My entire district seemed to hold its breath as Evolet Amitel's hand daintily plucked a small, folded piece of paper from one of the large glass bowls on stage. Every eye was on her, every camera was pointed her way.
She stepped back to the microphone, her electric blue suit and purple scarf looking eye wateringly bright in front of the greyness of the justice building. Her purple painted lips stretched into a smile as her carefully manicured hands opened the paper.
The girl next to me swallowed.
"The female tribute from District 9 is..."
Evolet said in her high pitched, capitol accent.
I blinked and dug my fingernails into my palms.
I wasn't hallucinating. She had just called my name.
As if in a trance, I stepped forwards, licking my lips with my tongue and trying to keep my composure. Slowly and carefully I made my way to the stage, ignoring the Peace keepers on either side of me. My step didn't once falter; although it felt like the ground shook where I walked.
Evolet held out her hand excitedly and I took it, refusing to show the disgust I felt at touching someone from the Capitol. The people that forced us to enter the Games.
She was a lot shorter up close. Her blue and purple wig which was styled in an extravagant up-do added more to her height from a distance, in reality she was only my height and I was a small seventeen year old.
She released my hand and walked to the boys' bowl, delving to the bottom before pulling out a name. The same deathly silence ensued as everyone's eyes became trained on the paper.
"And for the boys" Evolet said into the microphone.
A boy of about fifteen stepped forwards, appearing not to miss a beat. As if he had been expecting it.
He strode up to the stage and shook Evolet's hand lightly before facing our District once more.
"Ladies and gentlemen, our tributes from District 9!" exclaimed Evolet excitedly, taking a step back.
There was a small smattering of applause.
"Well, shake hands" she said to us, her eyebrows slightly raised.
I swallowed and stuck out my hand. Kia took it and we shook once before letting go.
She stepped forwards again to the mic.
"Happy 74th Hunger Games!" she said loudly, her heavily painted eyelids closing for a second before looking around happily.
"And may the odds be ever in your favour..." she trailed off before turning abruptly, putting a hand on both mine and Kia's backs and ushering us into the open doors of the justice building, flanked by silent peace keepers.
Once I was shut into a room, I automatically looked for a window but there was none. Only an ornate, long mirror on one of the wooden panelled walls.
I studied my reflection.
My light brown hair had natural streaks of gold in it and fell into very loose curls – verging on waves – to the base of my throat. My bangs were wavy and covering the side of my face but my wide blue eyes were still visible, the specks of green and grey catching the light. I had an extremely light dusting of freckles across my button nose that no-one seemed to notice and my lips were full but chapped and bleeding from biting them so much from anxiety.
I had stitched together my reaping dress from materials in the market that I had managed to trade for. My mother had passed away when I was young and I was an only child so my dad didn't mind if I traded the odd dress of hers.
The dress was knee length and a mixture of colours, the sleeves long and mismatching. I liked the look, it made me feel unique.
Suddenly the door opened and my Dad rushed in, sweeping me up into a hug.
"I was so worried! You'll be fine. I know you will. Your mother will watch over you. Don't forget any of the weapons I taught you or any of the skills you'll need"
Since my mother died my father had been careful about teaching me basic survival skills and how to wield nearly every weapon available to us – either bought or self made.
He lived in constant fear that I would be reaped and I don't think he could take losing a daughter as well as a wife.
"Okay dad" I whispered, hugging him tight and letting the tears that had been building in my eyes spill over.
He leaned back and wiped under my eyes.
"Don't let them see any weakness, let them know you're there to win" he murmured, tapping my nose softly with a rough finger.
I smiled weakly.
"I'll win dad"
He gave me a watery smile and took something out of his pocket, it was a necklace. The chain was silver and had an intricately weaved design, the horizontal oval in the middle was light blue in colour and sparkled in the dim light of the room.
"You're allowed to take something from your district with you, this was you mothers and I thought..." he trailed off.
I bit my lip. "It's beautiful" I said and turned around, holding my hair up.
"Could you?" I asked softly.
He draped the necklace around my throat and clasped the back. I let go of my hair and faced him.
"It suits you" he smiled. "Matches your eyes"
I caught sight of it in the mirror and sighed with satisfaction. The chain was short which meant the gem rested in the very hollow of my throat and it really did compliment my eyes.
"Thanks Dad" I whispered, pulling him in for another hug.
We stayed like that until a Peace keeper came in.
"Times up" he said gruffly.
I squeezed my dad one more time before releasing him.
"Do good baby girl" he said as the Peace Keeper walked him to the door.
"I know you will" He turned quickly through the door and it closed behind him, but not before I saw his aged eyes fill with tears. I looked down sadly and ran a hand through my hair.
I went through the rest of the day in a daze. I barely registered being moved with Kia and Evolet from district 9 onto the sleek silver train that was only used for the games.
I ignored the beautiful carriages and all their splendour, my stomach actually turning at the sight of the luxury cream cakes and pastries that I would have never been able to afford back home.
In the end, I retired to my room early and slept soundly and dreamlessly until Evolet was shaking me awake and saying that I had missed breakfast and we were arriving in the Capitol. I hastily got up and dressed, tugging my dress on from the previous day. I got into the main compartment to see Kia at the window with his mouth pressed into a thin line as people from the Capitol screamed and shouted at us from the platform. A quick glance out the window told me that they all dressed similarly to Evolet, wacky and wild – a mixture of bright and vibrant colours.
I rolled my eyes and sat down with my back to the window so that no-one could see my face if they looked. I didn't want to be like an animal in a zoo. A woman was sitting at the table opposite me who hadn't ever seen before. I looked at her fairly normal attire and deemed her to be from a district rather than the Capitol, even if her clothes were smarter and more expensive than anything in district 9.
She noticed my gaze and nodded at me with tight lips. She looked to be around thirty, with long dirty blonde hair and dark bags under her eyes from apparently sleepless nights. The suit she was wearing was charcoal black, save for the pristine white blouse under her blazer.
"I'm Annabel" she said and to my surprise she sounded oddly kind and child-like.
"I'm your mentor, I was the last person from district 9 to win the games" her eyes darted around as she mentioned them, as if she were afraid to be swept away at any minute for bringing them up.
I nodded slowly. "So shall we start when we get into the Capitol then?" I asked uncertainly when she didn't continue.
"We are in the Capitol" she stated blankly. "But we'll begin your mentoring at the same time as your training. Just try to remember the things I tell you"
She whispered the last part and I internally cringed. How on earth did this woman beat 23 other tributes? She looked and sounded like a good gust of wind would blow her over.
I determinedly kept my face void of emotion and grabbed a small slice of toast, not feeling hungry but knowing I'd need sustenance for the day ahead.
Evolet explained where we were going but I completely zoned out as we got into a car that would take us to our destination. Wherever that was.
The building was large and ostentatious but I suppressed rolling my eyes for fear of offence. Evolet ushered us inside before we were handed over to some people from the Capitol. I didn't listen to any words exchanged. I was too busy thinking about home, about my dad, about the weeks to come. Possibly my last.