The snap and fizzle of Donathan’s portal echoed in the dark halls of the location where we had all been teleported. I was the first to step through, followed by Evanor, Appoleon, and the rest of our group. Donathan himself was last. As the portal closed, he smiled at us and gestured with his arms out, welcoming us to this strange place.
“The power reading is close,” he said proudly as our group stepped through. “It took a great deal of work to get you in here without causing a million alarms to go off, but we’re in. The easy part is over, now it’s time for the hard part. At the center of this complex is a room. In that room, the Vinrul have created a portal that works like a drill. It’s currently punching through reality and into the aether itself. We fear they’re going to push it even farther, past the aether and into the reality of the Yunai. We need that portal closed.”
“Any tips?” I asked.
Evanor was checking her wand. “You and I will channel magical energy to stabilize it on this side, as much as we can anyway. Once we’ve got something in place, we force it shut. Everyone else in the group has one job… fight them off long enough for us to seal the portal.”
“Easy,” I said.
“Easy,” she repeated.
We moved down the dark pathways, but there was no one to be found. According to Donathan, most of the Vinrul had been taken outside of the facility to guard it from any encroaching enemy forces. They had not expected us to bypass that entirely. They obviously trusted their magical deflection spells too much.
Still, our path was without issue. We arrived in a large chamber that had been hastily carved out of ice, perhaps with fire and patience. Inside the largest chamber, we found what we had been sent to resolve.
I nearly gasped when I saw it.
The average portal is about seven or eight feet tall. In most cases, it is no larger than an average doorway. The portal we had found could easily eat a small home. It was far larger than anything I had ever seen.
“We are going to close that?” Appoleon asked.
“That’s right,” Evanor said.
“We have guards,” one of the others in our party said, pointing toward the base of the rift. I think his name was Kekel. He was a rogue; sneaky and unpredictable. He had been one of the first volunteers, and I was glad to have him… if not a little concerned about his methods.
That’s a lot of guards,” another man, named Thomas, added.
“You guys know the plan,” I emphasized. “We’re not here to win a war. You just need to keep the fighting away from Evanor and I so that we can close the portal.”
The plan was simple enough. I was going to put an energy shield around the portal, which Evanor and I would feed with aether. As the rift fed on the shield, it would stabilize, and then Evanor and I would force the shield to close around the rift. It would slowly shrink down in response. It would be like using a zipper to close it up.
“So Kekel and Thomas are going to stir up chaos, and I’m just healing?” Appoleon asked.
“The energy that it’s going to take for Evanor and I to pull this off is immense. You’re going to have to fuel us with some of that luminary-powered energy.”
“Okay,” Appoleon said. “I can do that.”
“Excellent. Everyone get into positions. Let’s make this happen.”
We went to work, moving into the room that was literally being devoured by the rift that had been opened. As chunks of the floor and ceiling were pulled into the vortex, I took up a position where I could easily concentrate on the large rift. Just as I started to focus my power on the energy shield though, a large chunk of debris broke free from the wall nearby and came right at me.
It was about to take me out when Appoleon’s own protective shield surrounded me in glowing light. I glanced at the paladin, who smiled back. With no time to waste, I turned all my attention to the enery shield. I placed it around the rift, and I immediately felt a great pull from the portal as it tried to vacuum out the pressure. With nothing more to pull on inside the shield, the rift started to shrink in size, but as it did so, the pressure within the shield started to intensify. I fought that pressure with all of my might as the rift grew smaller and smaller inside it’s containment. I could feel my own energy being stripped from me like a bathtub would be drained of water.
“It’s working, Sionis!” Appoleon shouted in the distance. “You’re doing great!”
Then, as if the entire thing had waited for Appoleon to give some kind of encouragement, I heard a roar that echoed all throughout the chamber. A moment later, Kekel and Thomas rushed into the half destroyed area where I was trying to concentrate. I did my best to ignore them, but when a massive dragon burst through one of the ice walls I knew we were in for some trouble.
The beast took a swing at Kekel, but the man dodged without harm. The two fighters looked worn from the fighting they’d handled already. A dragon was a game changer. If we couldn’t get a handle on the situation, there was no way Evanor and I would be able to contain the rift, and honestly… if our shield collapsed, the resulting energy surge might cause the rift to wipe us all out anyway.
“Sionis, hurry up!” Kekel shouted as he rushed for some cover. “We can’t fight this thing long!”
“Appoleon, can you do something?” I asked. “Maybe contain it somehow?”
“Not really,” Appoleon replied. “I’m trying to keep you on two feet right now!”
The dragon must have heard us, because it started coming at Appoleon like a freight train. He released his magical shield from me so that he could protect himself. When he did that, I felt an amazing pressure fall over me. I felt like I was getting pulled into the vortex. It was crippling, and it pushed me to my knees as I tried to maintain my own shield around the vortex. I looked to Evanor and saw she was experiencing the same struggle.
We were so close. The portal was nearly closed.
Appoleon dodged a few swipes, but when Kekel and Thomas jumped in to try and divert the beast off the paladin it had little effect. The creature slashed and attacked with a wild frenzy that I had never seen before.
I saw Kekel take a blow, sending the fighter at least thirty feet through the air. I didn’t have time to assess how bad he got hit before Thomas was slammed by the dragon’s tail. He hit the wall hard enough I heard a sickening crunch. Appoleon stood his ground, ready to fight alone, but then the dragon did something I did not expect.
It turned to look at me.
“Oh no,” I said. “No!”
It started a mad dash toward me. I knew I couldn’t take down the shield. I had to stand here and let this happen. I was going to die, right here, less than two weeks into my master plan to conquer time and space, I was about to be eaten by a savage dragon.
Then, I heard Evanor’s voice with an intensity I have never known.
“Appoleon. Kill it!”
I looked to my old friend. His face fell at her words. I saw him lift his mace, the crackling power of the luminary magic erupted from the ground, running up his armor and blasting out until it collided with the dragon. The crazed creature didn’t see the attack coming, and as it opened its jaws to destroy me, the blow slammed the creature so hard that it was instantly halted, pinned to the ground, and forced to cry out in agony as searing beams of pure Light burned through its flesh.
Then, there was silence.
Appoleon stood next to the creature, and he looked utterly defeated.
I would have said something… anything… but the truth of the matter was that the rift was about to crush me like his spell had just crushed that dragon. I spun around, throwing all of my might into the last push, and the rift bucked against us only a few more times before it successfully snapped shut.
The portal collapsed, and I fell to my knees.
I felt Appoleon’s large hand grip my shoulder. “Are you okay?” he asked.
“I think so,” I replied. “Assuming we can escape.”
The silence in the room gave way to the rising sound of aggression. The Vinrul were apprised of our actions and an entire army of soldiers would be arriving very soon. I saw Kekel emerge from the darkness. He looked bloodied, but he was walking of his own accord. I looked in the direction of Thomas, but Kekel shook his head.
“Okay everyone,” Evanor said. “Now we escape.”
She pulled out a small stone, with a familiar rune carving, and smiled.
“A memory crystal?” I asked, shocked to see such a powerful relic. There were only a handful of them left across Azirin. They could teleport someone from one location to a location where the crystal was attuned to a partner crystal. They superseded any magic we understood, and we’d never been able to create them ourselves. It was old magic, and I was incredibly thankful to see it now.
“It’ll take us directly to Amber Ridge. Grab hold of me!”
“Whatever you say,” Kekel chimed in, grabbing her hand.
We all took hands, she squeezed the magical stone, and we were instantly standing in the main floor of the Udirian stronghold at Amber Ridge. We let out a collective sigh of relief, and we were then approached by others who could tend to our wounds with spells and bandages.
As I was tended to, I saw Appoleon sitting with a blank stare on his face. I felt like I had betrayed him that day. He had come on the condition that he would not have to fight, and in the end, we had forced him to kill a dragon. The reward would grant me access to Udiria, but it might have cost me a dear friend.