The New Mockingjay

The revolution is over. Panem has been changed. Now, each year, a young girl is chosen to be the Mockingjay. There are only two requirements- she has to be pretty, and she has to be able to sing like no other.
When Electra becomes the Mockingjay, she thinks she's in for a life of public performances, and putting forward a pretty face. The reality is much, much worse than that.

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4. 3- The second challenge

    Gwen gave Electra one minute to rest. Then she shook her shoulder, rousing her. “Come on. Up. We can’t lie here forever. We need to keep moving.”
    Electra gritted her teeth and pulled herself up. Her eyes settled on a a box that was anchored to the last platform. She opened it, and found a backpack. She went to sling it on to her shoulders, but Gwen took it from her.
    “Thanks,” Electra said, surprised.
    “Just doing my job. Come on. Let’s get down from these platforms.”
    “Get down?” Electra stared at the ground, far below her. She could see no way down.
    “Yeah. You have two options. You can jump, or I can push you. Which sounds better?”
    “Jump? Are you crazy?”
    “Yes,” Gwen replied curtly. “Now go!”
    Electra gritted her teeth. She didn’t want to jump. It seemed like suicide. But Gwen had saved her life. And there really was no other way down. She’d just have to trust the small girl for now, until she figured out what was going on.
    She took a deep breath, and then jumped.
    Almost instantly, Gwen was falling beside her, grabbing her wrist and yanking her sideways into the air. They were falling and falling and then suddenly they stopped.
    “What the-” Electra began.
    “We’re in the hovercurrent,” Gwen explained, righting herself and pointing up.
    Electra glanced up and saw that they were directly beneath the last floating platform. There was a strong current pushing against them, holding them in place.
    “Wow…” she whispered.
    “Yeah, I know,” Gwen smiled. “I was impressed with the technology too. Now, we have to stay close to the edge so we’ll fall, just a little slower.”
    Electra took a deep breath, then nodded. Gwen had helped her so far. She had to do her best to trust her. She had to admit, she needed Gwen’s help if she was going to survive this crazy place.
    Following Gwen’s guidance, she drifted towards the edge, where they began to descend. It was nice and easy, which was a relief. Electra hated falling. Even when drifting, looking down and seeing the ground so far below her was terrifying. She was relieved when her feet finally touched the ground.
    “One down…” Gwen sighed, turning to look at her. “You don’t look hurt.”
    “I’m fine.”
    Gwen frowned, grabbing her wrist and flipping it over. Her wrist was red and raw from the rope. “Rope burn,” she sighed. “Doesn’t look too bad. You’ll live.”
    “I’m good, really,” Electra sighed. “It doesn’t hurt that much, and you made it clear we didn’t have much time.”
    Gwen nodded sharply. “Let’s see what you’ve got in your backpack.”
    Electra dumped it out onto the ground, revealing a water bottle- empty- a small bag of dried fruit and meat, a blanket, and a knife.
    Gwen took the knife, studying it. “Not bad. Not much, but better than nothing. You should keep it.” She handed it back.
    Electra sighed. “I can’t throw a knife... or fight with it.”
    “Do you have any skill with weapons?”
    “I mean, I’m alright with a sling, but we don’t have one. I used it to defend our animals from predators, see, and...” She trailed off awkwardly.
    Gwen nodded again. She hadn’t smiled yet. Electra wondered if she was still mad. “We’ll have to get you one then. The sooner you have something to defend yourself with, the easier my life gets. It’s hard to defend someone who is completely weaponless. I don’t want to have to babysit you for two weeks.” She pulled a sheath attached to a belt out of the pack, and handed it to Electra. She awkwardly fastened the belt around her waist. She sheathed the dagger, and glanced at Gwen, who gave an approving nod, before turning away.
    “Look, Gwen...” Electra blushed awkwardly. “I didn’t get to say this yet. With the rope at the start, you... you saved my life. I would be dead if it wasn’t for you, and I’m really sorry for being difficult. I really really appreciate your help. I’ll try to be a little more... competent, I guess.”
    That brought a hint of a smile back to Gwen’s face. “You’ll do,” she said calmly. “You’re not a blustering idiot then. The authority didn’t go to your head.”
    “I hope not...” Electra agreed.
    Gwen nodded. “That’s good. Believe me, I’ve met much worse than you. You’re pretty humble, for a mockingjay.”
    “Can you just call me Electra?” Elecra asked. “I’ve had enough people calling me mockingjay. I’m not sure that title is an honor any more. Just... stick with Electra, okay?”
    Gwen frowned slightly. “I’d love to, believe me. But I’m not allowed to.”
    “What?” Electra raised her eyebrows. “Why?”
    Gwen sighed. “Rules of the job. I have to treat you with respect. Calling you by your name implies too much familiarity.”
    “What? Says who?”
    “My superiors,” she sighed. “I already told you, the less said about us, the better. I have to respect you though.”
    Electra glanced up at the sky, lowering her voice. “Is it safe to be talking about them out loud?”
    “We’ve got people in headquarters,” she replied, lowering her voice as well. “They’ll be careful to produce sound to overlay our conversations about us. We’re very good at what we do. Don’t worry.”
    Electra nodded, relieved. At least she wouldn’t always have to be watching what she said at all times. Still, it bothered her that Gwen couldn’t cal her by her name. A lot.
    Gwen turned away, focusing on the terrain around them. They were in a low, swampy area. Beyond that was a large forest. Gwen sighed, glancing back at Electra.
    “Come on, Mockingjay. Let’s get you past these trials. The faster we go, the better. Are you good to walk?”
    Electra sighed, and nodded weakly. “Yeah, I’m good.”
    They started forwards. Electra stared at Gwen, who walked ahead of her, back straight and stiff. Clearly she didn’t want to talk. Electra sighed, letting her head drop and trudging forwards.
    Is it always going to be like this?
    She wished she could ask Electra for some clarification. Why did it matter so much that she treated Electra with respect? And Gwen was allowed to yell at her, threaten to push her off a hovering platform, and snap at her... but not call her by her name? That seemed so weird and backwards. It shouldn’t work that way.
    Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted as Gwen abruptly turned and launched herself into Electra’s side, knocking her over.
    “What the-” Electra began. Then her eyes widened. Gwen had fallen backwards, and was sinking fast. She was already up to her knees, struggling wildly to free herself. She was stuck in what must have been quicksand. Quicksand that Electra had been about to step right into.
    “Oh my god, Gwen!” Electra panicked. “What do I do?!”
    “My rope!” Gwen growled. “Get the rope!”
    Electra looked around frantically, and saw the bag lying a foot away, where it had fallen off of Gwen’s shoulder. She practically tore it open. Gwen was up to her waist now, still struggling. Electra found the rope, and tossed the end to Gwen, who grabbed on, eyes wild. Electra pulled, and Gwen began to drag herself out, hand over hand. She was halfway out, when she suddenly froze.
    “What?” Electra asked, subconscously lowering her voice.
    Gwen responded in an equally low voice. “Don’t... move. Stay very, very still.”
    Electra froze, but her eyes darted back and forth, searching for the source of Gwen’s panic. Then she saw it, and fear formed an ice cold lump in her chest.
    A few feet away from her was a bright red snake. It was about a foot long, and as thick around as the rope. It hissed, showing its long, sharp fangs. Fangs that were probably poisonous.
    Electra wanted to scream and run. She hated snakes. She’d seen plenty of people in her village fall to snake bites. And this one was way too close to her and Gwen. It didn’t look friendly either. Panic began to build in her, and she let out an involuntary whimper. The snake’s eyes instantly locked on her, and it began to move closer, slithering along at a slow, leisurely pace, as if it knew that its victory was assured.
    “Mockingjay, don’t move,” Gwen whispered. “You’ve got to stare it down.”
    “I can’t...” Electra whispered. “Snakes... I can’t... I hate... they...” She could barely form a coherent sentence. She felt cold, and totally terrified. No one could save her. Gwen was up to her chest in quicksand, struggling not to sink. And everyone else wanted her dead.
    The snake stopped so close to her that she could have reached out and touched it. It rose, swaying slightly. Electra stared at its large, yellow eyes, completely petrified. She knew some snakes could paralyze birds with their eyes. Was that what was happening to her now? What a horrible way to die. She’d seen posion victims before. It had never been pleasant. There was nothing she could do for them. A sling couldn’t knock out poison. She knew nothing about healing.
    She wanted to blink. To look away. To do something other than stand here helplessly as the snake studied her with a hungry gaze. What had Gwen said? She had to ‘stare it down’? What did that mean? She didn’t have enough coherence in her mind to wonder why. She could only stare at the snake, unblinkingly.
    The staring contest might have lasted seconds, but it felt more like hours. Finally, the snake dipped its head. And then it began to slither away. Electra let out a soft, disbelieving breath of relief.
    “Good job,” Gwen said, her voice full of approval. “Now can we please get me out of this quicksand?”
    Electra turned back to her, and helped pull her out. After a tense minute of pulling and slipping, Gwen dragged herself out of the quicksand, and lay groaning on the ground.
    “That... was awful,” she muttered.
    “Are you okay?” Electra asked softly.
    Gwen glanced up at her, and seemed to remember where she was.
    “Yes, of course.” Electra wasn’t sure if she was imagining it, but Gwen’s voice seemed to tremble a little bit when she spoke. The quicksand seemed to have scared her. But before Electra could ask, Gwen stood, brushing sand off of her black uniform.
    “Right, now let’s get moving. I’ll handle the snakes.”
    “Thank you,” Electra whispered.
    Gwen picked up the backpack, slinging it over her shoulder. She coiled the rope around her wrist, tying it off with expert hands, and glanced back, tossing her short, red hair over her shoulder.
    “Just doing my job,” she replied, her voice empty of emotion.
    Electra sighed. For a moment, she thought Gwen might speak to her normally, like a friend instead of a responsibility. But of course, she couldn’t. Even in a massive death arena, Electra was alone. It hurt to think it, but unfortunately it was true.
    Gwen glanced back, and noticed Electra’s dejected stance. “Hey, I’m sorry,” she said quietly. “I should have been able to help. I guess we’re even now.”
    “Even?”
    “You saved my life, with that sand,” Gwen sighed. “So thank you.”
    Electra managed to smile. “You were doing just fine. You probably would have been just fine either way.”
    Gwen hesitated, then shrugged. “I don’t know... the sand was... the way it is...” she paused, glancing up at the sky, and quickly rearranged her features into an indifferent look again. “Yeah, well... thank you. Let’s get going. I’ll lead.”

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