She leant carefully into a mirror, trailing long, dark and glossy fingernails down her neck. The dress she wore was much like her usual, long-hemmed fare- but this time, she wore the most extravagant of its type. A deep crimson shade, dark enough to seem black in some lights, accentuated her makeup perfectly- the palest foundation sold, coupled with full, deep red lips, thick-laid blusher, and a wide-brimmed, velvety red hat, a deep red veil flowing from its back, to complete the look. However, the real finishing piece was the neckline. An almost-imperceptable piece of cloth had been studded with tiny rubies and then fitted for Cherry's neck- her neckline seemed to have been adorned with gems. Usually, Cherry didn't go all out like this- but tonight was an occasion deserving of splendour.
Tapping her fingers against her neck once more, to convince herself of what she was wearing, Cherry straightened from the large mirror. The interior of even the makeup room was opulent here- rich blue stone surfaces reflected the low lighting beautifully, with an almost eerie finish. Cherry felt right in this opulent atmosphere. She felt she was where she was supposed to be.
Cherry always found herself in the makeup room before a party- it was just a routine. A few other partygoers, some that Cherry vaguely recognised, were touching up makeup, accentuating their outfits with some last additions. A makeup room was a part of life for almost everybody in the Capitol- you needed to look your best before a party began. Although Cherry felt her makeup was already perfect, a part of her demanded she take this routine- inspect herself, ready herself, judge her own fashion against the others before the party began.
Out of the corner of her eye, Cherry began the third necessary part of the makeup room routine; judging herself and others. To her left, an old man, somewhat portly, perhaps fifty, wearing a deep blue cravat and a sparkly green top hat. Cherry mentally shook her head. Some people simply can't sort their colour schemes out. To her right, a gaggle of three young women giggled and applied more blusher to each other- all wore nigh-matching outfits of sparkly pink or orange. Cherry rolled her eyes, this time not bothering to hide her disdain. Who would wear orange to a pre-Quell party?
She straightened and walked out of the room, her long dress and veil flowing out behind her. Outside, Demeter was standing awkwardly. Cherry frowned at her.
"Demmie? Why're you out here?"
Demeter fidgeted, looking uncomfortable. A green-painted finger traced the flower tattoo on her face.
"Cherry, I don't know anybody- you're the one who invited me, remember?"
Cherry laughed, half out of amusement and half out of pity-sometimes she forgot that Demeter was only just out of stylist college. Of course the girl would be out of her element at a big party.
"Don't worry, Demmie- I know everyone here!"
Cherry knew most of the people here, in fact. The editor made it her duty to know all the important socialites in the Capitol, in an effort to be one of them. Cherry wanted nothing more to be the Capitol's sweetheart, and she knew that the only way to do that was to make connections and ensure people knew her. She pulled at Demeter's forearm, and the two made their way into the large, opulent room where the pre-Quell party was taking place. The hall was one of the largest of its kind in the Capitol- taken over by presidential command for tonight, the place was a finely decorated, opulent area, the high ceilings hanging huge banners covered with the seal of the Capitol. Demeter looked faintly panicked- Cherry just felt satisfied. This was where she was supposed to be. This was what she deserved.
"Ah, Miss Haven!"
Showtime. Cherry pasted on her brightest smile, subconsciously adjusted her dress sleeves, and turned to meet the speaker.
"Oh, hiii there!" She gushed, ensuring she sounded as excited and sweet as she wished to sound. "Seneca Crane! Wow! It's been so long since the interview! You're still as handsome, though!"
Cherry knew what people expected of her, and what she wanted of herself- when the curtains were up, she was more upbeat, more gushing, more sweet- after all, cherries were supposed to be sweet. She smiled at Crane, who smiled back in return. The smile looked strained. Hmm. This could be the hint of a scandal. Cherry made a note to try and pry more details from him in private, but for now she turned her attention to the person Crane had been talking to.
"Miss Haven," Crane said, beginning his introductions, "This is Lexus Valerian, the head of technology for the Hunger Games. Lexus, this is Cherry Haven, editor of CHEW magazine."
Cherry ensured her tone was as upbeat as it should be when she answered. "Hello! How lovely to meet you! Wow, you must be busy for the Quarter Quell this year! Only a few months to do the whole thing in, too!"
The question was carefully planned, one Cherry would be posing to all those who might know the secrets of this year's Quarter Quell. It was enough of a lead to encourage people to tell her more, without sounding prying- the upbeat, sweet tone helped with leveraging answers. She smiled at Lexus, and for the first time checked his appearance, something that was for now secondary to her priorities.
Lexus was dressed strangely for a party- perhaps at work, or at home, one would wear such things, but not at a party! He was wearing a bare minimum of makeup- a light blue eyeshadow, faintly applied- although if she was to be generous, she could say it complimented his bright, neatly gelled-back silver hair. He was wearing a deep blue dress shirt- no diamante gems, no shiny additions- what a weirdo, Cherry thought to herself as she smiled sweetly at him. Lexus laughed- his voice was low, unreasonably low, like a tribute- and answered, unnaturally bright blue eyes glittering cheekily.
"Very busy, Miss Haven, but it's more than my life's worth to tell you about it."
Damn. This guy wasn't going to give anything. Cherry gave a light-hearted response and made her excuses to leave Valerian and Crane- then noticed something as she turned around.
Where had Demeter gone?
Lexus waited until Cherry Haven's ridiculous hat-veil was out of sight before he confronted Seneca again.
"Seriously though, what are you thinking? I'm not a magician, Seneca! I can't just click my fingers and wave a stick and conjure up an arena- we've got weeks now to complete this, and we've only just started building! How are we going to get that shield put up- you /know/ they take months to construct, you used to be on the tech team!"
Seneca sighed, adjusting his glittering shirt cuffs as he replied.
"The arena is chosen by the Capitolians, and the Quell card was only read two weeks-"
"Oh, don't feed me that, Seneca! What's going on? Why are you making me do a whole new arena- scratch that, why are you making me do this arena?!"
At first, Seneca looked ready to defy the remarks; but he sagged slightly, looking tired.
"Valerian, the woman you just talked to has a very close associate who was shoehorned into the arena decision committee- and yes, Valerian, we did ask Capitolians, they'd be suspicious if nobody was asked," He said with a half-hearted glare at Lexus. "Haven's not an idiot, and if she gets wind from her associate that an arena comes out that isn't one of the ideas discussed- like the volcano arena we had planned- then there's going to be questions asked. Do you want to compromise the Capitol, Valerian?"
Lexus frowned at that- of course not, what an idiotic thing to ask.
"No, but you could at least have thought about this in advance, Seneca. Strategising- isn't that what being a Gamemaker is all about?"
Seneca sent Lexus a sharp glare, softened suddenly as a prominent sponsor walked past. Lexus thought that hilarious- he should provoke Seneca in the middle of parties more often.
"Nobody anticipated Haven deciding she wants to try and get information about anything the Capitol does- who knows how she got to be so popular, but it's starting to mess up all our plans."
Lexus glanced in the direction Cherry had gone- there she was, smiling sweetly at some escort or another.
"She doesn't look too much like a plan-ruiner, Seneca. More like a childish reporter with an obsession for shiny things."
"Looks can be decieving, Valerian. Heard on the grapevine that Demitri showed you that herself," Seneca countered, amusement evident in his tone. Lexus turned back from his observation of the reporter to give Seneca a particularly dark glare.
"She's nuts, Crane- where'd you dig her up from, the correctional facility? She could've killed me or something, that-"
Crane interrupted him at that, looking faintly tired.
"Valerian, don't you recognise her?"
"-What? Why would I? She's just the head of security," Lexus retorted, feeling slightly annoyed and faintly confused.
"Good evening, men."
The two turned in unison behind them- Anamaria Demitri stood there, wearing a leather jacket and singlet, no makeup, no additions to style at all. At first, Lexus wondered why she wasn't dressed up for the party. Then he wondered why she was at a party at all. Then he remembered precisely what he had been saying to Crane about Demitri, and wondered if her promise to kill him was still standing. Seneca seemed to have reached a similar conclusion, as at precisely the same time the two smiled charmingly and spoke.
"Oh, hey there, Anamaria-"
"Miss Demitri, how lovely to see you-"
If Demitri had heard their previous conversation, she didn't mention it, which if anything just added to Lexus' agitation. Was the woman going to shoot him while he slept tonight?
"I would suggest you did not discuss the details of this year's Quarter Quell; a number of those here are journalists, and it would be unwise to allow them to know anything that they shouldn't."
With that, Demitri turned on her heel and strode away, after a second or two disappearing into the crowds. Seneca sighed tiredly, before looking back at Lexus.
"Get the arena done, Valerian. I don't care what it takes- bring out the prototypes, bring in the Avox, just get it built, and get it built quickly."
Seneca nodded briefly at Lexus, before turning, making light pleasantries with those he passed as he walked towards the bar. Lexus didn't blame him.
Left alone in the centre of the hall, Lexus made the decision to head outside, to the balcony. He dodged away from a few, already heavily drunk partygoers as he made his way across the marble floors, pushing open the ten-feet-tall doors with a little force to walk out onto the huge concrete balcony, decorated on the walls with red silk banners of the Capitol. Lexus smoothed back his hair with one hand, using the other to lean against the balcony railing as he looked over the Capitol. This building, although lavishly decorated on the inside, was much like the others in the very centre of the Capitol- dark concrete, huge and imposing. Lexus had lived here all his life, and he still found the centre city magnficent- for some reason, the whole thing made him shiver.
Or, he reflected, tugging at his thin dress shirt, that could be the fact that summer was ending.
Inhaling the cooling night air, Lexus looked beyond the dark slabs of concrete to the shining, glittering outside of the Capitol- beyond the centre city, the buildings rose tall, thin and coated in glass, lights pulsing from their transparent walls. Lexus identified more with that of the glassy buildings than he did with the concrete- they were tall, bright and shining, a beacon of the Capitol.
Most importantly, it was a beacon of himself- he had designed a lot of what went into those buildings. Lexus smiled to himself, before frowning as his thoughts turned to the arena.
He had about two weeks to finish the arena off. The building teams were working harder than they had ever been pushed before- apparently they were getting through the Avox workforce like there was no tomorrow. Lexus sighed. He hadn't got any time to set up a dome around the facility.
Lexus stood bolt upright against the railing, stepping backwards and clapping his hands in jubilation. Of course! He astounded himself with his own genius sometimes, he really did.
Grinning now, his first genuine smile all evening, Lexus spun and headed for the doors, wrenching the huge thing open and swinging it wide as he rushed through the party.
He had a prototype to develop.
Accalia Mandron was almost ready to leave, if she was honest.
The whole night, she had been looked down upon and silently judged and ridiculed- until, of course, they knew her name. Once they knew who she was, their demeanor was nothing but gushing praise and pleads to have a portrait done of themselves.
Accalia wasn't sure whether she was most disgusted by the ridicule, the gushing praise, or the requests to jave portraits done- like she was just for hire! Really, did nobody appreciate what she did?
Adjusting the cat-ear diadem on top of her head, Accalia made her excuses to leave one of her latest gushing fans, and make her way away from the side of the room that was steadily getting more drunk by the minute.
She looked up in surprise, slowing to a stop as a young girl with long green hair made her way to her. It took Accalia a second, but once she had figured out who it was, she squealed and flung herself at the girl, hugging her tightly.
"Demeter! What're you doing here?!" Accalia said with a joyful smile, releasing Demeter from the hug. "Get accepted in the stylist job?"
Demeter bobbed up and down in her platform heels. "I did, yes! All thanks to you, darling," She added with a smile, brushing her hair out of her eyes as she winked. Accalia winked back, brushing her black hair into her eyes.
"Any time, sweetie! Although I'm sure a design college dropout's recommendation isn't that much of a help with a design portfolio," Accalia said with a modest smile, settling back into her habit of chewing her bottom lip.
"Well, yes, but I'm sure that having the recommendation of the best artist in Panem is a lot of help with a design portfolio," Demeter countered, laughing and tossing back her long green hair from where it had slid past her shoulders. Accalia lost the modest smile in a moment of jest.
"Best artist and best writer, remember," Accalia said with a laugh.
In all honesty, Accalia wasn't exaggerating too much from the truth. Although only a little while ago she had dropped out of one of the most prestigious design schools in the Capitol, leaving her, unlike her fellow schoolmate Demeter, without any qualifications, Accalia was now one of the most famous in her field. And her field was artistry. Her field was writing. And she did both to a degree that left the Capitol screaming for more.
Accalia was most famous, however, for her paintings of the Hunger Games-and one painting in particular. Even Accalia herself couldn't tell you where this painting had gone- one day it had been purchased at great expense by an unknown buyer. Rumours abounded it had been bought by the President himself, but Accalia thought that was stupid. After all, what would the President want with her picture of Yurai Hazar? It was the tribute's depicted last moments, through his eyes, after he had been stung by tracker jackers- not one of Accalia's favourite works, but everyone seemed to love it for some reason.
Nevertheless, any Mandron painting was worth more than most of the tall, glittering buildings of the Capitol's outer city were worth- and despite merely being nineteen, Accalia was already a rich, high-powered socialite. What she did mattered, and that included her recommendations to her friend's design portfolios.
"So Accalia, got anything planned for this year?" Demeter asked. Accalia rolled her eyes- of course she did!
"Yes, a book, and certainly I'm thinking of doing some paintings of the Quarter Quell," She said, faintly exasperated.
"Sounds like this isn't the first time you've been asked," Demeter said with a sympathetic smile.
"That editor you're roommates with- Cherry Haven- she's an absolute pain, sweetie, how do you live with her?!"
"Accalia, she's not that bad!"
Accalia grimaced- that was an understatement. "She wouldn't stop pestering me with questions- is she some kind of fan or something?"
Demeter laughed- if Accalia didn't know her old schoolfriend better, she would call it mocking. "Oh, no! No, no, no, darling! Cherry's just a bit eager when it comes to the Hunger Games- you know, she has to have everyone's interview and such."
Accalia felt a little hurt by the inherent accusation that Cherry did not in fact care at all about her work, but she allowed the matter to drop and turned the conversation back to a love the two friends mutually shared.
"So how's the portfolio now? Any ideas for the districts?"
Demeter winced dramatically. "I've been given 10."
Accalia winced in sympathy. "Oh, no! Animal costumes in the near future, then? Surely, sweetie, you won't do such a thing?"
"Of course not, Accalia! No, no! I have some ideas, but really- this is just depressing! I wanted 1, or 3; something I could work with, darling! That was what half my portfolio was!"
Accalia smiled at Demeter, adjusting her cat diadem again as she spoke.
"It'll be fine, Demmie- you're a natural with clothing! More than I ever was, anyway."
Demeter sounded relieved.
"You think so?"
"Of course! You'll make District 10 unforgettable, sweetie!"
Demeter smiled in relief, before glancing over to a position somewhere over Accalia's shoulder. Accalia glanced back- Cherry Haven was there, sipping a drink at the bar.
"Do you need to talk to her?" Accalia asked, sad to leave one of her only friends at the pre-Quell party but tired enough that she wouldn't be upset to let Demeter go and go home. Unlike most in the Capitol, Accalia hated late nights, and relished the prospect of getting to sleep within the hour.
"Yeah... Hey, Accalia?"
"Who's that Cherry's talking to?"
Accalia turned, unpeturbed by Demeter's lack of knowledge when it came to partygoers. Really, the girl was so work-obsessed when it came to clothes design, she only went to small parties every week or so- she put Accalia herself to shame sometimes.
She frowned as she attempted to place the face- then she raised her eyebrows in surprise.
"That's Anamaria Demitri!"
"The Head of Security! What's she doing here?"
Demeter stepped beside Accalia, frowning curiously at the black-clad figure. "The Head of Security? Why's she not wearing party clothes?"
Accalia took in the scene- all the beautiful coloured dresses and suits, the hairstyles, the makeup- and there stood Anamaria Demitri, wearing a simple black jacket and simple black trousers- only her hair, dyed red at the tips, and her deep pinkish-red eyes gave her any distinction at all. It was strange. Not only the fact that the typically secretive Head of Security was talking to one of the most notorious gossip-mongers in Panem, but the lack of proper party clothing- it was strange, really. Like Demitri was here for some other reason. The scene felt alien to Accalia- although it was clearly in front of her, she was having distinct issues rationalising it.
Maybe in a painting tonight, she could pinpoint the dark shape in the sea of colour. She could forgo sleep for that.
"Want to talk to her later?" Accalia suggested to Demeter with a smile.
"Yes, let's- shall we go to the banquet table?"
Accalia lead the way through the crowds, glancing up at the colourful silk banners of the seal of the Capitol. She smiled slightly. Maybe some people didn't understand the beauty of colour, like Demitri, but Panem did, and she did, and that's all she cared about in the end.
"I'm sorry, you must have mistaken me for somebody else," Anamaria repeated mechanically, pulling away with a fake but seemingly genuine smile on her face. Haven pouted, looking despite the extravagant getup remarkably similar to a fish.
"If you're not Anamaria Demitri, who else could you be?"
Anamaria briefly contemplated pulling her pulse gun on Haven, for one indulgent second; just to see her expression. Then she pulled the fake smile back onto her face and began backing up from the bar table, repeating her insistence of her not being Anamaria Demitri. Before Haven could start complaining and do her fish impression, the Head of Security had manoevred herself through a large group of revellers and disappeared back to her favourite location in the hall- in the shadows near the staircase. She was required to be here for security reasons, to ensure nothing confidential was said, but that didn't mean she was enjoying the experience. The additional order not to tell people who she was, in case people questioned the added security, just heightened her mutual annoyance at being here tonight. She had the whole of Panem to police, and here she was, standing in a hall, watching-
The soma purging had started.
Soma was a liquid, drunk mostly at parties; it caused the drinker to violently regurgitate whatever they had eaten before. Anamaria didn't know why the people of the Capitol enjoyed the experience so much- it was hardly something Anamaria would describe a pleasurable pasttime, and certainly not one to be practiced in company- but in the interests of eating more of the rich food available, partygoers would drink soma, in the middle of the dance hall. Anamaria was only grateful that she was not expected to join in today's revellry, like she had been ordered to in years past- this year, President Snow had given her a longer leash.
She fingered her necklace, glancing away from the soma drinkers and transferring her attention to the tiny silver pendant hanging from a chain on her neck. It was the eagle of Panem, set in a circle of silver. She was required to wear it- she had stated in the past that it would be useless and a potential strangulation weapon in a fight, but she had since learnt not to question what Snow ordered.
At least out loud.
A bell tolled in the background- well, the digital recording of a bell tolled. At once, the crowd quietened and straightened up, standing to attention towards the largest silk banner in the hall. The red silk, augmented by the bright yellow eagle of Panem, rippled slightly in the breeze left by an open balcony door. A fanfare played, the crowd stood still, and began to sing. Anamaria sank deeper into the shadows.
"The horn of plenty..."
The Capitolians had been raised this way. When the bell tolled, when the anthem played, the Capitol sang. Anamaria didn't understand it.
"The horn of plenty overflows!"
And the horn of plenty overflowing was true, if you were in the Capitol. Rich foods were piled up on the banquet table- seafood and poultry in thick sauces, huge and exquisite meals just lying there to claim. Most of it would likely not be eaten.
"Panem shall rise above,"
Rise above what? That was the question. Panem was all there is. No other nations existed. Once, many years ago in the past, there were- but it was known that no nations existed anymore. None but Panem. There was only Panem.
"Panem shall reign above,"
That part was true. When it came to reigning, the Capitol reigned over Panem spectacularly.
"And shall never fall again!"
That was why she was here. Panem was reminded never to fall by the Hunger Games. The most potent reminder. The strongest show of power. That President Snow reigned.
Anamaria ceased fingering her necklace, aware that the anthem was about to end. She dropped the silver eagle beneath the jacket, reflexively felt for her pulse gun, and readied herself for the partygoers' leaving. A few were still drinking soma- two young women were still here as well, who looked singularly out of place in the pre-Quell party. The one with long green hair giggled as the second- which Anamaria recognised as that artist, Accalia Mandron- tripped over, spilling soma all over the floor. She noted the large bottle of wine in the green-haired girl's arms.
Anamaria had seen enough of the Capitol's party behavior for now. She made a curt order to the plainclothes Peacekeepers to keep an eye on the final partiers- all the real security liabilities had left a little while ago, including Lexus Valerian. Especially Lexus Valerian. If she ever had a spare moment again with Lexus Valerian, she would help test his theories of her having been from the correctional facility by placing him there forcibly.
Or at least she could indulge in those thoughts.
Her thoughts were all she could indulge in anymore.
She turned away from the huge, red silk banners of the Capitol, and walked into the night.