As Mayor Card returns to the podium and begins to read out the full Treaty of Treason, as is customary, I let my gaze sweep over the crowd in the square. I mentally distance myself from everything my sight touches, emptying my heart of excess emotion. My breathing becomes easier, I don’t have to force it to be steady now. My pulse calms, I stop sweating, I can feel my stomach crawling back to its rightful place. Somewhere inside myself, I’m saying goodbye to District 8… but only goodbye for now. If I’m going to act like a Career, I have to think like one. As my eyes make a pass over the groups of children who are safe for another year, they meet Maddylin’s. She’s crying openly and the look she’s giving me is pleading, as if this is all my doing and I can stop it at any minute. The girls around her are visibly relieved, as they should be. I’m pleased to see that many of them look awed. That means my act is convincing. I search through the kids nearest the stage; the oldest kids, the ones who made it through, the ones who never need worry about being reaped again. They look even more relieved, happy even. Except Violet. And some of the other girls from the Home. She can’t bring herself to look at the stage. She stares at her feet, while the girls around her try to comfort her. I guess I’d feel the same if we were in each other’s place.
When the mayor finishes, Rafe and I are expected to shake hands. I hold mine out without hesitation, looking imperious, but Rafe stubbornly refuses. He looks like he’d rather spit on my hand than take it. He finally gets fed up with the frantic proddings of Pontius and gives in. His hand shoots out, clasps mine for the barest of seconds, drops it like a piece of rotten meat, then returns to where it was before with his arms crossed over his chest. He gives me another death-stare with his hazy green eyes before we both turn towards the crowd again. The anthem of Panem plays. When it ends, the ever-present Peacekeepers usher us into the building behind the stage. It’s the main feature of the square; a big, important-looking building, much more ornate than the big concrete boxes and ramshackle shacks that constitute the rest of District 8’s architecture. The mayor calls it the House of Justice, but the common folk tend to whisper a slightly skewed version: the House of Injustice. A little under a decade ago, thirty-seven people died in front of this building, followed by a further fifteen who were publicly executed. It was even televised.
Inside, Rafe and I are herded off in separate directions and shut into private rooms. The room I’m in is far more luxurious than any room I’ve seen in the rest of the district. The furniture is upholstered with expensive fabrics – I know, of course, because those fabrics were made right here in 8. The floor is made of polished wood. Not just long boards of it, but little cut pieces arranged in intricate patterns. An equally ornate rug dominates the middle of the floor, which I think is kind of a shame. We see plenty of patterned cloth here in 8, but not beautiful wood cuts like this. The fancy furniture is all set within the rug’s range of influence. There are two loveseats facing off across a coffee table made of glass with a vase of exotic flowers on it. There are no windows here, just some rich drapery, a painting of a landscape I don’t recognise, and a couple of vividly detailed tapestries.
My backside has just touched down on one of the loveseats when the door opens and my first visitor steps inside. I thought it would be Violet and Maddylin, but it isn’t.
It’s Mayor Card.