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Chapter 19 - Thunder and Lightning

Remembering what Amplisa had said about them needing to hire mercenaries, Art headed over to the northern square.

Even from the distance, he could hear a sister calling out for attention as he approached. As he passed the final intersecting street, he came across the square: a large, open space in the shape of a square, with numerous people going about, around a large wooden raised platform, thirty feet square, that stood in the center. Right before the wooden platform, he saw Liene, Sasha, Paige and two other sisters had set up a wooden stall of their own. Beside them stood a guard, fully armored in mail with a glaive and shield by his side. He stood at attention, and Art gathered that they'd already garnered the requisite approval from the mayor for this event.

"Harken to me!" shouted Paige, a hand upraised and gesturing for attention, and a small crowd had gathered before her. She pointed at a wooden billboard where a piece of parchment had been nailed. "If you have skill in the axe or sword, the mace or spear, the bow or staff, or you know someone who is, we are looking to hire, and will pay fair price! Feel stifled in this place of safety, and thirst for the adventure of your lifetime? Think you have the valor it takes to prove yourself a hero? Sign up here for your chance at glory! No prior combat experience needed, we accept anyone so long as you can demonstrate that you have the skill! But sign up now, for tomorrow we depart!"

As Art approached the stall he overheard several of the audience muttering to each other. "…All women hiring? That the sisterhood?" -- "What, are they hiring women only?" -- "I heard their lot are skilled with the bow. Maybe they want someone who can swing a sword." -- "Wish I could say I had the skill. Been wanting to get out of the tedium of being a cobbler's apprentice." -- "Aren't you kind of too young for that? You're what, twelve? This is for adults; away with you." -- "Looking for a real warrior?" boomed a tall, heavily built man in full mail, causing all the others to look his way. He had on his back an axe and a large, metal round shield. With a grin on his face, he stepped up to Paige. "Well, you found him."

Paige looked the man up and down. "Well, you sure look like you can handle yourself in a fight," she said. -- "Course I can fight! What do I look ter ya, a farmer?" he spat on the dirt beside them. -- "Very well, if you would please step up this way and show us a little of what you can do?" she asked, gesturing at the raised platform. -- A humph, as the man stomped his way up to the podium. "Then behold, woman."

The man took out his shield and axe, as a group of onlookers gathered to watch. "Way of thundering voice," he said, and took in a deep breath before letting out a truly deafening shout, louder than lightning: "FALL!" A shockwave blasted through the square, sending everyone crumpling to the ground. Screams of surprised terror sounded out from all directions, all of them smothered by his voice. In the wake of that sonic boom none remained standing but him. People had dropped their belongings, some of them shattering, one woman had dropped a toddler who began to cry from landing on its butt, and Paige's parchment holding the names of those who had signed up had been blown clear of the stall. People crouched with hands over their heads, looking away, eyes shut.

Then before they'd managed to pick themselves up, the man announced, "way of the kingfisher," and leapt high up into the air, soaring a good fifty feet up while traveling only a few feet horizontally. He'd jumped in such a way that he'd reoriented himself by the time he started to plunge back to the ground. "Way of the hammer's fall," he said, and slammed down, now upside down, with shield held flat out to bash into the ground, making a titanic crash. The collision sent cracks down the grain of several of the wooden planks comprising the platform and caused the whole construct to reverberate, before the edge of the platform where the man had landed collapsed entirely. Even where Art stood, he'd wobbled from the shockwave the man's landing had sent through the ground. The man landed gracefully, his shield not deformed in the slightest.

"You're hired," said Paige from her crouching position by the edge of the podium and waved for him to stop in a way that looked like she was surrendering. As she and the rest of the sisters, the audience, and everyone else who'd only happened to be in the vicinity, picked themselves back up, groaning and stumbling and muttering invectives, she fetched the enrollment parchment that had been sent flying. "What shall we call you?" -- "Bars. Iron Bars," he replied. "Who you?"

As Paige jotted down his name on the parchment, Art walked up to Liene. When she saw him approaching she went "Ahem… You again," she said with a look of displeasure. "I thought after what you've been through, you wouldn't dare show your face around the sisterhood again if you could avoid it. So cut to the chase: why are you here?"

"Huh," Art said, peering at the parchment, which had only two lines on it, "Sign up" and "Iron Bars" and no other names. "The six of you have been at this all morning and you've only recruited one sellsword? I've already killed five times as many redskins in half the time." He smirked at Liene, who shot him a hateful look. "Then again, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, what with your attitude toward potential recruits I'm surprised you managed to recruit anyone at all."

Ah crap, he thought. He shouldn't have let his mouth run wild like that, no matter how much he despised her. He wanted back into Thistledown, and for that he had to gain her and Kashya's acceptance… or did he? He looked at the recruitment sheet. If he returned to Thistledown a recruit, they'd have to let him in, no?

"What, you're looking to get recruited? You can get out of here, we don't want you." -- "What? If you're going to kick me out you have to at least give me a good reason." -- "You want a good reason? Look at your hand." -- "What about my hand?" -- "Your other hand." -- "Well that's just low," Art said, sounding hurt. -- "Well? How the hell are you going to fight without it?" -- "Wouldn't you like to know?" Then he smiled. "Want me to show you?"

"Lady," said Iron Bars. "I'm hired, right? Want me to dispatch this chump for you?"

Art mused to himself, a proper fight between adepts would make for some nice publicity, and get the attention of any other adepts in the city. To take on the beast, that's what they needed, the likes of Iron Bars and his way of the hammer's fall. But he doubted he could take the man on himself. The midgets and the shaman he could take on, but only barely, and only with a sword or one of those torch-and-bone staves. He'd arrived empty-handed and helmetless. And against an adept as well built as this man, who had both arms? That would have been a challenge even before he lost his other hand.

He put up his arms in surrender. "I yield," he said. "I can't fight someone as strong as him. I mean, look, I'm a cripple for heaven's sake! And no one here's possibly as good as you are." That had been intentional. He looked around at the rest of the audience, wondering if anyone would take the bait. The heavy set man just stood there basking in Art's praise as he heaped it on. "What strength! What toughness! What skill with the martial ways! Why, how could anyone even conceive of challenging such manly power! Surely there are none here who can hope to stand before you!"

"Humph. You got that right," Iron Bars replied gruffly.

"You look very pleased with yourself," said a young woman somewhere in the crowd, before she leapt onto the platform. She worea long, flowing, expensive-looking royal-blue robe graced with silver embroidery. She undid her ponytail, allowing her long black hair to flow past her shoulders, then unsheathed her arming sword.

Iron Bars pointed at her, or thought Art, perhaps her attire, none of which seemed suited to a close fight. Seriously? Thought Art. How was she going to fight someone like him, without even wearing a gambeson at the very least? The robes, which he knew identified her as an adept of the Stormy Skies School, looked far too refined, not the kind that would provide any protection, and she didn't even have a shield with her. How could she possibly stand against him? He gave her a second or two before she'd be knocked off the platform.

"Is this a joke?" asked Iron Bars. -- "No. You just offended me." -- "Leave, girl. I'll not fight you." -- "Now that's offensive." -- "Leave, girl, before you get hurt," he said, twirling the axe in his hand. "Because if my axe takes a bite outta ya--" -- "Seems you and your axe have a lot in common, you both have big mouths." -- "Alright, is it a fight you want? Because it's a fight you'll get," he said before running right at her, axe and shield in hand.

She leapt off the platform and wove in between the crowd. Iron Bars stopped at the edge of the platform, at a loss for what to do. Nice move, thought Art. The man could hardly blast or slaughter his way into the crowd, not without injuring innocent bystanders. "So much for that," said Iron Bars, turning away. "Pathetic little girl gave up already."

He was rewarded with a flash of brilliant white lightning that shot from where the young lady hid amidst the suddenly agitated crowd, into the back of his head. Tendrils of lightning spread instantly across his helmet, down the mail that covered his body, causing him to shake violently. "Gah!" he could barely make out. "Woman, you forfeited the moment you stepped off the platform!"

"Hah! Didn't see that coming, did you? With your head in that box of yours, did you forget to think outside the box? No one said anything about the rules." -- "It's common courtesy!" -- "Funny, that. What is it they say about love and war? All's fair? Clearly if you'd failed to see that, this fight isn't for you. Leave, boy, before you get hurt. From this!" She thrust her left palm out at him, sending a gout of water materializing out of nowhere to splash against his armor, drenching him as well as causing water to pool all over the wooden platform, some of it running off.

He'd instinctively blocked with his hand and looked away, but then turned back to face her, his pitch low. "Hurt? That? I barely felt a thing." -- "It's water, it's not supposed to hurt, that was the point… Oh you don't get what point I'm trying to make, do you? Well then you just stand right there while I do this!" And another bolt of lightning shot at him, too fast for him to dodge, and he screamed as his muscles spasmed and the lightning weaved up and down his armor, shocking him.

With a roar of fury he jumped down to the dirt of the plaza. "Why you little--" He approached his opponent as the rest of the crowd around her backed away.

"Oops, looks like I'm exposed," she mused out loud. "To see me like this… shocking, isn't it?" Then with a finger pointed at him she sent another bolt of lightning at Iron Bars, again too fast for him to dodge, for the lightning struck instantly. This time the electricity channeled right down where it had struck his chest, into the ground by his feet, with seemingly no effect on him.

He looked down for a moment, then chuckled. "Tickles. Like I said, barely felt a thing." Then he advanced toward her. The young lady took a step back, then channeled a continuous stream of lightning from her fingertips. It arced against his mail but all of it ran right down into the ground, and he kept advancing despite the scintillating, spasming streak of discharged lightning streaming against him, all of it running into the ground. He continued to approach.

She grasped and thrust out a nearby teenaged boy in front of her, him staring at the approaching bulk of a man with eyes wide with terror. The hapless boy tried to break from her grasp, but gasped as a prick of electricity shot down the hand she placed on his shoulder, and he stayed put, looking trapped and ready to scream, even as the rest of the crowd backed away from her. She said, "Here, look! It's an innocent boy! You wouldn't hurt him, now would you? I mean, look how cute he is!" When Iron Bars tried to edge around her human shield, she guided the teen to remain between them.

"That won't work here, GIRL," he boomed, that last word coming out like a clap of thunder, and everyone fell to their knees or collapsed. For a moment, Art could hardly hear a thing but the ringing in his ears. The boy went crawling away in the chaos, leaving no one between Iron Bars and his challenger. He advanced, and Art could see terror in his target's eyes as she scrambled away from him, knocking into those beside her as she went. She found her footing again and leapt onto the wooden platform. "I am called Jezebel, not 'girl'. You would do well to remember it. Oh, and I recall something about forfeiting when you step off the platform. Well, looks like you've stepped off the platform now," she said with an amused look.

"You got off the platform first!" -- "So what, you have a problem with that? That all muscle in your head too, box-head? Or have you never heard the phrase 'ladies first'?"

Why all the name calling? She's goading him, Art realized as he saw her flooding the platform with more water. Her lightning attack had hurt him while he stood on the wooden platform, as it had been insulated from the ground, allowing the electricity to arc over his body, though with his gambeson on he'd been insulated from most of it. When he'd gotten onto the ground, where such energy was wont to go, her attack hadn't worked at all; the man's mail had conducted it into the ground. She wanted him back on the platform. Hence, her taunts.

"BITCH!" Another boom knocked down those who had stood up just a moment earlier. He charged at her even as she, having fallen on her arse from the pressure of his booming voice, scrambled back to the far side of the platform. The moment he'd stepped onto the platform with both feet, Jezebel channeled more lightning at him, a continuous stream of it this time, and the man's limbs spasmed and flailed. He collapsed face-first, splashing against the water on the platform and involuntarily swallowing water. He could hardly make out a scream as she kept it up for a good dozen seconds, only jolt and shake violently.

Only then did she let up, a hauty look on her face as she leaned down at him, her arms propped against her waist. "Now, would you kindly take back what was it you said about me." -- "Bitch." -- "Yes, that. Take it back." -- He answered by spewing the water that had flowed into his mouth right at her face, catching her off guard. She backed off, squinting, as Iron Bars picked himself up and prepared to launch at her. Jezebel instead leapt into the air, her arm pointed down at the platform. Iron Bars instead leaped backward and off the platform, just as lightning zapped across the wet surface of the platform; if he'd charged he'd have been electrocuted again.

Jezebel landed upon the platform, face to face with Iron Bars who stood on the dirt right beside it. For several seconds the two stared at each other, with the man unable to get at her without making himself vulnerable to her lightning and Jezebel unable to affect him so long as he remained off the platform.

"Okay, stop this madness, Jezebel, you're hired," said Paige. -- "We're not done yet," said both combatants in unison, not looking away. -- "You're not done yet?" Jezebel asked Iron Bars. "You can't even reach me. You can't even get on this platform. Admit it, you've lost."

"Iron Bars never lose," he said, then leapt high up into the air -- way of the kingfisher, Art recognized, he would turn it into way of the hammer's fall next -- and the next moment Jezebel had stretched a hand out at him and a bolt of lightning lanced out from her fingertips, to wash over his armor. The man screamed in agony and plummetted, the evocation in his mind apparently disrupted, to to fall toward the platform, even as he continued to spasm. He managed to throw his axe toward her, his aim thrown off by the electricity coursing through him, but with the axe now between her fingertips and her target, the streak of lightning redirected itself to the falling axe instead. She had a moment to step aside to get another shot at him, and then he landed, shield first, upon the platform, and with the way of the hammer's fall -- the momentary reprieve all he needed to re-enter the way -- and his landing shattered the wooden platform at its center in a thunderous boom that rocked Jezebel the nearest spectators off their feet.

Wooden shrapnels splayed out in all directions. The platform split down half its length, between the crack he'd just made and the one he made along one edge at his earlier demonstration. Art's eyes fell on the other side of the platform, which remained intact. If that one went down, the platform would split in two, and then Iron Bars could easily push or kick one away from the other and then the two halves, neither of them supported along their cracked side, would collapse and then Jezebel would be forced off the platform, what with it being so slippery from all the water on it, or at least it would render her more vulnerable to attack.

Iron Bars snatched up his axe and leapt high up into the air, his jump aimed to land him on the other edge of the platform. Jezebel leapt off the platform, past the same edge and a good way beyond, then as Iron Bars came back down, she launched a torrent of water at him, pushing him out away from his intended landing, and he handed shield-first at the far side of the platform. He managed to roll off the platform just as another jolt of lightning struck at him, to flop into the dirt right beside it with a groan.

"Want to give up now? I can keep this up all day, you know," said Jezebel, taunting, as she stepped back onto the platform. She continued to look at him as he rounded about the platform to the edge he needed to destroy, even as she backed to the other side so he couldn't attack her outright. -- "Well that's good, because I have all the time in the world." He swung his axe at the platform edge, its bit biting into the wood. He looked up at her. "I wonder what's going to happen to this platform once I'm done hacking through this support?" -- "I wonder what's going to happen to your axe when it becomes dulled from hacking at the wood." -- "Nothing, same as my shield," he said, lifting it up for emphasis. The metal shield had remained in perfect condition after two hits with the hammer's fall.

Iron Bars hacked at the platform support again, then again, before Jezebel struck out with her lightning, a continuous stream of it aimed at the axe head. The lightning arced through the metal axe head, without going down the wooden shaft. "Doesn't even tickle," Iron Bars said as he continued hacking away, a dozen, two dozen blows as the lightning continued to channel.

This is crazy, thought Art. If the two kept at it, soon there might be nothing left of the platform but a cratered wreck. Or sooner or later one of the two would accidentally kill the other. Last thing the sisterhood needed was to have a death caused by their mercenary recruitment drive to give a reason for Count Traben to have cause for withholding support, not to mention the sisterhood needed every able fighter it could get and having someone die in a fight would put a damper on their recruitment. Yet despite the apparent stalemate, neither of them seemed willing to back off, not if they stood to lose so much face, with all these spectators. He looked about, saw that several other guardsmen had arrived, no doubt drawn by the peals of thunder the man had made, yet they merely kept to the sides of the square, without making a move to interfere.

Then Iron Bars stopped and stared at his axe, which had gotten red hot from all the lightning channeled into it. The blade's edge had completely dulled out, the axehead turned so pliable from the heat that not even his way of the hammer's fall could protect it, and his last hack hadn't done much to cut through the rest of the wooden support.

He leaped at her, throwing out the axe toward her even as she opened up with lightning from her fingertips. The lightning connected with the axe and merely heated it up a bit more, instead of striking at him, and then he had closed in on her and she had leapt back and off the platform, and he followed off the platform not a second later. Jezebel tried to get around him to get back on the platform, but Iron Bars kept himself between her and the platform. She went toward the axe instead, which had landed about two dozen feet away from the platform, and kicked it further away from the platform so he'd have to spend some time to get it. The axe spun to a stop against Art's boots; he picked it up, amused.

Jezebel grinned. "Looks like you won't be having your axe back if you keep trying to block my way," she said. -- Iron Bars grinned. "You forget, I still have my shield, and you can't hurt me on bare ground," he retorted, and charged at her as if to bash her with the shield.

She held her position as she watched him approach, then swerved out of the way at the last moment, and then she was racing back for the safety of the platform, with him chasing right after her, but failing to get to her before she reached the middle of the platform and, jumping, electrocuted the platform. "Aww, I thought you surely would have fallen for that," she said as she turned around to see that he'd kept off the platform. "I guess I must not have insulted you enough. Hmm, what kind of names can I call you? Addlebrain? Airhead? Arse? Asinine? Ass? Asshole?" -- No response from Iron Bars, who just stared at her. -- "I can keep going all day, you know. I'm still in the A's."

"Shut, UP!" Iron Bars roared, the shock of it silencing her and everything and everyone else in the square. He then strode over to the sisters' recruiting stall and took the parchment with his name on it, even as the sisters who'd gathered there, many of them still knocked off their feet, could only watch him take what he wanted in without rising to obstruct him. "Hey… What are you--" began Paige, mouth quivering. -- "What? It's mine, isn't it?" -- "W…what? What gave you that idea?" -- "Um, it has my name on it," he said like it was the most obvious thing in the world, leaving Paige speechless. He took it and folded it twice so that it was no more than a hand wide, then rolled it round and around the handle of his shield.

Then he leapt onto the platform with shield held out and his head ducked behind it, gripping it via the parchment wrapped around the handle. Jezebel channeled her lightning at it again, except this time it just went over and under his shield, without going down the length of his arm. He pressed forward, denying her attempt to maneuver, and forcing her off the platform. He chased right after her, forcing her to dodge and dart around the crowd even as they shouted in surprise and attempted to scatter again.

Iron Bars came to a halt and turned to one of the guards. "You can't be okay with this, can you?" -- "What do you want?" -- "Arrest her!" -- "What, for endangering people and making a mess out of the platform?" -- "Yes!" -- "Sir, are you sure you want me to arrest you?" -- "What? Not me, why would you think I wanted you to arrest me?" -- "Something about someone endangering people and making a mess out of the platform?" -- "… You know what, forget I asked."

Art had been holding out a hope that when others started shouting for them to take action, the guards would intervene, but now? He looked around, and saw the crowd looking cowed by all the thunder and lightning and the few appeals for them to stop, like Paige's, had fallen on deaf ears. Would he have to take action? But he couldn't… He only had on a gambeson, which while it offered insulation, was nowhere near as effective as the conductivity of mail worn over it, and he hadn't been wearing a helmet either. If he tried anything, he'd get shocked by a bolt of lightning to the face and then he'd be down for the count. He stared down at the axe. Not a weapon he'd really learned to use. No sword, no shield…

Iron Bars then turned to the crowd and shouted. "What about you, are you okay with this? Letting her put you at risk like you're cattle destined for the butcher?" He pointed at her with a hand wide open. "Look at her. What a beautiful robe she wears! Must be worth a small fortune, that, and completely useless in a fight. Why, she's got no armor at all. What a frail young lady. I bet a good thump would knock her out." -- "What, are you trying to get other people to gang up on me? Thought you could handle me by yourself, but apparently that's not the case. Besides, that's hardly fair, that's completely outside the rules!" Jezebel called out in protest. -- "Well why are you accusing me? You know me; I'm Sir Boxhead. I don't ever come up with any out of the box ideas."

Chuckling, Iron Bars announced to the audience, "First person to knock her out gets to keep her robe." -- "Sure, and you can keep it, if you can take it from me," she said, holding out her hand. Lightning sparked out from her fingertips, humming and crackling. The crowd around her hurried to get away. -- "Behind you," Iron Bars said, and Jezebel whirled out of the way of an imagined threat, a burst of lightning striking the empty ground that had been right behind her, before turning to glower at the man, who had started chuckling. "A hundred to one. I like those odds. You can't keep on guard forever, girl."

"Then let's finish this," she said, leaping back onto the platform. This time Iron Bars joined her there, his shield out before him, and rushed at her. She swiped with her sword, pushing it slightly to her right, and let loose another blast of electricity from her left. The man staggered and shook in pain for a moment before he managed to get his shield between them again.

Sword and shield clashed yet again, but this time Iron Bars shouted, "BOO!", unleashing the deafening roar right in front of her, right as he swiped his shield against her sword. She flinched and fell back, and with her hold on her sword weakened, the shield slamming into it sent the sword flying out of the platform.

As he rounded on her again, she let loose a torrent of water below where he stepped, and before the water flowed off the platform, she leapt up and electrocuted the water. Sparking tendrils of lightning streaked over to his boots and arced up his mail, bypassing his shield altogether. He flopped down, barely making out a groan as his muscles spasmed, leaving him completely drenched. The water having already spilled off the platform, Jezebel unleashed another torrent of it and followed up with another wave of lightning. A gurgling and gasping Iron Bars, caught by it as he attempted to stand up, crumpled again with a strangled cry, his shield falling from his grasp to splash into the water. "Stop! I yi-- I yi--!" he choked out, his words getting interrupted as more lightning channeled over his armor.

"Are you quite finished?" screamed Jezebel as he failed to get up again. The man continued to sputter, barely managing any words out, and Jezebel continued to channel, shouting, "Are you finished? Hah?"

Oh, this can't be good, Art thought to himself as he raced around the platform to where he'd seen the woman's sword go flying. The man's completely soaked now, and that gambeson he's wearing won't be nearly as good an insulator now as it was before. If she kept channeling like this the man would very well die, and from her shouting and her not noticing the man's pleas, he figured she'd gone temporarily deaf from receiving a thunderous shout right in the face, so she wouldn't notice even if the man managed to say he'd yielded, if the man could even get those words out to begin with. He had to get her attention, get her to stop electrocuting him.

Sword in hand, he leapt up to the platform, waving at her with his right arm. "Stop! Stop! Can't you see he's down? He's yielded!" he shouted as loud as he could. The woman didn't seem to hear a word he said, nor of the shouts of protest from the people in the crowd, some of whom voiced their frustration that Art had joined in on what was supposed to be a one on one match and others pleading for anyone to put a stop to the fighting. If only he'd learned the way of the thundering voice like Iron Bars had, he'd be able to get through to her.

He realized he had no choice, then, but to distract her with a threat. He lunged right at her, sword pointed out. She turned to him with startled eyes. He'd managed to close in too close for comfort, and she with her left palm facing him, let loose a torrent of water that knocked him backward and off the platform, even as she leapt back and off the platform as well.

His heart pounding, Art raced around the platform, deciding it too risky to step on it as it'd make it easier for him to get electrocuted. He'd figured how to deal with the lightning while standing on the dirt, at least. The moment he saw Jezebel point an index finger at him, he raised his sword pommel-up and out before him, its tip grazing the dirt as he ran at her. The lightning struck toward him, brilliant and dazzling, before redirecting into the pommel of the sword and traversing its length into the ground, white streaks of lighting flowing and zig-zagging down the blade, leaving him completely unhurt.

Jezebel turned and made back toward the safety of the wooden platform. The moment she arrived, however, Iron Bars, now having picked himself up and looking very much still in pain, charged at her with shield upraised. Caught between the two of them, she dodged to the side and backed away from them, to stand on the other side of the platform, before channeling more lightning at Iron Bars, forcing him to back off the platform.

Art and Iron Bars looked at each other, and he pointed his sword at the remaining side of the wooden platform that they'd needed to sever, then twirled the sword around to hold it by the blade. Iron Bars seemed to get the message, and held out the shield to cover for Art as he approached the platform's side. Jezebel sent another torrent of lightning at them, but it arced harmlessly across the shield, and when that failed, a torrent of water to try to push them away, but Iron Bars held fast.

Art raised his sword, ready to strike at the wood. He only had a single arm to exert force with, and he doubted he'd be able to break iron like he'd done for Selena, but against wood, he thought, he should still be able to do that much, especially since Iron Bars had already done half the work.

Crashing down with ten tons of solid stone, I crush all beneath me. More mighty than any giant, all shall break beneath my strike.

He brought the hilt of the sword crashing down on the wooden platform edge. The hilt went all the way through it as wooden chips flew out and cracks went up the center of the platform to join with the crater in the middle, and then with a crash the two halves tilted inward. Together they kicked at one of the two halves of the platform, knocking it away from the other, then Art advanced on Jezebel, redirecting her lightning with the sword till he stood at one side of the center of the half-platform he stood on, while Iron Bars went to the other side, forcing Jezebel to stand in the middle, a mere six feet from the both of them, and almost within striking range. She kept darting her eyes from one to the other, looking alarmed.

"Jezebel, that's enough!" Art shouted at her. -- "I can't hear you," she shouted back, shaking her head. -- "I said stop this now!" -- "What?" -- "He said STOP!" boomed Iron Bars, causing both Jezebel and Art to stagger from the shockwave, and causing Art to drop his sword, flinching.

Jezebel saw him drop the sword and turned on him and pointed a finger right at him, even as she leapt toward him to avoid a horizontal swing from Iron Bars's shield. Art ducked and instinctively put his right arm up over his head, trying to cover his head from the attack he knew was coming, while reaching down to grasp the sword with his hand.

He staggered as the lightning streamed into his upraised left arm via the wrist, coursed down his arm and across his chest and his heart, down his right arm, through the sword and into the ground. He shook violently, hardly managing a scream, before collapsing into the ground. His body wracked with pain, his heart thumped once to bursting, and then he realized he couldn't feel his heart beating.

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