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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7. Observations

Mason remained holding onto the chariot until it had entirely stopped. His face had gone pale, and he was short of breath. That had been terrifying. The chariot was higher than he had anticipated, and the horses were going much faster as well. He felt sick to his stomach just thinking about that; if there was one thing above all others Mason didn't want to encounter in the arena, it was a parade of horses and chariots. He never wanted to see any of that again in his life.

He finally managed to let go of the railing shakily when the opening to the basement of the training Centre closed, and every last horse and chariot was in place. The other tributes didn't seem as bothered by the whole ordeal as he was; some were actually smiling and laughing. The majority looked weary, though, which was to be expected. The only exception to this observation was Mason's own district partner, Salvera Combe. Something about her struck Mason as odd, but he couldn't quite put it down. It wasn't her appearance; she looked fairly normal with her light brown skin and platinum blonde hair, and she carried herself in a normal way. It was something obvious, that Mason had missed. Something that was staring him right in the face...

The noise of clopping high heels reached Mason's ears, and he turned to see their escort rushing up to them. Her green hair was a wild mess, and her pale skin was pink with exhaustion. She finally reached the chariot, and placed an arm on it for support, catching her breath.
"Sorry about this," she panted. "But I had to help deal with a potential sponsor for one of you." Mason raised an eyebrow. That was pretty good news, actually.
"Really?" he said, his voice eager. "Which one of us?"
"But won't one of you feel bad if it's not you?" she replied. Mason shook his head.
"Okay then," she sighed. "It's Salvera, if you must know."

Mason stared at the escort with confusion, before glancing at Salvera. How in the name of Panem did she manage to catch the eye of a sponsor?
"How... nice..." Salvera suddenly spoke up, to Mason's surprise. It was here that he realised what it was; the entire time that he had been with her, Salvera hadn't uttered a single word. He adjusted his glasses, and looked over to the escort, who was equally shocked. Although, Salvera's voice was strange. It had a spacey, quiet quality to it, and she trailed off her sentences like she was questioning everything. It was strange, to say the least. 
"Indeed it is, Sally!" the escort chimed. "If it's okay to call you Sally, that is." But Salvera had already spaced out again. Mason looked at her with confusion, and the escort sighed. "Hopefully we'll have made progress before you have to talk again." Even though he knew this was wrong to think, Mason realised that anyone with an interest in District 6 would be sooner drawn to himself than Salvera. Having this girl as a partner could be a help to himself. The escort cleared her throat, and continued. "Anyway, I think we should be going now! Dinner won't stay warm forever!"

The escort bounded over to the chariot, and opened the door on the side of it, which deployed a set of stairs for the two tributes to use to get down. Mason went first, quickly descending the stairs, back on the solid concrete ground. Salvera, though, didn't move for quite a while, spacing out, ignorant to the escort's cries. After about ten minutes of this, Mason looked around, realising that they were the only ones left in the basement, save for a thin young man in the corner, looking at them with wide, nervous eyes that made Mason feel unsettled, like every second spent here was the worst decision ever made. He looked back at Salvera, who still hadn't moved. He let out a sigh, unsure as to what he was feeling right now, and walked over to the chariot.
"Hey, Salvera," he called out harshly to her. "I'd appreciate it if you could come down any time before the Games begin." To his surprise, Salvera turned to face him, and nodded in a slow, detached manner.
"If that's what has to happen..." She then quickly climbed down the stairs, joining Mason as they followed their escort across the basement, and to the elevator. As they stood around the silver doors, waiting for them to open, Mason took a step back from Salvera. Something clearly wasn't right with her, and it seemed to be something that Mason would benefit from avoiding. Because it just wasn't right when someone could go from being a spacey ditz to someone with a calm, intelligent air of personality. He found himself eyeing up the estranged girl with caution.

His staring was broken off by the elevator doors opening. He walked in there silently, followed by Salvera, and the escort. Mason stood in the far left corner. Salvera stood in the right corner. The escort remained at the front of the elevator, and pressed one of the buttons on the wall, which was labelled '6'. With a sudden lurch, the elevator began to move up. Mason gripped onto the railing for support, looking at Salvera. She wasn't holding onto anything, yet still seemed to be keeping her balance just fine. Like she didn't care, or didn't notice. What was she?
"Maybe a Morphling addict...?" Mason said quietly to himself, out of anyone's earshot. But, to his surprise, when he looked up at Salvera, she was shaking her head, the movements slight, and a half smirk was on her face. A chill ran through him. How did she hear him? But she had outright told him she wasn't an addict. Well, as outright as someone like Salvera could be. Whatever it was, though, Salvera creeped Mason out. It was probably highly rude of him to be thinking like this, but he couldn't help it. Either way, regardless of the moral ambiguity of his thoughts, Mason was certain that he would never in a million years consider going into an alliance with the bizarre girl.

The elevator doors opened with a shudder, catching Mason off-guard. A brighter light flooded into the elevator from the hallway, causing him to blink several times to adjust. But as soon as he had finished doing so, the escort was already dragging the pair of them out of the elevator, and onto the rich carpeted floor.
"Well," she said. "That took slightly longer than expected. But don't worry, we'll still have plenty of time for dinner!" She did that strange little clap that seemed to be a shared trait between all escorts, and began to skip down the hallway, the carpet muffling the sound of her footsteps. Salvera followed her quickly, and Mason tagged behind, taking in this apartment. The carpet was a deep red; the Capitol's favourite colour for the tributes, it seemed, and the walls were a pure white, and adorned with lamps hanging on hooks. It created almost a magical sense of grandeur, even if Mason was the only one to notice this: it was commonplace to their escort; their mentors were Morphling addicts flung into the dangerous realm of cold turkey, and Salvera was... well, Salvera was Salvera. End of story there.

Mason followed Salvera and the escort down the hallway, and turned left, going through a pair of luxurious oak doors, complete with brass door handles. It opened up to reveal the main area of their apartment. A short flight of marble stairs led down to the large open space. The left side of the room, from looking at it from the perspective of being at the top of the stairs, contained the kitchen and dining room, separated by a long bar table, also made of of a sparklingly clean marble. The dining room consisted of a long wooden table, piled to the brim with food, most of which Mason had never seen before. There were a few things he recognised, like a roast chicken, and apples, and bread, but the rest of it was completely new to him. The far left wall of the dining room had two doors. One was white, and the other was silver. If Mason recalled everything he knew about the Games, he was pretty sure the white one was where he would go for interview prep, and the silver one was the elevator that went down to the Training Centre. That brought another question to his mind: how far down was the actual Training Centre? The chariots ended up in the basement, but the Training Centre was definitely lower than that. Perhaps it was underground? Yeah, that sounded about right.

The kitchen consisted of several worktops, cupboards, and ovens. There were currently two people in there, working away at one of the worktops: one young man and woman. The woman had dark skin and straight black hair, whilst the man had soft blonde hair and pale skin. They reminded Mason of the man back in the basement. He then remembered what they were: they were Avoxes, slaves to the Capitol. They had their tongues removed as punishment, and were forced to live the rest of their lives waiting on everyone in the Capitol. Interaction with them would result in them being executed. Mason swiftly looked away from them, and to the living room.

The living room consisted of a massive lime-green sofa in a 'U' shape around an even larger television. Currently, the highlights of the chariot parade were being shown. Mason saw the two mentors on the sofa, watching. They were both the same: motionless, with brittle hair and saggy yellow skin. They were only in their early thirties, but the Morphling drug had made them look at least three times that. The pair of them had started to get better in recent years, but last year brought them back to the drug; the tributes dying had just broken them. Mason recalled the tragic pair perfectly: Tyler Hawes, and Alanna Pyre. The two of them gradually fell in love throughout the course of the Games, becoming closer and closer, until they were hit by hallucinogenic gas. Tyler ate poisoned bread in his delirium, and Alanna dragged his dead body out of the cave they were in, unaware he was dead. After realising that, Alanna broke down into an overly emotional state, wandering the mountain stroke volcano until coming across the alliance of Maia Kentner of District 5 and Afya Zahirah of District 11. The climax of the Games occurred soon after, and Alanna perished in the volcanic eruption, leaving Maia and Afya as the final two. Maia won, and was now the mentor for District 5 this year. But Tyler and Alanna dying had had a profound effect on the two mentors, and they simply couldn't take reality any more. Mason felt the sting of remorse just looking at them.

Mason suddenly felt something grip his hand. He looked up to see the escort holding onto both Salvera and himself as they were dragged down the stairs, their shoes making an awfully loud noise as they hit the steps. As they descended, Mason saw a miniature tyre bounce onto the tiled floor below. For a moment, he wondered where it came from, until he remembered that they were still in their chariot parade outfits. He would definitely have to get out of it before going to bed a little later tonight.

They reached the bottom of the stairs, and walked across to the dining room, not even giving the mentors a passing glance: they were pretty useless, after all. But they hadn't completely lost themselves again just yet, so hopefully they would be okay to help the tributes when it really mattered. Which, actually, was in about four days' time; they needed interview prep, and would have to rely on their mentors to succeed. Mason's hand was released when they arrived at the table. He grabbed the first seat he saw, and sat down, looking at the mountain of food.

The first thing Mason grabbed was a sweet pastry roll of sorts, but filled with chocolate. He didn't stop eating it, and quickly grabbed another. And another. In total, he managed to eat about five of them before his stomach felt like it was on the verge of exploding. He looked across the table, and saw the escort eating some kind of meat, and Salvera munching on a slice of orange. Suddenly, a yawn escaped his lips, and Mason's body began to feel heavy.
"Hey," he said. "I think I'm gonna go to bed now, if that's okay."
"Of course it's okay!" the escort said. "You know what they say, 'Early to bed, early to rise!'" Mason nodded at her, and left the table, walking up the stairs. He paused to look at the room again, and then set off down the hallway.

He didn't notice it before, but now Mason saw several doors lining the walls. Most of them he tried were locked, except for one. It was a wooden door, with a simple label attached to it: 'MALE TRIBUTE'. His room for the next few days. Cautiously, Mason pushed open the door, and stepped inside. As soon as he did so, the lights turned on, illuminating the room.

In the centre of the room was a massive bed, with huge, plush covers. There was another door to his right, that led to the bathroom; the whiteness of the room was blinding to look at. To Mason's left was a massive wardrobe, with a screen. A small smile crossed his face, and he walked over to it: he had heard about the strange wardrobes in the Capitol: all you had to do was ask it for an outfit and it would give you it. Mason's smile turned into a grin. It wouldn't hurt to try, would it?

Mason quickly stripped out of his chariot outfit, standing in just his underwear. He then walked over to the screen, and pressed a button on it. Some text appeared, 'PLEASE SPEAK YOUR COMMANDS'. Mason cleared his throat, and spoke.
"I would like something comfortable to sleep in, if that's okay," he said. A beep rang out, followed by the wardrobe opening. And then, some fabric shot out, landing perfectly on the bed. Another beep, and the wardrobe shut again, the screen switching off.

Mason grabbed the outfit, and looked over it. It was a thin, light blue t-shirt with a matching pair of shorts. He slipped them on, and walked over to the bed. He took off his glasses, setting them down on the bed-side desk. He pulled back the covers, and slipped into bed. To his surprise, as soon as he did so, the lights turned out.

For a while, Mason just laid there, drifting off, until an anxious thought hit him: would he survive as long as the male from last year, Tyler, did? The only way that Tyler survived, as far as Mason was concerned, was that he got into an alliance with his extremely smart district partner, Alanna. Of course, Mason couldn't really get into an alliance with Salvera, but he needed someone if he were to survive: he was just a scrawny thirteen year old with no survival skill what-so-ever. But who would be willing to work with him during the Games? Mason yawned loudly, and stretched his body, feeling sleep gripping onto him. That was what he would do: training would be for finding someone to work together with to survive in the arena. He probably wouldn't make it past the bloodbath, in reality, but still, the idea that he would have someone to watch his back would be a comfortable one.

These thoughts still churned in Mason's head as he drifted off to a heavy, dreamless sleep.

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