Estelle, Pique, and Maple stomped heavily through the humid foliage of the island. There was no path, so they were laboriously picking their way through the overgrown jungle. Maple, who was the most comfortable in a forest-like setting, was in the front, slashing away branches that were in her way with a sword she had grabbed from the cornucopia. Estelle came behind her, looking over her shoulder every few seconds to make sure they weren't being followed. She clutched a backpack to her chest, her fingers clutching the straps so tightly they were white. She was chewing nervously on her lip. Pique brought up the back, surprisingly calm; her face showed no emotion at all, other than diligent awareness. She had a dagger out and ready in case anyone approached from behind.
Suddenly, they heard footsteps approaching at a fast pace. Someone was running towards them.
"Quick!" Maple hissed, assuming position of leader. "Hide!" All three girls ducked down behind the trunk of a huge tree and waited for their follower to pass. Maple had her sword drawn, ready to attack if she had too – but her hands were trembling despite her brave façade.
The footsteps drew closer, and the girls held their breath. Suddenly, Felicity came crashing through the trees. She slowed to catch her breath, looking around desperately with fear in her eyes. Maple, Estelle, and Pique looked at each other as if to ask the others, Should we trust her? Pique nodded and stood up. The others followed suit.
"Felicity," Pique whispered. She stepped out so she was more in the open, and Estelle and Maple followed her. Felicity's face was flooded with relief, but also anxiety.
"Please let me come with you!" she cried. "I can't use weapons, and I have no idea what to do. I know you probably don't want me but please, you have to understand. They almost got me back there." She stood there with her lip trembling, completely vulnerable and exposed. Her eyes expressed her plea even more than her words did, and Maple had to look away.
Of course she wanted to help the poor girl. But Maple was already struggling with the idea of having two allies. She was so afraid of becoming attached to people and then having to lose them. But she remembered how afraid she had been of Ajax during training, and how Pique and Estelle had sheltered her, and she couldn't leave Felicity out here alone.
"Of course," she said. "Of course you can come with us." She said nothing else about it, and kept moving. The sound of her sword slashing through the thick jungle leaves seemed as loud as a gunshot each time.
The other three followed her, and they walked along silently until they found a small spring. "This should be a good place to stay for tonight," said Maple. She immediately knelt down and started to drink; the extreme heat was enough to dehydrate a person in a matter of hours.
As Felicity knelt down, Pique noticed the cut on her arm. "What happened?" she inquired.
"Bladed boomerang. That's how she killed Angus too." She scooped up some water and washed out the wound. The bleeding had come to a stop. "I'm fine."
Estelle got busy trying to find some edible plants, and she soon came back with a big leaf filled with nuts and berries.
They ate in silence, all but Maple sitting on the ground next to the spring. Each one was listening attentively for sounds of people approaching, but no one came. Maple looked especially uneasy, and finally she stopped pacing and cleared her throat.
"Look, I really don't want to have to do this. I really, really don't. But the longer I stay her with you," she paused and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, "the more afraid I get that I'm going to have to kill one of you. Or even have to see you die. And I don't think I can take that." Once again, with no makeup on her face, the symptoms of her chronic hunger showed, but right now what her face was really showing was fierce determination. "I have to go. I'm getting out of here alive, and that is something I have to do on my own. I'm sorry." She turned to go, gripping her sword in her left hand.
Knowing that there was no way to dissuade her, the other girls simply watched her go, simultaneously sorry to see her leave and relieved that she was gone. They all had a similar feeling of dread that they would get attached to their new allies, and how much harder this would make it when they died. But no one else parted ways. For now, the threat of being alone in the Arena was greater than any impending loss.
As the sun grew higher in the sky, Trillium and Baud kept running. The island they had chosen was one of the larger ones, big enough that they ran for almost an hour before they reached the beach on the far side. Somewhere along the way, Baud had grabbed Trillium's hand and as they emerged from the trees, their fingers were still intertwined.
Sweaty, parched, and trembling from fear and exhaustion, Trillium sank down onto the sand, but Baud pulled her back up.
"Not yet. We have to find water and food first, then we can rest."
"Let's see what's in the backpack first. Maybe there's a water purifier or iodine tablets," Trillium said hopefully.
Baud knelt down and emptied the backpack's contents onto the sand. There was a bag of dried meat, a tightly folded blanket, a knife, and a small metal tool shaped like a waterspout.
"Look!" Baud exclaimed. "A spile!" He jumped up, picked up a rock, and ran over to a tree on the edge of the beach. He drove the spigot into the tree with the heavy rock, and waited. After a minute, a smooth trickle of water poured out from the tree. He and Trillium took turns gulping the water until their thirst was quenched.
Baud sat back and rubbed some sand between his fingers, looking pensive. Trillium had risen and was walking into the forest. She had taken the knife with her and was cutting some bark off a tree. When she had a large piece, she disappeared into the trees with it for a few moments.
Baud heard nothing from her for a few moments and grew nervous. He slowly stood up and followed the faint trail she had made. Suddenly, a canon sounded, and he panicked. He bolted through the forest and just as he was about to call out Trillium's name, she crashed into him and frantically looked up to make sure it was him. When she had made sure, she wrapped her arms around him and stood there, shaking and holding him tightly.
"I thought you were dead," she repeated over and over. Baud ran his fingers through her hair and muttered quiet reassurances.
"It's okay, I promise."
"No. We're here. It's not okay at all."
Alora added another mental note to the list of dead tributes. After the bloodbath, six canons had gone off. This one made seven.
Good. Only sixteen left to get rid of, she thought. She gave no thought to which tribute it might be. The best way to get through this was to just not get attached. She just knew that that canon was one step closer to her going home.
As the afternoon wore on, she found a spring in the middle of the island she had chosen and set up a small shelter with a big piece of bark leaning against two trees. She covered it up with leaves and sticks until it was almost completely hidden. When she was confident in the safety of her shelter, she crouched down behind a huge leafy bush and waited for an animal to come. She had gotten her knife along with the backpack and she waited readily, confident in her skills with her weapon.
After twenty minutes, she did hear something. Unfortunately, it was no animal – unless the Capitol had engineered some kind of creature that walked with the footsteps of a human and cried like a little kid. The little boy from Twelve came bursting through the trees making lots of noise and wandering around like an idiot. He stumbled and fell, frantically whipping his head back looking for a place to hide. At first Alora thought he was just paranoid after the bloodbath, but then she heard the heavy footsteps and loud voices of the Career pack.
Soon the four Careers came forging out into the clearing. Safe behind her leafy bush, Alora watched in horror as, laughing, the District Two boy sauntered over to where the little boy was cowering on the ground. Marcus laughed as he towered over the whimpering boy, and he turned back to face his allies.
"Happy Hunger Games!" he laughed. Dazzle, Beryl, and Tatiana laughed and jeered. Then with a big, showy smile and a flourish as he wielded his sword, he cleanly finishes the boy off.
Alora's stomach clenched and she covered her mouth with her hand in shock. She put her head down on her knees and fought back the sickness she felt at how easily he had just killed that little boy.
And how he had laughed.
She didn't notice they had left until she heard the whirring of the helicopter as it carried away the dead boy's body. She looked around and they were gone. Now that she was listening, she could hear the Career's laughter disappearing into the distance.
She scolded herself for the weakness she had just shown after seeing the boy killed. Snap out of it, she thought. After all, how did she have any hope of going home if she didn't get used to the occasional brutal murder?
That night, as the anthem played, two pictures flashed in the sky.
Triston Walterson, District Four
Licorich Sweeney, District Twelve