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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18. Final Impressions

"Salvera, come out! I know you're ready!"

Salvera sighed as her escort pounded on the door to her dressing room. She had changed into her interview outfit, a simple black dress, a while ago. But if there was one thing she really did not want to do, it was the interview. They would be beginning very shortly, and were what would give off the last impression of the tributes before the Games began. In theory, they were a good idea, and Salvera knew it would help any tributes that didn't do so well in training. However, for her, there was one major issue, and it was -

Come on, Sally. Just come on out, and head over to the interviews. Panem will love a schizophrenic girl that can't even sustain a conversation.

Velcro. The voice of Salvera's dead sister, pounding in her head all the time, chipping away at her internally, never relenting. Never stopping. Sometimes, Salvera could have good days where Velcro wouldn't really interfere with whatever she was doing. Today was not one of those days; the anxiety of the interview was making it all the worse: Salvera was very aware that Velcro was but a by-product of her fractured mind, but the voice had a way of grinding on her patience. And on days when Salvera felt particularly stressed out, the taunting and mockery would just get worse.

However, Salvera knew that, as much as she wanted to, she couldn't just remain in here, and not attend the interview. If she did so, she would be letting Velcro win. And she was not going to do that; she knew that it would be lorded over her until her untimely demise in the arena. Or if she won, then the taunting would never end. It was almost like as soon as Salvera entered the Capitol, Velcro had been getting progressively worse and worse. And Salvera knew if this escalation of nastiness continued, then she would be screwed over in the arena.

But first things first, Salvera decided. She sat up off the seat she had been fixed to ever since her stylist threw the outfit on her. No comment from Velcro. So far, so good. She then walked halfway across the room, just as the escort began rapping on the door.

"Come on Salvera! We're going to be late!" The escort's shrill voice pierced the air, and almost seemed to grate on Salvera more than Velcro did. But that was an impossibility; if Velcro detected anything that Salvera could possibly detest more, then the voice inside Salvera's head would just get louder and nastier. There was no winning. 
"I'm coming..." Salvera said in response, but her voice was too quiet. Still no comment from Velcro. Had the voice settled down? Perhaps.

Salvera walked up to the door, and placed her hand on the handle. It was cold to the touch. She pulled down, and swung open the door, coming face-to-face with a very disgruntled looking escort.
"Honestly, young lady," the escort said, shaking her brightly coloured head. "What are we going to do with you?"
"I don't know..." Salvera replied, offering a meek shrug. The escort was not impressed.
"Anyway, it doesn't matter; come on, we have to get going to the interview!"

The escort took Salvera's hand, and harshly dragged her through to the elevator that led to the lobby of the training tower. All the while, Salvera just tried to remember what her mentor had told her for the interview: be a laid-back, aloof ditz. It would win them over, and wouldn't require much talking on Salvera's part. But even without Velcro telling her, Salvera was sure it was going to be useless.

Derek nervously adjusted his tie as the elevator rushed downwards to the ground floor of the training tower. The coal-black suit he was wearing was tighter than he liked, and he knew that the interview was not going to be comfortable in any way. Couple that with the only mentor for District 12 being too intoxicated to even be aware that the interviews were happening, and it was a recipe for disaster. But he would get through it somehow.

The elevator opened, and Derek followed his escort out. They walked across the lobby of the training tower, which was actually a grand, majestic area. Derek noticed a glass dome ceiling, walls made of gold, lined with fine art, and the floor, which was decorated in a way that made it seem as if it was a chess board. It was all very beautiful, but seeing it all made a realisation come to Derek: this was his final day in the Capitol. Tomorrow would bring the bloodbath, and all the slaughter that came with it. And he knew that this time tomorrow, he could very well be dead. It was awful to think about, but Derek knew he couldn't hold off fate. He would take tomorrow when it came.

The escort pushed open the large glass doors that led outside, and Derek followed her, stepping out into the late afternoon sunlight for the first time in nearly four days. He had been cooped up for that long. But it was odd, since he didn't feel as if he had been trapped inside one building for nearly a week. The air was slightly warmer than inside the building, and the sun was shining brightly through palm trees that lined the other side of the pristine street. On the road just outside of the training tower was a long, black car: a limo, if Derek recalled. He had never seen one in real life, and it was almost as if he was stepping into some sort of fantasy story just by laying his eyes on it.
"Come on, Derek," the escort trilled. "Gwen's already in the back. Just sit in there with her, and make yourself comfortable until we arrived."
"Okay then," Derek said, and walked down the brief flight of steps just outside of the training tower, holding on to the silver railing. His dress shoes touched the smooth pavement, and he walked over to the back door of the limo. He pulled it open, and climbed inside, closing the door behind him.

As soon as Derek was inside, he realised just how stuffy it was inside the limo; oddly enough, there was no air conditioning. But it wasn't too bad; it was only a mild step down from the complete luxury he had been immersed in. And the seats were pretty comfortable as well.
"Hey," Derek turned to his right to see Gwen sitting on the other side of the limo. She was wearing her interview outfit already as well: a black dress, the same colour as Derek's. Gwen's face was also adorned with strikingly dark make-up, and, in Derek's opinion at least, she looked beautiful.
"Hey," he replied. "So, you ready for the interview?"
"Besides the fact that our mentor gave us no instructions what-so-ever?" Gwen laughed. "Yeah, I'm great."
"I doubt it'll be as bad as the private sessions, though," Derek replied. "I mean, all we have to do is charm the Capitol with our personalities, right? Shouldn't be too hard."
"You're right," Gwen said. "The only thing I don't like is that this is how we're spending what could potentially be our last day alive preparing to continue to put on a show."
"But," Derek said, glancing out of the window. The limo had started to roll down the street, gradually picking up speed. "It beats sitting in a room alone, worrying half to death about whether or not you're gonna die tomorrow."
"I suppose so," Gwen sighed. "Hey, Derek, are you worried about the Games tomorrow?"
"Not really," Derek said with a shrug. "I have my allies, and I'm not ridiculously weak. I'll be able to survive."
"Yeah," Gwen said. "I'm the same. Hopefully, my alliance will pull together, and we'll make it through."

The conversation then died down, leaving a comfortable silence; neither of the tributes had much more to say, and they were fine with it. Derek looked out of the window of the limo, and saw the streets of the Capitol rolling by as the sun shone down. The streets were a variety of bright colours, and the buildings were even more wonderful: Derek saw at least ten shops adorned with diamonds. It was all far more luxurious than he could even fathom; it was truly as if he had stepped into another world, a million miles from Earth. And whilst it was all well and good looking at the Capitol like an obscure art exhibit, Derek had to remind himself that they would also be watching him in the arena; most might even already anticipating when he would die, considering how he didn't fit any of the typical victor categories. He wasn't the plucky, loveable underdog, and he certainly wasn't a brutal killer. He was just Derek. Just some kid from District 12. Nothing special at all. And Derek knew that this impression he gave off would affect him negatively in the arena. But as they drove down a street filled with screaming Capitol citizens greedily taking pictures, Derek realised that he still had one more chance to give off the right impression.

Brinn stepped out of District 7's limo, and followed Rosa through the main doors of the large, round building that they had parked outside of. Even though they were quite a while away from the screaming crowds of the Capitol, Brinn could still hear their fanatical wails. It was all quite unsettling. And to make matters even worse, Brinn had to go on stage in the outfit his stylist had selected: she oh-so-brilliantly decided that trees should still be the thing to represent District 7, which meant that Brinn was in a tacky brown suit, complete with leaf patterns on the arms. He looked like a walking, talking tree, which was perhaps the worst thing that could have happened. And to make it all the worse, the type of tree he was emulating resembled the one from all those years back almost too well. He had no idea if he would manage to go the entire interview without the ghosts of the dead plaguing him. He desperately hoped so.

The lobby of this building was large and grand, but in no way like what the training tower was; Brinn was almost in a state of disbelief with how gorgeous everything here was. It was far too easy to almost forget that this almost magical place housed the people that would be betting on when he would die. Almost, but not quite: Brinn could not forget that so easily.

He walked past a large pair of red doors, which had a sign labelled 'TO MAIN SEATING AREA' on it. Brinn imagined an endless swarm of Capitol citizens trying to cram through the doors to catch a glimpse of the tributes. It was all ridiculous, and for some reason, the thought made him nervous. Very soon, every eye in the country would be trained on Brinn. It was terrifying to think about, but it was the reality, and was unfortunately unavoidable, no matter how much he wished it was.

Brinn followed Rosa through a smaller door, which led to a long hallway. Another door was at the end of it, and the hallway itself was empty save for a large screen on the wall. As they walked past it, Brinn noticed that it was displaying the Capitol's seal, and counting down to the beginning of the interviews. Underneath that was a longer countdown, counting down to the beginning of the Games. Neither of them were counting down to anything good. Brinn looked away, and continued down the hall, reaching the doors. Rosa opened them, and they stepped through.

They entered a large room, which contained an even larger screen on the wall, with the same countdown. There were several benches in the room, and a hallway at the other end of the room, leading to the stage. The other tributes were all standing around, talking to one another, clearly ready for the interview.
"Hey, Brinn," Rosa said. "I'm gonna go see my allies now."
"Fine," Brinn said with a shrug as Rosa walked off. It wasn't as if he needed anyone; he had had several feverish dreams in which the ghosts showed him exactly why he shouldn't be in an alliance: images such as being poisoned, crushed by a table, stabbed in his sleep, slaughtered by a Career, and being shot at point-blank range by an arrow filled his head at night. All of them he associated with alliances, and as such, Brinn was confident that he would be safer if he were to go it alone.

"Excuse me!" Brinn was suddenly pushed out of the way as an escort rushed by, clutching a small container of some sort. Curious, he followed the Capitol woman, watching as she approached the strange, quiet girl from District 6, Salvera. She handed the container to Salvera, and made a weird giddy noise.
"Thank you...?" Salvera said, looking quizzically at the container.
"Oh, don't worry about it!" the escort replied. "It'll help suppress that nasty voice of yours for up to two whole weeks! Perfect for the Games!" She kissed Salvera on the head, and skipped out of the room. Brinn stood there, shocked. He was aware that his mouth was hanging wide open.

No way had Salvera just obtained medication to help with her mental issues. No way! Brinn felt a crushing feeling in his chest, and a sharp pang of envy. Salvera had received a cure for her problems, yet Brinn's mentor had just told him to ignore it. It just wasn't fair; what made Salvera so special that she got medication? And then it hit Brinn; she had received a much higher training score than Brinn. Suddenly, all of the relief that four wasn't too bad faded away. The low score would be the death of him.

"Attention, tributes," the voice of a Capitol attendant called out, "please line up in the hallway, and be ready to go on stage once your name is called out." Brinn followed these orders, and lined up alongside the other tributes, and felt a rush of nerves. The interviews had begun.

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