She's cost me time, too, because by now it's clear that I must get to the table next. Anyone who beats me to it will easily scoop up my pack and be gone. Without hesitation, I sprint for the table. I can sense the emergence of danger before I see it. Fortunately, the first knife comes whizzing in on my right side so I can hear it and I'm able to deflect it with my bow. I turn, drawing back the bowstring and send an arrow straight at Clove's heart. She turns just enough to avoid a fatal hit, but the point punctures her upper left arm. Unfortunately, she throws with her right, but it's enough to slow her down a few moments, having to pull the arrow from her arm, take in the severity of the wound. I keep moving, positioning the next arrow automatically, as only someone who has hunted for years can do.
I'm at the table now, my fingers closing over the tiny orange backpack. My hand slips between the straps and I yank it up on my arm, it's really too small to fit on any other part of my anatomy, and I'm turning to fire again when the second knife catches me in the forehead. It slices above my right eyebrow, opening a gash that sends a gush running down my face, blinding my eye, filling my mouth with the sharp, metallic taste of my own blood. I stagger backward but still manage to send my readied arrow in the general direction of my assailant. I know as it leaves my hands it will miss. And then Clove slams into me, knocking me flat on my back, pinning my shoulders to the ground, with her knees.
This is it, I think, and hope for Prim's sake it will be fast. But Clove means to savor the moment. Even feels she has time. No doubt Cato is somewhere nearby, guarding her, waiting for Thresh and possibly Peeta.
"Where's your boyfriend, District Twelve? Still hanging on?" she asks.
Well, as long as we're talking I'm alive. "He's out there now. Hunting Cato," I snarl at her. Then I scream at the top of my lungs. "Peeta!"
Clove jams her fist into my windpipe, very effectively cutting off my voice. But her head's whipping from side to side, and I know for a moment she's at least considering I'm telling the truth. Since no Peeta appears to save me, she turns back to me.
"Liar," she says with a grin. "He's nearly dead. Cato knows where he cut him. You've probably got him strapped up in some tree while you try to keep his heart going. What's in the pretty little backpack? That medicine for Lover Boy? Too bad he'll never get it."
Clove opens her jacket. It's lined with an impressive array of knives. She carefully selects an almost dainty-looking number with a cruel, curved blade. "I promised Cato if he let me have you, I'd give the audience a good show."
I'm struggling now in an effort to unseat her, but it's no use. She's too heavy and her lock on me too tight.
"Forget it, District Twelve. We're going to kill you. Just like we did your pathetic little ally. what was her name? The one who hopped around in the trees? Rue? Well, first Rue, then you, and then I think we'll just let nature take care of Lover Boy. How does that sound?" Clove asks. "Now, where to start?"
She carelessly wipes away the blood from my wound with her jacket sleeve. For a moment, she surveys my face, tilting it from side to side as if it's a block of wood and she's deciding exactly what pattern to carve on it. I attempt to bite her hand, but she grabs the hair on the top of my head, forcing me back to the ground. "I think. " she almost purrs. "I think we'll start with your mouth." I clamp my teeth together as she teasingly traces the outline of my lips with the tip of the blade.
I won't close my eyes. The comment about Rue has filled me with fury, enough fury I think to die with some dignity. As my last act of defiance, I will stare her down as long as I can see, which will probably not be an extended period of time, but I will stare her down, I will not cry out. I will die, in my own small way, undefeated.
"Yes, I don't think you'll have much use for your lips anymore. Want to blow Lover Boy one last kiss?" she asks, I work up a mouthful of blood and saliva and spit it in her face. She flushes with rage. "All right then. Let's get started."
I brace myself for the agony that's sure to follow. But as I feel the tip open the first cut at my lip, some great form yanks Clove from my body and then she's screaming. I'm too stunned at first, too unable to process what has happened. Has Peeta somehow come to my rescue? Have the Gamemakers sent in some wild animal to add to the fun? Has a hovercraft inexplicably plucked her into the air?
But when I push myself up on my numb arms, I see it's none of the above. Clove is dangling a foot off the ground, imprisoned in Thresh's arms. I let out a gasp, seeing him like that, towering over me, holding Clove like a rag doll. I remember him as big, but he seems more massive, more powerful than I even recall. If anything, he seems to have gained weight in the arena. He flips Clove around and flings her onto the ground.
When he shouts, I jump, never having heard him speak above a mutter. "What'd you do to that little girl? You kill her?"
Clove is scrambling backward on all fours, like a frantic insect, too shocked to even call for Cato. "No! No, it wasn't me!"
"You said her name. I heard you. You kill her?" Another thought brings a fresh wave of rage to his features. "You cut her up like you were going to cut up this girl here?"
"No! No, I - " Clove sees the stone, about the size of a small loaf of bread in Thresh's hand and loses it. "Cato!" she screeches. "Cato!"
"Clove!" I hear Cato's answer, but he's too far away, I can tell that much, to do her any good. What was he doing? Trying to get Foxface or Peeta? Or had he been lying in wait for Thresh and just badly misjudged his location?
Thresh brings the rock down hard against Clove's temple. It's not bleeding, but I can see the dent in her skull and I know that she's a goner. There's still life in her now though, in the rapid rise and fall of her chest, the low moan escaping her lips.
When Thresh whirls around on me, the rock raised, I know it's no good to run. And my bow is empty, the last loaded arrow having gone in Clove's direction. I'm trapped in the glare of his strange golden brown eyes. "What'd she mean? About Rue being your ally?"
"I - I - we teamed up. Blew up the supplies. I tried to save her, I did. But he got there first. District One," I say. Maybe if he knows I helped Rue, he won't choose some slow, sadistic end for me.
"And you killed him?" he demands.
"Yes. I killed him. And buried her in flowers," I say. "And I sang her to sleep."
Tears spring in my eyes. The tension, the fight goes out of me at the memory. And I'm overwhelmed by Rue, and the pain in my head, and my fear of Thresh, and the moaning of the dying girl a few feet away.