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?

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38. Armageddon

For a few moments, nobody moved. Alexis, Dixie, Rose, and Xander looked back and forth, from each other, to the sky, then back to each other. Not a word passed from their lips. Dixie was the first to break the silence.
"What the hell was that?" she said. For some reason, her voice seemed to carry across the arena; the place suddenly felt very empty. As Dixie said this, she looked to the sky again at the increasing number of cracks. Like little black rivers, the sky was cracking more and more. And every now and then, an audible creak would sound out. 
"I'm not sure," Alexis replied. She was pale and shaking. "And I don't know if this is supposed to happen."
"What do you mean?" Rose said. She looked to the horizon to see a large black line shoot from a larger crack, staining the bright blue that had suddenly appeared.
"I've broken the arena," Alexis said. "Not even the Capitol can guess what'll happen next."
"Oh my god," Xander said. The air was heavy with anticipation. "Oh my god."

Alexis would have said, "That's enough talking; we should get moving," as a response, but the attention of the four tributes was drawn to the highest point in the sky as a sickening pop sounded out. At first, they had no idea what it was, but then they saw a single black spot in the sky. And a blue shard of cloud plummeting to the earth, a trail of flame and smoke coming from it. Alexis was the only one to notice the explosives. But she did not have enough time to warn the others before the piece of sky hit the woods with a powerful explosion. A cloud of smoke shot upwards from the trees in the distance. It was just for a second, but a powerful premonition of pure terror filled Alexis; she had just unleashed hell itself onto the arena.
"We have to get moving," she said. Her voice was barely steady. "Now."
"What's come over you?" Dixie said.
"The entire god damn sky is going to come down," Alexis said. "And it's going to take the arena, and us by extension, with it."
"Jesus," Dixie said in a harsh whisper.
"What about the other tributes?" Rose said. "Surely we can't leave them to die like this."
"We don't have the time," Alexis said. She spoke in a tone of desperate urgency like no other. "It'll be a matter of minutes before we're all dead." Rose's eyes went wide, and she clasped a hand to her mouth. A wave of dizziness overcame her, and she fought to keep steady. Alexis then looked up at the hole in the sky where the shard, not unlike that of a mirror, had crashed to the ground, and saw something that made the situation all the more dire: thick billowing clouds of smoke were pouring in from the hole, threatening to fill the air. And then, as if it was a trigger, the millions of cracked segments of the sky began to fall.

Like pointed daggers, the flaming shards pelted the ground, setting the grass ablaze before the explosives tore everything up around them. On the eastern edge of the arena, the house where Erika and her alliance had opted to stay before their untimely demises was helpless to escape the onslaught as a piece of the sky struck the roof. The entire building was consumed by the explosion, and ceased to exist. The woods began to burn.

From Alexis' perspective, they could see the east slowly being taken over by flame and smoke. She knew they had no time left.
"We have to go!" she screamed, grabbing Dixie's hand. "Stick together!"
"Which direction?!" Rose called as they all began to run.
"West!" Alexis yelled. She spoke with such terror that Rose felt spikes of fear as the realisation sunk in. They were all going to die within the next few minutes if they didn't escape. "We should be close to the edge of the arena! From there, we run and don't look back!"
"Okay!" Rose said as she began to run alongside the others. She did not look back at the burning woods, and she would never lay eyes on it again.

--

Not far from the four tributes, Kylee woke suddenly. She was still leaning against the window as the harsh light shone through. She blinked suddenly, confused at the sudden transition. The mild grogginess she felt told her that in no way had she been sleeping long enough for it to be day time. And then the acrid stench of smoke filled her lungs. Something had gone horribly wrong.
"Markus," she said, leaping off of the sofa. "Get your ass up right this god damn minute."
"What?" Markus said, yawning. He sat up, but soon registered Kylee's urgency. He breathed in deeply. "And what's that smell?"
"Someone screwed up somewhere," Kylee said.
"Huh?" Markus replied. He stood to his feet, and gathered his weapons and the supplies. At this point in time, a shard of the sky struck the roof of the house. Neither of them knew this, but so long as they were in this house, their lives had another four seconds left to run. Kylee, however, had felt the mild tremor. Her gaze rested across the room.
"Quickly," she said. "Jump out of this window, right now, if you want to live for longer than a minute." Markus did not question Kylee as she ran across the living room, and used the sofa as a spring-board, before throwing herself through the window. Tiny shards of glass flew outwards along with Kylee as she landed on the dirt ground, giving her several small cuts along her hands and arms. She continued to roll for a few more feet, before looking back at the house as Markus leaped through the window.

It all seemed to happen in slow motion as Markus flew through the air. As he did so, a wall of flames and smoke rushed down the height of the house. The top floor's windows were blown in from the power, and it continued to envelop the building as Markus came closer. Just as Markus began to land on the ground, the cloud touched part of his boot. He yelled in agony as he hit the floor, rolling around to stop his boot from smoking. But before either of them could say or do anything, the cloud suddenly rushed outwards. Kylee flattened herself against the ground as best she could, face-up, whilst Markus was face-down. She saw the rush of smoke and embers fly over her head, and it was close enough to singe her once perfectly maintained eyelashes. Markus saw none of this, but felt a baking heat on his back, before the cloud cleared, revealing a blackened pile of rubble where the house was.

They both stood up at the same time, staring at the sight of the destruction. Just beyond the house, another explosion set off, the cloud of smoke preventing them from seeing the four tributes responsible for this destruction. Kylee faced Markus, her face stained with soot, but she could feel it go pale. The place had become a war-zone, and for some reason, they both knew this was not supposed to happen. And then Kylee looked up to see the gaping holes in the sky, and the burning smoke that came through. She knew that they had maybe an hour before that smoke would reach the ground, killing everything in a suffocating, toxic blaze. This was the endgame. Only there was no guarantee there would be any survivors at the end.

--

Kaye was still asleep at this point in time (only seven minutes had elapsed since Alexis had activated the device), dreaming about an alternate reality where the tributes had been thrown together, only instead of killing, their goal was to make friends. A sharp thud soon stirred him. The windows blasting inwards shot him into consciousness as the shards coated the bed. He looked around, eyes wide as flames and smoke began to leak through the window. Kaye immediately began to choke.

Knowing how little time he had left, Kaye leaped out of bed, grabbing his rapier as he did so. He knew that he had no time to grab his supplies, and ran out of the bedroom as the bag was vaporised. For some stupid reason, Kaye shut the door behind him as he sprinted down the hallway. This action saved his life, as mere seconds after Kaye shut the door, a powerful blast of flame and smoke pounded against it, setting it ablaze. If the door was still open, this would have spiralled down the hallway, incinerating him. Luckily, he was down the stairs by the point the door gave in, setting the hallway carpet on fire. Outside, the smoke was enveloping the house, threatening to consume it with Kaye still inside.

Kaye did not spare a second thought as he ran through the kitchen, avoiding the showers of glass shards as the windows gave in. The cupboards also set on fire, crashing to the ground. He did not look at this; the only thing Kaye focused on was the front door at the end of the hallway. Behind him, the house succumbed to the flames, but for now the hallway was still in tact. Kaye could not see how he was racing the smoke to get to the front door first, and if he had known, it may have deterred him for the slightest of moments, making it too late to escape the house. Luckily he did not think of this possibility, acting on a primal instinct to survive, and thrust himself at the front door with enough force to send him stumbling forwards. As this happened, the flames coated the house, and as with Kylee and Markus, a powerful outward force erupted.

However, unlike the two killers, Kaye was still standing, and not fully balanced, so when this rush of smoke came, the force was strong enough to send him flying to the ground with a thud. His face slammed against the dirt just as the wall of smoke reached him, flying over his body. However, as Kaye was laying on his side, the right half of his body was coated with minor burns as it rushed past him, and his hair began to smoke. Kaye only moved to extinguish this once he was clear. A cry of pain burst from Kaye's lips as he stood up, clinging to his rapier for dear life. He looked around with a sense of wonder and terror. The sky was beginning to be covered with a thick swirling cloud of smoke, but enough was visible for Kaye to see part of the horizon fall from the sky, a rush of smoke following soon after. He was paralysed by terror at this, and only one coherent thought came to mind.

It was the end of the world.

--

Ten minutes had now elapsed since Alexis had unwittingly started this cataclysmic chain of events. To the east of the majority of the tributes, the Cornucopia stood proudly in the empty field, the blankets still covering its mouth. The grass of the field was still stained with Topaz's blood, and a stray throwing knife lay on the ground, its owner unknown. This scene remained like this for approximately eighteen more seconds before a massive chunk of the sky, this one with a small cloud on it, crashed into the ground just behind the golden horn. The entire field was enveloped in the blast, sending a massive rush of smoke and flame outwards in every direction.

Deeper in the woods, a flock of jabberjays remained perched on the trees. Their simple brains had not yet comprehended the desperation of the situation. They remained flitting about from tree to tree, some eating at insects on the ground. A few more were flying around, the sudden shift in time completely destroying their body clocks. The ones most affected flew out just a little further from the nesting site, and were crushed by a piece of the sky. The rush of flame and smoke soon began to hurl itself towards the birds. They began to let out sounds of terror as they flew in the opposite direction, mimicking conversations had by the tributes over the course of the week they had been in the arena for.
"I was only knocked down for a few moments, and when I got up, they had all fled."
"Griffin, they wouldn't want the first blood spilled to be caused by them; if there is a trap, I'm sure that they're going to be waiting until we've had a good few deaths first."
"But just after midnight, we can switch out with Derek and Griffin. That's only a couple of hours from now."
"And without the familiar bloodbath, I think several tributes also feel the same way. But the showing of the dead is probably going to be a wake-up call that this is all real."
"I'm so sorry. But I can't do it, Griffin. I can't get us out of here."
"They're all dead now. Why reminisce about it?"
"You're projecting the idea that I'm as fragile as fine china, and wouldn't be able to stand on my own two feet without you there to help me out."
"By killing the Mutt, we've earned a few days at least of reprieve. We'll be fine."
"You murderous bitch!"
"Em, I have something I should say."
"There is no more voice... I feel wonderful... and free..."
"Gwen poisoned Rosa's food!"
"It's too late for hope, Erika. Too late."
"I don't know what you're playing at, Semming, but it isn't going to work."
"I forgot that there is no place for true love in the arena..."
"Congratulations. The Neanderthal grew a brain cell."
"You know what? I think this alliance is going to be the start of something beautiful."
"But we have so much comfort, and there's no way I'm gonna let it go to waste."
"I mean, can I not survive? Am I doomed to die?"
"It's generally warmer than districts like Eight... although we did once get frost... that was rather nice..."
"Let's just say Christmas came early."
"If you can't tell the guy who's in love with you, who the hell can you tell?"
"You know, I always did think you were kind of hot."
"Almighty angel, I am but your humble servant! All I want is salvation! Please, O Benevolent One, give me your embrace so we can embark to sacred lands!"
"I do. I do so much. Now, all your troubles are over. Close your eyes. You will be free."
"But what sane rational human being would take their damn clothes off whilst the world's freezing around them?"
"Emily! Emily! If you can hear me, get the hell out of here!"
"Christ, I loved him!" 
"We did it. Harker, we're officially out of the woods."
"Take this, you Capitol bastards."

It was an unholy chorus of every line spoken by the tributes. These were the only birds that managed to complete their sentences before they vanished in a whirlwind of heat and smoke. Only one bird remained now, and it flapped with all its strength, but part of it knew that it was going to die like its flock. However, the bird kept flapping, until it began to lose strength as the wall of flaming smoke gained speed. And before it too was taken by the fire, it had time to say one last thing.

"And Osiris... someone hold me!"

--

Emily was still laying at the bottom of the stairs when the arena began to fall apart. At first she was unaware of what exactly was happening, but the smell of smoke told her all she needed to know. She was in danger, and needed to get out.

With this thought in mind, Emily shakily stood to her feet, leaning against the wall with the arm adorned with Liam's bracelet, and began to stagger along the hallway. Outside, countless explosions rang out, and the air was thick and hot. The windows in the kitchen had blown in, and Emily's boots crunched against shards of glass as she stumbled down the hallway. By doing this, she was opening every wound in her body, but an underlying sense of urgency told her that she had to keep moving if she wanted to live. She had to. For Liam.

Moving down the hallway was taking much longer than Emily had anticipated, and with every moment she hurt more and more. But each time she felt herself on the verge of falling to the ground in pain, she just grit her teeth, and kept on going. It was as if Liam was pushing her forwards from beyond the grave, and despite how unrealistic it was, Emily happily entertained the thought. She still did not know of the scale of the situation she was in.

Her enthusiasm did not overpower her physical condition, and four feet from the front door, Emily fell to the ground. Her body flared in agony. She looked up at the front door to see the small textured window shatter. Glass fell onto her, latching to her red hair that was thick with blood that was disguised by its regular shade. Emily did not receive any lacerations from this, and instead began to drag herself forwards, her body in complete agony. She left a trail of blood behind her, like a crimson slug. Although, she was pretty sure that a slug could overtake her right now. This bothered her, as she knew something was not right, and that her life could be in a lot of danger.

But finally, after three excruciatingly long minutes, Emily reached the door. She knew that it would be impossibly hard, but she still managed to shakily climb to her feet as she lost blood at a dangerous rate. She felt horribly light headed, but the thought of extinguishing Liam's memory if she failed kept her going. Her trembling hands pushed open the door, and Emily staggered outside, the desperation empowering her.

She made it about thirty feet from the front door before she collapsed onto the road, staring upwards at the sky. Emily stared in disbelief at the swirling cloud of red-hot smoke in the sky. And as she stared, a piece of the sky fell through the cloud, hitting Emily's weakened body, crushing all but the arm with the bracelet, which remained for a split second before the piece of sky exploded. No cannon sounded for Emily, but the sound of the explosion could have been mistaken for one by her, had her head not been crushed by the massive piece of explosive metal.

Around the site of the explosion and where Emily's corpse was incinerated and vaporised, more and more massive pieces of the sky rained down, blowing up everywhere. And eventually, one gigantic piece of the sky crashed into the edge of the woods, unleashing a massive wall of flame and smoke that raced through the village, incinerating everything within seconds. On the other side, the fire tore through the trees, obliterating everything in its path. Another explosion sent a wave of fire that completely destroyed the caves that Kaye, and Kylee and Markus had stayed in. The site where Brinn had been murdered by the angel of life was wiped from existence. The clearing where Salvera met up with Liam and Emily was turned into a blackened wasteland in less than two seconds. The hundreds of nests of tracker jackers were destroyed immediately. The few wasps still buzzing around tried to avoid the flames, but were swallowed up with no effort. The nightlock field was also enveloped, the berries exploding their juices everywhere before being burned into non-existence. The U shape that was the woods, combined with the village, turned the entire central zone of the arena into a ring of fire.

--

Alexis kept running. Dixie was ahead of her, whilst Rose and Xander lagged behind slightly. Sheer panic coursed through her veins as she ran. She had no idea how, but her token had triggered some sort of self-destruction of the arena. The temperature had increased rapidly, and the air was thick with the stench of smoke. All around her pieces of the sky continued to rain down, blowing up in waves of flame and smoke. None of this concerned Alexis too much. What did, however, was above her. Each time a chunk of the sky fell, a thick cloud of smoke began to continually pour in. She watched as a piece fell just ahead, and the swirling rush of flaming smoke that followed. As it happened, a rush of chokingly hot wind hit her, blowing her hair and clothes around, causing tears to prick her eyes. And then, a single cough came from Xander. This was all Alexis needed to know about how poisonous the smoke was. If the explosions didn't kill the others, then the red-hot poisonous smoke would. However, the one thing that kept Alexis from losing hope was her knowledge of what was actually happening. Instead of the sky itself falling apart, the metallic dome that encased the arena was caving in on itself, which meant that if they were quick about it, they would be out into the wilderness before the smoke destroyed the arena. There were many flaws with this theory but right now Alexis did not have the time for doubts. Now was the time for running.

Behind them, another piece of the arena fell down, striking the roof of the house they had remained in. The flames rushed through the house, decimating everything, before licking along the power cables. They snapped halfway through, causing those that had been unaffected to fall limply to the ground. They would later be taken by another explosion. Alexis did not see any of this, but could hear it happening. She forced herself to keep on going though: the lives of everyone in her alliance depended on it. And at this moment, Alexis realised something: she was no longer in the Hunger Games. She was outrunning a complete disaster.

"Alexis," Dixie said from in front. "What's up with all that smoke?"
"I don't know," Alexis replied. Her heart was hammering for all its worth. "But that cloud is growing with every piece of the sky that falls, and believe me, it will eventually encase every inch of this arena."
"And if that happens?" Rose said from behind.
"Then we'll be burned alive by toxic fumes," Alexis said. Rose gasped. She did not look to see this.
"So what's the plan?" Dixie said.
"We keep going," Alexis said. "We have to get past the arena before it's too late: it's our only chance of survival."
"Really?" Dixie exclaimed.
"Yes," Alexis said. "Now let's hurry: every passing second lowers the preciously fragile window we have to get out. If we miss it, then we join the others in burning." Nothing else needed to be said, and all four of them sprinted ahead. Large boulders began to appear in the landscape, which none of them had noticed before, despite this only being fifteen minutes from where the houses once stood. Some of them were larger than the tributes themselves, and a long-forgotten part of Dixie realised how they could be used for cover in the event of another tribute attacking. This would not happen though. She was sure of it.

Behind them, the sky continued to fall, and smoke continued to fill the air, and the fires raged on as the arena was gradually destroyed. What remained could only be described as a desolate, lifeless, barren landscape. They had maybe half an hour before the fires and the smoke would take everything living and dead, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Suddenly winning the Games meant nothing to anyone any more.

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