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Chapter 20 - Binding of the Storm

The lightning! He realized with horror. It had stopped his heart. Was this how he was going to die, getting himself involved in a senseless fight that had nothing to do with him?

He stopped that line of thinking, dismissing it as useless, and went through the ways he knew. Albatross, monolith, whirlwind, crashing boulder, dancing leaf, inner peace, deathly living, none of those would help. No, wait, that last one would. He'd used it to restart his pulse after entering an induced deathly state, after all.

My arms, resting before me, stay in place.

"Ah crap," said Iron Bars pursued Jezebel as she hopped onto the other half-platform, blasting a torrent of water at him to slow him down before attempting to catch him on it with another blast of lightning. He however darted around to the side of the half-platform and then lunged. Jezebel leapt out of the way, back onto the dirt of the plaza.

My body, balanced in place, lies at rest.

"ENOUGH!" Iron Bars boomed, knocking Jezebel and those behind her down on their butts, before lunging right at her. She rolled out of the way just in time, the rim of the man's shield slamming down on the dirt where she stood but a minute earlier. She fired another torrent of lightning, hitting him on the helm but channeling harmlessly into the ground.

My lungs, now at peace, hold still, unmoving.

"You can't win now," Iron Bars shouted at her as she kept retreating and blasting at him with water to try to push him back. He still advanced. "We've destroyed your platform and there is nowhere in this square where your puny lightning can hurt me." -- "Famous last words?" -- "Why you little--" He lunged after her.

My eyes, closed and shut, see only darkness.

Jezebel darted behind the sisters' recruiting stand, keeping it between Iron Bars and herself, lunging to and fro as Iron Bars tried to get around it. After a few seconds he grew outraged and kicked the whole stand down. Jezebel picked up an inkwell from the stand and spun out of the way, and Paige, Liene, and the other sisters fled out of the way in surprise.

My ears, deafened by sound, hear mere silence.

Removing the top, Jezebel dumped the inkwell's contents right into another stream of water she sent right at Iron Bars, so that the black ink struck him. Perhaps he'd been too confident in the protection his armor gave him, for he hadn't been blocking with his shield and had instead been trying to swipe at her with it, and some of that ink got into his eyes.

"Uh, guys," a boy in the crowd said, pointing at Art, who still hadn't gotten back up. "Where'd the other guy go?"

My skin, numb and cold, lose all feeling.

"Gah! My eyes!" Iron Bars shouted, dropping his shield and blinking. He clawed at his helmet, trying to wipe the ink out of his eyes, but the helmet got in the way and he couldn't reach it. He stepped back from Jezebel, stumbling. "You BITCH!" Jezebel, who'd started approaching him, backed away in terror as the shockwave washed over her.

"Um, not quite sure, doesn't look like he got back up." -- "Wait, is Art okay?" asked Paige, having overheard their conversation and also looking at where he'd fallen, seeing him on the ground. -- "What's going on?" asked Liene. -- "It looks like…" Then her words were drowned out from Iron Bar's thunderous roar.

My heart, clutched in ice, beats no more.

Iron Bars removed his helmet and, blinking and squinting, tried to squeeze the ink out of his eyes. Jezebel recovered and, with a smirk on her face, advanced to pick up Iron Bars's dropped shield.

"I said, Art's down." -- "Well good riddance." -- "Sister Liene, how could you say such a thing?" Paige retorted, looking scandalized. -- "Oh," said Sasha, looking somewhat concerned. "That's lightning that he got hit with. What if he--" -- Paige looked at her in alarm, and took off racing toward Art.

My blood, stilled in my veins, courses not.

Iron Bars was still backpedaling and trying to get the ink out of his eyes when Jezebel smacked his now unprotected head in the side with the shield. He collapsed silent upon the muddy dirt. "Are you quite finished?" she asked, and gave him a good kick in the side. After a few moments of no response from the man, she mused, "Yep, we're done. Huh, for so much sound and fury, the ending wasn't as climactic as I was expecting. What was it they say? The harder they fall?"

Paige knelt by Art's side and put a finger to his carotid, feeling for a pulse, shifting her fingers about his neck as she failed to find any. "No, no, oh no," she said, worried. Several others in the crowd, noticing she had rushed out, rushed over to him as well.

My mind, once racing, watches over my deathly sleep.

Though Art's body ceased to give any indication of being alive, he remained conscious, the way of deathly living keeping his mind awake despite no blood flowing through his veins. He saw nothing, heard nothing, felt nothing, noticed nothing except the passing of time and the relief of having managed to finish entering the way of deathly living before he lost consciousness, and minded his meditations.

Paige rushed up to a Jezebel who looked flushed with victory. "Jezebel, please help! Art here was knocked out by your lightning, and I can't feel his pulse, at this rate he's going to die. Since you can channel the lightning, you can start up his heart, right? Can't you?" she pleaded. -- Jezebel stared at her, looking confused. "He attacked me! Tried to hew me down with my own sword! Why should I do anything to help him?" -- "Please, Jezebel. I saw it all happen, I can swear he wasn't trying to actually hurt you, just trying to stop the fight. You two were getting so out of hand with the fight, and I had asked for the both of you to stop, and you'd both ignored me, so…" She renewed her pleas. "Art's going to die!"

"She's right, you know," said Sasha. "I would be the first to say good riddance -- the second, actually, since Liene already said that -- but considering everyone here saw you strike him with your lightning, if he dies his death will be on your hands. Understand, I only care insofar as that means we wouldn't be able to take you to battle with us, seeing as how you'll be strung up to be hanged." -- "And when did I even say I would be joining your little expedition? Wait, hanged?" Her eyes went wide with fear, then turned to see the crowd gathered where Art had fallen. "Oh hell," she muttered, then rushed over.

"Out of the way, move," Jezebel shouted, and conjured a spark of electricity on her fingertips that buzzed and hummed with energy, causing the crowd to back off and give her some space. She reached down and tapped Art on the neck, feeling for his pulse but failing to find any. "You there," she shot a look at the person in the surrounding crowd on the side of Art opposite hers. "Help me get him out of his clothes." The man looked startled but nodded and went to work, and moments later they had extricated Art out of his gambeson and tunic, leaving him bare chested.

She put an index finger over his heart, and released a small burst of electricity into him, causing his whole body to spasm, then again, then again, then checked for a pulse. Then she repeated the process, shocking him and then checking, shocking and checking, her face looking more and more worried each time. "Don't die! You can't die, not like this! I just wanted to… just wanted to…"

Art, still unable to move and with senses cut off from the rest of the world, felt the lightning course through him. If he could, he would have gritted his teeth. Instead, he could only suffer in silent agony. Someone was shocking him repeatedly -- most likely Jezebel, he thought. He had to get out of his way, but he couldn't, not while he was being shocked, or he'd come out of it only to lose consciousness right away, and if that happened, he could likely die before he re-entered the way. He had to wait until she stopped.

"Now look what you did. He's dead, isn't he?" someone said. -- "Damn it Jezebel, I'd told you to stop," said Paige beside her, looking furious. "Why didn't you listen?" -- Jezebel paused a moment and someone else went to feel for Art's pulse, but he shook his head at her a moment later. -- "Guard? Guard!" -- "We have a murder over here!" -- Jezebel redoubled her efforts, a pained look on her face. -- "I hereby place you under arrest." -- "No, no," said Jezebel, tears flowing from her eyes. Her lips quivered and she shook her head. "Oh, why did I get involved in this mess? This can't be happening. Can't be happening…"

Several of the guards had come up behind her. They seized her by her wrists, hauled her back up to her feet. -- "You're coming with me." -- "No! I'm not done yet! Back off," she said, screaming at them in desperation. -- The guards held her firmly in place as she struggled.

She's stopped, Art thought. Time to wake up, then. He stopped meditating his mantras.

"Don't you see, I have to save him! Let me do this, or else he'll really die!" -- "I think you've done quite enough," retorted the guard. -- "Please, give me another chance! Just one more chance!" she begged of him, wailing. -- "I don't think so."

A pulse began to beat through Art as his organs began to awaken.

A middle aged woman in the crowd pointed at her, looking furious. "You did this. You killed him! And for what? He was only trying to break up your fight! I'll have you know, they'll string you up by your neck and leave you to hang, and I'll think they'd left you off too easy!" -- "That's right!" -- Said another, "How many times did we shout for you to stop? And did you listen? No!" -- "Right, right!"

A tingling sensation swept through him, pins pricking into him from a thousand places at once. His lungs started to function, but his breath was shallow, and in all the commotion about him, went completely unnoticed.

Jezebel looked back and forth between all those before her, and burst out sobbing. "Please, I didn't mean to. I swear I didn't! It was only supposed to be--" -- "Oh really?" retorted one of them. "And I suppose those hundred bolts of lightning you shot were all just an accidental discharge?" -- "Murderer!" -- "No! Oh gods…"

As the tingling subsided, numbness faded into an aching, sore body. He could start to move his fingertips and his toes. He felt like he'd been beaten into a pulp, and it pained too much to try to move if he didn't have to. He still couldn't see or hear yet. What was going on? At least, with the way of the dancing leaf, he could get a sense of his surroundings, even without his normal senses.

A leaf, a petal, a feather, I drift in the open sky…

"To hell with you!" -- "Guards, don't just stand there, take her away!" -- "When'll the trial be? I'd like to watch that one." -- "She doesn't deserve a god damn trial! You saw what happened with your own eyes! We all did!" -- "I say we string up her up nice and tight right now!" -- "Please, no, you have to understand!"

Paige shouted over the other speakers, causing them to fall into silence. "At least let's give her another chance to resuscitate him! What good does apprehending her right now do for him, wouldn't that just guarantee his death? What if Jezebel could have awakened him, and he dies because you didn't let her do her work? You'll spend the rest of your life feeling guilty, that maybe, just maybe, your demands had sealed the death of an innocent! Can you abide by that? For I cannot." She turned to the guards, and gestured for them to let go of Jezebel.

Jezebel promptly took Paige's hands in hers. "Oh thank you, thank you!" she said, breaking down before her. -- Paige thrust her hands aside. "Don't thank me. It's all up to you, and God, now. If you fail to get his heart beating again, you're still destined for the hangman's block."

Art sensed her approach as Jezebel collapsed and crawled over to Art's side with a look of grim determination. Oh crap, he thought, realizing that she was about to shock him again, when he didn't need her help. He could just shout for her to stop, or even just move… then reconsidered. He still held the sword by the pommel. He tensed, as Jezebel laid a fingertip over his heart.

The moment she channeled, he pulled on the sword, bringing its pommel to separate her fingertip from his chest, and the flat of the blade against her shoulder. The lightning surged down from her fingertip, into the pommel, through the hilt and up the blade into her shoulder, down across her body and into the ground. Without any insulation to protect her, the electricity wracked her body. She quivered and shook, barely able to make out a scream as the lighting coursed through her, and she fell headfirst over his chest to lay inert.

The onlookers stared in disbelief as he set her down on the mud beside him and sat up. He looked over them all, a smug look on his face. That worked, he thought, amused, then turned to the unconscious Jezebel and began to disrobe her. The crowd looked on, even more stunned, before finally Paige pointed at him and protested, "What… just what do you think you're doing?" -- "Why, exactly what she did to me. I thought the redirected lightning, and me with my bare chest, made that obvious." -- "That was so she could jolt your heart awake! Why are you doing that to her?"

He stared back at her, even as he continued on his efforts, which went slow with him only having one hand. Fortunately her robes being loose fitting, and her not struggling against him, made it much easier. "Well I'm just taking what's mine." -- "What do you mean--" -- "Heavens, Sasha, I mean the robe. What did you think I meant? I distinctly remember -- what was it Iron Bars said? And I quote, 'First person to knock her out gets to keep her robe.'" -- "That's just what Iron Bars said! She wouldn't agree to that!" -- "And I quote, 'Sure, and you can keep it, if you can take it from me'." -- "But that was only for the fight!" -- "I fought, didn't I? I distinctly remember having fought, unless her lightning somehow jumbled up my memory, in which case I must ask you for forgiveness… Oh what am I saying, if I got hit by the lightning then of course I was in the fight." He shot her a look like she was the one who had lost it.

Sasha turned to the others with an exasperated look on her face. "Really? You're all okay with this?" -- "Well, he did risk his life for it. He almost died, if you hadn't noticed," one of them replied. -- "Really now?" Sasha could only repeat in disbelief. -- "And she did agree to the challenge and its terms." -- "Really?" -- "Besides," said Art, "I don't think she'll mind all too much, when she wakes up. In fact, I bet she'll feel mighty relieved. Why, just a moment ago she was facing the specter of certain death. Losing a robe in exchange for keeping her life would be the best trade she's never made. Besides, I really, really want the robe. For… reasons." Everyone remained too stunned to stop him, and he finished removing her robes and wrapped it over is right arm, leaving her in her shifts.

From her resting position Jezebel stirred, and Paige rushed by her side. "Jezebel. How are you feeling?" -- "Ugh, I feel like I'd just been manhandled." She opened her eyes and stared up at Paige, looking frantic. "Art," she said with urgency, "Oh, no, he's dead, isn't he?" She scrunched up her eyes, covered them with her hands. "No, no. This is the end of the line, my life is over. Oh, you idiot, Jezebel, why did you have to get caught up in a fight?", she said, then burst out wailing.

"Hush, he's not dead yet," said Sasha, putting a hand on her shoulder. "Look." -- Jezebel parted her hands turned her head to the side and saw Art, looking utterly relieved. "Oh, Art! You're alive! But… that can't be! I felt your pulse, I saw you dying before me… How is it you live and breathe?"

Art grinned. "Well, it's actually quite the fantastic story. After you killed me with your lightning, the burning hells claimed my soul, clearly I deserved it. The next thing I knew, I was barely conscious, and bound by thick iron chains to a post alongside three other fallen souls, all of them struggling against their bindings and screaming. My skin was torn asunder, blackened with ash and bleeding from a hundred wounds. Balrogs -- giant demons with claw-tipped wings and dark red, leathery skin, easily as wide as a man was tall and twice as tall -- marched about the sea of bound souls, torturing everyone they came across with flaming red-hot pokers. One came over and stabbed me in the eyes, the burning hurt like hell! Though of course since I was in hell that wasn't the least bit surprising.

"Then I told the demon that I knew of a way to bring seventy two virgins to hell with him for its delight, and he asked, 'how?' And I said, 'If I told you then you would leave me here, but you can trust me because if I double crossed you or if it turns out I lied to you, well, I would have an eternity of torture at your hands, and I wasn't that much of an idiot.' He agreed, and broke me out of my chains.

"I then went down from the ashen steppes full of tormented souls into an overflowing caldera, where flames arched overhead only to come crashing down on the skeletons of the damned, which bobbed up and down upon the lava. I passed them by and found a blackened causeway paved with good intentions, and trampled over peoples' hopes and dreams until I arrived at the sanctuary of chaos, a blackened, dilapidated building as grand as the cathedral of Tristram, where I sought an audience with Diablo. The lord of terror refused to meet with me -- that is, until I slew five of his lieutenants by tricking them into falling into the lava.

"And I told the prime evil what I told the first demon, saying that if he set my soul free and returned me to the world of the living, that I would damn seventy two virgins to hell for him to play with. And when he asked me how I would go about accomplishing this, I told him he'd never believed it would work unless I pulled off the feat first. And he in his greed agreed, and showed me the portal that leads the soul back to the world of the living.

"So here I am, having been the only one who had died, went to hell, and returned, the only one who knows the secret portal out from hell. And if I can find some people willing to follow me into hell, I can show you where the portal lies hidden, that you may return back to this world should you ever die. Anyone want to join me?" He said, raising up his hand and looking about himself with a smile.

He was met with a stunned, disbelieving silence. "…Let me guess," said Jezebel, "you're only interested in taking virgins with you, and only seventy two at a time." -- "You wound me, Jezebel, though not like you haven't already. I have only the purest of intentions at heart… Though like I said, the road to hell is paved with good intentions."

"Well… Thank goodness you're okay," Jezebel said. -- "Never mind him, you should be a bit more worried about yourself." -- "Ugh. One moment I was trying to save him, and the next moment… What happened?" -- "Like you said. You were manhandled," replied Paige, shooting Art a dirty look. -- "By him. Art. Like I said, never mind him, he doesn't deserve your sympathy."

That seemed to shake Jezebel out of her stupor. She fixated her eyes back on Art, surprise written on her face. "That's… that's my robes!" She looked down her own body and with a yelp, bolted right up and made to snatch at her robes, which Art swung out of her reach. "Give that back! How did you… did you really just…" -- "Na ah ah," said Art. "Not your robes anymore. Remember? You forfeited them when I knocked you out." -- "Since when?" -- Art turned to the onlookers, several of whom nodded in response. -- "Sorry lady," said one, "You did agree to the terms." -- Jezebel rounded on him. "You rascal!" she shouted, then whipped back at Art. Lightning sparked at her fingertip as she pointed an index finger at him. "And you! Give that back or I'll--" -- Art snatched her finger in his hand. She couldn't shock him like that, or she'd shock herself again. "Or you'll what? I don't think the guards will show you any lenience if kill me again." -- "I didn't even kill you the first time!" -- "I don't want you kiling me at all, okay? And besides, you knocked yourself unconscious the last time you attacked me. You really want a repeat of that already?" -- "I demand a duel!" -- "Well, you seem to be fine, seeing as how you're already for round two," Art said with a smirk. "Alright, nothing more to see here, away with you all, shoo!" At that, a good majority of the crowd started to dissipate.

Jezebel retracted her hand, still glaring at him. "You expect me to honor something I said in the heat of battle?" -- "A woman without honor is nothing. Surely you won't say you have none?" -- "But they're my robes!" -- "No they're not. Not any more, that is." Art began to walk away from the crowd. -- Jezebel followed right after. "Give it back!" -- "Sure, I can give it back, but it's gonna cost you," he said, stopping by an alcove by the side of the street. -- "How much? Tenpence? Fifteen? I can pay that." -- Art chuckled. "What, are you are kidding?" He traced a finger over the silver embroidery, fine and delicate and unlike the golden threaded embroidery of the tunic the Bedfords had given him, had been made with actual silver. "For a robe like this? Only a fool would settle for so little." -- "Well how much do you want?"

"Hmm," thought Art, looking away. He could just sell the robe back to her; he'd get some nice bit of silver out of it, and heavens knew he'd need every last penny he could get his hands on. Back when he'd still planned on traveling onward to Duncraig with Warriv and the others, he would have probably done just that. But now that he'd resolved to return to Thistledown to fight the redskins alongside the sisterhood? The silver would still be good, but a few pennies wouldn't really make a difference, especially if the sisterhood was going to get Count Traben to back them. They'd be counting whole silver talents like he counted coins. No, with the heavy losses the sisterhood's defeat at the monastery cost them, what the sisterhood needed was manpower.

He turned back to her. "I'm not selling it back." -- "Don't be ridiculous. What are you going to do with a women's robe like that? It certainly won't suit you." -- "Why would I ever… I meant, I want something else instead of silver. I want an indenture." -- "You want what now?" she stared at him like she couldn't believe his boldness. -- "One year's indenture." -- "This is ridiculous," she replied, looking insulted. "I'm not going to indenture myself to anyone. And you have quite the gall to even dare ask for such a thing, you know that? I'm an adept of the--" -- "Order of the Three Elements, Stormy Skies School, yes I know," he said, looking nonchalant. "And I know the robes are a symbol of your status as an adept in the order. All the much more valuable to you, no?" -- "Not that valuable. I can always go back to my order and get a replacement."

"Six months', then." -- "Six months, are you kidding? I can just tell you'll be making my life a miserable hell during that time. You're for just itching for that, aren't you? One month." -- "Three months, and that's the lowest I'll go. The order'll be none too pleased if you return to them saying you lost your robes, and you'll have a lot of explaining to do, which I'm sure you'll want to avoid. Besides, they'll surely put a hefty price tag just to discourage the kind of antic you just pulled."

"Why are you so insistent that it has to be an indenture? Oh, that's it, you just want to lord it over me and stick it in my face that you managed to take me down in this fight, is that it? Why can't I just pay you the silver and we can get the matter over with? Look, I'm an adept of Stormy Skies, right? I can accumulate two seg six in three months, if I really tried. I doubt whatever work you'll have me do -- that I would agree to -- would net you nearly as much, and given how the robes are designed for our order I doubt you'd be able to find a buyer for half as much. So I can pay you a singleton for these robes, and we can both be happier about it."

Oh, now that's some money, Art thought. He was pretty sure the robes were worth considerably more than three single, which was why she'd offer a singleton, but still… A whole singleton. Not enough to live indolently for three months, even on peasants' food, but still a lot. But, he remembered, he wasn't in it for the money. "Three months indenture, then."

"Fine, three months," she said, pouting. Then she rounded on him. "But! A few things to make perfectly clear. One: You're going to hand over my robes as soon as I sign." -- "Agreed." -- "Two: This is going to be an ordinary indenture, no funny business, you hear?" -- Art chuckled. "Relax, Jezebel. I'm not going to pimp you out or anything, and I'm not going to make you do any shady work. I'm a man of principles." -- "Really now? Who would have guessed. So. What will you be having me do then?"

Fight on the sisterhood's behalf, he thought, but he didn't say it out loud. No one ever did that for an indenture; it just wasn't done. They had mercenary contracts for that, and generally one didn't push mercenary contracts on other people. It was the kind of thing people had to do voluntarily, and he figured Jezebel wouldn't be all that happy with being roped into something like that, which was why he hadn't wanted to try to push one on her, and had taken the roundabout approach of indentures. With that in mind, he wanted her to eventually get around to helping the sisterhood defend Thistledown, and in particular to protect Selena and the Bedfords, and for that he needed to keep her close to them. "Housekeeping. I'll be putting you with a friendly couple that I'd grown rather attached to. And the family also has a little foster daughter, eight years old, who will need looking after. I trust that shouldn't be a problem for you?"

Jezebel visibly relaxed. "Oh. Can't say I've done much of that before but I'll manage." -- "Let me guess, you were expecting much worse." -- "Uh huh." -- "Where you had been working earlier… I assume you'll have to check with them first, before we get the contract signed?" -- "I work on my own terms, so that wouldn't be a problem." -- "Well. Let's get on with it then," he said, and led the way to the local bailiff's office.

Bailiff Sherman had his office on the first floor of one of the three-story buildings along main street, so they found it without difficulty. Two guards, decked in mail and with spears held at the ready and shields at their backs, stood at attention, guarding the entryway, letting them into the office once the previous visitor left. The immaculate room contained several large pieces of furniture, with cabinets on the side and a large oaken desk in the middle. Sitting on the large, ornate chair behind it was the bailiff, a balding older man with a pot belly who gave them a nod. "Here, have a seat," he gestured at the two simple wooden chairs before them, and they quickly seated themselves. "So what matter brings you to me?" he asked.

"We would like for you to notarize an indenture, if you please," said Art. -- "Very well, that'll be tenpence." -- Art took out his money bag and emptied it on the table, producing eight coins, then turned to Jezebel with a sheepish grin. -- Jezebel sighed, shaking her head at him, and reached into her money bag. "And you wouldn't take silver, you said. Nope, never even gave it a thought." She set two silver pieces on the table.

With a nod, the bailiff took an empty piece of parchment off the stack to his side, tapped his pen in the inkwell, and began to write, asking questions as he went. "Who will be indenture holder?" -- "That would be me. Art Taverley." -- Scribble, scribble. -- "And the indentured?" -- "Jezebel Lyrassia," she said, to which the bailiff looked up at them in disbelief. Yes, thought Art, in this case the indentured was the one with all the money. -- Scribble, scribble. -- "Duration?" -- "Three months, starting from today." -- Scribble, scribble. -- "And all the usual terms apply?"

Art pondered this for a moment. The usual terms for indentures included: one, that the indentured would serve the holder of the indenture for a certain span of time, doing particular duties which would be spelled out on the indenture; two, that the holder of the indenture would have legal recourse to punish the indentured for failure to perform said duties properly; three, the goods and services to be exchanged at the beginning and end of the term. Other things were understood, such as the indentured couldn't be requested to undertake anything dangerous, illegal, or of a sexual nature (unless declared on the indenture) or be made to relinquish any of their belongings, that any money spent by the indentured at the behest of the contract holder would be remunerated; and that the holder could pass the indenture on to someone else but only for the indentured to continue doing essentially the same line of work. "Yes."

Scribble, scribble. -- "And what work will the indentured be required to perform?" -- "House work, and attending to me and anyone I see fit." -- Scribble scribble. -- "And what is to be exchanged up front?" -- "My robe," said Jezebel, pointing at the blue and silver robe Art still had draped over his arm. -- "And is that all?" -- "Yes." -- Scribble, scribble. -- "And what is to be exchanged at the conclusion?" -- "Twopence, to Jezebel," said Art. -- She shot him an appraising look. -- He pointed at the coins she'd paid from her own money bag. "Like I said, I'm a man of principles." -- Scribble, scribble. -- "Any additional terms you'd like to add?" -- "I think that's all. Jezebel?" -- "Agreed." -- "Very well," said the bailiff, and turned the parchment around for them to peruse. -- "Yep, looks good."

"You sign here, and you sign here," said the bailiff, pointing to the bottom of the parchment, and then passed Art the pen. Art signed his name, then passed it to Jezebel and shifted the parchment toward her. -- She looked at it, then at Art. "You're not going to make me regret this, are you?" -- "Nope, never dreamed of it and never will," said Art, trying his best to put on a reassuring smile. It just might get you killed, though, he thought to himself, what with him placing her right on the front lines with the war with the redskins. She probably didn't even know that yet. But, that was the point. By the time she realized what the situation was like over there, she'd be locked into the indenture.

"Good," she replied. "Because I'll have you know, I have very good memory, and if you've made me do anything untoward, then at the end of those three months I might just give you the shock of your life." She held up an index finger and lightning crackled atop it. -- "As if you haven't already," Art retorted. -- "That shock was to save your life, you unthankful wretch. By the way, when are you going to pay me back for that, mister man of principles?" -- "Right now, in exchange for the indenture," he said, passing back her robe. "I'm pretty sure you know just how good a deal you're getting with this. A singleton? Hah!" -- She accepted it graciously and put it back on. "Humph. You were going to give it back regardless."

Art tapped at the parchment. "I expect a great deal less sass once you've signed."

She turned back to the parchment and, with a final look at Art, signed her name and set down the pen. "The contract is signed," said the bailiff, who took it and placed it on a heap of other parchment at the corner of his desk.

Jezebel then turned to Art and curtsied. "I am in your care. Please take good care of me."

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