Owen had a long cut across one cheekbone. He demurred when Neal reached for him with a green-glowing hand: “I want a scar to impress the girls,” he informed Neal. “They like a man who looks dangerous, and my face needs all the help it can get.”
“At least let me clean it,” Neal growled. “Unless you think you’ll look really dangerous with your face rotting off.”
Prompt 270 - Peachblossom and Neal are forced to make a truce
Submitted by quietasahedgehog
Neal was in the stable nearly as fast as Lord Raoul.
“Have you heard from her, sir?” He panted, his fingers fumbling with his horse’s tack.
“Not since she and her group left on patrol,” the big man said grimly. Unlike Neal, his hands were steady as he saddled Amberfire. “The first I heard that there was any problem was when the sparrows came rushing back in.”
“And the problem?”
Raoul shook his head. “Whatever it is, we don’t have a signal for it.”
Neal swore. He had forgotten that his own horse had picked up a stone. He gave a sharp whistle, expecting Tobe to slide down a ladder from the loft like he always did.
“Tobe’s at Fort Mastiff.” Raoul said quietly.
“You’re not going without me.” Neal insisted, taking Peachblossom’s tack down. The gelding snorted and pawed at the ground.
“Look, you monster,” Neal responded, “Kel could be in trouble, and we need to get to her.”
Peachblossom suddenly went very still and looked directly toward Neal, who swallowed hard.
“I need to get to her,” he said. “I know we don’t always get along–”
The gelding snorted, and Neal glared at him.
“I know we don’t always get along,” he repeated, “but would you, just this once, consider not biting me or terrorizing me for a while?”
Peachblossom shifted his weight from side to side, seemingly considering his options. The wait was agonizing for both Neal and Raoul.
Finally, Raoul broke the silence. “Neal, we really can’t wait any longer. Take Owen’s horse.”
But before Neal could open his mouth to answer, Peachblossom stepped forward and whickered.
“I’ll do my best to use the commands Kel uses with you.” He murmured, swiftly saddling the gelding and mounting up.
The men of Dom’s squad knew better than to stare at someone other than Kel riding Peachblossom, but many of them couldn’t help it. Peachblossom never let anyone other than Kel ride him.
“What in Mithros’ name did you say to him, Dom asked as Neal passed him at a trot.
Neal just shook his head and lean down to whisper in Peachblossom’s ears.
Kel volunteers for a trembling twelve year old who looks far younger. The look on the girl’s face when she sees Kel keeps her going through everything to come
Her family all comes to say goodbye, asking her why she did it. The odds were always in their favor, it didn’t have to be any of them, and she thinks maybe that’s the point. Her mother hugs her and Kel thinks she understands
Wyldon is their only mentor and has produced an impressive amount of Victor’s, but they’ve all been male. He immediately dismisses Kel as hopeless, deciding to focus his attention on the male tribute, Joren. She protests, but he tells her that he’s just doing what has the best chance of producing a winner. Joren sneers and tells her he’s looking forward to killing her in the arena
While Joren becomes the leader of the careers, Kel befriends young Tobe and timid, beaten down Lalasa. Neal scoffs at the collection of strays she’s gathered, but sits with them at lunch, worrying Kel by constantly saying things about the Capitol she would hardly dare think.
In the interviews handsome Joren secures sponsors while Kel’s calm, smooth face is taken for blank and dull. She gets a good training score, but Joren gets higher and Wyldon’s looks say I told you so
When the games start Kel focuses on getting people, not items, making sure Tobe, Lalasa, and another younger competitor, Loesia, get away from the Cornucopia alive. Thankfully, Neal, Merric, and Owen join them, each bringing supplies and weapons
Alanna, one of Neal’s mentors, sees that Wyldon isn’t doing anything to help them so sends as much food, medicine, and weapons as she can afford. Their group is big enough to deter attackers, and Kel tries to teach the others to fight
Soon the killing machines show up, each with the voice of one of the dead tributes. Every time someone dies a few days later another machine arrives. They kill Loesia and Owen before Kel figures out they can stop them by puncturing a hole in the machine’s head. Alanna sends armor piercing darts for their crossbow
Kel tries to warn the other tributes, but Joren and his pack just attack them, too stubborn to listen. Soon they’re all taken out by the machines.
It’s a brutal game, with Kel’s group quickly becoming the only survivors. More dead tributes mean more killing machines and Neal and Merric die when the group is attacked by three of them at once
Wyldon sends more armor piercing bolts, which Kel thinks might be an apology
No matter how hard Kel tries to keep Tobe out of danger he throws himself in it to help her and he’s the next to die, leaving Kel and Lalasa as the final two
Lalasa says Kel should just kill her and get it over with, but Kel came to the games to save an innocent life, she’s not going to leave by taking one. That only leaves one option, and Kel dies taking out the last of the machines
Lalasa, pretty and the underdog, is a popular Victor, but many were shocked by Kel’s death and thought the machines might have been too brutal. There was also a lot of talk about how nice it was to see the tributes banding together to fight a common enemy. The Gamemaker, Blayce, disappears soon after
Wyldon never again ignores his female tributes
Lalasa becomes a stylist, always requesting to work for the poorest districts. She encourages those who everyone else writes off as good as dead and makes sure that Kel’s legacy as protector of the small lives on