The portal was still the best working she’d ever done, even though it had been five years since she’d taken those six long hours to chant it into creation. Upon first coming to the goblins, she had been shocked to learn that such a thing as alternate worlds existed. In comparison, learning that it was possible to create passages between them had been a small shock. Although learning how to do that had certainly been a lot of trouble. Not, however, more trouble than it was worth. There had always been little tubes so the goblins could pass from this world back to their home, but this was the first big one. And it didn’t constantly change locations like the rest of them, so you didn’t have to chase it across half the country just to get back in. And it ensured that the goblins would always have an escape route, if necessary, which eased her heart some when they went out on business. It had taken a full two days after creation to ward the thing, but that had been worth it too. She couldn’t imagine what would happen if some human stumbled across its existence (humans were altogether too good at stumbling) but she was fairly certain it wouldn’t be classified under ‘good’. Then again, nothing to do with humans was good.
It looked sort of like the offspring of rainbows and diamonds, and there was something like sunlight that came from no place you could see but flashed and winked at you just the same. Furthermore, there was always this sweet-smelling white mist that writhed about its arches, looking for all the world as if there was some life in it. The thing was almost entirely transparent, although the way it glowed you’d never miss it. And when it was “activated” (which was a strange term, since there was no way she knew of to turn it on and off, but it did it anyway) you could see the other side through it as if through a wave of heat. It rippled so badly, in fact, if you looked at it too long you’d actually get sick. On top of all that, it didn’t fit in in the slightest with the ordinary trees and rocks and dirt of the forest. The silence was also eerie, since every living creature had cleared out of the area within the first day. But in spite of all of it, the portal was beautiful. Unnatural and haunting and more than a little worrying at least half the time, but so beautiful you wanted to cry. Tawienna had been living with it for five years and still found it hard to believe that she had wrought this magnificent thing.
She stifled the urge to pace back and forth in front of the portal. She’d thought that the goblins going out on missions alone would get easier as the years passed and she became accustomed to it, but she hadn’t and it hadn’t. She was still anxious from the moment they left until the time they got back and she could count to make sure they’d all come home safely. It was a wonder she hadn’t yet given herself a heart attack from the stress. But her concern was well justified. Anything could happen out there, and if they were caught in action there would be no mercy... Her mind knew that it would be worse if she was out there, she was far more clumsy and large and noticeable, but her heart refused to accept it. A part of her was still convinced that if she was out there she could protect them against all harm. (She knew this was crazy, which was why she stayed behind. But she didn’t have to like it.) They were in this because of her and every life lost fell on her heart like a blow. Tawienna had never been particularly good at forgiveness, least of all with herself.
They were close. She’d felt them pass the ninth warding just a few moments ago. There were twelve rings of them in a shape that was vaguely circular, spanning approximately a mile and a half with the portal at the very center. She’d extended them into the earth so you couldn’t tunnel in either (not that she thought anyone would, but there was no accounting for the eccentricities of humans). The wards even extended into the upper reaches of the trees, so that route was off-limits too. The only creatures who had a possible prayer of getting in without her knowing were birds, and they were too freaked out by the portal to try it. And she’d done what all hedgewitches