That year the arena is ice and snow, white sky and leaves clotted, wet and heavy, branches bent low by the weight.
Even the bloodbath is subdued, twenty-four kids in jumpsuits shivering as they stalk each other. You can hardly see six feet in front of you, so the usual coward's strategy of taking off into the distance is not exactly wise.
Ten tributes die there or near there, their color washed out by the white all around them, blood lightened to pink by the time the hovercraft picks them up, leaving spatters in the drifts behind.
You are swift, snatching a knapsack from the pile and hiding in the lee of the cornucopia, watching as fights break out around you, crouching in the shadow of a drift taller than you are. No bows appear this year, no swords or tridents - knives, long as your forearm, are the only weapon you see. And fists. And fingernails. And teeth.
In the knapsack there's a thermal blanket, a tiny knife with a blade barely longer than your palm, and a small ball of leather. You shake out the thermal blanket and unknot the ball, carefully unfolding the contents.
Boots. Gloves. Fur, with a soft lining, and the boots are too big for you - you, with feet like snowshoes.
You pull the boots on over your flimsy shoes, stuff your chilly hands into the gloves, and wrap yourself in the blanket.
There were more clothes in the cornucopia, but they're gone by now. Must be. You've heard escaping footsteps in the snow in between the whine of the hovercrafts (so cold here the metal freezes and contracts, the engines seize and moan).
All the good things are gone, you discover as you scout around anyway. Just cold and snow and blood.
And a single set of boot tracks, following a trail of arrows carved into the trees.
There are other tracks, but this is the only one left by a single person. You clutch the handle of the knife. You can take one kid.
Someone is crying, and you move along the path with all the stealth you have (not much). You're curious.
It's a girl. And a body. And a trail of blood coming from somewhere off in the trees.
Words emerge from her sobs as you step closer.
"help me oh god please help" and her voice is swallowed by the snow and the wind and the crackling of tree branches.
Part of you wants to run, to survive on your own somehow, maybe come out alive.
And part of you wants to stay.
You are Helios Apollo, and the sun is somewhere far away.
Her name is Marie, and you know her, vaguely, the sad-eyed girl from 12 who somehow still has coal dust under her fingernails and ground into her skin. You'd have to take a buzzsaw to her to get rid of it, probably.
The body she's crying over is also someone whose name you know - Carlos, the scrappy one from 11. His skin looks grey under the tan, his eyes still open with snow collecting on their frozen surfaces. He's kitted out in winter gear, but all the fur and leather in the world can't help you when your guts are spilling out.
(They're frozen too, surfaces that should be wet and pink icy and purpling. His hands are pressed to them, like he was trying to convince them back inside.)
She's swallowed up in a coat herself, a big splash of blood all down the back, the fur collar turned up almost to her eyebrows. She's bleeding too, scratches on her hands and face like she fought a bramble bush and lost.
You planned for sun. For ocean, for everything being poisoned, for wild animals hunting you, for the desert.
No one planned for this, where the enemy is the environment and you can't even see other tributes to hunt them down. This year you are matched against the cold and the wind and your own cleverness.
(You want to win.)
And you have to help her.
You crouch in the snow (you don't know if the jumpsuit is waterproof but it's better not to risk it). "Marie, Marie," you call above the howl of the wind.
She trembles like an animal at bay, and her voice spills from her cracked lips like water. "Who is that?" She brushes her snowy hair from her face and looks up at you. "Apollo?"
(All your life you have been Helios, the sun boy born to win the games for his family and his district.
(Apollo is the god of physicians, the pagan patron saint of your family. Your grandmother says that God guides your hands; your uncle says it is Apollo himself. They're both equally unlikely.
(Whether or not Apollo is anything like real, it is his mantle that settles heavy on your shoulders today, like snow on tree branches. You can break under its weight, or spring up and bear it.
(Today and maybe after if you live that long, you are Helios no longer.
(Your name is Apollo.)
"I'm here," you tell her, and take the glove from your hand, stretching it out to her. "Allies?"
She's in shock, shaking and wide-eyed with fear, but otherwise fine.
Once you've checked her for injuries you settle your shoulders and begin to strip Carlos of his winter clothing. He doesn't need it anymore, and it's not even very bloody.
It is, however, all fur, heavy and organic on the few places where your skin is bare. You wrap yourself in the coat, shoving the thermal blanket and his other clothes into the knapsack.
You think you can hear footsteps, but it's probably just snow blowing against the trees. It's still better to keep moving, find some sort of shelter, even if it's only a thicket of bushes. The snow should stop soon, from the patchy color of the sky.
Marie dies from hypothermia and for a while you are alone, stumbling through the forest as the blizzard rages on around you. You take her coat, folding it awkwardly around yourself to keep warm, and consider what you learned at your father's knee:
A man can live three weeks without food.
There's water, all around you, but eating it will kill you like it did Marie, and the snow's too wet to build a fire. You keep moving, desperately.
(He can live three days without water.)
The careers freeze to death, you suppose, because no one comes to hunt you. And you find no blood on the ground from someone else's injuries as you wander; so much for your plan of offering aid in exchange for alliance.
By the end you huddle in the snow, lips oozing thick blood, wrapped in fur, waiting for death.
Death does not come; instead, a dog's bark wakes you from thin sleep on a clear and chilly morning.
A wet tongue laps your face, and heavy paws pound against your coat.
You squint, and against the snow-glare you see another human, blurry but alive. Maybe you're dying. Maybe this is what it's like to freeze to death.
The dog barks, bouncing excitedly on furry legs, as the man pulls you to your feet.
You've won. You are the last tribute standing. You won two days ago.
Well, it's a nice hallucination.
There's a doctor waiting for you, all cool white and steel and clean-smelling.
The first thing she does is start an IV, and then she makes you close your eyes - Jesus Christ, snowblind, what is this, 1912?
Overhead the sun emerges from the clouds, bright as a coin.