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Chapter 24 - Engagement in a Brothel, Part II

"Don't underestimate us," shouted Kylan as he snatched up the nearby screen and set it down between Jezebel and those beside him, just in time to intercept the lightning that channeled into the screen and dissipated. Holding it out as a shield before him, he rushed Jezebel, who turned and fled up the stairs. "Daniel, Eomar, what are you waiting for? Get a screen and follow!" -- Daniel and Eomar dashed to the sides to pick up screens of their own to bar Jezebel's lightning.

"Crap," said Jezebel, and then she was taking the flight up the stairs two at a time, channeling lightning down at Kylan as she went and forcing him to keep the screen before him, slowing him down. By the time he had gone up two steps of the stairs, Jezebel had already gone up to the third floor and went around the corner, disappearing from view. -- "Yeah," shouted Polly, "you go teach her what happens to people who make false rape accusations!" -- "Think we should help her?" Roland asked Art. -- "She'll manage better than us. Certainly better than them," he said, pointing at the three men who had abandoned the screens entirely as they gave chase.

They'd reached the third floor, and looked about the halls. "Where'd she go?" -- "Must have hid in a room somewhere." -- "Did you see which one?" Daniel asked Kylan. -- "Uh, not sure, maybe that one?" -- "Just split up and search all the rooms," said Eomar. As those below watched from the open central chamber, they split up. Kicking the flimsy screen doors open, they burst into the rooms.

"Ah! Get out, get out!" -- Panicked screams went up all around, mixed with the sounds of faces getting slapped, and some of the men who had barged in found themselves backpedaling with hands covering their eyes or caressing their cheeks and looking utterly ashamed. -- "Sorry! Didn't mean to!" -- "Ahh! Nope, definitely not here." -- "…I think I'll be scarred for life," said Daniel backed out of the second room he searched and raced down the hallway with a look of horror etched on his face. -- "Keep searching!" -- Down below, "My goodness, what the hell are they thinking, going into those rooms?" muttered Dina, wide-eyed. -- "What are they doing?" shouted the madam, alarmed. "Tell them to stop, they'll drive away all our clients!"

More feminine screams and shouts. "What do you think you're doing here?" -- "Even we have the right to some privacy!" -- "Sorry, didn't mean to look--" -- "Just get out!" A thrown pillow followed Kylan out as he fled the room, his cheeks red. -- Then the distinct sound of breaking ceramics and one unconscious man was thrown unceremoniously out of the room to land in a heap upon the hallway, his head bashing against the wooden railing, and began bleeding out of his nostrils. -- "Daniel, get your act together," said Kylan before entering another room.

Clients and courtesans were emerging from their rooms in various states of undress, looking terrified from all the clamor. Feminine screams as Eomar barreled past them as he went from room to room, clutching a bleeding cheek in one hand, and then everyone in the hallways started screaming and running for the stairs, driving another round of panicked people fleeing their rooms to join the crowd. And when Kylan emerged from another room, any remaining semblance of order dissolved into chaos. People in the throng at the stairs jostled against one another in their mad dash to get downstairs, and when the pants on one fat man on the stairs, who hadn't belted them in time, slipped, he tripped and crashed right into others in front of him and they all went a-tumbling down in a cascade of groans and bruises to lie in a undignified heap mere feet from where Art stood by the bottom of the stairwell. Art slowly shook his head as he stared down at them.

"Look what I found," said Kylan, emerging back into the hallway holding a white and brown gambeson. Eomar caught up with him. -- "The sisters!" Eomar said between gritted teeth. "Where are they?" -- "Didn't see them, actually. I just found it lying about, no one was wearing it." -- "They must have taken them off to blend in with the rest of the girls. Where did you find this?" -- "…In the public closet?" Kylan said, pointing a thumb at the stand-alone closet he'd just emerged out of. "It doesn't connect to any of the other rooms." -- "Damn it," Eomar clenched a fist in frustration, not noticing as Liene, wearing a white shift, passed right by them.

"Look, there were several of them, right?" said Eomar, ignoring a hysterical Elexa as she passed. "You'll probably find them all in the same room." -- "Wouldn't they all be fleeing right about now?" asked Kylan. -- "They're hiding from us, remember? They wouldn't dare us recognizing their faces," he replied, as a courtesan, Diane, and an embarrassed client slipped past them. "Which means once this lot have left, it'll just be the sisters remaining in the rooms." -- "Uh, where's Daniel?" -- Eomar turned around to look. "Wasn't he…" He turned back to Kylan, the two of them sharing a look of concern, then they dashed around to the hallway, one on either other side.

Kylan burst into a room, where he stopped, stunned. Daniel was at the entrance, standing completely still. "Daniel? Daniel!" he shouted, waving a hand before his eyes, but eliciting no response. Kylan gave Daniel a tentative push, and he fell over, stiff as a rock, banging his head against the wall before collapsing stiffly on the ground. "Ah! How... who did this?" he looked about, then strode past the fallen Daniel into the room.

Out in the halls around the main chamber, the commotion had yet to die down. The courtesans had mostly gathered in the chamber, huddling around the madam and glaring at the newcomers for having stirred up such a commotion. The chaos suddenly crescendoed as sounds of fighting began within the room Kylan entered, mixing in with shouts and pained grunts. The next moment a screaming courtesan fled from the room, completely naked. The next, Kylan fled from the room, holding up his sagging pants, his butt exposed, and looking terrified and embarrassed.

The next moment a woman in a black shift somersaulted out of the room to intercept Kylan by the stairwell. "Who do you think you are," she shouted at him, "barging into peoples' rooms like you own the place?" Kylan flinched, put up an arm to defend himself, which the woman promptly caught and twisted back, causing him to gasp in pain. Then she belowed him into the railing, eliciting a grunt, before kneeing him in the chest and clutching him by his hair and pressing his head backward over the railing, leaving his neck exposed. He struggled, but to no avail as the woman seemed not the least bit hindered by any of it.

The next moment Eomar had rushed up to them, his right arm stretched back and ready to land a forceful punch against the woman accosting Kylan. The moment after that, the woman had whipped out her free hand to guide Eomar's momentum to go crashing into Kylan and crushing Kylan against the railing, with Eomar's face smashing face first into Kylan's. They backed away from each other, wiping at their lips with a look of disgust, then their attacker had whirled around and landed a forceful kick into Eomar's back, sending his face crashing once again into Kylan's and knocking the wind out of both of them.

Then a second later, she kicked at them again, which they only barely avoided as they rolled to the side, causing her kick to impact the railing, sending vibrations up and down the wood. Another kick, this time at the opposite side, which they barely avoided; and then with a final kick the railing broke and fell away into the main chamber. Kylan pushed against the falling wooden panel, recovering just enough to manage to stay upon the brink, and clutched at Eomar's arm to keep from falling. That pulled Eomar off balance, and for a moment they teetered, before Kylan lost his balance and fell. His arms snaked around Eomar's feet in a last ditch attempt to hold on; that in turn pulled Eomar off, causing him to fall, and he only barely managed to catch hold of the edge of the hall, trying to keep from falling.

"Uh, any help over here?" said Kylan. -- "Let go, Kylan!" -- "No, I ain't gonna let go!" he said, dangling in midair as he clutched at Eomar's ankles. -- Those at the ground floor looked up in horror, frozen in place. -- "Damn it Kylan, let go or we'll both fall!" -- "No!" -- "Let go!" -- "You let go! Actually no, don't let go, for heaven's sakes Eomar, don't let go!" -- "I asked you a question," said the woman in the black shift, leaning down toward them. "What the hell did you think you were doing? Couldn't you ask before barging in? Have you no decency?" -- "Please, this is all a big misunderstanding--" -- "Yes, why is it always a misunderstanding when men force themselves on women?" -- "We weren't--" -- "Yes you were!" shouted Elexa from below.

She looked down at him, vindicated. "Any last words before I give you the shove?" -- "No, don't!" -- She reached down with one hand, set it on top of one of Eomar's hands, which were starting to slip. -- "Don't, please don't…" -- "Guys," said Roland, looking up at them. "You realize it's only the third floor, just jump already." -- "No!" screamed Kylan in a high pitch. -- "Damnit Kylan, if you don't get down first I can't let go without falling on top of your head--" -- Jezebel put a hand against her forehead and shook her head in disbelief.

"What the hell has been going on here?" Liene looked away from the spectacle to ask Roland. "I wasn't under the impression it was that much of a playhouse." -- "Well, when you have a bunch of playboys with a lot of girls to play with--" -- "Never mind that," said Art. "Are we going to do something?" -- "Don't listen to Kylan, he's just being hysterical."

"Well," said the woman as she leaned down to stare at Eomar, "What have you to say for yourself?" -- "We're sorry--" -- "For what?" -- "For breaking into your room--" -- "Oh? And why were you doing that?" -- "Because--" -- "You have no manners?" -- "No! It's because--" -- "Your parents never taught you how to behave?" -- "What? No!" -- "Well then you have no excuse now, do you?" -- "Please hear us out--"

"Well, look who's in a predicament now," said Jezebel as she exited the room she'd been hiding in. She gave the two of them a shy wave, then chuckled. -- "Why you… You're the one who got us into this mess!" said Kylan. -- "Just wait till we settle this," snarled Eomar. -- "I think we just did," she said, looking down at them. "Hmm, what did I say earlier? Ah, that's right, I don't need trickery or wiles to defeat you lot." -- "What? That was totally trickery!" -- "What? Just because I don't need trickery or wiles to do it doesn't mean I don't enjoy doing just that." -- "Why you--" -- Jezebel turned and started walking down the stairs. -- "Don't you dare leave!"

"Actually, if you want to go to her so badly, why don't you go join her?" said the other woman as she set a foot down hard on Eomar's right hand, causing him to scream between gritted teeth. "I haven't taught you a proper lesson yet, and if I don't, it'll be quite the egregious oversight on my part, wouldn't you say?" she asked to those gathered below. -- Jezebel shot her a thumbs up. -- "Yeah, teach these tramps a lesson!" -- "Jezebel, you're okay with this?" Art asked as she reached the ground floor. -- "How dare they share such total lack of respect toward us," shouted Lorelei. -- "Perfectly," Jezebel replied. -- "Respect? You?" said Eomar, looking down at the courtesans. -- "Ahhhh!" Eomar screamed as she twisted the heel of her boot, grinding it into his hand.

With a single flap of wings, thought Art, and then he had leapt up to the third floor hallway to stand by the woman's side. "Now now, where are your manners?" he asked her. "Didn't anyone tell you to come to the rescue of damsels in distress?" She shot him a hard look. "What? They're men, for crying out loud!" -- "Oh really? I didn't notice, I just heard them crying out loud like a bunch of women." -- "Why you--" shouted Eomar, glaring at Art. -- "Hey, that was him, leave me out of it!" shouted Kylan. -- "Let go and we will," retorted Eomar with a furious glance down.

"Ah, but I seem to have forgotten my manners. I'm Art. And you are?--" -- "Nobody of interest to you," she retorted. -- "Ah, so you're just a nameless nobody then, I see, nice to meet you, Nobody." -- She glowered at him. -- "Natalie." -- "Ah, good, so you do have a name. Because I'm mildly interested by what you were up to with another naked girl in that room." -- She shot him a look of unbridled fury. -- "Why is it you went so hard after them? Is it just that your interest runs that way, and you couldn't bear to let them get away with having seeing you go at it?" -- "Why you--" She took a step toward him, then her eyes opened wide.

She's caught on, Art thought, and the both of them set a foot toward Eomar's hands clutching the edge of the precipice, with her boot swiping outward in an attempt to knock the two dangling men off and Art's foot intercepting hers, bringing her foot to a step mere inches from Eomar's nearest hand. She tried again, this time attempting to kick at Eomar's nearer hand enough to loosen his grip, but Art's kick from the side caused her to miss Eomar's hand entirely. The two of them then kicked at each other's outstretched feet.

"Why," Natalie said, knocking aside Art's foot before landing to stomp on Eomar's left hand, causing him to holler in pain. "Can't," she said, as Art's foot landed on top of the one she had on Eomar's hand, holding her foot down in place even as she tried to retract her leg. "You," she said as she kicked at Art's ankle with her other leg, forcing him to pull back. "Back," she said as Art thrust out his foot again, this time pressing down hard on Eomar's left hand with enough force to keep the kick from Natalie from sending Eomar falling off, but also eliciting another pained cry from Eomar.

"Off!" she finished as she kicked at Art, who parried her leg aside with his left arm before gripping her outstretched leg by the ankle and capturing it. Natalie immediately entered into a spin to slip her leg out of Art's grasp, landing with her feet on top of Eomar's hands and causing him to scream in pain. -- "Please, can you two just leave me out of this?" he wailed.

"Kylan, you can drop now," Roland called out from below. Art glanced down and saw Roland and Dina holding a screen horizontally below Kylan, each of them holding one of its two wooden supports in both hands. Kylan seemed to notice, as a moment later there was a muffled crash and the next moment Art managed to take a glance, after dodging a low kick from his opponent, and saw Kylan had landed on the ground, the screen split in half and Roland and Dina pulling themselves off the ground.

"Why you!" Natalie shouted at Art, before lunging at him with her hand. Art instinctively ducked out of the way, even though she wouldn't be able to reach him with just her bare hands. Art took a step back and evoked, A leaf, a petal, a feather, and the very next moment he could sense the movement of a leaf-thin blade of moving nothingness sweeping through the air about an arm's length further than the reach of her hands. Like an invisible sword cutting through air, Art realized. He ducked as she made an upper cut; with the way of the dancing leaf he could sense the motions through the air, could feel that this unseen edge moved as if she'd had a short sword strapped and pointing out the back of her hand.

"Oh shit, things just got dangerous," Art said as he backpedaled. Natalie came right after him, and he had nothing in hand to either attack or parry with, or anything within easy reach. Having retreated about a dozen steps back from the part of the hallway where the railing had collapsed, Art jumped atop the railing to dodge another strike from Natalie, bringing his stump of an arm tow rap around a wooden support between sections of railing to keep from falling off. The next moment she lunged at him again, and he whirled around the support to step on top of the next section of railing, and she slashed out with her unseen blade to where he'd been holding on to the support, forcing him to let go and fall before he caught the railing in his remaining hand to arrest his fall.

Just as she stabbed down with her edge of hardened air, he said with a smile, "Bye bye," and then let go and dropped the rest of the way down to the ground of the main chamber. He turned to see Eomar had already dropped down to the floor as well, and both he and Kylan and picked themselves up.

Natalie looked at Eomar and Kylan as well, and turned back to Art with a look of fury. "How dare you let them get away from me!" she shouted, then leapt over the railing to land gracefully on the ground. -- "Ah, look, can we not fight?" asked Art, grabbing hold of a nearby screen and setting it between himself and his approaching opponent. She slashed with her blade of nothingness and it slashed right through the screen.

The courtesans huddled nearby gave one look at how easily she'd slashed through it, and ran screaming. That caused looks of panicked confusion to cross everyone else's faces, and moments later the courtesans, the madam, the clients who hadn't yet fled, the rest of the gathered crowd, all of them were fleeing which way and that. One kick sent another screen that Art had put up before her, flying to crash into Kylan, causing him and Eomar to stumble and fall in a heap. Another slash broke several branches off a nearby potted plant. Art kept backing up, cognizant that he hadn't come with any weapons and didn't have any shield, while defenseless men and women fled out in the street, tripping over themselves in their mad dash to safety.

"Now just hold on a sec--" Art said to Natalie. -- "…Time's up," Natalie retorted. -- "Teh-- really? … Why are you fighting me?" he said, dodging to the side as Natalie's blade slashed down where he'd stood a moment earlier. -- "You need to ask?" she replied, making another close swing. "After you got yourself involved?" -- Ducking behind a screen, Art replied, "I was just protecting people you were abusing," he protested.

"Abuse?" she shouted back. "I was teaching them a lesson they needed teaching!" She ducked around the screen to make another lunge, which Art blocked by whirling the screen around to intercept. -- "It's still abuse!" Art retorted. -- "You call that abuse? Since when did you care about abuse?" replied Natalie as she stabbed through the screen repeatedly, causing parts of it to tatter apart. -- "I've always cared!" replied Art as he dropped half of the now completely torn screen.

"And had you cared for the plight of all these courtesans around you?" Natalie lunged, only to be parried by the wooden screen support in Art's hand. "Do I see you lifting a finger against their 'clients'? Have you never taken advantage of any girl yourself?" Again and again they traded blows, the unseen blade leaving more and more gashes in his impromptu club.

"So visiting a brothel is a crime to you? What were you doing with that girl then?" said Art as he dropped the chopped up wooden support in disgust and whirled around, dodging a sweep from Natalie, to pick up the other one to parry again. -- "Do I look like a man to you?" -- "What's that got to do with anything? You think women can't abuse other women?" -- "I wasn't abusing her!" -- "So says everyone." -- "You're a dead man!"

Roland stepped forward, kite shield in his left and mace in his right, speaking in a commanding voice, "By the light I demand you cease this pointless violence!" -- Laughter, before she ran right at him.

"No, don't -- oh crap," said Roland as he pointed his mace right at her, and then a beam of incandescent light burst forth from the descry engraved upon the tip of his mace, right into her eyes, causing her to scream and bring up an arm to shield it and making her stumble back, seemingly blinded. She began to swing her unseen blade this way and that, as one would to ward off any approaching threats. -- "Get away from me, get away from me!" shouted Roland in panic as he held his shield out before him, whereupon it grew as reflective as a perfectly smooth mirror, and let it absorb a hit from her sweeping unseen edge.

The moment the unseen blade seemed to pass through the shield, a bloody gash spurted into existence along her left calf, causing her to cry out in pained surprise. She backed away, stepping over a fallen screen before kicking the screen at Roland, causing him to stumble before he knocked it aside. -- The madam gasped. "What are you doing!" she shouted. -- Natalie then dashed to a table by the side of the room, and picked up a plate, then a teacup, then a fork, and throwing them at Roland one after the other. -- "That's my plate! That's my… oh good grief," protested the madam as she threw up her hands in frustration.

"Help!" screamed Roland as the plate rebounded off his shield. "Someone!" as the teacup hit. "Get me out of this mess!" as the fork rebounded in turn. -- None of the objects rebounding off the shield caused any harm to Natalie. Watching, Art realized that Roland's -- no, the Church of Light School's -- way of reflected pain could not reflect pain from thrown projectiles back at the thrower.

-- Art turned to Jezebel. "Aren't you going to help?"

Natalie must have noticed as well, for she next tore the screenpaper off a fallen screen. With one hand she launched one of its now stripped wooden supports flying at Roland's head, which he deflected with his shield, then another at his feet a split second later, which since he'd brought his shield up to protect his face, meant he wouldn't know about the second projectile and lower his shield to deflect it. "Oh shit, oh shit--"

-- "You're not."

The flying wooden support crashing into Roland's leg caused him to stumble again, and in his momentary distraction the mirrorlike sheen of his shield faded. -- "Ah!" screamed a courtesan nearby as she backed away out of instinct, and she and several other girls beside her made a mad dash for the exit, right past the remainder of the mob who watched the battle with looks of increasing trepidation.

-- Art held up his empty-handed arm and shrugged. "Help with what?"

Taking advantage of that moment, Natalie smacked her blade of thin air against the side of his shield. With him focused more on maintaining his balance, he hadn't held on tightly to his shield, and it went flying out of his grasp to land a few feet away. The shield rebounded against the wall mere feet from Eomar and Kylan, who stared down with startled looks and dashed for the exit a moment later. -- "Please spare me," begged Roland. -- "You? Forget it," she replied.

-- Jezebel showed him her palms. "I don't have anything either."

"Fuck." Roland dashed for his shield, as did she, the two of them trading blows, mace against unseen edge, with Roland causing light to beam out of his mace and attempting to point it at her eyes, but to no avail as she pointedly kept him in the corner of her vision. -- "You're just like the rest of the men, aren't you?" Natalie accused.

-- "You have your lightning and your water!"

Natalie managed to get to the dropped shield first, and with a kick sent it careening off to the far side of the hall, then whirled around to stab for Roland's throat with her blade, but as Roland's mace had been shining, she closed her eyes at the last moment to avoid getting blinded, and her blade wound up thrusting a good bit away from where Roland stood, even as she said, "Never going to the aid of any women in need, only making things harder for them…"

-- "You want me to hit both of them?"

Roland replied, "Of course not. I am templar!" -- Natalie backpedaled, rounded back to behind the wooden table just as Roland approached, then back-handed the rest of the cups on the table right at him, forcing him to back away as he feebly attempted to parry with his mace. One cup smashed into his chin, stunning him and causing red wine to spill all over him before he wiped it aside. Another he knocked aside with his mace, and it landed crashing into the wall barely an inch from the madam's face.

-- "…Yeah, that would be nice."

With Roland having taken a few steps back, Natalie slowed down, taking a moment to aim each projectile she threw: spoons, forks, knives, as Roland parried them aside or attempted to dodge. "Don't throw titles at me. When have you done anything to right any wrongs?" -- The madam scampered out of the room, screaming in fear, as flying objects flew past her.

-- "Nah, I'm going to sit this one out."

Then he caught her looking right at him with another burst of dazzlingly bright light from the tip of his mace, causing her to drop the fork in her hand in surprise and squeeze her eyes shut. -- "Just because you don't know about them doesn't mean I haven't done my share of good deeds."

-- "What? You saw what Natalie's using; this is a life or death matter! At this rate Roland might get killed!"

Roland ran right for Natalie, mace ready to swing. With her eyes closed, she flipped up the table at him, and as he blocked it with an upraised arm, she wound around to slash at him with her blade, leaving a gash across his gambeson, not deep enough to spill blood. "Really? Like what?"

-- "Roland? Who's he, and why should I care?"

Roland smashed down with his mace a moment later, forcing Natalie to back away. "I don't owe you an accounting!" -- "Oh really now?" She wound around the table again, pulling back just as a mace head swung right through where her head had been, whooshing through midair. With Roland a bit overextended over the table, she swung out with her unseen edge, leaving a gash against the gambeson he wore on his elbow, but again failing to penetrate. "Is it because you have nothing to list out?"

-- Art stared at Jezebel in mute disbelief. "Now's not the time--"

Natalie thrust against with her unseen blade, which Roland parried with his mace, even as he struggled back toward the kite shield lying on the ground. He moved his mace to point its tip right at her eyes, causing her to glance to the side and squint in anticipation, but he took the opportunity to kick her in the lower leg, causing her to stumble. "I'll have you know, just today I may have saved the life of one of the rogue sisters."

-- Jezebel snapped at Art, "Why should I put my life on the line for someone I barely know?"

Natalie spun in to a low sweep, extended blade forcing Roland to take another step back, and then they had both caught up to the shield on the ground. "Humph. So you think. You men all have your heroic complexes, don't you?" She attempted to kick the shield away again, but Roland set his foot down on it first, preventing her kick from sending it skittering across the floor again. Roland tried to push her away, but she deftly redirected the thrust of his mace, causing him to almost lose his balance.

-- "Damn it Jezebel, does one need a reason? Natalie's clearly mad!"

Roland stooped down to try to retake his shield, but retracted his outstretched hand as the blade of thin air swished right past. He swept out with his mace, in a wide open swing calculated to force her to take a step back, but in so doing he had to take his foot off the shield, and that allowed Natalie to drag it with her as she took a step back. "At least I did something. What did you do? Besides trying to kill people?"

-- "Doesn't seem that way to me," Jezebel replied with a sniff and frown. "Seems very understandable, actually."

"Killing can be a valuable means to an end," Natalie retorted. Roland's mace crashed against Natalie's unseen blade again and they whirled the conjoined blades around in a circle. As Roland's had the further reach, she was forced to take a step back to avoid getting hit. That gave him the opportunity to set his foot down on the shield. -- "Oh yeah? How?"

-- "Shouldn't we fight?" Elexa turned to Liene.

-- Art's mouth opened wide in disbelief. "You've gone mad. You're all gone mad," he said, thinking he had to do something now. He looked about the room; aside from the combatants, the sisters, Jezebel and himself, everyone had already fled. He looked to Jezebel -- she at least had his preferred weapon at hand. He went for Jezebel's sword which she carried by her belt. She spun out of the way and set a hand down to guard the sword from him.

With the both of them having a foot on the shield, and their weapons once again held against each other, they kicked at each other with their remaining feet. "Kill the the men who are hurting the women, and the women will be spared their suffering." Again and again as they vied for control of the shield. But Roland had the greater mass and the momentum of his repeated kicks pushed Natalie back a bit, and she had to retract the foot she had on the shield in order to regain her balance.

-- "We're in no condition to fight," Liene replied, pointing at the sisters' white shifts.

-- "Damn it Jezebel, if you're not going to fight at least let me then." -- Jezebel shook her head at him. -- Art shouted, "Can someone give me a weapon?

With a retracting motion of his leg Roland sent the shield skittering across the floor to collide into Art's boots. "Here!" -- "Got it," said Art as he picked up the shield in his left hand, his fingers closing around the handle. He adjusted his grip, and… and suddenly he felt a profound feeling of retribution, of vengeance. Eye for an eye, limb for a limb, tooth for tooth, nail for nail, all iniquities revisited upon the sender, all as perfectly mandated by a law of complete and exact karma. He looked down and found the shield had become completely covered in a shiny glamer, golden with the light from the candelabras.

-- "But at this rate someone's going to get killed!" Elexa pleaded.

"More like kill the clients and the courtesans can quit their jobs and go begging on the streets where they'll really get raped," Roland retorted, as he grabbed a nearby screen in one hand and used it to block another lunge from Natalie, then struck out with his mace, which she deflected. Then the next moment she couldn't be bothered with fighting Roland, as Art had charged at her from her side, kite shield outreached and mirrorine. She banished her invisible blade and dodged out of the way of their two attacks.

-- "If you hadn't noticed, we left our bows back upstairs," Liene retorted.

"Really? Now you're going to gang up on her?" Jezebel shouted at them, then pointed a finger at Roland and unleashed channeled lightning. It struck the screen Roland had previously pulled close to himself, and dissipated. With a curse she whipped out her sword. -- Natalie continued to dance out of Art's way, making a circle around Roland as she barraged him with thrusts and sweeps. "Two on one, that's real cool of you," she said as she batted Roland's swinging mace aside.

-- "Then let's get them," said Elexa. "We need Roland to meet with the bishop, remember?"

"Jezebel I order you to stay out of this," Art commanded, bringing his kite shield to block her attempt to slash through the screen and get to Roland. Jezebel noticed at the last moment and turned her blade so that it struck against his shield on the flat rather than the edge, and was rewarded by getting slightly knocked back as if slapped on the cheek rather than getting her face split open. -- "Order women around like usual, I see," said Natalie as she kicked Roland's screen down, leaving him exposed to Jezebel's attack. -- Jezebel let loose a burst of lightning at Roland, causing him to spasm and cry out in pain even as the man's insulative gambeson greatly weakened its charge.

-- Liene gave one look at the fight and then with a curse, rushed up the stairs.

Art stepped between Roland and Jezebel, putting forth his shield. "She's indentured to me, it'll be wrong for us to be fighting each other!" He dodged out of the way of Natalie's lunge at him, and the next moment she had no opportunity to strike at him as Roland swept horizontally at her head with his mace. She flung her head backward, so that his mace swept right over her chest without contact, then kicked at the side of his leg, forcing him a step backward.

-- Elexa made to run after Liene, but Diane grasped her by the arm, stopping her. "Sister Elexa, are you really going to fight them?" she asked with a look of pleading.

"I knew it! You filthy scum, you're just like the rest of them!" shouted Natalie. -- Forced back by the kick, Roland collided against the wall and immediately ducked as a bolt of lightning struck the column right where his head had been a moment earlier. Art whirled around to bash into Natalie's exposed back, the reflection of his shield causing him to feel none of the impact and Natalie to feel it twice over, throwing her forward right into Roland. Art he leapt to the side and swiped out with his feet, catching the support of a nearby screen and sending it across the floor to block Jezebel's next lightning bolt.

-- "Our friends Art and Roland are under attack. Come, you should fight too."

"Good skills, Jezebel," said Natalie as she tried to kick Roland in the groin, but he twisted to the side and swung with his mace, forcing Natalie to back off. She doubled over, putting her stomach right out of Roland's reach and her head lowered just enough to avoid an uppercut from the side of Art's swinging shield. -- Art parried her next lunge with her unseen blade by bringing the support of the screen he had caught with his leg, into her swing; her blade slashed deep into the wood. Art then kicked the screen right at Jezebel.

-- "I…" Diane looked upon the combatants fighting it out, fear clear on her face. "I can't do it… I can't…"

As Art swiped out with his reflective shield, forcing Natalie to retract her next attack, Jezebel stepped forward to greet the incoming flying screen. "You fight well too. Let's toast to some wine after this?" She swung right down the middle of it with her sword, splitting the screen in two and lunging right past the two flying pieces at Roland, forcing him to abort his swing at Natalie.

-- "You have to! If we aren't willing to fight, then what was the point of learning with us sisters of the Sightless Eye?"

Roland swung his mace right at Jezebel, the light pouring incandescent out of its tip and streaking across her eyes. He reached down to snatch a wooden support with his spare hand and used it to block Natalie's swing with her unseen blade, while Jezebel pulled back, one hand covering her eyes. -- "Wouldn't miss it for anything. Except these bastards have to go." -- Art swung at Natalie with his shield, forcing her to back out of the way and almost into Roland's next swing, but she sank low and went under Roland's return swing with the mace.

-- "I don't know!" Diane burst out in frustration. "Please, Elexa, go, save them!" And then Elexa was dashing up the stairs, and Diane sank huddled into a corner.

The next moment Natalie had kicked at Roland's side, giving her the impetus to quickly return to her feet and sending Roland careening into the side. As he fell he swung the wooden support at Jezebel, who blasted a torrent of water into it, sending it flying aside. -- "Though if you kill Art, I as his indentured will have a hard time of it." -- The next moment Roland had picked up the other half of the screen and charged at her, holding it up before him to soak up Jezebel's next burst of lightning, even as she ran to the side -- right beside Diane, who dashed out of the way, screaming in fear.

"Indentured to him… has he abused you too?" --Can't keep the fight here or Diane will get hurt, Art thought to himself as he swung first at Natalie's left with his shield, then to her right when she dodged that way, yet she swept out of the way with ease, and a thrust of her hand slashed into Art's gambeson, rending it along the sleeve. He dodged out of the way of her kick, then again as she attempted a kick at his other leg. Might I glide through the sky, he thought, and then he was backflipping right over the railing into a second floor hallway. As he went, he caught sight of Diane huddled with her arms raised protectively over her face and her legs tucked close to her chest, quivering in fear.

"Not once. He's helped sisterhood at great risk to himself," Jezebel replied. -- Natalie leapt off the floor right after Art using the way of the albatross as well. As Jezebel struck at Roland with her sword and Roland intercepted with his mace, Art bashed out at Natalie with his shield, but she caught on to it with both hands and landed her feet on the railing. Art swung the shield to try to get her to fall off, but she turned it to her advantage, letting it carry her to the railing by Art's side, and with a single step she landed upon the railing.

With a push Roland forced Jezebel back against the wall, preventing her from keeping distance from him or using her lightning. She pushed his mace aside with her sword, but he smashed the wooden support into her chest, knocking the wind out of her. Art bashed at Natalie with his shield, but she merely took a step back, still keeping both feet on the railing, then whirled around the wooden column behind her to stand on the section of railing right behind it. When Art took a step forward along the hallway, she whisked her hand out, forcing Art to lean back to avoid the leading edge of her blade. -- Natalie asked, "And what about the other one?"

Jezebel slumped down to the floor, then blasted at Roland with jets of pressurized water coming out of both hands, knocking him back. As the light from his swinging mace flashed across her face, she closed her eyes and leapt out of the way. "Roland is perhaps the sisterhood's last hope." -- Overhead, Art whirled around to block Natalie's thrust with his shield, but she cancelled her way at the last moment suffered no injury. She whirled around the column again to land on the hallway, then leapt across to the hallway opposite the open chamber with the way of the albatross.

Horizon to horizon might I fly. Art leapt across the chasm as well, following Natalie through midair. "Then according to you, these two aren't the usual dicks?" asked Natalie as she swung out of Art's way as he landed. Beneath, Jezebel and Roland stood half a dozen paces apart, with her holding sparking lightning upon her fingertips but not making any move to electrocute her opponent, and Roland stood still, not making a move at her.

Art swung an uppercut with his shield, but Natalie sunk low and swept underneath his outreached arm. As she passed beneath, she slashed her unseen edge against the side of his arm, slicing into his gambeson and no deeper but causing the shield to slip out of his grasp, and then a kick tripped Art over, sending him crashing down upon the hallway. The next moment Natalie had snatched up his shield in her left and pointed her right at the back of his neck, pinning him down with her unseen edge ready to thrust into him. Art thought his end was near, but she held back from finishing him off.

Liene and Elexa burst out of a room on a hallway to their side, now wearing their gambesons, quivers on their back and bow and nocked arrow in hand. Elexa gasped when she saw Art lying prone before Natalie, and immediately whipped up her bow, drawing on it, and as Natalie brought up the shield to intercept and it grew reflective as she held it, Elexa loosed her arrow. With a woosh the arrow flew across the room, with a ptang it deflected off the shield, and with a splat blood spurted out of Elexa's chest.

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