Chapter Forty Seven: would you leave me if I told you what I’ve become?
Word Count: 1,684
*totally unedited, will get to that tomorrow.
She needed a soak, she told herself; a little while to submerge herself in the tranquil stillness of water. Then, she would feel better, she was certain. Silas kept watch for her; she tried not to think how odd it was that he neglected to suggest he join her, but he seemed to understand she wanted some time to herself. He might have been as clueless about the thoughts in her head as she was, but he was certainly holding himself together with a lot more grace and gentility than she could boast.
The events of the last hour replayed in her mind like a jammed video stream. She’d hit him. The words jostled about in her mind, never quite making sense. More than once, even; quite a bit more. Didn’t that qualify her as an abusive girlfriend and immediately disqualify her from deserving any of his love? Surely he would hold some resentment over her for it; she’d probably hear about it every time they argued from then on, she thought, but some quiet voice reassured her that she was thinking ofSilas, and he wasn’t like everybody else she’d ever known.
At first, the water had been cold but once she ventured out far enough to submerge her whole body, she’d acclimated and the chill actually felt nice. Even the ocean seemed to be calmer with the dawn only an hour or so away – the soft lapping of the waves on her skin was no more than a mere whisper. She floated on her back for a while, entirely oblivious to the otherwise-deal-breaking cameras that zeroed in on her bare skin. Rory let the peace envelope her; the sounds of her previously deafening thoughts soon vanished into the nothingness of mediation. Eventually the world faded away and all Rory knew were the dimming constellations looming over her. Her only connection to reality was the gradual warming of the horizon as the artificial sun began to rise.
She’d been out in the water a long time, she thought with only the faintest trace of displeasure; it was probably time to head back. She didn’t want to risk staying in the open too long.
She stopped floating and kicked her feet in the water. Something slick moved against her bare foot and she recoiled instantly, yanking her body furtherer into the ocean instinctively, her eyes fighting to peer into the depths of sea blue that surrounded her. What had touched her? She was in waters that were too deep for her feet to be close to the bottom, so whatever it had been was swimming. She snuffed out her urge to pray it wasn’t a bloodshark. She did not need prayer, she reaffirmed silently; she’d be fine.
Then, again, something moved against her; higher up, this time, grazing against her kneecap. She thought it felt like a wetsuit, and hoped it wasn’t wishful thinking. At least if it was human there wouldn’t be two layers of razor teeth that could chomp through her bones with a mere nibble. A human she at least had a fighting chance against.
Fighting, of course, being the key word; she shook off ponderous thoughts on how frequently she’d associated herself with some kind of battle, rationalizing away any of her own blame in favor of martyring her circumstances.
The third time she felt something slide against her, she was waiting; it had moved up by roughly two feet between the first and second brush, so she’d estimated her opponent would go for her hip on the third try. The millisecond she felt contact, she brought her elbow down hard and didn’t slow the motion down until she felt it crack against bone. For a moment, nothing changed; her heart raced in her throat with the anticipation, but the water was untroubled.
Fingers wrapped around her ankle and tugged forcefully until she sank, gasping for one last breath before she went under. She wished she could have screamed.
If she had screamed, Silas would be on his way to her, she knew it; but all she got for her effort was half a lungful of salt water and the sting of water in her eyes. The small lake developing in her lungs burned like acid. The grip around her ankle tightened, pulling her deeper into the water. Rory had to close her eyes – the salt water was too strong and she wasn’t able to see anything, anyway, as all traces of light began to vanish. Struggling against her attacker, she kicked and pumped with her arms, reaching for the surface with a fierce desperation. She knew she was weakening the Gamer trying to drown her, but it wasn’t enough – she didn’t have enough strength behind her motions to really stun him.
What made her think it was a him she didn’t quite know.
She was flailing wildly, swinging her limbs in wide arcs hoping to dislodge his grip on her. At last, as her legs burned with the effort and her lungs compressed in on themselves, the fingers released and she shot upward with the force of her motions. Rory swam frantically, knowing she only had a few more seconds of consciousness, and broke the surface with a starved gasp for air. Her lungs made wet rattling sounds as she gulped down one breath after another. Once she regained control of herself, she screamed, once, before she was tugged back below the water.
This time, her attacker grabbed her elbow and she spun to face him, keeping her eyes open for a moment to do so, despite the sizzling feeling encompassing her eyeballs. Brown eyes, brown hair darkened to a deep mahogany by the water, a strong jaw; but there was something else in his eyes that held her attention.
Landing a blow in water was harder than she remembered, but she had practiced underwater combat in training, and it was, albeit distantly, a lot like riding a bike. The motions, though at first felt stiff and awkward, grew more natural with every twist and squirm she attempted. Though she couldn’t break out of his grip, his fingers clamped down hard enough that she was beginning to lose circulation to the fingertips of her left hand, she was able to estimate the viscosity of the water and adjust her attacks.
She swung her right fist up under his jaw, knocking his head back as she felt some of his teeth crack with the force of the blow. Still, his grip on her arm remained, but that was all right with her – it was what she’d counted on. He might be terrified, but he was insistent, and that was what she needed. The further away they were from each other, the harder it would be for her to pummel him.
She tried to avoid thinking about how close his hand was to her bare chest, about how he could see easily in the water with his clever goggles and how unchallenging their fight ought to be for him with his underwater breather. She had nothing; no clothes, no weapons, no oxygen, no way to see, no way to hear, no chance at calling for help.
She wondered if it even mattered if Silas had heard her scream – by the time he reached them, she’d be dead, anyway, her lungs full to bursting with bitter ocean water and the secret she couldn’t crack. She didn’t know what it was about that moment, half-drowned and fighting for her life, that made her realize the little inconsistency she’d been missing.
It was so clear, she couldn’t believe she hadn’t thought of it. Sure, it could be stress, she told herself; it could be a lot of things, she was plagued with a rather vicious, heavy anxiety since she stepped foot in the Arena; but she knew, somehow, that wasn’t what was holding it back.
No, it was something else. It was the one thing she should have been more careful about. The one thing she’d sacrificed her entire future for to begin with. Yet, there she was, a few dozen meters under water, mere moments away from her demise, and all she could think was, this never would have happen if I’d just let Hazel take her place in the Games.
But then, what was the difference, anyway? At least Hazel could be with her husband, could care for her child without the fear of either of them being forced into the Games. They were free.
So three would die in their place.
She was certain they could make up for it. Certain that they would. Certain that, perhaps, it was all really for the best; that the ones that were meant to be in the Games reallywereand that was what mattered.
It wasn’t enough for her to stop struggling, though. Even if she accepted her impending death, and the death of her lover, and the… No, she thought. She refused to think of that. Right then, she needed to live. She needed to tell him, at least. If nothing else, Silas should know.
All of Pangea should know, she realized.
And it was that thought that guided her to twist inward, to curl her body against his torso until his fingers had no choice but to release. As they did, she brought her newly freed elbow down into his sternum again and again and again, until his underwater breather flew from between his teeth.
She snatched it and pushed it back, slamming the hard plastic into his face as the water around her was discolored with a murky crimson swirl. She didn’t stop, then; she didn’t stop for a long time – her motions were mechanical, almost hollow, and she only dropped the destroyed breather when her lungs cried too loudly to ignore, letting it float to the bottom of the ocean along with the nameless corpse of yet another Gamer.
The canon sounded as she broke the surface. The first sight she caught was Silas, swimming toward her, the blindingly bright sun rising behind his silhouette.