They storm down the stairs, flinging doors open, laughing, shouting. I feel burning in my back and shoulders and lungs and legs, and suddenly I am unsure of this choice I've made, of these people I've claimed. They are so loud and so wild. Can I possibly make a place for myself among them? I don't know.
I guess I don't have a choice.
I push my way through the group, searching for my fellow initiates, but they seem to have disappeared. I move to the side of the group, hoping to get a glimpse of where we're headed, and I see the train tracks suspended over the street in front of us, in a cage of latticed wood and metal. The Dauntless climb the stairs and spill out onto the train platform. At the foot of the stairs, the crowd is so dense that I can't find a way to get in, but I know if I don't climb the stairs soon, I might miss the train, so I decide to push my way in. I have to clench my teeth to keep myself from apologizing as I elbow people aside, and the momentum of the crowd presses me up the steps.
"You're not a bad runner," Tori says as she sidles up to me on the platform. "At least for an Abnegation kid."
"Thanks," I say.
"You know what's going to happen next, right?" She turns and points at a light in the distance, fixed to the front of an oncoming train. "It's not going to stop. It's just going to slow down a little. And if you don't make it on, that's it for you. Factionless. It's that easy to get kicked out."
I nod. I'm not surprised that the trial of initiation has already begun, that it began the second we left the Choosing Ceremony. And I'm not surprised that the Dauntless expect me to prove myself either. I watch the train come closer--I can hear it now, whistling on the tracks.
She grins at me. "You're going to do just fine here, aren't you?"
"What makes you say that?"
She shrugs. "You strike me as someone who's ready to fight, that's all."
The train thunders toward us, and the Dauntless start piling on. Tori runs toward the edge, and I follow her, copying her stance and her movements as she prepares to jump. She grabs a handle at the edge of the door and swings herself inside, so I do the same thing, fumbling at first for my grip and then yanking myself in.
But I'm unprepared for the turning of the train, and I stumble, smacking my face against the metal wall. I grab my aching nose.
"Smooth," one of the Dauntless inside says. He's younger than Tori, with dark skin and an easy smile.
"Finesse is for Erudite show-offs," Tori says. "He made it on the train, Amar, that's what counts."
"He's supposed to be in the other car, though. With the other initiates," Amar says. He eyes me, but not the way the Erudite transfer did a few minutes ago. He seems more curious than anything else, like I'm an oddity he needs to examine carefully in order to understand it. "If he's friends with you, I guess it's okay. What's your name, Stiff?"
The name is in my mouth the second he asks me the question, and I am about to answer like I always do, that I am Tobias Eaton. It should be natural, but in that moment I can't bear to say my name out loud, not here, among the people I hoped would be my new friends, my new family. I can't--I won't--be Marcus Eaton's son anymore.
"You can call me 'Stiff' for all I care," I say, trying out the cutting Dauntless banter I've only listened to across hallways and classrooms until now. Wind rushes into the train car as it picks up speed, and it's loud, roaring in my ears.
Tori gives me a strange look, and for a moment I am afraid that she's going to tell Amar my name, which I'm sure she remembers from my aptitude test. But she just nods a little, and relieved, I turn toward the open doorway, my hand still on the handle.
It never occurred to me before that I could refuse to give my name, or that I could give a false one, construct a new identity for myself. I'm free here, free to snap at people and free to refuse them and free even to lie.
I see the street between the wooden beams that support the train tracks, just a story beneath us. But up ahead, the old tracks give way to new ones, and the platforms go higher, wrapping around the roofs of buildings. The climb happens gradually, so I wouldn't have noticed it was happening if I hadn't been staring at the ground as we traveled farther and farther away from it, farther and farther into the sky.
Fear makes my legs go weak, so I back away from the doorway and sink into a crouch by one wall as I wait to get to wherever we're going.
I am still in that position--crouched by the wall, my head in my hands--when Amar nudges me with his foot.
"Get up, Stiff," he says, not unkindly. "It's almost time to jump."
"Jump?" I say.
"Yeah." He smirks. "This train stops for no one."
I press myself up. The fabric I wrapped around my hand is soaked through with red. Tori stands right behind me and pushes me toward the doorway.
"Let the initiate off first!" she shouts.
"What are you doing?" I demand, scowling at her.
"I'm doing you a favor!" she answers, and she shoves me toward the opening again. The other Dauntless step back for me, each one of them grinning like I'm a meal. I shuffle toward the edge, grabbing the handle so hard the tips of my fingers start to go numb. I see where I'm supposed to jump--up ahead, the tracks hug the roof of a building and then turn. The gap looks small from here, but as the train gets closer, it seems larger and larger, and my imminent death seems more and more likely.
My entire body shakes as the Dauntless in the cars ahead of us make the jump. None of them miss the roof, but that doesn't mean I won't be the first. I pry my fingers from the handle and stare at the rooftop and push off as hard as I can.
The impact shudders through me, and I fall forward onto my hands and knees, the gravel on the roof digging into my wounded palm. I stare at my fingers. I feel like time just lurched forward, the actual jump disappearing from sight and memory.
"Damn," someone behind me says. "I was hoping we would get to scrape some Stiff pancake off the pavement later."
I glare at the ground and sit back on my heels. The roof is tilting and bobbing beneath me--I didn't know a person could be dizzy with fear.
Still, I know I just passed two initiation tests: I got on a moving train, and I made it to the roof. Now the question is, how do the Dauntless get off the roof?
A moment later Amar steps up on the ledge, and I have my answer:
They're going to make us jump.
I close my eyes and pretend that I'm not here, kneeling on this gravel with these insane ink-marked people surrounding me. I came here to escape, but this is not an escape, it's just a different kind of torture and it's too late to escape it. My only hope, then, is to survive it.
"Welcome to Dauntless!" Amar shouts. "Where you either face your fears and try not to die in the process, or you leave a coward. We've got a record low of faction transfers this year, unsurprisingly."
The Dauntless around Amar punch the air and whoop, bearing the fact that no one wants to join them as a banner of pride.
"The only way to get into the Dauntless compound from this rooftop is to jump off this ledge," Amar says, opening his arms wide to indicate the empty space around him. He tilts back on his heels and waves his arms around, like he's about to fall, then catches himself and grins. I pull a deep breath in through my nose and hold it.
"As usual, I offer the opportunity to go first to our initiates, Dauntless-born or not." He hops down from the ledge and gestures to it, eyebrows raised.
The cluster of young Dauntless near the roof exchange looks. Standing off to the side are the Erudite boy from before, an Amity girl, two Candor boys, and a Candor girl. There are only six of us.
One of the Dauntless steps up, a dark-skinned boy who beckons cheers from his friends with his hands.
"Go, Zeke!" one of the girls shouts.
Zeke hops onto the ledge but misjudges the jump and tips forward right away, losing his balance. He yells something unintelligible and disappears. The Candor girl nearby gasps, covering her mouth with one hand, but Zeke's Dauntless friends burst into laughter. I don't
think that was the dramatic, heroic moment he had in mind.
Amar, grinning, gestures to the ledge again. The Dauntless-borns line up behind it, and so do the Erudite boy and the Amity girl. I know I have to join them, I have to jump, it doesn't matter how I feel about it. I move toward the line, stiff like my joints are rusted bolts. Amar looks at his watch and cues each jumper at thirty-second intervals.
The line is shrinking, dissolving.
Suddenly it's gone, and I am all that is left. I step onto the ledge and wait for Amar's cue. The sun is setting behind the buildings in the distance, their jagged line unfamiliar from this angle. The light glows gold near the horizon, and wind rushes up the side of the building, lifting my clothes away from my body.
"Go ahead," Amar says.