Sorry, this chapter took so long; it's been hard finding time to write on vacation. Anyway, hope you like it! Please review and favorite as usual. Also, I recently became a beta, and I would be super happy to beta read anything my readers have. Thanks for reading!
"Annie Cresta, from District Four,"
Caesar! Hurry up! I need to know! I just need to know!
Caesar continues, "Annie, from Four, with a score of...-"
"...with a score of seven..." Caesar says.
Seven. For a moment I can't comprehend this number. Okay, I got a seven. And then the full potency of its meaning hits me. Seven: the lowest score of the Careers. A seven will mark me as the weakest one. Potential sponsors will be turned away because of it.
I start to panic. Crap, this is bad. No, this is worse than bad.
After this sinks in for a minute, I see Toren looking at me in the corner of my eye. No, this can't be right. Panicking, I flee from the room.
Inside the dining room, I pace anxiously. Anger surges through me suddenly. Why the hell did those stupid Gamemakers have to make me show strength?!
My veins feel like they are being pumped with iron. My breathing is frenzied. I grab a plate and without even thinking about it, smash it against the counter.
My vision glazes over a little as I watch the pretty pieces of the white porcelain clatter to the ground. The perfect white smashes into the black tile. The loud noise waves through the room.
I look down at my hand and see a smear of red on my palm. A shard of the plate lies there. The gleaming red tip is enchanting.
I slide down the counter until my back is against the wall. I wrap my knees to my chest. My anger fades. Now I feel nothing but self-pity. And failure.
The door opens. I shout, "Scylla! I don't want to talk to you rig-...Toren?"
Toren closes the door. "Scylla's out doing damage control."
"That bad huh?"
"Yeah, I guess so." he admits. I appreciate that he's not holding anything back. Even I knew that a 7 is atrocious for a Career.
He slides down to sit next to me. "Want to talk about it?"
I turn away from him. "Not really."
I rub my fingers against the broken shards of the porcelain. I'm starting to regret that childish outburst. "So," I say trying to avoid cutting myself again. "Congrats on your score."
"Thank you." he says modestly. He's probably been expecting a ten. So was I. I don't hold him accountable or anything, but he is my competition. No! It's too hard to think of him as competition. His friendship is something I value.
"Annie, I know it seems really bad to get the lowest score-"
"Thanks for reminding me..." I grumpily say.
"Hey," he continues, playfully shoving me, "It's not that bad. Scores matter for the sponsors, but I guess we'll just have to put ourselves in a position where we won't need them."
Toren can tell I'm not convinced. "Now all we need to do is intimidate the others. I think we've got that covered. I mean, look at all of your muscles." He pinches my bicep. "You're buff!"
"Shut up!" I say, but without meaning it. Despite my best interests, he manages to coax a smile out of me.
"Here, I'll clean up this mess." He starts to sweep the shards into piles, "You get to bed."
"Okay, I will." I say. I get up and walk towards the door. I pause as I grasp the handle. I turn to face him and I look him in the eye. "Thank you." I say. I mean it.
He nods at me. "My pleasure."
I turn away, but not before smiling at him while he cleans up my mess.
"Wake up!" Scylla yanks off my bed sheets and turns on the lights. "Time to practice for interviews."
I blearily rub my eyes and try to cover myself. "What time is it?" I mumble.
"Time to get started. Your sponsors are going to be put off unless you nail the interviews." she responds harshly.
Oh right. I got that seven in training. I had forgotten about it in my dreams. Great.
"You have ten minutes to get ready. I expect you in the dining room then." She takes one more look around the room before departing.
I take a shower quickly. I brush my teeth and wash my hands as quickly as possible. And then I rush into the dining room.
Scylla is waiting there with a bald man that I don't recognize. She says, "First things first. Yesterday I let you go without telling me your score. But now I need to know, what on earth did you do to cause it?"
I hesitate before telling her how the Gamemakers asked me to show strength. "Is that normal?" I ask.
"For them to ask for strength? No, but occasionally Gamemakers will demand a tribute to demonstrate a set of skills that they value more than others." Scylla says. "This is Maximus's first year as Head Gamemaker; so it might not affect anything at all really."
"Aside from the fact that sponsors will be less interested in me." I say.
"Right." Scylla says.
"Betting odds aren't that bad for you though." says the bald man. "Eleven percent of bettors are going for you. Mara and Toren both have fifteen, while Sheen has twelve. So, you're really not in that bad of a shape."
His face looks familiar. After a second, I know who it is. "Alexis? Is that you?"
She nods. "I'm trying to start a trend." Her head, which had previously been covered by green and purple hair, was now sleek with some sort of grease that made it shine. "How does it look?"
This crazy lady is my stylist, so I shouldn't upset her. "Um, it looks great!" I say as enthusiastically as possible.
She beams. "Thank you! I was thinking about it, because my best friend Chloe said I should just do it. I've wanted to do it for a while but I wasn't sure how it would look. Then she said that if it looked bad I could just get a wig to cover it up-"
"I think what Alexis is trying to say," Scylla says, flashing a glance at her, "Is that since today is the last full day we have with you before the Games, we are going to help you prep you. Jet is helping Toren, so it's just us."
Alexis takes some measuring tools from her pockets. Loads of them. I don't know where they all fit; she's so small. She starts to measure me in various ways. "It's for the interview dress." She explains.
I ask Scylla, "How were the other tributes' scores?"
She doesn't even need to check her tablet. Apparently, she has them memorized. "You already saw the Careers'. Other than that, the highest were from Titus and Holly. They got 8 and 7 respectively. Holly is the District 11 female tribute." she explains when she notices my confusion. I remember her. She is the one who I talked to at the edible plants station. My first instinct was right: she is a threat.
"So my betting odds aren't that bad?" I ask.
Scylla shakes her head. "They definitely dropped, but they're not terrible. If you can nail the interviews they will probably stay consistent. Then of course you will need to perform well in the actual Games."
I'm pretty confident about that. I still think I can take most of the tributes. If I can continue on my current path I will enter the arena with a powerful alliance with decent betting odds.
After taking the length from my neck to my chest, Alexis finishes her measurements. The next few hours are taken up by both of them teaching me how to act properly for the Capitol. It's more of a test actually. My parents back in Four told me everything on how to ace the interviews.
After they are pleased with my poise and charm, they move on to content.
"How long have you been training?"
"Are you confident?"
"Any word on how any alliances are forming up?"
"Are you satisfied with your training score?"
I answer every question easily. After all my years of training, it's like there is a switch I have in my brain. I turn it on and suddenly I am all charm and grace.
I don't stumble or hesitate until we get to my training score question. I open my mouth to speak but nothing comes out. I had never considered this question. I had always imagined my score to be much higher than it was.
In the next hour or two, Alexis and Scylla coach me for those difficult questions. If Caesar asks a question on my apparent weakness, such as my relatively poor score or my smaller size, I would answer mysteriously. That way, Scylla assured me, I would look as if I had several aces up my sleeves.
"Are you worried about any of the larger tributes?" Scylla asks me in her fake Capitol accent.
"Well Caesar, I'm not worried at all. Between you and me..." I turn away from the imaginary crowds and Lean in closer to Scylla. "They are the ones who should be worried."
"Good job." says Scylla, returning to her normal voice.
We practice a bit, and then break for lunch. I see Toren and Jet for the first time today. I wait for Toren to say something about yesterday, but he doesn't. He just nods and makes polite company.
Jet, Scylla, Toren, Alexis, and Marcus (a rather fat man with slick wavy hair) eat lunch with me. We all explain pleasantries, because not all of us are acquainted with each other. Then again, the people I DO consider myself acquainted with I've only known for a few days.
Alexis and Marcus leave after lunch. I don't know what we are doing next, and am confused further when Scylla leads me into another room with Toren or Jet.
"Now what?" I ask after I sit down on a sofa next to Toren.
"Now..." Scylla's voice trails off as she sets up a large projection screen. A large simulation pops up. "Now, your real training begins..."
Twenty three pictures appear on the screen. Various statistics and numbers fizzle in next to them.
I groan. I had heard stories about this. Career tributes would have to memorize their competition's information to better prepare them.
I peer closer to the screen. Each tribute's head shot is next to their score, a list of their strengths, their weaknesses, their weight, their height, their age, their betting odds, their name and possible allies. That is a lot of information.
"By the end of today you will have the list memorized. You will need to produce information such as a tribute's favorite weapon in an instant if you are to survive. We will begin now."
She passes out flashcards with the tributes on them. "Start learning." she barks at us.
The next few hours are agonizing. After studying the cards for thirty minutes, Jet and Scylla would quiz us on the information. It was a rapid-fire torture session.
Jet and Scylla took turns asking us random questions.
"What is Gloria's favorite weapon?"
"What is the boy from District Nine's name?"
"Who is Holly's main ally?"
The questions don't really stop. Toren's faring only slightly better than I am. I start making up random answers and hope that I get it right. Scylla and Jet get more and more aggressive the longer we go. At some point, Scylla and Jet give us a five minute break. They glare at us as they leave the room.
"Annie, you try and get the first six districts and I'll take the six after that." Toren says.
"Why?" I ask.
"If we split up the work and whisper the answers to each other we'll do better. Here, take these." He hands me the cards for six districts.
I discard District Four because I already know them. I scan Districts One and Two. I know their stats pretty well. I spend the next few minutes memorizing Districts 3, 5, and 6.
Scylla and Jet come back in. "Toren, who is the boy from Eleven allies with?"
"Holly?" Toren asks.
"Is that a question or an answer?" says Scylla sternly.
"Holly. It's Holly." Toren says more soundly.
Jet continues, "What is Chris's training score?"
Toren pauses. I remember Chris. His score was low, I think a four. But he is District Five, so Toren won't know the answer.
I scratch my face with four fingers. Toren doesn't notice. I try to get his attention by tapping my fingers against my thigh. Finally he notices and a look of understanding flits across his face. "Four." he says as he addresses Scylla.
I can tell she knows what happened. She purses her lips, "Well at least you two are starting to work together." she says.
The next morning comes, after a long day of memorizing tributes. Today is the day of the interviews. Tomorrow...tomorrow the Games begin.
I can't wait.
Scylla gathers Toren and me together after breakfast along with Jet. "Well, now you know your tributes, and now you will have to use that information."
"Now," Jet takes out several more flashcards similar to the ones from yesterday's torture sessions.
"We've already memorized everything from yesterday!" I protest.
"Watch your tongue!" Scylla snaps. "Let Jet finish!" I still think all of this knowledge is stupid.
Jet continues once he sees that I'm done. "Scylla and I developed scenarios to help you think about strategy. You will use the stuff from yesterday to help you make a solution. There really isn't a right or wrong answer, you just have to have reasoning behind it."
Toren looks confused. "So, what do you mean by scenario?"
"I guess we'll start with you to demonstrate, Toren." Scylla pulls out a card at random. "You are fighting with the boy from District Three who has a knife as a weapon. This is the bloodbath, so your allies are fighting others and cannot be called on. There are several weapons lying around you, including swords and spears, but he is close enough to stab you if you move."
"Oh. That's easy. I would wrestle him for the knife and then slit his throat. Or just snap his neck." Toren replies after a slight hesitation.
"Defend." says Scylla curtly.
"Your answer, defend your reasoning." says Jet.
"Oh, okay. Well, because he's only one hundred and twenty pounds or something. He has no weapons experience or anything. He's only twelve." says Toren quickly.
"Good. Annie what would you do if you and the Career alliance survived until the final eight. Toren and Sasha, knowing that they will probably turn on them soon, kills Mara and Sheen, and then move on to you and Thorn. He has stolen your weapons and as well as Thorn's. What do you do?"
I look nervously at Toren. "He wouldn't do that. Betray us, I mean. Right?"
Toren doesn't say anything. Scylla says, "In the arena nothing is for sure. Answer the question."
Toren still hasn't denied it. If anything, he looks relieved by what Scylla said. Whatever. I turn to her. "I guess...I would just attack Toren."
"Interesting. You would fight a physically larger tribute that has weapons while you don't. Would you like to redo your answer?" Scylla raises an eyebrow at me.
"Okay. I would...um, probably just flee. I am faster than both of them. The immediate danger would be over" I concur.
Jet nods, "Good. Toren, you are on watch for your alliance and you hear twigs snap. You go over to investigate..."
The questions rattle off more slowly than yesterday. For questions that supposedly have no right answer, these questions have many wrong ones. In a few minutes it is clear that Scylla and Jet prefer Toren's answers over mine. He pauses ever so slightly before answering and I can practically see the gears working inside his head.
I, on the other hand, struggle with these brainteasers. I only get about half of them right, and sometimes it takes more than one try to get it the second or third time.
And what's worse, Scylla and Jet start stopping me if I get too slow.
I would say, "Umm...I think that...uh..."
And then she'd interrupt me claiming that I am too slow and that the wolf mutts or whatever killed me.
Or I would actually be answering the question and she'd still annoy me. Like if I say, "Um...I'd probably run into the feast first and grab the knives before anyone else can...um..."
"Too late. You're dead. Titus has already killed you with his spear."
Thankfully, they run out of questions by lunchtime. The four of us go to the table. I can't help but notice that Jet slaps Toren on the back for a job well done.
After lunch, Alexis and Marcus arrive with a few assistants for the interviews costumes. Scylla and Jet have to leave to arrive in the audience. "Good luck you two." Jet says. "I know you'll do great."
Scylla isn't as warm, "You know what to do. Be charming, be powerful, and be likeable. If you don't know how to answer a question, just laugh and try to stall. Talk about the Capitol, or training, or your strategy. Don't screw this up!" Is it just me, or did Scylla look in my direction with that last line?
Toren and I say our goodbyes and then leave with our respective stylists. Alexis takes me to the interview building. The whole time I am wondering what I will be wearing. When I ask her, she simply says, "It's still blue, don't worry." Then she winks at me.
When we arrive at the building, a few Avoxes take us to a private back room. Claudia, the prep team worker, begins to take the dress off of the hanging rack. I only get a small glance at it before Alexis turns me around and starts on my makeup as usual. "I think this time we'll go with some simple makeup, so everyone can see your pretty features." she says as she dabs some concealer on a zit on my forehead.
About half an hour later, after my clothes are replaced by a dress, my face is covered in makeup, and my body decked out in accessories, I finally get to see myself.
The dress is simple. A lovely dark blue color that extends from my shoulders past my feet. As I walk, it drags a little behind me elegantly. The deep blue is only broken by pearls. Loads and loads of pearls. They dangle from seams in the dress, spaced only a few inches apart. It really makes it heavy, but it is totally worth it because of how beautifully they sparkle.
I am wearing high heels again, black ones. A necklace covered in more pearls adorns my neck. My face is covered with a small bit of blue eye shadow, which just matches the dress well. My hair is in a tight bun on the top of my head. Behind my head is an exquisite blue headdress. It frames my face wonderfully, and even has some more pearls on it.
I look stunning. My costume looked a little contrived, but now I look like an elegant princess. A blue princess.
Just then an Avox comes in and nods at Alexis. She dismisses him. "Okay Annie, it's time. You and the other tributes have to meet before the interviews backstage. Go on. I know you'll do great!"
I walk out of the room. Time for the interviews. I put on my most winning smile on and prepare to face the crowds.