Monday, January 28, 2008

Prince Toreus Rhann and Arcadian War

Prince Toreus Rhann and Arcadian War
a Tale of Terra Prime.
By Joseph Gilbert Thompson and Carl Edward. Thompson
c. 2007 Maveric Lion Productions
Short Story
This is a tale of Prince Toreus Rhann. The First Son of Thuvia, also sometimes known as Toreus the Slayer by his enemies and Prince Toreus, Lord of Lions, by friends, companions, and allies. Not to be confused with Toreus Rhann I, his esteemed father. Much has been said about that worthy elsewhere in the Chronicles of Pangaea and the Book of Thuvia.
If you want to know of his noble family then look elsewhere. They will tell you how Toreus Rhann I united the nations of Pangaea and became the Emperor Toreus Rhann I. Or how his ancient ancestors, the Starkillers—principally Captain Toreus Starkiller-- beat back the Trongoroth invasion and restored Pangaea as the Jewel of the Sphere of Terra Prime.
But any schoolchild knows of the Shattered Empires of Pangaea, and the aftermath of the Great Cataclysm. Stories of the ancient Dragon Wars, the Emperor Thrull Khan and the return of the Golden Age of Pangaea.
No, this is a story that few know. And I can tell it to you because I, Shakhorja, the Silver Lion, was there to witness it. As I was during most of Toreus' career.
Listen and I will tell you of Toreus Rhann II. A story of his youth long before he stood against the renegade wizards, or fought side by side with the Bold Princes of Arcadia in the Second War for Terra Prime. Long before he was named Sarkhon's Knight and led his Ranger Legions in that same struggle for the freedom of the Sphere.
This is a tale of a young man, not yet a legend, setting out on the trail of destiny for the first time. It is a story of his adventures and his misadventures. It is our story, mine and his. For I was his cat and where he went so did I.
The rumble of war continued for fourth straight day as the conquering forces of Baron Radu Wallace closed on the capital city and the forces of King Nathan Taylor withdrew. Classes had been canceled at Arcadia University. Most of the able-bodied Arcadian students had gone off to fight on either side in this most uncivil of civil wars.
As was our habit those days, we sat in the Student Union, where there was a tavern. I curled by Toreus' feet as he stared morosely into his pint of Tennysonian bitters, tapping his booted foot to some tune that only he could hear. Perhaps a pop tune or a march. The choice would depend on his demeanor at the moment. I think perhaps a march, since war was very much on his mind.
Toreus Rhann was in his second year at the University as an exchange student. His father had insisted that his scholarship be of the broadest caliber and since Toreus was a young man of great physical potential— and warlike temper-- he most things about academic life annoying and bothersome. Save for the beautiful female students who often shared his bed on those nights when yours truly was forced to lay upon the couch watching video or dreaming of lionesses back home in the Thuvian Range.
Since my duties as protector/companion of the Prince required me to attend all the many parties that students feel required to attend and to stop young Toreus from drinking the education his father was paying for out of his noggin as soon as it was put in, I too was required to attend University. Though the enlightened and liberal minded Arcadians still do not award degrees in their schools to felines—no matter how bright they may be—I was not considered a student. Nor was I considered a pet. Arcadia law recognizes anyone who can talk as a sentient and so a free individual. I can ride in a passenger vehicle without being caged and do not require a muzzle nor a leash—thank the Gods.
I was here on orders from the Emperor's cat—my great uncle. Therefore, I was here out of family honor and loyalty to the Imperial Crown.
Not that I would not have followed Prince Toreus to Arcadia, even without Imperial orders. We are a team, bonded long ago in the Thuvian Range. Where he goes always I shall follow. It is my life, my soul, my destiny.
In those days of turmoil, I also felt that it was my duty to stay close to my most impetuous friend lest he join House Taylor in their lost cause.
Toreus was a scrapper. He liked to get involved in fights. But his father, the Emperor, had determined that the Prince was here to get an education in the liberal arts and not to cause any diplomatic incidents.
His Imperial Majesty did not want his eldest son and heir fighting in this war. The Politics of Pangaea being what they were—and law being a necessary limitation even to an Emperor—the Pangaean government had not been able to decide whom they favored in this civil war. Even though his Highness had. House Taylor had been allies of House Rhann for generations and Queen Lois—the Duchess of Tennyson—was a cousin of the Rhanns.
Oh, the Emperor knew his son well. He'd been much like him in his youth.
Now Prince Toreus Rhann's eyes focused on two students who were involved in a choke-out. This is a particularly simple-minded enterprise in which two young men try to choke each other out to see who will pass out first. Next to alcohol poisoning, suicide over girls and autoerotic asphyxiation, it is one of the leading causes of death among college-aged males. Their parents were spending fortunes to send them all the way across the Sphere to fill their heads with knowledge and they spent much of their time trying to destroy the very brains they were there to fill.
The Prince frowned, shoved himself to his feet and cracked his knuckles—always a bad sign. He knows that weak-minded people find this irritating. He does not mind irritating weak-minded people—not one bit. He's made a sport of it.
Toreus strode to the contestant's table with a grace that made even my feline walk look clumsy. I quickly moved to guard his blindside. Lest one of the chunkheads about the tavern decide to attack from the rear.
The Prince grinned down at the two combatants and quickly grasped them by the nape of their necks with his huge hands, slamming their foreheads together with a hearty thud.
They landed on their butts, stunned and dismayed.
"Why'd you do that?" growled one of them as what passed for his brain cleared.
Toreus pointed toward the door of the Union. "By Thrull Khonn's heart there's a war on out there, moron. If it's your death you be wanting then man up and join the fight. Choking each other. By Sarkhon's buttocks you're are fools."
"We wanted to see who would unk first—or pass out," said the second choker, as if this explained everything.
"Dimwitted tool," barked Toreus. "Back in Thuvia, we test how brave we are in battle--not in silly baby men games. Next you'll be walking about honking like those pathetic balless wonders in video wrestling.''
The first student bounded to his feet. Obviously he had left his mind at home in his parent's keeping when he came to Arcadopolis.
"Smelly Thuvian lout."
"I'd suggest you take this love play to your room lest you embarrass yourself," laughed Prince Toreus, his hands clenched into fists.
"I'll not have a Thuvian question my manhood," growled the student.
"And indeed it is in question," said Toreus, his cat green eyes narrowing like twin gun sights. I decided it was time to save this hapless choker's life.
I moved in between him and young Toreus and reared up, resting my paws on big mouth's shoulders. The boy's eyes bulged in horror. I am, after all, a rather large, saber toothed, Thuvian lion.
"Get your cat off me, Thuvian Neanderthal," yelped the young man.
"Again you are confused," laughed Toreus, clearly enjoying the choker's misery. "Thuvians are not Neanderthals. That's the Tuleans—chunkhead."
"I have to pee," I said, grinning my best lion grin, which is never very reassuring to humans. No saber cat has eaten a man in centuries—but humans have trouble unlearning their fondest myths and prejudices. Whatever dark fear mama taught them in the cradle lingers for life.
"Don't eat me, lion," said the lout, retreating.
I made a step toward him as he ran from the room looking over his shoulder to see if I was in pursuit.
By now Toreus Rhann's cat green eyes had fallen upon the other student who had pulled himself slowly to his feet.
"I'm sorry, your lordship," stuttered the young man.
"I'm a Thuvian not a fool. You want to fight well have at it."
"Not me, Prince Toreus. I've seen you on the rugger field and fencing. I have no desire to be crippled."
The other choker departed a wet trail of yellow drops that smelled like man water behind him.
I turned my head and looked at Toreus .
He shook his longhaired head. "You know I'm not, Shakhorja, old friend. Beating up on Vanarian lunks is not my idea of a fight. And I was truly hoping to inspire them."
"To visit the casualty ward? Come on, green eyes, what's really bothering you?"
Toreus sat back down at the table, the other students eyeing him nervously, a few of the females with strange, lusty looks in their eyes.
"How can my father and the Council stand by and let this travesty continue. King Nathan and House Taylor have helped us time uncounted in the past and yet in their hour of need no troops, nor fighters or ships of war come to their aid."
"The law says that the Emperor may not commit troops to the field without the consent of the Chancellor and that once that is done they may not stay in the field more than ninety days without Council approval."
"Chancellor Ghanis Jordan is a traitor," spat my tall friend.
"No, he is cautious. The Arcadians have technology that is more advanced than us and the Chancellor fears reprisals if the Wallaces win, which more than seems likely if you listen to that shelling."
"Don't curse."
"If your Empress Cassandra heard you she'd wash out you mouth."
Shame on me. I taught young Toreus to curse and swear. But I have appearances to maintain. Can't have the future ruler of a multi-plate empire sounding like a teamster from Thule.
"My mother would be in those streets with a rifle," said Toreus Rhann.
"The Empress is bound by the same laws as the rest of the Imperial Family—as are you."
"Fek the law."
"There you go again. It's just that you've been drinking bitters on an empty gut. Let's eat and later we'll discuss what we can do."
"Hunger is always a cat's first imperative," said Toreus.
"Indeed it is to any sensible species. But I'm glad to hear you using words of more than four letters."
We left the Student Union after eating and walked across the University Quadrangle, past the statue of Leonidus I. Old Leo looked sad as his fierce, bronze countenance looked out toward the fall of the dynasty he had founded.
The air was full of smoke and the smell of weapons propellant, blood, death and that pee smell that comes from energy weapons.
I looked up at the horizon and as far sunward along the Sphere as I could without squinting. Arcadopolis, like most capitol cities on the Sphere, is at the center of the world plate and therefore at what would be the bottom of the bowl. You could look out equal distances in any direction and see the upward curve of the horizon as far as the thin rim of the wall—if a high building was not in your way. I tried to see if I could make out the Wallace forces surrounding the city. But, alas, I could not. The University of Arcadopolis is too deep in the forest, so to speak, of the biggest city on the Arcadian Plate.
I craned my neck up sunward, squinting and could make out other plates of the great sphere until the sun blotted them out. It looked so peaceful out there. No army of madmen trying to take life and freedom away from anyone—as far as I could see. Terra Prime, the great sphere, is a turbulent place full of all manner of species and cultures. Many of them just as violent and stupid as House Wallace—the architects of this current debacle.
"The Wallaces will be in this part of the city soon," said Toreus Rhann. "I can feel it in my bones."
"You could also just look around you," I pointed out. "How long has it been since we saw a trooper or policeman in Taylor livery?"
Toreus the Slayer nodded. "The Wallaces and their Ki'Vhan allies will come here and try to take us off-platers as hostages to use as leverage against our home governments."
"You are a prince and have diplomatic immunity," I said.
"Won't stop them. They'll be afraid of Pangaea and the Thuvian Rangers. They'll want leverage. And they have no treaties with the Empire. This is a completely new government. Just to show how tough they are they'll dissolve even the simplest trade agreement. That's the Wallace way—chunkheads."
"But to harm an Imperial Prince, or to hold him prisoner, for that matter, is an act of war," I pointed out. "The Council and the Chancellor will have no choice but to act. In the very least a punitive raid."
Toreus rubbed his broad chin. "I did not think of that."
The Prince started to walk faster.
"What is your hurry?" I asked leaping ahead to keep up with his long stride.
"We must go to our quarters. I have to prepare."
"Prepare?" I asked. "For what?"
"Follow me and see, big fellow."
We went back to the house that Toreus and I shared. Being a Royal, Toreus did not have to take a dorm room on campus. We had a nice little Arcadian house near school. A house guarded by Vanarian robots since Toreus refused a detachment of Rangers as his personal security detail. He considered it cowardly and a waste of good fighting men and women. His father had agreed. I said they were much alike.
Toreus went up to his bedroom and showered. I plopped myself down on the big bed and groomed my claws. I could smell the scent of female humans on the mattress. Not an unpleasant smell but not the smell of a lioness.
The Prince emerged from the bathroom and took off his robe, beginning to dress. Instantly I knew we were in for trouble.
He put on the underskin that is worn under rugby suits in the rough brand of that ancient sport played by Arcadians—or under nanotech battle armor. He dressed in bloused uniform slacks. The uniform pants appeared at first to be similar to the traditional buckskinned pants of the warriors, of Northern Almerhand, back home, but with more high tech and modern type of stitching.
Next he put on a twill fatigue shirt and armor bracelets and the biomed armband and the nanotech armor belt—often called a sword belt even though it is not used to carry a sword.
He put on a headband that continued more of the nanotech armor but not the skullcap that would protect the top of his head. He preferred not to wear it, as he preferred his enemies to see his long, warrior's hair. In Thuvia warriors wear their hair long. Among soldiers, long locks are a sign of his warrior strength. Off-plate fools often laugh and ask Toreus if he's a woman or a man. Toreus has often answered with a fist, which has caused the Diplomatic Corps much chagrin as they pay off nitwits with big mouths and long hospital bills.
Inset in the headband was an emerald jewel that sparkled when the light hit it. This was Toreus Rhann's Guider Gem.--an ancient Atlantean device, that gave a worthy warrior knowledge and guidance. If one were willing to listen—and Toreus was not always willing to do so—the Guider contained much of the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. It was more than just a mere computer peripheral—much much more.
"I see you have decided to wear me," said the voice of the Guider, that only Toreus and I could hear via neural radio link.
"Do not get excited, gem," said Toreus. "It's for show."
"Your enemies surround you and you dress for battle. Hardly a show."
"Battle is not my plan. Not directly, anyway."
Two feathers from a Thuvian Snow Falcon, also hung adorned the headband, hanging from the left side—the traditional heart side—and just behind the ear. These were a warrior's prize, won in a contest in the Thuvian Highlands when the Prince was ten. Boys and girls in Thuvia engaged in such contest to prove their worthiness as warriors and as future citizens.
Toreus donned his utility vest and inserted his 12mm pistol in its shoulder rig and his Thuvian fighting knife in its scabbard.
"Pistol is loaded and functional," said Guider. "Are you sure this is not a battle?"
Finally, he draped a large scarlet and gold amulet about his neck, with an engraved image of a lion face upon, accompanied by two sabers like toothed claws. It was his Lord of Lions symbol-given to him, for achieving the honor of hunting and surviving among my species, when we were young. He usually only wore it before going into battle or at ceremonial gatherings of the clan. My guess was that the clan was not coming here to Arcadia for a shindig.
Guider, in its wisdom, saw this too and commented on it. "No fight?"
"No, we are going to surrender forcing the Wallaces to commit an act of war against the Empire."
He put on his long, leather coat leaving it unbuttoned for easy access to his weapons. Not the action of a man about to surrender.
"You don't surrender," said the Guider.
"There's a first time for everything," said the Prince.
"Not surrendering. Not for you. Your first time will be your last and most likely the last time that any enemy hears you say I surrender."
Before he could answer we heard the sound of military vehicles in the road. It took no genius to guess that the Ki'Vhan, the mercenary hirelings of the Wallaces, had arrived.
I followed the Prince into the road as the armored personnel carriers full of Ki'Vhans pulled up.
The Ki'Vhan troops began to flood out and kick down doors. Toreus strode down the road toward them his hands raised. The armored mercs look at him no doubt with puzzled expressions on their faces. Though that was difficult to determine through their combat visors.
Ki'Vhan do not have a wide range of facial expressions anyway. They are wired up mercenaries. Men from various worlds who joined the Ki'Vhan because they had nothing better to do or else were grown in test tubes and raised to be—or so they think—the ultimate soldier.
Now the Ki'Vhan were advancing cautiously toward Toreus, their weapons raised. I advanced too, despite my misgivings.
"Warning, oh Prince,' said Guider. "I detect incoming artillery shells."
It was then that mortar shells began to rain down on the enemy personnel carriers destroying several of them and scattering dead soldiers to the winds.
"Possible hostiles on the roofs," said the Guider. "Armored and armed men."
I became aware of movement on the roofs to either side of the street and in several apartments. There were men up there. And they were armed. Lasers discharged and bullets rained down on the Ki'Vhan. The one's moving toward the Prince had frozen, shaken by the sudden attack.
"There is a high probability that the enemy will engage you in retaliation," said Guider.
Now the Ki'Vhan fired their weapons at Toreus. Lasers and bullets cut through the tail of my Prince's coat.
I spotted a large man in armor and a hood that concealed his facial features moving back from the edge of the roof with several other similar dressed men while his comrades continued to rain down fire on the hapless Ki'Vhans. These were no doubt guerillas in the employ of the Taylors. A stay behind force to make sure that the royal family had time to escape and the Wallaces did not enjoy an easy victory.
"So much for surrender," said Guider. "Nobody was doing that today."
Toreus' pistol came out and armor-piercing shells cut down three Ki'Vhan in a row as the Prince retreated toward cover. He had his fight. Intended or not. He fired as he retreated and as Guider detected targets.
I retreated as well. I prefer hand-to-hand combat to gun fighting. Guns are not a lion's weapon of choice or design.
We retreated to an alley as the men in hoods continued to exchange weapons fire with the Ki'Vhans. I scanned the rooftops with my keen vision. I could no long see the big man and his comrades.
Toreus, I thought radioed to my Prince. I think the Taylors arranged this ambush.
"Damn!" swore Toreus aloud.
"I agree with 85% certainty," said Guider. "And the guerrillas are behind us."
I became aware of the men in the alley behind us. So did Tor. He jumped to his feet, drawing his fighting knife.
The big man I had seen earlier pointed a heavy rifle at him and said: "Easy, big guy. I'm not here to shoot you."
"99% truth," said Guider.
"Who the hell are you?"
The man whipped off his hood and smiled with a beefy boyish grin. "Name's Colin O'Brien, mercenary in the employ of Kotharr Khonn."
"100% truth," said Guider.
Toreus' eyebrows went up. I supposed mine would have too, had I had any.
"Lord Kotharr sent you?"
In case you're not a reader of history, Kotharr Khonn was the Weapons Master of the Imperial Court of Pangaea. Which meant that he was the wiliest general, strategist, and all around fighter that the Rhann family had. And the Rhann family is packed heavy with fighters, believe you me. Kotharr had trained Toreus in the martial arts from the time he was old enough to swing a fist or a knife. Kotharr also handled all of the Empire's black operations—those done in quiet without knowledge of the Council or permission of the Chancellor.
So apparently we were not alone behind enemy lines after all. Uncle Kotharr had sent some of his employees to make sure we did not fall into unfriendly hands.
Poor Toreus, he can never be a step ahead of daddy and Kotharr Khonn.
"Kotharr Khonn," Toreus shook his head. "I should have known. Why didn't he inform me of your presence?"
Colin O'Brien leaned forward into Toreus space, grinning.
"Black ops, your highness. We play all our cards close to the vest. Besides rescuing you was our last mission."
"And your first?"
O'Brien tapped his full lips. "You're not authorized to know, sir."
"I'm the Crown Prince, tool."
"Don't be so hard on yourself. And you're still outside the chain of command. Ask Khonn about it when you see him.
"Now, shall we get out of here before the Ks regroup?"
Before the Ki'Vhan could regroup and flush them out of the houses the mercenaries were on the move. We jogged down the alleys, past troops positioned to watch our backs. The big merc, O'Brien jogged along beside Toreus, occasionally engaging in his dangerous habit of leaning in too close to the warrior prince. I think he was well aware of the danger. I just do not think that he gave a damn. Of perhaps he was one of those people who enjoyed toying with dangerous individuals and situations. That would seem to justify his profession.
"Where are we going?" Toreus asked.
"We're getting you out of the United Kingdom before the Wallaces can lay hands on you."
"Are we headed for the sub-shuttles?" I asked.
The mercenary eyed me nervously. Talking cats are not everyone's cup of tea.
"Shuttles are packed with Taylor troops and people on their way out. The King has sent the Royal family to safety and now he's advancing in the other direction to put together a resistance force."
"Where has the Royal family gone?" Toreus asked. He'd been at the Christening of Prince Leonidus and was the Child's Second Godfather.
"Don't know," said O'Brien. "And don't wanna know. Rumor has it off-Sphere and other rumors have it that Joshua Sarkhon sent them to Genesis Prime—the Atlantean capital in this worldline. My favorite is the baby universe where they might be hidden. Fashioned by Joshua Sarkhon himself. Oh. There be all sorts of rumors."
"Where are we going," I insisted. Again that funny look.
"Off this plate and elsewhere. You'll know as soon as you know. Just not the sub-shuttles."
"And then where will you go?" Toreus asked.
"Wherever the fighting is, my man. That's what I do. I'm the best fighting man in the whole wide Sphere."
"Did you proclaim yourself that or did someone with authority?" Toreus frowned.
"Hell yes. My opinion is the only one that counts. I just fight the best way I can and let the other mercs follow me and do what I do."
"Subject actually believes this," said Guider.
Colin was certainly a brave and confident man. But that did not make him full of fek. I knew that Toreus felt that way, even without asking. Toreus and I have a rapport that goes beyond words. I also knew that the Prince respected the mercenary warrior, as much as he could respect someone as boisterous and rude who fought for mere money.
"My recommendation is trust him," said Guider.
Neither Toreus nor I argued with that.
We approached a line of civilian ground cars near the Chalice River that wound through the town. Armed men in hoods guarded them. More of the mercenaries.
"Our rides," said O'Brien. "Hop in."
We got into a van with O'Brien and one of his soldiers. The vehicles spread out taking various directions so as not to end up in the same trap. Toreus' surrender plan was dead and we were off on our way to who knew where.
There was no fighting in the streets as we moved through town but plenty of evidence that there had been.
Bullet and laser riddled walls, a dead body here, a dead body there, wrecked cars, and broken walls. None of the dead were civilians though, Guider assured us. The butchery of the innocents had not yet begun, but with the Wallaces in power, it would not be long before it did.
The van stopped near a wrecked bridge, no doubt bombed by the Taylor Air Force to slow the advance of the Wallace armored cavalry. There were a number of burning tanks with the symbol of House Wallace to the other side—a black mailed fist enclosing a globe of fire. A symbol of fascism if I ever saw one. There would be no democracy in Wallace ruled Arcadia—absolute monarchy would be the rule of the land of the law.
We stood staring at the carnage. O'Brien moved around with his hands on his hips.
We all jumped as jet fighters sped over us and engaged in a dogfight in the sky. My keen eyes could make out two planes with Taylor livery—a lion's head with wings—and one with the mailed fist of the Wallaces—also winged.
As I watched, the Taylor fighters shot the Wallace down, using naught but cannon fire. Taylors always won air battles. Wallaces were better on the ground with tanks and blitzkrieg.
"Well, general," said Toreus leaning on the van. "If that be your escape route I think you need to find another."
O'Brien grinned and barked a loud laugh.
"That was the easy route. But O'Brien's Aces never, ever do anything the easy way. Back in the van, my prince."
We remounted and were off, following the banks of the river. It was clear that the mercenary was looking for a bridge or ford but I was certain that none would remain after Taylor Air Force bombers and combat engineers were finished with them.
Guider agreed but Toreus made no comment. The Prince resented the gem's all knowing manner. He liked surprises and did not always wish to know the probability of success in a given situation.
And Guider was wrong. A bridge loomed up and the van headed for it.
O'Brien stopped and we got out. There were wrecked motor cars on the bridge and I smelled the smell of explosives.
"Much too easy," said Toreus. "Why would House Taylor leave this bridge unmolested?"
"To allow an escape route for their retreating troops."
"The span is mined," said Guider.
It was Toreus' turn to bark a mocking laugh. "They would have already retreated this far and blew the bridge. And if they wanted to leave the route open, they would have posted light infantry with antitank weapons to guard it. It's mined my friend. Those vehicles were blown up from below and smell that explosive."
Of course, Toreus was not above using the secret knowledge given to him by the Guider for his personal advantage.
O'Brien looks angry. "The whole world stinks of explosive and maybe those cars were lasered by men below the bridge line."
"Negative," said Guider.
"Those aren't laser marks. The bridge is mined, as my guider has informed me."
"Your guider?"
Toreus tapped his gem and smiled. "Never leave home without it. It's not always helpful but it does know when a bridge is mined. Or a girl is fertile. Saves one a lot of trouble and bother."
O'Brien looked at his trooper driver, who nodded his agreement.
O'Brien grinned and shrugged. "Then they'll be vehicle mines and we shall walk. Does your guide-thingy tell you that?"
"Probability is close to 80%," said the gem.
Toreus did not reply.
So we were going to walk across the mined bridge and it was my turn to say something.
"I will lead the way. My sense of smell is keener than even yours, Toreus. I can smell the explosive in a mine and avoid it."
O'Brien looked at me with that funny look again and then he smiled.
"Okay, Mr. Cat, you lead the way. But don't get yourself killed. I once knew a cat and he was—a good friend—he got himself killed and—well just be careful."
"It is always my intent."
"I will assist you, Shakhorja," said the Guider.
We started across the bridge with me in the lead.
It was indeed mined and not all of the mines were large enough to be considered anti-vehicle. Guider informed me of that.
The engineer of this field was determined that no one would cross on foot or vehicle. And some people had tried. Now there were dead bodies in the vehicles. Civilians who had fled from the other side by the looks of what was left of their blood splattered clothing. Minefields are a cheap defensive barrier but they are not a discriminating one.
By the time we were halfway across the span the smell of blood was out flanking the smell of explosive in the air. I had to clear my nose in order to keep my attention on the mines. And the shelling was drawing closer as the Wallace artillery marched down the river looking for more pockets of Taylor resistance.
Toreus touched my collar, from which hung an amulet identical to his own. His thought radio spoke to me. "Easy, old friend. We're almost across this accursed bridge."
"Two thirds of the distance," said Guider.
"Shut up, Gem," said Toreus through the neural link.
"Shutting up," said Guider, sarcasm in its neural link simulated voice.
"Let us hope that the big man has a plan for where we go from here," Toreus said to me through our radio. "Once we stop off the other end of the bridge we will be in Wallace territory and fair game."
"If he doesn't then we will take off on our own and head for the nearest train toward the spinward wall—closest to home."
"I agree," I transmitted.
Yes, we were both losing faith in the mercenary. He claimed that Kotharr had hired him but for all we know he'd just heard the name and decided to use it to his advantage in whatever scheme he might be concocting. Sure, he claimed to like Saber cats but I had no evidence that this was true. Sure, he was able to pass muster with Guider's truth sensor—but a pathological liar can do that easily. It's not magic.
We might just as well be better off on our own.
Finally, we made it to the other end of the bridge.
"Now we're here," Toreus said to the mercenary. "In Wallace held territory. Where do we go from here?"
O'Brien was about to answer when the noise of a diving jet cut through our awareness and Guider warned of the attack.
"Hit the deck," O'Brien yelled and pushed Toreus to the side.
The fighter laid a trail of cannon shells down the road as we ducked for cover. The air filled with the unmistakable smell of human blood. Someone had been hit. The jet continued its strafe across the span, firing lasers that cut the trusses and brought the bridge down into the river.
Then it sped away, no doubt searching for other targets.
"All clear," announced Guider.
"Joshua's beard," said O'Brien, jumping to his feet. "That was a Taylor jet—damn—they're supposed to be on our side."
"They don't know that from up there," said Toreus.
"I guess—." It was then that O'Brien spotted his driver's body in the road. Or rather, what was left of him after the 40 mm shells.
"Oh—fek—that was Duv. Duv, man. He'd been with my unit since back in the Range. Damn."
"I'm sorry," said Toreus.
O'Brien looked at the prince with flame in his eyes.
"You'd better be worth it, boy. A good man just died for you. If you turn out to be a worthless candy prince—I'll kill you myself."
Toreus drew his knife and held it at ready. "Threaten me or mine and you will be the one to die, big man. Toreus Rhann stands for no threat. Strike at me and you will be dead before you hit the ground."
O'Brien looked at the long Thuvian fighting knife and then into the eyes of the young man who held it. He knew that this was no candy prince and that Toreus meant business. The Rhanns have always hated bullies and there are whole cemeteries back in Pangaea that have been filled to prove it.
O'Brien smiled his goofy grin.
"Put the knife away, son. It's just that I lost an old friend."
"You nearly lost yourself, idiot," said Toreus.
"Yes, I nearly did. Sorry."
"No, sorry. Lead us out of here or know the consequences for betraying a Rhann."
"I would never do that," said O'Brien, leaning in close to the knife wielding young man. Perhaps he was crazy. "I have a contract with Kotharr Khonn and Colin O'Brien never violates his word."
"50% certainty," said Guider.
"Not good enough. Give your word to me. Swear allegiance to Toreus Rhann before we go one step further."
"You speak well enough, turd, when you are blustering. What part of honor don't you understand?"
"We have to get going."
"Yes, we do. And if you don't swear allegiance to me, here and now, I go on alone."
O'Brien looked at me. "Is he nuts?"
"78% probability," said Guider.
I smiled my best cat smile. "May be. I wouldn't test him."
We could hear a jet engine in the distance.
O'Brien fell on his knees and nodded his head.
"I swear allegiance to Prince Toreus Rhann of Pangaea."
"66% truth," said the gem.
Toreus laughed and tapped the man on his armor-plated shoulder.
"Well enough, mercenary. Stand and lets get out of here."
"Just one thing—if you don't mind," said O'Brien. He went to the body of Duv and removed an ID tag. "His folks will want to know what happened to him even if they can't legally claim the body."
Toreus nodded and the sound of jets battling overhead, despite Guider's assurance that they were not headed for us, made the three of us rush for the nearest ditch.
"Do you have a plan or are we going to wander about this plate until the Ki'Vhans or the Wallaces or the Taylors kill us?"
O'Brien nodded. "There's an airship waiting for us. We get to it, board it, and head for the wall. Once there we head though a jump port to the next nearest plate and join up with my people at a mercenary camp over there."
A jet exploded overhead, its debris raining down all about us.
"A Wallace pilot will not be going home tonight," said Guider.
"Let us go," said Toreus jumping to his feet and pulling O'Brien to his.
We moved from cover to cover as we headed toward the rendezvous point with O'Brien's mystery airship. Shelling and aircraft activity was increasing by the minute and we dared not expose ourselves to the open for too long a period at a stretch.
Eventually we ran into an enemy patrol. They were human's—if you can apply that sobriquet to Wallaces. A patrol of infantry from the Wallace House Guard.
We quickly took cover behind what was left of the garden wall of a house that had been bombed to the foundation.
The soldiers moved along the road and we hunkered down.
When they were gone, we moved, staying behind the line of fences and walls of other bombed out house.
"There'll be more," said O'Brien. "If they're sending foot patrols forward there has to be at least a platoon sized unit nearby.
"There are three companies nearby according to overhead feeds," said Guider.
"Nearly a battalion," said Toreus. "We may have to fight them."
Both O'Brien and I looked at him as if he were insane.
"This isn't any vid show, your majesty," said the merc. "If we're outnumbered and outgunned we go down and die. Or, worse, get taken prisoner. They'll put a Trongoroth control tick on my neck and hold you to wave in front of your daddy. Gods only know what they'll do to kitty cat here."
Toreus nodded. "Unfortunately true."
"Don't worry though," Colin O'Brien brightened. "We're not far from the LZ where we're supposed to meet the airship. Not more than two kilometers."
"Then we should proceed," said the Prince.
And we did, twice more hiding from Wallace squads moving along the road.
It was while we were in our last hide that a column of trucks showed up and stopped not more than ten meters from us. Men climbed down and fanned out. This did not look good.
"What do we do now?" I asked.
"Wait," said O'Brien.
"When will your ship arrive at the LZ?" Toreus asked.
"It's already up there waiting. Ship is stealth equipped. All we need to do is reach the point."
"Two kilometers away."
"Two kilometers into enemy territory."
"Well, yes."
"Then I say we need transport."
"Dream on prince."
Toreus smiled an evil smile. "No need to dream. One only has to reach out and grab."
Toreus had, as I feared, had enough of waiting and sneaking around.
He rose to his feet and crept toward the nearest truck before O'Brien could attempt to stop him. By that time it was too late for debate or protestation without alerting the enemy and bringing death upon all three of us.
There were three soldiers and a driver near the vehicle. All apparently confident that a Wallace victory made them safe in this apparently rear area.
Toreus took out his knife and crept like the Ranger hunter that he had trained to be as a youth. Had I not feared for our safety I would have been proud.
I crept behind him, guarding his back against any enemy he might not have noticed. We had hunted deer with knife and claw this way in the Thuvian Highlands. Deer have much keener senses than humans who are nearly blind when it comes to a sense of smell.
Toreus jumped the closest soldier and slit his throat just above the collar of his armor. A second soldier swerved in his direction, rifle ready.
But I took that soldier's head off with one swat of my claw.
The third was going to sound the alarm when O'Brien shot him and the driver in the chest.
"Well," hooted O'Brien. "We have a truck."
Bullets and shouts came from the direction of the other vehicles. The other Wallace Guards had noticed us.
"But not for long if we don't hurry,' said Toreus as he jumped into the cab of the truck.
O'Brien and I jumped into the bed, the mercenary firing at the other soldiers to keep their heads down.
We were quickly underway, bullets tearing through the canvas cover of the military truck, O'Brien howling like a madman as he returned fire and me—well I was laying as flat as I could, trying to avoid massive trauma.
Toreus kept the accelerator as flat to the floor as was possible. The enemy was in pursuit of us. But we were far ahead of the other trucks, their drivers, professional teamsters, having a greater respect for the road than my prince.
Then Ki'Vhan bikers on smart bikes—spikes as they are called—sped ahead of the trucks along the side of the road. The hovering bikes quickly gained on us.
Grunting, O'Brien discharged a laser from his over and under rifle. A Ki'Vhan biker blew up and his shrapnel killed his buddy. Two for the price of one.
"Directions please," Toreus called over his shoulder to O'Brien.
"Keep going until you find a—"Bullets caused O'Brien to stop and laser two more spikers. "A road that leads up a flat hill. That's where the LZ is."
We had managed to outdistance our pursuers. Oh, they were still back there but far back and not right on our tails. But I knew that when we got to the LZ we would not have much time before they were on top of us. If the airship was not right there then we might not make it.
I was beginning to doubt more than ever that Toreus' rash action in getting us transport was the correct one.
"Her is your turnoff," said Guider. Though the Guider voice sounded human, it showed no nerves as it announced this fact.
Toreus fishtailed the truck onto the new road and gunned it up the hill. Enemy vehicles followed, small all terrain vehicles armed with cannon and machine guns. O'Brien took out the front tires of one with his laser, causing it to flip end over end. But one of the enemy cannons took out our rear tires on the left side. This slowed the truck considerably.
Toreus roared and continued to floor the accelerator.
"Enemy forces attempting to surround the hill," said Guider.
"Parp," growled Toreus.
We reached the top and Toreus fishtailed the trick around as if he were planning to rush down the hill and ram the enemy forces coming up. I prayed that he wasn't. But this did not look good and I know that members of the Rhann family have one overwhelming trait in common—they do not like to lose.
"Out of juice and ammo," yelled O'Brien.
Toreus thrust the cab door open and stepped down, pistol in one hand and knife in the other. His nano armor bloomed into one solid suit beneath his beaten up leather coat. The nano-tattoos on his face cut in and became his war mask.
Misgivings or no I stood beside him.
O'Brien stood at our backs, having discarded his rifle and drawn his laspistol.
The Ki'Vhan and Wallace soldiers coming up the hill seemed unimpressed. This looked like a last stand. Toreus might go down fighting but he would go down and yours truly with him.
A screaming Ki'Vhan raced toward us. Toreus shot him in the face and then took out a second and a third. Lasers pulsed from O'Brien's pistol and killed more. I roared and bared my teeth and claws, no one being close enough for me to use them.
A shadow fell across us. Either cloud or the angel of death.
Then the air was split by the road of electric cannon and the buzz of lasers. The advancing enemies were moved down.
Troops on spider strings dropped all around us.
"Airship hovering overhead," said Guider just a little too late, which made me wonder—was Guider as unemotional as it seemed or did it have a vid director's flare for the dramatic?
The enemy were retreating down the hill as trails of exploding shells followed them.
"Our ride," said O'Brien as he grasped a spider line.
Toreus grabbed one too and two of the mercenary troopers fastened one around my torso. We were soon drawn up into the bowels of the airship.
Soon the ship was rising up into the air. From a porthole, I could see the upwardly curving slop of the Arcadia plate. We were moving to spinward and away from the battle.
We were on our way out of Arcadia but I had a feeling that we had not seen our last of the Arcadian Civil War. I looked toward Toreus who gazed out that same porthole, a far away look in his eyes. The battle tattoos had fades and his armor retracted but his still stood as if ready for a fight.
This journey was just beginning. Our days of academia were now behind us.
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Prince Toreus Rhann




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edit Prince Toreus Rhann-Thuvian Prince,the Lord of Lions,and Sharkhorja,the Silver Lion-heroes of the Dysonsphere known as Terra-Prime.Part heroic fantasy.part sci fi.Prince Toreus Rhann and Shakhorja, the Silver Lion, part Conan, part Tarzan and the Golden Lion and of course good old Kimba.

I want to create a character with Prince Toreus Rhann,that is part Conan-the wild barbarian adventure hero,who travels all over his world,stumbling into one adventure after another,righting wronges,fighting bad sorcereres and using good ones as allies,resueing beautiful women and fighting along side beautiful Red Sonja,Valeria and Belit,Queen of The Black Coast,but also becomin greinds other heroes-some simular to John Carter -Warlord of Mars,Carson Napier,David Innes,Tarzan ,Wulf The Barbarian,Brak The Barbarian,and so on,but I also want Toreus to educated even savage like Tarzan.Prince Toreus Rhann,will also mix bits of the Lord of the Rings,Dune,Kimba,the White Lion,which also is simular to the Simba,the Lion King Dysney movie.Everything is set,not in some ancient forgotten Hyborean World,but a fantastic world -a dysonsphere world undreamed of,set out in deep space,filled with all sorts of fantastic worlds,upon each world plate.

Joseph Gilbert Thompson.

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Toreus Rhann

Posted by Mavericstud8half on Friday, December 21, 2007 at 8:06 PM
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