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Equinox took the branch, weighing it in her hand. Even without consciously looking for it, she could feel the waves of power reverberating through the wood. She held it reverently before herself, both hands out, and murmured to it briefly. She dropped her hands away, and the branch levitated in the air before her as she took a couple of steps back to the south of the circle they were forming.

"Well, well. I think we all know what we're doing. I don't think we're going to get any more prepared." The witch pulled her wand out, and held it loosely in her right arm, the arm used for projecting energy. She could sluice a lot of juice into this, but without her wand as an aid, it was just going to run wild and disrupt an already delicate ritual. She'd prefer not to be sustaining a telekinesis spell during it as well, but this was the better of the two options overall, and levitating the pieces was already accounted for.

"It's your show, Ghost Girl. Tell us when to start, and we'll fulfil our roles." She nodded respectfully to the young ghost, who a few years ago she wouldn't have thought capable of magic on this level.

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"Ah, this old thing," said Frost with a ready smile, studying the knife with great and familiar interest. "I remember it well. Once stabbed old Donar straight in meat and potatoes with its twin in fields of Valhalla, right in front of Lady Sif and her poison grain. Such eyes he made!" The light from the killing blade seemed to reflect something from the draugr's eyes, giving it a distinct reddish glint of its own. "I have knowledge of ritual you suggest," he said, tossing the knife from hand to hand. "We can make happen what needs to happen. You are in good hands." He did a little salute with the blade, then walked off to take his position for the ritual. 

-

Tarva studied the idol carefully, looking at the marks of profanement with a practiced eye. "And you're not worried the deity herself might be summoned by the spell or the magical energy flowing around it?" The tone was surprisingly practical for the shadow-witch, her gaze that of a professional as she looked at Kimber and the others. Her display earlier had faded now that it was time for business; or at least another type of business. "Wild realms are close together along the Cosmic Coil and the walls between them thinShe might blame us for what happened in the interim and want revenge. Predator gods can be very protective of what's theirs." She didn't so much as glance at Wraith; it was hard to tell if she saw her at all. 

Edited by Avenger Assembled

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In her many hours of trying to catch up with the ever retreating mass of popular culture she’d come across a phrase that seemed appropriate at this moment Hurry up and wait. Though things seemed to be about to start Luvy would guess, she could almost feel the power being gather above them on the hill.

But that still meant they had time to kill before trouble found them, as it always seemed to do, so she thought it best to try to get to know her fellow heroes.

“Hello there, Temperance wasn't it? In case you didn’t catch my name I’m Lucy. I thought it would be nice to talk a little to pass the time.”

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Nick studied the bone. He'd heard snippets here and there about how Kimber had met her end, but never the full story; he was glad she'd gotten some sense of closure and managed to put most of her to rest. Of course, then there was the bit that was in his hand. This wasn't exactly his first time (or even twelfth) time handling bones, nor was it the first time handling a bone that was a ghost was still metaphysically tied to. But - despite all the weird, weird things he'd gotten up to in his life as a necromancer - this was the first time he'd ever held a friend's bone in his hand, while the friend was standing right in front of him. That was always going to be strange.

But it was the kind of strange he could handle. "All right," he said. "Let's see if we can run power in until this bone glows." 

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Frost's anecdote brought out a scandalized giggle that Kimber stifled with a hand over her mouth. "That's gross, Uncle! I want to hear that story after." Tarva's concerns were more sobering and helped her refocus on the task at hand. "It should be fine," she decided, focusing on the profaned idol. "I did some small tests and after talking with Wraith about how Kinigosi worship works I don't think it's directly tied to any one, y'know, god any more. It's still got power because of all the faith and then anger directed at it, in a more general sense?" She felt pretty strange trying to talk authoritatively about any of it in front of the more seasoned arcanists but in this case she was the one who'd done all the research and groundwork. She gave the shadow priestess the most reassuring grin she could manage. "Besides, all of the gods I've met have ended up on Team Kimber! I'm very likable!"

Banter quickly died down, however, as each of them began to concentrate on their assigned tasks. Kimber nodded with only a little hesitation and closed her eye, floating in the center of the formation. The Silver Tree branch reacted first as each mage began their personal brand of spellwork, Siobhan's wand-focused elemental power surging through the ready conductor of the cosmic wood. The branch glowed brightly where it floated, details washed out by the light before something that wasn't quite lightning or fire leapt from one end to the shard of blade that had Dimitri's attention. The jagged metal rose from the old vampire's hands to similarly levitate in the air before another surge of power connected with the bone and idol, completing the circle. All four pieces turned to white hot silhouettes in a ring around Kimber that began to rotate faster and faster, wind whipping up to toss Eric's Styx soaked leathers and Tarva's shadow-black dress about them and lift the poltergeist's translucent hair into a wild halo.

From her perch overhead Indira felt the power resonating through the most complete tower but soon all four were shining like lighthouse beacons, an unmistakable signal that cut through even the primordial woods of Jotunheim to alert anything for leagues around that something very interesting - or very threatening - indeed was taking shape.

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"That is a good idea," said Temperance. "I realize we're on a mission, but that is not excuse to maintain a monocular focus." And she really could use the distraction. She had gone into this all confident - she was the girl who could march down a ski slope in a bikini, after all. But here... she actually felt cold. A huge portion of that was likely nerves, not aided by the long shadows, the midnight sky, and the sense that she was standing on a sleeping giant turning over in its bed. "Do you often do this? Travel the realms? I have only really stepped into the spiritual reflection of our plane, so this is... this is something, certainly." 

As the ritual kicked to life behind her, Temperance trained her eyes on the forest in front of her, keeping her ears open for both noises in front of her and Revenant's words to the side of her. She tried to tell herself that the movements in the forest were just the shadows against the light... but knew that likely wasn't true. 

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Eve had remained quiet and distant through the entirety of Kimber and Tarva's moment, making no judgments except deciding that maybe all of her own future actions toward Tarva should be delegated and filtered through Kimber.  The mindwalker settled her mask back over her face and raised her hood once the ritual went underway, turning her attention to the surrounding environment and leaving the magic to the magic users.

Mist and motes of cyan light gathered around Blue Fox's hand before they condensed and solidified into a long and slender triangular blade.  The telepath cast her mind out, touching briefly upon the those not directly involved in the ritual (and those she could actually touch), before extending her senses outward.

Then she vanished, slipping into hiding.

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One of Papercut's cranes was the first to notice it, a spike of ebony white about the size of a fire hydrant pushing up out of the ground, almost disguised against the blanket of snow. By the time the little construct had alerted its creator another four jagged spires had joined the first and the forest floor to the west of the bluff had begun to shake with a threatening rumble. The spires revealed themselves as the talons of a massive skeletal hand, grasping and clawing its way out of the dirt. As far as Sharl and Koshiro could see from up in the air the ground was split open by dozens of the jotun dead rising up, knocking over hardwood trees on the scale of wind turbines with deafening cracks. All flesh had been stripped from the giant skeletons save little scraps of hide that hung off of some of them here and there and bones that would have been missing or too damaged had been replaced by ice tinted in sickly green. The same terrible green light shone in their empty eye sockets as they got to their feet and began shambling forward, drawn by the power of the ritual and howling with the screams of the damned.

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"Look sharp, ladies and gents, here comes... hell if I know!" Koshiro called out, both out loud and over Eve's mental link. He stared at the bones assembling themselves into bodies. "It's, um... yeah, giant skeletons over here on the western edge!" Koshiro's plane flew higher, taking him to what he hoped would be a safe distance out of reach of the surprisingly large and agile skeletons. He flicked out an arm, and once again the wild formation of cranes began to organize itself, this time into a large wedge-shaped phalanx. "Fly, my pretties! You can't go for the jugular, so go for the funny bone, I guess!" The cranes dove into the thickest part of the line, flying over, around, sometimes through the bodies of the skeletons, till two of them fell down, injured and too confused to continue. 

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Citizen took this opportunity to play a little game. Diving on one skeleton he ripped its femur cleaned off, powerful cybernetic body ripping apart half-rotted tendons with a single devastating yank. As that pile of bones fell, he swung the giant bone homerun-style and hit another skeleton in the head, sending the head flying off to hit another skeleton in the rib cage, knocking them both to the ground. "Nice! Hey Papercut, did you see that one?" he exulted. "We're awesome!" Dodging crowds of flying birds himself, he zipped through the line with his giant club still in hand, carrying on a running commentary as he shattered spines and broke legs, each blow collapsing a skeleton like a gigantic house of cards. "I don't know who's animating these dead bodies!" he called towards the forest. "But we're from a civilized dimension and we're not afraid of a bunch of bones!" 

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Wraith considered herself twice-cursed - once for being too distracted by the ritual and Tarva's handling of the disgraced relic, Papercut and Citizen having noticed the threat before her; once again, for her hesitation in joining their fight.

She skittered back and forth a bit on top of her tower, her fore 'legs' stretching into long, scythe-tipped arms, but she didn't climb down. "....I shall remain up here," she finally announced over Eve's mental link, the dissatisfaction in the choice evident even over such a non-verbal communication. "I will intercept any that make their way near, but I cannot believe that this place would have only those skeletons to send at us."

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Skeletons. Big, bony, icy skeletons. With weird lights in their eyes and frost on all their limbs. In the middle of the coldest place imaginable. Just like that damn show all over again...

Temperance pushed those thoughts aside, though. These things may have been big and spooky, but she was in her element. Literally. The snow that ran across the ground was still somewhat damp and clumped together - which would make it perfect for her work. She raised her hands - and in the place that knew eternal winter, the snow melted. For just a second. Then, she brought her hands back down again, and there was a curtain of ice - thick, clear, and treacherous. Ready to run right under the feet of the skeletal giants, and to give them something to work against as they tried to disrupt the ritual. 

"This should buy us some time. Unless they brought their ice skates..." 

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While the young heroes mowed through the towering skeletons with impressive speed sheer numbers were not on their side. The horde shambled forward, breaking impossibly thick trunks in two without a thought and leaving massive tracks in the snow. The skeletons closest to Papercut raised their bony hands toward him and suddenly shards of ice sprayed toward the paper plane riding Detroit native, shrapnel the size of javelins filling the air. Another group converged on Citizen, fists larger than the entire robotic body he was inhabiting swinging with surprising speed and expected strength. Temperance got the worst of it as the jotun skeletons who had stayed upright in the face of her sheet of ice reached out to grab the source of their inconvenience. The elementalist ducked under one set of ivory claws and thwarted the next with an icy barrier but the third wrapped its fingers - three bone and two made of unnatural ice - around her and hauled her off her her feet, squeezing painfully.

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“Well I went to Hell once, a hell at least, it was a strange day even for me!”

As the giant skeleton arrived she spent a few moments watching to see how the creatures would fight, up until the moment one of them made a grab for Temperance. Then she was spurred into action, there wasn’t any other option really.

Building up a good head of speed she ran into the leg of the giant that had temperance in it’s grasp, hoping she had enough force in the blow to distract, if not hurt the skeleton.

“I’d say some cutting remark...” she’d be around Fred and Harry too long obviously “... but it would be lossed one you.”

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The leg bone splintered on impact, the flailing skeleton dropping Temperance as it toppled to the rocky ground, brittle limbs falling into a heap. The rest of the towering skeletons that weren't actively attacking the Midgardians continued to shamble forward, heading for the bluff and the lights of the ritual. Even with most of the heroes not actively participating in the spell opposing them the undead giants outnumbered the defenders many times over.

Before Wraith could decide whether or not to jump in a low howl sounded from the south. At first all the Kinigosi could see from her perch were dark shapes darting about between the trees, then yellow eyes reflecting the light coming from the mystically charged towers. As the beasts grew closer they resolved into canine outlines, as impossibly large just as everything else on the plane. In place of hide and fur the monstrous wolves had bark and moss, mottled greens and browns colouring their hunched forms. Flora or fauna their snapping jaws and claws each as big as any one of the heroes made their threat clear as they circled at the edge of the treeline, preparing to attack.

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The ritual had begun to pick up a momentum of its own, not quite out of control but like rising a bike down a steep hill without being entirely certain whether the brakes would slow one down or send one flipping end over end if they were used. In the center Kimber's features were barely visible anymore, washed out by the glow of power and the ring of surging energy spinning about her at a reckless pace. Each of the practitioners held firm, managing their part in the spellwork with the sureness of experience but a ripple of power flashed with blinding intensity and Frost blinked--

* * *

Dimitri was in a featureless white void, not bright but merely empty of substance or shadow, his feet connecting solidly enough with a floor that wasn't actually there. Perhaps a dozen paces in front of him was a wooden table with two chairs, damp with rot and supporting a chipped and dirty tea set. One seat was empty while in the other sat a bearded man in a torn officer's uniform of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs, buttons missing and hat askew, a huge scraggily beard covering most of the collar. Where his heart should have been was a gaping hole dripping with purple ichor and as he grinned with askew teeth and waved Dimitri forward his eyes glimmered like little shards of ice and steel.

* * *

The woman standing in front of Siobhan in the empty expanse was well over six feet tall and built like a linebacker, her muscular arms crossed over her chest. Her armor was from no point in Earth's history, night sky black and full moon silver in equal measure, overlapping plates cut through with pipes of raw cosmic energy that sizzled audibly. Her helmet seemed impractically huge with its curving, blocky horns but she held her head as if it weighed nothing at all, wild black hair escaping from the bottom edge and reaching down nearly to her knees. White eyes without irises or pupils blazed with light as she looked down at the witch with a disapproving frown.

* * *

Snow fell all around Eric, even if there was no sky let alone clouds when he looked up and no ground for it to land on when he looked down. It did collect of the gravestone propped up in front of him, though, and on sallow young man sitting on top of it. His cheeks were sunken and his hair stringy, jacket and jeans practically falling off of his too-thin body as he hummed something distractedly to himself and struggled to support the guitar in his hands. Those hands, where the poked out of the jacket's sleeves, were nothing but bone, skeletal fingers plucking determinedly away at strings to produce an out of tune dirge that had the whole of the youth's attention even as Eric started toward him.

* * *

Tarva had seen Wraith in her natural form enough times to recognize another Kinigosi but it was clear that something was not right with the metallic being before her. It was a darker hue, certainly, more of a dark, burnished steel that almost blended in with its three black eyes. Only parts of it were properly fluid, however, while others look painfully oxidized, long scars that refused to reshape themselves as the alien tired to stand and collapsed back down again, weak and in obvious pain. It tried again, forming eight long spider's legs this time, with no more success. It took notice of the shadow priestess and bristled with spines, defensive and afraid but ready to fight with desperate savagery.

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Eric studied the skeletal - quite literally, given some parts of him - young man stooped on top of the gravestone. The very fact that he'd seemed to have left Jotunheim behind in favor of a place with proper graveyard decor told him that there was definitely something going on. He had felt like the ritual site was somewhat alive... and here he was, seeing its face. Or the face it felt like adopting for dealing with him. It had been some time since he'd engaged in negotiations with the consciousness of a primordial entity, especially one on another place of existence. This was going to be... well, not fun. But interesting.

He approached the man at the grave, giving him a friendly nod. "Hey there," he said. "Good to meet you. You always meet the most interesting people in graveyards." 

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Tarva looked at the writhing, agonized Kinigosi and gave it a sympathetic smile. This was a situation where she'd been before - and she knew instinctively the right thing to do. "It's all right," she told it reassuringly. "It will all be over soon." And then she spoke words she never had in the DuTemps Building, words that burned the air around her with flaming shadowy darkness. When she summoned, it was with a hundred voices echoing in twain, the numberless voices of the mighty spellcasters who had called upon the shadows for their magic and who would one day be devoured by them when their time came. "Kar’Kradas! Whisperer in Darkness and Lord of the Shapeless Shapes!" As she spoke, her shadowy aura expanded and grew behind her like a rising shroud, seeming to grow eyes and a mouth that gaped impossibly wide. She pointed to the Kinigosi and declared, "Let your Hounds give this hunter the death it deserves - quick and bloody!" And as she spoke, shapes dropped and pooled from her shadow like the juices of rotting steak, congealing together at her side into twin shapes of monstrous six-legged hounds that towered as high as her head. 

-

"Ach, well, how unpleasant," said Frost, speaking in Russian as he took a seat opposite the heartless man across the table. At least it isn't Hel's dinner plate with her knife and fork in front of my face - again! "Am I to be judged for my many sins?" he asked, spreading his arms with a note of false bravado in his voice. That he would probably survive this experience would make it, he knew from long experience, no less unpleasant. "Because there are very many of those, and that might well take you the remainder of the ritual's casting," he went on frankly. "Perhaps we can skip the theater portion of the evening and move straight to talk, heartless to heartless?" 

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Blue Fox stepped out of the shadows facing the south, hands outstretched and wisps of cyan light leaking from the holes of her mask.  Between the bluff and on the oncoming timberwolves a viridian fog began to seep out of the ground, gathering speed between heartbeats before surging upward and forming a curtain of blue-green light.

The psychic barrier pulsed, lines forming along it's surface until it resembled the curtain wall of a castle rather than a thing of intangible mist.  Along the psychic walls crenelations were what could be considered gargoyles, if gargoyles had four arms and a wolf or hyena like visage.

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The timberwolves backed up a few uncertain paces as la Renarde Bleue manifested the focused totality of her telekinetic abilities into a very real barrier, their wooden limbs creaking as they tensed. These were no simple beasts, however, and it took only moments for them to changed their approach. One group of the towering canines launched themselves at the glowing battlement, claws like oversized thorns scratching and tearing. They found no purchase but forced the Frenchwoman to maintain her focus while the rest of the pack split into two groups, one racing toward the battlefield where the skeletal jotun were taxing the bluff's defenders while the remainder took the longer way toward the opposite end of the barrier. All the while the summit continued to radiate blinding light with no indication of how the ritual was progressing or how long they might need to hold their ground.

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Equinox inclined her head slowly at the woman before her, making steady eye contact. She didn't know who the woman was, or why her helmet was so impractical looking. But it didn't do to show fear or doubt. Especially with this much magic running around. Although she didn't know where the branch was, she shouldn't assume that it wasn't somewhere. 

She took a languid step forwards and set her feet firm, shoulder-widths apart. "Greetings," she said, slowly and carefully. "We are performing a ritual, ma'am. If it's no trouble to you, interference at this stage wouldn't be a good idea for anyone." She held her arms at her side, palms facing forward. The gesture was twofold. It appeared as if she was leaving herself calm and open. She could, however, launch several offensive spells in a second from such a position. 

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"Always cutting to heart of matter, Dimitri, haw!" the bearded ghoul guffawed loudly, making welcoming gestures as the vampire sat down. "But of course you do! You are weapon, yes? In mind, in soul, you are cutting edge!" He reached for one of the teacups and filled it sloppily not from the kettle sitting between them but with the purple ichor leaking messily from his chest wound. He placed the dripping cup daintily back down on its saucer and slid it back over to Dimitri. "No sin in that, old boy, haw! But what is this, now? Helping little girls with arts and crafts projects? Bah! No! A blade is a blade, Dimitri!" The steely chips of colour in his dark sockets flared as he pounded the table hard enough to rattle the tea set. Composing himself, he spread his hands outward in a gesture of commiseration. "What else can it be!"

* * *

The corner of the warrior woman's mouth twisted in a scoff, looking down at Siobhan with flat out disdain. "Phaw! You think yourself worthy to shape the eternal power of the Silver Tree?!" she challenged in a booming baritone that very nearly made the witch's back teeth rattle at such a short range. "That you can forge a weapon of such raw might as to cut the lost child's fate in twain?! Scholar! Academic!" The volume with which she hurled the words and the way the chords of her neck stood out, just barely visible between the silver of her armored collar and the metallic black of her helmet, made it clear they were being leveled as insults. "You know nothing of true battle, of true strength! You doom your endeavor to failure with your milksop weakness!" The lines of light in the armor flared with energy, pulsing along with her angry words.

* * *

The young man on the gravestone looked up at Eric finally, barely a hint of expression on his slack features or in his sunken eyes. "I'm working on a song," he explained woodenly, looking back down at his guitar slowly then back up at the necromancer with a sigh. He lifted one skeletal hand, looking at the bony fingers with a detached sort of calm. "It's harder now. Than it used to be. Dead things are only supposed to worry about dead things." He lowered the hand back down and plucked a few more notes, dissatisfied with the results. "Look at you. You died and now you're only good for putting away the broken things so they don't bother anyone. You don't create anymore." Shaking his head with a heavy sigh, the youth turned back to his work, stringy hair falling over his eyes. "You can't help me."

* * *

The wounded Kinigosi made a sort of shriek as Tarva's shadow beasts fell upon it with slavery jaws, rising up for the glorious final battle the priestess had intended. Where dark tooth and fang raked into metal flesh, however, the alien seemed to absorb the shadows, turning from burnished steel to a black without reflection. Consuming the shadows made it stronger, certainly, as it grew in size, but no less sick, the oxidized scars screading out to cover more of its increased mass. Worse still everywhere the hounds managed to strike the Kinigosi Tarva felt a sharp pain on her own body, claw marks bursting open on her pale limbs as surely as if she had been the one under attack. Swiveling one of its three eyes toward her while it continued to fight, it hissed something in a tongue Tarva didn't know but could parse all the same. Betrayer! it cried out. Faithless! Unworthy!

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"True," said Frost, drinking the ichor to be polite. Well. That..tasted about how it looked. A look of distaste on his face, he set the cup down. "Your heart's blood is bilious," he commented, "what a commentary, eh?" He sighed softly. "As for what you say, well, until Lady Hel calls for my hand in her service to repay the old debt at Lake Ladoga, I am my own creature, and it pleases me to aid the little girl. She has powerful friends, and great power of her own. She makes a fine ally." He shrugged. "And if I must play her perverse uncle to do it, well, it is pleasant to be around young people of character these days. You know how it is in the Peoples' Heroes in this new, so-called enlightened millennium - all the young people want the glory of the old days but wants others to pay the price glory demands." He made a little gesture towards the hole in the phantasm's chest, then towards his own. "For now, it pleases me to be more than the Ice Commissar - and it amuses me to displease others in the process." 

-

Tarva screamed in agony and dropped to her knees, black, ichorous blood beginning to drip down her sleeves and stain her dress. "I will not betray you!" she promised the Kinigosi, forcing herself to crawl towards it even as pain exploded across her back like the all-too-familiar scourging of nine-tails. It hurt. It hurt very much indeed, the agonies of loss and despair leaking through the shared wounds like shared blood. But how long, in the arms of Shadivan Steelgrave, had she longed for something sweet as pain? As thick and pungent as despair? When she grabbed the beast's limb, ignoring the steely creature's razor-sharp bite along its forelimbs, the hounds receded - assuming their summoner had chosen to devour the kill alone. Reaching for her belt, she pulled out her knife, her knife, her knife, the knife that had done so much. 

She raised it high, pulling herself to her knees. "YOU WILL SUFFER NO LONGER!

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Siobhan stood and withstood the woman's words, trying to not let the volume and fury of it rattle her, at least not visibly. She brought her hands before her, letting her magic reverberate and expand outwards from her, forming a semi-translucent shield between her and her armoured adversary. "It says a lot about you that you throw scholar and academic as insults, as ideas of weakness," said Siobhan firmly, letting her power trickle into her voice. It didn't magnify it to the same volume as the words that had been thrown at her, but infused them with a solid, sharp clarity. "To scorn the idea of learning, of striving to find out more, to do more, to be more. And that's really the point of it all, isn't it? To understand? To know? To build and improve? Why would I ever defend myself against failing to meet your standards when your standards are so clearly wrong?"

She took a step towards the armoured woman. "Battle isn't the benchmark by which you measure accomplishment, it's what you do in achieving them, in defending them." Another step. "And rest assured, I have fought. I have fought so hard." Weariness crept into Siobhan's voice as she slowly closed the distance. "We, not merely myself, are going to forge this weapon. I have weaknesses. They're not the ones you think, but they're there, and so do my companions. And we make up for each other's."

Siobhan was mere inches from the woman now, glaring up into her eyes. "And I think that's true strength, don't you?" she asked pointedly.

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Papercut soared over the fight, wiping blood from a shrapnel cut off his face with an irritable gesture. "Is it just me, or are there a f*** of a lot of these guys bearing down on us?" he called to the others, mostly rhetorically. The skeletons were bunching as they neared the heroes, their jaws clacking and their bones clanking in very disturbing ways. With a flick of his bloody fingers, he summoned his cranes once more, a slightly battered but game flock, already flecked with snow and yuck in places. "Get 'em," he commanded, and the murder of cranes descended at a tremendous rate of speed, plowing into the skeletal ranks and this time doing quite a bit more damage. Mindful of his precarious position, Koshiro took advatange of the distraction to fly just that much higher. 

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