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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17. The Fruits of Labour

Rosa sat on the sofa in District 7's apartment, eating from a bowl of fruits. Normally, the escort would have made her sit at the table, but they were all sat on the sofa, staring at the screen, for very soon, the training scores of the tributes would be made public. Rosa glanced over at her mentor, who was gazing coldly at the screen. He hadn't said anything since the escort brought them all in, clearly concerned over the score she and Brinn were going to get.

She glanced over at Brinn, who was looking pale, but also couldn't take his eyes from the screen. Even with his damaged mind, he realised that he needed to know his score. It was the most important thing so far: sure, the chariot parades had given the Capitol a taste of the tributes, but what really mattered was the training score that would be assigned to each tribute: it would accurately gauge how long they would survive in the arena. And of course, if a tribute had a low score, then they would be ignored, and left to fend for themselves.

Rosa sighed. Far too much was relying on these training scores for her liking. And the more she thought about it, the more she realised that the Capitol was the most fickle crowd. And she realised how this could affect the alliance she was in; if even one member got a low score, then that could be enough to throw off everyone from sponsoring. That couldn't happen. If it did, then Rosa would be doomed, as well as the others.

"Hey," Rosa was brought out of her thoughts by Brinn, surprisingly. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," she said. "You?"
"Not really," Brinn said. "I've been thinking about my session, and I'm worried I screwed up."
"Really?" Rosa inquired, still surprised at how she was managing to have a rational conversation with Brinn for the first time. "What happened?"
"Let's just leave it at I panicked," Brinn said. "It's embarrassing to think about."
"Oh," Rosa realised. She knew roughly what would have happened. Brinn would have begun with a good plan, and ended up panicking, ruining his chances somehow. It probably had to do with the tree in the room. But she didn't say any more, for fear of triggering a panic attack in Brinn. He was sane and calm, and she wanted him remaining that way.

Suddenly, a blaring fanfare erupted from the television, scaring the two tributes half to death. The seal of Panem appeared on the screen, and Rosa soon recognised the sound as the anthem. The scores were about to be announced.
"Oh god..." Brinn said shakily. "This is it."
"Yeah," Rosa said. "You're right." This was going to be the moment that would determine whether or not most of the tributes survived. She could only hope that her alliance all got decent scores. Brinn as well; even though they weren't working together, she would hate to see him wiped out in the bloodbath.

The anthem died down, and Caesar Flickerman's face appeared on the screen in place of the seal. As was seen in the reaping recap, Caesar had gone for a deep maroon colour scheme this time around. To be honest, it looked like dried blood, and that unsettled Rosa slightly.
"Good evening, Panem!" he said loudly. The camera panned out to show him sitting at a desk, with a screen behind him, where the scores would be shown. "It's finally come around, ladies and gentlemen: the evening we've all been waiting for! Get ready, because, after three days of training and evaluation, the Gamemakers are ready to present the scores they have assigned to each tribute!"

Rosa tuned out as Caesar listed how the scores worked: one was the worst, and twelve was the best. He also said something to the effect of, "So far, no tribute has ever scored a twelve. Perhaps this year will change all that?", but it wasn't really important. Rosa was buzzing with anticipation. All she wanted to know was her score, and the scores of her allies. And since Gwen's score would be the last to be revealed, Rosa would have to watch every score be revealed. Not that she had a problem with that or anything; it just meant that she would have a long evening ahead of her. But it wasn't as if she had plans or anything; how could she in the Capitol? Now she was merely waiting until the eventful launch day, and then she would never see this place again. Unless she won, of course, but Rosa wasn't confident about that.

"Now, without further ado," Caesar said. "Let's reveal the scores! First up is Osiris Garnet from District One, with a score of eight!" Osiris' face flashed up on the screen, with the number 8 below it. Eight was a pretty average Career score, but it was still formidable in Rosa's eyes.

"Next up is Topaz Doublet!" Caesar continued. "With a score of ten!" Topaz's face showed, alongside the 10 that she had earned. Rosa felt a slight sense of dread. Ten was a high score, and definitely showed that this girl was going to be deadly in the Games.

"Next up is Dylan Spelunk!" Caesar announced. "With a score of nine!" Dylan's face and the number 9 showed up on the screen. He was in-between the two District 1 tributes, but still definitely on the higher end of the spectrum. The Careers were looking to be quite the powerful bunch this year, and with every high score, Rosa felt more and more worried. But, she reminded herself, these people had trained all their lives for this. It was only expected that they were to get high scores.

"And now for Kylee Harker!" Caesar said. "With a score of eight!" Kylee had scored the same as Osiris; they were both currently tied for lowest Career score, but in no way was it something to look down upon. Eight was still up there in the hard to attain range for most tributes, and there was something about Kylee that seemed dangerous to Rosa.

"Xander Bradley!" Caesar announced. "With a score of six!" Six was pretty good for a District 3 tribute, and as Xander's face flashed on the screen, Rosa tried to think back to seeing him in training. She remembered seeing him for a little while on the first day, but that was it. Still, it was a pretty decent score.

"Rosaline Weathers!" Caesar continued. "Also with a score of six!" This was the same as Xander's score, showing that both had promise, but something about Rosaline nagged at Rosa. Wasn't she the childhood friend of District 3's latest victor, Elektra? Rosa recalled Elektra mentioning her best friend in the victory tour at some point, but she couldn't be sure. However, if that was the case, Rose didn't score as high as Elektra did: the victor came away with an eight, if Rosa recalled correctly.

"Ren Zanda!" Caesar announced. "With a score of seven!" Seven was low for Career standards, but Rosa then remembered Ren was only fifteen, and likely hadn't been in training for as long as the others. So for his age, it was okay. But something about it made Rosa feel that he would be one of the less threatening Careers; District 4 just gave off that vibe this year.

"Annabell Reeves!" Caesar announced. "With a score of six!" Rosa was surprised by this. That was going way into outlier territory; it was the score given to tributes who had trained hard, but who had been reaped with no prior skills. Could it be that Annabell hadn't trained? Rosa doubted it: the fourteen year old could just be putting on the innocent act, now she thought about it.

"Markus Lucian!" Caesar continued. "With a score of ten!" Rosa's eyes went wide as the score was projected for all to see. How was it possible that an outlier could earn such a high score? And not just a high score: Markus was currently tied for highest score with Topaz. He was better than most Careers. And for some reason, that terrified Rosa.

"Alexis Rays!" Caesar announced. "With a score of seven!" Seven was above average for an outlier, and was in the borderline territory between outlier and Career. Alexis was probably going to be one of those people that would survive at all costs. But then why the alliance? Rosa didn't think to question it; she had the feeling she wouldn't really see Alexis in the arena.

"Mason Irizarri!" Caesar announced. "With a score of five!" Rosa didn't really think that the score was surprising at all for Mason. He seemed to be quite an intelligent kid, but definitely seemed to lack physical prowess. And if it weren't for his alliance, Rosa would have pegged him as bloodbath material, unfortunately.

"Salvera Combe!" Caesar continued. "With a score of six!" Six was average, but Rosa was still surprised that Salvera had obtained even that. From what she had seen, the girl had spent the entirety of training spacing out and talking to herself. Perhaps that was a ruse to throw everyone off from the true Salvera. But this put the strange girl in a whole new light; Rosa now couldn't predict what would become of Salvera in the arena. At first, she had been pretty sure Salvera would be a bloodbath casualty, but now, she wasn't sure.

"Hey," Brinn said. "Our scores are next." Rosa felt her blood turn to ice. They were. She had forgotten; instead she had been to absorbed in interpreting the other scores.
"Yeah, they are," Rosa said. "What do you think you're going to get?"
"I don't know," he replied. "Hopefully not something condemning."
"I hope not," Rosa replied. "Let's just hope for the best, yeah?"
"Yeah." Brinn offered a confident smile, and returned to facing the television.

"Brinn Redwood!" Caesar said. Rosa saw Brinn tense up. "With a score of four!" 
"Oh god," Brinn said, his eyes widening. "No..." Rosa didn't say anything; what could she say? So far, Brinn had received the lowest score in the Games, and that was immediately portraying him as a weak target for the Careers to slaughter. So instead she wrapped her arms around him.
"I'm sorry," she said weakly. "I guess we can't all be lucky."
"Yeah," Brinn said, pushing her away. He wiped a tear from his eye. "I guess I'll just have to make do with it." Rosa gave a sympathetic smile, and then returned to the screen. Her score was up next, and she needed to know if it was going to be good enough. She couldn't fail like Brinn; she just couldn't!

"Rosa Milne!" Caesar said after what felt like a lifetime to Rosa. "With a score of five!" That was it? Only a five? It was an average score, and would be fine in the arena, but Rosa felt disappointed by it. She wasn't aiming for a ten or anything; she just wasn't expecting her score to be so... average. But it would be fine. She would make do with it, and the score showed that she wasn't completely weak and useless, at least. But now she could only hope her allies did better.

"Kaye Nylon!" Caesar continued, having moved on from District 7 swiftly. "With a score of seven!" That was pretty high for an outlier, but there was an unpredictable nature surrounding Kaye. To Rosa, it seemed as if you could never be sure what he was going to do next, which would clearly be advantageous in the arena.

"Emily Horwitz!" Caesar continued. "With a score of six!" It seemed as if they were returning back to the realms of reality. Six seemed to fit Emily in Rosa's opinion: the red-head didn't really stand out much, but neither did she appear weak. Still, clearly Emily had done something that gave her a decent score. But it didn't seem to be anything for Rosa to worry about.

"Griffin Fairbain!" Caesar announced. "With a score of three!" Rosa looked over to Brinn, whose face had lit up. The lowest score had been taken by the scrawny twelve year old from District 9. Suddenly Brinn's odds of survival had gone up, much to his relief. But at the same time, Rosa felt sorry for Griffin. He was going to be dead for sure in the bloodbath with a score like that, unfortunately.

"Dixie Semming!" Caesar continued. "With a score of nine!" For a moment, Rosa was taken back by this impossibly high score, until she remembered: Dixie had joined up with the Careers. And from what Rosa had seen, Dixie was pretty good with several weapons and skills, despite her outlier status. But if this score had anything to say, Dixie was going to be quite the formidable adversary in the Games.

"Tavish Longhorn!" Caesar announced. "With a score of five!" Tavish had scored the same as Rosa, which made her feel bad, considering how he was only twelve. But he was quite stocky for his age, and was practising with several powerful weapons, so it only made sense he earned that score. Either way, this boy was most likely not going to go down easily in these Games.

"Erika Jersey!" Caesar continued, catching Rosa's full attention. Now her alliance was coming up in the scores, and she was hoping for the best. "With a score of six!" Rosa sighed in relief. Six was good. It would attract sponsors without placing a target on Erika's head. The leader of the alliance couldn't have asked for a better score in Rosa's opinion.

"Liam Aldair!" Caesar announced. "With a score of eight!" Rosa's eyes widened slightly. Eight was extremely high for District 11; in fact, the only time she ever recalled a District 11 tribute getting a high score was Afya Zahirah last year with a nine. But that girl was something else entirely. However, Rosa supposed the score was good for Liam, considering how close he acted around Emily: the score would be enough to put Careers off just blindly rushing in to kill him; he would be able to use it to protect Emily in the arena.

"Lucy Caspian!" Caesar continued. Once again, Rosa paid full attention to the screen. "With a score of five!" The exact same score as Rosa. For some reason, she smiled. Having her ally have the same score made Rosa feel more confident. Perhaps she hadn't done as badly as she had thought. And she knew Lucy would also be happy with her score.

"Derek Lemoine!" Caesar announced. "With a score of four!" The Seam boy from District 12 had earned the same score as Brinn. Rosa wasn't too surprised; both were similar physically, and neither of them had received any form of training. The only difference was their setbacks: Derek was painfully thin, whilst Brinn was traumatised from a childhood experience. Still, having tributes in the same score range made Brinn seem more relaxed.

"Gwen Levine!" Caesar said, reading out the final score. Rosa sat up, hoping for the best. "With a score of five!" So the entire alliance bar Erika had earned the same score. For some bizarre reason, this made her feel more confident about the Games. It was almost a sign that they were equal, and that they would get through the Games together.

"And that's it, ladies and gentlemen!" Caesar continued. "But stay tuned for the interviews hosted by yours truly this time tomorrow!" He flashed a smile at the audience, and the anthem played before the screen faded to black. Rosa's escort turned off the television.

"Hey, Rosa," Brinn said. "Congrats on the score."
"Same to you," she replied. "Looks as if you're not excessively low."
"Yeah," he said. "Based on scores alone, we both stand a good chance." He suddenly turned pale. "But that doesn't mean anything in the arena." This sobering thought hit Rosa as well, and she felt a twinge of fear.
"You're right," she replied. "I guess none of us truly know what's in store for us in the arena."
"But what if it's a forest?" Brinn said, his voice growing shrill. Rosa felt what could almost be sadness: he had been so calm this afternoon, but now, once again, the fear was returning. "I couldn't do that. The trees... they would... I can't!"

Suddenly, Brinn darted out of the room, sobbing. Rosa remained on the sofa in a daze, and a little upset. She knew it was wrong to care, but she honestly thought Brinn was going to be okay for the Games. Turned out she was wrong about that. What else would she be wrong about? Time would only tell, she decided. But for now, there was one last thing before the Games were upon the tributes: the interviews.

This was the final opportunity to gain the public favour, and right there, right now, Rosa decided that she was not going to waste it.

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