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Joined: 02 Mar 2004
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Straight forward sci-fi  Reply with quote  

The Rider Of The Mountain

Joran sat on a long couch with his head in his hands. He ran his feeler fingers through the spiny ends of his crest and quickly stopped when he realized what he was doing. He had picked up that particular bad habit after long experience in combat. The fear welling up inside him was threatening to raise the spines of his crest and he was subconsciously stroking them to try to keep them down. He shook his head to clear it and felt his long violet braids whip around his face. Getting up, he started pacing on all four limbs, long arms outpacing his short, powerful hind legs giving him an uneven gait, his shoulders half again as high as the tops of his back legs as he walked. The pacing helped and he felt his crest flatten against the top of his head. He sat down again, folded his foot fingers down along the groove on the underside of his forearms, reached up with the four remaining feeler fingers of each hand and began fixing one of his braids that had come loose.

He told himself that the upcoming contest was just a game. It’s not like he was about to be pitched into a battle with the dreaded Ar-nok. He was just going into a practice combat with one of his own people, another For-sei male like himself. It was only a game, a test. Fear gripped him anyway.

The opponent that Joran had to face was no ordinary male. Ludo was called “The Mountain” by the students and was feared by all. He was taller than everyone in the school even when he stood using his foot-fingers. When he stood alone on his hinds he truly towered over the rest of his class. Joran was on the slightly smaller side for a male and if he stood next to the other male he wouldn’t even make it up to Ludo’s chest. There were rumors that the giant male had fought and killed an Ar-nok in single combat using nothing but his strength and the long-knife his clan-mother had given him.

Joran laughed the first time he heard this. No one could possibly match a bug in hand to hand, or rather, hand to claw combat. The giant aliens were easily four times the size of an adult male and had natural armor and weapons in their carapace and fore-claws. A For-sei could practically walk underneath a warrior Ar-nok as it stood on its four articulated legs. That is, if they could get by the four arms they had in front, the giant razor sharp claws that the warrior caste used in close combat and the smaller more dexterous manipulator arms that carried their distance weapons. To Joran, the giant aliens that besieged his people looked like gigantic versions of the stilnek flies that flew in the marshes by the base, although, thankfully, without the wings.

So Joran had laughed when he heard the story. That is, until he saw “The Mountain” for the first time. He had never seen anyone living or dead that could match his size. He came from the planet Fres-tu-dek, a newly settled pastoral planet where there where nutrients and consumables a plenty. The planet was so well suited to the For-sei that it had been settled with no terraforming whatsoever. The planet provided excellent growing conditions for the fortunate For-sei that lived there.

Joran himself came from the planet Nel-gre-dek where conditions were harsh and the process of terraforming had many generations to go before completion. Now, alas, it would never be completed, at least, not until the Ar-nok could be driven from that conquered world. Joran had just come of age in his clan when that world was lost to the bugs. The loss of life had been horrible. Almost his entire clan died in the ferocious battle for that doomed world. Joran was on one of the last ships that made it off of the planet before the end. Many hundreds of thousands were left behind. They held out for a while but no help could come to them, and in the end they all died. The only time the Ar-nok took prisoners was when they were searching for information about their chosen prey. Other than that they viewed other beings, even other sentient beings, as a resource to be used and discarded. Joran’s own clan-mother had died on that world.

Now his once great clan could boast fewer than fifty individuals where once there were thousands. Their new clan-mother was young and untested and she had yet to show if she had the wisdom to rule the clan. They had become diminished in the eyes of For-sei society. They were pitied, where once they were revered and respected. They were poor, where once they were rich and influential.

His clan’s current financial and social status was the reason why Joran was here. His young clan-mother had sent such males as they had left and who were willing into the warrior schools to fight the Ar-nok threat. Of the twelve habitable systems that encompassed the great Mother Clan of the For-sei, four had been lost and a fifth currently besieged since the first encounter with the bugs seven generations ago. There was honor to be found for a clan that gave its sons to the war regardless of their wealth.
Of all his clan-brothers, Joran had accomplished the most. He had participated in many campaigns against the Ar-nok and was blooded in battle, as were all who were accepted to his current school. Most of the campaigns were defensive in nature. They were designed to slow the advance of the Ar-nok on the contested world of Jus-tu-dek. But some campaigns he had fought in had actually gained territory back, no small feat against the bugs.

For his service, as well as his intelligence, Joran had been accepted into this most elite warrior school. To become a Hon-tau Rider was to be exalted among warriors. The lowliest Rider was as a general in the rest of the For-sei armies. To even be accepted into the school brought great honor to a clan, even if the male never got a chance to ride one of the gigantic creatures. However, that honor alone was not enough for Joran. He intended to graduate from this school and become a Rider. As the training went on and the more he learned of the Hon-tau the more he knew that this was his destiny. He would be a Rider. He would not fail.

“The Mountain”, however, still stood in his way. Joran was skilled in his clan martial arts but he knew he was no match for Ludo. Indeed, he did not expect to win the upcoming contest, nor did he need to in order to graduate, he just needed to survive unharmed. In every other contest that Ludo had been in he had broken at least one bone of his opponents, in one case he had put the unfortunate male matched against him into a coma for three days. Although there was no dishonor in losing a fairly fought contest, the broken bones meant that these males would not graduate and be Riders, and their prospects of getting back into the school to try again were slim. So when the school’s AI selected the days contest match ups, which were to be the last such contests for the students, Joran’s heart sank when he saw he was matched with “The Mountain”. It made a kind of sense. Both Joran and Ludo were undefeated in the contests.
Joran attributed his own success to luck more than anything. He didn’t fool himself into believing that he had a chance against “The Mountain”, he just wanted to survive the contest in good enough shape to graduate. Now, he was pouring all his thought and energy into staying calm and focused before the upcoming fight.

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The Rider Of The Mountain 2

Joran stood up and arched his spine. He extended his crest and the spurs on his legs and arms. He held it for a count of twenty and then relaxed everything as best he could. He began to slowly pace back and forth in the small changing room, staying mostly on his hinds so that he could swing his arms back and forth to loosen them up. He tried to take his mind off the upcoming fight by thinking about why he was there.

His clan-mother had been quite surprised when he had told her of his intention to apply to the Hon-tau Rider’s School on his last leave home. To her credit when she realized he meant to do this she lent her full support, for which Joran was very grateful. She could just as easily have told him to stay on his current, more conservative, military career path. It would have been a safer bet. There was steady advancement and many chances to gain some small honors for his clan. Joran was very relieved when she finally agreed with his decision. He didn’t know what he would have done if she had tried to block his plan to become a Rider.

The first time he saw the Hon-tau and their Riders was during his last battle, and then he had only seen them from a distance. He had been with his artillery unit above the valley of Enesbreth on the southern continent of Jus-tu-dek. They had been firing into the foothills of the mountains where command thought the Ar-nok army was preparing to launch their assault. Reconnaissance flights told of great works going on in the mountain range. The bugs were firmly entrenched in the mountains and had been breeding like crazy for the last several years. They had two other colonies on the northern continent as well that weren’t yet mature. They dug themselves deep into the mountains and could not be easily removed even by orbital bombardment or nuclear explosions. In fact, such attacks would cause more collateral damage to the surface of the planet and the For-sei than to the Ar-nok.

Intelligence reports predicted that this hive was ready to begin its advance against the For-sei soon. So Joran and his compatriots were busy pounding the expected launch site, more to harry than to cause damage. The bulk of the armed forces were set before him prepared to try to stop the initial assault before it could win the enemy any claw hold in the valley below.

Joran heard the roar of low flying craft and looked up to see friendly fighters screaming over his head, racing towards the mountains. The bugs had shown themselves. Ar-nok ground-attack aircraft came darting up from the far side of the range and were pressing an attack against the ground forces arrayed against them. Missiles and beam weapons burst forth from the craft, loosening great bursts of destruction against the For-sei army before the first AA missiles leapt up to greet them from the besieged troops. They had gotten too close before the fighters had detected them. No doubt another surveillance satellite had been knocked down. Great explosions began to appear among the soldiers in the now smoke filled valley. Joran was stunned by the sudden assault for only a moment before he jumped into action. He started shouting orders to his gun mates. They quickly reset their artillery piece to its antiaircraft setting, shutting down the projectile portion and charging up the laser. By this time the For-sei fighters were in amongst the Ar-nok craft and were beginning to take them down. As with all things Ar-nok, however, they had the numbers on their side. They could afford to lose many more craft than the For-sei, and the fighters were being destroyed at an alarming rate.

Just then Joran heard his guns laser charge up and fire. The gun automatically tracked its target and kept its high-powered laser trained on one point of the craft. Within seconds metal turned molten and ceramic armor cracked. Joran’s gun crew whooped in delight as an Ar-nok craft exploded in flames. Other guns in his battery began to fire as well, bringing down more bug aircraft. He felt a grim pride that out of the entire artillery battalion, his crew had been the first to fire at the enemy aircraft.

Thinking back on what had happened next, Joran was surprised that he still had his life. While he and his gun crew were busy firing at the enemy aircraft he suddenly felt the ground begin to shake. The next thing he knew, patches of ground began exploding upward. He watched as a patch of ground erupted directly underneath one of the big guns. It was sent tumbling up into the sky like a toy, along with the mangled bodies of many males from his gun battalion. The newly opened holes in the ground burst forth with what seemed like hundreds of Ar-nok warriors. They were right in among the gun crews. By some stroke of luck or through some murky precognition on Joran’s part he had ordered his gun crew to set up their gun well away from the others. He now had a perfect view of the destruction from atop a small hillock overlooking the other guns to the distant mountains.

The alien onslaught directed against the other gun emplacements was more intense than any combat Joran had experienced before. He watched in horror as a giant multilegged warrior grabbed his friend Lisek, and tore him to pieces. Lisek had commanded one of the guns in his battalion and was a good soldier. He had known it was he because the flamboyant male had a habit of adorning his army uniform with the bright colors of his own clan. He wore bright red and yellow scarves around his arms and neck. Those same scarves were now sent flying in different directions as the giant alien tore him to shreds. Other males were sharing a similar fate, but many were starting to fight back even though they faced a hopeless situation. These were not infantry males but artillery. Their small hand weapons weren’t designed to penetrate the thick armor of the Ar-nok carapace. The bugs were thought to somehow reinforce their own shells with a kind of ceramic shellac to further strengthen their natural armor. Most of the small arms fire from the gun crews bounced off the tough exterior of the giant, insect like warriors. Only when some weapons found the soft places around the mouthparts or on their underbellies did they cause damage.

Joran had stood aghast and dumbfounded at the fierceness of the attack. It was only when he saw the barrel of his gun begin to track toward the battle that he broke from his stupor. Kuran, one of the youngest and least experienced of his crew had manned the controls of the gun and was quickly trying to use it for a task it was never designed for. Joran saw what he meant to do and had quickly jumped to assist him. He instructed his gun mate to take the auto tracking of line and to shorten the laser burst duration to a tenth of a second. “Aim manually, and fire!” he commanded. Kuran sat at the controls and aimed directly at one of the Ar-nok amidst the carnage below. He pressed the fire control button and a brief burst of light temporarily blinded Joran. When he could see again he saw that one of the giant aliens had been transformed into a burning torch. The Ar-nok armor might be enough to deflect small arms fire but it could do nothing against energies designed to bring down armored aircraft. The light flashed again and Joran quickly pulled down his goggles to protect his eyes from the flashes. Kuran was able to dispatch eleven of the giant warriors before the bugs realized what was happening. Many quickly took cover and began firing at Joran’s position. Joran ordered his males to disperse and take positions to provide covering fire. He stayed to help Kuran at the gun. He knew it would only be a matter of time before the bugs blew his gun to embers. He said a final farewell to his clan-mother in his heart and prepared himself to join those clan warriors that had died before him. He could only hope he would be welcomed with honor.
Joran laid a hand on Kuran’s back and said a silent blessing for the brave youth. Kuran was oblivious to their danger and was firing at his enemies as quickly as the gun allowed. An explosion erupted to the left of the gun and knocked him and the young gunner flying. He knew the next explosion would take his life. Staggering to his feet and footfingers, he turned towards the attackers, determined to meet his death unbowed.

Suddenly, he heard an earthshaking scream that seemed to shake the entire valley. Staccato explosions began erupting from the direction of the battle. That’s when Joran got his first look at a living Hon-tau. It was one thing to see holos or vid feeds of the giant creatures, quite another to witness them in the flesh. They were in amongst the Ar-nok as quickly as the Ar-nok had come in among his gun mates. He watched in awe as giant cannon from the Hon-tau tore apart the stunned bugs. They were enormous. The biggest Ar-nok warrior stood barely as high as one of the Hon-tau’s giant legs. And their speed! Joran could hardly believe how fast something that big could move. He watched as one of the Hon-tau came charging down the side of a hill and leapt off a cliff that must have been four stories tall. It came crashing down on the top of an Ar-nok warrior and squashed it flat. The bug’s spindly, articulated legs had gone shooting up around the Hon-tau as the bug’s body imploded from the weight of the giant creature landing on it, forming the petals of a gruesome flower around the Hon-tau.

At this point Joran saw bright flashes of weapons fire from around the giant creatures’ heads. This was the first time he realized that there were Riders strapped to the back of each of the Hon-tau. Indeed, he watched as one rider was thrown from his mount when an Ar-nok claw severed the bottom half of one of his steed’s legs. The giant creature was letting out a horrendous scream, a scream that would fill Joran’s nightmares for months afterward. Even with the horrible screaming, the injured rider had come up from being thrown and was rushing to defend his mount, firing one of the armor piercing weapons designed to take down the bugs. He managed to kill the Ar-nok that had crippled his mount before another bug behind his position sent an explosive bolt through his back. The bug then put another bolt through the Hon-tau’s great skull and silenced its otherworldly screaming.

Despite the losses of some of the Hon-tau and their Riders, Joran had seen that they had stemmed the Ar-nok assault. In fact, the bugs had begun a full-scale retreat. The brave riders went chasing after them, even following them down their tunnels, although how such large creatures managed to fit down those holes Joran didn’t know.

It was over in minutes. Because of the Hon-tau and their Riders, Joran’s entire gun crew had survived. He quickly ordered half his crew to man the gun and report in to command. There was still a battle going on further down the valley and they might need his gun’s support. The other half he sent down to assist the rest of the ravaged gun battalion. Although Joran stayed with his gun, as a good commander should, he couldn’t keep from staring down the hill to the few fallen Hon-tau. He heard a wail grief that tore at his heart. He found the source of the wail and saw that it was a Rider. He was next to his fallen mount and was wailing and keening as he leaned against the great beast’s head. Joran had heard grief like that before, indeed, he had even felt it, when his clan was decimated and his clan-mother killed. But it surprised him to see that level of grief from the Rider for a creature that was so different from the For-sei. The Rider wailed as if for a fallen clan-mate.

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The Rider Of The Mountain 3

Since that time, Joran had become obsessed with the Hon-tau and their Riders. He had applied to the school with his clan-mother’s consent and his battle commander’s recommendation. He was overjoyed when he was accepted to the school. The training was hard but he did well, eager to learn all he could about the Hon-tau and determined not to be one of the many students who didn’t make it through the training. The more he learned the more fascinated he became with the giant creatures.

He studied the language used to communicate with the Hon-tau and was surprised by its complexity. He asked about the relationship between them and their Riders. The instructors were all Riders or former Riders themselves, part of the very first generation to become Riders. Little was divulged about the origin of the Hon-tau and before coming to the school Joran had known next to nothing about them, only that their planet of origin had been discovered some fifty years earlier. Some fifteen years ago they had started showing up in battles against the Ar-nok. Only now was the recruitment of Riders stepping up. Joran had learned that his people finally had ships large enough and fast enough to transport the giant creatures the interstellar distances required to reach the front lines. The ships had actually been available for some years but their first priority had been to transport large numbers of the Hon-tau to suitable planets to start separate colonies of them. After seeing the effectiveness of the Hon-tau in battle, the Ar-nok would not hesitate to destroy their home planet to keep them from entering the war on the side of the For-sei. Therefore it was felt that the survival of the species was more important in the long term than bringing up large numbers of the creatures to battle right away. The location of the Hon-tau home world was a closely guarded secret and even most Riders did not know its location. It would remain so until adequate planetary defenses could be brought into place by the For-sei.

Joran and his classmates were taught to read the feelings and temperaments of the Hon-tau in order to better understand them. One day, during one of these classes, Ludo, “the Mountain”, had grown frustrated with the subject and had admonished the instructor, “I don’t care what the creature is feeling!” he said, “just teach me how to control the beast and I will do the rest.” The instructor had stared at the big male for several moments before he answered, addressing the entire class. “Listen to me” he said, “You had best get it through your thick heads that when you become a rider you do not control anything. You enter into a partnership. A partnership that is as close and as strong as any clan mating. You ride these creatures only by their leave and you had best be prepared to give as much of yourselves to them as you can. If you do, then the rewards are beyond measure. If you don’t, then you are not worthy to be a rider.”

At this point the instructor’s face had clouded over and he could not seem to speak anymore. He finally walked out without a word. It was later that we found out that he had lost his mount in battle. The giant creature had given its life to save him and even years later the grief he felt was still strong enough to overcome him.

Joran was brought back from his reverie by a thump at the door. The door opened halfway and the head of his friend, Rasha, poked through. “It is almost time. Do you need any help with anything?” Rasha asked.

“Thanks, Rasha. Could you help me with the rest of my armor?”

Rasha came and helped him put on his forearm bucklers, making sure that his spurs could extend through the slots provided for them. Then he helped him finish fastening the padded vest that protected his back where most blows usually landed. He opted to keep his legs unarmored knowing that speed more than anything was going to protect him from “The Mountain”.

Rasha handed him his clan-spear. The spear was the traditional weapon for the duels. Normally, the spear was about a head taller than the male wielding it and had a thin slightly curved blade that made up the last quarter of its length. The blade was razor sharp and was normally covered in the glyphs and runes of the carrier’s clan. Unlike in ancient days, when the duels were held for a more serious purpose, the blades of the spears were covered with a soft guard that blunted the blows that the user dealt with it. Joran had opted not to use his own clan-spear and had chosen one from the spares available. He had quickly drawn the symbol for his clan onto the spear’s blade. It was twice the length of his normal spear but still light enough to yield comfortably. He had picked it to counteract the reach that Ludo had over him. “The Mountain’s” own clan-spear would be just as long but would be proportioned correctly for him. Joran would be fighting with what was essentially a pole axe. He knew that he was taking a risk by using the bigger weapon, its balance would be wrong and it would not be easy to use one handed. This meant Joran would have to stay on his hinds almost the whole time. Most males found that uncomfortable and difficult, opting for a more traditional three-limbed stance. Fortunately, his clan fighting style was more acrobatic than most so Joran was used to staying on his hinds for extended periods of time.

They walked down a hallway that led from the changing room to the fighting hall. The fighting hall consisted of a large oval fighting area surrounded by stands on three sides. The ground was bare, soft earth brought in to help protect against injuries during falls. A small raised dais was placed in the middle of the long side of the oval just in front of the stands. Rasha stopped at the entrance and whispered his clan prayer into Joran’s ear. He was surprised by the gesture. Such things were usually not said to a male outside of one’s own clan. Joran bowed his head toward Rasha in gratitude and stepped out into the hall. He could see that there was a larger than normal crowd of spectators in the stands. “The Mountain’s” reputation had grown during their time at the school and people now came to see whom he would beat and how bad.

Ludo was already in the hall by the time Joran entered. He was being attended by one of his own clan members who was also a student in the school. Joran didn’t know his name but had seen him around. He was a large male as well but he seemed like a child next to Ludo.

Fear began to grow in Joran as he watched Ludo prepare himself and he could feel his crest start to rise in response. He took a few deep breaths and forced himself to take that first step towards his opponent. Both males approached to just beyond the range of their weapons. Ludo stood on three limbs and gripped his spear in his left hand, his black braids hanging down past his outthrust chin. He was covered from head to toe in traditional armor. Joran doubted if he would have even been able to carry that much armor, never mind fight in it. Joran took up his position and stood on just his hind legs, both hands wrapped around his oversize spear.

Joran watched as Ludo flexed his spurs. The giant’s crest remained down however. Why should he be nervous about anything, Joran thought, he has never been beaten. No one has even come close.
Both combatants turned and faced the dais where three instructors were playing the part of judges. Joran went to all fours and bowed low, his spear still clutched in both hands. Ludo gave a quick nod of his head to the judges, who rewarded him with frowns for his rudeness. Ludo ignored it and stared intently at Joran.

The three judges stood and the middle one, a Rider who taught Hon-tau anatomy named Kun, addressed the two fighters. “Since ancient times, members from rival clans would settle disputes in the fighting hall, the last resort before committing clans to open warfare. Each clan would choose their finest warrior and battle would ensue. The winner would decide who prevailed in the dispute.”

He paused here for a moment and Joran thought his gaze shifted to him. “Yet if the loser was judged to have fought courageously and skillfully, honor would still go to his clan. Concessions would be made according to the will of the judges brought in from three uninvolved clans based on how the loser fought and in most cases how the loser died. The same was judged of the victor.”

“Since we no longer have the combatants fight to the death.” Here the judge paused and his gaze was definitely directed at Ludo. “The contest has been changed to five falls. The first one to reach five falls or become incapacitated in some way,” again the judge gave a warning glance at Ludo, “shall lose the contest.”

The judge then paused again and took in both combatants. “We are all here for the same purpose. We all fight the same enemy now. Because of this, there will be no lasting enmity concerning this contest. In the future, either one of you may find that you must trust your life to the other. This is part of your training to face the Ar-nok threat. Hold nothing back, we need warriors who are not afraid of battle, but always remember, this contest is designed to help you, to help all the clans. May your clan-mothers watch over you both. Now bow to each other and begin.” The judge settled himself behind the dais.

Joran turned to Ludo and bowed, this time only briefly touching one footfinger to the ground before assuming a two footed fighting stance. Ludo turned and gave Joran a bow even more perfunctory than the one he gave the judges.

Ludo immediately charged towards Joran, lunging forward with the tip of his spear. Joran began backpedaling immediately, surprised by the attack. Joran had never seen Ludo attack so quickly. Normally he was content to let his size intimidate his opponents for a while before he finished them off. Apparently Ludo wanted to end this as soon as he could.

Joran recovered enough of his senses to stop his suicidal backwards plunge and dart off to the side. He could feel the wind from Ludo’s spear as it barely missed the side of his head. Joran made an overbalanced swing at Ludo as he passed but the giant was already well past and turning back for another charge.

The charge came again and this time Joran held his ground. At the last instant before being overrun he dove to his right, at the same time grabbing the bottom of his spear with both hand and thrusting it behind him and between Ludo’s pumping legs. For a split second Joran thought his spear might be broken in two by those tree trunk legs but the spear held and Ludo was sent flying forward. Joran quickly spun around swinging his oversized spear over his head and bringing it down across Ludo’s armored back with a resounding crack, thus insuring that the judges rule it as a fall and not simply a trip. It felt to Joran like he had just struck a rock. He had swung with all his might and his spear had bounced off of Ludo with such force that Joran’s hands and wrists were tingling with pain from the shock and vibration.

The small crowd present roared its approval. Ludo was up in a flash and advancing on Joran again. This time he adopted a more cautious approach. His crest was raised up through a slit in his helmet and his spurs were showing through on his arms and legs. Joran saw that his face was flushed a deep purple in anger.

Joran made several quick jabs with his long spear, which Ludo easily batted aside. Ludo then advanced faster on Joran delivering a series of quick powerful slashes with his spear. Joran was hard pressed to defend against them and his arms shook with pain every time he brought up his spear to block one of the giant’s blows. Joran was furiously counterstriking and hit as often as he missed, but Ludo didn’t even seem to feel the spear hit him and the strikes certainly didn’t slow him down any.

Joran knew he couldn’t go on like this for long so as he was moving backward he pretended to stumble in order to get “the Mountain” to commit himself. Ludo charged forward as expected and just to be sure, Joran took one more step in the direction of his fake stumble before quickly shifting his weight in the opposite direction and pivoting in a full circle on his back leg. He came around, again holding his spear with two hands at the base, and squarely connected the blunted blade to the back Ludo’s knee as he raced past. Because of the necessity to leave the joint unencumbered Ludo had no real armor protecting that spot and he actually yelled out in pain as he went crashing down. He got up slowly with the help of his spear and it was clearly evident that he was favoring the injured hind.

The crowd roared its approval again and Joran spared a quick glance at the judge’s dais where he saw another flag go up on his side indicating he had scored another fall. He couldn’t believe it. He didn’t think that Ludo had suffered more than one fall the entire time that they have been here at the school and Joran had just taken him down twice!

Ludo now seemed to be staying exclusively on three limbs and had switched his spear hand to better offset his injured leg.
Joran immediately decided to press his advantage. Holding his spear in two hands he sprinted towards Ludo on his hinds. “The Mountain” took a half step backwards at the sudden attack. Joran charged forward and jammed the tip of his spear into the soft earth directly in front of Ludo, burying half of the blade in the soft earth. Holding on to the bottom with both hands he used his forward momentum to vault himself into the air. He swung his feet around and planted them firmly in the center of Ludo’s face. The giant’s head snapped back at the impact and he was once again sent flying off of his feet. The crowd roared as a third flag went up on his side of the dais. Two more and Joran would win!

“The Mountain” managed to get up again and was standing on all fours, swaying slightly and shaking his head. His spear was on the ground by his side, apparently forgotten as the giant tried to regain his senses.

Joran advanced again, confident now and eager to end the contest. Ludo was still standing on all fours and dazed, but he was up, which meant it was fair for Joran to attack him. He swung his spear in a wide arc directly at Ludo’s head hoping to finish the fight with one last blow. Suddenly, Ludo darted inside the attack with a speed that belied his size and grabbed the shaft of Joran’s spear, stopping it in mid-swing. The other hand darted out and grabbed the front of Joran’s armor. Joran felt himself lifted off of the ground and he found that he was staring directly into Ludo’s face. Blood was pouring freely from his nostrils and mouth and his crest was fully raised through his helmet, yet he seemed to be smiling.

It was unbelievable. Ludo had been faking! He had been waiting for the attack and Joran had fallen for his ruse. In desperation, Joran extended his spurs and started raining blows on the arm holding him fast while his legs kicked at Ludo’s armored torso. He may as well have been striking granite for all the effect it was having. There was nothing he could do as Ludo twisted Joran’s spear out of his grasp and drop it to the ground. He then clenched his free hand into a giant fist. A fist that then came crashing into the side of Joran’s head. As he lost consciousness, the last thing he saw was Ludo’s smile.

Last edited by John on Wed Jun 09, 2004 12:10 am; edited 1 time in total

Post Sun May 23, 2004 1:07 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address

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The Rider Of The Mountain 4

Joran woke to find himself in the school’s infirmary with the worst headache he had ever had. He immediately tried to retreat back into unconsciousness but the pain would not let him. He groaned miserably.

“It’s about time you woke up.”

Turning his head very slowly toward the voice, Joran waited a few seconds to let his vision clear. Rasha was squatted down next to his bed holding a portable data stack. He had a bemused expression on his face.

“How long?” Joran managed to squeak out.

“It’s only been a few hours.” Rasha answered.

“How bad?” Joran asked, feeling the strength come back to his voice.

Rasha laughed. “Relax your fine. I’m pretty sure Ludo pulled that last punch of his. After seeing it I wasn’t sure you would even be alive, but the healers have checked you out and proclaimed that you have no permanent damage.”

Joran relaxed back into his bed, letting out a long relieved sigh
Rasha leaned forward and spoke in a conspiratorial voice. “You might want to watch out for Ludo though.”

Joran groaned again and turned his head too quickly and winced as the pain exploded in his head. When he could open his eyes again he asked a smiling Rasha, “Just how mad is he?”

Rasha laughed. “Mad? You misunderstand. I think ‘the Mountain’ means to adopt you into his clan. We’ve never seen him like this. All he can talk about is how little Joran almost beat him in single combat and how he only wishes the rest of us could be half the warrior that you are.” Rasha leaned in close again. “I really think you shocked him. He was surprised that he couldn’t just squash you flat like he does to everyone else. This is a new experience for him and the funny thing is I think he likes it.”

As if to prove his point the door to Joran’s room slid into the wall and Ludo came barging in. He was walking on all fours and Joran could see that he was still favoring the knee that he had struck with his spear. His face was covered in bruises but he was smiling as he approached the bed.

“Ah, little Joran. Look at you! So small I could crush you with my bare hands.” As if to emphasize his point he had curled one oversize hand into a giant fist. “Yet you almost beat me.” Ludo shook his head in wonder. He was clearly in a good mood despite his injuries. “You should have beaten me. It was only luck that I was able to catch you in the end.”

Joran shifted uncomfortably in his bed. He wasn’t used to Ludo being so animated. He tried to come up with something to say in face of all the unexpected praise. “I wouldn’t say that. That was a pretty good trick there at the end. I thought I had you for sure.”

Ludo brushed the comment aside. “Bah! That was a desperate act on my part and it never should have worked. Any child off his mother’s back and holding his first spear would have seen through it.” He smiled down at him. “You’ll know better next time.”

It took a moment for the comment to sink in. When it did, Joran swallowed nervously. “Next time?”

Ludo was beaming. “Yes, next time. If I had known what a fierce fighter you were I would have requested you for all my matches.”

Joran glanced over and saw Rasha trying to hold in a laugh as Ludo continued. “I have made a request with the head instructors that when we graduate we should be placed in the same squad.” He looked fiercely at Joran. “Together, as Riders, the two of us will chase the cursed bugs all the way back into the filthy holes that spawned them”

Joran felt his jaw drop and heard a snicker from Rasha. He recovered quickly. “That’s good news, Ludo.”

“Isn’t it?” He replied. Ludo shook his head again. “I still can’t believe it. I’ve never taking a beating like this.” He smiled broadly showing an incisor that Joran had obviously cracked when he had kicked him in the face. “I’m going to be sore for the next ten days.” Ludo reached down and gripped Joran’s shoulder rather painfully. “Now you hurry up and get better, little Joran. We’re going to be training together from now on. You’re going to have to show me some of those moves you pulled out there and I have a lot to show you.”

With that, Ludo lumbered out of the room leaving a thoroughly stunned Joran and a hysterically laughing Rasha.

“You find all this amusing, do you?” Joran asked Rasha.

Rasha took a moment to quiet his laughing, his face a bright scarlet in his amusement. “Yes, I really do. You seem to have found yourself a new playmate.”

Joran groaned again and closed his eyes.

“What are you worried about?” Rasha said. “You’re a Rider now. You made it.”

Joran opened his eyes as Rasha’s words sunk in. “Your right! I made it! I’m a Rider!” He closed his eyes and imagined how his clan-mother would feel when she heard the news.

Post Sun May 23, 2004 1:08 am   View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website AIM Address

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The Rider Of The Mountain 5

Four weeks later Joran found himself waiting in a large hanger accompanied by Kun, his former instructor. Today was the day that his life would change. Today was the day that he was to meet his Hon-tau mount.

The graduation had been held over a week ago and he had been thrilled that his clan-mother had elected to attend. He was treated with honor and respect during her entire visit and she had once even stroked his crest in a show of affection. She had declared that a celebratory meal would be prepared in honor of his status as a Hon-tau Rider. She and some of her retainers made the meal and she had served him personally, an honor which he felt he did not deserve. Other older, surviving members of his clan were present and each came and gave him a small blessing of thanks for the honor he had brought to the clan.

The whole visit had been wonderful but now Joran was overcome with a case of nerves as he awaited the entrance of his new mount. The starship that had carried the cargo of Hon-tau had arrived three days earlier and it had taken this long to process the giant creatures in orbit, mostly performing final medical checks on them before they were transported to the planet’s surface. Huge transports had landed early in the morning, each one taking its turn at docking with the giant decontamination facility located next to the field. Here the Hon-tau underwent one last decontamination procedure before being allowed into contact with unprotected For-sei. Giant prefab plassteel tunnels had been erected that led from the decon facility to a dozen waiting hangars like the one in which Joran now stood. Here individual Hon-tau would be brought to meet their Riders. It had been found that it was better to make the initial contact a private one because the presence of multiple Hon-tau was unnerving to even the most steadfast of males. So the initial meeting was kept to just three, the new Rider, an experienced Rider, and the Hon-tau itself. The presence of the experienced Rider was there to bolster the newly graduated Riders. Even after all of their training it was found that some males tried to bolt in terror at the sight of the massive creatures.

Once the initial meeting took place both Rider and Hon-tau would exit through the other side of the hangar into another tunnel. This tunnel led a great distance to one of the largest structures Joran had ever seen. It was a giant, covered stadium designed specifically to house both the Hon-tau and their Riders. This is where they would spend their first week together getting to know each other.

The purpose of the tunnels and the covered stadium was to keep the Hon-tau out of sight. Ar-nok spy satellites have been known to show up from time to time and often went undetected for weeks. It was felt that the location of any Hon-tau should be kept as secret as possible so as not to encourage attacks by the bugs.

Joran began to stroke his crest as he stared nervously at the hangar doors. He felt Kun put a comforting hand on his back. “You’ll do fine. Don’t worry.”

He gave Kun a quick nod. “Thanks Instructor Kun. It means a lot to me for you to be here.”

“It’s just Kun, we’re both Riders now. I’m not your instructor anymore.” With that Kun gently pushed Joran forward on the raised platform they were standing on so that Joran now stood closest to the hangar doors that would admit the Hon-tau.

Joran took one more glance behind him at Kun before he turned and faced the doors. He stood resolutely on all four limbs, determined not to shame himself when the time came for the doors to open.

When the amber light above the hangar doors started flashing in warning Joran felt his entire body tense. His crest rose up off his head and the spurs on his arms and legs extended to their fullest. Shivers of excitement ran all through his body as the large hangar doors split down the middle and started sliding sideways.

Joran saw movement through the door and took half a step backwards before steeling himself to stay where he was. The doors had slid back enough for the Hon-tau to enter. It entered the hangar slowly; its head seemed to almost brush the ceiling of the hangar as it turned its gaze on Joran. As it approached him, he saw that the platform he was standing on barely came to the creature’s knees.

From his studies, Joran thought that it was a male, but he couldn’t be absolutely sure as the green covering used to help protect it from the elements obscured most of its body.

Deep feelings of contentment and satisfaction welled up inside of Joran. His Hon-tau was magnificent! He was the most beautiful creature Joran had ever seen. He was infused with a joy so profound that it left him dumbstruck, quick pangs of doubt entered his thoughts as he wondered whether the magnificent creature would accept him or not.

Those thoughts galvanized his will and he took a step closer to the creature that was staring down at him. Still on all fours, he bowed low, bending at the elbows and letting his forehead briefly touch the surface of the platform. With as loud a voice as he could manage, he greeted the Hon-tau in the language he had been taught in school.

The giant creature stood inspecting him a moment longer before he leaned down, one giant knee coming to rest on the hangar floor. The Hon-tau leaned in close, its head only slightly higher than the platform that Joran was standing on. The creature’s flexible mouth split open revealing two rows of enormous, broad, white teeth. Joran thought that the Hon-tau’s mouth could easily take his head off in one bite and it took all the will power that he possessed to hold his ground. The creature’s warm breath washed over him and Joran found the odor strange but not unpleasant. The voice that tumbled out was deep but not overly loud.

“There’s no need to shout little friend, I can hear you just fine.” Joran was relieved to find that he could understand the Hon-tau language.

The giant creature extended one of its limbs in front of Joran. Joran gripped the tip the way he had been taught as the creature spoke again.

“You must be Joran. My name is Peter Brennan, formerly lieutenant Brennan of The United States Marine Corps, and now Private Brennan of the Joint For-sei/Human Expeditionary Force. It looks like we’ve been assigned to each other.” His mouth split again revealing his large white teeth in what Joran now recognized was a Hon-tau grin. “Let me tell you, it is a pleasure to finally meet you and I cannot wait to get out there and kick some alien ass!”

Peter held his arms level on the platform surface as an invitation for Joran to get on. Joran noticed for the first time that the Hon-tau was already wearing a standard riding rig on its back. Joran hesitated for a moment before scrambling up the creatures arm and strapping himself into the rig. He felt his stomach drop as Peter stood up and he instinctively grabbed the support rails put there for that purpose. The rig was set up in such a way as to allow him to position it wherever he wanted on the Hon-tau’s back, or in some instances to rotate it all the way around to his front. Joran positioned the rig so that he was looking over the top of the Hon-tau’s head. He fought off a feeling of dizziness as he looked down at a waving Kun.

“Are you all set back there?” Peter asked him.

Joran could not remember when he had felt such joy and wonder. “I am all set, Peter.” He savored the sound of his Hon-tau’s name as it rolled off his tongue.

Peter and Joran crossed to the other side of the hangar and waited for the doors to slide open. Joran sent a silent prayer to his clan-mother, thanking her for letting him fulfill his dream.

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