The next day dawns bright and cold, and Annie’s first thought is of the girl she killed. She spent the night tossing and turning on the ground, watching the knife leave her hand and go into the girl’s throat, hearing the cannon, and smelling the iron tang of the blood when she went to recover her knife. She almost lost it then, but she didn’t. She thought about Finnick, fighting to get her sponsors. Falling apart would make that harder, and she had decided to live. At least for a little bit longer.
Long enough to make sure Sebastian gets home. If she goes home, she’ll be broken. She’ll be an absolute mess. She’ll be haunted by the face of the girl from District 9 for the rest of her life. Sebastian could live, though. He could go on and have a decently normal life. As normal as it can be for a Victor. He’ll be the Victor that Panem wants to see. She’ll be the broken mess. The crazy girl from 4.
She’d honestly rather be dead than be famous for that.
Just after she thinks that, though, Finnick breaks through into her mind, from the night they kissed. She tastes sugar and Capitol perfumes and her heart beats a little faster, like it’s reminding her why she wants to live.
But she can’t think about Finnick like that. He’s her mentor, and that’s all he can be.
She stretches her arms up and out. Her injury is down to a dull ache today.
“Hera,” she says. Her voice is scratchy from sleep.
“Hm?” Hera, of course, is already awake. She’s re-stringing her bow in front of the crude map she drew in the dirt last night.
“My arm feels great,” Annie offers, crawling over to sit next to her.
“Good, yeah,” Hera says. “Look at this.”
She finishes with her bow and uses it to point to the far end of the map.
“Yes. Do you see where it is?”
“It’s on the exact opposite side of the arena from the dam.”
“Yeah. At least I think so. That’s where Romana and them were pointing, but they could’ve gotten turned around.”
“What’s your point?” Annie asks, reaching for a canteen from the little pile they made for 3 and 4.
“I want to go look for this canyon today,” Hera says, stretching out her bow to test it. “I want to see where it is and how big it is. I need you to say it’s your idea, though.”
“What? Why me?”
“Because you got one of the highest scores. You’re one of the favorites. You killed someone yesterday. You’re the only one of us who Holiday listens to. And they all listen to her. Plus, you’ve lived through a life-threatening injury.”
“That’s because of Finnick,” Annie says, his name catching in her throat a little. She coughs to cover it up. “He got me good sponsors and stuff like that.”
“That’s exactly my point,” Hera argues. “Your very first gift was, what, half an hour into the Games? And it was some of the best medicine in the country. You’re valuable, Annie. So will you help me out?”
Annie looks at the girl from 3. There are flecks of gold in her brown eyes, gone wide under her knit eyebrows. Her hair is starting to fray from lack of brushing and washing, but it’s still shiny and curly. She’s very attractive. She’s smart, she’s strong, and she knows how to survive. She doesn’t just want to see the canyon. Hera is pleading with her, but she’s also planning something.
“What’s your idea?” Annie asks.
“You have a plan here, right? Why do you want to look at this canyon?”
Hera stares directly into her eyes for a long moment. She sets her bow to the side and moves herself a little closer to Annie.
“I noticed something strange about the dam,” she murmurs. Even the cameras will have a hard time picking up this conversation. “The bottom of it is all dirt. I think it could be rigged up to pop.”
“You mean flood the arena?” Annie asks. Hera nods.
“I mean flood the arena. I want to see the canyon. I want to see how deep it is. I want to see how much water it can hold. I want to see if the water will immediately rush to fill it.”
“Is this the truth?”
“What? Of course. Why wouldn’t I tell you the truth in this?”
“No,” Annie says, immediately jumping to defend her point. “I didn’t mean that you were lying. Just, why actually tell me the truth when you could wipe out every other tribute in a matter of minutes, me included?”
“Because I can’t pull this off alone. And in case I….” Hera’s face goes dark. “In case something happens to me, I want to make sure someone knows how to do this. It should be done, either way.”
“Why does it matter? Why not just wait until we all kill each other?”
“It’s a TV show, Annie. They want to make the biggest splash.”
She actually smirks, and Annie feels the corner of her mouth pull up in half a smile.
“How can you still make jokes in here?” she asks.
“What else am I going to do?” Hera replies, shrugging.
Slowly, one by one, the rest of the group wakes up.
“I’m starving!” Romana calls out. “Where’s the rations?”
Holiday gestures vaguely to the food pile. She looks exhausted. She had last watch this morning. Romana crawls over and eagerly digs in, eating half a loaf of bread before she starts tossing some food to everyone else. Annie ends up with an apple. She eats it slowly.
Sebastian walks over, sits next to her, and offers her a piece of green tinted bread. Annie groans.
“It’s from home!” She grabs the little piece from his hands and takes a tiny bite of it. The taste of salt and seaweed fills her mouth. It’s still chewy, but nice and crusty. “If only we had some shrimp or salted fish. Where did you get this?”
“You got a parachute,” Sebastian says. “Last night, while I was on watch.”
“I was sleeping. It was probably for you.”
“It’s alright. All of our parachutes so far have been for you. Finnick clearly likes you more, so it makes sense.”
Annie blushes and finishes her apple. Hera nudges her to stand up. Apparently the time to speak to the group is right now.
“Hey!” she calls out. The others don’t even hear her. Hera nudges her again, harder this time.
“Yell it,” she hisses. “Take charge.”
“HEY! EVERYONE!” All their heads snap up. Holiday’s eyes narrow. “I think we should go check out the canyon today.”
“Why?” Ivory yells back. “We were there yesterday. It’s nothing special.”
“It might be good for trapping people. Maybe it’ll make a better base, since no one will think to go down there. I don’t know. The point is, we should go look at it as a group.” Hera and Sebastian stand up and shoulder their weapons, in case there’s any doubt that they’d be with her.
“I like the idea of trapping people,” Titus says, standing up and grabbing his sword.
“I like the idea of pushing people down that cliff,” Romana says. “I said as much yesterday. I’m in.”
Ivory shrugs and stands up. He offers his hand to Holiday, who slaps it out of the way.
“Well, if everyone’s going,” she says. “I would’ve liked to know this plan before you told the whole group, though.”
“Shut up, Holiday,” Ivory snaps. “What does it matter if you’re in charge or not? You didn’t even get the highest score. Mermaid girl did. And she has the best sponsors. Maybe we should listen to her for awhile.”
Holiday’s mouth is a small thin line. Slowly, she stands and grabs her own sword, and walks over to the rest of the group.
“Well, fine,” she says, tossing her blonde ponytail to the side. “Let’s get going.”
They quickly clear the camp and head out. Ivory leads the way. Annie walks right next to him. Holiday and Hera stay a few paces behind them. Sebastian and Titus take up the rear.
The woods are eerily silent today. Yesterday there were a few birds, some random rustling noises from higher branches. Signs of life. Today there’s nothing. Like everything died over night, and now it’s all waiting for the rest of the tributes. Annie shudders.
Ivory chats next to her like nothing is wrong. He probably doesn’t even notice. Annie answers him with short, clipped responses.
“How’s your arm today?”
“Good. That’s good. That was scary, when that happened.”
“We all thought you were a goner, but then Hera was pulling parachutes out of the sky like they were apples on trees or something. She patched you up, and everything was alright.”
“You’ve got some good friends somewhere, mermaid girl, that’s for sure.”
After a few minutes, she tunes him out. She shifts her hand and shakes it out. She’s had that hand on her knife belt all morning, in case of another sneak attack. She watches the girl from 9 cough up blood again and stops dead in her tracks. Ivory stops with her.
“Hey, what’s--?” he begins, but then he’s screaming.
They all are.
Annie sinks to one knee, and jams her hands over her ears to block out the impossibly loud, high-pitched noise that’s drilling into her head. A shriek of pain is pulled out of her throat. She manages to glance around the group. Blood is trickling between Romana’s fingers, which are pressed against her ears.
What is this noise? Where did it come from? Annie’s brain starts to boil over. She can feel the sound, physically, pressing in on her from all sides. She collapses onto her side and screams louder. This is it, she thinks. This is how I’m going to die.
Then it’s over, as soon as it had started.
“What the hell was that?” someone gasps. She doesn’t know who. She can only see the trees around her. Everything is muffled and sounds far away. She realizes her hands are still on her ears and slowly pries them off. Two people groan. There are footsteps. Someone is standing up.
“NO, GET DOWN,” one of the girls screams, and Annie presses her face as much as she can into the ground.
There’s a loud thud. Two sickening cracks. Horrifying screams of pain. Then more shouts, more cries, more sounds of movement. Annie forces herself to sit up. She looks around and her heart sinks.
Sebastian and Titus were the ones who stood up. Now they’re both on the ground, clutching their legs. Sebastian is screaming. Hera is kneeling over him, trying to get him to stop, trying to look at his leg. Titus is poking at the fragment of bone poking through his clothes. He’s not screaming anymore, but his face is white.
And Annie freezes. The others scramble around, trying to figure out what exactly they should do, but Annie doesn’t move until she falls forward onto her hands and knees and throws up the small amount of breakfast she managed to eat. Everything around Sebastian’s screams comes back into focus. Everyone is yelling something.
“What was that?”
“We should move! What if it comes back?”
“WHAT WAS THAT?”
“SOMEONE HELP ME SET THIS LEG.”
The last shout is from Hera. Her voice cuts above everyone else’s. Annie crawls over to her, wiping her mouth as she goes.
“What do you need?” she asks. Her voice is weak and shaking.
“Hold him down,” Hera says. “I have to get his bone back into place, and he won’t stop moving.”
She nods and turns to her District Partner. He’s still screaming.
“Hey,” Annie whispers, pulling Sebastian’s head into her lap. She takes one of his hands. “This is going to hurt a lot, but just squeeze my hand, okay? You won’t get better unless she does this.”
“What’s the point?” he cries, but Annie rubs his face with her shaking hand.
“You’re going to be okay. We have a deal, remember?”
“Top six,” she murmurs so only he can hear. “We both have to make it to the top six.”
“And what if I don’t make it? I won’t make it. Just do something, now, kill me. Please, kill me.”
He’s crying. She wipes some of his tears away, but more splash on his face. They’re mine, she realizes. I’m crying.
“Shh, you will,” she murmurs. “You’re going home, Sebastian. Remember home?”
“The ocean. Fried fish sold from carts.”
“That’s good. What else?”
She glances over at Hera, who’s propping his leg up with her jacket. She meets Annie’s gaze and nods.
“I found a dead starfish on the beach once,” he gasps. “I gave it to my mom. She still has it.”
“That sounds like a nice gift,” Annie says.
“Alright, Sebastian.” Hera’s voice is steady. So are her hands. Annie can’t stop shaking. “I’m going to count to three. And then I’m going to do this.”
“Just kill me,” Sebastian cries to Annie. There’s another loud crack, followed by Sebastian’s pained shrieking, right into her ear. She bends down and folds her arms around him, holding him until the shock settles in.
Annie helps him lean against a tree, then stands up. Hera is already over with Titus. His jaw is set. He will not scream again, or cry. Romana stands over him, biting her thumbnail. Their faces are equally white. She won’t cry, either, or scream. Holiday and Ivory are rifling through their packs, hoping to find something for Hera.
Annie stands there, feeling useless. She has no real skill with any of this. None of them do, except for Hera. Annie went to a few non-combat stations, but this is all coming naturally to Hera. She wipes her eyes and looks around. What can she do but stand there? What can she do to help?
Her eyes land on Ivory, and she remembers what he said to her earlier.
You’ve got some good friends somewhere, mermaid girl, that’s for sure.
“HELP,” she shouts, turning her face toward the sky. “FINNICK, PLEASE.”
Her voice gives out. She doesn’t care, right now, if she looks weak. She doesn’t care what sponsors will think. She looks back as Sebastian. He’s shaking. His face looks drained of blood.
“FINNICK,” she screams again, and then a glint in the sky floats steadily down to her. A matching one lands near Titus. Hera rips into it eagerly and gets back to work on Titus’ leg. Annie pulls her own open. It has two collapsible splints, and a long roll of bandage. There’s also some painkillers, and some more of the salve that saved Annie’s arm. She kneels down next to Sebastian.
“Okay, I don’t know the procedure here,” she says.
“I’m sure you’ll do fine,” he murmurs, barely conscious.
With shaking hands, Annie pulls out some of the painkillers. She forces them into Sebastian’s mouth and pulls off her pack.
“Here,” she says, pushing her own canteen into his hands. She helps him guide the bottle to his mouth. He drinks the entire thing.
“Now you’re out of water,” he says.
“I’ll get more,” she tells him. “I don’t know what to do from here.”
He points toward Hera. Annie glances over to the other group. Ivory and Holiday are handing things to Hera when she asks for them. Romana is standing, silently, behind Titus, with clenched fists. Hera is bent over Titus’ bare leg. His pants are cut, all the way up to his hip.
“Okay,” she says, watching Hera for another moment. “I’m going to have to cut off your pants.”
He actually laughs at that.
“And here I thought you had a thing for Finnick this whole time.”
“Shut up,” she hisses. “This isn’t funny.”
Her cheeks are burning, though, and she rips Sebastian’s pants to the knee. His shin is swollen and dark. Something ticks in her mind. Something one of the instructors said at the first aid station.
Better hope it’s not the femur.
Annie opens the jar of salve and applies it all along his shin. She doesn’t know where the break is, so she puts it everywhere, from ankle to knee. He winces a little, but then relaxes.
“I think you’re doing this right,” he says. His face says otherwise, but she doesn’t want to argue with him right now.
“I think I know what to do from here.”
She rips open the package with the splints, presses one to each side of his leg, and wraps the roll of bandage all around them.
“Is that it?” he asks.
“I think so. We’ll have Hera check them when she’s done with Titus.”
He nods and settles back against the tree to fall asleep. Annie sits back, hard, and lets out a breath she doesn’t remember taking.
She looks back to the others. Hera is sewing up Titus’ leg. The other three stand there and watch with wide eyes. After a few minutes, Hera wipes the back of her hand across her forehead, leaving a long smear of blood. She grabs a bandage roll from Holiday and wraps it around Titus’ entire thigh.
“That’s all I can do for now,” she says. “He should be okay. Make sure he doesn’t move. I’ll set the splints when we get back.”
“Back?” Romana snaps. “Back from where? Where the hell do you think you’re going at a time like this?”
“I want to see the canyon,” Hera says. “He’s stable. He’ll be fine while I’m gone. Don’t worry. It won’t take long.”
“No.” When she says the word, Annie notices for the first time just how big the girl from 2 is. She flicks her dark ponytail from one shoulder to the other and crosses the ground to point a finger in Hera’s chest. They’re almost even in height, but Romana seems to tower over her. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“Yes she is,” Annie says without realizing it. “We’re here to see the canyon. We’re going to see the canyon. Titus will be fine. He just needs to rest for now.”
Romana turns to look at Annie, who feels like a shrimp being cornered by a shark. Her piercing eyes look her up and down. Annie puts a hand on the same knife that killed the girl from 9 just yesterday.
“Fine,” she spits. “Go find your stupid canyon.”
“We’re bringing Ivory,” Hera blurts. “He knows how to get there, and you should stay with Titus. And keep an eye on Sebastian.”
“I’ve got that,” Holiday says, faintly. “I’ll watch him.”
Her eyes lock on Annie’s and she nods. Annie nods back.
“We’re close,” Ivory says. “It won’t take long.”
Hera pulls out her canteen. She rubs some water between her hands and dumps some over her head. Annie and Ivory shoulder their packs.
“We’ll be back before you know it,” Hera tells Romana, pulling on her own pack. “He’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
Annie glances back at Sebastian, still asleep against the tree, one last time before turning to Hera and Ivory. They all nod at each other, shakily, and Ivory starts walking down the right path.
It’s a short walk, really, or maybe it just feels short, because none of them are really thinking clearly. The ground lays flat and steady for about a mile, then it starts to slowly descend. The lower they go, the fewer trees are around them. After a few minutes of walking, Ivory holds out his arm to stop the other two. The sun is a little past it’s high point, so it shines almost directly into the clearing.
The canyon is huge. It looks like it was cut from the earth with a jagged knife. It zigs and zags and stretches on for what looks like miles. Far away behind them, the top of the dam peeks out just over the trees. Hera picks up a rock and throws it over the edge. They don’t hear it hit the ground.
“Alright, you’ve seen it,” Ivory says. “Let’s get out of here.”
He turns around and starts to head back. Hera catches Annie’s eye, and she has a triumphant, almost wild look to her. Annie knows exactly what that look means.
This canyon is going to work just fine. They could blow up the dam and wash away every other tribute. This plan is going to work.
The sun sets impossibly fast as they walk back to the clearing where their group is. None of them says a single word. They don’t know what there is to talk about.
When they’re a few minutes away from the group, they hear shouts. Ivory starts to run, pulling his sword out of his belt. He stops short, though, when a cannon goes off.
Annie’s heart sinks.
They all sprint the rest of the way to the clearing. Annie finds Sebastian immediately, still propped against his tree, watching the rest of the group. Ivory is already down on his knees with an arm around Holiday. Romana is kicking the ground. She buries her machete into a tree and sinks to her knees, screaming. Annie and Hera walk to the group.
“What’s wrong?” Annie asks.
“His stitches popped. Or something.” Holiday looks back and forth between the two other girls. “We didn’t know what to do.”
Annie looks down at Titus’ body. He’s sitting in a pool of his own blood. His eyes are open and lifeless. His skin is pale, his lips already turning blue.
Hera sinks to her knees, but otherwise has no reaction. She looks like she’s staring at her own body.
“YOU,” comes a scream from somewhere behind them. Half a second later, Romana has Hera pinned to the ground. “YOU DID THIS. YOU KNEW THIS WOULD HAPPEN.”
She presses her sword against Hera’s throat.