Chapter 25: Days 15 & 16

Katniss

I spend the remainder of the day recuperating from my fight with Foxface. Although I was protected from the knife by my body armour, I wasn't protected from the force of the impact - underneath the armour, my side is blossomming into a big purple bruise. However, it's nothing compared to the injuries I've sustained throughout the Games so far – it's really nothing to worry about.

Now that there are only three of us left, I'm certain that the Gamemakers will be pushing us together anytime soon – probably tomorrow morning – so I take the opportunity to eat and drink as much as I can.

Gradually, the fast-flowing rivers surrounding the island start to recede. By dusk, they're reduced to merely shallow streams and I am able to get away. I decide to head towards the Cornucopia. I'm almost certain that the Gamemakers will try to get the remaining tributes to congregate there for the final battle, so I might as well get a headstart.

I try to come up with a plan of action for if I encounter one of the others. Up until this point, I have only been in a fight with someone who was an enemy or a stranger, and they were all trying to kill me. I can't fathom trying to fight with Thresh – who I barely know, but who showed me such mercy before – or Rue.

In my head, I try to reason with myself. I have to get home for Prim and my Mother. For that to happen, I have to be the last one standing. I can't afford to be sentimental over this, it just has to be done. However, the more I think about it, the less I'm convinced that I really would be able to kill either of them.

Night falls and I am still nowhere near the Cornucopia, so I decide to settle in for the night and preserve energy. By the time I've strapped myself into a suitable tree to sleep, the anthem is playing and Foxface's picture appears in the sky. I wonder whether this truly will be the last day of the Games. Will I still be alive this time tomorrow?

The next morning, I wake up around dawn and begin to head towards the Cornucopia, picking berries from a few bushes on the way, to keep me going. I take a slight detour to a pond I know is nearby, only to find it bare and dry. Further on, I cross a dry riverbed and realise that the Gamemakers have probably drained all the water in the arena, so as to draw us together at the one remaining water source: the lake.

Once I reach the Cornucopia I drag myself onto the top of it, giving myself the best vantage point, and ready my bow and arrow.

Gale

It's the sixteenth day of the Games and, by the looks of things, the last day. The Gamemakers have drained all the water in the arena, so that the three remaining tributes are encouraged to go to the lake and battle each other.

However, I can't envisage a situation where these three are actually going to battle each other. Katniss and Rue are friends; Thresh and Rue are district partners; Katniss and Thresh seem to have some kind of mutual respect for each other. I have no idea how this is going to go, I just hope that Katniss remembers what she's fighting for and doesn't let her emotions get the way.

It sounds harsh, to want the twelve-year-old Rue and the seemingly kind Thresh to be killed, but it is the only way that Katniss can survive. From the moment they were chosen to participate, they were destined to die, because nobody is going to survive this except her. I wouldn't even blame her for killing them – their blood is on the hands of the Capitol and the Capitol alone.

At the moment, the television screen is showing Thresh. He is headed in roughly the right direction: towards the edge of the wheat field, towards the Cornucopia where Katniss is waiting. However, he is obviously not headed their quickly enough, as becomes apparent when a huge wolf-like mutt jumps out of the plants behind him.

For a minute, man and beast stare at each other and for a minute I think that Thresh might try to take the mutt on in a fight, but then he turns and runs instead.

The mutt is fast, but not quite fast enough to catch up with Thresh. After about a minute of this, two more mutts seemingly appear out of nowhere and join in the chase. The announcer explains that the mutts are designed to look like fallen tributes and I realise, with disgust, that the first mutt chasing Thresh has blond hair and is larger than the other tributes – it must be supposed to look like Cato. The other two are smaller, one blonde and one dark haired: Glimmer and Clove. As if avoiding the careers once wasn't enough, the Gamemakers have sent their reincarnations after Thresh.

I don't know how long Thresh manages to outrun the mutts before he reaches the clearing which houses the Cornucopia. Having heard him approach, Katniss has already raised her bow and is aiming it in his direction. However, before she has time to shoot her first arrow, the mutts enter the clearing behind him and she is dumbstruck for a moment, her hands frozen on the weapon.

Katniss

Thresh runs towards the Cornucopia, closely followed by some kind of Capitol mutts: huge wolf-like beings with long claws and teeth. Fixated by them, I forget about my bow and arrow for a moment and simply stare at the oncoming monsters.

I don't know for how long he has been running, but judging by the sweat on his brow and his rasping, deep breaths, I assume it is a long time. He is about halfway across the clearing towards me when I remember the bow in my hand, and the reason why I am here. I raise the weapon and aim it at him but hesitate a second as I remember the mercy he showed me at the feast – can I really kill him?

Before I'm able to make a decision, Thresh looks up at me and I think the sight of me catches him off guard because he stumbles for a second and almost trips over. In the time it takes for him to regain his footing, the mutts are already upon him. From my high vantage point, I can see flashes of sharp claws and teeth, hear snarls and screams. It seems that Thresh is managing to hold off the mutts somewhat – perhaps he has a body armour similar to mine. Part of me wants to shoot at the mutts surrounding him, to save him, but a deep-down, dark part of my mind tells me that I have to let him die, if I am going to survive.

I watch in rapt fascination, unable to take my eyes off the fight between the boy and the mutts. Unable, that is, until I hear someone shouting my name.

"Katniss!" the breathless voice calls out from somewhere behind me. I recognise the voice, of course, as Rue's. Dragging my eyes away from Thresh for a moment, I turn and see Rue running across the other side of the clearing towards me, also pursued by three of the wolf-mutts. Although the mutts chasing her are smaller than those fighting with Thresh, they are still much larger than she is and just as dangerous.

That dark part of my mind tells me to shoot Rue as she comes towards me, to fire an arrow right through her eye – she wouldn't even know what had happened – and then it would all be over. For a split-second, I consider doing it, but I can't bring myself to go through with it. Instead, I call her name back.

"Rue! Get up here, I don't think they'll be able to climb it!" I shout, holding my hand over the side of the Cornucopia to reach her. Her small hand grasps mine and I start to pull her up onto the top of the Cornucopia. She doesn't weigh a lot, but it's hard to pull someone up with just one hand. Before I am able to get her up to safety, she screams in pain and I see one of the mutts embed it's sharp teeth into her leg.

I have no choice but to pull her up, causing the mutt's teeth to tear through the flesh of her leg, making the wound even worse. The beast lets go and I am able to pull Rue onto the top of the Cornucopia.

Thankfully, I was right to assume that the mutts were unable to climb the Cornucopia. The original three mutts were still engaged in battle with Thresh, but more have surrounded the Cornucopia and are taking it in turns to jump against the side of the golden horn and try to pull themselves up. I pull out my bow and arrow and start shooting at each mutt which comes towards me. On closer inspection, there is something strange about the mutts – each has a different colour of fur, ranging from dark and curly to straight and red, and they're all different sizes.

Having killed the first two mutts which approached, I miss the third – one of the smaller ones, with short dark fur – and it manages to jump up and cling on to the side of the Cornucopia, about three metres from the top, snarling at me. Now that it's closer, I realise what it is strange and unsettling about these mutts. The eyes don't look canine at all, they look intelligent; they look human. I feel as though I'm looking into my own eyes – Seam grey eyes like mine. Around it's neck is a collar with a "12" emblazoned on it. Steffi.

The mutt, with Steffi's hair and eyes and the number 12, loses it's grip on the side of the Cornucopia and drops to the ground.

Surely, the mutts aren't the tributes? I look around the confirm my suspicions – there is a smaller mutt with amber eyes and red hair, just like Foxface, with the number 5 on it's collar. The largest in the pack has brown hair and a number 1 on the collar. The mutts each have the hair and eye colour of one of the fallen tributes – do they have their personalities and brains too?

Terrified and shocked by the throught, I pull back the string of my bow and kill the rest of the mutts around the Cornucopia. With only one mutt still standing - I just can't bring myself to kill the one which looks like Steffi, remembering how I was responsible for his death – I have only three arrows remaining and I turn my attention to Rue, who is lying on top of the Cornucopia, unable to stand on her wounded leg. I rip off my jacket and make a tourniquet for her leg, using one of my remaining arrows.

Thresh is still battling the three mutts while I killed off the rest. Rue and I sit together, listening to the sounds of the battle. I try to aim an arrow at him, to end it, but they're moving to fast and are too far away for me to aim accurately. After an indeterminable amount of time, he collapses with exhaustion and the mutts start to drag him towards the Cornucopia.

When they are only a few metres away, I pull out one of my two remaining arrows and aim it at Thresh. He looks up at me and gives a tiny nod of his head – he understands what I have to do.

"I'm sorry", I whisper, before firing the arrow. The cannon fires and there are only two remaining.

Seneca Crane

The young girl from Eleven lies on top of the Cornucopia, a tourniquet on her leg and tears rolling down her face. The girl from Twelve, Katniss, sits down next to her. The younger girl flinches when Katniss takes her hand.

"I'm not going to kill you, Rue," she says, "They can't make me."

"But there can only be one winner," Rue replies, her voice barely a whisper and choked with tears. Katniss nods but doesn't reply for a while. After a short time, she opens her backpack and takes out a small amount of food, which the two girls share.

"What the hell is this, Crane?!"

I take my eyes of the screen where my nightmare is currently unfolding and turn to President Snow, who has just burst into the control room.

"I... um... well..." I stutter

"They're just sitting there, not doing anything. How did you not see this coming?"

"Well... the viewers... they love to see Katniss as a killer. She's killed more people than anyone else in the Games and they love it. She's the favourite to win and I thought, if we pushed the three of them together that she would... you know... win."

"Clearly that's not happening!" the President exclaims, nodding his head towards the screen, where the two girls are still holding hands.

I let out an exasperated sigh. Since the feast, when she took down the last of the Career tributes, Katniss has been the a biggest favourite in the Capitol, so I was setting it up for her to win – sending the strongest mutts after Thresh, her biggest competition, and leaving her with just the little girl to get rid of. It seemed like a no-brainer: there was no way she could lose. And the Capitol would just love to see her turn on her previous ally.

Unfortunately, I hadn't banked on her refusing to kill the girl.

"If we wait long enough, the younger will die from her injuries." I suggest.

"That's not good enough, we can't wait that long. You'd better sort this out, Crane. Now!" the President says, "We can't have them showing us up like this, so get rid of one of them. I don't care which one, just get us a victor – and soon."

Before I can respond, he's already left. I know that my career as a Gamemaker – probably even my life – depends on the way I handle this. Ideally, I need to get one of them to kill the other – that's the rules of the Games, and it would diffuse the whole situation. Alternatively, I'll just have to send something after them to get rid of one of them – but which one?

Gale

This should be the end of it, Katniss should have won by now and be on her way back to District Twelve; back to me. A seriously injured twelve-year-old is all that stands in her way, but I know Katniss; I know there is no way she is going to hurt Rue.

I don't know what's going on and why the Gamemakers aren't doing anything about this. It's totally unprecedented for the last two tributes not to attack each other, let alone to share food and take care of each other. However, I do know that there is no way they will let there be two victors, so either Katniss or Rue are going to die – probably by the end of today.

I want to shout at the screen, tell Katniss that she's being ridiculous. Whatever happens, one of them is going to die. Wouldn't it be better for her to kill Rue now, rather than let her be mauled by a mutt or killed by some "natural" disaster sent by the Gamemakers?

Enraged and confused, I decide to head out to the town square. As it's nearing the end – really, should be the end by now – they're showing the Games live all day in the square. Recently, almost the whole town has been gathered there all day, watching, since this is the first time in three decades that a District Twelve tribute has got this far. Tonight is no different – if anything it's even busier here today than it has been lately – and the square is buzzing with chatter.

I pass groups of all ages, discussing what's going on.

"I can't believe they're just sitting there!"

"I wonder why the Gamemakers are letting them do that!?"

"The Capitol won't allow two victors... will they?"

All the questions I was asking myself, everyone else is asking too and nobody knows the answers.

About a minute after I reach the front of the crowd, I hear a familiar voice beside me.

"Guess you didn't need to do anything after all," Peeta says.

"What?" I ask

He looks up at me, "Katniss is doing it all for you. You wanted to take a stand, incite a rebellion? That's exactly what she's doing – standing up against the Capitol, refusing to play by their rules. And she's doing it on national television."

I look up at the screen and realise that he's right. What better way to show the Capitol that they don't own her? Unfortunately, this stunt can never end well for Katniss – the Capitol doesn't take too kindly to rebellion, in any form, and they're in the perfect position to get rid of her.

Then again, if they kill her now, she becomes a martyr, a symbol of rebellion, a memorable figure. If they let her go, they've given in to her. Now I understand why the Gamemakers haven't done anything yet – there's nothing they can do without making themselves look bad. It's perfect.

A/N: Sorry for the delay. Long, looong delay! I tried to write this chapter loads of time and it never came out right - hopefully this version is alright. Thanks for reading :)