Andromeda Eriae, 18, District 2

Time slows as the waif-like girl from 3 leaps up and chucks her knife at the presidential box.

She doesn't hit the president. Not by a long shot.

But she does hit something.

There's an ear-piercing shriek and a flurry of whirling colours in the audience beneath the box. Around us, the rest of the crowd roars, so deep and angry that the sand shudders at my feet. I can't tell who the victim is, but they're still screaming, so it couldn't have been fatal. Paramedics in white are already pushing their way through the audience, shouting commands to the gawking peacocks surrounding the body.

Idiots. Why did they leave themselves so exposed? Why not put up a forcefield?

Because they thought they'd already won.

Well, they have. The paramedics have a stretcher out, carting away the squawker—some purple mess with a lacy white dress. In short order, they'll be patched up, good as new. And it never will have meant anything.

But she still hit something.

In the box, the president's on her feet, straining to get a look at what's happening below. Nero August, 2's beloved mayor, is trying to drag her away from the edge. On her other side, Octavian August is also standing, but his hands are fisted at his side. He's not looking at his sister; he's looking at Adia James, with so much hatred it's almost laughable for a grown man to direct at a teenager. But it's not laughable, because the crowd is literally calling for blood, and Peacekeepers in the audience are aiming their guns, and the Head Gamemaker's glare is now turning on me.

For the briefest flash of a moment, I can see it. How this could play out, just like one of my brother's oft-dreamed protests. Whatever James's intention, she's thrown all us "finalists" off. No one's leaping to kill each other just yet. We could join hands. Stare down the Augusts and the whole damn Capitol and say that enough is enough.

And then we'd all be shot.

The image is still in my head even as I start moving. Maybe that's why, for what I'm pretty sure is the first fucking time in this arena, I feel a small sting in the corner of my eye. More than anything else in this arena, more even than killing Chance, this moment will be what defines my life.

But I will have a life.

The guy from 11 stumbles away on my periphery, but I'm not heading for him. I'm already reaching out to grab James's hair in my fist, my other hand drawing the gleaming golden dagger the Capitol so graciously provided me.

In the box, Octavian nods. His sister gives a more grandiose gesture, and the stadium bellows zealously in answer.

I oblige, pull the girl's head towards me, and slit her throat.

It takes no effort. She practically falls into my chest. Her arms are outstretched wide, her eyes closed, and I have the strangest thought of Cassie, on a beach back in 4, dropping down to make a sand angel, giggling up at the balmy sun.

But then I feel the flecks of warmth on my hand, and I see the deep red spray across the dirt of the arena, and I remember my sister is dead, my whole family is dead, the girl from 3 is dead. A deafening cannon confirms it.

And yet, over the bloody grin I carved in her throat, her lips are still twitched up in a hint of a smile.

How? I want to ask her. I killed you. You lost. The Capitol still wins.

But it doesn't matter what she'd say, because that last statement will always be true. If your victory doesn't fit in their framework, then you will never have victory.

So I raise my bloody dagger to the sky, and I let their ovation rock the stadium. To the Augusts, I give a nod.

Julia raises her hands. "Let the finale begin!"

And I turn on my last two opponents.

Kale Hackberry, 17, District 11

I can't hear the crowd anymore. I can feel the vibrations in the ground, but there's no sound in my ears except a high-pitched, all-encompassing ring. And the wheeze of my breath—too short, too fast, far too shallow.

At least with Del and Sam, I wanted to move. I couldn't, because of the rocks and the doors, but I could strain my muscles and try. But this . . . this is just like the beginning of the Games, when Vesper turned on Soren. I should be running to help Adia. I should be bolting the fuck out of here. But I can't. There are four invisible walls surrounding me, and a roof that's pressing lower, lower, lower . . .

But then the girl from 2 turns around, and though her hooded eyes are far more composed than Vesper ever was, something about it is the exact same look he gave us all after murdering Soren. There's no Sam here to snap me out of this, but her voice is in my head anyways.

Damn it, asshole, MOVE.

Suddenly I can breathe, I can run, and I can hear the crowd shriek. Like a million excited kids all babbling over each other about which shiny toy they want next. An audience member right behind me screams, "Cut Eleven's throat!"

My hands rise in fists automatically, even though all it does is make my vision go white with pain as my palm pulls at the jagged gash right through it. God, I have nothing, not even two good hands—despite myself, my breathing starts to quicken again. The world is a blurry smear of rainbows; there's too much movement, I can't focus on one thing, where the fuck is Andromeda?

There. Holy shit—I nearly trip over my bad ankle as I limp backwards. She's already halfway across the arena from Adia. But she isn't even giving me a second glance.

She's making a beeline for Tesla. And she's got a sword out now.

Tesla looks like she was expecting this; her expression is positively feral, but it's out of rage and fear rather than shock. She levels a ridiculously long spear at Andromeda's chest, but I can see even from here she's struggling just to keep it steady. Aw, having a hard time using your presents from the Capitol? Well fuck you.

Andromeda slows, but continues her approach; Tesla starts to retreat. I hobble in the opposite direction, cautiously side-stepping my way towards Adia's fallen body. If I could go anywhere else, I would, but I have a feeling if I skirt too close to the bleachers, the audience is going to take matters into their own hands. The jeering laughter when we all first walked in here has been replaced by something far more sinister, and the Peacekeepers around the stadium still haven't dropped their guns (most of which are trained firmly on me). The Capitol wasn't expecting to see their own blood spilled here.

Adia James, you are my fucking hero.

"Stay back!" Tesla's screech draws my eye to the opposite side of the arena. She's nearing the wall, trying to alter her retreat, but soon enough, she's going to get boxed in. Andromeda seems content to wait, prowling just out of spear range, her bloody sword swinging lazily by her side. "Go after him, it's him they want!"

She jabs the spear in my direction, and the audience shouts its approval, but Andromeda doesn't even flinch. She must say something—I can see anger twist Tesla's expression from here, though I can't hear a thing over the crowd. Tesla hefts the spear up again, but Andromeda's still far out of range; she's bouncier on her feet now, though, even though one of her legs looks almost as fucked up as mine. Tesla's getting tired, and Andromeda's starting to search for an opening.

Good. If there's one death I don't mind standing by and watching, it's Tesla fucking Sinclair's.

But then she looks at me again from across the arena, with those soulless green eyes I will go to my grave despising, and she shouts, "They're saving you for last! They're going to make your death slow."

"She's trying to manipulate you," Andromeda calls out. Her little chase has veered slightly, so I can see half her face as she watches Tesla. The sword swishes calmly back and forth. "Head's up, she's a psychotic bitch."

"Oh, I fucking know." I take another step firmly away from their fight, staring Tesla down the whole time. Letting her know that she's dug her own grave—no one's getting her out of this. I'll let Andromeda do what she has to, and then . . . well, we'll go from there.

Except then I see the flash of metal.

. . . chains.

There are chains in the centre of the arena.

In the chaos, I would have missed them. It's only my hobbling retreat towards Adia that's made me cut through the middle. I have to take a couple steps closer to be sure, which I do, and, yup. Four manacles. Two with barely any chain, and two with longer trails—but still short enough that they'd force a person to stay on their knees.

Slowly, I turn to find Octavian August staring right at me. His sister, his brother, everyone in the audience is focused completely on the fight between the two girls. But not him.

It clicks in my brain that he was the cloaked figure in the vulture room. Of course. This whole fucking thing has been one elaborate revenge plan, right from the start. The Capitol doesn't want to watch me fight for my life; they're here to see me beg for death.

Well fuck that.

Tesla Sinclair, 17, District 1

My arms are aching. The spear tip keeps dropping towards the dirt, but every time it does, Andromeda steps in, and I have to jerk it back up even as my muscles scream. It's so tempting to drop it and draw my sword instead, but I know the second I do, I'm dead. No way I can take Andromeda down in a melee fight, especially with the fucking armour she got—keeping her at bay is the only chance I have. But sweat has coated my forehead, is pouring down my chest and back, and it's not all from the exertion. I might die. I might die.

Once there was a girl who thought the very same thing when she faced down Soren Tains. Who was terrified Vesper wouldn't come to save her, and who was almost more horrified when he did.

I don't remember that girl (but I will). I can't afford the fear, or the disgust. So I smirk when I look over Andromeda's shoulder. "You should really look behind you."

"Really?" she says. "That's all you've got left?"

And Kale clocks her in the head with a shield.

She goes reeling to the right. Kale stumbles back, but I leap forward, summoning the last of my strength to lift the spear—

It's not enough; I barely scrape her new breastplate before her sword whacks the shaft away. The hit's so strong I go spinning, nearly falling on my face in the dirt. Kale raises the shield to hit her again, which stupidly leaves him open to the elbow that goes straight into his nose. His footsteps might have been covered by the crowd, but that crack is definitely audible.

Andromeda has the perfect opportunity to skewer him, but predictably she kicks him down instead. The audience cackles, happy—and suddenly, a surge of rage blazes through my stomach as I realise this is what they've always wanted. An avatar of the Capitol beating around an avatar of the rebellion.

So I'm what? The fucking preshow?

The only reason these goddamn Games worked is because of me.

I leave the spear in the dirt, caution be damned, and whirl around with my sword drawn. But I hesitate, because I don't know where to hit her. Every bit of her is armoured bronze except her head, and my arms don't have the strength to raise the sword that high, not in a way that will give the swing any power. Too late I realise I should have drawn a knife instead, too fucking late, so all I can do is zero in on the gap behind her knee. But by the time I plunge down with the blade, Andromeda's already turning, and my aim is off anyways; there's a grinding squeal of metal, but no more before her sword flashes an agonizing slice across my cheek and nose.

Too close, Tesla, too close!

I stumble back, but there's no way I'd have time to get clear—except that Kale slams his foot into Andromeda's bad leg, dropping her to a crouch. She's still moving though, scrambling away from us; I don't pursue, too busy spitting out the waterfall of blood that's streaming down my cheek and onto my lips.

By the time Kale's stood up and I've righted myself, Andromeda's put herself in front of the both of us, sword wavering from one body to the next. For a moment, we all just stand, panting. Even the crowd has quieted down.

Kale and I are less than an arm's length apart. An intrusive thought worms into my head of me simply turning and stabbing him, but no. I could never take Andromeda out on my own. Plus, in a showdown between her and me, I'm not the Capitol's favourite to win.

She needs to go.

"I said she was manipulating you," Andromeda barks at Kale, shuffling from one foot to the next. "Listen, the shit she's done—"

"I know what she's done." Kale's actually shaking, and when he glances at me, it's like I'm staring down the inferno all over again. Too late I realise he's probably had the thought about stabbing me, but he makes no move to do so—finally seeing reason, it seems. "What about you, huh? I heard about all the shit you did to Aemilius Lewellyn."

That throws Andromeda. "Lewellyn? So?"

Oh, dear Andromeda, poor choice of words.

"More to the point," I say, only because I feel I need to solidify my case so Kale doesn't revaluate who his bigger enemy is. "You're planning on dissecting him live for all of Panem to see."

"Yeah, what the fuck—"

Andromeda just shrugs; I can feel the heat radiating off of Kale. "Look around, kid," she says to him, and she's got this old, world-weary tone that's pretty fucking arrogant for a girl one year older than us. "You're not getting out of here. There's no way to avoid it."

"I beat them once before."

"Did you? 'Cause it looks like they were prepared for you being here."

"Fuck you," Kale says. "Fuck all of this."

"Agreed," I say. To him, I add, "We have to flank her—"

"Fuck you especially—"

"I least I won't torture you, I said I didn't want to see you suffer—"

But there's no more time for words, because Andromeda's got her breath back, and she's lunging.

Too late, I realise while we were talking she was testing out her bad leg, seeing how much weight she could put on it. She must have decided it's enough, because she spins her good one around to slam into my side. I choke on the impact and go flying into Kale, whose own imbalance can't keep us upright. We both go sprawling to the ground, and Andromeda sprints in to slam her sword into my chest.

I roll just in time, but then she's on top of me. The sword's still lodged in the ground, but she doesn't need it; her hands are more than enough to clamp around my throat. Pressure like I've never felt before crushes me; it's like trying to inhale smoke, but it burns a thousand times more, and there's an awful squeezing with it—I don't know if she's trying to suffocate me or snap my neck, but I'm panicking too much to guess.

But then Kale's back, my spear in hand, swinging it like a baseball bat at Andromeda's face. She's wise to him though, and ducks under it before rocking up to her feet, dragging me with her. The movement is enough to loosen her grip, and with renewed clarity I drive two of my fingers into her windpipe with as much force and malice as I can muster. She gasps and lets me go, but even as I stagger away she pushes me—not strong, but just enough that I go stumbling into Kale.

"She's trying . . ." I cough out a horrible wheeze my throat blazing. "Keep us . . . together . . . have to separate . . ."

"Again, fuck you—"

"Kale." My voice isn't working—the word comes out as a whine too high-pitched to be audible—so I grab his wrist and dig my fingernails into the skin as hard as I can. He yanks his arm away instantly, face curdling with utter revulsion. He won't listen to anything I say; he'll keep me around as long as it wards off his own torture, but we are absolutely not in this together.

Fine then. Fuck you too, Kale Hackberry.

But as much as I'd love to say it, my throat won't allow it. And Andromeda's already recovered—her sword flashes towards my head, there's a sharp shove from my side, sending me spinning past her blade and into the dirt. I hit the ground hard, hands already occupied covering my face.

And I scream.

Kale Hackberry, 17, District 11

I thought I'd shoved her out of the way. Pure fucking instinct, because if I'd taken a second to think logically, there's no way in hell I would have tried to save Tesla Sinclair. But it looks like I got it wrong—or maybe some unconscious part of me wanted to send her into the sword's path. Whatever the case, she's on the ground now, and Andromeda's standing over her.

I should do nothing. For Sam, for Del. Let Andromeda take this monster out.

But then it'll just be me, and her, and her fifty thousand supporters.

So I rear back with the spear and deliver another swing right into her side.

And she catches it.

Oh, fuck

The spear is jerked from my hands before the butt slams into my stomach. I go reeling back, arms flailing, unable to stop the shaft as shoots out again, right between my eyes.

My vision goes black, then sparkly, then black again. I groan, rolling over and vaguely aware that somehow I'm now in the dirt. Blood splits in two rivers down either side of my nose, joining whatever's already congealed there from Andromeda's elbow to my face. I want to breathe and throw up and sleep all at once—but I can't, because now Andromeda's standing over me and she's . . .

She's sliding her sword back into her belt. Tesla's still curled up on her side in the dirt, moaning, and Andromeda takes that as a sign that she can turn her back on the 1 girl, and instead use both hands to grab my bad ankle and pull.

"Fuck," I choke out, just before I do vomit up whatever shit I've still got left in my stomach. My ears feel like they're on fire, the ringing is back, and the pain, the pain, the pain. It's like a kaleidoscope of agony spinning across my eyes, blossoming with new colours every time Andromeda gives my ankle another yank.

She's dragging me. Slowly—I'm a tall guy, but she's a tall girl, and she's been better fed throughout this thing, injuries notwithstanding. She is making headway, wherever she's going; every time I blink I see six different versions of her, surrounded by a spinning arena.

Then she lets my ankle drop, and all I manage is a weak groan of relief as something cool is pressed against it.




I jerk my other leg up to my chest as she comes at it with a second manacle, then snap a kick out at her reaching hand. It only hits the stupid metal guards she's got on her arms, she doesn't even flinch, and her sweaty hand is trying to find a hold on my ankle even as I yank it back and forth over and over. "Don't you fucking dare, you have to give me a fucking chance, don't you dare—"

She stomps down hard onto my bad ankle, with her new boots too, and the ensuing eruption of pain is all the distraction she needs; I can hear the clasp click shut even over the pounding of my pulse, the thunder of crowd, the cheers and jeers and calls for my slow, agonising death.

Even with my vision still blurry, I force myself to sit up, hands scrabbling over the manacles at my ankles. They might as well be solid metal—there's barely a seam, and definitely no keyhole.

The invisible walls are back, not just around me but inside me too, compressing my lungs until I can barely breathe. I'm trapped. I'm done.

Andromeda steps away, back towards Tesla—ready to tie up loose ends before the real show begins. As a last act, I lash out, desperately grabbing her calf with some half-mad idea to bite her. But of course I couldn't, because she's armoured there too. She might as well be a statue—even her face regards me with cool detachment as she draws her leg away.

"How could you?" I hate the edge of panic in my voice, but even more I hate the feeling of something wrapped tight around my skin, chaining me to the ground, like at any second it's gonna draw me back into that fucking labyrinth. "You're on their side? After all of this? How?"

"There's no other path." Andromeda shakes her head—slowly, like it sucks but hell if she'll do anything about it.

"We could fight them—"

"Who, you? You couldn't even try to kill me."

The spear . . . no, that's not true. I just thought I'd have more power if I swung it, it felt more natural than . . . stabbing.

God, I didn't even fucking realise it, but I'm handicapping myself.

I'm not making it out of here.

Andromeda shrugs at the crushing revelation on my face. "You have to be ruthless in Panem. Sorry. That's the way it goes."

"Ruthless," I echo dully. And then, "You gonna do to me exactly what they did to Del."

I don't even know if it registers with her, if she knows who I mean, but I know, and now that I've said it I can't stop thinking about it. Del, and that fucking brand in his skin, and all the scars, and his twitchiness, his nightmares, the fact that he tried to kill himself because it was a better alternative than . . . god, I don't know what. But I'm going to find out.

"Please don't," I whisper, 'cause that's all I've got left. "Don't do it like this."

Andromeda sighs. And for a moment, just a moment, the statue is gone, and I see the girl again. The eighteen-year-old, just as trapped as me.

The eighteen-year-old who might not enjoy it, but who will still absolutely torture me anyways because those are the rules and she doesn't question them.

Suddenly, the crowd's applause becomes a rumbling OOOOOH. There are some shouts of distress, some overloud shushing, the words nothing but a garbled mess of sounds. Andromeda looks at her supposed supporters, confused by the mixed signals. Some are trying to tell her something, but others are content to watch it happen.

And then a knifepoint erupts from her neck.

It disappears just as quickly with a fresh squirt of blood. Andromeda chokes, staggers to the left, but Tesla doesn't leave anything to chance. She stabs her again, through the cheek. The ear, the eye. Anywhere she can touch her, which is exclusively her head. A cannon sounds, but still she keeps at it. She must have been faking that injury, because there aren't any new cuts on her face, nor is there any sign of pain in her expression. Only pure, unadulterated rage.

The sob I was building up dies in my throat. Based off what little Del revealed of his past, I figured Andromeda was the worst fate I could get: someone who just didn't care. She had no stake in hurting me, she got no enjoyment from it, she would do it because it was her job. For my death to be so impersonal, to be some kind of goddamn checkbox, was fucking terrifying thought.

But Tesla . . . god, now that I can see her face as she stabs Andromeda over and over again, shrieking with every blow, I might have just changed my mind. The overwhelming fury that's completely possessed her features, turning her face bright red, twisting her puckered skin to cast even more monstrous shadows—oh, she cares about this. Andromeda doesn't see me as a human being, but Tesla does and she'd still kill me.

I can't tell which is worse.

My hands go again to the manacles at my ankles, even though I know there's no hope, as Tesla yanks her knife one last time out of Andromeda's mutilated skull. The crowd stirs, uncertain now. Somebody boos.

"How many kills did she get?" Tesla demands, whirling around to face the audience. I jangle the chains wildly, but there's no hint of give. "HOW MANY?!"

The crowd hesitates before a few scattered voices call out, "Three!"

"And how many did I get?"

"Four!" shouts a loud, single voice from somewhere to the left.

"Five now!" cries someone else. "Five!"

"Seven!" Tesla bellows back in answer. "Soren and Stanley were mine too! It was all me! It's always been me!"

"TESLA!" shouts the crowd.

"Seven! Who were they? Soren Tains!"


"Stanley Bevali!"


I'm going to be sick. Hearing the names of the tributes, the kids, on the lips of the Capitol mob . . . is that what they are? A rallying cry? Some statistics?


I want to cover my ears, but I can't, I have to get these fucking chains off, but there's no fucking way—


Stop, stop, STOP.

"Kale Hackberry."

The crowd falls utterly silent as Tesla turns to address every curve of the stadium before finally turning on me. She points her knife, still dripping blood onto the sand, right at me. "Kale Hackberry!"


I lunge for Andromeda's body, my hands just managing to reach her sheathed sword. In the time it takes Tesla to step forward, I've got it drawn; she yells and comes swinging down with her knife, but I'm already rolling away. Fear or adrenaline or pure fucking magic gets me on my feet, untangling the chains around my ankles as Tesla revaluates her position.

I brandish the sword. She drops the knife and pulls her own from her belt—god, she's got another knife there too, my knife, how am I supposed to beat her when she's got a whole fucking arsenal?

But her arms are shaking. We're both injured, and exhausted, but she's the only one who can't help letting it show. Because I've lived through the hell that Eleven's become, but she was never made for this.

Noodle arms, Kale.

I gasp out a laugh, even though this is the least funny situation I've ever been in. Fucking nerves, I guess. The crowd has grown quiet again, and although someone boos, they're shushed just as quickly.

And then shockingly, Tesla snorts. She waves the blade in front of her, feigning nonchalance. "Did you ever think your life would end in a swordfight?"

I don't know if she's trying to lower my guard or what, but I'm not falling for it; there's no talking her way out of this. My grip tightens, and my glare narrows.

"Oh, come on, Kale." She's moving, slowly but surely, carefully circling—she knows I don't have enough slack to follow her around. Still trying to gain the upper hand. Bitch. "You have to admit this is a pretty strange twist of fate."

"No fucking shit."

Tesla chuckles, and the sound rubs my nerves raw. "It's a whole new Panem."

I don't know if it's the laugh or the words that get me, but suddenly my face gets red hot. "No!"

Tesla's at my shoulder now; I can twist my torso to keep her in my sights, but the chains keep my feet firmly in place. Still, I jab my sword at her with all the fury I can muster and continue, "This is crazy. It's not a new country, it's not some new fucking set of rules. It's completely insane. And it never won't be, no matter how many fucking times it happens. You don't get to be used to this just because you've killed seven other kids."

"Is that why you couldn't even try to kill Andromeda?" Tesla's almost at my back now, though her eyes are still locked on mine. Her withered lips twist in a humourless grin. "But you don't see me the same way."

Could I kill a person?


But could I kill Tesla?

For Sam and Del . . . maybe . . .

. . . should those be two different questions?

And why the fuck do I have to ask them in the first place?

Behind Tesla, the presidential box gleams. Octavian August is still watching me. If I kill Tesla, will he be the one who comes down and starts the job on me? Because I have absolutely no doubt her death will not be the end of this thing.

Oh, they wouldn't kill me. That would cut the fun short.

But they would never let me live.

The chains jangle as I try to turn as much as I can to fully face Tesla. "Tell me you know it," I say. "Tell me you know this is crazy."

She pauses. Her eyes flick to the audience around her. I don't have much hope, not after everything she's done. But in a particularly shitty situation, this is all I've got.

Still, I can't quite believe my ears when she whispers, "I do."

And then she strikes.

Her sword slices through the air; I whip mine around to meet it. The blades meet with a sharp clang that jolts the gash in my hand and tears the sword from my grip, but I'm already switching to grab Tesla's tunic. I yank her past me, and as I do I wrap my arm around her own sword arm, locking her in place. From there, it's almost easy to send my fist plowing upwards into her elbow.

She screams, and there's no faking that pain this time. Her other hand scrabbles at my face, raking jagged fingernails down my cheek, so I grab her wrist, but then she's kneeing me so hard we both sink to the ground.

Not yet, I keep thinking. Not just yet. But it's not out of fear so much, not anymore. I think I'm finally, finally all out of fear.

Seventeen years of keeping my head down in Eleven. Seventeen years of silently watching whippings, of ignoring everyone else, of going along with Peacekeepers, and I ended up here anyways. And by the time I wanted to do more, I couldn't. Couldn't reach Del, couldn't get to Sam, and now I'm trapped in place all over again.

Not yet.

Tesla struggles against my grip, so I grab her cheeks and slam my forehead into hers. Both of us are stunned, blinking tears from our eyes, but I recover first, yanking her forward. I duck my head, matted and bloody dreads drooping in front of my face. Hands squeezing tight in her hair, on the back of her neck.

My muscles tense—I could snap her neck from here.

Instead, I whisper in her ear.

Octavian August, 31, Head Gamemaker

For what feels like an eternity, the two last tributes of the 1st Hunger Games remain frozen on the ground. The audience is dead quiet; I swear I can hear the marble throne cracking beneath my white-knuckled grip.

What's going on?

How will the cards fall?

Will it all end here?

Or will it have to go on forever?

Movement, below. I choke out a gasp, leaning even further over the box's wall to see. Beside me, Julia and Nero are breathless.

The tributes pull away from their death grip. Still, they stare each other down. Green eyes locked on brown.

"For Panem," Tesla Sinclair says, loud enough for us all to hear.

And she draws her knife.

And she stabs Kale Hackberry.

And the crowd explodes.

It's a standing ovation of cheers and thunderous applause, fingers pointed, fists thrust in the air. Tesla's name is screamed; Kale's name is spat. The cannon echoes, over and over, and then the fireworks commence. Red and gold and green light up the coming evening. Julia's on her feet, announcing the girl, the victor, who rises from a swelling pool of blood.

As Tesla too starts spinning and screaming, the corpse at her side becomes the last point of stillness in the frenzied arena. The three corpses, I should say. Three dead district children. Twenty more lying in the city just outside these walls.

Lives taken for lives lost.

Justice served at last.

But I can't tear my frozen face from the boy in the sand. Closed eyes. Knife in his chest. Everyone around me is ecstatic, Julia and Nero included, but I'm still squeezing the armrests between my fingers because I don't feel any change. I don't feel anything.



(I know, I know, I'm so, so sorry, but there are three chapters left so don't kill me yet)