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BLOOD IS A strange color. It’s darker than you expect it to be.
I stare down at Marlene’s hand, which is wrapped around my arm. Her fingernails are short and jagged—she bites them. She pushes me forward, and I must be walking, because I can feel myself moving, but in my mind I stand before Eric and he is still alive.
He died just like Will did. Slumped just like Will did.
I thought the swollen feeling in my throat would go away once he was dead, but it didn’t. I have to take deep, hard breaths to get enough air. Good thing the crowd around me is so loud that no one can hear me. We march toward the doors. At the front of the pack is Harrison, carrying Tori on his back like a child. She laughs, her arms wrapped around his neck.
Tobias sets his hand on my back. I know because I see him come up behind me and do it, not because I feel it. I don’t feel anything at all.
The doors open from the outside. We stop short of stampeding Jack Kang and the group of Candor that followed him here.
“What have you done?” he says. “I was just told that Eric is missing from his holding cell. ”
“He was under our jurisdiction,” says Tori. “We gave him a trial and executed him. You should be thanking us. ”
“Why . . . ” Jack’s face turns red. Blood is darker than blush, even though one consists of the other. “Why should I be thanking you?”
“Because you wanted him to be executed, too, right? Since he murdered one of your children?” Tori tilts her head, her eyes wide, innocent. “Well, we took care of it for you. And now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re leaving. ”
“Wha—Leaving?” Jack splutters.
If we leave, he will be incapable of fulfilling two of the three demands Max had of him. The thought terrifies him, and it is all over his face.
“I can’t let you do that,” he says.
“You don’t let us do anything,” says Tobias. “If you don’t step aside, we will be forced to walk over you instead of past you. ”
“Didn’t you come here to find allies?” Jack scowls. “If you do this, we will side with Erudite, I promise you, and you will never find an ally in us again, you—”
“We don’t need you as an ally,” says Tori. “We’re Dauntless. ”
Everyone shouts, and somehow their screams pierce the haze in my mind. The entire crowd presses forward at once. The Candor in the corridor yelp and dive out of the way as we spill into the hallway like a burst pipe, Dauntless water spreading to fill the empty space.
Marlene’s grip on my arm breaks. I run down the stairs, chasing the heels of the Dauntless in front of me, ignoring the jostle of elbows and all the shouts around me. I feel like I am an initiate again, storming the stairs of the Hub right after the Choosing Ceremony. My legs burn, but that is all right.
We reach the lobby. A group of Candor and Erudite are waiting there, including the blond Divergent woman who got dragged to the elevators by her hair, the girl I helped escape, and Cara. They watch the Dauntless stream past them with helpless looks on their faces.
Cara spots me and grabs my arm, wrenching me back. “Where are you all going?”
“Dauntless headquarters. ” I try to pull my arm free, but she won’t let go. I don’t look at her face. I can’t look at her right now.
“Go to Amity,” I say. “They promised safety to anyone who wants it. You won’t be safe here. ”
She releases me, almost pushing me away from her in the process.
Outside, the ground feels slick beneath my sneakers, and my sack of clothes thumps against my back as I slow to a jog. Rain sprinkles my head and my back. My feet splash through puddles, soaking my pant legs.
I smell wet pavement, and pretend that this is all there is.
I stand at the railing overlooking the chasm. Water hits the wall beneath me, but it doesn’t come high enough to splash my shoes.
A hundred yards away, Bud passes out paintball guns. Someone else passes out paintballs. Soon the hidden corners of Dauntless headquarters will be coated in multicolored paint, blocking the lenses of the surveillance cameras.
“Hey, Tris,” Zeke says, joining me at the railing. His eyes are red and swollen, but his mouth is curled into a small smile.
“Hey. You made it. ”
“Yeah. We waited until Shauna was stable and then took her here. ” He rubs one of his eyes with his thumb. “I didn’t want to move her, but . . . wasn’t safe with Candor anymore. Obviously. ”
“How is she?”
“Dunno. She’s gonna survive it, but the nurse thinks she might be paralyzed from the waist down. And that wouldn’t bother me, but . . . ” He lifts a shoulder. “How can she be Dauntless if she can’t walk?”
I stare across the Pit, where some Dauntless children chase each other up the path, hurling paintballs at the walls. One of them breaks and splatters the stone with yellow.
I think of what Tobias told me when we spent the night with the factionless, about the older Dauntless leaving the faction because they were no longer physically capable of staying in it. I think of Candor’s rhyming song, which calls us the cruelest faction.
“She can,” I say.
“Tris. She won’t even be able to move around. ”
“Sure she will. ” I look up at him. “She can get a wheelchair, and someone can push her up the paths in the Pit, and there’s an elevator in the building up there. ” I point above our heads. “She doesn’t need to be able to walk to slide down the zip line or fire a gun. ”
“She won’t want me to push her. ” His voice cracks a little. “She won’t want me to lift her, or carry her. ”
“She’ll have to get over it, then. Are you going to let her drop out of Dauntless for a stupid reason like not being able to walk?”
Zeke is quiet for a few seconds. His eyes shift over my face, and he squints, as if weighing and measuring me.
Then he turns and bends and wraps his arms around me. It’s been so long since someone hugged me that I stiffen. Then I relax, and let the gesture force warmth into my body, which is chilled by damp clothing.
“I’m gonna go shoot things,” he says as he pulls away. “Want to come?”
I shrug and chase him across the Pit floor. Bud hands each of us a paintball gun, and I load mine. Its weight, shape, and material are so different from a revolver that I have no trouble holding it.
“We’ve mostly got the Pit and the underground covered,” Bud says. “But you should tackle the Pire. ”
Bud points up at the glass building above us. The sight pierces me like a needle. The last time I stood in this spot and stared up at this ceiling, I was on a mission to destroy the simulation. I was with my father.
Zeke is already on his way up the path. I force myself to follow him, one foot and then the other. It’s difficult to walk because it’s difficult to breathe, but somehow I manage. By the time I reach the stairs, the pressure on my chest is almost gone.
Once we’re in the Pire, Zeke lifts up his gun and aims at one of the cameras near the ceiling. He fires, and green paint sprays across one of the windows, missing the camera lens.
“Ooh,” I say, wincing. “Ouch. ”
“Yeah? I’d like to see you do it perfectly the first time. ”
“Would you?” I lift my own gun, propping it up on my left shoulder instead of my right. The gun feels unfamiliar in my left hand, but I can’t bear its weight with my right yet. Through the scope I find the camera, and then squint to stare at the lens. A voice whispers in my head. Inhale. Aim. Exhale. Fire. It takes me a few seconds to realize it’s Tobias’s voice, because he’s the one who taught me to shoot. I squeeze the trigger and the paintball hits the camera, spraying blue paint across the lens. “There. Now you have. With the wrong hand, too. ”
Zeke mutters something under his breath that doesn’t sound pleasant.
“Hey!” shouts a cheerful voice. Marlene pokes her head above the glass floor. Paint is smeared across her forehead, giving her a purple eyebrow. With a wicked smile, she aims at Zeke, hitting his leg, and then at me. The paintball hits my arm, stinging.
Marlene laughs and ducks under the glass. Zeke and I look at each other, and then run after Marlene. She laughs as she sprints down the path, weaving through a crowd of kids. I shoot at her, and hit the wall instead. Marlene fires at a boy near the railing—Hector, Lynn’s little brother. He looks shocked at first, but then fires back, hitting the person next to Marlene.
Popping sounds fill the air as everyone in the Pit starts to fire at one another, young and old, the cameras momentarily forgotten. I charge down the path, surrounded by laughter and shouting. We cluster together to form teams, and then turn against one another.
By the time the fight dies down, my clothes are more paint-colored than black. I decide to keep the shirt to remind me why I chose Dauntless in the first place: not because they are perfect, but because they are alive. Because they are free.