Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three
Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine
Taemin slumped down, sinking his back against the tree, it’s gnarly bark digging into his spine uncomfortably, but he was too tired to care. His legs sprawled out before him, shaking slightly from exhaustion as his eyes trained the still dark sky. Far in the distance, small stars glimmered lightly out of his reach. For all Taemin knew, they might have been generated by the gamemakers, or even just a figment of his tired mind, but he hoped they were real, admiring the first piece of innocence since leaving District 12. Slowly, he closed his eyes, weak limbs trembling under the relaxation of rest. The bony texture of the tree’s trunk made him shift every now and then, and the moment the wind blew, rustling branches together, his eyes shot open, hand reflexively gripping the end of his knife. He’d been moving all day and throughout most of the night, too unaware of where he was or where the others were to dare to stop in any one place for too long. However his recent lack of sleep had led him to run out energy too quickly. He exhaled in a quiet sigh, unable to keep his eyes closed for any longer. They burned, yearning for sleep but instead he strained them further, squinting against the darkness of the early morning hours.
The warmth of his aching muscles had drained away too quickly, a chill breeze snaking it’s way under Taemin’s clothes, scraping over his skin. He shivered, bringing his knees up to his body, clenching one hand over the cut on his arm. The snow had numbed it for a while, kept it reasonably clean, yet it stung. He winced every time he thought of it, generally trying to forget it was there. He knew it wasn’t too deep, he’d seen worse from mining accidents. It would heal, but he feared over how badly it might slow him down, especially if he came face to face with anyone else whilst it was still fresh. His eyes briefly glanced over the surrounding terrain as the thought passed by his mind. He was unsafe here. With a quiet groan, he rose to his feet again.
Last night, the deaths of the day before had been announced on a screen at the top of the arena. The girls from District 3, 5 and 8, the boys from District 6 and 7, and both the girl and the boy of District 11. Jinki was still alive. But so was Jonghyun. Taemin wondered just how alive Jinki was, whether he was clinging onto life somewhere, after a bloody fight against the cocky Jonghyun. The idea sent chills down his spine, his guts twisting inwards at the thought of it. Jinki had saved him, and he had just ran. He’d left him behind to fight his battle. He pinched the bridge of his nose, frustration setting in. He was so weak.
He sighed in quiet realisation of what his mind was quietly, internally battling to do. He shook his head, trying to rid the thoughts. It was every man for himself, there was no way he and Jinki could both survive this, so what good would it do to find him? He was better off staying away, hoping that the boy from district 9 would die quickly. That was the best he could hope for. He didn’t matter to Taemin anyway. His stomach churned slightly; of course he did, he’s saved his life. And not for the first time, all along he’d been encouraging Taemin, pushing him and protecting him. But now he was a competitor. Were he in the condition to, if Taemin somehow did find him in the vast landscape somewhere in the arena, would he be so sparing of his life again?
He carried on walking stiffly, trying to place each foot silently as dawn’s soft hues began to spill colour into the forest, the stars fading from sight. Unsure of where he was going, he absently followed a pair of swifts as they darted around the trees, bouncing gracefully as they sang together, stringing high pitched melodies that disappeared in the cold air behind them. He knew he was going to search for Jinki, for sake of having nothing better to do, and for other reasons he refused to acknowledge any further. He continued to watch the two small birds, occasionally playfully crossing over each other’s paths, their slender forked tails brushing against each other. They disappeared out of Taemin’s sight too quickly and he stopped for a moment, looking around at the looming tree’s watching his every movement. Finding Jinki was going to be like finding a needle in a haystack, but he pushed himself, knowing he had to at least try. He had to give himself something to do, something to focus on.
But before he could do that, the sudden pain shooting up from his stomach reminded him he needed to eat. He fumbled around for a few hours, attempting to set up traps but forgetting where he had set them up and how to do it properly. Eventually he gave up, realising he wasn’t going to succeed in hunting. He was far too loud for any animals to stay around for long, so his knife was nothing but useless to catching him a meal. He could vaguely remember what berries were good and what were poisonous but he was afraid of ones he didn’t recognise, that filled the majority of the forest. He did find a handful of blackberries, but more than anything, it just made him more hungry. Eventually, he flumped to the floor in deep thought.
He remembered there was food at the cornucopia, apples and things. His eyes glanced up to the mountain, unable to see where it was beyond the wall of trees. It might still be there, but after a day, he wondered how many tributes would be heading back that way for old weapons and food. It was still early morning, and he couldn’t have ran that far from it… he might be able to get there before the others. The thoughts spun around in his mind slowly, trying to process routes at the back of his mind, battling whether it was worth it at the front. He was already running low on water in his backpack, so if anything, perhaps getting handfuls of snow to melt down and fill his water bottle would at least make the trip there not entirely futile. His final decision came with the realisation that his best bet of tracking down Jinki would be starting from the last place he saw him.
The steep mountain trek was unexpectedly difficult on Taemin. He underestimated either how far he had ran, or how long it would take to climb on weak legs. As the trees began to grow more sparsely spread out, he began to worry, realising he wasn’t sure where he was at all. Panic grew within Taemin, all he knew was he needed to go up, but he wasn’t sure how far up, or where the cornucopia was in relation to himself. He found himself lost in the labyrinth of trees, stumbling every so often on the sharp-edged rocks that protruded the slopes. They were growing bigger and more frequent as time passed by and Taemin knew that meant that he was getting higher, at least, he hoped so. It was either that, or he was getting clumsier from fatigue. He fell against another rock, this time remaining on the cold ground, twigs holding his weak body down, sharp stones pointing into his body, but he still did not move. His body succumbed to it’s exhaustion, refusing to budge no matter how he willed in his mind to move his arms to pull himself back up. Beads of sweat, salty and small streaked down his face. He needed sleep. But of course, he couldn’t be granted something as sweet as that.
It was not the expected intervene of another tribute, that Taemin had been so worried about, that caused him to pull himself from the ground. It was the cracking noise, the sudden boom as the ground beneath him quivered slightly. His eyes snapped up to see large boulders tumbling down towards him. He was quick enough to roll aside onto his back to watch as one rock flew past him, spikes glinting under dawn’s sunlight catching Taemin’s eye. But it was quickly followed by an alarming rate of others, spreading across the mountain. He gasped, unsure of what to do, other then to run. He pelted downwards, mentally cursing the Gamemakers for destroying all of, if any, progress he had made up the mountain.
His legs shook violently, rattling beneath him as he sped down, darting between boulders as they flew past him. What did they want? Did they want him to die already? He gasped as one of the boulders scraped past him, gashing him with it’s spikes. His heart thudded against his chest painfully, lungs gasping for oxygen he couldn’t spare. He wondered if he would even survive running, let alone the boulders. The bashed past him, cracking into each other with deafening smashes.
“Why are you doing this to me?!” He screeched out into the arena, his voice echoing amongst the rumbling of the rockfall, penetrating it’s walls.
His voice was quickly answered. As his legs grew increasingly tired, something grabbed him. He didn’t have time to process what was happening before the hand yanked him out of the rockfall. For a moment, his heart hoped it was Jinki, rescuing him once more. But his thankful eyes were met with a cold hearted glare of someone else, their lips twitching into a smirk.