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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27. Weaving a Subtle Web

Erika sat slouched over the wooden table, and let out a sigh. Her stomach was growling fiercely, and to be frank, she was feeling a little bored. Ever since they moved into this house yesterday, all four girls had been cooped up. For the quieter ones like Rosa, this was fine, but Erika wasn't used to being so confined. And that wasn't even mentioning her worries about feeling trapped in this house; last night, Erika had a horrific nightmare that some tribute came into the house, and killed them all within the confined space. In fact, just thinking about it was enough to put Erika on edge. She sighed, as she came to one very simple conclusion: she needed out.

Erika stood up from the desk, catching the attention of the other girls.
"You okay?" Lucy asked, looking at Erika. 
"Yeah," Erika replied. She wasn't sure why she was lying; she knew that they'd be completely fine with her worries, and help her to overcome them, but as the acting leader of the alliance, Erika felt as if she had to keep a flawless image going: she couldn't show weakness. "I guess I'm just a little hungry is all." That wasn't a lie; Erika actually felt hungry, but not as much as she was planning on exaggerating.
"Really?" Lucy said. Erika nodded. "Well, I guess we're all feeling quite hungry: we haven't eaten anything substantial since we were in the Capitol."
"Right," Erika said cheerfully, swallowing her discomfort.
"So are you going to go out and hunt some food?" Rosa said from the corner of the room. "I mean, you and Lucy both have the right kind of weapons, and I imagine that a knife would just be too messy for a clean kill."
"You're right there," Erika said, her knowledge from back home coming in handy for once. "Not to mention if ya wanna be kinder to the animal, then a clean shot's the best way to kill 'em."
"I thought so," Rosa said quietly, nodding in confirmation. 
"So then," Lucy said, grabbing her bow. "Are we going to go out? It is past noon, and I think we'd all benefit from having some fresh meat."
"Yeah," Erika replied, grinning confidently as she grabbed her crossbow. "Let's go."

Lucy and Erika walked across the small bungalow, and out of the front door. The midday sun shone down brightly, and Erika realised that it was definitely warmer than yesterday. The grass seemed greener, and patches of flowers had sprung up overnight. Or perhaps Erika was just imagining that; they could have been there yesterday, but the fear would have prevented her from truly noticing it. Directly ahead of them was the woods, the trees standing tall into the blue sky above. Erika took a moment to appreciate the beauty of it all, before following Lucy down the dirt trail.

Soon enough, both girls were in the woods. The lush leaves of the trees cast a warm green glow on everything, and as Erika followed the trail deeper into the woods, she could hear a variety of insects buzzing with life. In fact, judging from noise alone, there would be more than enough insects out there for them to eat in theory. However, Erika had no idea which ones would be safe to eat, so they'd just stick to good old wild birds. And it wasn't as if this place was running low on them; competing for the position of the most prevalent noise with the insects was the birdsong in the air above their heads. Every now and then, Erika could hear the fluttering of wings up above. Everything was far too peaceful for an arena where death was literally waiting around every corner.

"Stop," Lucy suddenly said, sticking a hand out. Erika froze, and looked ahead. Just in front of the two girls was a small clearing. And right there, in the middle of the clearing, was a wild turkey.
"I've got this," Erika whispered, and swiftly loaded her crossbow. She took aim at the turkey, and after taking a couple of deep breaths, fired. The arrow pierced the chest of the bird, and it let out a squawk of terror, before falling to the ground. A few feathers were stained red, but it wasn't anything that they couldn't fix.

Lucy walked forwards, and grabbed the bird, returning to Erika.
"So," she said with a smile. "I guess we have lunch?"
"I guess so," Erika replied. "I'll run ahead, and tell Gwen to get a fire going, okay?"
"Okay then," Lucy said, watching as Erika ran back along the dirt trail. When she was left truly alone, Lucy let out a sigh.

They were all getting along so well, and Lucy realised that roughly where they were now, the early afternoon of day two, was roughly half of the time that last year's Games had gone on. The thought hit her sharply: if these Games were to go on at the same pace as last year, then they would only have 48 hours left before the victor was crowned. But Lucy didn't think that was going to happen; so far, only four were dead, and there were still several stronger tributes out there that wouldn't go down so easily.

A pang of sadness hit Lucy as she thought about last year's Games. The female tribute from District 11, Afya Zahirah, was actually someone Lucy knew: the two of them had lived close to one another, and went to the same school. Of course, Afya was three years older, but she still treated Lucy like a respectable person, instead of a child. Without realising it, a tear dripped down Lucy's cheek. That compassionate nature of Afya's was what got her killed, and right now, the entire alliance Lucy was in radiated compassion. This made her fear for them: in these Games, it seemed that the more compassionate tributes died more tragically.

However, Lucy forced herself to disregard these thoughts, and instead walked along the path, her boots touching the dirt floor, rustling on the clean green grass. Thinking like that would only bring self-destruction, so for the sake of the team, Lucy would think positive. Even though it wasn't much, in Lucy's opinion, one could never underestimate the power of positive thinking.

--

Brinn stumbled through the woods, clutching his dagger. He hadn't encountered anyone since Salvera yesterday, but he was still on edge. There was still every chance that there were tributes nearby. Tributes that would be willing to kill him.

The thought terrified him to no end. But Brinn still kept moving forwards. He was in the southern part of the woods, and was slowly making his way north: his first goal before anything else was simple: to get out of the woods, and find somewhere else to hide. That was it. He wasn't out to kill anyone, or to devise an elaborate plan, he was just trying to avoid everyone else.

A bird called out, and Brinn looked up at the leaves of the trees that towered over him. He felt dizzy just looking up at them: they could fall on him, and kill him at any moment. The urge to scream rose up, but Brinn swallowed harshly, removing the urge. Screaming would get him killed by another tribute, and he didn't want that at all.

Brinn stepped over a fallen log, feeling uneasy as he looked at it: that log had come from a tree, and since it didn't seem as if any other tributes had been through here yet, it had fallen naturally. Which meant that these trees could fall on their own accord: this forest wasn't as safe as Brinn had hoped. But he couldn't let the fear get to him: he had to stay strong, and get out of here. In fact, Brinn was pretty sure that the woods would end soon enough; he had been walking for over a day in this direction. He looked up again, and noticed that the sun was beginning to set as well. Very soon, the woods would be enshrouded in darkness, and Brinn would spend another night here, cowering in fear. He couldn't help it, but at night, everything seemed more sinister to him. It was as if there was something always there, always lurking in the shadows, just waiting for the opportune moment to strike out.

But he was just being silly, Brinn told himself. There was nothing here; it was just the trees, the birds, and himself. Nothing that would be maliciously stalking him: that was just absurd on every level. He was safe in here from everything but the trees, and once he was away from the trees, he would be safe and sound. There was no arguing about it in Brinn's mind.

Brinn looked ahead, and saw that the woods ended just ahead: there was a path leading out to what he presumed was the starting zone. A pang of worry hit Brinn as he realised that he would have to avoid the Careers, but he reasoned that it was only a minor risk to take. But as soon as he took another step forward, the voices of the dead swarmed in his mind.

Brinn, don't go this way.
It will only lead to death and destruction.
Forces of evil are up ahead, Brinn, and it will be beneficial if you are to heed this warning.
Going ahead will bring you to death's door.
Invincible evil is all that is up ahead for you.

Brinn began to tremble. The voices were never wrong about anything, and from what he could gather, they were referring to the Careers; he knew that they were probably behind last night's killings, but to call them invincible? Brinn was now feeling very afraid. If even the ghosts were put off by the Careers, then it was clear in his mind the course of action he was to take.

Brinn turned left, and began to walk west, heading deeper into the woods. Sure, it meant that he would be spending another evening among the trees, but it was worth it to be avoiding an invincible evil. Because if there was one thing Brinn was sure of, it was that something near the starting zone would bring so much misery and despair that even the voices were afraid of it.

--

Kylee was once again perched on the roof of the Cornucopia, looking down at the other Careers. The setting sun shone down on them, bringing a warm glow. But that warmth was probably doing nothing to prevent how heated Dylan was getting. And from Kylee's vantage point, it was hilarious.

Rather stupidly, her district partner was getting worked up about the fact that nearly twenty four hours had passed without another death; they were nearly two days in, and there were still twenty tributes running around. A normal Career would probably take this problem and come up with a half-intelligent solution. Dylan, however, had taken it upon himself to throw a hissy fit.

Kylee couldn't help but giggle as Dylan cursed for the fifth time in the past two minutes. His face was red, and he reminded her of a three year old that couldn't get their way. No doubt this would be doing wonders for the sponsors: the leader of the Careers was having a full-blown meltdown. Still giggling, Kylee looked over at the other Careers. Ren and Annabell were sat in the mouth of the Cornucopia, talking; from what Kylee could gather, something about looking out for one another as much as possible. Osiris was trying to calm Dylan down, but to no avail, Kylee noted whilst smirking. And Dixie and Topaz were stood against the Cornucopia, talking. Kylee leaned over, and listened in on what the two were saying.
"So, what do you think we should do?" Topaz said. Kylee listened intently; eavesdropping was something she was good at, and definitely one of her more entertaining skills.
"Personally?" Dixie said. "I say we wait it out until the morning, since we may have a repeat of last year with a couple of outliers growing a pair and trying to off us. Not that it'll work though."

Kylee couldn't help but smirk at Dixie's bravado. Oh, how the girl from 9 thought she had a good grasp on what was going in. In fact, Kylee knew that Dixie thought that she could see right through Kylee's act. But what Dixie hadn't gathered was that Kylee was composed of layer upon layer of masks and acts and lies. She had spun a carefully crafted web of deception around the other Careers, and none of them knew better. She had let each of them see the cracks in a specific visage, letting each of them get to know what they thought was the real Kylee. But in reality, they were just buying another pile of lies. And the best part was that none of them knew what Kylee was actually doing. And it was going to end up biting them in the end. But not just now, Kylee decided. There was still waiting to be done before she could begin to act upon this deception. However, right now, she had to bide her time. And what better to do than to have some fun?

She leaped down from the Cornucopia, still holding her scythe, and faced a slightly surprised Dixie and Topaz.
"Hey," Kylee said. "How are you guys?" She smiled sweetly, watching as the two girls in front of her saw the different masks; Topaz perceived Kylee as sweet, if a little ditzy and aloof, whilst Dixie saw her as a bitchy wolf in sheep's clothing. Neither were anywhere near what the real Kylee was, but she could let them believe it; they were just falling into her trap at the end of the day.
"Oh, fine," Dixie said. "We were just discussing about what we're going to do."
"Hm?"
"Oh, you know," Topaz said, smiling. "About how we're going to deal with the lack of dead tributes."
"Oh, I see," Kylee said, appearing flighty. "And so far, what do you guys think?" Dixie looked at Kylee suspiciously as she said this, whilst Topaz smiled eagerly.
"So far, we think we should stay here," Topaz said. Kylee nodded, caressing her scythe. "Since there is a chance that we could experience a repeat of last year."
"I understand," Kylee said. "The whole fiasco regarding those two from Ten and Twelve, right?"
"Yeah," Topaz said. "Because last year's Careers weren't prepared for it, it screwed them over, and was probably the thing that made them lose in the end." Topaz wiped a stray tear from her eye. She was showing weakness, Kylee noted: she had to take advantage of it right now.
"What's the matter?" Kylee asked, her tone dripping with sickening sweetness. But Topaz lapped it right up.
"Sorry," Topaz said. "It's just that Ebony was a close friend of mine, and that he died horribly in the arena..." She then let out a sob that caused a wave of concern to wash over Dixie's face. Kylee, however, saw it differently: Topaz was playing up the emotional theatrics for the crowds. Now this was something that she hadn't been expecting to happen: Topaz didn't strike her as the manipulative type. A new-found respect for the girl from 1 built up inside Kylee; it took some guts to be able to so fluently play the crowd like a harp. But unfortunately, Kylee was still better.
"I didn't understand," Kylee said, wrapping her arms around Topaz. Topaz then sobbed into Kylee's shoulders; the girl was playing it by the book. "I'm sorry."
"It's fine," Topaz said, wiping an obviously fake tear away. "I just sometimes get ridiculously emotional like this." She pulled away from Kylee, and gave a reassuring smile, unaware that Kylee was also in on the act.
"Okay then," Kylee said. "Good to know."
"Yeah," Topaz said. Kylee smiled, and then looked at Dixie, who was suspiciously looking at her. The girl didn't know where the falseness ended and the sincerity began. And that was just how Kylee wanted it.

She smiled to herself: she was now confident that she had won over everyone in the alliance. They all had their own perceived image of Kylee, and none of them would question whichever mask she put on for them. All was going as planned, and if things continued to go like this, it wouldn't be too long until Kylee would finally be able to make her move. However, she realised, there was still the problem of Dylan: his anger with her could backfire horribly if she wasn't too careful. Kylee made a mental note to be wary around him; if the frustration built up, then there was a chance he would kill her in a fit of rage.

But, Kylee reminded herself, the situation was actually like this: she was a spider, the Careers were the flies, and the alliance was the web she had spun that they had unknowingly sealed their fates by entering.

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