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    1. Matt Nada 3 mos ago
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Hi, I'm Matt. I used to judge tournaments seasonally for the GT League, and I've been engaged by Alucroas, Longinus, and Lest to judge this topic and assign a winner. I'm posting here instead of in discord at GM Lest's request.

As this is a no restrictions contest that does not require GM approved character profiles, I will be judging only on the logical progression of the fight as a fight. I am assessing whether or not actions taken are justified internally through proper set up via a good faith introduction of each character's capabilities, and whether or not the characters as presented are properly motivated through roleplay, and not functioning solely as mouthpieces for their writers. I will not be relying on any prior knowledge of either character and their capabilities, nor am I relying on any additional supporting material outlining character abilities or player intent that is not contained within this thread. I will not be making any notes on the literary style or the technical proficiency of either player as a writer, though we can talk about that later if anyone wants advice.

I've identified three primary contests between Alucroas (playing as the dragon, Zucroas) and Longinus (playing as a shadowy, amorphous, malevolence interacting with the fight in the form of Kintar) that will decide the outcome of this fight. 1) A clash between Kintar's reflections and Zucroas' lightning serpent attack. 2) The effect and potency of a “psy-flame” attack that Kintar is using to attack Zucroas' mind. 3) A direct physical clash between Zucroas and Kintar herself.

I'm going to run through each of these and assess how they shape the overall narrative of the fight.

Skip ahead if you don't want my notes.

1) The first proper exchange begins with Kintar taking command of all reflective surfaces in the arena, casting her reflection (but not that of Zucroas, or anything else) within each mirror. Zucroas responds by immediately using some kind of binding ability that manifests as red light to fix each reflection so that they will take direct damage, and charging up an attack of “lightning serpents” to kill them. It's not always clear whether he envisions these as actual literal lightning shaped into the form of snakes, or if they're summoned creatures that bare the elemental attribute of lightning.

It's a bit strange on its face that Zucroas just launches into that immediately, but Alucroas notes that Zucroas is unsettled by the evil presence in the arena, so I can accept that maybe he just had bad vibes and wanted to play it safe. I take some issue with Alucroas decision to backtrack, however, in presenting this attack as taking place throughout the entirety of Longinus' post. Had this been happening all along, Kintar—who stands in a hall of mirrors—would clearly have noticed this all happening. And it just isn't really necessary, she had not taken any offensive action against Zucroas at this point.

As part of a generalized defense, Longinus has the lightning snakes (after they bite the reflections) drawn through a vortex into Kintar's shadow realm to be negated. Alucroas responds by having the snakes open up a connection to an astral realm of chaos and cover themselves in a defensive energy membrane that will shield them from damage, while also counteracting and defeating the foreign energies of the vortex. And at the same time they start emitting a mist that has the same binding powers as the red light from earlier.

This does not seem credible to me. I do not object to Zucroas unveiling this capability, but it strains suspension of disbelief to accept that he just had it prepped and ready to go by default. It would have been better to just accept the loss of the lightning serpents, and then try again with a second attack, this time hardened against Kintar's abilities.

We next find out that Kintar's shadow realm was just hell all along, and that Zucroas' amplified lightning serpents will just fly around obliterating countless damned souls, reducing them to “entropic slime” which is gradually absorbed by the other damned, and so on, until the the snakes are eventually crushed. We're really just lost in the weeds this point, with this attack chain.

I accept that Kintar's abyss is just hell. There's nothing to say it isn't. But, once we know it's just hell, why continue with these snakes? Do a bunch of snakes flying around hell destroying souls pose a meaningful threat to Kintar? Does Zucroas have anything to gain by keeping them alive? I think you're both continuing just for the sake of it, for fear of looking like you didn't get the best of an exchange.

Next Zucroas redirects one of Kintar's attacks (the swords I'll talk about later) into hell, combines it with all of the ley-line controlling red dust his snakes were emitting (which I will also talk about later), and after absorbing more power from the chaos dimensions he invoked earlier, uses it to collapse and destroy hell. That seems to go too far, and shouldn't stand as more than the wishful explanation of what Zucroas is attempting to do. The aftershocks of the attack on hell feed back into Kintar's reflections, essentially hitting them from the other side, which does, at least, seem more plausible.

2) As part of Kintar's ability to command her own reflection, she takes control of her image within Zucroas eyes and transforms it into a “psy-flame” that is intended to “to boil away his psyche” afflicting him with “ego death.” Here, I believe Longinus was very clear that this is neither real physical fire, nor does it constitute a psychic attack in the conventional sense. It is essentially a spell that deals psychic damage instead of physical damage, and is not a dependent extension of Kintar's own mind.

However, I suspect the wording “Its caress made to boil away his psyche, all the way down to his instincts, leaving the creature a hollow, empty existence. A perfect thing to be remade as she saw fit” has led Alucroas to misapprehend this as a traditional psychic attack, mind to mind, particularly due to the implication that she will “remake” him. He reacts to the “psy-flame” as though Kintar has attempted to enter Zucroas mind through his eyes, and is now engaging him in psychic combat.

I don't think this is a fatal blunder though. We see Zucroas taking a few actions, going on to detail an elaborate mental landscape to serve as their battlefield, and using his red light power on himself to strengthen his resistance to psychic attacks. I think this reads as Zucroas trying to kitchen sink his way out of danger from an attack he does not fully understand. Nothing he's done so far could defeat the psy-flame, but it makes sense these broad defenses would slow it down and give him time to feel out what's happening.

And Longinus accepts that, allowing that the defense will slow the psy-flame for a while, before just failing once the flame has built up sufficient intensity, which I think is fair enough. But he also has some aspect of Kintar's spirit manifest within Zucroas' mental landscape, and engage him on the terms Alucroas' post had proposed. It evidently feeds on the sin of wrath, growing stronger the more wrathful Zucroas becomes, until acquiring the influence needed to shut off his nervous system.

I think Longinus made his own tactical error here. To this point, Zucroas has not mounted an effective defense against the psy-flame, treating it instead as a mental tug-of-war. Why give him one, instead of just letting the flame continue to burn, until he finds a way to stop it? I also don't really buy Zucroas as being particularly “wrathful” in his actions. He didn't like Kintar's vibes, and attacked. It seems reasonable considering her shadow was evidently hell itself.

Alucroas next seems to treat the psy-flame as though it has either dissipated already, or that it has transformed into Kintar's mental construct, continuing to misunderstand it. From Longinus' previous post these were two separate attacks entirely; the mental construct was created from Zucroas' resistance, and not from the psy-flame.

As Kintar feasts on his wrath to empower herself, Zucroas fends her off with what is basically the power of love, thinking back to the bonds of brotherhood he formed with his counterparts. He then reshapes his mental landscape into an endless oceanic abyss, and drowns Kintar's projection in it while throwing all of his red mist and lightning serpent attacks against her.

This I accept as a valid response to the Kintar apparition. But because of how the psy-flame has been described, I have to treat it as though it is still burning away his mind without having been, as yet, directly contested. At best, all of the red mist ley-line power that Zucroas is flinging around could constitute an incomplete partial defense, as it's being directed at his own mind, and as Longinus has conceded that these powers should possess at least some ability to restrain the psy-flame.

Meanwhile I have a larger problem with Longinus' final word on the psy-flame/mental battle aspect of the fight, wherein he presents that Zucroas is merely lying to himself about his motivations and emotions, has failed to master his rage, and is swiftly overwhelmed and defeated by the attack on his nervous system. Far be it for me to question whether the devil could negate the power of love, but I think it's generally inappropriate to write your opponent's character for them in this manner. Alucroas is the only person who really gets to decide what Zucroas thinks and feels, regardless of how credible the motivations he assigns may seem.

3) And lastly we have the direct clash. Zucroas charges up his big dragon breath attack, and Longinus accepts the attack and allows Kintar to fall to the ground electrocuted. Here we receive the first very clear implication that Kintar is only a marionette, and that the real character is her shadow (or whatever is inside of it), when it grows eyes and starts swallowing the lightning. Evil fluids start pooling around her body, covering the arena, to extend her shadow's event horizon, and Zucroas then jumps away from them while powering up his lightning and imbuing it with his red light binding power, so that it will burn away the shadow and give him a clear path to Kintar. He covers himself in more of that astral chaos membrane for protection, coats his natural weapons in his red mist, and charges in at Kintar's prone body.

I'm not sure Alucroas understood here that his real opponent was not Kintar, the woman, but was actually Kintar, the evil vibes clouding the arena. Nevertheless, I can accept that Zucroas just doesn't really know what he's fighting, and is just trying things out. Longinus, I think you run into problems where you throw a lot of unnecessary adverbs into your prose, to the point where it is not always obvious whether you are offering up a poetical metaphor, versus stating directly what is actually literally happening.

Kintar then puppets herself out of the way of the breath attack, and the puddle of evil fluids is vaporized into magical mist that absorbs all of the lingering lightning. As Zucroas charges in, the energy of his lightning is returned upon him. Kintar continues to puppet her body, pulling herself upright, and unfurls the ornaments she was wearing in her hair, now revealed to be swords. She stabs Zucroas in the skull with four of them, and uses the other two to slice him opened.

Zucroas defends against the electric discharge with a combination of the membrane he'd covered himself in earlier, and also his red particles. We find out that the red particles were actually teeny tiny little dragon robots all along, and that they not only share all of his powers, but also control the red light ley-line power. This sounds incredibly nutty when you read the post, but the red particles were in the first post of the thread, and the ley-lines have received considerable description before this point.

So I think its nuts, but I also think it's fair to treat it the same way as finding out that Kintar's shadow was hell the whole time. “Tiny dragons” makes about as much sense as an explanation for the red mist as anything else. It can be allowed because as with Kintar's shadow, we already knew Zucroas had this power, we just didn't know what it was or how exactly it worked.

The tiny dragon robots analyze the blood mist as Zucroas charges through it, while also using their ley-lines to try to push Kintar's shadow away. The dragon shoots by Kintar's body as she dodges, then makes a handbreak turn with his tail. He uses his tiny dragons to catch Kintar's swords and throw them into hell. He charges again.

And finally, Longinus writes that the draco machines have become infected by general exposure to Kintar's corrupting aura, and that the very act of analyzing her has opened each machine up to “[the] Daemon” in the same way that instigating psychic combat opened Zucroas to Kintar manifesting in his mind. I think this is all fair. The energy absorbed by the blood mist earlier continuing to release, and reaching some kind of critical mass with the corrupted machines, is a fitting continuation of the previous posts. What I'm less willing to accept is the idea that the “blasphemous touch of an endless falsehood” can just outright sever Zucroas' connection to his powers, but as with Alucroas trying to destroy hell, we can let it slide as a summary of Kintar's intention.

While all of this is going on, the collapse of hell and the shattering of the mirrors has opened up innumerable connections to many additional hells, from which more copies of Kintar emerge. They all throw their swords at the same time, and their combined manipulation of space-time rips away Zucroas defenses and destroys the arena grounds.

There we have it.

In summary I would say firstly that I think you both spent far too much time on the mirrors and the lightning snakes. It speaks to both of you wanting the final word on absolutely every exchange, even though it ultimately went nowhere, and it becomes increasingly hard to believe that either Kintar or Zucroas actually have time to monitor the situation with everything else going on. At the point where the snakes fly through a portal into another dimension, each subsequent post should have followed one of you just dropping it to focus on another avenue of attack.

To the psy-flame and the mental battle, as I said earlier it is a huge problem that Alucroas never properly acknowledges what the psy-flame is actually doing. Stumbling around mounting one shaky defense after another is fine, it feels true to him playing a character that doesn't know exactly what to do in this situation. I would have liked to see him figure something out and actually deal with it properly were this thread to continue, but it's noteworthy that Longinus himself largely drops it as the thread progresses, to focus instead on the Kintar that has manifested within his mind.

Now, I like the idea of Kintar manifesting in reflections, and manifesting in minds, and in machines—the idea that the very act of perceiving her gives her some measure of power over the observer. But it's not for one player to dictate, rather than speculate, as to the internal thoughts and feelings of the opposing character. Allowing for the permissiveness of the rules, there were three clear examples of god modding in this fight: Alucroas blowing up hell, Longinus cutting off Alucroas' connection to other dimensions, and Longinus determining that Alucroas was playing his character wrong and has succumbed to the Wrath attack. The first two I think can slide as the both of you being overzealous in describing what you want to see happen. The last one is just antithetical to RP fighting without agreed upon auto-hits.

And as to the last point, the direct exchange between Zucroas and Kintar, I think Alucroas did an overall better job at introducing his character's entire kit early on, and revealing a little bit more of what it can do as time went on, while ultimately still sticking to that set of abilities. It is a very expansive set of abilities, but you know overall that he's going to attack with lightning and his natural weapons; he's going to defend with his membrane; he's going to attack and defend both with his ley-line powers and those tiny little robots. It makes it easier to see the thought process of how he's going to engage, of what options he'll have opened to him if he's stopped. He said he was going to block the mist with those powers, and then he did that in the next post, and went into a detailed explanation of why he thought it would work.

It is somewhat harder with Kintar, who can be difficult to visualize as more than an amorphous evil with many different, albeit thematically linked, corrupting abilities. The one really strong through line that I though you had, Longinus, was the way that she seems to infest reality as she is perceived by others. I thought that was a really good basis for an attack, and whenever a similar idea recurred it pulled your posts together very well. Otherwise, I thought you had cool ideas (I liked all of the duplicates emerging from the different hells, in particular, and I didn't mind the concept of the psy-flame though I wish you'd just pressed the advantage when you had it), but the overall set of tools was too disjointed. It reads too much like you're just coming up with something totally new, on the fly, to counter Alucroas, based on what sounds cool and not employing a strategy. No one really sticks to a strategy like that in these games, but there's a threshold of suspension of disbelief that we need to aim for, where it could in theory have been a plan.

It's my opinion that Alucroas has won the fight, though in the event a closing post (or a continuation) is made I do not think it is plausible that he could kill Kintar at this juncture. He has, at best, succeeded in driving her away from the arena.

The broker was unremarkable to behold. He had chosen a nondescript face to wear, with skin too relaxed where it was not pulled overly taut against his skull. Its graying hair, overdue for a trim and worn combed back, gave the appearance of old dust newly settled under the hum of dimmed and faded lighting. He presided over an enclave of abandoned wares, carved out within a row of mundane storefronts, with nothing to set it apart from its fellows beyond a single row of scribbled glyphs hidden within its signage. Those markings alone declared his store to be one of several destinations at the end of a twisting labyrinth of hidden icons, scattered throughout Aeternus. Many such havens were open to those who knew how to read the guide marks.

Should anyone stumble upon his domain unawares, they would find only a pleasant middle aged man in khakis and a burgundy sweater vest. Not human—palpably, by association alone—but something comfortable enough within a man's skin that he was well set in the role. A something that was beneath notice, always comfortable in a pawnshop selling old books, peculiar antiques, and forgotten nicknacks brought hither from the human realms above. Those public rooms were more cabinet of curiosity than they were a brokerage.

The back rooms, on the other hand, were reserved for those careful few that followed the markings with clearer intent than the careless wandering of the odd vagrant soul: or of the odder living human that had taken a few too many wrong turns in life. More than one had, in desperation, spent their last days hawking the few lingering possessions that remained to tether their souls to the worlds above.

Within that private antechamber the broker observed the latest item his guest had set before him, with the greatest care, minding to hold his hands ever at a discrete distance. Though he was shrouded in living flesh and a man's sinew, there remained still an engravement within: his soul bore the lingering impression of searing light, once all-encompassing, but now receded in all its former brilliance. He was as a glass stained brown from far too long an exposure, rendered down with a landscape of cracks and fissures once cooled. He was the absence of a thing long vanished from the earth, yet permitted continued form by grace of that very absence.

It was that echo of the song, that which once permeated the firmament, shining beyond eternity, which urged him most pause. The warm metal spoke to the memory of a harmonic luminescence, tempting him to bring his hands ever closer: all the while constantly spilling forth—imparting its own gravity upon his tiny domain—as it blurred the borders of its own material and that of the corpora which surrounded it. Too easy, it would be, for that song to find purchase where it did not belong, attuning with even his faded echo.

“I have seen similar construction,” he offered, setting his eye loupe aside, stepping safely back a full palmspan from the countertop. “But not similar make. If you're looking for a companion piece, I'm afraid I can't help you. Who laid this blessing?”

“No one,” Sophie responded. “It was only the ammunition itself that was consecrated.”

She raised her hands from the wood counter's brass trim to set them reassuringly upon the offering: a large submachine gun, metallic gray, with a faint blue finish. The magazine had been removed, and she carried no ammunition on her person. Gradually, over millennia of exposure, the weapon had grown to synchronize with its ammunition, the harmony altering the very substance of the alloys from which it was cast. The power of that ancient blessing had taken on a life of its own, such that even absent it pulsed unabated throughout the room, though never upon her.

“It was my brother who constructed this weapon, and designed it's ammunition.”

Sophie allowed her sunglasses slip, letting the sight of her malformed eyes make it easier for him to read her aura. She had never been any kind of angel at all, but she had consumed enough of their host that theirs had become a familiar old song. It was natural enough to think like one of them, to wear their history upon her psyche. Long experience had taught her that one of their own would never perceive the gulf of difference standing between them. She knew them keenly, having studied and served for long years under their most terrible princes, just as she was versed well enough with their iconography to find this place.

“He named it Helena.”

Misleading him this way was its own kind of mercy. He would only grow more anxious if he knew what her brother actually was.

“Because it shoots nails?” the broker asked, having observed the slot where the magazine would insert, noting its unusual dimensions. “Still, might I ask who laid the invocation for him? Not that it's someone I'd ever want to meet, you understand.”

Not someone who would so carelessly lay a benediction that powerful, he meant. That it would spill into other objects, even investing them with their own like will.

“You may. I have something of his with me, actually,” she told him.

And then she withdrew a hand into her white jacket—as though reaching for a pocket in the liner—and removed from nowhere a small parcel wrapped in an oily gray, iridescent, silk. Once his attention was drawn fully upon her, the gun and the other objects once spread across the counter began to fade from mind. It happened as things often do in dreams, with once important details fading swiftly from memory, as they fell away from the dreamer's attention.

Sophie laid the silk bundle on the bare countertop and slowly unwrapped it, this time carefully avoiding touching the surface underneath to her bare skin. The moment the last fold was parted, the click of a gear train rang out, and a loud, thudding, tick made a clangor between the broker's suddenly clenched teeth.

“It's been broken for ages,” Sophie said. “I'd be interested in fixing it, only I've never seen a working piece quite like it. Have you ever come across something that could help me?”

At last the worn, broken, time piece was fully revealed. Before the clerk lay an old marine chronometer, with a cracked face, and made of tarnished brass, scratched gold, and cold steel. It had long stopped keeping time, but the minute hand still wobbled and shook in place, and the sound of its operation were enough to ring clearly throughout the chamber.

Some instinct, long buried with his Fall, compelled the clerk to immediately, truthfully, declare “no.” That word he spoke, before his mind could work through the steps of his fleshly body's operation. It had already grown more difficult for him to focus. He could hear the clock workings so loudly, the reverberation cleaving his thoughts. He stared intently at the piece—was the hand really shaking, or was the sound only caught between the walls of his vessel's skull?

Harmony was interrupted by an errant chord. Pressure grew, and at last he ruptured, the blackened peel of his being transformed and transported back through time itself until there was wave of heat, and of light without end. Walls vanished, glass melted, and the torn pages of books fluttered away from their burned covers. Traces of burnt carbon were left smudged across Sophie's face. Disappointed, she wrapped the broken timepiece again and set it back where it belonged. Alone in the empty room, its great weight easily vanished from her and from Aeternus.

She had gambled wrong.

Whichever heavenly choir sang his kind into being would be of no use to her.

Still, at least she knew that there would be no need to waste a visit on a lesser heaven once she was finished exploring a greater hell.

Sophie relaxed a moment before she closed her eyes, and allowed herself a short, deep breath. She held it inside her for a minute pause, committing the space around her to memory, and let the breath escape her lungs in its own time. She took another, longer breath. It was only a dream—and then she exhaled again. Not a bad dream, not a good dream. She drew in another breath. What had just happened was best left to the most mundane of dreams, and carried nothing worthy of remembrance. Or so she told herself.

She let the dream carry her back to the first feel of mild steel, as she looked through the window and into the shop for the first time, the coarseness of the door handle's nonstick grip catching her palm. Her psychometry had taken a quick imprint, imparting to her memory a flash of the store's traffic. She'd pulled the door back in a quick uneven jerk, while a patchy piece of weatherstripping caught on a notch in the frame. An old style bell jangled, muffled by the clang of the door's placard as it crashed against the glass, the store's business hours rattling back and forth. The smell of old cellulose from the far bookshelf hit first, before the scent of dried out machine oils from a display nearer to the door. She'd caught the shopkeeper's eye immediately, and crossed the space between them.

“Call me Vito,” he'd said. He'd thought he was sharing a joke with her. He was a divine emanation, sundered and shadowed, but still a ray of light, wrapped in dying human flesh.

“You can call me Sophie,” she'd answered, and though she knew him for what he was, he would never know her, save for what his own true sight misled him to believe.

She had pulled out a small gold plated trinket, a handheld gyrocompass, or rather something disguised as one.

“I'm a collector,” she'd told him. “I came across this years ago, and I've been searching for acquisitions of similar design.”

That was how it had begun. And then—

“—design is interesting, I'll grant you,” the broker said, considering the mechanism hidden behind the dial. “Of course, it doesn't actually work, does it? Those people died out before this place had its first foundations lain.”

Sophie blinked her dreaming eyes opened, safe behind her blue tinted shades, before reaching up to wipe the black smudge of his death from her face. The mark came away with one swipe of a small lavender face cloth, and once it was gone there was nothing to say the last forty-two minutes were not just another fantasy.

“Of course,” she agreed.

Disguised as a common tool abundant in pre-spaceflight civilizations, the compass discretely housed a micro quantum processor optimized for calculating positional data, that was necessary to operate its paired pico portal generator. Such devices were once manufactured by humans to allow for instantaneous translation between universes, in the epoch where such things were still commonplace. It hadn't worked in ten thousand years.

It was the first item she had offered up for examination. For the others she'd requested the back room to showcase.

“Such a shame,” the broker said, as he had before. “I've heard stories of such devices, here and there, you see. I would have liked to use one myself, but their day ended long ago. Now they're only relics. I wouldn't know where to find anyone else who might be willing to part with an intact one. Certainly not in this humble strip of hell.”

“It carries a certain value to me. Nostalgia, not sentimentality. If the men who created this still exist somewhere, it'd be interesting to see them again.”

The broker passed the trinket back to her.

“I'm afraid I'm in no position to help you.” He considered her for a moment. “It belonged to your host vessel, yes?”

“It did.”

“How attached are you to that soul? Must be very old to remember those days, eh? I'd be happy to take that weary thing off your hands, if the wistfulness is bothersome. I'll throw in a good rate for that body, as a bonus, if they're a package deal.”

“I'm afraid they're not for sale, either one of them. They also have a certain value to me—you know, the sentimental kind.”

Sophie exited the pawn shop, onto the hustling streets of Aeternus. Without all of the demons, it might as well have been a quiet night on her native Earth, transposed upon the present from the early days of her first life. Still, they were there, and thankfully she was more than familiar with navigating their domains. In her other memory, she had spent a great deal of time exploring realms just like it. Once under the surface they all skewed towards the same template. There were common themes to mankind's many hells; none that were universal in absolute terms, but there was always similarity enough to allow for a familiar journey.

In their current age, she had found them incredibly useful thoroughfares, for the unaffiliated traveler. While many of the old modes of passage had lost their viability, hell dimensions each by design intersected an incredible breadth of realities, received travelers from a wide variety of worlds, and always would. And yet—provided one was proofed against losing their soul—they were often safer to sojourn than divine realms of comparable scale. And they were always more stable still than what paltry fragments remained of the artificial subspace domains that man once carved between his neighboring worlds.

Sophie flit purposefully through the patchwork throngs of devils and fiends, the demons, and the revenants. Each and all allowed her to pass without contest, every and one unconsciously claiming her as one of their own without consideration. Once, long ago, she had been trapped drifting, a mind disincarnate, far without the formless void that enshrouded reality. Reliant upon other stray spirits for her passage back, she had found her life preserver in too many demons to count, letting their souls harbor her psyche from one Earth to the next—for so long as they could survive bearing her.

The scientists that she had once allowed to examine her, ages ago, had given her the name of it, her psionic camouflage. Through consumption, absorption, and integration of countless minds she had acquired the ability to shape her thoughts to a structure indistinguishable from those of others. It was an instinctive process, a necessary survival mechanism developed during the time of her incorporeal state. For the longest period of her existence, she had not been cognizant of what she had been doing without a thought.

Then as now, every being to cross her path instinctively saw her as of their own kind, but once they parted ways they would remember only their own faulty perception. Inevitably, her poor fiction faded from the mind shortly after her departure, leaving nothing in its place but a sense of lost time.

Having spent so many lifetimes drifting ethereal beyond the void, it had been too natural to offer herself up to her current task, the journey that had begun with her current life. She sought out the places where limited traffic still passed between dimensions. She cataloged the havens where the travelers congregated, and investigated the evidence the of their passage. So much was still out there, unseen in the vast expanse. She found herself grasping constantly at motes of sand, never quite finding a grand design that would allow mankind to freely traverse the firmament once more. The end of greatness had come, long ago, leaving only fallen worlds sundered from one another in its wake.

There had been small successes, rare as they appeared now. She had rediscovered lost worlds, and identified new passages that tied them together, however few they seemed. But while there were rediscoveries here and there, each Earth was far isolated from it's former neighbors, and never were any where they were supposed to be. In the centuries since the collapse, there was no structure left to discover. And without it, travel between Earths remained far more arduous than it had ever been.

The memory of the coming cacophony surfaced in her mind seconds before it actually became real. Surprised, she turned her head in the direction whence the blast would soon emanate.

A roar shook the street, echoing between the highest buildings.

There came an intense flash, Aeternus ever so briefly overtaken by artificial daylight, as a blue sun rose from the darkness. Seconds later Sophie felt the death scream of myriad mortal souls, alien to this realm all, conjured forth only to meet their end. All color washed away from the realm as those wayward souls were extinguished, their last thoughts transformed into merciless light and atomic fire.

But soon, night returned, in time for a dense head of air to shake the city block where she stood. A high pitched, whistling, scream carried throughout the city, set the nearby windows rippling, as rows of city lights blacked out one by one. The glass held, and main power was restored as quickly as it had been disrupted.

“Was that the old Pleiades?” a fox demon muttered.

“Sounds like someone doesn't want to cash out his chips,” his companion answered.

Sophie felt only muted panic in the distance, confined primarily to those minds that had the flavor of human origin. Perhaps some few of the weaker fiends were shaken as well, those who were in the wrong place, just in time to get caught up in whatever was going on.

The rest simply went about their evening as though nothing had happened.

A nearby cacodaemon glanced at Sophie, and she shrugged at it. With all one hundred of its shoulders, it returned the gesture and continued lumbering away. A moment later, the rest of the pedestrians continued walking, slithering, and hovering as was their wont. It was nothing out of the ordinary for a night in hell, even if some peculiarity gnawed at her.

She let a distant picture fill her mind, briefly superimposing itself over the view before her eyes. With ethereal sight she saw a distant broken street, fuming with corrosive mists, pockmarked by broken and upturned slaps of concrete rubble, and a company of burning corpses. Amidst the scene, a pair of dragons. One of whom, she thought she might recognize, his image staring back at her from an after action report, read many ages ago in her native cluster of universes. It took a few seconds to recall the name.

...Tage? What's he doing here?

Weird. Oh well.

She kept walking.

He had obviously arrived to this place under his own power, which for her purposes was rather less interesting than someone stumbling in unawares. Not at all what she was looking for.

But there was something there to be discovered, the future told her. Not the dragons, as odd a coincidence as that was. Instead she scried a closer look at the destruction, her thoughts quickly wandering to the casino nearby. There was a tension there, in the minds of staff and guest alike, something in the forefront of more than one fiend's deepest desires. What was it then, the unspoken purpose that hung over the resort? She could have taken advantage of their momentary distraction to probe it, and perhaps not be noticed, but... the hotel's human guests were simpler.

Where are all of you coming from? Soon she found a name. Sophie recognized it, not in the memory of her body, nor of her psyche, but in that other memory she had carried since long before this life began. Earth F67x. The world that had once warred with the Val'Gara, was it?

Not at all who she'd hoped to find out here, but welcome all the same.
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