I wake in the morning knowing that tomorrow is my birthday, my realisation spurred by the sound of Akantha rushing around my bedroom area to make preparations for the ceremony. I could sense excitement in the air, anticipation of the summer solstice - not my birthday. It's just another complication, meaning they have to find different venues and rearrange schedules. I'm not supposed to worry about that, though.
Akantha virtually drags me from my bed, telling the remaining girls to ready me, as the process begins the day before, when I must be well rested and rehearsed for what is to come. As my mentor puts my essentials into a satchel to deliver to the apartment above the temple, I am left alone in the dormitory with Iliana, who puts on her most adorable face so that she can brush my hair, which she does so hard that I feel as though my scalp is bleeding. I try not to let it show as she stands behind me in front of the mirror, looking at my reflection with a sly smile.
"You're actually quite pretty, Netea" she says softly as the tangles come undone, beginning to gleam like golden thread. "What a shame that Ideón doesn't care about looks..." She leans in closer to me, whispering as girls tidy my bed behind us - one I will never sleep in again. Her painted red lips are thin and her voice is dry, hissing like a serpent rearing to attack. "You think you're funny, but you're not even that, Netea. You're nothing compared to me, and everybody will see that when Ideón does nothing and humiliates you in front of everybody. That'll make sponsors glad they didn't choose you,"
"You act as if you know what's going to happen," I say flatly, looking her dead in the eyes through the mirror.
"I know the world, Netea. I know how it works. Urchins like you don't get what you want, because you don't deserve it. You get what you pay for, and all you have to show for yourself are scraping grades and clothes from a mentor that's pretty much seen her day."
Anger bites into my heart, and I realise that as much as Akantha might irritate me, and how much I might irritate her, I refuse to accept anybody saying that she isn't the best mentor of Calliope. "You never know," I say to her, looking at her reflection with all my hatred until I think the mirror will break, "events might surprise you."
Her lips part as if she is about to ask, but we see Akantha walk in and resume preparations.