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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15. Oversight

Gwen stood in the corner of the elevator, leaning against the wall as it slowly climbed up to the top floor of the training tower. Derek was stood closer to the door, and seemed preoccupied with his thoughts. It was just as well, since Gwen didn't exactly feel up to talking to her district partner today. With the second day of training drawing to a conclusion, the reality of the situation had hit her across the face. The clock was ticking down towards the moment when they would all enter the arena; the last place all but one tribute would see. It was almost too much to think about, but despite how much she tried, Gwen couldn't shake the feeling of dread.

And this was without the worries of Gwen's final forty eight hours in the Capitol. Tomorrow was the day of the private sessions, where she would be assessed and scored accordingly on a scale from one to twelve. If she got too low, then no sponsors would be interested in her, but if she scored too high, then she would be putting a massive target on her back for the Careers to see. Either way, if she hit an extreme on the scale, then she was as good as dead. And the whole score fiasco was backed up by the interviews, which would be the second opportunity to gain pre-Games sponsors. Gwen would have to spend an entire day preparing for it; something she was not looking forward to in the slightest.

A sigh escaped from Gwen's lips: the next few days would be extremely draining, and then, when it was all over with, she would be thrown into the arena, where she would most certainly die. Even with her large alliance, Gwen was more than certain that in the end, they would all end up dead. She had refrained from mentioning any of this to her allies, so that the morale of the group would be kept up. In fact, now that she thought about it, everyone could be putting on a front of false confidence, in a vain attempt to boost the spirits of other pretenders. Nobody would ever be able to know for sure what it really was.

Suddenly, the elevator shuddered to a stop, causing Gwen to hold onto the railing for support. The door slid open, and a tinny metallic voice told them that they had arrived on floor twelve, and for them to have a nice day. Gwen merely rolled her eyes, and followed Derek out of the elevator, and down the hallway. Almost as soon as she had set foot on the thick red carpet, the smell of dinner swarmed into her nostrils. She didn't even have to see the dining room to know that a disproportionately huge pile of food was on the mahogany table, waiting for her. It was the same as every other day in the Capitol so far. And for some reason, Gwen had grown fond of the routine surrounding it. But that would all change in a matter of a couple of days. She looked at Derek, who was sauntering along the hallway, not seeming to be rushing, but neither was he hesitating. She wondered for a moment how he would fare in the Games; it was known that it was a rarity for a District 12 tribute to survive the bloodbath, let alone both of them. And as much as it pained her to admit it, she'd rather see Derek die than herself.

Almost straight away, another thought occurred to Gwen: if she were to survive through some impossible means, it would mean that every one of her allies would be dead. Everyone: Erika, Lucy... even small, sweet Rosa. All of them. Gwen felt a chill rush through her at that thought: vivid images of her allies dying in some way or another flashed through her mind. But it was the reality of the situation, and not something she could escape from.

Gwen reached the end of the hallway, and turned left, where she was unsurprisingly met with a table full of luxurious food. Derek was taking a seat at the table; the escort was sat on the other side of the mountain of food, and Haymitch Abernathy, the only living mentor for District 12, was sat across from Derek, guzzling a large bottle of some sort of alcoholic substance, per usual. However, without warning, as Gwen pulled up a seat, Haymitch set the bottle down, and looked at the two Seam kids.
"Ah, my two favourite corpses-to-be are back," he jeered. "How delightful. I simply can't wait to see what phrases you will say that will no doubt haunt me after you're dead."
"Still the ray of sunshine, I see," Gwen said dryly. Despite her worries surrounding the Games, she always found that it dissolved into frustration by merely being around her surly excuse for a mentor.
"Sorry, but guess what, princess? You may be having some crazy fun parade but there are a hell of a lot of stormclouds ready to rain all over it."
"You really think I need your drunk ramblings to confirm this? The private sessions are tomorrow, and if you haven't noticed, that will determine whether or not we get any damn sponsors!" Gwen wasn't one to raise her voice, but Haymitch's defeatist attitude just rubbed her the wrong way.
"Hey now, calm your buns honey," Haymitch slurred. "It's not as if you stand any chance of surviving anyway."
"What?!" Gwen exclaimed, slamming her fists on the table. "You're our mentor! You know, the person that is supposed to encourage us, and, oh, I don't know, at least try to give us the slightest chance of survival!"
Haymitch simply laughed. "And why the hell would I do that? Isn't it obvious that these damn Games are rigged so that Twelve is doomed to fail?"
"Not really..." Derek muttered, having finished eating an apple.
"Well it is," Haymitch replied. "In fact, I'll be surprised if either of you makes it past the third day."
"But last year's girl lasted until the final day!" Gwen offered.
"News flash, sweetie: last year's Games lasted four days. So you couldn't really call it surviving." Haymitch spat his words out, clearly showing that he was in no way going to be cooperative with the tributes. Instead of dignifying him with a response to that statement, Gwen merely rolled her eyes, and grabbed some sweet-looking food from the pile, chewing on it.

An awkward silence soon filled the air, with neither Gwen nor Haymitch intending to break it. As far as Gwen was concerned, she was done with trying with this man: he was deluded, and totally convinced that District 12 had a seventy two hour expiration limit in the arena or something. In fact, she was fine with never even acknowledging him ever again. Derek, however, clearly didn't interpret the vibes in the air, and began to speak.
"So, uh," he began. "Since the private sessions are tomorrow, do you have any advice?"
Haymitch raised an eyebrow. "Probably. But I guess it depends on the level of false hope you have surrounded yourself in as to whether or not it's worth my time."
"Actually, I'm pretty confident that I'll survive for a bit in the Games, if that's anything to go on," Derek said, clearly not getting the point entirely. Haymitch seemed amused by the naive response, and Gwen inwardly groaned as he began to dish out advice to what he probably deemed a lost cause.
"Okay then, since I like your attitude, kid," he said between mouthfuls of alcohol. "If you really wanna impress the Gamemakers, go all-out. Surprise them. Of course, that's if you want a high score. But that carries the downside of making yourself Career bait, I wouldn't advise on going down that route."

Gwen's curiosity was suddenly roused. She stared at Haymitch, almost in disbelief. Was this actual, useful advice she was hearing? It almost seemed impossible, and she bit down into something coated in chocolate to stop herself from scoffing at the bizarre turn of events.
"That's great," Derek said. "But if that's bad, what do you suggest I do?"
"Oh, that's simple," Haymitch said. "I'd aim for a five or six in scoring, since it's enough to impress sponsors without drawing too much attention. Show off your main strength, but perhaps deliberately falter whilst doing it, to make yourself seem less than capable. You'll come across as endearing, and they'll lap it right up." Gwen listened intently, making mental notes. She didn't personally feel as if that approach was the best, considering how several tributes in that score range saw nothing from sponsors during the previous Games, but she decided that it would be a good idea not to go too extreme: a seven seemed like something she would want to attain. From Haymitch's explanations thus far, it seemed as if seven was the score accessible by outliers without prior training, yet still excelled in the limited amount of time in the Capitol; what Gwen saw herself as.

Haymitch continued to explain in detail about various ways of impressing the Gamemakers in training, but Gwen zoned out, instead feasting herself on the various food items on display. However, she was soon brought out of this by a simple question posed by her mentor.
"So, sweetie, what is it you're planning to do tomorrow?" A chill ran through Gwen's spine as she realised something: for all the confidence she had as to how she would go about in her private session, she had completely overlooked what she would do. And going in without a plan would be a sure-fire way to get a low score. A sense of panic began to fill her.
"Well, uh, I..."
"Don't know, huh?" Haymitch let out a laugh. "That sounds perfect. The most confident sounding tribute I've had in a while, and she doesn't know what to do for her stinkin' private session!" Gwen felt herself flush, and it was if her dark olive skin had suddenly turned white as a sheet. This was bad. Very, very bad. Without a training plan, she was completely screwed. And yet, right now as she tried to come up with even the most mediocre of strategies, nothing came to her.
"Oh god..." she muttered under her breath. She could hear her heart pounding, and felt as she broke out in a cold sweat. All the false confidence she had tried to convey suddenly ceased to exist, and for the first time, Gwen felt truly and utterly hopeless.

She didn't have a plan for tomorrow. Of all the things that had occurred over the past few days, this was by far the worst. Because of her blatant stupidity, Gwen was potentially risking letting all her training go to waste. Her breathing grew shallower as these thoughts pounded around in her mind. In no way was this good. And the worst part had to be that no matter what, she simply couldn't think of a plan.
"Hey, Gwen," Derek said, looking at her. "Are you okay?" Every fibre of her being wanted to scream no, but Gwen nodded, and clenched her teeth. She had to remember that Derek could end up being a potential opponent in the Games, and showing any form of weakness could backfire horribly in the arena. So she remained sat in her chair, whilst her mind projected forward several worst-case scenarios: what if she got a really bad score, and she ended up starving to death in the arena because she had no sponsors? Sure, she had her allies, but what if something went wrong, and she was the only one left? It was all too much. Far too much.

Gwen leaped out from her seat, and ran past the dining table, and up the stairs to her room. She flung open the door, and rushed inside, slamming it shut behind her, triggering the locking mechanism. She didn't bother with turning on the lights, and, in the darkness of her room, threw herself onto the bed, and buried her face in one of the many pillows. And only the comforting solitude of her room did she begin to cry.

Everything had gone wrong in the space of one evening: Gwen had relied too much on her allies to pay any thought to herself, and she was going to pay for it big time tomorrow. Because, no matter how close they were, in the end, the only person Gwen could entirely put faith in up until the very end of the Games was herself. And if she didn't want to lose faith in herself, she knew that somehow, she needed to come up with a plan. And she didn't doubt that it was going to be the hardest thing to do so far.

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