by Tania K. Joly (@TKJoly)
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Seventeen-year-old Velicia Tran has her future all mapped out: complete her hex-cleaning internship, enroll in special agent training, and finally reveal the identity of political street artist—and professional, slippery as a wet dragon escape artist—Nix.
When her nemesis, Clayton Kobayashi, uses his magnate father’s influence to force his way onto her team, the control Velicia has over her orderly life and her color-fueled magic dwindles. Consumed with the need to show everyone she’s so much better than him, Velicia casts reckless spells. Her magic turns atomic, and Clayton and her both know it’s the kind of atomic that will get her arrested and executed by the special agents she admires so much.
But while she fights to get Clayton to keep her secret, a gruesome murder plunges the city into chaos. Nix’s latest artwork features a body disintegrated by the same magic Velicia tries to suppress in herself. The artist also announced their next victim: Velicia’s dad.
As she scrambles to uncover the homicidal artist’s identity, Velicia unravels a web of secrets involving both Clayton’s dad and her own special agent father. When both fathers’ past mistakes threaten to turn her into a living weapon that could level the entire town, Velicia must question her beliefs about law enforcement, or risk perpetuating a rotten system that poisons everything she wants to fight for—justice and integrity.
THE COLORS OF CHAOS is a 77,000-word YA fantasy that will appeal to readers of Sarah Gailey’s When We Were Magic and Isabel Sterling’s These Witches Don’t Burn, as well as fans of Hayao Miyazaki’s way of adding beautiful, simple magic to everyday life such as in Kiki’s Delivery Service.
I am a half-Vietnamese, half-Swiss living in Montreal, Canada. I have struggled to fit between cultures most of my life, a theme reflected in my writing. I am also a software architect working for Montreal’s paratransit organization, and mom to a 6-year-old tornado who keeps my imagination wild with sword fights and lava floors.
First Five Pages
To be honest, I’m pretty great at most things.
I’m an amazing cook. I can catalog a warehouse full of artifacts in just a day. I can endure my sister’s annoying barbs without maiming her in return—which is a feat, believe me.
I can also clean up a hex in ten minutes tops, which is why the Hex Cleaning Department always sends me, Velicia Tran, their seventeen-year-old intern, whenever they have a complex one on their hands. I’m just that good. And I’m not being cocky, I swear. In fact, I’m always pretty truthful—another one of my numerous qualities.
“Tran,” Emery hollers from the coffeeshop’s entrance, his brown eyes twinkling in the waning afternoon light. “I’m gonna grab a dandelion latte. Start prepping the scene, but wait for me before you start de-hexing. We want to be extra careful with that one. I’ll be right back.”
A smile twists my lips. “Okay.” Emery is such a sweet, sweet soul, thinking I need to wait for him. I can totally do this without my team lead baby-sitting me. He’s going to be so impressed when he sees how talented I am. Maybe he’ll give me one of his famous heart-melting smiles.
The door closes after him and I hurry into the alley behind the coffeeshop. The street art stretches across the pavement into a mosaic of arrest records hexed to the ground, the thin sheets of paper detailing how special agents chased after dangerous criminals and transformed them into harmless critters.
Nix branded glowing letters into the air. “To defend is not to attack.” The artist thinks special agents are too quick to act. But it’s easy to judge when we don’t know what happened for sure, isn’t it? Nix is fighting for all the right things but the wrong way—agents are not the bad guys, and I’ll prove it when I become a special agent myself. I’ll be transparent like the artist often demands, and I’ll show everyone.
I snap pictures of the scene and spell the images onto blank paper, to add to the secret evidence I’ve gathered and stashed under my bed. I keep my amateur sleuthing under wraps, because my own special agent father doesn’t want me investigating Nix. He thinks it’s a pointless obsession, since the artist keeps evading the best agents out there.
But it’s my opportunity to prove myself. I’ve been working on revealing Nix’s identity for years. Tracked them all across town, retraced how they built their hexes. Once I’m done with my internship and enroll in the Special Agent Program, the first thing I’ll do will be to arrest Nix and blow the roof off my dad’s tower of expectations. He’ll be proud of me, for once. He will have to be.
I pull a green fluorite gemstone from my bag—I’ll split the green energy from the stone and use the blue to de-hex the space Nix’s artwork occupies, and use the yellow for its matter. I grab the silk bag that holds my chalk, and throw a pinch of it on either side of the scene to contain the magic I’ll recycle from the hex. Finally, I set a bottle of black ink at my feet.
I’m so prepared, I give myself chills. Emery isn’t back yet. Perfect.
I draw the sign for matter in the chalk—a triangle contained in a circle—and over it, the one for space, with a triangle pointing the other way around a smaller circle. I put my left palm over the signs, my other hand ready to leech the energy from the green gem in my fist. The sign pulsates at my feet as it echoes my awakening magic, which in turn covers my skin with an iridescent sheen. It reaches for the green color inside the gemstone and reels in its blue and yellow vibrations, using the colors’ energy to magnify its power.
I glance at the gem, now turned a dull gray. My strengthened magic gathers into my left hand, and I punch my palm forward, shooting a stream of white light at the hex. Blues, greens and yellows explode and dance into the air as my ray of light meets and deconstructs Nix’s magic.
It happens fast. The glowing letters disappear first, shining bright before they peter out. And then the paper sheets rip from the pavement and fly into the air, and I realize my mistake.
Panic shoots up my spine as my magic tears through the Special Agent Program’s reports, turning them to dust so fine, it settles into every little crevice in the ground. We want to be extra careful with that one, Emery said. He probably meant these were the original agent reports, and I just destroyed them without a second thought.
Wild colors still twirl through the air, and I hurriedly guide their magic toward the bottle of ink on the ground, infusing the liquid with the spoiled energy. It turns a beautiful moss green, but I cannot appreciate its tint right now.
Horror has me by the throat.
Footsteps echo near the corner, and I grab a soft cloth from my bag and rush to clean up the ground. When Emery steps into the alleyway, there is nothing there but grey pavement and an overflowing bin.
“Wait. Where—” Emery blinks, the usual smile on his lips frozen into a strange grimace. “You de-hexed Nix’s art already?”
I nod as neutrally as I can, but my heart thunders inside my chest. “I know you said to wait, I’m sorry. I thought I could handle it on my own.” He opens his mouth to say something, so I blurt out, “And I salvaged the agents’ reports. I have them all in my bag. I’ll give them directly to my dad, if you don’t mind.”
I don’t like lying. I hate it, even. It goes against everything I believe in, and it physically twists my being into a deeply uncomfortable position, but there’s no denying the relief spreading inside my chest like warm honey when Emery’s lips curl back into a soft smile.
He’s about to say something I expect to be wonderful and full of praise when another voice cuts in. “Wilbury, are you there?” Emery whirls at the mention of his last name. Two people dive into the narrow passage. “I was hoping to catch you here. I wanted to show our newest recruit the kind of work we do.”
It takes me a second to recognize my director, Mister Khan. He rarely leaves the office. I look over Emery’s shoulder.
There’s a boy with Mister Khan.
A boy with mahogany eyes.
My heart stutters to a stop.
I’m vaguely aware Khan asks me to wrap up the scene and show our process to Clayton. Emery says something about needing to talk to Khan about the internship. I think they move away, but really, I have no clue where they go.
I can’t focus on anything but Clayton. Clayton and his mocking gaze. Clayton and his smirk. Clayton whose mere sight punches me in the gut.
“What are you doing here—” I hear myself choke out with a voice that doesn’t sound like mine.
He says something, but I don’t listen. My mind is wrapped up in the impossibility that he is here, with my director, when he shouldn’t be. He can’t be. Our newest recruit.
“What did you say?” I mutter.
“I forgot your slow brain doesn’t always follow when I talk too quickly—” Clayton grins at me from where he leans against a brick wall. “I’m going to be working at the department. The Hex Cleaning Department.”
Something catches his eye. He goes to crouch over a spot of white on the ground—what’s left of the agents’ reports. Of course he noticed. He leans forward, his green beanie tipping over his messy black hair and tan forehead. I stare as he shifts the beanie back, and all I can think about is how difficult it’d be for him to smile if I shoved the soft cloth in my hand into his pretty mouth. I wonder if he’ll be as handsome when he chokes to death.
But then I’d have to explain how he died, and as I said, it makes me ill just to think about lying.
“You can’t work at the department.” A pit of fear yawns open in my gut as I think of working with my nemesis—or even worse, having him steal the only internship at the department. I won’t let him steal what’s mine. “You will never work at the department.”
Clayton snorts, and it’s the most disgusting sound I’ve heard in my life.
“What can I say, Vel?” He never calls me by my full name, Velicia. I hate how Vel rolls off his lips—all soft and mocking. “They need my skill set for cleaning very specific hex sites. I wouldn’t say they begged, but it’s not far from the truth. Your director asked me to start first thing tomorrow morning.”
If I clamp my jaw any harder, my teeth will break. His skill set. Clayton’s skill set is limited to having well-off parents who own half the town and acquire more of it every year.