The sisters held their breaths. Marie pushed on the door and it swung open. At first, the inside was dark, but Morgan summoned her light and it illuminated the dingy brick wall of a dark hallway.
“Better close the door, just in case,” Marie said in a whisper. She pocketed the keys. “Keep your voices down.”
Morgan rubbed her hands, and the light expanded to show the entire hallway. They were standing in the middle, and at either end they could see the brick give way to steel bars. You check the one on the left, Morgan communicated to Marie. I’ll check this one, and she started to walk toward the right. Marie took Mina’s hand and led her down the hall. “Stay back,” she whispered in Mina’s ear. She wanted to check first: who knew what other person they could be holding in the cell. Luckily, they had the cover of Morgan’s light, which, as far as Marie knew, only Mara and themselves would be able to see.
Marie peeked into the cell at the end, her heart racing. It was empty. She sighed a breath of relief and took Mina’s hand toward the other end, where Morgan was already motioning for them to come over.
“Mara!” Now that they knew the other cell was empty, Marie spoke in a normal voice. Mara was slumped in the corner of the cell, inside which Morgan had already lit up a warm floating ball of flame. She was still in her tattered wedding dress. The train–now smudged gray with dirt–splayed out at her feet like an accordion, and her sleeve was falling off her shoulder. The blood stains, which earlier had gleamed bright red, had faded to a dull brown. Her head leaned limply against the corner.
Mara lifted her head weakly and looked at her sisters, rubbing her eyes against the sudden light.
“What are you doing here?”
Mina grabbed onto the bars and stuck her head between them. “We came to save you! We know you’re innocent!”
Marie was already inspecting the lock, searching through the key ring for one that would fit.
Mara stood and walked slowly toward the bars. She reached her sisters, and took Mina’s face gently in her hands. Up close, they could see that her eyes were swollen red, and tear streaks lined her face.
“How did you get in? Why–”
“It’s a long story,” Morgan said. “But we’ll have plenty of time to explain when we’re all safe at home.”
“She’s right,” Marie chimed in. She was jiggling with a key in the lock. “But we are going to need you to help us leave. There’s a guard somewhere outside, and even though he should be distracted we’ll need you help us erase our footprints so there’s no trace of anything happening.”
The key jammed. Marie pulled it out and tried another one.
“You shouldn’t have come,” Mara said. “It’s far too dangerous.”
“Don’t worry about us right now!” Morgan looked impatiently at Marie, who was trying another key.
Mara pulled herself to Marie, reached her hands through the bars, and held her hands. “You’re not going to find the key there,” she said. “I heard them talking earlier. There’s only one copy, and the sheriff has it.” She sank to the ground and sat with her back against the wall.
“Okay,” Morgan looked at Marie, seeking her approval. “There’s no choice then. I’ll just have to melt it.”
Marie looked firmly at Mara’s slight figure on the ground and nodded. “Go for it.”
Before Morgan could even take a step, Mara shook her head. Her chest shook with it, and a fresh stream of tears surged into her eyes. “Thank you so much,” she said. “You know how much I love you and care about you so much. But I can’t go. I…” She wiped her face with cloth from her dress. “I won’t.”
Morgan, Marie, and Mina gathered around her, sitting on the floor.
“You have to,” Marie said. “I know you’re grieving right now and can’t really think straight, but you have to trust us on this one. We don’t know what is out there, what kind of powers it has, or what it wants.”
Mara shook her head again, sobbing into her arms. “I’m so sorry,” she said. “I hate that you guys risked all this to get to me. But I’m not leaving.”
Morgan’s face crumpled into a tight ball, and Marie could see she was doing all she could to keep from bursting out. She opened and closed her mouth. “But why?” she finally asked, tugging on Mara’s dress.
Underneath their feet, the ground trembled lightly. Marie turned around in an instant, looking toward the door. But there was no one there.
“Don’t worry,” Mara said. “It’s just me. It’s been happening all night. I can’t help it.” Marie turned around and took Mara’s hand. She had never seen her big sister like this. She had always looked up to her self-control, especially her ability to command her powers and use them only when absolutely necessary. Never in her life had she seen Mara completely unable to hold them in.
“You know no one is blaming you, right?” Marie said.
Mara closed her eyes. “It doesn’t matter what people think now. It’s not about that. I never should have put him in danger like that. I should have told him, the minute I even thought of marrying him what I….what I was.” She gasped for air and sobbed out. “What I am.” The ground jolted.
Morgan looked at her sister, and tears spotted her eyes. “You really loved him, didn’t you?”
Mara swallowed and nodded. She breathed deeply and turned towards her sisters. She looked them straight in the eyes.
“Honestly, I don’t care what happens to me now. All I know is I don’t want to get anyone else hurt. And the more straightforward everything is, the less trouble there will be. Even if they say I’m guilty…If I go quietly, maybe they’ll leave you guys alone.”
They sat in silence. Marie scanned her thoughts for any ideas to persuade Mara, shaking her head and squeezing her sister’s hand.
Then, as if an invisible hand had closed in the air, Morgan’s flame was suddenly extinguished. The cell plunged into darkness. What the–but before Morgan could finish her thought, the door swung open. In the empty frame, the sisters could see the orange glow of fire flickering outside the windows. Morgan and Marie got to their feet, shielding Mina and Mara behind them. Dull gray light issued into the hallway from the outer room.
Slowly but steadily, a tall, dark shadow stepped into the frame.