Hamartia - Chapter 8 - Deerlie_03 - Hunger Games Series (2024)

Chapter Text

Penelope is looking up at the sky, clear and fake between the breaks in the trees, perhaps also made in a lab, as the canons sound symbolically and the artificial light forming the faces of the deceased is projected up against it where the stars should be. Ester, Flick, Rye, Daisy, Linnaeus, Jade, Parson: another boy went down after Percy killed Jade, when he and Penelope were fleeing the bloodbath. He’s pretty sure all the deaths on the first day happened right there at the cornucopia. Percy isn’t really watching the display for the most part, more like watching Penelope as she takes it in. He counts the sounds, each beat a life lost, one of them at his hands, and does not look up until he is as close to certain as he can be that he won’t see Jade’s face in the sky.

“I killed someone today,” he breathes, whether to himself or Penelope or the crickets (he assumes, though he cannot know) chirping in the long grass.

“That’s not your fault,” Penelope says back just as lowly. They are camped out between the trunks of trees, speaking quietly so they can hear if anybody is coming and so that they will be as hard to find as they can be. Something about the night is intimidating in a way the day isn’t, perhaps because they can’t see now the light of day and that of the projections has disappeared, perhaps because it is when they should be sleeping, which will make them vulnerable. “That’s just the Games,”

“I hate them already,”

“You’re only just catching on?” She is just about close enough for Percy to make out the details of her face, heavy brow bone and transparent eyebrows low over eyes which he knows are blue even if they could be any colour at all for all the light he has to see her by. She has freckles all over but there are three under her left eyes that are larger than most that form a perfect equilateral triangle and he finds himself tracing the shape in the grass absentmindedly. She’s joking, one corner of her mouth turned up into a half-hearted smile but her hands are shaking and she is looking a little to the left of him. She tugs on her braid nervously and her hands shake and he tries not to let himself think that is a bad sign for either of them, because until this is over they are both alive.

“Penelope,” there is nobody else here he could be talking to but he likes her name if only because it is hers, something that makes her more than just that girl tribute from Four, a real person with a real life and everything that goes along with it, “what would you be doing if we were back in Four right now?” He’s well aware there could be cameras on him at any moment, that in these worst, and possibly final, days of his life he has to constantly be putting on a show. If Panem is watching, and they may well be, he wants to remind the Capitol that they were people before they became tributes. He doubts it’ll do much but he can hope against all reason if it helps him at all: this is not the time nor place to deny himself comfort, no matter how minute it may be.

She leans back on her hands and looks up at a sky without stars, like a big sheet of black fabric stretched across the dome they are being held in. “I don’t even know what day it is,” she has angled herself so he can’t see her face anymore and the way her voice shakes is either half a chuckle or half a sob. “I’d be asleep, probably,” she shrugs, not as nonchalant as she wants to be, “or fixing something for my dad so that everything was in working order by the time he got home. He swears his old radio is better than the new models because of how reliable it is,” she shakes her head, fond and soft and sad, “It’s a hunk of junk really, breaks weekly if I’m lucky. How about you?”

“Bringing in the traps,” he looks at the same spot of the sky as she is even though it is no different from any other. Can the Capitol not picture a sky full of stars? Too used to the light pollution to even think about the sky without it? It reminds Percy, a little bitterly, of New York, of his real home. “Or sitting on the beach with Finnick, cooking over a fire, looking up at the stars,”

“That sounds nice,” she hums, more nasal than she normally sounds as though she is holding back tears. Given the circ*mstances she should probably get a medal for doing even that much. “I know you must have been close considering…” she trails off. Percy knows precisely what she means and doesn’t need the reminder of where he is currently sitting, on top of grass that is just a little too green and a little too sharp. She pauses. The crickets don’t. “You can call me Penny, y’know? My dad and my friends all do and if I’m dying in here-” the tears really do start to fall. It’s too dark to see them but he can see her swiping them away clearly enough, hear her sniffling, defiantly out of time with the crickets’ grating song.

“Percy,” he tries for a smile but he is still thinking about Jade, about cleaning her blood from his sword, about swimming through that water as her body, likely still alive at first, fell in and her blood leached out. He’s probably had her blood in his lungs. “It’s what Finnick calls me,” Finnick, who is still there in Four because Percy intervened, who is going to stay there in Four waiting, and who will never forgive himself if Percy doesn’t come back even though none of this has ever been his fault. It strengthens his resolve. If he hadn’t killed Jade she would have killed Penelope--Penny--and then him. It was self defence. It was justified. He needs the reminder even if it doesn’t make him feel any less nauseated by the whole thing. What if it had gone the other way? If she had gotten to Penny before Percy could step in? If she had found a weak spot in his form rather than the other way around? Would she regret it later? Feel the guilt he is feeling now? What about when she was dying: did she regret volunteering? Regret devoting her life to this, then losing day one?

The careers are just people too. People who live and breathe and die just like the rest of them, who have extra training and preparation but probably not anything quite like Percy’s even if he has let himself get a little rusty since he ended up in Panem. It’s a reassuring thought in a way, and a bleak, depressing one in just about every other.

They set up the tent he managed to collect from the centre of the cornucopia along with his sword when there was still enough light to see by without straining their eyes, picking a place in the thicket of trees where they would be as hidden as they possibly could be in the arena which, as large as it may be, essentially has them trapped in a cage with the enemy. They can hide all they want and run as much as they can but there is only so much they can duck behind, a boundary at the edge of the map that dictates how far they can actually go. The silvery insulation had rustled when they pitched it and a blanket, like the kind they gave to people they pulled out of fires back home, had rolled out along with the poles and the groundsheet and the rest of the tent. There was no hammer but it was fine enough because Penny had the butt of her spear--one of the sturdy ones, the wood of its shaft strong and polished, the butt like a metal pommel, and the wickedly sharp metal spearhead affixed to its other end steadfast and sturdy in its place--and Percy had the sturdy soles of his heavy boots.

He isn’t wearing them now, as he sits outside as Penelope shuffles into it so that he can take the first watch. His socks, thick and warm but, unlike the rest of the suit, not waterproof at all, are still damp which is better than the soaked that they had been earlier but still uncomfortable. He doesn’t much like the thought of them giving him trench foot. He could just dry them and might if they aren’t 100% dry when he needs to put them on next but he can’t exactly explain that without giving himself a way so he has left them to dry on a rock right by their makeshift camp, right alongside Penny’s. She sticks her head out of the tent before she closes the tent, handing him the blanket to keep him warm on his watch while she tries to get a few hours of sleep in spite of everything.

The more he thinks about it, and think about it he does, for lack of a better distraction from the everything of the Games, it’s strange that the socks wouldn’t be waterproof when everything else is. It seems like a stupid oversight which likely means it is actually an intentional and slightly nefarious ploy from the Gamemakers to make them all just a little bit more miserable than they actually have to be. He sighs. It’s not a big enough thing to really make much difference to the Capitol’s viewing experience but he can imagine the one Gamemaker who thought it up sitting and cackling to himself with a strange sort of glee when tributes started peeling themselves out of sodden socks. He supposes if anyone gets caught off guard after wading through one of the many water sources cutting across the arena they will likely have to leave their shoes behind, make their way through the Games barefoot. The soles of his feet are pretty calloused but the ground is rough and there are stones peeking up from beneath the turf, all manner of sticks and twigs and what look like strange, unnatural seed pods from the trees laid out across them: it would hurt like a bitch regardless.

He holds his sword even as he sits on the floor outside of their tent. It is unsheathed because he doesn’t want to waste any more time than he has to if they are ambushed in the night. As it stands, no matter how hard he strains his ears, he can’t hear a sign of another person, let alone one who is approaching. There is a rush of moving water not far away, maybe ten minutes walk to a bubbling stream. He can smell it from here, as salty as the moat around the cornucopia. There is some kind of filtration straw in the pack he grabbed from as close to the middle of the cornucopia as he could but nothing of the sort in the one Penelope grabbed from a spot that was ultimately not that much further out. For anyone who doesn’t have the filter the donations are going to go down quickly, sending bottles of water because there isn’t a single drop of it that is drinkable in the arena. Needless to say, Percy has every intention to share his with Penny. He can hear the wind too, the way it rustles the trees and the roar as the biting chill it carries passes right by his ears. The cold came on suddenly, a new development, and even under the blanket he shivers against it.

The more he focuses on the crickets the less like crickets they seem. He can’t actually see them, though he would bet that there is something there in that vegetation making that noise. That noise which is slightly too loud and slightly too harmonic to sound quite right. A bird chirps occasionally, a vaguely robotic warble that rings shrill and sharp through empty air. But, other than that and the occasional, miscellaneous scuffle of something smaller and faster scaling a tree, it is silent and it is strange to be sitting there alone. He’s sure even without the cold he’d shiver when his brain helpfully supplies him with the thought that it feels vaguely like everybody else in the arena might already be dead.

Mentors don’t usually get much sleep during the Games. They have comfortable rooms all ready and waiting but they also have cots closer to the control room and those, for what they are, are frankly shockingly comfortable. Still, no mentor retires there for much more than a power nap, usually avoiding sleeping at the same time as their district partner so that they don’t miss anything important. The comfortable rooms are for commiserating when both of your district’s kids are down and out and not getting back up. Mags is one of a few mentors who has been known to sleep in her chair from time to time. They aren’t allowed to send each other’s tribute care packages, no matter whether or not Mags gives Marsh permission her computer won’t let him. It puts her off of sleeping, because she could be asleep the very moment her tribute needs something urgently and she could let them die for a few hours of restless sleep. Hers is a guilty job, one she does not wish on anyone else so she will keep doing it until she is no longer able.

The first day ends relatively peacefully, the tributes who escaped and survived the bloodbath dotted about the arena, setting up camp and keeping to themselves. Her kids have a tent. They won’t quite be comfortable but they’ll be as close as they can get and the fact that the kits were put so close to the centre implies--though does not necessarily mean--that they will be of use. Mags hasn’t been in the arena but it looks balmy, she knows enough about these things to presume they will turn the nights suddenly frigid. There’s always a chance she will be wrong though, that the Gamemakers will drastically change tactics and leave her floundering. It is not a chance she can ever discount for the sake of her kids.

The day’s deaths are flashed up against the sky and the main camera focuses on the careers at the cornucopia sitting around their fire and watching it through the smoke. Caelus grins as Ester and Rye’s faces flash up, expression cold and almost reptilian through the camera. She knows well enough the games those lenses can play and can’t help but wonder how the expression, or at least her impression of it, might shift if she were able to get up close and look at it with her own two eyes, She suspects it will ring with forced bravado, that fear or something close to it will hum underneath the skin, that he isn’t happy about the blood on his hands or the splatter from Ester’s neck that has matted a patch of his hair on the side of his head.

They toast with bottles of clean water taken from the leftover packs which surround them, drink them down greedily and perhaps a little irresponsibly but they all have plenty of donations for their mentors to get through and there are plenty of other packs around and she wouldn’t be shocked to find out there was some kind of filtration device or water-purifying tablets or something somewhere in the arena. The Gamemakers love to include something small but rare and useful if not almost necessary for tributes to fight over. It doesn’t always come to fruition but when it does, the Capitol just loves to watch a child die over something that seems to them to be nothing more than a piece of plastic. They consider it a sign of the districts’ barbarism, perhaps, whilst the districts consider the Games themselves a sign of the Capitols’.

The camera leaves the careers and focuses on Issie who is crying as she looks up at Flick’s face against the sky. She is standing as though she was moving before the presentation started but she is still now, leaning against a tree like it is the only thing holding her up. Nobody from the districts would judge a child for crying in the arena but none of them are expecting a girl who looks like this on day one to make her way back home. Beetee has probably met her parents, they may or may not be expecting her back, may or may not kid themselves all the way to the grave. Like most other things, Mags has seen it happen before.

Her kids are next, sitting in front of their tent in close quarters and talking as they watch, the forest thick around them, the projection obscured by the canopy. The projection ends and her kids keep talking, swapping stories and nicknames and dimly lit teary smiles. It was no accident Percy called Penelope a sister in his interview, it is no accident they are talking like this now. It bodes well for the Capitol’s impression of them, for the future of their alliance, but the higher Mags’ traitorous hopes climb the further they have to fall.

“Who do you have as victor?” she asks Marsh anyway, like she can’t help herself. Age is doing strange things to her, making her soft like rotting fruit.

“Caelus.”

Mags hums. Marsh has been by her side as a co-mentor for a decade now and she has heard his lists of predictions ten times over; he has gotten the top ten right nine times, the bloodbath is never exact but it’s always close, and he has gotten the victor right four times. Marsh’s odds tell her a lot more about how she can expect these Games to play out than the betting pools the people of the Capitol participate in but they’re still never exactly right. She needs them not to be right this year.

Cord from Five has caught up to Serinus from Twelve and the two of them are walking together across a stretch of land that, though hidden from the cornucopia, is remarkably flat and open and vulnerable from just about any other vantage point. Their alliance seems like one which has been cobbled together: Cord who has lost her district partner taking pity on the twelve year old boy who has lost his. They seem to be heading straight south, towards the mountains. If they’re lucky it will work out, at least for a while, if only because nobody else has decided to head in even remotely the same direction.

The girl from Six, Suzi, is small and her bag is heavy and she is alone but she is also lithe and nimble and determined and the camera only manages to hang onto her for long enough to see her slip into the trees above, stowed away and relatively safe so long as nobody decides to look a little too intently straight up. She wouldn’t be the first to win her Games by hiding. Mags looks pointedly at Marsh sitting to her side. She is on his left side so he doesn’t react until she asks him what he thinks.

“10th”

It’s better than most kids that young and that small would get.

The girl from Seven, Kadia, is only a year older--Percy’s age--but she is also a whole head taller and maybe twice as wide across. She looks like she could maybe hold her own in a fight in a way Suzi probably can’t and she is accompanied by Coy who is even taller and ever broader and has an intelligent glint in his dark eyes that can spell trouble in the arena if somebody actually knows what to do with it.

Cotton is sat in a tree, a lower branch than what it seemed like Suzi scampered up to but one that is still a good few metres up off the floor. He has his back against the trunk of the tree, his eyes closed and his breathing even as he sits with his knees pulled up to his chest and his chin pointed up at the sky. He got a kill today. It doesn’t seem to be tearing him apart but he isn’t putting on the same sort of show Jade was, or even anything close to Caelus’ more diluted version thereof. He is just closed off, alone, prepared to do what he has to do to get out of the arena and not think about it too much until he can afford to.

The girl from Nine is on her own too, though evidently much less at ease with it as she shifts and fidgets and pulls up handfuls of grass like a bored child.

The kids from Ten and Eleven have been lucky enough to stick with their district partners, setting up with nothing but a tarp and a couple of trauma blankets each in the same woods as her kids. It is one of the only things making her especially nervous this year, besides the Games themselves, of course, though she tends to assume those go without saying: a lot of the tributes have, whether knowingly or not, beelined to the same section of the map as her kids have. It’s a large enough area that they might not all clash, at least not right away, but it feels pretty inevitable that their numbers are going to shrink faster than anywhere else in the arena, especially as the active bounds begin to shrink when the Gamemakers decide things are getting a little too boring for their tastes.

Following its checkup on all the tributes the main camera has focused back in on the careers at the cornucopia so Mags diverts her gaze and attention back to her own screen, at Penelope scrambling into the tent and Percy taking first watch, sitting just outside of the tent with his weapon ready and the blanket from his tent kit covering from shoulders to midway down his shins. Seeing as he is taking the first watch, Mags does the same. Marsh knows the drill by now: she’ll wake him up when the kids switch shifts or if something happens and she will do everything in her power to make sure he doesn’t miss anything because he will blame himself just as harshly as anyone else if something happens and there was anything at all he could have done to fix it but he missed the chance because he was too comfortable in his cot.

Just like her and Marsh, almost every other pair of mentors sleeps in shifts so they always have eyes on the screen. There are exceptions, namely Haymitch, who does not have a partner nor all his faculties at the moment, who drifts into fitful sleep, wakes up, stares at Serinus asleep tucked under Cord’s arm, then falls back asleep in his seat, snoring deeply and twitching until he has dislodged himself from the chair all together and he is sprawled across the floor practically under his desk, drooling on the floor and ruining the immaculate polish. Mags glances at him occasionally, when he snores with enough force to remind her that he is still there, to check that he is still laying on his side and is not about to aspirate on his own vomit any time soon. The mentors from Six can’t quite stick to everybody else’s methods either and Mags watches them press vials to their lips occasionally, not even trying to hide what it is they are doing, and sometime in the night the easy, absent stare turns into stupefaction turns into eyes fluttering closed, muscles so relaxed so against their will that, had Mags not seen it all before so many times over she can’t hope to keep count, she might be tempted to assume they are dead. They’re plenty alive though, with their shaking hands and their broken composures and the emptiness behind their jittery eyes, Suzi will just have to fly on her own for a while. Chaff dozes in his chair too, but Basil and Anissa are lucky enough to have Seeder there to pick up the slack, even if she can actually only act on Anissa’s behalf. Mags suspects the mentors from Eleven are just as used to their little routine as she and Marsh are, perhaps even more so, but these weeks of minimal sleep would exhaust Mags even without all the emotional taxation so she can’t imagine the toll this is taking on Seeder.

The night passes without incident, mentors switching shifts in times with their tributes, lone wolves hiding themselves away strapped to sturdy high-up branches or trees or wherever else they can find secluded space to hunker down sleeping through the night as well as they are able and hoping for the best. Nobody dies and nobody hunts, at least not yet, and the arena looks almost peaceful so long as she doesn’t look at the cornucopia, scattered with weapons and stained with blood. The drones have been sent to collect the bodies but they won’t clean the arena because the tours for the Capitol are always more interesting when they can see evidence of all the carnage. She switches with Marsh when Penelope wakes up and Percy crawls into the tent in her place, pulling his socks and shoes back on because they should be dry by now and sleeping in the boots will be worth it if he has to run.

Marsh wakes her when both of their tributes are up, hurried in how he conducts himself so the two of them don’t miss anything more important than Percy swiping sleep from bleary eyes. “We should try to find food,” Penelope says. It is morning but only just and the sun is low in the cloudless sky. If they light a fire everybody will know so they will just have to hope nobody is nearby and on the hunt and be prepared to make a speedy exit. Mags finds herself watching with bated breath as the camera follows them walking, seemingly following the sound of the brook. Maybe they’re hoping for fish. If they’re lucky there might actually be some in the arena. If they’re unlucky they’ll be poisoned.

There could be another tribute behind any trunk wide enough to conceal them, somebody waiting above them where the camera doesn’t allow her to see, any step could trigger an arena trap of some description. It could all end any moment and, with the way Mags feels her heart in her throat, beating at the base of her skull, it feels like she might be right there next to them, like it is her life on the line for Capitol engagement. The Games are always hard to watch, harder still after you’ve played them, and she is in a room of victors who are being made to play them over and over and over again, their tributes like their avatars. It might be a half sensible decision to take to booze or morphling as a crutch just to make yourself a less suitable candidate so long as your district has the numbers to replace you. It’s too late for Mags to make that choice, not that her unique position ever really afforded it to her, so now she sits and waits it out as her kids walk in apprehensive silence towards the stream in a room full of people who get it. The control room is no stranger to sobbing, shaking, panicking, trying to claw their way towards an escape they have already reached. They are all still in the arena, all kept in a cage, the only difference is that this one is too large to find the edges of, that this one has a real sky and real stars and nobody even pretends there is a chance of winning.

Penelope uses a match from her pack to start a fire by the creek as Percy uses her spear to skewer a couple of silver-scaled fish. They look familiar and remarkably normal, not like arena mutts. That doesn’t mean they can’t be, of course, but there are no real warming signs. They might be sea bream, though Mags can’t quite tell from her vantage point. A good fish to eat though one that can be hard to debone. She doesn’t think her kids from Four are going to particularly struggle with that though so she tries to force herself to worry just a little bit less, to sit down enough that her back is at least grazing the back of her chair.

They eat hurriedly, refill their bottles with salty water straight from the stream then bend down to take turns using a filtering straw to drink before they leave as the other packs up. They understand well enough that they have broadcast their location to anyone who might care to know it, so are determined to be far, far away by the time anybody else can get there.

The other tributes are awake too, hunting or foraging for food, collecting water, lighting fires, packing up their camps and moving on or else staying in place until their location is compromised. The main camera moves in close to Issie who is twitchy and on edge for good reason and Beetee sends her a bottle of water. Mags doesn’t even want to know how much just that much has depleted her donations. She seems to be heading towards a nearby salt water river, perhaps to try to catch some fish of her own. Mags has no idea and she never gets the chance to find out.

Coy and Kadia are stood at the river’s opposite bank with a filter straw of their own--if Mags had to guess she’d wager there are only two in the whole arena--and the moment they hear her coming they take a step back from the water and pick up their axes from the ground by their feet, listening silently to see if somebody is coming their way. When they’re a bit more sure they duck behind vegetation and Issie wades into the water, wincing at its apparent cold, and by then it is much too late for her. She doesn’t even have a weapon.

Coy and Kadia abandon any idea of stealth they may have had and sprint forwards, splashing inelegantly through waist-high water, axes high, letting out something like a warcry that warbles because neither of them want to be here either but they will do what they have to to get out. Issie won’t. She doesn’t even try to run. Screams and cries and pleads to someone other than these other tributes who can’t afford the mercy she is begging for, but does not run.

Kadia is smaller and faster than Coy and she gets there first, swinging her weapon wildly this way and that, not caring where she strikes Issie, just hoping she makes contact at all. She slices Issie’s forearm shallowly and then her hamstring deeply and she falls to her knees with a squeal, her head now the only thing above the water. She bows it but does not submerge it and keeps crying so hard the water around her ripples with every sob. Kadia takes a step back, crying silent but persistent tears of her own, face distinctly green, staring at her own hands as they shake, like they are something new and horrible which she has not seen before. The axe falls out of her lax grip and she keeps staring at Issie’s blood as it tints the water.

Coy steps forwards, his face blank like he is somewhere else entirely, and places a hand on Kadia’s shoulder as she retches. He holds up his own axe, and takes a faltering series of deep breaths.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

“Please!” Issie forces out between her sobs. His axe comes right down on the back of her neck where it is exposed and vulnerable, cleaves right through her brain stem.

Beetee sighs and turns his back to his screen. He doesn’t linger in the control room beyond when he is needed and Wiress goes right along with him.

Coy and Kadia leave with shaking knees to find somewhere else to drink.

Hamartia - Chapter 8 - Deerlie_03 - Hunger Games Series (2024)
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