You’re growing accustomed to the experience of moving through these portals, and even take some pleasure in the sensation of being carried along by the still mysterious forces of light and energy. This time the portal sends you towards a circle of green, like a watercolor paint with strands spilling out around it. As you get closer, you smell summer forest aromas. Honeysuckle, mint, pine, cedar, and more invite you forward through the opening… where you land gently on the soft, moss covered ground of a forest brimming with life, yet startling in its strangeness.
Every detail appears to be made from paint, or pastels, in a riot of artistic styles. You look down at your body and it, too, has taken on this bizarre new physical representation. You don’t feel different, but you look like you belong in an oil painting. To your right the scenery has a softly rendered realism, to your left it’s all vibrant, hyper saturated colors with frenetic energy, and directly in front of you the two seem to relax into a wistful style that gives you the impression, rather than the firm outline, of trees. Behind you a watercolor forest beckons while throughout the scenery birds fly around singing, bees and pollinators of all sorts flit by, and you hear the leaves rustle occasionally in the gentle summer breeze.
You wonder how you could possibly pick a path, but you would hate to squander the opportunity to explore such a new and unique environment. You decide to follow the bright colors to your left and begin walking. As you let your hand brush the leaves of a tree with a bright blue trunk and deep red leaves a powerful memory leaps into your mind, filling you with a feeling of longing. Taking your hand back the sensation slowly clears and you walk on.
A shimmering hummingbird captivates you as it visits a gorgeous display of orange and yellow honeysuckle, and without thinking you reach out to touch one of the flowers. Another memory leaps into your mind and you’re flooded with the feeling of euphoria. You stumble backwards in gleeful surprise and trip over an exposed root, going to the ground giggling as you reach out to brace your fall. One hand brushes a thorny bush of mountain berries and you feel overcome by rage. Growling in anger you push yourself back up to your feet and begin running.
Every piece of flora you touch hammers your mind with an intensified emotional memory that undoes your equilibrium. You wonder, Is this what going mad feels like? You’re being flung from feeling to feeling so fast you can’t focus on anything. With each extreme sensation overload you feel less and less sure of who you really are and what you came here to do. You try not to touch anything, but you’ve lost the path and the forest is too dense to protect yourself.
Eventually you come to a large creek with more watercolor forest on the opposite bank. You spot a broad flat boulder jutting into the water and a clear thought forms within the swirling turbulence of your mind. Maybe the solidity of the stone will help you calm yourself. You struggle to it, making your way to the farthest point from the plant life, finally laying down to rest your flushed cheek on the cool stone. Closing your eyes you hear your heart pounding as you struggle to take in long, slow breaths.
Opening your eyes a little you see a stone on the opposite bank where a figure with red fur sits wrapped in a gauzy pink veil. They’re wearing a golden crown and they lift one black hand up to their lips in a ssh gesture. They seem more realistically rendered and more fully present than the mottled green of the landscape around them. A fallen log runs between the two stones, and the figure begins to make their way over to you. Your eyelids feel too heavy to watch as they fall shut once again.
You hear the gentle padding steps grow close, followed by a short jump from the log to your stone. A velvet soft hand strokes your head, then lifts one of your hands into theirs. “Let the water carry your burden for you. Let it wash the feelings away and restore your calm,” they say as they drape your arm over the edge of the stone and place your hand into the cool water.
The mental tumult slows as one by one they fade away, leaving you with a sensation of inner peace. Soon your energy returns and you can open your eyes again. Slowly, you sit up and wipe your wet hand on your pant leg. You’re rescuer doesn’t shy away and you two face one another with an easy friendliness. “Thank you,” seems like the least you could say.
“You’re welcome,” they say in return. After a long pause they add, “Would you like to learn how to be in this forest without getting overwhelmed by it?”
“Well…yes, I’d like that a lot. But, is that even possible for me?”
“Of course it is. You’re sentient aren’t you?” They say, teasing you.
“I sure hope so,” you reply and you both laugh. Before they can begin you ask, “May I know who you are? Is there a name I might call you?”
They lean back a little looking more serious, “Names have power and we don’t share ours easily here within the In Between, but you may think of me as Fox Spirit if you like. Many others do. I am one of the Evers who’ve made our homes here in between the Verses themselves. We are caretakers and guides, sometimes riddlers, and often exist in the shadows of imagination.” They lean forward and reach for your hands, “Now, are you ready to begin?”
Taking their hands, you nod as they continue, “Emotions can be as strong as a hurricane or as subtle as an enigma. Fighting them only makes them harder to handle, like pressure building behind a dam. You must create a path for them to flow into you, be part of you, and then flow out again. You need to feel them, to let them exist within you. Don’t fool yourself into thinking this is a way to avoid them, for it is not. Do you understand?”
“I think so,” you reply. They talk you through several meditative visualizations that all follow the same idea of creating a way to direct the flow of the feelings into you without becoming overwhelming. When you hit on one that seems particularly relatable, they declare you ready to try interacting with the forest again.
“I’ll help you if I’m needed,” they say as you walk together to the edge of the forest. They pull a weeping willow branch to within your reach and you take hold. A surge of sorrow drives into your mind as tears form in your eyes. “Stay with it, and guide it back out,” they encourage you. You stay with your visualization and you feel the stream of sorrow narrow to a thin trickle in the back of your mind.
“It’s working!” you cry out with satisfaction. The stream wobbles, but you manage to maintain your focus.
“Now let it go,” they instruct. “With practice, you could walk through this forest and touch every nuance of feeling ever generated by any sentient throughout the Verses, but you don’t have the time to learn.” You look at them quizzically and they add, “You’re on a quest after all.”
You feel a moment of shame that you hadn’t been thinking of Phia and your reason for being here at all. Then you look into the wild abandon of a forest literally painted with the complexity of feelings, and you see a humanoid shape faintly in the distance. It’s even less distinct than the abstracted flora, but it was there and you can’t help but wonder if this is really just a coincidence.
“Phia,” you say, “I can’t believe I forgot, but I have to find her. I think I just saw someone moving through the forest that way.”
The Ever looks in the direction shaking their head, “Only a part of Phia is here, and you cannot retrieve that by chasing her likeness now. She’s lost in the forest like you were, but she won’t hear me or anyone else. Phia has hidden from her inner being for too long.”
You force yourself to turn away from the forest and meet Fox Spirit’s gaze as they ask, “Now that you’ve gained some experience with my domain,” they gesture toward the woods, “I’d like to ask you something.”
When you nod your consent they continue, “You’re on a quest to find Phia and you’re discovering that she became fragmented, with part of her consciousness existing here. Should you succeed in bringing all the pieces together, she will have to integrate them into a whole again.”
“What insight have you gained here that you would want to share with Phia to help her heal?”
How will you answer?
A: “I would hope to share with her that all emotions are worthy of her attention, that embracing them, no matter how uncomfortable, is essential to reaching our full potential as sentient beings.”
B: “I think it’s important for her to see that emotions are a physical response to external stimuli, and that like all such challenges we can address them through conditioning ourselves to adapt to them.”
C: “I would like to show her that emotions arise from our spiritual essence and that as an expression of our consciousness they must be embraced to elevate ourselves to a more transcendent state.”
D: “I think that analyzing one’s mental state allows us to use reason to overcome fear and other negative emotions while also preventing us from becoming too enthralled by our more positive feelings.”
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[Historian's Note: 8 favored counseling Phia on embracing her emotions, while 2 thought it best to counsel her to use reason to master her emotions.]
This time, with all that you’ve been through in this forest, you feel no hesitation in formulating a reply. You feel a clarity of purpose that leads you to say, “I would hope to share with her that all emotions are worthy of her attention, that embracing them, no matter how uncomfortable, is essential to reaching our full potential as sentient beings.”
Fox Spirit beams in satisfaction, “Many people, Phia among them, could benefit from that perspective, and I hope you do get to share that with her. I think you’ll make an excellent mentor in these matters, if you keep up with your practice.”
Appreciating your surroundings without fear you say, “I wish I did have time to explore this forest and study with you.”
“Alas, this is not the moment for such contemplation. We need to collect Phia’s essence and send you on your way.” You nod agreement while they withdraw a clear, cut crystal vial from someplace hidden by the veil, “With this we can draw her in and you can rejoin her to her body. She is not willing to accept my help, but the forest will guide her to us.”
They kneel, placing the open vial down on the ground between you, their hands palms down in front of them, and gesturing for you to do the same. Complying, you feel a sensation of comfort flowing into you as they say, “You’ve learned to use the centering exercise to direct the flow of feelings as they come into you, but now we’re going to use that to push our need for Phia into the forest floor. We need her to come here where she’ll be safe and free.”
Together, you funnel that desire into the pattern of the foundation of the forest, and you see a path forming from your hands into it. Flora moves and shifts, making the path clear, and you think you could do this again if you had to. Soon, the blurry shape of Phia comes towards you on the path, looking so tired she can barely put one foot in front of the other. “Now,” says your guide, “it’s time for her to sleep, to let the tiredness take her out of here.” You visualize her sleeping, remembering how you felt on that rock when Fox found you, and you push that memory to Phia. She goes down to the ground, fighting to keep her eyes open, but succumbing to sleep all the same. “Come to me now,” The Ever says with a hand on the vial, “Come let me carry you home.”
Phia dissolves into a stream of multicolored paint that moves as one into the vial. When every last drop has been collected, the Ever places the stopper on top and hands it to you. Holding the container up to the light so you can see the swirls of colors in the bright sunlight you ask, “What do I do with this?”
“When you exit the In Between and her body manifests with you, pour this over her head and heart. The two pieces of Phia belong together and will rejoin without anything more from you than that.”
“For you in particular, I will offer a gift, though it is one I hope you will share. You’ve expressed an interest in continuing your studies of this realm and I think you’d genuinely like to help Phia if she’ll let you.”
“Definitely!” you agree eagerly.
Once again they take something out that was hidden from view by the veil, “This acorn is the seed for a very special tree. It will grow into a grove that offers amplification of emotional experiences, so only those with the kind of training you’ve been given should enter. The grove will also enhance the efficacy of the exercises I’ve taught you, offer insights for those trying to learn, and help people advance on their inner journeys. Choose where you plant it with care.”
You take both vial and acorn, pocketing them safely away, and feel the pull of the portal opening above you. The Ever takes your hand one final time, and you feel rejuvenating energy flow through you as they say, “You have one more to visit, my extremely knowledgeable brother. Don’t be intimidated, just speak from your heart.” They let go as your body is lifted into the portal.