00: The Guide To Success.
Part I: Never say what you really feel.
The lights were blaring, the crew sweating behind their cameras. They were getting impatient. Backstage, Dorian fidgeted in his chair, hands clammy, heart racing. Melisande sat next to him, red lips taut in a satisfied smirk as her makeup was touched up by her stylists. The two couldn't be more different; the younger woman was joking and laughing with her crew whilst Dorian was making an utmost effort just to stay conscious. He hadn't been sleeping well, and the singular stylist dabbing concealer under his eyes could absolutely tell.
"Head up, Auclair. You'll be called on in five - Blackthorn will be here soon."
He glanced towards the stage entrance; he could just make out the crowd, chatting excitedly, waiting for the big interview. That was right - this year's Victor would be making his first public appearance since his victory last week, and Dorian was expected to not make a royal mess of it. He'd been making a lot of royal messes lately, and that was the entire reason Melisande was with him right now. She knew her way with words, and the Games hadn't broken her spirit yet. The Announcer's assignment to back him up for the upcoming interview almost solidified in Dorian's mind that he would be fired once this was all over. He wasn't sure if he was thankful or fearful.
Melisande shooed off her team once she was satisfied, tucking a lock of dark hair behind her ear. Dorian's stylist left, too, leaving them to stand awaiting the call to enter stage right, the crowd settling down as a countdown to the start of the broadcast began. One minute to put on the mask, to calm his nerves and convince himself that this was his final hurrah, one last chance to make his mark on these god-forsaken Games before clocking out.
"You look nervous," Melisande whispered to him, a slightly amused lilt to her voice.
"You're not helping," he replied, refusing to look her in the face, instead staring down the audience and plastering on his best smile.
The production director gave him the call to enter via his earpiece, and he strode confidently on stage. Panem's national anthem blared, the crowd cheered and swooned, and he hated it.
"Welcome, welcome! Citizens of Panem, it's my greatest pleasure to see you all again!" Dorian stated with utmost self-control. His co-Host waved graciously to the adoring fans, and the two took their seats on the luxurious sofa meant for them. "We're joined today by our magnificent Announcer, Melisande Omnius!"
The crowd was out of control. Melisande was revelling in it.
Charismatic and open, she greeted the crowd. "Good evening, Panem. It's wonderful to be here to talk to this year's Victor - your darling career from District Seven, Benjamin Blackthorn!"
And with that, the man in question entered from the opposite side of the stage, his presence gravitational - his skin radiated, smile brighter than the sun. Despite holding himself up with a cane, the Victor appeared no less confident and intimidating than he did in his initial interview, not even two weeks prior.
He took a seat, and Dorian settled the crowd. Benjamin crossed his bad leg over the good one, casually waiting for the interview to begin.
"It's great to see you alive and well, Ben." Dorian began.
Benjamin grinned. "Very alive and very well, thank you. Better than I've been my whole life, actually."
"I can imagine you've already been reaping the benefits of your victory, hm?" Melisande interjected.
Benjamin nodded. "I have, indeed. I've eaten like a king, been sleeping like a baby, received endless love letters from women all over the Capitol… Though my mentor isn't very happy about that last thing."
Melisande slapped her knee, and the rest of the crowd laughed along. "Classic Yvonne, I say! She sees herself as a mother to you in a way, doesn't she? I'm sure she's really very proud of you."
"Yeah… Yvonne is why I'm here today. I'm extremely thankful to her and her training. What she's doing back home… It's incredible. I have so much faith in my District to bring back more Victors, and I'm excited to help with that."
Dorian had to say something, now. "Do you think you'll mentor next year, Ben?"
"Oh, and take the role from Yvonne? I'm sure she'd hate that."
"Darling, this is about you!" Melisande proclaimed. "Do you want to mentor? I'm sure if you spoke to Yvonne, she'd relent - she has kids now, does she not?"
Despite the lights and the glimmering makeup on Benjamin's face, Dorian could be sure he was blushing.
"Well… Yes. Maybe I do! Perhaps not next year, though… I was trained personally alongside everyone who'll be in the running to volunteer next year. I need some time to enjoy my victory and relax a little away from all of that."
"That's entirely understandable," Dorian said, the weakest smile he could muster on his face. He could relate to needing a break. "So, when you get back home, what's the first thing you're doing?"
Ben was back to grinning the way he did when he'd first waltzed on stage. "You might recall that I have a sweetheart back home… I'm absolutely aware this is the oldest trick in the book for Victor interviews, but… I'd like to ask her to live with me in the Victor's Village. We can live in peace and luxury now, Aspen, and I'd like you to be by my side."
The crowd eats it up, awwing and cooing at their new Victor, looking forward to his idyllic future. Dorian kept the smile plastered on. The boy before him had killed five people last week. Five children. He'd spend the rest of his days in tranquility. How was this justice?
For the next few minutes, he zoned out. Melisande did most of the talking, as she was there to do. Dorian had to keep his mouth shut for fear of breaking character and cursing the boy out. For thirty years, he'd rationalised seeing tributes come and die by thinking of them as monsters - but the true monsters were the ones who came out alive. Careers were the most monstrous of them all, and one thing he would love to chew Vasili out for would be the proliferation of training centres across more Districts. Maybe Dorian was old fashioned, but to him the Games had no meaning any more. They weren't a punishment. They were entertainment, entertainment that he had participated in, encouraged. He wouldn't do so any longer.
On auto-pilot, he left his chair and walked off stage. The interview wasn't over yet, but for him it was. The two on stage stopped talking to stare, and he heard gasps from the crowd. He didn't really care.
Surrounded by a gaggle of producers and technicians, Dorian's only thought was to leave. But the door was locked, and he could only sit backstage, hounded by questions and hands shaking him by the lapels, waiting for it to be over. Melisande could recover the night. She'd have to.
"Dorian," Melisande called out to him once she arrived backstage. She sounded livid. "What was that? What the hell is wrong with you?"
He didn't look at her, just standing up and ambling towards the exit, now unlocked by a producer. He wouldn't be explaining himself, especially not to her. "I'll see you tomorrow, Mel. Get home safe."
If she wore an expression of annoyance, rage, or otherwise, he didn't look back to see it. He was an old man now, and if she were to know what was really going on in his head, he wasn't sure what she'd do.
He wasn't going out with a bang. He wouldn't even make a public announcement. He just left, unexplained, a man haunted by thirty years of ghosts.
Part II: Why make a choice when it's safer just to make a deal?
Dorian Auclair looked unbothered by the announcement. If Karnak were a less generous man, someone with less history dealing with Dorian, he might have him avoxed. Though perhaps the tight-lipped man would be fine with that.
"Tonight was an embarrassment, Dorian. What were you thinking, leaving halfway through your own final interview? You're at the end of your tether, frankly, and I need to cut it before you make another scene."
"I'm not one to make scenes, Sir President."
"That's a bold-faced lie, Dorian. And we've been friends long enough, you know you can call me Vasili."
"Your point, Vasili? If we're such great friends, why did you wait so long to get rid of me? You've forced me into this role for long enough knowing how much I hate it."
Karnak sighed, leaning into his palm. "You're being difficult just for the sake of it, now. I kept you here for so long because of how much I trust you. Though perhaps we're far enough off from that period for betrayal to be a non-issue."
Karnak was aware the younger man knew what he was talking about, and he could see the shift in his expression from neutral to irritated. "If that's the only reason I'm still here, then I'd like to leave on my own terms." - but that was a long shot. Nothing regarding his employment had ever been on his own terms, and Karnak was painfully aware of it.
"What terms would those be, Dorian? Please. I'm curious."
"You tell the press I resigned, and you don't make any new hires. I want Melisande to take the Host position. I don't care who replaces her, just… I can't force a new person into that job. Especially if they're as young as I was when I was hired."
Karnak stared at him for a few moments, a hand placed beneath his chin. "That's an interesting proposal."
"Now, don't get me wrong here - I don't trust Melisande. I think she's a wretched harlot. But if anyone can do the job, it's her. She's desensitized to it. She doesn't care about the loss of life. If you value my opinion as much as you claim to, you'll trust me on this."
"That's fine," He replied. Dorian's expression relaxed a little, and Karnak began to flip through some paperwork on his desk. God, after all these years, he still hadn't invested in a good filing system.
"Just fine?" Dorian's voice rose an octave.
Karnak clicked his tongue. "You need to give me a second, Dorian. Impatient boy."
The other man was only a year younger than Vasili, but he had to exert power over him somehow. Never mind that he was the President; Dorian had known him since he was a teenager, before he'd ever stepped foot in the marble mansion - he didn't fear Vasili, and that much was clear in the way they spoke to each other.
"I'll have to find a replacement for Melisande, and that's a little more tricky. I'll have Antares scout through the Gamemaker team to see if anyone's fit for the position. That alright with you?"
Dorian nodded once. "Fine. And… I appreciate it. You know how I feel about-" he made a sweeping gesture with his arms, "all of this."
Karnak forced a smile. "I'm quite aware. What happens now, then?"
"You're asking me?" The man laughed - not an amused laugh, more incredulous than anything. "I have no position in the Games staff anymore and the President is asking me what I'm going to do next. I've spent thirty years following your orders, Vasili, you can't expect me to know what to do on my own."
A man like Vasili Karnak rarely felt guilt, but something in his chest panged at that statement. With all of his legislative reforms to better the state of Panem, he'd really neglected the man who had been with him from the start.
"What are you apologising for? I'm the one who should be apologising to you. I…"
Karnak put up one brown hand, stopping Dorian in his tracks. "We should stop this meeting here, I think. I'll inform Melisande and the Gamemakers. Go home, Dorian, it's far too late. We'll discuss the details of your contract's termination later."
Dorian leaned back in his seat, defeated, and sighed. "We have to talk about other things too, eventually."
"I know. Bottling everything up can't have helped you lately, if I'm observing correctly. Worry not - when the appropriate time comes, we'll talk, and I'll make sure it's somewhere nobody can listen in on us."
That seemed to put the other man somewhat at ease. He stood up to leave, picking up his jacket from the back of his chair. "Thank you, Vasili. You… You're being too kind to me, after what I did tonight."
For a fifty-three year old man, Vasili Karnak shouldn't have felt the heat of embarrassment rise to his cheeks. "Just think of it as repaying an old favour."
With that, Dorian took his leave. The door clicked gently shut on his way out of the President's office. Karnak rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands before reaching out for his phone. He had some calls to make.
Part III: Stay away from what causes a stir or offense.
"And you're quite sure about this, sir?"
President Karnak wouldn't make eye contact with them.
"Fine, then," Antares sighed. "You'll have one of my Gamemakers for your silly little Announcer role. Just don't expect me to be happy about it."
"It doesn't have to be one of your important Gamemakers, Antares. A junior who is less skilled in running the Games, but still knowledgeable and able to commentate would do. You must understand that I've been put in an unfortunate position."
They rolled their eyes. God, he was such a god-damn pushover. Everyone in this damn government was. Auclair butchers his last interview, and Karnak still lets him walk away with a deal? If Antares were in his shoes, they'd have Auclair's tongue cut out.
"Fine! Respectfully, get out of my office so I can find you a suitable replacement for Ms. Omnius."
And respectfully, he did, looking like a sad dog. For someone who'd done so well at turning the country around into an era of prosperity, he really couldn't hold his own in one-on-one conversations with Games staff. Antares liked to think the President was scared of them. If not scared - intimidated, maybe. Something like that. Antares worked to end lives, but Karnak attempted to improve them. It took a certain type of person to succeed as the Head Gamemaker, and anyone with altruistic ideals wasn't cut out. Probably why Karnak went into politics instead.
Anyway, Antares had a couple of people in mind to sacrifice to the spotlight as Announcer. They couldn't spare their inner circle: Giordano, their Engineering Officer (as they liked to call their specialists) and consulting Arena Designer (they may be the Head Gamemaker, but god forbid they didn't retain utmost control over their previous post), or Rafael, the Mutts Designer. Both of them were too brash to succeed in the public spotlight, anyway. Umbral was a maybe, but she took too much pride in her work to give it up without kicking and screaming, same as Enoch. The more they thought about it, filing through names in their head, the less they thought they could pull any one of the Gamemakers away from their positions. They were all ruthless and ambitious people. Not many of them were suited to the screen. Their mind drifted to thinking of the youngest Junior Gamemakers, as Karnak had suggested. There were… Two, perhaps, who might be suitable contenders. And both of them were at work today, luckily enough. If either of them wished for the place, it would be first come, first served. Antares wanted an unproblematic, done and dusted deal, and they'd have it as soon as possible.
They unhappily picked up their now-lukewarm cup of coffee and started out of the office - not that they had to walk very far to get to their destination. The Head Gamemaker's office was above the Control Room, separated by thick blue glass panes, mirrored on the outer side, so that Antares could see out over their domain from their desk. A couple of Gamemakers loitered about, still cleaning things up from the Games that only ended eight days ago. Many were chatting about preparations for next year's 162nd Games already. Antares liked how keen their team were, and when they entered the room, many of them stood to attention, like soldiers on their best behaviour. They held themself like a commanding officer, and though Antares had never been a Peacekeeper themself, perhaps it was their father's influence.
They approached two young women; relatively new hires to the Gamemaker team, though not to be underestimated. Sisters, they were the children of the men who stepped up to rebuild the Gamemaking team almost thirty years ago. The elder, Barathea was aiming for Technology Officer, whilst the younger Chantilly was interested in developing new and unique mid-Games events, aiming for no larger position to Antares' knowledge. Despite their parents' imposing reputation, they were laid back and personable - they joked with each other even as Antares strode towards them.
"Ladies," Antares began as they took a seat at the control panel with the women, coffee in hand. The sisters sat to attention, and they took a sip. "I'm not sure if you've heard, but there's a position open for the Front of House staff."
Barathea scoffed. "Yeah, we heard so. What, does Auclair need a replacement after that sorry show last night?"
"No. In fact, Melisande Omnius is taking his role, so we're going to need a replacement for her instead. If either of you would be interested, that is."
Chantilly's eyebrows raised. "Is that so?"
The elder sister rolled her eyes and groaned. "Tilly, you're not really thinking of this, right? What would papa think?"
"You know papa won't be a problem. Father would be so proud, wouldn't he? He loved the stage. If he's happy, so's pa. Come on."
Bingo. Antares knew this was a good bet. Out of everyone, Chantilly seemed to fit in the worst amongst the team, though she was still passionate about the Games, and most of all, she wished to please her fathers - that was something Antares could relate to, at least. She seemed an easy fit. Easy enough to make Karnak happy.
And, as the sisters bickered, Antares was more than aware of their family history. They were more than trustworthy; both fathers Gamemakers in their time, the elder of the two one of Antares' progenitors as Head Gamemaker during the '30s. The whole Apsinthos family was wound up with recent Games history so tightly that Karnak's paranoid tendencies wouldn't get the better of him here. After all, it was Adonis Apsinthos who he trusted the most to lead the Games into a new era the year he became president. Who better to send off to the screen than the man's daughter?
"Ahem," Antares interrupted. "Shall I get the paperwork signed? Sir President is sure to accept you as a suitable replacement."
Before the elder sister could butt in, Chantilly bluntly affirmed, "Yes! Yes."
"Perfect. I'll leave the two of you to discuss things further. Call your father and ask what he thinks, perhaps?"
Chantilly smirked at her sister, childish and devious. "He'll think it's better for my career, Thea. I'm telling you."
She was right, in all likelihood. Very few Gamemakers reached high positions within the profession, and it wasn't like Antares would be willing to give up their place any time soon. Going to an on-screen role was a promotion, one of the better ones available to Games staff.
This was a safe, inoffensive choice. The most they were willing to do.
Part IV: Keep your heart silent. Don't dispute.
Melisande hated Dorian Auclair. She cursed that wretched old man for doing this to her.
"You've got to be kidding me. This child is my replacement?"
Antares adjusted in their seat, taking a careful sip of their drink. "I'll have you know, Ms. Omnius, that Chantilly is the daughter of Adonis Apsinthos, and I won't have you dismiss her so easily. She knows the Games as well as any of us. She's perhaps in the perfect position to be commentator in your wake."
That damned Head Gamemaker. Making her feel lesser - lesser than a twenty-two-year-old, barely out of school, barely with two Games under her belt. (Melisande had no Games under her belt when she was hired as Announcer, but that was beyond the point. She also had no family history in the Games, unlike Chantilly - but that also wasn't the damn point.)
She gripped the sides of her chair. Antares really had to bring her out into a public café, didn't they? Knew Melisande would love to chew their face off, that damn kid's face off too. It was a safety precaution. One she didn't like one bit. Oh, Karnak would be hearing about this. About how god-damn unhappy she was with this! She helps Dorian out with one interview and then he forces her to keep the job? Absolutely unbelievable…
"Ms. Omnius," the young girl spoke up. Melisande snapped to attention. "I understand you're not very happy with this arrangement. I would be happy to talk to Mr. Auclair myself about swapping with you, though he likely delegated you to take over his role for a very specific reason."
She was too soft spoken. Too gentle. Never mind that her fathers were known throughout the Capitol as ruthless geniuses, that once one had acted as Head Gamemaker. Their daughter was a cream puff!
"Don't speak to me like I'm an idiot, girl."
Chantilly took a bite of the cake she'd ordered as if Melisande hadn't said a word. She finished chewing, took a sip of her tea; "I'm not. I just think you need to calm down a little."
If a blood vessel hadn't already popped in her forehead, it would have now. It took everything in Melisande's power not to lash out. "Stupid child. Stupid. Stupid…"
"I'm not being stupid, Ms. Omnius, and I'm not a child. I'm stating facts and working with what's been given to me. If you don't want me to contact Mr. Auclair and talk to him, then I suppose we're done here."
Antares smiled sweetly, fakely, perhaps even predatory, and cooed over Chantilly as if they were her parent. "And," they added, staring Melisande directly in the eye. "President Karnak is satisfied with the choice."
That was it! She was done. She noisily pulled herself out of her chair, making sure it screeched as loudly as possible against the tiled floor. She turned back, stomping through the café towards the exit, her heels clicking loudly as she went. If this was the hand she'd been dealt, then fine. She'd deal with it.
Next year's Games would be a nightmare to work on, and she knew it.
Welcome, welcome, to a reboot of my extremely poorly prepared SYOT from way back in 2018! Previously called "Viewed in Parallax", I'm rebranding to "The Guide to Success". (the fic name and lyrics throughout this chapter are from a song of the same name by Joe Iconis. It's a banger.) I tried a kind of different formatting for this prologue, and I hope it works! Let me know what you think :)We met some important Capitolites, setting the scene for the behind-the-scenes drama that'll be present throughout this fic.
I'm going to take this thing at my own pace since I'm a final year university student, but I'm going on ADHD meds soon so at least this shouldn't die a quiet death like it did way back when. The form is on my profile, along with details for submissions. ATM I'm planning on keeping it open until midnight on November 16th, GMT, but that's not a solid date. In the mean while, check out my blog at "theguidetosuccess162 . weebly . com" (remove spaces) for some hot details about the Capitolites and mentors. Next up is another prologue, then mentor intros, so stay tuned for those. I'm in the SYOT Verses discord server, and you can message me at erik.#0420. See you all round, I look forward to receiving your tributes!
EDIT: Final tribute list for easy reference:
D1F ; Virtue, 18, ladyqueerfoot
D1M ; Saint Ludwig von Essen, 18, ladyqueerfoot
D2F ; Rhodochrosite Alcides, 18, goldie031
D2M ; Cassius Gold, 18, Nautics
D3F ; Linea McKinnon, 14, Formerly Chuck's
D3M ; Frisk Tzuji, 12, Platrium
D4F ; Micaiah Dewburn, 18, SakuraDreamerz
D4M ; Falkner Kang, 18, Paradigm of Writing
D5F ; Tenna Tallion, 15, illuminating-spirit
D5M ; Ira Molotov, 18, shiftseveny
D6F ; Ignitia Allegro, 17, ladyqueerfoot
D6M ; Fiori Valente, 18, The Garden
D7F ; Eunbyeol Carmondy, 18, Little Knight Mik
D7M ; Malachy Tamaro, 18, timesphobic
D8F ; Chowon Baek, 18, Little Knight Mik
D8M ; Ty Honiton, 14, rising-balloons
D9F ; Isobel Verone, 14, itzbirdie
D9M ; Miles Gader, 16, Paradigm of Writing
D10F ; Constance Farren, 17, rising-balloons
D10M ; Shane Freeland, 16, TyQuavis
D11F ; Marigold Tiller, 18, daydreamer626
D11M ; Anikatos Winslow, 16, timesphobic
D12F ; Aina Ferngill, 13, geologyisms
D12M ; Veron Rembrandt, 15, SakuraDreamerz