Following my stylist's instructions, I stand proudly in my chariot with my head held high, the better to show off my beauty. Beauty which has been enhanced by my costume. District 1 always has the most spectacular costumes in the tribute parade and the ones my district partner, Lacquer, and I are wearing are no exception. I have little doubt that we are going to wow the Capitol audience when we emerge from the Remake Centre.
I'm wearing a dark blue satin dress with matching high-heeled shoes; the colour reminds me of my name, Sapphire. But the jewels which decorate my dress are diamonds, hundreds of tiny diamonds which catch the light whenever I move. Silver bracelets decorate my wrists and, around my neck, I wear a silver chain; from it hangs a single large diamond. My golden hair, which I normally wear loose, has been pinned up in an elegant style and topped off with a diamond tiara. Diamonds, silver, satin - few who look at me will doubt I come from District 1, the district which produces luxury goods.
But don't underestimate me. Beneath all the jewels, I'm a highly trained Career. I've been preparing for this moment all my life and, when we get to the arena, my fellow tributes will find out that I'm just as capable of killing people as the pair in the chariot directly behind the one carrying Lacquer and myself. They're from District 2, of course, and they're both volunteers; when I saw the recap of their district's reaping, I could tell at a glance that they were the kind of ruthless killers District 2 tends to produce. That will make them useful allies at the start of the Games, but it also means they will be dangerous later on. So, assuming I make it to the latter stages, I plan to try and take both of them out.
Of course, they won't be easy to kill; District 2 tributes rarely are. But I'm trained in the use of a variety of weapons, so I should be able to find a way to finish them off. And, if I can get my hands on a bow and arrows, or a spear, or anything else that will allow me to attack from a distance, so much the better. I may be a Career, but I don't fancy my chances against the District 2 boy (I don't know his name yet) in a sword fight. He must be the strongest tribute in these Games.
But his strength will be useful in the early stages, so Lacquer and I plan to team up with him and his district partner, as well as the pair from District 4. The other tributes don't look worth bothering with; in fact, I've already marked a couple of them as bloodbath fodder. Like that girl from 5 - another twelve-year-old by the look of her. I almost feel sorry for her, but these are the Hunger Games and that means this is no time to be sentimental. Only one of us can survive and I mean to do whatever it takes to make sure it's me.
That's what I promised Festive (my ten-year-old sister) before I left District 1, that I would try to win no matter who I had to kill along the way. She just looked at me enviously, as if she couldn't wait until she was old enough to become a tribute herself. That's how we're brought up in the Career districts; we see being a tribute as a honour, so much so that many of our tributes, especially in District 2, go into the Games as volunteers. That's what I did. The girl whose name was originally drawn looked like a real airhead who didn't know one end of a sword from the other. So, when they asked for volunteers, I stepped forward immediately.
So here I am, a volunteer tribute in the Seventy-third Hunger Games, about to be paraded through the streets of the Capitol on the back of a chariot. Already I can picture the crowds cheering as I ride past. District 1 always gets the biggest cheer, though that's only to be expected when our stylists produce such spectacular costumes.
The doors to the Remake Centre open slowly and a huge cheer erupts as the chariots start to roll out.
As I stand next to my district partner, Sapphire, waiting for the parade to begin, I can't help thinking it's a pity we both had to end up in the same Hunger Games. I know her from the training academy we both attend back in District 1 - or rather the one we used to attend. She can handle a variety of weapons, though she seems to favour the bow and arrows. Plus she's not bad looking . . .
But I must forget about that now. We are tributes and that means we can never be anything more than allies; not only that, but we must be prepared for the possibility that one of us might have to kill the other. Of course, the chances of my dying at Sapphire's hands (or vice versa) are currently one in twenty-three, but those odds will shorten the longer we survive in the arena. I'm too young to remember the last time the final two tributes both came from the same district, but it has been known to happen and it could happen again. But I'm getting ahead of myself; the Games haven't even started yet. We've got to go through the training period, the private sessions and the interviews first.
And, before all that, we've got to be paraded through the streets of the Capitol, dressed up to represent our districts' main industries. Since Sapphire and I come from District 1, we represent luxury goods. This year, our stylists have chosen diamonds as their theme; I'm wearing black trousers and a dark blue satin shirt which has been studded with diamonds. Not as many as on Sapphire's dress, but enough to make me sparkle whenever the light catches me. My shoes are black patent leather with silver buckles. I'm also wearing a black cape which is held in place with silver fastenings and there's a circlet of silver around my head. Finally, there's a huge diamond on the belt I'm wearing round my waist.
As I stand here waiting for the parade to begin, I remember the moment I was called to the stage back in District 1. That's right; unlike Sapphire, I didn't volunteer. Even in the Career districts, it's usually the kids who look like they can't handle themselves in a fight who have people volunteering for them. But, because I'm known for my weapons skills at the academy, no-one stepped forward to volunteer for me.
Oh well, if they hadn't called my name, I was going to volunteer anyway. This is the last year I'm eligible for the Games, unless the Quarter Quell that's coming up in two years' time changes the age limit. I decided before I had even reached reaping age that I would volunteer for the Games one day; I tried twice, but was beaten to the stage on both occasions.
Anyway, I was reaped for the Seventy-third Hunger Games and that meant saying goodbye to my friends and family, possibly forever. Even for Career tributes, victory is never guaranteed, but the head start we receive when it comes to training does give us an advantage. I bet most of the other kids here have never even picked up a weapon - that should make them easier to kill. And I'll have three days to watch them and decide who needs to be eliminated first. Should I start by picking off the weaklings or the ones who could be a threat later on?
Having watched the Hunger Games all my life, I'm aware that male tributes from District 1 have a reputation for being "pretty boys". I plan to use that to my advantage; hopefully, it will encourage a few wealthy Capitol women to sponsor me. And, if I win these Games . . . well, who knows? I might even become the next Finnick Odair, that guy from District 4 they're always raving about. In fact, I think I'll start playing that angle right away. The tribute parade is about to begin and it will be the ideal opportunity for me to show off my charm and good looks.
I get ready to wave to the crowds as the doors to the Remake Centre open.