“Can you hear me? Please wake up.” Jaro brushed the girl’s shoulder. His hand went right trough. The hour of connecting was almost over. He felt like screaming and was just considering if doing so might finally do the trick, when Jelina suddenly opened her eyes. The boy gasped with surprise. He had desperately tried to make her aware of his presence uncounted times before. Did he finally succeed? When Jaro heard low voices talking in the hallway, he knew it wasn’t him who had woken the girl. The voices sounded agitated. Something was wrong. Jaro put his head through the wall and saw the Earl of Grimstone and Lone, the handmaid. They were walking up the stairs towards the old tower of castle Grimstone. Jaro longed to find out what had happened. He wasn’t the only one. Jelina had left her bed and sneaked out of her room. On bare feet, she went after her father and the handmaid, curious what made them go up the old tower in the dead of the night. The tower wasn’t in use anymore. It was cold and dusty and creeping with spiders. In her white nightgown, long silver hair all tangled from sleep and skin that seemed translucent in the light of the moon, she looked almost like an apparition herself. Jaro smirked. In her shadow, he followed the girl.
The steps of the grown-ups halted. Jelina approached them soundlessly. She saw them standing in front a an open door. Jelina had almost forgotten about the room on top of the tower. Its door was always locked. Jelina had never seen the inside of that room, nor did she understand why her father and Lone seemed so upset about an empty room. She pressed herself into an alcove. Jaro was standing right next to the girl, close enough that she would have felt the warmth of his body in ordinary circumstances. Unfortunately, Jaro’s circumstances weren’t ordinary. But it was also due to this circumstances that he knew why the grown-ups were not happy about the door being open. He knew what or better who was usually locked behind it.
“How could this have happened?” The Earl of Grimstone was a tall haggard man who wore an unforgiving expression even at the best of times. The expression on his face right now reminded Jelina of a dangerous storm cloud about to burst in thunder and lightning. Although this impression might have been amplified by the shadows a small candle he was holding cast over his face.
“I really can’t explain, my Lord. It is only me who has a key.” Lone who had been Jelina’s wet nurse when she had been a suckling, wrung a key between her hands but she didn’t avoid her master’s gaze. She looked him straight in the eye. Almost daring him to accuse her. As always, Jelina admired the handmaid. Lone wasn’t afraid of her father, unlike Jelina herself.
“Locked doors don’t open by accident”, the Earl of Grimstone hissed.
By accident they don’t, thought Jaro, but by magic they might.
Suddenly, he felt a prickly feeling all over, crawling up his spine like a spider with too many legs. There had been magic here, not long ago, and not of the good kind. Naturally, the others did not share Jaro’s precognition. Such feelings were reserved for ones on the other side—and the ones caught between here and there.
“There is no point in arguing facts. The door is open. We have to look for her before she escapes the castle. I’ve already locked all entry doors, my Lord. Let’s hope she’s still inside.“
The Earl looked like he wasn’t done arguing yet, but he pressed his lips together and nodded. The castle was a big place and they better started looking right away or they would search till sunrise.
“Should we rouse the cook, too? He could help.”
Lone shook her head.
“If need be we have to retrieve her by force. The cook would never touch her in a rough manner, he’s a soft-hearted man.“
The Earl moved his hand towards the door knob in order to close the door.
“Better leave it open, my Lord. She might come back of her own free will after all.“
With that, the Earl of Grimstone and the handmaid rushed down the stairs. Jelina pressed her small body deeper into the shadows of the alcove, holding her breath as they walked past her. But the grown-ups did not even look at the alcove where Jelina was hiding. In their minds they were already on the hunt, and also—unbeknownst to Jelina—Jaro had cast a piece of his darkness over the girl so that the light of the candles would not find her.
As the light of the candles and the sound of the steps faded, deep night broke in around them. It took Jelina a while to get accustomed to the darkness. Through the open door, the silver glow of the moonlight illuminated the staircase. Hesitantly, Jelina moved towards the door. It had knobs on both sides. Jelina grabbed the one on the inside. It felt cold as ice, almost unnaturally cold. She twisted but the knob would not turn. The door was meant to be opened by key only—or stay forever closed. The thought made Jelina shudder. She loved Lone dearly. How could she do such a thing? Hold someone captive? What had this poor woman done to deserve such a fate? Her father on the other hand seemed just the man to have a secret prisoner. As wave of disgust swept through her, Jelina made a decision. She would help this woman escape. Jelina took a deep breath and stepped inside the room, making sure the door stayed wide open. She wanted to find out more about the woman who was confined in this place.
Jaro reached out to hold her back. He could still feel the presence of dark magic around. It was not safe here. But Jelina could not hear him and Jaro’s hand could not touch her. When his fingers brushed the light of the moon, they started dissolved. The hour of connecting was over. The last thing Jaro saw before he vanished completely was the door closing silently behind Jelina.