I lost my flipping notebook. Damn it. Now I have to count up all the POVs, again, and figure out whose I was supposed to be writing from. For some reason, I have a vague feeling I'd been intending to do Jasper next, but of course there are some technical difficulties with that… sigh. Oh, and as a general rule, the cannon referred to is Arielle's; I'm using it to set the timeline. Basically, the point is that all of this is happening pretty much simultaneously.

Merryn Circa, District 6, 13 years old


I lick my lips nervously, tightening my fingers around the hilt of my little knife and watching as the people step closer. Coming into the castle should have been a good idea, right? Apparently not.

I would have expected the mutts' faces to be blank, but they're not, and it's almost worse. Instead of being monsters, they're just people. People who loathe me enough to tear me apart.

Emerianne and I finally got into the castle after being forced to hide under some bushes when the Careers unknowingly followed us, after… what happened. Finally, they set off in a different direction, and we ran to the building. And by the time we noticed the people– and, more importantly, the fact that the people were coming after us with knives– they had already gotten behind us, chasing us deeper into the castle.

I lost my sense of direction a long time ago, although I know we're several floors up. The mutts have chased us down a long, plush hallway. To my dismay, the corridor has proven to be a dead end, ending in a wall of solid stone. There are a few doors along the walls, but the tide of mutts has already passed them, cutting off any chance of escape.

Next to me, Emerianne is shaking, her eyes wide. I realize that she is unarmed, since her belt of knives was left in the clearing. Should I give her my knife? I know that she can throw it, but since it's the only weapon we have, throwing it probably isn't a smart thing to do. Taking another look at the approaching horde, though, I realize there's nothing much that Ican do with it, either. I'd be lucky to take down a single one of the things. And there have to be at least thirty of them, probably more.

"It's, um, okay," I say, trying to calm Emerianne down. It's probably the single most moronic statement I've made in my life, and the fact that my voice comes out as a squeak probably doesn't make it sound any more convincing, but she nods quickly. I consider adding that it's not like we didn't know this was coming all along, but then I realize there's a distinct possibility that she actually didn't realize it. Or if she did, she wouldn't have acknowledged it, at least.

And then the mutts reach us. I stab my knife reflexively at a hand that stretches toward my face, the blade passing clean through the person's palm. They don't react, for which I'm unbelievably thankful. I know it was ridiculous, but some tiny part of me had been afraid that these people were real, somehow forced by the Capitol to do this. But no. They're mutts, definitely mutts.

I really wish they wouldn't bleed, though.

I try to defend Emerianne, but there's not much I can do. I'm no bigger than she is. My knife is the only advantage I have, and it's next to useless.

Emerianne struggles gamely as one of the people grabs her arm, but they don't let go. Then it starts dragging her away. I find myself close to panic as she fights the thing desperately, unable to away. I can't watch her die. Please don't let her die.

I throw myself at the mutt, even though two more have already grabbed her. She's completely frozen by now, eyes wide with fear. But I've barely moved when a hand, neither warm nor cold, closes around my own arm. Then another, then another, wrenching my arms behind my back and dragging me backward. Emerianne screams desperately at the mutts as one of them steps in front of me. It looks like a young man, maybe twenty years old. By its appearance alone, there is no way to tell that it isn't human. Its eyes are brown, shot with green, with small laugh lines in the corners. It puts its hands around my neck and begins to choke me.

Instantly, a cannon fires. For a moment, I think absurdly that it's mine, but then I realize I'm not dead. But I can't breathe. At first, I'm more shocked than anything else, staring silently at the monster choking the life out of me. For a moment, it seems to be returning the gaze. But then I realize that its eyes are unfocused, staring right through me. Could it be blind? The mutts did seem weirdly clumsy when they grabbed us. But of course, it's impossible to tell.

My oxygen runs out, and I panic, thrashing desperately as Emerianne screams. I hope they aren't hurting her. The toes of my shoes scrape the stone floor as I fight unsuccessfully to free myself. I begin to feel dizzy. Will this be how I die? Right here, like this? It doesn't scare me, but death looks very different when it's right in front of my face, whether I saw it coming or not.

And suddenly, there is a whirl of motion, and I can breathe again. I'm lying on the ground on my stomach, part of the mutt's head sitting in front of my face. There's a warm, wet weight on my shoulder, and I bite my lip as I realize where the rest of the mutt must be.

Then it moves.

I jump upright with a hoarse yelp, cannoning straight into a girl. I can tell by her age that she's a tribute, not a mutt, since the mutts all seem to be adults, and she's holding a knife. Suddenly, her hand shoots toward me. Before I can transfer my panic from one possible harbinger of my doom to the next, the knife slashes past my face, burying itself with an awful squelch in something immediately behind me.

I realize that she just stabbed the mutt. I also realize that if the mutt is missing half of its head and is still standing, it probably won't be bothered by a little thing like a knife wound. The girl apparently realizes that as well, because she yanks me out of the way just before it tries to grab me again.

I notice the boy on the other side of the hallway. Once I see the two of them together, I realize that these are the District Three tributes, the ones who have been missing for almost the entire Games. They must have been in the castle. But what are they doing here? Right now?

I do a double take when I realize that the boy is swinging an enormous, dark battleaxe, so huge that I'm amazed he can lift it. Although the mutts clearly can't be destroyed, he seems to have discovered a fairly surefire way of dealing with them. Namely, slicing their legs off. Emerianne stands behind him, looking slightly stunned, but alive.

"Um, Borge, I think we should probably go," the girl says.

"Uh? Oh, uh, yeah," he agrees breathlessly. The look in his eyes is one of innocent surprise, and I get the feeling that he never quite imagined himself killing mutts with a battleaxe.

The hallway is a scene of total carnage. I simply shut it out, relegating the horror for later, because I can't deal with it now. Emerianne looks like she might throw up. The Three boy still just looks vaguely confused, and the girl can't seem to decide between amusement at his expression or disgust at the blood splattered everywhere.

"Come on," the girl says, pointing vaguely at a doorway farther down the hallway. Emerianne and I follow her dumbly while the boy provides a rearguard, mutilating the mutts that periodically rise and come after us, often dragging themselves with their hands after having lost their legs to the axe previously.

The room is almost cozy, with a few couches and a fire in the hearth. We sit gratefully, still completely lost for words, while the girl closes and locks the door. "I'm Kendal," she introduces herself. "I know you're District Six, but what are your names?"

"Merryn," I whisper, adding "And that's Emerianne," when she doesn't say anything.

Kendal nods. "Nice to meet you. We heard you in the hallway, and we figured, well, we only need two more dead, right? And there are still three Careers left, maybe, so why not let them help fill the quota?"

Two more dead. Right. I remember the cannon that fired while the mutt was trying to kill me. That's the only cannon left unaccounted for. I know that it could have been the any of the Careers, the Eight girl, or Sascha.

A thud from the door makes us all jump. We whip toward it, just in time for it to shake under another impact.

"I thought I got them all!" Borge says, his voice almost indignant.

"Not in the whole castle," Kendal says grimly, rising to her feet again. "Isn't there something we can barricade it with?"

We shove everything we can find against the door, even a massive suit of armor, but the entire construction still sways at each impact. There's nothing else in the room to put in front of it. The four of us back away silently, each of us gripping our weapons. Even Emerianne seems prepared to fight with her fists.


They're breaking through.

Jasper Johar, District 2, 18 years old

I have no idea what's happening. All I know is that I am in unimaginable pain, and that Tied Edison defeated me. Vaila will be furious. And I am surprised to realize that I honestly don't care. Vaila can go screw herself. I just want it to stop.

My mind comes into clearer focus. Hissing reaches my ears, and I recognize it as the mutts from before. Chasing us. I haven't opened my eyes, but I realize someone is carrying me, every step jolting the bones that I know are broken. The only person it could be is Tied. I am both furious and amazed. It doesn't make sense. Why would she do that? How dare she do that? But as much as I hate to admit it to myself, I'm thankful that she did.

She stumbles, almost tripping, inadvertently crushing my ribs as she catches her balance. An instant later, my world is silent again.

Eliza Cabrera, District 2, 16 years old

I take a deep breath at the sound of a fifth cannon. One more now. Just one more. But they're so close. Panic rises in my throat at the sound of their awful hissing. I can't stop myself from imagining their teeth sinking into my neck, blind eyes staring into mine…

We keep running. I know Tied can't go any further. She stumbles with every step, her eyes half closed, and I realize that I will have to make my stand. Gripping my mace in my left hand, I turn to face the mutts.

Borge Limbell, District 3, 14 years old

It happens in slow motion. Our entire barricade is thrown aside as the door slams open and the mutts flood into the room. They seem even wilder now, teeth bared and eyes shining. One throws itself toward the Sixes, lips drawn back as if to tear out their throats.

Steeling myself, I prepare to swing the axe, but Kendal beats me to it. She dives forward, ramming her knife into the thing's chest, her weight carrying both of them to the floor. Instantly, three more mutts are on her.

And I know what I have to do. Biting my lip and blinking back tears, I shove the younger kids into a corner. They'll survive, I realize. If Kendal and I die, the Games will be over.

But then I remember that I am wrong. If Kendal and I die, then the Games will have just begun.

Kendal Resista, District 3, 15 years old

Just before a mutt's arm blocks my view, I see Borge grit his teeth and swing the axe, destroying a row of the mutts. He'll take care of the Sixes.

My knife arm is pinned. I have no idea how many of them are attacking me, but I realize with absolute certainty that this is how I die. I'm not scared, really. I just feel guilty, for doing this to everyone who knew me. My friends, my parents, even Borge, although I know that he at least will understand. But for the rest of them, my life wasn't really mine to give.

Tied Edison, District 4, 18 years old

Run. Run. Keep running. That's all.

A cannon fires, the fifth one total. Eliza shoots me a single pleading, desperate look. I know she's right. If I leave him, this part of the Games is over. I don't owe him anything. In fact, I owe him less than nothing. I could kill him myself and no one could tell me I was a bad person for it.

But I just can't do it. I can't see how leaving him to the mutts is any different from killing him myself. I hurt him, sure, but I knew I didn't swing my hammer hard enough to kill him. And anyway, that's an awful death to wish on anyone. His eyelids flutter slightly, and I know he's not completely unconscious. If I leave him now, he'll feel it when they kill him, and I won't, I can't, let that happen to anyone.

I can't run anymore. Eliza senses it, turning to face the mutts.

"Thanks for… staying," I puff, putting Jasper down as gently as I can. I dropped my hammer. I'll have to fight with my fists.

I can't read the look on Eliza's face, but she nods. "It's nothing."

Merryn Circa, District 6, 13 years old

I feel small. Emerianne and I cower against the wall, trying not to cry at the sound of Kendal's cannon. I can't believe this is happening.

Borge is shaking, but he's still fighting, splattering all of us with blood as the endless waves of mutts throw themselves at him. I don't know why he's doing this. I don't know why Kendal did what she did. I don't know why either of them came to help us in the first place.

One of the mutts knocks Borge to the ground.

Maybe I do know.

Emerianne Rivkin, District 6, 13 years old

I cling desperately to Merryn as the red chaos rages before us. Mutts loom in front of us, faces twisted in awful fury, only to fall to Borge's axe. But I know he can't fight forever. Either I will have to watch one of them be torn apart, or it will happen to me.

A mutt ducks under Borge's swing, hitting him across the face hard enough that he falls to the ground. Before I even register what has happened, Merryn launches himself at it. Unlike Kendal, his weight isn't nearly enough to knock it over, but it is distracted from Borge. As if from miles away, I watch as the mutt grabs my District partner and throws him against the wall.

I fall to my knees next to him as he crashes to the ground. I can't scream. A mutt's hand seizes my shoulder, and I barely notice. I clasp Merryn's hand frantically. His eyelids flutter.

"You're…" he says quietly, with a small, content smile. The mutt jerks me backwards, tearing Merryn's hand from mine.

An instant later, a cannon fires. The mutt drops me.

It's over.

Sascha Ire, District 9, 15 years old

"Congratulations, tributes! You have made it through Round One of the One Hundred and Seventy-Fifth Hunger Games! Please make your way to the Cornucopia to board the hovercraft. Please put down any weapons. Any tribute who attacks another tribute will be disqualified."

Disqualified, huh? I stumble to my feet, shaking my head dazedly. I'd been ready for the mutt to try and bite me, but I certainly hadn't been prepared for it to shove me out of the goddamned tree.

The storm fades away impossibly quickly, and the mutts have already vanished back into the tunnel. The sudden silence is eerie. I feel like I'm the only tribute left, which I suppose is what I ought to be hoping for, but the thought almost scares me. I run toward the castle, feeling strangely nervous in the empty woods.

I'm the last one in the Cornucopia room, but despite my impressive collection of bumps and bruises, my condition is far from the worst. The Career girls are sitting next to each other, leaning against the golden horn, weary and wary. The Two boy is laying on his back near them, although he looks like he's regaining consciousness. I don't envy him for it. Just by looking, I can tell he's probably the worst off out of all of us. The girls look decidedly shell-shocked, and all three of them are soaking wet. I realized that they must have been outside, too.

Before I can register anything else, Emerianne comes out of nowhere. She throws her arms around my waist, sobbing, and I'm at a total loss. I realize that the Three boy is leaning against a wall, bloody but alive, which means that I'm the last surviving member of her alliance. And I feel awful. I abandoned her, her and Merryn, and now Merryn is clearly dead. Maybe I could have prevented it. Hell, I probably could have prevented it by jumping out of the tree and letting the mutts kill me.

But what purpose would it have served? They couldn't both survive the next arena. As long as I'm here, I can keep her alive, at least.

A hovercraft slowly lowers itself to the smooth, rain-swept grass outside the double doors. I cast a last glance over the five other people in the room. We all know that only one of us can survive, but there's a strange comradeship in the air. We don't have to fight each other. Not yet. Not until the real Games begin.

And thus ends Round One, Arena Two. People whose characters I killed, trust me, I feel worse about it than you do. Now, Arena One still has a looooong way to go, which means that the next round may not start for quite a while. So if you want to put a follow on Audio Crossfade, well, that might be a good plan. ;) Feedback is appreciated now more than ever, since I'm going to be planning my say in the next round.