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?


10. Reunited

As soon as the bell stopped ringing, Liam stood up from his seat; the bell signalled that lunch was over, and that the tributes were able to go back to training. He walked across the dining hall, avoiding the crowd of tributes that filed out of there. One of the Careers brushed past him, knocking him into a table. Liam turned, scowling, but found that the offender had left the room. Just brilliant.

Liam sighed, and slowly made his way to the doors, which had closed. This day had been less than eventful: the archery station had been occupied all day, which meant that he couldn't practice with the one weapon he had half an indication about how to use it. In fact, out of all the stations, only two had been available for Liam to use in the morning: shelter building, and cooking. Neither of them were particularly crucial to his survival in the arena, but he didn't want to just be doing nothing during the entire day: it would be a waste of time. And here, every second counted if he wanted to survive the arena. So far, it would be just brilliant if the arena consisted of ovens and house materials. But as if the Gamemakers would be so kind as to do that.

He reached the white doors, and pushed them open, returning to the training room. Instantly, the sounds of the tributes reached his ears: most of it was either conversation or tributes getting far too engrossed in training. One glance to Liam's left showed the sword station, where the boy from District 2 was currently savagely tearing a dummy apart. He rolled his eyes; if there were no weapons in the arena, then the Careers would be screwed over. But the odds of that happening were ridiculously low, since the Capitol adored watching the Career tributes slaughter the other, more innocent ones. Although, Liam couldn't say for sure that everyone was innocent enough; he didn't know anyone here, but it was a given that you didn't trust strangers at face value.

Liam walked past the sword station, and to the next available station: camouflage. He figured that it wouldn't hurt to learn a little about camouflage, in case the arena would make it so that knowing how to disguise himself would be useful. With this decided, he walked over to the station. As soon as he set foot onto the floor that made up the camouflage station, the trainer appeared: a tall, slender woman with curled green hair and a black dress. 
"Hello there," she chimed, beaming happily.
"Uh, hey," Liam replied. "I'm kind of here to learn how to use camouflage...?"
"Oh!" she said, surprise dancing across her face. "Of course! Come with me!"

Liam followed the trainer to the other side of the station, where there was an array of paints and brushes, and several model environments, which included sand, rock, trees, snow, and mud. The most common landscapes seen in the Games. Seemed that there weren't any hints about the arena to be found in training then.
"Now, I bet you're just dying to know what to do here!" the trainer piped.
"Uh, sure," Liam said, shrugging. "I guess so; why else would I be here?"
"Okay then!" she said, clapping her hands, an odd gesture that so many from the Capitol seemed to do. "Let me explain! Camouflage training is fairly simple: you have paints and brushes. All you have to do is choose one environment, and blend an arm into it! I will review it when you're finished to see how you're doing!"
"All right," Liam said. "Sounds simple enough in theory."

The trainer bounced away to the other side of the station whilst Liam walked over to the sand station. He rolled up one sleeve, and grabbed a paintbrush with the other arm. He approached the paints, and proceeded to coat his arm in a strange shade of yellow. It took a while, but soon his entire arm up to the elbow was coated in the pain. Liam lowered his arm to the sand, and looked at it. He sighed; the paint was too dark to match the sand. Liam grabbed the paints again, and mixed them around to make a lighter shade of yellow. He coated that on his arm, and found that it matched the same basic shade, but was missing the grainy detail of the sand. Liam grabbed another brush, and using a darker paint, added the tiny flecks into his arm. After waiting ten or so minutes for it to all dry, Liam placed his arm against the sand once more. It still wasn't perfect, but from a distance, it could easily pass as just sand.

"Oh my, that is perfect!" Liam turned around, startled, to find the trainer there.
"Do you appreciate not sneaking up on me?" he said flatly.
"Of course! I'm so sorry!" Her voice seemed to have increased in pitch by several octaves since the last time she had opened her mouth. "I won't do it again!"
"Okay then," Liam said with a roll of his eyes. "Oh, and thanks. I'm glad you think my camouflage is good."
"Good?" she said. "Good is an understatement! For someone without any base experience in camouflage, this is phenomenal!" Her face contorted into an overly joyful grin. "You are brilliant at this!"
"Uh, thanks," Liam said, edging away from her before this became awkward. "So how good do you think it is?"
"Let's see, on a scale of one to ten?" she said. Liam nodded in approval. "I'd say about a seven and a half."
"Thanks again," Liam said. "Now I'm gonna go wash this off and leave, since as much fun as this was, I still have a few more stations I'd like to try before training's over with." 
"I see," the trainer said. "But you definitely have a talent for camouflage! Best of luck in the arena!"

Liam walked away from the paints, and to a sink which was set up near the station. He let the cold water wash the paint from his arm; it swirled down the white porcelain as a whirlwind of colour, until all the paint washed off, and the only evidence was a couple of yellow splats of paint on the sides. Liam stopped the flow of the water, and walked out of the station, and back to the middle of the training room. He looked around at the stations, still seeing most of the useful ones in use. He glanced up at the wall on the far side of the room. There was a raised platform there, where the Gamemakers were positioned, supposedly to watch the tributes, but one glance would show that they were simply getting wasted on the free alcohol there. All of them, except for one: a woman with perfectly maintained burgundy hair, currently up in a ponytail. She had dark skin, and large green eyes that were absorbing everything in the room: the head Gamemaker, Dew. Liam looked at the clock above her head: there was only about an hour or so left of training today. He cursed under his breath: he hoped to have worked with at least one weapon before the end of the day, but it didn't look like that.

Suddenly, a chill ran throughout Liam's body. He glanced back at the head Gamemaker, and saw her piercing eyes staring at him, like she was observing every aspect about him, and plotting about how to use his deepest secrets, fears, and weaknesses against him. He swiftly looked away from the woman, and walked towards the first empty station he saw: edible plants.

Liam reached the station in question, and approached the trainer there. The trainer was staunchy man with silver hair that jutted out in every way imaginable.
"Uh, hey there," Liam said, approaching the man. "I kind of want to learn about edible plants and stuff." In reality, he'd rather be at a weapon station, but the head Gamemaker had intimidated him into approaching the first station he could find. The trainer suddenly sighed, snapping Liam out of his thought process.
"In the back of the station." He yawned, not really seeming to care. "There are computers and books; go wild kid."

Liam walked past the man cautiously, and reached the wooden floor of the back of the station. It was like an open library of sorts; there were two bookshelves, and a couple of desks. Each desk had one computer on it, although compared to the one computer Liam had seen in his lifetime, it was completely alien. There was no keyboard to it, and no visible way to select any of the options on screen. He instantly disregarded the computers, and grabbed one of the identical books off the bookshelves, and carried it over to a table. The book was massively huge, and the colouring of the pages made it clear that the book was also extremely old; most likely it had come into existence before the Hunger Games even started.

He set it down on the table, and sat on the chair in front of it, looking over it. The front cover was so faded, that Liam couldn't make out the title of the book. He opened the cover, and started reading the front page.
"An extensive collection of edible flora within the territory of Panem and the surrounding wilderness," Liam read aloud. He turned the page, and saw the table of contents, split into around a hundred or so chapters. Liam then skimmed the page content; there were nearly 4000 pages on edible plants. He stared at the massive tome for a moment, before flicking to a random page. It was going on about some sort of root that had a toxic centre, but a nutritional external layer. Liam flicked to another page. Something about grass. Another page. Apples. Another page. Nightlock.

Liam sighed, and closed the book. All that information was just giving him a headache, and not actually telling him anything about which plants were safe or not. Liam rubbed his eyes, and picked up the book. If it wasn't going to help him, then he might as well leave. However, as soon as he began walking, someone tapped him on the shoulder. Liam spun around, and faced the person that did so. The second he did, the book fell from his hands, and onto the floor.

Standing in front of Liam was the female tribute from District 8, or better known as Emily Horwitz. Liam's heart skipped a beat. It was Emily, in the flesh, standing in front of him in the same training outfit as him, her red hair still shockingly bright. His Emily. His childhood friend. The girl that stole his heart all those years back.
"Oh my god," Emily said in a faint voice, before running up to him. "Liam! It's really you!" She threw her arms around him in a tight huh. Liam returned the embrace.
"Yeah, it's me," he said soberingly, but with a hint of the charm he used to carry about his person back when he was still in District 8. But as he said this, a painful realisation came to him: the two of them were going to go into the arena together, and only one would come out. Liam blinked away the tears before talking. "Shame it's under these circumstances, huh?"
"Yeah," Emily said quietly, before bouncing back to her joy. "And is it just me, or have you grown since I last saw you?"
"I hope so," Liam said with a chuckle. "After all, it has been a few years. Either that, or you're shrinking."
"I've missed you more than I realised," Emily said, smiling. Liam smiled back.
"Same here," he replied. "So, how's life back in Eight?"
"Since the last time you saw me?" Emily said. Liam nodded. "Well, I finally got away from home, Cece and Harmony took me in after all, and got a tattoo."
"A tattoo?" Liam said.
"Yeah," Emily said. "Here, let me show you." She unzipped the back of her training suit, showing the upper half of her back. And where there was once smooth, pale flesh, there was now a pair of feathered wings. Liam instantly recognised what they were.
"Angel wings?" he asked.
"Yeah," Emily replied. "To show I spread my wings, and flew away from home. Although, that kind of makes it sound poetically beautiful in a way." Emily paused to let out a dry laugh. "As if there's anything beautiful about my old home."
"Yeah," Liam said. "I'm just glad you got out of there."
"Enough about me," Emily said, winking. "How's District Eleven been? Had any girls going after you?"
"Haha, Emily," Liam said teasingly. "That's my business alone."
"Aww, come on," Emily insisted. 
"Fine," Liam said with a grin. "I've had one or two flings in the past, but that's it."
"Flings?" Emily said. "As in...?"
"Come on now Emily," Liam said. "Don't be a prude. And I'm eighteen; not as if I'm breaking any laws."
"Shut up, you," Emily said, playfully punching him on the shoulder. "You know how I get about these things."
"Yeah, yeah," Liam said. "Ever the pure, Emily. So sweet, harmless, and innocent."
"Hey! I'm not the little girl you left behind any more," Emily huffed. "I've grown up."
"Whatever you say," Liam said, looking at Emily.

The two of them then simultaneously burst into laughter, smiling and grinning. And for the first time in ages, Liam felt genuine happiness; he had forgotten how much Emily made him feel complete. And Emily seemed to be enjoying herself as well. But as soon as Liam thought this, a twang of pain stabbed his heart; the happy reunion was to be short lived with the Games coming up in a matter of days. And the thought of losing Emily to the arena... Liam didn't want to think about that. Emily soon stopped laughing, and looked at Liam, smiling.
"So then," she said. "What about the Games?"
"What about them?" Liam asked.
"It's an obvious question," Emily said with a sigh. "Are we gonna stick together in the arena?" Liam stared at Emily for a moment, unsure of what to say. Of course he wanted to stay by her side for every second, but at the same time, he knew that he wouldn't be able to live with himself if Emily died before he did. But he couldn't let Emily know that; it would destroy the joyful reunion.
"Of course," Liam said. "Why wouldn't I team up with the girl most likely to be victor?"
"Liam, stop it," Emily said. "You and I both know that I'm average at best. There's no way I'll last more than a day. You, on the other hand..."
"Come on, don't be so modest, Em," Liam said. "We both probably have good chances on our own. Together, well, I don't think we'll have to worry about death at all."
"You really think that?" Emily asked. "Sounds like a lot of false hope to me."
"Would I really be like that with you?" Liam asked. Emily shook her head. "Exactly. So, how's about we stick together in training tomorrow, and work out an arena plan from there?"
"Yeah," Emily said. "That sounds-"

A bell suddenly rang out, cutting Emily off. Liam and Emily both turned to see the head trainer standing in the middle of the room.
"Attention, tributes," she called out. "Training is officially over for today. So if you could all please return to your floors without any fuss, we can all leave safely and without injury."

Emily and Liam began to walk towards the elevators, hand in hand. Alone, neither of them really stood a chance, but maybe, just maybe, working together would get one of them out of the Games alive.

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