We Set the Dark on Fire (We Set the Dark on Fire, #1)(2)

She was only as safe as she was vigilant.

The shouting grew louder. There had been rumors of riots at the border for months, in the capital for weeks, but Dani hadn’t thought they’d make it as far as the Medio School for Girls’ gated sanctuary. The campus was private and insulated: white stone, lush greenery. A place where the country’s brightest and most promising young women could train to become the wives Medio’s future husbands deserved.

Dani had been here five years. Enough time to rise to the top of her class, to secure placement as Primera to the capital’s most promising young politico. Graduation was only two days away, and then she would begin the life her parents had sacrificed family, home, and more to give her.

Assuming what was happening outside didn’t get her arrested or killed first.

Another bottle shattered, closer this time, the smell of gasoline drifting in through the open window. Dani closed her eyes and muttered a half-forgotten prayer to the god in the air, to the goddess in the flames. Keep calm, she beseeched them.

No one around her would understand. Her parents’ gods weren’t in fashion this far inland—only the bearded visage of the Sun God, who ruled masculine ambitions and financial prosperity.

For a brief, unexpected moment, Dani wished her mama were here. It didn’t take long to dismiss it as ridiculous. She was seventeen, a woman grown, two days from being a wife herself. Primeras didn’t need comforting.

“Wake up!” came a voice from the courtyard. Drunk on booze or rebellion. Dangerous. “Can’t you see this is all a lie? Can’t you see people are dying? Can’t you see?”

For the first time in her life, Dani awaited the arrival of the military police with something other than terror. She wanted them to come. To disperse the protest so she could go back to doing what they all did best—pretending Medio was prospering and peaceful. Pretending there was nothing but infertile ground and ocean beyond the looming border wall that kept their island nation divided in half.

Once they left, Dani could get back to pretending, too. That she belonged. That she wanted to be here as much as her parents wanted her to be.

Footsteps passed too close outside the window, and Dani ducked below the sill, leaning against the wall, listening to the pleading sounds of a home she didn’t remember fleeing. Up and down the hall, the other fifth-year girls were likely still sleeping. Secure in the knowledge that they had no secrets to discover. Dani envied them.

The rioters didn’t attempt to come inside. They screamed the names of family members they had lost in grief-soaked voices, chanting, pleading for the people hiding inside to wake up before it was too late.

Dani almost missed the snoring presence of her roommate, Jasmín, who had graduated the year before. With an odd number of Primera students, Dani was given the option of a single room for her final year, and with all she had at stake, she had leapt at the chance. But at least with Jasmín here, Dani would have had someone to pretend for. Some reason to quell the fear that curled in her stomach. She banished the thought. Jasmín was miles away now, in a mansion inside Medio’s most exclusive gated community.

She had succeeded. And Dani would, too. She just had to get through tonight.

By the time the police arrived—all authoritative boots and helmeted heads and rifle barrels—the school was locked down. The protesters had scattered in a hundred directions, the shouts increasing in volume as the officers gave chase through the tangle of trees.

Though she was glad for the peace, Dani couldn’t bring herself to thank the goddess of law for the presence of the officers tonight. Most of the protesters had escaped, from the sounds of it, but a few were being captured and restrained, and Dani shivered at the thought of where they were headed.

The cells in Medio’s only prison were all dank and hopeless, but the ones reserved for rebels and sympathizers were rumored to be windowless as well. Dark as the sap dripping down the citrus trees, day and night.

People who went into them rarely came out.

A rapping on the door interrupted the quiet, and Dani found relief in the way she dropped her prayers, her fear of discovery, everything that was out of place in this room. By the time she answered the door, she was who they expected her to be. Not a hair, or a thought, out of place.

“Everyone okay in here?” asked the resident, flanked on both sides by police. Her voice shook, and Dani wondered what she had to be afraid of.

“It’s just me,” Dani said. “And I’m fine.”

The resident—Ami, Dani remembered—only nodded. Of course Dani was fine. She was a Primera, after all, and Primeras didn’t let their emotions take control. Not even when everything they held dear was at stake.

Especially not then.

“We need all students to report to the oratory,” Ami said. “We’re here to escort you.” She was afraid but sure, Dani thought. The picture of a young woman who had never had anything to lose. Who had never entertained the thought that something truly bad might happen.

“Is everything alright?” Dani asked in a careful voice.

“Someone disabled the gate alarm from inside,” she said. “The officers need to speak with all students and staff.”

Dani nodded, not trusting her voice. She had done nothing wrong, she told herself. Unlike the people being arrested outside.

She repeated it in her head to keep calm: I’m not a criminal. I’m not like them.

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