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Wayne W Ni

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Albert Russo: a poetic biography, volume 2-texts & photos
by Albert Russo

a photographic and poetic itinerary of Albert Russo's life (he has resided on three continents) and literary production (in English and in French)..  
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by Wayne W Ni   
Rated "PG" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, June 01, 2007
Posted: Monday, May 28, 2007

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Tophero: Son of Smilodon—Jungle Lord of the New Millennium opens with a young boy who is being raised by smilodons—fierce sabertooth tigers—on a planet where oversized carnivorous dinosaurs and predatory beasts stalk the land. The prehistoric world of Opalon, with its smoldering volcanoes, dueling dinosaurs, and treacherous tar pits, springs to life as we watch him learn to hunt with his smilodon siblings and master the ways of the jungle.
The child discovers a remote cave that is decorated with strange wall paintings of human figures, including one showing a baby being abducted by a hyaenodon. The cave also contains a computer, with which the boy is able to teach himself to read and speak English. Gradually, he internalizes the moral lessons to be found in the greatest literature and poetry of the planet Earth. He masters military strategy and trains himself in the martial arts. Upon realizing that he is a human being, he vows to uphold the highest values of humankind. He names himself Tophero.
Tophero is a hero in every way—exceedingly strong, handsome, and athletic; highly intelligent and self-disciplined; a gifted hunter and warrior; sensitive to beauty and the finer emotions; a truthful and upright defender of the weak. But he is lonely. . .until one day an expedition from Earth lands on Opalon, and he catches the intoxicating scent—and sight—of lovely blonde tennis star and zoologist Tiffany Sommer.
As a college graduation gift, Tiffany’s parents send her on a tour of the universe aboard a super-luminal rocket, the SLR Cole. Once on board she is reunited with her former suitor, dashing billionaire Derek Cole, who is accompanied by his ruthless bodyguard, Wolfgang Trapp. Due to the recent, untimely death of Derek’s parents, he now controls the space exploration company that owns the spaceship. Derek forces the captain to make an unplanned stop on the planet Opalon.
Little does Tiffany know that Derek, having murdered his father, is traveling with his father’s map to the Opalonian diamond mines that formed the basis for his family’s vast wealth. He plans to conquer the world of finance—with Tiffany as his bride. She does know, however, upon catching Derek treating a crewmember with sadistic cruelty, that she has no interest in him.
While Derek and his men set forth on their mission, Tiffany and two friends set forth to explore their exotic surroundings. Aware of the potential dangers on the prehistoric planet, they take two laser-armed guards. During a jaguar attack they are separated, and Tiffany finds herself alone in the jungle.
The next morning Tophero is awakened by the sultry sound of Tiffany’s melody. He spies on her as he swings through the trees. Her scent is intoxicating. She is the first human being he has ever seen, and it’s love at first sight. He rescues her from the attack of a slavering bear, which he kills with his spear, then lets loose a warbling cry of triumph.
Tiffany is terrified and stunned by—and overwhelmingly attracted to—the savage he-man who has saved her life. Even more shocking is his vaguely Shakespearian English. A whirlwind romance ensues, as she comes to admire Tophero’s courage, honesty, and devotion. He, in turn, is eager to refine his barbaric habits and becomes her ardent student.
Finding themselves deeply, joyfully in love, Tiffany sets forth with her beloved to visit the cave where he taught himself the ways of humankind. There, she recognizes that he must be the lost son of billionaire Jack Lone, CEO of the space exploration company Lone Enterprises, who, with his wife Caitlin, a painter, was stranded on Opalon twenty years earlier. Before their rescue, their baby son was tragically snatched away by a hyaenadon and was believed dead. Now, Tiffany realizes, the child must have been rescued by a smilodon and raised with her cubs. Thrilled to know who he is at last, Tophero agrees to accompany Tiffany back to Earth.
On their way back to the ship, they encounter Derek Cole. His party has been wiped out by the terrors of the jungle and dangers of the Uranus Cave, where the diamonds were mined. Only he and Wolfgang Trapp have survived. But laden with a fortune in precious stones, they have fallen into a tar pit. As they sink, Tiffany overhears Derek admit to the murder of his father, with Trapp’s help. Tophero rescues them, only to be insulted by the jealous Derek.
Tophero escorts Tiffany back to the SLR Cole and leaves to say goodbye to his smilodon family. By the time the jungle warrior returns, Derek has ordered the ship’s captain to take off prematurely, stranding Tophero on Opalon.
Bereft, Tophero falls into a rage, then a depression. At last to be united with one of his own kind, only to have her stolen away by treachery? His howls shake the jungle and he vows to find a way to Earth.
Back on Earth, Tiffany, too, is consumed with longing for her lost love. She contacts Jack and Caitlin Lone. At their California mansion, they tell her the tale of how their spaceship was taken over by the treacherous Igor P. Marose and his henchman, Eli Spear. In return for the code needed to operate the ship, Marose stranded the Lones on Opalon rather than killing them; he then took off to colonize Opalon’s twin planet Catalon, from where he planned to rule the universe. Overjoyed to hear their son is alive, the Lones immediately arrange to make the long journey to Opalon.
Roving to haunts far beyond his usual hunting grounds, Tophero stumbles upon the Uranus Cave. Responding to the sound of a cave lion’s roars and a human woman’s screams, he races inside to perform another daring rescue, this time of a bejeweled, raven-haired beauty who identifies herself as Princess Nia of Xandria. She tells him that her wicked uncle, Bronto, has murdered her only brother with the help of an exiled magician named Xapollo, who has the power to hypnotize animals with his magic flute. Bronto has cast her father, King Boin, into prison, and intends to rule with Nia as his bride. Princess Nia escaped, but longs to return to free her people. She implores Tophero for his help—and hopes he will marry her and rule at her side. Though he rebuffs her in favor of Tiffany, she comes to believe he is the embodiment of the warrior god Xan.
The Uranus Cave serves as a short cut to the wondrous kingdom of Xandria, built on the inside of an Opalonian crater. Nia leads Tophero through the palace tunnels to her chambers, where they are intercepted by Bronto, a brutish warrior with a rhino horn in his helmet. The pair triumph over dozens of Bronto’s men, but are trapped over a chute that plummets them to the palace dungeons. There they are united with King Boin, to become the main attraction in the upcoming coliseum death-games planned by Bronto.
When the day arrives, Tophero battles, in succession, a huge anaconda and a pack of ferocious, bloodthirsty hyaenodons. Next, however, emerges a sight that causes the cheering crowd to gas in terror: a colossal dimetrodon, twenty feet long with a huge sail on its back and rows of glinting, sharp teeth. Tophero salutes Bronto, then uproots a column supporting the section of the coliseum where the usurper is seated. The balcony collapses atop the dimetrodon, who cheerfully eats several of Bronto’s guards.
Bronto and Tophero face one another in a battle of the giants. Tophero triumphs; but as Princess Nia steps forward, about to do the honors and behead the traitor, the eerie sound of Xapollo’s flute overtakes the dimetrodon. The creature snatches up Bronto in its jaws and, in a hypnotic trance, escapes into the distance.
With King Boin and his loyal army reinstated, and determined to find a way to get to Earth, Tophero sets off with Princess Nia to the far-off Sea of Zbi, near which her favorite captain, Ako, has reported seeing a ruined spaceship. Unbeknownst to Tophero, it’s a ship that was sent in search of the Lones after their own craft went missing. No one survived the crash in the desert near the Opalonian sea; but Tophero is shocked to hear a man’s voice shouting in English. It turns out to be Eli Spear, who was sent by none other than Igor Marose to refurbish the wrecked spaceship and return with it to Catalon.
Back on Earth, Jack Lone agrees to buy back NetBay, an Internet company he had founded and sold, to prevent its hostile takeover by renegade CEO and covert ninja assassin, Sakura Shakarian. In fury, Sakura retaliates by kidnapping Caitlin while Jack and Tiffany are away. Her partner in crime is none other than her new husband: Derek Cole.
Jack and Tiffany—a crack shot—engineer a suspenseful rescue from Sakura’s ninja-guarded compound. Jack has recaptured his wife and immobilized Sakura at the edge of a helipad when Derek and Wolfgang surprise him. In a split second, Tiffany, who had been hiding, shoots them both. Sakura is arrested. The Lones and Tiffany depart for Opalon.
Tophero helps Spear and his men restore the spaceship with the understanding that Spear will bring him to Earth. He is thrilled when the communications equipment picks up an inter-space email from Tiffany, saying she has found Tophero’s parents and is on her way back to Opalon with them. But Spear replies, pretending to be Tophero, saying that he has married Princess Nia and doesn’t want to see his parents. Spear leaves Tophero and Princess Nia behind on Opalon with an account of his actions, telling Tophero that the computer device he is reading on is set to explode. In the nick of time, Tophero hurls it aloft—just as Spear’s spacecraft explodes, a table-turner engineered by Tophero, who discovered Spear’s treachery.
Nonetheless, Tophero despairs of ever seeing Tiffany again. Grieved, he returns to his jungle life. Tiffany, too, is heartbroken by Tophero’s e-mail, but she and the Lones decide to continue on to Opalon anyway. Once there, they split up with their respective parties to search for Tophero. Jack and Caitlin head to the cave where they raised their baby; Tiffany heads in the direction Derek was coming from, hoping to locate the Uranus Cave and a path to Xandria.
Their men wiped out by deinonychus—huge velociraptors—Jack and Caitlin make their way to the cave alone. There, at last, they are reunited with their now-grown son. Tophero is ecstatic, but all are worried that Tiffany is not answering her radio. They set off to find her, accompanied by Tophero’s pet T-rex, Sharky.
Bronto has regrouped his men in a forest hideout beyond Xandria. With the aid of Xapollo—and his troop of trained mastodons, plus a gigantosaur—the two plan to regain power over Xandria. On their way back, they discover Tiffany, slaughter her men, and capture her, to Xapollo’s delight. She loses her radio, but cleverly leaves her scent along the trail as they march to Xandria.
Nia is less than thrilled to meet her archrival. Both women find themselves in a dungeon, however, and soon join forces to free themselves and King Boin. They flee into the Xandrian wilderness, hoping to unite with Tophero, who they pray is on the way. The women are soon intercepted, and find themselves riding to a confrontation with Tophero, Nia ensnared by Bronto and Tiffany riding a mastodon, the prisoner of Xapollo.
In a stunning climax set against a backdrop of oozing volcanoes, battle after battle ensues: tyrannosaur versus gigantosaur; Ako’s loyalist Xandrian forces versus Bronto’s ruffians; Nia versus Bronto. And finally, Tophero versus Xapollo.
The Lone family returns to Earth, where Tophero and Tiffany are married at last. Jack Lone has not forgotten, however; he has still sworn vengeance against one Igor P. Marose, the self-proclaimed Emperor of Catalon


[Chapter 13: Tophero has just killed the cave bear that was about to maul Tiffany.]

Chapter XIII: Shakespearean Savage
Think how unspeakably sweet
The taste of snow at midsummer,
How sweet a kind spring breeze
After the gales of winter.
—Asklepiados (ca. 320 BCE)

It was the exultant cry of the primeval; the subliminal, yearning roar of all created things, declaring itself against the overweening forces of nature in one long, soulful outpouring of unabashed mortal challenge.
The roiling of Tiffany’s stomach was erased as the magnificent young archer of the forest turned to face her, surrounded by showy fuchsia and white oleander blossoms, with blood dripping down his chin. Timidly, she bowed slightly to show her respect to the regal, muscle-bound savage standing before her.
Was this a man or a beast? He was practically naked, bronzed to a mahogany sheen, with merely a jaguar-hide loincloth covering his vital areas. His lithe movements reminded her of Sheeba, her jaguar in the Baltimore zoo. She was sure he had spoken to her in a tongue resembling English, though uttered with a heavy, growling accent. She felt her adrenaline still racing from her brush with violent death as her mind struggled to comprehend the rapid-fire events unfolding on this strange planet.
Yes, she was certain she’d heard a strangely powerful voice speaking to her, just after the zinging arrows had pierced the snarling bear. Then this exceedingly muscular giant of a man had leaped in front of her enraged attacker with only a primitive weapon in his hands, apparently fighting to save her life. She shuddered at the memory of the deep, rumbling growl of warning emerging from the savage’s great chest. Then this brave demigod, apparently not affected by the powerful Opalonian gravity at all, had fought ferociously to overcome a creature twice his height and seven or eight times his weight.
Why had he risked his life to rescue her? And why was he standing atop his colossal conquest’s carcass, releasing that bloodcurdling howl of triumph? How was that accursed roar generated from his human vocal cords? Tiffany shivered in horror. Could he want her for himself?
The savage’s powerful face was dominated by his keen, challenging eyes. Like a personification of the carnivore he’d killed, his voice was deep and resonated a gravelly aggressiveness. She drew back in terror as he moved toward her, fresh blood still oozing down his rippling chest. The row of five slashes from the short-faced bear’s mighty front paw told the story of his courageous deed. His face was remarkably handsome—stoic, yet boyish in its curiosity. His emerald eyes were those of a jungle cat. His mountainous chest and washboard stomach continued to heave from the death struggle. Around twenty years of age, he was at least six-feet-eight-inches tall and no less than twice her weight.
Tiffany had never seen a man who exuded this forest god’s towering mental fortitude, physical prowess, or imposing self-confidence. She trembled with admiration for this creature before her, as she unconsciously brushed back her thick, disheveled blonde locks. Suddenly she snapped out of her trance, for reality was upon her. Cowering against the tree where she’d taken cover from the bear, she said, “Stop! Don't touch me! Who are you? What do you want?”
To her shock, this child of Nature, this towering wild thing of breathtakingly masculine perfection and terrifying strength spoke.
“Are you all right, mademoiselle? Tophero…at your service. How do you do?”
The giant seemed unexpectedly awkward—as shy as a schoolboy, and perhaps even overwhelmed—as though he had never seen another human. English was clearly not his native language, but his heavy guttural speech didn’t interfere with his soft-spoken manner.
“I’m…fine, and you?” She felt her back press against the massive tree. You’ve handled a bull elephant before, and you managed to beat Diana Plastina, the cannibal queen of tennis, didn’t you? She took a deep breath and swiped the cold sweat off her forehead. The great feline man had been sauntering toward her with the quiet dignity of a king of beasts. Seeing her retreat, he stopped a few yards away.
Up close, he was so enormous that Tiffany couldn’t help but wonder, how did this titan of a man acquire such a modest, even childlike demeanor? She could even see him breaking out in a sweat to match her own. She drew herself to her full height. This was still a man, right? She knew how to handle men. Somehow his discomfort made her feel as if she had the upper hand.
“I’m…well, thank you,” said the barbarian. “I hope…the inquietude…caused by the bear…did not disincline you…toward the generous beauty…of my land.”
Inquietude? Disincline? This sounded like a line a thespian would use on a Shakespearean stage! Yet he clearly meant to be hospitable.
The loin-clothed man nervously brushed his long hair backward, as if imitating her gesture. Since he didn’t seem impervious to human vulnerability, she felt somewhat less intimidated by his giant frame.
“What about your chest?” she asked. Be brave, she thought, as she warily shifted her horrified glance toward the man of the forest’s wounds.
“Flesh wounds. Far worse…found me after…an attack of the hyaenodons.” He looked down at his chest with a timid but carefree smile.
“It looks painful,” Tiffany said, her heart touched by compassion. After all, this man had risked his life to saved hers. His wound looked serious, with open flesh subject to infection. Without any success, she desperately tried to think of a way to stop his bleeding.
Suddenly a light flashed in the man-beast’s deep green eyes, as though he had read her mind. He dug up a pile of clay with the tip of his spear, then applied the clay to his wounds with his large hands.
“Now, it must therefore…perforce be better?” he said, as though he’d ministered to his wounds for the sole purpose of putting her at ease.
Tiffany nodded in disbelief, more so from his speech than his nonchalant attitude toward the treatment of his bloody gores. They stood there. She studied him. Her gaze did not prevent him from studying her back. His poise reminded her of the majestic ways of the big cats she’d spent two summers with in the misty rainforest of the Baltimore Zoo.
“I’m Tophero, the son of Tyra…the smilodon. What’s your name?”
Tiffany thought he had stated his name with the gravity of Oedipus pronouncing his claim to Queen Iocaste of Thebes, after he’d answered the man-devouring Sphinx’s deadly riddle. Quelling her amusement, she replied with equal gravity, “I’m Tiffany Sommer from a country called America on planet Earth. How long have you been on this planet? You say your mother is a smilodon?”
Curiosity filled her as he strode back to the short-faced bear and began cutting several large chunks of steak from its hindquarters. The red meat looked delicious after a day without any food of substance. The juicy starfruits had long ago passed from her body amidst the excitement she’d experienced.
The caveman of the Opalonian jungle pondered her questions. “It's so fast, how you speak…and so different from my reading.” He scratched his head. “And you probably don't want your face licked the way my brothers would appreciate after a near-death experience, correct?”
Tiffany quietly nodded her appreciation for sparing her the face-licking ritual.
The savage swiftly skewered the chunks of meat onto his spear as he replied. “I’ve been here all my life. My late mother was Tyra the smilodon, a most remarkable mother. My brothers, Kobu and Kota, and my sister Koko, live on the other side of the mountains.” He paused, then asked in rapid succession: “What’s the name of this planet? Are you related to L.C. Tiffany, the Favrile glass artist who refused to head his father’s prestigious silver and jewelry firm in New York? How far is America from here?”
He balanced what looked like a giant shish kabob across his mammoth shoulder.
Studying the many scars from primitive claw marks on Tophero’s shoulders and back, Tiffany couldn’t hide her amazement. How had this beast-man survived—so savage, yet so refined?
“This planet is called Opalon,” she answered, taking care to speak slowly and clearly. “Although I admire Louis Comfort Tiffany’s artwork, I bear no relation to him. My family name is Sommer. I’m Tiffany Sommer. America is 3.6 billion miles away from here. Your mother and siblings are smilodons? And you speak their language? Do all the animals talk on Opalon?”
Now it was Tophero’s turn to be amused. “Smilodon is my native language. I speak all the animal languages—but they do not speak this English tongue. Although I look different from Tyra, she’ll always be my mother in my heart, for she raised me like her own cub, taught me to survive the jungle, and died defending our family.” A touch of sorrow shadowed his piercing eyes. “Is this America farther than the Sea of Zbi?”
Tiffany gestured skyward. “I’m sure that it’s farther than the Sea of Zbi. It’s farther than your sun. I’m sorry you lost your mother.” Tiffany wasn’t sure what to say next. Their simple conversation had fully disarmed her, for she saw a side of this Opalonian boy that indicated he was kind and good-natured.
Upon his urging, they walked away from the clearing, for the carcass of the short-faced bear was beginning to attract carrion eaters from the sky, the prelude to larger land carnivores and scavengers. Walking next to him, for the first time in her life she felt insignificant. She had to scurry to match his purposeful strides, and soon was breathing heavily from the unfamiliar gravitational pull. At the same time, however, she felt completely secure in the company of this gentle giant, despite the terrors of the Opalonian jungle.
She thought of Karen and Paul; they were surely worried about her. She hoped they had made it safely back to the ship. But she seemed to have lost all sense of direction. And deep down in her seventeen-year-old heart, sweet infatuation was unfurling like an insistent shoot. She didn’t want anyone interfering with her sole companionship with this English-speaking son of Tyra, the smilodon. She thought of Derek. Would they run into his expeditionary group? She couldn’t help comparing the handsome billionaire to the tall forest god before her.
“How did you learn English?” she asked. “Who taught you?”
Tophero slowed his pace to match her own. “When I was eight years old, I found a painted cave on a cliff not far from my hunting grounds. Inside there were many strange things, and the walls contained beautiful murals depicting two men, a woman, and a baby. Among them there was a talking box with more pictures. It was from this black box that I learned to speak and read English. From it, I knew there were other creatures that looked like me. I’m not a sabertooth tiger, nor am I a tailless monkey. I’m a man.”
Tiffany nodded soberly.
“But in all my life, I never saw any other creatures like me until this morning.” He paused, shy again. “That’s when I saw you.”
“You learned the English language from a computer?”
“Is that what you call it?”
“That’s remarkable. Even though you’ve had no one to speak with, you have a wonderful grasp of the language.”
“Thank you. I’ve read five hundred books in the computer.”
“Really?” Tiffany’s fascination was approaching overload. “What kind of books?”
“Literary classics, military histories, philosophy, poetry.”
“That’s why sometimes you speak so formally, like people from generations ago. A little Shakespearean influence?”
“Perhaps. At first I didn’t know Shakespeare was a playwright. I thought it was a way of fighting—shake a spear up and down before making an offensive drive.”
Tiffany laughed heartily. “So you like to read.”
“As a reader, I feel very much like a traveler. Going to places I’ve never been before, exploring the human condition and psyche through great stories. Others’ experiences and wisdom empowered me to better understand happiness—to make sense of how to live, what to value, what’s real, true , and everlasting. I found that inside, I am more than a simple cat of the forest. I’m confident, yet I’m shy. I feel young, yet I feel old. I’m a hero to my family, yet I’m a villain to the families of my prey. I learned that interspersed within every dark period, there is remarkable opportunity and hope.”
Tiffany continued to marvel, nodding without interrupting. Now that the jungle man had found a willing listener, his words seemed to spill from him as if a dam had burst. He clearly had no notion of small talk. He went directly to the most profound and personal of ideas. This was a man she could converse with forever.
Presently he led her to a deserted cavern, where they sat close to the opening, overlooking the jungle. It was getting quite dark now, and her stomach rumbled from hunger. “You saw me this morning?” she asked, a slight blush rising up her cheeks.
“Yes. When I heard your song, it seemed that my heart had stopped, for time stood still for me at that moment,” he confessed unapologetically. “It was much like the moment Tyra died in my arms, but it was very different, too. I felt so drawn to you when I heard your melody. I’ve never heard anything like it before in the jungle, so I started to follow you, hoping that I would hear you sing some more.”
Tiffany was flabbergasted. Not only was he interested in the deepest questions of human existence, this godlike man was so untainted by civilization that he had no trouble showing his true feelings honestly and plainly.
Tophero tore the bear rump into strips of steaks with his powerful fingers and offered them to her at once.
Her eyes widened. “I see that there’s no reason for you not to consume your meat raw, but I was raised on eating cooked meat, and…” She paused, hating to complain. This meal was hard won.
Tophero looked puzzled. “You mean burning the meat in a fire? Like the fire Nero used to burn down Rome? I saw a fire in the forest once, after the volcano rumbled and spewed red. It was scary. Many animals were trapped and charred to death alive, including some of the largest and most fearsome ones. You prefer to eat your meat like the incinerated corpses from the forest fire, eliminating all the wonderful flavors?”
“Cooking is different from burning,” Tiffany said. “You’ve probably read about it. And yes, I prefer to eating meat after cooking it in a fire,” she added unequivocally, although she felt silly for her answer. She had never questioned her eating habit before, much less seen it as ridiculous.
“But how do you start a fire?” Tophero asked.
“Just watch.” Tiffany drew a lighter from one of the numerous pockets in her safari outfit, and started a fire with some dry twigs strewn at the mouth of the cave.
“RAARR!” Tophero jumped backward and snarled in fright.
“Come, come, it’s okay,” Tiffany said in a soothing voice. Fire would be a threat to any animal, she thought, and it actually made her like him even more for openly showing his fear.
Tophero calmed down and reluctantly strung several cubes of bear steak on a green branch. He watched suspiciously, sniffing in distaste as Tiffany rotated it over the crackling fire. When the steaks were cooked, they commenced to eat. Tophero tore into his raw bear meat with great fanfare, squatting on his powerful legs. It didn’t take long before his mouth and cheeks were completely red with blood dripping down his chin. Tiffany cocked her head looking at him, then frowned with revulsion. With his giant shadow looming behind him, the stalwart caveman squatting in the firelight was more mysterious than frightening.
Perhaps due to her heightened appetite, Tiffany had never eaten such great steaks. With no salt or spice to be had, the meat tasted gamey and wild, as well as tough. But the freshness and the sumptuous flavor of the bear’s rump satisfied her hunger for a substantive dinner.
This is better than the Porterhouse I was craving, she thought to herself, silently thanking this laconic stranger of the forest. But soon it would be nightfall. Oh, my God, she realized. Then what?

[Chapter 44: Tophero in the Arena]

Chapter XLIV: Prince of Xandria
The miserable change now at my end
Lament nor sorrow at; but please your thoughts
In feeding them with those my former fortunes
Wherein I liv’d, the greatest prince o’ the world,
The noblest; and do now not basely die,
Not cowardly put off my helmet to
My countryman; a Roman by a Roman
Valiantly vanquished.
—William Shakespeare (1564-1616), Antony and Cleopatra

Gasping in the embrace of the beheaded anaconda, images of Tiffany overtook him like the breath of life itself. Drawing upon that golden vision, Tophero swung his mortal blade as though it were a scythe of judgment cutting a path through bone and flesh. The bamboo-leaf-shaped blade from the late crown prince of Xandria did not disappoint its new master. Hacking and slicing with his last breath, Tophero opened a bloody seam in the iron grip of the dead snake’s dense coil. As he sprang free, as if reborn, the segmented body charged blindly about, twitching in spasms, until finally dropping, quivering weirdly, to the bloodied sands.
Tophero howled his triumph to the screaming crowd. He inclined his head to Bronto, who watched impassively from his royal box.
“Tophero is the reincarnation of Xan the Holy Warrior of legend,” a nearby guard muttered, “for so incredible is his strength and ferocity!” These were his last words before a horizontal sweep of Bronto’s ponderous kalush beheaded him.
Tophero had not yet caught his breath when Bronto’s eyes glinted, and the second door at the end of the coliseum lifted. A ferocious pack of five hyaenodons bounded forth. Their unique cackles told him that they hadn’t eaten for days, and they would slaughter anyone to gnaw his flesh.
“Oh, nooo!” The audience crooned with fear that this would spell the demise of their king’s protector.
“That should take care of you, just like poor little Prince Pol!” Bronto shouted with a smirk.
Tophero quickly gestured to Princess Nia to push her father behind her. The crowd fell silent as the dogs caught his scent and raced toward him. Unexpectedly, they heard savage growls emitting from the smilodon-man’s throat, which briefly stopped the giant Opalonian wolf-dogs in their tracks. The pause was enough. As the beasts reapproached at full speed, two of them fell to their death from midair when Tophero’s uncanny arrows found their throats.
“To-pher-o! To-pher-o! To-pher-o!” The entire concourse of spectators’ nonstop chanting grew to a frightful, ear-splitting frenzy as they stamped the coliseum steps deafeningly with their feet.
The remaining hyaenodons whirled in a flurry of dust to regroup. Tophero was ready. He waited as two made a coordinated attack, one charging toward each flank. He held supremely still until the last moment, then moved like quicksilver into a crouch while his cutlass ripped upward in a powerful arc. In a sweeping long stroke, he completed his motion with a perfect twist, severing both hyaenodons’ jugulars. Two distinct patterns of blood sprayed over his shoulders and back, and dyed the red sands of the coliseum mahogany. In a roaring, swirling blur of motion, the two beasts of prey rolled past him.
Meanwhile the remaining hyaenodon had its eye on the aging King Boin. As Nia watched Tophero’s battle in horror, it approached cautiously from behind, knocking him down with a powerful swipe of its claw. Although limping from her twisted ankle, she spun like a dervish, shrieking in fury. As the ferocious creature clamped onto the king’s left arm, she rammed her dagger into the hyaenodon’s neck. The beast retreated, but Tophero readily decapitated the wounded enemy on the fly.
“To-pher-o! To-pher-o! To-pher-o!” The audience’s outraged booing at the threat to their king’s life turned to cheering for their gladiator’s decisive hands. But the thunderous shouting of acclaim from the other prisoners in their cages and the riotous uproar of the astounded audience above were suddenly drowned out by a mad, frenzied bellow that shook the coliseum. As the third door across the bloody arena opened, another loud reptilian roar emerged before its nightmarish source appeared.
With froth glistening on its lower jaw, the enormous dimetrodon was twenty feet long; the tip of the huge reddish-brown speckled sail on its back stood a head taller than Tophero. The monster’s most noticeable feature besides its giant sail was its formidable jaws, arrayed with long curved teeth that glinted in the sunlight. The large saberlike upper front canines were designed to penetrate flesh, biting and gripping, while the smaller lower back teeth were perfect for chewing and grinding. It moved forward with great agility on muscular legs.
“Nooo!” The audience unleashed a moan of dread at the sight of the ferocious creature.
“Ha! You didn’t expect a dimetrodon, did you?” crowed Bronto. “The devil reincarnated! Leave it to me, your new emperor, to provide only the finest in tournament entertainment!”
Reaching for an arrow, Tophero noticed that it was his last. He promptly returned it to his quiver, for he was saving it for the main event.
Spotting its prey, the dimetrodon slowed its approach to size them up. Nia crouched against the wall farthest away, protectively shielding her father. She had bound the king’s bleeding arm with her belt and held her dagger at the ready. Not for a moment did she stop cheering for her smilodon brother.
With a perverted smirk the monster lapped at the air with its long, slender forked tongue. Using this moment, Tophero quickly tossed his spear and dagger from hand to hand, twirling the spear like a baton. His hypnotic display in front of his formidable nemesis captured Bronto’s undivided attention. Tophero then ran ever-larger circles around the dimetrodon in a mysterious maneuver, waving his spear in a figure eight. Dazed by Tophero’s fast actions, the cold-blooded reptile froze as if stunned, then crept forward slowly in anticipation of his next move.
The coliseum was now silent except for the giant reptile’s intermittent hissing and the sound of its confused footfall on the earthen floor. The audience’s eyes were glued to Tophero’s every move; his tactics fully absorbed Bronto’s attention.
The perplexed dimetrodon stalked him to the section of the arena directly beneath Bronto’s balcony seats. Tophero braced himself against the supporting column of the balcony. To the new emperor’s utter surprise, the gladiator called to him up above with a smile: “He who is about to die salutes you!” Then, with all his might, he uprooted the column, and the balcony holding Bronto and his armed guards collapsed in a dust bath.
Instantly pandemonium abounded. The dimetrodon found its quarry among Bronto’s fallen guards. While the armed guards defended themselves against the monster in the background, Tophero saw Bronto leap to his feet in the bloody dust of the arena.
“Just you and me, man to man,” Tophero challenged.
Bronto roared with a deathly stare that could freeze Xandria over, slamming his fist into his open palm. The crowd gasped and fell silent.
Without another word, Bronto started off with a fierce head butt. His wooly rhinoceros horn barely missed his mortal enemy’s heart, as Tophero leaped aside. The brutish usurper then advanced with a vicious left hook. As he swung, he stealthily released a concealed knife from his forearm. The large retractable raptor claw sliced into Tophero’s scar-ridden shoulder.
With all his strength and outrage, Tophero swung forward both hands. His left hand intercepted Bronto’s left wrist, and his right fist landed on Bronto’s left cheek, knocking him to his knees. This time, Tophero didn’t give his treacherous enemy an opportunity to get up. He followed with a right kick to Bronto’s chin. As Bronto fell backward screaming in agony, Tophero grasped his right arm, twisting it behind his back to immobilize him.
“Arrrggghhh!” Bronto growled in savage pain.
The audience exploded in ecstatic cheers. The greatest warrior of Xandria was at last subdued at the feet of the jungle lord. “Kill him! Kill him! Kill him!” they chanted.
“I only kill what I wish to eat,” Tophero shouted. “Or in self-defense. But this bully shall torment you no longer!” He held Bronto on his knees, facing the citizens of Xandria, occasionally twisting upward on his arm to renew the pain. “If you want to live, Bronto, take your pitiful followers and leave Xandria at once,” he ordered. He gave the vanquished foe a shove. The audience jeered at the fallen warrior, booing and hissing as Bronto regained his footing.
Princess Nia and King Boin strode forward. Nia stopped Bronto where he stood, holding the tip of her sword to his throat. “This traitor’s fate is ours to decide, Tophero,” she said loudly, so the crowd could hear. She looked questioningly to her father. “What is your judgment, my king?”
King Boin pulled himself to his full, frail height and turned in a circle, bowing his gratitude to his cheering citizens. “This man has murdered my beloved son Pol, stolen my throne, cast me into prison, engineered my death at these games, and threatened to defile my daughter,” he pronounced. “He shall be locked in the same dungeon wherein I dwelled, to be executed at dawn. We shall not spoil this triumphant day with any more killing.”
The king beckoned to a squadron of his loyal guards, who approached to take Bronto into custody. Suddenly a high-pitched whining melody pierced the air. The dimetrodon, who had settled in for a nap atop the fallen columns following his meal of Bronto’s men, jerked to alertness. Snaking his long neck forward from the still-settling dust of the collapsed balcony, he snatched up Bronto in his jaws, twisted away from the stunned viewers as the defeated bully flailed in midair, and made his escape through the gaping ruin of the stadium. A contingent of Bronto’s loyal followers scurried after the monster, shouting to their struggling leader.
Tophero scanned the farthest reaches of the coliseum, searching for the source of the unearthly flute music. But as suddenly as the haunting tune began, it faded into the distance. Nearly out of range, the dimetrodon turned as if to bid a sneering farewell to the people of Xandria. Bronto still hung in his mouth like a limp piece of lettuce.
Zing! Tophero’s last arrow flew squarely through the top of Bronto’s metal helmet. “If you ever think about returning to Xandria, it will be your forehead, not your helmet next time!” he shouted, as the lumbering dimetrodon galloped away to the far reaches of the kingdom.
Tophero lifted Princess Nia and King Boin’s arms overhead in a triumphant gesture. The coliseum resounded with cheers of joy at the overthrow of the vicious tyrant. The king’s soldiers tossed their helmets into the air as the people danced with relief. The celebration promised to last long into the night.

From the highest vantage point at the farthest corner of the lofty crater overhang, a tall figure paused. Xapollo witnessed the full drama of the resurrection of his sworn enemy, King Boin, at the hands of his new archenemy: the human smilodon.
“To-pher-o! To-pher-o!” he sneered in a sarcastic singsong. “Take heed, my foe! For now I have irrefutable cause to destroy you and everything you hold dear!”


Web Site: Tophero

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