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

Chapter 27
The Element Of Surprise

Cursing, which is something I rarely do, I pick myself up. My hair is matted down with mud, my clothes soaked in rain, and grass stains run up and down the entire length of my pant legs.  I brush off the dirt and mud to no avail.

My one thought of this maze so far is that it's just cruel. I imagine my mother and Lexi at home right now. I picture Soren anxiously waiting for me to rescue his sister and realize I am in way over my head. So I decide to apologize for that.

"Soren,"I begin, looking upwards towards wherever any cameras would be, "If you're out there watching this, I'm letting you know that I'm trying. That this maze..." I have to stop and gather my thoughts. I'm not sure what to say and I start over. "That I'm sorry about your sister." And even louder now, "That this maze--everything about my experience with the challenges--is more than the mere game it appears to be! That there's more at stake here than anyone wants you to know."

I'm not finished with me speech, but I hear a sharp crack, like plastic breaking, then the shattering of glass. A broken video camera plummets down beside me, from a spot right over my head. They don't want me speaking to the audience, but I will anyways. I dart to the next intersection and hastily choose a direction.

Spotting this corridor's camera, I continue my lecture. "And...and that whoever made up" I spit 'game' like it's poison, "Is going to end.  And I'm going to win it."

This camera, too falls to the ground with great impact. But I"m done now; my point is made. And I'm pretty proud of it. It was clear and concise, and every word of it was true--in my mind, at least.

I'm on the brink of insanity. My mind is racing. What will they do to me now that I've made this speech? And like my oration wasn't enough, when I rescue Soren's sister, I'm definitely not in for a friendly 'welcome back' when this is over.

Unconsciously, I begin to whistle Soren's tune. There's no reason not to anymore. All my thoughts for the past few days have been summed up into that speech--the ones I purposely filtered out before among them--that I gave live and loudly to the whole nation, a quite satisfactory audience, although full of millions of witnesses. I'm going to have trouble with this one.

I don't expect a reply after the bird incident, and for a while that's what I receive. But soon a solemn, solitary echo answers me back. My eyes dart around for the singer to see one lonely mockingbird perched on a branch adjacent to me. I move towards it and it flies away, still mimicking my melody.

I follow it without hesitation. It takes me down corridor after corridor, until I am hopelessly lost, with no sense of direction--not that I wasn't before. But only too soon, the bird abruptly dives. In a second or two, I can tell what caused it. An arrow protrudes from it's body. I'm assuming these are what shot down the cameras and the other birds.

Now I trully have no guide. The intersections and dead ends become increasingly confusing, each turn resulting in no progress, as far as I can tell, and probably circles. The sheer complexity of the labryrinth makes my mind race and my thoughts wander. I can't focus.

I wonder how long it's been since we've been in the maze. I can't tell, but what I can tell is that I'm probably not steady enough on my feet for this much running yet. I can feel my knees shake and I'm getting lightheaded. I look down at the scars of my burns. Just looking at them reminds me of the pain they caused--and sometimes still cause.

What I need is a place to sit down for a minute. A safe place, the likes of which are scarce in an environment such as this. I hear footsteps trace their way down a hallway adjacent to mine and hope they're Rory's. They have to be. But I hear them continue on, past the spot where I stand alone and confused. He doesn't know I'm here, I tell myself reassuringly. If he did, he would come find me.




Sitting here won't do me much good, so I follow the footsteps, anticipating a break in the wall so I can join up with the person on the other side. But the chance doesn't come. Eventually, I think he breaks off to the left because the footsteps die off gradually.

I walk backwards, looking at the way I just came. There were no intersecting corridors. So far, this hasn't seemed like much of a labyrinth, but I'm sure the time will come when it will be exactly that way.

My feet freeze up as my spine knocks against something hard. I whirl around, my hands landing on a brick stretch of wall. This doesn't seem right. The rest of the walls have been lush vegetation, not indrustrial stone.

Gazing up the vast, towering shape of the wall I involuntarily take a step back. In fresh, shiny-looking red paint, a message is spelled out for me. For me, because it says:

The Boy Dies. Tonight.

~B. L.


I don't know who B.L. is, but, judging by the freshness of the paint, 'the boy' is Rory. And I don't have much time.

And now I know why there weren't many choices to make. They wanted me to arrive here, whoever 'they' might be, and they wanted me here with few distractions. My heart sinks as I realize this is where the birds were leading me. Or maybe not. If they wanted me here, why did they kill the birds? My reasoning tells me there are two sides who want me. Two sides to a figurative war who are decieving me, influencing my choices. I just have one more choice to make: Which side should I believe?

Dmitria and Julius and the people who made the rules, or Soren, his family, and his tragic backstory. And the very final guestion I pose to myself at this moment: Who's who?

Who killed the birds? Who placed the birds there? Who wrote me this message? Who wants Rory dead?

I'm snapped awake from my world of thoughts to the sound of an object whipping past my head. My first instinct is to duck from any follow-up attack. In my very cliche manner, which I try to disguise, I demand, "Show yourself." My voice is one of downright force, but somehow sounds calm, too, which I can't imagine how I managed.

I can't tell if my ears decieve me or if I actually hear a small laugh from the bushes behind me when a sword comes flashing at the side of my head. Either I am extremely lucky, or the person I am fighting meant for it to happen, but regardless, the flat side, not the razor-sharp edge, comes into contact with my skull.

The force of it cracks my earpiece and forces me to the ground, clutching the side of my head and fearing death. I no longer have the strength to scream, and it's a good thing I don't, because in the silence--silence apart from the ringing in my ear--I hear the garbled fragments of a conversation between Julius and Dmitria through the mangled speaker. "Shut" I can't hear much.

But my last thought as I flutter into my subconscious world is the fact that I know this challenge is no longer in my hands, Dmitria's hands, or Julius' hands. I am at the complete mercy of whoever sprung from the bushes, and the element of surprise has triumphed once again.


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