Rise of Fire

By: Sophie Jordan

ONE


Luna


THIS WAS DARKNESS.

Of course, I was sightless, so darkness was all I had ever known. It lived in me, on me, like scars written on my skin. But this darkness went deeper. Thicker. Denser. It suffocated me. Thick as tar, I was drowning inside it, flailing, searching for air to fill my starved lungs.

Diving underground after Fowler, I knew precisely what I was doing. Even if an earthen tomb would likely become my crypt, it was what I had to do. Fowler was gone. Dwellers had taken him. He was lost somewhere in this tar. Dead, maybe. Probably. I expelled my pain-laden breath. No. Find him. Find Fowler.

I dropped, falling into a thick pool of sludge. I swam through the mire and sucked in a sharp breath that felt like razors scraping the inside of my throat. My palms slapped the surface of emulsified earth, keeping me from sinking. I was already underground. Who knew what lay farther down? The very bowels of the earth, perhaps.

I lifted my fingers, letting them unfurl from their grip on ground that only seemed to break and crumble under my grasp.

For a moment, I wobbled on my knees, my balance thrown. Lifting my chest, I took another gulp of air and inched forward, patting wet earth. The ground started to dip, so I flipped to my bottom and slid down the slope.

Damp earth rushed past, sticking to every inch of me. Sludge clung to my hair and clumped in my lashes. I blinked, trying to clear it away. Rich, pungent loam filled my nostrils. I sucked in a breath and swallowed earth. Coughing, I spat out debris and sealed my lips shut, determined to not breathe too deeply down here.

I came to a stop, landing on actual ground. Their ground. I’d followed Fowler into their domain. For the first time I was the invader.

I sat still for a long moment, listening and taking slow sips of air as I attempted to still my racing heart in the dripping silence. I was certain dwellers could hear me. Terrified they could hear the wild beating in my chest, that organ that I’d thought dead. Fowler had killed it, crushed it with the awful truth, but the stupid thing knew how to keep beating, fighting no matter if it was dead. Fowler was Cullan’s son. Cullan, the man who killed my parents and hunted me. The man who killed every girl in the land for the crime of maybe being me. That monster was Fowler’s father. Fowler’s past, his legacy, was wrapped up in that evil.

I shuddered and pushed out the thought for later. For now I couldn’t think of that. I wouldn’t. I could think only of saving Fowler and getting both of us out of here alive. Nothing else mattered right now.

I flexed my fingers and remembered that I still clutched my knife. I was comforted to feel it in my hand. Water fell overhead, echoing in tinny pings all around me. I shivered in the bone-numbing cold that permeated my wet clothes. I shifted uncomfortably, plucking at my tunic and vest. It was pointless. There was no relief, no way to feel warm or dry or safe.

I didn’t feel at home like I usually did in the dark. There was nothing comforting. Nothing familiar. I wanted to crawl back out and escape through the quagmire. Except Fowler was here somewhere.

My breath came faster. My heart felt as though it might explode from my too-tight chest. Fowler, trapped in this world under our world. It didn’t seem possible that strong, capable, unbreakable Fowler could be here—that this was his fate, that he had embraced it, sacrificing himself to dwellers to save me.

I shook my head against the terrifying possibility that I was too late. He was still alive. I would know if he wasn’t. Something like that . . . I would know.

I deliberately shoved away the memory of the words he had said to me, that confession, that horrible truth that had always been between us like a serpent in the grass waiting to strike, waiting to inflict its poison with immense fangs.

I kept going. My legs felt wobbly. Bracing my hands along the moist wall of earth to my left, I continued to edge forward, half expecting to come face-to-face with a dark dweller. But no, I was always good at sensing them, at knowing where they were before they knew where I was.

Most dwellers were aboveground hunting, with the exception of the ones who had taken Fowler. Hopefully, they’d just dumped him and returned aboveground to hunt. There seemed no end to their hunger, after all.

I hastened forward, skimming my hand along the earthen wall, the odor of bracken and rot stifling. I shuffled one foot after the other, feeling my way rather than plunging headlong down another incline. With luck, the ground would stay level. I needed to keep my bearings.

A distant dweller’s cry echoed faintly through the underground labyrinth of tunnels. I froze, angling my head and listening, holding my breath. No other cries came. Water dripped over the blanket of calm.

I started forward again, turning left when my hand met the open air of a tunnel. I focused intently, using my heightened senses and marking the distance my feet traveled, noting every turn I took so that I could find my way back to the spot through which I entered.

Another cry sounded, and this time it wasn’t a dweller. It was wholly human. I followed the direction of the shout, my steps quickening as hope pulsed inside me. Let it be Fowler.





TWO


Fowler


I’VE ALWAYS LIVED in darkness. With dark dwellers and death, death and dark dwellers. The two were interchangeable but the same, and by some miracle I still lived.