Unerringly, the Magicians of the Convocation converged on one particular spot where the Red Desert met the sea. The most mundane rode on horses, accompanied by trains of camels and asses for provisions and servants. Others came floating down from the sun-baked mountains on ethereal faerie wings which emerged from beneath the flyers' robes. Yet others travelled at the helms of ships drawn by Water Daemons whose fish-like tails rippled the waters fore and aft, or in boats whose sails were filled by Daemons of the Air, all but invisible except where they roiled and flowed incessantly around mast and rigging.

All of the Convocation deployed their arts and powers to best advantage: the wands and devices were wielded with the consummate skill of the Master Magician, the Scholars and Readers used their knowledge of the ancient scrolls, and the Prognosticators and Diviners invoked their techniques both various and arcane. All agreed that this was to be the Placement for the new Crossing to the Other World.

This Crossing was to be situated on the coast of the desert where a narrow corridor of sun-bleached sand was bordered by the sea upon one hand, and by a range of jagged and arid mountains upon the other. The mountain wall, weathered by daily variations of searing heat and freezing cold into knife-edge ridges and corries, effectively prevented access or invasion from the central regions of the continent beyond.

Red desert and sea The desert coast itself was lined with reefs and shoals, sharp and treacherous, a hazard for shipping; here the corals hugged the beach while there they stretched for leagues out into the sea. It was a wreaking coast, littered by the ribs and timbers of those unfortunate vessels whose daemons had failed, or deserted, at a calamitous moment, and dealing their crews a choice of dismal fates: death by drowning in the sea or from thirst in the desert.

In spite of the reefs and hazardous channels, the sea was an important trade route along the East coast of the Dark Continent. These routes would allow for the future and no doubt profitable distribution of goods through the newly-opened Crossing, when that momentous event finally came to pass.

The command from the Convocation was for Fair Trade: barter and purchase, not banditry or conquest, was unanimously decreed. The merchants and traders were already planning their stratagems: the sales of the spices and herbs quite unobtainable in this world; the medicinal preparations and elixirs for which the rich and sickly would pay handsomely; the opium and hashish that so many craved, and the fine wines and spirits that would enliven even the most jaded of palates.

Of course it was this promise of future riches that had persuaded the bankers and treasury-masters to open their coffers, the idle rich to speculate some portion of their estate, the emperors and minor kings all across this part of the world to raid their strong-boxes and counting-houses.

At that chosen spot on the desert coast, an array of tents and marquees for the Magicians and Sages was erected, its fabrics all in brilliant colours and festooned with fluttering pennants. At the very centre stood the great Pavilion of Convocation, itself secured by more than mundane ropes: Daemons of the Air worked tirelessly to still the flutter of canvas in the ever-present sea breezes or the occasional lashing gales.

Within the Pavilion, the Magicians of the Convocation met day after day, attended by their servants and Diviners, their Seers and draftsmen, and their guards and Familiars. All the servants, from the most senior of Major-domos to the lowliest of camel-drivers, watched and waited in trepidation while the most intense and complex of magical investigations were undertaken.

The Seers and their masters watched the Other World long and hard, opening many an exploratory portal, and sending devices and Familiars to investigate the territory through these unstable and temporary apertures. Sending human observers was regarded as too risky: none of the Convocation wished to lose a valuable slave or guard should a portal collapse without warning.

The locus of the Seers' attention on the other side was a high scrubland sparsely populated by sheep and goats, and the semi-nomadic tribes who herded them. It was a hot and arid climate, not so very different from the Red Desert, but a dozen or so chains higher above the level of the distant ocean. At first, this disparity in elevation engendered grave concern for the Weather Mages, but after long deliberation and intensive study, these learned ones finally decided that any disruption in the flux of the air would be entirely masked by the winds that blew endlessly over desert and sea.

So, the Prognosticators and Diviners delivered their edict: the lands of the Other World were sufficiently akin in geography and climate, and thus the Crossing could indeed be opened safely.

This was not to be the first Crossing between the Two Worlds, nor the second, nor even the third. But it was to be the first for the peoples of the hot desert regions, for the navigators of the teeming tropical oceans and for the denizens of the lush equatorial jungles. It would become the pride of kingdoms and empires, and the source of revenue for the rulers and citizens of both.

The construction of the new Crossing would be a long and arduous task, now barely commenced. By the time that regular trade and commerce finally held sway, the men and women of the Convocation would be ten or more years older.

From this world, a Crossing such as to be constructed was formed from a vast dome of pure Magic, a dome a league or more in diameter and as much as sixty chains in height. A traveller entering the dome would find, at the very point of crossing itself, that the dome somehow turned itself inside-out; the whole of the Other World suddenly ceasing to be inside the dome of Magic and becoming instead the setting for an identical dome in that world.

The Other World could be entered from any point on the circumference of the crossing. This important factor had taxed the sharp minds of the Master Mages and Seers, directed as they were to selecting a location which could be effectively guarded. After all, the revenues and taxes imposed at the borders must not be evaded by bootleggers and smugglers. The near-impassable desert and the mountain ranges formed a much more effective deterrent than the most diligent of human or magical sentinels; although the region was even now patrolled by the Scouts and Explorers, the advance party of the Guardians whose role as from time immemorial was to protect all Crossings between the worlds.

Near the point where the Magicians had converged was a sheltered cove that allowed for a safe anchorage with deep water close to the shore. The Convocation ordered the construction of a harbour, and secure warehouses and markets and counting houses, and all the other buildings which would be necessary for trade and commerce to flourish. So vast blocks of granite were quarried from the far mountains, transported with mighty effort on rollers towed by Earth Daemons, and placed in foundations hacked laboriously from the living corals themselves.

Meanwhile, preparations for the opening of the Crossing continued unabated. The precise location and parameters for the great dome of magic, its curves and arches, its dimensions and placement, were debated long and hard in many parts of the Great Pavilion. Finally, all were in accord, save for one dissenter.

The sole rebel was a Sea Mage, a master of the Water Daemons that were used to propel larger vessels of trade along the coast. He was a prudent and learned man, although as yet only a junior member of the Convocation, by name, Noah.

This Mage argued against the Placement, saying that it was too dangerous, too close to the sea, that the consequences of an error in the position of the dome would allow the waters of the seas in this world to inundate the high deserts of the other.

The voice of the Sea Mage was heard, long and loud and with increasing shrillness, in the conferences of the Convocation and the councils of the Master Magicians. Oh, there were a few of the Convocation who might have listened more diligently to the arguments and studied more closely the scrolls and dissertations. But all knew that the pride of the peoples of the region, and the pleasure of their rulers, was pinned on the opening of the Crossing.

Finally, Noah sought a private audience with the Inner Board of Magicians, the Crossing Masters, the leaders of the Convocation itself. By all accounts, Noah and his Masters put forth their arguments fully and at length, at first calmly and rationally, and then with voices and tempers raised. Afterwards, the Inner Board, now challenged in their authority and wisdom, resolved to silence this troublemaker once and for all.

The Sea Mage was arrested as soon as he left the Pavilion, and immediately sentenced to banishment. Passively accepting his fate and already understanding the implication of his punishment, Noah was taken without delay to an exploratory portal and hurled through, abandoned in the high desert of the Other World. The Master Magicians then calmly put the misguided Mage out of their minds and returned to their tasks and labours.

Introduction Part 2