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Will the Empire collapse? What are the War Lords? And can the Light Keepers defeat them?
                                      Chapter 6

         The Light Keepers met with their advisor Erik in Lisbon over what he claimed was a very important find he had made. All around the city, every soldier the Republic could gather was pouring in. They would have only one chance to strike the Empire a fatal blow in the Americas, they couldn’t let it slip away. But for now, all eyes were on Erik.
        “What’s up?” Rose asked him.
        “I believe I have solved the riddle I’ve been laboring over the past few years!” He said excitedly.
        He looked much better too, not as ragged as they had seen him in the past.
        “The key is in New York City, well in the harbor.” Erik said.
        “What do you mean, in ze harbor?” Angela asked.
        “It is in the Statue of Liberty!” He said triumphantly. “It’s hidden in her torch. Think about the clues, a ‘lady of liberty’ in the ‘new world’ obviously a reference to how the Europeans viewed the Americas as the new world. And lastly, ‘reach high and you will find me,’ the torch is the highest point of the statue. I can’t believe I didn’t see it before!”
        “Makes sense to me.” Dart said, nodding.
        “Me too.” Terra agreed.
        “Well how do we get it?” Rose asked.
        “That is the hard part, I am afraid.” Erik replied. “So far, the plans you have made look good. One invasion force for Boston, one for Annapolis, another for Charleston, and the last one in Mexico. Past that, the Empire’s positions in West Africa prevent an attack on South America. We’ll just add one more attack to New York City. I’ll come with you, we have to find this key together.”
        They all agreed. The last things to do were set the plan in motion and pray for victory.

         Rose, Dart, and Angela looked over the side of the battleship they were on. Their ship along with hundreds, no thousands, of others was part of a fleet heading to invade the Americas and hopefully end the war. Terra and Erik were on a separate ship, they felt it was best to be apart in case something happened along the way. Imperial ships, planes, and other vessels still prowled these waters.
        “Well, we’ve done all we can.” Rose said. “We just have to see to it our people get past the Empire‘s defenses and capture their targets.”
        “Yeah, hopefully it will actually work out this time.” Dart said.
        “Indeed.” Angela chimed in. “I’m afraid resistance is going to be fiercer since these people joined the Empire at the beginning.” She said gloomily.
        “We can only hope that isn’t the case.” Rose said.
        “This makes me uneasy. The Empire has cut off the Americas from the world. We don’t know what’s been going on there, there are still too many variables.” Dart said.
        “There’s nothing we can do about that though.” Rose said, sadly.
        The ships lights flashed on as darkness set in.
        “Well its getting late, I’m going back to my cabin.” Angela said.
        “We’ll be right behind you.” Dart said as she walked away.
        When they were alone he turned to Rose, she must have read his mind as she spoke first, “Dart, about Paris…”
        “I was just about to bring it up...” He waited for her to say more.
        “I really like you. I’ve known it for a long time, everyone has, and I’ve been stupid to not say anything sooner with the way things are. But I think we have to put that on hold until this is over. Victor is desperate and if he were to find out about our connection, it would just be another weapon for him.”
        “You’re absolutely right.” Dart said. “I like you too, for the record.” He said smiling. “But we’ll figure that out after the War Lords are brought to justice.”
        She nodded and they looked out at the ocean a few more minutes before sighing again.
        “Goodnight, Dart.” She said.
        “Goodnight.” He replied.
        She started to walk away before turning around and giving him another kiss. Then she ran off without another word. He was dumbfounded and happy all at once and simply stood there. But what else could he do? He headed back several minutes later, after darkness had completely covered the fleet.

        However, other worldly forces were at work and the Light Keepers’ enemies were hard at work. A shadowy figure climbed up onto the ship. As he reached the top rail, a hand reached down and helped him up. The pair glided through the halls of the ship.
        “Here.” The assistant said, pointing out precisely where the agent was meant to perform his task.
        The agent got to work on the targeted doors. After that, they went back to the top deck.
        “Have the life vessels been taken care of?” He asked.
        “Of course.” The assistant replied.
        “Good. I’ll report that everything is in place. Good luck.”
        They parted ways and he silently exited the ship without being seen or heard. A small lifeboat came up to the agent who entered. An Imperial soldier named Christopher waited for him.
        “All is well I take it?”
        “Yes.” The agent answered.
        “Excellent.” Christopher replied, as they silently rowed back to a submarine waiting a half mile from the ship.
         Victor sat in the cramped submarine monitoring the flagship of the Republic’s fleet. Five other submarines were waiting in the area as well. They briefly surfaced to receive Christopher and the agent, then submerged again.
        “Did he carry out his mission?” Victor asked Christopher.
        “Yes, my Lord, everything is as you requested.”
        Victor shook his head, satisfied. He had plotted out the time the large fleet would begin splitting up to head toward its targets, at that time the flagship would be defenseless for a short period of time. He would have one chance to sink it and kill the Light Keepers, foiling this pathetic invasion.
        “On my mark.” He said to his men and the other submarines. “Fire One! Fire Two! Fire Three!” He ordered.
        The torpedoes left their holds and sliced through the water without a sound. Victor’s men anxiously waited for what he had to say.
        “Five direct hits.” He said at last, and his men broke out in cheers.

         Rose was asleep when explosions rocked the Republic‘s flagship. She jumped out of bed and tried to get her door open but it was stuck! Thinking quickly she pulled out her sidearm and fired at the doorknob, the device holding it shut was destroyed and she got out as the ship began to lurch backwards. Dart had done the same in his room and was coming toward her.
        “The ship is sinking, we have to get out of here!” He shouted.
        “Where is Angela?” Rose asked, fearing the worst.
        They ran to her room but found it empty.
        “She must be out. Don’t worry, we’ll find her.” Dart assured her.
        They grabbed their life jackets and headed up to the deck as water poured into the ship. When they got to the deck it was in chaos and everyone was shocked to find the lifeboats destroyed. Through the crush of people, Angela came up to them.
        “Vat do ve do now?” She asked, her voice quaking.
        “Looks like we go down with the ship.” Dart said. “Try to stick together. That’s our best chance of surviving.”
        “Hopefully an SOS got out. The fleet is huge, someone must know about this!” Rose said.
        Then water began to pour onto the deck and within seconds it was up to their ankles. People everywhere hissed in pain as the icy water rose higher and higher until the ship was completely gone. Water swirled violently and Angela was ripped away from Dart and Rose in the chaos. The survivors waited and prayed for a miracle.

         The Imperial submarines surfaced seconds later. Victor got out onto the deck with his aide and a few sailors.
        “What about the survivors, sir?” Christopher asked
        “There are no survivors. The others will figure out what happened. If there are any survivors left and if the light lunatics somehow survived, when they find out what we did here they will be even more brutal in the Americas.” Victor answered. “Simply be sure to avoid hitting our mutual friend, of course.”
        “Yes, sir.” Christopher said obediently.
        He nodded to the sailors manning the cannon and machine guns on the submarines and the guns began to fire into the wreckage.

         Dart and Rose screamed as bullets and shells landed all around them. They were helpless as the Empire slaughtered their sailors and did their best to finish them off before the icy waters of the Atlantic could. 
        “There’s gotta be a way to fight back!” Dart yelled.
        “There’s nothing we can do!” Rose yelled back, as the water tossed all around her. “Here! Get behind this!”
        They swam over to a piece of wreckage from the boat and remained concealed behind it as best they could. One of the submarines moved right past them and through the still night air they heard a voice as icy as the water.
        “Do you see them anywhere, Captain?”
        “No, my Lord.”
        “And what of our friend?” The first voice asked again.
        “That’s in order, our source was completely fine.”
        “Excellent.” The War Lord replied.
        Rose nearly screamed as a hand fell on her shoulder, but it was only Angela. Her arm was bleeding badly as she struggled to stay afloat near them. Another shell landed in the water near the submarine, but it wasn’t from one of the subs’ light guns.
        “Damn!” Someone yelled.
        “Enemy craft off starboard!” Another voice called out.
        “I think that’s our cue.” They heard Victor say.
        Everyone filed into the submarine and moments later, it sunk beneath the waves, along with the rest of its squadron.
        “Is anyone alive out there?” They heard a familiar voice say over the ship’s loudspeaker.
        “Terra! Over here!” All three of them yelled as loudly as they could manage.
        Freezing and battered, but still not beaten, they were hauled out of the water. The invasion would not be stopped.

         Victor was back in America with urgent business to attend to. He looked out at an enormous number of soldiers in front of him. But there was something different about these soldiers. Something far different from what the Empire had been willing to resort to up until this point. He spoke into a microphone.
        “As you all know, this is a very critical time for our Empire. We had hoped to allow our people the luxury of not being fully employed in this destructive war. That is no longer possible, and we realize how mistaken we were to deny service to so many. That is why I am announcing a major shift in Imperial policy. Soldiers of both genders will be allowed to serve in and will be recruited into the Imperial armed forces. I wish you all the best of luck and I want you to know I have the utmost confidence in you. The Empire will triumph!” He said as thousands of female Imperials cheered the speech.
                                                 Chapter 7

         Sally stood on the deck of a destroyer as the Republic’s fleet bombarded Boston. This was the first invasion point that would be struck. The attacks would then go in following a southern pattern with the attack in Mexico occurring last. Boston harbor was heavily mined at this point and shore guns were trained on the entrance. It would be suicidal to actually attack the harbor. So the Republic’s navy was attacking those defenses to conceal the real points of the landing.
        “All first wave personnel, report to your craft now.” A voice said across the ship’s loudspeaker system.
        “Everyone here?” Sally asked when she found her unit.
        They sounded off one by one.
        “Good. Alright everyone, this is it. I know many of you, including myself, are returning to our homes for the first time in years. As for others, you are here to help protect your homes, which may themselves have just recently been freed, and to help us get ours back. This is the final battle. If we win, the Empire will collapse. If we lose, it will survive to spread its infection across the globe. We can’t let that happen. So let’s move!” Everyone checked their weapons and packs one more time and they climbed over the side of the ship, down the netting, and into the waiting landing craft.
         Soon, the pilots got their signals and the dozens, no hundreds, of vessels lurched toward the shoreline. An imposing barrier of barbed wire and tank obstacles lined the beach. Defenses here were lighter than in the harbor, but the Empire was still prepared for the Republic to try this. Several shore guns began to fire. Shells splashed into the water all around them and then there was a crash as one shell slammed into a landing craft and left nothing but debris floating in the water. As they held their breath and neared the shore, the guns silenced.
        “What are they doing?” A girl behind Sally asked, her voice shaking wildly.
        “Just stay alert. It’s not gonna be that easy.” Sally said.
        Suddenly, their transport bounced up as it scraped the beach. The gate in front of them slammed down and they ran out onto the beach, thousands of other soldiers imitated that action all around them.
         Then the Empire let loose. Its cannons had paused to redirect their aim onto the beach and opened fire with devastating results. Machine guns blazed from the gentle hills a few hundred yards in front of them. Sniper fire accompanied the machine guns from almost undetectable positions. Soldiers collapsed dead or wounded all over the beach. Sally made a mad dash for a tank obstacle and dove behind it as a machine gun swiveled toward her. She heard the loud pangs of the bullets as they slammed off of the metal X she was hiding behind. Then the gun moved on to easier targets. No one had succeeded in reaching the line of barbed wire beyond the tank obstacles that separated them from an empty stretch of beach that led to the guns firing on them.
        “We need help.” Sally said to herself.
        She desperately scanned the area for someone with a radio. But someone else must have done what she was thinking already. Their ships’ guns roared off in the distance and began to fall on the enemy guns. The cannons fell silent and the machine gun fire slackened off.          
        “Let’s move people!” Sally and other officers yelled.
        They reached the barbed wire as quickly as they could. Several holes were already torn into it and they made short work of the rest of it. As they dashed over the open ground, the Imperials recovered. Soldiers began falling again as machine guns and snipers renewed their fire, but the Republic’s troops were close enough to shoot back and began doing so. Their second wave of troops arrived and they were soon on the hills driving the Imperials back. Tanks came in with the third wave, a path had already been cleared through the traps for them.
        Sally fired several shots at a stubborn machine gun nest on top of the hill her unit was supposed to take. It fired back and they all put their heads down. Then a tank rolled up behind them and fired. The machine gun fell silent once and for all. They dashed to the top of the hill and found a wounded Imperial boy lying next to the machine gun, which would never fire again. Another boy came out of his hiding place with his hands in the air, followed by several more Imperials, they were girls.
        “What are you doing here?” Sally demanded. “The Empire doesn’t let girls fight.”
        “Well it does now.” One of them snapped.
        Sally gave her a dirty look and motioned for some of her troops to take them away. Republic aircraft sailed by overhead, no doubt to fend off Imperial attackers. She turned around and looked back at the beach they had just gotten off of. It was covered in the bodies of her fellow comrades. But many more of the living were landing on it than lying on it. The landing was a success. Now, they had to take Boston and push inland.

         The Light Keepers looked out at the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor, an intense, no, savage battle was developing all around the city. Their forces had landed on Long Island and were fighting it out with the Imperials on the beaches. Planes dueled in the air, occasionally swooping down to strafe or bomb the soldiers, tanks, and ships of their enemies. The Imperial navy also wasn’t out of the fight and a number of cruisers and battleships had broken off from the main landing force to keep them from causing trouble. The roar of the ship to ship battle could be heard only faintly a few miles off shore. But in truth all of that was a diversion, the Light Keepers were silently making their way towards the Statue on a small vessel. No Imperials were anywhere in sight, they saw no value in defending the Statue and had no intentions of destroying it.          “Alright, let’s find this key.” Erik said as they reached the island’s small dock.
        It was eerily quiet here as the war raged everywhere else. The group of five reached the Statue, got into the elevator and road up to the crown. They exited a few minutes later and found it empty, just like the entire island.
        “Just up to the torch now. Right, Erik?” Terra asked.
        “Yes.” He replied.
        “So far so good.” Dart added.
        “Let’s just get this key and get out of here.” Rose said with a shiver, she had a queasy feeling in her stomach.
        They could all agree with that. Excitement slowly built with each step they took up towards the torch. Then, they entered the small room and found it empty as well, except for a figure in black looking out the window at the panoramic view of the battle below them. The group looked on in horror as Victor himself rounded on them.
        “Victor! What are you doing here?” Rose demanded.
        “Well, hello.” He said, grinning at them. “There won’t be any need to search for that key. It’s quite safe, far from here.”
        “How did you know?” Dart said, drawing his sword, everyone else, except Erik, followed suit.
        “Well, there is a very simple answer to that question.” He replied.
        “The traitor! We know you have a spy in the Republic high command, Victor. “Who is it?” Terra screamed at him.
        He smiled and nodded. They heard Erik groan as the flat end of a sword slammed into his head. He fell to the ground and the group rounded to see Angela blocking the door, cackling at them wickedly.
        “How stupid could you people possibly be?” She said, her German accent faded away and was replaced by a light American southern one. She pulled a contact out of each eye and the color went from brown to a blue so dark it was almost black.
        “Angela?” Dart said breathlessly. “How? Why?” He asked desperately.
        She laughed again, the sharpness of her voice now grated on their ears.
        “I’ve always served Lord Voktor. Seems as though you people are a little too trusting.”
        “But that’s impossible! The Cupitor said you were one of us!” Rose protested.
        “Is that lousy thing God Almighty Himself?” Victor spat from behind them. “You’re even dumber than I thought if you believe in lousy magic like that.” He said scornfully. “I think that’s enough talking for now. Time to put an end to the trouble all of you have caused me.” He pulled out a radio and spoke again.
        “Christopher, we have them. Order the rest of the troops into the fight.”
        “Yes, my Lord.” The reply came back.
        “Oh, you didn’t think ‘Angela’ failed to reveal your plans to me?” Victor said, smiling. “This invasion was over before it began!”
         With that he lashed at Dart. Angela, or whoever she was, struck at Terra. Rose stood between them torn for a moment before helping Dart. Victor had to be more dangerous than her anyway. Victor’s movements seemed sluggish and he panted as he fought but he was still deadly. He nicked Dart’s shin and Dart fell to ground as blood poured from the wound. Victor’s knee connected with Dart’s jaw. Dart flew backward and blood came out of his mouth as well. Before Victor could do any more damage Rose was at him again. She fought him back until he neared the room’s wall and she slammed into him, crushing him against it. Victor winced and dodged the blow that followed. Across the room Terra tried to hold off Angela. But she was extremely fast. Terra blocked several rapid slashes and got in one of her own. But Angela dodged and gracefully shot out a leg knocking Terra off her feet. Rose gasped, that was Victor’s fighting style. He’d been training her! Then she gasped again as Angela swung her sword down on Terra who was completely exposed. But Angela only yelped as Dart tackled her. She clawed at his face and her nails left bloody streaks on his left cheek. Dart leapt off of her and the Light Keepers recovered, finding themselves in control of the door. Dart grabbed Erik and threw him over his shoulders, wincing at the additional weight. Victor and Angela closed on them like wolves coming in for the kill.
        “Run!” Rose yelled.
        They pounded down the steps, their pursuers seconds behind them. A hectic, exhausting pursuit and an elevator ride later, they all found themselves at the base of the statue of liberty. The Light Keepers’ ship was still there and so were several other vessels. Their troops and the Imperials were fighting over the harbor now. All around them the battle seemed to be going badly. The Empire’s ships had pressed their fleet into the harbor where it was a sitting target for the swarms of planes that poured down from the sky now. Their infantry was being pummeled on the shore and in the city too. A pounding like this couldn’t be held off for long. They needed a miracle and they weren’t going to get it here.
Some of the Imperials on the island began targeting their group. Their fire slackened off when their own troops returned fire. Victor and Angela pounded out of the Statue behind them and raced after them as well. Victor began firing rounds from his pistol while Angela produced a pair of automatic handguns and sprayed even more lead at them. Dart laid Erik down on their ship and Rose and Terra followed close behind him. A gunner on their boat opened fire as soon as they got on and forced the War Lord and his apprentice to take cover.
        “All infantry will secure their positions and await reinforcements. Everyone else get out now! It’s a trap!” Rose immediately yelled into the nearest radio.

         “What now, my Lord?” Angela asked Victor.
        “Now, my dear, you will disappear.” He answered.
        She started to protest but he cut her off.
        “You are too valuable to lose in the coming struggle. The Supreme Leader and I will finish them ourselves. They have to forget about you.”
        She nodded and joined him in coldly looking out at the devastation all over New York.

         Alvin looked out of his binoculars at the sea. The vision slit of his bunker at Annapolis, Maryland was narrow, but just wide enough to let him see and let them shoot out of it if they had to. And they would almost certainly have to. Right now, there was nothing, but he knew the Republic was out there. They were already inside Boston and were raising Hell in New York too. Annapolis was the key to moving inland and taking Baltimore and the Imperial capital, Washington D.C. If they wanted either city, they needed Annapolis.
        “Report to central command that nothing is out there at the moment.” Alvin ordered.
        “Yes, sir.” One of his men saluted and obeyed the command.
        William and Matthew had been separated from him when they got back to America. Alvin was needed to command a shore position while they were in the armored reserves in the rear. Alvin was still trying to get to know these new troops. He believed the boy on the phone was named Phillip. Everyone milled about in the bunker, checking weapons and maps, or trying to sleep or eat. Alvin knew they were on edge, the entire Empire was on edge. They’d stripped the entire heartland of the Empire bare to put up these defenses. There were stretches of the heartland where one could go for miles without seeing a single Imperial official because everyone was here.
         Alvin couldn’t stand it any longer.
        “I’m going to look again.” He declared.
        He stood next to the machine guns lined up at the end of the bunker, picked up his glasses and began to scan the area. His sight started with the beach, the area was covered in small rises that made attacks difficult. There were several rows of barbed wire, a cleverly hidden minefield in between one of those rows, then there were the familiar tank traps near the water’s edge. Still nothing as he scanned the water off the beach. Then his sight met the horizon and…still nothing.
          He began lowering the binoculars when he thought he saw something. They flew back to his eyes and sure enough a ship was appearing out of the distance. Then another, and another, and a dozen more and a hundred more than that in the space of a few seconds.
        “My God.” Alvin said almost at a whisper.
        “What is it, sir?” Someone said behind him.
        All eyes were on him now.
        “It’s the invasion! We have to alert everyone!” Alvin said throwing down the binoculars.
        Phillip or whoever he was got back on the phone and began yelling at headquarters. Everyone else dropped what they were doing, grabbed helmets, grenades, weapons, and ammunition and either ran out of the bunker or manned its machine guns. Alvin used his key to open the alarm and smashed the button. A siren began blaring across the beach. Cannons began to roar as they fired at the oncoming ships. The ships in turn unleashed a horrific bombardment. Alvin and the men in the bunker winced more than once when the roof shook after a few close calls. Then enemy planes roared in, Alvin assumed Imperial planes would meet them but he couldn’t be sure of that at all. Then, the landing craft began to approach the beach, wave after wave after wave of them.
        “This is it everyone! Wait until you have good targets then let loose on them.” He ordered, just a bit more waiting, and the fight would begin.
         After what seemed like an eternity but was no more than several minutes, the enemy forces touched ground. Alvin’s guns began chattering away as soon as they came out of the transports. They were being chewed up badly and the fight had just started. Eventually, there were so many enemy troops that they managed to advance and take cover behind the tank traps. They stopped there and couldn’t advance any farther. Then, a second wave of transports came in. The enemy began to bombard the Imperials’ defenses again and with the reinforcements they began making good progress. That was when they hit the minefield. Alvin laughed.
        “Try getting past that so easily.” He sneered.
        His gunners opened fire again and inflicted more damage on the Republic’s infantry. They simply couldn’t get through the minefield. Still, a third wave of troops landed and tanks came with them. The tanks had been cleared a narrow path to come through. Imperial artillerists had a field day with that and blasted most of the tanks to rubble. However, several did survive and blasted their way through the minefield before the last one was put out of action. The surviving enemy troops stormed across the minefield and the last of the rises and began to break into their defenses.
         “Drop the machine guns. It’s time to get out of here!” Alvin ordered.
        His troops grabbed whatever other weapons they had and filed out of the bunker behind him. A trench system connected them to the rear of their lines. That was where they were to go to regroup when the enemy breached the first line. They made their way through the series of mazes and almost fired on some of their own men. Then they did encounter an enemy squad. Both sides fired at point blank range. Alvin felt a bullet graze his left arm but kept on firing. Someone in his squad threw a grenade and several enemy soldiers screamed as it exploded. Several of Alvin’s men charged forward and within seconds the fight was over. Soon after that, they reached the rally point. A low ranking general was there giving orders.
        “Listen! Listen!” He roared with a megaphone at the boys and girls in the area. At last he got something near quiet. “You all have done an excellent job defending this sector. I have, however, been informed that our orders are to retreat to Baltimore.”
        He fought down protests of fury before going on, “I will be in charge of getting our army back to Baltimore where we shall continue operations. That is all.”
        “I wonder what this retreat is all about. It would be much easier to just counter attack now and drive the Republic back into the sea.” Someone near Alvin said.
        “The War Lords must have something else in store for them then.” Alvin said.
        Several people shrugged, regardless, they had to follow the order. Within the hour, the rallying point was empty, long before the Republic got to it.

         Alexander sweated like crazy. He struggled to look over the side of landing craft he was on as it pressed toward the beach. His attack was going in at Charleston, South Carolina. It was extremely hot, not like anything he was used to. And the day was extremely clear. It seemed like the worst possible day to attack from out in the open. Imperial shore guns began to roar. Several transports would never make it to the shore, the rest pressed on. Then, something unthinkable happened. A few dozen feet from the shore, the Empire had laid down a wave of sea mines. Transports began blowing up or crashing by the dozens. Pilots began halting their crafts and throwing open the doors.
        “What the Hell are you doing?” Alex roared at their pilot.
        “The invasion has to go in and we can’t get any closer! You’ll just have to go from here.” She shot back.
        “That’s insane, we’ll all drown or be cut to pieces!” Another soldier yelled.
        “I don’t know what to tell you!”
        Reluctantly, they jumped off the landing craft and began wading towards the shore. They were only a few yards from the beach when the Imperial machine gunners opened fire. Everyone who had made it this far dove for cover or died. As Alex hid behind a small rise in the beach with several other soldiers, he made a nasty revelation. The transports couldn’t get to shore, that meant no tanks and no new supplies other than what people could carry in themselves.
        “How are we supposed to do this?” He muttered.
        The first wave of troops had gone nowhere, so half an hour later a second wave came in. They were just as waterlogged and beaten as the first wave by the time they got to shore and took cover as well. The dead and wounded began to pile up everywhere as the Empire found the battle was more like shooting fish in a barrel than an actual fight. The Republic tried bombarding the Empire’s positions again and sent in a wave of bombers. Imperial fire slackened after that.
        “Alright, let’s try this.” Alex said. He got up and ran deeper inland. Other units made a surge as well and they were able to reach a barbed wire barrier that separated them from open ground and the Empire’s defenses. By then, the Imperials were back on their game and the fire became too intense for them to go any farther. Their third and final wave of reinforcements came ashore behind them and a girl ran up to Alex with a squad of troops.
        “What’s up?” She asked.
        “We need to get through that barbed wire!” He said. “Do you know anyone with explosives?” He asked in desperation.
        “I saw an engineer unit when I came ashore. I’ll see if I can find them. By the way, I’m Brittany.”
        “Alex.” He replied. “We’ll be here, we have nowhere else to go, obviously.” He said, laughing a bit.
        Brittany ran off and fifteen minutes later came back with the engineers.
        “I’m Rick.” One of them said, introducing himself and shaking Alex’s hand. “Give us a few minutes here and we’ll be able to set up a Bangalore.”
        “A what?” Alex said, perplexed. 
        “It’s a long tube that you fire a small torpedo down and it blows up. We can use it to blow a hole in the barbed wire.” Rick replied.
        “Alright, just do it!” Alex said as an artillery shell landed near them.
         Several minutes later, Rick came back.
        “Alright we’re ready!”
        Alex and Brittany ordered their squads to take cover. Seconds later there was an enormous boom and when the smoke cleared there was a hole in the barbed wire. Up and down the line, engineers began doing the same thing.
        “Good work!” Alex said.
        “Forward!” An officer down the line yelled.
        Everyone surged ahead again over the barbed wire. Everyone sprinted across the open ground as the Empire inflicted even more damage on them. At last, Alex, Brittany, Rick, and their troops reached the base of one of the Empire’s bunkers.
        “Brittany, if you can get your men around one side, I’ll get mine around the other and we’ll take the bunker from both ends.” Alex suggested.
        “We can do it.” She assured him.
        “What about us?” Rick asked.
        “We’ll need your men to cover us while we go around.” Alex replied.
        Rick nodded.
        “Everyone ready?” Alex asked.
        There were no complaints.
        “Move!” He yelled.
        His troops bolted around the side of the bunker and up the hill towards the back of the bunker. A machine gun swung on them and opened fire. But it only got a few shots off before a hail of bullets riddled the boys manning it. As they reached the top of the hill Alex turned around and waved thanks to Rick and his men.
        They hopped down into the concrete trench system behind the bunker. Brittany and her soldiers met up with them at the door. Several of their troops tossed grenades into the doorway. After the explosions subsided, they charged in. They fired as fast and as much as they could before they noticed they were the only ones shooting. When the smoke cleared, there wasn’t a soul in the bunker.
        “Where the Hell are they?” Alex demanded.
        “They must already have left.” Brittany answered.
        “But why? It’s too easy.” Alex said. “I don’t like it.”
        Seconds later, Rick and his men ran in, weapons at the ready. They explained what had happened to him.
        “That’s beyond weird.” Rick said.
        Perplexed, the group did the only thing they could, and advanced deeper into the Empire’s defenses.

                                                 Chapter 8

         The Light Keepers had repositioned themselves after the disaster at New York City. Their attacks had successfully landed everywhere, but they had stalled everywhere as well. Except, that is for the central attack at Annapolis. It seemed like the Empire had been caught by surprise here. Their troops had taken the city, and pressed all the way inland to Baltimore, taking that city as well with little resistance. Now, it was time for what they felt was the final battle. The group was traveling towards the Imperial capital, Washington D.C. Take it and beat the War Lords, and the war was over, no matter what else happened.
        “I know there is something we’re missing. How could the Cupitor have been fooled?” Erik mused.
        This must have been the thousandth time he’d said this on the way to Washington.
        “We just don’t know, Erik.” Rose said. “Please, just let it go.”
        “But it’s important.” He insisted.
        “You’ve been over it a thousand times.” Dart said. “You put Hank’s old sword with the onyx in it into the…” Erik cut him off.
        “My God. That’s it!” He said in horror. “Hank’s sword didn’t have an onyx! It was a spinel! Rose! You were the only one there. You told me Victor was interested in the swords. He meddled with the gem so he could put a traitor in our midst!”
Rose’s hands jumped to her mouth in surprise.
        “You’re right! But why would he do that? He had us where he wanted us then.” She asked in confusion.
        “He knows more than we do.” Dart said simply. “He already knew about the key, the book, the Cupitor, everything. He wanted us to escape and take the sword so he could infiltrate us.”
        “But how? How could he know all of that that far ahead of all this?” Terra added in.
        “I don’t know.” Erik said. “This is very troubling.”
        “Erik, can we beat him?” Rose asked, fear welling up inside her.
        “We have to.” Dart said, taking her hand. “We can’t let him win and we won’t.” He said determinedly.
        “Let’s not forget the Supreme Leader, either.” Erik said. “I feel he is the true power behind Victor. We beat them both and it’s definitely over.”
        Everyone nodded. Beat the War Lords. It wouldn’t be easy, but they were the only ones who could do it.

         Victor coughed and spat black phlegm inside Washington D.C. The defenses the Empire had built here were stronger than anywhere else in the world. Still, the Republic was determined to take the city at any cost. Which was exactly what he wanted. He felt sicker than ever but now that the Light Keepers and their army were here, he felt he could deal with them as he saw fit. Then alarms sounded up and down the line. The enemy was coming at them again. They had charged the defenses time and again and not broken through. Victor didn’t know what made them believe this time would matter, or what made them keep coming. There must have been hundreds of thousands wounded or killed before they had even been able to carve out a small hold in the city’s outskirts. They picked their way through the rubble once more and crept toward his positions. Victor knew they would spill even more blood as they tried to advance through the city toward the Capitol Building that the Empire ruled from and the complex they had built around it.          
        Victor watched calmly as his men opened fire. Artillery pounded rubble into dust, and machine gunners and snipers cut down troops who dared expose themselves even partway. Several troops tried advancing on a machine gun nest after throwing a grenade at it. That idiotic assault ended seconds later when another gun further down the line opened fire and saw to it those soldiers would never move again. Enemy artillery and aircraft tried to answer his men, but Victor had their positions too well covered. All they did was create more rubble and make it harder for their own troops. If he lost any soldiers it was only because of dumb luck. As he watched the assault crawl to a halt, slowly and painfully, his aide came up to him.
        “Yes, Captain?” He said, setting off another round of coughing and more black bile.
        "Are you sure you’re alright, sir?” He asked.
        “Yes, yes! It will be alright soon enough, I assure you!” He hissed. “What do you have for me?” He asked impatiently.
        “My Lord, the enemy have gathered all their armor, they intend to swing around the city, cross the Potomac River, and surround us.”
        “Well we can’t let them do that, can we?” Victor asked rhetorically. “Assemble our armored reserves. It is time we start setting off our traps.”
        Christopher saluted him and departed. All they had to do was hold the Republic here and they would crush the invasion. All the other attacks had stalled and the Republic was gambling on taking D.C. Victor smiled. The Light Keepers were about to summon up powers they could not possibly comprehend.

         The group of Light Keepers advanced at the head of their armor.
        “Hopefully, our attacks on the city distracted him long enough to buy us time to do this.” Rose said.
        The rest of the group nodded. Several minutes later, as they crossed the Potomac on their way to complete the maneuver, they got their answer. Imperial tanks swarmed forth by the hundreds. Within seconds, the largest armored battle of the entire war ensued. Across the battlefield, Victor looked out the sight of his tank.
        “Load armor piercing round now.” He ordered. “Range, one hundred yards…Fire!” Victor smiled as an enemy tank brewed up.
        He directed his men to another target and soon another tank was nothing more than smoldering rubble. But for every tank he destroyed two more took its place. After fighting for nearly half an hour his tanks began to fall back, there were simply too many Republic tanks for his forces to hold off. They were overrunning his tanks. Cries of alarm and terror went out over the radio frequencies from every unit. But he had one trump card left to play.
         Getting out of the tank he drew his sword and walked out into the middle of the battlefield. He stood in place calmly as the world seemed to fall apart around him. His stand had the desired effect. The Light Keepers appeared.
        “It’s time to finish this, Victor.” Dart said.
        The three of them drew their swords and closed in on him. Victor coughed sporadically and nearly doubled over, spitting black yet again.
        “You‘re in no condition to fight. Surrender now and save your troops too, Victor.” Rose said sternly.
        He merely laughed at her savagely, sickeningly.
        “You’re right. I’m too weak like this. But you can’t even begin to imagine how powerful I really am!” He roared, his voice dropping to a demonic tone.
         With that, he began to undergo a sickening transformation. His body twisted and bulged as his eyes turned red, his nails became claws, his teeth sharpened and two large wings resembling those of a bat sprouted from his back. Then his body snapped back to its normal size while retaining its new form and the horrific metamorphosis was complete.
        “Did you really imagine, for even an instant, that you could beat me?” He hissed from his new voice as the Light Keepers stared in horror.
        “No. It can’t be! Those stories are only myths!” Erik exclaimed, backing away in horror.
        Victor laughed again.
        “No, I assure you I am very real, and you and your kind don’t know the first thing about me. I have walked this Earth far longer than you can possibly imagine.”
        “Then why the ruse? Why go to all this trouble just to trick us?” Erik demanded of the War Lord.
        “That’s just it. We took these forms to fool you into thinking we were ordinary foes. We did not believe the world was ready for our return. However, I’d forget the petty knowledge of your so called wise elders, if I were you.” Victor shot back. “The only truth you know is that my name is Voktor.”
        “Why didn’t you just use this form to kill us before?” Dart asked as he began to recover his composure as well.
        “It was believed you could all be destroyed by conventional means but you have proved too pesky for that. Enough questions, nothing I say matters to any of you anymore. You’re all walking corpses. Resume your attack!” He roared at his soldiers as he lifted his hand.
         An orb of dark energy formed and he blasted it towards the stunned Light Keepers. They ran for cover just as it slammed into the ground. Victor’s forces still hesitated to obey, then Alvin Smithers, back with his old crew and loyal to Victor to the end, spoke up.
        “You heard the General! Obey!” He roared across the intercom, opening fire.
        An Imperial counterattack rapidly gained momentum after that. The Light Keepers continued fleeing as the fight resumed. Victor then turned his attention to the Republic’s army. His energy bolts ripped through tanks like paper and left them burning hulks. Then he landed and began to advance on foot. His sword ripped through helpless enemy infantry and his energy bolts performed even worse horrors upon them. A few hundred feet away Dart turned to Rose.
        “He’s massacring our troops out there. We have to fight him!”
        “Can we beat him?” Rose asked.
        “He’s just too powerful.” Terra added.
        “We have to try dammit!” Dart insisted.
        “I’m coming with you.” Erik said.
        “No. We can’t let you get hurt!” Terra said.
        “She’s right.” Dart seconded.
        “Plus, you’re the only one who even knows a little about what’s going on right now!” Rose insisted.
        Erik gave in and remained in his place.
         The three Light Keepers got up from behind the boulders they were using for cover near the bank of the river. The War Lord turned his attention to Dart and Rose who had now emerged. Terra dashed off to rally their cracking forces. Victor threw a single energy bolt their way which tore a gash into the ground and slammed into a tank behind them. They couldn’t resist turning their heads to watch it before wrenching them back to focus on the War Lord. Victor attacked Rose first, but she soon discovered he was far stronger now than he was in human form. After several slashes their swords locked and he drove hers to the right then used his free hand to punch her in the face. She reeled backwards with blood pouring from her nose. Dart roared and slashed at him several times. When their blades locked, Victor pressed his forward and sent Dart flying back several feet. Then shells began to land near him as the Republic’s tanks tried to help their leaders. Victor fired several blasts, spun around to avoid one particularly close shell, and leaned down toward the ground to present less of a target as he returned fire. Shells continued to land all around him as he dodged to his left, jumped, and spun through midair still sending a hail of energy blasts towards the tanks. When he had dealt them enough punishment to get them to back off he turned back to the Light Keepers who were on their feet again.
         “You can’t beat me. I told you that before.” He said calmly, staring them down.
        “We can and we will.” Dart answered him.
        Rose tossed her hair and spat blood in defiance. Then they attacked again. Victor fought both of them for several minutes before kneeing Rose in the stomach and kicking her so hard that she flew several yards and slammed into the ground gasping for air. Another few seconds of fighting sent Dart crashing to Earth next to her. Victor smiled evilly and lifted his hand. The crippled Light Keepers braced themselves for the final blow. But it never came, Terra attacked Victor from behind and he had to scramble to avoid being cut in half. The enraged War Lord fired several energy bolts at her which she dodged, continuing to press him back towards the river. At last she had forced him to the water’s edge. Realizing what she was doing Dart managed to cry out first.
        “Terra! Don’t try it!”
        But it was too late. Victor knocked her sword aside and fired an energy bolt directly at her as she dove at him. But out of nowhere Erik intervened. He pulled Terra out of the way and then slashed wildly at Victor. The War Lord fired a blast at him in surprise, but to Victor’s horror, when it hit the sword it flew back at him and grazed his side. His bellow of pain rocked the entire battlefield. Terra slammed into him and he went flying into the Potomac River. His wings dragged him down and he screamed in fury and pain as the tide swept him downstream. The group ran for their lives, the desperate move had given the army the time it needed to retreat. They made their escape as the Empire’s counterattack broke down in confusion.

         “What do we do now?” Rose asked in desperation. “I don’t even know what just happened! How do we beat something like that?” She was clearly shaken by the event, worse than the others.
        “I realize things appear bleak.” Erik said soothingly. “But this is still possible. You saw how the sword protected me! They will do the same thing for all of you.”
        “You guys will call me crazy, but I say he’s right.” Dart said. “We should attack the War Lords right now at Capitol Hill. The last thing they will be prepared for now is an attack. They think they have us on the run.” He argued.
        “It’s too risky, Dart!” Terra protested. “And don’t forget the Supreme Leader! He’s probably even worse than Victor!”
        “Terra, you weren’t there the day I tried stealing Victor’s sword, you were Rose, do you remember it?”
        She nodded.
        “What I saw that day, I am convinced those images were Victor himself, not a flashback. You all heard him say he is very old. He’s been causing suffering for who knows how long now. We have a chance to stop him now, and I won’t be able to live with myself if we let him go.” Dart finished.
        Everyone sat in silence for a moment.
        “Alright.” Rose said at a whisper. “We’ve got to try.”
        A minute later, Terra’s shoulders slumped and she gave in as well.
        “Then it’s settled. We go after the War Lords.” Erik said.
        It wasn’t over yet.
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