Apostles of Mercy

Read an Excerpt From Lindsay Ellis’s Apostles of Mercy

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from Apostles of Mercy, the third book in Lindsay Ellis’s alternate history first contact saga Noumena—publishing with St. Martin’s Press on June 4th.

First Contact has not been going well. The nations of Earth are rapidly militarizing against the arrival of the Superorganism, an alien civilization that promises to destroy humanity before it can develop into a real threat. The Superorganism has done it before–to their distant transient relatives–and they could easily do it again. But the alien Ampersand and his human interpreter Cora Sabino are done with trying to save humanity from both the Superorganism and itself; to them, this is a civilization that does not deserve to be saved.

When a strange new form of communication between the two of them reveals to Cora how alien Ampersand truly is, she begins to question her blind devotion. But she soon learns of a danger that may force them to leave Earth before either of them are ready: a group of superorganism enemies that have been wreaking havoc on Earth for decades. Existence on the margins has made them desperate and bent on revenge against any of Ampersand’s race whose path they cross. Before Cora and Ampersand can make their final escape, these hostile aliens stage an attack, and take that which is most dear to both of them.

Ampersand’s enemies will not consider any form of truce; the greatest threat to them is not from the Superorganism, but from an increasingly fearful and violent human civilization newly aware of their existence. Cora and Ampersand must go to extreme measures to take back what was stolen and prevent wholesale human extermination–but in doing so they may be no better than the civilizations they are trying to escape.

May 18, 2005

Lorenzo nearly tripped and fell into the mud as he tore out of Jojo’s front door and into the wet street. The rain had come early this year, not that he would have stopped to grab his poncho even if he had brought it with him. He just ran into the pouring rain, scarcely able to see in the darkness, flailing toward his house as fast as his legs would carry him. The rain was heavy, and warm, and washed his friends’ blood off him as he ran.

Philomena, he thought, feeling his pocket to make sure his rosary was still there. Lorenzo was of an age where the only reason he ever had his rosary on him was because his lola would be disappointed if he didn’t, but at this moment, it felt like the sole thread tethering him to this world. A demon had killed his friends. Now, it was coming for him. Prayer was the only thing that would save him.

“Philomena!” he cried as he ran. She was his mother’s favorite saint, and the one she prayed to most often, but that didn’t feel right. A distant bolt of lightning illuminated the street in front of him, and for an instant, it was as bright as day, showing him a clear and unobstructed path to his house. He sped toward it, not thinking about what it might mean to lead the monster right to his parents, to his lola, to his sister. But what else could he do? Had he not actually seen his friends effectively get dismembered? It all happened so quickly—before they had even known it was in the room with them, it grabbed Jojo, then Lito. He had moved to grab Jojo’s baseball bat to fend the demon back, but before he could grab it, the demon had brought Jojo’s neck to its mouth and—

Lorenzo nearly stumbled at the memory, still not truly accepting that his friends were dead. The demon only had two hands, and there had been three boys in the room; therefore, Lorenzo had gotten away, saved by virtue of not being as close to the window as his friends had when the creature came inside, silent as a snake. It seemed almost impossible that something so big could be so quiet, that it could be on top of them the instant they even realized it was there.

Lorenzo made it to his house, slamming into his front door—locked! “Nanay, Tatay!” he cried to his parents. Why locked? They usually never locked their door, but they had heard of things, evil spirits in the woods, and started locking the door to calm his little sister’s fears. Of course—his parents didn’t know he was out. Hopeless! This was hopeless, and that’s why Saint Philomena felt wrong; she wasn’t who to pray to when things were hopeless. It hadn’t occurred to him because he had never truly experienced hopelessness in his young life. When he didn’t immediately hear an answer from his parents, he cried to the heavens, “San Judas, San Tadeo, San Tadeo, tulong! Sagipin mo ago!” Save me, Saint Jude, save me.

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Apostles of Mercy
Apostles of Mercy

Apostles of Mercy

Lindsay Ellis

He banged on the door, screaming and crying and turning his head every which way to scan for the demon. He didn’t immediately see it, and when the door didn’t open, he ran for the tree by the house that his father had nailed a couple of boards to for easier climbing. He stumbled onto the tree, climbed one step, then another. He turned around just in time to see the demon on the other side of the road, illuminated by a flash of lightning, blood still dripping from its maw.

This demon seemed more armored than the smaller one had been, which itself he and his friends had initially mistaken for a crocodile. If the bigger demon could be compared to a crocodile, it would be a saltwater one from Australia or some long-extinct giant species, nothing like the little ones found in the rivers nearby. Both of them had that grayish-black skin that looked like a wet suit, but where the smaller one had eyes that were black and empty, this one had yellow eyes that lit up like bulbs in the light of the storm.

The thing moved with supernatural speed and had transversed the distance between his neighbors’ house and his position on the tree when he felt it grab his leg. He lost his grip, and it was only his rib cage getting stuck in the V between two strong branches that prevented him from being torn from the tree altogether. He scrambled to hold on to the tree, and again, he felt a tug, more violent this time, then he heard an animalistic howl as the creature let him go.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that someone had attacked the demon with a baseball bat, his father had attacked it with a baseball bat. Lorenzo grabbed once more on to the slick bark of the tree, focusing on that as he climbed out of arm’s reach of the demon, repeating to himself, “San Tadeo, San Tadeo, sagipin mo ago, sagipin mo ago!”

The branches of the tree were slick, like climbing a giant wet noodle, and he nearly slipped a couple of times before he chanced a look at the ground. In those few seconds, half a dozen of his neighbors had come into the street, wielding whatever they had close by to take the monster down—baseball bats, axes, machetes, and even a couple of rifles. A dozen more neighbors were either getting their bearings or were on their way, flashing torches wildly into the storm, but none of them knew what they were dealing with. Lorenzo yelled at them to run, to get away, but his voice was drowned out by the rain and thunder and shouting below.

One man lunged at the creature, only to be caught in midair and thrown into a tree, his back making a horrible thud on impact. Another, one he recognized as Jojo’s father, hacked madly at the creature, and he got a few hits in, slicking into the thing like slabs of old meat before the monster grabbed him by the neck, hurled him to the ground, and tackled him, opening its jaws and taking one large, loud bite so hard Lorenzo could hear the crunching even up in the tree.

More and more men from the village attacked, which gave the monster only more and more fodder to burn through. Even a tiger the same size would have fallen several times over after the pummeling it had taken, but not this thing. It seemed almost indestructible, and it had nearly a dozen people lying at its feet, injured, dead or dying, before it finally showed some sign of slowing. Then one of the men on the ground saw an opportunity, and using his machete almost like a javelin, he skewered the monster right through its neck. It failed to grab the man as blood spurted out of the wound, illuminating the mud with red when another flash of lightning passed overhead. The man raised the machete and brought it down on the demon’s neck like an executioner—once, twice, and the third time brought it down for good.

Lorenzo wanted to stay put, away where no one could see, where no one could ask what he had done to bring this horror down on their village. His six-year-old sister, Clarinda, knew what he and his friends had done, but would she tell? Lorenzo scanned the small crowd forming a semicircle around the demon, but he didn’t see his father. He fell out of the tree, stumbling toward his neighbor, who was still hacking away at the demon’s neck. Another flash of lightning revealed how much blood the man was covered in—not his but the demon’s, and in the back of his mind, Lorenzo couldn’t help but wonder, What kind of demon bleeds like we do?

He saw his mother, too shocked at the situation to begin to take stock of the carnage on the road in front of their house. Others were trickling out into the rain, realizing that their family and neighbors were lying in the road, victims of the same demon that had come for him and his friends.

Then he heard his mother’s voice crying, “Rodrigo, Rodrigo!” with a level of despair that could mean only one thing. He ran toward her, hoping that perhaps this was an overreaction, that she was mistaken, that this wasn’t his father lying dead in the mud by the side of the road.

But it was. His father’s face was partially illuminated by the light coming out of their front door just a few yards away, as was the wound to his neck. The muscles in his face were slack, his eyes unfocused, and what the demon had done to his neck no person could survive.

Lorenzo wanted to say something, do something, pray for this to be undone, but he was rooted in place, still as stone and just as numb. This had to be a nightmare, because if it wasn’t, it was divine punishment, and now his father had paid the ultimate price for his sins. His, and his friends’, who had tried to fight demons. And now…

“Kasalanan namin ito,” he muttered as he watched his mother hunch over his father’s body, her back heaving with sobs. We did this.

We did this. He thought it over and over, like a prayer. We did this.

From Apostles of Mercy, by Lindsay Ellis. Copyright © 2024 by the author, and reprinted with permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group

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