The Old in the New.

Earth as we know it is no more. Pollution and war have wiped out most of humanity, now only one community remain.
Jenna lives in the Hotel. After a series of events she finds herself sucked into an adventure, full of things that she could never have imagined.

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7. Chapter 6.

    For what feels like the millionth time in the past few days, I fall again. This time, it’s not floor that will meet my head, but instead an extremely thick layer of dust (or whatever the hell this stuff is…can it be possible for dust to be this thick?) For a second I’m blinded by the hundreds of years worth of the dust-type-stuff until I claw around for something to grab onto and heave myself up. I’m now chest high in this stuff. A sneeze builds up. Then another, then another. One sneezing fit later, I’m ready to press on. Ploughing through this chest high stuff is much harder than one would imagine considering that alone each particle is tiny and light. Maybe I’ll get back to the main bit of the library and realised I’ve gained about five pounds of extra muscle from this excursion. One can only hope. Too busy looking down at my feet to realise, my head smacks into the wood of one of the wooded cases and I reel back, narrowly avoiding falling yet again when my foot catches on something below the dust. I’ve reached a dead end. Regaining my balance, I poke around with the toe of my shoe until I find the thing that almost tripped me up. It feels like another book. Taking a deep breath and holding my nose through the cloth, I duck my head under the dusty-stuff and scrabble around until I have a firm grip on it, before resurfacing. I don’t really want to know what I look like now what with my whole body looking like I’ve just fallen into ash or something.

    I wipe my eyes and turn the book around in my hands. As it hasn’t been exposed to the light, it appears that it hasn’t lost any of it’s colour. The fabric is still a deep, vibrant purple, and the gold edgings still shine in a way that makes me think it’s new or been preserved somehow. I wonder what this one’s about. The book stares invitingly up at me and projects it’s desire to be read far into my skull. Giving into temptation even though I know I should really get back to the central area before I go into anymore books, I flip it open to a random spot. 

    Too overwhelmed with my want to read, there is no room for apprehension in my mind as I begin the first of the five sentences that I know I need to read for me to get inside. I don’t even pay attention to what the story is about as the words tumble out of my mouth, like a secret confession that needs to be heard, but shies away from the spotlight. As the final set of letters fall into silence, my ears pop as I’m squeezed into a tunnel of spinning air and thrown into the other world. It’s strange that I know this is happening, even though my vision of the event is blurry and distorted. In less than two minutes, I appear in the book’s world; hair messed up and my clothes slightly wonky on my awkward frame. 

    My eyes aim downwards where my feet are standing on a tangle of gold metal and jewels on a grey flagstone floor. Hesitantly, I step off the mound and bend down to examine it. What did I just crush? 

“HALT!” a stern voice says as something pointy jabs me between the shoulder blades and guides me up to standing.

Once I am up, I look around properly. I’m in a large room made of stone bricks. Huge windows expand across the walls, the glass in them multicoloured, and light being tinted as it travels through them, the effect of this being shimmering tiles and a slightly otherworldly feel. Directly in front of me is a large wooden seat, covered in red velvet with a woman sitting tall in, chin raised and eyes accusing. I should wonder why she is looking at me in such a way, but the more pressing question at the present is why I’m surrounded by a group of men who each point a metal point at me. I lock my body into position, unsure whether they’re joking or not. 

I open my mouth to speak, but the one nearest to the woman who I assume is royalty of some type blocks my words with his own.

“You have crushed the crown of the Queen by appearing from nowhere. Explain yourself, witch!” He says, voice harsh, sword pressing further into my arm. I make a mental note not to make any gestures for fear of losing a limb.

“I got here through reading this book” I said, flicking my eyes towards the volume that’s lying on the floor a good few feet away from me. “And I didn’t mean to crush the crown…I can’t control where I land. Sorry.”

The woman rises from her throne and addresses me. 

“Of course you can control where you land! Only a fool doesn’t make note of what is happening before using the book to travel” she yells.

    Puzzled, I raise my head to meet her eyes. “You know about the book?” I ask. I feel another sword press against my lower back.

“Address the Queen as Your Majesty, or you will regret it!” says a random voice from the group of soldiers.

Flushing, I mix my words up whilst struggling to get them out, “Apologies Your Majesty.”

Her beady emerald eyes feel like they’re burning a hole into my skull.

“Of course we know about the book! We planted it in the library along with an enchantment a long time ago in order to recruit others to help us. You are the first person to use it to travel here.”

“And enchantment for what?” I ask. I feel another sharp poke and add “Your Majesty.”

“Our court wise man planted one in the library so that any who read the books there will be transported to the world of the book you are reading.”

Understanding washes over me. So that’s how it happened. I had been wondering, as it didn’t seem like any technology was involved.

    “KNEEL!” shouts the load mouthed guard again, swinging the flat bit of his sword onto my shoulder and causing me to topple sideways slightly. I obey, although I don’t know what they want of me now. The Queen, whoever she is, walks down the steps of her raised platform towards me, the satin of her dress dragging over the flagstones and the tight curls of her hair bouncing with her steps. 

“What do they call you?” she asks, coming to stand in front of me so that I feel intimidated by her obvious power over me.

“Jenna, Your Majesty.” I still have no idea what’s going on, but think it would be best if I comply with their wishes at the moment seeing as a good number of killing tools are pointed at me, ready to run me through at less than a moment’s notice.

“Jenna” she murmurs, rolling it on her tongue as if tasting the validity of my answer.

I wait, dreading what she is going to say.

“As you have been the first and only person to enter this world through the book, I bestow on you the mission that the reading of the book entails.”

My head turns in the direction of the novel, and I fix it with my fiercest glare as if I can blame it somehow for the strange situation that I now find myself in. Unfortunately of course, it doesn’t do anything, but instead sits there with a kind of smugness radiating from it that you’d only expect from human beings.

“Somewhere in the land that we’re in now is a staff. This staff has the power to bring whoever wields it into complete control of their land and people. I want that staff. It has been the only thing that I have desired for the last many years. My country is in a poor state, and the staff is my last resort in bringing it back to the good times it once had.”

My stomach heaves and I regret ever doing anything that contributed to me being here today.

“The wall carvings in the tomb prophesise that only a person from another land, another world, can encounter this staff; it is for that reason why we planted the book you read in the first place. We have tried and failed to discover it ourselves - sending our best soldiers and spies out, but the writing seems to speak the truth.” Despite the indifference of her words, the tone of voice which she speaks with has a steely sound, which makes me doubt the decision of her becoming a leader. “Jenna. Because you have been the only one who has entered our land since first planting the book, the task of finding the staff now rests on your shoulders. You will do this, or you will pay with your life. I will overlook the breakage of one of the crowns of monarchs in exchange for you to do this. I am not asking this of you, but rather commanding it. If you do not follow out my wishes you will pay with your life.”

The bright green of her irises darken to a coal black. My fingers twitch in the direction of the metal band that I know will have appeared on my wrist, but before I can remove it, I feel it being removed. Bracing myself, I wait for the sudden rapid movement of air, but none comes. 

The group of guards emits a low chuckle and a monotonous voice speaks up.

“You can hope to escape, but now you truly can’t until you’ve found the staff! As the Queen herself invented this whole plan, she has the ability to take the band off without it sending you back to the library.”

    My last resort gone, I deflate considerably. “So if I refuse, I get killed?” I ask, feigning nonchalance, even though I’m sure that they can see me visibly shaking.

“Immediately.” answers the Queen, her voice betraying no emotion. “The task has no time limit. I have waited for years and can wait a few more, however if my spies do see you slacking then I will not hesitate to encourage you by some means or another.” The last remark is made with poison basically dripping from her voice.

“You will be escorted out now. The next time we will meet will either be when you have retrieved the staff, or when my guards bring back your corpse. Goodbye Jenna.” She backs away from me, the hem of her velvet coat brushing my cheek, and ascends back to the grand throne that rises above the heads of her subjects. Hands grab me under my arms and haul me to my feet and begin to drag me across the hall and to a doorway. 

“I am perfectly capable of walking myself” I shout as my ankle is knocked once again on an uneven stone. I am granted with no reply.

    My escort and I reach the main doors and I get thrown out onto the splintery drawbridge that sits over the wide moat that surrounds the castle. Staring up at the turrets, I marvel at how influential or good of a ruler the Queen must be to have got this amazing building. The inner geek inside me rising, I start to long to examine the architecture further and possibly even do a few sketches that I can look at later. Quelling the want however, I project my thanks at the guards and run off the bridge onto the far bank before it is raised. I’m pretty sure I can hear a couple of good natured grunts in reply. How nice. 

    For the first time since arriving in wherever this land is, I feel a real biting fear consume me. I feel empty as it rages through my body, disconnecting me from happy emotions and infiltrating and releasing my stores of negative ones. It is almost a physical pain and just to feel it exhausts me. I am here in the middle of who knows where without a map, without a means of getting back, without any prior knowledge of the area, without any contacts from people who can help me and the price for failure being to become the victim of a murder. I sense my breathing rate start to increase too much and start to feel light headed, so bend over my knees and struggle to calm myself down. If I just find this staff then everything will go back to normal. I can go back to the Hotel, turn myself in and wait out my time in holding. It’ll be okay. Continuing to comfort myself, I straighten up again and take in the castle’s surroundings.

    The dirt track that I currently stand on leads into a forest, dividing it into two, one side looking considerably more alive and jolly than the other, the opposite side however…well…not so much. Currently I see nothing beyond the forest, but assume it must end sometime, as the Queen mentioned her people. They won’t be living in the forest, but maybe a village instead. If I follow the path I am sure to find habitation of some sort, be it in good or bad condition. Straining to get myself moving, I set my face into an expression of determination, and hope that my pretence will be enough to satisfy my fears for now. Judging by the position of the sun, I would say it’s about midday - the shadows are short and the huge star is high above my head. We never have the sun in the Hotel, but we got taught about it in our lessons about Before. Temperatures decrease considerably when I get uncover of the trees and I hug my clothes tighter into my body. My number one priority now will be to find water, then find food, then find civilisation. To find the first two however, I might need to reach the latter. 

    After the first hundred metres, the path I’m on narrows until I’m walking on just a strip of ground. The further in I walk, the quieter it gets and eventually it becomes so silent that my ears start to tune into the sound of my heartbeat. With just your body making sounds, it’s far too simple for the mind to get carried away and start imagining noises or movements from the corners of the vision. Mild paranoia sets in, but I try and keep calm and walk like normal through the tall bits of wood on either side. A twig snaps from somewhere behind me, setting my heart racing and adrenalin pumping through my veins and pivot on the spot, prepared to defend myself if need me. The thin bit of wood that I heard snapping before falls to the ground; apparently the sound I had heard was it disconnecting from the main body of whatever these cylindrical wood things are.

    I turn back around. Freeze. A silhouette of something is stalking the edges of the forest, it’s body slinking and steps light and smooth. It holds itself low to the ground, occasionally looking up as if it can smell something interesting. My mind is racing, but I look around for somewhere to hide as it draws nearer; skulking in behind things as if it doesn’t want to be seen. I can climb the nearest wooden thing - it has smaller pieces of wood sticking out of it, and some sort of vegetation growing from it that could help shield me. I snap my head back around. It’s drawing nearer. It’s eyes catch in the sunlight and the glint yellow. Do I walk or run? Walk. Keeping my eyes fixed in the general direction of those of the animal, I back away at a steady pace until I feel the rough cylinder. The animal notices my movements away and speeds up ever so slightly, sinking lower to the ground as if to make up for it’s more obvious gait.

    Losing any sense of self preservation, I whip around and scrabble for a hand and foot hold frantically as I hear the animal near even closer. The sound of it’s padding paws mix with the sound of my ragged breathing and I haul myself up onto the lowest rung-thing, scraping my knee against the rough wood and flinching considerably. I get hold of another natural rung of the vertical wooden cylinder thing and start to pull myself up again; estimating that once I am up this high, I will be safe from any possible lunges or attack the predator tries to make. A tug at my ankles brings my senses back down to the forest floor, and amongst the long grass and shrubs which splatter colour amongst the greens and browns, a very big cat stands. It’s teeth, are fastened around the hems of my trousers and it starts to wiggle manically in what I guess is an attempt to get me down. A mixture between yowls and growls come from it’s mouth, and I kick my foot sharply to detach myself so that I can climb away. The fear-borne exhilaration stops me from thinking further than the obvious, so I keep flailing my leg around in zigzags rather than stopping to think for a second.

    Reaching a paw about the size of my head up to my leg, the big cat hooks it’s claws onto the material. I feel like I’m hyperventilating. Using the extra strength I have gained from the chemical reactions inside my body, I stand as tall as I can manage with a huge beast dangling off my leg, grab a near by hand hold (I might use the word “branches” from now on. I’m almost certain that’s what they’re called) and swing around in a tight circle; whipping my leg around to the other side of the tree and pushing down on the big cat’s paw with my own foot. In a matter of moments I feel very light again and I hear a crackle as the animal falls onto the floor again. I climb up as high as I can so fast that I basically teleported and look down again. Can’t cats climb trees? Bringing it’s yellow eyes to meet my ones, it stares at me for a moment before turning away and galloping in shame back into the dark side of the forest. Maybe I should wait here for a few more hours just to be certain that it won’t come back.

    My rucksack balances precariously on the thickest cluster of branches that I can find, and I yank out the blanket from it. The lower part of my leg is cold from where the cat-beast evidently tore off the bottom of my trouser, so I rub my hands against it in a series of short, jerky motions to get the blood flowing enough so that I will be more likely to stay in the tree and not fall out. Briefly wrapping the blanket tightly around my body, cocooning myself in a pleasant warmth, I shake the food packet and swallow it down in a few gulps. Not complaining, because I’m glad to have something to eat, but the Hotel sure needs to work on how to make these things tastier. Next I look at my digibook to see if Cat has replied. Pressing the on button, I wait, but nothing happens. I press it again. Still nothing. In the story world it doesn’t appear to function at all. I grit my teeth and try to stop the prickling in the corner of my eyes. All the more reason to find the staff quicker then - the sooner I deliver it to the Queen, the sooner I can get back and see Cat. Yes…good motivation. I tuck everything back inside my rucksack, and instead bring out a long length of rope. I think I brought this with me when I left in case I had to use it to get down any long lift shafts, but it looks like it’s coming in useful now.

    I lay my back against the coarse wood, still in my blanket wrap, free my hands, wrap the rope around me and the branch as many times as I can manage, and secure it with a huge chain of knots. Hopefully that should do it for tonight - it’s not a really big drop anyway. When I face upwards like this, the glittering shapes of the stars are just visible through the layers of leaves and highlight the vegetation with a delicate silver glow. I watch the shadows move around each other in a rhythmic pattern until finally I feel my eyelids drooping and I fall asleep on my aerial perch.

 

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