The goodbye the next day was far more formal. Haymitch was pleased to see that Effie was managing to hold herself together, but only just. If she was going to continue this job for the next few years, she'd have to harden up. Haymitch shook both tributes hands, and told them to stay away from the Cornucopia. It was his least favourite piece of advice, as the tributes never listened to it. He hoped this year would be different.
As they headed off to hovercraft, Nicholas's eyes were still red, and Adara's hand stayed firmly on his shoulder. Haymitch and Effie watched them fly off, before returning to the dining room. Neither of them knew exactly what to do. They sat at the table wordless, lacking the ability to do anything else. Minutes passed that felt like hours, and eventually it was time for them to leave, too. They'd spend their days in the centre of the Capitol, watching the Games and getting sponsors. They said nothing to each other during the car ride there. When Effie arrived, she put on her happy face, smiling and chatting to everyone she could. For the first time, Haymitch felt grateful she was there - getting sponsors had always been his weak spot, and he had a feeling Effie would be good at it.
He begrudgingly spoke to the Capitol citizens, smiling half-heartedly and laughing at tasteless jokes. It was all he could do not to injure the lot of them, but for the duration of the Games he would have to be likeable. Time passed painfully slowly, as the two mentors for District Twelve circuited the richest citizens, their minds elsewhere. Haymitch cringed as he remembered that the tributes spent their last moments before the Games with their stylists. He couldn't imagine Chaucer being a great comfort for Adara, and the little time he'd spent talking to Chaucer's colleague was less than pleasurable.
Haymitch knew nothing of the time the entire day. Sooner than he'd hoped, Effie found him to accompany him to the viewing hall. The every wall of the huge room was a television screen, broadcasting the tributes day in and day out. Avoxes littered the room, serving food and drinks to the audience. Though the Capitol citizens and District mentors were always silent during the more exciting aspects of the Games - the tributes entrance, and of course the deaths - the less interesting moments were always filled with conversation and laughter. To the richer Capitol citizens who offered to be sponsors, the Games were an annual social event, and something they looked forward to all year. It made Haymitch sick.
The room was in silence as the two District Twelve mentors entered. Every eye in the room was focused on one of the four walls. And on each wall was what they'd all been waiting for. The first glimpse of the 55th arena.
Empty of tributes, the arena still seemed busy and confusing. Ten foot hedges covered nearly all the area, creating a giant labyrinth. In the middle lay the Cornucopia, the usual golden horn, covered in packs and weapons. Around the outside, twenty-four hedges created twelve openings to the maze. And as Haymitch the screen, a circle opened on each of the hedges. Slowly, glass tubes emerged, and Haymitch could hear the audience around him gasp. The gasps turned back into silence as the tubes were pulled back into the hedge, revealing twenty-four young tributes. His eyes darting around crazed, he noticed Sparks. Then three unrecognisable tributes. Then Julius. Then Adara. Then Nicholas.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, let the 55th Annual Hunger Games begin!"
The countdown began. One minute.
Each screen split three ways, and each section held a close-up, so that every tribute could be seen clearly. Haymitch began scanning his tributes' faces, panicking, taking in every detail he could. Nicholas's lip was bleeding again, but his face was defiant and his eyes were looking straight ahead. His fists were clenched. He looked years older than the young boy Haymitch had met a few weeks ago.
Adara too was looking straight ahead. He could see her chest rise and fall slowly, her mouth open slightly as she breathed deeply. Her eyelids were still smoky with traces of the last night's make-up, and her fists were clenched as tightly as Nicholas's. Her dark eyes had never looked more determined.
The silence in the hall was deafening. Every mentor had their eyes firmly fixed on their tributes, while the Capitol citizens looked over each one in turn. Haymitch knew he should study the other tributes, but he couldn't pull his eyes away from the two District Twelve citizens. One too young to be so traumatized. One too old to be pushed around. Both as unfortunate as the other.
He scanned both their faces once more, looking for any last-minute ideas. Nicholas's eyes were slowly scanning his surroundings, taking in every tribute, every turn, every inch of the new arena. Adara, on the other hand, was focused on something out of view. Something Haymitch could only guess was the Cornucopia.
She was going to go for it. None of his tributes had ever listened to his advice, and neither would Adara. Haymitch wanted to close his eyes or look away, but still couldn't manage it.