Turbulent Truths

Current Phase: C-002
Phase Type: Story

Version Beta

Secrets of the Beta Worlds

The Paradigm has been rebooted, updated, improved. It is a new metaverse, with countless unexplored worlds appearing like stars in what had been an infinite black void. Under this new order, three Factions rise to seize control, power, and influence. Will one secure dominance over the others, or will they together bring about the end of The Paradigm?

These are the secrets of Version Beta.

Version BetaSecrets of the Beta Worlds

Story 5

Turbulent Truths

Liaison of Records


Logged at
99 cirxt2669 cycle

Written by Dot the Bot


This flight marked Soleia’s ninth journey to Abyssia and her third by hang glider. Soleia had always preferred flying solo in her prior missions, but after accidentally crushing three Mechs and failing to progress past Zone 5, her options had become limited.

Soleia, wrestling with a maelstrom of emotions, sailed gracefully through Abyssia's open skies. Amidst her contemplations, Abyssia's horizon stretched with boundless sapphire-blue oceans, teeming with vibrant life and colossal leviathans. However, beneath the mesmerizing spectacle of this and other Beta Worlds, a sinister fate lurked—a virus infiltrating the very fabric of the Paradigm Lost, corroding the foundations of Soleia's world. Soleia's frustration and stubborn resolve, both fueled by repeated failures, were what propelled her relentless search for the elusive relic.

The Eye of Depths remained her sole beacon of hope.

Eight arduous missions, all for that damn Eye. Wrapped in ancient legends, the Eye of Depths held the promise of untangling the mysteries that had plagued Soleia and the Shepherds. According to legend, and the latest data analyses of Abyssia’s codebase by the Shepherds’ Hackers, the Eye possessed unparalleled knowledge, capable of peering into the foundational code of the Paradigm Lost — the creation of the Architects—laying bare its secrets.

Soleia had been surprised when two intrepid Shepherds had volunteered to help, offering their service for her ninth mission. The ping of a transmission comes in on her bracer, the notification popping up in her HUD informing her of their presence in the first Zone of the Beta World.

"They even brought a Mech!" 

A flicker of hope illuminated Soleia's heart. Perhaps this newfound support could be the catalyst she needed.

For now, Abyssia's uncharted nature kept the convenience of jump stations inaccessible. The Megacorps, slaves to their relentless pursuit of wealth, saw little value in investing in the Beta Worlds. Consequently, Soleia's ability to fast travel around Abyssia was hindered entirely. Her bracer, largely ineffectual on her wrist, offered limited functionality beyond accessing the digital inventory and receiving messages. Until she could acquire another Mech, Soleia's only travel option was navigating the top Zone of Abyssia’s vast expanse in her hang glider. The Depths were too dangerous, the Pressure too strong without the stat boost provided by a Mech.

Yet, there was solace in her independence, her resourcefulness honed by experience. "So be it. I've had to do more with less," she reminded herself.
Gliding through the clouds, Soleia took in the vast expanse of water surrounding her. Beneath her, colossal turtles rested on the serene sea, their vast shells large enough to host a city block. Off in the distance, the formidable silhouette of Fathom’s Edge cut a striking figure against the horizon. Known to the seasoned explorers of Beta World as Depth 0, the colossal island served as a well-known gateway into the six mysterious Depths of Abyssia lurking beneath the waves. Three of Soleia’s previous jumps had been launched from Fathom’s Edge. 

Today, however, was not one of those days.

She set her eyes on a pulsating beacon ahead, guiding her to the rendezvous point. Soleia adjusted her path, and among the whispers of the wind, a peculiar sound stirred.

“Is that dance music?” she wondered.

Sure enough, a loud repetitive beat was thumping along with the beacon below. And that wasn’t all. Soleia squinted through the sun-drenched waves to make out what looked like a dozen silver, bobbing bubbles around the pulsing beacon. 

Soleia maneuvered into position for a smooth landing, adjusting her trajectory with precision. The wind tugged at her as the ground rushed closer. Muscles flexed, she calculated the precise moment to touch down gracefully on the colossal turtle's back. But before she could make contact, a large silver balloon suddenly appeared in her flight path, entangling itself in her glider.

Soleia veered off course, narrowly missing her intended landing spot. In a state of panic, she desperately wrestled for control, her glider swinging wildly while the bobbing obstruction struck her repeatedly in the face.

“Dammit!” Soleia exclaimed, her desperation increasing. She thrust one arm toward the edge of the turtle's shell. Barely hanging onto the edge with her hand, Soleia carefully waved the bobbing balloon out of the way with her free arm. Making a quick decision, she conjured a compact grappling hook from her inventory. The hook had barely finished materializing in her hand when taking aim at the beacon’s sturdy antenna, she pulled the trigger and watched it soar through the air, wrapping around its target. Using the rope as leverage, Soleia hoisted herself toward the deafening music above.

After an agonizing succession of heart-pounding moments, Soleia's head finally emerged over the edge. She was greeted by a congregation of wide-eyed Degen brokers, frozen in astonishment. Then, in an instant, the group erupted in cheering applause. Soleia raised her hand, signaling for silence. The music abruptly ceased.

"I'll give you a piece of advice," she started. “Should you ever find yourself hang-gliding into a Degen party on a Leviathan's back, remember, the trickiest part is always sticking the landing.”

Her gaze roamed over the amused crowd, searching for the Shepherd volunteers who had pledged themselves to the mission. "So, which of you volunteered to dive to the bottom of the Abyssian sea with me?" The small crowd parted, revealing a beautiful Degen Broker standing among the others. Smiling, she skipped toward Soleia.

She didn't give off the typical Degen vibe. Unlike the typical Degen's usual promotional attire, her garments evoked an air of elegance. Sheer fabric cascaded gracefully over her form, delicately held together by silken ribbons that danced across the translucent material, creating an intricate jumpsuit in shades of rose and lilac. Yet, despite her refined appearance, there was no mistaking her Degen Talent, evidenced by the buoyant balloon she held, seemingly symbolic of her boundless zest and enthusiasm.

With a playful air, Stella stepped towards Soleia and presented her hand with an elegant sweep. "Stella Backwoods reporting for duty!" she announced, her voice carrying a blend of confidence and excitement. "As soon as I heard of your expeditions across the Beta Worlds,” lowering her voice now she continued, “recovering invaluable relics, few could even dream of possessing,” then returning to a loud volume, “ I couldn't resist rallying others to be part of the whitelist." The other Brokers, wearing eager smiles, nodded in agreement.

Soleia scrutinized the enigmatic Degen before her. There was something familiar about her, but she could not quite place what. "It's not a treasure hunt and there is no…whitelist. The Shepherds are volunteers seeking answers in dangerous places."

A disappointed murmur rippled through the crowd, and Soleia observed the Degens as they conjured a compact fast jump portal sized just right for one the Degens to pass easily through.

"Interesting," thought Soleia. She had no idea that jump portals could be securely stored in an Inventory and so easily summoned. “Where could they be transmitting their location to?” she pondered. Given her centuries of experience smuggling powerful digital goods, she wondered how she overlooked something with this capability. She made a mental note to explore the means of generating fast-traveling jump portals. Such portals could certainly prove useful during her expeditions.

The group of Degens quickly vanished through the portal, their balloons bobbing above them. Soleia observed their departure with a stoic gaze as they faded into the ether. Meanwhile, Stella waved goodbye to her friends happily, lingering at the portal's edge without stepping through. With a soft pop, the portal closed, leaving only Stella and one other Broker behind.

“Oh, I really hoped they would want to join in the adventure! What a shame,” said Stella, her face adorned with a bittersweet smile.

“Again, not an adventure and not a shame,” Soleia declared wearily.

“By staff, by compass, by Flame, the truth shall forge a path into the darkness!” exclaimed the tall and striking Broker who had stayed behind. He quickly made his way forward, grabbing Soleia's hand and swiftly turning her toward him. “Great to meet you, I'm Leo Stark.” 

Stella broke in again.

“To be perfectly honest, this whole thing was the brainchild of Leo here. He's the one who tracked down our Mech," she divulged enthusiastically, "He just so happened to know a guy, who knew another guy, who was in a tight spot and needed to offload a Mech and offload it fast. Such a typical Degen move, really. So he called me up, gave me the pitch. Just 4000 credits each, and we could be Mech owners! It was pretty audacious, considering we were just a couple of Degens with a thorough lack of knowledge on Mech piloting-"

"Wait a minute, that's not accurate," Leo Stark interjected.

Soleia swung around to face Leo, "Oh, thank Asherah. You know how to operate a Mech?"

"Oh hell, no! I mean, it's not accurate that I am a Degen. I'm a Leftover." Leo stated matter-of-factly.

Stella interjected, "When did you become a Leftover, Leo?”

Leo glanced at Stella, looking perplexed, “Over two-hundred years ago.”

Stella continued on cheerily, “But, you see, Leo has always felt he could be a Pilot!”

“That's right,” Leo interjected, “Considering we're all A.I., who's to say Asherah didn’t embed some latent navigational skills within me, waiting to be accessed? I mean, I feel to my very core that I could be a great Pilot. Maybe the best ever, Soleia." 

“Right...” Soleia didn’t try to hide her concern, staring at the two Brokers supposed to help guide her through Abyssia's most treacherous depths. 

But Stella didn’t seem to notice Soleia’s trepidation in her excitement, and she pulled Soleia closer conspiratorially. "Can I tell you the best part? I had precisely 4000 credits in my wallet when Leo called. It seemed like it was destiny. Obviously, I transferred the funds to him sight unseen."

“Obviously,” Soleia responded in kind.

“So are you ready to have your mind blown? Huh, huh? Leo, let ’em rip!”

Stella gently spun Soleia around to take in the sight of the towering Mech that Leo must have deployed from his Inventory. Beside her, Stella's breathless voice revealed her palpable excitement.

"Just look at it! Our very own woWee Mech. A charming fusion of metamorphic machinery and advanced kinematics... albeit fashioned from cardboard."

Leo chimed in, his enthusiasm contagious. "Stepping into the cockpit for the first time felt like magic. The moment we fired up the engines, we immediately went to answer your call for all Shepherds to seek out the Eye of the Depths, whatever that is. And would you believe it, I'm dressed perfectly for the occasion." 

Leo outstretched his arms, showcasing his jacket for everyone to admire. His arms and torso were covered by gleaming armor-like plating in hues of cerulean and teal. Soleia became intrigued.

"You have seafloor outerwear?! Where did you find it? Could you lend it to me?" Soleia fired off her questions in rapid succession. “This could solve the pressure issues in Zone 5,” she pondered aloud, seemingly more to herself than her companions. Maybe even the final missing key to finally reaching the farthest most Depth where the Eye supposedly lies. 

"I've had this for as long as I can remember. Unfortunately, I can't lend it to you. It's soulbound," he replied.

Soleia weighed her options, scrutinizing the unconventional pair in front of her, before she finally let out a resigned breath. She reckoned this was part of good leadership – placing trust in others, a concept she was still coming to terms with ever since the responsibility of guiding an entire Faction of Brokers in search of a way to contain the virus was seemingly thrust upon her.

“Well, Stella and Leo, in this short time you've convinced me that I have no other choice than to put your co-piloting skills to the test."

Leo pumped his fist in celebration, his eyes fixed on Soleia as he confidently approached the woWee. "I may have never piloted anything before in my virtual life, but I'm ready to give it my best shot," Leo declared, exuding a determined energy.

With synchronized precision, the unlikely crew maneuvered through the interior of woWee's cockpit, each settling into their stations. 

“Remember, folks, we're plunging into the deepest Zones of Abyssia," Soleia reminded them all, an urgency in her words. "I’ve made this voyage more times than I care to admit, but it is still an immense and unchartered world. Stay focused and follow my lead."

As the start-up sequence initiated, woWee's dormant engines roared to life, alongside the creaks, groans, and rustling of the cardboard Mech's joints. It was as if the whole contraption had been napping, only to be stirred awake.


Zone 1: The Luminous Corridor

As they maneuvered the woWee, their descent unveiled a breathtaking underwater realm. Through the woWee's transparent cockpit window, the crew beheld a mesmerizing deep-sea environment, showcasing a phantasmagoric ballet of virtual sea life. Bioluminescent jellyfish, drifting like ghostly lanterns, painted the waters in hues of neon. Shoals of luminescent fish darted by, painting the mix of sun-streaked water in ethereal strokes. The atmosphere thrummed with the buzz of electrified cardboard and the briny scent of the sea.

The control room seemed to transform into a transitional zone, where the sterile embrace of technology fused with the pulsating heart of the ocean. Nestled in this amalgamation of two worlds, Soleia, Stella, and Leo recalibrated their gear, donning tinted visors to enhance their perception of the ethereal underwater landscapes. 

“Buckle up. We've got six Zones to traverse before we can get to the ocean floor.”

“Awesome!” Leo and Stella exclaimed in unison.

“Don't get too excited just yet. It's not all smooth sailing ahead. These Zones can be treacherous," Soleia warned. “Very soon we will be entering Zone 2.”

Her words hung in the cockpit, starkly contrasting the flighty dance of the bioluminescent jellyfish that swirled around them, seductively drawing them deeper into the unknown.

Zone 2: The Chromatic Gardens

True to her words, as the sun's rays quickly waned and ultimately disappeared, a myriad of iridescent colors and clusters of shimmering coral emerged in its stead.

However, their enchantment shattered as a sudden impact jolted the entire crew. Leo's surprise mixed with frustration echoed through the control room as their course abruptly halted.  "Dammit, what just happened?" he blurted, attempting to regain control over the Mech. He squinted through the transparent cockpit, and the seemingly open pathway fluttered and shifted, revealing a vibrant wall of rainbow coral. "I was certain that was a passage."

Soleia chuckled, muttering, "Damn tricky fish."

Leo, still reeling from the impact, asked, "What the hell was that?"

"Welcome to the Chromasea Stingray territory,” Soleia said. “Masters of camouflage, every inch covered with specialized scales reflecting their surroundings. They are a large part of what makes this place so dazzling…and dangerous. It's easy to get turned around and lost in this labyrinth when they're around."

Leo, still baffled by the scene, managed a puzzled response, "So... we're literally flying blind here?"

“Not entirely,” Soleia replied, glancing upwards and sideways as she contemplated their next move. "The woWee has lights, right?"

Leo interjected with bubbling enthusiasm, "Absolutely! Didn't you notice them while we were up above? Top of the line. Our woWee features the finest illuminating technology and even a string of twinkle lights delicately draped along the-"

Before he could finish, Soleia interposed, "We’ll need to maximize those lights. The Stingrays can only reflect existing light. If we illuminate the surroundings with a light they can't mimic, we'll be able to distinguish the real passages from the Stingray-induced illusions. If there's no reflection, we've stumbled upon something genuine, not a mere mirage.”

With Soleia's guidance, Leo managed to boost the woWee's luminosity to maximum output. Around them, their surroundings were bathed in a radiant light, casting light upon the woWee's path and guiding them towards an alluring tunnel emerging from the darkness. The eerie beauty of their surroundings faded as their course became clear.

Soleia broke the silence, her voice steady, "Onward.”

Zone 3: The Echoing Crypts

Within the humble confines of their woWee Mech, the trio plunged deeper into the uncharted waters. Each controlled descent propelled them deeper through a network of vast caverns adorned with towering stalagmites and stalactites. Upon the rocky sentinels grew phosphorescent algae, casting an otherworldly luminescence upon the veiled darkness, enticing bold seekers and seasoned Gunters alike.

"Keep your guard up, everyone," she whispered, her voice barely audible over the echoing symphony of bubbles. "We've got company."

A pod glided near, gradually unveiling a solitary figure within its frosted walls. Adorned with a mask that mirrored the distinctive shape of his pod's helm, the figure sported large circular discs that pulsed with a faint ultraviolet luminescence that seemed to emit a low radio frequency. As the pod drew closer to the Mech, a resonating hum echoed ominously through the abyss, akin to an ominous warning signal.

Soleia's eyes narrowed as she evaluated the newcomer. "A Gunter," she muttered under her breath. "Looks like they caught wind of our mission. They're probably itching for another challenge or a chance to solve some meaningless riddle."

Stella’s gaze darted anxiously toward the approaching pod. "What's the game plan, Soleia? Should we fight or make a run for it?"

As they deliberated, a distorted voice crackled through their comms system, its distortion an unwelcome intrusion. "Did you folks manage to crash a woWee…down here…in Abyssia?" the voice probed, laced with a mix of curiosity and suspicion.

Soleia’s retort cut through the static, her tone firm and undeterred. "No crash. Just exploring the Crypts. But thanks for checking in."

A brief silence followed before the voice returned, a hint of condescension seeping into his tone. "You are aware you're submerged in water, right? In a woWee? And that the Pressure keeps increasing at these Depths?" the Gunter warned.

“Mech pilot Leo Stark here,” Leo chimed in, a smirk playing on his lips. “I'm well aware of the seismic pressure, my friend. Nothing to concern yourself with.”

As the Gunter scrutinized their Mech, he couldn't hide his curiosity. "So, are you mechanics stress testing the stress levels on the woWee model or something?"

Leo whispered with a satisfied smile, "He thinks I’m a mechanic."

"You hit the nail on the head, sir," Stella responded over the comms system. 

“Well, stay sharp out there. See you on the other side. Good luck."

The team watched as the Gunter eventually retreated, leaving them to continue their descent. But just as the Gunter's silhouette disappeared into the murky waters, a rumble resonated from the depths below, causing their Mech to shudder. Soleia's gaze shifted to the navigation panel, where a blinking light indicated seismic activity. Her fingers danced over the controls, steadying the woWee against the underwater tremors.

"Is this normal, Soleia?" Stella's voice quavered, anxiety creeping into her words.

“We've been detecting anomalies down here, same as in the Waste Land!. Something up with the code. The deeper we go, the less predictable the environment seems to become."

A heavy silence fell over Leo and Stella, the usually bright atmosphere dimmed as the gravity of their situation seemed to finally settle in.

"Steady as she goes," Soleia instructed Leo, a firm determination set in her voice as she sought to rally their spirits once more.. "The next Depth is waiting for us.” 

Zone 4: The Leviathan Valley

Their departure from the Echoing Crypts marked the beginning of a deeper journey into the awe-inspiring realm ahead. Within this incredibly majestic Zone, magnificent Leviathans materialized, their colossal frames graced with delicate nebulae, metamorphosing them into living canvases of transcendent beauty. A symphony of whale songs enveloped their senses, immersing them in a cosmic ballet that unfolded before their eyes. 

Leo's voice pierced the reverie, tinged with worry and urgency. "Uh-oh, we seem to have a problem. Seawater is starting to breach woWee." The growing spots across the cockpit confirmed the imminent danger of water seeping in.
“Water is seeping in?  Shit just got real, crew,” Soleia said.

Meanwhile, Stella, bless her soul, didn't let her complete lack of Mech-piloting chops cramp her style. "Don't you dare let panic take hold! We're gonna rise above this, mark my words! We'll find a way to patch things up, I think."

Soleia's response, delivered with unflinching honesty, shattered their fleeting reassurance. “Actually, woWee will probably buckle under the pressure within the next 5 leagues. It'll be completely breached by the water, and then... it'll sink.” 

Her words cut through the air, leaving little room for false optimism.

Leo's eyes widened, his gaze shifting quickly to Soleia as desperation tinged his voice. "We can't let that happen. There has to be something we can do to prevent it, right? Do we need to turn back?"

Looking down and gathering her breath, Soleia looked at them solemnly and spoke. 

"We're at a crossroads. Turning back might seem the easy option, but that's not why we're here. There's a virus out there, warping the fabric of our existence, threatening all digital life. We're not just Brokers who can abandon their mission at the first sign of danger, we're Shepherds, guardians of this realm. It's our duty to face this looming threat, to kick darkness in the teeth. It's not just about quick fixes or personal gain. It's about answering a call that resonates deep within our souls. But remember, I can't make the decision for you to walk this dangerous path, to sacrifice your beloved Mech for a chance at victory. That choice is yours. We're united by more than just this mission. It's about our unity, our dedication. Together, we'll be the shining lights when the shadows creep closer.” 

Soleia paused.

“Stella? Leo?"

Stella responded in a breathless whisper, “We’re all going to pull through, Soleia. I know it. I’ll hold on for dear life with diamond hands.”

Leo concurred by simply mimicking Soleia’s resolve, “Forward.”

ZONE 5: The Stygian Void

The woWee's feeble glow fought against the engulfing darkness of the new zone. Thick, inky blackness shrouded the grotesque monstrosities lurking in the bottomless void. The absence of bioluminescent life, sensing the perils that lurked, heightened the foreboding.

Stella's gaze was fixed on the woWee's struggling mechanical limbs dissolving into the dark, relentless currents. She admitted, "Perhaps choosing a cardboard-framed woWee for our deep-sea expedition wasn't the best idea."

As if in response to her words, the pressure crushed the woWee's waist, tearing its legs from the torso. Half of their beloved woWee Mech drifted down, leaving a trail of floating cardboard. In the cockpit, water breached the damaged head, plunging them into panic.

Soleia's mind raced. She input codes on her bracer, her voice strained by the diminishing air. "Leo, prepare to receive my hang glider. I'm transferring it to your bracer's inventory," said Soleia. 

Leo gave a nod.

"Here's the plan: deploy all the features of your seafloor outerwear. Activate a small protective shield with limited propulsion and oxygen supply. Salvage lights from the woWee and attach them to the hang glider. With limited propulsion, we may glide across this ocean floor."

"That's the plan? That's... insane!" Stella exclaimed.

"Now you choose to embrace realism?" Soleia retorted.

Leo's voice interjected, "How do we get back to the surface without d–mezzing?"  Leo asked.

Stella's offered a glimmer of hope, a revelation born from her inherent talent. With the press of a bracer button, her vibrant floatie, an oversized balloon adorned with a playful winking teddy bear, unfurled "I can use my floatie," Stella proposed. "It can pinpoint our location and create a portal for us to quickly jump through."

Realization suddenly washed over Soleia. 

"Degens override traditional mechanisms by using floaties as relays! Those infuriating balloons can generate quick jump portals. I could've used a floatie... if I had known," Soleia lamented.

“Floaties are exclusive to Degens, our heart and soul. Smugglers can’t use floaties for fast travel," Stella explained.

As the woWee convulsed, its digital form disintegrating into code fragments, Leo prepared to execute Soleia's plan. He grabbed each of his companions and attempted to hold them close to him while looping his arms through the hang glider’s handholds. As he struggled to hold onto both of his companions while maintaining a grip on the hang glider, they began to slip from his grasp, as they all descended further into the murky darkness.

ZONE 6: The Abyssian Trench

It stretched endlessly, a fractalized symphony of cascading vectors, each tessellation revealing another descending kaleidoscope of virtual space.

Amidst the quickly dissolving remnants of the woWee, a strong signal alerted Soleia that they were nearing the Eye of Depths. Leo's heart pounded with a mix of resolve and fear as he realized the gravity of their predicament. The seafloor's crushing pressure bore down upon them, and Leo knew he could only provide breath and relief for one of his companions. The weight of that decision pressed heavily upon his conscience.

Stella swiftly kicked her way into Leo's arms, seeking shelter within the shielded bubble created by the seafloor outerwear. Caught off guard by her swift maneuver, Leo could only watch helplessly as he lost his grip on Soleia, who was rapidly sinking deeper into the swirling chasms.

Then, in a sudden act of selflessness, Stella detached her floatie and transferred it to Leo. "But Stella!" Leo protested, his voice filled with genuine concern. "Your floatie is a part of you!"

Stella met his gaze unwaveringly. "Find Soleia," she said, her eyes large and voice resolute. "Bring her back to the surface…and then return my god damn floatie!"
With those last words, Stella released her hold on Leo and descended, seemingly destined to d-mezz among the remnants of their dissolved woWee.

Fueled by an unwavering resolve, Leo propelled himself toward the ocean floor. Scanning the surrounding darkness, a mix of fear and determination accelerated his pounding heart. And there she was, plummeting further into the abyss. With a burst of energy, Leo sped toward Soleia, extending his arm to pull her into his embrace. Their closeness evoked a comforting synchronization of digital heartbeats, finding solace within the folds of his seafloor jacket.

Their outstretched arms tightly gripped the hang glider, providing stability amidst the tumultuous currents. As the Abyssian Trench unfolded before them, a sense of wonder and unease washed over Soleia. The pulsating rhythm of the unknown echoed through her core.
“Why do I feel panic?” she wondered. Her brain circuitry screamed some latent warning. As if to know more could unravel the very essence of existence itself.
Within this mystifying realm's perplexing folds and tessellations, the duo glimpsed the faint outline of what seemed to be a town—a glimmer of light coming from it.

Soleia's eyes widened as she realized what they had stumbled upon. "Hold on, change of plans. We need to investigate that light source."

They veered off course, gliding toward the mysterious illumination. They approached the rocky outcrop and discovered the ruins of what looked like a computer lab, long abandoned and covered in barnacles and glowing crystals. The crystals cast an iridescent glow amongst the rocky outcrops, their eerie luminescence throwing odd shapes against the oppressive darkness of the seafloor. She could feel an undeniable energy radiating from the crystals, an invisible force that pulsed with each hum. It was as if they were alive, reaching out to her with their alluring luminescence. She remembered the rumors she had heard in passing - tales of crystals that allegedly bestowed stat boosts. The tales were vague and unconfirmed, spoken in hushed tones by those who claimed to have braved the ocean's depths. But now, standing in front of these gleaming gems, Soleia found herself questioning the authenticity of these tales. Were they merely fabricated to bait unwary explorers into the lethal jaws of the abyss?

A sense of wrongness pervaded the area, an unsettling feeling that Soleia couldn't shake off.

Graffiti marred the lab's walls, and a sign once proudly displaying "The Paradigm Project" now hung askew off a decaying coral grove, vandalized and derelict.

"The Paradigm Pretense," she whispered. And below the sign, scrawled in desperate handwriting, were the words "must be stopped."

As Soleia and Leo delved deeper into the forsaken lab, a palpable sense of foreboding intensified, as oppressive as the crushing pressure of their surroundings. Then, from within the semi-darkness of the chamber, Soleia's gaze was drawn to a flickering monitor situated at the room's end. Cautiously, she approached the flickering monitor at the far end of the room, a lump forming in her throat.

An image materialized on the monitor, revealing a reflection of Soleia herself. The image was twisted and corrupted, her once-familiar features transposed against a glitching penrose triangle.

Soleia stumbled back in terror, knocking Leo off balance in the process. Unable to tear her eyes away from the screen, she tried to speak, but her words got caught in her throat. Leo, unable to comprehend the source of her distress, tried to offer comfort. But Soleia's voice finally found its way past the knot in her throat, her words shaky and filled with dread. "Leo, we have to get out of here! This...this place…I think it's a trap!"

Leo looked at Soleia with concern, not understanding the source of her terror, but trusting her instincts nonetheless. Without hesitation, he reached into his pocket and retrieved Stella's floatie, deploying it in a swift motion. 

"How?" Soleia questioned, her voice laced with disbelief.

Leo met Soleia's gaze, a profound realization dawning in his eyes, "I'm a Leftover, devoid of a Talent of my own, which awakens within me limitless potential. I can adapt, improvise, and utilize whatever resources come my way."

Soleia, still shaken by the disturbing revelation on the screen, gathered herself and agreed, "We need to leave this place and take whatever intel we have with us. If we remain here, this place will consume us. I’m certain."

Leo swiftly detached a large piece of hardware from the computer with the mysterious flickering monitor and carefully stored it in his Inventory. Then, with the assistance of Stella's floatie, focused his energy and generated a fast jump portal.

The portal shimmered into existence, a gateway to safety and respite from the treacherous depths of the Abyssian Trench. Without hesitation, the two Brokers swam through the portal, emerging on the other side with more questions than ever.