The Amethyst Gate
"Well, it appears that we have found it," Danilo announced. "Though, I suppose that isn't much of an achievement. It hardly takes good eyesight to spot that."
Arilyn sighed. She was still exhausted from her latest mission and badly in need of rest and found Danilo's familiar cover-persona more aggravating than normal at the moment. Saying anything about it wasn't going to help any, though. Danilo might promise to do better, but never mean it - and more likely he would take it as encouragement and fly off into a nonsensical speech defending his statement even though he well knew that it would only aggravate Arilyn more.
She should have stayed at home when the Archmage of Waterdeep had sent Danilo off to explore a mysterious magical gate that had opened up next to a trade route about two days' travel from Waterdeep, but she had wanted to spend as much time with him as she could.
The examination of a magical gate was, of course an exclusively magical task and entirely outside her area of expertise and since they hadn't even been accosted by a single bandit on the way Arilyn really was completely superfluous on this mission.
"The moonblade isn't reacting to it at all," she reported the most useful information she had to offer. "Apparently it is quite harmless." Which probably meant that the whole trip out here had been for nothing and they would leave the gate in place and head back home to hopefully finally get some rest and relaxation in Waterdeep. "Though I'm not surprised Khelben Arunsun's informant got worried when he saw such an unnatural glow."
"I still have to take a closer look," Danilo told her in a more sensible tone. "Find out where it leads to, who placed it here and for what purpose ... and if possible move it out of sight or we will keep receiving hysterical reports about it for who knows how many tendays to come."
That was indeed reasonable and Arilyn nodded at her companion to go ahead. She had no skills that would have allowed her to assist in analysing a magical portal. As far as she was concerned, they all looked alike ... though this one certainly glowed more strongly than any other she could remember ever seeing and she didn't think she'd encountered one that glowed purple before either. It didn't worry her, though. Her moonblade would be glowing as well if it were dangerous and Danilo had all the magical expertise she lacked. He probably knew exactly what the glow meant.
While he got to work, Arilyn dismounted, set up their campsite and tended to the horses. She hoped that Danilo didn't run out of prepared spells or else they would have to spend the night in this camp rather than return to the last inn they had passed on the way.
Normally Arilyn didn't mind sleeping rough, but as tired as she was at the moment, she really would have appreciated an actual bed.
"Nothing," Danilo reported when she joined him in front of the portal later. "It definitely is a portal, but it doesn't seem to lead anywhere and I can't tell a thing about the mage who put it here. It's as if he didn't exist."
"It doesn't lead anywhere?" Arilyn repeated incredulously.
"Yes, according to my spell, whoever enters it ought to reappear right here in this clearing."
"But why would anyone set up a portal that just keeps him in place?"
"Perhaps," Danilo theorised. "It is a miscast spell. An apprentice practising raising a portal might make the mistake of not choosing a destination since all he is actually interested in is the creation of a portal, any portal leading anywhere. He blundered and couldn't take it down again, so he left it behind."
"But shouldn't his master have dismissed it for him?" Arilyn asked, slightly dismayed at the thought of apprentice wizards leaving unnecessary gates standing about all over Ferun.
"He ought to in the proper course of things, but perhaps our hypothetical apprentice has no proper master, or perhaps his master is a very irresponsible or irascible fellow. Perhaps the apprentice was meddling with spells that he had been warned he wasn't ready to try on his own and was afraid to confess. Either way, since the portal is useless nobody is likely to get upset if we dismiss it."
He stepped back and Arilyn hastily retreated as well to make sure she didn't get in the way of a spell gone awry. Danilo's spells rarely did when he didn't intend them to, but he intended it often enough that it had become second nature to Arilyn.
This time she needn't have worried, though. The purple glow flickered once as Danilo cast his spell at it, but the portal remained as if nothing at all had happened.
"This is strange," Danilo declared after casting a few more spells that Arilyn didn't know. "It appears my destination was wrong, though it is still right here."
He frowned at the portal clearly annoyed by the puzzle.
"Alright," he declared suddenly. "I'm going through."
"No!" Arilyn protested. "You don't know where it really leads. What if you can't go back?"
"Then I'll use my ring of teleportation instead," Danilo announced. "In the worst-case scenario I'll be back right after sunrise tomorrow."
"Unless it leads to another plane," Arilyn warned.
"It doesn't. I checked that."
"You also thought that it leads right back here," Arilyn pointed out, but Danilo would not be swayed.
He stepped through the portal and disappeared ... and the portal flared up even more brightly and then collapsed in on itself until there was just one little glowing dot left in the middle. For a moment it hovered in mid-air there, then the glow vanished and the dot fell to the ground with a muffled plop.
Arilyn stared at the empty air. There was no sign of Danilo.
But at least the portal was finally gone and Danilo did indeed have his ring of teleportation. Since he hadn't come back right away, Arilyn decided she might as well cook ... and wasn't it just like Danilo to leave her to do a task that he knew she hated? It should have been his turn to cook.
She cooked and then she waited and kept the food warm until she grew so hungry that she decided to eat without Danilo. The food was definitely overdone by then, so she let Danilo's portion grow cold. He could eat it cold or reheat it later in punishment for making her wait ... Or perhaps something had gone wrong? Had he been transported straight into an ambush?
But no, there was no reason to assume the worst. He'd said after sunrise and the sun was only just sinking. He hadn't used his ring that day, so perhaps he'd intended to teleport somewhere else first, probably to Blackstaff Tower to make his report to the Archmage. He'd come for her in the morning.
With that reassuring conclusion and the moonblade by her side to send her a dreamwarning if anyone should approach, Arilyn went to sleep.
No dreamwarnings and no mischievous mage-bards disturbed her rest. Instead, she was woken by the sun and birdsong. The clearing looked innocent and empty. No glowing portals ... no Danilo.
Arilyn ate Danilo's dinner for breakfast and waited. Perhaps Danilo was still asleep? But surely he realised that she would be worried!
She searched the clearing to distract herself and found the thing that had dropped to the ground the evening before when the portal had vanished. It was an amethyst about as large as her fist and pretty enough, though hardly useful.
Then again, precious stones had all sorts of magical qualities. Danilo would know those as well and might have a use for this one. And if he didn't, perhaps Khelben or Leral would. In any case, this stone was somehow connected to the gate Arilyn was here to help Danilo explore. She pocketed it, extinguished the camp-fire and packed up.
Then she waited a little longer, but Danilo still hadn't come and it was well past sunrise by now. She had to get back to Waterdeep and make a report to Khelben Arunsun. Hopefully she'd find Danilo there and he'd have a good excuse for not returning.
It took Arilyn a while to convince the apprentices that she needed to see the Archmage of Waterdeep in person and even then she was kept waiting while he finished some important business. She considered just barging right in as Danilo would have, but if Khelben was in the middle of a complicated casting ... Well, Danilo understood the dangers of these things and Arilyn merely knew they could be very, very dangerous.
She settled for waiting. Luckily it didn't take as long as she feared and Khelben even appeared to be in a good mood for once.
"Ah, Arilyn, welcome back," he greeted her. "And just where is my wayward nephew this time?"
"I'd hoped you could tell me that," Arilyn replied. "He went through that portal you wanted him to examine. It closed behind him. This fell to the ground." She held the amethyst out to the archmage.
Khelben took it, placed it on the table and cast a spell at it. Nothing happened as far as Arilyn could see, but Khelben didn't appear to be surprised at least.
"What exactly do you mean by 'went through'?" he demanded sharply, his good mood entirely gone. "Why would he do something so stupid?"
"He said the portal led right back to its own location, but it was the wrong parameter for taking it down. So he wanted to see for himself where it would take him."
"And so he is now trapped ... No, he shouldn't be. He did have his ring of teleportation with him, didn't he?"
"He did," Arilyn confirmed. "He even told me that he would use it to return if he couldn't use the portal from the other side. When he didn't reappear the next morning I assumed that he'd come here instead." She sighed. "Whatever spells he used couldn't determine where that portal led to, but how can I rescue him if I don't know where he is?" She could only hope that he was still in a condition in which he could be rescued. "Is there any chance of telling it from the stone?"
Just what would be her chances of convincing the Archmage of Waterdeep to leave the city long enough to visit the scene of Danilo's disappearance in person? Surely Khelben Arunsun had many larger problems to attend to than a single missing agent, but the clearing wasn’t that far away and Danilo was his nephew ... and at times it even seemed that he saw him as a sort of son.
"There might be," Khelben explained. "The stone must have been the focus point of the teleportation spell, but not a standard one. There is an element here that I do not recognise yet. Most likely that is what confused Danilo's spells."
"Is there no way to ..." What was the word for it? Track as one did a trail? Disassemble like a mechanical device? Analyse like a potion?
"I will need to look up and prepare some more unusual spells to examine this more thoroughly," Khelben explained. "What I have ready right now are very general spells that are unlikely to reveal anything Danilo's failed to, considering that he came prepared to analyse a portal."
"Danilo never had the chance to examine the stone," Arilyn pointed out hopefully. "He only examined the portal itself. The stone appeared after it closed."
"What exactly did he do? Describe everything as closely as possible."
Arilyn did her best to remember and demonstrate every gesture and repeat everything Danilo had said about his results, but it was quite unsatisfactory to the archmage since she had not watched the whole procedure and didn't understand what she had seen even as well as a fairly novice apprentice would.
"Well, it can't hurt to repeat spells Danilo already tried," Khelben decided finally. "It will only cost us a little time."
And once again Arilyn was left to watch a mage cast spells she didn't understand. Some of the ones Khelben tried were more flashy than others, but Arilyn was in no mood to enjoy a light show when Danilo needed her help. She excused herself to seek lunch and the advice of any other magic-wielding acquaintances she could find.
As it turned out, a magic-wielding acquaintance found her before she found him.
Elaith Craulnober appeared as if out of nowhere, as usual, and greeted her with all the grace of an Elvish courtier welcoming a princess back to her palace on Evermeet, never mind that they were actually in a shabby street leading towards the dock ward of Waterdeep, she was a half-elven fighter and he had probably just finished some unsavoury business deal - or worse - in a truly filthy back-alley.
No, he certainly wasn't the sort of magic-wielder she'd had in mind, but on the other hand he was old and widely travelled enough to have seen some unusual magic that even Khelben might not know and as an elf had a different perspective on magic than the human archmage.
Could it be harmful to try?
The best Elaith could achieve by betraying her would be Danilo's death and she was quite convinced that that wasn't a worthwhile enough goal to him anymore. He had had ample more than one opportunity to kill the man since he had ceded Arilyn to him and the mere fact that Danilo remained alive despite several meetings and even some shared adventures proved that the elf did indeed intend to let him live to please Arilyn, most likely in honour of her mother's memory.
Of course that didn't mean that he might not change his mind and kill Danilo after all if Danilo or sheer dumb luck ever gave him a reason, but he'd hardly go out of his way just to do it.
So she repeated her tale of the amethyst.
Elaith frowned. "I would have to examine that amethyst for myself. The former location of the portal is most likely little use without it."
"Khelben Arunsun has it now," she admitted. "But I might be able to convince him to let us have it once he has finished his own examination of it."
Elaith clearly didn't like those news, but to Arilyn's surprise he didn't back out right away. "I will have to prepare the right spells for the task anyway ... and there might be some items that could help."
Despite that statement, Arilyn was quite surprised and a little suspicious when Elaith appeared at Danilo's house the next morning, showing every intention of accompanying her to Blackstaff Tower, a location that she had always thought he avoided whenever he could.
"There is most likely no treasure to be gained in this," she pointed out.
"Perhaps or perhaps not," Elaith returned unconcernedly. "But it is an opportunity to serve my princess." He bowed. "And possibly to please the archmage as well. You might say that in a way Khelben Arunsun and I have some business interests in common and maintaining friendly relations is never a bad idea."
Arilyn wasn't quite sure what to make of that or whether she liked it, but if Khelben didn't accompany her back to that clearing it would be extremely helpful to have someone else with magical knowledge on hand. As an added bonus, Elaith also was a more than merely competent fighter in situations where magic failed, which meant she wouldn't have to worry about protecting him if they ended up following Danilo into a trap for magic users. The only risk would be that Elaith might change sides unexpectedly. Just how much could she rely on Amnestria's memory protecting her from that?
"Just the elf I wanted to see," was Khelben Arunsun's surprising comment on Elaith's unexpected arrival at Blackstaff Tower. "You don't happen to have trained an apprentice at some point in the past? The not too recent past, most likely?"
"Apprentice?" Elaith looked at the archmage as if he doubted his sanity. "Apprentice at what?"
"Magic," Khelben replied as if he assumed that Elaith trained whole hordes of apprentices in other things.
Well, perhaps that wasn't too absurd a thought if one considered all the various businesses Elaith owned in Waterdeep. Surely more than one of the more legal ones trained apprentices now and then.
"Do I look like a master mage to you?" Elaith asked sounding quite amused. "The things I do well enough that others might wish to be trained by me aren't the sort one teaches people if one values one's life."
"Have you, or have you not ever taught anyone magic?" Khelben demanded sternly. "In the specific way you meld human and elven casting?"
Meld human and elven casting? Elaith did that? Arilyn knew that Danilo differentiated between human and elven magic, but the concept of melding the two certainly never had come up in conversation, not to mention that Elaith was very proud of his elven heritage and considered humans beneath him. Why would he use their magic at all?
"No," Elaith stated quite clearly. "I allow that my knowledge of elven magic is good enough that I could teach a child some basics, but as I do not have any children to teach I have never done it and even if I had, I would have sent them on to a proper master if they had shown further aptitude and interest in the craft after that. I do not consider myself a mage."
"The spells on this amethyst show a blending of human and elven magic within spells rather than a mix of entirely human and entirely elven spells," Khelben declared, holding up the stone Arilyn had brought him the day before.
"Is that the one Princess Arilyn has told me about? Let me have a look." Elaith held out his hand for it and the archmage handed it over after a moment of hesitation.
The elf turned and prodded the stone as if examining something on it that only he could see. Perhaps if he really was part of the weave and they were not he could.
"Many people mix elven and human magic," he remarked casually as he did. "You do it yourself, young Lord Thann does. This certainly is none of my work."
"I didn't say it was," Khelben confirmed. "It does not match your style exactly, but it is so very close to it that my best guess is that the caster started out mimicking your style and slowly adapted it to his own preferences over years of use. You never showed anyone how to blend magic? Perhaps an eager watcher rather than an official apprentice?"
"I do not advertise my magical knowledge," Elaith assured him. "It is a hidden weapon of last resort, you might say. I certainly don't show it off for eager children."
He waved a hand over the amethyst and examined it again. "This has something of Lord Thann's style in it as well ... which I do not believe a pure-blooded elf would copy. What Lord Thann does ... unlike your or my blending, I might add ... appears at least partially accidental."
Appears being the operative word, Arilyn thought, and perhaps a pure-blooded elf might want to copy that under the right circumstances, but she knew better than to give those thoughts away in front of Elaith. Besides it was probably more relevant that Elaith had just indirectly admitted that he did see the resemblance to his own style that Khelben had spoken of. He was being quite forthcoming with information, considering that there was nothing but goodwill to be gained for him here. What was he up to? Could it really be just to help her?
It seemed that he had come to the end of his visual inspection now, as he started to produce the magical devices he had spoken of the day before one by one, with an occasional "No use, I already tried that," thrown in by Khelben.
It was at least encouraging that he did appear to be doing some things Khelben hadn't thought to try yet.
The latest item was a piece of cloth made of some strange shimmering fabric that Arilyn had never seen before and that even the archmage eyed with interest as Elaith wrapped the amethyst in it, turned it around and then spread the cloth on the table between them while pocketing the stone.
She'd have to demand that he return it later.
Right now, the Elf seemed to be intent on something Arilyn could not see on or above the cloth however. Whatever it was appeared to be at least partially visible to Khelben this time, though the archmage was squinting and had to lean in closely.
"There!" Elaith exclaimed suddenly spreading his fingers in the air over one corner of the cloth and then pulling at something invisible. "What is that?"
The archmage squinted some more. "That would be the part I could not identify, I assume. I cannot see it clearly enough like this to be sure."
"This is not meant for human eyes, I fear," Elaith admitted and pulled at the empty air some more. "But yes, I believe it is the most unusual part of this enchantment. It is quite complex ... whatever it is."
"And it very much resembles your style," Khelben added sternly. "If anyone can read this, it must be you."
"Given sufficient time, yes. But the complexity ... Time! That's it! That explains it, of course."
"What? What explains what?" Arilyn demanded angrily. It was too frustrating having no idea what Elaith was doing.
"See this point here?" Of course Arilyn didn't. She still couldn't see anything but the cloth. "That specifies a time, but this isn't a timed spell. This thing wasn't a teleportation portal at all, it was a time portal. And that explains why Lord Thann hasn't returned. His ring is useless to him. It can transport him to another place, but not to another time."
Arilyn stared sat Elaith. "Danilo is in another time?"
The elf nodded. "So it would appear."
"When?" How in the world could she follow him to another time?
"That, alas, I cannot say until I have analysed the spell segment, which will take some time unless somebody in this town can lend us a device that will allow human mages to read this?"
Khelben shook his head. "You can rest assured that I will look for one, but I expect that will take a lot longer than you need to decipher the spell."
So Elaith bent to his work while Khelben ... well, Arilyn had no idea what it was that Khelben did. She could only hope that it was something that would help them find Danilo. Arilyn herself took to pacing.
If Danilo was merely stuck because he had no way to travel through time, perhaps he was in no actual danger. But what if he was?
"How much longer?" she asked the elf when an apprentice appeared to light the candles and ask whether they were staying for dinner.
"Much, I fear," he replied much too calmly for Arilyn's taste. "And yes, dinner would be very much appreciated."
"We can't waste time on eating!" Arilyn exclaimed. "Danilo might need our help now!"
"Ah, but my dear Princess, don't you see? Merely knowing when the portal sent Lord Thann will not enable us to go there and retrieve him. We will have to develop our own time portal spell - or rather the archmage will have to do that. Experimental spell development is quite a bit beyond my abilities."
So they could find out where Danilo was, but still not get to him. That was quite a blow.
"And once he does," Elaith continued just as calmly. "How long it took us to develop the means of rescue won't matter at all. We could simply travel to the exact moment he came through the portal and retrieve him from right then."
Of course. Why hadn't she seen it before? Once you could go into the past, what was to stop you from going a few hours or days or even years further?
But half an hour later, while she was pushing her lentil stew around on her plate, she realised something else.
"If we do find out how to travel to the past, though," she said. "And bring Danilo back, why isn't he already here?"
"Because we haven't found out and fetched him, yet?" Elaith suggested. "If he were here we would have no motivation to continue our research and wouldn't find out how to travel through time. Then he wouldn't get back. And it is the future we need, not the past. Lord Thann is somewhere in the future. I just don't know how far, yet."
Arilyn sighed. She tried to think through Elaith's argument and find some weakness in it, but it only made her thoughts spin in circles. Time travel really should not be possible, she decided. It was simply too complicated and dangerous if one considered the possibilities of changing the past.
It was quite late when she got home, disappointed that Elaith still hadn't finished his work even though she had to agree that time was not essential in the development of time travel.
She felt like time was running out anyway. Perhaps it was because she missed Danilo and didn't know how long she had until she would be called away again. Or perhaps it was because this was his house and he ought to be here.
She entered the bedroom and froze. She wasn't alone. There was somebody in the bed! And he was waking up. Arilyn drew her moonblade, but it wasn't glowing.
"Arilyn? Is it morning already?"
For a moment Arilyn stared, uncomprehending ... but hadn't she herself said that Danilo ought to already be back if they were going to fetch him?
"I had the most terrible nightmare," Danilo told her, apparently not at all disconcerted by her standing there with her unsheathed sword in hand. "You wouldn't really let our daughter marry Elaith Craulnober, would you?"
"Danilo, we don't even have a daughter!"
"Well, maybe if you postpone your sword exercises and come back to bed we can fix that defect? That part of the dream wasn't all that bad ..."
She gave in. After all, Danilo was back safely and they were both tired. She could always ask him what the future held tomorrow. They would travel to whenever they needed to, after all. Or maybe they already had.