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Let us fall by the axe

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The day of the reaping had been a beautiful day. Today was the only set day that 7 was quiet. Johanna felt on edge because she didn’t hear the sound of axes chopping into wood. She was the only one of her siblings that her mother fussed over. All her older brothers were finally old enough. Her youngest brother was eleven and for once wasn’t chatting his mouth off. Johanna always hated it when he did – why couldn’t he be quiet for once? – but now she missed it.

“I’ll be fine,” she told her mother, finally waving off her hands with a frown. “I look fine,” she said, even though they were far too poor to afford a mirror. But Johanna saw how the boys looked at her. She wasn’t ugly.

All the other kids were dressed in their finest. Johanna wondered why they made the effort. It wasn’t like they could impress the Capitol with their faded yellow dresses and darned socks. She smoothed down the fabric of her dress and tried not to sigh when her mother hugged her tight and wept into her shoulder.

“I’m not going to be chosen,” Johanna said, because she didn’t want to imagine the possibility. If she didn’t, then maybe it wouldn’t happen at all. Her mother laughed and it came out like a sob. She patted Johanna’s hair and then kissed her cheek. Johanna waved at her family before she lined up with the other girls.

The sun was warm on her back and Johanna complained to her friends about the flies. Sweat dotted their foreheads even though it wasn’t that hot. Johanna stopped complaining as the sun peaked above them. She wiped her hair out of her eyes and squinted up at it. She hated how long it took.

Finally it started and Johanna stood ramrod straight. They showed a new video but it was much the same as the others. The boy’s name was called and Johanna only caught a glimpse of his dark head as he walked up the podium.

Her name was called.

Her friends took a step back, as if reaping was contagious. Johanna took a deep breath. She thought she heard her mother scream. The crowd was quiet, eyes shadowed, hands still.

It had been hot, roaring hot, but Johanna felt cold when walked up to podium with a blank expression on her face. She clenched the fabric of her dress in between sweaty fingers and squinted over the crowd. She thought she heard her mother sobbing in the back where all the parents were. The boy who had been reaped stared at her, eyes already bright and dangerous, and saw her as competition immediately.

She was led away and taken to a small room. She heard the Peacekeepers shift by the door. Johanna walked over the window. It was barred. There were still a few kids out there and they whispered, pointed when they saw in her in the window. Johanna walked away leaned against the wall. A moment later her family rushed in, wet cheeks and sweat stained shirts.

Her mother hugged her goodbye, weeping on her shoulder, begging her forgiveness even though there had been nothing she could have done. Johanna had patted her mother on the back. She nodded at her father and brothers. Her youngest brother ran to hand and hugged her around the waist. “You’re going to win!” He said and her father looked away. They all expected her die, Johanna thought distantly. But then again, she thought she was going to die.

The train ride to the Capitol was... interesting. Johanna had eaten quietly while the boy – Raoul, but Johanna didn’t want to remember his name, he couldn’t be something to her, otherwise they would all become something to her – desperately tried to get something useful out of Blight. She thought there had been other Victors from 7, but they must have died. Blight was practically useless. He stuttered through his answers, never giving enough that would be useful to Raoul.

“How did you win?” Johanna asked. She had a vague recollection of seeing his Victory. An old recording since it had been before Johanna had been born. Blight stilled and looked down at his hands.

“I had my axe,” he said, rubbing his hands, looking out the window. Whatever he saw must have frightened him because he shuddered and hunched down on the opulent couch. “You use what you can. What you’ve got.”

“But we don’t know what we’ll have,” Raoul demanded.

Blight’s gaze flickered to Raoul. Raoul edged slightly away. Johanna didn’t blame him. There was something unsettling about Blight. “You have to look your best, be what they want,” he said. He nodded to their stylist. Everyone in 7 knew him. He had been dressing tributes since Johanna’s parents had been children. Right now he was napping by a window, his snoring causing his eyebrows to flutter. Johanna had never seen anyone with eyebrows that flared out to their hairline.

Johanna leaned back in her couch, tugging a cushion onto her lap. She didn’t have anything. Johanna would never win any popularity competitions and before she had never wanted to. She had liked practicing throwing her axes and spending time with the few people she liked. She didn’t have anything, she thought. Maybe that could be her weapon.

When the train rushed into the Capitol there was a horde of brightly dressed people waiting for them. Johanna hunched her shoulders and stared wide eyed at them.

Their quarters... were indescribable. Everything was soft and beautiful and Johanna hated it all. She was unnerved by the Voxes. The Games weren’t the only way they kept everyone in line, she thought, as a Vox poured more grape juice into her glass. He was beautiful and Johanna wondered what he done to be here. She shook her head. She couldn’t worry about them. She had to worry about herself.

During training Johanna stuck close to the survival training stations. She had spent days out in the woods, cutting trees high up on the mountain, but she had always had other people there. She was surrounded by the younger tributes, skinny kids from 12 and nervous kids from 3. She kept an eye on the other tributes. Raoul had impressed the Careers on his first day by throwing axes. It was a common 7 skill, but they had probably liked the violence of the gesture. Raoul had embedded them so deeply in a target that a trainer had to call over some of the Peacekeepers for help.

She caught him once looking at her. He had a hungry look on his face that unsettled Johanna. She deliberately looked away and focused on what berries were safe to eat. He couldn’t see her as competition. But folks back at home never liked it when a tribute turned their back on someone back home. Even Blight had warned them about that. Even the Capitol liked loyalty but only if it made good entertainment.

The night they got their scores, Blight appeared and sat between them. He smiled at them both. He was probably trying, which unnerved Johanna. Raoul got a nine which earned a small round of applause from their stylists. Johanna got a five. The stylists were a little subdued, there was only a small pattering of applause. Johanna wondered how they did it every year, prettifying country bumpkins and then sending them off to their deaths.

“There’s always next year,” their clothing stylist said. “Maybe next year I’ll have a female winner,” he mused to himself. “Maybe palm fronds.” He raised his hands slowly and moved them as if tracing a female body.

Even Raoul looked offended at that, meeting her gaze with a slightly incredulous stare. “Oh you’ll have Raoul this year,” Johanna murmured and watched Raoul preen like someone from the Capitol. “I don’t know about palm fronds. Aren’t they too tropical?”

The stylist nodded like she had said something meaningful. Johanna shook her head. She did not understand how oblivious the Capitol was. They ate a feast and every year they saw the skinny tributes. They were lacking, Johanna decided.

Their stylist had chosen a succession of tree themed outfits for the final interview. Johanna maybe wouldn’t have minded that much but they itched incredibly. She just wanted it over so she could jump out of her costume. The crowd was overwhelming, cheering and screaming, when they wouldn’t even have known about her if she hadn’t been reaped. They probably would forget her after the Games.

Caesar Flickerman tried but Johanna only said a few words before her time was up and she was directed off the stage. Off stage, she leaned against a wall and sighed. The crowd roared louder as the next tribute walked on to the stage. Johanna shook her head. She hadn’t made much of an impression. She dug in her nails into her hands.

Blight hovered a few feet away. “Shouldn’t you say everything will be alright?” Johanna asked, letting her lip curl.

“That would be lying,” Blight said and narrowed his eyes at her. “And I don’t think you’d like that.”

Johanna laughed short and sharp. Maybe Blight wasn’t a total wet tissue, she thought. “Help me get out of this thing,” she ordered, gesturing to the dress. “I swear it is a trap.”

The last night before the Games, Johanna slept as well as she could. She spent most of the night leaning against the massive window, staring across at the Capitol. It was huge, bright and filled with so many people. No wonder we lost, Johanna thought. They have everything and we have nothing.

The next morning Raoul looked like he had gotten as much sleep as she had. He didn’t look at her, just leaned over his hands and muttered to himself.

“Any last words?” She asked, looking at Blight. He shook his head. Johanna rolled her eyes. Maybe the Careers had it better. They had a range of mentors to chose from.

Her stomach was a roiling mess by the time she was thrust up into the arena. Johanna took a deep breath and stared around her. She ignored the countdown and tried to find the best escape route. One of the other tributes was already crying. When the countdown ended she sprinted for the green and orange trees and ignored the sounds of slaughter behind her. The grass was over a metre high and thick. It whipped against her legs painfully. As soon she entered the trees, she looked for the best tree to climb. Johanna had spent her entire life close to a forest and had spent much of her childhood climbing trees and playing hide and seek.

She settled in the tree, high up enough that if she squinted through the leaves and branches she could see the Cornucopia. The bloodbath was still going on but as the Careers – and Raoul – killed a final kid, they roared their triumph. It was swallowed by the sound of cannon. They ignored the crafts that took away the children, focused on seeing what treasures the Cornucopia held. They immediately opened bottles of water, washing away the blood and grime that they had accumulated. Johanna shook her head. Wastrels, she thought with disgust.

She swallowed. It had only been a few hours since her last drink and already her throat was starting to feel dry. She would have to do something about that. The Career pack eventually chose their weapons and left. A girl from 4 was left behind to watch the Cornucopia. She sighed heavily and leaned against the tree. It was hard to tell the position of the sun from her angle but she guessed it was about the mid afternoon.

They had changed the time, Johanna realised, still staring up at the sun. She looked around her. The leaves were beginning to turn. She looked down. Already there were patches of brown leaves on the ground. In between them were large stones. If you jumped quietly between them you might be able to sneak up on someone when they weren’t expecting it. The sun set rapidly and soon Johanna was shivering in her tree. She didn’t have a flint and she wasn’t going to be stupid enough to set a fire when the Career pack was out hunting.

But this was her best chance to steal something from the Cornucopia. Johanna quietly descended the tree, pausing after she dropped from each branch for the sound of the other tributes. She landed on a stone and bit her lip to keep from hissing. That drop had been too high to be comfortable. She crept closer to the Cornucopia. The girl from 4 had set up a fire and Johanna turned her head away. Johanna didn’t want to ruin her night vision completely. She was near the tree line when the Capitol started broadcasting the day’s deaths. It lit up the field between the Cornucopia and the trees but it also gave Johanna a good look of the girl from 4. She was staring up at the sky, the spear held loosely in her hand, not paying attention to her surroundings.

Johanna licked her licks and slunk low to the Cornucopia. The music drowned out the rustling of the grass against her thighs. She was nearly there when the faces stopped being broadcast. There had been nine overall. She kept her eye on the girl from 4. There was a blue bag leaning against the Cornucopia and Johanna didn’t dare have a look into its contents. Other bags – red, orange, white - were too close to the other girl, too close to the fire burning. She did add a stray water bottle to the bag though. She couldn’t risk not having water.

It clicked against something and Johanna froze, her gaze whipping around the Cornucopia. An assortment of weapons lay on the ground between her and the girl from 4. She put the bag on her back, trying to be deathly silent and still watching the girl from 4. She twirled the spear absently in her hand and looked around anxiously. She was started walking around the Cornucopia, finally started to keep guard like the Career pack expected her to. They probably didn’t think someone would be stupid or desperate to try to steal something on the first night.

She ran.

She ran forward, picking up one of the axes and swung it at the girl from 4. The girl raised the spear and it buckled under Johanna’s blow and then snapped two. She screamed and then Johanna swung the axe again. It hit her in the neck and the scream ended in a gurgle. Her blood was warm on Johanna’s cheek. The girl from 4 stepped back and then fell to the ground. Johanna breathed in deeply, hands tight on the axe. Swallowing, throat so very dry, she looked at the girl critically before deciding she wasn’t getting up again even if she wasn’t dead. Johanna sprinted for the tree line, curving to the left when she saw the Career pick emerge from the right. She was pretty sure she hadn’t been seen, she had been bent over near double and the grass would have hidden her.

But she wasn’t going to be fool. Johanna made her way through the trees. She couldn’t go back to her old tree, she hadn’t known about the leaves then. If the Career pack was out hunting in the morning and spotted the crumpled leaves, then she would be trapped. Her axe would only give her one shot and she would have to count on them not dodging. But Johanna didn’t want risk climbing up a strange tree at night either. Leaning against a tree, Johanna took several deep breaths to calm her heart. She listened for a few minutes before she felt confident enough to take out the water bottle. She took small, careful sips, mindful that she couldn’t waste it like the fool Careers. She sat down, resting the axe next to her. It was still covered in the girl from 4’s blood.

As if on cue the cannon went off. It was probably her, Johanna thought, staring up even though she wouldn’t get a confirmation until tomorrow night. She opened the bag. Another bottle, a pack of matches, a couple of rice bars and a thermal jacket. It was all very useful but she had hoped for more. She wasn’t sure what. She shrugged on the jacket and opened one of the rice bars. She ate it slowly and carefully. She would try and only have one a day, she thought, shoving the rest into the jacket’s pockets. After a moment’s consideration she put the matches in their as well. She eyed the bag. She couldn’t take it.

All the bags had been different colours, she remembered. If they saw Johanna had the bag then would instantly kill her. Johanna smiled, tense and bitter. Oh they would kill her anyway but they might still underestimate if she looked underfed. The ground was dry next to her and so Johanna reluctantly wasted some of the water. She rubbed the mud on her face, her hair, and her clothes. She decided to keep the jacket. It was already so cold that Johanna was shivering. She didn’t think she’d survive the night without it. She could only hope the Careers were more brawn than brain.

There was another cannon sound during the night. It woke Johanna up from where she had been dozing. She started and looking around quickly. She was breathing quickly, the sound too loud in her ears. She couldn’t hear someone else though. She relaxed back into the tree, wincing as she hit a root. If she survived this, she was going to be one massive bruise.

Birds were starting to stir. Taking careful sips of her bottle, Johanna decided to circle around and see what else the arena had to offer. She hadn’t seen much in the way of food and she wasn’t that great a hunter. She would have to find food or risk the Career pack and the Cornucopia. She didn’t want to be that close to danger again. She wasn’t sure if she could be that quick, that fast.

It occurred to her that she had killed someone last night. Johanna shuddered and wondered what her mother, her family was thinking of her now. They would have wanted her to survive, she wondered, wouldn’t they? She grabbed her axe from under the leaves and eyed it critically. Johanna was used to axes but this one seemed designed to combat. It had cut through the girl from 4’s throat quick enough, she thought. It was still speckled with blood, dried a rusty red. Johanna peeled away at a section before giving up. She wasn’t going to waste water on it. She might have cared if she was back in 7 – though she had never had to reason to kill someone there, but accidents did happen and Johanna had grown up aunts and uncles missing a finger or two – but here she couldn’t.

Here she might be dead before sunset. As long as she could kill – to defend herself, she said to herself, voice whisper soft – it would do. She wouldn’t have to see it again if she won. She swung it, trying to forget how it felt when it had hacked into the girl – and tested its weight. It was decently made. Nothing but the best for the Games, Johanna thought.

The earth groaned under her feet and the leaves rustled in the trees. Johanna stilled and looked around. The Arena was Capitol made, she thought, they could do anything they wanted.

As if on cue, the earth erupted beneath her and Johanna was thrown several feet away. She hit the ground with a thud an groaned. She scrambled out of the way as smaller trees collapsed. Within a few minutes it was over and Johanna was left breathing heavily and nursing even more bruises.

She rubbed her head and tentatively got to her feet. Her feet left clear marks in the soft loam and Johanna kicked at the mark, deciding to leave the area at once. It might not be safe from the tremors, but the Careers would be able to trace her this close to the disaster.

The next few days she hid and scurried through the Arena. Seven more cannons roared to life through that time. There were eight left, Johanna thought. She hadn’t seen Raoul. The Career pack mustn’t have killed him yet. Johanna hugged herself. Despite her foraging, despite the rice bars, her ribs were starting to jut out. She didn’t want to die. She didn’t want to die of starvation.

It might have been the sixth day after the Games had begun when she rested by a stream to fill up her water bottles. She hated this, but she had to have water. She had seen other footprints here, so the Careers probably knew about it as well. She swallowed as much water as she could stand and put the bottles in her jacket’s pockets. The water wasn’t the same as food but it kept the gnawing sensation in her stomach at bay. Johanna froze when she heard a rustle behind her. It could have been a rabbit; it could be a Career about to launch at her with a sword. Johanna let her hair fall in her face as she reached for her axe. Gripping it firmly in her hand, she spun around and hissed at the forest.

She stepped back into the stream when a girl fell forward. It wasn’t one of the Careers. Maybe someone from 6 or 8. But she could still be a threat. Johanna circled her. The girl was covered in dirt and there was a nasty wound on her leg that looked like an infection had set in. The leg would have to go if the girl was going to survive. Johanna bit her lip and looked away.

“Water,” the girl whispered and Johanna’s gaze flashed back to her. “Water please,” she croaked. “I know I’m going to die. I was just wanted some water before I die.”

Johanna didn’t know what to do. The girl could be bait. Maybe others were already circling her. The girl looked up at her with dark, desperate eyes. Her lips were cracked and bloody where she had chewed at them. When she licked her lips, Johanna saw the inside of her mouth was a crusty white. She shuddered and knelt by the girl. She held the axe firmly. She took out one of the water bottles and handed it to her.

“Quickly,” she said, scanning the trees for other tributes. “I can’t stay here.”

The girl gulped the water down quickly and sighed in relief. Her eyes fluttered closed and the water bottle slipped out of her hand. Johanna picked it up and quickly refilled it. She wouldn’t be able to come back to this part of the stream. She put the bottle in her jacket and walked swiftly past the girl. She couldn’t look back. It was an hour or so later when Johanna heard the cannon go off. The hover craft went to where she figured the girl had been laying. Sometimes she thought the trees shifted. The landscape creaked and groaned at night.

At least it covered the sound of her stomach, Johanna though. She put a hand on her stomach and grimaced. Her hands were starting to shake. She had to do something now; otherwise she might be too weak to be effective.

“I’m heading back to the Cornucopia,” she whispered. The Capitol liked it when people made things interesting. She made her way there during the day, even though it was the most dangerous time to be active. She paused frequently, just listening. If the Career pack was hunting together they would make more noise than her, but if they had split up... she didn’t want to risk catching all of them.

She was probably only a hundred or so yards away from the tree line now. But every step seemed drenched in danger. A fine sweat appeared on Johanna’s forehead even though the sun was sinking and taking all heat with it. She heard a twig snap and she whipped her head around. Leaves rustled and Johanna sank to her knees, hiding behind a bush. The earth was damp, cold and drained away her heat. Johanna was all nerves and her hands were shaking.

It was a boy from 2. He had a sword hefted on his shoulder and was running his gaze absently across the trees. He didn’t even pause when his gaze swept past the bush Johanna was hiding behind. She sucked in her breath and pressed her lips together. He mustn’t have heard because he took several steps forward and then rested his sword against a tree. Johanna wondered what he was doing when he started to unzip his suit.

Johanna turned scarlet and looked away. The first night she thought she was going to damage something when she had tried to unzip her suit. Then she wondered if the Capitol was watching. If there was some shady shit cam for the Capitol’s sick freaks.

She gripped her axe. She couldn’t waste an opportunity like this. She screamed as she launched herself out of the bush. The boy froze; hand on his dick, staring at her with horror. He started to reach for his sword but didn’t have enough time. The first blow glanced off his shoulder, digging deep. He yelped and Johanna head butted him. She yanked the axe out of his shoulder. He stared at her with horror as she brought it down on his head.

Blood hit her in the face again and a cannon sounded. Johanna quickly searched his body but didn’t find anything useful. She did hear a several yells from the direction of the Cornucopia. She hissed her frustration. Grabbing her axe, she ran into the trees. Why couldn’t he have any food? She thought to herself. Now she had to risk the Cornucopia.

She barely noticed the hover craft as it took the body away. At least it wasn’t trying to kill her. She crept closer, wondering what to do. Swinging up a branch, she quickly ascended a tree. She almost fell down once, but the branches stayed firm. She could barely see in the approaching dark now.

The Career pack was blundering through the trees, yelling to each other. Raoul was with them. He had a bandage wrapped around his leg but other than that he seemed okay. He kept his distance away from the others Careers. They cursed him at him and Johanna wondered how he had got the wound. The girl from 2 shrieked when she found the bloody patch where the boy from 2 had died. She fell to her knees and the other Career pack looked at each other. This far away, in the darkness, in the trees, Johanna couldn’t see their expressions.

She smiled and leaned against the tree. They hadn’t expected to be attacked. Eventually they went back to the Cornucopia, the girl from 2 sobbing. The boy from 1 had slung an arm across her shoulder. Johanna shook her head as they walked past her tree. If they had any sense they should have been able to track some of her movements. She had blundered her way here before recovering half her senses and attempting to be rational and hide her tracks.

They were going to be wonder who killed him too. Johanna narrowed her eyes and her stomach rumbled in protest. She drank half of one of her water bottles. It quieted her stomach but it wouldn’t be enough. She needed food. She needed to go to the Cornucopia. It was nearly full moon, Johanna thought, staring up through the leaves. She shivered, thankful that she had kept the jacket. Already brown and orange was dominating the leaves. She wouldn’t be able to hide up here much longer, there would be too much space and not enough leaves. Another hour or so passed before Johanna gingerly descended the tree. After every branch she stopped and listened intently. She was fairly certain that no was close enough to hear but who knew?

The Career pack consisted of the boy and girl from 1, the girl from 2 and Raoul. That meant there was still one more person out there. She tried to think desperately of who it could be. She had other things on her mind the first night when the bloodbath had happened. She shook her head. They had to be fairly good if they had gotten this far, she grudgingly admitted. She landed with a soft thump.

At the edge of the tree line, Johanna squatted and peered across the grass to the Cornucopia. There were only two people there. The girl from 1 and the girl 2. Johanna rocked back on her heels and considered them. The girl from 2 was still sobbing; Johanna could hear her from across the grass. The grass whistled at night and the wind howled and it made Johanna uneasy. The girl from 1 shifted uncomfortably, never looking at the weeping girl for longer than a second. The girl from 2 was a mess. And tributes from 1 probably didn’t trust Raoul not to kill her.

They were going to be difficult to sneak up on. They weren’t flush with victory after the bloodbath. It was getting close to the end. One of them could be the victor. They would be divided, Johanna thought. This could be the best chance.

She crept slowly through the grass, keeping a careful eye on the Careers. When no one was looking her away she snuck forward another few feet before halting. It was cold tonight and frost was forming on the yellow grass. Johanna tried desperately to keep her shivering to a minimum. She wanted to be warm again. She wanted to sleep on something other than dirt and twisted roots. Her stomach growled and Johanna shook her head firmly. She wanted to eat.

It was pre dawn by the time she was within a few feet of the Cornucopia. She stilled when she heard voices. The boy from 1 and Raoul were returning. It was dark and they approached from the north east. They were also dragging a boy from 6, a skinny thing that probably would have starved to death soon. He looked like he had fought furiously before being subdued, beaten. Johanna wondered why they were keeping him alive. He looked like he was barely breathing, she noted critically. He was covered in blood – his own – and his face was mostly a swollen mess.

“Darra!” The boy from 1 called out and the girl from 2 lifted her head up. She was covered in snot and tears. “I brought you a present,” he said, grinning. He and Raoul threw the bloody tribute in front of the girls. “This one must have killed Mungo,” he said.

The girl from 2 – Darra – stood up with a hard expression of her face. “You thought you could kill him?” She demanded, taking out a knife and holding out in front of her threateningly. “You’re filth!” She shrieked.

The boy from raised his head. He squinted at Darra and then laughed, before his voice cracked. It caused blood to rush down his chin. “I didn’t kill no one,” he said, “You’re all twice my size!” He sniggered like this was the most hilarious thing. Darra’s face twisted up into something nasty and she leapt forward, slitting the boy’s throat. His laugh ended in a gurgle and he slumped to the ground.

A cannon sounded.

The Career packed stood there for several seconds before the girl from 1 placed a hand on Darra’s shoulder. “He might not have killed Mungo,” she said thoughtfully, eyes darting across the long grass. She picked up a sword and nodded to the boy from 1. Walking a few steps away from Darra she pointed the sword at Raoul. “You thought you were going to be the winner?” She said and giggled, sounding sixteen. “You know Careers usually win.”

“Usually,” said Raoul, face solemn. “Not always. It wouldn’t be fun if you guys always won, Silka.”

The girl looked at him. “No,” Silka said quietly. “But I think I’ll find it more fun,” she swung the sword and Raoul ducked. It sliced the top of his head open and he shrieked. Birds erupted from the trees, screaming with him. Raoul clutched his head and glared furiously at her.

“I didn’t kill him,” he said, using his dagger to slice in her direction. She nimbly dodged backwards and slashed at his arm. The dagger fell to the ground and Raoul tilted his head back, the sun hitting his eyes. His shoulders slumped.

Every nerve in the body was fighting, screaming at her to do something. Johanna didn’t know if she wanted to help or if she wanted to run and never have to face another weapon again. Johanna didn’t move, she couldn’t, she just watched.

“I don’t care. You’re not needed anymore,” Silka said, smiling viciously as she swung the sword at his neck. It didn’t decapitate him but it cut deeply into his neck. Blood sprayed out of it and Raoul fell backwards, hitting the ground with a heavy thump. It took another minute before a cannon sounded.

Hidden in grass Johanna bit her lip and looked at the ground. She had watched him die. And had done nothing. She didn’t even like Raoul. But he was from home.

The final three Career tributes stared at each other. Johanna wondered if they were going to kill each other. It would certainly make her life easier, she thought, smiling bitterly.

“There’s still one more of them out there,” Silka said harshly, she flicked the sword and Raoul’s blood splattered on the ground. “We have to find her. She’s probably hiding somewhere. It’ll be an easy kill,” Silka said. Darra looked like she wanted to ask, what then? But she just lowered her head and nodded.

Johanna heard the roar of the hover crafts and it was if her stomach had dropped. It was going to blow grass open, she thought desperately. She was too close. They were going to see her! “No,” she whispered and the sound was lost, the hover crafts and the shrieking birds hiding her voice. Johanna slipped closer, not caring about the noise she was creating. She couldn’t hear her own breathing; they couldn’t possibly hear the crunch of the yellow grass and frost under her feet.

They weren’t even looking in her direction as she decided to act, leaping into the clearing that surrounded the Cornucopia. Darra was the first to see her. She raised her dagger defensively but Johanna swept her axe down on her wrist. It cut in deep and her hand flopped uselessly. Darra shrieked and Johanna twisted the axe around and slammed the handle into her temple. Her eyes rolled back and she sank to the ground. The tributes from 1 were moving, faces shocked and mouths wide open, so Johanna quickly slashed Darra’s neck. Blood burst and a cannon sounded.

The boy attacked her first. He thrust his spear at her and Johanna spun out of his reach. She twirled the axe her hands, grinning ferociously at the boy. He seemed unnerved. He stepped forward and this time Johanna wasn’t quick enough. The spear sliced through her side. Johanna hissed but brought the axe up, slamming it into his chin. He blinked and Johanna twisted it out and slashed at his stomach. It cut deep and his face grew pale.

Johanna leapt back, bringing up the axe when Silka tried to attack her with her sword. It bit into the handle; it cracked but didn’t break as Johanna threw her off. The blood was dripping sluggishly at her, but she didn’t have time, every time she moved it bled faster. Judging from Silka’s wicked expression, she knew that as well. They circled each other slowly, the body of the still living boy from 1, between them.

The sun was going to rise soon, Johanna thought. It was hard to think. The hover crafts hadn’t taken the bodies away yet; the Capitol audience had to be amused after all. And their noise blasted away at Johanna’s skull. Her side ached terribly, blood dripping down her leg and into her shoe. She had to judge this correctly, she thought, edging slower around the field, even pausing once to press a hand against her side. Silka’s eyes flared with triumph and she took another step forward.

Silka winced however when the sun rose past the trees. It was only a second but Johanna flung herself across the distance and slashed at Silka. She screamed as it the axe sliced through her chest. She brought her sword around and it dug deep into Johanna’s arm. Johanna grunted and rammed her body against Silka. She whacked her head against Silka, not caring that it made her ears ring. Silka’s head was flung backwards and her nose started bleeding. She gasped, her body turning inward as she glared at Johanna.

Johanna bit her hand holding the sword and it dropped into the ground. Not letting her time to act, Johanna hit Silka in the face with the axe. It destroyed her nose entirely. Silka tried to blink through the blood, her hands clawing at Johanna. Her nails dug in deep and Johanna grunted at the pain. She stepped back, using the axe to keep Silka away from her. Then she attacked Silka at the neck. Blood gushed down her chest but it didn’t kill her. Johanna split her skull and the cannon sounded.

Breathing deeply she turned around. The boy from 1 was still on the ground. He was the only one left, Johanna thought. Dark spots were starting to appear in his vision. She had to act now or it would be a battle between who could lose the most blood before dying. She was so weak, she basically let the axe fall down on his chest. It was heavy and cut in deep. He didn’t die, not yet. Johanna watched him twitch and grunt with pain and felt a tiny bit of sympathy. She fell to her knees, moaning as the movement aggravated her injuries. There was a dagger strapped to his leg and she used it to slit his throat.

The cannon, the final cannon, sounded. She smiled and the hover crafts were brighter than the sun when they took her away.

Johanna Mason had won the 71st Hunger Games.