Authors: Alexis Henderson
IMMANUELLE SAT ON
the stairs of the Haven and watched the sun rise through the trees. In the days after the attack on the cathedral, she’d spent many a morning on those steps, cradling a cup of tea or a book of poetry, waiting for the sun to climb above the treetops, just to make sure it would. Sometimes, when she was alone, she would peel back the sleeve of her dress, trace the puckered scar of the sigil she’d carved into her arm all those weeks ago.
In her darkest moments, she would hope—even pray—that her recompense would hasten, if only so she wouldn’t be made to wait in a state of perpetual dread, under the threat of some faceless affliction she didn’t yet know. Better to settle the matter quickly, face her reckoning so she could put all of the strife behind her once and for all. Because if she didn’t do that, who would she be? What honor was there in a girl who could fight to save everyone except herself?
“You’re drifting again,” Ezra said, his eyes on the horizon. He sat close beside her, as he always did when he had the time to. “What’s on your mind?”
Immanuelle drew her knees to her chest and gazed out across
the sun-washed plains, watching light flood between the trees. She grasped her forearm, fingertips pressing painfully into the scar of the sigil. So much had changed in the span of a few short weeks. The Prophet’s condition had worsened, and preparations for his death were being made. Some of the flock remained loyal to him, but others looked to Ezra as the new leader of the Church and faith. Immanuelle hoped that the tensions between the opposing groups wouldn’t implode into a schism—or worse yet a holy war—but whispers emerging from the bastions of the old Church suggested that the matter of the Prophet’s succession would only be settled through bloodshed.
But Immanuelle tried not to think about that. Ezra had told her, time and time again, that those troubles weren’t hers anymore. She had done her part. She’d saved Bethel from the plagues and all of the evil done in her name. Now it was time for her to let go. “I’m just thinking about how so many things can change and yet stay entirely the same.”
Ezra frowned. “Is this about the schism?”
“The schism, the sentencings, the threat of holy war. Sometimes I feel like we’re just rehashing the past all over again. I hate feeling that we’ve gotten this far only to become what others have already been before us.”
“We’re not repeating the past,” said Ezra, “and we’re making damn sure no one else will either. You can’t lose sight of that.”
Immanuelle’s gaze shifted west, to the distant ruins of the cathedral. Sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could picture the slaughter—the bodies strewn through the rubble, the blood smeared across the tiles, Vera with the gutting blade in her hand, Abram lying dead. “It’s a little late for that. It seems like I can’t keep sight of anything that matters anymore. So here I am trying to pick up the bits and pieces of who I used to be and who I am now, in the wake of all of this.”
Ezra raised a hand to her cheek, his thumb tracing over her bottom lip. “I’ll take those bits and pieces. Any day, over anything. And when we’re stronger, we’ll build those bits and pieces into something more.”
Immanuelle looked at him and smiled. It was a small thing—a little grin as quick as a flame’s flicker—but it was something. It was a start.
Leaning into Ezra’s hand, she kissed him. First the pad of his thumb, then his lips, shifting into him as he angled closer, grasping her waist. Immanuelle could have stayed that way with him until the sun pulled high above the horizon line and sank into shadow again. But after a minute, she drew back.
Easing out of Ezra’s arms, she pressed to her feet and stepped barefoot off the stairs and out onto the smoke-washed plains. Wind stirred through her curls and tore at her skirts. On the distant horizon, the last pyres of the purging smoldered and died.
“I’ve thought of a name for the coming year,” she said, squinting into the red light of the rising sun. For a moment, she thought she saw Lilith standing on the cusp of the Darkwood, the tines of her antlers tangled in the branches of a birch tree. But it was only a trick of the shadows. The dead were dormant and the woods were quiet. Immanuelle narrowed her eyes and watched as the rising sun crested the treetops. “I think we should call it Year of the Dawn.”
WHEN I FLIP
through the pages of this book, I see the fingerprints of the people who’ve encouraged and supported me. I owe them my gratitude.
First, I would like to thank my agent, Brooks Sherman. From the start, your vision for this book was bigger and more ambitious than my own, and I’m forever grateful for it. I feel immensely lucky to have such a brilliant collaborator, brainstorming buddy, and loyal advocate.
To my editor, Jessica Wade, who saw the heart of this book and showed me how to hone it. I couldn’t have asked for a better creative partner. I’m eternally grateful for your brilliant edits, your passion, and all of the hard work you put into this book. I can’t wait to create the next one with you.
I’d like to thank Ashley Hearn, the godmother of my fictional son and one of the most brilliant people I know. You were the first person in publishing to take a chance on me, and none of this would have been possible if you hadn’t pulled my book from the Pitch Wars submissions pile.
I’m so grateful to the team at Penguin Random House for championing this book. Special thanks to Alexis Nixon, Brittanie Black, Fareeda Bullert, and Miranda Hill. To Simon Taylor and the rest of my team across the pond at Penguin Random House UK, thank you. I’m immensely fortunate to have so many passionate and hardworking people in my corner.
Thank you to Eileen G. Chetti for the amazing copyedits, Wendi Gu for the whip-smart feedback, and Katie Anderson and Larry Rostant for giving me the book cover of my dreams. Thanks also to Stephanie Koven and the team at Janklow & Nesbit.
To the family that has supported and encouraged my writing, thank you. To my dad for believing in me more than I believe in myself. To my fearless little sister, Alana, who makes a point to keep me very,
humble. To my mom—my best friend, and my first (and favorite) teacher who single-handedly instilled my life-long love of writing. Dedicating this book to you was the least I could do to express my gratitude for the sacrifices you’ve made to support me, but I owe you so much more.
Since I’m thanking family, I would be remiss not to mention my dumpster kitten, Luna, who is sitting on my lap as I type this. I forgive you for that one time you pulled the books off my shelf and peed all over them. You’re the best familiar a girl could ask for, and you have my whole heart. And to my Halloween cats, Midnight and Jet: I adore you both.
To my ride-or-die friend, Rena Barron, who is one of the most loyal and hardworking people I know. Your creativity, unparalleled work ethic, and constant encouragement inspire me every day. I don’t know what I’d do without you.
Jacob Woelke, thank you for the laughs, the memes, the movies, and the gas-station snacks. You’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had, and I can’t wait to catch up over pancakes when I see you next.
I would also like to thank my friend and first critique partner, Jean Thomas. I’m so grateful for your edits, honesty, and encouragement. You’ve been by my side through every step of my writing journey, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
To one of my closest and oldest friends, Nicole Schaut. I cut my teeth on the stories we told together as kids, and I’ll always treasure them.
I owe a massive thank-you to the writing community. If I were to list all of you by name, these acknowledgments would be twenty pages long. But I’d like to thank Ronni Davis (the living embodiment of a ray of sunshine), the Pitch Wars team, Hannah Whitten, Patrice Caldwell, Sierra Elmore, June C.L. Tan, Deborah F. Savoy, Ciannon Smart, Victoria Lee, Kristin Lambert, Tracy Deonn, Sasha Peyton Smith, Christine Lynn Herman, Mel Howard, S. A. Chakraborty, Roseanne A. Brown, Dhonielle Clayton, Peyton Thomas, Emily A. Duncan, and my black girl magic crew.
I’m so grateful to the incomparable faculty at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, with special thanks to Dr. Ellen Malphrus for her mentorship, as well as thanks to Dr. Robert Kilgore, Dr. Lauren Hoffer, Dr. Mollie Barnes, and Dr. Erin McCoy. To my brilliant Society of Creative Writers, English alumni, and Fiction Workshop cohort—thank you. You were among the first to read this story, and if not for your enthusiasm at that early stage, I’m not sure I would have continued it. I’m especially grateful to my classmates Katie Hart and Bill Lisbon for their friendship and support.
And finally, to the survivors, to the underdogs, to the people who speak the truth when the world tries to silence them: thank you.
is a speculative fiction writer with a penchant for dark fantasy, witchcraft, and cosmic horror. She grew up in one of America’s most haunted cities, Savannah, Georgia, which instilled in her a life-long love of ghost stories. Currently, Alexis resides in the sun-soaked marshland of Charleston, South Carolina.