by Haley Gray (@hkaygray)

YA Fantasy
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I am excited to submit my dual-POV YA fantasy novel for your consideration. At 92,000 words, THE SILENCE BETWEEN blends the dark academia setting of A Deadly Education by Naomi Novik with the enemies-to-lovers subplot of Only a Monster by Vanessa Len.

Rune has lied his way into a prestigious transmutational academy, desperate to escape a childhood marred by tragedy. If he can graduate, he’ll earn the title of Transmuter and be given a life of near-godhood. However, there's one major problem: Rune has no transmutational abilities, a secret that jeopardizes his place at the academy. Unwilling to return to his former life, he’ll do anything to graduate, even if it means unlocking abominable powers that may change the very fabric of who he is.

After the death of her brother by a Transmuter's hand, Asena has a personal grudge against these would-be gods. So, she becomes the only thing that can stand against them—a Godeater, trained to legally assassinate Transmuters whose minds have buckled under the pressure. However, when Asena is sent to investigate the unsanctioned murders of guiltless Transmuters, she encounters a mysterious man with the horrendous ability to transmute human flesh. In this confrontation, she unearths a disturbing connection between herself and the monster: a shared thirst for revenge.

Asena must make a choice: murder the man who has so obviously pushed transmutation further than it’s allowed or give into her complicated feelings for a monster. No matter her choice, she knows she won’t be the hero of this story. Because in a world where roles blur, it takes a villain to kill one.

Although I'm not as fluent in Spanish as my four siblings, I still often find my Mexican heritage blending with my storytelling. I have a BA in English, and I’m an editor for a cancer research journal. I currently live in North Dakota with my husband and four-year-old vizsla.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

First Five Pages

Chapter One

Rune was angry, alone, and waiting for a rock to turn to flame. The smell of sulfur choked the air, and a match lay dying by an abused lump of limestone. It was scorched black on one side while the rest was chipped and broken from being repeatedly scratched with a fork. Rune’s staring contest with the stone did very little to intensify the rock’s torture, and instead, had only succeeded in giving Rune a headache. He slammed his hands on the table, jolting the rock and sending it rolling over the hard floor.

“Gods below, damn it.” Rune slumped into his chair, letting his neck roll and pop as he stared up at the ceiling. Black curls tumbled around his shoulders as he pressed his palms into his eyes, rubbing them as if trying to remove them from his skull.

“You like being limestone that much?” He mumbled words to the rock that now lay still on the ground. “Wouldn’t you rather be fire? Think of the freedom. Think of the power. You could rip my flesh from my body, get back at me for everything I’ve put you through.” His hands fell as he turned to face the rock. “You want that, don’t you?”

The rock said nothing.

Rune propped himself up on his elbows and maintained eye contact with the silent slab of stone.

“What about gold? Gold isn’t far from what you are now. You could be the envy of all your rock friends.” Rune swirled a finger in the air. “Think about it.”


“I’d take plain sand at this point,” Rune persisted. “Just be something else.”

He crouched beside the rock, cupping it carefully in his hands as if it were a flower he was lifting from a pool of water. His hair fell around the stone, framing his face, lips nearly touching the rough surface.

“Be something. Be anything.”

The rock said nothing, and Rune let out an audible groan, dropping the stone with a crack as it fell against the hard ground. He sprawled himself on the floor next to the rock like two cloud-watching lovers and turned his eyes back to the ceiling and the walls. The setting sun’s red light framed his room in its gory glory.

If he failed to speak to this rock, the academy would send him back to the squalid, hopeless life he had fought so desperately to escape. To him, that wasn’t an option. He pressed his knuckles into his eyes, fighting against waves of frustration and anger. This plan was supposed to work—not set him up for more failure.

There were three sharp knocks on the door before it swung wide. Rune didn’t move an inch. He didn’t even bother to look over his nose at whoever stood in the doorway. Whoever it was, they were unwanted and unrequested.

“You’re the last one to turn in the test,” a woman’s voice said. The voice warbled in its age, catching on the grooves and gutters that stunted each syllable.

Rune fought the urge to groan. Out of all the people who could show up uninvited to his room, he did not want to speak with the very person who’d assigned the accursed test.

“I’ll have it turned in by the morning,” Rune said, rolling to his side and propping his head on one hand.

The woman in the doorway wore every minute of her age. She was, without a doubt, the oldest transmuter Rune had ever seen, but she wore her years with pride. The only aspect of the old woman that seemed immune to the years was her eyes—a crystal blue that sparked and shone with intelligence. Her hair was a stark white and braided long down her back, and she leaned heavily on a cane. Around her neck, she wore a simple cord that hugged a small bead of silver, the first stone she ever transmuted, or so she claimed at the start of every class.

Rune stared at the silver bead and then back to his rock. If only his stone would change to silver.

“Bastard,” he mumbled.

“Excuse me?”

“Not you,” he waved dismissively. “I’m talking to the rock.”

The Professor of Stone arched her eyebrow.

“As usual, pupil, you leave me at a loss for words.” She took a step inside the room, glanced around at the disheveled mess of books, candles, stones, and woodchips, and shook her head. “May I sit?”

Rune shrugged and motioned for her to sit in the only chair in the room. Its legs were scorched with fire marks from Rune’s unconventional attempts to torture objects until they transmuted, and it sat tucked against a table that was equally blackened and stained. The Professor of Stone wove through the clutter with her cane and sat with heavy bones in the abused chair, her eyes landing on the half-burnt rock.

“Interesting. Why, might I ask, did you set the stone on fire?” she inquired.

“It’s ignoring me.”

“The stone is?”

“What else?” Rune rolled from his side to his back, stretching his arms out to either side and staring at the bare ceiling.

“Watch your tone, pupil.”

“Apologies, Professor.”

The woman was silent for a moment before she spoke again as if choosing the right words to say to the student sprawled on the floor.

“Have you tried speaking to it?” she finally asked.

“I’ve told it my life’s story, in detail. It’s a dreadful audience. It doesn’t laugh or cry at the appropriate moments,” Rune said, his voice dry as a fall leaf. “I told it about my first kiss, including the embarrassing bits, but it wasn’t impressed.”

The professor’s sigh sounded like a burden as she pushed it from her lungs.

“I meant speak to the stone. Not aloud.” She touched a finger to her heart and then to her head. “Speak from inside yourself. Intelligence to intelligence.”

Rune rolled his eyes. Intelligence to intelligence was an oft repeated phrase at the school that meant absolutely nothing to him. The professor sighed again and Rune wondered if the weight of her sighing was what had curved her spine in her old age.

“Learning to speak is the whole purpose of your attendance at this university, pupil.” She paused and leveled an appraising eye at the boy sprawled on the floor. “You know, I don’t often visit the student’s chambers to remind them to turn in their tests.” Stabilizing her cane under her hand, she pushed up from the chair and walked slowly across the room, stepping carefully around the mess of raw materials that cluttered the floor.

“I am honored.” Rune sucked in a breath when his voice betrayed the sarcasm behind the words.

“Despite your rude wit, I see potential in you, child. After years of teaching, we professors can see the subtle signs of a transmuter. And you,” she turned to look down at the boy sprawled on the floor as she stood in the doorway, “have all the signs.”

“And what signs are those?” Rune lifted his head to get a better view of the old woman’s face.

A brief look of exasperation crossed her face but she covered it with a patient smile.

“Well, you were well-known as a prodigy at your prior school. Your previous professors claimed you’d be transmuting within your first year here. We carry those same expectations for you.”

Rune’s heart sank and he let his head fall back to the floor. Of course. Lies had a habit of haunting him. He was supposed to be a prodigy of transmutation, graduating first in his class before applying to Nemiths Transmutational Academy, but he wasn’t. He was a fraud, a liar, a thief.

“We’re rooting for you,” she said. “Simply find your voice and speak to the stone.”

She held out a hand, a small stone in her wrinkled palm. It was plain and gray, with dimples pitting the surface. A perfectly ordinary pebble. Rune pulled himself to his feet for the first time in the conversation.

Gently, as if encasing a ladybug, she closed her fingers around it. Her bright eyes fluttered and her lips moved without sound. Her brow furrowed before she smiled and opened her fingers. In the Professor of Stone’s palm, there was no longer a stone, but a bead of silver.

“Go on,” she said, motioning the bead towards him. “Take it as a token of my faith in you. I expect your own stone, or whatever form you can convince it to take, to be on my desk in the morning. If not, I’ll have to fail you from my course.”

Rune’s eyes were fixed on the bead of silver as he stumbled forward through the debris. Rocks, books, wood shavings, and loose pages hindered his every step, but his fingers closed around the professor’s gift. He cradled it in his hand and looked down wide-eyed at the old woman.

“Tomorrow morning then.” She left down the dim hallway.

Rune stared at the silver. Some part of him had become convinced that the world was playing a trick on him. Speak to the intelligence of the object, they said. The right words will come and the object will change, they said. It was a grand trick, with Rune as the butt of the joke.

The ability to hear the intelligence of things—stone, water, fire—was common, nearly as common as being born with ten fingers. Rune had been told it sounded like a million voices chattering in the distance. A low rumble on the horizon. Although most people could hear the whispering voices of the world, very few could speak to them. Even more rare were those who could persuade. If you could speak to the soul of a thing and persuade it to become something else, it would. Stone to gold. Water to ice. Air to fire.

All it took was persuasion.

Rune closed his fist around the silver bead and threw it across the room. It pinged off the wall, landing unceremoniously in a pile of sawdust.

He slumped to the floor, back against the door, and leaned his forehead on his arms. He wanted to scoff, to scream, to cry. His lies were decaying around him and his meticulously constructed character was crumbling.

You were well-known as a prodigy, the professor had said. But he wasn’t. He was a fraud.

He couldn’t hear the intelligence of the stone, or anything, for that matter. Nothing spoke to him. His world was utterly and completely silent. Even surrounded with objects that should fill the air with their supposed chattering voices, his breathing was the only thing he could hear.

Fresh air, he told himself, fresh air was what he needed. Maybe once he cleared his head outside, all the voices of the rocks would come flooding into his head like they never had before. Maybe then he’d be able to slip back on his coat of lies.

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