Chapter 16 of
The Nightmare Rider
Jessica had finished her breakfast and left the Dining Hall. Aruna Moning quietly rushed up beside her.
"I have to talk to you! Privately," the Duchess whispered.
Jessica led her outside to the courtyard. It was currently empty.
"Alright Aruna. This is as private as we can have until this afternoon," Jessica said.
Aruna glanced around anyway then said quietly, "Lord Del Ekato is gone!"
"What do you mean 'gone'," the Princess asked confused.
Aruna told her quickly, "yesterday morning he was pulled from the Dining Hall. Nobody saw him since. One of the other Nobles said his dorm room was empty and I just heard that his horse is not in the stable either. Something HAPPENED!"
"Aruna calm down. None of the Instructors have said anything," Jessica tried to calm her friend.
Aruna shook her head, "you don't understand! I just looked at the Selection list and his name was crossed off!"
That caused Jessica to stop, "what? Crossed off? Did it say 'withdrawn' or something like that?"
The Duchess slowly shook her head, "nothing. Just crossed off."
Jessica considered that a moment then waved to her, "let's go find out for ourselves."
Back in the corridor they saw Fiona Doucet directing a couple of First years.
"Countess. Might we have moment," Jessica called out as they approached.
The two First years rushed off, "your Highness."
Jessica nodded to both and smiled.
Fiona regarded them, "good morning Highness. Duchess Moning."
"I know you're busy so I'll be quick. Aruna just informed me that one of the Selections has been removed. May we know what's happened," Jessica asked.
The student council President looked confused, "removed? I wasn't aware. Are you certain Duchess?"
Aruna nodded, "Yes Countess. He was pulled during breakfast and not seen since. Another Noble told me Lord Del's room is now empty and his horse in not in the stable."
"This is the first I'm hearing of this. Perhaps he withdrew due to an emergency," Fiona proposed.
"Highness. Ladies," Sir Belvin greeted coming out of the Dining Hall.
Fiona decided to quell a rumor before it really got started.
"Sir Belvin. Has a Selection been removed," Fiona asked.
The jousting instructor sighed and nodded, "yes. Lord Ekato will not be participating in Tournament, nor will he be continuing course at the Academy. Due to the timing of this, no alternate was able to be readily named. You, as the previous champion will not enter until the second round. The Headmaster intended to inform you of this later on today."
"Perhaps I can talk with the Headmaster now and get ahead of any rumors before they take a foothold," Fiona said then made her way to the office.
Sir Belvin looked to Jessica and Aruna, "I believe there is somewhere a Princess and Duchess should be."
"Of course Sir Belvin. Right you are. We'll be on our way," Jessica said before Aruna could protest and began to herd the inquisitive Duchess away.
Out of earshot Aruna finally spoke up, "we didn't find out anything. Why didn't you ask Sir Belvin?"
Jessica shook her head, "he wasn't about to tell us anything or he would have said so to Fiona right there. We have more important things to talk about. Have you taken care of squires yet?"
"Yes yes. My parents are bringing two along just for me when they come for Tournament. They're also bringing a cold box for water during it," the Duchess said airily.
Together they walked into the class.
Fiona was let into the Headmaster's office. She was surprised to see Lamia Tuala sitting in front of the desk.
"Come in Countess. I believe Lady Tuala has something you need to hear," the Headmaster beckoned her in.
Fiona walked to her and sat in the chair beside her, "Lamia? Has something happened?"
"A note was slipped under my door during the night. I'm being blackmailed," Lamia sniffed.
The Headmaster prompted gently, "start from the beginning Lady Tuala. The Countess needs to know everything."
Lamia choked back a sob and nodded but didn't look up, "I'm not really a Lady. My father was wounded in a battle. Mother was never able to have children. I'm not even a Tuala. I'm adopted!"
Fiona reached over and hugged her, "Lamia this is not as bad as you think. Please go on."
Lamia wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and handed over the note, "somehow someone found out. The note said that I have to substitute her water bottles during Tournament."
"Princess Weyden's water," Fiona asked reading the note then handed it back.
Lamia nodded and sobbed, "she's my friend. I can't do that to her. Please help me Countess! I'll do anything. I'll quit the Academy. I'll be your maid! Anything!"
"There'll be no need for that LADY Lamia Tuala," Fiona said gently. "Its more than she being your friend. You are her's."
The door opened and Patrick Fotens walked in.
"Solo Fotens. Thank you for coming so quickly. I regret to admit that you were indeed right," the Headmaster commented.
Patrick regarded the others in the room and let his gaze settle on Lamia Tuala, "I'm listening."
"There has been an attempt to blackmail Lady Tuala," the Headmaster stated.
Patrick nodded his understanding, "compromise Tuala since she will be acting as squire to Weyden. How was contact made?"
"A note. It was slipped under my door during the night," Lamia said.
Patrick put on his gloves and held his hand out, "I need it."
Lamia handed it over. Patrick held it up to the light from the window and looked closely.
"No watermark. I'll let you know if I find anything," Patrick said then turned to Lamia. "Even if you were to do as they want, they'll own you forever. Whatever secret you think you need to protect, bring it out and take away their power."
"I'm adopted," Lamia stated.
Patrick shrugged the statement off, "that would be your concern Tuala. It makes no difference to me. Whether or not they gave you a name means nothing. What you do with that name is what's of value. Is Lamia Tuala a person of shame; or courage?"
"Courage! I won't betray my friend," Lamia said firmly.
Fiona took her hands, "then show that courage Lamia. Show them they have no power over you!"
Patrick had made his way to the door, "I'll find out whatever there is to find Headmaster."
With that the Solo left.
Lunch was winding down and students were starting to gather up their trays to drop off.
Quickly Lamia Tuala stood up on her chair and called out loudly, "excuse me please."
Everyone stopped and turned to look.
"Everyone I wanted to talk on a personal matter," Lamia announced then took a deep breath. "There is at least one very despicable person here. A note was slipped under my door during the night. It said that if I did not swap the water bottles for Princess Jessica Weyden during Tournament, it would be revealed that I was adopted by my parents. I've given that note to the Headmaster first thing this morning."
The silence was almost tangible as people stared in shock. Some even began to look around, as if a sign would suddenly appear over the culprit.
Lamia decided she had nothing left to lose, "her Highness is my friend! I'd never betray her! I may not be a Tuala by blood, but I am one in name! What I do with my name will determine my nobility! I'll do what is RIGHT and be true to my friend! Your Highness; if you've any doubt to my honor I will gladly stand aside as your squire."
Jessica stood up and stormed over to her, "if you think that confession changes things between us; YOU'RE RIGHT!"
Suddenly Jessica hugged her, "you're MY friend! I'm YOUR friend! I'll have you nowhere but BY MY SIDE at Tournament!"
Vaan Arento stood up and began to clap loudly, "Well said Princess! LADY Tuala; I applaud your courage! You are indeed a NOBLE."
Fiona very subtly looked around and noticed all of the Solos had been sitting around the perimeter and were not looking at the people standing. They were looking at the people still seated and watching their reactions carefully. Many students were clapping and nodding. A few looked on, indifferent. The Countess continued to look around and noticed a Solo was missing. Patrick Fotens was nowhere to be seen.
Gradually the Dining Hall began to empty now that the moment had passed. Fiona took a place by the door and waited. She smiled and nodded to some who had done so to her. Solos had been mixed in with the exodus but with Doril Hunley being the last to exit. She quietly signaled him to wait then closed the door.
"Solo Hunley I would like a moment," the Countess said quietly.
Doril nodded, "what's on your mind Doucet?"
In a low voice she asked, "something has happened within the Solo hierarchy. I am beginning to suspect that you now answer to someone other than the Headmaster in the Academy."
"And you've come to this conclusion how," Hunley asked flatly.
Fiona didn't look away, "Solo Fotens was brought to the Headmaster's office during the session with Lamia Tuala. I was given the impression he is investigating things as per a contract with the Headmaster."
The Solo wasn't flustered, "that could be the situation."
"But as the ranking Solo, wouldn't that be your place," Fiona asked pointedly.
Doril nodded, "for the ranking Solo it would be. However, I am not the ranking Solo. Fotens is."
"WHAT? You're the Fourth year with the most points," Fiona stated.
Doril shook his head, "that is how it works most of the time. Not this year. I am the SENIOR Solo, not the ranking. Solo Fotens has outranked me since he entered the Academy. Until now the Solos have deferred to my Seniority."
Fiona's jaw dropped. This was a shocking revelation. She knew that Patrick Fotens had a record that was remarkable, but for the assumed top ranked Solo to say that the Third year was above him was something she had never heard of.
"I don't understand. How could he be above you," Fiona asked.
Doril sighed, "Doucet you're under the impression that academic points are the forefront. Its not. Royals, Nobles and Gentry don't have a battle record. You don't enter battle until you graduate. We usually do. Fotens has two years of battle experience over all of us and that record is actually better than all of the currently enrolled Solos combined. This may not matter to the student body at large, but it makes a profound difference to us. If you are trying to ask if I answer to him; the answer is yes, I do."
Fiona was almost staggered by the confirmation, "why has that been kept such a secret?"
"We answer only to the Headmaster and our Regiment Doucet. That never changed. If something happens between us and the student body then you are allowed involvement. For everything else, we see to ourselves. The Top rank or Senior Solo oversees the Solos. Sometimes they are the same, sometimes not. There's been no need to clarify to the student body. The Headmaster has been aware the whole year," Doril remarked. "We done? I need to get to class or charge you."
Fiona shook her head and opened the door, "that's all Solo Hunley."
The First Regiment Solo left the room, and the student council President with more questions than she had before the conversation started.
Patrick handed over the blackmail note to the Headmaster, "there are four different fingerprints on the page. They were not the same as those on the receipt for the lances. One set will of course belong to Tuala. Another I'm sure belong to a staff member as the paper is standard. Its the other two that may belong to a guilty party."
"One belongs to Fiona Doucet. She read the note before you came in," the Headmaster informed him.
"I advise you to bring in the village sheriff's team to determine who the fingerprints belong to. Or you can contract the Fourth Company's Third platoon," Patrick advised.
The old man sighed, "very well. I'll contact the Commander of the Fourth Company. Speed is critical now. Tournament is almost upon us. How much Commander Fotens?"
Patrick turned to leave, "part of the original contract."
"Rank hasn't changed him one bit," the Headmaster said to himself as he began to put through a communicae.
Daalumos could see the castle for Phoetor in the distance. He had stopped at the edge of a ridge to observe. The surprise came when he looked down in debate of how to descend. At the bottom something was chained to the rockwall. The Lust took the shape of a bird and flew down to land on large rock close by.
"This is quite the sight," Daalumos remarked.
The figure lifted its head to reveal a beautiful feminine face, "do as you were sent Demon or be gone."
Daalumos stretched his wings for a moment then looked at her, "who are you Succubus? Why are you chained thus?"
"I am Iia of the court of Phoetor. I refused to serve in the brothel of Marduk Kurios after the defeat of Phoetor," the Succubus confessed.
Daalumos held back the surprise in his voice, "Phoetor was defeated?"
Iia hung in her chains, "yes Demon. My Master was defeated and sent to Abyss after being caged. His legion was taken into service and the castle of Nightmares plundered. I refused to go. I will not serve Marduk Kurios. For that I have been left here for wanderers."
"What if the one I serve freed you? Would you serve as well," Daalumos asked.
Iiya slumped, "only Marduk Kurios can release me. He will not. I will never whore His brothel. This is my eternity."
Daalumos began to shimmer and fade, "my Mistress may have need for you Succubus."
The BloodLust was gone.
Phoebe sat on her throne in thought when a rush of flames revealed Daalumos' return. His hooves echoed on the stone floor as he turned about and shook himself.
"Welcome back," Phoebe said.
Daalumos chuckled, "thank you my Mistress. I bear news."
Phoebe nodded, "regale me."
"Phoetor has been caged and exiled to the Abyss," the BloodLust informed her. "By Marduk Kurios."
"Marduk Kurios? The one who tricks the believers of the one God by using the alias of Devil? How," Phoebe asked confused.
Daalumos laughed, "there is a Succubus named Iia chained to a cliff for refusing his service. If you free her at the very least she may answer all your questions. At most, she may pledge your service."
"If nothing else; she can answer questions," Phoebe said and began donning her armor then the cloak and sword of Vulcan.
Once she was clan in the Styxion armor and ready Phoebe climbed up onto the BloodLust's back.
"We must hurry as time passes slower there Daalumos," Phoebe ordered.
They were consumed in a rush of flame and appeared a distance away from the cliff. Daalumos approached. Not realizing who was before her Iia said nothing and simple hung in her chains.
"Look upon me Succubus," Phoebe ordered.
Iia gazed at the rocks littering the ground, "have your sport and be done."
"Charming isn't she Mistress," Daalumos chuckled.
The Succubus snapped her head up at the familiar voice and then her eyes narrowed in recognition, "You. Master's offspring with the Punisher."
Phoebe remarked casually, "I am Phoebe. Goddess of Nightmares, Succubus. My servant informs me that you claimed Phoetor has been defeated and imprisoned."
Iia sighed, "yes. Marduk Kurios defeated him on this very battlefield. Master retreated to his own walls before Marduk Kurios claimed victory over Him. A month ago."
"Almost a year on the Mortal plane Mistress," Daalumos clarified.
"Gloat your revenge Phoebe of Nightmares and leave me be," Iia muttered.
Phoebe edged Daalumos closer, "you answered my questions Succubus. I will release you."
Iia laughed, "Marduk chained me himself and laughed there is no release but by his key. Your arrogance is the first amusement I've had since that day."
Phoebe drew the sword and sliced through the first shackle freeing her left wrist. The Succubus stared in disbelief.
"The thought of leaving you half-freed could be entertaining for such insult," Phoebe stated.
Iia stared at the destroyed shackle her wrist had been in moments ago, "Marduk Kurios said there was no release but by Him. These chains were made for him by Zahgurim."
The Succubus looked down, "Goddess I beg your forgiveness!"
The second shackle was cut through and the Succubus fell to the ground. She knelt down and bowed.
"Thank you Goddess," Iia groveled.
Phoebe slid off Daalumos' back and eased the sword tip to Iia's collar and sliced through it, "your service to Phoetor has ended."
Iia sat up, "I no longer serve Phoetor?"
Quickly she covered her mouth with her hand. She couldn't remember calling Him by name, only Master.
"Fool Succubus. That collar had compulsion cast upon it. Phoetor claimed you in battle years ago. You were nothing more than an amusement for his court. He took you when I still in his castle," Phoebe informed her.
Iia thought back and realized every act she committed in Phoetor's court had been for his amusement. Her memory fully returned and she remembered the day He first showed her the collar. Informing her she would be nothing more than a plaything. Exploited for the court's amusement. How she had been compelled to profess love for him while being used by the courtiers, one after another. The false happiness that he was pleased with the act.
Daalumos snorted then said, "Mistress. I left something atop the cliff."
Phoebe climbed up onto his back and they made their way to the top. The freed Succubus following slowly behind, almost numbly as all her memories were still coming back. When they reached the place Daalumos pawed a bag from between some rocks.
"A tribute to my Mistress," the BloodLust chuckled.
Phoebe eased off and collected the bag and looked inside, "Underworld coins? How did you get these?"
"Poena the Punisher. She wanted to know your disposition towards Her. I made her pay to find out," Daalumos laughed.
Phoebe counted them then hooked the bag to point on her belt, "not much. Perhaps enough for a gift."
The BloodLust roared with laughed, "I have no doubt who would receive such a gift!"
"To the narrows of the River Styx," Phoebe commanded.
Daalumos reared up on his hind legs and shrieked with glee as a rush of flame engulfed them both. A moment later, they reappeared along the bank in the same manner. Daalumos walked along for a few minutes then stopped in front of a house as the door opened.
"Its been some time Phoebe of Nightmares," a woman stated.
Phoebe nodded, "it has Megaera."
"Sisters! Phoebe of Nightmares has come to us again," Megaera called out.
Two other women came to the door.
"What brings you to us young Goddess," one asked in a far away voice.
The third nodded to her, "yes. Your armor seems in proper form."
Phoebe glanced to the second, "I have need of the creation of a gift Alecto. I will present it to the mortal girl who is growing to be my War-priestess, Tisiphone. A sword."
Tisiphone; vengeful destruction, smiled coldly. "such would come with a price Goddess of Nightmares. You must give of your blood for a weapon wielded in your service. She must give of her maiden's blood to wield it."
"She must sacrifice to the sword in your name her purity," Alecto of eternity stated.
Megaera of jealous rage affirmed, "upon the onset of her bloom."
Phoebe shifted her position, "well. For such a gift, it must be of great beauty and strength."
Phoebe handed them the bag of coins. The Furies counted the coins then nodded.
"This will be a sword of Netheranium," Tisiphone informed her.
Phoebe nodded, "accepted."
The Succubus made her appearance as the ore smelted. Phoebe used her gauntlet to scratch open her wrist and bleed into the molten metal. Soon it was cast into rough form then hammered into the final shape. The blade and handguard were etched, along with the pommel. The hilt was carefully wrapped then the edges were sharpened. Phoebe had spoken incantations the whole time. Finally the sword was slowly slid into a scabbard and presented to her.
"Your gift is complete," Alecto said.
Phoebe took it and nodded, "its a stunning gift. Perfect for her to claim vengeance with."
Tisiphone looked up, "she desires vengeance?"
"Of course. Her birth mother was brutalized by a group of mortals in front of her and died telling her to escape. I have found a family for her and they have all entered worship of me. This will be an appropriate gift for her," Phoebe told them.
Tisiphone retook the sword and unsheathed it. Quietly she whispered to the blade and shed a single tear to fall onto the hilt then gave it back.
"This sword will not be satisfied until it has drank those mortals' blood," Tisiphone informed her. "After that, she may pass it to the next of her maiden line with proper sacrifice."
Phoebe nodded her understanding.
The Succubus spoke up quickly, "take me with you Mistress! I will serve you!"
Alecto handed Phoebe a blank medallion. Phoebe focused her will and her insignia appeared on it then handed it to the Succubus.
Iia put the gold chain around her neck and bowed. A rush of flames rose up and all three were gone. They reappeared in the secret room on the mortal plane.
"Is this home Mistress," Iia asked looking around.
Phoebe dismounted Daalumos, "yes. Go in there and you may bathe."
The Succubus left to do so. Phoebe concealed the sword then removed her cloak, sword and armor. When Iia returned Phoebe was sitting on her throne.
"Why did the Mistress bring us here, " Iia asked Daalumos.
Daalumos shook himself, "we have interests here on the mortal plane. Tomorrow night we will visit the priestess."
"Why do we not go now," Iia asked puzzled.
"Because our Mistress has daytime activities. She uses a Glamoured form. Its actually rather amusing. She gained fame faster as a mortal than as herself. It is only recently that she has become accepted as a Goddess by the mortals," Daalumos chuckled.
Phoebe's eyes closed as Daalumos told of their tales together. The Succubus stayed enthralled as their Mistress slept until dawn.
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