Edited by Elizabeth Buege elizabethbuege.com
When seventeen-year-old Randi Johnson discovers she’s a Paragon, one of seven mythical protectors of the world, she’s torn between her desire to fulfill her role and her instinct to hide from ruthless hunters who’d kill for power. She already worries as a pastime—seeing unexplainable shadows at night makes her doubt her own sanity, and her closest friends recently left their small hometown to travel the world, cutting her off from her longtime crush, Eddy. Without them there, she can’t help but feel alone.
The myths claim that the Paragons are born with a totem granting them divine, elemental power. With no clue where her totem is or how to evade the hunters trying to obtain it, Randi decides she can no longer play it safe. She leaves home for the very first time, trying to keep her secrets hidden as she joins her friends in the capital of all goings-on, Grandin.
Instead of finding answers, though, she’s met with more questions. Why did Eddy warn her not to come? Is it possible to avoid the violence plaguing the city? With those questions and the increasing number of shadows she sees, theories of alternate dimensions, and her growing feelings for her friend Neil, who might be a hunter himself, Randi finds it hard to tell what’s what. And when things take a turn for the worst, it’s up to her to choose what to save and what to sacrifice: her purpose as a Paragon, her friends, her morals, or her mind.
PARAGON is a Young Adult Urban Fantasy novel complete at 90,500 words. I am an artsy-fartsy, socially-conscious nerd with a Bachelor’s degree in International Development Studies and a lifelong passion for writing. In my spare time, I paint, play piano, volunteer abroad, burst into random song, watch anime, and gorge on chocolate. I currently live near Calgary, Alberta.
Thank you for taking the time to consider my work. I look forward to hearing from you.
First Five Pages:
The train screeches as it pulls into the Courtly station. Outside, the fall air is crisp, and a hidden sun sleeps behind gloomy clouds above the treetops. It’ll be dark soon. I pull my jacket closed over my flower-print dress, hitching my bag further up my back.
I head for the small brick building on the train platform. The door chimes my entrance.
“Hi, Howard,” I say.
Old Howard Pratt peers up from behind a newspaper. He’s dressed in the usual red plaid shirt with suspenders, his stringy white hair tied back in a ponytail. What I wouldn’t give to style and cut it.
“Randi, Randi,” he says, setting the paper aside. “I thought maybe you hadn’t gone to school this morning.”
I maneuver around the four mini-aisles of refreshments, granola bars, toiletries, and magazines until I’m at the store counter. “I had to hitch a ride with my folks.”
He raises an eyebrow.
“I woke up on time, honest,” I say, setting my backpack on the floor. “I would’ve made the train, but I started squit-squatting over this bump I got right here.” I point to a few inches under my heart. “It was super itchy when I woke up. Mom said it was a spider bite and I was overreacting again.”
“Not unheard of.”
I crinkle my nose at him, and he chuckles. To be honest, though, the bite’s not the half of it—it’s the shadow I saw in the middle of the night that has me squit-squatting. I don’t talk about them, especially not after Brianna was committed. The rumors would spread like wildfire if anyone knew I’d been seeing dark shapes crawling along my bedroom walls. This wasn’t the first time either—they’ve been showing up off and on for the better part of my life. Seeing shadows is the only secret I’ve ever successfully kept.
“How was business today?” I ask to change the subject.
“Augh, let me tell you . . .” Howard kneads his forehead with one hand. “It’s a right good thing you wasn’t here this morning. Another group of hunters came in, asking about Paragon this, Paragon that.”
I cringe. “More hunters?”
He nods. “Three groups in a month have come here to Courtly Hamlet, and we’s not even on any maps! I reckon some folk found something or other in Lakewing. Don’t make no sense otherwise.”
I nod absently, thinking of when I was younger and wanted the Paragon myths to be true. It made me feel safe to believe there were heroes out there who could channel the ancient gods’ powers to protect the world. It seemed romantic in a way. I remember listening to the stories countless times and dreaming that the storyteller on the train was actually hiding a power-granting totem. He knew the myths well enough to be a Paragon himself.
Now, though, I wouldn’t wish that fate on anyone. To be charged with saving the world only to be killed for it would be terrible. From what I’ve heard (and I’ve heard a lot), Paragon hunters are everywhere, and they’re a ruthless bunch of rogues. They kidnap, torture, and kill people just to get one step closer to the totems. Because despite it all being mere legend, they want the powers for themselves.
Howard doesn’t notice when I shudder. He continues, “Anyhow, I threw ’em hunters back out on that there train and told the passengers to keep an eye on ’em. Lord’s mercy, I’d hate if we ever had a repeat of six years ago. They’s strong kids, Anne and Neil, but that don’t mean they ain’t still carrying the weight of it to this very day. We all are.”
I lower my gaze.
“And you need to be especially careful, eh? A nice girl like you’s an easy target. Them hunter folk can be cunning. If someone’s nice to you, remember it don’t always mean they’s a good person; it ain’t smart to trust ’em right away.”
A blush pounds on my cheeks as I incline my head even more.
“But look at me rambling on,” Howard says. “You didn’t come here just to talk to me, now, did ya?”
I grin. “No . . .”
Without having to ask, he pulls out a call card and hands it to me. “It ain’t the same around here without ’em troublemakers. Where’re they this time? Grandin? Dangerous city, that. You must be squit-squatting sick.”
“Something like that,” I reply in agreement. My friends haven't called in a while. There’s no cell service in Courtly—Howard’s store has the only working phone in the entire hamlet—but there is in Lakewing, where I go to school. My friends used to call me at lunchtime or before the train ride back home. Nowadays, they hardly pick up.
Howard flaps out his newspaper while I angle my body away. I punch in Kendra’s number first. The phone rings ten times before I’m cut to the operator. Not again . . . and she was the most likely to answer, too.
I try Neil with no luck. Anne doesn’t pick up either.
So it comes down to him.
I dial in Eddy’s cell with hesitant fingers. The phone rings. And rings. I jump when his voice comes on: “Hey, this is Eddy. Sorry I couldn’t catch your call.”
My anxiety balloon deflates. It’s just voicemail. After his spiel and the beep, I struggle a moment to find words. “Hi, Eddy, it’s—it’s Randi. Things are good here; just wondering how you are. Um, I’m gonna be in Lakewing tomorrow to visit Brianna, so . . . call me? Okay. Talk to you soon.”
I hang up with a sigh. Howard raises a question with his brow, and I fake a smile for his benefit. “Probably out partying,” I say.
He purses his lips in a thin line. “You still got a lot of friends in Lakewing, you know.”
“I know.” They’re just not the same.
Past Howard’s general store is the stone bridge crossing the Courtly River. Beyond that is Courtly Hamlet, a collection of eleven cottages and families.
The local story is that the Peters and Heidengers built their farms first, cultivated the “best darn squash in Lanoris, if not the whole world,” and attracted us non-farming families to move here just to get first dibs on it. I doubt that’s why our great-grandparents settled in the middle of nowhere, but it's the only story we’ve got. Plus, I can’t deny that the squash is to die for.
Most of the houses are clustered around a grass square beside the river. The dirt road runs alongside it, which means you can’t go through the hamlet without saying hi to every single person. Today, they all ask me when my friends are coming back. I wish I knew.
I mean, I get why they left. Living in a community this small can be tough at times. We don't have facilities like a school or dentist office—or anything, really, except Howard's store and the train station—which means we Courtliers have to take the daily hour-long train ride to Lakewing to work or study. But even there, in a town of 4,000 people, there’s not much to do. Not that I was ever bored when my friends were around, but I can see why exploring Grandin, the capital of Lanoris, would appeal to them. They’re thrill-seekers through and through, even quiet Anne. If only they came home more often or still called me to check in, things would be great.
By the time I’m ambling up the dirt path to our house, it’s dark enough to use my flashlight. The lights aren’t on. Mom must have had a long day at the clinic.
I swing open the unlocked door and head to the kitchen to put the prepared meatloaf into the oven. Next stop is my room. I greet Barnaby—the stuffed teddy waiting for me on the bed—and settle in to peruse beauty magazines.
My folks pull into the garage an hour later. I head to the washroom to change into my pajamas, quickly stripping off my dress. Something in my reflection catches my eye—not the dimples and round cheeks framed by long, dark brown hair, but the supposed spider bite, now haloed in red.
I peer closer, stretching the skin on my left ribs. Looks like the center’s a bit swollen, although it’s normal-colored, not white. And it’s ringed in a red circle. Or wait . . . no. Straight lines. Not a ring.
Not a spider bite.
I crane my neck even more, heart hammering as I count: one, two, three . . . seven. Seven sides.
Heptagram-shaped, approximately half the size of one’s baby fingernail, red-brown in color, raised from the skin.
Oh my god, no. I’m overreacting! It’s because Howard mentioned hunters; that’s why I’m jumping to conclusions. I wouldn’t even consider it if it weren’t for that book . . .
I throw on my pajama shirt and hurry across the hall to my room. The corner of a leather-bound volume peeks out from underneath the schoolwork: A Handbook on Paragonhood. Neil lent it to me because I always loved hearing the myths. But that’s all they are: myths. No one takes them seriously except for the hunters. Even so . . . I tuck the volume under my arm.