The Para Initiative

Chapter 
NUMBER

The Initiative

1.17.2022

By: 

<BELL-1://ARCHIVE.TRANSCRIPTS/ParaInitiative/3p5-0>

SUBJECT: Frogs, Abnormalities, Extinction, Initiative

PARTICIPANTS: 6; 1 Bioelectronic Ligature Liason-Type (BELL-1), 1 User-Type (Para), 4 Amphibian-Type (DYO, AXL, SAH, ELI)

LOCATION: Central Parafocal Array Hub, early development phase; City of Delphi, Latrans-III, Synthex Core

/TRANSCRIPT FOLLOWS../

BELL-1: [italics indicate inaudible comms on BELL-User interface channel] Para, I’ve begun recording. All four of them appearing at once seemed particularly...significant, so I took the liberty of preserving it for future reference.

Para: Probably a good idea, Bell. [vocally] So, you four, it’s nice, but quite unusual to see all of you together. There must be a reason, hmm?

AXL: Crrrises..

DYO: Yes, crrrises, bizzarrrre events, interrrloperrrs..

SAH: Lilypads thrrreatened.. Frrragile as they arrre..

ELI: Something is happening.. Surrrely one as inforrrmed as you..

AXL: Has hearrrd of these abnorrrmalities..?

Para: If you’re referring to something I’d have seen on the holovids, I can’t say I’ve paid much attention. The news is always strange, and anyway, all my time these days goes into getting the Array calibration finely tuned and expanding the range of the Sieve prototype. Since I discovered the other...Verses, I guess we’re calling them... and that encounter with those strange... scholars, every bit of effort has been poured into improving the tech that let me travel there in the first place. I just wish those two had been able to tell me anything useful. Of course, the implications are exciting and all, but it also means the area I need to cover to try and find her... It’s just so much more...vast.  [sighs] Bell, run a quick search through the holos and see if you can figure out what they’re talking about.

—-

DYO: Yes, new worrrlds, new frrriends, they arrre imporrrtant, but..

ELI : New inforrrmation, verrry imporrrtant, but..

SAH: Many rrresourrrces at ourrr disposal, imporrrtant, but..

AXL: New dangerrr.! Vast Verrrses arrre not all frrriendly to frrrogs, to Parrra..

BELL-1: Interesting how they can finish each others’ sentences. Not unlike our own communicat…oh. Oh my. Para, a check into recent unexplained phenomena has turned up an unusual number of results. On average, those type of reports across all of the legible valences in Synthex number around 12 per buildcycle. Since your... trip? That number has gone up to over a hundred, though mostly they seem to be coming from the fringe. And, Para, I hate to tell you this, but over half of them seem to be... disappearances. Places with low-tech or retro-tech are notoriously superstitious, though, especially when they get close to breakthrough. It might be nothing, but what amounts to an entire order of magnitude is nothing to mute for a cycle! 

FROGS [as one]: Morrre than one orrrder.! A scrrratch on the surrrface.! 

BELL-1 [aloud]: Wait, you can hear us on the secure interface channel? That’s supposed to just be for Para and me! I feel... I feel... transgressed upon! You’re... you’re... eavesdropping!

FROGS: Yet frrrogs make no objection to secrrret rrrecorrrding.! Be calm, rrrobot.! Frrrogs can hearrr many quiet things.. 

DYO: The converrrsations of spiderrrs and flies..

ELI: Whisperrrs of waterrr currrrents, airrr prrressurrres..

SAH: Secrrret gerrrminations of lily flowerrrs..

AXL: Prrredatorrrs’ hungrrry hearrrtbeats..

FROGS: And now frrrogs hearrr strrrange things, Parrra, unnaturrral things.. Please help frrrogs.! Frrrogs arrre frrragile.!

—-
 

Para: Alright, alright, beings, just relax. At the very least, the work I’ve put into the Array and the Sieve so far lines up pretty neatly with helping us find out more about whatever’s bothering you. And, of course, I’d never forgive myself if I let anything happen to you. There’s still a lot to accomplish, but finding anomalous signals and getting to them quickly are exactly what these designs were made to do. I’ll need some help to get things up and running since we seem to be under a limited timeframe. Bell, that seems like something you could start working on now, I think?

BELL-1: It sure is, Para. Any idea what kind of help we should be recruiting specifically?

Para:  My first thought is that we might need to ramp up security. If more... disappearances... are happening, I don’t want them getting too close to any of us, or to the project. People with a background in safety protocols could help ease the burden of looking out for these little guys while we continue to amplify the machines’ resonance and reach. They’ll also be able to help us navigate the process of going public with new tech, which we will unfortunately have to do sooner than I’d hoped. This appears to be a bigger problem than just my own. Publishing can be a bit of a theft-laden highwire here in Delphi, as I’m sure you remember, Bell.

BELL-1: Don’t remind me! Spending half a buildcycle inside that thug’s dirty, tiny little external drive was the least comfortable in my entire lifespan! Shoulder to shoulder with ramshackle wormcode and unverified hashfakes, it’s a miracle I even fit in there, much less that I didn’t catch something nasty. Not to mention he only asked for 500 Petajoules in ransom-- [scoffs] I’ve never been more insulted! 

Para: Aww, no amount of Joules would be enough for what you mean to me, Bell, but I agree, 500 Peta is absurdly low considering how much time went into writing your code. Anyway, frogs, anything you’d care to add to the list before Bell starts recruiting?

DYO: Frrriends in the rrright places can be verrry helpful.. Focus yourrr efforrrts on those who will aid in starrrting rrrelationships thrrroughout the Verrrses..

SAH: Meagerrr.. Yourrr ideas arrre sound, yourrr drrrive unquestioned, but yourrr rrresourrrces arrre yet meagerrr.. Gatherrr yourrr enerrrgy beforrre you make the firrrst move..

ELI: Inforrrmation is the drrriving forrrce of all crrreation.. Nothing is morrre imporrrtant than underrrstanding.. Rrrecrrruit powerrrful minds.!

AXL: Safety firrrst is a saying among yourrr kind.. Wise worrrds; the thrrreat is biggerrr than you prrresume, and frrrogs, people, soon everrryone will need prrrotection..

Para: Sounds like Axl is on the same page as me, but, yeah, Dyo, it would make sense to start looking for leaders that can operate smoothly in the field. We definitely never want to cause harm or conflict, and some xenolinguists and cultural experts go a long way toward that. Sah’s got a point, too. If this project is gonna have legs, we’re going to need more power. The tech itself is going to attract some investors, but finding people willing to stake their Joules doesn’t just happen overnight. Eli’s idea to focus on information and recruit scientists would help us get the Array and Sieve running better faster. Even though I’ve done this alone up until now, it never hurts to have more eyes checking your work. And I guess we’re gonna need a catchy name for Bell to put out there if we want to have any hope of recruiting anyone at all. Any ideas, guys?

FROGS: Yourrr prrroject, Parrra, yourrrs to name, yourrr initiative.

—.

Para: Hmmm.. I guess I am going to have to take the initiative... [brightly] As a matter of fact, I will. “The Initiative!” There’s your title, Bell, now get to work finding us some strong talent. Since there doesn’t seem to be a consensus among our amphibian chorus, do you have any thoughts about where you might begin?

/TRANSCRIPT ENDS../

In spite of the unfortunately truncated transcript, you distinctly remember hearing BELL-1 tell this story in his own colorful words, claiming that he told Para he thought:

A) AXL was a paranoid little critter, but if he was even close to right about the scope of the threat, shoring up our safety protocols was a good place to start. Not to mention Bell's personal feelings about keeping the tech out of the wrong “scuzzy” hands.

B)  DYO was the most relatable of the weird little toads, and finding help in the unknown locations we plan to visit is the key to our overall success. Cultural expertise solves some problems nothing else can, and quite a few problems that other things can.

C) SAH was a bit brusque calling our resources “meager,” but a point was a point. The time was coming when this “Initiative” was going to start to snowball, and securing the energy and resources that it would require as it grows would be a solid foundation.

D) ELI might be an inscrutable little enigma, but our core strength was in the quality of our science. Just look at how awesome Bell himself was, if you needed proof that ramping up the speed and scale of technological works was going to yield the most benefits.

FINAL VOTE:

Tie between B) DYO and D) ELI, only one vote separates them on day one, so we will move forward with both.

BELL-1 continued, “DYO and ELI had both offered us options that felt right, that aligned with the Initiative’s goals. I couldn’t tell if I thought one idea was better than the other, so I set about pursuing diplomats and scientists equally, even though it meant my attention was split. 

“When the VOLSTAR crates ended up arriving four buildcycles late because of the second tech-hostage crisis I was forced to live through, I wished that I had listened to AXL and shored up SecOps. Thank the Coder it wasn’t me being ransomed again!

“Not to mention, we’re still struggling to keep everything powered up 360. Maybe finding some serious fusion-range Joulestakes should have been a higher priority. Still, the early hires got the Sieve shipping and retrieving farther than we ever thought possible, and let us make great local inroads into a lot of Subvees.

“If it had been up to me, I wouldn’t have done anything differently. Wait.. what do you mean it was up to me? And anyway, shouldn’t you be prepping for ship to your next Verse assignment?”

Chapter 
NUMBER

Underground Scholars

1.18.2022

By: 

Expanding the Initiative’s reach into the other Verses is an important task. Of course, home base will remain in Delphi, where advanced technology and reliable power is at your fingertips. Nevertheless, recruiting members with local knowledge and special skills, and establishing safe spaces from which operations can launch has become a priority now that it is certain that strange disappearances and unexplainable confluxes are happening throughout the myriad worlds, not just at home. To that end, returning to the place where Para made her first attempt at a long-range Sieve jump and discovered the existence of the other Verses is the order of the day. Since she is far too busy with organizational operations, it has fallen to your team to reestablish contact with the unusual pair that Para has described as “nice, but a little strange.”

   The Sieve deposits you a short distance from the entrance to the cave you’re looking for. After checking your gear, which all seems to be in working order, you make your way through the environment that somehow feels even more pristine, more natural than the zerotech worlds in Synthex that you’ve visited. As you approach the cavern’s wide mouth, a small but confident voice calls out, “Ah yes, here’s our visitors now, Omni. Come in, come in, you lot! We have prospects to discuss, and time is wasting!

  Encouraged by the welcoming words, you take the lead. Less than a hundred paces on the downward-sloping path from the outside opening, the already sizeable space opens up into an enormous room, filled with mountains of books, upon the highest peak of which sits a small man, his diminutive size exaggerated all the more by the length of his bushy white beard. Behind him sits a giant vermilion reptilian, whose ostensible threat to beings of your size is belied by an exceedingly casual position, with a chin the size of a hoverbike resting gently in one massive claw as giant green orbs lazily take in your party’s size and composition.

    Perhaps more impressive overall, however, is the ridiculous quantity of books. Strewn about in complete disorder, they fill nearly half of the immense volume you stand in, and appear to continue as such down the multiple paths that extend out of the rear wall. Your mind boggles at the prospect of the amount of resources, as well as space, wasted by such an immense physical collection that could likely be coded onto a single wideline external storage unit.

    Interrupting your train of thought, the bearded gnome all but shouts triumphantly, squinting as his finger scans across a line in the book he holds open near his midsection, “HAH! See, Omni, it’s just as depicted right here in Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana—that nice young lady who visited us the first time hasn’t returned. She’s sent others in her stead.”

    A booming voice echoes inside your mind, not unlike the experience of interacting with a dedicated Liason servitor, but, louder somehow, and palpably feminine — Portentous, indeed, young Scribs, but hardly authoritative. Let us listen to what they have to say, and compare it to the catalog of predictions.

    “Not authoritative, my left moustache! You just don’t want to admit that I was right about this one, you brute!” The gnome taps the page he is peering at twice, intently, then suddenly catches himself with a quick shake of his head, and regards you, breaking into a smile. “Forgive me, visitors. She,” he continues with a jerk of his thumb over his shoulder at the titanic dragon, “rarely cares to put much stock in my findings. Always with the ‘more evidence, young Scribs,’ or, ‘not authoritative, young Scribs.’ It’s as if anyone under a thousand years old is just a child in her opinion.”

    Anyone under THREE thousand years old IS just a child by comparison to me, my friend, comes the dragon’s telepathic reply. And you underestimate how dearly I value your input in spite of your relative youth. I simply place emphasis on being... thorough. But enough of our quabbles over method. Let us find out what these have come to discuss.

    “Mm, yes quite right,” says Scribs, mollified for the moment at least. “You’ve come, and here you are. What of it, then? Out with it, out with it!”

    “Well...” you begin, “Para and the frogs...”

    “Yes, Para, that was her name, wasn’t it. And what’s this about frogs?”

    “Para... and the talking frogs... have determined that bizarre happenings are taking place all over the known Verses.”

    “Hah! Talking frogs, you say? Must be relatives of yours, eh, Omni?” chuckles the gnome. “Have you tried kissing one of them to see if they turn into a prince? Now THAT would be a bizarre happening, indeed.” You’re sure if you could telepathically hear the dragon roll her eyes, you would have just then.

    “Kissing them?” you say, “No, no, nothing like that. They’re an endangered species where we come from, and they are up in arms recently about impending danger. Plus, there are disappearances and other unexplained phenomena taking place at dramatically accelerating rates across our homeworlds, and our technology has picked up a signal that indicates it’s happening here, and in other places, too.”

    “Mhm. Well, talking frogs are probably endangered just about everywhere I can think of, but I can’t say we’ve had any disappearances of note. In an infinite library, though, many things could go missing and you wouldn’t even know it until you went to look for them.”

    “Infinite?” you ask.

    “Yes, quite,” Scribs says, with an almost dismissive wave of his hand around at the piles of books, “it’s why they’re in such a state, you see. We’d certainly never keep a library so disorganized if it had a FINITE number of books in it, now would we?"

    “No... I guess not,” you concede. “But, how do they all fit? And where does all the paper come from? We could certainly code all the books in this room into something this size,” you continue, holding up your Portarray for scale, “but nothing we know of could hold an infinite amount of information.”

    “Why, magic, of course.”

    “Magic?” you reply incredulously, “but, magic is just superstition to explain scientific phenomena that aren’t fully understood.”

    “Heehee,” Scribs giggles, “or is science just a way to explain magical phenomena with equations and hypotheses and a bunch of other impenetrable mumbo jumbo designed to gatekeep?”

    “Uh... maybe?” you halfheartedly allow, hoping to move the encounter from a bizarre philosophical treatise to more concrete considerations. “In any case, we came to discuss the possibility of you joining our Initiative, and the opportunity to use your... library as a sort of safe haven for our investigative operations in this area of the Verses.”

    You’re surprised when the dragon responds instead of the talkative gnome—You can consider us your allies, and the Infinite Library is a sanctuary for all visitors. Unfortunately, I’m afraid you’ll find your technological applications non-functional within its confines due to some of the stronger magics’ interaction with what you might term “field state.” The Library is necessarily paracausal in nature, in order to contain an infinite volume within a finite surface area, so its interactions with your brand of electronic sorcery are unpredictable at best. Send our warm regards to Para, and please, check out a book to take with you, whichever you think might help in your investigations. Scribs, what do you think they could benefit from the most?

    “Ahem, yes, quite,” says the gnome, “there are several texts that might aid you.”

Which will you pick?

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

A: Occi, Spineroot, and Clovum’s Three Dimensional Poesias, which details spatial arrangement’s interaction with language and art, and purportedly singed off the better half of Scribs’ beard when he and the dragon first unlocked its sigils? Its raw power and metaphysical implications are perhaps the highest of the lot.

B: Bearing By Torrent, the travelogue of the first navigator to successfully cross the Twisted Rainbow. It could provide significant insight into what the Initiative might expect to encounter in Fantasia’s wilder elements.

C: Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana, the text that Scribs was poring over when you entered the Library. A book that may be able to depict the future could be indispensable in helping you pick the right signals to pursue.

D: Five Type Pointy Stick, the only known translation of goblinoid language, which actually contains seventeen types of pointy stick, so titled because its original language calls every number higher than what can be counted on one hand “five”? Some of the pointy sticks are quite cleverly designed, too.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Return Mission Log: At the Infinite Library, the Initiative team decided to borrow Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana from Omni and Scribs, with a plurality of 20 votes. Three Dimensional Poesias received 11, Bearing By Torrent received 7, and Five Type Pointy Stick fittingly received 5.]

    “Scribs, didn’t I hear you say that the Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana predicted our arrival? Something that could help us see the future would be extremely useful in refining our targets or advising us how to proceed in a difficult situation.”

    “Indeed, indeed it did. But it’s not so easy as all that, oh no, no, no. It doesn’t just tell the future laid out plain and simple for all to see. It’s a book with a personality of its own, and what it chooses to reveal is often cryptic, wreathed in symbols, and shrouded by many interpretations. Oystersand herself was particularly interested in a place some scholars call ‘The Colorful Realm’; you would know it as one of your ‘Verses’; the one that’s… well, colorful? Shapes and patterns and such.” Scribs shakes his head quickly as if to clear it and blows a gust of air. “Always made me dizzy, that place. Never could spend too much time there without feeling sick. Much better to look at it on the page, as far as I’m concerned.”

     I believe you refer to this place as Kaleidoscope– says Omni– and it has a powerful relationship with time. It is a realm of connections and abstractions, of foreseeable possibilities, because its logic is quite different from ours, and from your own. Dear, sweet Anelie understood this much more intuitively than most, and made an admirable life’s work out of its study and subsequent refinement into the oracular text. Please do be careful with it; she gave me that copy herself. And DO be careful with it– the Colorful Realm can reveal many things, but is often wild and capricious; there is real danger of seeing what you WANT to see in the Arcana rather than seeing what it has chosen to reveal. You think you might have seen the dragon incline her head slightly toward her “young” Gnome companion during that last part.  But, maybe it was nothing

    “We will,” you say. “Thank you very much, Omni, and you too, Scribs. We’ll see you again sometime, and return your book!”

[KNOWLEDGE was gained, at the cost of SAFETY.  Oysterand's Illustrated Arcana is now being studied by the Para Initiative.

Para Initiative SHK-E Assessment:
SAFETY: Poor
HEART: Good
KNOWLEDGE: Good
ENERGY: Poor

Para Initative Inventory:Oystersand's Illustrated Arcana]

Chapter 
NUMBER

Ex Memoriam

1.22.2022

By: 

There’s no way to know how long it has been since the rest of your team shipped retrieval. In this realm of permanent dusk, time seems to be measurable only in breaths and heartbeats. As soon as you arrived, your Portarray started acting as though it had a weak charge. What then seemed to be a dismissible minor oversight became catastrophe when everyone else powered up and headed home and you were left here with a sputtering, barely functioning device, all alone. Now, it feels like an eternity since even its basic chronometer started slowing noticeably, then pulsing weaker, slower and weaker, and eventually falling silent.

Silent, just like the rest of this frag of a Verse, where not even your intentionally primitive compass, embedded in your wrist guard for just such an energy-short situation, hears the faintest whisper of an electromagnetic field. Watching its needle float aimlessly, propelled only by the whims of inertia instead of addressed toward the pull of an invisible but omnipresent power, stopped being fascinating and started being something for you to not think about as soon as you realized the metaphorical implications.

Silent, too, rotationally; the very worst of the tidally locked planets you’ve had the displeasure to meet nevertheless waxed and waned in regular cycles of radiation and visibility, providing basic cues for your body to crave rest or sustenance. Even now, in what feels like it surely must have been a buildcycle, or is it two, five, even ten… in this neverending, suspicious dark, you feel no desire to eat or to sleep. You only feel the malaise in the top of your gut that goes along with low fever, as if from recent vaccination or overindulgence in mild solvent, and the bleariness of overuse in your eyes that comes from staring too long into a vidscreen full of neverending tasks.

Still, you know you’ve made some headway. You’ve learned to be quiet, as this place demands, to move only with purpose, and purpose deeply hushed. You’ve realized that panic is the enemy, maybe even a response engineered by this antagonistic environment to drive those who would become prey to bolt, to lose control, to make themselves known. You’ve even begun to pick out patterns of illumination, despite their wild irregularity, against the constant, sickly glow of the persistent greenish-red tinge in the sky that provides the barest level of visibility in a nightmare parody of the beautiful Auroras of many planets’ polar regions.

One such irregular pattern has been your quarry since you noticed it from your position near the edge of the swampy fens that tried to swallow your boot. The color and intensity of the glow, in high blue and purplish-white tones suggest, dare you think it, lightning, electricity. Where there is electricity, there is a chance that you might be able to power up your device and ship out. You’ve done your best not to allow your hope to distract you from the hard-earned task at hand, however. You move toward the light as soon as it appears after what feels like an interminable wait, keeping cover as you go, and only continuing to pursue what you believe is the right direction for a short while after the illumination inevitably fades, before you go back to the boredom and monotony of another long downtime.

The painfully slow method seems to have worked, however, and as you perch among a rocky outcropping that you would swear must be close to the source, you feel the swirling rise of what is unmistakably a wind of charged ions that makes your hair begin to tingle and stand on end. A quick check of the compass shows its own excitement as well, pointing strongly in the direction you’ve been following, though rapidly twitching with the unstable and intermittent pattern of the current. You break from hiding to move the final couple hundred meters, dodging unusually regularly shaped and spaced stones as you go, taking a final perch behind one of them as the luminous display sparks into existence, revealing that you are tucked behind... a tombstone...?

As the electrical barrage mounts in intensity, you can see clearly that you are indeed in a graveyard. Near its center, suspended in midair by what you assume to be some function of the EM radiation, floats the source of the power. A feminine humanoid, but certainly not human, skin a dull metallic grey, eyes and fingertips crackling with wild discharge, and a set of long iron terminals protruding from either side of her neck appears to be directing the lightning, controlling its direction and intensity, and using it to... lift the tombstones out from the ground?!

With a gut-wrenching squelch, the stone that serves as your hiding place begins to shudder and rise, rrrrrripping out from the moist earth and patchy moss. Before you have time to react, you are exposed, and in an instant, the unearthly woman’s gaze snaps to you. She blinks in surprise, and far more quickly than they arose, all of the levitating stones fall back to the earth with a wet series of thuds. You manage to roll out of the way, springing back to your feet to face her in the returning dark.

“An observer,” she begins, her voice not unpleasant nor unkind, but tinged with an oscillating frequency, a distorted chord of static that distinguishes it from the purely human, “few between are those who would bear witness to the fulfillment of the agreement. What are you doing in this far-flung and melancholy place, pet?”

Pet? Hardly the sort of honorific you’d expect from a denizen of this realm, but registering it as friendly, if a bit archaic, you decide to tell her the truth. “I.. I am part of a team of explorers. We came to this place to investigate an... unusual signal, and unfortunately, when it was time to return, my... device malfunctioned. Short of power is my leading theory. So, I followed the signs of electrical discharge in the sky to this place, where I saw you doing... well... what exactly ARE you doing with these...” you ask, motioning toward the haphazardly strewn markers.

“Memorials,” she says, “these memorials patch the walls of the Crumbling Keep, as it was written long ago. Its lord and master upholds his end of the bargain by filling this yard, and I uphold mine by using the stones to fortify his collapsing sanctum. Trapped in a never-ending cycle, we are, much as you are, trapped. This perilous plane itself revels in such quandaries. But, what of this... device? Short on power it may be, but, my pet, short on power I am not.”

You produce your Portarray and hold it up for her to examine. Her illuminated gaze passes over it gently, and over you as well, flickering subtly with the promise of truth to her claim of power. “Two of a kind, you pair,” she says, then chuckles, a haunting sound coupled with the staticky timbre of her voice, “not of this world, finely wrought, and ever so delicate. A fraction too much current would cause... irreparable damage."

Your eyes widen a bit at this overt declaration of your fragility as she continues, “But it can be fixed, pet. A trifle. Alas, I cannot give this power freely, though I would but I could. You have earned your return home with the cunning and persistence that somehow saw you through the dusks to me, but there is one more price to pay if you would avail yourself of my aid.”

“What price?”

“Hah, pet, is it not obvious?” She motions toward the fallen monuments and narrows her gaze on you as her tone subtly shifts in depth and takes on the barest hint of malice. “A memory, of course. One of import, nothing more, of your own choosing. It is the only currency that matters in this gloomy land. Now, choose, and pay, pet, and be on your way. Unless you’d rather try your luck elsewhere?”

You have no choice, it seems, and angering this extremely powerful being is certainly very low on your list of things to do. Even if she DID let you go on your way, you’d be back to square one, and you don’t believe that you would have much more success elsewhere. A single memory seems comparatively cheap next to eternal wandering and eventual death in the ‘gloomy lands,’ as she called them.

“Deal,” you say, “and thank you.”

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Which important memory will you choose for her to take?

A: Your graduation. Your diploma will serve as a reminder; the biggest loss will be the pride you felt in the moment after working hard to get through in spite of many obstacles.

B: Your grandmother’s funeral. You laughed at all the loving stories told of her, and had a cathartic cry as you bid her goodbye. There’s some comfort that you’ll retain all of your memories of time you spent with her when she was alive. Though, you know you might never feel a sense of closure about her loss again.

C: Your first mission with the Initiative. It was a learning experience that crystalized how to perform proper protocols crisply and efficiently.  Hopefully you won't forget anything that will put you at risk in the future.

D: Your uncanny survival through this place. You know you should preserve your recollection to debrief the Initiative, and it's likely rude to suggest forgetting the woman who has offered to help you, but if there’s anything you wish to erase, it’s your time in this waking nightmare.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Gloom Personnel Emergency Report Summary: Confronted with the choice of a memory to lose, the stranded agent opted to surrender their graduation. Voting on its appropriateness showed The Initiative agreed, with 10 in favor, 3 preferring a grandmother’s funeral, 2 preferring their first Initiative mission, and 4 suggesting forgetting the emergency itself.]

“I’ve made my decision. Take the moment of pride I felt at the celebration of accomplishment of my graduate studies.”

The eldritch woman looks surprised. “You’d surrender a happy memory willingly, rather than one that was sad or trying? You surprise me, pet, though it is a testament to your character.”

She closes her eyes, and static crackles around her head for a moment. She nods as she opens them again and beholds you intently. “It is done. Now, let us see to your device.”

You offer her your Portarray, and as she takes it from your hand gently, you feel the warm buzz of a living field of charge emanating from her grasp. She regards the device with a sense of amusement. “Hmm. Yes, yes, I see. A clever series of gateways to produce a wide variety of effects. And one that has fallen off its hinges and allowed the flow to spill through recklessly is the root of your dilemma, pet. Your kind is more impressive than might be expected by appearance alone.  Still, this harness for the spark is but a child’s drawing of a glove to one who could produce an actual, living hand.” A small arc of blue jumps from her slender index finger to your unit, and it powers up as though there had never been an issue to begin with.

“I’ve even taken the opportunity to make an improvement. A small part of my living essence now imbues the flow that resides within this circuit. So long as I live, it will, as well, and will never overload or cause deterioration of the gateways either. Now, be on your way, for I have promises to keep, and even this hallowed ground can be deadly serious when my light is elsewhere. But do stop by, my pet, if you have the poor fortune to tread this dusky path again.”

“I don’t know how to thank you,” you say, taking the Portarray from her extended hand, “and there is a chance that my team may wish to reconnoiter more information about this place. I consider myself very lucky to have found a friend like you here. We will surely visit you if we return.”
She smiles through closed lips as you power up and ship through retrieval.

The gravity hits you like a ton of bricks as you materialize on the floor of the Sieve pad. So does the hunger, and the fatigue that had somehow been allayed by the strange mechanics of the gloomy lands. The technicians spring into action immediately, shouting for help as they rush to your side. The lead kneels next to you and stares wide-eyed, as he asks, “Doctor, Doctor, what happened? Are you okay? We thought you were… gone. It’s been six and a half builds since the rest of your team returned, and none of the search parties we sent through could find a trace of you.”

“I… I’m fine,” you manage to say, though less than convincingly, “Food. I need food, and water and a bed. And Para, get Para, she needs to hear this directly.”

“Of course, Doctor. We were all so worried! Your work is so important to The Initiative, and we didn’t know what we would do without you.” He motions to the other techs to hurry up and bring sustenance and a gurney.

“Thank you, thank you for saying so. But I have one question for you, Agent.”

“Yes, what is it, Doctor?”

“Why do you keep calling me Doctor?”

[SHK-E Evaluation: You decided that a celebration of your KNOWLEDGE was the most reasonable sacrifice when confronted with a dilemma. In exchange, however, you received a permanent, moderately powerful source of ENERGY in the upgraded Portarray. Other agents of the Para Initiative learn from and emulate the strategies of this successful mission.  The now-extremely-reliable Portarray, powered by weird energies, is the talk of the Knowledge Corps for weeks.

SAFETY: Very Poor
HEART: Very Good
KNOWLEDGE: Good
ENERGY: Acceptable

Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersands’ Illustrated Arcana
Gloomspark Portarray]

Chapter 
NUMBER

Conservation of Minotaur

1.23.2022

Your sword nearly slips from your hand as you dispatch the final loper. Quickly scanning the area for new threats you find nothing more dangerous than a few gristle worms and other small scavengers, nothing to fear as long as you keep moving. Only partially reassured, you remain wary as you struggle to wipe the tainted fluids from your hands and sword hilt. It’s nerve-racking work to spot the threats in this place. Sound is muffled, the air is thick and wet, heavy with the stench of gangrene. The environment assaults the senses, concealing threats until they’re almost upon you.

As unpleasant as close quarters fighting might be, and it is obscenely unpleasant in this little pocket of Gloom, you’re thankful that you learned to use a sword. Simple firearms became unreliable within hours of arrival and more sophisticated weaponry failed almost immediately. Even your camp knife, the best modern metallurgy has to offer, soon became pitted and dull. Only the minor enchantments that Seledon placed on your sword have kept it sharp and you fear those are beginning to unravel. You dearly hope that’s the greatest concern.

As if reading your mind, Steve asks, “Emilia, how’s the Portarray doing?”

“Same as last time you asked, the wards on the satchel are holding but not so well I don’t want to get on with it. Now let me concentrate!”, she snapped.
Emilia’s got the Sight and her divination magic’s top notch but it’s draining to use here. You’d hoped she could take us straight to our missing friends but instead she’s had to resort to dowsing and triangulation. She’s put on a good face but the strain is wearing her down.

After a quick break to treat the wounded you continue on, following Emilia’s pendulum. It’s been guiding you in the same direction since your arrival, so either your friends haven’t moved or Emilia’s dowsing isn’t working properly. You choose to believe they’re stationary, given the grim alternatives. Besides, you rationalize, they were abducted, it’s only reasonable that they’d be restrained.

As the minutes turned into hours you began to wonder if you’d find your comrades. Now, as the hours close on your first “day” in this place, you wonder if there’s anyone living and sane left to find. This little pocket of misery oozes corruption that seeps into your pores. Your skin feels thin and inflamed, even the tiniest of scratches rapidly turn red and puffy. The reek from Casey’s wounded arm is enough to overpower the general miasma and antibiotics have only slowed the infection. Everyone feels ill and feverish.

By the middle of day two your triangulations indicate that you’re getting close. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see their location from atop of the next rise.

Still, you begin to wonder if you’ll be alive and sane when this is all over. Your skin is slick with clammy sweat and you’ve begun to catch glimpses of things that aren’t there. The rest of the team isn’t much better, and Casey is in bad shape. He began to hallucinate and mumble about 30 minutes ago, his words confused, hard to decipher, yet deeply unsettling. You’d send Casey back right now if you could.

“We’ve got to get Casey someplace with real facilities! I’ve done all I ca–”, Chris began.

Emilia cut him off, “If we open that satchel we’re done, we all go home, now.”

“Look, I know it’ll shorten the clock, but if his fever doesn’t come down he’s not going to make it!” Chris tried again.

“You aren’t listening! It’s not ‘shorten the clock’! If we suspend the wards and break the seal we won’t be able to put them back. Then it’s 15 minutes, tops, before the Portarray is toast.”

In a moment of lucidity Casey interjects, “We aren’t leaving anyone in this place!”

“We don’t have much time left anyway. The satchel won’t last more than a couple of hours regardless. And the way this place has been…infecting us I’m not sure it will be safe for us to stay that long. If it gets too deep inside our spirit we’ll take it back out with us and then…”, Emilia trails off.

Casey hurries to fill the silence that follows that cheery pronouncement, “We’re almost there, let's not waste our time!” and turns to make his way up the ridge before anyone can argue.

You take the final few yards on your belly and cautiously peer over the top of the ridgeline. Below you is the first work of construction you’ve seen here and unquestionably your destination.

“Huh”, Steve whispers, “I guess it kind of makes sense.”

And it does, it just isn’t what you were expecting. A large maze stretches out beneath you, crumbling and ancient looking.

“What do you think, Emilia? Can you get us to the center of that before we’re out of time?”

“Just watch me.”

Everyone scrambles down the broken face of the ridge as quickly and quietly as they can. You’re all on edge, it’s been at least an hour since the last loper sighting and you’re concerned by the possible implications. Seeing no immediate threats you hurry to the maze entrance.

Once inside Emilia takes the lead, moving at a near jog. You slow only occasionally for her to check the pendulum. Left, right, straight past 2 passageways, right, left and then straight again. Casey leans on Steve for support, his breath now ragged panting interspersed with fevered outbursts. You feel driven forward through the twisty corridors, unseen dread at your heels.

Emilia guides you through an opening on the left and you nearly stumble as you enter an open square filled with tall, silent figures stretching out into the gloom. It takes what feels like an eternity to understand what you’re seeing, horror slowly mounting until you have to clench your jaw not to scream.

You’ve found your friends. The necromancer who sent them here has wrought a terrible revenge. There is Monte, the warrior who taught you to use the sword, recognizable only by his fabled axe, Shield Splitter. His once majestic horns have been consumed by this place, now nothing but wisps of keratin waving in the heavy air. His skin is in tatters, internal organs clearly visible, bloated with corruption. Tovra, the first to welcome you into their community is behind him. Targris the sorceress to his right. All the rest are here as well, their vacant eye sockets staring through you.

“We’re too late”, Steve whispers, “What do we do?”

Nobody responds, you all just stare in horror until Emilia shakes herself. She peers intently at the defiled bodies standing before you, examining them with the Sight.

“They’re still alive!”, she cries in shock. Then in a more subdued voice, ”There are magics that could heal even this if they’re still alive but…”

“But what! Let’s fire up the Sieve and get everyone out of here!”

“It’s not that simple. I’ve been watching it, this place corrupts the flesh and infects the spirit. It’s contagious. If it’s sunk into them this deeply we could be taking it back with us. It could infect other worlds and everyone in them.” Glancing unconsciously at Casey, she continues, “I’m not even sure we can all safely leave.”

At that moment Targris makes a tortured movement, spreading her hands in some form of evocation. A beautiful swirling blue light appears between them, contained within a transparent vessel.

Emilia stares at it in wonder, “That’s a Spirit Jar and it’s nearly full! If Targris sequestered their spirits before they became infected we could take them out, save them from this place. We might even be able to restore them to new bodies or at least give them a new existence as Autonomous Ego-States. There are a lot of risks and little certainty, but it’s a chance.” Glancing at Casey, “If we take it with us we may need to add one more.”

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Do you:

A: Offer mercy to your tainted minotaur allies, tearfully taking Shield Splitter from Monte before destroying their physical forms with the legendary weapon one by one. Then turn on Casey, and ask if he has any last messages to his family before quickly and painlessly dispatching him. You know it will weigh on your soul for all of your days, but the taint here can not be spread, the risk is too great.

B: Targis, Monte, and the other captured minotaurs are lost, and it is too grave a risk to bring them anywhere else. Convince them that the best thing they can do is one last act of defiance: unleash a warded black powder bomb that you have brought to destroy the necromancer upon its return. It is a dire option, especially what happens if the corruption has gotten through the bomb’s wards and it doesn’t explode? If it works it would put the minotaurs out of their suffering and remove a grave threat to their homes and families at the same time.

C: Seize upon the hope that the Spirit Jar represents: save the souls and leave this place and the corrupted bodies behind as quickly as possible. Instruct Emilia to secure the Spirit Jar, and perform the same rituals upon Casey, sealing his soul against whatever foul infection of this place is running through his body. There are magics and technologies that can make new forms for the souls to inhabit, and becoming an Autonomous Ego-State isn’t a bad alternative. There is risk that this realm has seeped beyond the bodies into the souls and the Spirit Jar is tainted, but no one should be left behind.

D: The Para Initiative can work miracles. With allies who have the technology of Delphi, the knowledge of the Infinite Library, the riches of Capitol, or perhaps even -electrical- assistance from that strange woman in another wasteland not entirely unlike this one, someone must be able to restore the minotaurs and Casey’s bodies and souls! You have faith that there must be solutions to the problem, even if they might be costly, and no extreme measures need be taken. There’s always a solution, there has to be. You take the Portarray out of the warded satchel to take everyone home, it will all turn out alright.

[Historian's Note: Half of the initiative favored using the Spirit Jar with 12 votes, while bringing back body and soul both was favored by 7, destroying the forms of the tainted was favored by 4, and 1 thought this was the best opportunity to eliminate a threat with a bomb.]

Casey’s eyes go wide as Emilia forms the sigils, hand gestures, and incantations that pull the ethereal energy of his soul out through his orifices, across the foul air, and finally swirl into the Spirit Jar with that of the minotaurs.  You collect Skull Splitter from Monte’s form while Chris removes the black powder bomb from their pack and sets a fuse long enough for the team to Portarray away to safety. Hopefully it will collapse the center of this maze and obliterate the corrupted bodies being left behind.

After that moment, the coming weeks are a blur for the team. Safety Ethics Assurance, once made aware of the contamination threat, follows protocols to quarantine and contain all of those potentially infected. Delphi-assembled clean rooms are reinforced with warding circles from a book Scribbs recommends. Technicians and magicians make regular checks on the situation to make sure nothing of the putrid place reaches out a tendril into the world.

Biosynthesizers are encoded with pre-mission health scans of Casey, templating him a new body almost identical to the one he left with. It’s an energy intensive process, but what are joules for if not to help members of the Initiative?  Unfortunately for the minotaurs, not a shred of their bodies remain, and the Archeo-Teleo Linguists report that it would go against their culture to be put into the body of another. Fortunately, a clever biologist from the Knowledge Corps comes up with the solution of simulated gene cross-breeding to make unique new bodies for each minotaur, which answers the Minotaur taboo of copying a body sufficiently.

The greatest moment of tension is reopening the Spirit Jar to perform the rituals required to move the souls to the newly fabricated bodies.  Despite everyone being on guard about the corruption seeping out, none is detected.  Casey and the minotaurs are assigned to the care of various Archeo-Teleo Linguist spirit guides and thought analysts to begin rehabilitation from the trauma of the suffering and destruction of their bodies they have undergone.

The team is eventually released from containment, but with instructions to report for routine scans every cycle, and to report any feelings out of the ordinary. Safety Ethics Assurance has ongoing concerns that the taint of the journey may be somehow distributed below current detection abilities.

[SHK-E Outcomes: It was a great act of the HEART to rescue the minotaurs and Casey, despite the controlled risks to SAFETY from the invasive realm and the moderate ENERGY costs of containment and body reconstruction.

SAFETY: Dangerous
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: Good
ENERGY: Poor

Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersands’ Illustrated Arcana
Gloomspark Portarray]

Chapter 
NUMBER

Al-Suyá

1.27.2022

By: 

When the mysterious envelope appeared on your workstation, through a palm-sized blue portal ringed in antiquely styled glyphs, you called in a Safety squad immediately. The Initiative had been growing after all, and not without the occasional interaction that went a little less optimally than desired. Even before the immediate routine inspections had finished, which luckily concluded negative for immediate danger, the Knowledge Corps had gotten wind of the arrival of an extraversal artifact and demanded their turn with the parcel. It resulted in the (somewhat obvious) confirmation that it was of Fantasial origin. You felt as though they went too far, however, when they suggested that they should be allowed to open and read the contents of the document, and you told them as much.

After all, one of your specialties as a member of the Archeo-Teleo Linguists is in the translation and interpretation of language itself, and given that the envelope posed no detectable threat, it was in all likelihood what it appeared to be: a letter intended to establish communication. As such, it would fall under your direct purview. On top of that, it was addressed to you, not the Corps, or even the Initiative! It had taken half a decime of debate to get them scurrying off back to their laboratories, but at the end of the day you had the truth on your side: not even scientific curiosity is a reasonable excuse to read someone else’s mail.

Once you finally had a moment of silence, you realized it was, in fact, a significant moment for the Initiative. The missive meant at least one of the allies you’d made during the missions you’d concluded had not just written you off as a random interloper, but rather made time to devise a method to get in contact with you. The effort and power that such an undertaking implied was flattering; a point of pride for the significance of your dedication to the project. Rather than let yourself feel too much joy without your compatriots, however, you seized on the opportunity and ripped the envelope open.

Contained within were two sheets of paper- the outermost of which was a hastily scrawled note with torn edges, signed by one “O&S”, which emphasized that the second sheet was an extraordinarily important document. Furthermore, the reason you were specifically needed was because of your skills as a cultural liaison and unbiased decision-maker. When you had finished making the necessary preparations, you needed only to say “Animate Fake Stoat” (or was it some other jumble of letters? the writing of the incantation had seemed to reorder itself even as you read it) seven times in order to come and lend the Initiative’s support to a time-sensitive and generationally significant event.

You moved forward posthaste, preparing yourself as you would for Sieve shipment. You outfitted yourself in a survival-upgraded ATL specialist suit, and, feeling extremely silly about the whole prospect, said the saying seven times, but not before making a copy of the second document for archival preservation:

{BELL-1://ARCHIVE.DOCUMENTS/ParaInitiative/Fantasia/4p5.5p5-o}  
Family, friends, and others of concern:

The moment of passing comes again, as is tradition;
The bearer of the Flute-Blade is tasked with decision.
The determination of finding a worthy apprentice
Asks your participation and your attendance.
Al-Suyá’s will, if coupled with a true vote
May name the next Protector of the Bluemoat.

Ceremony to commence at Halfmartens, Woodsday,
Week of High Chapels, Season of Meetings.

All weapons to be peacebonded upon moat crossing.
Feast to follow!

*    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

“This better be worth it,” you think to yourself, as you scurry alongside your companions, a withered old shrew and a massive iguana, hurrying to make the entrance of the cathedral before Halfmartens bells. You might not have ever been more embarrassed than upon your arrival after chanting the magical spell, when you panicked, transformed into a ferret-like body inside the catacomb of clothing that was supposed to be your protection.

At least the food has been good since you finished the “sort of short journey” that brought you on claw and pad to the Bluemoat Keep. Particularly good after the “sort of long journey” that saw your musteline form huddled close to the ribs of Scribs, while the two of you rode on Omni’s back across the continent to a landing space far enough away from the Keep to safeguard any accidental damage from crashes or stomping.

The two of them transformed quickly after touchdown into the forms they currently bear, and gave you a quick briefing about why you had been brought back to Fantasia, and furthermore, turned into a weasel.

The triennial opportunity to pass the Flute-Blade to the next Protector of the Keep was about to transpire. Al-Suyá, for all his skill, was aging; his lifespan might not last another full three-year cycle. The candidates all had their own positive and negative attributes. However, most importantly, the predatory creatures of the local environs were entitled to their own votes by law. A vote of no confidence was entirely possible if they united, and had the potential to turn the ceremony and subsequent celebration into their own impromptu banquet if they were to have their way.

Normally, the predators’ votes wouldn’t amount to much, given the fact that they were relatively few in number compared to the majority of the peaceable creatures inhabiting the Keep itself and its surrounding environs. Unfortunately, Bluemoat was divided about who the appropriate inheritor might be.

La-Shushú was brave and battle-tested, but the prevailing thought process dictated that since the Flute-Blade was passed from the original Queen of Bluemoat, its holder had been a male. Whispers of ill omens and the pressure of tradition meant that some of the residents would never consider voting for a woman, much less one with adornments like La-Shu's. Specifically, her alligator tooth necklace was considered bad luck in spite of the fact that she won it herself in combat, along with the scar on her ear. Less overtly prejudiced detractors often mentioned that she was combative by nature; her membership in the War Council’s inner circle meant that her leadership might be overly aggressive.

Mazo, the child of the warrior-monk himself, was a logical choice by popular account. However, the chance that his selection would be seen as nepotism was a real threat. Further, while he was officially of age to take on the role of Protector, he would become the youngest and least experienced in history if he were to assume his father’s mantle. To many, the combination of those factors felt like an opportunity for would-be usurpers to sow the seeds of discontent and even potentially enlist the aid of some local predators to carry out a coup. The lad’s lack of battlefield experience compounded the issue, though he was said to possess a sharp, strategic mind.

There was always the option for Al-Suyá to keep the blade, but if he were to expire of natural causes before the next ceremony, it would be largely as if the predators had won a no confidence vote-- no official Protector could assume the title until the Season of Meeting had returned in its three-year cycle, and the likelihood of panic and complete collapse was dramatically increased. Still, he had held the office with great dignity and poise, and showed few signs of faltering outside of a few grey whiskers appearing around the corners of his eyes.

Omni and Scribs had made it extremely apparent to you that they were counting on your wisdom to come up with the best possible decision. In fact, the reason that they chose a stoat’s body for you (outside of the fact that it was a pretty simple piece of morphorunology) was so that if you decided that a vote of no confidence was the most appropriate choice, it wouldn’t look completely out of character as it might have had you been turned into a mole or some other kind of herbivore.

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Walking into the sacred ceremonial hall, you have resolved not to let last-minute, impassioned speeches by anyone change your mind. In fact, you are sure that the best thing for both Bluemoat and the Initiative is to campaign and cast your lot for:

A: La-Shushú. Female leadership will likely bring a good change to a system that almost smacks of gender bias; supporting her non-traditional bid now could make inroads for the Initiative in the future. Furthermore, assuming a ceremonial position will likely temper her aggression.

B: Mazo. Divine right of Kings be damned, the fact remains that he shows the most potential; and with the Initiative’s silent influence, will be able to grow into the role. If things get out of hand, we can always intervene.

C: Al-Suyá. He is still the wisest, and experience is far more valuable than physical strength. One downside, outside of his potential expiry, is that he might be less amenable to allying with the Initiative than any of the others.

D: Yourself. None of the others sound ideal, and given your current form, both predators and prey are likely to listen to you. Keeping the form of a stoat for 3 years isn’t ideal, but it might be the best option for Bluemoat as well as the Initiative.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Fake Stoat Mission assessment: By and large, the Initiative agreed with the agent’s choice to support La-Shushú, with 11 votes in favor; 2 thought Mazo, the son of Al-Suyá, was appropriate, while a negligible amount supported the continuation of the warrior-monk’s office or endorsing themself as a candidate.]

What you thought might have resulted in a hullabaloo has turned out to be extremely civil. The amount of respect that every attendee has for the sanctity of the democratic process is admirably distinct from how things transpire at home, where last-minute offers and potential arrangements are holopatched into normal feeds, uninvited, at the barest boundaries required by statute on Election Day.  These animals seem to really care about a fair system!

You feel privileged to be able to participate in an election that isn’t controlled by conglomerates and vested interests. You know that the candidates you have had the chance to support with your voice were nominated on their own merit, rather than for being cheaply-bought shills with appealing faces and little thought of their own.

You cannot help but feel like you were part of something special when the tallied votes confirm that your choice, La-Shushú, was selected to inherit the Flute-Blade and become the next Protector of the Keep.

Amazingly, everyone, even La-Shu’s vocal detractors, seem to accept the outcome willingly, though perhaps any distaste for her election was allayed by the sweet flavors of the celebration feast that accompanies the passing of the Flute-Blade.

Luckily, the title of Head Chef of the Keep is not up for debate every three years, so the celebration of the newly-named Protector is catered with the utmost care. You had wished to have a moment with La-Shu to address the notion that your support of her campaign was a first step in brokering a relationship between the Bluemoat and the Initiative.

However, you find yourself absolutely gobsmacked by the hors d'oeuvres, a neverending parade of trays carried by young Bluemoat clergy, piled high with barrel-aged cheese-stuffed chestnuts, toasted broccolini with savory herbs, wildgrass-infused miniature loaves, sweet mushroom and orange squash ravioli, and far too many others to count.

By the time the main course is delivered on the shoulders of what you would guess to be the entire kitchen staff, you are already stuffed to the gills. If stoats had gills, that is. The massive flounder is a traditional preparation for the ceremony, according to Omni, because it can satisfy the carnivorous appetites of the predators, while also not offending the prey creatures because of the fact that all attempts at communication with flounder in recorded history have been met with complete silence.

Still, many of the rodent attendees will eschew the fish flesh in favor of a plate full of the whipped creamed turnip root, the rice and asparagus butterbake, the crunchy cardamom croutons, and the seasonal squash spirals. After partaking of all of the wonderful foods on offer, you decide that the interlude between the main course and dessert is the right time to strike.

In spite of your obviously bulging belly, you slinkily approach the new Protector and between the offerings of rarified grape juice and infused wildberry tiramisu, you take the opportunity to introduce yourself.

“Exalted La-Shushú, let me congratulate you on your election. I was brought to this place by magical means thanks to that giant iguana in the corner over there, and the tiny shrew who is apparently tearing it up on the dance floor. They transported me here in order to ensure your victory and eventual leadership of the Bluemoat Keep.”

She runs a long-nailed thumb down the side of the alligator tooth that hangs suspended from her neck, and addresses you sideways. “Thanks for coming, cutie. No need to be so formal. Bluemoat’s needed a change for a long time, and I’m glad you were here to see to it. Your type is always welcome here, especially since you supported my campaign. You’re probably headed back to wherever you came from when the feast’s over, huh?”

“Yeah, probably,” you say, “but with you as a friend, there’s a good chance that I’ll make it back here soon.”

“Mmmmff, yuh, shruff yhh tah brrr fh,” says the new Protector, completely unintelligibly.

You look askance out of the corner of your eye, and realize that the bearer of the Flute Blade is trying to talk to you through a mouthful of cheesecake.

[SHK-E Assessment: You selected a candidate who has the battle experience and powerful personality to improve the SAFETY of the Keep. You also demonstrated a committed HEART in your willingness to buck tradition for the best possible outcome. However, in spite of these upsides, you did not establish a meaningful relationship with the former Protector who had a lifetime of KNOWLEDGE to share. Leaving it on the table is a net loss. ENERGY cost was null on this mission, as our friends from the Infinite Library provided the portal. The Para Initiative has become known for changing the places it explores, rather than studying them with minimal impact.

SAFETY: Very Poor
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: Good
ENERGY: Poor

Para Initiative Reputations:
Interventionist

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Gloomspark Portarray]

Chapter 
NUMBER

This is Fine

2.3.2022

By: 

“Thank you, commander, for taking the time to come see me,” says Para, looking up from a gently glowing tablet as you step into the chamber that could be considered the spiritual epicenter of the entire Initiative.

Her office is elegantly ordered, with far fewer blinking lights and datafeed screens than most would expect, though you’re not surprised, given your years in a leadership role. Far more important than having all the information is having the right information when it comes to decision-making that potentially affects entire populations, planets, even systems.

“You’re aware of the PIPES program, I’m sure,” she continues, and motions evenly toward the chair near her own. “Have a seat, and let me mention a few aspects of extraversal exploration that have been on my mind, especially since we started using portals.”

You’re far too professional to be star-struck, but you can’t help feeling a little excitement as you make your way to sit where she indicated. She is, after all, the visionary behind the entire direction of the Initiative. The Array, Sieve, and Bell-1 are living testaments to her immense technical prowess, and her commitment to doing the right thing is evident across the organization from top to bottom.

As you sit, she looks you in the eye earnestly, and says, “You’re one of the longest-serving and most experienced agents here, and I know your commitment runs deep. When this was all a dream and it was just myself and Bell working on the first prototypes, it started, as I’m sure you’ve heard rumored, because I lost something very dear to me. Someone, actually. Finding her was an easy goal, something to bury myself in, no moral dilemmas, just simple– figure out what happened, where she is, and how to bring her back.

“Now, there’s a lot more going on. Unexplained phenomena keep cropping up more and more frequently. We’re interacting with cultures that are often radically different than our own, making tough calls in short timeframes, and now, even sending agents on risky missions into who knows what kind of environments using methods we don’t fully understand. It’s turned into something much bigger than the search-and-rescue mission that it once was. I trust that everyone who is a part of this is involved for the right reasons. I trust that they do the best they can when they are out there representing the Initiative. But before this thing gets out of control, I need some honest feedback from our top people about the big picture. You up for that?”

You nod with a look of consideration, “I am.”

“Good. First of all, the continued uptick in weird occurrences. To be fair, it was already trending that way even way back when the Sieve was just a prototype. But we’ve been at this for a while now, and the rate of growth hasn’t changed much. We haven’t isolated ourselves as a variable, though, so it’s possible that we could be slowing it, not affecting it at all, or even accelerating it. I want you to consider that when you think about the size and scope of the Initiative. Some things are worth doing, even blind, but how much uncertainty is too much?

“The next issue is about our impact on other places. We seem to be headed in a direction that implies that it’s okay to change things wherever we find ourselves, as long as they’re for the better. But it’s also clear that we can’t just go to the outer valences here in Synthex and casually drop off core-world tech, regardless of how many lives it would improve. The other Verses are even less similar to Delphi than those worlds. I wonder if we need to establish some boundaries about the kinds of things we are willing to get involved in.”

“Finally, thinking about PIPES specifically, some of these portals we’ve discovered lead to extremely hostile environments. The agents who take on these missions do so willingly, and we protect them to the best of our abilities. A little more on the steps we’re taking regarding protection in a minute. For now, though, I want you to think about whether, if these environments are dangerous to us, does it also mean that our environment, and ourselves, are potentially dangerous to them? Say we found beings made of ionic crystals– a simple canteen full of water would become a deadly weapon. Handling our potential impact versus preserving our own agents’ well-being is another point of contention.”

“I want you to consider those things when you help me with this decision,” she says, to which you reply with a thoughtful nod.

“Are you familiar with VOLSTAR?” she asks, pausing only briefly to gauge your facial reaction of mild uncertainty before moving on. “Not specifically, huh? They’re a manufacturing conglomerate that specializes in ceramics. Most people would probably refer to them as a ‘Foundry,’ but that’s not quite accurate—a foundry uses metals as its primary materials. The technical term for a ceramic production facility is ‘Refractory.’ And this refractory on Cnocc VI has created something that’s pretty awesome.”

With a few deft presses on the screen of her device, Para loads a short vid of a person in a suit of armor amidst a massive blaze. Interestingly, all of its constituent parts, save the reflective visor, appear to be made of the same light matte grey material, from the standard protective plates to the tubes and chambers of the rebreather system, even the communication antenna. The figure swivels its head around at the fire, gives a thumbs up, and you hear their voice crackle through the comm channel, “This is fine.”

Your eyebrow raises almost imperceptibly, because typical Hazard Protection Equipment is far less uniform in composition.

Once again, Para demonstrates her ability to read your expression effortlessly, giving a tiny approving nod, before she speaks. “You see it. That’s right, the entire suit is made of ceramic. This idea isn’t a new one; even hand smithing on pre-tech worlds uses gloves covered in clayscale for applications that require extremely high temperature variances. What is new is that VOLSTAR has developed it into a complete, enclosed system. The plastics traditionally employed in life support would have melted before they got within a hundred meters of that fire. Metal plating that protects against blunt force becomes a liability in environments with significant EM charge. Void and vacuum affect different tensile strengths differently and can lead to rupture. ”

She pauses a moment, allowing you to process the implications of such a development. Many of the places that the Array has detected as potentially important have been non-starters because they also register as overly hostile environments. The VOLSTAR suit would make access to those locations possible. It would definitely make taking PIPES portals much safer too.

“Exactly,” she says, almost preternaturally predicting your train of thought, “the gains are unbelievably huge if the VOLSTAR system works, and, trust me, if it didn’t work, I wouldn’t have wasted your valuable time today. Rigorous testing has been performed and verified, and manufacturing is about to begin. Which brings us to why you’re here.”

“Large-scale production is still a few cycles out, so there’s time for a key improvement to be made. Unfortunately, there’s neither time nor room for every upgrade I have considered to be added to the suit. And I wonder if any of the potential add-ons might do more harm than good. So, considering your thoughts on the issues I brought up earlier, which one of these devices do you think will serve us best? Or, if you think none of them are useful or appropriate, I could probably shorten the delivery timeframe for the basic suit with some well-aimed vidmessages.”

Para hands you the tablet, and says, “Take as much time as you need to look these over. Let me know when you’ve made your choice.”

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Will you choose:

A: The Environmental Contingency System, a set of countermeasures that can be deployed for temporary control of the immediate surroundings in the case that the suit encounters something too drastic for even its own innate capabilities to handle? We don’t want to cause harm, but self-preservation sometimes necessarily results in damage. We count on our people to make beneficial decisions on missions, and should give them the best tools to perform that role.

B: The Integrated Neural Network, a cutting edge set of sensors, microprocessors, and heads-up display features inside the Luceramic faceplate that make collecting and reporting data faster, easier, and more efficient? The Initiative started as a missing persons case; collecting data is the logical means to that conclusion. Also, scientific inquiry is by nature neutral; it’s completely possible to study something without actively changing it.

C: The Synaptic Empathy Emitter, a harmonic oscillator that measures biological frequencies and adjusts its output to a spectrum of tones and radiation that allow for more fluid communication with other living creatures? The Initiative has always been about creating a network across the Verses. Peace, trade, and technology are the result of diplomatic efforts first and foremost, and working toward a better life for every sentient being is morally correct.

D: To pass on the chance to upgrade in favor of getting the basic suit into action as soon as possible, and at the lowest cost, by onboarding nothing extra? Using a design that is as hermetic and nonreactive as possible best exemplifies your belief about what the Initiative should do. Our people are talented and insightful, and their decisions are the heart and soul of what we are. Trusting them to carry out the vision defines and refines the vision itself.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Bell-1’s Archival Notes: New agents who have read and responded to this narrative of interaction between the commander and Para tend to accurately predict the eventual decision. In the most recent session, 6 responded that they believed the commander would suggest the Synaptic Empathy Emitter, 6 responded that no upgrades was the likely decision. 4 responded that the ECS was the recommended tech, and 2 that the Integrated Neural Network was the suggestion that the commander made. Given that the entire line of VOLSTAR upgrades are now available, and the classified nature of the production agreement, there is no “wrong answer” to this question. It is included on the intake examination for the purpose of psychological assessment in order to best place incoming personnel where they will be most comfortable, and therefore, most effective. A historical account of the actual events follows.]

{BELL-1://ARCHIVE.HISTORIES/InitiativeIntake/TESTINGDOCS/f1n3.00}

The commander took several decimes in silent contemplation, occasionally swiping a finger across the datascreen in either direction, as they deeply considered the philosophical implications of each of the potential upgrades. It was clear that Para’s concerns had been understood, and that they were invested in making a decision that would not only serve the immediate needs of the Initiative at the moment, but also set a precedent for the standards and practices of the future.

In spite of the length of the decision making process, however, when they finally faced Para, ready to deliver their judgment, it was with a look of determination and newfound understanding. “Para,” began the commander, “I’ve strongly considered what you had to say about our direction. Honestly, participation in the Initiative has been a whirlwind, with more to learn and experience than a single being ever could, even now, in our early stages. Moving forward, it’s important not to lose sight of that massive scope, and to make the decisions that best prepare us for more decisions, instead of making the ones that are best in immediate impact.”

Para gave a single appreciative nod as she pressed her fingertips together, “Good plan, Commander. Say more.”

“The biggest pitfalls that we have to navigate in that regard are being careless about our interactions for our own benefit, and being too reliant on statistics without a meaningful paradigm for how to interpret them. So, I can’t in good conscience recommend that we immediately equip the VOLSTAR with the ECS or the INN.”

“Reasonable criticisms,” said Para, “so what about the other two options?”

“There are upsides and downsides to both. I genuinely think that the best way to solve the mysteries of your missing person and the growth in unexplainable events is by building a network. Onboarding a device that facilitates communication could go a long way in that regard, because communication is absolutely key to this operation. On the other hand, there’s a chance that it could be read as untrustworthy or even coercive if individuals we made friendly contact with later found out that we had help from a machine that read their biosignatures.”

“As for the basic unit, the major upside is the timeframe. People are jumping into PIPES right now; the sooner we can protect them, the better. The suit serves its basic purpose well– if that video you showed me made it onto the freeweb, there’s no doubt it would become a viral stillcap overnight– ‘This is fine.’ in the middle of a huge fire– if I hadn’t been in your office, I would have laughed out loud! At the same time, not committing is a kind of commitment in itself. We’ll find immediate uses for the basic VOLSTAR setup, but as we continue to grow, we are going to have to choose.”

One corner of Para’s mouth raised in a grin and her eyes sparkled mirthfully. “Commander, you’ve exceeded my expectations. Finding not one, but two correct answers to a difficult question is a feat. I agree with your assessment about our two lines of inquiry; a network is going to be absolutely crucial now that we have not just one, but six whole Verses to comb through for answers. We do want to earn that network earnestly. I’m not a hundred percent on the idea that using tech to communicate better is untrustworthy, but I’ll take your comments under advisement, because some societies might see it that way.”

“For now, you’ve given me plenty of reasons to think that VOLSTAR needs to hit the gravtrack as soon as possible, and, to be perfectly honest, we’re a little thinner than we would like to be on joules to pay for upgrades at the moment. Let’s go with your recommendation to onboard nothing extra and get these agents suited up as soon as possible. Thank you for your time, and for what I knew would be your thoughtful and honest feedback. If there’s nothing else for me?”

The commander popped up out of their chair, shaking their head no. “No, ma’am, nothing important.”

Para replied, “That sounds like there might be something that’s not important.”

The commander grinned before taking their leave, saying, “It’s just that if it ever gets to a point where it feels like the whole world is burning around us–”

“Hmm?” Para intoned quizzically.

“Just remember. ‘This is fine.’”

Junior agents in offices around the rim of the Central Hub still hear legends of one unusual day in the early times when howls of laughter came pealing out from Para’s private chamber.

[SHK-E Analysis: Choosing not to add any extra systems saves the Para Initiative some much needed ENERGY.  The suit came to be known as VOLSTAR-1, 1 being shorthand for “onboarding nothing extra”, for when mission control deemed accessories were not worth the cost in joules.]

SAFETY: Poor
HEART: Excellent
KNOWLEDGE: Very Good
ENERGY: Dangerous

Para Initiative Reputations: Interventionist

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
Gloomspark Portarray]

Chapter 
NUMBER

Tethered to Prophecy

2.7.2022

Chemically Enhanced Psychoportation Trial #156, Day 439

This groundbreaking experiment started with twenty participants, just three of you have  qualified for the final phase.  In the middle of the spherical room is a comfortable lounge sporting soft chairs, warm lamp light, art supplies, and snacks.  All three of you sit perfectly still, vacant expressions slowly changing as if waking  from a deep trance.  Your reality still feels uncertain as you regain your body, and you’re sure that this time you’d been very close to a full transit.   Ximera and Allistair look around, similarly glassy eyed, yet bursting with excitement.

When a tall man in a lab coat wearing a pink turban enters the space, Ximera bursts out, “Dr. Sharaj, I think we almost made it over!  My form felt so real!”

“Definitely,” added Allistair, “My sensory experience was so much richer than last time, like I was really there.”  Technicians discretely enter the cozy space and begin collecting bio samples from everyone while Dr. Sharaj stands examining a data pad.

“Excellent!” he replies, “Your physical forms looked like they lost some solidity for a while.  Data coming in from your phenomenological and matabonomic trackers indicate that you all visited the same location once again, that city you called ‘Vaihto’.  Is this accurate?”

“Yes,” you offer, examining a datapad yourself, “and it’s changing rapidly.  We should try again soon.”  With each trip you each contribute to building a sort of psychological locator beacon in Vaihto, hoping to make it easier to cross over with a consistent and specific destination in mind, and it seems to be working.

Dr.  Sharaj nods, “So, the Quickening is coming faster than initial estimates?”

“There’s no question,”  Ximera confidently responds as she begins sketching her experiences with her pastels, “the whole tone of the place has changed.  The old guard is fighting it, but the change is gaining momentum all the same.”

Allistair ads, “Something is manifesting over the city.  People see it in flashes and those are coming faster.  We could see it, too, the city covered in shadow and fog with a massive golden light growing in the center of it all.”

Ximera explains, “Our contacts say this happens with every new generational paradigm shift, like the new ideas manifest in a physical way while the old ones disintegrate.”

Dr. Sharaj responds thoughtfully, “We need to look over this data and review every detail that the 2D NMR analysis can offer before arranging the next trip.  Take 48 hours to recover and we’ll meet here to decide.  Be sure to get your journal entries in while it’s all fresh for you.”

Based on the theory that psychedelics sometimes transport a sentient’s consciousness to the Kaleidoscope Verse,  Dr. Sharaj and his team wanted to go even further and use these chemicals to induce a full transit into the Verse.  Psychoportation they called it; ridiculous was the more common label applied outside of the lab.

Despite the skepticism, it only took a few passionate scientists and a relatively modest amount of funding to get the project off the ground.  Using spectroscopic analysis and electrophyisiological amplifiers, Dr. Sharaj has developed a method of enhancing and directing the response subjects have to the psychedelic compound Leapfrog 23-E.

Now with well over 100 attempts and their iterative refinements, everyone feels like they’re right at the edge of success.  This form of transit would use far less energy than the Sieve and offers a way to explore any destination the mind can find within Kaleidoscope.

Chemically Enhanced Psychoportation Trial #157, Day 442

You’re all back in the lab after Dr. Sharaj and his team have crunched the data to prepare for this trip.  He’s particularly animated today and there’s a lot more activity than usual.

Allistair asks, “What’s the word, Doc, are we doing this today?”

“Absolutely”, answers the doctor, “I won’t bore you with all the details,” your teammates look relieved, “but I think we’ve isolated the correct magnetic frequency to match the quantum spin and…”

“Allow our psyche to carry our bodies over, right?” interrupts Ximera.

“...ah, yes.”  Dr. Sharaj reins in his enthusiasm, adding, “You will be given an injection of nanobots carrying several doses of the psychedelic compound, timed to go off once every 72 hours, as a precaution in case you do make the transit and need help getting back.”

“WheeOooo!” Allistair whistles, “We’re in for quite a ride at that pace.”

Dr. Sharaj looks resolutely at them, “We can render the bots dormant if this trip is unsuccessful.  Now, let’s get you prepped.”

Your group is once again in the comfortable lounge, which doubles as a magnetic field amplifier, and starts the familiar sequence of ingestibles that begin each trip.  The process is precisely managed for each of you, so you begin to feel the Leapfrog 23-E kick in at the same time.  The rush of shifting perception never gets old.

You sink back into your chair and feel almost weightless as your mind drifts with the sensation of euphoric expansion that marks the transition away from typical reality.  Closing your eyes you picture Vaihto, trying to bring forward every sensory detail you can remember.  When you hear the sounds of exuberant conversation and upbeat music you open your eyes.

Ximera and Allistair open their eyes, too, and you three are standing around a lovely sculpture of a tree in green stone with gold streaks running through it.  The gold pulses with light to a rhythm used to focus your minds.  The locator beacon, and you see it very clearly.  You reach out and touch it, feeling the coolness of the stone, then you touch your face feeling the warmth of your skin.  “I think we made a full transit!” you say emphatically.

“It worked, it bloody well worked!” Allistair agrees, checking his pulse.

Ximera chimes in, “Guau!  Dr. Sharaj really did it!”

This room is in an artists commune where you’ve made many friends over the past year of spectral visits.  Such things aren’t a surprise in this Verse.  Now you rush into the common room to share in the good news, and are greeted with hugs and offers of tasty beverages all around.  “How are things with the Quickening?” Ximera asks eventually.  Several people answer in turn.

“Everyone sees the fog in their dreams, often when awake now, and a silver cord going up to the light.  People are nervous, because usually the new paradigm would have overtaken the old by now, but there’s so much resistance to the change.”

“Some assholes have started rumors about a Prophecy, but of course there’s more than one.”

“In one the Quickening will reveal a secret that will empower the old guard, in another it will bestow great gifts of power to the new leadership, and so on.  It’s confusing for everyone.”

You take it all in and spend the whole day catching up.  These people are part of the movement to generate the next model of shared consciousness that will shape the city for the next 30 or more years.  The denizens of Kaleidoscope are accustomed to an ever changing reality, but the last pattern to take shape was more conservative, and these folk stand in sharp contrast.

All of you want to stay as long as possible, and you take advantage of the opportunity to explore the city in a new way, even though the sense of dread and desperation grows more palpable with each passing day.  On the third morning, the Quickening begins.  People seem to feel it coming and gather together around the cord.

The silver cord connecting the golden light to a park in the middle of the city thickens and you hear a sound of cracking fill the air, like an ice covered lake breaking up in the Springtime.  Looking around throughout the air, the black fog, the buildings, and even the people, you see the lined effect of craquelure taking shape as if on an old painting.

A low wailing sound starts from above, fading in and out as a figure begins to form.  The wailing gets louder as the figure grows ever more massive, until an infant floats high above, serenading the city with cries of distress.  Everyone around you agrees that this is wrong, but no one knows what to do.

At this moment, the nanobots in your bodies release the next dose of psychedelic compound.  Everyone around you is reaching up to the light hoping for the crying to stop, and something seems to pull you to that cord.  All three of you touch it together and find yourselves rising into the air.  The cries are deafening until you reach the light, reality bending again.

Inside the light the baby appears ordinary in size, resting in a basket with an old person looking mournfully at the child.

“I cannot leave if they will not let me go,” they say

“You’re the old paradigm’s manifestation aren’t you?” asks Ximera.

“Indeed,” they answer, “and I’m ready to let go, but the new paradigm is in too much pain to set me free.  There are so many different voices all trying to lay claim to the shape of the Quickening, too many to pick a direction.”

You listen a little more carefully and hear the quiet murmurs of desire, of need, coming at you from all directions, and exchange meaningful looks with your companions.

The old one speaks again, “How did you get here?”

“We took a chemical enhancement to our psychic energy and found ourselves lifted to you when we touched the cord.”  You answer honestly.

“Prophecy is a funny thing.  Does it manifest this moment by foretelling or did someone truly see this moment beforehand?  I cannot reach the young one, they yearn only for the new voices.  I think with the correct guidance, with a sense of purpose, their suffering may end and they may fully manifest.”

All three of you take a small step forward, eying the basket and the wailing baby with concern.

“Pick them up and speak your insights about the needs of the people.  Show them the path forward, and I think they will hear you.”

The old one beckons you forward with gentle grace.

Here the Verses Discord was offered a choice.

Will you:

A: Thinking on the value of great communal works, pick up the baby and suggest that a unifying commitment to building a bridge between this reality and your own is the best way forward?  You can see it clearly, purposeful and pulsing with psychic energy.

B: Remembering your artist friends and all the creativity they can achieve here, pick up the baby and suggest that an inspiring new artistic movement is the best way forward?  Pictures dance in your vision as imagination comes to life, inspiring the masses.

C: Borrow from the successes that led you here, pick up the baby and suggest that liberating psychic exploration is the way forward? Traditions change and you see a bustling way station full of travelers and scholars expanding the boundaries of possibility even here.

D: Put the baby in the arms of the old one and suggest that the wisdom of the Old Guard and the volatility of the new can benefit from one another, that there’s room for both, and offer cooperation as the best way forward?  You see the young and the old relaxing together.

(If you’d like to vote on our stories, influence Verses lore, what happens next, game mechanics, and even future cards. Then join our Discord at http://discord.gg/verses)

[Laboratory Archival Notes – The Initiative by and large felt that the pairing of old and new offered the most beneficial arrangement, embodying the ideal of compromise, with 9 votes. Three members voted to bridge the gap between worlds, and 2 voted for the emergence of a new artistic movement.]

Chemically Enhanced Psychoportation Trial #157, Day 445

After a very short discussion, all three of you agree that the best course of action is to try bringing peace and comfort to the people here.  You pick up the baby gingerly and cradle them in your arms while Allistair lightly touches their head and Ximera offers a knuckle for the baby to suckle.  They stop crying and look up at you all.

You speak softly to them, “Hello, little one, newest being to join us here.  There are many voices around us, and it may seem overwhelming, but we would like to help.”  They suckle more vigorously as their body relaxes into a focused stillness.  You continue, “To reach your full potential you need purpose, but you don’t need to find that alone.”

The old one seems surprised when you take a few steps toward them and offer the baby to them.  “But, they cannot hear me, what do you expect me to do?”  They ask.

“Just hold them and let us talk.”  They acquiesce and take the baby into their arms as the three of you encircle the pair.  You all sense a change in the space as points of color begin to soften the harshness of the bright light that surrounds you.

Allistair speaks first, “We venerate the wisdom of the old and hold true to the principle that to best shape the future we must remember and learn from what came before.”  The points of light seem to grow until it looks like you’re surrounded by little pieces of rainbows formed from light passing through a faceted crystal.

Ximera speaks second, “We hold sacred the imagination of the young and the challenges of the new, for they invariably take inspiration from their forebears while leading the way to adapt for what will yet come.”  The baby looks up at the old one as if seeing them for the first time.  The rainbow pieces around you begin to move and reform into a shifting fractal pattern, like someone trying on different clothes to see what fits.

You add your own voice now, “We can make room for all by embracing the path of empowering everyone to be themselves and listening to one another no matter how afraid we may feel.  You both are needed; you both are loved for now and for the future.”  The fractal pattern below you resolves into a spiral staircase-like structure that leads down into the park.  The light above and around you breaks up into a million million tiny points and bursts outward to chase away the fog and the darkness.

As you all descend the baby grows rapidly into a toddler and by the time you reach the ground they look to be about 15 years old.  They’re dressed in the latest fashions and smiling confidently.  When you reach the ground the young one holds the old one’s hand, and lifting it to the sky calls out to the crowd, “There are two paradigms here!”  Somehow their voice carries all across the city.

Pausing to let the shock sink in and the murmurs calm down they add, “We are both here because we are both needed!  Let us celebrate together!”  They turn to your group, “Thank you for offering us a way out of the fog.  You will always be welcome here, even though it isn’t truly your home.”  They add with a nod to the old one and a wink to you, “We hope you’ll stay and celebrate with us, though.”

“Wouldn’t miss it!” the three of you say almost in unison.  The creation of new public art, new songs, and general  jovial conversation went on for days.  More than that, you also witnessed appreciation for the old ballads, gatherings with historic themes and the tension between young and old had palpably eased off.  People listened more and weren’t so quick to judge.

Chemically Enhanced Psychoportation Trial #157, Day 448

When the second dose of Leapfrog 23-E kicks in, you gather around the locator beacon to start your journey home.

“I wonder what Dr. Sharaj will make of all this?  I mean, we certainly got more than we ever bargained for out of the psychedelic enhancements.”  Ximera wonders aloud, “I think I’ll be painting for weeks trying to capture this experience!”

“We proved that value of the research, and that’s something he’ll be over the moon about.  How many operatives will travel this way now?  This really opens up a lot of opportunities for the Initiative.”  adds Allistair.

“We have to make the transit back first,” you say as you all reach for the beacon and concentrate on the familiarity of the lab.

[SHK-E Analysis - your decision to find a solution that had a peaceful resolution is in line with the Initiative’s SAFETY ethics. Being thoughtful of both new and old as individuals to be treated with dignity showed HEART. The Initiative’s EXALTED reputation, meant that the happy individuals with whom you celebrated were keen to share some of their positive ENERGY with you, thus offsetting the cost of the mission. Your choice, however, declined the opportunity to explore new realms or the vanguard of a new artistic movement, and thus left KNOWLEDGE on the table.

SAFETY: Dangerous
HEART: EXALTED
KNOWLEDGE: Very Good
ENERGY: Dangerous

Para Initiative Reputations: Interventionist

Para Initiative Inventory:
‍Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
Gloomspark Portarray]


The Para Initiative

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