Chapter Two: The Eight Cannons

We each sit down on the uncomfortable ground, that is littered with pine needles, dried-up leaves, and sharp twigs.

I count seven cannons before they stop, the echoes soft around the edges of the arena.

"Seven? Wow, that's a lot of people dead already." Natalin says softly, solemnly.

"Who do you figure died?" Samuel calls from a high branch in the tree next to the one Haun and I claimed.

"Probably Jayden," Alex mentions.

"Yeah, he's done. He's been useless right from the start. You shoulda seen him at the Cornucopia. It was like watching somebody blind swing a sword around. He was clueless." Samuel explains. "We were gonna invite him to be one of our allies, but Thresh told me not to try to help anyone that was gonna slow me down."

"Alright, who else?" Jia wonders aloud.

"I'm guessing Mercedes," I respond "I don't think very many of the girls like her. She might've gotten a lot of sponsors, but Glimmer trained her. And Glimmer's not very skilled at killing, hunting, or hiding. Her specialties are makeup, pink things, glitter, bows, and dresses. Glimmer may have hunted with Cato, but he did all of the dirty work for her."

"I don't know, Glimmer was a Career three years ago. If she managed to get out alive, she must have had to have some sort of skill." Alex tells us.

"You know who we really have to watch out for? Katy. Foxface trained her. She was really good at hiding, hunting, and killing. Sly." Natalin remembers.

"We should set up camp. It's getting dark, and we'll want to see the Anthem, it shows us who died." Haun suggests. Jia shoots her a confused look. "It projects who died on the top of the arena, the 'sky'." She explains, making air quotes with her fingers.

An hour later, we're finally all set up, Alex, and Jia sleeping on the ground, just like Cato and Clove taught them to. We haven't made any attempt to catch and cook dinner, our stomachs are still twisted insight knots. I can't even think about eating right now. I'm just settling into my sleeping bag, a thick rope secured around my waist, tied in a knot around the branch of the tree when Alex calls out from the ground "who's taking first watch?"

"I guess I will," I volunteer.

"Me too." Samuel says.

"Keep your eyes on the sky, the Anthem will play anytime now." I say, just loud enough from the others to hear from the ground.

Mere seconds later, the Anthem of Panem sounds throughout the arena, loud and clear, showing the faces of the fallen tributes.

Mercedes is dead, as we guessed, but we are all surprised to see that Jayden is still alive. So far, in only the first eight hours, we've lost Chantal, Chris, Colby, Zoya, Rares, Danny, and (as mentioned) Mercedes.

"If seven of us are dead, then there are seventeen of us left." Natalin calls.

"Yeah, but that's plenty," I call back.

Suddenly, we all hear a piercing scream. I recognize that scream.

"Guys, where'd Jia go?" I ask.

"I think she went to get water." Alex says, gasping at the realization that the scream had, indeed, come from one of his allies, his training partner.

"Jia!" I scream.

"I swiftly untie myself from the tree, screaming Jia's name several more times before the distant yells stop.

"Oh my God, is she…?" My sentence trails off as I realize the horrible truth. Jia, one of my best friends for several years, is dead. "No." I whisper "no, no, no, no, no." I stumble to the nearest tree, sliding down the trunk in pure agony as grief washes over me. I'm drowning.

"Hey, it's alright. That's only the beginning. There'll be plenty more losses in the next twenty-four hours to cry over." Alex says, trying to comfort me.

I'm going to lose so many of my friends in this arena, for as long as the 76th Hunger Games lasts.

"Get over it," Samuels says coldly.

"Excuse me? What is your problem? Don't pretend that you don't care, because, deep down, you're just as scared as the rest of us in here!" I snap. I pick up a dagger from the belt that rests on my waist and prepare to launch it in Samuel's direction before I feel a strong arm holding my wrist back.

"Don't prove Finnick's point about us killing one another." Alex whispers, barely audible. I give Samuel a cool glare and sit on a small stump.

"I'm sorry, I'm just angry, you know? And yes, you're right, I'm scared. But who wouldn't be? We're kids who were thrown into an arena and forced to fight to the death. Some of us might even die tonight or tomorrow." Samuel says, crouching down next to me.

"So, we're forgiven, even from when we were eleven, even?"

"Forgiven." He tells me, holding out a hand for me to shake. I take it and instantly remember this feeling from when we were learning to dance, just a month ago. His palms are rough, but smooth, and so, so warm.

I pull my hand away reluctantly before I fall in too deep again. I can't risk it, either neither of us are getting out of here alive, or just one of us will. There's no chance we'll both make it out of here, not living, not together.