A/N: This is the parallel story to Reckoner and is told from Cato's POV. Enjoy.
The girl on fire.
Ever since the opening ceremonies, I have not been able to get the image of her riding in that chariot, flames enveloping her, out of my head. It made an impression on everyone, but it never left my mind. It is all I think about day and night, and it takes every bit of strength to not let my obsession show. I shoot glances at her when I think no one else is looking. I take detailed mental notes and replay my observations of her every night to try to glean some kind of information about her, but she is stoic and difficult to read. I'm sure I'm not completely successful in hiding my interest in her, but she is the center of attention, though among the other tributes it isn't necessarily good attention, so I don't appear out of the ordinary.
Of course, the intrigue began a while ago, specifically back at the reaping.
I watched the replays of the other districts to size up my competition. And there she was, the girl from District 12, the only other tribute who had volunteered. I immediately noticed her. Her district was pathetic, and if I weren't a tribute, I would have overlooked her district's reaping, but I saw something different in her. She had strength. Not physically, like me, but she resonated an immense inner strength, and despite her obvious nervousness, she was brave.
I know she volunteered for her sister. Most tributes have siblings, but you don't see their brothers and sisters volunteering to take their place. So she's much closer to her sister than most people are, and I also noticed, once I watched the tapes again, that her father was nowhere to be seen. Nor was she particularly kind to her mother. She's obviously been through some kind of trauma – why else is she so guarded? Her eyes are serious, reflecting an older person who has been through a lot. I don't doubt that she's had a difficult life.
I, on the other hand, volunteered out of pride and ambition. I've trained my entire life for the Games. Unlike the others, I am eager to fight. I want to bring honor to my district. And, growing up watching every second of the Games, I know that I'm the best there's ever been. I've been absolutely positive that I will win, up until now.
The girl on fire.
I'm not just interested in her because she's unique. I'm interested in her because, like me, she's unlike anyone who has ever fought in the Games, and she is my only threat. Her ambition is as strong as mine, if not stronger. The others – they want to survive. But for me, for the girl on fire, there is only winning. We won't settle for less.
I thought I had figured it all out, but I never anticipated someone like her coming along. She could ruin my plans. It's either her or me.
"You coming?" Clove yells from the living room.
I rub my hair with the towel and then toss it on the floor. Opening the top drawer of my dresser, I snatch the first pair of pants I see and slip into them.
"Cato! They're about to start!" Clove yells.
"Coming," I shout back irritably. I'm not the most patient person in the world, but neither is Clove.
"If you miss yours, I'm not telling you!" she shoots back. Typical Clove.
I don't bother putting on a shirt because I can hear the announcer's voice, and I really don't want to miss hearing my score, even though Clove would tell me.
I want to see what our competition, or allies for the time being, from District 1 is like. I'm not worried about District 4 because they're weak this year. I let them join our alliance only because it's tradition, and we could use the numbers. But Marvel and Glimmer agreed with Clove and me that they're going to be the first ones to go, once the alliance is over. I don't see them lasting until then though.
Marvel and Glimmer on the other hand are more capable. I've observed them in training, but tributes always hold back there, so they could be hiding something. I don't bother hiding my skills, though, because I know I'm the best. I'm positive I'll get the highest score.
I walk into the living room and flop onto the couch. Clove takes one look at me and rolls her eyes.
"You missed Marvel," Clove says.
"So what," I shrug. "I know what he's capable of."
"Don't act like you don't care," Clove says, annoyed. "He got a nine."
I suppose that was to be expected. Marvel's main skill is spear throwing, but I'm just as good as him.
The announcer then gives Glimmer's score – also a nine. That's surprising because although she can fight, she's not exceptional. Nor is she the brightest. I wouldn't have given her anything higher than an eight.
"We better beat them," Clove grumbles.
And then I'm up. I clench my fists in anticipation. The announcer comments on my large stature, and I wish that he would just get on with it.
Okay, not bad. It's extremely rare to see an eleven, and no one has ever gotten a twelve. I'm okay with a ten. It's better than District 1 in any case, which means my score will definitely be higher than the others.
Lost in my thoughts, I don't hear Clove's score, but suddenly she's jumping up and down.
"Ha! I got a ten, too!" she says. "Looks like we're going to get all the sponsors!"
She deserves it. Clove is deadly with her knife-throwing abilities. I don't look forward to fighting her. It won't be fun because, as much as I like killing, I do enjoy her presence, and she is the best ally I could ask for. We jive well. But I don't see anyone else really who can take her on, except for maybe the boy from District 11. Hopefully he'll get to her before I have to.
"Come on, let's get breakfast," Clove says.
"What about the guy from eleven?" I say.
I really just want to see what the girl on fire gets. She's been keeping a low profile in the Training Center. She has the others convinced that she's weak, but I am positive she's been holding back. Still, I'm hoping they're right and that she gets a low score because to me she's the biggest threat there is. I need to know if my theory is right.
"He'll probably get at least a nine," Clove says. "But who cares – he doesn't want to join us, and even if he got a twelve, he won't stand a chance against the six of us."
That's true. And even if he gets a better score as us, we'll still get the sponsors because the guy is not likeable at all. I've never heard him utter a word, and he's always glaring at everyone. It intimidates the others, but not me. Let's just say his personality won't attract any sponsors.
"Unless he's one of the last ones left," I reply. Once the alliance is broken, no one will stand a chance against him except me.
"Well we both know you could do it," Clove folds her arms, tapping her foot impatiently. She doesn't like to dish out compliments. "But if you want to see his score, fine."
We grab some food from the kitchen and bring it back to the living room. Somewhere around District 8, Enobaria strolls in, yawning, and takes a seat.
"Finally up?" Clove says sarcastically.
"Was there anything I needed to be worried about?" Enobaria shoots back. "You'll get your sponsors."
"We have the highest scores, so we better," I warn her.
The boy from District 11 gets a ten, which isn't surprising. He will be a challenge in the arena, and I look forward to it. The girl gets a seven, which is high for someone of her age and size. Clove is also somewhat small and young, though, so this other girl really doesn't stand a chance.
And then it's to District 12. We're all silent. I know that Clove and Enobaria are just as curious as me. We want her to be a fluke, to show us that, beneath the flames, she's nothing. But my instinct tells me that's not the case.
The boy gets an eight. I've seen him train, and he's strong.
The girl on fire is on the screen now, and I sit up straight to listen to her score.
"What the-" Enobaria says, jumping up from her seat.
"Eleven?" Clove cries in disbelief. "That's not possible!"
"What the hell did she show the judges?" Enobaria says angrily. And then, turning to Clove, "You said she wasn't any good."
"The only stations she visits in the Training Center are survival based – finding edible plants, camouflaging, that kind of stuff," Clove retorts. "You tell me how I'm supposed to know she's got some superpower."
"She's been hiding her strengths from us," I say, siding with Clove.
"Well you better find out how she got that eleven," Enobaria says, narrowing her eyes. "Because you just lost your sponsors."