Creature Feature: Halja’s Demons and Beasts
One of the fun things about writing a dark fantasy series is that I get to create different creatures, beasts, and demons for each book. Many of the characters in my novels are true monsters. But others are harbingers, mentors, tricksters, and lovers.
In honor of Halloween, our darkest holiday, here’s a sampling of demons and beasts from the NOON ONYX SERIES.
FROM DARK LIGHT OF DAY
In my first book, I stuck with the familiar – literally. One of my favorite bit characters from that book is Serafina, a demon familiar. Noon should have been more careful… Pandora’s box isn’t the only thing that shouldn’t have been opened.
A familiar? My hand shook slightly as I held the ball up by its chain to peer at it more closely. There was a demon in there. No matter how small, the thought should have been mildly terrifying. But instead I felt wonderfully intoxicated and numb around the edges, like I’d drank too much wine at a party. I looked for the button but couldn’t find it. I twisted and turned the ball, holding it up to the afternoon light streaming through my dormitory window, and finally found the catch. I pushed it gently with my thumb and the ball sprang open.
Immediately the intoxicated, numb feeling went supernova. Serafina’s signature made me feel like my body had been liquefied and then turned inside out to congeal in the cold. I suddenly craved warmth and this demon was the only source that could satisfy.
I stared at her, hardly able to reconcile her with a lifetime of imagined fears. Haljan myths and legends spoke of brutish beasts hell-bent on fury and destruction. Haljan paintings, bas reliefs, and statuaries also often depicted demons as cruel fiends and vicious monsters. But Serafina didn’t look dangerous. She looked ungainly.
She belched and stretched, glaring at me through two black eyes the size of beads. She was naked but it was no pretty sight. Her body, though diminutive, was bloated as though she’d died in the Lethe and been left too long. Her skin was a grayish, sickly looking green, and she rubbed her distended belly with one clawed hand as she grinned malevolently at me.
CURIOSITAS AND CATTUS
FROM FIERY EDGE OF STEEL
In the second book, I introduced two mythological characters, who underscored one of the book’s main themes – knowledge. Like many folktales, their story is playful… with a hint of deadly…
They say Curiositas killed Cattus.
But no one really knows.
Curiositas was a fairly youngish demon living in the twelfth century, only a few decades old, when he met the gorgeously supple and fiercely feline demoness Cattus. When he asked her what she most wanted to do on their dates, Cattus kept telling Curiositas, “You don’t want to know.” But Curiositas, being Curiositas, kept at Cattus day and night, although mostly by night, because Cattus was nocturnal. Curiositas, on the other hand, was a day creature, all flecked with gold and shining brilliance. His preferred haunt was the Lethe and the two met at the docks every day at dusk.
Cattus would stare into the great murky depths of the Lethe, searching for any sign of Curiositas. Sometimes her ears would twitch. Sometimes her tail. Sometimes her eyes would grow big as saucers and her haunches would wriggle in anticipation. Curiositas never fully breached the surface of the water. He liked to tease Cattus, as she teased him. He gave her glimpses only of himself: a tiny bit of fin, a stream of bubbles, a patch of orange gold twisting just beneath the surface, sparkling, shimmering, just out of reach.
There’s a romantic version of the story the Hyrkes like to tell. Some nonsense about the two demons being doomed lovers. But that’s not the version I was told, nor is it the version I believe. Unlike the Hyrkes, I don’t have any romantic notions about demons. They’re much worse than Maegesters. Much. And that’s why I know—although I wish I didn’t—what Cattus most wanted to do with Curiositas. And that’s why I believe the version that puts an end to Cattus’ hunger.
Ivy, my Hyrke roommate, never gets my version of the story.
“Ends Cattus’ hunger?” she always asks, frowning and exasperated. “What does that mean? Did Cattus finally catch Curiositas? Or did Curiositas really kill her?”
And, every time, I always wink and tell her:
“You don’t want to know.”
In the third book, I added barghests to the beastly mix of creatures featured in the series.
The barghests looked as horrible as their food. Only in the vaguest sense did they resemble dogs. They had four legs, a tail, claws, and jaws full of sharp canine teeth. But barghests are to dogs the way drakons are to bats. First off, they were huge. Everything about them was bigger and meaner. On four legs their faces were even with mine. Upon seeing them it became easy to imagine a demon like Lilith riding one. They had barrel chests and wolfish grins. Their teeth were as large as horns and their paws four times the size of Rafe’s booted foot. And their fur . . . well, let’s just say seeing it on the living creature didn’t improve its appearance. It reminded me of long, thick, tangled rat fur. I shuddered and tried to reconcile myself to the fact that, so long as I didn’t get eaten by one in the pen today, two of them would be under my care by midday.
“So which of you is first?” Linnaea said, motioning to the pen.
“Do we lasso them? Saddle them?” Rafe asked. Hands in his pockets, he rocked back and forth on his heels surveying them. “Cast a spell over them?”
Linnaea snorted. “I wouldn’t cast a spell over them at first. In time, as they get used to you, you might be able to cast something simple over them, but don’t start that way. In the beginning, all you’re going to do is let them get used to you. They’ll try to push you around. See what you’re made of. They’re as curious about you as you are about them. Don’t show any fear.”
Like dogs and demons, I thought.
“I’ll go first,” I said, walking over to the gate. “What about waning magic? What’s their response to that?”
Linnaea smiled, but it wasn’t reassuring. “That depends on the user.” She walked over to the gate and held it open for me.
“You’re not coming in?” I asked, trying to ignore the growls coming from the beasts behind her.
“Nah, it’s better if you go in alone,” she said, winking at me.
Better for who? Her or me?
THE MYRIAD DEMONS
The upcoming fourth book takes place in Rockthorn Gorge, a bustling mountain town where so many demons live, it’s often called a “demonic anthill.” Noon is sent there to make nice with the demons who follow the law… and to find the one who isn’t.
Shortly after sunrise, we reached the rim of the gorge. Even though I stood on solid ground and there was no immediate danger of falling into it, my stomach dropped as if I had. The gorge was enormous – a near-vertical drop into a dark chasm hundreds of feet below us. At the bottom, the Acheron River was dry. I knew from the materials in my dossier that the river had been diverted during construction. The plans and specs called for the viaduct to be converted into a dam. Gazing at the wreckage below, however, I knew the project had once again been set back. Huge stone blocks and other pieces of debris were strewn about the dry riverbed as if they were toy building blocks that had been kicked over by a child with a temper. But it hadn’t been a child. It had been a bomber – one who’d killed almost a hundred people, possibly more.
One who’d possibly killed Ari.
All through the night, I’d managed to ignore my growing panic. Ari was strong and powerful… robust and nearly invincible…
But standing at the edge of Halja’s northern-most ravine, staring down at what looked like an army of ants rather than a rescue party made up of demons and men, I could no longer ignore my feelings. I was afraid. Not of falling into the gorge, but of what I might find at the bottom.
Pocket Full of Tinder
Publisher: Black Willow
Word Count: ~ 85,000
Cover Artist: Rebecca Frank
Noon Onyx is back! In this long-awaited fourth installment, Jill Archer returns readers to the dangerous world of Halja, where demons, angels, and humans coexist in an uneasy state of détente.
Maegester-in-Training Noon Onyx feels like she’s done it all – mastered fiery magic, become an adept fighter, learned the law, killed countless demons, and survived having her heart broken by both love and an arrow, but now she’ll face her greatest challenge yet…
Far to the north lies an outpost famous for its unrest – Rockthorn Gorge. The town’s patron has specifically requested Noon’s help. Her assignment? Help the neophyte demon lord build his fiefdom and keep what’s his. The problem? Lord Aristos – Noon’s new employer – is her erstwhile lover, Ari Carmine, the aforementioned heartbreaker. And the number one thing he wants is her.
When Rockthorn Gorge’s viaduct is destroyed by Displodo, an enigmatic bomber, killing a dozen settlers and wounding scores more, Noon sets off early to aid in the search and rescue. Ari is listed among the missing and the suspects are legion. But Noon’s search is just the beginning. Her journey forces Noon to confront not only those she loves, but also enemies hell-bent on destroying them.
Some things can’t be mended, they can only be mourned…
POCKET FULL OF TINDER
Noon Onyx #4
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 efforts, 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 our society valued most were. 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?”
About the Author:
Jill Archer writes dark, genre-bending fantasy from rural Maryland. Her novels include Dark Light of Day, Fiery Edge of Steel, White Heart of Justice, and Pocket Full of Tinder. She loves cats, coffee, books, movies, day tripping, and outdoor adventuring.
Discussion Questions: http://jillarcherauthor.wordpress.com/book-clubs/
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