A 'portal' -- as it is referenced here -- is a magical doorway to another place, usually within the continent of Hyathis.
The Nature of Portals
Portals can be either permanent (those associated with the established magical network - a.k.a. the 'ley lines') or temporary (see Mages and Temporary Portals).
Permanent portals occur naturally throughout the world of Lyran Tal. The entire world supports a network of magical energy that resembles the weave of a spider web. The center of this weave is the Nexus Portal located at the Crosswinds Tavern, in the capitol city of Dreven, Shadokhan. The Hyathan continent is incredibly rich in elemental energies, and many scholars believe that the subsequent concentration of Ley Lines is responsible for the presence of the Nexus Portal and the portal network.
From a portal one can enter the 'web' and transport themselves anywhere along the web where the Ley Lines intersect. These intersections are the only points where another stable portal exists. Entering a portal, one can only exit through another portal. A weak portal can perhaps only reach one or two 'stations,' while a stronger one can reach much further. For example, if one traveled to a smaller/weaker portal in an oasis in Thermador from the Nexus Portal (which is the strongest of all), one might have to travel to Wadi Medani and then to the Nexus Portal to return.
Scholars who have studied portals state that the nature of the magical energy that creates and stabilizes these portals also uses the sentience of the traveler within it to transport that being to the next location, hence the necessary use of a verbal code. One sentient being may lead another through the portal simply by direct contact (such as holding hands). Non-sentient beings or inanimate objects cannot traverse through the portal unless linked or actually upon the person stepping through the portal.
There are numerous stable portals throughout Lyran Tal, both public and private. They are recognizable by their unmistakable shimming appearance. Like ports along the coast where much traveling and commerce takes place, settlements are known to grow up around a stable portal.
A portal is generally of finite size, no bigger than ten feet in height and width (this is the measurement of the Northern Portal as well). However, a mage can increase the size of a small portal temporarily to allow for passage of larger things. This cannot be maintained for long, for to increase the size of the portal even for short moments, requires the mage to expend a great deal of energy, for he is changing the nature of the portal.
Portals have made communication much faster and more efficient throughout the Silver Moon Empire, but routine trade routes and wagons are still very much part of the Empire's way of travel, due to the size limit of the portals. Lumber, livestock, and wheat are most often transported the old-fashioned way, on wagons and over trails.
The Nexus Portal within the Crosswinds Tavern (frequently referred to as the 'Northern Portal' despite its obvious southern location on the Hyathan continent) sits at the center of Lyran Tal's magical web of energy. Because the energy of the Northern Portal is the strongest and most stable above all other portals, some sages in the past have mistakenly thought that this was the source of all magic within Lyran Tal.
The Northern portal is not a door, but an archway made of stones carved with many runes. The interior of that archway (the area through which a traveler passes) varies in appearance, shifting from multi-hued to black, to silvery to mirror-like... Additionally, the Northern Portal has runes worked into its frame that function in many different ways -- some of which are completely unknown to the public. One set aids travelers entering the portal to speak the Common tongue. Another, linked to the structure of the tavern itself, prevents the destruction of either the portal or the tavern. It is said that when the runes are touched in a specific manner whilst reciting the accompanying spell, one may close off the portal opening on the other end, or block others from leaving. The knowledge of how to accomplish this is extremely rare and may even be lost.
Every destination along the web of portals has its own unique 'arcane coordinates,' magical words that must be uttered when one enters a portal (any portal) in order to successfully arrive at one's intended destination. In order to make use of a portal, one must know the verbal key of one's destination to navigate them. If one does not use the correct coordinates, their destination may be random and their trek perilous. The arcane coordinates (or keys) of the widely used stable portals, such as those near the realm's capitals, are commonly known. One new to the realm may ask a semi-educated traveler or native for the verbal code, but more a more reliable source is the local Magistrate's Office. A comprehensive list of nearly all portals was once owned by the Order of the Rising Sun, an organization dedicated to the gathering of information. Some unsavory citizens may try to sell an incorrect code to an unsuspecting newcomer!
Obtaining the codes for rarer but unwarded portals (for example those in the Badlands) can become a time-consuming and expensive quest. There are rumors that Elves have always been fascinated with the portals, and there are a few Elven mages that have an extensive collection of arcane coordinates ... for the right price.
Some portals are locked, guarded or otherwise warded. For instance: all of those located in Arboria, the portal in Greystone in Thermador, and the portal located beneath Fort Wantlokin. If a portal is 'locked,' one must have a specific key phrase, code, or magical item to get in or out through that particular portal.
Besides magical wards, there are many other methods available to block a portal or to make it difficult to reach, including physical barriers and guards.
First of all, it must be pointed out that not only mages can create temporary portals. There are some VERY rare magical items that have been known to have the ability to create very temporary portals. However, travel by such methods often takes quite a toll on the travelers.
Sufficiently trained mages of most spheres can also open temporary portals; it is part of the ability to teleport. In order to maintain an open portal for a long period of time, however, (like the naturally occurring portals) requires huge amounts of magical energy. Because of this, mages typically only use such spells for personal travel. This is NOT a common method of travel for everyday people.
Teleportation is a generic spell that the caster employs using their own respective elemental focus. However, mages of Vivomancy are not known to be able to teleport. This may be due to the lack of education of such a spell or the fact that one has not been invented within their sphere of practice. On the subject of temporary portals, there have been some tales over the years about "haunted" or "wild" portals, a rare form of portal which may seem to appear and then disappear or move without warning. It is very possible that such tales have their origins in excessive use of serky as opposed to fact. However, were such portals to exist, travel through them would assuredly be quite dangerous and unpredictable.
Depending upon the realm, travel through known portals may be regulated. This currently holds true for Arboria and both Northern and Southern Oceanuus. Safety and power issues are involved, and protection is afforded by regulating and monitoring what and who traverses through these portals into any particular region. As settlements and cities grow around a stable portal, one can also expect that the regional government will establish some form of surveillance and registration process. Portals are often guarded, and in some places tolls may be imposed upon travelers, as is the case in Southern Oceanuus.