Wilhelm weighed the idea a moment longer. He saw the spirits readying themselves once more to attack. They were watching him as much as he was watching them. He did not believe that these were peaceful spirits, transformed to attack when he took from their shrine. He had, however, no other options at the moment. He already knew the spirits could not be harmed with weapons. At least, not with these weapons. He considered trying for the sword in the other room. Damaged as it was, there were no spirits tied to it so far as he could tell. He had already used it without consequence.
Wilhelm had decided. He would replace the sword and shield. If that did not work, if the spirits did not retreat, he would rush to the next room and take up the other sword. It was their only other option.
“Stay close,” Wilhelm said to Lilita.
She was surprised that his next move was toward the ledge and not one of the spirits. They watched on closely, still readying themselves to strike should they choose to do so. Wilhelm and Lilita made their way over to the ledge, eyes fixed on the spirits, and Wilhelm replaced the shield. The second spirit settled a bit, the shoulders relaxing, but its attention stayed fixed on them. Wilhelm gripped the sword tight one last time. Lilita saw the hesitation and tensed, pleading with him silently. He looked at the sword, wishing he still had his own. He returned it to its place on the altar. The other spirit relaxed, no longer ready to attack. It still did not look friendly, but at least they did not appear to be in any immediate danger. Still, they were both on edge, ready to dodge out of the way again should they need to.
Both of the spirits closed in toward where Wilhelm and Lilita stood back to back. The spirits moved slowly. They stopped about ten feet away, hovering in the air on either side.
One of the spirits spoke. Wilhelm could not understand them, but Lilita’s brow furrowed in concentration. She was listening to its words, trying to understand them. Wilhelm listened as well, but he did not recognize anything from the language. He assumed it to be the old language. The same as the text they had been seeing, on the pillars and in the books.
The spirit finished its speech, whatever it had decided to tell them. The other spirit did not say anything. Then, the two spirits returned to the items they were tethered to, sucked in like a trail of smoke through a crack in the wall.
The spirits were gone. Wilhelm was reluctant to relax, but there was nothing left to defend against, unless the sword and shield came after them, newly inhabited by the spirits. He hoped that would not happen.
“See? They just wanted their items to be returned,” Lilita finally said, breaking the tension in the room.
“What did it say?” he asked.
Lilita hesitated. “That you should not break into other people’s property and take their things.”
Wilhelm knew that this was not true and he did not appreciate the joking.
“I could not understand everything. I do not know all the words of the old language.”
“You know enough to know what it said,” Wilhelm guessed.
He was correct.
“He said,” Lilita said. She hesitated, troubled by whatever the spirit had told them. “That you should not be so disrespectful of the dead.”
Wilhelm knew this was not what the spirit said. That was just what Lilita chose to say in lieu of “I was right.” He raised an eyebrow.
Lilita’s stern look diminished as she told him the truth. “He said something along the lines of, ‘it is not wise for those who put us here to make a mockery of our fates.’ He also said we have passed this test, but there are more to come. We must pass our own tests, or else risk a worse fate than they suffered.”
“Tests? That was a test? Who is doing this?”
“Yes, but why? And what was that about ‘those who put us here’? Neither of us have ever been to this place, we certainly did not put anyone into weaponry trapped in an underground maze.”
“He could have meant our ancestors,” Lilita suggested. “Or just that we resemble whoever did this to them.”
“Great. Our ancient look-alikes killed some people and trapped them in weaponry and now we have to pass tests to be let out of this underground prison.”
“That means there is a chance though. We can get out. We just have to do as the spirits ask and pass their trials.”
“Trials?” Wilhelm asked, remembering something from earlier. “The pillars. They said something about trials on them.”
“Yes. I thought it was the trials of the dead, but perhaps it was a warning that we were the ones who needed to face the trials and pass them to move on, to get out of here.”
It made sense. At least, as much sense as it could without being able to translate the rest of the text on the pillars, and they could not get back to that room.
“Why is it you could understand the spirit but not translate the pillars?” Wilhelm asked.
“It is easier to understand a language than it is to read it when that is now how you were taught,” Lilita said. “Zofia taught me by speaking aloud. I rarely ever read the old language in a book. I only picked up a few written words here and there. The more common ones that I would ask about.”
Wilhelm nodded in understanding. “So these trials are our only way out?”
“Yes,” Lilita said. “And it seems we have already completed a at least one of them.”
“Then we should find the next one.”
“We have to find it first.” Lilita’s attention was taken by something else. She looked past Wilhelm at whatever had caught her eye. He turned around, following her gaze and saw what it was that she was staring at. A key had appeared on top of the bench.
The key was relatively small and simple. Shorter than a key for a door, but larger than one that would open a box for jewels or an important book, locked away from curious eyes. Wilhelm turned it over in his hand, trying to decide what this key would unlock. Then, he remembered the chest.
“Do you think this is the key we needed before?” Lilita asked. They had the same realization at the same moment. The only thing they had come across so far that was locked, beside the sealed doorways that required far more than a simple key to open, was the chest in the other room.
“Only one way to find out,” Wilhelm said.
They went together into the other room, behind the wall concealing the chest. Wilhelm knelt down, Lilita squatting beside him, and inserted the key into the lock. It fit. He turned the key and the lock gave way for him to open it.
The lid opened and inside lay a pile of clothes. Wilhelm sighed in disappointment and relief. He was expecting gold or treasure or documents that might actually be helpful to them. Not clothing. Who even locked away their clothing? It did not appear valuable in any way. It was faded and drab and dusty. At least it did not attack them.
Wilhelm turned to look at Lilita. “This is the treasure the spirits granted us access to?” Wilhelm asked sarcastically, a bit of himself still hoping for clarity from Lilita. Maybe there was more to this than there seemed. Hopefully she knew what that was. She was staring at the contents of the chest as well, more confused than disappointed.
“There must be a reason for it,” she said.
“Or these spirits are just toying with us. Giving us hope to take it away.”
“You think the spirits are doing all of this for their amusement?”
“Do you have a better idea as to why they gave us that key? Why they led us to a locked chest of cloth?”
“No. But I’m sure there is more to this than-“
Wilhelm shoved Lilita out of the way, landing on top of her on the ground in front of the chest as a sword came crashing down into the front edge of the chest. The sword that the skeleton had been holding when they first entered the alcove. Now, it was in the grasp of the skeleton, reanimated and trying to attack them. It must have come back to life while they were looking in the chest. Wilhelm cursed himself for not hearing it sooner, for not paying more attention to their surroundings. He was unarmed, he should not have let his guard down so carelessly.
He lifted himself enough to allow Lilita to turn over onto her hands and knees and urged her forward. She crawled out from under him while he stayed put. He could not stand or he would push himself straight into the sword blade, still wedged in the wooden chest and held tight by the skeleton across him, over his back.
Lilita was free from the alcove and Wilhelm quickly crawled out after her, just as the skeleton pulled the blade free from the chest.
“Quickly,” Wilhelm said, “I need a weapon.”
“You know you cannot wield those weapons.”
“Well I need something.” He placed a hand on her back, “this way,” he said, urging her into the library.
“There is nothing in here,” Lilita said, trying to figure out what his plan was.
Wilhelm picked up the stool that sat beside one of the tables and held the seat with both hands, the legs stuck out in front of him.
The skeleton stumbled in the doorway. All that time deceased and decaying did not do well for his balance or coordination. The skeleton still held the sword, gripped in both hands with no form and seemingly little plan other than stumble forward and swing. The skeleton did just that. It made its way around the table, nearly falling over as it rounded the corner. Once it had a straight path toward them, it steadied itself, regaining its footing, then pushed itself forward, sword first, gaining clumsy momentum as a drunken man would, taking advantage of his poor balance to stumble in an intended direction. The skeleton lifted its knees high, trying not to trip over its nearly useless feet. The sword raised higher, over the skeleton’s head, ready to swing down. Wilhelm again wished he had his sword.
Wilhelm held the stool up, pushing the legs into the blade as the skeleton swung down into it, trying for Wilhelm. Lilita backed up around the end of the second table. Wilhelm struggled backward toward where she stood as the skeleton struggled to free the blade from the legs of the stool. Wilhelm fought back to break free or pull the sword out of the skeleton’s hands. Either would work to his advantage.
Lilita rounded the other side of the table, getting between the two tables in the center of the room, ready to move herself wherever would suit her best, looking around for some clue as to what would appease the skeleton and allow it to rest again. She could think of nothing. Why had they not moved on? This skeleton and the artifacts here were generations old. There should not be any spirits left. Not under a cemetery. They should have passed on to the spirit realm already. Years ago. Something was keeping them here. Something more than their trials. Surely a spirit would have let go of whatever tempted it to stay by now. Their relatives would be long deceased, their land no more, their enemies buried in some other ground.
Wilhelm managed to free the sword from the skeleton’s hands, but only by throwing aside the stool. He could not reach for it on the ground, he would be exposing his back to the skeleton and the skeleton was not giving up its pursuit to regain its weapon.
The skeleton reached out as it took unsteady steps forward. It was grasping for Wilhelm. He was glad it was not targeting Lilita as the other spirits had done, but he had no idea how to fight a skeleton. He backed out of its reach as its thin, pointed finger bones tried to clasp onto him.
Lilita could find nothing of use beyond the books on the wall and the sword and stool that were now bound together by the blade wedged into a deep cut. She went to the wall, hoping for something to call out to her. She had no idea where to start, what information could be contained in the volumes to put an end to this. She grabbed one of the books, a heavy, solid looking volume, and gripped it with both hands.
Wilhelm tried to kick at the skeleton, aiming for the base of the rib cage, and the skeleton grabbed at his leg. It did not get a good grip, but it caught him enough to knock him off balance. Wilhelm fell backward, landing on the floor, his back hitting the wall behind him. He was backed into the corner, the skeleton coming at him still.
Lilita lifted the book over her head and slammed it down with all her might. It collided into the skeleton’s skull. The skeleton went perfectly still for a moment. Lilita was frozen with fear that she had only upset it further, changing its target. Wilhelm watched, bewildered. He was not expecting that. The skeleton crumbled, all of it bones detaching simultaneously and falling beneath the armor.
Lilita still held the book in front of her in the spot where it had impacted the skull. Wilhelm looked up at her, impressed, and a bit frightened that she could do that with no more than a simple book.
“Sorry,” Lilita said, lowering the book quickly against her thighs.
Wilhelm was not entirely sure who she was apologizing to, the skeleton or him.
“I am not going to complain about not being killed by a skeleton,” he said, getting onto his feet. “That was some quick thinking.”
Lilita relaxed a bit, unsettled by the sight of the skeleton now crumbled in a pile on the ground. She quickly returned her attention to Wilhelm, the threat defeated, the skeleton no longer anything that could hurt them, nor was it something she could help anymore. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Wilhelm said, brushing himself off with his hands, looking at Lilita a bit wearily. “I only hope you are not going to use that on me should I cross you.”
“Maybe not a terrible idea,” she said, teasing. She lifted the book up to examine which title had served her so well. The cover was adorned with gold leafing in the form of the national flower. The same flower that lined the bottom of her family’s crest. Also the same flower that could be found on the look-alike crest they had found in the underground building. Curious at the coincidence, Lilita flipped the book open.
Wilhelm noticed her furrowed brow and grew concerned. Hoping it was not another cursed artifact filled with spirits set on killing them, Wilhelm asked, “what is it?”
Lilita continued to flip through the pages. “This is a book of my heritage,” she said.
“How can you be sure? It is written in the old language, is it not?”
“It is,” she answered. “But I would recognize these images anywhere. These are my ancestors.” Lilita turned the book so Wilhelm could see the pages she had stopped on. Portraits, four on either page. He did not recognize them, nor did he see the likeness to Lilita, but he trusted she was telling the truth. His family had paintings of his relatives hung throughout the castle on the walls. There were other images in the castle’s records, kept safe with their other documents. It was not something that was passed around, given away, especially to people who were likely their enemies.
“What is this doing down here?” he asked. Family information, even of royalty, was not documented and kept in such detail outside of the family’s possession.
“I do not know,” Lilita answered honestly. “They may have been stolen, I suppose. By the people who lived here before my family invaded their lands.”
“What would they want with your family records? And why are they written in the old language?”
“I,” Lilita was struggling for words, her chest growing tighter, “I do not know.” Her hands were shaking, her eyes unfocused and shifting back and forth, searching for answers.
Wilhelm placed his hands on hers, breaking her panicked state. Her attention fell on him enough for her to regain control over her thoughts.
“Maybe there is more to my family history that I was taught.”
They turned at the same time in response to a noise that sounded from the wall of books. A light dragging sound, like someone pulling a book from off of one of the shelves. They looked to see who had joined them this time, but there was no one there. One of the books was being pulled off of a shelf, but there was nothing visible moving it. There may have been something behind the books, pushing them outward. As soon as the first book dropped to the floor, before they could step close enough to see which book it was, to see if something was hiding behind the other books, more books were being pushed off the shelves. Thrown across the room at them.
Wilhelm and Lilita ran around the table, taking cover from the books that were now flying out across the room off of the bookshelves. The table was not ideal cover, but it was difficult for books to hit them directly. A few slammed into the wall beside them, landing onto them. No longer being thrown by some invisible force, the books held little power other than the impact created by gravity.
The books flew off the shelves and, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. There was no more sound of books coming off of the shelves, no thuds as they hit the ground after their journey across the room, no more books rained down onto Wilhelm and Lilita. They cautiously pulled themselves up enough to look over the table. They looked to find that the entire wall of shelves was now empty. The floor was littered with books thrown open, piled on top of one another.
Wilhelm and Lilita stepped over and onto the books toward the now empty shelves. Behind them, there was something there that could not be seen before. There was something carved into the stone, intricate ridges formed an arch shape, curved into a point at the top. It was the same size as a door and, though it had no handle, there was a keyhole exactly where one would expect to find a keyhole in a door. It was an odd shape. It looked like two keys were meant to be inserted beside one another. Neither Wilhelm nor Lilita had ever seen such a lock. The shelves remained in their places, stone bars across the locked door. Another barrier between them and whatever lie in the space behind this shelved wall.
A soft breeze came, carrying a noise on the air around them. Not quite a wind, not a real one anyway. The sound of a voice was calling out faintly from the distance. Barely recognizable, but audible nonetheless.
Wilhelm and Lilita both held their heads up, listening intently to the sound. They made eye contact, but no other communication passed between them. They both were straining their ears to identify the sound, where it was coming from and what it was.
Wilhelm could tell it was a voice, a person calling from somewhere far away. But he could not make out any of the words. Lilita recognized it. She was picking out words, breathy and vague. She lowered her hands, the book still in it, and Wilhelm let go. She walked, slowly, still listening, out of the library and into the other room. She went to the chest in the alcove, still open, key still sticking out from the lock. She knelt in front of the chest, placing the book on her lap with the pages still open to her family portraits.
Wilhelm followed her, leaving some distance for fear that his presence, his breath or footsteps would interrupt her listening, would keep her from hearing something important. He could still hear the voice calling, something lilting and lovely, like a song, something sad and beautiful. He only wished he could understand the words.
Lilita reached into the chest, pulling out some of the clothing and placing it in her lap. The clothing was all purple and gold, made of thick fabric and faded as if it had been in the light for too long, dirty and dark as if it had been stored on the ground rather than lock away in a chest, safe from the elements and time. She held it up in both hands and looked it over, like something lost that was found. Like she could not believe it was really there. The voice grew softer as it finished whatever song it sang. Lilita looked up, lowering the clothing down onto her lap as the end of the song faded out into nothing and rung in her mind.
Wilhelm waited patiently for Lilita to react, to relax, to give him some sign that everything was alright. She stayed put, not moving, not speaking, not looking at anything before her.
“Do you know what it was saying?” Wilhelm asked quietly, still afraid to break the silence that had fallen on the room. His focus was as fixed on her as Lilita’s was on the air around them.
Lilita slowly came back to the present. Wilhelm watched her collect herself, realizing where she was and what she was holding and that Wilhelm was still with her. She had become so absorbed in the song, it took her a moment to answer him.
“That is a song my mother used to sing to me. A lullaby, I suppose.”
“It is the story of a kingdom, growing and thriving. Something comes to stop them, to suppress the kingdom’s growth and teach them their place as a small nation. They are not meant to grow any more. Eventually, the king leads his people to glory, defeating their foe, allowing his kingdom to thrive once more. The thing that tried to stop them ends up being the thing that allows them to be victorious. He uses their advantages to his own advantage. He overcomes the obstacle thrown at him and his people live on, happily, forever.”
“An interesting choice for a lullaby.”
“It is taught as something resembling our kingdom’s history. We are a small nation, were once even smaller. We were doing well and growing and fought for more land to settle and use to continue thriving and growing. There was some resistance. There were people already on the land we wished to possess. We managed to gain the land from them to keep our people doing well. To grow food and build shelters. We succeeded where we were told we could not. It is a lesson to be taught to children. Not to let anyone tell you that you are too small to grow into something greater. Not to let other keep you from succeeding.”
She thought over the lullaby, remembering her mother singing it to her fondly. She cherished those moments when her mother sat with her in her bedchamber and sang to her before she fell asleep. She learned her quiet determination that way. Learned to choose her battles carefully and fight them wisely from her mother. She thanked the gods each day that she was brought up to be as strong and determined as she was without becoming a war hungry tyrant as many nations were so inclined to do, pushing for power simply for the sake of power.
“A good lesson to be taught, I suppose,” Wilhelm said. He still found it an odd lullaby, but he was not about to judge a woman who just defeated a reanimated skeleton set on killing them both with nothing but a book.
“These clothes are the color of the Saulitis crest. My family’s crest. They are the same as the clothes my ancestor wore. The man in this image.” Lilita held up the book, pointing to one of the portraits.
“Who is he?” Wilhelm asked, examining the man. He looked hearty and proud, but not the sort of man you would cross or tell a crude joke to. The kind you would try to impress with your endeavors, but who would not throw praise around carelessly. It would be something to be earned and hardly given, even when it was deserved.
“One of the kings in a long line of Lelonian royalty. A grandfather with many greats before that name. One of the most memorable in Lelonian history. He was the one who lead the country during its expansion. He conquered this land and oversaw the construction of the castle my family now resides in,” Lilita explained.
“Why would his clothing be down here in a locked chest?” Wilhelm asked.
“There is something we are missing,” Lilita said, her gaze growing distant again. “Something in my family’s history that ties us more with these people than I was ever taught.”
Wilhelm could understand that this information was difficult to digest. They did not have all the answers yet, but something told both of them that they would know the truth by the time they made it out of this place. Assuming they ever made it out.
“We should keep moving,” Wilhelm said. He spoke gently, worried that he would rush Lilita. She was clearly upset with the information they had already gained, with the idea that her family was keeping secrets from one another, that there were gaps in their history that would only be filled by exploring this underground temple further.
“There is nowhere else for us to go,” Lilita said. They had already gone through all the rooms they could access. Their only option was to go through more of the books in the library, and that seemed useless since the most they could do was recognize more pictures. Wilhelm was about to suggest they do that, for lack of anything else to do, when a grinding noise sounded from across the room. Wilhelm got up, leaving Lilita sat on the ground, and walked across the room toward it. He rounded the wall blocking the passage to the water room and looked down it. The doorway they had entered through was opening. He went back around the wall and stopped, looking at Lilita across the room. She still had the book in her hands and closed it, getting to her feet. Wilhelm waited patiently for her as she set the clothes and the book into the chest and closed the lid. She left the chest unlocked, the key still in the keyhole, and crossed the room to Wilhelm. Together, they left the incomplete history of her family behind. All they could do was move forward, either to find more answers in the other rooms, or escape this place and return to the castle to ask her parents directly.
The passage led them back the way they had come. The spirits, assuming that was who was controlling the building, shifting the walls around and making things appear when the spirits decided Wilhelm and Lilita had earned them, were sending them back. They stopped when they entered the large room, looking around for any noticeable changes. There did not appear to be anything, and with a look to one another, they silently agreed that there was nothing new to see there. The passage to the altar room was still sealed. The other passage, on the opposite side of the room was still open. The one Wilhelm had tried to go in initially before Lilita oppose him.