The stairs went up and up. They did not think they were so far underground as they seemed to be based on the number of stairs they needed to climb to reach the top. At the top, was a door. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, that door was locked.
“Of course,” Wilhelm said.
“We have made it this far,” Lilita said.
“I know, we will figure it out.”
They felt around the door for something out of place, a compartment, a lever of some sort. Anything. The door was unusual. It was perfectly rectangular and smooth. There was no knob or handle, no hole for a key. There were no hinges on either side of the door. All they could determine was that it was a door by the outline.
“Maybe we need to say something to open it,” Lilita suggested.
“What do you suppose we need to say?”
“I’m not sure,” Lilita admitted, a bit embarrassed at the half developed idea.
“Open,” Wilhelm said firmly, holding his hands up as he said the word, forcing his energy onto the door.
Lilita looked at him, trying not to laugh, trying to determine if he was serious.
“I did not think that would work,” Wilhelm said.
“Well at least we know for certain now,” Lilita said.
They looked over the door again, trying to think of something else.
“Maybe we should just force it open,” Lilita said.
“You are serious?” Wilhelm could not believe what she was suggesting. “You want to break the door down?”
“Well,” Lilita said. “Yes, I suppose I do.”
“Alright.” Wilhelm readied himself in front of the door. He lifted his shoulder, then rammed into the door. It made a loud thud, but it did not budge at all.”
“Are you alright?” Lilita asked with concern.
“Yes, I am fine,” Wilhelm said, rubbing his shoulder where it had collided into the door.
“There has to be something here.”
“What is that?”
Wilhelm pointed above the door. There was something written on the wall. It was difficult to see, but it was visible, and clearly written in the old language.
Lilita mouthed something as she looked over the words.
“Do you know what it says?” Wilhelm asked.
Lilita fumbled to translate. “Not all of it,” she said. “But, the beginning is familiar. I think it is a saying that Zofia uses.”
“Maybe that is what we need to say to get the door open?”
“Maybe. I just need to remember the rest of it.”
Lilita stared at the words a moment, concentrating on the saying. She started reading the words she knew. As she did, the letters began to shine, flowing gold lettering. Then she continued speaking, finishing the phrase, but only the first half of the phrase had changed.
“That must not be right. I think I’m missing a word.”
“Try it again. I am certain it will come to you.”
She spoke quietly, more to herself than to whatever was listening to her words. Trying to piece together the rest of the phrase in her mind. She repeated the ending a few times, then trailed off. Her expression lit up as she remembered the bit that she had been skipping over. She started from the beginning, reciting the words of the old language. The entire script over the door lit up as she spoke until the whole thing had turned gold with light.
Wilhelm smiled at Lilita, who smiled back with pride that she had gotten the saying right.
The door shifted open, no longer locked. Wilhelm pulled the door, opening it enough to pass through. When they left the top of the stairs, they were in a narrow stone passage, curved and decorated with richly colored drapes and impressive paintings of nature.
“We made it,” Lilita said.
“We are back?” Wilhelm was still not familiar with the Lelonian castle enough to recognize it on one hallway alone, especially since navigating the castle was more difficult to him than solving the puzzles in the underground building they had just emerged from.
“Yes, I am sure of it. We are back in the castle. How did I not know that this passage-” Looking behind her, Lilita saw that the door was gone. Completely vanished.
Wilhelm looked too and said, “are you really surprised that door disappeared?”
“No, I suppose I should not be.”
“Shall we find our parents?”
“Yes. We need to get my mother’s brooch.”
Wilhelm let Lilita lead the way, following her down the winding hallways, up and down stairs of varying lengths. He wished to back back in his own castle. A straight, squared, logical building.
“What was that phrase?” Wilhelm asked.
“What phrase?” Lilita asked, still hurrying through the corridors.
“The one you said to get those doors open.”
“Honestly, I do not know.”
“Then how did you know it?”
“Zofia has a bit of parchment that she always keeps nearby. A piece of a letter, I think. She reads from it often. It has that phrase on it. She used to say it to me all the time, pointing to it as she did.”
“But what does it mean?”
“She would never tell me. I always asked her and she would just smile at me, as if that were answer enough. Eventually, I just stopped asking. But I always wondered. I think it has something to do with the unknown.”
“Yes. She usually said it when I was asking too many questions. So I always assumed it had something to do with accepting the unknown. All things will be revealed in time. Something along those lines. But I do not know the true translation.”
Somehow, Wilhelm could not figure out exactly how, Lilita lead them to the throne room. It was not until they got there that they could see it was light out. The sun was just coming up over the horizon. That did not mean a great deal in Lelonia, as there was far more daylight than there was night at this time of year, but it meant they had not been trapped underground for too long. They had only missed those handful of hours that it was dark. It was still early enough that there was a chance the queen would be asleep and without her brooch.
Some servants were still up, working through the night, carrying armfuls of festival decorations. They paid no attention to Wilhelm or Lilita, which was not unusual. They were not required to stop in greeting of the royal family, nor were they encouraged to.
Lilita brought Wilhelm through some more corridors, up some more flights of tightly wound stairs, then through some more curved corridors until she finally stopped at a door.
“This is my parents’ bed chamber,” she said.
“We should be quiet,” Wilhelm said. “We do not want to have to explain to your mother why we are stealing her beloved brooch.”
“Yes, that would be best,” Lilita agreed. “Though I will be sure to confront her about it when we are finished with all of this mess.”
Wilhelm agreed and they cautiously turned the handle on the door. Wilhelm found it odd that the room was left unguarded, nevermind the fact that the door was unlocked. Especially in a time when people were roaming about the castle freely. If someone did manage to locate this room in the maze of confusing passages, they likely did so with precision and purpose. That purpose could not be to give a warm greeting and praises of thanks to the king and queen while they slumber.
They slipped into the room, closing the door quietly behind them. The room was quite large, not surprising for the royal couple’s room. All of the furniture was ornately carved of fine woods. The desk, the vanity, the wardrobes, the bed, the sofa and small tables. All were made by a fine craftsman. All the linens from the floors to the curtains were richly colored. The mixture of patterns and colors should have looked ridiculous, but somehow it all worked together to create a lush and inviting space.
Lilita tiptoed over to the vanity, Wilhelm staying close behind. They kept low, unnecessarily, as Valya and Nikolai should be asleep. They were grateful for the thick carpeting on the floor to cushion the sounds of their footsteps, especially Wilhelm’s in his heavy boots.
Lilita opened her mother’s jewelry box, lifting the lid to reveal an assortment of smaller, simpler pieces than the brooch. They were similar to the jewelry Lilita wore, though not quite as dainty. They were disappointed to find that there were no stones contained within the box. No brooch.
Lilita searched around the top of the vanity. There was nothing more than the box, a brush, a hand mirror, and a collection of hair pins in a small wooden dish. The vanity contained no drawers, no hidden compartments. The brooch was not there.
“Where else could it be?” Wilhelm whispered.
“I do not know,” Lilita said, scanning the room for somewhere else that her mother might keep such an important thing. Then, her brows raised. She had thought of somewhere that it might be. On Valya’s side of the bed, there was a small table. On that table, was a simple box. Wooden and round, it was just the right size to keep the brooch inside.
Lilita looked at Wilhelm, pleased with the discovery. She quietly tread across the room to her mother’s bedside. Wilhelm waited beside the vanity, not wishing to create further risk of being caught by walking across the entire room with her. They did not need both of them to swipe a small box from on top of a table. No sense doubling their chances of making noise and being caught.
Lilita made it to the table. She took a moment to look at her parents, ensuring that they were still asleep. She noticed that her father was not in the bed as he should have been. He was likely helping out with the festival preparations for the morning. He always got so involved in such matters, ensuring everything was ready for the people and went according to plan. Lilita wondered as she looked at her mother, sleeping peacefully, how her parents could let such a thing go on. How they could let all those souls suffer, trapped from moving on. She knew it was for the good of Lelonia, to protect them. But there were other ways. She looked at Wilhelm, waiting almost patiently for her. He would not let Lelonia be taken by their enemies. They had an alliance set up. Real, living soldiers, willing to protect their borders. The souls should be free to move on to the spirit realm.
Lilita picked up the box from the table. She held it in her hand and opened it up to ensure that the brooch was inside. In the box sat the brooch. She took the brooch out, pocketing the stone and replacing the box. If her mother did wake up, she did not want to bring immediate alarm to her. She would wake, get ready for the day, then, when she went to adorn herself in jewelry, she would discover the brooch was gone. Lilita wanted to buy them some extra time if she could.
Brooch in hand, Lilita showed the stone to Wilhelm, then hid it away inside of her gown. They left the room as quietly as they had come and Lilita lead them out of the castle. They needed to get back into the forest, back to the cemetery to put an end to all of this.