Chapter Two

“They don’t have much of a selection this year, do they?” Glimmer remarks as she rummages through the cornucopia. I’ve learned that she’s the most talkative of the careers; her mouth runs incessantly and no one can make it stop.

Marvel looks up from a bag of fruit strips, which he’s found a bounty of in a pack. The way he eats them, stuffing them into his mouth thoughtlessly, you can tell that he doesn’t go without meals in his district. I suppose I could say the same, as I haven’t ever gone without a meal in my life. But at least I appreciate it. By the size of these people, I’m sure they get more than stale bread on bad days.

“What do you mean?” Marvel asks through a mouthful of food.

Glimmer returns to the circle where the five of us we eat, me, Cato, Clove, Marvel, and the girl from four, Mallory. The boy from her district died during the bloodbath, apparently. By the way Cato made a short mention of him, I wonder if he was the one who killed him.

Glimmer has a quiver slung over her shoulder and a silver bow in her hand. “The weapons. I’d hoped for a mace or something, but at least I’ve got the bow.” Her eyes turn to me. “Can I try it out on you, lover boy?”

“That nickname’s getting old, Glimmer,” Cato mutters, but his eyes gleam with amusement. He rubs his hands together. “Everybody finish up. And someone has to refill the canteens.”

Clove starts to stand up. “I’ll take care of it.”

“No,” Cato says quickly. “I’ll just do it. You finish eating.” He gathers up the canteens and starts toward the lake ten or so yards away.

I look back down at my dry chicken strips and sigh. I don’t have much of an appetite, though I’m sure I will soon. This is the hunger games, after all.

When Cato returns he hands a canteen to each of us in turn, and when I take mine he gives me a sharp look. It’s a reminder that I’m the omega in this pack of killers. One wrong move.

“Follow me,” Cato orders, and we all jump to our feet to do as he says. I grip the handle of my sword tighter as we approach the forest, my heart thumping hard against my ribcage. The canopy of leaves above doesn’t allow much light to pass through, though the sunset doesn’t let off much light anyway.

I squint my eyes in the dimness as I walk, hoping that I won’t trip over a branch and have Cato think I’m trying to attack. That would end with a sword through my back for sure.

“How far away do you think they are, Cato?” Glimmer asks in a singsong voice.

I wonder what’s going on in that pretty blonde head of hers. It’s as if she really does think this whole thing is a game. Like she doesn’t understand the fragility of lives, including her own.

Cato doesn’t bother responding, and I don’t blame him. He puts an arm around Clove’s shoulders, who walks beside him at the head of the group. I let my eyes travel away from them to the surrounding forest, with its towering trees that are only black silhouettes against the gray light of dusk.

I’m not sure how far we walk or how long it takes; all I’m aware of are the crashing footsteps that echo in the silence, and the sporadic conversation Glimmer provides.

A blue light fills part of the sky and the anthem begins to play, and the six of us stop. I search the canopy for a space to see through and find a break in the leaves to watch.

The faces begin to flash across the sky, with the district numbers displayed beneath them. First comes the girl from district three, who is followed by the boy from four. The boy from five is next, then both from six and seven, the boy from eight, and both from nine. The capital seal flashes across the sky once more, before the darkness returns and with it complete silence.

I take in an involuntary breath of relief, and luckily no one notices. They’ve continued walking so I follow, glad that the shadows cover my smile.

Katniss is alive.

I let my mind shut off while we hike. I don’t think about the here and the now; I let my mind wander. I think about the capital. I think about the games. I think about Katniss. I wonder how things would be different, if we were back home instead of in the arena. Would Katniss ever have noticed me? Something tells me that she wouldn’t have. That she would have ended up with her tall, older friend, Gale Hawthorne. I’ve heard enough from my older brothers, one of which was in Gale’s grade, to know that he’s a hunk. But maybe my brothers are just jealous of him.

I sure am. Katniss always seems to be hanging out with him, in town and sometimes at his house. I’ve seen them while walking back to the bakery from school.

Maybe they still will end up together, if Katniss wins the games. I hope beyond hope that she does get out of here, even if it means that I don’t. I couldn’t live with myself if she didn’t make it through this and I did.

“Could we take a break?” Glimmer asks with a yawn. “My legs are sore.”

“Keep moving,” Cato grunts.

I think this is the end of it, but a moment later Clove’s quieter voice fills the silence. “Maybe just a quick water break?”

Cato turns to look down at her, and the moonlight reflects in his eyes as they soften. “I suppose a short water break wouldn’t hurt.” He recomposes his features and turns to the rest of us. “Be quick, though. We aren’t stopping for long.”

I sit down on a log and lay my sword at my feet, telling myself that Cato wouldn’t kill me because he wants me to help find Katniss. I feel almost like I’m lying to myself, but I leave the sword while I drink from my canteen anyway.

“Alright, everybody up,” Cato says less than a minute after I’ve sat down. “I want at least a kill or two before the sun comes up.”

My stomach somersaults at his words, but I stand up and continue walking anyway. This is the hunger games, after all. You need to roll with the punches, even if they aren’t directed at you.

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