Once again you’re traveling through a portal space in a tunnel shaped from waves of light. Ahead you see the light turn into golden yellow streaks converging on a rich, dark pink orb. The portal disintegrates, dropping you into a scene that stops your breath for a moment.
All around you gentle puffs of clouds sit on the ground, extending to the horizon in every direction. A glorious sunset bathes the scene in magnificent hues of intense color from the red and gold of the star itself, to the magenta and purple sky, and the play of light transforms clouds into a textured field of pink and gold. The entire ground is a mosaic containing all kinds of animals, sentients, and plants posed around a repeating flower of life design. The clouds shift and move constantly, allowing only glimpses of the intricate design, but you can clearly see that at every geometric circle a literal flower emerges. These lotus blossoms float up into the air, and when they get above the clouds they reach full bloom, opening and finally bursting apart into a spray of petals and pollen.
When your feet touch the ground you expect to hit hard and fall, but a breeze wafts upward to catch you and guide your landing. The air is warm and comfortable, even without the light striking at just the right angle to make everything glow with a hint of amber that creates the sensation you’re being kissed by the sun itself. At ground level you can see that there are gaps between the clouds and that the mosaic floor isn’t static. The design is constantly moving and rearranging itself, like a complex mathematical dance, yet it feels stable underfoot. Looking down too long makes your head spin, so you focus on the sunset instead.
A sense of playfulness overcomes you, and you reach out to touch a cloud. It cools your hand which comes away feeling very slightly damp. After the terror of the previous In Between you’re overcome by a sense of joy and freedom. There’s a horizon, solid ground under your feet, and the most glorious sunset you’ve ever seen in front of you. Laughing, you break into a run, with arms outstretched barreling through clouds and petals with a sense of reckless ecstasy.
When you stop to catch your breath, hunched over with hands on your knees, you realize that the light isn’t changing. The sun hasn’t moved, and you’re becoming increasingly aware of a sense of hunger and thirst. Your stomach growling, you continue onward, keeping the sun to your back. One direction seems as good as any other, and the last thing you want is to sit still. Sometimes you glance down at the shifting floor and recognize a creature or a plant, but most are unfamiliar. When you try to hold a flower blossom it quickly falls apart in your hands, accompanied by a rush of heat that leaves behind only a cluster of soft petals and pleasant fragrance in your palms.
You’ve been walking for some time when you see the clouds shift ahead, like they’re parting for someone heading in your direction. Now you stop to watch as they approach, the clouds opening a path for the figure. Soon, you see a muscular white tiger striding gracefully towards you. In just a few steps the form shifts into a bipedal blend of humanoid female and sleek tiger, beautifully expressed, exuding power and confidence, and wearing a golden headpiece encrusted with pearls and turquoise
“Good evening, Traveler,” she says in greeting, with a throaty voice on the edge of either growl or purr, “Do you have any idea what brought you here, or are you lost?” Her gaze as she circles you feels like a predator examining prey. You’ve had plenty of time to think about how to handle this encounter, and you decide to take the course the owl-humanoid offered.
You reply with all the confidence you can muster, “This is another part of the In Between, and I’m here to seek your guidance.”
She stops circling you and her posture relaxes somewhat, “I’ve been watching you enjoying my domain. It is beautiful here, is it not?”
“Very!” you say with honest enthusiasm just as your stomach gurgles very loudly to remind you of your hungry state.
She laughs and says, “Of course you’re hungry. The body is very present with its nature here.” She reaches down to the mosaic touching an image of vines bursting with fruit and lifts up a bunch of perfect red grapes that form at her fingertips Handing them to you she continues, “I know something of what brings you here. A clever spell and well made sigil.”
You nod as you chew on perfectly sweet, juicy grapes. You manage to get out, “I worked with a talented team.”
“How did you find my sister’s expression of the In Between, with it’s endless void?”
You shudder in memory of that place of emptiness that you hope to never see again. Although, she had advised you to look beyond the void, and she certainly saw much more than emptiness within it. “It was lonely, and…terrifying,” you admit reluctantly.
“Sentients need something to orient themselves by” she gestures at the expanse around you. She picks up a lotus flower and instead of breaking apart it becomes more solid, stabilizing in a blissful state of perfect bloom.
She takes a deep breath of the heady fragrance and says, “You’ve now experienced the fear and chaos of the nothingness of In Between. Hopefully, you see some of the necessity for the physical, for structure, for control, but it can also become too extreme.”
She focuses entirely on you now and continues, “Tell me of the greatest hazard you see in that.”
You think carefully before you answer...
“Taking focus on the physical, on the experience of physical being, to its most extreme can lead one to turn away from intellectual growth as one is consumed by their basest instincts.”
“Physical reality may provide an environment for the gestation of consciousness, but if embraced too tightly it can prevent the necessary transition to a spiritual enlightenment.”
“It’s easy to get emotionally attached to things, to the physical world, and that taken to an excess interferes with emotional growth and quality relationships.”
“We can be drawn to creating order, but excess structure, much like excess matter filling all possible space, leads to perfect stasis. Some room for movement and change is necessary.”
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[Archivist's Note: 6 for order without excess structure, 4 for avoiding emotional attachment to things, and 4 for being mindful of the physical as a path to spiritual enlightenment.]
You’re trying to compose a coherent answer, but you keep looking down at the moving mosaic as you think, and the spinning and shifting tiles keep stealing your attention. You look up from the floor again and you can see that she’s losing her patience as her tail flicks back and forth, occasionally smacking the floor. Then you realize, as your eyes lock onto the lotus flower she holds in stasis, that she is walking that razor edge between order and chaos as naturally as breathing.
You take in a deep breath and begin, “We can be drawn to creating order, but excess structure, much like excess matter filling all possible space, leads to perfect stasis. Some room for movement and change is necessary.”
“Excellent!” she cries as she thrusts the flower into the air, freeing it to become once again part of the pattern here and actually purring with pleasure at your moment of insight. “Remember this lesson and keep it close at hand when you continue your journey. I think you’re ready to receive my gift.”
She points to the mosaic where an image of Phia is held by vines of morning glory in bloom, “First, I will restore her physical form to you. She’s lucky that I was able to capture her pattern here when she flung herself out into the In Between.”
You gape at the floor in horror at the implications mixed with relief that some part of her has been found. The feline isn’t finished with you yet, however, and continues, “For you, though, I have something special in mind.” She gestures in a circle around her with one hand and a breeze forms that carries a jetty of lotus flower pollen towards her. With the other hand she closes and opens her palm revealing a silk pouch with a blossom embroidered on the surface in gold and silk threads. The pouch stays open while the pollen streams into it.
She pulls the ties closed and hands it over to you. “This pollen,” she says, “will allow you to transform your physical being into any form that will suit any particular environment. A pinch will do, but remember to keep yourself in balance and use it wisely.”
“Thank you, I’m honored by this gift,” you say, admiring the pouch and placing it carefully in the large pocket of your cargo style pants.
“Now, you must move on with your search.” A mischievous look comes over her and she blows another cluster of pollen over you as you feel your body being pulled upwards again. “Keep moving, and find the river!” she calls as you become surrounded by the light of the portal.