The Conspiracy

Chapter XX: The Idea

When we return to our camp, 6, as usual, asks how it went. "Nothing," I tell him. "You'd have heard the cannon if we'd found anyone."

"She nearly knifed me though," 2 grumbles. I roll my eyes. That was hours ago.

"Bring us back something too," I tell him, seeing that he's heading for the food pile. He just grunts and hops over the mines. "You know what they should send me? Axes. I bet I could throw an ax. A little one. A tomahawk. What do you say, Cato? Tell them to send me an ax."

"You just told them as effectively as I can."

"I suppose I did."

We spent the rest of the day searching the woods for tributes. It must have been painfully dull for the Capitol after my encounter with 24, but if it was, they didn't show it. Nothing came to push us closer together with other tributes, which is fine with me. The fewer terrifying, life threatening things I see in here, the better. Still, by the time night has fallen we're all tired and ready for a good sleep. We wait to see the death toll, just in case we missed a canon but there's only the seal in the sky. No faces.

We split up shifts again between the four of us. Each of us takes a two hour shift. First me, then Cato, 2, and 6. During my shift, I start a project I've been wanting to get around to. I begin to cut holes in the lining of my jacket. Not holes. More like loops, and then I slide knives into them. Tied around my belt is great, but it's cleverer to have them concealed so close to my body. It takes me two shifts to complete it. I stay up with Cato for his, but go around the other side of the camp so he doesn't know I'm awake. Really, he wouldn't care, but for the sake of the Games, I have to be secretive.

Four hours in the dark is a lot of time to think. We haven't been able to push 12 together yet (unless she's found him since I saw him) and we can't take their plan of being together. Not this late in the game (no pun intended). How are we supposed to make the Capitol change their minds about the 'one victor only' rule? Can it be done? Even if the crowd wants it, will the Gamemakers allow it? Will Snow? I would much prefer they change that rule than have it come down to Cato and me taking those berries.

What if we give them a foil? What if they see 12 as tragically separated lovers and Cato and me as former friends and current competitors? If we separate, would they want to push us back together just for the tension? I feel like the Gamemakers want some more tension. These Games have been painfully slow. This idea occurs to me as I'm finishing with my jacket and I decide, rather than acting right now, to give myself a little time to think. I curl up under a blanket, pull my hood up over my head and burrow down, trying to keep warm.

6 rouses me at the end of his two hour shift. I push myself up and instruct him to go wake 2 as well. Time for breakfast and then another hunt. We hike back into the forest, leaving 6 as usual to guard the supplies. The hunt is futile. We find no one on the first day after we searched for 24. Sometimes we spot tracks but always they seem to vanish either into the stream, onto rocks, or simply into nothingness. We scour the areas where the tracks vanish, but are always forced to move on. This could turn nasty quickly if we're not careful. What if we come across as incompetent trackers? 23 has already made us look foolish enough. We don't want to make it worse by failing to track and kill other competitors.

I run through the remaining tributes in my head. 2, me, Cato, 6, 9, 20-24. What do I know about each of them? 2-6 are in my camp. They aren't targets just yet. Where have I seen 9? That crazy smart redhead. As far as I remember from training, she barely touched the weapons, but preferred to stay at the survival stations. That means that she's either a Johanna Mason, or a real weakling. I'm guessing she's the latter. We should have no problem killing her once we track her down. But that's the issue, isn't it? Finding her. Sticking to the survival stations and being as smart as she is has made her incredibly stealthy. She's also tiny so her tread will be light. I think I saw her at the Bloodbath, but since then, she's taken off and taken cover.

20, however, why haven't we found him? I was certain his foot would be a burden in here. Certainly it will leave a distinctive trail, should we come across it. How did he manage to get away on the first day? How has he fared since then? Where was he when they lit the forest on fire? I noticed nothing special about him in training, other than that lame foot. That was all I thought I'd need to notice because he seemed like an easy target. Apparently, he too had some hidden talent.

21, that little girl from 11. I watched her at the climbing station in training. She's so tiny, both short and skinny, that she was light and easily lifted herself up on the ropes. I try to think like 6 as I ponder where she could be, though of course I'm not going to concentrate on finding her until absolutely necessary. Little. light. District 11. Agriculture. I remember they said 11's a large District at school. I would have guessed as much; how else would they grow enough crops to feed Panem? They need space, unlike Districts 1, 3, or 5. If they need space to grow as much as they do, the must need people to work the fields, and if 21's old enough to be sent here, my guess is that she was also old enough to work. I'd guess that her District doesn't waist any of the crops and she's small enough that I'd bet she'd be one of the ones sent up higher to retrieve whatever grows up there. That's why she's such a talented climber. That must be how she's evading us. Climbing, staying up out of reach. Was it her I thought I saw on the morning we killed 15?

We all know where 22 is. He took over that massive field on the other side of the plain from the lake. Hm. I alter my theory about 21. Maybe they stuck together. Maybe she's in that field with him, guarded by him, helping him get food. That's possible. But then I realize that can't be right and I'm just confused because of all the pairing off I've seen in these Games. Cato and I, and 12 have teamed up (well, 12 will soon if they know what's good for them), but I never once saw 22 show an interest in 21. Not in helping her, not in protecting her, not even in using her. She's not with him. Damn. It might be easier to go after him if he was trying to defend her as well.

At dawn on the second day after we went looking for 24, we hear a canon. Immediately I sit up and look around camp, one knife in either hand. Where's Cato? I'd call out his name but I don't want to look too suspicious, especially not after the idea I've been entertaining about giving 12 a foil. He's close to me, sitting up, a knife of his own in his hand. We make eye contact and I stand up to patrol once around our camp. 2 and 6 are still here. 6 looks confused, 2 annoyed.

"What was that?" 2 barks at me, getting to his feet, spear in hand. Who wakes up that angry?

"Obviously a canon." Smart one, he is.

"Who died?" As if I would know.

"Clearly not me so what do I care? One more down."

"Let's hope it's that giant from 11, huh?" Don't smirk at me like that.

"I'm gonna hope it wasn't him, actually, because the sooner he dies, the sooner our leverage with those two is over," 6 says, also standing. I think he wishes the canon hadn't sounded at all, that we could all just go home, but he doesn't dare say that aloud. 2 flushes, looking angry. He rounds on 6.

"I don't need leverage! I could kill any of you." Uh-huh. Let me know how that works out for you...if you're still alive at the end to talk.

"Ok, ok!" 6 holds his hands up in surrender. Fool, fight him back. "I was just saying––"

"Well, how about you stop 'just saying' before I get sick of you and pin you to the ground with this," he lunges at 6, but clearly not in such a way that 6 is in immediate danger. Still, I think it's time for 2 to calm down again. I step into the shaft of his spear pushing the tip away from 6 and putting myself between the two of them. Cato's up now and has walked over to the rest of us, an apple in each hand.

2 twists the spear, trying to pull it free of my grip and I push it back into him, forcing him away from me. He's too distracted by me to hear or see Cato throw one of the apples at the back of his head, which jerks forward with the impact. "Ow!" He puts a hand to the back of his head, his grip on the spear loosening considerably. I pull it the rest of the way free as he turns to face Cato. "What the hell––" he begins, but I put the tip of the spear hard into his back. Not so hard that I run him through, probably barely hard enough to draw blood but he feels it and whips around to face me.

I skewer the fallen apple on the end of the spear, then flip it up so it's level with 2's face. "Quit picking fights, 2. Eat your breakfast." I set the end of the shaft on the ground and let the spear fall against his chest. Then I brush past and Cato, and cross the plain to the food pile. Boys...

That afternoon, is when things start to go a little crazy. We see smoke, thick, dark smoke rise up in the sky. Who in the hell is burning that? Are they asking us to come after them? Who cares? Move it. I grab my pack, Cato takes his sword and spear and offers one to 6. 2 protests. They argue for a minute before I step in. "Shut up, will you? We're wasting time. Cato, why would we change anything now?" He glares at me and presses the spear into 6's chest.

"He's coming." His tone is very final and his eyes are on me, his expression cold. "And when we find her, I kill her in my own way and no one interferes." Well, he is justifiably angry with 23 and he does have to keep up the brutal District 2 face. I doubt she lit this fire though. She's smarter than that.

I turn back to 2 and 6, "Get going. We'll catch up." Looking half pleased, half concerned, 2 heads off in the direction of the fire. I turn my attention to Cato, who's still glaring. "Sorry," I tell him as the thought: 'since when do I ever take 2's side over his?' enters my head. "He'll slow us down though." I say it like I was forming my own argument, not siding with 2.

"Whatever," he mutters, walking past me. His gaze hasn't softened.

Damn. That wasn't supposed to happen. I stand still for a moment before turning and going after Cato. Once we're under the cover of the trees, I wriggle between the arm he's carrying the spear in and his body, and close my hand over his around the spear. My other arm goes around his waist. He looks down at me, surprise on his face now instead of annoyance. "I'm not afraid of you," I tell him again, just like on the train.

"Oh? Why not?" I steal a look up at his face, taking my eyes momentarily from the path 2 trampled through here a few minutes ago. Cato's fighting back a slight grin now.

"Because we aren't top two yet. You still have to be nice to me," I say with a smile.

He gives a small snort of laughter, hugs my shoulders to his side and mutters, "Friendly ally."

"That's right. But from now on I'll back you up where he's concerned." I jerk my head down the path, indicating 2. "And tell you if you were wrong later. Sound good?"

"Alright." I let go of him then so that when we catch up with 2 and 6, we won't look strange.

It's the fastest, longest hike of the games and we're fairly close to the smoke pile when the second fire is lit. "Come on!" 2 shouts. He's crazy, itching for a fight against an opponent he's sure to be able to overpower. Sure he could fight either Cato or me, but he knows he'd lose, and killing 6 would guarantee him a blade to the chest so he won't fight him either.

"Hang on a second!" I shout after him and he turns to face me, his eyes excited. "Doesn't this seem a little suspicious to you?"

"Tell you what," 2 claps me on the shoulder, "If you're scared of a trap, go back with 6. We'll get whoever's doing this." I push his hand off me, then shove him in the direction of the second fire.

"Move," I order. "And keep your hands to yourself." Cato's eyes meet mine but only for a second. When he sees the look on my face, he turns, glaring at 2's back, and follows him.

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