JILL ARCHER

THE NOON ONYX SERIES: GENRE-BENDING FANTASY

Excerpts

From Dark Light of Day, Chapter 9

“I’ve been watching you, wondering, waiting to see where you’d end up. After all, there are other demon law schools,” Seknecus said, making a moue of distaste that made it clear exactly what he thought of them. “But I was happy to see that you chose St. Lucifer’s.”

Technically my mother chose St. Lucifer’s . . . But there seemed no reason to interrupt to clarify that bit of misinformation. Seknecus wandered around the room, picking through papers, flipping open and quickly shutting the front covers of various leather-bound books, never meeting my eye. I had no doubt, however, that his attention was fully focused on me.

“So, you see, seeing your name on my list wasn’t exactly a surprise, although it appeared much later than I would have liked.”

He did look at me then, with a frown of disapproval. I did my best to look expressionless because none seemed appropriate. It wouldn’t do to look amused, bored or, Luck forbid, rebellious. Seknecus stared at me with narrowed eyes and then went back to wandering.

“You’ve got some catching up to do,” he said, addressing a copy of Sin and Sanction: Codification & Case Law. “It doesn’t matter why or what excuses you’ve got for yourself. You will be held to the same standards as everyone else, regardless of whose daughter you are. And you’ve missed a lot of class already.”

I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off with a wave.

“Manipulation class,” he clarified. “You’re going to have to work ten times as hard as everyone else just to pass. Quintus Rochester doesn’t go easy on students and he’s likely to see your absence during the early part of the semester as a challenge. You know, failing is not an option. Not if you want to live . . .”

From Fiery Edge of Steel, Chapter 6

“You are familiar with Empyr wine, Ms. Onyx?” Rochester asked.

I nodded warily.

Angels were obsessed with apples. They took their love of this fruit very seriously, worshipping it as a symbol of the lost world they once ruled. A common motif in Angel art was the fallen apple that never rotted. Empyr wines were apple wines that were “enhanced” by some of the best Angel sommeliers in Halja. The enhancements were spells. Each batch had its own name, flavor, coloring, and associated spell. They were served upstairs in the Angels’ infamous restaurant on this building’s thirty-third floor.

I’d had Empyr wine exactly two times in my life. Each time it had produced life-altering effects, although in an indirect manner and not of the kind I could have guessed.

Friedrich turned back toward me and offered me the cup. Inside, the liquid was pink and fizzy and flecked with gold. I reached for the cup and there was a brief moment when I wasn’t sure Friedrich would let go. Was the spell tied to his touch? I yanked harder and the wine nearly spilled out of the cup as it broke free from his grasp. Rochester’s signature nudged mine, like a parent pinching an errant child. I glanced back at Ari, who gave me a tight smile.

I tipped the cup to my lips and drank. Immediately, a bitter, chalky taste filled my mouth. I hid my grimace, finished, and handed the cup back to Friedrich.

“This batch is called ‘Fortuna’s Favorites,’” Friedrich said. “Think you’re one of them?”

Time will tell, I thought, but said instead, “Fortes fortuna adiuvat.” Fortune favors the bold. Another of Dorio’s sayings. Maybe Fitz had the right idea.

Friedrich grunted. Ari grinned.

Rochester held off magically pinching me again. Instead, he handed me a white linen napkin.

“A gift from this batch’s sommelier,” he said. “Some words of wisdom regarding this semester’s assignment.”

I choked back a laugh. From tea leaves to wine tannins, where Angels fear not to tread . . . I accepted the napkin and wiped my mouth gently. I’d been generous in this morning’s application of Daredevil Red lip paint. Who knew what my fortune might be if I added too much of that to the mix? But the laugh died in my throat as I looked down at my napkin. Slowly, a stain of words appeared:

When traveling into the unknown, sometimes the biggest danger is the one you bring with you . . .

From White Heart of Justice, Chapter 7

I paid the cab driver his fare, and we climbed out. In front of us, on a high windswept hill on the outskirts of north New Babylon, was the Crystal Palace. We made our way up the steep stone steps that led to its entrance and I imagined how enticing this building might look during spring. With its great glass dome full of wintery winds nestled atop a hill full of grass and flowers, it would, no doubt, look like an enormous snow globe set on a colorful perch, a veritable beacon to would-be adventurers, Haljan hunters, and other wannabe travelers dreaming of something different. Today, however, there was little difference between the gray sky behind the building and the gray atmosphere within it.

Just outside the entrance was a fountain, but instead of water, this one sprayed snow. At its base was a sign:

Winter either bites with its teeth or lashes with its tail.
Make a wish and swish.
All proceeds benefitKalisto’s Hunters’ Widows’ and Children’s Fund

Beneath the sign was a cup for offerings. I looked up and suddenly my pulse and signature skyrocketed with the snow. High above the fountain was the wispy outline of a yeti—a snow beast. Its face materialized from the snow with black eyes the size of the cab we’d just climbed out of and an open jaw at least half the size of Timothy’s Square. It swooped toward us, teeth gnashing, just as Rafe dropped a coin in the cup. He waved his hand in the air and the snow yeti slowly dissolved. A mist of cold, wet snow rained down on us.

“Did you wish for an umbrella?” I said, wiping my cheek with the hem of my cloak.

“Nope, I made a serious wish.”

I gave him a dubious look. “Uh-huh. Let me guess. You wished that Kalisto would have a nose warmer with whiskers inside?”

He shook his head.

“Levitating snowshoes?”

Same response.

“Hot chocolate, at least?”

Rafe didn’t answer. Instead he locked his arm with mine and led me toward the iron-doored entrance. On the way, he sang softly:

“I wished I could kiss your gap-toothed smile.”

When he saw my reaction, he stifled a laugh.

“It would be bliss to do so awhile.”

He stopped abruptly and turned me toward him, keeping a hold on my shoulders.

“But you’re fierce and you’re fiery and oh so wisery.”

He lowered his head close to mine and then said sotto voce:

“So it’s certain you’d yell, ‘Go straight to hell!’”

The wind buffeted us from every direction as the snow continued to fall from above. Suddenly, I was acutely aware that Rafe was holding onto me. He stared at me and for a single second I wondered if he’d meant it when he’d said he wished for something serious.

“Wisery?” I said finally, stepping back. “Only you could come up with a word like that, Rafe.”

From Pocket Full of Tinder, Chapter 1

The claw-and-ball had been chewed clean off. It lay on a patch of sunny parquet floor, just to the right of an antique, aubergine wool rug now covered with the splintered remnants of an eleventh-century pedestal table and one very large, ghastly looking, somewhat repentant barghest.

Nova’s head rested on her front paws as her gaze shifted warily from me to Miss Bister, Megiddo’s dormater, or house mother.

“Megiddo’s lobby is not a kennel, Miss Onyx. That”—she motioned dismissively toward Nova—“beast can no longer be housed here.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but Miss Bister continued speaking, her tone rising only infinitesimally, her back as stiff as Luck’s lance must have been and her expression just as hard. She pointed toward the previously priceless, three-footed piece of furniture that was now a worthless, two-footed pile of kindling.

“No amount of money – or magic – can fix that, Nouiomo. It’s beyond repair. I warned you. I made an exception to my ‘no pets’ rule because you never cause trouble. You never forget your key; you promptly pick up your deliveries; you change your own light bulbs; you double-bag your trash. You leave nothing behind in the bathroom; you don’t monopolize the washing machines; you are exceedingly polite to the lift operator; you don’t sing in the shower.”

I suppressed a sigh. After a year and a half of painstaking effort, harrowing experiences, and endless hours of education, my worth had just been measured by the fact that I could change a light bulb. I’d mastered fiery magic, become an adept fighter, learned the law, killed countless demons (one regrettably, the others much less so), freed myriad immortals from an accursed, tortured bondage, and survived having my heart nearly destroyed by both love and an arrow, yet none of that meant bupkis next to the fact that I double-bagged my trash. And yet…

I couldn’t really argue with Miss Bister either. Everything she’d said was true. And who was I to tell her what she should deem important? I respected that she valued domestic order and antiques. I did too, if not nearly as much as I valued the thing that now threatened our continued access to such. I glared at Nova, who swept one paw over her eyes as if she could hide from me and the evidence of what she’d done.

Barghests are giant hellhounds. They’re bigger than bears, fiercer than rabid raccoons, and uglier than naked mole rats. Their teeth are the size of railroad spikes, their claws as sharp as a sickle, their breath as foul as sewage gas. But they are also affectionate, brave, and loyal. What barghests lack in magic, they make up for in devotion. And even though I was plenty mad at Nova for chewing up Miss Bister’s table, I also knew it wasn’t Nova’s fault.

It was mine – for thinking the lobby of a demon law school dormitory would be a good place to keep her.

“Miss Bister, please,” I said. “I’m truly sorry. I know I can’t replace that exact table. But if you would just allow me to—”

“No,” Miss Bister said simply. “Either the beast goes… or you do.”

I stared at the small, frail, magicless woman in front of me, trying desperately to think of some way to fix this problem. Wasn’t there something I could do, or say, or offer her that would make amends and convince her not to kick us out?

But all I could think of was how useless some of the things were that our society valued most. As Miss Bister had pointed out, neither magic nor money would help. If I was going to repair the table, I’d need to find another way. Which would take time. And that meant I’d need to find somewhere else for us to sleep tonight. Because if the beast was going… I was too.

“Yes, Miss Bister,” I said. “I understand.”

She narrowed her eyes, slightly suspicious of my now-gracious defeat since I’d just spent the last half-hour trying to persuade her to accept various forms of reparation. But then she nodded, handed me a couple of paper bin bags, and left.

I slid one bag inside the other and stooped down to pick up the slobbery remains of Nova’s mangled chew toy. When I finished, she came over to me and nudged my arm with her head. She let out a woofy whine.

Was she sorry? She darn well better be!

I gave her a scratch behind the ears.

“Now that you’ve sharpened your teeth on my former dormater’s furniture, are you ready to eat some real food for breakfast?”