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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6. 5- One more challenge

    They trudged through the swamp in silence. Finally, they reached the other side. Gwen held up a hand, stopping Electra right at the edge of a massive forest. Electra stared up at it with awe. The trees where she lived were large, but they were nothing compared to this massive jungle that lay stretched out before her. The trees were huge and twisted, growing towards the sky with twisting, curling limbs, like outstretched hands. They had sharp, spiny leaves, like the stinging nettles that grew around the edges of Electra’s village. The leaves looked strange on trees. She wondered if they stung like nettles. Knowing where she was, they probably did.
    “Those trees don’t look friendly,” Gwen remarked.
    Electra nodded carefully, not wanting to set Gwen off again. “Yeah. The leaves look weird. Like nettles that grow on trees. It looks... unnatural.”
    Gwen shrugged. “It’s an arena. Who knows how things work here. Now... that swamp with the snakes... that should have been the end of a challenge. So where’s our reward?”
    A loud hiss interrupted her words, and Gwen froze. Electra did too, eyes wide. It sounded like a massive snake. And it also sounded like it was coming from right behind her.
    “Turn around slowly,” Gwen whispered. “Very slowly. Don’t panic. No sudden moves. Get behind me.”
    Electra turned as slowly as she could. Another hiss came from behind her, and she almost jumped out of her skin. It sounded much deeper and louder than a normal snake’s. It had to come from some sort of giant snake. That thought didn’t make her feel any better, and it certainly didn’t make it easy to turn around slowly, like Gwen had instructed her to.
    Somehow, she managed not to panic. But then she turned, and any traces of calm she had were gone.
    The snake behind her was a massive serpent, at least ten feet long. A deep emerald green hood furled out behind its head, and a forked tongue flicked from its mouth. Its deep yellow eyes fixed Electra with a disdainful stare. It was probably wondering how good she’d taste. She vaguely remembered having seen a cobra before, slithering around the edges of her village’s scrubby forest. She’d pegged it with a stone, crushing its skull. Even in death, it had been absolutely terrifying. Three feet long, with a large, curling hood, and razor sharp fangs to inject venom into its prey. Powerful enough to stop a victim’s heart in minutes. And that had been a small one. She definitely didn’t want to know what this massive one could do. Even imagining it absolutely terrified her.
    “That’s a big snake...” She whispered. “A big big snake...”
    “Careful, Electra,” Gwen warned. “Stay. Very. Still.”
    Electra couldn’t help herself. She had been able to control herself with the little ones, but this big one was beyond terrifying. It hissed, and she let out a piercing scream. The snake’s head snapped towards her, and she stumbled backwards. Her foot hit a patch of quicksand, and instantly began to sink. She lost her balance, and fell, halfway in the pit, halfway out. She gripped the bank, mind blank with terror. The snake was above her, rearing up to strike.
    What a horrible way to die... she thought, staring up at the massive snake. She closed her eyes, waiting for the pain of the serpent’s teeth.
    The pain never came. She dared to open her eyes, and stared in awe.
    Gwen had lunged at the snake from behind, and was now leading it in a chase, doing her best to lure it away from Electra. The rope she’d used to save Electra snapped at the air, and Electra realized it wasn’t a normal rope- it was a steel-tipped whip that she snapped in the air, drawing the serpent’s attention. It focused on her, slithering after her with incredibly speed, lunging with its unnaturally large head, and trying to bite her. Gwen had to either be really fast or really really lucky. Every time the massive serpent lunged at her, she snapped her whip at its head, jerking it to the side. It didn’t seem to hurt the snake, though, only make it angry. It had to be some kind of genetically engineered creature- like the mutts that the old capitol had used in the games. It definitely seemed more intelligent than the smaller serpents they’d been dealing with. It refused to be lured away, staying close to Electra. It could have turned and finished her off, but it didn’t. Prbably because if it did, Gwen would have an opening. Not that she seemed to be able to do much with her whip. She was keeping the snake’s attention for now, but how long until her luck wore out? Electra felt totally useless. Halfway suspended in quicksand, unable to help as Gwen fended off the snake trying to save her. She would be dead many times over if it wasn’t for Gwen. She had to help. But how?
    Around then was when things started going wrong. Gwen let out a scream as the snake brought its tail whipping around, knocking her off her feet. Instantly, the snake wound itself over her, binding her legs, and pinning her arms to her side. The snake’s massive muscles heaved, and it began to pull its coils tightly around Gwen. It was trying to crush her. Gwen gasped struggling to push the snake away from her, but Electra knew that wouldn’t work. Snakes were usually strong, even the small ones. The snake probably could have just bitten her and finished her off, but it didn’t. It was almost like it was intentionally trying to give her a slow death, and put on a show.
    An idea sparked in Electra’s brain. She reached out, and grabbed onto the snake’s coils. It ignored her, and kept contracting. Electra started to pull with all her might, trying to match the strength she’d felt pulling herself up the rope when Gwen had saved her life. She ahd to save Gwen now. There was no way she was letting the small girl die. Not here. Not now. If Gwen died, Electra was sure she’d follow very quickly. She pulled harder, until she flopped breathlessly onto the ground. She was about to congratulate herself, when she felt a crushing pressure on her ankle. She looked down, and saw the end of the serpent’s tail wrapping around her, holding her still.
    Electra glanced up, feeling a surge of fear. The snake would kill Gwen, and then finish her off. She had to be able to do something! But she wasn’t a trained fighter. She didn’t have Gwen’s speed or skill. What could she do?     

Gwen let out a choking sound. Her face was turning red from the effort of keeping the snake from crushing her. Her breath came in ragged gasps as her airflow was restricted by the  serpent’s coils. She didn’t have much longer before she passed out. And then the snake would crush her, and finish Electra.
    That was when Electra remembered the knife. She felt around, until she found the knife, held at her waist by a sheath. She vaguely remembered putting it there before she’d started taking to Gwen. The snake hadn’t pinned her arms yet. She took a deep breath, readying the knife.
    Electra had never hurt anything up close before. She normally killed her targets at a distance with a sling. Knives and other bladed weapons unnerved her. A good rock wouldn’t cut something open, and spill their blood everywhere. The thought of attacking the giant snake with a knife terrified her. But Gwen was dying, and Electra would die too. Besides, she liked Gwen.
    Speaking of Gwen, she wasn’t doing well. She was barely breathing now, her face going from red to purple. She’d stopped struggling as much, and was nearly entirely limp. Electra cursed herself mentally. Every second she wasted debating was another second that Gwen got closer to death. Before she could doubt herself, she closed her eyes, and swung the knife at the snake’s tail. She felt resistance, and heard it sink in. She risked a glance, and the sight of the snake’s blood almost made her sick. The tail was severed, and she quickly kicked it off of her ankle.
    The snake let out an enraged hiss, turning to look at her, identifying her as a threat for the first time. Its coils loosened around Gwen, releasing her. She slumped to the ground, unconscious. Electra felt a surge of worry. Had she been too slow? What if Gwen was already dead? But no, that was wrong, because Gwen took a shuddering breath. So she wasn’t dead yet. Her face was going back to its normal color. But now Electra had just made enemies with a very big, very angry snake.
    It hissed again, drawing itself up to its full height, letting out a menacing rattling sound. Electra backed up, mindful of the quicksand close behind her. She stopped right at the edge, and held her knife out, doing her best to look intimidating. Behind the snake, she could hear Gwen groaning. She silently prayed that the small girl would stay down, because if she tried to attack the snake right now, it would kill her.
    “Come on, snakey,” Electra whispered, forcing the words out of trembling lips. She wasn’t a fighter. That was Gwen. She wasn’t the brave one that stood in front of others. But here she was, facing down a massive snake, one of her worst fears. It hissed, drawing itself up, but it seemed wary of her knife. That was good. But it wuldn’t keep the snake at bay forever. She had to find some way to kill it. Before it realized that Gwen was lying behind it, totally helpless.
    “Come on!” Electra yelled. “I’m the one you want to kill! Come on, try it! You think it hurt when I cut your tail off? Well imagine how it’s going to feel when I cut your head off!!”
    The snake, maybe because of the taunting, maybe because she was acting more aggressive, lunged forwards.
    Electra’s muscles froze up. She had no idea what to do. The snake’s head came closer and closer.
    It was inches away from her when she realized what to do. She dove out of the way, rolling and then coming up standing. She delivered a sharp kick to the back of the snake’s neck, which, carried forwards by its own momentum, dug straight into the quicksand. Its mouth, which had been open to bite Electra, got a nice mouthful of sand. It made a choking sound, and thrashed, but the sand had blinded it. One of its coils smacked Gwen, and nearly took Electra’s feet out from under her. She let out a yelp, and dove out of the way. Then she brought the knife slashing across the snake’s throat. Its thrashings stopped. It bled into the ground and Electra felt her knees go weak at the sight of it. She tried to look away, but the knife was red too. She began to feel violently sick. The world spun, and her throat rebelled against her, repulsed at what she was looking at. She dropped to her knees. The ground was red. She groaned, and then blacked out.

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