Muttations. No question about it. I’ve never seen these mutts, but they’re no natural-born animals. They resemble huge wolves, but what wolf lands and then balances easily on its hind legs? What wolf waves the rest of the pack forward with its front paw as though it had a wrist? These things I can see at a distance. Up close, I’m sure their more menacing attributes will be revealed.
Cato has made a beeline for the Cornucopia, and without question I follow him. If he thinks it’s the safest place, who am I to argue? Besides, even if I could make it to the trees, it would be impossible for Peeta to outrun them on that leg – Peeta! My hands have just landed on the metal at the pointed tail of the Cornucopia when I remember I’m part of a team. He’s about fifteen yards behind me, hobbling as fast as he can, but the mutts are closing in on him fast. I send an arrow into the pack and one goes down, but there are plenty to take its place.
Peeta’s waving me up the horn, “Go, Katniss! Go!”
He’s right. I can’t protect either of us on the ground. I start climbing, scaling the Cornucopia on my hands and feet. The pure gold surface has been designed to resemble the woven horn that we fill at harvest, so there are little ridges and seams to get a decent hold on. But after a day in the arena sun, the metal feels hot enough to blister my hands.
Cato lies on his side at the very top of the horn, twenty feet above the ground, gasping to catch his breath as he gags over the edge. Now’s my chance to finish him off. I stop midway up the horn and load another arrow, but just as I’m about to let it fly, I hear Peeta cry out. I twist around and see he’s just reached the tail, and the mutts are right on his heels.
“Climb!” I yell. Peeta starts up hampered by not only the leg but the knife in his hand. I shoot my arrow down the throat of the first mutt
that places its paws on the metal. As it dies the creature lashes out, inadvertently opening gashes on a few of its companions. That’s when I get a look at the claws. Four inches and clearly razor-sharp.
Peeta reaches my feet and I grab his arm and pull him along. Then I remember Cato waiting at the top and whip around, but he’s doubled over with cramps and apparently more preoccupied with the mutts than us. He coughs out something unintelligible. The snuffling, growling sound coming from the mutts isn’t helping.
“What?” I shout at him.
“He said, ‘Can they climb it?'” answers Peeta, drawing my focus back to the base of the horn.
The mutts are beginning to assemble. As they join together, they raise up again to stand easily on their back legs giving them an eerily human quality. Each has a thick coat, some with fur that is straight and sleek, others curly, and the colors vary from jet black to what I can only describe as blond. There’s something else about them, something that makes the hair rise up on the back of my neck, but I can’t put my finger on it.
They put their snouts on the horn, sniffing and tasting the metal, scraping paws over the surface and then making high-pitched yipping sounds to one another. This must be how they communicate because the pack backs up as if to make room. Then one of them, a good-size mutt with silky waves of blond fur takes a running start and leaps onto the horn. Its back legs must be incredibly powerful because it lands a mere ten feet below us, its pink lips pulled back in a snarl. For a moment it hangs there, and in that moment I realize what else unsettled me about the mutts.