Gil was beginning to regret suggesting the trip long before they completed their circuit of the inhabited area. It was not that he was getting physically tired – they had covered more ground yesterday after all – but the more of the stone doorways they saw, the more they all seemed the same.
Not all, to be fair, but they did fall into three distinct categories. A few were highly-frequented and attracted plenty of attention from the business-minded locals. They were rare though, only about a handful among the whole lot. Then there were the light-traffic portals, like the one that had brought them here. Some of these seemed to have people coming and going at regular intervals, but nothing like the constant flow of the most popular. But both were outnumbered by the gateways that seemed to have fallen into disuse. Gil asked if Alfvin knew why that should be.
“I cannot say for certain. It is said that these paths lead all over the world; perhaps some corners of the world are simply more interesting than others. Some, as we know, are fairly remote, but still within reach of civilisation. If I were to guess, I should think that the few well-travelled portals open within or quite near a large city. These others? Perhaps they lead to completely uninhabited lands.”
“Or they’re broken? Maybe their magic wore off and they don’t lead anywhere any more?”
“It may be, though I have never heard anybody say that was so. And why should some continue working while others stop? In any case, the reason matters little to you and I. Whether they remain functional or not, we will never pass through them.”
“Is that a rule? I know you warned me against going through any other doorways, but I kind of assumed that was just because I didn’t know where I was going.”
Alfvin shook his head.
“No, that is more than general advice. It is said that those who exit this land by a different way than they entered will find all the doors sealed to them. Forever.”
“It is said?”
“By those who know better than I would. I suppose there is a chance they may be mistaken, but I have never been tempted to find out first-hand. I quite like my current lifestyle. I do not wish to be barred from this place, let alone stuck in some foreign land I do not understand.”
Gil thought about that.
“If you can only come and go by the one portal, does that mean there’s no way of finding what’s on the other side of these abandoned ones? I mean, unless somebody happens to come through from the other side?”
“Not exactly. There are two ways. Firstly, you could walk through any of these and see where you find yourself. Of course, having done so, there would be no way for you to report your findings back. It would be a one-way trip.”
“Not a terribly helpful option.”
“No. But, technically possible for those with sufficiently adventurous spirits. The other way is one that is not available to you and I.”
“Why is that? What is it?”
“We are constrained by the fact that we have entered by another doorway. Not everyone is subject to that constraint.”
“What do you mean? Everyone must have come here from somewhere originally, right? Unless…”
Gil’s eyes narrowed.
“… unless they were here to begin with. Are you telling me there are aliens?”