“Why would anyone put a stone circle underground?” Orac shone his torch around the chamber. The circle was already lit by arc lights but the torch brought up patterns on the stones that weren’t obvious in the direct light. On the far side of the chamber the professor and the graduate students were animatedly discussing something.
“Either to protect it or hide it.” Jena was shining her torch at the lintel stone they had to pass under to do the rough survey they’d been assigned. “There’s writing on this one, in Fae. Dehru.”
“What’s it mean?” Orac could speak three human languages and a little elven but he didn’t know Fae at all.
“It can be door or doorway but it really means entrance to or exit from. There’s a second word up there too, but I can’t read it.” There was an annoyed shout in their direction from the professor. “Sounds like we should get on with it.”
“Yeah,” Orac agreed. “Us undergraduate scum should get on with the scut work shouldn’t we?” They walked under the lintel together.
And the world twisted around them.
They were no longer in an underground chamber and cold, blue stars burned in the dark sky above them. Around them the boundless land was flat, rocky, and better illuminated than they would have expected by starlight. They both turned and found there was nothing behind them, not even footsteps.
“Where are we?’’ Orac was whispering, he didn’t know why.
“How should I know?” Jena was whispering. “That circle was actively magical? I’d have thought the professor would have checked for that.”
“It was all a bit rushed, us going out there, wasn’t it?” Orac was thinking on his feet. “And very precise about when we had to be where. Almost as if we were slipping in past a guard rotation or something. Maybe we weren’t supposed to be there at all.”
“Now that’s likely.” The two students turned again at the sound of the strange voice.
He was male, dressed in black and appeared to be a decade and a half older than themselves. There was a sword with a silver hilt on his left hip and if that wasn’t strange enough his black-feathered cloak was moving without a breeze, as if it were alive.
“Sir?” Jena was wide eyed and pale faced.
“This is the backend of the universe, where the gods and their ilk do maintenance on the world. Humans shouldn’t be here but you just came here through a door.” He grinned at them. “I probably shouldn’t be here either, but I am so they gave me the job of keeping this place tidy. It’s nice to have some company sometimes. So,” he gave them an assessing look, “you can come with me or you can stay here to look for food, water and a way home on your own.”
“Why should we trust you?” Orac was trying not to be very afraid.
“I’m the only game in town, boy, and I promise I’m not trying to make you dead. Be kind to a lonely, old Fae and be my companions.” He spread his hands disingenuously. “It’s not like I’m asking you to join my Court. Forever.”