"That's five." I say after the last cannon sounds.
"Who do you think it was?" Dale asks splashing his face with water.
I shrug, "No way of knowing till tonight." The Capitol has killed another five children.
"You think it's safe to drink?" Azeika asks both of us. I look at the stream; the water seems clear, and there is no sign of any wildlife in it. Like everything else in the arena, the riverbed is made of rock.
"I'm not sure, but do we have a choice?" Dale says, skipping a rock on the water.
"Well I'm pretty sure it is safe." I say.
"How can you be sure?" Azeika questions.
"Well," I kick a nearby rock, "Between the two of you I'm sure District 5 has some sponsors."
"And then there are your sponsors." Dale adds genuinely.
I laugh, "You don't have to do that Dale, the Capitol hates me." Dale knows it's true, and doesn't say anything else. "Anyway, the thing is that iodine isn't that expensive, especially on the first day. If we needed it why wouldn't they send it?"
Azeika nods, "Alright" she says. She walks over to the water, cups her hands, scoops up some water, and after a momentary pause, she takes a drink. Dale watches her nervously like he is expecting her to keel over any second. "Well it tastes fine." I laugh and take a sip myself.
After we have all had our fill Dale is the first to speak up. "Good thinking, Proxy" I have often wondered about whether or not Dale has had his misgivings about my plan. I know that he dislikes the Capitol and would like to survive, but I can tell that defying the capitol and making it out alive aren't what he really cares about. When push comes to shove all that matters to Dale is making sure Azeika ends her life, not in this arena, but back in District 5. Azeika is a different matter, she is more complex than Dale, she is a true believer in my plan because she can't decide between; her life, Dale's, and defiance. Maybe she is the balance Dale and I need.
"So what do you think that earthquake was about?" Azeika asks.
"Gamemakers." I say with obvious disgust.
"But why?" she continues, "Why cause a disaster during a bloodbath?" I realize I've never really thought about the motivations of the Gamemakers other than to ruthlessly kill tributes, but now that Azeika mentions it they must have reasons for what they do. I have always thought of the Gamemakers like people playing checkers, taking out as many tributes at a time as they can, but that's the wrong way of thinking. They are more like chess players. Every move they make is calculated, taking certain pieces off the board, position stronger ones, sacrificing weaker ones, planning many moves ahead.
"I don't know," I respond. For the first time I really question my plan, can I really outsmart these Gamemakers?
"They wanted to cut the bloodbath short." Dale answers not looking at us, but his own reflection in the river.
"Why would they do that?" I ask.
"The audience always enjoys the bloodbath, but if the body count is low then there will be more tributes left to kill each other later. That is what the audience really adores, especially when things are shaken up, which I'm betting they are after the earthquake. No pun intended."
Azeika and I take a moment to let this realization hit us. "Well," I say breaking the silence, "It's been a long day, I think it's time to try and get some sleep, I can take the first shift." I say looking to my friends.
"Sure," Dale nods, and awkwardly looks for a good place to sleep, when he realizes there is none he just lays on the rocky floor.
"I'll watch the sky, tell you in the morning who…well you know." Azeika nods and finds a spot next to Dale, taking his hand and placing it in hers. The look on Dale's face must be a first in the Hunger Games, because surely no one in the Games has ever felt as happy as he is right now. As the two close their eyes a silver parachute descends with a blanket inside. They don't even notice until I've draped it over them. I know it isn't meant for me.
I feel a swell of emotion wash over me; I am filled with both happiness and sadness. I am happy for my friends, even if my plan fails they will at least have each other, but I can't help feeling a bit sorry for myself at the same time. I've never really wanted what Dale wants, never even been confused like Azeika is. My goal has always been to free Panem from oppression. I've never had time for romance. And I never will.
"Did either of you grab any medical supplies?" Marius asks.
"Yeah," I say showing him my first aid kid. The two of us begin bandaging up our cuts and bruises, after the fight with Allan's group we have a lot of both. Storm on the other hand doesn't have a scratch.
"So," I begin wrapping a bandage around my shoulder, "How are we going to find Chace and Acely?" When the earthquake hit we were separated, and when the ground split in half we were on opposite sides.
Storm gives Maruis a wired look, and he nods that he understands. Whatever they just decided escapes me. "What?" I say puzzled. "You do want to find them, don't you? They're our allies."
"Not anymore." Storm says.
"What do you mean, 'Not anymore?' " I ask in shock.
"They are the biggest threats in the arena, if we can take them out we should"
"Are you crazy? Maruis, you can't agree with her!"
"She's right; they are too much of a threat, we have the numerical advantage,"
"What does how many of us there are have to do with it?" I ask.
"If we fought them now the three of us would be more than a match for them, but if we realign who knows what could happen." Marius asserts.
"This is crazy!" I yell. Why did I team up with these monsters? They have no consciences. Still I know they are right, Chace and Acely are dangerous and getting rid of them would greatly increase my chance of getting home. Isn't that why I teamed up with these people in the first place? It's like my mentor told me on the train, my only hope of getting out is joining with them. If I didn't they would see me as a threat and make me a priority to hunt down, just like we are doing to our old friends. And what were my alternatives? Team up with Allan, I don't trust him any more than I trust Storm, and at least Storm would be able to help me in a fight. I could have gone it alone, like the boy from District 10, Finch, but that seems difficult too, sleeping with one eye open, no one having your back in a fight. He seems so afraid to let anyone in.
In the end if I want to win these Games I will have to do things that I would hate others for doing. Actually it's safe to say I hate myself for the things I'm doing. I might have killed Lexeon today, I won't know till nightfall. I can try to rationalize it, that Lexeon will die soon anyway, but killing him myself is another matter.
"Let's get going," Strom says. "If we head into the dead forest we may run into some tributes, they may have supplies." I nod, this is the way it is, looking for others to kill, doesn't matter that I'm with the careers, that's how it will be for everyone. I'm sure someone is looking for us thinking the same thing. Probably Chace and Acely have come to the same conclusion.
I wonder what it would have been like, if I had ended up on their side, instead of with Marius and Storm. I don't like Chace and Acely, but they seem like the lesser of two evils. I have hated Maruis since seeing his reaping, and Strom is so cruel and fearsome. The other two are just as vicious, but I feel like I might be able to trust them, just a little bit more. Acely and I haven't exactly been friends, but she isn't like the others, I can see how conflicted she is about the games. As for Chace, for a long time I thought he was just the male version of Storm, but there is something else there. I don't know exactly what it is, and maybe I just imagined it, but I think he has another side to him.
Thinking this way won't do me any good. I didn't end up with Acely and Chace. When I see them I will do everything I can to kill them, and they will pay me back in kind.
I pick yet another thorn out of my suit. It's pretty strong material, but theses thorns are sharp, and easily penetrate it. As I hack through the tall bushes I think how lucky I was to get out of there alive. I noticed a few others weren't so lucky. I honestly don't know how much longer I could have held off against Storm if that earthquake hadn't hit.
Once It did I grabbed what supplies I could and headed straight for the sea of thorns. I must be a few hundred feet in by now. I feel pretty sure that no one else is in here but I still want to be as secluded as possible. I want to be far away from everyone. If I somehow I am able to get out of this arena I don't think I will ever be able to forget what I saw in the bloodbath.
I still have all the wounds, including a painful cut on the cheek, but even that would not seriously hamper me. I decided to grab what I could to survive instead of what would heal me. I have to be smart in these games, my wounds were only superficial, I can deal with those, but having a sleeping bag to rest in while I'm in the sea of thorns is invaluable. And the jug of water I grabbed will come in handy as well. Venturing out for water is a dangerous task. I think I'll be safe here, if someone were to come after me, I would be able to hold my own. Fighting a group out in the open is tricky, but here a single person may have the edge.
I find an area relatively free of thorns and set up my sleeping bag. I consider trying to stay awake to see who made it out of the bloodbath, but I know that it doesn't really matter. Knowing which tributes are alive is pretty unimportant. All eighteen of the others are trying to kill me. I try to get to sleep, but something is at the back of my mind. I keep replaying what I saw in the bloodbath, when I was fighting Storm I could see Ashlyn. For a moment our eyes met, but then something happened, Ashlyn was cut. Evander got her.
I fill with rage when I think of him. I can't understand why, but I feel so much hatred toward Evander. I know he was just doing what everyone was, but he attacked Ashlyn, maybe he even killed her in the fight, I lost track of her during the fight with Storm. My anger at Evander snowballs. I know that I will have to kill without remorse to survive, but Evander has taken it too far. He crossed the line when he allied with the careers. They are just the capitol's lap dogs, and so is he.
I finally open my eyes, I can see through the bushes that it is still light out. Good, because I have to know if Ashlyn made it out alive.
I dive into the river, washing all the blood off of my body, much of it my own. The current is pretty fast downstream, closer to the waterfall, but it's nice and slow here. Even after scrubbing myself for an hour, it's still the dirtiest I've been in my life. I thought I was prepared for the games, I convinced myself I understood, but after the bloodbath, I'm not sure anymore.
The first thing I need to do is set up camp, and the best place to do that is the waterfall. With the cliff at my back I cut off the risk of being surrounded or attacked from behind, and I'll always be close to a source of water.
It doesn't take long to get there, and when I do I realize another advantage to setting up camp here. I've got a pretty good view of the arena from this spot. In fact, I can see another camp down the river with two, no three tributes. One seems to be standing guard while the other two are resting under a blanket. It's much too far away to tell who they are, it could be anyone.
I never thought that I would be sitting here alone after the bloodbath. It's dumb luck that I escaped and Kellen died. Fathom was too stupid to realize what was going on, and now Kellen is dead! There was nothing fair or just about anything I've seen in the arena.
I wrote off so much of what Kellen told me, I told myself it was the rambling of a bitter tribute. But there was a reason I asked him to be my ally, it wasn't because he was smart and strong, he is…was both, but not exceptionally so. I think it was because of what he said to me in the training center, about what was right and wrong. I have thought of the world in such black and white terms, but how can I keep thinking that in this place? A place where the children are punished for crimes committed by those who died decades ago.
I think of my District partner, Malcolm, how could I kill him? I know what he has been through, how his family has suffered on account of the peacekeepers. If I want to win I'll have to kill him, or at least hope someone else does for me. How can I never have considered this? I remember on reaping day, thinking that I was so superior, that I would bring honor back to 11, because our tributes were always weak like Malcolm. I never really thought of them as actual people going to die, just as another failed attempt to bring victory to our district.
I hang my head wishing Kellen were still here. He was the first friend who didn't lie to me. He saw me for what I really was, a spoiled brat, but he was alright with that. He always said we were both selfish, and I took it as a joke, but he really meant it. I think he was wrong, we aren't selfish just…conflicted.
I've learned more about people in this past week than all the rest of my life. I've seen selfless tributes; like Proxy, she hasn't made any attempt to hide her beliefs, even if it means her death, and Tawny and Kairen who watch out for each other no matter what. I've seen selfishness too, Storm, and Marius, who will stop at nothing to be victors. Then there are the ones like me, who are conflicted, people like; Evander, Finch, and maybe even Allan.
The sun has almost set when Allan sits down next to me. "Get some sleep, I've got the first watch remember," I remind him. Allan knows that the shifts had to be rearranged. That kind of thing happens the person who was supposed to have the first shift dies.
"I can't sleep," Allan responds lazily picking up a stick. I wonder if Allan feels guilty, we never were supposed to fight the careers in the bloodbath, but when the plan is to go for the cornucopia chances are pretty good they may want to fight you.
"It wasn't your fault, we got out of there with plenty of stuff." Allan just shrugs. I don't quite know what to think of him, we saved each other's lives today, but how long can I trust him?
"I wouldn't rather have any other allies than the three I have now," He says plainly. I can't tell if this is a bit of truth of just another head game. Maybe it's both.
"Yeah, I like us too," I say back with a smile. Regardless of Allan's intentions this seems to be a very nice collection of tributes.
"It's good to have someone from my District on my side," I say thinking of the way Marius came after Amata.
"Well, we haven't always been from the same district you know," He responds.
"What do you mean?" I ask in confusion. "Moving from one District to another is illegal, you can't move whenever you want."
"No you can't, but it wasn't really a choice, my family was…punished, exiled from District 1, forced to live in 8. It's made me who I am today."
"Why were you punished?"
"It doesn't matter," Allan says aggressively, so I drop it. Soon enough the anthem plays and Panem's seal is projected in the sky.
"Here we go," Allan says obviously interested to see who made it out of that quake and battle alive. The first face in the sky is Fathom, and while I'm a bit shocked, I'm pretty happy to see him gone, and so is Allan. Next up is the boy from 4, Mattaniah, who was always a bit annoying. I glace at Lexeon sleeping, his face was almost up there, and he has the bruises to prove it, but he is safe, for now. I can hardly look up, I know the next face is our dead ally. Seeing Amata's face up there makes me even more depressed. Finally both from 12 are shown and I wonder how Lolita managed to make it out without Kellen.
"Okay, well wake me in a couple hours, I might as well try to sleep," Allan says walking into a tent we snagged. I stare at it a long time after he goes in, wodering how much longer before his or my face is up there. At least one of us has to die.