I have to get some sleep tonight. I'll be in the arena tomorrow... or maybe today... I haven't checked the time in a while.

I shouldn't be so worried. Furio is on my side... even if the others might not be. It didn't sound like Mia took my decision to heart that badly, so I'm sure I could join forces with her again.

Unless that really wasn't Mia. It's hard to say... when I never knew her personally. But I saw her and Phoenix both in the Games... Pearl looked and sounded just like them... Could it really all be a trick?

I roll over, pulling the covers closer.

E-either way, there's not too much to worry about, right? It'll only be the first day... As long as I can avoid the Careers, I won't have any trouble. Furio will be looking after me... and a lot of the other tributes won't be ready to attack me so soon, anyway. The arena itself is dangerous, but I'm sure the two of us can handle it.

And then after that... We are going to escape... right? I have to trust Pearl for that. She's in charge of the getaway, and it was her idea in the first place. But I do trust Pearl, don't I...? I let her down tonight, but... she couldn't be tricking me. She couldn't.

Of course, that means Furio is wrong. But... that's okay. No one's perfect. I can trust him even if we disagree for now.

Although I still wonder why they were calling him horrible in the Training Center...

This is no time to be thinking about this! I need to get to sleep. I trust both parties. There is no reason to doubt them. I can worry about things if I need to... but not now. Now I need to sleep... Please... Sleep...

Though I'm dead tired and the mattress is as wonderful as ever, I don't manage to drift off for some time.


My only company in the hovercraft is my stylist. I don't know why they want me by myself as far as tributes are concerned... Too dangerous?

Well, there's nothing I can do to change that. My only options are to wander around or eat, and I can't say I have an appetite.

I shouldn't be this nervous... Everything will be fine...

The hovercraft hums along. I think I see coastline out the window before it darkens. And the flight continues.

The touchdown is smoother than I would expect, and then I'm led out the door and into the launch zone. I'll have a little time to change clothes and use the bathroom before I have to step onto that shining, circular plate.

The shirt is tan, sleeveless, and slick. According to my stylist, it's also sweat-wicking. Paired with it are darker brown shorts with a belt and plenty of pockets. The hooded, button-up jacket matches the shirt. No socks are provided, but I guess they wouldn't go well with the black "water shoes."

"I'm afraid it's going to be a bit warm out there, my flower. The jacket's probably just for the nights."

I crinkle the thin fabric between my fingers. "So... should I just tie it around my waist for now?"

He scrunches his mouth to the side in the closest approximation to a frown he has. "It could slip off while you're running, and it would be a shame to lose it."

"All right..." I shrug it on over the shirt.

"It may also be good for keeping sun or rain off you." He buttons the jacket once, right in the middle. "Use your own judgment, my flower. I trust you."

I pull the collar closed for now. It's still chilly down here. "Thank you..."

I focus on my breathing for another minute before a different voice echoes in the room.

"It's time to prepare for launch."

My next breath hitches in my throat, and I have to stand here coughing for a second before my stylist hands me a glass. I nod at him and choke on some water before I calm down.

"Thanks..." I hand the half-full cup back to him.

"No problem." He pats me on the back and leads me to the platform. I step up onto it and stare at the spot above me. It's dark. I guess I shouldn't have expected a preview of the arena. There's not much longer to wait, after all...

I close my eyes for a second, rubbing the ribbon in my hair between my fingers. The bow is tied tight... It shouldn't fall out...

...Okay. Nothing to worry about. All I have to do... is find Furio. Things will take care of themselves from there.

A pang still hurts my chest when the tube starts to come down around me.

My stylist rests his chin on his interlaced fingers and smiles. "You'll be fine, my little flower. Chin up."

I can't reply with the glass now sealed around me, so I give him a small smile and look up as the platform rises. The darkness only lasts for a few moments before the glare of the sun makes me shut my eyes.

"Ladies and gentlemen, let the Fifteenth Annual Hunger Games begin!"

I squint and then work my eyes open. In front of me, the side of the Cornucopia reflects enough sunlight to make me look away. The ground is sand in every direction. To my right is Ron, whose face darts around as he searches for his wife, and some distance past him is a shoreline with quiet, steady waves. The girl from 11 is on my left; past her are several palm trees and shorter plants.

After a moment of scanning, I find Furio. He's four plates to my right. Not too far... Once the gong sounds, I just have to hurry over there. As long as I don't crash into anyone between us, it should be over in no time. Then we grab some supplies and run to safety.

All right... I've got this.

Ron's eyes are focused straight ahead, so I know to go behind him. Mimi's a little too far away to tell, but she's wavering. I should be able to go around either way, I think... Past her—

Gonnng!

With a gasp, I surge forward. Overtaking the sound of the waves is the swishing and crunching of footfalls in sand. Not slowed in the least, Ron takes off ahead, allowing me to take a step on and off his more stable starting plate. As my shoe sinks into the grainy ground again, I shoot a glance up to make sure Furio hasn't moved too far.

He's two lunges closer to the Cornucopia, his hands around the District 1 girl's throat. How did she get there? Was she right next to him?

I have to get to him either way...

Mimi is one step behind her platform, so I swerve in front of her.

The next glance at Furio shows him tossing the 1 girl to the side, her head flopping like a poorly-stuffed doll's.

Wait— But—

Oh, right... She can't be dead. There was no cannon.

No, wait. They don't sound them this soon. And the angle of her neck...

I'm standing still. I shouldn't be standing still...!

Swallowing, I dart forward. She was a Career, wasn't she? She must have tried to attack him... and he defended himself. Right. That's all. It's better to have someone like that... taken care of from the start.

It looks like the 1 girl was the last tribute between us; the next starting plate is empty, so I head straight for it. Then the sand is slipping around underfoot again, and I gasp for breath.

"Don Tigre...!"

Scooping up a jug of water with one hand, he cranes his neck quickly to see me. "Hurry!" He nods me his way and keeps approaching the Cornucopia.

I catch up by the time he grabs a small folding cot. He shoots me another glance, checks around us, and hurries toward a set of knives.

Glen beats him to it.

I hop back. We might be about to turn around... The last thing I want to do is trip him up. And while I'm here, I might as well pick up this—

"Outta my way!"

I pull my hand up, but Furio isn't facing me. Seizing Glen's arm, he growls and yanks him back. While the 3 tries to gather his feet beneath him, Furio grabs the pack of knives.

"Hey!" Glen attempts one pull back before glancing around for a route of escape. Furio twists, nearly slinging Glen's back onto his before throwing him to the ground. My district partner rips one of the knives from its little sheath and...

I-I'm seeing this wrong. Furio has no reason to slit any throats. Glen didn't attack... It's just a few knives...

Glen wasn't at the meeting, but surely Lisa planned to talk to him. He's... not an enemy? But then why would Furio... This can't be right.

"Violetta!" Keeping the one knife in hand, he throws the rest of the pack at me. I put my hands up instinctively but still fumble with the catch. Thankfully, nothing tumbles out before I have it gripped at knee level.

Furio nudges Glen out of his path, the blood on his blade gleaming in the hot sunlight, as he reaches for a box with a red cross on it.

He really killed him... He...

"All right, come on!" Arms full, he swoops back to my side and starts pedaling away from the Cornucopia. I clutch the knives to my stomach in an attempt to settle it and stumble after him.

There's clanging and shouting behind me, and, swallowing, I check to see if anyone is too close.

No... The closest ones behind us are the corpses Furio made... Farther on... A whiplash strips the flesh off Lisa Basil's stomach. Shelly de Killer removes a knife from Dr. Grey's torso. Melissa wails beside a fallen Doug Swallow. The boy from 2 staggers backwards, a spear in his hands and blood pouring from the side of his head. At least two more lie motionless.

This isn't right... We're supposed to escape. As many of us as we can convince. We're supposed to be teaming up. This...

This isn't supposed to be just another Hunger Games...

So why does it look like it is...?