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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20. Hope

Rose sat on the edge of her bed. The light from outside shone through her large window, casting a strange glow on her. She had changed out of her interview outfit, and was wearing a simple t-shirt with a pair of sweat pants; sleeping attire. The only problem was that she couldn't sleep. Every time she tried to lay down, her thoughts drifted to the Games, and to her dying. She had given up on sleeping, but knew that she had to.

Rose glanced over at the clock. It had just turned one in the morning. The people of the Capitol were still partying down below in the streets, even at this hour. Before, she had viewed it as an odd novelty. Now, Rose saw it as ominously foreboding: for all she knew, they were chanting the name of her killer down there. She ran a hand through her blonde hair, sighing. There was just too much going around in her head to go to sleep.

Without even being entirely aware of what she was doing, Rose had left her bed, and was walking across the bedroom. She couldn't stay in here; the sounds of the partying Capitol was too much for her to handle. Rose grabbed the handle of the door, and pulled on it, opening the door. Almost instantly the golden glow of the lights in the hallway coated her, as they had done every evening in this place. But for some reason, it had gone from feeling like lavish accommodation to feeling like a prison: Rose felt trapped. She needed to get out.

She walked down the hallway, passing Xander's room. She paused outside the door, and listened carefully. She was rewarded with the soft sound of Xander's snoring. Rose shook her head; of course Xander would be getting some sleep. He wasn't worried about the Games in the same way as Rose was; his only concern was Alexis' escape plan, and how it would go. Rose knew that she should also be focusing on that, but before they could even begin, they had to survive the bloodbath. And that was what terrified Rose the most: any one of the tributes could easily kill her off without a second thought. And if that was the case, then Rose would never leave the Games. She would never see Elektra again, and she couldn't do that to her best friend. It just couldn't happen.

But the reality of the situation was that nothing was certain. Perhaps all three of them were going to perish in the bloodbath, and the plan would never come to fruition. No, Rose decided, even if both her and Xander were to die, Alexis wouldn't. She would keep going right up until her dying breaths; until the end. Rose wasn't sure if she would be alive to see that 'end'.

Rose continued walking down the hallway, until she reached Elektra's room. The door was half-open. She peered inside, and turned on the lights. The room was empty; the bed untouched. So Elektra wasn't sleeping either. Perhaps Rose could find her, and talk to her about the Games. She turned off the light, and walked across to the dining area, but found the entire place covered in darkness. Elektra wasn't there. Rose then looked to the elevator on the far side of the hallway, opposite her room. It was the elevator she took to leave the training session, which was also used by the other tributes. Which meant that it led anywhere in the building. Rose stepped inside the elevator, placing her hand on the cold railing as the door shut. She looked at the panel of buttons, and pressed the very top one: the same one Alexis had pressed in training.

The elevator moved up slowly, and Rose could hear the sound of the motor whirring away to lift the silver box upwards. Hopefully Elektra was up here, but if not, the roof would provide somewhere quiet to gather her thoughts.

The elevator stopped, and pinged as the door opened. Rose stepped outside, and was met with a cool rush of night air. The roof was bathed in shadow, but Rose still recognised each feature: the benches were still there, the mini garden was still there, and the shed was as well. For a moment Rose wondered if the camera Alexis had broken had been replaced yet. But that thought vanished as Rose saw a figure sitting on one of the benches; it wasn't entirely clear, but Rose knew who it was just from their form. She walked over to the bench, and sat down.
"Hey," Elektra said in a tired voice. She offered Rose a weary smile. Rose returned it.
"Hey," Rose replied, looking ahead. The roof offered a stunning view of the Capitol's skyline; buildings rose up as far as the eye could see; each one glowed with various lights. The city was very much alive, even at this late hour.
"What brings you up here?" Elektra asked, looking at Rose with eyes that seemed too old for the body they were on.
"I couldn't sleep," Rose replied.
"The Games?" Rose nodded. "Me too."
"What's worrying you?" Rose asked.
"It's you," Elektra said. "I know it makes me a bad mentor to have a preference, but you're my best friend. And I don't want to see you go into that awful place, Rose."
"I know," Rose replied. "Neither do I."
"But you don't know what it's truly like in there," Elektra said, burying her face in her hands. "At least, not yet."
"What do you mean?" Rose questioned.
"Rose," Elektra said. "I saw so many people die in my Games. Good people, too. Innocent people, like the two from District Eight. Genuinely good people like Olyver from Six. And then, Samuel..." Tears dripped onto the concrete below, creating damp spots. "And I don't want you to have to go through any of that. And then there's the chance that you'll die amongst the other tributes; you'll just be known as another part of the carnage. Nothing else."
"Oh..." Rose said. "I didn't know." She leaned towards Elektra, and put a supportive arm over the victor's shoulder. "I'm so sorry."
"And the worst part is that, no matter what you do," Elektra said, suddenly letting out a sob. "The images never leave you. They're seared into your mind for all eternity, plaguing you with guilt, always making you think, 'why was it me that won?'. It doesn't end." 
"But I have my allies," Rose said. "They'll help me out, and we're hoping to stay as far away from the other tributes as possible."
"That sounds all fine and dandy," Elektra said. "But even the opening bloodbath is enough to leave a permanent mental scar. I've been through it once, and I know the true horror inside-out. And there is no way that I want my best friend to end up like me: a broken, hollow shell of her former self."

Rose sat in silence for a moment, letting the gravity of Elektra's words sink in. She had never known just how much it had done to her best friend: whenever they were together, Elektra always had seemed like her old self. Then it dawned on her: Elektra was putting on a mask to try and stay strong for Rose. But the reality was that the girl was constantly being haunted by reminders of the arena. And now, Elektra would have to see her best friend go through exactly the same ordeal. A sudden rush of emotion hit Rose, and she felt tears well up in her eyes.
"Elektra," she said in a small voice. "I don't want to die." Tears dripped down Rose's face, and this time, it was Elektra's turn to offer comfort.
"I know," Elektra said, her voice breaking. "I don't want it either."
"I'm scared, Elektra," Rose said, shuddering with her sobs as she cried into Elektra's shoulder.
"I know," Elektra said. "But I will try as hard as I can to get you home."
"Really?" Rose said.
"It's a promise," Elektra replied. "I will pull every string, entice every mentor. I'll do whatever it takes to keep you alive, Rose. Mark my words."
"Are you sure?" Rose asked. "It seems very unlikely that you can influence the arena."
"Trust me," Elektra said. "So long as I am breathing, I will keep you alive, Rose. That much is certain."

Rose stared at Elektra, shocked. Normally, mentors couldn't influence much besides deploying sponsor packages, but Elektra was going to try and intervene as much as possible. In fact, it seemed as if Elektra was going to do everything short of taking Rose's place in the arena, which Rose knew to be impossible. She still had to face the Games, no matter how much Elektra was going to help. She let out a yawn, feeling emotionally drained.
"You know, Elektra," she said. "I'm glad you're my friend. I have no idea what I'd do if you weren't around."
"Me neither," Elektra said. "And that is why you are going to win. Because without you, I'd be nothing."
"You really think of me like that?" Rose said.
"Yes," Elektra said. "You are everything, and to lose you... it would be unthinkable." She wrapped her arms around Rose, and began to cry again. "Promise me that, no matter what happens to you, no matter what you see... you don't give up. Don't stop. Don't die. Please."
"I'll try," Rose said, comforting Elektra. "I'll try."

But Rose knew just as well as Elektra did that, at the end of the day, only one was going to come out. And that ultimately, Rose knew deep in her heart, that her chances of survival were extremely low, and that no matter what Elektra did, she couldn't change the fact that there were just so many more competent tributes out there. But still, perhaps there was just the faintest glimmer of hope, so tiny that it barely existed, that Rose could come home. The chances were slim, but maybe, just maybe, she could hope. Because that's all anyone could do at the end of the day: hope.

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