Chapter Twenty-Three

23.

A clock. I can almost see the hands ticking around the twelve-sectioned face of the arena. Each hour begins a new horror, a new Gamemaker weapon, and ends the previous. Lightning, blood rain, fog, monkeys - those are the first four hours on the clock. And at ten, the wave. I don't know what happens in the other seven, but I know Wiress is right.

At present, the blood rain's falling and we're on the beach below the monkey segment, far too close to the fog for my liking. Do the various attacks stay within the confines of the jungle? Not necessarily. The wave didn't. If that fog leaches out of the jungle, or the monkeys return ...

"Get up," I order, shaking Peeta and Finnick and Johanna awake. "Get up - we have to move." There's enough time, though, to explain the clock theory to them. About Wiress's tick-tocking and how the movements of the invisible hands trigger a deadly force in each section.

I think I've convinced everyone who's conscious except Johanna, who's naturally opposed to liking anything I suggest. But even she agrees it's better to be safe than sorry.

While the others collect our few possessions and get Beetee back into his jumpsuit, I rouse Wiress. She awakes with a panicked "tick, tock!"

"Yes, tick, tock, the arena's a clock. It's a clock, Wiress, you were right," I say. "You were right."

Relief floods her face - I guess because somebody has finally understood what she's known probably from the first tolling of the bells. "Midnight."

"It starts at midnight," I confirm.

A memory struggles to surface in my brain. I see a clock. No, it's a watch, resting in Plutarch Heavensbee's palm. "It starts at midnight," Plutarch said. And then my mockingjay lit up briefly and vanished. In retrospect, it's like he was giving me a clue about the arena. But why would he? At the time, I was no more a tribute in these Games than he was. Maybe he thought it would help me as a mentor. Or maybe this had been the plan all along.

Wiress nods at the blood rain. "One-thirty," she says.

"Exactly. One-thirty. And at two, a terrible poisonous fog begins there," I say, pointing at the nearby jungle. "So we have to move somewhere safe now." She smiles and stands up obediently. "Are you thirsty?" I hand her the woven bowl and she gulps down about a quart. Finnick gives her the last bit of bread and she gnaws on it. With the inability to communicate overcome, she's functioning again.

I check my weapons. Tie up the spile and the tube of medicine in the parachute and fix it to my belt with vine.

Beetee's still pretty out of it, but when Peeta tries to lift him, he objects. "Wire," he says.

"She's right here," Peeta tells him. "Wiress is fine. She's coming, too."

But still Beetee struggles. "Wire," he insists.

"Oh, I know what he wants," says Johanna impatiently. She crosses the beach and picks up the cylinder we took from his belt when we were bathing him. It's coated in a thick layer of congealed blood. "This worthless thing. It's some kind of wire or something. That's how he got cut. Running up to the Cornucopia to get this. I don't know what kind of weapon it's supposed to be. I guess you could pull off a piece and use it as a garrote or something. But really, can you imagine Beetee garroting somebody?"

"He won his Games with wire. Setting up that electrical trap," says Peeta. "It's the best weapon he could have."

There's something odd about Johanna not putting this together. Something that doesn't quite ring true. Suspicious. "Seems like you'd have figured that out," I say. "Since you nicknamed him Volts and all."

Johanna's eyes narrow at me dangerously. "Yeah, that was really stupid of me, wasn't it?" she says. "I guess I must have been distracted by keeping your little friends alive. While you were...what, again? Getting Mags killed off?"

My fingers tighten on the knife handle at my belt.

"Go ahead. Try it. I don't care if you are knocked up, I'll rip your throat out," says Johanna.

I know I can't kill her right now. But it's just a matter of time with Johanna and me. Before one of us offs the other.

"Maybe we all had better be careful where we step," says Finnick, shooting me a look. He takes the coil and sets it on Beetee's chest. "There's your wire, Volts. Watch where you plug it."

Peeta picks up the now-unresisting Beetee. "Where to?"

"I'd like to go to the Cornucopia and watch. Just to make sure we're right about the clock," says Finnick. It seems as good a plan as any. Besides, I wouldn't mind the chance of going over the weapons again. And there are six of us now. Even if you count Beetee and Wiress out, we've got four good fighters. It's so different from where I was last year at this point, doing everything on my own. Yes, it's great to have allies as long as you can ignore the thought that you'll have to kill them.

Beetee and Wiress will probably find some way to die on their own. If we have to run from something, how far would they get? Johanna, frankly, I could easily kill if it came down to protecting Peeta. Or maybe even just to shut her up. What I really need is for someone to take out Finnick for me, since I don't think I can do it personally. Not after all he's done for Peeta. I think about maneuvering him into some kind of encounter with the Careers. It's cold, I know. But what are my options? Now that we know about the clock, he probably won't die in the jungle, so someone's going to have to kill him in battle.

Because this is so repellent to think about, my mind frantically tries to change topics. But the only thing that distracts me from my current situation is fantasizing about killing President Snow. Not very pretty daydreams for a seventeen-year-old girl, I guess, but very satisfying.

We walk down the nearest sand strip, approaching the Cornucopia with care, just in case the Careers are concealed there. I doubt they are, because we've been on the beach for hours and there's been no sign of life. The area's abandoned, as I expected. Only the big golden horn and the picked-over pile of weapons remain.

When Peeta lays Beetee in the bit of shade the Cornucopia provides, he calls out to Wiress. She crouches beside him and he puts the coil of wire in her hands. "Clean it, will you?" he asks.

Wiress nods and scampers over to the water's edge, where she dunks the coil in the water. She starts quietly singing some funny little song, about a mouse running up a clock. It must be for children, but it seems to make her happy.

"Oh, not the song again," says Johanna, rolling her eyes. "That went on for hours before she started tick-tocking."

Suddenly Wiress stands up very straight and points to the jungle. "Two," she says.

I follow her finger to where the wall of fog has just begun to seep out onto the beach. "Yes, look, Wiress is right. It's two o'clock and the fog has started."

"Like clockwork," says Peeta. "You were very smart to figure that out, Wiress."

Wiress smiles and goes back to singing and dunking her coil. "Oh, she's more than smart," says Beetee. "She's intuitive." We all turn to look at Beetee, who seems to be coming back to life. "She can sense things before anyone else. Like a canary in one of your coal mines."

"What's that?" Finnick asks me.

"It's a bird that we take down into the mines to warn us if there's bad air," I say.

"What's it do, die?" asks Johanna.

"It stops singing first. That's when you should get out. But if the air's too bad, it dies, yes. And so do you." I don't want to talk about dying songbirds. They bring up thoughts of my father's death and Rue's death and Maysilee Donner's death and my mother inheriting her songbird. Oh, great, and now I'm thinking of Gale, deep down in that horrible mine, with President Snow's threat hanging over his head. So easy to make it look like an accident down there. A silent canary, a spark, and nothing more.

I go back to imagining killing the president.

Despite her annoyance at Wiress, Johanna's as happy as I've seen her in the arena. While I'm adding to my stock of arrows, she pokes around until she comes up with a pair of lethal-looking axes. It seems an odd choice until I see her throw one with such force it sticks in the sun-softened gold of the Cornucopia. Of course. Johanna Mason. District 7. Lumber. I bet she's been tossing around axes since she could toddle. It's like Finnick with his trident. Or Beetee with his wire. Rue with her knowledge of plants. I realize it's just another disadvantage the District 12 tributes have faced over the years. We don't go down in the mines until we're eighteen. It looks like most of the other tributes learn something about their trades early on. There are things you do in a mine that could come in handy in the Games. Wielding a pick. Blowing things up. Give you an edge. The way my hunting did. But we learn them too late.

While I've been messing with the weapons, Peeta's been squatting on the ground, drawing something with the tip of his knife on a large, smooth leaf he brought from the jungle.

I look over his shoulder and see he's creating a map of the arena. In the center is the Cornucopia on its circle of sand with the twelve strips branching out from it. It looks like a pie sliced into twelve equal wedges. There's another circle representing the waterline and a slightly larger one indicating the edge of the jungle. "Look how the Cornucopia's positioned," he says to me.

I examine the Cornucopia and see what he means. "The tail points toward twelve o'clock," I say.

"Right, so this is the top of our clock," he says, and quickly scratches the numbers one through twelve around the clock face. "Twelve to one is the lightning zone." He writes lightning in tiny print in the corresponding wedge, then works clockwise adding blood, fog, and monkeys in the following sections.

"And ten to eleven is the wave," I say. He adds it. Finnick and Johanna join us at this point, armed to the teeth with tridents, axes, and knives.

"Did you notice anything unusual in the others?" I ask Johanna and Beetee, since they might have seen something we didn't. But all they've seen is a lot of blood. "I guess they could hold anything."

"I'm going to mark the ones where we know the Gamemakers' weapon follows us out past the jungle, so we'll stay clear of those," says Peeta, drawing diagonal lines on the fog and wave beaches. Then he sits back. "Well, it's a lot more than we knew this morning, anyway."

We all nod in agreement, and that's when I notice it. The silence. Our canary has stopped singing.

I don't wait. I load an arrow as I twist and get a glimpse of a dripping-wet Gloss letting Wiress slide to the ground, her throat slit open in a bright red smile. The point of my arrow disappears into his right temple, and in the instant it takes to reload, Johanna has buried an ax blade in Cashmere's chest. Finnick knocks away a spear Brutus throws at Peeta and takes Enobaria's knife in his thigh. If there wasn't a Cornucopia to duck behind, they'd be dead, both of the tributes from District 2. I spring forward in pursuit. Boom! Boom! Boom! The cannon confirms there's no way to help Wiress, no need to finish off Gloss or Cashmere. My allies and I are rounding the horn, starting to give chase to Brutus and Enobaria, who are sprinting down a sand strip toward the jungle.

Suddenly the ground jerks beneath my feet and I'm flung on my side in the sand. The circle of land that holds the Cornucopia starts spinning fast, really fast, and I can see the jungle going by in a blur. I feel the centrifugal force pulling me toward the water and dig my hands and feet into the sand, trying to get some purchase on the unstable ground. Between the flying sand and the dizziness, I have to squeeze my eyes shut. There is literally nothing I can do but hold on until, with no deceleration, we slam to a stop.

Coughing and queasy, I sit up slowly to find my companions in the same condition. Finnick, Johanna, and Peeta have hung on. The three dead bodies have been tossed out into the seawater.

The whole thing, from missing Wiress's song to now, can't have taken more than a minute or two. We sit there panting, scraping the sand out of our mouths.

"Where's Volts?" says Johanna. We're on our feet. One wobbly circle of the Cornucopia confirms he's gone. Finnick spots him about twenty yards out in the water, barely keeping afloat, and swims out to haul him in.

That's when I remember the wire and how important it was to him. I look frantically around. Where is it? Where is it? And then I see it, still clutched in Wiress's hands, far out in the water. My stomach contracts at the thought of what I must do next. "Cover me," I say to the others. I toss aside my weapons and race down the strip closest to her body. Without slowing down, I dive into the water and start for her. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see the hovercraft appearing over us, the claw starting to descend to take her away. But I don't stop. I just keep swimming as hard as I can and end up slamming into her body. I come up gasping, trying to avoid swallowing the bloodstained water that spreads out from the open wound in her neck. She's floating on her back, borne up by her belt and death, staring into that relentless sun. As I tread water, I have to wrench the coil of wire from her fingers, because her final grip on it is so tight. There's nothing I can do then but close her eyelids, whisper good-bye, and swim away. By the time I swing the coil up onto the sand and pull myself from the water, her body's gone. But I can still taste her blood mingled with the sea salt.

I walk back to the Cornucopia. Finnick's gotten Beetee back alive, although a little waterlogged, sitting up and snorting out water. He had the good sense to hang on to his glasses, so at least he can see. I place the reel of wire on his lap. It's sparkling clean, no blood left at all. He unravels a piece of the wire and runs it through his fingers. For the first time I see it, and it's unlike any wire I know. A pale golden color and as fine as a piece of hair. I wonder how long it is. There must be miles of the stuff to fill the large spool. But I don't ask, because I know he's thinking of Wiress.

I look at the others' sober faces. Now Finnick, Johanna, and Beetee have all lost their district partners. I cross to Peeta and wrap my arms around him, and for a while we all stay silent.

"Let's get off this stinking island," Johanna says finally. There's only the matter of our weapons now, which we've largely retained. Fortunately the vines here are strong and the spile and tube of medicine wrapped in the parachute are still secured to my belt. Finnick strips off his undershirt and ties it around the wound Enobaria's knife made in his thigh; it's not deep. Beetee thinks he can walk now, if we go slowly, so I help him up. We decide to head to the beach at twelve o'clock. That should provide hours of calm and keep us clear of any poisonous residue. And then Peeta, Johanna, and Finnick head off in three different directions.

"Twelve o'clock, right?" says Peeta. "The tail points at twelve."

"Before they spun us," says Finnick. "I was judging by the sun."

"The sun only tells you it's going on four, Finnick," I say.

"I think Katniss's point is, knowing the time doesn't mean you necessarily know where four is on the clock. You might have a general idea of the direction. Unless you consider that they may have shifted the outer ring of jungle as well," says Beetee.

No, Katniss's point was a lot more basic than that. Beetee's articulated a theory far beyond my comment on the sun. But I just nod my head like I've been on the same page all along. "Yes, so any one of these paths could lead to twelve o'clock," I say.

We circle around the Cornucopia, scrutinizing the jungle. It has a baffling uniformity. I remember the tall tree that took the first lightning strike at twelve o'clock, but every sector has a similar tree. Johanna thinks to follow Enobaria's and Brutus's tracks, but they have been blown or washed away. There's no way to tell where anything is. "I should have never mentioned the clock," I say bitterly. "Now they've taken that advantage away as well."

"Only temporarily," says Beetee. "At ten, we'll see the wave again and be back on track."

"Yes, they can't redesign the whole arena," says Peeta.

"It doesn't matter," says Johanna impatiently. "You had to tell us or we never would have moved our camp in the first place, brainless." Ironically, her logical, if demeaning, reply is the only one that comforts me. Yes, I had to tell them to get them to move. "Come on, I need water. Anyone have a good gut feeling?"

We randomly choose a path and take it, having no idea what number we're headed for. When we reach the jungle, we peer into it, trying to decipher what may be waiting inside.

"Well, it must be monkey hour. And I don't see any of them in there," says Peeta. "I'm going to try to tap a tree."

"No, it's my turn," says Finnick.

"I'll at least watch your back," Peeta says.

"Katniss can do that," says Johanna. "We need you to make another map. The other washed away." She yanks a large leaf off a tree and hands it to him.

For a moment, I'm suspicious they're trying to divide and kill us. But it doesn't make sense. I'll have the advantage on Finnick if he's dealing with the tree and Peeta's much bigger than Johanna. So I follow Finnick about fifteen yards into the jungle, where he finds a good tree and starts stabbing to make a hole with his knife.

As I stand there, weapons ready, I can't lose the uneasy feeling that something is going on and that it has to do with Peeta. I retrace our steps, starting from the moment the gong rang out, searching for the source of my discomfort. Finnick towing Peeta in off his metal plate. Finnick reviving Peeta after the force field stopped his heart. Mags running into the fog so that Finnick could carry Peeta. The morphling hurling herself in front of him to block the monkey's attack. The fight with the Careers was so quick, but didn't Finnick block Brutus's spear from hitting Peeta even though it meant taking Enobaria's knife in his leg? And even now Johanna has him drawing a map on a leaf rather than risking the jungle...

There is no question about it. For reasons completely unfathomable to me, some of the other victors are trying to keep him alive, even if it means sacrificing themselves.

I'm dumbfounded. For one thing, that's my job. For another, it doesn't make sense. Only one of us can get out. So why have they chosen Peeta to protect? What has Haymitch possibly said to them, what has he bargained with to make them put Peeta's life above their own?

I know my own reasons for keeping Peeta alive. He's my friend, and this is my way to defy the Capitol, to subvert its terrible Games. But if I had no real ties to him, what would make me want to save him, to choose him over myself? Certainly he is brave, but we have all been brave enough to survive a Games. There is that quality of goodness that's hard to overlook, but still ... and then I think of it, what Peeta can do so much better than the rest of us. He can use words. He obliterated the rest of the field at both interviews. And maybe it's because of that underlying goodness that he can move a crowd - no, a country - to his side with the turn of a simple sentence.

I remember thinking that was the gift the leader of our revolution should have. Has Haymitch convinced the others of this? That Peeta's tongue would have far greater power against the Capitol than any physical strength the rest of us could claim? I don't know. It still seems like a really long leap for some of the tributes. I mean, we're talking about Johanna Mason here. But what other explanation can there be for their decided efforts to keep him alive?

"Katniss, got that spile?" Finnick asks, snapping me back to reality. I cut the vine that ties the spile to my belt and hold the metal tube out to him.

That's when I hear the scream. So full of fear and pain it ices my blood. And so familiar. I drop the spile, forget where I am or what lies ahead, only know I must reach her, protect her. I run wildly in the direction of the voice, heedless of danger, ripping through vines and branches, through anything that keeps me from reaching her.

From reaching my little sister.

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