"You played me from the start; it starts to end today."
Krynne Harper, Victor of the Twenty-Third Hunger Games
Doctor Crane nods to me as he swings the door open, two cups of coffee. "I apologize for my tardiness." He silently extends a hand, offering up a cup before he takes a seat in the chair. The black liquid swirls in the ceramic cup, steaming into the surrounding air.
"I don't drink coffee," I answer, now unsurprised by the strength in my own voice. Strength I never knew I had. Not before the Games. Not even during the Games.
Crane shrugs. "Suit yourself," he responds gruffly, readjusting himself in the chair before turning to me with the same green eyes laced with the same concern. "How are you feeling today, Krynne?"
I try to mask the exasperation, but based off the slight pursing of Crane's lips, I've failed. Again. "Fine. I've been fine for... how long has it been now? Three days?"
"Four," he admits.
"Four days, and I've been fine all four!" Crane moves to cut me off, but I push harder. "I've been perfectly capable of doing whatever interviews, whatever shows, whatever you want, but you keep me locked up in this room, instead."
Crane winces at the sound of my elevated voice. "It's safety procedure, Krynne."
"Procedure, my ass! Victors have been out of the lull in three hours, and they were beaten senseless. I had a little cut -"
"A deep gash in your leg," he argues.
" – but you leave me here!" A stray hand runs through my hair, and I flick off the strands that fall off my scalp. "I want out. Now."
Crane sighs deeply. "You know I don't have that kind of authority."
"You can try!"
Crane shakes his head, standing to meet my glare. "I can do a lot of things. I can try stupid ideas and act like a child. But actions have consequences. So I don't." He takes a moment to collect his coffee and folder, flipping it closed.
"You should do the same."
"You look lovely," a voice offers from across the bar. Lambert Carter stirs his colorful drink with a thin, black straw. The neon blue liquid swirls in the cup before he chugs the whole of the drink down his throat. After, he nudges the empty glass into the growing pile of empty glasses. And he orders another.
At first, all I see is another cracked Victor, but slowly, I connect the dots. Lambert Carter. District Seven. Naomi's mentor.
I do my best to swallow the guilt. It doesn't work. "Thank you." I turn to the bartender, raising my hand tentatively. "I'll have whatever he's having."
Lambert laughs despite himself as the bartender scurries off to whip up our orders. "You're a bit young for that, aren't you?"
"If it works for you, it'll work for me," I reason as my mouth meets the drink. Sickly sweet flavors of something similar to blueberry smothers the bitterness of the alcohol, and I spit the water back into the cup and place it on the counter again. "Or not."
Chuckling, Lambert reaches over and slides my drink into his hand before drinking it clean, as well. "To each his own." The bartender whizzes by to tend to Holland and Silicus across the bar, but Lambert catches his elbow before he can pass us. "Get her an apple juice."
A slight scoff escapes my throat as the meek boy hurries off, yet again. "What am I, four?"
"Apple juice is the alcohol of children, so yeah, that's what you're getting."
I raise an eyebrow. "You think I'm a child?"
Lambert immediately picks up on the challenge in my voice, and for a second, it looks like he'll fight back. His hand clenches around the base of the glass, but something makes him release. "Take it as a compliment. Adulthood sucks."
"And how's that?"
No movements are made, but I can see the tension building up in Lambert. His face pinches, and it's not from the alcohol that's swimming through his veins. "You'll have to trust me on that one," he murmurs wispily. "It doesn't get better. Every day brings back more memories, and the ones you've always had don't fade away. Everything snowballs into one big, never-ending nightmare."
The bartender returns with a petite cup of apple juice. Lambert finishes off the dregs of his last cup before rising. "Enjoy that."
The creatures of the Capitol hoot and holler and scream and cry. All for me. All for the girl no one seemed to care about two weeks ago. All for the girl no one noticed. For the girl no one looked at.
Well, they're looking now.
"Krynne, my dear, welcome to your victory!" Hamlet exclaims, placing his grimy hand on my back to usher me to center-stage. Throughout, the applaud doesn't diminish in the slightest. "Welcome to the first day of your new life!" The crowd roars in response, feral animals teeming to be fed with the last bit of blood of the year.
Hamlet silences the crowd as he turns to me, whispering tenderly: "And how is this new life treating you, Krynne?"
I fight off the urge to bite his nose and hop off the stage. No amount of plastic surgery can wipe the annoying off of him. Or any of them, for that matter. "It's alright, I guess. Haven't had much time to really… do anything yet."
Nodding in understanding, Hamlet places a cold hand over my own. "Oh, but you will. Worry not, Ms. Harper, the Capitol's pride in your strength and valor will reward you soon," he promises, going as far as brushing a strand of my hair with his free hand.
As he turns toward the jumbo screen behind us for whatever reason, I pluck the strand of hair off my head and flick it in his direction.
A brilliant spotlight gleams the dimmed stage as Hamlet rises and offers me a hand up. "Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the Thirtieth Hunger Games!"
A cold shiver runs down my spine as the words bounce off the arching walls of the hall. The last time I heard those words… I swallow the memory away. No more. No more pain from these Games. I won't put myself through that.
Yet as the glitter and gold of District One appears with Ceira and Pstika jumping to volunteer, I can't take my eyes off the screen. Names finally match with faces, and the ghosts that torment me suddenly have a stronger vice than ever before. Xander. Evangeline. Aldora.
And then, the cameras flick to District Five. A pang of home sickness strikes me in the chest, but I manage to push it away. The screen showcases me in all my biting, naïve glory, and the crowd laughs lightly as their Victor takes a nibble at the arm of a Peacekeeper. How sweet.
Then, Sullivan stumbles out of the aisles. I do myself a favor and tear my gaze away from the screen.
The rest of the reapings zip past, but not without a few faces standing out amongst others. Naomi and Leon. My fault.
The Chariot Rides jump from district to district in three-second intervals, highlighting the lackluster costume and performance of me and Sullivan in the middle of the pack. I wince as a rose nails me in the neck, and once again, the crowd finds itself giggling at their clumsy, cute Victor.
I decide it's a good time to sit on my hands. For both their sake and mine.
Training highlights the formation of alliances and the impressive skills of a handful of tributes – namely the Careers – and the producer makes a good call of not showcasing me as I fail to start a fire. The Interviews appear as the Training Center fades away, and once again, snippets of a select group of tributes appear.
Laela struggles to hold her own under the spotlight. Adrian flourishes with the attention. Chandler impresses the audience with his intellect. Memrie and Sia make fast friends with the Capitol. Pomme earns a laugh all around.
And then, the camera cuts to me. Screen-Hamlet leans into a disturbingly intimate position next to me, but I seemingly don't notice then. Hamlet bluntly asks where I think I'll place, and I optimistically respond first. And he thought I was kidding.
The video feed zooms to the hovercraft as it descends into the vicinity of the arena. All the tributes file into their own rooms, and the shaky point of view of an unknown tribute takes us into the tube. Subconsciously, my fingernails dig into my skin as the bright light of the arena illuminates the screen.
Panning out to every corner of the arena, the feed cuts back to the arena just as the countdown hits forty. Far corners that I had the luck of avoiding are revealed: barracks riddled with mutts, churches laced with more, and stacks upon stacks of incendiaries waiting to be enacted. Yet I saw none of it.
As the countdown strikes thirty, blood and disfigured body parts spill out from the fountain, pooling at the base of the stony Cornucopia, if it can be called that. Blood spurts every which way, yet very few are surprised. No one's going to let a little blood scare them off.
So when the gong rings, everyone charges. Except us. Sullivan and I quickly rendezvous and escape, sprinting down the nearest road without so much as looking back. No one has the time to look at us before we're gone.
Keighly reaches the center first, snagging a weapon and knocking Adrian to his feet before skirting off. Laela lashes out at an unsuspecting Briar, and I'm steeling myself for the young girl's death when Memrie tackles Laela aside, allowing all three of them to escape. The older girl is badly battered, but she's alive. All of them are.
She did what I couldn't. Go back.
The first kill is made as Pstika lodges a shard of glass into Caleb's neck. The boy from Three gurgles on his own blood, giving Porter from Seven enough time to avoid the knives of Aldora. Zeph narrowly avoids death, only to charge back in the fray alongside Sia to try and find Pomme. They locate her during a mad dash in avoiding Aldora. For a moment, the counterattack by the trio looks like it'll be enough to hold them back.
But Aldora's training kicks in, and Zeph and Sia are her first victims. Only then do I realize that Pomme has vanished. Dewey keels over as Pstika strikes at his legs, but the pain is temporary. Pstika runs a knife through Dewey before he can recollect himself. The boy from One charges a different group, leaving Ceira to take the blame for Caleb's body.
Keighly lashes out with fury no one knew she possessed. Her boot crunches Ceira's skull like a bug, leaving a solid dent in the girl from One's skull. She and Leon flee with a jagged cut along his side.
While Pstika searches for more prey, Adrian is left to tend to Laela's injuries and the Cornucopia. Unbeknownst to him, Xander and Evangeline prepare to strike. Adrian struggles to contain the pair before Aldora returns to help. Xander moves to dispatch Aldora whilst Evangeline parries with Adrian. The boy from Two manages to off Aldora, but seeing as Laela is coming to her senses and Pstika is on the horizon, Xander does what I would've done.
Laela mocks the girl from Three as she begs for life on her knees. She stands beside Xander despite his betrayal, and she clings to that through her swift death at Laela's hands. Xander charges from the Cornucopia before quickly encountering and slaying Rian from Six, even though Rian had the advantage of surprise. Pstika's temper gets to him, and he abandons Adrian and Laela in favor of solitude.
Chandler, Naomi, Briar, Porter, and Memrie are actually able to meet up, only for the Gamemakers to intervene. The debut of the humanoid mutts separates Naomi and Chandler from the rest after Briar trips. A swift sponsor gift reveals a lighter in Naomi's hands, and despite the possibility for all of them to escape, Naomi sets the arena alight.
Her allies burn by her own hand.
Chandler strikes out on his own, but both Naomi and Chandler are surprised to hear only two cannons rather than three. Someone's still alive. Chandler reaches the charred field first, mercy-killing Briar and sobbing. Pomme appears out of thin air, suggesting the two pair up for their own good. Immediately after Chandler accepts, Naomi chases the newly formed alliance, but loses them.
I shiver. The killing of Porter and Memrie at least had a reason. But chasing Chandler? Trying to kill her ally so early on? Trying to kill her ally at all?
The feed cuts to Keighly and Leon's heated argument and the discovery of the pendant's power as Kyung and Sienna encounter the pair from Ten. Leon's separated from Keighly, and Kyung makes easy pickings of Keighly before Sienna slays her own ally. Leon scares Sienna off before she can kill Keighly, as well.
Despite her mettle, Sienna can't hold off the onslaught of the mutts. However, just as Sienna's ready to be skinned alive, the mutts hesitate. They run off to their houses and hide. But Pomme doesn't. The girl from Eleven doesn't hesitate in eliminating another competitor, skewering Sienna through the throat before returning to Chandler and scampering off. Adrian's hesitance sends Laela into a minor injury and a fit of rage, and the Careers separate for good.
Laela and Pstika meet up, but blood has run bad between the two. Laela manages to land the killing blow, but just as she's recovering, Xander swoops in and easily offs his district partner. Xander is the first to truly discover the limitations of the pendant as he inspects his district partner's body and collecting the pendants.
And then… then, the screen cuts to Sullivan. And me. A sponsor cascades into Sullivan's arms, bestowing a silver knife to Sullivan and instructions from Mirella. Mirella. I sneer internally; of course she's behind his death.
No, I realize. She's not responsible for his death.
Screen-Krynne forces Sullivan's doubts and vigilance down. "Chill, dude." Sullivan hesitates, but relents. The camera follows me as I try and fail to locate the nonexistent treasures Mirella promises. And then, he screams. By the time I reach him, it's too late. Tears pool at the corners of my eyes as he screams for me to run and never look back.
And I don't.
The axe goes through and through, and the first tear falls as I watch the life leave Sullivan's eyes. I could've gone back. We both could've lived. But for how long?
Pomme and Chandler square off with Keighly and Leon. A trap laid out by the younger duo ensnares Keighly. Pomme and Chandler outnumber Leon, but Leon's raw strength overcomes the others, and before Chandler has time to jump to Pomme's rescue, she has a pitchfork in her chest. Chandler flees hurriedly, and as the mutts encroach, so does Leon.
The mutations toy with Keighly's flesh for a full ten minutes before she blacks out.
Naomi hunts down Chandler, but instead of running, Chandler fights back. On a couple of occasions, Chandler as a chance to flee, but he never takes it. He goes down fighting, with an axe in his chest.
Flinching at the sound of my own tears, I watch as Adrian stalks me before finally hunting me down. But instead of killing me, he allies with me. The reasoning why he didn't kill me confused me then, but after watching Adrian's obsession with Laela and his acceptance from her, I begin to see.
He just wanted me to like him. And I killed him for it.
Fire and mutts push Xander, Naomi, Leon, and me to the Cornucopia, where one last, cruel joke lies in wait. The bodies of those we left behind hang from the top of the fountain before the entire structure collapses, bodies and all.
The finale happens within a couple of minutes. Naomi and Xander fight, and even against superior training, Naomi manages to outsmart Xander and take him down. The boy from Two has an axe buried so deep in his chest that Naomi can't take it out.
Switching to me and Leon, the camera features my strikes and Leon's inability to respond in time. I wince as Leon's weapon grazes me, and mine… mine kills him. He collapses onto his legs before crumpling entirely.
And then, just Naomi and I remain.
The fight is quick. Naomi is a class up from me, and she disarms me with only a gash in her chest to show for it. Naomi pins me down with her knees, but my hand finds a stray stone, and that's enough. The rock connects with Naomi's skull just as her axe narrowly misses hitting something vital.
I bleed. She dies.
The crowd comes to life, screaming and cheering as the final cannon echoes around the arena. Hamlet revs them up even more, and I'm pretty sure the sound booms for miles. Hamlet turns to me with radiant eyes and a sleazy smile.
"Krynne, what was your favorite moment?"
I resist screaming. "Everything was great," I whisper weakly.
But Hamlet won't have that. "Oh, come on, Krynne. Everyone has a favorite. Come now, you'll regret it later if you hold back now."
I bite my tongue. The only thing I regret is not finishing that drink.
Mirella finally approaches me on the train after a week of the silent treatment.
"Look, I'm sorry-"
"You're fine," I say briskly, whisking my straw through the thick, black coffee. I tilt the mug down and feel the hot warmth swirl into my stomach. My leg's been twitching ever since I made the stuff, but it's this or alcohol now.
I don't want to resort to that. Winning's not all it's cracked up to be, but for the sake of the people who didn't win, I'm not going to throw away my life. I'm many things, but I'm not going to shit on someone else's life.
I'm here. Might as well make the most of that.
Slowly, Mirella awkwardly pats a hand on my shoulder. "It'll get better."
Part of me wants to withhold that agitation that bubbles to my throat, but a larger, stronger part of me lets it out. "Better? Right, you didn't lose anyone to the Games. You didn't have anyone in the first place." I subconsciously feel the mug spilling its black contents onto the weathered coffee table. "You didn't feel pain because you didn't have anyone you loved in that arena. Do you even have someone you care about now? Is there any room in that black heart?"
My hand connects to her face as I spit the last word from my mouth. A red mark stains Mirella's cheek as she glares at me with incredulous hate. "You don't know me," she whispers, clenching her fists and standing to meet me.
"I don't need to," I return hotly. "Your miserable life is practically on display."
Her muscles tense, and I get ready to swing again, but Mirella does something that I didn't think she had the ability to. Something I don't have the ability to.
Her clenched fist loosens, and her hard glare softens. "You're lucky you have an excuse," she growls lowly. She shakes her head in disgust before turning and walking away.
Three days later, curiosity overtakes my anger.
The automatic door whooshes open as I near it. Mirella sits on the far booth as she's done for the last two days, distanced enough to avoid my 'temper problems', as I'm sure Doctor Crane would put it.
She doesn't react as I take a seat directly across from her. Her hand unceremoniously scoops up another bite of ice cream and shoves it into her mouth. "If you want to fight, you've come to the wrong place."
An Avox rushes to my side, offering a menu. "I'll have whatever she's having," I say absentmindedly. Whatever it takes to get some privacy. As soon as the little girl in red scurries off, I turn back to Mirella. "And why's that? The Mirella I knew would've jumped at the chance to rip my head off. Last I checked, I was the one in the Games. I was the one that changed."
Mirella shifts uncomfortably in her chair. Based on her demeanor, I've guessed right. Something's not right here. "That pendant in the Games…"
"It built up on everyone's faults. I already know that."
She rolls her eyes. "You think a magical pendant can make you more annoying than usual? Please. The pendant was a pretty piece of symbolism. The Gamemakers rolled the dice this year. There were no trackers. They just let you all loose."
I frown. "But I remember getting the shot." It takes me a moment to connect the dots. "The injection caused our issues."
Mirella nods. "Taking off the pendant do much of anything for you. The effects remain."
"For how long?"
Mirella winces. "Perhaps we've discussed enough-"
"How long?" I urge, grabbing her hand before she gets a chance to leave.
She meets my eyes with something more than contempt for the first time I can recall. Pity. "Forever."
I try to smile.
For their sake and mine, I grin ear to ear as my father scoops me up in his arms and spins me around. I smile and laugh and cry alongside the others as they take me in their arms and declare their undying faith and love for me. I don't let anything else show. Just the smile.
No one suspects anything. To the best of my knowledge, no one's onto me. Not yet. But with this poison seeping through my veins for life, it's only a matter of time before I slip up. Before everyone finds out that I will never be the same girl as I was. That their daughter, sister, or friend has truly been taken up by the Games and destroyed.
But that's a given, isn't it?
It's three weeks' time before the unfiltered impulsivity gets the best of me.
My parents decided to make the best of their non-Victor child by making him babysit their Victor child whilst they work. Schooling isn't exactly the most prominent thing on anyone's mind. Daley sure isn't complaining.
He pauses the show midstream as he turns to me with a frown. "This movie sucks."
I scoff into my depleted bag of popcorn. "You're telling me. I'm pretty sure I caught a watch on the monster's wrist earlier."
Daley chuckles before stretching and offering me a hand up. I laugh at his sudden gallantness. "Am I incapable of getting up on my own now?" Nevertheless, I take his hand and pull myself off the admittedly comfortable couch.
"You've never been the biggest sheep in the herd," he daunts playfully, skipping ahead of me towards the kitchen with a grin. Idiot.
Yet I find myself laughing with him as he says something about cupcakes. He returns from our painfully overfilled pantry with a box of processed flour and frosting, but he's all for it. "You get the spoons and stuff. I'll mix this bad boy." The saliva in the corner of his mouth is more than visible.
"You're disgusting," I say with a chuckle as I collect said spoons and stuff.
Daley stirs the flour with eggs and milk in his little mixing bowl, effectively dousing the entire countertop with splashes of the mixture. "Daley, let me-"
"No, I've got this," he says excitedly, his signature, stupid smile on his face. Another blot splats against the table.
"I've got this, Kry-"
"No, you don't!" I bark harshly, bitter enough to make Daley drop the spoon. The concern on his face does something bad to my chest. "I'm sorry, I was just-"
"Stressed," he finishes for me, wrapping me up in his arms. Despite everything, I still find comfort in my big brother's arms. A slight sobs racks my body, and apparently, Daley is aware of it. "Hey, hey, it's okay," he soothes.
He lets go of me and tilts my chin up once he deems me calm. "You've been through a lot, but eventually, everything will get back to normal. Your life will be the same as it was before; same you, same us."
I can't control the tears that spill after that.
The guilt eats me alive.
Everyone is trying to fix something that cannot be fixed, but I can't muster up the courage to tell them. I can't tell them that their daughter died before she went into the arena. I can't tell them their friend has long since passed. I can't tell them that Krynne will never come back.
But this isn't what I want for my life. I don't want to live a fake life that makes me hide what's truly happened to me. Too many people died for me to live a half-assed life and just get away with it.
Sullivan died so I could win, but moreover, he died so that I could live. For the both of us. And currently, I'm not living enough for either of us, let alone both.
So when Daley swings the door to my bedroom open, probably expecting me to be asleep, I tell him. It comes out in a mess of words and tears – everything from the pain of the Games to the eternal aftereffects.
A moment of silence passes as the final word leaves the tip of my tongue. I gauge the look on his face for traces of sadness or disappointment, but I only find pride. "Thank you for telling me," he says quietly, finding my hand and wrapping it around his. Sometimes, I can't decide if I hate his compassion or if I like it.
"Krynne's gone," I whisper, feeling the reality of it all as the words leave my mouth for the first time.
Daley shakes his head. "She's right here, isn't she?" he murmurs, raising my hand and waving it front of me for good measure.
"Not like that. The old Krynne… she wouldn't have killed anyone. The old Krynne wouldn't randomly snap at people for accidents or miscommunications," I answer. Saying the words drives a sharp pain in me, and I fight to withhold tears.
Daley tightens his grip on my hand, brushing a stray hair out of my face. "The one and only Krynne I know would do anything to get back to the people that will love her no matter what. She would learn to live with whatever the consequences were to getting back, but she wouldn't do it alone. Everyone would help her."
He leans back slightly on my bed, resting on a side pillow. "People change all the time, Krynne. Not just Victors." He promptly holds up his hand, showing off the silver band around his ring finger.
I sigh. "I can't believe you tricked that chick into marrying you. Poor girl."
He shoots me a glare, but as per usual, it's accompanied with a stupid grin. Not even marriage can erase idiocy. "I had to cut down on being devilishly amazing to accommodate to being married, and now, I'm sitting at just being devilishly cool. But every good thing in life needs a sacrifice. This," he murmurs, gesturing to me, "is just a gateway into the rest of your amazing life."
I fight off the urge to hug him, knowing that his annoying self would never let me live it down. "What, not devilishly amazing?"
He scoffs, shoving me slightly. "As if. That's reserved for me and me only."
We both laugh at how dumb he is before he coaxes me to make him food since the whole district practically knows he's incapable of doing much of anything but being 'devilishly amazing' and programming with his little nerd squad.
I wrap my hand around a box of cupcake mix, tossing it towards Daley. "I'll get the spoons and stuff," I say lightheartedly, watching as Daley grabs a whisk and pours the ingredients together.
My promised utensils clatter besides the bowl as I watch Daley start to stir. "Slowly, now."
Mirella slams her head onto the desk as our last screen dims with Nardeli's screams echoing off the wall, followed by an abrupt cannon. "That makes twenty-six," she mutters drearily into the desk.
My own hands untangle themselves from my hair as I turn to face her. "Twenty-six what?"
She sits up slowly, her face painted with agitation and irritation. "Twenty-six tributes that have died since you've won."
I look away. Twenty-six doesn't feel real. Every death snowballs into one big ball of hate and rage at myself for not helping enough. One life isn't just ruined every time I fail; their loved ones feel the pain, as well. Twenty-six lives were ruined after my year of failures. Now? It's uncountable.
"I have an idea," I say wispily.
Mirella runs her hand on her blackened screen. Mine has been dime since Dell was skewered from behind in the bloodbath. "Well, out with it, girl."
I turn slightly to my left and glower at the illuminated screens beside us. Talise and Mags – the latter very drunk – man a station with no deaths. Both their tributes live without so much as blinking while everyone else dies before they even have a shot of winning.
"If we want to start winning, we need to play by their rules," I say thickly. "We need to work their game and beat them at it."
Mirella stiffens. "You don't mean-"
"I do," I respond icily. I turn to Mirella with a cold glare and a fiery determination. "Let's start winning."
It doesn't catch at first.
Citizens of Five consider the Training Center a waste of time and effort, and for a scary moment there, I think they're right. There's no way, after years of watching the animals that are Careers, would anyone agree to become one. Not for much.
But then someone enrolls. A pauper from the outskirts. Leila Devrine becomes our first trainee, and for the entire year, she's our only trainee. As that year comes to a close, Leila volunteers. She fights. She wins most of her battles, but not all of them. She dies at the hand of the Career girl from Four. Go figure.
However, her death isn't in vain. People see the difference now. They see the potential. Poverty will be erased from our streets, and the children who don't want to live that life don't have to. They're free to live as whatever they want to be.
There's still criticism. Skepticism. People don't trust everything we tell them, and they have that right. I would be, too. But for every person that doubts, there's someone that believes.
For the first time in a long time, I see something in the eyes of the scared and the helpless. It's as if they're afraid to do so, to have hope for the future, but you can only hide away emotions for so long. I know better than anyone.
So when I see the kids on the street, not afraid that their future will be stolen away from them, I see something. Something I've not seen before.
The sound of my name far too early on a Sunday morning stirs me out of a pleasant sleep.
That's been happening more often. The nightmares still plague me on the bad nights, but on the good ones, I see things I don't want to leave. My brother's wedding – the two of them agreed to wait, while I'm here with my outfit picked out – or Sullivan and I in class or something of the like. My dreams take me places where I can't be in real life.
But real life takes me places where dreams cannot. My life takes me to happiness and hope, courage and faith. No dream can offer me that.
I descend the steps hurriedly as my mother calls out for me again. As I finally land on the bottom floor, I'm greeted with my mother – adorned with an apron and cooking gloves – and Mirella chatting it up in the living room.
"Ah, there she is," Mom says with a grin. She turns to Mirella with a smile. "Nice seeing you, as always, Mirella, but I have to return to the kitchen. Cake awaits," she exclaims with an excited zing to her voice.
As my mother departs, I tilt an eyebrow toward Mirella. "What's so important that it couldn't wait for the training session at noon?" I ask, failing to suppress the yawn that strikes me. I run a hand through my ragged hair with a frown.
Mirella smirks at my distaste. "It's something from an old friend," she says quietly. Slowly, she reaches behind her and collects a scroll on parchment paper, tied up with a red ribbon. "He promised me not to give it to you until you were truly ready."
I chuckle at the formalities. "Ready for what?" I ask bluntly as I undo the ribbon and peer at the words.
It takes a moment to realize what's before me. The handwriting is too neat to be anyone's but-
"Sullivan," I whisper, tears already welling in my eyes.
Mirella nods, patting a hand on my shoulder – the strongest form of affection she'll ever show to anyone, as I've learned over the years – before rising. "I'll leave you to it," she murmurs.
Reading Sullivan's last words to me in front of anyone feels wrong, so I sloppily jump the stairs two or three at a time before collapsing onto my bed and locking the door. I flick the lamp beside me on and catch my breath, readying myself for one last piece of Sullivan.
With shaky hands and teary eyes, I unravel the parchment.
If you're actually reading this, then Mirella has finally swallowed her bitchiness and listened to someone besides her ugly conscience. But I guess that's beside the point. Krynne, once you leave the arena, it'll be hard. You've probably already felt that. But just know that I'll be rooting for you, wherever I am. I have always believed in you, from the moment I met you and all your loud tendencies to now. I will never stop believing in you. I can't tell you what's going to happen, but I know that whatever you do, it'll be for the best. Have faith in yourself. I sure as hell always have, and I always will.
And since you promised, now you have to do everything that I didn't get the chance to. That sounds really selfish now that I'm writing it, but hey, a promise is a promise. But one thing above any stupid request, I want you to live your life. I want you to be happy and find yourself. I want you to accept who you are and love it because you deserve that. I know that you don't think so. But take it as a last wish from me, just know that you do. You deserve a great life, even if feel like you don't.
Glued beneath is the sheet of everything I wrote today. Everything I've not been able to do, but always wanted. Don't do these things just because I wanted to do them. I did this so you could remember me and remember what I've told you. Fulfill your own dreams, and if it happens to cross paths with mine, so be it.
1. Get a dog.
2. Learn how to swim.
3. Play fetch with dog.
4. Have a garden with a cactus because cactuses are cool as hell.
5. Build a treehouse.
6. Get a job at the research facility.
7. Go camping.
8. See the world.
9. Ride a horse.
10. Play the piano.
11. Make my own computer.
12. Learn how to play golf.
13. Find the love of my life.
14. Have kids.
15. Die without any regrets.
Just remember this, Krynne: I love you. You're the little sister I've never had, and I will never, ever forget you. I believe in you. I believe in how strong you are, how good your heart is, and how much you care for the people around you. I'll miss you, Krynne. I'll wait for you, wherever it is I am. And I'll be ready to listen to all that happened while you lived for yourself and for me.
Go get 'em, Krynny.
My hands don't cease to tremble even as I drop the parchment paper and bury my head into a pillow. Tears of nostalgia and joy flow steadily out of my eyes and practically soak the soft fabric through and through until I turn over and stare at the ceiling fan spin again and again.
I can feel him. In the air around me, in the sky above me, and in the hope inside me, I feel Sullivan. And as I clutch the tired piece of paper to my chest, I know that I will never let go. I will never forget.
Despite the splotches covering my cheeks and tears streaking down my face, I tumble out of bed and throw on a pair of shoes. I unlatch the door and drop down the staircase with hurried steps. Daley turns to meet me from the couch.
His eyes flicker with concern as he sees my condition. "Hey, are you okay?"
I storm into the closet and grab my coat, wrapping the warmth around me as I get closer to the door. "I'm fine," I say between the pants.
He knits his eyebrows, getting up from the couch and practically inspecting me as I reach for the door. "Where exactly do you think you're going?"
A moment's hesitation comes and goes as I swing open the door, feeling the cold wind strike me. With a small smile plastered onto my face, I turn to Daley. "I'm getting a dog."
A/N: And there it is. A big thanks to everyone who submitted, reviewed, and/or read along. It's been a fun ride through Light Up The Sky, and I couldn't have done it without you.
Congratulations once again to Chaos for submitting Krynne! I loved her through everything, and I hope you're pleased with how things turned out :)
Another thank you especially to Heather and Immy, who helped me think of everything from plotlines to placements, and everything in between.
And that's all I've got! Leave your thoughts below. One last batch of questions because why not?
Who was your favorite tribute?
Are you pleased with the Victor?
For those of you in Eternal Penance, it's updating soon. Don't shoot. For those of you that aren't... well, stick around. There'll be something in the future. See you!