Chapter One: The Beginning
5, 4, 3, 2, 1, The cannon signalling the start of a new Hunger Games booms, shaking the ground beneath the metal plates my classmates and I are all standing on. We all dive into the water, frantically kicking our legs and dragging our arms through the murky, choppy waves. I glance to my right at my best friend, Haun, who is grabbing a backpack and swinging around her shoulders quickly. I do the same, then take off into the woods, trying to put as much distance as possible between me and my class, now my enemies. It pains me to think that in a minimum of fifteen minutes, at least five to ten of us will be dead. Haun follows closely behind me in the woods, a strategy our mentors, former victors, Katniss and Peeta for me, Finnick and Johanna for Haun, taught us. The first day of training, Haun and I had been inseparable. We'd refused to train separately. Katniss had helped me in the simulator, throwing knives was my chosen skill, and helped me use a strategy that one of her former allies, Rue, had shown her in her first Hunger Games; hiding in the trees. The plan was, after Peeta taught me how to properly disguise myself with the things around me, that I'd hide in the trees and distance myself as far from the others as possible. Well, except for Haun, of course. Quietly slip away as the cannon sounded, grab valuable resources, and stay hidden until it was absolutely necessary for me to come out, down from the trees. I'd stay near water, so I wouldn't get dehydrated, also because where there was water, there was life. Easy for hunting. Out of sight from my fellow tributes, out of mind. So here I was, panting heavily and sweating, sprinting and not stopping until Haun and I found a green space accidentally. We'd rolled down a hill, and landed in an area enclosed by dark bushes. We walk around and inspect the area. "There's a stream over here," Haun calls to me through the bushes. "Good. And there are lots of trees to hide in. Easy to climb." I say. "Yes," she says back quietly. We climb into the trees, settling our warm sleeping bags, with aluminum to reflect our body heat, onto thick branches. Suddenly, as I'm climbing back down the trunk of the tree, I hear a rustling in the bushes. "Do you hear that?" Haun whispers. "Yeah," I whisper back "Take your weapon out," Hearing those words coming from my mouth surprises me, since I hadn't counted on actually needing to kill anyone in here. Faint murmurs come from the other side of our sanctuary. "I think they're in here," a boy's voice yells. Risky move. You really shouldn't yell unless you want to be found, which'll lead to a fight, then to a bloodbath, and, eventually, death for most of the participants. I turn my head quickly to look at Haun, who has her bow drawn. Katniss taught her how to do that. "You ready?" I ask her, as my trembling fingers lock around the small knife in my hand, the rest of my daggers are in a belt across my waist. "I think so," she murmurs. A tall boy with dark brown hair eventually pushes his way through the ferns, and he walks toward us. "Are you alright?!" A panicked voice shouts. It belongs to a female. I recognize that voice. Natalin, a short girl with bleach-blond hair, my friend, pushes her way around the tall boy I recognize as Alex, toward me and Haun, enveloping us in a hug. I pull back, stunned. "Yeah, you?" I ask. "Fine." We all look around at one another, exchanging nods. I recognize each one of the faces standing opposite us. Alex, Natalin, Jia, and, I swallow hard...Samuel. "Are you with them?" Haun questions, nodding in the direction of the people around us. Natalin nods, signalling that, yes, she is in fact, a part of this group. "So does this make us all allies, then?" Alex asks. I think about this for a moment, remembering what Finnick told me, alliances are dangerous, only form them in your most desperate moment, when you absolutely need protection. They're extremely uncertain, because the moment there are only so many of us left, all alliances break, and it's every person for themselves. I mull this over for a moment before deciding to take a chance. "I guess it does. Everyone alright with that?" I quiz. "I'm good with that," Samuel answers. "Me too," Jia chimes in. "Okay. We're all together then?" Haun asks "A team?" But before she can answer, we hear several blasts from the cannon, signalling the deaths of some of our friends.