"There you go, dear. You look much better now." I looked myself over in the large mirror. I did look better now that I was groomed. Not to say I didn't keep myself unbathed back in my District, but it never seemed necessary to do the smaller things, like pluck my brows, or style my hair. Aloe and her twin Lotus Blossom, my prep team, did absolute wonders on me. My grey coat actually seemed to radiate, and my main was styled into a wave that wrapped around the underside of my jaw and flowed in front of me. I looked stunning.
"I must say, Aloe, we really outdid ourselves!" Lotus Blossom looked over me, nodding in approval. "Yes, sister, we did ourselves on this one! Now, let's tackle that tail of yours."
Aloe took a brush in her mouth and went to work on my tail. I cringed as the brush tore violently through the knots. I had never tail much attention to my tail, and now I was paying the price. "Jeez, Octavia, when was the last time you brushed this thing?"
I ignored the quip from Aloe and screwed my eyes shut tight as another painful pass of the brush came. Little tears glistened at the edge of my eyes as the pain grew worse with each brushstroke.
Aloe put down her brush. "There. That's the best that I can do for now. Lotus, come here with the scissors. There's a particularly stubborn clump near the base of her tail that just won't come out..."
A few snips later, I was staring at the large clump of my tail hair. As I said, I had never really paid much attention to my tail, so the nasty knot came as a surprise. I vowed to always take care of my tail from now on. Then, I remembered that "from now on" was only going to be about a week from now.
Yes, I had thought about what Hayseed sr. had said, and yes, I was still going through with my plan. I didn't care what he said, he wasn't changing my mind. That salty bastard could rot in Tartarus. he was terrible to his own son, and wouldn't even give him any advice to win the Games. I wasn't going to listen to him.
"Alright dear, I think your tail looks better unstyled," Aloe said, stroking it with a hoof. "It's fine just the way it is. Nice and silky, and flowing behind you. Your mane, however, needs a bit of a change."
Lotus nodded. "Yes, I agree. Let's give it a bit more... floatability." The two sisters went to work on my mane again, which was a pity. I liked this style.
In a few minutes, the mane was now as it was before, except it seemed... lighter.
"Now walk." I followed my prep team's instructions, and as I walked, my mane floated delicately behind me. When I stopped, my mane drifted over my shoulder, and seemed to blow in the wind peacefully, even though we were inside with nothing to move my mane. Lotus squealed in delight.
"Oh, it's beautiful! Now, let's turn you over to Photo Finish! She'll want to get you and Hayseed into proper apparel. I hear she's got a very special this year..."
I thought back to Photo Finish's other outfits. Customarily, since we were the District of coal, we would always do coal themed costumes to wear to the opening ceremonies. Photo Finish had been District 12's designed since before Hayseed sr. had won. She was never very imaginative, always coming up with the same thing more or less, with a few tweaks each year. It was a coal miner's outfit, with a skintight jumpsuit and a bulky miner's helmet, sometime with picks to go along. Last year, she had decided to do something a bit different. She had covered the two tributes with coal dust. They had looked ridiculous.
I was ushered out into the next room, where Hayseed was already sitting. I couldn't help but stare at him. His mane had been groomed back to look less scruffy, and his coat was cleaner then I had ever seen it... but the biggest change was his teeth. His two buck teeth were straighter, and somehow smaller and less noticeable.
"How did they do that? With your teeth, I mean."
Hayseed ran his tongue over his new teeth. "I dunno. They put me to sleep for a bit, and when I woke up... I was like this! They said they did some 'oral surgery.' I do like my new teeth better, though."
I smiled. "I dunno. I think that you look better with giant teeth." Hayseed chuckled.
"Alright, shut up in here, I'm coming." Photo Finish strutted into the room. She had a bleached white mane, and garish round magenta tinted glasses. A pink scarf was wrapped around her neck, and the less said about her dress, the better. All in all, she looked like a fashion train wreck. I groaned silently, thinking about the horrors that awaited us.
"Vell, it looks as doh I, Photo Finish, vhill hafe to deal with zees new tributes." Her accent was commanding and dismissive at the same time. It hurt my ears a bit to listen to, but at least it wasn't that stuck up Canterlot accent.
Looking over us, she smiled. "Ah, yes. Vundibar! You two vhill look look shtuhnning in mine outfits I hafe made." Going back into the door from which she came from, she returned a moment later with a unicorn who was levitating the outfits for us all to see.
They were beautiful. Mine started off with a tiara of coal that looked almost as if it were fashioned after Celestia's tiara herself. I had seen pictures of it in my textbooks, and I had always envied it. the dress itself was marvelous as well. It too started off as coal, its black fabric rippling from the magic that encased it, but around the middle it became red, and the fabric gave way to dazzling diamonds that would cover my flanks, plot, and back legs. Hayseed jr's was similar, but his lacked a tiara, and was more of a jumpsuit then a dress. Where my diamonds would hang loose a bit, giving it a more feminine look, his would be closed to his body, and stay in place.
I must say I was totally blown away by the magnificence of the outfits. I was honestly expect a horror show like last years. Well, Photo Finish surprised me there.
"Alright, now get into da outfits, and vhe vhill dazzle them vhith District 12!"
A few minutes later we were standing in the carriage that would take us on our introductory run. Where we would be paraded in all our glory to the citizens of Canterlot, before they shipped us off to train. I shifted, the diamonds rubbing against my fur uncomfortably. It looked so much more appealing when I wasn't wearing it.
District 1 started off, the tributes wearing dazzling jewels everywhere on their bodies. Emeralds, rubies, sapphires... you name it. I thought for a moment that Photo Finish may have ripped their idea off, but I couldn't see any diamonds on them, so maybe not.
District 2, clad in carved stone armour with intricate designs went next. I could hear a lot of cheering from the crowd. They always did this for the careers. I stole a glance at Hayseed jr, who was sweating. "Don't like big crowds?"
Hayseed looked over at me. "Not really... it's just, the whole nation..."
I patted him on the back. "It'll be fine. They'll love us."
"Easy for you to say," Hayseed jr said with a roll of his eyes "you're used to crowds."
District 4, dressed in green plant-like rags and nets went next. More cheering. I actually began to feel self-conscious a little bit. What if they thought we were ripping off District 1? Then we wouldn't get any sponsors!
I calmed myself down after remembering that I didn't need sponsors, because I was going to kill myself the instant I stepped off the platform. Still, Hayseed jr. might want a sponsor or two...
District 7 was going now, the tributes apparently made up to look like trees, with bark covering them, and branches sticking out at odd angles. Hayseed couldn't help but laugh a bit.
"Well, at least our costumes aren't the dumbest looking ones!" I surveyed the others. He had a point. District 8's tributes were covered in thread and needles, District 9's mare was a cupcake and the stallion was covered in wheat, and District 11's pair of siblings were wearing what looked like armour made of apples.
"Our outfits are nice." I smiled, looking back at the diamonds. I didn't care that they rubbed my fur the wrong way anymore. They were bedazzling, the proof that if you put enough pressure on coal, it would become an object of beauty.
But that's not what happens. Remember in school they taught us graphite tuned into diamonds, not coal? I banished the little nagging voice in my head. Canterlot was so ignorant to the ways of the districts that they probably didn't know that.
District 11 started their journey down the line, and our carriage pulled up to go next. I found myself sweating a bit. Just pretend it's another one of your cello playings, Octavia.
"And now, beat your hooves for... District 12, represented by Octavia Violone and Hayseed Turnip Truck Jr!" That voice... it felt so smooth, so lovely... at the time I had no idea what I felt when I heard the voice, but later on I would realize what was happening in my mind that night. All I knew was that I wanted to meet that mare who was talking behind that microphone.
We were thrust out into dazzling lights as we shot down the runway. As the citizens of Canterlot saw the lights sparkle off our outfits, they beat their hooves for us, calling, throwing rose petals upon us. They were white white rose petals... Roseluck told me white roses had to be bred specifically. One landed on my nose, and I tried my best not to sneeze. I blew it off with a snort, and inhaled deeply a few times to keep from sneezing.
"Wonderful!" The voice sent chills down my spine. They were good chills... I wanted to listen to that voice all day. She would make a good signer, or radio host. "That was lovely District 12! Here's hoping they finally get another winner this year!"
Our carriage docked in the stable room at the end of the runway. All the tributes were milling around, talking to each other or their mentors and prep teams. I disembarked from the carriage, and looked at Hayseed jr. "Who was that mare? The announcer, I mean." Hayseed shrugged.
"What, you didn't know? That was Vinyl Scratch." I turned around to see the purple unicorn from District 3 looking at me. She was adorned in piece of machinery and tech. "She was in the games five years ago and the age of thirteen and won. She made lovely electronic music... I often listened to it as I worked in the plants. Now, she's the announcer for the Games. She was the announcer last year too. I'm Twilight Sparkle, and this is Time Turner." Twilight gestured to her partner, who was wearing similar attire to her. He waved his hoof at me cheerfully.
I extended my hoof to Twilight, and she shook it. "Well, a pleasure meeting you Twilight. Good luck in the games."
Hoity Toity and Photo Finish trotted up with Hayseed sr. in drag. "Dat vas shtunning! Dazzling! Gorgeous! I, Photo Finish, hafe truly outdone mineself this time."
"Yes, you were quite exquisite out there." Hoity Toity nodded in approval. Hayseed sr. just mumbled something about cabbage and burped loudly.
"Yes, those outfits are simply divine, darling," the white unicorn from District 8 eyes my diamond adorned flank. "Your stylist is simply marvelous! I'm Rarity, by the way." She also extended a hoof, and I shook it. Smiling, Rarity took a look at Hayseed jr. "My my my! It even looks good on stallions! Props to you, Photo Finish, props to you!"
Photo Finish blushed a bit. "Vhell, coming from one of the head designers of District 8, I, Photo Finish, am honored that you would complement mine outfits. Shame that you have to go into the arena." Rarity looked downcast for a second, but then smiled and walked off to talk to the tributes from District 1.
"Come, now, dinner is wait for us!" I followed Hoity Toity and Photo Finish as they made for the elevator.