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

Chapter 13
One Step Ahead

"Soren's challenge is Rock-climbing," I hear Dmitria say. "Teryn's Challenge is the darkness. Rory's challenge is a Lake, and Ellery's challenge is a volcano."

I'm one step ahead of the game. Actually, four. All is silent inside meeting room A10. Have they heard me? I pause. A chair slides inside the room. Footsteps approach the door. The handle turns, but I am already safely behind one of the thick cold pillars. Julius's kind face peers out of the room. He doesn't see me.

I'm glad that it wasn't Orion, because I'd bet anything his eyes could stare straight through this marble. So my challenge is a volcano. Fire. I hate fire. It burned down our tree!

But it's just as well. Rory and I are no longer speaking. I've got the information I was anticipating. It's not worth risking getting caught--what would Orion do to me then? So I head back up to my room as quietly as the night.





The next morning I wake early from a terrifying nightmare. I remember bits and pieces of it...Rory plummeting into the volcano, his voice calling my name but my muscles wouldn't move, I just sat and watched, Teryn drowning in Rory's lake. I remember her face as it dissolved in the foggy blue-green water, just beyond my reach.

It's not real; none of this has happened, I tell myself. Yet. Then I remember what time Dmitria said to meet her and Julius outside the hotel to be on our way to the first challenge. Seven-o-clock.

It's quarter to seven right now. I hastily drag myself out of bed; brush my hair through quickly, and pull myself into the outfit they've picked out for the challenge. It fits perfectly, and I wonder how they knew....

I pull myself together to make sure I don't cry once I leave, and get down to the lobby. I see Rory there and almost run to him before I realize he's angry with me.

His outfit is just like mine, but in a light navy blue color. I spot Teryn then; hers is a dark scarlet. Just like her hallway on the plane. And finally Soren, identical to the rest of us except for his color, which happens to be a foggy forest green.

I silently walk with the four of them out toward where Dmitria and Julius stand, beckoning us towards her with her free hand. In the other hand rests a clipboard and pen.

We board a train to who knows where. Wherever the challenge is staged; that's where. I try to look casual and calm, but of the five other people on the  train, I'm probably fooling only one or two.

Truth be told, I am immensely scared. Those nightmares! They don't leave my head, no matter how much I try. I can still see them as clear as crystal and as if they were real. And who knows? They do say dreams can tell the future.

I'm attempting to look quite engrossed in the scenery, most of which does not interest me in the least. Trees. Plants. Grass. Clouds. But after maybe fifteen minutes on the train, the mountains come into view. I think this is our destination.

They loom in the distance like towers of a castle with spiraled turrets. Magnificently beautiful, yet somehow forbidding and hostile. I can see the snow-topped summits, the evergreen trees...and wonder what terrors also lie in those peaks. Terrors I will have to face sooner or later.


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