We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1)(7)

So tonight, Dani let herself take comfort in her new papers, despite the source. To take comfort in knowing she was that much closer to what her parents wanted for her. Maybe Sota had been telling the truth. Maybe La Voz had helped her because they thought she was one of them. Maybe it had been an intervention by the goddess of luck at her lowest moment.

Whatever it had been, Dani didn’t intend to waste this chance.


The graduation ceremony is the culmination of a Primera’s training; a first glimpse of the future she has earned, and the heights to which she will rise.

—Medio School for Girls Handbook, 14th edition

ON GRADUATION MORNING, THE SUN rose early just to shine in the windows of Medio’s most celebrated young women on their special day.

Dani was up earlier, sitting at her desk, reading a letter whose creases had smoothed out with time and handling. The date was five years earlier—the handwriting, her mama’s.

Dear Daniela, it began. I write you this letter with all the hope a mother can feel, on the first day of the life you deserve. It will seem strange, after the way we’ve lived, but I know you, m’ija. You have a big heart, a strong mind, and you will find a way to make a life you love. No matter how different it is from the one you left.

Her mama couldn’t say everything, of course. Not in writing. To the students at the Medio School for Girls, Dani was just a girl from somewhere below the capital. Even the ones who knew she was lower class could never know that Dani’s hometown—shameful enough for its proximity to the border wall—wasn’t in fact the place she had been born.

Her dress for the ceremony was pressed and laid out on the bed, her door open to the sounds of girls preparing for the arrival of their families. Normally, Dani ignored them; she wasn’t here to make friends. Still, on this, the last day of her school career, she watched them a little more closely. She was envious, she realized. Of the excitement. Of the glow in their cheeks.

Dani felt satisfaction, yes. The solid, warm feeling of a duty accomplished well. But there was no joy in this day for her. No family arrivals. No celebrations.

In one of her infrequent letters home, Dani had sent two graduation tickets to her own parents, but it had been a formality. Something for her mother to pass around at the well. Dani had, of course, been vetted by the Garcia family. They knew what her papers told them—that she had been born in Polvo, and had risen far above what they’d expected of her here. Not everyone at this level was upper-class legacy, but it certainly didn’t get you anywhere to flaunt your unseemly poverty. Especially in front of the people who’d just paid a small fortune to marry you to their son.

Overcoming obstacles was good. Showing off the salt-curse in your blood was not.

When the return letter had come from her parents, it said as much, wishing her luck, telling her how proud they were. Dani hadn’t seen them in person since she’d boarded the bus to the capital at twelve. They didn’t speak of it, but she’d likely see them only once or twice more in her life.

The island was a mountain, and the higher you climbed, the better off you were.

For a politico’s Primera, a trip to sea level, to the place where the wall separated Medio proper from the lawless outer island, was nothing short of inappropriate. As tensions rose at the border and the frequency of the riots increased, a whisper of “rebel” or “sympathizer”—however untrue—clung like the smell of smoke. To spend too much time below the capital was to risk your loyalties being called into question.

The tensions had moved far past mythology. Far past brother-gods and curses as old as the island itself. It was political now. Rights and riots and the prosperous versus the destitute. On one side, there was the might of a nation. On the other, desperation. Every clash was a violent one, every victory bloody and hollow with loss.

There was no going back.

But still, her heart squeezed uncomfortably in her chest at the idea of her mama. She would look older now, Dani realized, and for a moment she was right back in Polvo, tiny brown fingers digging for candy in an apron pocket, bare feet in the dirt. For a moment, a kind word or a kiss was all it took to make everything better.

The promise of family and the guiding hand of the past had been such innate parts of life in Polvo that sometimes Dani felt like all the Primera training in the world wasn’t enough to fully banish them from her bones.

This is inappropriate, said the nagging voice of a maestra in the back of Dani’s mind. Primeras don’t cling to nostalgia; they’re above such weakness. A true Primera keeps her eyes on the future.

When the hall emptied, Dani followed the crowd. She might not have had parents to show around, but she had a few goodbyes to say before tomorrow’s departure. Her father had warned her not to get too close with any of the girls, reminding her that closeness led to trust, and trust could be broken.

But the best climbing tree on campus couldn’t tell her secrets, and neither could the view from the top-floor library balcony. The light-as-air tortillas in the cafeteria wouldn’t dream of betraying her. And that tile mosaic in the south courtyard, the one everyone passed by without looking? It always kept its mouth shut.

Dani visited them all, the places where she’d found sanctuary from her early homesickness, the places she’d neglected as she rose in the ranks and started wearing her Primera dresses like more than a costume. This school had been her home, much more than the distant place she’d come from. She didn’t know if she’d miss it, but it had earned a goodbye, at least.

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