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it so many times that it loses all meaning, the noise relentless and repetitive and all-consuming.

Then we all drink. This is how the Dauntless mourn: by chasing grief into the oblivion of alcohol and leaving it there.

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All right. Fine. I can chase it too.

+++

My final examination, my fear landscape, is administered by Tori and observed by the Dauntless leaders, including Max. I go somewhere in the middle of the pack of the initiates, and for the first time, I’m not even a little bit nervous. In the fear landscape, everyone is aware during the simulation, so I have nothing to hide. I jab myself in the neck with the needle and let reality disappear.

I’ve done it dozens of times. I find myself at the top of a high building and run off the edge. I get shut into a box and allow myself a brief moment of panic before slamming my shoulder into the right wall, shattering the wood with the impact, impossibly. I pick up a gun and shoot an innocent person—this time a faceless man dressed in Dauntless black—in the head without even thinking about it.

This time, when the Marcuses surround me, they look more like him than they did before. His mouth is a mouth, though his eyes are still empty pits. And when he draws back his arm to hit me, he’s holding a belt, not a barbed chain or some other weapon that can tear me apart piece by piece. I take a few hits, then dive at the nearest Marcus, wrapping my hands around his throat. I punch wildly at his face, and the violence gives me just a brief moment of satisfaction before I wake up, crouched on the floor of the fear landscape room.

The lights go on in the room beyond this one, so I can see the people inside it. There are two rows of waiting initiates, including Eric, who now has so many piercings in his lip that I find myself daydreaming about yanking them out one by one. Sitting in front of them are the three Dauntless leaders, including Max, all of whom are nodding and smiling. Tori gives me a thumbs-up.

I went into the examination thinking I didn’t care anymore, not about passing, not about doing well, not about being Dauntless. But Tori’s thumbs-up makes me swell with pride, and I let myself smile a little when I walk out. Amar may be dead, but he always wanted me to do well. I can’t say I did it for him—I didn’t really do it for anyone, not even myself. But at least I didn’t embarrass him.

All the initiates who are finished with their final examination wait for the results in the transfer dormitory, Dauntless-borns and transfers alike. Zeke and Shauna whoop when I come in, and I sit down on the edge of my bed.

“How’d it go?” Zeke asks me.

“Fine,” I say. “No surprises. Yours?”

“Awful, but I made it out alive,” he says, shrugging. “Shauna got some new ones, though.”

“I handled them,” Shauna says with exaggerated nonchalance. She has a pillow across her knees, one of Eric’s. He won’t like that.

Her act breaks, and she grins. “I was pretty awesome.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Zeke says.

Shauna smacks him with the pillow, right in the face. He snatches it from her.

“What do you want me to say? Yes, you were awesome. Yes, you’re the best Dauntless ever. Happy?” He hits her in the shoulder with the pillow. “She’s been bragging nonstop since we started the fear sims because she’s better at them than I am. It’s annoying.”

“It’s just revenge for how much you bragged during combat training,” she says. “‘Did you see that great hit I got right in the beginning?’ Blah, blah, blah.”

She pushes him, and he grabs her wrists. She breaks free and flicks his ear, and they’re laughing, fighting.

I may not understand Dauntless affection, but apparently I know flirtation when I see it. I smirk. I guess that resolves the Shauna question, not that it was really plaguing me. That was probably an answer in and of itself.

We sit around for another hour as the others finish their final exams, trickling in one after another. The last one to come in is Eric, and he just stands in the doorway, looking smug.

“Time to get our results,” he says.

The others all get up and walk past him on their way out. Some of them seem nervous; others look cocky, sure of themselves. I wait until they’re all gone before I walk to the doorway, but I don’t go through it. I stop, crossing my arms and staring at Eric for a few seconds.

“Got something to say?” he says.

“I know it was you,” I say. “Who told the Erudite about Amar. I know.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says, but it’s obvious that he does.

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“You’re the reason he’s dead,” I say. I’m surprised by how quickly the anger comes on. My body quakes with it, my face hot.

“Did you get hit in the head during your exam, Stiff?” Eric says, smirking. “You’re not making any sense.”

I shove him back, hard, against the door. Then I hold him there with one arm—I’m surprised, for a moment, how much stronger I am—and lean in close to his face. “I know it was you,” I say, searching his black eyes for something, anything. I see nothing, just dead-fish eyes, impenetrable. “You’re the reason he’s dead, and you won’t get away with it.”

I let him go and walk down the hallway toward the cafeteria.

+++

The dining hall is packed with people dressed in their Dauntless best—all piercings exaggerated by flashier rings, all tattoos on display, even if it means going without clothing. I try to keep my eyes on people’s faces as I navigate through the crush of bodies. The scents of cake and cooked meat and bread and spices are on the air, making my mouth water—I forgot to eat lunch.

When I reach my usual table, I steal a roll from Zeke’s plate when he’s not looking and stand with the others to wait for our results. I hope they won’t make us wait too long. I feel like I’m holding a live wire, my hands twitching and my thoughts frantic, scattered. Zeke and Shauna try to talk to me, but none of us can shout loud enough over the noise for them to hear me, so we resign ourselves to waiting without speaking.

Max gets on one of the tables and holds up his hands for quiet. He mostly gets it, though even he can’t completely silence the Dauntless, some of whom go on talking and joking like nothing ever happened. Still, I can hear him as he gives his speech.

“A few weeks ago, a group of scrawny, scared initiates gave their blood to the coals and made the big jump into Dauntless,” Max says. “To be honest, I didn’t think any of them would make it through the first day”—he pauses to allow for laughter, and it comes, even though it wasn’t a very good joke—“but I’m pleased to announce that this year, all of our initiates attained the required scores necessary to become Dauntless!”

Everyone cheers. Despite the assurance that they won’t be cut, Zeke and Shauna exchange nervous looks—the order in which we are ranked still determines what kind of job we can choose in Dauntless. Zeke puts his arm across Shauna’s shoulders and squeezes.

I feel suddenly alone again.

“No more delays,” Max says. “I know our initiates are jumping out of their skin. So, here are our twelve new Dauntless members!”

The initiates’ names appear on a large screen behind him, large enough even for people at the back of the room to see. I search the list automatically for their names:

6. Zeke

7. Ash

8. Shauna

Instantly, some of my tension disappears. I follow the list up, and panic stabs me for just a second when I can’t find my own name. But then, there it is, right at the top.

1. Four

2. Eric

Shauna lets out a yell, and she and Zeke crush me into a sloppy hug, their weight almost knocking me to the ground. I laugh and bring my arms up to return the gesture.

Watch Divergent 4: Ascendant (2017)

Somewhere in the chaos, I dropped my dinner roll—I crush it under my heel and smile as people surround me, people I don’t even know, slapping my shoulders and grinning and saying my name. My name, which is only “Four” now, all suspicions about my origin and my identity forgotten now that I am one of them, now that I am Dauntless.

I am not Tobias Eaton, not anymore, never again. I am Dauntless.

+++

That night, dizzy with excitement and so full of food I can hardly walk, I slip away from the celebration and climb the paths to the top of the Pit, to the lobby of the Pire. I walk out of the doors and suck in a deep breath of the night air, which is cool and refreshing, unlike the hot, close air in the cafeteria.

I walk toward the train tracks, too full of manic energy to stay still. There is a train coming, the light fixed to its front car blinking as it comes toward me. It charges past with power and energy, loud as thunder in my ears. I lean closer to it, for the first time savoring the thrill of fear in my stomach, to be so close to such a dangerous thing.

Then I see something dark and human-like standing in one of the last cars. A tall, lean female figure, leaning out of the car, holding on to one of the handles. For just a second as the blur of the train passes me, I see dark, curly hair and a hooked nose.

She looks almost like my mother.

And then she’s gone, gone with the train.

THE SMALL APARTMENT is bare, the floor still streaked with broom strokes at the corners. I don’t own anything to fill the space except my Abnegation clothes, which are stuffed into the bottom of the bag at my side. I throw it on the bare mattress and check the drawers beneath the bed for sheets.

The Dauntless lottery was kind to me, because I was ranked first, and because unlike my outgoing fellow initiates, I wanted to live alone. The others, like Zeke and Shauna, grew up surrounded by Dauntless community, and to them the silence and the stillness of living alone would be unbearable.

I make the bed quickly, pulling the top sheet taut, so it almost has corners. The sheets are worn in places, from moths or from prior use, I’m not sure. The blanket, a blue quilt, smells like cedar and dust. When I open the bag that contains my meager possessions, I hold the Abnegation shirt—torn, from where I had to tear away fabric to bind the wound in my hand—in front of me. It looks small—I doubt I could even fit into it if I tried to put it on now, but I don’t try, I just fold it and drop it in the drawer.

I hear a knock, and I say, “Come in!” thinking it’s Zeke or Shauna. But Max, a tall man with dark skin and bruised knuckles, walks into my apartment, his hands folded in front of him. He surveys the room once and curls his lip with disgust at the gray slacks folded on my bed. The reaction surprises me a little—there aren’t many in this city who would choose Abnegation as their faction, but there aren’t many who hate it, either. Apparently I’ve found one of them.

I stand, unsure what to say. There’s a faction leader in my apartment.

“Hello,” I say.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he says. “I’m surprised you didn’t choose to room with your fellow former initiates. You did make some friends, didn’t you?”

“Yeah,” I say. “This just feels more normal.”

“I guess it’ll take you some time to let go of your old faction.” Max skims the counter in my small kitchen with a fingertip, looks at the dust he collected, then wipes his hand on his pants. He gives me a critical look—one that tells me to let go of my old faction faster. If I was still an initiate, I might worry about that look, but I’m a Dauntless member now, and he can’t take that away from me, no matter how “Stiff” I seem.

Can he?

“This afternoon you’ll pick your job,” Max says. “Did you have anything in mind?”

“I guess it depends on what’s available,” I say. “I’d like to do something with teaching. Like what Amar did, maybe.”

“I think the first-ranked initiate can do a little better than ‘initiation instructor,’ don’t you?” Max’s eyebrows lift, and I notice that one doesn’t move as much as the other—it’s crossed with a scar. “I came because an opportunity has opened up.”

He pulls a chair out from under the small table near the kitchen counter, turns it, and sits on it backward. His black boots are caked with light-brown mud and the laces are knotted and fraying at the ends. He might be the oldest Dauntless I’ve ever seen, but he may as well be made of steel.

“To be honest, one of my fellow leaders of Dauntless is getting a little old for the job,” Max says. I sit on the edge of the bed. “The remaining four of us think it would be a good idea to get some new blood in leadership. New ideas for new Dauntless members and initiation, specifically. That task is usually given to the youngest leader anyway, so it’s a good fit. We were thinking of drawing from the more recent initiate classes for a training program to see if anyone is a good candidate. You’re a natural choice.”

I feel like my skin is too tight for me, suddenly. Is he really suggesting that at the age of sixteen I could qualify as a Dauntless leader?

“The training program will last at least a year,” Max says. “It will be rigorous and it will test your skills in a lot of areas. We both know you’ll do just fine in the fear landscape portion.”

I nod without thinking. He must not mind my self-assuredness, because he smiles a little.

“You won’t need to go to the job selection meeting later today,” Max says. “Training will start very soon—tomorrow morning, in fact.”

“Wait,” I say, a thought breaking through the muddle in my mind. “I don’t have a choice?”

“Of course you have a choice.” He looks puzzled. “I just assumed someone like you would rather train to be a leader than spend all day standing around a fence with a gun on his shoulder, or lecturing initiates about good fighting technique. But if I was wrong …”

I don’t know why I’m hesitating. I don’t want to spend my days guarding the fence, or patrolling the city, or even pacing the training room floor. I may have an aptitude for fighting, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it all day, every day. The chance to make a difference in Dauntless appeals to the Abnegation parts of me, the parts that are lingering around, occasionally demanding attention.

I think I just don’t like when I’m not given a choice.

I shake my head. “No, you weren’t wrong.” I clear my throat and try to sound stronger, more determined. “I want to do it. Thank you.”

“Excellent.” Max gets up and cracks one of his knuckles idly, like it’s an old habit. He holds out his hand for me to shake, and I take it, though the gesture is still unfamiliar to me—the Abnegation would never touch each other so casually. “Come to the conference room near my office tomorrow morning at eight. It’s in the Pire. Tenth floor.”

He leaves, scattering bits of dried earth from the bottom of his shoes as he walks out. I sweep them up with the broom that leans against the wall near the door. It’s not until I’m scooting the chair back under the table that I realize—if I become a Dauntless leader, a representative of my faction, I’ll have to come face-to-face with my father again. And not just once but constantly, until he finally retires into Abnegation obscurity.

My fingers start to go numb. I’ve faced my fears so many times in simulations, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to face them in reality.

+++

“Dude, you missed it!” Zeke is wide-eyed, concerned. “The only jobs left by the end were the gross jobs, like scrubbing toilets! Where were you?”

“It’s fine,” I say as I carry my tray back to our table near the doors. Shauna is there with her little sister, Lynn, and Lynn’s friend Marlene. When I first saw them there, I wanted to turn around and leave immediately—Marlene is too cheerful for me even on a good day—but Zeke had already seen me, so it was too late. Behind us, Uriah jogs to catch up, his plate loaded with more food than he can possibly pack into his stomach. “I didn’t miss anything—Max came to see me earlier.”

As we take our seats at the table, under one of the bright-blue lamps that hang from the wall, I tell him about Max’s offer, careful not to make it sound too impressive. I only just found friends; I don’t want to create jealous tension between us for no reason. When I finish, Shauna leans her face into one of her hands and says to Zeke, “I guess we should have tried harder during initiation, huh?”

“Or killed him before he could take his final test.”

“Or both.” Shauna grins at me. “Congrats, Four. You deserve it.”

I feel everyone’s eyes on me like distinct, powerful beams of heat, and hurry to change the subject. “Where did you guys end up?”

“Control room,” Zeke says. “My mom used to work there, and she taught me most of what I’ll need to know already.”

“I’m in the patrol leadership track … thing,” Shauna says. “Not the most exciting job ever, but at least I’ll get to be outside.”

“Yeah, let’s hear you say that in the dead of winter when you’re trudging through a foot of snow and ice,” Lynn says sourly. She stabs at a pile of mashed potatoes with her fork. “I better do well in initiation. I don’t want to get stuck at the fence.”

“Didn’t we talk about this?” Uriah says. “Don’t say the ‘I’ word until at most two weeks before it happens. It makes me want to throw up.”

I look at the pile of food on his tray. “Stuffing yourself up to your eyeballs with food, though, that’s fine?”

He rolls his eyes at me and bends over his tray to keep eating. I poke at my own food—I haven’t had any appetite since this morning, too worried about tomorrow to stand a full stomach.

Zeke spots someone across the cafeteria. “I’ll be right back.”

Shauna watches him cross the room to greet a few young Dauntless members. They don’t look much older than he is, but I don’t recognize them from initiation, so they must be a year or two older. Zeke says something to the group—mostly made up of girls—that sends them into fits of laughter, and he jabs one of the girls in the ribs, making her squeal. Beside me, Shauna glowers and misses her mouth with her fork, smearing sauce from the chicken all over her cheek. Lynn snorts into her food, and Marlene kicks her—audibly—under the table.

“So,” Marlene says loudly. “Do you know of anyone else who’s doing that leadership program, Four?”

“Come to think of it, I didn’t see Eric there today, either,” Shauna says. “I was hoping he tripped and fell into the chasm, but …”

I shove a bite of food in my mouth and try not to think about it. The blue light makes my hands look blue, too, like the hands of a corpse. I haven’t spoken to Eric since I accused him of being indirectly responsible for Amar’s death—someone reported Amar’s simulation awareness to Jeanine Matthews, leader of Erudite, and as a former Erudite, Eric is the most likely suspect. I haven’t decided what I’ll do the next time I have to talk to him, either. Beating him up again isn’t going to prove that he’s a faction traitor. I’ll have to find some way to connect his recent activities to the Erudite and take the information to one of the Dauntless leaders—Max, probably, since I know him best.

Zeke walks back to the table and slides into his seat. “Four. What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “Nothing?”

“Not anymore,” he says. “You’re coming with me on a date.”

I choke on my next bite of potatoes. “What?”

“Um, hate to tell you this, big brother,” Uriah says, “but you’re supposed to go on dates alone, not bring a friend.”

“It’s a double date, obviously,” Zeke says. “I asked Maria out, and she said something about finding a date for her friend Nicole, and I indicated that you would be interested.”

“Which one’s Nicole?” Lynn says, craning her neck to look at the group of girls.

“The redhead,” Zeke says. “So, eight o’clock. You’re in, I’m not even asking.”

“I don’t—” I say. I look at the redheaded girl across the room. She’s fair-skinned, with wide eyes smeared with black, and wearing a tight shirt, which shows off the bend in her waist and … other things my inner Abnegation voice tells me not to notice. I do anyway.

I’ve never been on a date, thanks to my former faction’s strict courtship rituals, involving engaging in acts of service together and maybe—maybe—having dinner with someone else’s family and helping them clean up afterward. I’ve never even thought about whether I wanted to date anyone; it was such an impossibility. “Zeke, I’ve never—”

Uriah frowns and pokes my arm, hard, with one finger. I slap his hand away. “What?”

“Oh, nothing,” Uriah says cheerfully. “You were just sounding Stiffer than usual, so I thought I would check—”

Marlene laughs. “Yeah, right.”

Zeke and I exchange a look. We’ve never explicitly talked about not sharing my faction of origin, but as far as I know, he’s never mentioned it to anyone. Uriah knows, but despite his loud mouth, he seems to understand when to withhold information. Still, I’m not sure why Marlene hasn’t figured it out—maybe she’s not very observant.

“It’s not a big deal, Four,” Zeke says. He eats his last bite of food. “You’ll go, you’ll talk to her like she’s a normal human being—which she is—maybe she’ll let you—gasp—hold her hand—”

Shauna gets up suddenly, her chair screeching on the stone floor. She tucks her hair behind one ear and walks toward the tray return, head down. Lynn glares at Zeke—which hardly looks different from her normal facial expression—and follows her sister across the cafeteria.

“Okay, you don’t have to hold hands with anyone,” Zeke says, like nothing happened. “Just go, all right? I’ll owe you one.”

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