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The Bricks of Babylon [IC]

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Baghdad Airport Road

5 Miles Outside of Baghdad

Saturday, March 23rd

0400 GMT


The truck rolled down the road at a rapid pace - not fast enough to draw attention, but fast enough to not necessarily allow someone to take advantage of a gap. Cannonade sat at the rear of the truck, keeping his eye on the highway that was swiftly passing them by. The roadside wasn't much different from any other highway. He didn't know what he'd been expecting; a few guys at work, like Rob, had done their time over here, and from their accounts of the Road, it wasn't any place you wanted to hang out long. But now, in the early morning light, it took like any other desert highway. Beyond the barriers rested dry soil, scrub, and the occasional copse of trees. Then again, this was supposed to be a new era. Depending on who you talked to. 


Of all the places he'd expected to end up over the course of his career, he hadn't exactly expected to end up here. And yet, Commander Grayston had been there at his doorstep last night when he'd gotten off of work, waiting to ask for a favor. A statue had been retrieved from a black market auction in London, a relic that had once shared a place in the Baghdad Museum. It had vanished during the tenuous transition period, assumed to be just another casualty of looting. But apparently it had been a high profile one - not out on display, but locked down on the lowest levels of the museum, overseeing examination day after day by a suite of experts hand-picked by Saddam itself. The fact that it had disappeared in the first place was enough to raise eyebrows. And now that it was found, it was going back to its homeland to be overseen by the Watchers, the first official Iraqi supergroup to come together since the collapse of the old order. 


Ahead of him was a Humvee carrying one of those experts - an academic who'd fled for Oxford when he'd gotten the chance, who was coming back to make sure the statue's return went smoothly. He'd be joined by the other experts who'd been chosen to make sure the return went smoothly, people who knew a little bit more about antiquity - and, Cannonade could guess, the strange - than he did. Meanwhile, he was riding in the back with the cargo, as well as a mixed company of AEGIS operatives and US soldiers, some of the Coalition forces left behind to make sure that Iraq's existence as its own nation stayed as smooth as possible. And, if the blurry silhouette overhead was who he thought it was, they'd have air support as well. There was the odd bit of conversation thus far, but the morning was still young. Cannonade had managed to get a bit of sleep on a plane that traveled at near ungodly speeds, but he still would've killed for a cup of coffee. 


"You do a lot of this kind of stuff?"


He turned. One of the soldiers - late twenties, rough around the edges - was looking up at him from the seating on the side of the truck. He pointed a thumb towards the crate. "Package delivery, I mean."


"On occasion. How about you?"


"Not my first time riding this highway. Probably not gonna be my last." He studied Cannonade. "You look familiar. Where you from?"




"Camden, here. Guess I must've seen you on the news. Been a while since I saw a new cape around these parts. Most of 'em left with the pull out, and even the Watchers feel settled in at this point. What do you think of the sandbox so far?"


Cannonade turned his eyes back towards the highway for a second. "Haven't really seen enough to shape an opinion."


"Yeah, that'll change. This place'll get into you. And hopefully it won't go through any vital organs when it does."

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Meanwhile, up in the Humvee, Comrade Frost and Equinox shared the back seat with someone who knew the territory far too well. Faisal al-Biruni sat as still as he could, the sort of deliberate stillness one might practice at for a long time. If it was a case of nerves - likely from being wedged between the two heroes - he kept it well-hidden. Even with the stillness, he projected an air of quiet dignity that hung about some academics like cologne. Between him and the two soldiers focused on the road up front, the ride had been silent for some time. 


After a while, however, Al-Biruni's gaze turned from the road ahead to the windows. He looked past to the side of road, taking in the landscape. "It's been so long," he said. "I suppose it's good to know that some things never change..."

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Riding in close quarters with Comrade Frost wasn't a particularly comfortable experience for people without protection against cold, but the old hero did what he could to make things easy on his riding mates. "I would ride on top and give you breathing room," he had said apologetically, "but I would only attract attention up there." Inside, he looked out the window himself and said, "The last time I was in this place was...1986, I think. We had sent Saddam MiGs but fool pilots had angered djinn and been carried away to City of Brass. We rescued those boys, and then Saddam sent them to die against Iranians. Bad business." He sighed, then added, "And you know what else? That is same year American military bans smoking on their vehicles. It is a shame and a pity things have come to this." He winked. "Don't worry, we will take care of artifacts. We are professionals." 

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Dr. Siobhan Drake was uncomfortable in the back on the truck. It was cramped, she couldn't smoke, her big coat was not suited for this weather in the slightest, and her familiar was lying between her feet, flat on her back and snoring in a strange chittery manner, legs up in the air. 


And all the soldiers weren't much comfort, either. Or the vampire.


"Shouldn't have to be in here too long," she said through clenched teeth, rolling up her sleeve to apply a nicotine patch. She proffered the package to Comrade Frost. "So, uh, Dr al-biruni, I didn't have much chance to read up on what we're transporting. Are you allowed to tell me anything about them? Academic curiosity." She managed a smile smile. She'd only just got her doctorate, and was unsure how much academic curiosity she was entitled to yet.



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Al-Biruni straightened up immediately, assuming a lecturer's posture despite the cramped quarters of the Humvee. "Ah, yes," he said. "Most of the collection is tiny pieces - pottery, jewelry, scraps of parchment, items retrieved from a handful of private auctions. The governments that retrieved them are turning them over fairly - apparently nobody wants another 'Elgin Marbles' debacle." He leaned back into the seat, his gaze growing somewhat more distant. "But I suppose you're wondering what would demand today's retinue. That would be the statue."


He pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at his forehead. "That statue... we wrestled with it for three years. It was found at a site in Fallujah, discovered when someone started digging for new apartments, of all things. It was... anomalous, for the site. Most of what we found was small artifacts - pottery chips, faded texts, broken down remnants of housing. But the statue was wholly intact. Eight feet tall, and buried in the dirt as if the very earth was poured around it. Carbon dating traced it to Babylon, but the stone used in its assembly shouldn't have held up as well as it has. We believed it was a figure of some pagan goddess - Ereshkigal, perhaps, or Ishtar - but there wasn't much regalia to associate it with any distinctive one. Saddam was... fascinated by the statue. Then again, he was fascinated by all things Babylon, but he thought there might be some potency to the statue. And it appears that your AEGIS would agree with that assessment."


Al-Birani shrugged. "To me, it's another statue. Even if there's no magic to it, it's still a whole and hearty specimen from a time when nearly all else has been worn away to dust. It's incredible by its own merits."

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"No thank you," said Frost with a polite wave in Siobhan's direction. "I am all ice and snow on inside and cannot take drugs. It is heat and smoke I prefer in tobacco in any case. Though it is delightful to know there is someone who has not abandoned instruments of civilization." He hmmed at the archaeologist's words. "I am familiar with Saddam's interest in Babylonian artifacts. A common vice for dictators such as this. Lacking their own superpowers, their policies killing or driving away super-agents, they look back to heritage of their nation for it. American military arrived in Baghdad ten years ago. I know of American agents who would be delighted to hold such artifact if there were promises of great power in mix. Why has taken so long for AEGIS to take interest in this matter?" 

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While the rest of the team was discussing the matter at hand inside the convoy, high above the ground flies their escort, as the familiar silver-blue figure of Victory flies overhead. His visor was down, his protective mouth mask up, and the internal cooling systems were going at full blast. It wasn't often that he was sent overseas so formally like this, and very rarely for something as seemingly routine as a convoy escort. He knew something was up, but he hadn't been told much beyond "go here, follow the vehicle, make sure everything's okay." And he's definitely not a fan of being sent to dry, hot regions like this. Definitely not good for the mechanisms that make up his body. The thus-far quiet escort has Victory a tad bored by now, and he decides to radio into the truck.


"Everything's looking clear up here so far. How's everyone down there? Staying frosty?"


Almost to the nanosecond that the words left his mouth, Victory visibly (if anyone could actually see him up there, of course) winced at recalling the names of those in there and his less-than-optimal choice of words.


"Errr....sorry, Doctor. That was just a coincidence, I swear."

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Cannonade had thought he'd recognized the silhouette in the sky. "Everything's fine down in the truck, Victory," he said. "Good to be working with ya again, by the way. Don't think we've really had a chance to work on much since that hardware exercise."


The desert highway was starting to abate now, giving way to thicker and thicker clusters of buildings. They had pulled off the Airport Road and were heading into Baghdad proper. According to the briefing Cannonade had looked over on the flight, there would be a short stop in the International Zone - formerly the "Green Zone" - to run a check on the convoy and its contents. After that, they would proceed onwards to the National Museum to hand off the statue. The city would be a lot less exposed than the highway, and would have more security to call in... but it also allowed for a lot more places to hide and set up an ambush.  




"The artifact's potential was no doubt lodged with the Coalition forces as soon as they took an accounting of the museum," Al-Birani said. "It was a matter of actually finding it, however. I cannot speak for the makeup of AEGIS, but I would imagine they'd have experts in both antiquities and the arcane. In the field of the former, this one likely traveled in deep channels, avenues of the black market that few others have sourced. In the field of the latter... as I said, the statue never truly showed up of any of our means of detecting magic. They're fairly primitive, I'd imagine, and one step above superstition, but the statue was clean. From what AEGIS tells me, the statue was found in the private collection of a billionaire in Provence with a taste for the risky and the occult. And I do mean 'private'; he had a field cast over his archive to prevent anyone else from noticing it was there. It was tied to his life, however, so when he expired in a car wreck, so did the spell. AEGIS operatives swept in when they became aware of the cache, and that's when they found the statue."


As the Humvee entered the International Zone, Dr. al-Birani's attention drifted to the street outside. It was still early in the morning, but there were signs of movement - a few cars on the side streets who were waiting for the convoy to clear, citizens walking in and out of cafes and stores. "It's amazing," he said. "I remember the chaos. The fighting in the streets, the riots at night. There's a reason I got out of here as soon as I could. But... look at it. It's almost as if it's back to --"


A loud crash cut off the doctor. Up ahead, the Humvee in front had come to a sudden stop. The soldiers put on the brakes hard, trying to avoid ramming into it. The cause soon became clear - the air at the end of the street was thick and distorted, like airblown glass.


"We're under attack!" yelled the driver. "Reverse course and --"


As the driver tried to back up, Equinox felt something pricking at the corners of her mind. Somewhere out there, there was magic in the air. Likewise, Comrade Frost could tell that the desert winds were rising - but to his infrared eyes, they were burning hotter than they should. 




Cannonade heard the crash before anything else. He couldn't see the cause, but when the orders went out over the radio, he knew that it had hit the fan. Soon the truck was reversing at top speed, with the Humvee behind it forming a buffer -- 


-- until the semi truck came barreling down the side street, wedging itself at the other end of the road. Its trailer was tall, weighted, and took up the entire street. There was no way around it, and going straight through it would be one hell of a hassle. 


"Goddamnit," Cannonade said. "Stay here! I'll take it --"


He was interrupted the rise of howling winds. The air grew thick with sand, threatening to choke out all sight. And as it rose, Cannonade could swear he saw a face forming amongst the storm...




Victory was up high, scanning the rooftops, when he saw the obvious ambush point. Several blankets, black and brown, painted to perfectly match the roofs. Enough to throw off an untrained observer - but he was far from that. Before he could launch the warning, however, he saw it all go down. The barrier erupted from nothingness at the other end of the road; it wasn't much taller than a median stripe, but it took up the whole street, and he couldn't see any apparent source for it. Likewise, the wind and sand were rising dramatically down on the street - but only there, and only on the four blocks occupied by the convoy. 


And on the roofs, the blankets were tossed aside. Men in civilian clothes were waiting underneath them, rising to take position and training Stinger missiles on the convoy...

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So much happened all at once, between the super-powered elements are the more traiditonal, but no less immediate threat on the rooftops. But even in all of that, his combination of naturally-keen senses and the cyborg scanning enhancements caught something that may have gone unnoticed otherwise:


In one of the buildings, a single man was waiting in one of the windows. He seemed awfully concerned with the truck they were guarding. More than just if he were looking at it, to be sure. Another super, perhaps? Telekinetic? Likely. Victory could take no chances. He radios to the others.


"There's another one in that building! I'm going after him. The rest of you take on the bogeys on the roofs, and the powered ones. "


Victory blasts towards the man in the building, and as he got closer, knew for sure his hunch was right. Anyone dressed like that came for a fight. Victory was going to give it to him. And more importantly, try to stop whatever he was trying. The silver streak barreled into the window, his fist going in first....but it seems whoever this was had better reflexes than he was expecting, and all his fist connects with is air and glass.


"Dammit....You're a slippery one..."

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"Insurgents! Feh, I hate insurgents." Frost dissolved into icy fog and mist in the middle of the Humvee, only two glowing red eyes visible of what had been his face. The Frost-cloud hovered above the Humvee and seemed to grow towards one side of the roadbed, rising up to _envelop_ a whole bank of rooftops and leaving behind it frozen guns and shivering, paralyzed men falling into the edge of hypothermia, their bodies covered in ice in the middle of a hot desert day. He didn't make cold, he drained heat, the energy pouring into the dimensional rift that was at the very core of his essence He was about to turn to grapple the other side of the road when he saw the living storm pour its way into Cannonade's vehicle. "Come to me, desert wind!" he called as he poured off the Humvee and began floating there. "Let us see if the frosts of the tundra can freeze even your fiery heart!" 

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Victory found himself in a small, barren apartment with a man clad in black combat gear. His eyes, covered by goggles, remained on the far end of the street, where the barrier stood erect. He looked back to Victory, as if judging between his task and focusing on the new combatant. Instantly, he adopted defensive maneuvers, attempting to weave out of any possible volley from the AEGIS operative. 


Cannonade, meanwhile, kept his eyes on the street. The soldiers from the Humvees had charged out at the first sign of trouble, and were training their fire on the insurgents before they could strike. One went down, but the other managed to avoid fire and train his Stinger on the convoy below. 


"Fire in the hole!"


The soldiers cleared away as fast as they could, getting away from the crashed Humvee. The rocket hit the engine block, nearly sending the Humvee up into the air. While it remained mostly intact, the engine and front axle were cracked. It wasn't going anywhere. 


"Maintain position!" said the soldier from Camden. "They're after the statue. We can't --"


He was cut off as the sandstorm blew into the truck with full force. The howling winds tore at Cannonade, nearly blinding him, but he was able to withstand the blow. The soldiers weren't nearly so lucky, however; the pummeling force of the sands had knocked most of them to the ground, and many of them weren't looking. Their wounds didn't look fatal, but Cannonade didn't have the time to check it out. Especially as the sand was starting to grow thick before him, forming into a man clad in desert robes. 


"Few can stand before the storm," he said. "Now be wise and give me the statue, or I'll flay --"


Cannonade didn't even wait for him to finish. He drove his fist right into the man's gut... and was surprised to see it go through the other side. Sand sloshed to the floor of the truck as the man staggered back from the blow, not yet entirely reformed. 


"Y'know, you probably should've just shut up and kept howling." 

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Equinox forced open the door to the Humvee forcefully, looking at both the doctor and a startled looking Hayley who'd been rudely awakened. "Both of you, stay here. Hayley, anyone comes for the doctor... go for the eyes."


The little raccoon bounded up onto the vacated seat as her mistress left the vehicle and gave a little raccoon salute. <Aye, ma'am!>


The witch slid out into the hot desert air, not especially phased by the combat raging around her. She didn't, however, know what exactly she should be focusing on in a warzone. Normally she tended to resort to 'if it moves, blast it', but clearly that wasn't an option here.


But it struck her that, in an ambush situation, it might aid them to be able to get out. She, Cannonade, Comrade Frost and Victory would be able to easily survive military-grade equipment and fight the superhumans. The soldiers? Not so much.


Flicking her wards up around her casually with one hand, she slowly and languidly traced the other up from the ground to shoulder level, a thin coil of sand rising up as she did so. "Ammothyela!" she snarled, the brief burst of anger and magic sending a spiralling drill of sand rushing up from the ground towards the semi blocking their path.

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The Humvee had already been badly damaged by the rocket blast; it stood no chance against Equinox's punishing spell. The twisted drill of sand ripped apart steel and plastic without any mercy, sending shreds flying into the street - but, with guidance from the witch, avoiding any living targets. Soon, there was nothing left but the broken skeleton of a car, easy to drive around - or through.

Frost, meanwhile, spotted movement on the street below. A woman clad in a niqab had come rushing out of one of the nearby buildings - but all the doors were sealed shut. The question answered itself as the woman dived headfirst into the truck, right through the heavy walls, without leaving a mark.

Cannonade turned at the sound of ruffling canvas, finding the woman standing half in and half out - literally - of the truck. "Give us the statue," she said, "and we shall let you pass. No one else needs to get hurt."

"Y'know," said Cannonade, "I might have bought that before you brought out the rocket launchers. And if you want something this bad, odds are you're the last people we want to have it."

The woman glared at him. "Very well," she said. "So much for diplomacy. Ripping your ribs out one by one will have to do."

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  • 2 weeks later...

There's a good reason why Victory doesn't like to operate in small spaces very often. Several reasons, actually, but this may be the most prevalent: Not a ton of space to move around. Having to navigate in the small space without knocking it all down forces Victory to hesitate a bit on his blows, and as a result, they're fairly easy to dodge so far. Which is exactly what happens, as Victory lets loose with three surely bone-crushing hits, only to have them dodged with little effort.


"Damn....If I could take this outside, it'd be much easier..."


While he was fighting, Victory radioed to the crew outside.


"What's the situation out there?"

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Ice crystals crept up the side of the van as Haboob shivered, chunks of frozen sand falling from his body as Comrade Frost swept his way into the back of the canvas-wrapped vehicle, frigid mist trailing behind his misty humanoid form like a long white cape. Frost considered his own vulnerabilities versus that of the all-too-solid American powerhouse who was his ally for now, and realized there was only one choice to make. With an arrogant commissar's sneer on his face, the sort he had had many decades to practice, he taunted the woman with "Feh, your icy words would be much colder if you backed them up with wit or will. Come at me if you think you are so mighty, and we shall see who will stand frozen in defeat at end. Perhaps it will be Iraqi champions? Yes, how familiar!" And then he laughed with the cutting sound of arctic winds.  

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Cannonade was more than a little startled when the cold fog swept into the truck - great, what now? - but was relieved when it swept over the sand man, congealing the loose particles into something like an abstract sculpture. Some of that relief bled away as the frosty berserker began ranting at his targets. Great. I'm stuck in an enclosed space with a crazy Russian blizzard.

He rushed forward to take advantage of the sand man's frozen state, hardly noticing the chill from the man of frost. As he closed the distance, however, his target erupted into a choking cloud of dust, tearing away at him. "You can't hope to still the storm!" he cried. "You can only pray it passes quickly!"

"Well," said Cannonade, "I'm happy to speed it up." He brought his fist down on the man's chest, but he'd already started to gain more control of his body. The blow suffused throughout the man's form, dampening like a sledgehammer hitting a sandbag. Just gonna take some time...

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Equinox took a couple of swift steps, shouting to the soldiers, "Get out of here, we'll deal with the superpowers!" She waved a hand at the ground and flew upwards in a whirling corona of windswept dust, billowing upwards into the sky, coat flaring around her.


She levelled one finger towards the woman phasing through the wall of the truck, the other hand clenching and unclenching in a grasping motion. "Kinesi!" she said, a beam of white light shooting forth to envelop the ethereal woman. It briefly grasped purchase, and Equinox drew the clenching hand backwards, but without the aid of her wand to focus the spell, her tenuous grasp of the woman broke and failed to drag her from the truck.

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The intangible woman easily danced through the bonds of Equinox's magic, fixing a glare at her that could pierce glass. She spat out something in Arabic, obviously not too friendly. The sandswept man next to her yelled something in return, and she broke her gaze from Equinox. To Cannonade's eyes, the woman took on a good deal more substance, and the truck almost bobbed on its axle. She grabbed the statue with both arms, lifting it onto her back as if it were a somewhat packed gym bag, and rushed for the main street.

Cannonade lunged to the ready, giving chase. Guys like this don't come out in force for antiques. Looks like there really is something to that statue. And I guess that means they're the last people we'd want to have it.

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  • 2 weeks later...

A wash of icy cold flashed over the fleeing woman, her skin paling white as her bones and muscles tensed up from extreme cold. From inside the cloud of whirling ice and fog that was Comrade Frost's body, the thermovore laughed. "You see there are disadvantages to a solid body, my dear - one can only freeze one's flesh and blood so much before it becomes hard...as ICE." When he was done with that, he reached over and scooped the artifact right out of her paralyzed hands, his icy body transforming back to flesh as he went. "You see? This is problem with life of crime and indecency in public streets - there is nothing you can have that a clever man cannot take from you." 

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This foe had been a real pain in the neck. Not to mention he'd seriously jeopardized their entire mission due to his presence. Whatever his powers fully entailed, they had to be shut down NOW. But he's a slippery bugger, and such an enclosed space has proven to be Victory's undoing. However, even though his last few hits whiffed, his targeting computer has been keeping track of his foe's movements. On top of that, Victory, as a soldier, got a better understanding of how to approach this environment. The big swings were a foolish idea. This will require something a bit more clever....


And those last attacks happened to put him in a good position to do so. His opponent had been pushed into a corner, and Victory watched him very carefully. He started to lead in with a hit, as big as before. However, once he saw the slippery little bugger start to move, a sudden jab fromtheother hand shot out, catching his prey mid-dodge. Of course, the jab was more like a shotgun, having been accelerated instantly by the jets in his elbow. The shot was enough, as the villain passed out right on his fist.


With this one down, Victory radioed the others.


"I got a bogey down in here. What's the situation outside?"

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The intangible woman tried to dodge Frost's icy grip, but that was harder than it sounded when she was carrying a statue bigger than she was. The draugr's rime quickly crept up her body, freezing her in place despite the hot Spring day around them. 


"Two bogeys on our end," Cannonade called back over his earpiece. "One of 'em made off with the statue, but... Frost, I think it is, turned her into a popsicle. Other guy... hold that thought." 


The sandman took a swing at Cannonade, aiming for his side flank. He dodged... and fell for the feint, as sand erupted off of the man's arm, surging up in a massive gout going straight for his nose. Cannonade pulled back at the last minute, just dodging the burst no doubt meant to suffocate him. "Guessing you really don't care where your hands have been, huh?" 


"I've dealt with worse. Done worse with them, too."


"Really?" A solid haymaker to the gut sent the sandman staggering; the impact was like hitting a heavy bag, and Cannonade could see his form rumbling, like he was trying to hold together. "You oughta worry about what mine can do." 

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Equinox dropped out of the air behind the sandy adversary, hand leveled at his back. "I'm not entirely sure you understand, sir." She swiftly drew her wand from her sleeve, a quick pulse of magic emitting from it as it immediately grew into a length of steel, a weird corona forming in the air around it. "You will not be taking this artifact, and continuing to believe you will is irrational. This sword will disperse whatever spell is letting you turn into sand. Leaving just cold, solid, steel." Her voice was utterly calm, like she was teaching a class.


"Wouldn't that be a shame?"

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The sandman looked down at the blade pointed at his chest, just this close for piercing his shirt. He looked Equinox right in the eyes... and laughed. "You think you are special, coming here?" he said. He took a step back - no, he flowed back - from the blade, giving himself some distance. "I've met much worse sorceresses than you. One day you should meet the one who did this to me."

"Man," Cannonade said as he closed the distance with the mystical insurgent, "why do I get the feeling she regrets the crap out of that one?"

The sandman let out a hideous grin. "Well, I did show her how displeased I was..."

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  • 3 weeks later...

Now finished with his branch of the fight, Victory sees a golden opportunity. Although one of the attackers had gotten their hands on the artifact they were sent to guards, it seems she won't be going much of anywhere with it. Good. He rockets out of the building and swipes right by, grabbing the statue out of her hands before they fully freeze, as well. He gains some height to look down at the rest of the fight, and, seeing it going well, he radios out.


"I have the package. You guys finish cleaning up, and we'll see if we can't throw this lot somewhere that we can contain them. We wouldn't want to let them leave without finding out who sent them."

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The statue left the frozen woman's hands quite easily, and was soon held aloft in Victory's cybernetically-enhanced arms. From above, he was able to take in the full scene - the soldiers had resumed a tactical position and had their arms trained on the walking sandstorm, the density shifter was still rooted to the ground, and the man behind the barrier was still lying unconscious in the ruined apartment. The sandman was likewise examining his possibilities, and didn't like where they were going. He collapsed into a cloud of dust and blew away with the force of a hurricane, apparently desperate to get away from everyone.

"Oh, thank you." Dr. al-Biruni had emerged from cover, and was looking at the statue suspended in the sky. "Thank you, thank you. If that had gotten into the wrong hands..."

Cannonade looked over to him. "You sound like you know what would have happened."

"No. I don't. And that's worse. If there is something to the statue - and that welcoming party suggests there is - then it's best in our hands. If --"

Before he could finish, the sound of thrusters cut through the sky. A suit of armor descended from the skies, clad in shades of gunmetal and emerald. Blades of energy rested in her hands, but as she surveyed the scene, they slowly faded away.

"My apologies for the delay," said Zulfiqar of the Watchers. "I was in Tikrit when I heard the news. There's only so much top speed can do. Are we secure?"

"For the most part," said Cannonade. "Then again, give 'em a few seconds. They could be getting the real big guns."

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