The rain kept on for the next three days. Macey and I explored every room we could get into: spare bedrooms, parlors, a study. The first day was all hide and seek, and while there were plenty of great places for us to hide, with only two of us it got boring quickly, with the seeker often being unable to find the other. Hiding got boring when no one was around to find you. After I hid behind a couch and under a curtain, Macey spent an hour trying and failing to find me, so we called off the game until we could get more players. On the second day we stayed together and explored what we could, even venturing into the basement to see if there was a dungeon, but we only managed to find the wine cellar before Macey insisted on going back upstairs.
Even with all the rooms we had access to, there wasn’t much to do. Finding new rooms was fun, but by the morning of the third day, Macey and I found ourselves with very few rooms left unopened, and very little to do in any of them. I was starting to worry that I’d be sucked into playing princess again as we opened the last door on the third floor to find a room of covered furniture. I was trying to decide on the best way to distract Macey from her favorite game when I realized she was no longer standing next to me.
“Out here!” she said, and I followed her voice back into the hall, where she was glaring at the wall as though it had personally offended her. I looked at the wall too, but it looked perfectly ordinary to me. It didn’t even have a tapestry on it, unlike most of the other walls in the hallways.
“Something wrong, sis?”
“There should have been a staircase either through that door,” Macey said, gesturing to the room we’d just opened, “or right here.”
“I thought Aunt Pen said there were only three floors in the castle?”
“She did, but there’s a tower too,” Macey said, frowning a bit. “I was hoping we could play Rapunzel, but we can’t do that if we can’t get into the tower.”
I’d actually forgotten about the tower, as it hadn’t seemed interesting to me when I’d seen it from the outside. But now that we couldn’t find it, it was the most interesting thing in here. “Maybe there’s a secret passage?”
Macey’s eyes lit up. “That would be amazing! We have to find it!”
We spent the rest of the day searching for a secret passage, scouring the hall, the room, and even the floors below us. We spent so long looking that we missed dinner, leading Aunt Pen to find us trying to climb into a fireplace in a study on the first floor (Macey had seen a movie where passages were hidden in fireplaces).
“What on earth are you two doing?” Thankfully, Aunt Pen seemed more amused than mad, and maybe a little relieved as well.
“We’re looking for secret passageways!” Macey said. “Your castle has some, right?”
Aunt Pen looked thoughtful for a moment. “You know? I do think the previous owner mentioned passageways, but I haven’t been able to find them yet. Let me know if you find one, and we can explore it together.”
Now, this was exciting news. We’d known that there at least had to be a way into the tower, but we never would have thought that there could be others. We were so excited at the thought of more passages she could barely get us to eat something, and we weren’t too keen on going to bed either. After begging, Aunt Pen said we could stay up a little later to plan our search, but that we’d have to wait until morning before actually going looking.
So after dinner, we all went down to Aunt Pen’s favorite study, and she even gave us a copy of the castle’s floor plan to look at while she read a book. The rain seemed like it was getting heavier, and soon the crackle of the fire was being drowned out by the rain hitting the window. Aunt Pen frowned whenever she looked outside, but Macey and I didn’t pay the storm any attention until the thunder started. It was loud and booming, and it seemed like it echoed through the whole castle. Every clap of thunder made the windows shake, and that was enough to make Macey and me nervous. We weren’t afraid of storms or anything, but we’d never been in one so strong it affected the building.
“Don’t worry, it’s only thunder,” Aunt Pen said, though she seemed a little worried by it herself. “Everything will be just fine.”
As loud as the thunder was, the crack that came with the lighting strike was worse. It was loud and sudden, making us all jump as the windows lit up all at once. The lighting streaked across the sky and hit a tree on the edge of the yard, and we could just see it split apart before the world went dark again. But then there was another crash, different from the storm, more brittle, but closer somehow. The sky lit up with lighting once more, illuminating the tree that had just fallen. We could just see where it had crashed into the fence, pulling a whole section of it down, before the sky went black again.
That was also the moment that everything went horribly wrong.