I’m sure we’ve walked for at least another four hours before Cato hears it. I swear, he has ears like a dog. The way he stops so abruptly, his back going rigid and his ears at attention, it isn’t like a human at all. All is silent at first, and I’m not sure why we’ve even stopped.
And then I hear the crack of the branch. It comes again, and I realize that it isn’t just a squirrel stepping on a twig. It’s the crackling of a fire.
My stomach plummets. Someone’s going to die tonight.
I mean, of course they are. There are people dying all the time. It’s just… I’m going to witness this. I’m going to be a part of it.
As long as it’s not Katniss, I tell myself, and keep this thought in mind. It doesn’t make me feel better though, not one bit.
The other careers break into a run and I’m forced to follow, and we’re upon the girl at the fire in a minute. She seems to have just woken up by her sleepily startled appearance. She has nowhere to go with us surrounding her, and I feel painful guilt well up in my stomach. It catches in my throat and I have to force it back down.
Cato takes a step closer to her, a smirk on his face. He raises his sword so the light of early morning glints off of the blade, and the girl starts whimpering.
“Please,” She gasps, stumbling back. “Please, just let me go. I… I’ll do anything! I have some mint leaves. I’ll give you all of them, and I have a pack-”
Cato lets out a howling laugh, and before the girl can continue her pleading he steps forward and plunges his sword straight through her stomach. She lets out a choked scream and falls back on the ground beside her fire, just inches away from the flames. Her eyes are wide and helpless, and she clutches at the bleeding wound on her torso.
But there’s nothing she can do.
Glimmer lets out a loud laugh, and the others join in. It hurts, but I force a chuckle. I have to seem like I’m with them. It’s vital to my plan.
“Nice one, Cato,” Clove says, and slaps him a high five.
Suddenly I feel sick.
“Twelve down and eleven to go!” Mallory shouts, and the cheers that ring out around the circle are deafening. “Maybe we should light some torches while we’ve got a fire,” she adds, and there are murmurs of assent. Cato and Clove have the flashlights, so the rest of us grab sticks and light them.
“What’s she got in her pack?” Glimmer asks, so Marvel picks it up and starts searching through it. “Besides mint leaves,” she adds, which brings on another round of laughter.
Marvel scowls. “Nothing.”
“What?” Glimmer asks in disappointment.
“Mint leaves are all she’s got,” Marvel repeats, and throws the bag back down on the ground.
“Well you could use those, Marvel,” Glimmer teases.
Marvel grins at her. “What are you implying?”
The banter continues for a moment before Cato interrupts. “Better clear out so they can get the body before it starts stinking.”
There are words of agreement around the group, so we turn from the body of the girl and keep moving, past a tall willow tree and to the small clearing about fifteen yards away.
“Shouldn’t we have heard the cannon by now?” Glimmer asks suddenly.
“I’d say yes,” Mallory says thoughtfully. “Nothing to prevent them from going in immediately.”
I can see Marvel’s frown in the torchlight. “Unless she isn’t dead.”
“She’s dead,” Cato assures him. “I stuck her myself.”
“Then where’s the cannon?” He counters.
“Someone should go back,” Clove says. “Make sure the job’s done.”
“Yeah, we don’t want to have to track her down twice,” Mallory agrees.
“I said she’s dead!” Cato exclaims, and so starts the raging argument. I let out a loud sigh that no one could hear over the yelling, which is sure to notify every other tribute in the arena of our presence.
“We’re wasting time!” I finally shout, because I can’t help it. “I’ll go finish her and let’s move on!”
The other voices die down, and Cato turns to look at me, his eyes gleaming with curiosity. “Go on then, lover boy,” he says, using the nickname that he just said yesterday ‘has gotten old.’ He crosses his arms over his broad chest and cocks his head to the side. “See for yourself.”
I turn on my heel and leave the clearing, pass the willow tree, and return to the fire. The girl lays on her back where we left her, her eyes glossy and her breath coming in shallow gasps.
I kneel down beside her, feeling my features soften. “I’m so sorry about this,” I whisper.
“Just… just finish me.”
“Please,” She squeaks. “I… I can’t take it anymore.”
I bite my lip hard. I thought I could do this, but I’m not sure now. I have to remind myself that I’m doing her a favor at this point. That I’m ending her suffering.
“I’m so sorry,” I murmur again, and feel tears burn behind my eyes. I raise the sword and hold it above the girl’s heart. She takes in a deep gasp of fear, her eyes locked on mine. I hesitate, so she gives me a slight nod.
After a shaky breath, I squeeze my eyes shut and push the sword through her heart.
“Was she dead?” Cato asks when I return to the clearing.
“No. But she is now,” I reply flatly. As if on cue, the cannon rings out. “Ready to move on?” I ask, because walking will make it easier to forget. Easier to get the image of the girl with my sword through her heart out of my head.