The gong rang, but it was practically inaudible under the screams and screeches of the trains that narrowly zoomed past one another, sloping upwards and just as quickly diving to ground level. There was a moment of peaceful hesitation as the tributes waited for the gong before realizing it already passed.
Then it began.
24th: Halvard Asbjorn, District Seven
Halvard got off his plate first. Sprinting to Abner took mere seconds, and getting the younger boy to get his bearings and understand their destination – a shack-like structure that sat atop a cliff with stairs stretching below it – only took a couple more. They would be fine, he reassured himself.
Beside him, Adelaide wasted no time in scooping up the knives at her feet and sending one flying into Halvard's thigh. The older boy yelled in pain, tumbling to the wooden ground of the station. He grabbed the hilt of the knife, trying to get it out and arm himself. Adelaide's second knife was buried in his chest before he got the chance. The cannon sounded instantly.
Adelaide ripped the two knives out of Halvard's body before readying her aim for the younger boy, Abner, but he was already gone. He had never stopped to begin with.
He hadn't heard Halvard fall.
23rd: Shaila Avani, District Two
True to his word, Vice had every intention of leaving Shaila be. Instead, he sprinted to the core of the Cornucopia and armed himself with a trident, turning to the field in preparation of wielding off some oncoming tribute. Instead, he watched as Shaila and Arleen swung back and forth, narrowly avoiding the other's blades.
Shaila buried her knife into Arleen's hip, grinning as the other girl collapsed, awaiting the final blow. Her grin vanished when she realized that Vice would be delivering it, not her.
Vice ripped his trident out of Shaila's back before picking up Arleen, who was struggling to stay conscious. Aelia spotted them across the field, and, bow in hand, ran to meet them.
"Let them kill each other," said Aelia, nodding at Arleen. "We have our own burdens to carry."
22nd: Aline Carron, District Twelve
The backpack had been a risk, but Aline had spent her life making calculated risks, weighing pros and cons and always ending up with the right decision. The sickening crunch of Metris' sword burying into her spine told her she got this one wrong.
21st: Tarryn Cheverly, District Eight
Miraculously enough, all five of them found each other in the midst of the fray. Tarryn nodded to her alliance before they sprinted into the heart of the arena, taking full advantage of the different Career factions being distracted by one another. Ren and Scarlet scouted the inner edge while Maisyn and Theon kept watch on the fighting elsewhere. It was up to her to gather the supplies.
Inside the horn, she met the eyes of a quivering boy holding quivering knives. She recognized him. Thorin. Scarlet's district partner. "Please leave," he mouthed, inaudible over the screeches of the trains.
"Sorry," she yelled in response, yanking a sword off the wall of the Cornucopia. "I can't do that."
She swung one, two, three times, quickly sending both of Thorin's knives flying across the horn, banging against the inner wall. Her last swing drew blood as she swiped a thin line across his arm.
But it was Metris, once again, who drew the final blow. Hiding behind the bastion of the horn, Metris buried her knife in the side of Tarryn's throat before signaling Thorin to follow her quietly, a finger pressed to her lips. Neither of them paid much attention to the dull thud Tarryn's body made as it hit the ground.
Scarlet was the first to realize what happened. She couldn't watch as the realization dawned on Ren. The boy had found his happiness in a stranger and entrusted it to her. Without her… Scarlet didn't want to know what Ren would become.
20th: Declan Whittacre, District Ten
He spun in confusion as he tried to locate his alliance on the opposite end of the Cornucopia. When he finally saw them, Declan sprinted across the field, elated to escape with his life. The faces of his allies mirrored the joy in his own. As Cohen's knife lodged itself into his nape and Declan fell to his knees, however, he watched their joy morph into first shock, then horror.
Then he watched Kristopher urge Letricia and Elora on, yelling something muted and distorted. It took him a second to realize they were leaving him to die.
19th: Metris Placquerd, District Five
Metris and Thorin jumped at the opportunity to attack an opposing Career, taking advantage of Cohen's occupation with Declan. But when Metris sprinted to him, he was ready. Cohen parried the first of Metris' swings before disarming her with his second. She stepped back, waiting for Thorin to strike and give her a chance to recover.
But Thorin was nowhere to be found.
It was only after Cohen drove his sword into Metris' nape that Bellamy and Cohen found each other, long after the majority of tributes either died or cleared the area. "Where's Shaila?" Bellamy asked as he caught his breath, keeping an eye out for the other Careers.
His focus shifted to the body on the floor as Cohen pointed her out. "Priston's gone, too."
Cohen shook his head. "Ran out the second the gong rang. So much for the legacy of District Two."
Across the Cornucopia, Cohen watched as Adelaide and Thorin scoured through the horn. He did his best to ignore the sneer that begged to cover his face.
A clang caught slightly off from the Cornucopia caught the two boys off guard. "We should probably get out of here before we join Shaila," Bellamy muttered as he grabbed Cohen's arm. And with that, the second broken Career pack left.
18th: Thorin Robiquet, District Six
"What happened to Metris?" Adelaide berated, more irritated than mournful of her ally's death.
Thorin stifled his guilt and lied through his teeth. "I'm not sure. She told me to get her another knife from the Cornucopia, and when I came back, she was... there."
"Dead," Adelaide corrected coldly. "You're not going to spook her ghost by saying it."
Before he could nod in agreement, a clang caught the two of them off guard. Adelaide motioned for Thorin to cover the left entrance as she took the right. As they enclosed on the door, Thorin couldn't help but look over the edge of the cliff staring at him from below. And when Adelaide opened the door for him to rush in, a pair of hands pushed him into the abyss of trains.
He died the second he hit the ground.
17th: Abner Demerath, District Eleven
He tried to run, but even then, he knew it was pointless. He had made it halfway through the window that faced the Cornucopia before Adelaide buried her jagged knife into his thigh again and again. By the time she circled around the building to finish him, he practically begged for the tip of the knife.
The silence bothered Adelaide. She had always trained to monitor other Careers, to look out for outer-district tributes, to read people and go from there. But her allies were dead. Her district partner, gone. She sat at the mouth of the Cornucopia with six corpses and dozens of whirring trains as company.
Kiefer didn't know what to do. It had taken a little persuasion and a lot of pushing to get Duke out of the Cornucopia after they spotted Aline's body. He got absolutely enraged at the death of a girl he met on a train a week and a half ago. Her first instinct was to mock him, but with his fragile state of mind, there was no telling how he'd react to anything now.
After sprinting for what felt like miles down a narrow corridor, Priston emerged at a train platform. Even there, surrounded by the whistles and whirs of the trains around him, he couldn't focus on anything but the sound Shaila made as she hit the ground.
Theon and Maisyn both avoided Ren's gaze as he buried his face in his arms. He had been relatively stoic at first, but as soon as they settled down in a slow-moving train, he hadn't said a word. He didn't say anything, but Maisyn could feel him blaming them for not noticing the girl from Five, the one who killed Tarryn. A part of her felt bad. The other part wished Ren was in there instead of Tarryn. Theon busied himself with sorting through their entire inventory while trying to forget what had happened to Tarryn. It took a moment to remember that Tarryn was the one who gathered all of it.
Kristopher consoled Letricia and Elora as they mourned Declan's death. It took all his silence his frustration. He was dead; what would dwelling on that do for them?
Vice let out a sigh of relief as Aelia finally settled on a place to rest for the night. Quite unceremoniously, he dropped Arleen down before leaning on the railway behind him. Despite the drop, Arleen only stirred slightly before returning to her half-conscious reality.
16th: Arleen Gavelle, District Ten
As always, Vice managed to voice Aelia's thoughts precisely. "Do we leave her or kill her?"
Aelia paused for a moment before answering. "Better us than someone else," she murmured as she drew an arrow from her sling. A shot through the heart ended the discussion.
It was early dawn when Adelaide heard the quiet shuffling. She'd always been a light sleeper, so trying to rest with the constant screeching of the trains was practically impossible. Turns out the trains would help her catch her intruder.
As she rounded the corner and prepared to bury a knife into them, she made out a familiar face. Priston. Immediately, he raised up his hands in surrender, face flushed with panic and fear. "Please, Adelaide. I'm alone, and I just need someone to talk to," he said, voice quavering. "I can't do this alone."
The trainee in her screamed to throw the knife, to put him out of his misery. To bring herself closer to being the last one standing. But the human part of her won out. She knew that would have to stop soon if she needed to win, but she couldn't bring herself to do it. Not yet. She resheathed her knives. "What happened?"
Elsewhere, the tributes familiarized themselves with the train flows. Before the sun set, all of them had a vague knowledge of how to escape on short notice. No one said it, but all of them knew they would just as likely use them to chase down their kills than run away from their killers.
It was Elora that noticed them first.
Out in the distance, Letricia could barely make out four figures in the early morning light. Two boys and two girls. Three sleeping, one on watch. Most importantly, she could see the packs that rested between them.
Kristopher inhaled quietly behind her. "We need the food," he reasoned, nudging the two of them along. Letricia could agree to that; they hadn't eaten anything since the start of the Games. There were drinking fountains and wells scattered across the trains and platforms, but they hadn't seen a single animal or plant since the Games began. But the underlying suggestion in Kristopher's voice made her sick.
"You want us to fight them? We only have two knives between us," Letricia murmured back. Elora nodded in agreement.
Kristopher shrugged. "Good thing only one of them is awake."
Scarlet felt herself nodding off in spite of her numerous attempts to force herself awake. None of them had slept very much at all throughout the night; the constant screech of the trains set everyone on edge. Numbing themselves to that kind of noise could make them vulnerable to a tribute attack of a much quieter caliber, they all agreed. Better lose some sleep and keep their lives than vice versa.
The faint sound of footsteps, therefore, was more than enough to set her off. Hastily, Scarlet ran to Maisyn, shoving her awake. "There's someone here," she scream-whispered, getting her mildly awake before moving onto Ren.
15th: Scarlet Marlowe, District Six
But it was too late. By then, Kristopher was on the group, and with one swing to her chest, Scarlet fell to the ground. The cannon sounded, accompanied by the frightened yelps of the Ren and Theon as the two woke up to the death of yet another ally.
Elora clutched Kristopher's arm, a pack slung around her shoulder. Letricia held onto another so hard her knuckles turned white. "We got what we came for," Elora yelled, "don't do anything you'll regret."
He grinned slightly. "I won't regret it."
As her allies argued, Letricia could finally see past the adrenaline-based fog that clouded her vision, her thoughts, her mind. And as she did, she finally realized who they had just attacked: Theon and his allies.
She owed nothing to him. He was brutish, selfish, cruel to her. Nonetheless, the look of betrayal and hurt in his face made her heart ache with regret and empathy. She could be the bigger person. She unlatched the pack from her shoulder and cautiously made her way to them.
"Letricia, where are you going?" a voice called out behind her. Elora.
"No one deserves to die hungry like this," Letricia answered back, continuing to approach her district partner slowly.
"Stop!" The force of Kristopher's voice made her pause in her tracks. "Those belong to us," he continued, a growl now seeded in his command. She was used to following orders. Her whole life had been letting someone else, whether it be her father or her teachers or her mother or whoever, tell her who she should lead her life. What was important, what wasn't. And she was sick of it. She kept walking.
14th: Letricia Kode, District Three
She made it about halfway when a searing pain shot through her chest. She had enough time to look down and see one of Kristopher's knives poking through her chest before she collapsed, the pack splattering onto the ground with her blood.
Kristopher nodded at his handiwork before turning to a shell-shocked Elora. "Alright, you win. We should probably go now," he chuckled coldly. Elora stood, frozen, for a moment, but as Kristopher's icy gaze turned to meet her, her feet immediately jogged to catch up to him. She wanted to say it was out of instinct, but she knew now that it was out of fear.
It had always been out of fear.
Theon, Ren and Maisyn sat with various levels of disbelief, horror, and relief. Two bodies littered the ground around them, and their supplies were half-robbed, half-scattered. For once, Maisyn didn't know what to say.
On the other side of the arena, Cohen perked up at the boom of consecutive cannons. Bellamy, beside him, shook his head. "Two cannons, and we haven't seen anyone in two days," he muttered below his breath.
At the Cornucopia, Adelaide expressed the same disdain.
Only Aelia and Vice were content with the absence of other tributes around them. "I don't care as long as I'm alive," Vice muttered when asked by Aelia as he cleaned his trident. "As long as we're alive," Vice corrected quickly.
Vice hoped Aelia didn't catch his little slip. She did.
After a day of nothingness waiting for intruders to try and loot the Cornucopia, Adelaide decided it was time to hunt. Priston nodded eagerly in agreement, almost giddy just to have someone else around. It took only a couple of hours to spot a pair of tributes riding a high-speed train, not unlike the one they rode to the Capitol.
But as soon as they were about to reach the train, it set off. Adelaide cursed beneath her breath, but Priston shook his head behind her. "It'll only take half an hour to come back," he rationalized, pointing out the zigzag path rail that looped below them.
Half an hour later, Duke and Kiefer returned to their train stop.
As soon as they did, Adelaide flung a knife into the narrow opening of their train car. The blade stuck to the car wall, nicking the side of Kiefer's neck as it went in. "Shit," Duke yelped, scrambling all of their supplies before the two hustled out, sprinting away from the Careers behind them.
Another knife whizzed path Kiefer, this time narrowly missing her head. "She'll hit us eventually!" Kiefer screamed, pulling Duke to a stop. Behind the temporary cover of the hill they'd just passed, Kiefer and Duke only had a handful of moments to catch their breath. "We can't run from this," Kiefer whispered quietly.
Duke nodded quietly. He knew what they had to do.
Priston sprinted ahead of Adelaide, adrenaline coursing through his veins as he gave hot pursuit to the pair of tributes ahead of him. It felt good, pumping his legs against the elevated platform floor, flexing his hands around the all too familiar hilt of knives.
13th: Priston Thame, District Two
That elation fled as soon as Kiefer's sickle buried itself into his forehead.
"Cover me!" Kiefer screamed as she struggled to get her blade out of Priston's head.
Duke tackled Adelaide to the ground to stop her from throwing another knife at Kiefer. Instead of spinning into his ally, the knife clattered onto the ground between them, leaving both of them unarmed.
12th: Duke Holloway, District Twelve
Adelaide struggled beneath the weight of Duke, and for a second, panic flooded her instincts. After that, training kicked in. Her hands locked around Duke's and twisted them off her neck. Duke howled in pain, giving Adelaide just enough time to knee him in the groin and wrap her kick him in his side enough to leave him curled up on the ground. Adelaide wasted no time in digging the sharp heel of her boot into his neck, watching as his blood enveloped his skin until his cannon added to the cacophony of noises around them.
She readied herself to fight off the girl from Nine, but as she peered into the distance, there was no sign of her.
Kiefer stifled her sobs, trying her best to stay as still as possible as she hid behind a carton of carrots in the train cart she'd jumped into. There was no point in silencing her crying; the train more than covered her voice. But her movement, the disjunct shaking of her body to the rhythm of her sobs, would give her away in an instant. Here, what you saw dictated how long you lasted.
And all she could see was Duke's blood seeping out of his neck, his mouth, his nose.
She stumbled out of the train as it stopped at the next platform, still shaking from the image of Duke's still body splayed out on the floor. All her life, she managed to put up a strong face, a stoic facade and move on. It was who she was, how she coped. But this wasn't living. Everything was upside down, and she was disoriented from the flip. She just needed time, she told herself as she continued stumbling through the station doors.
11th: Kiefer Callistus, District Nine
But she wouldn't get it. As soon as she opened the door, Bellamy ambushed her from above. Some residual adrenaline she had from sprinting away from the Careers and Duke kicked in, giving Kiefer the instinct to parry Bellamy's first two swings and land a deep blow into his thigh.
Her sickle then became lodged in his leg, and for a second, she thought she could take him down. In a way, she was avenging Duke, killing a Career by proxy, even if it wasn't the right one. But that notion disappeared when Cohen buried his knife into her chest from behind.
Bellamy muffled a scream into his waddled up shirt as Cohen tried to patch up the deep cut in his leg. "It's not too bad," Cohen murmured as he squirted something out of a small bottle into the whole. "You'll probably be okay."
"No thanks to you," Bellamy growled, frustrated with Cohen's sluggishness, his incapacity to take this seriously. "I could've died and you casually walk up to her? Do you want me to die? God, aren't you supposed to be the trained one?"
10th: Bellamy Glover, District Five
Cohen shook his head, apologizing and groveling quietly to appease Bellamy's irritation. Later that night, Cohen volunteered for the first shift and waited for Bellamy's breathing to even out before unsheathing his knife.
"I don't want you to die," Cohen murmured, "but you've become a liability." Cohen paused for a moment, grinning at the cameras hidden in the station. "Alright, fine. Maybe I do want you gone," he quipped, chuckling to himself as he sunk his knife into Bellamy's nape. He expected… He didn't know what he expected to feel, but it surely wasn't the pang of doubt and remorse that filled him as soon as Bellamy's cannon sounded.
Wasn't this his dream?
Kristopher raised an eyebrow at the boom of the latest cannon. Elora stayed still beside him, somehow managing to sleep soundly amidst the cannons, the screeching trains, the threat of death looming above her.
She'd been different the past few days. Ever since he'd dispatched Letricia, she hadn't looked him in the eyes. And truthfully, he didn't understand why. Their so-called ally was willing to fold just because her district partner, who she described as a bully and a douche, pouted. He was doing her a favor.
She should be thankful, but instead, she treated him like she had been the one to betray her.
Besides, he reasoned as he started shuffling through his bag to look for his only knife, they were already down to nine. Eight, soon. He couldn't have anyone weighing him down anymore. He didn't have time to babysit little Elora anymore.
He frowned as he felt not a metal hilt but empty air in the pocket he had put the knife.
"Looking for something?" Kristopher turned slowly to Elora, knife in hand. He grinned, mildly impressed. So that's why she fell asleep so quickly.
"Put the knife down, Elora," he murmured, raising both of his hands. "Put the knife down and we can talk."
She shook her head defiantly. "You're delusional," she growled as tears began to stream down her cheeks. "You made us leave Declan to die, you forced us to kill that little girl, and you killed Letricia," Elora cried, slowly elevating to a scream. "You deserve to be here. You deserve to die."
"Then do it," he challenged, now raising to a stand. "Give me what I deserve, Elora. If you're so righteous and good and perfect, then kill me and make the world all perfect and good and righteous, just like you." He laughed as she only backed away slightly. "Yeah, that's what I thought. You should be grateful I've taken you this far, Elora. You should be grateful that you reaped the rewards of all my hard work. And when I kill you, you should be grateful that you died at the hands of a Victor."
At that, Elora lunged, more out of fear of what else he had to say than anything else. Reading her easily, Kristopher sidestepped her swing and grabbed her arm before sinking his teeth deep into her skin. Elora cried out in pain, letting the knife drop to the floor in front of Kristopher, but he didn't seem to care. "Here, I'll start," he growled as he towered over her. "I'm grateful you chose me to be your ally. I'm grateful you got Declan and Letricia to join us on our little adventure. And I'm oh-so grateful for the opportunity to prove myself through you."
9th: Elora Valeyn, District Eleven
Elora tried to scramble up, but Kristopher delivered a swift kick to her ribs, making her writhe in pain on the ground. "Going so quickly?" Kristopher chuckled. "Let me show you the door," he growled, grabbing Elora by the hair before smashing her head through the window of the station door. Again and again he slammed her face onto the wooden frame until the door itself collapsed under the pressure and her face was nothing more than a bloody pulp.
Only then did he start picking up the shards of glass. Past the blood and bruises staining her once-beautiful face, Elora could only watch as Kristopher returned, half a dozen shards in hand. "Settle in, Elora. We're about to make the most out of this opportunity."
Day Five - The Feast
Kristopher grinned at the announcement of the Feast. He had plenty of food, but he sure could use a new shirt. This one was getting kind of bloody.
Vice and Aelia simultaneously shook their heads. The longer they could avoid the conflict, the better. Plus, they had food to spare. There was nothing to gain from this.
Adelaide winced at the thought of another fight. Bruises and cuts from her fights with Halvard, Abner, and Duke littered her body, and she ached from want of rest. She couldn't put herself through that again. Not yet.
Cohen pursed his lips. He'd made it this far by letting Bellamy take the brunt of their fighting; that's how he'd gotten to this point scotch-free. And he'd never admit it, but there was something… wrong. His dream felt oddly nightmarish.
Ren, Maisyn, and Theon were forced to really talk to each other for the first time in days at the announcement of the feast. "We can't take the risk," Ren murmured.
Maisyn frowned. "We also can't hide forever," she responded curtly. "We have to make a stand eventually; at least this way we do it on our own terms." Theon nodded with her, beginning to talk before Ren cut him off.
"If you really wanna go so bad, then go," Ren muttered, continuing to trek across the platform. "But know that you'll be going alone."
Maisyn and Theon paused to consider their options as Ren walked off. For a moment, he thought they left him for good. He was almost relieved at the thought of being alone, left without the burden of trusting people he never trusted. But soon enough, their footsteps caught up with them, and they continued their muted walk.
Kristopher waited for the first tribute to dart out of a nearby shack to grab food, clothes, or weapons from the table overflowing with supplies set up in front of the Cornucopia. But no one came out. Cautiously, he made his way to the table and, constantly checking behind him, rifled through the supplies himself.
He laughed sincerely as he realized what had happened. He was the only one here.
A voice in the distance caught her attention.
It wasn't loud, surely not as loud as the whistling of the train directly beside them, but Maisyn had an ear for voices. Gossip, at home, was always whispered. Here, they were just concealed. Nonetheless, as Ren and Theon continued to follow the railway to wherever the hell Ren planned on walking to, she saw them.
Aelia made eye contact with Maisyn from the station in front of them. She waited for the girl to alert her allies or sprint away from them, but she did neither. She simply looked away and continued walking.
"Did you see that?" Aelia murmured to Vice, who nodded in response. "What is she trying to do?"
"Take your shot and let's find out," he whispered back, hastily readying his trident to strike.
Aelia closed her eyes, felt the wind run around her, and pictured her arrow nailing the Ren squarely in the chest. As she exhaled, she released. It was in that very instant that Maisyn shoved Ren forwards, making the arrow narrowly miss his body. Aelia cursed as the trio began to take shelter, hiding from the rain of arrows that wasn't coming. "Take them head on and drive them left" Aelia barked at Vice.
Vice charged without hesitation, sprinting after the others as they continued to follow the path of the railway. Aelia sprinted ahead, planting herself squarely ahead of them. She had set it up perfectly; they were practically moving dummies at a straight shooting range.
What she hadn't considered was how fast people run when they're about to die. Ren was the first to reach Aelia, raising his bat to swing at her before tumbling to the ground with an arrow lodged in his knee. He was close enough to hear his rabid cursing above the roaring takeoff of the train beside them.
8th: Theon Carter, District Three
She wasn't as lucky with Theon. The boy from Three managed to sink his knife deep into her shoulder before she could loose an arrow directly into his chest. She flinched as his blood sputtered into her eyes and his body collapsed on top of her. His lifeless eyes blinked once, twice, before his cannon burst through the sky.
7th: Ren Ardaine, District Eight
Behind her, Ren got his bearings and managed to stand up only to hear the sprinting of Vice behind him. Raising his bat to ward off the swing of his trident, Ren stumbled back at the immense force of Vice's first swing and was immediately vulnerable to the second. The three prongs of Vice's trident skewered Ren against the wall, and the boy from Eight squirmed until the pain and the edges of his vision began to fade into darkness.
Finally, he realized, he was alone again.
Vice pulled his trident out of Ren and turned to make sure Aelia was okay. Before he could even see her, he heard her. More specifically, he heard her arrow nock into her bow.
The flash of pain in his chest appeared a moment later. Vice collapsed to his knees as the second arrow lodged itself into his stomach. "Sorry, Vice," Aelia murmured as she slowly tossed Theon's body off her. Only now could he see the deep gash in her shoulder. "I couldn't let you take me out over a little cut."
6th: Vice Chevallier, District Four
Her voice continued to prattle on, but suddenly Aelia's words became muddled, blurred. His body collapsed entirely, and he gasped for air desperately but to no avail. He knew what was coming, yet he didn't know what to expect. Slowly, he watched the purple sky get enveloped by black, and for the first time in days, he felt true silence.
And he slept.
Aelia breathed a sigh of relief as Vice's cannon boomed in the distance. She knew him better than he knew himself, and she knew the second she became more trouble than she was worth, he wouldn't hesitate to dispatch. She knew because it's what she would've done. What they'd been taught to do.
Hell, they'd done it to Arleen.
Aelia gave herself a moment to gather the belongings of the deceased beside her and grab anything of use. It was only then, as she rummaged through the bodies of the corpses of the three fallen tributes around her did she realize that there were supposed to be four.
Aelia cursed beneath her breath. Where was Maisyn?
When the train finally came to a stop, Maisyn grabbed her meager supplies and knife and reached the platform. She couldn't believed it had worked. The chaos of the fight had given her just enough time to jump onto the freight train that had started to take off just as they fought. She couldn't believe three cannons had gone off since then. Which meant either Ren and Theon was dead. Probably both. But more importantly, at least one of the Careers was, too. She couldn't believe she was one of the final five tributes.
She couldn't believe she was still alive.
Something was off.
Groggily, Adelaide got up, brushing the soot of the train station off of her as she looked for something different around her. At first she didn't see anything. The trains were still roaring across the arena and screeching to stops at each platform. Only when she looked above her did she notice it.
The sky was full of bats.
Adelaide cursed beneath her breath as she grabbed her knives and pack before sprinting off. She watched the Games enough to know what was happening; the final five were being trimmed down to the final four, three, two. It was unlikely the Gamemakers would specifically send mutts to kill anyone, especially her, this late in the game. No, they were herding them together.
When the path to the fastest train at her platform illuminated in front of her, her suspicions were confirmed. Adelaide twirled her knives anxiously. She wasn't ready. There were thin cuts and deep gashes that ached every step she took, and she could feel her mind slowing from the lack of sleep that had plagued her since the start of the Games.
But that just gave her more motivation to give one last push to the finish. One way or the other, this would end soon. She would be free.
Suddenly, the train came to a screeching stop, and the screen door slid open. This time, the floor in front of her train leading to the center of the station illuminated, demarcating a bright blue path. The road to the end.
As she turned the corner, she couldn't help but scoff at her opponent. "Didn't think I'd be seeing you here, Cohen."
Across the flat platform Cohen reciprocated Adelaide's smile, without the obvious hostility laced in hers and with undertones of fear and doubt seeded in his voice. "Nice to see a familiar face," he quipped in return, eyeing her fan of knives carefully.
Following his gaze, Adelaide raised her knives. "What, these? Are you that eager to start, Cohen? What happened to all the niceties you indulged in before? What happened to you, Cohen?" she asked harshly, malice present in every syllable.
Something in her eyes ran a cold shiver down Cohen's spine. Adelaide had always been frank, but now… now she was something else. "Not even a response?" Adelaide shook her head. "Coward," she sneered. With that, Adelaide lunged forward, sending two knives flying into his direction.
Cohen flattened himself out on the ground, watching as the knives zoomed on past him. Adelaide's next knife thudded into the ground right beside his head, and the next scraped the skin of his knee. Running behind a glass ticket booth, Cohen gave himself a minute to get himself together before Adelaide could get him in range again. "If you would stop hiding, this would be a lot easier."
Cohen shakily held onto the two mismatched blades in his hands. "If you could just jump off the station, that'd be a lot easier for me."
A raspy chuckle left Adelaide's mouth as she slowly rotated around the ticket booth. "Now why would I do that?"
As soon as she turned the corner, Cohen lunged, expecting to catch his district partner off guard, but she had been ready for him. They swung at the same time, with the same force, with the same fire burning in their eyes. One sunk into the other's stomach. The other shot past the other's skull. Only one cannon boomed.
5th: Adelaide Marchal, District One
Cohen clutched the hilt of Adelaide's knife, lodged deep into his stomach, and winced at the sharp pain. He couldn't last that long with this, he realized as he yanked his knife out of Adelaide's skull.
"Let's get this show on the road," Cohen muttered to the cameras surrounding him, painfully clutching his chest and dragging himself back into the train that took him to murder Adelaide. "Before I die on the road."
On the opposite side of the arena, Maisyn swatted away the same bats that had first attacked Adelaide. "Leave me alone, you shitheads," she growled in frustration, waving her thin knife into the air in hopes of scaring them off. That wasn't going to work anytime soon, but the bats still seemed reluctant to attack her. "What do you want me to do?" she screamed in frustration. It was all she felt now. The fear was gone. The sadness. All she felt was this growing rage at what had happened to her, at what she had become.
She just wanted it to stop.
Finally, a neon yellow light traced a pathway to a nearby structure. A station, she figured. Begrudgingly, Maisyn jogged away from the cries of the bats until they faded into the distance. It wasn't as if she had much of a choice as to where she could go now. Running wasn't of use anymore. All she could do was face her destiny.
As she set foot into the platform, she realized her destiny had a face. Kristopher grinned as he saw Maisyn approach him from the other side of the platform. "Hey, I know you!" he yelled, his natural grin curling across his face.
Maisyn clenched her jaw as she put faces to memories; this was the boy that attacked them in their sleep. This was the boy that killed Scarlet. This was the boy that killed his own ally when she stepped out of line. She looked down at her own knife, her own raggedy clothes and tattered hair. This was the girl who ran away from the fights. The girl who watched her allies die.
"Don't look so blue!" Kristopher called out across from her. "You'll feel better in no time."
She laughed as she tossed her knife from hand to hand, trying to convince the both of them that she had some hidden bravado. "Now that I can agree with."
"She speaks!" Kristopher exclaims, grinning as Maisyn's scowl once again replaced her smirk. "I didn't know you could do anything but seize up."
Maisyn narrowed her eyes sharply. "Oh, shut up, you creepy sack of shit. Don't come at me like you know me, like you can air my dirty laundry to the world. You can't; you don't know a single thing about me."
"Maybe not," Kristopher conceded. "Maybe I don't know you, specifically, but trust me, I know - knew - girls like you." He paused, chuckling to himself. "You kind of remind me of Elora. All high and mighty and good. You prance around this place like you're some damned angel, wrongly placed in this hell with the rest of us." The chuckling quickly morphed into a cold sneer. "You're not, sweetheart. You're here for a reason. I might not know it, but I'm sure you do. You're here because you deserve what's coming. You deserve to feel every nerve in your body scream in pain. You deserve to be reduced to begging for death. I promise you," Kristopher asserted, completely serious now, "I promise I will give you what you deserve."
And then he lunged.
Maisyn hadn't even realized how close Kristopher had gotten as he had been talking - yelling, more like - at her until it was almost too late. His knife spliced a thin cut on her skin, but she hardly felt it. Her mind was entirely set on destroying this sack of crap. She swung fervently, wildly scratching and slicing and stabbing her knife in every direction. Kristopher yelped in pain as her knife finally connected to his wrist.
But her victory was short-lived. Immediately the older boy buried his fist deep into her left eye before slamming his forehead against hers. Before she could reclaim her bearings, Kristopher disarmed her with a quick swipe of his own knife across her hand. Maisyn now was the one to retreat in pain, backing up to the edge of the platform.
Only then did she realize there was no way out.
Hundreds of feet below her, Maisyn made out the white streaks of trains zooming across the ground. There was no way anyone would live through that fall. She turned back to Kristopher, who now cautiously approached her, knife still in hand. She just needed to get him a little closer.
Suddenly, it hit her. "Please tell my family I love them," Maisyn whispered, doing her best to force tears out of her eyes. "Please tell them I did my best."
Kristopher grinned at her, the stark white of his teeth highlighting the bloodshot red of his eyes. "Now you've got the right idea." He took another step forward.
"My little brother, his name is Connery," she added hurriedly. "He's only four. I just want him… I just want him to know me for who I was outside of this place. Don't let him see how I was in here." Another step.
"And my mom. She'll be all alone with three young kids; she needs help. Please don't let them starve," Maisyn begged, the tears now freely streaking down her cheeks. Another step. With his last step, Kristopher was in reach. Maisyn hastily grabbed onto his wrist and swung him around, ready to knock him down the cliff to the rocks below.
But Kristopher had anticipated her. He drove his knife deep into her thigh before grabbing her in a headlock. "Oh, Maisyn. I was even considering letting you off easy, but now," he murmured as he got increasingly closer to her ear, "now, I'll be sure to deliver on my promise."
4th: Maisyn Alvera, District Seven
It took over an hour for Maisyn to die. By the time she finally bled out, entire patches of her skin had been shredded off her body, countless knife gashes littered her body, and her face most of all was cut up beyond recognition.
She was conscious the whole time.
Aelia flinched as the electric blue lights blazed a trail to the platform above her. Slowly, Aelia trekked upwards, careful not to aggravate the deep gash that graced her left shoulder. By the time she reached the top, Aelia felt sweat from the pain tracing down her face. She felt like she was going to throw up.
She hadn't even seen the other two yet.
They arrived simultaneously. Their trains docked, and the sliding doors revealed Cohen and Kristopher. These weren't the opponents she'd anticipated. She'd been ready for Adelaide and Maisyn, who she knew as the unrelenting girl from Seven, not the torn-up corpse she'd become.
She grimaced at the sight of Kristopher, who she knew as the meek boy from Nine, not the monster he always was, and envied how he was not nearly as pained as she must look, as she knew she felt.
Looking at Cohen, however, was like looking in a mirror. His face was a ghastly white, and a sorely patched up gash in his stomach had already bled through the clumsy, thin bandages atop it. She had barely met Cohen, and in that short period of time, decided that he wasn't worth her time. She had decided he wasn't worthy of these Games.
Clearly, she was wrong about both of them.
Cohen met Aelia's gaze, glad to see that he wasn't the only one who nearly fainted to the finale. They hadn't spoken much to one another, and even now, no words were needed. They knew both of their clocks were winding down.
They know they were each other's only hope.
Kristopher backpedaled as the two Careers encroached him from both sides. "Now, now, let's not be unfair to the little outer district boy," he shouted. He knew there was no point in reverting back to the soft-spoken boy from Nine who was afraid of his own shadow. He was already in the finale. They knew that he got for a reason, even if they didn't know how. "I thought you were supposed to be fearless," he yelled, frustrated now. "And yet here you two are, too afraid to take on a kid from Nine? You're pathetic."
Cohen and Aelia wasted no time indulging in Kristopher's taunt. They didn't have time to give. Aelia took the first shot, loosing her first arrow just past Kristopher's arm. It was then that Kristopher charged Cohen, parrying his strike and kicking him squarely in his cut.
Writhing in pain, Cohen backpedaled until he slammed into the railing behind him, where he sunk to the ground, doing his best to keep the red-hot sensation from spiraling him into unconsciousness.
His first instinct was to rip Cohen to shreds while he was down, but Kristopher knew better. Aelia would silence him the second Cohen's cannon sounded. Instead, Kristopher charged her, deflecting her first arrow with his the flat of his knife before swatting the bow away entirely.
Aelia unsheathed Theon's knife - the one that he'd buried in her arm - and parried Kristopher's first strike before striking his arm with enough force to send him hissing back in pain. Aelia was relentless, exerting the entirety of her remaining strength while she could. She swung again, disarming Kristopher, and again, cutting another thin line on his other arm. She had never fought with this fire, this uncontained drive that gave her the strength to fight in spite of the pain that ripped her insides apart.
But she was sloppy. As she swung hard onto Kristopher's left arm, he punched her squarely in her jaw from his right, disorienting her long enough for him to disarm her and strike her again in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her.
The fire that drove Aelia waned until it was extinguished entirely. She watched helplessly as Kristopher towered over her and wrapped his arms around his neck. "Say hello to Maisyn for me," he whispered.
3rd: Aelia Paralian, District Four
It was the last thing she heard before an eerie silence swallowed her whole.
Kristopher retrieved Aelia's knife before turning to put Cohen out of his misery. But the spot that had just been occupied by the boy from One was empty, drops of blood taking his place. Kristopher smirked as he followed the trail of blood to the shack at the edge of the platform.
He was ready to deliver his final performance. He was excited, honored, even. He swung open the door, ready to put on a show for the entirety of Panem to see, but instead, he was greeted by a foot to his stomach that sent him backing up until he stumbled over the edge of the cliff, barely managing to grab onto the edge of the platform with his right hand.
But as he began to lift himself up, Cohen's boot crunched his fingers below them. "It wasn't supposed to be like this," Kristopher whispered, trying and failing to grasp the edge with his other hand.
Cohen's hollow eyes and sunken cheeks - a ghost of the boy who volunteered for the Games just over two weeks ago - hardly reacted to Kristopher's whimpers beneath him. "Say hello to Adelaide for me."
2nd: Kristopher Runes, District Nine
1st: Cohen Veridie, District One
One kick sent Kristopher falling to his death hundreds of feet below him. The sickening thud of his fall and the harsh crack of his bones were louder than the trains had ever been.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, the Victor of the Forty-First Hunger Games, Cohen Veridie!"
All his life, Cohen had dreamed about this moment. This was supposed to be his goal, his reason, his purpose. This moment was supposed to define his life. Hell, it was supposed to define his parents' lives, his family's life, his kids' lives. Victors always described the feeling of winning the Games as pure ecstasy, as indescribable euphoria, as something from another world.
Cohen felt only two things, neither of which were euphoria or ecstasy. The first, pain. The dull ache of his chest from Adelaide's knife escalated to a screaming pain as the adrenaline faded from his veins. Eventually, it would go away.
The other was fear. This one would follow him to his death. Even as his body began to seize, all he could see, all he could think of was Adelaide, constantly circling around him with the demonic glint glimmering in her eye. He replayed her death in his mind over and over again, until his mind flitted to Kristopher, and he watched him crash to his death over and over again. He heard the crunch of his bones over and over again.
And most of all, he saw himself, over and over again. He watched himself kill Declan. Then Metris. Then Kiefer. Then Bellamy, under the mask of the night. Then Adelaide. Then Kristopher. He watched himself end their lives. He watched himself destroy families. He watched himself become a monster.
Over and over again.
Author's Note: And that's a wrap for this one! Thanks to all the submitters for your amazing tributes, and sorry I couldn't write them to their fullest. Congrats Fin for having Cohen win (I'm not sure if you have access to your account anymore, but hey! it's all good). We had an original draft planned with drastically different results (I'm pretty sure Aelia was supposed to win, Shaila was the runner-up, and Cohen was a bloodbath, lol), but I decided to just write what came to me at the moment. Hope it wasn't that big of a yike :P
So obviously, I don't plan on writing another SYOT. It was a wild ride when it lasted, but I'm just out of that point in my life. That sounds way too dramatic; I'm just kinda movin' on. I'm about to be a senior in high school, and yk. I kinda wanna move past the computer screen as my go-to method of passing time. That's not to say I won't miss this place a bunch (or that I won't still be active on this account, bc tbh I still read like two stories as sooooon as the updates go up) or the people I've met on here. You know who you are (maybe idk).
I guess that's it. Thanks for everything, everyone.