Friday, February 12, 2016

The 24th Hunger Games: Part Thirteen: Bonus: Johanna

“Make him pay for it,”-Johanna, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

            She knew what had happened to him.  The details weren’t important in this case, but the fact weighed down on her, her eyes falling on the empty seat that had remained that way since its owner had disappeared.
            As simply a citizen of district seven, she had never guessed at the absence of that one victor, happy with the inkling of a life her family had given her.  As a victor though, she was alone, her family gone, and the Capitol becoming the ringleader in her now circus of a life.  She had learned the lesson Snow wanted her to, but too late, the consequences now burning a hole in her heart.  Why she had ever thought that he had ever made empty threats was beyond her.  There were plenty of victors who had changed drastically when they had won, and most weren’t due to fame.  God, she even knew one, but Snow had made a mistake and he would pay.  For now though, she was fine with waiting as long as in the end Snow would get it.
            A Capitol man walked out on the stage, turning to her first and shaking her hand with a smile.  She smiled back, fake to the core, but he was oblivious in his perfect little world.  Oh, how she craved to see his face when that all ended.
            Crowded into the packed square were the people of district seven, all of them forced to stand while this show carried on.  The parents and children looked equally nervous, some of the kids glancing at her and the few other victors their district could boast.  Beside her, Blight shifted, also aware of the stares aimed at them; aware of the small hope their presence gave.  While both of them served as mentors, Blight was the one who excelled at helping to prep the tributes.  She, on the other hand, couldn’t afford to even be remotely attached.  If one of the tributes survived, then good for them.  If neither did, no emotional pain to her.  It was cold and callous, but it kept her going, and that was all she cared for at this point.  She had already lost too much to become attached to doomed children.
            The Capitol took and took without giving anything back; an action that destroyed more than its lowest castes.  Many of its citizens heralded Snow, but many knew nothing of the monster that had risen ever since the twenty-fourth hunger games.  They hadn’t noticed the Victor that went missing in the height of his life, gone mad with the same loss she knew now.  The people of Panem were the blind sort that only recognized that which hurt them and nothing else.  Johanna remembered him though, and for now that would have to be enough.  His name had been Kaede Johnson, Victor of the twenty-fourth games, and the first in a line of many that Snow had destroyed, life and soul.  She would do this for them, for her family, and more importantly for herself, but there was a definite cost.
            She knew something that the all-knowing Snow didn’t; something that would tear apart his child killing kingdom.  The kind of information that while it made her smile, also meant throwing herself back into the danger that had put her there on stage; there was someone out there that Snow had failed to kill and they would rise.  It was a fact that made her smile darkly even now, facing the very cameras that fed directly to the man.  She would make him pay for everything; the pain, the sorrow, it. 

For all my friends, past and present, I know this isn’t the happy tears ending you may have waited for, but nevertheless it is an ending.  Thank you for sticking with me through all the projects that never came to be.  Here’s to hoping for some more opportunities.

I’d also like to thank the readers who found this story of mine and kept on reading.  You all are the reason I’m able to pull myself together when I hit the wall of writer’s block.  Thank you for your votes, comments, and overall support.  Don’t think I’m leaving you with nothing else to read.

If you liked this and are alright with branching outside of Hunger Games fanfiction check out: (All are on Wattpad under AWriterCanDream)
-Wastelands: Dawn of the Desert (March 2016, Sci-fi)
-The Collection: Short Stories and Misfits (already going and includes some misc. fanfiction)
-The Calm After the Storm (Sci-fi)

-The Power of the Uchiha (Naruto one-shot)

Friday, February 5, 2016

The 24th Hunger Games: Epilogue: The Victor

The 24th Hunger Games: Part Twelve: The Victor
The Epilogue
By Lauren Price

“I drag myself out of nightmares each morning and find there’s no relief in waking,”-Finnick, Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

            Victors are only worth their service to the Capitol.  Tributes provide entertainment of death, and violence, becoming killer superstars by the end of their games.  Victors though, are held to a much higher standard, and given so much more attention, more than any one of them desired.  There are some that are made into prostitutes, some that drove themselves to drink, and others who went insane.  Kaede had now come to consider himself the latter, and the Capitol had not come to appreciate that.  The drunks were easy to hide, and control when the time came.  The ones forced to sell their bodies made the Capitol money, and were already managed.  The insane though, could neither be managed, nor well hidden, at least in their own districts. 
The lights in the room were a pale, bland kind that only added to the dullness he felt.  Men in surgical masks and white coats were all he ever saw now as they “treated” him, something that had long since seemed to be less for his own good.  Cold seeped into him through his paper gown from the metal chair they had strapped him to, though he had not made a struggle in the last several weeks.
            “With his story he would have been a great mentor.  Sad he had to breakdown.”  One of the men leaned in front of him, shining a small light in his eyes.  Kaede let him do as he pleased, not fighting the hand the held open each eye as the light was held up to his face.  There was no reason to fight a losing battle, they always won, and always there was a cost.
            “No one cares as long as he’s seen at the Reapings.”  The man he couldn’t see stuck a needle into Kaede’s neck, likely giving him the usual sedative.  At least that’s what he figured it to be at this point.  It knocked him out as soon as they stuck him back inside the small room he now called home, so he couldn’t guess differently.
            “What about the other victor from his district?”  They never spoke like he was there and he didn’t blame them, he must have seemed like an empty shell to anyone besides himself.  All the emotion was gone, all of the soul seemingly missing.
            “Snow handled him.  He won’t be asking questions.”  Even through the numbing of the sedative, Kaede felt a sense of shock, but it only served to agonize his hand.  The stub was still an achievement, but the pain it emitted was hard to quell, and with all the drugs they gave him, none of it was ever morphine. 
            “How?  He’s not even president.”
            “No.  But there’s quite a few people who think he will be.”  The man in front of Kaede nodded, and undid the ties that held Kaede to the chair, grabbing his arm to haul him up. 
            “I’ll be right back.”  He gripped Kaede, but his grasp wasn’t firm, and the sedative hadn’t entirely taken hold.  There was a thought to remain the amenable, hollow form of himself that kept him calm, but the thought of Berkeley pushed into his mind.  The Capitol never asked for anything, they handled things with ruthlessness, and that idea made him shake with a feeling that had long been absent.  Kaede wrenched his arm out of the man’s hand, using the chair to gain some sense of levelness before aiming it at the man.  The metal object flew through the air, hitting the man square in the back.  There was a yell as he fell to the floor, Kaede stumbling to the ground from the force it had taken.
            “Quintus!”  The other man stepped in and helped his friend up, the both of them eyeing Kaede suspiciously.  Kaede though could only stand a little, leaning weakly on the nearest table.  “How did he?”
            “It doesn’t matter.  Just grab him.”  They each took one of Kaede’s arms, readying to haul him back. 
The anger that had caused Kaede to act returned, his feet trying to stop their progression, but slipping miserably on the tile floor.  “Where is he?”  His voice weak with disuse, came out raspy.  “What did you do to him?”  The last question came out as a shout, the anger turning into an uncontrollable fury.
            “What the hell is he going on about?”  There wasn’t any fear in their voices as they spoke, only annoyance.
            “Didn’t you give him the sedative?”
            “I did!  Just give me a minute.”
            “I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!”  All sense was gone as they ignored him, an image of Berkeley dead holding onto his mind.  “WHAT DID YOU DO TO BERKELEY?”  There were curses aimed at him as they dragged him further and further into the hallway, using all of their strength to counteract the violent energy that had taken over him.  “WHERE IS HE?”  He thrashed against the arms of his captors even as they unceremoniously threw him into his small room.  When the door slid in between him and them, he turned to beating on the door, hardly noticing the surprised expressions in the midst of his anguish, or the pain that lanced out from his fists, bruises and cuts forming where skin met reinforced glass. 
“What did you do to him?”  His yell fell on deaf ears as he slid down the glass door, tears replacing his anger with only sorrow.  Their expressions didn’t change from annoyance, sharp stares aimed at his shaking form.  He curled into himself on the floor, hugging and clutching at his body.  “What did you do?”  The question echoed in the small cell as he fell asleep, the sedative finally taking affect, but the emotion still present in his tear strained face.
            “I thought you had him under control?”  A young man stepped up beside the scientists to have a look through the door, his face set in an unpleased frown.  The frown only grew as he stared at Kaede, taking in the sight of the cracked hands.
            “Mr. Snow.”  One of the scientists shrank back a little.  “We did, but he suddenly startled.  It’s back under control, sir.”
            “It’d better be.  And he had better be ready for next year’s Reaping.  I won’t have a lunatic being called a victor.”  He shook his head, and pursed his lips, letting the scientists see his dissatisfaction.
            “The medicine is still experimental, sir.  He could die.” 
            Snow raised an eyebrow, finding little sympathy for the concept.  “Either way, I’ll have my Games going according to plan.  Just make sure he is taken care of.”

            “Yes, sir.”  Snow disappeared as quickly and quietly as he had appeared, not leaving any hints as to how Kaede was to be fixed, just the command which hung over the room like a death sentence.  His victors would be controlled, at whatever the cost.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sneak peek at Wastelands

Coming March 2016 on Wattpad:

Dark Beginnings Breed Dark Endings

There are moments that you never think of or cherish until they are gone; moments so small they seem almost inconsequential. I never thought I would miss those runs to the house in the desert, our occasional adventurous supply run in the dark of the night, but I do.
Except, at the same time, I blame it for the demise of my once plain life. If we had never gone they would still be here. If we had never gone I wouldn't have become an outcast, unwanted and untrusted. If we had never gone I wouldn't have become fixed on revenge.
It always starts with loss but the question is if that's how it will end. What does the truth mean if it costs all you hold dear? What does it mean if you become the very thing that started it all?
I honestly still don't know but somehow I think I'd do it again, the good and the bad. Your opinion of me might change, but that is something I've come to live with. I've begun to realize that this world of ideals needed to be turned on its head anyway. We no longer have the luxury to idealize when we live in a world of wastelands.

Friday, January 29, 2016

The 24th Hunger Games: Part Eleven: The Hanging Tree

The 24th Hunger Games: Part Eleven: The Hanging Tree
By L. N. Price

“Are you, are you, coming to the tree?  Wear a necklace of rope, side by side with me.  Strange things did happen here.  No stranger would let it be if we met up.  At midnight in the hanging tree,”-Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

            “Enemy?”  When she nodded, he dropped the question.  “We don’t have to do this,” he tried once more.
            “Don’t try to talk me out of this, Kaede.  There can be only one Victor.”  Her spear angled out in front of her as though she were about to spring at him.  Instead, she stayed planted in that position, studying him.  She was studying him for weaknesses, and he knew he had many, too many.
            Her gaze centered on his leg, finding it still roughly bandaged around the burns.  With how little he had been able to stop, it was most likely infected, but that wouldn’t matter if he was dead.  Having taken count of everything, Lux darted forward, her spear drawing into an upward angle, its point aimed at him.
            He wanted so badly to let her kill him; to end it all.  As frightening a conclusion it was, it would be so easy.  He wouldn’t even have to move a muscle, the spear would simply stab him wherever it fell.  Lux would be victor, and he would be free of all this, never to suffer under Panem again.  It all sounded so great, except for the part where he would be dead.
            From inside him he dredged up that one goal he had decided on from the very beginning.  The goal that didn’t care what anyone thought of him, and only sought to win.  Closer and closer the spear’s tip edged in, as if in slow motion, his decision dictating its final course.  In a whip like speed his axe flew upwards, a loud screech issuing as it met metal and knocked the spear aside.
            Whatever relationship had existed between the two was gone, Lux only glaring at him for fighting back.  The course her weapon had been on had been merciful, now it would find whatever it could lay claim to.  She would maim him if it got her exactly what she wanted.  The look she gave him said as much, if not more, her body leaning forward, ready to strike.  “You shouldn’t have done that, Kaede,” she growled.
            He didn’t cower under her stare, facing her with every bit of determination he could muster.  “And let you kill me, Lux?  What gives you the right?”
            An eyebrow lifted at his question, but no smile appeared.  “That’s the point, Kaede.  One of us has to kill the other.”  Mockery dripped off her tone, no pity available.  “You should have taken the little bit of mercy I offered.”
            “I’m sorry, Lux.”  She merely shook her head at him, settling into her stance, her spear drawn behind.  He felt the sweat pooling between his fingers, loosening his grip on his axe, and a cool calmness quelling his fear.  If she wouldn’t regret this then he wouldn’t either.  He didn’t get into a stance like hers, but his grip tightened on the handle of his weapon, ready for her next move.  It came quick enough, Lux moving with alarming speed, her spear still tucked tightly behind her, still not coming between them.  That was when he noticed its absence, and a bright flash of metal, a familiar machete coming at him.  He hardly had the ability to take in the information and move in the same span of time, his body dropping to the ground hard to avoid being slashed.  There was no grin of triumph on her face, or troubled frown, she was stone faced entirely, giving no sign to her real emotion.
 She paused before coming back at him, letting him stand, his eyes wide, unsure just who stood before him.  “Where did you get that?”  His eyes didn’t leave the form of the machete, knowing the answer already even as he asked.
“I found it.  I didn’t fail to see just who took Mason out though.”  There, right in her eyes was the spark she had shown before.  “Shame they left this.”  She held the machete in front of her, eyeing its blood spattered metal; blood that had belonged to the one friend she had claimed.  The light was gone once again, and the blade had done its work, shaking up every inch of him.  Her spear was gone now too, with every last bit of her he had known, the machete making her seem more like Mason.
“Maybe it disgusted them.”  He narrowed his eyes at her, finally bracing himself for the stranger she was. 
Lux smiled though in return, lifting the machete in a menacing point at him.  “Then maybe they shouldn’t have made it this far.”  There wasn’t an opportunity to speak again as she rushed him, swinging the machete around her like it had always been hers.  He could only lift his axe in time to parry her attacks, never getting ahead of her quick speed.  Again and again, she cut at him, moving her body in such an agile way that he would find himself whirling to simply keep up.  His head whipped back and forth, between the place she had been and the place she was now, losing track of her completely in those moments.  She was an entirely different person.  Every thrust of the machete was aimed at two distinct places on his person, which was the only reason he was able to block her.  She wanted to take out the two weakest spots, his leg and left hand, the two locations that would not only pain him, but disable.  He could feel the weight of the Capitol citizen’s stares, their awe at the intense showdown that had culminated between the two tributes it had written off from the beginning.  Irony was afoot, they just didn’t know what kind.
Kaede ached with the movement of keeping up, his arms hefting the axe through the sweat and pain that covered him.  Whatever was motivating Lux wasn’t letting her slip, her attacks solid, and the holes almost invisible to detect, save for one.  With her gaze locked on his leg, and arm, her head only occasionally snapped up to look at him.  Her upper torso was a weak wall, crumbling with the effort of defending everything else.  All he had to do was get his axe up high enough to strike her somewhere up there without her getting any clues to his plan.  Even with her focus solely on quartering him her attention was widespread, her senses like those of a cat, its whiskers picking up the slightest hover of a finger. 
It was the next strike that pushed him forward, sliding ever so slightly to the side as she dove down in the direction of his leg, the machete on the kind of path that was hard to come back from.  He didn’t stop to think; didn’t stop to question his own intent, the axe pulling itself with the given momentum, flying out of his hands.  His eyes didn’t go to her in the instance, locked as they were on the peaceful forest that surrounded them.  He could only hear the small whimper that came from her as it made impact, reality dawning on her, slowly but surely.  With her realization came his own, his body moving before his mind to catch her.  In doing so, his eyes fell on the damage he had inflicted, catching the blade in his gaze, its new home a cavity in the area between her lungs.  Blood flowed all over his hands, coating them in a red that was the stuff of nightmares.
“Kaede,” she whispered, her voice mingled with a gargle of blood as it found new avenues out.  “I-.”  Her eyes centered on the sky above, blinking still, but covered in unwept tears.  “I’m sorry.”
Kaede shook his head, trying to wipe the blood off his hands enough to touch her face.  The heavy liquid though, stuck to him, drying in a crusty layer even as more was attracted to him.  “Don’t be.  I’m the one who should be sorry.”
“For what?”  Her voice was weakening.
“For acting out of character.”
“You’re the-,” she stopped, her body arching in pain, a cough forcing up more blood.   “You’re the Victor.”  The smile on her face was meant to be assuring, but that was exactly when her body chose to quit, her face relaxing, and the eyes losing their luster and focus.  He stared down at her, his stare on the one bit of skin that hadn’t been touched by blood; her eyes.  They had lost the soul that had lit them up, merely glass orbs in its absence.
“Why did you have to fight?”  The question came out softly, nearly a whisper in the quiet glade.  “You could have just killed me in my sleep and avoided all of this!”  If the birds had not flown away earlier they would have now, his shout ringing out in the cold air, falling on the deaf ears of the kids he had slain.  “Why?”  He leaned his forehead on hers as the sobs came, unaware of the ship that began to float over him.  Its motor hummed in the empty sky, sending a rough wind in its approach, Kaede finally staring up at it, knowing who it was, but unable to reign in the torrent that was his emotions.  There was no message of congratulations that met him that night.  Instead, they gave him darkness, likely prying him off the dead tribute girl, and hauling him aboard with a grumble.  Why should they care that he had killed the one person he cared about?  The one person who had cared for him?  Why should they care that it was their fault?  Why?
It was the sound of beeping that awoke him after that endless darkness; a constant, irritating beep that reminded him of what he had done.  The light beyond his eyelids beckoned him out his sleep, but there was that sense of welcome that came from the darkness, the kind that wouldn’t remind him of what had happened.  It was a new feeling that jolted him out of the void, sending a deep chill down his spine in its wake.  Muscles that had been broken and weak since birth were now made whole, twisting in his panic with that of their partner.  Slowly, he turned his stare to his left hand, taking account of the long, thin, and unmarred digits that flexed before him.  He twitched the fingers in a test, his stare hardening as the fingers moved with little effort, as if his hand had been fine all along.
The door to his room opened and a young nurse watched him in shock, a smile passing onto her face as she noticed his attention on the hand.  “Isn’t it amazing what technology can fix these days?”  She came closer, checking the instruments arrayed around his bed, nodding her head absently.  “I bet you thought you’d never be able to fully use that hand.”
“No,” he tried the word out, grimacing at the truth of it.  “I didn’t.”  He stopped moving the fingers, laying the hand further from his side.
“I’ll tell the doctors that you are awake.  Everyone is excited to see the new Victor.”  She smiled again and he had to bite his lip to hold back the shudder that wanted to run through him.  It was shocking to see how little these Capitol people could see past their own silly lives.  “I’ll be right back.”  The door closed behind her, Kaede sitting up in the bed, frowning as he had to use that hand to support himself.  Most of the flat surfaces nearby were clean, not housing a thing on them.  He needed something with an edge, but these people were smart enough to at least not leave those things lying around.
His eyes gazed out at the wall with the door, scanning it for shadows through the windows, wondering at how long it would take the doctors or nurses to arrive.  He checked each of the tables again, seeking out the scalpels or other sharp objects that were available.  All that he could find was a small scalpel that was on the surface at the end of his bed.  Quickly, but silently he crawled across the bed, pulling along his IV drip to keep it from dragging on his arm.  He had just barely managed to grasp the scalpel when the door swung back open, his body collapsing against the bed, the blankets falling on him and the scalpel as the nurse walked in.  “If you are feeling better, the Doctors have cleared you.”  Her eyes looked at the table, but didn’t notice or care for the missing instrument.  “Your stylist arrived a few minutes ago, they’re simply waiting for your word.”
“I’ll be ready in a couple of minutes.”  Kaede gripped the scalpel hard in his right hand, digging it into the soft mattress, hiding it in the firm material as she pulled off the blanket.  The hole was easily hidden, but eventually they would find it, hopefully when he was far away from the Capitol.  He gave her an easy smile as he got up, standing without any trouble, even his burned leg fully healed.  They had left nothing to remind him of all he had been through; he had been dually robbed.  The nurse returned his smile, leading him out of the room and into the hallway where his team waited.
They stood him in front of the entrance to the stage, just out of view of the crowd, the President’s voice booming out on the other side.  “This is a glorious day!”  Kaede stiffened at the words, his fists tightening.  “Out of the destruction from the war we were given the Hunger games, and out of the games we have received a Victor; one of strength and valor.”  The President raised his hands skyward and the crowd cheered, the sound vibrating the stage.  Devri came up behind him, pride showing in the smile he gave.  “It’s time, Kaede.”  He nodded and stepped out onto the stage, trying not to wince as the clapping and cheers surged at his arrival.  The President met him half way, showing him to the small platform that had been erected for the Victor, leaving him there as he got the Victor’s crown.  When he turned back to Kaede, the thin crown rested in his hands, and then was set on his head.  “Congratulations, Victor.  I look forward to seeing more of you in the future,” he nodded his head at Kaede, and faced the crowd, waving to them as he left.
“If you would come this way,” another man stood in his place, his hair dark, but the look in his eyes old and cunning. “It’s an honor to meet the Victor of such a games,” the man said smiling, his smile almost disarming with its callousness.  He wore an equally dark suit, a white rose pinned carefully on its lapel, the smell of it hard to ignore.  The smell wafted off the flower, choking the air between the two, Kaede trying to smile, but ultimately failing.  He shook the hand that was offered to him weakly, staring him in the eye.
            “As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Kaede.  I apologize for not doing so earlier, but of course I was not in the position I am now.”  He smiled wider, and motioned for Kaede to follow him off the stage.  “I was glad to see how great that hand looks.”  Kaede’s head snapped up at that, his hand hiding behind his back.
            “You did that?”
            “Fixed your hand?  No.”  He chuckled at Kaede.  “I simply told the doctors how nice it would be for the Victor to have a fully working hand.”
            “What if I didn’t want a working hand?”
            “Then it would be best to keep that opinion to yourself.”  The fakeness behind the smile showed itself, highlighting the threat that was implied.  “Victors should be grateful for the opportunities afforded them.  There are worse things to lose.”  With another smile, he walked away, leaving Kaede with Devri and Berkeley, who were all too happy to lead Kaede away from the growing crowd. 
There were many things that were spoken of as they boarded the train that night, ready to return home, but Kaede didn’t listen.  His companions ate, relaxed in light of how the events played out, but his stare could only rest on the hand they had fixed.  The way the Capitol people had spoken to him, he was expected to accept his new life and body, no questions asked, but that felt like more of a weight than surviving was.  He stood from the table the three of them had sat at, not offering a word as he walked to his quarters, letting the door slide shut behind him.  It was dark in the large room, the only light coming from the window near his bed.  On the decorative tables all he could spot were plates, bowls, lamps, and vases, nothing that helped him in his despair.  He grabbed onto the nearest object, a bowl, and flung it with all his strength, a shout of anguish escaping him as it crashed against the wall nearby. 
            It took him a moment to calm his breathing, his ears listening out for any sign of someone coming to check out the noise, but no one came.  Silence was all he received for his breakdown, the broken shards of glass scattered the floor, waiting for him to forget and step on them.  The feeling of being trapped seemed even more real now than it ever had when he had been in the arena, forced to kill kids younger than he was.  Berkeley’s words from before began to make sense, the reality of winning the games finally sinking in.
            When he woke up the next morning the shards were gone, cleaned while he had slept.  Neither Berkeley nor Devri mentioned the noise that had come from Kaede’s room, both seemingly happy to just be arriving back in district seven.  He could only go along with their feigned ignorance, stepping out on the train platform with a Capitol smile, waving at the people who had all thought, and maybe even had hoped he would die.  The cheering that came from them though revealed none of that, their applause just as loud as those of the Captitol people.  From the old footage of the prior victors, he had recalled their bright and happy faces when they has spotted familiar faces in the crowd, but for him there was none of that.  He had lived with these people since he had been born, but they were complete strangers.  Having had enough, he cut short his last wave, and walked off the stage, the smile still in place, but his patience gone. 
            “You did great, Kaede.”  Devri stopped him for a moment, patting him on the shoulder encouragingly.  “You are by far my favorite Victor, though I am biased.”  He gave him a wink, and let Berkeley walk him home; his real home, not the one the Capitol had fancied up for him.  They had moved most of his stuff in the new residence, but he knew they wouldn’t have taken one item, the one that meant more than the rest of his material possessions.  Though Berkeley likely knew where they were heading, he didn’t say anything, simply letting Kaede take the lead.  They went down dozens of dirty paths, weaving around rough wooden homes until Kaede stopped at one near the edge, his hand falling on the worn wood door.
            “Is this your home?”  Kaede nodded, hesitant to open the door and find all that had been left of his life.
            “What was it like when you returned Berkeley?  Was it this hard?”
            Berkeley snorted, and pushed past him, opening the door with slight annoyance.  “It’s only hard if you let it be.  I know we only survived the games, but be happy for the chance you have at life.”
            The hardness of the words didn’t escape Kaede, his feet bringing him inside, but his mind a million miles away.  “There are things I can’t forget.  Things I can’t forgive.”  His left hand was fixed, but it stayed still at his side like it had every day of his life.  He wouldn’t use what he wasn’t supposed to have.
            “The Capitol had its shot at you, Kaede, and you won.  Get over whatever vendetta you have, it won’t get you anywhere.”
            “It’s not a vendetta.  Look, Berkeley.  I’m fine, I just need a moment and I’ll meet you back at the Victor’s Village.”
            Berkeley didn’t seem so sure of that, his eyes narrowing at Kaede’s unmoving hand.  “Are you sure?”
            “I promise.”  Berkeley frowned, but he nodded, leaving Kaede alone in the small house.  With the house all too himself, he found the object he had been looking for, and sat down at the table, resting the old axe on the surface in front of him.
            There wasn’t any fear or sadness in him right then, as if his body was under one understanding.  He grasped the axe with his right hand, firm and without hesitance.  His left was laid out on the table, still and in waiting.
            All it took was raising the axe above himself, and letting it fall, the thud telling him it was done.  There was pain, but it was more gratifying than agonizing, as if to tell him it was finally over.  A hysterical laugh escaped him, letting a cool sense of relief wash over him.  “Johnson, you still in there?”  It was one of the peacekeepers, and no matter how quick Kaede was, there was no hiding the missing hand.  While he had hacked off the offensive limb, he would likely die before they could get to him from blood loss.  What he wasn’t banking on was for the Peacekeeper to knock his way into the one room house, and take in the scene with alarming speed.

            “I need backup,” was all he said into his radio as he removed the axe, and grabbed Kaede’s left arm, wrapping a cloth tightly around the stump.  “Are you an idiot?  Do you know what happens now?”  That was when the other Peacekeepers darted inside and yanked Kaede out of the chair, pulling him out the door, and dragging him back to the train before the district seven people noticed a thing.  He was then strapped to one of the dining chairs, and a needle injected in his neck before the darkness reclaimed him, letting him relax until he would face the unknown.

Friday, January 22, 2016


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-The 24th Hunger Games: The Victor that Started It All
-The Collection: Short Stories and Misfits
-The Power of the Uchiha
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-The Calm After the Storm (Contest submission)

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The 24th Hunger Games: Part Ten: Submission

The 24th Hunger Games: Part Ten: Submission
By L.N. Price

            The early morning light was blinding as he stooped to get water the next day, rubbing the liquid on his face, and enjoying the small bliss it gave him.  At this point, he was used to blood coating some part of him, most of it that of his enemies, but now some of it was his own, mixing and drying together in a crusty layer.  No matter how much he scrubbed, the mixture managed to stay rooted to his skin, reminding him more than the tribute sequences of what he had done.  The Careers were gone, but the threat of death was still hanging over his head.
            As if to point out how true that thought was, the cannon sounded out nearby, making him flinch in a way that made him curse.  The count had just gone down to three other tributes just like that.  Kaede reached for his pack and axe, sprinting toward the tree line where he would at least be able to hide his movements from the other tributes.  Pain lanced out from his right leg with every step forward, his pace becoming that of a stumbling run.  Between his leg and hand, he was a walking target, easy to take out if he wasn’t ready.
            “Attention tributes.  Attention tributes,” the voice from the beginning of the games rumbled throughout the arena, bringing Kaede to a jerky stop.  A rough wheeze exited his lips as he tried to regain his breath, his eyes rising to the sky in anticipation of what was to come.  “There will be a feast today at the Cornucopia.  And we plan to be generous hosts,” there was another pause as the voice leveled off, indicating a knowing smile.  “There will be food and water for each of the remaining tributes.  I hope to see each of you there.”  The announcement shut off with a sharp click, Kaede sinking to the ground in exhaustion.  He would have to make his way to the Cornucopia, but it would take even longer now, his energy draining, and the pain keeping him from moving.  With a dry sob, he lowered his head between his legs and let out a sharp cry, screaming all of his frustration to the ground. 
            When no more sound could come from him, he sat back up, listening for any signs of the other tributes.  The forest was completely silent, not even reacting to the noise he had emitted, like he had never broken down.  He was fortunate, but some part of him wished someone had come along and taken him out of this entire show.  The only death he wanted was one that he wouldn’t see coming, any other and he would fight it, not because he had any courage left, but simply useless instinct.  Rising from his position on the ground, he looked at the sky, trying to judge where the announcement had originated from. 
Nothing in the limited view he had moved, the sky a clear blue, nearly looking peaceful.  The arena itself, only housed a small collection of birds that he had seen, many of which were now scattering from an area east of his location.  He now knew the place he had to head to, but still his feet stayed firmly planted to the ground, his gaze on the expanse of forest he would have to trek through.  It was morning, but it would take him a few good hours to make it there.  Hours that would leave him open to attack as the few other tributes went there as well.  He let out another curse and began to move, taking small, unsteady steps with his burned leg.
He picked his way through the maze of trees, choosing the path of least resistance.  Every now and then, he was sure he could make out the red hue of blood in the dirt that littered the forest floor, but as soon as he got near, he would realize it had been his imagination.  Even if he won this competition, a fear was eating at him that wouldn’t be swayed by his simple need to live.  If he managed to live, in what would state would it be?  Would it be worth it?  It was the kind of question that ate away hope in a wild blur, destroying any motivation it met in the process.  The only thing that kept him moving towards the Cornucopia was the momentum, dragging him to the one place that challenged his odds of living.
It was midday when he finally stopped at the edge of the forest, the Cornucopia sitting innocently in the middle of the green field of grass, seemingly abandoned.  Planted in a circle around it were the platforms, but those were the only objects he could make out in the clearing, the weapons and the bodies of the dead tributes missing.  Everything that had laid there on the first day was gone, as if it had never happened.  Instead of running out and putting himself in imminent danger, he coasted the edge of the forest, staying as far in the shadows as possible.  In his right hand, his axe remained a heavy reminder that there was still a high barrier to his survival, even as he continued to be the only one there. 
Hour after hour passed as he waited for a sign of the other tributes, his patience waning with every wasted minute.  He had been there too long, but he needed food, and the game makers were obviously waiting for everyone to show up before they would start their supposed feast.  It was a fact that made him bristle as he sat down, and hid himself in a bush, deciding it was best to conserve energy.  Only now, he heard voices, two tributes stopping only a few trees away from where he had tucked himself into the bush.  One was female, around ten or twelve years old.  The other was a boy, a couple years older than she was, a knife gleaming in his hand.  “Stay there,” he stiffly said to the girl, leaving her in the shadows as he came closer to the clearing, searching for signs of the remaining tributes. 
“There’s no one there, Quince.”  She came up beside him, shouldering a bow and quiver of arrows.  “There’s not even food,” she muttered darkly, ready to leave the area.
He glared at her noise, his confusion clear.  “Where are they?”
“Probably hiding,” the girl replied sardonically.  “Can we go?”
Quince only shook his head and stepped closer and closer in the direction of Kaede’s spot, doing what he had done earlier.  The two were surprisingly clean, and even more surprising seemed unscathed.  From where he sat, he couldn’t make out a single cut on them, their skin unmarred by the trials they had all faced.  He had heard of tributes that had won by hiding the entire time, but the Capitol never showed them on the broadcasts, focusing on the aggressive tributes who killed the most.  The one clue he had to this fact was the way they each held their weapons, the bow not in her hands ready to fly an arrow, and the knife held weakly in his.  They hadn’t even used their weapons yet. 
“Look, Quince there’s no one here, and the Capitol was never going to feed us.  We need to go.”  Quince gave the clearing one last look before he nodded, and turned, not even looking at the bush he was about to run into.  Kaede didn’t have a moment to move as the younger boy’s body came right into his bush, Quince’s foot kicking Kaede on his injured leg.  Between the moan of agony, and the feeling of meeting something that was definitely not a bush, Quince jumped back, an expression of complete shock crossing his face. 
“Quince?”  His partner stopped from her walk back into the forest, catching his expression and grabbing her bow, pointing the tip of the arrow at Kaede’s bush.  “Whoever you are, come out!”  Kaede glanced at her and then back to Quince, who still had yet to formulate an idea on what was happening, and made his decision.  Leaning forward, he ducked out of the bush, grabbing the boy by the legs and yanking him down.  Quince let out a cry as fell to the ground, his knife dropping away, out of reach.  The girl didn’t even fire when it happened, the hand she had on the arrow shaking with nerves. 
When Kaede exposed himself from the bush, his axe in hand, Quince finally made a move to get away, his legs kicking at Kaede’s arm, trying to knock it off him.  His struggle did little though to help as Kaede let go, and raised the axe, bringing it down swiftly on the boy’s closest vital area; his midsection.  It wasn’t a kind kill, but soon enough the cannon echoed in the clearing, signaling to the girl the death of her comrade.  He hadn’t paid attention to the tributes who had died, but he was sure that these two were from the same district, especially if they had been hiding this entire time.
“I will kill you,” the girl screamed at him as he rose from where he had killed Quince, the arrow actually aimed at him this time.
“How?”  He felt like Mason the way he was taunting her, but somehow her survival from hiding annoyed him enough to rile.  How had the careers never found them?  How had they even made it past the Cornucopia?  “Have you even used that?”  She glared at him and his taunts, raising the tip of the arrow higher and higher until it pointed at his head, right in the area of his forehead.
“It doesn’t matter!”  Her other hand drew the string of the bow back further and further, readying to let the arrow loose, but before she could even let it go, Kaede’s hand latched onto the arrow.  The string released a thick ‘thrum’ as it vibrated in the air, but the arrow didn’t move, caught in his grasp as he met her wide eyes.
“Actually, it does.”  He ripped the arrow out of her grasp, chucking it to the ground.  At one time, he would have let her go, but now there were only three of them left.  She and one other were still between him and actually surviving this specially crafted hell.  Before she could raise another arrow at him, he swung his axe around, letting it gain momentum and find her chest, a gasp escaping her as she fell.  The cannon boomed again when her body met the ground, unmoving in the dirt.  Kaede stared at her for a good minute, feeling a coldness take over his emotionless state.
“You’ve changed, Kaede.”  He didn’t turn to look at the owner of the voice, knowing who it was already. 
“Not as much as you,” he whispered, gripping his axe.  “Is it really just me against you?”
“Yes, but I’m not failing.”  He looked at her then, finding her doing the same to him, her spear loosely held at her side.  “There’s an easy way to do this Kaede, and a hard way.  It’s up to you how this goes, but you know there’s only one way this will end.”  This was the one thing he had wanted to avoid; the one person he had feared facing as soon as he had allied with her.
He stared at her for a long moment, mouth agape.  She was resolute, her decision already made.  Did she really expect him to fight her?  Yes, he realized with a pang as her spear slid forward in her hand, the first bit of emotion he had felt since he had left Mason dead.  Its tip gleamed in the light, wicked and dangerous.  He gripped his axe in anticipation, dropping into position, but he didn’t have the same determination that she did.  He didn’t have the confidence that kept her head held so high.
            “Lux-,” he started, wishing for some kind of hope, but she quickly cut him off.
            “Don’t make me kill a defenseless enemy, Kaede.”  The same coldness that had covered him before now filled her voice, her emotion completely cut off.
            “Enemy?”  When she nodded, he dropped the question.  “We don’t have to do this,” he tried once more.

            “Don’t try to talk me out of this, Kaede.  There can be only one Victor.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

The 24th Hunger Games: Part Nine: Showdown

When he opened his eyes, he had thought that he had simply moved into a nightmare.  That grinning face dominated his view, its promise of death finally near.  The fingers that closed around his throat though were too real to be part of any dream.
            Oddly, Mason didn’t speak as he began the task of strangling Kaede, the grin saying what he wouldn’t.  He would take pleasure from this.
            “Are you sure you want to do that?”  Mason was looking at him, but the words were directed elsewhere, a shadow falling over both of them.
            “Let go of him, Mason.”  Chrome now stood behind him, his sword at the tribute’s throat.
            Mason released Kaede in that moment, the rest of his body rigid and still.  Chrome didn’t relax his sword, pressing the steel further and further into the other Career.  “I’m surprised you’re still alive.”
            “Are you?”  Chrome sneered at him.  “Is it because you were letting Titania kill me?”  The large boy shrugged, not really answering with the movement.  “Well she’s dead now,” Chrome said, tipping the sword deeper.
            “One less person to kill,” was all Mason replied with, his grin still present.
            Chrome kneeled down, and stared humorlessly at him.  “That’s saying I don’t kill you right now.”  He stared at the district two tribute with contempt.  “Can you really be that confident?”  The two were so different, Chrome much leaner than the tank like Mason.
            “I just know how it will all end.”  The sword no longer pressed into his neck, Chrome staring at him in shock.  That shock fueled Mason, his head lashing forward and hitting Chrome’s with a loud ‘thunk’.  The district one tribute crumpled to the ground, Mason finally standing back up, Chrome’s sword in his hand.  For a long moment he tested the blade, swinging it in arcs, before his eyes fell on Kaede, who had stood there the entire time; a stupid mistake.             
            That smile broadened, Mason stepping closer to Kaede.  “I’m so glad you waited-,” he paused, his eyebrows furrowing in thought.  He stared at Kaede, but now there was a glimmer of confusion in his eyes that was strange, given the circumstance.  “What is your name?”
            He shrank back at the question, unsure if he should actually even answer.  There was no way to run, Mason far too close and his leg too far injured to take that kind of abuse.  “It’s Kaede.”
            Mason stayed silent, his smile still firmly in place, but his body not moving.  Even his stolen sword had stopped swinging, its sharp edges glinting in the morning light.  The tribute almost seemed hesitant, if that emotion was even possible.  “Well, goodbye Kaede.”  The words broke the awkward silence, Mason approaching him at a steady walk.  Kaede felt the ground around him, searching for his axe, his eyes not leaving the form of Mason for fear of losing his head in that small span of time.  Given the size of the weapon, he was surprised his hand hadn’t met it.  Finally, he glanced down and found the axe, snapping his head up, expecting to find a sword coming at him.  Instead, Mason was still in the last place Kaede had seen him, but now there was a hand clutched around the boy’s ankle.
            “Let go, Chrome.  You will get your turn next,” Mason growled out, his body tense.
            “Why should I?”
            Mason’s smile was gone, a dark glare aimed at Chrome.  “So I don’t bash your head in with my foot.”  The leg that wasn’t clutched tightly moved forward in warning, but Chrome didn’t even flinch.
            “Is that all you can do Mason?  What about the show you so desperately want to put on?”  He was goading him.  The question was what that would cost him.  “Who wants a victor with no imagination?”  Mason’s ego was the one thing that never took a hit, and that was clear by the silence that answered Chrome’s questions.  “I guess you weren’t the one they wanted, Mason.  How does it feel for the Capitol to not want you?”  The glare that had been aimed at Chrome only became darker as Mason’s jaw flexed, but that was the only movement Kaede could see between the two.
            When neither moved, Kaede slid back, trying to silently distance himself.  “I’m not going to repeat myself, Chrome.  Let go.”  The hand that had not moved before, now loosened, Mason yanking his ankle away with a sound of disgust.  “Now just stay there and don’t get in my way.”
            Mason turned to gaze back at Kaede, not missing the added distance as the smile returned.  “Are you scared Kaede?”  Chrome’s sword angled down, letting out a sharp sound as it scraped against the dirt.  “At least someone here knows their place,” Mason said quietly, Chrome rising a little from his place in the dirt.  Mason stopped a foot away, raising his sword just enough so it no longer rested on the ground.  Kaede didn’t even move his axe, knowing that if Mason wanted to kill him he could without any effort spent, and Kaede would be lying in the dirt dead. 
Slowly, the sword angled up, its tip finding home at Kaede’s chin.  It stopped there, resting for a moment, the tip leaving a cold sort of pinch as it stayed there.  Mason scrutinized him in the long moment, judging some unknown characteristic.  “You aren’t much,” was all he said though, leaving so much to interpretation.  He must have come to some conclusion the tip leaving and the sword arcing in a curve to meet Kaede’s throat.  He didn’t raise his axe or flinch as he watched the motion of the other weapon, only waiting for the blow.  There wasn’t a point to fighting a losing battle, especially when the outcome was so clear. 
When the sword merely stopped at its highest point Kaede finally looked past it to its wielder, taking in the additional form locked on Mason’s back.  Chrome clutched frantically at Mason’s large neck, trying so hard to squeeze, but his smaller hands unable to do much more than agitate the other tribute.  The two circled a bit, Mason looking skyward due to the new weight, his hands swinging at Chrome, snapping at any body part they could find.  Every time he got close to gripping onto the smaller boy, Chrome would adjust himself, his own hands moving higher until they were on Mason’s jaw and then the side of his head, Mason’s eyes bulging a little at the pressure. 
Kaede could only watch as the two struggled, unsure how to approach and still keep himself alive.  Neither had a weapon but that didn’t stop them from inflicting pain on each other.  “Get off me you imbecile!”  Mason was yelling, his hands finding one of Chrome’s legs and yanking, hard.  The suddenness of the movement loosened Chrome’s grip, his body flying to the ground in one motion, his stare meeting the cruel look of satisfaction that was now on Mason’s face.  “You just couldn’t wait, could you?”  The question came out as a snarl, the sword gone, but his own machete flashing out and down.  Somehow, in the exchange Mason had managed to reclaim it without Kaede ever seeing it.  There wasn’t a chance to even scream or yell as it fell, only blood answering the action as it spurted out, covering the weapon and Mason.
Mason didn’t turn to Kaede as he stared down at his latest score, smiling when the cannon sounded in the distance.  With a sharp breath Kaede stood, leaning on his axe as he felt the pain of his burned leg.  He still couldn’t run, but he couldn’t follow Chrome into death either.  He wouldn’t be Mason’s next kill.  Without even realizing he had come to a decision, his axe came off the ground and fell into his right hand, Kaede biting back the pain that flooded in at the movement.  Mason finally turned and saw him, confused when he saw the axe held ready instead of on the ground.  That surprise though was short lived as his own machete mirrored the position. 
“Do you really want to make this worse?”  He kicked at Chrome’s body as if to emphasize how bad it could be, but Kaede didn’t look down.  His gaze centered on the red marks that littered Mason’s face, courtesy of the dead boy now at his feet.  He didn’t act like he felt any pain, but the darkened skin near his eyes showed what his actions wouldn’t.  
Taking a slow step forward, Kaede brought himself closer to Mason, the axe still kept low, but ready.  “Are you scared of me, Mason?”  His bruised face twitched, a flicker of surprise showing before he corrected it, hiding behind his usual mask of contempt.
“You can’t use my own words against me.  It doesn’t work that way.”
Kaede nodded.  “You’re right, but what about the other tributes?  You no longer have obedient allies to help you after this.  What will you do?”
Mason narrowed his eyes, not missing what Kaede was implying.  “I didn’t need them.  They were baggage.”  His machete flipped forward, pointing right at Kaede in warning.  “You are the only one who ever needed help.  Now here you are without anyone to look out for you.”  Mason came within a hair’s breadth of Kaede, his rage forcing his breath out in Kaede’s face like a bull.  “I will destroy you.”  The machete whipped around, aiming for Kaede’s side, right for where his ribs ended.  In a quick stumble, he jumped out of range, bringing his axe up to meet the blade, a loud ‘clang’ cutting into the thick air.  The evasion hardly deterred Mason, his anger controlling the wide sweeps of the blade as it came back again.  There was not any of the cold calculation that had ended Chrome, only a dangerous determination that guided him; a danger that only posed a threat to Mason.
Swipe after swipe, Kaede managed to dodge Mason’s aggression, his leg’s pain nearly invisible amidst the focus he kept on trying to avoid the sheer ferocity of the swings.  Several times he almost found himself staring right into the metal before he would duck, and push Mason back with a thrust of his axe.  Kaede didn’t even have to move far, saving the use of the leg as Mason simply swung himself around in a circle.  Chrome may have died, but he was still clouding the Career’s judgment, blinding him to the danger of his unplanned attacks.  While Mason angled his machete down at Kaede’s head, Kaede sidestepped him and guided his axe right into the spot Mason had tried to get him before, but the axe was much harder to avoid, its small blade slicing straight into flesh.
It wasn’t like what he had imagined when he pictured himself being killed in the games, Mason’s torso not being cut in half from the blow, but the axe’s momentum seemed to glide right through the unprotected area, finding a home in Mason’s gut.  The other boy was stunned in that short span of time, his eyes flicking to the gaping wound, wide and marked with absolute terror.  It was a look that recognized the mistakes he had made, and yet proved how little he had thought of all the others who had stepped into the arena.  He had never thought that he would lose, there hadn’t even been a question, and now here he was, gutted by someone who wasn’t even a Career.  Mason stared up at Kaede, his mouth trying to form a coherent thought, but unable to even wrap his mind around the circumstance.  Blood pooled out of him at a steady rate, his hand not enough to stem the bleeding.  Finally, after what seemed to be one of the longest moments, he dropped to the ground, the cannon blasting its farewell to the Capitol’s intended victor.
Now there were only four other tributes apart from Kaede, and soon they would all have to face one another or the Capitol would draw them all out.  All he could hope for at this point was that either Lux was already dead, or that he would soon be, because if it came to it, he knew he wouldn’t be able to face her.