An epic tale of heroes and villains, love and hate, and the many faces of mankind.
| BOOK ONE: Darkness Falls
The conflict between good and evil has raged since the beginning of time. A great part of that conflict has been fought by two ancient and secretive orders. The first, and by far the most mysterious, is known only as the War Lords. Their origins are unclear, but what is certain is that their influence has caused the formation of nearly every empire, the start of every war, and the makings of every attempt at global domination in world history. Standing against them were the Light Keepers, a younger organization formed in response to the War Lords’ attempts to seize total control of the planet and all its inhabitants. Most of the history of the clashes between these two opposing orders was lost. Until now…
“Get out of here now, Erik!” Warren shouted at him. “I’m not leaving you behind!” He protested to the elder Light Keeper.
They stood in the Light Keepers’ central headquarters, concealed deep within the Rocky Mountains. But something had gone wrong. Last night they lost touch with every one of their cells around the globe. Then, someone or something had broken into the complex. The screams were what had awakened Erik. Warren had led him to an unassuming room he had never seen before while he was still half asleep. He then sealed shut a heavy iron door behind them.
"That won't hold him long." The older man said, his voice trembling. No one could believe the power of the attack on the base or the speed with which it had been dealt.
“There is no time to argue!” Warren said as the door between themselves and the dark forces on the other side was given another tremendous blow, already rattling on its hinges. “Take these!” He ordered, handing Erik a brittle brown book, a piece of equally worn parchment, and a case that he swiftly slung over his shoulder.
“These are the keys to defeating them! You must find the chosen ones and unlock the book! Go now!” He yelled, opening an identical door at the opposite end of the otherwise barren room.
Tears filled his eyes as Erik made sure the items were safe. He then went through the door and felt a blast of cold, night air as he began climbing the ladder that led up the mountain and out of the doomed base. The last thing he heard was Warren seal the door behind him, once and for all.
Present Day: Year One
Supreme General Victor Voktor gazed across the table at the officers who were to lead the attack in a matter of hours. The Supreme Leader, their commander, was wearing a dark, black robe, his features were totally concealed. Generals Fred Mensto, Carl Coffer, and Jack Tomor were also at the table. Victor was on the short side. He had brown hair and icy, grey eyes, and was a thin boy with a cold, calculating face. A pair of steel-rimmed glasses sat perched on his nose. He wore an officer's uniform which was almost entirely black from the tip of his cap down to his perfectly polished boots. A silver eagle sat on the brim of his hat, its beak and talons outstretched. Four shining, silver stars on each shoulder showed off his power to all onlookers. The other boys wore dull, grey uniforms and three stars sat on each of their shoulders. For some time now their organization had been gathering supplies and training these boys and other teenagers to fight for them. The two War Lords had a powerful influence over others. Once loyalty was sworn, people became obsessed with serving them, caring for little else in their lives.
“Gentlemen, the time has nearly come for our attack.” Victor began, opening the meeting. “Last night, we launched the final phase of our operation to wipe out the Light Keepers. A small number escaped the main attacks and are being dealt with presently. Therefore, the time has come for us to at last reveal ourselves to the world. Fred, your troops will depart from their staging areas across the globe and seize important population centers. Carl, yours will salvage weapons, supplies, and other resources to keep our armies moving. Jack, yours will clear out any resistance left behind and organize the occupied territories. Lastly, my soldiers will target military facilities, capture vital weapons stores, and wipe out any resistance.” He finished.
“Remember a third of those we have chosen, mostly males as we planned, are ready to fight immediately.” The Supreme Leader added, his voice rasping forth. “We have trained them well and hard. Another third could not be supplied with weapons but are ready to join us after we take control of the territories they are stationed in. The last third do not know of our plan and will have to be…persuaded, to join along the way. Our attack begins at dawn, the summer solstice. Good luck, gentlemen.”
Meanwhile, in a small room the Light Keepers were holding their first conference. They were a group of teenagers that had each returned home to find their families gone and an escort waiting for them. Each was told to inform them that their families were in danger and had been moved to safety. They were also told that they had all been chosen to be part of a secret order in a time of great peril. With little choice they gathered together and were met by none other than Erik Wexler.
Erik’s large, sad green eyes looked out at the group. They were his responsibility now, he had to teach them and guide them, and, at nineteen, he was barely older than them. He ran a hand through his short, messy blonde hair and tried to not look as nervous and disheveled as he usually did.
One by one he examined them: Dart Smalls was a tall boy, standing at nearly six feet high with red hair and green eyes. Rose Calumberry was shorter than Dart, nearer to five feet than six, and was a most unusual girl. She had purple dyed hair, and deep, blue eyes. Albert Masons, had light brown, nearly blond hair, and green eyes, he had a serious, contemplating expression on his face at all times. Macy Hummins had long black hair, deep, brown eyes, and wore a worried look on her long face. Shannon Valter could have been her opposite with short, blonde hair, and a contemptuous look. Hank Borlo was easily the largest and most fit of the group, with a short, military-style haircut and cold, hazel eyes. James Nuven was a short boy with brown hair and exceedingly plain features. Lastly, there was Jamie Alicav, who had long brown hair and kept as quiet as she possibly could.
“Well, you are all probably wondering why you are here, and I am here to give you answers.” Erik began.
Immediately protests ensued and questions were fired at him.
“Listen!” He pleaded. “As you know, I am Erik Wexler. You will all receive a chance to speak with your parents soon just hear me out!”
Silence filled the room.
“Thank you” He continued. “I am one of the last surviving members of an organization known as the Light Keepers. We are dedicated to truth, justice, and freedom around the globe. It has long been our mission to defend mankind from forces that constantly threaten it and our values.”
“But what does this have to do with us?” Dart demanded.
“You have all been marked as the eight chosen ones who will help us seal away our foes, the War Lords, once and for all. I can only beg you to join us and help us in our time of great need.” Erik replied, his voice filled with desperation.
The skeptical teenagers continued to question Erik for hours into the night before speaking to their families, and many remained doubtful until…
Lieutenant Alvin Smithers, a soldier in the War Lords’ army, came to attention as Supreme General Victor Voktor approached him, accompanied by his aide, Captain Christopher Cartwright, and his three towering, bodyguards.
“Lieutenant, begin operations as planned. The time has come.” The War Lord commanded.
“Yes, sir!” Alvin replied, running to his troops “Grab that cannon and get it into position!”
His men assembled, and dragged the heavy piece into position. One of them lifted an enormous shell from a nearby crate and handed it to the next man in line. Finally, that boy rammed it home into the gun and waited for Alvin’s order.
“FIRE!” Alvin yelled, watching the first shot of the war speed towards a special target the
Supreme General himself had ordered destroyed. He wondered what was there.
“What’s that noise?” Macy asked nervously.
“Get down!” Erik screamed as the round crashed into the building, rising after a few moments, he asked, “Is everyone okay?”
One by one they all called out. The building was in shambles but everyone was alright, for now. More rounds smashed into the city, shooting started, and there was a large rumbling noise in the distance. They looked out of a hole in the side of the room and couldn’t believe their eyes. Young men, mostly teens like themselves, carrying guns and operating vehicles, were storming the town and setting up a perimeter around the area they captured. Everyone turned around and looked at Erik. No one had any doubts anymore.
“What do we do?” Rose asked, her voice shaking.
“There’s no time for anything to be done!” Erik said. “We run for now. We must begin to gather our own forces to counter them. When we reach safety you will all be inducted into the Order of the Light Keepers! Unless there are any objections?”
No one said a word.
“Good. Then follow me!” He ordered, and with that, they began to pick their way out of the city to safety.
With the Light Keepers unprepared for an attack of this magnitude there was no one left to stop the War Lords and their new dominion, which simply came to be known as “The Empire.” As the Light Keepers organized a resistance, they were forced to trade space for time. Give up cities, towns, even nations. Wreck key facilities, highways, and airports. Set up rear guards to snipe at Imperial soldiers and block their advance. Just to buy enough time to build a larger army and evacuate anyone who was willing to stand up to the Empire.
They decided to move the bulk of their forces to Europe to carry on the fight there, where the attacks had not been as successful. The Republic, as the Light Keepers called their new nation, set up by Erik and his few remaining men, was the main governing body they had formed to resist the Empire. It believed that accepting both genders equally would be more beneficial than the strategy employed by the male-dominated Empire. The Republic was also so desperate for soldiers it would take anyone it could get as its situation only continued to worsen.
“Barely a month has passed and our power has grown far faster than we could have possibly imagined.” The Supreme Leader said to his colleague.
“Yes.” Victor agreed, struggling to hang on to the map he was scanning as their jeep sped through the streets of Washington, D.C.
“Canada is ours, no one disputes that. The whole of the United States north of the Mason Dixon line belongs to us as well.” He added, with a measure of satisfaction.
“We must have the whole continent, indeed, the entire Western Hemisphere if our plans are to succeed.” The Supreme Leader replied.
“And we shall. As soon as we are done here we can seek decisive action.” Victor answered.
The Republic held the southern United States and most of South and Central America. But Victor had drawn arrows on the map indicating where Imperial forces were also moving up through South America to totally surround them. His examination of the map was interrupted as the jeep halted on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Supreme Leader got out and was followed by several squads of soldiers who hopped out of trucks behind them, but Victor proceeded onward to Capitol Hill with even more soldiers.
The city was dead quiet as Victor approached his target. Two flags flew over the building. That could mean only one thing, both houses of Congress were in session. Victor ordered the driver to halt. His aide followed him out of the jeep and they were joined by the soldiers behind them.
Victor marched up the stairs and entered the building. There were no guards and no one resisted them. Who would? There wasn’t an army on Earth ready to slaughter its own youth, or for that matter, a government that could get public support to do it. So they stood aside or spent their time destroying the worst of their weapons before the new governments could get a hold of them.
Victor pushed open the door and entered the main chamber of the House of Representatives. The room fell silent. His troops stormed in behind him and blocked all the exits. Victor calmly walked up to the speaker’s podium and violently shoved aside the congressman who speaking. The man squawked but did nothing more than return to his seat.
“I am here for one reason.” Victor began. “The United States of America has been dissolved as a political entity. The President is, at present, surrendering to the legitimate ruler of this territory, his majesty our Supreme Leader. This legislative body is hereby dissolved.”
Murmurs and protests sounded from the group. In response, Victor pulled out his pistol and fired it into the air. Silence returned.
“Any who refuse to obey this order and swear allegiance to the Empire will be summarily executed for treason without trial. Is that understood?” He hissed. No one spoke a word. “Good. Now will one of you kindly tell the Senate the same thing so I don’t have to waste more of my time?” He asked.
Someone scuffled out of the room followed by Victor himself, leaving the members of congress shocked and confused. The new order had come.
Erik looked across the motley headquarters they had set up for the Republic’s forces in the area. They were somewhere in southern Virginia. As he looked around he saw they were closer to having a real army. About a fourth of those not loyal to the Empire in North and South America had been evacuated, a fourth had been captured by the Empire, and another quarter was here. His training of the new Light Keepers was going about as well as it could too.
So far, he had assigned each of them their own Sacred Sword. Dart’s was a classic long blade, the hilt embedded with a richly colored ruby. Rose’s sword was a long, thin rapier with a sapphire encrusted hilt. Macy’s was similar to Rose’s but the gem was a topaz. Albert’s sword was similar to Dart’s but was slightly shorter with an emerald in the hilt. It soon became clear the boys’ swords followed one pattern while the girl’s followed another and that each sword had its own unique gem. Shannon’s sword contained an opal, Hank’s a spinel, James’s quartz, and Jamie’s a pearl.
As time progressed, Erik noticed that the group began forming pairs that worked well together. Dart and Rose seemed to share a connection as leaders, Albert and Jamie did in their thoughtful silence, Shannon and James through a friendly rivalry, while Macy and Hank seemed to be loaners who got along with everyone.
He had not yet told them of the book and the clue. There simply wasn’t time right now.
“Well, soon we’ll be strong enough to fight.” Erik said.
“Yeah, but where are we going to stop and put up the fight?” Rose asked mournfully, they had been retreating for days.
“Look on the dark side,” Albert said with a grin, “at least we found out who we are fighting.”
Dart grunted, Rose sniffed, and the others showed what they thought about the new War Lords in a similar manner, both their mysterious leader, known only as the Supreme Leader, and his right hand man, Viktor Voktor. They were both mere teens like themselves so despite their colossal organization they at least seemed to be low on experience like the Light Keepers.
“They’ve been lucky so far but if we win just one big battle here, we can foil them.” Dart said.
“Easier said than done.” Rose remarked.
Soon Imperial planes appeared and began dropping bombs in the area, then, artillery fire came in. Erik knew what was next: those terrible swarms of Imperial soldiers and their seemingly unbeatable tanks. Then they came. He ordered a rear guard to stay behind and delay them and the rest of the army retreated again.
“Sir, a new report has just come in.” A messenger said, holding a folded message addressed to the Supreme General himself.
Victor took it, read it, and then smiled sinisterly. “Well it seems the ‘Light Lunatics’ are making a stand in North Carolina. Christopher order the army to form up and move south, it’s time to finish these fools off.”
“Yes, sir!” His aide replied enthusiastically, before scuttling off to issue his commander’s orders, as unquestioningly as always.
“Alright, here’s the plan.” Erik said. “Victor won’t be suspecting an attack so we will hit him first. Our scouts found the enemy right flank is very weak. So we will launch diversionary attacks on the rest of their line. Then, launch the real attack there, smashing his right, and allowing us to swing around behind his army to destroy it. Any questions?”
No one said anything, they merely looked at him with varying levels of fear and apprehension. He knew he had to say something to rouse their spirits.
“Look, everyone. I know we’ve been retreating for days and I know things look bleak. But we have a chance here, we do. You’re the chosen ones. You can defeat the War Lords and this is your first chance to prove it. So let’s go out there and show them what we’re made of!” He said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.
“Erik is right.” Hank chimed in. “I’m not afraid of these War Lords. If we beat them once, they’ll crawl back to wherever they came from, just like any bullies.”
That seemed to have the desired effect. The spirits of the rest of the group were much higher as they broke up to take their assignments. One way or another, it was going to be a long day.
This was by far the biggest battle Alvin Smithers had ever been in. He was on the Imperial right flank and it wasn’t looking pretty at all. All the enemy soldiers in the world seemed to be coming at him and there weren’t enough of his men to stop them. Republic artillery fire was falling everywhere, its planes strafed Imperial positions and its tanks came forward as well. He knew they had had more troops when they came here.
“But where the Hell are they now?” He asked no one in particular.
He fired a few more shots and nailed one enemy soldier, then had to fall back as they threatened to overwhelm his position. Bullets cracked all around him as he ran further back to find new cover. Victor was supposed to be smarter than this, then why are we losing? He thought. Little did he know, everything was about to change.
Victor laughed sinisterly. “They took the bait!” He said triumphantly. “All units forward!” he ordered.
At his command, his men swarmed forth from the trees and struck the rear of the Republic's forces attacking the seemingly weak right flank. Dozens of tanks and thousands of soldiers poured down the hill and began their assault. The battle turned from a fight to a slaughter. The Republic's forces were smashed between hammer and anvil began to crumble and fall in droves. Finally, the dazed and confused survivor's began to throw down their arms and surrender or flee in terror.
"This isn't over yet!" Victor shouted from the jeep he was riding in. "We have to finish off the rest of them!" His soldiers cheered, regrouped, and then prepared to attack the rest of their unsuspecting foes.
Rose looked through her binoculars and wondered why the Imperial forces had yet to break. Surely their soldiers had swept over the Empire's weak flank, hadn't they? Just then she got her answer. Her forces began to take fire from their flank. Panic immediately broke out in their ranks as troops were cut down or fled in terror. Rose gasped in horror as the Imperial troops began to overrun her position. Macy came running towards her from out of the brush.
“Run for it!” She screamed at Rose, who took her advice and fled for her life just like everyone else, and after what seemed like an eternity they reached what was the complete opposite end of the army and found Dart and Erik.
"What's going on here? We’ve been trying to organize literally the whole army as they've poured in here!" Dart asked them exasperatedly.
Rose tried to speak as she gasped for breath, "Something terrible has happened. Imperial soldiers are right behind us!"
Dart's jaw dropped as Erik said to them, "Alright, get out of here with as many troops as you can save. I'll hold them off for as long as I can."
Dart, Rose, and Macy nodded and began ordering a withdrawal, while Erik looked out over his soldier's hastily erected defenses. There was nothing in the trees, no movement at all. Then a feint rumbling became audible and artillery shells began to tear into his lines. But almost as soon as it began it stopped. Without warning, jeeps swarmed into view and sprayed death into the Republic's lines from their mounted machine guns, followed by tanks and infantry. Within minutes hardly anyone was left of the rearguard and he ordered the final retreat from the area.
In three hours’ time his men had done exactly what the Light Keepers planned to do to his army. His troops cheered at their victory and Victor smiled again, knowing the Empire’s control over this continent was secure.
Alvin sat in a truck rolling south as fast as it could. They had just passed through Mexico City. The sounds and smells of the massive city were still fresh in his senses. It was far larger than the suburban town he was from. Thinking of home made him think of his parents and how bitterly they’d cried when he told them he had joined the War Lords. That made him think of the look on his sister’s face when she heard the news and told him she was joining the Republic. They hadn’t spoken since.
He put his family troubles out of his mind, however. Home, the United States, well, former United States, was long gone. Now the Republic was giving up ground in Mexico as quickly as it could. He couldn’t help but worry things were going too easy. His train of thought was broken when someone else started speaking.
“Where do you think we’re heading to next?” The boy with blonde hair and a Midwestern accent sitting next to him asked. Alvin noted he was only a private as he glanced at the insignia on the boy’s sleeves and shoulder straps.
“South, you idiot.” Someone else behind Alvin barked.
He couldn’t tell whom as they were silent once more by the time he’d turned his head around. His mind wandered again as he watched the countryside roll by. Mile after mile of mostly desert. Everyone so often they passed a home, or a run-down garage or gas station, or refugees living by the side of the road, people left homeless by the destruction being wrought by both armies.
“Well, yeah. But where exactly? What’s the plan?” The first boy demanded in frustration, breaking the silence once more.
“I know.” Alvin spoke up. Everyone looked at him, and seeing he was an officer, chose to take him at his word. “Well right now, the enemy is running scared. We know our guys are still moving up from South American too. So my bet is we’re about to crush them between our two armies.”
“Makes sense to me, sir.” The Midwestern boy answered. Alvin nodded, they just needed to get south fast enough to trap them, and they were already moving as fast as they could.
Rose stood in the rain and just stared at the army trying to pull itself back together after that terrible defeat. How had he known? She wondered. How did he do it? But her train of thought was interrupted when Dart came up to her.
“You shouldn’t stand in the rain, you know.” He said, playfully chastising her.
She hadn’t even really noticed till now, but as it so often happens, once something is pointed out it becomes all too clear. Rose suddenly noticed how cold she was and she shivered as the rain continued to soak her clothes, pulling them against her skin. Her long, purple hair was a dripping mess that pressed against her eyes and cheeks.
“Alright, I’ll come inside.” She said, sounding more defeated than she intended to. “It’s almost time for us to retreat again anyway till we can find a new place to hold off the Empire.” Rose rubbed at her sides and shivered as they went into the group of tents that made up their temporary headquarters.
“You’re freezing.” Dart remarked as she continued to shiver. “Please, take my jacket.” He insisted, draping it over her before she had a chance to refuse him.
She blushed slightly and mumbled a thank you as they sat down together on one of the many benches strewn about the command center. Aides, messengers, and other soldiers constantly bustled about performing any of the thousands of actions necessary to keep an army supplied and on the move.
Dart turned to Rose and said, “So, if you don’t mind saying, tell me something about yourself.” She raised an eyebrow and smiled at him and was delighted that she caused his cheeks to redden this time.
“I think it’s a good idea for our team to learn more about each other. It will make us all better able to work together.” He added quickly.
She smiled again and said, “I grew up in Boston, just me and my parents. Mom is, or I guess was, a vet and my father was a doctor. It’s what I have always wanted to do. I’ve always had this…” Rose struggled to find the words. “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like an intuition, but I feel what’s hurting people and I try to fix it.” She finished sheepishly.
“That sounds pretty special to me, Rose.” He replied, sounding genuinely interested in what she was telling him. “And I think it’s something we’ll all need on this journey.”
She couldn’t help but notice those soft, green eyes of his had never left her own the entire time she was speaking. It was her turn to blush again. What was it about this guy? She wasn’t normally like this.
She brushed her purple hair back behind her ear and replied, “Well, what about you? Where are you from and what is your family like?”
“I’m also an only child.” Dart began. “I lived with my mother and father in Philadelphia. My mom worked in a museum. She’s kind of an archaeologist and my father is a lawyer. I’ve always loved soccer though. My team was going to the state championship before all this happened. I’ve always wanted to go pro but I don’t think it’s possible. I’ve been looking at law like my father instead.”
“I love soccer!” Rose exclaimed, her eyes lighting up. “I’ve never played it as seriously as you have, but still. My family went to see a game in the last World Cup.”
Dart’s face brightened too. “The World Cup? What was it like?” He asked with a faraway look in his eyes.
“It was incredible. I’d love to go again someday, after all this.” She said. “I guess I can settle for seeing what you’re made of till then.” She added, giving him a sly look.
“Hey, be nice!” Dart protested, laughing.
Rose laughed with him, she couldn’t remember the last time she felt so happy. The joy faded from her face as she looked over at Erik, however. Dart turned his attention to the young man as well. Erik looked more disheveled than ever and was bent over a map of Central America.
“It’s no good.” He muttered over and over. “It must be narrower!” He said, pounding his fist on the map.
Dart and Rose looked at each other in confusion as Erik rolled up the map and began ordering another retreat. With that, they moved out again to buy more time for those loyal to them to escape the Empire.
Sally Smithers trudged south with the rest of the Republic's army. It was hot and muggy in the near tropical heat and her green uniform clung to her causing terrible discomfort. With every step her rifle and back seemed to weigh more and press down on her aching shoulders and back with more and more oppressiveness A number of boys and girls in similar green or brown uniforms marched along with her in as best a formation as they could muster. They were nearly exhausted after retreating so far and for so long.
As time crept by, her thoughts wandered to her brother Alvin. She hated how he was so stubborn and had to go off and join the War Lords. She thought back to the day they found out about the other’s plans. They’d always gotten along till then. She remembered Alvin telling her he had to fight for something bigger than himself and telling her to stay home where it was safe. As if, she thought. If he was going into danger why couldn’t she? And at least she was helping the Light Keepers, not monsters bent on world conquest. That was the last time they had spoken.
Her memory was broken when she heard planes go by overhead. She looked up nervously, but this time they were from her side. The danger made her think of the defeat they had recently suffered. North Carolina had nearly been a mortal blow. However, they had retreated far enough that the Central American peninsula was narrowing to the point where they would be able to set up a line where the Empire's superior numbers wouldn’t be able to come into play. Then, she thought, we’ll have them.
“Cowards!” Victor screamed, subjecting his staff to the first of what would become many rants. They learned that it was best to keep quiet, look busy, and allow whatever had upset the War Lord to blow over. Only Christopher didn’t fear him. He faithfully remained next to his outraged boss and talked through the situation with him.
The Light Keepers were setting up a line that he couldn’t outmaneuver. They would make him go at it head on and that would be a massacre. As his temper cooled, he began to think more rationally. Perhaps, if they moved quickly enough, they could box the Republic in.
“This may be a good thing after all.” He mused to himself.
“What are your orders, my Lord?” Christopher inquired, allowing himself a small smirk as the War Lord calculated the most effective means of punishing their opponents. He derived a kind of sick pleasure from being the one who got to deliver the commands that resulted in death and destruction, even if he wasn’t the one giving them.
Victor took a moment to analyze the situation before answering his aid. The Imperial Navy could begin seizing islands in the Caribbean which would block his enemies' retreat to Europe, and if that didn’t work the Imperial armies in South America would hit them in the rear. All he had to do was make sure they were held in place until the trap was shut. Yes, he thought, then we’ll have them. He smiled and began outlining exactly what he wanted Christopher to make happen.
The Light Keepers looked out on the line of fortifications separating their army from that of the Empire: mines, trenches, machine gun nests, all the works to make an attack as costly as possible. Victor didn’t seem to want to attack, but the Republic had begun evacuating troops to Europe so he would have to respond if he wanted to destroy the army before it escaped.
“We’ve got him.” Dart said smiling at Rose, who smiled back just as happily.
“At this rate, everyone will be safely in Europe before the Empire can do anything, and Victor can sit on the beach and fume.” She said cheerfully.
“I don’t think Victor’s one for enjoying time on the beach.” He answered her, laughing at the thought of the War Lord doing anything for fun.
“Really? I picture him as a perfectly cheerful fellow.” Rose replied dryly, still smiling at him.
Dart simply rolled his eyes and said, “Come on, you. We’ve still got an army to save.”
Rose nodded in agreement and they made their way back to Erik and the rest of the party to help more of their people escape from the Empire’s grasp.
Victor stared at the map. He wasn’t just mad this time, he was furious. All the enemy had to do was stay still and they couldn’t even manage that for him.
“Alright,” he spat, “we will launch attacks on both flanks of their line. They will draw reinforcements to them and we can hit their weakened center with our main assault.”
“Sir, what about our men? The casualties will be horrific.” An officer objected.
“Do you have any better suggestions, Colonel?” Victor’s cold, grey eyes fixed on him and the boy averted his gaze. “I thought not. Don’t question me if you don’t.” He hissed.
“What of the Light Keepers, my Lord?” Another officer asked. “They may see through the plan and direct the battle against us. They do have the high ground with that bloody Mayan pyramid.”
“Hmm.” Victor considered that point. They hadn’t seem through his plans in North Carolina, but he doubted he could fool them twice. He would have to distract them, at least some of them, to give his attack a chance to succeed. “
I will deal with them myself. Begin the attack at once.” Victor ordered, storming out of the chamber. The other officers scrambled out after him to direct their various units into the fight. It was time to put the Light Keepers to the test once more.
“What is he doing?” Rose shouted at Dart over the incoming fire from the enemy army.
“What?” Dart screamed back as bullets snapped past him.
“I said, ‘What is Victor doing?’ These flank attacks won’t punch through.” Rose repeated over the din of battle. Her heart was threatening to pound its way out of her chest, she still wasn’t used to this whole combat thing.
“Oh, let’s get up on the pyramid and take a look.” He suggested.
They looked around for Erik, wanting to see what he thought, but in his absence, they decided to go it alone. As they were climbing to the top of the pyramid, a black helicopter flew by. Rose suddenly felt sick to her stomach and her head began to pound, causing her to groan in pain.
“What’s wrong?” Dart asked, his voice filled with concern.
She merely shook her head and pressed her eyes shut. She’d never felt anything like it in her life. The helicopter stopped just below them. A door opened and a figure hopped out onto the pyramid a few steps below them. It was Victor Voktor himself.
Victor drew the blade at his side, clearly intending to use it, for War Lords also carried sacred swords passed down through generations. Dart nervously eyed the curved blade that came down to a fine edge at the tip. A black diamond sat embedded in the hilt of the sword. He drew his own sword and positioned himself between Victor and Rose, uncertain of her ability to fight in her weakened state.
Rose seemed to regain her strength, however, and followed suit by drawing her own sword. She knew they were going to have to fight their way out of this one.
“Well, well, well.” Victor began, sizing his opponents up for the first time. “It has been an age since our kinds last met.”
“What are you?” Rose asked, eyeing the young man with a mixture of fear and discomfort, clutching her sword and knowing it was her only defense.
The War Lord fixed his icy, grey eyes on her now and smiled. “Dear, sweet Rose, do you know that part of your mind, the part where awful, terrible thoughts are born? The part that makes you sick in the pit of your soul and that you flee from in terror? That is what I am.”
“You’re evil.” She said breathlessly, she had never encountered it before but she could feel it in him. Victor’s very presence pressed into her being, making her feel violated. It was Dart who broke the spell at last.
“Don’t let him get to you, he’s only human, and barely that even.” He said firmly, his voice showing no trace of fear.
The War Lord sneered at Dart. “Alas, I fear our encounter must come to an end. You will die on this pyramid as will your army below."
“Never, Victor.” Dart and Rose said at the same time.
“It will be you who falls.” Dart continued.
Victor only smiled and leapt at them.
Alvin was waiting for the big push against the center of the Republic's army when he looked up on the pyramid. He saw three figures battling atop it: a shadow, and two blurs, one red and one purple. Realizing just who was up there, he hoped the shadow would strike down the other two. Just then a trumpet blew. The order to attack had come.
Victor knocked Dart back and had to turn swiftly to block a slash from Rose who had gotten around behind him again. The Light Keepers were lucky they outnumbered him two to one because it seemed like he was far better at this than he should be. As they battled their way to the top of the pyramid a trumpet sounded.
“My true attack will now break the center of your army, you’re mine!” Victor said triumphantly.
“We’ll hold you.” Dart said, but he didn’t look as sure as that at all.
“Yeah! Erik is twice the leader you‘ll ever be, Victor!” Rose added more assuredly.
Victor eyes flashed as he growled and swung at Rose again. Her hands stung as she backed off, watching him turn on Dart who was soon even with her. They retreated steadily until they were finally at the peak of the structure. After a few more moments of tense fighting, however, they’d backed the War Lord up against the edge of the pyramid. There was nowhere left for him to go.
In the nick of time, however, the helicopter that had brought Victor to them returned and he swiftly hopped in.
“I would love to stay and play with you more,” he remarked calmly, “but as you can see I have a battle to win!” He laughed as Dart and Rose began to rush down the steps to rejoin the fight.
Sally fired a few shots at the enemy soldiers in front of her but they were breaking through. It didn’t seem as though they could be stopped either.
“Here we go again.” She muttered, expecting another defeat.
Against her expectations, reinforcements suddenly came up. The Imperials were as shocked as they were and were pushed back from the breaking point. The next thing Sally saw was all eight Light Keepers urging their troops forward. The lines drew so close that some of the fighting became hand to hand.
She also saw Victor trying to rally his men back forward, but he couldn’t stop eight Light Keepers at once by himself. His men were too weak, they’d put everything they had into the first charge and had suffered too much. Still, the struggle continued back and forth until at last, the exhausted Imperial soldiers began to fall back. A few hours later the firing finally stopped. They had fought the Empire to a standstill.
“You performed marvelously!” Erik said beaming at his team. “And you two!” He said turning to look at Dart and Rose. “You actually fought Victor? Very brave, although I wouldn’t make a habit of it.” He finished rather grimly.
Rose started as though to speak but then stopped.
“Rose? Do you have something to say?” He asked.
She struggled for words for a moment before speaking. “I’ve always felt that I could help people, even the worst people I’ve known. But Victor, the way his presence alone makes me feel, it’s not like anything is wrong with him, it’s like he is what is wrong, with everything.” She said darkly.
“I fear you may be all too right about him.” Erik replied. “But you mustn’t fear him, you are the chosen ones! If you can’t stop him who can? And you did stop him and you will until he is defeated.” He said confidently.
Erik’s speech seemed to rouse their spirits. Brightening again, he continued, “We have bought ourselves precious time with this battle. But we must make the final withdrawal to Europe. Soon the Empire will be too strong and we’ll be completely cut off. Once we get there and get settled down, I’ll brief you all on the next part of our mission.” He finished, glancing over at the ancient book on his desk.
“Alright everyone, listen up.” Erik began once more as the Light Keepers reconvened later that same evening.
“We’re getting out of here tonight and we’re gonna make sure Victor is none the wiser.” He said with a conspiratorial whisper, as though the War Lord might overhear him somehow.
“How do you plan to manage that?” Albert asked.
“We’re going to leave all our defenses in place, weapons and all, the camps and fires will remain lit and in place as well. I’ve even ordered our navy to leave several useless ships in the harbor to ensure it looks like a fleet is still there. While all that is happening, everyone else will quietly board the ships and by morning we’ll be gone before the Empire knows a thing.” He finished.
“Sounds like a solid plan to me.” Dart said. Agreement rang out around the table, even from Albert.
Several hours later, Dart’s heart pounded as the army moved toward the ships. He couldn’t believe this many people could be quiet. But they’d spread the word and when it came down to it, everyone was able to do what they had to. By the hundreds, the thousands, and tens of thousands, they escaped. Ship after ship left the harbor and the Caribbean Sea towards Europe. Dart took his turn and found the other Light Keepers had gotten onto their ships as well. By dawn, the camp was abandoned.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” Victor spluttered, kicking a Republic soldier’s abandoned helmet with his boot. “They left behind trucks, tanks, cannons, guns, ammunition, uniforms, and they just left! How can anyone be so stupid?” He continued in an unstoppable rant. At last Christopher answered him.
“My Lord, they left behind all of this to save the one thing they couldn’t replace.” He suggested, trying to make the War Lord see what he had missed in his ruthlessness.
“And that would be what, Captain?” He snapped. As far as Victor could tell, they’d left behind everything of value.
“Human beings, soldiers, my Lord.” Christopher replied at last.
“No matter.” Victor said, pondering that point. “The Light Keepers have abandoned three continents to us now, as well as the all the islands in the Pacific. When their army in South America surrenders over a hundred thousand soldiers and their weapons will be lost to us! How is that for saving soldiers?” He exclaimed.
“Sounds good to me, sir.” Christopher said, agreeing but sighing inside, sometimes it was like his master wasn’t human. Victor was brilliant but would miss things obvious to other people.
Victor looked out at the sea. He knew Europe was virtually defenseless if he could ship his troops there in time. Later today, the Supreme Leader would proclaim the Empire’s authority over all conquered nations in a speech in the Imperial Capital, Washington D.C. That would cement their position here and they could turn their attention to the rest of the globe. He had to look forward to his next mission: the conquest of Europe.
“We’re in trouble, again.” Erik said, as the Light Keepers convened in their new headquarters in Paris, France.
“What is it this time?” Rose asked mournfully. Things were just starting to look up and it seemed like they could never catch a break.
“After Victor finished off our army in South America, it left West Africa completely open to invasion. Victor ordered General Jack Tomor and an entire army over the Atlantic and they’ve invaded the continent. We had no one to stop them and they’ve roared through Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. At this rate all of North Africa will be lost and our oil supply in the Middle East will be in grave danger. Someone has to take an army and stop them now.” He finished.
“I’ll go.” James volunteered, adjusting his glasses as he looked at North Africa on the map laid out before them.
“Me too.” Shannon added, giving her shoulder-length blonde hair a toss. She was eager to prove herself against the Empire too, especially if the nerdy looking kid was going to be in on the action. She wouldn’t be outdone by him.
“Alright.” Erik said. “That’s enough for now. I need everyone else to get ready to defend Europe. Stop them, no matter what it takes.” He said. James and Shannon nodded, and headed out to form their plan.
James stretched as their plane continued on its route to North Africa.
“So, now that the battle plan is about as good as it’s going to get, what do we do now?” He asked Shannon who was sitting across the aisle from him, playing with her hair absent-mindedly.
“Beats me, specs.” Shannon answered, looking out the window.
James only smiled at her nickname for him and decided he and Shannon were going to be friends whether she liked it or not. He thought for a minute.
“Well, tell me something about yourself. We’re supposed to be a team and we barely know anything about each other.”
“Like what, what is there to tell?” Shannon scoffed.
“I don’t know.” James said. “Where did you grow up, what’s your family like?” He pressed, trying to get something out of her, but she seemed to be awfully guarded.
Shannon kept her gaze focused on the window and remained silent until she finally spoke.
“I lived in New York City. I have one brother. We both live with our father. He is or I guess was, CEO of one of the country’s most successful banks.” She blurted out.
“Wow! No kidding?” He replied, never expecting anyone on their team was from a family so wealthy.
“Yeah.” Shannon said deadpan. She clearly wasn’t as enthused about it as he was and James got the feeling she didn’t much want to talk about her father or her past anymore.
He was about to change the subject entirely when she said, “So what about you, specs? What’s your story?”
“Well, my family lived in Chicago. Mom, dad, four siblings, two sisters and two brothers. I was the oldest.” He began, laying out the basics for her. She just raised her eyebrows, barely acknowledging him.
"My family was never really well-off I guess, but we were always happy.” He added sheepishly, not sure what else to say as Shannon had gone back to looking out the window with a deep sadness in her eyes.
James frowned and looked back at the plans they had just finished. For the first time, he was thinking of one of his teammates as a person and not just someone in a game or an adventure.
“How stupid I’ve been.” He muttered to himself. I’ll do better in the future, he thought to himself. He’d make sure to watch out for his friends, and he’d start with Shannon.
Several days later, James wiped his brow and looked out at the battlefield before him. The heat in North Africa was blistering as he peered forward through the sandstorm raging a few miles ahead of them. Soon enough, the Imperial army would come rolling out of it toward their position. When that happened, he needed to carry out phase one of the plan. Shannon could take it from there.
“Over there!” A girl shouted, waving to get James’ attention and then directing it to whatever she had spotted.
James swung his head and saw the Imperials approaching. They moved down the road along the coast, nothing but desert lay south of them so they stuck to it, most of the time anyway. A few dozen tanks and enough infantry to support them formed the core of the Empire’s advance.
“Open fire!” James ordered. The few cannons and machine guns he had set up to block the road opened fire. One of the Imperial tanks halted and several soldiers toppled over. They returned fire and he began to suffer losses as well. He flinched when one of his guns was merely disintegrated by a tank shell. But it worked, the enemy forces stopped and began to peel off. Part of their force tried to swing south to get around his road block. Then an enormous boom sounded and one of the tanks stopped, its treads blown off.
“They’ve found the minefield!” He yelled. Now he just needed them to do one more thing, and they did. The Imperial tanks cut in closer to avoid the mines while still trying to get around his lines. Now it was up to Shannon to finish it.
Shannon stood atop one of the precious few tanks the Republic had been able to spare for Africa and watched the Imperial army fall into their trap.