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?


2. Attachments

Emily stood on the sleek floor of the train, flinching as the silver door slammed shut behind her. She took a step forwards, not daring to look back: home was behind her now. All that mattered was focusing on the future. Or so she hoped; there was no telling how impossible such a task would be. And she was still in shock from actually being reaped. It hadn't sunk in yet, even though she was entirely aware of what exactly had happened to her.
"Emily Horwitz, District Eight tribute," she muttered under her breath bitterly as she walked down the hallway to another silver door at the end. She drew close to it, and it opened with a whirring sound, revealing the main dining cart of the train.

The room was huge; much larger than any dining room Emily had seen before. Directly in front of her was a massive plush sofa, facing a massive television screen on the wall. The sofa was a bright green colour, and adorned with countless cushions; it was entirely unclear whether or not it was a sofa or some sort of luxurious bed. Emily took another step forward, and looked down at the thick, rich carpeting below. It was as if she had stepped into another world.

"Ah, Emily dear!" Emily looked up, and saw her escort, a bizarre man by the name of Thorburn, waving madly at her. "You sure did take your time: Kaye's already gotten to know Weaver and I!" Emily groaned at this. Never mind the Games; she'd have to endure two ragingly flamboyant balls of energy and some guy who had seen far too much death for one lifetime. But there was no point in arguing about it if she wanted some chance of actually surviving. She simply sighed, and walked up to them.
"Oh, sorry about that," she said sheepishly. "I guess I'm just so overwhelmed by everything."
"Get used to it kid," Weaver said dryly. "This ain't no picnic; planning your survival begins right here, right now."
"And anyway, Emily honey," Kaye said, sitting at the huge dining table lined with mountains of food. "How do you expect to live your life being such a ditz? You have a much better time getting noticed by a man if you're... observant."
"Are you gonna be like this the entire time?" Emily questioned.
"Like what?"
"Like some drunken Capitolite," she replied breezily. "It isn't really District Eight."
"Babe," Kaye said, "if you haven't noticed, being District Eight is so three years ago!"
"Could you please shut him up?" Emily asked Weaver. "I don't know how much of this I'll be able to take."
"Sorry, but I can't exactly help the guy out if he's unable to reply." Weaver shrugged, and grabbed an apple, taking a bite out of it. "And besides, we still have the recap of the reapings in a few minutes, so that might shut him up."
"Really?" Emily said with faux surprise. "I don't see any of the outliers being of bother to us, which leaves the Careers. And him seeing several well built, quite attractive guys? Dear lord..."
"I see someone's a bundle of sunshine," Kaye taunted.
"Shut it twinkle-toes," Emily spat back. "I'm still pissed off for being reaped; you don't really wanna get on my bad side."
"Gee," Kaye sighed. "Can't someone take humour?"
"Kaye," Weaver warned. "I've seen plenty of reactions to being reaped, and from personal experience? Emily's type are best left unprovoked until they come to terms with the situation." He deliberately avoided the dangerous glare Emily aimed his way. "Come on now, have something to eat. I can promise you that it'll be better than half the crap you get back home."
"Fine," Emily said. "But I don't feel particularly hungry."
"Oh, we'll see about that," Weaver said with a sly wink. He grabbed the nearest plate to him, and slid it across the table to where Emily was standing, arms folded. She looked down at it with a sort of curiosity. It appeared to be some kind of steaming sphere of meat, laced with gravy that flowed from a hole in the top; like some sort of of water fountain. Neatly cut little vegetables lined the meat, swimming in the moat of gravy below, colouring everything a slight shade of brown. Despite herself, Emily's stomach lurched at the meal. She wanted to eat it so desperately, but not at the expense of giving Weaver the satisfaction of holding something over her. Instead, Emily remained standing, glaring critically at the food, trying to ignore Kaye's moans of pleasure as he consumed his food. Another spurt of gravy erupted from the meat, and Emily's thin resolve wavered. She flew to her seat, grabbed a fork and knife, and proceeded to shovel mouthful after mouthful of the delightful food down her throat, unable to suppress her joy. Eventually, Emily felt her stomach feel like it was on the verge of bursting, and she set her cutlery down, sighing with relief. She looked at the food again, and found that she had maybe managed to eat a fifth of it before pushing her stomach to its limits. And not for the first time she wondered how on earth the people of the Capitol managed to stomach all of this.

Kaye also followed suit about five minutes later, dropping his fork to the table, and moaning as he clutched his stomach, his light brown hair swaying every which direction with every motion.
"Ohh," he complained. "This is pure agony! How can anyone eat this much?!"
"If I told you how they do it, then you'd probably end up wanting to vomit more that you do now." Weaver let out a dry chuckle, before looking at the clock on the wall. "Well then, it's already seven," he said. "It's time for the recap of the reaping to be shown. Come on."
"Ugh," Kaye said, standing up. "What are you, our dad?"
"No," Emily said sharply. "And if you make one more father remark, I'll spare the Careers the trouble of killing you by doing it myself before this train ride is over." Kaye looked at her warily, nervously skipping over to the sofa, Weaver and Thorburn just behind him. Emily took a moment to let the redness from her face subside, and collect herself before joining them: letting her past get to her now would be the most stupid mistake she could make.

Finally calm, Emily walked over to the large sofa, and perched herself on the edge, away from the others. Weaver was sat at the other end, looking intently at the television; Kaye was curled up in the middle of the sofa comfortably, and Thorburn was stood in the corner of the room, using a remote control to switch the television on. It took a second for everything to come into focus, but when it did, Emily saw that they had turned it on a tad too soon; it was in the middle of an interview with the Head Gamemaker.
"So tell me, Dew," Caesar Flickerman, the television host of the Games, said. "Anything you can tell us about this year's arena?" The Head Gamemaker let out a chuckle.
"Now now, Caesar," she said. "You don't want to be spoiled, do you?"
"Of course not!" Caesar replied, his hair bouncing slightly; Emily noticed that it was dyed a deep maroon colour, along with his lips and fingernails. "But anything to satisfy our curiosity would be excellent!"
"Well, if you really want to know..." Dew said. "As you're all aware, this is, unfortunately my final year as Head Gamemaker," she let out a sigh. "But I promise you that this year will be something to top all other Games in history; ensuring that everyone in Panem, from a humble citizen of the districts to the most fashionable Capitolite, will be unable to look away. So be prepared for a Hunger Games more unforgettable than even the Quarter Quells." The camera cut to the audience, which erupted in applause as the screen faded to the Capitol's seal and an instrumental version of the anthem of Panem played, with the message 'We'll be right back with more exciting updates from the 69th annual Hunger Games in just a few moments - stay tuned!' under the seal in gold writing.

Emily took this break in programming to lay back and get comfortable; there wasn't really a point in neglecting this brief luxury, and looked over at Thorburn who was bursting with joy.
"Oh my goodness!" he said. "Isn't this truly exciting?! We'll get to see your fellow tributes for the first time!"
"Yeah, wonderful," Emily said bitterly. "I can't wait."
"Shut it, you two!" Kaye hissed, pointing at the screen. "It's starting!" Emily looked away from Thorburn, and back to the screen as it faded to Caesar sitting at a desk, looking at the camera; they had revamped the television coverage, Emily noted. Every other year she could remember simply consisted of the presenter's voice over reaping footage. Odd to suddenly change it, but she supposed it had something to do with the Head Gamemaker leaving this year.
"Good evening, Panem!" Caesar exclaimed, catching Emily by surprise. "It's time for the first exciting moment of this year's Hunger Games to begin: getting our first look into the tributes!" Emily watched silently as Caesar looked at a fact file on his desk. "First up is the delightful duo from District One! Osiris Garnet and Topaz Doublet!" The screen behind Caesar faded to video footage of the two tributes at the reaping; Topaz, the girl, walking up to the stage confidently, and Osiris, beating another boy to the stage. "Don't they just seem fierce?"
"Oh, Caesar," Kaye said. "They do! And Osiris... someone hold me!"
"Good lord," Emily muttered her breath.
"Next up is the pair from District Two! Dylan Spelunk and Kylee Harker!" Caesar exclaimed, and showed footage of the pair from 2. Dylan seemed to be a typical run of the mill Career, but something about Kylee seemed different than other girls from 2; perhaps it was just the way she carried herself, but warning bells were going off in Emily's head just looking at her: every instinct told her Kylee was dangerous.

District 3 was less terrifying than 2, but it contained a rather unique blend of tributes. First up was Xander, a geeky blonde kid with ill-fitting glasses and wide blue eyes. He looked about fifteen, and in no way seemed prepared for the horrors that would await him in the Games. But his district partner was far more interesting. Rosaline, or Rose as indicated by a cry of horror on the recording, was a girl of either seventeen or eighteen with dark strawberry blonde hair and brown eyes. Her appearance was pretty average, but what set her apart was that she was the childhood friend of past victor Elektra Sparke as indicated by Caesar. Emily felt genuinely sorry for the both of them, and the situation they were in; if she had a childhood friend in this with her, she knew she wouldn't be able to cope.

District 4 seemed rather lacking this year in terms of Careers; both tributes were reaped conventionally. First up was a fifteen year old with bronze coloured hair by the name of Ren. He looked somewhat prepared, but not enough; it was obvious that he was a Career in training who had been selected far too soon. The poor thing would be lucky to make the Career pack. However, his partner was even more pitiful, a fragile looking fourteen year old with long blonde hair in a ponytail by the name of Annabell. She seemed to be in a state of disbelief, as if this wasn't actually happening to her. Emily immediately ruled out District 4 being any serious threat in the Games, which was a relief to her. But at the same time, they looked too vulnerable for Emily to deliberately attack.

The rather easygoing natures of the past two districts fell apart when District 5 was presented. In fact, just looking at them bothered Emily. First up was a tall boy with short brown hair and bright green eyes that almost seemed dead inside by the name of Markus. From his face only, it could be imagined that he was simply in a state of shock. But then there was the prison uniform. And the handcuffs. And the smear of blood on his face. He was a criminal, probably for murder. And from the looks of it, he had struck again today. Emily could only hope that his latest victim was still alive. At least that was her thought until it hit her that this monster of a boy was going to be joining her in the arena. A chill shot through Emily's spine. The girl was also a bit of a special case. She was a girl of about sixteen with light brown hair and piercing green eyes named Alexis Rays, daughter of past victor Luke Rays. Emily remembered watching his Games as a re-run on television because of the way he managed to win; a perfect blend of strength and skill. But looking at him on the stage showed nothing but pure horror; of course, why wouldn't there be? It was his own daughter being sent to her probable death. That was something as well; several of the tributes so far had deep emotional connections with other well-known people by the Capitol; Topaz was close to last year's male from District 1, Ebony Amaranth; Rose was Elektra's childhood friend, and Alexis was the daughter of Luke Rays. It was probably done by the Head Gamemaker to ensure the entertainment factor was at its highest this year.

District 6 presented nothing too special; a small boy of about thirteen with glasses and dirty blonde hair called Mason, who seemed to be nothing but another tragic example of such young kids being sent to die, and Salvera, a girl with light brown skin and platinum blonde hair who seemed to be not all there; she was in a constant daze. The idea that Salvera was off her head on morphling crossed Emily's mind, but something else seemed off about the girl, like she was on edge without being stressed. It was perplexing to say the least.

District 7 was something different entirely. The boy, a tall, thin fifteen year old with bags around his eyes and messy brown hair by the name of Brinn let out a horrified wail when his name was called out, and nearly descended into a panic attack of mass proportions. It was extremely pitiful watching him; he was clearly in no fit mental state for the Games. And judging from the way he kept giving the trees that grew in District 7's town square nervous glances, he was going to have an incredibly hard time. There were several tributes Emily felt bad for, but at the same time, it also meant that there were fewer dangerous threats to herself. The girl, Rosa, was fairly plain; fourteen years old, with long brown hair with a flower tucked into it, and looking completely terrified, barely holding back tears. The poor thing wouldn't last long in the Games if this was all she was, but Emily forced herself to doubt it; Rosa could be putting on an act to try and fool everyone.

Next up was District 8, which Emily watched without really paying attention. Caesar commented on Kaye's dramatic entrance, saying he could almost be at home in the Capitol. Emily glanced over at Kaye who was beaming in delight at that comment. She rolled her eyes at him; this was going to be a long week in the Capitol indeed. However, Emily rolled her eyes once more as she heard Caesar's comment on herself; she was a fiery redhead bursting with character and energy - the other tributes should stay away if they wanted to live. Even though she hadn't displayed any signs of who she was, the Capitol still labelled her like that. She shot a glance at Weaver, who was looking at her nervously. It would take a lot of work to change that angle to something else.

District 9 held two tributes that couldn't be further apart if they tried. The boy was a tiny twelve year old with dirty blonde hair who looked half dead by the name of Griffin. He looked like he was suffering with some illness, and even though it meant he would be less of a threat, part of Emily hoped that the Capitol would be able to do something about that. The girl, however, was completely different. She was called Dixie, and looked about seventeen. She had short-cut light brown hair, a scar across her face, and was missing part of the last two fingers on one of her hands. She seemed cocky and dangerous; Emily could see the girl trying to worm her way in with the Careers. And with the pathetic turn out of District 4, she could actually see it happening.

District 10 presented two more regular tributes. First up was a twelve year old by the name of Tavish with brown hair who looked quite scared, but seemed to be holding it together, clearly trying to not show any fear.
"Oh. My. Gosh!" Kaye exclaimed. "Isn't he the most precious thing?"
"Kaye," Emily said, "need I remind you that these people will be trying to kill us in the very near future? Don't get sentimental over your potential killer; you have no way of knowing if this kid is putting on some sort of mask for everyone." Kaye sighed at that, and fell quiet again to Emily's relief. She looked back at the screen and saw the female tribute, a sixteen year old with shoulder length black hair and lightly tanned skin by the name of Erika. She seemed to be quite well-built, and was putting on a semi-convince-able mask of indifference to her fate. A fighter. And as the screen faded out to black, Emily realised that there were only four more tributes to see, none of which would likely be anyone to be bothered about.

"And now for District Eleven!" Caesar announced with gusto. "Let's take a look at them, shall we?" The screen faded from wherever Caesar was to footage of the reaping. It cut to the exact moment when the escort selected the name of the girl; a fourteen year old with dark skin and short black hair by the name of Lucy. The poor thing looked terribly thin and frail, and that was before the gravity of the situation hit her. She joined the list of the poor tributes that Emily felt pity for, which also meant that she wouldn't pose that much of a threat.
"There sure seem to be a lot of girls around this age this year," Kaye noted, stretching.
"Luck of the draw, I guess," Weaver remarked as Caesar talked about the impression given off by Lucy.
"Can you two keep it quiet?" Emily demanded. "I won't be able to hear what Caesar says about whoever the guy is; what if he's someone with a presence?"
"District Eleven?" Weaver said. "Em, if that's okay to call you, no offence, but Eleven's nothing special; just a bunch of malnourished kids with the occasional fighter. But whatever presence they make in the reaping doesn't carry on at all."
"Whatever," Emily sighed. "Thorburn, turn the TV up so I can hear it."
"Of course," Thorburn said, turning it up to a volume where Caesar's voice vibrated the sofa.
"Well, moving on from lovely Lucy," Caesar said. "It's time to meet our young man! A boy who definitely doesn't fit the typical appearance of District Eleven, Liam Aldair!"

Emily's blood turned to ice, and she felt herself stiffen up. No, it couldn't be... She had to have misheard it. There was no way it was him.
"Em, hon, you okay?" Weaver asked, noticing her change in demeanour. Emily remained silent, eyes locked on the screen as a lightly tanned young man with dark hair and a lean build climbed the stage. He raised an arm, and his shirt sleeve rolled down, revealing a tightly woven brown bracelet on his strong arm. Emily's throat filled with a lump as he shook hands with the escort. She looked at his brilliant blue eyes, seeing right into his true emotions; he was devastated. And at some point, Emily became aware of the tears rolling down her face. It couldn't be him; it shouldn't be. Not here, not now. Not like this.
"Emily?" Thorburn asked cautiously, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"Get off me!" Emily shrieked, pulling away from him. She was shaking and sobbing now, and without even giving Kaye and Weaver a glance, ran out of the room, and down the hallway into her cabin, leaving the three of them there, stunned.

"What's gotten into her?" Weaver asked Kaye, who looked hard at Liam's face. Those ruggedly handsome features... where had he seen them before?
"That's it!" he exclaimed. "Liam Aldair! I remember him!"
"You do?" Weaver asked, confused.
"Yeah, he lived in Eight until a few years back," Kaye explained. "Up until his parents were killed in a factory explosion, and he was transferred to Eleven along with the other kids whose parents had died that day who hadn't been eligible yet for reaping. About sixty kids in total were sent away to host families across the various districts," he took a deep breath. "Liam was selected to go to Eleven along with about ten others. I remember the goodbye he shared with Emily: it was truly heartbreaking."
"And how do you know about all of this, Kaye?" Thorburn asked.
"Because my parents were also in that explosion," he replied. "I liked living in Eight, so I fled the station during the goodbyes, and lived on the streets in the poorest section of Eight until I managed to worm my way in with a very good-looking young man who owned a very big house a couple years ago. And since I now had somewhere to go to I didn't really have to leave the district."
"I see," Weaver said. "And I'm guessing that Liam and Emily were close?"
"Childhood sweethearts," Kaye said. "I was jealous."
"Of Liam?"
"You know it." Kaye let out a dry chuckle. "He was a total hottie, even back then."
"But this could pose a problem for Emily," Weaver said.
"You're right," Kaye said. "What do you suggest we do?"
"We need some way of getting to her," Weaver thought aloud. "Somehow we need to let her know that he isn't here for a reunion, and that at the end of the day, one, if not both of them will die."

Inside her cart, Emily was curled up in a ball on her bed, sobbing loudly into her pillow. This wasn't right. This could never be right. Being in the Games was bad enough, but now knowing that Liam was going in as well... Emily let out another sob. She hated everything. She hated herself for getting attached, she hated Liam for getting close to her, she hated Thorburn and 11's escort for choosing their names, and she hated the Capitol for allowing the Games to happen in the first place. It just wasn't right. It could never be right. And now that Liam was in the Games with her, Emily wasn't sure if she would be able to make it out alive at his expense. This thought continued to bounce around her head until she cried herself to sleep.

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