CHAPTER 3

College seems like an anti-climax after all the events of the previous day.

Evander had left her at the huge doors of the assessment room, but her initiation had gone smoothly. The recruiters and area co-ordinators had found her attempt at the roof highly amusing.

"Plucky," drawled one of the recruiters, "but perhaps not the brightest. Still, we need a girl like you in our ranks."

Seren had bristled with anger at that comment, but kept her mouth sealed. There would be ample time to prove them wrong.

The oath was said, the ancient words bouncing off the concrete interior.

"I, Seren Teal, entrust myself to the Wardens of the West. I pledge my loyalty and commitment to any cause the Warden's undertakes. My mind is the tribe's mind, my body is the tribe's body. Do with it what you will."

An Elder stepped forwards, sharp scalpel in his hand. At the top of her left arm, he carved the letter W. W for Warden. W for West. She was branded.

The memory makes her arm itch. She had covered the still sore scar with a thick jumper. College was not the place to show your allegiances. Most education centres were in the central, capital, district. Pupils from all tribes, be it the Wardens in the West or the Sables in the South, the Nomads in the North or the Eagles in the East, studied under this roof. Sometimes, someone would show their clan's symbol, a tattoo of an eagle on an ankle, an inked black star behind an ear. This would lead to an immediate expulsion; college was not the place for politics.

Still, there was an undercurrent in the school. You knew roughly where your friends lived by which train or monorail they used to get home. People very rarely mixed with those from outside of their districts. Many were proud of their heritage, and it was well known what tribe they belonged to. If you were accepted into the tribe as solider, as Seren had now been, you became a celebrity: famous or infamous depending on which side of the capital you lived. There was the rare occasion, like the Sable's invasion, where the underlying tensions would bubble over and wreak havoc in the school.

"Seren?" Imogen's voice brakes her reverie. "What's up?"

"Nothing, I'm just a little tired." Imogen is Seren's oldest friend, but even she couldn't know about her initiation.

Imogen begins talking about something, a teacher or a boy: something which seems insignificant compared to what is happening at the back of the library.

Evander enters, tall and slender, carrying himself with his air of superiority. Following him are his two friends, Livie, a tiny red headed girl, and Slim, an erratic looking dark-skinned guy. Seren wonders if they are also Wardens.

"... And then he asked me to go to the cinema with him next Tuesday. Can you believe it? Seren? Seren? Hello?" Imogen nudged her friend in the ribs. "You're not listening to a word I'm saying, are you?"

"Ofcourse I am. You were talking about whatshisface." Seren takes a sudden interest in her book.

"Whathisface? You weren't listening." Imogen's lower lip pouts. She looks over the room to try and find what Seren had been looking at. Her mouth opens in surprise. "Evander? You kept that quiet!"

"No," Seren groans. "It isn't like that."

Imogens smile stretches across her face. "I don't know why you're embarrassed. You could do a lot worse."

"It isn't like that. I just bumped into him last night."

"Likely story."

"I – I need to go and speak to him." Seren stands, trying to hide the blush on her cheeks. She tells herself that the reason she has worn her favourite purple jumper and curled her dark hair so carefully has nothing to do with Evander.

"Can I help you?"

Seren is slightly startled by the surliness in his voice. "My initiation went well last night. I've been accepted. See, they've marked me." Seren goes to lift up the sleeve of her jumper, but not before Evander can grab her by the wrist.

"What do you think you're doing?" Evander whispers incredulously. "In this library alone there are two known Eagles."

"I'm sorry!" Seren squeaks. "I didn't think."

"I'm starting to get the impression you often don't think. Maybe you will start when it's your life on the line."

"Don't be so harsh on her." Slim smiles. "We've heard all about your escapades on the roof."

Seren lowers her eyes to the floor, "He's right. It wasn't my finest moment."

"No, it must have taken real courage." Little Livie's voice matches her doll-like face, fragile and soft. "There is a meeting tonight. You should come."

"Maybe use the door this time though?" Slim chuckles.

"I promise," Seren smiles. She leaves thinking that perhaps she has made a friend, until she remembers the venom in Evander's eyes.