Lord of the Night Realm - Book I: Sojourn

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Chapter 13

The castle gate groaned open, allowing Ellie and Gerald back into its chilled halls after a full day of sightseeing. The remaining masked daylight trickled through the courtyard windows, indicating that evening was soon upon them. Strain that had accumulated in Ellie’s neck encouraged to her rotate her head in an attempt to work it out.

“I’m famished, Miss Ellie,” Gerald pouted.

“What? Didn’t we eat not that long ago?”

“No! I kept telling you that it was lunch time, but you ignored me.”

“Whoops. I got carried away looking at everything, I guess. Maybe we should get a snack to hold us off until dinner?”


Gerald lunged from her shoulder and darted down the east corridor toward the kitchen. Ellie followed at a normal pace as he hurried on ahead, rapidly widening the gap between them. As she passed by the open dining hall door, Ellie noticed Janus’s lanky figure seated at the head of the table, his forehead rested in his hand as he leaned on his elbow.

Quietly, she crept into the dining hall and approached him, noticing that his eyes were closed and that he was still unaware of her presence. From the other room, the goblins shouted at Gerald and called him a glutton as repeated, panicked cries of ‘biscuit’ echoed in the corridor.

“Janus?” She spoke with a gentle voice.

“Ellie...!” His sharp gasp as he breathed her name was followed by a quick rise and the thud of Janus’s knee ramming into the edge of the table.

“Gods, I didn’t mean to startle you!” She reached her hand toward his knee.

“No no, it’s alright.” An exasperated sigh passed his lips as Janus attempted to rub away the pain. “I didn’t expect you back so soon.”

“It’s almost evening, though. I’ve been gone all day.”

“Is it?” He looked out the window before turning to the clock. “How long have I been sitting here?”

“Janus, have you slept at all yet today? I mean, besides your nap.”

“Ah, no. I was working with Rehor longer than I anticipated. I didn’t want to be absent in the event of your return, so I delayed my rest for the time being.”

“Oh, I wish you hadn’t. If I knew you were waiting, I would have come back sooner.”

“No, I’m glad you spent most of the day in town.” Janus stood upright and adjusted himself. “Besides, it’s the perfect opportunity to shift my sleep routine to something that will allow me to spend more time with everyone. Did you enjoy yourself in Haven?”

“Absolutely. I saw a lot of what the town has to offer thanks to—” A small crash of pans in the kitchen resounded through the walls. “—thanks to our little fuzzy friend. He showed me a number of shops, the public gardens with the memorial...” She counted out the places on her fingers as she listed them.

“But not the farmlands?”

“Tomorrow. Oh, I also went to the school and met Headmaster Faulkner. He wanted me to send you his regards.”

“Headmaster Fergus, Ellie.”

“Right, I forget that family names aren’t as important here, since not everyone has one.”

“There’s someone I haven’t spoken with in awhile, though. I should rectify that.”

“He seemed kind enough, and he told me about the sad state of the school and education in Haven.”

“It’s unfortunate, yes. It’s a difficult situation that needs attention, lest it become a detriment to the entire land.”

The commotion in the other room plucked the two from their more weighted discussion and stirred laughter in them.

“You said you’re going to the farmlands tomorrow?” Janus asked.

“Yeah, we didn’t have enough time for it today.”

“I have business in town, so I would be happy to escort you as far as the crossroads.”

“That would be great. But you better be well rested, because we’re leaving by mid morning.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” he chuckled. “As long as I can keep going for a few more hours, I’ll wake with plenty of time to spare.”

“Hm.” Ellie brought a pondering finger to her chin. “What could we do to keep you awake? Maybe we could pick up where we left off with our book discussion?”

“Oh dear. I’ll do my best, but go easy on me if I can’t keep up with you.”

“Not a problem.” She clapped her hands together. “Leave it to me, I’ll keep you awake. But before that, I missed out on lunch, so I really need to go find something to eat that Gerald hasn’t already put his paws on.”

“Of course,” he nodded. “I’ll meet you in the drawing room in a half hour. That will give me more than enough time to go fetch the book from my chambers for reference.”

“Perfect, I’ll see you then.”

Ellie waved gently with her fingers and set out for the kitchen. With a tired smile, Janus stumbled back into his seat for a momentary reprieve before going to collect Ellie’s worn book.

After a lengthier night of discussion and banter than either of them intended, Janus awakened early with an overwhelming desire to return to sleep. He curled himself up beneath the elegant blanket, but his body refused to cooperate and forced him to throw off the cover only shortly after dawn. With a tired breath, he slumped over on the edge of the dark canopy bed and rested his elbows on his legs, gripping at his head.

“Why can’t I sleep normally anymore,” he sighed, a twinge of frustration in his voice. His exhaustion tore at him, but he knew he would persevere.

Faint light poured through the open west windows and illuminated the massive bedchamber. A breeze swept in, cooling Janus’s exposed skin through his open night shirt. It was pleasant, soothing his irritation with his uncooperative body. He basked in it for a time, running a dozen thoughts through his head. Most of what he focused on were various tasks for the day, but he found himself lingering on an unrelated memory from the other night of Ellie’s words as she stood over the parlor grand piano.

Janus pushed himself up and shuffled across the room to an ornate wardrobe, easing the doors open before sliding his night shirt from his body. His long, raven hair tumbled across his bare back as he selected his outfit for the day, which was not unlike the ones he usually wore. When he was fully dressed, he left the bedchamber through the back door, situated beside a stairwell at the rear of the castle.

He descended to the first floor and strode into the corridor of locked rooms, only stopping two doors down from washroom in the opposite corner. Janus reached into a pocket inside of his cloak and withdrew a keyring with several distinct keys looped around it. Differentiating them by the designs on the bows, he selected one that bore the image of a horn and used it to unlock the door.

The hinge squeaked into the large, elegant music room full of instruments of all types. Aside from those that were on display in the middle of the room, there were many more tucked away in their respective cases on a shelf in the corner. Carefully, Janus reached for one case in particular and carried it to an empty table beside the window.

His fingers flipped the latches gently and lifted open the lid, revealing a delicately crafted violin that was nestled safely in the cloth enclosure. He caressed the body of the instrument as Ellie’s words repeated once more in his mind.

Janus’s concentration was broken when the door at the further end clicked with the sound of a turning key. In the doorway stood Elise, brandishing a feather duster and staring at Janus with unseen surprise.

“Lord Janus?” She stepped into the room. “I can’t remember the last time I saw you in here. It’s been a few years, at least.”

“Has it really?” He turned back to the violin.

“Well, time feels like it passes differently when you’re immortal, I suppose.” Elise made her away across the heavy burgundy rug and stood beside him. “Years feel like months, months feel like days, et cetera.”

She watched Janus lift the violin from its resting place and hold it with such care that it may as well have been a priceless heirloom.

“It’s in fine shape, is it not?” she asked.

“It is, I was surprised.”

“Well, cleaning isn’t the only thing that I do in the music room. I find time to service the instruments, as well. It’s a shame they’re not in use.”

“Do you ever play?”

“Oh, no no no. Well, I do have interest in a few, but definitely not the horns. Never had the breath for them.”

A proud chuckle echoed within her skull while Janus sighed behind a grin at her awful attempt at a joke.

“Are you planning on learning this one, too?” Elise pointed at the violin.

“No, I’ve never had the talent for other string instruments.”

“Then why are you so fixated on it this morning?”

The honest answer gave him pause. “I just wanted to make sure it was still in good shape.”

“Oh, yes. I, too, often wake up in the morning and think, ‘I wonder if the violin, an instrument that I have no interest in playing, is still in good shape’?”

“Alright, you don’t need to start that nonsense.” He set the violin back in its case. “The other night, Ellie mentioned that her family never had the money to purchase a musical instrument. If they had, then she would have wanted a violin.”

Elise tilted her head to see Janus’s expression more clearly.

“And you were planning on gifting one to her?”

Janus clasped the lid shut and returned the violin to its slumber.

“Well, at the very least, I thought I might present it to her to try and see if she truly does resonate with it. But now that you’re here and digging at me like this, I’m not so sure.”

“What?” Elise’s voice peaked in mild offense. “Why not?”

“It’s embarrassing.”

“What is there to be embarrassed about, Lord Janus? You consider Ellie a friend, do you not?”

“Of course I do, but it’s been awhile since I’ve made any new friendships, so I wasn’t sure if it was peculiar, or...”

Janus glared at Elise from the corner of his eyes before shaking his head in frustration.

“Oh, don’t do this to me. You always do this.”

“Excuse me,” she gasped, bringing her hand to her chest. “I’ve done nothing to you. You’re just getting yourself all worked up. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I saw you like this.”

Carefully, he lifted the case and placed it back on the shelf. Heaving a deep sigh, he started toward the door that he entered from.

“Where are you going?” Elise asked.

“I have a few tasks to accomplish before I head to town.”

“Well, don’t work yourself to death. Those bags under your eyes are becoming more apparent each day.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Janus had only one foot in the corridor before Elise called back to him, clacking the handle of the feather duster in her open hand as she gazed at the shelf full of cases.

“You know, the castle has been more lively since Ellie arrived. It keeps things interesting, and I appreciate how enthusiastic she is about helping out. But it’s only a matter of time before we’ll have to send her home.”

Janus’s head bobbed lightly, uncertain how he should reply to Elise’s remark. She rolled her head to one side when he wasn’t catching on to what she was saying.

“You should present the violin to her, I’m certain that she would enjoy it. After all, musical instruments are meant to be played, not stored away for ages on dusty shelves.”

“Perhaps you’re right, Elise.”

“I am right, Lord Janus.”

With a bow of the head and a gentle smile, Janus dismissed himself and left Elise to her cleaning. He pushed his embarrassment to the back of his mind, refusing to further acknowledge that he had gotten so worked up over how his gesture would be perceived.

The ornate, horse-drawn carriage eased to a halt at the crossroads between Haven and places Ellie had yet to see. She pushed her way through the black door and stepped out with Gerald seated on his usual perch. Sliding his slender legs to one side, Janus leaned out the door and looked down to Ellie.

“Are you certain that you don’t want me to take you right up to the farmlands? It’s still a bit of a walk from here.”

“It’s fine, I don’t mind the walk,” Ellie smiled. “Besides, how far can it possibly be? I can already see fields from here.”

Ellie outstretched her arm and outlined the near edges of the golden fields with her finger.

“Alright. Well, we’ll reconvene here by mid afternoon.”

“Perfect. See you soon.”

Janus gave Ellie a small parting nod and clasped shut the carriage door as Ellie softly waved farewell. The conjured coachman directed the horses forward with Janus’s command, leaving the pair behind at the crossroads.

“I’m kinda excited,” Ellie said.


She started down the path, her elated steps causing Gerald to bob along with her movements.

“Well, I haven’t been to a farm in awhile. There’s one kinda close to my home, but we don’t get a chance to go visit it very often. I bet farm life is a little different here than in the Prime Realm, what with the lack of sunlight and all.”

Ellie pointed Gerald’s attention toward the clouds above. His nose twitched as he watched them roll by, detecting no scent of oncoming rain.

“It was quite a struggle, years ago. Took generations of cultivating to get the crops to adapt to the weather. You wouldn’t know it, but it affects the flavor. I’ve had vegetables from both realms and its amazing what a little bit of sun can do.”

“Really? I thought the food tasted a little different. Not bad, but different.”

“Oh, the difference in taste used to be far more apparent, Miss Ellie, but that was before my time. Now they use these spheres that absorb the trace amount of light at sunrise to trickle out to the plants. You’ll see them when we get closer.”

They continued down the path for a while before reaching the entrance to the fenced-in farmlands. In the clearing beside the gate was an open space where a few houses and barns were scattered about. A flock of chickens were startled by Ellie’s arrival and clucked away to safety.

“Are you sure it’s okay to just walk around here?”

“The farmers know me,” Gerald replied. “It won’t be any problem, I assure you.”

He directed Ellie to the far end where they reached another fence. From this edge, Ellie could see dozens more fields on tiered slopes descending toward the Eversea. The corners of her mouth lifted in a grin as she leaned on the fence and lifted her feet just inches off the ground. Situated in the distance beyond the shores was the solitary island that Bedelia had mentioned the day before.

“Is that it, Gerald?” She shifted her weight so she could point without removing her hand from the fence. “Is that where the Savior lives?”

“It certainly is, Miss Ellie.”

“Looks a bit lonely.” She scanned the shore, tilting her head inquisitively. “How is anyone supposed to get there? I don’t see a dock anywhere.”

“There’s a magic entrance, but only she can allow you in. Otherwise, I hope you’re a good swimmer.”

“Yeah, I’d rather not swim out that far.”

Bringing her attention back to the fields, Ellie noticed a shallow trench dug out along the perimeter. It was filled with water and stretched in either direction as far as her eyes could see. Floating nearby was a golden sphere, spinning in place atop the running water. Ellie pointed to it, but Gerald spoke before she could.

“Oh, that’s the sphere I mentioned. Every morning, the water shifts to raise them high enough to bask in the sunlight. Then when the clouds roll in, they ease back down and release the essence into the water, distributing it to the plants.”

“That’s amazing. Some kind of magic?”

“Yes, it’s something that the Savior came up with ages ago.” Gerald yanked away from the sphere when he noticed a man working a nearby field. ”Aha!”

With a quick bounce, Gerald hopped onto the nearby post and yelled out to get the farmer’s attention. When he saw them, he tilted his hat upward and gave a quick wave before slinging his tool over his shoulder and making his way toward them.

“Well, aren’t you awfully well known? Even out here, you’re instantly recognizable.”

“Like I’ve said before, Miss Ellie; you get to know a lot of people when you do what I do. I even have some associates in Phiana, although they don’t know where I’m from.”

The farmer approached them with a wide smile and leaned his tool along the fence. He appeared to be in his thirties and was rather good looking, despite the soil staining his work clothes.

“I didn’t know you were heading this way today, Gerald. What brings you out to the fields today?”

“My friend wanted to see the farmlands. This is Miss Ellie, she’s from the castle.”

Ellie bowed her head politely, to which the farmer tipped his hat back at her.

“A representative from the castle? I’m honored. I’d offer to shake your hand, but...” He gave a nervous laugh as he showed off the soil caked beneath his nails and between his fingers.

“Alright, down to business,” Gerald dictated. “Where’s that slimy old Sticky Paws hiding?”

“Who’s that?” Ellie’s brow quirked inquisitively.

“A few of the castle rats live out here instead of in Rat Town, and you can be sure that I have a bet to settled with this particular one.”

“Alright, Gerald, alright,” the farmer laughed. “If it’s Sticky Paws you’re after, look no further than the barns. I know I saw him stagger that way this morning, so he hasn’t left for an early drink up in Haven quite yet. Though with how he was swaying, he might have just been coming back from one.”

Gerald leapt from the post and scurried toward the nearest barn, muttering to himself about how Sticky Paws was in for it this time.

“Oh goodness,” Ellie chuckled. “I’m starting to think he had ulterior motives for bringing me out here.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised, those two have quite the rivalry. You should see the kind of trouble they get themselves into.” The farmer raised hands up in sudden realization. “Oh no, I better make sure they don’t get too carried away this time. We don’t need them starting fires again. Luckily that last one didn’t stretch as far as the excavator’s storage, or all that fire powder would have made quite the light show.”

He passed through an opening in the fence and started after Gerald to the nearest barn. Before he was too far off, he looked back over his shoulder to Ellie and pointed toward the fields.

“Feel free to walk around! There’s plenty to see.”

As soon as the farmer disappeared into the barn, Ellie shook her head with an amused sigh. Somehow, it always seemed to come back to her touring about on her own.

With a quick turn of the heel, Ellie stepped past the fence and started down along the fields, caressing the plants within her reach as she moved along. The walk felt like an eternity as she watched the calm waters of Eversea with interest. It became apparent to her why Bedelia referred to it as an endless lake, despite its name, as the waves that pushed against the shores were nothing more than traveled ripples from distant winds.

She stared out at the solitary island. It was difficult to discern from so far away, but Ellie could see the outlines of trees that framed a humble cottage, a surprising choice of home for someone so revered. She couldn’t imagine living life away from everyone for months, if not years at a time. Moments of peace—like the one she had now—were still welcome, but Ellie loved being around others too much to be able to distance herself in such a way.

It wasn’t until Ellie realized that she was no longer running her fingers along the plants that she had already made her way to the end of the line of fields. She squinted back over her shoulder to where the homes and barns were, estimating that she had walked at least a mile. Scanning her surroundings, she was surprised to find that there was not a single field worker this far out.

At the edge of the fields was the fence that established the perimeter. Just beyond that was a road that wove its way down to the shore in one direction and up in the direction of Haven in the other. But the road had a third branch that led toward the north, and a little ways further down was a covered bridge. Ellie could only barely make out the concentrated mass of gnarling trees that squeezed out a black canopy over the road on the other side. Above that, hidden behind even further off trees, was the same black spire she had noticed from her window.

Having never seen anything like the gnarling trees before, Ellie decided that a closer examination was on today’s agenda. Finding no opening nor gate this far out, Ellie minded her dress as she stepped up onto the rails and climbed over the fence. A small trot later and she soon found herself at the entrance of the covered bridge. It was only at this distance that she discovered a black gate situated in the middle of the dark, wooden tunnel. It covered the opening from top to bottom in thinly spaced iron bars, obscuring the sight beyond. So focused was Ellie on the gate itself that anything surrounding it was invisible to her, including the misplaced chain and locks that were piled on one side.

Timidly, she stepped onto the bridge and listened to the boards creak beneath her as they protected her from the rushing waters of the deep river below. Ellie stopped at the iron gate half way across and examined the latch that held it shut. Curiously, she raised and lowered it as she hesitated, hoping to peer at the trees from where she stood. But between the iron bars and the walls of the bridge, her vision was far too obscured.

“Just to the end of the bridge. Surely there’s no harm in that, right?”

With a deep breath, Ellie eased open the iron gate.

The jingling of a small bell resounded through the foyer of an office in the town hall. Aston glanced plainly over the rim of his glasses at their visitor, but immediately shot to his feet when he realized who it was.

“Lord Janus,” he stammered, straightening himself out. “We weren’t expecting you today.”

Aston quickly leafed through his schedule book and ran a finger along the words as he tried to find an appointment he might have overlooked.

“It’s an unannounced visit,” Janus chuckled as he approached the counter. “Is Bedelia in?

“Yes. She’s penning correspondences right now, but I will let her know that you’re here.”

Aston gestured to one of the sofas along the wall as he disappeared behind a nearby door, the sound of his hurried steps melding with the gentle creak of wooden stairs. Choosing instead to observe the objects on display in a glass cabinet, Janus clasped his hands behind his back and waited patiently for Aston to return with word of Bedelia’s availability.

Two sets of footsteps tapped back down the stairs as Bedelia emerged in the foyer, beaming at the sight of her guest.

“Janus himself, out and about in Haven! To what do we owe the pleasure?”

“It can’t be that peculiar that I’m here, is it?” he scoffed lightheartedly.

“You haven’t been to this office in three years, Janus.”

“Really?” He rubbed at the back of his neck. “I suppose I haven’t been getting out much lately, aside from our shared investigation.”

“And I suppose that stirred in you a purpose to start sticking your head out of the black castle more often?”

Janus laughed with only mild amusement at Bedelia’s teasing, much to her enjoyment.

“But in all seriousness, what does bring you out here today?”

“Well, Ellie and Gerald were heading to the farmlands today, so I figured it was a prime opportunity to carry them to the crossroads and bring these to you myself.”

He reached into the pocket of his cloak and retrieved a thick and narrow envelope. Bedelia plucked it from him as Janus offered it to her, then tore the seal and removed the documents within.

“They’re the clearance papers for the afflicted that are ready to be assimilated.”

“And you decided to bring these to me instead of the other way around? How thoughtful.”

Before Bedelia could speak another word, everyone’s attention was brought to an orb fastened into the wall as it lit up with a white glow, followed by a gentle ‘ding’. Bedelia’s brow furrowed as she turned toward Aston seated at the main desk.

“Was there a prisoner drop off scheduled today that I forgot about?”

Aston flipped the pages of his schedule book and shook his head.

“No. The next one is scheduled for two weeks from now.”

“Was the detector maintained as usual?”

“Yes. It was done on the first of the month, as always.”

Her brow did not ease up as she clicked her tongue in thought and shifted her eyes to Janus.

“You did tell Ellie about the Northern Territory, didn’t you?”

Tension squeezed Janus’s entire body with her question.

“There was no need.” His breath was panicked. “Besides, Gerald is with her. He would sooner use his stun spell on Ellie than let her set foot in that place.”

“And if—for some reason—Gerald was not with her?”

“The gate is locked, is it not?”

“I’m starting to wonder.”

The two stared at one another, pricks of fear yanking at their flesh.

“Where’s your carriage?” Bedelia asked in a low voice.

“The edge of town.”

“Then we take mine.”

Janus bolted for the main door and hurried back to Haven’s streets as Bedelia tossed the envelope to Aston before following. She rushed into the street to find Janus glancing back and forth, trying to spot her carriage. Bedelia tapped his shoulder before rushing to the far end of the town center, leading him to where it was stationed.

Ellie gazed at the orb fixated in the ceiling of the covered bridge, directly above where the gate was. The sound it made when it illuminated had given her a start, prompting her to stand silently as she waited to see if anything else would happen. When there was nothing, she stepped forward and left the gate wide open as she approached the opposite end of the bridge.

She stopped just before where the wood met the ground. It was no further than she intended to go, and from this point she could see the gnarling trees perfectly well. While they were a beautiful display of the unpredictable course of nature, she felt a horrible dread pool within her as she stared into the strangely black tunnel created by the canopy. There was no reason for it to be that dark, even with that many trees so close together. It was literally pitch black, causing her to wonder if there was even another side to the tunnel.

Having seen enough, Ellie decided to return to the gate. But before she could turn her body, a hissing from no known origin wrapped her in confusion. Ellie slammed her hands against her temples as she struggled to contain the throbbing pain that shot through her skull. She squeezed her eyes shut, blinding her to the fact that her feet had begun moving on their own.

When the pain subsided, Ellie cracked open her eyes to reveal nothing but the inky abyss. The darkness betrayed nothing but the warped trunks of the gnarling trees lurching over her, as though they were cackling at her predicament. Terror surging through ever muscle in her body, Ellie shifted her leg to turn back to the only source of light that broke through the treeline.

The moment that her eyes registered something other than darkness, she was once more frozen in place. Not because of some trickery, but because her exit was blocked by a looming figure dressed in noble attire. A pair of gangly hands reached out from the darkness and gripped Ellie’s shoulders from behind with a painful force that bruised her flesh.

“What have we here?” A feminine voice slithered its way into Ellie’s head, the source only inches from her ear. “A gift from the mortals?”

As though her body wasn’t her own, Ellie’s eyes were drawn further up the figure in front of her until they met with his. Bright red irises leered back at her, their spell forcing every muscle in Ellie’s body to tense and imprison her in the presence of her captors.

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