An epic tale of heroes and villains, love and hate, and the many faces of mankind.
|Kelsey walked over to a group that had an open spot around a barrel.
“What’s up?” She asked casually, but everyone stared at her.
“So, like I was saying.” One girl continued. “The Imperial pilots up near Moscow are the nastiest ones I hear. They pick the best pilots for the missions there.”
“Yeah, and the most brutal too.” A boy chimed in. “I flew through there to get here. While I was up there I saw them strafing civilians running away on the highways. No reason for it, no military purpose, just to kill. They’re monsters.”
“You know where they got their practice for that right?” Kelsey said, but they all just gave her that stupid, condescending look again.
“What do you know, newbie?” The girl sneered at her.
Kelsey scowled right back. “I flew in England, alright? We flew until pilots nearly died of exhaustion because that’s how badly we were outnumbered. And you knew every second you weren’t in the air they were killing somewhere in England. I’m not some replacement, I’ve seen real terror.” She finished, her hands trembling from more than just the cold.
The others now looked guilty, but before anyone could react, an alarm blared. They all bolted to their planes along with the other pilots on the field. A member of Kelsey’s ground crew made few final adjustments and cleared the plane for takeoff. She hopped in, strapped herself in, put on her oxygen mask, her goggles, and performed the thousand other functions necessary to safely take off a fighter plane. But the whole process had been worked down to a science, in minutes she was clear for takeoff. She slowly picked up speed then pulled up on the stick and lifted into the air.
“Control to Wicker Squadron, Control to Wicker Squadron, do you copy? Over.” The tower called.
“Wicker to Control, we read you, over.” Kelsey’s squadron leader answered.
“Control to Wicker, proceed north of city. Command reports large amount of enemy activity in the area. Expect heavy bombers with fighter protection. Do you copy? Over.”
“We copy, Control. Proceed north and engage enemy, over.”
“Good luck, Wicker. Over and out.”
“Over and out, Control. Alright, you heard ‘em everyone. Follow my course toward the target.” The squadron leader finished.
Kelsey hated this part the most: the waiting. They flew on, in formation, totally silent. The city passed by below them, and then the river and the region just north of it, still nothing. They pressed on anyway.
“Wicker to Control, we see nothing north of the city, over.”
There was no reply except for a nerve wracking silence until the radio at last crackled to life and a reply came through.
“Control to Wicker! Radar says they are all over you! Get out now! Over!”
The plane next to Kelsey’s burst into a magnificent ball of flame and enemy fighters poured down from the clouds above them. Kelsey banked a hard right and shot up, trying to get above or at least level with them. No one targeted her for the moment, the rest of the squadron, however, was being torn to pieces. Plane after plane fell from the sky. Some pilots bailed out, others…didn’t. Imperial fighters only rarely went down in flames. Kelsey swooped down on one, noticing the Imperial bombers lazily making their way by, unharmed, while her comrades were annihilated. Kelsey mashed the firing button and tracers sped towards the Imperial fighter. Its left wing was torn off and it fell into a death spiral. Kelsey rapidly switched course, it was never safe to be slow or predictable in a battle. Her fuel gauge began to complain that it was too low and, at the same time, she spotted a massive Imperial force below her. It was heading straight for the city. They’d crossed somewhere much farther north. If that force reached Kiev, they’d surround it and the whole thing would be over.
Kelsey banked and shook a fighter that had taken interest in her plane. She pulled up on the stick and shot upward once more. She had time for one more dogfight, and then she’d have to get out of there. She made a wide loop and scanned the skies. Few other aircraft from her side remained in the skies. The mighty Imperials pressed on. At last, she selected a fighter and dove toward him. He turned away from her in desperation but she lined him up in her sights. Just as she was about to fire, disaster struck. Another Imperial came to his rescue. Kelsey pulled up to escape him, her heart beating a mile a minute. But he was good, he kept with her and opened fire. The bullets whizzed past her on all sides and then tore into the body of the plane. It caught fire and rapidly spun toward Earth. Kelsey fought her canopy, at last getting it open. She dove out and pulled the cord on her parachute. It deployed, yanking her violently. She floated down toward the ground and hit hard in an open field. She released the parachute and stood up to get her bearings.
“Hold it right there you bitch.”
Kelsey turned around and saw a squad of Imperials approaching her. She put her hands in the air and waited.
“You’re a pilot, aren’t you?” The lead boy asked.
She nodded, there was no denying it.
He spat at her.
“You’re lucky I don’t just shoot you right here. But we happen to be in need of prisoners. Word is a lot of labor camps are opening up back in the Americas. You can have fun there with your friends.” He said, savagely.
They searched her and with one shove, led her into captivity. A mass of Imperials pressed on past them, towards the unguarded rear of the city. Kelsey knew it was over now. She also had a nasty feeling; it was going to be a long time before anyone heard from her again.
“My Lord, the attack was a total surprise. General Mensto has just sent us word that the Republic’s entire army in Kiev surrendered after we surrounded the city.” Christopher reported.
“They just gave up?” Victor asked.
“Yes, my Lord. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers, not a fight.” Christopher replied.
“The fight is rapidly going out of the Republic. It won’t be long now. Not long at all.” He remarked, with a self-satisfied, smug expression on his face. “When will those troops be available for Smolensk?”
“It will take a few days, sir.” Christopher said, frowning. “The Kiev operation was a great success but it is also a significant delay. It will take us a bit longer to get through Smolensk and into Moscow.”
“So be it. The city will be ours no matter the time. I don’t care what it takes or how many lives it costs. Understood, Captain?” Christopher saluted. The drive would continue.
Alvin Smithers panted as he run down a street in Smolensk along with his platoon of men. Despite the cold air that foreshadowed winter’s approach he was sweating like crazy. The city was already a wreck, days of bombing, shelling, and street fighting had seen to that. But the Republic refused to give up, they were digging in and defending the city street by street. Victor had tried to surround the city like they had at Minsk but it was no good. They were ready for that this time. So it was the hard way then. A machine gun opened fire at the end of the block from a second story window and cut down two of Alvin’s men.
“Dammit!” He spat out as he dove into a doorway to take cover. “Mark! Get your men together, we’re going to go around and get that damn gun. Tom, your men need to cover us.”
“Yes, sir!” They both chorused.
Tom’s men opened up and the machine gun swiveled and aimed at them. Alvin darted out of his doorway and ran several more houses up the street, Mark and his men in tow. The gun moved back toward them but when it did Tom’s men opened fire again. Alvin heard a scream and knew the soldier at the gun was down. He bolted forward again and tossed a grenade into the bottom story of the building. Glass and shrapnel blew out over top of him and moments later he was in the room followed by his men.
Two more enemy soldiers were dead in the first floor of the building, which he saw now to be an electronics shop. He pointed upstairs and Mark nodded. Three of his men ran forward and moved up the stairway. Alvin, Mark, and the others followed them. Another grenade, another scream and they were on the second floor. But there was no need to fire any more. The room was clear. Everyone sighed relief and left the building. Tom’s squad had already reached them and when they had regrouped they moved on. Two blocks later, another machine gun opened fire.
“They’re trying to bleed us white.” Victor said in his command HQ somewhere in bombed out Smolensk. “There is only one course of action remaining. We will bomb their positions one more time and our armored forces will move directly into the city.”
“But, sir!” General Jack Tomor protested. “Our tanks will be cut to pieces in those narrow streets!”
“We have no other choice.” Victor said cutting him off. “They’re murdering our infantry now and at least they won’t be expecting an armored assault.”
Jack opened his mouth to protest again but Victor cut him off again, angrily this time.
“Issue the orders!” He hissed.
Jack saluted and left. Victor’s word was final, it always was.
Voktor looked out the window at the ruined city. A woman dug through the wreckage with her young son and daughter looking on. They were all filthy, just trying to find scraps of anything they could use to survive. Victor blinked and felt nothing for them. His mission was more important than their suffering. Global unity had to be won at any cost, and then they could proceed with the real purpose of their plans. All in due time though, he thought. He continued to watch people pick over the remains of their ruined city for several more hours before night fell. Jack reappeared and told him everything would be ready by tomorrow afternoon.
“Excellent.” He replied absent-mindedly, acknowledging the report and dismissing the general with a single world. He continued to look out the window, unflinchingly, as the night dragged on.
Alvin cautiously peered out of the window of the home he and his men, only half of whom were still alive, were holding. The Republic had taken to using snipers now so almost any movement was dangerous. But something big was happening. For hours now, planes and artillery had pounded the enemy positions in front of them flat. Then they heard a new rumbling noise from behind them. Moments later, footsteps pounded down the street and everyone instinctively reached for their weapons before seeing he was one of their own. That would be an excellent way to get yourself killed, Alvin thought to himself. Lucky for him, no one here seemed to be trigger happy. The soldier ran into the house they were in and came upstairs.
“Which of you is Lt. Smithers?” He asked.
“I am.” Alvin said standing up.
The boy promptly saluted him before delivering his message.
“We attack in five minutes. You will have armor support. There are no other details at this time.” Saluting again, he ran out to give his message to the next unit in the area.
“Well, you heard him.” Alvin said. “Everyone get downstairs and be ready. Move!”
Exactly three minutes later, half a dozen tanks rolled down the street and came to a halt. Alvin’s eyes opened wide and he and his men all came to attention as Supreme General Voktor himself hopped down from one of the tanks.
“At ease.” The War Lord replied, and they relaxed. “Ah yes. I remember you.” He said, speaking to Alvin. “You were with the artillery when the war started. You’ve been doing good work lately.”
“Thank you, sir!” Alvin said, surprised the General even remembered him at all.
Then the shells stopped falling and Victor smiled.
“Forward!” He commanded.
The War Lord drew his pistol and zigzagged confidently across the portion of the enemy lines that had been raked by artillery fire. Alvin, his men, and the tanks followed him. He noticed that far off to their left and right similar attacks were going in, across the whole width of the city he supposed. Victor was the first to reach a shattered barricade the Republic had put in place to block a road. He leapt over it and fired several shots into a doorway with his side arm.
“That takes care of this area.” He said as they caught up with him. The tanks crushed the barrier like it was a mere toy and they rolled on. They advanced steadily with few casualties for almost an hour when they finally began to reach the end of the city.
At last, the Republic made a final stand. Anti-tank rockets began to target their tanks from positions inside and out of the city. The Republic’s infantry appeared in full force and put heavy fire down on them. Casualties began to pile up again and the advance ground to a halt. Alvin jumped into a crater just outside the city’s limits and fired at a Republic machine gun nest. One soldier slumped over and another took his position and opened up on Alvin who took cover.
“Nunez.” He heard Victor hiss as the War Lord ran past his crater toward a building back in the city. It was one of the Light Keepers!
“So, you’ve been causing me all this trouble have you?” Victor said drawing his sword.
“Not as much trouble as you’ll have when cut you into ribbons for what you did to my friend.” James retorted, drawing a curved blade much like Victor’s to defend himself.
“You mean the little, blonde girl? A pity, really. I was aiming for her heart.” The War Lord taunted him.
James growled and swung at him. As the battle dragged on around them, they clashed in the street. James jabbed at Victor yet again and finally landed a blow on him. Blood trickled down the War Lord’s arm and he hissed in pain. Gathering himself, Victor counterattacked with incredible speed. He sideswiped James and landed a blow that narrowly missed his head and instead struck the pavement. The Light Keeper got back to his feet but another blow connected with his side. James cried out and fell to the ground again, clutching the wound.
Victor lifted his sword to finish him when a band of James’ men opened fire on him. As the War Lord fell back in surprise, a fire ignited in Alvin’s eyes. He left his crater and walked straight toward the enemy soldiers. He was so close he saw the shock on their faces as he unloaded an entire clip into them.
“Cowards.” He spat. He turned around and saw James’ limping away still trying to stem the flow of blood from his side. With their leader badly injured the fight seemed to go out of the Republic’s troops. They retreated once and for all, leaving Smolensk to the Empire.
With Smolensk gone, Victor ordered the Imperial High Command to send a prematurely triumphant communiqué to Washington D.C. “The Russian question has already been decided: Smolensk was the last halt on the road to Moscow!”
Then it was December. And despite his many triumphs, Victor knew winter was setting in, and that if his men could not take Moscow it would be for nothing. At last his forces reached the outskirts of the city and could even see the Light Keepers’ HQ at the Kremlin. He had to capture the city now or his men would be trapped in the Russian winter like so many others before him. It is time for the final battle, he thought triumphantly to himself.
Sally wasn’t very happy. She had got herself stuck in St. Petersburg and things weren’t going very well. First of all they were surrounded, it was getting cold. Plus, they had no heat, and had to dig for water. Food was put on rationing and more and more people died every day. If that wasn’t bad enough Imperial planes bombed the city at night and Imperial artillery shelled it during the day. Sally was eating her meager ration when someone screamed.
“Incoming!” The cry went out across their lines.
She dove into a hole and covered her head as shells fell all around her. Someone was screaming too, it took her awhile to realize it was her and she had to force herself to stop. She wanted to stay down and keep her head covered but couldn’t resist looking up. Several bodies were lying motionless on the ground in the area, not everyone had made it in this time. A shell crashed into a building behind her and glass and brick rained down on their position along with shrapnel. Someone else began screaming as well and it wasn’t her this time. After what seemed like forever, the barrage ended. She waited a moment before getting out of her crater: the Empire sometimes liked to wait for everyone to get out in the open then begin firing again. After a few minutes this didn’t happen.
She got out of her foxhole and began to help the wounded and repair the damage. One boy’s arm was dislocated and blood covered the side of his face. He moaned as they lifted him onto a stretcher.
“Don’t worry. You’ll be fine.” She said, trying to sound as soothing as possible.
The medics took the boy away and that was the last she ever saw of him. Sally went back to trying to put their battered defenses back together. These bombardments always left work to be done and redone, forcing them to expend energy repairing their defenses rather than focusing on defending the city. Just when they had cleaned up the damage and they sat down to relax about an hour later, the shells began falling again.
Macy had been put in charge of St. Petersburg and looked out at her dying city. They were going to need a miracle to save the army here from destruction. She marveled at the fact that the people and her soldiers still held out and that at the rate the place was being shelled, that any of the city was standing at all. She was glad she’d been sent on a solo mission though. She knew the other Light Keepers were trying to get to know each other better. But it just wasn’t something she was ready for right now. She’d been through a lot and she didn’t know how well she’d fit in with the rest of them. How many of them were orphans or had had experiences like hers? None was her bet, better for her just to keep things to herself for now.
After a few hours of quiet she noticed something was wrong. The Imperial shelling had stopped, no bombers came over that night either. Everything was eerily quiet. She began to worry and wondered what was going on. She ordered a message be sent to Moscow to find out what was going on. The reply that came back the next morning was chilling. The Empire had diverted men, planes, artillery, and resources of every kind from her front to theirs to aid in their assault on the city. Macy fumed, the final battle was at hand and she was stuck here, unable to help the others. But she knew she had a job to do. St. Petersburg could not be allowed to fall into Imperial hands, so much depended on her ability to hold the city. All she could do was pray that others could weather the coming storm.
James had never felt so humiliated in his life. Not only had Victor handed his ass to him, but now he’d be useless to his friends in the coming battle for Moscow. He tried again to sit up and escape from the hospital bed he’d been confined to but only succeeded in sending a shooting pain through his wound. He was going to burst a stitch if he kept doing that but he wanted to get back to his friends so desperately.
Suddenly he heard someone on crutches making their way down the aisle toward his bed. He struggled to twist himself around and see who it was. He was surprised to find that it was none other than Shannon, bolting toward him as quickly as she possibly could.
“Shannon!” He exclaimed. “I’m so glad you…” He cut off as she slapped him across the face.
“If you EVER fight a War Lord over me by yourself again, I’ll kill you, you idiot!” She sobbed, throwing her arms around him and crying into his shoulder.
“It’s ok, Shannon! I’m here and I’m fine!” James said, absolutely flabbergasted. Was this how girls always acted? He thought to himself.
“I thought you were dead!” Shannon scolded him. “They told me you stood up to Victor and what you said to him. I-I thought I’d lost you.” She said, nearly breaking down again.
“I’m sorry, Shannon. I won’t let it happen again.” He promised her, noticing that she still hadn’t let go of him.
“It’s just…you’re the first person who has been nice to me or seen any good in me in so long.” She explained shyly.
“That can’t be true.” James protested. “What about your father? Your brother?”
“James…My father…He was cheating on my mother. She wasn’t a well woman and it drove her to suicide. My brother forgives him but I can’t. We don’t get along.” She finished, her eyes welling up again.
“Shannon…I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry.” He said. “If there were anything I could do to make it better…” He trailed off.
“There’s nothing to be done for that. It’s in the past.” She began, shaking her head. “But I think we could make things a lot better now.”
“What do you mean?” James asked, he’d do anything to ease her pain.
“Oh James, you really are thick, you know that?” She said, taking off his glasses and giving him a long kiss.
He held her in his arms and kissed her back. Even in the darkest of times they’d found a way to keep the light alive.
Snow had begun to fall as the Imperial Army began its assault on Moscow. The Republic had resorted to its favorite tactic of barricading itself in the city and making the enemy come and bleed himself dry to dig it out. Alvin, along with every other soldier, tank, and vehicle waited for the final order to attack. The usual softening up process was under way, the bombers had made one run in the snow and had been called off. Now the artillery was blindly annihilating anything it could hit in the city. At last the shelling stopped. That was the signal, no other orders were needed. The army attacked.
Alvin ran as fast as he could toward the city’s defenses, trying not to think about the bullets whizzing past either side of him or the enemy artillery fire landing all around him. He had only one purpose: to get into the city. The sooner they got there and got over the defenses, the sooner he would be safe and the war would be over. A tank off to Alvin’s left suddenly caught fire and slammed to a halt. The crew bailed out seconds later and at least one of them was picked off by a sniper. The rest he never saw as he dove for cover in a crater created by the bombs or artillery. Several other soldiers soon jammed in with him. He swore, the attack was going to stall if they couldn’t move forward. Whoever was in control of the tanks realized that as well and half a dozen of them all turned their fire on a single section of the defenses. Moments later an enormous crash announced that they had succeeded. Alvin ran for the opening with every ounce of strength he had left, his heart beating a mile a minute
“Come on!” He yelled, as more Imperial troopers followed him through the breech, followed soon by their tanks.
They were officially in the city.
Rose looked out over a sandbag defensive position across Red Square in front of the Kremlin. Dart was with her, Erik was off somewhere helping to rally their troops. They were the only ones left to fight. Albert, Macy, Hank, and Jamie all had their areas to hold down and Victor had expertly landed Shannon and James in the hospital for the time being. They had been able to hear the shooting get closer and closer, they knew it wouldn’t be long before they had to face the War Lord again. Soon the Empire had directed its softening up fire into the square itself. As they huddled together, Rose had to speak.
“I want you to know, no matter how this turns out, I wouldn‘t give it up for anything.”
“They can’t win. You have to believe that!” Dart said, giving her a reassuring look.
She nodded, and did her best to believe him, as a huge blast knocked her back. It was followed by loud cheers announcing that the Empire had at last broken into Red Square.
Victor had finally reached the former Soviet Red Square, the area leading to the Kremlin: his final objective, the Republic’s Supreme Headquarters. The Square was heavily fortified and set up so that his men would have to come out in the open and be caught in the crossfire to capture it. He knew taking it would cost them severe casualties, but they had to do it. His men tried once to get across the square and were beaten back. Then, his armor arrived and they tried again. The Republic had no tanks in the square, either they had run out of them or weren’t expecting his to make it this far. A bazooka fired and one came to a halt with a tread blown off. The others pressed on and opened fire. With the Republic’s lines now in chaos the infantry began its second assault. The fighting became hand to hand as the Imperial soldiers hurdled over the barrier into the midst of the surviving enemy soldiers. Victor leapt over it himself and stopped almost immediately. There stood Dart and Rose.
“Here we are in the ruins of your Republic.” He remarked casually, smiling his thin, bloodless smile.
Shells from his tanks slammed down all around, causing deadly pieces of concrete to whisk past them. Dart felt a sharp pain on his forehead and soon hot blood began oozing down the side of his face. He fell back clutching his head in pain as more Imperials took aim at him. Rose, however, charged Victor with a fury she never knew she had in her.
“You bastard!” She snarled, as she attempted to cut Victor to ribbons.
He narrowly avoided a blow that would have gutted him and began waiting for an opportunity to strike. Each attack was key to him, she was getting careless, and…there! He knocked her sword out of her hand and raised his own to deliver the final blow. But as the blade fell, Dart jumped in front of Rose and took the slash. Victor was so surprised that his sword struck Dart with only half the force he had intended. Victor was stunned. He couldn’t believe someone would take a blow like that for another person. This is it! He thought, the shattering point of the Republic, its leaders about to die at his hands and it about to die at his army’s hands. But he was so preoccupied with that, he never bothered to look for his own breaking point.
Rose grabbed her sword from the ground and leapt at him again. He began to fall back, dazed. Then he realized his men were falling back too. Erik had arrived with more soldiers! They poured into the square from every side and his men were simply too weak and too demoralized from being so close to victory to hold them back. His attack was coming to pieces.
“NO!” He screamed, in a pained and inhuman roar. He shot Rose a venomous look but there was nothing more he could do. He followed his men back over the barrier, across Red Square, and out of the city. The Battle of Moscow was over.
Rose felt exhausted but triumphant. Despite everything, they had won. They’d stopped the War Lords and thrown them back. But she didn’t have time to celebrate. She ran over to where Dart had fallen and her eyes swelled with tears. The medics were already working on him.
“I’m so sorry.” She sobbed. “It’s my fault this happened to you. I shouldn’t have gone after Victor alone like that.”
“It’s not your fault!” He said suddenly before gasping in pain. Then he smiled at her as they lifted him onto a stretcher to carry him away. He winced again and smiled again at her worried expression. “Don’t worry about me. Go get Victor, you can’t let him get away.”
She swallowed her tears and nodded.
“Goodbye, Dart.” She said, bending down and brushing her lips on his cheek before turning and heading off to pursue the fleeing War Lord.
Victor trudged through the shin high snow along what he assumed was the highway back to Smolensk. His men were caught in a blizzard, it was pushing twenty below zero and every once in a while he would stumble on a body dressed in black: another soldier who had succumbed to the horrific winter. To make things worse, Rose, that vicious harpy, attacked his beleaguered men every chance she got. Soon vehicles began to break down and tanks were abandoned because they couldn’t move in the snow. The next day a boy fell to the ground screaming, literally driven mad by the blinding snow and biting cold. His fellows dragged him away and later in the day the incident was repeated with three more soldiers. When a fourth tried it, Victor shot him in front of everyone. There weren’t anymore “crazies” after that.
After what felt like an eternity later, the battered force, with far less than half of its original strength, stumbled back into Smolensk. Victor immediately ordered the city be fortified again and looked out at the front line nervously. Rose had pushed him back this far and even farther on other fronts before he could stop her. His army’s strength was sapped and more soldiers were being hospitalized or killed by the cold than by combat, even though they had reached the city. He soon issued orders for his men to be quartered with civilians. Not that there were any left but he didn’t intend for any more of his men to freeze in the streets while they sat snug in their homes. But he knew this winter wouldn’t last forever. He would be ready to fight again by summer. Then he wouldn’t be restricted by time and weather. He smiled a thin, cold smile as he stared out at the frozen plains again, Yes, he thought, I’ll finish them off next year, and where they least expect it too.
New Years’ Eve. The Light Keepers had survived the first year of attacks by the War Lords and emerged victorious. Erik beamed at them.
“All of you have proven yourselves in ways even I couldn’t begin to imagine.” He said looking around at the group gathered before him. “I doubt that any doubts remain that you are the group that has been chosen to defeat the War Lords once and for all. Which brings me to this.” He said, lifting an old book with a large golden lock binding it shut.
“This book was given to me by one of our elders. It is the secret of the War Lords. Their formation, their history, and most importantly, how to defeat them once and for all. The Light Keeper who wrote the book sealed it to protect it, and we’ve determined that if we open it without the key, a mechanism will activate that will destroy its contents.”
“Then how do we find the key?” Albert asked, with a look of careful consideration on his face.
“The old Light Keepers separated the book and key to keep it from prying eyes. They only wanted this book to be used in an emergency. But, they left one clue behind.” Erik said, holding up an equally old piece of paper, he read aloud.
“I am guarded by the great Lady who bears the light of freedom.
I will be found in a world that is New.
I unlock secrets that shall be revealed only to those in desperate need of them.
Reach high and find our symbol and I will belong to you.”
“That is all it says. I will see to it you all receive a copy of that message but keep them near to you. If the War Lords were to discover the key or learn we have the book, it would be a disaster beyond imagination.”
“Good." He said, after they'd agreed to his conditions. Then consider what I have said this night, and enjoy the rest of the evening and the winter.” He said to them cheerfully. “I fear the War Lords will not remain at rest much longer than that.” He finished, grimly and quietly, to himself, looking out the window and wondering what the future would hold.
The Light Keepers went their separate ways to celebrate the New Year. James knew his family was waiting for him in an apartment they’d moved into across town. However, as the others split up to go off with their families, he knew one person who didn’t have anywhere to go. He walked over to Shannon and gathered his courage.
“Hey! I know it’s soon and all, but I was thinking…ya know…”
“Spit it out, sweetheart.” Shannon said, crossing her arms.
“Well, would you like to come meet my family and spend the holiday with us?” He blurted out.
Shannon blinked in surprise. “Meet your family? Now? But I don’t even have anything to wear!” She protested. She may have put on the tough girl act, but she was an upper class girl and she had standards.
“Shannon, what you’re wearing now is perfect! Really, they won’t mind. Come on, I want you to come.” He pleaded.
Shannon scowled as she considered the simple pair of jeans and the plain, blue jumper she was wearing. She hadn’t had time to do her hair either and her nails were a nightmare. The puppy dog look James was giving her was too much, though.
“Oh, alright!” She said, exasperatedly. “Lead the way, Romeo.”
“I promise you won’t regret it!” He took her hand and led her away.
A short bus ride later, they were outside the apartment. They walked inside and took the elevator up to the tenth floor where James’ family was staying.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this.” Shannon whispered fiercely as James knocked on the door.
A moment later, the door opened and a woman with dark, maroon colored hair stood before them.
“James! Oh, my baby is home safe!” She exhaled in relief, taking him into her arms. “George! Kids! James is here!” She called out to the rest of the family.
“Mom!” James, protested, trying to break free of her hug.
“James, who is your friend?” She asked with a smile, noticing Shannon for the first time.
“Mom, this is Shannon Valter. She’s one of the other Light Keepers.”
“Nice to meet you, Mrs. Nunez.” Shannon said, extending her hand.
“Oh please, dear, call me Julia!” The woman insisted as she gave her a hug instead. “Now get inside, you two! Everyone else is waiting!”
As they went inside, Shannon couldn’t help but smile as she heard James’ mom whisper to him, “James, she is absolutely gorgeous!”
“Mom!” James protested again, turning bright red.
“Son! Good to have you back!” James’ father said, clasping a hand to his shoulder.
“James is home!” A little girl yelled excitedly.
“And he has a girlfriend!” A boy closer to their own age whispered none too quietly to an older girl next to him.
“Yeah, and she’s actually pretty!” The girl whispered back in the same tone.
“Eww, James has a girlfriend?” The final child, a little boy, chimed in.
“Kids, behave yourselves!” James’ mother insisted.
“Shannon, this lot are David, Ariel, Nathan, and Rachel.” He said, introducing his siblings in order of their age. “And that’s my dad, as you probably guessed. Guys, this is Shannon Valter, she’s another one of the Light Keepers.”
“A pleasure to meet you!” James’ father said cheerfully, shaking her hand.
“You’ll keep Victor and the bad guys away?” The little girl, Rachel, asked, gazing up at Shannon with her bright, blue eyes.
“That’s right. If he comes back here, we’ll kick his butt again.” Shannon replied with a reassuring smile.
“Now everyone stop crowding the poor girl and come over to the table. Dinner’s ready!” James’ mother announced.
Shannon sat down at the table with James and his family and smiled. He took her hand in his and for the first time, she truly felt at home.
Some had their families, while others lagged behind. Hank noticed that Macy slip away from the group and make her way out to one of the Kremlin’s many balconies. He decided to follow her and see what was up after all, he didn’t have a family to spend the holiday with.
“Hey Macy, mind if I join you?” He asked her, stepping onto the balcony.
She jumped when he spoke and then laughed and exhaled.
“Hank! You startled me! But no, I don’t mind at all!” She said, giving him a warm smile.
“It’s a beautiful night.” He remarked, looking out at the snow-covered city.
“It really is.” She agreed.
The moonlight reflected off the snow, lighting up the ancient, onion-domed churches of the city and its modern skyscrapers alike. The wonderful snow that had frozen the War Lords and their armies and had been their salvation. Hank couldn’t help but notice how the light made the crystal droplets sprinkled through Macy’s raven-colored hair shine like diamonds. It was almost like she was the light of the city. For the first time, Hank could see how truly beautiful she was.
“I just wish the times were better. There are so many people suffering in St. Petersburg right now, and we barely saved Moscow too.” She added with a sigh.
“We did stop them though, and you saved St. Petersburg all by yourself too. Your parents must be proud.” He meant the compliment, but he was trying to see why she was here as well.
“I don’t know about that.” She said shyly, her deep brown eyes downcast.
“But why not? Macy you’ve been brilliant, really.”
“Hank, I, well I haven’t told anyone else this but...I’m an orphan. I never knew my parents.” She admitted, biting her lip.
So that was why she was out here all alone. He suddenly felt like a huge jerk, he knew exactly what she was going through and he felt terrible for prying.
“Macy, I’m so sorry. I wouldn’t have bothered you if I’d known, but, you see, well I don’t have any parents either. I’m an orphan too.”
“Oh Hank, don’t be sorry!” Macy exclaimed, taking a step toward him and wrapping her arms around him, hugging him gently.
“What was that for?” He asked, embarrassed and not sure of what to do.
“Because I know how it feels.” She said quietly.
Hank felt his heart melt for her. He vowed at that moment to always be there for Macy.
“Thank you, Macy.” He replied, returning her hug.
Suddenly, she brightened and said, “Hey! Everyone else gets to have fun, why not us? We should get food and watch movies! What movies do you like? Or we could go dancing! Do you know how to dance?”
Hank smiled, he hadn’t expected her to be so bubbly but he realized it was the real Macy that she kept tucked away that she was letting out for him to get to know now.
“Well, I say we should get to have fun, I’ll watch anything, and I have no idea but I’d love for you to teach me!” He replied, answering her barrage of questions.
“We’re going to have a great time! Come on!” She said, taking his hand and leading him back inside, her eyes glowing with excitement.
Hank just smiled again and let her lead the way.