You fly through the portal to the final step of your journey within the In Between where you’ve been told you‘ll meet an Ever that has built a domain, possibly around the pursuit of knowledge. You find yourself feeling glad that your team thought to search for aspects of Phia rather than one united whole. Whatever you find on the other side, you’ve accomplished a feat of locomancy to be truly proud of. A growing point of bright white light takes you from your mental wanderings and you watch as the stellar corona effect around that circle of light elongates into rays stretching outward. You close your eyes against the piercing brightness and feel the shift as you’re deposited into another formless environment.
You have a flash of fear that you’re back in the void, but when you open your eyes you’re greeted with a dazzling cosmic display bursting with stars, galaxies, and a vast nebula shining with magenta and orange stardust. In spite of all that this implies, you aren’t in a vacuum and everything feels closer than it should if you were really in space, more like a photo where distance is lost in the two dimensional rendering. You’re floating, but you don’t feel the unchecked momentum you expected when popping out of a portal. Instead, you’re barely moving and you feel upright, even without a horizon to guide you.
A patch of dark blue, like a huge shadow, blocks out some of this tableaux, and almost as soon as you see this, it moves. The shadow turns, revealing delicate blue feathers covering almost its entire form. The being’s human-like arms end in long, thin, dark blue fingers that cradle a sphere made of marbled pale blue light, which glitters with dots of bright white. The face of this being is decidedly avian, with a curtate beak, tall forehead, and large, completely dark, almond eyes reflecting the purple of the nebula. You’re dwarfed by the presence of this strange entity, only about the size of one of their long fingers.
As the avian changes position a galaxy is revealed, so close that you can make out the gaseous spirals filled with stars and a dense nuclear star cluster in the middle. The huge purple eyes settle on you, and you hear, “Welcome, voyager. I know that you’ve already visited my siblings, we caretakers of the In Between. Do you seek your Phia here as well?” It’s a rhetorical question, and with one hand the Ever gestures towards the nearby galaxy, “She is here, and she’s well.”
A feminine voice emanates from the black hole at the center of the spiraling star stuff, “What can I do for you that you would travel so far from home in search of me?” You recognize the voice, from videos you studied back on Synthex, as Phia herself. She sounds even more confident and determined than you remember, but it’s definitely her.
You answer, “I’ve come here to bring you back home, Phia. After your transport experiment went awry and you disappeared, Para was sure you were still alive and lost in the Verses somewhere. She started a whole organization, the Initiative, to study and search the Verses to find you.”
“I’m glad to hear that Para has found inspiration to take on such a perilous inquiry, but my experiment didn’t go awry, which would imply a failure. Rather, it achieved a different outcome from what was anticipated, bringing me greater success than I’d hoped for.”
That throws you for a loop, “What do you mean? You’ve lost your body, your emotional essence, and you're stuck here In Between. How can that be considered a success?”
Phia is ready with a retort, “This In Between is the most perfect collection of intellectual perspectives, pursuits, achievements, and explorations ever accumulated. I can access vast quantities of information, explore countless treatises, entertain myriad questions, and explore the fabric of the Verses all from right here. I’ve integrated a lifetime of research since arriving here, and I’ve only scratched the surface of that potential.”
The Ever adds, “Phia is a rarity in the Verses. She possesses the kind of perspicacious consciousness, so capable of analysis and hungry for learning, that only emerges once in an era, if that. I’ve enjoyed our conversations immensely.”
Phia continues, “I have no need for a body here, and my mind is the clearest it’s ever been. Why would I want to return to the limitations of my previous life?”
You expected to be negotiating with the Ever to release Phia to you, and now find that you must convince a very self possessed Phia that returning is a good idea. Neither Phia nor the Ever seem in a hurry to hear your argument, and you take time to consider how best to persuade her.
How will you answer?
A: “Right here in this part of the In Between, you’re only existing as one piece of yourself. You’re wholly intellect, without any connection to your emotional consciousness, because that was fragmented off to a different part of the In Between. You know that knowledge without empathy can be hazardous, or even sociopathic! You’re loved and missed by people back home, and there are so many new worlds to visit together. Wonderful as it is here, it can’t replace the sensations of witnessing a double sunset on a waterworld, or the experience of interacting directly with the underlying physics of another Verse. I even used a magical sigil ritual to get here.”
B: “Alright, Phia, I won’t push you to leave if you want to stay. I respect your decision, but you should know that you’re missing more than your body. We’ll have to decide what to do with the components of you we’ve recovered. I’m sure the Initiative can figure out a way to communicate with you from time to time to learn from you. Perhaps we can even figure out a reliable way to travel here, as I’m sure Para would like to visit.
C: “This place feels like a perfect fit because you’re broken, you were shattered into four parts that each went to a realm devoted entirely to that aspect of being. You may not realize this, but you aren’t doing well. I’ve learned things in my short time visiting all four of these domains that have expanded my potential, and so have you, except you’re cut off from that in this condition. Please, trust those of us who care about you to help you, for your own good.”
D: “For all that this magnificent realm offers, there’s no community here to share it with, and eventually you’ll want to be part of that. There are people back home who need you, Para needs you. We’re having an energy crisis, and I bet you’ve picked up some ideas here that would help if you got to play with them in a lab. What good is all this erudition without a purpose? Staying here is giving up your life outside, and it seems like that sacrifice should mean more than just gaining an endless library.
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[Archivist's Log: 7 unanimously advocated for the value of emotional consciousness in concert with the intellect.]
Upon reflection, you’re not so surprised that Phia’s analytical self would choose to remain in this place. However, you’re unwavering in your confidence that the best option would be to reunify her aspects into a whole person, so you offer the best argument you can construct. Once she understands how diminished she really is in her current state, you think she’ll come around.
“Right here in this part of the In Between, you’re only existing as one piece of yourself. You’re wholly intellect, without any connection to your emotional consciousness, because that was fragmented off to a different part of the In Between. You know that knowledge without empathy can be hazardous, or even sociopathic! You’re loved and missed by people back home, and there are so many new worlds to visit together. Wonderful as it is here, it can’t replace the sensations of witnessing a double sunset on a waterworld, or the experience of interacting directly with the underlying physics of another Verse. I even used a magical sigil ritual to get here.”
The core of Phia’s galaxy pulses as she asks in a tone of surprise, “You’re saying that I’m not only without my body, but that portions of my mind are gone, too?”
“Yes!” you reply emphatically.
“No wonder I feel so free!” she replies, “I feel no doubt, no anxiety, nothing to hold me back…”
Seeing where this is going, you cut her off, “...no joy from touching a new invention, no pleasure from solving a puzzling equation, no happiness, no love. Is all of that really worth giving up in order to avoid ever having to manage hard feelings?”
Phia is quick to assert her opposition, “This isn’t about avoiding feelings, it’s about being free to study and to work without pointless distractions slowing me down. Going back means I’ll never see what I need to do so clearly ever again.”
“I concede that’s possible,” you offer in return, “Sentience is complicated, and that’s part of why it’s so marvelous. I think that all of our aspects have value, that as a whole they make us more than we could be without those convoluted connections, even if sometimes they’re perplexing.”
Holding up the vial with colors swirling around inside you say, “This is part of you, and she deserves to be free, too.”
The Ever, who had remained respectfully silent until now, speaks up, “Phia, I would welcome you here always. You may stay if you wish, and if you go, I expect you can find your way back again. Your friend has made a worthy argument that I recommend you consider carefully.”
A protracted silence follows his statement as Phia does consider her options more carefully. She follows that up with questions about the Initiative and you regale her with stories of the Verses, worlds, and portal connections you’ve already mapped and explored. At one point she remembers your mention of using a sigil to travel here, and you give a detailed explanation of the design and logic behind it. “You’d like my team, they bring a lot of different disciplines together to great effect.”
Finally Phia reaches a decision. “I will come back with you. I’d like to see these discoveries through my own eyes,” you feel her attention shift to the Ever, “as long as I may truly be welcomed back here, Reason?”
His eyes seem to smile as he says, “My invitation is without an end, visit when you wish.”
“Before you go,” he continues to Phia, “I would like to offer you a gift to help you with the work that lies ahead. Would you accept this offer?”
“Yes!” she answers immediately, “Thank you, Reason.”
He reaches down into the pale blue sphere with two fingers and pulls out a string of light, like a constellation dotted with shining stars, and reaches out to place it delicately within the galactic spiral. Phia gasps, “It’s beautiful!”
“Now I must prepare you for rejoining your body.” says Reason, “I need you to draw yourself in as tight as you can while I shape the vessel for transport. May we begin?”
Phia’s galaxy begins to spin counter clockwise into the center where the light gets so strong and bright that you have to shield your eyes. The Ever places one hand above and one below the ball of light and pushes his palms together. The light slowly dims and you see something solid forming in his hands. When he’s finished, he holds his palm out to you and sitting within is a diadem encrusted with purple and magenta gems forming the graceful shape of a spider in the center. You take it carefully as the massive avian says, “place this on her head when you’re with her body and the consciousness stored in the jewels will get absorbed back into the proper place. I expect we may meet again one day, too.”
You turn to see the portal opening up again and feel yourself drawn into it as you call out, “Goodbye!” The journey feels longer this time, and eventually you see the translucence around you change to a vibrant display of pinks, oranges, and gold. In this brief interlude of change, a body materializes just in front of you, and then the tunnel quickly returns to its previous arrangement. Soon after that the light around you seems to thicken and you feel yourself slowing, until you’re floating gently down the last few meters to the sigil. The portal vanishes leaving you standing on the platform next to a lifeless, but unharmed, Phia.
Glancing around you see that it’s about midday, and two large tents have been pitched nearby. One has its sides open and inside your team sits comfortably around a table sharing a meal that smells fantastic even from here. Nesmin’s tall pointed ears pivot in your direction with their gaze following quickly. Violet eyes lock onto your form and they cry out, “The sigil, look! They’ve returned!” In a rush plates of food are abandoned as everyone hurries to greet you and inspect Phia.
“Oh no,” says Omari dejectedly, “is Phia dead after all?”
“No,” you say hastily as you place a charm for protection from the high gravity on her body and activate it, “but she’s not really alive yet either.”
“You’ve been gone for two cycles,” says Jayden, “we’ve been keeping watch, but we were really worried. What happened?”
“Well, first I landed in a terrifying void where…no,” you cut yourself off, “there is too much, let me sum up. We searched for four aspects of Phia and it turns out she was broken into four parts in the accident. I went to four different places to collect all the pieces and bring them here. We need to restore her mind with this,” you wave the diadem in the air, “her emotions with this,” you hold out the vial, “but I have nothing for her spirit. I don’t know how long her body will survive alone.”
You’re trying to decide which to start with, when an inky black streak appears just above your head, as if the atmosphere became solid and was torn. An owl head emerges as the black ink spill widens and the entire bird body follows, wing feathers brushing the edges as they spread open in a silent glide. Jet black feathers intertwine with the usual dusky brown of an owl, and you recognize those bright golden eyes. The first Ever holds in her claws a turquoise colored egg that shimmers with an opalescent effect.
Her voice rings inside your mind, “Phia made the decision to come back, and I honor her choice by returning what she lost. Advise her to be more careful with this, for it is a treasure to be lamented when it is gone.”
“I know her,” you say to your companions, “she’s here to help.”
The owl lands gingerly on Phia as she sets the egg on her stomach. She uses her beak to poke a hole in the shimmering surface, releasing a shining blue gas that streams into Phia’s center and her mouth as her whole body moves in one giant inhalation. The owl takes to the air again and flies back through the darkness that closes and disappears behind her. Phia appears to have a glowing aura for a moment which settles into the appearance of good health.
“Her spirit, I would guess,” says Uluantha.
“Me, too,” you say as you decide on the vial, “Emotions first, I think.” You pour the vial out over her heart and head, and the liquid flows over Phia’s skin, quickly becoming absorbed and vanishing altogether. Her eyes open and she looks terrified as she sits bolt upright. Instinctively you hold her left hand as the Fox Spirit once held yours saying, “You’re out of the forest and you’re safe. Let me help you to calm the flow that wants to overwhelm you.” You walk her through a quick visualization where you work together to move the excess intensity from her to you.
Phia’s face wears the same expression you must have when you held that willow branch successfully. “Better?” you ask.
“Much,” she answers.
“There’s just one more piece to this puzzle,” you say, “when you place this diadem on your head you’ll recover your full psyche.”
She hesitates, “I don’t want to be lost again, but that part doesn’t want me. What’s to prevent her from abandoning me again?”
“I can’t make any guarantees,” you reply, “but we talked a long time and I think she understands more about your importance. I think she’ll let me help.”
Phia nods, and takes the jeweled band from you, placing it on her head. The color drains out of the stones as Phia reaches for you, grabbing your arm in a painfully tight grip. “Paper!” she yells, “a device, anything!” Wild eyes turn to look around at the circle of sentients, “I need to get it out!”
Mitena spots the journal from the ritual, left undisturbed for two cycles, and which still has some room at the end. She hands it and a writing implement over to Phia who immediately starts filling the pages and talking to herself as she works.
There’s a lot more to do before Phia is truly going to be back. With help you guide her to the tent, into some spare clothes, and manage to feed her, though all of this must be done for her. Phia will not stop writing to tend to anything else.
[SHK-E Analysis: Despite the costs in ENERGY and the risks to SAFETY, the Para Initiative has located the founder of Delphi and takes HEART in restoring much of her previous self. She has learned a great deal while in the realm of Reason, and has brought back epiphanies and breakthroughs greatly enhancing the Initiative's KNOWLEDGE.]
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
A Silk Pouch Embrioidered with a Lotus filled with Pollen
A Seed for a Very Special Tree]