The room was darker than any of the others. The dim light came from somewhere near the center and was not bright enough to reach the walls. Wilhelm and Lilita circled the room, as they had in the first chamber, trying to determine the size of the room and if there were anything hidden in the darkness.
They only came across one doorway, and it was the one they had entered the dark room through.
“There must be something in here,” Wilhelm said. Unwilling to accept that they were let into a dark room for no reason.
“We could search again,” Lilita said. “More thoroughly.”
Unsure how to proceed, they turned to face the center of the room. When they did, they found that a pedestal had appeared. Small and circular, it was as if the stone piece had come out of nowhere when they were not looking. On the center of the pedestal, taking up most of the surface, was a box. Round as the pedestal, but made of metal, the box sat on four decorated legs, gold or bronze, maybe. The true colors were difficult to make out in the dim light. The box itself appeared to be some lighter shade of grey, possibly white, greyed with time.
No longer concerned with the logic behind the things that were happening in the building, the items that were appearing and rooms sealing and opening up. The mysterious light with no source. Wilhelm and Lilita did not question where things were coming from. They knew now that it was the spirits. They just had to figure out what the spirits wanted.
Wilhelm was about to pick up the box, then thought better of it. His hand stopped inches away and pulled back. He circled around the pedestal, examining the box from all sides. There was a small set of hinges along the back, connecting the lid to the main portion. The front had a metal loop attached to the box and another hinge connected to the lid that fit over the loop. A small padlock was set securely in place to keep the box shut.
Wilhelm’s instinct was to break the lock open. They did not have any keys left and the one they discarded in the chest would be too large to bother trying on this lock. He knew he would not be able to break a lock with his bare hands. They examined the box more slowly, still hesitant to touch it.
Lilita noticed a small slit in the side of the lid. Too thin to grip onto, but small enough to insert something thin. Something like a piece of parchment.
“Do you still have the parchment we found earlier?” she asked Wilhelm.
He took a moment to recall the parchment he had kept from the altar room. Once he did, he produced it from his pocket and handed it over, not sure what she was planning to do with it.
Lilita carefully slipped the parchment into the slit on the lid. It was the perfect size to fit into the slit without any trouble. She pushed it in as far as she could and the box seemed to pull it in the rest of the way, taking it in entirely so that it could no longer be seen.
Something clicked and the center of the lid popped up. Wilhelm and Lilita shared a look, unsure what they had done, and Lilita carefully pulled the center piece up to reveal a small compartment containing a tiny key. She took the key from the compartment and it lowered back into the lid, now empty. The key was the same size as the lock on the box.
The lid looked as it had before the key came out, perfectly sealed shut, the space where the compartment had appeared from was completely concealed, even upon careful examination, even knowing that something was there. Lilita turned the key in her hand, looking it over. It was small and simple, the handle of it a hollow circle of rounded metal. The key bit was two simple pieces, of the same round metal that made up the handle and shaft of the key, sticking down at the same length, a small gap between them.
Lilita gently lifted the small padlock on the front of the box and looked at the keyhole in the bottom. She inserted the key, trying not to disturb the box itself as she did so. It did not fit. The key was not thin enough to get inside of the lock. Lilita pulled the key out, replacing the padlock to its hanging position. There were no other visible keyholes in the box. They checked the pedestal for any keyholes, but came up with nothing.
“Maybe,” Wilhelm started, his voice trailing off quickly as he acted on his idea rather than explaining it. He grabbed for the box and, before Lilita could stop him, he was flipping it over in one hand to check the bottom of it.
“Here,” he said, showing her the bottom of the box. “Try using it here.”
Lilita looked at the bottom of the box. In the center of it, there was a key hole. Small and rounded. She inserted the key. It fit. She sighed in relief that nothing had reanimated or attacked them yet, but held her breath as she turned the key while Wilhelm kept hold of the box. The key clicked something over as it turned a quarter of the way around. It stayed in place and a tune began to play, the sound coming from inside of the box. Wilhelm flipped the box over so it was right side up again. The music was clearer this way. The tune was the same as the song the voice had been singing, the notes were the same anyway. The actual song was faster, higher, like small bells ringing through the notes of the song. The entire song played through until the last note, then it stopped. Silence again.
“Is that it?” Wilhelm asked. All that for a song. He was glad it was a music box and not a distant voice calling to them again, but it was disappointing anyway.
“No, there must be something more,” Lilita said. It could not be a simple music box. A difficult to use, secretive music box. It could not be a coincidence that the song that had been sung to them before was the same as the one this box played. They had to be connected.
Wilhelm placed the box back on the pedestal, temporarily giving up his search for any new compartments or keyholes that may have opened or appeared.
As soon as he replaced the box to the pedestal and removed his hands, one of the legs popped open, the top bit swinging out like a tiny door to reveal that it was actually hollow inside. In the hollow space sat a key. Even smaller than the last key, this one was shinier and flat. It was shorter and, though it also had two teeth, they were flat and connected in the middle most of the way down.
Lilita took it out and tried it in the padlock. Once again, she carefully lifted the lock up in one hand so she could see the keyhole. She inserted the key. It fit. She turned the key and, with some effort, the padlock released and popped open. She looked at Wilhelm, hoping for some reassurance. She was still rattled by everything that had happened and the odd connection this place apparently had to her family. He gave a quick, assured nod and she looked back to the lock. She slid it out from its loop, placed it carefully onto the pedestal beside the hollow foot, still hanging open. She lifted the latch on its hinge, releasing it from its grasp on the loop and lifted the lid. Inside, lay another key.
They both sighed with relief and a bit of annoyance. A box of many keys. Wilhelm picked up the key quickly, no longer feeling this box warranted extra caution on their part. He turned it over, checking the teeth of it and noting the shape. It was similar to the first key the box had produced, rounded and metal and the handle was a hollow circle. But the teeth were split into two rows, jutting out from the round length of the key into two angled sets of flat double teeth connected in the middle. It was a combination of the two keys the box had already produced and also the same unusual shape as the door tucked securely behind the bookshelves in the library that was revealed after all the books were thrown from their places.
“Ready for a new room?” Wilhelm asked.
“No,” Lilita said.
She followed him through the water room, through the room with the alcove, into the library, still littered with books. They both looked around nervously as they walked through the rooms. They were uncertain what might come after them. The water in the room could rise. Another skeleton could return from the dead. A spirit could appear out of an object they had not even noticed yet. There was too much that could happen, too many unknowns. They made it to the hidden door without any trouble, but feared for what lay beyond. This was the first door they were permitted to open on their own.
Wilhelm inserted the key into the lock. It fit, it turned, it clicked the lock open, allowing the door to be used.
Wilhelm looked to Lilita, not making any further moves.
“What is it?” she asked. “What’s the matter?”
“It opens this way,” he said.
“What? What do you mean?”
“We need to pull the doors open. They shelves are blocking it.”
Lilita threw her hands up and they fell back to her sides. “Of course. Simply needing a key would be too easy.”
“I thought these spirits were friends,” Wilhelm said, teasing her.
“They are,” she defended. “I just wish my friends were a bit more straightforward in the things they wished for us to know.
“Well,” Wilhelm said, “what could we have missed?”
They both looked around the room, trying to find something they had not checked.
Wilhelm walked over to the shelves, feeling them for any signs of giving way. Any key holes or slits or symbols. Secret levers.
Lilita picked up a book from the floor, skimming through its pages, not sure what she was looking for. She gave up, finding nothing of interest, nothing she could understand anyway, and picked up another book.
Wilhelm tapped his knuckles on the shelves as he looked over the room. They were trapped. Their only hope of a way out was through a door that they could not open because a set of stone shelves had been set in place directly in the way of the door.
“Here,” Lilita said, holding out a closed book to him.
“What is it? Did you recognize something else?” Wilhelm asked.
“Not yet, but maybe one of us will if we keep looking.”
“You want to flip through books we cannot read in hopes that one of us will recognize something?”
“Will one of these things tell us how to break through stone shelves?”
“Perhaps,” Lilita said. “Only one way to find out.”
Wilhelm saw no other viable options. He took the book from Lilita and opened it.
Not surprisingly, nothing in the book made any sense to Wilhelm. He did not recognize any of the words, everything was written in the old language. He did not recognize any of the images because there were none. He was already growing frustrated. What could they hope to learn about removing stone bookshelves from a book. He was about to throw the book down, his hands had already tightened their grip on the edges of the book, his knuckles turned white. He lowered it quickly and looked up at Lilita, about to scold he over her foolishness. He saw her, standing there calmly, a finger tracing over the words on the page she was checking. She looked so focused, so pleased to be searching for answers together. Again, Wilhelm wanted to scold her, for letting her guard down, for making herself vulnerable in a place like this. In any place, but especially in a place like this.
Then, she looked up at him, her concentration waning as she was about to turn the page. She stopped, mid turn, and looked up at him. Her expression softened into something kind and curious. “What is it? Did you find something?” she asked.
Wilhelm stared at her a moment longer. How could someone be faced with such a dire situation, trapped and being held against her will with no way to escape or even fight back, remain so collected? “Nothing yet,” Wilhelm said. He did not understand it, but he wanted to find a way out without smashing through the walls with a hammer. He wanted to solve the puzzle that was this underground building. He wanted to learn the truth and escape using knowledge instead of strength.
Lilita returned to her book.
Wilhelm put down the book he had given up on and began sifting through the mess of books on the floor.
He pushed aside a few books, flipping a couple open, then deciding they were not worth looking at more closely. He stopped sifting, still squatting on the floor. He looked around at all the books surrounding him until one caught his eye. A red volume with gold detailing on the cover. It was closed, so he did not know what he would find inside, if there would be any images or, by some small chance, words that he could recognize.
Wilhelm picked up the book and flipped it open to a random page. This book was filled with images. Many words he could not read filled the spaces underneath and between the pictures, but there were enough images that he could hope to find something of use in this book. He flipped through, one page at a time, until he found a map. Another map. Then another, and another. They were all of the same area, the land that made up Lelonia, and the land surrounding it. He could understand them only by their changing borders. By comparing how the word written on each area occasionally changed to something different. The maps represented the land as it had changed owners, as it had been free for the taking, then taken, then conquered and reclaimed. It was a history of who lived here, generations ago and generations before that.
He studied the maps, starting with the first. Nothing was claimed, no borders were drawn, but names were written in, scattered around all of the land. People had territories, but none of them were properly distributed and claimed. They had no proper borders. The next map showed dotted lines for borders. Vague senses of owning the land. Suggestions of where to go, or not to go, to find a certain people. As the maps progressed in time, the borders were solidified, changing around slightly over the years. Eventually, they resembled something closer to the borders Wilhelm had been taught in his education and military training.
Lilita saw Wilhelm absorbed in a book, flipping back and forth between pages. She put down the book she was holding, having found nothing of use in it, and went over to him.
“What is it?” she asked.
“Maps,” he answered, as if it were obvious.
“Maps of what?”
“Borders. All the borders of Lelonia. Years of them. All the people who lived here and where.”
“I don’t understand. How is that useful?”
“These don’t make sense.”
“Why?” Lilita leaned in closer, trying to see what was so peculiar about the maps. Wilhelm flipped through them one by one. They all centered on Lelonia. They were all labelled over with the people that lived there. They were tribes, small villages at first. Then the tribes joined together to form an alliance. That was how Lelonia became a country. That was when the Saulitis family came to power. The borders stayed the same for some time, the longest stretch of time they had been unchanged. The unity had brought peace to the once competing groups of people. Until they engulfed the small nation beside it. In one fell swoop, Lelonia absorbed its neighbor. A kingdom the size of all of Lelonia, perhaps a bit larger. Gone, in one change of borders. They did not take on villages one by one. There was no war during this time. They simply took the whole the nation. The name of the people who were there disappeared from the map. Either changed into Lelonians or bound forever. There was a small mark right next to the current capital, the location of the castle, the very cemetery they were beneath. The name of that nation had moved to just that one spot.
“This cannot be right,” Lilita said. “We expanded into this land, but not by that much. Not all at once.”
“These maps show that Lelonia took the entire kingdom within a year,” Wilhelm said.
“Now you think the spirits are playing a trick on you?”
“No, do not be ridiculous. But how could Lelonia have accomplished this?”
“It has always been a wonder that Lelonia had never been successfully invaded. Ogril had been trying for years before they gave up. Scared away by…”
“By what? They attacked us and we defended ourselves. They gave up after multiple failures to gain any ground.”
“Word is they gave up after being scared off by ghost stories. Claimed this land was haunted and they did not want to possess such a place.”
“Is that true?”
“That is how I know it. And after being trapped down here, I do not doubt those soldiers were merely tired of losing to your humble army.”
“How is that possible?”
“The Lelonian borders stopped changing as soon as that kingdom became a part of it. Even as all the nations around it continued to change.”
“They must be connected. This land must have spirits tie to it. If someone invades, they are never successful. It has to be the spirits.”
“Then how did Lelonia claim it?”
“We were not always so…wholesome in our ways.”
“No one is ‘wholesome’ in times of war.”
“Yes, but…there were rituals. Dark magic that is no longer used. But it is known throughout Lelonia that such power existed.”
“Dark magic? Are you saying your family caused this place to be haunted?”
The shelves on the wall separated in the middle and parted into the side walls, revealing the door. Wilhelm went to it and pulled on the handle, pushing aside the books on the floor. Lilita got up, leaving the book of maps behind and, together, they went through the door, which closed and locked behind them.
The room they entered was completely dark. There was no dim light to show them their surroundings. No outlines of doorways that hid another room of light. Even the door behind them showed no signs of light beyond once it was sealed shut and locked. The light from the previous room did not stream in while the door was still open, it stopped at the doorway. They had no hints of what might be before them in the dark room.
“You have done well to come this far,” a deep voice spoke through the darkness.
Wilhelm held a hand to his side to feel for Lilita. He found her hand and she gripped his in return. They could not see one another, so this was the only way to reassure themselves that they were still stood beside one another. That neither of them had wandered away into the dark or been taken by whoever was hiding there.
“But your journey is not yet over,” the voice continued. “It seems there may still be more for you to do before you leave this place.”
Wilhelm and Lilita kept their silence, unsure who they were facing, or how many there may be. They were not sure they were facing a person or another spirit. They were only fortunate in the fact that this person, or being, wanted to speak to them before attacking them, giving them time to assess their situation and possibly adjust to the darkness.