The Nightmare Rider - chapter 02

 

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Chapter 2 of
 
  The Nightmare Rider

 

 

 


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Chapter 2

 
 
 

Daalumos ran leaving behind a flickering trail of hoof prints. He was able to pass in and out through shadows because of Phoebe's cloak, allowing them to cover even greater distances. For any other demon, being bound was a detestable thing. Relegated to a form such as horse and ridden would be even more insulting. For Daalumos it had some benefits. His appearance to mortals inspired fear. Fear was something he could feed on, but it was the desire to kill that was his main source of sustenance. He was a BloodLust. Being around entities that wanted to destroy each other was what fed him. Most times just being in his presence was enough to incite lesser beings' suppressed feelings. Their desire fueled him. Right now it was Phoebe's desire that was driving him. Once they entered the battle the emotions of the mortals would flow into him.

Their unbridled murderous hatred was for him. Their fear was her's. Phoebe fed upon the mortals' terror. She would feed on adoration but that came from worship. Those gave her power. It took only a little effort from her to overcome their rationale and trigger their outpouring of fear. Once their fear touched her it flowed back and forth, growing in intensity to become crippling terror. It was the fundamental law. Power begets Power. If they gave her a little she could then take all they had. Together Phoebe and Daalumos made quite the pair. Fear and murderous intent. Both meshed well together. Others would make such a combination or even better, however the individuals that mostly fed off those refused to collaborate. It was selfish of course, but not surprising. Power shared is power halved. A concept not endorsed or embraced by Gods and Goddesses. For them it was all or nothing, hence their constant battles. They fought for dominance. Phoebe and Daalumos fought for existence.

Perhaps one day they may fight the Gods and Goddesses, for now they fought to stay alive and it was far easier to do on the mortal plane. Here they were seen and were becoming known. After observing the mortals for a while Phoebe understood. Mortals had a way called Business. If a mortal wanted to do well in life they would need to provide something. In order to provide that something other mortals would have to be more aware of them than others that did the same. Something called Reputation. Daalumos found this fascinating. Reputation turned out to be not unlike worship. If a mortal provided on a reliable basis then others sought them out to do so. If one prayed, their God or Goddess bestowed favor. The more they worshiped; prayers and offerings, the more they were favored. Mortal business worked in much of the same manner. If a mortal provided something on a constant basis and of higher quality than others that did the same, then they would be favored above those others. Daalumos had then posed the question, is Business a religion? Phoebe thought about it then laughed for so it did seem.

They burst forth from a shadow and could see the two forces moving towards each other. Daalumos felt their desire rising as did Phoebe as swords and lances clashed.

The bound demon laughed, "shall we conduct our Business my Mistress?"

"Indeed! Let us 'Corner our market'," Phoebe replied with mirth.

Daalumos felt his power increasing, "a new euphemism. And I actually think I can understand that one. You're gaining quite the collection."

Shouts of aggression were coming from everywhere. A moment later those shouts became ones of alarm as Phoebe drew her sword and broke into the battle line. Phoebe was surprised to immediately feel fear surge all around her. She had yet to even spur the mortals. They recognized her and her mount. Instantly they were wracked with fear. Those further on became angry that she had come to their battle. That anger grew as they now wanted to fight her as well for interfering. Several turned away from their mortal enemy to charge at her. The BloodLust felt their intent and his power surged from it. He enthralled them, forcing their rage to spike to frenzy. Many of the mortals no longer cared in their quest to attack. Foot soldiers began hacking and slashing their way forward while the cavalry simply trampled over any in their path. This caused many to turn and engage their rampaging comrades in anger.

Phoebe felt power flowing into her as she rode Daalumos deep into the fray. Her sword of Vulcan cleaving through metal and man alike as if they were no more resistance than cutting through water. Suddenly she heard a whisper. it was barely there but she heard a voice. She tried to listen and it became clearer.

"Rider; My Lady. Grant me strength. Let my enemies fear me in your name. I Give unto you this gift," a voice whispered.

Phoebe felt as if she drank of something rich and looked around. She saw a young man with a slight glow about him. He had cut into his own arm with his sword and was bleeding onto the ground. That was when she realized what was happening. She was being worshiped. Her power immediately increased. She looked on the young man and saw a type of Glamour cover him. He looked larger and more aggressive. Another soldier facing him began to shrink back.

Phoebe whispered, "go now. Inspire their terror in the name of Phoebe whom you serve."

The empowered soldier charged forward, slashing at the enemy soldiers in front of him, "WITH MY SWORD, HAVE YOUR SACRIFICES!"

Phoebe was not the only one who's attention the young soldier caught. Daalumos discovered him as well and shrieked his delight. There was a mania coming from him and it felt wonderful to the demon. Like water being added to a barrel one cup at a time, power flowed to them. It was different from the rest. It was clearer, more refined, pure and intense.

Phoebe added to what she had bestowed on him and he continued to move, carving a greater swath through the opposing forces. The fear and rage increased and was purified to flow into Phoebe and Daalumos. An idea struck him. With a mind shattering shriek the bound demon surged forward then circled around. He began separating a group of mortals that looked different than the one worshiping Phoebe. Slowly he began directing them toward him. They had two options, try to fight the enraged warrior that seemed possessed or fall to the unearthly woman riding the frightening horse-like creature that was cutting through everything in her path. They chose the former. Seeing their comrades falling to him instilled a greater intent to kill him in retaliation. He was driven to kill in the name of her whom he was now worshiping. Daalumos had no need to hold either in thrall, they wanted to of their own will. The culled group's fear was building as they continued to lose to the anvil and hammer they were caught between.

A knight came from the side and drove his plasma lance through the single warrior. The heart was missed though and he twisted, ripping the lance from the Knight's hand as he continued to ride on through a sweeping arc to return to his own battle line.

Phoebe looked as her worshiper fell to his knees. The others began to advance on him; knowing that he was weaker now and vulnerable.

"A FINAL GIFT TO YOU! In the name of my Lady, Phoebe the Nightmare Rider I give her; MYSELF," he called out then flung himself onto his own sword.

The advancing soldiers froze as they saw his Glamour shatter. A glow surrounded him then streak toward her and surround her and the demon in horse-form. Daalumos reared up on his hind legs and let out a hideous shriek as Phoebe screamed in rage. The power that had been coming to them spiked suddenly, but with the feeling that it would fade soon. Phoebe spurred Daalumos hard and he leapt forward into the group of now terrified foot soldiers as Phoebe began slashing through them. The moment of courage shattered back into crippling fear and their minds broke from the visions that had filled them.

"FALL BACK! FALL BACK! RETREAT MEN! FOR YOUR LIVES; RETREAT," leaders on both sides called out to what remained of their troops.

In seconds the battle was over as the troops had withdrawn far enough that Phoebe would have to chase after them. Leaving her and Daalumos the bloodied field strewn with bodies. She watched as they faded into the dark distance then finally climbed down.

"I don't understand. What just happened to us," Phoebe asked.

The BloodLust craned his neck to nod at the fallen soldier, "he sacrificed himself in your name before they could take him in their rage or other worship. Such a gift is powerful but fleeting."

Phoebe looked down at the body, "so what now?"

"It looks like he has no one to honor him or his tribute. I think you will have to do so yourself in some manner. What do you think would be fitting for a sacrifice to yourself of one who worshiped you," Daalumos asked.

Phoebe looked around and simply took that which was at hand. A collection of swords were jammed into the ground after their ornament were removed. With her Vulcan sword she removed the device on four shields and laid them atop the swords. Finally she selected pieces of armor that were attractive yet plain and fixed them onto his body and placed him on the makeshift alter. Using the tip of her sword she carefully inscribed onto another shield using the language of the Underworld.

Varumar Colhander.
A warriorpriest in worship of Phoebe, the Nightmare Rider.
His gifts accepted and Her gifts bestowed,
until valiant death in Her Name.

 

Phoebe took discarded lances and fashioned an arch and hung bare shields inscribed with her name. Daalumos decided to contribute and grabbed some of the fallen that wore the same colors as the worshiper had using his mouth and arranged them into a kneeling position facing inward. He snorted as they continued to fall over. Phoebe retrieved their swords and jammed them into the ground and moved them to lean against them. The scene now looked as if they were in prayer over the one. She forced a pair of coins into each one's hand then stood back to inspect again.

"How does that look," Phoebe asked.

Daalumos shook himself, "its your tribute, what do you think?"

Phoebe walked around it then frowned, "something feels missing. That it's not entirely mine."

The bound demon snorted, "you inscribed your name. What more should there be?"

Phoebe looked around then stared at a shield and pointed, "a symbol! I need a device of some kind."

Daalumos stamped his front leg, "they do seem to be in fashion."

Phoebe stared at one of the shields she had cleaned of its emblem then slowly used her sword tip to engrave first a horse rearing up surrounded by flame then blackened them to seem in shadow.

"There. That works. It even has you," Phoebe said proudly.

He laughed, "many thanks my Mistress. I'll admit I do find it pleasing. The hour is late. Collect your trinkets the mortals covet and let us go."

"Yes. There is nothing left for us here," Phoebe said then went about collecting up the coins she could find.

The coins held no real value for her, but her alter-ego Patrick had use for them. She ended up with well over a hundred that she put into a pair of bags. Phoebe climbed onto Daalumos' back and they set off at a less hurried pace. They returned to her place. She could easily become clean with a thought, but instead she stripped her armor and went into a room with a large bath. She relaxed in the water and let her thoughts drift back. She had never been worshiped before. For certain she had heard prayers from mortals that wished to be spared from her but that was different. Merely words that meant nothing to her. The man's prayer to her was different. She hadn't heard it with her ears, she had heard it with her mind and felt compelled to respond. She felt pleased. That pleasure was short lived and ended when he was struck. The power being given to her intensified but felt like sand slipping through her fingers then was gone.

Suddenly she felt something and sat up. Quickly she left the bath and ran to the other room.

"What is this," she asked in confusion.

Daalumos looked to be quivering, "I don't know. Whatever this is, I like it!"

Phoebe felt a warmth begin within herself and began to make her way over to her throne and sat. The feeling began to increase and she was soon panting and shaking. Her eyes drifted closed and her vision drifted in search of the source. Soon she saw the battlefield they had been at. Soldiers were gathering in front of her fallen worshiper and lamenting him. A man in different colors was pointing at the shield across his chest and reading it. She could hear his words.

 

~*~*~*~

 

"None of the men did this my Liege. It had to have been her. She did this herself to honor him," an old man said pointing.

Another man wearing the colors and armor of the group stated, "one of the men said he thought he heard him pray to her then saw him give of his own blood before berserking. Could it be that she is a Goddess we've never heard of before. He worshiped her and she rewarded him for it?"

The older man scratched at his bearded chin, "this is possible. For now let us bring him back to the kingdom and bury him in the sacred place not dedicated to one God or Goddess. Bring everything and it shall be the same there as it is here. It may not appease this Phoebe but it should not anger her. Have a scribe draw a depiction of this so we will be sure of how to remake it correctly."

Within minutes a boy was sitting on the ground drawing onto a tablet what he saw. He got up a few times and walked around it to make sure the drawing was correct.

The Lord came up and asked, "well boy? Do you have it accurately?"

He held out the tablet, "yes my Liege."

The Lord looked at the drawing and back to the real thing then circled around, "that looks accurate."

"Yes Sire," he said then frowned.

The Lord looked at him, "what? Speak up?"

The boy pointed to everything, "Sire she used what was immediately at hand. If we wanted to make sure that she isn't angry for distrubing it then we should make it better. If the new thing shows that we took care to honor her and the sacrifice made to her then she should see that we are being respectful. We'll have the time if I run ahead to gather what's needed."

He then sketched an idea that had been forming as he explained. When done the Lord nodded and sent the young man ahead, even demanding a horse to hasten him along. By sunrise the young man was ready for the arrival. He consulted his new sketch and positioned the swords then shields. Two soldiers carefully placed his body atop as before then the young man draped a black cloth over him. The Lord nodded as the young man directed long bladed halberds to form the canopy. The shields she had inscribed with her symbol were permanently mounted to them. At the opening, his sword was fixed between two stones clamping it in place and the inscribed shield hung from it.

"Well done boy. Indeed this does look respectful," The Lord stated.

The young man stepped forward, "Lady Phoebe, Mistress of Nightmares. We could not leave our comrade on the field away from his friends and family. We hope that you will still feel the honor here in this place and know that we have done this with respect to you. I hope you hear me and are pleased with."

The boy froze in place before he could finish his sentence. Everyone there withdrew when he dropped to his knees gasping.

"What is it boy? Is she angry? What should we do," the Lord demanded.

"She is pleased. I heard her. I heard her clearly! My Lord. Phoebe the Nightmare Rider charges us. Every year on this night eight soldiers are to come here in full battle dress. They must chime their swords to his and say his name and what he was to Her. This must be done as he did fight for you in her name," the boy said standing up and shaking slightly.

The Lord turned, "then I shall be the first. Captain I leave the rest to you. Boy I charge you, see to it this is done."

The Lord drew his sword and tapped it to the hilt of the upright sword, "Varumar Colhander. Fallen WarPriest to Lady Phoebe; Mistress Rider of Nightmares. Honored Dead."

One by one others came forward to repeat the act and incantation. Each felt a bit calmer afterward and left. The young man bowed and said the incantation. He felt her powerful presence leave him gently.

 

~*~*~*~

 

The dining hall came to low buzz half way through lunch. Jessica was seated at a table with the other Princesses and noticed them watching people from other tables talking rapidly. Their attention was so rapt that Jessica finally became annoyed.

"Oh for the sake of all that is," She turned around and was surprised to see all the conversations going on.

She glanced around and saw Aruna. She waved her over. Except for the staff, no one could approach a royal table without invitation. Aruna came over and crouched down.

"What is going on Duchess Monning," Jessica asked.

Aruna answered, "there's news Highness. The Nightmare Rider was seen again! She had a priest but he was a soldier. A WarPriest! He died and she built a shrine for him right there on the battlefield after it was over. She did it herself!"

Jessica looked at her, "that doesn't make sense. Only a God or a Goddess can have a WarPriest but I've never heard of one building a shrine or anything for one that died. No God or Goddess does that. Right?"

"I've never heard of it myself, Highness. I don't know of it ever being done. Let's ask in History," Aruna suggested.

Jessica nodded to her. Aruna stood up and curtsied quickly then went back to her table. All of the other Princesses had been listening and they were looking just as, if not more confused than Jessica.

Jessica looked around and sighed, "as interesting as it all is, it will be hard to search for answers to bizarre questions on an empty stomach. Let us at least finish lunch. That surely is something we CAN understand."

The others chuckled and went back to eating. When they were done they took their trays with plates over to the side and set them on a counter where a worker took them. Jessica stopped at a restroom to check her appearance then went to her class. In the class again there was animated conversations in low voices. The only one not participating was Patrick Fotens.

'I guess that shouldn't be a surprise. He never concerns himself with gossip. Even if its about himself,' She thought to herself then took her seat.

"Hey Patrick. Did you hear about last night," A Third year Gentry asked.

Jessica refused to look, but did listen. She was curious about his reply.

Patrick didn't look up from his tablet, "seems to be the major conversation Lorcon."

"Yeah but what do you think," the teen asked.

Patrick shrugged, "I think it's none of my business since I don't know anybody that was there. If it really bothers you talk to Dame Ayalla. She knows more about history than we do."

Emmin Lorcon shook his head, "wow. Not what I expected. Come on Patrick. I know you're a Solo but you need to stay up to date on stuff."

Patrick shifted his tablet, "I am a Solo. Who I fight for and against can change daily. The day you take a side for reasons other than pay, its time to sign up. Can't get personally involved Lorcon. That's how you make mistakes. Mistakes lose battles. I don't do personal and I don't do free."

"Oh yeah? What about that rematch for Dante," Lorcon said slyly.

Now Jessica was really listening. She wanted to hear this.

Patrick shook his head, "that's neither personal nor free. Outside of combat its unprofessional to take advantage of an opponent that is incapacitated. By freezing our positions I also gain time to observe my adversaries. I didn't gain points in the standings but I did gain points to my reputation because I remained professional."

The Gentry dropped his head to the desktop, "man; you're way too hardcore."

"What was it you said the other day? Don't hate the player, hate the game? Go with that," Patrick remarked.

Emmin Lorcon groaned at being bested with his own words. Jessica on the other hand was equally appalled and amused. She didn't want to be, but was.

"I'll admit, I don't like Solos. But one should be true to themselves and what they are," Jessica said then fought not to gasp in shock that she had said anything at all.

Patrick looked directly at her, "lies should not become you Weyden. You have a hatred for Solos. You feel you have reason so go ahead. I'm not a fool. I know that I may very well fight with or against you all one day. Its not personal for me, nor should it be for you. You are correct on that last part. One should be true to themselves and what they are."

Jessica fought to keep her calm, "its Princess Weyden."

Patrick shrugged, "not my Princess. I am a Solo. Outside the Academy the only authority I have to recognize is that which is paying me at the time. Those are the rules. I follow the rules and no one can ever legitimately claim that I don't."

Everyone had gone quiet at the beginning of the conversation. It was no secret how Jessica Weyden felt about Solos, so for her to engage in a conversation with one had been shocking to the class.

Jessica spat back angrily, "I should have known better than to pay compliment to a Solo!"

As soon as the words left her mouth she immediately wished they hadn't. Anyone was free to discuss a Solo in a positive or negative context, but never to them. It was a sign that you wanted to be in their favor without pay. Implicating that they would owe you. In short, a high insult.

Patrick looked at her calmly and said, "with your abilities, I'm sure your family will find a fine diplomat for you to be the wife of."

Jessica's anger was barely being held back. The door was now open. She insulted first, he returned it. Now it was her choice; she could pretend to be amused and let it go, which would end things there. Or she could issue challenge for her honor that she herself had tarnished and go to immediate contest. Both had pro's and con's. Everyone knew that a first born was expected to be a knight and the youngest sibling a diplomat or clergy, depending on how many children there were. Jessica being an only child was expected to be a Knight. Everyone knew that. She insulted him first which showed less character and severely lacking in maturity. If she took his return insult and blew it off it would show that she could face a mistake with good grace.

If she demanded challenge then it would show that she would provoke a fight over nothing and demand deference. A fight she absolutely could not lose. This was not for the Academy, it was personal. Something that could not be allowed. Fotens would determine some form of payment should he be victorious if she issued personal challenge. Payment she would have to concede if she lost. The problem was that he could name anything.

"Don't do it," Lamia whispered behind her.

Jessica glared at Patrick. He wasn't smiling, smirking, glaring or anything. He wasn't even looking at her anymore. Before she could think about it again she sealed her fate.

"My abilities that are far superior to yours and I have no problem proving them against the likes of you," Jessica said hotly.

Patrick Fotens turned around, "it'll cost you Weyden."

Jessica knew she was over the line but she had jumped off that cliff on her own, "of course. You are a Solo. So what shall it be? A dinner date or some such humiliation?"

"I'm not a masochist. One hundred coins and the sword you're wearing," Patrick said flatly.

Jessica twitched as if stung. The coins were not an issue, but the demand for the sword was a slap. Her sword was an heirloom that had been passed down the knighted women of her family for generations. To demand this was worse than a peasant boy claiming a virgin's underwear that had been signed by her. The problem was she couldn't refuse. To refuse meant that she did not have the ability to defeat him and would be admitting it openly. Now she had no choice but win, because she would have to hand it over without protest if she lost.

"Agreed," she ground out between her teeth.

"So be it," Dame Ayalla said loudly from the doorway.

Everyone wanted to cringe now. Their instructor had been listening for some time apparently.

The instructor walked in with her hands clasped behind her back and scrutinized them, "well I'm not such a fool as to think I'd be able to teach any of you anything today. Class adjourned to the arena. Weyden, Fotens. You'll need squires."

Jessica stated loudly, "Duchess Monning and Lady Tuala for myself."

Patrick set two coins on his desktop, "whomever wants to earn a coin each."

Lorcon reached over and took one, "Lorcon; Lance."

"Wazley. Armor," a girl stepped over and took the other coin.

Dame Ayalla nodded, "that's it then. Make ready."

The class left for the arena. Jessica went to the royals' wardroom followed by Aruna. Lamia went to the armory and retrieved a set of lances. Emmin Lorcon was there doing the same. He looked over at her.

Lamia shook her head, "I'd rather not talk about this."

Emmin sighed, "I understand. For what it's worth, you're a good friend. She's going to need that after this."

Tuala nodded and left, carrying the five wooden lances. They were only allowed to use wooden lances in the Academy for safety. Some tried to provide their own, especially when dueling. Usually because they were modified in some way to injure the opponent. Sometimes they even had them made to look identical to the Academy lances. That was the catch though. If caught using a lance modified to injure an opponent more than a standard lance it was grounds for expulsion and forfeiture of Knighthood.

That was the universal law. Only the Academy could infer Knighthood. Without it, no matter what title held, it was lower than any with Knighthood and could not battle outside their own borders unless as a registered Solo. One must graduate the Academy to become a Knight. Knights could go to war for themselves or to aid an ally. Without Knighthood, or registering as a Solo, one can only defend their own home. In sanctioned duels the Academy's rules were absolute. Unsanctioned duels were on the honor system. You had to trust the other party to be fair. Unsanctioned duels with First years were forbidden. Second years faced penalties of detention, which consisted of performing Academy work. Third years were allowed and Fourth years usually had one or two to their name already but refused them due to being more concerned with pursuit of points.

Lamia went to the side she knew Jessica favored and set the lances on the rack. One thing Lamia knew for certain, Patrick Fotens would not cheat. He would rely on strength and techniques. He left underhanded tricks to lesser riders. Jessica was the same. If she could not ride honorably then she refused to ride. Lamia waited patiently as the stands filled. She became uncomfortable when she started seeing people recognized as Fourth years. Even more so when she saw the council president, Countess Fiona Doucet. Very few disliked the Countess. She was beautiful and charming with a sense of humor she flaunted. Lamia was tempted to laugh when she saw the Countess crowd close to a Gentry that looked like a First year and say something that made him cringe. Obviously she had said something with a double meaning to tease him. That was to be expected of her by now. It was her favorite pastime as all knew.

The sound of hooves behind her alerted Lamia to Jessica's approach. Lamia went to the the archway and raised her arm. A moment later Emmin Lorcon did the same.

"IN CHALLENGE; PRINCESS JESSICA WEYDEN. IN CONTEST SOLO PATRICK FOTENS," Sir Belvin announced over the speakers.

Jessica entered the arena with her left arm high. Her armor was a bright silver with blue hue to it, polished to high sheen. Aruna carried her helmet and shield. She faced the crowd and pumped her fist twice then took her starting position. Patrick at the other end did the same. The plain finish of his armor showed every mark from hits taken.

Helmets were donned then shields held. slowly Patrick lowered his visor and took the lance from Lorcon and adjusted his horse's position. Jessica snapped her visor down and took the lance from Lamia and gripped it.

"Battle Mars," Jessica said.

The robotic horse now would no longer respond to prompts from the reins, it would only respond from directives from her feet and knees. Spurring it with her heels would make it go forward, tapping with her toes would make him reverse. Pressure from her knees directed him left or right.

"Daemon. Battle," Patrick was heard.

An arena assistant went to the middle point of the lanes and held a flag out straight. He looked from one to the other then raised it and ran to the side.

"YAAAA," Jessica exclaimed and her robotic horse launched himself forward.

Patrick's horse bolted from a stand-still. He settled within three strides and got into a rhythm riding down the lane toward the other end. Jessica was doing the same. From watching him before she knew he usually angled his shield slightly inward and pitched it back. This would make the lance tip glance up and across while he tucked in tight to strengthen his own impact which would be high and to the inside of the center of a shield.

Jessica smiled as they drew close, aiming for the outside of center of his shield. That's when she noticed it was all wrong. He was sitting straight in the saddle. Jessica's smile evaporated as she saw too late that Patrick shifted slightly to an inside angle and his lance arm darted forward a few inches. Everyone in the stands watched in confusion, and Jessica in horror as her lance skid off Patrick's shield harmlessly between them as his own lance slammed her backwards. She literally flipped over backwards in the air to land facing the soft dirt amid the debris of a shattered lance.

The assemblage exclaimed in wonder. This was a new tactic they hadn't seen used by him before. Some cheered for Patrick and others shouted encouragement to Jessica as she clambered to her feet. The arena assistant rushed over and helped her remount as Patrick trotted back to his end. He dropped the shattered lance and took up its replacement from Lorcon.

"I think she was expecting you to do something completely different," Jenette Wazley remarked.

Patrick flexed his legs to settle into his saddle, "yes."

Jenette normally would offer advice as a squire, but she had the very distinct feeling Patrick already had his strategy already planned.

"Need anything," She asked just to be sure.

"I'm good. Thanks," Patrick replied and moved back to starting position.

At the other end Jessica adjusted her shield then took up her lance again.

"Ok that was totally new. Aim for the center of his shield. Even if he angles it you'll still connect enough. Angle your own to deflect in and down. Lean slightly forward to make his lance pitch down and beside. Keep your lance tucked in solid. Don't try to push him off. Just bring him to a hard stop so gravity drops him," Aruna informed her.

"Ok. I'll try that," Jessica said then flexed her legs then urged Mars to the starting position.

The stands were a riot now, cheers for the two going back and forth. The assistant held out the flag then raised and ran clear.

Daemon lunged and began running to carry Patrick down the lane. Mars threw himself forward to race to the opposite end. The opposing riders closed on each other. Jessica felt the solid connecting hit of her lance to Patrick's shield and saw it break but then realized he had absorbed her hit and let his lance arm soften as he made contact then stiffened. Jessica felt herself lifted off then fall directly to the ground. She managed somehow to twist slightly on the way down and land on her left side.

The crowd roared again but Jessica ignored them as she rolled over and clambered to her feet. The assistant ran over and helped her remount again and handed up the shield and lance. Jessica trotted over to her end and discarded the lance. She flipped up her visor and took a drink of water. Luckily she had landed without getting the wind knocked out of her.

"Its two to nothing Aruna. My lance broke, but he still took me off my horse. What now," Jessica asked.

Aruna looked at her and said firmly, "go faster, lean forward more then angle more just as he connects. Forget pitching down. Just deflect down the side. Don't change your aim though. Dead center. If you feel he's solid, shove your shield up and back. Try to roll him off then tighten up for your hit."

"Right," Jessica nodded then handed the bottle back to Aruna.

Lamia handed the replacement lance up after Jessica snapped her visor down. Patrick waited at the starting position. he had two lances left in the rack. Jessica had three. If she stood any chance she would have to stay on her horse, break her own lance on him at least and make his lance deflect off intact. The flag went and the two riders launched themselves at each other. Jessica urged Mars harder and felt him lengthen his stride to cover more ground. Just as they closed to contact she threw herself forward, twisted inward and tightened her torso and lance arm tightly. To everyone's amazement her lance shattered in a loud clash as Patrick was laid flat to his horse's back. Patrick's lance had slid across the width of Jessica's shield.

The stands erupted with a cheer. Apparently everyone liked a comeback. Jessica held the broken lance high as Mars trotted back to her starting point. Many called out to Patrick with encouragement as he passed. He didn't go back to his squires, but merely turned Daemon around at his starting point and re-settled himself to wait.

Jessica discarded the lance and flipped up her visor to drink from the bottle again.

Aruna smiled, "Solid hit Highness! Now he's going to expect you to either do the same since it worked but more likely assume you'll try to go the other way to catch him off guard."

Jessica tried not to nod in agreement but smiled in satisfaction, "sit straight up, angle out leaning back on his contact then hold tight. Aim just low of center dead-on."

The young Duchess smiled, "bring him down!"

"Yes," Jessica replied and handed off the bottle.

The princess adjusted the grip of her shield then snapped the visor down and took up the new lance. Mars pranced over to the start. Jessica settled into the saddle and waited. The assistant checked both riders then signaled to start. Both horses launched into running. Mars had the lighter mount so closed in faster. Jessica flexed as Patrick's lance came to her shield. She twisted away from him. His lance slid outward and down. Her lance slammed in exactly where she aimed and in fact was braced by her shield. Jessica almost whooped as her lance shattered and pushed him almost off while his lance was ripped from his grip and fell away.

Lamia was standing close to Aruna, "was that my imagination?"

Aruna shook her head slightly, "no I saw it too. He shifted into the hit. He probably let go of the lance intentionally too."

"Do you think he'll take it to a fifth charge and draw or bring her down," Lamia asked.

The Duchess sighed, "no. He's going to bring her down on this run. He's going to bring her down really hard."

Jessica had returned and was smiling. Aruna handed up the bottle again.

"This is it Jessica. He's going to try bringing you down again. He's going to aim straight and true for dead center and just hammer you out of the saddle. You'll have to do the same and hold as tight as you can to stay on," Aruna warned her.

Its was rare that Aruna called her by name only. Jessica knew to do so meant she was deathly serious.

"Wait. Are you saying that he gave me that one," Jessica said angrily in a low voice.

The Duchess nodded slightly. Jessica jerked her head around to stare at him down at the other end already in position and waiting.

"That BASTARD," she hissed. "I should call for that charge to be disregarded!"

Aruna said quietly, "not if you're smart you won't! Don't you dare be that stupid!"

Jessica was about to spout back then closed her mouth. Her friend was right. If she disputed the charge then it would reset the contest and they would have to go a full five for five lances and he would make sure he brought her down each time.

Lamia handed up the new lance, "hit him with all your worth princess."

Jessica adjusted her grip then snapped her visor down and went to the start position. She flexed forward and shifted.

At the other end Wazley muttered to Lorcon, "somebody looks really mad."

"Doesn't matter now. The damage is already done. Princess Weyden is about to become VERY acquainted with the ground," Emmin said firmly.

Jenette sighed, "Freya find mercy for her."

The flag went up and the riders charged each other.

"You'd be better off asking for Thor to strike everybody with lightning," Lorcon said watching Patrick's horse streak down the lane.

Jessica tightened up and leaned forward, aiming for dead-center of Patrick's shield. No tricks, no gimmicks or tactics. The lances hit and smashed against the shields. Jessica felt herself being flung back and slamming into the ground. The arena went silent as a graveyard. Aruna and Lamia rushed to Jessica. Gently they sat her up and raised her visor.

"Bring me my purse," Jessica said in a heavy voice. "And my. Sword."

Lamia ran from the arena as Aruna helped her up. A couple of minutes later Lamia returned and handed them over. Jessica took them then walked over to where Patrick had just slid off his horse. He took off his helmet and handed it to Jenette Wazley.

Jessica handed the small bag to Patrick, "There's a hundred coins in there. Count them if you want."

Patrick felt the bag, "its there."

Slowly she extended the sword, "my sword."

"I heard that sword's been passed down fifteen generations," Patrick commented.

Jessica nodded, "at least. From mother to daughter."

Patrick took his helmet and shield from Jenette, "generations you disgraced. Send it home and tell your mother not to give it back until you've learned some manners. Don't ever let me see it again or I'll take claim. You watch your mouth around Solos."

Patrick turned and walked away, "Daemon."

The robotic horse followed his master as they left the arena. Lorcon and Wazley went in the same direction. Aruna and Lamia subtly turned Jessica and walked back with her as the stands emptied amid discussion of the duel.

"Mars. Go with Aruna," Jessica said.

Lamia collected the lances and went to turn them in. Aruna took Jessica's horse, along with her shield and helmet. Jessica made it inside the tunnel then collapsed to the wall and bawled. She stayed there for minutes then felt someone close and looked over. Lorenz Dante leaned casually against the wall.

"Princess you did the absolute most DUMBEST thing in the whole world going up against him," Lorenz said flatly.

Jessica sniffled, "says the guy that said he wanted a full rematch with him."

Dante laughed, "like I had a choice? If I said just the one lance he owed me I'd have been humiliated. He offered the full rematch to save my ass from my father! I owe him BIG. The problem is he can't go easy on me. I can't throw the match either. He has to go full out on me now. I have to do the same. How can I settle my debt to him?"

Jessica gave him a blank look, "I have no idea."

"When we take the ground I have to offer him something. The only thing I can think of for him is armor and shield. But I can't just say I'm going to give it to him. It doesn't work that way. I have to challenge him for it. When he wins, and he WILL win, I tell him that I'll be proud to gift him the armor. That's my situation. Yours is even worse," Lorenz remarked.

"Worse? How can my situation be any worse," Jessica asked in disbelief.

The young man looked straight at her and informed her, "this contest you just did was personal. When he beats me; you're going to have to face him. ALL. OVER. AGAIN."

Jessica Weyden felt her stomach turn over, "OH NO!"

Dante nodded grimly, "yes. He won't play. He's going to completely decimate you. Here's the only advice I can give you. I hope you take it. Do exactly what he told you to do. Send that sword home. When you face him again you go all out but do it fair. No playing around. Give him the best contest you got. That may be the only way to save yourself. Be respectful from now on. You took your personal crap out on him and he rammed it down your throat. Get over that or at least don't ever do it around him again."

"If I anger him personally again he'll inflict a permanent humiliation on me. Won't he," Jessica asked fearfully.

Lorenz turned and started walking away, "I wouldn't want to find that out if it were me. I suggest you find some kind of class about manners. Do it quickly."

Jessica slumped her shoulder and began walking to the royal's wardroom. He was right. She didn't want to find out.
 
 
 
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