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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Action/Adventure · #1476858
The War enters its darkest phase yet...
        “What the Hell are those?” Shannon asked.
        James shrugged. He was just as confused as she was. Then she saw the soldiers manning the entrances begin to topple over, some choked, others vomited, while others’ eyes rolled back into their heads and they merely collapsed and never rose again.
        “GAS!” Someone screamed. Panic set in and those not already affected began to flee in the most horrific panic they had ever seen. Moments later, Imperial soldiers, already wearing gas masks, began pouring into the station. There was no chance of restoring order and the gas was spreading fast.
        “Quick! Put this on!” James said, he had torn off two pieces of his shirt and soaked them in water.
        She took one and wrapped it around her mouth and nose as he was doing. It wasn’t much but it had to be better than nothing. Bullets and hand grenades exploded around them as the enemy did their best to finish off those who had survived. Then up ahead, they saw light. Shannon squawked as James gave her a violent push through the exit of the station and he dove out after her into the open, into safety. They got back up and joined the few survivors. They had to alert the others and repair the city’s defenses. The Empire had broken through.
         Andrei Zuzhovsky clung to the rifle he’d just been issued. His friend Josef Vorovich huddled on top of a pile of rubble next to him. It was their first time in combat and they were both terrified. They’d been told to head toward the train station to help defend it. Just as they were about to head in though, soldiers began to pour out of it and flee. Andrei and Josef had hidden themselves and waited. Imperial soldiers wearing gas masks swarmed forth and poured right past them. They stayed motionless and held their breath. Then, the Imperials were gone.
        “Let’s get out of here!” Andrei said, and Josef nodded in agreement.
        “Wait!” Josef hissed, suddenly.
        Another group of Imperials emerged from the railroad, a smaller group, just two officers, several other soldiers. Something inside Andrei told him to take aim.
        “Are you crazy?” Josef demanded. “You can’t him them all, and besides we’re out of range!”
        Andrei ignored him, adjusted his aim, and squeezed the trigger. A soldier fell, he fired again, another fell, he fired again, this boy had only managed to raise his rifle by then and he was down too. He fired again and caught the junior officer in the arm. He fired his last shot, the senior officer ducked and his hat was blown off his head. Andrei was burning up but when the officer’s gaze fell on him he felt like he had been frozen.
        “Now can we go?” Josef asked, his voice shaking.
        Andrei nodded and they fled from the scene. Andrei was shocked. He never knew he was capable of making shots anything like that. His life was about to change.

         Victor looked at the tracks inside his HQ in the railroad station. It was a major success to take it but still his victory had been somewhat dampened.
        “What the Devil happened here, major?” Victor demanded of his chief engineer. The tracks that led through the station had been blown to pieces and the rails ripped up and then melted.
        “It’s hopeless, my Lord.” The boy began. “The Republic’s engineers wrecked the controls and dynamited the rail lines long before we took the station. Everything is wrecked.”
        “Then fix it!” Victor barked.
        “We’ve tried, my Lord! But every time we make progress, the Republic bombs us or shells us again and we’re back to square one.”
        Victor growled and swore. He left the engineer standing there and stalked over to the command center they had set up. More problems ran through his head: He had been able to use the gas attack strategy only a few more times before the enemy had enough masks to render it useless. Not to mention that before that there had been reports of enemy troops making improvised masks out of cloths soaked in water and even urine. Still, their courage was wasted. His men were moving inch by inch through the city, slowly and steadily towards the docks, the last obstacle between him and victory. But, and there was always a but, the going was tough. It was September now, winter loomed once again in the distance, and the city was in ruins. If he had thought it was bad during the first battles or even when they had taken the railroad station…that was nothing compared to now. It was making it nearly impossible for armored vehicles to support the troops. Not only that. The snipers were maddening. One felt as though if he moved a muscle some idiot with a rifle would blow his head off from under the filth. He’d had that close call himself and Christopher was still recovering.          
         The snipers were becoming a real problem. They needed to end this fight now.
        “Fred, what do the latest reports say about our distance from the docks?” He demanded, looking at the large map of Volgograd they had put up.
        “Our forward units are no more than a kilometer away. Nearly within our grasp, my Lord.”
Victor nodded. “One more lightning strike should do it, just one more push and the whole rotten Republic will come crashing down.” He said viciously.
        Fred opened his mouth to speak again but the words never came out of his mouth. A bullet sailed through one of the many holes in the station they were still trying to plug up, this one connected with Fred Mensto’s head. Blood and brains hit the map and he fell to the ground. One of the original Imperial generals was dead. Victor shouted in rage. He let out a stream of profanity that made faces turn red. Some ran out to find the sniper but Victor knew it would be no good. His aide rose and came over to him.
        “My Lord?” It was a question but Victor knew Christopher had just cut to the chase.
        “It’s that same son of a bitch.” Victor snarled. “This has to be the hundredth man he’s killed. Fix it.”
        Christopher nodded and returned to his desk. A short time later, he spoke up.
        “My Lord, I’ve found the solution to our problem.”

         “Colonel Theodore J. Wilhaus, reporting for duty, my Lord.” The sniper said, saluting. Victor returned the salute.
        “Please go over your record for the Supreme General, Colonel.” Christopher said, smiling.
        “Fired my first rifle at age five. My father was a wealthy man and enjoyed hunting. He brought me with him, to the Congo, Amazon, Sahara, and Burma. I was among the original force that began our revolution. Since that time, I’ve served in South America, North Africa, and across Europe, especially in many of our urban battles.”
        “Don’t be modest, Colonel.” Christopher said, smiling viciously this time. “The Colonel has fought in Athens, Minsk, Smolensk, Moscow, and Rostov. He’s killed hundreds of enemy soldiers, many of them officers. He is, quite frankly, the best sniper in the Empire.”
        Victor pushed a piece of paper with a picture on it across the desk toward Theodore.
        “This, Colonel, is Corporal Andrei Zuzhovsky.” He said.
        Theodore studied the paper and looked up again.
        “End him.”
        Theodore nodded, slipped out the nearest exit, and disappeared into the ruins of Volgograd. 

                  Chapter 8

         Rose had finally recovered and was out of the hospital. Aside from nearly bleeding to death, it turned out she had a concussion from her encounter with Victor. But she wasn’t much happier back in the fight than out of it. The Empire had at last pressed to the river and split the Republic’s armies in the city into two pockets guarding the two main docks in the city. Dozens of smaller docks had to be destroyed to keep them from falling to the Empire. Defeat seemed imminent. Victor had arrogantly and bizarrely sworn that the sun would never shine again in the city: that a cloud of ash and smoke would shroud it in darkness forever. Now he had gathered his best soldiers into a final assault to crush their remaining opposition in the city. Not to mention that Hank and Shannon were gone again, back to Moscow and Africa respectively where smaller Imperial attacks were causing trouble. She and Dart would have to hold off Victor alone until James could ferry more troops to them across the river.
         “Forward!” Imperial officers shouted as whistles blew all over their positions in front of the docks.
Seconds later their soldiers threw themselves at the Republic's defenses. Victor looked out with his binoculars from atop a building a few blocks back from where the attack started. His men were making good progress. Some would fire while others used the rubble as cover to advance. Then those men would open fire and allow the men who had been firing to catch up. He had another surprise for the Republic too. At that moment a column of flame shot towards an enemy machine gun nest and enveloped it. All across the city, line after line of fire surged forward as his forces attempted to burn their way through the enemy defenses. Then, at long last he could see it. The docks and the river were just a few hundred yards away. The enemy didn’t have enough men to stop him this time. Then he shifted his focus to the banks of the river and had to do a double take. Enemy reinforcements led by James had begun to pour forward. His left eye twitched angrily as his men were stopped and began to give ground back, inch by inch in the face of this new attack.
        “Sir, where are you going?” Christopher asked, alarmed, as Victor turned and began to stalk away.
        “They won’t stop me. Not when I’m this close! I’m going down there myself.” He hissed, and stormed out into the streets where his exhausted men had begun to fall back.
Victor stood right in the middle of the street and drew his pistol, unloading clip after clip into the oncoming enemy troops and rallying his men. At last he ran out of ammunition and drew his sword to wade into them.
         Dart and James advanced towards the thickest fighting on a street where they had seen Victor was rallying his troops and slaughtering their forces. They charged in and began slicing up Imperial soldiers until they came face to face with Victor. The two Light Keepers cautiously battled him wordlessly for some time until the Empire began to slowly give ground again. Still, the Imperial troops hung on, firing from behind every destroyed vehicle, pile of rubble, or bombed out building they could get to. The Republic’s casualties began to mount and Dart feared that the counterattack would falter until a miracle occurred. The sun broke through the cloak of darkness over the city. Victor’s eyes opened wide at the sight of it and he seemed to be caught in a dream-like state. Horrified Imperial soldiers, seeing their leader immobilized, threw down their weapons and ran in stark terror. Victor seemed to snap back to reality and continued a fighting retreat with those who had remained with him. Then more Republic troops poured in from the side streets led by Rose and Shannon.
        Whatever fight remained in the Imperials was gone and they rapidly fled or surrendered. At last only Victor remained. Still half dazed, angry, and bleeding in several places, he looked on defiantly as the four Light Keepers and at least a dozen of their soldiers aimed their weapons at him and prepared to fire. At that point he barred his teeth in an awful grimace, spun around, and leapt over a barricade of rubble across the street to repair his broken forces. The Republic’s victorious forces cheered and advanced back towards the center of the city.

         Dart, Rose, Shannon, and James looked at a map in the Republic’s HQ in Volgograd. Rose had called them together because she had just been struck with inspiration.
        “After that last beating we gave Victor, he isn’t strong enough to hit us, nor we him, at least inside the city.” She began. “However, we are getting reinforcements and emptying garrisons from all over the Republic, from Africa to Asia to Australia. On the other hand, his troops are nearly at their end. So I suggest we build up our forces here, and here.” She said as she pointed at the map. “Then move them here and here.” She made two slashing motions.
        The others' eyes opened wide in shock.
        “Are you sure we can manage that?” Dart asked.
        “As long as Shannon and James can keep Victor’s focus here. Can you do that?” She asked.
        They looked at one another and James spoke first. “Yes, I think I can, but wow. That’s ambitious.”
        "We can keep Victor busy, dearie, just make sure you move quickly." Shannon added.
        “Let’s try it.” Dart said. “If we pull it off, it‘ll be the biggest move of the war.”
        Rose nodded again and they began to prepare for the attack.

         “I’m telling you Josef, I can’t beat him!” Andrei shouted.
        “Keep your voice down!” Josef answered. “And I don’t know why you have no faith in yourself. You are the best shot in this city and the best shots in the world are here.”
        “Yeah, except for him.” Andrei shot back.
        The city was in a stalemate since the Empire’s last attack on the docks had been pressed back. Perfect status for sniper duels. The Colonel had begun killing indiscriminately in order to lure Andrei out, and it was working. People were begging Andrei to go out and stop him. Josef always accompanied him as his spotter, but he felt he followed because they were friends. No one else ever went with them while they knew the Colonel was at large.
         Earlier in the morning they had found an excellent position in a ruined business district. Andrei and Josef crawled into the building they had in mind and huddled into a destroyed office cubicle. The glass windows of the floor had been shattered, but the cubicles themselves were still intact. Sure, the cardboard walls wouldn’t do them much good if they were spotted but while they were hidden, they had an excellent view of the entire area. Now came the waiting. Andrei scanned the area through the lens of his rifle, which he’d covered in various rags to try to hide any glare from the scope as well as the sound from its recoil. Josef did his own scan with a pair of binoculars. A squad of Imperials moved through the area, Andrei let them go, they weren’t his target. About an hour later, a group of their own soldiers also picked through the rubble.
         Suddenly a shot rang out and one of them fell. As the others scattered Andrei swung his rifle to where the shot had come from and surely enough, he spotted a lens. He took aim and fired, the boy slumped over. It was too easy.
        “Andrei, that’s not the…”
        Several shots tore into the cubicle. Andrei hissed in pain as one struck his hand on the rifle. Two more passed by them, the last one tore into Sergei’s left leg. He dropped his binoculars and his face contorted as he struggled to keep from screaming. Andrei ignored his hand and dragged Josef out of the cubicle and down the hall.
        “He sacrificed one of his own men to expose us!” Josef said in disbelief as Andrei began to tie off the wound.
        “I know.” Andrei said, he could barely believe it himself.
        They had to get out of the area, it still wasn’t safe. Andrei ran down the stairs and hailed the squad of his own troops that was still taking cover.
        “What’s going on?” A girl demanded.
        “Two Imperial snipers, one down, one still in the area!” He called back.
        He knew the Colonel was switching his position now, he’d never fire from the same place twice, but they were running out of time. Another shot rang out, another cry.
        “My spotter is wounded!” Andrei called out. “If you can make it to this building to help us I have a way out!”
        “You’re crazy.” She yelled back. “If we move, we’re dead.”
        “If you stay out there, you’re dead. He’s gonna be moving now, trying to pick off another one of you. Move now and you have a chance.” Andrei said. “Please trust me!" He waited anxiously for a response.
        “Alright! Let’s move!” The girl called out.
        Four soldiers dashed towards Andrei with her and dove into the office building. A final shot rang out and hit the ground where the last soldier had been standing a second before. Her squad lifted Josef and they beat a hasty retreat.
         “What was all that about?” The girl asked as they made their way back to their own lines.
        “The boy trying to pick off your squad was Colonel Theodore Wilhaus. He’s an expert Imperial sniper who was sent here to kill me.” Andrei replied.
        “Wait.” She said. “You’re Andrei Zuzhovsky?”
        He nodded.
        “Woah.” She replied. “Corporal Alena Martins. Nice to meet you!” She said, shaking his hand. “We’ve all heard stories about you.”
        “Is it true you killed General Mensto?” One of the boys with her asked.
        Andrei nodded again and the boy spat.
        “Got what he deserved if you ask me. Can you plug Voktor too while you’re at it?”
        “I’ll do my best.” Was all Andrei could think of to say.
        “He’s from Volgograd.” Alena whispered to him.
        Andrei understood, he was Russian himself, but none of that mattered. This was about more than Volgograd or even Russia. They had to do their part to stop the Empire from consuming the entire world. And he had to do his part, by defeating the Colonel. No matter the cost. Little did he know, things were about to be shaken up.

         Rose stood atop a tank miles south of Volgograd. Several hundred tanks and tens of thousands of soldiers were with her. Dozens of miles to the north she knew Dart lead a similar force. It was a miracle they had kept this all secret from the Empire. She supposed the snowstorm they were in helped. But there wasn’t time to think about that. The opening bombardment had begun. Hundreds of planes and guns annihilated the thin line of unsuspecting Imperials in front of her. Minutes later her massive force lurched forward and overran the surviving enemy troops. The few who remained quickly surrendered. After that her troops rolled on, mile after mile. They took an Imperial supply depot by complete surprise at some point in the drive and then continued on towards their final objective: a field that meant nothing to Victor and the Empire, but everything to them.

         Victor sat in his HQ outside the city. He had been forced to move back when the Republic got too close to the railroad station again. He was looking at a situation map, wondering how to break James’s forces after another sleepless night when his aide barged in.
        “Christopher what are you doing so early in the morning?” He asked, agitated.
        “Sir! The Republic has broken our lines north and south of the city!” He shouted, horror on his face.
        “My God!” Victor blurted, astounded, as he too came to the horrific realization.
        “Order all units to pull out, we’ll be surrounded!” Use his maneuver against him would they? They’d pay for this, how they would pay.

                                                 Chapter 9

         Theodore picked up his rifle and prepared to slip out towards the Republic’s lines. He had found a very, very special target yesterday. Today he intended to eliminate it and hopefully draw in that nuisance Zhuzovsky once and for all.
        “Sir! Sir! Wait!” Someone cried out behind him, and he turned to find a foot soldier running up to him.
        “What is it?” He asked.
        “Colonel, we’re being surrounded! All units are ordered to pull out of the city now or be cut off!”
        Theodore swore. “No. I must finish my mission. I’ll found a way out if I have to walk. This must be done. Thank you for getting word to me.” The boy saluted. Theodore returned the salute and went out into the rubble once more.

         Rose still stood on her tank, somewhere well west of Volgograd. They were so close to the linkup now. It had to be near. She struggled desperately to find any sign of Dart and his forces. When they linked up it would mean the end of the Empire in this region, maybe even the end of the Empire in Europe. The she spotted something off in the distance. Was it Dart? No. Imperial soldiers!
        “All units attack! They must not be allowed to escape!” She yelled over the howling wind at the tank commander.
        The girl nodded and moments later all the tanks and infantry in the line were firing at the fleeing Imperials.

         Victor and his column were moving away from Volgograd when all of the sudden they began taking fire.
        “Return fire, but keep moving. They can’t be allowed to stall us.” He ordered.
        His forces obeyed and a few tanks and infantry units peeled off and returned fire as the line moved forward. Then they would rejoin it and be replaced by new units. This pattern continued for some time when his column began taking fire from the north as well. This is the linkup! Victor thought. Then as he looked back and forth was able to spot Dart and Rose, one on each side. His every instinct screamed for him to fight but for the sake of his army, he couldn’t. They kept the gap open for a short time and then he gave the final order to press forward and escape the trap.

         Rose and Dart hugged along with the thousands of other overjoyed Republic soldiers in the nameless field west of Volgograd. They had done it. The Empire’s position in Russia, and in Europe as a whole, was crippled.

         Andrei waited, concealed by a long bombed out bus in the heart of Volgograd. Imperials were streaming out of the area. If the Colonel was anywhere, he’d be here. Andrei was alone now. Josef was out of commission after their last encounter with the Colonel. Hours passed, at last the flood of Imperials ceased. There was a brief quiet. Andrei felt like he’d be able to hear a pin drop, he didn’t move a muscle. Then the noise began to pick up again, now it was his side advancing through the city. Andrei remained quiet, but in an instant, everything changed.
         Andrei wanted to yell out, do something, anything, for one of the Light Keepers, James, was walking with their soldiers, totally exposed. But he kept himself under control. His best chance to save the Light Keeper was to remain calm. He began to scan everywhere as fast as he could, where would he be if he were the Colonel? Then all Hell broke loose, a shot rang out, the soldier closest to James fell dead. Another shot, James fell. Was he dead? Andrei darted from the bus toward him. Everyone was panicking and rushing to take cover. Everyone but Andrei, he’d have only one chance at this. He aimed his rifle at the radio tower, a shot rang out, and Andrei dove for James and took the bullet. He squeezed off a shot of his own. The Colonel fell from the tower and crashed into the ground. Dead. Andrei collapsed next to James. The Light Keeper was still alive, clutching a shoulder.
        “You shouldn’t have done that!” James protested.
        “I, I had to.” Andrei choked out, medics already lifting him into a stretcher.
        “Thank you.” James said.
        “Don’t worry about it.” Andre said,smiling as they took him away.
        “This is a home run.” One of the medics said.
        Andrei looked at her, confused.
        “Means you’re going home. War’s over for you.” She said.
        Andrei fell asleep at ease.

         Victor looked around with, for the first time in a long time, sympathy in his eyes. The Imperial soldiers around him were freezing, hungry, and running out of ammunition. The Empire sill clung to a small part of the city as well as a large open area with an airfield outside of it. He had flown in to get a look at the situation one final time. He had tried three times to break through to his men but the Republic was just too strong and it was just too cold.
        "I have come before you today." He paused, grinding his teeth. "I have come before you to apologize. It is because of my blindness that you are now where you are."
        His men immediately began to protest and tell him that it wasn't his fault. He merely shook his head.
        "Regardless, my words can do little to help you. I have come to wish you the best of luck for being the finest soldiers I have ever seen. Know that the final victory will belong to us." He finished, his voice regaining some measure of its old confidence. The soldiers saluted him one final time as he boarded the last plane bound for Imperial territory.

         Christmas Eve arrived and there had been no fighting for some time. The Imperials knew they were beaten and the Republic was content to wait them out.
        “What are they waiting for?” Rose demanded, the hours dragging by without an Imperial surrender.
        “They know it’s over.” Dart agreed.
        “Then why won’t they just end this nightmare?” She asked when someone pound into the headquarters.
        “What is it?” Dart asked.
        “You should come see this for yourselves!” The soldier said.
        They followed him outside and found an Imperial soldier with a white flag. Standing next to him however, was General Carl Coffer.
         “I have come to seek terms for the surrender of Army Group A and the remains of the 16th Armored Division.” Carl said.
        The headquarters broke out in cheers.
        “Follow us inside, general.” Rose said.
        Carl looked infuriated, but followed them.
        When they got inside, he put his pistol on the table and collapsed into a chair. Dart checked the pistol, there was only one bullet.
        “What are your terms?” Carl asked, his southern, American accent drawing out his syllables.
        “Your men will be treated well. Full quarter will be given to anyone who surrenders now.” Rose replied.
        “Fair enough.” He said.
        The Light Keepers could hardly believe one of the original Imperials was personally giving up to them.
        “My men are welcome to do as they wish and I had a duty to see to their treatment. However, as an Imperial general, especially one of my nature, I have a duty to my Lords as well.” He added.
        “What are you…?” Dart began in confusion.
        Suddenly, Carl grabbed his pistol, pressed it to his temple, and squeezed the trigger. Everyone in the building screamed in surprise and Rose and Dart jumped into each other’s arms. The last shot of the Battle of Volgograd, had been fired.

         Still wounded, James inspected the losses of the Imperial Army, they were staggering to say the least. The hated and feared 16th Armored Division had been completely destroyed. Along with it, dozens of infantry divisions also fell. Nearly half a million Imperial soldiers and their weapons were wounded, dead, or captured. It was the single largest defeat the Empire had suffered in the entire war. James couldn’t have believed as many people could fit into the tiny pocket the Imperial army had been reduced to, but somehow they did. The Imperial filed out in long columns for days before the last one marched off into captivity. James sighed in relief, Volgograd was free again.

                                                 Chapter 10

         But the leader of the Imperial army had escaped the trap, and he still had work to do. What was left of Victor’s Army Group A had fallen back to Rostov. They had to hold it until his armies in the Caucasus scrambled out of a trap as well. If Rostov fell, they would also be lost and the situation lost irretrievably for the Empire in Europe.

         Alvin and his unit raced north out of southern Russia, they had to get to Rostov before it fell and they were cut off. Enemy troops had dogged them the entire way back, sniping at them every chance they got. He had no idea how many men and vehicles they had left strewn across the countryside. But there was no time to reflect on that now. The city was in sight!
         Alvin’s tank and the entire army raced down the highway toward Rostov. He sweated despite the frigid cold, fearing the tank’s engine might give out at any moment. Then a truck behind them exploded in flames. The enemy had caught up to them. Alvin swore.
        “They’re moving between us and the city!” He roared at his driver.
Alvin’s tank fired and an enemy tank brewed up. At the same time an Imperial tank over to his right caught fire as well. A truck filled with Imperial troops screeched to a halt and the infantry poured out of it and set up a machine gun which began chattering away at their counterparts. The battle rapidly developed as more forces streamed in from both sides.
         “This is a nightmare.” Alvin muttered, directing his gunner to another target. They hit the opposing tank and it ground to a halt. But at the same time more and more of their machines were being knocked out of action. It seemed as though they wouldn’t make it through. Alvin could feel the entire army wavering under the Light Keepers’ assault. Then an enormous barrage opened up from inside Rostov. Imperial artillery began to hammer the Republic’s army. Then Imperial tanks poured out of the city and crashed into the Republic’s lines.Alvin redoubled his firing and watched the enemy forces melt away.
        “They’re running!” William yelled triumphantly.
        A cheer broke out as the exhausted Imperial soldiers were able to link up. Alvin spotted Victor amongst the force that had rescued them and smiled. They still had a chance to win this, as long as they had the War Lords they weren’t out of the fight. But for now, it was time to retreat again. Alvin’s tank rolled into Rostov and screeched to a halt. He let out an enormous sigh of relief.
        “Well boys, we made it.” He said, breathing a sigh of relief.
        They’d won themselves a brief respite, but soon the order came to retreat again. Alvin let out a different type of sigh and prepared to head back towards where they had started at the beginning of the year.
        Dart, Rose, and James looked across the Dnieper River in the Ukraine where they were finally forced to halt their advance. Ice covered the river and the opposite bank appeared peaceful despite the thousands of Imperials they knew were dug in somewhere over there.
        “Well we’ve accomplished a lot this year.” Dart said.
        “Yeah, but we have a lot more to do until the world is free of the Empire.” Rose said.
        Dart grunted in agreement and James nodded carefully.
        “I’m sure the War Lords won’t stay quiet next year either.” Dart added mournfully. “Unfortunately, you're probably right.” Rose agreed.
        They looked out across the river again, not knowing how right they would be.                               

                                BOOK 3: Revenge of the War Lords
                                                       Chapter 1
                                               New Year’s Day, Year 3
                                  Somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean

         The storm was growing worse and worse. Waves smashed into the Imperial cargo ship time and time again. The Imperial sailors struggled to keep the ship under control as it lurched under the pressure of the massive waves from the dark depths of the ocean. Rain pummeled the windows, without radar guiding them it would have been impossible for the crew to find their way.
         "Hold it steady." The Captain ordered over the loudspeaker. "We still have a ways to go and you all know damn well if we lose this cargo and the storm doesn’t kill us that General Voktor will."
The cargo was inside a waterproof, fireproof, bulletproof, and practically everything else proof case that could float and was being held by an undercover agent of the Empire. The Captain glanced over at it nervously. He had to get it back to America and the heart of the Empire before New Year’s Day was over. It was a critical document from the Supreme General to the Supreme Leader.          
        The ship lurched yet again. Then, disaster. Something slammed into the ship that was not a wave. Immediately the ship rocked and caught fire even under the hammering it was taking from the sea.
        "Damage control to the lower decks!" The Captain shouted as he struggled to maintain control of the ship that he knew was going under.
        He glanced over to where the agent should have been but he was gone. He saw him toss his case overboard seconds before the entire ship exploded when the flames hit the ammunition locker.

         "Take her up." Commander Megan Parks ordered to her crew as she peered through the scope towards the Imperial freighter her submarine had just destroyed.
        Her sub had been sent out into the Atlantic to prey on Imperial shipping and they were doing quite well. Then her vessel surfaced amidst the terrible storm and the crew poured out onto the deck.
        "Wow, looks like we got them pretty good." A sailor remarked.
        "Yeah, there isn’t much left." Another added.
        But what was left was valuable beyond their wildest dreams.
        "Hey! What’s that?" The same girl cried out.
        "Haul it in!" Megan ordered the crew.
        She held it up and inspected it. It was a badly battered but still intact case. There was nothing special about it, but Megan figured they’d better take a look at it, just to be safe.
        "Let’s take it below." She ordered.
        They took the case back into the submarine and submerged without a trace, other than the burning wreckage now sinking into the Atlantic.

         Supreme General Victor Voktor paced around his HQ. He was a short, dark figure in a solid black officer’s uniform. A pair steel rimmed glasses sat perched on his nose, his cold grey eyes deep in thought.  He needed confirmation that his package had gotten to America safely before he could rest. He had gotten all the bad news he could take. First, his defeat at Volgograd and the loss of the army, the suicide of General Coffer on top of the death of General Mensto, the loss of confidence in him by his men, and he was being grilled by the Supreme Leader for all of it. He had everything riding on that package. It would stretch both he and the Empire to capacity, but it was their last chance to stop the Republic and win the war here and now. His aide, Captain Christopher Cartwright, came up to him and saluted him.
        "What is it?" The War Lord snapped at him.
        "Sir." He paused to gather himself. "The freighter was sunk, my Lord."
        "What?!" Victor roared. "How?" He demanded, slamming a fist down onto his desk, his left eye throbbing.
        "A submarine, my Lord." He answered. "We know it is to make port south of our holdings in North Africa." He added, remembering the piece of news he hoped would calm his enraged master, and Victor did calm down slightly.
        "We must move quickly and catch them off balance." He said.
        "What exactly was on the ship, sir?" Christopher inquired.
        "My campaign plans for the entire year! My grand plan to snatch victory from those damn Light lunatics and their pitiful Republic!" He screamed, his anger bubbling up again.
         "If we move quickly we can catch them in the jungles of central Africa. They raid our lines up to the north and they won’t notice us slip across to ambush them and get the plans back if we move quickly." Voktor said bringing himself under control once more.
        "How do you know they will take that route?" Christopher asked.
        "They will not take a longer route for fear of not being able to use the plans in time. They’re also naïve and impatient, the Light Fools will want them as soon as possible, hence the shortest route through central Africa up through the Middle East into Russia and their capital." Victor answered. It wasn’t really a short route but taking into account all other possibilities it was the best option the Republic would have.
      "Get me everything you can on the commander of that sub. Everyone has a weakness and we’ll need to find it here to get those plans back.” He ordered.
      His aide only nodded and began to prepare for whatever their next mission would bring.

         Light Keeper Dart Smalls was a tall, well-built boy with short, striking red hair. He ran a hand through his hair and examined a situation map in the Republic’s headquarters in Moscow, searching for a weakness in the Empire’s defenses. They were hoping to go on the offensive in the coming summer. An aide walked over to him and handed him a phone, announcing the call was for him.
      “Yes?” He asked, slightly confused, this wasn’t their usual procedure for reports.
      “Light Keeper Smalls?” A girl inquired.
      “Speaking, what do you need?” He replied.
      “My name is Commander Megan Parks, I’m a submarine skipper. I just landed in central Africa after sinking an Imperial transport. Well, I pulled something very interesting out of the water.”
      “I’m listening.” Dart said, encouraging her to go on.
      “It’s all heavily encrypted, so I don’t have any details but the title is ‘Annual Imperial Campaign Strategy-Authored by Supreme General Victor Voktor.’”
        Dart’s jaw dropped. He scanned the room desperately for his fellow Light Keeper, Rose Calumberry and waved her over to him, telling Megan to hold on. Rose, a pretty girl, with unusual dyed purple hair, and dark, blue eyes, made her way over to him.
      “What’s up?” She asked.
      “I’m talking to one of our sub commanders, she just came into port. Apparently she sunk an Imperial transport with Victor Voktor’s battle plans for the entire year on it. And she captured them in tact!”
      “She’s gotta get back here right away!” Rose said, her eyes lighting up, beside herself with excitement.
      “Yes, Megan, we’re sending you an escort and transportation back to Moscow. You need to get here so we can decode those plans ASAP! Good work!” He said hanging up the phone. “I can’t believe we got this lucky!”
      “We have a chance to really stick it to Victor now. We can’t let this one slip away.” She said.
      “I agree, let’s just pray Megan can get those plans back to us safely.”

         Megan was riding through central Africa in an army issue jeep with a special agent that she knew as Serena Dark. Megan herself was a short girl with brown hair, hazel eyes, and a frail structure. Serena had to be her opposite. She had blonde hair, striking blue eyes, and she was quite tall. They had been introduced only a few days ago, Serena was responsible for protecting her on their way to Egypt. After that, she would continue through the Middle East up through Russia to Moscow. Megan could then hand over the plans to the Light Keepers. She couldn’t believe she had gotten so lucky as to capture Victor Voktor’s battle plans. But she had to get them to Moscow safely. She had no idea what kind of ride she was in for.
        "We’ll be entering the Congo soon, the jungle gets wild here but we should get through without a problem." Her protector said.
        "Oh, joy." Megan replied grimly.

         Agent Amy Anderson was on what was supposed to be a simple mission. She was a slim girl, dark hair, and dark green eyes. She felt her features helped her better blend with the darkness, perfect for hear line of work. It was also possible that was all in her head. Right now though, she needed to focus on the task at hand. She and her team would break into the Imperial complex in Libya, sabotage the Imperial tanks, and get out. It had something to do with the Empire’s plans for this year’s campaign and if it would hurt the Empire she would do it.
         "Hand me those wire cutters." She whispered quietly to another agent.
        She calmly cut through the wire and they were inside the complex. They snuck forward, evading searchlights and sentries until they came to the building they were looking for, the largest one in the entire base. Here we go, she thought as she pushed open the door. Her team rushed in ready to quickly silence any guards before they could sound the alarm. But something was wrong. There were no tanks at all. In fact, the entire building was empty.
        "What the…?" She began as they were lit up by a series of high powered lights.
Heavily armed Imperial combat troops opened fire as the door slammed shut behind her team. Within seconds it was over. Amy had dove to the ground as her team was slaughtered. She shuddered, waiting to die, not understanding what had happened. Then she heard someone walking toward her. She looked up and saw Supreme General Victor Voktor himself staring down at her with his cold, cold grey eyes.
         "W-what do y-you want?" She stammered mustering all the courage she could.
        "Your friend, Megan Parks, you know her right?" He demanded.
        She couldn’t stop herself from nodding as a pair of his men hauled her to her feet, holding her arms behind her back.
        "She has something that belongs to me and you are going to help me get it back."
        "Why would I ever help you?" She suddenly snapped.
        "Because you have no choice. If you don’t you will die and so will your friend. It will be easier for everyone if you cooperate. I simply want what is mine returned to me and you can go free to continue on with your little saboteur missions." He answered.
        He was right, she had no choice. She didn’t think she could trust him but it was her only hope.
        "Fine." She answered.
        “Good girl.’ Victor said with a smile.
        He nodded to his men and they took her away. She could only imagine what they had in store for her.

         Megan clung to the case she was holding as the jeep jostled through the thick undergrowth of the jungle. It was terribly hot, muggy, and dark too. None of this seemed to affect Serena as she continued to drive through the forest. Another jeep was in front of them and a truck full of soldiers was behind them as well. The convoy couldn’t be too large to attract attention as Imperial aircraft could easily reach this spot, if they were able to see through the canopy. On top of that, Imperial raiders sometimes snuck behind Republic lines into the jungle. As they continued their drive, the jeep in front of them suddenly crashed into a hole in the "road" that no one had noticed a moment earlier.
         Serena swore and got out of the jeep to see if they were alright. Then the Empire sprung its trap. A squad of raiders in the trees opened fire on the convoy.
        "Get down!" Serena shouted at Megan while diving for cover.
        The soldiers in the truck began to return fire but they could tell they were being beaten. The attack was too sudden and too surprising.
        "We need reinforcements, an air strike, anything!" Serena shouted into the radio she’d gotten a hold of as bullets snapped around them.
        "We can provide only a few artillery rounds depending on how far the enemy is from you. Over." The voice on the other side answered.
        "Who cares how close they are?" Serena demanded. "We are maybe dead if you hit us but definitely dead if they get us."
        "Rounds incoming in sixty seconds take cover as best you can." The voice answered.
        "Better get down." Serena said to Megan.
        Luck was on their side for in less than a minute the rounds came crashing down on the raiders. Megan heard them cursing as they dragged their wounded comrades off and retreated.
        "Keep moving, we can’t stay here." Serena said as she got into the shot up jeep and restarted it. Megan stared in disbelief before following her into the jeep. They rolled on towards their objective with the case.

         "You didn’t tell me they had artillery." Victor snapped at Amy.
        "I didn’t even know there was artillery in the area." She retorted. "It’s been treason enough already for how much I’ve helped you." She added.
        "You had better get used to it. We are going after them again as soon as they enter Egypt." Voktor told her. "We’ll need you again and this time there had better not be any mistakes." He said glaring at her.
        She simply stared back at the War Lord as his men prepared to move forward.

         They were in Egypt, the land of the pharaohs. And the land of heat and dust, Megan thought as the convoy rolled toward Cairo.
        "We should be safe when we get into the city. Then it’s on to Jerusalem." Serena said to her.
        "Hopefully we won’t have any more…" Megan was cut off in mid-sentence as an Imperial fighter plane strafed the convoy.
Here we go again, she thought as Serena violently twisted and turned to avoid being shot to pieces like many of the soldiers around them.
        "How did they avoid all the anti-aircraft defenses and spotters?" Megan asked.
        "I don’t know." Serena replied as she executed another daring maneuver. More bullets began to riddle the convoy from the ground as it tried to get to Cairo.
      "Oh great!" Serena shouted, spotting a group of Imperial scouting jeeps racing toward them, shooting what was left of the convoy to bits.
        “What the Hell are they doing here?!” Megan yelled. “This is way too far behind our lines!”
        “Don’t ask me!” Serena roared back at her.
        The jeep finally gave out and crashed. Megan and Serena got out and began to return fire as the Imperial vehicles and planes circled around what was left of their guards, closing in for the kill.

         "Finish them." Victor ordered, watching the surrounded enemy forces about to be destroyed.
        "No!" Amy shouted clinging to his arm. "We had a deal Voktor!"
        "So? I want my plans back. I’m not letting them get away and cause me more trouble." He answered coldly.
        However, the War Lord was knocked off of his feet by a large blast that decimated his small, temporary HQ. More shells began to scream in seconds later.
        "What in the world?" He demanded, pulling himself together.
        "Sir! Republic armor approaching from Cairo!" Christopher shouted.
        The War Lord screamed in anguish and grabbed the radio.
        "I want those plans back! All aircraft concentrate on stopping their armor. Ground forces, get me that case!" He shouted into it.
          But it was too late, enemy fighter planes were on the scene as well. This far from their base, his planes were at a disadvantage to do battle with them and his jeeps were being decimated by the enemy tanks.
        "Sir, what do we do?" A soldier yelled in his direction.
        He hesitated for a moment before speaking.
        "Fall back. We have to try something else."
        He swore again and began to get on one of the remaining jeeps before stopping. Where was Amy? He saw her a few feet away holding her head, a trickle of blood running down the side of her face. She looked like she was in shock. Victor grabbed her hair and dragged her back to the jeep as she kicked and screamed.
        "We are not done with you yet." He said as he threw her into the jeep. "Drive." He ordered.
        The Imperials dissolved without a trace.

         "Something is wrong here." Megan said to Serena as they rested in Cairo.
A week had passed since she had pulled the case with Victor’s plans out of the sea. In that time, they had been ambushed twice trying to get them back to Moscow, both times behind their lines.
"You’re right about that." Serena said. "I suspect they have someone on the inside that has intricate knowledge of the way our forces operate."
"You mean a spy?" Megan asked.
"That’s exactly what I mean. And I intend to report it in the morning. As for now get some rest. We leave for Jerusalem tomorrow and I don’t expect the Empire to give us a free ride even this far behind our lines." Serena said.
Megan obeyed but didn’t think she would have much luck sleeping tonight or any night until she had gotten rid of the case with the stolen plans.
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