o you know how to make this portal thing work?” Toering asked Dorval.
“Zendakar told us how to operate the Circle,” Zady told the pair of warriors. “We put the part of the coral that looks like a small branch into the part of the metal conch shell that looks like the shell opening.”
Toering looked at her appreciatively. Dorval’s look was more of apprehension. Before either man could speak, she continued.
“Or maybe it was the round end of the shell to the round part of the coral? Oh, I remember now, we’re supposed to touch them together, center to center. Was it any of those?” Looking up at the soldier and the paladin, Zady changed the subject.
“Oh, just look at the amazing colors on the waterfall!” Zady made a small inhalation of delight, which gave Dorval the opening he needed.
“Actually, you’re right,” Dorval nodded. “It is any of those.” He went on to explain. “Zendakar said that, because this is a master key,” he pointed to the metal conch shell shape in Toering’s right hand, “all we need to do is touch it to another key and the portal will work.”
“How does it know where we want to go?” asked Toering.
“I remember that part!” Zady said, bouncing up and down. Well, she was hovering in air, so she wasn’t really bouncing off anything, just jittering up and down; but it looked like bouncing.
“We have to name the portal we want to go to, make sure we’re all touching the person holding the master key, and it works. Like magic!” Zady noted Toering’s raised eyebrows, and continued to explain.
“You,” she pointed at Toering’s nose. Then his eyes, then his mouth, then his eyes . . . because she was still bouncing in air. “You have to tell it where to take us, and we have to be touching you when you say the word.” She wasn’t done speaking.
“I wonder what would happen if we weren’t touching you? Or if we all named a different place?”
Toering took advantage of her pause to say something. “Good questions,” he admitted, “but this is not the time for experiments. I’ll be the one to speak.” He gave Zady a hard stare. “The only one to speak. And you two will be touching me first. But I don’t know the name of the portal in Fierro. Will it work if I just say Fierro?”
“I bet it would,” Zady offered. “After all, the first time people used these, they probably didn’t know the names of other portals. Maybe the portals didn’t even have names then.”
“I agree with Toering,” Dorval said. “I’ll touch him, then you,” he told Zady “After we’re touching him he will touch the two keys together, and name our destination.” He looked at Toering’s hands, to make sure the keys weren’t touching.
“And I know the name of the portal in Fierro. It used to be a place of worship of the Old Gods, and we covered the names of those shrines in Monday School. All of the portals used to be shrines. The one in Fierro is called the Ring of Eld.”
“Eld is an eld word for old,” Zady chuckled. I don’t know why they used to say eld. Actually, I don’t know why we say old, either.” Continuing on, the pixie switched from language to portals in mid-bounce.
“The Ring of Eld, the Cascade Circle . . . I wonder if all of the portals that used to be shrines in the time of eld, are round? Or have the names of round things?”
Dorval spoke up quickly when she took a breath. “I’m touching Toering now,” he laid a hand on Toering’s shoulder. “Now you land on his other shoulder,” he directed Zady Shockingly, she complied. Even more surprising, she did so quietly.
“Now touch the keys together, Toering, and name the portal in Fierro.” Toering looked askance at Dorval and shrugged.
“I can see that you are used to being in command.” He gave Dorval a friendly smile. Then he touched the bit of coral to the metal conch shell. Then he gave each of them a quizzical look, in turn.
“Ring of Eld,” Toering stated in a sonorous tone.
Zady turned her head to take one last look at the Cascade Circle waterfall before the portal transported them to Fierro, a land of hard stone and volcanoes rather than lush greenery and waterfalls. She gasped in delight.
The array of dazzling colors reflected from the spray of the fall swelled to enormous proportions and rushed at her, enveloping the trio in a sparkling shower. The small, round, flat stones surrounding the Circle became a ring of giant dots, tilted sideways. Even though the stone disks were now vertical, water continued to cascade around them, drenching the group in a rainbow-hued, breathable medium.
Dorval watched as the liquid air stretched in the direction of Fierro. Amongst the floating stone disks and the sparkling water, at the far end of the tunnel, he saw Mt. Ferra. If it was erupting, the lava was stranger than any he had seen before. A brass dome, regular in shape, rose over the peak of the mountain.
Toering felt a tingle all over, and glanced at his hands, wondering if he would see badger paws instead. Still in human form, he noticed he was breathing the varicolored air. All around him, swirling in the rainbow of shimmering water that felt like oxygen, he could see other lands, and people; houses, trees, islands, fish.
Suddenly Dorval felt as if he were swimming. But at the same time he felt he was standing still beside Toering. The paladin still held the coral and the metal shell, Zady on his shoulder. Then Dorval went from feeling like he was standing still to feeling like he was an arrow, shooting rapidly towards a ring of tall, standing stones in Fierro. His body felt boneless, almost as if he became liquid, still moving rapidly towards that distant place. By the time he adjusted to those sensations he began to feel like flesh and bone once more. The end of the tunnel he faced looked like Bishal, and the Cascade Circle, quite unlike Fierro. The swirling stopped, and the disks of stone tilted back to horizontal. The brilliant colors blended into one, becoming gray, then dark gray, finally black.
As everything around him faded to black, Toering felt ground beneath his feet. Then the air lightened, and he looked around to see very tall, vertical stone plinths. They were standing in the Ring of Eld, in Fierro.
“It worked!” Zady squealed. “We’re in Fierro. Or at least we’re not in Bishal any more. And over there, see? It’s another little person, only not as little as me. And not as adorable. Definitely not a pixie.”
She was pointing at Wagg, who was standing just outside the ring, several steps away from a Draken warrior. Dorval was staring straight at the warrior, and put his hand on the hilt of his sword. Toering noted the second Draken outside the Ring, also focused on the warrior instead of the halfun. As soon as Zady made her comment though, he switched his gaze to follow the direction of her pointing finger.
“Wagg!” he cheered. The halfun turned and looked in his direction.
“Toering?” Wagg said, voice rising at the end of Toering’s name.
Both Draken warriors had braced for battle, Halloren with his sword drawn, Goreson holding a spear in the charge position. A fire-pot sat between them, with a pair of bows left and right, two quivers of arrows in front of and behind. Either or both of the Draken warriors could grab a bow and fire a flaming arrow at any enemy. These two, Halloren and Goreson, were more comfortable with their sword and spear. As soon as they heard the recognition in the halfun’s voice, and saw that the visitors were not arachnoid in any way, they relaxed their weapons.
Wagg turned and ran towards Toering. Toering started towards the halfun. Dorval turned to face the Draken warriors. Zady flew from Toering’s shoulder to hover between the two Draken that had were standing watch at the Ring of Eld.
“Are you Draken? You look like the Draken I’ve seen in picture books. Are you warriors? You look like warriors. Are you getting ready for an attack? Are you here to protect us, or to welcome us? Or both?” Zady gushed.
Goreson and Halloren looked at the hovering pixie. Both raised their eyebrows, looked at each other in amazement, then returned their gaze to Zady They stood there, speechless. There had never been a pixie in Fierro before, at least not since the barriers went up.
Wagg ended his mad rush with a leap, planting himself square on Toering’s chest and grabbing the big paladin around the neck.
He gave Toering a huge smile. “Does this mean you killed Cordas, then? I thought she would end up killing you.”
Zady flew back over from the Draken to hover in front of Toering and Wagg.
“They don’t talk much. Not any, actually. Are they capable of speech? I knew they were a fierce warrior race of dragon-riders, but I was under the impression they were able to speak, yell war cries, and all that.” Giving Wagg a good look, she pressed on. “This one is certainly able to talk. And yes, Mr. Little One, Toe Ring almost died. I don’t know if his enemy was Cordas or not, but he did manage to kill the one who was attacking him. Even though Mr. Toe Ring is not that bright sometimes, himself. And he doesn’t talk a lot. At least not around me. Except once in a while.”
“Like when you are taking a breath,” Toering managed to say, as she did just that. “Otherwise, it is difficult to find a chance to speak, since you do so much talking.” Before she could explain that she was only normal, or maybe even a little less loquacious than many of her kind, Dorval stepped up beside Toering.
“Very interesting,” he surmised. “I would expect that, since they have a couple of Draken warriors on watch, there have been attacks here, as well.”