Days continued to pass in an almost natural manner, though the daily scenery and the imperfect replica of proper beds both reminded us we were not at home. Perhaps some day I might be able to replicate the highly advanced bedding technology of Earth with the Shelter spell, but today was not the day. Nor tomorrow, probably.
Today I once more faced off against my nemesis. The scarred face of Comhghall was presented to me, and while I certainly had complex feelings about his presence… my true nemesis was held in his hands. A cup full of grayish mud with a swirl of color. “Today is the last of it,” he said. “I would suggest pushing for an attempt at opening a Gate. But,” he cautioned, “I would not attempt to go through. You want to create several stable attempts before you go through, lest you be separated from your friends… or from yourself.”
Separated from myself? I doubt he meant in a spiritual or mental capacity. I hadn’t really thought about it, but a portal closing at the wrong time could certainly be troublesome for people.
“Do you think we can do it?” Midnight asked, tail flicking back and forth.
“Of course we can,” I promised him. “That’s what all this training is for.”
As much as I enjoyed improving my abilities, I would rather do so back home. We had to succeed. Though I tried to remind myself this was still practice.
We returned to the river, even if we weren’t intending to shoot any Firebolts. “Do you think we should do a warm up?” I asked Midnight. “Something smaller first, maybe.”
“Grease is fairly consistent,” he said. “And then… perhaps Shelter? That would be our closest to middle cost that is safe and wouldn’t require further experiments. Like Sending or Scrying.”
“Right,” I nodded. “I think that makes sense. And we’ll still have more than enough mana left. We could even cast a Gate ourselves… except for the mana fatigue thing. And the other factors making it difficult here. But numerically.”
That was enough stumbling over my words. Casting Grease was simple. Even without speaking, Midnight matched my pace of drawing mana. We only gathered a small amount, but we knew where it would be originating and could avoid getting a mess on someone. A mess that would magically disappear in a couple minutes, but was still annoying for a time. Grease worked flawlessly, as expected.
“Alright,” I said. “We’ll start Shelter on the count of three. Two and two-thirds mana for you, five and a third for me. One, two, three.”
I was a little less focused on the details of Shelter this time compared to simply getting the spell cast. I gathered mana at an even pace, with Midnight keeping to half my rate. The building was a little wonky, though that might have been because it was placed on uneven terrain without accounting for it. It was only a temporary structure regardless, so it would fade into nothing given time or damage.
“Okay,” I said. “Same for Gate. But we want to push ourselves near our limits.” I frowned. Would twenty mana be enough? Could we use more? It was one spell, and they didn’t normally allow infusing more mana. But the rules I had learned weren’t necessarily so solid as they had been laid down. “Something like… sixteen and eight?” My vision briefly flickered to the watching Comhghall, but he didn’t seem to have any reaction. “On three. The target is… Master Uvithar’s office. There was a portal there once, after all.”
When casting alone, I simply let mana flow unfettered. There was a natural reaction for when to stop according to the spell I desired. But Gate was beyond my abilities alone, so I couldn’t let it push to its natural limits or I would simply pass out.
Swirling colors gathered together in front of us as we cast the spell, a continuous process as an ellipse a bit wider than a doorway began to form a step in front of and between Midnight and I. Midnight and I both poured the last bits of mana into Gate and… the spell fell apart. It didn’t resolve into an opening or even hint at any of the things I had been expecting to see on the other side.
No. Why? It shouldn’t…
We’d done it perfectly, hadn’t we? I had felt only a bit of pressure from the attempt, but I thought we were doing well.
“… What happened?” Midnight asked.
“I don’t know,” I admitted. “… Comhghall?”
The old orc stepped closer. “It appears to have failed.”
“Obviously. I don’t… why?”
He reached out, but instead of punching me or throwing me to the ground he simply placed a hand on my shoulder. I grabbed it out of instinct, but he just squeezed my shoulder. “It looked to me like it went just fine. It just didn’t complete. Why do you think that could be? Besides inadequate spellcasting.”
“Well… uh… maybe the location is warded? But it wasn’t before.” I frowned, “Then again, I don’t know if I would leave my office like that if someone did put a portal in it.”
“Did it feel warded?” Comhghall asked. “Did it reject you?”
“No. I don’t think so. I had to kind of push through some resistance though. Was twenty-four mana not enough? We could definitely push a little bit more…”
“That may indeed be necessary,” Comhghall said. “But if you faced a gentle pressure resisting you, that is as it should be. This plane is not easily traversed. This fellow from Earth,” he said the english word with an odd accent, “Must be quite powerful to have sustained any connection. However, your connection to the place you intend to return to should mitigate that difficulty.”
“I don’t know what else it could be, then.”
“… Did he move his office?” Midnight asked.
“What?” I tilted my head. “You can’t really… I mean, we definitely didn’t have any modular buildings like that.”
“Maybe his desk was in the way?”
“I think the portal would end up nearby…?” I looked to Comhghall, who just smiled politely as we traded ideas. I had the feeling he should know the solution already. “It should only fail if the room is so changed as to be unrecognizable. Or gone.” I scrunched my lips, feeling my tusks slide against my skin. “I… need to contact Master Uvithar.”
Actually, I should have done so before trying to make a portal into his office. Just because I didn’t expect it to work didn’t make it a good excuse. It was a good thing that mana recovered so quickly here, or I would burn myself out in a few minutes here. As it was, we’d probably have to take a short break.
“Master Uvithar. I attempted to visit your tower through the same means I left, but failed to open the door. Did you change the locks?” Since he had reason to be secretive lately, I figured that should be vague enough for him to get the idea. So I just had to wait. My spell went out… and was slow about returning. Perhaps he had to think about a good reply. He had somewhere around ten minutes to concoct it. It could also take variable time to arrive, traveling between planes.
And then, my spell returned to me- but without a response. That was quite different from before, where it failed to reach the target- or the return message did. I frowned, trying to remember what that meant.
“Are you okay, Turlough?” Midnight asked.
“Not really,” I admitted. “So. The Sending returned- without a message. Either he is warded against things finding him or… he isn’t anywhere to be found.”
“Do you mean…?” Midnight leaned up against me to comfort me.
“He… shouldn’t be dead,” I said. “He is an intelligent man. I find it more likely he is simply concealed or… this plane might interfere.”
“It could,” Comhghall admitted. “But you have achieved communications before, have you not?”
“To Calculator, yes,” I nodded. “But there was a portal… I guess not anymore, however. And when those failed to return, it was more… familiar.”
“It usually feels different when someone is dead,” Comhghall added. “And given the situation, I would already lean towards your first explanation. Intentional obfuscation. Not from you, I imagine- but it is risky to leave any avenues open when doing so. They are weaknesses that can be exploited.”
“Okay, so… we can’t access his tower or contact him,” I frowned deeply.
“I think there is a simple solution here you are not considering,” Comhghall said.
“What is it?”
“Regardless of the situation with the tower, the portal you considered is long gone. Any connection it would facilitate is likely faded. So I would suggest the polite form of showing up at someone’s doorstep. Which is to say, you should really aim for the doorstep instead of inside someone’s room.”
“… we can just make a portal outside on the road,” I said. “Or… off to the side? In case anyone is walking along.”
“Anywhere you are familiar with.”
Familiarity was important. I knew the tower well. Uvithar’s office, the libraries, and my room especially. But I also spent time outside. Gating into Mossley might not be a good idea, but there were fields around the city I knew quite well.
I estimated my remaining mana. “Alright Midnight, I think we can make one more attempt. We don’t want to wait too long or the horrible goop will fade away with marginal benefits. This time, a slightly different target. Outside in a field. And… we should aim for slightly more mana. One point for me, a half for you, bringing us to seventeen and eight and a half.” Haves were much easier than thirds, though in truth only one of the two of us had to be accurate with fractional points of mana. We just had to match our proportions intentionally beyond that.
The process was the same as before, forming the beginnings of a portal, or at least the shape of it. The spell ate mana as quickly as we could give it, and it only took a few seconds to gather the requisite amount. I felt the same sort of resistance, but it only took one solid push to get through. And then I was looking not at the river and a lingering Shelter spell, but at a familiar field.
“That’s-” I began to exclaim. And then the spell snapped shut, leaving no trace of its presence but the lingering aura of mana. “… It worked,” I grinned. “But… I couldn’t call that a stable Gate by any means.”
“But you have done it now,” Comhghall said. “Proving that it is possible. And so you merely need to capture that feeling for later. Hold onto it. And with a bit of practice and a steady flow of mana you will succeed once more.”
“I just remembered. We used mana crystals to augment the first time, including finding a recently closed portal…”
“A risk,” Comhghall shook his head. “Should you find that you cannot sustain one long enough to step through, it may be worth the burden to do it again. But without proper facilities, your mana crystals may not be a boon to stability.”
“Okay,” I said. Then I turned to Midnight, who was brimming with happiness. “We did it, buddy!”
“A celebration is called for. However, I would prefer to continue our practice. By this evening, we should be able to recover enough mana to do this several more times at least. I would like to show our companions something more… enduring?”
“Good idea,” I nodded. “And… I imagine we’ll have a bit of trouble without the rainbow sludge. So a few practice rounds will do us good.”
Because Midnight and I recovered mana at the same rate, he would reach full if we continued as we were. Though it was unlikely to come up in practical circumstances, whenever he reached that point we performed smaller spells with him taking the lead- and the greater portion of mana expended. After all, our combined casting could be improved with more than just Gate. And using large chunks of mana like that up more than hourly was rather straining, regardless of how much mana we actually recovered.
But we had good news. We might get to go home, and it hadn’t even been two months since we came to this plane.