Chapter 11 of
The Nightmare Rider
Patrick sat at an empty table reading notices. Everyone else was talking about recent events. The emergence of a new Goddess was the main topic. The secondary topic was the punishment suffered by Jeffries Talfar. Two days dressed in a provocative costume to resemble a maid had been the idea of the head of Student Council; Countess Fiona Doucet. Rumor had it that she had entertained the idea of dressing him in something more compromising. There was no confirmation of that rumor though.
As for the future Duke, his disposition was returning to the way it had been. Well, with exception. Jeffries Talfar was staying clear of Solos. In fact, he was now giving them a very wide berth. He refused to even look directly at them, much less talk to any. Otherwise he was soon to reclaim the title of being the most insulting and abusive student in the Academy. Many of the Fourth year students were having fun at his expense though. Kiss noises and the occasional whistle. One or two strong Third years did the same. It had continued through the weekend but started to wane now that a new week had started.
The main topic of discussion among the Third years was the match between Solo Fotens and Princess Weyden that afternoon. Several passing by Patrick's table gave him silent encouragement. Others in support of Jessica were more vocal as they passed her.
Fiona stood up from her table and addressed the dining hall, "GOOD MORNING."
The talk quieted down and all the present students looked to the Countess.
"We have the start of a brand new week. One sure to start with excitement I've no doubt. This afternoon there is to be contest between two of the Third year class. I'm sure you already know who, but I'll just clear it up. The contest is between Princess Jessica Weyden and Solo Patrick Fotens. As exciting as that may be, its not until the afternoon so do focus on your respective lesson plans. Please respect the contestants, keep your encouragement in good taste. Or at least, keep it non-disruptive," Fiona advised then gathered up her breakfast tray to drop off at the window then leave but stopped at the doorway and looked back. "As for myself; I wish the both of them well."
Most of the assembled students stood and clapped looking to Jessica or Patrick. Some looked to both as they were not showing a favorite.
Jessica stood up and smiled, "thank you. I'll do my very best!"
Patrick looked around then gave a single nod. To the uninformed, it would appear that he was being nonchalant or dismissive. Most understood that he was simply giving subdued acknowledgement. Over the weekend he had taken receipt of a new Paladin model WarHorse. The stable mechanic had no trouble and had it tuned to Patrick's personal settings in a couple of hours. His campaign pack had arrived as well. It was the top pick for Solos; the Voyager set. In the pack was a medium tent with hardware. The tent came with a heater/stove that ran off a battery supply that recharged via a compact but high-output solar panel and a small wind generator. It could also recharge a horse as well.
The set included a sleep set; air mattress and insulated bag. Also a month of field rations along with a cookware set and water treatment. The final items were the five disassembled plasma lances. The Academy armorer had no problem assembling them and ensuring they were in working order and set to Patrick's specifications before disassembling them. His new armor, along with battle sword, would be arriving sometime that day.
Patrick and many others began to make their way out of the dining hall and a few moments later the bells chimed. Classes would be starting in a few minutes. The class of Third years quieted when Dame Ayalla entered the classroom.
"Good morning. Nice to have you back Princess Weyden, Duchess Monning and Lady Lamia. I hope your absence was educational," the instructor said firmly.
Jessica stood up, "If I'm brief may I address the class?"
Dame Ayalla nodded, "quickly Princess."
Jessica smiled, "Thank you. I'll hurry."
Quickly she went to the front of the class, "The three of us were absent to grant a request of a local towns'person. In short, we saw a battle between a God and a Goddess. We've learned that the mysterious person called the Nightmare Rider is actually a Goddess named Phoebe. She fought against a WarGod and defeated him. Phoebe is the Goddess of nightmares. The three of us met her WarPriestess. She and her family told us much on the way back to the Academy."
A hand went up immediately and Jessica called on them.
"Highness you said a God and Goddess. Are you certain they weren't Demi's," a Gentry girl asked.
Jessica nodded, "definitely. In fact the duel was because the Goddess Phoebe killed a Demi-God in battle. The God who sired him demanded retribution so challenged her to a duel. When she cut the God down, he burst into nothing. Its true she rides a demon. This Goddess Phoebe is the daughter of a God and a Goddess herself. As to exactly why she's been doing all the things we've heard about is still unknown. One thing is known, if she appears on your battlefield; RUN!"
"Unless you get a weapon from the Gods," Lord Phol Dariel chuckled.
Aruna Monning shook her head, "we saw her destroy three Divine objects with her sword!"
That got everyone's attention. Weapons made by the Gods were supposed to be indestructible. That they knew of. Apparently that was no longer true.
"So you mean even if a you manage to get your hands on a gift from the Gods, it won't matter at all," Phol asked in alarm.
Slowly Jessica nodded, "I've never seen anything like it. I've never HEARD of anything like it. A Demi using a gift to destroy a weapon made by a mortal yes. But to see a Goddess do that to a God is new to me! So my advice, as one who has seen her in combat, if she appears on your battlefield; RUN!"
With that Jessica returned to her seat. Dame Ayalla seemed to be digesting this new information. She had only heard the rider had been sighted again.
"Under the current circumstances I believe that to be sound advice. Thank you for sharing Princess. Unfortunately the absence was unexcused so you three will have to look after yourselves to prepare for the test at the end of the week. Let us begin with today's lesson," Dame Ayalla said.
The class settled down to begin. Two hours later they went to break then went to their next class until lunch.
Patrick went to the office to claim a package. It was the new armor. He took it to the Solos' WardRoom. However, he was detained. Jessica stopped him.
"Solo Fotens," Jessica called out." Is that the armor?"
Patrick nodded back, "so the tag says."
Jessica blinked, "oh. You haven't inspected it yet. Please bring any problem with it to me immediately. The contract is to be settled to your satisfaction. Without dispute. I'll not have otherwise."
"Sounds like you've been taught well," Patrick stated.
Jessica stood proudly, "my teacher is a prime example of professionalism and would expect nothing less from his student."
Patrick regarded her intently for a long and tense moment then said, "money well spent so far. Keep it so."
The Princess nodded as the Solo passed her. He continued to the WardRoom and set down the package then opened it. Piece by piece he laid out the new armor and inspected it. The Armorer had offered a reflective finish to the black and green pattern. Patrick declined for matte finish. He paid close attention to the shield. It had the capability of holding a clear film on its face that could contain a thin layer of water.
An old Solo trick was to cover the face of a shield with a clear film to contain a thin layer of water. The water would temporarily disapate the plasma from a lance. It was a trick that only worked once. Few that faced it survived to tell of its discovery. Patrick smiled to himself. During Tournament he would be allowed to wear his our armor and carry his own shield. He knew having a shield that could do this would be needed. If the lance was regulation then the shattering of it would conceal the splash of the water. If the lance was a battle lance then it would prove useless against him and be called into question. If that happened then the lance would be immediately be inspected and discovered. The rider would be found guilty of cheating.
Patrick knew that someone would try using a battle lance against him. A few coins per week to the stable hands kept him apprised of chatter. Sometimes names were provided, mostly only the conversation was gained. The Solo already knew that he was targeted. Jessica Weyden had been as well. It cost him ten coins to hear of it, ten coins that were repaid. Quickly he changed and attached his new armor. Patrick used the full mirror on the wall to visually inspect the set.
"New armor," Sir Belvin asked stepping inside.
Patrick nodded, "checking the fit."
The jousting instructor came over and began looking it over then tried to pull at the pieces. Patrick swayed at the rough handling.
"Looks like the connections are strong. Helmet," Sir Belvin asked.
Patrick went over and put on the helmet. Sir Belvin checked the connection of it then inspected the visor.
"Doesn't feel wrong," Patrick commented from inside.
Ren Belvin nodded, "good. Give me ten straddle hops."
Patrick performed the exercises then twisted, bent, crouched and walked around.
"Any shifting," Belvin asked.
"No. Its good," Patrick said, sounding like in a slight echo chamber.
Belvin nodded, "good. Brace."
Patrick adjusted his stance to prepare then signaled. Sir Belvin slammed into the Solo with his shoulder. Patrick staggered back two steps then signaled again. This was repeated twice more then Belvin stopped and checked selected pieces again.
"Well this set passes. Let's see the shield," Belvin stated.
Patrick pointed it out then began to remove the armor.
Belvin inspected the shield, "looks good. Hmmm. I've seen this before. This is a feature only found on shields for Solos. What is it?"
Patrick said nothing as he repacked the armor into its carry bag then took the shield and slid it into place as well.
"I see," Belvin remarked at his question not being answered.
Ren Belvin had learned with Solos and taught many after becoming the instructor, but some things still remained a mystery where they were concerned. Normally a Solo had no problem explaining why they did most things. That lent more credence to the fact that if they didn't answer a question, it should be dropped right then and there.
Belvin nodded, "all in all. A fine set of armor. The bells are about to ring."
Patrick noted the time and left. He had just enough time to get to his last indoor class before going to training, and the match with Jessica Weyden.
The stands had filled to more than had been when Patrick had the rematch against Lorenz. More than when Patrick first faced Jessica. In fact the crowd was three times previously seen. A crowd that roared as Jessica entered the arena riding Mars and raise her left arm in salute. It went to a fevered pitch when Patrick entered riding the new horse and saluted. He'd renamed his old horse to Eskeldar. The dull black Paladin model horse responded to Daemon. Both rode easily over to the middle of the lanes and faced each other. Her blue-hued silver armor shining brilliantly in the afternoon sun. His dull finish armor seemed to absorb all the light.
"Here we are again," Jessica said.
Patrick leaned forward slightly in nod, "yes. I have expectations Weyden. Daemon, battle."
Jessica gave a nod as well, "I do as well Solo Fotens. I am not about to go with less than full measures. You are the most formidable opponent I know of. I can't afford to spare an inch when it comes to you. Mars, battle."
They saluted each other then turned and went to their starting points. Patrick closed his visor then gripped his shield and took the first lance. At the other end, Jessica slowly did the same. She shifted to settle into her saddle then raised her lance up as did Patrick to signal they were ready. The official went to the middle point and held out the flag. The stands went quiet.
"Official contest between Weyden and Fotens," Sir Belvin announced.
The Official checked both sides then raised the flag up and ran clear, "GO!"
Mars lunged forward and began his run down the lane. Jessica sat straight in her saddle, shield flat to her body and lance slightly forward of her line. Patrick had Daemon break from his stand-still and race towards her. The Solo held his shield tilted forward and inward with his lance even with his line. The stands were cheering them on as the riders closed on each other.
"Make it count," Jessica said to herself.
Contact was made. Jessica adjusted at the last second to aim just off-center to the left for her lance. As his lance hit her shield she leaned back and angled her shield in. Patrick's lance broke and glanced back between the lanes. Jessica's lance snapped at the tip, slid across to the far outside. The shaft stopped sliding when it hit her own shield and braced. The result went exactly as she had hoped. Patrick was effectively being clothes-lined and flung from his saddle. A long heartbeat later Patrick hit the sand as the stands roared in excitement.
Jessica rode to the end of the lane and doubled back holding the broken lance high to the loud cheers. Patrick spent no time getting to his own feet and was remounting Daemon as she passed. An assistant had come out to help but hadn't made it mid-way before Patrick was already climbing back into his saddle. He'd never lost his shield the whole time. Patrick saluted, indicating he was fit to continue and returned to the starting point after exchanging lances.
Up in the stands Vaan Arento chuckled, "I wonder who was more surprised that worked? Fotens or Jessica herself?"
"She's become more adventurous. Of course she knows she has to take risks when up against someone like him. This truly has gotten interesting," Fiona remarked as she clapped.
Down in the arena the assistant handing Jessica a new lance smiled, "very well done Princess! That was quite risky, but it paid off."
Jessica took the lance, "have to take risk if you want reward. Thank you."
She snapped her visor down and moved to the starting point. Patrick was already waiting. The Official came out and checked both sides then held his flag ready. The cheering went down a notch, but didn't stop.
"GO," the Official yelled and ran clear with his flag high.
Daemon bolted forward and tore down the lane. Patrick settled in and rode leaned forward in his saddle, shield angled inward and lance slightly forward of his line. Jessica had launched Mars forward as well then rode straight but turned outward with her lance held just back from her line.
Jessica held steady as Mars raced down her lane, "he won't fall for it twice."
The last strides forward Patrick had Daemon shorten his stride and at the contact point spurred him to surge forward with a powerful lunge. He had pulled the lance back then thrust it hard just left of center of her shield. Jessica had begun twisting back inward when she saw his lance pull back. Her eyes widened to realize he tricked her as the lance came back faster than it retreated. The sudden move took the princess completely by surprise. The loud clash almost drowned out the stands as Patrick's lance slammed her shield and shattered. Jessica found herself catapulted back and hit the sand solidly.
Up in the stands Lorenz Dante winced, "she's definitely going to feel that later."
Nia had been holding Lorenz' hand and asked, "I hate to say it, but that hit looked harder than any you took. I mean, it probably wasn't. The princess is lighter than you and Solo Fotens so the effect looks worse I guess."
"Well they're even right now. One for one. I'd say this match is a bigger deal than the one with me," Lorenz Dante said then softly to his girlfriend. "At least she learned something since then."
Together they watched the arena below. Jessica had gotten to her feet then saluted. She gathered up her shield and lance then went over and remounted Mars with a quick salute to Patrick as he passed by. Both rode back to their ends and exchanged lances then moved to the starting points as the Official took his place at the middle. He checked each then held the flag out.
"GO," the Official yelled and ran clear.
The horses bolted into high speed runs. Patrick sat leaning slightly forward, shield angled down and lance slightly forward of line. Jessica rode slightly back with her shield tilted back and in. Her lance was held even of line. As contact was made she threw herself forward in the saddle and aimed just below center of Patrick's shield. Patrick had aimed above and left of center. The results were spectacular as the crowd watched both lances shatter in the clash. Patrick had felt himself lifted and pushed to the edge of his saddle and Jessica was pushed almost flat to the back of her horse.
The stands erupted with cheers and whistles. As the two riders doubled back they both saluted each other. Jessica discarded the lance, signaled for water and flipped up her visor.
"Ow. THAT didn't work the way I thought it would," Jessica remarked loudly to herself then took a long drink from the bottle.
The assistant took the bottle back, "not a bad idea though. It might work on someone else so I wouldn't toss it out."
"Right. I'll keep it in mind," Jessica replied then snapped her visor back down and took the new lance.
Slowly Mars walked over to the starting position. Daemon had already taken position and Patrick waited calmly. Jessica thought hard with her mind racing. She was trying not to feel intimidated by his imposing figure then thought to herself that had he been wearing his regiment colors he would be even more intimidating. Mentally she shook that off.
"He's heavier than me. More skilled. I need to hit harder without losing my lance," Jessica muttered to herself.
The cheering from the stands was steady but divided. The Official checked both sides. Patrick signaled his readiness. Jessica made her decision and signaled her own.
"GO," the Official yelled above the din and ran clear.
Daemon bolted and ran down the lane. Patrick rode straight in his saddle, shield flat and lance even with his line.
"He's just going to hammer me down," Jessica said aloud and adjusted in the saddle to lean forward and angle her shield down. She extended her lance forward of her line and braced tight to herself.
They reached the middle and made contact. Patrick angled his shield inward and up and braced his lance to himself aiming below center. Jessica aimed above center this time. The tip of Jessica's lance burst apart and went over his shoulder. Patrick's lance shattered as it picked her up and threw her back.
"OH!" the crowd in the stands called out.
Though short, Jessica's flight was quite the sight with a landing that was very solid.
"PRINCESS! COME ON PRINCESS!" Many in the stands cheered to urge her up. Others were stomping and clapping in support.
Slowly Jessica rolled over pulled her knees under herself then pushed upright. An assistant ran over and checked on her.
"Highness are you alright? Are you fit," he asked.
Jessica laughed inside her helmet and flipped up the visor, "now THAT was a solid hit! I am fit thank you."
The cheering went out louded when she saluted then salute Patrick as well when he rode by. She remounted Mars and took her shield and broken lance. Jessica rode back to her end and discarded the lance.
"That was some hit Princess," the assistant with the water bottle remarked as she drank.
Jessica handed it back, "well if I am to be unhorsed. I hope it looked magnificent."
She chuckled, "certainly! Like an eagle struck by lightening."
Jessica took the new lance, "oh good! I'd hate to resemble a rag doll flung aside."
The assistant shook her head, "oh you're the epitome of grace. Though I'm starting to wonder if he hit you too hard. Are you fit?"
Jessica smiled and snapped the visor down, "definitely fit."
Mars was ridden over to the starting position and Jessica settled into her saddle. Carefully she thought. How could she take him down? Finally she decided and signaled readiness. The Official had been waiting at the middle and held out his flag. The stands went dead quiet.
"GO!" The Official yelled and ran clear.
Mars lunged forward and tore down the lane. Jessica resettled fast then angled her shield back and inward. She would aim just left above center and bracing the lance tight to herself. Daemon had jumped forward then took stride racing for the opposite end. Patrick rode straight in his saddle with his shield flat and lance even with his line. Once again Daemon's stride was shortened as they closed then lunged at the moment of contact as Patrick threw himself forward. Shield angled down and he thrust the lance at her shield aiming below center. The lances struck and shattered. Patrick was turned in his saddle while Jessica found herself being launched out of hers.
The crowd in the stands gasped as Jessica landed in a heap on the sand. The assistants and Sir Belvin ran out to the downed princess. They joined a moment later by Patrick.
Sir Belvin flipped up Jessica's visor, "Princess? She's out."
One of the assistants reached into a pouch and pulled out and ampule and handed it to the instructor. Sir Belvin cracked it and waved under Jessica's nose. The pungent odor stirred her.
"Come on Weyden. Enough laying around," Patrick remarked.
Jessica winced and groaned, "that hurt. Owwww."
Belvin asked, "can you move everything Highness?"
"I think so. Yes," Jessica said then reached up.
Patrick grabbed her hand and slowly hauled her to her feet, "you're done Weyden. That was three."
Jessica frowned as she finally steadied herself, "It was three? Damn."
"Highness go get checked out. You look like Fotens rung your bell but go make sure that's all," Sir Belvin instructed her then turned to the stands. "THIRD LANCE TO SOLO FOTENS, THE WINNER! A GREAT SHOWING BY PRINCESS WEYDEN."
The stands clapped and cheered. Some whistled. The jousting instructor raised his hands to call them down and the stands went quiet to hear him.
"That is the last of the official matches. Tournament selection will be posted in two weeks. For now will be individual training. Any personal duels are disallowed until after Tournament. That's it. Done for the day," Sir Belvin called out to dismiss them.
Slowly the stands started to empty. Students were discussing the match and their thoughts of the techniques used by each rider. Duchess Aruna Monning and Lady Lamia Tuala rushed down to meet Jessica before she left. Aruna was given permission for Mars and Lamia went to the Royals' WardRoom for Jessica's clothes. Both would meet her at the trainer's office where she would be looked over carefully. Fifteen minutes later Jessica was cleared and went to the WardRoom to shower and change then rest.
Vaan Arento smiled to Fiona, "it looks like Jessica is extremely lucky. If she hadn't bought out the contract I don't think she'd be able to cope after this afternoon."
"Lucky is an understatement Vaan. I'm glad I was watching, but now I have concerns for myself. Fotens is strong and skilled. The Princess took him by surprise on the first lance. I've no doubt that he'll be watching for it again," Fiona said firmly.
The normally flamboyant prince nodded, "we BOTH should be concerned. I can afford to come in second place. YOU can not. And after that business with Jeffries Talfar, rest assured he definitely intends to make sure you're brought down. I've no doubt that he has plans for Fotens as well. More than likely; brutal plans."
Fiona sighed, "if he didn't before; he is making those plans now. Somehow though Fotens has been able to keep up with Jeffries."
"I'm curious as to how. Fotens must have an informer or two," Vaan chuckled.
"That's another thing. Solos have always stayed one step ahead of serious trouble here at the Academy. My predecessor had his suspicions that there may be a network established in the Academy that attending Solos have some access to," Fiona confided.
Vaan Arento studied his friend intently, "you'd like to make use of it as well."
The Countess laughed, "who wouldn't? Mostly I'm curious as to the truth of it. If there is such a network exclusively for Solos then so be it. The need for such a system is valid. It keeps the Solos outside the normal politics and exploitation. Its just that some things should be brought to the attention of the student president."
"But to do so would reveal the network and possibly destroy it. Who knows how long its been there and just how extensive it really is. I would venture that such had cost several thousands of coin just to establish years ago. To replace it would cost at least a hundred times that," Vaan speculated.
Fiona arched an eyebrow at the statement.
Vaan sipped his water, "my Grandfather told me a story once. After he graduated he did a bit of wandering before going home. Of course he had made an enemy or two here along with some friends. He managed to plant a person into each of his enemies household during his break. For ten years nothing of consequence came from those spies. One day a messenger came, grandfather's rival was going to lay siege to a House. This House belonged to a lower noble that was in a class behind him and grandfather at the Academy."
"Juicy story. Tell me more," Fiona smiled.
"Late that night Grandfather heard from his spy in the rival's House. A deal had been struck between the two. In return for luring Grandfather into a trap, a family debt would be removed," Vaan told her.
Fiona leaned forward listening raptly, "so what happened?"
The Prince smiled wickedly, "he hired three regiments of Solos and basically slammed both armies from four sides. Both houses were pretty much toppled and no longer exist. The titles remain, but are held by other families now with no connection to the previous."
"Nice story. I like it. Well as much as I would like to just sit here," Fiona stood up. "My day is far from over."
Vaan smiled as the Countess left.
Phoebe stepped into the darkened room, "did you enjoy the show?"
"I'm surprised she got the better of you on the first run," Daalumos commented.
Phoebe took her place on her throne, "it was a clever move. She tried another but it wouldn't work on my Glamoured form. She should have enough points for selection though. I saw the new temple is well underway. What have you discovered."
"Something ironic. Rudianos had to have been the most destitute War-God ever. He had no holdings on any other plane and spent all of his time on this plane. Any offerings he had received went to the expenses of the three temples in his name," the BloodLust informed her.
Phoebe shook her head, "that's not ironic; its depressing. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. I'm not a Goddess of luck. We'll simply have to let the matter pass. He has nothing left worth taking. It will take at least a millennium of constant worship just to conjure a base existence for him. None of his followers believe in him anymore. His religion will die out. If it hasn't already."
Daalumos tossed his head, "I felt power waning from the temples."
Phoebe nodded. It was easy to feel the power of worship. Unless it was for them though, they couldn't tap that power. Much like the same way they detected Divine offspring. As for mortals, only the very magically gifted could detect the presence of a deity. Such as the local witch that had also been present at the duel. When Phoebe and Daalumos first scouted the village they had felt her presence and began suppressing their own. Now it had become force of habit. The house itself had become a blank spot due to a series of charms that surrounded it. Essentially only a God or Goddess could find them. It was how they had remained undisturbed for this long. Another charm by the front door simply gave off a feeling of unease to any mortals that blundered upon the house.
Phoebe settled back and closed her eyes. Daalumos could feel she was not searching. He knew she was resting and went to sleep as well.
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