The trip through the Shrinking Portal, as it’s known within the Initiative, has become a familiar and rather comfortable one, with today marking your eighth journey. Each visit gets longer and longer; your most recent trip lasting four months. The Initiative’s resources are stretched thin, but your work costs very little for a potentially high value outcome, well worth the time if your theories pan out.
Your companion, a middle aged woman with long black hair pulled into a bun at the back and wrapped in white yarn, is making the portal transit for the first time. Mitena was your mentor and instructor in college, you’re now over the moon that you get to work together on this challenging project. You know your anthropology, but her knowledge runs deeper, making her the best person to check your work and correct your assumptions.
You each carry a set of miniature tools stowed in tiny packs with a tent and wool blanket bundle of appropriate size for your destination. It was like carrying gifts for a set of dolls, but to this day nothing inanimate will shrink when put through the portal. Anything that won’t fit just pops back out of the opening on this side, as if propelled by a giant rubber band.
“I hope this site is all you’ve promised”, Mitena considers, looking at the gently swirling deep brown and electric blue of the portal opening, “Seeing this in person…is…well, like a story made real.” She may sound a little nervous, but she’s smiling with enthusiasm.
“Oh yeah, especially so in this part of Commedia, where stories literally weave the fabric of reality,” you answer, “Ready?”
Mitena nods, and you each busy yourselves preparing for the jump. Only your living bodies will shrink, so everything that isn’t already proper size must be left here. It can be awkward the first time to go through the process of removing clothing and stowing it away in bins before jumping into a pool of color on the floor. You both came prepared for this, taking turns tossing your bundles into the portal, then hopping in feet first.
Each of you is reduced to about ¼ of your original size as you transit, exiting at your destination by falling out of the opening hanging in midair in a cave passage, and landing in a padded net designed to catch you. You wait long enough for Mitena to land and clear the net before jumping in yourself. Once you both emerge from behind changing screens, dressed and carrying your gear, you wait for your local contact, enjoying the site of Mitena looking over the bioluminescent mushrooms growing in clusters around the cave.
A woman enters with thick black tresses falling in a multitude of long braids, and wearing a broad smile, “Welcome back,” she whispers as she reaches out to take your hands in greeting. You meet her grip and reply in kind, “Thank you Tachell”, gesturing toward your companion you whisper, “This is Professor Mitena Lapahie.”
“Mitena will do,” she whispers as she takes Tachell’s offered hand.
“A pleasure to meet you, Mitena”, Tachell replies, “It’s customary here for people to use telepathic communication, but it’s not always possible between outlanders without a local to facilitate. Thank you for speaking softly. We should not need to speak out loud much more”. Mitena nods and Tachell continues, “They’re waiting for you in the library, please follow me.”
As you pass through the cozy dragon nursery Tachell stops to look at a young red one and laughs at a private telepathic joke passed between them. You’re led through winding mountain paths, dotted on one side with trees and curving earthen buildings, and openings cut into the cliff face on the other. Everything is crafted to blend into the natural surroundings, which are all enormous compared to you.
Eventually you reach the far end of the community and climb a narrow, rough cut set of stairs winding impossibly high up the cliff. It takes a long time to reach the top, where you find a broad landing big enough to park an interplanetary shuttle judging from your new perspective. Deep in that space two massive double doors stand slightly ajar, and your company heads for them.
The room inside is vast, maybe four stories high, with bookshelves lining the walls and arranged around the room, allowing for spacious walkways in between. Lights hang from the ceiling, the balconies, and the shelves themselves, though you couldn’t say how they work. In the front half of the room are tables, chairs, and a giant black dragon curled up looking at a muscular young man, his hair in locs moving in animated, if silent, conversation. An ancient animal skin lies open on the table between them.
“Jayden!”, you think to him, as Tachell walks over to greet her husband, “You found it!” He nods enthusiastically while you look at the dragon and send, “It’s wonderful to see you again, Flies True On Strong Wind.” You’re sure that in spite of their calm repose, the dragon is excited for your arrival.
Introductions among a people of avid storytellers can take a while. Mitena is encouraged to share a story or two about herself and her people, which she tells with great skill, while Flies True On Strong Wind does the same in matched eloquence. It’s a lighthearted formality that helps people relax into an easy rapport. By the end Jayden and Tachell are wrapped comfortably in one another’s arms on a cushioned bench; while you and Mitena have elected to sit on thick cushions over the rug next to the dragon, like kids around a campfire.
Tachell takes in a long slow breath as Flies True On Strong Wind finishes. You’ve witnessed several of these exchanges over your many visits, and this dragon always manages to tell one that’s new to you. In the presence of this oldest of dragons, the telepathic speech works perfectly for everyone “I must go,” Tachell offers, “and you all have a lot to do yet.” After a kiss for Jayden, she makes her escape and you jump up to finally examine the animal hide on the table.
You offer Mitena a hand up and think, “We’ll go to the petroglyph site soon, but this artifact is a treasure we’re incredibly lucky to have on hand, worth examining first I think”.
She looks over the painted hide and takes in a quick breath, “I agree! If I didn’t know better, at first glance I’d guess it was the work of my own people. Though, on a closer look that hide isn’t buckskin and some of the symbolism isn’t quite right.” Mitena points to a horned animal and thinks, “This isn’t any representation of deer or buffalo that I’m familiar with.”
“We thought so, too,” Jayden chimes in, “Flies True here, has some ideas about it”. You hear the room echo briefly with a noise like the dragon clearing their throat as a big golden eye looks piercingly at Jayden, “They aren’t too keen on nicknames here”, and with a wink at that glowing eye he adds, “but you’re a big softy and you know I mean it with love for those powerful wings and admiration for your Boss intellect”.
The dragon’s voice is beautiful in your mind and you catch the shape of a smile as they reply, “There are many creatures here that are similar to the ones on your world, and yet different. We have one that serves the same role as your deer, but is known to us by a different name”.
“And this hide,” Mitena asks, “Is it from that creature?”
“Yes, though it has suffered from the passage of time. It should be smooth and white with the colors of the paints standing out boldly.”
Jayden sends, “We think the petroglyph site is the place of the…Dancing Wheel?” pointing at symbols on the skin,”...and Rainbow Reed?”
You add excitedly, “Possibly the correct interpretation of this artifact and the petroglyphs will lead to a story that will open a portal. We’ve also brought a copy of Ostersand's Illustrated Arcanum, which is claimed to have information to aid in that goal, though no one has yet solved the riddles within”
Hours pass as you four discuss the various images on the hide and compare it with pictures from the site. Finally, the sun goes down and it’s time for dinner. As you’re packing up to leave the library Mitena sends out, “The similarities are uncanny, and yet there are some key differences. I think you’re on a good path here. Where are the descendants of the People who made these?”
The dragon answers, “Some are probably here, but in this world stories change constantly, and the People have made so many new stories that this one has been too long untold. Given the nature of this one, it’s possible that many left and have not returned.”
Flies True On Strong Wind carries you all down to the amphitheater in the center of the community where a large fire burns, both dragons and people have gathered for the usual evening activity of songs or storytelling. This evening, Flies True tells a draconic creation tale of ancient origin, for dragons have long memories and are the keepers of ancient secrets that must not be lost.
The next morning you all gather once again on the roomy back of Flies True and take to the sky. They glide east over cities and towns until you reach a mountain well away from so much modernization. The land there is dry, high desert, and nestled into that landscape sits a large rock with a dark blue patina and cream colored petroglyphs. You land and get to work.
After cycles of study, pouring over the layers of petroglyphs, you’re more convinced than ever. Mitena observes at one point. “So much of this is so similar to home. The wheels, the animals, and the horned figures! There are so many stories here, from everyday life to magical feats of holy people. I think this was a waygate for travelers.”
Jayden replies, “We’ve flown over this area many times, and found several more petroglyph stones with some different imagery, including dragons, and a place in the center of it all where a stone circle remains.”
A month of study, deliberation, and planning passes, and you’ve come to a consensus. By combining elements of Dineh knowledge with local traditions, draconic esoteric wisdom, and studies of Oysterdand’s Illustrated Arcana, you agree you’ve crafted a story ritual that may open a portal to another Verse. More than that, you’re confident you can direct the ceremony to open a specific one.
“Though I will not lend my wisdom or energy connecting to Gloom,” asserts Flies True.
“I don’t know how long it will stay open, or if it will work both ways,” Mitena cautions, “but the idea is sound.”
“We’ve got a lot of materials to collect…”, says Jayden.
“But this is gonna be epic!” you finish as the two of you share an elaborate high five.
A: Perform the story ritual of the Golden Arrow that channels lightning.
B: Perform the story ritual of the Feather Fan that issues winds of wonder.
C: Perform the story ritual of the Simple Rope held by twin clans.
D: Perform the story ritual of the Rainbow Reed that sings patterns into being.
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[HIstorian's Note: 5 favored Rainbow Reed, 3 favored Golden Arrow, while 3 favored Feather Fan.]
Your group goes around in circles for a little while weighing the potential merits of each choice, eventually settling on the Rainbow Reed. Jayden points out that it’s currently the Spring season, which is strongly associated with rainbows, the birth of new life, and the sprouting of buds like new ideas.
Though the choice seems resolved, Mitena points out, “No matter which portal we open, we need the People of the Sanctuary to participate. We need their voices, as many as will join in, to pull this off. It seems only right that they should ultimately decide. We can make our case, but this is their world.”
Flies True on Strong Wind lifts their huge tail into the air and slaps it down to the ground with a loud thwack! “I hoped you’d get there in the end! We of the Sanctuary are excited about this discovery and to recreate such important stories, but this decision must include the full Council of Elders.”
You feel abashed that you didn’t come to this conclusion yourself, because it’s so obviously the best way to move forward with Para’s new allies. You all travel back and take turns speaking with the Council, of which Flies True is a member. The deliberations go on for several cycles with a lot of visits to the library to examine the artifact and Ostersand's Illustrated Arcanum.
Sharp Eyes, a leading voice within the Council, stands in the center of the amphitheater crowded with residents and speaks the Elders’ decision in a clear voice, “We believe this is a moment of great change in our world and maybe even for us here. Our new friends have offered knowledge of our ancestors while asking for our advice and help. We will give both as long as it continues to benefit all of us.” People generally nod in agreement as he continues, “We agree this is an auspicious time for the story of the Rainbow Reed. All who wish to join with their voices meet here tomorrow morning and we will fly together!”
Many more people turn out the next morning for the great Telling. You think there are easily 300 people, including dragons, gathered around with supplies for a long stay. You’ve also acquired a variety of necessary supplies for the ritual, all carefully stored for travel. It’s a fine day, and in quick time, the grand journey begins.
Details of the ritual are shared telepathically among everyone during the flight, so that when you land everyone knows what to do and gets busy setting up camps or readying the ritual site. At the large stone circle there are four larger rocks aligned with the four cardinal directions. Each of these has a smooth, flat top that’s ideal for laying out specific offerings.
To the north a basket is laid with a black bird feather, the black seeds from a winter squash, and a piece of obsidian. An animal that reminds you most of a great cat with a thick winter pelt is painted on the face of the stone.
To the east a basket is set with a white seashell, a large white feather from a bird that lives high in the snowy mountains, and a gleaming round white stone. On the face of the stone is painted a horned mammal known for its great size and usefulness.
To the south a basket is set with a bundle of dried summer herbs, a green feather from a winged prey animal that’s more lizard than bird to your eye, though beautiful nonetheless, and a bright green stone like malachite. That same winged and feathered serpent is painted on the face of the stone.
To the west a basket is set with dried pink flowers giving off a wonderful scent, the dried pink seeds from a delicious Fall fruit, and a bold pink crystal. On the face of the stone a small creature with little ears and a long tail, not unlike a chipmunk, is painted.
From east to west a line is drawn, using a mixture of natural materials, that transitions from white to pink. From the north to the south a similar line is drawn going from black to green. In the center is placed a disc of pure gold. All of this is done on that first day. When the sun gets low on the horizon, everyone takes their places around the stone circle. Mitena begins the Telling, in full volume for everyone to hear. The story of a people seeking the place they visit in their dreams, a place where the spirit runs free and unburdened by the veil of physical existence.
Yet, this place does not mean death, for everyone returns from their dreaming. They may be changed, they may have new ideas about themselves and the world, but they are alive.
“We know what it is to visit this place with our minds, but we seek to open a passage for us to travel safely from this world to that. We seek the rainbow worlds, the many patterned places that dance with the impossible and show us limitless imaginings.”
She calls out to each direction to be heard by the forces that shape the world and speaks of many visions of this place where the spirit holds more power than the physical. She speaks of a rainbow passage connecting the places opening on this spot soon.
At the end she places a hollow reed and a crystal prism on the golden disc. Another individual steps into the circle as she leaves it and tells the story again, though with some of their own personal touches. This goes on, one speaker after another, until very late into the night when many people are ready for sleep.
For three more days they continue, sleeping and eating in shifts, with no less than 20 people maintaining the Telling at any given time. The dragons participate as well, and it’s wonderful to hear their powerful voices fill the air. On the fourth sunset everyone feels a rhythmic hum coming from the circle and they speak with renewed vigor. The hum becomes a gentle tremble, and by the late evening no one stands in the center anymore. The reed and prism are left within and the speaker walks around the outside of the circle.
Now you, Jayden, and Mitena each take turns shifting the story a little to describe a portal in more detail. You add into the story the feeling of walking into a portal, of floating on a tide that carries your body along the space in between until you reach the other side. You each describe it with all the attributes you hope for. Those who speak next follow this pattern and by the dawn of the next morning, the fruits of all your combined labors take root.
The gold disk begins to spin as the reed stands straight up in the center. The prism sits on top of that as if all three are held together by their own gravity. The disc spins faster and faster, until it becomes a blur, and when the first beams of sunlight hit the prism the whole stone circle looks like a spinning rainbow. A column of wind rises up , turning your lines of color into a swirl rising into the air above. A single note, like a keening cry rings out and then a sudden WHUUUMP! brings it all to a stop as the disc, reed, prism, and everything else in the stone circle vanish into a new portal. The surface moves with a lazy grace as colors swirl, blend, and fade into one another.
A cheer rises up from the crowd while people and dragons position themselves to get a better look. Before you can begin celebrating, or for that matter analyzing, the portal, more excited cries ring out as something approaches from the north. A huge horned creature emerges from a cluster of trees, and you think this must be the animal painted on the stone. Its horns are covered in green fuzz and it’s eyes shine like emeralds.
“People of the Sanctuary, dragon cousins, it’s good to hear your voices again. You’ve stayed hidden from the world for a long time, but you are needed. Your stories and your wisdom are needed. Come and speak to the mountains and the rivers, come and give guidance to the people of this world. You have been missed, and you are strong. Keepers of stories, you are needed.”
With that the majestic creature turns and walks away. Silence falls over the crowd as everyone gets lost in their own thoughts.
Later that day Flies True says, “I want to go through the portal with you when you decide to try it.”
“But, you heard what the horned spirit said, aren’t you needed here?” argues Mitena.
“Yes, and there is much for the Council to discuss. I feel called to go. I think my path to help my people leads through that portal. I think something important is there for me to learn.”
“I’d be honored for your company and wisdom, Flies True on Strong Wind,” you reply. “I don’t know what I’ll find, but a dragon at my side seems like it can only make the trip better.”
[SHK-E Assessment: There are SAFETY risks from traversing the less controlled parts of Commedia outside of Sanctuary and erecting an open portal to Kaleidoscope. On the other hand, this new portal will conserve ENERGY on some journeys, and the Initiative has gained KNOWLEDGE through this study and experiment.]
SAFETY: Very Poor
Para Initiative Reputations:
Friend of the Keep
Para Initiative Inventory:
Oystersand’s Illustrated Arcana
Notes on Xavi and 1086
Untranslated Copy of Dear People
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