Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns The Host and all of its characters.

Fire

Prologue: Awake

Cold.

My mind had no trouble supplying the word as I shivered violently, an immediate and unpleasant reaction to my environment. I was disoriented for a moment, but I didn't need more than that to realize what was happening. I was inside a new host. Before I could react, I was falling, hundreds and hundreds of miles down… and my host's last memory hit me.

The night air is chilly and crisp, the final days of summer dwindling as the leaves begin to fall from the trees. I watch as one tumbles gracefully toward the pavement, and then slides across the ground. When will I get to see another day like this? Will it be next year? The year after? The chances of that don't seem so high; not anymore.

They'll be coming for us soon. I need to find another place to hide. If not tomorrow, the next day—we can't stay here longer than that. I look at my sister's sleeping figure on the ground next to me—though we are identical physically, we are completely different mentally and emotionally. She is able to sleep through the night without screaming, or thrashing, or having violent nightmares involving parasites taking over the world. I, however, am not. But parasites have already taken over the world, so every day is a nightmare for us. It didn't seem fair that two sixteen-year-old girls had to deal with something only an adult should be responsible for.

Kara is very graceful in her movements, always alert, always focused. I hope that never changes. We can't afford to be sloppy.

I say the next words with guilt, but my shift was supposed to be over an hour ago, and I'm so tired. "Kara." She doesn't stir. "Kara, wake up… it's your turn." She grumbles, but her eyes pop wide open. After a moment, she's still looking at me.

"What?" I ask, my brows furrowing in confusion. Kara is horrorstruck. She doesn't say a word… just points, right behind me.

I whip my head around, but it's too late. I recognize the Seeker from before. She lifts something soft to my mouth and nose, and I gasp—

The memory ended abruptly, and everything went pitch black. It was just me—alone, in the dark. As I collected myself, recoiling from the frightening memory, I took note of my senses. This body differed from every one of my previous hosts; everything was so strong. Clear; vivid.

Sound. I could hear my breathing, even and deep, for the most part—it faltered as I identified it, and then went back to normal.

Smell. The air was heavy with moisture... damp. There was a muskiness to it, something rich, poignant. Dirt.

Touch. My arms were bare, resting against the cool, flat surface I was lying on... but I had clothing covering the midsection of my body. A t-shirt, I realized. The word, to me, did not make sense. I thought of the letter T and then I sifted through my host's memory to see what a shirt looked like. I could not compare the two—every time I tried to place one on top of the other, it looked awkward. Suddenly, the image of a plain white t-shirt flitted through my mind, and I felt my brows pull together. I wondered who had come up with the name… the two things weren't similar in the slightest.

Taste. There was a cool, pleasant flavour in my mouth... mint—and then something misty fell over my face. I breathed it in slowly, recognizing the smell: grapefruit. A tart, flavorful round thing that humans enjoyed on this planet.

Humans.

Earth. I was on Earth.

I suddenly felt very alert. Very awake. I realized it must have had something to do with the fruity mist.

I peeled back my lids slowly and let my eyes adjust to the dark room, welcoming the fifth and final sense that came along with my body: sight. Five senses. I hadn't experienced that anywhere else. Being with the Bears was beautiful, but I could already feel the raw emotion that came with this body. It was fascinating—overwhelming, but delightful. The descriptive words came to my mind quickly and easily; I could have come up with more. My host had a full, elaborate vocabulary.

"Welcome to Earth." I heard the voice before I saw the face. The woman was standing somewhere off to the side, but she stepped forward to introduce herself. "My name is Crystals in the Sky—I'm a Healer. You can call me Sky, for short. You might be a little disoriented, but the Awake should help with that. How do you feel?" I took a deep breath, and my eyes darted around the room. My host body seemed to be in perfect health.

Host. I pondered the word and its meaning—nowhere else I'd been had ever used such… specific terms. I was almost positive there were only about a thousand words we used on the Fire Planet. Fire. Here on Earth, my host's memories depicted fire as a negative thing… ugly. Out of control. Harmful and destructive. On the Fire Planet, it was so second-nature to me—I needed it, ultimately, for sustenance; even my name reflected the word somehow….

My name. Translated, what would it be? Scorching… something. Scorching Petals. It sounded better in the Fire language.

"I'm…" I struggled for the word for a moment, trying to find the proper term. Not the best I could have ever felt, I was sure of it. But I didn't feel bad, not at all. "Fine," I finished, tacking on a smile. My first physical display of emotion—it was… nice. A giddiness washed over me, giving me an even bigger energy boost than the Awake; that must have been the fruity spray.

"That's great," Sky said warmly. "I'm glad to hear that. Could you take a deep breath for me?" she asked. I complied, but was surprised to feel a deep wheeze as the breath of air hit my lungs. "What is that, Healer?" I inhaled again so I could continue speaking, something seemingly difficult when it wasn't through my nose. "Is this Host… healthy?" Sky smiled and started to speak, and, were I not aware of the overwhelming kindness of every Soul, I would've said it sounded condescending.

"Of course, dear. She just has… a breathing problem—"

"Asthma?" I interjected. She nodded. "She's had it since birth. Our medicines… well, it's something that's easiest done when you're awake and alert."

I nodded, taking in another breath. This… asthma… was not pleasant. I couldn't imagine what it was like having to deal with it her whole life. Catching my expression, Sky patted my arm soothingly. "She had puffers to help, dear—just not as effective as what we'll do to fix it." She reached for something in her pocket. "In the meantime, this should help." She held the strange L-shaped device up to my mouth, and told me to inhale. It tasted odd—not bad, but… metallic. Instantly, my lungs expanded, allowing the oxygen to pass through much easier.

"Is she awake yet?" I squinted, trying to see around my Healer. Behind her was the doorway to the dark room, and I could feel the presence of someone else. The Seeker. I shuddered, though I had no reason to.

"Now, now, Hailey—patience." Sky sounded so calm, so tolerant—but I could see the faint registration of irritation on her smooth, pale face. She even sighed a little, which stirred a few stray blond rivulets and sent them waving around in front of her cheeks.

"I need to know if she's—"

"We'll get to that." This time, her words came out in a frustrated rush. I heard the click-clacking of the Seeker's shoes, and then she was peeking around Sky, staring down at me with shimmery-green eyes. Interesting, I thought. I realized the silver gleam in her irises was the trace of her—the Soul. There was always some sort of physical representation of the Soul in a host body… every planet differed.

The Seeker's black hair was lying in loose waves around her shoulders, a huge contrast against her coral pink sundress. She was very tall; I didn't know why, but this made me more afraid of her. Like her height suggested some kind of advantage over me—as if she would ever try to hurt me.

She already did.

What?

It took me a moment. I squinted my eyes. The words that echoed in my head didn't belong to me.

"Are you alright…?" Sky looked at me expectantly, gesturing for me to introduce myself.

"Um—Scorching Petals. Yes, I—I'm fine. I just… I just feel different. This host body… well, I've never—"

"I understand, Scorching Petals. It's alright. Take your time." The Seeker let out a short, infuriated sigh.

"Hailey, there's no need to be rude." The Seeker dropped her voice to an angry whisper, but I could still hear.

"We don't have time. Don't you get it? Three. Three of them. We need all the help we can get—"

"And you'll get help." The Seeker's eyes were blazing with fury and impatience. She ran a manicured hand through her hair, pausing to wipe off the few beads of sweat that had collected on her brow.

"I—could you tell me what's going on, please, Sky?" I asked politely. She looked down at me, a worried look on her face.

"I don't want to upset you, dear. You've only just woken up, and—"

"I'm alright," I said. The Seeker rolled her eyes. "Tell me."

"Three of us have gone missing," Hailey said, when there was much too long of a pause after my words. "In the Arizona desert, near Picacho Peak—there was a… a Seeker a while back. About a year and a half ago. She wanted to go looking for a Soul assigned to her… someone important and possibly connected to a few remaining humans—none of us wanted to, but we did, just to get her off our backs.

"After we gave up on the search—because, honestly, it wasn't getting anywhere… we were just driving up and down, back and forth across the desert. It was a waste of gas, and—anyway, we left, and then she continued the search on her own.

"A few months after we left, she disappeared. We weren't keeping an eye on her at all; we'd given up and gone back to Chicago by then. We all felt horrible…" A look of sadness crossed the Seeker's face, and for a moment I almost felt bad for her. I didn't quite know what it was like to carry around guilt. Then again… on the Fire Planet, I was a—a Fire Taster….

A nasty feeling spread through the pit of my stomach, causing discomfort. I didn't like it.

"Well, that's behind me, now," Hailey said, closing the subject. "It doesn't matter—we need you to help us. We know she's still out there—things like that don't just happen every day. We're careful. We wouldn't run out of water or food, and we don't just disappear into thin air.

"About a month after she went missing, we started looking. At first, we kept thinking we'd have a lead… but every time we followed one, it brought us nowhere. Everything was just… a dead end.

"But there always seemed to be one of us that stayed behind, one that wanted to keep looking, even when the rest of us didn't. He was… he was a good Seeker. A good Soul." Her eyes became distant as she reminisced. I imagined she must have had some kind of connection with him.

"He went missing, too. Vanished into thin air, just like the other Seeker did. After him, another one of us wanted to go looking, but everyone else disagreed—we were too scared—"

Hailey paused, trying to collect herself.

"And then there were three Seekers. Gone. In the middle of the scorching desert… and now, nobody wants to go looking. Because everyone knows what happens…" Her voice trailed off. For a moment, her tone and words reminded me of a saying that was used among the Bears. "Cross too many ice fields alone and…" and… what was it? "Wind up a claw beast's meal." It was different in this dialect. I realized how harsh and precise the human language was—not graceful, like Bear, or exotic, like the Fire language. Just… black and white.

"Anyway, I'm one of the only ones left that will continue with the case. I need… assistance." She looked at me, her eyebrows raised, and I understood.

"You want me… to be a Seeker?" I asked. I already knew, though. There wasn't a need for clarification. Clearly, she was grasping at straws.

"Yes." She didn't even try to beat around the bush—I supposed there was no time.

"No." My answer was flat, decisive. Clear as day. So it bothered me, more than a little bit, when she pressed me.

"What?! Why? You've got nothing better to do—believe me. You don't want to be a teacher. That's boring. And… and you won't be very good at much else. You haven't been around long enough. This won't take up much of your time—it'll only be a month, two, tops, and then—"

"And then we'll end up like the others?" She paused, her face frozen in desperation. "How long until then, Hailey?" She pursed her lips.

"I… I don't know, Scorching Petals."

Delia! It's Delia! This is my body—not yours!

My stomach dropped, alarmed at the voice in my head. Again, the thought wasn't mine.

"Delia," I murmured, through a daze.

"I'm sorry?" Hailey was squinting.

"That was the host's name," Sky explained. "Perhaps she's thinking of keeping that instead of her own. I've seen many Souls do it. It's really quite fascinating—"

"I like it." The words were out of my mouth before I had time to think.

"Delia it is, then." Sky smiled at me, and Hailey sighed again.

"Please, Delia—"

"No."

"You don't under—"

"No." Her face fell. "I'm sorry, Hailey—it's not that I'm afraid. It's just… I've been a Seeker before. On many other planets. I don't want… I don't feel like doing that again. Especially with the humans. They're—they're very resistant, aren't they?" It was a rhetorical question. Nobody answered me; they just hung their heads in sorrow.

I felt horrible for a moment. On this planet, these hosts… it meant something more to them than just a body. I could see it in my own host's memories. They were all different, all unique, all a part of something bigger, as a whole—the entire world, in unity… but, at the same time, completely separate. Something special.

Something you took from us. It was very faint, very quiet, but I heard it.

"Just try." I refocused on Hailey's face, closer to mine than it had been a few minutes ago. "For the ones we lost." She looked so sad, so heartbroken… so practiced. I imagined she used that look quite frequently—but I couldn't deny its efficiency.

"Fine." She smiled huge, the first time I'd seen anything other than a frown or a scowl on her fair face, and it made her glow.

"Thank you, Delia. You have no idea how much this means—how much this will help. It could bring them back."

As the words left her mouth, I saw the gleam in her eye, and I knew she didn't mean them. She meant him.