It was all too much to take in. One minute we were happily celebrating another success, the next we were in some forest, cut off from the world, facing a medieval knight. Since then we'd decided a wormhole had sent us to another time and place, been attacked by a monkey-like creature (which was rather entertaining for me), and found a weird piece of a clay-like substance which morphed into a person - Ellalen - who identified itself (herself?) as part of a group called the Sent. I didn't get anything past that point in the conversation except that we were brought here for an unknown purpose. Really, really bizarre.
This is NOT what I signed up for.
"Right team time to move out! Let's find a good place to spend the night and I'll take first watch!" Z.Z. called. We didn't get far. As we were picking up our gear to leave, our friend the knight returned, presumably from the illustrious Lord Gusten's castle.
"My Lord Gusten sends his greetings to the Peace Keepers of London, and extends an invitation to stay in his castle." His eyes narrowed slightly as he waited for our response. The way he'd said it, it sounded like one of those "it would be unwise to refuse" kind of offers. I couldn't put my finger on the reason, but I just didn't like the feel of the situation. We could easily defend ourselves if this world was as primitive as it seemed, but I was still uncomfortable.
I said as much to Chiara, who was standing nearby. "I may just be paranoid because of this whole situation, but I don't like this…." I told her under my breath.
"Don't worry, we'll be fine. Let Z.Z. decide and go with the flow," she murmured back with a hint of a smile. We were all watching our commander for some sign of what to do.
Z.Z. had glanced back at all of us in turn, and then returned her gaze to meet the knight's. For a long moment they just stared each other down. Then she said, with only a touch of sarcasm, "We would be glad to accept the offer."
The knight looked at all of us quickly, seeming a bit surprised, and then grunted, "Follow me." Z.Z. nodded to us, and we all fell into place behind her as he led us into the forest.
It was mostly just as you would expect any woodsy area to be like, aside from some plants, trees, and creatures that didn't exist back home. Luckily the creatures stayed away for the most part and we only saw them from a distance. I didn't want to encounter anything too strange until I'd had a good night's sleep. Several times I tripped over rocks or roots because I was busy trying to take in our surroundings instead of watching where I was stepping. Once I completely fell over, and Justin had to help me up. I could feel my face turning red - we should be making a good, strong impression on the people here, particularly this knight and Lord Gusten, and here I was falling over! The knight didn't even turn around, though, he'd been very unresponsive since we started our trek, not saying a word.
By the time we emerged from the woods it had grown dark. The only light to speak of was coming from a structure that I was glad to see not too far away. That was obviously the castle, being larger than the surrounding small houses. It was a relief; despite all our training I was getting tired and eagerly awaiting a bed.
Finally we arrived at the castle, it was apparently a longer distance away than it had seemed. I was surprised by its size - it was definitely bigger than the surrounding buildings, and not exactly small…just not as huge as I'd expected. I was wishing I could see more of it, but the darkness prevented that. Perhaps I read too many fairy tales as a kid and really shouldn't have any expectations. Especially since we weren't even on Earth anymore!
We passed some rough-looking guards as we entered. The doors were massive and intimidating by design. I didn't like hearing them slam shut behind us - it was an ominous sound, full of foreboding. You're overreacting, I thought to myself. Whoever this Lord Gusten is, he wouldn't dare try to keep us here! Even if he tried, we could easily get out and be on our way. Despite my nervous thoughts, I found myself chuckling as I pictured what would ensue if he did try. Unfortunately the amusement lasted only a moment, and I sighed. Why did I have to stand there consoling myself? I'm such a wimp, I didn't even WANT to join the military!
As much as I disliked the situation, everyone else seemed at ease for the most part, only slightly wary. The corridors we were led through were confusing, but not altogether unfriendly. They were dimly lit, but there were only torches for light after all, and there were colorful tapestries hanging at intervals between the torches. The doorways we passed didn't even resemble the huge gates; in fact, they were perfectly ordinary. Nothing was truly dismal or harsh. Maybe this wasn't as bad as it had seemed.
Eventually we reached a hall that was more brightly lit than the rest, with more elegant decorations and a few suits of armor lining one wall. There were two guards posted by the door at the end of it. The knight, who still led us, turned around and said simply, "Wait here." He went on to converse quietly with the guards for a few moments. When he returned he announced, "Lord Gusten realizes you are tired after your journey. You are to have an audience with him in the morning. I will take you to your lodgings."
As we followed him again, I noticed something. There were very few people in sight. Those that were not knights or guards seemed very sad somehow. True, I only had short glimpses of them, but there was some strange quality about them that I couldn't quite place. Maybe they were only tired, as we were - it was getting very late - but as they watched us pass there wasn't even recognition in their eyes. They were almost beyond not caring, every bit of them drooped. My feeling of something being wrong returned at the sight of those people.
The room we were brought to was very plain, and slightly more dreary than the others we'd seen. There was only a single torch for light, no windows, and nothing on the walls. We obviously weren't guests of honor at this point. There were only four beds, so two of us would have to sleep on the floor. It seemed slightly selfish in retrospect, but I immediately sat down on one of the beds because I was so tired. Looking at it closer, the mattress was very old, worn, and dirty. It was probably full of fleas too, but I didn't really care. As soon as our guide was out of the doorway I flopped down on the bed. It was great to relax. Tired as I was, though, it took a few minutes to get to sleep. I heard footsteps a minute after the knight left. The last thing I remember thinking is that the footsteps stopped outside our door and didn't leave.