When Matt Archer’s sister, Mamie, said those words to him three years ago, he had no idea how prophetic they were, or what this would mean for his family.
Now, he knows. And it changes everything, bringing the war right to Matt’s doorstep.
In the epic conclusion to the Matt Archer series, the endgame is near. Betrayed by an enemy, the wielders have been called off the hunt by their own government, despite increasing reports of paranormal activity—and deaths—worldwide. Matt is forced to sit on the sidelines, knowing that proving monsters exist means revealing who—and what—he is. Soon the world will know his name…which will only make his job harder.
Matt’s only hope resides with a man he barely knows—his father. If Erik Archer can put together the final puzzle before the monsters do, maybe they’ll have a chance. Maybe.
Mystery, tragedy and the power of family combine as Matt races to win the war and save the people he loves. There’s just one thing he’s afraid of…
It might already be too late.
When I was fourteen, I picked up a knife, ignorant of the destiny that awaited me. That night seems like a lifetime ago, even if it’s only been three years.
A lot of things can change in three years.
A boy can become a man. A man can become a soldier. And that soldier can witness things he’ll never forget. Earn scars that won’t fade. Cut down enemies. Save lives.
Lose them, too.
Through it all, I’ve tried to remember who I am, where the legend ends and the man begins. Not to lose myself to my blade-spirit and become a monster. Some days are harder than others. I’ve seen friends die in this war, injured myself, and nearly lost the girl I love more than anyone, all for the cause. The price for being named the guardian of humanity is high, especially when my own government is calling me a criminal.
Despite all the obstacles, despite the pain, one thing remains true: it’s still worth the fight.
My name is Matt Archer. And I’m going to save the world.
Or die trying.
* * *
Packed into a black government SUV with five other people on the way to a Congressional hearing wasn’t my idea of fun.
That it was my reality made it even worse. Especially since riding with these particular men gave me a migraine of epic proportion. Being in close contact with the other knife-wielders always caused me pain. It was better than usual—I’d gotten used to the sensation of overwhelming power somewhat. Still, not the best way to start this day.
My new suit wasn’t heavy, but a trickle of sweat ran down my back the closer we got to the Capitol and my tie felt like it was trying to strangle me slowly. If I’d had my way, I’d be going to the hearing in bloodstained BDUs and my oldest combat boots—the ones with African sand still on them. The House Armed Services Committee wanted to call me a hardened juvenile delinquent? Fine, at least let me look the part.
Everybody else—except Will—told me that was a terrible idea. So Mom and Aunt Julie took me shopping and wrangled me into the suit. Complete with shiny new wingtips.
I felt, and probably looked, very stupid.
“I heard CNN was going to carry C-SPAN live during the hearings,” Will said. He stared out the window with his shoulders bunched up around his ears. “Everyone in the world will know who we are after today.”
Everyone in the world would know…but how we’d be judged was the question. Would our accusers accept that everything we’d done was to protect and defend the defenseless? Or would we go down in flames, remembered by history as the very worst of violent offenders?
What worried me most was that the world wouldn’t learn the truth until it was too late: that the war wasn’t over. Pentagram Strike Force had been pulled off of active duty to participate in this political circus. Meanwhile, the Dark Master had gained a toehold in our world. The search for the Chinese shaman, our final lead—along with hunting the last two prime monsters—should’ve been our priority, and necessary to putting an end to the Master’s reign of terror. Instead we were here, sold out to Congress by the enemy’s favorite human servant.
As we made our way through the streets of D.C., Tink made a sullen noise in my head. I’ve never liked this place. Too many skeptics.
“Insulted some people don’t believe in you?” I asked, biting back a nervous smile. “Do we need to clap and bring you back to life?”
Will laughed, while Tink growled. The nickname is bad enough without the jokes, thank you very much.
The other wielders didn’t react. Parker was more pale than usual, and his freckles stood out like measles on his face. Ramirez glared out the window. Jorge had his hands folded in his lap and his eyes were closed, almost like he was praying.
“Anybody else coming to the party?” I asked.
“This is it, far as I know,” Parker said, the faintest hint of Alabama twang coming through. “We brought a couple of our guys as character witnesses, but they aren’t allowed to testify unless they’re called. So it’s just us.”
Ramirez flashed me a rare smile. “Murphy’s here.”
“I heard,” I said. “He’s driving my family over to the hearing.”
“He can’t wait to see you.” Now Ramirez was chuckling. “Said he’d watch as we do the walk of shame through the crowds at the Capitol.”
“Wait…crowds?” I asked. “What crowds?”
“Haven’t you been watching the news?” Parker raised an eyebrow. “That’s why we’re taking a caravan with draconian seating arrangements. They wanted the wielders to be the first out.”
“We gave up on watching the news a few days ago when that anchor on MSNBC called me and Matt ‘budding psychopaths,’ who’ve become trained killers,” Will said.
“You’re in for treat, then,” Parker said.
He wasn’t kidding. As we turned down First Street leading past the Capitol steps, people choked the sidewalks. Some had signs saying we were saviors. Some yelled that we worshiped Satan. Every single one of them watched the cars pass. We were sacrificial lambs, going to the slaughter, and it would all play out on television.
“This…is gonna suck,” Will said as an egg splattered against the SUV’s window.
“They can’t get near the entrance,” Johnson told him. “They have barriers holding everyone back.”
Yeah, because a little bit of plywood would be an excellent deterrent against mob violence.
We turned the corner on Independence, heading for the Sam Rayburn building. It was one of the House’s office buildings and where we’d have the hearing. You’d think the President was coming to visit, because we were led by a police car and followed by two motorcycle cops.
More people crowded the mall around the Capitol building and lined the streets all the way to our destination. Tink was jumpy, twitching around my skull. Instinctively, I reached for my knife handle, sheathed in my thigh pocket.
Ramirez’s eyes tracked the movement. “The knives have to stay in the car.”
“I thought they’d demand to see them,” I said.
“We don’t want members of Congress to get a hand on them, so the plan is to lock them up and leave them with Johnson.”
Being without my knife in tense situations usually caused me physical pain and leaving it behind sounded like torture. “But—”
“This is the only way we’ll be certain to get them back,” Ramirez said as he handed his knife to Johnson, looking as if it hurt to loosen the handle from his fingers. “General’s orders.”
We followed his lead. I set the blade in its metal box and locked it in. My head ached the instant contact was broken.
I’ll be nearby no matter what. You aren’t forsaken just because you aren’t wearing the knife, Tink said. All the same, don’t do anything stupid.
“Okay,” I murmured. Will whispered something similar and Captain Parker smiled at us. Instructions were universal sometimes.
A rap on the window announced the MPs’ arrival—military escort from the SUV to the hearing rooms. I didn’t know if that was for our protection, or to make us look more like criminals.
We slid out of the vehicle, all of us steely-eyed and standing erect. The MPs led us along the barricaded street. Cameras pointed our direction and reporters screamed questions. As of now, anonymity wasn’t a luxury I had anymore. Everywhere I looked, people were staring at us. I could almost hear the gasps of surprise zooming through Billings as our faces started showing up on television. Greenhill High was on fall break, but that only meant the news would travel faster.
The building itself was white stone, with two massive statues guarding the front door. Crowds of people surrounded them, pressed against the blue police barriers and jostling to get a better look.
As we headed for the stairs, someone shouted my name and the voice sent a shock wave through my chest. I stopped dead in my tracks and searched the crowd for the source, finding who I was looking for when I spotted a flash of auburn hair. I wasn’t sure how she’d gotten here…but I was sure she would be grounded for six months for coming.
Ella stood at the edge of the barrier, scowling at the MPs. I knew how she’d gotten such prime real estate—by holding a sign that read “No more monsters under your bed, courtesy of my boyfriend!”
Penn stood next to her, directing the crowd in a chant. Something about “stupid politicians.”
“What are they doing here?” I asked.
“No idea,” Will said.
Before the MPs could react, I ran for Ella. I heard Will pounding the pavement behind me, but she was all I saw. Ella dropped her sign and flung out her arms. We got in one long kiss before one my escorts put a hand on my arm.
“I can’t believe you came,” I told her in a rush.
She lifted her chin. “There’s no way I wouldn’t be here for you today.”
The MP’s grip tightened around my bicep. I dug my heels in. “I love you.”
A second MP had joined the first, tugging at my arms. As they dragged me away, she yelled, “I love you, too!”
The frenzy from the press got more chaotic, jostling to shove microphones in Ella’s face. The last thing I saw as the guards pushed me into the building was her granting interviews, looking like the queen of all she surveyed.
Our handlers led us to a small room off the hearing chambers. A few minutes later, my family showed up. My uncle and his wife, Colonel and Captain Tannen, came in first, followed by General Richardson. Not long after, Mom, Mamie and Brent arrived. Mamie looked anxious, twirling a pigtail around her finger, but Mom was angry. The night she’d found out about the hearings…well, I’d never seen her that pissed off, and her mood hadn’t improved much over the last few weeks. She paced the room, looking like she wanted to punch something really hard.
Once we were all settled, Army counsel gave us last minute pointers. Mom glared at him several times, finally saying, “Enough. You’re making them nervous.” She put her hand on my shoulder. “Tell the truth. That’s all you can do. Don’t let them twist your words.”
I would do my best, because I needed to focus on getting through the proceedings without slipping up. If I did, Uncle Mike, Badass Aunt Julie and General Richardson could lose their jobs. Or go to jail for endangering minors. Take your pick.
The general and Uncle Mike talked quietly in one corner, wearing their Class As. It was the first time since his wedding that I’d seen my uncle in full dress uniform. The large section of commendation ribbons on his jacket made him look impressive and I stared longingly at the uniform. I hated being in this suit. I belonged in uniform, but when I begged to enlist with Mom’s permission, no one had gone for it.
“You wouldn’t complete basic in time for the hearings,” Captain Johnson had said.
Mike had ground his teeth a full minute before adding, “Before he died, you promised Colonel Black you’d go to West Point. Stay the course and we’ll get you there.”
Mom’s answer was even simpler. “No.”
So here Will and I were, looking awkward in coat and tie, as if this was some joke of a graduation ceremony instead of a moment that would decide the fates of every single person in this room. I tugged at my collar, wondering if it would suffocate me before the hearing was over.
Mamie touched my hand. Brent loomed behind her, an ever present watchman to keep our sister out of harm’s way. Despite the gravity of our situation, she smiled. “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”
And so I was laughing when someone knocked. A House page about Mamie’s age stuck his head in. The guy eyed Will and me warily, then said, “I’m here to escort you to the proceedings.”
The general stood. “All right, gentlemen. Time to go.”
About the Author:
Kendra C. Highley
Kendra C. Highley lives in north Texas with her husband and two children. She also serves as staff to two self-important and high-powered cats. This, according to the cats, is her most critical job. She believes chocolate is a basic human right, running a 10k is harder than it sounds, and that everyone should learn to drive a stick-shift. She loves monsters, vacations, baking and listening to bad electronica.
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