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?


3. Captivation

Kylee was awoken by the rumbling of the train: they had hit something on the tracks, no doubt about it. Like hell this was a smooth ride to the Capitol, as their disgusting escort had so delightfully put it. But what the hell did it matter: it was morning, which meant that they were fast approaching the Capitol. And then, oh, they would all be in for the time of their lives.

Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Kylee crawled out of bed, the plush sheets falling from her body. She had fallen asleep wearing her reaping outfit: a white tank top with a short black skirt. Who gave a damn about fashion when it was all about who could come off the most impressionable to the Capitol. And Kylee could safely say that she had left the biggest impression on the Capitol, based on her looks alone. It was definitely a different universe entirely than the pathetic pair from District 12 on the other side of the spectrum of tributes; they were both from the impoverished side of the district, sharing black hair and olive skin. The boy was about fourteen, and the girl seventeen, if her memory served her well. Their names were Derek and Gwen, respectively, and both of them walked to the stage sobbing. Pathetic; there was a reason why District 12 never won.

To some, remembering every detail about the tributes would seem a ridiculously stupid waste of time, but Kylee was smarter than that: to truly know how to take down the competition, she had to know them inside-out first. Observe every subtle cue; every facial expression. And then, winning the Games would be a piece of cake. She would waltz into the arena, and have the other tributes wiped out in a matter of days, coming back home a celebrity. And, for the added bonus, she would have a luxurious mansion all to herself; no more resorting to providing entertaining private evenings to generous men to sustain the pile of dirt she currently called home. Oh, it would be glorious. And the look on the face of the mayor when he saw the girl he banned from entering the upper class section of District 2 becoming one of the richest citizens: it would be priceless. Kylee smiled to herself as she pulled on a pair of running shoes, tying up the laces in seconds. She walked over to the mirror on the dressing table, and brushed her thick, curled dark hair, letting it frame her perfect  skin. A flawless appearance. The cameras would lap it up later today for sure.

A tapping sound reached Kylee's ears, and she snapped her head around to the silver door on the other side of her room: the escort, no doubt.
"Kylee, dear," he said in his grating Capitol accent. "Are you awake yet?"
"No, I'm in a deep sleep," she snapped back bitterly.
"No, you lobotomised pile of cosmetics. I'm up. I've been up for a while. And I'm coming to go get something to eat in a second, before you try and shove that down my throat." A harsh silence filled the air for a brief second, allowing Kylee to apply her lipstick in peace.
"Oh, okay then." Kylee heard the sound of the escort walking away, and sighed. Were there really human beings so stupid? Evidently so. And if that was a perfect example of the average Capitol citizen, then there would be a hell of a lot of insincere sweetness thrown around over the next couple of days.

Kylee gazed into the mirror one last time, and adjusted her hair again. Finally satisfied, she walked across the room, and up to the door. One swift turn of the handle, and it swung outwards, revealing the hallway of the train. Kylee walked along the red carpet without a second thought, entering the main dining car. The table was laid out with breakfast, but as to how anyone would be able to eat that much before it started to expire was beyond her. One possibility had crossed her mind, but it was so repulsive that not even the Capitol would go there. Whatever; it wasn't as if the food really mattered that much. Although...

Swiftly and silently, Kylee approached the table, and slid into one of the chairs. She grabbed what appeared to be a chocolate, and bit into it. A delicious juice melted across her tongue, sliding down her throat, exploding with sweetness. The rest of the chocolate was gone less than five minutes later. Satisfied, Kylee looked across at the others: there were the mentors, both middle aged, one man and woman, clearly past their prime. There was the escort, drinking something with a straw, and fluttering around. And then there was Dylan, who was eating some sort of meat, grinning madly to himself.
"What's bringing all sunshine and joy to your life?" Kylee asked him flatly, looking directly at him. Still smiling, Dylan looked up at Kylee. Her mouth twisted into a dark smirk as she watched his eyes widen, and his face flush and go red. He was completely wrapped around her finger. And since Dylan was clearly the Career with the most physical prowess, he would likely be elected leader of the pack this year. All Kylee had to do was manipulate Dylan, and the others would follow.
"Oh," Dylan said, faltering. "I'm just kinda excited, you know?"
"Not really," Kylee replied flatly.
"Well, I am," he continued, his eyes lighting up. "Think about it: we're going to the Capitol, and representing our district there. How can you not be overjoyed?"
"Easily," Kylee said, leaning across the table to Dylan, her lips inches from his face. "And besides, there are much better things in life than representing the crappy district we come from. C'mon, be a little selfish for once and do it for yourself." Dylan's breathing went shallow, and he flushed red once more. This was pathetically easy; he was easier to condition than a dog. No doubt Kylee would have him completely under her control by the time the Games began.
"Hey, cut it out!" Kylee snapped her head to see one of the two mentors, the woman, glaring at the two tributes with her steely grey eyes. "We don't need the two of you getting chummy like this when only one of you will be getting out alive." Damn it. This woman could easily undo her plan, Kylee realised. She had to act fast.
"But what about the whole Career alliance?" she questioned, sliding away from Dylan, winking at him as she did so. "Isn't that what pretty much guarantees our survival?"
"Kylee has a point, you know," Dylan said. "We sort of need the alliance. And since we're in it together, why not help to make the days more bearable by getting to know each other?" Oh, he was good for a dog. Kylee had to look away at something that was dripping with grey juice to hide the grin.
"Fine," the mentor said begrudgingly. "But it's your fault when one of you is horribly broken when the other dies." Dylan nodded sternly at the fierce woman, letting her know he understood. Kylee just looked out of the window, not looking at the mentor. Kylee was already well aware that she would not be affected in the slightest at Dylan's death, which was coming. He was quite the well-built guy, but not the smartest. And as the old saying went: brains triumph over brawn in the end. Kylee was brains, and the Careers were brawn.

The train suddenly shuddered, and a noise reached Kylee's ears. It sounded like a thousand screaming voices on helium. She didn't even need to look out of the window to tell what it was: they had arrived in the Capitol. Since District 2 was the closest to the Capitol, they always arrived there first, as they had done every year but one. That was the 50th Games, when the four tributes started a fight as soon as the train had left the district. A second train full of Peacekeepers had to be deployed to control the trained killers. All of them were brainless thugs. No wonder they lost, and to a surly ass from District 12 of all places. A faint smile spread onto Kylee's face. If she was there, then she would have dominated in that arena. But she was born too late for that. It didn't matter though; an arena was an arena, regardless of the amount of tributes. And this time around, luckily, there didn't seem to be many smart tributes. Luck was really shining down on Kylee this year. Dylan turned away from the window, but before the smug grin could be seen by him, the train entered the tunnel into the main city. The darkness of the train allowed Kylee a moment to compose herself for the crowd. If she remembered, the Capitol was currently head-over-heels with the innocent girl look. Something that could easily be pulled off by the master puppeteer Kylee Harker.

Kylee walked across to the window as the city streets emerged from the darkness, revealing the rainbow of people screaming, holding banners, and generally falling in love. Kylee pressed her hands and face against the glass of the window, and smiled widely, her eyes lighting up. The screaming increased in intensity as a result. Kylee waved at them, and giggled. Even louder. A hair flick and a coy wink. And the crowd was spellbound by Kylee; she had them hanging onto their every movement. She smiled at her fans, and looked out of the window, seeing the massive golden station pulling into view. There was maybe half a minute left of crowd-pleasing, which was exactly enough time for Kylee to completely win them over. She stood back from the window, and blew several kisses. The first three rows of people fainted, silly grins plastered on their faces. Kylee chuckled to herself; too easy. Far too easy.

Suddenly, the fainting crowd vanished behind a golden wall laced with diamonds. They were now in the train station, where they would be shielded from public eye until the chariot parade later tonight. And there, yet again, Kylee would woo the crowd with her image. Her appearance was flawless, and she could alter her public personality at the drop of a hat. They would never know it was all a ruse designed to curry the favour of the sponsors; that was the beauty of the act. The genius playing the fool.

The train finally stopped, and the doors opened, revealing the massive golden station. The massive dome roof filtered shimmering sunlight through, painting everything with a glistening hue. Kylee gaped in awe at the beauty for a moment, breaking character. But she composed herself once more as she was ushered out along with Dylan, across the gorgeously painted tiled floors of the station. And as they walked along, Kylee smiled. To the others, it looked like an innocent girl captivated by the Capitol's beauty, but to Kylee, it was dark joy. She had begun spinning her web of manipulation, and it was certain that every last tribute would be ensnared by her deadly act, nobody able to see Kylee's true colours until it would be too late for them.

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