The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 14

Gaspar wakes her by sliding into the other sleeping-bag at dawn.

“Your boyfriend just took over.” She can't see his expression in the gloom of the tent but it doesn't sound like he's teasing her.

“He's not my boyfriend,” she sighs, weary despite the six hours of sleep she's had since her watch ended.

“He certainly thinks so,” the boy tells her, sounding like he couldn't care less. She just hopes that the Gamemakers have a camera or microphone nearby; this is her chance to sell the puppy love story to Caesar, if he can hear her.

“Look, he wanted to kiss a girl and, I mean, there isn't that much left of our lives. So, I figured, why not? Give him a bit of happiness.” It's more honesty than she would normally allow Gaspar but it's not for him.

“'Cept, o'course, you do 'ave the rest of yer life left,” he answers, sounding truculent.

“Only if we kill the Careers and Viatrix,” she sighs, her worries about the coming days flooding back into her.

“And what if we do? What will ya do about Renatus?”

“I don't know.” She drags a roughened hand over her face, causing an audible rasping sound.

“But how could you live in the Capitol without your boyfriend, though?”

“I left a boyfriend in the Capitol.”

“Right, of course.” He thinks she means Cai – and maybe she does, in spirit – but, hopefully, Caesar will hear it and believe she means him. “Right, well, I'm gonna get some sleep as I'm sure me general is gonna have us marching all day again today.” She freezes; of course, Adolphus wanted her to show leadership but she never meant to come across as militant. Then, she remembers who's saying it and decides to ignore the snub.

“Well, I'll get up and leave you to it,” she says, roughly. She forces her way out into the dawn light and catches The deep flame-orange light turns her, Renatus and the tents into an assortment of tigers. She's seen dawn in the arena before but, then, it crept up on her slowly and they were nearer the beach, so her attention had been taken by the contrast of the orange light and the gun-metal water.

“You shouldn't be up!” fusses Renatus, hurrying over with a thermal jacket but she laughs and pushes him away. As he frowns, obviously annoyed, she begins to spin on the spot with her arms out and her face turned up to catch as much of the light as possible on her bare skin.

“Have you ever seen light like this?” she laughs, continuing to spin. The light and the muggy air make her feel like she's drowning in exotic fur. It's only then that she realises that this is the hottest morning she can remember in her Games so far. She stops spinning and staggers but Renatus is there to catch her. She forces herself to be polite and smile up at him, while her mind runs over the last five days to judge the temperature variation. Apart from the day when she was ill, when she has no way of telling what the ambient temperature was like as her own was all over the place, she realises that each day has been hotter than the one before. “Oh… no. Please, no.”

“What is it?” he asks, using his thumb to swipe a stray chestnut lock from her sweaty forehead.

“I think they're messing with the atmospheric controls. We need to load up on water today.”

“OK,” he says, giving a one-shouldered shrug. She looks into his eyes and sees utter incomprehension; she forgets sometimes that most people have never had to survive on the streets in 45-degree heat. It's probably only half that now but then it's dawn and they're only on Day 6.

“I'm going to wake Winnow, get started on packing up. We can let Gaspar sleep for now, he needs it. Keep keeping watch. We'll be leaving as soon as possible.” She's distracted, worried, and she knows there's something she's forgetting, some step in the dance, but she's too frantic to stop and remember, so she leaves Renatus standing there, looking crest-fallen.

“Why didn't she kiss the boy?” complains Adolphus, leaning back against the headboard.

“What?” murmurs Daria from her recumbent position beneath sheet, duvet and quilt. He smirks down at his wife and kisses her forehead.

“Iristina has just worked out that the Gamemakers are increasing the temperature each day.”

“She did?” gasps Daria, pushing herself up onto one elbow. “Well, good for her. Maybe they won't die of thirst. Have the other team worked it out yet?” As if in answer to her question, the screen fills with a panoramic shot of the mountain's summit. Nothing is moving but the Careers do have a guard posted for the first time. “Reckon they're scared now that our four aren't leaving a fire smoking all night?” He nods, lack of sleep making him indolent. “So, are they going to stock up on water? And fruit.” He nods again, letting his eyes drift half-shut.

“She was going to–“ He's cut off by a large yawn. “Pack up camp.”

“Things are going very quick. Tributes, I mean,” she frowns. “We're only at the very beginning of Day 6 and they're already down to nine.” He places his hand on her thigh and slides it down to cup her knee.

“If these two cannot win, I do not know who can. They are the best I have ever seen come out of District 9.”

“Hey!” she protests, rolling over to lie half on top of him. “Is she better than me?” She grazes her finger-nails through his chest-hair. “Is he better than Cai?”

“Yes,” he answers with unrepentant honesty and a grin before pulling her down into a kiss.

It's been a couple of hours since she and Renatus split from the other two and a little over an hour since they ate or drank anything. She knows that they'll soon be running into Winnow and Gaspar and they'll have nothing to show for their search, when the two of them stumble into a dusty grove. The lack of moisture in the soil of this tree-less area and the spiny quality of the plants are all the confirmation she could, and didn't, want of her fears.

“Do you think there could be anything here?” asks the boy, sounding doubtful.

“There might be berries or tubers or… Look at this!” She drops onto her haunches to examine the bush but, an instant later, her head snaps up in response to the thwump that followed hard on her words. Her heart catches in her throat and her head starts to spin when her eyes find him – there's an arrow protruding from Renatus' chest. “Re–Rena!” she squeaks and scrambles on all-fours over to him, oblivious to any continuing danger. She cradles his suddenly fragile-seeming head in her lap and strokes his hair, whispering his name all the while. When a second arrow lodges itself under her collarbone, she hardly registers it. “Rena, Renatus, I'm here. I promise, I'm not going to leave you.” He can't respond – all that comes out of his lips is frothy blood – but she feels his muscles relax and that's the moment when tears begin to roll down her cheeks. The fingers of one of her hands – her warm, raw, insistent fingers – are pressed against the side of his neck and she can feel the slowing of his pulse. In fact, her entire world has contracted to the sensation of that lessening beat under her fingers and the silky hair through which her other hand is passing. It is only when his pulse finally ceases that she realises Gaspar and Winnow are in the clearing with her.

“You've got an arrow sticking out of you!” her district-partner is yelling. “Why didn't you get the hell outta here?!”

“Because,” she answers, her voice quavering. “he deserves better than that, you heartless, mangy bastard!” She eases that all-too-vulnerable head onto the dry ground and then, with surprising alacrity, flies at Gaspar, knives appearing her hands as though by magic. However, this time, he's ready for her murderous attack and brings up the haft of his spear to block her blades. Unfortunately for him, she's anticipated his defence; instead of fighting him, she tosses aside her weapons and slides underneath the horizontal bar of his, slamming the soles of both feet into one of his shins. He collapses on top of her, pushing the arrow deeper into her chest. She tries to cry out but the spear, which is now between them, is crushing her wind-pipe. Black clouds start to gather at the edges of her vision and she's sure that she's going to die at Gaspar's hands after all, when he's suddenly yanked off of her.

“Be you both out of your senses?!” hisses Winnow. “The boy is dead and it is very sad but we cannot kill one another. We need one another still. We must kill the others and, most of all, the snake that be his district-partner.”

“Come on,” snarls Gaspar. “Let's get the hell out've here, so they can get the body.” His district-partner wishes that Winnow wasn't right, wishes she could just kill him and let the hovercraft relieve her of the body.

“His… medallion,” she gasps, still finding it difficult to breathe.

“You are wanting his token?” inquires Winnow, frowning.

“We… said… take… Mukh… ba… za's… so… Rena's… too.”

“Gaspar, keep watch,” the younger girl orders. He takes in both women's mulish expressions and complies. Winnow bends over Renatus first, removing his medallion – which she presses into Iristina's hand – and then his pack. She digs through the rucksack until she comes up with one of the medical kits she assembled on the first day. Once she has all of the supplies she needs, Winnow approaches her stricken ally once again and, cautiously but firmly, removes the arrow from Iristina's chest. They're lucky and it doesn't splinter on the way out. More fortunately still, it didn't hit anything vital on the way in, so there is very little blood when the projectile is removed. Winnow presses a sterile pad to the hole and binds it in place. “It may be that the medicine for Gaspar's face will help your wound. We will see later. Can you walk?”

“I have to,” bites out the other girl. She gets to her feet, without accepting any assistance, and staggers over to Renatus' side. She looks down on his sweet, childish face – marred only by the blood on his lips and chins – and tries to commit every line of it to memory; she might not have loved him as he would have wished but she still owes him more than she will ever be able to repay. Eventually, she lifts her head – which is starting to throb from the increasing heat – and says: “Come on, let's get outta here.”

Cai is in the main viewing room when Renatus' body is removed and he is in the background of the shot as the District 7 mentors are interviewed.

“Did you ever think Viatrix would be the one to kill Renatus?” asks the correspondent, over-eager.

“Yeah,” sighs Blight, running a hand over his face.

“She hated him from the moment they got on the train,” elaborates Amillaria. “It was as much as we could do to get her to eat meals at the same time as him.”

“Do you think she is going to win? You know, she's currently at the bottom of the betting.”

“I think her odds have just gotten worse,” retorts the girl's mentor, harshly. “The boy from District 9 might not care but both Ares and Winnow look like they want revenge and the tributes from 1, 2 and 4 still want her dead.”

“Yeah, she's just made herself some deadly enemies,” Blight agrees. The correspondent gives them a fake broad smile, then he spots Cai and clatters over to him on those ridiculous platform shoes that are currently the height of fashion.

“Well, Ares looks like she's taken this death pretty hard. Do you think she's going to go berserk?”

“I can't tell you what's going on in her head, you know,” he laughs, all charm and affability. “But, from what I know of her, this death will only spur Ares onto further aggression. She's not the type to be blinded by revenge – I mean, yeah, she'll want to kill Viatrix herself – but she won't let that get in the way of winning. Her main priority will still be going after Calidia, Proc, Glaucus and Tadia.” At least, he hopes so. The correspondent plasters on a grin and then turns to Gaius.

“How does it feel, Mr Thell, to have both tributes from District 9 in the final eight? This hasn't happened for years, has it?”

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