"What are you doing?" I ask Chace, who is sitting by the river mumbling something.
"I'm trying to remember everyone who died. I don't think they should be forgotten." He grabs a stone, tossing it in his hand. "What was the name of the District 6 girl? I think it started with an A."
"Amber," I reply.
"No, that was the girl from 12," He says rubbing his temple. He's right, how did I forget that?
"I can't remember"
"Neither can I…" Chace says sadly skipping his stone in the river.
"You alright?" I ask taking a seat next to him.
"Not really," he says glancing at me.
"Well," I say inching closer to him, "If we can defy the Capitol, we will make sure that no one ever forgets why they died." This seems to inspire Chace.
"Your right, we can do this, show Panem that we need to change. So many people out there are like I was, blinded by the evil of the Capitol. Even more are afraid to stand up for themselves. We can inspire them, just like you inspired me." He turns to me and adds, "Thank you, you really are amazing."
I find myself blushing when he says this. "Oh well," I'm at a loss for words. "I think you're awesome too." I have found that over the past few days this boy has been occupying my thoughts more and more.
When I first saw him on reaping day all I felt was hatred. Just another killer for the Capitol. Seeing him in person only intensified the feeling, he and Storm were ruthless and dangerous. While surviving with Dale and Azeika I hardly thought of him at all. He was just another member of the careers that I wanted to avoid. Then when I saw him and Acely charge towards us I felt a rush of adrenalin, and something I had been trying to shut out. Fear.
After he saved us I didn't even know what to feel. He was still a career, even if he had saved us. That night while we stayed up talking everything changed. Something he said, I can't even remember what it was, made me trust him. Since then we have been growing closer and closer. He is not some simple minded career; he is a kind funny, and brave. Kind of handsome too.
After Finch saved us from Allan Chace and I fell asleep together. Somehow we found each other again last night. I don't know if I'm imagining it or not, but I keep thinking that the way he looks at me is like how Dale looked at Azeika. Maybe when this whole thing is over we can end up together. That is if my plan works.
That is the most important thing, the freedom of Panem. I can't let my personal desires get in the way, especially not when we are so close to the end. I have to be sharp, ready to outsmart the Gamemakers.
"I think I'm gonna go check the traps," he says getting up. Before leaving he turns back for a second. "Will you be here when I get back?" he asks almost a bit worried.
"Yeah," I nod, smiling like a little kid.
"Great," he smiles back, walking away. All I can think as he leaves is that he even has a cute butt.
"So when do you think they will tell each other how they feel?" Azeika asks as Chace goes off to check the traps.
"Do they really need to, isn't it obvious?" I respond.
"Well sometimes people need to be direct, I wish Dale and I had, maybe we would have ended up together before we came here."
"Yeah..." I say somberly, "I know what you mean." My thoughts go to Ashlyn and how I couldn't tell her how I felt or even save her when she was about to die. I acted too late, and I lost someone special to me. Azeika and I have that in common I suppose; both of us are grieving for our district partners.
"How have you been holdin' up?" I ask.
"As well as can be expected," She answers. "I know that I can't let my sadness destroy me, otherwise Dale's sacrifice will have been in vain. He gave his life for me, so I have to make whatever is left of my life worth something." I nod; if Proxy can be strong I have to as well.
"I can still make a difference; all of Panem is watching us. Proxy is a smart girl, and her plan can work. It has to." Azeika and Proxy have a fire in them that I can't help but admire. Before I joined their alliance I honestly thought they were both sorta crazy. Azeika definitely has a bit of a wild look to her, with her huge green eyes and crooked smile with the gap in her front teeth. Honestly seeing someone that pale shocked me when I first saw her; she is almost as pale as Lex was. And then there is her hair, I remember it used to drive her stylist crazy. Now though, I have nothing but respect for them both.
"I think I'm gonna have a chat with Proxy…" Azeika says casually.
"Ahhh, girl talk?"
"Something like that."
"Well," I say sanding up, "In that case I think I'll help Chase check those traps."
"Hah," I laugh, "Something like that."
It doesn't take me long to catch up to Chace. "Hey," I greet him.
"How many traps have you checked so far?"
"Two," he responds. It doesn't seem like he is carrying and food so they must have been empty.
"How many more do we have to check?"
"Another two, but…"
"I doubt well find anything," he says pessimistically.
"What makes you say that?"
"Well, we have this theory that the Gamemakers are slowly killing the arena."
"What do you mean?"
"There killing our resources, including food."
"Why would they do that?" I ask.
"Could be a few reasons," Chace begins, "Maybe they want finish the games quickly, hopefully that means that our message is getting through."
"Yeah," Chace agrees, but doesn't seem happy. It takes me a minute to figure out why.
"What does that mean for our plan to stay alive?"
"It's not good."
The two of us walk in silence for a bit. I don't really know how to begin what I want to say to him, so I just start talking. "Hey so…you and Proxy…is that like a thing?"
Chace gives me a suspicious look. "Why?"
"Oh, it's not like that," I say quickly to keep him from getting the wrong impression. "I just got that vibe that maybe something was goin' on between you two…"
Chace stops for a second. "I'm not sure what is going on exactly."
"Chace can I give you a bit of advice?"
"Well, I don't know if you knew this about me, but I had a thing for my district partner, but I never made a move. Now it's too late. I don't know what would have happened, and now I never will."
"That's good advice, thank you."
"You're welcome." I say somberly.
"You know I was a little worried you were gonna make a move on Proxy yourself for a while."
"No," I say grinning, "But, I can see why you like her, she ain't bad lookin'."
When I finally get to her she is leaning against a tree. "I've been tracking you for two days now; you aren't going to run are you?"
"No," answers Jade. "I'm not going anywhere."
"Good," I reply. I don't want a repeat of when I found Lolita. "You're brave, I'll give you that. You've lost a lot of blood and you're still willing to fight."
"True, but your arm looks like it's seen better days." I glance at my freshly bandaged wound when she mentions it. "If I don't kill you an infection might."
"Well I guess I'll just have to win the games quickly," I quip back.
"Might be tough, still some tough competition out there; Chace, Storm, Finch,"
"You," I add.
"Oh, I don't know about that, it might just be luck I've made it this far."
"Don't sell yourself short, it's the final eight. You and I are the only volunteers outside District 2 left."
"I guess so, I never really thought about it like that," she shrugs.
"What made you do it, volunteer anyway?" I question.
"My family." Her response catches me off guard.
"What…what do you mean?"
"I had to make sure my family survives. When my father died my mother broke down, all she had left was my sister. I knew that if she died my mother wouldn't be able to support us any of us. So when I took my sister's spot it wasn't just to save her, it was to save my brother and my mother too."
This takes me completely by surprise. Surely Jade mentioned this in her interview with Caesar, but I must not have been paying attention. Killing her will be that much more difficult.
"What about you, why did you volunteer?" she asks.
"My family," I respond hollowly.
"What do you mean?"
"I had to prove to them that I'm not a child, that I can accomplish something for myself. That I'm strong enough."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that." At first I think I catch some sarcasm in her voice, but I can see from her expression that she means it. "Isn't it crazy, all the things we do because of our family?" I never really thought of having a connection with some random tribute from District 8. My entire plan was to avoid this kind of thing, but I have more in common with this girl than almost anyone back home or any of the careers. I think I'll give her a fighting chance.
"It really is," I answer. "Well," I clear my throat, "I think we've exhausted things to talk about, are you ready?"
"As ready as I ever will be, and you've humored me long enough."
"Then," I say raising my sword in my right hand, "Let's begin."
Aaralyn and my blades meet with a clash.
"You handle a blade pretty well," Aaralyn says blocking another one of my attacks. "Where did you learn all of that?"
"My mentor," I reply, "She taught me a lot of things." I barely manage to parry another one of her blows.
"You are a quick learner, I'll give you that. I've practiced for years to get to this level." I nearly miss her leg, but she quickly avoids it. Maybe I do have a chance, Aaralyn is obviously more talented than I am, but there are so many variables, who knows what could happen?
"Well this isn't training," I reply, "Everything is different when you are fighting for your life."
"That's a good point, you're a smart kid." I block another one of her strikes. We are matching each other blow for blow, but no one can land a hit. "Your footwork is impressive," she remarks as her sword misses me and hits a tree on the left.
"Thanks," I say trying to take advantage of her being out of position, but again she is too fast. I quickly back up to escape her retaliatory strike when out nowhere I feel an odd groove in the ground. The next few seconds seem to happen in slow motion. My foot gets caught in the groove, rather ironic considering Aaralyn's last comment. I fall to the ground, and barely manage to hold on to my sword. It doesn't matter, Aaralyn only needs to bring down her sword to finish me off.
But she doesn't.
"You can get up."
"What?" I respond dumbfounded.
"You deserve a better death than that, and I deserve a better victory, come on." She dosen't lower her sword, but doesn't try to attack me as I get up either. I rise slowly and bring my sword level with hers. Then it's back on. She is relentless, and I am tiring. I don't know how much more of this I can take. It's time to go on the offensive.
I rush forward throwing caution to the wind, not bothering to defend her cutting my leg. I use the opportunity to take a swing at her head. She ducks but I still manage to draw blood, her cheek is cut.
We both pause for a second reflecting on our wounds and catching our breath. Aaralyn lightly touches her cheek, almost shocked. "I think we might be evenly matched. I'm afraid I can't let this go on much longer if I want a shot at winning these games. I'm sorry."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm a lefty." She switches her weapon into her strong hand and comes at me so quickly I can barely process it. Her attacks are practically a blur. I manage to block a few of the attacks, but soon enough I have a wound on my arm, then my torso, my shoulder. Finally I feel her blade plunge into my chest and I know it's over.
The anthem plays, and I see that the cannon Storm and I heard a few hours ago was for the girl from District 8. I'm that much closer. Only six others remain. However if I want to outlast the ones like Chace and Aaralyn I'll need Storm. She has already saved me once, and I know how much she needs me. Her protection makes her endless string of insults bearable. Besides, I've always had a thick skin.
"So, someone else, maybe Chace is out there getting kills, are you sure you want to stay here and do nothing?" I know storm is stubborn, but I know her drive to beat Chace is stronger than that.
"No, not yet, we will see him soon enough, I've told you a thousand times." She snarls at me.
"Fine," I grumble. It was worth a try.
"I head to our supplies; we are running low on just about everything. Even the stuff we stole from Lex and Ashlyn is dangerously low. We have been sitting around doing nothing for the past few days, and I'm going crazy. We haven't gotten any sponsor gifts to help us in a while either; the price of items must have gotten pretty high. I don't know how much longer we can survive without supplies.
I wonder if we are running out of supplies, how is everyone else doing? Are the Gamemakers intentionally starving us? Maybe Storm is right and they are going to do something to end it soon. Finding a way to win will be tough. If I kill Storm too soon the others will be able to finish me off. If I kill her too late she will finish me herself.
My thoughts are interrupted by the booming voice of the announcer for the Hunger Games, Caldius Templesmith. "Attention tributes, many of you are running low on essential items, and we would love to assist you. That is why we've decided to put together a feast tomorrow at dawn, which will take place at the top of the waterfall. Passing up this opportunity would be most unwise."
Storm gives me a sly smile and snarkily says, "I told you so."