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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11. Learning to Convince

Annabell stood next to Ren as the elevator moved up. She glanced at him: he was currently holding onto the rail, trying to balance himself as best as possible. Although, Annabell was one to talk: every time she had used the elevator so far she had clutched onto the railing for dear life.

Annabell smiled. Ren happened to see Annabell smile, and offered a smile back. As soon as he did so, Annabell felt a twinge of anxiety: today had not gone well. The two tributes from District 4 had been approached by the Career pack, who wanted them to join. But, since they were so young, they couldn't just get in: they had to prove themselves. Ren managed to pass the little test, which was knife throwing, with ease, but Annabell slipped up at the very end. Of course, Dylan, the leader of the Careers, had said that she was in from the moment he approached her, but still, that moment when she thought she was going to be rejected was the most crushed she had ever felt. For a split second, Annabell truly thought that she was going to have to survive the arena alone. No, that wasn't quite true: Ren had actually stepped away from the Careers when he thought that they weren't going to take in Annabell. He would willingly compromise his own survival just so his partner wouldn't be alone. It was almost unbelievable.
"Hey," Ren suddenly said. Annabell looked at him. "How are you?"
"Oh," Annabell said. "Fine, really."
"Really?" Ren said. "Just 'fine'?"
"Okay, okay," Annabell said, her tone exasperated. "I'm honestly relieved, to be honest."
"Yeah," Ren replied. "About the Career alliance?"
"Of course. I honestly thought we were going to be abandoned by them."
"I guess it was just their way of testing us." Ren sighed. "We are pretty young for Careers, after all."
"But you didn't have to tell them that I've never trained before," Annabell suddenly said, flushed with irritation. "What if that makes us look weak? What if a stronger pair of tributes from the outlying districts join, and they don't think we're worth having around, and they kill us off in the bloodbath? What about that, Ren?" Ren didn't reply straight away, and just looked at Annabell, shocked by her outburst. Annabell turned pale, and looked away. She had crossed some line. She just knew it. 
"Annabell..." Ren said quietly as the elevator opened, and they stepped out. "Is that how you feel on this?" Annabell avoided his gaze as they walked down the hallway.
"Maybe," she mumbled under her breath.
"What was that?"
"I said, maybe!" Annabell snapped, her voice breaking. "I'm honestly terrified about everything, Ren. I was never meant to be here; someone else was supposed to volunteer for me at the reaping, and if that had happened, I would be at home right now, watching you thrive in the Games!" Annabell clenched her fists, and looked at the ground.
"Annabell, are you forgetting that I wasn't supposed to go into the Games until my eighteenth birthday?" Ren questioned. "Yes, I have a little more experience with the Career environment, but honestly, I've just been winging it so far. You're not alone in feeling confused, lost, and afraid, Annabell."

Annabell didn't reply, and instead just kept walking. Inside, she felt a surge of emotions, most of which were a hatred for herself. She was still recovering from her almost rejection, and she had taken it out on the person closest to her in the Games. Could she get any more idiotic? She hadn't realised it before, but Annabell was now crying. Loud sobs burst from her lips, and tears dripped down her face. Ren rushed up to her, and placed an arm around her. Annabell didn't move away.
"Hey," Ren said softly. "Are you okay?"
"No!" Annabell sobbed. "I am not okay, Ren. I just don't think I can handle it!"
"Handle what?" Ren asked, raising an eyebrow.
"This!" Annabell said. "The Games! Everything! I can't take it, Ren! I just want to go home!" Annabell opened her mouth to continue, but instead started crying into Ren's shoulder, who awkwardly attempted to calm her down.
"Hey, now," Ren said, smiling lightly. "Don't cry, Annabell. It'll be fine. You'll be fine. And if you think the Careers would kill you so easily, think about this: they wouldn't have made you prove yourself if they were just going to kill you in the opening minutes, would they?"
"Yeah," Annabell said, pulling away from Ren. She wiped her eyes and face, removing the traces of tears. "You're right."
"And who actually knows what's going to happen in the Games?" Ren said, smiling warmly. "But, if it makes you feel better, I choose my district partner over a Career any day."
"You wouldn't if it wasn't me," Annabell said.
"True, true," Ren replied evenly. "But it's not every day that a childhood friend is thrown into the Games with you, is it?"
"Yeah," Annabell said. Suddenly, her stomach growled. Ren snickered.
"Seems someone's a little hungry," he said, seconds before his own stomach rumbled.
"Seems someone else is, as well," Annabell shot back, giggling.
"Well, I guess we should go get something to eat then," Ren said.
"Okay then," Annabell replied.

The two tributes walked down the hallway, and turned at the end. They quickly made their way down the stairs, and across to the dining area. The two mentors this year, Corala, and Mariner, were already sat at the table, talking to each other, but stopped as soon as they saw Ren and Annabell.
"Hey guys," Mariner said. Mariner was a man in his early thirties, with wide green eyes, spiked bronze hair, and a ruggedly good-looking face. "How'd training go?"
"We got in with the Careers," Ren replied without a second's hesitation.
"Really?" Corala added. She was an older woman with wavy black hair and blue eyes. She also had a shining blue nose piercing. "Even though you're so young?"
"Yeah," Ren lied. "They let us in right away."
"Oh," Mariner said. "I didn't expect that. Well, that's great for you guys, isn't it?" He smiled at them. Annabell felt a sick feeling in her stomach. It wasn't great, though: she had barely gotten in with the Careers, Ren was willing to give up his position for her, and Annabell knew that her lack of ability was not a good sign. Probably the Careers would casually kill her off in the bloodbath without a second though. She suddenly flushed with horror, and looked away.
"Hey," Corala said. "Are you okay, Annabell?"
"What?" Annabell said.
"It's just that you've gone pale all of a sudden," she said flatly. "Are you sure everything's fine?"

Annabell felt a rush of panic coming on. This was not good: Corala would be able to see right through the act if Annabell didn't think of something quickly. But what excuse could she use? Her first thought was to say that she had had an allergic reaction to something at one of the survival stations, but that would just show that they hadn't devoted all of today to the Career alliance. A chill ran through Annabell: she had to figure out something, and fast.
"Um, well," she said without realising, hurrying to figure out an excuse. "We were at the projectile weapons section, and some outlying tribute broke poison darts everywhere. Some of the poison got onto my knife, and I guess it's sort of having some bad effect on me."
"Oh my," Corala said, her eyes widening. Annabell looked at Ren, who mirrored her confused, panicked expression. "That's bad. How bad do you feel?"
"Just a little flushed and queasy is all," Annabell lied. "But really not that bad."
"Good," Corala said with a sigh of relief. "I'd hate for one of my tributes to be in a horrific condition before the Games have even begun."
"Yeah, don't worry about me," Annabell said. "I'll be fine."

Without another word, Ren and Annabell sat down at the table, and grabbed some food. Annabell had a fish covered in some sort of breadcrumb, and filled with a cheese sauce. It all tasted delightful, even if she noticed that something about the fish was off. It was most likely filled with an artificial flavouring for the Capitol to enjoy even more. She had to admit that it tasted nice, but it wasn't as good as the taste of pure, unprocessed fish. Something about it just made it taste all the better. Perhaps it was that it reminded her of her home and childhood, or that it was some part of Annabell showing distaste for the Capitol in some way. Although, she was leaning towards it being some matter of nostalgia. Annabell laughed at that: she had been away from home for, what, three days now? And already the simple things were giving her stabs of longing. Hopefully that would be ironed out before the Games started, since reminiscing during the Games would be a sure-fire way to get killed.

Annabell finished the fish, and stood up. She had no intention of being here any longer than she had to be; if she stayed around the mentors for too long, she might slip up and tell them the honest truth that she had no training experience; currently, the only other person in this room that knew that secret was Ren. The other Careers knew, and Annabell burned with shame at the thought. But, perhaps if she convinced them enough, they would think it was all just a ruse to make her appear less threatening. Yeah, that might work. Annabell sighed. The next few days were going to be anything but easy.

Ren suddenly stood up as well, and cast Annabell a glance. This one slight motion told her that he sensed her tension and worry as well. 
"Hey," Ren said to their mentors. "I'm feeling a little stuffed, and kind of want to sleep it off." Annabell's heart leaped. That was the perfect excuse to get out of here.
"Me too," she said. "I'm not used to food this rich." That was a lie: Annabell came from one of the richest families in District 4, and usually ate more than she had just done for an average meal. In no way was it as much as what was piled up on the table in front of her, but it was still much more than practically anyone else in the district. But they didn't have to know that.
"Okay then," Corala said. "I suppose it's best for you if you head off before you really start to feel tired: this section of the Games is all about preparation, which includes making sure you're as healthy as possible before the Games start."
"Yeah," Ren said. "Well, goodnight." He waved at the two mentors, and began to walk out. Annabell instantly followed him out of the dining room, and up the stairs, not stopping until they were just outside of Ren's room.

"That was too close," Annabell whispered.
"Yeah," Ren replied in an equally quiet tone of voice. "But I don't think they know yet. They have their suspicions, but they don't know for sure."
"I know," she replied. "But there's another issue: the Careers."
"Yeah, I'm awfully sorry about that," Ren said. "However, I think I have a way out of it."
"How?"
"Simple," he said. "We tell them tomorrow that it was just an act put on by you to deceive any other tributes that might have been listening in. You know, so that they lower their guard around the alliance, leading to their demise."
"That's brilliant, Ren," Annabell said, smiling. "Thank you so much."
"Hey, what are friends for?" Ren said, half smirking.
"No, this is much more than that," Annabell said, hugging him. "You may have just saved my life in the arena."
"Don't mention it," Ren said. "I'm sure you'd do the same if the roles were reversed." He stepped out of the hug. "Anyway, I think I'll actually go to bed now, Anna. So, see you tomorrow."
"Yeah," Annabell said. "See you tomorrow." She smiled at Ren as he walked into his room, closing the door behind him.

For a moment, Annabell remained there, letting the silence wash over her. But then she turned away from Ren's room, and walked down the hallway to her own. She took a deep breath: if she wanted any chance of surviving, she had to convince everyone she was a true Career. And with Ren being so supportive of her, Annabell knew that even if she was kicked from the Career alliance, she wouldn't be alone in the arena.

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