Prologue

He had no strength to run. No longer.

Salty trickles of water, flowing down his cheeks, mixed with the fresh blood still covering nearly every inch of his face. The boy was clenching his fists, trying to break through the forest. Pain in the right leg seemed to radiate further and further with every elapsing second, including following cells of his body. After a while, the leg started to prevent him from moving forward by catching on the roots protruding from the ground. But the boy didn't stop. He was biting his lips increasingly, insistently trying to hold back hoarse howl.

Hoarse howl of a wounded animal, desperately seeking for a hideout that might conceal him before the hunter.

He was pulling his leg along the ground like a useless stump, and although the thing he wanted the most was simply falling on the leaf litter to undergo something that seemed to be inevitable, the boy went on. Even though he managed to break free from the horror of the Hunger Games that one time few years ago, by winning the fight to the death more than once, the boy with green eyes knew that this time he would fail. Warm stream of blood started to flow down his chin right after his teeth wounded the lower lip. But now it was his own blood.

He felt that he wouldn't run any longer. But he had to, if he wanted to reach the scene before his enemies. He couldn't let down, not then, when there were only few minutes away from the finale. The finale which all inhabitants of Panem would watch with bated breath in front of TV screens in their warm and safe houses. At the moment when he should have focused on the escape, he couldn't stop the pictures before his eyes, effectively displacing swirling kaleidoscope of greenery around him.

Hermione. Little Ginny. And Ron, always smiling Ron, who couldn't refrain from tears in the Palace of Justice at the moment of farewell.

He couldn't disappoint them, he knew that. Not when he finally saw the light in the distance, breaking through a dense wall of high trees. He clenched the fingers on the dirty material of pants, pulling it up and lifting his right leg a bit.

Several tens of meters, then a dozen, a boy with broken glasses was getting closer. A small slot, accordance with the conjecture, turned out to be the mouth of the jungle, which he wanted to escape so desperately. In the distance behind him he heard the voices of the approaching danger, which seemed to be getting closer with each passing second.

The blood thumped in his ears, while breathing loudly, the boy was trying to speed up.

He almost got there.

All this was happening as in slow motion, although only few minutes had passed from the beginning of the chase. The boy moved away the branches which were attacking him on every side, wiping blood from his chin with the back of his hand in the meantime.

'Those hyenas from the Capitol are probably bursting with pride,' he thought, 'they assured themselves an incredible entertainment this year.'

However that idea quickly left his mind, when passing the final barrier of trees the boy stood on the edge of the forest.

And he was there, waiting. The boy saw him, his only ally and the most dangerous enemy. He bent over, breathing heavily and spitting blood. He was holding a small bundle in his hands. So small that the boy barely managed to see it from a distance of several meters. He took some steps forward, while his right leg stretched out behind him, carving still damp soil after the last downpour. The companion with blonde hair lifted his head and their glances crossed for one short moment. The boy forgot about the circumstances, in which he found himself in the middle of that hell, by drowning in the depths of steel blue eyes. Eyes, which suddenly widened in dismay when the blonde boy stood up abruptly, almost dropping the precious bundle on the ground.

The boy didn't hear the warning scream emanating from his ally's throat, same as the sound of the approaching enemy behind his back. The hunter that finally caught up with their prey. Fury on the face of another tribute from the twelfth district was the last thing he saw, before a blow to the back of his head violently pushed him into the bottomless darkness.