Surprises: The 68th Annual Hunger Games

For 68 years the Capitol has held the Hunger Games to keep the rebellious Districts in check. This year will be full of surprises and shocking twists that nobody could have anticipated. So watch as the 24 tributes battle it out until one remains in an arena guaranteed to surprise the entire nation of Panem.

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19. All For Her

Ryder Bristen, 18, District 4 Tribute

BOOM!

The sound of the cannon echoing out startles me, and I redirect my attention to the sky for a brief moment, before looking back at Annemarie.

Somehow, some way, Annemarie managed to survive the Cornucopia explosion. And the proof is her standing in front of me now, flashing that same warm smile that she has always had since the day we first met.

"So," I begin to her as she leans on the Cornucopia, the moonlight casting a serene glow on her sun kissed face. "How did you manage to survive the bloodbath?" I have been wanting to know since I first saw her sitting on the rocks out in the ocean a little while ago.
"Oh, that..." Annemarie trails off, and gazes off into the distance. It's almost as if something's spacing her out, "Well, let's just say that it wasn't too easy."
"I can imagine." I reply, realising how futile it'll be to argue my point with her. So, I let it slip, and an idea comes to me.

"Shouldn't we go see the others?" I suggest, "Since I'm pretty sure that Ariella will appreciate the company." Upon saying this, the oddest thing happens. Annemarie's eyes suddenly darken, and her entire body stiffens up. "Hey, are you okay?" I ask her, since the last thing we want is her getting sick just as we've reunited.
"I'm just fine," She replies coldly, "It's just that I've been thinking."
"About what?" I ask. Since I can quite clearly imagine that there has been a lot on her mind over the past three days that we've been separated. I know that I would have a thousand things to say to someone if I had vanished off of the face of the Earth, and was presumed to be dead by the one I love the most.
"About this whole alliance," Annemarie begins to explain, "Look, Ryder. There's less than half of us remaining."
"What are you implying?" I ask, with an underlying tone of suspicion. If I have any form of intuition, I'm pretty sure of what she's about to ask.
"So, I'm thinking that we ditch them." Bingo. "After all, I'm pretty sure that we'll be able to grab enough supplies, and run off before they notice. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure that the rest of the Careers have perfect body clocks which allows them to wake with the sun."
"Yeah," I reply. It is true; that's one of the things they teach in the training centres in 1 and 2; how to maintain an internal body clock which allows you to always wake with the rising sun. Back in 4, however, we're only taught how to sleep lightly. Then again, we train for the Games for entirely different reasons. We only do it to ensure that if we are reaped, we can have better chances at survival, and to take the place of any reaped tribute that we know will perish horribly in a way that their parents don't deserve to see. We're in it for survival, not for glory.

"So," Annemarie finally says, her eyes widening, a slightly seductive smile crossing her face, "What do you say? Will you join me in ditching these guys?" She sticks a hand out, and bats her eyelids softly. And in that moment, any resistance that I've been building up fades away into nothing but an overwhelming will to not disappoint Annemarie.
"Fine," I reply shortly, "But you're going to be responsible for your equipment." As she hears my reply, Annemarie's face lights up, and she lets out a light giggle. It causes butterflies to pound in my stomach. It's been so long since I've had that feeling.

Carefully, we sneak away from the shoreline, and head towards the mouth of the golden horn. I can hear a light snoring sound coming from one of the tents, and for a brief moment, I feel remorse at abandoning my allies like this, especially with Nick's fragile mental state; it'll be entirely Ariella's burden.
"You're not having second thoughts, are you?" I hear Annemarie ask, and I turn my head to face her. She has a disapproving glare etched onto her face, and I feel deflated just by not agreeing with her. I don't know why my usual strong will is completely non-existent right now; I guess I just don't want to lose Annemarie again.
"No, I'm not," I explain, "I'm just trying to judge how long we'll have before they begin to follow us." It's not entirely true, but is is something that I've been thinking over. I know that me and Annemarie are quite fast runners, but would we be able to outrun Ebony? Or would we have any hope in evading Ariella's arrows? Probably not.
"That is a problem," Annemarie says, "But we'll address it when it becomes a major issue. For now, let's focus on getting out of here."

I nod in agreement, and walk into my tent, leaving Annemarie outside for a moment. Despite the small size, the tent manages to hold my two bags full of food, water, and medical supplies, and my trident. I grab it all, and place my blanket into my larger bag. I look over the tent once more, and realise how bare it looks right now. I would take the tent as well, but that's pretty heavy, and we need to get out of here before sunrise.

Satisfied that I've managed to salvage enough, I walk out of my tent, and zip it shut, making it look as if I'm still in there. I turn to face Annemarie, and give her the lighter bag.
"Here," I tell her, "This should be enough for you."
"Thanks." She replies with a smile, "Only, one thing, Ryder. I feel rather unarmed." Oh. Of course, Annemarie needs a weapon. But since I have the only trident in the Games, I'll have to give her one of Ebony's spears. Hopefully, he has one laying around outside.
"Just give me a minute, and I'll see if I can get you one without being killed." I reply flatly. I really don't want to do this, but since it's Annemarie, I'll just have to grin and bear it.

Holding my breath, I make my way to Ebony's tent. Somehow, he managed to get the largest tent out of all of us, but I guess none of us complained since we don't want too much conflict. I can hear the faint sound of Ebony breathing. Judging from the way he's breathing, he's fast asleep. Good.

I walk up to the front of the tent, and begin to look around it for a spear.
"Come on, Ebony..." I murmur under my breath, "Please, have a spear available." I walk around to the back of the tent, after realising that there aren't any weapons near the front entrance. Just as I make my way to the back of the tent, I trip on something, and fall face first into the sand.

As I stand up, I can quite clearly hear Annemarie laughing, and loudly. I spit the sand out of my mouth, and motion for her to keep quiet. She stops laughing, and I look down at what caused me to trip. The moment I look at it, I feel a sort of elation. It's a spear, And it's in perfect condition. The smile on my face must be huge, because I can quite clearly see Annemarie's face light up from here.
"You found one!" She exclaims, and I nod, picking it up, placing it in my other hand.
"Indeed I did." I reply, and walk over to her. I hand her the spear, and she gives me a light kiss on the cheek. It feels ecstatic.

However, our moment of relief is cut off by a sound. I instantly recognise it as the sound of a tent being opened. I look to Annemarie, and see the terror plastered on her face. Oh, right. According to everyone else, she's dead in a coffin in the Capitol, ready to be transported home once the Games end.
"What do I do?!" She questions, her voice frantic. I look at the tree line that surrounds the beach, and point towards the entrance to the forest closest to the shoreline.
"Hide in there," I tell her, my voice low and harsh, "I'll go see you once I've dealt with this." She nods furiously, and vanishes into the foliage.

I look back at the opening tent. It's Ariella's. This isn't good, since it's practically impossible to flat out lie to her. I need to look like I'm doing something out here, but what? I take one look at my trident, and another at the ocean. It'll be a long shot, but I have to go for it.

Setting my bag behind the Cornucopia, out of sight, I tug my shirt off, and holding my trident, leap into the water. I continue to go deeper, until only my torso is clearly visible above the water. I hold my trident in an attacking position, and look intensely at the water. 
"Ryder, what the hell are you doing?" Acting startled, I turn around, and look at her. Her eyes are heavy, but her body language gives away her confusion.
"Fishing," I reply, a smile crossing onto my face. Then again, I have to smile; the water is freezing cold at night.
"Fishing." She says flatly. Oh great, she isn't buying it. "Ryder, it's like two in the morning, or something. Why on Earth are you fishing at this hour." She grimaces, and wipes her eyes, "Please don't tell me you've come down with the crazies too."
"No, I haven't," I say, "It's just that the fish are easiest to catch at this time of day."
"Well, you're the expert." She says wearily, "I'm too tired to argue with you. Just don't spend all night out here; I'll need you tomorrow to keep a close eye on Nick. He isn't talking in his sleep right now, but that could change at any time."
"Alright then." I say, and she nods, ambling back to her tent. I keep watching her as she crawls inside, zipping it back up. A few minutes later, she is asleep again. That was far too close for my liking.

I swim back to the shoreline, and the warmer air of the night quickly takes the chill off of my exposed upper body. But I don't know why I am complaining. Back home, I always go fishing like this, no exceptions.

I walk over to the Cornucopia, and grab my shirt and bag. I swing the bag on, and drape my shirt over my shoulder. I'll have to wait until I dry out before I can put it back on again without trapping the chill of the water for longer. But it doesn't matter; Annemarie's seen me in this state pretty much every day.

Walking towards the trees, I scan them for any signs of movement. None. She's better at hiding than I thought.
"Annemarie?" I call softly, "It's safe now." As I finish saying this, one of the trees rustles like crazy, before Annemarie throws herself out from it, tackling me to the ground.
"Ryder, I'm so glad you managed to get out of that!" She says with a slight giggle, and I can feel the sand sticking to my bare back; it isn't a good feeling at all.
"Yeah, it wasn't easy, but I managed." I reply, sitting up. I look to my right, and see my shirt laying in the sand. Brilliant. I sacrificed cold water for sand. Perhaps I should have just said that I was having trouble sleeping. I stand up, and try to wipe the sand from my back as best I can. Most of it comes off with relative ease.
"Great!" Annemarie exclaims, and I smile at her. She is so adorable when she's excited.

I bend over, and pick up my shirt, tucking it into my waistband. I then return my attention to Annemarie, who is looking quite enthusiastic.
"So," I begin, "Where are we going?"
"Oh, yeah!" She replies, giggling slightly. Everything about her is so attractive, and I could just listen to her laugh all day. But not right now. We still have to get out of here. "There's a little beach-side cave just a little further along the island. We can use the forest to get there without being detected by any other tributes." That makes sense. The forest will provide excellent cover, so long as a Muttation doesn't try to kill us. Outrunning that giant spider the other day was hard enough; I don't need a repeat of that.
"Okay then, let's go." I say, and begin to walk towards the trees, Annemarie right behind me.

Some type of bird is calling out in the night, the sound echoing throughout the trees. It sends a slight chill down my spine, but I ignore it, instead listening to the slight sound of the waves sliding up to the small cliff-side that is just to my right. I miss the sound of the ocean back home; this one feels too false. But I'll take whatever comforts I can get.

A small lizard leaps out from a tree, and lands on the floor in front of me. It looks up at us with bright red eyes that are glowing in the dark. Then, after a few moments, it runs off, leaving me and Annemarie alone once more. We continue forwards through the forest, and I begin to notice we've been following the curve of the island for some time. However, I can't quite shake off the feeling that we're being watched. It's probably just paranoia since we've abandoned the Careers.

"Hey, Annemarie," I begin, stifling a yawn as best I can, "How much longer until we reach the cave?" 
"Not long now, Ryder." Annemarie replies softly, and I look ahead again, realising that she is right. I can see the exit to the forest just a little further ahead. An idea comes to me as the exit draws closer and closer, one that I know Annemarie will love.
"Annemarie, how about a race to the end? I'm sure I will win." I say, a smug smirk growing on my face.
"Just because I've not seen any action for the past few days doesn't mean I won't win, you know." She says, and before she can carry on, I dart off ahead.
"See you at the loser's bench!" I call back, and I hear her let out a disgruntled cry.
"Oh, you won't win, Ryder Bristen!"

I'm nearly at the end of the forest path; I can see the expanse of soft, fresh, untouched sand, when the most remarkable thing happens. Annemarie comes up from behind, with incredible speeds, and overtakes me, darting onto the beach. No way! I always manage to win when we do this!

Driven by determination, and curiosity of how she managed to beat me, I run at my top speed towards Annemarie, and end up collapsing in a heap on the sand, breathing heavily. The sand feels so soft on my now dry exposed back, like the blankets back home. I could just remain here all day.
"Seems you won," I say, looking up at Annemarie, "How'd you do it?"
"I don't know," She says with a smirk, "Maybe I just felt extra competitive today." Annemarie sits down, next to me, and I sit up, looking around. To our left is a series of caves, but I'm more interested in what lies to our right.

I turn to look at it, and gape in awe at what I'm seeing. This deposit of sand is at the top of a cliff which drops steeply into the clear blue ocean below, and just beyond the horizon, the sun is beginning to poke its head up, causing a golden shimmer to appear on the water. It looks like the water is sparkling.
"Look at this," I say to Annemarie as I move over to the edge of the cliff, letting my legs dangle over the edge, the first signs of heat from the sun warming my body.
"Isn't it beautiful?" Annemarie says as she sits next to me, stroking my hair with her hands. It is perhaps the most relaxed I've felt since coming into the arena; it's almost like when I take Annemarie out back home.

But instead of remaining like we are, Annemarie's head stroking evolves into something more passionate, and I find the breath taken from my body as she lays me down on the sand, straddling over me, a look of desire in her eyes.
"Annemarie?" I ask, but I'm cut off as her fingers trail from my hair, down across my face, and down my neck. It's sending an almost static charge throughout my body, and I do nothing but smile warmly. Her fingers trace over my chest, and work their way to the six pack on my abdomen. My entire body is tingling, and she pulls in for a kiss. But this kiss is different; more powerful; more desirable.

Annemarie kisses harder, and I push back, my mind only focusing on keeping this feeling going for as long as possible. But then, another sensation fills my body; intense pain.

I open my eyes, and look up at Annemarie as an excruciating agony radiates from my stomach. But when I look at Annemarie, the life has gone from her eyes.
"Annemarie?" I try to say, but it sounds like a garbled mess of nonsense as the taste of blood fills my mouth, and I can't help but let it flow down my tanned body, staining me a deep red. Annemarie gets off of me, and I see what's causing the pain; she's shoved a spear into my body, and blood is spurting from the wound, staining the pure white sand.

Panic fills my body as I look back at Annemarie, only it isn't Annemarie any more. It's a scaly humanoid creature, with a slick fish tail, and dark eyes that radiate evil. It's like an even more twisted version of the sirens that my mother told me about in bedtime stories as a child. As I stare in horror at this entire scene, a crushing blow hits me. Annemarie was never here; it was a Muttation all along.

I was fooled by a Mutt. A creature designed by the Capitol. The Capitol. Rage fills my every being, and I want to loudly voice my opinions, but the intense pain stops me. My eyes roll into the back of my head for a brief moment as the Muttation pulls the spear out of my body, causing more blood to flow out. I'm feeling light headed now, and moving is causing more pain than it's worth. I look up at the Mutt, and it's preparing to shove the spear into my throat, which will certainly cause instant death.

Suddenly, an arrow flies from the sky, and strikes the Mutt, catching it off guard. Several more follow it, and it wobbles, black blood oozing from where it was hit.
"Get away from him!" I feebly look to see Ariella running up the beach, her dark eyes filled with rage, "Go die!" She fires another arrow, this time striking the creature's throat. It convulses, before it collapses, and begins to slip off the cliff, bleeding to death.
"Thanks." I say to Ariella, ignoring the blood that is still coming from my mouth; she just saved my life. But a different expression is on her face than the relief I expected: Sheer horror.

I open my mouth to ask what's the matter, but suddenly, I'm being pulled towards the edge of the cliff, the movement causing more blood to spurt from the gaping hole in my stomach. I look down at my leg, and see the hand of the Mutt grabbing onto it as it slips. I turn my head back to Ariella, who's rushing to grab my hands. But it's too late, and I'm now falling off the cliff, the Mutt losing its grip on my.

"Oh god, no! Ryder!" I hear Ariella say, but I'm halfway down the cliff when she finishes the exclamation. It's too late to do anything, and as I look down, past my bloody torso, to the water, I realise that I'm probably going to die.

I hit the water, and keep going down, my wound intensifying in agony. I want to scream, but a stream of blood red bubbles floats up. I try to swim upwards, but this only causes me to sink faster. The water begins to grow cold, and it begins to get darker. I'm getting deeper and deeper.

I begin to feel a painful pressure all over my body, and I begin to feel faint. Suddenly, my body gasps for air, and salty water floods my mouth and windpipe, causing me to choke up a red cloud that floats up.

But for some reason, I find this highly ironic. A District 4 tribute, drowning to death. If it wasn't happening to me right now, I would probably be laughing.

With this humorous thought in my head, my vision fades, and everything grows dark, and the crushing feeling of the water, and the pain from my stomach, disappear. And, faintly, I hear a distant noise, before nothingness takes over.

BOOM!

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