Ignite, page 1
Copyright © 2017 by Danielle Rogland.
All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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Chapter 1: Jacks
Chapter 2: Corry
Chapter 3: Zira
Chapter 4: Jacks
Chapter 5: Corry
Chapter 6: Zira
Chapter 7: Jacks
Chapter 8: Jeremy
Chapter 9: Jacks
Chapter 10: Corry
Chapter 11: Zira
Chapter 12: Jacks
Chapter 13: Jeremy
Chapter 14: Zira
Chapter 15: Corry
Chapter 16: Zira
Chapter 17: Jacks
Chapter 18: Corry
Chapter 19: Jeremy
Chapter 20: Zira
Chapter 21: Jacks
Chapter 22: Zira
Chapter 23: Jeremy
Chapter 24: Jacks
Chapter 25: Zira
Chapter 26: Jacks
Chapter 27: Corry
Chapter 28: Zira
Chapter 29: Jacks
Chapter 30: Zira
Chapter 31: Jacks
Chapter 32: Zira
Chapter 33: Zira
Chapter 34: Jacks
Chapter 35: Jeremy
Chapter 36: Corry
Chapter 37: Corry
Chapter 38: Zira
Chapter 39: Jacks
Chapter 40: Jeremy
Chapter 41: Jacks
Chapter 42: Corry
Chapter 43: Zira
Chapter 44: Jacks
Chapter 45: Corry
Chapter 46: Zira
Chapter 47: Corry
Chapter 48: Jacks
Chapter 49: Zira
Chapter 50: Jeremy
Chapter 51: Jacks
Chapter 52: Zira
I am eight years old and dreaming of a bakery full of sweets when I awake to the smell of smoke.
The fire alarms begin to sound, a piercing screech that jolts me instantly out of the last remnants of my dream. I clap my hands over my ears and peer through the dark of my bedroom, but all I can see is the little, red light of the fire alarm blinking in the corner, and I think about calling for my mum but my voice is scratchy with sleep and I don’t think she’ll hear me over the noise. I wonder if it’s a mistake, if she’s left something in the oven too long again, but why would she be cooking in the night?
She bursts into my room in a flurry of motion that makes me nervous. I try to ask her what’s wrong but she doesn’t answer, and then I’m in her arms, and she’s lifted me out of my warm bed into the cold air, and out in the hallway it’s too bright and smells of smoke. I try to wriggle out of her arms as we nearly tumble down the stairs and then we’re outside on the porch, in the freezing air, and there’s my dad beside us, and I reach for him but he’s not looking at me. We run out onto the lawn. I look up and there’s a thin white trail of smoke reaching up into the sky above our house, and beneath it the brightness of red fire.
I start to cry. The way my mum’s holding me is uncomfortably tight, too tight, and I feel like I want to scream but I’m not sure why. I look around and see people in black emerging from the shadows. They’re scary men, with dark looks on their faces. As they get closer, I can see the marks on their hands, circles with dots in the middle and lines pointing out like little spears.
One of the men, the leader, says a word. I don’t hear the word, but I see it escape his lips, and at the sound of it the others dart forward. I’m clawing and screaming and reaching for my father as they grab hold of him and the gunshot sounds. He drops.
There are hands on me, and I cling to my mum. She’s trying to hold on to me, and I can’t stand to watch so I close my eyes and feel myself ripped away. I stop breathing and I feel my heart bumping in my chest. Bump, bump, bump. I open my eyes, and I see her, and I reach for her, but the men are all around her, faceless men with marks on their hands.
There is a scuffle, and shouting. The heavy hands holding me throw me to the ground. My hands crush the daisies that grow in this part of the lawn. I look up. My mother is kneeling, surrounded. And I run. I run away.
From under the cover of the bushes, I watch the leader walk up to my mother. I see him reach for his gun in the shaking red light of my burning home. He turns and places it in the hands of a small figure who appears from behind him, a figure small enough to be a child.
Hiding in the bushes, terrified and unwilling even to scream, I hear a shot ring out so loud I think it’ll split my head in two, and I watch as I lose my mother to those small, shaking, marked hands.
Chapter 1: Jacks
The new shopkeeper at Silver Hands was driving a hard bargain on a pair of blinders, and I was missing Cricket terribly.
“Seventy skids,” he repeated. “No less.”
“Seventy?” I hissed, leaning up against the counter and drumming my fingernails impatiently on the glass countertop. “That’s ridiculous. I have to feed myself.”
The new shopkeeper shook his head, dragging on his cigarette with an amused smile on his face.
“Look, kid,” he said, puffing smoke into the claustrophobic back corner of the shop. “These things don’t come cheap.”
I sighed, glancing away from him at the piles of antiques and collectibles and other pawned items that were sold in the front of the store—the more legitimate part. This new guy had no idea who I was. Admittedly, I wasn’t much of anyone, but Silver Hands did business with me often, and that used to count for something. I really missed Cricket.
“Half of what you’re selling over there comes straight from me,” I told him, jerking my thumb at the front of the store. “Understand? And there are plenty of other resale shops I can go to instead. If you want me to keep giving you merchandise, you’re gonna have to give me fair prices.”
The shopkeeper grinned, showing off his crooked teeth.
“You’re not the only kid in the Ruins who can pick a pocket, you know.”
“I happen to know you get these in for thirty skids a pair,” I told him. “And I need ’em for forty. That’s fair.”
The shopkeeper tsk-ed, shaking his head again. “I’ve gotta feed myself too, kid.”
I wished he would quit calling me that.
“Fifty, then,” I relented. “But they’re not worth seventy. Cricket sold me a pair two weeks ago for forty-five.”
“Times are hard,” he insisted.
“For your customers,” I agreed. “I’m a regular. Didn’t Cricket tell you that? If it doesn’t mean anything, I’ll go somewhere else.”
The shopkeeper grinned.
“You can’t get these anywhere else,” he said confidently. “Not unless you want ’em used.”
“So they tell you,” I countered, attempting to sound just as confident. “No one knows the Ruins better than I do. I came here ‘cause Cricket gave me deals. If you can’t do that, I know where else to go.”
The shopkeeper’s brow wrinkled. I was bluffing, of course, but all I had was fifty skids. And I do know the city well. I’d been trapped in it for most of my life. The new guy wasn’t from around here; th
“Sixty,” he said, “as a regular discount.”
“That’s a mark-up from the price I usually get!” I argued.
Just then, the front door of the shop opened, and the little brass bell jingled as another customer walked in. The new customer was a girl not much older than me, dressed in jeans and a black jacket. She wore fingerless gloves, and her short, dark brown curls were half-covered in a dark green bandanna.
The shopkeeper stepped out from behind the counter and smiled at her.
“Can I help you?” he asked.
The girl glanced at me suspiciously—when people bother to notice me, they tend to do it suspiciously—then whispered something into his ear. His eyes widened.
“So,” she said, stepping back. “I assume you know what I’m here for.”
“Of course,” he agreed quickly. “Yes. Wait here.”
He put out his cigarette on an ashtray behind the counter and disappeared into a back closet, emerging with three boxes containing what I knew were three pairs of blinders.
“How much?” the girl asked.
“Seventy each?” the shopkeeper said timidly.
“No,” the girl replied matter-of-factly, real simple, as if she owned the place and he was the one out of line. “Thirty.”
I gaped. Who was this girl, and why had I never heard of her?
The shopkeeper tried to look personally hurt. He laughed nervously.
“Aw, come on,” he said. “I get these for that much. I would just break even.”
“You are aware of why the DRT hasn’t shown up at your door yet, right?” she asked. The way she said it made it sound like a threat, though how a single person could claim to control what the burners do and don’t do was a mystery to me.
The shopkeeper cleared his throat.
“Thirty,” he agreed. She paid and left. The shopkeeper slunk back over to me, looking defeated.
“Alright,” he relented. “Forty-five. Your usual price.”
Having gotten the shopkeeper to drop to my normal price—and having gotten no information from him on that girl, I might add, though I tried—I had five skids left, which meant I could afford to eat dinner tonight. I headed in the direction of Marthy’s shop.
Marthy doesn’t cook good food at all, but she sells cheap, and it’s not like I’d know good food when I saw it anyway. Besides, her shop is right in the middle of the square, so there’s always some form of entertainment going on near the cluster of tables she keeps out front.
Silver Hands, and most of the other retailers of that sort, was in between the shiners and the slums. You couldn’t see the proper houses of the shiners from there, but then, you couldn’t see the towering apartments or the slums either—just shops, hawkers, and beggars. There were still hawkers out, despite the lack of shoppers on such a cold day, but it was easy enough to ignore them, and I’m not the type of person who looks like they have a particularly large amount of money to spend anyway, so they mostly ignored me, too. I was used to the half-hearted attempts to shove newspapers, fruit or cheap jewelry into my face, since I frequented the area. The beggar kids, on the other hand ― their matted hair and filthy, starving faces — they were harder to ignore, especially today, when their hands shook with cold as they tugged on my shirt. I pushed them away and walked by quickly.
It had been raining just an hour earlier, and the brick buildings still glinted with water that never quite cut through the dust no matter how hard it poured—and it poured a lot. I navigated my way across the half-paved streets, kept my eyes fixed ahead and my thoughts focused on my next job, which is why I’d gotten the blinders. There was a festival on the shiner’s side of town I was planning on sneaking into the next day, and thinking about that kept me from paying attention to the beggars on the street corners. They were harder to ignore these days, now that I was on my own.
Aside from them, the streets were empty, and the muck-filled, garbage-ridden, exhausted old river flowed by sluggishly as I approached the bridge—one of the only bridges still sturdy enough to walk across. There were remnants left of the other ones, poor old tattered things, just like the buildings—all either rubble or poorly rebuilt copies with broken windows that were growing slums behind them like a dead log grows moss. As I crossed over the dark water and headed for the square, the blue tarp tents and cardboard houses started cropping up on either side of the street. Children and old women who couldn’t be out working watched me silently.
Strolling towards the square, I knew something was wrong. This part of the Strand was rarely this quiet. Today, it was empty of the usual hagglers, beggars, street performers, and general mayhem of street kids mixing with claimed kids and frightening the hell out of parents who are hoping to create some semblance of civilization.
Empty streets on a cold work day, that was fine. Empty square? Not fine. It was quiet—not silent, but quiet—and if everything were normal, it would have been full of voices.
Someone died today. Someone in the Strand was killed by the DRT, because this is the hush that happens when people are afraid.
But it was fine this morning, and I was only at Silver Hands for an hour at most. I felt, self-consciously, at my pack, the pair of blinders still in their little box in the front pocket where the corners poked out a little, so you could see a square outline of the shape through the black canvas mesh. Of course, I could be wrong. Maybe they hadn’t killed anyone yet. Maybe they were here now, waiting.
I took another glance around, standing on the street just at the edge of the square. The place wasn’t totally deserted, but that didn’t mean anything necessarily; people try to pretend to go about their daily lives, to keep from attracting unwanted attention when the DRT shows up. There were a few beggars out still, three or four people sitting outside Marthy’s shop eating soup, and a small gang of street kids in the corner shrieking at each other.
So they were still here. When did they get here? Why hadn’t someone warned me? It had been a year since the gang got picked up, and I still wasn’t used to being on my own. I’d never get used to it. I clutched my pack tighter and strode as quickly as I could to Marthy’s shop; no sense going without a meal while I had the money.
I pushed against the dirty glass pane on the door and slipped inside. I knew all four of the people inside: Marthy, a woman named Tanya and her twelve-year-old daughter Taz, and Gunnar, a helpless drunk who everyone seemed to treat as a pet because he was somewhat cleaner than most drunks and kind of amiable, in a comatose sort of way. I walked up to the counter, sat on a bar stool, and plunked my five skids down in front of Marthy, who collected them with nervous, shaky hands.
I looked at the others while Marthy disappeared to get me some soup. At a booth in the corner, Tanya was staring miserably at her hands and Taz was staring up at me hopefully. Maybe she expected me to bring something interesting into the dreary little shop. Gunnar, half sitting and half lying in the booth next to theirs, lifted his head after a moment and laughed.
“Oh, you’re here!” he giggled. I glanced around nervously, turning myself so I had a good view out the front window, just in case. I wasn’t comfortable being in the middle of everything when the burners were around.
“Here you are, Jacks,” said Marthy, setting a bowl of soup on the counter for me. I took a sip—the soup was acidic and watery, but there was a lot of it, and that was what counted.
“Are they gone yet outside, Jacks?” Taz asked me anxiously.
“Doesn’t look like it,” I answered. “What happened, when did they get here?”
“About an hour ago,” said Marthy, pushing a matronly grey curl back from her face. Her small fingers were still shaking. “Cars pulled up in front of the central tubes entrance and nobody’s come in or out since.”
I nodded. Normally the underground tubes were the only mode of transportation for us poor folks, but last month a tunnel had collapsed, and the government had comm
“A runner said they were blocking the other entrances, too,” said Tanya quietly. Her black hair covered half her face as her back bent and she leaned further over the table. “My husband’s down there.”
So that was why there was no one around.
“Any clue what they want?” I asked.
“Mouse told me they were following a lead on a round robin they found with some tube worker’s names,” Taz offered helpfully, looking important. She was a bouncy miniature version of her mother.
“Why would they block the entrances to get that done? They’d just go to the homes, wouldn’t they? That can’t be it.”
No one answered. I set down my spoon and tipped the bowl to my lips, slurping down the rest in a few gulps. I gathered up my pack. Taz jumped up from her seat, looking at me anxiously.
“Are you going down there, Jacks?” she asked. “Will you see if my dad’s alright?”
I sighed and shook my head.
“I can’t go down there. The entrances are blocked. I’ll get shot. You know that.”
The little girl frowned at me disappointedly, as if she knew I wasn’t telling the truth. She brushed strands of flyaway hair away from her dark eyes.
“Tell us if you hear anything about my dad,” she ordered, and the fear in her face hurt me more than I expected it to. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about their parents, shouldn’t have to see their fathers die.
I turned quickly, ignoring the tears that shimmered in the corner of her eyes like a trick of the light.
I had a problem. See, once you turn on a pair of blinders, they only last for two hours. Not a lot of free time for how much they cost, and for a pickpocket in a town like London Ruins, where not many people have anything valuable in their pockets, well, they cost a lot. I’d had a very specific plan for this pair, and I was pretty reluctant to use them up on something else.