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Rated: 13+ · Novel · Action/Adventure · #1986333
Will the Empire collapse? What are the War Lords? And can the Light Keepers defeat them?
          "You revealed your true form to them?” The Supreme Leader hissed at Victor.
        “Yes! What else could I do? You know our power is directly related to our empires. If they weaken so do we. I was dying in human form, there was no other option.” He shot back.
        “Even so, you could have at least killed them. You let them escape with that knowledge!” The Supreme Leader retorted.
        “Their swords blocked my power! Our power! There was only one thing we saw in all history that did that. You know we wiped them out, this is something new. Someone else plotted against us while we were gone and no one knew about it.” Victor growled.
        “Well what do we do now?” The Supreme Leader asked.
        “We regroup and strike back. They are frightened and weakened already. Unleash the traps we have set now and they will collapse like a house of…” He stopped as an enormous explosion rocked the building.
        “What the Devil?” The Supreme Leader roared in surprise.
         Enemy soldiers began pouring into the Capitol Building, the Light Keepers in tow.
        “Apparently, I was mistaken. They haven’t had enough yet.” Victor muttered, transforming again.
        Imperial guards ran into the main hall from every part of the building. Victor walked up the center of the hall in the middle of a knot of them and met the Light Keepers.
        “You’re just determined to die today aren’t you?” He asked smugly.
        “They only thing we’re determined to do is put an end to this, Victor.” Dart answered.
        “I’m afraid we can’t let you do that.” A voice said from behind them.
        They whirled around to find the Supreme Leader himself standing behind them. He drew a jagged, menacing sword that seemed to heat up as though it were on fire and then cool down again in an endless cycle.
        “You think you can beat us?” The Supreme Leader demanded in a low, cold voice, stressing the last word. “We have walked this Earth and shaped its history for far longer than any other beings who have ever existed. We have no end, we are eternal, unbeatable!”
        He let out an inhuman roar, the roar of a dragon as he revealed his true form. His skin became a sickly green and was covered over in scales. His head became that of a dragon’s but the transformation seemed to halt midcourse. He had no wings and his legs had morphed into a single slithering tale that supported his weight. Everyone stared in horror except Victor who wore a confused expression on his face.
        “Damn!” Merkuto hissed, literally now. “I cannot complete my transformation! No matter. We can still crush you, even without our full power. Prepare to die.” He said lifting his free hand, no, claw, as the battle for the Capitol continued to rage around them.
         A column of dark energy tore into the ground and approached the Light Keepers at an alarmingly fast pace. Victor lifted off the ground and dark energy began to crash all around them. Rose and Dart took turns blocking his blasts and deflecting them back at him. Erik fired at the Supreme Leader with his side arm and Terra dodged around the column and dashed toward him.
The column ceased to exist in a second and the Supreme Leader’s sword crashed into Terra’s. Imperial troops opened fire on Erik and he dove for cover. At the same time, Victor landed, realizing his attack was going nowhere, he attacked the Light Keepers on foot. Dart and Rose double teamed him but he held his own in his new form. They made sure they were careful to avoid his punches and kicks as well as locking swords with him. Soon he became frustrated and launched several blasts at them which they blocked or deflected. Incredibly they began to force him back. Terra was even holding her own against the Supreme Leader’s savage attacks. Something is going haywire here, Victor thought desperately. But the War Lords were saved by an unlikely source.
        “That’s enough!” The calm voice yelled. “Stop now or I kill him!” Christopher yelled holding a gun to Erik’s head.
         The Light Keepers halted dead in their tracks, the entire battle seemed to halt and all eyes were on Christopher. Victor laughed savagely.
        “Excellent work, Captain! Well done indeed.”
        “Forget about me! Finish them!” Erik yelled.
        Christopher slammed his gun into the back of Erik’s head and he collapsed to the ground. Terra screamed in horror but remained frozen in place.
        “Throw down your weapons or he dies.” Christopher ordered.
        Dart threw down his sword first, Rose followed him, and only Terra held her sword.
        “I said drop it! Can’t you hear me you stupid girl?” Christopher hissed.
        Terra merely stared at the ceiling and gasped.
        “What the…?” Christopher looked up as a piece of the roof came crashing down at him.
        He dove for cover as a shard struck him and he was knocked unconscious.
         “No!” Victor roared.
        He fired a blast at Dart who already had his sword back. Terra was running for Erik and Rose made a mad dash to protect them both from the Supreme Leader. Terra pulled Erik away from the rubble.
        “Get up!” She yelled desperately.
        Slowly he came to and she dragged him to his feet. Rose tossed Terra her sword and dodged another blow from the Supreme Leader. Dart closed in on Victor and threw a powerful stab at him, catching him in the thigh. He collapsed to the ground, clutching the bleeding wound as Dart stood over him. Victor held up his arm and winced at Dart.
        “Stop! Please don’t!” He begged.
        Dart was so stunned by the plea he lowered his sword. Victor smiled and his hand shot out, launching a blast, not at Dart, but at Terra. It struck her dead center in the chest. But Victor looked confused, not triumphant as she turned to stone rather than dying, her sword still held in her hand. The Supreme Leader backed off as well.
         Rose took the opportunity to grab Dart’s hand and pull him away. They had completely forgotten the struggle around them and the Imperials were badly beating their soldiers.
        “Dart, please come on!” She begged, tears running down her face. “We can’t beat them and I won’t lose you too!” She pleaded beginning to sob.
        Dart snapped back to Earth, nodded, and as Erik joined them they left the bewildered War Lords behind them.
        “Shall we pursue them, Merkuto?” Victor asked, limping over to his comrade.
        “I think not. Our army is doing a good enough job, and we’ve already taken care of another one of them and gotten another sword to boot. Only two remain out of our grasp now.”
        Victor nodded. “I will order the other attacks to begin then.”
        It was Merkuto’s turn to nod in agreement as Victor shuffled away to awaken his aide and begin issuing orders. No, they weren’t done with the Light Keepers and their pitiful invasion yet, not by a long shot.                   

                                  Chapter 9

         Sally was witnessing something she had never seen before as the Republic advanced into Boston. The people here looked at them not with the discontent the people loyal to the Empire in Europe had shown them, but in hatred. She finally stopped to ask an old man why.
        “The Empire has provided us peace and security like we never knew for three and a half years and you people came and smashed all that to pieces in less than a month!”
        “But you are free now!” She protested.
        “We have seen the Empire’s full might as you have not. Freedom will not matter at all when the Empire comes back here after destroying you.”
        She simply shook her head in confusion and continued on. She had more important things to worry about. The Republic was slugging it out with the Empire deep within the city of Boston. They had dismantled many of the enemy shore defenses from behind but there was more work to do within the city. Fighting was close, chaotic, and bloody.
         “What’s the situation?” She asked a soldier as she darted into a nearby building.
        “Imperial machine gun in the room across the street. We’ve got to get rid of it if we ever want to get out of here.” The girl replied.
        “Alright, I’ll find another squad and lead them down the road at the nest. When it opens up on us, you and everyone else here hit it with everything you’ve got. Ok?”
        The girl nodded. Sally ran out of the building and down the street, a shot was fired at her, she had no idea from where but she kept running and jumped into a hole in the side of a building. Her soldiers almost shot her before she could tell them who she was.
        “What do you need?” A boy asked when everything was straightened out.
        “I need a squad to help us clear out a machine gun nest down the street.”
        The boy nodded and sent several of his soldiers off with her. They made their way back down the street, whoever had fired at Sally before must have left because no further shots came at them. When they neared the nest’s position, they fanned out and took cover wherever they could. Then Sally opened fire and everyone else followed her lead. The gun roared to life and soon they were pinned down. Then a hail of fire replied from the other direction. The gun fell silent and Sally’s other squad stormed into the building.
        “All clear!” One of them yelled, waving out of the window a minute later.
        “Nice work.” Sally said to the soldiers who had come with her as they headed back to their unit.
         “Now what?” One of her soldiers asked, peering out of the other side of the building, when she caught up to them.
        “Now we have to get ready to take the next street.” Sally replied tiredly.
        But the moment would never come. A horrific rumbling started off in the distance and became louder and louder as the seconds stretched on.
        “Enemy armor!” Someone cried out.
        “Dammit!” Sally yelled. “They aren’t supposed to have any tanks left! What’s going on here?”
        “Well there are at least a dozen coming at us. I say we get out of here because we’re not gonna stop them.” The boy said.
        Sally nodded and they fled the house they had just taken. They soon found they had no support in the area, in fact there was no one else for blocks.
        “This is bad.” One girl remarked looking around nervously.
        “Let’s head for HQ, hopefully we can find out more there.” Sally commanded.
         They moved at a quick pace through the city knowing the Imperials could catch up to them at any time. At last they got to HQ and found it abandoned as well.
        “What in the world is happening in this city?” Sally grumbled in frustration.
        Then they heard footsteps. Everyone raised their guns until they saw it was one of their soldiers, another officer like Sally.
        “What happened here?” She demanded of him.
        “It’s all over.” He said, wearily. “The Empire has reinforcements, so many troops, weapons, and vehicles that we didn’t even know existed. They wiped out everyone north of New York. Most of the army here has pulled out. There are a few units in the city that didn’t get the word so I stayed behind to warn anyone who made it this far.”
        “My God.” Sally whispered. “Thank you. Come with us though.” She pleaded. “There’s no one else left. Hell, we were still advancing half an hour ago, we’re as far out as anyone got and the Empire will be here any minute.”
        The boy bit his lip, then nodded.
        “Alright. The radio here still broadcasts a retreat order, and between you and me I really don’t want to become a prisoner.”
        Sally nodded in agreement and they got out of the building as quickly as they could. They heard more booms as they approached the city harbor and a squadron of Imperial fighters roared by overhead.
        “They must be attacking the harbor. We’ve got to get out now!” The boy who had joined them said, increasing his pace.
        When they got to the shore, only a few Republic ships remained. Several ships were burning in the harbor and the docks themselves were in terrible shape.
        “Come on! We’re getting out now so move it!” A boy manning one of the ships screamed at them.
        They made a mad dash for the vessel as they heard a crash behind them. An Imperial tank flattened the building they had come out of and rolled toward them.
        “Don’t let them get away!” They heard one of the Imperial officers yell.
        The tank fired at the gangway as they ran up it onto the ship. The sailors on the ship returned fire and the Imperials decided that maybe it wouldn’t be so easy to take them prisoner after all and backed off. Their ship pulled away from the dock seconds later. Then the sailors turned their guns to the sky. Imperial fighters continued to sweep down and fire on the transports trying to make their escape.
        “This is a disaster.” Sally said, looking at the wrecked city.
        No one disagreed with her.

         Alvin stood in his tank as it rolled east at top speed. The Republic’s invasion was collapsing like a house of cards, just like Victor has promised. Baltimore was back in their hands already, New York City was as well. Alvin had heard stories about New York, no one knew for sure what happened but everyone was saying the Supreme Leader himself had annihilated the entire enemy army there. Everyone who didn’t surrender died. Right now, Alvin’s column was approaching Annapolis and the fact that the Republic was withdrawing as quickly as possible only seemed to confirm the stories from the north.
        “Well we won’t let them. They won’t get away with this.” He said.
        Then the lead tank hit a mine just inside the city limits and stopped dead in its tracks. Enemy troops armed with bazookas and every weapon they could get their hands on opened fire from previously hidden positions. Alvin swore and ducked into the tank.
         “Aim for the window to our left, fifty yards away.” He ordered.
        The turret swiveled toward the window as a shell bounced off their armor. Alvin laughed.
        “Those popguns aren’t going to stop our tanks. Fire!”
        The entire second floor collapsed when the high explosive shell struck it.
        “Game over for them.” Matthew said, smiling.
        “All units attention.” An icy voice called out over the radio. “Continue to put all possible pressure on the enemy. The city’s docks must be taken at any cost.”
        Silence resumed.
        “That’s weird. Won’t they just try to escape harder if we press them?” Matthew asked.
        “You heard the General. We press on.” Alvin ordered.
        The rest of the armored battalion obeyed as well and the small delaying force that had been holding them up melted away. Matthew turned the tank’s machine guns loose on enemy infantry whenever they exposed themselves and the floor of the tank was soon covered in bullet casings.
        “Hey Al, we’re getting close to the docks.” William yelled from the driver’s seat.
        “Nice work.” He replied.
        As they rolled out towards the harbor they saw the Republic desperately scrambling to get the last of its troops off the continent and to get its ships out of the Chesapeake Bay. The radio crackled to life again.
        “All units hold here. You’ve done excellent work. We have something special planned for them now.” Alvin and his men smiled.
        “I don’t think they’re going to make it out of the Bay as easily as they planned.” Alvin said, laughing with his friends.

         “We’ve got to get out of the Chesapeake as quickly as possible.” Erik said as their ships steamed south.
        His voice shook uncontrollably as he spoke, they were all still trying to cope with what had happened at the Capitol. It was hitting Erik especially hard, he was blaming himself for what happened to Terra and the ongoing failure of the invasion, despite Rose and Dart assuring him that wasn’t true. Before anyone could say another word sirens began blaring on their own ship and on others nearby. They ran to the bridge as quickly as their feet would carry them.
        “What’s happening?” Dart demanded as they burst in.
        “Enemy ships approaching, sir.” The fleet’s Admiral, a boy named Patrick Jenson, answered.
        “How many?” Rose asked.
        “We’re not sure, but it looks like a lot. I don’t think the Empire wants us to make it out of the Bay.” He said dryly.
        “Well what’s the best thing we can do?” Rose tried again.
        “There’s not much we can do. We’ll have to fight our way through them. If we break their line, their fleet will splinter and we can get out, if they break us first…well that’s it.”
          The water was disturbingly calm as they moved down the Bay. Then on the horizon, several ships appeared. Those several become dozens and those dozens became hundreds.
        “Uh oh.” Patrick said.
        “That’s gotta be the entire Imperial Atlantic Fleet!” Dart blurted out.
        Patrick got on the channel to the whole fleet.
        “All escort vessels will engage the enemy at close quarters. Transports, do your best to get out of here.”
        "Umm. Is it a good idea to get as close to them as possible?” Rose asked nervously.
        “Well we can do that and make them run the risk of firing on each other or we can sit here and be annihilated.”  Patrick answered.
        “Fair enough.” She replied.
          Moments later, the first ships opened fire. Shells crashed in the water all around them. Others found their mark as ships brewed up in flames or billowed smoke. Their own ships fired back and soon Imperial vessels were burning as well.
        “Let’s hope this is working.” Patrick said as they pulled up along an Imperial battleship as least as large as their own vessel.
        Patrick got onto the ship’s loudspeaker system next.
        “No, I repeat, no heavy weapons firing. At this range we’ll blow them up and ourselves.”
        They were close enough to hear the Imperial naval officer on the other ship blaring out about the same thing. Machine guns, small arms fire, and other smaller guns blazed back and forth regardless of this. As they cleared the battleship, a smaller Imperial ship steered clear of them and soon they’d reached the opposite end of the Imperial line.
         “We’re getting through!” Rose said excitedly.
        Some ships hadn’t been so lucky but most of the fleet seemed to be pulling through the line intact, including the vast majority of the transports.
        “I don’t know.” Erik said, coming out of his silence. “It seems too easy.”
        Several seconds later an enormous pillar of water shot up off the port side of the ship.
        “What the devil was that?” Patrick yelled, throwing the ship into a zigzagging maneuver to try to avoid being hit. “The fleet couldn’t possibly have rounded on us that fast!” He protested as more plumes shot up and some ships took hits.
         They found their answer as an Imperial dive bomber roared across the bow of the ship. Anti-aircraft guns began to open up to try to ward off the enemy planes. One bomber crashed into the bay shortly afterward. Too many others did not.
        “We’re getting murdered here!” Patrick yelled.
        “Our aircraft carriers stayed offshore during the invasion right?” Dart asked in desperation.
        “Yes!” Rose replied, as another bomb crashed nearer to them.
        “Then I’m calling in air support. We need cover to get out of here alive!”
        Dart ran to the radio and sent out the plea for help as a transport exploded in a fantastically horrific fashion. The minutes crept by slowly, painfully, until finally Imperial bombers began falling in far greater numbers. Cheers broke out across the ship as their planes fought off the Imperial attackers.
        “We are approaching the Atlantic!” Patrick said, relief filling his voice.
        Under an umbrella of fighter cover, what remained of the Republic’s grand invasion fleet limped out of the Chesapeake Bay and into the Atlantic Ocean.
        “We made it.” Dart said.
        “Thank God.” Rose added, collapsing into her seat.
        “Now what?” He asked.
        “Now we pick up the pieces.” Erik said.
        That was as good an answer as any of them could find.

         Victor peered through a periscope from beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean as he had several months ago at the beginning of the Republic’s invasion. It was long past night fall and the weather had deteriorated rapidly. The ocean was violent, almost unlike anything he’d ever seen. But no matter, the battle would happen either way. The Light fools and their cronies arrogantly believed that just because they’d ‘fought off’ his fleet and a few bombers that they had escaped the vengeance of the War Lords.
        “Well they’re wrong.” He muttered.
        No, the final trap had yet to be unleashed. The entire Imperial submarine fleet had positioned itself offshore while his other forces had delayed the enemy and was now waiting to ambush them as soon as they appeared out of the storm and came into range. And here they were, right on schedule. Victor didn’t bother giving an order to fire, everyone knew what to do anyway and breaking radio silence would only give them away. The submarine made a clanking noise as the torpedoes rushed out of their silos toward their target. Victor laughed savagely as ships rapidly turned into wreckage on the high seas. Several crew members looked at him fearfully but not for long, they didn’t dare make eye contact. A few more minutes of a pounding like this and there wouldn’t be anything left of the Republic’s fleet.
        “Excellent.” Victor hissed.
         “Now what?” Dart and Rose yelled at Patrick at the same time.
        “Enemy submarines, everywhere. This is an enormous trap. They let us escape the Bay on purpose.” He said in pure frustration.
        “We better do something fast or we’re dead.” Erik said.
        Their ship lurched under the pressure of a wave and a torpedo just missed them. Rain pounded the decks and soaked everyone to the bone. Some desperately tried to drop depth charges to hit the submarines but they were nowhere near close enough to them and they could barely drop them at all in the pounding rain. Thunder crashed and the weather became even more violent. The ocean began to swirl menacingly ahead of them.
        “I know one thing, we’re not going towards that.” Patrick said, steering clear of it.
        The rest of the fleet seemed to follow suit.
        “What do we do?” Rose pleaded at him as another one of their ships sank beneath the waves.
        “If no one else has any bright ideas we just have to hope we can take this and get lucky.” He replied fighting against the ship’s controls to keep it on course.
        Aides and other pilots rushed around the bridge trying to keep the ship afloat and from being hit by a torpedo.
        “We’re in trouble.” Dart said, turning to Rose.
        “That’s a bit of an understatement.” She replied dryly.
        An eerie silence seemed to fall over the bridge despite the chaos of the weather and battle around them and time seemed to slow to an eternity as the seconds inched by.

         “My Lord, we’ve spotted their flag ship.” Christopher said to Victor, repositioning the periscope for him to get a better view of it.
        “Good work. Prepare to fire all of our remaining torpedoes.” He ordered.
        “My Lord, there is one more thing.” Christopher began.
        “Well what is it?” The War Lord demanded.
        “The enemy fleet changed course during the course of the battle and we can’t seem to figure out why.” He replied.
        “Who gives a damn?” Victor spat. “They just want to avoid being blown out of the water. We are still positioned to annihilate them, correct?”
        “Yes, my Lord.” Christopher said.
        “Then fire. Now.” Victor ordered coldly.
Christopher saluted and nodded to the men at the arming controls. They got to work preparing the final torpedoes for launch when the submarine lurched violently and was tugged off course.
        “What the Devil was that?” Victor asked no one in particular.
        Confusion set in instantly and was followed by panic. Victor heard a titanic explosion outside the submarine and the pull on his own vessel became more violent.
        “Someone tell me what’s happening!” He yelled at the top of his lungs, fear entering his voice.
        At last Christopher appeared, drenched in sweat. “My Lord! We’ve been caught in a maelstrom! That is what the enemy ships shifted course from! We missed it from beneath the surface.” He managed to gasp out.
        “My God.” Victor, said quietly, collapsing into his chair. “What are those explosions then?”
        Christopher hesitated before answering.“Sir, those are other submarines colliding in the maelstrom.”

         “The torpedoes have stopped!” Rose said in excitement.
        Then they heard an incredible boom. But when everyone scanned the fleet, there was no smoke, no ship sinking. Then another explosion. Only then did they realize they were coming from beneath the waves in the maelstrom.
        “What is going on down there?” Dart asked.
        “I don’t know.” Rose said. “But I’m not gonna complain about it. Let’s get out of here while we have a chance!”
        “Aye aye, Madam Light Keeper.” Patrick said, redirecting them once more to put them back on course to Europe and safety.

        “What?” Victor demanded, his eyes popping open in terror. “This is insane! This can’t possibly be happening. We had them dammit!” He yelled in desperation.
        “What are your orders, my Lord?” Christopher asked after another explosion went off.
        Everyone in the sub stared at him.
        “We’ve got to get out of this thing.” He said, after a moment of thought. “Obviously.” He added a second later. “Put all power into forward movement. We must break free of the current and for goodness sake make sure we don’t hit anyone.”
        He got on the radio and ordered the rest of the survivors to break out now. An agonizing hour later, the weather cleared and the battered remains of the undersea fleet surfaced. Victor threw the hatch open and stormed out onto the deck of the submarine. He scanned the horizon for the enemy. Nothing. His face contorted and he screamed in duel pain and rage.

         Alex struggled waist deep through the back country swamps of South Carolina. They had gotten off the beaches with relative ease and now they found out why.
        “The whole state a trap.” He muttered to himself.
        He held his gun above his head as he moved forward, it was the one thing he couldn’t afford to have ruined. Several dozen other soldiers slugged forward with him.
        “These swamps have to end eventually.” Someone said.
        Along the way they’d encountered sporadic Imperial resistance, but nothing serious. The Empire seemed content to let the elements deal with them. Then suddenly they began taking fire. Machine guns opened fire in front of them and snipers picked them off from the trees.
        “What’s this?” Alex growled, hearing another soldier come sloshing up behind him.
         “It’s all over!” She cried out. “The Empire has beaten the invasion everywhere. They’re moving everything against us! We have to escape now!” She screamed.
        Panic broke out immediately. Weapons and supplies were abandoned to make escape easier. At the same time the Imperials revealed new terrors along the way. Artillery opened fire, planes strafed at them, and snipers in concealed positions opened fire from positions they thought they had secured.
        “Dammit!” Alex swore as he tripped on a stick below the murky waters.
        He let the pant leg rip where it had gotten caught and continued to stumble forward. Then he felt something slam into his back. He collapsed immediately and the pain struck him. He bled out in the filthy water as several Imperial soldiers splashed toward him. They were equipped with wetsuits to advance through the swamps easily, unlike the Republic’s troops. One of them noticed him and swung his gun on him.
        “Whata ya’ll want me to do with ‘em?” He drawled in an American southern accent.
        “Hell, you know Voktor’s orders. Fry ‘em.” Another boy replied, this time in a northern accent.
        The alien looking boy in his goggles and wetsuit was the last thing Alexander ever saw as he fired one more time.

                              Chapter 10

         “We blew it.” Dart said, mournfully, as he, Rose, and Erik meandered through Lisbon.
        “We can’t worry about that now.” Erik said. “We have to focus on helping the people who we did liberate from the Empire rebuild their lives. Millions are dead and millions more don’t have homes, or clean water, or food. We have to do something for them.” He insisted.
        “How can we do that while we’re fighting a war?” Rose asked.
        “We can’t.” Erik replied.
        “Then what are we supposed to do?” Dart shot at him, getting frustrated.
        “We’re going to have to ask them to come to the negotiating table.” He said with a sigh.
        “Are you kidding?” Rose blurted out. “In case you haven’t been paying attention, they’re called the ‘War Lords’! They don’t understand peace!” She said, running her hands through her hair.
        “I know it sounds crazy, like everything I say.” Erik said, looking hurt. “But we have to try it. They’ll make peace if they think it will benefit them somehow. Believe me, we aren’t the only ones rattled by all this. Didn’t you see their faces at the Capitol Building? They don’t understand everything going on either, they’re afraid too.”
        Rose and Dart looked at each other worriedly. No matter how much they hated it, they didn’t have any better ideas.

         Several weeks later, and to the Light Keeper’s surprise, the War Lords accepted their invitation to the table. After some back and forth between the two sides, they agreed that a ship in the Atlantic would be the best place to hold negotiations as it would be completely neutral territory. Before anything could happen, the chosen vessel was thoroughly inspected and otherwise torn apart by teams from each side. When their troops gave the all-clear, Rose, Dart, and Erik sailed to the ship and boarded. It was an almost indescribably awkward to walk past the expressionless Imperial soldiers who would have killed them only weeks ago could they have gotten so close. They reached the conference room first and took their seats, waiting in silence. Then the door opened and Victor’s aide appeared.
        “The Supreme Leader and the Supreme General will be with you momentarily.” He said emptily before departing.
        Surely enough, Rose could soon feel that awful, dull ache in her head and moments later the two War Lords slipped into the room and sat down.
        “Well, where shall we begin then?” Victor said raising an eyebrow.
        “It would seem as though territory will be the least complicated issue to solve. Is that a suitable starting point?” Erik asked.
        The War Lords exchanged a cold gaze and nodded.
        “Our position is that each side keeps the territory its forces currently occupy.” The Supreme Leader opened.
        “We were hoping something could be done to resolve the issue of the enclaves in Africa and China.” Rose suggested.
        “Impossible.” Victor interrupted. “Those positions are vital to our security. It would be insane for us to surrender the entire main global continent to you.” The back and forth continued for nearly an hour until the Light Keepers realized that the War Lords weren’t giving up those territories without a fight.
         Then Dart dropped the nuclear bomb.“We may have to forcibly remove your troops to protect our own security.”
        “You wouldn’t dare.” Victor hissed. “Not while we still have your friends.”
        Now it was the Light Keepers’ turn to wince.
        “Well that sounds like a point we can agree on.” Erik said. “You keep your territories and give us our fellow Light Keepers back, with their appropriate weapons.”
        Victor laughed, seeing through Erik’s plan at once. “You’re never getting those damn swords and gems back. Sorry. Your friends are another matter.”
        The Supreme Leader tugged his sleeve and they leaned together for a minute. After some harsh whispering, the Supreme Leader spoke.
        “We will release Albert and Hank.”
        “What about Terra?” Erik immediately demanded.
        “No.” Victor said. “You can’t heal her anyway. Trust us, we want to know how that happened as desperately as you do. If we make any progress, you’ll be updated on her condition.”
        Erik looked mutinous but Dart and Rose begged him to accept so they could get two of their friends back. At the same time, the Supreme Leader shot Victor an odd look that said his colleague wasn’t giving up the whole goat about hanging on to Terra and even he didn’t know why.
        “Fine. We’ve got to get some progress here anyway.” Erik finally conceded.
        “Excellent.” Victor replied, looking relieved.
         “Speaking of prisoner exchanges, how will that be handled?” He asked.
        “We believe all prisoners should be released from both sides.” Rose said. “There’s no reason to keep people indefinitely anymore, especially when neither side can afford to hold all the troops we’ve racked up over the years.”
        “Agreed.” The Supreme Leader said.
        Victor and the Light Keepers nodded as well. That, at least, was an easy issue.
        “Moving on to the riveting topic of international waters...” Victor continued.
        Several more hours of debate resulted in an agreement that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans would be regularly patrolled by both sides to make sure no attacks were being planned from the sea. Next, a very recently uncovered issue had to be taken care of. The two factions promised to keep a balance in the new space programs that they had been recovering from the old governments before the war. Finally, they made a very generic agreement not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs. It was well into the night before they finally broke off.
        “Well, I think that just about does it.” The Supreme Leader said.
        “We’ll have our people look over everything and coordinate with yours.” Rose said.
        The War Lords nodded and slipped away. The Light Keepers followed them out. Tomorrow morning they’d sign the treaty and put an end to the most horrific war of all time.
         “Ready?” Erik asked the other two Light Keepers.
        They nodded in reply. Cameras followed them as they crossed the deck of the ship and sat down at the table in its center. Christopher hovered over them and stared at the carefully arranged papers and pens on the table, making sure everything was in order. The Supreme Leader glided across the deck a minute later. Victor Voktor appeared last, looking only mildly disgusted. Everyone was silent as the Light Keepers took the treaty first and affixed their names to it one by one. Then Rose, signing last for them, pushed it over to the Supreme Leader. He scribbled ’Supreme Leader’ and passed it to Victor. Rose frowned. She had been hoping to get an actual name out of him. Then Victor looked at the document, gritted his teeth, and signed it. The prominent ‘V’s that led his name were the only legible letters. The ship, no, the entire world, seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. The War Lords didn’t look at the Light Keepers for even a moment as they stormed off of the ship.
        “It’s over then.” Dart said quietly.
        “I’m afraid it’s not.” Rose said. “They live.” She looked out to sea, rubbing her temples as the pain faded once again.
        Dart immediately knew what she meant. “We’ll just have to make the best of it for now. We can’t see the future.” 
        “I agree.” Erik said. “Let’s get going. We have half a planet to rebuild. Literally.” They nodded again and exited the ship.

         Pablo shuffled off of the transport onto the docks of New York City. The city was still in shambles from the Republic’s failed invasion. He and the other freed Imperials marched along in an enormous line. No one knew where they were going but other armed Imperials kept guiding them along. Then Pablo noticed the troops ahead of him stiffening to attention, some of them gasped or squeaked in surprise. Pablo still had no idea what was happening but then felt a cold feeling consume him. He shivered and looked up at a platform everyone was passing by. Victor himself stood among a cluster of Imperials and fixed a cold gaze on them. Eventually, they learned they were all heading toward Central Park where they were to be addressed by the War Lord himself. Several hours later, they were ready to hear him speak.
        “Brave soldiers of the Empire.” He began. “We are pleased to have you back in the service of our great nation. However, due to the fact that you have fallen into enemy hands, each and every one of you will go through a repatriation process we have set up.” He paused to let that sink in and continued. “You will be brought up to speed on events, be questioned for relevant intelligence and security purposes, and otherwise examined. Then you will be handed out new assignments. Once more, I can’t begin to express my joy at having you all back with us.” He said, smiling a cold, empty smile.
        Everyone looked at one another nervously, they were back in the Empire, but it was a new world now. 

         Victor entered the Imperial HQ in Washington D.C. The Supreme Leader pulled him aside as soon as he arrived.
        “Before you go on air, I wanted you to know everything is on schedule.”
        “Excellent.” Victor replied. “When will we be ready to proceed?”
        “Not clear yet. I’m not sure our ‘friends’ will not keep quiet either.” Merkuto hissed in reply.
        “Indeed.” Victor said, frowning. “Well, if you will excuse me.”
        Merkuto gave him a curt nod and departed. He made his way to the broadcast room and his aide.
        “Let’s get this over with.” He said to Christopher while falling into a chair in front of a number of television cameras.
        They gave him the signal and he began to read.
        “My fellow Imperials, as you very well know, the great conflagration has come to an end. We must now enter a new era and find a way to co-exist with even our most hated enemies. Every one of you has served honorably and admirably in this conflict and your Empire needs you now more than ever. Thank you, and goodnight.” He concluded.
        After shutting off the cameras, Christopher came up to him again.
        “What now, my Lord?”
        “Now we get ready for the next war.” Victor replied, with a cold, bloodless smile.
        He laughed as everyone else in the room stared at him in horror.

         With the end of the war Alvin had been promoted to Colonel. He could have resigned and gone home but felt there was nothing for him there, so he stayed in Washington D.C. Plus, in return for his unflinching loyalty, Victor had given him an important position. He was in charge of mainland USA’s internal security. As Alvin got to work he had no regrets about any of his decisions.

         Sally had been promoted as well and was a Lt. Colonel in the Republic’s army now. The end of the war was bittersweet for her, there would be no more fighting but she and many other teens who had fought for the Republic would not be going home. She had been given command of the monitoring stations in England and she was to report any large Imperial activity in the Atlantic. She decided she would just do her best to make a new home there and got to work.

        Kelsey Rothfus shuffled off the Imperial prison ship into Lisbon. She was emaciated, her eyes sunk into her head. Three years in an Imperial labor camp. Three years of her life gone forever. She could hardly believe she’d survived, she knew too many that hadn’t. A doctor gave her a quick examination, there were thousands of others to look over, many of whom were far worse off than she. This was it for Kelsey. She wouldn’t be returning home but she wasn’t returning to the war either. After she was decommissioned she’d find her parents and somewhere quiet to settle down. This was the end of her adventure, she’d seen more than enough.

         Finally, Erik, Dart and Rose were back in Supreme Republic HQ in Moscow. They would have to stay in uniform no matter what.
        “Well we’re back.” Dart said.
        “Yep.” Rose replied. “And there’s some good news. Reconstruction is already underway in North Africa, Europe, and most of China.”
        “Indeed.” Erik added. “The Empire wrecked everything pretty well taking the places then retreating out of them.”
        “Yeah, but I’m confident we can handle it and still beat them together.” Dart said.
        “Mhmm, and with the help of some old friends too.” She said.
        Albert and Hank were on their way back, they would need time to recover but would be a major help to the two exhausted Light Keepers. Erik excused himself from the room. For now, they smiled at each other and left the control room of the HQ, hand in hand.
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