Born and raised in Bristol, England, Matthew W Harrill is an international award-winning horror author. His series, ‘The ARC Chronicles’ consists of Hellbounce (which has received acclaim at the Halloween Book Festival, the London Book Festival and most recently the 2015 International Book Awards), Hellborne and the final book of the series, Hellbeast is imminent.
In addition to his mentor David Farland (The Runelords, The Courtship of Princess Leia [as Dave Wolverton]), Matt is always thankful to know the British author Juliet E McKenna, who has helped him countless times. He is a fan of fantasy, loving Robert Jordan’s ‘Wheel of Time’ series. He also has a lot of time for the truly bizarre horror of H P Lovecraft, citing this as an influence on his work. He also cites the fictional author ‘Hank Moody’ as an influence.
Matthew has worked as a labourer, a barman, a cleaner, a joiners mate. In addition he has dabbled in commercial insurance and has for the past 12 years implemented share plans for Xerox.
When not working, Matthew enjoys tennis with his son, watching movies and television series such as Supernatural and Grimm, blogging and cookery.
The fate of the world is balanced on a knife-edge. Despite everything Madden and Eva have been through to prevent it, the ARC Council is in disarray, demons roam the Earth. The Apocalypse is closer than ever. The solution couldn’t be further from her grasp.
Enter the final chapter of The ARC Chronicles, where Eva throws off the yolk of personal tragedy and follows her destiny to the one place she doesn’t want to go, the one place she cannot hope to avoid.
Hellbeast: Heroes don’t always walk in the light.
“Ellis, come away from there! You know that it’s dangerous. Anything dangerous…”
“…could hurt Jess,” the eleven year old Ellis finished the sentence, watching his younger sister as she crept toward the remains of what used to be a house.
All bushy-blond hair and fearless bravado, Ellis put on a face of mock-concern until he was sure his mother believed him and turned back around to watch her programs. She wasn’t really interested in his safety or Jessica’s, his nine-year-old sister. She wanted the neighbors to think she was. His mother was all about image.
The door clicked shut, and after counting to thirty, Ellis winked at Jess. The two of them resumed their exploration of the ruined structure. It was a sunny afternoon in June, and the birds chirped in the trees. It was perfect for exploration.
Ellis had watched, with his sister, transfixed by the scene only a week or so before, when the house, for no apparent reason, had collapsed in on itself. A group of people had been outside; cops had shown up and then left as if nothing was wrong. The house was ruined, but it had become a magnet for every daredevil kid from the nearby high school, all of them wanting to discover the treasure that was hidden underneath all that rubble. Ellis had waited, biding his time, as those bigger kids burrowed through what remained. There were tunnels under the wood and ‘the haunted house’ quickly became a local Worcester legend.
His Mom had told them expressly to stay back and then turned away, muttering something about poltergeists. They had gotten closer and closer every day, until they found the hidden den under the wood.
With one last glance for his mother, Ellis pulled a flashlight from under his shirt and beckoned for his sister. Jess needed no further invitation and skipped with good-natured innocence alongside him.
Shifting some of the ruined wood to one side, Ellis wormed his way down a tunnel in the rubble, being careful not to touch the precariously wedged supports. Jess followed him down, and soon enough, they were sitting on the cozy, if somewhat putrid, couch that had been discovered in what must have been a basement before the collapse.
The flashlight on, Ellis shone it around, Jess following his every move with the excited devotion of a younger sibling. Dust trickled down from above, and he held his breath as part of the building settled. It was all right; their tunnel was still there.
“What’s that?” Jess asked, pointing to their left.
Ellis followed her arm. A glowing red mist had begun to float across the floor, like lava in one of those volcano movies. Silent, creeping. Ellis watched in mute fascination as the red glow oozed toward them, spreading up the sides of their den.
“Ellis,” said Jess, uncertainty in her voice. “I don’t like this. I want to go home.”
The red began to glow white in the center. Sparks began to fly out, what looked like lightning, touching the wood and setting it alight. There was a stink of rotten eggs, and Ellis covered his mouth. A growl from behind the light made the walls of the den shake. Suddenly, this adventure was no longer fun.
“Ellis,” Jess whined, pulling at his hand.
“Yes. Let’s get out of here, Sis.”
Letting his now-terrified sister crawl ahead of him, Ellis pointed the flashlight forward, up the tunnel that led to distant daylight, keeping equal watch on their escape route and the growing glow behind them, now white and hot. More noises followed up the tunnel, and Ellis urged his sister on.
When he climbed out into daylight, Ellis made sure to replace the wood as best he could and then set to brushing the dust off of his jeans and his sister’s red and white striped dress.
“Come on; let’s go. Maybe Mom won’t know where we were.”
Jess led him by the hand. They had only taken a few steps when there was an almighty crash behind them, followed by a blast of heat. The stink of rotten eggs was overpowering. The birdsong ceased and flocks of the small creatures took flight at the sound.
Ellis stopped walking and turned. The entire house had disappeared, leaving a red crater where the doctor and the sportsman had lived. The middle glowed white… something was moving down there. Jess stood mute beside him, right on the edge of the crater where the light was an angry red. A roar of recognition and movement toward them was enough for Ellis.
Across the yard they hurtled, round their mother’s brown Ford and into the safety of their own house. Inside, Ellis ran past his mother, who was engrossed in her favorite game show, bounding up on the couch and spreading the green and pink flower-patterned curtains wide. Jess joined him, her slight hand quivering on his arm.
In the distance, figures had begun to stumble out of the crater. Huge and distorted with engorged heads, glowing eyes, and elongated arms, they began to fall into ranks.
Jess twitched the curtain and one of the creatures caught sight, pointing, and roaring. Jess screamed.
“What is it?” their mother called from the other couch, feigning interest.
“It’s the monsters,” Jess said in a timid voice.
Ellis couldn’t move. The giant was looking straight at him.
“There’s no such thing as monsters,” their mother said, finally clambering up. She wandered across the living room, peering over their shoulders.
Ellis finally broke eye contact with the advancing creature to watch his mother. Her mouth hung open, and her face was as pale as a ghost. The growing pack of monsters outside had begun to advance on their house.
“Kids, I want you to get down in the basement,” she said, her voice as quiet as his sister’s voice had been. “Now. Run!”
Agent Marcus White, the pride of Anges de la Résurrection des Chevaliers, or ARC, prowled the tunnels of the facility known to the operatives as ‘Tartarus’. The base beneath Mount Gehenna, the scene of the demon horde’s last major attempted incursion just over nine months ago, was as secure as any facility on the planet. Only a skeleton crew remained; a mere hundred or so of the legion that had fought and died for Eva Scott, or Eva Ross depending on who one listened to. Marcus did a lot of listening to himself; there was usually nobody else on patrol with him for obvious reasons. Marcus knew as well as anybody of his affliction. He had embraced it. Despite his excellent record as a soldier, Marcus was quite crazy.
“My name is Legion, for I am many,” he uttered the words for the thousandth time, shouldering his Tavor TAR-21 bullpup rifle. Not standard issue. A gift from an Israeli friend, it was a weapon he would not be parted with.
Marcus glowered out of the cave entrance to the mountain’s exterior, the scene of the grisly battle with the Behemoth.
“Come out to the coast, we’ll get together, have a few laughs,” he said, quoting one of his favorite movies. Marcus adjusted his parka against the wind blowing through the entrance and settled onto a gray metal bench that had been bolted to the cavern floor.
“Well yes, you would say that,” he replied to voices in his head, voices that told him he was a babysitter, nothing more. “This might look that way to you, but it is a great honor, a privilege even, to guard this entrance. Important things happened here. Earth nearly became Hell. We drove them back. We stopped it. Yes, you might say we did nothing of note, but you weren’t the ones out there fighting, none of you. I elected to stay here. I was chosen to protect this facility.”
The voices laughed at this proclamation of self-importance. He wished he could send them away, but he was lucky to hear himself think. Only when Marcus dreamed did the silence truly descend upon him.
“You can say what you want; I’m alert and ready. If they try it again, you can bet they won’t get through us.”
Marcus closed his eyes, attempting to force out all the faces that looked at him. Before long, they disappeared, along with any sense of the passing time.
With the denial of sight, he imagined flickers of light and shuffling feet approaching from his right. Opening his eyes, Marcus examined his watch. Twenty minutes had passed. The wind had died down and the crisp breeze mingled with the fresh tang of the ice inside the entrance. Invigorated, Marcus stood and stretched.
“Babysitter,” he guffawed to the voices. “I babysit you more than this place. It wouldn’t exist but for me. I… shut up! Quiet!”
For once, the voices died down. In the distance, back down the tunnel where ice and natural rock formations were replaced by concrete, there was a flickering of red, a pulsing glimmer. Marcus picked up his rifle, checking that it was loaded and ready. He crept back down the tunnel to find the source of the glow.
Resisting the urge to call ahead, Marcus edged along the concrete corridor, leaning out ever so slightly into the junction from where the radiance came. It was a white corridor, square in construction and only recently hollowed out. The lights ended midway down. The far end of the hallway was in complete darkness. Except for the red glow beneath one door, that is. There were strange bumps and growls coming from inside the room.
“Time for us to be heroes once again,” he muttered under his breath. The voices remained strangely quiet.
“My chance for glory,” Marcus continued, trying to fill himself with courage. Edging into the darkness, he refused the use of his night-scope, relying instead on the sullen glow.
As Marcus reached the door, the light winked out.
“Hey, hey you!” he called, tapping the door with the butt of his rifle. “What are you doing in there? Open up!”
The noises ceased, and the door was pulled slightly ajar.
Taking this as an invitation to enter, Marcus pushed the door wider and moved forward. He could see nothing. Instinct told him there were forms in front of him, maybe two or three.
“What are you… hey!”
Quick as lightning, hands belonging to someone much, much stronger grabbed him.
“Help!” Marcus screamed. The voices just laughed at him. He grabbed the door frame with one hand, trying to kick out at his shadowed nemesis. With his free hand, he reached around and pressed the emergency button, setting off the base alarm.
Emergency lights glowed red, the bulbs cycling round in their plastic casing. Marcus screamed at what he saw.
The door slammed shut and the ARC soldier’s screams were abruptly cut off, the noise of sinew and cartilage crunching and pulling apart the only remaining sounds.
Ten minutes later, a squad of three ARC operatives entered the corridor clad in black, each wielding a standard-issue M16. Flicking the lights on, the leader observed the scene with disinterest.
“Who was up here?”
“White. He was serving extended guard duty for his assault on the Afghan locals outside the main entrance. This was the safest, most isolated place we could find.”
The leader nodded. “Makes sense. What have we here?”
A red trail led off down the corridor into the warren of hallways that honeycombed Gehenna beneath the surface. The leader pushed the door open with his rifle, shining a torch into the room.
The stink of offal and the heavy iron tang of blood assaulted him. Any lesser man would have puked, but the leader had seen worse in his time in Special Forces. “At least he’s out of his misery. Get the rest of the squad up here and secure all entrances.”
The leader pulled a sat-phone out of his pocket and hit a button. A pre-dialed series of numbers flashed up on the screen.
“Get me Director Guyomard.”
Two camels sat side-by-side, evidently content to wait for their owner to invite them to stand. One chewed feed, its jaw moving laterally. The animals did not need feeding but the treat helped cement the bond. Their owner had been with them for a while. He knew their temperament.
It was the middle of the afternoon; the temperature approached forty-five degrees Celsius. The sun blazed in the cerulean desert sky, roasting the crusted hardpan. There was little, if any, moisture in the Gobi desert. Camels were the only creatures able cross the great expanses and not perish. They were also much more anonymous than off-roaders.
He had been crisscrossing the desert for six months now, seeking any sign of clues that related to a Holy City in the sky. The Convocation of the Sacred Fire had been convinced of the city’s existence long before its media debut only weeks ago. His job was to find the answers.
Now, an unprecedented event overshadowed even that. In mid-air, maybe three or four hundred feet above ground level, perhaps two miles in the distance, a cloud had formed, moisture spinning from nowhere to coalesce directly above the waves of heat radiating from the ground.
The cloud, which should have been forced up by the thermals, remained stationary, ever growing, black and threatening. Sparks of lightning began to appear around the outer rim of the cloud, dancing about its surface. Then something the watcher had never before witnessed began to occur. Bolts of lightning launched up from the ground, touching the base of the cloud and working their way up until a continual chain of lightning fed the center. The bright white core of the cloud began to expand; the noise that much concentrated heat combusting generated was almost too much for him.
And then, as quickly as the pyrotechnics had started, the show stopped. The lightning winked out and the cloud was finally forced into the sky. The only indication it was ever there was the tangy stink of concentrated ozone.
The observer reached under his robes, bringing out a sat- phone. He pressed one button, a prepared number.
“This is Baxter,” he said in a posh English accent. “Sir, it has begun.”