I duck quicker than I thought possible. Guess my reflexes are still good. My spear is about five feet away, but I reach it in no time.
I lunge towards Johanna, and the spear goes through her shoulder.
She shakes her head, laughing. "You'll have to do better than that if you wanna kill me, Pops." To my disbelief, she actually pulls the spear out of her and hands it back to me. "Now it'll be a fair fight."
Our weapons cross with an almighty clang. We push against each other, trying to prevent the other from gaining an advantage. I let go for a moment and aim for her heart. She swings again, barely missing my knees. I move out of the way just in time.
"Too slow," I tease. We clash weapons again. And again. And again. Seriously, neither of us is backing down. Being in this arena has reopened my eyes, making me realize that… I actually don't want to die, so I'm going to fight for all it's worth.
I bring the spear under her axe, and it flies out of her hands, onto the ground. She makes the mistake of crouching over to pick it up. Before she can stand again, I push her down with my foot.
"Fighting a girl with an axe… Now, where have I seen this before? Oh, right. Back in my first Games. You know, I killed a Career girl with an axe."
She looks at me with an expression I've never seen from her. Johanna Mason, the pretend weakling-turned-ruthless killer, is afraid.
"He lives!" I hear someone yell. It sounds like Finnick. Through the trees, my former allies approach. Immediately, I release my foot from Johanna's body. She stumbles to her feet.
Katniss sees me and her eyes light up with hope. "Haymitch! I thought you were one of the cannons!"
I smile. "Nope. I took care of the Careers." I take a look at her arm, which is bleeding profusely. "What's that about?"
"Johanna cut me," she says.
I nod in approval. "Ah." I lower my voice to explain. "She was taking out your tracking device so that Brutus and Enobaria couldn't find you. Clever idea." Suddenly, I'm grateful that I didn't get the chance to kill Axe Girl. We could use her insanity for the adventures to come.
"Then I wish she would've warned me before she attacked me," Katniss mumbles.
"Heard that." Johanna walks up to her. "But you wouldn't have believed me if I'd told you my plan, now, would you? You don't trust me."
"Guess not," Katniss agrees.
Behind her, I see Finnick and Beetee. And of course, I already saw Johanna. That means…
"Chaff." I pause to absorb the news. "Chaff died."
I'd seen Chaff win the Games when I was a kid, and the loss of his hand had given me nightmares for weeks. By the time I'd become victor, I understood more of what he'd been through. As fellow mentors, we drank to our tributes whenever they won (which never happened to me) or died. When Rue was killed and Katniss gave her a proper goodbye, Chaff was the one who insisted on sending her some bread to reward her. We were perfect friends who both turned to alcohol to dull the pain. If I get out of here, who am I going to drink with now?
"Did you cut the wire?" Beetee asks me angrily.
This is news to me. "What? No. I haven't been anywhere near it." Maybe I didn't like what he was doing, but I'd never sabotage a genius like him.
"Then it was the District 2 people," he realizes.
"Yeah. Like I said, they won't be bothering us anymore."
"And now my plan's gone down the tubes," he says with a frown.
My mind flies to the lightning tree. Then it hits me: What had I been trying to avoid by leaving the others? Losing my dignity? No. I lost that a long time ago, the minute I started drinking. Losing my life? No. This is the Hunger Games, for crying out loud. In fact, it dawns on me that I don't have anything left to lose. So, there's only one thing left to do. It's time that I stopped pretending to be a good citizen of Panem.
It's time to make the Capitol pay.
I look at Beetee earnestly. "Maybe not. Lightning hasn't struck yet. But if we want to make it back to the tree in time, we've gotta run."
"What are you thinking?"
I raise an eyebrow, trying to look mischievous. "You'll see."
They all nod, and we arrive at our destination in about ten minutes.
I stare at the tree. "Katniss?"
"What?" she asks with a curious eye.
"Remember who the enemy is," I whisper in her ear, handing her my last knife. "You know what to do."
Katniss turns her face to me with a knowing expression, tying the knife onto her arrow and placing it on her bow. She shoots it right in the direction of the lightning tree, just as the bell tolls midnight. Within seconds, everything around us goes up in flames.
Now we really run.
Before we can step another foot, something grabs a hold of my waist. I look down to see the claws of a hovercraft, pulling me up. This can't be good, but it can't be half as bad as what I've already been through. This should be a picnic. When I reach the inside of the hovercraft, I see Plutarch Heavensbee.
"Who do you think you are, rescuing us?" I yell.
He just puts a finger to his lips. "I'll explain later. For now, get some rest."
I'm a little skeptical at first, but then I see his watch, with a mockingjay in the center. Why didn't I notice it earlier?
"You're… one of us," I mumble drowsily as the lights go out.
I wake up in a hospital-like bed, with a bandage around my head, another around my right wrist, and a tube in my left arm. I don't even remember getting injured in the arena, but then again, I didn't carry a mirror to see how I looked.
In another bed lies Beetee, and across from us are Katniss and Johanna. All of them are sleeping except for Katniss, who has a visitor.
"Hey there, boy," I say in as loud a voice as I can muster. "Nice job."
Peeta turns to face me. "Good, you're awake! I need to tell you what's going on."
"Wait. You did pick up Finnick too, right?"
"Of course," he replies adamantly. "He's in another room."
"All right. So why are we in a hovercraft with the Head Gamemaker, of all people?"
He takes a while to explain everything, how Plutarch has been a secret rebel from the beginning, how the (previously destroyed) District Thirteen is still thriving, and how the other tributes vowed to protect Katniss and me. Me!
"I understand about Katniss," I tell him, "but why would they want to save me?"
"Because of your past with the Games. They're calling Katniss the mockingjay, and she has the potential to bring down the Capitol. But even mockingjays need a mentor. The three of us make a formidable trio, Plutarch believes."
"How's everything in Twelve?"
Peeta's face falls. "That's the thing, Haymitch. Katniss, you need to hear this, too."
"Hear what, Peeta?" she pleads.
He stands in between our beds, gazing at us solemnly.
"The Capitol had enough, and they returned to bomb not just the Seam, but the entire district. District Twelve doesn't exist anymore."
Tears begin streaming down Katniss' face, and my eyes widen in horror. I definitely hadn't seen this coming. Once again, it was all because of me. Good old Haymitch Abernathy knows how to bring destruction wherever he goes.
But Haymitch Abernathy, victor of the 50th annual Hunger Games, knows how to aid in a rebellion, too. If this was the spark, then let the flames begin.