Chapter 5

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The air became still in the raven-haired man's presence, his black cloak flaring behind him with his descent. By the tone of his voice, his suspicions and displeasure were markedly apparent. And yet, Ellie still felt that this transparency made it easier than her encounter with Mayor Bedelia.

"This is certainly a first." The raven-haired man kept his stared fixed on Ellie. "Guests do not simply waltz into the castle, at least not unless I've first given them an invitation. The exception would be if we were already well acquainted."

The man stepped across the foyer and stood before Ellie and Gerald, his shadow cast by the dancing flames behind his silhouette looming over them. Now that the distance was closed, the finer details of his person shone through the ebony room. He appeared no older than his early thirties and wore noble, black attire that was decorated with a gold trim. His matching cloak draped to his ankles and was clasped in place with a delicate gold chain, of which was tucked beneath a sapphire brooch and a white, lace jabot affixed to his collar. It was as though the raven-haired man was specially crafted to match that very room.

"So, let's become acquainted then, shall we? I am Lord Janus." His austere voice echoed throughout the foyer. "Who are you?"

It was difficult to tell with the lighting at his back, but Ellie caught a glimpse of Lord Janus's teeth as he spoke and could have sworn that his canines and a few other teeth looked strange.

"I'm Eleanor Martel," she said timidly.

Lord Janus scoffed. "Quaint. I've yet to see a demon attribute a family name when attempting to disguise themselves. It's rather unnecessary, after all. But if you think that will give you an edge in convincing me that you are anything but a demon from Blackest Pitch, then you are quite mistaken."

"Beg your pardon, Lord Janus," Gerald stuttered. "Miss Ellie isn't a demon. I found her lost in the forest."

"Is that so?" His gaze shifted to Gerald, still standing beside Ellie. "Well, that would certainly be the first time in the few hundred years that I've been lord of this region that a denizen of Blackest Pitch did not reek of the dark haze. Seeing how that's only possible by shape-shifter demons, I can only assume that you've been bewitched into believing her lies."

Ellie's heart sank and a chill ran through her entire body.

"I'm not a demon!"

Lord Janus whipped his head toward her again.

"But that is simply the only logical conclusion. You do not have the fetor of the dark haze nor the signs of taint poisoning, and demons are the only creatures of Blackest Pitch that do not carry the taint. If Gerald is telling the truth in that he found you in the forest, yet you carry neither of these, then you simply cannot be anything other than a demon." Lord Janus gestured his arm with each point he made. "I can always use a sincerity gem to see if you're being honest, but we typically reserve those for criminals due to the pain they cause. No, I think we will eject you back into Blackest Pitch where you came from through the Maw of the Abyss."

"I. Am not. A demon," Ellie growled through clenched teeth. She grew overwhelmed by a desire to argue her case, her frustration melting away any intimidation Lord Janus still had on her.

"Then what could you possibly be?" he yelled.

"She's from the Prime Realm!" Gerald cried. His outburst lasted only a second before he recomposed himself. "I brought her here."

The room grew silent, and Ellie and Lord Janus remained glaring at one another. Gerald stood between them, as though he was using his tiny body to cease the argument.
"Thank you, Gerald. I am quite aware."

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