Lilita looked to Wilhelm, clearly set in her decision to go this way. He knew she thought she was correct, and he had no intention of admitting to her that she probably was. He moved past her, around the stone wall that stood out, blocking their view of the room. The room beyond was smaller than the first room, but there was nothing in it. Two open doorways stood on opposite corners. The far wall housed an alcove that appeared to be empty. Wilhelm walked the room, peeking into the doorways on his way to the alcove. They were both too dark inside to see what lay beyond. He decided to himself that the best course of action was to see what, if anything, was in the alcove before passing through any more doorways.
The alcove appeared empty from across the room, but tucked into the sides, hidden behind the main room’s wall, the alcove extended just enough to conceal its contents. On one side, a skeleton, long decayed. Nothing but bone remained, still dressed in damaged armor, sword in hand. A helmet lay on the floor beside it. Wilhelm had seen men fall in battle before, the sight of death did not offend him, but he had not seen anyone so neglected in death as to leave them sat in a corner for such a long time. The crest carved into the dirty armor was familiar. It was not the same, but it resembled the Lelonian crest.
The other side of the alcove had a chest. Wilhelm tried the lid, but it was locked tight. Even as worn as it was, it would not budge. The lock and the hinges held over time. The wood was not soft enough with rot for him to break. He took the sword from the skeleton, quietly apologizing to the deceased as he did so. He gripped the handle tightly, looking over the blade. It was too dull and rusted to be of any real use, but the handle would suit him just fine for this purpose. He smashed the handle into the top of the wooden chest, hoping to break through the wood. He smashed into it again. Then again. It did not so much as make a dent. No chips or scratches. It was a useless effort.
Staring down at the chest in defeat, he dropped the sword back onto the floor and turned to face the room. Lilita was watching him. She had seen the unbreakable chest, but turned to see where he had picked up the sword from, expecting to see a cache of discarded weapons. She was not expecting a corpse. She gasped, a hand flew up to cover her mouth, the other to her chest. She knew much of death, but she had never witnessed it herself. Then she noticed the armor.
“Is he of Lelonia?” Wilhelm asked.
“This is not our crest,” she replied, as if that answered the question. She could not deny the similarity, but her family’s crest had never been changed so much as she knew. Based on the circumstances, exploring a building hidden underground beneath a cemetery near the castle that she did not know about, she was not sure what else she did not know about Lelonia.
“A relation perhaps?” Wilhelm suggested.
“I cannot say for certain.”
Wilhelm nodded, understanding as much as he could. He knew pressing her for information she did not have was useless. Their priority was finding a way out.
“The chest is locked,” he said. “There may be a key in one of the other rooms.”
Lilita nodded in agreement.
Wilhelm went to the doorway nearest to the alcove. He did not hesitate to pass through, nor did he looked to Lilita to see if she agreed with his choice. Fortunately, the doorway did not seal shut behind them. They entered the new room, the same size as the one they were just in. This room was furnished, however. Shelves lined one of the longer walls, filled with books, packed with dust and worn soft with use and age. Two heavy wooden tables took up the center of the room. There were no chairs, only a small four legged stool.
A candle holder sat on either table. Both with wax stubs still stuck in them, the candles having burned as far down as they could before running out of wick. Wilhelm wondered how they had ended up this way. There were no books out of place, everything had been put back where it belonged. They should have been replaced, or blown out before they became useless. Perhaps they did not have any more candles to replace these ones, so they used as much of the candle as they could before they burned out. How odd that this room even needed candles at one time when it was currently lit with a warm orange glow, as if a fire burned in a fireplace unseen.
Lilita went to the wall of books, looking over the titles printed into their spines as she moved along the bookcase. She moved slowly, curiously, as if she were looking for a particular volume, browsing a library for something to strike up an interest in her. She stopped about a third of the way down the room. Placed a hand on the top of a book and pulled it from its place on the shelf. She held the book in both hands, looking at the title, remembering something, recognizing the cover in some distant way. She opened the cover, flipping through the pages slowly.
Wilhelm stood beside her, looking at the book over her shoulder. The book was written in the same ancient text, unreadable to him, but Lilita was looking over it as if she understood. As if she were skimming the words until she found the information she needed.
“They recorded everything here,” Lilita said, still flipping through the pages.
“These people. The ones buried outside. They were the people who lived here before this land was conquered and taken over by Lelonia. By my family.”
“What does it say?”
“They are records. I cannot read everything, but the format, the images. These are records of their people, their history and traditions. Their beliefs.”
“They store everything beneath a cemetery?”
“They were keeping it safe.”
“Surely there was somewhere better to keep such documents.”
“Maybe there was. Before my family got here. Before the invasion.”
“Do you know what happened here?”
“Not exactly. I know this land was not always a part of Lelonia. We were thriving, generations ago. We do not struggle now, but we were a growing nation then. We needed more land. To harvest and hunt, to feed our people. More space to live. So we moved south, just enough to satisfy the needs of our people. But when my ancestors arrived, there was already a people living here. They fought for the land, Lelonia winning without much difficulty. Few lives were lost on our side. We won the land and built the castle here to solidify our claim. It became the center of Lelonia and our people moved into the land surrounding it. The people that were here before were never seen again within the generation that followed. We assumed they were wiped out entirely, maybe a few escaped further south, or to the east. But none were thought to still be here.”
“Do you think this is from before that time? Before you family came here?”
“Maybe. I cannot be sure.”
Lilita flipped the pages of the book once more to a page taken up entirely by an image. The same design that was carved into the armor that the skeleton wore. In its clarity on the page, much easier to see than the engraving, the crest was even more similar to the current Lelonian crest than either of them had originally thought.
“Are you sure these people are of no relation to you?” Wilhelm asked. He meant no offense in questioning her knowledge of her family’s history or crest, but this image was undoubtedly similar. It seemed that there may be more secrets buried here than either could have imagined.
“I do not know,” Lilita admitted. “Maybe there is more to our history than even I know.”
“You will learn the truth,” Wilhelm said, hoping this was somehow reassuring. “When we get back to the castle, we will find out who these people were.”
Lilita closed the book, not wanting to look at the crest any longer. She returned the book to the shelf and said, “shall we check the other room? I do not think we will find the key in here.”
Wilhelm let her lead the way out of the room which was, thankfully, still open, and followed her to the other room.
The second room was not at all like the other. Everything was white stone and sparse. A plain stone bench sat in the middle of one of the longer walls. The other wall was set back halfway up, about waist high, creating a ledge the length of the wall that was wide enough to be used as a counter or a shelf. The ledge was laid with equipment, old but well cared for. The shield in the center was engraved with the same crest as the skeleton was wearing on his armor. On one side of the shield lay a sword, no longer as polished as it surely was when it was first crafted, but the intricate designs could still be seen in the hilt and the blade. On the other side of the shield lay a battle axe, the same intricate designs as the sword. Both were laid out for display, not storage.
There was nothing else in the room that gave away what its purpose was. There were no other weapons, no plaques fixed to the wall or laid on the ledge to identify who this display was meant to honor. There was only the bench in the middle of the other wall, directly across from the shield in the center of the display.
Wilhelm moved to grab the sword, curious to feel the weight of it, to know if the weapon felt as impressive in his hand as it looked on a shelf. Just before he grabbed the hilt, Lilita stopped him.
“Wait,” she said.
His hand hovered over the sword. He turned his head to look at Lilita, anticipating whatever ridiculous reason she would come up with for not disturbing a sword abandoned underground for generations. She did not complain when he picked up the skeleton’s sword and tried to smash a chest open with it.
“What?” he asked.
“This is a place of honor. Of remembrance.”
“It’s a display. A long forgotten at that.”
“It is still a display for those lost in battle.”
“Suddenly you know what this place is?”
“I know what this layout is. It is meant to honor those who have passed fighting for their people, for their kingdom. It is disrespectful to disturb such an arrangement.”
“It is disrespectful to trap people in a series of ever-changing underground rooms,” Wilhelm said and grabbed the sword, picking it up from its carefully placed spot on the ledge. He held it in front of himself, then swung it around in a figure eight in front of himself, stopping near his side to admire the blade. Lilita watched with wide eyes, looking frightened at the act.
Wilhelm looked up at her, smug. He disturbed her precious display and nothing had happened. He was about to speak, to brag about it, to mock her superstitions. As he opened his mouth, A harsh wind cut through the length of the room, forcing Wilhelm and Lilita both to lose their balance and stumble back away from each other. They both looked to the end of the room near the door. The form of a man hung in the air above the floor. The top half of a man, anyway. The bottom half tapered off into something of a tail, ending just above the floor. He was more skeletal looking than healthy, a helmet sat on his head, partly disguising the lack of flesh filling in the cheeks and dark eye sockets. The torso wore armor, heavy shoulder guards with a chest piece attached in the center, covering the figure’s chest almost down to where his waist should have been. The man was greenish tinted, more fog than person. He was clear to see, but he was translucent. Whatever he was, he did not look friendly.
“Stay behind me,” Wilhelm said to Lilita, stepping in front of her with the sword in hand.
Lilita stayed behind him, her eyes fixed on the figure. She yearned to step out and confront the spirit, to ask it what it wanted from them, but she did not know that it would speak back. She feared the question would further upset it and cause it to attack.
“Stay away from us, demon!” Wilhelm shouted at the spirit.
This angered it. The expression grew darker on its face, the shoulders hunched in, back arching with rage. Wilhelm gripped the sword tighter, then remembered the shield beside him. He reached for it, holding it tight in his other hand. The spirit looked as if he meant to speak out against the offensive action. Instead, he harnessed his rage and charged through the room again toward Wilhelm and Lilita.
Wilhelm pushed Lilita out of the way behind him with his back to her, shield held tight in front of his face and chest, sword gripped in his hand. Lilita stepped with him, avoiding being struck by the spirit and knocked over by Wilhelm’s defensive stance. The spirit swooshed past them, stopping on the other end of the room and turning around to face them again. The spirit looked even more angry at having missed its target. It shook and readied itself to charge again. Wilhelm turned, encouraging Lilita to follow suit and head for the doorway, which was now unguarded.
They both made a run for the doorway, then stopped short when another spirit appeared in their way. It looked amused at their distress from being trapped and surrounded, but it looked as vicious and threatening as the first spirit.
Wilhelm positioned himself between them, Lilita keeping close to his side. He planted himself in the middle of the room, ready to react to either spirit, focus shifting from one to the other, then back again.
“Leave us alone!” Wilhelm shouted at them. “We have done nothing to you!”
Lilita looked shocked at the statement, her fear never faltering at the situation. She had no idea what these spirits wanted from them, but she ventured to guess that it had something to do with Wilhelm disturbing the humble shrine laid out for them.
“Lilita, take the axe,” Wilhelm said.
“No,” Lilita said.
“Lilita, you need something to defend yourself with.”
“They do not wish to harm us,” she said.
Wilhelm looked to her in disbelief, then quickly returned his attention to the spirits. “Are you mad?” he asked.
“No. We disturbed them. They are spirits and we disturbed their shrine. You need to replace the sword and shield.”
“And leave us without any form of defense? You really are mad.”
“You are not in Gavelon anymore, Wilhelm. You are in Lelonia. My kingdom. And you will replace the things which you took so that these spirits may rest.”
“Oh, I beg your pardon, princess. If I had known you intended to die down here, I would have let you go off on our own. If only you had told me sooner.”
“You are an impossible brute,” Lilita said, frustrated at his defiance.
“A well trained brute, actually. And I intend to make it out of this horrid place alive.”
Wilhelm watched the spirits both readying themselves to attack, their hands clasping at the air beside them, their backs arching and the spaces where their eyes should have been narrowing. He had trained enough to pick up on the smallest bits of body language. Although these spirits were only half body, and not quite body even in that, he saw their angles, he noticed where their attention lie and when it shifted.
The spirits both charged at once and Wilhelm reached around himself, pulling Lilita against the wall in front of him. She tripped onto the bench, shouting out as her shin struck stone. Wilhelm threw himself over her, covering her, shielding her with his body from the spirits. The air rushed around behind him as the spirits passed through one another and landed on opposing sides of the room, trading each other’s positions and sharing each other’s frustration at having missed the target once again.
“What is wrong with you?” Lilita shouted at him.
“You are welcome,” Wilhelm said.
“It is not me they want,” he said.
“And now you know what they want?”
“They were aiming for you.”
Lilita looked surprised at the idea that the spirits wanted her. She had not disturbed anything here. She had been the one to try to defend the spirits, to try to get Wilhelm to return the sword and shield to their rightful places on the ledge. She was doing all that she could to respect them and let them rest peacefully. What reason had they to attack her? Still, she could not help but wonder if perhaps Wilhelm was correct about this particular situation. For such a disrespectful man to be right about the intention of the spirits laid to rest on her land, in her kingdom, was so absurd she refused it.
“Now will you take the axe?” Wilhelm asked.
“No,” Lilita said defiantly. “I will not fight these spirits.”
Wilhelm rolled his eyes at her stubbornness. “Can you not make anything simple?”
“Sorry to be an inconvenience, but you are the one who woke them in the first place.”
“Maybe I did, but you are the one keeping them up, not me.”
“Prove it,” Lilita challenged him.
“Prove it. Step aside and let them come after me.”
“You must be joking.”
“I am not.”
“I will not let you be taken by spirits.”
“Such a time to become a gentleman.”
“I resent that statement.”
“I resent you treating me as if I need protecting.”
“It would appear to me that you do.”
“I can take care of myself. Now, step aside and prove to me that they are after me and not you.”
Lilita was confident in her knowledge of the spirits. They had no reason to be upset with her. Unless they were after her by association to Wilhelm, she had no reason to believe they would both come after her. If anything, they would split up, each targeting one of them.
Wilhelm stared her down a moment, unsure if she really was serious. When her determined stare did not falter, he stood up and approached one end of the room, toward one of the spirits. Lilita stood before the other, unafraid of what it would do to her. She had respected the spirits her whole life. She had no reason to believe they held any ill intentions toward her.
The spirits charged. The one nearest to Lilita attacking her, unsurprisingly. She jumped out of the way, but was knocked forward onto the cold, hard ground. The other spirit had leapt over Wilhelm and swooped down at her. The spirits had both set their sights on her. When she dodged the first spirit, she leapt right into the path of the second and was struck down as the spirit’s unreal looking shoulder, coated in armor, collided into the back of her.
Wilhelm had struck the spirit, he was certain of it. He swung the sword high as the spirit moved to get over him, avoiding crashing into him. But the blade struck. It sliced through the air, through the spirit. It should have been down, injured at least. Instead, it moved on, continuing down its path until it collided into Lilita. She was lucky to have avoided the center of its attack. It caught her shoulder instead of colliding right into the center of her back. She would have been far worse off had it gotten a better aim at its target.
Lilita struggled to her feet, gasping for breath to replace the air that was knocked out of her when she took the blow. Wilhelm shook his head as he rushed over to her. He knew this would happen. He never should have let her test her theory that these were nice ghosts come out to say hello to their guests. They were intruders to these spirits, and they were not being greeted kindly. Wilhelm helped Lilita steady herself, looking her over for any worse damage than a bump to the back. Fortunately, she did not have any cuts or scratches where the spirit struck her. She was not bleeding at all, but she would likely have a great bruise to show for the encounter. Her wrists and one of her forearms were scraped from the ground, but nothing that he was too concerned with. He hoped the bruise growing on her back and the other she had likely received on her shin she she stumbled over the bench would be her only injuries between now and the time they arrived back at the castle. He just needed to figure out a way to stop these spirits before they attacked again.
“Are you alright?” Wilhelm asked.
“I will be fine,” Lilita answered. “What do we do?”
“You are the expert on spirits. You tell me.” Wilhelm truly was at a loss on this. He had never encountered spirits. He did not believe they were something that could be encountered, at least not in this world, not to the living. He did not want to admit it, but he need Lilita’s help. She had learned about spirits, be it through her country’s culture or through Zofia.
“They must be tied to the weapons somehow. They did not appear until you picked them up.”
“Then why are they not after me?”
“I do not know. Because you are not from here? Because I am? I do not know. But they were awakened by you picking up the objects they were connected to. I am certain of it.”
“So how do we get them to go back to- wherever they were before I disturbed them?”
“I told you. You have to put them back.”
Wilhelm looked away from the spirits to check that Lilita was seriously suggesting he leave them both unarmed. She looked to be serious and he struggled with the thought of being unable to defend himself readily if this did not work.
“I need you to trust me,” Lilita said, pleading with him.