So far Anna and Sira hadn't run into any trouble, but then again, they had only been walking for about twenty minutes. Sira wasn't kidding about the maze being ever changing. They were getting sick of the fact that at every chance to go straight, the maze would shift and turn them around. After about the hundredth time of landing right back where they had started, Sira plopped down on the ground.
“This isn't working!” Sira growled.
Anna sat down next to her. She could understand Sira's frustration, but being frustrated wouldn't get them anywhere. There had to be something they were overlooking, something that would lead them in the direction they needed to go. But, what? While Anna was trying to think, Sira kept muttering to herself. Finally Anna narrowed her eyes at Sira.
“Will you shut up! I can't think straight if you keep babbling on and on about this or that. If you ain't going to be helpful, then just go back to your demon hole. There is nothing more annoying than having a companion that can't do nothing else but complain,” Anna said through gritted teeth.
Sira's jaw dropped. “I beg your pardon?” Sira asked stiffly.
“Oh, you heard me and you know it. I told you to shut up,” Anna boldly said.
Sira crossed her arms, and turned her head away from Anna. She told herself, that if it wasn't for Sin she would eat that bratty woman next to her. But that wasn't entirely true; truth was Anna was growing on her. She would pretend Anna offended her, least the girl got a big head.
Now that Sira was quiet, maybe Anna could actually get some thinking done. She replayed every detail they had seen. Lots of shrubbery, stone flooring, sky high walls, what else? Anna squeezed her eyes shut and tapped the side of her head with her palm. She wouldn't be surprised if smoke was rolling out of her ears, because her mind was working overtime. And then it hit her. There was a statue that seemed to be following them. She was sure if she opened her eyes and looked a little to her right...Yes! She pumped her fist in the air in triumph. The statue was there.
“I think I know how to move forward.” Anna said.
Sira perked up, uncrossed her arms and scooted closer to Anna until their faces were practically touching.
“Umm, first off...you really need to back up, you’re creeping me out. And secondly, see that statue?” Anna pointed to the statue.
Sira's eyes followed her arm. She tilted her head at the statue. It was rather plain looking. Sira had seen more exciting décor in her cave. It was a boring gray, small, and shaped like the demon version of a cupid, statue.
Sira thought the statue looked like a cliché of what demons were suppose to look like.
It had tiny horns on its head, its face was twisted in a snarl, its body was short and plump, it had a pointy tail, a small set of wings rested on each shoulder blade, one leg was sticking out behind it, and the other was keeping the statue upright. In its hands was a staff. The staff was more interesting than the statue. It had thorns running down the sides, barbwire was wrapped around the shaft of the staff, and on top of the staff was a crimson red orb.
Anna stood up and extended a hand down to Sira. Just as she expected, Sira slapped her hand away.
Anna shrugged and walked over to the statue. She walked all the way around it but she didn't see anything abnormal about it. Perhaps she was wrong and the statue was just a coincidence. That’s what she thought until the statue spoke.
“To move forward,” said the statue, “you must solve this riddle: I'm often seen around a lot, referred to in many ways. See me black and you may find misfortune haunts your days. Tell me a thing that should have been kept quiet, to all around; then look inside the sack there, I am no longer found. Nosiness, prying, and snooping, leaves me fearing and full of dread. For all these things, you are likely to see me soon, lying dead.”
Anna stared blankly at the statue. It was Sira who found her voice first.
“How many chances do we get?”
“Three is needed. Answer me true to move forward; answer me false and you'll stay lost,” the statue said.
Anna sighed; she hadn’t understood one word that statue said, but it seemed Sira did, because she was nodding.
Sira smiled. It was so obvious. The statue had given them a riddle, and if they answered correctly, they could go forward; if they failed to answer correctly then they would be stuck going in circles for all eternity.
Sira was pretty good at answering riddles; it was one of her favorite pastimes. The simplest way Sira knew to solve a riddle was to dissect it.
“I'm often seen around a lot…. referred to in many ways...” Sira whispered to herself.
That could mean anything. Since the first line wasn't helpful, she added the second line to it.
“I'm often seen around a lot, referred to many ways. See me black and you may find misfortune haunts yours days...”
That was simple enough. The riddle was referring to a mortal superstition. It was a black cat. But there were three parts to the riddle. If Sira only said “black cat”, then she would only be getting a portion of the riddle right. They wouldn't move forward unless she could get all three parts and get them correctly.
Sira ran the other two lines through her head. The part of the riddle that was referring to a secret that had been told. There was a mortal expression for that...Ugh Sira couldn't think of it.
She moved on to the last lines; again, another mortal expression. Sira was not good with mortal metaphors. The only way she would be able to get the answers correct would be to ask Anna what the expressions were. Sira sucked up her pride and asked.
“Anna, what is it called when you tell a secret that you were not supposed to tell?”
“Betrayal,” Anna said daftly.
“No! There is a metaphor for it. What is it?”
Anna blushed, “Oh...umm, I believe it's called letting the cat out of the bag.”
Sira nodded. That sounded right.
“And the metaphor for prying into something you shouldn't be but you do because you are curious?” Sira asked.
Anna thought about it for a second before replying.
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
Sira smiled and turning to the statue said, “Your riddle consists of three parts. The first answer is a black cat. The second one is letting the cat out of the bag. And the third one is curiosity killed the cat.
When I asked you how many chances we had to guess the riddle, you replied three. But you weren’t referring to how many times we could try to answer correctly; you were referring to the answers we needed to give you – three answers.”
The statue nodded. His orb glowed, and he raised it up before slamming it back down. A brown sack appeared on the ground at their very feet. It was squirming around and making a hissing noise.
Sira backed away from the sack; she had an odd look on her face. Anna was the one to bend down and untie the sack. A blur of something shot out of the sack and jumped upon Anna's face.
“ARGH!” Anna screamed.
She slapped at the furry creature that was digging its claws into her cheeks. With no other good choice, Anna ripped the creature from off her face. Upon removal, Anna felt the claws rake across her flesh. She flung the creature to the ground and jumped back as far as possible.
Sira stifled a laugh at the struggle Anna was having with the cat. But then she saw beads of blood seeping from the scratches on Anna's cheeks. That was quite curious. How was it possible for Anna to bleed when she wasn't mortal? It was only one more of many mysterious things Sira had come across in her lifetime. By now, she had learned to accept the impossible and to go with the flow. It wouldn't do to question the powers that be.
The cat landed on his feet. He shook his fur then turned around to face a blonde-headed girl and the demon. The cat opened his mouth planning to both apologize for the barbaric behavior and to introduce himself; but the cat’s throat was blocked, causing him to cough and hack away until a giant hairball launched from his throat and plopped right on a much-unintended target.
The hairball had struck Sira right between her eyes. Fury built up deep within her and she lunged for the cat. She imagined he would be tough and nasty to eat, but the satisfaction she would feel when his bones crushed between her teeth would be worth it.
Fortunately for the cat, Anna shot her arm out and stopped Sira in mid-lunge. The cat gave Sira a taunting smile and then spoke to Anna.
“I’m Orphie. It's pronounced Or-fee just so you know. I really hate having my name mispronounced.”
Anna wasn't feeling too friendly at the moment. Her cheeks stung, and Sira was struggling against her outstretched arm. It was tempting to let Sira go, but she figured there was a reason why the cat appeared.
I'm Anna and this is Sira. Are you here to help us?” Anna asked.
The way Anna figured it was, if Orphie was really here to help, then everything was good; but if he wasn't, then she would let Sira go.
Orphie watched Sira from the corner of his eye; he didn't like how gung ho she was. Now Anna, he liked. Far as he could tell, Anna was graceful, patient, but also sneaky. She would have made a great feline, but he knew she was not meant to be his; and he wasn't even going to consider the black and red demon.
“Yes. Since you answered correctly, then I am to be your guide through the maze. Where is your destination?” Orphie asked.
“The hive,” Anna replied.
“I'll take you as far as the city’s outskirts and then, it's up to you,” Orphie said.
At that he turned around and moved forward. He didn't need to look back to see if they followed him; he knew they would. He knew they wanted to get out of the maze just as bad as he did. But they had the option of doing that; He, on the other hand, was stuck here, and once they reached the outskirts of the city, (or hive as some beings called it), he would be sucked back into the statue. His only hope was to find true love; then and only then would he be free of his servitude to the statue; the next idiot to get a riddle wrong would take his place. He had no knowledge of what happened to the beings that got his riddle wrong, nor did he care.
For a century and a half, Orphie had been charged with guiding beings through the maze. He had seen many things, both wonderful and treacherous. It was sad to say, but not all his charges made it through the maze in one piece.
Orphie sighed; he really liked the blonde-headed girl and hoped she would make it.
Anna and Sira trailed silently behind Orphie. They didn't have a clue how long it would take to get to their destination, but they were more than content to be finally moving forward.
Anna was in deep thought about her beloved, and Sira was silent for other reasons; she wanted to make sure Anna and Sin met up again. Alone they were each special, but together they would be extraordinary.
The women had been quiet for so long, that Orphie finally looked back. Anna was walking forward, her head held high, but her eyes looked worried. He wondered what her story was. The other woman was trialing a few inches behind Anna. She looked like she was lost in thought; her eyes inwardly focused. He knew that one was aware of her surroundings.
Orphie slowed his pace down just enough so Anna would catch up with him. He kept walking, but as he walked he rubbed up against her leg, hoping to capture her attention. He found himself to be more than a little curious about her.
“Oh!” Anna said; he had startled her. Orphie chuckled.
“Care for some conversation?” He asked politely.
Anna looked down and smiled. She found she did indeed long for conversation. It would be a welcome change from the self-inflicted torture she was putting herself through, by obsessing over what has, or could have, happened to Sin.
“Yea, I would like that,” Anna said sincerely.
Orphie smiled. He was delighted that she wanted to converse with him. It had been a long time since anyone had interested him enough to make him to want to talk to them. But this one, he could feel there was something about her that stood out; she was special and he sensed she had a greater destiny than she even realized.
“Tell me, why are you here?” Orphie asked.
“Ah, but to tell you that, I must start from the beginning,” Anna replied.
“We have time,” Orphie said.
And so Anna told him. She told him about her mortal life, what lead to her death, how she became a soul collector, and how she came to fall in love with Sin. Then she told him the events that lead up to how she ended up in the heart of the maze. All the while, Orphie stayed silent and listened to the soothing sound of her voice. He was the perfect audience. He gave her the appropriate emotions when she told him the joy, sadness, and, infliction's she had been through. By the time Anna was done, Orphie had come to greatly admire her.
“Wow, I give you kudos, Anna. I do hope you find you’re beloved,” Orphie said.
“Thank you. And what of you? What is your story? That is, if you don’t mind sharing,” Anna asked.
“Not at all. I used to be a man. Like all men, I was strong and proud, and careless of dangers. In fact, the more dangerous something was, the better. When I was mortal, I lived for the thrill of placing myself in dangerous situations. It was that thrill that caused my demise. You see, I was sleeping with a married woman. I am ashamed to admit it. But it was the ultimate thrill for me; to sneak around behind her husbands back. Never once did I feel sorrow for the man.”
“You see, my life had been miserable. I was black-balled from my family at an early age; I guess they could see I was a bad egg. I had many friends in my time but it always ended the same, I would screw them over and then my bridges with them would be burned. I was a lonely man and it was easy to appease my loneliness with women. I used them and then discarded them. I had no morals. They could have been single, had a boyfriend, or like I said, married. It didn't matter. It was thrilling to have so many women want me, and to leave them high and dry once I got what I wanted.”
“But, I messed with the wrong woman. She found out about my string of lovers and in a jealous rage she killed me, quite violently. When my soul passed to the underworld I did the routine judgment. I was deemed no more worthy than a common slave. That wasn't good enough for me. I thought I deserved so much better and so I ran. I ended up in the maze, and came across the statue. I did the whole riddle thing, but unlike y’all, I failed. So now, I'm stuck guiding beings until my true love comes to me,” Orphie concluded.