“Right,” begins Gaspar, straightening from pitching the one tent they'll need tonight. “I'm gonna go scope out the competition. You two stay put and try not to get yerselfs killed.”
“Don't you be going throwing no more stones,” Iristina shoots back at him, feeling almost back to her usual self, physically. “Cause we won't be there to save your ass this time around.” She can see his grip tighten on the haft of the same spear that almost killed her early but he stalks off without responding.
“I do not understand you and him,” frowns Winnow, sitting with her back to a nearby tree. “I thought you were the best of friends.”
“We were,” sighs the older girl as though actually remembering a lost friendship. “In District 9 and the Tributes' Parade. Since then… I don't know. Something about training with professionals, being reminded that this is a competition that only one can survive, then being in here and killing all those people…”
“But I thought he was dying, that he did not want to win?” Iristina shrugs and gives her ally an unhappy smile.
“I don't know. Maybe seeing all these kids die has made him realise that three more years and a slow death aren't so bad after all.” She lets herself lapse back into thinking about the boy who had died earlier, her true friend. They may not have talked much about home – she does know that his father is dead and his mother and sisters (20 and 12) live with an aunt – she had felt a connection with him from that first morning in the training rooms. Originally, she had thought it nothing more than her gambler's instinct recognising a potential champion but, now, she wonders what could have been. What might have happened if they had gone to school together? Or if they met 20 years in the future in the Capitol she a victor and he a… what had he said he wanted to be? An architect, that was it. If they had met in the Capitol in 20 years' time, what would have happened?
“Ares!” Winnow's voice cracks through her spiralling thoughts like a lightning bolt, forcing her back into a present she does not want to face. She reads the question in the other girl's eyes and sighs heavily.
“We are not going to go hunting her down. And, if you want to stay part of this gang, you are not going to go rogue.”
“But– but– but–“ Winnow's eyes and mouth have taken on the appearance of a flounder and, if she wasn't so drained from the long day and the heat and the grief, Iristina knows she would be cracking up. “She killed her district-partner!”
“Winnow,” she says, weary but authoritative. “These are the Hunger Games and we are playing to win. If we let ourselves get distracted by personal revenge, we will lose.”
“If we go chasing after Viatrix, then our guard will drop towards the Career Pack and they will catch us off-guard and massacre us. Our primary focus must still be killing them and, if we catch her along the way, all the better.”
“Don't you love her?!” extols Flickerman. “Not just a beautiful face but a keen strategist, too.”
“Yes but you can't forget Calidia Murano – she's also very beautiful and intelligent,” points out Templesmith.
“Oh, yes!” enthuses his co-anchor. “If it wasn't for Ares, I'd say Calidia had this sewn up but… well, they both got a 10 in training, both killed in the initial bloodbath, both came out of that battle the other day uninjured–“
“Yes but that's all true of Gaspar Barjon, too, except he got an 11 in training.”
“That is true,” concedes the master-of-ceremonies, his golden head bobbing above his midnight-blue suit, making him look like a human tableau of night and day. “However, that young man hasn't killed anyone since that first day and he does seem to have a death-wish. I mean, starting that fight between the two alliances and he's now goaded Ares into attacking him twice.”
“She did seem awfully upset at Renatus' death,” chuckles Templesmith and Cai wonders if he knows about Flickerman's… he doesn't know what label to put on it, doesn't know what it means to her, his girl. Worse, he doesn't know what he means to her or how much she really cared for the boy that just got killed. He hadn't believed her when she said the Games are all that matter to her but, now, he doesn't know what to believe. Today, the sixth day, had been fairly slow until the boy's death with Ares' Gang trekking around the island looking for means of hydration and the Career Pack moving their camp from the Cornucopia, after Calidia decided it was too exposed to the elements. So, the Gamemakers had needed a lot of filler and her budding romance with Renatus gave them that. They have spent hours speculating about what would happen if the couple were the last two tributes standing, interviewing victors who had a love interest in their Games (including Haymitch and Daria) and even wheeling out Atala to talk about how they behaved towards each other during training. Ares has dominated the Hunger Games coverage for the past day – ever since she ran off in search of Renatus after hearing the cannon that announced Attie's death – and he finds himself wondering if that was her only motivation in playing nice with the kid or will he be competing for affections against a ghost.
Gaspar returns an hour after sunset, when the two girls are beginning to feel the cold.
“Why haven't you lit the fire?” he grumbles, seeing the heap wood between them.
“One,” drawls Iristina, feeling really drowsy from the combination of drugs she's taken this afternoon. “We weren't sure if t'were safe. And, two, Winnow cannae light a fire and the morphling's knocked out me fine– can't be using me fingers, no way.” She tries to raise her right hand from the ground but it feels as heavy as the boulder with which she brained the bear.
“You gave her morphling?” demands Gaspar, incredulous.
“The medicine for your eye be working but the pain was intolerable. She gave one screech – sounded like a bird, so it be no threat by itself – and I could not let her do it a second time, so I gave her the morphling. What else should I have done?”
“Anything else. Krill– This guy in our district, friend of hers, had a problem with morphling and I think he'd her doing it too.” A man crouches down in front of her, a handsome man with gentle hands who pushes her eyelids open and calls her name. She wants to answer, wants to tell him that she's just fine and more than fine, but that would take too much effort and all she wants to do is sleep. “Damn it! She be dropping to sleep. If she do that, I no know if she wake again. We need charcoal!”
“That, we have!” Winnow tears apart her carefully constructed tepee of sticks to dig out the charcoal they brought with them from their previous camp-fire.
“Now, just need ta make her swallow an it.”
“Where are you going?” demands Amina, when Cai jumps to his feet.
“I have a friend– client, who had a morphling addiction. He can afford the proper antidote and he's betting on her to win.”
“You've seen him since the Games began?” The older woman looks completely gob-smacked.
“Where d'ya think I've been every night?”
“Partying or pressing the flesh with sponsors like us all.”
“Well, I been pressing flesh and servicing clients. I gotta get Stamatis on the blower.”
Winnow is still grating charcoal with a flint when the silver parachute arrives.
“Gaspar!” she calls and he looks up from his constant vigil over Iristina's deteriorating breathing. He frowns at the other girl until she points out the new arrival, which he retrieves the new arrival, which he retrieves as swiftly as possible. Winnow drops her implements when she sees that the container holds a syringe and approaches him slowly, worried that he might lash out if she makes any sudden moves.
“Do you know how to use one of these?” he asks, sounding lost and frightened. Winnow nods and takes the instrument from him. She easily finds another thick, blue vein in the crook of the patient's left elbow and injects the medicine. They sit back and wait for her to wake.
“Another twist in the tale,” rumbles Claudius Templesmith, evidently enjoying the entertainment value Iristina is providing. She's the perfect flawed heroine – a fierce and intelligent leader, who regularly requires her allies to look after her. “A potential morphling addiction started by a man called Krill. I wonder who he is!”
“Well, I'm sure we'll find out tomorrow, when our special correspondent will be in District 9 to profile the first joint-volunteers from an outlying district in the whole history of the Games,” enthuses Flickerman. “And isn't it so exciting that they have both reached the final eight?!”
“Let's see if she's recovered from her morphling injection.” The screen switches to a view of Ares with her arms around Gaspar, sobbing her gratitude into his shoulder.
“Just… just keep that stuff away from me,” she laughs, turning to pull Winnow into a hug.
They make a meal out of the scraps they have left and drink a whole bottle of water each. Then, there is nothing to do but fidget and chat until the seal appears in the sky. They all stand, although Iristina is very unsteady, and stare up at Renatus' face – not his face as she last saw it but his face as it was in his interview, proud and laughing.
“I'll take the first watch,” she offers in a subdued voice, once the anthem has died away. The other two exchange a worried look.
“Do you not think you should get your rest?” Winnow suggests, tentatively.
“Yeah but, if I went to sleep now, I might not wake up again. So, I'll take the first watch and then I can sleep the rest of the night.”
“OK,” smiles Gaspar. “Wake me in four hours.” He and Winnow crawl into the tent and leave her to the quiet and chill of the night. It's not extreme cold but simply a nice relief from the day's heat, so she concludes that the Gamemakers are not trying to kill them through exposure. In fact, considering how deadly this year's Games have proved– she winces as her memorised image of Renatus' face flashes into her mind's eye. Oh, she wants a bit, just a little bit, to take the edge off. The sex had helped those last few days in the Capitol and then, since she got here, there has been constant pressure that kept her sharp. Now, however, something has happened that makes her want to crawl into oblivion but she can't and she knows she can't; they still have five enemies to kill. She's just about to wake Gaspar and slip into a less complete oblivion, when the cannon sounds. Her face scrunches into a frown; evidently, the Careers have been hunting Viatrix all this time and they've just caught up with her. She's not happy because, despite what she said to Winnow earlier, she had wanted to kill the girl herself. Then a second cannon sounds and her expression lightens, slightly. So, it was Viatrix tracking the Careers, instead, and she's taken out another one of them before being caught. She's down to just three enemies she has to kill; two steps closer to ending Gaspar, once and for all.
thought that Ares' drug problem was going to be tonight's scandal but Districts 2 and 4 being out of the running before 7, 9 and 11 is big news.
“Did you… You and Finnick didn't set this up, did you?” he asks Adolphus, although the older man looks just as dumb-founded as himself and confirms that impression with a shake of his head.
“The boy must have done it himself,” answers his colleague, sounding dazed.
“Yeah… but why?”
“Gaspar did say he was stupid,” suggests Daria, weakly. The three of them stare at the screen for another moment, dumb-founded by Glaucus' actions. “How do you think they'll fill the screen-time tomorrow with only a final six tributes?” The two men can only shake their heads; a Career tribute has rarely turned on his allies so soon and never without an escape route.
When she wakes the next morning, her arrow-wound has healed to a puckered scar and, when she crawls out of the tent to join the others, they both seem well-rested and fully recovered from their own collections of wounds. She sits down beside Winnow and leans against the other girl. As much as she wishes that Renatus was here with them, the knowledge that it's down to the three of them and three Careers gives her a sense of peace.
“So…” she starts, every inch of her body languid. “Just before I woke Gaspar, the cannon sounded twice.”
“I know,” answers the other girl with the broad smile of a cat sunning itself. “He told me when he woke me.” The young man looks at the two young women across from him and smirks before sighing.
“Pleasant as this is… shouldn't we be making a plan of campaign?” Iristina turns her face away from the all-too-warm sun and peels open one somnolent eyelid.
“Spoilsport,” she complains and he grins at her. She doesn't understand it but Renatus' death, almost killing her and saving her from the brink of a drug-induced coma last night has restored his good humour. Maybe he had been jealous of how close she had become with the younger boy or maybe he just wants to be the one to kill her and yesterday has made him believe that he can. Whatever the reason, Gaspar seems to be back on message and she's grateful; she needs an ally, not a wolf in sheep's clothing.
“We have very little food,” remarks Winnow, her mouth twisting downward.
“Yeah,” groans the older girl. “That is today's mission.”
“But what about them Careers?!” squawks Gaspar.
“If they attack us, well and good, we'll end them. But they ain't taken the initiative yet, have they?”
“But… ain't the Gamemakers gonna do something to force us together?”
“Not today,” she says with more certainty than she feels. “They have to profile the final ei– six.” They all share wolfish grins.
“Can you imagine how happy they are at home?” beams Winnow, turning her face up to the sun again. “The last time a tribute from District 11 made it to the final eight was in the 64th Hunger Games. And both of you being here! District 9 must be delighted.”
“Yeah…” Iristina exchanges a look with her district-partner. They can only hope that no-one at home gives the game away and she's worrying Krill might do something stupid. Today, Day 7, could destroy all of their carefully constructed strategy and there's nothing they can do to control it.