For just over two years, you and your team have been living among the people of Urugal, an empire spreading from a desert land on Amasu, one of the many planets pulsing with magic in the Fantasian verses. Before making the journey through the Sieve, you all spent time studying the local language and customs while preparing resources to support your specialties. Urugali has a reputation for excellence in the magical arts, so, the Para Initiative expected you to make them allies in exploring Fantasia.
With your supplies secured in hard cases, the team moved through the Sieve and got to work setting up an outpost. You’ve all come a long way since arriving with armloads of equipment, clumsily acquiring lodgings, and speaking with obvious accents. Now you each hold positions of importance to influential households, though none of you have the ear of the ruler directly.
Omari, with his love of maps, mathematics, and geology; works as a cartographer, recording material, magical, and spiritual landscapes. Nesmin, a recruit from Fantasia, is a polyglot with excellent magical skills, making them a valuable asset to the House of Rashidi, which claims a distant blood relationship to the throne. Chin-Soon, with her cutting-edge socioadaptive implants from Delphi, has well earned confidence in her skills as a negotiator and diplomat, which she’s used to maintain independence while building trust among the many Houses. You brought martial prowess, strategic expertise, and knowledge of portals to this journey, easily earning placement in House Rashidi’s elite guard.
Today it’s all paying off as Rashidi has agreed to take you all out in one of their great flying ships to map the specific layout of ley lines and how the great city was built to harness them using patterns from sacred geometry. The royal seat has benefitted from this wellspring for over a thousand years, with the plentiful magical energies attracting shapers from all over the world. Nesmin has themself marveled at the ease with which the energy may be called upon, and how they had to temper their workings in order to maintain the desired effect. While magically sensitive folks can sometimes feel a ley line, the exact layout here has been shrouded by an impenetrable veil of secrecy.
It’s just before sunrise when your party lifts up into the still starry sky. Chin-Soon makes easy conversation with the captain and your escort while Omari and Nesmin peer over the edge of the brightly painted ship to watch the irrigated landscape pass swiftly by underneath. Nesmin’s long, pointed ears and braided hair wave in the strong breeze, mirroring the red streamers attached to the curving bow and stern. Meanwhile, you watch the crew with mild skepticism and the ship with open enthusiasm.
All seems to be going well, until you see your destination. The sky ahead suddenly darkens from a profusion of clouds forming with unnatural speed into a dense mass near your first landing site. Abruptly, three blinding bolts of lightning converge on a single empty point about ten meters above the ground. Yet, you hear the immense boom of exploding stone, and in that instant a small, but damaged, pyramid becomes visible. As the captain frantically halts the ship in midair, the clouds begin to break apart, leaving artful puffs and whisps. A figure flies up from the ruined top of the pyramid straight at your ship.
As she draws near, you see huge chains wrapped around her person, still glowing red where they’ve been seared off. Her eerie white eyes and diaphanous gown are radiant against her smooth skin gleaming like brown moonstone. She moves with purpose and wisps of clouds follow her. Nesmin immediately weaves a shield around the ship while the captain cries out, “What treacherous magic is this? She means to destroy us!”
Badru, your Rashidi escort adds, “This is no sorceress, this is one of the Forsworn, a villain from times remembered only in myth. She will kill us all if we don’t act fast!” He began his own spell while the crew knocked arrows into bows and readied shields and javelins.
“Hold!” Chin-Soon commands, “We must not act like fools afraid of all that moves in the dark! I’ve heard the stories, too, and if they are true, this is not the moment to fight and still hope to live”.
“We are shielded, friends,” assures Nesmin, “we have time.” While the crew still stands ready, some tension leaves them and Badru lets his spell relax, though he is ready to bring it back in an instant.
The woman in white hovers just outside Nesmin’s shield and speaks with a beautiful voice that reminds everyone of the comfort of a soft breeze on a hot day, “Good advice. Peace be with you all if you will listen for a moment. Your presence here at this time cannot be an accident. I am one of the Nefer-Ta, eternal beings entwined with the land and the magical currents of the world. We each serve and in turn influence Amasu.”
“Lies!” Badru breaks in, “The Forsworn killed the Nefer-Ta and the magicians of Urugal trapped them forever more, buried in the deepest reaches of Amasu. Your words are worthless.”
“Yet the rains still came, the ground still bore life, and you think the Nefer-Ta dead? We’ve been here all along, tricked and imprisoned. We were each given gifts,” her hand brushes the necklace at her throat, “thick with enchantments to befuddle the mind. We were wrapped in these,” shaking her broken bonds, “chains enchanted to hold us rooted deep into stone. Our prisons were trapped and kept secret while our lifeforce, our connection to the land, was drained to fuel Urugal greed”.
As Badru begins to interrupt once more, Chin-Soon lays a hand on his shoulder to stop him, and the Nefer-Ta continues, “I’m not here about old grievances. The truth will be revealed once my siblings and I are all free once again. I would be in that prison still if it wasn’t for an incredible marvel. Some kind of rift in the fiber of reality opened up within the pyramid and depleted all the magic holding the enchantments together when it came. My mind cleared and I was able to summon the clouds and the lightning once again to break free.”
Looking up excitedly from poring over a map, Omari breaks in, “I borrowed this from the royal library and it shows that a ley line should run right under that pyramid and go straight into the central one in Urugal pointing true west. There are three more, one in each cardinal direction…”
“That would be where to look for the others,”spoke the Nefer-Ta, “Please help me free them so that we may once again protect Amasu. This rift feels wrong, and I fear the intense concentration of magic may have attracted it. I don’t trust what may come through it. Set aside your fears so that we may stand together for our world. We must hurry! Come with me!"
You look at your team and can’t hold back your excitement, “I bet this is a natural portal! That would take vast amounts of energy to form, but this site sounds like it had the juice to spare. There’s a lot we don’t know about portals, it’s a scary thought, but theoretically a big energy source might attract them. New portals are volatile and unstable. This is a unique opportunity to study one from its inception, but…” you glance reflexively down at the ruined pyramid, “there are so many ways this could spin out of control.”
Badru stiffens at this talk of portals, “We will go nowhere with her. We should kill her now rather than free more of them. I don’t know what she is, but the Nefer-Ta are long gone. We need to secure this site and report this to the Royal House.” A horn cries out from the city and you think you see several dots of ships taking flight, lit by the morning sun. “They already come. We can fight if we will.”
The Nefer-Ta looks defiantly at you all, “I will stay no longer. Those true of heart are welcome to come with me, for the good of Amasu and all life sustained by her. I can carry you without a ship.”
Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.
A: Leave the Nefer-Ta to her own devices and land immediately to find this new portal. You’ve never seen one just after formation and the Para Initiative could benefit from studying this site up close. We need to ensure access over the long term, but who knows what these Nefer-Ta beings will do once they’re free. Conflict may be unavoidable, and your main concern is expanding your access to the verses, not local conflicts.
B: Your allies here have tales of the treachery of these “Forsworn” stretching back for a thousand years, and at the root of many mythologies there are kernels of truth. Stay loyal to them and their ideology and lead the fight to stop the false Nefer-Ta from freeing her kin. You can’t stand by while they take their revenge on the people of Urugal and destroy years of work!
C: Trust your negotiator and let Chin-Soon talk sense into Badru and the crew. You know well how the victors of any conflict tell the biased history that becomes the truth. This Nefer-Ta showed no signs of being the evil that the myths of the Forsworn describe. Chin-Soon can help them see reason. Working with the Nefer-Ta is a worthwhile long term investment for the Para Initiative and House Rashidi, even if it costs you access to the freshest portal data The Initiative might ever get a hold of.
D: Abandon the ship and let the Nefer-Ta carry you with her to the next site. These locals stuck in a culture that won’t let go of the past are not worth your lives. Clearly the Nefer-Ta are more powerful than any Urugali magician, and once freed, you want to be on their good side. Whatever happens with the locals, the Para Initiative must maintain a foothold here and its access to this new portal. The Urugals won’t hold it for long.
[Archivist's Note: With 9 votes in favor of ignoring the natural portal to make peace, Chin-Sook stepped forward immediately to sew understanding and make peace. 2 votes each were cast to side with the Urugal or the Nefer-Ta, and 1 vote was cast to leave the situation to study the portal.]
Chin-Soon implored the Nefer-Ta to delay a little longer, just enough to give the situation proper consideration. Watching Chin-Soon work was like a game of Go played by professionals, mesmerizing and mysterious. Her implants read every biochemical detail and she harnessed those insights to nudge people to reveal their hidden agendas and expose their truest motivations.
Badru was afraid of the Nefer-Ta, but his show of malice was driven by fear of being seen as a traitor to the Royal House. He could sense the magical nature of the pyramids and believed the Nefer-Ta’s story, no matter the discomfort caused by that truth. With many reassurances, he was convinced that peace could be reached once the Nefer-Ta were freed and the magic of the land was brought back into balance. House Rashidi could even become celebrated for the return of the Nefer-Ta to the world!
The hours after that your vessel hugged the ground as it flew from site to site and dodged Royal Navy patrols. You entered the warded space around each pyramid, constantly on edge about meeting with a guard. Omari, Nesmin, and Badru decoded the layers of magical and physical traps to break into each one while you stood watch outside. There were many close calls, but by the afternoon all of the Nefer-Ta were freed. In a single day, the three remaining pyramids were broken.
The Nefer-Ta agreed to stay out of the city while your group returned to attempt to smooth the way for their revelation. Weeks of talks with all the Houses turned into months as the ripples of change from such a huge power shift pulsed through the empire. Badru may not have had technological enhancement, but he knew his people very well; Chin-Soon was happy to let him lead negotiations while she mingled with the people to encourage a favorable view of the Nefer-Ta and House Rashidi.
Four months passed by the time things settled, and your group could finally study the natural portal. It had stabilized by then, and it was too late to gather any groundbreaking data. You received a visit from a senior attache from the Knowledge Corps. She lets you know that your report was initially very promising due to the mention of a spontaneously forming portal, but that you neglected the Para Initiative’s core mission to understand interversal phenomena when you focused on local issues instead. With an arched eyebrow she suggests you might have been here too long and forgotten your training, and leaves behind tutorial materials intended for new recruits when she departs.
Your group stood by the choices they made, even though it stung to lose out on the unrivaled opportunity to learn from the new portal. There is still so much to learn here, maybe especially now that eternal magical beings with an arcane connection to this world, and its energies, have emerged.
[SHK-E Analysis: The Para Initiative team chose to build relationships and peace, improving both SAFETY and HEART in this situation. Unfortunately, the team completely ignored a great source of KNOWLEDGE and requiring the use of a little extra ENERGY to power Chin-Sook's implants at a rate above mission parameters. A great debate is sparked among those in the Initiative over whether learning about the portals should take precedence over well-being of local populations.]
Para Initiative Reputations: Interventionist
Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086