Chapter 1: paler be they than daunting death

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I walk to school like I have every day for the last year. It’s a bright, sunny day, and I couldn’t be in a worse mood. Today is the day that all the sixteen year olds from very faction take the aptitude test that will show us which of the five factions we belong in. And tomorrow, at the Choosing Ceremony, we will decide which faction we will ally ourselves with, and the rest of our lives. It is a heavy weight.

When I cross from Abnegation into the factionless part of the city, I am joined by Harold, an old man born and raised factionless. He’d taken a liking to me the day after my brother’s Choosing Ceremony, and has walked me to school every day since. I am not afraid of Harold. I can speak my mind, and ask my questions, and be as selfish as I please without the judgment I would receive elsewhere. Harold will listen and offer his opinion, and I do not feel it is a duty to do the same.

“Good morning, Starshine. The earth says hello.”

“You twinkle above us, we twinkle below,” I greet in return.

It’s an odd ritual that we’ve repeated a thousand times over, and it is comforting. We walk for several blocks in silence, merely enjoying the company of someone who holds no expectations of us, or us of them. We pass the same buildings we do every morning, the same shattered windows, the same crumbling bricks, and if I take a deep breath I can almost pretend that this isn’t the day that will lead to the rest of my life.

“Today is the day, hmm?”

“Yes,” I say. “Today is the Aptitude Test.”

“You’ll have to tell me what it’s like,” he says. “The other ones,” he means the factionless who were not born that way, but came to be so in one way or another, “won’t talk about it, like it’s some big secret.”

“It’s supposed to be. No one is supposed to know what happens until it does.”

“What’s the point of test you can’t study for?” he says testily, stroking the beard on his face.

“Spoken like a would-be Erudite,” I tease.

“That is where I know you do not belong,” he says, pointing his finger at me. “No, you are a brave one; you do not belong with the Erudite.”

“And where do you say I belong, Harold?” I ask. I am allowed to be curious here. “Surely not in Amity, or Candor.”

“No,” he says again. “You are a brave one.”

***

The school is the oldest building in the area, made up of glass and steel; there is a tall metal sculpture in the front that the Dauntless climb like fools after school. I’d tell someone that I thought it was dreadfully ugly, if anyone had bothered to ask before. The building itself isn’t that appealing either, but it is what we’ve been given.

I am one of the first to arrive. Harold and I take a seat on the lip of the small barricade that surrounds the sculpture and I hand him one of the two apples that I brought with me this morning. Acts of selflessness like this, given to people that have proved they are willing to return the favor, I do not mind, but the rest of the world is take, take, take, and they do not give back. These are the thought that make me realize that I couldn’t survive a life in Abnegations, even if I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the same boring concrete communities. But I don’t.

When I have eaten all the meat off of my apple, I hand the core to Harold and he tucks it into one of his pockets; he will break it into small pieces later and feed it to the birds. When he is done with his he takes my hands and we say our goodbyes. This is not the last I’ll see of Harold, but it may be a few weeks yet.

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