I look around as all of the initiates file in. There are ten of us standing in a line, some I recognize, some I don't. Zahn is beside me, his hands clasped behind his back and Tobias on the other side of him. His feet slightly apart and his stance stiff. Zoey stands beside Eric at the end of the line, her face focused into not showing any emotion. Elijah walks in wearing a black sleeveless top and black jeans. For the first time, I notice the tattoo that wraps around his left upper arm that flicks up onto his neck. It looks like black flames licking at his skin without burning as my eyes fix on it. His arm muscles twitch as he grabs something out of his back pocket and within seconds, I have a gun pointed at me, the nozzle resting between my eyebrows.
Zahn jumps slightly and is about to react when Elijah speaks, “Don't even think about it, Hippy.”
I stand my ground, terrified inside but determined outside. I keep my eyes on his and he holds my stare with ease. He doesn't take his eyes off me, “Today you learn how to shoot a gun,” I feel Eric's smirk crawling up my skin. “I will then teach you how to fight. But for today, we shoot.”
The muscle in my jaw moves as I swallow my breathe. The gun is still pressed to my forehead. Elijah goes on to explain. “You will be tested on your physical, your emotional and your mental capabilities. Stage one, the physical. The better you perform, the higher your rank. The lower your rank – well let's just say your ass will be getting kicked. You can improve your score within any given task,” his grey eyes blink at me as I rub my fingers against my palms. Sweat.
“Do you have to point the gun at her head? Is it necessary?”
Zahn shut up!
Elijah eyes flicker then look away from me, meeting Zahn's gaze instead. “Is loverboy worried about his girlfriend?”
Zahn glares slightly and I cut in before he can speak. “Just ignore him, he's being an idiot.”
Elijah places the gun behind his back, through his belt. “You'll do well to follow your own advice.” He turns his back on her and goes over to the side where he picks up a gun and in turn, he places on into each of our hands.
The weapon is heavy to me and I feel my arm struggling to hold it up. I attempt to talk to Zahn but he has a deep set scowl and is refusing to look in my direction as he acquaints himself with his gun. Elijah stands in front of us, his arms folded over his chest. “We have a saying here at Dauntless and that is this; 'Preparation eradicates cowardice, which we define as the failure to act in the midst of fear.' You need to be able to defend yourself and this, this is what I'm teaching you.”
The small boy that stands beside me speaks up, his voice quiet and soft. “Can you show us how?”
Elijah nods then addresses him, “Name?”
He shifts his weight from foot to foot and his shoulder accidentally brushes against mine. “Mikey, Sir.”
Elijah chuckles briefly. “I am not a school lecturer nor am I anything that would class me as a 'sir', call me Elijah. And to answer your question, yes, I will show you. Just this once.”
He whips around quickly and with one fluid moment, he raises the gun to shoulder height. His left arm is outstretched, holding the gun and his right arm is bent, cupping the bottom for added support. I watch intently for his stance, his shoulder width apart feet and his straight back. He breathes deeply and slowly, concentration etched on his face. His shoulder blades squeeze together and then a deafening sounds erupts into the entire room. He hits the target square in the middle then turns around and acts like it was the easiest thing to do on the planet. “Remember, breathing, control and technique. Now choose a target and get practising.”
Everyone turns to their targets and attempt to copy his stance. I stand there, with the gun at my side. Just like the knife, it scares me how natural this feels within my grasp. Eric is first to shoot, he hits the edge of the target but he laughs anyway, he hit the target. I watch as Zahn prepares his body for the shot, he lines it up carefully, squeezing one eye shut as he takes aim. I bite my lip as I watch him as he squeezes the trigger. His bullet hits the edge of the board, he sighs and prepares to go again. “Stop watching me and get on with it,” he looks at me. “You don't want to be ranked below an idiot.”
I raise an eyebrow at him, “Really? You're caught up on that? Let it go, Zahn.” I sigh and turn back to my own target.
“I have let it go,” he punctuates each word with slight venom as he squeezes the trigger again, still missing the mark.
I bite back a laugh as I raise the gun to shoulder height, keeping my left arm straight and my right for support. “Try telling that to your face,” he turns to look at me and I wink at him. His mouth twitches into a smile and I smile back.
Elijah watches intently as gunshots fill the air. Mikey beside me has managed to hit the target once but it's Eric and Tobias who have mastered it. Every shot of Tobias' has hit the target, almost dead centre every time. The concentration of his face is unbelievable, like he shuts out the entire room. Zoey bites her lip as she watches Eric get angry, he has now missed twice.
“A gun is not a weapon but a means for defence. They should only be fired if your life has been put at risk. If it's you against one other person and they have a gun raised against you, what do you do?”
The girl along the line raises her hand and Elijah points to her. “I would run,” she squeaks.
He laughs, not a cruel laugh but a slightly amused laugh. “If you run, Aylin, then that is what we call cowardice and that is not tolerated here.”
She nods. “OK,” she turns her attention back to her gun.
He walks behind the row of ten initiates. He's almost behind me, I can nearly feel his breath on my neck. “Anyone else? How about you, Shiloh, is it?”
I turn to face him, “Yeah, it's Shiloh.”
His lips stretch up to his left and he smirks. “A name of peace, very suitable for an Amity child.”
I grit my teeth at him. “I'm not a child.”
He raises his eyebrows at me, giving me a full view to his grey eyes. I get caught up with them for a second but snap back to reality when he speaks. “Well then, Shiloh, who is not a child.” He walks around me. Tell me then,” he raises his gun to my forehead again and I go slightly crossed eyed while keeping my eye on it. “What do you do if you are in this situation – and the person is out to kill you?” He stares at me, waiting for a reply.
I slowly smirk at him. “I kill them before they kill me,” he looks impressed as I punch his gun away and turn to aim my gun at the target. I relax and set my stance correctly then I squeeze the trigger.
It hit dead centre and I turn back to him, “Any other questions that you would like to ask?”
Zahn has a huge grin on his face behind Elijah but it's not him or anyone else I see. My eyes are on him and him only. He slowly bites his lip then turns away from me. He looks at his watch as Zahn raises an eyebrow at me, “What?” I mouth to him.
He shakes his head and looks down at his gun then frowns.
Elijah claps his hands together and points to the door, “Lunch! You have one hour for lunch, if you're not back in time, you will be punished.”
Everyone hands their guns back in and I am last to hand mine over. He looks up at me as he takes the gun. “Nice shooting by the way,” he says.
“Uhm... thanks,” I reply.
He places his palms on the edge of the gun table and leans back on them, “So, tell me, how does a Hippy like you have such a capability with a weapon like the gun?” He looks interested.
I shrug. “I'm a fast learner. I watched what you did and replicated it with my own body – it's not that hard to do.”
He nods, “Fair enough. Keep up the good work,” he turns away from me and the conversation is ended just like that.
I walk to the door then pause at a thought. I turn my head back to him. “Elijah? What happens to those who are ranked last?”
He sighs, his back tensing slightly. Without looking at me as he cleans a gun out, he says. “If you don't perform to the highest of standards deemed worthy by the Dauntless then you are thrown out,” he shakes his head slightly, like he doesn't agree with it. “You become factionless.”
That word floats in my consciousness as I stare at my lunch. It's as simple as that, if I'm not good enough, it's over. I lose my old faction and my new faction. Factionless.
My jaw tenses, that won't happen. I won't let it, I think to myself as a pick up a roll. Zahn is in a conversation with Zoey and a girl that I haven't spoken to or heard speak yet. I think her name is Carrie – or something like that.
“So what do you think, Shy?”
I snap out of my trance, “Huh? What?”
Zahn laughs, “I was asking if you agreed with what Carys said,” he grins at me.
Carys... Ah, I was close enough.
“Agree about what?” I clearly have missed a lot in a short space of time.
Carys laughs too and looks at Zahn with a look that makes me want to jump over the table and throttle her throat. “I was asking Zahn if being a vegetarian in a situation like this is – healthy to their way of life,” she looks at him again. “He says it's not but I disagree, I've been a vegetarian my whole life and I'm fit, I have no health issues at all.”
Really? I have to sit here and listen to this rubbish?
I shrug, “No idea, I eat meat.” I raise to my feet still holding my roll. “I'll see you both at training,” Zahn looks like he is about to follow so I press my palm against his chest and push him back down. “Eat. Talk. I'm fine, I'll see you soon.” I say before planting a kiss on his cheek.
Without looking back, I walk out turning the roll over and over between my fingers.
As I get to the end of the corridor, I hear a voice. It belongs to a male and it sounds strained. I press myself to the wall and remain out of sight as I hear the conversation. “That Stiff and the Amity girl seem to be my strongest competition. I take them out, I'll get ranked top for sure,” I recognise that voice.
A voice replies, “How are you going to do that?”
“I come from Erudite, I'll think of something. It can't be that hard to dispose of a Stiff and a small girl.”
I grit my teeth and my fists clench up. The voice belongs to Eric, is he that spiteful and arrogant?
The other voice troubles me, I don't know who it belongs to.
I don't know who my enemy is.