The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 18

It's another two hours before Gaspar arrives at the meeting point the four of them had selected on the second day. He is battered and bloodied, and in a foul temper.

“You left me!” he snarls.

“I was out of weapons!” she objects, holding out her empty hands to him.

“What be that 'round yer, then?!” he spits, jerking his chin at the knife-belt buckled around her waist.

“The one I hid here when we chose it as our meeting point!” she retorts, exasperated. “Now, let me see about getting you cleaned up.”

“Don't touch me!” he growls at her, throwing himself backwards, away from her proffered hand.

“Oh, whataya think I'm gonna do? Kill ya?!” she snaps, her patience and attempt at kindness evaporating.

“Why not?! I know you want me dead! Wish I'd died, not Winnow; wish I'd died, not Renatus. How're ya gonna cope with no boyfriend? Gonna make do with me?! Maybe it don't matter to you, maybe all ya want is a warm body and a prick, you cheap slut!” She knows he's doing it on purpose, knows he wants to get a rise out of her but she can't help it, she flies at him. This time, she doesn't draw steel and he leaves the spear lying on the ground. She thuds into him with her palms slamming into his solar plexus and he stumbles backwards. His heel catches on an exposed root as he's trying to head-butt her and he goes crashing to the ground with her on top of him. She's just about to draw a blade and end him, when she registers the furious tears in his eyes and the hardness pressing against her stomach.

“You sick pervert!” she spits in his face. “I thought we were friends.” She shoves herself away from him, using the backward momentum to stagger to her feet. “I'm gonna go set up camp. Clean yerself up, Gazzer.”

“…one of the shortest Hunger Games in living memory,” Templesmith is saying as Cai enters the bar. Chaff, Seeder, Haymitch and Blight are already sprawled across the benches in a booth.

“Hey, guys,” he groans, dropping onto the red velvet beside Chaff. “I'm sorry, mate.” He claps the older man on the shoulder before turning to Blight. “I've no idea what to say to you, mate.”

“No worries. I don't know what to say, either. This just don't happen in District 7; our tributes do not kill each other. Y'know, I just received a subscription from the people – they want to send a loaf of bread to your two! They said, in no uncertain terms, that I'm not to use any of their money to help Viatrix.

“How's Amillaria doing?” slurs Haymitch, barely lifting his head.

“Not good. I mean, Viatrix spooked both of us from the beginning but she's Amie's responsibility. I mean, I can wash my hands of her if I like but Amie's got to stick by her, no matter what.”

“So, my two're gonna wake up to District 7 bread?” Cai prompts, sipping on his second drink.

“Nah, sorry. Weren't enough cash. I sent it back to the mayor, told him to buy everyone some extra food. It's not like we're gonna win this year.”

“I dunno,” spews Haymitch. “She's sneaky that one and with the bow…”

“Yeah but Ares ain't gonna let her live,” Blight sighs, running a hand over his face. “I hope she wins, Cai, I really do.”

“My round, I think,” he says, pushing himself off of the bench. He can't quite look his friends right now, not with his girl's face filling the TV screens.

She's let Gaspar take the sleeping-bag first because he needs the rest more than she does and she doesn't trust him not to kill her or fuck her in her sleep. This night has a different feel to the one after Renatus' death. Then, she had been elated at the thought that Viatrix was dead and they were evenly matched against the Careers, although sorry that the dear, sweet boy was dead. Now, there's nothing but ashes in her mouth. Renatus and Winnow are both dead, her only ally is her oldest enemy and they still face danger from two separate foes. She groans and drops her head into her hands. Despite the deaths and injuries dealt by herself and others, the Games had not seemed overly difficult until now. Now, she wants to curl up in a ball and howl but she can't. She can't show the least sign of weakness to Gaspar. Gaspar… what is she going to do with him? Should she kill him now, leaving herself alone to face the other three? No, she needs him still; she just has to make him see it.

“Hey!” she calls in a whisper, having just entered the tent. “Gaspar!” He answers her with an inquisitive grunt, which she takes as an indication that he isn't really awake yet. She reaches out, grabs one booted foot through the fabric and shakes it, vigorously.

“Wha' time i' it?” he grumbles in response.

“Moon's at its zenith,” she answers with a yawn.

“A'right',” he groans and pushes himself upright. He lets out a long moan of pain. “Feels worse'n las' night.”

“Is there anything I can do?” she offers, wanting to seem co-operative but she would rather just climb into the sleeping-bag.

“Thanks but no. It'll just take time. Can we take it slow, tomorrow?”

“Sure. I wasn't thinking of attacking again. I think it's their turn to take the initiative.”

“That's a point. They've been running scared from us this whole time. Let them be the ones to hike after us and attack tired.” He pulls himself free of the sleeping-bag and crawls out of the tent. She slips into the roll of bedding, which still holds his body warmth and his scent, and settles down to get some sleep.

They take the next day very slowly. They eat breakfast, pack up camp and then make a leisurely circuit of the beach. They don't even hunt as their stores are still replete. None of the other tributes do anything more interesting, either. Viatrix is hidden down a rabbit-warren, eating raw meat and weeds. Proc and Calidia are both pretty banged up from their confrontation with Ares and her allies yesterday. They also spend all day in one place. However, Cai can tell that the Capitol audiences aren't happy; there's a restive feeling in the air and no-one has sent Proc the medicine he needs. Even at this stage of the Games, it is remarkable that a Career would be left with his weapon-arm incapacitated and the co-anchors remark upon it, constantly.

“Why aren't they fighting?” bemoans one of the sponsors with whom he and the Barvens are dining.

“Calistra,” says her husband, reprovingly. “They are wounded.”

“The boy is but why doesn't Ares kill him and hunt down the others?” Cai is about to open his mouth, when the corner of his eye catches Adolphus leaning forward and expanding to make himself look impressively dignified.

“I agree with you that Ares probably could kill all of her competition,” he begins, his voice measured and melodic. “But I do think that she does not believe so. It is my understanding that she intends to retain Gaspar as an ally until they have killed the Archeress or maybe, still yet, the pair from District 1.” He leans back in his chair with a smile that suggests he has just answered every question they could have.

“But why aren't they out there hunting the others down, then?” the youngest guest wails.

“Look at it like this,” Cai answers, leaning in towards the centre of the table and flashing her a wink and a smile. “Every time that Ares and Gaspar have faced the pair from District 1 and their allies, it has been our two who have started things. Must've gotten a bit boring for them.” That raised a laugh from the whole company. “Sure, nothing much's happened today but, trust me, things will heat up tomorrow.”

When the sun begins to rise on Day 10, she is sitting with her back to the summit in something of a doze-like trance. She is just straightening up, in preparation for waking Gaspar, when she hears a loud CRACK and the sky goes dark. She spins around and stares at the mushroom-like cloud rising from the top of the mountain.

“Gaspar!” she screams. “Gaspar!” She's ripping open the tent-flap and grabbing her rucksack. “Gaspar! We have to run!”

“What is it?” he demands, sounding hoarse but wide awake.

“Gamemakers! Not sure what.” At once, he's scrabbling out of the sleeping-bag, picking up his own rucksack and the pair of them start to run for the beach, letting the curve of the mountain guide their path. Less than five minutes from their camp, she's stopped just short of a steep ravine with a thin rivulet of water at the bottom, trying to work out how to cross it but then Gaspar crashes into her from behind and they both fall into the gully. Upon hitting the water, they scream and jump up. “It's boiling! How's it boiling?” Gaspar, his mouth hanging open, points behind her and she turns to see… “We have to get outta here!” she yells at him and they both start scrambling up the far side of ravine.

“It's useless!” he shouts at her, pulling her away from the bank and along the stream-bed.

“We can't out-run lava!” she yells at him, running as fast as she can.

“It ain't moving… all that… fast,” he wheezes and that's when she notices how difficult it is to breathe. “Probably… don't want us… dead. Just… grouped together.” Part of her mind – the part that isn't desperately trying to remember how to breathe during a volcanic eruption – thinks that he has a point.

“It's still… gonna kill us… if we don't– There!” At this point, the left bank has flattened out almost to nothing and the two of them run up it, collapsing barely a dozen strides away from the gully. “Give me… your vest!” she demands, ending on a wheezing cough. He stares at her as though she's crazy but the girl takes no notice as she's digging through her rucksack. Having no breath to argue and seeing she has a plan, Gaspar begins stripping off.

“Well, it looks like our two under-dogs know what they're doing,” grins Flickerman as Ares tears up the under-shirt and drenches the strips in water from her bottle. Cai lets out a ragged sigh of relief as they tie the rude filters around the lower halves of their faces.

“I don't think I'd've known to do that,” whispers Daria, her face grey and drawn.

“I knew they weren't happy with yesterday but…” Amina can't seem to finish the thought, can't express her horror.

“I should have realised when I saw the shape of the mountain,” murmurs Adolphus as the cameras pull back to show the whole island from within the dust cloud. Half of the summit is gone and lava is spreading slowly but surely down that side of the volcano.

“Oh, and there goes the first tribute,” beams Templesmith. “Let's go take a look.”

“Was that a cannon?” she asks, wild with fear. Gaspar nods, weariness coming off him in waves. “Ready to run again?” He nods and levers himself upright. They take a diagonal path, running from the lava and towards the beach, and run as hard as their legs will carry them. She keeps throwing glances over her shoulder to check the the lava's progress and, on one of those glances, she spots Viatrix running like a fox before the hounds. Her fury at Renatus' murder and a subconscious awareness that the Gamemakers prefer to see tributes die at each other's hands overwhelm her terror and common sense, she stops in her tracks. She sends a knife flying into the other girl's thigh but Viatrix only pauses long enough to pull the knife out and then she's running again, hurtling straight towards her attacker. Iristina notices that the other girl has lost her bow and knows she needs to bring her down from afar. She flings a second blade that her target ducks, so she follows it up with a third and this one catches the little girl in the gut. Viatrix staggers, looks down at the knife protruding from her body and falls backwards into the lava stream. At its intrusion into her own little scene, Iristina is reminded of the reason she was running. She turns and hares after Gaspar's retreating figure. She forces herself to glance back when she realises that she should have heard the cannon but still hasn't. With a fourth blade in her hand, she turns and sees a figure covered in lava fighting to get to its hands and knees. She screams and redoubles her pace.

“I thought I'd lost you,” pants out her district-partner once they burst out onto the beach but she crashes past him into the water.

“She– she– she–“ She keeps stuttering until Gaspar drags her out of the sea and shows her that the lava has stopped. In fact, within an hour of the eruption, the lava has cooled and hardened to rock.

“I told you that girl was a fighter!” guffaws Flickerman, clapping his co-anchor on the shoulder after the replay of Viatrix's death has ended.

“I like her,” leers Meyrick, raising his mid-morning cocktail to his lips. “Have you had her?” Cai splutters, spitting most of his mouthful back into the glass.

“She's a tribute,” he squawks.

“Yes,” hums the older man in amusement. “Your tribute. And she's hardly a child.”

“I suppose not,” answers Cai, injecting his voice with the disgust he feels for this man, trying to fool the other into believing that the very idea repulses him.

“I bet she's feisty in the sack – better than Daria Ashlen, I don't doubt.”

“Barven. Daria Barven,” he corrects, automatically. He's been distracted by the image of Calidia that is currently filling the screens. “Wait. You had Daria?” Meyrick's lips draw back in a feral grin.

“I've had all the ladies.”

“Wow. I always thought Daria and Adolphus… Well, how was she?” The older man laughs and claps him on the shoulder.

“You really are as depraved as I am.” Meyrick winks at him. “Want another drink?”

“No, thanks; I'm barely half-way through this one. And I'm not depraved, I've just had more than my fair share of tail.”

“Now, that's the truth!” laughs his host. “I never will know how a guy like you gets so many women falling all over you.”

“It's my sparkling personality,” he replies, dryly, prompting another laugh from the older man. “So, Daria…” Meyrick is thoroughly derailed and spends a full twenty minutes recounting his night with Daria, without mentioning Ares again. When he also leaves with the price of a fruit cake in his pocket, Cai counts it as a good day's work and decides to join Haymitch in the Blue Merlin, after he's sent his girl the provisions.

They're both lying, exhausted, in the lie of a boulder, when the parachute arrives.

“I'll get it,” she groans, pushing herself onto her elbows, and Gaspar doesn't even nod, only grunts. When she opens it, she breaks into a wheezy laugh.

“What is it?” moans her district-partner, his tone devoid of any real interest.

“It's a basket,” she answers, still chuckling in incredulity at their mentors' latest gift. “There's Capitol bread and… fine cheese and… wine. They've sent us wine, Gaspar!” She breaks into more wheezy laughter. He sits up at that and joins her in poking through the basket. As well as the wine, the cheese and the bread, there was also finely cut pork and chocolates.

“Looks like we have fans,” he comments before letting out his own gust of incredulous laughter.

“But this stuff is useless,” she points out, dropping her voice. “It's nice but it won't last any time. It's like they're just flaunting how much money they have.”

“Yeah,” he grins and she's struck again by how very handsome he is. “Maybe they have enough money to send us food for every meal. I mean, with only four of us left, it can't be too long now.”

“Three,” she corrects, pulling the remaining set of camping cutlery from the bottom pocket of his rucksack.

“Three? You killed someone when you stopped, didn't you?” She nods, still concentrating on assembling the sandwiches. “What did you do?”

“I killed Viatrix,” she snaps, not wanting to think about that figure rising up under the lava.

“Excellent!” he shouts and punches the air. “So, it's just you, me and Calidia. She ain't gonna know what hit her and she's gonna be too bloody frightened to attack. So, we can sleep tonight, go and find her tomorrow, and then it will all be over.” He's grinning at her but all she can think of is Reaping Day, the two of them on that revolting sofa and Gaspar asking her to kill him.

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