Lisa stood shoulder to shoulder with her twin as they faced the Carpenters across the gym. The Hunger Games had been coming for weeks now, and by sheer chance- and roulette- English had been spared as Carpentry cut a bloody swath through their competition. Only Chemistry had a chance against them, but this year someone in Carpentry built a bow and took out Chemestry’s devastating line of bomb-builders.
“Ready?” Chris asked, leaning into her shoulder a little. When they were young, they were nearly identical enough, but puberty had given him their father’s height, and her their mother’s curves.
“No,” she admitted softly. “We don't know if this will work.”
English was at a hard disadvantage. While the Carpenters had everything in the shop to build weapons of, English had little but books. A few enterprising students had cobbled together armor of the heavy books, but without glues and equipment, the more sophisticated gear was out of their reach.
It was Chris who came up with the idea, but Lisa who made it possible. She had spent weeks integrating herself into the popular groups- no threat, because she was from English, and everyone knew they couldn't fight.
She looked at the class across from them and was relieved to see the key players their plan relied upon. Hot-tempered, well connected, and fierce. They were the real reason Carpentry was unstoppable.
The whistle blew, and Lisa clenched her hands to keep them from shaking as a girl she knew- Rebecca- ran at her, a heavy wooden mace and shield in her hand. For the first time, she held her ground until Becca was close enough to hear her, even over the fighting.
“Tracy slept with Derek!” She yelled, everything depending on this one moment.
Stunned for a moment, Becca froze, her pretty face suspicious. “What?” She demanded, the mace lowering just a little. “When?!”
“Two days ago, under the bleachers when he was at practice. Mary told me!”
The cheerleader twisted with indecision until fate intervened. Her boyfriend shouted, moving to protect a teammate who had been bashed by a stolen shield. Tracy. That was all Becca needed. With a scream of rage that curled through the battle, she charged her boyfriend and the fallen girl he protected. He turned, but not soon enough to stop her heavy weapon.
Chris was a warm line against her back, guarding against all comers as a football player ran at them, way too big to fight.
“Harry and Pete beat up Matt!” He yelled, stopping the big teen in his tracks, his sharp-edged wooden axe stalling at the mention of his secret boyfriend from Swimming. “They saw you two out by the fence and they beat him up when you left.”
“You're lying!” The football player- Steve- said, but his voice wavered. Everyone had seen Matt’s bruises. Someone had beaten the shit out of him. Finding out who had taken Chris weeks.
“They called him a fag,” Chris replied, raising his shield to block an arrow from Carpentry’s archer. Lisa snatched up another, dropped in the press. “You know they do that- we all hear them.”
Indecision warred on Steve’s face, but the cry of a fallen English, his two teammates kicking him in the ribs over and over while screaming insults at him made up his mind. He roared, fury written in every line, and crashed into them, axe-blade first.
Lisa let out a breathless laugh. “It’s working!” She said as they edged towards the wall, another English- bloody but standing- joined their group. Their whole class knew the plan, but it took time to work, and time was precious. “Who knows about the archer?”
“I do,” another girl joined their huddle and Chris let her slip behind him and his shield. “She’s the one who told everyone Amanda was sleeping with Coach.”
“Right,” Chris said. “Where’s Amanda?”
The girl in question was the head cheerleader and vicious. She stood back-to-back with her boyfriend. Mark was the quarterback of the team, and he was drenched in blood that was definitely not his own.
All around them, secrets came out, and fights followed. Everyone was taught to kill quickly and without mercy. With everyone armed and ready to fight, a secret was as deadly as an arrow in the right hands.
Or the wrong ones.
It was easy to get close to Mark and Amanda. No one else was going towards them. Lisa almost felt their attention when it landed on their little huddle and she trembled. “Let me out- she knows I know things,” she whispered to Chris, who reluctantly lowered the shield enough for Amanda to get a look at her. The Cheerleader raised a mocking brow.
“Giving up?” She asked mockingly, cleverly eyes watching them. “Smart. You guys are doing better than I thought you would, anyway.”
“Niki started the rumor about you and Coach,” Lisa told her, hands up so Amanda could see they were empty. “You were nice to me- I thought you should know.”
Nice was a lie. Not the worst, but still cruel even when it was more work than leaving her alone.
“You sure, English?” They had Mark’s attention and his eyes were wild with bloodlust. “If you’re not right, I’ll kill you slow.”
“She was bragging about it to Anouk,” Lisa said hurriedly. “Just ask her!”
“I don't have to,” Amanda hissed. She turned on their teammate, who only had a few arrows left. “Anything goes in the Games, Marky. It’s not like these losers won't be here when we get back.”
He got a mean smile and his fingers tightened on his weapons. “You got it Babe,” he agreed, and spat in Lisa’s direction. “Don't go anywhere, English. We’ll be back soon.”
Niki was fast. She put three arrows into Mark as he charged her. She wasn't fast enough to put one in Amanda when the girl screamed her grief as her boyfriend died at her feet. Her wooden knife went into her former friend’s throat.
The death of their leader sparked fear through Carpentry, and they started to cluster, even as English reclaimed their fallen weapons to advance, bloody and beaten.
Secrets flew fast and hard, gathered by every member of English and the things people said to those they didn't think mattered. Fights broke out again as more and more turned on each other or were pushed out of the huddle to have the wolves of English mob them.
Amanda was one of the last alive, and she spotted Lisa. She had a hand pressed tight to her side where one of her own had stabbed her, but she was dying, and she knew it.
“How!?” She demanded as English- ten surviving including Lisa and Chris. “How could you beat us? We’re Carpentry!”
“Sticks and stones,” Chris said, strong as he lead them forward. “Can break our bones.”
“But secrets are what kills you,” Lisa finished, leaning on her twin as Amanda died, and the whistle sounded again in the absolute silence of the crowd around them.