I rush toward him and tighten my arms around his frame, a goofy grin plastered on my face and relief settling into my blood. Phelix's arms tighten around me in response, and he lets out a deep laugh. "What's this? Andrea Hesper is excited to see her annoying little brother?"
My laugh joins his and I pull back to get a better look at him. His dark brown hair is tousled almost artistically, his eye bags have started to fade and he looks better. My eyes trail down his arms and his body goes rigid.
"What happened to you?" I demand, pulling at his bruised and cut arms. I catch a glimpse of blue hues peeking out from beneath his shirt at his neck, and my frown deepens.
He returns the frown. "I could ask you the same thing."
Marcin clears his throat and we both swivel towards him. "Now's not the time for family reunions. We have bigger issues at hand and you two have a date with the one who runs this place."
It turns out the cage of white walls was just another conjuring. Marcin waves a dismissive hand at my supposed 'pestering' when I ask him how he did it, as if it was an easy skill and he had no time to indulge me on the details of it. I continue my verbal assault anyway as we wind down tunnel after tunnel.
"Where exactly are we?"
It was a pretty good question - I had to give Phelix that. Now that I think about it, I couldn't believe I hadn't asked earlier. Heck, I didn't even think about Phelix for the past, supposedly, two days.
Marcin let out a long sigh that seemed to stretch on longer than these tunnels. "Honestly, if you don't shut up I might end your life here before it even begins."
Phelix nudges me in the shoulders and rolls his eyes. In an attempt to stop myself from laughing, I let out a snort which turns out to be the worst decision of my life, right after getting myself in this situation of course. The pungent smells of the tunnels invade my senses and all I can think about is how I could save Marcin the trouble and just stop breathing right about now. It seems even more potent now that we've finally reached the end.
In front of us is a door. The white paint has peeled and despite a few stains, it's in fairly good condition compared to the state of the corridors. Marcin gives us a wry smile over his shoulder, inches the door open and motions us through. To say I'm overwhelmed, would be an understatement.
"Stay with me. Don't get distracted."
And that is all Marcin says before he weaves through the crowd without looking back, his black hair blending with the attire of those around us. Phelix swears and pulls me forward with a tight grip. My eyes dart around our surroundings, trying to separate reality from the dancing shadows birthed from the candles stationed at equal intervals along what I assume is a cave. I walk into body after body, the faces of those I pass becoming a blur of scowls, raised eyebrows and flashes of teeth. My mind tries to process the sounds of laughter and growls and the constant drip drip drip of water in the background, so harsh against my eardrum after months of silence and tortured cries outside my window.
I'm suddenly pulled backwards and I wonder if my right arm has been torn out of its socket. My gaze travels from the hand circled around my forearm up to its owner's face, causing my eyes to widen.
"Andrea, what are you - " Phelix's curse is drowned out by the roaring of my blood.
A smile slowly creeps onto his face and even though its dim, I know his skin is tanned from days spent outside tending to his mother's garden without being told. His dark green eyes scan my face, trying to distinguish the girl who used to help him with weeding and planting roses, from the girl whose face is now coloured by the bruises and shadows that flourish. "Andrea Hesper?"
His voice is almost the same as the one in my memory. It's now more rough, underpinned by something darker. Even his smile looks as though its heavy, something that requires effort to maintain. I return the smile and the weight of it hits me. His dark green eyes meet my brown ones and the memories flicker between us in moments, shadowed by the Curse.
At the sound of my brother's voice, I tear my eyes away from Jaysen and shoot a look at my brother over my shoulder. Phelix's lips pull back in a scowl at the sight of Jaysen's hand on my arm. The mass of bodies underground continues to surge and in seconds, Jaysen's breath tickles my neck. It becomes unbearable. The solidarity of his body against my back, his hot skin around my forearm, memories of a past that involved his arms around me. I fight the loss that seizes me and pulls me under, but nothing stops the tears that form in my eyes.
Phelix notices and drops the scowl, though his muscles are still visibly tense. "Andrea, we need to go."
I'm halfway through shifting my body to face Jaysen and give him my goodbye, when, from the corner of my eyes, I see Phelix drop to the ground with his hands clawing at his throat. The people around don't seem to notice, or they don't care, and trample over him. Some even have the audacity to kick him in the ribs and leer in his face. He lets out a strangled cry, his eyes widening in fear at something I can't even see. I feel Jaysen's chest shaking, I hear his laugh, the one I thought about in the gaps of my days, and I feel the surge of panic and anger rising in me. I drop to my knees, my hands pulling back at Phelix's ones, trying to push away the strangers who stop to humiliate. The tears are readily streaming down my face now. I can't lose my brother, I can't, I can't, I can't.
A hand squeezes my shoulder, and when I look up at the joy plastered on Jaysen's face, I feel the remnants of my happiness crumble into nothing. I blink through my tears and I plunge the cave into utter darkness.