We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1)(4)

For a moment, framed by the doorway of the oratory, Dani hated the protesters. Why tonight? When she was so close to getting everything she’d worked for, to giving her parents their due . . .

“Daniela Vargas?” came a gruff voice.

Her heart sank. She was out of time, and no closer to deciding what to do.

When she didn’t come forward immediately, several of her classmates’ heads swiveled in her direction. When had Daniela Vargas ever failed to respond to an order?

She took a single step toward the officer, who was twice her width and half again as tall.

The room was too bright, every sound too loud. The windowless cell that had haunted her childhood nightmares swam to life behind her eyelids whenever she blinked. Once her papers were proven false, they would assume she had let the protesters in. They would think she was here to spy, to help the rebels, when all she wanted was to keep her head down. Be a good Primera. Make her parents proud.

If she could have, she would have whispered to the goddess of duty, to ask her to show the way, but there was no time, and too many eyes were on her now.

Tears began to threaten. She could not let them fall.

She moved ever so slightly forward.

“Se?orita?” the officer said, an edge in his voice that hadn’t been there the first time. “This way, please.”

There was noise in the room, of course there was—other names were being called, other girls interviewed. Segundas were complaining about the late hour, and the dark circles they’d have beneath their eyes come morning. But Dani felt as though she was the only one moving, the only one anyone could see. Her heartbeat was audible to everyone, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?

The officer stepped forward, taking her elbow, steering her toward the classrooms in the back. But he stopped when her knees locked. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe.

“Se?orita?” came another voice, a kinder voice. “Are you feeling alright?”

Dani turned toward him, feeling like a fish washed up on the beach. He was in uniform, like the others, but he was slighter, younger, his eyes bright and curious.

“Who are you?” growled Dani’s would-be captor.

“Medic,” said the younger man, gesturing to the band around his left sleeve. White with a red cross. Dani’s breath came easier for a moment, though she couldn’t have said why.

“I need her in the back for questioning,” said the officer, tugging on Dani’s unresponsive arm. “We have half the list to get through still, and those girls in the front are giving me a headache.”

Under normal circumstances, Dani would have smiled.

“I understand, sir,” said the medic. “But my orders are to care for any student experiencing shock after the riot. These aren’t common rabble, you know. Their fathers write angry letters when their precious daughters faint.”

A staring contest ensued, and Dani swayed again for effect. If they took her to recover from shock, maybe she would get a second chance to run. “I don’t feel so well,” she said in the smallest voice she could fake. Primeras used whatever resources they had at hand.

One hand flew to her stomach, the other to her mouth.

The enormous officer stepped away in disgust. “Take her,” he said, shoving Dani toward the medic. “But she better be back in this room in ten minutes.”

“Yes, sir,” said the boy, managing a clumsy salute as he shouldered Dani’s weight.

He smelled like cinnamon and warm earth. A familiar smell. A comforting one.

“Right this way,” he said with a smile, and Dani followed, a tiny flame of hope alive in her chest. Maybe it wasn’t too late.

“Let’s find somewhere you can relax,” the medic said, mostly to himself, trying several doorknobs before settling on one.

“This is a—” Dani began, but he silenced her with a look, ushering her into a supply closet full of empty candle glasses and brooms. Goose bumps rippled up and down Dani’s spine.

“Nice performance back there,” said the boy, closing the door behind him. “Even I almost believed you.” His face transformed in the dark of the closet. From stoic and soldierly, he was suddenly foxlike, all sharp angles and mischief.

“I don’t know what you—” Dani began.

“Save it,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”

And with that, he took Dani’s papers, the hard-won key to her whole life, and tore them cleanly in half.


Analysis and logic are a Primera’s greatest tools, irrationality her greatest enemy. There is no room for emotion in her decision-making.

—Medio School for Girls Handbook, 14th edition

THE MEDIC-WHO-WAS-NOT-A-MEDIC stood still, gauging Dani’s reaction.

On the outside, she was frozen, but inside her, whole cities were being razed to the ground. Explosions were shaking the walls of her stomach. People were screaming in her throat.

“Let me explain,” he said, looking almost sheepish.

“You . . . ,” Dani spluttered. “I . . .”

“It’s not what you think.”

“It better not be,” Dani replied, finally finding her voice. What had she learned every day in this place, if not how to handle herself in any circumstance? Dani pushed every feather of panic deep into herself and summoned all the authority she had. “Because you are clearly not military,” she said. “Now, you have about ten seconds before I start screaming that there’s an intruder here holding me against my will.”

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