Author's Note: This story is still alive because of all your kind reviews, so thank you!
Three guns and one goes off
One's empty, one's not quick enough
One burn, one red, one grin
Search the graves while the camera spins
- Tessellate by Alt-J
I awaken in another daze, temporarily groggy and muddled as I assume my usual morning mannerisms. I rub the sleep out of my eyes, and as I stretch, the pricks against my back do not feel anything like the cushion of my cot. I yawn, preparing to swing my legs down and walk on outside, go off to hunt, go off to school, or attend to whatever it is that awaits me. I roll over and my face meets a pile of dirt.
My body jolts upright. I'm already outside. The sunlight is beating down harshly, bright and shining more than seems normal, and burning with the power with a thousand artificial lights, I imagine.
I'm clearly not at home, nor am I on the train, or in the Capitol.
I'm in The Hunger Games.
And I'm still alive.
But everyone thinks I'm dead.
The events from the previous day reel through my mind like a video projection, and the memory of it all creates an aching in my mind and a longing in my chest. My mother must be crying her eyes out, mourning for another loved one. My mother rarely ever cries, but she did when she accepted the news that her husband was never returning home. And now she thinks she lost her son.
The Capitol and their cruel humor.
I worry for my brothers. Did their faith in me extinguish? Do they believe I let them down after I promised I wouldn't?
And Katniss... She might be driven to fight to defend my honor. She's far too strong to show weakness.
What did the Gamemakers even use to show during the playback? Did they doctor the scene where Cato slashed me to make the attack look fatal?
But there's also the cameras, and the cameras would have come across me. Unless the Gamemakers are cutting me out of the Games completely, and removing the footage before the audience becomes aware.
I suppose, in a way, a completely morbid way, this is what I wanted. I never wanted any part of this and I made that intention perfectly clear back in the Training Center: "I look forward to seeing what you have in store for me," and removing my tracker was a big tip off, perhaps the final straw the Capitol would tolerate. It's somewhat of a shame they didn't put up more of a fight.
Oh, I'll show them! I'll kill off the remaining tributes, aside from a few comrades, and then the Gamemakers will have no choice but to reveal me. Then I'd like to see the look on the face of that scoundrel Seneca Crane. I bet this was all his brilliant idea – kill off the underdog, he's looking for trouble. And because the Careers couldn't finish me off, the Gamemakers took things into their own hands and faked my death.
But it's only a matter of time.
The flurry of all these notions attacking my mind after having woken up does nothing to rid my foul mood. But I haven't got time to sit around and wallow, for the sound of a cannon breaks the silence, alerting everyone how fast death comes even at the break of day. It's predictable and unavoidable like the rising of the sun. Someone's time has set. I won't know who the unlucky individual is until the recap tonight. That is, if I manage to stay alive until then.
I pack up my things and double check not to leave any solid trace of my presence behind before moving out. Now the question is, should I head downriver or turn back?
There's no point in turning back, I tell myself. Forward then.
I don't hear any birds, and considering the daylight, they should be out and singing. It's not a big deal or anything, but it has the hunter side of myself questioning if something in the area is off, an occurrence about to strike at any given moment.
It becomes apparent, about ten feet away, the forest looks different. The air is hazy, and not with fog or mist but smoke. There's a fire, but where is it?
The sky gives nothing away this time. No smoke, no embers. Meaning, this fire is nor man-made.
Great. The Gamemakers plan to roast us.
I don't know which is worse, being burned or frozen to death?
I hadn't expected to die this way, unless it was a desperation move if the Games were taking too long to complete. However, there are more than enough tributes to battle each other, and the point of the Games is to "fight to the death" not die off from natural causes, or causes created by skilled scientists working for the Capitol.
I take a step forward and a deafening – crack – fills the air. I look around to see the massive tree in front of me start to sway and descend in a slow, forceful swing until the stump breaks apart and the trunk collapses. I run away and jump as far as I can, out of its path, right as it comes down in a thundering roar. When that's over, I stand up straight and sneer at the invisible cameras, "Nice try. Getting rid of me with a stupid tree? Go on, try again."
The flames shoot out right after my threat. The fire appears faster than a match being struck ablaze. The fire feeds off the bushes and fallen leaves, using it for kindling to grow, and then it blooms into a wall of burning orange plumes, engulfing everything it touches. The red and orange sparks morph together, real enough to radiate a scorching heat. I can't even inhale without the smoke burning down my throat.
A sharp, piercing scream cuts through the roar of the fire, and with that, I'm sent off running. Being a decent runner does not prove much help as I navigate through the maze of trees. I smack my elbows against a fair few branches and stumble over some upraised roots hiding over piles of leaves, slowing my momentum.
The heat follows me, binding, choking. My eyes sting, and the result is clouded vision, leading me to run straight into a tree head first. But the tree makes a noise of protest, and I see there isn't a tree at all. I ran into someone. My reflexes are too slow from running but I manage to grapple my bow and use it as a defensive shield, holding it up in front of my face.
The sound of her voice nearly sends me into a frenzy. I lower the bow, and find myself looking right at Katniss, who looks very worn out and confused. I feel a mixture of relief, hope, and love.
I reach out to her but she steps back, eyes wide with fright. "You're dead," she chokes out.
Her gray eyes flash. "I saw your name, your face..."
"The Gamemakers," I explain. "They're extracting revenge on me for defying the rules." I hold up my injured arm. "I removed my tracker."
Her face remains emotionless. One thing I admire about Katniss is her ability to stay focused during any given situation. What must she be thinking right now?
"Is this a trick?"
Her words are like a slap to the face. "Why would I lie to you?"
She wraps her hand around her own bow, maneuvering the metal between her fingers with uncanny precision. The bow is low enough not to be seen as a threat, yet high enough on her waist to set into position and shoot in a matter of seconds. "Then tell me something only the real Gale would know."