Part One: Fish Out of WaterChapter OneI may have been born a creature of the land, but my heart belongs to the sea. In that first,shocking instant, when my head breaks the surface of the cool water and my entire body issuddenly submersed in this weightless world, I feel like I could live here, among the fish and eelsand coral, and just leave my real life behind. And for a few minutes I can, but then my lungsbetray me and force me back to that place of harsh sunlight, and back-breaking labor, and theHunger Games.My father tells my sister Natare and I every night, as we lay down on the scrubbed wooden deckof our little fishing ship staring at the stars that were lucky to have been born in District 4. Ourdistrict is in charge of everything to do with the sea, which basically means were all fishermen."You think knotting lines and hauling nets is hard work?" father says. "Imagine mining for coalhundreds of feet underground, or dragging a plow across a twenty mile-long field in the mid-dayheat. What we have, my children, is paradise, or as near as someone from the districts can get."And for the most part, hes right. School is technically compulsory, but attendance is onlyenforced when kids, like Natare and I, are on land. When were out on fathers fishing boat –which is most of the time – he is our teacher, the sea our classroom. Natare and I dangle our feetoff the edges of the dinghy, making elaborately knotted rope nets with our dexterous fingers,while father steers us to our destination. When we reach the fishing grounds it is hard work –casting the nets and baiting the lures – but once all the prep is done, we can swim and play untilthe sun sinks into the water and the moon becomes our lantern in the sky.But today my little family and I arent on our fishing boat, trawling the waters for tonights dinnerand, ultimately, a decent-sized haul to sell at the market, so we can keep our boat in good repairand continue our relatively carefree lifestyle. Were ashore, in the small, thatched-roof cottagemy mother so painstakingly decorated before she died of a plague that cut a swath through oursection of the district two years ago.Natare is standing in front of the vanity – a simple wooden table attached to a large, relativelyflat shell that has been polished until you can see yourself in its shiny surface. Father is helpingher twine her long bronze hair into dozens of braids, which is our traditional way of doing a girlshair for formal events. This is something that mother used to help Natare with, and we can allfeel her absence more keenly on a day like today."Brush your hair," father snaps at me. "The Capitol is watching us on Reaping Day. We have animage to maintain, especially you."Especially me. Because Natare is only nine years old, whereas Im fourteen. And that means thatwhen Pompey Birch, the official District 4 spokesman for the yearly Hunger Games, sticks hishand in that big plastic ball and pulls out a slip of paper, my name could be on it. Natare is safe afew years more, but Im at the mercy of fate.
"Girls like the tousled look," I say, running my fingers through my thick hair. Girls like a lot ofthings about me: my hair, my face, my body, and my eyes. Oh, definitely the eyes. Whenever Iactually go to class, Im surrounded by flocks of girls whispering about my "dreamy" sea-greeneyes, as if I cant hear them when theyre working themselves into a near frenzy."You arent trying to impress the girls," father reminds me. "If youre chosen, its the Capitolyoull have to impress."I come up behind Natare, whose eyes are squinted close as she manipulates her hair, and stare atmy reflection in the polished shell mirror. Somehow, I dont think the people in Capitol willmind my untidy bronze locks. Father forgets – or perhaps he doesnt notice – that it isnt only thegirls who are entranced by my looks. Ever since I can remember, women of all ages have beendrawn to me like sharks to blood. I dont encourage them, they just cant seem to help themselves.And the state of my hair has never mattered one bit to them."Finnick doesnt need to brush his hair to impress those snobs in Capitol," Natare opines, gazingup at me with sea-green eyes that are identical to mine. "If his stunning good looks dont havethem falling over themselves, his charming wit is sure to do the trick.""Ha ha," I say, nudging my little sister with my hip. She sticks her tongue out at me, and thenresumes her braiding. Not that Natare is wrong – people have a convenient tendency to eat up mywords as if theyre the most brilliant thing that they have ever heard. I like to think that itsbecause Im a scintillating conversationalist, but Natare is always quick to point out that peopleare just too busy being awestruck by my physical appearance to really take in a word that I say.And I would be lying if I said I didnt take advantage of it now and again, but on the whole myfamily keeps me grounded.We dress in silence. Natare retreats to the other room of our two-room cottage, and emerges in asimple turquoise frock that compliments her eyes. Father and I are dressed almost identically,because Im wearing his old clothes. Im remarkably tall for my age, and the lean muscles Ivebuilt up on the fishing boat almost manage to fill out the white shirt and dark green pants.As he has every year since I hit the age that I would be eligible to be a tribute in the HungerGames, father puts his hands on my shoulders and looks me straight in the eyes. "Finnick," hesays, deathly serious. "This year might be your year.""I know," I reply. This little ritual of ours is more to calm down father than me, because heworries more about me than I do. Natare once commented that I act like a leaf in a stream, awareof my surroundings but content to float wherever the water takes me. She isnt wrong, but Iwould have to be either stupid or crazy not to fear the Hunger Games at least a little bit."And what do you do if youre chosen?" father presses."I do whatever I have to," I say. "Nothing is more important than coming home.""How do you do that?"
"I use what I know. Ropes, knots, tridents, spears – whatever I have, whatever I can make.""And the children, the other tributes," father says, and I can see the naked fear in his eyes now."What are they?""Theyre sharks," I say."What do we do with sharks?""We kill them."Father releases me, apparently satisfied with my response. Im not particularly vicious, as fatherwell knows, and so he tries to mentally prepare me for the possibility that I might be forced intoa gladiatorial death match with twenty-three other children. Because Ive never had anotherpersons life in my hands before, I have no way to gauge how effective his methods are.We make our way to the main square, a huge cobblestone expanse set against the backdrop of themassive Justice Hall. Because District 4 is built along the coastline, the docks are full with theships of fishermen who have brought their families by sea to attend the Reaping Day ceremony.Our village is only half an hours walk from the main square, so we leave our boat tethered at thelocal pier and go on foot.I am immediately ushered away from my father, and Natare joins him when she is confirmed tobe under the Reaping age. They disappear into the throng of people quickly filling up the square,but not before I spot Natare waving at me. I wave back, but one of the white-clad Peacekeepersgrabs my shoulder and I dont see if Natare notices me."Name?""Finnick Odair," I say, glancing down at the clipboard the armored man carries. His pen floatsdown the list, and then checks off my name under the section labeled "Fourteen"."Follow the signs," the Peacekeeper grunts, already on to the next kid in line – a tremblingtwelve-year old with tears streaming down her face. I hang back, and when the girl is waved onby the Peacekeeper, I beckon to her. She hesitates, glances at the cordoned off area with the"Twelve" sign, then shuffles over to me."Whats your name?" I ask her.Im thankful for my good looks right now, because something about a handsome face makespeople trust you. The little girls tears slow, and then disappear, as she gapes up at me. Then shegrins toothily and says, "Mara Kell.""Pleased to meet you, Mara Kell," I say, offering her my hand. She grasps it in both of hers andgives it a big shake. "Dont worry," I tell her. "The Reaping isnt as scary as it seems." It is, ofcourse, but she doesnt need to know that.
"But what if I get picked?" Mara asks, biting her bottom lip. I notice then that her hair is nearlythe same bronze as mine, and I think that she could be my sister."Dont be silly," I smile. "Your name is one slip in thousands. What are the odds?""Is that why you arent scared? Because you know you arent going to get picked?""Maybe I am scared, but Im just better at hiding it," I suggest, and her eyes go wide. I press myfinger against my lips. "Sometimes, if we hide our feelings from other people, then we trickourselves into believing it too."A Peacekeeper spots us and marches over, looking annoyed. I quickly bend down and give Maraa hug. "Good luck," I whisper. "Put on a brave face and nothing can hurt you." Mara nodsgravely, and then flits off toward her section just before the Peacekeeper gets to me."Name?" he barks."Im going," I say, unable to keep the sharp edge out of my voice. I dance around the scowlingman and hurry over to my designated area before he can write me up. In other districts, Ive heardthat Peacekeepers keep discipline by threatening flogging and capital punishment, but here itsmuch simpler. You mess up, you get written up. If your name shows up too many times on therecord, your family loses their fishing license. And since there isnt much to do in District 4besides fish, poverty and starvation quickly follow.I try to assimilate myself among the other fourteen year olds without attracting any notice, but Irealize that its a fools hope. Those same good looks that let me get away with pretty muchanything also mean that Im always at the center of attention. My school friends instantlysurround me, chattering about how nervous they are, how much they hope one of the Careers –kids specifically trained to compete in the Games – will volunteer this year so they dont have togo to their deaths. I smile, and joke, and touch hands, and make vague but reassuring remarks,but Im just going through the motions. Not that they notice.Then the big brass gong – a massive thing engraved with two dolphins circling each otherendlessly – is sounded, and the crowd falls silent. This means that the video crews are firing uptheir cameras, and that the ceremony is about to start. Sure enough, Pompey Birch saunters ontothe stage a few seconds later, purple hair gleaming in the sunlight. Hes new this year. Our lastdirector ate bad shellfish at a party in Capitol only a few weeks back, and they had to rush to finda replacement in time."Welcome to the 65th Annual Hunger Games!" Pompey bellowed, apparently having decided toforgo a microphone. "May the odds be ever in your favor!"Some cheers from the audience, maybe a third of the people gathered. District 4 may not seemlike much, but we are actually one of the better off districts, and we have our fair share of peoplewho think the Hunger Games are exciting sport, not the annual slaughter of twenty-three
innocent children. That also explains why a Career pops up every couple of years – somedelusional parent dreaming of fame and glory for their kid, regardless of the cost.But there dont seem to be any Careers this year. They usually make their way to the side of thestage before the ceremony even begins so they can leap dramatically up on stage to volunteer. Icant spot any eager teenagers lurking in the wings."The Hunger Games are one of Panems most sacred traditions," Pompey declares, and begins towax poetic about the history of our nation. How the districts revolted, the razing of District 13,the institution of the Games to remind us every year that we live at the mercy of the Capitol. Itune it out. Ive heard it a hundred times before. But I dont tune out the next part."Before we select the tributes, lets give a warm welcome to this years mentors!" Pompey shouts,making come-hither motions with his arms. Two people climb up on stage, one helping the other.I see why a second later – one of the mentors is Mags, a lady in her seventies whos been apermanent fixture at the games since I can remember. Usually its supposed to be a guy and a girlmentoring, but I see that the other mentor is a woman as well – Andromache, a sour-facedbrunette in her thirties."What happened to Mikael?" I whisper to one of my friends. Mikael is our only living malevictor – for some reason, District 4 boys just dont do very well in the arena, Career or not.Which bodes incredibly well for me.My friend shakes his head, but a blonde girl pipes up, "I heard that he contracted some nastydisease in Capitol last year, and hes being kept there for observation.""I heard he was assassinated!" another kid contributes.So Mikaels disappeared off the face of the earth. I dont really care, to be honest, but it doesmean that if I get chosen Ill be paired with a female mentor. Not that this is a bad thingnecessarily, but I like to know my options. I eye Mags and Andromache – Andromache is staringhaughtily off into space, while Mags is hunched over beside her, knotting and unknotting a shortlength of thin rope. Neither is particularly inspirational to me, and apparently not to Pompeyeither, because he grimaces and then quickly moves on to the main event."And now, time to select the tributes!" Pompey walks over to the right side of the stage, where abig plastic ball holds thousands of paper slips. He plunges a hand inside and draws out a slip."From the girls, this years honor goes to Miss Calliope Rhodes!"A prissy-looking blonde from the eighteen year old section gives a loud wail, and is instantlyenveloped by a group of sobbing girls who must have been her friends. The Peacekeepers extracther with some difficulty and shove her up onto the stage, where she shakes from head to toewhile fat tears trace down her cheeks. Not so prissy anymore, I think, but I find it hard to feelbad for her. Better a girl at least grown to womanhood than a helpless kid like Nara. At leastCalliope will stand a fighting chance, size-wise.
Pompey is calling for our attention again. Hes walked over to the plastic ball at the other end ofthe stage, and pulls out a slip. I hold my breath and pray."Finnick Odair," Pompey shouts in his unnaturally cheery voice.Chapter TwoThe emotional reaction of Calliopes friends when her name was called had not been out of theordinary, but it was definitely one of the more heart-wrenching ones that Ive seen in my fourteenyears. The reaction when Pompey calls out my name is unlike anything I ever expected.All the girls in my year start to bawl their eyes out. The guys stand in shocked silence for asecond, and then start to shout angrily at Pompey, who looks completely bewildered by theextreme reaction.I freeze for a few seconds, and then snap out of it. Maybe its because I mentally prepare myselffor this eventuality every year, or maybe because somewhere in the back of my mind I think Ihave a real shot at winning this, but what I feel right now is less terror, and more disappointment.Its like when you play a card game and you bet everything you have, and then your opponentreveals a royal flush.When I start walking toward the stage and the crowd realizes who I am, pretty much everyfemale in the square joins in the sob-fest. I think how absurd it is for these people Ive never metto be crying over me, but of course I get why. It all comes down to looks – right now theyreprobably thinking what a shame it is that such a handsome young boys life is being snuffed outbefore its even begun. Then the Peacekeepers are at my side, nudging me toward the stage."Relax," I tell them, plastering my best smile on my face. "Im not going to run." My smile is myweapon of choice, because it disarms people so effectively, and they back off, although I can feelthem behind me as I navigate through the weeping masses toward the stage. One face catches myeye, and I see Mara near the front of the crowd. She is staring at me, but there are no tears in hereyes – putting on a brave face like I taught her. For some reason, this gives me the courage tohop up on stage like I had been preparing all my life for this moment.Pompey, who keeps glancing at the sniffling Calliope uneasily, seems relieved by my attitude.The attitude of a victor, he thinks, although I know the truth. I just want to get through this in onepiece, and Ill do and act however I have to in order to achieve my goal. He swaggers over andclaps me on the shoulder. "Looks like we have a fighter this year, ladies and gentlemen!"Every woman in the square continues to wail, although some pointed looks from thePeacekeepers stationed around the perimeter soon have them back in line. When his audience ismore or less paying attention to him again, Pompey raises his hands in the air. "Lets have a bigcheer for this years District 4 tributes!"As half-hearted applause breaks out – although a few callous individuals whoop loudly – I scanthe crowd for my father and sister. The stage is raised, and for a moment I feel like I am back on
the fishing boat, staring out at the waves. But now the waves are people, and suddenly theenormity of the situation hits me.I feel my throat close up, but then I see my fathers grave face way at the back of the square, andI shove my fear to the back of my mind. Every year my father asks me what I will do if Imchosen, and my answer is always the same: whatever I have to. Because nothing is moreimportant than coming home.After the ceremony, Calliope and I are herded into the Justice building. Ive never been herebefore, but Ive talked to people who have. They werent exaggerating. Two-story marblecolumns, velvet-covered staircases, tapestries that cover entire walls... incredible. Too bad I onlyget to see the place now, when I may only have a few weeks left to appreciate it.They lead Calliope through an ornately carved wooden door, and then direct me to the next roomover. I havent had a chance to talk to her since we were both chosen. Although to be honest,considering I may have to kill her, Im not sure I want to get to know her.Inside the room, theres a table and chairs set up looking out a huge curtained window. ThePeacekeepers leave me to my own devices, so I go and look through the glass. It is clearlydesigned to give a view of the main square directly below, but of more interest to me is thesparkling sea on the horizon. I wonder if Ill ever see it again, and then dismiss the thought. Ofcourse I will. Im coming home, whatever it takes. I repeat the mantra mentally until the doorswings open again.Natare and father enter the room, and the door is closed behind them. Nice of the Capitol to giveus this moment together, although I know from watching past Hunger Games that were beingtelevised right now through hidden cameras.Father stands stoically beside the door while Natare bursts into tears and runs forward, throwingherself into my arms. "Its okay," I tell her, patting her head soothingly. "What does fatheralways say? Nothing is more important than coming home." I grab her hands and kneel down infront of her. "Natare, Im coming home. I promise."She cries because shes a little girl and she loves me. But shes not stupid. "You dont know that,"Natare wails, burrowing her head into my shoulder. "You cant know that."I stand up straight and force a grin. "Of course I can. You said it yourself – Im irresistible. Illjust flash my smile at the cameras, and the lovely ladies of Capitol will be falling overthemselves to lend a helping hand." I strike a ridiculous pose, and Natare finally begins to calmdown.Father comes up to me now, speaking in a low voice so my sister cant hear what we say. "Howare you?" he murmurs, concern lacing his words.
Im still smiling, because if I stop Im afraid I might lose it entirely. "Terrified. Beyond belief.Scared to death of dying, which is kind of poetic if you think about it. But at the same time Imcompletely calm. Does that make sense?"Then father claps me on my shoulder, evoking memories of Pompey Birch. But his hand is warmand comforting, whereas Pompeys was light and trembling, as if he were about to explode fromexcitement. "You have the ability to survive this," he tells me. "I wont try to tell you how to pullthis off, but I have faith in you that you will find a way. Just remember your training.""The other children are sharks," I say, but now that Im actually faced with the reality of killingthem, Im not sure I can pretend theyre just fish. But father doesnt need to know that. "Im finenow," I assure him, speaking loud enough for Natare to hear. I add in a confident, lop-sidedsmirk to support my statement. Father and Natare are not convinced, but I think that the peoplein Capitol watching right now just might have fallen for it.When father and Natare hug me goodbye and leave, I wait impatiently for the next visitor.Tributes are allowed one hour of farewells before theyre shipped off to the Capitol for theGames. I figure that a few of my classmates will probably stop in to wish me luck, or maybe oneof the numerous housewives that fawn over me as I wander through town after school. Butfinally the hour elapses and still no one has come through the door. Im kind of disappointed, tobe honest.Pompey pokes his head into the room, looking distressed, which is a good look for him. Ithumanizes him, which I personally think a lot of the Capitol citizens could use. "You must bewondering why no one visited you," he says in a raspy voice, like hes been doing a lot of talking– or possibly shouting – recently."I saw my family," I say, shrugging. "Whatever." Im finding that the nonchalant, devil-may-careattitude is working pretty well for me, so I stick with it. Its not that far from my actualpersonality, so I slip into the bored-teen act without too much difficulty.Pompey doesnt seem to hear a word I say. "There were so many, I wasnt sure," he mutters."They all claim to know you personally – how am I supposed to sort out who tells the truth?"I understand whats been upsetting him so much without too big a leap of the imagination. "Imguessing there were a few girls who wanted to see me?"Pompeys hands fly up in the air in agitation. "Hundreds! Pouring into the Justice building! Nosense of personal space! I tried to hear them out, but there were so many I had to have thePeacekeepers escort them out! All those tears..." His head hangs down miserably, as if hes failedme on some way.And somehow I find myself reassuring him. Hard to be mad at someone who reminds you of alost little kid. "I prefer it this way," I say, then remember the cameras are probably still on me."Id rather not let the girls see me cry." I put on a look of determination, as if Im valiantly
holding back tears. Natare once told me that Im a great actor, able to convey even the subtlestemotions if I really try – Im counting on that now. It might keep me alive.Pompey cheers up, and claps his hands excitedly. "Then its time to be on our way to Capitol!The Hunger Games wait on no man!" He scurries over to the doorway, beckoning eagerly for meto follow him. Restraining the urge to roll my eyes, I put on another fake smile and followobediently after him.Chapter ThreeThe train ride is beyond anything I had expected. I lean out the window of my spacious cabin,letting the wind blow my hair back. I imagine Im at sea, skipping across the waves, and thinkhow much easier our lives would be if our little boats could go as fast as this train.Someone knocks at my door and Pompey calls, "Its time to meet your team, Finnick!"Ive already met my team, sort of. Mags and Andromache accompanied Calliope and I on ourshort tour of the train, although they didnt say a word the entire time. Considering they makethis trip every year, it probably isnt very exciting for them. But I make sure to ask questions,laugh at Pompeys jokes, and be as charming a companion as possible, because its all practicefor the main event. If I can figure out how to win Pompeys heart, Im pretty sure I can do thesame to the people of Capitol.Still wearing fathers hand-me-downs, I saunter out into the main cabin and take in the scene.Mags, Andromache, and Calliope are seated in armchairs in a circle, with a low coffee table inthe middle. Scenery tumbles past in the window behind Andromache. Two chairs are empty, andPompey makes waving motions with his arms. I flash him a smile and sit down next to Mags,while Pompey claps his hands delightedly and plops down beside me."Im really excited for our chances this year!" Pompey gushes. I notice that when he talks, hekind of bounces up and down like a little kid. Ive heard that some of the victors hate theirdirectors, but I cant quite muster up that sort of negative emotion for Pompey. He looks like hedoesnt have a malicious bone in his body."Usually we would have a male victor mentor the male tribute, and vice versa for the girls,"Pompey says, "but since that isnt the case, Im not really sure how to proceed."Andromache gives me a long once-over, and I suppress a shudder. Something about that womanunnerves me, so I say quickly, "Ill take Mags." Mags looks up from her knitting – I guess shegot tired of tying knots in rope – and gives me a gap-toothed smile. I dont think Ive ever heardher actually say anything, but Id rather her than creepy Andromache."That sounds just fine," Pompey chirps, clapping his hands again. Then he glances down at thewatch on his wrist. "Oh my, I have so many things to do before we reach the Capitol! Well bethere in a few hours, so why dont you all get acquainted until then?" He nods fervently for atleast ten seconds, then beams at us and scurries from the compartment.
When no one says anything – I think Calliope is still stifling tears from earlier – I sigh and startthe ball rolling. "This train is amazing. I feel like Im sailing, but super quickly. Even the motionof the train reminds of me of the sea – rocking side to side, but not enough to unbalance you. Iwonder if the Capitol designed these trains from watching our fishing boats sail across thewaves."My pointless rambling succeeds in relaxing Calliope, whose eyes are still red but at least she isntmaking little sniffling noises every few seconds. Andromache watches me with keen eyes, andMags keeps knitting like she hasnt heard a thing Ive said."You talk like that all the time?" Andromache suddenly barks at me. She taps her finger againsther lips. "With all the smiling and the eye contact?"I stare straight at her. "I know how good looking I am," I tell her point-blank. "And if youretrying to ask me whether or not I intend to use every advantage I have to win, then yes, I am."Andromache returns my gaze for a long moment, and then laughs loudly. "Id think you were aCareer, if I didnt know better. You just might have a fighting chance after all, pretty boy." Imnot sure I like nickname, but I smile and nod all the same. She grins, as if Ive passed some sortof test that I wasnt even aware I was taking.Eventually my companions start to open up, although it takes the entire train ride for me to get aproper sense of who each one is. I compile a mental inventory in my mind, locking away eachpiece of information I get in case I need to refer to it later. As if my looks werent enough of agift, I also have a very, very good memory. Natare complains sometimes that it isnt fair, butshes already turning into quite the looker, and she soaks up facts like a sponge, so I dont thinkshes in a position to argue.Were due in Capitol within the hour, so I retire to my cabin for the interim to compose myself.Everything suddenly goes dark outside, and I realize weve entered the mountain tunnel that willlead us into the Capitol. I hear that the ride in from District 12 takes days, but District 4 is reallyclose to the Capitol so its only a few hours. I shut the curtains and lie back on my bed, thinkingabout my companions. Considering that my understanding of them might save my life, I take theexercise seriously.Calliope is eighteen, pretty, and somewhat stuck-up, the daughter of a carpenter and thereforebelonging to the upper strata of society. She spends most of her time either in school, or loungingon the beach with her friends. Her skin is sun-kissed, like pretty much everyone in District 4, andshe has never hurt a living creature in her life. She is absolutely terrified by the idea of going intothe arena, and admitted to us that she has no idea how shes going to survive. What Calliopedoesnt mention is that because she helps her father out in the carpentry, shes probably handywith a saw. Ill have to keep an eye on her.Andromache won the games eighteen years ago as a Career, which explains her harsh demeanor.She has the requisite blood-thirsty streak that made her volunteer to participate in the Games, andI can tell that she hates Calliope already because the girl is constantly on the verge of tears.
When I asked her how she won, she smiled maliciously and said, "My year was the one wherethey stuck us in a desert and gave us spiked maces." I could figure out the rest, so I didnt ask forclarification.Mags is still more or less a mystery to me, because she barely talks and, when she does, its inthis low, incomprehensible mumble that Andromache has to translate for us. Weirdly enough,this comforts me, because it means that if I spend enough time with the old lady Ill be able tounderstand her too. Considering shes my mentor, this is probably a good thing. Mags won fifty-four years ago, and when I ask her how she managed it, she pulls a crumpled photo out of herdress. It depicts a stunningly beautiful young woman that, if I squint really hard, just might beMags as a girl.Lying on my bed, Im sure now that I made the right choice of mentors. If Mags really did winthrough looks, as she seems to be implying, then she might just be the perfect mentor for me,because Im planning on winning the same way.The train slides smoothly to a stop, and then Pompey is banging away at my door again. "Finnick!Time to get going! The Games wait!" Because Im trying to keep on his good side, I call out afriendly response, then force myself off the comfy bed. Once Im out of my room, Pompey grabsmy arm and pulls me toward the exit, jabbering away about parades and interviews and allmanner of Games-related things.We step out into the sunshine, and I get my first proper look at the Capitol. Towering, candy-colored buildings, broad avenues filled with motorcars, makeup-plastered people in crazy getupsstrolling along in a leisurely fashion."What do you think?" Pompey asks me happily."Amazing," I say, because its what he wants to hear. Some tributes – usually the ones from thepoorer districts – act all belligerent and hostile to the Capitol, which I think is just stupid. Youdont bite the hand that feeds you, even if the hand is planning on throwing you to your untimelydeath. Besides, if I survive this mess, Ill be coming back to this glittering fairyland every year.Best to make a good first impression.Calliope comes up behind me – shes sobbing again – and then Mags and Andromache round outour party. Pompey leads us to the Training Center, a huge silver spire that must be where well bestaying until the Games commence. Inside, we are immediately whisked onto an elevator.Pompey hits the 4 button, and within seconds we spill out into a blue-themed sitting roomdominated by a large wooden table.Pompey directs us to sit at the table. Avoxes – speechless slaves clad in white – soon pile thetable high with tureens of soup, platters of meat, and baskets of bread. I briefly consider tryingone of the red meat dishes – Ive only had beef once in my life – but I end up sticking with fish.It reminds me of home, and it helps put me at ease. I lead the conversation, chatting amiablyabout whatever pops into my head, and my companions embrace the light-hearted atmosphere
willingly enough. Well, except for Calliope, but Ive pretty much come to the conclusion thatshes never going to stop crying.After the meal, Pompey sends us to bed early. "Big day tomorrow!" he says excitedly. "Youllmeet your prep team, and then its the opening ceremonies! Get your beauty sleep, because youllneed it! Ha ha!" Calliope breaks down again, and Pompey quickly disappears into his own roomafter that. I dont think hes had to deal with a lot of crying girls in his time – what would thepeople in Capitol have to cry about, anyway?I head for my own room, but just as Im about to shut the door I realize that Mags has followedme. I hold it open, and she toddles past me into the room. When the shut the door and turnaround, shes planted herself on the green loveseat beside the window, knitting away."Did you want to talk to me about something?" I ask her.She mumbles something. I think I make out the name "Liron", but Im not sure so I sit down onmy bed and wait for her to explain. When she doesnt, I go into the bathroom to brush my teethand change into pajamas. I found them earlier in one of the drawers – emerald boxer shorts withlittle golden cornucopias on them. Cute.When I come back out and Mags stares at me, I realize that Im shirtless. Most women dontmind me shirtless – in fact, they seem to find ways to encourage it – but Mags is an old womanand I wonder if its disrespectful for me to be around her like this. I pull open one of the drawersstacked to the brim with clothes and start to pull out a shirt."Dont," Mags rasps suddenly. I pause and look at her. She mumbles something about shirts, andshes getting pretty worked up about it, so I put the shirt back in the drawer and shut it. Thiscalms her down, and she gives me a gap-toothed smile. I wonder if shes trying to tell mesomething.Not sure what she wants from me, and not ready to go to sleep with her there, I lie back on mybed and pillow my head behind my arms. At first the clacking of her knitting needles is annoying,but soon it starts to lull me to sleep. The clacking turns into the splashing of oars in the water,and I drift away.Chapter FourI wake up to the sound of crunching the next morning. Peering blurrily around the cabin, I seethat Mags is still sitting on the loveseat, but instead of knitting shes staring out the windoweating sugar cubes, of all things. She has a little blue bowl piled high with them, and shespopping them like pills. I wonder if shes been here all night, but shes in a different dress, so Imguessing she went back to her own room at some point.When Mags sees Im awake, she wobbles over to me and crouches down, extending the bowl. Iprop myself up on an elbow and snag a sugar cube. Sugar being a rare commodity in District 4,
its almost too sweet for me, but shes nodding, so I swallow it down and take another. This onegoes down easier, and by the third Ive decided that Ive found my new vice.She mumbles about sugar for a few minutes, and I gradually begin to make out some of thewords. Its not that she slurs the words, she just says them so quietly, and so quickly, that itcomes out as a steady hum. When I focus and really listen hard, I can more or less understandher."So what delightful new horrors await me today?" I ask her, cutting her sugar ramblings short.Mags cackles and pops another sugar cube. I grab a handful and crunch on them as she talks."The opening ceremonies begin at dusk," she says, one of her hands going up to fiddle with theends of her wavy white hair. "Im sure youve seen it on TV – chariots with tributes going roundand round the City Circle, people cheering. Then speeches by President Snow and Seneca Crane,the Head Gamemaker." Her voice goes even quieter, which makes it impossible to make out thewords – I think shes saying something about the opening ceremonies being a waste of time, butits hard to tell."Why did you stay here last night?" I ask her out the blue.Mags gives me a long, hard look. Then she says, "I think you can win. I want you to win.""Whos Liron?"She laughs faintly. "You dont miss a thing. Liron is my grandson. Was my grandson. He waswiped out in the plague. Same for his parents.""I remind you of him," I say. It isnt a question. Mags nods, and says nothing. Well, I think, thiscertainly explains a lot. It also makes me trust her, because if I remind her of her grandson, thenshe has a vested interest in keeping me alive. Which suits me just fine."Im going to take a shower," I tell her. I drop the remainder of my sugar cubes back into herbowl. "Thank you for the sugar cubes," I add. "Theyre delicious." I hear her give a muffled sobas I shut the bathroom door. Did she used to eat sugar cubes with her grandson?The shower has dozens of buttons, so I pick the biggest one and press it. Warm water sprinklesdown from the ceiling like rain, and I let my cares float with the water down the drain.When I re-emerge wrapped in a towel, Mags is gone and a green bathrobe is waiting on the bed.I ignore it and go for the drawers, but theyre empty. Getting the hint, I pull on the bathrobe,discard the towel, and head out to the main room.Pompeys waiting for me, a big grin on his face. "Opening ceremonies tonight!" he half-shouts,beside himself with anticipation. "Ready to meet your prep team?" He winks at me. "Not thatyoull much need it, eh?"
Four people stride into the room – or, rather, one man strides in, his bright green hair nearlyblinding me, and three young women follow him. They all have shoulder-length blue hair andsilver tattoos across their cheeks. I realize quickly that they must be identical triplets. That, orthey had a little too much fun with plastic surgery."I am Germanicus," the green-haired guy announces, as if hes enriching my life just by being inthe same room. He sees me staring at the girls, so he adds, "These are my assistants.""Livia," the first one introduces, curtseying."Lorenna," says the second."Laria," says the third.Since theyre going to be working with me closely, I bestow one of my most charming smiles onthem. They give a loud "awww" and come to swarm around me, stroking their hands through myhair, touching my arms, fingering my clothes. Im not sure whether theyre attracted to me, orthey just see me as a life-sized dress up doll."This is your stylist," Pompey says unnecessarily. "Germanicus is considered a genius amongfashion circles. Hes been styling District 4 tributes for decades."I remember now, seeing him on TV when Capitol forces us to watch the Games broadcast eachyear. Being a guy, I never really cared about the fashion part of the Games, so I didnt make theconnection until now. And then I realize the implications.Germanicus is hardcore old-fashioned. By this I mean that he adheres to the old style of openingceremonies costumes, which is to make your tributes look as much like their districts specialtyas possible. Ever since I can remember, he has dressed his tributes up as all manner of seacreatures – fish, seahorses, even eels one time – and every year they look ridiculous.I look around for Mags, hoping shell have some words of wisdom for me, but shes disappearedsomewhere. And Pompey leaves a minute later, claiming some sort of schedule emergency,leaving me at the mercy of Germanicus. He rips off my robe before I can protest, and begins totake mental notes aloud."Good body," he says, circling me like a piranha. "Excellent cheekbones... and those eyes!" Hepeers into my sea green eyes like theyre the most fascinating thing hes ever seen. "Youve justgiven me my color palette, my child!"I hate it that he calls me "my child". It sounds infantile and degrading, but its not like I can argue.If I annoy him, he might dress me up in an even more absurd outfit than usual, although Im noteven sure thats possible.
"Beauty Base Zero," he tells the triplets, which is apparently some kind of code. He swishes offout the door, and immediately they descend on me, rubbing various ointments into my skin andchattering away to each other.I think about talking to them, charming them onto my side, but I figure out pretty soon that Ialready have them in the palm of my hand. They live for beautiful things, and Im about the mostbeautiful thing theyve ever seen. If I asked one of them to marry me right here and now, Id betmy fishing boat that theyd say yes.Germanicus returns a few hours later in early afternoon, and joins me for lunch. As we eat, heraves about the costume hes prepared for me. Im not really listening – like I said, fashion boresme – but I hear him mention scales more than once, so Im probably going to be a fish of somesort.I get a few hours off in the afternoon, so I go back to my room and lie down, thinking aboutnothing in particular. It surprises me that Im not more freaked out by my impending death, but Idont dissect my feelings too much. If I do, I might actually get worked up about it, and then Iwouldnt be able to sleep. And thats hardly going to help me in the long run.Someone knocks on the door, and they slide a coil of rope under the door. It has a little tag onthat says, "I thought you might use this to pass the time," and I realize its from Mags. I decidethat Im really starting to like the sweet old lady. So I spend the afternoon making complex knotswith the rope to keep my mind off my situation.Germanicus calls me out around four oclock. He has me strip down again, then helps me into ashiny gold bodysuit thats covered with thousands of tiny, glittering scales. It has a deep Vneckline that shows off my chest. Im starting to think that this outfit might actually work in myfavor when he plops a hat on my head."Take a look," he says generously, turning me toward a full-length mirror that the triplets rolledin when they arrived. They ooh and ahh at how wonderful I look, but I cant tear my eyes awayfrom the hat. Its huge, and horrible, and looks like a giant gold fish head, complete with bulbouseyes and gaping mouth."Its... great," I say, because what else am I supposed to do? Germanicus gives a theatrical bow,then sweeps out of the room with his triplet entourage. Pompey and Mags come in once theyleave, and when they spot my hat, neither of them is quite able to keep a straight face."Hes a genius, all right," I quip, and Pompey laughs loudly.Chapter Five"Time to go," Pompey says, and they lead me into the elevator and down into the bowels of theTraining Center. We emerge in a large, noisy room thats full of horse-drawn chariots andtributes. Pompey leaves me in Mags hands and heads off to locate Calliope and Andromache.
Mags leans toward me conspiratorially. "Keep the hat on for now, but as soon as that chariotstarts rolling, get rid of it," she whispers."I didnt know I was allowed to do that," I reply, although I had of course been thinking the exactsame thing.Mags winks, and I like her even more.She looks at a big clock on the wall, and says, "You have a few minutes before the ceremoniesstart. Go meet some of your fellow tributes." She grips my arm and looks into my eyes. "Youre aCareer."Im not a Career, which she knows very well. But then I get what shes saying. Im tall, Im built,and I could very easily pass for a Career. Since the Careers inevitably team up, and I havenothing to lose by pretending to be one of them, I decide to go along with the plan. "Capitol?" Iask, hoping shell get the underlying question."They like underdogs," Mags says, "but Careers are always nearest and dearest to their hearts." Inod. I can fake being a Career – actually, since Ive been using knives, spears, and tridents all mylife, I may even be considered one already.Mags wanders off to the District 4 chariot, which is festooned with coral and big plastic starfish.Im tempted to follow her, but meeting the other tributes is more important. Because if I canmake them pause for just a moment, make them second guess whether or not they want to killtheir handsome, enchanting friend from District 4, Ill have the upper hand. And sometimes, inthe arena, thats all you need.I only have time to meet a few tributes, though, so I head for the District 1 and 2 chariots.Theyre the Careers, and they will be the ones I team up with if I play my cards right. I swaggerover to District 1, where the tributes – a slim brunette girl with darting eyes and a tall, muscularboy with a wicked-looking scar across one cheek – are standing. Their stylist must also subscribeto the old way, because they are covered from head to toe in precious gems. Their chariot lookslike a giant ruby and is pulled by roan horses."Nice gems," I say to the girl, sidling up to her and caressing her arm with one hand. She turns tome, looking affronted, but then she takes in my face and my smile and responds with a coy look."Finnick," I breathe, nice and close to her ear to make it as intimate as possible. I dont flirt allthat much, but Ive seen it done enough to mimic the motions to great effect.She shivers – a good shiver, I think – and says, "Gemma."Apparently feeling left out – or possibly thinking that Im invading his territory – scar boy flexeshis muscles and steps beside us. "Orion," he grunts. "What do you want?"
"Just meeting and greeting," I say lightly, offering him my hand. He eyes me suspiciously for amoment, then takes it. "What do you think?" I ask. Orion obviously has no idea what Im asking– I mentally note that hes slow on the uptake – but Gemma gets it pretty quickly."2 looks pretty strong," she says, glancing toward the appropriate chariot. The boy and girl areboth red-heads, and since District 2s production is stone, they are covered in white powder tolook like marble statues. Some red hairs peek through the white coating every here and there,though. At least theyre wearing loincloths – and in the girls case, a wrap around her chest –because nudity isnt disallowed. In fact, the poor saps from District 12 show up half the time innothing but coal dust."Alliance?" I ask Gemma, and she glances at Orion. He appraises me for a bit, then shrugs.Gemma beams at me and offers her hand, which I pull up to my mouth and kiss. This sends herinto a fit of giggles, which does not seem to amuse Orion. I suspect he might have designs onGemma – as pointless as they are, considering only one of us is leaving the arena alive – so Idecide to keep the flirting to a minimum around him.Im just about to go chat with 2, and maybe broach the idea of them joining our little threesome,when the triplets hurry over to me, looking harassed. I spot Germanicus shouting over by oursea-themed chariot, and figure hes been looking for me for a while now."Where have you been?" Livia pouts, tugging at my arm."Germanicus is livid," Lorenna says."The ceremonies are about to start!" Laria adds, and between the three of them they drag me overto Germanicus.He pushes me up onto the chariot, where Calliope is already standing, shaking and clearly on theverge of tears. Her stylist – a short, chubby woman with silver skin – barks, "Stop crying, youllruin the makeup." Once the two stylists are assured that we are in place and our outfits are goodto go, they bustle off to take their places in the stands.Calliope is still trembling, so I place my hand softly against her shoulder. Shes dressedidentically to me, fish hat and all. "Try to smile," I urge her. I wonder for a second if shes justpretending to be a nervous wreck, so that when she turns out to be a deadly killer in the arena noone will see it coming. But her tears seem pretty real, so I try to give her the benefit of the doubt."Thanks, Finnick," Calliope says, and she manages a small smile. "Thanks for being nice to me.You dont have to.""Sure I do," I dismiss. "Youre my teammate. We have to look out for each other."She laughs bitterly. "Im not an idiot, pretty boy. When we get into the arena, youll be gunningfor me, same as everyone else."
"I wont be gunning for you," I say, and its the truth. I dont really have a desire to kill anyone.Well, maybe if one of the tributes looks exactly like President Snow, but the odds of thathappening are slim."But if you come across me in the arena and think you can kill me, you will," she presses.Thats also the truth, although not one I feel like admitting aloud. So I duck my head, and shesoftens. "Sorry," she says. "I forget youre just a kid. This must be as hard on you as it is on me."I shrug, turning away from her. Calliope makes me uncomfortable, maybe because Im starting toget to know her now, and I cant reconcile that with the fact that shes going to be my mortalenemy in a few days. "Im going to take off this stupid hat as soon as we get into the plaza," I tellher. "You may want to do the same."She smiles for real this time. "Thank god. Its hideous, isnt it?""Horrendous," I agree.Then the music starts up, and our horses head over to the big double doors, where a line isforming. Were behind District 3, who are dressed up like giant gears and look even dumber thanwe do. As we planned, as soon as our chariot passes through the doors, Calliope and I pull thefish hats off our heads and stuff them by our feet.I see some of the tributes waving at the cheering crowds pressed around us, while others shake infear, or stare off into space like theyre better than everyone else. Since Ive decided to go withthe approach of making them all love me, I wink and smile mysteriously and basically flirt withthe crowd. It works like magic, and soon they start chanting my name. When I start to blowkisses to the crowd, some of the women actually jump up in the air, trying to catch them. I glanceup at the jumbo-screen set up behind President Snows stage, and see that Im getting way morethan my fair share of screen time.By the time we go back through the doors into the Training Center, Im exhausted from my massseduction, and Calliope has tears welling in her eyes. "Its over," I remind her. "You did great.""But not as well as you," she sobs, and the waterworks start to flow again. I think she realizeswhat Im trying to do, not that I was being particularly stealthy about it. And she must think itsworking, because she lets out a loud wail and runs for the elevator.The other tributes are heading in a steady trickle for the door, but I see that nearly every girlglances back at me at one point or another, as do most of the guys. "Its just unfair," one of theboys mutters to another tribute, and I cant help but agree with him. I did nothing to deserve myangel face, but Im sure as hell not stupid enough not to take advantage of what I have.Mags is waiting for me in my room with a bowl of sugar cubes. If shes trying to win her wayinto my heart via sweet treats, shes doing remarkably well. "Howd I do?" I ask her, ripping off
the golden bodysuit. Im wearing underwear, so its not like Im stripping naked in front of her.Then I collapse onto my bed.She scuttles over to me and offers up the sugar cubes. I take a few and wait for her response."Youre a smart boy," she finally says."Capitol people are shallow," I tell her. "And Ive always been good with making people fall inlove with me. A smile here, a wink there. But will it work?"Mags pulls out the picture of her as a girl again. "It worked for me," she says, although she has afaraway look in her eyes. "But that was before..." she trails off."Before what?" I press, but she doesnt answer. So instead I ask, "Am I doing it right?"She cackles. "Youre a natural. And now you should sleep. Training tomorrow." Mags hands mea single sugar cube, and then leaves.I pop the cube in my mouth and stare at the ceiling, lost in thought.Chapter SixI meet up with Calliope the next morning when Mags and I join her and Andromache in theelevator on the way down to the training level. She seems to have recovered from her breakdownlast night, but Andromache keeps glancing at me in this calculating way that really makes menervous. Then Mags puts her hand on my arm and I relax.We step off the elevator, and I look out on the training room. Its the same as I remember fromTV – long, high-ceilinged room lined with booths devoted to pretty much anything you can thinkof.I already know what Mags is going to say before she speaks. "Go make friends," she says, and Inod. As I head over to the nearest booth – archery – Calliope follows in my footsteps like ashadow. I guess shes sticking by me at Andromaches request – she probably thinks Calliopewill survive longer if people associate her with me.Ive just picked up a bow and started to string it when the District 2 tributes come over tointroduce themselves. "Im Rock, and this is Martia," the boy says. Hes taller than me, and olderas well, so I dont make a smart remark about his ridiculous name. The flame-haired, freckle-faced Martia eyes me in obvious interest, which works just fine for me."Finnick," I say, shaking their hands. Then I remember my tail. "And Calliope, my Districtmate." Calliopes holding it together much better today – you can barely tell that shes valiantlyholding back tears. "Feel like shooting a few arrows with us?" Thats my way of asking if theywant to join our Career pack, and they catch on instantly.
"Sounds fun," Rock says, picking up the biggest bow. He fits in an arrow and makes a fairlydecent shot. I tell myself to be extra wary of him if he gets his hands on a bow.After about fifteen minutes of archery – we dont have bows in District 4, so Im not exactlyimpressing anyone with my skills – I spot Gemma and Orion over at the knives station. They areboth sparring with trainers, and they are both very, very good. "Thats Gemma and Orion over atknives, from District 1," I tell my companions. Since District 1 means Careers, they have noproblem going to say hello.We spend the next three days as a pack, the six of us – Orion and Gemma, Rock and Martia, meand Calliope. We eat together and train together. And even though we rebuff the advances of afew tributes looking to join our little alliance, I make sure to shoot them a smile. No point inmaking unnecessary enemies.Since I know that Im good with knives and spears, I show off my skills to prove to the Careersthat Im more than just a pretty face. I make sure to do this early on the first day, so they open upto me right away. It turns out that Calliope really is quite good with a saw, and although theCareers shoot her annoyed looks every once in a while, they seem to accept her presence.Mags waits for me each night in my room, ready to dispense wisdom which I am quickly comingto value highly. The first night, she praises me on showing the Careers what I can do, butsuggests I avoid giving too much away. So the next day, when we head for the knot-tying booth,I act really hopeless and end up tying Martia and myself together with rope. Shes giggling thewhole time, so I know that Im definitely getting in her good books.After the second day of training, Mags tells me in a no-nonsense tone to spend at least an hour atthe edible plants booth, and the same amount of time at the wilderness survival station. "It couldsave your life," she says, and I believe her, so I do what she tells me the next day.We also talk about the private sessions that come at the end of the third training day. Each tributegets fifteen minutes alone with the Gamemakers to prove how good they are, and theGamemakers assign them a mark between 1 and 12. 1 means youre the walking dead, and 12means youre impossibly good – no one has ever gotten a 12, but 1s crop up every now and then.Mags sits me down on my bed and stares at me for at least five minutes. Then she smoothes myhair with one wrinkled hand. I know shes thinking of Liron, her lost grandson. "Youre goodwith knives and spears," she finally says, getting down to business. "I would say swim, buttheres no pool."We both laugh at that. Every person in District 4 learns to swim, most before they can walk. Ifthis were a swimming competition, they would already be handing me the crown. Calliope mightgive me a run for my money, but she doesnt have my muscles, plus she didnt spend herchildhood on a boat.Mags scrutinizes me closer. "We need something really unique to make you stand out. Youre afisher – do you ever go out deep enough, where the sharks and big sea creatures live?"
"All the time," I say, and I think I can see where shes going with this. Luckily for her, Ive got alittle secret tucked up my sleeve thats exactly what shes looking for. "Im pretty handy with atrident."She nods, but says, "I dont think youll be finding one of those in the arena.""But for training?"Mags considers this for a moment. "That might work. Youre good?""Very," I say confidently, because I am.She smiles and hands me the sugar cubes.The personal training sessions start up after lunch on the third day. I mess around with my Careerpack until the first of them is called in. Since they go District by District, I dont have to wait toolong. When one of the attendants says, "District 4, Finnick Odair," I take a deep breath and headinto the examination room.Most of the Gamemakers are leaning forward in their chairs when I walk in, which amuses me. Iguess they remember me from the opening ceremonies. Playing along, I wink at one of thewomen, and she gets a dreamy look in her eyes. Its like taking candy from a child, I think, thentake my place in the middle of the room and wait for instructions."Impress us, Mister Odair," Seneca Crane tells me. Im pretty sure Ive already given them quitean impression – and I suspect that if I just stand there for the whole fifteen minutes lookinggorgeous, Ill probably end up with a halfway decent score. But I need a high score to cement myplace with the Careers.I head for the spears station, and spot a few metal tridents stacked up in the back corner. Pickingup one, I make my way back to center stage, dragging a practice dummy along for thedemonstration. Im about to start when I get a great idea. I pull off my shirt and toss it aside, andI hear a few sighs from my audience.Then I let my trident fly, and suddenly they have a whole new reason to be impressed. Its anatural extension of my arm, and I can put it wherever I want almost unerringly. I aim for thegroin, and the trident imbeds several inches into the dummys waist. Then I turn and give a littlebow, making sure to end it with an oh-so-subtle hip thrust. The women stare at me, eyes glazedover with lust. Even though I dont look fourteen, I wonder if theyve forgotten how young I am.Or if they even care.I go grab a few more tridents and throw them, then do some basic combat moves. I make sure todo them slowly, so those voyeuristic Capitol stooges can eat up every move, every pose. When Ifinish with a cocky grin and a wink, the women start applauding madly. Seneca Crane shushesthem, and Im escorted out.
The other Careers – great, now Im thinking that I actually am a Career – are waiting for me, andask me how it went. "I think I heard applause?" Gemma says. Then she notices Im missing myshirt and ogles my chest.I strike a pose. "They couldnt get enough of me." Since even the most taciturn of my Careerpack have warmed up to me in the last two days, they all laugh appreciatively. But I know thatOrion is faking it, and Rock has a calculating glint in his eye. I havent forgotten for a second thatnone of these teenagers are my friends.Back up on the fourth floor, Mags, Andromache, and Pompey are waiting for me. I entertainthem with a pointless story for a few minutes until Calliope shows up, on the verge of tears again."Howd it go?" I ask her..Predictably, her response takes the form of bursting into tears. Again I wonder if this is all somecarefully calculated act, but I remind myself that shes been this weepy ever since her name wascalled at the Reaping. I dont know if anyone is that good an actress."I expect she sawed some boards," Andromache says dismissively. "Maybe built them a chair.Useless girl." Im abruptly furious with her – shes supposed to be Calliopes mentor, and this isthe job she does! No wonder Calliope can barely string two sentences together. I prepare to reamher out, but Mags gets there first. She rants too quickly and quietly for me to make it all out, butAndromache looks suitably shame-faced by the end of it.Apparently trying to make peace, Andromache says, "Sorry. I didnt mean it. Im sure you didfine, Calliope. Dear." She stands up and goes to give Calliope the most awkward hug Ive everwitnessed. Thank god I had the good sense to choose Mags over that witch.Mags tosses me a sugar cube. I suck on it and tell her how my evaluation went. "I threw sometridents around, did some basic moves. Oh, and I took off my shirt." Mags laughs at that, andeven Calliope manages a small smile.Calliope glances down at her chest, which is on the buxom side. "I wonder if they would havegiven me a better mark if I took off my clothes.""Who knows?" I shrug. "Youre pretty hot – it might have worked."She laughs, and I give her a friendly one-armed hug. If I had known that boorish comments werethe way to her heart, I would have tried them sooner.Pompey finally pipes up, apparently tired of being in the background. "Its a big day tomorrow!"he enthuses, clapping his hands. He never seems to get tired – I wonder if he has some sort ofcaffeine patch permanently inserted in his heart to keep him going like this. "Interviews!Probably the most important part of the Games! Thats where the audience can really get to knowyou, so lets all get our beauty sleep so we look our best!"
"Wait," Andromache says sharply, pointing to the TV set against the far wall. It has been onmute up till now, but I realize that they are about to announce the training scores.Gemma and Orion both pull 9s. Martia gets an 8, but Rock gets a 10. Ill have to watch out forhim, because he didnt impress me overly much in training, which means he was hidingsomething. Then a 4 and a 6 from District 3. My grinning face pops up accompanied by a 10.Not bad at all. Calliope gets a 3, and she bolts for her room.I sit through the rest of it, not really paying attention. A couple of kids get pretty good scores, soI make mental note of them, but nothing to really worry about. Its the Careers Ill need to watchmy step around, especially because theyre my allies.When the broadcast is done, I depart for my room, Mags trailing me like a duckling followingher mother duck. By now used to this, I hold the door open without being prompted, snagging abowl of sugar cubes on my way inside so the dear old lady doesnt have to carry it in her frailhands. We perch side by side on the bed, silently crunching the delicious treats.I wait for Mags to say something, but she remains unusually quiet. Finally, she teeters upright,gives my head a feather-light kiss, and leaves as silently as she came. I try to figure out if shesgiving me some sort of message, but I eventually decide that shes just trying to comfort me inher own way. It cant be easy, having children in your care going off to be killed every year.It strikes me all of a sudden how staggeringly unfair the Hunger Games are. I dont think it everreally hit me before, because my life has been fairly peaceful up until now. But the HungerGames ruin lives – not just the tributes who have to throw away their lives each year, but thevictors too, because they have to come back each year and relive the experience over and over.And that will be my fate, too, if I survive.I briefly contemplate just killing myself now, ending the suffering before it begins. But Im asurvivor, always have been, and I promised my family Id do whatever it takes to come home. Sothats exactly what Im going to do.Chapter SevenMy prep team shows up the next morning and sets to work with a vengeance. When Germanicusarrives at noon, theyve styled my hair into dozens of thin spikes – apparently theyre planning todress me like a sea anemone. He nods in approval and shows me my outfit – silky green shirt andtailored black pants. That throws me for a second, mostly because of how normal the outfit is. Ihad been expecting a purple bodysuit covered in golden spines or something equally insane."Thanks," I tell Germanicus as he helps me into the clothes, not that I need assistance. "These aregreat.""Now he shows appreciation," Germanicus scowls. Apparently hes still sore over my hiding hisfish hat during the opening ceremonies. I make sure to be extra charming with him, and by theend of our session hes back to his usual pompous self.
Pompey arrives leading Mags, who is supposed to be teaching me how to conduct an interviewthis afternoon. Since Calliope is off getting prettied up by the prep team, Mags and I take overthe sitting room for our meeting. She sits across from me at the big wooden table and peers at meintently."I think we should just go with flirty," Mags opines, clasping her hands together. "Youre verygood at it, and half the Capitol is already in love with you anyway."She shows me how to position myself as if I were on a stage, pointing out where the cameras arelikely to be so I can make sure they catch me at the best possible angle. Not that I really have abad angle. Mags also unbuttons my shirt a little. "It doesnt hurt to give them what they want,"she smirks.Because Ive already got the flirting and smiling and talking down pat, she instead walks methrough what kind of questions I might be asked. "Caesar Flickerman is very good about helpingout the tributes," she says, and I know from watching the Games myself that hes one of yourgreatest assets onstage. "Keep your answers vague. If he asks you about a girlfriend, bemysterious. Youre trying to make yourself a sex symbol, that unattainable guy who everywoman dreams of being with. If you single out an object of your affection, you might lose them."Having worked this much out myself, I nod. But then she drops a bombshell on me that I neversaw coming."What do you know of what happens to the victors after they win?" she asks me.I shrug. "They come back to Capitol each year for the Games, dont they? Even if they arentmentoring, they still have to show. I assume they hang out and reminisce on old times.""There is a good deal of that," Mags agrees. "But theres more. It started fifteen years ago. Doyou know Haymitch?"His name rings a bell. District 12, winner of the Quarter Quell. He was pretty handsome, as Irecall. But since then hes turned to drink. He spends half the time falling over on screen, and hasbecome something of a laughing stock. I feel bad for the District 12 tributes, stuck with a mentorlike that."He was quite the looker in his day," Mags says. "It started with him. Capitol patrons used tosponsor kids for various reasons, but when Haymitch won, President Snow got the brilliant ideaof having him thank each sponsor personally for their contribution."I suspect shes trying to tell me something very important, but Im just not getting it. It must havesomething to do with the personal thanking, though, so I say, "Thank them how?"Mags closes her eyes. "Think about how the Gamemakers were looking at you yesterday, andthen tell me."
I think back to the looks of half-crazed lust in some of the womens eyes. It hits me like a bolt oflightning. "Are you saying that Snow started... what, selling Haymitch out to the Capitol patrons?Like, as a..." I trail off, unable to vocalize my suspicions."As a sex slave," Mags says firmly.I sink back in my seat. "Shit.""Theres more," she tells me. "Haymitch protested the treatment, and Snow had his family killed.But once they were dead, Snow had nothing to hold over his head. What was Snow going to do –put him in chains and force him to prostitute himself for those women? Haymitch, as a victor,was a media darling, and Snow didnt want to let the general populace learn about his...arrangements.""So thats why Haymitch is drunk all the time," I realize. Then I figure out what Mags is reallytrying to say. "If I win, Im going to be just like that. Snow is going to sell my body, make me...And if I dont cooperate, hell kill my family. Why did you tell me?"Mags looks suddenly weary, as if the stress of the situation is finally hitting her. "Because I trulybelieve you can win. But I want you to know what youre setting yourself up for – the life youregoing to have to lead – if you survive."I may only be fourteen, but I can imagine pretty well what will happen to me. Ill be untouchableuntil Im sixteen, of course, because Im still a minor, but once I hit majority Snow will ever sodiscretely hand me out to whoever he wants. And theyll do anything they want with me, and Illdo anything they want in return, because if I dont Snow will kill Natare and father."I promised my family that I would come home to them, whatever the cost," I tell Mags, and shenods. I wonder if father realized what he was really asking when he made me promise to comehome to them. Doubtful. Hes never been to Capitol, so he couldnt possibly know the grisly truthof the Hunger Games victors. But now I do, and Im certainly not going to be the one to break itto him. And Im not going to let it stop me from winning."Lets worry about my life of prostitution after I win, alright?" I say lightly.Mags smiles and hands me another sugar cube.I wait offstage with Calliope and the Careers until we are beckoned on set. Sitting down, I gazeout at the audience that spreads before me like a sea of blinking eyes and eager grins. I start to domy smiling and winking routine, when Mags dire prediction of my life past the Games hits me.She couldnt allow me to verbally and visually prostitute myself before the Capitol during thisbroadcast without me knowing that the physical version would have to follow.Pushing aside these ugly thoughts, I settle into my old routine, making eye contact, smilingmysteriously, on and on from one woman to the next. By the time Caesar Flickerman calls my
name, Im pretty sure that Ive already seduced a good percentage of the crowd. My interviewshould take care of the rest.Flickerman beckons me over, and I notice that his ever-changing hair and face are pale green thisyear. He looks kind of sickly, but hes smiling, so I plaster a smirk on my face and saunter overto him."Finnick Odair," he says, and the audience sighs. "Youve made quite a splash at the Games thisyear, and the main event hasnt even begun!" The audience laughs at his nautical pun. I chuckle,and the audience falls silent as they let the sound wash over them. It astonishes me how easythey are to manipulate. Or maybe Im just really good at it.I wink at the camera. "I cant wait till it does. I have a few tricks up my sleeve yet that might...impress you." I let the word impress roll off my tongue, and every woman in the crowd whohasnt fallen head over heels for me does so now.Caesar chuckles, genuinely delighted by me. "Quite the charmer, eh, Finnick?"I shrug, leaning back in my chair to give the ladies a proper view of me. "Lets just say there arequite a few girls Ive left broken-hearted back at home." Im making this up, but for all I know itmight be true.Caesar leans forward. "Anyone special?"I smile mysteriously and keep my lips firmly sealed. Caesar roars with laughter. "Tell us aboutyourself, Finnick," he prompts."Im from District 4, so Ive spent pretty much my entire life on my fathers fishing boat. Everymorning I strip down and dive into the sea." I pause here to let the ladies picture this in theirheads. "Its amazing under water – a whole other world that you can never really visualize untilyouve seen it yourself. Hundreds of rainbow coloured fish floating around you like a cloud,coral shaped like anything you can imagine."I paint a picture for them of life under the sea, and all of them – Caesar included – are hangingoff my every word. Finally my three minutes are drawing to a close, and Caesar puts his hand tohis ear for a second. Im guessing theres a little speaker wedged in there, because he suddenlysays, "I hear you surprised the judges in your personal training session. What did you do,exactly?"In response, I stand and begin to remove my shirt so slowly that its basically a strip-tease. Whenits off, I smirk and fling it into the crowd. They scramble after it, and a mini-riot breaks out.Caesar looks a bit alarmed, but hides it well. The buzzer sounds, and the stage hands discretelyget me back to my seat before I bring the house down.
I watch the rest of the interviews with disinterest. Its the same as every year – some tributes arefunny, some nervous, others bloodthirsty. Im not too surprised when Calliope breaks downhalfway through her interview and they have to escort her offstage.Finally we are dismissed, and I head back to the fourth floor. Pompey is waiting for me, andimmediately begins gushing about how wonderful I was. He offers to let us watch the replay onthe TV, but I dont need to see it again. I head for my room, and Mags dutifully follows me withher sugar cubes."You did well," she says. "They bought it."I munch on a sugar cube thoughtfully. "What do you think will happen tomorrow?"Mags assumes a thoughtful pose. "The cornucopia will be the hardest part. Its going to have a lotof useful things youre going to want, but youre going to be fighting twenty-three other kids toget them.""I have the Careers," I remind her."Have you worked out how youre meeting up?""I think were bluffing it."She nods. "Try to make a beeline for one of them – whoevers closest. Theyll have your backwhile you both grab what you need. You could even shout to the others where to meet up – noone outside your group is going to be suicidal enough to follow you.""What about Calliope?"Mags looks away uneasily. I dont blame her, because I know what shes thinking. "Keep herwith you if you can. But dont be surprised if she doesnt make it.""Thats what I was thinking," I agree. Then another, more pressing issue comes to mind. "Whendo I ditch the Careers?""That will have to be up to you," Mags says. "When you cant trust them anymore. When itwould be more advantageous to split. When one of them tries to kill you. When youre the onlyones left. Youll have to play it by ear."Not the clear answer I was looking for, but it will have to be good enough. "I should sleep," I tellher. "Big day tomorrow." Mags smiles but doesnt move from the loveseat. I dont mind herpresence now, so I burrow under the blankets and shut my eyes, willing sleep to come.After a few minutes, I hear movement, and then Mags is stroking my hair. I remember motherdoing this, back when I was little, before she died, and I relax enough to eventually fall asleep.
Chapter EightMags is waiting for me the next morning, dozing on my couch. I wake her up, and she gives mea hug and wishes me luck. She doesnt bother assuring me that Ill survive, because she honestlythinks I have a fighting chance. Besides, nothing is assured, and Mags doesnt lie to me.Germanicus is waiting for me outside, and after Pompey thumps me on the shoulder and tells meto try my hardest, I followed my stylist up to the rooftop, where a hovercraft is waiting. Theimmobilizing current prevents me from falling off the ladder that they use to haul me aboard, andalso stops me from flinching when they insert a tracker into my left forearm.I try to look out the windows – if I thought the view from the train was spectacular, a birds eyeview must be even better – but they black out the windows. Dont want me to get a sneak peek ofthe arena.We touch down and Germanicus leads me to the Launch Area. I take a shower, and he puts meinto the uniform that every tribute is going to be wearing. Its a thick two-piece affair, with a fur-lined hood and big mittens. The whole thing is glaringly white. Theres a black bodysuitunderneath, but even this is thicker than anything Ive worn before.Germanicus comments on the clothes as he helps me put them on. "Definitely going to be coldthere. Shame for you. I assume you were planning on taking off your shirt as soon as possible.Hes right, of course, but I can still see some possibilities with the suits design. The hood wontcover my face at all, and thats probably my best attribute. And the suit is thick, but its stilltailored to my body. I can work with this, I think.Then Germanicus deposits me on a golden disk at the far corner of the room. A glass tube sealsaround me, and I barely have time to give him a wave before the platform shoots upward.The first thing I notice is the light. Its so bright that I have to cover my eyes with my hands soIm not blinded. Claudius Templesmith, the announcer, booms out from some hidden speaker,"Ladies and gentlemen, let the Sixty-fifth Hunger Games begin!"My eyes adjust, and I realize its so bright because the sunlight is reflecting off snow. We seemto be in some sort of arctic tundra – everything is covered in a layer of white. The cornucopia isahead of me, glinting gold in the suns harsh glare, and the tributes are ringed around it. I see thatGemma is a few golden discs away, fidgeting in anticipation. We have to stay on the pressureplates for one full minute or else they explode.Over to the left I see trees, and to the right looks like hills. Behind me is more forest, and straightahead of me, a few hundred years behind the cornucopia, is a cliff that drops off into thesparkling blue sea. So there is water, I think with a strange sense of relief, although not water Ican swim in. Still, that little bit of home focuses me and reminds me why Im here. And what Ihave to do.
Theres a gunshot, and the Hunger Games have officially begun. I shout to Gemma, and sheangles toward me as we rush for the mass of items piled around the huge golden cornucopia. Wehead for the best items, which are piled up against the giant horn itself, but Gemma picks up acouple of knives along the way. As we run, I hold out my hand, and she hands me one withouthesitation.I spot a set of spears, and I reach for them. Orions warning shout reaches my ears just in time. Ispin around and sink my knife into the belly of a tiny kid – he looks like hes about eight. Then Isee the hatchet in his hand, and remember fathers warning. Theyre all sharks, and I cant wastetime feeling sorry for them.Orion joins us, and between the three of us we keep the other kids away long enough to grabseveral big backpacks and as many weapons as we can carry. "Find the others!" Gemma shoutsat me, and I scan the area quickly. Its complete mayhem, kids scrambling to get weapons andpacks and attacking whoever gets in their way. I hear a scream, and see Calliope go down, asword hilt sticking out of her back. Even from this distance, I can see the tears frozen on hercheeks.It hits me then how cold it is. The rush of adrenaline must have masked the fact that this entireplace is freezing. Even with the suits, I feel the bite of the arctic wind. Then I spot Rock andMartia on the other side of the cornucopia. They look a little worse for the wear, but theyre aliveand they have packs and weapons slung over their shoulders. I shout for them to group up in thewoods, and we all race for the treeline.We almost make it without a scratch, but some clever kid decides to even the odds right from thebeginning and leaps out from behind a bush. He slashes Martia right across the throat, and shesinks to the ground with a pained gurgle. Red splashes across the snowy ground. Rock roars inoutrage and strangles the kid with his bare hands."Hes dead," I say, nodding toward the trees. "Come on, we need to move."When Rock keeps on squeezing, Orion and Gemma seize his arms, and between them theydetach his hands from the kids neck. Rock shakes his head, regains control, and turns to Martia.He grabs her stuff, gives me a nod, and at my command we race into the forest.We keep going for about an hour, until were sure that no one has followed us. Then Gemmasuggests we break for a few minutes and see what goodies we managed to pull from thecornucopia. It looks pretty promising – each pack has a decent supply of food and water, as wellas a flint and steel. "Were going to have some cold nights," I predict, and Gemma nods inagreement.I see Orion and Rock exchange a covert glance, so quick that if I hadnt been looking for it Iwould have missed it completely. Impossible to tell what theyre planning, but right now Gemmais the only one I can trust, however tentative that trust may be. I have no doubt now that Orionand Rock will turn on me the second they think Ive outlived my usefulness.
"At least water wont be a problem," Orion says after a while. "Snow." Yes, I think, we can meltthe snow, or just stuff it into our mouths. Water wont be a problem. But the cold will be, as wellas whatever wild animals and natural disasters the Gamemakers have wished up for us."We should seek high ground," Rock suggests. "Harder to be ambushed."We all agree, so we spend the rest of the afternoon seeking out a suitable campsite. Its duskwhen we find a good place – a small hillock in the middle of the trees, easily defensible and witha sturdy tree we can climb to get a view of the entire arena. Instead of suggesting that someoneshould do this, I go ahead and scale the tree. At the top, I can see the whole arena, just as Ipredicted. Its layout is basically what Id already figured out, although I note that the hillseventually turn into mountains. But theyre too far away to be a viable target for the other tributes."No one that I can see," I report when Im back on the ground. The backpacks also containedbedrolls, and my companions have arranged them in a rough circle at the base of the tree. Rock isgone, and Gemma informs me that hes looking for firewood.While hes gone, the evening announcement comes. The Panem anthem plays, and then ClaudiusTemplesmith lists all the tributes whove died so far. Theres nine in all, counting Calliope, and Ifeel a brief pang at her death. So she wasnt plotting anything at all – she really was just aterrified girl. I feel kind of bad now for telling her I would kill her if we met up in the arena, but Idoubt me acting any differently could have helped her survive in here."That leaves fifteen," Gemma says. "More than usual.""I doubt all the packs had flint and steel," I say. "The cold night is going to claim at least acouple of them, guaranteed."As if the Gamemakers are listening to me, the temperature starts to drop as the sun goes down.Rock returns with an armload of branches, and between the four of us we fashion an acceptablecampfire."Is this a good idea?" Gemma suddenly asks. "Were giving away our location.""Were the Careers," I remind her. "No one is going to attack us.""And if they do, whoevers on watch will slaughter them," Orion adds, cracking his knuckles inanticipation. His scar looks even more gruesome in the flickering firelight. "Ill take first watch."Not exactly comforted by this, I get into my sleeping bag. My head somehow ends up next toGemmas – I think she may have planned it this way. "Dont worry," she dimples at me. "Hisbarks about the same as his bite."I arch my eyebrows at her. "Thats supposed to comfort me?"Gemma gives me a slow smile. "If my words dont, maybe my body can."
Thats an invitation if Ive ever heard one. But Im here to win, not get it on with Gemma,regardless of how attractive she is. And shes very cute. Then it occurs to me that she might havebeen counting on us becoming an item – I could do irreparable damage if I reject her outright. "Ibet it can," I murmur suggestively. "But Orion has his eye on you.""Screw Orion," she whispers. But she gets the point. The others probably wouldnt appreciate usmaking out in front of them. So Gemma bats her eyelashes at me and says, "Sweet dreams,Finnick."I wink at her and turn away. Girls make things so complicated. The thought of Rock hoveringover me, clutching a flail and hoping someone will come along that he can swing it at, isntexactly comforting, but Im exhausted enough that sleep comes quickly.Chapter NineI have the last shift, so I get to watch the sun rise. Its beautiful, but the most remarkable part isthat it looks exactly the same as the sun Natare and I used to watch rise from the deck of ourfishing boat. Obviously I know its the same sun in the sky, but it somehow makes me feel lessalone.After a few hours I wake Gemma, Orion, and Rock, keeping the fire stoked in the interim. Oncetheyre up and about, we sit down to discuss important matters, like how were going to trackdown and kill the other tributes. It had completely escaped me until this moment that the point ofCareers, after all, is to kill as many people as possible. I decided to suck it up and deal with it. IfI have to kill someone to stay in the group, then thats what Ill do. No sympathy for the sharks.Orion turns out to be a good tracker, so we follow him as he leads us through the woods. Webring all our gear with us, because we dont have the manpower to leave someone behind todefend our campsite.Around midday, Orion gets a big smile on his face. He puts a finger to his lips and beckons usforward. We run silently through the trees for about five minutes, and then he holds up a hand.He makes a circle motion with his finger, which I interpret as a command to surround the area.Gemma and I head right, while Rock goes left.When Im in position behind a snow-covered bush, clutching a spear in one hand and a longknife in the other, I survey the area weve effectively turned into a kill zone. Two girls – oneolder, one younger – are sleeping on the ground, huddled together for warmth. They clearlydidnt get a pack with a flint and steel in it, because they have a pile of twigs beside them thatthey obviously tried and failed at turning into a campfire.Orion lets out a battle cry and charges into the clearing. I dont bother following, appointingmyself watchman in case the sounds of fighting attract anyone. This isnt a problem – my threecompanions are more than happy to pick up the slack. Orion stomps down on the younger girlshead with his thick boot, and blood sprays out. Rock swings his flail into the older girls shoulder,
who is halfway onto her feet by this point, and Gemma flings a dagger into her chest that topplesher back to the ground.As the boys hoot and holler, Gemma glances at me. "All clear," I call, now entering the clearing.Two cannons boom in the distance, indicating that the girls hearts have stopped beating.This gets Rocks attention. He didnt realize that I hadnt participated in the attack until just now."Not afraid to get your hands dirty, are you, pretty boy?"I respond by dipping my hands into one of the blood pools. I draw two streaks across each of mycheeks. Rocks eyes widen. "I thought it might be a good idea to make sure no one decides tosneak up and stab us in the back while we murder two sleeping girls," I snarl, getting all up in hisface. "Got a problem with that?"Rock glances at the red streaks on my face, and then says, "No. No problem." But theres hate inhis eyes, and I really have to watch my step now.Gemma comes over and wipes the blood off my face. "My war paint," I protest, laughing.She grins and says, "Your face is too handsome to be marred by anything.""Marred? Good word." Gemma laughs and hugs me, which of course has Orion glaring at meagain. I discretely extract myself from her grasp and go to examine the dead girls belongings."Nothing," I proclaim. "Lets move out."As soon as weve left the clearing, we hear a hovercraft swoop down to carry away the tributescorpses. Goodbye, I say silently. Sorry we had to kill you. But I dont feel guilty, because this isthe Hunger Games, and I have to do whatever takes to win.We track down two more tributes that day, both of them hiding in the woods. One puts up adecent fight – I end up taking him down at distance with a spear. The other cowers and ends upbeing strangled by Rock. Im starting to suspect that his sheer strength won him that 10 intraining. It doesnt surprise me – his muscles are gigantic.Night falls, and I realize that no one did die last night of exposure, because Templesmith didntannounce any names this morning. But as we build the campfire Gemma says, "Its coldertonight." So thats the Gamemakers plan – the longer the game takes, the colder it gets, and thefaster we die off.As we sit around the fire, warm and content, a silver parachute suddenly floats down out of thesky. We look at each other in confusion, because our mentors are in charge of turning donationsfrom Capitol citizens into gifts for us in the arena, and we arent exactly badly off. Probably thebest off out of all the kids here. So why the gift?
It floats down closest to me, so I shrug and open it up. Inside is a tureen of hot clam chowder,complete with ceramic bowls and spoons. A steaming loaf of bread is perched on top of thebowls. "Wow," Gemma breathes, and I silently echo the sentiment.As we dig in, I try to figure out who sent this, and why. The others probably wont notice thesignificance, but clam chowder? Seafood? This must be meant for me. And if Mags can afford tosend me such an extravagant gift that I have absolutely no need for, the donations must bepouring in.I glance up at the sky, where there must be a camera hidden somewhere, and give a slow,seductive smile. Then I go back to eating the stew, except I make sure I lounge in a way thatkeeps my face visible at all times, and I slid my lips against the spoon each time I take a sip in asensuous manner. Eat your hearts out, I silently taunt the people of Capitol, and Im sure that thesales of clam chowder in Capitol have just skyrocketed.The next day we start out on the hunt again, but first we listen to the morning announcements.Claudius Templesmith lists off the one kid that died during the night, which, counting our fourkills yesterday, leaves ten kids alive – so six others beside us. Two days in and were down to ten– the Gamemakers arent playing around this year. But that means that the ten of us left are prettygood at playing the game, so things should be trickier from now on.Gemma picks up on my revelation, because she says, "We need to be careful.""Its only going to get colder and harder from here," Rock agrees, caressing his flail almostlovingly. I remember that kid who went nuts and started cannibalizing the other tributes, andhope that Rock doesnt turn out the same way.By mid-afternoon we havent found anyone, so we end up setting up camp early and have astrategy session as the air cools around us. It really is getting colder – anyone who survived thelast two nights through sheer willpower is going to eat it tonight. Again, Gemma follows mythoughts with worrying accuracy. "We have fire. It could be tempting to someone who doesnt."We decide to sleep in shifts of two people, just in case. It turns out to be a good idea, becausehalfway through the night, Rock and I hear something rumbling ominously in the distance. Its alot easier to wake up one person than three, and we have our stuff together in a few minutes. Butthe rumbling is growing louder, and were getting worried.Gemma, who is turning out to be surprisingly clever, figures it out first. "Avalanche," she says.Our eyes snap towards the mountains. Sure enough, a wall of white is coming toward us. Ourwanderings brought us to the edge of the forest, and I figure that trees will probably slow downthe snow, so I bolt for the trees and shout for them to follow.The next half hour is insanity. Gemma sticks by me, and we get separated from Orion and Rockalmost immediately. The ground is trembling as the snow wave approaches, and animals I hadnteven realized were in the forest rush past as we stumble through the trees. Its still the early hoursof the morning, which makes it even worse because the sun isnt up yet and its very hard to see.