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Rio Branco Avenue

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

December 25th, 2014

5:25 PM local time

Nick Cimitiere's jacket was tempered for heat and cold, meaning he didn't need to forgo protection - or mystique - based on the temperature. But the humidity of the Rio summer was still getting to him.

The whole city was strung out for Christmas, but the tilt of the earth meant it felt more like the height of July back home. Speaking of back home... he'd told his family he'd be out of town for a few days, but would be back for Christmas. He always hated to lie to his family about these matters. Four years home from college, eight years as a superhero, and he still hadn't come clean about meddling in the affairs of life and death. But some matters of death were more important than matters of life.

There had been a number of disappearances in Rio over the past few weeks. People from all walks of life had left messages for their family and friends, saying they were going to "a better place," and then had vanished entirely. Fortunatus, a local seer and fate manipulator who Nick had partnered with on a particularly tough job years ago, had given him a call about the matter.

"The path is clouded to me," he had said. "I see that they are gone, but I cannot see where they have gone and who led them there. I fear this may be more your department than mine."

"Anything else you can tell me?"

"Just one thing. There are a number of 'great bumps' on the horizon." "Great bumps" was Fortunatus's term for a confluence of random factors that could spell either windfall or disaster. Nick had no idea where it came from. "I have one that I must handle myself, as it involves plucking the threads of chance like a harp. But I can see that these disappearances will not stop soon, and may breed a catastrophe of their own if unimpeded."

And so, after spreading the word amongst the community and walking the back roads of reality, Nick had found himself walking a beat in paradise. Those who had gone seemed to be truly gone - after visiting their residences and the local cemeteries, he could find no trace of the vanished having left ghosts. Then again, he wasn't the only one on the beat.

"How's it coming on your end?" he asked over the comms relics he'd handed out.

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"Nothing so far!" a chipper, disembodied voice announced from further down along the Lagoa. The search for clues had dragged into the daylight hours and Kimber Storm had had to choose between fading into invisibility or trying to explain away an unorthodox recreation of a Dickens classic on the streets of Rio. Not being able to find any other ghosts with information about the disappearances they'd come to investigate had dampened her spirits slightly but that was far outweighed by the chance to spend the holiday in an exciting her city with her best friend. Leaning down again to speak into the relic her more corporeal companion was carrying, she added, "You're the expert, Nick, but if people are being snatched up that oughta be perfect conditions for vengeful spirits and such, eh?"

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"I confess that I am still not as familiar with your spirituality as I should be," Indira admitted, tugging at her light jacket - a habitual, slightly uncomfortable motion that betrayed its authenticity - a true garment of cloth and string over an outfit that, despite appearances, wasn't cloth any more than its 'wearer' was meat.

Like her necromantic ally, she'd spun a few lies to get here - the largest of which had been insisting to her parents that she was studying at college, taking her courses very seriously and certainly not getting into trouble. What they didn't know wouldn't hurt them. "Outside of my friend's specific case, of course. But if they have left notes saying they are going to a 'better place', it is possible that they are genuinely accepting of their fates, whatever those may be. Even if deceived, they may be...at peace with whatever has happened."

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When Nickie boy had popped up asking Phantasmo for help, how could he refuse? Well, he could have done so QUITE easily, but that would have been immensely rude. And dickish. Mrs. Trent's boy had been taught BETTER, dammit!...Plus, you know - sun, fresh air, lovely exotic women and lovelier exotic drinks - what's not to like? 



The zombie shook his head and rubbed his beard, not sure if Nick could see the gestures, but hoping he could. "Sorry, duckie - the local lads are keeping mum if they know anything. But on the bright side, I am getting quite an education in Brazilian curse words due to my appearance - so not a total loss, eh? Top of the evening, dearie!" He lifted his top hat amicably at an elderly woman across the street, who paled and crossed herself before retreating with some haste into a nearby building. 


He strolled down main street, whistling through a lipless mouth...somehow, before stopping. "Hmmmm...Oooh! I-de-a!" He snapped his fingers and a small, silver coin appeared in his hand. He rotated it around his fingers and spoke into his Relic. "Hello hello hello again, duckies! Old Phantasmo has a thought! Did we consider talking to the local religious boys? Priests, clergy, nuns? Seems to me - and I could be wrong - that they'd be a bit more forthcoming on yon Cultish Nasty, eh? Anyone know of a local church or something of that nature nearby?" He paused, and - knowing he'd NEVER be able to say this again, uttered that immortal Python line: "Get thee to a nunnery!"...classic. 

Edited by MisterShoebox
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Equinox patiently watched her familiar sniffling along a trail, having got some of one of the missing person's clothing. It was a long shot, but with few leads, perhaps mundane means could help shine some light on this mystery. "We're... well, this isn't exactly my field of expertise. How are we doing, Fuzzy?"


Her raccoon looked over its shoulder at her, and shook its little furry head. <Nope.> Its voice was confused. <Faint. Can't follow it. Sorry.>


"We're making little progress," conveyed Dr Drake to Nick. She'd not had to lie to her family, one of the few perks of a public identity. In any case, it was easier to justify than her usual excuses. Dread beings from nether realms was quite nebulous. But her parents at least understood missing people, and while General Drake didn't necessarily approve of who and how she was defending people, he at least supported the notion of it. "How's the dead stuff? Have we found any spirits of the missing people? If not, how likely are they to still be alive? Ghost Girl, you know spectral manifestation rates."

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"Cute," came a clipped Czech-accented reply to Phantasmo's comment.

"I've spoken to some Sisters from my Order," the vampire Nightingale said. She wasn't sure if she should refer to them as her former Order, her relationship with the Church is rather unclear at the moment. It would probably always remain unclear which suited the purpose of the Church and the heroine just fine; it afforded both parties a certain degree of freedom.

"They have heard nothing of use, which is of no surprise. Their attention has been focused on the community impact."

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Phantasmo hmms and 'ports. Hmm and 'port. Hmm and 'port. He leaves a trail of red smoke behind him as he 'ports up a roof of a very tall building (not in a single bound, because jumping...well, it's fun, but hardly THEATRICAL)  and sees if he can spot the others. He reaches for his Relic, known to him as the Communication Thingy. 


"Right then, Duckies - you think we should find a place to rond a vu? (sic) - Obviously splitting up has accomplished nothing except a lot of...well, nothing. So I think it would be prudent if we all met? Maybe at a pub? All this pacing and interrogation of the dead and living is thirsty work, and this from a bloke who doesn't even need to drink anymore!"

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"None of the ghosts I've talked to have seen hide or hair of them, either," Nick said. "Then again, it may be that, if they went out, they didn't go out distraught. Most ghosts stick around out of some sense of unfinished business, and these people seemed to think they were going to a better place. If they truly believed it, then they may have passed on fully."

He looked down the street; there weren't many out on Rio's major business drag, especially on a day like today, but there were still a few couples and families who were enjoying the quiet of the holiday and taking in every inch of the city. Rio Branco was likely a quick stop between Christmas dinners and other appointments, but it was a stop no one seemed to be rushing through. "In any case, going the spectral intelligence route isn't getting me anything. I've got the address for one of the missing; I'll see if the Fates can give me --"

He was interrupted by a bright flash that filled the alley, blinding him for half a second. As his sight returned, he was able to trace the source - the Museu Nacional de Belas-Artes. People were converging on the building, walking out of alleys and shadowed corners, all clad in white robes. And hanging over the building, like a shimmering curtain, was a cloud of silver light.

"Hold on. Something's happening on Rio Branco, and it doesn't look like Carnivale. Meet me at the fine arts museum, and be ready to bust out the big guns."

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With a whoop a translucent blue figure appeared floating above the waterside path, shimmering into focus as though she had been just out of the onlookers' peripheral vision until that moment. Wild hair and tattered reaper's cloak streaming behind her in a phantom wind, the masked poltergeist made a sweeping gesture with one hand. In response the young Indian woman beside her rose gently into the air as well and the pair took off overhead at a sprinting pace. "On our way!" Ghost Girl reported in, somewhat belatedly scanning the buildings below for something that looked like an art museum. "This'll be great," she assured Indira with a wide grin, "Nick always finds the most outrageous stuff to fight! You'll totally be happy you came!"

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"On my way," said Equinox, rushing forward after putting away the commlink. She went to throw herself forwards, nearly landing on Hayley the raccoon's unfortunate form... then swept up into the air with her familiar in her arms. The two of them flew through the air, Siobhan's long black coat rippling and wooshing hither and thither in the wake of her flight upwards.


She spiralled round quickly, changing direction to head towards the art museum. Her glowing eyes narrowed as she accelerated, slightly annoyed that after hours of conscious searching something had shown up. Again. Must be synchronicity. 

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Indira may have been faster on the ground, but she wasn't about to complain; while she could glide if she really, truly had to, it involved stretching herself so thin she went numb. Even then, she'd be unlikely to get far without some fortuitous air currents.

It made flying - even not under her own power - a pretty novel experience. She hummed to herself, features melting away and jacket disappearing to her body mass. "I hope it is a good hunt," she said, body streamlining into something a little more aerodynamic and easier to haul through the sky. "Though, perhaps, not too good," she added, amused. "I did not bring any metals with me, and I would feel bad if I was forced to eat someone's vehicle."

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Phantasmo grumbled. "Righty-o! God forbid the cultish buggers meet at a resort, or whatnot...nooo, has to be museum. I tell you, duckies, if I ever start an evil cult I'm going to have it in Vegas. With delicious steaks and scantily-clad ladies." 


The zombie 'ports repeatedly until he catches up with the others, muttering to himself as he does so. To an outside observer, it would look like a cloud of red smoke had erupted from the ground. Creepy. And theatrical! Two for one! 

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As the group converged on the financial district, the men and women in their brilliant robes formed a ring around the museum. They took each other's hands and looked out on the street. They looked warm and smiling, as if they were holding hands for a picture, but there was still an element of flint to their faces.

"People of Earth. I come with a message from the divine."

The voice boomed down the street, gentle as a feather but long-reaching as thunder. It seemed to carry on the wind itself. As it passed, Nick saw light in the corner of his eye. The turned-off television in a closed storefront had switched to a feed of the group gathered in front of the museum.

"This world - this cradle of humanity - is falling with every day. War. Strife. Corruption of both the land and the soul. Hunger, poverty, and endless justifications for why both not only exist, but are righteous. My lord has heard you cry out in the depths of your soul, seeking salvation."

The silver cloud hanging over the museum grew thick, pulsing and shifting. From out of the argent mists emerged a human figure with wings of burnished steel. The figure was completely naked, with no genitals and an androgynous sort of beauty. Silver sigils ran up and down the figure's flesh, carving a language none of the heroes could place.

"I have come to grant you that mercy. To guide you to the promised land, and eternal splendor." The figure gestured to the crowd below. "My children have spent months preparing for the journey - sanctifying themselves, and taking the sins of this city into their hearts, so that they may be expurged as a show of grace."

The figure gestured to the one of the robed figures below, a woman in her late twenties. To her surprise, and soon to her glee, she broke from the crowd, flying up to meet the angel. When she met the angel, the figure took her hand, looked in her eyes, and gave her a gentle kiss on the forehead. Soon, the silver began to run over her skin in similar patterns of circuitry. She let out a delighted laugh and appeared to be the figure of ecstasy. Then, as the silver took her entire skin, the wind shifted, and she blew away in a cloud of silver and light. The cloud hung in mid-air, right next to the angel... and in the back of Nick's mind, there was the cold bite of steel. Whatever had happened to this woman, whether she had gone on to the promised land or not, she was dead.

"She has left behind the anchor of the flesh and straddles the two worlds - divine, human, spirit, body. But immortal, and always with us. With us in this life, but open to the glories of heaven. Will you join us? Will you cast off the shackles of sin and doubt, and find your way to the truth of immortality?"

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Phantasmo, was less than subtle in expressing his feelings. "HOLY SH*T ON A CHEESE SANDWICH!" He turned to his fellow mystic-based heroes. "That poor woman exploded! Did you see that? That great flying bastard - or bitch, androgyny - blew her up!"


He 'ported next to Ghost Girl. "Is she a ghost, then? Like you? Of the poltergiestish persuasion?...I doubt it, I think once you explode like that there's less chance of you being a proper spook like you. Hah, proper spook - is there such a thing as an IMPROPER spook, I ask you..."


The zombie turned to the other assorted mystic heroes. "Right, duckies! That great big...bitch-bastard, let's call it - nooo, has to be a better term...oh, well, put a pin in that - Anyway, that thing is exploding people and making them think "ooh, tah, we're going to heaven! Let's line up to get blown the f*ck up, and not in a good way!" 


Phantasmo paused. "...D'you know, as schemes work, I think I've seen worse. 'Father' Tully back home managed to swindle half the town out of it's pocket money before my dad and the lads caught up to him and beat seven kinds of hell out of him. Hah, that was a good day. Anyway!" He clapped his hands suddenly. "Who wants to emulate my old dad and the lads, and give the great bloody not-angel up there a sound arse-kicking, eh?" 

Edited by MisterShoebox
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"Shush, Phantasmo, I'm concentrating," Ghost Girl chided, giving the foul-mouthed revenant a disapproving glance before turning her attention to the spot where the woman had disintegrated in the air. The poltergeist closed her eyes briefly and when she opened them they were twin pools of faint blue light. "Wow. Oh wow. That felt good. Like, really good." She wobbled a bit in the air, biting her lower lip and reaching out a hand to support herself on what passed for Wraith's shoulder even though her limb simply passed through her friend's silvery mass, unbalancing her further. "Like, deathgasm. Gosh!" Blinking a few times until her eyes returned to normal, she shook her head vigorously, her expression turning somber. "Death should not feel that good. I don't see a ghost anywhere but I think that silver stuff was messing with her brain and nerves while it ate her up. Like pleasure centres and all that? Whoo. Times like this I wish I could still sit down..."
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Nick had been watching the entire display with his unlidded eyes. It was certainly a splendid light show, and it held the air of some sort of divine transcendence. But that was the only thing it held - an air. Whatever had happened, there was no hint of magic or the divine to it. True to Ghost Girl's word, there was no ghost caught up in the process of dissolution - probably because something had happened to flood the body's pleasure centers and ensure that there were no emotional burdens to tie them to this earth. It was all some high-tech act of charlatanism. But to what end?

"You know, Phantasmo," he said, "I'm up for some creative blasphemy." He stepped forward, through the crowd of locals that had gathered closer to the apparent miracle. In the distance, Nick could hear the sound of approaching cars; there was a chance the angel's broadcast had brought the local authorities. Or, more likely, the local press. "You know," he called up to the angel, "that's one hell of a lightshow, but I don't see any proof she's gone on to a state of spiritual balance."

The angel looked down; Nick thought he saw moment of doubt in the being's eyes, but it could have been the mask of sorrow it seemed to don. "Child. I know this world is hard and cruel, and has turned many hearts to stone. But the divine looks down on you, and offers a promise --"

"You're talking to someone who's been in the presence of angels. And you're not the first person to think a pair of wings and a lot of light makes you the good guy. Way I see it, there are two ways we can do this. You can stop doing that --" He pointed to the cloud that still hang in the air like frozen light. "-- or we can knock you off of your cloud. Your choice."

Nick looked down to the circle of cultists, to see they were clutching their hands together tighter, trying to form a closer ring around their angelic benefactor. The angel smiled. "Come, my children. Come to me. This world is cold and cruel. But the promised land awaits. And you shall see its glory."

The cloud of silver particles that had once been a woman fell on the other cultists, washing over them like mist. It seemed to pass and fade... only for Nick, and everyone watching, to realize that the mist had permeated their skin. Slowly but surely, they were being made like it...

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Appalled at the spectacle before her Nightingale was slow to react--by which we mean she didn't snap off some scathing retort at the insult to her faith--but only for a moment. As much as she wanted to address the mockery of her faith the innocent if misguided humans in front of her were her primary concern.

The vampire's long coat streamed behind her as she sprinted forward and ripped open her wrist in a spray of blood. She grabbed hold of the cultist in front of her, a young woman of short dark hair, and pressed her bleeding wrist to the womans mouth while tilting her head back so she had no choice but to swallow.

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The blood ran into the young woman's mouth, pulsing with a force and will of its own. For a brief instant, Nightingale could feel the presence of something inside the woman's own blood, trying to turn it from water and iron to something not of the flesh. But this push was drowned out as Nightingale's blood flooded in, crushing the invading organisms under a tide of will and magic. The woman looked up at her, flush, healthy... and somewhat disappointed.

The angel looked down at her with something like shame. "These children have made their choice," he said. "Who are you to deny them that freedom? The freedom to transcend, to become something more? To hear the music of the spheres and the pulsing of the stars? To commune with the great soul of the universe?"

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"No ghost?"

Wraith peered at the spectacle in confusion, eyes wandering her face in formation a bit as she took in the sights. "I do not understand. What could alter their minds and do that without magic or--"

Those eyes shot open, large, black voids on the front of a silver body that was already changing. "<Vettorin>," she hissed, knees reversing and legs thickening into powerful, clawed leaping appendages. "The little eater. Ghost Girl, nanites!" the alien translated, hurling herself off the building to come crashing, one spiked hammer-fist first, into the angel. "Aggressive nanotechnology!"

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"I'm not normally the one advocating this," said Equinox, landing on the ground close to the Angel. Hayley dropped out of her arms and scurried around behind her legs. "But perhaps figure out the metaphysics later, go for the random untamed destruction now?" She took a couple of steps forward, drawing her hands up into positions to trace power and energy from the surroundings into her, drawing on the magic permeating the air.


She thrust a hand, making a gun like gesture with it, and shouted "Pyrkagius!", a lance of flame and heat bursting forth from her fingertip, expanding out and leaping towards the "Angel" with a purpose and drive formed of her will. And of fire. Mainly fire.

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The flames licked off of the angel's still skin, its burnished metal face resolved into an expression of furious tranquility. "You cannot do this to them," it said. "You cannot deny them this righteous ascension. They have come willingly to this point, unburdened themselves of all mortal concerns and fears. What you propose is an abortion of the next stage of spiritual growth."

"Is that what we're doing?" said Nick. "Then you're going to love this." Nick had been reaching out, trying to get a grasp of the vital essence of the people before him. That was tricky - usually, denying the grip of the Reaper was an intimate thing, requiring the understanding of life that only came with having it under your fingers. To reach so many, and from so far, took nearly every ounce of will he had. But there it was - little slivers, like lifelines, twisting and twitching as the invaders ran through the bloodstreams. With one wave of his hand, Nick had that connection. And with all the force he could muster, that grip of the Reaper retreated, inch by inch, as the invading force found itself rebuffed at every turn by regenerating tissue. Soon, the tissue overwhelmed the invaders, leaving a group of hale, hearty, and disappointed devout.

The angel looked down, his fury breaking through the mask of peace. "You have no idea what you have doomed them to."

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Ghost Girl was interrupted from responding to Wraith by Equinox's bolt of flame, the poltergeist's mutable form going rigid and spiky with terror at the presence of so much fire so suddenly and so close. No no hot burning no ashes please no NO She willed her clenched eyes open with tremendous effort, mind screaming unintelligibly as she watched Indira's blow glance off the surprisingly durable 'angel'. Her friend, her friend who was fighting, in danger right now, who was trying to tell her something. The shadows beneath her hood deepened without regard for any light source until only two pinpricks of chilling blue light could be seen while her fingers lengthened into inhuman talons. Nanites? Oh! Nanites! Oh oh oh!

With a howling gust of polar winds alien to the region she flew forward, making a beeline for the tightly packed group of cultists reeling from the whiplash of Nick's power. Instead of stopping when she reached them she continued straight through the first body, passing effortlessly into the next and then the one after that. In her wake tiny static shocks and puff of smoke trailed while fine, silver sand dropped to the rooftop, harmless. She whirled on the angel, the faerie fires of her eyes joined by entirely too many jagged, icicle-like teeth. "Shut up, shut up, shut up or we'll eat your FACE!" she howled with the fury of a blizzard pouring through the gap left by a door torn from its hinges.

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Hayley glanced around her, at all the chaos, and fighting, and violence, and... Ghost looking not too good? Ooooh... the fire thing.


She whacked one paw off Equinox's shin. <Fire. Ghost.> She whacked the paw off it again. <Fire. Ghost. Stupid.> As a barrage of projectiles came at her and her mistress, she decided to leave and apply her intelligence gathering skills somewhere she could use her heightened animal and magical senses. Like, say, behind the nearest wall, bush, grate. Anything to get her the heck out of this mess.

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Phantasmo, being of the helpful sort - but also hammier than a pork pie - did what he always did in situations like this: He cleared his throat and 'ported up to the Angel, appearing in a standard theatrical pose and taking a deep bow. He rolled his top hat to the end of his sleeve and caught it in his hand before laughing in a...well, it was very different from his usual rasp. "EEEEEEEEEEHHAHAHAHAHAHAAAAHAHAHAHAAHA! THE CURTAIN RISES AS THE PERFORMERS TAKE THE STAGE! FOR THE FIRST FEAT OF AMAZEMENT - NOTHING UP MY SLEEVES!" 


The zombie gave a flourish of an immaculately tailored sleeve, revealing that there was, indeed, nothing...except a large, pecking and scratching flock of undead, zombified, skeletal doves that immediately set to work pecking and clawing at the Angel. "AHHHHAAAAHEHEHEHEHEHEEE! AND NOW THE REVoh, dear." 


Although the doves were giving it their all, they were accomplishing nothing. "...Right, well, good try, lads - back to the aether with you or wherever you little flying sods spring forth from." As the birds vanished in little puffs of off-green smoke and small "squelching' sounds, Phantasmo coughed. "Um. A little assistance, duckies?" he called to the others. "I think I may have made him mad." He paused. "...Well, that's something. At least if I'm messily beheaded or some such unpleasant nonsense I can say I made him a trifle bit angrier." He made a little "Woo-hoo" gesture with his hands. "Yay me!" 


He suddenly took on a serious expression. "Seriously, though - a bit of help would be greatly appreciated before he tries to kill me. Again."

Edited by MisterShoebox
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The angel flapped its massive metallic wings, making a noise like the creaking of the gates of Heaven. The remaining birds scattered against the gust of wind, leaving just undisturbed steel flesh and an expression of some displeasure. It cast its gaze upon its variant assailants, then looked to Equinox. "You think yourself righteous," it said. "You think that you can subvert the will of the divine. Such hubris. You merely adopt the certainty of the damned." The light glinting on the angel's wings burned a little brighter, quickly glowing to superheated levels. Lances of focused sunlight lashed out across the sky, aiming to pierce Equinox's defenses... but erupting into miniature supernovas against her shield, which held in the face of the assault.

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