Location Lore: The Portal Keep

Vaetra Unveiled introduces an unusual location known as the Portal Keep. The Portal Keep came about when I decided that I needed a method for long distance travel. Allowing sorcerers to teleport (or “apparate” for Harry Potter fans) just didn’t feel right for my vision for how vaetra (life-force magic) works in the Vaetra Chronicles. As you’ll see in the forthcoming second book Vaetra Untrained, I now have two methods of long distance travel, but both depend heavily upon substantial physical and vaetric infrastructure.

Just for fun, the following description of the Portal Keep is given from the perspective of an Archives scholar who has been tasked with informing new sorcery students about the keep.


The exact age of the Portal Keep is not known, but it dates from before the Wizard Wars began over 500 years ago. Much about where and how it was constructed has since been lost.

The Portal Keep was created to give its builders a secret means of moving quickly from one place to another. Portals can be found in or near most most of the cities and other strategic locations throughout the Tanes Empire.  A sorcerer who holds a Portal Key can enter into the keep through any portal and exit through any other portal, even if the portals connect to locations that are many miles apart from each other.

Portal Keep Structure

The Portal Keep is a tall, hexagonal, stone tower that rises six stories. One wall is dedicated to the stairway that lets visitors move from one level to another. Most of the remaining seven walls on each level contain a portal. The topmost level has two blank walls, presumably reserved for future portals by the original builders, so at present the keep supports a total of 40 portals.

The physical tower is located in an underground cavern. Long ago, the tunnel that gave the original builders access to the tower collapsed. From that day on, portals became the only way to get into or out of the tower. The underground cavern’s true location is known only to senior members of the Archives Council.

Portal Keys

Only a sorcerer who bears a special kind of vaetric implement called a Portal Key can access the Portal Keep. The key performs three functions: it is used to locate portals; it is used to open portals that lead into the keep; and it is used to open portals that lead out of the keep. Without a Portal Key, sorcerers can’t even see portals, much less open them.

Portal Keys do not have a specific shape: some are rings, some are wands, some are amulets, and other forms have been known as well. However, every key uses a ruby as its focus device. Scholars assure us that any gemstone could have functioned as the focus device, but since the knowledge of how to create Portal Keys has also been lost, we may never know.

Using the Portal Keep

Let’s say that a sorcerer, who we shall name Merlin for this discussion, wishes to travel from one portal to another. Before he does anything, Merlin must have a Portal Key in his possession.

Merlin begins his journey by locating a nearby portal. When he activates the key from outside the keep, it acts like a compass, pointing the way to all nearby portals. Merlin spins in place, pointing the key in front of him, and the key transmits a visual impression (usually described as a glowing path of varying brightness) of how far it is to a portal in the current direction. Selecting the nearest portal, Merlin sets off. If necessary, Merlin repeats the process to reorient himself as he travels.

When Merlin is within close proximity to the portal, activating the key allows him to see something that no one else can (except another key holder, of course): he sees an exterior door to the Portal Keep.

Merlin steps forward and pulls the door open. An observer, who we shall name Arthur, sees him pantomiming the act of opening a door, and then as the door opens, Arthur would see a gap widen in the air in front of Merlin. That gap eventually reveals the back side of the portal door and the threshold of the portal’s doorway. Arthur would be able to see directly into the Portal Keep through the doorway.

Merlin motions Arthur through the doorway and follows him into the keep, closing the door behind them. When Arthur enters the keep, Illuminators come on, allowing him to see the six other portals on this level of the tower. Depending upon which level they entered, Arthur also sees a stairway that would take him up or down.

Inside the keep, Merlin continues channeling vaetra into the key. It reveals writing above each portal that names that portal’s destination. Arthur only sees a blank plaque above each portal. Luckily, the portal for the destination Merlin has in mind is on this level, so he leads Arthur around the perimeter walkway to the appropriate portal door.

To the right of the door is a flat rectangular panel with two glass ovals embedded into it. The top oval is blue and the bottom green. Merlin places his hand on the blue oval and the door instantly turns transparent, allowing the travelers to see out into the area that surrounds the destination portal. When Merlin removes his hand from the blue oval, the door becomes opaque again.

Satisfied that the way is clear, Merlin places his palm over the green oval, and the door pops open a couple of inches. Merlin pushes the door open the rest of the way, and he and Arthur exit the keep.

The two men have thus completed their journey through the Portal Keep and have arrived at their destination.

Dangers of the Portal Keep

The Portal Keep has one serious drawback: it drains vaetra from everyone and everything that enters it. Living beings who stay within the keep eventually fall unconscious. If they are not removed from the keep, they will die. The speed of the drain seems to vary by the individual, but no volunteers have been found who were willing to experiment with the effect in order to establish a known range. Vaetric implements that carry their own well of vaetra are drained almost as soon as they enter the keep.

We know that the Portal Keep requires a tremendous amount of vaetra to operate, and we assume that the builders decided that everyone who uses the keep should contribute to its supply. There is also some speculation that the drain was introduced to prevent sorcerers from lying in wait within the tower for the next set of travelers to come through. In any case, the end result is that no one lingers within Portal Keep.

Politics and Policies

Fewer than a dozen Portal Keys are known to have survived the Wizard Wars. Over the centuries since its founding, the Archives has managed to acquire most of them, and it has become rather proprietary about access to the keep. Each Senior Councilor has a key, and a few keys are in the hands of trusted sorcerers (often former Senior Councilors). The remainder are stored in the Archives Armory.

The Imperial Ministry of the Accords is believed to have at least two Portal Keys, but the Archives has not been able to confirm that. No one is surprised that the Emperor’s private team of sorcerers would have the means to use such a potentially powerful resource…and that they would want to keep it a secret.

Questions anyone?


I hope you enjoyed learning about the Portal Keep. You get to spend a little bit of time in it during Vaetra Unveiled, and the Keep continues to play a role in the remaining books of the Vaetra Chronicles.


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