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Burnt Offerings [IC]


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November 2, 2011

7:37 PM

Nick Cimitiere had actually been pretty thankful thus far. For what promised to be one of the most chaotic holidays in one of the most chaotic cities on the Eastern Seaboard, Halloween had been pretty sedate. Oh, sure, there had been the occasional group of high school kids who tried to use a copy of the Lesser Key of Solomon they'd found online, and a good number of restless spirits. But it had been a serious step down from the year before, when Hades and Baron Samedi were duking it out for power and the resultant backwash had spilled over into all corners of the city. He'd been on guard for November 1st - it was the Day of the Dead, after all, and he knew a few local gangs that might try to seek favor from Santa Muerte - but aside from an incident at the coffee shop, the entire day was pretty tranquil. It might be that the season of ghouls had passed with a whimper instead of a bang.

But then he'd arrived at the gates of the Lantern Hill Cemetery to find two FCPD cops waiting for him. "If this is about that unpaid parking ticket..."

"It's not," said one of them. "Case down in Southside. Weird crap. We may need your opinion."

It had been simple to follow the cruiser in the Pale Horse. As he drove, Nick reflected on how he'd become a police contact lately. Ever since the incident at the Victorian, it seemed like there wasn't some month that went by without a cruiser showing up at the gates of the cemetery. The cruiser led him into Southside, and from there to a small apartment building. Several other cruisers were parked out front, as well as an ambulance.

Nick stepped out of the Pale Horse and walked into the crowd. The ambulance's bay doors were open, and a gurney lay fully raised on the ground in front of them. A body lay on the gurney, mostly covered by a blanket -- but Nick could see an arm, lying out at the side. Or rather, what was left of an arm. It was still in-tact, but it looked like someone had taken a machete and chopped down past artery into bone.

"You might not want to lift that."

Nick turned to find a detective right in his footsteps. She looked like she came from the neighborhood, and like she was dealing with the waning effects of caffeine. "Not really a pretty sight. Someone screwed this guy up but good."

"I'm kinda used to ugly sights by this point." He extended his hand towards the detective. "Pleasure to meet you, Detective...?"

"Curtis." She regarded the hand, but didn't take it. Nick pulled it away; her response wasn't cold, but it seemed like her mind was elsewhere. "Thanks for showing up. I've got a few other experts coming in. This seems to be real freakshow stuff." She pinched the bridge of her nose, as if fighting off a headache. "Goddamn weirdo stuff. Here I thought we got past that window."

"It's Freedom. The window's always open."

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Siobhan tromped up to the crime scene, clad in thick hiking boots, a green turtleneck and a knee length brown leather coat. She had an orange and green bobble hat atop her head, with Hayley perched on one shoulder, inquisitive paws playing with the pom-pom. She also had a pair of thin reading glasses perched precariously on her nose, as one of the legs seemed very bent and wasn't even on her ear.

She had her pentacle amulet tied around her left wrist, and she had an assortment of odd small bags and pouches tied to her belt with thin silver cords. The witch raised a hand in greeting to Nick and the officer. "Hi, I got a call about an incident? What seems to be the-" Her eyes fell to the stretcher. "Oooooh. This... doesn't look very good."

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Dead Head had been at Lantern Hill, waiting for Nick to arrive so they could have some non-Save the World interactions during this atypical lull in spectral activity. Chatting up friendly spirits, making small offerings, catching up on the latest happenings in the world of horror and sci-fi media... the usual. But when he saw a police cruiser pull up to the main gate, then the two uniformed officers stop and then redirect Cimitiere, the revenant knew something was up.

Nick can handle himself, no problem... an' if he needs help, he'd be sure t'call me & the others. Buuut... he seems t'be gettin' a lot of these lately, and I've been itchin' t'see one first-hand.

He whistled, "c'mon, Mutt!. We's goin' out!" He retrieved his new shovel from the ground -- he'd been leaning on it while waiting for Nick -- and returned it to the harness on his back; he shifted a bit, still unaccustomed to the subtle differences in weight & balance from his old shovel, a process he'd gone through many times. The spirit-hound soon appeared and barked agreement, and both headed out.

The two kept to the shadows and alleys, and arrived not long after Equinox. Mutt remained concealed, but Dead Head shambled up towards Nick. He let out a simple grunt to the two mystics; though some of FC's finest knew of Dead Head, if the ones here thought he was just an assistant to Cimitiere, they'd be apt to overlook him, and thus to not interrupt him while he employed his unique talents to the case.

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Curtis looked over to Equinox -- though it might have been fair to say she was looking at Hayley. She studied the raccoon with a mixture of bemusement and disbelief. Though whatever attention Hayley may have brought was soon drawn away towards Dead Head, as Curtis started slightly when she saw the heroic revenant approach.

"The more the merrier, I suppose." She handed out forensic hairnets and booties to the heroes - "Scene's a mess. Last thing we want to do is make it worse." - and led them up the stairs. As they entered the building, Nick reached into the pockets of his jacket to pull out a few things - a notepad, for himself; a bag of madeleines, for Hayley; and a Milkbone, for Mutt.

"So. Who's the man on the stretcher?" Nick asked as they ascended the staircase.

"Michel Baptiste. Construction worker, 35, no criminal record. Neighbors heard screaming around 6:30, ran up to investigate. Couldn't have taken them more than 2 minutes to get to the door and try to break it open. When they got in, they found the window open and... this."

They came to rest in front of a second story apartment. The door, true to Curtis's word, had been battered off its hinges, leaving the bloodbath within open for all to see. Nick ducked under the crime scene tape to get a better look. Blood coated the walls, the furniture, the television, all in long, thin gouts.

"What happened to him?"

"Assistant coroner says a machete. We'd say gang killing, but like I said, Baptiste's record is clean, and none of his neighbors say he got on the wrong side of an outfit. And besides --" Curtis gestured into the kitchen. "That doesn't look like any tag I've seen."

Nick turned to the kitchen to see a shape that had been traced in blood above the sink. It was familiar, looking like a crude representation of a gravestone with two coffins sitting at its side.

"You know this town. If it's written in blood and it's not a gang sign, odds are it's mumbo-jumbo. Look familiar?"

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Siobhan dumped Hayley on the floor to nibble away at the snacks Nick had given her. "Dammit, Hayley, where does it all go," she muttered as she ducked under the tape to follow the necromancer in.

<My tummy,< came the proud, but muffled reply.

Siobhan sniffed the air gently as she walked across the room, grimacing at the stench of blood in the air. She turned and moved over to the sink when Nick called, squinting her eyes to examine the sigil.

When realisation dawned what it was, she took a hurried step back and put her hand on Nick's shoulder. "Samedi," she said quietly. "That's... Baron Samedi's sign."

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Dead Head tossed the milkbone offered by Nick over his right shoulder, towards the alley behind him where Mutt waited. The treat vanished in midair with an audible CRUNCH.

I like Nick. He is a good man, like Dead Head. And Equinox is a- RACCOON! ... She is a good woman.

Mutt trotted along the air outside the apartment, as spirits do, peering in through the windows as the others entered. "Construction worker?," Dead Head repeated as Curtis showed them around, "maybe he was 'bout t'build somethin' where someone else was squattin', or some project'a his was gonna mess up the-"

He'd been talking jovially as he surveyed the scene, but when he saw the tag in the kitchen, his clotted blood ran just a hair colder.


The revenant nodded stiffly, "cain't say I'm surprised t'see that mark again. Kinda surprised we ain't seen it sooner, truth be told. But..." He looked back at the bloodbath in the loving room, then back at the veve, then to nick and 'Nox, "but it don't seem his style, though, y'know?"

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"I know what you're saying," Nick said. "I mean, Samedi's usually the kind of guy who'll make people dance at the end of their own ropes. Either that, or send a swarm of zombies after them. But he's not really the kind of guy who'd bust out a machete and go all Michael Myers on a target." He took a closer look at the veve, then flipped open the deceased's cupboards and fridge.

"If you're looking for a snack, you might wanna let me alert CSU first," said Curtis.

"Not looking for a snack. Looking for offerings. Samedi's one of the loa, and calling on one of them usually requires an offering - food, drink, blood, et cetera." He rooted through the rear of the fridge for a few seconds before closing the door. In his hands he held a loaf of bread, ready made and pre-sliced for sandwiches. 'Okay. On the one hand, he's got none of the standout offerings - no grilled peanuts, no spiced rum, no cigars. He does have black coffee, though - Espresso Roast from the Beanery, not bad if a little overpriced - and bread, though I'd be more willing to offer this to pigeons rather than to a god. Then again, half the people in this city have bread and coffee in their house, and given that Samedi already has a cheval - it's the only way he can dance around the Pact - that'd have to be one hell of a metaphysical juggling act." He pointed back to the veve. "So odds are that someone, or something, is trying to get Samedi's attention. But why?"

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Dead Head shrugged and shook his head, "man, too many reasons to list. Fame. Power. Knowledge. Someone new wantin' t'be his horse? Gang war? War within his own gang? Though," he shook his head again, "the lack'a proper offerin' implies whoever did this don't really know much 'bout 'im; could be some amateur tryin' t'summon somethin' bigger'n 'is head. Or," he glanced back at the blood-splattered living room, "someone with even less knowledge than that. Some slasher workin' a loose theme; maybe tryin' to get attention from any powerful entity."

"I still think," he continued, heading out of the kitchen and looking for a bedroom, "there might be somethin' 'bout his job tied t'this." He turned towards the detective, "ah, detective Curtis, sir, y'all got word back on where 'e worked, what 'e was workin' on?"

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"There's also Occam's Razor," offered Equinox, pointedly not looking at the blood. "Could just be a serial killer with a little bit of occult knowledge, maybe a couple of books on the Loa." She shrugged. "Could just be a regular crazy who's trying to obfuscate their real motives with a distraction, or hell, just using it as some gimmick without knowing the real significance behind it."

She reached out with her left hand, trying to find any lingering metaphysical imprint of events in the room. "Of course, there's always the fact it could have been magic." Don't tell the nice officers you'd have been capable of machete-like wounds using magic, she thought as she tried to find some form of magical energy in the air, eyes squeezed shut in concentration.

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The witch slid her fingers down through the air, stopping briefly to move them in a circle when she thought she'd felt something. Gingerly, she pressed against the air, and for a brief moment it looked as though she was pressing her fingertips against a glass window as the skin was pressed flat.

"There's a very faded trace here," she said softly, sliding her hand across the residual magic lingering in the air. "Probably a few months old. A ritual, but not very formal or structured," continued Siobhan as her hand momentarily slid forwards, then backwards as if tracing an invisible rollercoaster. "Summonings are pretty much always formal and structured, because if you want to call a demon, you want your cage to be well built."

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Dead Head finished his walk around the bedroom, then came back to the living room. He glanced about again, sniffed, shook his head, and looked back to the other two mystics. "I ain't pickin' up no spooks, neither; either 'e's passed on... or was taken. Which could fit a bokor's MO; they usually enslave a person's spirit t'control they body, but sometimes they jes' take a spirit an' use it fer mischief."

He sniffed again, and made a motion with his right hand as if siting something through his fingers; the sensations were purely mental, but presentation was important in the line of work he'd fallen into. "Y'all sense that? Like dirt, soil, faint but... but there, right at th'edge." He suspected Nick's necro-senses, and Equinox's elemental magics, would allow both to pick up on what he was sensing. "Like freshly tilled earth... or a freshly-dug grave. Definitely a sign of the Ghede."

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"All right, so someone was invoked here," Nick said. "Might have been Baron Samedi, and he might have been pissed off by an improper offering. But if it happened so long ago, then why did he wait until tonight to raise a fuss? I mean, given how he acts now, you'd think the Baron would tear you to bits if you offered him Dunkin' Donuts, but he'd do it right away. He's not exactly the guy to hold a grudge this long."

"This is your department, not mine," Curtis said. "All I know is if I have to deal with zombies, I'm filing for overtime. After last year's rise, I'm not having another -- "

Curtis's sentiments were interrupted when her phone went off. "Curtis," she said after answering. As she listened to the call, she put her hand to her forehead, as if fighting off a headache. "All right. I'll let them know. Thanks." She hung up the phone, then turned to the others.

"We've got another."


8:02 PM

The Pale Horse pulled up to the warehouse in Lincoln with Curtis's police escort leading the way. She was first out, and Nick and the others were close behind. The parking lot of the warehouse was dark, with the only light coming from the lamps set up by the crime scene techs. The group ducked over the crime scene tape, and made their way to the deceased. He was in his late 20s, well-built, and dressed in a security guard's uniform. He was also riddled through with over a dozen wounds, and most of him had pooled out onto the floor.

"Okay, who's this one?" she asked.

"Stephen Levant," said the tech. "Vic managed to get a call out to 911. It cut off before we could get much, but we were at least able to trace the address. Patrol found him in the lot - blood trail indicates the attack started inside the warehouse, and led out here."

Nick bent down to look at the corpse. "Yeah, those look like machete wounds," he said. "Any signs written in blood?"

"We've just been patrolling the perimeter," the tech said. "No one's going in the warehouse yet."


To answer Nick's question, something hit the locked and bolted doors of the warehouse with the force of a mortar. From behind the locked doors, a terrible roar filled the air.

"That's why. We've got SWAT coming. Or Animal Control. Or both of 'em."

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Dead Head and Mutt had both hung their heads out the rear windows on the drive over; once there it took but a few moments for the revenant to reaffix his loosened face. He studied the body a moment, trying to determine if the wounds -- not just what made them but where they were on the body, or if it looked like they'd be done quickly & forcefully or slowly -- matched those of the other body, when the loud sounds from within the warehouse caught his attention.

"Hunh, only animals Samedi favors is 'gators, so...," he rubbed both eyes with the heels of his palms, "giant 'gator-man?" He dropped one hand, uncovering one eye, and looked around the assembled officers, "has anyone caught a glimpse of what's in there?"

Mutt appeared next to him, nuzzling his free hand while his other kept rubbing his eye. He knelt down and rubbed the faithful hound behind the ears with his free hand, "Yeah, you know what I'm thinkin', don'tcha boy?"

Moments later, Dead Head slowly rose, shakily, slightly disoriented from having two radically different perspectives playing in his head simultaneously. Mutt trotted towards the warehouse, up a seemingly invisible staircase into the air, circling the building, peeking into any windows and holes he could with his own eyes and with Dead Head's detached eye, which was affixed to his collar.

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Mutt slowly circled the building, looking through the many windows of the warehouse, trying to find the source of whatever was raising the ruckus. He soon found it as he went around the side. Through that window, he got a clear look at the front door, as well as the main floor of the warehouse. A bull the size of a minivan was pacing around the main floor, drawing back like it was about to charge. Its horns were ringed with blood, and its pelt looked more like razor wire than hair. It launched forward at the locked doors of the warehouse - and bounced off of the air right in front of them. Obviously, someone had set up a ward. The bull roared again, and prepared another charge, not having learned its lesson.

Which was a good thing. Mutt could look back to the main office, and saw there were two security guards crouched under the main desk. If the bull lost interest in the front door, it might take an interest in them...

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"... hunh," Dead Head grunted after a moment. He turned his one-eyed countenance towards Nick & Equinox, "big bull. 'Bout the size of a minivan. Hair like barbed wire. Keeps tryin' t'bust through the door, but there's w ward right 'fore it that it cain't bust through. It's tryin' though, givin' all it's go- whoa!" He stumbled as the beast slammed into the ward again, which spooked Mutt (and thus caused his detached eye to jostle like a camera from Blair Witch Project). "Okay, still lookin' 'round... ooh, that red on its horns ain't its natural color... not seein' any bodies, though... ah, but there is two guards cowerin' in an office. I think they's okay, fer now, long as the bull keeps focusin' on breakin' the ward."

He scratched his head, "I know I've seen this beastie before, somewhere... or least 'eard 'bout it. Bull... big bull... bull... with... three?... Oh!," he exclaimed, eyebrows shooting up to make one eye and one eyesocket widen, "I know -- it's a taureau-trois-graines! Nasty loa, fierce, an'... an'... an' it normally rides people, like any other loa, it ain't one to manifest like this. 'Less it's ridin' an actual bull, an' gave it a makeover..." He cocked his head to one side, turned to Nick, "how common's that? Loas ridin' animals?"

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Siobhan deposited Hayley on the floor calmly, ignoring the scowling animal's puffed up fur from joining the undead in leaning out the window.

The witch pulled out her wand, slipping her pentacle around her neck as well. Muttering under her breath, her clothes swiftly turned into her costume and coat, her pentacle pushing an invisible field of magical wards about her, barely perceptible as a crackling in the air around her.

"Aren't those the bulls with the... nevermind." She levelled her wand at the door. "Really, I'm not one for the subtle approach, so maybe our priority should be to get those guards out by blowing down the door and flash frying the giant death bull? Do it SWAT style, one of us opens the door, the other two open fire."

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"It's really not common for the loa to ride animals," Nick said, "especially since one of the common features of the loa showing up is their direct invocation by the host. If there's a bull out there smart enough to be a houngan, then I'm going to need to redefine my world view. And stop eating hamburgers." He stroked his chin. "So, odds are either someone invited the taureau-trois-graines into their body, and it decided to redecorate - not something the loa typically do - or someone called the bull with three... of those... down directly, with no need for a mortal host. Would require a bit of mojo, but it would mean it could affect things on this plane directly, without a cheval."

Nick turned to Equinox. "Let's set up a perimeter, get the cops back. First, we need to see if the ward's just one-way or working on both sides. If we can't throw mojo in, then it doesn't do a lot of good to set up a murder hole. If we have to drop the ward to hit the bull, better we get everyone else back so there's less risk of collateral damage."

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"Easy enough t'do, thanks t'that mojo you an' Phantom worked on Mutt & me," the one-eyed revenant replied, grinning. He stared off in the direction of the warehouse.

Hey, Mutt! Y'hear me?

I do! I do I do I do!

Good boy! You been doin' real good at scoutin', now we need somethin' else. Think you can get into that place?

Ohhh, I don't know. Big bull in there, he looks mean!

I know, boy, but you'll be okay -- you're one of Legba's hounds, 'member?Ain't not bull gonna give you no trouble! Besides, we gotta get them two guards outta there, an' anyone else who might be holed up in there!

A bark came from the air near one warehouse window, You are right! I will go in!

Whoa, whoa, boy! he 'said' as he saw Mutt trying to phase through the window. We need you to go in a certain way, see if it's clear for us. We need ya to go to the front door, where the taureau-trois-graines' tryin' t'bust out. Need to see if whatever's keepin' it in will keep us out. Can ya do that, boy?

Another bark pierced the night sky, I will do that!

Dead Head blinked his one eye, and looked back at Equinox and Nick, "Mutt's gonna try goin' in the front door, ghost-like; if 'e cain't get in that way, we'll know th' ward works both ways."

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Mutt made his way towards the front door, crossing the dark and shadowed parking lot. As he walked across the lot, however, the air started to grow thick and somewhat damp, like walking through mist. It wasn't unsettling or even unpleasant, but it was certainly distinctive. Mutt pressed against the door --

-- and stayed there, feeling the full brunt of the steel door. The steel felt more than real, like not even a tank shell would take it down. It practically glowed through Mutt's senses, and smelled to him of lightning, sliding earth, and midnight. The ward was active, and it was just as strong outside at it was inside.

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I cannot make it through! I am sorry I failed you!

No, no, you didn't fail me, boy! Ya done good! Ya did! Go'on back to the window an' keep an eye on things there, let us know if'n that taureau starts doin' somethin' else.

Dead Head shook his head, "looks like it holds both ways, Mutt couldn't get through from outside. Looks like we'll have t'drop it t'get anythin' done. Sooo," he looked out with his one eye at the officers and others around them, then turned back to his two co-mages, "we get them all t'move back, one of you brings down the ward, I do the rodeo clown bit t'distract it while the others ropes the sucker?"

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Equinox eyed the ward pensively. "I think Nick should try to rope the beast. He's got more know-how when it comes to Voudoun creatures, and the best I could probably do is just tie it up just long enough for it to break free."

She raised one hand towards the wall. "But the wards should go down if I hit them hard enough in the right place, and that's something I do know how to do. There should be a weak point, so if I start burning apart the 'threads', it'll unravel without too much trouble. Theoretically. But we've only really got the time for rough field work"

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That "rough field work" proved more than enough. Equinox began burning away at the outer threads of the ward, singing and snapping invisible fibers. In time, it began to give, shrugging at first like netting with a huge weight on it. The doors bucked more, but still didn't give - while the ward was weakened, it still had enough power to keep the bull indoors. With one last blow, however, the ward collapsed utterly --

-- and the doors erupted outwards, soaring over the parking lot. The police had already withdrawn to a distant perimeter, but even they, they were taking their risks -- one of the doors hit the ground not two feet from a cruiser's hood. The taureau-trois-graines surged out into the parking lot, its bloody horns catching the moonlight. It let out a hideous growl and paced.

"I know I'm tempting fate here, but I've always wanted to say this," said Nick. He took a step forward, and waved his arm as if trailing a cape.


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The taureau-trois-graines stomped its feet on the lot, cracking the pavement under hooves like burnished steel. It bellowed loudly with frustration, and charged towards Nick at full speed. The gait reminded Nick less of a bull and more of a steam locomotive -- something on a fixed path that couldn't and wouldn't swerve away, and which was almost destined to turn you into a fleshy pancake. Of course, that also meant that it didn't exactly have the best turning radius. Just as it was about to make contact with Nick, he dived out of the way, and the bull was left trying to gore the empty air.

"Man, they were right," he said. "This guy kinda is a blunt instrument."

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C'mon back, boy, we got us a steer t'russle! he thought to his companion as he removed his leather jacket.


'member, 'e's gotta be able ta see ya!

Mutt came racing back through the air, barking at the taureau-trois-graines as he passed over and landed near Dead Head. Dead Head himself joined in, whooping and hollering and dancing about in an attempt to draw the beastie's attention. He'd even start fluorishing his jacket like a matador's cape. "Heeey, bully-boy! How ya expect t'run after anyone if ya keep trippin' over them things?"

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Equinox barely even flinched, just whirling on the spot and gesturing with her wand. However, this wasn't to cast a spell, but accompanied a mental cry of <Go!>

Like a shot Hayley barrelled off in a wide arc around the side of the rampaging bull, darting left and right frantically before diving forth like a furry bullet towards the trois-graines.

Equinox lifted her left arm, trying to call up the power inherent in the earth to reinforce her shields to protect her even more solidly, but the exertion from destroying the wards had clearly not faded, and the spell wouldn't come. Instead, she just pointed her wand at the huge bull, wary of the combustible cars in the immediate vicinity. "Paliroiko Kyma!" she muttered, the wand suddenly ejecting water like a broken fire hydrant, the high pressure blast of fluid hammering towards the bull.

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