Ever since I've learned the truth, I can feel my mind attempting to piece the broken memories back together. Each time, it feels as though someone's trying to split my head open. To be honest, I prefer the headaches. It's the nightmares that I can't stand.
At first they were short. My dreams would always end before anything horrific could happen. But the ones I've had the past few nights have been unbearable.
Each night it's the same. I start out in the Capitol, with most of squad 451. We're running. I'm not entirely sure why. One minute we're all running through the Capitol together, then it becomes hazy, and the Capitol fades away.
I know that my memories have been flowing into my dreams. This one, however, seems to be different. In this dream, there are two distinct memories. In the first we are running, and in the second we are all trapped in a darkened room.
Fragments of each memory race through my mind. But eventually, my dream chooses to stick with the memory of the darkened room. I look around to see most of my squad. On one side of the room, I spot Castor, Pollux and Cressida. On the other, I distinguish Jackson, Finnick, Homes and Leeg1. They are all restrained.
I'm the only one not standing. Instead, I'm lying on a hospital cot, facing a wall of glass in the center. It's the unbreakable glass. The same glass that is used for the Capitol's prison cells.
At first, I'm confused. I try to get up, but I can't. I'm chained to the cot. I'm about to yell when a man in white notices and approaches me with a syringe. I'm scared of the man. I want to break free, but it's too late.
As he injects my arm, I'm sent into a rush of brilliant colors and light. The colors fade, and suddenly everyone is running through the Capitol again. No one seems to acknowledge what happened in the dark room, or even being there.
That's when I notice one person running who wasn't in the room. Messalla is with us. Where did he come from? Why wasn't he with us before?
I'm still unsure why we're running around the Capitol, but everything seems shiny. It's not a shine that radiates from the sun or any sort of light source. It's seems almost unnatural. Each person gleams, as if light's emitting from within their own bodies. But the shine is too bright. I have to shield my eyes.
The shine dissipates as the dream shifts back to the darkened room. Once again I look around to find everyone except Messalla. Everyone remains standing where they were before, still restrained. Then I see him. He's on the other side of the glass. Messalla is strapped to a chair, unable to move.
I'm shaking. I don't understand how we ended up in the room, or why Messalla has been separated from the rest of us. As I try to make sense of it, I find myself racing through the Capitol once more, and for the first time I remember why. I know what comes next. I want to turn to Messalla to stop him, but it's too late. He's activated the pod.
My head feels as though it could burst at any moment, but I now understand the shift between the two dreams. They are memories. Not just any memories. They are two different versions of the exact same memory, and now I know which one is real.
Again we return to the darkened room, where we watch in horror, as Messalla's flesh melts before our very eyes. Cressida cries out, but there is nothing we can do. All that is left are Cressida's screams, which turn into my own as I regain consciousness.
I awake in a cold sweat. My voice has gone hoarse from screaming. As usual, my automatic response is to turn to Peeta. My eyes always search for him before I reach the realization that he won't be there. No one will. I forgot how difficult it was to deal with these nightmares on my own. Peeta was always there to help me get through it. Now, just as my nightmares grow darker, I'm left completely alone.
I glance across to Gale's cell and see him sitting upright staring at the wall. I've been trapped in this glass prison for over two weeks now, and I still have yet to see Gale sleep. He has to at some point, I'm sure. However, each time I gaze across the illuminated hallway, I see his body propped up against one wall, and his eyes staring blankly at the other.
The good thing to come from Gale's sleeplessness is that he can always see me, when I try to get his attention. I wave my arms, and shortly after, his gaze shifts from the empty space to me. Gale arches an eyebrow and mouths the word "nightmare."
I nod. Over the past couple of weeks, Gale and I have become experts at reading each other's lips. It helps to have some way of communicating to one another. At first, I was awful at it. Gale would have to repeat things over five times before I could decipher what he said.
Gale, on the other hand, was a natural. I could go on and on, and he never had to ask me to stop or repeat anything. This was proven the first time he asked me how I ended up in here. At first I told him about how I awoke in a hospital bed. Then I told him about Bonnie, and how we saved Effie and Pollux. It seemed once I started, I just couldn't stop. I would finish explaining one detail and then Gale would ask for another.
He had all sorts of questions, most of which seemed to be about how we managed to reach floor 45. I'd tell him about Bonnie and her tools, and Pollux with his diagrams. His eyes would grow incredibly wide as they focused on my every word. I was happy to answer any of his questions. After all, this was the only news he had received since being stuck in these cells.
Then Gale started asking me about what I remembered before waking up.
I haven't told Gale yet. I'm not sure if I know how to. I don't know what would hurt him more, telling him about my life with Peeta, or telling him that I thought my sister was dead, and that I, in part, held him responsible. I know he wouldn't blame me for it. He knows the Capitol hijacked me. Just like the others, he was probably even in the room with me at some point. But still, I don't think I can tell him about it just yet.
I see Gale's mouth begin to move again. "Are you alright?"
I know he was referring to my nightmare, but this was a stupid question. I could tell he thought so too. Of course neither of us is all right. We are trapped in the Capitol, stuck behind walls of unbreakable glass, awaiting certain death. I just wish they would get it over with already.
I've told Gale about Pollux's theory. How we believe there will be another Hunger Games. I've also told him what I heard Peeta say about Capitol tributes. Gale's as confused as I am. President Snow has us. We are his prisoners. Why not just execute us? Why even bother having another Hunger Games?
My mind won't stop racing. I can't focus. I'm frustrated because I can't figure out what Snow is planning. I'm exhausted because I'm constantly gaining new memories and trying to piece the real and fake ones together. And I'm scared because every time I close my eyes one of the dead comes to me, to show me how they've really died.
I wonder if this is what Peeta's head had felt like. It probably did. At least, before the Capitol managed to erase all of him. Now he's the perfect soldier. No doubts. No headaches. No memories. Bonnie is right. He probably does make the perfect assassin.
My thoughts have drifted off too long. Gale has already gone back to staring at his wall. Part of me wishes the walls were glass too. At least then we would know if Jackson and Boggs were in the cells next to us or not. It would be nice to know for certain that at least the two of them won't be haunting my nightmares.
I wish I could be like Gale. I wish I could go longer without sleeping. But I get tired just looking at him. There are the dark circles under his eyes; the look of hate in his stare. He must be picturing every one of his enemies in the center of that wall. It's difficult to recognize him at times. There are moments when I'll look over and see a stranger, who only cares for revenge. Only when I grab his attention from the wall does the look fade and the Gale I know return. Sometimes I wave my arms just so I can see if the Gale I know is still there.
I try to tell him as many stories as I can. I keep his attention on me for as long as I can, while trying to make him smile every now and then. Once I run out of stories though, he always goes back to that stupid wall. I can only distract him long enough to make him forget, for a minute or two, but I can't stop the hate from building up inside of him.
I know I haven't been awake for long, but I've grown tired already. The despair in this place is exhausting. The only way to cheer myself up is to think of Bonnie. I remind myself of how this young girl has flown under the Capitol's radar for two years and made fools out of all of them. I often imagine her packing up her precious treasures and walking right out the front door. She's clever enough to do it. A smile inches its way across my face, as I realize that she is the second girl to be underestimated by Snow.
My eyelids are heavy. I know I'm about to fall into another nightmare, until I notice Gale's arms waving around in his cell. I jump up. Gale points toward the District 11 cells, and that's when I realize there is someone over there. Not just the usual peacekeeper who brings food around. There's a whole group of them, clustered around someone else.
I back into the corner of my cell and nearly trip over my cot. They're coming to my cell next. I see one peacekeeper place his hand on the scanner, and immediately the doors open. The four peacekeepers break apart when out emerges Caesar Flickerman.
Two peacekeepers remain in the hall, while the other two enter behind Caesar. One sets down a white stool in front of me.
"Thank you, Murellus," Caesar says courteously. He takes a seat in the empty stool, and flashes his bright white teeth at me. Apart from his winning smile though, he actually doesn't look too good.
I know every year he chooses a new color for himself. He's dyed his hair every color imaginable. However, this year he hasn't chosen anything dazzling or vibrant. Both his hair and his suit are solid black, which bring out the dark circles around his eyes. Obviously the war has not been too kind to Caesar. He looks as though he's just returned from a funeral. Maybe that's the point. Maybe right now he's come for my funeral.
"Katniss, it's been a long time. How are you my dear?" A stupid question, but I answer anyway.
"Fine," I lie.
"Well I'm glad to hear it, under these circumstances. Do you know why I'm here?" Caesar asks.
I shake my head.
"I'm here to explain the rules for the final Hunger Games." Caesar waits for the shock to register on my face, before he continues. "You see this year, there will be no interviews. There will be no training or sponsors either. For this very reason, I've been paying visits to all of the tributes to explain what's going to happen tomorrow."
"Yes, tomorrow you will all be taken to the arena for the final Hunger Games. You may note there will actually be three major changes this year. First, instead of twenty-four tributes there will be fifty-two." There's no way I heard him right. Fifty-two tributes? I'm sure Caesar has noticed my confusion, but he continues anyway. "The second major change is that half of the tributes will be representing the Capitol. There will be two from each of the thirteen Districts, plus twenty-six Capitol tributes to level the playing field."
"What do you mean level the playing field?" I demand.
"Ah, that's where the third change comes into play. This year there can be up to twenty-six winners. You see, this year you will be split into teams. Twenty-six Capitol tributes against twenty-six District tributes. It's meant to be symbolic for the end of the war."
This sets off about a million questions in my brain, but the only one I can manage to ask right now is, "Why?"
"The rest will be announced on the day of, live, just before the Games begin," Caesar exclaims.
"No, I mean why are you doing this to us? Why make us play any more of these stupid Games?" I snap.
Caesar's luminous smile fades away. He then turns to his guards and politely asks for them to leave us. Shortly after the two peacekeepers join the others in the hall, Caesar turns to me again. The color drains from his face as a serious tone fills his voice.
"Katniss, when the Games begin everyone has to play at some point or another." I can tell Caesar is trying is best to maintain his smile for appearance's sake. The guards seem to be keeping a watchful eye on us. Carefully Caesar continues. "Of course, there are the tributes, but there will always be other players. They may not be seen on camera, but they are there nonetheless. And just like you, we must all play our roles, if we want to survive."
I'm not sure what he's trying to say, so I continue to ask questions. "What do you mean by everyone? Who are the other players?"
"You've met most of them. The mentors, the stylists, the Gamemakers, the prep teams. They all do what is necessary for survival. I myself have been a part of thirty-one games, and I've played my role in every one." It looks as though Caesar is still trying to smile, but for the first time, he can't manage it. "Each year, I present the tributes. I do my best to make their last moments memorable. I do my best to make the sponsors believe that each one is worth saving. When all is said and done, each year I befriend twenty-four children, and each year I watch twenty-three of them die. I say nothing, I smile, and then I do it all over again the next year."
I'm not sure what to say. I've never seen him like this. I've never seen what Caesar's like when he's not performing for the cameras. "Why don't you just quit? Let someone else be the host of the Games," I suggest.
"You and I both know what happens when someone decides to not play their role," Caesar says delicately. "Whether it's a single child from an outlying district, or the most respected stylist in the Capitol, if you refuse to play your role, then you must pay a price."
I'm silent when Caesar says this. I know he's referring to Cinna and me. I know the price we've both paid. First for me because of the berries, then for Cinna because of my wedding dress. Snow has made sure that we've both paid in full.
For a while, Caesar and I just sit there. Then I look up at him and say, "Well, if I haven't been playing my role well enough, then I don't see the point in starting now."
I thought this statement would catch Caesar off guard. Instead he just smirks at me and says, "I don't either."
Caesar stands, turns away and leaves with his peacekeepers. The glass seals itself behind them, leaving me in complete silence once again.
Now I know why Caesar is so good at his job. He doesn't need to fake his sympathy. He doesn't need to pretend he cares for the children who cross his stage. All he's ever had to do was fake his smile.
I watch as Gale's cell opens. Caesar sits to speak with him. Gale says nothing. He doesn't even look at him. Caesar continues to talk and Gale continues to ignore. I try to read Caesar's lips, but he speaks too quickly for me to keep up. Whatever he says next catches Gale's attention because he finally glances at him. They both just sit there, looking at one another. No one is speaking. Then Gale's fist strikes Caesar right across his chin, knocking him to the floor.
One peacekeeper seizes Gale and throws him to the ground, while the other lifts Caesar to his feet and escorts him back into the hall.
As the group moves on to the District 13 cells, Gale gets up off the ground and smiles over at me. When I don't smile back, I see him ask, "What's wrong?"
I try telling him that he didn't need to do that to Caesar, but he just laughs. When he realizes that I'm being serious, he shoots me a look.
I know Gale probably thinks I'm being ridiculous, but I really do feel bad for Caesar. He didn't have to hit him. But Gale doesn't see that Caesar is just as much a prisoner as the rest of us.
I suppose that's the difference between me and Gale. He doesn't want to see. For him this war is the Capitol against the Districts. There is no grey area. The Capitol is evil, so everyone in it must be destroyed. He doesn't think about all the people caught in between.
I've spent enough time in this city to understand that they aren't all bad. I've met the Effies and the Cinnas of the world. They may live here in the Capitol, but most are just as trapped as, those in the Districts. They're the ones who people seem to forget about. And right now, they sit and wait, while a war being fought. But who is fighting for them?
As I lie down and close my eyes, the first thing I see in my dreams is Peeta's face. He's concentrating, off to the side, tying knots. I recognize the short length of rope in his hands. It's the same rope that Finnick gave to me. I know this must be another memory. That's all my dreams seem to be made of anymore. But I just don't know what could be so important about this one. No one died on this night.
This is already the third time that I've had this dream, and it's always the same. There's nothing shiny about it. It's always just as I remember. I turn to see Jackson sitting beside me. We are surrounded by tents. In the background, I can hear Finnick call out from one. It's unclear what he says. Perhaps it's because I don't remember his exact words, but I know he is speaking to Peeta. I may not remember all the details, but I remember this night.
Jackson speaks to Peeta next. There's a reassuring tone in her voice.
A long silence follows before Peeta turns to me. The voices are no longer muffled. I can hear Peeta's words as if he were right beside me. "Your favorite color…It's green?"
I remember this moment. Peeta was trying so hard to figure out what was real. It was one of the first times that I tried to prove to Peeta that I wasn't his enemy. I wanted him to remember how close we were before. I spit out as many facts about him as I could, including things that only someone who cared for him could possibly know.
I tell him his favorite color is orange. A soft orange, the color of a sunset. I tell him he's a baker, and a painter. I know I should stop, but I keep going and tell him how he likes to sleep with the windows open, he never takes sugar in his tea, and he always double-knots his shoelaces.
I can't help but wonder why I remember this particular conversation so well. Remembering each other's favorite colors wasn't exactly a milestone for me and Peeta. Either way, the dream always ends after I finish talking to him. I know this for certain because I had to retreat to my tent that night. I couldn't bear to look at him for another second without wanting to cry.
I enter the tent to lie down, to get some shut eye, but the dream keeps going. Why is it still going? I don't remember any of this. I usually wake up at this point. What more is there to remember, besides going to sleep and waking up the next morning?
That's when I hear it. The sound of a hovercraft over head. Jackson yells. I can hear a fight break out, but it's too late. Nearly all of us were fast asleep. The only reason any of us were awake was so we could keep an eye on Peeta.
My tent bursts open. I'm the next to be dragged away. I look and see Peeta, restrained by a group of peacekeepers. He doesn't know what's happening either. I don't know how they could have even found us. I hear Peeta call out my name, but then I wake.
My body jolts upward. I'm no longer in my cell. I'm somewhere else. It might already be time to be taken to the arena. I can't focus on my surroundings though. Right now, all I can concentrate on is the dream.
What I dreamt…is that what really happened? Is that how we all ended up in the Capitol? For a moment I try to process this information. Then I remember something Bonnie had said.
"What if I told you that you were captured the moment you stepped out on the battlefield, and have been here ever since?"
Bonnie has been right about everything so far. She had been leaving me clues the whole time. Now I just need to remember what else she had said about it.
"They came for you in the middle of the night. Most of you were sleeping so it must have happened pretty fast."
Of course my dream has confirmed that part as well. Bonnie has told me everything. I just wish I knew how they found us in the first place.
Then, I remembered one of the first things Bonnie had ever said to me. I didn't understand it before because all I wanted at that point was to find Peeta and our imaginary children. Now it makes perfect sense.
"There weren't any children brought in that I know of. Peeta is definitely here though. I'm pretty sure that is how they found you to begin with. They probably tracked him right to you."
That's it. They must have followed Peeta's tracker. It was just that simple.
But why was his tracker still active? I'm sure Johanna and Annie had them as well. Their's were removed though. That's one of the first things District 13 does after a rescue. They make sure there's no trace of anything like that. Peeta spent months in District 13. Why was his never removed? Did they know? Is that why Peeta was sent to replace Leeg 2?
I'm probably just being paranoid. The Capitol has trained my brain to think this way. I'm supposed to blame Coin. I'm supposed to want her dead.
But I remember when Peeta first showed up, Boggs tried to warn me. He told me that Coin saw me as a threat. That actually happened. Boggs explained it to me the day before we were taken.
My head aches more than it ever has. I wouldn't be surprised if my skull finally split open at this point. I need to stop thinking about it. I just need to relax.
At once, I take a few deep breaths and hold my head in my hands. Just as the pain subsides, I hear a voice.
"Is everything alright Miss Everdeen?" I look to see Dr. Aurelius standing in the doorway.
My head hurts even more now. I don't bother trying to make sense of why he is here. The pain is too strong to think of anything else.
"It's alright, Miss Everdeen. I have something that can take care of the pain." I don't look up, but I notice a sharp sting in my arm. Within seconds, all of the pain subsides, and I can look at Dr. Aurelius again.
"There, now that's better. Isn't it?"
The headaches may be gone, but it doesn't change how confused I am by him being here. For a while I just stare at him. He doesn't look all that bad. He even looks to be in better condition than Caesar Flickerman. You would think that a person from District 13 would be given the worst possible treatment imaginable. Yet here he stands.
"How did you get here?" I ask.
He smiles. "Well, I go where my work takes me. For a while, my work required me to remain in District 13, but now that you're here, I get to work a little closer to home."
He continues to smile eerily. Distrust builds up inside of me. I always thought District 13 was his home. Now I realize that I never really knew anything about him.
"What exactly is your work?" I grumble.
"Now, that's the million dollar question. Isn't it?" Aurelius sneers. "Of course, I'm a doctor, as you well know. But specifically, I specialize in the study of the effects of tracker jacker venom."
I should be more startled, but I'm not. Dr. Aurelius has been present in so many of my dreams. The only possible explanation would be if I saw him here in the Capitol. This alone provided me the answers to most of my questions. Now all I have to worry about is the rage building up inside of me.
This is the man who altered my mind. This is the man who made me believe my sister was dead. This is the man I'm going to kill.
As I approach Aurelius, he laughs. "Miss Everdeen, I didn't come here alone." The two peacekeepers, who came to me, when I first woke in the Capitol, appear from behind Aurelius. "These men are here to escort you to your platform."
I turn to see the glass cylinder on the other side of the room. I'm already under the arena. I slept through the entire journey here. Now I have no idea where I may be.
With immense hesitation, I begin to walk toward the tube. I know if I look back all I'll want to do is charge after Dr. Aurelius, which would be pointless with the peacekeepers by his side.
Instead, I step forward, imagining Cinna by my side. Even the very thought of his presence is enough to comfort me. I picture his voice. I imagine him telling me that he's still betting on me, like he did the last time. Then I step into the cylinder and smile.
As it seals shut, I don't even notice Aurelius anymore. All I can picture on the other side of the glass is Cinna.
The platform rises, and everything disappears. There's nothing but a gleam of light shining above me. As the gleam grows brighter, I can already hear the chirping of birds. But, when I reach the surface, the first thing I notice apart from the blinding light is the smell.
A sweet fragrance overwhelms me, as my eyes readjust to the breathtaking scenery. Bright little songbirds float through the air, carrying their awe-inspiring melodies along with them. Beautiful puffy flower patches sway in the cool breeze, which transports their remarkable aroma throughout the arena. In the center of it all is a gorgeous green meadow, which shimmers like diamonds under the sun.
Then it hits me. I've seen all of this before. Panic sets in. Immediately, I look around at the other tributes. I'm the only one who has seemed to snap out of the arena's trance. I know the dangers of this place. I know the beauty is just an illusion, designed to distract us all from its true nature. This is Haymitch's arena.
End of Chapter 3
M. Cooper Jinks