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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25. Spilled Blood

Derek crouched in the corner of the dark space, Griffin trembling beside him. He was in a state of shock: in the past few minutes, Mason and Tavish had been killed, and there were Careers now in the house, looking for more tribute to kill. If it weren't for Mason's brief warning, then Derek would have been killed on top of that balcony when Mason died.

He shuddered, and tears rolled down his cheeks: the image of Mason being murdered had been permanently seared into his brain. Two of his friends had just died. The killers were still in the house. And the two remaining members of this now broken alliance were stuck in the attic, having rushed up with the bags as soon as Mason burst open the door. Derek glanced across the attic, and saw the hatch in the middle of the floor. It hadn't been touched since he and Griffin rushed up here, and Derek was relieved about that. The lack of creaking also told him that the Careers hadn't gone upstairs just yet: he knew that they would; it was only a matter of time.

And if Derek didn't do something, then the entire alliance would be brutally murdered in one night. But there was only one way out of this house, and that was through the front door: they were trapped in this building so long as the Careers were potentially there. Derek looked to his right, and saw the pile of bags. They were filled with enough food and water to last a couple of days, but he couldn't risk reaching over to it: the creaking would attract attention. It was ironic in a sense, Derek realised: the thing that was supposedly going to protect them from danger was now the very thing that could end their lives.

Griffin was still shaking by Derek's side, and was very quietly sobbing into his own jacket. Derek felt a pang of emotion: the poor kid had only just turned twelve the day before reaping day, and he was now trapped in the arena, with people that would very likely kill him less than ten feet away. The entire situation felt awfully hopeless; Derek knew that there was very little they could do but just sit here, and wait it out.

But for how long? Eventually, Derek realised, he would get hungry, thirst, and tired. And if he dozed off? He had no idea how loudly he slept; the noise from his slumber could alert the Careers. Or if he tried to risk grabbing something to consume from one of the bags, then he could equally make as much as, if not more, noise. It was a hopeless situation.
"Hey, Derek," Griffin said in a voice that was barely audible. Derek knew that it would be risky talking, but at such a low volume, he was sure he would be safe for the moment.
"Yeah?" Derek replied in a voice equally as quiet.
"What are we going to do?" Griffin asked. "I don't think we can stay up here forever."
"I know," Derek said. "Somehow, we need to find a way out." It was true; staying here would be suicide, and once again, Derek felt a pang of shame. Why did they go to this house? It was stupid. All of it was stupid.
"But how do we get out?" Griffin questioned. "The Careers are at the exit, and if we go near them, we're dead.
"I..." Derek began, before trailing off. "I don't know, Griffin. I don't know." Derek felt despair tug at his heart. He wasn't the one with the plan; that was always left to Tavish and Mason, both of whom were lying dead on the ground floor. Without them, it was hopeless. Since what could Derek do, really? He was just some fourteen year old from the poorest of the poor, who could barely read and write. How was he supposed to come up with some brilliant way out of the situation?

He wasn't. That was how. Derek sunk his face into his hands, and began to cry softly.
"Are you okay?" Griffin asked, looking concerned. 
"I'm sorry," Derek said between sobs. "I'm so sorry. But I can't do it, Griffin. I can't get us out of here." He had failed them. As far as he could see, there was no way to get out of here. They were trapped, and he was not going to be able to get them out of here.
"We could get out," Griffin said, to Derek's surprise. "It's a little risky, but how about we stay in here until the morning? The Careers will have to have left by then, and then we can run for it."
"That's a good idea," Derek admitted. "But what if the Careers come up before then? Or what if we both fall asleep and make too much noise?"
"We could at least try, though," Griffin said, looking at the ground. "I don't want to die here, Derek, and part of me knows that this isn't going to be the end for us. I just know it."
"Really?" Derek said. He was genuinely surprised; he had no idea that Griffin had such a strong opinion; he had always struck Derek as being someone weak, and to be brutally honest, a little needy. Not someone who was now radiating confidence and determination. "Then I guess we could try it." He wasn't sure if they would succeed, but it wouldn't hurt to try: there was no way it could get much worse, to be honest.
"Great," Griffin said, smiling. "So for now, we just sit tight."
"Yeah," Derek replied. "Just sit tight." He breathed a sigh of relief, and leaned back against the wall. Hopefully, this would work, and they would get out. Sure, they wouldn't have Tavish or Mason to rely on any more, but maybe, just maybe, they would be able to survive.

This was all shattered as Derek's hand stretched out, and slammed into a bag. He watched in utter horror as the bag slid off of the top of the pile, and onto the floor. The first crashing sound was bad enough, but to make it all worse, the bag wasn't shut properly, and a metallic flask rolled across the floor, crashing into the wall on the other side of the attic, making a clanging sound ring out. Derek's face went deathly white, and almost in slow motion, he turned to face Griffin, whose expression mirrored his own. He then turned away from Griffin, and, trembling, looked at the hatch.

And then came the sound of the creaking stairs.

Derek began to breathe heavily, feeling his pulse race. He looked at Griffin, who was on the verge of a full-scale panic attack. The Careers were coming up the stairs. They had heard all the noise, and now they knew that there were more tributes in the house. 
"Oh god..." Griffin whispered, tears dripping onto the ground. Derek was trembling like no tomorrow, but he reached into his jacket pocket, and gripped the knife in there firmly. Griffin watched as Derek shakily stood to his feet, clutching the knife. Derek knew that all hope was nearly lost, but he wasn't going to go down. Not just yet. Sensing the mood, Griffin also stood up, and held his knife as well. They were both as ready as possible for whatever was about to happen.

And then, as if on cue, the attic hatch burst open. Derek watched as the boy from 2 climbed into the attic, and looked right at them. There was a brief moment of stillness, as the tributes all looked at each other, but then, the Career lunged at the two outliers.

Both boys moved out of the way as Dylan ran at them. Derek backed up, almost tripping on the bags. But he didn't register them; his only thoughts now were to get out alive.
"Griffin!" he yelled, seeing Griffin running towards the hatch. 
"Derek!" Griffin called back, slowing down. "Come on!" Derek nodded, but before he could move, Dylan rushed again. He instinctively raised his arm at the last second, causing his elbow to collide with the Career's face. There was a moan of pain from behind Derek, and he watched as Dylan tumbled to the ground. The Career was down for the moment; he had to take this opportunity.
"Griffin!" he yelled, sprinting across the floor, causing them to creak immensely. "Let's get out of here! Now!"

Griffin was first to the hatch, but as he reached it, the girl from 1 leaped up, holding her spear. Derek watched in utter horror as she thrust the spear into Griffin's stomach. The smaller boy screamed in agony, and fell to the ground as blood stained the floor. Derek felt like he was going to be sick, but he couldn't check to try and save Griffin: he had to leave. And as Topaz went to retrieve her spear from Griffin's stomach, Derek leaped down the hatch, rushing past her before she could do anything.

Derek hit the carpeted floor, and as soon as he was on the ground, sprinted down the hallway. All his allies were gone. He was the only one left. But he couldn't mourn just now: his only thought was to get out of here. Tears were clouding Derek's vision, but he didn't care. He needed to run for his life, and get out. He couldn't die. He just couldn't!

His legs felt like jelly, but Derek still ran down the long hallway. The walls were lined with several nice looking paintings, but he didn't care about that. Fear directed his every action, and he could hear the girl from 1's voice from above him. Derek didn't register what she said, but the fact that he could hear her voice was enough to get him to speed up. She would be coming for him soon. And if she caught up, he'd be dead.

Suddenly, Derek collided with a vase on a desk, crashing to the floor. A sharp pain ran through his side, and he looked as his knife had fallen into the pile of shattered porcelain. His hands were covered in small cuts, but he still forced himself up. There was no telling now how much time he had until the Careers came for him, but looking ahead, Derek realised that once he turned left at the end of the hallway, he would be at the balcony, and he would be able to get out of here. Yes, that was the plan. He had to get out of here: he couldn't die. He bent down into the shards, and gripped the handle of his knife. More shards dug into his palm, but Derek simply blinked away the tears of agony. This pain was nothing compared to what he would feel if he was caught by the Careers. And with the knife in hand, Derek continued to sprint down the hallway, whimpering loudly. He had only just become aware of this, and a wave of panic flashed through him as he realised that he could be drawing a lot of attention. So he physically bit down on his tongue to keep as quiet as possible.

BOOM

Suddenly, the cannon fired out, and Derek felt as if someone had driven every last shard of the vase into his chest. There was no denying whose cannon that was: Griffin was dead. Tears flowed down Derek's cheeks, but he didn't stop running. He was the only one of his alliance left: everyone else was dead. And the only people that were still alive and nearby were those who would kill him without a second thought. He was doomed, and the only option left was to run for it, and get out. That was the thought that kept pounding in his head, like some bizarre rhythm: get out, get out, get out, get out, get out. This was what kept Derek going: he felt like he was just going to collapse on the floor, and sob loudly. But he couldn't do that: he had to use all his energy to escape from the Careers.

Derek reached the end of the hallway, and sharply turned left. He was now sure that he was quieter than when he escaped the attic, and as he saw the chandelier at the far end reflecting the moonlight, he felt hope rising up. Escape was in sight: he was so close. So very, very close.

However, as Derek rushed out onto the balcony, his blood turned to ice. Down on the ground floor, guarding the exit, were the remaining three Careers: the girls from 2 and 9, and the boy from 1. The boy from 1 looked up at Derek for just a moment. Derek felt like he was going to scream. And then, to add to the horror, he watched as the boy from 1 pulled out a couple of throwing knives, and began to move towards the stairs.

Derek wasted no time in backing up into the hallway again. He was trapped, he realised: the girl from 1 would no doubt be coming down from the attic any second now, and the boy from 1 was coming up. There had to be some way out; there just had to be!

Derek was panicking now. He looked around frantically, hoping for some way out. His eyes then rested on the several doors that lined the hallway. It was a long shot, but he had to try it. Hiding in one of these rooms was the only solution left.

He quickly sprinted through the first door he encountered, swiftly closing it behind him. Derek's heart was hammering loudly, and he was breathing heavily. The fear wouldn't go away, and Derek was acutely aware of the possibility that he did not have much time left.

The creaking of the stairs suddenly grew louder, and Derek rushed away from the door. He looked around the room, seeing a small bed, a closet, and a window. For a moment, Derek considered jumping out of the window, but he then remembered how high up he was. And then he realised that the window was too small to climb through anyway. The closet would be too obvious a hiding place, so Derek took one glance at the bed before hitting the floor, and rolling under it.

Derek didn't dare breathe as he backed himself into a corner. He was entirely under the bed now, and anyone taking a passing glance wouldn't be able to see him. The sound of the Careers talking reached Derek's ears, and this time, he listened carefully to what he could hear.
"...Each of us will go into a room then, right?" the boy from 1 said smoothly from just outside Derek's door. His blood turned to ice again: if they did that, then if the Careers were to search every corner, he'd be doomed. Derek silently prayed that nobody would go in here. "I'll try this one." the boy from 1 continued, knocking on Derek's door. His eyes widened, and he covered his mouth with his hands, trembling.

Please, don't let him find me, Derek thought. No, at this point, he was practically praying to anything that could possibly be listening to his desperate pleas. But he froze as Osiris pushed open the door, and stepped inside. Derek watched as the boots of the Career drew closer and closer to the bed. He then heard as the closet doors opened; Derek's heart skipped a beat as he heard Osiris sigh, probably due to not having any luck. And then, without warning, Osiris crouched down to the floor. Derek froze as slowly, the Career boy from District 1 came into view. And then, for just a moment, their eyes met.
"Gotcha," Osiris said, smirking.

With a sudden scream, Derek rushed out from under the bed, and tried to make break for the door. But before he could even stand to his feet properly, Osiris wrapped his arm around Derek's throat. Derek made a strange choking noise as he was thrown to the floor. Tears poured from Derek's eyes as Osiris lifted his throwing knife, and plunged it deep into Derek's chest.

A white-hot, searing pain spread throughout Derek's torso, and as the knife punctured a lung, he began to choke out blood. Osiris grimaced in disgust, and pulled the knife out, backing away as Derek convulsed. The pain was getting worse, and Derek felt himself slipping away. More blood dribbled from his mouth as he lost control over his limbs. He couldn't move any more, and the last thing that Derek felt before he perished was immense pain of every kind.

BOOM

Osiris turned away from the corpse of the Seam kid as soon as the cannon fired out: what was the point of hanging around once the kid's death was confirmed? And besides, the smell of blood was already in the air, and it was a putrid stench.

He walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. Osiris then looked as the other Careers also emerged from the other doors along the hallway.
"Hey," Topaz said, looking at Osiris' bloody knife. "Was it you that took the kid from Twelve out?"
"Yeah," Osiris replied nonchalantly. "He thought that hiding under a bed would somehow help him evade detection."
"But whatever," Kylee said, folding her arms. "They're all dead now. Why reminisce about it?"
"Because we just got the first kills of the Games," Osiris explained. Dylan and Dixie also emerged from two more bedrooms. Straight away, Dylan rolled his eyes. Dixie just looked away from Kylee: clearly there was tension between those two and Kylee. "That's a pretty good way for people to sponsor us."
"I know that," Kylee said, idly tossing her hair. "But what's the big deal? You killed someone: be proud for just a moment, but don't keep going on about it. It makes you sound like a barbaric primate, to be honest. And that is something I find disgusting no matter who it is." She directed a sharp glare at Dylan, who was clenching his fists. It looked as if he was ready to wring her throat there and then. But instead, Kylee let out a light giggle, and walked across to the balcony. "Come on then: we might as well clear out so they can collect the corpses."

Osiris followed Kylee down the stairs to the landing. She daintily hopped around the corpse of the boy from 6, avoiding the puddle of blood expertly. Topaz just walked through the blood, not really caring if it got on her boots. Osiris then walked through the blood, also not bothered: it was just blood at the end of the day. But then again, Kylee wasn't exactly the typical Career, much to the dismay of Dylan. He was curious as to what the leader of this alliance had against her, so Osiris hung back for a moment, letting Dixie walk past him.
"Hey," Osiris said to Dylan.
"Yeah?" Dylan replied, wiping the blood from his knife onto his shirt.
"I'm just curious," Osiris said. "What is it about Kylee that gets your blood boiling like it does?"
"You noticed, huh?" Dylan said. Osiris nodded. "Well, I don't know about you, but her entire lax attitude bothers me."
"How so?"
"It's just that she doesn't seem to care about being a Career," Dylan explained. "She always seems so bored, as if she's wanting to do something better than be around us. Like there's something actually worth her time out there."
"Yeah," Osiris said. "I suppose so. But you can't deny that Kylee isn't half bad when it comes to it."
"I know," Dylan said. "It's just that I'm worried, Osiris."
"Really?"
"Yeah," Dylan said as they walked behind the rest of the Careers. "I'm concerned that she's just going to keep pushing me, until one day, I just snap and kill her. And that wouldn't look good, would it?"
"No," Osiris admitted. "But you don't strike me as the type to recklessly make a foolish decision like that, though."
"I know," Dylan said. "Normally, I'm quite good, but Kylee walks around as if she owns the place, undermining my leadership. And I can't help but get mad at that, Osiris. She treats the Games as if she's already won them, and it just makes me feel useless."
"Look," Osiris said. "No matter how in her own world Kylee is, listen to me: you are useful to this alliance, Dylan. You tend to make good decisions, and you're a pretty nice guy. Just leave Kylee be, and let her do her own thing. She's not hurting anyone, is she?" Of course, this was ignoring that Kylee would most likely try and kill another tribute when they next went out hunting, but that didn't exactly count in Osiris' mind.
"No," Dylan said. "I'll try and ignore her, then. This alliance needs me too much."
"That's the spirit," Osiris said with a smile. "Now come on, let's catch up with the others."

The two of them rushed down the road to the other Careers, not looking back as the hovercraft emerged, transporting the first corpses from the Games away from the arena.

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