Lord of the Night Realm - Book I: Sojourn

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Chapter 15

The flame atop the torch gripped in Ellie’s hand crackled as the pair stood in uneasy silence. Her lip trembled with every retracted word as she stared at Janus’s hand, perfectly still after having turned the key in the lock. The tension was a heavy weight that caused Ellie’s breath to quicken.

“You don’t have to,” she said, her voice soft with understanding.

“No.” He returned the keyring to his cloak pocket and placed his palm upon the door handle. “I realize we haven’t known each other terribly long, Ellie, but my heart tells me that I can trust you. I want you to know what lies beyond.”

Ellie swallowed hard as Janus pushed the door into the pitch black room, then reached for the torch in her hand. She glanced at it before gently handing it to him, watching as he put the torch before him and stepped into the dark room. Ellie’s heart pounded in her chest as she followed.

Despite the flame of the torch, the room beyond was still unnaturally dark. Anything beyond a couple of feet were obscured when they should have been fully illuminated.

With a flick of of his finger, Janus pulsed flames outward from the torch to numerous wall sconces, lighting the room with a peculiar orange glow. As her vision settled, Ellie could finally make out her surroundings. Well preserved stone lined the four walls, with pillars throughout that supported the foundation above. To the north stood a door with a barred window, and to the south was an open archway that led to places beyond the castle’s perimeter. Beside this opening were several long beams of perfectly cut wood.

The room was relatively empty, save for one point of interest near the far corner; five lifelike statues of men and women in peculiar stances, held in place with similar beams to protect them from the tremors. With uneasy steps, Janus moved closer to the statues with a pace slowed by his apprehension. Sensing this, Ellie placed her hand on his arm, which startled him slightly. He blinked at her and his muscles eased at the sight of her soft smile.

It wasn’t until they were nearly beside the statues that Ellie could see their features more distinctly. The corners of her mouth dropped as her heart sank. She recognized them as the very same people in the portrait in the library, though a little older. Why were there such peculiar statues of that family in this place, she wondered.

“I know these people,” she muttered. “The portrait in the library.”

“These statues are—” Janus sighed deeply. “—my family.”

Her brow furrowed. “You mean of your family?”

There was no reply. Ellie’s eyes darted from one statue to the next as she counted them out in her mind. Five statues, but six people in the portrait. One was missing; the youngest.

“Janus. You were the boy in the portrait?” Several breaths parted her lips as she fumbled to find which words she wanted to speak first. “How did this happen to your family?”

“Betrayal.”

The dense air grew thicker with every passing moment. Ellie watched the emotions swirl inside of Janus like a typhoon, his face twitching in anamnesis. He had so much to tell her, but his thoughts tangled like knots of string as he struggled with where to begin.

“My parents were Lucian and Solange Alscher. My father was a successful businessman with a manufacturing company that he inherited from my grandfather. The family owned a bit of land in Leruntine, where our estate, manufacturing plant, and laborer wards were stationed.”

“Leruntine? That borders Galviece.”

Janus gave a knowing nod.

“My grandfather was not an awful man, but he did not know how to take proper care of the laborers. There were many grievances when my father took control of the company, and he made it his first priority to improve their lives. He built them better homes, fed them nourishing food, and clothed them in quality fabrics and leathers. My father even hired a chirurgeon to take up residence at the wards to see to the medical needs of the laborers. In addition, they all received a pay raise. Certainly a step above how my grandfather treated them, and as such the business prospered.”

Ellie backed up to one of the pillars and leaned against it, observing the statues as Janus shared his tale.

“When my father was a young man—before he inherited the company—he was out riding with a few family friends and ended up separated from them. While alone, he came upon a young woman in the woods that was exhausted and ragged. She nearly clawed out his eyes when he tried to approach her, but it this didn’t deter him. He wanted to help her, and eventually gained her trust enough to bring her back to the estate.”

“Was that...?”

“My mother, Solange. She stayed with my father for several days, but would not eat the food that he provided her. With each passing day, she grew weaker and my father became concerned. He approached her in her chambers and begged her to tell him what he needed to do, that no matter what the request, he would fulfill it. That’s when she asked for his blood.”

“She was already a vampire, then?”

“Yes. She didn’t ask for much, just enough to sustain her. But she also didn’t believe that he would do it, and would instead murder her upon learning the truth. Resigning herself to her fate, she closed her eyes and waited for death. But when death didn’t come, she peered at him and saw my father baring his neck. She was stunned by his trust, but as he saw it, she would have taken her fill in the forest if she was truly so evil. So she took his blood, but was gentle and took only what she needed. With her magical talents, she also prevented him from becoming a thrall. It was not long before her strength returned, and finally she gave him her name.”

Janus dropped the torch into an empty sconce before joining Ellie at the opposite pillar. His eyes began tracing the lines along the stones in the floor as he continued.

“After they were formally introduced, she began telling him her story. My mother and her family were apparently being chased across the nations. Their pursuers finally caught up to them and her father told her to run—to run and never look back. She did so with a broken heart, for days, until she came upon my father.”

“What was your father’s reaction to all of this?”

Janus breathed a laugh. “The man asked her to marry him. He swore to keep her safe, and that her vampirism would remain his secret. And she accepted. It was a quiet union, but one filled with love. My parents did not want to be without each other. After my grandfather died, he asked her to turn him, so that they could be together beyond his mortal years. With certainty in my father’s heart, my mother turned him into a vampire.”

“And they were able to keep themselves hidden like this? Even as the head of the company?”

“Yes. Some laborers found their habits peculiar, but did not question it. Eventually, my mother became pregnant with their first child, but that was the beginning of the slow death of everything they worked so hard to achieve.”

His muscles tensed as the story unfurled in his mind. Sensing the stress welling within him, Ellie placed her hand on Janus’s arm again with a reassuring smile. The corners of his mouth twitched in an attempt to return it.

“The ones that were pursuing my mother and her family were the Solar Cultists; the faction that I’m certain that man that you saw was a member of. They’re like a plague, manifesting themselves into villages and towns in backwater places before they completely consume the population. It takes years, but my hometown was their next target.”

There was a brief pause as Janus sorted the order of events in his head. It was clear to Ellie that he had gone over this story numerous times before.

“When my mother sensed their presence, she convinced my father to hide their vampirism with an ancient ritual that would make them appear as mortals until the day she reversed it. Any children born of their blood would be under the same effect. With his blessing, she carried out the ritual, and they were perfectly masked as mortals; aging, sickness, requiring food for nourishment. They still had a fraction of their vampiric strength and stamina, but not the immortality.”

“That sounds like a good spell to have handy, to keep yourself safe.”

“Unfortunately, it’s ancient, as I said. That she knew it at all raises questions in my mind.”

“I’m sure you can ask her someday.”

For a brief moment, Ellie could see the corner of Janus’s mouth raise as her optimism permeated the gloom around him.

“My brother—Adrianus—was the first born. He was a kind and sociable boy, well loved by his peers. Around the same time, a son was born to the Renard family, who were close with the Alschers. His name was Isadore, and he and Adrianus were inseparable, even into adulthood.”

Ellie gripped at the fabric of Janus’s sleeve, who looked to each statue as he spoke of them.

“The second born was my sister, Naenia. She was a bit more like my grandfather; logical and calculated. Thankfully, she inherited my father’s caring heart. However, she and Adrianus had more interest in the family business than my mother’s magical arts. Seven years went by before my other brother—Cecil—was born. He took after my father in appearance, unlike his siblings. Amusingly enough, he was far more like my mother. Quiet, studious, a great affinity for the magical arts. He also adored painting.”

There was a stretch of silence, prompting Ellie to turn her head toward Janus and noticing that he had at some point averted his eyes back to the torch.

“And what about you?”

“I was born five years later. My parents and my eldest siblings were rather busy when I was growing up, so I was often found in Cecil’s care. I learned from him the basics of magic and painting.”

“Did you not receive much love from your parents?”

“No, I certainly did. We all loved each other dearly, but they were terribly busy. Life was relatively normal, at least as I perceived it as a child. But my parents watched in constant horror as the Solar Cultists ensnared one family after another, one of which were the Renards. Lord Renard and his son, Isadore, tried to convince my father and Adrianus to join them. But after an argument between the lords of both households, they grew divided. Adrianus was devastated when Isadore slipped away from him.”

Ellie pondered the connection between Janus’s brother and the Renard son; inseparable until a difference in ideals came into play. Her heart ached for them.

“Due to the dispute between my father and Lord Renard, the latter grew jealous and looked for anything he could to smear the Alscher name. That was when, through the aid of the Solar Cult, that my mother’s secret was discovered. A man of mutual interest warned my father of the oncoming danger, just a few days after my fifteenth birthday. Our entire world came crashing down all around us. With only one personal treasure to each our names, our family fled into the night.”

Janus pinched the bridge of his nose, and Ellie’s eyes traveled across his pained expression.

“Do you want to stop? We can save the rest for later.”

“No. The tale is nearly done.” Janus leaned his head up to rest it against the pillar. “As we tried to flee, Isadore Renard approached us. He wore the attire and brandished the weapon of what my mother feared most; a monster slayer. He pointed that silver blade adorned with solar imagery directly at us, intending to use its magic to pierce each of our hearts and ‘purify’ us. To their cult, a monster such as a vampire could not be considered truly vanquished unless they were first purified.”

“But don’t they banish people to this realm?”

“They do, but there’s little rhyme or reason deciding whom they sentence to exile or to death.”

Ellie’s shoulders sank as she gazed upon the family of statues with somber eyes.

“Isadore told us that we were not the first vampires he had vanquished, but we would be the most regrettable. Adrianus argued with him, desperately clinging to what little of Isadore’s old self remained. He reminded them of their years together, but this only threw him into a maddened state. Isadore screamed that his time with Adrianus was everything, but that we tricked him and hid the fact that we were cursed beings. That were impure in the eyes of his Holy Lady and a blight upon the world. His order could only entrust him to bring them our heads, and that in turn he would achieve ‘enlightenment’.”

“Enlightenment?”

“I don’t know what it means. But while they both hesitated to make the first strike, my mother swept in and restrained Isadore with her magic. She tried to use other spells to kill him—to Adrianus’s dismay—but Isadore’s holy wards protected him from her vampiric magic. Besides that, it wasn’t as potent due to the ritual. While Isadore was restricted, my parents ushered us into the safety of the dark forest.”

“And so your mother once more fled for her life.”

“Yes, but she was determined to save us. During our escape, my parents explained everything about our true nature, about the ritual that bound us and the Solar Cult. We had only just passed the border when we then sought to seek shelter with a family friend in Phiana, of all places. Because of the Solar Cult’s nature, their order was not welcome within the city, and it would have been a tremendous risk to send in one of their own without a thorough plan. Unfortunately, we weren’t fast enough, and Isadore caught us just beyond the border.”

Ellie knew the story had an unfortunate ending, but there was part of her that had fleetingly wished for something better. After all, the outcome had been staring them in the face the entire time.

“Isadore’s face was twisted as the person he once was struggled against the monster the cult had sculpted him into. We were bound by his spell, unable to move a muscle. He rambled on and on about the blessings of the Holy Lady and the sacrifices that must be made so that we could be considered pure in Her eyes. But still, he hesitated to take our heads. In a burst of insanity, he stepped backward as his shadow twisted beneath him. Dark tendrils shot from the shadow and pierced each of us in the chest, and in that moment, we became tainted.”

“And that’s when he bound you and your family to the Night Realm?”

Janus only nodded.

“He then used a banishing spell that warped the terrain around us as it horrifically altered between the woods and a dark cavern. Isadore watched as his magic tore us between the two realms, but he made a mistake by taking his eyes off of my mother. In her desperation, she reversed the ritual and freed us all from the veil that concealed our vampiric nature. She then used her magic to disable Isadore and drag him toward her, yanking him by the hair into his own magic. Her eyes were terrifying and full of bloodlust. She screamed as she questioned him if this was what his order did to her family years ago.”

“Was Isadore... brought here, too?”

“Momentarily. As the terrain continued to shift, Isadore struggled against my mother and reached for his knife, slicing her wrist open and forcing her to unhand him. He shouted insane ramblings about refusing to be dishonored by being pulled into the realm of degenerate beasts. When my mother stood to fight him, he cast a spell of stone. It took her instantly, and Isadore escaped back into the Prime Realm mere seconds before the banishing spell finished.”

Ellie’s eyes were fixed on the statue of Solange. She stood on two legs while hunched over with an open palm as though she were in the midst of casting a spell.

“My father’s scream still echoes in my mind today. He stood, his arms outstretched, in an attempt to shield the rest of us from Isadore’s magic. It was... a noble effort. He took most of the magic into his body, but remnants still passed him by. Knowing how this was going to end, my siblings all—they all...”

A small rumble shook the pillar with the impact of Janus’s closed fist. Ellie jumped, looking up to him to see the tears welling in his eyes.

“They shoved me back and shielded me. Unlike my parents, they were not turned instantly. We couldn’t see each other in the darkness, but I could hear the horrid cracking of stone as their flesh turned, their cries of pain forever haunting me. I tried to find them, calling out their names until I finally located Cecil. I felt his skin turned stone as the magic crept up his body. He asked me if I was unharmed, if I was turning. When I said no, all three of them wept in relief. There was nothing I could do to stop it. They told me to be strong, to never lose sight of who I was, and that they promised they would see me again one day. The room fell silent, and I was alone.”

Janus’s tears prompted the same in Ellie. She brought her hand to her face and closed her eyes as her mind painted the tragic image against her will. There were no words that she could think of that could possibly change anything.

“What—what happened to you after that?” Her voice cracked with every word.

“I laid there in that pure darkness for days. My vampirism had been unshackled, but I cared for naught. I was void of emotion and completely detached from reality. I barely even noticed when a woman stepped out of the darkness and gazed upon what she found. She was blind, but she could still ‘see’ with her other senses and her magic. The woman knelt beside me and placed her hand on my shoulder. This had stirred me, and I bit her in my emotional state, but she didn’t even flinch as I drained her blood. Instead, she simply stroked my hair and told me that not all was lost. She said that as long as the statues were safe, their pulse of life would remain. I withdrew and asked the woman who she was, and she said that many in this land simply referred to her as the Savior.”

“The Savior was the one who found you?”

“Found me, and took me in. Even after I bit her, she reached her arm out and helped me to my feet. The Savior wanted me to go with her, and promised that she would place a ward on the statues to keep them safe until the day that we could relocate them.”

“And you eventually moved them here?”

“Yes, but I simply traded them one dark prison for another. I lived with the Savior for years, and she helped me understand my vampirism. But when I was twenty five, she said I should be with my own kind. And that is how I ended up with the vampire clan.”

“Janus I’m... I don’t even know what to say. I’m so, so sorry. I know that was a difficult story to tell.”

“I don’t tell the tale to many. Most people believe me to have been simply banished like the rest, but a few know the story of my family.”

“And you trusted me enough to tell me all of this, too?”

“Amusing, isn’t it?” A soft laugh escaped his lips. “It took me years to tell Elise. Maybe five years after meeting Rehor and Bedelia did I tell each of them. But here we haven’t even known each other for a month, and I’m already divulging everything.”

“You say it like that, but I’m happy that you put so much trust in me. And maybe you’re changing with age, too.”

“With age?” He laughed again, but more genuinely. “Well, I suppose it has been four centuries, give or take a year. I’ve done my best to save them from this state, but there is only so much that I can do in a realm so horribly cut off from normal resources. With the limitations and responsibilities that I have, I haven’t made nearly as much progress as I could have in that amount of time. It’s even harder without proper test subjects, but I refuse to subject anyone to... this.”

Janus gestured toward the statues, then stood upright with an elongated breath. Turning toward Ellie with a smile, he encouraged her to also ready to depart.

“I hope that you can meet them, one day. Like your family to you, mine means the world to me.”

“I would love to meet them. And I know I will, and that’s a day I look forward to.”

“I’m happy to hear that. Perhaps I can meet yours one day, too.”

“That would be wonderful. Just watch out for Lillian; she’s chaos incarnate.”

The pair shared a hearty laugh that penetrated the gloom embracing them. With their moods lifted, Janus reclaimed the torch on the wall. He placed his fingers near the flame and drew them toward himself as the lights around the room returned from whence they came.

“There’s more that I’d like to show you, if that’s alright?”

“You mean there’s more to the story than that?”

“Well, I suppose, but that’s not what I had in mind. I’d like to show you a few of the rooms upstairs.”

“The locked ones?” She took the torch from Janus as he reached once more for his keyring. There was a quirk to her lips as she thought about finally discovering what lied behind the locked doors. “If you’re sure you’re ready to divulge more of your secrets.”

“Oh, I’m more than ready, Ellie.”

The pair stood just outside the doorway and peered back into the dark room. Janus relaxed his shoulders, easing the door closed and locking it.

“I do hate to leave them in such a dark place, but it’s one of the safest rooms in the castle.”

“I’m sure they understand.” Ellie placed the torch in the sconce beside the door and Janus used his magic to put it out. “Besides, you’re doing so much for them. There’s not a doubt in my mind that they’re grateful for everything you’ve done so far.”

With a small hop, Ellie skipped over the first step and turned back toward Janus with her hand extended outward. This time, she wanted to be the one to lead him. He stared at her hand before a grin appeared on his face as he gingerly placed his fingers on hers. With a gentle pull, Ellie led Janus up the stairs and to the corridor where brighter moods awaited them.

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