Hey guys, longest chapter yet! Hope you enjoy and soon the action will be starting! Only one more chapter (I think) before we're in the arena!
Thanks for all the reviews so far!
I wake up, groggily reaching around for Prim. My hand meets nothing and I sleepily raise my head to see if she's climbed in with mother.
It takes a few seconds for my mental picture of home to disappear and turn into the sleek room of the Capitol. Slowly I crawl out of bed, feeling my annoyance, anger and longing deep inside me. For a second, in my sleepy haze, I thought I really was home. Stupid, you've got to stop pretending. I walk across into the huge bathroom, turn on the shower and clamber in. Moodily I jam buttons and only annoy myself further when I can't get it right. The water shoots out either scalding or freezing. I swear as I somehow manage to cover myself in lavender foam. Giving up, I try to wash off all the foam and get out as quickly as possible.
I shiver from the last blast of icy water and step back into my room. An outfit has been laid out on the bed whilst I was in the shower. The bed is also freshly made. I know it was an Avox, maybe even the girl. Shaking my head to clear it, I put on the plain black pants, simple long sleeve shirt, and a pair of black boots. Dressed, I take a few steps and nod, they are light and comfortable. They are for training after all.
The sound of voices filters in through the door. They sound far away enough to be coming from the dining room. My stomach growls with the thought of food and I quickly step out.
The sight of Gale's door stops me. The memory of yesterday hits me hard. Our angle.
Then I hear his voice clearly. It's him in the dining room, and he must be with Haymitch.
I walk slowly into the dining room and find Haymitch and Gale sitting opposite each other, talking. It's strange to see them so civil when just two nights ago they were at each other's throats. They lift their heads at the sound of my approach but don't say anything. I've half laden my plate with stew before Haymitch finally speaks.
"So, you can shoot?"
"Why didn't you wake me before?" I panic, suddenly annoyed and nervous that I've been left out of this.
"You need your sleep."
"And what about you?" I ask turning in on Gale.
"You'd better count yourself lucky," Haymitch cuts in harshly "In a few days you won't be able to risk much sleep."
"Besides, I couldn't. Been up since four," Gale explains tiredly, and I can see now under his healing bruise, the dark purple bags that haven't left his face since the reaping.
I shrug irritably, sitting down, still half annoyed but also half grateful. I had a completely dreamless sleep.
"So?" Haymitch prompts.
I consider the question whilst tearing some bread apart with my fingers. Am I good? I'm not as good as my father, but he had more time. And I'm better than Gale but I've had more practice. I place the bread into my mouth and slowly chew before finally answering "I'm alright."
"What are you talking about?" Gale says loudly, looking up at me "you're better than alright. You're great, Katniss," he turns to Haymitch "perfect aim. She's had a bow in her hands since she was eight."
It's hard to hide my surprise. Gale hardly ever compliments anyone, especially me. I crack a very slight smile and feel my mood lift slightly.
"I'm good then, I guess. We both are," I say.
Haymitch nods "Anything else? Can you throw a spear, wield a mace?"
"I'm okay with a knife, and pretty basic with traps and snares. It's Gale who's good at that," I fill in.
"But that's literally were the list ends," sums up Gale.
"I wouldn't discount hand-to-hand combat for you yet" Haymitch says thoughtfully to Gale "And anyway, what you've got is a good start. Plenty of tributes know absolutely nothing."
"And the other half have trained their whole lives for this," I grumble remembering that small detail.
"True," Haymitch says "But there's nothing you can do about that. So here's the plan for today," he begins "Stick together. I want you at each other's sides by the minute. Next, learn something new. Who knows maybe you're great with a pike. But make sure to keep away from the archery station, or anything else you know you're good at. Keep your skills a secret from the other tributes."
We both nod.
"I can't guarantee a bow in the arena, so you'll both just have to impress the gamemakers at the private assessment."
I nod grimly. I hadn't even thought about the fact that there might not be a bow.
"Good. That's all I can say. Effie will meet you at the elevator in fifteen minutes," he nods slowly before adding "Whatever you do, just remember your angle. It starts now.
He rises then and leaves us.
Gale slowly loads up another plate of food and joins me in eating quietly. I know him well enough to tell he's just as worried as me.
At five to ten we arrive in the small (by Capitol standards) lobby leading to the training room. It turned out our meeting with Effie was a brisk lesson on politeness and good manners. Apparently we have to act civil towards to the people trying to kill us. And apparently we're also late. Everyone else is already there.
"Twelve," a strongly built women nods "you're here. We can begin," she swings round to easily push open a huge set of steel doors. "Everyone in."
"I thought Haymitch said ten," Gale remarks to me, as we pile in.
"He did," I say grimly, already preoccupied with watching the Careers eyeing the huge supply of sharp knives and swords.
The woman introduces herself as Atala, the head trainer, and explains how training will work. Two days of full training and then a half day after which we will be privately assessed. She nods casually over to a raised podium where a long table stretches out and a group of gamemakers sit.
"Final rule," Atala continues "No fighting against other tributes. If you want to practice hand-to-hand, ask one of the instructors."
She releases us and the Careers immediately jump to the most dangerous weapons. I'm slightly overwhelmed, now that we're meant to stay away from everything we know, I have no idea where to start. Anything we learn here could potentially save our lives.
"Where to?" Gale asks twisting round to see everything.
I shrug unsurely glancing around, my eyes falling to the knotting station which is clear of other tributes "how about we start with knots?"
The instructor smiles at us and guides as through some simple knotting, useful for securing things, making basic traps and weaving nets. Gale and I breeze through it, and the instructor sets us a more difficult knot that goes around your waist and allows you to safely scale down something. Gale's long fingers knot and tie with his unbelievable natural grace. He's finished before I've even started and the instructor applauds him enthusiastically. I work quickly trying to catch up, but my fingers end up getting caught in the center of the huge knot. Giving up on tying the knot successfully I try to yank my fingers out, the circulation already cutting off.
"Got yourself tangled, Catnip?" Gale laughs easily, and I realize I've missed that sound. The sound of genuine laughter.
"You're just a showoff," I mutter angrily, tugging desperately at the rope with my other hand.
"Here," he says hiding a smirk. He effortlessly begins to undo the knot, his fingers brushing against my skin. The rope falls free from me in a matter of seconds and he catches it. I gratefully flex my fingers.
"You went over instead of under," he says "you've got to start right or the whole thing will stuff up. Like this," He pulls the rope back around me and deftly works it to end up matching his.
"See?" he asks.
"Yeah, I see," I roll my eyes and grin, of course Gale is being a know-it-all.
"Aw, c'mon Catnip, I promise to let you be better at the next station," he smiles cockily.
"Let me, huh?" I arch an eyebrow "Okay, how about," I quickly sift my gaze through the different stations "camouflage?" I say with a malicious grin. If there is anything Gale's awful at it is art, and absolutely anything to do with it.
"Fine," he says calmly.
The tiny girl from 11 is the only tribute at the camouflage station, and she quickly moves to the side when we arrive. I give her a slight smile as she darts a look at us, before I realize what I'm doing. I'm a tribute and she's tribute, there's no point getting friendly. But as we work side by side I can't help feeling for her. She's Prim's age and just as small, only difference she didn't have anyone to save her.
The instructor sets us the task of camouflaging a tiny shelter each. After ten minutes, the entrance to mine is practically hidden behind a few branches and vines, looking close to undistinguishable from the mini woodland around it. Gale's on the other hand screams suspicious, his leaves are piled on too thickly and not the right colour. I smirk as the instructor, a stout middle-aged man, stresses the importance of choosing the right shade of foliage.
"Ah, very well done," he nods at my shelter, approvingly.
"Shut up," Gale says flatly before I've even said anything "Weapons?"
I nod victorious, surveying the area. The stations closest to us are spear throwing, axes, and maces.
Since I have no experience in any of them, I choose the first.
Gale goes first, picking a sleek silver spear from the rack provided, and aiming for a large round target about fifteen meters away. Copying the instructor he throws it. It flies too high and his aim is slightly off, the spear embeds itself a foot above and two to the left of the target. Still, very decent for a first go.
"Not bad," I nod.
"Hardly," Gale scoffs back. I fight the urge to roll my eyes and choose a shorter and steadier spear.
I watch the instructor one more time before throwing. I aim straight ahead for the same target.
The spear sails forwards and then clatters to the ground. Loudly. I wince and let the instructor come closer to demonstrate again.
We practice for another half hour, before moving onto other weapons, pikes, maces, and throwing axes, before lunch is called.
We pile into an adjoining room with a steaming assortment of food, laid in a buffet style, with Avoxes serving. Tables are piled in the centre. The careers choose the largest table, and the six of them laugh and joke loudly, looking deceitfully at ease. Gale and I are the only other tributes talking.
The tension is very thick. Everybody is watching everybody. I can't help to notice that Gale and I cop more looks than many of the other tributes, and I wonder if our angle is working. We're sitting just like we would of at school, opposite each other, heads bent when we talk.
I felt almost normal in training. Gale was by my side and I forgot what was really happening. Watching the other tributes, I realize I don't know a single thing about them; who's good with knives and who's bad with ropes. I should have been paying more attention, learning who to keep away from.
After lunch Gale and I return with a new determination. We cover twice as many stations than before; edible plants, slingshots, fire making, how to treat poisonous bites, blow guns, and knives, all whilst judging other tributes.
The boy from 1 headed straight to the spears after lunch and hit every human target from twice the distance we were practicing at. The girl from 2 was absolutely deadly with throwing knives. The boy from 2, Cato, I heard someone call, used a massive sword as if it was an extension of his own arm. Both tributes from 4 struggled with poisonous plants, but excelled with making complicated trapping nets. The boy from 9 was skilled with a machete. The tiny girl from 11 turned out to be an excellent climber.
Everybody seemed to have strengths. It was just a matter of whether they were greater than ours.
With Atala calling fifteen minutes to go, Gale and I decide on our last station; tridents. Coincidently they are located right next to the archery station, where we can at least get a glimpse of the range of bows. Tired from the day, we set to work, wielding and throwing the tridents. Half my attention is focused on watching the District 1 girl use a bow next to us. She's practicing with her district partner, and I immediately feel relieved as she shoots. She holds the bow too low, and her hands are in the wrong place. Her arrow skims past the human dummy she was aiming for.
Suddenly her blonde head turns straight towards me, her eyes meeting mine. I now it's too late to turn away. I was staring and she knows it. Doing the only thing I can, I lift my chin slightly and hold her gaze.
"How cute," she finally breaks away; snorting to her partner "Twelve's matching! Do you think they're too poor to afford two designs? " she pouts her lips in mock pity.
I refuse to let my eyes drop down, because honestly I hadn't noticed. Haymitch and Cinna obviously know what they're doing.
Suddenly there's a low whistling sound and a heavy thud beside me. It's Gale. He's thrown his trident and stabbed one of the furthest dummies in the chest!
"C'mon, Katniss. We're done here," he reaches for my hand, and pulls me closer to him. He turns me around and we walk away. I feel their stares.
I swallow thickly and whisper to him "Next Finnick Odair, are we?"
"I just saved your back," he retorts. So close to him, holding his hand, I can feel his pulse. It's racing. A lucky shot.
"Ours. They were teasing you too."
"Not anymore, I guess," he gestures his head backwards to where District 1 are furiously whispering to each other. Their smirks are wiped clean of their faces.
I can't tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing.
The next day of training passes almost identically. We eat breakfast with Haymitch, train hard the rest of the day, try to pick up as much skill as possible, and return exhausted. We're grilled about training by Haymitch; what did you learn? What are you getting good at? What are the other tributes skills? Weaknesses? And then we go to bed.
By the third day I'm keeping a tally of everyone's abilities, not just careers. The girl from 5, who'd I completely ignored the first day, is cunning and quick, the district 6 boy is good with a blow gun, both from 7 wield axes easily, the boy from 11, named Thresh, is huge and seems to be comfortable with most weapons he tries his hand at, and the girl, Rue, I can't help watching. She's climbs high above the equipment practically unnoticed by the others with such ease and grace, I can tell she's been doing it her whole life. Even with her tiny size and demeanor she shouldn't be counted out, she could spend the whole games hiding without anyone noticing.
The time for the private evaluations looms closer every second, and soon the District 1 boy is called in. After roughly twenty minutes, the girl follows. Slowly the number of tributes begins to dwindle. After their session, no one returns. It's been fifteen minutes since the door closed behind tiny little Rue. Gale's next, then me. My nails begin turning to shreds between my teeth.
"You shouldn't be nervous," Gale says clearly tense "You know you're good. Just show them that."
"I haven't practiced in days, let alone with a different bow!"
"Katniss," he says "you'll be fine."
I listen to his voice; closing my eyes, and will his words to be true. We need these high scores.
"What about you?" I ask reopening my eyes "got a plan?"
This morning Haymitch decided it'd be best if we truly played to our strengths. Though both of us are good archers, Gale's an expert in snares. So Haymitch set him the task of combining archery and trap setting.
"I've got an idea," he replies slowly "a huge trap. Lots of components, and it'll be set off with an arrow, but if one thing goes wrong," he shrugs and grimaces.
"When have you ever stuffed a trap?"
"I've never tried anything on this scale, though."
I nod just as the huge doors open ahead. It's time.
"I'd say good luck, but you don't need it," I hearten watching him get up. I grab his hand impulsively and give it a quick squeeze.
"Thanks," he breathes, hand still in mine, before letting go, and walking away "and, Katniss?" he turns around.
I smile tightly "you too."
He nods and walks through the doorway, the doors slowly shutting behind him.
I let out a tense breathe and count the seconds, then minutes, all the while trying to focus.
Fifteen minutes pass. Then twenty. Twenty-five. Longer than anyone else. Finally at just over thirty minutes the doors open ahead.
I stand my legs stiff and my head dizzy.
It's my turn.