Friday, January 22, 2016

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.”
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