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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23. Up in Smoke

Hunter Ruiz, 17, District 10 Tribute

Remaining crouched, both me and the girl from 2 engage in a stare-down. She has dark skin, and flowing dark hair that reaches below her waist. She's rather pretty, and almost innocent looking, if it weren't for her grey eyes. They're similar to April's, only these eyes hold something far more sinister than April's eyes.

Of course, I should have realised that by charging out during the daytime would end in us being caught. But we managed to get here without seeing anyone else. In fact, I was about to burn the whole place down, when the fight between the boys from 1 and 2 took place. And then, the girl from 2 noticed April's gasps in surprise. Not that I'm blaming April or anything, it's just that this girl is obviously highly observant; she would have probably found us regardless.

I grit my teeth, and once again look over the situation. There are two of us, and three of them. But one of them's injured, so we're roughly equal in terms of numbers. Judging from appearances, the girl from 2 seems to be the most dangerous Career left alive. But looks can be deceiving.

"April-" I begin, but I'm cut off by the sudden appearance of a golden arrow striking into a tree. I whip my head around, and see that the girl from 2 has inched closer to me.
"Something I can help you with?" She asks, her tone completely flat, and almost bored. Well, yeah; she sees two outliers with mediocre weapons at best. I just prey she doesn't know about our explosive, otherwise we're doomed to die here and now. "Pretty good weapons," She says, looking at me and April, "The rapier is small, but equally as deadly as any sword in the right hands, and, don't call me biased, but the bow may be the best weapon in the Games. Light, ranged, and one hundred percent deadly."
"I can see that." I spit back at her, trying to think of a way out of this situation. Since right now, if I make any sudden moves, it's game over, and they'll kill us right away.

A slight rustling sound catches my attention, and I glance back at April. She lightly taps a finger on her bow, and this form of communication is enough to know what she wants; me to keep the attention away from her as she loads the bow. It'll be a pretty risky move, but it could pay off.

"Hey, what are you doing?" I snap my head around, and face the girl from 2 again. Her eyes seem more dangerous this time, and I know I'll have to play it just right.
"Oh, just making sure that my ally is still there." I say to her calmly, as if we're simply having a regular everyday conversation. After all, if I let my fear show here, they'll perceive me as weak, and begin to open fire. But if I appear to be a somewhat formidable opponent, it keeps them on their toes, and their attention on me, most importantly. "You know, to make sure she hasn't fled, or that one of you has killed her. The usual reasons."
"Stop playing funny." She snaps, her tone severe, "I've had enough of false joking over the past few days." Perfect. She's playing right into my hands.
"Oh, I'm sorry," I reply, in the most condescending tone I can muster, "I didn't know. But you should realise a laugh a day keeps you healthy, happy, and sane. It's a thing the local apothecary told us when we were suffering from psychological traumas, and we couldn't afford medicine." Of course, anyone from a poorer district would know that's a blatant lie, but perhaps the richer districts might find it plausible.
"Really?" She says, trying to sound flat, but it can't mask her intrigue. Bingo.

I glance briefly at the other two Careers, from District 1. The girl's too busy dealing with her injured district partner to pay any attention, and likewise with the boy.
"Yes, really," I reply to the girl from 2, "It works all the time with people. Victors of the Games, especially, love to do it." I let a slight cocky grin show, but the girl isn't interested. She now seems to be thinking about something, trapped in an inner turmoil. Maybe she's actually thinking about it. I look back at April; she's managed to get her bow in a decent grip, and she's now trying to get an arrow. Just a little longer.

Looking back at the girl from 2, I notice that her face has gone pale, and her eyes have widened.
"So, you mean to say that victors go crazy?" She asks me, her voice panicked. I have to stifle a laugh as I realise she's actually buying into it.
"Pretty much," I reply, "And especially if you've killed someone. Anyone else remember Hilda from District Ten? The victor of the 60th Games?"
"Yeah," She replies, her eyes darting around. I glance at April again; she's now slotted the arrow into her bow. I just have to keep the girl from 2 occupied a little more.
"Well, she went full blown crazy." I tell her, "Especially after she slaughtered all of the Careers in one go like a maniac." The girl from 2 is now almost hyperventilating.
"So, you mean to tell me," She begins, but her tone has changed, "That you thought I would buy that spiel? Honestly, you must think I'm an idiot if you honestly thought that your story was believable." One last glance at April. She's loaded, and ready. Perfect.

"Actually, I can't believe you were foolish enough to listen." I tell her, a dark grin on my face. This confuses her, since a minute ago, I was acting as if I was trying to fast talk my way out of the situation.
"What do you mean?" She says, but her voice trails off as she looks back at me and April, "Oh, you crafty little-"
"Now!" I yell, and April releases the arrow. It sails through the air, and strikes the girl from 2's leg. As she staggers in pain, I give April the signal, and we burst out of the trees.

The pair from 1 have seen this, and are struggling to run away, back to their camp. They seem injured, so I should be able to do this. But just as I begin to move towards them, a golden arrow flies by, grazing my leg. I fall forwards slightly, and turn to face the girl from 2 as she loads another arrow. As I thought, she is the most dangerous.
"April, hold her!" I call out, continuing to make my way to the small camp at the Cornucopia.
"Got it!" She calls back, and begins to unleash a barrage of arrows at the girl from 2. They're both evenly matched in terms of bow skills, but April has the upper hand with more arrows to fire; she's sparing her shots. As they both reload, April turns to face me, an expression of determination on her face. "Go! I can hold her off!"

Listening to April's words, I give her a nod of confirmation, and take off down the beach, towards District 1. The girl sees this, and sits the boy down in the mouth of the horn. He's pretty injured, so I'll be able to leave him without having to worry about him trying to kill me.

The girl, however, is another problem entirely. She has a ring of throwing knives attached to her belt, and she's holding a spear. And from the one look she gives me, I know that she will fight to the death. But I have something else that'll definitely stop all of this. Holding the bottle close, I look over at the tents. If I burn them down, they'll have nothing to rely on, and will perish without supplies. That much I can do.

Leaping out of the way of a throwing knife, I begin to make my way to the largest tent. But the girl spots me, and runs at me, slashing my stomach with her spear. Pain flares up throughout my body, and I draw my rapier, setting the bottle in my belt.
"So, you want to fight me?" She says, panting, her eyes brimming with fury, "Then come at me!" I don't need a second invitation, and strike with my rapier. It catches her in the shoulder, and she lets out a cry of fury and rage. But she doesn't remain still for long, and throws a knife at my face. It catches my scalp, and another sharp pain courses through my body, and a small stream of blood trickles down my face.
"You're pretty good," I say, dodging another knife, "But you're alone."
"So are you!" She snaps back, and delivers a swift kick to my knee, knocking me to the floor. She rams her spear into my back, and I cry out in pain as she begins to dig in. But before it can cause serious injury, I roll over, catching her off guard. I leap to my feet, and use my rapier to block a blow from her spear.

"As I was saying," I continue, gradually bringing the fight closer to the tent, "And you rely on the strength of your group to be a formidable force. Alone, you're just as strong as I am."
"Shut it!" She screams, before spitting at my face. It's disgusting, and I wipe it off, foolishly letting my guard down. The sharp feeling of pain appears on my chest, and I look to see two knives stuck there. Thankfully, the angle meant that they didn't puncture anything. I pull them out, and throw them back at her. She dodges them swiftly, and thrusts her spear once more. I jump to my left, missing the blow, and inching closer to the tents. Not long now.

Suddenly, I feel pain in my back, and turn around to see the girl from 2 standing on a hill close to the beach, firing arrows down. This gives me a bad feeling about April. What happened to her? As I ponder this, I sense something, and duck to the floor as a knife sails past my head, striking into the hill. I can't keep an eye on both of them at the same time, and if I focus on one, the other will kill me. This will be significantly harder to get out of.

"Hunter, look out below!" A voice suddenly rings out, and both me and the girl from 1 turn our attention to the top of the hill. April's emerged from the top, and is tackling the girl from 2. She fights back, but April pushes the two of them down the hill. They roll down in a pile of bodies, and bows, and end up crashing into the girl from 1, sending all of them into a massive heap.

I can't mask my joy. April did it. She managed to take out both dangerous Careers! And to add to the joy, she is first to emerge from the pile. She's a little more bloody, but no worse in condition.
"April," I begin to her, pulling her in for a hug, "You did it!" This is brilliant. I can now destroy everything in peace.
"Yeah." She replies, looking back at the two girls. Neither are moving. "But I'd do it quickly. Who knows how long we have before they get up?"
"You're right." I reply, and we both run over to the tents, stopping before the largest one. It's a bright green colour, and appears easily flammable.

"You ready?" She asks me, and I nod in response.
"Why wouldn't I?" I reply, and I can't help but smile as I pull out the lighter. I also pull out the bottle, and begin to try to light up the lighter. It takes a few tries, but I soon have a nice flame going. As soon as I set the cloth on fire, I prepare to throw it. But just as I'm about to release, a knife catches my side, and I turn to face the girl from 1 as she runs towards me. Out of reflex, my hand twitches, and the bottle flies out of my grip. It soars through the air, until it lands on the girl from 1. What happens next is absolutely horrifying.

She drops her spear to the floor, and screams in horror as the flames lick up her entire body, making her into a living human candle. Her screams are blood curling, and already smoke is coming from her blackening skin. But instead of dropping dead straight away as I thought she would, she makes a break for the ocean, her entire body black.

The smell of her burning flesh reaches my nose, and I gag in disgust as she runs past us. April is staring in horror, trembling at the burning mess that I created.
"Oh, god! Emerald!" I look over to the mouth of the Cornucopia, and see the boy from 1 standing up, his battered, bloody face riddled with concern and horror. I return my attention to the burning girl, and see as she trips, and falls into one of the tents.

BOOM!

April pushes me back as a massive column of flame erupts from the first tent. I hear the cannon, and I know that it quite clearly means the girl from 1 is dead. The flames continue to spread, and soon, the calm camp has turned into a deadly inferno, and thick waves of smoke are billowing out into the sky. It must be visible from all over the island. I wonder how many tributes have seen this? Another thought comes to me. What if the other tributes are drawn here? No, they're too smart to do that.

"Well, I think we should leave now." April says, keeping an eye on the burning camp. The smoke is so thick that the normally shining Cornucopia has all but vanished from sight. April's right. There is nothing to stay for, so we should be going.
"Come on," I say, "Before the crazy girl with the bow wakes up."
"You're right." April replies, and we begin to walk back up the beach, away from the heat and the deadly smoke.

We make our way up to the hill, and climb to the top. From there, we can clearly see the full extent of the damage. Most of the beach has vanished under the cloud of smoke, which is slowly rising into the air. The Cornucopia is barely visible, and what is visible, is a pitch black colour, the golden shine non existent.
"Whoa." I say, looking over it. "I can't believe we did that."
"Well, at least it pretty much secures that a Career won't win." April says in response, staring at the devastation.
"You're right." I say, and we remain standing in silence, overwhelmed at the destructive forces that we brought to the Careers.

Suddenly, a shape flies out of the smoke. It's slightly blackened, but I instantly recognise it as a spear. I open my mouth to warn April of it, but it's too late, and the spear flies into her stomach. Her eyes widen, and she tries to let out a scream, before the force of the blow knocks her flying down the other side of the hill.
"April!" I cry out, and right before I run to her, I see the boy from 1 standing at the bottom of the hill, a triumphant smile on his face. But I don't have time for that, and I run down the hill, almost falling several times.

When I reach the bottom, I find April curled up at the bottom, a thin trail of blood coming from her mouth. I run over to her, and pick her up, the spear still lodged in her stomach.
"Hunter...?" She asks, her voice weak, and she coughs up some more blood, "Is it really you?"
"Yeah, it's me." I say, my voice trembling as I run towards the trees, "Now listen to me: I'm gonna get you back to camp, and then patch you up. But until then, hang in there, you hear me?"
"Alright," She replies faintly, and I pick up my pace, my breathing getting faster. No, I can't start having a panic attack. Not here, not now. Not when April needs me the most.

I continue to crash blindly through the trees as I rush towards the clearing, continually checking on April. Her eyes are glazed over slightly, but she's still alive and awake. Our surroundings begin to become more familiar, and I look at April.
"We're nearly back at the camp." I tell her, looking forward in time to dodge a branch, "Then you can rest, and get better."
"That's great." She says, her voice barely a whisper, and I notice her normally olive skin is beginning to turn pale. As this happens, I realise we don't have much time.

Running as fast as possible, I burst through the trees, and stumble into the clearing. It all looks the same as it did this morning, back when it was all calm. Back when Magnum was alive, and back when April didn't have a fatal injury.

Carefully, I set her down inside one of the tents, and run to the bag full of supplies. I rummage around inside it, desperately looking for a roll of bandages. But as I dig deeper, I remember that the last of it was used up this morning. As this realisation comes to me, the bitter sting of tears becomes noticeable, and I begin to cry. I can't save her. April is going to die. And there is no way I can heal her without bandages.

"Damn it all!" I cry out loud as I make my way back to the tent. If I can't save her, the least I can do is make her last moments as comforting as possible. I push open the front of the tent, and sit down inside, next to April.

"Did you get the bandages?" She asks, but I have to strain to hear her.
"No," I tell her, "We're all out." I don't tell her that she's going to die though. I can barely deal with the fact.
"Oh," Is all she says. Her voice sounds so deflated, so disappointed. And it delivers a crushing blow to my heart. I've failed her. Tears begin to pour from my eyes as I hold her hand. It's cold.
"I'm so sorry." I tell her, and hold her tight, "I'm sorry!"
"Hunter," She says weakly, her eyes weakly meeting my own, "I'm going to die, aren't I?"

I can't answer that question, because as she says it, I break down. I sob harshly, and continue to clutch her hand tight. She is going to die, and even she knows it. I want to tell her no, that she'll be fine after some rest, but that would be more for my benefit than for her benefit.
"Yes," I finally say, my voice coming out faint, before a choked sobbing sound bursts from my throat, "You are going to die."

There's no response from April, save for a weak crying sound. I look at April's face, and see the tears coming down her cheeks. She looks so weak and innocent, like a young child. She's too young for death, yet it's still coming to claim her. I hold her in my arms again, like a little child, and stroke her hair, in a pathetic attempt to make this a little more bearable.

"Hunter," She finally says weakly, "Can you do me a favour?"
"Anything," I tell her, my voice catching, "Anything, April."
"Please," She says, in an almost begging tone, "Please, win." Win? How can I do that? Especially alone? I look to April, and give her a confused look, but it quickly changes to a desperate sob.

She's gone limp, and her breathing is faint, her eyes shut.
"No," I say, "April, stay with me. April, you hear me? Don't leave me. Please, don't go! April!" I'm practically shaking her now, but I'm not getting any response, "April?"

BOOM!

A cannon fires out, and April stops breathing. No, she can't be dead. She can't be! 
"April, please, wake up." I say. My voice is weak and faint, like a little child that doesn't know what he's doing. But some part of my body tells me to get her outside, so the hovercraft can collect her.

Sobbing, I lift her up, and carry her out of the tent. I set her down outside, and lay her peacefully on the ground. I give her one last kiss on the forehead, before stepping back. As I look at her, something comes to mind. Her bow is still in the tent, and she wouldn't want it to fall into the wrong hands, even in death. And as I have no use for it, it might as well be taken away with her.

Hurrying over to the tent, I pick up the bow, and return to April, placing it in her dead hand. If it weren't for the spear that's embedded deep into her body, she might be unconscious. Not asleep, no, she's not that peaceful, but not dead.

The area grows dark, and I look up to see the hovercraft. I walk away from April's corpse, and look back as it's lifted up, along with the bow and spear, and vanishes into the hovercraft. The hovercraft flies upwards for a little bit, then completely disappears, and I'm left with a crushing emptiness.

All my allies are dead. I am alone. Part of me want to break down sobbing, but another part of me wants to avenge them. Yeah, I'll do that. I can't avenge Magnum, since April killed her, and even if she was alive, I couldn't kill her. But I can avenge April. I grit my teeth as I bring out my rapier, and I let a wave of determination mix with my emotion. I will try to win for April, but first, there is one thing I have to do if I can't win. And either way, I won't die until this happens.

I will kill Ebony Amaranth.

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