The 67th Hunger Games

Chapter 9

By the time the anthem plays, they have set up camp about 10 metres from the beach with sleeping-bag-lined hammocks slung between the trees and fish cooking on an open fire. The seal flashes up and they all cluster together to watch the faces appear in the sky. The first face is that of Canus with a large number 2 beneath it; Gaspar claps Renatus on the shoulder and the gang hear a ragged cheer from somewhere deeper in the forest. Next, there's the boy from 3, both of the tributes from 5 and both Servitus and Coriolana.

“She's mine,” mutters Gaspar as the District 8 girl appears above them.

“And he's mine,” his partner replies as the boy from 10 replaces her. Then it's Mukhbaza's face and Iristina puts her arm around the other girl. Finally, Theodoros' face flashes up. “Theodoros and Servitus both gone,” murmurs Iristina. “That just leaves us, the Careers and Viatrix.”

“There's another four tributes out there,” protests Renatus. The girl gives him a scornful look and goes back to tending the fish.

“So, they're still alive, then!” yells Haymitch, plopping onto the seat beside Cai. He extends a bottle and the other man takes a swig.

“Yeah. Alive, well-fed and comfortable but red to the elbows; Capitol aren't gonna get bored just yet.”

“Come on! Your two are the Capitol darlings!”

“Come off it! They be all abou' Calidia.”

“Nah! They have to say that stuff 'cause she's the Career with the highest score but there'd be uproar if the Gamemakers went after your two.”

“It's not gonna be long,” sighs Cai, helping himself to another pull from his friend's bottle. “The size of that arena, two gangs… It ain't gonna be long at all.”

“Who's idea were that? The alliance?”

“Hers.” He can feel the grin tugging at his lips. “She got this… incredible brain.” Haymitch pushes himself up from the couch and swivels to stare at his friend.

“No… you didn't? You did! You fucked her, didn't you?”

“Yeah,” rasps out the other man but he has to chug down a lot more of the liquor before he can tell the rest. “So did” – he coughs, dribble running down his chin – “Caesar Flickerman.”

“You're kidding?!” splutters the other victor and Cai shakes his head, furiously. “Damn! Thought she were getting bloody good coverage.” He can't take the pity in the other guy's eyes and averts his to the bottle. “So… bet you've got sponsors lining up.”

“Yeah but they don't need anything. Look at 'em!”

Renatus wakes her two hours after the moon rose. She hates being woken after only six hours, especially as she got so little sleep the night before, but she rolls out of the sleeping-bag and hammock.

“Very elegant,” grins the younger boy, impishly. She chuckles, silently, and ruffles his hair. He hands over the thermal jacket, which is barely warmed from his body heat, unlike the sleeping-bag into which he's now sliding. She rolls her eyes and walks over to the banked up fire and sits on the clods of turf. Although Winnow's spear is lying beside her – they had decided that's the easiest weapon for any of them to use – Iristina feels comfortable. Despite the fact she's in the middle of a deadly competition, she doesn't feel scared. They're a team, they have enough to eat and the Career Pack are running scared. She just hopes the tension of two gangs will be enough to keep the Gamemakers from getting bored because who knows what they might do if they feel that life is too easy for the tributes. She sits there on the gradually cooling sod, getting increasingly stiff, and wakes the others once the sun is well-risen.

“I'm getting back into the hammock. Someone wake me when breakfast's ready,” she growls, her voice hoarse from lack of sleep and lack of use.

“My turn to fish,” Gaspar says as though being magnanimous, which seems a little ridiculous as he has slept through the whole night. Winnow glowers at him and sets to waking the fire up again, while Renatus – the youngest and skinniest of them – dons the thermal jacket and refills their water bottles. Winnow wakes her an hour later by pushing her out of the hammock. She wakes, still encased in the sleeping-bag, falling face first towards the forest floor. She struggles out of the bag and spins around to hurl pine-cones at her assailant. The other girl laughs and chucks a handful of sand back at her, which lands in her mouth because she's laughing so hard. She spits out the mouthful of sand and is just looking for something with which to retaliate, when the cannon sounds. The laughter dies and the two girls are immediately running for the shoreline, each grabbing up a spear en route. However, the boys are there to meet them; Renatus carrying his axe and Gaspar the fishing trident.

“Careers,” growls Winnow, her face transformed from the happy girl of a minute before into a mask of hatred.

“Who… who do you think it was?” asks Renatus, his voice trembling.

“Could be any of them,” spits out Iristina, the after-effects of fear making her bitter. “Girl from 3, Theodoros' partner–“

“8 and 10,” asserts Gaspar as a second cannon sounds. “I saw them up a tree together yesterday on our way down here.”

“Damn it!” rails his district-partner. She rams the spear-point into the sand with a similar amount of force to that employed by Gaspar during the Tributes' Parade and then strides back up to their camp-site. Angrily, she begins pulling down hammocks and repacking the bedding into their bundles.

He watches as her allies slowly return to their tasks and stay clear of his girl. No-one within ear-shot in the arena or watching on TV could doubt her deadliness in that instant. He does not look forward to her watching the highlights, considering how fond she had seemed of the boy when they were in the elevator; his death was a bad one. If she could see the footage, Cai knows she would throw caution to the wind and go after Proc with a filleting-blade.

“Why is she so upset?” demands Amina from the opposite side of the breakfast table.

“She was fond of the boy,” he tells her with a sigh.

“Why? They were enemies!” He stares at the older woman, who has never been his friend, and runs a hand through his hair. However, Adolphus relieves him of the burden of answering.

“She was not lying about caring for the younger children, Amina,” he yawns.

“But she didn't turn a hair at that girl– the one who got her head blown?”

“Coriolana,” supplies Daria.

“Yes but missie couldn't do nothing, then. Had to wait for time up, had to get supplies… couldn't kill thickie landmine, neither,” puts in Gaius.

“But she can kill Proc; probably will, too,” sighs Cai, his eyes finding the screen again. “She'll kill as many of them as she can.”

After breakfast, the girls use a pair of collapsible metal spades to shovel the embers into the sea, while the boys clear up any other litter they have dropped since pitching camp yesterday afternoon. Once all their tracks are removed, they each arm themselves and hoist a bundle onto their backs.

“Which direction shall we take?” inquires Winnow as mildly as possible.

“Towards them,” bites out the other girl and strides out in the direction of the spot from where the hovercrafts collected the two bodies half an hour before. She can hear the other three following but she knows they aren't happy anymore. Yesterday, after they abandoned the Cornucopia to the Careers through to when that first cannon sounded, they had been almost carefree and happy. She knows they all need to be on alert but the current disquiet is more likely to dissolve their alliance early than to keep them alive. As she strides ahead, she tries to think of something they can do to restore unity, something that will tell the Careers they're not afraid. A slow grin spreads across her face at that thought. “Know any songs, Winnow?” she asks, her voice purposefully light and easy.

“Songs?” asks the other, sounding thoroughly confused.

“Yeah, I like singing,” answers Iristina, her smile deepening. “Makes the time pass more quickly.”

“There is one my father sings at the harvest,” Winnow offers.

“Let's hear it, then!” she goads and soon enough a voice as golden as her ally's eyes starts to pour forth.

“Poor, Biancabella gathering goes,
At autumn open and summer close.
To fetch in the harvest and fill her store,
At autumn open and summer close.”

Predictably enough, the song is about crops and the work of District 11 but the chorus is simple enough for all of them to join in and Iristina knows the sound must carry to wherever the Careers are.

The day passes quietly for the four of them. They find the spot where the pair died that morning and discover the blood-pool under the tree from which the boy was suspended but, thankfully, they don't deduce the cause. However, unable to identify the Careers' tracks, they separate with each one taking a different direction. The screens show the arena from above with differently coloured, pulsating dots to mark each tribute.

“The red dots you can see mark the tributes from Districts 1, 2 and 4,” explains Templesmith's disembodied voice. “And the gold ones are the tributes from District 9, 11 and the boy from 7.” He's mildly amused that the colours reflect the dresses worn by Calidia and Iristina in the Tributes' Parade. However, his attention is occupied by the fact that the Careers are once more ensconced at the Cornucopia and that the only other dot anywhere near his girl and her allies is the bright green one which probably denotes Viatrix. The coal-coloured dot is down by the water on the opposite side of the mountain to that being combed by Iristina, Gaspar and the other two. After two hours – during which the cameras have been cutting between all of the tributes – Iristina's gang stop looking for the Careers and the gold dots start moving faster as they head for the pre-arranged meeting point on the far beach, exactly where Koralia is hiding.

Iristina comes jogging out of the forest with a machete in hand from cutting away a tangle of branches. Suddenly, something crashes onto her back, slamming her face first into the sand and sending the blade flying from her hand into the shallows. She tries to push herself up but now there are hands around her throat, so she puts her effort into trying to dislodge the attacker. She draws together all her strength, slams her left elbow into the girl's side and then rolls over, so that the other tribute is underneath her. With the combined weight of her superior bulk and the bundle on her back compressing her attacker's chest, the hands around her throat go limp and she extricates herself from the other girl. She stands up and checks that everything is still in place. However, she has underestimated Koralia's desire to kill her. While she is still checking that the girl hasn't grabbed one of her knives, the remaining tribute from District 12 launches herself at Iristina again, knocking her backward into the water. Again, she tries to roll over but the other girl has her knees on Iristina's chest, keeping her half-submerged in the water. While she's trying to catch a breath that isn't tinged with seawater, Koralia has caught up a rock and starts smashing it into the side of her head. The first hit has her digging her elbows into the silt-like sand under her but it's only after the third one that she manages to push herself up, sending the other girl sprawling backwards. She is soon on her feet again and lunging at Iristina with the bloodied rock again. In the interval, the District 9 tribute has only had time to shed her pack and so is empty-handed when Koralia attacks again. However, she is expecting the attack, so she manages to get one hand around each of the other girl's wrists. They stagger around in a parody of a dance for a few moments and then Koralia loses her footing in the wet, silty sand and she falls with Iristina on top of her. Despite the fact she is now the one half-submerged, the girl from 12 just keeps trying to smash Iristina's skull in, so the other girl can do nothing but hold onto her arms for dear life. After a few minutes, the girl's struggling weakens and, eventually, she goes still. Then, Iristina hears the cannon.

“So, she's dead,” grunts Gaspar. She releases the corpse's wrist and looks around to find that the shore is ten feet away. She can't remember how they got that far out nor does she know when her three allies arrived but they're stood in a clump around her discarded pack now. She realises that she's treading water and that her legs are aching. She turns away from the corpse and swims for the shore. Winnow greets her with a dry blanket in place of a towel and pulls her across to where Gaspar is building a fire-pit, further into the forest than last night. “How does it feel?” her district-partner asks, not looking up from his task. “Your first kill?”

“I-it's… n-not m-my… fir-first k-kill.” Her teeth are chattering and her whole body is shaking, although she can't tell whether it's from the wet clothes and chill wind or a re-action to what's just happened.

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