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?


41. Atonement

Dew stood in the middle of the control room, watching with a grin as Kylee Harker was lifted from the arena seconds before she was eaten by the flames. Her threat had worked: having the tributes think that they only had four minutes to find a victor had allowed for the most intense finale ever seen. Of course, it was all a bluff: Dew would never be as stupid as to not allow there to be a winner. That would be suicide.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Dew said to her fellow Gamemakers as they looked at the screens. "We have our victor." Her team then burst into applause, congratulating each other on another brilliant year. Dew, however, felt bitter hatred inside her stomach. This was the last time she would receive the glory of being responsible for the Games; Snow was forcing her into early retirement, because the Capitol had grown bored of seeing her face. Just thinking about it made Dew want to burn down a district orphanage; the Games weren't about providing entertainment! They were there to deliver a message to the districts that there was no hope of ever conquering the Capitol. And of course, Dew had pulled this message off flawlessly.

Alexis Rays had provided Dew with the perfect opportunity to crush the hopes of the districts; her escape plan was something that Dew had caught wind of the second Alexis set foot in the Capitol. But instead of reporting it, Dew remained silent, and allowed Alexis to believe that she actually stood a chance against the Capitol. The destruction of the arena was all expertly coordinated, and was designed to wipe the entire alliance out. But Markus Lucian had done the job before Dew had to. It was kind of a shame that he was dead, but Kylee was still an excellent victor: she was the first Career victor Dew had been responsible for. In essence, Kylee was already the most subservient person to the Capitol, coming from 2, and would just serve as insult to injury to the pathetic district scum.

"Aria," a voice said, snapping Dew from her thoughts. She turned around to see Julius, the main Muttation designer, standing in front of her. His golden hair was spiked up, making him seem even younger than he already was, which happened to be twenty four, oddly enough. "Are you coming to the afterparty tonight?"
"Of course," Dew said with a smile. She liked Julius: he was so young and optimistic, and was entirely devoted to his job. Sure, he didn't take the themes of the Games as seriously, but he had done a stellar job with every Muttation he had created. She couldn't fault him. "I'll be a little late, though: I have the post-victory ceremony interview to give, including my retirement speech."
"Already?" Julius said. "But you're what, thirty at the most?"
"Thirty two to be precise," Dew said. "The average Gamemaker holds their position until they're at least fifty. But I suppose a more fickle crowd demands a new face, and who am I to oppose?"
"Oh well," Julius said. He flashed a warm smile to Dew, highlighting the bridge of freckles across his face. "You've had one of the best runs I've seen. It won't be the same around here without you, you know?"
"Yes, I know," Dew said. She glanced at her watch. There were a couple of hours until the victory ceremony, considering how Kylee had not sustained any major injuries besides a few shallow cuts and the gash on her shoulder. The surgeons would have her patched up in around forty five minutes. "I hope that you still continue to design the most interesting of Mutts after I'm gone; I'll be watching to make sure." Just saying these words made Dew want to scream. There was no need for her retirement, and why did Snow of all people suddenly give a crap about what the public thought? It made her angry to no end.

An avox suddenly walked up to Dew, holding a letter in her fragile hands. Dew snatched the letter from the mute slave, glaring all the while.
"Get out of my sight," she said. "Now." The avox didn't respond and rushed off, leaving as quickly as she had entered.
"What's that?" Julius said.
"Probably professional business not meant for your eyes," Dew said. "So if you could run along now, that would be great."
"All right then," Julius said, walking away. "See you at the party!" Dew gave him one last smile before she unfolded the piece of paper, taking the words in.

Meet me in my office immediately.
- President Coriolanus Snow

Dew's blood turned to ice. This was not a good sign. But she couldn't make the president wait, and instead of thinking about it any longer, Dew walked up the stairs of the control room, through to the hallway. The other Gamemakers hadn't even seen her leave.

The hallway was oddly dark, Dew noted as she walked down. Half of the lights were turned off, which only happened when they were using up a lot of energy at one time, such as deploying a Muttation. But the Games were over, so they should be on by now. Dew turned the corner, and looked at the switches, seeing that they had been deliberately switched off. Was this an avox's way of rebelling? If so, then she'd have to see to their punishment immediately.

At the end of the hallway was a large door: Snow's Games office. He was stationed here throughout the duration of the Games, returning to his manor once the victor was sent home. Dew had never actually been in this office before, and could feel her stomach turning into a large knot. She swallowed hard, and walked towards the door. She just had to get it over and done with. Dew reached the door, and knocked lightly on it, before stepping back.
"Come in," Snow said from the other side. Dew grabbed the handle, and pushed the door open, stepping inside.

The first thing that Dew noticed upon entering was how empty the room was. Snow was sat at a desk on the far side of the room, and there was a chair opposite him. Besides that, there was only a single window and a light. It seemed more like a prison cell than an office.
"You wanted me, sir?" Dew said politely.
"Yes," Snow said. He stared at her blankly, not betraying any expression. Dew suddenly felt very afraid. "Please, take a seat. You'll be much more comfortable." Dew nodded, and walked over to the chair, sitting down. It creaked under her weight. There was a cold draught coming from somewhere, creating a slight chill in the air.
"So what was it you wanted to speak to me about?" Dew asked.
"You should already know," Snow said. "Any Gamemaker with half a brain cell would realise how dangerously foolish that endgame move was." Dew froze, and broke out into a cold sweat, beads rolling down her forehead.
"What do you mean?" Dew said. "It was perfectly executed. I gave the districts enough hope, and then crushed it. Is that not a good idea?" Snow shook his head ever so slightly that Dew nearly missed it.
"You have invited rebellious thoughts into the minds of the district citizens, Aria Dew," Snow said. "Already there have been whispers of uprisings because of what you allowed Alexis Rays to get away with. They believe that they can stand a chance. Why, if a sixteen year old girl can pose a threat to us, then what's stopping a district of over a million citizens from revolting?" Dew went pale. 
"That can't be..." she said. "I took all the necessary precautions."
"Clearly your efforts weren't enough," Snow said darkly. "You've just provided the districts with the fuel needed to start a fire of rebellion. It's very dangerous to keep someone like that around."
"What do you mean?" Dew asked. Terror was creeping into the furthest reaches of her mind as she considered the implications.
"You're a smart woman, Dew," Snow said. "Of course you understand what I'm saying."
"You wouldn't..." Dew said. Her breathing was becoming heavy, but she forced herself to remain calm.
"I have no choice," Snow said. "For broadcasting rebellious ideas, you, Aria Dew, are hereby sentenced to execution."
"No!" Dew exclaimed. "If you kill me, how will you contain the rebellion?!"
"I'll have our latest victor quell the worst of it during her victory tour," Snow said. "And for the Games? Well, I do believe you've met our newest Gamemaker, Seneca Crane, haven't you? He's very eager to pick up where you left off."
"But... I..." Dew said, suddenly at a loss for words. "I was meant to retire! Why kill me?!"
"Because, my dear Miss Dew," Snow said. "Even the slightest rebellious embers must be extinguished before they can pose a threat."
"What will you do to me?!" Dew asked, although it came out as more of a direct scream.
"Underneath this building is a disused avox storage site," Snow said. "I've had it converted for the sole purpose of being an execution chamber. The chair you are on will be lowered down into the chamber, where you will die." He then chuckled mirthlessly. "And I think you'll find your death incredibly fitting."
"What?!" Dew screamed, panicking.
"Goodbye, Aria Dew." Snow said. He then looked away from Dew, before her chair suddenly began to descend.

Dew screamed as she was lowered into complete darkness. The downward trip took all of thirty seconds, and she hit the ground with a sharp thud. She looked up to see a metal panel sliding over the hole that had been made upon her being lowered. However, as Dew looked up at this, something else caught her attention: the sound of hissing.

Complete blackness enveloped Dew as the hissing increased in intensity. And then, in the distance, a loud bang echoed around. Dew stared into the blackness for all of nine seconds before a sudden orange glow lit up the large metallic room. The smell of smoke reached Dew's nostrils, and it suddenly all clicked into place: she was going to be eaten alive by a wall of fire. From the sound of things, it appeared to be racing along a hallway on the other side of the room.

Without even thinking, Dew leaped up from her seat, and began to run. She did not look back as she sprinted away from the golden glow, her every thought focused on somehow getting out of here. Everything she had been thinking about less than half an hour ago suddenly meant nothing. The only thing that mattered was surviving.

On the other side of the room, the wall of fire had finally burst through, and was racing rapidly towards Dew. She could feel its heat reaching her, but continued to run blindly ahead. But her dress and heels weren't meant for running. The heel broke on her right foot. Dew stumbled to the ground. As she fell, she slammed against the wall of the room she didn't even know was there.

There was just enough time for Dew to let out one sob before the wall of fire caught up to her, and incinerated the head Gamemaker almost instantly.

Dew's death would never come to light. Seneca Crane would take the place of the head Gamemaker immediately. Snow would ensure that it was covered up. The districts were not aware, and the Capitol didn't care.

The only person that would ever acknowledge Dew's sudden absence would be the sole victor of the 69th Games: Kylee Harker.

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