Lord of the Night Realm - Book I: Sojourn

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Chapter 6

Just outside of Ellie’s bedchamber stood Lord Janus, leaning against a pillar on the opposite side of the corridor. His arms were crossed as his charge stepped out of the room, stopping briefly to look at him before closing the door. Ellie gave a roll of the eyes, clearly not enthused by his presence, even though she knew he was waiting for her.

“Let’s go,” he said, standing upright and starting toward the entrance hall.

She trailed behind him as they descended the stairs and headed for the first floor east corridor. Ellie barely had a moment to admire the architecture before Lord Janus stopped beside a door on the left. He reached for the handle and pulled it open, motioning his arm for Ellie to step in first. She side-eyed him as she walked forward, bracing herself for whatever was in store for her. Uncertainty gripped her chest like a vise as she wondered if Gerald was telling the truth in that her fears were misplaced and that Lord Janus was actually a kind man that would not harm her.

Beyond the door was a lovely parlor; two large, medium blue sofas and matching seats sat all around a low, intricately carved wood table. The brown oak panels that covered the walls were lined with paintings and display cases that showcased peculiar but otherwise useless objects, such as abstract cups, an antique spoon, and a ship in a bottle. In the center of the dark, marble floor was an ornate rug that protected the surface from the legs of both the seating and the table.

Sitting on the far sofa was Bedelia, who had just received a small cup of tea from the skeleton maid, Elise. Noticing Lord Janus enter the room, Elise bowed her head and bustled past them as she made her departure.

“My my, either this is an early start for you or you haven’t slept yet.” Bedelia had stood from her seat and smiled to Lord Janus, her teacup still in hand.

“I don’t have much of a choice when everyone else operates during the day.”

Lord Janus gestured to Ellie to seat herself at the sofa across from Bedelia and sat himself in the chair between them at the end of the table. He reached for the tea and poured himself a cup as Gerald leapt from Ellie’s shoulder made himself comfortable on the sofa.

“Good morning, Eleanor.” Bedelia smiled sheepishly as Ellie slowly lowered herself into the seat across from her, still looking about the room before she focused her attention. “I must apologize for my behavior last night. From the little that I read in this morning’s missive, it seems as though you are a very special visitor.”

“Yes, and most certainly not a demon from Blackest Pitch.”

Lord Janus sipped his tea as Ellie raised an eyebrow.

“But you were calling me one last night,” she said.

“I never truly thought you were a demon. That was simply to test Gerald’s honesty. Besides, even if I did think you were, you disproved it overnight.”

“How so?”

“Demons physically and mentally cannot tolerate confinement against their will. The fact that you did not burst through the balcony doors and take flight into the night sky proved otherwise.”

“But what if it was in my will?”

Lord Janus narrowed his eyes at Ellie. “I’m providing evidence to your innocence, Miss Eleanor. Why are you trying to disprove this?”

Seeing the faint smirk on her face, Lord Janus realized that she was playing around with him, but decided to continue anyway.

“Demons are predictable. As they are beings of pure whim and chaos, they would never allow another to confine them and would only ever confine themselves.”

“In any case,” Bedelia chimed in, attempting to move the conversation forward. “There’s more to this story than just Eleanor’s arrival. Tell us about this man that was tracking you, Gerald.”

“Well,” he began. “As you know, I was taking care of my usual duties. I had gone to the city market to procure a few rare herbs for Lord Janus. Before I got there, I had this unnatural feeling that I was being watched, but it wasn’t until I reached the markets that I noticed the man in black watching me.”

“And he wasn’t innocently curious about you because of your attire, or something of the sort?” Lord Janus asked.

“No. Actually, now that I think about it, this was not the first time I saw him. I saw him briefly during my previous task, but I didn’t think anything of it since he kept his distance and only appeared once.”

“You didn’t consider mentioning this earlier?”

“Like I said, Lord Janus, I didn’t think anything of it last time. I thought he was just curious about me. But during this trip, he was quite obviously tracking my movements. Because of that, I was unable to procure the requested herbs, I’m afraid.”

“That’s alright, Gerald.”

“I don’t know if it’s relevant, but,” Ellie interrupted. “This is the same man that stopped by my home and was having some kind of conversation with my mother that made her uncomfortable.”

Bedelia and Lord Janus turned their attention to Ellie.

“Can you elaborate?” Bedelia asked.

“Well, I was in the yard with my brother and sister the other day when we noticed that man talking to my mum. She’s an apothecary that specializes in treatments for adventurers, so we get a lot of them stopping by. But she was so visibly uncomfortable while talking to him and wouldn’t tell us what he wanted. My sister and I saw him again in the markets, after I first saw Gerald. When she told my mum about it, she completely avoided the subject.”

Bedelia glanced to Lord Janus, who was gazing at the table. “What’re you thinking about?”

“Hm, I’m just wondering how this man was able to track Gerald in the first place. He’s not a completely uncommon sight and could have easily been mistaken for a wizard’s familiar.”

“That’s what I thought he was!” Ellie interrupted again, scratching the back of her head when she realized what she’d done.

“I am not a familiar, thank you very much,” Gerald pouted. “I am quite independent and merely employed.” He swatted aggressively at an invisible fly, causing Ellie and Bedelia surprise from the sudden motion. Lord Janus smirked faintly from behind his teacup.

“Eleanor, was there anything about this man that stood out to you?” Bedelia asked.

A small breath passed Ellie’s lips as his visage formed in her mind.

“He was middle aged. Blonde. Elven, like Lord Janus.” She gestured to him, his eyes narrowing as she detailed the man’s appearance. “Oh, there was also this pendant around his neck, although he wasn’t wearing it until I saw him in the clearing.”

“What did this pendant look like?” Bedelia reached for the teapot to refill her cup.

“I only caught a glimpse of it as I was falling into the stump, but it looked like a long stick with a spiked circle behind it.”

A small shattering sound filled the room, causing Ellie, Gerald, and Bedelia to jolt in their seats. They blinked at each other for a moment before turning their attention to Lord Janus. In his one hand was the teacup while in the other he held the broken handle, turning it over between his fingers and sighing.

“Elise will be cross with me, that’s for certain.”

“Are you quite alright?” Bedelia asked.

“Miss Eleanor, I don’t suppose you know what this man’s name was, do you?” His voice was serious as he ignored Bedelia’s question.

“I’m afraid not,” she stuttered, watching as Lord Janus stared at the handle in his palm. His once tense shoulders now relaxed when he heard her answer.

“Then perhaps I’m overthinking things,” he muttered.

“That pendant seems quite significant. Perhaps to a certain someone we know?” Bedelia leaned back on the sofa and sipped her tea.

“Yes. That sounds like the Solar Staff, and I’m almost certain that man is a Solar Cultist and has caught on to Gerald’s magic, though how he was able to is beyond me. Gerald’s a rat and wouldn’t give off the magic pulse that a person would. It’s possible that he’s caught on to what’s going on here in the Night Realm and seeks to disrupt it.”

“A Solar Cultist? What’s that? And why would it matter to him what goes on here?” Ellie’s mind grew heavy with questions the longer the conversation went on.

“The Night Realm is a continent that is essentially the other side of the coin to the Prime Realm,” Janus started.

"The other side of the coin! That’s what I meant to say!” Gerald exclaimed.

Bedelia and Lord Janus furrowed their brows quizzically at him while Ellie brought a closed fist to her mouth to suppress a laugh. Gerald straightened out his waistcoat and tapped his back paws as his embarrassment grew.

“Sorry, please continue.”

“From what we know, the continent isn’t exactly the same, but shares an existence with its Prime Realm counterpart.”

“Um, sorry.” Ellie raised her hand to stop him. “Gerald told me about this briefly when I came here. I do know that the Night Realm isn’t another Shard, at least.”

“Shard?” Lord Janus was confused by the term.

“You know, the other continents? Or lands, rather, since they have their own oceans. They were brought together as one after the barrier shattered between them during the Joining forty years ago? Does that sound familiar?”

“Ah, right. The Joining happened after I came here, so I often forget about it. The Shards are irrelevant to the Night Realm, however.” Lord Janus set the broken teacup down on the table and crossed his legs as he relaxed. “The Night Realm is utilized by the Solar Cultists as a land of banishment for those they deem unworthy to walk the sun-blessed surface of the Prime Realm. Everything that they deem as ‘monstrous’ is condemned here, for what they consider is ‘for the good of the civilized races’.”

Ellie felt her stomach flip. All her life, she thought that monster races were exclusive to other Shards or were just stories that people made up to make their adventures sound more exciting. But just because she had never seen them didn’t mean that they didn’t exist. Was what Lord Janus was saying true, and that the Solar Cultists were systematically expelling them here?

“A long time ago, the first settlement was made on the western shore of the Night Realm, but our Savior made a pilgrimage to these shores with a band of people and lost souls found in Blackest Pitch. Slowly, this land has grown under her guidance.”

“Most people, myself included, are descended from those who took the pilgrimage years ago,” Bedelia said. “However, you still get people that are banished here, like Janus, and will seek asylum in this land.”

“So you weren’t born here?” Ellie asked Lord Janus.

“No. Like you, I was born in the Prime Realm, but that was a long time ago.”

“I don’t mean any offense, but I’m amazed that you look as young as you do for how long you’re implying you’ve been here. I know that elves live longer than humans, and that some magically inclined people can extend their lives, but you don’t look more than ten years older than me.”

“Oh, that’s just the vampirism,” Bedelia chuckled. “Immortality does wonders on aging.”

All sounds in the room were muffled to Ellie’s ears as she fixated on Lord Janus, watching his mouth move as he lectured Bedelia. Between the movements of his lips, Ellie caught glimpses of the pointed teeth that she had noticed the night before. With this additional knowledge, Ellie realized that these were most certainly his fangs, but a defensive part of her mind tried to convince her to the contrary and that Bedelia must have just been joking.

“Well, in any case,” Bedelia said, waving her hand dismissively at Lord Janus as he rolled his eyes at her. “Though we have the settlement of Haven in this land, there are things that we’re unable to grow or sustain in this realm. So sometimes we have to, ah, ‘borrow’ from the Prime Realm. That’s where the designated castle rat comes into play.”

Ellie tore her eyes away from Lord Janus as his fell upon her and gave her a puzzled look. She instead locked herself in a staring match with the table, twisting the skirt of her dress between her hands.

“Do you ever trade with people in the western settlement?” she stuttered.

The room was silent before Lord Janus spoke.

“For as long as I’ve been in this realm, and for years before that, no one has been able to return there.” His words grew heavier between every breath. “Blackest Pitch, the haze which saturates the land between the two settlements, is a nightmare that no living being should ever have to be subjected to. Those who are fortunate enough to find their way to the eastern settlement are given asylum and time to recover, should it be apparent that they have no malicious intent. Though there have been plenty of situations where someone from Blackest Pitch has come here, to the Sanctified Lands, determined to harm our people.”

“Is it possible for your Savior to make her way back and connect the lands?”

“That’s the day we wait for,” Bedelia said. “Assuming, of course, that things are still well over there.”

A silence swept the room once more, giving Ellie enough time to digest everything she had heard so far. It was a lot to take in and she wasn’t sure how to process all of it.

“So, that all being said,” Bedelia continued. “Your presence here causes a problem, Eleanor. This is a land for the damned, of which you are not, nor has anyone ever come to this land without first being instilled with the taint by the Solar Cultists.”

“Well, if I’m such a problem then why not just send me back home?” Ellie tried to mask that the comment offended her, but her tone was apparent.

“The spell that Gerald uses to travel between the realms takes a tremendous amount of magical energy, especially from a creature so small,” Lord Janus added. “Using it both ways can only be done once every two months.”

“Wait a second. Are you saying that I have to stay here for two months?”

“At least, if not longer.”

Ellie shot up to her feet, her glare shifting between Lord Janus and Bedelia.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing.” She began pacing about the room, holding her head between her hands as her mind struggled to wrap around what was happening. “My family is probably worried sick about me already! I don’t have two whole months to give a response about my apprenticeship, either!” Ellie turned to face Lord Janus, leaning on the back of the seat in front of her. “Please, there must be a way that I can go home sooner than that.”

“Please understand, Eleanor,” Bedelia said, raising her hand. “You being untainted yet standing here in the Night Realm is a phenomenon that has never happened before. We have to determine the repercussions of your presence before anything else can happen. So please obey Janus for now.”

“But—”

“Eleanor.” Her voice grew stern. “I understand your concern, but I have a family and I will not stand for any selfish behavior that would put them or the people of my town at risk.”

Ellie’s knees quivered, nearly giving out beneath her and sending her crashing along with the world around her at the reality of the situation.

“Please... Isn’t there anyone else that can take me home? Or maybe I can be sent alone?”

Lord Janus averted his eyes from Ellie. “I’m sorry. There is only one place in the Sanctified Lands that is directly connected to the Prime Realm, and now that Gerald’s pursuer knows where it is, it would be dangerous at this point in time to send you back. We first need a way to ‘see’ if that man is on the other side.”

“But why does that matter?”

“If the Solar Cultists had even the faintest idea that we turned their prison into a livable home, they would do anything in their power to destroy everything that we’ve worked so hard to achieve.”

“Can I—Can I go home at all?”

No one responded. Ellie threw down her hands on the back of the chair.

“What’s more dangerous; me staying in the Night Realm, or me going back home?”

“The situation is complicated, Eleanor,” Bedelia said. “As of right now, we need to investigate for any repercussions.”

The sounds in the room became muffled again as Ellie’s mind poured over with a thousand thoughts. She sulked toward the wall between the windows and placed her hand on it as Bedelia spoke with Lord Janus. Leaning her shoulder against the wall, Ellie thought about her family, Phiana, and her apprenticeship. All of it torn away from her, just because she followed a rat. Tears welled in her eyes, but she fought back against them.

Lord Janus rose from his seat, prompting Bedelia to do the same.

“Gerald, please see Bedelia out of the castle while I take Miss Eleanor back to her room.”

“Yes, Lord Janus.”

Bedelia followed behind Gerald, leaving Lord Janus alone in the parlor with Ellie. Slowly, he turned toward her and stepped forward. Ellie crossed her arms and tightened her stance as she glared at him from the corners of her eyes. He let out a quiet sigh when he saw her reaction to him.

“I understand that this is a frustrating situation, but I ask that you please cooperate for the time being.”

Ellie said nothing and Lord Janus motioned toward the door. Keeping her stance, Ellie brushed passed him and hurried into the corridor. He followed behind her, hardly needing to direct Ellie back to her bedchamber as she kept several paces ahead of him. She shoved her way through the door of her room and waited for him to reach for the handle.

“Are you seriously going to lock me away in this gods damned room?”

Lord Janus’s solemn gaze did not meet hers. “Please understand.”

He closed the door gently and waited a moment before locking it. As soon as the key was turned, Ellie stormed over to the bed and slammed her fist into the pillow before throwing herself down. The tears that she had been holding back now streamed down her face as she brought her hand to her forehead. She stared at her forearm and reached for it with the other hand, pinching it between her nails over and over again.

“You just have to wake up. That’s all you have to do, just wake up.”

Ellie winced at the pain and stopped when she saw traces of blood on her fingers. Ashamed of herself, she let her arms fall limply to the bed before turning to one side and bringing her knees to her chest.

Lord Janus stood on the other side of the door, having heard Ellie’s tantrum. He felt a hole in his stomach as he pocketed the key.

“I’m sorry.” The words were barely audible, even to his own ears. He took one step back from the door before turning to return to the entrance hall. Upon reaching the top step, he noticed Bedelia standing in the middle of the room, looking up at him with a blank expression.

“You’re still here,” he said as he descended the stairs. “I would have thought you’d left by now.”

“You don’t have to go to that extreme, Janus. She doesn’t need to be caged like some wild animal.”

Lord Janus paced passed her, forcing her to step out of the way as he entered the first floor west corridor and approached the first door on the right.

“It’s not as though I enjoy doing this to her,” he called back.

Bedelia trotted behind him, entering into the meeting room. The room was fairly plain, consisting only of a few marble pillars embedded in the gray walls. In the center sat a circular table with ten chairs around it, and against the west wall was a single roll-top desk with documents stacked on its surface.

“No, you never struck me as the type that would.” She followed him to the desk. “And speaking of the type that you never struck me as, I never pictured you breaking the handle off of one of Elise’s fine teacups with your raw strength. Mind telling me what that was all about?”

Lord Janus stared at the wall. “That’s none of your business.”

Bedelia’s hollow laugh echoed throughout the room. “Oh, what is this attitude? Get over yourself, this isn’t like you at all. Something clearly has you wound up and I don’t think it’s our little unexpected guest.” She pointed to the ceiling and the room above it.

“You’re right,” he sighed. “I’m sorry, Bedelia.” Lord Janus took the documents in his hands and looked over the top sheet before handing them to her.

“What are these?”

“They’re for Haven’s head doctor, if you could deliver them to the spital for me when you return to town.”

“Ah, I appreciate it.” She tapped the documents on her hand as she stared at him. “But, you’re doing a poor job of changing the subject.”

“Fine.” Lord Janus put up his hands in defeat. “The description of Gerald’s pursuer reminded me of someone and it dug up old, dark memories.”

“And that’s about all I’ll be getting out of you, I’m sure, and that’s fine. But Janus, don’t let how that makes you feel affect how you treat other people. That’s not fair.”

“I know. I’m better than this.”

“The girl’s scared and confused. She doesn’t deserve to be locked away.”

Lord Janus nodded knowingly, his eyes drifting away from Bedelia.

“Do you need me to see you out?”

“Oh, I don’t need the formality. The gate’s just around the corner, anyway. Go sleep off that irritation before you do something stupid like snap at Elise.”

Bedelia strode across the meeting room and headed for the entrance hall, leaving Lord Janus alone with his thoughts. He glanced up at the ceiling, thinking about how Ellie must have been feeling. Conflicted, he left the room and proceeded down the west corridor into the depths of the castle.

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