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"Gale! Gale!" she shrieks. Her pale gray eyes are wild with fear. In those eyes, I see Posy, Victor, Rory, Mother, Father... everyone I have every known and loved. I reach out for her, calling her name desperately, but the wind pulls her a little further. All she needs is a mere poke and she will be sent tumbling down from the cliff, down from me, down into the flames below. She screams again and I lunge for her, but I miss by a millimeter. Suddenly I am on my knees, bawling, begging her not to go, and she is screaming my name. Then a huge, faceless figure comes and seizes her by the shoulders. I lunge for her again, but we are seperated by a plastic television screen, and she is falling and I am crying and there is nothing I can do but watch her die...
"Gale! Gale. Listen honey, it's okay. It's okay." a soothing voice rouses me from my sleep. Still shaking, I see my mother before me, her mockingbird-blue eyes crinkled at the edges with stress. Stress, huh? If only she knew what I'm going through. What I've gone through every day since that wretched day when Katniss volunteered for the Hunger Games.
"Is she... is she..." I try to speak levelly, but my voice is still thick with tears. I must have been crying in my sleep.
"She's okay. It hasn't started yet. It's okay." Hazelle sooths me. Nodding, I pull myself from the moth-bitten sofa. Rory and Victor are playing, chasing each other round the house. Posy is sitting still, her cheekbones cutting out dramatically. She is too weak to move.
"I'm going to get us some meat." I decide, and stride out of the door before anyone can stop me. I can hear Rory thundering after me, shrieking. I slam the door shut and carry on running. Someone tries to say something to me, but I have no time for kind words. Not any more.
Diving under the "electrified" fence, I make my way over to the familiar place where Katniss and I always used to store our arrows. As always, Katniss's is tauntingly stiff. If only I could somehow fly this right over to that stupid arena, and she'd be back home and we'd be laughing together in the woods again every Sunday just like we used to.
Instead, she is dying in an arena and I am dying inside.
"May the odds ever be in your favouur." I mock quietly to myself, in the most disgusting falsetto I can manage. I think of Effie Trinket, with her oh-so-happy excitement and her sickly wigs. Anger boils up inside me.
"May the odds ever be in your favour." I hiss again, spitting each word out like filthy swearwords. My only reply is the innocent twittering of wildlife and the occasional rustle of trees. The sky is blue today, bluer than normal. Azure, Mother used to call it. That was before Father died.
The sun streams warmly onto the gentle green canopy of trees above me. Sighing, I let myself sit on the damp, moist earth. How can everything be so beautiful when Katniss is dying? When the Capitol is killing her? When the Capitol is killing us all?
Pulling myself back to my feet, I tread silently towards an array of nettles. A tiny movement has caught my attention. In a lightning-like movement, I pull my arrow from my sheath and shoot.
The arrow misses by a meter.
Oh, Katniss. I'd never stand a chance where you are.
Come to think of it, neither do you.
But I promise you one thing. No matter what they do to you, no matter how much they hurt you, I will get revenge. They will not get away with this.
That's a promise.
We gather round the television, silent. Today is the first time the districts will be presented. The first time that District 12 will be ridiculed, shamed, destroyed inside, whatever. I wonder what Katniss is thinking right now. Is she nervous? Petrified with fear? Maybe they won't dress District 12 too badly this year. It can't be any worse than last year. When a couple of four-foot-nothing lumps of coal with heads sticking out the top and limbs poking out the sides appeared in the presentation, the crowd went wild with laughter. I know that if it;s anything like that this year, Katniss will be dignified.
Tough, considering the circumstances.
"...and first to take the spotlight, ladies and gentleman, we have Marvel and Glimmer from District One!" a familiar voice booms. The crowd erupts into cheers as snowy white horses lead a seventeen year old boy and a pretty blonde girl into the arena. Girls shriek as Marvel winks knowingly. I want to puke. They don't know the last thing about love. Love is the fire and friendship is the fuel and justice is the spark. That's what happened between me and Katniss. Well, it happened for me, anyway.
"Do you want to marry her, Gale?" Posy squeaks, but I shoot her a look so venemous she bursts into tiny sobs. I don't bother apologising.
"And second of all, we have..... Cato and Clove!" another pair of Careers, I'll bet. How can my other pair of eyes, my hunting partner, fight these brutes?
"Thirdly, we have Kalko and Mardar!" Caesar Flickerman declares. Doesn't he get it? Doesn't he see that these are not competitiors for a sport but prisoners ready for execution?
"Now, please welcome from District Four... Jush and Hailor!" a tiny freckled boy and a matching freckled girl cling to each other as they ride into view on matching red horses. The crowd jeers as the girl bursts into tears and hugs her brother a little tighter. These children can't be twelve. They look about seven years old.
"From District Five, we have Rayna and Juseff!" a slim, fox-faced girl who I assume to be Rayna stands straight and tall next to a tall, dark-haired boy that must be Juseff. The boy might be a threat but the girl obviously isn't.
More and more chariots rain in, some bringing laughter, some overlooked in the excitment of the occassion, some cheered vigorously. District Nine parades in proudly. Ten. Eleven...
"Oh my God. Is that real?" my eyes snap shut as the final chariot draws in, but I can hear Hazelle's gasp and I know everything is going to end. The Capitol has turned her into a ridiculous costume and probably the Mellark kid too.
"She's gonna die!" Victor shouts, and I want to vomit. Muttering excuses, I try to escape the room where Katniss is being humiliated.
"She's so beautiful! Oh, Gale. District Twelve might finally have a winner this year." Hazelle's voice is choked with emotion. Astonished, I allow myself to look at the TV screen.
Katniss isn't there.
My hunting partner is gone.
In her place, stands a girl with flames licking her coal-black outfit, her hair glossy and sleek, her eyes fiery and determined. This is a miracle and the crowd is loving her.
Next to her, someone is on fire too, but I cannot tear my eyes from my best friend. She is radiant as the sun.
It's a shame all those cheering people are the ones who will watch her die.