Lyneth looked out across Haven. Capital of the Havenburg empire, the city was a natural place for her to create a residence that was luxurious, yet anonymous. One of her favourite human identities maintained this small manor in the busy merchant quarter, where comings and goings were common and unremarkable, and business could keep someone away for months at a time without anyone even noticing.
Her ample funds retained a small retinue of servants, none of whom were aware that their mistress was anything more than a successful merchant.
As Lyneth passed through the secret door in her private chambers into the portal room, she assumed the form and features of the Eladrin arcanist known as “Isandarilla”. The Isandarilla identity served her well when Lyneth travelled to Mithrendain. The fabled Autumn City, like much of the Feywild, made a habit of being difficult to locate. Only those who called it home and the few who had been shown its portals could travel there easily.
Lyneth was one of those few.
The room itself was small, little more than three yards across. Secrecy was it’s protection. No one else knew the secret of passing through its door. No one else knew the sigil sequence that described and defined the portal at its center. Concentric circles etched into the marble by acids and then inlaid with silver outlined the portal. Vyranic sigils carved from whole jade were arrayed carefully and evenly in the space between the two circles. She’d worked for days creating this circle. It was one of her favourites. It suited the opulence of this particular residence, and even though no one else ever saw it, Lyneth always had an eye for such details.
She reached for the silver bowl resting in its sculpted oaken stand that stood to one side of the door. With practiced movements, she sprinkled small amounts of the glittering dust it held in short strokes, drawing the sigils for the main Mithrendain portal in the center of the circle. As a youth she had learned the ritual to jaunt across the world, from circle to circle. She had spent months in dusty libraries, committing each of the Vyranic runes to memory. It wasn’t really a language. No one spoke or wrote in Vyranic. It had one purpose – to describe a location uniquely and completely in as few symbols as possible. Some said that it was a derivation of a supernal or primordial language from the beginning of time. If one were to master the Naming of people and things as well as places, one might be able to control more than getting from place to place. Such fools-errands held little to entice Lyneth.
Not long after learning the Vyranic glyphs, she had unlocked the Crossings – places where her home, the Feywild, was closer to the world, and allowed travel to their parallel in the Feywild and back.
It was only recently, however, that she had mastered the greater magics which let her travel from any circle to any other, across even the Astral Sea.
It was just such a ritual she employed now, to travel from Haven to Mithrendain in the blink of an eye.
She stood in the very center, took the dust and filled in the the miniscule gap at the bottom of the circle – the final stroke that completed the ritual and would thrust her through the ether and pierce the veil of Mithrendain.
So it was with great surprise that Lyneth found herself surrounded, not by the graceful architecture of the Eladrin, but by functional, but rather crude human fortifications.
Her first thought was “This cannot happen”.
Her second was “How did that happen?”
Her third was “Those guards wear Jasen’s colours.”
“Where is your pass-stone?” one of the guards asked.
Duke Jasen, in a bid to balance security and convenience, had handed out pass-stones to his companions. Those who travelled to Reikenwold, even Jasen himself, were to show these pass-stones to his guards in order to exit the portal room just outside the Keep’s courtyard.
“Well, that’s the thing, isn’t it. I seem to have left mine at my last stop.” The guardsmen’s brows furrowed, Till now, no one had ever arrived without a pass-stone. The other guard was still staring out across the town. Lyneth could see the night sky light up with flames.
“Look, I’m here to help. I came at a moments notice, because Jasen asked me to.” Lyneth had been lying all her life. Her words simply dripped with sincerity. The guard was torn between his orders, and the obvious threat to his town.
“You know. " she continued. “If Jasen asked me to help out, then I’m probably out of your league. right? And if the Duke needs help, and I’m not here to help him, then you’d both probably be dead.. yes?”
As the two guards digested that bit of logic, Lyneth brushed past them.
“Where is he? "
“The Church, maam”
“Thanks. Oh, and keep up the good work.” she smiled, sprouted faery wings and flew off, leaving the guardsmen staring with mouths open.
Baern had been to the town square. It was a shambles, of course, but the Hauptmann had the populace in some sort of order, and they worked hard to put out the flames. Baern helped them out, summoning disembodied hands to carry water, until he’d discovered that the Duke and retinue had headed off to the Raven Church. Then he rushed off through the streets. If Grimnar was anywhere, he’d be at the center of the chaos.
When he had come upon the imposing edifice of the Church to the Raven Queen, he was surprised to see a dwarven figure at the rear of a party entering the side-door towards the cloisters. On his back, the figure wore a shield bearing the Warders Seal. Could Morackhold have sent someone after Grimnar after all? Could they have changed their minds?
Lyneth landed beside him, assuming her customary half-elven face, the one most familiar to her companions. Baern looked at her, remembering their days together before he had returned to Morackhold, and she had moved on. She had grown up, alright. Part of him was startled to see Lyneth, but another part of him had become suddenly numb. A disturbing confluence of events had brought them together again. Grimnar may have started more than the breaking of the Seals.
Tregan was not as surprised to see the Academician as Baern was to see him. He had been searching for Baern since leaving Morackhold. He grunted as the wizard crossed the cloistered courtyard to meet the group at the doorway.
“You!” Baern started. “Did they.. ?”
“No. It’s just me.” Tregan cut him off, still looking down the hall.
Tregan turned to the librarian, and met his questing gaze for a very brief moment. A moment that passed as he turned his eyes downward before looking back down the hall.
“Just me.” he said quietly.
The others were in the midst of a quick consultation, discussing their options. Baern fell in quietly with them, studying the group. There were some he knew here. Duke Jasen and Martin of course. Baern remembered when Jasen rode into Hallestein one day and declared to the world that the little valley was to house his friends church, and the town around it. And the Shadar-Kai woman could only be Anika. He’d devoured her treatise on portal creation. The Goliath and his horse-sized mutt – they were undoubtedly Cur and Mongrel, the tails of whom marched across the land. The Dragonborn was unknown to him, but obviously he and one of the shifters were members of the church, by their garb. The other shifters face turned to him.
“Baern, you’re alive!” Klaw greeted him warmly, pulling the taciturn dwarf into a hug.
Lyneth and Anika had begun discussing something to do with portal magic, some of which was even beyond him. He made a mental note to corner his former protege. Hiding in his library all these years had left him in the cold in more ways than one.
“We must secure the Shard. " Martin said. “That’s our highest priority.”
“This could be yet another distraction, " Jasen began, concern for his citizenry written all over his face.
“But to what end?” the Chosen replied. “No offense, old friend, but the Shard is the reason we built this town. What other reason could there be to summon creatures from the very ends of the Astral Sea to invade Reikenwold if not the Shard?”
“You’re right, Martin. "
“We’ll save the town, Jasen. But the Shard comes first.”
The Duke nodded, grimly.
Cur stood to his feet.
“Well, I’ve got my breath back.” he said, walking down the hall.
“You shall not pass” they intoned in chorus.
“What has happened to them?” Baern asked Klaw.
“I do not know, but the congregation outside the church droned the same thing, and their eyes were dead like these. "
“My brothers !” the dragonborn cried in anguish, “What has become of you?”
“You shall not pass!”
“Tarjak, it is I, Belisar. Do you not know me?”.
“You shall not pass.” Tarjak raised his Staff, and the other four raised their swords; wickedly curved weapons known as the Talons of the Raven, and mirrors to those borne by Belisar and the other Shifter.
The church shuddered around them, and shadows fled, leaving their posts beside flicking lights to dance their way down the stairs towards the Shard.
Five of the Circle of Seven attacked ..
… and the walls shook once more.
It was over quickly, for few could stand before Martin in his own church. Martin uttered a few choice prayers to the Raven Queen, ensuring that they would not wake for some time, in case whatever had twisted their minds could linger, and continued down the stairs beneath the trap-door, into the belly of the Church, the ground that sheltered the Shard of the Citadel.
The ground tremored a third and final time.
Martin flung open the door to the vault where he had sequestered the Shard of the Citadel at the Raven Queen’s behest all those years ago.
The light here was suffuse, as if the shadows themselves were gone, and only the light remained. Martins eyes leapt immediately across the chamber, seeking out the familiar shape of the Shard. Taller than Cur, of dark ice and midnight obsidian, it would have been unmistakable. At first, he thought it might have been taken, somehow. But then he made out the two halves of it. Sundered straight down the center, it lay in twain.
He had failed!
A great rage engulfed him, and Martin waded into the chamber.
Next to the broken relic, he made out a glowing circle of runes, and a dwarven figure bent down and slung over his shoulder the unmoving form of an apparently female humanoid. A splash of deep red hair concealed her features as she hung there, limply.
“Grimnar!” two dwarven voices shouted in unison from behind him.
The other dwarf turned in surprise, and Martin saw that he carried a large rod of iron in one hand, banded with silver on its base, and a silver head flanged like a mace. Several flattened iron rings braced his forearm, and he wore some kind of heavy chain-and-plate armor. With his other hand, he drew forth a small crystal sphere in which a sliver of dark metal hung suspended. The sliver gamboled wildly for a moment as Grimnar took two tentative steps to his left and then settled into a vertical position.
“I’m afraid I have places to be, friends” he called over his shoulder.
He waved dismissively in their direction.
The vault lit up, and shadows with wings of flame leapt to life around the chamber. In the center, a great beast crossed between bear and ape but thrice the size appeared, shedding a cloud of ichor that dripped onto the granite, boring holes into the stone.
The battle seemed to last hours, but it was over barely moments after Grimnar escaped through the portal, which closed behind.
Martin stood before the broken relic, shaking his head. A girl-shaped cavity was clearly visible bisected by the crack that halved the Shard.
“Did you know about her?” Jasen asked. “Who she was?”
“You know all that I know.” Martin answered him. “She could be an avatar of the Raven Queen herself.” the cleric closed his eyes. “And now this Grimnar person has her. What that means, I can’t say.”
“But it can’t be good.” Jasen said.
“No. It can’t be good.”
Anika knelt in the place Grimnar opened the portal. A flat iron ring over ten feet across lay there, covered in rust. To her keen eye, Anika could see the faint outline of symbols around the circumference.
“Lyneth, do you see what I see?” she beckoned the “half-elf” over. Anika knew Lyneth was a Changeling, but she had never seen her true form. In her minds eye, she always saw her as the Half-elf she’d first met, and whose face she wore now.
“Those aren’t in any language with which I’m familiar.”
“Nor I. "
“If they were Vyranic Runes, we would have ourselves a portal location.” Lyneth suggested.
“And Grimnar would have himself a surprise.”
“My thoughts exactly.”
“But they’re not.” Anika frowned. She ran her fingers over them, committing them to her prodigious memory even as they faded from sight. She’d memorized entire texts of arcane symbols before. A few glyphs would pose little problem.
“This ring, " she continued, “It had to be pre-primed. It’s unlikely that he had been down here long enough to craft an entire portal circle.” Lyneth fancied she knew much of portal magic, but Anika had made it her life’s work.
“If I’m right, this ring was created with one purpose -to act as a portal to the specific place inscribed on it.”
“But the runes?”
“I know. But it’s the only thing that makes sense.”
“Except that it doesn’t make any sense at all,” Lyneth scowled. “That would imply that there’s another portal language. A language of which you’ve never heard!”
“That does seem unlikely, " Anika screwed her brows together in concentration.
“What if they use Vyranic when crafting the ring? Then, when it’s activated, only these strange sigils can be seen? Maybe it’s some sort of code?”
“No. That cannot be it.. The portal need to know where it is as well as where it’s going. It’s no coincidence that Vyranic is used exclusively for portal magic. Vyranic Runes themselves have power, otherwise any old script might do as well. "
“Which leads us back to the beginning.”
“I’m afraid so.