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

Chapter 26
Whoever Made The Rules

The next morning I wake up as early as I can to create and keep the illusion that what could be my greatest fear in life is not coming as fast as it is. I shower and dress in a simple pair of black pants and a forest-green long sleeved shirt. I pull my hair back into a low ponytail and don't add anything.

I slip on a pair of tennis shoes and a white sweatshirt just in case. I take as much time as I can, wasting it staring out the window or at the walls, until I am running the risk of being late and I force myself down into the lobby.

Rory is just boarding the train as I emerge from the elevator. Dmitria is standing out in the light rain, crisp peppermint-striped umbrella held above her head, matching her red and white outfit ingeniously.

I follow Rory. There are a number of seats on the train, which is obviously meant for a greater capacity than we provide, so there are a lot of empty spaces. I sit as far away from Rory as I can, feeling alone and lost, like everybody who is supposed to be here isn't. I'm not sure why I choose to be this far away from Rory, when usually, I am as close as I can get.

I feel like being solitary right now, sickened by Dmitria's constantly sweet and fluffy attitude towards everything. I wonder if, inwardly, she trully is this way, or if this is just an outward mask she wears. I have to think the former, because nobody is ever always happy, are they? It's not likely--close to impossible, actually.

The train ride is smooth and all around us, dense forests full of pine and oak trees cut off all feeling of being anywhere near civilization. My voice is rough from the lack of use it was subjected to on the ride, but I have no reason to speak now, either.

Once we pull to a halt on the tracks, we get out silently and stiffly, like strangers who don't even know each other's name, let alone their birthday, favorite color, and so many other best friend secrets.

So we are to be separated for this, I think sullenly as they lead me to one side and Rory to the other. I can see a gate beside me that must swing into place once we are in the maze, to prevent us from exiting the  way we came. The idea of it just scared me all the more.

We are, as always, given earpieces and instructed not to remove them for any reason. The fast-speaking man rattles a string of instructions in my ear which I do not pay attention to, and then silence falls like snow over everything. I feel almost deaf because of the lack of sound, so I involuntarily begin to whistle Soren's tune to block out the silence.

Finally, the "get ready" call comes through my earpiece. A few seconds pass before the "get set" call arrives, and my heart is beating at maximum speed, my hands and knees shaking as they finally shout, "Go!"

The second I dart forward, I hear the unmistakable sound of metal plunging into the soil and look back to see the gate in place. There's no going back now. It's really a funny thought to have. Was there ever really a way to go back, even before now?

The maze is, unconditionally, dark. The thick, looming walls of vegetation close in all around me and seem to extend all the way to the sky. I see glimpses of the gray, rainy sky above me, but have to look down again as drops cascade into my eyes. I can't tell whether I'm wet from tears, or if it's just rain, but I'd guess a mixture of both.

I walk slowly and carefully, stumbling over roots and branches protruding from the muddy ground beneath me. Ominous rustling noises rumble out of the bushes. I look around, but I don't see anything. I whistle Soren's tune, hoping he's watching at home, cheering me on and smiling, using that aura of calmness to his advantage--and his mother's.

I hate to think of them alone, knowing I am their only hope. It dumps an immensely heavy burden on my shoulders that I wish I could throw off, but I can't. The instant I begin the whistle, birds echo me back. The maze resonates with the sound of hundreds of ominous bird calls. The sound drills at me in the back of my mind and I wish I hadn't whistled.

Eventually, it peters out and I can think again. I want to find Rory and be with him. I want his hand to guide me and I want to guide him. "Rory!" I call. There's no answer. For all I know, he could be running a completely different maze than I am.

So I will have to go at it alone. I wonder how to find the place Soren was talking about. I fight the urge to whistle again for a while, but eventually one round of the tune slips out from my mouth, the birds calling it back to me. I realize they are farther away from me now. The sound isn't as loud. I bolt around a corner to see them--lots of them--gathered in this passage. As I approach, they scatter like cockroaches from bright light.

The tune dies down again, but I start it back up. The sound comes from around another corner. Clearly, I'm supposed to solve something here, but I don't know what. "Rory!" I cry again, thinking I might be closer to him by now, but only the normal chirping of birds  answers me. I whistle again, hearing the strange melody the birds mimic, from even farther away.

Now I realize what's going on. I'm supposed to follow the birds.

 

 

I see now that the maze must be acres and acres across, covering a vast expanse of land. This won't be any easy task to manage. Very likely it will take over night to solve.

I whistle, waiting for my sweet melodic reply, but it doesn't come. I try again. I run around the corner closest to me, to come upon a horrific sight. The birds, each and every one, lie dead on the ground. I turn away from the sight. Someone didn't want me to use the birds. But the question burning inside of me is, who?

I force myself across the bird carcasses littering the ground, knowing that this must be the correct way, because that's where they were headed. Around the next turn, my sweatshirt snags on a sharp branch. I feel it's tug as part of it is ripped from the rest and I go sprawling into the dirt. The pristine, white color it had before is washed away in brown.

I'm covered in mud, wet from the rain, and still shaking from fear. I'm a wreck, and it's only been a half-hour. I pick myself up slowly, and angrily take on the next corner of the maze. My guide--or guides--are dead and I need a new one. For one last time I call, "Rory!"

"Ellery!" his voice calls back. I don't know where from, but at least he's okay.

He's in a completely different part of the maze because no matter where I go, I can't see him. I splash through the mud puddles that make up the maze floor, peering  around corners and curves vehemently. But I can't find him anywhere and begin to consider myself alone once more.

I lean back into the wall of flora behind me, slipping on the smooth ground underneath me. My head, for a moment, is submerged in mud but I lift it up, squeezing the brown substance from my ponytail.

I hate whoever made the rules to this game. I vow to myself here and now, that I will avenge them at the first chance I get. Hopefully that chance is soon.

 

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