When we catch up, Katniss is up in a tree looking down at us.
I guess I was right. She really is good at climbing.
I study her face, waiting for the shocked, accusing look. Now that I think of it, though, I’m not sure I want to see it. I decide not to make eye contact with her at all.
Cato grins up at her. She’s trapped. We all know it.
Katniss’ face breaks into a smile. “What’s new with you?” She asks.
Cato’s grin falls away. “Well enough,” he says bitterly. “Yourself?”
“It’s been a bit warm for my taste,” Katniss replies, and I know that she’s playing it up for the audience back in the capital. “The air’s better up here,” she continues. “Why don’t you come on up?”
Cato glares at her. “I think I will.”
“Here, take this Cato,” Glimmer offers, holding out the bow.
I can only imagine how crazy Katniss is going now, seeing the weapon that was meant for her. I look down at my knife as a distraction and start polishing it with my shirt halfheartedly. I can feel her accusing gaze on me; it’s like a physical weight in my chest.
Cato shoves the bow back at Glimmer. “No. I’ll do better with my sword.” He starts toward the tree and grabs hold of one of the thicker branches, before pulling himself up. As he begins to scale the tree Katniss climbs higher, and I’m struck with the awful image of her falling from up there. I practically scream when I hear the loud snap of a branch, but it doesn’t come from under Katniss’ feet. Cato waves his arms wildly as he falls, and hits the ground with a deadening thud.
I half expect him to lay there until the sound of a cannon announces his death, but he gets to his feet immediately. He mutters something under his breath, which I assume is a series of curses.
Glimmer tries next. She climbs up a good ten feet before she stops, and sends an arrow at Katniss. I hold my breath, but I’m relieved to find that she isn’t a very good shot. The arrow gets stuck in a branch a few feet above Katniss’ head, and she pulls it from the wood swiftly. She waves it at us, a bright smile on her face.
“She thinks she’s so safe up there,” Cato growls under his breath. “We need a plan. This is idiotic.” The others begin whispering among themselves, suggesting all sorts of foolish ways to get Katniss out of the tree. Lighting it on fire? No, that’ll just start another forest fire. Convincing her that there’s a pack of some sort of wild animal that climbs trees? Thanks a lot, Glimmer.
Finally I speak. I seem to be the only one of us who has any common sense. “Oh, let her stay up there,” I mutter. “It’s not like she’s going anywhere. We’ll deal with her in the morning.”
Cato agrees, so we make camp beneath the towering tree where Katniss sits. I wonder what she thinks of me, now. Probably nothing good. I just wish I could tell her that I’m doing it for her.
“You’ve got first watch, Glimmer,” Cato grunts, so Glimmer takes a seat against Katniss’ tree.
I make myself comfortable by a dry log, laying my head against it and settling into the leafy foliage. I haven’t even considered ticks, but I don’t think one of those will kill me. It’s more likely to be a knife in my back.
I can’t get to sleep. It’s almost like I’m too taken by fatigue to give in to it. It’s also made more difficult by the fact that Katniss is just out of reach, as usual.
The anthem plays, and I don’t bother trying to catch a glimpse of tonight’s deaths. I squeeze my eyes shut and force my mind to turn off. Eventually it works, and I slip away into a dreamless sleep.
The first thing I register are the screams and the roaring of some creature.
The second thing I register is the stabbing pain, and that’s when I realize that it isn’t a roaring animal. It’s a swarm of bees.
I scramble up from the ground and sprint, not knowing where I’m going, jut that I have to escape the stinging insects. Cato is just ahead of me. “To the lake!” He screams, and I follow.
I’m not sure how many times I’ve been stung. Maybe once, maybe ten times. It feels worse than I remember bee stings being, which sets my mind racing. I begin to wonder if these aren’t ordinary bees, which is when I realize.
No bee would be following us this far as we tear through the woods. Not even a wasp, I don’t think. Except for one species, which were created by the capital years ago.
No, these are certainly not ordinary bees. These are tracker jackers.
When we reach the lake we throw ourselves in, ridding ourselves of any of the evil wasps that have managed to take refuge in our clothing. I can relax as I settle back into the cool water, let it swirl around me and hold me afloat.
Then a thought flashes through my head.
I force myself from the water as quickly as my tightening limbs are able, and it’s only when I’ve broken into a run that I realize how immediate the effects of tracker jacker venom are. The world tilts this way and that, spinning around me and making my feet lose contact with the earth above. Wait, above? How can the earth be above?
I crash face-first into the ground and lay there for a moment, perplexed. My sense returns, at least a little, and I push myself up to keep running.
I have to make sure Katniss got out safely. It’s all that matters.
Focus. Focus on Katniss.
I push on faster, and find the path back to the clearing where we stayed last night. My eyes catch on Marvel’s spear, which he must have dropped during the sprint to the lake. I pick it up with trembling fingers and continue, all the way to the clearing.
I lift it above my head as I break through the trees, ready to attack if need be.
I freeze in place when I catch sight of Katniss, crouching beside the still body of Glimmer holding the bow. I only stare at her. Why is she just kneeling there? Does she not realize that the careers could be back any minute?
I lower the spear. “What are you still doing here?” I whisper urgently. Katniss frowns, confusion taking over her features. “Are you mad?” I insist, poking her with the blunt end of the spear to get her attention. “Get up! Get up!” I urge, and surprisingly she does. I push her away. “Run!” I shout. I can hear it now, the loud set of footsteps that pound through the foliage. I don’t care, though. Let him hear me. “Run!” I scream again, and only turn to look at him once I’m sure Katniss is moving.
Cato’s furious. He doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t let me provide an excuse.
I have none to give.
He raises his sword in the air and brings it down in one swift movement.
My flesh screams as the blade slices through my thigh, severing the skin and muscle. I’ve been burned. I’ve been beaten. I’ve been attacked by tracker jackers.
But nothing has prepared me for this pain.