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Chapter 10: The Den

Toreus opened the big oak door of the Mackean’s Den.

Two small yet muscular bouncers, both of them Thulians, looked at him with curiosity. They wondered if they could win a fight with the big outlander. Toreus had no concern. Unlike these Neanderthals he had no interest in fighting just as a means of proving his manhood. He knew that he could fight and win and that was just a fact of life.

He smiled at the cavemen. They did not return the gesture. Thulians smiled but never at strangers. That and an inveterate conservativism were what led to their extinction on all but a few worldlines. He moved past them and scanned the room.

It was crowded. People were lined up two deep along the bar, mostly wearing the military fashions favored by mercs. At the back of the room were tables and those were crowded. At one sat three big humanoid mammoths, sipping beer with their trunks. One or two eyeing the Thulians nervously. Thulians and Rheticulans—the mammoths—were ancient enemies.

On most worldlines where the two had co-existed in ancient times one had been the pray of the other. Only on the Rheticulan plate, where pachyderm evolution had exceeded that of primates had the pachyderms won.

Of course on most worldlines, save those maintained by the Preservers the Neanderthals had lost, only to be remembers as the dwarves of ancient legends.

At the next table over were four Jovian Primitives—one of each color, blue, green, yellow and red. A blue Jove and a yellow one were arm wrestling. Neither seemed to be making progress beating the other. Joves came from a high gravity plate that imitated the field of their home world and were ferociously strong in the lighter gravity of the Arcadian plate.

At the next table he spotted his old friend, Kothar Khonn Jr, with another man. Good, he was here and that man would be the agent of House Taylor that he was here to meet. Toreus moved toward the bar, casually, trying to scan the room for possible RAMP agents. He spotted no obvious opposition reps.

Over the bar hung a blue cloud of smoke—tobacco and other weeds that people smoked for dubious reasons. Such behavior was allowed in MacKean’s Den. No one was going to tell any of these soldiers of fortune that they were not allowed to smoke. And smoke they did. The ceiling was stained with nicotine and THC and so was the mirror behind the bar. Toreus—not a smoker by any stretch—found the smell sour and annoying.

Toreus moved to the bar, still scanning the room to see who moved with him. Someone bumped into him from behind. An electric shock of alarm ran through his body. Someone had managed to get close to him without his noticing it.

He turned around and looked down into the green eyes of a petite, red haired, muscular woman. She looked back up at him and gave a lopsided smile that showed one deep dimple. She was beautiful and the sight of her and the smell of her perfume made him wish that he were not here on serious business.

Her well turned body was clad in a fish scaled suit that could easily convert to full body armor on command. She was a warrior, no doubt about that. A lady soldier. He wondered who she was and as soon as he wondered the Guider reminded him that he was here on serious business. The Guider had a way of cock blocking him while on the job.

He slid past the beauty and headed for the table where Kothar sat. He gave her one more look, hoping that she had not been there merely to distract his attention away from some enemy. She smiled at him, showing both dimples this time.

He had a good feeling about her. Too good for this particular moment.

He slid into a chair next to Kothar.

“Glad to see you could join us, Your Grace,” Kothar said.

“Glad to be here,” said Toreus.

Next to Toreus sat a thin, tall man with white hair and a white beard. Kothar gestured in his direction. “This is Joss Carpenter, Master of Assassins for House Taylor. Joss, this is Toreus Rhann, son of the Emperor Toreus.”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Toreus grasping the thin man’s hand. It was a very strong grip. In ancient times the Master of Assassins was not only a duke’s chief spy but also the man who took care of other problems that the duke might need to have addressed. Wet work as the term went. He did believe that this Joss Carpenter could strangle a man with that hand. Perhaps he had.

“Not as pleased as I to meet the Lion Prince of Thuvia,” said Lord Carpenter. “Even at your young age your exploits have reached my seasoned ears.”

Toreus frowned inside. He did not personally feel that he had any exploits worth recounting to a foreign spymaster. He had mastered the skills of a lionman, true and he was an accomplished rugby player but he had been born into the purple and somehow believed that that made him less than other men.

“Where are the Taylors?” Toreus asked.

“They are hidden in a safe place across town,” said Carpenter. “You will leave here and go and get them after me and Colonel Khonn depart.”

“Where are they?” Toreus insisted.

Kothar looked at Carpenter. “Tell him. He needs to know.”

Carpenter looked at a PAD that sat on the beer ringed and tobacco scorched table top. On its screen was a time stamp counting down.

“Yes, my contacts in the police have informed me that we will be raided in just a few minutes. Nothing special. Just routine. This pub is known as a meeting place for mercenaries who are decided idly anti-Wallace.”

A raid, thought the Lion Prince. That was just great. They were sitting here waiting for the Gods-damned RAMP to kick in the door and start asking for IDs. “You knew this and you didn’t call off this meeting.”

“There wasn’t time,” said Carpenter. “Besides we will be gone as the raid commences and you, young warrior, will fight your way to the underground entrance at the back and escape. You will then go to the Church on 91st Avenue and ask to see Father Philip Cho.”

“The Duke Nathaniel Taylor is being held in the Royal Prison at the edge of town,” said Kothar. “We don’t have the troops or the time to reach him. The Duchess Lois Chandler Taylor and her two sons are hiding with the priest. As long as they are free the Wallaces are denied their victory. They are heirs to the Taylor family title and can form the core of a resistance.

“So you are not going to attempt to break the Duke out of prison.”

Kothar laughed and shook his head. “All you need to worry about is the Taylor family. Get to them and get them to safety. We’ve got everything else handled.”

Toreus didn’t like the sound of any of this. The Duke was a cousin of his, on his mother’s side. And as long as the Duke was in jail there was a possibility that the Wallaces could execute him. And until he was out of jail there was next to no chance that they could bounce Radu and his nephews off the throne and replace them with a Taylor—Nathaniel.

The boys would not do. It would be years before Nathan, the older boy, was old enough to assume the throne. If he took it now then he would have to be trusted to the guidance of a regent…

Toreus looked at Carpenter suspiciously but quickly tabled the suspicion. The man was putting his life at risk just being here. The police—whether some were agents of his or not—were hunting for him. And they were expecting a raid shortly.

They wanted a raid shortly. That was evident. Otherwise they would have met in a less open place. Kothar outlined the plan and the extraction route to Toreus. The Prince now had serious doubts about what he had gotten himself into. This looked like many foolish risks for a possible low payoff. There was a chance that he could be caught or killed in the action and if he was…

If I get killed then Pangea will have no choice but to go to war with Arcadia. No choice. He looked at Carpenter and Kothar. He had known Kothar all of his life. They had grown up like brothers. Toreus was closer to Kothar Khonn Junior that he was to any of his own siblings. Could he be cold blooded enough to put the Prince up as a political sacrifice to get the Pangean Parliament to vote for war with Arcadia.

And if so then how much did his own father know of this. Did Kothar's father the Marshal? The Great Warlord of Pangea.

No, this is ridiculous. You’re being paranoid, Toreus.

To be cautious of politicians is not a mental illness whispered the Guider. Thank you, Toreus replied.

Joss and Kothar filled Toreus in on details of the mission. Much time had been spent planning out details and contingencies. Including the extraction route and its alternative. Apparently he was to get the family out of the rectory house and out of town to a field where they would rendezvous with an agent carrying a jump connection that would connect to its sister in a starship. Then it was off to one of the alternate Earths for the Taylor family.

It all seemed straight forward enough. Providing that one did not think about the thousands of police, military and mercenaries surrounding the city and patrolling throughout it.

Boss! Shakorja thought radioed him. Ully just spotted troops unloading from a lorry down the end of the road. Two lorries. They’re dog trotting in your direction. Kai’Vhan.

Toreus received a hawk’s eye view of the trotting soldiers. They were coming from up and down the street and there were more in the ally behind it.

Kothar had that far away look that a thought radio communicator had. His eyes glazing as images were pumped into his hyper-mentate brain.

“Time to adjourn, gentlemen,” said the Emperor’s operative.

The big door swung open, kicked by an armored foot. The Thulian bouncers reached for their side arms. Weapons discharged and the big Neanderthals went down twitching on the floor.

Joss and Kothar got up and started to move for the side door with their entourage of guards. Toreus was alone at the table.

The Prince of Lions jumped to his feet and turned the table over to make a shield between himself and the Vhan. Shakorja, on the move.

Already moving. Engaging enemy. Two dead.

The Vhan cops wearing RAMP armbands fired their weapons at the table. Bullets chewed holes in the varnished wood.

Mercs at the bar waded into the enemy troops. Shields pulsed and knives flashed. The Kai’Vhan were master gunfighters---but this was a knife fight. Not their forte.

Toreus threw his shoulder against the upturned table and shoved it into the mass of Vhan troopers. One or two knives pierced the table as the big Pangean slammed the table hard into the soldiers.

He kept pushing the table until it lodged against the door frame crushing several soldiers behind it.

Two Vhan’s lunged at Toreus from the side, their long knives down and ready. The Prince lifted his arm and the shield cut in, blocking the parry of one of the soldiers. Toreus used his leg to knock the Vhan's feet from under him. The trooper landed hard on the floor as the Prince swung around on the man’s attacking partner, drawing his knife and plunging it into the soldier’s shield.

Kothar and Joss made their way to the side door only to run into a gang of RAMP police who were watching that exit.

Vincenzo the cabby was parked in the alley on that side of the building waiting for them. He casually tossed a stun grenade into the mass of cops. RAMP cops fell this way and that as the bomb went off. Joss kicked one of the downed men in the jaw as he tried to get back up. Kothar clubbed one across the neck with his fist. They then crossed the alley and dove into the open gull wing door of the yellow cab.

“Time to move, Mr. Vincenzo,” said Kothar Khonn.

“Damn right you say,” said the cabby. He activated the car’s cloak and ascended to roof top level on the paragrav drive. They did not land until they were over a parking lot six blocks away.

Joss looked over at Kothar from his side of the car bench. Do you think we should have told him?” Kothar shrugged. “I don’t know. I just know that he’s the best man for the job. By the time he’s done the RAMP will have committed all their forces to netting Prince Toreus. Then the door will be wide open for what we need to do.”

Joss Carpenter nodded. Vincenzo put the car in drive and they were away to their next assignment.

Inside the pub Toreus and the mercs in the bar faced off against the Vhan in a number of pitched shield battles. Sparks jumped from the cold plasma shields as knives made contact.

Dead bodies, both Kai’Vhan and non-Kai’Vhan began to mass on the floor. All in all, Toreus observed, more of them were Vhan than not. The thing about Vhan was that they had contempt for their own deaths and so died in large numbers.

Toreus’ back was to the wall and he was cut off from any exit. He’d have to fight his way to the side exit where Carpenter and Khonn had left. There was no other choice.

“Hey, muscles,” said a contralto voice from behind him. “Back toward the hall behind us.”

He looked around to see the red haired female soldier standing there with a lumpy little Thulian and two of the hulking Rheticulans he’d seen earlier.

He backed in her direction. “lead on, miss…?”

“Just follow me and keep the banter down to a minimum.”

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