23 Cannons: The 69th Annual Hunger Games.

24 tributes are reaped by the Capitol to enter the 69th Hunger Games, marking the end of the sixth decade of Games. And as they all prepare for the fight of their lives, none of them know the true extent of the twists that will face them in the arena. With rebels, liars, and killers thrown into a deadly arena governed by power-mad Gamemaker, who will live to hear every one of the twenty three cannons sound out?


29. A Change of Face

Kaye blinked slowly as the morning sunlight filtered through the leaves of the trees above him, landing on his face. The sound of the breeze rustling against the foliage reached his ears. His eyes opened, seeing the canopy of trees above his head. Kaye paused for a moment: how did he end up on the floor? He looked to his side, and saw bushes surrounding him. And then, Kaye became aware of a sharp pain in the back of his neck. He shakily sat up, and felt the back of his neck, discovering a large lump protruding from it.

It all hit him as he remembered: Kaye had been attacked by tracker jackers. But he had managed to remove the threat before he was seriously injured, or even killed, luckily. However, the swollen sting mark could prove to be a nuisance if he didn't do something about it. But for now, Kaye simply focused on getting back up onto his feet, and continuing onwards.

As Kaye stood up, he grabbed his bag, pulling out a bottle of water. He brought it to his lips, and greedily consumed the refreshing fluid. He continued to drink until nothing was left, and his stomach felt full; that also meant that Kaye could go without eating for just a little longer. Kaye then grabbed his dagger, and faced the trees, deciding to head north: that was roughly the direction that Salvera had taken, and depending on how long he had been out for, he could catch up to her.

The thought struck Kaye as unnerving. How long had he been out for? What if in the time that he had been laying on the ground, unconscious, the numbers had dropped enough to make it the endgame? No, Kaye was confident he hadn't been out for that long: if that were the case, then surely the Gamemakers would have woken him earlier. But still, there was no telling how much time had actually passed.

Suddenly, a shape appeared in the sky, and Kaye watched as a parachute slowly floated down. He grinned as he watched the sponsor package land in a nightlock bush. He rushed over, and opened the crate attached to the parachute. Inside he simply found a jar and a slip of paper. Confused, Kaye unfolded it, and read the message.

It's been just over a day. Use your surroundings to find a purpose for this gift.

Kaye looked over the note, making sure that what he had read was correct. So it had really been a whole day since he had passed out. How many tributes were left? Last Kaye recalled, that alliance of kids had died, probably at the hands of the Careers. Since then, who knew how many others the Careers had claimed?

But that was nowhere near as taxing as what the note meant. Kaye picked up the clear glass jar, and looked around the field. What was there here that he could use to find a purpose for this? He looked at the ground where he had fallen, and saw a few crushed tracker jackers, and some pitch-black stains where some nightlock berries had burst.

Wait. The berries! A devious plan formed in Kaye's mind as he began to pick as many of the small berries from the bushes as possible, shoving them in the jar. Once it was full, Kaye began to crush them with his hand: the pitch black juices filled the jar to the brim, and once done, Kaye sealed the lid. However, as he looked at the jar, a thought occurred to him: in some Games, the berries contained medicinal balls that would negate the toxic effects. He picked another berry, and crushed it between his fingers, finding no such ball, confirming that Kaye Nylon did indeed have a full jar of deadly nightlock poison.

Kaye couldn't help but snicker to himself as he held the jar. With this, he could finally begin to show the world his true colours: the whole camp, flamboyant act? That was just to blind-side everyone as Kaye prepared himself for the moment in which he could begin killing. And now, with this, the Capitol would finally see why Kaye deserved to live, because he was as sure as hell going to give them a show.

Kaye began to head north, leaving the field, armed with the dagger and the poison. He was following the same path that Salvera took, and what better way to showcase this murderous ambition by taking out the girl that could have indirectly caused Kaye to kill himself trying to steal her weapon? Oh, this would be perfect. And as he vanished into the foliage, Kaye was more than certain that next time he encountered another tribute, they would die at his hands.


Emily sat near the mouth of the tent, looking out into the trees. The temperature had risen once more, and it felt like a summer heatwave had struck the arena. She raised a hand to her forehead, and pushed away a few locks of red hair that had stuck to there with sweat. Emily found herself continually glancing at the bottle of water nestled in the grass beside her, feeling all too tempted to just drink it all now. But she couldn't: they only had so much water, and they would have to keep it going for as long as possible.

Although, Emily didn't know how much longer it truly would be: the third day had just started, and already nine tributes were dead. It seemed that the lack of bloodbath was a red herring for a Games that was going to go slowly with minimal dying. However, Emily noticed something else: the deaths so far had all happened in clusters of cannons: four on the first night, and five last night. Obviously entire alliances were being wiped out at once, but Emily was concerned about the last cannons. They had occurred after the projections, so she didn't know who the cannons belonged to yet; that mystery would be solved tonight. However, as far as she was aware, there were no alliances with a larger number of members than four, besides the Careers: they had seven members this year, she remembered. Her current speculation was that in the struggle against the other tributes, one Career had died along with the dead alliance. However, her guess was as good as any. There could have been a Muttation attack in several areas of the arena, and none of the deaths could be connected at all.

Emily sighed, and brought her knees up to her chest. All this thinking about dead tributes was putting a downer on her mood, and Emily knew that depressed tributes were much more likely to be reckless with their lives. She looked back inside the tent, seeing Liam's form inside the sleeping bag, slumbering heavily. She couldn't lose herself to the despair: not whilst Liam was able to see her. If he saw that... Emily didn't want to think about what it would do to him.

As if on cue, Liam suddenly began to stir. He sat up, and rubbed his eyes, looking right at Emily.
"Morning Em," he said groggily.
"Hey sleeping beauty," she said playfully, putting all the worry to one side. It was also impossible for her to be mopy around Liam: the two of them perked each other up. "Nice of you to finally join us."
"What do you mean?" Liam said.
"It's now afternoon," Emily said. "You've been out cold. At first, I was actually concerned you had been poisoned or something." She smiled at Liam. "But actually, turns out you're just lazy."
"Hey," Liam said. "I stayed up all of the first night looking out for you; I think I'm entitled to one sleep-in, don't you think?"
"Just don't come crying to me when the Careers come for you and you're too far gone in dreamland to do anything," Emily said with a smirk. 
Liam just chuckled. "Look at us, bickering like a married couple." He watched with glee as Emily's face turned a bright red. "Just kidding."
"You'd better be," Emily said airily. "Us? Married? Impossible."
"I know," Liam said. "And that's ignoring the whole arena thing."
"Yeah," Emily said, feeling herself getting more and more flustered. "Can we change the subject please?"
"Sure," Liam said. "Sorry for making you feel awkward."
"It's fine," Emily said. "So, do you have any ideas about the cannons that went off last night?"
"No," Liam replied. "But five tributes, one after another? This is certainly something to worry about."
"Yeah," Emily said. "Any idea who it could have been?"
"Perhaps an alliance, and another tribute," Liam said. "Or somehow, impossibly, the cannons belonged to the Careers. But that's just wishful thinking."
"Too bad it is," Emily said. "It'd make things easier without the Careers."
"It would," Liam said. "Since I'm fairly sure that's how we're going to die..." He trailed off, and looked at Emily, whose eyes had widened.
"Don't say that," she said. "Don't even think about dying, Liam."
"Why not, Em?"
"Because," Emily said, taking a deep breath. "Because I don't want to think about losing you."
"Oh," Liam said, going pale. "You care about me that much?"
"Well, yeah," Emily said, aware that she had gone bright red. "I just can't imagine being without you."
"Well," Liam said, his voice shaky. "Em, I have something I should say."
"It's, well, I, uh-"

Liam was cut off by the sound of rustling nearby. Emily's blushing faded, and her eyes went wide; she had immediately become alert. She grabbed her staff, and began to crawl out of the tent, before Liam wrapped a hand around her ankle.
"What the hell are you doing?" she hissed, turning around.
"I'm not going to let you go out alone," Liam said. "If it's a threat, I want to be there to protect you." Emily fought the urge to make a cutting remark about how irritating Liam's chivalrous actions were. Instead, she nodded.
"Fine," she said curtly. Liam nodded, and grabbed his knife, before the two of them left the tent, entering the clearing. The afternoon sun was beating down on them as they walked towards the wire strung around the perimeter of the clearing, to a section where it had dipped into the bushes: there was a tribute there. Emily gave Liam a cautious look.
"Who do you think it is?" he asked, tightening his grip.
"Hopefully just someone harmless," Emily replied. "I don't want to fight anyone."
"Me neither," Liam said. "But if the worst comes to the worst, then I will."
"Fine," Emily said. "I'll go check: in situations like this, people are less hostile towards girls, just so you know."
"Uh, okay then," Liam said, and watched nervously as Emily left his side, and approached the bush.

Emily crept through the taller grass, clutching her staff nervously. But she told herself she had nothing to fear: they were far away from the Careers, who were stationed at the Cornucopia. And normally, they didn't leave there until the final eight, so it was likely not them. However, she didn't know how dangerous the others were either. Emily reached a large bush, and pulled it aside, seeing a figure on the floor.

It was the girl from District 6, Salvera Combe, if Emily remembered. The girl was currently laying face-down, holding her blowgun. Was she alive? Of course, she had to be: there hadn't been a cannon yet. From Emily had seen of Salvera, the girl was harmless, if a little spacey every now and then. But not a threat.
"Uh, hello?" Emily said shakily, holding her staff, preparing for the worst. To her surprise, Salvera raised her head, smiling warmly.
"Oh... hello there..." she said in a friendly tone, although it was hard to tell due to the way that Salvera spoke. She lifted herself to her feet, still grinning. "Are you okay...?"
"I'm fine," Emily said, feeling awkward. She was expecting a fight or a running tribute. Instead, she got a happy girl who didn't seem alarmed about being so close to her potential murderer. "But how are you?"
"Just great..." Salvera said, picking up her bag. "There is no more voice... I feel wonderful... and free..." She looked at Emily once she had fixed her bag. "Did you set this trap...?"
"Not me," Emily said. "It was my friend, Liam."
"It is a good trap..." Salvera said. "You found me... didn't you...?"
"I suppose so," Emily said, also smiling. Despite her weird manner of speaking, Salvera was actually quite friendly. "How are you for food and water?" She knew it was risky, but for some reason, Salvera didn't strike her as dangerous.
"I'm good..." Salvera said. "I'm just going on a walk..."
"A walk?" Emily said. "Isn't that kind of dangerous?"
"No..." Salvera said. "Before she left... Velcro... my voice... she said I would find safety... if I explored..."
"Really?" Emily said. "That's kind of weird, but that voice sounds helpful."
"Not at all..." Salvera said. "She's always hurtful... but just once... she cooperated... it was nice..."
"Well, I suppose Liam and I are pretty safe," Emily considered. "Perhaps that was what Velcro was telling you about?"
"Maybe..." Salvera said. "She never did get the chance to explain... not that she would have done..."
"Okay then," Emily said. "Hey, would you mind coming through with me? I've just got to show Liam that you're no harm."
"That's true..." Salvera said. "I wouldn't dream... of killing..."
"Good," Emily replied, smiling warmly. "Come on: our tent is just past these bushes."

Salvera nodded, and walked just behind Emily as they headed through to the clearing. Emily knew that Liam wouldn't be best pleased with bringing Salvera through, but she said herself that she wasn't going to harm anyone. And even if it was an elaborate ruse, Emily doubted Salvera would be able to do much anyway.
"Emily!" Liam said as Emily emerged from the trees. "You're okay."
"Why wouldn't I be?" Emily said. "And also, I kind of brought the intruder through."
"What?!" Liam said, going pale. "Em, are you stupid! They could get us killed."
"I'm sorry... for causing bother..." Salvera said as she walked up to Emily's side. "I'll go if you want..."
"Yes, that would be good," Liam said. "We really didn't want to see another tribute anyway. So just scram."
"Liam!" Emily shouted. "What kind of attitude is that?!"
"What do you mean?!" Liam snapped back. "She could be trying to kill us!"
"And what would she gain from that?!" Emily replied. "We aren't exactly formidable opponents, are we?"
"What is your problem with me?" Liam said. "All I've been doing is trying to protect you, and you're throwing it in my face." 
"This isn't about you!" Emily replied, furious. "This is about me feeling suffocated, and helpless! I like you, Liam, but being like some knight in shining armour every time another living creature comes within five miles of me is just awful! I'm not some damsel in distress: I can handle myself, you know!"
"Then why don't you prove it?" Liam said coldly. "Go with your new friend, and leave. Let's see how long you'd survive without me."
"Then I might just do that," Emily said. "Screw you."
"Please..." Salvera said. "Don't argue... it's dangerous... other tributes... they might hear..." Both Liam and Emily went silent, and looked at Salvera.
"Oh my god," Emily said. "You're right."
"Yeah," Liam said, looking ashamed. "I guess arguing is dangerous." Emily shot him a glare. "And that perhaps I'm being over-protective."
"Yeah," Emily said. "Just try and tone it down? And also, I'm sorry for overreacting like that." She then looked at Salvera. "Thanks for diffusing the situation."
"No problem..." Salvera said with a smile.

Emily was in a state of disbelief. Salvera had made the situation go from herself and Liam being at each other's throats to calmly apologising; how on Earth did the girl manage to do that? But Salvera was right about their shouting potentially drawing the attention of other tributes, and now Emily felt uneasy being here.
"Hey, Liam," she said. "Do you think we should stay here or not? Since Salvera did say we could have attracted the attention of others."
"It's a real possibility," Liam said. "So yeah, it'd be safe if we continued moving on."
"And there's something else..." Emily said, trailing off, unsure if what she was about to say would go down well. "I'm thinking of asking Salvera to join our alliance."
"Well, she seems to be quite the peacemaker," Emily said. "And she seems to be aware of several possibilities that we'd overlook: being as perceptive as she is, I'd feel she'd make a good addition. Not to mention I don't think that she'd exactly kill us; there's nothing to gain in the long run."
"You're right," Liam said. "Well, if Salvera's okay with it, then I suppose we could go with it."
"So, Salvera?" Emily said. "Do you want to join us?"
"Uh... well..." Salvera said, seeming to think it over, before a smile slowly spread across her face. "Okay then... it could be useful..."
"So it's a yes?"
Emily grinned. "That's great! Welcome to the alliance, then, Salvera." Salvera smiled warmly as Emily shook her hand.
"Okay then," Liam said. "Now that that's settled with, would you two mind helping me with collapsing the tent so we can move on?"
"Sure," Emily said. "Come on, Salvera."

Salvera nodded, and followed Emily to the tent. The District 8 tribute was now feeling confident: Salvera would be a useful asset. And perhaps, together, the three of them would be able to make it through whatever the arena threw at them. Because Emily was sure that they would be able to fight off most threats now, no matter what it was.

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