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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17. Lost Love

Ryder Bristen, 18, District 4 Tribute

I sit at the edge of the mouth of the Cornucopia, looking out over the beach that we have claimed as our own for the entirety of our time in the arena. The midday sun is beating down on us, and I find myself continually wiping my forehead to remove the constant layer of sweat from my forehead. I reach to the side of me, and grab my canteen. It's shaped like a fish; a cute little gimmick courtesy of the Capitol.

A rustling sound from the tree line that surrounds the beach catches my attention, and I look to see Ebony emerging from the forest, holding what looks like a dead bird, with an arrow protruding from its stomach.
"Hey, guys! Look what I found!" He calls out, and Emerald and Ariella emerge from their tents, both looking well rested. Well, they would be; we've hardly done anything for 48 hours.

I hop down from the top of the golden horn, and join the rest of my allies on the beach, trying my hardest to ignore the sweltering heat. Both the girls are looking at the bird Ebony's holding quizzically, but I fail to see anything out of the ordinary. It's just a bird, but with an arrow sticking out of it from where Ebony shot it. That's when it dawns on me.

Ebony can't use a bow.

"Hey, Ebony," I begin, sure that something's not right here, "How'd the bird get the arrow stuck in it?"
"I have a pretty good idea about that," He replies coolly, "Look at the type of arrow. A dark metal." The three of us look at it, and all mutually nod. It's pretty obvious. "And the only one of us with a bow is Ariella, correct?" More nods. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure her arrows are made of gold."
"You are correct." Ariella replies swiftly, moving some of her dark hair out of her face. It seems to have stuck to her with sweat. So I'm not the only one feeling the full effects of the heat.
"Which can only mean one thing," Ebony says conclusively, "This bird was obviously shot by another tribute with a bow. And a pretty good shot at that." A sort of tense silence falls over us as we all exchanged glances; it's a mixture of confusion and worry. Almost straight away, my mind begins to wander. Who else besides Ariella knows how to use the bow?

There's April, the kid from District 12. I saw her using it a couple of times during training, but I never thought that she'd be particularly good. And if I remember correctly, I think I saw the girl from District 11, Afya or something, using a bow, but I barely remember seeing her, so it might have been someone else. Someone else that we probably killed in the bloodbath.

Speaking of killing, who exactly is left alive? We're right into day three, and it's been a while since anyone's died. I look up to the sky, gazing at the white, rippling clouds that swirl in a few places, and run through a mental list of who exactly is alive.

There's Ebony and Emerald, for certain. And they're both seemingly alive and healthy. There's also Nick and Ariella, and the same goes for them. The boy from 3 is dead, but I think his district partner's still alive. I have no idea what state she's in. Then, there's Annemarie; she was the first to die. The mere memory of it causes tears to prick my eyes, but I'm at mercy of my memories.

The opaque glass shatters, and I'm left to stumble out from my launch pad. The sun is blinding, and I have no idea about the arena, except that I'm standing on sand. Did we get a desert arena this year? Whilst I think this, the sound of screaming tributes mixes with an all too nostalgic scent; sea salt.

So I'm currently on a beach. Knowing this fills me with confidence, and I return my attention to the scene playing out in front of me. No wonder it's called a bloodbath. Right now, Nick and Ariella are stumbling to get a grip of the situation. It's only to be expected, after all. They won't be as experienced in this sort of environment. I can't see Emerald, but I can see Ebony. He's running towards a small, thin blonde girl. I think she's from District 6. But somehow, she evades him at the last moment, and he topples to the floor as she continues to rush towards the Cornucopia, which I now realise is piled high with every last supply, instead of having a few laying about.

Judging from the way she's running, the girl from District 6 will make it to the Cornucopia first. I should do something about this, but she's only a tiny twelve year old that'll be lucky to see tomorrow.
"Hey, Ryder!" I turn my head, and see Annemarie to my right. I throw my arms around her, and give her a brief kiss, but pull off. We'll have plenty of time for that later.
"Annemarie, you're alright." I say, relieved. At least she isn't a bloodbath casualty. But then again, looking around, the bloodbath has been going on maybe 45 seconds at the most.

Suddenly, Annemarie whips her head towards the Cornucopia. The girl from 6 is nearly there.
"Wait here," She tells me, "I'm going to rush into the Cornucopia, and kill that kid before she gets any supplies." Oh, how I love Annemarie when she's plotting like this.
"Okay then." I reply, and we kiss once more. I'm then left to stand there as Annemarie charges forward, beating the pace of the girl from 6.

Something seems wrong. I don't know what it is, but the sight of Annemarie running to the Cornucopia is filling me with panic. Then I see it. It's barely noticeable, but the black hue of the landmine contrasts greatly with the soft colour of the sand.

I go to open my mouth, to warn her, to tell her of the perils. But it's too late, and I stand there, helpless, as Annemarie's foot makes contact with the landmine. A ring of explosions erupt around the golden horn, the smoke absorbing Annemarie. I think I can hear her scream for a brief moment.

Once the smoke clears, I can see charred weapons and bags falling from the sky, and a streak of red along the sand of the beach that leads out to the shoreline, to where a smoking, mangled pile of flesh floats. Annemarie's dead. And to think, if I had delayed her for a second longer, it would have been chunks of the girl from 6 raining down instead.

The mere thought of the memory fills me with nausea, and I shake my head to clear the horrific visions from my mind. Get back to thinking about the remaining tributes. That's what I was doing.

So, after District 4, I think only the girl from 5 is alive. I don't remember seeing her during the bloodbath, but she must have grabbed some supplies or something, and fled off into the wilderness. Somehow, both from 6 remain alive. The girl might have some chance of survival, but her district partner is confusing. He spent the majority of the time in training talking to us about how his best friend liked to shove rocks where the sun doesn't shine, so to speak.

District 7, 8, and 9 have all perished. The girl from 7 lasted until the second morning, but Kyle burned her hiding place down, then slaughtered her brutally. The boy from 10 is still alive, as is the girl from 11. Both seem like they'd still be in fighting condition. And the last tribute left alive is the girl from District 12. Which is rather surprising, considering the fact that she's from such a pathetic outlying district. But she is still alive none the less, and that means we'll have to find her somehow.

"I think that we should find whoever owns this arrow," A voice speaks up. I look to see Nick, emerging from the trees, "And kill them."
"You sure about that?" Emerald replies, looking uneasy at the thought. "I mean, they obviously have quite the aiming skills."
"But I'm sure Ariella has a better aim than them." Nick shoots back with an agitated tone. With every time I see him, he seems to be getting more and more tense. I don't know why, but I can't imagine it's a good sign.
"But, Nick," Ebony cuts in, his expression mirroring Emerald's, "Is it really a good idea? Think about it; we'll be going off into the forest, leaving our camp unguarded, to try and find some tribute that is handy with a bow? Sounds pretty counter-productive if you ask me."

"Fine," Nick snaps, "You two can stay. Ryder, Ariella, you're coming with me."
"But-" Ariella goes to complain.
"Don't try arguing. It'll only earn you your head on a stick." This shuts her up, and rightfully so. Something's off about Nick, and I don't want to find out what; I would like to remain in one piece for the majority of my time in the arena.

I grab my trident, and follow the pair from District 2 into the forest. I'm slightly behind them, but then again, I am the only one who had to go back to get their weapon. Nick always has his sword on hand, and I'm not sure how Ariella always has her bow at the ready. But who am I to question them? It's known that the majority of victors have always come from District 2, so I'm aware of their strength.

The thick foliage of the forest manages to successfully shield us from the painful sunlight. The leaves create a natural roof of sorts above us, which also gives a slight amount of cover from other tributes that may be potentially stalking this forest as well. But it does mean that it is extremely humid in here, and I'm finding myself wiping my forehead frequently, which does leave me somewhat open to attacks.

We continue deeper into the forest, and I soon realise that this is a futile effort. There is no sign of anyone around here except us. I glance at Ariella. Her expression mirrors mine almost perfectly. She slows her pace, and ends up walking right beside me.
"Looks like there's nobody here," I whisper to her, wiping the sweat from my forehead once again, "Who's gonna tell him first?"
"I don't know," Ariella replies, "Since if we do, he'll probably snap. Between you and me, Nick's mental health has been deteriorating over the past few days."
"Really?" I'm surprised at this new information. This is quite startling; I always pictured Nick to be the strongest of us mentally. He is quite stubborn. "How so?"
"Well, for starters, he talks in his sleep. And the things he says..." Ariella trails off, shuddering.
"What sort of things?" I question. If Nick's going crazy, I have to know the full details of what's going on. I know that Ariella isn't lying, since I've noticed a change in his demeanour as well.
"It's almost as if he's having a conversation with someone," She begins, her voice shaky, "But it's like he's arguing with them about something horrific."
"What?" I need to press for information, since this could potentially tear the Career alliance apart.
"Nick's mind is conflicted as to whether or not he should go on a killing spree."

As soon as the words leave her mouth, I'm left there, stunned. Killing spree? The thought of that is rather terrifying. I mean, I know we've all killed, but we're only doing it to survive. But the way Ariella describes it, it's like Nick wants to kill everyone for the sake of killing.
"Good lord." I finally say, trying to ignore the chilling feeling that I get when I look at Nick. After all, he does have the potential to kill us all very easily, and he's built like a tank. It would be very hard to stop him if he does decide to turn on us, and I pray that he doesn't do that.
"I know," Ariella replies, watching Nick closely, as if she's searching for any signs of his apparently inevitable breakdown. "Listen, Ryder. We'll have to keep this between the two of us, since if Ebony and Emerald find out, it might destroy the security of the alliance, and we don't want that. Not at this early stage of the Games anyway."
"But what if one of us notices him on the verge of snapping?" I ask Ariella, the secure forest now becoming rather claustrophobic.
"If that does happen," Ariella explains, "One of us is to lead him away from the others, and kill him."
"But won't they get suspicious?"
"We'll say it was a Mutt."

It sounds like it'd work, but me and Ariella aren't exactly the strongest tributes to deal with Nick, but we are the smarter Careers. And sometimes, intelligence is all you need to take down a rampaging monster. Brain versus brawn. Although, hopefully it won't come to that.

Suddenly, Nick stops moving, and slams his sword into a tree. My blood turns to ice at the sight, and Ariella's normally dark skin has almost gone white. Has he snapped? I swallow my fear, and speak up.
"Hey, Nick," My voice is trembling, but Nick doesn't seem to notice, "You alright?"
"Damn!" He yells as response, "There's nobody here!"
"Calm down," Ariella begins, "So what if we found no one? At least we now know that whoever it was that hit the bird is quick to flee."
"You're right," Nick says, his voice now surprisingly calm, "Come on. We'd better get back before it gets dark."

I hadn't realised it, but the sun is already setting. How did that happen? Were we really in here for so long, or are the Gamemakers speeding things up? Probably the latter, considering the amount of time that has passed without anyone dying. It doesn't help that the setting sun is casting all sorts of eerie shadows on the forest floor. It is rather scary, but I don't let my fear show. Nick might see it, and that would not end well at all.

We finally get out of the forest, just as a pounding beat echoes throughout the arena. It's the anthem, playing for the third time. Only tonight, no faces are shown. A whole day without a death. That can't be good for the Capitol audiences. The anthem finishes playing, and by the time we reach the mouth of the Cornucopia, the sight of Ebony and Emerald eating some fruit meets us.

"What happened to the bird?" Nick asks, somewhat disappointed that he isn't getting fresh meat. Or I imagine that's what's wrong with him. It could be something darker, but I don't want to dwell upon the thought.
"Oh, I tried cooking it," Ebony says sheepishly, "But it ended up being a pile of melted flesh, bone and feathers." He lets out a slight chuckle, "Evidently, I'm not going to be a chef like my dad. After all, his skill was so good that the Capitol forced him to change his surname."
"Really?" Emerald asks, intrigued by this information.
"Yeah," Ebony replies, "Our family name was originally Amethyst, but after my dad took up cooking once he became a victor, it was changed to Amaranth. I guess the Capitol thought of it as a cute gimmick or something."
"Makes sense." Ariella says absently, fishing in her bag for a pack of dried nuts. I pull out my own, and chew slowly on a couple of them until the feeling of hunger passes.

We remain like this for a few minutes, until Ebony lets out a yawn.
"I don't know about you guys, but I'm tired." He says, "How's about we catch some sleep, since we have no idea what'll happen tomorrow." We all mutually agree, and soon enough, we're all in our tents, preparing to sleep.

My tent is a dark grey colour, and slightly smaller than the others, but it does an excellent job of trapping the warmth, meaning I won't have to worry about getting cold any time soon. I lay under my blanket, and look up at the roof of my tent. I can see the glow of the moon through the top. It's rather beautiful, the way it sort of shimmers, like a small silvery circle. I feel my eyelids getting heavy, and close them, prepared to sleep.

"Ryder." A voice whispers out, and my eyes snap open. I look around frantically. "Ryder, I'm outside." The voice is odd; it's a faint whisper, and different to the voices of the other Careers. Abandoning all hopes of sleep, I crawl out of my tent, and step onto the silky sand of the beach. Patches of it are still stained with blood, but it's still beautiful.

"Ryder, the water." The voice says, and I walk to the shoreline. I don't know why I'm doing this, but the voice is to captivating that I have no choice but to listen. I reach the edge of the beach, and sit down, the water lapping against my boots. I look forwards, at the ocean. It's very calm, with a few slight movements of the water, but nothing to ever worry about. There's also a patch of rocks just a little out into the water, and I gasp in shock at the figure sat on them.

Somehow, she sits on the rock. Perfectly alive, with no evidence that she was ever in the arena. She looks directly at me, and flashes a smile, her brilliant blue eyes lighting up.

It's Annemarie.

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