And here is the next chapter. Any comment would be appreciated. Anything at all would be nice...
I waste precious minutes trying to clamp down on the urge to panic. Here's a little known fact about me – I dislike fire. I don't hate it or anything, but I regard it with the wariness it deserves. Fire is what killed Aunty A. Fire is what killed the girl from District Eight. Fire is the thing that threatens to kill me at this very moment.
When I gather my wits, I realise that I'm safe. The plumes of smoke are far off in the distance and the lake is a mere ten minute walk away from here. I can easily reach the water in time. I'd just better hope that there are no nasty monsters hiding in the lake. Knowing the Capitol, though, there probably are. I wouldn't put anything past them.
As I gather my few possessions together and begin the walk towards the forested lakeside, I notice a warmth beginning to build up behind me. It's only when I glance back that I realise why – there's more than one fire. This is obviously a tool of the Gamemakers, a machination meant to herd us closer together. And if they kill one or two of us in the process – well, tough luck.
I begin to run in earnest, ignoring the crackling of the fire which threatens to drive me insane. Memories of that other fire which killed Aunty A come back to haunt me. I try to force them away. They'll only cause me to panic. And if I panic, I'm dead.
It's an uphill battle. Both the run and the fight for sanity, coincidentally, remarks the part of my mind which is curiously detached. Never mind that I'm in the most danger I've been in since the beginning of the Games. Never mind that if I don't ignore the growing pain in my right foot and run faster than I've ever run after the accident I will be toast – literally. Never mind all that - a part of my head is resisting becoming one with the urge to survive, and is sitting back taking as many observations as possible.
I trip on a tree root. My face hits the ground, and I scramble to my feet as fast as possible. But too slow, too slow. The fire is gaining. The dull ache in my foot increases – I must have landed badly. Just what I need.
Coughing, I continue to run but now I'm slowing down. I've inhaled too much smoke. This is what killed Aunt Andromeda, not the burns. She was alive when we pulled her out of the burning house, but she couldn't breathe. She choked to death. I hope I don't die like that.
After what seems like an age – but is really only a few minutes, no more than five - I reach the lake. The fire nips at my heels. My breath comes in short gasps, along with a hacking cough. It's too late to worry about whatever monsters they've got swimming in there. Too late to worry if I tied my plastic sheet tight enough to be waterproof. I jump into the lake.
Just in time, too, as the fire has reached the edge of the water. I continue to cough. The world begins to get black edges. Blurry eyed, I notice a familiar red-haired girl collapse into the waters by the Careers' camp, over on the opposite side of the lake. I don't fancy her chances of getting out of there alive.
Barely conscious, I follow suit and collapse. That corner of my mind that stays sane is grateful that this part of the lake isn't deep. I can't swim. We don't have anywhere to learn in District Ten. An interestingly shaped piece of wood floats by - it almost looks like a boy and a girl. It looks like my sculpture! It is my sculpture.
Weakly, I grab hold of it. And then, finally, the world goes black.
The sun is high in the sky when I wake up. It's about midday. I think that it's still the same day as the fire wall, but I can't be sure. Something digs into my hand and I look down to see what it is.
Sure enough, I didn't let go of my statue. The site of the familiar comforts me as I wake up in water – about as far from District Ten as you can get. There are rumours of an old abandoned quarry filled with water that lies a few hills away from the boundary fence, but that all they are. Rumours. And anyway, even if they were true, no one would be able to get to it anyway.
Recalling my District's total lack of water – unless you count puddles from the winter's near constant rain- I find myself thankful, once again, for the shallowness of the lake.
I stand hesitantly, my clothes soaked through with water. Apparently the wonder jacket isn't waterproof. I shouldn't be surprised. After all, it hasn't proven to be particularly adept at keeping out the cold either. Though I must admit, better than nothing.
After a failed attempt at wringing my clothes out, I survey my possessions. My stick and its tied on bundle of plastic must have fallen out of my hand while I was unconscious, because they're floating a few metres down-lake. I wade after them.
Luckily, my knot was tight enough and no water seeped in. Unluckily, what's left is only a few crackers and about the same amount of berries. I'm going to have to deal with not having enough to eat, it seems. I eat two of the crackers and half the berries, and refill my drink bottle.
Then I set off to find more things to eat. There is a reason that this is the Hunger Games, after all. Emphasis on Hunger.
I end the day with a bit less food than I started it with. I found exactly one berry bush, and the forest is still burnt from the fire. It must have been a trap, meant to push the tributes together. It still is, too. It seems that my hidey-hole is a bit too safe, and that the Game makers have decided that they need to get me closer to the others.
Of course, they'll have noticed that I rely on the bushes for survival. So they've decided that if they remove the bushes from my area, I'll have to venture into the more populated forest to replenish my food supply. Of course, they're right.
I spend the rest of the day in the non burnt forest, cleaning the berry bushes I know of their products. But I return to sleep in the burnt area. No one will think a tribute is crazy enough to stay there, will they? Not to mention the fact that that is where I know I have safe access to a water supply.
I wake up with the sun and go to refill my water bottle. Since I'm not eating nearly enough, I'm determined that at least I'll be fully hydrated. Out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly notice movement down on the grassy plain where the Cornucopia is. Anyone looking at the lake can see me, so I dart into the burnt forest. Down at the lake, a drama is being played out.
A red haired figure quickly rises and stumbles of into the forest, that movement quickly changing into a run. She leaves there just in time, as two dark haired figures – one with long, one with short – and two blond haired boys run out of the forest and throw themselves into the lake. They are followed after a minute or two by a dark skinned figure who collapses about halfway to the lake. A small figure that I hadn't noticed sitting by the cornucopia also runs and jumps into the lake. What were they running from?
It appears the drama is over when one of the blond boys gets up and runs into the forest, soon chased by the dark haired boy. There's a few minutes pause, and then two cannons. A hovercraft appears and picks up the dark skinned body. Then the dark haired figure arrives again and collapses in the water.
There is peace of the waterfront. I'm pretty sure that the group in the water (they must be unconscious, or else why aren't they moving?) won't wake up for a while. And I'm also sure they're the Careers – who else would go around in such a big group.
Little by little I figure out possible scenarios as I put iodine in my water and wait for it to be safe to drink. They were all running away from something. But from what? Obviously something I couldn't see. Was it a tribute with poison darts? That would explain the collapsing. But why run to the water? Maybe it was poisonous mist that would be neutralised by water?
And who was chasing whom? I can assume that the large dark haired figure was Cato, as he's the only tribute who meets the requirements. But who was the blond? It could have been Peeta, who would probably only enter likely death to save Katniss. But why? Didn't he betray her by joining the Careers? And what would Katniss be doing down there anyway? I'd thought she'd gone as far away from the Cornucopia as possible, as I haven't seen her at all since the beginning of the Games.
More likely it was Marvel, running to save Glimmer. I didn't see anyone with long blond hair, so it's likely. But why would Cato chase after him?
I decide that pondering this wouldn't help things at all, so I drink my now-safe water and head off to find food. When the sky shows the faces of Glimmer and Varia, it doesn't help solve the mystery at all.
The next few days pass peacefully, and I fall into a sort of routine. Sleep in burnt forest. Search for edible plants -I've resorted to digging for roots now, too, even though it means I have to light a fire. The Careers are still dead to the world, as I assume are Peeta and Lysandra and probably Katniss too, assuming she was there in the first place. Thresh and Rue seem to be the only people other than me awake – District Three was the small figure in the lake, as I saw when I checked the bodies – and neither of them seem to want to have anything to do with the other tributes.
With the Careers dead, this would be the ideal time to steal from their supplies. But the supplies are arranged in a sort of pyramid, ridiculously tempting to steal from. It must be booby trapped. I don't even waste my time trying to find out how – to overcome traps you need the sort of speed and agility I once had, before my accident robbed them from me. If I tried it I know it would be certain suicide.
But despite the setbacks, the days without the threat of the Careers are the most peaceful I've had since the Reaping. But somehow, I reflect, lying back under a green bush on the edge of the burnt forest, I have a feeling that these days are too good to last.
For once, it's already light when I wake up. I roll out from under the bush I spent tonight sleeping in, stretch and try to get the kinks out of my joints. My drink bottle is full, as it is every morning. I take a drink to soothe my dry throat and try to figure out what I need to do next.
When surveyed, my bundle of supplies looks ridiculously small. All of the food I smuggled into the Arena a week ago has been eaten. All that I have is a few handfuls of berries and the plastic sheet. I'll need to get more food today, if I can find some. The area wiped out by the fire doesn't look like its growing back, and I've depleted most of the berry bushes that I know of. I'm going to have to go scavenging into new territory.
After finishing off the last of the berries, I set off with a stomach that isn't anywhere near full. I try to ignore its complaints. After all, Ando says that a human can survive three weeks without food. He didn't say it had to be pleasant however, I reflect dryly.
A few steps into my hike, I realise that this isn't going to be as easy as I thought – not that I had thought it would be a walk in the park in any case. My foot, not completely recovered from its bad landing on the day of the fire, has now decided to give up completely. If I must be honest, I'm surprised it's lasted this long.
I sit down on a handy log and use the empty plastic sheet to make a makeshift binding for it. When I put my foot back into its boot, it seems to be better. Still not as good as usual, and definitely not as good as before the accident, so long ago I can sometimes barely remember what it was like to walk normally, but better. Good enough to walk on, at least.
I don't know what it is that makes me miss it. I'm walking along, looking for a berry bush that I recognise. I probably should be paying more attention, since this is the first time I've been in this part of the forest. My two days of freedom have made me relax. But I only see them coming when they dart out of the woods in front of me.
Cato and Marvel. District Two and District One. Two of the Career Tributes, and probably the reason I'm going to die. Really, I'm surprised I'm not panicking more. But my mind seems to be working faster than it ever has before. Maybe it's realised that I'm not going to be alive for much longer, and has decided to make the most of it.
Anyway, for whatever reason it is, I recognise my chances in an instant. No point in running – they'll catch me, and it'll probably hurt more. Instead, I force down the remarkably small amount of fear I have left and greet them cheerfully.
"Hello. Nice of you to drop in. Lovely weather we're having, isn't it?"
Marvel stares at me. From what I've seen of him, he doesn't have the intellect to do more.
Cato is the one who replies, in a voice that is filled with false lightness. "It's not bad. A bit warm for my liking -"
"Hey, Cato, isn't that what the girl from Twelve told you?"
Cato glares at District One, who at least has the sense to shut up. I nearly say something, then decide against it. I don't think it'd make a difference either way but it's probably not a good idea to antagonise the hulking Career.
"So, District Nine -" says Marvel.
I realise that I was the one who had spoken. "I'm from District Ten, not Nine. I would have thought you'd know that, oh great lapdog of the Capitol." My voice is loaded with so much sarcasm I'm surprised it doesn't fall off and land on the dirt from the weight of it.
District One did me a favour, I suppose. By being the arrogant idiot he naturally is, he's given me an outlet for my fear. I'm still scared, but instead of showing it, I'm turning my fear into contempt.
The blond boy takes a step towards me, fist poised to strike. I just stare at him.
"Marvel!" Cato's admonishment causes him to lower his fist. "He's mine, remember?"
Well that sounds promising. Note the sarcasm.
I swing the stick in Marvel's direction, aiming for his sensitive parts. He doesn't expect it, and I hear a satisfying clunk before he grabs the stick and throws it away.
"That hurt, you little bastard!"
In one fluid movement, the boy from District One steps around behind me and pulls my hands sharply behind my back, so that I can't escape. I don't bother to struggle. There's no point, anyway. And I feel Marvel's grip loosening as he realises that I'm not going to try to get away from him.
I watch Cato with curious eyes as he pulls a knife out of his belt. Inside, I'm trembling as he brings it towards me, but my expression remains one of quiet curiosity and defiance. The knife stabs towards my chest. Well this is it. I'm going to die.
Only I don't. The knife stops, and in one fluid movement, Cato cuts the ribbon that holds my sculpture to my neck. He picks it up and examines it.
"Well, well. What have we here? Is she your girlfriend, District Nine?" It's Marvel, of course. He doesn't know how to shut up, does he?
"District Ten," Cato corrects him. He drops my District Token onto the muddy floor. It sits there, a reminder of happy days had in the past.
I say nothing. Goodbye Ren. I'll miss you. We had good times together. We could have had something, the two of us. Pity it didn't work out that way.
And then Cato brings his knife onto my chest. And then the pain starts. I lose track of time. All that exists is one long red blur of pain, as Cato toys with me, hurting but never killing. We have to give the audience a show, after all.
And because I'm determined not to give them what they want, I say nothing. I don't cry out, I don't flinch. I just give Cato one long stare, a stare that tells him that he can kill me, but he can't beat me.
But the pain is growing. I have a higher tolerance for pain that most others, but I'm reaching my limits. All I can think of is the pain, and how I want it to end. Such pain.
But I'm not going to give them the satisfaction of begging for mercy. I'm not giving in. If I give in, then they've won. And I'm not going to let them win.
Through the red haze of pain, an idea strikes. It's risky. Not for me, but for the people back home. My family. Ren. But if I can pull it off… it'll be my ultimate trick.
With a strength I never knew I had, I begin to struggle. I kick Marvel where it hurts the most. A little something to remember me by. And I don't know how, but I manage to break free from him.
Now comes the risky part of my plan. My leg gives in, and I stumble and trip over the figurine still lying on the ground. I fall, just how I intended.
Straight onto Cato's knife.
The pain is greater than I've ever felt. But it's fading away.
No more pain. Even the pain I've felt since I was eight is gone, slowly fading. To be replaced by something else. Something better.
And I smile.
Because it's ironic.
I finish these Games just how I started them.
But this time not to save my own skin.
But the life of someone else.
I guess it's fitting that -
Just as I've spent all of my life,
I go down acting.