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Champion of the Maze?

Glancing around and straining her eyes in the dim predawn light, Elissa decided that one direction would be as good as any other for now. Normally, when in unfamiliar territory, she’d try and find high ground to access the situation, but not this time. High ground here would be a rooftop of one of the buildings, and she didn’t think that was such a good idea. As rickety and dilapidated the buildings looked, she was afraid they’d simply collapse under her weight and then she’d be trapped and helpless prey for the packs of dogs which wandered hungrily about.

For a few moments, she considered going back inside and getting her sword at least, to have it for protection, but then she dismissed that idea as well. She had no clue how easily The Darkness would be to awaken, and no idea to how he’d react if she returned without fulfilling his request. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.

Glancing around, she picked up a rusty metal pipe and swung it once or twice to get the feel of it. Brittle with rust, it still had a study heft to it and she thought it’d be more than sufficient to beat off a dog with, if it came to that. In a swordfight, it probably wouldn’t hold up long, but for nothing more than a feral animal, it’d be sufficient

Slowly working her way through the yard, Elissa carefully watched where she placed each footstep. The grass here was ragged and up almost to her waist, and broken debris and junk was intermingled freely throughout it. Several times, she almost placed her foot down on something sharp and dangerous, and it was only the extreme slow and cautious pace that she was using that allowed her to move her foot back and find another spot to sit it.

Tall weeds and grass tickled her legs, her butt, and sometimes stoked against private areas between her thighs that made her intimately and uncomfortably aware of the lack of underwear. Born a High Lady, trained to be a knight, and now reduced to this! Her cheeks grew red and flush from embarrassment, though she swore she’d get that reflex under control. She didn’t intend to give The Darkness the satisfaction in knowing how much he had rattled her already.

If one is in a situation where they can’t be strong, at the least, they can act strong. At least, that’s what she told herself.

By the time she’d managed to work her way out of the yard and to the gate, the sun had risen high enough in the sky that she could say dawn had truly broken. Glancing up and down the street, the pack of dogs had left the area and the town – if that’s what one would call such a wrecked wasteland – was now completely empty and devoid looking. She’d heard tales of ghost towns, but this was the first time she’d ever actually experienced being in one, and the experience sent shivers down her spine.

To the left, down the ragged and dingy dirt lane was dozens of shacks and shanties much like the one she’d just emerged from, and she couldn’t imagine their being anything of value in any of them. Off in the distance, at the far end of the lane, was a large stone wall which towered at least twenty meters in the air. If anyone was on it, or patrolling it, she couldn’t see from this distance away.

Down the right side of the lane were dozens more of the same rugged and ruined buildings. Neither direction offered any encouragement at the moment to her, and Elissa was at a loss on how to proceed. “Think calmly and rationally,” she commanded herself. “What’s the first thing that I need to do in this place?”

“I suppose that would be to make certain that I can find my way back,” she reasoned. Looking up and down the street, there wasn’t much to distinguish one hell hole from another in her opinion. “I guess for starters, I need a marker of some kind in front of this gate,” she told herself.

Looking around, Elissa began to gather up various pieces of the garbage which was strewn up and down the road and carried it to the center of the dirt lane. Arranging it carefully, she placed it to shape a very simple arrow which pointed back to the rusted gate that she’d just came from. “It’s not pretty, and it’s not strategic, but it looks like it’ll serve the purpose here,” she laughed. “It’s not like anyone is just going to walk along and mess with it!”

Making certain that her marker was large enough that she could easily see it, Elissa finally picked up her pipe and started down the lane to the right. “No need to go to the wall. Even if it does have guards atop it – which is doubtful – they won’t be trading or bartering while up there and I’m down here. I know that way ends, so it looks like this way is my best choice.”

Knowing she was talking to herself like an idiot, Elissa didn’t like it, but she couldn’t deny that just hearing her own voice somehow made her feel better in the unreal stillness that was all around. She’d been born in a city and had spent her whole life in a large bustling city. The sounds of people, merchants, criers, guards, horses and wagons, and all the thousand other noises of suburbia had been her constant companion. Now, there was just the howling wind and the occasional sound of a rat or dog disturbing the trash littered all about – and even that made her jump every time she heard it!

Slowly, cautiously, with her nerves on edge, Elissa made her way down to the next intersection and looked up and down every direction to see nothing more than the same. Sighing, she once again gathered up debris and laid it to form a marker going back the way she came.

“I feel like a rat in a maze,” she muttered to herself. “In the worst damnable maze that someone could ever imagine! If this is a maze, then I guess the only thing to do is just ‘follow the right wall’ until I find something interesting in here. At least,” she mused, “I think that’s what one is supposed to do when trapped inside a maze.”

Shrugging since she really didn’t see how it mattered one way or another at this point, Elissa turned right again and moved ahead to mark the next intersection, before turning right again.

For several hours, the sun rose higher into the sky and Elissa began to work up a thorough sweat exploring the general surroundings. After walking a distance in every direction, she became certain that the area she was in was enclosed completely by the wall she’d seen earlier. To the west, was the wall. To the south was the wall. To the east was the wall. Everywhere was the damnable wall, and there wasn’t a damn thing except trash and garbage all around her!

Apparently The Darkness lived inside a damnable dump!

Sighing, with her feet starting to hurt somewhat from walking across the rough stone and ground barefoot, Elissa finally decided that the only thing left to do now was to walk the damn circumference of the wall and see if there was a gate or opening in one side of it. The damned Darkness had said she could wench for beer – how the hell was she supposed to do that, if there weren’t any damnable people around to wench too! There had to be some sort of way out of the damn maze she was stuck in. She just had to find it first.

Starting at the southwest corner, she kept the wall to her left and followed it north, until she reached the northwest corner. Continuing on, she followed the wall to the northeast corner and then back down to the southeast corner. “The damnable exit has to be on the south wall,” she muttered to herself, weak from the heat, sweat, and pure exhaustion.

Turning and following the south wall, she made her way all the way back to the original corner where she’d started from – the wall had no opening in it!

Exhausted, almost feeling faint, Elissa slowly turned and began stumbling her way back up the rugged winding streets until she could find a marker than she’d placed pointing her way back. Too dehydrated from the heat and sweat to even cry, she dropped her rusted pipe and slowly worked her way back to the lair of the darkness, her shoulders slumped in defeat.

Her first task – and something as stupidly simply as ‘go fetch a beer’ – and she had failed. Her only hope was that The Darkness would take his wrath out on her and not on her family or the people of her kingdom.

Some Champion of the People she was; she’d failed in her very first duty.

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