We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire #1)

We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire #1)

Tehlor Kay Mejia


To A, who already moves mountains.

This is for you. Everything is for you.


“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

—Emma Lazarus


In the beginning, there were two brother-gods: the God of Salt and the God of Sun.

On the inner island, the Sun God warmed the soil, shone down on the plentiful foliage, and browned the skin of his chosen children. On the outer island, the Salt God kept the water teeming with fish, the waves calm, and the beaches safe. For thousands of years, Medio existed in harmony and prosperity.

But then the Sun God fell in love.

Constancia was the daughter of Medio’s king. She was strong, brave, and her brilliant mind rivaled the god’s own. Each morning he shone brighter and brighter into her window, until one day he walked through in the form of a man, fell to one knee, and asked to be hers forever.

So Constancia became a goddess as well as a queen, and for a time, the divine walked the island in human form. Gods and rulers alike. But into the room that the Sun God shared with his bride, the Moon Goddess shone night after night, and soon she, too, fell in love.

One summer midnight, when the Sun God had walked alone into his moonlit garden, the Moon Goddess descended in the form of a beautiful woman. Her hair was tossed by darkness, her eyes glittered with stars, and her passionate love for the god-king swayed him. Constancia was his equal. His partner and his wife. But in the Moon Goddess he found his opposite, and he was intoxicated by her. For six days and six nights he sat still as a statue in the garden, trying to choose between them as the island waited in darkness.

Meanwhile, the Salt God tasted his brother’s indecision, and seethed. For eternity, the tides of his sea had obeyed none but the Moon Goddess, but each time he glimpsed her face she would turn slowly away from him, shrinking in his eye until she showed him nothing at all.

When the Sun God had finally made his choice, his angry brother ascended from the sea as a man to hear his proclamation.

With Constancia on one arm and the Moon Goddess on the other, the Sun God announced that from that moment onward, the three of them would rule as one. Constancia, his equal, and the goddess, his opposite. The kingdom, he promised, would prosper beyond anything they had ever imagined, and for each of the six days of his isolation, there would be a celebration day to follow.

The Salt God quietly disappeared, but a few days after the Sun God’s revelation, a storm lashed at the island. Houses were destroyed, and the villagers huddled in terror as the beaches and flatlands were destroyed. This was the Salt God’s revenge against a brother who he felt had stolen what belonged to him. After days of rain and punishing waves, he appeared at his brother’s house and issued his ultimatum:

He would wed the Moon Goddess himself, or he would destroy the island his brother loved, and all the people who resided there.

The Sun God met the challenge in his god form, shedding his human skin to battle his brother. The fight raged for a day and a night. Fire and waves. Destruction on top of destruction. But in the end, the Sun God was victorious, and the Salt God was banished from the island forever.

Knowing he was outmatched, the Salt God agreed to exile, but as he left he placed a curse on the outer island he had ruled. Anywhere the waves could reach. The fish turned up bloated and dead on the beaches. The ground was gorged with salt; nothing could grow.

Heartbroken by his brother’s betrayal, the Sun God took to the home he shared with his wives, and for weeks rain fell like his tears onto Medio’s ravaged soil. Soon it became clear that he could no longer remain at the site of all that had befallen him. With a heavy heart, the Sun God relinquished his human form permanently and returned to the celestial body that bore his name.

But before he did, the god-king gathered his people, the ones living inside the island. He called them chosen, and he demanded that as their last act of loyalty they build a wall to contain his brother’s curse and protect the pure. In exchange for this devotion, he would give his chosen children a gift.

From that day forward, for each of the Sun God’s faithful servants, there would be two wives to serve him as the Sun God’s wives did him. At birth, the women of the island would be destined: One touched on her brow by Constancia for her wise and discerning nature, her quick wit and loyalty. The other would be kissed on her brow by the Moon Goddess for her beauty and bravery, for her nurturing warmth and the passion that lurked beneath.

They would be named Primera, for his first wife, and Segunda, for his second.

And so it was. . . .

—Medio School for Girls Handbook, Introduction


The key to a Primera’s strength is her restraint and immunity to scandal. She must not only behave like someone with nothing to hide—she must have nothing to hide.

—Medio School for Girls Handbook, 14th edition

DANIELA VARGAS WOKE AT THE first whisper of footsteps coming up the road.

By the time the sound of shattering glass in the courtyard alerted the campus to the presence of intruders, she was dressed and ready. For what? She wasn’t sure. After a childhood of heavy-footed military police in close pursuit, she knew better than to mistake the luxury of her surroundings for safety.

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