The Sampling: The Edge of Light #1—New Dawning

By A. M. Dixon

This summer brings The Sapling’s first Summer Excerpt Series, where we will be posting at least one extract from junior fiction and young adult winners of the 2023 Storylines Notable Books from now through to the end of January. First up, we have New Dawning: the first instalment in a new fast-paced fantasy series by Christchurch-based author A. M. Dixon.


Tonight, I will hear The Truth for the first time.

I’m sitting with Ren on one of the salvaged timber benches overlooking the outdoor stage. Corvus, my pet crow, is perched on my lap, pulling at the shiny buttons on my shirt with his beak. There’s a strange atmosphere of anxious anticipation this evening, a tension that I haven’t felt before at the Fire. Even Corvus seems tense; he doesn’t usually snuggle in so close to me.

‘Where is he, Merel?’ Ren asks, leaning across to get a better view, searching the shadows around the stage for a glimpse of Albany Reese.

My heart skips as I feel the warmth of Ren’s bare arm next to mine. ‘I don’t know. He should be here soon.’ It must be awful for Albany, knowing that this is his last night as Voice of the Child. He will be sent off alone in a tiny boat onto the ocean, never to return. Tomorrow a new Voice will be chosen, and Albany will become part of the Histories.

A Beachcomber throws another chunk of wood into the Fire which is blazing behind the stage, casting a golden light over the gathering. It crackles, sending streams of sparks into the air, and bringing the familiar smoky smell of Littleton evenings. The smoke will drift all the way up to the woven Covers which are almost invisible above us in the dark sky. During the day the Covers block out most of the damaging sunshine, so it never reaches us. They protect the Earth from further warming, but they also keep us in constant twilight. It’s perpetually warm, dark, and damp. That’s how it has been ever since the Climate Crisis.

Ren edges closer to me. ‘Are you ready for The Truth?’

‘Yeah. I think so.’ It’s the first time I’ve heard this story – the last in the traditional series of eight told by the Voice of the Child. The Truth supposedly binds everything together. It should represent the culmination of Albany’s journey and celebrate our community beneath the Covers – it is intended to be about teamwork, obedience, and success. But I have heard rumours that tonight’s Truth will be different.

‘Can you see Albany yet?’ I whisper to Ren, leaning towards him so our arms touch, just for a moment.

He shakes his head. ‘He must be nervous. I would be.’

I scan the crowd, looking for familiar faces in the sea of shadows stretching down to the stage. I spot Ren’s mum a few rows from the front. ‘Look! Your mum’s here.’

A frown flickers across Ren’s face. ‘I thought she said she wasn’t coming.’

She must have come straight from work because she is still wearing her dark-blue overalls from the Printing Shop. She sits next to a friend, and they lean in to talk to each other, then glance at the stage.

‘Are Albany’s family here?’ I search the heads in front of us. Corvus wriggles in my lap. He’s given up on chewing
my buttons and has started preening his wing feathers instead.

Ren leans the other way. His hair flops over one eye, and he tucks it out of the way. ‘I’m not sure. I can’t see them. You’d think they’d want to be here for his final Fire.’

‘You’d think so.’

‘Are your parents here, too?’

‘No. They said it is too hard seeing the Voice at their last Fire. Bexley was desperate to come but Mum said he had to go to the rehearsal at school to practise the songs for tomorrow’s send-off instead. He is too young to be here in any case.’

‘He’s going to have to wait another seven years for the next one.’

‘Yeah.’ Another seven years seems like such a long time. By then Bexley will be seventeen. The same age Albany is now. ‘I wonder who they’ll choose to be the next Voice of the Child.  The Council must have decided by now. I just hope it’s not Bexley.’ My stomach suddenly feels sick and hollow. Bexley. He’s the right age so it’s possible he could be chosen. Surely he would have heard by now if he had been selected. But knowing Bexley he’d be excited to be the Voice. Imagining all those people listening to his every word. Mum and Dad would know by now, too, and I’m sure they would have said something to me. Neither of them have slept very well this week. I’ve heard Mum creeping to the toilet in the night, and there have been muted voices through the walls as they talk.

‘It won’t be Bexley.’ Ren folds his arms across his chest.

‘How do you know?’

‘It should be a girl. They try to alternate.’ He sounds confident though I’m not sure how he’d know for sure.

‘Really?’ I suppose it makes sense. I run over the list of Voices in my mind, trying to remember the order from the Histories. Ren’s right, they do tend to alternate, but not always.

Before I have time to ask, Ren leans forward again and points to a group close to the stage. ‘Look, there’s Simeon.’

‘Where?’ I lean forward, trying to see, and Corvus hops onto the bench next to me seeming indignant at having to move. I spot Simeon amongst a cluster of people huddled together at the front. I can’t see his face from here, but it is obviously him standing head and shoulders above the others; there is nobody else who is quite that tall. Or that arrogant. The others all have their hoods pulled over their heads as if to hide their identities, so it is impossible to tell who they are from here. As far as I can see, they are just hooded shadows.

The group turns to walk to the right side of the stage, and I recognise some of them as the light from the Fire catches their faces. ‘I didn’t think Dylan was part of that crowd.’

‘His mum is a Dockhand, isn’t she?’ Ren stares at the group, obviously still trying to figure out who they all are.

‘Yeah. Do you remember those shocking stories he used to bring to school about the Main Island?’ I can vividly remember the pictures of children with ribs sticking out and distended bellies from lack of vitamins. Things might be bad here but it is nothing compared to what the Main Islanders have to deal with. At least we have enough to eat. Most of the time.

‘I wish I could recognise the others.’ Ren watches the group shuffling into place in the semi-dark. ‘I really hope they’re not going to make things difficult for Albany.’

‘I’d be surprised if they dared, especially with Simeon being the mayor’s nephew. He should know the rules better than anyone.’

Ren frowns. ‘The Mayor isn’t here tonight. He isn’t allowed to attend the final Fire, so who knows what might happen.’

‘Surely not even Simeon would get away with stirring things up. They’ll all end up working in the Roach House if they’re not careful.’

‘Not if he’s here on the Mayor’s behalf,’ Ren mutters.

‘That’s not allowed, is it?’

Ren shrugs. ‘It’s within the rules, but you’re right, it doesn’t seem fair.’

A man with greying hair slides onto the bench on the other side of me and sits closer than I would like. The earthy
smell of the Mushroom House wafts from his skin and tickles my nose. It reminds me of the gardening classes we had at school.

The man is followed by one of the Librarians, but I can’t remember her name. She has a shiny brooch pinned to her shirt and it catches the light of the Fire as she moves.

I give Corvus a gentle squeeze and shuffle him back onto my lap. ‘Sit still, buddy.’ Given half a chance he would be pecking at that brooch and trying to take it home to add to his collection of shiny things.

The man nods a hello, and I smile back. The two of them fidget, getting settled in their seats, then the gong sounds, signaling the evening is beginning.

There is a tense hush as we wait for what’s about to happen.

The gong sounds again.

Albany Reese strides onto the stage.

New Dawning (The Edge of Light #1)

By A.M. Dixon

Published by OneTree House

RRP: $24.00

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