Ghost // Male // Age 18 // Training Instructor // Erudite to Dauntless
A jolt went through Ghost like a missed stair when Jeremy Daniels, in the flesh, swaggered out of his kitchen. The dimensions of the doorway were inadequate to accommodate Daniels’s linebacker girth, and as he turned sideways to fit through, Ghost’s immediate thought was whether this bear of a man had to have all his clothes and shoes specially made. He would have wondered what the inside of Daniels’s house looked like too, and whether the interior had been designed for someone of Daniels’s proportions, if Ghost hadn’t already been inside. And no, while it had been dark as pitch without any light, he had not noted any such architectural oddities during his illicit perusal of Daniels’s property. In a way, he supposed that Daniels’s presence on the team that was tearing up Ghost’s apartment was only poetic justice. Much could be learned about a man from rooting through his personal belongings, especially when he wasn’t expecting company.
It was the first thought of many that arrowed through Ghost’s head, competing for his attention like racing horses. This was supposed to have been just a routine drug bust, one of many, a thing of protocol. Why had Jeremy Daniels, head of Dauntless security, deemed this mission important enough to preside over it in person? Why not leave it to some competent underlings while he busied himself over a box of doughnuts with his feet kicked up? Had Ghost not been as thorough in his cleaning of the apartment as he’d thought? Or did Daniels suspect that Ghost was hiding secrets of another kind? He can’t know that, Ghost told himself firmly, before his anxiety could turn to outright panic. The only two people who know what I did are Charlie and me, and she’d never tell. Ghost had done a lot of questioning about Charlie’s intentions over the past day, but that was one thing he knew to be true in his heart of hearts. No matter how much he provoked her, she would not rat him out to her father.
But some secrets refused to stay buried. Even if Charlie hadn’t told Daniels, there was always the possibility of a street camera glimpsing Ghost’s face minutes before or after the break-in. Perhaps one of the factionless prowling the streets at an unsavory hour had seen him and been rewarded handsomely for information. It had been over two years since Ghost’s last break-in, and while he might feel inclined to blame any errors on a lack of practice, he had more likely gotten smug. Or maybe he had never been as exceptional a thief as he’d always told himself. Either way, if Jeremy knew that there was more to him than the ordinary teenage boy he pretended to be, Ghost might as well go dig his own grave.
Ghost was a neat freak by nature. He painstakingly cleaned and wiped all of the apartment’s tabletops every day, and yet when Jeremy Daniels flopped onto the couch and flung his muddy boots onto the coffee table, Ghost could find no spark of anger within himself. Only a dark and insidious fear, creeping higher and higher up his body, threatening to drown him. Ghost inhaled a searing lungful of it when Daniels spoke his name, fixing him beneath a reproachful glare. Hearing his name chewed up in his enemy’s mouth and spat out like cheap tobacco almost made Ghost cringe. Fake as it was, his name somehow now felt tainted. “You presume correctly, sir,” he replied, bowing his head in the very picture of deference. Fear had turned his mouth dry as bone, and Ghost moistened his lips with just the tip of his tongue while looking at the floor, not wanting Daniels to see that the extent of his nervousness was too great to be innocent.
A few hours ago, Ghost would have killed for the protein bar that Daniels seemed determined to gobble up in two bites. Now the sight of food made his stomach somersault. Remembering the black licorice he held in one hand, Ghost tucked it away inside his coat, deciding that his audience had been given ample time to make note of it. With the uneaten half of his protein bar, Daniels threw a careless gesture in the direction of the German shepherd, whose harness he had relinquished and was now freely roaming the apartment. Her nails clicked menacingly over hardwood as she passed a bookcase, lamp, potted plant, and then arrived at Ghost’s feet. He forced himself not to fidget as the dog’s—Banshee—nose prodded him wetly and the animal began to circle him, snuffling all the while. Ghost clenched his teeth and resisted the impulse to do the same with his eyes, steeling himself for the dog to start barking or howling or biting, or whatever it did when it detected a trace of lull. He hadn’t been banking on a trained dog searching him, and he suddenly regretted not buying cologne and dousing himself in it, as he’d been contemplating. His heart slammed around in his chest, as if it might break through skin and bone.
The shepherd was behind Ghost when it sneezed, and the unexpected burst of sound made him jump. As if that singular motion had depleted all her remaining energy, Banshee padded up to the expanse of floor in front of Ghost and promptly sat, tail curled around her front paws. She cocked her head, black eyes glittering with animal intelligence, but didn’t utter a sound. Ghost stared in confusion before remembering that animals took eye contact as a challenge and lowered his eyes to the floor. There was no reason that the dog shouldn’t have been able to smell the lull when Charlie could… unless. Charlie. The only feasible explanation Ghost could come up with was that, during their very close and extended contact in the electrical closet, her scent must have adequately rubbed off on him and masked his own. Even just thinking about it, the intermingling aromas of rose shampoo and strawberry lip gloss seemed to linger in Ghost’s nostrils. As Banshee continued to intently watch him, he stifled the temptation to howl with laughter at his ridiculously good fortune.
A throaty chuckle from the couch reminded him that he was not out of the woods yet. He looked up to find Jeremy Daniels leafing through a magazine with a bikini-clad woman posing on the hood of a corvette on the cover. Ghost felt the bottom of his stomach drop out. Had Daniels’s lackeys turned those up during their search, or had Caspian been enough of an idiot to leave them lying around in plain sight? Ghost’s lips reflexively parted to apologize for or explain away their presence, but this was not the kind of social gaffe from which one could recover, even with all the words in the world. But Daniels’s interest seemed piqued by whatever he found in one magazine, and Ghost reconsidered acknowledging them, deciding that he would rather Daniels scrutinize an airbrushed model than him. Which was just as well, because he did not know where to begin explaining, except to maybe weakly protest that the lewd magazines weren’t his.
Ghost became dimly aware of the soft, impatient tapping of a foot against the floor, punctuated with an explosive sigh. He glanced toward the door, where the female officer stood with her arms crossed and lips pouted, as if she wanted to remind her boss that they had a job to do but didn’t dare. Seeing as Jeremy Daniels seemed perfectly content to keep paging through Caspian’s magazine, Ghost decided to break the silence and put an end to his increasing awkwardness. He had questions about Daniels’s appearance here, and hopefully a bit of small talk could unearth some answers. Ghost was Erudite born and raised, and he hated little more than bumbling around in ignorance when there was information to be learned.
“It is an honor to meet you, sir,” he said in his most honeyed voice. “I never would have expected to host one from the leadership panel in my own apartment, so I apologize for the ragged state of things.” Through only a sheer effort of will did Ghost manage to keep the bitterness out of his voice, as if he were at fault for the tornado that had torn his apartment to pieces. “If I may be so bold, may I inquire as to what brings you here in person when there must be a dozen more important claims on your time, sir?” “Sir” felt like an inadequate term of address for the ass-kissing that one of Daniels’s lofty rank was due, but it wasn’t like Daniels was a doctor or full-fledged general and could be called such. Ghost briefly considered going for something a little more obsequious like “your grace” but decided that Daniels could interpret it as mockery. Not that he would be wrong if he did. The system of honorifics was so much clearer in Erudite, where the gentry did not ball up wrappers and throw them wherever they damn pleased upon finishing a protein bar.
Daniels responded with a look as cold as a dead fish across the face. Dislikes boldness. Don’t do it again, Ghost noted, slightly dismayed. He pretended to wilt beneath Daniels’s criticism, which wasn’t hard. The gibe that Ghost had nothing to show for the two years that he had been in Dauntless truly stung. By casting off his family name and assuming an alias, he had traded the shadow of notoriety for a lifetime of anonymity. Most days, Ghost was happy to be a blank slate, a face with no name that no one had dirt on, a slip of a boy whom no one looked at twice. You couldn’t be a go-getter and keep a low profile at the same time. But as Jeremy Daniels calmly informed Ghost of his incompetence, of how dispensable to the faction he was, it sharply reminded him that no one would miss him when he died. No one would tell stories of his greatness or revere his many achievements. The only noticeable skills and talents Ghost had were innately illegal, and it wasn’t like he could openly brag about having been Baneberry’s finest thief, who retained all ten of his fingers and could vanish like smoke at the first sign of danger. For all intents and purposes, Ghost was as invisible among the Dauntless as his name implied.
At that moment, Banshee came to her feet and proudly stalked up to her master, as if also dismissing Ghost. It was probably a mindless gesture—and one committed by an animal, no less—but anger flared up in him all the same. Ghost was tired of being overlooked and derided by even his own initiates, and it only hurt more to know that he’d done it to himself the day he had thrown Malia Wolfharde’s offer of a position with leadership back in her face. As Charlie’s father continued shaming his worthlessness, Ghost’s lips pressed tightly together, clamping shut on the words he wanted more than anything to utter. He wanted Daniels to know that his daughter’s heart was Ghost’s for the taking, that he had tasted her skin as recently as this afternoon. He wanted Daniels to know that Ghost had been the one to slip past his home’s defenses and walk its hallways uninvited. He wanted Daniels to know that the knife at his throat had been Ghost’s, and that he had seen this strutting man reduced almost to madness with fear.
In that moment, Ghost achieved an intimate understanding of why some serial killers leave behind clues after a murder. Not because they want to get caught—no criminal wants that. But to taunt the cops. To congratulate themselves on getting away with it. Here and now, Ghost dearly wanted to drop a sinister clue that would haunt Jeremy Daniels day and night, and good sense barely prevailed over his pride. Keeping his head attached to his body was, in the long run, far more valuable than a momentary ego boost. Oh, honey, he thought disparagingly, you have no idea what a pain in the ass I can be. I’m just getting started.
In the midst of his unvoiced fury, Ghost had to admit surprise with the extent of Daniels’s knowledge of him. He had striven to keep even information of his past faction under wraps, but with Caspian as a roommate, Ghost supposed he should be grateful that half the compound didn’t know of his mysterious illness. Does his homework on potential threats, he noted of Daniels. Just the fact that Daniels saw Ghost as a threat sent a flicker of alarm through him, but Ghost ignored it for the time being. He could mull over subtexts after he survived the current encounter. Ghost was spared the ignominy of having to reply to Daniels’s scathing analysis of his character when the head officer motioned his two subordinates—Alyssa and Wolf—forward. Wolf instructed Ghost to extend his arms outward to his sides, and Ghost complied. As Wolf began the tedious task of turning out the many pockets of Ghost’s coat, Ghost rejoiced that he’d had the foresight to hide some of his more unsavory equipment, including his lockpicks and a thief’s lamp, underneath the loose hallway floorboard along with his lull. While not strictly illegal to carry, they certainly would not help the picture of innocence he was trying to cultivate.
Wolf discarded a knife he found after a minute of careful searching. Seeing that her partner would be distracted with just Ghost’s coat for a short while, Alyssa crouched in front of him and relieved Ghost of the pistols at his belt. From her persistent searching, Alyssa seemed convinced that she would find more than one knife strapped to Ghost’s thigh. Not liking the placement of her hands, he swiftly bent down, retrieved a well-hidden knife from his boot, and tossed it onto the small pile that had accumulated, making five altogether. “You missed one,” Ghost said helpfully. Wolf reprimanded him for moving, to which Ghost responded with his sincerest apology and reassumed the pose with his arms extended. A dull burn was arcing through his shoulders by this point.
Glaring at Ghost for having corrected her, Alyssa reluctantly announced that he had passed inspection, and he counted his lucky stars that they didn’t ask for a blood or urine sample. Jeremy Daniels, however, was clearly not yet satisfied with Ghost’s innocence. Ghost raised an eyebrow when Daniels swore at him. Given Charlie’s numerous stories, Ghost had been under no illusions that Daniels was a respectable human being prior to their encounter, but he hadn’t expected Daniels to be so overtly dickish, either. In Erudite the custom was to smile to your enemy’s face while stabbing him in the back, or pouring poison in his tea. The fighting was civil, the politics polite. In other words, it was a snake pit. In comparison Daniels seemed more like a wolf frothing at the mouth, circling the ring in wait for its next opponent. Ghost certainly didn’t feel like a wolf. He wondered if that made him a snake by default. Or was he something other?
Ghost was jolted from his thoughts at the words dead body in the chasm. His first thought was of Blair Avalon and his heart skipped a beat until the initiate’s name was confirmed. Not Blair. The breath whooshed out of him and his legs went rubbery with relief, as if he’d experienced a near miss in a firefight. Ghost wondered whether it made him a bad person to feel glad that another initiate had died in Blair’s stead. Any of them but her. But why should an initiate be dead to begin with? Had Ben known that he was likely going to flunk out of initiation and taken his own life rather than assimilate into the factionless? But then, that could be a convenient cover for murdering him and passing it off as a suicide. Almost too convenient, really.
Ghost’s gaze snapped to Jeremy Daniels as the big man gave an irritated toss of his long hair and muttered something under his breath. He moved to stand in front of Ghost, coming so close that Daniels’s face hovered over him like a demonic death mask. When Daniels spoke, his voice was softer than Ghost had ever heard it, and he wondered whether Daniels could really march him off to a cell for no crime other than existing. He’s Jeremy Daniels. He can do whatever the hell he wants. Don’t be naive, Ghost chastised himself.
There was a strange yet familiar cadence to Daniels’s voice, and Ghost scowled, wondering if he wasn’t being tested. He thought fast, reviewing all he knew about Dauntless politics. Daniels's policies toward other factions were almost always aggressive, whereas Parks, the leader of the faction, tended to be more peaceful, almost welcoming of outside influence. That made sense, since Parks was originally from Erudite. Daniels had already expressed his disdain for transfers, and Ghost would have bet everything he owned that Daniels was not fond of taking direct orders from Parks. Especially when one of those orders was responsible for his appearance in Ghost’s apartment in the first place. Perhaps Parks had specifically given the order with the goal of knocking Daniels down a peg. There was some deep-seated enmity here. Years of playing poker just barely kept the smile off Ghost’s face. He had solved the puzzle.
“Do you want my honest answer, sir?” Ghost asked, luring in the other man’s attention. Daniels looked ready to slap Ghost silly for wasting his time with nonsense questions, but Ghost continued talking before he could. “Christian Parks is a lazy, arrogant boy who is used to riding on his father’s coattails. While he passed Phase One with flying colors, so far his Phase Two scores are somewhat… lacking. Quite, to be frank. Just the other day Parks threatened to, ahem”—Ghost cleared his throat and let his eyes drift upward, as if remembering a direct quote—“bring down the full wrath of his house upon me, if I remember correctly, unless I replaced his fear sim score with a more flattering number. Of course I refused, and Parks did not respond kindly. Therefore, sir, I suspect that this whole dog and pony show was a misguided attempt to get revenge or bully me into submission, because as you’ve seen, Parks’s accusations are unfounded. He is unwilling to acknowledge his failure as his own and is lashing out in a blind fury at whoever is in reach. Those are my thoughts, sir,” Ghost finished, slightly breathless and bristling with self-righteous indignation.
Jeremy Daniels wore a peculiar expression. His eyes twinkled with something that could have been curiosity, or amusement, or both. Finally, one corner of his mouth slanted up, and before Ghost could react, Daniels had clapped a beefy hand on his shoulder. But not to spin him around and herd him out the door and off to a jail cell. This touch glowed with approval, the way a father congratulates a son for gunning down his first deer on a hunt. Daniels crouched until he was eye level with Ghost and spoke barely above a whisper, as if not wanting Alyssa and Wolf to overhear the pleasure in his voice. Radiating joy, Daniels told Ghost that that was the first sensible thing he’d heard him say, and why hadn’t he said it sooner. Then he straightened and roared with laughter. A belly-shaking laugh that made him throw his head back, a thunderclap of sound. Ghost suppressed the urge to cover his ears and settled for a perturbed scowl. He supposed this reaction was preferable to a hundred others he could have received instead, but to see Jeremy Daniels transform so completely was jarring. Unable to speak, Daniels gestured to Alyssa and Wolf, who were shooting him equally puzzled looks, to vacate the premises. They did, and Daniels followed close behind, brushing tears from his eyes.
Still dreadfully unsure what to think, Ghost locked the door behind them, all three bolts. He slammed them home in a way that punctured the sudden silence and grounded him in reality. Ghost had quite the mess to clean up, and while he knew he wouldn’t be able to see to it all by the time either Caspian or Maverick returned, he would prefer to keep their questions to a minimum. He started with the coffee table that Daniels had propped his feet on, wondering if the Holy Ghost wasn’t a snake after all.
* * *
A shrill ringing slowly pulled Ghost out of a deep, bone-weary slumber. He pried open his eyelids to find the numbers of his digital clock glaring 4:09 up at him in their urgent red glow. But the clock wasn’t the source of the noise, he determined after a foggy scan of his bedroom. Indulging in a soft moan of anguish, Ghost realized that the ringing was coming from his coat, and that he’d have to turn over to reach the pocket. He flipped onto his back and managed to close unfeeling fingers around his phone, pressing it to his ear. Ghost muttered something inarticulate and probably more than a little rude into the speaker. Randi’s voice answered him, and Ghost immediately stilled. They had exchanged numbers in the wake of their duel from two days ago, but he hadn’t actually expected her to ever use it, let alone at four in the morning. An icy finger ran between his shoulder blades as he detected something he had never heard in her voice before: fear. Ghost was instantly awake.
And realized that he had fallen asleep in his clothes, fully dressed from yesterday. He didn’t recall making the decision to ever fall asleep; he’d just needed to get off his feet for a few minutes after three hours of cleaning in the wake of Daniels’s visit. A new current of alarm knifed through him when it occurred to Ghost that he had been unconscious for ten hours and had no idea what he might have missed in all that time. But that wasn’t important right now, he thought as Randi’s voice turned faster, higher. “Sorry… repeat that again,” he murmured, putting his forehead in one hand. Randi repeated the details. Ghost’s eyes widened. He started asking about five questions at once, but Randi promptly cut him off, saying that they could discuss when he met her. Ghost ground his teeth and scowled deeply, frustrated. His pillow crooned a siren’s song, but he couldn’t in good conscience tell Randi to buzz off, despite the ungodly hour. “Fine. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. Just… stay where you are, or something.”