I arrive late after lunch as I had to stay hidden to let Eric and the other voice leave without noticing my eaves-dropping presence. When I open the door, ten sets of eyes are on me. I nervously rub the back of my neck as Elijah stops talking, he frowns then approaches me. I look up and double back slightly as his figure towers over me. “Where have you been?” he asks.
I struggle to find my words, “I- I-“
He raises a blonde eyebrow at me, “You… what?”
I sigh and meet his eyes, “I got lost. I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.”
His grey eyes burn with curiosity but if he’s thinking about what I said, he doesn’t show it as he walks back to the centre of the room. I take my place at the end of the line as I watch him intently. He reaches out and leans his hand on a black bag that I didn’t notice when coming in. A punching bag. I bite my lip as I look at the bags lined up straight as Elijah removes his hand and weaves in and out of them as he speaks. I’ve never fought before, I haven’t even thrown a punch. This is where I fail, I say to myself as I run a hand through my hair.
“Like I said before I was rudely interrupted, line up behind a bag and I’ll tell you what will be happening from here on out.”
Everyone did as he said and I was left standing where I was, my mind elsewhere. My thoughts are racing and trying to come up with a strategy to fight. I don’t know how, sure they will show me. But at the end of the day, it’s my own strength and will of mind that will show what I can truly do. I think I won’t be able to do this. Physical strength is not, well, my strength.
I snap out of my thoughts and look up to find that once again, all eyes are on me. “Damn, sorry. I was… elsewhere.”
Elijah almost looks amused as he rolls his eyes. “I didn’t ask where you were. Just get to that punch bag… or do you need a guide help you get there?”
I glare at him. “No thank you, I can do that myself.”
A few of the initiates chuckle as I stand behind my punch bag. Elijah starts to talk once more, “This is where we test your physical strength and how well you fight. If you look to your left,” everyone looks to the left apart from the boy right at the end, he looks to his right. Elijah rolls his eyes, “No, you idiot. The left,” he hits his palm to his forehead and sighs. “Just look in the direction the others are looking in.”
The boy turns to face the left and I turn my attention back to where Elijah is pointing. A huge green chalk board and on the board, is all ten names written in alphabetical order. “To survive life as a Dauntless you’ll need to be able to prepare for attack. You need to be able to be able to defend yourself against threats, to get your body to react in the appropriate way when your body is challenged.” His eyes flicker over my arms, “Some of you aren’t as… well adapted to these situations as the others are. You may find this stage tiring and long winded. Some of you may drop out, get beat down, leave, but know this. If you can’t hold your own, or even try, you will suffer more than you’ve ever imagined.”
Muttering fills my ears as I keep my face impassive. I know exactly where my faults lie and I’m not willing to show them. I can’t. Especially when Eric is out for my blood. I should warn Tobias.
Zahn’s eyes are closed as Elijah speaks again. “Today I will show you one thing and that is technique. Technique is everything in fighting. If you go in flapping your arms about, I can assure you that you will be defeated instantly,” he says. “Listen to me, watch me and learn.”
He spends the next twenty minutes going through different punches, showing us how to stand, how to make your body move and the follow through. First he shows us with nothing but then he moves onto the punching bag. He uses Zahn’s for the demonstrations. His fists collide with the bag, the thud echoing around the room as he powers his fists forward. Some of the male initiates watch with idolised intensity as Elijah exerts all his power. I smirk to myself as I see that even Eric looks frightened at this man’s sheer strength.
He then stills the bag with both palms and inclines his head to it, indicating that we start. I shadow his movements for a while without the use of the bag and I get the chilling feeling that I am being watched. I want to throw up and the mere thought of being factionless as it crosses my mind. I tuck a strand of loose hair behind my ear and I stick my tongue out in concentration as I throw my fist into the bag.
Elijah laughs. “This is nothing compared to what’s still to come. Man up and get on with it.”
I grit my teeth and mutter under my breath as I watch Zahn. His body moves as fluid as he can. His punches are messy and his movements are stiff but overall, the power is there. The same goes for Tobias and Eric, they both have extreme force behind their punches but they are staggering in their technique.
After several more minutes of floundering in front of the punch bag, Elijah comes over after instructing Carys on how to put more force into a hit. He silently grabs my arms and puts them in the position he himself was in during the demonstration. I gasp slightly at his touch, despite his tough exterior and physique; his hands are soft and gentle. He doesn’t force my hands but gently guides them where to go. His breath is hot against the back of my neck as he kicks my feet shoulder width apart.
I sneak a glance at Zahn, his eyes are glued to his punch bag but I can tell that he saw and that it bothers him. The corner of his mouth twitches as he throws punch after punch, pummelling his anger into the bag.
Elijah keeps hold of my arms like a puppet as he shows me what to do. I nod and focus on what he’s telling me and not that I’m starting to feel really nervous and giddy.
“Curl your fist in,” I do as he says as he whispers instructions to me. “Never tuck your thumb away, it hurts like hell if you do,” I nod. “When you throw your arm out, twist it slightly and hit the bag with the flat part of your fist.”
He then lets me go and wanders off to help someone else. I feel the ghost of his touch as I continue on with the training, focusing on my own actions and his words.
The next day, Carys and I get up early to go for a walk before the training starts. “I think Elijah has taken a shine to you,” Carys says randomly.
I nearly spit out my drink in reaction to what she said. “Don’t be stupid. Why the heck would you think that?”
She shrugs. “The way he was helping you, it seemed very… intimate.”
I laugh, “You’re dreaming, Carys. He was only telling me what to do to help improve my fighting technique. Nothing more, nothing less. Just that.”
We stop to look in a shop window and I catch her glancing at me through our reflections. I roll my eyes and focus on what the shop has to offer. Black clothes, lots and lots of black clothes. For some reason a twinge of desire runs through me, I want to be back home. I want to be in yellow and red, I want to wear the colour I hate. But then I stop, I made this decision; I need to focus on it. I bring my consciousness back to the task at hand; window shopping as Carys continues to speak. “Don’t get me wrong, he’s scary and built really big-“
I laugh again. “That’s called muscles, Carys.”
She pouts slightly. “I know what they are called!”
I hold my hands up in the surrender position with a grin on my face. “OK, OK, I get it. Calm down, you know that they are muscles – carry on with what you were saying.”
“I was just saying that although he is big – muscled – I think he’s really… handsome… and hot. Don’t you think so?”
I shake my head, “Nope.”
She smiles slightly then fakes being shocked. “How can you say that?”
I take a drink of my juice and spot Zahn walking to training on his own with his head bowed. This tells me that he’s thinking, he always did this when he thinks. I put my drink into her hand and smile. “I have Zahn, I don’t need to look elsewhere.”
Carys places her free hand over her heart and grins. “Awww, that’s so cute,” she says. I roll my eyes and push her ahead of me. “OK, OK, I get it. I’m going.” She laughs then walks faster to the training area.
I make my way over to Zahn and I move his head up so he can see me. He opens his eyes and I melt into his body as he wraps his arms around me. “You’re a natural fighter,” I whisper. “I guess you were right to pick Dauntless.”
He leans in and brushes his lips against my neck. I close my eyes as the touch sends tingles throughout my body. “I came here for you,” he mumbles against my skin.
All of my coherent thoughts are thrown out the window as I pull his lips to mine, kissing him almost feverishly. His fingers grasp my waist tightly under my t-shirt as I lean further in, our lips crashing together faster and with more passion.
I gasp as I pull away. “We have to go now or we’ll be late.”
He nods sadly as he places another kiss on my lips, this time slow and lovingly. I smile into it just as he pulls away. He slides his hand down my arm causing goosebumps to erupt as he grabs my hand.
We walk into the room together, hand in hand, as he kisses my cheek. The other initiates are crowded around the chalk board as I look around to take in my surroundings. Eric’s voice rises above the others and I can almost hear the smirk in it. “Well, well, well. This shall be very interesting.”
Zahn raises an eyebrow at everyone, “What’s going on?” he asks the room at large.
Tobias looks at me and I feel my eyebrow rising too. “Tobias, what is it? What’s going on?”
He walks towards us both and puts a hand on my shoulder. He looks as if he’s trying to comfort me but the touch does the exact opposite. Zahn turns and looks at Tobias’ hand on my shoulder. His eyes flash with anger slightly as his jaw tenses. “I asked a question. What’s going on?”
Tobias opens his mouth to speak but Eric cuts in, “It seems we have a very entertaining day ahead of us.”
“Eric, cut your crap and just tell us,” I snap at his jeering face.
He steps aside and sneers. “See for yourself,” he holds his arm out and his finger is outstretched to the board.
Together, Zahn and I walk towards it and the initiates’ part to leave us a clear walk. Once we approach it, Zahn’s grip on my hand tightens so badly that I think he’ll just about pop it off my wrist. “Zahn, you’re hurting me,” I mutter.
Eric’s guttural laugh reaches us and I turn around. “What? What now?!”
Zahn’s grip loosens and his voice is barely a whisper. “Shiloh, the names.”
“What about them?”
“Just look at them.”
I turn to read them and a gasp escapes my dry throat.
Shiloh Gynne vs Zahn Mason