Hello everybody! It's your favorite dwarven head in a jar, Nikola Chapek, back with another edition of "Answers to questions you've never asked!" In today's episode, we'll be taking a look at the portal network that connects the Federated Nations.
Most of you arrived at this Academy by way of a magical portal. You can't have missed it--it was a giant circle of black metal and stone that created a field of swirling colors into which you walked. Portal exits are scattered throughout the land This is the secret sauce, the source of the Adventurer's Guild's wealth and power. It also can be the weakness of the Federated Nations. Unless you're on Guild business, access to these portals is restricted and costs huge amounts.
So how do they work? Who built them? Is it true that if two people enter at the same time they may end up getting...mixed together?
The common (among scholars, anyway) belief about the portals is that they were built by the ancient Aelvar at the height of their empire during the Second Age, about 6000 years ago. This doesn't seem to match the facts, though. As I explain below, the portals operate by manipulating the shadow border and artificially generating color pools, a feat not possible by wizardry as we know it. The style of construction also doesn't match what little remains of that empire (being all dark metal and stone rather than the shiny crystal and bright colors of aelvar manufacture), nor are the symbols used found among the gwerin alphabet.
So it's not aelvar construction. Then who created the portals? I believe the Cysgoroesi did. Yes, that's right. The shadow elves, the Dark Watchers. The same ones who never get involved. We know that they're masters of Shadow, after all. Having spent 200 years with nothing better to do than to review the library, I found references to Shadesteel (a material used by the Cysgoroesi to build constructs, with very similar properties to gate portals), to similar arcane signatures when Cysgor were seen transiting between planes, and at last, a fragment of an account supposedly dating back to the Second Age. It told of a bargain between "Aelves of Light and Aelves of shadow," in which the one gained "footholds in every place and plane" and the other gained "a claim on the souls of heroes past and future."
This raises a concern about the security of the portal network. I'll discuss that much more in detail below, in the Security section of this article.
Operating Principles and Limitations
The portal network operates by artificially generating color pools targeted to specific beacons. Based on "Through Swirling Shadows: a memoir of a plane-hopping wizard" by Architecturas in the late Third Age, the portal locations are discernable as beacons in the Shadow Border. He claims to have seen pairs of color pools , spaced mere yards apart, spin up, figures transit between them, and then vanish. Since space and time are distorted in Shadow and color pools allow access between specific locations on the various planes, this makes sense.
How do they do this? Not with any mortal wizardry. The anima signature of portal transit is completely unlike that of "normal" teleportation or planar travel spells. Not only that, it is tremendously more efficient than standard methods. A powerful wizard might be able to teleport a small party once or twice a day, at the cost of a long ritual or a risky spell. Even the most efficient (teleport circle) only stays open for a few moments. The portals function repeatedly, with very little draw on the ambient anima and can stay open for up to 38 minutes (longer if an outside source of energy is available). What's more, the activation of the portals can be accomplished by any living being capable of pressing the appropriate runes.
The portal network requires certain key elements to function: A destination code, a portal entrance, a calibrated Dimensional Hopping Director (DHD), and a keystone crystal. Destination codes are 7 symbols, each one of which is found on the portal entrance. Order is critical and no symbol can be repeated within the same gate destination code. These codes also serve as valid teleport circle destinations--in effect the portals form permanent teleport circle locations as a side-effect of their duties as shadow beacons. A traveler enters the destination code for the portal he wishes to visit into the DHD. This device takes the form of a short cylindrical pillar with an angled top surface. Carved into the top surface in concentric rings are the same gate symbols as appear on the gate itself. In the center is a faceted red crystal the size of a fist. When a being touches a symbol, it starts to glow and stays glowing until all 7 are input and the central crystal is pressed. If a valid gate code was input, the connection is made and the portal forms.
Each portal entrance is approximately 22 feet in diameter. When activated, a pulse of silvery energy forms (like the splash formed by a rock in a pond) on the active side, reaching out five or ten feet. The destination is not visible through the portal--instead a shimmering curtain of silvery energy covers the portal. Stepping through that portal lands you at your destination. Any harmful momentum you were carrying is stripped--projectiles launched across the curtain fall harmlessly on the other side. While this transit seems instantaneous, really the traveler is stepping between color pools and being projected through the Shadow Border for a few yards. This seems to happen with the traveler in a state of stasis--travelers do not remember this part. The gates will stay open for 38 minutes at most, and automatically disengage if no matter passes through them successfully within 30 seconds of activation, or if more than 1 minute goes by without matter transmission after the first transit. They can also be disabled by pressing the central crystal while active.
The keystone crystal is the heart of the whole process. It is the part that creates the beacon, communicates with other gates, draws in anima and shapes the color pools in Shadow, maintains the security of the gate tunnel, and prevents accidents in and around the gate. It incorporates a slew of safety features. For example, attempting to establish a connection with a gate that is already open will fail and the gate will chime three times. All attempts to damage a gate with a functioning keystone crystal have failed. Not even a battalion of powerful wizards blasting it with all the spells at their disposal (including pulling meteors down on it) have even left a mark on the surface. Trust me. We tried that. Without the crystal in place, the gates are just as vulnerable as any other construction of similar materials. It's as if the gate exists in a state between worlds, partially in the Mortal plane and partially in Shadow. In addition, travelers or objects moving at dangerous speeds are slowed down to safe ones when they reach the gate opening, preventing harmful collisions or injury while in transit. Gates without crystals can be moved normally, although they're very heavy and bulky. Gates with installed crystals cannot be moved, even if a giant hits it with a club. If a gate is moved more than a mile or so, the DHD attached will need re-calibration, a process of ritual that requires a few days from a team of mage technicians. Crystals can be transplanted between DHDs without incident--the gate code is fixed by the gate itself, not the crystal.
Because the crystals create beacons, anyone with proper knowledge and access to a gate can "ping" any other beacon and determine its operating status. This does not tell the user the gate code for the gate, merely whether it is functional or not. With access to multiple gates, one can triangulate the approximate location of the other gates as well. I have developed a proprietary method of monitoring gate traffic as well--I can't tell what moves through, but I can tell which gates are active and how frequently.
The crystals also form the security system for the gate network. There are symbol sequences that put the DHD and crystal into various states. These might be divided into gate access protocols and system readiness states. It is possible to set a gate into Incoming only, open mode even without a keystone, but such incoming connections require more power and can only stay open for 19 minutes instead of 38.
Gate Access Protocols determine who is authorized to make connection requests from a DHD. These range from totally open, where anyone physically capable of touching the DHD controls can activate the gate, to fully restricted where only specific individuals, as determined by soul aura, can activate the gate or can request an incoming connection. Most often, gates are put in password-protected mode--the user must input a specific sequence (determined at mode selection) to unlock the gate before outgoing connections can be made. A password can be set for establishing an incoming connection as well--this can be identified because after entering the gate code, an ascending sequence of 4 notes will sound at the outgoing gate. The user must then enter the desired password in order for the connection to be established. Fully open is the default state for a newly-initialized gate.
System Readiness States determine what kinds of connections can be made.
- Disabled: This state disallows all incoming and outgoing connection requests. A harsh buzzing noise will sound if you attempt to activate a disabled gate without first inputting the re-initialization sequence.
- Incoming only: This state only allows incoming connections. Attempts to initialize an outgoing connection will fail with the same harsh buzzing noise, this time in a descending sequence.
- Outgoing only: This state only allows outgoing connections. Attempts to initialize an incoming connection will fail with the same harsh buzzing noise as for a failed incoming connection.
- Open: This state allows both directions of connections. This is the default state for a new gate.
As a note, none of these restrictions apply to the use of the portal as a destination for a teleport circle, teleport, or planeshift spell. This means that physical security must be maintained as well, even if the access protocols are locked down or the gate itself is disabled. Same goes for cysgoroesi transit methods. A cysgor connection can be identified because the portal that forms is black rather than silver.
Currently, the portals controlled by the Adventurer's Guild are mostly open to merchants. Merchants must be vetted (including under truth spell) and must pay 5,000 FNC gold coins, agree to participate in the adventurer support network, and pay an ongoing tithe (on a sliding scale based on profitability) on all goods and people transmitted through the gate. Generally, merchants sub-contract with vetted couriers who maintain gate access, paying the tithe and an additional fee to that courier for safe transit.
Comprehensive Enumeration of Portal Exits
- Towers of the Sun, Moon, Earth, and Stars, Society for the Preservation of Antiquities, Western Noefra. Restricted access.
- Fort Hope, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Home of the Federated Nations Council and the Adventurer's Guild headquarters. Restricted access.
- Hound's Rest, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Serves Kaelthia and the southern Council Lands. Merchant access allowed.
- Ar Salem Dolem, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Serves the northern and central districts of the Stone Throne. Merchants must get pre-approved visas through the FNC.
- Kel'al'ar, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Serves the southern district of the Stone Throne. Merchant access allowed with prior notice. Warning: this area is politically unstable.
- Godsfall, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Beach-head for the Godsfall Alliance. Military access only.
- Lyodanoi, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Exit-only portal site for the Dynasty. No keystone. Merchant access allowed.
- Byss, Adventurer's Guild, Western Noefra. Exit-only portal site for Byssia. No keystone. Merchant access allowed.
- Hammerhead--Center, ????, Noefra. Sigil sequence known and exit responds to pings but incoming connections refused. No activity.
- Hammerhead--Outskirts, ????, Noefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Exit responds to pings but appears to only accept incoming connection requests. No activity.
- ????, ????, Eastern Noefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Exit responds to pings. Semi-regular activity.
- Tal Elamor, ????, Eastern Noefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Location known from historical records, but gate is does not respond to pings. No activity.
- Huihuang, ????, Eastern Noefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Exit responds to pings. Location corresponds to the capital of the Eastern Empire before the Cataclysm. Semi-regular activity.
- ????, ????, Soefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Location efforts have placed it in the northern region of this continent. No significant activity.
- ????, ????, Soefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Location efforts have placed it in the south-eastern region of this continent. Significant activity detected.
- ????, ????, Soefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Location efforts have placed it in the south-central region of this continent. Significant activity detected.
- ????, ????, Soefra. Sigil sequence unknown. Location efforts have placed it in the south-western region of this continent. Significant activity detected.