Lord of the Night Realm - Book I: Sojourn

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Chapter 7

Faint lights flickered distantly in the dense woods that night. The warm glow from within the house beside Lillian was not enough to calm her nerves as she sat silently beside her father. She picked anxiously at the wood of the bench as she leaned against his shoulder, his face buried in his hands. Lillian’s eyes were hollow as she listened to the far-off voices, repeatedly calling out her sister’s name.

The sound of steps on the dirt road caused her to yank her attention toward the stone wall, her shoulders sinking when she saw it was just one of the neighbors with a lantern in hand.

“I’m going to check the west road again,” they yelled, starting in that direction.

Bram reached a quivering hand to his daughter’s, forcing a smile as he strained to keep himself composed.

“It’ll be okay, Lillian,” he whispered. “They’ll find Ellie. She couldn’t have gone far.”

Lillian only nodded, a piercing sensation rising in her chest as she watched her father force himself stay strong for her sake.

A rustling from the woods gave them cause to jump. They stared at the line of trees until they saw Vena and Irwin emerge from the brush. Though it was difficult to see in the lantern light, the red around Vena’s eyes and the infrequent sniffling made it apparent how she was faring.

“Nothing?” Bram asked.

Vena only shook her head.

“I don’t understand,” Irwin said. “It’s not like the two of you haven’t gotten into fights before, but it was never like Ellie to run away. She’d just go for a walk and then come home.”

“What if that man did this...” Lillian muttered.

“What man?” Bram appeared to be the only one who didn’t know anything about him.

“I told you we saw him in the markets, Mum. The creep was staring directly at Ellie. I told you, Mum! What if he did this?” Her voice rose with every few words.

"Lillian!” Vena buried her face in one hand as the lantern trembled in the other. She took a moment to gather her bearings before turning back toward the woods. “I’m going to keep searching.”

“Let me go with you.” Bram wobbled as he stood, causing Vena to gently push him back onto the bench.

“No, please.” She set down the lantern and took her husband’s hands in her own as she knelt down. “I know you’re worried sick, but it won’t do any good if something happens to you, too.”

They stared at one another, Bram searching her eyes for understanding before reluctantly nodding.

Vena grabbed the lantern again and headed toward the woods. Irwin started to follow her, but she motioned him to stop. When she sank into the trees, Bram brought his hands to his face once more and wept.

“What good am I?” His tears stirred the same emotion in his children. “What good is a father that doesn’t even have the strength to search for his own lost child?”

Irwin and Lillian sat beside their father, wrapping their arms around him and leaning their heads against his. They listened painfully as the distant voices continued to call out Ellie’s name.

Vena pushed through the trees until she came upon the clearing. A pained smile formed on her face when memories of playing here with her children poured from the deep reaches of her mind. But the longer she stared, the more her mind drifted from these cherished moments until flashes of the darkly clad man overtook her thoughts. She hated recalling the sound of his obtruding voice, asking her if there were any peculiar places nearby where there had been magical happenings. Her mind lingered on the threat that passed his lips, telling her that if she had been lying to him, she would surely suffer consequences.

This unpleasant memory was soon replaced by another from long ago. A young, hopeful Vena that collected wildflowers as a gift for Bram when he was ill, stumbling into the clearing to see a stump that was never there before. Staring at her with widened eyes was a wild rat, never tearing its gaze from her as it and the stump seemingly sank into the ground. She couldn’t believe her eyes and ripped at the grass and dirt with her bare hands, determined to find where they had gone. But there was nothing, and over time she forgot about the curious happening. Vena hadn’t thought about it until the man came to her with his inquiries, but her instincts forbade her from sharing the tale.

Wiping away a tear, Vena paced through the moonlit clearing toward the other side, calling out desperately for her missing daughter.

Tearful eyes eased open as Ellie awoke from a tender dream about her family. The dreary morning light flooded her bedchamber, presenting an alternate vision of the dark room that she had drifted to sleep in. Considering the density of the storm clouds, it almost seemed a stretch to call it ‘light’. Ellie glanced over her shoulder at the window door and wondered if it would ever rain, or if this was some trick of nature to keep this realm endlessly moody.

She sat up in bed and noticed a tray on the table. There was no steam wafting from it, a sign that perhaps Ellie had overslept. It was difficult for her to do anything other than sleep after yesterday’s conversation, though it wasn’t as though there was much else for her to do in the bedchamber, anyway.

Ellie threw off the blanket and shuffled toward the meal. The plate consisted of a roll of sliced ham, a few cuts of sausage, some cheese, slices of a boiled egg, cuts of tomato and cucumber, and a tiny loaf of braided bread. It was a cold meal, but that didn’t stop her stomach from groaning at the sight, prompting her to recall that she had not eaten since breakfast the previous day.

The chair creaked as Ellie sat down and slowly reached for the fork so as to pierce a slice of cucumber. At first, the meal didn’t seem particularly appetizing, but every bite changed her opinion. Either she was just that hungry, or the person who was preparing her meals knew precisely which ingredients to choose for the best flavor. She poked at her breakfast more eagerly as she ate, thankful that Gerald wasn’t there to try and weasel away a few morsels.

Content and with a moderately improved mood, Ellie stood up from the table after finishing her meal and stepped toward the window door. Delicately, she placed her fingertips on the glass as she observed the thick blanket of dark clouds. She loved thunderstorms, but a sight like this all day with not even the faintest roll of thunder or drizzle of rain left her feeling disappointed.

She observed the horizon, taking in the details of the mountains and rolling hills, the outskirts of Haven, and giant trees that obscured distant sights. Ellie was intrigued by the one distant spot in the mountains to the west where the peaks dipped down, creating an apparent opening. But her eyes drew her to the far north, to something that Ellie had never noticed before. She squinted as she focused on the point between two far off trees, swearing that she could see the outline of a tower’s spire. Judging by the size, it must have been miles away.

A knocking distracted Ellie from the distant enigma. So jarred was she that she didn’t even think to respond and simply stared at the door. A moment passed before it was unlocked and gently pushed open by Elise, who first noticed the empty bed before spotting Ellie at the window.

“Perhaps you should answer next time,” she said. Her mouth was motionless as she spoke, a far-off voice echoing from within her skull. It was deeper than Ellie expected, but also carried a certain grace to it. In some ways, it reminded her of her grandmother.

“I’m sorry,” Ellie replied, shifting her eyes to the floor.

Elise stepped further into the room and shuffled to the bed, revealing several dresses draped over her arm. One by one, she began setting them out, pushing the mess of a blanket out of the way so as to lay the dresses flat.

“Come look.”

Cautiously, Ellie stepped toward the bed while keeping her gaze on Elise, whose attention was fixated on the dresses. She stood beside her and held her stare before turning toward the array of colors, each dress beautiful yet practical and meant for everyday use. Despite that, they were certainly more elegant than anything she had back home.

Ellie’s eyes traveled back and forth between the dresses and Elise.

“Am I supposed to pick one?”

“Well, I don’t expect you to wear all of them at once, so of course you must pick one. However, you are welcome to keep all of them. I can make adjustments as necessary if any of them do not fit you.”

“These are all for me?” A smirk appeared on Ellie’s face before turning into a full smile. “Thank you.”

“Of course. Now then.”

Elise motioned to a basket sitting on the bedside table, tearing Ellie’s attention away from the dresses. It hadn’t been there before, so she could only assume that Elise snuck it in when she entered. Resting inside the basket were several bars of soap and bottles of oils for conditioning hair. Ellie’s face flushed when it dawned on her that she hadn’t bathed since two mornings ago, on the day she arrived in the Night Realm.

“I’ll go wash up,” she muttered, reaching for the basket and hurrying to the washroom as Elise made her way out.

Ellie closed the washroom door and turned a valve to begin filling the bath, looking over the soaps and bottles as she waited. Hanging from a hook on the wall was a long, purple robe that was certainly not there before and could only have been brought in by Elise the previous night. Ellie felt the soft, flowing silk between her fingers with a smile of anticipation.

Water glugged from the faucet as Ellie quickly scrubbed down behind the partition. She dipped her toe in the bath, feeling the rush of warmth crawl up her entire body as she submerged herself. A relaxed sigh parted her lips as temptation took over, urging her to remain there forever. She never had more than a few minutes in the bath back home, what with there being only one washroom in a house of five. Yet she fought with herself to keep it short out of want for not keeping Elise waiting.

The smooth silk embraced Ellie in the pleasant sensation of fabrics not found in her usual wardrobe as she slipped the garment on. She draped the towel and her laundry over a rod beside the bath before returning to the bedroom, a shiver running down her spine when she stepped from the steam into the crisp air beyond the washroom door. Quickly, she decided on a dress that was a similar shade of green to the one that she arrived in, reminiscing of home.

Elise hurried back into the room only moments after Ellie finished dressing and combing out her hair. She looked her over from head to toe, nodding in approval.

“It looks lovely on you.”

“Thank you. Although I don’t see much point in getting so dressed up if I’m not going anywhere. But I appreciate the distraction, it certainly took my mind off things.”

“Ah. I see. He didn’t tell you.” Elise raised a single finger. “One moment.”

She returned to the corridor, leaving Ellie to wait patiently for her return. She narrowed her eyes when the door opened a minute later and Lord Janus entered the room. He glanced over her demurely.

“It’s a fetching color.” He nearly stuttered getting the words out.

“Hm. Well, thanks.” Ellie scratched her head, unsure if she was bothered by him complimenting her or disappointed that Elise’s remark sounded nicer. She expected better from Lord Janus’s apparent knack for eloquence. “Is there a point to all these, or is this just a hospitality?”

“Well, I thought you might want more clothes to choose from during your stay, especially since some other rooms in the castle can be quite drafty. The dress you arrived in has shorter sleeves, after all.”

Ellie raised her brow. “Other rooms?”

“Miss Eleanor.” Lord Janus clasped his hands behind him and bowed his head to avert his gaze. “There is no denying that we got off on the wrong foot. I apologize for my behavior and how I have treated you since your arrival. I can only beg your forgiveness, though I do not expect it.”

“Oh.” Ellie felt a knot form in her chest. “That’s—that’s alright.”

“No, it’s not.” He raised a hand, pleading her to let him continue. “Keeping you locked away in this room is unfair to you and accomplishes nothing. It was a terrible decision on my part. While I cannot yet allow you to wander outside, the least I can do is give you free reign to explore the castle and the inner courtyard to your heart’s content.”

A grin briefly appeared on her face before being replaced with a puzzled frown.

“Is it safe?”


“Well, are there any traps or dangers that I need to look out for?”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand why you’d think the castle would have such things.”

It wasn’t until she heard his response that Ellie realized how stupid her question must have sounded. Perhaps the small details in the stories she read about vampires and their castles didn’t apply to the real thing; deadly traps, scattered corpses, macabre imagery, smears of blood. This was, of course, assuming that Lord Janus was indeed the genuine article. Given how those same stories described how forward and persistent vampires were, Ellie had reason to doubt this.

“Never mind, forget it.” She dug at her nails as she focused on the window. “Thank you for allowing me to wander the castle.”

“I shouldn’t have put you through the unnecessary stress of being confined to this room. I understand that you simply want to return home. And while it is regrettable that you can’t wander beyond the castle quite yet, rest assured that we are doing our best to assess the situation.”

Ellie stared at Lord Janus and gave a slow nod.

“Now then, if you’ll excuse me, Miss Eleanor.”

“Wait,” she called out, stopping him as he stepped toward the door. “Are you not going to give me a tour?”

He laughed nervously at the question.

“Please forgive me for my inhospitality, but I have some important matters to attend to. Don’t fret about being somewhere where you should not. As long as you don’t force your way through any locked doors, you’ll be fine.”

Lord Janus bowed his head and departed, leaving Ellie alone in her room with the door wide open. His steps clacked against the marble floor, further and further down the west corridor. She stared at the open door, worried that it would slam shut and lock itself if she reached for it. With each distant step, Ellie’s heartbeat resounded in her ears, drowning out everything around her.

Her shoes tapped lightly as she crept forward, standing in the doorway and peering in either direction. Ellie froze when she raised her foot to step outside the room, turning back with a sudden realization. She grabbed her bag and slung it across her chest, then returned to the doorway. With a deep breath, she placed one foot into the corridor, then the other.

The freedom to explore was exhilarating, but having no one to guide her left Ellie feeling overwhelmed. She glanced down the corridor to the west, then to the entrance hall to the right.

“Where to even begin,” she whispered.

It only made sense to start from the beginning. Ellie descended the steps to the entrance hall and turned on her toes in its center, arguing with herself internally on whether to go west or east. Shifting her eyes about to make sure no one was watching, Ellie clamped her eyelids shut and spun in several circles, determining this was the best way to make a decision. When she stopped and opened her eyes, she saw the only option that was forbidden to her; the front gate.

“Fine. West it is.” She turned to her left and started on her way.

Ellie entered the corridor and stopped almost immediately when she was met with a door on either side. She tried the one on the right, which happened to be just below her bedchamber. The handle did not move, even after Ellie continued to rattle it. She pouted at the undeniably locked door, her anticipation dampened.

After her unfortunate first choice, Ellie shambled to the door on the left with similar expectations. However, this this handle gave way immediately and opened up to a large, gorgeous drawing room. Unlike the marble corridor, this room was covered from top to bottom in dark wood, with walls that were carved with patterns detailing the spaces between gilded red panels. A massive ornate rug was rolled out on the floor, with elegant sofas, tables, and chairs sprawled out on top.

Ellie stepped further into the room and found a display shelf with all sorts of objects, such as glass figurines and porcelain dishes. Among the assortment was a round, compact box that caught her attention. She lifted it gently and held it in the palm of her hand, tracing her finger on the cameo of a woman in profile on the brass lid. Delicately, she opened the compact to find that it was a music box. Discovering this, she tilted it to look for a key on the underside. A haunting melody began playing after it was completely wound. In a trance-like state, Ellie shuffled to one of the sofas and sat down, staring at the cameo for a time before continuing her observation of the room.

On the west end was a fireplace so large that Ellie was certain she could stand inside of it. Her eyes followed the masonry all the way up to the ceiling above the third floor. Between a few intricate support beams on the pointed ceiling were chains that dangled three golden chandeliers. She followed them across the room to opposite end, where she spotted a spiral staircase leading to a wrapping balcony with two doors to the corridor. Above that was a smaller balcony with yet two more doors, though it appeared to have no way to reach if from the drawing room.

Ellie brought her gaze back to the first floor and looked at the windows on the south wall. They stood only as tall as a third of the room and were decorated on either side with maroon curtains. From the windows, Ellie could see what she was certain was the courtyard. One of these windows was not ornamental and had a handle on it like the balcony door in her room. She thought to open it and explore further, but decided to stay inside for now.

The compact music box in her hand fell silent. Her thumb caressed the cameo once more before she returned it to its place on the shelf. With a quiet breath, she moved toward the door opposite the one she entered through, only then noticing the parlor grand piano near the fireplace.

Falling victim to her curiosity, as she was wont to do, Ellie tiptoed toward the piano and lifted the fallboard. She bit her lip as she felt the keys beneath her fingers, giving in to temptation and pressing one of them. The note carried throughout the entire drawing room, giving Ellie cause to giggle. It wasn’t often that she got to touch a musical instrument, let alone see one, so she relished in the opportunity to admire the piano. Besides, if they didn’t want her touching it, they should have locked the drawing room door.

Placing the fallboard back down, Ellie made her way to the nearby door and entered the linear labyrinth once more. She was pleased to discover that the next door she tried was also unlocked. Perhaps it wasn’t just a fluke and that most of the doors that she would come across would be just as inviting.

Beyond this door was an art gallery, similar in size and design to the drawing room across from it. Above her were two balconies, with only the second floor being accessible by a spiral staircase in the near corner. The white walls and marble floors made the room appear bright despite the gloomy light outside. Coupled with how spacious it felt with how the statues and busts were spaced apart, the room gave the impression that it was larger than the drawing room when they were actually the same size.

Ellie took her time looking over the paintings lining the walls, her emotions changing with every one. What began with pleasant portraits and gorgeous landscapes slowly shifted into things more dark and twisted; brutal wars with seas of corpses, malformed beings composed of jutting bones and exposed organs, abstract places stitched together with rotting flesh, disemboweling of tortured victims. She felt her stomach churning with each detailed painting she laid her eyes on. Thoroughly appalled, she could not help but find fascination in a painting that depicted an unconscious man being consumed by a maw inside of a woman’s chest.

She continued to browse the disturbing paintings, coming across the final one that portrayed a grisly execution that gave Ellie immediate cause to turn away. An unsettling feeling washed over her as she wondered why the paintings had such a bizarre variance in the first place. Were these Lord Janus’s choices, or someone else? Deciding that she had had enough, Ellie rushed to the opposite door in the gallery and stepped out.

What she expected to be the corridor was actually an intersection of sorts. Directly ahead of her was another long corridor headed south, while to her left was the one that led to the entrance hall. The room that she stood in had several pillars and archways that supported the floor above, of which was accessible by a divided staircase in the corner beside the west corridor.

Looming overhead was a bevy of balconies jutting from the walls. A pair of spiral staircases were nestled in the corners of the open space, snaking all the way up to the third floor. Ellie strained to see further details, but could tell that the third floor was one large, open balcony that looked down and was accompanied by an etched glass ceiling.

Feeling as though she would fall backward if she kept her head pointed high much longer, Ellie looked back down to the first floor. Directly beside her were two other doors in the corner. The door beside the gallery was locked, but the one just to the left of that on the west wall was not. However, it led to nothing more than a washroom, stirring only a single emotion in Ellie in that she wished the one in her bedchamber was this large. She thought it sort of odd that a washroom attached to the corridor had a bath and wondered if anyone ever bothered to use it.

The southwest corridor beckoned to Ellie, yet she found herself stopped in her tracks by every single door she tried. The first, the second, all the way to the twelfth door. She reached the far end and tried the final, lonely door on the south wall, only to find that it too was locked. Ellie let out a frustrated sigh at how much was yet hidden to her, having only seen three rooms out of so many others.

Beside the final door to Ellie’s right was an imposing stairwell that led both up to the second floor and down to what ever lied beneath the castle. She felt a terribly uncomfortable aura between the stairwell and the series of locked doors hiding gods know what secrets. Because of this, she decided to double back to the entrance hall and did so with a quickened pace.

Ellie wasted no time starting on the east corridor in the hopes that it would be more inviting. She opened the first door on the left, finding the parlor that she had been in the day before. Already familiar with this room, Ellie stepped to the door on the opposite side, which opened with ease.

Lying beyond was a large chapel. It had the same design as the drawing room and the gallery, consisting of a high ceiling and two balconies that overlooked the first floor. The somber atmosphere of the gods Ellie knew her entire life were replaced with a grim, foreboding dread. The light stifled by the clouds outside struggled to pierce the darkness of the room.

The lonely pews and the grooves of the pillars eked out of the shadows. The only kind of color present was the glimmer of the stained glass mural at the end of the chapel. The beautifully sculpted effigies all around the castle were absent here, replaced with fresh sprigs of rosemary and sage that dangled from the railings above. As well, there appeared to be what was some sort of charred incense on the altar. And yet, they failed to mask the scent of copper pervading the room.

Ellie cautiously stepped closer, running a finger along the back of one of the pews and drawing a line in the dust that marred it. The few candles in the room were perfect cylinders, never having been graced with a single flame. The purpose of this room baffled her; it hasn’t seen use in possible centuries, yet the herbs and incense seem to be recent additions. Yet another mystery of this black castle, she supposed.

When Ellie returned to the corridor through the far door, she considered trying next the one that was diagonally to her left. But as she approached it, there was a clanking sound that caught her attention from a door further down. Furrowing her brow, she crept to the matching intersection and reached for the handle of the door that was parallel to the washroom on the other end. Carefully, she turned it and peeked into the room beyond.

What she found was not what she expected, having stumbled across a fairly large and ordinary kitchen. The room was filled with stoves and ovens, messy counter tops, hanging pots and pans, drawers brimming with utensils, and so forth. What it didn’t have was another living soul, despite the apparent mess from food having just been cooked.

Ellie walked around the kitchen until she heard someone humming and the sound of a bubbling pot from behind a stack of pans. Tilting to one side, she saw the back of a small creature seated atop a stool and stirring away. The creature occasionally reached over and grabbed one of many seasoning jars from a box and shook it into to the pot.

“Hello?” Ellie muttered.

The creature let out a startled yelp, which in turn caused the same reaction in Ellie. She blinked when the creature turned toward her; he was a goblin with green skin that was smooth like stone and had a funny, pointed nose. His large, floppy ears were perked upward with surprise as he stared at Ellie with golden eyes. Atop his bald little head was a limp chef hat that matched his white apron.

“Good heavens, girl, you startled me,” the goblin shouted.

“Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

He turned his attention back to the bubbling stew.

“It’s alright, just don’t do it again. Ain’t seen ya around here before, though. Who’re you?”

Ellie thought about how to answer. She was moderately annoyed that everyone aside from Gerald had only been referring to her as ‘Eleanor’. Aside from Professor Emmett, she wasn’t usually called this unless she had done something wrong, so her mind instinctively gave it a negative implication. Though to be fair, it wasn’t as though she had been telling them to call her ‘Ellie’ in the first place, so perhaps they were simply being respectful.

“My name’s Ellie.”

“Ellie? Ah, you must be Lord Janus’s ward, then. Pleased to meet ya. I’m Smaul.”

“Oh, but you don’t look that small. I have a sister that’s around your height, although I suppose she’s rather tiny for her age.”

“No no, miss, Smaul. S-m-a-u-l. I’m the head chef here in the castle.”

“Does that mean you’re the one whose been cooking my meals, then?”

“That’s me, miss.”

“Well, thank you. They’ve been wonderful.”

“That’s good to hear. Was worried when two of your meals returned untouched last night.”

Ellie turned her head and gripped her ponytail. It hadn’t dawned on her that by not eating her food, she was putting the chef’s hard work to waste.

“Sorry, I wasn’t feeling well. But believe me, it had nothing to do with your cooking.”

“That’s fine, miss. We reuse what we can from an untouched meal, anyway.”

She glanced around the kitchen, trying to spot if anyone else was tucked away behind stacks of dishes. The thought of just one lonely goblin preparing meals for everyone seemed like a large task, but it wasn’t as though she met any other residents aside from Lord Janus and Elise, anyway.

“Are you the only chef here?”

“Oh no, there’s seven other gobbies besides myself. But they’re off delivering food to the patients down in the asylum right now.”

The mention of this asylum raised questions in Ellie’s mind. From Smaul’s phrasing, it sounded as though it was beneath the castle, which caused her to remember the stairwell that gave her a sense of discomfort. She wanted to ask more questions, but decided against distracting Smaul from his work.

“Well, I should let you get back to it. It was nice to meet you.”

“You too, miss. Come back later if you wanna meet the others.”

“I’ll be sure to.”

The door creaked shut as Ellie stepped back into the corridor from where she had entered. Her eyes followed yet another southward corridor that matched the one with all of the locked doors. Ellie considered investigating in that direction, but pondered the possibility that it might be just as uninviting. Deciding instead that it was time for a breath of fresh air, she retraced her steps back toward the drawing room.

Upon entering the entrance hall, Ellie took a few steps back when she caught the glint of a window door behind the large staircase. Glancing at the trees beyond the windows on the second floor balcony, it occurred to her that this was the main entrance to the courtyard. Though she was not allowed outside the castle itself, Lord Janus had told her that entering the courtyard was fine. With a deep breath, Ellie rested her hand on the door handle and pushed down, the latch giving way as a cool breeze swept in.

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