The Arena: Predator
“Ivy, we need to rest.”
I push another branch away from my face to find more blood on it. The footsteps are fading in the dried mud, but the blood is still fresh enough to follow. Cain ran, he’s still running, and I’m going to catch him.
I remember the feel of his blood on my face as an arrow tore through his arm. He took another in his hand and one more in his back and he’s still alive, he’s still running. I’m going to end that.
“Ivy, please,” Beck calls from behind me, he sounds tired. But I’m not tired. I’m not allowed to be. I have to keep going. I have to find Cain. He has to pay. They’ll all pay.
I remember watching Cain in training, how poised and deadly he was even when his life wasn’t on the line. He’s strong, much stronger than me. And in here that strength has only magnified with the desire to win. It won’t be easy to take him down. The ache from where the wire attached to my throat seems to remind me of that fact. I’ll have to kill him from a distance. He can never see me coming.
“Ivy,” Beck says again and I snap. Cain will hear us. I can’t let him hear us.
“Go!” Shouting hurts but I don’t care. Beck steps back and I think he’s scared. I keep talking despite the pain it causes, “You don’t have to help me. No more allies. Go.”
“You can’t kill them on your own.”
“I can and I’m going to.” I shift the quiver on my back and find a broken arrow on the ground. There’s some blood on it and in the surrounding area, but it’s lessened now. Cain pulled this out. I’m going to lose the trail.
“And what if they kill you?” Beck asks, his voice dropping as wind rushes through the trees. The grey skies have rolled back in leaving a chill in the arena. I expect it’s going to stay this way for the rest of the Games. The Gamemakers are nothing if not dramatic.
“So,” I barely manage to say as I keep walking, the broken arrow still in my hand. I hear his footsteps following. He grabs my arm, stopping me, and I point the tip of the arrow at his throat. He backs up, never raising the trident to me, and I lower the arrow. I’m not this harsh. I’ve never been this harsh, but it’s a harsh environment and it’s time I learned that.
He doesn’t look scared so much as sad, like he knows there’s no getting through to me. And I can read it in his eyes, the indecision of whether or not I’m worth following. And I’m not, he should know I’m not.
He shuts his eyes and lets out a breath. When he opens them again he’s staring at me hard, asking me if I’m really going to do this. And he knows I am. And his decision is made.
“If you want to kill them you need to be smart about it,” Beck offers. “I was around them during training, I know their weaknesses.”
“I know them too. Cain will use a sword. I’ll have to kill him from the trees. He’s decent with a spear, but not as good as Victoria.”
“And if you’re not in a tree, if he’s out in the field, or in the quarry where there’s nowhere to hide?”
“Then I have to be faster.”
“He took three arrows and he still walked away.”
My nails dig into my palm and my other hand grips the arrow. My anger is burning through me, killing me, and I can’t make it stop. The only way to make it stop is to destroy the cause of it.
“Which is why I’ll aim for his throat.”
My own seems to throb at the reminder, “Show him out it feels.” And it’s not really showing him. I can’t take away someone he loves. I can’t make him feel what I’m feeling, but its close enough. And it won’t be quick.
When I was about seven and still learning to hunt, I shot a deer in the throat. It stumbled, it fell, and it was still breathing by the time my mother and I got to it. She finished the job. I dropped the bow and I ran. The deer was so scared, blood filling its lungs with shallow breaths as more blood dripped from the wound. And it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever run from prey in a hunt.
And my mother had tried to be comforting, or as comforting as she could be. She said it was an accident, that I was learning, that mistakes happen. But words have never been her strong suit, especially when it came to me, even less so when I was a crying and scared child. I’m sure knowing she couldn’t make me feel better hurt her. Another thing I’m responsible for. Another failure on both our parts.
It was my father who made me feel better at the end of the day with a hug and the right words. I didn’t want to go hunting any more. I didn’t want to keep learning when I saw what it did. But he told me what it meant. It meant helping the others in Twelve. We had enough food but they didn’t. And Bas was too young to start learning, it was just me. And it was important to them that I keep learning, but not to feed Twelve, I understand that now. It was important for the Games. It was important so I could survive.
And I know my mother loved me, though I’m sure she can’t now. She can’t love what I’m becoming. And neither can my father. I’m not worthy of being loved. I killed their son. I killed my brother. I may not have delivered the final blow but it was my fault. It was my failure to keep watch, to save him.
I have to make up for that even if it kills me.
I remember the deer and its fear and I’ll see that in Cain’s eyes before the end. An arrow in the throat, him choking on his own blood, it’ll be slow and painful. Perfect.
“And what about Victoria?” Beck asks, destroying my mental image of Cain on the ground.
I don’t have an answer. She’s the one who’s hardest to kill. She knows how to hide. She’s perfected close combat and fighting from a distance. She’s fast, she’s strong, and she’s motivated, even more motivated than Cain.
“Catch her by surprise. Get her with an arrow before she sees me coming. Emery dies last.”
“It won’t work,” He argues. “Not alone.”
“You have an out, take it,” I tell him. He shakes his head. This is not his fight. This is not his Game. I won’t have his blood on my hands.
“You’re my ally. I’m not leaving you until the top three like we decided.” He watches me and I can’t look him in the eyes.
“There is no top three anymore, there is no plan. I…it’s over. The only thing left to do is make them pay for it.”
I look around but there’s no more blood, no more footprints. The trail is gone. I drop the broken arrow and I take a breath, swearing under it as I rub the aching skin around my throat. My fingers twitch and all I keep seeing is Bas with the sword through his stomach. I hear Cain’s breath in my ears and my head is pounding.
I see that shocked look on Bas’ face. I hear the cannon and then its static and white noise splintering through my whole body. This can’t be real. It doesn’t feel real. I don’t feel like I’m here anymore. I don’t feel real.
I’m not going to live through these Games, I know that. There is no making it. There is no survival without cost. There’s no coming back. The best thing to do is give into it. Just let the arena claim me. Play the Game. Kill the Careers and lose myself to it.
And I could choose a different path, a smarter and safer one, but they killed my brother. And that anger pumps through my veins with every heartbeat I have and he doesn’t.
I lean my head against the tree and I want to scream. There has to be another way to find them. I will find them.
“Ivy…” Beck tries and his voice practically drips with sympathy. I don’t want to listen to him now. I don’t want to hear anything he has to say. I can’t hear anyone. The static gets louder and it turns into the cannon and I feel Bas’ blood on my hands all over again. I feel dizzy, like I’m going to be sick.
“You should rest.” Beck puts a hand on my shoulder but I shake my head and shrug him off, stepping away from the tree. I’m not trying to prove a point this time. I don’t want anyone near me. I don’t want anyone to see me. I just want to disappear.
“I can’t.” My voice shakes and I feel like I’m going to cry all over again and I look at Beck, he’s worried and it’s real and not an act to make himself look good for the cameras. It’s not the Son of the Mad Girl from Four caring for the Princess of Panem from Twelve. He’s not playing up the lovers 2.0 that he came in here with. And when my eyes meet his, the static stops and I don’t feel like I’m fading, at least for the moment.
It’s then that I hear the faint sound of a parachute as it drops between Beck and I. He picks it up and opens it. The case is larger than the others. When the sleeve of a heavy hunting jacket falls out, we both know the parachute is for me. The jacket is lined better than the one I was originally given, with a hood sewn into the lining. I wonder which sponsor sent it. How do I still have sponsors? And even worse, what does that mean when this is over? What will they want in return?
A part of me doesn’t want to live through this.
“That’s a nice gift,” Beck says, and he clears his throat, as he drops his eyes. He knows what it means just as much as I do. I’m too well liked in the Capitol. It was never going to end any other way for me if I won. And it was part of the reason I didn’t want to win.
“You should put it on,” he says, untwisting the cap of his canteen, “And you need some water.” He holds it out and I do as he says, taking a sip from the canteen before I slide the jacket over my arms.
It’s warm and its instant relief the second I put it on. It’s something tangible keeping me on the ground. It smells new, the leather fresh and clean. It doesn’t smell like the arena. I pull the hood up as the wind shakes leaves from the trees.
Beck looks into the canister the jacket came in and removes a note from it. I don’t want to know what it says. I don’t want whatever advice I’ll be given. If anything, it’ll just be another reminder that I lost my brother and that I’m alone.
I readjust the quiver on my back as I pick up my bow. The chain necklace that the wedding rings reside on scrapes against my red and raw throat. I cringe from the momentary pain, but I won’t take them off. The metal cools on my skin behind my shirt and it’s another reminder of home. A reminder I didn’t want to feel but now I’m feeling everything.
I see the blood again. I see my brother’s eyes, vacant and lifeless. And I hear him telling me he ran. He was apologizing, he was saying goodbye. I shut my eyes, trying to make the images go away, but they don’t. It’s worse in the dark.
I open them and find Beck. He’s reading the note with far greater care than I would have given it, holding it with delicate fingers as he reads then re-reads the words. He looks at me and he swallows back some emotion he’s trying desperately not to show. His eyes are glassy as he folds it back up.
“What’s it say?” I ask.
He hands it to me without a word and I’m almost afraid to take it. I turn the note over. It’s handwritten, it must have been slipped inside before the canister closed, or even put inside the jacket and fallen out in transport.
Don’t worry, we’ve got you.
I turn it over, expecting there to be more but there’s nothing. It doesn’t say who it’s from or who it’s for, but I know it’s not for me. There’s no advice, no warnings, just five words that are meaningless to me. I look at Beck as a tear falls down his cheek. And it’s five words that mean the world to him.
“What’s it mean?”
His hand falls to the shell necklace, patting it under his shirt as if to remind himself it’s there. He takes a breath, wiping the tear as he shakes his head.
“I don’t know.”
I don’t believe him and I can read it on his face not to ask, so I don’t. I shrug and hand him back the note.
“Well, maybe you should hold onto it. It could be important.” His eyes are grateful as he pockets it.
I shift the quiver on my back and zip the jacket all the way up. The wind rustles the trees once again and I’m ready to move. I’ll follow where the blood stopped. I’ll pick up the trail again I’m sure. I just have to keep moving.
But my legs are tired, my entire body is begging for a break. And I should rest. But I can’t. I can’t even close my eyes without seeing my brother with a sword through his stomach.
“Your mother,” Beck starts and I can’t face him. He’s digging deep now, he knows what he’s saying, he has to know. I stop and I feel frozen at the mention of my family.
He continues, “What would she say if she were here? What would she do? Because if it’s this, if you know it’s what she would want, I’ll follow you and I’ll shut-up. But if it’s not, if even Katniss Everdeen wouldn’t go so far as to hunt someone down, then maybe you should stop before it goes too far.”
I finally bring myself to look at him and I feel the bite of my anger. He doesn’t get it, how could he?
“And what would your mother think of it, if it was you?” I ask bitterly. “If you had a sister in here, and you lost her. If you had to watch her die, while the people responsible got away. What would Annie Cresta want you to do? What would she do?”
“I can’t answer it because I’m not you. I didn’t…”
“That’s right you didn’t. And you don’t know what I’m feeling or what my mother would say. You don’t know her. I barely do.”
There’s truth in my words but not all of it. I know enough to know she wouldn’t want me doing this. She wouldn’t want me to be a killer, even if she trained me to survive. That’s all it was. Survival. Never murder. Never revenge. Never killing to kill.
Even when she killed in the arena it was to save another or to save herself. Even when it was Rue dead on the ground and she killed the one who threw the spear, it was because she thought she was protecting them. It was never about revenge, just survival.
They like to show that kill a lot on the highlights of my parents. I’ve seen it nearly a thousand times. Marvel throws the spear, my mother fires the arrow, he goes down and she realizes Rue is dying. The Capitol loved that moment. What came after, they don’t show. They don’t like to remind everyone of what my mother did for Rue.
But I’ve seen that too, in my father’s paintings, the one’s he never wanted me or my brother to see. But we did. And it’s one of many memories that I have with my brother, of the two of us realizing that our parents weren’t like other parents, and he handled it better than I did. He was there for them when they needed them.
I don’t know what my mother thinks of me now. When I was younger, I used to think she thought I was a burden, something she never wanted. And now I know that’s not entirely true. But I can’t imagine her wanting me to come home after this. But I think she would let me do what I’m doing. Or she’d do it herself. It’s Bas. She wouldn’t let it stand. I can’t let it stand.
“Then what about your father? What would he say to you right now?”
I can hear his voice. I know what he would say. He wouldn’t want me to do this. He’d want me to hold on. He’d be mourning. He’d be angry and sad but he would want me to come home with as much of myself in tact as possible. And I feel like I’m about to fall into this pit, like I’m standing on the edge of it and if I step off the ledge, if I give in, there’s no climbing out. I become just like them.
My mother’s voice floods my mind as well, repeating the mantra over and over. And then Bas’ voice grows the loudest, telling me not to play, telling me the Capitol can’t force us to do what they want. And he had said it with so much hope, but there’s no hope left now. They can make us play. They can make me be their star tribute. They took him away. And I’m not strong enough to fight them.
“It’s okay,” Beck says and he pulls me into a hug and I let him. I fall into the embrace like a blanket covering me and I let out a breath. I can’t cry. I can’t do anything but lean my head into his chest and close my eyes. He places his chin on top of my head and he keeps telling me it’s okay but it’s not, it won’t be. And I just want to sleep. I need to sleep. I need to forget.
One second I close my eyes and the next the anthem wakes me and I’m sitting against a tree. Beck is beside me, woken from his own sleep and I’m staring at the sky. There’s one face, the same face that’s burned into my memories and seared onto my heart until the day I die. My brother.
The anthem plays and I’m on my feet. I grab the quiver and bow and follow where the trail last stopped. It’s still light enough that I can see and I wonder if the Gamemakers are keeping it that way. Beck quickly scrambles for his trident and he’s hurrying to catch up to me, calling my name as I push further.
It doesn’t matter what my mother or father would say or what they would think of me. If anything, getting the jacket means I’m on the right path. I’m sure my mother would make Cain pay if she could. They took my brother. They took him, they killed him, and I had to watch him die.
And I’ve always been like them. A Career. Trained to survive the Games, trained to be a Victor, a fighter, a survivor. And it’s so easy to slip into that thinking in here. I knew it the moment I saw the others in training, I knew how to kill them. And now it’s all lining up and falling into place. It’s easy to put that mask on, to be the Career. And I fall over the ledge, I drop into the pit. And it’s so easy to fall.
There’s never been any coming back from this.
I’m picking up speed and Beck’s voice fades, he’s farther away now, but I can hear him running to catch up. He can’t stop me no matter how hard he tries and he’s going to keep trying. I have to leave.
He can’t follow me in this. His mother wouldn’t forgive me for it. And I can’t have someone else die because of me.
So I start to run and I hear him yell after me but I just run faster.
There’s a loud crack that echoes through the forest. I stop and look around, trying to find the source. Smaller cracks sound out, followed by a creaking and a tree falls in front of me. I turn as another falls and I’m bottle necked. I run straight from the fallen trees when another cuts off my path, forcing me to change direction.
I start to wonder if Beck is okay. I didn’t hear a cannon. He has to be okay. But I can’t think of him. I can’t worry for another tribute in here, not anymore. I have to focus on what I have to do. I’m breathless as cracks keep ringing out and trees splinter and fall.
I jump a smaller tree as it drops in front of me and then all at once silence falls and I can catch my breath. I have to get my bearings, figure out the best path to find Cain. I stand on a rock, trying to find where I’m at in the forest, but then I see Beck emerge from the shadows.
He’s clutching his side, blood beginning to seep into his shirt. His eyes tell me all I need to know. They tell me to run. He turns as Victoria jumps over him and I fire. The arrow misses, my shaking hands too full of anger and fear to fire straight.
“Get away from him,” I growl and I fire again. It hits her shoulder and she’s chasing me. I can’t be in a close fight with her, she’ll win. So I listen to Beck, I run.
And Victoria follows, leaving him alone.
I move as quickly as I can, jumping over fallen trees and branches and narrowly avoiding rocks. But it’s not easy and my mind wanders back to Beck. I have to double back for him, I can’t leave him. No, I have to leave him. I can’t let him die. I have to focus. I keep expecting to hear a cannon and it’s like whatever’s pushing me to keep going buries the thought of him until I can’t feel anything but the ground beneath my feet and the breath in my lungs.
I can’t focus on anything but this fight. If I don’t, I’ll die.
I turn, ready to fire again when Victoria swings her sword over my head. Damn, she’s faster than I gave her credit for. I duck as quickly as I can and I feel the sword hit something, shaking the quiver on my back.
The feathers fall and I realize she just cut my arrows. They’re useless now. A swift kick in my stomach reaffirms the fact that I’m going to die.
And I’m not afraid.
Honestly, I’ve faced death so many times in this arena that I’m starting to forget what it feels like to be safe. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to be home, to laugh, to smile. And maybe that really sunk in when Bas was gone, but it all started the day of the Quell announcement.
I knew it was going to end here. There was no way I was coming home.
And I feel guilty. I feel so guilty for letting it happen this way. It isn’t right. I shouldn’t be the last one to leave. Bas should be running away while I take the blows, while I keep him alive. And Beck needs help but I won’t be there to give it.
And if he dies that’ll be my fault. If one of the Careers wins, and they’re going to, that’s on me too. I should have been better. I should have been smarter.
I should be dead by now.
But I’m still breathing, still fighting, and I’m not sure how. I’m not sure what’s driving me, but I’m not stopping it. Victoria has her foot on my chest, pinning me to the ground. I grab one of the useless arrows from my quiver and jam it right into her ankle. She doubles back, dropping her sword. I grab another and hit her knee, jumping onto her as she falls.
And I see her and Cain and all the destruction they’ve brought into my life. I grab another arrow as her arms punch and her nails claw but I don’t feel it. I grab another one and it’s in her chest, the next one in her stomach, and I keep going until she’s not breathing and there’s a cannon telling me I’m done.
I stare at her eyes and they’re cold and dead. And I thought I would feel satisfied, I would feel good about this, but I just feel empty.
Beck was right.
There’s blood on the ground and on my hands and all of my arrows in her body. I don’t know what to do. I feel my stomach churn and I’ve never been this. I’m not this. I don’t know what I am anymore. I’m nothing.
This isn’t being a Career. This isn’t survival. This is vengeance. And the rage that burned through me stifles but I don’t feel better. I’m just like Cain. I’m worse than him. I’m a mutt. I’m the Capitol’s creation. Their Princess, designed to speak their words, fight in their Games, and die.
They don’t want me to survive this.
I hear footsteps and I can’t bring myself to move. I hear heavy breathing and I look up to see Beck. His eyes are filled with worry until they settle on mine and he lets out a breath. He’s using the trident to keep himself upright, his other hand clutching his bleeding side where Victoria’s sword struck.
And the Capitol doesn’t want him to survive either. He’s a reminder that Victors can’t be controlled. He’s defiance, living and breathing and fighting to live.
We were both meant to die once we were raised into this arena.
“I thought you…I thought…” He doesn’t finish and something in the way he says it snaps me into autopilot. It makes me move.
I grab his hand, squeezing it to reassure him. “I’m fine.” My voice is too cold, it’s too far away and I know I’m not, he knows I’m not, but it doesn’t change anything.
“We need to…” I look at his wound, its deep enough that it needs stitches or salve. He shakes his head.
“I don’t think we’re getting any more parachutes.”
I want to ask why but there’s no time. He needs to be patched up and I have to figure out how. The hovercraft arrives but I need Victoria’s shirt. I take whatever cloth I can cut from her and leave the arrows.
We find a creek where the river runs off and I have Beck lift up his shirt. I rinse off the cloth as best I can before pouring water on the wound in his side. He winces, shaking at the pain.
And still, I don’t feel anything for what I’ve just done. I don’t feel bad. I don’t feel sad. I just feel nothing. It’s an empty feeling settling into my stomach and I can’t even be unsettled by it.
“I’m sorry,” I say when Beck winces in pain again. Even as my words claim apology, there’s no emotion, there’s nothing to tell him it’s true. I can feel his breath on my neck as I start to wrap the cloth around his stomach tight enough to hold off the bleeding. He’s going to need help soon. He won’t last long with this, the wound is too deep.
And it’s what President Snow wants, to see him disappear. It’s what he wants for me. I’ve outlived my usefulness. Beck’s outlived his invisibility. We are both living on borrowed time.
“Are you okay?” He asks in a voice that cracks and shakes. My eyes meet his and I don’t have anything to say. We both know I’m not. Neither one of us is okay at the moment.
“Are you really the one who should be asking that?” He cracks a smile and something fragments through the cold inside my bones and warms them. And it’s a light that spreads and grows without me fighting it, and that’s when I start to feel it all.
And I feel ashamed for what I’ve done to Victoria, but I’m more afraid that I don’t regret it at all.
I tighten the cloth and Beck winces once again, his breath shuddering before falling back into the same heavy, shallow, rhythm. I don’t know how long he has.
We have to survive.
“You said there’d be no more parachutes. Why?”
He shakes his head, “Just a feeling.”
We’re too close, my face inches from his. I should back away, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Because I know, once I do, that light, that warmth is going to disappear and that coldness, that darkness swirling in my blood will claim me once again.
“What did the note mean?” I ask and he sighs. I should pull away, I should take my hand off his stomach. I should probably let him put his shirt back on. There are a lot of things I should do. But he doesn’t stop this either, he doesn’t push me away.
His hand runs through my hair, settling beneath my ear against my neck and I can’t help but lean into the touch. And the sounds of the arena fall away, the weight in my heart disappears, and it’s just us.
“I thought the cannon was for you,” he says as his thumb circles my cheek. He stares so hard into my eyes that it feels like I could shatter beneath the gaze, like he’s trying to get me to see something, but I don’t want to see it.
I know what happens to people I care about, especially in here. I can’t care anymore, no matter how hard it is not to. I can’t let him in anymore.
And I think for the first time I understand why my mother did what she did to me, why she wanted the distance. And even worse, I can’t help but feel the eyes of the Capitol on us. Like the Gamemakers planned this moment and we’re both acting according to plan.
And as much as I don’t want to, as much as it hurts me to, I remove his hand from my face and I back up. The cold descends on me quickly as my blood turns to ice and all I can feel is the darkness creeping back in.
Beck swallows, his eyes still watching me, and they look sad. Still, he puts on a smile and a brave face and I don’t know whether or not I want to believe the mask anymore. I don’t know if I can manage my own.
“I’m gonna be fine.” He pulls his shirt on and tries to bury the pain he feels as he does so. But I can still see the blood as he zips up his jacket to cover it.
“I don’t have any arrows,” I say and all I have is a knife and a useless bow. I should have picked up Victoria’s sword. I’m an idiot and Beck is injured. How is he going to throw a trident? How are either of us going to survive?
“There’s one,” he says as he reaches into the sheath that held his trident. He removes the first arrow I fired in the Games and twirls it in his hands, like he’s admiring it, considering it. He hands it to me and it’s the arrow that killed Trina but it’s also the one that saved his life. It’s the one that I couldn’t look at. And it’s the only one we have now.
We need help.