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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23. Positions

Liam pushed past the thick greenery of the woods, with Emily trailing behind him. They had been running from the Cornucopia for around an hour now, and they were definitely beginning to feel the effects of fatigue. Liam's legs were burning, and his stomach was growling immensely. He looked back at Emily, who was panting and continually wiping the sweat from her forehead. It wasn't particularly hot, but these woods were quite humid.
"Hey, Liam," Emily said. "I think we're far enough for the moment. Can we stop for a while?" Liam hesitated before answering. Personally, he felt as if they were too close to the Cornucopia still, but at the same time, he knew that continuing when tired would only make them easier to kill.
"All right then," he finally decided. "But not for too long; I want to stay on the move for as long as possible." Liam then reached into his bag, and pulled out some wire.
"What's that for?" Emily asked, looking confused.
"It's a simple trap," Liam explained. "I'll set it up around the perimeter of where we're staying. If a tribute strays too close, then it'll make noise, and let us know."
"That's a good idea," Emily said. 
"I know," Liam replied. He then gave Emily a warm smile. "I'm just gonna go set this up now. You stay in this small clearing, and don't die: I'll be back soon."
"Okay then," Emily said as she watched Liam walk off into the trees.

Emily sighed as she sat on the ground. It was real: she was in the arena. Part of it all still felt like some disjointed dream, but Emily knew that it wasn't, as much as she'd like it to be. And there was something else that was bothering her: no cannons had gone off yet, meaning somehow, every last tribute made it past the bloodbath. That meant that there were twenty two other tributes alive, and ready to kill; in other words, Emily's rate of survival hadn't gone up yet, even though she was confident it would have by now. So to keep her mind of this disconcerting thought, she pulled open her large bag, and emptied its contents.

The bag contained a wooden staff and a pair of knives, several bottles of water in varying states of fullness, what appeared to be energy bars, and another bag inside it with a label. Emily read it; it said 'THREE MAN TENT'. Her eyes lit up. She had managed to get some weapons, some food and water, and a tent. The odds had really been in her favour here. Emily then opened one of the full bottles of water, and took a tentative sip. It was cool, and refreshing, and as far as Emily could tell, it wasn't toxic. She also opened one of the many energy bars, and consumed half of it. It wasn't particularly filling, but it was enough to get a strange buzz going.

Feeling somewhat more refreshed, Emily set her sights on the tent bag. Now, the next thing to do would be to set this up. The only problem was that Emily hadn't bothered with the shelter making station in training, and she was beginning to regret it. But she had to try.

Emily carefully opened the bag containing the tent, and pulled out what she assumed was the collapsed form of the sent. She set it out in the middle of the clearing, when suddenly, the tent sprang up right in front of her eyes. Emily gave a yelp of surprise, and leaped back from the tent. Liam suddenly came rushing back from the trees, panic all over his face.
"Em!" he cried out. "You okay? I heard yelling."
"Liam, I'm fine," Emily said, rolling her eyes. "I was just startled by the pop-up tent. That's all."
"Oh," he said, flushing. "Sorry for overreacting."
"It's fine," Emily said. "And besides, you can never be too careful here."
"You're right," Liam said, and then looked at the tent again. "So you actually got a tent in your bag? Awesome."
"Yeah," Emily replied calmly. "I also got some weapons, and a ton of food and water. I think we're set to go."
"The Gamemakers really seem to be generous this year," Liam commented.
"Yeah, but at the cost of having every last tribute still alive," Emily countered.
"But I haven't seen anyone yet," Liam said. "This arena must be pretty big then."
"Probably," Emily replied. "Hey, you finished setting up that trap?"
"Yeah," Liam said. "It's all done: we're as safe as possible here, Em."
"Good," Emily said. "Since I don't really want to die this early on."
"I kind of don't want to die at all," Liam said, before looking at his own bag. "Hey, I'm gonna go see what I got."
"Okay," Emily said.

But as she watched Liam open his bag, a thought occurred to her. They were pretty secluded and safe out here, and could potentially ride out most of the Games without encountering another tribute. But that also meant that potentially, they could end up being the last two tributes. And if that ever happened, Emily had no idea what she would do. However, that was not a thought for right now, Emily decided: the most important thing right now was finding out what supplies they had, and their chances of survival based on it. So far, Emily had provided a lot of good things, and from the looks of it, Liam's bag would also hold valuable items. They had been extremely lucky, and for now at least, they were safe.

--

Derek walked onwards, following Tavish as he led their alliance further north, towards the houses. From where he was, it was clear that it was a village of sorts; the perfect place to hide. So far, they had been given an incredible stroke of luck; none of them had died. But then again, neither had any of the other tributes, which was somewhat concerning. However, since the opening of the Games, they hadn't seen another tribute, which was a relief; if they were to run into a Career, or a particularly dangerous tribute, then Derek had no idea how long they'd have left to live.

The dirt path they were following suddenly became concrete, and as the midday sun shone down, Derek looked ahead at the village. There were countless houses made of bricks, all of them a subdued golden colour. It looked picturesque, and completely out of place in an arena where kids would soon be killing one another. And there was the chance that there could be other tributes hiding in the houses. No, that was unlikely; Derek recalled that their alliance was the only one to head in this direction, so they were safe for the moment. However, Derek reminded himself, that was easily subject to change.

They walked past the first few houses, and Derek looked through the windows. Each house was fully furnished, and empty. The second point was what was most important; while the houses were aesthetically pleasing, the emptiness helped to ensure their survival. It was also completely silent, save for the footsteps of the alliance, and the occasional bird call; they were pretty isolated out here, which was extremely good to know.

Tavish suddenly stopped at the end of the road, in front of a long row of tall houses. The house they were standing in front of was particularly tall, and there was a small trail of smoke coming from the chimney.
"What is it?" Mason asked, holding the knife he had grabbed from the Cornucopia tightly in his hands. "Is there someone there?"
"No," Tavish said. "I think the house is empty. But what's bothering me is why the chimney's smoking; it would only do that if someone set it up."
"Perhaps the Gamemakers did it," Derek offered. "Maybe it's a sign that they want us to go in there."
"Perhaps," Tavish mused.
"But is it safe?" Griffin suggested. "Maybe the Gamemakers have set up a trap for us."
"And set it off this early in the Games?" Derek said with a laugh. "Griffin, they wouldn't want the first blood spilled to be caused by them; if there is a trap, I'm sure that they're going to be waiting until we've had a good few deaths first."
"Derek's probably right," Tavish said. "So I think that we should set up inside this house for the time being; if it gets too suspicious, we can always just move to another house."
"Okay then," Griffin said. "I guess we can go in there."
"Great," Tavish said with a grin as he opened the front door. "Come on, it'll be fine." He stepped inside, and the other members of the alliance soon followed.

Derek looked around as soon as he entered, and was honestly a little surprised. They had walked into a large hall, with two wooden staircases on either side of the room heading up to a balcony that was just above their heads. Directly across from the main door was another door that probably led to several rooms such as the kitchen and dining areas.
"Not too shabby, huh?" Derek said as he walked along the muted red carped on the floor.
"Yeah," Tavish said. "I guess now we just look around. Derek, could you and Griffin bring our bags upstairs? Mason and I will look around for a while, if that's okay."
"Fine," Derek said, looking over to Griffin. "Come on, Griff. Let's do this." He took a second bag from Mason, and walked over to the stairs, followed by Griffin. As they climbed the wooden stairs, Derek noted how they creaked loudly; that would help at night if another tribute entered; they would know right away.

Derek reached the top of the stairs, and walked along the balcony. He stopped in the middle of the balcony, and looked down to the entrance. There was a chandelier hanging from the ceiling, and several paintings on the walls of what he assumed were past victors. He looked away from the paintings, and walked to the door on the other side of the balcony. It opened with a creak, and Derek walked down the hallway, followed by Griffin.
"Hey, Derek," Griffin said as they walked down the hallway; it was lined with doors, and felt quite cosy. "Do you think this is a safe place?"
"Yeah," Derek said. "I don't see why it wouldn't be; we're safe from any Mutts that might appear, and this place is so creaky that we'd be able to tell if anyone else tried to sneak in. We'll be fine."
"Okay then," Griffin said. "I'm just worried that we might die in here, is all."
"Don't think like that," Derek said, his tone suddenly serious. "Nobody's going to be dying for a long time, okay?"
"Okay,"
"Now, let's dump these bags," Derek said as he opened the door to a bedroom. "Because, Griffin, we'll be fine."

--

Markus sauntered through the eastern part of the woods, smiling to himself as he twirled his sword. The bloodbath was ridiculously easy to get through, and even though nobody had died, he felt it had been a success. And besides, that just meant that there would be more tributes for him to kill later; the Capitol would surely love that more than half of the tributes dying pathetically in one fell swoop.

He brushed past a low-hanging branch, and wandered through a large patch of bushes. A nearby mockingjay called out, and Markus grinned. The atmosphere of this arena was perfect; he had never been so excited. Markus swung the sword freely, and sliced the mockingjay in half with one fell swoop as it fluttered by. The remains fell to the floor, and Markus stepped around it. It wasn't exactly a tribute, but it was killing something none the less.

But Markus couldn't just keep wandering like this: he needed to find someone soon enough. He was sure that he had seen a large alliance of tributes heading in this area a little earlier, and was determined to find them. However, as he looked up, Markus saw the sun directly up in the sky. It had already turned noon, and there still hadn't been any deaths. He chuckled as he imagined the public outcry from the Capitol at their lack of bloodshed; the betting groups were probably throwing some sort of fit: from what Markus knew, they earned their money from bloodbath bets, and since nobody had died, they would be in ruins. It was hilarious to think about.

Markus' laughter was interrupted by his growling stomach; he hadn't eaten since early this morning, so he supposed he was due some food. He continued walking a little further ahead, until he reached a small clearing. Markus threw his bag down on the dirt floor, and then sat up against a tree. He then reached over for his bag, and opened it, pulling out an apple. Having fruit was all well and good, but Markus knew that he had to eat fast, lest it go rotten. So he bit into an apple, and began to devour the sweet fruit.

In fact, Markus was so preoccupied with eating that he didn't notice as a band of four girls sneaked past him. Erika was in front, and didn't look back at the disturbing boy from 5; she had seen what he could do in training, and now that he was free to kill whoever he pleased, she wanted to get as far away as possible from him.

She continued through the foliage, not slowing down despite every muscle in her body aching. She had to get her allies away from any danger; as the leader of the group, Erika knew it was her responsibility to keep them out of harm's way.
"Hey, Erika," Rosa said. "How much longer are we going to keep running for?"
"Now long now," Erika said, looking ahead. The tree line ended a little further up, and a small dirt trail was just in front of them. "We'll follow this dirt trail till we get outta the woods, okay?" She offered a friendly smile to Rosa, who was wide-eyed, and somewhat on edge.
"Okay then," Rosa said, and quietly walked behind Erika as she followed the dirt trail. The girls made much less noise on the dirt trail, luckily. And so far, it seemed that luck had been following them lately: a bloodbath with no deaths almost seemed impossible. But it had happened, which meant that everyone was still alive. Erika knew that she should be concerned, but part of her was just relieved; she had grown accustomed to them like one would with a new class in school. Sure, she didn't like or even know that many of the tributes, but she knew that it would be awful to see when they started dying. Hopefully that wouldn't happen for a while. And it wasn't like waiting too long was an issue; all of the alliance had a bag each loaded with water and dried fruit. And Lucy had managed to snag a bow, and Erika a crossbow, which meant that they could easily hunt if their supply got too low.

As Erika thought this, she pushed past the last of the trees, and found that she had left the woods. Looking ahead, she was surprised to see that right in front of them, before the endless expanse of hills, was a wooden cabin. The dirt trail continued up to it, and it seemed to stare right at Erika, willing her to come to it, and enter. Under normal circumstances, Erika would assume it would end up being a trap of sorts, but why have a trap in such an out of the way location? It didn't make sense, and Erika was sure that it had to be genuine shelter for them.
"Hey!" she said to her allies. "Look!"
"Yeah," Gwen said. "Is this actually happening?"
"I'm not sure if anything here can be classed as real," Erika said. "But there is actual shelter up ahead."
"Not just any shelter," Lucy added. "It's an actual house!"
"I know!" Erika said. "I don't know how we're being so lucky, but I guess we are."
"Well, why are we standing around here?" Rosa said. "Let's head up to the house!"

Erika nodded, and began to run up to the house, followed by her allies: this would be the perfect place to hold out for the Games. It was out of the way, and would provide protection from the weather and temperature. It was almost as if the Gamemakers had tailored the arena to help them all survive. Whatever it was, Erika was not going to let such a thing go to waste: they would claim that house, and not leave it until there was no other choice.

--

Brinn was a nervous wreck. He had fled from the bloodbath with a bag of equipment and a hunting dagger, but in his panic of the moment, he had run deep into the woods. And now, trees surrounded him in every direction. Everywhere he looked, there was nothing but trees. Their long, spindly branches loomed over Brinn, and their leaves filtered the afternoon sunlight through, casting everything with an eerie green glow. To most people, it would be quite the peaceful place, but to Brinn, it was as if he'd been dropped in the gates of hell itself.

He continued to move forward, having lost all sense of direction after a panic attack a couple of hours ago that had ended up with him screaming on the floor. That couldn't happen again, though: despite there being trees everywhere to torment him, he couldn't succumb to his fear.

Good, Brinn. You must trust the trees, for they are not to hurt you yet.

Brinn nodded at the ghost's advice. He wasn't even sure which co-worker it was (at this point, he couldn't remember anything about them), but all he did know was that it was guiding him. Perhaps he could put some more faith in the ominous voices in his head.

Feeling somewhat less terrified, Brinn kept walking, turning past a tree with a particularly low hanging branch. Brinn hopped over it, still clutching his dagger. But as he landed, his foot got caught on a root, and he fell face first into the ground.
"Ouch..." Brinn groaned as his nose throbbed. He pulled himself up, and found a thin stream of blood was running from his left nostril. He wiped the red fluid away, and continued to walk, listening to the strange noises the birds made above his head. It was oddly calming, in a strange way, and Brinn soon became absorbed in listening. He was so absorbed that he looked up, trying to spot a bird, when suddenly, he ran into something.

Brinn toppled to the floor again, but this time, he had landed on top of another tribute. Brinn let out a yelp of terror, and scrambled to his feet, clenching onto his dagger for dear life, and sprinted deeper into the woods, not even looking at who had been on the other end of the collision.

Salvera rubbed her head tenderly. That was where the other boy had impacted her, and now her head throbbed. She felt awful, and on edge. He seemed relatively harmless, if a little terrified, but Salvera couldn't trust her decision. She stood up, and leaned against a tree as another wave of pain pulsed through her head. Salvera groaned: any moment now, Velcro would rise from the suppression, and chastise Salvera for being so stupid. So she waited for the ridicule to come.

But fifteen minutes later, Salvera was still stood there. Velcro's voice hadn't delivered an insult; in fact, Salvera didn't hear anything at all. She gave it another ten minutes. Still nothing. After a further twenty minutes of waiting, Salvera realised something: the voice wasn't there. It was gone; absent from her mind. She would no longer be plagued by Velcro any longer.

It didn't seem real that all it had taken to extinguish the voice was some medication, and a powerful blow to the head. Perhaps Salvera was suffering from some sort of concussion, and Velcro was still there, but she had simply grown deaf to the sounds. But whatever it was, Salvera was no longer hearing the voice. She breathed out in relief: after years of suffering, finally, Salvera's head felt clear. And it couldn't have come at a more opportune moment if it tried.

Still, Salvera would miss the voice mocking her endlessly, but right now, Salvera was too taken by joy to care: she was free. Smiling to herself, Salvera walked through the trees, holding her blowgun. Now, she was able to focus on survival. And she knew that despite her joy, living was still the top priority here. So she began to devise some sort of plan to survive. Velcro didn't say anything. Salvera's head was truly clear.

--

Kaye hummed a tune to himself as he skipped through the woods. Oh, this had all been perfect: he had escaped the bloodbath without getting injured at all, and had snagged a bag and knife for his troubles. However, there were a lot of bags laying around, so it wasn't too special. But whatever: he was doing well, and that was all that mattered.

He swerved around a tree expertly, not stopping; Kaye was full of energy, and was not going to slow down. Since really, what mattered was putting as much distance between himself and other tributes: as soon as that happened, Kaye could begin to construct a plan based around the arena. He already had a main plan, but he still had to adjust that to fit this arena. Not that it would be hard or anything, but he was using it as an excuse to keep moving.

Kaye giggled as he pushed through a bush: it was hilarious how easy this all was; he was expecting something as brutal as the tropical island last year, but instead, he was roaming through an endless woodland, without any immediate danger nearby. He supposed that soon enough the Mutts would come out to play, but Kaye wasn't worried: he could climb. And it wasn't as if he was worth killing; the Capitol would surely enjoy seeing a larger alliance crumble before a meek little outlier, wouldn't they? And besides, after pretty much everything Kaye had done in the Capitol, he was certain he had become a fan-favourite. And they wouldn't kill him off so easily, would they? The answer was that they wouldn't. Kaye was certain of that. And since the Capitol was probably lusting after a lot of blood, his death would barely appease the masses. He was pretty safe.

Suddenly, the woods opened up into a clearing, and Kaye stumbled through, nearly falling over.
"Got to be more careful, Kaye," he said to himself under his breath. He brushed a stray leaf from his pants, and looked ahead at what lay in the clearing. Kaye's eyes lit up. Oh, this was perfect.

Right there, in the middle of the clearing was a large grove of bushes. But it was what grew on the bushes that interested Kaye: each bush was ripe with pitch black nightlock berries. He had stumbled upon a nightlock grove. Kaye couldn't contain his joy: this would be the perfect place to hide out. So without wasting another second, Kaye bounded over to the bushes, and crouched down in them, hiding from view. Nobody would think to look through the field, so Kaye was certain he would be safe so long as he stayed here.

--

Alexis wiped the sweat from her brow as she pushed out of the woods. Rose and Xander were just behind her, and were currently drinking from a bottle of water. They had quite a fair bit of water, so she wasn't concerned about them too much. Yet. Eventually, they would have to begin rationing things, but for now, they had more than enough.

The sun was beginning to sink into the horizon, painting the sky a brilliant golden colour as the trio of tributes trekked across the terrain of the far west side of the arena. Alexis' plan was simple: to get the hell away from everyone, and then set about putting the escape plan in motion. Her token rested under her shirt, hidden from sight; Alexis had been meticulous in hiding it from everyone during her time in the Capitol. And now, in the arena, with all eyes on her, she was only going to get it out when the time was right.

The western edge of the arena was an endless expanse of cracked, dried up dirt: badlands. Alexis was pretty sure that if they hadn't been so lucky at the Cornucopia then they would end up dying of dehydration. And even though it seemed like a bad place to be, Alexis was confident that it would be far away enough from the action to buy them all some time.
"You guys okay?" Alexis called back to Rose and Xander, who were trailing behind. Clearly, neither of them had been that prepared for the Games, but they were the best she had. And besides, Alexis had sort of grown to like them in training, and would feel awful if she escaped without them.
"Yeah," Xander replied. "But I think we should take a break soon: it'll get dark in a while."
"You're right," Alexis said. "However, I feel that there has to be something out here, you know? Else why would so much of this place be dead dirt? It doesn't make sense."
"It doesn't," Rose said. "But what are you expecting to find here?"
"I'm not sure," Alexis said. "Perhaps some shelter or something; we've been moving all day, and I hope to find something soon."
"Then you need not wait," Xander said, pointing ahead.
"What do you..." Alexis said, trailing off as she followed her ally's gaze. "Oh."

Just a little further ahead of them was a small collection of houses; maybe four or five. That in itself was a miracle. But what really got Alexis was that there was a set of power cables running to one of the houses: they would have access to electricity in the arena if they got there.
"Oh my god," Rose said. "Are those power cables?"
"Yes," Alexis said. "Hell yes."
"This is too good to be true," Xander said.
"Yeah," Alexis replied. "But there it is, in the flesh. Perhaps the Gamemakers are feeling particularly benevolent?"
"Maybe," he replied. "So, are we going to gawk at it, or are we going to head over there?"
"I'm one step ahead of you, Xander," Alexis said as she began to walk ahead, heading towards the house, the sun sinking lower and lower. It was impossible, but it was there: a house with working electricity. On the western edge of the arena. Clearly it was a reward for those who dared to explore this far out, and Alexis was going to claim it. In fact, when they got to the house, out of all the tributes in the arena, they would be in the best position.

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