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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24. Mounting Tension

Ariella Grayson, 17, District 2 Tribute

"Hey, Ariella."

The voice is slightly fuzzy in my head as my vision comes into view. Everything is still blurry, and I have no idea what's going on. The last thing I can remember is shooting the boy from District 10, and the girl from District 12 throwing herself at me. And then, nothing. It's awful, having a gap in your memory. Is this what my father experienced when in a drunken stupor? No, I can't think about him right now. It is kind of odd where your mind drifts to when your other senses are dulled down.

Blinking heavily for a few seconds, the world comes into clear view. The blue sky is directly above me, meaning that I'm laying on my back. But where? I rub my hand along the ground, and feel soft grains of sand. The beach. So that answers that question.

But something feels wrong. I'm not sure what, but I have to find out. Ignoring the dizziness, I sit up, and look forwards. I have to wipe my eyes a few times to make sure what I'm seeing isn't a hallucination. The entire camp is a burning, raging fire, with smoke pouring from the smouldering remains of the tents. What happened here?

Suddenly, a figure comes into view, and I instantly recognise it as Ebony. He's holding his spear, and he looks more beaten up than ever. And if I'm correct, he almost seems to be remorseful.
"Ebony," I say, shakily standing up, ignoring my headache, "What happened here?"
"Oh, about that," He trails off, looking at the burning ruins of our camp, "Well, the boy from Ten managed to burn the place down by turning Emerald into a living candle."
"Is she okay?" I instinctively ask, hoping for a positive answer.
"What do you think," He replies, "She burst into flames, and fell into a tent, being coated in more fire for about three whole minutes. She died, Ariella."
"Oh," I say, my voice empty and hollow, "What about the other two? The boy from Ten and the girl from Twelve?"
"I managed to get the girl," Ebony explains to me, and I detect a slight amount of confidence in his tone, "She died a little while ago. And Ariella, I don't know whether or not this has occurred to you yet, but we're the only two Careers left."

No, that thought hadn't occurred to me yet. Me and Ebony, the last remaining Careers. Part of me wants to celebrate this fact, yet another part of me wants to be shocked at how quickly the numbers are depleting. This morning, it was me, Nick, Ebony, and Emerald. And they aren't the only deaths today. There's also been the boy from District 6, Ryder, the girl from District 3, and the girl from District 12, if what Ebony says is correct.
"Wow." I say in response to that, "The numbers sure are dwindling at a rapid pace. How many are left now?"
"Excluding us, four." Ebony replies, and a feeling of hope builds up inside me. Only four tributes besides us, and Ebony is so injured that I could pretty much kill him instantly. "The girl from District Five, the girl from District Six, the boy from District Ten, and the girl from District Eleven." And they're all pretty weak outliers as well. Except maybe the boy from 10, but I fail to see exactly how he'll survive an endless barrage of arrows.

Speaking of arrows, where is my bow? I glance around the immediate area, not seeing it. Could it have been taken in the fire? Surely not, otherwise I'll be pretty much without any way to defend myself.
"Ebony, have you seen my bow?" I ask him calmly, trying to not let my anxiety show. That bow is my lifeline. Without it, I'm pretty much dead.
"Yeah," He replies nonchalantly, pointing at the hill, "It's over there. I saved it from the fire for you. You lost one of your quivers though." That's a shame, but at least I still have my bow. I quickly walk over to the hill, and pick it up, enjoying the feeling of it in my hands. I was telling the truth when I told the boy from 10 that the bow is the best weapon to have. It's so light, meaning you can carry it without growing tired; it's ranged, which means that you can kill from a distance, and it's one hundred percent deadly. Which is why I find it odd that more tributes don't use the bow; the majority of victors were skilled in either the bow or the crossbow, and I'll be no exception.

Returning my attention back to now, I look over at the camp once more. It's completely destroyed, along with every last supply, except for my bow, and Nick's sword, which is currently in Ebony's hands. We're armed, and that's it.
"So," I begin, and Ebony turns to face me, "What do we do now? Since there really is no reason to stay here."
"Well, we could go tribute hunting." Ebony replies, a sly grin appearing on his face. That is a pretty good idea, and the others can't be too far. "We know that the boy from District Ten is still in the forest, and if I remember correctly, the girls from Five and Eleven are up the mountain. I have no idea about the girl from Six though."
"At least it gives us a pretty good lead," I say, looking at the large mountain that looms over the island, "And there's a pretty good chance that the girl from Six is also up the mountain somewhere. We could also probably lead the boy from Ten up there, and end it all on the mountain."

Ebony takes in this information silently, pondering the idea. Then finally, his eyes light up, and an excited smile appears on his face.
"That sounds perfect. We'll round up all our enemies in one place, then make quick work of them. And then, we'll battle it out to see who rightfully deserves the crown. Sound about right?" 
"Excellent." I reply, before looking up at the sky. The sun is beginning to set. "Come on, before it gets dark, and we lose all chances of this happening." I load my bow, and Ebony lifts the sword up. We're ready.
"One question, though." Ebony begins, an embarrassed grin evident on his face, "How exactly do we get up to the mountain?"
"That's easy," I tell him, "There's a path that cuts through the forest up there. After that, it's a simple climb."
"Okay then." He replies, and we begin to walk towards the tree line, leaving the Cornucopia for good.

Something about the forest seems somewhat different this time around as we cut through branches and leaves in search for the path. I don't know what, but it's almost as if every fibre of this massive body of trees and foliage has some sort of sense of finality about it. Which is kind of fitting, since me and Ebony are planning to end it all by tonight. But still, it sends a shiver down my spine.

"How much longer?" Ebony asks as we continue through the seemingly endless greenery, which doesn't seem to be letting up.
"Not long now." I reply, although I'm not too sure myself about this. I remember when we went tribute hunting after Ryder picked up that the path was about ten minutes from camp. Looking back at Ebony's injured state, this might take longer. At least he's not bleeding any more. Thankful for that fact, I continue to press forwards, Ebony trailing behind me.

Suddenly, a bird calls out, and we both freeze, looking around. After a couple of seconds, Ebony begins to laugh.
"Look at us; we're so jumpy right now. How unfitting for a Career!" It is somewhat funny, and I find a slight giggle coming from me.
"Yeah," I reply, looking forwards at the trees. I then look down, and notice the grassy floor is beginning to turn dusty, like the dried dirt of the path. Not long now, "But come on; we're close."
"Awesome." Ebony says to me, and I nod in response, breaking through the tree line.

After barely avoiding a falling branch, we both end up on the other side. I look down at the floor, then at Ebony. We're at the path. Looking straight ahead, I notice the brighter daylight at the end of the path. It's quite far off, but closer than it looks.
"We're here." I say, looking in awe at the path. At the end of the path, I notice the rock terrain of the mountain. I look at Ebony, and notice a massive smile on his face.
"Come on!" He calls out, moving quickly down the path, "Let's begin the endgame!"

Smiling triumphantly to myself, I follow Ebony down the path, looking around at the trees that surround us. They almost seem to be bending in on us, looming over us like silent observers. To be fair, each one is probably fitted with a camera, but that's beside the point. And anyway, they seem to be almost looking at something else. A bad feeling runs throughout me, and I turn around just in time do avoid having a rapier rammed through my body.

Ducking to the floor, I look to see the boy from 10 standing on the path, holding his rapier towards me. But that isn't the scariest part. What is absolutely terrifying is the look on his face. His eyes are overtaken by fury, and I see no sign of the boy I saw earlier today.
"You!" He points at me, "Where is Ebony?!" I'm about to deny seeing him, when I see the rapier edging closer to my throat. This boy could quite easily kill me.
"Over there." I choke out, and point at Ebony, who's now looking at the entire scene with horror.

Seeing Ebony, the boy leaves me, and rushes towards him, letting out a cry of rage that strangely reminds me of Nick.
"Look out!" I cry to Ebony as the rapier swings towards him. Taking my words, Ebony leaps out of the way, avoiding the rapier. But I know that Ebony is weakened, and rage is powering the boy from 10. Rage is a powerful thing, second only to fear. Hopefully, this boy isn't scared, otherwise it'll be pretty hard to take him down.

Suddenly, Ebony rushes towards me, the boy from 10 right on his tail. 
"Ariella, come on!" He yells, and I run forwards. I've nearly caught up to Ebony when the boy from 10 leaps at him, throwing him to the floor.

I let out a cry of horror as Ebony is caught in a neck lock, his throat exposed to me. With his other hand, the boy from 10 lifts his rapier up. Oh god, I know what he's going to do.
"Ebony, fight back!" I yell as I load my bow. The arrow flies out, and it strikes the boy from 10 in the back. But it doesn't do a thing, and the rapier is brought closer to Ebony's throat. "He's going to decapitate you!"

Upon hearing these words, fear sparks through Ebony's eyes, and he begins to thrash about, knocking the boy from 10 off of him. But before he can get back up, the boy from 10 is on him again, his face dark.
"This is for April!" He screams loudly as he swings his rapier at Ebony's throat. It cuts through his neck like a soft fruit, and Ebony's head rolls off his body, landing on the floor, blood gushing from the empty spot where his head once was.

BOOM!

With Ebony dead, the boy from 10 makes his way towards me, but not before grabbing Ebony's sword. I take this brief moment of respite to fire an arrow, and run. I glance back, and see the furious boy catching up to me, a weapon in each hand. Luckily, I can run fast for a long time, and if I couldn't, well, I'd probably be headless like Ebony.

Glancing back once more, I see how little distance is between us. Quickly, I load another arrow, and fire it. It catches the boy from 10 in the knee, and he topples to the ground in the heap, releasing a stream of expletives.

Taking advantage of the moment, I run away, down the path. I'm running faster than I ever have before, my heart pounding in my chest. I guess it's correct; fear is more powerful than rage. Looking back, the boy from 10 is already staggering to his feet. Why won't he just stay down?

I look forward, and let out a sigh of relief as I see that the exit to the forest is only about a hundred metres away. But the sound of the boy from 10's cries of determination fills the air, and I know it's not long before he catches up.

Suddenly, I roll to the ground. This action catches him off guard, and the boy from 10 trips over. He lands in another heap, and I run forwards again, sticking to the tree line. Eventually, the trees run out, and I'm forced back outside.

The setting sun has bathed everything in a golden glow. It's all extremely beautiful, but I can't afford to remain staring at the beautiful scenery; the boy from 10 will catch up to me, and kill me. I glance to the path, and notice the boy from 10 is running out from the forest. Oh no. 
"You can't run forever!" I hear him yell at me, and I suddenly become aware of the fact that I'm slowly backing towards the mountain.
"Oh, trust me, I can run for a damn sight longer than you can." I call back at him, and this seems to set something off inside him. He suddenly picks up speed, and runs right towards me. Realising that I don't have enough time to load an arrow, I prepare my fist, and deliver a punch to his face as he draws closer. A fresh layer of blood flows down his already bloody face, and he howls in agony. But this time, he doesn't skip a beat, and begins to swing both the sword and rapier at me. It catches my arm, and a trail of blood begins to pour down it as I bite back my cries of pain. I won't let him see me suffer.

Quickly, I strike my leg forward, delivering a powerful kick to his crotch. He lets out a blood curling scream, and drops to the ground, losing grip of the sword. I pick it up with some effort; it's heavier than a bow, and point it at his face.
"Now, give me one reason why I shouldn't hack you to pieces right now." I snap at him, ignoring the fact that I simply don't have the strength or the skill to do it. "Well?"
"Because April told me to win, and I can't go back on that promise!" He yells extremely loudly, and brings his arm up, using the rapier to cut my arm. It's not a deep wound, but it's enough for me to drop the sword, and I instantly realise my mistake. He grabs the fallen sword, and leaps to his feet.

I leap away from the blow of the sword, and begin to frantically look around. Here, I'm completely overpowered. Which means only one thing; I need to have the higher ground on him to shoot. Looking up at the mountain trail, an idea comes to mind. I suddenly run towards him, using an arrow to slash his side. The tip of the arrow acts as a sharp blade, but the rest of it doesn't match the strength, and it snaps in half. But it's enough to distract him, and I take a sharp left turn, running up the mountain.

The stone ground is easier to move on, but the steep slope of the path makes it harder to keep up the constant pace. But I can't slow down. Not now. I look down the mountain, and see the boy from 10 running up already, seemingly having an endless supply of energy. I know I can't fight him head on, so the next best thing is to lure him away from me, then trap him. Even then, that would be a pretty big gamble.

Jumping over a loose rock, I begin to feel exposed on the mountainside. Anyone with a bow would easily be able to shoot me from here. I quickly remind myself that only I would really be able to pull that off. At least, that's what I hope. But that's not my main concern right now. I continually look back down the mountain, and see the boy from 10 running up. But I do notice that he's beginning to tire, and I may be able to use this to my advantage.

Stopping for a moment, I fire an arrow down the mountain, towards the boy from District 10. But it misses, and the arrow sails harmlessly down to the bottom, falling out of sight. I check my quiver, and notice I only have five arrows left. That is not good at all. Which means I'll have to use my shots sparingly.

The boy from 10 is catching up to me, and I turn and run once more, passing by a small cave. It would make a good shelter, but shelter isn't my priority right at this moment. The boy from 10 has slowed down significantly, and I am also beginning to feel the effects of fatigue. Combine that with the nagging hunger and the first signs of dehydration, and I'm not sure how much longer I can go on for before I keel over. But I'm still fine right now, and continue running, heading to a series of caves. I notice that five of the caves have a steady stream of smoke coming out of them.

Looking back, I realise that I've lost the boy from 10. But for how long, I don't know. I look at the caves in front of me, and an idea comes to my mind. Each of them look like tunnels, and they're bound to lead in different directions. So I can use this brief respite period to lose him entirely.

I set my sights on one of the tunnels in the middle of the row, one of the few that is smoking, and run towards it, walking inside the small space. It's hot and stuffy, but it may be the thing that saves my life. Ignoring the stench of smoke, I continue forward, until the tunnel opens up into a large room.

It's much easier to breathe in here, which allows me to take in my surroundings. It's a large stone room, with another tunnel continuing onwards on the other side of the room. But that can wait for now. Instead of continuing to move forwards, I make my way to a corner of the room, and sit down, huddled up. I'm exhausted, but at least for the moment, I'm safe.

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