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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21. Last Moments

Lucy had woken up a while ago, and had gotten dressed, but she hadn't left her room yet. She glanced over at the door, and felt a pang of anxiety: she knew that once she walked out of this room, she would never return to it again. And for some reason, that felt the worst, knowing everything she was doing was going to be the last time she would do it. All of this comfort, and she would never see it again.

The sun broke through a thin layer of cloud, suddenly bathing the room in its warm glow. Lucy was caught in the sun's rays, and had to squint her eyes to see. Despite how normally she adored the sun, this time, it felt like it was an evil presence, breathing down her throat. She glanced over at the clock on her wall. Ninety minutes until the Games began. That was it. Potentially, Lucy had ninety minutes left to live. She felt the panic rising. Even though she would have the support of her allies, there was still the potential that Lucy would be another victim of the bloodbath. That all her training would be for nothing.

Lucy stood up, beginning to feel trapped in her room. She needed to get out, and needed to breathe. Even if it meant that she would never set foot in this room ever again. Lucy took a deep breath: she couldn't avoid this, and if she was still in such a terrified state when the Games began, then she'd be dead for sure.

With legs which felt like they were made of lead, Lucy slowly walked across her room, stopping in front of the door. She took one last look at the room, and closed her eyes, pushing open the door. She stepped out, into the hallway, leaving the room behind. Lucy opened her eyes again as she closed the door, and walked down the hallway, and down to the dining room.

Liam was already at the table, and was furiously eating as much as he could. Their mentor was sat at the table, half trying to eat a salad, and their escort was stood, looking at the clock, waiting for it to count down to when the tributes would have to leave. Lucy took another glance. Eighty two minutes remaining. She forced herself to sit down at the table, and grabbed a bunch of grapes, eating from it, even though she lacked any real appetite.
"Hey," Liam said to Lucy, breaking the tension. "Ready for the Games?" His mere mentioning of it sent a crushing blow to Lucy's chest. But she forced herself to take a deep breath, and looked over at her district partner.
"I think so," she replied, chewing on a grape. It was oddly sour, she noted. "But who can entirely be ready?"
"You're right," Liam replied. "I just hope I'm as ready as possible."
"Hey," Lucy said. "Aren't you working with that Emily girl from Eight?"
"Yeah," Liam said. "And I'm pretty sure you're in with that large alliance of girls, right?"
"Yeah," Lucy replied, finishing her grapes, despite how she didn't have much of an appetite. Perhaps she was actually eating just to calm herself. But at least it was working. However, she then stole a glance at the clock. Seventy minutes. Just over an hour left alive for a few tributes. The thought was horribly unsettling. All those faces Lucy had grown accustomed to, full of life and energy... several of them would be laying on the ground in front of the Cornucopia very soon, dead. "We should do well together. We plan on staying out of the way for as long as possible."
"Same," Liam replied. "Which probably means, once we get off the hovercraft, the next time we see each other will be when one of us has their face projected in the sky." He was right, Lucy realised. The next time she would see her district partner's face after now would be when he died, provided Lucy lived longer than Liam did.

Lucy suddenly became very aware of the possibility that she could die very soon. During the entirety of when her name had been called back in District 11 until now, Lucy had not thought of her own death. It had almost seemed like a silly thing to think about, but now, with the Games due to begin very soon, it suddenly became apparent that it was a very likely possibility. And she didn't like the idea of that. She focused on eating another bunch of grapes to take her mind off of it; she needed to arrive in the arena with a clear head if she wanted to survive past the first few minutes. Lucy then wondered how many tributes would die in the bloodbath, but she couldn't bring herself to imagine any last one of the tributes dead. They were all very real people, and this year, she felt as if the Capitol had done all they could to make sure every tribute had a real sense of who everyone else was. That could also just be how Lucy had been coping in the Capitol; finding out little pieces of information about the other tributes had been something to take her mind off the idea that all but one of them would be dead within the next fourteen days at most.

Lucy ate a further two bunches of grapes in relative silence, until the clock chimed. Her heart turned to ice as she slowly looked at it. Thirty minutes until launch.
"Oh goodness!" the escort said. "Is it already time to go?" She looked at the clock to confirm this. "Well, we can't have you two being late to the arena, can we? Come on, it's time to go!" Every nerve in Lucy's body was telling her to run away; to get out of here before she was sent to an almost certain death. But she couldn't; her fate was staring her right in the face, and she had to face it.
"Okay then," she said, barely holding back the tears. Liam stood up silently.
"Hey, you two," their mentor said. "Before you guys head out there, I just want you to know that I wish you both the best of luck."
"Thanks," Liam said, before going silent again. Lucy looked at him; even he wasn't immune to the pre-launch tension that she had also been afflicted with, and what Lucy was certain many tributes were feeling right now.
"Well, follow me!" the escort said as she headed to the wall next to the clock, away from the hallway which led to training. There was a door there that Lucy had never really paid attention to, but that didn't matter. She watched as the escort pulled out a key, and unlocked it, swinging it open. It revealed an elevator door, complete with a button panel. The escort pressed one of the buttons, and the elevator opened.
"I guess this is it, huh," Liam said, but Lucy wasn't sure whether he was talking to her or himself. "There's no going back now." Lucy nodded, and followed him into the elevator. and as soon as she stepped on the metallic floor, it felt as if she had sealed her fate. The escort stepped in, and pressed another button. The elevator began to slowly descend, but to where, Lucy wasn't sure.

"Now," the escort said. "Once the elevator stops, we are going to be outside the back of the training tower. Just a little ahead of us will be the hovercraft: the two of you will head up there alone, as escorts aren't permitted to go that far." She paused, and Lucy was surprised to see tears in the corner of the Capitol woman's eyes. "So this elevator trip will be the last I see of you until the Games."
"Well," Liam said. "It's been great having you around."
"Thank you," the escort replied. "I know it's silly of me, but I've grown rather attached to you two, and I really hope for the best in the arena."
"Thanks."

The elevator suddenly came to a stop, and the door slid open, revealing near-blinding sunlight. It was quite warm outside. Liam and Lucy stepped out of the elevator, and turned to see the escort waving as the door slid shut. Lucy swallowed. That could be the last time she would ever see the strange woman ever again. This was all really happening. She turned away from the training tower, and looked ahead. A large hovercraft was stationary just ahead. There were two Peacekeepers standing near it. One was looking directly at the two District 11 tributes as they drew closer to it. Lucy felt unnerved, but didn't let it show as she walked past him.

As they stood underneath the hovercraft, Lucy looked at Liam, confused. How were they supposed to get up? However, just as she thought this, Lucy suddenly found herself rising up. A beam of sky-blue light surrounded both Liam and herself, and Lucy found that she couldn't move her limbs; they were being beamed up to the hovercraft.
"Hey," Liam said as Lucy heard a door opening for the two tributes. "I guess this is it then."
"Yeah," Lucy said. It then hit her: this was the last time she would see most of the tributes before they died. And as she was lifted into the hovercraft, there was only one thought on Lucy's mind: she wasn't ready.

--

"Give me your arm."

Ren winced as the Capitol attendant injected his arm with the tracker. It was a painful process, and left him with a strange raised lump. But before he could open his mouth, the attendant beat him to it. "Don't worry, it'll go down in a couple of hours."

But in a couple of hours, Ren could be dead. Although, the chances were slim: he was in with the Careers, and as such, he had a much better chance of surviving. Most of the other tributes would be terrified of him, and for the few that wouldn't be, Ren would have the other Careers on his side. He breathed out: there was no need to worry.

"Give me your arm."

Ren watched as the woman injected Annabell, who winced in pain. The attendant said the same thing to Annabell that she had done to Ren, before moving on to the next tribute.
"Hey, Ren," Annabell said.
"Hey, Annabell," Ren replied. She looked tense, and if the others saw it, then it could make her a target. He had to calm her somehow. "So, uh, how are you feeling about the Games?" None of the other tributes were listening in; they were all absorbed in their own conversations. Which meant that he could freely address any concerns Annabell had.
"Honestly?" Annabell said. "I'm absolutely terrified." 
"Really?" Ren said. "We have the other Careers, and just being in the alliance is enough to put off the others."
"That's the point though," Annabell said. "What's stopping the others from accidentally killing me in the slaughter? I don't exactly look like the typical Career, Ren."
"Well, you're not," Ren said, grinning. "You'll be fine, Anna." Annabell flushed at Ren's usage of that nickname. But it was taking her mind off of the Games, which was a good thing.
"I hope so," Annabell said. "But who can be certain with this?" She was right there, but Ren was confident that everything would be fine.

Suddenly, the hovercraft jerked, and the windows blacked out, leaving the light above the tributes' heads as the only source. Ren's seatbelt strapped up, trapping him in the seat. He looked over at Annabell, who had also been locked in. He then gazed over at the circle of tributes, seeing the same thing. The hovercraft had taken off, meaning that they were that much closer to the Games. Ren wondered how much time was left. Surely not long now; these hovercraft could move at the speed of sound, so they'd be there in no time at all.

The hovercraft went silent as the tributes each gathered their thoughts, mentally preparing themselves for the arena. Ren looked over them, and absently wondered if they were arranged in the same order as the Cornucopia pedestals would be. But it wasn't really that important to think about; instead, Ren thought ahead to the arena. He was confident that he and Annabell would survive the bloodbath, and for a while after that, but then there was another problem: what would happen when the numbers began to wear out? It wasn't uncommon to see the Career alliance implode on itself when there were very few tributes left, and there was every chance that it could happen this year. If it did, then what did it mean for Annabell and himself? It was now that Ren realised something: he would have to get Annabell as far away from the alliance as soon as possible if the other Careers showed signs of doing that.

And some part of Ren knew that the only person he would truly be able to trust in the arena would be Annabell.

--

Markus stood in the launch room, waiting for his stylist to return with the arena outfit. He had waited far too long for this moment, and now, finally, he was being rewarded. The countdown timer on the wall read five minutes. Five minutes. That was all that stood between Markus and the arena. Oh, this was the greatest moment by far.

The door on the other side of the launch room opened, and Markus' stylist emerged, holding the outfit, just as the clock ticked down to just over four minutes: four minutes, and thirteen seconds, to be precise.
"Sorry I took so long," his stylist said. "But there was a slight delay in getting the outfit." She gazed apologetically, but Markus just rolled his eyes.
"Whatever," he said in a gruff voice. "Just hand it over." The stylist did as instructed, and Markus quickly stripped off to just his underwear, and slipped on the arena outfit, which was a black long sleeved shirt, under a sleeveless green combat camouflage jacket, with dark green pants and combat boots. Judging from the outfit, Markus would be expecting some mild terrain, but with the potential for lower or higher temperatures: it wouldn't be anything like the tropical island last year. But the outfit didn't betray much, unfortunately.

As Markus' stylist picked up his discarded outfit, Markus looked at the clock: one minute to go.
"Well," the stylist said. "Looks as if this is it for you and me."
"Fine," Markus said. "I just can't wait to get into the arena."
"Neither can I," the stylist said. She smiled. "I'm rooting for you."
"Uh, thanks, I guess," Markus said. He couldn't care less about this woman, but just for this last time he could humour her. He walked over to the pedestal in the corner of the room, and stood on it, looking at his stylist, who was smiling. He glanced at the timer. Five. Four. Three. Two. One.

A tube closed over the platform, trapping Markus inside, before it slowly began to rise. He grinned as he gradually ascended. This was it. The Games had begun.
"And," he said to himself, "may the odds be ever in my favour."

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