"Get the door!" Hank exclaims as he opens fire on the bugs that have completely overwhelmed Leeg 1.
It's already too late. Her cries have filled the air as the creatures tear at her flesh. The rest of us shoot at them until we're able to reach the door. Simultaneously, Johanna and I manage to pull the door shut after killing the ones blocking the doorway. I wipe sweat from my forehead and hold my breath, my heart still thudding in my chest. There are too many of them out there, I realize. Why didn't we think that they would be right outside the door? Now we've lost both Blight and Leeg 1.
Leeg 2, her twin sister, is on her knees by her sister's mangled body, whimpering sadly. Then for a moment, I imagine our places switched. I'm kneeling on my knees at the body of my little sister, Prim, with an infinite amount of tears streaming down my cheeks. The pain wells up in my body and consumes me completely until it becomes excruciating and unbearable. It's a wound that'll take years to heal. If it'll heal at all, that is. It's natural for me to sympathize with her. It's the worst feeling in the world to lose someone that you love. I know that because I lost my dad. And then there was Rue from my first Games, all the people and friends I used to know in my District, and even when I thought Finnick had died in that explosion in Eight.
After a long silence, Peeta turns to Jackson, anger burning in his eyes. "Should we take the roofs now?" I've never seen Peeta like this. It's like the rush of adrenaline and the deaths are getting to him. I can't blame him. Gale holds the same expression and I wouldn't be surprised if I saw the duplicated look on my own.
Without a word from our first in command, we all head up a flight of stairs that take us all the way to a door in which I believe to be the roof. Gale is the first to try the door. By the sound of him turning the knob in frustration, I know it's locked. He tries thrusting onto it by using his shoulder roughly to attempt to get it open. It won't budge. The stubborn door refuses to even make a sound.
A hole opens in the pit of my stomach. I'm standing at the end, on the lowest step from everyone else, holding my bow and an armed arrow tightly in my hands. My throat feels dry and cracked from the constant running and it reminds me that I need a drink. I don't do anything for now because for some reason I don't find that as an necessity. My mind is constantly replaying the events that just took place not a moment ago as Gale continuously tries ramming into the door with Hank and Johanna. The fear is there, swimming like a fish in the pool of my blood. I'm trying to think of ways to get out of this, but images of Blight and Leeg 1's bodies keep flashing in my mind.
"Don't bother," Jackson says to Gale and the others who are still trying to get the door open. "It's not going to open this way."
Johanna lets out an angry grunt. "I don't see another way out of this unless you have something in mind, Princess of Panem!" The anger in her voice tells me that all of last night's conversation has withered away and we're back to being unfriendly to each other.
It must be the rush of the situation that compels me to snap back. "Two people just died!"
"Fun, right?" She growls. "You think I don't know that?"
"Shut up!" Hank shouts, cutting between us. "I can hear them."
He's right. I can hear the sound of their tiny feet making their way up the stairs. An unreachable amount of them. We all know it's too late to go back down. Now we have no other options but to get through the door.
Then an idea sparks. "Gale, hand me one of your bombs."
Gale doesn't hesitate to reach for a bomb in his pocket. I'm not surprised that he knew which one I wanted. It's one of the bombs that he helped Beetee create in the lab. It's a different from the one that wipes out two miles. This one is less harmful than even a normal grenade. The best part about this one is that it detonates from the push of a button. I hold the small, metal sphere in my hand and the device with the button in the other. Then I place the bomb directly in front of the door, making sure it's leaning against it as much as possible. This door is going to come flying off.
Johanna's the first to comment on my plan. "Blow the door," she snorts.
I nod before I shout, "Everyone back up!"
No one hesitates to move down the stairs. I hover my thumb over the button and hesitate, second guessing this idea. How much of an impact will this be? Maybe we should get further down the stairs in case someone falls down by the force? Then again there are those mutts on their way up. The longer I wait, the closer they get. So without wasting another second, I press the button. The door is instantly blown off its frame and flies right outside. A beam of sunlight enters the dark stairway in which we're huddled in. To my surprise, the explosion didn't have as much of an impact. Some of us were knocked off balance or brought to the ground, but we were able to hastily recover.
I'm the first to stand and usher everyone out the door and into the light. I jog over to the edge of the building. My stomach sinks when I gaze down at the long drop. Jumping to the bottom isn't an option, with what us being on top of the tallest building in the city. The next building across is a lot lower than this one. I don't know if we'll be able to make that jump across unless we want broken hips and tailbones.
Peeta is beside me a split second later. He stares down at the bottom and then at the next building over. He mutters something under this breath that I can't decipher.
Then I hear shooting. When I turn around, I see Hank and Leeg 2 standing by the opening where the door used to be as they're shooting down at the mutts who have made their way up.
We won't be able to hold them off for long. Someone needs to do something. So without thinking, I start to back up to gain as much distance as possible from the edge, from the other building. What I'm about to do is going to be insane but I have a limited amount of options. It's either we stand our ground and use every ounce of ammo we have left to take out the mutts and face our inevitable demise, or jump and hope we don't fall to our deaths. Our chances are better with taking the leap.
Peeta seems to realize what I'm doing and tries to stop me.
I push him away. "We don't have a choice. We have to jump."
"It's too far," he protests. "You won't make it."
"What else are we going to do?" I snap at him. "Don't you trust me?" That's a horrible question because sometimes I don't even trust myself. I don't even believe I can make this jump, but I was always very rash. What more can I say?
Before Peeta can respond to my impossible question, I hear Johanna shout, "Dammit! I'll do it!" And before either of us can stop her, she's charging toward the edge of the building. As soon as her feet touch the edge, she leaps into the air, and for a split moment it looks like she's flying. Then seconds later, her boots slam onto the roof of the opposite building, and the impact causes her to fall forward in which she rolls over her shoulder. When she stands, she seems uninjured, and she waves us along.
Peeta and I exchange glances. We know there's nothing left to say and he protests no further. If Johanna can survive this jump, then so can the rest of us. Regardless of the distance, I still don't think I'd be able to pull it off as easily as Johanna had, and with that roll at the end I'm second guessing Peeta being able to do it either. We'll have to find out.
The others seem to realize what's going on because they've started to gain some distance from the edge of the building. There's no time for each of us to go one at a time, because the mutts have begun to emerge from the open doorway. Then in seconds, we're all flinging ourselves over the building, holding onto life desperately. And I wish that I had waited a beat before jumping right after Peeta because when I land, I pummel right into him, knocking us both to the ground. I know right away that he's injured from our collision before he even starts to stand. Luckily it's his left leg, his prosthetic, the one the Capitol fixed after our first Games. It's his ankle, twisted in an awkward angle. He doesn't feel it, I don't think because he doesn't seem like he's in pain. It's funny he was the only who got hurt in our impact. I feel okay except for the rush of fear still igniting within me and just a couple of scratches.
I start to apologize to Peeta but he silences me with a wave of his hand and asks me to help him. The others have made it across safely, all except Leeg 2. By the sound of the shooting across the way, I know she stayed behind to hold off the mutts. I try to drown out the sound as I call Gale over to help me twist Peeta's ankle back into place. Gale does it all on his own and without hesitation. There's a cracking and rough twisting sound, and then a click as it goes back into its socket. It's not a perfect match but it's better than dangling backwards.
Gale has to help Peeta stand. I can tell it's awkward when Peeta puts pressure on it, like it wants to go back the other way it had broken. So it's impossible for him to walk on his own and Gale has to carry him on his back. I know Peeta's heavy, but Gale is bigger, stronger, he can probably lift the both of us if he had to, so he has no probably heading down the flight of stairs that Jackson leads us down. I briefly hear the scream of Leeg 2 in the distance and some part of me is urging me to go back to help her. Then I'm reminded of how she lost her sister just moments before, and it makes sense that she was the one who decided to stay behind. She couldn't live on without her sister. Her sacrifice was noble and it will be honored. I would've done the same if it were Prim.
Jackson leads us until we reach the outside world once again. Maybe the mutts are following us or maybe they aren't. They must've all gone inside that tall building because there are no sight of them out here. The sound of millions of feet can be heard from afar though, and I know that they'll be searching for us soon once they've finished with Leeg 2. I thought of throwing a bomb but we need to conserve our material for future attacks. We haven't even reached the Capitol yet and we may need them. Still, it would've been a faster death for Leeg 2, but with what how all of them swarmed over her sister in the bliss of a second, it must've been a quick death anyway.
We pause at a hatch in the ground that I assume leads to the sewers. When Jackson opens the hatch, everyone jumps in one by one. Once we're inside, she closes it, locking us in darkness. Flashlights are pulled out and flicked on. I use mine to examine our area. There are tunnels, going in opposite directions, followed by a pool of sewer water that extends up to our ankles. The stench in here is marvelous. Hank has just started a coughing fit while the rest of us are either making moans of disgust or pinching their noses closed or blinking away the burns in their eyes from the stench.
Johanna hands me a handkerchief and I use it to cover my mouth and nose as I use my flash light to count each of us. Peeta, Gale, Johanna, Jackson, Homes, Hank, and me. That makes seven. We lost three people in one day. Their last moments resurface in my mind. Blight's arms blowing off. Leeg 1 getting tackled by a swarm of the mutts and then her disfigured body. Leeg 2's scream of terror as I imagine them ripping out every piece flesh on her body. The images are there and I know they will never go away. It's like the Games. Once you see someone die or if you've killed someone, you will never forget. I still haven't forgotten Rue's, or Glimmer's or Cato's. Memories that are trapped within the depths of my mind forever, just waiting in the dark with impatience to resurface and disembowel me.
Jackson's voice brings me back to reality. "So we head the rest of the way through these tunnels and we should reach the Capitol by night. I want everyone to stick together. No one gets left behind."
For some reason, this throws me into a fit. "What about those we did leave behind?" Gale gives me a warning look, but I'm not finished. "This wasn't supposed to happen. No one was supposed to die!"
"But it is happening," Jackson says. "You knew this mission wouldn't be easy. Sacrifices need to be made and they made a choice to give up their lives for this. They died in battle and I'm sure they wouldn't want it any other way."
This doesn't make me feel any better. Out of anger I choose a path and start heading down it, forcing the rest to follow. All I can think about is how everyone is choosing to die. I should be the one making these sacrifices. That will fire up the rebellion even more, right? At this point there is no reason I should go on, except to save Finnick though, but after that? I'm not even sure how I've made it this far. There are numerous times, that I can't even begin to count, where my death was almost certain, but somehow I've miraculously managed to climb out of the rubble scathed. Oh yes, very much scathed. Scarred. Wounded. Something I have to live with forever, but for what reason? Nothing I can think of.
Maybe I can see a life outside of this world. I saw it before I got reaped for my second games. A large part of me wanted to run away with Gale and my family and Peeta. Bonnie and Twill saw it enough to take action. The two District 8 refugees never made it to District 13, but there were only two of them. Plus Bonnie had an injured leg, so it's understandable that they could've been attacked or died along the way. If it had been both Gale and our families with Peeta and Haymitch, I'm sure we would've made it. And if not District 13, someplace else. Maybe there is life outside of the Capitol and the Districts, where other people live and thrive within their own boundary's and sets of rules and laws. We could've showed up there, or even just made a life of our own if we had to. Anything to get away from Snow's clutches.
But then I have to remind myself that I didn't meet Finnick then. I knew he existed from the televisions and from his Games ten years ago, yes, but I never knew him. If I had gone, we would've never came to know each other, never would've touched each other's skin, never would've kissed each other's lips. Maybe it would've been for the best if I hadn't known him. If I had left, there probably wouldn't be a Quarter Quell because Snow would've put all of his energy out to come and find me. Then again, he's never cancelled a Games so maybe it would've gone on without me. Maybe Finnick would've won and then lived on in his life with Annie. As a Capitol toy, need I remind myself. Yet the chance of any of that going according to plan is relatively low.
The water in the sewer has become thicker the further we go, and I would've expected the stench to get stronger, but instead it faltered enough for me to remove my handkerchief. The walls are pretty tight around us, as if it's embracing us. We've been going in a straight path the whole time, except for a few dips and turns, until we've reached an area that leads to a high platform where the water doesn't reside. I place my hands on the cold metal before hoisting myself up. Everyone else follows suit. Gale has to help Peeta up because of his ankle. I use my flashlight to check out our surroundings. There are three tunnels that each lead in different directions. I can't be sure which one we would take. I don't want to end up getting lost down here.
Jackson pulls out her navigator. It's telling her to take the tunnel in the far right. We don't go though, because she suggests we take a break. We've been walking for about an hour now, and with all of that running we did, I bet everyone has to be exhausted.
We settle down in our preferred spaces. I choose a spot by a wall so that I can lean my back against it. Some of us start eating and drinking water. I have food in my pack, a few pieces of bread and three bottles of water now. There were four bottles but it must've fell out of my bag when we were running from the mutts. I take one out and start chugging down, realizing how thirsty I am. When I stop, I've drank more than I intended because there's less than half of it left now. Better save the rest for later. There's probably a lot more running to do later on.
Johanna comes over, holding a couple of nuts and berries in her hands, and sits beside me, but not too close. Everyone's still on edge after the events that took place earlier.
For a moment, the both of us are silent. Last night's conversation starts to reemerge in my brain and I wonder if maybe we did make some kind of connection. Still I didn't see any of that earlier when she snapped at me on the stairway.
"I'm sorry about Blight," I say because there's really nothing else I can manage to come up with.
She stares down at her hand, holding the berries, for a moment, thoughtfully. Then she shrugs lightly. She doesn't want to talk about it. Though she talks about something different. "Just promise me that you'll tell Finnick that I was here. Tell him I was coming. Just do that."
Then again this reminds me of our conversation last night when we're talking about dying on this mission. I promise though, just to satisfy her. I don't tell her what I'm thinking though. She can tell Finnick herself when we get out of here. The most important people here to me are Peeta and Gale, and I wouldn't mind adding Johanna to that list. At least for Finnick's sake. I may not be able to keep everyone from dying, like Blight and the Leeg sisters, but I'm damn sure going to make sure I keep those three alive.
We stay in silence for a while. She finishes her berries. After a few minutes more, Jackson suggests we start moving again. We gather our things and begin heading back down the tunnel. The water has started to fade away as we trek further in. I feel like we're climbing deeper down the sewer, but I know that's not true, because according Jackson, we're right below the surface. The air is a lot denser though, more humid. I try not to think about what's causing it. It'll only make me sick again. At least the murky water is gone. My boots will eventually dry up enough so that I can walk more freely without the added weight.
Minutes go by, and then they soon turn to hours. We don't have much further to go, I don't think. The water has risen up again, covering our boots yet again. This annoys me because they've just become dry. My shoulders are aching from the weight of my bag and my quiver. I'm catching myself shrugging them, to get rid of the pain, but that only does so much. I notice the others have started to rub the back of their necks or let out low sighs of exhaustion. It's time for our second break of the day. If we were outside, I would be able to tell if it's night or day, but we've been down here so long I'm not even sure.
We find a small space, similar to our first place. It's a small platform, smaller than the previous one. We have to stay close together in order for all of us to fit. I'm positioned in between Gale and Peeta. Peeta's prosthetic leg is outstretched in front of him, the other bent. Mine are crossed underneath me with my bag resting on my lap. I should probably eat one of the buns I brought. I ate one while we were walking earlier but I couldn't really stomach it and ended up retracting it out of my mouth onto Homes' shoes. He had to clean them off as best he could in the moldy water. That didn't really do any good though, and he was forced to put them back on as they were. I notice him sitting next to Hank as he tries scrapping off the remains with his knife.
I felt guilty about it earlier but now I can't really think about it or care. Instead I rummage through my bag for one of the buns. When I find one, I pull it out and offer it to Peeta.
He shakes his head. "It's yours," he says.
"I won't be able to stomach it anyway," I say. Then I gesture toward Homes who's still scraping his boot.
Peeta nods in understanding before taking the bun from me. I offer Gale one as well but he declines, so I put it away. Peeta only ends up eating a third of his bun before handing it back to me. It's not like he doesn't have his own food anyway so I take it back and stare down at it. Just looking at it makes me want to puke. I trade it in for my bottle of water. There are only two left now. It should hold me off until we reach the Capitol, which won't be long now.
I place my bag on Peeta's lap as a makeshift pillow and rest my head on it comfortably. I notice Gale deliberately avoiding looking in our direction but this doesn't bother me. When I was with Finnick, I stopped caring a long time ago.
Peeta starts to run his fingers through my hair, putting me at ease. He's doing that thing again when he's not even trying, making me feel comfortable and safe. Then I feel like things are going to be the same again. I can remember the countless nights we found ourselves in each other's arms before the Games, blocking off the nightmares, and just being in each other's company. I can see us, huddled together, protected in each other's warmth, touching one another comfortingly. Then I'm reminded that it'll never be the same again. I've already chosen Finnick. I know that if Finnick decides to choose Annie, Peeta will be waiting for me with open arms. It's a bad thought, almost conniving, as if Peeta's second choice. I feel like if Finnick does choose Annie I probably won't go back to Peeta. It'll be different. Just the thought that Peeta will be there to comfort me when all else fails is a nice reminder.
The feeling of the hand running through my hair and the sound of Peeta's heartbeat in my ear, sleep soon overtakes me. I didn't intend to sleep, but I do dream of something horrible. I'm in the Games again. It's my first games but it's different. There are so many of the same people back from the dead; Cato, Clove, Rue, Gloss, everyone. Even Gale is here with Prim. I'm running through a sizzling desert, with only a single arrow left to spare, zero ounces of water, and the clothes on my back. My throat is incredibly dry and it just gets drier and cracked the more I continue to run. I'm running from Gale and Cato who have transformed into ugly Capitol mutts, the ones that killed Blight. And somehow, I'm transported to an ocean where I drink from, ignoring the salty taste because I haven't drank water in so long. Leeg 2 is here with me and she has a knife that she uses to slit my throat. Somehow I'm still breathing, still drinking the water as if I don't feel the gash and the blood running down my body. Then for no apparent reason she starts to scream.
When Peeta wakes me, I realize that it's not Leeg 2 screaming at all. I'm not fully conscious yet when I start to trudge through the tunnel, my eyes blurred. I can faintly hear everyone else calling after me, but I just ignore them. I may be still half asleep but I know one thing for sure. I'm not going to let Johanna die in these tunnels.
I don't know what compelled me to get up and rush out of there. Johanna and I aren't friends, but we aren't enemies either. So why would I go after her knowing that I'll be putting myself at risk? Because I promised that I would keep her, Gale, and Peeta alive on this mission. Because she's Finnick's friend…
Her screaming has stopped, leaving me at a loss. I pause, my breath heavy. There are two tunnels in front me, both leading in different directions. Which one do I pick? My head snaps from left to right. I can't be sure which direction her scream came from. I'm almost panicking when I hear a low sound. I ease my breathing a little so that I can hear. It sounds like someone scuffling and then there's also an abnormal growling coming from the tunnel on the left. I'm frozen, tense, as I stare down the dark straight shoot. My flashlight raises up and lights up the long hall. There's nothing in sight.
I don't realize that I'm holding my breath when my chest starts to burn and I let out a low sigh. My hand holding the flashlight is trembling and it's almost hard to hold it. I have to squeeze it tighter to keep from quivering. Then with all the strength I have left, I start to make my way down the hall. The further I walk, the louder the scuffling gets. Only when Johanna's loud grunt fills the air once more I start to run again, quickly, my boots pounding on the ground in hot pursuit. Thoughts are running through my brain constantly with unanswered questions. What was she doing out here alone? What's attacking her? Is it those mutts we saw earlier?
There's no way to tell what's happening and the closer I get the louder she becomes. An abnormal screeching sound fills the air. It's almost like a howl of pain, a cry for help. This is soon followed by many sounds of the same howling, coming from every direction, every place in the tunnel, in the walls, in the ground, in the ceiling. We're surrounded.
It doesn't take me long to find Johanna battling with two tall, hairless inhuman creatures. Johanna's body is covered in large gashes and bite marks, as she holds out a knife at them before letting out a swipe. Her gun is across from me, jutting out from the murky water. Without wasting another beat, I use my arrow to embed into one of the creature's neck. I do the same to the other one. They both collapse to the ground just as soon as the sharp point reaches their vital organs.
Johanna snaps her head over at me in surprise. "Why'd you come back for me?" I'm taken off guard when she shoves me to the wall roughly.
"Because you're my friend!" I shout back, surprising myself.
This seems to take Johanna off guard as well for a split second. Then she shakes her head, and jerks away from me. "Come on. There are more of them coming." She snatches up her gun before we trudge back down the tunnel.
The entire sewer is filled with the sound of angry screeching and growling. My breathing is even drowned out by it. We're hurrying trough, our flashlights thudding up and down. I have an arrow armed and ready in case we run into any of the creatures. But it's not long when I start to hear their pounding feet behind us. There are many of them, moving quickly, snarling and huffing and puffing. I force my legs to pound faster. Our boots kick up water and mud which makes it a little restraining and heavier.
Johanna unexpectedly pauses right in front of me, causing me to ram into her from behind. I start to ask her what's wrong, but she starts falling backward. My reflexes kick in and my arms immediately wrap around her, but her weight catches me off guard when I start to fall backward. I slam onto my back hard with a thud and I couldn't help myself when I cry out in pain.
I'm about to ask her what's wrong again, but my voice catches in my throat when I notice the wound on her chest, blood gushing out of it.
To be continued…