When the Sorting was over, each group was led away from one another. There was a small coach waiting for us a short walk from the town centre. I recognised the driver; he was a Brown who had lived next door to us until his wife passed away. He smiled as I clambered aboard, making my way to a seat beside the window. I drank in the stale scent of public transport, and watched as the rest of the Greens made their way along.
“Is this seat taken?” asked a brown-haired girl.
I shook my head. “Help yourself.”
She half-smiled as she sat down, nervously folding up her denim jacket and placing it on her lap. Her face was softened by high cheekbones and a rounded chin. Her eyes were a gentle shade of pastel mint next to my sharp emerald, made more delicate by the slight honey glow to her skin. She had a tiny waist that was emphasised by a chunky black belt around it, holding her shirt tight against her body.
“I’m Faith, by the way,” she said without looking at me.
“I’m Allegra,” I replied. Her eyes snapped up instantly, scanning over my face as if she was searching for something specific. My expression shifted to one of confusion.
Oh no. She knew.
I nodded slowly. “Yeah, that’s me.”
“But you’re the mayor’s daughter, aren’t you? How come you’re a Green?” Faith asked curiously.
“I don’t know,” I said. “A distant relative, maybe. It happens all the time to people.”
Faith didn’t look convinced, but at least the interrogation had stopped. She kept taking glances at me, usually when she thought I wasn’t looking, as if I had some sort of secret. She mainly focused on my eyes. It was like she could see through them and straight into my soul. I wondered if she knew how unnerving it was.
Suddenly, a shout rang out. One of the Greens had been stopped by a Sorter, and his eyes were being examined more closely. Another Sorter appeared and grabbed the boy by the shoulder. They shone a torch into his face, watching as he flinched away from the brightness. I pressed my ear against the window, desperate to hear what was going on.
“Every year, someone tries to cheat the Sorting. Did you really think some coloured contact lenses would fool us?” said the Sorter.
“I’m sorry,” the boy pleaded. “I want to be a Green. I don’t want to be a Brown.”
“That’s not how it works,” the Sorter growled.
The boy was helpless as some Blacks arrived, armed with handcuffs and steel batons. He didn’t resist at all as they arrested him and led him away from the coach, out of sight. Faith was leaning across me, trying to see what was going on. The other Greens talked amongst one another with hushed voices. It was only a matter of moments before the whole coach knew what had happened.
The Sorter climbed aboard and silence fell. He wasn’t fooled; he knew what we’d heard. He walked down the centre of the coach, carefully looking over each and every one of us. I held his gaze as he stared into my eyes. He wasn’t a Green; he was a Red. All of the Sorters were. He turned to Faith, and then to the two boys sat behind us, before moving on. When he reached the back of the coach, he strode quickly to the front, took his seat, and tapped the driver impatiently on the shoulder. I felt the seat vibrate as the engine coughed into life.
“This is it then,” Faith mumbled.
“Yeah,” I replied. “I guess it is.”
The chatter broke out again as the coach began to move. Mentions of the brown-eyed boy were frequent, but many conversations had switched to the journey itself. We left the familiarity of the town and rumbled on through the countryside, passing fields and small patches of woodland. There were no sign, no indication as to where we might be going, for miles and miles. It felt like an eternity before the coach finally left the main road.
The road divided two large gardens. They were beautifully symmetrical, with large water fountains in the centre made from shimmering marble. Small trees shaped into cubes were placed at intervals along the roadside. White and purple flowers trailed along the ground, leading the way to the building that marked the road’s end. At first glance, it looked like my home, oversized and expensive. When we got closer, I realised it was worse.
It was bigger than I expected, with one smaller building on each side. They were the same in appearance, with white marble steps that led to heavy wooden doors. Two pillars marked the entrance, forming a small porch on which a green mat was laid. Above the door was a golden plaque, engraved with the words ‘Scientia, Fortitas, Potestas’.
“Knowledge, strength, power,” Faith whispered.
“How do you know?” I asked incredulously.
“My dad is a Green,” she explained. “He teaches Latin at a boarding school.”
I blinked in surprise. “I didn’t get taught Latin, and my father paid for my education.”
“Latin’s a really pointless subject, in my opinion,” Faith said with a laugh. “We’re bound to get taught it here. We’re Greens, so we have to know everything.”
I frowned at her words. Green meant intelligence; it was only right that we were back at school. Now that I knew it was an academy, I understood the formality of the place. The clean, straight edges and pretentious aura, it all made sense now.
My heart was heavy as the coach came to a halt. Our Sorter stood up, gesturing for us to all follow him. Faith got out of her seat first, draping her jacket the crook of her arm as she stepped into the aisle. I made my way after her; there was some comfort in knowing we were all in the same situation. As we joined the gathering in front of the coach, two figures emerged from the largest building, and made their way towards us all. The first, a tall man with silvery hair and faded green eyes, greeted the Sorter with a firm handshake. The second was a woman who held an olive green clipboard and had a pen tucked behind her left ear.
“Welcome to the Academy,” the man said as the last few made their way out of the bus. “As you are aware, your colour represents knowledge. At the Academy, we intend to equip you with that knowledge and point you in the direction of your future.”
“This sounds like a sales pitch,” I muttered to Faith.
“I know,” Faith giggled.
The man continued, oblivious. “I am Mr Palmer, the headmaster of the Academy, and Miss Anderson-” he gestured to the woman on his right “-is the deputy. If you have any problems during your time here, do not be afraid to discuss it with us.”
He briskly turned on his heel and made his way towards the Academy building. The soft gravel crunched under our feet as we walked, leading us all the way to the polished marble steps. Miss Anderson took the lead, pulled the heavy gold door handles, and led the way into the reception. I couldn’t help but feel a little out of my depth as I admired the beautiful artwork hung on every wall. A crystal chandelier was suspended from the ceiling, directly above a mahogany desk. The receptionist was perched behind it, nervously shuffling papers into piles as we filled the room.
“This is reception,” Mr Palmer announced. “Please form a queue behind the reception desk, ready to receive your dormitory keys.”
Then came the struggle of having just short of one hundred sixteen-year-olds forming a queue that no one wanted to be at the front of. There was a sudden outbreak of barging and pushing, until a dishevelled line was eventually made. Faith had somehow managed to get us close to the front, behind only three other Greens. As they made their way to the desk, Faith nudged me with an elbow.
“Try and get the same as me, okay?” she hissed.
“Uh, sure,” I said.
Faith went up to the receptionist and quickly began to speak. As she took her room key, she turned over a small tag attached to it, revealing the number forty-one. She glanced back at me as walked away, indicating that it was my turn. I approached the desk, taking in the cold, hard stare of the receptionist. She was holding a list of names, presumably sent to the Academy during the Sorting, and an expensive-looking pen. She pursed her lips before she spoke.
“Name?” she demanded.
“Allegra Hartley,” I replied.
Her eyes made their way down the list. When she saw my name, she crossed through it in deep blue ink. She stood up and turned her back on me, reaching for the keys.
“Would it be possible to select my dormitory?” I managed to stammer. “I mean, I know someone who is also a Green and would feel more comfortable sharing a room with them.”
I braced myself for the let-down, which never came.
“I doubt that would be a problem. Which dormitory would you like?” she asked in a relaxed tone.
“Uh, forty-one please,” I sighed.
She handed me the room key with what might have been a slight smile. Her attention went back to the clipboard, where she replaced my old dormitory number with the one I had just selected. With her spare hand, she waved me away and gestured for the next person to come forwards. I made my way over to Faith, wafting my key proudly at her. She grinned as she saw the number.
“It looks like we’re roommates,” I said with a laugh.