White Heart of Justice (A Noon Onyx Novel)

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9780425257173: White Heart of Justice (A Noon Onyx Novel)

Since Lucifer claimed victory at Armageddon, demons, angels, and humans have coexisted in uneasy harmony. Those with waning magic are trained to maintain peace and order. But hostilities are never far from erupting...

After years of denying her abilities, Noon Onyx, the first woman in history to wield waning magic, has embraced her power. She's won the right to compete in the prestigious Laurel Crown Race--an event that will not only earn her the respect of her peers but also, if she wins, the right to control her future.
                          
However, Noon's task is nearly impossible: retrieve the White Heart of Justice, a mythical sword that disappeared hundreds of years ago. The sword is rumored to be hidden in a dangerous region of Halja that she is unlikely to return from. But Noon's life isn't the only thing hanging in the balance. The sword holds an awesome power that, in the wrong hands, could reboot the apocalypse--and Noon is the only one who can prevent Armageddon from starting again...

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About the Author:

Jill Archer is the author of the Noon Onyx series, genre-bending fantasy novels about a postgrad magic user and her off-campus adventures. The series includes Dark Light of Day, Fiery Edge of Steel, White Heart of Justice, and Pocket Full of Tinder.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Acknowledgments

Prologue

I can’t be with you anymore. That’s what she’d said. Six words that had become sixty then six hundred then six thousand . . . sixty thousand . . . six million . . . reverberating in his head, bouncing around inside his brain, driving him absolutely mad. There were no other words. No other memories. Only that last one of her. Standing at the edge of the oozy stew of the destroyed keep’s moat, flanked by two Angels, one preternaturally beautiful, the other full of purpose. The same purpose he’d had until those six words stripped him of it.

Flying out, he’d barely cleared the wreckage of the keep. His heart beat against the walls of his massive chest, and his monstrous wings beat against the infinite, empty sky, but the beats were slow and grew slower still. Slower. Until finally . . .

Stop.

He made it across the river and then dropped like a ten-ton stone, crashing into the brush, breaking tree limbs and a wing. He lay there amongst the blackening scrub refusing to shift back into human form.

Man’s thoughts were unwelcome.

In time, the rogares came. Water wraiths. He killed them all. And then sickened by the smell of blood and meat he couldn’t—wouldn’t—consume, he left his nesting place. By then, the wing had healed, but unnaturally, so that flying straight was impossible. For days, he traveled in circles, never getting far. It wasn’t just the wing. The yearning to return to her was nearly unbearable. The emptiness inside of him an abyss.

Was she still in the Shallows? If he could just . . .

But then he remembered the Angels. And the look on her face when she’d said the six words. And the feelings in her signature. She’d need more than mere weeks for them to abate. She might need months. Hopefully, not years. Years meant nothing to him, but they did to her. And then the reminder that her time was more precious than his drove his yearning to a new level of ferocity. Ruthlessly, he tamped it down. He realized then that it might be best to return to man’s thoughts. After all, she was a woman.

And he wanted her back.

I

T’was so, he stroke me with a slender dart,

Tis cruell love turmoyles my captive hart.

—OVID, AMORES 1.2, as translated by Christopher Marlowe

Chapter 1

Glashia calls Noon the ballista.” Waldron Seknecus’ low voice rumbled through the Gridiron, a deep, cavernous underground space used by the upper years at St. Lucifer’s for sparring. “Because of how she fights now. Watch.”

He was speaking to three other spectators: my father, Karanos Onyx, executive of the Demon Council and the man who would ultimately employ all of the magic users who trained here at St. Luck’s; Friedrich Vanderlin, an Archangel who was the dean of Guardians over at the Joshua School, the Angel academy we shared a campus with; and a woman who looked unsettlingly familiar to me, though I couldn’t remember when we’d met or who she was. I cleared my mind and concentrated on my opponent, Ludovicus Mischmetal, who preferred the moniker “Vicious” for short. He was a second year Maegester-in-Training at Euryale University. We were competing against one another in the New Babylon MIT rank matches, which St. Luck’s was hosting this year.

All second-year MITs were required to compete. The top-ranked MITs from each school would then be eligible to compete in the Laurel Crown Race. The object of the race was to bring back an assigned target. Targets were either rogare demons or priceless artifacts that needed to be recovered. Participation in the Laurel Crown Race was voluntary, but the MIT who returned to New Babylon with his (or in my case, her) target before any of the others, won the coveted Laurel Crown. Winning the Laurel Crown often set a future Maegester up for life because winners could choose where they wanted to spend their fourth-semester residency. And ofttimes, those residencies turned into permanent positions. Everyone else would receive offers, but it would be the Council that decided which of those residency positions they accepted.

Last semester, we’d been given our first field assignment. It was an assignment that had been full of rogare demon attacks and other lethal situations. That assignment had lasted a mere three months and I’d barely survived it. My residency would last for twice as long, so I was well aware of how important the residency venue would be. Winning the right to choose where I spent next semester, not to mention who I would be working for, would go far in preserving not just my happiness, but also my life. The Maegester who was judging the match, a middle-aged man with thinning, ginger-colored hair and a near-permanent frown, called out for us to begin.

I’d watched Vicious spar with other MITs. He was smart.His infliction of pain would be very calculated, very precise.There was nothing personal about his desire to beat me. He just wanted to win the match so that he could retain his current Primoris ranking at Euryale and compete for the Laurel Crown. Of course, I was similarly motivated.

Vicious gave me a curt bow, his long, black, razor-cut bangs briefly falling forward before he shook them back and used his waning magic to fire up a weapon, a flaming broadsword. It hissed and spit with fury in the damp air of the Gridiron as Vicious raised it toward me in an opening invitation to spar.

As a sparring partner, Vicious looked fairly intimidating. His front teeth were shiny, silver, and sharply pointed (likely, his real ones had been knocked out in fights) and he was much larger than me. He wore the usual black leather training pants and vest, but he’d elected to go shirtless underneath the vest. I guessed it was an intentional show of muscle, literally. He flexed his forearms and grinned at me, his message clear: I might be a woman playing a man’s game, but he wasn’t going to spare me any blows.

That suited me fine. Sparing me blows wouldn’t win me the match.

I unhooked the cloak I’d worn to keep warm until the match started and let it drop to the floor. I faced Vicious in similar black leather training pants, but I wore a black leather bustier instead of a vest. Since my hair had been singed to shoulder length, my demon mark—that splotchy, dark, discolored spot of skin above my heart—was now prominently displayed. Like Vicious’ muscle flexing, my decision to bare my mark was calculated. Last year at this time only my parents had ever seen the mark. Now I exposed it intentionally. It never failed. Even though my opponents knew I had waning magic, the sight of a demon mark on a woman’s bosom always gave them pause. And a single second was all it took for the judge to award a point to me for their hesitation. Of course, most of them realized their mistake soon after and then redoubled their efforts and aggression toward me, but no matter. As expected, Vicious’ gaze swept to my left breast and his eyes widened. Score: Onyx, one. He narrowed his eyes and advanced, clenching the end of his broadsword. The judge wouldn’t take away points, but Vicious wasn’t going to win any by gripping his weapon so tightly. It was made of fire and magic and points were awarded to students who exhibited magic mastery by wielding their weapons effortlessly, with finesse and style.

I fired up my own weapon, a poleax. Shaping the weapon with magic took less than a second, but really it had taken over a year. When I first came to St. Luck’s I’d been conflicted, inexperienced, and—let’s face it—completely inept. But over the last twelve months I’d gone from the girl who had never met a demon before, didn’t know how to fight or use her magic, to a woman who had battled countless rogare demons, meted out punishment to a select few, and even executed one in cold blood. That had been exceedingly difficult, but I hadn’t shied away from what had to be done. The demon had killed innocent Hyrkes—humans with no magic—and would have continued doing so if I hadn’t executed him. So when I coolly shaped a fiery poleax out of thin air and twirled it around in my hand as if it were no more than a kid’s baton, it looked impressively easy only because for so long it hadn’t been.

I kept my eyes averted from my weapon. In the dark underground space of the Gridiron, fire was blinding. Surrounding me were three stories of blackness, interspersed with an occasional stone column. Two thousand years ago, St. Lucifer’s used to be a fort. Not many of the original buildings remained, but this lower level had survived. The Gridiron that we fought in now had likely been used for the same purpose for millennia—training Maegesters to fight. It looked like a miniature coliseum, one that had been buried by time. The light from our weapons flickered against the stone columns and our breath puffed out in small gray bursts as Vicious and I circled each other.

Our signatures—the magical aura that waning magic users have and can sense in one another—flared with expectation. It was a battle response I was used to.

I waited for Vicious to make the first move. I almost always let my opponent make the first move. I knew from my training that smaller fighters could sometimes make up for their lack of size through speed, but I’d been born touched by Luck’s heavy hand. I didn’t need speed; I had strength—the strength of my magic.

Vicious made the first move, but instead of stepping toward me or slashing at my neck as I’d anticipated, he waved his sword in front of my face. Instinctively my gaze locked on it for the briefest moment, but a second was all it took. Blinded to anything but Vicious’ magic, I was unaware of where his left hand was until I felt the ringing slap of his palm on my right cheek. My head snapped toward my shoulder. That side of my face now stung as if a hundred hornets had landed there. But anger quickly displaced pain. He’d slapped me. Not punched me, as he would have done with every other opponent he’d been paired with, but slapped me, like the girl he obviously thought I still was. My signature flared. Damn, I’d misjudged Vicious. I’d thought he wouldn’t spare me any blows but he had. And now he was likely at least two points ahead because he’d managed to briefly blind and stun me. Livid, I threw a spray of blistery waning magic at his face. He easily deflected it and laughed, the low rumble infinitely irritating due to the almost never-ending echo down here.

“I heard you’re St. Luck’s Primoris,” Vicious said. “You know you wouldn’t have advanced this far with your ranking if Ari Carmine were still a student here. Pity he disappeared during your last assignment.”

Vicious’ emphasis on the word disappeared was because he, and mostly everyone else, thought that Ari had been killed during our last assignment, and Vicious, like many of the other MITs, had heard that Ari and I were close. He just didn’t know how close. His words were an attempt to unsettle me emotionally. Unfortunately, his wide unaimed verbal shot was working. Score: Vicious, three; Onyx, one.

Everything Vicious said was true. I probably couldn’t have beaten Ari in a sparring match, and he had disappeared during our last assignment. But what Vicious didn’t know was that Ari hadn’t disappeared because he was dead; he’d disappeared because he’d been hiding a bigger secret than I’d been when we’d first enrolled at St. Luck’s. Ari didn’t just have a drop of demon blood like the rest of us future Maegesters, he had an entire body full of it. He’d been a demon masquerading as a human with waning magic. Lamentably, Ari Carmine had also been my lover—and the man I’d loved with all my demon-marked heart. So even the mention of his name still hurt . . . and infuriated me.

I gritted my teeth and hurled the poleax directly at Vicious’ head. Onyx, two. I knew Vicious’ reflexes were good enough to avoid a direct hit. Sure enough, he dodged the shot by lunging to his right and falling to the floor while swinging his broadsword in an arc toward my middle as he fell. By the time he landed, the sword would have slashed through both my ankles—Vicious, four—if I hadn’t leapt to avoid the amputating burn. My poleax exploded in a shower of sparks as it collided with one of the columns on the far side of the room and Vicious let go of his sword. It lay harmlessly spitting on the Gridiron’s stone floor until it went out, plunging us into darkness.

Both Vicious and I, and every other Maegester in this room, could easily have lit a fire to restore our sight. But no one did. Vicious and I didn’t need light to “see” one another. We could sense each other through our signatures. Vicious’ signature felt like some sort of rock aggregate. There were some hard bits like nickel and then there was a whole lot of what felt like sand and grit to me. Dense filler. Formidable, but something I could probably withstand, even if he came at me directly from the front. I stood still, waiting. Vicious could feel me too, but signatures just gave us a sense of where the other was, like heat coming from a fire pit.

Vicious threw a volley of fireballs toward me. One after the other their fiery blasts lit up the room in increasingly shallow arcs, culminating in two final, furious, straight shots directed right at my head and chest. I blocked them all almost without thinking and redirected them into the darkness beyond the stone pillars surrounding us. After that, Vicious charged. It was inevitable. They all did. It was what we were here for after all. He rushed toward me, the fiery broadsword reformed. This time I fired up a similar weapon and we began the match in earnest, circling each other, dodging, lunging, thrusting, pivoting, feigning near misses so that the next moves would be direct hits. In a matter of minutes we were both winded, injured, and burned. Vicious had dislocated my kneecap and given me a black eye, and my sword had cut a two-inch gash on his forehead, a ten-inch slash down his inner thigh, and a slight nick on his neck. If I’d pressed harder with my blade or if I hadn’t allowed my magic to cauterize the cuts, it was possible that Vicious would be dead by now. He knew it and I could feel in his signature that it pissed him off. Probable score: Vicious, seven; Onyx, ten. The match was far from over.

“Let’s have a go without fire, Onyx,” he said.

I barked out a laugh. “Why would I agree to that? I’m winning.”

Without warning, Vicious punched me. I should have seen it coming, what with his request to do away with our magic and start scrapping like beasts. Problem was I’d expected it earlier and my reflexes were a fraction too slow. His fist connected with my mouth, knocked my head backward, leaving a sharp, searing pain in my upper lip that quickly morphed into a mind-numbing ache. I tasted blood and spit something hard onto the stone floor of the Gridiron.

My tooth. No wonder Vicious wanted to “have a go without fire.” He knocked my tooth out and he hadn’t even used his magic to ...

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Since Lucifer claimed victory at Armageddon, demons, angels, and humans have coexisted in uneasy harmony. Those with waning magic are trained to maintain peace and order. But hostilities are never far from erupting After years of denying her abilities, Noon Onyx, the first woman in history to wield waning magic, has embraced her power. She s won the right to compete in the prestigious Laurel Crown Race an event that will not only earn her the respect of her peers but also, if she wins, the right to control her future. However, Noon s task is nearly impossible: retrieve the White Heart of Justice, a mythical sword that disappeared hundreds of years ago. The sword is rumored to be hidden in a dangerous region of Halja that she is unlikely to return from. But Noon s life isn t the only thing hanging in the balance. The sword holds an awesome power that, in the wrong hands, could reboot the apocalypse and Noon is the only one who can prevent Armageddon from starting again. Bookseller Inventory # BZV9780425257173

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Book Description Penguin Putnam Inc, United States, 2014. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Since Lucifer claimed victory at Armageddon, demons, angels, and humans have coexisted in uneasy harmony. Those with waning magic are trained to maintain peace and order. But hostilities are never far from erupting After years of denying her abilities, Noon Onyx, the first woman in history to wield waning magic, has embraced her power. She s won the right to compete in the prestigious Laurel Crown Race an event that will not only earn her the respect of her peers but also, if she wins, the right to control her future. However, Noon s task is nearly impossible: retrieve the White Heart of Justice, a mythical sword that disappeared hundreds of years ago. The sword is rumored to be hidden in a dangerous region of Halja that she is unlikely to return from. But Noon s life isn t the only thing hanging in the balance. The sword holds an awesome power that, in the wrong hands, could reboot the apocalypse and Noon is the only one who can prevent Armageddon from starting again. Bookseller Inventory # AAC9780425257173

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Book Description Ace. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Mass Market Paperback. 304 pages. Dimensions: 6.5in. x 4.0in. x 0.9in.Since Lucifer claimed victory at Armageddon, demons, angels, and humans have coexisted in uneasy harmony. Those with waning magic are trained to maintain peace and order. But hostilities are never far from erupting After years of denying her abilities, Noon Onyx, the first woman in history to wield waning magic, has embraced her power. Shes won the right to compete in the prestigious Laurel Crown Racean event that will not only earn her the respect of her peers but also, if she wins, the right to control her future. However, Noons task is nearly impossible: retrieve the White Heart of Justice, a mythical sword that disappeared hundreds of years ago. The sword is rumored to be hidden in a dangerous region of Halja that she is unlikely to return from. But Noons life isnt the only thing hanging in the balance. The sword holds an awesome power that, in the wrong hands, could reboot the apocalypseand Noon is the only one who can prevent Armageddon from starting again This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Mass Market Paperback. Bookseller Inventory # 9780425257173

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