Lightborn - Chapter Two

One month earlier - March 2091

The TV came to life right on schedule. Nobody bothered to unplug it anymore - we knew the damn thing would turn on either way. The screen shone its red light around the room as the Brotherhood’s logo pulsed big and bright in the middle.

“Brotherhood…” Uncle Mark mumbled to nobody in particular.

He always rolled his eyes or exhaled sharply when he saw that word. Having been a soldier, he ‘knew what it really meant.’

We waited and watched as the image went from black to red and back again. The stupid emblem spun in the middle: some dumb star with flames around.

I really hate that thing. Nothing good ever comes from seeing it.

“I don’t see why we have to just sit here,” my sister said for the millionth time.

She got up and moved to the window, looking out as though she would actually see anybody. She knew better - we all did. The Brotherhood had something to say, and you better believe we were all going to hear it.

“How would they even know…”

Alexis turned toward the door, but Uncle Mark grabbed her wrist. They made eye contact for a second before she slumped forward and sat back down.

“They always know,” my little cousin whispered, scared they would hear his every word.

Things had been quiet in the last few months. The most recent curfew was lifted, and we let ourselves fall back into a routine.

People went to work, dropped their kids at school, went on dates, and buried their loved ones. The Brotherhood stayed off our TVs and out of our radios, and it was almost as though they were gone.

Of course, nobody was going to forget about them. Their army of lackeys still patrolled the cities, and the Lightborn kept a close eye on their Townships.

We were all used to being watched by now. It was the standard way of life since The Blackout.

The Brotherhood calls it The Awakening but it has a lot of underground names: The Apocalypse nearing the top of the list.

I prefer to think of it as The Fall - our Fall from grace.

Mankind became so self-involved that we completely missed The Brotherhood’s rise. Like a trojan horse, they snuck in with the gift of illusion and wonderment, but within was our downfall. These worldwide broadcasts were a slap in the face of all those who watched and laughed and ignored the power.

I like to think I would have been suspicious.

Did people really not see it?

Seventy years isn’t a long time, not really. I just can’t imagine the people of 2020 watching a man freeze a cup of tea with the touch of his finger or walk on water and not see the magic.

That’s a tough word, even now. It’s so much more than magic tricks and illusion. It’s power. Real, big, evil power. The men who used to wander the streets reading minds and pulling cell phones out of watermelons are now the men who control it all. It was as though they woke up one day and realised what they were capable of.

But instead of choosing to do good, they chose to take over the world.

The Blackout began on June 23, 2023, when the whole world went dark. Every light, television, cellphone, and computer went out. Radios didn’t work, elevators stopped, cars shut down, trains came to a screeching halt, and planes crashed out of the skies.

The chaos that followed was like nothing anyone had ever seen and raged worldwide. For seven days, people looted and caused destruction to cities, homes, and public property. From Tokyo to Paris to New York, the world was wholly unsafe.

Then on June 30, exactly a week after it began, every screen and television on the planet turned on to broadcast the same message to the world:

“Hello. We are The Brotherhood of Light. The Fathers of Power. The Lightborn. Exactly one week ago, we took control. We turned out the lights. We stopped the cars and trains and shut down your access to everything. We did this because we can no longer stand by and watch as the world runs itself into destruction. On June 23, our people removed the leaders of every single country around the globe. They are no longer in charge. We are. We let you destroy each other for the last seven days to show you the future you were blindly running towards. You were ignoring the signs of your own destruction. This was inevitable. Except now, you have us.”

With this, lights came back on, and the broadcast showed footage of the carnage from the week.

People killing each other over bottled water.

Looters throwing Molotov cocktails into homes and stores.

Then in the blink of an eye, both on screen and in person, the destruction was gone. The Brotherhood raised their hands, speaking some kind of incantation. The streets were suddenly cleared, and the buildings were rebuilt. It was as if it never happened.

“This is what you became. This brought out the worst in you, and we are here to show you how to come back to the light. As of this moment, all looting and rioting will cease. We have eyes everywhere, and we will throw anyone caught breaking the rules in the same pit as the former world leaders. We will have order. We have placed one of our Brothers in command of every continent worldwide and will work to bring peace back to you. For now, all you need to know is that a change is coming, and you have little choice but to fall in line.”

The message played simultaneously around the world, waking people up to the New World Order.

Naturally, people resisted.

Generals believed they could take back control with the force of their militaries but with communications still down, organising a revolt proved difficult.

When some five thousand strong tried to storm the White House, their guns turned to sand in their hands. They forced soldiers in Australia to turn their weapons on each other. Mercenaries in France went up in a cloud of smoke with the simple snap of the Brotherhood’s fingers.

They broadcast all of this to the world in a 24/7 news cycle of carnage. The Brotherhood made it clear who was in charge and what would happen to those who defied them. It took six months of unsuccessful rebellions before the Brotherhood announced their total control. Militaries were now at their disposal, though they assured everyone they wouldn’t be needed. The Brotherhood promised a new world, one without poverty or crime.

But their peace didn’t last long. How could it?

Some people’s hatred for the Lightborn outweighed their fear, and every so often, a show of power became necessary. Whispers and rumours of rebellions would spread, eventually reaching the Brotherhood’s ears, forcing their hands.

A group of rebels was taken down in 2029 after trying to liberate a prison camp. Most of the group was executed live for all to see.

In 2034, the Brother of Canada rounded up the entire community of Toronto. He had them line the streets, and with nothing more than a sigh, froze every last one of them. They’re still there, frozen statues for all to see and fear.

The whispers ceased after that for many years. Too many failed attempts to overthrow the most powerful men in the world had a way of keeping a resistance down.

Not that Alexis let it stop her…

“They can’t keep watch over all of us all the time! There’s only three of them, for Brother’s sake!” Alexis hissed.

“Alexis, don’t! Just…you always do this. Just stop. Complaining isn’t going to change a thing, and you know it,” I snapped.

Alexis always acted like she was ready to rebel but was all talk. Some nights I could let her go on, but tonight I just didn’t have the patience for it. So we sat in silence, waiting for the Brotherhood to spew their nonsense.

When the emblem finally faded, and the Brothers came on the screen, I saw Uncle Mark stiffen and little Frankie flinch.

“Citizens, thank you for joining us tonight,” Brother Anwar began.

He sat in the middle of the Three, hands open and welcoming. “We are honoured, as always, to have your attention.”

Uncle Mark snorted and rolled his eyes. He downed the last of his drink and made to stand, before catching himself and sitting back in his chair.

Had we been outside somewhere when the announcement began, we would have had to scramble to find a screen. At least we had a little warning this time around.

During broadcasts, we’ve been shown what they do to people for missing an announcement, and it’s not pretty.

I remember when I was very young watching a group of Lightborn age an entire family in the span of just a few minutes.

They stood in a row, all four of them, sad and sobbing. The Lightborn raised their hands, and the family grew old and frail before our eyes until they crumpled over, dead, grey, and lifeless. The youngest was no older than Alexis at the time, and it took far longer for him to go. Watching his little body wrinkle and fade haunts me to this day.

“Tonight, we have come to you to make a special announcement,” Brother Oran continued. “As you know, in just a few short months, we will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of our Ascension. Three decades ago, we won the Dark War and rose to become the most powerful Lightborn this world has ever seen. We defeated those who wanted to harm our way of life and brought peace to the world once more.”

I tensed at the words. I may not have been alive for the Dark War, but I knew the history - the real history.

Oh, they won the war all right - the war they started! Millions of people died as the Lightborn fought their battles from the safety of their homes, and it took eleven and a half years of fighting before a ‘truce’ was finally called.

Trust me, nobody won anything that day.

Brother Uri took over now, nodding to his cohorts before he turned to the camera. His bright eyes always shocked me.

“For the last thirty years, you have seen what real peace looks like. We have given you bountiful crops, provided jobs for all, and kept you safe. Our Brotherhood has never been stronger. Every day, more Lightborn shine bright and are welcomed into the fold.”

With this, the camera moved back to reveal the Great Hall. In front of the Brothers were rows of boyish men, standing to attention with their eyes cast down - the School of Light’s newest graduates.

A few years after the Blackout, monthly tests were introduced to every school around the world. They took any young boy that showed even the slightest spark from his parents and put them into a new school, run solely by the Brotherhood.

For some unknown reason, all Lightborn are male and are expected to prove themselves worthy by working as security in local communities. After they gain enough experience, they’re promoted and given control of a Township. Known as Leaders, these lackies act as the hands of the Brotherhood in the local areas. Senior to these men are the Lieutenants, higher-ranking members of the Brotherhood, in charge of multiple Townships at once.

On the screen, the young men held their arms in front of their chests, palms cupped around small glimmering orbs. They were the newest group of Lightborn to come of age and possibly the largest group so far.

“In the years following The Awakening, we saw so few Lightborn emerged. But since our Ascension, our numbers have more than doubled. We have installed senior Brothers in every major city around the globe, and our young men here will join the ranks in your Townships. Each man before us has taken a vow to uphold our laws and values and should be seen as our ambassadors.”

The Three remained seated as the camera focused on their faces once more. Brother Anwar looked to his left and then his right. Brothers Uri and Oran nodded and returned their gaze to the camera, their eyes narrowing slightly as he spoke.

“Almost sixty-eight years ago, The Awakening brought our Light forward. The Brotherhood stood before you, twelve strong, united in their dream to bring this world out of the shadows. They shared their Light with you and gifted you with their wisdom and leadership. Although their courage and strength will never be forgotten, this Brotherhood is far different from its predecessor. We stand firm in our beliefs. We saw a better way for us all to progress and grow. We embraced our Light in a way never before seen, and the world has been all the better for it.”

“Elders…they talk as if they didn’t start a war. They wanted to kill each other not so long ago, and now they talk like they’re the best of friends!” Uncle Mark was fuming. He’d been part of the Dark War and still suffered the effects, as many others did.

Although the original Brotherhood, known as the Elders, initially stood shoulder to shoulder, behind the scenes, they were not quite the united front they appeared. As more, younger, Lightborn were brought into the fold, disagreements started.

The certainties of the Elders faltered as they differed in their approaches. Arguments would grow increasingly heated during gatherings, and factions soon formed. Some Brothers even began changing their communities against the rules of the Elders.

Tensions finally hit their peak in 2048 when a Brother in Sweden gathered all his Lightborn in an attempt to change the weather. Few had ever tried before, and anything more substantial than clearing a few clouds often spelled disaster.

But this Lightborn was sick of the cold and grey. He had his Lieutenants stand united as they tried to break through the heavy clouds and bring out the sun. It worked for a few days, and most people enjoyed the break from the cold. But on the fourth day, the temperature jumped, and over the next week continued to rise until the entire country was dry and exhausted.

A drought covered the land, fires broke out in the forests, and it took almost all the Brotherhood to bring normalcy back to the country. They called a hearing during which the council insisted this Brother be excommunicated from the Brotherhood.

To their great surprise, many disagreed. They felt - as the Swedish Brother felt - that their Light was not being used to its full potential. They wanted to use it and strengthen it. The Elders, however, knew how intoxicating the Light could be and how it could consume.

They demanded the rebellious Lightborn stand down and do as they were told, but arguments filled the Great Hall as the younger generations stood up, strong and organised.

When an earth splitting crack filled the room, everyone fell into silence.

Someone used their Light to attack an Elder, and one of the original members of the Brotherhood sat dead in his throne.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Over the next decade, they fought, using their armies and local communities. They dragged men and women of fighting age from their homes to fight the men and women of neighbouring towns. Countries became divided as the Lightborn fractured into the Old and the New, using their Light to make the battlefields uneven.

A group of Lightborn from Beijing blinded Phuket soldiers, allowing their army to slaughter almost all the attackers.

A Brother in Sydney gave his army the ability to breathe underwater. They attacked the soldiers in Adelaide from the South, giving them little time to fight back.

Almost all of the soldiers were fighting against their will, following the lower ranking Leaders into battle.

Over the years, hundreds of Lightborn were killed, leaving their armies fighting with no leadership. But the ever-watchful Brothers punished any soldier that tried to step back.

This all culminated in three powerful Lightborn making an alliance and overpowering the Elders. In the end, the Lightborn left were vetted and either imprisoned or given limited power around the world.

Where there was once a council and a democracy, it was now three men controlling everything. It was their way or death.

I shuddered at the thought and struggled to keep my focus on the rubbish on the TV.

“Now, thirty years later, we have agreed that it is time to grow our number. Our combined Light,” Brother Uri gestured to his sides, “is the greatest in existence. But we feel it is time to embrace new Light.”

The Brothers smiled, and Oran took over, “In three months, on the thirtieth anniversary of our Ascension, we will hold The Tournament of Light two years early. As always, all Lightborn are encouraged to enter, and we will test them until two are proven the most worthy. Only this year it will be bigger and more spectacular than ever.”

“We know how beloved these Tournaments have been, and you are all encouraged to attend and enjoy in the festivities - and they will be quite breathtaking! Naturally, it will be broadcast,” Uri smiled and turned to his Brothers. “And at the end, instead of the normal celebration of a champion, we will bring two new Lightborn into our sacred Brotherhood.”

My heart was pounding. This was bad. I knew exactly the kinds of tests they were talking about, and childhood stories of floods and bush fires came to mind.

The Tournaments were typically held every eight years and were always followed by some kind of natural disaster.

“We are all looking forward to what the Tournaments bring and to welcoming two new Brothers into the fold. For now, thank you. May the Light shine upon you all.”

The broadcast ended, the TV went dark once more, and we sat in silent fear until, eventually, Uncle Mark stood and walked to the window. He sighed and touched a hand to where a lightning bolt hit him, all those years ago.

“They’re going to destroy us all.”

To be continued…

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