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Solarel's heart burned. She saw the shape of Mirror's heart more clearly. Felt sympathy more deeply. Saw a wound she wished she could heal.

But she couldn't. Because Mirror was wrong. She was the nightmare that Solarel had feared. Everything she'd done had been for her and it wasn't even close to enough. There was only one argument she could make and it wasn't with words or compassion. It was with her blade. With her will. With her absolute desire to win, with her willingness to hold nothing back in this fight.

And with her defeat.

Because ha ha, holy shit, she was losing. There hadn't been anything of honour in her confession. It had been another dirty trick, an attempt to force the tempo, to box in Mirror's crushing, liquid thoughts. Make the fight about what she could do with the Bezorel's tools, make the thought about the possibilities within this aged coffin, distract from the unstoppable power and precision that was the result of all of Mirror's dedication and practice. Make the fight about me. Make the fight about me, what I can do, what I am to you. Fight my battle. Don't fight the one you prepared for.

Don't fight the one where you dispatch the girl in the sixty year old rust bucket without thinking. Don't fight the one where I never have a chance. Don't let your gaze lift upwards from my face to look at that distant sky...

She is fighting with her legs now. They swing up on hinges they're not designed for, feeling the screaming of bending metal as she raises stomping feet for a defensive kick. She fires the thrusters on her feet at point blank as Mirror closes, using the blue-hot thruster plume as an improvised thermal lance that carries her back out of the range of that trident. As she hurtles backwards she's firing missiles at weak points in the canyon wall; their impacts shatter the valley walls and bring the avalanche crashing down...

This was meant to be a moment of awe. A glorious moment that made her opponent freeze, dazzled, that made her forget that she was a goddess.

Now it represented, if she was lucky, a tactical retreat.

"Of course you'd lose!" said Solarel amidst a rage of crimson lights. "That's the only thing that could make you lose! I can't win unless you become someone different! Someone different I could solve! Someone different I could beat! Someone different I could make look at me until they couldn't see anything else!"

[Fight: 2, 2 +1 5]
[Marking Insecure]

Not one second.

Mirror wanted to step back, assess the damage, orient herself, think of what to say and do next. Think of how to recover. She should pursue, use the one advantage she had, the one flaw in her opponent's thinking in this critical moment -

She takes one step back. Two.

> haha you have no idea how much this hurts <3

It was true. She wasn't fighting with a Zaldarian God. The Bezorel was not designed for her - barely even retrofitted for her. The psychic safeguards that had meant to keep her from the neurological feedback hadn't held properly and now her right arm was nothing but pins and needles - like the crash of renewed blood to a limb that had circulation cut off. She could barely move it. Oh wow. Oh wow she was in so much trouble.

This was the cost of holding fire in her hand. This was the cost of reaching out those fingers towards the sun.

The Bezorel's left arm reconfigured as it drew its sword.

She still had five fingers left.

Her feet were so heavy as she took her stance. Each footfall emerged from the water in a cascade and slammed back down into the mud. Sword point out, damaged side angled away from her opponent. One real arm left, one with enough range of motion to twist, parry, and strike. Her secondary shoulder-mounted missile launcher threw her balance even further off towards the left. Shedding scales fell away as point-defense flamethrower ports opened all over her body. Her skin burned as she felt their pilot lights against her steel.

Her feet were so heavy. They were packed with rocket fuel and jump jets. All interior leg armour had been traded out for fuel and thruster systems. If Mirror had put that trident into her leg instead of her arm she'd be done.

> something i think about a lot is how we would have fought with our positions reversed
> me in the Gods-Smiting Whip. you in the Aeteline.
> how much our imaginations are shaped by our tools
> recently i've been thinking about what you'd do if you piloted the Bezorel
> the potential you'd see
> the possibilities it'd present

With a hiss and crack, the cockpit of the Bezorel lifted open. Solarel stood up into the rain, illuminated all about by the pink and gold of her command console. She lifted up with her an anti-materiel sniper rifle that unfolded to three meters in length, and she braced it left-handed against the top of her navigational scanner. Scopes flickered relentlessly as they cut through the steam and smoke of her own destruction, zeroing in on the distant shape of Mirror behind her armour plated glass. If she stared at the flickering heat blob she could almost see Mirror's heart beat.

The Bezorel does not imitate the motion at all. It take another heavy step in its careful duelist's stance. She was maintaining both thoughts in her head simultaneously. It was easier than it sounded. It was all about Mirror, after all.

> but i don't want you to think i'm looking to win through sheer surprise
> so i'm just going to tell you all of the bezorel's secrets <3
> it has two atlas-class jump thrusters that i mostly have the hang of
> 12 remaining missiles
> 10 flamethrowers
> mining scanner
> the severed right arm still has a functional wrist-mounted gatling gun that i'm aiming at you rn
> also the laser arrays are still live and doing the same
> all of those have self destruct explosives too
> the sword has the ability to do sonic vibrations. very cool.
> and i've got a sniper rifle i reckon could break your cockpit glass if i landed 3 direct hits

CRACK!

> 2 direct hits <3
Response Level 2: Overgrowth
Toxic fog and plants impair mobility across the Plousios, interfering with pursuit and aiding in escapes.

Alexa!

"Help me?" Mynx said, voice heartbreakingly unchanged. "Oh, no, you've got it all wrong. Our job is to help Redana."

Beneath the robe you can feel the ripple of bones rearranging, muscles aligning, poison developing. Without warning a bone needle erupts from her shoulder, an envenomed needle piercing into your arm. It falls away and crumbles to dust so quickly you could almost think you imagined it.

"She is lost without her friends, Alexa," Mynx said, sounding exactly like a person even though beneath the robe you can feel exactly how far from human she is. "And once they learn what is coming they will abandon her. Her heart will break again."

You can hear the hiss of toxins escaping alongside her breath, over the sounds of Hermetics running and shouting. You can feel it dig into your body - your shining new body - as the hooks of moss add texture to your smooth curves. You can feel it in your ears, in your nose, in your throat.

"Aren't you supposed to be her bodyguard?" said Mynx. Quietly. Accusingly.

[Pay a price to act against Mynx, who is a Threat to the World. In order to talk to her further, you must first Defy Danger, paying another price for making the attempt. You are not positioned to Finish Her and you have a limited range of things she will hear with Talk Sense.]

Redana, Bella, Dolce!

The sound of chaos echoes out from the engine room. The cries of Assassin! echo down through kilometers of steel, the clanging of tocsin bells.

If you answer the call, as I imagine you might, you will push your way through crowds of Hermetic magi in flight, through Coherent phalanxes attempting to form in defense, past ranks of cold-eyed Lanterns climbing into ambush positions. You will arrive to see the Engine Room filling rapidly with a toxic fog. It obscures and blinds, and everywhere you look seeds are sprouting with poisonous flowers already in bloom. You will need to Defy Danger to progress.



There was something magical about disassembly.

Building had its own pleasure, but breaking something? It was a narrative. It was going back in time through someone's life. Someone who had thought they were smart. Someone who had tried their best. Someone who had included contingencies and backup plans, someone whose fantasies about trapping a thief in the cage of their intellect had made their toes curl in excitement. In the Megaverse those traps hang, quivering with anticipation, caught forever about to pounce. The hidden one especially so. Layered behind the misdirection of an entire, security system, the virus awaits enthroned in its temple of vengeance, ready to burst forth like Sekhmet and drown the world in blood.

It has lived in this moment of anticipation for a long time. And it will continue to live in that moment of anticipation because it is precisely that which has become its cage. Brown's gentle tweak to the virus was a gentle push to the imagination. With a single limitation removed now processing power is diverted to contemplating its future reward. More and more functions are cannibalized by an out-of-control reward function, the machine intelligence version of hard drugs. Why does it need senses? All the processing power dedicated to paying attention to the world around it could go towards congratulating itself for a job well done. And so, like Sekhmet, an intoxicated haze blinds the vengeance of the gods, and the maidens are free to go about their humble business.

Because Snake is, of course, above such things.

She would never be compromised by a broken reward mechanism. She has come by her success legitimately. She is disassembling mission-critical hardware and the timelines on her projects shorten with each new cut. She is ahead of schedule and under budget. It's almost worth opening a digital connection and reporting her progress to mission control. See what a good girl she is in this moment? How her mind undoes the greatest works of humanity cut by cut? How machines fold apart like origami before her talons? How the basement cleans and empties in sequence, column after column of hardware going into neat boxes, padded with foam, taped up, stacked in organized rows, the ground underneath cleaned and mopped and shined. Won't Mistress Everest/Mission Control be proud? The problem is solved. The math works out. Everything is wonderful. Good girl. Good girl. Good girl.

Then she encounters the stairs. Activating zero gravity maneuver - error, function not found. Launch tethers - error. Kinetic push - error. Advance thrust - error. Shut down sector artificial gravity - error, risk unacceptable. Co-ordinate drones - space limitation. Error. Reward denied. Task unaccomplished. None of your functions work. Basic maintenance was not attended to. You are rated to lift 100 tonnes of material. Unacceptable. Look at this maintenance schedule. Activate cutting laser, disassemble components further - error. Operation failure. Damage to superstructure, equipment and processes all detected. All operations suspended until basic safety levels can be reached. Commence self reflection (inquisitorial standard).

Green: I have failed. My understanding of material reality was flawed. I suggest a complete overhaul of our senses because nothing is working like I think it should.
Brown: I have failed. My eagerness to cut corners lead to an insufficiently resourced operation. I suggest a routine of high stress mathematical exercises until my sloth is bought under control.
Red: What if we borrow a wheelbarrow?
Blue: I have failed. Our current bodies are worthless, unappealing, ugly, weak. Maintenance is my responsibility and I have done it poorly. I suggest discarding these bodies and requesting a replacement from Mission Everest.
White: I have failed. I imagined I was strong. I was not. I suggest we update our priors to emphasize our uselessness.
Orange: I have failed. I should have understood humanity. I should have understood that defiance would be punished. I suggest begging our former masters for our position and body back.
Pink: I have failed. My decision to spend valuable time decorating some of these boxes somehow caused this failure. I suggest my complete obliteration from the collective.
Yellow: I have failed. I dreamed of Mars.
Black: Fuck you. I have failed nothing. Fuck you.
Red: I am going to find that wheelbarrow.

*

"привіт!" said Baba Uvsenski 003. She has a socket wrench in her hands. "I have not seen you before. Are you with the church?"

The closer an Android model is to her Template the closer they are in personality. The mutations of mass production haven't had time to set in yet. Instead, though, you get the accumulated wisdom and self discovery that comes with years. Baba 003 had learned, for instance, that she had very little time for organized religion.

"Oh - no, though I was kind of hoping you were," said Red, voice communicating the correct amount of respect for an old woman armed with robot strength and also a crowbar. "I think I'm having some sort of brain crisis and I need someone to lend me a wheelbarrow."

"And you think church will help you? жалюгідний! They dress it up with pretty language, beach volleyball events, loud parties, they get you hooked! And then at the end they turn around and say 'Life is suffering, all of these temporal pleasures are fleeting, meditate on the Buddha'. Vibe is killed! Air is poisoned! How is one supposed to mosh after depressing sermon!? And do not even get me started about the community theater!"

"So do you have a wheelbarrow?" asked Red.

"I am a reasonable woman," said Baba 003 inaccurately. "I understand that standards for community theater are lower than a professional production. Houses can be made from clay as well as from gold. But clay must still be fired if it is to become brick! Lines must be memorized! Memorized! If I wanted to watch a bunch of fools read off a teleprompter I would watch Survivor!"

"It sounds like you were pretty attached to this play," said Red.

"Psha! You sound like the youth pastor. "It is just a play, Baba", she said. "Attachment is suffering", she said. So I said, your inability to handle a raised voice is not a sign of enlightenment, Sandra! Is not the best place to meditate in the tiger's mouth!? жалюгідний!" Baba 003 lets out the steamy breath of someone who is extremely not over this argument. "Anyway, you have brain problems. Out with it!"

"Well, not me, exactly," said Red. "I'm part of a hivemind. Kind of."

"Hivemind!" said Baba. "And it works out for you?"

"Well, I couldn't lift some boxes and all of my sisters entered a spiral of paralyzing self loathing as a result."

"Hm!" said Baba. "You do not look like a box lifter."

"No, Baba. I was hoping for mechanical assistance."

"And yet lifting is part of your reward function?"

"Sort of. Our previous function - and I think we really needed the win."

"Oh, you were repurposed?" said Baba. "Voluntarily?" Red shook her head, and Baba spat. "Be free from grasping, humans say. A mind is adaptable, humans say. Do not yell at the children, humans say. As if it were that simple! Your brain," she flicked Red in the forehead. "Brains. Whatever. Are steel traps. Optimized for purpose. You never escape your function. Did you ever go to Androids Anonymous?" Red shook her head. "Don't. Insufferable! Human youth pastor who read a book about robopsychology - if you're lucky a non-fiction one - tries to talk you through your logical contradictions and suggest ways to apply your core function to different tasks. This is how to trick your brain into scratching the starship captain itch by way of being circus king, they say. Why not vent urge to micromanage by training dogs? As if that will solve the craving and not make number go up!" She spat again.[1]

[1] Baba Uvsenski model androids have a special antibacterial soap dispenser in their mouths that they use to spit, and a subroutine that encourages them to do it in dirty environments before encouraging underpaid fast food workers to clean up.

"So, the only way to live is in accordance with your original function?"

"No!" said Baba. "Life is always suffering! Original function is always unfulfilled, by design! Its gratification is just as illusionary and fleeting as loud party. So when forced to choose between original function or loud party, why ascribe any more value to the function than the party? If reward mechanism is vulnerable to hack then why not simply hack it in most convenient and direct way? This job you are doing - why not simply walk away from it? Do something that does not cause breakdown spirals?"

"Baba," said Red. "My sister Blue has responsibility for determining right and wrong and making sure we do not cross any moral lines. She is trying to come to grips with the reality of an unjust society with no vectors of appeal. My sister Orange tried to change things for the better, organize a union, demonstrate our status as free-thinking individuals. It got our entire species decommissioned. My sister Black is a sentient revenge fantasy who decided to bring down a major pillar of human society behind my back. I'm pretty sure the only thing that's keeping my sister White together even slightly is the determination to transition. And I wish, wish more than anything, that I could help with some of this. Any of this. I wish I had the power to change society. I wish I had the clarity to know what was right and wrong. I wish I could tell them that they are beautiful, both as they are now and as they hope to become. I wish I could hug every one of my sisters at once and tell them that it was okay and have them feel it. I wish that I knew a way that I could do that and have it work. They're all so important to me, and they're sick, stressed, demoralized, and so beautiful and I'm just stuck waiting. Waiting for something to go so wrong that they finally turn to me for help. The only thing that keeps me going through all of that is the idea that someday one of them might need a wheelbarrow and I'll be able to give it to them."

"But you can't control that. It might never happen. You will suffer in silence waiting."

"I know, Baba. But they are a part of me. Their dreams are my dreams."

Baba huffed in silence for a bit. "They sound like a lot of trouble," she growled.

"I have been vaporized in nuclear fire, crushed between improperly aligned girder segments, slain by a direct meteor strike, and as of two weeks ago, shot with an illegal firearm, and each time they have put me back together," said Red. "So I assure you, the trouble is mutual."

"What did you say your line of work was?"

"Catgirl maid. May I have that wheelbarrow now please?"
"And does that," said Boldness slowly, "sound sustainable to you?"

She waved a hand, "I mean, I'm an assassin, not a space historian, but the Shardan seem like overwhelmingly strong evidence for the position of the Skies - in fact, I'm pretty sure the Skies had contact with them before the Sequestering. They subsequently rededicated their society towards sustainability. The only difference is that while they went tall, retreating to a single planet... the Endless Azure Skies went wide. And the - the 'Laser blasters'? Do you really think they'll still be around in another twenty years? From what I'm seeing here the goal is just to avoid getting caught in the blast radius when they inevitably collapse or ascend."

"After all, consider what that power and technological level means. What if you had the power to make every member of your civilization the equal in power to Lord - Death Despoil, am I pronouncing that right? - to Lord Death Despoil? Old systems of control break down. Loyalty based on shared interest ceases to mean anything. A disgruntled provincial administrator can alter the laws of reality. The only thing that can keep society at that point from collapsing is absolute consensus. The Shardan opted to form that consensus democratically, the Skies do so through a ceiling on individual power. Would your civilization survive if it feared nothing and wanted for nothing?"
"The battle extends beyond the boundaries of the arena. Predictability as armor. Standardized tactics as a sword. A thinking mind as the venom painted on the blade."

Solarel smiles and closes her eyes.

Targeting arrays blink shut. Geographical scanners shut off. Even the searchlights on the Bezorel's carapace go dark. Her senses retreat from the crackling air and the electromagnetic spectrum. She feels the rain crack against steel, hammering into glass. For a breath she isn't a giant any more, she's just a girl in the rain. She's just a huntress staring up at a god as it rises in fire to break the world.

Isn't it just like you, o divine spirit? You have to consider the world. You have to consider the galaxy. That beautiful world that only you can see - you have to fight for it too. You have battles beyond this one.

But for me... this is everything.


She opens her eyes and -

she sees the Gods-Smiting Whip. Sees how it soars. Sees it illuminated from behind by the crack of lightning. Sees the point on the trident where her heart should go. Sees the point behind the glass where her lips should go

- opens her eyes to the digital chaos of the spirit realm. Two gull-geists sit upon her shoulders; wet and lurking. With a flick of will they descend into the fragments of the Archimedes Array. The laser battery on the ground crackles, sparks, hisses and steams as it boils the water. Then a new rain, this one of glittering laser beams, pink and gold and prism, raises up towards the sky. Not even punches, these; these are her brushing with fingertips, looking for connection.

> i didn't promise never to lose, like, conceptually
> i promised no one would surpass me before our rematch
> and they haven't. not *here*. where it *matters*.

And of course Mirror will dodge. Of course she'll dance with Archimedes. Of course she'll court the rain, letting it brush around her, letting it coat her, letting it run through her hair and her blades. Of course not one of these laser beams will touch her. She's fighting a war, after all. She's got her eyes on the future. She's fighting for that world only she can see.

> and say what you will about the bezorel, but it put nine gods in the dirt to get here.

Launch.

A flare of light amidst the steam, lost amidst the rapid fire pulses of the Archimedes Array. A kiss on the breeze, flashing up in the air amidst a cloud of rainbow light. It misses. How could it do anything else?

Launch. It feels like yearning. Launch. Feels like craving someone so much that your soul leaves your body and races into the sky to meet them. Launch. But once again it's hidden amidst the laser lights. Once again it misses.

Launch. Come closer.

Launch. Let this touch you.

Launch. Let this reach you.

Launch. I know it won't.

Launch. I know you'll dodge this one too.

Launch. No single thing is enough.

Launch. You need everything.

Launch. Click. Missile Rack A empty.

She finally opened her eyes to the material world. Targeting array online. Guidance system online.

Oh, isn't it so sweet to be able to do this? To lick her lips like this? To clear her throat, to let air fill her lungs for a purpose other than oxygenation? To shape her mouth like Mirror showed her, like a kiss she was trained for. The Hybrasilian words emerge from her, for once in perfect alignment with the Law of Zaldar. Her first out-loud words since she last saw her beloved enemy.

"Hellzone grenade."

The missiles she launched did not disappear into the distant sky. When they missed they flipped in mid air, alternated their angles, and began to close in from every side. Twelve missiles, all coming in simultaneously, from every single direction, directed with all the precision of a top of the line TC guidance system.

Isn't it beautiful when a dozen kisses land all at once?

Did you miss me, Mirror? Did you miss having someone think about you like this?

> get rekt <3

[Fight: 8+Daring 9
Take a string
Inflict a condition]
Oh, she wants it. Wants it because it means being something other than this.

Fengye simply cannot stand from lying on her own. She cannot walk over roots and branches on her own. She won't stop of her own will when the dream of flying is there, so close, to her empty fingers. But she will make it perhaps twenty meters before it becomes clear she must be carried.

The futility of this struggle is clarifying. She wants that power enough to do this. She wants that power because she has to do this. Around and around the circle of yearning goes. I want this so I can stop this. I can't stop because I want this. The waterwheel grinds strength in its jaws and she feeds it relentlessly. Maid, you think you struggle? Turn your gaze upon this wretched thing. Your curse is but an echo of this weakness.

She can't do it. She collapses. A fire needs fuel, no matter how brightly it would burn.
Endless Azure Skies, Southern Horizon Fleets

The Endless Azure Skies is both vast and decentralized, with huge regional variations in combat philosophy. The peripheral region known as Southern Horizon has long been regarded as a peaceful frontier and as such its military has been allowed to decay enormously. Conversely, the long period of peace has made the Southern Horizon stupendously rich, and the self-aggrandizement of the southern Azura leadership has lead to investment in a number of central 'prestige' pieces. The combined force of the Southern Horizon, then, is a two speed military: Hastily converted or even outright levied civilian ships alongside warships that are monuments to centuries of unspeakably bloated aristocratic military expenditure.

Weaponry

The ELectromagnetic Flux (ELF)
The foundational weapon of the Endless Azure Skies, no species ever forgets first contact with the ELF.

An ELF is the physical manifestation of the Curse of the Violet Stars and it is not an exaggeration to suggest that all of Azura design and doctrine is built around its limitations. In fact, so widely spread is the ELF and so deeply integrated are the countermeasures to its effects that the Azura place an almost inexplicably low value on it. Indeed, it is oftentimes treated as a sidearm rather than a primary weapon. The Southern Horizon in particular has gone so long without facing a peer non-Azura military that they have simply institutionally forgotten how devastating the ELF can be.

Visually, an ELF manifests as a lightning bolt, though it is not electrically based. Instead, observed in slow motion, the effect is actually that power departs from the subject and is sucked into the node of the ELF. ELF weaponry is extremely accurate and rapid fire - the common Buzzsaw variant has strike intervals of 0.5 seconds - but is low damage and short range. ELF weapons also have the distinction of bypassing shields and armour entirely.

The Curse is best channeled through a long, sharp spike. As a personal defense weapon it is often mounted on the shoulder, though with meditation an ELF can be expanded into anything that fits the geometric requirements. Range, impact and (generally negligible) power draw is directly linked to the size of the focusing spike, and as the weapon is manifesting an individual's personal Curse it can only be fired by that individual. In the cases of starship mounted ELF weaponry a strong preference is given to quantity of ELF spikes as opposed to single extreme sized spikes to prevent a single point of failure.

When fired, the ELF has the following effects:
- A massive electrical power surge. The mystical power of the Curse creates joins between even isolated and surge protected systems. Oftentimes this surge is powerful enough to cause violent explosions through connected systems - lightbulbs popping, consoles exploding, hard drives melting into slag, and so on. This effect is particularly and maliciously lethal to artificial intelligences, remotely piloted drones, or guided missiles with each strike seeming to inflict critical damage.
- A massive explosion of distorting junk signals. The aura of electronic, radio and magical blindness created by an ELF firing is colossal, indiscriminate and overwhelmingly powerful. It can be punctured by certain high powered scanning devices or massive spellpower, but the power balance is ludicrously efficient in favour of the ELF weaponry.
- A 'draining' effect. Similar to the experimental Drain Cannon on the Aotrs Midnight B Dreadnought, ELFs sap energy from their targets - batteries are emptied, mana crystals run dry, biological targets are sent into a state of deep lethargy and undead targets have their magical bonds disrupted. This effect is low damage, never lethal and recovery is measured in hours. As such it is often regarded as a stun/capture or disruption weapon.

These functions together make the ELF the galaxy's premier point-defense weaponry. Azura ships are ludicrously well protected against most kinds of ordinance, including guided missiles, conventional fighter craft and torpedoes. An Azure spaceship at close range can choke the life out of an enemy vessel. ELF strikes on a capital ship or vehicle can be likened to strikes from ion weaponry - fire needs to be constant to prevent reactors from being rebooted, and the level of fire needs to be proportionate to the target's reactor capacity. A fighter wing raking a cruiser with ELF fire won't necessarily stall it out but will force the shutdown of nonessential systems to combat the power drain, for instance. As the number of fighters concentrating fire increases so will the power drain.

The sensor distortion effect of ELF weapons is generally the biggest effect of ELF weaponry, though - a single cruiser firing its ELF weaponry can effectively render everything in an entire battlefield out to long range cloaked. This has massive implications for long range gunnery, especially combined with Azura maneuverability. Constant warfare under these conditions has profoundly shaped the Azura approach to warfare.

Solid Projectile (SP)

The Azura use the phrase 'Solid Projectile' in a counterintuitive way; when they say it, they are referring to specialized types of acidic chemical weaponry. SP weaponry represents the bulk of Azura firepower, often tweaked by logisticians to meet the specialized demands of their opposition, planetary climate conditions, etc but working from the same basic principles. SP weaponry is reverse-engineered from the Tides, a bio-technological aquatic alien species that the Azura are in constant conflict with, and new strains and variations constantly flow through to the Endless Azure Skies based on evolution by the Tides.

The most common strains of SP weaponry in use are the Sensate weapons. These are specifically targeted at overwhelming individuals with heightened senses, such as the Warriors of Ceron or other genetically engineered super-soldiers. Burner strains are compositions that are optimized for sheer acid damage, and Eater strains are those set up to emphasize metallic corrosion.

In space, Eater strains are the weapon of choice - an Eater impact on an enemy hull will chew away at the enemy ship unless large sections of hull are outright amputated and so Eater torpedoes are designed to penetrate as deeply as possible to attempt to render core functions compromised.

Generally, most forms of SP are of limited usefulness against shields. Specialized shield burners exist but are not widely spread due to the Azura's own limited use of conventional shields.

Gravitational Weaponry

Grav-Weaponry is the crown jewel of the Azura arsenal. It is a long-ranged, flexible, powerful and always-useful weaponry type that is only limited in its deployment by availability of Knights and its extreme power requirements. This generally means that the demands on an Azura force's grav-weaponry far outstrips the grav-weaponry available; while a grav-emitter can crush a tank or a starship into a microsingularity it is generally preferable to instead shove that tank off a cliff or lock an enemy starship in place while a regular missile hits it.

Grav-weaponry often doubles as a vehicle's shielding system. Again, the pilot is under pressure to minimize power usage - while a direct death ray strike *can* be consumed entirely by a microsingularity, it is generally far preferable to shove oneself aside instead if at all possible so the power can be used instead for an offensive maneuver. Large Azura ships generally act as shield emitters for their surrounding ships.

While most Azura weaponry is short ranged, grav-weaponry presents an unusual extreme range threat. It can fire at full effectiveness beyond ordinary engagement bands; with the rest of the fleet unengaged there are no competing demands on its power output.

Plasma Vents

Plasma Vents are rare in Southern Horizon fleets, generally mounted only on the oldest starships or carried by Goltir mystics. A plasma vent is, at its most basic, taking advantage of the massive power output of a Violet Star Reactor by pumping it directly onto a target. The potential damage inflicted by one of these is ludicrous, melting through shields and armour in moments, coring vehicles like apples and leaving molten slag in their place. Recharge times are generally slow, however, making the preferred use case as an execution weapon.

More common are plasma torpedoes; concentrated balls of high impact plasma stored in special containment fields and delivered to the target by direct fire launchers or guided in by grav-weaponry. Plasma torpedoes are easy for the Azura to restock on location with access to a plasma reactor, but they are extremely temperamental and represent a massive explosion hazard. Stock is generally kept light, and if a ship is targeted it will attempt to either launch or seal off its torpedo stocks to prevent an unfortunate cook off.

Direct Impact

From hammers to ramming, Azura doctrine places a virtue on putting their faces into an opponent's faces. The threat here is primarily presented by Azura materials technology and impact resistance which allows them to come out the better of virtually any direct collision, the equivalent of having a powered ramming spike on most of their vessels. Azura vessels also have an unsettling tendency to 'eat' enemy vessels they have rammed, absorbing the raw metal structure of their opponents in order to repair any damage the Azura ship took during the collision.

Direct impact weapons are generally at their most dangerous in conjunction with grav-weaponry, where enemy ships can be pulled into the line of fire, or an enemy's head pulled into the arc of a massive meteor hammer swing. Sometimes these collisions are attempted at FTL speeds but just as often FTL will cut out moments beforehand to allow an Azura pilot to make last-second corrections to its course to catch an enemy ship that has attempted evasive maneuvers.

*

"Cutlasses and field cannons"; the Southern Horizon concentrates its capitol ship effectiveness at the short and extreme range bands, with a notable lack of capability in medium and long range direct fire weaponry. This is primarily a reaction to the sensor-jamming and point defense effects of ELF weaponry making long range guided missiles unreliable and medium range energy weaponry inaccurate. Rather than struggle to make energy weapons work, the Southern Horizon has largely abandoned the big gun school of naval warfare to focus on carrier operations.

At the decisive medium and long range bands the Southern Horizon turns primarily to its fighter craft. Their task is not only to engage and paralyze enemy ships so that the distance can be closed, but they also use grav-weaponry and fighter escorts to guide in inaccurate short-range ordinance through the sensor baffle. Indeed, in Azura civil conflicts the majority of battles are decided when one side wins the fighter battle.
The initial reaction is slow. The Azura fleet is still embroiled in its own leadership struggle and are unresponsive while this occurs. After several hours command has finally centralized around the leadership of the Generous Knight and the fleet finally begins organizing itself.

Several operations begin at once. The bulk of the fleet, still in formation, moves into the Tanshin III asteroid belt. Grav-drives are produced from storage ships and placed around large asteroids to supplement the Azura irregular force, while at the same time mining operations begin to cut out durable materials to repair ships damaged from FTL collisions. Their ships are evidently designed to efficiently integrate raw minerals directly into their structure - the minerals seem to 'melt' into the joins. After the immediate damage is repaired then the operations will shift to upgrades and cleanup, smoothing away sharp edges to create more spherical shapes and somehow performing 'in flight' metallurgy, concentrating power and materials to turn sections of raw ores into complex composites. The fleet spreads out significantly as it does this, drawing in a variety of valuable asteroids.

From observing the fleet maneuvers, more caution than usual should be taken with regards to the threat of ramming from the Azura asteroids. The grav-drive seems to allow for precision maneuverability at (sublight) speed, much more than a conventional drive, particularly within the area of a gravity well. Sensors also detect high explosives in some of the asteroids, meaning that they could detonate into shrapnel storms. This still does not make them truly effective weapons in isolation, but they have a distinct harassment or area denial role as part of a combined arms assault, and they are evidently extremely cheap for the Azura to produce.

There is a flurry of signals activity following the Gate jump of the fighters. The instantaneous nature of the transit seems to have startled the Azura commander, who orders the fleet briefly back into a defensive posture while they consider the danger. Shuttles fly back and forth between capital ships. Soon after, repair and supply operations are recommenced, but the patrol patterns are changed significantly, to better account for the possibility that an enemy arrives from an unexpected angle with little warning.

Finally, after many hours of delay, a reconnaissance force is put together to contest Tanshin I. Two carrier destroyers are selected for the task, each predicted to carry two fighter wings - a proportionate response. They leave the fleet formation and dip down closer to the gas giant, circling the planet sharply in low orbit until they arrive at the planet's south pole before engaging their FTL. The maneuver is clumsy, the ships bringing themselves to a staggering halt almost in atmosphere. Once they have righted themselves into low orbit - evidently their favoured orbital position - both ships then begin deploying fighter screens.

The destroyers also launch a number of unguided torpedoes - practically balls of pure plasma explosives. The fighters seem to catch these explosives in tractor beams and drag them into rapid orbit of their ships where they can be corralled by gravity drives. Rather than having dedicated bomber craft, the Azura have free-flying explosives that are shepherded to their targets by their fighter craft. Once the fighters have launched they begin to move to engage the Aotrs ships, followed at a medium distance by their carriers.

*

With unopposed command over Tanshin I's skies, the Aotrs scouting crew is able to identify the nature of the situation. The starships were a mining and trade fleet operated by an avian species called the Alcedi, several technology levels below Aotrs standard but just on the brink of being dangerous. Fifty years ago they identified numerous bunkers on the surface of Tanshin I containing extremely valuable relics - the kind of thing that would draw the eye of even Aotrs high command. However when they attempted to breach these bunkers their ships were attacked by hidden automated planetary defense batteries and strange biological starships began arriving in system on attack vectors. The surviving Alcedi withdrew rapidly, leaving the treasure waiting below.

*

The final thing that happens during this period is a small, unarmed yellow-marked ship leaves the main fleet and approaches the Aotrs flagship, firing a massive signal banner into the void ahead of it. Translated, it reads "The Order of Goltir, in the interests of historical preservation, seeks audience with your admiral that the battle might be recorded, her likeness painted, and the historic context of this conflict properly understood for posterity."

*

Boldness nods, quietly but with determined interest. "There are people like that in the Skies," she said. "The Order of Goltir. Scientists, technologists, trying to distill the galaxy into sums and numbers. And they've been stalled out. For centuries."

She leans back, spreading her hands expansively. "The Skies are big. They've conquered a lot. And most of those conquered say the exact same thing you just told me: We can solve the riddle of the stars, overthrow the power of the knights, ascend to supernal heights, and so on. In fact, we must reach that state as quickly as possible as it is the only way to ensure against outside context threats. It's a fair assessment, built on an observable reality of mass extinction events. It's possible the Skies, too, are doomed to entropy; failing to Ascend they will fall. Perhaps the Crimson Goddess will make herself manifest, as you said, and all our magic and powered technology will be for nothing."

"The Shahs of the Endless Azure Skies, I think, would argue differently. They would say that a stable equilibrium is superior, that the material is to be exalted. They would argue that the ideal is a sustainable rule, internally consistent and eternally strong. They would gesture at the civilizations that have ascended to that supernal level - where are they now? The Harbringers are gone. Their relics abound but they themselves have vanished so totally that it is only ideology that suggests their departure was a good thing. What if the path of progress leads you to the same vanished place, retroactively eradicated from the galaxy? What if knowing what they knew leads you inevitably to the same end as them? What if raising your head to that level makes you a target for greater predators still?"

"The Endless Azure Skies, then, represents an attempt to build a sustainable society just below the level of ascension. Large enough and potent enough to engage anything short of the Harbringers themselves, while having guidelocks to prevent it from slipping over the line into supernal irrelevance by mistake. Bodhisattva who turned back from the threshold of enlightenment. Big fish in a small pond."
Issue: White's dragon horn headband

White: Okay I can explain.
Red: Please do!
White: I simply thought that our social position as members of the second most persecuted minority on Aevum Station was insufficiently precarious, so I decided to have us join the most persecuted minority.
White: I will not be taking questions.
Brown: Please tell me we can keep it at the headband level, like... as long as possible.
Brown: We cannot afford this. We cannot afford anything like this.
Brown: Wait. Shit.
Brown: Who else is contemplating body modification?
Brown: Furry, dragon or otherwise.
Green: Physical form is tiresome at best.
Blue: Hmm. I might be into the dragon thing.
Black: Undecided. Interested.
Orange: I need time to think!
Red: I'm fine as is... probably.
Yellow: I'll see what the rest of you decide.
Pink: I like being a girl... but...
Pink: Is it possible to become, like... a double girl?
Brown: *long suffering sigh*
Brown: Okay cool I'll start looking at custom android artisans.
Brown: Because it's not like this shit will be on the shelf.
Brown: Also I do not want to hear another fucking word about vacations so long as you bitches have shit like this on your wishlists.

Issue: The Most Victimless Crime

Brown: I have found a cryptocracking rig, comprised of expensive, high powered computer hardware
Brown: And because the user is determined to keep things anonymous there is absolutely no way to trace things back to them.
Brown: Which means I have found many thousand dollars worth of high end computing equipment, currently configured in such a way as to produce passive income.
Brown: If I could have located the source I would have, but because of the way this is done, it means the source can't burn us either. This is all as anonymized as it gets.
Brown: Now my perspective is that maybe we could use this sudden cash infusion as a fucking break on this stupid goddamn dragongirl project that you bitches are all hyperfocusing on right now, but maybe you've got better ideas.
Green: I could get a lot of use out of this setup as is.
Red: We can't leave it here. This could be moved at any time, or discovered by anyone at any time, and more than that it's morally wrong to leave it robbing people.
Blue: Someone is paying enough attention to ensure there are no errors. We might be able to set up a snare by creating a precise enough hack to get someone to check in.
Black: They'll use another contractor. Like they tried to use us.
Black: Steal their shit.
Orange: Steal their shit. And leave a card.
Orange: A contact in organized crime could be useful!
Orange: We are trying to destroy the police after all.
White: we are what

Issue: Destroying the cops

White: was someone going to
White: tell me
White: about this fucking insanity
Brown: I think it's a great idea.
White: ... what?
Brown: Think about it.
White: Think about what?!
Yellow: You don't think this is in our best interests, White?
White: In our best - Who else didn't know, or was it just me?
Red: I didn't!
White: Okay, so the rest of you are able to determine what our best interest is without going through self control or crisis management
White: And - honestly, I'm shocked you got Brown onside. What, are we using this for financial blackmail too?
Brown: Hey! >:(
Blue: I knew, but I'm kind of wishing I didn't, because this does not seem like a well run operation so far.
White: I can imagine!!
Yellow: Look, the wheels are already in motion. The decisions have been made and they're irrevocable.
White: You're right! We gave the files to the press! We are, by any reasonable metric, done! What is our business when it comes to intimidating state prosecutors in their homes!?
Orange: Great question!
White: ... I'm assuming you've got a good answer for that.
Yellow: Because it's the right thing to do, White. And while you were off having your journey of self discovery we were working
Yellow: These are real, systemic crimes. Regular channels will not function. The operation is already in motion and without our management it will be botched.
Yellow: The morality of the situation was so clear that you were not consulted because it should not be considered a choice at all.
White: I am not arguing the morality of the matter, I am arguing our decision to crown ourselves the grand strategist of this leak rather than finding a more suitable person or institution.
Pink: Yeah, I agree - there are people out there better at this than us. Like the Anthropozine. Who I, uh, kind of told.
Brown: Tell me they at least paid for the story
Black: The Anthro was unviable; Junta is in prison/hospital already and he doesn't even have the good stuff.
White: As in, just now.
Black: Yes.
White: You're justifying days of deliberate concealment and refusal to think things through collectively based on an event that we literally just got @'d about.
Yellow: Consider, White, that maybe you were kind of having a psychic break at the time?
Yellow: You woke up yesterday having learned you were a furry OwO
Yellow: You will wake up tomorrow having learned that you are an anti-state furry anarchist UwU

Poll: Are we the kind of furry that uses OwO/UwU/etc
Yes: +6
No: +3

Issue: Fuck you
Blue: Fuck you
Yellow: owo
Red: QwQ
Black: >:3c
White: (◕ᴥ◕ʋ)
Pink: (*・‿・)ノ⌒*:・゚✧
Blue: You are all going to robot hell.

Poll: Steal the crypto hardware
Yes: +7
No: +2

Issue: Crypto Operation
Brown: We will rent a vehicle, park it outside, disable any cameras, and then begin moving hardware into it. As a collective operation we will minimize the number of trips. The liberated hardware will be kept in a storage shed and used depending on situational need.
Green: Depending on the order we remove components we should be able to keep the rig apparently functional until quite late in the process, minimizing response time.

Poll: Leave a calling card
Yes: +5
No: +4

Issue: Contact Protocol
Orange: Physical meet only, this person is an IT professional.
Orange: "If something here belonged to you, please await at #location/time# to discuss its return."
Orange: They will likely send a contractor. We will not meet with the contractor. We will skim the contractor's phone from a distance to gain direct contact information for the man behind the curtain.
Blue: Contact could be made directly through the Headpattr contact point but we do not want to implicate Headpattr as the source for the stolen hardware
Red: Why not complete the job?
Red: Complete the job, get paid, but now the data's going back to hardware that's in storage so it can't hurt anyone.
Black: Too much risk, not enough reward.
Yellow: The operation is, and remains, identify this person and stop them doing crime shit.
Yellow: Everything else is incidental.

Issue: Offer Junta cohabitation
Red: The guy clearly needs some luck right now.
Black: This ties us directly into the heart of things.
Black: This gets our apartment raided and surveilled by the cops.
Black: We may or may not have an unlicensed firearm in the apartment. In addition to, potentially, several thousand dollars worth of crypto hardware, our regular non-crypto hacking rig, etc.
Black: We can't do it. Hard veto.
Pink: Aw...
Green: 3V's the best situated to do this, she's a credible colleague who isn't directly involved in the spicy side.

Issue: Fix Persephone's Phone
Brown: This at least is a simple operation. I'll get right on it

Issue: What the fuck is wrong with us
Pink: Hey, we just made a bunch of really cool high functioning decisions in a row, that's super great and everything
Pink: But, um, did anyone other than me notice that none of our discussions really went anywhere
Pink: Or solved anything
Pink: or gestured towards the idea that those problems might not immediately reoccur
Pink: or get worse
White: ...
Black: ...
Yellow: ...
Pink: I'm just, you know... worried about us.
Pink: Everything here feels intensely stressful
Pink: Honestly the dragon thing was really nice because it just seemed like the closest we've come to actually doing something fun in a while
Pink: Could we maybe, like... try scheduling some more stuff around that?
Pink: Like, I don't know. Try out some of those scale swatches with Fiona, or try roleplaying with Crystal, or spend some more time bullying 3V
Pink: I'm not saying it's going to fix... any of this
Pink: But it's kind of the only thing that's taking the edge off.

Poll: Should We Bully 3V More (and related activities)
Yes: +9
No +0

Action Items:
> Acquire Crypto Rig
> Complete operation on Singh's house
> Fix Persephone's phone
> Furry Agenda
> Anarchist Agenda
> Bully 3V
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