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?


5. Forming Bonds

Alexis stood in the elevator, opposite her stylist, a strange man with various flame decoration by the name of Solus. She folded her arms, and looked at him, her green eyes narrowing. He was a pretty aloof guy, but with the Capitol, that meant nothing. He was still as guilty as the rest of them, celebrating the deaths of twenty three kids every year without a care. It made her feel sick, thinking that these people would be watching her in the arena in a matter of days, willing for the Careers to mow her down. And from the reapings, the Career districts this year, 1 and 2 in particular, seemed especially dangerous.

The elevator came to a stop, and the door opened. Alexis stepped out, and looked at Solus.
"Aren't you coming out as well?" she asked, moving her light brown hair from her face.
"Oh, no; I'm not!" he chirped. "All the stylists this year decided to not join the tributes for the chariot parades so we can make your interview outfits to die for!"
"Okay then," Alexis said, barely unable to conceal the relief in her voice. Without a stylist present, she would be free to roam the chariots, and search for potential allies. "Well, see you then."
"Oh!" Solus said. "Good luck!" He blew her a kiss just before the elevator shut, Solus vanishing from sight. Alexis sighed in relief, and began to walk through the large hall. The floor was a dark grey concrete, and the middle of the room was lined with horses and chariots. Each chariot had a number on it, denoting which district it belonged to. Alexis quickly found District 5's chariot, and saw Markus standing there, looking bored. He had the same outfit on as Alexis; a black jumpsuit with an atom symbol on the chest that glowed various colours. The back had another flashing symbol, this one being for a radiation hazard. It was a cheap attempt at trying to represent District 5 based solely on stereotypes from the district. Next to Markus was Maia Kentner, last year's victor, who was talking to him; Alexis couldn't make out what they were saying from here. Her father was nowhere to be seen, despite him being the other mentor for District 5. She supposed he was probably hanging around the Training Centre, or he had already taken his place in the crowd, and was trying to win sponsors; most likely he was just trying to avoid her. It was a rather unprofessional move as a mentor, but as a father, Alexis understood why entirely.

She looked away from District 5's chariot, and eyed up the other chariots with tributes. Districts 7, 9, and 10 were nowhere to be seen, but the others had their tributes on it. Districts 1, 2, and 4 were instantly crossed off Alexis' list; she wouldn't ever go near those monsters. She looked at the other end of the spectrum of tributes, seeing District 12. They both seemed to be the trusting type, but far too weak, and probably the type to crack under pressure. There was no way they could keep a secret. Alexis crossed them off her mental list as well. District 11's girl was in the same vein as 12: too wimpy to be of any use. And probably not that intelligent either, from the looks of it. The boy, however, seemed smart and capable, but he looked distracted. Alexis had seen that distracted type before in the Games; they were usually thinking about someone close to them, and something like that usually led them to their deaths. District 11 was no good either. 10 and 9 weren't there yet, so Alexis looked over to District 8. The red haired girl was leaning on the edge of the chariot, looking vacant. But there was a deadly spark behind her eyes; there was a dangerously unpredictable side to her that would most certainly cause problems. And the boy, well, Alexis was just glad she had an uncanny ability to read right through people. The entire camp, flamboyant mannerism was just an extremely clever ruse; he was dancing behind a mask which hid his sinister intentions. Alexis was surprised his district partner hadn't caught on; it was clearly obvious that no self-respecting person acted like that without an ulterior motive, and from the looks of it, he had murder in his eyes. Still, she had to give him credit for playing the role so well, even if she was convinced he would try and kill quite viciously in the Games. District 8 was also a no-go, Alexis realised dully.

District 7 wasn't there, so Alexis moved on to 6. The girl was a mess, to put it politely: she had a vacant stance that was entirely different to the other tributes like her; she was literally not thinking on the same wave-length as anyone else. That could be highly dangerous. The boy was too weak; a wimpy little kid who, unfortunately, reeked of bloodbath fodder. Another useless pair. Next on Alexis' list was supposedly her district partner, but there was no way in hell she would be anywhere near that convict of a tribute. She knew all about it; Markus had killed his own parents in cold blood, and if it weren't for the reaping, he would be getting publicly executed today. But no, getting reaped meant that he could kill even more, and then get off the hook just like that. He was a rabid animal that needed putting down, in Alexis' opinion. So a district duo was completely impossible. That only left one district currently available: District 3.

Alexis approached District 3's chariot, and looked over the pair. The boy - Xander, Alexis recalled - noticed Alexis first, and looked at her sceptically. He raised an eyebrow as Alexis drew closer. As she neared the chariot, the other tribute, Rose, and the female mentor, Elektra, also looked at Alexis. Elektra stepped forward, looking at Alexis.
"Is there something I can help you with?" she asked, looking at Alexis. Her green eyes were weary, plagued by emotion, exhaustion, and guilt. It was only to be expected though; this was her second year mentoring. She had lost both tributes in the first, and now she had her childhood best friend as tribute.
"I just want to talk to your tributes, is all," Alexis replied smoothly. "If that's okay, I mean."
"What's your motive?" Elektra asked harshly, clearly defensive of her two tributes.
"If you're insisting I'm setting up a traitorous alliance like that boy from District 11 last year," Alexis said, "then you're wrong. First off, I wouldn't be so stupid as to put on a mask in front of their mentor, and secondly, why would I waste my time coming over so early on in this whole situation if I'm planning on killing them in the bloodbath?" She held her breath as Elektra thought over what she had just said.
"Okay then," Elektra finally replied. "But I will be getting them to tell me every detail of the conversation, all right?"
"Fine," Alexis said, and walked away from Elektra, and to the two tributes.

Rose and Xander were stood near the chariot, looking at Alexis curiously. Xander seemed confused, whilst Rose seemed apprehensive. Of course, this wall all natural for them; Alexis was a complete stranger to them who may end up being responsible for their deaths. But if Alexis had any say in it, none of them would be dying any time soon.
"Hi there," Alexis said, smiling. "I'm Alexis, from District Five." She extended a hand to shake. Neither tribute took it. She sighed. "Look, I'm not going to hurt you; Elektra over there made me give my word that I'm not setting up a betrayal."
"Okay then," Rose said, stepping forward. "Then what do you want with us?"
"I'd like to propose an alliance," Alexis said simply. "If that's okay with you, I mean."
"But why us?" Rose questioned, raising an eyebrow.
"Because you're the only ones that seem smart and trustworthy enough," Alexis explained. "At least, that's my reasoning."
"Well, I'm still not certain about the arena," Xander suddenly spoke up. "But I don't see any harm in training together."
"Yeah," Rose said. "That way we can get to know each other, and then decide if it'll be a good idea to team up in the arena."
"That sounds great," Alexis said. "We'll all be able to make sure we can trust each other in there by bonding through training. Sound like a deal?" Alexis stuck out her hand again, smiling warmly at the two tributes. Rose took her hand, and shook it, returning the smile.
"Deal." Alexis went to reply, but a bell rang, and a metallic voice sounded out.
"All tributes, please board your chariots. The parade will begin in two minutes."
"Well, I'd better go," Alexis said, walking away. "See you tomorrow." She waved at District 3's tributes, who returned the action, before heading across the room to her own chariot.

Alexis turned past District 4's chariot, and reached District 5's. Markus was now stood on the chariot, and looking harshly at Maia. Alexis chose this moment to approach them.
"Hey," she said. "I'm back."
"And where was it you went?" Maia asked, harsher than she would have liked it to sound.
"Just made some friends, is all," Alexis said. Maia sighed at her, and flashed a weary smile at her. The same smile as Elektra, Alexis noted. And yet again, Maia was deserving of such a smile; she was in the final two of her Games with her ally turned closest friend Afya Zahirah from District 11. After an intense fight, Afya ended up killing herself so that Maia would win. Alexis had speculated a lot on why Afya did that, but never came up with a conclusive answer other than the Games had caused her to snap.
"Okay then. But you should really tell me where you're going, since I don't want to get in trouble for having you go AWOL on me." Maia's smiled changed to a more coy one, a hint of her old self, before the Games turned her into a hollow shell of a person.
"Got it," Alexis said sheepishly, before climbing up onto the chariot. Markus looked at her with a shark's grin, and took a step towards her. Alexis moved to the far side of the chariot, away from him.
"So," he said, grinning. "You managed to make friends, huh? Which district?"
"Like hell I'm gonna tell you," Alexis snapped back. "Knowing you, you'd just kill them on the spot as soon as we're in the Games, on top of killing me." She folded her arms, and glared harshly at Markus, attempting to assert herself as best she could. Markus just chuckled, and spread his arms wide.
"Who, little old me?" he said, grinning. "Why would I ever kill someone?"
"Just put a sock in it," Alexis said. "Oh, and do me a favour: please stay the hell away from me for the rest of your life."
"So friendship is out of the question?" Markus taunted. Alexis clenched her fists. She ignored him, though, and looked over at the other chariots. "Aw, don't be like that. I wouldn't hurt a fly!" Markus began to laugh, but the bell ringing out quickly drowned it out, followed by the metallic voice.
"Attention: the chariot parade is about to begin. Please remain inside your chariot until the parade is finished."

The anthem of Panem began to blare out of every speaker at once, filling the air with the patriotic tune. And at the far side of the room, the wall slid up, revealing the main street of the Capitol where the parade would take place.
"Good luck!" Maia yelled over the music as District 5's chariot pulled away. Alexis gave a thumbs-up to her mentor/friend, and looked ahead outside, grimacing. The chariot parade was the most demeaning part of the entire Games; the tributes were basically glorified dolls at the whims of their stylists for the Capitol to judge them. And, whether she liked it or not, Alexis knew this could end up getting her a sponsor that just might get her what she needed at just the right time.

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