Today is the day.

EQUINOX had sworn to herself that today would be day that she’d end it all, the day that she’d kill Alice - SOLSTICE, avenge herself, and save the world. The date was set months ago, an absolute deadline that limited the time she had to perfect her magic and become powerful enough to win. The time constraint had actually helped in that department, making her try harder and harder the less time she had.

Despite all the preparation, EQUINOX still doesn’t know if she’s ready, but she’s still here, floating near the bottom of the exosphere, 500 kilometers above the planet. It feels more like she’s in space than in the atmosphere. A deep, numbing emptiness and anxiety has flooded throughout most of her body, muting every sensation and making it so that the world around her was like a blur of colors and movements. Her heartbeat is the only thing she can feel or hear for real, pounding faster and faster as she hangs in the air and stares into nothing.

It’s not that she fears she’s outmatched. The Solar Drive is her own creation, so EQUINOX has a good idea of how strong Alice - SOLSTICE! - is. She’s doubtlessly eclipsed in terms of pure power, but that’s not what battles of magic are about. That’s not even what normal battles are about. Their power is in the same ballpark, so she stands a chance.

It’s that EQUINOX doesn't know if she’s mentally ready. It’s been years since she last saw her wife, years that were either wasted wallowing in her despair and trauma, silently awaiting death, or dedicating her every resource to this day. And she doesn’t know if she’s ready. She always thought that she could muster up the courage to fight back against SOLSTICE before, but all her composure and confidence would shatter the moment SOLSTICE responded in kind.

It absolutely terrifies her that she’s not sure if she’ll be able to keep herself from breaking in this fight. EQUINOX is pretty sure she knows how SOLSTICE will respond - with disbelief, grief, and eventually, pure rage. It’s not exactly an encouraging thought, though thinking about it is probably a good thing, since it seems to be killing all of EQUINOX’s emotions. And if she’s not feeling anything when she shows herself, all of SOLSTICE’s manipulations would be rendered useless.

Also, if she knows what to expect she’ll be able to deal with it better. There’s that too. EQUINOX just tends to be caught up in the feeling nothing thing, since that’s been happening a lot lately. She watches a cloud slowly drift past below her, and takes a deep breath, blinking for the first time in a couple minutes. I can’t keep putting this off. This is happening.

To ground herself, EQUINOX casts her magical senses over the entire planet, feeling out every electromagnetic field and every slight change in pressure and temperature. As opposed to focusing on the irradiated surface of Earth’s carcass, she focuses solely on the atmosphere. She knows how she’s going to start, having planned it out months ago.

It takes an effort to fight off the fear and anxiety freezing her in place, but once EQUINOX moves her arm, it seems to all disappear at once. It’s just in my mind. I can do this. She steels herself, silently whispering words of encouragement that only she can hear, and grabs a hold of the planet’s electromagnetic field and atmosphere all at once. For the first time in a while, the enormity of her power dawns on her, and EQUINOX allows herself a small, nervous smile.

It’s like she’s holding the Earth in her hands.

Emboldened, if only for a moment, EQUINOX wrenches on the atmosphere all at once, with careful ease. She’s never done this on such a scale, but she understands the mechanics. She manipulates atmospheric pressure all across the planet, forcing the atmosphere to bleed out into open space, swirling into a storm large enough to encompass the entire planet. EQUINOX is sure to give a push to the refugees hiding in orbit, placing them a safe distance away as the storm forms.

It’s the size of the Great Red Spot, but is fully localized to Earth. Winds across the planet suddenly accelerate to hundreds upon hundreds of metres a second, with enough force to rip apart the crust of the planet. The ozone layer and cloud cover grow denser and denser, until not even a single beam of light can reach the world below, leaving it completely cast in darkness. The storm is a masterwork of weather magic that could persist for a couple hundred years even without EQUINOX’s involvement.

EQUINOX is still floating in her original position, expression impassive once more, feeling out the storm as it forms. She doesn’t really feel anything about what remains of Earth anymore, so it doesn’t matter how badly her storm damages it. Rainwater is whipped through the sky, quickly drenching her, bringing a bit of sensation back into her numb body. EQUINOX wiggles her fingers, and then does a quick few stretches, getting used to motion once more. I can do this. I can do this.

Raising a hand, EQUINOX pulls her glasses from her face, tossing them into the wind with a flick of her wrist. They’d inevitably get destroyed in the fight, and wearing them is just asking to have glass punched into her eyes. Rainwater runs down her neck, but she pays it no notice, heart pounding harder and faster than ever before.

Every mage on Earth will have certainly taken notice of the storm now. Of course, all but one of them is a non-issue. The rest would have to run if they wanted to survive. Given that everyone left on the planet is one of SOLSTICE’s lackeys, EQUINOX couldn’t really care less if they died. SOLSTICE, though, couldn’t be killed by just a storm like this, and would definitely come up to deal with it.

Now that it’s only moments away, EQUINOX’s fears come rushing back to her in a flurry of thoughts. What will happen when she sees Alice, and her doubtlessly pleading eyes, or when she hears her voice, begging for her to come back? She could only get out of it before when Alice was gone and she put a gun to her head. Thinking back on that, EQUINOX almost wishes she had actually died. It’d certainly be easier than this.

But she won’t try to run away now. She clenches her fists and jaw, forcing as much motivation into her system as possible. She ruined my life. I’m going to do this. I’m going to fight. I’m going to win. EQUINOX repeats that to herself over and over again like a mantra as she reaches out and feels out broken skyscrapers, freighters, ships, and other constructions all across the planet. She lifts as much as she can with her magnetic powers, millions of makeshift projectiles, raising them high into the atmosphere, above her, and fixing them all on the location of Invictus’ headquarters.

Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it. Do it.

The speed of light is an impassable barrier. The magic EQUINOX is using wouldn’t change this - the power needed to break a universal law of that stature isn’t worth the effort when it can be bent much easier and allow the same freedom. The Override Sigil that EQUINOX had constructed - the same type that SOLSTICE possessed, but better, newer, more advanced - would allow her to change the speed of light for the universe that was her and her alone, and as her magic sinks into the structure of all the debris she had lifted up, they become part of that universe too.

Raising their speed to such an extent is the only way they’d be able to tag their superluminal target. Even though EQUINOX’s Override Sigil is more advanced, all that means is that she can keep up with SOLSTICE. Hers is less efficient, but how significant can that possibly be when she can theoretically fight for billions of years without stopping?

I can do this.

With that last thought, EQUINOX flicks her wrist, firing a million makeshift missiles at SOLSTICE’s vague position. Each one quickly exceeds the universal speed limit and reaches what is, for their new speeds of light, 99% the speed of light. The relativistic forces of this sudden accelerating turns each one into little more than sharpened slivers of metal. Thinking about the science behind it all calms EQUINOX down, her brain starting to function properly as she breaks down everything in the sight to what it is - verifiable, quantifiable phenomena. Just matter moving through space.

As expected, EQUINOX’s projectiles do not collide with the Earth and shave off a hemisphere, but instead shatter against a forcefield that comes up just in time. Here we go. Heart pounding, EQUINOX quickly analyzes the barrier, approximating its strength in comparison to her own, and finds that she is left wanting. That’s unsurprising, however. She was betting on this. This isn’t about power. This is about magic, and the forcefield facing her is insultingly simple.

That’s not much of a comfort, however, given that the moment the forcefield disappears, EQUINOX can feel SOLSTICE’s magical power flare up. All at once, half of the planet is lit up by a light so strong it’s like the sun shining over all of it, rippling through Earth’s magnetosphere. The light disrupts EQUINOX’s storm for a moment, but all it does to EQUINOX is blow her hair back. She takes a deep breath.

EQUINOX is not calm. She’s more scared than she’s ever been in her entire life. She has no idea what’s going to happen, or how it’s going to happen. All she can do is hope, deep in her heart, that she can win this. She can’t let go of that hope, or else she’ll be as good as dead. There’s no magic for the walking dead.

Alice - SOLSTICE! - is shooting through the sky towards her, and EQUINOX doesn’t move, silently awaiting her arrival so that they can get this over with. Her soul is letting off wave after wave of intense, murderous animosity, chilling EQUINOX more than the rain, and then - nothing. All emotion from Alice disappears at once as she reaches the same height as EQUINOX and stares at her with unrestrained shock.

She clearly recognizes EQUINOX, despite everything. Her hair’s a lot shorter, barely reaching down to her chin - SOLSTICE never saw it when it was this short, only after she had grown it out. But chemotherapy, self-inflicted or not, has its side-effects, and it’s a price she paid without the slightest bit of hesitation. Besides, you always liked my long hair, didn’t you, Alice? Her jacket’s billowing in the wind, and she’s not wearing her glasses, and she’s been told again and again that her eyes look dead, but…

SOLSTICE looks worse. Her hair - typically meticulously maintained - is messier and longer than it was before. Her curls are clearly visible, so she must not have straightened her hair today. There’s bags under her strikingly deep green eyes, which are fixated on EQUINOX. She struggles to meet her eyes, and when she does, SOLSTICE narrows them, staring straight at her. The shock has faded, and now her expression is impossible to read. Not a single drop of rain touches her - each one fizzles into decaying particles when it gets near, destroyed by her aura of burning radiation.

… She still looks as beautiful as ever. Her long, gorgeous hair blows in the wind and glitters when lightning flashes in the sky. “EQUINOX? Are you really alive…? Is it you?” SOLSTICE speaks in a carefully measured, mostly empty tone that makes anxiety rise up in the pit of EQUINOX’s stomach. It’s impossible to discern any emotion. EQUINOX can’t properly tie any thoughts together, nausea welling in her stomach as SOLSTICE continues, “Or are you just some idiot daring to wear her face? … You must be. My wife would never do this to me.”

EQUINOX rubs her face, trying to calm herself. She’s feeling so much and it’s hard to make her focus or think. All of the plans she had came up with start to fall apart as she struggles to string together thoughts. There’s fear, dread, and… anger. Everything SOLSTICE does seems to be suddenly infuriating. She’s trembling, and uses a shaky hand to wipe her hair out from over her eyes. Think, EQUINOX. She takes a breath, stabilizing her mood by feeling out the storm around her again.

Oh, yes, she brought something for this situation, since it’s one of the more obvious ones. SOLSTICE inevitably pulls little denial tantrums like this whenever something she doesn’t want to believe happens. This is already a stretch - EQUINOX’s magical signature has remained much the same over the years, even if her soul was torn apart and scarred over, so to completely deny the possibility is just stupid. This should help dash away this foolish doubt. EQUINOX telekinetically unzips one of her jacket pockets and then shoves her hand into it to pull out a small, ludicrously expensive diamond ring. It’s been over a year since she last wore it.

The nothing SOLSTICE is emitting in place of emotions breaks all at once the instant she sees it. She flicks through so many negative emotions all at once that EQUINOX can’t keep track of any of them. She stares at the ring, which EQUINOX holds out, and then takes a long, shaky breath, looking away. Still trembling, EQUINOX runs her thumb over the center stone, and then tosses it to her, wordlessly. SOLSTICE catches it without turning her head, and then slowly, reluctantly turns to look at it again.

Lightning flashes in the sky, and thunder roars. SOLSTICE is silent as she looks over the ring, running her thumb over an inscription on the center. Her emotions are carefully tucked away once more, and then, raising her head, she tosses the ring back to EQUINOX, turning her head to the side. EQUINOX’s instincts scream at her to catch it, but she ignores them, and it bounces off her arm and falls into the storm. SOLSTICE’s head snaps to it in response, and she watches it fall all the way out of sight.

Her hair is covering her face, so her expression isn’t visible. Breaking her silence, in a dull voice, SOLSTICE mutters, “It’s not you. It can’t be. You must’ve - you must’ve taken the ring.”

EQUINOX sighs, and goes through her memories for a few seconds. “... It was April 6th, wasn’t it?” SOLSTICE tenses up as she catches onto what she’s talking about. “1989. You proposed to me, and I started…” her voice breaks, and EQUINOX forces herself to continue, gritting her teeth and fighting against tears, “... I cried, and said yes, over and over. You cried too, and you spun me around. It was at the Grand Canyon. We got married a year later, in August 1990. Your bridesmaid was -”

“Stop it. I get it.” EQUINOX has to stop when she hears those words. They lack any of SOLSTICE’s usual confidence, and she’s no longer speaking in that false, flat tone. Her voice is small and shaky, raw with emotion, and SOLSTICE raises her head, brushing her bangs from her face and staring at her. Tears are trickling down her cheeks. “Why?” EQUINOX can only hold eye contact for a moment. It’s so small, so uncharacteristically brief. That single word says more than the rest of their conversation.

Come on, come on, come on, don’t let her control you with this pity party. Taking a deep breath to regain her composure, EQUINOX runs her hand through her hair, feeling cold rainwater against her skin. It’s refreshing, and helps clear away her muddled thoughts. “... There’s a lot of reasons. The fact that you even have to ask is…” She can’t finish the sentence, and she looks back up at SOLSTICE, glad that the rain hides her tears. “You’ve done so much awful shit. I mean, look around!” EQUINOX spreads open her arms, gesturing to the wasteland of a planet around them. “You killed billions, including this planet. The only living things left here are your lackeys and things so small that it’d take another couple billion years of evolution for this planet to have anything else.”

… But does any of that really matter? EQUINOX cares, yeah, but her empathy has run pretty low as of late, and while it sucks that billions died and that the Earth’s fucked, she can’t bring herself to care that much. By the time that the planet had died she had already given up on life. It didn’t mean much, only another reason to die. She lost a lot of sleep over it, though. She still does. Hours spent lying in bed drowning in guilt over six billion corpses at the hand of her wife and her creation, and now she has a chance to redeem herself for that.

The thing is, EQUINOX’s personal need for revenge blots it all out. Heroism and saving the world are just convenient excuses and public justifications. They’re undoubtedly objectively more important than the hellish years EQUINOX spent with SOLSTICE. It should be that way, but - EQUINOX’s feelings beg to differ. Everything that was done to her, the lies and the abuse and the manipulation, means so much more to her. She’s a broken shell of what she used to be and it’s her fault. She’ll make SOLSTICE pay for it.

Avenging the world is just a bonus.

“... Not just that, though,” she continues, feeling her emotions roar louder and louder as she mulls them over, “There’s so much more. There’s everything you did to me.” EQUINOX chokes out the words, forcing herself to speak over the apprehension, over the lingering fear that it was all her fault. “You built me up, made me feel like I was everything, and then you - then you broke me! You ruined my life! You treated me like - like - like I was nothing to you, but expected me to worship the ground you walked on! You took everything that mattered away from me, and you, you, you used me until I was worn down to nothing!” She talks faster and faster, gaining momentum, speaking so fast she chokes on her words and forgets to breathe. “And now you’re surprised I’m biting back! I thought you were smart! How do you - how do you live thinking you can get away with the bullshit you pull?”

Flinching, SOLSTICE draws back, looking away from her, at anything else. “But I - I - I love you…” Her voice is the small, cracking voice of a scared child who has realized she’s been caught doing something she shouldn't be. “I-I never meant… I didn’t ever want to hurt you…”

“Is that an excuse?” She’s on a roll, growing more and more confident, in herself, in her victory, in the validity of her vengeance. All those previous fears are in the past. She can do this. She can do this!

SOLSTICE rapidly shakes her head, and then starts sliding her thumbnail back and forth between her front teeth, an anxious tick that EQUINOX had seen many times before. “N-no, but I… I’m sorry, we can get through it, as long as we just -”

The apology is unexpected and actually catches EQUINOX off guard, but then she continues to talk and she snaps at her stupid bullshit. “I GOT THROUGH IT, WITHOUT YOU, AND I’M BETTER OFF FOR IT!” she shrieks, grabbing at her hair with her hands in anger, “Look at me! I tried to fucking kill myself because of you! I spent two years forcing myself to stay alive despite everything! I wanted to be dead for so long! And now, I’m here, I’m past it all, and I’m stronger than before. You don’t deserve a fucking second chance. The things that you’ve done… you can’t just weasel your way out of this!” EQUINOX raises her clenched fist, feeling the nail dig into her skin, and growls, “This time, I’ll kill you.”

“Y-you’ll kill me?” For the first time, EQUINOX hears the slightest bit of fear, shrill in her voice, and SOLSTICE pulls her thumb from her mouth, fidgeting with one of her sidelocks. She’s still crying and sniffling, and she manages to bring herself to meet EQUINOX’s eyes again. “B-but. You love me, r-right? Come on. We don’t have to fight… I-I’ll welcome you back and I’ll forgive you for all of this, don’t worry, so please…”

EQUINOX’s head swims with infuriating nausea at the concept, and at SOLSTICE’s complete inability to truly admit her wrongdoing. It’s no surprise - she’s always been like this - but it pisses her off all the same, and it hurts. “Why the hell would I go back to you?” EQUINOX whispers, voice still dripping with rage, as she realizes what she has to say. It’s not a complete lie, but it’s not something that’s easy to say. It took a long time for her to fully process it herself. “I hate you.” She almost chokes on the words, crying a little. There’s still some love, but… there’s a lot of hate, too. The love fades little by little, so… the hate will be all that’s left, eventually. “So, I’ll kill you.”

SOLSTICE stares at her, tears still flowing, but she says nothing. She only makes a small, choked sobbing sound. Before, she was never at a loss, speaking so fast it seemed like she wasn’t thinking at all, even under pressure. But now, she’s halting, hesitating, and, presumably, doubting herself. It’s a good omen. If they’re both fighting against themselves, they’ll be on even ground.

… She’s distracted. SOLSTICE. She’s just floating in place, crying, and clutching at her face. EQUINOX doesn’t feel bad, which is nice. For a moment, EQUINOX wants to just lunge forwards and violently exploit this opening, but… that’d be stupid. She knows SOLSTICE. She’ll never drop her guard, even in a situation like this, and is almost certainly expecting an attack from any direction. SOLSTICE won’t make the first move, either - she’s waiting for EQUINOX to make her move, and then respond in turn. She’s fighting a new enemy, with abilities she doesn’t know. She’ll want to be on the defensive.

For now, at least. She’ll most definitely snap sooner or later, once she’s circled through her thoughts and decided that EQUINOX is to blame for all of this, as always. Until then, the ball’s in EQUINOX’s court. It’d probably be for the best to not give up an advantage like this, so -

“YOU UNGRATEFUL FUCKING WHORE!” Well, too late now. SOLSTICE’s screaming brings those plans to a crashing halt as the sky lights up once more. Even though the storm is completely cutting off all outside sunlight, the instant SOLSTICE powers up to her maximum, it’s like EQUINOX is staring directly into the sun. She raises a trembling hand, staring at EQUINOX with uncontained rage, tears streaming down her face. The explosive burst of power floods her surroundings with radiation, once more like a solar flare, and punches a hole in the storm.

SOLSTICE continues her tantrum, shrieking, “I GAVE YOU EVERYTHING! WHAT EVEN WERE YOU BEFORE WE WERE TOGETHER? YOU WERE NOTHING! YOU’RE STILL NOTHING WITHOUT ME!” Her voice cracks, and she claws at her face, shaking with anger, choking out, “How c-could you do this to me? After everything we had together!? What the FUCK is wrong with you! Doesn’t forever and ever mean through all of my mistakes? Your priorities are so fucking skewed! I-if you’re going to fucking betray me, then…” She pulls her hands away from her face and suddenly shifts into a much more ready position, lowering herself slightly and raising her arms, growling, “I’LL MAKE YOU PAY FOR HURTING ME!”

Doing her best to tune out this rant, EQUINOX floats back slowly, not so fast as to aggravate her further, but enough to make a safe distance between the two of them. She doesn’t stand a chance in close combat, so fighting from a distance is her best bet. The storm raging around the two of them is good for that, as are… all of her abilities, really. There’s a tense silence as the two of them stare at each other, neither capable of meeting the other’s eyes, the flashing of lightning silhouetting them both against the sky.

They hang there for a moment, both eyeing each other uncertainly, before SOLSTICE loses her composure again, choking out an angry sob. “YOU...!” That word is the only warning she gives for her movement, growling it out as she throws herself through the air straight at EQUINOX. She’s so fast that EQUINOX is barely able to react, snapping her fingers to open up a crackling current of electricity in the space between the two of them. As she does so, she pushes herself to the side as quickly as she can, just in case - a precaution that proves itself to be a good idea as SOLSTICE flies through the field like it’s nothing, ripping through the air where she used to be. The punch parts the clouds along its path and shakes the sky even though it hasn’t landed, and as EQUINOX makes more distance between them, SOLSTICE turns her head to glare at her.

SOLSTICE thrusts her free hand forwards in her direction, firing a beam of light straight at her head. EQUINOX jerks out of the way, feeling the laser reduce the molecules across its path to scattered atoms, spinning off into the air, and it singes the top of her shoulder. It’s followed by another, aimed at EQUINOX’s abdomen, and she dodges to the side again, but the next attack is once again SOLSTICE herself, rearing back as she flies forwards with a punch. EQUINOX knows what to expect this time, though; she’s already figured out SOLSTICE’s top speed, so calculating how fast she can cross any given distance is simple.

She’s already moving to respond, snapping her fingers and channelling the electrical current running through her veins into a bolt of lightning fired at SOLSTICE. It arcs through the sky, painting its path in crackling violet, but SOLSTICE dodges it easily, evidently having expected it. She loses no momentum, and EQUINOX withdraws. She may be slower than SOLSTICE, but she knows what she’s doing, and with a flick of her wrist, the clouds around them crackle with electricity, and then an explosion of light as a massive thunderbolt crashes into SOLSTICE from below.

The electrical current runs through SOLSTICE’s body and violently pushes her back, smoke curling off of her skin, but as she recovers, EQUINOX can’t see even the slightest sign of a wound. Only grim determination and teary eyes. This isn’t really all that surprising, but it’s certainly upsetting, and, flying as far away as she can, EQUINOX chews on her tongue nervously. It’s not going to be easy, but every attack will mean something and chip down her barriers.

SOLSTICE charges her again, apparently too caught up in her emotions to bother fighting strategically for once, which is probably the luckiest thing for EQUINOX here. The time she had bought for herself with the attack allows her to calm herself a bit more, coming up with a basic skeleton of a strategy. It’s a simple one, but sometimes simple works.

EQUINOX casts Mercurius on herself, feeling her body and soul dissolve into pure electromagnetic information, and she wastes no time in spreading herself across the sky, spilling into her storm. SOLSTICE rips through where she was only moments before, and shrieks in frustration, looking around wildly. “WHERE THE HELL DID YOU GO?! COME ON OUT, YOU BITCH!” She doesn’t wait a moment before she starts blindly firing beams of radiation into the storm, blowing away country-sized chunks with every enraged blast.

While SOLSTICE hits parts of her a few times, it’s no real loss, as EQUINOX quickly reproduces the information, feeling herself swirling through the air, in the crackling thunder, in the magnetosphere itself. The feeling of power, of near-omnipresence - it’s something special, and EQUINOX grabs hold of particles all around her as the storm starts to fire at SOLSTICE with directed bolts of lightning. She smacks the first away and then retaliates with a laser, destroying the offending cloud, only to be shocked by another from behind, which she proceeds to annihilate in turn.

With her enemy safely distracted by her temper tantrum, EQUINOX focuses on the real attack, plucking apart atoms, charging their constituent particles, and preparing each one to fire them at SOLSTICE. Such a small projectile would be difficult to sense or dodge, especially for someone as distracted as SOLSTICE. All it takes is a small mental nudge to fire each at sub-light speeds, all aimed at different vital parts of SOLSTICE’s body, accounting for possible dodge spots.

The first, completely undetected, completes its trajectory and slams into SOLSTICE’s chest, sinking an inch or two into her skin before it dissolves into nothing in the heat of SOLSTICE’s radiation shield. Even though it was stopped, EQUINOX is pleased to see blood trickling down SOLSTICE’s shirt and lingering in the air, the first real wound of the fight.

She can’t dodge the next one, either, which impacts with her neck but, again, dissolves. But, immediately after taking that blow, SOLSTICE dodges the next few, weaving her way out of the maze of subatomic particles now that she’s figured out what she’s dealing with. EQUINOX expected this, though; the scale of SOLSTICE’s senses could certainly pick out some stray particles if she focused, and now that she does, the particles present a much smaller threat to her. She moves with surprising swiftness, dodging out of the way quickly if not firing alpha particles with a small finger gesture to intercept projectiles. SOLSTICE continues to dodge and deflect the lightning bolts constantly released from the storm, all the while firing larger beams of radiation into it blindly, trying to hit EQUINOX.

As exemplary as her dodging abilities are, they’re not perfect, and SOLSTICE takes more hits; one electron rips through her arm and splits a vessel, and another barely misses her eye and cuts a tiny line across her temple. More relevant, however, is the damage they deal to her barriers, punching little holes in them, slowly exposing her soul underneath. While SOLSTICE has fun with that, EQUINOX takes the opportunity to start analyzing her barriers and that protective shield of radiation. She’s responsible for both, but it’s been a while, and she needs to refresh her memory on the fine points of their structure so she knows how to rip them apart.

“I KNOW YOU’RE THERE! I CAN FEEL YOU TRYING TO READ ME!” SOLSTICE’s voice is shrill and carries farther than the sound of thunder, echoing through the sky as if it were otherwise silent and empty. “SHOW YOURSELF!” She’s started nuking the planet beneath them as well, causing massive explosions and releasing tons of fallout into the sky. The nuclear dust rips through the storm like it’s nothing, but EQUINOX just grabs hold of as much as she can, redirecting it towards SOLSTICE as a cloud of razor sharp carbon particles.

That’s a lot more successful than any other attack so far, with a lot of high-speed dust particles ripping through her skin before being reduced to nothing. Judging by the nature of SOLSTICE’s absolute barriers, she would’ve already adapted to an attack like this under normal circumstances, but something seems to impeding that. EQUINOX is completely stumped to why for a moment, until she remembers to look into her own soul.

Her inner world. Whatever its truest nature, it’s fully focused on vengeance at this moment, seeking to kill SOLSTICE no matter what, dedicating itself to that goal just as EQUINOX had. That’s only natural. Her magic has raised in killing power to account for this, countering each of SOLSTICE’s adaptations with its own. The particles that were striking her weren’t the same particles that EQUINOX had ripped apart from their former atoms. They had grown into something else, something SOLSTICE’s barriers couldn’t adapt to.

Perfect. It’s almost like her inner world had tailored itself into the perfect weapon to kill SOLSTICE, which… really makes a lot of sense. Hadn’t EQUINOX done the same thing to herself? Her inner world is just a reflection of the way she saw herself and the world. So, if right now she’s the embodiment of vengeance, manifested to strike down the woman she used to love, her inner world would change into something fitting for such a being.

The thought gives EQUINOX kind of a thrill, one she can’t quite explain or identify. The power in her hands is amazing, and the fact that she’s finally able to use it to avenge herself and make SOLSTICE suffer makes EQUINOX feel perhaps the most intense joy she’s felt in years. She’s only radiation, but she can’t stop herself from laughing ecstatically, seeing SOLSTICE’s blood staining the sky, with the storm thundering in response.

SOLSTICE takes notice, snapping her head up to look over the storm, expression at first confused, but shifting as comprehension dawns. Dammit. I got too excited and gave myself away, huh?

“You’re in the fucking storm, huh!?” She screams into the roaring thunder, surrounding herself in a much more intense shield of heat, so intense that EQUINOX’s particles can’t get through it anymore. It seems she was holding back at least some energy for when she figured out what was going on. Raising her hand, glowing light in her palm, SOLSTICE fires a horizon-spanning wave of pure radiation straight into the sky.

Oh, christ. There are no more words. EQUINOX pulls in all her information and reconstitutes her body a few hundred kilometers under SOLSTICE, just in time.

In an instant, the attack erupts into a massive explosion of force and radiation, erupting into a moon-sized fireball and blowing apart the entire storm with the shockwave. Not just the storm - EQUINOX only needs to take a moment to realize just what she’s done. She destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere, every inch of it. Not even an atom was left. The magnetosphere, too, is hopelessly distorted, bending in on itself and simply ceasing to exist in places. Fissures a thousand kilometers deep spread across the Earth in seconds as much of the surface is swept away, revealing the magma of its core, as the explosion ripples across the planet, and then, the star system. It’s felt as far away as the Kuiper belt.

EQUINOX shouldn’t be surprised. She knows what her own power is capable of, and what SOLSTICE’s is. But to see it in action is another thing altogether. To feel the planet distend and crack as the impact propagates through it, and to suddenly be so exposed. SOLSTICE is looking at her over her shoulder, completely indifferent to the destruction she wrought with just a flick of her wrist.

She really doesn’t fuck around. EQUINOX is just glad she managed to pull herself out of the storm in time. While that almost certainly wouldn’t have killed her, it definitely would put her in a bad position. Neither of them have taken any significant attacks yet - SOLSTICE’s physical injuries are only superficial, and the spiritual damage is only minor. If she got hit by by it, everything would’ve swung around in SOLSTICE’s favor.

Suddenly, EQUINOX feels SOLSTICE powering up another attack, and throws herself out of the way. Again, her timing is impeccable; any later, and she would’ve been caught in this next attack, a laser that crashes into somewhere in Canada and then explodes, wiping out a sizeable chunk of the western hemisphere. For a second, EQUINOX is distracted, awed, and terrified by the display of power, a second that she instantly regrets wasting as SOLSTICE snaps a roundhouse kick into the back of her head.

The world blurs and spins, and EQUINOX hates the power of her senses for a second as she feels shards of her skull rip into her occipital lobe. And while that hurts like hell, the blow echoes through her soul, bringing with it such pain that the physical component feels like a papercut in comparison. EQUINOX staggers through the air, mind ringing, leaving her helpless for just a second, long enough for SOLSTICE to circle her and grab her by the throat, lifting her up.

“I can’t believe you,” SOLSTICE murmurs, voice shaky, holding her tight. So tight, in fact, that EQUINOX can’t use Mercurius to escape. Her grip imitates the effects of a seal, preventing her from using any spell to get away. It’s not a work of magical knowledge - SOLSTICE has none of that, after all. It’s sheer force of will. “You - you’re the WORST! I swear, I give you a moment to yourself and all you can think about is turning against me! ME! After everything?” She proceeds to just spit insults and obscenities at her, crushing her neck more and more, and while EQUINOX can strain against her all she wants, she’s just completely physically overpowered.

Being so close to SOLSTICE makes it near impossible to think as EQUINOX’s brain is flooded with pain and, more importantly fear. She can barely move, crushed by the pressure of SOLSTICE’s grip and the magical force of her anger. Maybe this was a mistake. She should have known this was going to happen, how could it not? SOLSTICE is better at this than her, she’s just an idiot caught up in delusions of grandeur, and now she’s going to die or, worse, get stuck with her again.

EQUINOX flinches away as SOLSTICE leans in, face close to hers, and growls, “Here’s a deal. If you apologize, now, for this… for this… fucking idiocy… I’ll let you come back to me. I’ll let you live. I’ll even forgive you, eventually. But if you decide to keep on being a stupid, selfish bitch…” she tightens her fist, and whispers, “I’ll fucking kill you. Okay? I’ll snap your fucking neck and turn you to ash. Because I don’t need you. You need me. You can’t even fight back anymore, because you know it! So apologize, and I’ll love you again.”

She loosens her grip to allow her to speak, and pulls back, looking at her expectantly. EQUINOX desperately breathes in on instinct, even though she doesn’t need the air anymore, and feels tears running down her cheeks. Now that the storm’s gone, they’re plain as day, and the realization makes her stomach turn over with shame and self-loathing. Bile rises in her throat but she pushes it back down, panting and wheezing.

Just say you’re sorry.

Death is very low on EQUINOX’s desires right now, even with this happening to her. She doesn’t want to die, ever. She fought so long for her life and she had it for herself... at least up until this moment. Can she really give that up just to continue living through hell with Alice? Is it worth it? What kind of life is that?

“... I’d rather die,” EQUINOX mutters, voice and eyes empty.

SOLSTICE doesn’t react at first. She stares at her, blankly, expression unchanging, before her eyes widen in shock and distress. “Wh-what?” Her voice is more shrill than ever before, and her tears start to flow again. “Y-you’re serious? You’d rather fucking die than be with me again? What the hell!?” She’s started to sob again, and she covers her face with her other hand. Every once and a while, she spreads her fingers to look at her again or opens her mouth to say something, but it dies and she just cries more.

Her grip tightens again, cutting off EQUINOX’s breath once more. She continues to struggle, but she can’t make any progress. SOLSTICE keeps on crying for what feels like a couple hours but what a little glance at her internal clock confirms is just like two minutes. Then, SOLSTICE pulls her hand away from her face, sniffling, and glares at her with anger even more intense than before. “Die, then, you ungrateful bitch.”

Speaking more through magic than simple words, EQUINOX snarls, “Just do it, coward.”

SOLSTICE looks at her, shock still distorting her expression, and for a second, she seems reluctant to go through it. Then, her eyes harden, but EQUINOX’s neck stays intact. Instead, a fist slams into EQUINOX’s stomach, the force reverberating through her abdomen and ripping apart her organs, reducing them to a bloody slush. EQUINOX feels the mush that used to be her stomach spill out of her mouth, but… more importantly…

She let go.

The force of SOLSTICE’s punch knocked EQUINOX from her grasp. She flies back in the air, just a few feet, but it’s enough for her mind to start going again. You fucking idiot. A smirk spreads over EQUINOX’s face, and she chuckles, smiling at SOLSTICE for the first time in several years. SOLSTICE freezes, staring, as EQUINOX dissolves into information once more and disappears from sight.

“W-what the f-” She’s completely at a loss for a moment, and then her head snaps towards EQUINOX’s location. “You conniving little -” At the speed of thought, much faster than she can normally move, EQUINOX dashes behind her and reconstitutes herself, skull, brain, and guts intact once more. She can’t run away like this. SOLSTICE will just blast her down now that she can track her, but she won’t expect this.

A physical being once more, EQUINOX slams her open palm into the back of SOLSTICE’s skull and discharges a burst of electricity into her. While she knows what her defenses are like, she hasn’t been able to come up with a way to fully circumvent them yet. All she can do is thin them a little, and hope that her magic can short out her brain.

SOLSTICE pulls away from her violently with a little gasp of pain, grabbing at her head, and then she turns around and swings a punch up at her face. But her fist passes through nothing, as EQUINOX swirls around her and reconstitutes behind her again. She knees her in the ribcage as hard as she can - which, while very hard, doesn’t really accomplish much, given that SOLSTICE is built to fucking last.

Before SOLSTICE can hit her again, she dissolves and passes through her as she spins around again, transmitting as much voltage into her body as she can, popping open a few blood vessels. SOLSTICE grunts in pain, and EQUINOX starts to fly further away, figuring that this isn’t going to work a third time. But, magic reinforced by her will, SOLSTICE grabs hold of her, forcing her information to condense back into her normal form. EQUINOX swears under her breath as she finds herself materialized in SOLSTICE’s grip once more, this time with her hand wrapped around her wrist.

For a second, EQUINOX thinks she’s going to throttle her again, but instead, SOLSTICE yanks her up and then turns around and violently throws her to the ground. EQUINOX isn’t able to process any meaningful thoughts in the short amount of time she has before she hits the earth and bounces along like a stone skipped over water. She catches herself quickly, and starts to push herself up, but SOLSTICE is at her side instantly, and she feels a seemingly casual kick shatter her ribs and flip her over.

EQUINOX spits up blood again and rolls along the ground, trying to dissipate and escape, but SOLSTICE stomps on her chest first, slamming her to the ground. The planet rumbles and cracks, a long fissure that opens up along the circumference of the planet in under a second, running all the way to the core. Wait, that’s just splitting it in half, right?

Yeah, she split the Earth in half.

The two halves start to drift apart from each other, and SOLSTICE kicks her away from the crumbling earth beneath them to crush her against solid ground. EQUINOX doesn’t have any time to move before SOLSTICE stomps on her again, driving her heel into her sternum and pushing her down, hard. “Do you really think you can get away from me?” Her voice is a low growl, and she kneels, glaring into her eyes. “You can’t. Not ever.”

She presses down, harder, watching EQUINOX writhe underfoot. Even though the closeness fills her with nausea, disgust, hatred, and fear, EQUINOX defiantly meets her eyes. “You’re going to die here. Okay?” SOLSTICE’s voice is mournful, and she takes a long breath. A tear trickles down and falls to land on EQUINOX’s face. “You’re really gonna fuckin’ die here. You’re so stupid. Why would you EVER choose death over anything? Especially me? You’re fuckin’ deluded, dear god.” She’s gotten so emotional she can’t hide her accent anymore.

“At the rate you’re going, I’m not going to die any time soon,” EQUINOX snarks, baring her teeth.

SOLSTICE scowls. “Why the hell are you so eager to die?”

EQUINOX grins, though it’s a very fake, malicious smile. “Well, if I die, I won’t have to deal with your bullshit anymore.” SOLSTICE glares at her, sniffles, and murmurs something under her breath in Spanish that she can’t hear. EQUINOX is pretty sure it’s ‘whore’ again. While she’s distracted pitying herself, EQUINOX sinks her fingers into the ground and grabs a hold of its structure. Stone turns to diamond, and then fires from the ground as a spear, aimed at SOLSTICE’s head.

Without looking away from EQUINOX, she catches it, and then snaps it easily, shaking her head. “Fuckin’ idiot,” she mutters, in Spanish, though it automatically translates. “Do you really think you can get me off of you with something like that?” EQUINOX pulls an air particle from the sky and fires it at her back, but SOLSTICE turns slightly, somehow catches it, and then flicks it into the horizon. “Stop it. God, I shouldn’t be fucking engaging with you, I should be making you fucking suffer.” She points a finger at her, a shining light manifesting at her fingertip.

This isn’t going well. Having SOLSTICE so close makes it hard for her to focus enough to string together any strategy or use any more complex magic. The fact that a laser’s been suddenly fired through her shoulder, burning through tendons, does not make this any easier. EQUINOX clenches her jaw tight, trying to prevent herself from making a single sound, but she squirms underneath SOLSTICE’s boot. SOLSTICE doesn’t react at all, only continuing her silent crying and glaring. It hurts so much, having her burn through her soul like a hot knife through butter.

It doesn’t matter. It’s just pain. Panting, EQUINOX unthinkingly casts out her mind and grabs a hold of the first thing that comes to mind. It’s a bit further away than it should be, a couple hundred kilometers off course, presumably because of SOLSTICE’s earlier fireworks show, but EQUINOX just has to give it a firm pull to set it on a collision course with SOLSTICE. She has an idea. It’s not much, but it’s something.

“Does it hurt? It should.” SOLSTICE slowly guides the laser over, following her tendons, running over her collarbone, and burning into her throat. EQUINOX chokes on blood and spits it out in a gasp, grunting. It’s not like these physical wounds really matter, given that she’s transcended her body, but it hurts, and she’s still hitting her soul, hard. This isn’t even meant to cause significant damage, even. It’s just torture.

To distract SOLSTICE from her approaching idea, EQUINOX forces herself to move and grabs a hold of her shin. She releases as much electricity as she can at once, magnetizing her hand to lock it to SOLSTICE’s skin, digging in her nails. SOLSTICE hisses in pain, and tries to kick away her hand, but EQUINOX refuses to let go. She peels away as much of SOLSTICE’s defenses as she can, and then does the first thing that she thinks of.

She turns SOLSTICE’s tibia into charcoal and her blood into hydrochloric acid, and then slams her palm into her shin. The bone buckles and snaps easily, corrosive blood spilling from the wound and hissing against the air, and SOLSTICE shrieks in pain, but she doesn’t pull away. In fact, she actually presses down harder, cracking EQUINOX’s ribcage and firing a beam of light at her own leg to boil away the acid and cauterize the wound, wincing. “You -” Finally, she takes notice of the immense shadow covering the two of them, no longer focused on her tortures. She jerks her head up in shock, staring in silence for a moment before yelling, “YOU SERIOUSLY BROUGHT DOWN THE FUCKING MOON!?”

The Moon is, in all its glory, floating only 10 kilometers away from the two of them, and growing closer every moment. SOLSTICE doesn’t even have a second to react before it hits, and EQUINOX knows exactly what she’ll do. It’s blazing with fire as it nears, and the force of its approach shakes the Earth and splinters the ground, pulling up swaths of land. But the ground underneath SOLSTICE and EQUINOX stays intact.

Right before it reaches her, SOLSTICE raises an arm, and when the Moon runs into her open palm, it comes to slow, grinding halt. Not without putting up a fight, of course; SOLSTICE, and EQUINOX with her, sinks deeper into the ground by a few meters, but SOLSTICE holds back its astronomical mass with a single hand, only straining slightly. “You’re going to need more than the Moon -”

Pouring all of her willpower into the next spell, EQUINOX converts 80% of the Moon into energy, and lets it explode. It’s blinding. Not just physically, but magically, cutting off all magical sight for a second as it lights up the entire planet. It knocks SOLSTICE off of her feet, finally freeing up EQUINOX, who is forced deeper underground, before she breaks herself down into energy and transmits herself to the other side of the planet in the time it takes for the explosion to finish.

She reconstitutes her body the moment she’s on solid ground again, and flumps over onto her back, panting. Once more, her body is intact. No more ribs in her lungs or missing tendons or melting skin. EQUINOX stares at the sky, and feels out the massive crater on the other side of the planet. The explosion still ripples through the sky. There’s no way that killed SOLSTICE, but it definitely fucked her up.

Until she finds EQUINOX, she has some time to prepare for the next stage of their fight. That was her first solid, serious blow to SOLSTICE. The first thing she does is recreate the atmosphere around the shattered planet, quickly returning her storm to its full size and force. Her soul twinges in pain and she takes a deep breath, standing up. As the rain falls back to Earth, EQUINOX happily stands there, letting it wash over her, refreshingly cool. It clears her mind again. For the first time since SOLSTICE destroyed it all.

I can do this. EQUINOX runs over her body and its contents. There’s a lot of fallout in her system, unsurprisingly; the amount is more than enough to kill a human, and though she can operate with it pretty easily, it could certainly build up over time and become more dangerous. She presses her hand to her chest and whispers a simple healing spell, purging all of the irritants from her system, and takes in a deep breath of clean air.

Come on, EQUINOX. Let’s think about how this has gone so far. She runs her hand over her face and mulls it all over. SOLSTICE is not fighting at her best, but… EQUINOX really isn’t either. Does she even have a best? She hasn’t fought a lot of people so this could very well be her best by default. The point is that she can do better. There’s more complex and inventive magic in her hands. EQUINOX just can’t think right with SOLSTICE around. It used to be because she was just so in love, but now it’s because she’s filled with dread.

She’ll have to be stronger.

The air suddenly buzzes with energy, atoms vibrating, and EQUINOX whirls around.

“GO TO HELL!” SOLSTICE fires a massive beam of radiation, burning with more power than any other attack, straight at her location. It happens so suddenly that EQUINOX can’t dodge, forcing her to take it head-on. It washes over her entire body at once, instantly burning through several layers of skin before EQUINOX’s magical barrier adapts enough to start holding it back more effectively.

That really doesn’t feel like it means much, as EQUINOX feels her atoms start to break down, undergoing fission reactions and bursting into tiny nuclear explosions. The damage done to her soul is far worse. She’s swept along with the laser, propelling her several kilometers back, and she slides across the ground - what used to be the ground at least, as it, too, explodes. Without magical protection, there’s nothing preventing every atom from being forcibly converted into a fissile material and exploding.

The beam starts to dissipate around EQUINOX, but before she can finally stop, SOLSTICE flies after her and grabs her by the collar, and then rams her fist into her stomach. She’s knocked another kilometer back, organs bursting through her now open stomach, with half an arm having been burnt away by the laser. The pain is so intense she almost passes out, but she powers through, forcing herself to her feet. Her injuries regenerate in seconds, but not even a particle of her jacket remains. As she stands, SOLSTICE lands on a smoldering rock formation a few meters from her, panting, skin steaming with magic.

She looks a lot worse, incapable of repairing any of her wounds under such short notice. Her jacket is gone too, and her entire body is slick with blood, which slowly boils away under her shield of radiation. Despite that, SOLSTICE is very clearly not bleeding anymore, and it’s easy to see why; every open injury has been cauterized, and in the case of her broken shin, carbonized. Her tank top is ripped, soaked, and stained red, and seems to be stuck to her skin by sweat and blood. EQUINOX can totally see her abs, outlined by her wet shirt and revealed in places by the holes in the fabric.

She manages to not stare. SOLSTICE is fucking ripped, and that’s never been more apparent than it is now. She’s extremely tense, and she keeps on clenching and unclenching her fists, unconsciously flexing her arms. EQUINOX pulls her eyes away and stares into SOLSTICE’s. She’s staring at her with an animosity that’s much more intense than anything fixed on her before.

Wow, I think this is the angriest I’ve ever seen her. That’s an accomplishment, right? It feels like it should be. The longer this fight’s gone on the more smug EQUINOX feels. There’s another long, tense silence, the two of them fixated on each other, everything else seemingly forgotten. But EQUINOX’s brain is still going. She’s still thinking. She’ll never stop.

Once again, it’s SOLSTICE that breaks the silence, explosively kicking forwards, rock shattering under her. EQUINOX jerks away in response, surprised even though she was expecting this and ready for it. The distance between them vanishes nearly instantly, but EQUINOX reaches out to grab smoldering debris with her mind, flinging it all at SOLSTICE like a barrage of railgun projectiles. SOLSTICE weaves through them easily, only getting glancing wounds - despite her size, dodging ranged attacks is evidently a simple matter.

This is fine, though. Right before SOLSTICE is about to reach her again, a razor-sharp spike of diamond shoots out from the ground, nearly impaling her throat. She stops just before it does, taking a step back and moving her arm back to smash it out of the way. But before she can do so, the storm above her thunders, and a massive bolt of lightning flashes from the depths of the dark clouds. SOLSTICE pushes herself back, propelling herself several meters away and escaping the blast radius, but EQUINOX had accounted for that.

The projectiles she had used earlier are scattered across the air in a fine mist, having dissolved into stray, charged particles, stretching out across an area ten meters in diameter to make one large electrical field. In this area, a hastily made Override Sigil would allow for electricity to travel through it all at once. As the lightning crashes into the field, it travels across all the connected particles, catching SOLSTICE right in the center.

Electrocuted by close to a tera amp, SOLSTICE convulses and sways, nearly falling over, but she forces herself to keep standing, raising an arm to sweep away all the particles in a wave of nuclear fire. EQUINOX fades into background radiation and transmits herself back underground, feeling out an area of earth underneath SOLSTICE’s feet and breaking it down into electricity. It crackles and then, given shape, bursts out of the ground in front of SOLSTICE.

What SOLSTICE sees is EQUINOX herself, glowing with crackling electricity, rip herself from underground and swing her fist into her face. It’s so unexpected for her that she can’t block it, stumbling back and grasping at her face as blood starts to trickle from a broken nose. “Son of a bitch,” she growls, falling prey to her own rage once more and stepping forwards. But the false EQUINOX simply disperses in a flash of violet lightning, triggering the field to shock SOLSTICE again, right before the sliver of diamond shoots forward, straight through her right shoulder.

It doesn’t stop, ripping through as if there were no resistance and breaking apart a kilometer after it hits her. SOLSTICE grabs hold of her shoulder, cursing in pain, and quickly burns the wound shut, teeth clenched to prevent herself from screaming. Then, she just jerks up her hand and shrieks, “GET THE FUCK OUT HERE!”

Before EQUINOX can move deeper or get away, everything around SOLSTICE explodes, atoms erupting through fission and tearing apart the ground. Every particle is scoured from existence as a massive nuclear explosion engulfs their surroundings, sending a wave of force throughout one half of Earth, snapping it apart in places. The ground EQUINOX was transmitting herself through suddenly explodes as the spell spreads four thousand kilometers underground, ripping open another gorge in the Earth. Forced to rematerialize to stop her information from being scattered across the entire planet, EQUINOX feels the world come back into focus as she falls down the side of the gorge, all the way down to the bottom. She hits the ground hard, feeling her breath hiss out from her lungs, but she forces herself to her feet, ignoring the dull pain all over her body.

She’s covered in dust and blood, and wipes it away, wincing as her hands brush over scraped skin. It heals quickly, though, and EQUINOX stands, trying to feel out SOLSTICE’s location. It’s hard when there’s literal tons of fallout falling from the sky and blotting out most magical sensations. It takes a moment, but she finds her, dropping down into the gorge she’s carved out, and, not wanting to risk any more close quarters combat, EQUINOX tries to quietly fly out.

But, as always, it quickly becomes clear that SOLSTICE’s attention is focused on her, and she shoots towards her location much faster than EQUINOX can move. She fires another horizon-spanning blast of light at her, forcing EQUINOX to drop to the ground as it levels the landscape behind her. And on the ground, SOLSTICE is already catching up, reaching her so quickly it was like she was already there. She grabs a hold of EQUINOX’s ankle and violently tosses her back into the new canyon she had opened up, and then follows her there.

Colliding with the ground at what now passes for sublight speeds rocks EQUINOX’s perception, world spinning around her once more. She tries to stand up and fly away, but it’s no use, as SOLSTICE drops down in front of her and delivers a punch straight to her face. EQUINOX feels the front of her skull cave in and staggers back, blood flowing down the front of her face. This is different from before. Now that SOLSTICE has been actually seriously injured, she’s gotten a lot more violent.

Before SOLSTICE can step in and hit her harder, EQUINOX brings up another pillar of sharpened Earth in between the two of them. SOLSTICE easily dodges, jumping back, and then sidestepping another that comes up from behind her. It seems so effortless, but EQUINOX can see that she’s put off balance. She can’t run away; SOLSTICE will just pursue her and catch her, so it seems she has no choice to continue this battle in close quarters.

Kicking off the ground, EQUINOX moves in towards SOLSTICE, a thunderstorm crackling in her open palm. In response, stepping back on solid ground, SOLSTICE suddenly changes her stance, swaying unnaturally. EQUINOX has already dedicated too much momentum to this attack to easily pull back, and before she can, SOLSTICE easily catches her wrist in her hand. With a swift, resounding crack, she snaps it in her hand, and then pushes herself forward with a step, instantly moving straight into her preferred range.

Before she has a chance to move or even process what’s happening, SOLSTICE’s fist slams into her chest. It pushes through the skin and straight into her sternum, crushing it, and then carrying through and ripping apart her heart and lungs. As the blow completes its travel, EQUINOX feels blood rush up her throat and spill from her lips, and SOLSTICE's fist rips through her torso and emerges from the other side.

Before she has the time to react, SOLSTICE crushes her shin with a low kick, and then pushes her forwards, leaving her to stumble. EQUINOX rapidly repairs her body, and tries to jump back to make more distance, but SOLSTICE is too fast, immediately moving right up to her again. She swings her knee up into her stomach, and EQUINOX is knocked into the air with a strangled, pained gasp. For a moment, SOLSTICE stops moving, briefly locking eyes with EQUINOX. At first, all she sees is an intense, cold fury, but as soon as they make eye contact, her concentration lapses, and tears start to well at the corners once more.

Then, she feels a foot in her chest, sending her flying hundreds of meters back. While she doesn't have much lungs left, it gives her the metaphorical room to breathe, and she shoots a massive bolt of lightning in SOLSTICE's direction. It’s deflected with a swing of her arm as she flies into the air, with her back to EQUINOX, hair blowing in the wind. A bright explosion lights up the sky, as SOLSTICE uses it to propel herself back at EQUINOX, spinning to face her.

She slams into her, both of them still mid-air, and brings her with her to the ground, hard. EQUINOX gasps in pain as the earth underneath her shatters, rock digging into her spine, and SOLSTICE’s hands find her way to her throat, beginning to squeeze, hard. Struggling, EQUINOX raises an arm, but SOLSTICE shifts, bringing up her knee and pressing the arm down to the ground. “Stop fucking doing this,” she murmurs, voice hoarse, glaring down into EQUINOX’s eyes, “Just fucking stop!” She punctuates the sentence by pulling back one of her hands and punching EQUINOX in the face.

She doesn’t stop there, immediately punching her again, and again. The repeated impacts ring against EQUINOX’s skull, echoing in her soul, chipping away bit by bit as SOLSTICE loses herself in her rage. Tears fall to the ground as EQUINOX feels her blood and grey matter splatter over the earth, and wow, while this hurts like hell, it gives her an idea. She stops struggling. She lets her body go still and lowers her magical energy as much as she can, and leaves SOLSTICE to keep on doing this until the realization hits her.

SOLSTICE punches her twice more before she freezes, fist pulled back. She stares, almost disbelieving, eyes widening, and then quietly whispers, “EQ?” She’s so quiet she’s almost silent, voice drowned out by the roaring of thunder, and she takes a shaky breath, looking down at with steadily dawning distress. “EQ?” SOLSTICE pulls her hand away from her neck, and frantically shakes her shoulder, dropping her fist. “EQ? Come on. You can’t…” she chokes up, beginning to sob, “No, no, no, no, come on…”

EQUINOX had expected this to some extent, but watching it happen, lying in her seemingly dead body, is still intensely sickening. She doesn’t know how to feel as she watches SOLSTICE clutch her face with bloody hands, sobbing, and so instead decides to focus on finishing up her analysis of her barriers. She hadn’t been able to get the time to do this before, but now that SOLSTICE thinks she’s dead, she has all the time in the world.

Her processing comes to an abrupt, awkward end when SOLSTICE scoops up her body and hugs her into her chest, sobbing out a weak, “I’m so sorry,” as she continues to cry. EQUINOX’s thoughts stall when she hears that, incapable of fully processing such a genuine apology. SOLSTICE’s fingers dig into her arms as she grieves, and… EQUINOX briefly loses herself in this feeling. It’s easy to forget that her head is mostly destroyed and that this woman ruined her life and that they’re both trying to kill each other when she’s being held like this, after so long.

It used to be the most comforting thing in the world. EQUINOX’s stomach turns with disgust and the revelation that it’s still not unpleasant, even in a situation like this. Alice’s arms are so strong, and she’s so warm and safe that for a long second, EQUINOX wonders if she could give up on this and heal and give her another shot.

But she can’t.

She knows that.

Outside of this hug, everything is awful and it’s all SOLSTICE’s fault. She can’t just let it all go because she’s good at this. EQUINOX quietly finishes up her analysis, outlining every weak point, finally, and then takes a breath. SOLSTICE doesn’t seem to notice, or doesn’t think anything of it.

And then EQUINOX’s body explodes into razor sharp streams of directed blood. “Wh -” SOLSTICE doesn’t have a moment to react before they rip through her body, radiation shield let down. Most of them only give glancing injuries all the same, except for one blade, which slashes through her right eye, tearing it apart. She shrieks and kicks away, falling onto her back, desperately grasping at her now destroyed eye, sobbing.

Now that she’s destroyed her body, EQUINOX can finally show off her Apotheosis, materializing her soul and recreating her body in its entirety above the now prone SOLSTICE, fully physically healed once more. SOLSTICE’s one eye widens with shock, and then she actually smiles weakly, mumbling, “I thought you were -”

EQUINOX cuts her off and dives in, preparing her next attack with the explicit purpose of destroying her defenses and turning them against her. All she needs to do is hit her head, but SOLSTICE blocks her hand with her right arm, jerking it up incredibly quickly to block her access. While not as good as her head, it’s something, and EQUINOX digs in her nails, conducting a burst of electricity straight into her arm, along with the virus, before SOLSTICE kicks her away. EQUINOX catches herself before she falls, and watches as SOLSTICE uneasily rises up.

“How did you survive tha -” The moment she begins to speak, the virus activates, and SOLSTICE grabs at her right arm as it seizes. The virus, a more… personal application of Mercurius, is breaking down her defenses and directing them against her own body, starting with her arm. It quickly starts to dissolve into information, starting at the forearm and rapidly spreading up to her shoulder, transmitting everything it takes back to a waiting EQUINOX, who stares, feeling an unnatural fascination and satisfaction tingle at her heart.

Before it can get any further, SOLSTICE annihilates her right arm with a beam of radiation, destroying everything beneath her shoulder with a pained scream. While EQUINOX doubts it would’ve gotten much farther before SOLSTICE’s defenses adapted, however ineffectively, this isn’t a bad outcome either. SOLSTICE’s now missing arm puts her at a huge disadvantage, smoke and steam curling off from the stump.

SOLSTICE takes a step back, panting, covered in blood that steams against her burning skin. Her remaining arm is raised at the ready, trembling ever so slightly as she breathes in and out, deeply. She's unsteady, swaying a little in the intense winds of EQUINOX's storm, as she's pelted by slivers of hail and rain, each of which boil away before they touch her skin. The two of them are standing in place, more still than they've been for a long time, staring at each other. SOLSTICE seems reluctant to make a move, forced onto the defensive by her wounds, and her face flickers between emotions, going from impassive to miserable to struggling to hold back rage. She's still crying. Has she stopped for even a moment this entire fight?

Does it matter?

EQUINOX's hair whips in front of her eyes, and she pushes it aside with her hand. This moment of relative peace is appreciated, as it gives her more time to sort out her thoughts, and focus herself. As soon as she starts making the motion to step forwards, SOLSTICE is at full alert again, meeting her gaze head-on with a burning green eye. Unwavering, EQUINOX stares straight back, even if holding her gaze makes her stomach roil with disgust and instinctive fear, until SOLSTICE falters and glances away, expression wracked by another pang of grief.

The opening that leaves is clear, and EQUINOX lunges forwards, crossing the distance between them like a flash of lightning. It forces SOLSTICE to look at her again, and even with her injuries, she's fast enough to quickly dodge to the side. But - compared to before, her movements are sluggish and clumsy. They still show the same murderous intent, but the careful technique behind them from before had vanished. Stomping her foot into the ground for balance, SOLSTICE rears her one arm back and swings it at EQUINOX's head. EQUINOX dodges without thinking about it, bending back with flexibility she didn't know she had, feeling the blow rip through the air above her and ruffle her hair.

From the looks of it, SOLSTICE didn't expect her to be that flexible either, and stumbles, having over-committed to the attack. Her unbalance leaves her chest wide open, and without the slightest hint of hesitation, EQUINOX propels herself up and forwards with a burst of electricity, pulling her own fist back. Now, the speed advantage is hers, and EQUINOX fixes her eyes on the center of SOLSTICE's abdomen. Another memory that the two of them shared comes to her, unbidden. Alice had always told her to go for the solar plexus.

Arm coursing with a current that'd be lethal for anyone else, EQUINOX slams her fist directly into her solar plexus, discharging all of the electricity in her body. All she hears from SOLSTICE is a strangled gasp as the air is forced from her lungs, and then she's flying through the air like a ragdoll, skidding across the ground until she's 10 meters away, catching herself from going any further by digging her fingers into the earth. She rises up, unsteadily, trembling even worse than before, clutching her abdomen and coughing up blood.

Despite the injury, SOLSTICE doesn't fall back to the ground, instead forcing herself to stay on her feet. The strike would've killed anyone else. On the outside, the only sign of injury is the bleeding wound that reveals itself when SOLSTICE pries her hand away, visible through a hole burned in her tank top. Under the skin, however, EQUINOX has a good idea of what's happened. The attack most likely fried all of the nearby nerves, flooding SOLSTICE's brain with a discordant mess of pain signals before they turned to ash. All the arteries nearby would've burst into steaming blood, probably destroying part of her kidneys.

A normal person would've passed out instantly and then bled out in a few minutes, but SOLSTICE is still standing.

Let's fix that.

Before SOLSTICE can move to retaliate or deal with her own injury, EQUINOX splits the sky with a bolt of lightning fixed on her position. And another. And another. She doesn't stop, sweeping her arms violently to direct the magic better, whipping droplets of her own blood and the rain covering her into the air around her. While the visual is obscured by debris and dust, she can feel SOLSTICE writhing and convulsing as she's struck again and again. It's... exhilarating, a red-hot rush of glee and sickeningly sadistic pleasure that tingles in her fingertips much more intensely than any electricity, filling her body with a burning sensation that almost makes her dizzy.

She deserves this. She deserves to be tortuously reduced to ash by electricity coursing through her veins and frying her nerves. She deserves it. Those are the only thoughts EQUINOX processes as she loses herself in vengeance, and even those fade away eventually. Before she has the chance to annihilate her like this, a beam of light lances through the air and pierces her lower abdomen, burning through part of her colon. EQUINOX barely feels it, but the attack still knocks her back and the rising crescendo of crashing thunder stops as she reconstitutes the smoldering hole in her stomach.

SOLSTICE forces herself up once again, moving even though it should be impossible, but she's much more unsteady than before. Her entire body is slick with blood, but it slowly boils away as her shield of radiation reestablishes itself around her, searing every wound shut. "EQ..." her voice is quiet, but it rings through the air and EQUINOX feels it sinking into her own mind as the glow of sadism fades. "C-come on. Stop." She's a far cry from what she was when this battle started, near-dead and pathetic enough to resort to begging. "Please."

EQUINOX breathes in. The only thing she can smell is the fresh rain, and the only thing she feels as the warmth bleeds out of her body are freezing raindrops running down her skin. She wipes rainwater from her face and, for a moment, a bit of doubt worms its way back into her heart as she looks over at SOLSTICE. Even now, guilt burns a hole inside of her stomach, and nausea rises up in her throat like a tide. But she can't stop. She can't let her get away with what she's done just because she's good at playing the victim. Billions of people are dead and EQUINOX is a dusting of broken glass and it's her fault. Just because she knows what it's like now doesn't mean she's free from what she's done.

"I can't," EQUINOX whispers, almost silent, and though it's drowned out by the roaring storm, SOLSTICE feels the words anyways. She doesn't react, staring at EQUINOX with a pleading eye, but EQUINOX won't have it. She won't feel an ounce of pity for her. She refuses. This fight's not over, not until SOLSTICE can no longer stand. She doesn't say it, but she stares back into SOLSTICE's eyes until she knows it and, reluctantly, SOLSTICE shifts back into position.

Her wounds are taking their toll, but perhaps more serious is the side-effects of her intense, blinding emotions. Such emotions would only put more stress on the soul, and as SOLSTICE drinks them in for the greater power they grant, she’s only accelerating the gradual incineration of her own soul. She’ll probably die without medical attention even if EQUINOX stops fighting now. But that’s not enough. The steadily intensifying sadism spreading through EQUINOX makes her want to savor this.

She lunges forwards, surrounding herself in a torrent of electricity, aiming a palm strike at SOLSTICE’s abdomen. SOLSTICE throws herself forward, but her punch misses completely as EQUINOX dodges to the open side of her body left by her missing arm. Then, finding herself to be uncontrollably grinning, EQUINOX slams her palm into the side of SOLSTICE’s ribcage, shattering bone. SOLSTICE makes a strangled gasping noise as broken ribs dig into her lungs, and then swings a low kick at EQUINOX, trying to keel her over.

This, too, is easily avoided, and EQUINOX retaliates by kicking her knee from the side, forcing it out of the socket and snapping it where it connects. SOLSTICE sobs and steps away, trying to make further distance, but EQUINOX is already up close again. She throws a desperate punch, pouring as much energy into it as she can, but EQUINOX just catches it. She feels the impact in her bones, feels something in her hand break, but she ignores it and jerks her hand out of the way, leaving SOLSTICE’s chest exposed.

She slams her free hand into her as hard as she can, crushing bone through the skin and briefly brushing against the protective covering of the Solar Drive. Then, the electricity in her hand explodes, piercing through her chest, the Solar Drive within it, and her upper spine further behind. SOLSTICE doesn’t make any noise in reaction to that, but instead, staggers back, hunched over. She looks so much smaller now, but EQUINOX still had to aim her chest blows high up to get around the height difference.

SOLSTICE’s breathing is heavy and weak, every breath seeming more like a tortured sob than a normal breath. She's struggling to stay on her feet - a moment later, she falls to one knee, and coughs up a glob of blood. It’s clear, now, who has won. The knowledge makes EQUINOX’s grin grow, and she covers her face, ambivalent towards the blood that she’s smearing over herself as she does so. She can’t stop herself from giggling, and SOLSTICE flinches, looking at her with obvious fear.

“P-please…” SOLSTICE suddenly starts to rise, forcing herself to her feet with unnatural, jerking movements, despite the damage to her spine and legs. She lifts her arm and covers her chest, tears streaming down her face, and in a small, weak voice, she pleads, “Don’t kill me.” She doesn’t sound anything like herself. Her hair blows in the wind, over her eyes. There's silence, rain pattering down against the two of them.

EQUINOX meets her gaze, and her smile dies as once more, she finds herself struggling to move. It’s so fucking unfair that all Alice only needs to cry and beg for her to suddenly falter again, to suddenly remember every nice moment, to suddenly feel like this is all her fault. She’s had to fight this entire fight just to get her to truly apologize, and maybe that’s all she needs? She proved her point. She won. She doesn’t need to kill her, but she doesn’t need to spend her life with her, either.

Her heart beats and it hurts, and EQUINOX takes a shaky breath. But she fought for this. She fought to kill her. She had always tried to talk out their issues before, but SOLSTICE could never stop thinking about herself long enough to let anything improve. She wanted things to rot. And all the people she killed… billions, many of which certainly begged for their lives. And they’re all dead.

She can’t let her live. That’s not fair to the Earth. And it’s not fair to her, either. Because she knows Alice. She’s known her for a long time. And no matter how many times she apologized or said it’d be better next time, it never was. She never changed, because she doesn’t know how. EQUINOX clenches her fists, and takes in a deep, deep breath.

Forcing herself to walk forward feels like the hardest thing she’s ever had to do, but she knows it’s going to get much more difficult real soon. All those sweet memories of early mornings and late nights, of surprise dinners and gentle, tender moments, only narrow the options that present themselves to EQUINOX. It was SOLSTICE’s fault that those things were all lost to them. EQUINOX refuses to blame herself.

EQUINOX knows exactly what she’s going to do. As she approaches, SOLSTICE loses her balance and falls back onto one knee, looking at her uncertainly, still crying. “E-EQUINOX, please…” EQUINOX looks into her eyes - though one is screwed shut - forcing herself to hold eye contact, and then takes a step onto her knee, boosting herself up to eye level.

Before she can say anything else, EQUINOX plunges her arm straight through her chest, ignoring the turning of her stomach and the stopping of her own heart. She forces herself to hold her gaze, and grabs the Solar Drive, pushing it through the other side of her torso. SOLSTICE grabs her arm once it’s up into the elbow, grip tight, though it grows weaker with every passing second. EQUINOX’s dress shirt is completely soaked with blood now. SOLSTICE rasps, “Please,” and EQUINOX closes her hand.

“Bye, Alice.”

The Solar Drive crumples in her grip, giving a moment of resistance before it shatters, components falling to the ground from between her fingers one by one. SOLSTICE doesn’t make a sound, and, slowly, her arm falls to the side. EQUINOX doesn’t let herself cry, quickly altering her own body structure to remove her tear ducts. She steps down, and pulls her arm out, looking away from SOLSTICE’s eyes to investigate her blood soaked forearm. It makes for a good excuse to avert her gaze.

SOLSTICE is still moving, and EQUINOX can still feel her magical energy, though it rapidly shrinks with every passing moment. She takes a step back, and SOLSTICE raises her head, remaining eye running with tears, blood dripping from her mouth. EQUINOX can see through her chest like a window. Even though she should absolutely be long dead, she pushes herself to both feet and stands, swaying in the wind of the storm, which is starting to fade as the fight concludes.

“I… don’t want to die..” she sobs, raising her good arm towards EQUINOX, and she mutters, “I can’t go back to that… not again… please… I love…”

EQUINOX shoots a particle beam through her skull, right through her brain, and shakes her head, silently.

As SOLSTICE falls forwards, life melting out of her one eye, she mouths ‘you’. The storm slowly dissipates in the skies above, and EQUINOX stares at her ex-wife’s corpse, expression vacant. She stands there for a long time, and then, taking a deep breath, turns her back and walks away.

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