BEFORE // Prologue

Dark midnight air painted the backdrop of that warm second state night. Every star seemed to shine visibly in the sky—like a blanket of string lights across a silky black curtain. 
The final hours of my fourth birthday were just winding down. I sat on the squeaky, pleather seat of our air lift as it navigated up and down the same comforting streets of Vancity we’d driven through all my life: familiar corners and doorways . . . parks we played in on seventh-day afternoons. We had just left my birthday celebration, hosted at my Uncle Char’s. There, my small family had gathered together and sung the birthday song while I blew out the fake candle flames, hoping to land a new porter system update with expanded colour codes and games of the furry creatures from the old world kept in virtual zoos. 
Now, as I leaned my head against the cool sheet of glass that divided me from the crisp air outside, staring at all the twinkling white specks sparkling back at me, I felt a sense of joy. A radiating confidence from what it meant to be another year older. Social schools would begin next week, and I couldn’t wait to join the other four-year-olds of Vancity. I glanced forward, catching the subtle shift of my parents’ hands as they laced fingers over the middle console. To my left, my baby brother Axel snoozed, sound asleep in his toddler seat. 
We were one quiet, happy family—until a sudden pair of headlights glaring through the front panel of our lift lit up our world of bliss. 
It all happened so fast. The piercing sounds of colliding metal cut through the air with a shattering screech. My body lurched forward from the impact—like a rag doll. The lift belt yanked tight across my chest and neck in a burning grip, and the horrified screams of my mother clashed against the sound of shattering glass like thunder and lightning. 
In a flash, we had slammed through the guardrail of the road leading into our neighbourhood. I felt gravity pull our weight over the edge of the road with a sick lurch—and in seconds, we were plunging toward the dark river below. 
A loud smack shattered the air when we punctured its surface. My head snapped against the side of the thick door, turning my entire world into a flashing, dizzy haze of white spots and blurred lines. Lightening fast moments flickered across my vision until we suddenly ebbed back into an unnaturally slow rhythm . . . and the dark river welcomed us, chillingly, as it began to swallow us whole.
I blinked fast, struggling to process what had just happened. Around me, the bodies of the people I loved sat limp and motionless. The sight of them made my heart jump into my throat, and adrenaline surged through my veins. Instinctively, my hands shot toward my lift belt. I pulled at it frantically with shaking fingers, struggling to unravel the strap cementing me in place. I glanced again at everyone else, all of them unconscious— and the sudden horror of being alone in our sinking lift gripped my heart in an iron fist. 
Then, piercing needles of icy water started to sting my feet. Water was filling the lift. 
I screamed for my parents as the water rose, cutting into my skin like slow, iced growing ivy. When it got to my neck, I gulped in a few last breaths, trying to swallow as much air as possible before the water took me with it. 
Finally, after one last gasp, the water rose past my head—and the cold pierced the last of my skin like mini shards of glass. 
My mouth opened in a panicked scream, my arms flailing slowly through the viscosity of the freezing water, thrashing desperately in search of some way to freedom. Then the water filled my lungs, and my vision began to cloud, dulling the edges of the unmoving bodies that surrounded me with it . . . 

It was in that state of stupor that I first came face to face with him. 
The first thing I remember is a white light—my consciousness slowly becoming aware of a new space around me. I could see it . . . yet, somehow, I felt as though I was the light myself, even as I was looking right at it. 
This must be the doorway to death, I thought. That quiet moment of bright light I had heard about, meant to ease your pain and suffering before purifying your soul for whatever lay in wait on the other side of the light. It welcomed me, and I felt myself pulled toward it like a moth to a flame. 
Only, in the next moment, the light began to flicker—flashing in and out of countless vertical lines that seemed to surround me now. 
As the light faded to a backdrop yellow, I caught beams of its warmth through the cracks in the vertical lines around me—and realized the lines were trees. Looking down, I saw that my hands appeared to be my own, only softer. I turned my palms over, feeling the air not only between my fingers but also through my skin. A weightlessness lifted me to my feet, which was when I noticed the damp grass below me. I dug my toes into its lush soil. 
Slowly, each of my senses returned to me, until I heard the sound of a bubbling stream nearby—it's song luring me in with  a sense of curiosity that danced in my mind. 
I headed toward it. With each weightless step, I traced and laced through the bodies of warm willows and old oak trees until, gradually, they thinned and gave way onto a vast field. 
The warm energy pulsing through me kept me moving in the direction of the water, like an invitation, as my eyes took in the surrounding world of colours and textures with hunger. Everything smelled richer and beamed with a soft vibrancy, pulsing with subtle waves of energy that only became visible when I trained my eyes on a specific place. 
As I walked, staring up at the cotton-pink clouds, a movement from up ahead caught my attention. 
I stopped dead in my tracks—laying eyes in him for the first time. 
He was younger then, kneeling over a crystal-blue stream. The stream sat at the edge of a thick forest that mirrored the one behind me, every branch coated in buttery golden sunlight. 
Our eyes locked with curiosity, the warm energy nudging me forward again. 
I made my way toward him through the long grass with slow movements, feeling the cool, damp earth beneath my feet as I closed the distance between us. Our eyes never moved from each other. I felt my tentative, four-year-old thoughts begin to race, wondering what was going on . . . yet my body kept moving forward with a confidence that was all its own. 
When I finally got close enough, the boy stood, stopping me in my tracks with kind, charcoal-grey eyes that stood out against his soft, childlike features. He stared at me for a moment, looking me over with uncertainty before turning his gaze back to the other side of the stream.  
I followed suit, curious to know what he might be looking for, but nothing was there but the trees. When I looked back to him, he was searching my face, assessing me before locking eyes with mine again. 
We stayed in that moment, lingering in the confusion that seemed to fold around us both, before the boy began shaking his head from side to side, an expression of determination coming over his face. Finally, he opened his mouth, and the first breath of words between us filled the air, piercing the silence of the forest and the sound of the stream. 
"Wake up." 
Bolting up, I woke in a bed covered in sheets that matched the colour of the eyes I had just been staring into. 

Thank you guys so much for being so incredibly supportive, excited and patient with this new venture! 
Available for pre-order JULY 18th
Front Cover Design: Zoe Alexandriah 
Front Cover Photo: Tung