Chapter 31: Jed
A big orange Sun appears on the horizon, slowly spreading its light across the Arena. A few days ago I watched from the glass carriage of the tribute train, wondering the same thing I am now: how many more Sun rises will I get see. The distant bird song coming from the rainforest tells me it's time to move.
I climb up to the branch above me where Stella is still asleep. Her light brown hair has fizzed up a bit with the heat, making her look younger. But the two wooden knives she's carved in night destroy any first impressions that this is a poor innocent child, she's a tribute.
"Stella. Stella, it's dawn, we've got to get going before the Careers wake up." I gently nudge her. She stirs and groans. For a moment her eyes are filled with shock as she takes in the alien surrounds, sleep erasing her memory of where she is. Then they settle into her usual determined expression.
"Right. Lets find some water while we're at, I'm dead thirsty." She croaks, rubbing her bone dry throat.
"Me too. I think we must be close otherwise Dad or Torey would have sent some by now." I say matter of factly, having every confidence in my father.
The Sun is high in the sky now and there's still no sign of a river. In the last hour we've really began to slow down, the thirst spreading to the rest of our bodies. The muddy, undrinkable water beneath my feet is looking more and more inviting with every step. Stella stops ahead of me leaning against a tree, swaying.
"It's so hot." She murmurs as she swats another fly away from her face. I'm starting to sway too, I try to answer but it's like my tongue has dried and stuck to my mouth. Then I see it.
Just beyond some willows I can see a small stretch of water. Not the brown water we've been trekking through, real blue-grey water. It’s the river we've been searching for!
I grab Stella's hand and nearly run towards it, the relief of finding it over coming my exhaustion. When we break through the trees she rushes forward, pulling off the backpack and jumping in, filling our water bottle and adding a drop of Iodine. Waiting 20 minutes for it to clean the water will be complete agony. She grins at me, soaked up her calves.
"Come on in, the waters great!" She waves. I know we shouldn't be standing in the water we're going to be drinking from but the invitation is for too tempting.
I’m just about to step into the river when Stella’s smile is replaced with a look of confused horror. The water’s now up to knees even though she hasn’t moved an inch. Now it’s lapping its way up her legs. She tries to wade back to shore but she remains stuck in place.
“I’m sinking! The riverbed is quicksand!” She screams. Of course, it’s the perfect trap; make the tributes thirsty, when they’re presented with a river they’ll rush in without a second thought. Oh the irony of having someone dying of thirst drown! The Game makers must be very pleased with themselves.
“Hang on!” I yell as I run to one of the willows and quickly saw off a branch with my knife. I hold it out to her disappearing form. She grabs hold and we pull as hard as we can. But the quicksand’s grip is too strong. The waters clawing at her waist. In a couple of minutes she’ll be under. Sweat shines my brow and muscles burn. But I’m not leaving the girl who saved my life. My only friend.
Suddenly I’m thrown back as the force that was pulling her under disappears as if someone has flicked a switch and turned it off, which they probably have. Why? Do the Game makers have other plans for us?
“Phew, that was a close one.” Stella pants as she joins my, failing to cover the small tremor in her voice. Her trousers are caked in mud and her black jacket soaked, but she still clutches the bottle in her hand. Despite the life and death situation we were just in I laugh.
“You were in quicksand but still managed to hold on the bottle?!”
“Yeah, after I went through to get the water I wasn’t gonna let it go.” She giggles.
We’ve been walking along the bank for several hours now. We can see the tall trees of the rainforest are on the other side but there doesn’t seem to be any way across, expect to swim, something neither of us do very well. My stomach growls for the third time today, with my thirst quenched I’ve realised how hungry I am.
“Can’t I at least have some more of that apple, Stella?” I ask.
“No. Our food has to rationed until we find some more. Trust me I’m as hungry as you, but this is called the Hunger Games for a reason. There should be some food in the rainforest. It can’t be much further.” She answers firmly.
About a couple of hours later the first of the towering trees comes into view. The environment changes so drastically you can stand between a swamp and rainforest tree and have one foot in the mud and the other on the leafy forest floor. It just me or are the Game Makers getting lazy when it comes to blending environments together? Vines hang from the branches, colourful birds sing high above our heads and there are plants of every size and shape imaginable.
“Well, here we are.” Stella says, gazing up at the scene in awe. “It’ll be filled with poisonous things, but there must be at least one thing that’s edible here. We need to find some more food fast. I think we should slit up, to cover more ground.”
I traipse through the dense forest, alone for the first time in Games, but I know Stella isn’t too far away; we’ll meet up at the swamp border at sundown in about two hours. I’ve seen plenty of fruits, all of them unfamiliar and therefore dangerous.
I’m too busy looking up at trees to watch where I’m stepping.
I hear the sound of rope tightening and feel something grip my ankles.
“Arrrrgh!” Within a blink of an eye I’m whisked off my feet and pulled into the air. I dangle upside down helplessly, more than five feet from the ground. My brain begins to feel fuzzy as I hear laughter coming towards me.
“Well, well, well. What have we got here?” A small wave of fear comes over me as Fuchsia appears, two swords strapped to her back, a wicked grin on her face. “Got ourselves a bit tied up, have we, Jeddie?” Her sky blue eyes are level with mine as she stops in front of me, eyeing the rope around my ankles.
“What you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at a base camp near the Cornucopia?” I try to sound defiant, not because I want to disguise my fear to the audience but because I want her to think I’m not afraid of her. I don’t know why this more important me.
“You’ve got to go to where you prey are.” She shrugs, drawing one of her swords and looking thoughtful. “Now, I have two options: I can cut the rope…” She points to the rope with the tip of the blade, and then rests it on my throat. “Or I can cut you.”
“Well can you choose quickly, the blood is going to head.” I joke, having no idea why I’m not terrified. In fact I smile when I make her laugh.
She’s so pretty when she laughs, I hear myself think. I shake the thought away trying to remind myself she has the power to kill me right now.
“Did one of you Careers set this trap?" I ask, my head body beginning to go numb.
"Nope, hunt and kill is more our style"she grins menacingly, but there's a playful twinkle in her eye.
"So are you going to kill me?"
"I will if you won't shut up!" she pushes me, making me swing back and forth. She giggles as I groan. Then she stops me by putting her hand on my chest.
I feel my breathing quicken as it lingers for a second. A quite distant rustling sound breaks the silence.
“The rest of the pack are here.” Fuchsia bites her lip, finally coming to a decision. She raises her sword. I brace myself, expecting to feel unbelievable pain as it slashes into me.
But instead I feel myself falling and slam into the ground. I lie there for a second, my whole body aching and mind clouded with dizziness.
“Run! Before I change my mind!” She hisses, as everything snaps back into focus.
The only thing I can think of as I run through the forest, adrenaline masking my pain, is:
Did a Career really just save my life?!