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

Chapter 28
The Realization

When I regain consciousness, I feel someone's arms around me. Then he leans in for a kiss. It's Rory. When I open my eyes, I see him there in front of me and don't let him break away from my hug.

"Rory, who was it?" I ask. He seems confused.

"Who was what?"

I shake my head slowly. He doesn't know. He didn't see the figure in the bushes. But now, I'm beginning to think that figure had a different purpose than I thought. It wanted Rory and me together.

"The person...." I begin, unsure of even my own memories by this point. "In the bushes. With the arrows,...and the sword."

His expression remains one of sheer bewilderment. "I don't know, Elle," he admits. "I didn't see. I found you like this."

I heave a big sigh. "But I heard Julius and Dmitria say to turn off all cameras...and...I think, to watch the screens," I say and he nods.

"I did, too. Over the earpiece. There've been a few more announcements. You probably didn't hear because of your head," he says, caressing it gently, trying not to hurt me.

I shake my head. "No, I didn't hear because of this," I say, touching my hand to my earpiece. It's cracked and probbaly no longer works.

"What happened?" asks Rory.

I shrug. "I told you. The person in the bushes," I insist.

He's silent. I feebly try to stand up. I hold onto Rory as I do so. With a quick glance up at the sky, which looks like early evening, I remember the message on the brick wall. I look around. We aren't there anymore. I'm assuming Rory carried me away from the message and knows  about it. But I tell him anyways just in case. "Rory. There was a message on the wall. It said....it threatened to kill you. Tonight."

"What wall, Elle?" he asks.

"You don't know? I saw it...the brick wall where you must have found me, remember?"

He shakes his head. "Elle....this is where I found you," he says, gesturing to the corridor they were standing in. Right where the brick wall stood before was a regular wall, one of plants just like the others.

I don't know what to say. I realize that I must look very stupid, my mouth open and not saying anything. "There's no brick wall!" I finally say. "It was here!" I shout. "I know it was."

"I think you imagined it. It was a dream, Elle." He's adding 'Elle' at the end of most of his sentences.

"It wasn't." I know what I saw.

"Be careful, Rory, I'm not confused and I saw it."

 

 

Judging by the sky, it's maybe eight before we start to move again. We stay together and pick our directions at random. I can tell this maze wasn't intended to be a short endeavor. Who knows how long we'll be forced to be stranded in here?

Dead ends become increasingly common and we begin to forget where we have and haven't gone. I see no sign of Soren's sister or anywhere she could have gone. Everywhere we go either ends in a dead end or circles back to the same place it began.

The tension between the two of us grows and is prominent in the way we speak. Neither of us want to break the silence, but I decide, now that we're here, Rory has to know about Soren's sister. "Rory," I say. He looks back at me expectantly. "I've got to tell you something." His gaze is locked on me, his head turned back so he can see me. I run a little to catch up to him.

"What?" he asks. Even the sound of his quiet voice seems to echo loudly in this otherwise hollow and lifeless place.

"Have you heard of a girl from a few years back..." I begin, "who...disappeared...into this maze? In another tie-breaker challenge just like this one?"

He thinks for a minute, but there's an expression of recollection on his face. "Yeah. Wasn't she--"

"Lockhart," I say. "She was Soren's sister."

There's somewhat of a standstill in the conversation. "How do you know?"

I retell Soren's troubled childhood to Rory, and the story of his sister--including the fact that I am determined to find her--and he listens intently through it all, not interrupting even once.

When I finish, he remains silent for a few moments, then simply says, "I don't believe it."

"Why?"

"I don't believe it because....because what are the odds? I've never like Soren--and I know that's no reason for me to accuse him of lying, but...he killed his dad. He wouldn't tell you his sister's name--which leads me to think he has no sister."

Rory has a point. "He's trustworthy."

I try to remember every detail of my conversation with Soren, every word that he said, to think of a justification for all of this. And then, when I'm thinking about it, I know why I can't find Soren's sister.

He said she tried cutting through the maze. And I come to the terrifying realization that, to reach her, I must do the same. Alone.

 

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