The first thing I'm going to say is that if you've accidentally ended up on here, please note that this is the third and final part of an ongoing story - it involves lots of OCs and probably won't make much sense if you don't go back and read the other two first ;)
Now I've said that I can move on to thanking everyone who has found their way here from reading 'Beauty' and 'Illusion'. As you all wanted the sequel (I'm flattered. Really.), this is the first chapter. I thought I'd post this as a kind of introduction because I'd already written it but it might be a couple of weeks before you get the second one...
And also there's something I've been meaning to ask for a while: I know a lot of you who are reading this write your own stories so... Do you find your stories end up with a 'soundtrack' in a similar way to films? Maybe it's just because I usually write with music on but virtually everything I write ends up with at least part of a soundtrack. I'm curious to know if that's just me being my usual weird self or if others are the same... ;)
Finally, as I'm starting a new story, I should probably say that if you recognise it as belonging to Suzanne Collins then it isn't mine - she created the world, I just like to play in it ;)
Today is the hottest day of the summer so far and the sun beats relentlessly down onto my head as I walk along the path through the park. All I can hear is the sound of my own footsteps and the mockingjays singing in the trees above me. And that means that for once in my life there are no obvious cameras, no reporters firing questions at me, and above all, no Capitol people expecting a smile from one of their most famous Victors. I should be happy, I know that, but how can I be when I know where I'll be going tomorrow?
I've been to the Capitol far too many times since I won the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games eight years ago, but it's been seven years since I last set foot in the Control Room, seven years since I fought for Gloss' life even as I watched him nearly lose it in the arena. I don't want to go back to that place, to the world of tributes, mentor politics and sponsors who usually want a lot more in return for their money than a few words of gratitude.
I don't want to go back but I have no choice. This year the Capitol wants to watch as the only brother and sister ever to both become Victors fight for their tributes from the Control Room. Or that's how the gossip columns are wording it anyway. In reality I think we're just there because they don't want a repeat of last year, which saw what was probably the dullest Hunger Games in history that was made all the more unpopular when it was eventually won by a decidedly unattractive boy from District Eight who hasn't said a word since the hovercraft lifted him from the arena.
The reality is that Gloss and I are going to the Capitol as mentors this year because we're young, beautiful and famous. Apart from District Twelve, where there is only ever a choice between Haymitch Abernathy and Haymitch Abernathy, every district is represented by its most famous Victors and I'm sure that isn't a coincidence. Dull arenas and unattractive Victors don't go down well with the watching audience, so I'm sure the Gamemakers won't be allowed to let last year happen again.
After a while I reach the end of the path and look across at the school in front of me without really seeing it. However just as I'm about to turn away, the sight of a very familiar figure catches my attention and keeps it. I step forwards, moving to stand behind one of the surrounding tall trees so I can watch without being seen.
Satin makes her way purposefully across the front of the school building, her expression as focussed and determined as ever. She's exchanged her usual suit for a light summer dress because of the hot weather, her chronically unruly hair falling loose over her shoulders despite how she's obviously tried to pin it up. Some of the dark curls stick to her neck however hard she tries to brush them away. What is she doing here? Why isn't she at the workshop?
As soon as my sister gets within sight of the main doors, a middle-aged woman appears and greets her in the usual subservient manner which most people seem to adopt when in the presence of the wealthiest and most successful non-Capitolian woman in the district. Just like they used to with my father when he was at the height of his power, I think, wondering if people truly realise how different from Father she really is. Probably not. They're unlikely to when she's outwardly every bit as ruthless and demanding as he ever was.
The two women talk for a short time and I can see Satin's expression getting blacker by the second, before eventually the woman I assume is one of the teachers beckons to someone I can't see. A young girl races down the stairs instantly, stopping when she reaches the bottom and not daring to look away from her immaculately polished Capitol-made shoes.
Much to my surprise, my sister fell pregnant shortly after she married Miracle and then gave birth to a daughter she called Victory about five months after the Sixty-eighth Hunger Games. I smile at the sight of my niece, who has nothing of her father in her and is the spitting image of how Satin was at her age, wondering what trouble she's got herself into this time.
I continue to watch amusedly as Satin and the teacher exchange a few more words before my sister leads her daughter away. When they're only a short distance away from me, she drags the girl to a halt and crouches down in front of her, fixing her with the glare I know has terrified many a rival in the past. My niece proves which family she belongs to by staring right back at her mother, appearing curious rather than afraid.
"I meant what I said," says Satin, speaking just loudly enough for me to pick up her words. "I don't ever want you to get caught again."
"I'm sorry," replies Victory, her higher-pitched voice a lot easier to hear.
"Think of your mother's reputation, dearest. Be more careful."
The girl nods and Satin reaches out to ruffle her thick, dark hair, laughing to herself as she stands up and starts walking back to the gate. I move away from my hiding place to wait in the middle of the path in front of them, suddenly forgetting the prospect of tomorrow in favour of finding out what that was all about.
Seconds later I stumble backwards slightly as two thin arms wrap around my waist, hugging me tightly. I'm not sure what to make of this but I quickly recover and look around to see all of the other children staring open-mouthed. Then I realise this isn't only a way for my niece to show me affection but also a means of improving her status by showing her closeness to her famous aunt. Five years old and she already plots and schemes like her mother.
"That's enough, Victory," snaps Satin. "At least try to act like you were properly raised instead of dragged up when people can see you."
Victory promptly releases me and looks guiltily up at her mother. "Sorry," she replies, her eyes on her feet again even though she stands with her back perfectly straight. "Sorry, Aunt Cashmere."
I smile down at her but don't say anything, mostly because I really have no idea what to say. Gloss is wonderful with her, teasing her and swinging her around and around in his arms as she laughs endlessly, but I'm not good with children. I never was. I'm more grateful than I probably should be when she gets distracted like she always does and tears off across the park, chasing an unfortunate butterfly that made the mistake of flying past her.
"What are you doing here, Satin? Why aren't you at work?" I ask, turning my attention to my sister as we walk back along the path towards both of our houses. "Have you really entrusted everything to Miracle? I find that hard to believe considering how I didn't think he could even breathe without you providing him with instructions."
"I'm sure he'll manage for a few hours," she replies dryly, refusing to react to my teasing. "Madam's teacher wanted to talk to me about something that happened with another girl yesterday."
"She saw Victory pull her hair and push her to the ground."
"And your response was to tell her not to get caught next time?" I ask incredulously, not knowing much about parenting but understanding how that probably isn't the best attitude to have.
"I asked the teacher to tell me who else was involved and the girl she pointed at was Glory Woodville's daughter. Who am I to stop the next generation from carrying on the good work? As I told her, she could be a bit more subtle about it though."
"Satin!" I exclaim, but she stubbornly refuses to say another word on the subject, switching it to one that makes me feel a lot more uncomfortable.
"Are you ready for tomorrow?"
"I think you know the answer to that."
"You won't have to deal with it on your own for much longer though," she replies, her expression making the hidden meaning behind her words perfectly clear.
"I'm not on my own now. Gloss is waiting for me back at the house."
She raises her eyebrows at me. "I think we both know I didn't mean Gloss."
When we reach the Victor's Village, Satin and I go our separate ways and I head towards my house. It looks as immaculate as ever, the fence neat and even, the hanging baskets overflowing with brightly coloured flowers that are most definitely Gloss's responsibility. If I try to care for them then they always die. He's better at things like that than I am, he always has been. Besides, I'd let him do it anyway. It seems to help him calm down when he comes back from the Capitol so I'd never stand in his way.
Then I turn to the house next door that they gave to my brother after he won the Games. It looks untouched, and that's probably because it is. I should tell him about that, because I know the average Capitolian isn't a genius but it doesn't take one to work out there's nobody living there.
I make my way into the kitchen, intending to tell Gloss to at least get someone to cut the lawn, but the words fade away as soon as I see him. He sits alone by the open patio doors, staring unblinkingly into the garden in a way that tells me he isn't really seeing it at all.
"Gloss?" I whisper, continuing to edge slowly towards him. "Gloss, look at me."
I put my hands on his shoulders and he turns to face me, staring up into my eyes without speaking for several minutes.
"I don't think I can do it again, Cash," he whispers eventually. "I don't want to go through it again. I can't."
I sit down on the arm of his chair, not knowing why I bother when he puts his arm around me a second later, pulling me onto his lap.
"I don't want to go either, Gloss," I reply, knowing he means the Games. "The last time I was in the Control Room I was fighting for you."
"Even if we get one of them out, there'll still be one who dies," he says, carrying on almost like he didn't hear me. "Just like last time. I saved Marius but Silk still died and there was nothing I could do about it."
I say nothing, remembering the Sixty-eighth Games and the seventeen-year-old illegitimate son of a Peacekeeper who Gloss had made himself ill over as he fought endlessly for him from both the Control Room and other places in the Capitol I can't bear to think of. By the time Marius Shine had been crowned the Victor, Gloss was physically and mentally exhausted. Worse than that, I barely recognised the glazed look in his eyes.
Even though he refused to talk about it then and has done ever since, I know he did what Tiberius did for Megaera during the Sixty-seventh Games and sold himself in exchange for the money to buy his tribute what they needed to survive in the arena. And what made it worse was that when he wasn't doing that he was permanently watching his monitor in the Control Room. I went to the Capitol with him but I hardly saw him. It took me weeks and weeks to help him fully return to himself once we got back home and I'm determined it won't happen again.
"You couldn't save both of them, you know that. And we'll be in the Control Room together this time. I'll be watching you, Gloss de Montfort, so don't you forget it," I continue, keeping my voice light because I know he'll immediately understand what I'm really saying. He'll know I'm telling him in my own way that I won't let him do what he did before.
"I did what I had to do to keep him alive, Cash," he replies. "I wish I hadn't but I saw that interview you gave when I was in the arena. I heard what you said so I know you understand."
"That was different," I say firmly. "That was when it was you in the arena."
"Did you think I'd have wanted you to do that?"
"I didn't care what you wanted, Gloss. All I cared about was that you lived. I'd have done whatever it took to get you out of that arena."
"When I'm a mentor I'm responsible for my tribute, whoever they are. I can't sit back and do nothing while I watch them die. I won't sit back and do nothing."
"And you think I will?" I retort indignantly, trying to stand up.
"I didn't say that, Cash," he replies, tightening his grip and not letting me. "I was just trying to explain why I did what I did when I was in the Capitol with Marius."
"You're so stupid, little brother," I say, putting my arm across his chest and hugging him tightly. "I know why you did it, but I'm telling you I won't let you do it again. There must be some other way and we can work it out together."
He smiles at me and shakes his head. "Don't say that in the Capitol. You'll be giving them ideas we really don't want them to have."
I hit his arm sharply, rolling my eyes. "I'm being serious. Between the two of us we can bring one of them home. That's all we can expect and you know it."
"I know. But that doesn't mean I like it."
"We're not supposed to like it. I think that's the point."
Gloss went out shortly after, saying he wanted to get some proper fresh air while he could, before it becomes a thing of the past and he once more has to get used to a combination of exhaust fumes and overpoweringly strong perfume. He said I should go with him but I stayed in the house. I'm still trying to tell myself it isn't because I'm hoping Falco will sneak away from wherever he's supposed to be so he can see me, but even as I do I know it's a lie. The certainty I have of seeing him is the only thing that makes the reaping bearable. Sometimes I think it's only because of Gloss and Falco that I remain sane.
The television flickered into life about an hour ago, telling me the technicians in the Capitol are practicing for tomorrow, when they will broadcast the reapings for the Seventy-fourth Games to the whole nation. As usual, not watching isn't an option, they make sure of that.
I try to ignore it, turning to face the other way so I can't see the endless beauty programmes and films featuring live cosmetic surgery that run across the screen while they perform their final checks. I know I should just go to another room but I can't quite summon up the strength to make myself move. Then they start replaying the Games and I couldn't move even if I physically wanted to.
When the programme first changes I see the familiar grey metal corridors of my arena, and that's enough to make me curl up in a ball with my hands over my head even now. I haven't looked at the television since but that doesn't mean I can hide from the thoughts that fill my mind. I feel the walls start to close in on me and the room begins to spin. It might be nearly eight years ago that the Sixty-sixth Hunger Games ended but I can still be back there in a matter of a single second.
Then the door opens and Gloss walks in, running a hand casually through his dark-brown hair and making my panic slowly fade enough for me to be able to focus on something other than my nightmarish memories. He stands there smiling softly at me, and the only thing I can think of is how he's barely changed since the day he won his Games.
Sometimes I wish he'd age, that he'd start to lose his looks. If he did then the Capitolians wouldn't want him like they do. But then I realise he's only twenty-five. He's got years and years left to endure being bought and sold in the big city and there's nothing neither he nor I can do about it.
"Why aren't you sitting down?" I ask him suspiciously, knowing that he'd normally have collapsed onto the sofa beside me by now.
"Because I figured you wouldn't want to be sitting next to your brother when someone a whole lot more interesting just arrived," he says, shaking his head slowly at me and clearly struggling not to laugh.
I look behind him to see Falco standing in the doorway and I fight the urge to throw myself into his arms as he crosses the room towards me. I haven't seen him since I was last in the Capitol and that was at least two months ago, and though we've been forced to get used to being apart for long periods of time, it doesn't seem to get any easier.
"I've missed you," I whisper as he sits down beside me, pushing myself under his arm and hugging him tightly.
"I've missed you as well," he replies amusedly. "But I'm really not supposed to be here."
"I'm sure the mayor will understand. That's if he knows what you look like. Of course, I'm assuming you've actually met him…" I say, teasingly referring to how he always uses our district's mayor as an excuse to come to District One and then spends little to no time with the man as he's always with me.
"I think we'd just about recognise each other," he replies, smiling and then falling silent.
We sit there for ages, watching the sun set through the massive windows which are still thrown wide open despite how late it is. I sigh with relief when the television screen finally falls silent and after that neither of us speak. I love him as much as I did seven years ago, probably more, and sometimes I don't need to talk and simply want to enjoy having him close to me.
"Have you got to go?" I ask eventually, knowing that there's every chance he'll have to, especially because it's the reaping tomorrow.
He smiles and shakes his head. "Yes, but I'm not going to."
I know I should sleep but I can't, so I lie awake with the dim bedside light on its lowest setting, watching the curtains blowing in the wind. It's still dark but I know it won't be long now. It won't be long before I have to get up, get dressed and go to the main square. It won't be long before I have to stand on that stage and smile prettily for the cameras while I wait for the children and youth of the district to run the race that decides which two of them win the right to risk their lives in the arena. Over six years have passed since Achillea Redsparrow died and her rebellion plot fell with her, and there hasn't been a day when I haven't thought of her. When I haven't thought about what could have been, what Panem could have been if only she hadn't been betrayed.
Then I shiver at the thought of how I'll have to chaperone another pair of tributes as they prepare to enter the arena. I told Gloss we'd find a way to save one of them but what if we can't even do that? What if we fail and I have to accompany two wooden boxes back to District One in a few weeks time? And will it even be any better if one of them lives? How can it be when I'll still have to watch from the Control Room as twenty-three others die for the Capitol's entertainment?
Falco tightens his arms around me when I shuffle back against him and I know he's awake as well. He rarely talks about the Games but I know enough of his thoughts to know he despises them. I know he only remains District One's escort because it gives him an excuse to come here and see me.
"I saw Plutarch Heavensbee yesterday," he says, his voice barely audibly despite how he leans across to whisper into my ear.
"And?" I reply, every muscle in my body stiffening as I temporarily stop breathing.
"He told me he's heard about plans," he says obliquely, knowing I will understand his true meaning.
"No, Falco," I say sharply, pulling away from him so I can sit up and look into his eyes. "No."
As soon as I look at him I can tell he thinks the plan to rebel against President Snow and his government is being revived and that he wants to be a part of it again. I shake my head numbly, remembering how close he came to death when it all went wrong last time and not wanting it to happen again. I love him too much. I can't let him do it. It came to nothing before so why would it be any different now? Nothing has changed in six years to make the president weaker. If anything then his position has only strengthened. Achillea's death saw to that.
"Why not?" he whispers, his lips brushing my ear again. "Don't tell me you don't dream of freedom as much as I do because I won't believe you."
"But that's just it, Falco. It's a dream and nothing more. Nothing's changed. There's nothing to stop it from failing for a second time and I'm sure they'll have learned from what happened with Achillea. They'll be ready for it and they won't let it simply drop like they did before."
"I have to try, Butterfly. It's starting again and I'm going to be part of it."
"Isn't this enough for you anymore?" I reply, gesturing to us and this room. "Aren't I enough for you?"
I know I'm being selfish, that I'm being irrational and that the only thing I'm achieving by saying such things is causing him pain, but I can't help it. I can't help the way I feel and I don't want him to be part of something that puts his life so greatly at risk.
"Cashmere, you're everything. Can't you see that? I'm doing this for us. Because I spend a large proportion of my time arranging for my friends and business associates to buy your time from the president so someone doesn't do it for real. Because I can't do the same for your brother and you can see what that does to him. Because I'm going to have to stand on that stage tomorrow and raise the arms of the first two people to reach me in a gesture that's supposed to symbolise their victory when all I can think is that I'm sending them to their deaths. I have to fight because it's the only way anything's ever going to change."
I fall back onto the bed beside him, not resisting when he pulls me close again. What can I possibly say to that? How can I find words? There are no words and I can't stop him. He is who he is and he won't stand aside and do nothing. It was always going to happen sooner or later.
"The old crowd," he replies. "'Rissa, Vespasian, The Gamemaker, some of the others you don't know about. Rebuilding a new plan's never really stopped, especially not after Achillea, you know that. I've never kept that from you."
"But I thought it was just…plans. Just words and nothing more."
"It will always be more than that, Butterfly. In the end it will always be more because it's always worth the risk we take. I don't know how far they've got in contacting people and setting up the old networks though. But I know that nobody has said they want to stay out of it. Phoebe said yes," he continues, knowing that will make me smile.
Phoebe is one of Falco's fellow government ministers who was also heavily involved with Achillea's plot and I've always liked her even though I've only met her a couple of times. Admittedly that's mostly because she seems to be one of the few people who gives Narissa as good as she gets, but I also like to think I'd like her anyway.
"And the Victors?"
He nods. "Perhaps. Some of them."
"I won't let you. It's too dangerous."
"Hypocrite," I retort. "So it's fine for you to do it but not me? I don't think so. I told you before, we do this together. I have to stand on that stage as well."
He says nothing, kissing me instead, and though I know he's deliberately distracting me, I decide to let him. There will be plenty of time to have this debate, it doesn't have to be now.
I've been up since dawn, since I said goodbye to Falco and he left through the kitchen door, heading back to wherever he was supposed to have spent the night. Now it's a little before half-past seven and I know I won't be able to put off getting ready for much longer. The reaping is early in District One as they have to get all twelve squeezed into such a short space of time, all at half-hourly intervals so the audience in the Capitol can watch them, of course. I think Reaping Day is one of the only occasions the majority of the big city's citizens get up before noon.
"Are you going to get up on the stage in that robe, sister dearest?" asks Gloss in a sing-song voice as he strolls into the kitchen, looking as immaculate as ever in a simple white shirt and dark trousers.
"I don't know," I reply, holding my arms out and twirling around on the spot. "I might start a trend and then nobody in the Capitol would get properly dressed for a month."
"I think getting dressed and staying dressed would be the best thing for most of them, so in that case I insist you change," he says dryly, and I smile despite the less than amusing hidden meaning behind his words.
Compared to the empty and hollow expression I saw yesterday, this is a marked improvement. Even if I can't help thinking it will only be temporary, I'm so glad to see it that I instantly feel some of the weight lifted from my shoulders.
We both look around as the back door suddenly swings open, instantly alert. Eight years might have passed since I left the arena and seven since Gloss did, but some things never change. Then we simultaneously breathe a sigh of relief as Victory races into the kitchen, stops in front of my brother and holds her arms out for him to pick her up.
"I think you're a bit old for that now," he says, smiling that genuine smile I've seen far too rarely since he came back from the arena. "I might have to call you Frill instead of Victory if you're going to keep doing this."
The little girl laughs uncomprehendingly, jumping up and down on her tiptoes until Gloss finally gives in and scoops her up, spinning her around and around as she holds her arms outstretched like she's flying.
"When she's older I'll have to explain that one to her," I say, turning to Satin as she walks into the room a lot more sedately than her daughter did.
Miracle had wanted to call his daughter Frill. A good District One name, he'd said, his mother's name, but quite understandably, Satin wouldn't stand for it. Though Miracle likes to think he's the one in control, anyone who knows either of them even slightly knows my sister is the real boss. The little girl was very publicly named Victory soon after her birth and my sister ensured she invited all of the recently bankrupted Woodville family to the ceremony. The symbolism was lost on nobody.
"I don't think Miracle would be amused," she replies. "I don't think he's forgiven me yet."
"I'm sure he'll be able to live with it," I say, speaking of my brother-in-law with considerably less venom than might have been in my voice before. "Especially as he played such a big role in orchestrating the victory for which she was named."
I didn't always like Miracle, probably because my father wanted to marry me off to him against my will when he was still an obnoxiously immature young man, but Satin was right when she said he'd grown up. He promised Gloss that he wouldn't hurt my sister and so far he's kept his promise. Over the years he's risen in my estimations more than I would have thought possible even though I wouldn't dream of openly admitting it.
"Why aren't you dressed?" she asks, her dark eyes obviously taking in my blue silk robe and bare feet.
"Not you as well," I reply, rolling my eyes. "I'm going to get ready now. We don't have to be in the main square for another three quarters of an hour."
"Both Gloss and I know how long it takes you to decide what to wear," she retorts. "I don't think President Snow will delay the Hunger Games while you sort your wardrobe out."
"I know what I'm going to wear," I reply, trying to look offended and most likely not really succeeding.
I turn on my heel and leave the room, quickly going up to my bedroom and changing into my new dress. Falco brought it with him from the Capitol yesterday, and though it's Felix's latest creation, I suspect my stylist wasn't the only person involved in it's design. The deep purple fabric and silver embroidery echoes the dress I wore on the tribute train when Falco and I first met so much that I know he contributed considerably.
When I walk back into the kitchen Gloss and Satin stop talking and stare at me, making me roll my eyes where once I would have posed as if in front of a camera. I don't like people looking at me like I once did, even if it is my brother and sister. And anyway, it's not like they don't see me virtually every day.
"When did he leave? Before it got light?" says Satin, her voice ever so slightly disapproving.
"When did who leave?" I ask in return, pretending an ignorance I know she'll never fall for. "I've no idea what you mean."
"You didn't have that dress yesterday, Cashmere. And the smug smirk you've had on your face all morning tells me all I need to know."
I scowl at her and adjust my belt even though it isn't out of place before walking towards Gloss, hoping he won't torment me like Satin does. My little brother never lets me down.
"You look good, Cash," he says quietly, draping his arm across my shoulders and squeezing me gently. "Are you ready to face the mob?"
"No, but that won't change anything," I reply with a deep sigh. "Is it time to go already?"
"Unfortunately," he says before turning to look at Satin. "Are you coming with us?"
She nods, talk of the reaping making her look straight at Victory, who still stands in front of Gloss, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders as she smiles up at her mother.
"Seven years before it really starts to matter," says Satin quietly. Then she strides out of the kitchen before I can even start to think of something to say in response.
By the time we get to the main square there is barely room to move, but Gloss and I are quickly seized by the visiting officials and ushered towards the stage, the crowd miraculously parting to let us through. I get a brief glimpse of Satin before she disappears as the people of District One also move to allow her past. They look on in awe as she strolls along like a queen, and Victory follows her in a public display of obedience she wouldn't dream of adhering to when nobody could see.
As we get closer to our final destination I stop looking at the reporters and camera crews as they struggle to ask their questions and take just one more picture. I stop looking at the television cameras perched on the top of the highest buildings overlooking the stage. I even stop looking at the mass of young people vying for position as they wait for the race to volunteer to begin. All I can see is Falco as he stands on the raised platform before me in his fine black suit. He's barely changed since this day eight years ago and that makes me remember how I felt back then. If only I'd known then what I know now.
He sees me instantly and his eyes follow me as Gloss links my arm with his and we take to stage. I look pointedly back at the crowd, silently telling him he should look away but he doesn't, not until I'm standing beside him and the three of us turn to face the mayor. As soon as we do the massive clock on the front of the Justice Building sounds half-past eight.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the reaping for the Seventy-fourth Hunger Games!"
I take a deep breath and force myself to mentally count backwards from one hundred, trying to keep myself visibly calm when inside I'm screaming. Being here reminds me of both my own reaping and Gloss's. If I think about it then I can almost see my brother running towards me as he wins the race to volunteer so clearly that Falco couldn't have ignored him if he'd wanted to. That's why I can't let myself think. That's why I have to keep counting.
I manage to keep my composure throughout the entire time it takes the mayor to read the Treaty of Treason in his usual monotonous voice, but as soon as he announces Falco I feel myself sway slightly. Gloss steps to the side towards me and I lean into him, hoping that the cameras won't be watching and therefore won't notice how much I'm shaking.
Falco says a few token words about how pleased he is to be here, his voice calm and understated in a way that other district escorts never seem to manage. Then he steps towards the reaping balls and I close my eyes as the race begins.
They all surge forward like they do every year, and even when they almost reach the steps there doesn't seem to be a clear leader. A tall, dark-haired boy gets to us first, followed by two blonde girls. The darker of the two is in front but only by the very smallest of margins. Then Falco reaches forwards, his eyes reflecting a sadness I suspect only I can see, and raises the arms of the two new tributes in victory. Only it isn't the dark-blonde girl whose arm he raises but her nearest rival. Her hair is the same pale blonde as mine and as she turns around and I finally see her face, there is not pride but shock in her vivid green eyes.
"What's your name?" the mayor asks the girl, knowing the next and final stage of the Reaping Ceremony is to announce the district's new tributes to the crowd before sending them to the Town Hall for their allotted hour with their families.
"Glimmer," she says, quickly masking her obvious shock before it reaches her perfectly steady and even voice. "Glimmer Goldsmith."
Then the mayor turns away from her to the boy on Falco's other side and she stumbles slightly. Gloss reaches out to steady her and she smiles in return. She really is beautiful. Far too beautiful to be a Hunger Games tribute. My heart sinks when I realise that just like me when I became a tribute, no matter what happens in the arena, this girl has already lost.
I'd forgotten all about this until I saw that the voting had opened, but I'm mentioning it again now because I'd love it if you all went to the forum page and voted in the Pearl Awards. There are some truly amazing stories listed (and, very surprisingly to me, I've also been nominated a bit as well :P) so please, please go and read and then have your say. The more people who vote in these things, the more successful they are, so make sure your voice is heard!