The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 21

She waits under the stage, delighted with her dress and eager to see the crowd, alone. Pyrrhus had not even accompanied her as far as the metal plate which will elevate her to the stage. Her prep team, however, position her on the plate and put the finishing touches to her hair and make-up before flitting off to dress themselves. The anthem sounds and a rush of pure, exhilarated joy floods through her. She can't quite believe that she's actually here – that she's made it out of the arena alive and Caesar Flickerman, who is also her lover, is announcing her entourage. When the plate beneath her feet begins to move, she tenses up with excitement but then the memory of the last time she was on a rising metal plate hits her and the flashing cameras remind her of the explosion that took that little girl's head off. She stiffens her flagging smile, gives the audience an aloof little wave and then approaches Caesar. He's giving her a grandiose welcome and then she does the one thing that will drive the Capitol wild: she kisses him. It looks easy, unrehearsed and could pass for a first kiss because of how surprised he is. She slides up to him, the soles of her platform heels moving easily across the stage, and slips her hand inside his jacket to bring herself to a stop and causing him to stumble into her. Then, she tilts her head up and their lips crash together as though by accident. The audience bursts into a storm of cheers, applause and stamping. She answers the adulation with a shy grin, leaning against his cosmetically sculpted chest for support.

“Well, that's a pleasant way to start the night,” chuckles Caesar, once the noise has dropped enough for him to get a word in edgewise. The crowd laugh, indulgently, and she shrinks into him, blushing and smiling, shyly. “Come, now, dear. You just won the Hunger Games.”

“Yes,” she answers in a stage-whisper. “But then I couldn't see the audience.” That draws another laugh and Caesar takes the opportunity to escort her to the victor’s chair. Once she's seated, Iristina raises her eyes to his and squeezes the hand with which he assisted her into the chair. While she is completely aware of their audience and the impression they are making, the master-of-ceremonies seems to have forgotten himself. His mouth has dropped open slightly and he is tilting towards her, as though he would kiss her again. “Caesar… we do still have a show…” she reminds him with a coy smile, inwardly crowing at her power over this pompous fool. As he returns to his seat and makes an amusing segue, she prepares herself to sit stoically through the deaths of all those little children and to exult at the deaths of her foes. She is interested to see what sort of narrative the editors have decided to put across. The only thing she knows for certain is that they can't use the one she and Gaspar wrote for them as that soured in the end. Her narrative has been unwritten and she is free to be more herself than she ever hoped possible.

"Ladies and gentlemen, let the sixty-seventh Hunger Games begin!" announces the resonant voice of Claudius Templesmith. They begin with the slow-motion, close-up footage of Coriolana falling off her launch-pad and her head being blown up. Iristina is careful to keep her face mask-like, not letting one iota of the howling horrified grief bubble to the surface. The Career Pack's kills come thick and fast – Jossa, Seedy, Lerb, Servitus and Mukhbaza. They pause to show Calidia strangling Servitus but it is Mukhbaza's murder that has everyone spell-bound. Proc had wrapped both hands around the boy's head, thumbs in his eyes, and smashed it to a pulp against the rock below. Iristina watches, jaw clenched, as the young man rises up with red hands and heads for the Cornucopia. They show Gaspar colliding with Lois and the pair of them falling to the ground with his hands around her throat. Then, there's the recap of Canus' death and Zeke's, for which she forces a smile, and Lois finally expiring and them collecting supplies. And she realises that three hours of this is going to be direly boring, so she allows herself to sink into a waking doze. She notes that the editors are playing up the idea of her and Calidia as leaders of opposing factions and ultimate enemies. She almost feels apologetic for not killing the girl herself. Of course, if she had, she might not have had the energy or strength to take down Gaspar and then they might be telling a very different story for a very different victor.

“…and it looks as though a hunt is beginning,” says Flickerman's recorded voice, rousing her. Her heart thuds hard, once, and then begins beating fit to burst out of her chest because the screen is filled with the faces of two wide-eyed, terrified children. It's the two children who stood between her and Winnow on that very first day and the boy has floppy sandy hair that keeps falling into his eyes, hair that she had impulsively swept aside in the elevator after their interviews. She had managed to keep from speculating about Darnell's fate while in the arena but now she's going to have to watch it with a live audience watching her re-actions. She tries to focus on the editing techniques as the five Career tributes crash through the foliage after the two children but it's futile; all she can see is two pairs of terror-filled eyes. They show Tadia putting her blow-gun to her lips and the girl from District 10 falling onto her hands and knees.

“Bindy!” wails her ally, turning back.

“Run!” she yells at him and Iristina can see every line of her expression as the camera is somewhere in the arena floor, shooting up at her. In another moment, she understands why they chose that angle as Tadia appears behind the girl and slits her throat with that wicked-looking sickle. She sets her face into an expression of grim triumph; after all, Bindy had to die for her to be sitting here, although the girl was only 14. Then, they cut to a shot of Proc holding Darnell off the ground.

“Let's have a little fun with him,” guffaws the brute. They play the next sequence on fast-forward with no sound and only return to normal speed once the little boy is stripped bare and bound to a tree branch by his ankles. She has to cram a fist into her mouth to stop herself crying out. She doesn't care if they broadcast this – after all, she and Gaspar did volunteer in order to protect the little kids of their district – because all she cares about is the terrified little boy with the floppy hair who Proc is approaching with an evil-looking knife. He flips it over and digs the point into the gap between Darnell's shoulder and collar-bone. He's obviously unused to cutting skin as it takes him several harsh jerks to open an incision down to the boy's sternum. She can't control the flood of anger that sweeps through her and causes her jaw to clench and her hands to grip the armrests until her knuckles go white. Proc continues to cut him and Darnell screams, while the other Careers look on with expressions ranging from delighted to disgusted. They play out every agonised moment of Darnell's death and she can feel tears and bile and rage welling within her. She's relieved when they cut to her fight with Koralia, which she relives with a savage pleasure she did not feel at the time. When she's sure that the rage and grief aren't going to overwhelm her, she allows her attention to drift again.


The highlights show drags on. She sees Renatus taking off the leg of the girl from 4 and then Viatrix hitting her with an arrow. It annoys her to learn that Bess was Renatus and Viatrix's victim, she had thought of her as hers and Renatus'; her death had been a bond they shared and Viatrix has taken even that from her. Next, Calidia kills the girl from District 3 – a whip wrapping around her leg, the girl from 1 reeling her victim in and then gutting her with a dagger. Then, they're showing her and Renatus stumbling into that dusty grove and her heart leaps into her throat. A sense of unreality settles over her as though the scene being played out on the screen has nothing to do with her. It is only when an arrow-tip appears in the foreground that she realises they're watching from Viatrix's point-of-view and then it gets a thousand times worse. A red trajectory line appears between the tip of the arrow and the shoulder of her own image.

“She was aiming for me,” she whispers to herself and it feels like the world is falling in on her. Renatus' death was her fault, not Viatrix's; if she hadn't dropped to the ground, she would have received a flesh-wound and Renatus would have lived. She sits there, completely dazed with shock, as they play out the aftermath of his death. She pays barely any attention to Glaucus murdering Tadia in her sleep and Proc killing him in retaliation. She doesn't even wonder why he did it. All she can think about is that red line appearing, her figure dropping to the ground and the arrow following that line into Renatus' chest. It plays over and over again in her mind's eye as, on the screens, they're showing the visit to District 9. It's Krill's voice that jerks her back into the moment and causes her heart to pound with fear.

“Iristina!” he bellows as he has bellowed so many times before and, despite knowing that he can't reach her, she still jumps. She hopes the audience will see it as her being shocked by the roar of sound.

“Are you are on morphling?” asks an unseen correspondent.

“How else am I meant to watch she in them Hunger Games?!"

“Well, I think that answers all our questions." The next thing they show is Krill being arrested and she struggles to keep herself from laughing; not only has she escaped him, she's stopped him from ruining another orphaned girl. Although, she has to concede, she was ruined long before he got hold of her. She can't watch as they show Winnow's final day and actually closes her eyes when Proc grabs hold of her friend. That's the last painful moment and she can watch the rest of the highlights with feelings of triumph, vindication and exhilaration. She takes malicious pleasure in watching Proc failing to out-run the slow-moving lava; she relishes Viatrix death all the more this time as she isn't running for her life and she knows the girl was aiming for her; and the trap for Calidia looks much better watching it from above, than it had felt being hidden in that clump of trees.

“We needa get outta the way, so they can take there body,” says Gaspar again and she finds herself leaning forward in her seat. She wants to relish this moment all over again, the moment when she finished one of her childhood torments forever. She watches with a triumphant smile as she slithers around the boy and slits his throat. Then, it's over and Caesar Flickerman is speaking to the audience but she doesn't care. She's won, she's free of Krill, free of Gaspar. She has escaped her history and written herself a new legacy.


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