By Eleanore Drummond
“I’ve got an idea,” says Nesmin, standing on a chair making them eye level with Uluantha, “Lots of esoteric traditions throughout the Verses allude to the idea that sentience is a combination of spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional aspects, right?”
“True,” replies Uluantha tiredly, “Nuances vary, but essentially that’s right.”
“What if we broaden the scope of the search and direct the enchantment to seek out four specific aspects of Phia’s sentient nature, so that the spell can lock onto whichever aspect is easiest to find?”
Uluantha sits upright in her chair exclaiming, “Brilliant!” She rushes to the table to begin sketching a new diagram. “That would both cast a wide net across the verses and allow for more detail in the search criteria!”
The hour is late, but everyone is too excited by the breakthrough moment to even think about sleep now. The table is covered in scattered papers with many variations of possible enchanting schemas, including detailed sigil designs. Jayden and Mitena sit on a couch designed for people twice their size with Oystersand's Illustrated Arcana open in front of them.
Jayden looks at Mitena while tapping the book, “You know, this same idea of the components of sentience pops up repeatedly within the Arcana as well. I think Nesmin is on to something.”
In response to the mounting energy crisis within the Initiative, you’ve been charged with forming a team to explore the possibility of opening a locomancy portal on O’oomryu to find Phia, the founder of Delphi, whose disappearance sparked the formation of the Initiative itself. Locomancy isn’t a new idea, but using an artificially created portal, rather than traditional scrying methods, is revolutionary. The challenge comes from directing a search through the vastness of the Verses and to offer enough input to make it even possible to find the correct individual within an ocean of noise.
Thanks to the research agreement here, the people of this watery world are happy to participate in the experiment, even providing the energy needed to support it. You’ve gathered together select field agents and assets, with a range of expertise, who’ve become a coterie of friends living and working together for the last several buildcycles. Most of the off-world participants have to wear charms that protect them from the high gravity of this planet, but they don’t seem to mind at all.
Mitena snaps out of a deep reverie, a broad smile spreading across her face, “Even the Verses themselves seem to favor a particular aspect, though I would never want to oversimplify things, or claim that any Verse is limited to one way of being. More that we may help the locomancy by calling out some of the associations that hold meaning for us.”
Jayden nods emphatically adding, “Yeah, like how we associate Synthex with intellectual or analytical pursuits and Kaleidoscope with the nature of consciousness or the spirit.”
“I like that,” offers Mitena. “We have to be careful though, there’s so much we don’t yet understand. We need to invite the outcome rather than seek to control it.”
“Thank you for that reminder,” Uluantha says with obvious approval, “The science of Synthex seems to respond well to explicit control, while here in Fantasia we manipulate magical energies through our intention, and we’re creating an enchantment.”
Omari, an expert mathematician, chimes in then, “Once we identify which fundamental drivers we want to call out for each Verse, I can represent them in the form of sacred geometry and let that shape the final sigil.” He picks up his tools, ready to begin again.
“And the unknown,” adds Uluantha, “We need to represent what we haven’t yet found, too.”
Nesmin leaps from their chair to the carpeted floor and joins you in examining the large collection of alchemical ingredients arranged in front of you. They pick up a jar of powdered dragon scale saying, “I’ll help pick out some possibilities for the ritual ingredients.”
A buildcycle later, and you’re all standing on the highest point of an uninhabited island enjoying the fruits of your labors as a brand new sigil platform sparkles in the sunlight. The perfect circle is 2 meters across and ringed with a wave pattern mosaic in pink coral, malachite, polished shell, and obsidian. Inside of that, an elaborate geometric pattern plays out in gold, diamond, and rainbow metal. The spaces in between are filled in with turquoise and the whole thing is polished perfectly smooth.
“Time to see if this works,” you say as you step into the very center, “Good luck everyone.”
“You’re the one who needs the luck!” says Jayden.
“Come back safely, my friend,” says Uluantha.
Four personal items with a strong connection to Phia are placed at each cardinal direction; to the north, her favorite musical instrument, to the west a brush with her hair still in it, to the south a notebook full of inspired ideas she wrote by hand, and to the east a toy kept from the long past. These items may be consumed in the spell, but you have reason to hope their use will be purely symbolic. A total of 22 lifespring batteries have been integrated at key points within the sigil pattern to fuel the opening of the portal. The incantations from the group take a long time, but you can feel the power building and try to stay calm. The whole platform begins to hum as the incantations reach a crescendo.
You see and feel a flash of light that blinds you as you’re lifted into the air, and for a moment you think something went terribly wrong. Then you open your eyes and see the familiar translucent colors of a portal around you as you’re going…somewhere. Usually the light around you in a portal will coalesce into a point that denotes the ending.
This time though, the light fragments and falls away into a point of deep blackness that grows closer and closer until you’re completely engulfed within it. You’re flung into that inky black as the light vanishes behind you. Looking around you see no evidence a portal ever existed here. In fact, there’s nothing. No light of any kind, just flashes behind your eyelids as your brain tries to make sense of this environment.
You feel nothing underneath you, nothing solid to hold onto. Your rational mind scrambles to find something, anything, to give you a sense of place or direction. No wind nor sound of any kind touches your body, floating, as if held up by water that you can’t perceive in this neverending dark.
At that moment terror grips you, and you scream. Again and again you unleash a howl of pining fear, just to hear that you’re alive. Alive and completely alone in this nothingness.
Time loses all meaning for you. Has it been a few minutes, hours, or much, much longer? Eventually, you wonder if you’ll die here. Can you die here? Maybe you’ll blend in with the nothingness until you just cease altogether.
Much to your shock, a pale, blue green light appears before you, as if pushing its way through a deep fog. It grows larger as it gets closer. The part of your mind that wishes to live on, dares to take heart and hope that maybe you’re not alone after all. The light covers ground quickly, and within it you see a figure unlike anything you’ve ever encountered. The light draws you inside, where a woman with the features of an owl stares at you with huge, golden avian eyes, wearing a necklace and headpiece made from shining gems the color of deep turquoise ocean water.
She looks you over and you feel as if she’s seeing through you and into you, leaving you feeling utterly exposed. “Hello, Seeker,” she says with confidence, “You’ve taken a great risk coming here.”
You try to find your voice in a throat raw from so much screaming, “H..hello.” You swallow, “Where am I?”
“Did you really think it would be that easy?” she asks, “There is no point of reference that can make sense of this place for you. It isn’t really a place at all. You’ve landed In Between, which can take many forms and moves as the Verses move.”
“Please,” you say coughing from the dryness in your mouth, “will you help me?”
“Maybe,” she says as those big round eyes blink and you feel a moment of reprieve from that stare that sees all you might wish to hide, “First, let’s talk a little. So few sentients ever come directly to me, and I’d like to know you more now that you’re here.”
You wonder what she could possibly have to learn that she can’t see for herself, but you recognize this is your chance to learn more about her, too. “What is the nature of this In Between?”
“Well put,” she responds, “This part of In Between reminds some of birth and some of death, though they’re more the same than most sentients are comfortable with. If you were here long enough you would understand, but you are still bound by time and cannot stay too long. What Verse are you from?”
“Synthex, but I’ve visited and lived in many Verses”
“That’s good,” she responds, “You’ve seen enough to know that you have more questions than answers. What do you seek?”
“I’m searching for Phia, the founder of Delphi.”
“No,” she says with frustration, “Such a small vision. I know of who you seek, the question was woven into your spell. I ask what do you seek?”
“Um…” you weren’t prepared for that level of self inquiry, “I guess, I seek what all who are drawn to the Initiative seek. Understanding and knowledge. The Verses are connected somehow and they seem to be changing. I want to understand the mysteries of the Verses.”
You can’t look away as she asks, “Is your quest worth your life?”
“Yes,” you answer without hesitation, feeling a brief moment of surprise.
HOW WILL YOU ANSWER?
“I fear the changes happening in the Verses and worry that they could pose a danger. I believe those of us who see the potential for harm have an obligation to take action. I want to have the ability to stop changes that put sentients at risk by cultivating enough power to affect outcomes. Taking a stand for life in the Verses is worth the risk.”
“I care about the diversity of experiences of all sentients throughout the Verses. Things are happening that may have a dramatic impact on the well being of people everywhere. Compassion demands that we consider all the varying needs of sentients as we move forward. Giving voice to the shared needs of those within the Verses is worth my life.”
“I think we must look beyond the individual consciousness of sentients like myself and seek the bigger picture. I want to use this opportunity to find harmony with the greater consciousness of the Verses themselves. Something is driving the changes that are forming natural portals, and if we are divorced from the nature of the Verses and this greater consciousness we may not be able to respond wisely.”
“I see acquiring knowledge as the most noble pursuit, and the most important lessons always carry risk. Only with a deep understanding of the forces at play, and the complex relationships between competing environments, can we ever hope to act responsibly. This is the greatest opportunity for learning in ages, and I want to be part of it.”
(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)
[Archivist's Note: 5 chose diversity of experiences of all sentients, 3 each favored taking action to prevent danger or acquiring knowledge. None preferred to express the notion of a bigger picture.]
Your mind feels like a clouded whirlwind of possible answers. There are so many reasons you might lose your life exploring the verses, and at first you find it difficult to identify what drives you. . Usually you’re more concerned with what’s immediately in front of you, tackling one mission at a time without the luxury of reflection.
“Why?” she presses you, “The spirit requires a sense of purpose. What makes this quest worthy of your singular life?”
You come back again to the incredible variety of sentient life throughout the Verses and the deep appreciation you feel for that. Now you can answer, “I care about the diversity of experiences of all sentients throughout the Verses. Things are happening that may have a dramatic impact on the well being of people everywhere. Knowledge and control aren’t enough. Compassion demands that we consider all the varying needs of sentients as we move forward. Giving voice to that diversity is worth my life.”
She looks at you thoughtfully while playing with a black feather from her from her headdress. “You’ve done well to quiet your mind and see yourself so clearly, and your compassion is admirable, but…”she lets go of her distraction and folds her arms across her chest, “you still need to learn to see further into the void if you truly wish to be part of what is to come. It’s harder to comprehend that which operates on a scale much larger than our own. Consciousness can be much bigger than what you’re used to.”
“Then help me to understand,” you say with an edge of frustration.
She looks around with concern, “You have no more time I’m afraid. Your Phia is not one thing and she is not in one place. You will need to help her become whole again.”
You feel your body being pulled upwards, out of that dim light. The last thing you hear is her voice fading away with one last offering, “Meditate on that which provides structure and then meet my sister with confidence.”