die to Onatah's hands because, at the end of the day, she wanted it as much as me."
I leave the stage without warning, unable to control the flood of tears on my eyelashes. Aphrodite is quickly there, a stern smile.
"I knew you'd crack eventually." she states.
I nod. "It had to eventually. I couldn't lie, not anymore. Those girls - the ones who hated me so much without knowing me - needed to know the good side of her. They didn't need me trashing her being, telling them that she was great but just not as good as me."
Her lips twitch into a smile. "And that's why you won, Carnelian."
"And I'm going to use my victory to make a difference. One Panem won't forget any time soon."
Wide Awake by Katy Perry.
The obituaries have been posted named 'Remember, Remember'. Learn about all of the tributes and what happened to their bodies, or the impact they had on their family/district etc. Carnelian will be joining us in Demons Within as a mentor, and has joined the Collection of the Damned blog!
Now that it's done, you have some more questions I'd love for you to answer:
-Thoughts on the obituaries?
-Did you enjoy Fight For Your Life overall?
-Thoughts on the writing, plots, characters in general, arena in general, basically anything?
-Anything that specifically catches your mind as a stand-out moment (it can be anything!)?
And surprisingly, faster than I expected, Fight For Your Life is over! This has been one of my favourite stories in a long time, since like Claustrophobia. The array of tributes was great, and I always had something planned for everyone, even if their lives were cut extremely short. Everything I had planned worked, and everything I wanted to do was done.
Every character made this story. From Audra's kleptomania to Temperance's insanity. From Onatah's determination to win against all odds, to Venice's determination to fix herself, and all the characters in between.
Lastly, a massive thank you to everyone who submitted, read, reviewed, favourited and followed. And to my friends (and Teddy, I suppose, for the harassment 24/7), for keeping my spirits up.
Goodbye FFYL, you've been one heck of a story.