“It is us,” Wilhelm said, shock numbing him.
“Yes,” Lilita said. She had her suspicion when no one was paying any attention to them, but she was not prepared for this confirmation. “It seems the building collapsed on us when we entered it.”
“But the stairs, the rooms underneath,” Wilhelm said.
“Were not a real place.”
“Then how did we go through all that?”
“The trials. We needed to complete our trials.”
“In an underground building of puzzle rooms?”
“Everyone faces their trials in a different way. That was our way. We needed to learn something before we were ready to move on.”
“We needed to know we were dead before we would be ready to move on.”
“And now we do.”
“So now what? We just move on?”
“We are meant to.”
“How? And what about the souls?”
Lilita held the brooch securely in her hand. “I cannot move on until we help them.”
Something in the distance caught Wilhelm’s attention. “Brad.”
Lilita looked to where Wilhelm was staring. Off in the distance, watching them through the trees, was Brad.
“We need to destroy that book.”
“Then we will.”
Wilhelm stormed off toward Brad. Brad waited in the trees for him to approach, his stance becoming more guarded the nearer Wilhelm got. Lilita hurried behind him, gripping the stone in her hand. It was their only way of stopping Brad, of getting the book from him and freeing all the people whose spirits were trapped, locked out of the spirit realm.
“Give us the book,” Wilhelm demanded.
“You know I cannot do that,” Brad said.
Lilita held the stone out so he could see it. His eyes widened as he realized what it was. “Give us the book,” Lilita said.
“You have the stone?” Brad asked.
“Yes. And as a Saulitis, you must answer to me now. Give us the book.”
“You may be a Saulitis, but you are not of this world any longer. You have no power over me, even with that stone.”
“Then you still cannot free the souls.”
“I can. You just have to give me the stone.”
Lilita tightened her grip on the brooch. Wilhelm glanced back to her. He did not think Brad should have the stone. Not until the souls were freed. There had to be another way.
“What are you waiting for?” Brad was growing tense, impatient. “Give me the stone.”
Lilita hesitated and Brad’s temper rose. He lunged forward, grabbing for the stone. Wilhelm turned at the same moment, spinning Lilita around and moving her to run with him, back to the cemetery. They were unsure what, if anything, Brad could do to them if he caught them. They were, after all, already dead. They weren’t even sure he could catch them. But they could not let him have the stone.
No one in the cemetery could see them, but, as they got closer, the guards and villagers took notice to Brad running through the trees toward them. Brad was so focused on Wilhelm and Lilita, he did not see the two guards closing in on him until it was too late. Alerted by his haste toward the kings and their deceased heirs, they held him on either side, preventing him from getting any closer to the fallen building.
“What are you doing? Unhand me,” Brad shouted.
The guards kept their grip on him as Penrod approached with Nikolai.
“What is this? Who are you and what are you doing rushing through the forest at such an hour?” Penrod demanded.
“He is an old man, Penrod,” Nikolai said. “Surely he is of no threat to us.”
“Old men have won enough wars to prove that assumption to be false.”
“The festival,” Brad said. “I always celebrated with my wife, rest her soul. The search for the flowering fern was her favorite part of the festival. I hoped that if I could find it, I could wish to be with her again.”
“It would seem you have your days mixed up. The search for the flowering fern took place last night.”
“I wandered too far from the village. Got lost. I thought I heard something and ran.”
Nikolai was trying to make sense of what Brad was saying, trying to give him the benefit of the situation. Penrod was not so willing to assume Brad’s innocence based on his unconvincing story.
“How terribly sorry I am for your loss,” Nikolai said, his sympathy coated in suspicion, “but this area is currently off limits. My guards will escort you safely back to the village.”
The guards released their grip on Brad, but kept their positions beside him. Brad walked unwillingly with them, circling the cemetery where Wilhelm and Lilita had stopped. They watched the scene from behind their fathers. Brad watched them as he walked. His attention moved to Lilita’s hand, still clutching the brooch. He was not willing to lose the chance to free himself from it. The kings were returning to their children’s bodies when Brad decided it was now or never. A living Saulitis did not currently hold the stone. This was the most free he had been in generations, limited as he still was. Before the guards could figure out what he was doing, he lifted his hands, gathering energy between them as dark cloud began to swirl around him. In a desperate attempt, he hurled the ball of energy toward Lilita, aiming for the brooch in her hand, hoping the impact would be enough to destroy it.
Penrod stepped in front of them, standing his ground. He pushed Nikolai out of the way, ensuring that he was not caught in the path of Brad’s attack. It was not clear to Wilhelm if his presence was felt by his father or if he had simply been caught off guard. The energy, a glassy looking ball of dark smoke, struck Penrod in the chest, exploding with a flash of light and release of smoke. When the cloud cleared, Penrod was on the ground, unmoving.
The guards moved in to defend Nikolai and his fallen ally. The two beside Brad took hold of him again.
“What have you done?” Nikolai shouted, watching the disaster that lay before him.
Wilhelm fell to his knees beside his father, holding his face in his hands, trying to wake him. Surely being a spirit did not render him useless. Surely there was something he could do.
Brad struggled against the guards who held him. He saw Wilhelm on the ground beside Penrod, still existing, still interfering. Lilita standing unharmed beside him, the stone still intact in her hand. He desperately tried to gather more energy, but found it difficult with his arms restrained. Still, energy began to gather around his fingertips, darkness spreading from them. The guards grew weary, but held tight.
Lilita saw the power he was gathering, saw Wilhelm mourning his father, worried over her own father. Then she did the only thing she could. She pressed the stone firmly into her father’s hand, hoping he could feel it. His hand twitched as she pressed into it. She watched him as she stood beside him, both hands wrapped around his, begging him to take the stone. She could not believe it when he looked away from Brad, not at her, but at his hand. He lifted it, finding the stone in his palm, unsure how he came to be holding it. Thankfully, he knew what power it held, and what to do with it.
“Stop!” Nikolai shouted. “You will not harm anyone else here.”
Brad stopped, though he was not sure why. Then he saw it. The stone in Nikolai’s hand. He looked at Lilita, standing beside her father. Nikolai glanced beside to where she stood. She was unsure if he could see her, but it did not matter.
“You have shown that you are no longer worthy of serving the Saulitis family or Lelonia. Lay down the book and leave this land forever.”
“I have served this family and this nation for longer than you have lived. I was a valued advisor. I alone had the power to protect this land and its people. Then your family made me a prisoner, afraid of what I am capable of. These souls should belong to me. As does my power.”
Nikolai straightened, unwilling to back down, to show weakness, to endanger anyone else. “I gave you an order,” he said.
Brad fought the command, his frustration apparent, but it was no use. The stone was stronger than his will to fight back. His powers were useless here. He unstrapped the book from his belt and tossed it on the ground in front of him. His expression showed all the hatred and discontent that he could not speak out. He had no choice but to obey. He walked away unwillingly, not stopping, not looking back.
As Brad grew further away, Nikolai turned his attention to Penrod, lying lifeless on the ground. Lilita left him and gathered the discarded book. The guards had not touched it, unsure what importance it held, and instead returned their attention to the kings.
Wilhelm remained clutching his father as Frieda arrived. As soon as she saw the scene, saw her husband on the ground, she lifted her skirts and ran to him. She knelt down, taking him into her lap. Together they wept, even though Frieda could neither see nor hear Wilhelm there with her. They mourned with one another for their shared loss. A husband and a father, a fierce leader of a great nation, lost to a power hungry sorcerer.