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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Action/Adventure · #1983226
Will the Empire collapse? What are the War Lords? And can the Light Keepers defeat them?
                            BOOK FOUR: Beginning Of The End

                                                   Chapter 1
                                           Spring, Year Four

        Light Keepers Rose Calumberry and Dart Smalls, along with their advisor Erik Wexler, were giving the final orders for their first major offensive against the Empire. Rose was a pretty girl of medium stature, with purple hair and striking blue eyes, Dart by contrast was tall and fit with red hair and green eyes. This was the fourth year of the war they and their Republic had been fighting against the Empire and the War Lords who ruled it with an iron fist: Victor Voktor, and the mysterious figure known only as Supreme Leader. This was also the first time they would be the ones launching a major attack. Up to this point they had only been able to react to the Empire, which they had finally exhausted after suffering a string of serious losses.
        “Ready to begin freeing Europe?” Rose said nonchalantly.
        “Wow. This really is it isn’t it?” Dart said.
        “Good luck to both of you.” Erik told them. “I am making good progress with the clue as well.” He whispered. “But first thing is first. We must push the Empire back from the brink. Once you’ve freed Europe we’ll have a lot more breathing room. Be careful, as always. I’m afraid that is all the more I can say even if it isn’t much.”
        “Thank you.” Rose said, the two of them each shaking hands with him.
        “Yes, we couldn’t have made it even this far without you.” Dart said.
        Erik smiled and waved as they both departed for the front lines.

         Corporal Alexander Fedorovic was a Russian boy fighting for the Republic. He was a veteran of the first retreat across the country and had fought at Volgograd as well. He’d learned a lot since first joining the Republic. How to fight first of all, as well as English and a mess of other languages and pieces of languages needed to communicate in the multi-ethnic and multi-lingual Republic. He certainly knew how to retreat, how to be rained on, and bombed on, and how to stay still and hack it. But now he would learn how to attack for change.
        At dawn hundreds, maybe thousands, of guns opened up and simply obliterated the Imperial trenches a few hundred yards across from the army’s position. Three enormous waves of planes from the Republic Air Force came over and bombed for another fifteen minutes. When the order came to attack, the dozens of tanks and thousands of troops that surged forward weren’t needed. There wasn’t a shot fired from the Imperial troops. When they reached the trenches, they found merely carnage. The skeleton Imperial force that had been there had been blown away and the stunned survivors were badly wounded or had fled. Alex kept on moving with the rest of the combat forces. They had an important objective that had to be reached at all costs. Now that the Empire’s front line had been broken so easily, that job was much closer to being done.

         Sally Smithers struggled to hold her eyes open. She was taking cover in a building somewhere in St. Petersburg. She hadn’t eaten in days and she was on her last round of ammunition. Won’t be long now, she thought to herself weakly. The Empire had hammered them for nearly three years and they were out of strength. But things had been quiet for days now, which was very unusual. The Imperials didn’t like to give them a break. Then as her head dipped again it jerked up again almost immediately. What was that sound in the distance? Tanks. Definitely tanks. This was the end, the Empire had been holding off to build up and deliver the final blow. They’d never be able to hold them off. Sally made sure the last of her ammo was loaded and aimed out the window. She might die but she was taking some of them with her. Then the tanks rounded the corner and came onto her street, infantry in their wake. Her finger tightened on the trigger of her rifle but she removed it instantly.
        “Hold your fire!” She heard another fighter yell from across the street.
        “They’re ours!” Several voices called out in excitement.
        Adrenaline surged through Sally. She stumbled out into the street along with dozens of her beleaguered comrades. They ran up to their rescuers and embraced them. Sally shook hands with a boy who spoke with a Russian accent.
        “What’s your name?” She asked him, after thanking him.
        “Alexander.” He replied. “And yours?”
        “Sally. It’s great to meet you Alex, believe me!” She said.
        “Here. Take this.” He said handing her some of his rations and giving her a concerned look.
        Sally looked down at herself, her uniform was tattered, she was covered in dust and dirt, and her ribs were clearly visible. She had to be malnourished. Tears filled her eyes.
        “Thank you.” She said softly.
        “Don’t worry about it.” Alex said. “We’ve got to get moving though. We’re making sure everyone knows they’ve been relieved and that all the Imperials are gone. So far they haven’t put up much of a fight, they beat it when we showed up. They must have thought they might be surrounded for once.”
        “Good luck, and thank you for everything. Hopefully we’ll meet up again some other time.” She said.
        “Hopefully so. So long!” Alex said with a nod, and with that they moved on.
        Free, Sally thought as she began to eat. They’d survived the siege and the Empire was falling back.

         Rose rode in front of a column of soldiers advancing through Romania. They were finally out of Russia. In the north, Dart was pressing the Empire out of the Scandinavian nations which would take a lot of pressure off of England. She was clearing out the Balkans, a group of nations in southeast Europe. Then they would link up for the main push into Central and Western Europe. Suddenly shooting broke out up ahead. It was coming from a small town.
        “Unit A will remain here with me and engage.” Rose ordered over the radio. “Units B and C will encircle the village and cut the enemy off.”
        Rose’s soldiers fanned out and began exchanging fire with the Imperials. They were more cautious than usual, no one wanted to die while they were winning the war. And no one did. Fifteen minutes later a message came back over the radio.
        “Madam Light Keeper, encircling maneuver complete, the enemy is trapped inside the village.”
        At the same time the shooting stopped and a boy with a white flag emerged.
         “Lay down your weapons and have your men come out with their hands up!” Rose yelled.
        The boy nodded and slowly, two dozen Imperials emerged from the village and were taken prisoner by her soldiers.
        “Who is your commander?” Rose demanded when she caught up to them. One boy looked around.
        “I am.” He hissed when no one else stood up.
        “And you are?” She asked.
        “Major Frederick Heikel.”
        “Come with me.” Rose ordered.
        The boy reluctantly allowed himself to be separated from his troops and came aside with her.
        “What were your orders here?” She asked him, unsure of how to conduct this interrogation business. She didn’t really feel cut out for it and they hadn’t done too much of the prisoner taking up to this point for her to get any experience.
        “To hold you as long as possible. Lady, I don’t know what you want from me. But I have nothing to tell you. I’m fighting to protect Germany and the Empire from you people. I don’t know what he has planned, but if you think it will be this easy to beat the Supreme General all the way across Europe and into the Americas, you’re a fool.”
        Rose was taken aback by this. Realizing she wasn’t getting anything else out of him, if he knew anything, she sent him along. He was right though, damn him. It had been too easy so far. How long would that last? Rose didn’t know but she prayed she and Dart would be ready when the time came.

                                                     Chapter 2

         Rose and Dart walked together as they went to meet Erik at an old castle in England. He’d urgently called them there because he wanted them to be there when the Cupitor was activated. Their armies were still pressing west in Europe and were nearing the linkup in Poland still without a peep from the War Lords. The couple found their way into the structure past a few guards. Dart helped Rose up a space where several stairs were missing inside the building.
         When they reached the top floor they found Erik in a room illuminated with light. He had placed Jamie’s pearl sword into the Cupitor. The device itself was a stone structure resembling a well. When the sword was placed in, it filled with a bright, glowing substance and the sword spun inside it. Then it landed pointing in a certain direction and a girl’s face appeared with the name, “Terra Baither.”
        “She’s the first new Light Keeper!” Erik said excitedly.
      The light faded and the sword gently landed on the bottom of the basin. Erik removed it and placed Hank’s onyx embedded sword into the Cupitor. It wobbled hesitantly for a moment and pointed still another direction and another girl appeared along with the name “Angela Reich.” 
        "Excellent!” Erik said excitedly. “I’ll get to work on finding them. You two should get back to your armies. I hear things are going well for a change?”
        They both nodded. Neither had the heart to tell him their fears of Victor’s inactivity. But they had new hope now, and that was far more than they could have said a few short months ago.

         Capt. Sally Smithers, she had been promoted since her liberation from St. Petersburg, stood on a tank that rolled through eastern Germany. They had feared all Hell would break loose soon and it had. Victor’s men had torched western Poland, making it a wasteland. There were no people or resources for miles in any direction. The Republic’s advance was stalling and when any unit halted it was savagely attacked by Imperial ground and air units. Their forces had been crippled by the fight in Poland and now were facing even tougher resistance as they approached Berlin. Things had deteriorated elsewhere in Europe too. When the Republic’s armies entered Imperial loyal Serbia, they encountered little resistance, afterward…well Serbia was now occupied by a large number of Republic forces. They knew things would only get worse as they approached Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, and other pro-Imperial nations.
         Her train of thought was shattered as her tanks entered the town troops ahead of them had recently cleared out, as a landmine went off. The tank that hit it caught fire and the troops inside rapidly bailed out, one boy had to be dragged out, he was too badly wounded to walk. No doubt the trap had been set by an Imperial diehard but they couldn’t prove it and were not allowed to take any action without solid proof. The people in the east and south had cheered them when they came into villages, towns, and cities there. These people just stared at them like they were a disease. Ignoring the looks they rolled on closer to Berlin. The Supreme HQ of the Empire in Europe.

                                    Chapter 3

         Across the globe, Kendo Takagawa had been reassigned from Australia to China. Nothing good was happening to the Empire in the Far East either. Their forces had been pinned against the coastline, Kendo himself was in Beijing. The city was in total chaos. Many Imperials were evacuating to Japan and taking everything the Republic might want with them. Others, including General Han, were throwing together a desperate defense of the city. Kendo and his squad were one such unit as well.
         They struggled down a crowded street in an almost hopeless effort to make it to their positions on the outskirts of the city.
        “Move you dogs!” He shouted at people all around him.
        “Go to Hell!” Someone yelled back.
        Soon they were using their rifle butts to push people aside and go forward by force. When they got onto a side street and away from the panic they passed a provincial Imperial HQ.
        “Wait here.” Kendo ordered.
         He went inside and found orderlies scrambling about tossing files into barrels filled with burning gasoline. Papers seemed to fall like snow in the room and several boys were on all fours trying to recover them and dispose of them.
        “Excuse me.” Kendo said firmly as he grabbed onto another boy’s arm to keep him from flying by.
        “Can you tell me the way to the city’s outer defenses? I have to get my men there immediately.”
        The boy looked at him like he was insane.
        “Can I tell you? No. But here, take this map.” He said pulling it from the mess of papers in his arms. “It should get you there and it won’t be our problem anymore.”
        Kendo took the map and left the madhouse.
        “Alright, follow me.” He ordered.
        Eventually they did make it to their position and miraculously they did it in time. Now came the waiting.

         Supreme General Victor Voktor hunched over slightly and stared out at the world through his cold, grey eyes and the frames of his steel rimmed glasses. He was second only to the Supreme Leader in an Empire that stretched over four continents and contested the other three. But news hadn’t been so good lately. Their armies in Asia had been halted or thrown back, the troops in Africa were falling back towards the coast, and the armies in Europe were on the edge of collapse. His aide Capt. Christopher Cartwright came up to him and handed him a report. They were holed up in the tower that was Imperial Supreme HQ in Europe. He read the report in satisfaction, the Republic thought it could surround Berlin with two large attacks north and south of the city. So they thought it would be that simple eh? Well, they’d see about that.

         Private Pablo Esrovilio was an Imperial soldier north of Berlin. He was from Madrid, Spain and was fiercely loyal to the Empire. His unit had been repositioned here for a specific reason. He kept as quiet as possible and watched the unsuspecting enemy supply column roll by. Then he heard the trees rustle slightly behind him and he whirled around. It turned out to be his squad leader, a boy from Austria named Hanz Obelbacher.
        “Get ready to attack on my order. The command just came in.” Hanz growled.
        Pablo nodded and hefted his submachine gun, turning his attention back onto the enemy. About five minutes later, a whistle blew. Several grenades were tossed into the Republic’s line and a machine gun rapidly disabled the first vehicle it could, blocking the rest in. Pablo opened fire on the exposed guards and then began to advance as they took cover. The rest of the squad was already moving forward with him. Pablo quickly rounded a truck and unloaded his clip into a boy looking the wrong way. He heard a gun being cocked behind him and desperately tried to whirl around but he was too late. He heard the shot, but felt nothing. Pablo completed his turn and saw the girl fall as Hanz lowered his weapon.
        “Watch what the Hell you’re doing.” He barked at Pablo before moving on.
        The shooting died away and they quickly realized they were in control of the entire column.
        “Well what was so important about this column?” One boy asked.
        Who cares?” Hanz said. “Orders come down, we obey ‘em, that’s how it works.”
         Half an hour later, several boys came driving along in a jeep. The unit snapped to attention as Victor Voktor got out of the jeep.
        “As you were.” He said. “I just came down here to congratulate you.”
        “For uhh, what, sir?” Hanz asked nervously.
        “Taking this convoy cut off the supplies to the Republic’s armies trying to encircle Berlin. Without them, they ran out of fuel, medicine, and ammunition. We took thousands of prisoners. Now if the Republic wants Berlin they can come straight at us, rather than trying these cowardly tactics. Again, good work. You can report back to Berlin now, another unit will take possession of the captured supplies.” Victor saluted them and they rapidly returned the salute and began following his jeep back to Berlin.

         Dart ran through the streets of Berlin trying to get closer to the menacing tower in the center of the city. The Empire’s HQ in Europe. But advancing was tough, Imperial soldiers and civilians fought side by side against the Republic. At the same time, Imperial planes and armor continued to support their infantry. Although outnumbered, the Empire had the advantage of defending a narrow front where numbers didn’t matter. A dozen Imperial soldiers in various positions opened fire the minute the unit Dart was with rounded a corner. His troops fanned out and returned fire, several of them fell while taking cover. Within minutes several Imperials had been silenced as well. But the advance was stuck. Dart ran across the street again and took cover next to the boy there.
        “What’s your name?” Dart yelled over the fire.
        “Alexander!” The boy yelled back in a Russian accent.
        “Do you have a radio?” Dart roared.
        “No! But Fyodor does!” He answered. “Cover me.”
        Dart nodded, popped up above the car they were behind and fired at an enemy machine gun that seemed to be causing most of the trouble. It swiveled on him and Alexander ran off and returned with Fyodor and the radio a few minutes later. Dart got on it and begged for someone to send in armor to get the assault moving again. Ten minutes later the tank spluttered around the corner and sent a round into the window housing the machine gun. After that, the rest of the Imperials decided that they’d had enough. But they’d caused this unit serious casualties and cost it valuable time. If this was going to happen everywhere in the city, they were in trouble.

         Several weeks after the assault began, Rose stood in the Republic’s command center outside Berlin. Everything was ready now. She looked outside her tent at the massive piles of dirt out there, thank God the Empire was too focused on the battle to see them. Dart was leading the ground forces there so she was to command this operation. She turned around and looked at the group assembled before her.
      “Pilots, your mission is to assist our ground forces in destroying the War Lords’ tower in the center of the city. Everything depends on eliminating that command center or we’ll be beaten. We have found a weakness in the tower but you must keep their attention on the sky. Do you understand?”
        They all nodded.
        “Then good luck pilots. Let‘s move people!” She ordered, and they filed out to man their planes.

         Victor looked out on Berlin as the city was slowly destroyed by the advancing forces of the Republic. He was making them pay heavily for each street they took. Now it looked like they were making a final, desperate push, and they were throwing everything right at him. A massive infantry wave, armor, artillery support and a large contingent of planes were all concentrated against him. He watched coldly as the sky was blackened by flak sent up from the dozens of anti-aircraft guns that ringed the tower. An enemy plane fell leaving a stream of black smoke behind it. It crashed into a building and more smoke billowed into the air. Then another plane flew right into a flak burst and simply disintegrated. He looked down at the street fight, but only briefly, it wasn‘t nearly as threatening as the attacking aircraft.
        “Are you positive we can hold those planes off?” Victor demanded.
        “Don’t worry.” Christopher replied. “Nothing can break through our defenses.”
        Victor looked out again, and his face contorted into a worried grimace. Nothing was sure with these people.

         Sally wiped sweat from her brow as she packed another crate against the wall. It was dark and hot and crowded where she was working. But it was a job that had to be done, and they were very, very close to finishing it. She took another crate and stacked it again, over and over. At last they stopped coming.
        “Ok! Everybody out!” She yelled.
        They lined up single file and groped their way forward as quickly as they could until at last they were back in the light, outside the city again. Sally was covered in soot, but so was everyone else and none of them cared. She ran over to Rose and saluted her.
        “It’s ready!” She said excitedly.
        “You can have the honors. Trust me, you deserve it.” Rose said, pointing to the red handle on the box.
        Sally nodded, made sure everyone had taken cover and slammed the handle down.

         “What the Devil was that?” Victor said, rounding about, his left eye twitching violently as a violent tremor shook the tower.
      “There’s a problem with the main support beam!” Christopher shouted, his voice shaking with fear.
        Just then the tower began to collapse. The Imperial officers shouted in terror and surprise as it collapsed with them in it. Only a miracle kept them alive as the tower collapsed. Their segment of the building broke off and remained intact, crashing into the city in one piece. The debris from the tower killed many Imperial soldiers, destroyed many buildings, and tore a massive hole in their defenses. Victor pulled himself up on what had been a desk moments before.
        “Damn them!” He hissed.
        They’d pulled out the rug from under him, literally. Now there was no saving the city. He heard Christopher curse several feet away as he limped over to his commander.
        “What now, my Lord?” He asked, blood flowing from his leg.
        “Get that looked at you fool. And tell everyone to get out now. We’re finished here.” His aide saluted and limped away to distribute the order and get treatment. Victor was furious as he and the other survivors dug out anyone they could save and retreated again.

                                                 Chapter 4

         After their critical victory in the Battle of Berlin, the Republic swept on and the Empire’s position worsened even further. The Empire final holds in the Balkans, Scandinavia, and central and southern Europe collapsed. Victor’s forces abandoned Germany and were even being pushed out of the Low Countries into France as well. And that wasn’t all, the Republic had still another blow to land against the Empire. They had the momentum now, and weren’t about to give it up.

         Rose and their newest Light Keeper, Terra Baither, were leading their forces toward Paris, France. They still hadn’t found the other girl, Erik seemed to be having some trouble locating her. But for now, Terra would be in the fight. As they approached Paris, Rose was worried. The Empire seemed determined to destroy the city if the Republic didn’t halt its advance. They had a plan to stop Victor, but everything had to go exactly right for it to work.
        “You alright?” Rose asked Terra.
        “No problems with me.” She said in her English accent. Her blonde hair waved in the wind and her round, blue eyes looked out at the world thoughtfully. She had been born in London and had actually already been fighting for the Republic when they had discovered she was a Light Keeper.
        “Good.” Rose said. “As long as everything goes right, we’ll save Paris and millions of lives.” She went on.
        Terra nodded again. With that, they continued their advance toward the city.

         Pablo nervously looked over the barricade out past the city limits of Paris. Their orders were to hold the Republic at any cost. There was nothing official, but rumors swirled all around the city. The Supreme General had ordered in a group of special forces and engineers and they were rigging the entire city with as many explosives as possible to cause the greatest damage to its monuments, the General had a nuclear bomb and would detonate it as soon as the Republic reached the city center, all manner of strange things. But he couldn’t worry about that. The enemy was in sight now.
        “Here they come!” Someone yelled, unnecessarily.
        Pablo opened fire on the infantry. They began falling as he and the others poured lead into them. That was, until the enemy tanks opened fire. Their makeshift barricade was destroyed in seconds. Then bullets rained down from the sky. No Imperial planes went up to meet them and no tanks came up to help them. Those days were gone. So they retreated. They fell back into the city to a new position. Soon the planes left and the tanks halted. The infantry occupied a few buildings and stopped their advance too. Pablo laughed. Voktor was right, this city was worth a lot to them. More than finishing off the Empire in Europe? He didn’t know, but right now it looked that way.
         Dart sped along a highway in France. The troops he was leading had to get to their destination before the Empire realized the danger it was in and took out its rage on Paris. As he sped along his radio sounded and asked him to pull off to the side of the road. Minutes later a jeep pulled up and a girl got out and walked over to him. She walked confidently, her hair was light brown, and her eyes were the same color but very dark in contrast with her hair.
        “Angela Reich.” She said with a barely noticeable German accent, extending her hand to him. “Sorry for the delay in finding me. But Erik has straightened everything out and I’m ready to get to work.”
        “Don’t worry about it, not your fault at all. Hop in and I’ll explain on the way.” Angela got in the jeep and they sped off again.

         Pablo peered out the window again. The Republic was too quiet. Something was very, very wrong here. Sure enough another boy barged into the building his unit was occupying.
        “The Republic has landed troops in the north from across the English Channel! They are moving down behind the city now and if we don’t get out we’re trapped!” He yelled.
        Pablo swore along with almost everyone else. They poured out of the building and began running back deeper into the city. Behind them, the Republic sprang into action. Realizing the Imperials were trying to escape, they surged forward and attempted to keep on their heels as closely as possible. Chaos and panic had rapidly set in, if anyone had been trying to destroy the city they had dropped what they were doing and were trying to get out. They pounded past the Eiffel Tower and continued on. As Pablo’s unit ran down one street they began taking fire from the windows.
        “Sonofabitch!” Someone yelled.
        “How did the Republic get here so fast?” Someone else demanded angrily.
        “It’s not the Republic!” Hanz roared throwing a grenade. “It’s civilians! They’re trying to stop us! We’ve got to go around.”
        They abandoned the street and their several dead and tried another route. They made good progress until the same thing happened again.
      “Dammit. We’re not gonna make it at this rate.” Hanz growled.
      Again, they went around and were nearing the end of the city when they were fired on still a third time. But this time an enormous boom accompanied the bullets. When the Imperials had recovered they saw an enemy tank and dozens of Republic troops approaching them.
        “For the Empire!” Hanz yelled as he tossed a grenade and emptied his submachine gun as quickly as it would fire.
        The tank kept rolling but a hole was torn in the ranks of the enemy infantry. An instant later several bullets struck the sergeant and he collapsed, dead. The rest of the troops lost heart after that. Slowly the shooting died off. Pablo threw down his rifle, put his hands in the air, and girl ran up to him.
        “Get moving.” She commanded, motioning with her rifle.
        “Si, si.” Pablo said, sighing as he marched off into captivity.

         Rose and Terra pushed their way through a massive crowd in front of the Eiffel Tower towards Dart and Angela. The celebration of the Empire’s collapse in France was enormous. It seemed like the entire city had been jolted back to life.
        "We did it! France is free!” Terra yelled.
        “Yes!” Dart and Rose said at the same time, laughing a moment later. They looked up at the Eiffel Tower and saw a crowd of people in the lookout area. Seconds later the crowd roared in excitement as the Imperial eagle that had stood watch over the city was pushed over and shattered into a million pieces on the ground. Its partner atop the Arc d’ Triumph was detonated complete with fireworks. Across the square they smelt smoke and when they turned around they found people tossing hundreds, no thousands of papers into a bonfire.
        “What are they doing?” Angela yelled over the crowd.
        “Those are Imperial proclamations!” One of their soldiers answered.  “What the people of the city weren’t allowed to do under the Empire. Apparently they’re unhappy with those rules.” She said grinning before moving on.
        A commotion developed in the center of the square as people booed and hissed. They looked and saw their soldiers marching a column of captured Imperials away. Some of them merely stared at the ground while others looked on in fear, believing the crowd might try to tear them to pieces at any moment. And they might have had the escort around them not been so alert about keeping their prisoners alive. But when the blackcoats were gone the celebration resumed and continued well on into the night.
         “What should we do now?” Rose asked.
        “Well I think we’ve earned a break for at least the evening.” Dart said.
        “I hear the Louvre is open again!” Terra said excitedly.
        “That sounds fun.” Angela said, nodding.
        They went off toward the museum waving farewell to their comrades.
        “And what about us?” Dart asked.
        “They’re lighting up the city again for the first time in years! Wouldn’t it be beautiful to see?” Rose said, her eyes glowing.
        “Sure.” Dart said smiling. “Let’s go up into the Tower.” Several minutes later they were looking out on a fully lit Paris.
        “Oh wow.” Rose said breathlessly.
        “Yeah.” Dart agreed in the same tone.
        A moment later their eyes met, they leaned toward one another and kissed. The moment endured for a precious instant but they jumped apart when a car bomb tore through the square below them. Then a siren went off announcing the imminent arrival of Imperial bombers. Victor, was very, very angry tonight. The moment shattered, they ran down to clean up after him, as always.

                        Chapter 5

         Alvin trudged along somewhere in eastern Spain. All that remained of the Empire’s once mighty forces in Europe was doing one of two things right now. Either getting off the continent and heading back to America to build up the defenses against a probable Republic invasion, or heading to Madrid to continue delaying the enemy advance as long as possible. Alvin was currently doing the former. He, his gunner, and driver were all walking now. Their tanks had long since been destroyed by the Republic, whether by their overwhelming air power or by their own tank forces it didn’t matter. As his column moved along they heard engines above in the sky.
        “Get down!” Someone screamed in terror.
        A pair of Republic fighters swooped down and opened fire on them. That happened far too often these days too. When the strafing inevitably ended, those who could picked themselves back up. The wounded were loaded into carts and dragged along, the dead were simply dragged to the side of the road and left behind. Hours later, they stopped to set up camp for the night. A group of soldiers gathered around a radio someone had gotten a signal for. As Alvin came up to them and listened in he heard a very familiar voice.
        “…and we shall have our revenge! You have my most solemn vow.” Victor Voktor raged. “The atrocities committed by this foul Republic,” he spat the word out, “will be brought to justice. Know this. No matter where you go, where you hide, or what you do the Empire will always be able to reach you, and you will never defeat us! The continued bombings in Paris and around the continent are a testament to this. Europe wants its safety and protection back. The Republic offers freedom,” he scoffed, “lies! The Republic offers anarchy! Fight on followers of the Empire, your struggle is not in vain.”
        Static resumed and the radio was switched off. Alvin didn’t know about anyone else, but it sure as Hell made him want to keep fighting.

         Victor stood in the Empire’s new headquarters in the Palace of Congressional Deputies, the seat of the former Spanish government in Madrid. He felt weak and tired for the first time in a long, long time. The Empire was collapsing around him and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Soldiers ran throughout the building and desperately tried to burn or otherwise destroy all their files. An action being imitated all around the world, except the Americas. That was the reason the fight still had to go on. They still had America and most of the West, that was all they needed and it had to be protected.
        “Christopher, how close are they now?” He inquired.
        “Less than twenty miles, my Lord.” His longtime aide replied.
        “Still one chance to stop them." Victor said with a sigh. "This attack must be repulsed though. We’ve got to hold them up for just a little while. Make sure everyone knows the Light Keepers must be stopped here. Is that clear, Captain?”
        “Of course, sir.” Christopher saluted and got to work.
        Victor stared out the window, leaning on the desk and praying no one else noticed how weak he was. This had to work, or it was game over for Europe and maybe everything they’d done over the last four years. He wouldn’t let that happen, no matter what.

        “Ok, here is the plan.” Dart began as he and the other Light Keepers stood over a map of Madrid. “We are going to try this envelopment strategy one more time. Rose, you and Angela will lead the northern pincer. Terra and I will lead the southern attack. Hopefully, Victor will just retreat again and not make us dig them out. Any questions?”
        Everyone remained silent.
        “Then I guess that’s it. I’ll see you on the other side.”
        They filed out but Rose took him aside privately for a fleeting moment. “Be safe.” She whispered as she slipped away.
        “You too.” He called after her.
        He sighed, they’d barely had time to discuss anything between them because of the war. All the more reason to be done with it, he thought as he marched out of the tent towards the battle.

         Rose and Angela stood on a tank as they swung around Madrid in their bid to cut off the city. But Victor had decided they wouldn’t be allowed to do that without a fight. He had even committed some of his precious few remaining tanks to the fight. One of them landed a direct hit on the tank next to Rose and it burst into flames. Machine gun and small arms fire began to rip into their infantry as well. Artillery fire fell at random from both sides. But it was the Republic that was gaining the upper hand. Rose soon leapt over the makeshift defensive position the Empire had set up and began exchanging fire with Imperial troops. Eventually she found Angela in the chaos.
        “Find a radio, see how Dart and Terra are doing!” Rose yelled.
        Angela nodded and returned a few minutes later with the radio. They found the frequency and called in, but for some reason the signal was nearly jammed.
        “Dart! Terra! What’s happening up there?”
        They waited for a reply and heard Dart’s voice but it was terribly garbled.
        “We’re…oving…along. How…you?”
        “We’re getting hit pretty hard down here. Hopefully we can break through to you. Did you get that?” Rose replied.
        They waited anxiously again and again, the same garbled voice came through.
        “Yeah…ing…now. We’ll..ry…elp.” Was all that got before the signal totally died off.
        “Do you think they got the message?” Rose said.
        “They must ‘ave.” Angela said, tossing her hair. “We have to keep after the Imperials, they are falling back!”
        Rose nodded. They rejoined the fight and continued to make good progress. Then everything went wrong. Suddenly the Imperial forces doubled and began to attack them from three sides. The Republic’s armor was annihilated and the infantry fell back in terror.
        “Angela! Where are you?” Rose yelled.
        She spotted her on the ground clutching her bleeding knee across the field. Rose ran over to her and helped her to her feet.
        “Can you walk if I help you?” Rose asked.
        She winced in pain but nodded. They hobbled along as quickly as they could but there was no need to hurry. The Empire had halted its attack, the envelopment was over.

         At Republic HQ outside the city, the Light Keepers reconvened.
        “What the Heck happened?” Dart asked, puzzled. “Why did you call for help if you were fine?”
        “We didn’t. That’s what you heard on the radio. And that allowed Victor to free up troops from your end to beat us. Our communications system was clearly tampered with, and that could only have been done by someone high up in our own ranks.” Rose finished.
        “But who could have done such a thing?” Terra said, fear dripping from her voice.
        “We’ll find out. They can’t hide their treason.” Angela said angrily.
        “Well for now, there’s not much we can do. Let’s turn in for the night and see if we can’t come up with a new plan to take the city.” Dart suggested.
With that, they left to ponder this frustrating turn of events on their own.

         Rose found herself in a dream that night, everything felt painful and burned with a hateful fire. Even movement seemed to cause her terrible agony. She heard a cold voice and saw only hazily a figure in the distance.
        "Is it done?" The voice hissed.
        “Yes, my Lord.” .A second, higher-pitched voice replied as a new figure appeared.
        “Excellent.” The first voice hissed again and laughed savagely.
        Her body felt like it was on fire and she woke up, drenched in sweat and panting heavily. She caught her breath, got out of bed, and left her room. She was nearing the nearest fountain in the building to get a drink when she found Dart.
        “What’s up?” He asked her.
        “I just had the strangest dream.” She said. “To tell you the truth, I’ve been having them for a while now. They’re all about…them, and I can never make sense of them.”
        “That’s…not good.” Dart said, concern obviously detectable in his voice.
        “Yeah, and this one was stranger than usual, it was painful and I felt like something bad was…” Her sentence was cut off by an explosion that ripped through the building.
        Alarms blared and guards struggled to wake up and grab their weapons. But the enemy commandoes were already in the building. Lead began to fly through the air as they targeted anything that moved. Dart and Rose hit the floor immediately. Rose watched in horror as the soldiers specifically targeted their rooms.
        “Dammit! They’re not here!” One of them yelled.
        “Let’s get the Hell out of here then. More of them are coming!” Another answered.
        The first commando swore again. More guards were coming and soon the firing died off. When everything was secure, the Light Keepers met back up. Not a single commando had been killed or captured, they had no leads.
        “Our guards were definitely pulled off duty.” Rose said. “Those people knew exactly where we were sleeping for goodness sake!”
        “But ve interviewed ze guards.” Angela said. “Ze order was anonymous, they simply obeyed because it was sent out labeled as from us.”
        “Well this proves there is a traitor in our midst, and high up in our ranks too. Let’s keep our eyes peeled. Victor certainly isn’t done yet. We can’t let him kill us and destroy everything we’ve fought to preserve.” Dart said.
        Everyone nodded and separated, but one thing was for sure. No one went back to sleep.

         Victor’s left eye throbbed as he stared at the commandos before him.
“What the Hell happened?” He demanded.
        “Sir, we did everything as you instructed. The Light Keepers were not in their rooms!” The lead commando answered.
        Victor knew him well, the boy had been involved in many of these new black ops attacks.
        “Well, how in the world did that happen? I had an inside source! My intelligence reports are solid.” He hissed.
        “Something had to have warned them, my Lord. That is the only way.”
        “Get out of here.” Victor growled. “I want you all on the next ship to the Americas. And I’ll be right behind you. Europe is finished now.” They all saluted him and filed out.
        “Captain.” He said turning to Christopher. “Order our forces out of Madrid. We can’t hold the Republic here any longer. Anyone who is left should withdraw into Portugal and lock down Lisbon. That city is the only way out of this death trap now. It must be protected until the rest of our forces are withdrawn.”
        Christopher saluted and followed the commandoes out. Victor sighed and looked out through the window at the night sky.

         Alvin and his unit marched through Lisbon, the last piece of Europe under Imperial control. Here, unlike everywhere else Alvin had been, there was no chaos. On the contrary, everything had an eerie calm to it. All sensitive documents had been quietly disposed of and virtually all personnel and equipment had been evacuated, there was no scrambling to get any of that done. The civilian population had vanished or hid indoors, making the city a ghost town. Aside from getting the last units out, only a single, grim task remained. As they moved toward the extraction site for their forces, a Colonel rounded the corner and seeing them pointed at Alvin, William, Matthew, and several other boys.
        “Come with me.” He ordered.
        “What do you need, sir?” Alvin asked as they followed him to the city’s main plaza where several groups of people stood huddled together.
        “You are some of the only Imperial soldiers left in Europe, we are utilizing everyone we can, you must understand. You are now a temporary black ops unit.”
        “I’m afraid I don’t follow.” Alvin said.
        “Those people are resistance fighters. We have no further use for them, no way to get them out of here, and we can’t let the enemy have them. They know too much. Your unit will help carry out their sentences immediately.” He replied coldly.
        “What?” Several boys said at once, not so sure they wanted to be a part of this..
        “Who does this come from?” Alvin demanded.
        “Me.” An ice, cold voice said from behind them.
        Everyone’s eyes widened, they whirled around and snapped to attention. Victor and his aide walked toward them.
      “This is the final service I ask of you in Europe. Once this is done, the last transports leave, with us on them. Any objections?” He inquired.
        No one spoke.
        “Good. Get to it.” He ordered.
        A line of rebels formed in the square.
        “Ready.” Victor said.
        “Aim.” He droned on unfeelingly.
        “Fire.” The shots rang out and they fell.
        Then another line formed and the process repeated, over and over and over again until the prisoners stopped coming.
        “What now, my Lord?” Christopher asked.
        “The remains are already neatly organized thanks to our system. Order the men to torch them. That will be sufficient.” The War Lord replied.
        “Yes, my Lord.” Christopher answered.
        Smoke and the stench of death filled the sky and the city as the Empire at last abandoned Europe.

         “What’s going on here?” Dart asked.
        The Light Keepers had just entered Lisbon and the people were only now beginning to stumble out of their hiding places. They all looked like they were in a trance, as though they had woken up from a dream. The third time he asked, he found a girl whose face was covered in soot. Two clear streaks were visible through the grime were tears had fallen.
        “In the square. What they did…I can’t say. I’ll never forget it.” She said before shuffling along.
        Smoke billowed up deeper in the city.
        “We better get over there now.” Rose said.          
        As they neared the area in question they were nearly overpowered by a horrendous smell.
        “My God, vat is that?” Angela said, burying her nose in her sleeve.
        “I have no idea.” Rose said, imitating her. “But we’ll know soon enough.”
        Finally they reached the square and stopped dead in their tracks. An enormous pile of human bodies, row after row burned at the opposite end of the plaza. Terra screamed and fainted. Rose turned away and vomited. Angela merely stared, horrified. Dart tore his eyes from the gruesome scene and found the nearest witness: a boy sitting against a wall.
        “What the Hell happened here?” He demanded.
        “Everyone the Empire caught that had fought them behind the lines, they just lined them up and killed them.” He said, his voice shell-shocked.
        “Who is responsible?” Dart said quietly, pulling the boy to his feet and looking into his eyes. “Who gave the order?” He asked in a calm but commanding voice; he already knew the answer, he had to ask anyway.
        “An officer, very high up. He wore four stars, I’ve never seen an Imperial with that many before. And those cold, grey eyes, he was the cruelest person I’d ever seen.”
        “Victor Voktor.” Dart said breathlessly.
        He walked back across the plaza to the other Light Keepers, Terra was just coming to.
        “It was Victor.” He said quietly. “We’ve got to stop them. This can’t happen again. Ever.”
        They nodded in solemn agreement. They had to end this war once and for all by invading the Americas, capturing Washington D.C., killing the War Lords, and destroying the Empire. It was far easier said than done.

         Across the globe, Kendo still stood in Beijing. The panic was over and the great, earth shattering blow due to come from the Republic had never been dealt. The Empire in Asia still held Australia, the entire Southeast, and the entire Chinese coast as well. They had created a nut that was simply too tough to crack, much like the armies in West Africa. The armies the Republic had brought to bear against them were long gone anyway. Everyone knew the real fight was going to take place when the Republic attacked the Americas.
         As he and his men came in from another shift on the front they found themselves face to face with General Han.
        “Follow me.” He ordered.
        They marched all the way through the city to Tiananmen Square, near the great city’s heart. They found a large amount of people in the square under armed guard.
        “I hereby announce your temporary elevation to black ops unit status. Your orders are to move these traitors to the docks. They are going to Japan for further questioning. Anyone who resists, you are free to use force to move. Dismissed.” Han said, going off without taking a single question.
        “How are we supposed to do this?” A boy asked.
        “Shut up.” Kendo cut him off. “Fix bayonets and follow me.”
        His men attached the long sharp blades to the end of their rifles and formed up. They followed him to the first group of rebels they could find.
        “Get moving.” Kendo ordered.
        The huddle shuffled along, one person collapsed on the way and didn’t get back up again. At last they reached the ships and Kendo led the prisoner up one of the gangways and to a holding cell. He started to force them into an empty cell when a sailor ran up to him.
        “Are you out of your mind, you idiot?” He demanded.
        “What are you talking about?” Kendo hissed back.
        “We don’t have room for you to be giving people their own cells. Force them into another one!” He told him.
        They found a cell with several guards outside it and pressed the prisoners in at bayonet point. When they got back to shore, they quietly slipped off. As much as they respected Han, it wasn’t something they wanted to spend the rest of the day doing.
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