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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15. Moving On

Afya Zahirah, 16, District 11 Tribute

I wipe the remnants of the sleep from my eyes, and stretch my body as the early morning forest comes into view. My hands fly to the belt that's securing me to the branch of my tree, and I unfasten myself, carefully placing the belt back into my bag. I look below me, and see Maia, still asleep. I sigh; she's blocking the easy way down, so I'll have to hop into the bushes, and not the secure clearing. But I suppose taking one risk won't kill me.

I swing my legs over the branch, and push myself off, my arms flying to the branch for support. I remain in the air for a moment, my momentum causing me to sway like a flower in a soft summer breeze. I take a series of deep breaths, then let myself go, falling to the ground. I land on my feet, and the impact is lesser than what I expected.

My movements haven't gone undetected, though, and I look over to Maia, who's beginning to stir. Judging by the time of day, it's been about twenty four hours since I proposed the alliance. She eagerly accepted, fortunately. After all, we are two very similar contestants in the game; both quiet, almost invisible, tributes who have effortlessly blended into the woodwork. Even after the generous training score I received from the Gamemakers, nobody's tried to target me. I suppose that's a good thing, but I wouldn't be able to last forever on my own; alliances are the key to winning this thing.

So I spent the first evening watching as the tributes vanished from the realm of the living, crossing them off my mental list of potential allies. And from the list of remaining tributes, there was only one I felt that I could trust the most- Maia Kentner from District 5. I managed to find her early on in the second day, after successfully killing the traitor known as Kyle Duran. I know it's taboo to kill your own district partner, especially so early on in the Games, but he deserved it. After all, he blatantly lied during his entire time in the Capitol; he came off as a charismatic, hopeful tribute that everyone would get along with- he even made an alliance with District 8 and the girl from 9. But then, everything changed the morning before launch. Kyle revealed that he was in the Career alliance. This revelation caught me by surprise, and rendered our mentors speechless. An outlier, especially one from such a poor district, joining the trained killers that have been mainly responsible for the deaths of our tributes most years? Simply sickening; he deserved the gruesome end that he was met with.

Clearing these thoughts from my head, I walk over to the now awake Maia.
"Good morning." I say as I unzip my bag, grabbing some of my measly food supply- two small bags of dried fruits. I pick out two dried orange slices from my open bag, and place them in my mouth, enjoying the dulled flavour to the best of my ability.
"Morning." Maia replies as she too eats from her significantly larger bag of nuts. She stops herself from eating any more, and places them back in her bag, whilst I get out my bow.
"I'm going to check the nearby are for tributes, so stay here until I return." I say, walking away from her, and into the bushes.

It looks like nobody's been here. Good. I turn around, to head back to Maia, when I notice it. In the middle of one of the trees, penetrating the slick bark, is an arrow. A single golden arrow. I look at my own quiver of arrows. They're all silver. Which can only mean one thing. My blood turns to ice as the realisation hits me. The Careers. Normally, I'd just hide away in the trees for a while, until I'm sure the danger's gone, but with Maia, I'm not sure if she'd be able to do that. She's a strong willed fighter, but she might not be as skilled with stealth as I am.

I turn away from the tree, before looking back at it. Might as well increase my ammunition. With a considerable amount of effort, I pull the golden arrow free, and place it in my quiver, before walking through the greenery. It seems that already the humidity and the heat are showing their ugly faces. I wipe a small amount of sweat from my brow, before pushing away a stray branch, revealing our little clearing.

"Any sign of anyone?" Maia asks, standing up, wiping the sleep from her eyes. I take a step forward, and pull the arrow out of my quiver.
"Yes." I reply. Maia looks at the arrow, confused. Of course, she wouldn't see the importance of it; she's barely seen my own arrows.
"What's with the arrow?" She asks. I was right, she doesn't know.
"It's an arrow from the Careers." I state, my voice darkening. The words seem to have the desired effect on Maia, as she quickly puts her bag on, and looks around frantically. "Don't worry, they're not close to us at this exact moment."
"Are you sure?" She responds, her eyes wide.
"Yes, I'm sure. If they were close, would we still be alive?" I say reassuringly. Maia immediately calms down, and she takes a couple of deep breaths, before letting out a relieved sigh.
"Good," She begins, her tone considerably more serious, "But I don't think we should stick around here. After all, they will most likely return to here given the chance." She's taken the words right out of my mouth. And it's a good thing she did; anyone with common sense would have left long ago.
"You're right," I say, looking around, "We need to preferably leave here before noon. We've been in the forest far too long." Maia nods in agreement, and I try to think of where would be a good place to go. The forest isn't a good idea; we've been here since the start of the Games, and the Gamemakers are probably on the verge of flushing us out. The beach area is also off-limits; it's where the Careers have set up camp this year. Which really only leaves one place.
"Maia, we're going to the mountain."

We both quickly secure our bags on, and begin to walk in the direction of the mountain. There's a dirt path that cuts through the forest, but given our situation, it'd probably a stupid idea to walk down such an open road. I look behind me, and see Maia, who's taking in the scenery.
"Stay focused." I call to her, and she snaps back to reality, looking straight ahead. Her eyes widen, and I go to ask her what's the matter, before I fall down the hill.

It happens so quickly, and all I can do is close my eyes as I tumble rapidly down the slick slope, eventually crashing in a heap at the bottom. My entire body hurts, but judging by the pain, it's only a superficial wound, like a bruise. Shakily, I stand up, and look around.

I'm at the bottom of a hill, mud surrounding me in every direction, steeply sloping upwards, trapping me. As far as things go, this could have gone worse. But it also could have gone a lot better as well.
"Afya! Afya!" Maia's shouting fills the air, and I look up to see my pale-haired ally standing over the edge of the slope, looking down at me. "Afya, are you alright?!"
"Fine!" I call back, "Just stuck, is all!"
"I'll look around the area, to try and see if there's a way up!" Maia calls down to me, before running off along the edge. I go to follow her, but something stops me.

I'm not sure how I was alerted to its presence, but right there, in the middle of the dirt, is a knife. Judging from the near pristine quality, it was once in the possession of a Career. And given where I am, there is a high chance that they could still be here. A chill runs down my body, and I pick up the knife, carefully placing it in my belt. Happy with my new weapon, I begin to walk down the bottom of this small valley, following the almost distant figure of Maia. It seems that, for some reason, I'm slowing down. Still running forward, I try to figure out what's causing this drop in speed.

But before I can, something rams me to the ground. I let out a scream as the crushing feeling takes over my body. A slight hiss fills the air, and I slowly look up, to be met with the eight eyes of a massive spider, staring me in the face. My own eyes widen, and I quickly roll out of the way of the massive arachnid. I scramble to my feet desperately, and run. I look back, and see the spider laying a fine web of silk across the ground, allowing it to move quicker than me. Of course, that's how I've been slowed down; the entire area's a massive spider web.

With this newly discovered information, I realise that escape really isn't an option. Which leaves me with one option: To fight back against this Muttation. I reach for my bow, and waste no time loading it with one of my arrows. I take aim, and fire. The arrow sails through the air, before striking the spider in the eye. It stumbles for a moment, before charging at me.

I duck to the floor as it leaps towards me, the Mutt instead harmlessly careening into the ground a little further from me. I get back up, and let another arrow fly, this one falling short of its target. Brilliant. The spider stands up again, and begins to stagger towards me.
"Maia, help!" I scream, suddenly terrified for the first time in the Games. I wasn't scared during the bloodbath; it was just a matter of timing. I wasn't scared during the forest fire; that too was a game of precision. But this, this a whole new level of terrifying. I can't run from this fight, and ground level is perhaps the worst place to be in a fight. I take several more steps back, my heart rate rapidly increasing.

"Afya! Afya!" It's faint, but I can hear Maia's cries of desperation.
"Maia, I'm down here!" I call up, hopelessly firing another arrow at the massive pile of limbs, eyes, and hair. It strikes the abdomen, and it begins to rub its back legs together. I've only seen this once before, back in District 11. I was harvesting some fruit, when one of my fellow workers came across a spider. They tried to remove it, but it rubbed its legs together, creating a cloud of hairs that went into his face. He later went blind. This thought terrifies me, and I begin to visibly tremble.

"Afya! Don't worry, I'll think of something!" Maia cries down, but her tone of voice says otherwise. I'm going to die, and nobody can do anything about it. I look up again, and watch in despair as Maia vanishes from sight. She's abandoned me, left me to die. Of course, I wouldn't want to see someone die such a gruesome death as the one that I'm about to meet. But I won't go down without a fight.

I reload my bow, and release another arrow, just as the cloud of hairs flies at me. I hit the floor, and roll to the side as fast as possible, the hairs coating the area where I was mere seconds ago. I get back up, and look on in joy at the spider. I've managed to hit it right in the middle of its head. It seems stunned, but definitely still alive. I place another arrow in my bow, and prepare to fire once more, until it suddenly leaps at me.

I'm thrown to the ground yet again, being forced to look up at the massive spider. Seven of its eyes glare at me; bright red spheres that strike terror into my very being, and its oversized fangs are secreting some kind of fluid. It's most likely to be some sort of highly deadly toxin. I let out another scream, and punch one of its legs. It does nothing, and another idea comes to me, its head slowly lowering in for the kill. I pull out my newly acquired knife, and slash it across the same leg. The entire lower portion comes clean off, and the massive beast tumbles to the ground, almost convulsing in sheer agony. I crawl out from under it, and stand to my feet, panting from exhaustion. I'm running low on energy, and this Muttation still seems to be able to fight at full capacity.

The spider climbs to its remaining feet shakily, and begins to stagger towards me, some sort of dark fluid leaking from its ex-limb; blood. I load my bow again, prepared to start the futile cycle once more, when a voice calls out, stopping everything in its tracks.
"Hey, get off of her!"

I look up in shock as I see Maia looking triumphantly over the edge of the slope.
"Maia?!" I call out in shock, still keeping one eye trained on the Mutt. It could do some unexpected action if I'm not careful.
"Afya, get out of the way!" She cries out, and points to the branch she's holding on to. "I'm bringing some extreme force into the battle!" I quickly hop back a few steps, and watch as she lets go of the branch. The tree it was attached to trembles, and I see what could easily be the largest toxic mushroom roll down the hill.

It crashes into the spider, the pair of them rolling into the other side of this valley. The spider scrambles around, trying to escape the clutches of the massive piece of fungus, before the spores are released. The purple cloud completely covers the massive arachnid, every inch of its body going into a massive spasm, before beginning to melt into the web it has created. The cloud floats into the sky, and disappears into the clouds, gone forever. I return my attention to the melted pile of slush that was once a Muttation, before walking towards the base of the hill separating me from Maia.
"I'll get you up!" She yells, before a rather sturdy length of vine is thrown down towards me. I grab onto it, and slowly climb upwards. I'm almost at the top, when I slip, but Maia grabs my hand, catching me.
"Thanks." I say to her. She smiles warmly, before hoisting me up.

I wipe the layer of sweat from my face, and catch my breath, looking at Maia. That was dangerously close, and it seems I was right about the Capitol getting bored of us. I reach into my bag, and pull out my canteen of water, taking two large gulps, quenching my thirst, before returning my attention to Maia.
"Let's go to the mountain before this forest kills us." I say, exasperated, and Maia smiles, nodding.
"You're right, let's go." I place my water back in my bag, and lead us through the bushes, cutting through foliage until we reach the edge of the tree line.

A cool breeze blows through the air, and I take a deep breath, stepping out onto the dirt floor, glad to be free of that death trap. Maia emerges as well, and looks up at the mountain that lies mere metres from us.
"Well, looks like we made it." She says, a weary smile growing on her face.
"Indeed we did Maia." I reply warmly, and the two of us head towards the base of the mountain, beginning our climb to safety.

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