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?


8. Building the Team

Dylan opened his eyes, blinking away the sunlight. His body ached for a few more hours of sleep, but he knew that couldn't happen: today was the first day of training. Today, it would be expected that the Career alliance would form. And as a rule, District 2 was the one to form it all. And since Kylee didn't seem to care all that much about the alliance, the responsibility fell to Dylan this year, as discussed last night.

He sat up, lifting his arms up into the air, stretching. He rubbed his eyes, removing the remnants of sleep from them, and pulled himself out of bed. His bare feet landed on the soft carpet below, and Dylan moved across the large bedroom. The curtains were open, and sunlight was pouring through; Dylan had forgotten to close them before he crawled into bed. But, in his defence, he did stay up stupidly late discussing how he could gain more sponsors throughout training. Since even though the actual training wasn't televised, the Gamemakers did speak to well-off Capitol citizens about tributes they found particularly interesting. Hopefully Dylan could use that to his advantage, in case something went wrong in the arena.

Dylan reached the bathroom door. He grabbed the shining handle, pulling down. The door swung open, and Dylan stepped inside. The shining white tiles on the floor were cold to the touch. He looked around the room: there was a sink and mirror on the far side of the room to his left. To his immediate right was a toilet, and a little further down the room was a shower. Dylan quickly made his way over to the shower, taking off his current outfit which consisted of little more than a baggy pair of shorts, and stepped inside.

The shower was much bigger than it looked inside: there was quite a stretch of space to walk around. The walls were covered in small holes with metallic rims; the floor had a strange, ridged texture to it. On the far side of the shower was a panel of buttons. Dylan walked over to them, inspecting them more closely. There were three rows, separated into colour sections: red, blue, and green. Above the red one was a symbol of a thermometer. The blue one had the symbol of a water droplet. And the green had the image of a bubble on it. Dylan paused for a moment before making a decision. These buttons were clearly how to control the shower. He guessed the red controlled temperature, blue the water pressure, and green the type of wash. It seemed pretty similar to the showers in the upper class section of District 2's training academy. Dylan had only been there once: that was when the choice for this year's tribute was being made.

Dylan looked up and down the red buttons, and pressed one in the middle; the metallic ring around it started to glow red. Suddenly, a jet of warm water blasted onto Dylan from above. As he looked up at the holes in the roof that were now pouring water, the wall holes also sprayed water out. It took only a few seconds for his entire body to be entirely soaked. But before more water could spray out at him, Dylan stepped forwards, out of the way of most of the spray, standing just in front of the buttons. He decided to skip the blue setting; the water pressure was fine enough as it was, and instead he moved on to the green buttons. However, there was no way that he could tell which button would do what; it was going to be a complete gamble on what he selected. After looking up and down the row of thirty or so buttons, Dylan bent over, and pressed the bottom button on the green row.

Without warning, a jet of bubbles violently erupted from the floor below Dylan, covering his face. He snapped his eyes shut before any harm could be done to him, and quickly stepped into the water spray, forcing his eyes open again. But instead of the shower, all he saw was a sea of bubbles. One burst near his nose, releasing a delightful scent that reminded Dylan of freshly cut grass. He breathed in the smell heavily as a million of the bubbles exploded on his body, cleaning him deeply. Eventually, the bubbles stopped, and the water rinsed away the remains of the fresh-scented bursting balls of soap. Dylan took another minute to let the water wash over him, before pressing the glowing button again. The water died down, and everything went silent. The only sound that could be heard was the sound of water dripping off of Dylan's body onto the ground below.

Dylan turned away from the buttons, and walked across the shower, and out. The instant that his feet made contact with the cold, dry floor, the tiles moved. Dylan watched in surprise as they slid open, revealing small, silver vents. Warm air blasted from them onto Dylan, drying his body off in no time. When that was completed, a large white towel was wrapped around him, drying off the last of the moisture that the air blasts had missed. Dylan took another step forward, only to have a tablet put onto his tongue. As soon as the saliva in Dylan's mouth touched the tablet, it seemed to dissolve, putting a strange coating on his teeth for just a moment, before that too dissolved, leaving a fresh, minty taste in his mouth.

Cautiously, Dylan made his way out of the bathroom, thankfully avoiding any more strange hygiene procedures. He walked across the carpet of the bedroom, to find that his bed had been made, and that there was an outfit laying on the bed, neatly folded. Dylan walked over to the outfit, and looked at it: it was a black jumpsuit with a red stripe down the arms, with the number 2 printed in bold on the back, and a pair of sturdy black boots: the training uniform. Dylan quickly slipped the outfit on, and walked out of the bedroom, but not before catching a glance at the clock: he was pretty early, but that was fine. It wasn't as if there was some set time for training to begin; the only thing set in stone was that the head trainer would give a talk about training at ten. Besides that, it was up to the tributes how they went about training.

Dylan walked down the hallway of the apartment briskly. As he did so, his stomach rumbled. Of course; he hadn't had anything to eat yet. And if there was one thing that could be classed as the most important thing during the time in the Capitol, it was eating. All this food that the tributes were being served would definitely help them deal with hunger in the arena for sure. Dylan turned right at the corner, and made his way down the stairs, his hand gripping onto the rail.

He reached the bottom of the stairs, and quickly walked through the main living area into the dining section, his stomach continuing to growl. But when Dylan arrived at the dining table, he stood there in surprised shock.

Kylee was already sat at the dining table, daintily consuming an apple, not really paying attention. The two mentors this year, Gray and Cascadelle, were sat on the far side of the table, talking to themselves. And then, almost begrudgingly, Dylan glanced at the clock in the room: it was an hour later than the one in his room. A cold sweat ran through his body. Had his clock really been out by an hour? And most importantly, had he slept in ridiculously late? Suddenly, Kylee looked up from her breakfast, and at Dylan. She winked, and smirked.
"Morning, Sleeping Beauty," she mused coyly. "So you've finally decided to join the realm of the waking?"
"Not now," Dylan snapped back, sitting at a chair. "My clock was out by an hour, and I slept in."
"Really?" Kylee raised her eyebrows. "That's pretty bad: things like that could pretty much screw over the schedule of the Games."
"I know," Dylan said, grabbing a roll of bread from the pile of food, biting down into it. It tasted oddly sweet. 
"Your clock was out?" Cascadelle said, having finished her conversation with Gray. "Now how could that happen? The Capitol would never do something deliberately to mess with a tribute, and especially not something that would mess their perfect timing system."
"Probably an Avox," Gray said, wiping his mouth with a small cloth. "There are rumours of a few of them trying to be all rebellious in subtle ways. One of ours probably messed with your clock like that to try and throw off the training schedule."
"Really?" Kylee said in a curious tone. "I didn't know Avoxes were capable of that!"
"Of course they would be," Cascadelle said flatly. "They had their tongues removed, not their brains."
"So what do we do about the Avox then?" Kylee asked. 
"I'll talk to the Gamemakers about it today whilst you're training," Gray said. "It won't happen again." 
"Good," Dylan added.

They continued to eat in silence for a few more minutes, until a bell rang out, signalling that the tributes were free to go down to training. Dylan was familiar with that sound; the training academies back home tried to replicate the Capitol's facilities as best as possible. Kylee, however, seemed to be startled for a moment, before realising what it was. Dylan looked at her, mildly confused. As a District 2 tribute, she was expected to know what to do in training like a well-rehearsed script. Kylee, however, seemed to be winging it. But Dylan put the thought to the back of his mind, and instead stood up. Kylee did so at the same time.
"Okay," Kylee said. "We're gonna head down to training now, so that we can form the Career alliance."
"Okay then," Gray said. "See you two this evening."

With that said, Kylee and Dylan walked to the far right hand corner of the room, to the pair of silver doors: the elevator to the training floor. Kylee pressed the button to the left of the door, and it lit up, turning a pale orange. After a few seconds, the doors opened, revealing the inside of the elevator. Dylan and Kylee quickly stepped inside; Dylan remained near the door, whilst Kylee moved further back into a corner. The doors slid shut, and the elevator began to move downwards.
"So," Kylee suddenly said, killing the silence. "How are we gonna go about forming our little alliance, hm?" She winked at him, and gave a sly smile.
"Okay, first off, I'm going to be the one forming here," Dylan said with a sigh. "And for forming the alliance, I'm going to accept you off the bat, since we're district partners and all. We'll go for District One first, and ask them to join. And then Four, if they're interested."
"What about potential outliers that may be useful?" Kylee suggested.
"I guess we let them approach us," Dylan said. "If they're useful, we let them prove themselves. Otherwise, we'll just tell them to get lost."
"Okay then," Kylee said. "Seems like a solid plan."
"Thanks," Dylan said, smiling.
"Don't mention it." Kylee smiled back, and the two tributes remained grinning at one another until the elevator stopped moving, and the doors opened.

Dylan was the first one out of the elevator, followed immediately by Kylee. Their boots squeaked against the slick floor of the training room, and the sound echoed around the large space. In the middle of the room was the crowd of tributes, standing around the head trainer; a tall athletic woman with porcelain skin and wavy blue hair. Besides the tributes, there were countless stations plastered around the room, each one with its own personal trainer. The weaponry stations seemed to be bunched together at one end of the room, and the survival-based ones on the other. It was clear to see that there would be a distinct divide in the room, and it would help see which tributes would be opting for fighting or survival.

Suddenly, Kylee grabbed Dylan's hand, and pulled him across the room to the crowd of tributes. They stood near the blonde girl from District 3, who, upon seeing them near to her, quickly moved to a different place in the crowd. Both Dylan and Kylee smiled at one another again; it was hilarious how intimidating the other tributes perceived them to be. Once the grin had died down, Dylan turned to face the head trainer as she began her speech.
"May I have your attention, tributes," she said in a voice that was surprisingly lacking in a Capitol accent. The small amount of chatter that was going on instantly died. "Thank you. Now, listen carefully to me. In less than a month, all but one of you will be dead. Which one of you that will be will depend on a mixture of strength, endurance, and overall survival skill. So don't think you're going to be able to win your way through just because you're brilliant with a bow, or you're ruthless with a sword." She paused, and looked over at the District 2 tributes. Dylan looked away, but Kylee simply glared coolly at the trainer, not taking her gaze away. The trainer broke eye contact first.

"As I was saying," the head trainer continued. "Weapons aren't everything: you must also pay attention to survival skills, since statistically, only around forty percent of you will be directly killed by another living creature; ergo, tributes and Muttations. The other sixty percent of you will be killed by infection, starvation, dehydration, blood loss, and natural disasters. So it is imperative that if you want to survive longer than a couple of days, you pay attention to all the stations. That is all. You are now free to do as you please until the private sessions in two days."

The head trainer walked away from the centre of the room, and the crowd of tributes dispersed across the stations. Dylan and Kylee watched as two tributes moved over to the sword station: District 1.
"Hey," Dylan said, pointing at them. "Let's go."
"Okay then." Kylee said, shrugging one shoulder. The two of them walked across the training floor, and over to the station. The girl, Topaz, was stood, looking over the swords, whilst the boy, Osiris, had grabbed one already, and was heading over to the target dummies for practice.
"Hey," Dylan called out. Topaz and Osiris turned to face them, and then approached.
"Hey," Osiris replied smoothly. "You're District Two, right?"
"Yeah, that's us," Kylee said.
"Let me guess," Topaz added. "You're here about the Career alliance, right?"
"Yep," Dylan said, smirking. "So, you guys in?"
"Of course," Osiris said. "Why wouldn't we be?"
"You have a good point there," Dylan said. He extended his hand. "So, allies?"
"Allies," Osiris said, nodding his head. He grabbed Dylan's hand, and shook it, thus forming the first alliance of the Games.
"So," Topaz said. "Are we going to go for District Four this year?"
"Yeah," Dylan said. "We're aiming for a six-member team this year, so we're going to invite them to join as well."
"Where are they, though?" Osiris asked. "Surely if they're serious about joining us, they would have approached us already."
"Perhaps they're late coming down," Dylan offered. "You remember last year's pair, don't you?"
"Or perhaps they're over by the knives station," Kylee said, pointing to the corner of the room. And sure enough, there was District 4: the bronze haired boy, Ren, and the small blonde girl, Annabell. "Let's go talk to them."

The four tributes walked over to the knives station, approaching Ren and Annabell. Ren was standing there, watching as Annabell held a knife in her hand. The two of them froze when Districts 1 and 2 approached them.
"Hey guys," Dylan said, looking at them. They were the youngest Career tributes he had seen in years: Ren was only fifteen, and Annabell was even younger at fourteen. "So, are you in with the Careers this year?"
"Sure," Ren said confidently. Annabell, however, remained silent.
"Hey, Annabell," Dylan said. "Are you going to be part of this alliance or not?" He looked at Annabell, and saw that her face had drained of colour. Her hands were trembling. Dylan turned to Ren. "Is she okay?"
"Look, guys," Ren said to the other Careers. His tone was quiet and cautious. "Annabell's never received any sort of training, and was never meant to be a Career. Likewise with me: I'm in training, but was selected prematurely."
"So you kids aren't actually supposed to be here?" Kylee questioned.
"Yes," Ren said, his voice a whisper. "So does that mean we're not gonna be part of the Career alliance?" Dylan hesitated for a moment. They were both young, small kids. Neither of them seemed to be killers. But strength in numbers was a key fact about the Career alliance, so, the alliance needed them.
"Tell you what," Dylan said. "If you two can prove yourselves to us, then we'll let you in."
"But how?" Ren asked.
"Simple," Dylan said, smiling. "Both of you need to hit the centre of the throwing knife targets. Three times each. Okay?"
"Okay then," Ren said. "We'll be able to do that. Come on, Anna."

Ren and Annabell both grabbed three knives, and walked over to the targets. Ren was first to throw a knife. It flew out of his hand expertly, and landed directly in the middle of the target. Perfectly. Dylan kept a calm face, watching. It could have just been a fluke; he had to see that happen three times to be sure. The second knife flew from Ren's hand, and straight into another target. Perfect again. Ren paused for a moment, catching his breath, before he threw again. Perfect once more.
"Well then, kid," Kylee said before Dylan could talk. "You're in. Now let's see how blondie does." She motioned to Annabell, who swallowed nervously, before taking her position. Dylan kept a close eye on her: the girl was extremely nervous.

Annabell moved her arm, and let the knife from it. It sailed through the air, and into the target's middle. The second one was just the same. Dylan nodded at the other Careers; it was looking like they would be a six member team after all. Dylan returned his attention to Annabell, who was taking a deep breath as she held her last knife. The weapon escaped her hand, and flew through the air. Right over the target.

Ren and Annabell fell silent as the knife clattered to the floor, the metallic sound ringing out. For a moment, nobody did anything, until Dylan turned to face Annabell. She had gone pale. Her eyes were wide, and she was trembling.
"No..." she said weakly, staring in disbelief at the fallen knife. 
"Hey, uh-" Dylan began, but was cut off by Ren running to Annabell's side.
"No," Ren snapped, staring furiously at the Careers. "If you're not going to let Annabell into your alliance, then I'm out. My loyalties lie with my district partner, not you guys." He continued to stare down the Careers for a few more moments, until Kylee laughed.
"Kid, you are adorable," she said. "We were gonna accept Annabell anyway; two out of three is still better than ninety percent of the other tributes in here. So, welcome to the Career alliance."
"Really?" both tributes said in unison.
"Yeah," Dylan said, looking at them. "You've got guts, and raw talent. And joining forces will definitely make sure we all last longer. That knife test wasn't to prove your worth, it was to gauge how much training you'll need to do." A laugh escape Dylan's lips. "From the looks of things, Ren has a natural ability that just needs refining, and Annabell needs some practice with controlling her knife under pressure. We'll get you up to Career standard in no time." Dylan looked at Osiris and Topaz, who were nodding in approval. Annabell was smiling widely, and without warning, she hugged Ren tightly.
"We're in with the Careers!" she cried out. Ren rolled his eyes, smirking.
"Okay then," Dylan said. "With that settled, let's train."

They all grabbed throwing knives, and began to throw at the targets. Dylan watched Ren and Annabell. They were young, and weaker than the others, but right now, all that mattered was building up a large alliance; the sheer numbers would keep the other tributes from attacking the Careers, even if a couple of members weren't up to scratch. Dylan smiled as he threw a knife: as far as Career alliances went, this one was pretty good. There were no crazy people, and certainly nobody willing to abandon the alliance at the drop of a hat.

This was going to be the best Career alliance yet.

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