Only the chanting made Ariel let go of Abalone’s hand. Both women, the clerk and more or less everybody else turned their attention to the big arches on the plaza. Both at once Ariel felt dread and awe. However, the presence of the hero beside her calmed her.
She had seen it a lot of times in television but never live. The chanting was performed by a school of mages and amplified by the loudspeakers more to the benefit of the public than because it made a difference. The chanting was a focus the power in the mages.
“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” the cleric asked to no one in particular. Tears were beginning to form in his eyes.
Slowly the air around the arches shimmered. Ariel felt it even before she could see it. The currents jolted through her body and she knew her eyes had to shift like crazy. Everybody was affected differently. She glanced at the hero…who was not affected at all. Some people were just born lucky.
“Are you ready?” Abalone asked excited. “It is our time to shine now”.
“It will be some time before the portals are stabilised. You will have time to acquaint yourself with the rest of the party”, the clerk said. “If you will excuse me. Good luck”.
Who cared about the rest of the party? Ariel was mesmerised by the scene in front of her. Gradually the arches morphed into portals. Great shimmering translucent portals. One overlapping the other in a intricate pattern. As the mages chanting shifted the clerics took up defensive positions around the mages. The outer layer behind her, the military checked their weapons both projectile and melee. Television usually only showed the portal opening and the hero exiting or entering. Ariel had had no idea until now how big it was. Of course these were the biggest portals she had ever seen.
Ariel hefted her bag and finally followed the hero. She drew closer to the others taking good care of not going too close to the shadow priest. Even though her ingredients were packed in magic protected containers she was not about to take any chances.
“Once the portals are stabilised you shouldn’t feel the effects anymore”.
The man that had spoken was dressed practically in outdoor gear with a vest that sported more pockets than Ariel could count. He had soft eyes that did not quite match the scars around his mouth.
“I’m Kaluna. Are you ever mistaken for a demon?”
“One of the mages. No, I’m human”. Ariel sighed inwardly. “Short story, opened a rift and had a run in with some elementals”.
“Weather witch. Ariel of Sanara”.
“Pleasure Ariel. I see we have much to discuss. I have never met anyone who actually opened a rift and lived to tell about it. Fascinating. Kessler! Come here and meet Ariel. Kessler is my apprentice. We are from the school of Rosing”.
A youth with long hair and baggy trousers skated over to them. His eyes lighted up when he saw Ariel. Before she could do anything he hugged her.
“Wow you smell good”, he said smiling before letting go of her. “Mother Nature is a bitch”.
“Manners, Kessler. Remember what we have talked about regarding personal space. Pardon my apprentice. He – ehm – likes to touch people in order to get a reading of them”.
Ignoring his master, Kessler pointed to the bag.
“I can put more protection on your stuff. Will only take me a moment”.
Ariel opened her mouth. Then closed it.
Kessler snapped the bag from her hand and put it on his skateboard. Ariel stepped back from the heat emanating from him as he drew on his powers. He did not chant but his fingers moved rapidly over the skateboard and on her bag. Then the air grew cold around him.
“Done. Now your bag is protected. I’m not sure I got alle the ingredients separately but if you keep them in the bag they should be sound and safe – “ he gave her an conspiratorial wink and lowered his voice “- from the powers beyond”. He pointed knowingly to the shadow priest and his minion.
“Thank you?” Ariel said unsure.
“You are welcome. Oh we are almost ready to depart! I have never been on the Other Side. And have you seen we have a hero with us?!! She autographed my focus!” He flipped the skateboard so Ariel could see the doodle she herself had coveted for so many years. She felt a pang of jealousy. Why hadn’t she thought of that!
Kaluna shrugged his shoulders apologetically as Kessler ran off to the clerics and priests. “Bear with him. He is one of the most talented mages I have ever worked with, but his social skills are at best – ehm – eratic”.
“Did he really hug the shadow priest and his minion?”
The mage chuckled. “Yes he did. And proclaimed in a very loud dramatic voice ‘may the Powers be with us! The undead dead walk among us!’ The shadow priest had to restrain his companion from drawing his sword”.
“That is not funny!” exclaimed Ariel, blanching at the thought.
“No, I guess you’re right. You should have had to have been there”, Kaluna conceded. “Come. Is this all you have brought?”
“You are the last ones”. Tane Arquinen gestured for them to enter. He did not smile. “Glad you could come miss Sanara. Kaluna”.
The portals loomed above and in front of her. Ariel could still feel the power but now it was more a humming. She gulped.
“There is nothing to be afraid of, Ariel. I’m here. Just follow my lead”.
She stepped into the glow of power.