Warm blood drips onto my forehead, filtering down the rest of my face. Pollux is dying. And based on the commotion, his attacker is somewhere nearby. I want to see what's happened, but I can't. I'm pinned underneath Pollux and I'm afraid to move him. I can hear Boggs shouting and Effie screaming in the background, but all can do is wait helplessly. I stare at Pollux's painful expression and watch as the life drains from his eyes.
Thumping footsteps fade off into the distance. The screams have vanished. Finnick appears as he lifts Pollux's body and lays him gently on the ground beside me. A terrified Effie inches forward. She's shaking, but she seems unharmed.
As I look back to Pollux, I see the pool of blood seeping from his chest. "What's happened?"
"It's going to be alright," Finnick tries to reassure Pollux, but from the look on his face I know he's lying.
"Finnick, what's happened?" I repeat.
Finnick helps prop up Pollux's head before answering me. "It was that peacekeeper. I knew we shouldn't have let him stay here." Finnick hesitates. "He tried to kill you after you passed out. Pollux caught him in the act and tried to stop him." Finnick tries his best to keep his voice calm, but I can still hear the traces of panic in it.
Alert and prepared, I look around to make sure we're alone. Then I realize that it's just the four of us. "Where's Boggs?"
Without looking away from Pollux's wounds, Finnick responds. "Cooper ran for it when he saw me and Boggs wake up. Boggs took off after him."
While a sobbing Effie squeals at the sounds of Pollux choking on his own blood, Finnick places his hands on Pollux's chest in effort to stop the bleeding. But it's no use. A strange mix of distorted sounds comes from Pollux, as his gurgling continues. The sounds aren't from choking though. Pollux is trying to speak.
I can't decipher any of the noises that Pollux makes. I lean in closer in hopes of hearing what he's so desperately trying say. Pollux stops trying. Instead he points to his pocket. Immediately, I reach into his coat and pull out the small metallic token that he's kept hidden. It's a mockingjay pin.
At first, I'm stunned. I look back to Pollux, but he just smiles. The last flicker of life fades from his eyes, and Pollux just smiles at me. I don't know how Pollux was able to hide this pin from the Capitol, but it's clear now that he never gave up hope.
For years Pollux cleverly kept his hope hidden away from everyone. He stored his hope safely inside his pocket. He never gave up. Not on the rebellion. And not on me.
A single cannon sounds for Pollux and I feel the entire forest go silent. He's gone. He's gone and it's my fault. I was supposed to be keeping watch. I should have said something the moment my headaches returned, but I didn't. And now Pollux is the one who's paid the price for my silence.
"Katniss, we need to get out of here," Finnick demands.
I say nothing. I stare down at Pollux's motionless body and then again at the pin.
"We can't just leave him like this," Effie cries out, clutching onto Pollux's body.
"We have to," Finnick insists. "If we stay, it will only be a matter of time before Cooper tries to alert the other peacekeepers where we are."
Other peacekeepers? It takes a moment for me to register what Finnick is saying. Then I remember that one of those peacekeepers he is referring to is Peeta.
I look up from Pollux. But before Finnick can say another word, a thundering explosion echoes over head. It's not the sound of a cannon though. Maybe a hundred cannons, if you fired them off all at once. I look up to see the sky ablaze with red flames. The force field is down. Every bit of it is burning away. Beetee must have figured out how to break through the armor from the outside, just as Finnick had said. District 13 may really be coming to save us after all.
Entranced by the flames I stare upward, watching as fragments of the actual sky reveal themselves from beyond the inferno. I grab my bow just as Finnick and Effie gather their weapons, when the ground begins to quake. Another blast goes off in the arena. Only this time it's not the rebels. It's the volcano.
Another fiery discharge lights up the sky, while releasing a burst of smoke and ash along with it. The Gamemakers probably had it planned the whole time. Wait for the rebels. Then blow the mountaintop. Clearly the Capitol is not going to let us be rescued without a fight.
We race through the woods, alongside the mountain. As we near the edge of the forest, an intense wave of heat runs across my body. The heat is overwhelming, and I'm not sure whether it's from the sudden volcanic eruption or the force field detonation, which has left behind clouds of fire hanging in the sky.
Several cannons go off. I turn my head to get a glimpse of what happened, and all I can see is molten rock raining down over everything behind us.
The heat fades, as we break through the edge of the woods and reach the meadow. But we're the only ones here. There's nothing. No tributes. No Rebels. No Hovercrafts. Why aren't they here? We're in the center on the arena. What are they waiting for?
"Are they still coming?" Effie asks anxiously.
Finnick doesn't reply. Determined to find some sort of sign, his eyes scan over the sky. Finnick looks like he's about to stop, when his face lights up. "There," he points.
Across the shimmering green meadow, a Hovercraft makes its way toward us. I can tell by the markings that it's from District 13. We're saved.
Finnick's cheering, waving his trident in the air. Effie's already crying again. And for the first time since I've woken, I feel safe.
The Hovercraft descends as it flies closer, but it stops over the meadow. Something has a hold on it. There's a large black tentacle wrapping its way around the Hovercraft, pulling it down into the beauty of the meadow. As the Hovercraft crashes down, water erupts, sending splashes of what look like shimmering diamonds into the air. For a moment everything sits perfectly still on the water's surface. Then the magic of the meadow fades as the pool of water transforms from its green shimmer to a jet black sludge. Finnick and Effie go silent as we witness four more tentacles spring from below the surface, dragging the screaming rebels down into the depths.
The screaming is gone. And with it, all evidence of our potential rescuers has vanished. Is that it? Was that our only hope of being rescued? What do we do, now that our rescuers have joined the Cornucopia at the bottom of the meadow?
Immediately, I think of Haymitch. He wouldn't just let the rebels leave us here. There must be others. Where would they be? What is it that my old mentor is trying to tell me? I think back to his Games. I think of all the dangers he faced and all the places he traveled. Then I remember, and it's almost as if I can hear Haymitch's voice speaking in my head.
C'mon sweetheart, get to the cliff.
Of course! The cliff. It has to be the cliff. It's the furthest edge away from the volcano. Plus it's the spot where Haymitch won his Games. He knows I would remember it. It's the perfect place for a hovercraft to reach. Now we just need to get there.
"Follow me. I know where to go," I state confidently.
Finnick and Effie's gazes meet mine, before I lead the three of us into the forest opposite the one near the mountain. I know that even with volcanic eruption these woods will be just as dangerous. But I stay calm and focused as I lead us all into the next wave of deathtraps.
We step into the woods and the scenery alone takes my breath away. Billowy bunches of blue and yellow flowers decorate the ground, while pink and fuchsia blossoms hang from nearby branches in the air. Each and every color stands out brightly against the green foliage in the background. And then there is the aroma. The same smell that put all the tributes into a daze during the countdown. Walking along, I have to constantly remind myself not to fall under the arena's trance. On occasion, I also have to nudge Effie and Finnick to keep them alert.
Once the sweet fragrance grows fainter in the air, we come to a pair of trees wrapped tightly around one another and arched over a clear blue stream, forming a kind of natural bridge. Halfway across, I hear Effie gasp. To the right, a female tribute faces down, while floating in the water. She must have gotten thirsty and tried to drink from it. I can't say I blame her. I full well know the water is toxic, yet the sight of the stream is enough to tempt me into quenching my thirst.
At the end of the bridge we are left with two separate paths to choose from. "Which way now," Finnick asks.
On the left I see a cluster of trees swaying in the wind. Only there is no wind. It must be a trap. An illusion created by the Gamemakers. The trees move on their own. At least I suspect they do. The dead tributes skewered on various branches would suggest that I'm right.
On the right I can see a maze of hedges off in the distance. That's where we need to go. "This way," I point.
Finnick and Effie follow closely behind me when we hear a scream. I'm caught off guard. Not just because of the scream itself, but because of how high-pitched the scream is. Only a child could release a scream like that. I had thought that all the tributes were older this time around. Then I remember the little girl sitting in the cell across from Finnick's.
Evidently he does too because without hesitation, Finnick tears away from the group, sprinting towards the source of the screams. Effie and I do our best to keep up with him, but Finnick's height gives him the advantage.
Eventually we arrive just outside the maze of hedges, where we find the small girl curled up on the ground, with her back against a tree. Surrounding her are packs of fluffy carnivorous squirrels, which have already begun to swarm.
Finnick stomps a couple with his feet, while smashing a few others through the foliage, with his trident. It's almost comical watching these vicious balls of fluff fly through air. But I'm able to hit a couple before the rest scamper away.
Finnick looks over both of the dead squirrels that I shot, before smirking at me. "Wow! Nobody was kidding about you hitting these things in the eye every time."
I give Finnick one of his own signature winks, which makes him laugh. Then he crouches down to check on the girl. "Are you alright?" Finnick lowers his voice.
The girl still seems to be in a state of shock, but she nods.
"Well I'm glad you're alright." Finnick smiles, which relaxes the girl slightly. "I think we're both from District 4. Am I right? What's your name?" Finnick asks calmly.
"Yes," the girl finally manages to speak. "I'm Cassie," she mumbles.
"It's a pleasure to meet you Cassie," Finnick stretches out his hand. "Would you like us to help get you out of here?"
Cassie nods again, before taking Finnick's hand. And just like that Finnick manages to add yet a second awestruck girl to his fan club.
The hedges are narrower than I expected. The four of us have to squeeze in one at a time to make it through. It may be cramped, but it beats the ventilation shafts in the Capitol. We don't have to crawl. Plus we can actually see where were going.
A cannon booms. I've already lost track of what number that is now. Especially after the volcanic eruption. Depending on what direction Cooper was heading in, one of those cannons could've very well been for Boggs. And Gale. I haven't had a clue where he's been this entire time. But from the look I saw in him before, I have a feeling those blasts are more likely for people he's killed than for him. Then there's Peeta. Part of me wants to avoid him at all costs. But there's also a part that wants to catch a glimpse of him, just so I can find out if he's still alive.
The paths between the hedges have gotten wider. It's reassuring; since I was afraid we were going in circles for awhile. We must be close to getting out soon. Hopeful, my pace quickens, as I search for a way out. Finnick grasps my arm firmly before jerking me backward. A searing pain slides across my shoulder. I think it's just been sliced open by a sword. Are we being attacked? I turn to find the source, but it's not a tribute. Instead, I see several heads of bright candy pink birds poking through the hedges with their long, thin, razor sharp beaks. I've seen these things before. These are the same birds that killed Maysilee Donner back in Haymitch's games. And the one nearest is looking right at me as my own blood drips from its beak.
Finnick pulls out the sword that was too heavy for Effie and slices away to reopen the path. With that, Effie gazes down at her own sword and jumps in to help. I'm surprised. Personally, I didn't expect Effie to know how to use a sword. If I wasn't watching her right now, I'd have a hard time believing that she'd ever use any sort of weapon.
The path is open again and a trail of red-coated feathers leads us all right out of the hedges. "Nice job," I say to Finnick and Effie.
Finnick gives me a nod, but Effie is glowing with excitement. "Oh my, I must say I rather enjoyed that," Effie giggles. "I didn't think I'd ever be able to do something like…" Effie drops to the ground screaming louder than I'd ever heard her before. Alarmed, Finnick and I both scan the forest for a possible attack, but we're alone. Effie's starting to convulse on the ground and neither of us has any idea what's causing her so much pain.
It's Cassie who finally sees it. She points in the air toward a little white butterfly fluttering above our heads. Deceptively small for an assassin, but that's what this arena was created for. Deception. A way to kill as many tributes as quickly as possible. One quick slice from Finnick's sword is all it takes, and the severed butterfly wings float down to the ground, like two perfect white rose petals.
Effie has stopped moving. My heart sinks into my chest. I drop to the ground in hopes that she's still alive. "Effie!" She can't be dead. Not her too. She can't be. I tell myself. I check her breathing. It's slow. But at least she's still alive.
"She's paralyzed," Cassie mutters. "I've seen it happen to a couple others already. It wears off. But usually another tribute comes along and kills them before that happens."
My panic subsides. She'll be okay as long as we can get out of here. But she's going to need to be carried the rest of the way. Wrapping my arms around Effie's rigid body, I try to pick her up when Finnick stops me.
"I've got her," Finnick says. Delicately, he lifts Effie and starts to carry her. "We're going to need you to lead Katniss. You're the only one who knows where we're going."
Again, I take the lead. Little Cassie runs up beside me, so she doesn't fall behind. Finnick says nothing, but periodically, Effie will let out sudden gasps for air along the way. Finally I notice the ground change from the rich soil covered with bright green moss to flat dry earth. We're almost there. The cliff is already within sight.
It's odd how quickly our surroundings change. Without looking back at the forest, one could easily assume that we had just reached the edge of a barren wasteland. This is it. This is where Haymitch would've wanted me to come. It has to be. But why are we the only ones here.
"They're coming," I announce determinedly. "They're probably on their way right now."
"Katniss…" Finnick starts before I cut him off.
"We just have to wait a moment. I'm sure the other rebels are almost here," I say.
We wait, but no one comes. Nobody's coming to save us. I've tried to push the thought from my mind. But standing here, waiting like this, while there is no one else in sight, I don't know what else to think.
But someone is coming. I can hear them. There's shouting coming from the other side of the cliff. I turn to see four of the surviving tributes running towards us. I ready my bow, but hang on to the arrow. I recognize the woman leading the pack. It's Commander Paylor from District 8. And they aren't yelling to attack. They're yelling to warn us. From behind them four others emerge. The peacekeepers.
At once, Finnick swings Effie over his shoulder and reaches for his sword, leaving the trident strapped to his back. I didn't notice it before, but Cassie appears to have some sort of hand-carved blow dart gun. She catches me glancing at it. "What's it shoot?" I ask.
"Butterfly stingers," Cassie smirks.
Paylor reaches us with two other women and a man I don't recognize. Now we outnumber the peacekeepers two to one. Well almost. Effie lets out another gasp for air reminding me of her current condition.
Paylor and the man both have actual swords. At least one of them must have made it in and out of the Cornucopia before it sank. One of the women charges the peacekeepers with a spear made of out of a branch and a sharpened rock strapped to the tip. The nearest peacekeeper is Enobaria. She doesn't even reach for a weapon. She simply leaps in the air and pounces on the woman like a tiger, before performing her signature move with her metallic fangs.
Just as she screams, Murellus slices open the second woman and then inches toward Cassie with the third peacekeeper. Cassie manages to hit one with a stinger. He falls to the ground clutching his neck, when Paylor's last surviving companion finishes him off.
Murellus backs away slowly as rage builds in his eyes. Then I see Peeta. Both he and Enobaria are making their way toward Paylor. I aim an arrow straight for the heart of Enobaria, but she dodges, and my arrow dives into her arm instead. Peeta's gaze meets mine and I freeze. Paylor is ready to kill him, and he's ready to kill her. I don't know what to do. I can't save Peeta, but I can't let him die either.
In a single moment I must lose my mind because I drop my bow. Everything seems to stand still. The screaming and shouting has all gone silent for me. None of it matters now. I turn to Finnick, take the trident from his back and run towards Peeta and Paylor. Peeta already has her pinned to the ground ready to kill when he sees me. For moment all I can see is his blue eyes. But they aren't how I remember them. There's no kindness, no compassion, only hate. That's when I grasp the three prongs tightly and swing the blunt end into Peeta's head.
The next thing I know, I'm standing over Peeta's unconscious body screaming. I'm screaming at everyone. "Don't touch him! Everyone stay away from him!"
They all look at me like I'm crazy. Everyone except Enobaria. Her blood stained mouth just snickers at me, as she rips the arrow from her arm. Then her eyes widen as she looks past me. Immediately she retreats into the woods, with Murellus trailing behind. They've left. But not because of me.
I turn around to find two Hovercrafts descending down to the cliff. Just when I thought all hope was lost, we're saved. I look down at Peeta and prepare to lift him. Paylor and her last companion stare at me curiously. "He's coming with us," I say firmly.
Paylor simply turns to the man and says, "Thatch, will you take care of the boy for soldier Everdeen?"
Without a word the rather large man, Thatch, kneels, strips whatever weapons he can find off of Peeta and then swings his unconscious body over his shoulder; just as Peeta would with a sack of flour.
"Thank you," I say.
Thatch says nothing. But even though he seems fairly intimidating, he still manages a small smile. If it weren't for the 8 stitched to his uniform, I would have assumed that he was from District 2, based on the size of him. He and Paylor must have been the two tributes for District 8.
The Hovercrafts are waiting for us right on the edge of the cliff. Finnick carries Effie and leads Cassie into the first of the two Hovercrafts. As they climb aboard, I'm relieved to see Gale and Jackson. They look pretty banged up, but at least they've been rescued too. I make my way into the second Hovercraft with Paylor and Thatch. As expected I see my old mentor waiting for us. Without even blinking I wrap my arms around him as soon as I'm able to reach him.
"Well done sweetheart. Well done."
End of Chapter 5
M. Cooper Jinks