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Chapter Nine: The Arena.
Sleep finally takes me sometime around 2:00.
It is by no means a peaceful sleep though, my dreams are haunted with knives, bloody waves, the dead bodies of Annie, Robbert, Mrs. Cresta, and the other tributes. And above it all, is the sound of Caesar Flickerman, saying over and over: "May the odds be ever in your favor! You have a real chance at winning this thing!"
I toss and turn the entire night, waking up covered in sweat.
I look at the clock and see that it's five in the morning. Crawling out of bed, I jump into the shower, knowing it'll probably be the last shower I'll get in months...maybe even the last one.
Being awake is better than sleeping, so I dress in sweat pants and hoodie, and slip out into the small lounge.
I wait a minute to let my eyes adjust to the darkness, and take a deep breath.
I stiffen when I hear a loud sniff. My eyes slowly focus, and I can make out a dim outline on the couch.
She whirls around. Even in the dim light, I can tell she's been crying. Her eyes are red and puffy, and the bit of light in the room reflects of her tear streaked face.
"Finnick? What are you doing?"
I take a step toward the couch.
"I woke up and decided it wasn't worth it to go back to sleep. What are you doing out here?"
She wipes the tears off of her face, clearing her throat.
"I couldn't sleep..."
She nods. I sigh and walk over to the couch. Sitting next to her, I hand her a tissue.
"I don't want to die."
She starts crying again. I stare at the floor, not knowing what to say. It's hard enough to deal with Annie crying, whose been my best friend all my life, but Annita? I just met her, and I might have to kill her in the next couple of days, what am I supposed to say?
"Sure I've trained my whole life for this, and I volunteered of my own free will, but I never thought that...well it's just in training I...I don't think I could do it!"
She buries her face in her hands, and starts sobbing. That's when it dawns on me.
"You like Xavier...don't you?"
She nods slowly.
"I can't do it Finnick, I can't kill him. Which means that I'm going to die. I made it in the career pack, but it wont help anything. All it will do, is prolong my death."
So, she made it in the careers. I figured she would, but now I know.
She stops crying, and takes a deep breath.
"I just need to accept the fact that I'm going to die. On the bright side, I saved some other poor girl from having to come get slaughtered, that makes all this seem a little worth while." She sighs again, but has calmed down a great deal. I actually believe that she is ready to die. She turns to face me.
"Finnick, so you know what will be the best thing about my death?"
I just shake my head, lost for words.
"It means." She continues. "That I will get to be with my sister."
This takes me by surprise, and I think back to several years ago.
"Ashliegh Holmes...was that your sister?"
I remember that year, and wonder how I didn't realize it before.
Four years ago, Annita was reaped, but her twin sister Ashliegh, who was only thirteen when she volunteered to take her place. She was killed the third day in the arena. I wasn't eligible for reaping then, so I didn't pay much attention.
"Annita...I'm sorry, I didn't realize..."
She shrugs her shoulders.
"No need to be sorry, it's not your fault. And actually, now that I think about it, dying wont be so bad after all. I just hope It's over fast...I don't want to be picked off slowly."
She turns and gives me a smile.
"Finnick, I just want you to know...I think you're a great guy, and I think you can win. If you do make it out...could you tell my father that I love him? And that I'm happy because I'll be with Ashliegh?"
I can't exactly say no, so I nod.
"Thanks. I guess I'll see you in a bit."
She stands up and walks back to her room. Leaving me alone, thinking about how we're not even in the games, and my district partner just signed off on her life. Accepting that she wont make it out. The thought of her being dead, sends a chill through me. How many others have already given up on life? I know I haven't, I am going to try my very hardest to win, so I can return to Annie, and get the cure for Robberts sickness.
I doze off on the couch, with the image of Annita's cold body in a coffin haunting my mind.
I'm shaken awake around 7:00 by Mags. She gives me a wan smile, but by the dark circles under her eyes, I would say she didn't get much sleep.
"Time to go."
She says quietly.
We meet with Annita and Bruce at the elevator. Tiffy is there as well, although she wont be coming, she's here to say goodbye.
She hugs first Annita, then me. Telling us good luck, and she actually starts crying.
But we're running short on time, so we bid our farewells, and board the elevator.
"Bruce and I will take you as far as the hovercraft, after that we have to leave. We will return here and start getting you sponsors. Your stylists will be on a separate hovercraft, they will dress you in your arena gear, and see you off."
Mags explains as we take a car to where the hovercraft is waiting.
The car stops all to soon, and we step out to see a large hovercraft, already partly filled with tributes. Then it's time to sat goodbye to Mags and Bruce.
"I'll be watching. Remember to find water, and never let your guard down. Good luck"
Mags gives me these few simple instructions, then hugs me tightly.
Bruce shakes my hand, but doesn't say anything.
Then Annita and I are boarding the hovercraft, taking the seats marked with our district number. The last tributes board, and I feel the craft lift into the air.
A man in a white lab coat walks up to me with a strange device in his hand.
Is all he says. So I stick out my left arm. He places the tip of the device in the middle of my lower arm, there's a small *Pffft* Of air, and I feel a sharp pain where the device is. He removes the device, and I see a small hole, with a drop of blood forming. He wipes it away with a piece of gauze. I rub my finger over the spot, and feel a small lump.
"Just so we don't lose track of you."
He says with a grin.
The rest of the ride goes by silently. Everyone's too nervous to talk, besides, what would you say? "Good luck today, I might end up killing you, but don't worry, you might live, although I hope you don't because that would me I have to die."
Uh, no. Silence is the better option.
The hovercraft lands, and we're led down a dark flight of stairs, at the bottom, we are faced with a long hallway. The peacekeepers leave us to find our own way. It's not like you can get lost, it's a hallway, and there are twenty-four doors, each marked with "Girl" or "Boy" and then a district number.
I walk quietly down to "Boy, District four" I open the door. And find Dalia waiting for me.
When she sees me, she walks up and gives me a hug. I stand motionless, I'm so tense that I doubt I would be able to move anyway.
"Your outfit is over here."
She says, leading me over to the center of the room. She helps me get changed into, a pair of tough black pants, a leather long-sleeved shirt, that can have the sleeves detached, to turn into a vest. Dalia also shows me that half of the pant leg detaches as well, converting them to shorts. The outfit is completed by a pair of thick leather boots, with incredible traction.
"The material is made to keep in heat when complete, but let it breathe when the sleeves and legs are detached. And since the outfit is extremely durable, and the traction on the boots, suggests that the arena has some rough terrain."
Dalia says in a confidential voice.
I say in a whisper. She pats my necklace,
"Make it for the little girl."
A loud buzzer sounds. Dalia leads me over to a large glass tube, and I step inside.
"Remember, confidence. Shoulders back."
I nod and straighten my back. Then a glass panel slides over the tube opening. Dalia smiles and gives me a wave. Then the floor starts rising.
At first, all I can see is sunlight. Then my eyes focus, and I see it.
The large metal cornucopia sits about a hundred feet in front of me, packed with weapons and the better survival gear, tempting tributes to enter the bloodbath. All around the cornucopia in a ten foot diameter, is smooth hard packed earth. But stretching from the edge of the diameter, to the tribute pedestal, the ground is rocks. I don't mean the ground is rocky, you can't even see the ground because of the rocks ranging from fist sized, to boulders about the size of a car. If anyone thought of making a quick dash to the cornucopia, better change their plans quick, because it would be all to easy to trip and fall in the uneven ground. I take all this in within a couple of seconds. Then I look around at the other tributes, trying to figure out what their strategy is. I notice the other male tributes are dressed exactly like me, and the girls outfits are just slightly altered. A little tighter, and more flexible looking boots. The careers are obviously going to go for the inside of the cornucopia, but I have no idea what the others are planning. I see Annita on the other side of Xavier, looking surprisingly calm. The careers all have determined expressions, never taking their eyes off the cornucopia. I look on my other side, and see Luna on the end. She's crouching on her pedestal, moving her head slowly back and forth, surveying her options. She sees me looking at her, and makes the slightest motion behind her, with her head. I slowly look over my shoulder. To my back right, is a large forest, which obscures most of my view. On my back left, are some tall hills. Behind the cornucopia is what looks like a large meadow. Then I hear the voice. "Twenty...Ninteen...Eighteen." The countdown has started. I turn my attention back to the cornucopia, looking for some easy pickings. I spot a large backpack about twenty feet from the cornucopia mouth. I decide to go for that, and I scan the rock strewn ground for the easiest route. It's a good thing these boots have such good traction. "Ten...Nine...Eight...Seven...Six..." I take a deep breath. Concentrating on my best way to the backpack. "Five...Four...Three...Two...One." A buzzer sounds, and I leap off my pedestal to a large boulder. From there I jump down to the lower ground, and travel as fast as I can without risking a broken ankle. I glance to my left and see Alexia bounding smoothly from rock to rock, making extremely fast progress, and Xavier is right behind her. Both tributes from one are not even ten feet away from their pedestals. I only have twenty feet to go. On my right I see Harrold grab a small pack and start making his way toward the hills. I don't even see Luna. I have ten feet to go, almost there. I hear a cry of shock, and hear a loud cracking sound. I ignore it and focus on the pack. I lunge forward and grab it, then look up to see Alexia holding a long slightly curved sword. She flashes me a smile.
"Better run Odair, while there's still easier, and less handsome prey."
I sling the pack over my shoulder, and turn to my right. I start jumping and hopping over rocks, making faster progress now that I've got the feel of the ground. I see the girl from district twelve lying crooked between some rocks, a large pool of blood forming from a large gash in her head. The sound I heard must have been her head cracking on the rocks. I hear several screams behind me, but ignore them. Keep running, don't look back. I hear a whistling sound, and a knife crashes into a boulder next to my head, sending shards of rock spinning in my direction. I don't have time to react, and several shards slice my cheek. I glance behind me, and see Glorry wielding several more knives, ready to throw. Her brown curls are loose, and fly in every direction as she snarls at me.
"I'll make sure this one wont miss!"
I duck and run as fast as I can behind a large rock. I hear another knife whistle and come in contact with a rock.
"Glorry! Come help us pick off the weak ones! Pretty boy wont last long out here!"
I hear Glorry sigh, then turn and stumble back to the cornucopia.
I take a deep breath, and dash for the trees.
I'm running through the forest within a minute. And I would say I've already traveled almost a mile. Adrenaline pumping through my veins, lets me forget the cuts on my cheek, and how tired I should be. Instead, all I can think about is running, just keep running, and find water. After about an hour of straight running, I find a large thicket of bushes, and duck behind them. Breathing heavily, I listen for any sounds of pursuit. Hearing none, I sink to the ground and rest.
Opening my pack, I check the contents: One large blanket, made of sleeping bag material. Two loaves of bread. One bag of dried beef. A large coil of rope. A vial of iodine, and a large canteen of water. And most importantly, a large knife. It looks like a fishing knife, it has a black wooden handle, six-inch long blade, that is two and a half inches wide. Serrated on one side, and hooked near the top. I discover a concealed sheath on my right boot, and slide the knife in. Then repacking my bag, I hoist it on my shoulder. And start looking for water.
After about two hours of walking, I stop for a rest, and discover that I drank all my water. Okay, not good. I better find water soon, or risk dyeing of dehydration. I close my eyes and listen to the sound of the forest. Then I hear it, ever so softly at first, then growing clearer. Running water.