At first, the three empires around Lisalhan were content to watch and laugh as their common foe was destroyed by the power it had unleashed. Insect-like energy beings were pouring from the portal to massacre all the Lisalhanians they could find, and the portal itself seemed to be growing—but slowly, leading the three empires to believe it would stop on its own. With the heart of Lisalhan devastated and the capital nearly annihilated, they no longer had an enemy government to target, and so they pulled their troops back to handle the sudden rush of refugees that were fleeing Lisalhan in all directions.
Most of those who escaped to Xiroacer were enslaved or butchered, as the jackal-folk still believed they were doing the work of the spirits by killing humans. Many who fled east into Yezadra were also enslaved to serve in the Temples of the Sun and Moon. The Divine Protectorate of Altaera tried to turn away refugees—inundated as it already was from earlier in the war—but the newly formed Trifold Priesthood in service to Briydde, Breana and Brancir would not allow the Knights of Law to do so. Instead, yet more immigrant settlements were built in the unfarmable rough lands of the northeast, near the passage to Gejara and the Forest of Night.
However, the majority of Lisalhanians fled south toward the sea to avoid crossing a border into enemy territory. Central Lisalhan, where the capital had been, was full of lowlands, lakes, swamps and fertile plains, but the terrain to the south rose into the stony hills and low mountains where most of Rhehevrok’s cultists laired. The refugees became easy prey for the ruffians and soon found themselves just as enslaved as they would have been if they had fled to the east or west.
To everyone’s good fortune, winter of that year brought an apparent limit to how far the ‘stellar locusts’—as they had come to be called—would spread. Though the creatures did not retreat, they seemed stymied by the cold or perhaps the darkness and spent most of their time gazing back toward the portal, which glowed like a small sun in the ruins of the capital. The last refugees managed to escape the occupied territory in that time.
Since the Great War had lapsed into a stalemate on all fronts as the empires tried to analyze what had happened, for a few months everyone just waited and watched. Unfortunately, all attempts by humans to scry upon the portal or otherwise evaluate it magically ended in the death or madness of the spellcaster, and even the wraiths found it terrifying. Kuthrallan Vanyaris—who had been Daenivar’s teacher before his nasty ascension to demigodhood, and who was widely considered one of the most powerful of the haelhene wraiths–tried to scry upon the portal himself only to find the portal staring back at him. Feeling that the entity beyond the portal was too similar to the greater Light that had chased his people into the dark realms, Kuthrallan refused to scry it further, and even advocated to his people that they do something to close that portal.
But the haelhene would do nothing, and neither would the other wraiths, for they had all either become too physical to wield the necessary arcane power or were too afraid to act against the unknown enemy. Like the humans, they chose to hope it would go away.
Kuthrallan did not. Though he enjoyed sowing discord among the humans and skinchangers and watching them tear each other apart, he had no illusions about the danger the portal posed—and he knew Daenivar. Since his ascension, the wraith-god had come to his people many times to try to get them to worship him, and every time they rejected him, Daenivar became nastier and nastier. Just before his retreat to his crystal citadel in the dream-realm, he had taken to devouring those wraiths who refused him, thus enslaving their essences to himself. He had even tried to eat Kuthrallan, who had been forced to flee the fight once it became apparent that his former student now out-powered him.
Indeed it seemed that Daenivar hated everyone and everything, and thought nothing of unleashing an enemy that could destroy the world. Though Kuthrallan would never admit it, he had come to enjoy dwelling in this dark realm and had no intention of giving up his students and experiments to Daenivar’s vicious whim. Thus he began making overtures toward the various governments, religious orders and arcane schools through those students to try to organize some kind of resistance or discover some solution to the problem of the portal.
No one was interested in helping him until spring came, and with it a new surge of stellar locusts.
The refugees still within Lisalhan’s borders had just begun putting down roots when the stellar locusts snapped from their winter daze. As the first wave swarmed outward, they stripped the land down to bare earth, and the hordes of shining beetle-like creatures that followed them seemed to turn dirt and sand to glass by the sheer energy of their passage. By midsummer they had spread to cover the entirety of central Lisalhan and were nearing the borders of Altaera and Xiroacer, as well as threatening the Rhehevrok cultists in the hills.
Some leaders—particularly in Yezadra, which held the border furthest from Lisalhan’s capital and thus was in the least danger—still proposed waiting the locusts out, or at least waiting until their winter dormancy before moving in to fight them. The other empires were growing agitated, however, and Altaera made overtures to their long-time enemies in Gejara for magical aid while the Xiroacen jackal-folk communed with the spirits and elementals for advice.
What both empires learned was that the threat was not just to the surface-lands. Due to the portal’s radiant energy, no scry could penetrate the ruins of the capital, but the earth and metal elementals could feel that the entity beyond the portal had begun burning a hole down into the mantle of the world—as if trying to burrow into the core where the primal Metal and Fire elementals were still trapped. Notwithstanding the fact that the two primal elementals might want to wreak havoc on the surface world themselves, the portal-entity’s actions were beginning to cause tectonic stress throughout the area. Earthquakes had started during the winter and only intensified with the resumption of portal activity, and vast sinkholes were forming where Lisalhan’s subterranean caverns collapsed—including beneath the abandoned cities. The Danarine Sea was shrinking as its water drained away through new cracks and chasms, and the underdwelling folk were being forced to the surface to escape the damage. Elementals, goblins and other subterranean skinchangers were all fleeing like the humans, and they knew that the worst was yet to come.
Likewise, the warriors of Xiroacer, Altaera and the Rhehevrok cults soon found that fighting the invasion was physically impossible. The mere proximity of a stellar locust was enough to blind and burn an un-warded individual, and most magic had no effect on them; they seemed to have no minds for mentalists to assault, no dreams for nightmare-mages to exploit, no souls for necromancers to steal, and complete immunity to energy-attacks. Deific protections could help, but not forever—and even while they did, they could not prevent weapons from melting as soon as they struck the locusts.
At this point, all efforts turned toward research into a way to close the portal from afar. Kuthrallan had already been working on the problem, which was a daunting one; though his students had managed to recover the Red Grimoire from the Lisalhanian city where Daenivar had hidden it, and had found the entry for the portal-spell’s creation, they discovered that reverse-engineering the spell would be no help unless they could get close to the portal to unweave it. With its massive output of stellar energy, nothing and no one could do so without being vaporized; even the gods could not withstand it.
Not one to be stymied, Kuthrallan assembled a coalition of spiritists, priests and mages under the auspices of a few of his more respected students, and set them to the task of crafting a spell that would build upon the reverse-engineered template to close the portal from a distance. He knew that forcing a spell through such already-high energy was an uphill battle—and possibly an unwinnable one—so while his humans experimented with new tactics, he visited his fellow wraiths to try to twist their arms into helping him.
Ylwain was cordial and promised to help. Darcaniel accused Kuthrallan of working with Daenivar but did not say no. The council of the airahene—fallen Tirindain’s people—refused due to Kuthrallan’s haelhene affiliation, and the haelhene refused to help the ‘pestilent physical vermin’. They also opined that since the White Isle was the furthest wraith outpost from Lisalhan, that they should just wait for the stellar locusts to destroy all their enemies, steal the other crystal-ships, and leave Halci at last.
Disgusted, Kuthrallan turned his concentration back to the task, and as summer progressed toward autumn and the stellar locusts ravaged the borders of Xiroacer and Altaera, he and his associates painstakingly crafted the greatest arcane working that would ever be done. Known as the Seal, it was meant to work in two stages: first, turn all of the elements against the portal in order to disrupt its energy output, and second, create a six-dimensional barrier that would sever every aspect of the portal connection.
The problem was one of scale. According to the earth elementals, the portal-energies were continuing to excavate toward the center of the world, and everything they touched was being melted to glass and slag. Meanwhile, the portal itself was widening, and Kuthrallan’s agents had found Daenivar-cultist cells preparing to open new portals within Rassevar in Yezadra and Ruyen Tairdren in Altaera. Even with soldiers and mages now on the lookout for such things, it was just a matter of time before another portal was opened elsewhere—like in a trackless forest or on some isolated ocean atoll where no one would notice until it was too late.
The solution, then, had to be all-encompassing. The six-dimensional barrier had to cover the world.
Through his students, Kuthrallan learned that there were sites throughout the world that were infused with a single element to the near-exclusion of all others. Whether from chance or deliberate action, these sites were connected directly to the primal elementals, and could be utilized to tap their full power no matter their state of sleep or imprisonment. Knowing that he could leave no element out if he wished his spell to cover the whole world, Kuthrallan selected six sites that made an attenuated, lopsided circle around much of the northern continent, most prominently Lisalhan. It was far from perfect, but he needed to include all six elements so he could not afford to be picky.
For the Seal of Wood, he chose the titanic Du’i Oensha grove in the Border Forest, with its interlinked millennia-old trees. The Seal of Metal would be Howling Spire in the Thundercloak Mountains—ironically the first Muriae spire that had been built to explore stellar energy but which had been decommissioned by the time of the Metal spirit’s arcane disaster. The Seal of Earth was to be among the caves and hollows of the Varaku Tableland between Altaera and Yezad, while the location of the Seal of Fire would be dangerous even before the spell: Aekhaelesgeria, the volcano at the heart of the Khaeleokiel mountain range. Furthest east would be the Seal of Air at a place called the Hag’s Needles—the only primal air site in the north that did not require one to be flying.
Last, and most perilous, would be the Seal of Water: a tower called the Pillar of the Sea, which punctured through a mile of bedrock and into subterranean waters at the southernmost tip of Lisalhan.
Now Kuthrallan just had to convince the spirits and elementals to let his mages work.