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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Action/Adventure · #1983140
The war enters its darkest phase yet...
        Amy stared at Victor as he paced nervously around the small confines of the submarine. Well, she stared at him with one eye. The other was smothered with ice after the Cairo incident.
"Our last chance to stop them is at Jerusalem. The Empire simply can’t stretch any farther with effective force." Victor said to himself as much as to her.
She only continued to stare at him.
"We still require your assistance to penetrate the city. I have only two teams remaining, one of which I will personally accompany into the fray."
“Then will you let me go?" Amy asked.
Victor rolled his eyes.
"Yes, yes, of course. All we care about is me, me, me isn’t it?" He said to her mockingly before storming out.
Amy’s jaw dropped at the hypocrisy. He had to be joking. Didn’t he? Amy wasn’t so sure with someone like Victor Voktor.

         Another convoy, another desert, and the same old Serena, Megan thought as they pressed on toward Jerusalem. At this point they were on full alert and were ready for anything. They advanced closer and closer to the city until it was in sight, still no attack of any kind. Then there was a snap and the tire on her jeep went flat. Serena growled and got out to check out the problem. The convoy began to form a perimeter around the broken down vehicle. A soldier looking at the tire pulled out a small piece of metal. "It’s a bullet, but I don’t…" She never finished the sentence, falling dead.
        "Snipers! Everyone down!" Megan shouted, beating Serena to it this time.
        Another soldier fell. There had to be at least half a dozen of them from the amount of bullets snapping around them.
        “What do we do?” Megan yelled as the minutes ticked by.
        “Just stay down!” Serena answered. “Our troops in the city have to be close to flushing them out by now.”
        She was right, in a few minutes gunfire erupted in several buildings and the snipers who weren’t killed beat a hasty retreat.
        “That’s gotta be the end of it.” Serena said, getting up and brushing herself off. “Let’s get into the city before they decide they’d like another crack at us.”
        “I can agree with that!” Megan said, jumping into one of their still operable vehicles.
        Without wasting another moment, they drove on into Jerusalem.

        Megan sighed in relief as they entered the holy city. They’d abandoned their vehicle a short time ago and were trying to reach their destination as inconspicuously as possible.
        "We're almost safe." She said to Serena.
        "Yeah, keyword-almost." Serena said.
        Then Megan saw something that shocked her.
        "Amy!" She shouted running up to her friend and giving her a hug. "Why are you here?"
        "I’ve been assigned to take you up into southern Russia and then Moscow so you can deliver the plans." Her friend told her.
        "That’s great! Where to?" She asked.
        "A warehouse on the other side of the city. We can get new vehicles there and then continue on." Amy replied.
        Megan looked at her suspiciously. Something didn’t seem right about her friend.
        “Are you okay?" Megan asked.
        "Yeah, it’s nothing. Just been a rough week." She replied, hesitating slightly.
        "I can relate to that!" Megan said.
        "Come on, let’s get out of here." Amy said, leading the way toward the warehouse.
         She sweated the entire way to the warehouse. Not because of the heat of Jerusalem but because of the Imperial sniper she knew was following her, waiting for any chance to kill them all if she gave any warning to her friend. Finally, they reached it. Amy opened the door and followed her friends inside. The door slammed shut behind them and the lights came on in another empty warehouse.
        "What the…?" Her friend Megan began.
        "I’m sorry." Amy said as tears welled up in her eyes.
        "For what?" She began to ask Amy and then she saw.
        A squad of Imperial soldiers with the War Lord Victor Voktor in their stead stood across the warehouse, weapons drawn. Megan couldn’t understand what was happening. It was too much for her to handle, she dropped the precious case and collapsed, unconscious. Her bodyguard was the next to act. She reached for her gun and even squeezed off a shot in Victor’s direction. But it was no good, he fired once and she fell dead.
         "You have done well Amy." He said as he picked up the case and found the plans safely inside.
        "We had a deal, Victor." She said to him again.
        "Of course, we mustn’t implicate you in any way." Victor said taking a device from his aide that emitted a blue beam. "When you wake up it will look like we knocked out you and your friend, killed the other one, and that you were totally innocent. If you can convince Megan that is." He finished.
        Before Amy could say anything else, he slammed the taser into her chest, she tried to scream but nothing came out then, darkness.

         Megan woke up with a number of soldiers around her.
        "Where’s Amy." She asked.
        "She’s right here. We’re trying to wake her up." A soldier told her.
        "What happened?" The soldier, an officer she noticed, asked her.
        "I, I don’t know." She admitted.
        "Amy said we were going to continue toward Moscow with the plans from here and, the plans!" She shouted.
        "They’re gone, we searched the entire building." The officer told her.
        "There were Imperial soldiers." Megan said with a groan as her senses recovered. "Victor Voktor was there, then I feinted and after that I have no idea what happened. He must have taken them."
        All that running around and nearly getting killed for nothing. Then Amy began to come to with a groan of her own.
        "What in the world happened?!" She shouted angrily at her friend.
        "Victor knocked me out and killed your friend. He must have taken the plans." Her friend said in a dazed voice.
        "What were you doing here in the first place?" The officer asked her. "We have you marked as missing in action." She said, looking at Amy suspiciously.
        "I got back from my mission and reported a failure, then came here to help my friend!" Amy said defensively. "It must be on record!" She added.
        "Well we don’t have it but you can file another report." The officer told her as she left with the rest of the soldiers seeing Megan and Amy were fine now.
         "Well, we lost the plans, no matter what the details." Megan said to her. "I’m sorry I shouted at you but this was all just too weird."
        "It’s fine." Amy replied sheepishly.
        "One more thing, why did you say ‘I’m sorry’ to me when we came in?" Megan asked.
        "Well…” Amy began. “I noticed the soldiers first and I was so upset that I fell for the same trap I did in my last mission and that I let you down."
        "Oh Amy, you can’t blame yourself for something like that.” Megan said, trusting her friend. “Let’s get some rest before we have to get back to the war."
        Amy felt like throwing up rather than doing anything but she had dodged a bullet here and was relieved. "Alright, let’s go!" She said to her friend as enthusiastically as she could manage.
        They left the warehouse, determined to put it all behind them.

         Meanwhile, Victor was back in Europe. He laughed to himself as he paced around his HQ making the final preparations to put his plan into action. Those fools had no idea what kind of opportunity they had missed. He would make them pay dearly for it this year. It was a good start, a precursor to ultimate victory he hoped. And they would pay, Oh yes, they will pay, Victor thought to himself laughing once more. He turned back to the large map of the world displaying the plan that would change everything.

                  Chapter 2

         A month had passed since Victor’s plans had been recovered and over that last month he had barely eaten or slept, spending all of his time preparing. His aide nervously watched him lose weight and saw his eyes go from white, to yellow, to red. But Victor believed he had discovered the problem he was having with winning the war. He believed he had found a way to win the struggle without any very large campaigns. Only a few small fights would be necessary and the first one was about to begin. True, he had suffered a devastating blow at Volgograd but the Republic underestimated the Empire’s ability to recover. Now he would turn and strike back in the south again, and in the winter, when his enemies least expected it.

         Alvin Smithers had been promoted twice over the winter to the rank of Major, as much because of a shortage of experienced officers as any exceptional skill. A new offensive was ordered in his sector and his unit was preparing for the assault. He was in charge of his own armored unit now but his gunner William Axel, and his driver, Matthew Foley, were still with him. He spoke into the radio and across the frozen landscape tanks roared to life and infantry dressed in white coats over their black uniforms sprang up all around the armor. A quick artillery barrage pummeled the opposite side of the river and engineers swarmed the bank and began constructing a hasty bridge to get them across. Enemy soldiers sniped at them throughout the entire exercise. Imperial troops and tanks replied in kind. Alvin was sure their barrage was superior to the small arms fire of the Republic. They had to have killed more troops than they had lost.
        In no more than three hours the bridge was complete and his tanks moved rapidly across the river Dnieper in the Ukraine, back towards Rostov. There were many enemy soldiers and supply dumps in the in the area but they never saw this attack coming, just like so many others. Soldiers surrendered in droves and they overran a number of depots. Alvin marveled at how they could lose so much and keep fighting, if the Empire suffered these types of losses, well there wouldn’t be an Empire for very long. Before the day was out, they were well on their way to Rostov.

         Sergeant Kendo Tokagawa stared over the top of the barge he was riding in towards the Australian coast. Minutes before, an enormous barrage had been laid down by the Imperial Navy and their aircraft had strafed and pummeled the shore as well. General Han had gathered together every single man he could muster from the Empire’s Asian armies and thrown them at Australia. It was all part of some larger plan they’d been told. They had also been told the High Command had received intelligence that Australia was particularly weak due to the withdrawal of many of its troops to send to fight in Russia. The Republic had thought Australia was safe.
         Well, they were wrong, Kendo thought savagely. The massive Imperial fleet made up of hundreds of ships and planes had brushed aside the token resistance put up by the Republic’s fleet and pressed on towards the mainland. Kendo’s reflections were interrupted when a gun that had survived the initial attack open fire. A large plume of water rose into the air and fell again soaking them and rocking their boat. It fired again but had chosen a new target, striking home this time. It took only seconds for what remained of the small barge to sink beneath the waves. One gun wasn’t enough to stop wave after wave of Imperial attacks though. They had something like a quarter of a million men involved in this attack. Literally everyone in Asia they could spare. Before he knew it, the pilot of the barge starting yelling.
        “Go! Go! Go!” He cried out, releasing the gate, which crashed into the water with a splash that soaked them all.
They rushed out onto the lightly defended Australian beach. A sniper felled one man from Kendo’s squad and a machine gun cut down men from a barge off to their right. They hit the dirt, or rather the sand, as soon as they could find cover and began firing back. It didn’t take long before other units got around the enemy’s patchwork defense and annihilated anyone that remained. Kendo smiled as tanks were landed and they began to press further inland.

         Dart stood inside Rostov and looked out at the Imperial Army trying to retake the city in the dead of winter. The Empire had launched a violent whirlwind of attacks all over the world. No single large attack this time, but many isolated attacks: this one in Russia, more in North Africa, Siberia, and a particularly troublesome one in Australia. The attacks were stretching the Light Keepers thin, Albert was in England, Macy in St. Petersburg, he and Rose on the Russian front, Shannon and James in Africa, and Hank and Jamie had gone off to Asia, China and India respectively. Their advisor, Erik Wexler was still in Moscow. He had left the war to them and was still trying to learn more about the history of the War Lords’ past and the clues the Elder Light Keepers had left for them. He had also stressed they were the chosen ones, they had to fight the war, it was critical he didn’t interfere with that destiny in any way. So now their presence was felt throughout the world.
         Rose came up to him and surveyed the enemy‘s progress as well. “This attack will fail.” She said, quite sure of a battle for once.
        “Yes, but Victor’s stretching us to the breaking point. I have to go to Siberia when we are finished here to stop Imperial forces invading from Alaska.” He replied.
        “And I have to go to Australia to stop General Han from taking it, too.” Rose said.
        “Watch yourself, ok? I’m going to miss you.” He said to her suddenly.
        Rose blushed, damn him for always being able to do that to her. Dart had stirred up something inside her and her heart fluttered every time he looked at her. There was a war on though, and their opponents were so dangerous. They could use something like that against them. Rose grappled with her conflicting emotions as the Imperial attack, which had been halfhearted at best, at last stalled. A number of Imperial tanks lay disabled in front of the city and soldiers had fallen in the snow as well. Most of the Republic’s casualties were from Imperial artillery or the small number of bombers the Empire had scraped together to attack them. This battle had turned out to be more like a skirmish. It seemed like Victor had just given up when his men reached the city, and Victor never, ever gave up. Something was definitely wrong, but the Light Keepers were unable to figure out what. Victor would be only too willing to educate them.

                                                     Chapter 3

         Rose and Jamie stepped off the plane into Sydney, Australia. The situation was critical. The Imperial attack had seemed like nothing when it started. A month later hundreds of thousands of enemy troops, tanks, and planes had landed and engulfed the northern half of the continent. They had done so almost without a fight thanks to the Republic’s emptying of the region to win the Battle of Volgograd and shore up the front in Europe. Several cities still remained in the south of the country and if the situation was to be salvaged it would have to start here. Rose and Jamie drove toward Republic HQ in Sydney where they hoped to learn more about what was happening.          
        The building was plain and white with several guards outside of it. The city itself was in lockdown as no one was sure when or if the Empire would reach it. The guards saluted as they entered the building. After checking in they were taken to the control room and were greeted by General Allyson Grey.
        “We’re sure glad to have you both here.” She said in a soft, Australian accent before shaking hands with each of them. “The Empire has our backs against the wall. They outnumber us by at least two to one as well.” She stopped and hesitated.
        “Go on.” Rose said grimly.
        Allyson cleared her throat and said, “Intelligence reports say Victor Voktor will be personally overseeing the final stages of the invasion.”
        “Oh, no.” Jamie said quietly, she hadn’t fought Victor yet, she had been in England with Albert throughout most of the war.
        “Don’t worry.” Rose said, as much to reassure herself as the others. “We’ve been in tough spots before, we’ll pull through again.” They nodded their heads and Allyson continued on with her report.

         Victor hated the heat. And Australia was ridiculously hot to him. It was even worse due to the heat inside the Armored Personnel Carrier they were riding in. The machines were a new model that could move at incredibly high speeds and were ideally suited for the Outback. With them, their infantry could reach Sydney and other key areas far faster than the Republic could hope to defend against. And their tanks would be right behind them.
        “How much longer?” Victor asked a soldier near the driver, a sergeant named Kendo, if he remembered correctly.
        “No more than an hour, sir.” He said after speaking a chat with the driver in Japanese.
        Victor nodded. That was as good as he could hope for. And the Republic was in for quite a surprise when they showed up. An hour later as promised, Victor, covered in sweat emerged from the APC and into the searing sun. General Han came over to him from another carrier in a similar condition and saluted. 
        “Can we get this over with?” He asked Han, who was taking a drink from his canteen. “Because after we finish these fools, I have to go to North Africa where it’s so damn hot like here.”
        “Sir, with all due respect, I’m not enjoying this any more than you are. As for your question, we will be ready within half an hour.”
        Victor hissed and looked up at the sun, then at Sydney, and then at the other Imperial soldiers pouring out of their vehicles and forming up. When they were ready and when the tanks arrived, the assault would begin.

         Rose ducked behind some rubble as shells crashed into Sydney. The Imperials had gotten here faster than anyone could have imagined. And now they had broken into the city and enveloped the majority of it. She, Jamie, and Allyson tried to rally their forces but to no avail. The attack was just too fast, too hard, and too unexpected. The city was falling. Now they had to find a way to delay Victor long enough to evacuate as much of the army as possible.  Rose ran across a street dodging enemy fire and found herself next to Allyson.
        “Jamie!” She called out desperately. “Oh, where are you?” She yelled again.
        Jamie rounded a corner and sprinted toward them firing over her shoulder, bringing down one enemy soldier before joining them.
        “What’s up?” She asked.
        “We need to draw Victor’s attention away from the retreat. Where can we do that?” She asked them.
        “He seems to be a vain individual, something grand will draw him away.” Jamie suggested after a moment in thought.
        “What makes you say that?” Rose said.
        “While all of you were fighting him, Albert and I had time to profile him. It’s just theory but we think we are learning about him.” She explained, with a shrug.
        Rose was impressed as Jamie then turned to Allyson. “Are you thinking what I am?”
        “Oh, no.” The general began to object, her eyes widening in horror as she shook her head. “No, no, no. Not the Opera House! It’s a national monument! We couldn’t.” She said in disbelief.
        “It may be the only way.” Rose said in desperation as a tank rolled down the street.
        “What is it? Now or never!” Jamie yelled.
        “Oh, oh, alright!” Allyson said. “All units on me!” She said over her radio and yelled out loud.
        It worked. The bulk of the Imperials shifted their pursuit from the streets leading towards the docks, to the Opera House.

         “We’ve located the enemy headquarters, my Lord.” General Han said to Victor.
        “Excellent. Where are the swine?” The War Lord demanded.
        “Their defensives have shifted completely and they are throwing everything into holding the Opera House.” Han replied.
        “No.” Victor said smiling and raising an eyebrow. How like the Light Keepers, to lodge themselves somewhere like that. Well, it would make a fine spectacle when his men stormed it. “Very well, general. Order our forces to concentrate on the Opera House. I expect to be with the first wave.” Han bowed slightly and went off to carry out his orders.

         Rose listened with increasing worry as the firing moved closer and closer to the Opera House. Soon the firing was right outside the building. Their soldiers would fall back again soon, directly into the main concert hall. Their orders were to draw the Imperials and their leaders deep into the structure to keep them well distracted from the retreat happening in the rest of the city. Rose looked around, the room was enormous, a stage was front and center, two rows of balconies beneath a unique ceiling pattern lined both sides of the hall, hundreds if not thousands of seats filled the room as well. It was one of the most incredible places Rose had seen. Then an enormous explosion rocked the building. Allyson’s voice came out across the building’s speaker system.
        “Everyone on the ready! Enemy forces have entered the building!”
Rose looked up and saw Jamie and their snipers at the ready in the balconies, they had several machine guns on the stage and the rest of their troops were scattered with Rose in row after row of seats. All had their weapons trained on the doors that opened to the concert hall. Then a number of soldiers ran through the doors and began to take cover.
      “They’re right behind us!” One boy yelled.
         Surely enough a dozen grenades flew through the doors, half exploded and the other half filled the hall with thick, white smoke. Immediately, the Light Keepers’ troops opened fire. A scream told them they had hit at least one Imperial and a hail of bullets told them they’d missed many more. Dozens of enemy soldiers swarmed into the room. Half of them dove into cover in the rows of chairs and began a hectic and confused fight, often hand to hand, with the defenders. The other half opened fire on the machine gunners and snipers in the balconies to cover their advancing comrades. The position was well set up though, and the Empire’s casualties began to mount. Then, three boys with bazookas entered the room. One fired at the machine guns and missed, tearing a hole in the stage. Another made contact and a machine gun fell silent. The last boy fired at a balcony and connected, the entire structure collapsed moments later. Immediately the defenders shifted their fire to the new threat, when the second bazooka gunner fell, the third made a hasty retreat. They had fulfilled their purpose and bought time for Victor and Han to enter the room to get the stalled Imperial attack underway again.
        Rose fired at Victor who took quick notice and fired back.
        “It’s over!” He yelled over the firing. “Give up and we’ll see to it you die quickly.” He said coldly.
        “Bugger off, Victor!” She yelled back on spur of the moment, agitated by that ache that always infected her mind when he was near.
        Moments later, when the fighting seemed to rage the hottest, Rose knew it was time.
        “Now, Allyson, now!” She cried out as Han and Victor inched dangerously close to her exposed position.
        Immediately, Republic reinforcements hidden deeper within the Opera House launched a surprise attack. The Imperials were hit from all sides and began to fall in droves as they were surrounded and cut off.
        “What do we do!?” Han asked Victor desperately.
        “Fire everything, dammit! Now!” Victor roared into his own radio.
        Moments later Rose held her head as an enormous shock wave rocked her. She heard people screaming in pain all around her. “What’s happening!?” She cried out in confused anguish.
        “It’s the Imperial Navy!” Jamie yelled looking out a hole in the wall from her balcony. “They’re blasting this place to pieces! We’ve gotta get out!” She exclaimed, her voice shaking with fear.
        It didn’t take long for everyone to follow her advice. The Imperial Navy caused so much chaos that the War Lords weren’t able to pursue them as they made their getaway. They regrouped outside the shattered Opera House.
        “Let’s get to the nearest transport. The retreat is nearly complete so we must leave the city now.” Allyson said.
Rose and Jamie nodded and followed her. The three made their way into a small marketplace just in front of the last block of buildings before the port.
        “Are we ready to go?” Allyson asked the captain in charge of the evacuation.
        “We still need a few more minutes.” She said pleadingly. “The wounded are being loaded now and some of the transports haven’t been fueled.” She explained.
        Allyson bit her lip and her face wore a worried expression.
        “Move as quickly as possible. We’ll hold them here as long as we can, understand?” The girl saluted and ran off.
        In the meantime they threw together a scratch defense team and waited for the Imperial soldiers to roll in. They didn’t have long to wait before they showed up with Victor and Han leading them. Rose and Jamie jumped out to face him in the clearing as bullets flew all around them and the fighting in the square intensified.
        “You thought you could escape me?” He hissed.
        Victor looked quite rattled, his uniform was marked by patches of gray dust as were his normally spotless black boots, his officer’s cap was nowhere to be found and a stream of blood flowed from his chin.
        “I don’t think, I know we can, Victor.” Rose spat.
        “Well, this time you’re mine!” He said as their swords crossed.
        Victor side swiped Rose and she fell to the ground rolling to avoid his slash and kicking his feet out. That bought her some time to recover as he blocked a slash from Jamie while he was still down. Rose moved to help her friend when they began taking fire from Han who ran out of ammunition and threw down his weapon joining Victor who rose to his feet. Victor swung wildly at Rose and his sword barely missed her head and slammed into a wall. Han attacked Jamie, Rose didn’t think he’d have much of a chance without a weapon but he was incredibly fast. He struck Jamie in the throat and she reeled back gasping for air. Rose had to focus on Victor and tried to run him through as he recovered from the miss but he dodged her attack just in time. Han landed a flying kick to Jamie’s chest and she went down. Victor pinned Rose against a wall before drawing back for a moment. The two boys closed in for the kill when Han went down clutching his leg. Rose assumed he was swearing in Japanese but couldn’t be sure. Victor backed off and began to drag Han to safety as Allyson continued to blast away at him.
        Rose helped Jamie get to her feet, still struggling to breathe, and got to cover with Allyson. The two sides fought for a few more minutes back and forth before an intense naval bombardment began to fall in the square.
        “We can’t take much more of this!” Allyson said, frustrated.
Rose looked at her frayed hair and her face half covered in soot, wondering how she herself must look.
        “We’re ready. Let’s go!” The captain yelled as she returned, just in the nick of time.
        Allyson nodded and the three girls exchanged a few more shots with the Imperial forces and began to fall back. They all ran onto the barge and departed as quickly as possible. As they left Rose saw two figures in black, one limping, the other holding a pair of binoculars, looking out from the pier they had just abandoned. Rose had a sick feeling in her stomach they told her they hadn’t gotten away yet.
         “Keep on course and we’ll take care of these cowards.” Kendo said.
His squad and several others were on high speed boats swiftly approaching a fleeing Republic convoy. They had direct orders from General Han and Supreme General Voktor to annihilate the enemy. So annihilate them they would. They took up this mission after they made sure the rest of the city had been cleaned out of enemy forces, odd job for infantry but they’d work with the Navy guys to get it done. Two of the Imperial boats attacked the enemy vessels from the east, starboard, they called it on ships. They were armed with their infantry of course, and a machine gun each. One enemy boat caught fire and sunk, the other five were driven towards Kendo’s ship which was the largest of the Imperial three. It had a canon mounted at its bow and when it roared, a plume of water rushed into the air. The Republic’s transports were caught in their crossfire now.
         Rose wanted to scream, in anger as well as fear. They just couldn’t be rid of their troubles in Australia. A shell slammed into the transport next to them and it exploded into a thousand pieces. That was two down. The Imperials meant business and the Republic was ill equipped to deal with them. If only they could get in range of their fleet they would be safe! But how?
        “Give me the wheel.” Jamie suddenly demanded.
        “Are you bleeding mad?” The boy piloting the boat demanded. “Can you even pilot this boat?” He asked.
        “Yes! Just get out of the way!” Jamie said angrily, totally out of character.
        The boy vacated his position and Jamie took his place. Immediately she threw the boat into a violent left turn and sped at full speed towards one of the lightly armed Imperial boats. Its gun turned on them and slugs hit the water and the boat itself all around them.
        “What are you doing?” Rose demanded in an exasperated cry, her voice trembling.
        Everyone screamed as it seemed as though Jamie had lost her mind and was going to ram the enemy boat. Jamie heard the blast behind her she had been waiting for and threw the boat into another violent turn, the shell from the larger Imperial ship slammed into its sister ship, annihilating it upon impact. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief for a brief moment.

        The enraged Imperials now focused all of their energy on the Light Keepers’ boat. But Jamie was prepared for this too, she drove toward the larger boat, swerving left to avoid a shell and then spun around and headed back towards the smaller boat as they closed in on her. Then Jamie hit the brakes and paused for a few moments as the enemy drew perilously close before gunning it full speed forward. The Imperials were so focused on them that they missed the danger. They were still heading at top speed towards one another and had no time to react. Everyone turned and watched in a mixture of horror and relief as the Imperials crashed into each other in a final disaster. Jamie let go of the wheel, her hands shaking terrifically and sunk to the floor of the boat.
        “W-well, that’s that I s-suppose.” She stammered in shock, Rose and Allyson smiled widely and excitedly hugged her before she had a chance to recover.
        “That was amazing!” Rose exclaimed.
        “Absolutely brilliant!” Allyson added.
        They were at last safe.

        Kendo moaned as he dragged himself onto shore. He was burnt in several places and was sure he had broken a rib or two. None the less he, was instantly dragged to his feet.
        “What the Hell happened!?” A cold voice demanded, searing into his mind.
        “I, I dunno.” He said, struggling to gain cohesion.
        He heard swearing and was dropped back to the ground. The voice spoke again and was joined by another this time.
        “Make sure the rest of the continent is secured, Han. I have other work to do. Try and see to it that your men are capable of fighting without becoming a menace to each other next time.”
        “Yes, my Lord.” The other voice said, packing the last two words with as much venom as possible.
        That was the last thing he heard as a pair of medics pulled him onto a stretcher and took him away from the battlefield.

                                                 Chapter 4

         Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, in Africa, the war hadn’t ceased despite the center of the action being elsewhere. Imperial forces under General Jack Tomor had absorbed most of West Africa and then pressed north toward Egypt, leaving the rest of the continent to the Republic. Over the last two years the situation in North Africa had changed a number of times. Presently, the Republic had begun to gain numerical superiority in terms of soldiers, tanks, guns, and planes on all fronts and it was taking its toll on the Empire. In the first year of the war, the Empire had pushed into the north all the way to eastern Libya but they had been pushed back into Tunisia before hitting back and reaching the Egyptian border. Now Victor had arrived and was organizing an attack on Cairo. If it fell, the Empire would cut off the Republic’s armies in Africa and threaten the Republic’s oil supply once again. It was up to Light Keepers Shannon Valter and James Nuvin to see to it that that didn’t happen.
         Victor was in a jeep at the head of the 10th Armored Corps in Egypt. It was a highly mobile unit to begin with, well suited for desert warfare. The addition of the Empire’s news APCs only increased its deadly efficiency. They were pushing towards the Nile River where they hoped to cross and ultimately capture Cairo. Suddenly resistance stiffened.
        “What’s happening?” He demanded over the roar of his tanks as a scout jeep drove up to his vehicle.
        “The Light Keepers appear to be directing the battle now, my Lord.”
        The scout was confused when the Supreme General seemed pleased by this fact. Then the War Lord scowled as the column was first pinned down and strafed by the Republic Air Core. APCs were tough but they couldn’t handle bullets from fighter planes. Tanks fired wildly into the air to try to deter the enemy planes in some way until at last Imperial planes came to fight them off. They watched as the dogfights developed. An Imperial plane fell from the sky and crashed into the desert several miles away. However, half a dozen Republic craft followed it to Earth and the fighters decided they had enough and left the column alone.
         Several miles later, artillery opened up on his tanks. Victor ordered them to halt and commanded his infantry to advance. It was a damn shame to send them in exposed like that, but he couldn’t afford to lose the armor. The infantry picked their way forward and the enemy artillery pounded away at them. They didn’t see the men who had swung around their right and began pouring fire into them from behind. Still, the guns were only silenced when the combined might of the infantry in front and behind overran the position. Following that exercise, tanks began to attack the column. Victor was beginning to become agitated. This was definitely James’s doing, these were his tactics. Still Victor had an ace up his sleeve.
        “General Tomor will take command of Division A and will stay here and continue the fight.” He ordered over the radio. “Division B will follow me. I have a way around them.”
        They followed an old map the War Lord had had for some time before coming out of a narrow pass behind the Republic's tanks. They never knew what hit them and soon were only burning wrecks under the hot desert sun. The army had pressed on to the Nile where the real Republic army waited to block their progress. An open fight was more Shannon’s style. James had simply run his clock out of time. Now Victor had to see if he could beat them and get across the river in one piece.
         Shannon looked out on the Imperial army forming up in front of them. Everything was out in the open. There’d be no surprises here.
        “Ready?” She asked James drawing her sword.
        “Ready.” He answered, mimicking her.
        An eerie quiet fell as the two forces seemed to stare one another down, a gentle but hot breeze blew across the desert. A loud drone filled the air as Imperial dive bombers swooped down on the Republic’s positions and dropped a deadly payload on them before pulling out of their dives and heading back toward the Empire’s territory. Seconds later, Imperial artillery opened up and was replaced by tank shells when the armor got in range of them. Infantry followed close behind in their APCs. Victor couldn’t make any clever maneuvers on this terrain so it seemed like his new plan was simply to blast them out of existence. The Imperials came too fast for the defenders to stop and soon they were among them. Chaos was king as tanks mixed and blasted at one another and infantry. Some soldiers hit the dirt, or rather the sand, and opened fire while other attacked their foes in one on one combat.
         James and Shannon soon found themselves face to face with Victor. He roared and leapt at James first. The blow knocked James off his feet but Shannon came to his rescue. Victor slashed up at her, followed by a quick slash from the left followed by another from the right. James attacked him from his left and he gave ground battling both of them. His sword locked with Shannon’s and as he pressed her back she fell to the ground. He gave her a violent stomp to the face before turning his attention back to James. Shannon moaned and struggled to rise as blood poured from her nose and mouth.
        “You evil, son of a bitch, Victor!” James hissed.
        Victor laughed and calmly fended off several wild swings from James. At last Victor dodged one right slash by moving left quickly and then he punched James squarely on the chin sending him back into the sand again as well. Seeing their leaders fall demoralized the enemy troops and they at last cracked and swarmed back across the river, the Light Keepers running with them. Victor calmly turned and went back to his jeep as his victorious troops went after them.
         Several days later, his men finally secured the opposite bank of the Nile. The Republic put up a good fight, better than Victor ever expected after the defeat he had dealt them. Mostly, they just had too damned many soldiers and weapons for him to destroy. It was at that point that Victor received an urgent telegram asking him to report back to Europe, his men were ready to carry out the next phase of the plan. It was excellent timing, his attack here was running out of steam anyway. The Republic didn't know that and would most likely divert resources here and waste them, exactly as he needed them to. Even more so, Jack was more than capable of holding things down here as he had for years. But this was a miniscule victory compared to what was about to come. The war was about to enter its darkest phase yet.

                                                 Chapter 5

         “The conditions are what you asked for, my Lord.” Captain Christopher reported. “We have finally stretched the Light Keepers to the limit, and the data our men were able to gather from your battles with them will be critical to our success. At this moment, Dart is in Siberia, Rose, Jamie are in India, Albert in England, Macy in St. Petersburg, Hank in China, and Shannon and James are in Africa. They are all incredibly isolated and everything is in place.” He concluded.
Victor’s eyes glowed maniacally. He seemed beside himself with excitement.
        “Excellent.” He hissed. “I’ll go to Petersburg. I want to oversee at least one operation myself. Order the ‘special units’ to proceed on their own with the rest of the mission.”
        Christopher saluted and began to issue the orders.

         Rose and Jamie had boarded a train in New Delhi and were on their way back to the Russian front. Rose simply stared out the window calmly. Jamie was as silent as ever as well. They had failed miserably to defend Australia and the rest of the war wasn’t going that well either for that matter. Rose’s train of thought, and indeed much more than that, was suddenly and violently interrupted that instant.
         A horrific explosion that sounded like the end of the world ripped through their car. Rose struggled to even lift herself onto all fours and crawl across the overturned car. She felt warm blood cover her face, her clothes were torn, and forget about her clothes, her very skin was gone in some places. She tried to scream but instead sputtered and heaved, vomiting. Her head throbbed and she felt like death would have been better than the pain. Trying to focus on the world around her, she heard other people screaming amd gunshots were going off. She looked over and saw Jamie, motionless, her eyes completely blank, her body twisted in the most terrifying pose Rose had ever seen. She vomited again and succeeded in screaming as loudly as she could. Several people came into the car, were they enemies here to put her out of her misery? No, it was her soldiers.
        “Are you alright?” One of them seemed to ask from miles away.
        Rose merely sobbed and collapsed into darkness, the image of her friend seared into her memory.

         Albert was in the control center of the Republic’s air defenses in England as usual. Everything had been quiet for a long time now, especially with the war taking on a greater shape in other places.
        “Anything odd?” He asked a boy working the radar.
        “No, sir.” He replied.
        Albert nodded and turned around when an air raid siren went off. Seconds later he heard the deafening roar that meant Imperial dive bombers were on the scene. Just seconds more after that and the command center was torn apart. He felt wood from the tables bite into his skin and collapsed bleeding and trying to bite back the pain. The command center fell into chaos as several survivors dug through the rubble towards him. He lost consciousness as they dragged him away towards the hospital.

        “The enemy is weakening. They can’t afford to advance much longer.” James said to Shannon, both of them were recovering in their Cairo headquarters.
        “You’re right. They’ve stretched themselves out so far that we can cut them off and destroy them in the desert.”
        “We should begin gathering…” James was cut off at that moment by at least a dozen rapid popping sounds.
        In an instant the HQ went from an orderly building to a rubble smashed by mortar rounds. Before they could even defend themselves, half a dozen grenades crashed through the windows and exploded.
        “Shannon! Are you alright?” James called out, struggling to stand and drawing his pistol.
      “My leg, dammit.” She hissed in pain. “I don’t think I can get up.”
        James flinched as he looked at her: her leg was bleeding badly, several pieces of shrapnel were sticking out of it, and she’d been cut down to the bone.
        Before they could do anything else, enemy soldiers stormed in. They could tell that these were no typical Imperial soldiers. They were dressed entirely in black, complete with SWAT style helmets that covered their faces. These men were assassins.
James saw several unarmed soldiers cut down immediately. An enemy trooper fell dead when someone found a weapon. A hail of gunfire flew in that direction and no one fired again. James fired and took down one soldier then dove to dodge them. He hit the ground and seconds later a bullet slammed into his back and went into his chest. He cried out in pain and dropped his weapon.
        “James!” Shannon screamed in horror, dragging herself over to him.
        She grabbed the pistol and emptied the clip at their attackers. Another of them fell but there were too many of them and she was out of ammunition within seconds. The assassins closed in and raised their weapons once more.
        “James, I’m so sorry. I love you!” Shannon said, desperately, cradling him in her arms.
        “I love…” He never finished his reply as the guns sounded once more.

          Sally Smithers was defending St. Petersburg from a ferocious Imperial attack. She fired her weapon at the oncoming Imperials but there were too many of them. Tanks and heavy infantry armed with flamethrowers tore into the frozen and half-starved defenders of the city. To make matters worse, Victor was personally leading the attack on the city. As they abandoned their initial defenses to the Empire, Sally spotted Macy running out toward them.
        “Come on!” The Light Keeper yelled. “We can’t let them take the city!”
        They turned and followed their leader, if for no other reason than to try to keep her from getting herself killed. Then Macy spotted Victor and drew her sword. Sally watched in horror as the battle between the War Lord and Light Keeper developed.
        “I should have slain you all ages ago!” Victor barked at her, delivering another mighty swing in Macy’s direction.
        “You can’t, Victor, and you know why not? Because you’re weak. Your evil carries its own punishment.” Macy retorted.
        Victor growled, his rage building with each additional moment that Macy did not yield to him. She fought well and began to beat him back, to his surprise. He rapidly counterattacked, but Macy landed a blow on his ribs and he hissed as blood flowed forth. Before he could recover, her fist connected with his jaw and he reeled backwards.
        “You pestering bitch!” He roared in fury, lifted his sword above his head, and delivered a single powerful blow.
        Macy barely held him off as their swords locked together, but Victor was much stronger. He bent her sword around in a complete loop and Macy cried out in pain as her wrists twisted with it. She dropped her weapon and less than an instant later, Victor had run her through.
        “Where have your goodness, and your light, and your love gotten you now, you worm?” He hissed at her, gazing into her eyes as the life drained from them.
        He twisted the blade before wrenching it from her chest and at last freeing her. Macy was dead before she hit the ground. The War Lord relished her murder. He could still smell the fear and he could taste her blood on his lips; he was covered in it. He laughed a wicked, terrible laugh as Sally and the other horrified soldiers who had been rallying began surrendering or fleeing instead.
        Deep within the city, someone had set up a final defensive ring. Sally waited anxiously for the Imperials to come pouring at them, for a minute, ten minutes, an hour, and the Imperials never came. They couldn’t have known Victor had already gotten what he came for.

         Erik sighed and put his pen down on his desk. He was going through another mountain of paperwork necessary to keep the Republic running for another day. But he’d been at it for hours now and it was time for his usual lunch break anyway. Erik walked out of his Kremlin office and said hello to several people as he walked through the halls. Eventually he reached the entrance and the guards saluted him. He returned the salute and they relaxed.
        He walked out into Red Square, immersed in his thoughts as he began searching for somewhere to eat. Then he passed by an unusual gray car. No one was in it as he walked by. A split second later he found himself crashing violently against the pavement as the vehicle exploded. Panic swept the square as those wounded like Erik screamed on the ground or fled in terror. Rescue forces and ordinary people who wanted to help caused further confusion. Erik struggled to his feet and limped several steps over to a nearby building. He propped himself up against it and was promptly bowled over again. Another bomb went off tearing through the rescue forces and those already wounded causing further panic.
        “My God! What is going on?” Erik stumbled to his feet once more.
        “Are you alright, sir?” A boy yelled over to him.
        “I’m fine, help someone else!” He ordered, struggling back towards the Kremlin, certain that something was seriously wrong.
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