A small light illuminated a small part of the room from a candle. It did not spark first, as it should have from someone creating a light. Instead, it appeared on the wick instantly, as if the flame had merely snapped into existence on its own. The candle was short and wide, sat upon a stone podium that held an open book and an assortment of other loose papers. A quill pen sat in a bottle of ink. Beside the podium, stood an old man, bearded and covered in layers of cloaks and robes. Piles of books faintly caught the light, stacked tall on the floor beside him.
“You will not leave this place until you have been deemed successful,” the man said.
“We will get out of here,” Wilhelm said. “You will let us pass, one way or another.”
“You wish to challenge me?” the old man said, amused, “How? You are unarmed, young prince.” To show the power he held, the man raised his hands up, the books on the floor rose into the air, swirling around his head. He kept them hovering on display for a moment longer before lowering them back to their piles on the ground.
“Maybe so,” Wilhelm said. He stole a quick glance at Lilita from the corner of his eye. “But I will not let you harm her.”
The sorcerer’s mouth curled up into an unsettling smile. Wilhelm planted one foot more firmly behind himself, ready to take action when the man acted.
“You have done well,” the old sorcerer said, his smile growing into something a bit more believable. “You have passed your trial.”
Wilhelm was struck by the statement. He did not know what trial he had passed. He just wanted both of them to escape this underground prison unharmed. If he needed to battle a sorcerer to ensure Lilita would be able to return to her family unharmed, he would do so. He had vowed to her that he would not let anything happen to her, and he had no intention of ever breaking that vow, even if it meant he was risking himself.
He glanced at Lilita again, she was growing more anxious as she watched him standing in their defense. This stoked the fire within him and his focus shifted back to the old man beside the podium.
“Relax, young one,” the sorcerer said. “Fighting me will solve nothing. I cannot free you of this place.”
This did nothing to relax Wilhelm. He was still not sure what the sorcerer was on about. He saw no other way to leave, but there was little he could do against someone so powerful on his own. He had no chance against him.
“What is this trial you speak of?” Wilhelm asked. He stood taller, his stance no longer in the ready, but he was watching the sorcerer carefully.
“The trials are the things you must do to move on from this place.”
“What sort of things?”
“They are different for everyone. A task to complete, a lesson to be learned, a moment of clarity to shed light on the blinded path you walk.” The sorcerer looked to Lilita. He was not concerned with the threat Wilhelm had been trying to portray. There was nothing they could do to harm him.
“How do we get out of here?” Lilita asked. She figured he must be meant to help them move on. She just needed to convince him to do it.
“What makes you think I can get you out of here?” the sorcerer asked.
“You clearly have great power,” she said. “Surely you could spare some to help us return home.”
The sorcerer’s eyes narrowed. “Just because I have power, that is not a reason to help you.”
“Because it is the right thing to do.”
He raised an eyebrow. “‘It is the right thing to do?’ To set you free of this place, so you can return home and marry and conquer more lands together. To take more lives and trap more souls? No, I do not think I would help you, even if I could.”
“We do not wish to trap anyone’s souls,” Lilita said. “Even if we could.”
“Oh, but you can. And you will. I do not wish to see the same fate that this place has suffered be forced upon anyone else. I want no part in it.”
“But that is not what we wish to do,” Lilita pleaded. “You must help us. We will do something for you in return.”
“You will do something for me, but as I have told you, I cannot free you. That is not within my power any longer.”
Lilita thought about that a moment. “But it was. Someone has put a tether on your power?”
The sorcerer looked down. “My only power now lies in writing. I keep these records safe from any who wish to lay their eyes on them. I record the names of the souls who reside here and, as a result of that power, those souls are a part of this place.”
“They cannot leave because you have their names written down.”
“You are Brad, the Book Lord of legend,” Lilita said.
“So you have heard of me,” Brad said, sounding impressed. “Although I assure you, I am no legend. Just a man who has been tasked with fulfilling a single task for all eternity.”
“That does not sound like ‘just a man’,” Wilhelm said.
Brad let out a laugh at that. “I suppose my lifetime is fated to be far longer than one without such magic. I am a man no less.”
“So you have a hold on all of these souls,” Lilita said, trying to make sense of what he was telling them. “But you do not wish to keep them here, you simply must because someone else controls your power.”
“I am in full control of my power. I am, however, limited in how I may use it.”
“And the names,” Lilita began.
“Are in this book,” Brad said, laying a hand on the book that sat on the podium.
“You do not wish to keep them here.”
Brad did not answer.
“But you must.”
He did not want to keep these souls here any longer, but whatever tether was placed upon him, whatever restriction had been put on his power, was keeping him from releasing the souls.
“What if someone else were to release them?” Lilita asked.
“Then I would have to defend the book against them.”
“You are meant to write the names, and protect the book that holds them.”
“Where is the book that holds your name?”
“My name is in no book. I have not passed on yet. Even if I do, I will not be permitted to pass on until my tether is severed.”
“You cannot die?” Wilhelm asked.
“No, I cannot pass on once I die. But death is unlikely for quite some time,” Brad said. “Until that link is severed, I am forced to live out my days here, protecting these names.”
“Then we shall sever it for you,” Lilita said.
“You may change your mind once you learn the truth of it.”
“I know it is my family. I do not know how, but I know that they are responsible for this. They must hold the key to releasing you.”
“You are wise beyond your years,” Brad said. “There is something your family possesses that holds me.”
“What is it?” Lilita asked. She was eager to free the souls that were trapped here. She wanted to undo whatever it was her family had done to these people, to make up for it in whatever way she could. They deserved to move on. They should not be trapped in the mortal world, or whatever in between they were stuck in. Brad should be permitted to move on with his life, to pass on, to enter the spirit realm himself. He should not be forced to live down here alone to keep trapping souls against his will any longer.
“There is a stone that holds the restrictions on my powers. Destroy the stone, severe the connection.”
“What sort of stone?”
“I do not know. It has been a long time and, unsurprisingly, I was not permitted to get a good look at it when the spell was cast that bound me to it. All I know is someone in your family must have it. Someone must be protecting it.”
Lilita searched her memory for some sort of stone that her family may possess, something that they valued deeply and kept close. They could have had something locked away in their chambers, but that would risk one of the servants finding it. It could be kept in a different location, but that would risk bandits stealing it as her parents rarely travelled for long periods. It must have been something that they kept on them. They wore few jewels. Gold mostly, and that seemed a poor source for trapping such great power. Then Lilita remembered, the one stone her parents always had on them.
“We will put an end to this,” Lilita said. “All these souls will be free.”
“And I believe that means that you have passed your trial as well, princess. Now, go. Take care of whatever unfinished business you have. Solve the puzzle in this room and return to the world above. I know we will meet again.” He patted the book gently and went back to his work, writing in whatever other documents he had laid out, ignoring them.
“We have to get out of here,” Wilhelm said.
“We have to solve the puzzle,” Lilita said.
“What puzzle? There is nothing else here.”
“There must be something.”
“If only we could just destroy the book and be done with it.”
“You know that will not work. Brad will be forced to defend it, and, even if we could get the book away from him, we have no way to destroy it.”
“I know. I just wish something in this place were simple.”
They looked around the room for something they could work with.
There was nothing visible to them. Only Brad and his podium could be seen. The rest of the room was shrouded in darkness beyond the short reach of the candle’s light. Even the books, now restacked on the floor, were hardly touched by the light.
Wilhelm took a few careful steps forward, toward the center of the room. As he moved, the floor beneath his feet glowed, steady and bright. Had it not been for Lilita’s gasp at the sight, he may not have even noticed. The light was not especially bright, but compared to the blinding darkness they were in, it appeared bright at first glance until his eyes adjusted and it was no longer difficult to look at.
Wilhelm, uncertain what the light was, stepped aside, off of the glowing stone square. The floor beneath him lit up again, the other square still illuminated. He continued stepping aside and the floor continued lighting up beneath him.
Lilita stepped onto the squares after him. As soon as her foot landed on the first square that had lit up, the tiles all went dark. They both stopped moving. Wilhelm took another step onto a new square and once again, it lit up. Lilita stepped forward as well. Her square lit up. Curiously, they continued stepping around the room, testing the floor. Wilhelm came to a point where he must cross one of Lilita’s lit up squares to proceed. When he did, all of the light went out. The mostly lit room fell to darkness.
“We can only step on the dark tiles,” Wilhelm said.
“We must have to light all of them up. But we cannot step on the same space twice.”
They looked to Brad for some sign of confirmation. He was listening to them, discreetly watching them while pretending to work. When they stopped to await some kind of response from him, he began shuffling his papers around, acting as if he were only taking a moment to read over something written on them.
Wilhelm and Lilita took this as a sign that they were on the right path to solving the room’s puzzle.
“Cover as much of that side of the room as you can,” Wilhelm said to Lilita. “I will do the same over here.”
“We should start near the edges and work our way in toward each other.”
“Let us hope there is not a particular space we need to end on.”
They worked their way around the room, covering full rows at a time as often as they could, trying to plan their route before proceeding when faced with a decision as to which way to turn. They called back and forth to one another a couple of times when they got stuck to make sure their path was not going to interfere with the other’s.
They filled in most of the squares until they met in the middle, four squares left.
Lilita moved straight forward while Wilhelm stepped forward, then turned. They each lit up their final squares at the same time. The whole room was lit by the floor. The cracks between the squares, which remained dark outlines while they worked, filled in with light, turning the floor into a single glowing surface. They ventured to step off of their previously marked squares. The light stayed lit. A mark appeared on the wall opposite where they had entered, a thin line going from the floor to the ceiling. More light poured in as the wall opened up, pulling apart from the middle to reveal a tunnel of bright light.
When the wall was finished opening up, the light dimmed to something easier to look at. The wall had opened to reveal a set of stairs leading up. Wilhelm and Lilita shared a look, they had solved the last puzzle, they could finally be free of this place. They could return to the castle. They would have to get the brooch once they were there, but that would seem a simple task compared to figuring out the rooms of this underground maze.
They looked to Brad, just in case he had any parting words for them, but he continued to ignore them. They would have sworn he was hiding a smile with his head turned down at his papers.
Wilhelm and Lilita climbed up the stairs, into the light.