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Jenneth LeeD

United States

Dyslexic who wants to make a mark in the YA book market. Christian. Conservative. Licensed geek and nerd.

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Any thoughts would be much appreciated.

On the Wrong Side of the Pages

June 16, 2015

After months of intense darkness, the blind newt broke into torchlight as it surpassed the lip of the last stone step. By mere chance, the creature scampered out from under a heavy brown boot bearing down on it.

The boot belonged to the young man wrapping a bundle of dry twigs together with a ragged cloth, unaware of the newt whose life he had almost ended without so much as a thought. With a reserved breath, the man dipped the finished torch in the oil barrel, shook the excess liquid from the cloth, and walked to the edge of the black staircase.

The prison needed few guards—two exactly—standing outside the antechamber where the stone walls were lit with friendly fire. Below the staircase, the prisoners sat alone in living darkness, unable to so much as locate the cell door.

The man held the torch in front of him and snapped his fingers against the cloth with his free hand. Instantly, a fire leapt from his fingertips, hungrily feeding on the fueled torch.

Magic, he thought ruefully as he descended the prison staircase, the only reason I have this position.

Arcan Celric, age twenty, had been doing his job for five long years. After the town riot that claimed both his parents’ lives, he set his sights on the Royals—their magic usage, their story spinning. The job as a Royal, however, came with…other requirements. The knife under his tunic reminded him of that.

Celric reached the bottom of the stairs, where the prison waited like a gaping maw, ready to swallow him and his small light with one satisfactory gulp. He forced an impassive expression he was famous for and approached the farthest cell. Between the bars’ shifting shadows, Celric could see the old man—the Inkling—huddled in the far corner, his eyes squinting curiously at Celric’s torch.

The young Royal fingered one rusty bar of the cell door and pulled, red dust flaking onto his skin. The Royals had no need for dungeon keys. The cells recognized each magic wielder’s touch—another helpful security measure.

The old man gave a disheartened cry of recognition when Celric came near. “Arcan…oh, Arcan.”

Celric maintained his emotionless expression and scraped the torch into a weathered holder on the wall. The light flickered off both faces and cast ancient shadows under both brows. Celric was silently glad the old man couldn’t see his eyes clearly.

“Mersus.” The old man’s expression flickered at the sound of his name. Celric took a small breath. “Mersus, you’re an Inkling scribe. An elder. Any and all scripting is forbidden unless acting under the Royals.”

“I’m saving our story, Arcan,” Mersus quipped. “This land can’t continue without authors.”

Celric stooped to his knees and shoved his face close to the elder. “You’re rewriting the Penderbooks. They were thrown from the story twelve years ago. The Royals rule now.”

“No Inkling can rewrite the Penderbooks, Arcan,” Mersus chided with a frown. “You know this. But the Penderbook children are alive, and the Inklings believe they can write them back into our story. The Royals have no right to the throne.”

“Remember it was the Royals who threw Harold and Armis Penderbook from the novel. Mordis knows exactly where they are: stuck in a foster care system, living in Kentucky with an eccentric man named Marcus Spindle—on the wrong side of the pages.”

A slow grin spread over the Inkling elder’s craggy face. “They’re with Marcus Spindle?”

Celric chose to ignore the question. He had no intention of confirming Mersus’ beliefs: that the Penderbooks were living with the Father Author, the writer on the other side of the pages, the man who created every living Royal, Inkling, and peasant in this world. If the Penderbooks—rightful heirs to the kingdom—were to return to the novel, it would be via Spindle.

“Mordis needs to know where the Inklings are hiding.”

The smile slipped off Mersus’ face. “Well…you’ll have to tell your captain my decision has not changed…even after sending you.”

Celric set his jaw. Your captain. The subtle accusation behind the old man’s words cut deeply, even if Celric chose to hide it.

The man continued hesitantly. “I don’t suppose it’ll make any difference, but…,” he twisted his gnarled, calloused hands together, “If I were to cooperate, would I have any chance to make it out of this forsaken dungeon alive?”

“Mordis assures you that—”

“I don’t want to hear what Mordis says, boy. That man is deception incarnate. I want your answer, Arcan. You’re an honest boy. You have been since the day I met you. Since the day I made you an Inkling.”

Celric shot Mersus a sharp look. “What? You want me to tell you you’re going to die?”

Mersus met the gaze with a piercing glare of his own, yet his tone was quiet. “I want to know the truth, Arcan. Do I have a chance?”

The elder’s soft words caused the young Royal to look away from Mersus's burning eyes. Celric wordlessly pulled the knife from his tunic and fingered it carefully, letting the sharp metal reflect the torchlight. Without looking up, he quietly answered the elder.

“I’m afraid not.”

Mersus exhaled slowly, as if he expected as much. He leaned back against the stone wall of his cell and looked distantly over the young man’s shoulder. “Then I suppose there’s nothing more to say, is there?”

An ache Celric had fought to control suddenly manifested in his gut. Mersus couldn’t understand. The only men who knew Celric's true loyalties were Dairus—the Inkling leader—and Marcus Spindle himself. No one else could know, not even Mersus. For all intents and purposes, Arcan Celric had to act like, think like, and breathe like a Royal until the Penderbooks returned.

And return they would.

“But tell me,” said Mersus as Celric reluctantly positioned the knife under the man’s ribcage, “do you enjoy your new life as a Royal?”

Celric's steady fingers wrapped around the knife’s hilt. He bitterly wondered why Spindle wrote him to be the person he was. Just before he drove the knife home, Celric, his voice quivering with regret, revealed his dark secret to one other human being.

“No. I hate it.”

And now for name origins (if anyone cares to read them). They are as follows:

Arcan Celric's name comes from the two Latin words Arcanus (adj) and Clericus (n), which means "secret scribe," which lets the reader know Celric's true loyalties right at the beginning.

Mersus's name was meant to sound like Merlin's, due to his old and wise character.

Mordis is the name of the Royal captain, which comes from the Latin root "Mor" meaning "death."

The Inkling society is taken from JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis's writers' group at Oxford.

The Royals (the society with magic) are not actual royalty, but treat themselves as such.

Marcus Spindle "spins" the fairytale into being.

Armis and Harold Penderbook's name is a merging of "Pendragon" (King Arthur's last name) and "book" because they are the novel's main protagonists.

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