Lord of the Night Realm - Book I: Sojourn

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Chapter 19

The hurried taps of Elise’s feet echoed throughout the southeast corridor as she raced to Janus and Ellie’s sides. Shoving the parchment back into her apron pocket, Elise wrapped one arm behind Janus to provide him additional support.

“Watch out for the blood,” he slurred.

“Watch out for the—Lord Janus, I’m a skeleton. Your blood has no effect on me.”

“Oh, right.”

Ellie’s brow furrowed at Janus’s uncharacteristic lack of intelligence. She shared a glance with Elise, who nodded her head toward the stairwell beside them.

“We should take him to Rehor.”

“No.” Janus dismissively waved the hand rested on Elise’s shoulder. “It’s really not that serious. Let’s just go to the parlor.”

“The—” Elise looked back and forth between the far end of the corridor and Janus with an invisible glare. “You want us to haul you all the way down there?”

“I certainly do.”

“I’m confused,” Ellie sighed and shifted one foot away from a puddle of blood. “What is wrong with him?”

“You mean aside from the blood dripping from his abdomen all over the floor, of which I’ll have to clean up later?”

Fruitlessly, Elise attempted to pull Janus in the direction of the stairwell. A disapproving huff filled her skull when she noticed his eyes fixated at the other end of the corridor. Using his hand rested on Ellie’s shoulder, Janus pointed with demand in that direction.

Fine. But you better carry your weight to the best of your ability.”

“I’ll make and honest effort,” he chuckled.

Plips of blood marked their trail as the trio shuffled toward the parlor. Despite Janus’s struggle to alleviate the inconvenience of his limp body, the walk still took twice as long as usual. With a firm push, Elise shoved the parlor door and tugged Janus from Ellie’s grasp before flopping him down onto the nearest sofa.

“I’m going to fetch blood and bandages,” she said. “Ellie?”

“Y-yes?”

“Help Lord Janus remove his cloak and shirt. I’ll be back momentarily. Do not touch his blood.”

Elise bustled out of the room and left Ellie standing over Janus’s slouched body.

“Easier said than done,” she muttered, looking at the mess that had bloomed through his clothes.

As she reached for the clasp of his cloak, Janus placed his own hand softly atop hers and stared into her eyes.

“Are—are you alright?” she asked.

“Mm. The only thing that’s truly wounded is my pride.”

He released her hand and watched as she began unfastening his cloak before draping the corners over the back of the sofa. With trembling fingers, she started to undo the small, golden buttons trailing down to his hips. Ellie’s heart pounded in her chest the further she went, her fingers moving faster in hopes of bringing the undressing to a hasty end.

“I’m sorry, I probably could have done that.”

“No, no it’s fine,” she stuttered.

Ellie took the inner hems between her fingers and gently pulled the shirt open, exposing Janus’s chest. Had it been any other situation, the sight may have flustered her. But the mess of blood seeping from the gaping wound on his side shattered any chance of that. She gasped at the sight of it, unable to fathom how a hole the size of a tea saucer could be reasonably mended.

“Gods,” she whispered. “How are you even alive?”

“I’m not mortal, Ellie. You know that.” He inhaled sharply through closed teeth as a pain surged through him. “It’s been too long since I was last in combat. I regret to admit that this is affecting me far more than it should be. Were I at my best, I would not have needed any aid.”

A small chuckle parted his lips as he looked up at Ellie, her frightened gaze fixated on his wound.

“Awfully pathetic for a vampire, isn’t it?”

“Hush,” she said, pressing her finger lightly against his forehead. Ellie would be having no self-depreciation from him.

The quickened clacks of Elise’s heels grew louder with her return. She careened the corner as she entered the parlor and wrapped around to the other side of the sofa, where she then dumped an armload of medical supplies and three bottles of blood. With a determined thump, Elise placed on the table a wooden cup and one of the bottles..

“Please pour while I tend to the wound.”

Ellie followed the instructions without hesitation. She yanked the cork from the bottle and poured as much blood into the cup as it could hold without spilling over. Rolling his head as the scent hit him, Janus fought against himself from snatching the drink from Ellie’s grasp.

The process of cleaning the wound caused Ellie to turn her head, yet she still peeked out of the corner of her eye in morbid curiosity. She watched as Elise used cloths and utensils to stop the bleeding and stitch the edges of the hole in place. Catching glimpse of something wedged inside, Elise brought her hands to a frighteningly still stop. A cloth was spread in her hand to separate her from what was lodged inside of Janus as she pinched it between her fingers.

“Brace yourself.”

Elise gripped the object and slowly worked it out of the wound, causing Janus to bite down on his fist in pain. When it subsided, he peered at the cloth rolled in her hand as she peeled the corners open to reveal a large, black barb.

“Is that a taint thorn?” he asked.

“No, I don’t believe so. There’s something different about it. A taint thorn is cleanly cut at the base, but this one is barbed.” She pointed to the jagged surface on the wide end.

“I’m already tainted, there’s no reason—”

“I just said I don’t think it’s a taint thorn, Lord Janus. It does, however, seem to be made from a similar class of magic.” Elise peered into the wound, noting several holes similar to the one she had pulled the barb from. “I think you were pierced by several, but this was the only one that stayed. Much different than the tainting process.”

Elise stood up straight and folded the bloody cloth back over the barb.

“We should give it to Rehor. He might be able to determine its origin.”

“I understand.” Janus scanned the room and slowly brought his eyes to Ellie, who was staring blankly at the wrapped up barb with the cup of blood in her hand. “Ellie.”

“Hm?” She blinked free from her trance and looked to him.

“I know what you’re thinking, and I want you to stop. It was not your fault.”

“You… How did you know?”

“Don’t I know you well enough by now?” He smirked. “That shadow was quite clearly aiming for me. Even if I hadn’t pushed you away, I still would have been pierced.”

“If you say so. But what if it comes back?”

“Something tells me that our shadow friend probably thought it did more damage than it actually did. But I assure you, it takes far more than that to bring down a vampire, despite the pathetic state you see me in now.”

Janus carelessly swiped his hands outward for emphasis and nearly backhanded Elise in the process. In frustration, she gripped his wrist and thrust his arm to the sofa before resuming her treatment of the wound.

“But Janus,” Ellie said, attempting to ignore his peculiar mannerisms. “You lost so much blood.”

“And I’ll just replenish it, once this wound is sealed.”

“Speaking of which,” Elise interrupted. “It’s mended enough now that the blood won’t pour right back out of you. You can drink.”

“Gods have mercy, I’m positively famished.”

Janus plucked the cup from Ellie’s hands, taking care not to spill the blood that was precariously close to the rim. He brought it to his lips before stopping when he noticed that she was watching him.

“Forgive me for the uncivilized display you’re about to see. Perhaps you should turn away?”

Before Ellie could even react, Janus latched his mouth onto the cup and quickly downed the blood without letting it spill over him. The contents were emptied in seconds, and while Elise reached for the cup to fill it again, Janus waved her away as he grasped the nearby bottle.

“Forget it.”

Ellie’s jaw dropped as she watched Janus take the entire bottle of blood and down it almost as fast as he had the cup. She could hardly tear her eyes away when he practically lunged in his seat for the second bottle that Elise had already popped open. It was like a scene she had read in a book about the protagonist being deprived of water for a week and then coming upon a fresh stream.

Janus parted his lips from the finish of the final bottle with a relieved breath. A thin trail of blood trickled from the corner of his mouth, the only remnant from the contents that he had otherwise completely decimated. It was difficult for Ellie to remain stunned with the nonchalant way Elise leaned on the sofa arm beside him. With a careful toss, she gave Janus a small towel with which to clean his face.

He looked toward Ellie, but his eyes drifted away when he saw her expression.

“I am… terribly sorry that you had to see that.”

“It’s—it’s fine. Will you be alright now?”

“I’ll recover well enough on the animal blood, but it is slow to act. I’d best not exert myself for awhile.”

“And how long is that?”

“Considering the size of the wound and that it went clear to the other side, I would say at least a week.”

The cloak slipped down the back of the sofa and nestled itself behind Janus when he leaned forward. Behind where it had been resting was a bloodstain that had seeped into the upholstery. Having noticed this, Janus scratched at his brow as he peeked up at Elise.

“I’m sorry.”

Elise shrugged. “Nothing to be done about it now. Just another thing to keep me busy, I suppose. Although this is part of the reason I wanted you to go to the asylum for treatment, instead of a room where we entertain guests.”

“Janus,” Ellie said, wringing her hands as she stepped closer. “What in the hells was that thing that attacked you, anyway?”

“I believe it was a shadow illusion. Why someone would send one after me, I don’t know. I can only assume it was one of the vampires in the Northern Territory, but I don’t know what reason they would have to do so, even after the incident at the bridge.” Janus curled a finger beneath his chin in thought. “Perhaps someone in this territory? There are certainly a few who don’t agree with even a single vampire being allowed here. Perhaps my frequent presence in Haven lately has frustrated them.”

“What?” Ellie’s voice was weighted in shock. “But you don’t even do anything bad to them. In fact, you help them!”

“Some may not see it that way, Ellie. While it has been centuries since I lived among the other vampires and fed on mortal blood, some people may be unsettled knowing that portion of my history. I’ve certainly been accused of being responsible for the disappearance of a few townsmen in the past.”

“And what of the possibility of your assailant being a cultist?” Elise weighed the barb in her hand.

Janus blinked. “You think so?”

“Probably not, but we can’t say anything for certain. We’ll need Rehor to study this thing. After all, there are a decent few shadow magicians in this realm. Maybe one that lives near the south settlement? Relations between those folk and Haven have been lukewarm at best these days.”

Contemplation silenced the room. Ellie’s head throbbed between the mystery behind Janus’s assailant and the overall excitement that night. There was no way that the person responsible could have known that the two of them were going to step outside after their time together in the parlor. Was the shadow then originally planning on entering the castle?

“There’s nothing we can do for now,” Janus said, leaning into the armrest to lift himself to a stand. “I had my opportunity to give chase, and I lost it. Would have been foolish of me to have done so in that state, anyway.”

“What will you do now?” Elise asked.

“Rest. I feel like I might collapse if I stay awake longer.”

“Alright then.” She snapped up the cloak from the sofa and motioned with her finger to Janus’s open shirt. “Give me that.”

“I doubt you can do anything to save it.” The fabric tumbled down his shoulders, leaving nothing left to the imagination. “But, you can certainly try.”

“You’d be surprised what I’m capable of.” Elise glanced to Ellie, who had her temples pinched between her thumb and forefinger in strenuous thought. “And you go get some rest, too. I’ll take this barb to Rehor, start on cleanup, and put a ward in place on the castle. As a precaution.”

“Elise,” Ellie whined. “You’ve been doing nothing but work all day.”

“I appreciate the concern, Ellie, but I’ve been doing precisely that in this castle longer than either of you have been alive. Let me do what I do, and the two of you go get some sleep.”

Her shoulders slumping in defeat, Ellie followed Janus out of the parlor as the pair left Elise to her tasks. She shuffled behind him until they reached the grand stairs, where Janus then ascended two steps and stopped to turn to her.

“I’m sorry. Because of everything that happened, I neglected to ask you how you’re faring.”

Ellie gradually lifted her head to look at him, but her eyes darted away the moment she acknowledged Janus’s lacking attire in the wake of the panic over his wound. In an attempt to make her shift in attention seem deliberate, Ellie raised her brow as she fictitiously scrutinized the craftsmanship of the nearby statue.

“I’m fine. Just unsettled after all of that.”

“I assure you, nothing can harm us in here.” He continued his ascent up the stairs, the quick taps of Ellie’s feet close behind. “Elise already said she would activate the wards, and it would take someone with very specific and uncommon knowledge of that magic to be able to bring it down.”

They stopped beside the door to Ellie’s bedchamber and a disheartened sigh escaped Janus when she hastily turned to the wall the moment he faced her.

“You should get some rest now, Ellie.” His voice was disheartened. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“No, I’m gonna escort you to your bedchamber. You’re the one who was injured, after all.”

“Now now, I’m more than alright. You forget; I’m a vampire.”

“I don’t care, Janus,” Ellie scoffed. “Please, just let me do this. If not for you, then for me.”

Janus’s lip trembled as he struggled to find his words, surprised by the shift in Ellie’s tone.

“Well, alright. I can’t imagine you would find yourself lost on the return trip.”

Ellie and Janus began the painfully quiet walk through the west corridor. It was clear that his confident demeanor was only to give her some peace of mind, but the way he flinched with certain movements acted contrary to his words. In a similar contrast to his usually astute self, Janus seemed oblivious to the impact that the evening had on Ellie; not only due to the attack, but also the surprisingly tender moment that was forcibly taken from them.

“It’s regrettable that such a pleasant evening was ruined in that manner,” he muttered.

Ellie glanced to Janus’s back after he spoke, her brow twitching in confusion at the well timed statement in correlation to her inner thoughts.

“Perhaps if we had just remained in the castle, then none of this would have happened.”

“We didn’t know that thing would be out there, Janus. I had a lovely time, all things considered. I look forward to seeing those gorgeous flowers again, this time without the interruption. Besides, we’ll have plenty more opportunities for pleasant evenings.”

That was what Ellie wanted—of course—but there were only so many moons left before her inevitable departure.

The door to Janus’s bedchamber was large and elegant, emitting an air that was a perfect harmony between intimidating and inviting. Ellie felt the marble of one of the columns surrounding the framework with her fingertips, her eyes following the length of it to a gargoyle statue perched atop. Amazingly, she had never given the intricacies of the decorations much thought despite passing this door during her explorations of the castle.

“I suppose this goodnight,” Janus said.

“Mhm.”

Another pained breath parted Janus’s lips when Ellie refused to look away from the column. He reached for the door handle, seemingly wanting nothing more than to retreat into his bedchamber and forget the whole affair. But the moment his fingers touched the iron, he retracted his hand and turned to Ellie with pleading eyes.

“Please,” he begged. “Please, just look at me.”

Her heart leapt upon having been called out on her aversion.

“I can’t do that.”

I’m sorry.” His voice grew desperate, the shift in tone successfully grabbing her attention. “The way I acted in the parlor was graceless. I never wanted for you to see me like that, but now that you have, I’m terrified that you’ll never look at me the same way again.”

“Janus, I don’t think you’re—”

“But you won’t even look at me!”

“Gods,” she sighed, her shoulders drooping. “I never would have thought you could be this oblivious.”

Janus couldn’t even formulate a reply and was merely capable of breathing out audible confusion. His head shook in tiny motions as he strained to understand Ellie before noticing that her eyes were finally fixed on him.

“I don’t understand.”

“Oh, gods.”

With harsh movements, Ellie motioned downward with both hands at her torso before doing the same to Janus’s. Perhaps then he would understand that she wasn’t afraid of him, but that this entire time she was merely flustered by his partially clothed state.

Janus looked down at himself, then placed his hand on the exposed wound. He inhaled a breath of realization as the corners of his mouth perked in relief.

“Of course, I didn’t even think of how unsightly the wound must be to you. I apologize.”

A clap echoed throughout the southwest corridor as Ellie’s hand came in contact with her forehead. She clenched her teeth behind closed lips before resting her arm back at her side.

“Janus, please be rest assured that I don’t think any differently of you after that.”

“Truly?”

“Truly. You were hurt, you lost a lost a lot of blood, and you needed to be replenished. As a vampire, it’s what your body needed.”

“You didn’t find it repulsive?”

“No. I mean, I was surprised at first. You’re always so mindful of your manners and carry yourself with a certain grace, so it was shocking to see you act that way.” She gave him a soft smile. “But no, I didn’t find it repulsive, and I don’t think any differently of you. I think this whole thing is bothering you far more than it ever bothered me.”

“Well, don’t I look the fool?”

“Do you need me to say it again, to reassure you?”

“No no,” he chuckled. “I believe you, Ellie. I won’t mention it again.”

The two grinned at one another as the tension around them was quickly lifted. Janus’s glanced at the door to his bedchamber before leaning in slightly toward Ellie.

“Well, with that awkward misunderstanding now in the past, I would happily invite you in so that we could continue where we left off.” The corners of his mouth dropped slightly in disappointment. “But all things considered, we should probably rest for the night.”

“Probably for the best.” The thought made Ellie’s chest feel light. “We can share stories as we enjoy a few drinks after you’ve recovered.”

“I look forward to it.”

Janus’s low, inviting tone betrayed his actions as he turned the handle and stepped inside his bedchamber, giving Ellie one last look.

“Goodnight, Ellie.”

“Goodnight, Janus.”

The door clicked shut and Ellie trotted back down the corridor to her own room and leaned against the wall in the dark. She drew her hand down her face as every pleasant thought from the evening drowned out the single awful one. Emotions stirred in the cauldron of her soul that she was by no means stranger to. And yet, she was still in disbelief that they had emerged once more. It had only been a couple of years since the last time someone made her feel this way, yet there was so much left to understand. After all, it was entirely possible that these feelings were simply amplified the wake of the alcohol.

Ellie’s body navigated itself while her mind ruminated over the evening. After making her way around the room to light the bedside table and dressing in her night robes, Ellie collapsed onto the bed with hardly an ounce of energy remaining. With one final roll underneath the covers, she drifted into a peaceful sleep.


A constant, light rapping at the bedchamber door soon grew into a repetitive, impatient knock. Janus squinted his closed eyes with irritation and pulled the corner of the blanket over his head. When the nagging wouldn’t cease, he threw it off with a swipe of annoyance and staggered to the door. The knocking stopped the moment it swung open and Janus peered through the smallest slits to see Elise looking up at him, her form illuminated by the early morning light.

“What?”

“Good morning, Lord Janus. Did you leave your manners in bed?”

He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t understand how you can be so energetic at this early hour. It is early, no?”

Janus glanced to the longcase clock a few feet from the door, which read the hour at quarter after six.

“I’m a skeleton, Lord Janus.”

“Even skeletons need rest, Elise.”

“Mayor Bedelia is in the Great Hall,” she said, her words overlapping his.

Janus’s brow quirked. “At this hour? Why?”

“That’s something I’m sure you’ll find out when you go and meet her.”

“This better be important.” He rolled his eyes.

“Don’t keep her waiting, Lord Janus. She seemed most insistent on speaking with you immediately, and I fear that she’ll barge right in here if she has to wait much longer.”

“Fine, tell her to give me twenty minutes, and have her wait in the meeting room.”

Giving a sharp nod, Elise bustled back down the corridor to tend to their guest. Janus staggered across the room and reluctantly thrust open the remaining curtains to provide additional light. After dressing and making himself presentable with definite haste, Janus followed after Elise to the meeting room with only a minute to spare. Bedelia smirked as he entered, her well rested face paralleling his sagging eyes.

“I apologize that you had to wait in here instead of the parlor,” he said, lightly closing the door behind him.

“Yes, Elise mentioned that there was an incident last night and that the parlor needs more cleaning yet. Seems we both have stories to share, then.”

“I assume so. Now then, what brings you to the castle so early in the morning?”

Her smile faded. “Janus, I was made aware of something yesterday. It’s not good.”

“Well, don’t leave me in suspense.”

“Right. As it so happens, we discovered the source of—” She was cut off by a small tremor that shook through the entire castle. “—that. Incredible timing.”

“Truly? I’m eager to hear you elaborate.”

“Not yet, Janus.” She shook her hands to ease him back. “You need to see this for yourself. I don’t think merely describing it puts enough emphasis on the gravity of the situation.”

“Alright,” he said, his tone weighted with confusion. “Shall we waste no time and set out now, then?”

“If you’re ready, that would be best.”

With no objections, the two stepped out of the meeting room and into the Great Hall. As they hurried toward the gate, they stopped when a small voice called out from above.

“Good morning.”

Janus turned on his heel and looked up to the west balcony to see Ellie, still dressed in her night robe with one half-lidded eye as she rubbed away sleep from the other.

“Good morning, Ellie,” Bedelia called. “Although you look like you could use some more sleep.”

“I could, but I felt the tremor and was worried about the rats, so I’m going to check on them.” She blinked through tired eyes at the pair, noticing their grim expressions and that even Janus was fully dressed. “Where are you going?”

“We have important matters to attend to this morning, Ellie,” Janus said. “I should return by noon, I’d imagine.”

“What matters, exactly?”

Janus stammered with hesitation as he thought of an answer. Though he withheld the truth in an effort not to worry Ellie, the delay only proved to unsettle her. Bedelia stepped forward and placed a reassuring hand on his arm as she took charge.

“Just some matters of the realm, Ellie. Nothing to worry yourself over.”

She gave a brief wave farewell before approaching the gate. As Bedelia eased the large door open, she called out in surprise upon spotting Gerald on the other side and engaged him in conversation. Ellie and Janus stared at each other as the two carried on, silent words straining to reach one another. She didn’t need to say what was on her mind; the forlorn expression painted it clearly. It pained Janus to exclude her so soon after the events of the previous night, but it needed to stay between him and Bedelia for the time being.

With a faint smile, Ellie waved goodbye to him. Through that action alone, the tension in his shoulders seemed to give way. After giving Ellie a gentle nod, Janus joined Bedelia at the gate as the two of them swapped places with Gerald.

A small, squeaky yawn escaped the little rat as the door creaked shut behind him. Having not noticed Ellie on the balcony, he waddled sleepily toward the courtyard door.

“Gerald,” Ellie said. She clasped her hand over her mouth when the poor thing visibly jumped a half foot in the air.

“Oh, Miss Ellie! I didn’t see you up there. Good morning.”

“I didn’t mean to startle you.” She stifled a laugh. “Did you just get home?”

“Yes indeed. Late night in Haven, and all that.”

“Well, I was just about to go check on Rat Town after that tremor.” Ellie stepped quickly down the stairs to meet up with him.

“Oh, there’s no need for that, Miss Ellie. That tremor wouldn’t have done much.”

“Really? It felt rather strong.”

“Did it? I thought it was one of the lighter ones we’ve had lately.”

“Hm, maybe it just felt like it was stronger in my sleep. Like when you dream that you’re falling.”

Ellie stared blankly at the front gate and fidgeted with the sash of her robe. Taking note of her distraction, Gerald glanced over to see what was bothering her, only to find nothing out of the ordinary.

“Anything you want to talk about, Miss Ellie?”

“Hm? Oh, no, it’s nothing.”

“Are you sure? You’ve got about fifteen minutes before I pass out.”

Ellie rubbed her hands together anxiously before looking down at him.

“Yeah. Let’s talk.”

She scooped Gerald up and pushed through the courtyard door, the cool morning air chilling the small bits of exposed skin. Something wasn’t right. Or perhaps, it was right and Ellie had simply just learned to live life without it. Unhindered sunlight illuminated the sky as she walked toward the fountain plaza. The wonderment distracted Ellie and nearly caused her to trip down the stairs. The cold sensation that Ellie felt upon plopping down onto the stone bench gave her a start, to which she responded in turn by chuckling as she kept Gerald softly clutched in her hand.

“And here I thought there was no sunlight in the Night Realm!”

“I think I mentioned before that there is a little bit at sunrise. Won’t be long before the clouds roll in, though, so enjoy it while it lasts.”

“I had no idea how much I’d missed it.” Ellie scanned the courtyard and admired how different it was in the morning light, but was soon distracted by the way that Gerald was scrunching his nose and blinking his eyes. “Are you about to sneeze?”

“Oh no, Miss Ellie. It’s just today’s curse giving me a bother.” He rolled out of her hand and flopped onto bench, quickly changing his mind with the cold sensation and crawling back into her lap. “Today’s torture from Lord Janus is a mark on my eye that won’t go away.”

“Are you sure that’s one of the curses? I think everyone gets those little floating squiggles from time to time.”

“But you can see through those, Miss Ellie. This is like—like a blue dot. It’s awful. But as always, I will endure. It’s almost over, anyway.” Gerald sat on his backside on her leg and shuffled around until he was comfortable. “So, what did you want to talk about, Miss Ellie?”

“Well.” She paused and bit her lip. “How much do you know about vampires?”

“Vampires?” His head shifted back in surprised. “Well, I’ve learned a bit over the years, but perhaps you should ask Lord Janus? After all, he is a vampire.”

“No. I can’t ask him this question.”

“Oho.” Gerald leaned in closer, as though he were anticipating a secret. “Do continue.”

“I’m just curious, but; if a vampire were to lose a lot of blood, would it make them… stupid?”

“Stupid?” Gerald chuckled. “Well, I’m not so sure about that. But I do know that a vampire’s mind can be affected if they lose a lot of the blood in their veins. It can make them lightheaded, a bit feral, perhaps crazed. It varies from one vampire to the next, so it wouldn’t be completely out of the question for one to become—as you say—stupid.”

“Interesting,” she smirked. “That might explain a lot, then.”

“Explain what?”

“Nothing, don’t worry about it. On to the next question.”

Gerald gave a few quick nods in succession.

“What is Bedelia to Janus?”

“What is Mayor Bedelia to Lord Janus?” he repeated before crossing his arms in thought. “Well, while she may look older than him, Mayor Bedelia is actually quite young in comparison to Lord Janus. She is mortal, after all.”

“You’re not telling me anything new.”

“Let me finish, Miss Ellie. It’s rude to interrupt.” He pointed his nose upward with a silent ‘humph’ before continuing. “Despite the substantial age gap, Mayor Bedelia has treated Lord Janus as a younger brother for as long as she’s known him. They first met when she was a small child, and back then he looked exactly as he does now. She certainly teases him like a younger brother, too.”

“Was there ever… anything between them?”

“No, never. Mayor Bedelia has been happily married for fifteen years.”

“That doesn’t necessarily mean anything.”

“Maybe not, but even if that were the case, Lord Janus isn’t her type.”

“He isn’t?”

“Well, he may be lovely to look at, but he’s lacking what she likes.”

“Ah, I understand now.” Ellie drummed her fingers along the edge of the bench. “Well, what about Janus? How does he feel?”

“About Mayor Bedelia? Well, Lord Janus hasn’t had any relationships in a long time.” Gerald glanced around, then leaned in close and reduced his voice to a whisper. “Don’t tell anyone, but word among the staff is that Lord Janus had a relationship back when he was still with the vampire clan that ended… poorly.”

“I can only imagine,” she whispered back. “What with the conflict of interest between his ideals and theirs.”

“No, Miss Ellie. I think there was more to it than that, but no one knows for sure. Not even Lord Janus, as far as I know. But you didn’t hear any of that from me.”

She nodded slowly and ran a pinched thumb and forefinger across her closed lips.

“What’s with all the questions anyway, Miss Ellie?”

A nervous chuckle rattled her shoulders. “Consider me curious, I suppose.”

“Curious, eh? I know all about curious.” Yet another record-breaking yawn escaped his muzzle. “Well, if there’s nothing else, I’m going to head home and get some sleep. What about you?”

“I’m gonna sit here and enjoy the light before the clouds roll in, then I’ll go back to bed for a few hours.” Ellie brought two fingers to Gerald’s head and gave him a small pat. “Have a good sleep, Gerald.”

“You, too, Miss Ellie.”

With a lazy hop, Gerald landed on the stone and waddled across the plaza toward the tunnel to Rat Town. Ellie leaned forward on the bench and watched her fuzzy friend disappear in the distance. When she was alone, she turned her attention to the fountain and stared wistfully into the water. The morning light filled her with memories of home, of early walks to the academy, and of bustling about to complete morning tasks. Somewhere, her family was also—hopefully—enjoying a similar dawn.

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