Stale air lingered on my tongue when I woke up. My stomach sunk. It couldn’t be real. We had escaped. We were free. But my spine pressed into concrete. Darkness smothered my face. The moth-eaten smell of the Institute filled my nose. “Marion?”
I felt her fingers slide between mine. Her grip nearly crushed my bones. “Where are we?” she asked.
“In the Institute, but I don’t know.” My hand groped through the air until I hit a concrete wall.
“Can you create a light?” I asked.
I felt Marion force her energy through the air in vain. “It’s ok,” I assured her, but I wasn’t so sure myself.
Marion and I began feeling along the wall, passing corner after corner. We only made right turns, but surely that took us in a square. Not even subtle bumps in the concrete could give us an indication. Suddenly, the darkness lit into a charcoal grey. Up ahead, a grate-like window directly below the ceiling filtered in filmy light.
“We’re in a basement,” I said.
Marion squeezed my hand tighter. “The labyrinth,”
Dread pierced my chest. I could almost see the giant chimera pawing the ground, waiting for us around the next corner. “Can we climb through the window?” I asked.
“It won’t budge.”
I closed my own eyes and reached out with my mind. Maybe I could find a trapdoor or something. I found the chimera, its animal eyes scanning the darkness. Through his nose I smelled us; we were the human equivalent to chocolate chip cookies.
“Can you make a door?” I asked.
Marion pressed both of our hands to the wall. “Together,” she said.
“I can’t manipulate stuff that isn’t there.” The chimera inched closer.
“Feel outside. Reach through the wall with your mind. I’ll make the door that connects it.”
Four turns and the chimera would be on us.
Sliding through the wall with my mind, humidity warmed my face and frizzed my hair. Mud squished between my toes. I pressed my cheek to the cool concrete, aching to fall through it.
The chimera’s claws clicking against the floor drew me back inside. “Marion,” I breathed.
“Almost there. Keep concentrating.”
I tried to block out the chimera creeping closer, but I could practically feel his breathe on the back of my neck. Gray clouds dripping with rain expanded in my mind. I forced it into the center of my thoughts and blew it up, brighter and more colorful than the labyrinth.
Out of the concrete wall, wood scrapped my nails. A ribcage rattling roar ripped through the labyrinth. My free hand scrambled for the doorknob. Marion turned it and shoved the door open. Light assaulted my eyes as we fell out, and the door shrunk back into the concrete. I landed on my knees in the mud, earthy smells wafting up my nose. I’d never been so happy to be dirty.
“We did it, Marion,” I laughed, letting the wet ground soak into my dress. But she wasn’t beside me. Not even footprints marked the ground. Instead, a porcelain doll stuck out of the grass.
Violet eyes stared out of the mud caked face. I smoothed out her dress, a pull-string dangling behind her. Careful not to rip the string out, I gave it a tug. Marion’s voice emitted from the doll. “Hello, I’m Elmira Demilune. I’m at the Institute because I created an abomination. Dead girls should stay dead.”
The Elmira doll splatted beside my feet. Directly in front of me two porcelain hands poked out of the mud, reaching for salvation. Hesitating, I dug up the rest of the doll. From the strawberry blond hair to the half-freckled face to the white dress, it matched Marion. “You belong here,” I said, clutching the doll close. “I couldn’t let you die. You were supposed to stay with me always.”
“But I’m not happy here, Elmira.” Marion’s icy hand landed on my shoulder.
“I can try harder. I can fix the spell.”
“No,” Marion’s fingers squeezed until they cut off the circulation. “Send me back.”
I glanced up at her. Blue veins crawled across her face, and her eyes stared into the void. Placing my hands over hers, I untangled her binding spell. Each loosened knot made her hand slip from mine. Her color washed out until the last string fell and she faded into the background, a smile crossing her lips right before she disappeared.