The Erudite boy in front of me stops abruptly, and I smack into him, hitting my nose on his shoulder. I stumble back and rub my nose as I recover my senses. The whole crowd has stopped, and our three leaders stand in front of us, arms folded.
“This is where we divide,” Lauren says. “The Dauntless-born initiates are with me. I assume you don’t need a tour of the place.”
She smiles and beckons toward the Dauntless-born initiates. They break away from the group and dissolve into the shadows. I watch the last heel pass out of the light and look at those of us who are left. Most of the initiates were from Dauntless, so only nine people remain. Of those, I am the only Abnegation transfer, and there are no Amity transfers. The rest are from Erudite and, surprisingly, Candor. It must require bravery to be honest all the time. I wouldn’t know.
Four addresses us next. “Most of the time I work in the control room, but for the next few weeks, I am your instructor,” he says. “My name is Four.”
Christina asks, “Four? Like the number?”
“Yes,” Four says. “Is there a problem?”
“Good. We’re about to go into the Pit, which you will someday learn to love. It—”
Christina snickers. “The Pit? Clever name.”
Four walks up to Christina and leans his face close to hers. His eyes narrow, and for a second he just stares at her.
“What’s your name?” he asks quietly.
“Christina,” she squeaks.
“Well, Christina, if I wanted to put up with Candor smart-mouths, I would have joined their faction,” he hisses. “The first lesson you will learn from me is to keep your mouth shut. Got that?”
Four starts toward the shadow at the end of the tunnel. The crowd of initiates moves on in silence.
“What a jerk,” she mumbles.
“I guess he doesn’t like to be laughed at,” I reply.
It would probably be wise to be careful around Four, I realize. He seemed placid to me on the platform, but something about that stillness makes me wary now.
Four pushes a set of double doors open, and we walk into the place he called “the Pit.”
“Oh,” whispers Christina. “I get it.”
“Pit” is the best word for it. It is an underground cavern so huge I can’t see the other end of it from where I stand, at the bottom. Uneven rock walls rise several stories above my head. Built into the stone walls are places for food, clothing, supplies, leisure activities. Narrow paths and steps carved from rock connect them. There are no barriers to keep people from falling over the side.
A slant of orange light stretches across one of the rock walls. Forming the roof of the Pit are panes of glass and, above them, a building that lets in sunlight. It must have looked like just another city building when we passed it on the train.
Blue lanterns dangle at random intervals above the stone paths, similar to the ones that lit the Choosing room. They grow brighter as the sunlight dies.
People are everywhere, all dressed in black, all shouting and talking, expressive, gesturing. I don’t see any elderly people in the crowd. Are there any old Dauntless? Do they not last that long, or are they just sent away when they can’t jump off moving trains anymore?
A group of children run down a narrow path with no railing, so fast my heart pounds, and I want to scream at them to slow down before they get hurt. A memory of the orderly Abnegation streets appears in my mind: a line of people on the right passing a line of people on the left, small smiles and inclined heads and silence. My stomach squeezes. But there is something wonderful about Dauntless chaos.
“If you follow me,” says Four, “I’ll show you the chasm.”
He waves us forward. Four’s appearance seems tame from the front, by Dauntless standards, but when he turns around, I see a tattoo peeking out from the collar of his T-shirt. He leads us to the right side of the Pit, which is conspicuously dark. I squint and see that the floor I stand on now ends at an iron barrier. As we approach the railing, I hear a roar—water, fast-moving water, crashing against rocks.
I look over the side. The floor drops off at a sharp angle, and several stories below us is a river. Gushing water strikes the wall beneath me and sprays upward. To my left, the water is calmer, but to my right, it is white, battling with rock.
“The chasm reminds us that there is a fine line between bravery and idiocy!” Four shouts. “A daredevil jump off this ledge will end your life. It has happened before and it will happen again. You’ve been warned.”
“This is incredible,” says Christina, as we all move away from the railing.
“Incredible is the word,” I say, nodding.
Four leads the group of initiates across the Pit toward a gaping hole in the wall. The room beyond is well-lit enough that I can see where we’re going: a dining hall full of people and clattering silverware. When we walk in, the Dauntless inside stand. They applaud. They stamp their feet. They shout. The noise surrounds me and fills me. Christina smiles, and a second later, so do I.
We look for empty seats. Christina and I discover a mostly empty table at the side of the room, and I find myself sitting between her and Four. In the center of the table is a platter of food I don’t recognize: circular pieces of meat wedged between round bread slices. I pinch one between my fingers, unsure what to make of it.
Four nudges me with his elbow.
“It’s beef,” he says. “Put this on it.” He passes me a small bowl full of red sauce.
“You’ve never had a hamburger before?” asks Christina, her eyes wide.
“No,” I say. “Is that what it’s called?”
“Stiffs eat plain food,” Four says, nodding at Christina.
“Why?” she asks.
I shrug. “Extravagance is considered self-indulgent and unnecessary.”
She smirks. “No wonder you left.”
“Yeah,” I say, rolling my eyes. “It was just because of the food.”
The corner of Four’s mouth twitches.
The doors to the cafeteria open, and a hush falls over the room. I look over my shoulder. A young man walks in, and it is quiet enough that I can hear his footsteps. His face is pierced in so many places I lose count, and his hair is long, dark, and greasy. But that isn’t what makes him look menacing. It is the coldness of his eyes as they sweep across the room.
“Who’s that?” hisses Christina.
“His name is Eric,” says Four. “He’s a Dauntless leader.”
“Seriously? But he’s so young.”
Four gives her a grave look. “Age doesn’t matter here.”
I can tell she’s about to ask what I want to ask: Then what does matter? But Eric’s eyes stop scanning the room, and he starts toward a table. He starts toward our table and drops into the seat next to Four. He offers no greeting, so neither do we.
“Well, aren’t you going to introduce me?” he asks, nodding to Christina and me.
Four says, “This is Tris and Christina.”
“Ooh, a Stiff,” says Eric, smirking at me. His smile pulls at the piercings in his lips, making the holes they occupy wider, and I wince. “We’ll see how long you last.”
I mean to say something—to assure him that I will last, maybe—but words fail me. I don’t understand why, but I don’t want Eric to look at me any longer than he already has. I don’t want him to look at me ever again.
He taps his fingers against the table. His knuckles are scabbed over, right where they would split if he punched something too hard.
“What have you been doing lately, Four?” he asks.
Four lifts a shoulder. “Nothing, really,” he says.
Are they friends? My eyes flick between Eric and Four. Everything Eric did—sitting here, asking about Four—suggests that they are, but the way Four sits, tense as pulled wire, suggests they are something else. Rivals, maybe, but how could that be, if Eric is a leader and Four is not?
“Max tells me he keeps trying to meet with you, and you don’t show up,” Eric says. “He requested that I find out what’s going on with you.”
Four looks at Eric for a few seconds before saying, “Tell him that I am satisfied with the position I currently hold.”
“So he wants to give you a job.”
The rings in Eric’s eyebrow catch the light. Maybe Eric perceives Four as a potential threat to his position. My father says that those who want power and get it live in terror of losing it. That’s why we have to give power to those who do not want it.
“So it would seem,” Four says.
“And you aren’t interested.”
“I haven’t been interested for two years.”
“Well,” says Eric. “Let’s hope he gets the point, then.”
He claps Four on the shoulder, a little too hard, and gets up. When he walks away, I slouch immediately. I had not realized that I was so tense.
“Are you two…friends?” I say, unable to contain my curiosity.
“We were in the same initiate class,” he says. “He transferred from Erudite.”
All thoughts of being careful around Four leave me. “Were you a transfer too?”
“I thought I would only have trouble with the Candor asking too many questions,” he says coldly. “Now I’ve got Stiffs, too?”
“It must be because you’re so approachable,” I say flatly. “You know. Like a bed of nails.”
He stares at me, and I don’t look away. He isn’t a dog, but the same rules apply. Looking away is submissive. Looking him in the eye is a challenge. It’s my choice.
Heat rushes into my cheeks. What will happen when this tension breaks?
But he just says, “Careful, Tris.”
My stomach drops like I just swallowed a stone. A Dauntless member at another table calls out Four’s name, and I turn to Christina. She raises both eyebrows.
“What?” I ask.
“I’m developing a theory.”
“And it is?”
She picks up her hamburger, grins, and says, “That you have a death wish.”
After dinner, Four disappears without a word. Eric leads us down a series of hallways without telling us where we’re going. I don’t know why a Dauntless leader would be responsible for a group of initiates, but maybe it is just for tonight.
At the end of each hallway is a blue lamp, but between them it’s dark, and I have to be careful not to stumble over uneven ground. Christina walks beside me in silence. No one told us to be quiet, but none of us speak.
Eric stops in front of a wooden door and folds his arms. We gather around him.
“For those of you who don’t know, my name is Eric,” he says. “I am one of five leaders of the Dauntless. We take the initiation process very seriously here, so I volunteered to oversee most of your training.”
The thought makes me nauseous. The idea that a Dauntless leader will oversee our initiation is bad enough, but the fact that it’s Eric makes it seem even worse.
“Some ground rules,” he says. “You have to be in the training room by eight o’clock every day. Training takes place every day from eight to six, with a break for lunch. You are free to do whatever you like after six. You will also get some time off between each stage of initiation.”
The phrase “do whatever you like” sticks in my mind. At home, I could never do what I wanted, not even for an evening. I had to think of other people’s needs first. I don’t even know what I like to do.
“You are only permitted to leave the compound when accompanied by a Dauntless,” Eric adds. “Behind this door is the room where you will be sleeping for the next few weeks. You will notice that there are ten beds and only nine of you. We anticipated that a higher proportion of you would make it this far.”
“But we started with twelve,” protests Christina. I close my eyes and wait for the reprimand. She needs to learn to stay quiet.
“There is always at least one transfer who doesn’t make it to the compound,” says Eric, picking at his cuticles. He shrugs. “Anyway, in the first stage of initiation, we keep transfers and Dauntless-born initiates separate, but that doesn’t mean you are evaluated separately. At the end of initiation, your rankings will be determined in comparison with the Dauntless-born initiates. And they are better than you are already. So I expect—”
“Rankings?” asks the mousy-haired Erudite girl to my right. “Why are we ranked?”
Eric smiles, and in the blue light, his smile looks wicked, like it was cut into his face with a knife.
“Your ranking serves two purposes,” he says. “The first is that it determines the order in which you will select a job after initiation. There are only a few desirable positions available.”
My stomach tightens. I know by looking at his smile, like I knew the second I entered the aptitude test room, that something bad is about to happen.
“The second purpose,” he says, “is that only the top ten initiates are made members.”
Pain stabs my stomach. We all stand still as statues. And then Christina says, “What?”
“There are eleven Dauntless-borns, and nine of you,” Eric continues. “Four initiates will be cut at the end of stage one. The remainder will be cut after the final test.”
That means that even if we make it through each stage of initiation, six initiates will not be members. I see Christina look at me from the corner of my eye, but I can’t look back at her. My eyes are fixed on Eric and will not move.
My odds, as the smallest initiate, as the only Abnegation transfer, are not good.
“What do we do if we’re cut?” Peter says.
“You leave the Dauntless compound,” says Eric indifferently, “and live factionless.”
The mousy-haired girl clamps her hand over her mouth and stifles a sob. I remember the factionless man with the gray teeth, snatching the bag of apples from my hands. His dull, staring eyes. But instead of crying, like the Erudite girl, I feel colder. Harder.