#this looked better in my head
#ch: darling auberguine
#ch: candice windheard
#ch: emmy turnidge
#ch: harris tellmach
She is alone, surrounded by him even after he’s gone, surrounded by his words and his presence, and every inch of the cave walls, every scrawled word and call for blood, remind her of what he has done to her life. She hears Carson’s laughter and Candice’s screams and her mother’s repressed sobs when she thought nobody was listening; she sees the axe, the woods as they must have been, and the Peacekeepers dragging him away only to tell her he would not be executed.
Wishing him dead used to be enough, but she sees his blood and his severed head on the snow, the image burned onto her eyelids, and it still does not wash away the rest of it.
She hears the familiar notes of Panem’s anthem, and a faint light floods the cave from its mouth. She shuts her eyes tightly and burrows herself further in her parka —cold, cold, it’s so cold—; she can’t see the sky from where she is, and not even the knowledge that his face will be among the ones that appear tonight is enough to make her go outside and look.
Names flash in her mind, names and faces one right after the other. Emmy Turnidge (I’ll try to be a really good sister), Lyra Reiser (It’s been nice to meet you), Grayson Mercer (I think I can respect that), Harris Tellmach (Go away, Harris), Xander Oritas (Can’t we just talk about something else?)… too many people, too many to keep track of, too many to think about.
Who knows where they are, who knows which of them died today? And who’s to say it would make any difference? She is alone, alone, alone. Alone with her wounds and the cold and Gregor Daedrin’s ghost.
The anthem finishes playing and she drifts off into restless, fitful sleep. She dreams of nothing, a white, vast, overwhelming nothing, where there is no up or down or left or right. She walks through it with her mother’s voice echoing in her mind, but the words sound far away and too low to make out. If only she could remember them, she’s sure she would find what she’s looking for, but she tries and tries and she can’t. She keeps wandering until her knees falter and still she sees nothing but the same endless void, and pain sears through her like a burning knife and she screams and screams and never stops screaming.
She wakes up with a start and she is not screaming, but the pain is real and the cold is worse. She bites down on her tongue and sees the wound on her side is bleeding again, the dark stain on her parka growing larger by the second; she brings her hand up to it and it comes away red and slick with the warm blood. There’s that scream again, frozen in her throat, a weight bearing down on her; there is nothing she can do, nothing at all but grip her sword and squeeze her eyes shut and try to go back to sleep.
Maybe this time she won’t wake up.
You have to win. You have to come back. She remembers the words now. They ring loud and clear above all the noise, and there is so much noise. She is not in the white void anymore, but this is just as overwhelming and just as heavy and she feels like she is being pushed into the ground. She hears her mother and Odyss Blackwell’s booming echoes, and she sees Candice leaving the Justice Building and Darling Auberguine pierced by a spear and Arielle Bracken’s sad eyes. It’s a whirlwind and someone calls her name, she thinks it’s Candice but it may be someone else entirely, and it’s loud, insistent.
She hears it and shifts and still can’t make out who it is, but suddenly it’s as if a knife was driven right into her shoulder, and all she can think of as the shriek escapes her is that maybe he’s not dead after all, maybe he survived somehow or came back to life just to haunt her. She is still half asleep and her eyes won’t open because of the frost but the sword is in her hand and it’s not hard to thrust it forward and feel how it buries itself into flesh.
The voice she hears is choked and confused and wrong, wrong wrong wrong, and an enormous feeling of dread and panic rises up in her chest. When she opens her eyes, dawn is breaking and the first thing she sees is blue.
Blue eyes and the life rapidly draining from them.
Go away, Harris.
Go away. Disappear. Don’t be here.
Don’t be here because if you’re here it’s all wrong.
“Oh, God, no, please,” her voice is nearly a whimper and her vision is blurry, her hands are covered in blood that isn’t hers and she doesn’t know what she’s asking for. “Please.”
Empty blue eyes stare wordlessly back at her, a cannon booms, and Cally Windheard is alone with her ghosts again.
They find the cave before nightfall, an opening in the rock that’s neither too deep nor too shallow, but large enough to fit them all comfortably. Good enough to shelter them from the biting wind and the snow, and good enough to hide in. They settle in, and Cally barely says anything at all.
The day had been bitter cold, but the night is freezing. The cave keeps the worst of it at bay, though, and they even manage to build a small, timid fire. Cally doesn’t want to think about what would have happened if they hadn’t found the cave, or if there had been someone – or something in it. They hadn’t run into any other tributes, or any muttations, though they had walked for a while.
The atmosphere is still not overly friendly, and Cally feels the stress and the tension in the air, but the night passes without incident. She sleeps for moments, but uneasily, wavering between full, alert consciousness and a daze that offers little to no actual rest. In the midst of it, somehow, she dreams.
She dreams of red on white, the corpses on the snow that she barely registered, now vivid and crystal-clear in her mind. Faces she doesn’t know, all of them. A passing glance in the hallways, at most. But there are other faces, ones she hadn’t seen before, and now the white is still white but it’s a forest, too, and there’s a bloodied axe at her feet. She sees the red hair of one of the corpses and doesn’t dare look closer. She walks, and passes a small, small body, the body of a child, younger than Candice but the word sister rings in her ears. Other bodies, too, many, so many, and she sees their faces and these are all faces she knows.
And he’s there. He’s there, his blood forming a pool of red on the green grass of the forest, because there’s no snow anymore and all the others are gone and it’s only him and she’s there to see it.
Her eyes open, and they stay open now. The fire didn’t last through the night, and she feels numb from the cold, but the morning light is starting to flood their cave. She glances over at the others and none of them seem to have died overnight.
Her dream has not yet completely dissipated from her mind. It’s the first time she doesn’t wish for cold water to clear her thoughts.
Their group of four arrives at the lake, and Harris feels as though they’d trudged through the snow and battering winds for nothing. It’s mostly frozen, and it’s not as though there are much animals or even fish, unless they’re lurking beneath the thick sheet of ice.
“I’m gonna guess none of you are too thirsty for ice cold water?” he asks them dryly. Sure, he could use his ax to break through the surface, but the thought of drinking the freezing water doesn’t sound too appealing. They’ll need it later, maybe.
He glances at Iliria and wonders if she knows any plants that might survive in these conditions. They need food, medicine, anything really. The careers can’t be too far away. Even if his little alliance does manage to survive the brutal arena, it’s either the careers find them or they begin to turn on one another.
Xander speaks up and his voice is swallowed by the wind, but Harris understands. They can’t sit in the middle of the snow next to this lake. He’d seen caves, far off in the distance, but Harris feels reluctant to leave this water source. Still, they can’t freeze to death, and it isn’t as though everyone is friendly enough to huddle together for much warmth.
“Let’s go south, then. Find shelter somewhere there. Don’t wanna get too close to the careers.” He looks back at Cally and remembers that the careers aren’t their only impending threat. And there could be mutts in the caves. Things couldn’t be better.
She listens as Iliria lists off the few dead. Only six tributes. The boys from Three and Eight —Emmy’s districtmate, but not Emmy, not Emmy, she’s alive then, and Cally finds it slightly easier to breathe when Iliria’s done speaking, …until the Games are over, right?—, both from Ten, both from Twelve. Nobody she knew, nobody she’d talked to. Emmy is alive and so is Lyra and so is the girl from Four and so are the Careers and so is he.
And so are six other tributes, plus themselves.
When they finally reach the lake, they stand next to a shiny, frozen surface.
“I’m gonna guess none of you are too thirsty for ice cold water?” Harris says, and Cally’s eyes flick towards him, but she says nothing.
She has never experienced cold such as this before, but even so she knows that, even if they managed to get water out of the frozen lake, drinking it, cold as it would be, could very well mean death by hypothermia. She remembers all those times she’d gone down with fever because of her cold baths, how she shook and shivered, but she also remembers that her house was warm and her bed was comfortable and she had all the time she needed to recover. Here, she is exposed and there is no escape from the cold.
Iliria and Xander must be thinking something along the same lines, because they mention looking for shelter. Caves. Somewhere to hide and keep warm and not die.
“Let’s go south, then,” Harris says. “Find shelter somewhere there. Don’t wanna get too close to the Careers.”
Cally decides to ignore the look he gives her right after that, a look she’s not sure she’s caught the full meaning of, but she’s caught enough to understand more or less the path his thoughts have taken. She frowns, and glances over at Xander and his districtmate for a second.
“Okay, let’s,” she says, turning around, away from the frozen lake.
They walk for a long time, and for a long time she says nothing. The cold wind bites at her and numbs her face, the only part of her where the skin is exposed; carrying the sword in her hand becomes uncomfortable, but she has no sheath, so she doesn’t really have a choice.
Harris is glad Iliria doesn’t try to make the situation worse, and when she suggests that he be the one to lead the way, he’s a little reluctant. He doesn’t want to be a leader or anything, but he doesn’t argue, and he walks along with Cally while the district 9 tributes follow behind them.
Their boots crunch loudly through the snow and he knows they’re all probably leaving behind a wonderful trail for others to follow, but none of them are bleeding and he hopes new snow will erase any trace of them being there. The lake is up ahead, and because of the battering cold, it takes a while for their group to reach it.
He isn’t too sure of what to say to Cally, really. He feels as though he’s supposed to apologize or something like that, but by the way she threatened Iliria, he has a feeling she doesn’t need anyone’s sympathy. The idea of the “psycho,” as Iliria keeps putting it, following them makes Harris uneasy, but there’s nothing he can do about it, and he knows Cally is helpful to this alliance.
He doesn’t know what to do with Xander or Iliria either, since he hasn’t seen them produce any weapons, and it’d be so smart to get rid of them now, especially since it seems as though Iliria is an arena that will do her no good. His mentor’s words keep repeating in his mind, but he convinces himself that there’s no need to get rid of them yet. That decision might end up being the death of him, but each time he thinks about those other two tributes, he can’t bring himself to even imagine truly killing them already.
Cally glares back and doesn’t break eye contact for as long as the District Nine girl doesn’t. She lowers her sword and her muscles relax a fraction when Iliria starts speaking in a tone of resentful resignation, but the unequivocal mention of that psycho brings all the tension back to her body. She presses her lips into a thin line and her fingers tighten around the hilt of her sword, but she doesn’t say anything else. She walks along with Harris, her manner brisk and defensive, and Xander and his oh-so-charming Districtmate follow. How different they are from one another, Cally thinks, before her thoughts start to follow another path entirely.
Where is he now?
She had seen him come after her in the heat of the Bloodbath, but she’d been so preoccupied with getting to the center of the Cornucopia that once she had been out of his reach, she’d stopped noticing him altogether. She hadn’t noticed a lot of what had been going on around her —she looks back once now, past the District Nine pair, but all she can see are patches of red in the bright white snow—, and she hadn’t seen the direction any of the other tributes had gone in. The direction he had gone in.
But he must be looking for her. That’s the only thing he wants – to finish what he started in those woods, two years ago. Fire and hatred and a familiar need for justice flood Cally’s veins at the thought, and what if she left now? What if she left to look for him? Finding him couldn’t possibly take too long. She could do it. She could do it now. She doesn’t have to wait anymore.
You can’t go in there just to kill him and then die because your back was turned. This revenge, do you want it more than winning? Are you here only to kill, or do you want to win? Let him die by someone else, he’ll be dead all the same.
The words were once her mother’s and Harris’ and Odyss’ and Lysa’s, but now they form a single, compact whole. They resonate in her mind, just enough to defuse her idea of leaving, because she thinks of home and she thinks of her mother and she thinks of Candice. Her breathing becomes a little more even then, her steps on the snow lighter.
One glance at Harris makes Cally think of his Districtmate – she doesn’t even know who died in the Bloodbath, had Lyra managed to get away? And Emmy? Something very much like panic strikes Cally when she thinks about the young girl from District Eight.
She had promised to be a good sister. She doesn’t even know if she’s alive.
“Did you see who died in the Bloodbath?” she asks, mostly adressing Harris, but loud enough for the others to hear, too. “I wasn’t really paying attention to that.”
They are almost at the edge of the lake now, the shimmering surface of the water only a short distance away.
Harris is already in his clothes, thinking to himself that he’s worked in conditions worse than what chilly arena the gamemakers could have prepared for them. He looks at his stylist and forces out a smile for them until he’s out of view, and tries to even out his breathing. He remembers the last words his mentor had given him with a cheeky smile, “Be kind to the others if you’d like to die.”
He’s not too stunned with the snow and chilling air as some of the other tributes look, and he easily spots out Cally, Iliria, and Lyra. His eyes turn back to Cally and he realizes that they hadn’t worked out any sort of plan, but the gong rings out quickly. He runs forward, intent on only taking a weapon and running, but he sees her district partner and how he’s already out to get Cally.
Be kind if you’d like to die.
Harris turns towards the boy, picking up two small axes along the way, and tries to run faster when he sees him already trying to take a few swings at Cally. The guy is so focused on trying to murder Cally that he doesn’t even notice when Harris is right behind him. Harris, unfortunately, hesitates when he lifts his own axe up. Instead of slicing through the guy’s neck like he should’ve done, Harris instead hits the guy with the flat side of his weapon, enough to stop him and allowing Cally to get away.
Harris doesn’t look back and he doesn’t say anything once he’s caught up to Cally, although he’s glad she’s gotten her own weapons as well, and he sees Iliria up ahead. Now he’s thinking that he should have found a way to inform Iliria of their new ally, but Cally’s already speaking and the cold wind has numbed him down worse than he thought.
While Iliria is speaking - accusing - him, he sees realization spark in her eyes, and out of nowhere, Iliria tackles Cally to the floor and already has her fingers around his ally’s neck. Xander, Iliria’s districtmate, is much quicker to react, pulling Iliria’s struggling form away and he shouts at her over the wind.
Harris helps Cally to her feet before turning to face Iliria. Maybe he’s just tense over what had just happened in these few minutes after the gong had rung, but he feels angry even though he hasn’t much of a reason to feel that way.
“Look Iliria, I know you don’t play well with others, but Cally is in this alliance,” he says in a clear, sharp voice. “You’re not going to kill her. Shape up, or I’ll get rid of you. Understand?”
And they all stand there for a few more seconds, staring at one another. Harris doesn’t even know what to make of the words that had just come out of his mouth, but he’s gripping his ax tightly and he looks at Iliria as if he were daring her to defy him.
Cally’s sword is in her hand, but her guard is down. Her breathing is still ragged and she’s turning to glance at Harris, barely having enough time to register the girl’s shrill, angry voice before she’s tackled to the ground, hands closing around her neck.
It happens in the span of a few seconds, too fast for it to be anything more than a blur. There’s the weight of the girl and the pain and the burning feeling of the scrape on her jaw as the wind hits her face, but above all, there’s the pressure, pressure, pressure on her neck that chokes her and she can’t breathe and she thinks her vision is maybe starting to become distorted, but then it all comes to a sudden stop, and she can only cough as the cold air fills her lungs again.
She hears Xander’s voice, loud and clear, and angry, too, and she sits up, rubbing her neck with her own, gloved hands. She’s still coughing a little, but her eyes are regaining their focus and her thoughts their clarity. As Harris helps her to her feet, she picks up the sword she had dropped and grips it tight in her hand.
Harris speaks then, speaks to the girl – Iliria, he calls her – in a harsh, sharp tone entirely unlike the friendly one she’d heard from him so far, tells her he’ll get rid of her and there’s something uncomfortable about the whole thing. Not because of the clear, palpable tension in the air, but because of the same thing that had pushed her to reject the offer of help back on the roof.
Because allies doesn’t mean friends.
Her guard is up now, and it must stay up. She takes a step forward, away from Harris, and holds the sword high in front of her, angled so that one movement, one swing, would easily hit the District Nine girl.
“Or I’ll just get rid of you myself,” she says, looking straight at her. Her voice is hoarse and her neck still hurts. “Look, I have nothing against you and I don’t really want to kill you, but you’re not catching me off guard again.”
Her heart is racing, her breathing is quick and she can’t seem to stay still in one place for long. Cally had felt a lot of things since her Reaping – anger, panic, despair – but never once had she been this nervous.
She had managed to catch a few hours’ worth of sleep, after her unexpected conversation with Xander of District Nine, but neither that nor the cold, cold water she had bathed with seem to mean anything now. She takes deep breaths every few moments.
As soon as her stylist presents her with the outfit she’ll wear in the arena, it’s more than clear what kind of climate awaits them. Last year’s arena had been extreme heat – this one will then be extreme cold.
As she steps into the platform and it begins to rise, Cally closes her eyes and tries to will her heart into slowing down, focusing her thoughts solely on what she needs to do. Find a sword, or knives. Avoid the other tributes as best as she can – above all, avoid him, because she still needs to wait, she needs to wait because this is the Bloodbath and anyone might kill her while she’s distracted. Just wait. It will come.
Then, meet Harris. They hadn’t devised anything that could be called a strategy, not even a hint of a plan – they had simply parted with the resolution that they would be allies. She assumes he will go into the Cornucopia, too, and they will run from there.
The platform is at ground level now, and the countdown has started.
When Cally opens her eyes, the bright white glare blinds her momentaneously, even through her goggles, and a biting wind hits and freezes the uncovered parts of her face. Her breathing is still quicker than normal, but her heart seems to have stopped beating, because she can’t feel it at all.
She looks around her, taking in her surroundings, the other tributes – she can see Lyra, and Harris, and all four Careers, but her eyes stop before they find him, and she focuses on the disposition of weapons around the Cornucopia. She can’t see any swords, but she knows, from watching years upon years of Games, that they are always placed right at the center.
The sixty seconds are almost over now – six, five, four – and Cally swallows and braces herself.
Three, two, one.
She’s fast, she’s always been fast – she’s dimly aware of the fact that he’s behind her, swinging an axe, but she was out of his reach long ago, and she manages to reach the center of the Cornucopia before someone, she’s not sure who, or how, hits her across the jaw. It’s not too painful right away – though she knows it will hurt much more later – and the tribute disappears immediately, leaving her to find what she had been looking for – a short sword, broader and heavier than the ones she had used in training, but still very much manageable. She picks it up without hesitation, looks around once for knives, though she knows she won’t find any, and runs off again, in the same direction as Harris.
Soon enough they’ve stopped running, and she’s joined not only Harris, but Xander and his Districtmate, too.
“Well, hello again, this is a surprise,” she says briskly, slightly puzzled and entirely out of breath, addressing Xander first. Then she turns her eyes to the olive-skinned girl who stands next to him. “And hello to you too, I think we don’t know each other yet.”
“Swords and knives, that sounds good,” he assures her with a nod. Cally with her knives, Iliria with plants or whatever she does, and himself with axes. It doesn’t sound too bad an alliance, and surely they’d give even the careers something to deal with.
It’s what she says next that worries him. As she speaks, he can tell just how much she wants - no, needs - to get her revenge on this guy. Harris has to remind himself that this guy did kill her brother after all, and he doesn’t know the full story behind everything, but he can’t help but think about how her personal goals will be something of a problem. Not just for the alliance, but herself too, since she’s prepared to go through whatever lengths it takes to get what she wants. He doesn’t know what to say, really.
“I won’t get in your way, Cally.”
He feels as though they’re supposed to discuss the bloodbath and strategies or anything like that. Now might be a good time to mention Iliria or something, but he wants to keep asking Cally questions.
“This revenge,” he says slowly, “do you want it more than winning?” It’s a stupid question that he already knows the answer to, but he wants to hear it coming out of her mouth.
“I won’t get in your way, Cally.”
It’s not quite what she meant, but she nods anyway. She was less thinking about him getting in her way than she was about him probably not wanting to get involved in an affair that he had no interest in, but she guesses it’s good to know he won’t try to stop her – though she can’t see why he would.
When he asks about winning, she takes a while to answer, because the question has been swimming around in her head a lot during the past few days – along with Grayson Mercer’s words, with Lyra’s, with her mentor’s, and with her own thoughts about what being a Tribute in the Hunger Games means. A lot of people seem to have purposes here – or maybe that’s just the volunteers? – and she does, too, but she doesn’t have to win to achieve hers.
“I like my life in District Five,” she says, slowly, trying to find the right words for what she wants to say. “I have friends there. I have another sister, and my mother is back home, too. I love them. I’ll be honest and say that I don’t really care about winning, not like the Careers do…” she trails off as she thinks about the Careers. Winning, fulfillment, killing, and… vindication? “But like I said,” she continues, “we’re all trying not to die.”
“So, to answer your question,” she adds, when she realizes she hasn’t, “I want justice and I want to go back home. I’ll have both.” She pauses. “What about you? I don’t really know anything about you.”