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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20. The Extent of Friendship

Maia Kentner, 16, District 5 Tribute

I sit at the mouth of the cavern, my legs huddled up to my chest. In the past four hours, two more tributes have perished. I have no idea who it was, though, except that it wasn't me or Afya. But I guess we'll find out tonight who has died. Part of me hopes that no more die, but another part of me hopes that somehow, the Games end today, and I go home. But I know that it won't happen, and besides, what exactly do I have to return to? Two abusive parents that cheered when I was reaped. Just like four years ago with my brother. That's one thing I don't understand; they seemed to hate us for no apparent reason.

But it's not worth dwelling upon at all, and I shake my head to clear the thought out. It doesn't work, but the dizziness gives me something else to focus my mind on. I look forward, and at the slowly rising sun. It's beautiful, but after the cannon that fired earlier, it only reminds me of death. Yet another simple pleasure in life tainted by these Games.

"Good morning, Maia." I turn around, and face Afya, who's just woken up. "Couldn't sleep?" She asks. I simply shake my head, suddenly feeling rather chilled.
"Two more." I reply, and Afya looks at me quizzically, "Two more cannons fired in the night. Two more are dead, Afya." She looks remorseful for a moment, but soon regains her regular expression.
"It's sad, I know," She says softly, "But think about it as two less opponents to have to kill. And besides, I'm pretty sure the afterlife is much better than where we are now." This causes me to laugh slightly, and the growing apprehension that has been building up since the first cannon fired fades away just like that. That's one of the things that I appreciate about Afya; she can always make the situation that much more bearable.

"So, what's our plan for today?" I ask, before the familiar growl of hunger reaches my ears. This time, it's Afya who's laughing.
"I'd say breakfast." She says, still giggling. I nod in agreement, and pull out my bag of nuts, and my canteen of water. I eat about two handfuls of nuts, and take a few sips of my water. It's now definitely gotten to the point where we're not eating to keep our nutrition levels up; the small amounts we have are barely taking the edge off the pains brought on by the lack of food. I know it's the Hunger Games, but come on. Would it really be too hard for them to give us some food every now and again?

After what could barely pass for a meal, I stand up, and look out over the island once more. The sun's much higher in the sky, and I can clearly see the Cornucopia from here. There are now five tents set up around it, and four large figures are standing near the mouth of the golden horn. They look like they're talking. It doesn't take a genius to realise that they are the Careers, only there seems to be something wrong with the head count. There are five tents, and four Careers.
"Hey, Afya," I say as she also stands up, "I think one of the Careers died last night." For a brief moment, I see her eyes light up at the thought, before her face hardens.
"They obviously deserved it." She says harshly, and looks up at the mountain. "I think we should be going soon, Maia. It's never good to stay in the same place too long." She's right. And especially after that incident with the spiders in the forest, no place seems safe enough.

I put my bag on, and pull out my knife. It's not the greatest weapon, but it is better than going around with nothing to defend myself with. Placing it in my belt, we begin to walk up the mountain trail, following a small dirt path that the Gamemakers placed here when they were making it. At least, that's what I hope it is, and not some crazy survivalist tribute setting up an intricate trap to kill us. But even if that does happen, I'm sure that Afya will be able to shoot them down with her bow.

Shaking away the slight paranoia, I focus on the mountain ahead, and begin to notice that it's becoming slightly harder to catch my breath. It's probably because we're so high up that the air is thinner. I continue to follow Afya up, and we keep going higher until we reach a flat section of the mountain.

Once I'm on the flat section, I lean against the side of the mountain, catching my breath. Afya seems to be tired too, but occupied by something else. For some reason, she keeps looking further up the mountain, a confused expression on her face. I can't see what she's looking at from here, but knowing Afya, it must be important.
"What are you looking at?" I ask her, walking out towards her.
"Look." She replies, and points further up the trail. A little higher up is a large wall of the mountain, filled with several cave like holes. Beyond that, the path becomes a straight drop to the bottom of the mountain. But what's really interesting is that a stream of smoke is coming from a few of the caves.
"What do you think that is?" I ask Afya. It is rather odd, the way that it's just there for seemingly no reason.
"I have no idea, Maia," Afya replies, picking up her bow, "But whatever it is, the Gamemakers want us to go through it. Keep your wits about you."

Afya begins to walk up the path, constantly glancing around as she continues to get higher. I follow her, and look below us, at the base of the mountain. We're pretty high up now; so much that the forest looks absolutely tiny. If I fell off now, there'd be no chance of me surviving the fall. Aware of this fact, I move over to the other side of the path, and end up practically hugging the wall. It would be rather horrifying if I did fall, so I feel justified in not walking as confidently as Afya.

We make it to the top of the path, and stop just in front of the first hole. It's much hotter up here than lower down, and I find myself trying to remove the slight layer of sweat on my forehead. I lean on the wall to the side of the hole, and catch my breath again. This is rather unusual; the smoke pouring out of several of the holes.

Just as I begin to ponder what's going on here, Afya cries out in horror, and rushes towards me, throwing me to the floor.
"Get down!" She yells, and I look up again to see a massive burst out from the hole at high pressure. The heat is unbearable, and the smoke is making me choke. I cover my face with my shirt, and remain like that until Afya pulls it down.
"What was that?" I ask her, finding it hard to breathe.
"I don't know, Maia," She replies, "But I have the feeling that we'll have to go through this."
"Only one problem with that," I say, "How many of them will release a blast of deadly smoke when we're in there?"
"That's a risk we'll have to take." Afya replies, and stands up. I do the same, and follow her as she walks past a few of the holes, until we stop roughly halfway down.

"Why have we stopped here?" I ask Afya as she looks over the hole, deep in thought. Then, her eyes widen, as if she's realised something.
"That's it!" She exclaims to nobody in particular.
"What's it?" I question in response. Since I can't seem to find anything outstandingly important about this particular hole.
"Look at the holes," She says, gesturing towards them, "Notice anything about the number of them?" I don't, but I look at them. There are twelve on the same level as we are, and twelve above
them. Twenty four in total.
"There are twenty four." I reply, and Afya nods her head.
"Yes, twenty four. You know what else there are, or should I say were, twenty four of?" It's now that it all falls into place.

"That's how many tributes there were." I reply, but I'm still not entirely sure how it correlates.
"Now, here's where the Gamemakers got ingenious," Afya begins, "Look at the first column of holes. They released smoke right now, didn't they?"
"Yeah," I say. It seems to be making sense, but making sense of what? I let Afya continue explaining, still unsure of this all.
"Well, if I'm right, the one on the far left represents District One. They both released smoke, a symbol of life and energy, and both tributes are still alive. Same goes with District Two." It's now that everything about this situation makes sense. But there is still one flaw with the theory.
"How exactly can you tell that they represent tributes?" I ask, since it might just be coincidence that the first two rows are smoking, and the tributes from 1 and 2 are still alive.
"I thought you'd ask that," Afya says confidently, "Now look at the third row, or District Three. The top one isn't smoking, but the bottom one is. And also take note how the boy from Three died, but his partner is still alive."

"Wait," I say, "So this means that we can use it to see who is still alive?
"Indeed." Afya replies, before walking over to the fourth column, "And notice how none of the District Four holes are smoking. This probably means that one of the two cannons was the boy from Four." I see now. With this new knowledge, I walk over to the sixth column. The top one isn't smoking, but the bottom one is, and I don't recall seeing any of the two from 6 in the sky so far.
"Hey, Afya," I begin, "So does this mean the other cannon was the boy from Six?"
"Correct." She replies, before looking them over, "Which only leaves ten holes still smoking."
"So there are only ten left in the arena?" I ask, before realising how obvious that is, given the smoking holes. "So who's still alive?"

"Oh, that'll be easy," Afya says, "Both from One, both from Two, the girl from Three, the girl from Six, the boy from Ten, the girl from Twelve, and us." I suddenly realise how few remain. Only four Careers, and four outliers, excluding us.
"That's not much," I say, "Afya, what do you think about those who remain?"
"Judging from the early hours," She replies, "I think that we'll probably be into the final eight by tonight, or tomorrow at the latest. These Games will end soon, Maia, I can feel it."
"How can you feel it?" I ask her. It is rather strange, since I can't feel things like that.
"It's in the air," She says, looking up, "You can just sense it. Right now, it's like the calm before a storm. Something big's going to go down, Maia, you can tell. But I don't know what it is." Something about her tone and choice of words suddenly make this all seem quite foreboding. It sends another chill down my spine; the second chill of the day, and it's not even noon.
"Afya," I say, looking at one of the empty holes; the one that represents the girl from 4, "Shouldn't we be going through this now?"
"You're right," She says, walking in front, "Come on."

The inside of the cave is hot and stuffy, and a mixture of steam and smoke is coming from the walls. I'm sweating from every part of my body right now, and Afya also seems to be affected by the heat as well.
"Are you sure it's a good idea to be here?" I ask out loud, my voice carrying down the long tunnel that we're in. We've only been in here a couple of minutes, but already I want to get out.
"Positive," She says back, "Or why else would the Gamemakers set this up?"
"Oh, I don't know," I reply, agitated slightly, "Maybe to trap us?"
"They wouldn't do that," She says, "We've already had two deaths this morning; I'm sure that the Capitol wouldn't like it if all of the tributes died at once." She's right; they wouldn't do that. This thought calms me down, but this tunnel still doesn't feel safe.

Eventually, the tunnel opens up into a large cavern, and I'm relieved to find that it isn't as hot or stuffy in here. There's a warm red glow about the cave, and there are several rock formations on the ceiling of the cave.
"Wow..." Afya says, her voice bouncing throughout the large space. I can see another hole from the top leading down into this cave via a slope, which is obviously the boy from 4's hole.
"Wow indeed." I say, before looking around. It wouldn't end here, so there has to be another way to continue forward. But just as I begin to search, Afya runs forward, towards the far side of the room. I follow here, hoping that she's found the way forward.

I catch up to her, and notice the wall that she's run up to. There's another tunnel ahead of us, but this one seems more spacious. Me and Afya both exchange a nod of approval, and walk down the tunnel. This one is lighter than the other one, as if something is illuminating it. I have no idea what, though, since I see absolutely nothing that could possibly light up this tunnel. Just as I think this, I follow Afya as she walks out of the tunnel, into another large cave. Evidently, that tunnel was shorter than the first.

But this room is entirely different than the other one, and I look at the walls to search for the next tunnel. There is no tunnel. Instead, there's only a dark grey stone wall, and I begin to feel trapped, until Afya nudges me.
"Up there," She says, and points upwards. I see a ledge on the right hand side of the room, with daylight streaming through a hole in the wall; the exit.
"Well, that wasn't as hard as I thought." I say, and Afya nods. But as soon as I've said it, I instantly regret tempting fate.

Suddenly, a huge rumbling shakes throughout the entire cave, and it causes me to fall to the floor. I look up, and see Afya struggling to stand, before the sharp rock formations on the roof come falling down.

I leap up, and roll out of the way as they come crashing down, limiting where I can stand. I run to the far side of the room, and see Afya edging towards the exit. She looks over to me, and a look of horror is present on her face.
"Maia, over here!" She calls over the rumbling noise, and I barely hear her as I leap out of the way of another falling rock formation. They look like icicles made out of sharp rock. I look down as I run, and notice something else horrifying. The floor is cracking.

I let out a scream, and run to the wall as a section of the floor collapses, the chunks of rock falling downwards, as waves of heat and smoke rise up from the hole. I see Afya slowly walk towards it, and look down. When her face looks at me, her fear translates so strongly that it terrifies me.
"Lava..." She murmurs, before her eyes widen, "Maia, this entire place is above a lake of lava!" Lava. I remember learning about it in school. It's caused by heated rocks in the core of the planet, or something. Lava is usually found in mountains, but when it is found, they're called volcanoes. It's this brief memory of school that makes the horrific realisation dawn on me.

This mountain is actually a volcano.

I look back to Afya, and see her running towards the ledge. I waste absolutely no time in running after her, the rumbling increasing in intensity as more cracks appear in the floor. A section of the floor collapses, and I leap over it, screaming in horror as a small amount of lava spurts out of the hole, barely missing me. I land on the other side of the hole, and sprint at full speed towards Afya, who's now climbing the wall. I can hear her panting loudly, and I run up to the wall as well, my heart pounding in my chest.

Despite the fact the wall is only about eight feet high, it looks like another mountain given the stress and urgency of the situation. Luckily, it has a few natural footholds, and I throw myself at the wall, climbing up as more of the floor collapses into the lake of lava, casting an eerie orange glow on everything. Still looking down, I watch as more of the roof falls into the lava, barely missing my head.

Trying to ignore it, I climb upwards faster, the muscles in my arms and legs burning with the effort. But I can't stop now; not unless I want to fall into the lava, and burn to death horribly. Just as I reach the top, an incredibly loud cracking noise fills the room, and I watch as the entire floor falls into the lava, causing a massive splash of the deadly molten rock to hit the roof. It drips off slowly, back into the massive body below, missing me entirely.

I lift myself up, and climb to my feet. It's just a quick run to the exit, and I see Afya standing near the way out, looking anxious.
"Afya!" I yell, and upon seeing me, her face relaxes slightly, and I walk over to her, unaware of the cracks that now fill this new floor.

Afya's face turns into one of sheer horror, and suddenly, I find myself falling. In panic, I look down. The floor is collapsing, just like the other one. I then realise something else. Judging by the speed that I'm falling, there is no way that I will be able to reach the edge of this new hole, and grab it in time, which means that I will fall into the lava, and suffer the most agonising death in the entire Games.

Just as I close my eyes, and will my death to be quick, I feel something grab my wrist. I let out a startled scream, and stop falling, my legs dangling above the lava. I see a few small rocks fall into the boiling lake, disappearing in a splash of smoke.

Trembling, I look up, and see Afya leaning over the ledge, clenching my arm, her face straining to keep hold.
"Grab the ledge." She says between gritted teeth. I nod, as tears begin to flow down my face, and grab onto the edge. Sure that I have a secure grip, I begin to lift myself up, Afya helping to haul me onto the ledge. As soon as I'm safely on the rock floor that isn't cracked, I lay down, and begin to cry. It's a mixture of fear, despair, and now joy as I look at Afya. She saved me. She prevented me from dying.
"Thank you," I sob, as I shakily stand up, "You saved my life." My voice is strained, and I can't help but pull Afya in for a hug. As she returns the hug, I begin to sob into her shoulder.
"There, there," She says softly, "You're alright now. Come on, let's get out before more of the cave collapses."

She pulls away from me, and I follow her out of the cave, and welcome the midday sunlight. The air is cooler and fresher, and grass coats the mountainside. Calming myself down, I walk a little further away from the cave, out of the stream of smoke, and sit on the grass, my back facing the mountain. Afya follows me, and we sit together, exhausted and blackened from the smoke.
"Thanks again." I say, and Afya places a hand on my shoulder.
"Don't mention it," She replies with a smile, "After all, it's what friends do."

Friends. I let out a smile as I realise that our relationship has evolved from two allies that benefit from one another, to actual friends who care about one another. But as I take in this joyful realisation, something else hits me.

I now know that we have become too close than we should in this arena, and that means that neither of us will have the ability to actually harm one another. Which means only one thing; when we die, we die together. And right now, I can't think of anyone else I'd rather die with.

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