Songbird Trilogy Book 1: The Maze Girl (complete)
Author: Julia R. West

Chapter 17
What Haunts The Night

I'm shaken awake by Rory when we arrive. "You should have woken my earlier," I complain. He shakes his head.

"I thought you needed the sleep."

I shrug. I look into the dark seemingly endless forest. I don't recognize anything--what is there to recognize when I can't see anything? I can see why Teryn was so scared of the dark. I never have been, until now, seeing it in front of me. Endless. Like a nightmare and you can't wake up.

Again, we are given earpieces. I decide, no matter what, that I won't switch mine off this time. We are shown to our places again, mine marked with a four, identical to the last one. But there is no two, which was Teryn.

In my earpiece the same voice as last time rattles instructions, rules, explanations at me. "Keep your earpiece switched on at all times, so you don' miss anythin'." I think he was adressing me in particular. "First person to the other side of the forest wins. Fence behin' you's for safety reasons only; show you where the bound'ries are. We'll give you the okay to set you off."

I look down the line. Soren is to my left, maybe twenty-five meters down, and Rory is to my right, about twelve meters. There's still an empty space for Teryn. It would almost be better if the gap was closed. It wouldn't remind me about her absence as much.

"Go!" I run off into the forest. I can't see anything, and I hope I'm going the right way. There must be a trick to this, something I'm not understanding.

Then I realize. Fire! I pat my hands on the ground looking for dry twigs. I find a few and scrub them together as fast as I can. It takes a few minutes, but a small flame the size of a candle brightens the small space I'm standing in. I spot a larger piece of bark on the ground. I pick it up and slowly hold it to my makeshift candle until it catches, too. I blow out the first one, then stomp it out just to be sure. I don't want this whole place on fire!

The fire helps considerably, but this darkness beyone seems impenetable. Not like your average night-time dark. More mysterious and sinister. I press on, careful not to leave any trees or brush on fire in my wake, and try to figure whether or not I'm going the right way. I'm disoriented and can't tell which way I came and which I mean to go.

I call out to Rory. There's no answer. He probably just can't hear me. I force myself to stop calling and convince myself to go forward. Sometime, whichever way I go, I'll get out. It's that simple, right?

My eyes are adjusting to the lack of light now and I can see the outlines of trees. Trees and animals. I keep my ears open for sounds. To my left a few meters I hear footsteps. Leaves and pine needles crack under the feet of someone close by.

"Who's there?" I ask nervously. The whisper comes in reply.

"One more step, Elle, and the boy gets it."

The voice sends chills up and down my spine. But I don't move. "W-Which boy?" I venture to ask.

"You know the one!" hisses the voice.

"Who are you?" I call.

"That's none of your business. You kill yourself, I let the boy go. If I have to come over there and kill you, you're both dead."

I can't move. If I want to run, I can't, because Rory, I'm assuming, will be killed. But I can't just kill myself! My mind rushes, thoughts flying everywhere like debris in a hurricane. I can't tell one thought from another because there's only one question in my head right now: Run and kill Rory, or stay and kill myself.

I slowly walk in the direction of the voice. It hisses as me, "I'd count that as a step." I hear the blade as it is thrust through Rory. I give a scream of pure terror and run towards him. I don't care if I'm running towards a murderer, I need to talk to Rory.

In my haste, I drop my torch. It quickly catches behind me on the pine needles, emitting a sweet-smelling smoke, but I barely notice. I realize that on the ground lies a body, but it does not belong to Rory. It belongs to someone else; someone bigger and older surely...

But I can't see the face. All I hear and see is Rory's shallow and winded breathing. Then I feel a hand grab mine. I look up from the bloody body and see Soren, pulling me and Rory on through the woods. Rory's breathing never slows. He grabs me now, too, and I can feel the shivers running through his body.

I'm confused and not sure what just happened. I break away from Soren and Rory. "I've got to win this," I tell them. "For Teryn."

Soren keeps his iron grip on my hand, until he breaks into a run also and I find myself racing him, in the dark, through an unknown terrain, away from a murder he likely just committed. But he also prevented one. Which was more important?

I'm out of breath and scared when I find myself bursting out of the trees. It's been a while now, I don't know how long, but I've definitely been running for over fifteen minutes. I've been in the forest for less than an hour, but still, the light of the real world blinds me.

I rub my eyes used to the natural brightness and realize something's not right. No-one is here. I am alone, a fence keeping me in. A barbed wire fence, buzzing with electricity.

 

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