Everypony was staring in shock at the screen. Aloe was the first to speak.
"Well, you're better than everypony expected, then!"
I turned away from it all, just wanting to leave. I had no reason to be around them anymore. I needed some time to myself, to think.
I entered the washroom and got into the shower. I then just realized that this was the first shower I had taken since the one I had been given by my prep team. I was used to going unwashed for days at a time, so I didn't find it entirely impossible I had forgotten to take one.
I stared at the odd dials and buttons on the shower wall before me for a few moments, and then realized I had no idea how to use it. We took showers bac in our District, but it was always a bucket of preheated water being dumped over us while we sat in a wooden tub. Any running water was directed towards the sink, or the water pumps outside.
After messing around for a bit, and getting a blast of soap to the face, I turned a weird lever in the middle of the interface. Warm water, just at the right temperature, flowed down my body, washing away the grime and sweat away from me. I thought of the foals in my district who didn't even get a decent meal tonight, much less such a nice feeling such as this.
At least they'll be alive tomorrow...
Maybe not, though. Dead foals who had starved to death weren't uncommon...
I pressed a few more buttons, and rose scented shampoo poured all over me. The smell instantly reminded me of Discord, and I vigorously washed it off. I got myself some conditioner (thankfully lilac scented) and brushed my mane. I wanted to look good for my last time anypony would ever see me in public before I killed myself.
I stepped out of the shower, instantly realizing there was no towel. I shivered slightly as the heat of the water slowly faded. "Can somepony get me a towel?" I asked loudly.
A few seconds later, the door opened, and a mare entered. I looked upon her snowy white fur, and gasped. Even though the hideous scars and burn marks that adorned her flank made it hard to see, there was no hiding her hatchet cutie mark.
"You're..." The mare looked deep into my eyes, hers looking dead and empty. What had then done to her? I felt my contempt with Discord rising to threatening levels.
Obviously, the mare didn't recognise me. Roseluck and I had hide from her and her brother, but she could see that I recognised her. She held the fluffy towel in her mouth, and moved her head forward a bit, gesturing me to take it.
"I'm so sorry," I said, my eyes tearing up a bit. "For what they did to you and your brother." The mare stared back at me, dead eyed expression eating away at my soul. She slowly walked around me, and dropped the towel on my back. Turning away silently, she left the bathroom.
I had heard tales of what they did to traitors of the state if they weren't immediately executed. The nicer of these things was that they took a burning hot poker, and rolled it around the inside of your mouth and throat, making it impossible for you to speak, and nearly impossible for you to eat.
I dried myself off, and was about to style my mane when Aloe and Lotus Blossom waltzed in.
"Alright, now, we're gonna make your mane extra nice for tonight while Photo Finish goes and gets you and Hayseed Jr's outfits!"
I didn't protest, and the two started experimenting with my hair. Much humming and hawing ensued, with a "No, Lotus, bring her bangs that way," or a "Now swipe her hair over a bit this way, Aloe," here and there.
The end result was my mane looking normal, except it seemed to flow to one side. Infact, the hair nearly obscured my left eye. Again, I think I saw a bit of the former Princesses Hair influenced work in my mane, but it was beautiful, so I didn't complain.
Aloe and Lotus babbled excitedly to each other as we walked back into the main room. Hayseed Sr was downing a maretini while Hoity Toity played with his napkin. Hayseed Jr. entered from his prep room, and he looked, well, presentable. Simple, but I guess that's the style we were going for tonight.
Photo Finish burst in, and presented us our costumes. With some help from our prep teams, we dressed ourselves up in them, and took a look. True to our current mane styles, we were staying simple.
My outfit was simply one that was reminiscent of what the princesses used to wear, you know, the thing around the base of their necks. For the life of me, I can't remember what they were called. It had a single piece of coal whose lower half had been turned into a diamond. I could only imagine how many starving fillies and colts could have been fed with the money it took to make that.
Hayseed's costume was a simple sash adorned with tiny diamonds and coal fragments. It was nice, better then mine in my own opinion.
"Shall we go?" He asked me. I nodded, and the two of us left in silence. Hoity Toity then said something about meeting up with us later, but I didn't care. My mind had wandered back to the poor mare. Would my family meet a similar fate if I killed myself? It had just occurred to me. Surely, Canterlot wasn't above that.
We arrived at the live stage where we would be interviewed. All of us tributes were mulling around the back, muttering to one another. Rarity approached me almost immediately.
"Oh, finally, Octavia darling, you're here!" The white Unicorn's dress was one that was a simple blend of furtight orange, blue, and silver fabric. I never thought those three colors would work so well together, but Rarity pulled it off.
"Hey, Rarity," I said with a smile. "Yeah, we finally got down here, Hayseed's dad got drunk and we had to sober him up." The lie slid easily from my lips, and Rarity soaked it all in.
"Huh, yes, I feel sorry you got such a mess for a mentor." She sighed and rolled her eyes dramatically. "Our mentor is an older mare, but she's quite lovely. Too bad she's not here, I really wanted for you to meet her before-"
"Shh!" The mare from 10 said, and pointed up to the TV screen on the wall. An image flickered to life, and there was Spitfire Flickermane, her hair almost like a burning flame as her name would imply, getting ready to interview the female from 1, Fleur De Lis.
"Welcome to the interview of the Tributes for the 74th annual Pony Games," Spitfire said with her charming smile. I always did enjoy her interviews the most out of any part of the games.
"And today, we have one lovely Fleur De Lis, now Fleur..."
I must admit, there were only four interviews I honestly paid any attention to. The first, was of course, Twilight Sparkle's.
"And so, Twilight, you're from District 3, is that right?" Spitfire smiled at Twilight, who answered very concisely.
"Yes, I'm from 3. I worked in an electronic database. I compiled all sorts of information about different spells, recipes, schematics, a lot of history..."
"Interesting! Maybe you'll be able to beat ponies to death with your knowledge!" the crowd laughed, and to Twilight's credit, she took it in stride.
"Yup! Here's to hoping they have some thick books in the arena!" The crowd applauded as Twilight left the stage.
I payed close attention to Scootaloo's interview. I definitely needed to know more about her.
"So, Ms. Scootaloo, how's it like in District 6?"
"That's it?" Spitfire seemed to lose a bit of her flame. "Just... dry? Come on, we know you can do better than that!" The crowd roared testimony to this statement. "What did you do their?"
"Huh, makes sense with your name and all... well then, what did you do with scooters?"
"Well then, can we call you Scooterloo?"
"Absolutely not. And if you do, I will tear your wings of and force-feed them to Discord."
That was the end of that. It was kind of a disappointment, really, that we didn't get more out of her. I was looking forward to knowing about this little filly...
I had no choice but to acknowledge Rarity's, for the first thing she said was "Octavia, I expect you to pay close attention to this one, darling!"
The crowd laughed pleasantly at this, and Spitfire jumped right into the interview. "Lovely introduction, Rarity. Now, District 8 is responsible for textiles, if I'm right, so tell me. What did you do there?"
"Well, Ms. Flickermane, I was one of the designers of the workshop I was in. I would get orders from Canterlot, and I would design outfits as they instructed me to. In fact, I think I remember designing yours!"
"Ah, so you did!" Spitfire chuckled, and a smattering of laughter came from the crowd. "So, what about your sister? We saw she was just devastated when you were called to be tribute."
Rarity's composer softened. "Yes, poor Sweetie Belle was distraught... very much so. She cried when she saw me the last time during visiting... bawling, tears everywhere..." Spitfire wiped a tear from her eye, and Rarity choked back a sob. I couldn't tell if it was genuine or not.
Rarity took a deep breath, and continued. "But that's why I've resolved that I must win this for her! I will return back to my little sister!" The crowd roared in approval, stomping and hollering, clopping their hooves together to show their delight. Rarity definitely generated the biggest reaction out there that night.
Pinkie Pie, that over-hyper mare from 9 was all over the place, but fun nonetheless. The two siblings from 11 were also of interest. The sister did most of the talking, the brother merely going "Eeyup," or "Nnope," in appropriate areas of the conversation.
Finally, it was my turn. My legs were a bit shaky, and Hayseed took note of that.
"Don't tell me the high and might Octavia, the one who's performed so many shows in front of crowds before is nervous?"
I laughed a bit at this. "Oh, shut up Hayseed."
I walked out, and the crowd applauded me. I sat down on the couch that was provided for this occasion. Spitfire, who was lounging on the couch across from me, smiled and began.
"Welcome, Octavia! Canterlot must be quite a change from District 12."
I swallowed a few times, and said "W-well, yes. Your buildings are certainly... shinier." Why did I say that?
Spitfire laughed her laugh that sounded like the tinkling of crystal chimes, not that I had heard those before. It just sounded like what I would imagine crystal chimes would sound like. "Well, that's good. Don't come here for our amazing architecture, food, or culture, we have shiny buildings!" The crowd roared with laughter. I blushed heavily, but found myself laughing along.
"So," Spitfire became serious again. "Your mother. We all watched her try and stop you from going in vain. What was it like?"
I racked my brain for the experience. I guess I had tried so hard to forget it, it had faded.
"Wet." Wow, Octavia. You're just nailing it tonight.
Spitfire laughed, and the crowd followed suit. "Well, I can imagine why. Well, do you have any hidden talents you'd like to tell us about? Not to intrude on your privacy," Like Canterlot cared about that "And nothing combat related, just... a hobby, perhaps."
Should I go for it? Yes, I think I shall. "I can play the cello."
Spitfire raised her eyebrows, intrigued. "Really now. I wonder how you got into such an upper-class instrument in a District like yours." I ignored that comment. "Nevertheless! Somepony get me a cello!"
There was a scuffling backstage, and after a few moments, a flustered looking unicorn presented the musical instrument to me. I took the bow in my fetlocks, lined the large instrument up, and began to play.
The melodious sound floated over the crowd, silencing them. They all watched in awe as I performed in front of the two hundred-odd stallions and mares in the flesh, while thousands more watched at home. It was most definitely my biggest concert.
As I finished, Spitfire was stemming a flow of tears. "I am just all over the place tonight... such a shame to see us condemning such talent to the arena... we need to get a cello in that arena for you to play!" The crowd all mumbled and nodded in agreement. I felt a swell of pride. I had fans now! The swell died as I remember what I would be doing tomorrow.
Spitfire wiped her eyes, her red eyeliner running "Tell you what, if you make it out alive, you're going to be my personal musician. I'll buy you if I have to!" The crowd laughed, and I smiled at her. "Alright, everypony, give a hoof for Octavia!"
I stumble in a daze backstage where Rarity confronted me. "Darling, that was simply the most devine playing I have ever heard! Why didn't you tell me sooner, I would have loved to hear you play!"
"Shh!" Twilight pointed to the screen, and I watched as Spitfire started conversation up with Hayseed.
"So, Hayseed, did you know Octavia before she was picked to be tribute?"
"Not personally, no, but I did show up at one or two of her playings."
Spitfire nodded. "Ah, so you got to listen to her more than we did, you lucky bastard."
Hayseed smiled. "Lucky, I wouldn't say so. She hit a sour note at the one I went to and nearly took out all of our eardrums." The crowd laughed hysterically, and I felt my face burn with embarrassment.
Spitfire laughed heartily, then got serious again. "All jokes aside, how is your take on this whole situation?"
Hayseed jr. smirked. "Well, it's... less than desirable. I find it absolutely barbaric that we do this, and that's comin' from a simple turnip farmer like me!"
Spitfire nodded once more, then went on. "So, how is it like having your father as the mentor?"
Hayseed opened his mouth, ready to speak, but stopped, and then closed it. "No comment, Spitfire, no comment."
The rest of the interview was lost to me. When Hayseed returned, he gave me a strange look. I raised my eyebrow at him, and he dragged me over to an isolated corner.
"What's this all about, Hayseed?" I inquired.
"Are you still planning on... you know... tomorrow?"
I scowled at him. "Look, what I do tomorrow is none of your business. You lost any right or respect to me or from me when you joined the careers!"
Hayseed rolled his eyes at me. "We both know that you were planning on killing yourself since the beginning! My choice had nothing to do with it!"
"Maybe you could have talked me out of it," I countered "But any chance of that is gone. I'm not going to become a murderer, Hayseed!"
Hayseed became quiet for a few moments. I turned from him, and was about ten paces away when he said it.
"What about Vinyl?"
Those words cut deeper into me then any tribute's knife could.