It was pitch black.
The darkness was suffocating, pressing down on me, as I stood, bouncing from one foot to the other. My body was filled with a nervous energy.
The air swirled around me, a spiral of grey and black. For a moment, I was blinded. When the dust settled, I found myself in a world drained of colour. A bland, sombre landscape of slate and ash. All the air had burned out. i was already breathing heavily. Now, my lungs struggled to keep up. My breath was coming in pants and wheezes as my oxygen-deprived brain finally caught up.
I was suffocating, slowly but surely.
I started panicking, then, as I knew I would. This one I had faced during an earlier simulation. That didn't make it any easier to cope with though.
I sank to the floor, hands scrabbling at my neck; searching, searching for the invisible, non-existent chain choking me. I had no reason to fight it. No strength left. I was weak.
I was brave.
Brave enough to let go. Let the feeling of drowning in air wash over me. I relaxed, closing my eyes and taking one last breath. My heart stopped beating.
Then, I was falling. Falling through a blaze of light, a lightning strike of pure emotion carrying me in a downwards spiral of fear.
Just before I slammed into the dark splodge of ground fast approaching, my body jerked to a sudden halt, suspended in mid-air. Puzzled, I let my breathing even out. Just as suddenly, I was wrenched upright. A tugging on my wrists alerted me to the spidery cord now encircling them. I was thrown roughly about, like a child's plaything.
With a sudden rush of dread, I realised what was happening.
I was a puppet.
A human puppet dangling on the instruction of some unseen power. I had to keep calm. This was just a simulation. It wasn't real. But, damn, it felt real. My fear was tangible enough.
I was afraid of being coerced, manipulated. How could I overcome that?
All of a sudden, the despair was replaced with red hot anger. Anger at those who thought they could control me. I pulled ferociously on the strings that bound me, again and again. The pain only made me stronger, my anger more potent.
Abruptly, the tenuous threads snapped. I plummeted down again, through a rainbow of colours. Then, just black.
Slowly, my eyes re-focused. I was not alone this time. There were people around me, a great many people, all laughing, smiling and enjoying themselves. I recognised my parents, and my younger sister among them. The scene seemed to be in a great hall of some kind. The colours that spilled out of the group blinded me after the darkness. It threw me, this scene of apparent joy. What could possibly make me afraid here?
I had my answer soon enough. Great flashes of emerald and violet struck through the crowd, sending people scrabbling for cover. Laughter was replaced by screams. I was not sure where these bolts of obliteration were coming from, or still, what was this to do with me?
It struck me suddenly, as I tried to move towards my mother. She shrieked in terror as I came closer, and shied away from my touch. It was me. I was the one causing this destruction. I was afraid of power, of hurting the ones I loved, of becoming a stranger to myself. Even after I realized this, I could not stop. The power was too great. I was shouting to, now. Sobbing as I watched myself destroy my family.
The best way to make sure you never hurt the ones you love: cut yourself off from them, make it so you can't hurt them, I told myself.
With one final push, I screamed, letting all the power out, pushing my friends and family away, away from me, away from the danger I carried. A flash of colour, silver this time, struck the crowd, and they vanished. Gone. Safe.
The hall did not fade, only waste away. I turned slowly, as the years melted the ornate building until only cobwebs and dust ruled. It was silent. I was alone. The simulation gave me no respite between my fears. My fear of hurting my family had been vanquished, only to be replaced by the fear of loneliness. I whirled around, faster, panic rising in my throat. I could not be alone. They could not have left me.
The tears from before had barely dried on my cheeks before new drops of dread formed in my eyes. I could not cope on my own. I needed people around me, but I was afraid of hurting them. How could I overcome this? It was impossible! A paradox - I couldn't live with my friends and family, I couldn't live without them.
A memory flashed through my mind - of me and the friends I had made through the Dauntless initiation. Katie, Nick, James and Diane . We were a mismatched group - Diane and I from Erudite, Katie from Candor, and the other two boys already Dauntless. They could all look after themselves. I did not need to be afraid of hurting them - they were not defenceless. I was safe with them. I had friends around me, and there was no need to be afraid around them.
I kept their images in my mind, drawing on their strength. The air around me started to shimmer slightly, shifting and dancing. I felt strong again, powerful.
But this rollercoaster of emotions was draining me. All this fear and uncertainty was wearing down my ability to cope, to overcome all my inner obstacles. All the worries I had about transferring to Dauntless, all the ambiguity of the initiation, every little concern, every feeling of doubt or regret, flooded my soul. My mind was having an emotional breakdown, unable to cope with the sensation overload.
Was this another test? I wasn't sure anymore. Everything was hazy. The lines between simulation and reality were wearing thin. Or was that just in my drug-induced mind as well? This was doing my head in. Could I really do this?
Somewhere in the mess of emotion and sensation, I held the pictures of my Dauntless friends clear, as well as my family, and friends from the faction of my birth. I channelled their energy through my body, clearing my mind. With the help of people around me, I could do this.
I willed myself to stay strong and to be brave. It took an awful lot of willpower and energy to defog my mind, but I managed it. I showed myself what I could do. I was a lot stronger than I believed.
With this thought alone in my head, I surfaced from the horror-scape, shaking and weak.