Now I smile. "How's everything with you?" I call down cheerfully.
This takes them aback, but I know the crowd will love it.
"Well enough," says the boy from District 2. "Yourself?"
"It's been a bit warm for my taste," I say. I can almost hear the laughter from the Capitol. "The air's better up here. Why don't you come on up?"
"Think I will," says the same boy.
"Here, take this, Cato," says the girl from District 1, and she offers him the silver bow and sheath of arrows. My bow! My arrows! Just the sight of them makes me so angry I want to scream, at myself, at that traitor Peeta for distracting me from having them. I try to make eye contact with him now, but he seems to be intentionally avoiding my gaze as he polishes his knife with the edge of his shirt.
"No," says Cato, pushing away the bow. "I'll do better with my sword." I can see the weapon, a short, heavy blade at his belt.
I give Cato time to hoist himself into the tree before I begin to climb again. Gale always says I remind him of a squirrel the way I can scurry up even the slenderest limb. Part of it's my weight, but part of it's practice. You have to know where to place your hands and feet. I'm another thirty feet in the air when I hear the crack and look down to see Cato flailing as he and a branch go down. He hits the ground hard and I'm hoping he possibly broke his neck when he gets back to his feet, swearing like a fiend.
The girl with the arrows, Glimmer I hear someone call her - ugh, the names the people in District 1 give their children are so ridiculous - anyway Glimmer scales the tree until the branches begin to crack under her feet and then has the good sense to stop. I'm at least eighty feet high now. She tries to shoot me and it's immediately evident that she's incompetent with a bow. One of the arrows gets lodged in the tree near me though and I'm able to seize it. I wave it teasingly above her head, as if this was the sole purpose of retrieving it, when actually I mean to use it if I ever get the chance. I could kill them, everyone of them, if those silver weapons were in my hands.
The Careers regroup on the ground and I can hear them growling conspiratorially among themselves, furious I have made them look foolish. But twilight has arrived and their window of attack on me is closing. Finally, I hear Peeta say harshly, "Oh, let her stay up there. It's not like she's going anywhere. We'll deal with her in the morning."
Well, he's right about one thing. I'm going nowhere. All the relief from the pool water has gone, leaving me to feel the full potency of my burns. I scoot down to a fork in the tree and clumsily prepare for bed. Put on my jacket. Lay out my sleeping bed. Belt myself in and try to keep from moaning. The heat of the bag's too much for my leg. I cut a slash in the fabric and hang my calf out in the open air. I drizzle water on the wound, my hands.
All my bravado is gone. I'm weak from pain and hunger but can't bring myself to eat. Even if I can last the night, what will the morning bring? I stare into the foliage trying to will myself to rest, but the burns forbid it. Birds are settling down for the night, singing lullabies to their young. Night creatures emerge. An owl hoots. The faint scent of a skunk cuts through the smoke. The eyes of some animal peer at me from the neighboring tree - a possum maybe - catching the firelight from the Careers' torches. Suddenly, I'm up on one elbow. Those are no possum's eyes, I know their glassy reflection too well. In fact, those are not animal eyes at all. In the last dim rays of light, I make her out, watching me silently from between the branches. Rue.
How long has she been here? The whole time probably. Still and unobserved as the action unfolded beneath her. Perhaps she headed up her tree shortly before I did, hearing the pack was so close.
For a while we hold each other's gaze. Then, without even rustling a leaf, her little hand slides into the open and points to something above my head.
My eyes follow the line of her finger up into the foliage above me. At first, I have no idea what she's pointing to, but then, about fifteen feet up, I make out the vague shape in the dimming light. But of. of what? Some sort of animal? It looks about the size of a raccoon, but it hangs from the bottom of a branch, swaying ever so slightly. There's something else. Among the familiar evening sounds of the woods, my ears register a low hum. Then I know. It's a wasp nest.
Fear shoots through me, but I have enough sense to keep still. After all, I don't know what kind of wasp lives there. It could be the ordinary leave-us-alone-and-we'll-leave-you-alone type. But these are the Hunger Games, and ordinary isn't the norm. More likely they will be one of the Capitol's muttations, tracker jackers. Like the jabberjays, these killer wasps were spawned in a lab and strategically placed, like land mines, around the districts during the war. Larger than regular wasps, they have a distinctive solid gold body and a sting that raises a lump the size of a plum on contact. Most people can't tolerate more than a few stings. Some die at once. If you live, the hallucinations brought on by the venom have actually driven people to madness. And there's another thing, these wasps will hunt down anyone who disturbs their nest and attempt to kill them. That's where the tracker part of the name comes from.
After the war, the Capitol destroyed all the nests surrounding their city, but the ones near the districts were left untouched. Another reminder of our weakness, I suppose, just like the Hunger Games. Another reason to keep inside the fence of District 12. When Gale and I come across a tracker jacker nest, we immediately head in the opposite direction.
So is that what hangs above me? I look back to Rue for help, but she's melted into her tree.
Given my circumstances, I guess it doesn't matter what type of wasp nest it is. I'm wounded and trapped. Darkness has given me a brief reprieve, but by the time the sun rises, the Careers will have formulated a plan to kill me. There's no way they could do otherwise after I've made them look so stupid. That nest may be the sole option I have left. If I can drop it down on them, I may be able to escape. But I'll risk my life in the process.
Of course, I'll never be able to get in close enough to the actual nest to cut it free. I'll have to saw off the branch at the trunk and send the whole thing down. The serrated portion of my knife should be able to manage that. But can my hands? And will the vibration from the sawing raise the swarm? And what if the Careers figure out what I'm doing and move their camp? That would defeat the whole purpose.
I realize that the best chance I'll have to do the sawing without drawing notice will be during the anthem. That could begin any time. I drag myself out of my bag, make sure my knife is secured in my belt, and begin to make my way up the tree. This in itself is dangerous since the branches are becoming precariously thin even for me, but I persevere. When I reach the limb that supports the nest, the humming becomes more distinctive. But it's still oddly subdued if these are tracker jackers. It's the smoke, I think. It's sedated them. This was the one defense the rebels found to battle the wasps.