Having discovered the monstrous secret of his origins, Archie Dent is no longer certain that he is worthy to be a member of the League of Seven. But with new enemies to face, he realizes that he may not have the luxury of questioning his destiny.
Wielding the Dragon Lantern, the maniacal Philomena Moffett has turned her back on the Septemberist Society, creating her own Shadow League and unleashing a monster army on the American continent. Archie and his friends must race to find the last two members of their league in time to thwart Moffett’s plan and rescue humanity once more.
The Monster War (available July 12th) is the third book in the action-packed, steampunk League of Seven series by Alan Gratz. Please enjoy this excerpt.
The chain that shackled Archie Dent to the boy beside him rattled as the steamwagon bounced down a rutted road, and they swayed into each other. Archie and his fellow prisoner sat in darkness in the back of the covered wagon, surrounded by the other children the kidnappers had taken from Houston’s back alleys. They were the forgotten—the children who wore rags for clothes, ate scraps from trash bins, and slept outside. They were orphans, with no families and no homes to go back to. No one would miss them when they disappeared.
Archie wasn’t worried about the chain around his leg. He could rip it off whenever he wanted to. But the boy he was shackled to look frightened. He was a Texian about Archie’s age, and just as small, with light brown skin and dark black hair. He had the same grubby, dirt-caked look of the other street children, but unlike the rest he wore proper denim pants, a cowboy shirt that used to be white, and a scuffed-up pair of brown leather boots. The boy stared straight forward, his eyes vacant and distant like so many of the others.
“Everything’s going to be okay,” Archie said.
The funny thing was, the other boy said the same thing to him at the same time.
Archie blinked. This homeless kid was telling him everything was going to be okay?
“Name’s Gonzalo,” the boy said, still staring straight forward. “What’s yours?”
Archie didn’t want to tell the kid his real name. Luis Senarens, the writer Archie and Hachi and Fergus had saved in the tunnels beneath New Rome, had published dozens of pulp adventures featuring the three of them battling giant monsters, and now he was famous. Gonzalo might have read one of Senarens’s dime novels and give away who he was.
“My name’s, um, Clyde,” Archie lied.
Gonzalo turned his head at that, almost like he didn’t believe him. But if he thought he was lying, he didn’t call Archie on it. “Where you from, Clyde?”
“Philadelphia,” Archie said, telling the truth this time.
“Long way from home,” Gonzalo said.
“What about you?” Archie asked.
“Austin, originally,” Gonzalo said. “Now kind of all over. You got parents?”
The couple who’d raised Archie, Dalton and Agatha Dent, lived just outside Philadelphia, in Powhatan territory. He’d thought of them as his parents for the first twelve years of his life, but technically Archie didn’t have parents. Because he wasn’t human. The thought chilled him all over again, and he longed for the solitude of the dark corner in his hotel room.
“I … I don’t have any parents,” Archie told him, which was true and wasn’t true.
Gonzalo nodded. “I never once laid eyes on mine.”
The steamwagon shuddered to a stop, and Archie tensed, ready to fight. But they were just picking up more children. They weren’t wherever they were all being taken yet. One of the banditos who’d kidnapped them threw open the curtain at the back of the wagon to push more children inside. Bright sunlight lit up the darkness, and as Archie threw an arm up to shield his eyes he remembered doing the same thing this morning in his hotel room when Mr. Rivets had thrown open the curtains.
“Don’t!” Archie had told Mr. Rivets, shrinking back into the shadows in the corner.
Mr. Rivets, Archie’s clockwork manservant, tutor, and best friend, ticked softly as he studied his young charge. “It is time you got out of that corner, Master Archie. Cleaned yourself up. Had some food. You haven’t eaten in days.”
Archie twisted away from the light streaming in through the window. “Why should I?” he asked Mr. Rivets. “I don’t need to eat. I don’t even need to breathe. I can’t die. I could sit here in this corner forever if I wanted to.”
“Which would be an incredible waste, sir. It is time you rejoined the living,” Mr. Rivets told him.
“I don’t want to,” Archie said. “I don’t want to do anything.” He’d told Mr. Rivets the same thing every day for a week, ever since they’d arrived in Houston. Ever since he’d learned the horrible truth about how he’d been brought to life. “Close the curtains. I belong in the darkness.”
That’s what he was, after all. A shadow. The darkest shadow of them all.
“There are matters you must attend to, Master Archie. If I were not now self-winding, I would have run down long ago. And you promised Miss Hachi and Master Fergus you would meet them here in Houston. They may be somewhere in the city as we speak, and we must warn them about Philomena Moffett and her Monster Army.”
“I don’t care. I don’t want to see them. I don’t want to see anyone ever again. I’m done. With everything.”
“There is something else, Master Archie,” Mr. Rivets went on, as though Archie hadn’t said anything. “In my search for Master Fergus and Miss Hachi, I have discovered that children are being stolen from Houston’s streets.”
Archie lifted his head. “What?”
“Homeless children,” Mr. Rivets said. “Taken by masked men with steamwagons. In broad daylight, no less. I interrupted one such kidnapping only this morning, and alerted the local authorities to the problem. But they are too taxed due to handling security for the annual Livestock Exhibition and Rodeo currently being held at the Astral Dome.
“The what?” Archie said. He shook his head and turned back to the wall. “No—I don’t care. I don’t want to know. It’s not my problem.”
“I see,” said Mr. Rivets. “I apologize, Master Archie.” His brass head with its metal bowler hat and mustache tilted as he thought. “There is one small matter at least that must be attended to. Your parents have sent us funds via pneumatic post, and the post office requires you to be there in person to sign for it.”
Archie squeezed his eyes shut tight. “I don’t care, Mr. Rivets!”
“May I remind you, Master Archie, that without these funds we shall be turned out of the hotel and onto Houston’s streets, where, I can assure you, it is far brighter and hotter than your corner.”
Archie huffed. Fine. He would go to the post office and sign for the blinking money. But that was it. He was coming right back here to this corner, this shadow. He wasn’t taking a bath, or eating food, or sleeping in a bed. He was through pretending to be human. And he wasn’t rescuing any kidnapped children either.
He was through pretending to be a hero too.
Archie had followed along in Mr. Rivets’s shadow, brass goggles hiding the eyes he kept on the ground so he wouldn’t have to see the brown-skinned, black-haired people of Houston staring at his pale white skin and snowy white hair. They walked for nearly half an hour through Houston’s hot, dusty streets, until finally Mr. Rivets stopped. Archie looked up to find himself in a narrow dirt alleyway squeezed in between two wooden warehouses somewhere in Houston’s maze of side streets. A dozen or so half-naked Texian children were playing some kind of game where they tried to bounce a rubber ball through barrel rings they’d nailed to the wall. Farther down the street, two dogs fought over a scrap one of them had dug out of an overturned trash can, and a pile of empty wooden crates looked as though someone might be living in them.
Archie didn’t understand. Where was the post office?
“I would advise you not to fight at this juncture,” Mr. Rivets said. “You should allow yourself to be captured instead. That way you’ll be taken to the ringleaders of the operation.”
“What ringleaders? What operation?” Archie asked. “What are you talking about?” Had Mr. Rivets slipped a cog?
The ground rumbled as two steamwagons backed into the lane, one from each direction. Texian men in brown leather pants, denim shirts, and white cowboy hats leaped from the covered beds of the wagons, rayguns in hand and bandanas covering their faces. Kazaaack! An orange beam from one of the pistols blew up the rubber ball, and the children screamed. They tried to run, but both ends of the street were blocked by the men and their steamwagons.
“All right, chamacos!” one of the banditos called. “No messing around now! Into the trucks nice and easy, and nobody gets hurt.” One by one, the banditos snatched up the children and tossed them into the wagons.
“Mr. Rivets, what’s going on?” Archie asked. But when he turned around the machine man was gone. “Mr. Rivets?”
And that’s when Archie understood: Mr. Rivets had tricked him into getting captured by the kidnappers so he would have to save the other children.
Copyright © 2016 by Alan Gratz
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