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?


14. Gut Feeling

Dixie pushed through the dining room doors, once again returning to the training area. Lunch had been great; a couple of apples, and some roast bird or other, but it wasn't anything worth writing home about. What was noteworthy, however, was the actual training itself. She had blazed through survival training yesterday with relative ease, earning an abundance of praise from several trainers. Today, she had been working methodically through the weaponry stations, trying to find what stuck. So far, she had found a definite proficiency with the whip, and she wasn't half bad at throwing knives either. The only two stations she had yet to try out were the sword and spear stations, mainly due to the Careers swarming around them like tracker jackers to fermenting fruit.

However, as Dixie strode across the quiet training floor, she was elated to find that the spear station was devoid of Careers. This was the perfect opportunity to try out her luck with the weapon. She grinned giddily as she approached the station, her short brown hair bouncing with each step.

As soon as Dixie arrived at the station, the trainer emerged to greet her. She was a tall, slender woman with midnight black hair, and pale skin adorned with blood-red tattoos.
"Hey there," Dixie said, skipping the formalities. "I kinda want to train with the spear, so if you could kind of guide me in the right direction, that'd be great." She grinned widely at the trainer, who was taken aback by Dixie's brash demeanour. Whatever. After today, Dixie would never see the woman again.
"Of course. I'm more than happy to assist you," the woman replied as she walked across to the other side of the station, and after careful examination, selected a spear from one of the many shelves. She walked back to Dixie, and handed the District 9 tribute the weapon. Dixie's left hand closed around it, and the trainer's eyes widened at the missing ring and pinkie finger, as if she couldn't believe what she was seeing. Dixie merely rolled her eyes at the weird woman.
"Thanks," Dixie uttered to the woman, and began to walk towards a collection of targets, when the trainer placed a hand on Dixie's shoulder.
"I have to inform you that you may only train with the spear alongside a partner," the trainer said.
"Oh, wonderful," Dixie muttered under her breath. And then, to the trainer, "Really? So, will you bring in some person to train me?"
"Normally for novices, yes," the trainer said. "However, I have been observing your astounding progress in the other stations, and I believe it would be beneficial if you were to directly engage with me."
"Huh," Dixie replied, before her face settled in to a cocky grin. "Fine then, let's do this!"
"As you wish," the trainer replied, pulling out a spear of her own. And then, without warning, she thrusted the spear at Dixie.

The District 9 tribute barely had time to dodge as the trainer advanced. Dixie ducked in order to avoid another blow from the woman, before tightening her grip on her own spear. She leaped up, and flung her spear to the trainer, who parried her blow with her spear. The two of them were locked in combat, neither side showing resistance. And Dixie quickly recognised how similar this was to swordfighting, only it was easier to deliver a decisive blow, which meant it required you to be on your feet at all times if engaging someone in spear-based combat.

The trainer weakened her grip, and Dixie took this opportunity to thrust forward her spear. But the trainer gripped it mere inches before it would have impaled her face. Dixie grinned, and pulled back, panting for breath.
"Heh, this is actually kinda fun!" she said, eyeing up the trainer's every motion.
"I'm glad you think so," the trainer replied. "Although, just remember that in the arena, this won't be a mere exercise; your life will be on the line."
"Blah blah blah, got it!" Dixie said, before moving out of the way of the trainer's thrust. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and dripped off her face. This was more exhausting than it looked. In fact, Dixie was considering giving in, when she heard voices from behind her. She didn't even have to look to tell who they were: the Careers. Just freakin' marvellous.
"Hey, seems someone beat us to the station."
"Whatever, she's just an outlier. She'll be done in a sec; no need to get worked up, Dylan." Dixie could hear the voices loud and clear, and felt a rage bubbling up inside her. How dare they judge her like that! She would show them that she wasn't just an outlier to be ignored; perhaps that would shut their obnoxiously annoying mouths.

With a hardened resolve, Dixie rushed towards the trainer, and shoved her spear forwards, but her blow was blocked yet again. She cursed under her breath, before pulling back, and whilst the trainer was still deciding her next move, rammed her spear forwards with all her strength.

Dixie knew she had made a huge mistake when she heard the groan of pain from the trainer. She looked up, and saw that her spear was digging into the side of the woman. Blood dripped from the wound onto the floor.
"Oh my god..." the trainer uttered. Dixie immediately pulled her spear out, causing more blood to spurt. The trainer backed away, and, whilst still groaning in agony, pressed a button on the wall. Almost instantly two avoxes came scurrying from seemingly nowhere, and carried the trainer away. Dixie just stood there, awe-struck at what she had done. 
"Whoa," a voice from behind her said. Dixie spun around, and dropped the spear into the small puddle of blood on the floor. It was the boy from District 2, Dylan, she believed. "That was pretty awesome there." Dixie froze for a moment, but her brain was whirring at a hundred miles an hour. This was an opportunity to impress the Careers, and not one she was going to let slip.
"Really?" Dixie shrugged. "It wasn't that big a deal, really."
"No big deal?" Dylan replied, smiling. "Man, having the guts to actually injure a trainer? Colour me impressed."
"Thanks," Dixie said, also smiling. "So uh, is that all?" She didn't dare move, awaiting another promising response.
"Actually, no," Dylan said. Dixie's heart skipped a beat. "See, having someone like that in the arena working against us could be dangerous. So I was thinking that it would be beneficial to all if you joined our alliance. What do you say?"

Dixie was speechless. There was no way she was getting invited to join the Career pack; from day one, she had assumed that they would want nothing to do with her. But now, the leader of the Careers was asking her to join. It would be perfect: statistically, most of the Games have been won by someone in the Career pack. It would boost her chances of survival dramatically.
"Okay then," Dixie said, extending her good hand. "I'm in." Dylan took the hand, and shook it. His grip was firm but friendly.
"Hey, Dylan," Osiris, the boy from 1 said. "It's getting pretty late on, and since I guess this station is out of use now, what do we do?"
"I guess we just go to another station," Dylan replied.
"How about cooking?" Topaz, Osiris' district partner, offered.
"Yeah, that sounds good," Dylan said. "Learning how to do that could come in handy in the arena if the Cornucopia lacks food." He let go of Dixie's hand, and motioned to the cooking station that Dixie had been at this time yesterday, roughly. He then proceeded to walk towards it, followed by the other Careers. Dixie also followed, but trailed behind at the back of the group, next to Kylee, the female tribute from 2.
"Hey there," Dixie said.
"Oh, hey," Kylee replied. "Congrats for making the Careers, I guess." She then offered a smile to Dixie. At first, the newest Career took the smile for sincere, but then, she saw the slightest shift in Kylee's expression. It lasted for just a moment, but it was enough to send a chill through Dixie's spine. She looked away from Kylee, and picked up the pace, arriving at the cooking station with the other Careers.

For Dixie, cooking was just going through the motions. She had gone through it yesterday in extensive detail, so everything pretty much came naturally to her. The other Careers had considerably more difficulty with it, so she helped them out there: turned out Osiris was actually pretty awful at cooking meat over a fire. But they all managed to get through it in the end, so it was fine. Except for one thing: Kylee. Even though Dixie didn't really want to think anything of it, there was something unsettling about the way the older girl was continually looking at her out of the corner of Dixie's eyes. Something about Kylee was off, but she didn't think it was necessary to pry: the other Careers had no issue with her, so she let it slide.

As Dixie put the last charred piece of meat into the incinerating fire, a bell rang out, signalling the end of training for the day. As it did so, Dixie became immediately aware of the sobering fact that tomorrow would bring the private sessions, where she would find out her training score. That would depend on how well she did in the private session. She felt confident about it, but it would be stupid to think that she could just waltz in and claim a high score. But hopefully, all would go well.

Dixie was just turning around to leave when she was met with Kylee. The older girl from District 2 was standing there, smiling that almost-sincere smile.
"Hey again," Dixie said. "How are you?"
"Oh fine," Kylee said. Dixie went to walk towards the elevators, but Kylee stepped in her way. "I just want to wish you good luck in the private sessions tomorrow. Because I know how devastating it would be if you were to get a horribly low score."
"Yeah, it would be," Dixie said through gritted teeth. What was Kylee playing at? "I guess I also hope that you do okay as well."
"Indeed," Kylee replied. "But I just want to show that I do care about all my allies, even if there was the chance that you got the wrong impression earlier. If you did, I apologise about that entirely."
"Oh, it's fine," Dixie said. "Now, it's getting late, so do you think I could head back to my floor?"
"Of course!" Kylee said, letting out a light gasp. "I'm terribly sorry for being inconvenient. See you tomorrow!" She flashed a smile at Dixie, who returned the grin. Dixie then walked past Kylee, and headed towards the elevator. Today had been eventful indeed, and of all the things that had happened, only one thought was pounding around in Dixie's head. It was more of an alarm bell than anything, and it message was simple, yet important: do not trust Kylee Harker. There was definitely something amiss about her demeanour, and Dixie felt a gut feeling deep down that by not trusting anything about the District 2 female, it would be the wisest choice she would end up making in the entirety of the Games.

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