Illustrated by
Jeff Laubenstein
Signature Editions
Available here on MinterPop.




Thursday, January 27, 2022

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:

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

Para Initiative Reputations:

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

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