The town did not appear to have as many decorations as before, though Wilhelm assumed it was the lack of people that gave it an empty appearance. The servants in the field were cleaning up the remainder of the feast. The spoiled food had already been removed and they were clearing what remained of the flowers. The petals were withered, the stems and leaves already rotting away. Flowers should not have turned bad so quickly. It seems the plants being used in decoration for the festival were spoiling as rapidly as the food had. Wilhelm and Lilita had noticed that the rows of flowers and bouquets that had adorned the hallways and been hung from the candles of the castle were not there. They must have all turned rotten as well.
“Do you think this is related to the spirits?” Wilhelm asked.
“Most likely,” Lilita said. “The veil that acts as a barrier between this world and the spirit realm is thin right now. It is much easier for them to pass through and act on their own will.”
“Nothing like this has happened before?”
“No. This is not a common occurrence. There are many factors that have all aligned to allow this to happen. The spirits must have been restless for a long time now, probably for as long as they have been trapped, but this is the first time they have made an effort to retaliate in whatever way they are capable. In my lifetime anyway. This may not be the first time they have tried to get back at my family. Fortunately, even with the thinned veil, they are limited in what they can do without help from someone of this world.”
“Is Brad not of this world? He could help them.”
“Brad is still limited himself. So long as he is tethered to this stone, he cannot harm my family.”
“There is a possibility that he will, once we free him.”
“I know,” Lilita said. The idea had already crossed her mind. While she felt sympathy for the spirits, she knew Brad held at least as much resentment against her family as they did. But while the spirits were not a threat on their own, they would all likely pass through to the spirit realm once they were free to do so, Brad was still of the mortal realm. He would still live on, as powerful sorcerers are prone to do, outliving lifetimes of mortals with no powers. He may still harbor anger against her family for controlling him for so long. They needed to be careful in the way they chose to free everyone.
The sounds of voices could be heard in the distance, a soft murmur at first that grew into more distinguishable voice and shouts. There was a group of people gathered in the direction of the cemetery.
Lilita thought it may just be the festival attendees who were still exploring the forest as a part of the night’s game to find the flowering fern. As they got closer to the cemetery though, it was clear that there was a gathering there. They saw them long after they heard them. The royal guard had collected in the cemetery, searching the area, calling out to one another. A few townspeople had gathered, attracted by the spectacle of the search going on, they stood to the side and watched the men work. Nikolai came into view, walking across the cemetery to two higher ranking officers.
“Have you found anything yet?” King Nikolai asked.
“Not yet, sire,” one of the men answered.
“But we are working as quickly as we can,” the other said.
“Well work quicker. This is my daughter and heir, your future queen. We must find her and you had better hope she is unharmed when we do.”
Lilita had never seen her father so angry. She quickened her pace to get to him, to show him that she was fine, they could stop looking for her.
Lilita hurried to the cemetery, Wilhelm close behind. They closed the distance rather quickly, but Nikolai had gone off into the scattered group of people searching for them. Not sure where exactly he had gotten to, Lilita approached the two men he had been talking to, the officers still stood in the same position.
“Excuse me,” Lilita said, “could you tell me where the king went?”
The officers ignored her, continuing to speak to one another.
“Excuse me,” Lilita said, a bit more firmly.
“It is a shame,” one of the officers said.
“Are we even certain she was in there?” the other asked.
“She never returned to the castle last night.We have people searching the whole forest. Unless she fled the area, this is our only option right now.”
“Could be that Gavelon boy made off with her.”
“Could be. He has not turned up either.”
“How dare you accuse me of doing something like that,” Wilhelm said, fully offended by the suggestion.
“Should have just kept to ourselves. We do not need the alliance so much as they do,” the officer said, ignoring Wilhelm’s outburst.
“Why would he go and ruin it by kidnapping the princess then?”
“Who knows. Come on, we should get back to it.”
The officers walked further into the cemetery, splitting up to check in with the other men.
“How could they suggest such a thing so casually?” Wilhelm asked, still angry. “And how could they just ignore your question like that? Do you officers not recognize you?”
“I do not know,” Lilita said, but she was not paying attention to Wilhelm, she was looking into the cemetery at the scene.
“How incredibly rude,” Wilhelm was still going on. “They should have more respect than that, they should-” Wilhelm finally noticed where Lilita’s attention lie. She had taken a few steps into the cemetery, heading toward the old building.
Wilhelm walked with her, curious what was drawing her in. They walked through the center of the cemetery, past the scattered graves, the royal army walking by, not paying them any attention. When they got in full view of the building, they could see that the roof had collapsed entirely. The base of the walls remained, one side of the roof still leaning against the top of the back wall. The rest of the roof had fallen in, the front wall on one side having collapsed into the building. Something had given in after they descended the steps and the building had crumbled. Wilhelm figured it must have happened after they were already trapped in the rooms below. They were sealed in, which would have kept them from hearing the sound of the building collapsing. Wilhelm counted them lucky that they did not retreat back into the passage they had entered through or they would have risked being trapped under the roof.
They got close enough to the building to see what the army was doing. Under the direction of King Nikolai, they were removing the rubble, clearing bits of the roof they had broken off and lifting the heavy stones that had fallen from the walls. They were passing them down a line, tossing them into a pile out of the way. Nikolai was watching anxiously. Telling them when there was a spot they should be careful of, somewhere that looked like it was in danger of collapsing further, either onto the men or into the ruined building. He was afraid that Lilita was trapped inside and, if the building collapsed onto her, she could be crushed.
“Father, it is alright,” Lilita said, approaching the king. “I am here.”
Nikolai did not respond to her, did not even look at her.
“What is happening?” a voice called from the forest. King Penrod was hurrying in, his own collection of guards in tow. “Have you found them yet?”
“No,” Nikolai said solemnly. “My men are clearing the rubble. There is no sign of them anywhere else.”
“You have search the rest of the forest?”
“Yes. The surrounding area is clear. We have people searching further still. This is our only other lead right now.”
“My men will assist you,” Penrod said, motioning to his guards to help clear the rubble.
“Why are you still searching?” Wilhelm asked, stepping right in front of his father. “We are here, you can stop looking.”
Nikolai and Penrod kept their attention on the men clearing the building, Nikolai’s face masked with worry, his previously jolly disposition gone. Penrod was impatient, unused to waiting for results. Unfortunately for the kings, there was little else they could do.
“Does Frieda know?” Nikolai asked.
“Yes,” Penrod answered. “She is waiting at the castle in case they return.”
“Does Valya know?”
“Not about this. I do not want to worry her until we know something more concrete. We only have assumptions at this point.”
Penrod only nodded in response. He could not imagine not telling Frieda that their son was missing, possibly trapped under the wreckage of an old building in the middle of the forest. She would never forgive him and he appreciated her assistance in organizing efforts to recover Wilhelm.
“Why do they not listen? Why do they just ignore us?” Wilhelm asked Lilita, growing more frustrated still.
Lilita did not answer. She stepped closer to the building. She watched the men working to clear the rubble, waiting for confirmation of what she already suspected to be true. She did not try to call out or get anyone to pay attention to her.
Wilhelm gave up shouting at the kings, yelling to the guards and royal army to acknowledge him or Lilita. He turned, still standing in front of the kings, to face the building that Lilita was approaching. She stopped beside it, almost to the man standing just outside the walls as a part of the line of men passing rubble to one another. She watched silently as the building was cleared, as the contents were slowly revealed. Wilhelm took a few steps closer to her, then watched on, wondering what she was waiting for them to uncover. A knot grew in his stomach, knowing that that whatever was about to happen was not something he wanted to see.
The men continued clearing the rubble, passing one piece at a time. The kings continued to watch, shifting in uncomfortable impatience. Wilhelm stood a few steps behind Lilita, waiting. They watched on as others gathered around. There was nothing to do but wait for the building to be taken apart, to see what lie beneath the fallen stone. Anticipation and tension filled the air as everyone watched, waiting, their minds filled with possibilities, but only one possibility remained.
A piece of stone was lifted that finally revealed something. The hand and forearm of some poor soul crushed beneath the building. The workers only hesitated for a second at the sight, then picked up their pace. They worked quickly, passing pieces of rubble to one another. The people looking on from the sides perked up, trying to see over the walls of the building that still remained, craning their necks to look around the men. They were all eager to see who had been so unfortunate as to be trapped under the building and if, by some small chance, that person survived.
The men continued to work at their quickened pace. The next piece of rubble revealed the rest of the arm, then the torso. A petite frame, dressed in a gown remarkably similar to Lilita’s, but it was difficult to tell with how dirty the one buried had become. Then, another body was revealed. An arm draped over the first. Everyone knew what they had found, but the men kept digging anyway. Kept revealing more and more of the two bodies they had uncovered. The kings moved closer to the wreck, stopping at the edge of the building, watching with reluctant grief. They were not willing to believe what they were witnessing. They entered the building when the bodies were clear of debris. The first body lay face up. The second face down.
“Turn him over,” Penrod said.
“Sire, are you certain?” the soldier asked.
“Do as he says,” Nikolai said.
The man grabbed onto the shoulder of the second body and flipped it over. Now it was clear to everyone. These were Lilita and Wilhelm’s bodies. They had been crushed to death beneath the building.