Firelight, p.25
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       Firelight, p.25

         Part #1 of Firelight series by Sophie Jordan
Page 25

  Author: Sophie Jordan

  Parting my lips, I inhale, drawing deep from my contracting lungs.

  And blow.

  The scream ends it all. It’s not the type of scream you hear in a movie. It lingers, echoing off the walls, residing in my ears for moments more. It brings everything to a jarring halt. Including my heart, which seizes in the dark burn of my chest.

  Everyone looks around wildly, searching for the source.

  Except me.

  I look at Brooklyn. Her face is pale. Her mouth trembling. Raw pain glazes her eyes. She rocks on the bathroom floor, fingers clasped over her arm, the tips white where they dig into her flesh. I sniff the air. Smell scorched flesh.

  Top-of-the-pyramid blonde crouches beside her. “What happened?”

  Brooklyn’s gaze fastens on me. “She burned me!”

  Brooklyn lifts her hand to reveal the burn. Second degree easy. The damaged skin is baby pink, greasy looking, the edges white and peeled back. All eyes swing to me.

  I resist correcting her. It’s more of a singe than a burn. I’d swallowed back the river of flame as quickly as it left my lips. It barely made contact. Could have been much worse, really.

  Catherine looks me over, demands in a hush, “Do you have a lighter?”

  I don’t have a chance to answer.

  “Get her!”

  They pounce on me. Again. I struggle, try to break free from the pileup. My skin shivers, eager to fade out.

  Catherine shouts my name as Brooklyn howls directions.

  My lungs open wide, fill with smoke. Pulsing steam eats up my throat, widening my windpipe. I seal my lips tight, determined to keep the fire in this time, but I taste the fear in my mouth. Fear of them. For them. Fear for what my draki will do if I don’t escape this bathroom. Fear for what that will mean to so many…

  All that fear does the trick. I don’t stand a chance against instinct a millennia in the making. My wings push, the membranes straining to break free from my back. I whimper, fighting, resisting for as long as I can. Bones pull. My human flesh fades and my true face sharpens, nose giving way, bridge broadening, the ridges pushing forward.

  It’s no good.

  I give in. At least partly. I manage to stave off manifesting completely on the dirty bathroom floor, but not for long.

  I exhale through my nose—it’s my only choice. Carefully, I turn my neck, roll my head, and fan them all with steaming breath.

  They release me, shrieking as they stumble away. Fall back on the floor.

  Pushing to my feet, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. The red-gold luster of my skin. The sharpened features and ridged nose. The face that blurs in and out like shimmering firelight.

  With a gasp, I dive into a stall, slam the door shut. Gulp air and fight to cool my lungs.

  And hope, desperately hope, that none of them saw what I just did in the mirror.


  I press vibrating palms against the door. Bowing my head, I stare blindly at the scuffed toes of my shoes, dragging air thickly between my teeth as my tingling back arches. I focus. Push back at the wings itching to spring, unfold, and rip through my shirt.

  Panting, I fight every instinct, every fiber of my being. My arms tremble, muscles burn. It’s so hard with a little bit of myself released…. The rest of me wants out, too.

  For once, it’s the reverse. Me, straining to be human, to bury my draki.

  Not. Now. Not now! I toss my head, catch hair in my mouth and spit it out.

  Voices overlap outside my stall, but I can’t process them. Can only fight down the swamping heat.

  Then I hear it.


  The one voice I would hear even in death. A rotting corpse in the ground, I would sit up and take notice. It reaches inside me, stokes the fire.

  My fear intensifies.

  “Go away!” I beg, my voice already thick, garbled with char and smolder. I work my jaw, my throat, try to stop the altering of my speech, the conversion of my vocal cords.

  He can’t be here. Can’t see me like this.

  “Are you all right?” Will beats on the door. “Did they hurt you?”

  “Hurt her?” Brooklyn snarls. “Look at my arm! She lit me on fire! I barely even looked at her and she attacked me! Come out of there!” A kick shudders the stall door, throwing it against my trembling palms. I jerk back.

  My face tightens, cheeks sharpening, stretching—bones dragging into position. I’m losing the fight. I stare down at my arms, moan at the sight of the blurring flesh. Ancient instinct grips me. I need more time.

  Why did he have to be here now?

  My wings push, just a little, just enough, and I hear my shirt rip.

  The cotton tee loosens around my shoulders, slithers down my arms. My wings unfurl, the gossamer membranes stretch behind me, rippling, eager for flight. Not yet fully manifested, my wings are still strong enough to raise me in the air.

  The soles of my feet lift up from the tiled floor.

  I grasp the slippery sides of the stall, fighting to still the quivering sheets of red-gold. Heat courses through me. Struggling to demanifest, I clench my teeth against a scream. A groan spills through.

  “Jacinda! Open the door!”

  Then there’s another sound. A slam. Shoes squeal on tile. A jarring thump. The stall shakes all around me.

  A breathless “Jacinda…”

  His voice isn’t at the front of my stall anymore. I follow it. Heart in my throat, I blink tightly, and look up.

  Will stares down at me over the top of the stall, his mouth parted in a small O of shock. His hazel eyes gleam dully, something within dying as he looks at me.

  “Will,” I manage to get out in a breath of steam, my English barely intelligible. “Please. ”

  I don’t know his face. The beauty is the same but not. Different. Terrible.

  Then he’s gone. I hear the beat of his footsteps, hard smacks striking the floor, fleeing the bathroom. Fleeing me.

  According to the clock above the principal’s desk, we’re still in seventh period.

  I’m sure it’s a mistake. I didn’t betray my kind, lose everything, every hope and chance—Will—in so little time.

  The principal hangs up the phone and faces me again. His eyes are a harsh blue beneath bushy gray brows. I’m sure it’s the type of stare that inflicts fear in most adolescents, but it has little effect on me. Not when right now, somewhere nearby, Will is connecting all the puzzle pieces.

  I sit numbly, turning to stare out his office window at the red-brown earth edging the quad, cracked and wrinkly like an old man’s skin beneath the baking sun.

  I managed to fully demanifest before the staff arrived to investigate the commotion. Despite Catherine’s assertion that we didn’t start it, that Brooklyn and her friends attacked us, I’ve been suspended.

  Several of the girls showed their burns as evidence against me. Even though they couldn’t find a lighter on me, the theory was that I flushed it down the toilet.

  “Your mother’s on her way. ”

  I nod, knowing she would be home by now. She promised to pick us up this afternoon.

  I’m wearing a red Chaparral T-shirt that smells like the cardboard box from which it emerged. My ripped shirt sits at the bottom of a wastebasket. Everyone assumes it got that way during the fight. Another assumption I’m willing to play along with.

  “We have a strict no-tolerance policy at this school, Ms. Jones. No violence, no bullying. ”

  I nod, barely processing his words. In my mind, I see only Will’s face. Hear the fast beat of his footsteps as he bolted away. Think how he must hate me.

  Gradually, it sinks in, the dread settling deeper and deeper with every passing moment. Something else has happened. Even worse than Will hating me—as terrible as that is.

  I’ve done it. Exposed all draki. Revealed our g
reatest secret. The one thing that has protected us for centuries. The one thing the hunters and enkros don’t know. Can never know.

  Now they do.

  Well, at least one of them knows. All because of me. I close my eyes. My stomach cramps. Cold misery washes over me, prickling my flesh.

  Apparently, the principal reads my misery. Mistakes its source. “I see you are contrite. Good. At least you appreciate the gravity of your actions. I expect you’ll behave yourself when you return to school. You’re new here, Ms. Jones, and you’re not starting out on a very good note. Think about that. ”

  I manage a nod.

  “Good. You can wait for your mother outside. ” He motions to the door. “I’ll speak to her about your suspension when she arrives. ”

  I rise and leave the room. My body moves slowly, weakly, too tired from the hard fight with itself. I sink into a chair and suffer the secretary’s narrow-eyed gaze. No doubt word has traveled that I’m some kind of bullying pyromaniac. Crossing my arms over my chest, I drop my head back on the wall and wait for Mom. Wait and worry.

  Worry about what Will will do. Will he tell his dad? His cousins? Or will he simply confront me? How can I convince him that he didn’t see what he clearly saw? Especially after he caught me snooping around in his house.

  I’m actually glad that I’m suspended. Glad that it will be a while before I have to face him and find out. Assuming he doesn’t show up on my doorstep, cavalry in tow, all eager to obliterate me.

  School is over by the time Mom finishes talking with the principal. I’m relieved that when we step out of the front office, the building is deserted, the halls stripped bare.

  Mom doesn’t speak to me as we exit the front door and head into the parking lot. She’s ominously silent. I shoot her a few glances, want to ask about her trip, want to know about the amber. Even now, after everything that has happened, I need confirmation that that piece of me is lost.

  Tamra is waiting at the car. Red splotches mottle her creamy complexion, and I know it’s not because we’ve left her waiting in the sun. She’s been crying. Her red shorts and white T-shirt explain everything. Tryouts were this afternoon. In all the excitement, I almost forgot that today was her big day.

  She wastes no time. “How could you?” Her face burns bright. “It didn’t matter what I did. I could have been a gold medalist gymnast and they wouldn’t have voted me in! Not after you attacked them!”

  Air hisses from my lips in a pained breath. Little does she know I was trying to defend her. Nor does she realize just how evil those girls are. One look at her face though and I know she’s not in the mood to listen to any of that. “I’m sorry, Tamra, but—”

  “Sorry?” She shakes her head, the motion bleak. “No matter where we go, it will always be this way. ” She waves her arms, groping for words. “Why does everything have to be about you?”

  I stare at her. Into eyes like mine, and wish I could answer. Wish I could deny the accusation, but I can’t.

  Mom’s voice lashes us both. “This isn’t the place. Get in the car. Now. ” She darts a nervous look around. We’re not unnoticed. A few people linger in the parking lot.

  I slide into the back. I’m already buckled in when Mom slams her door.

  “We don’t need you two going at it in public. ” She looks over her shoulder, keys in hand. “I already talked with the principal. Now do you want to explain what really happened?”

  I bite my lip, release it with a gust of breath. There’s no good way to say it. “I got jumped in the bathroom. ” I shrug like that’s an everyday occurrence. “So I manifested. ”

  My sister groans.

  Mom’s shoulders slump. Turning, she starts the car. Warm air pants from the vents. “How bad?”

  Because manifesting can only ever be bad. And I guess, this time, it was.

  “I hid in the bathroom stall. They didn’t see. Or didn’t know what they saw. But I burned one of them. To get free. ” I wince. “Maybe more than one of them. ”

  My sister is furious, shaking in her seat. “This is terrific. ”

  “Tamra,” Mom says, sighing deeply. Her nostrils flare in and out. “None of this has been easy for Jacinda. She’s held up better than we could have hoped. ”
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