Chapter 23

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"Lord Marcin." Janus bowed his head respectfully. "Thank you for the opportunity to meet on such short notice."

Ellie swallowed her anxiety as her eyes darted from one vampire to the next. They were motionless in the light, their unblinking gazes fixed upon their three guests. But among them was a single vampire that paid them no mind, instead choosing to stare idly at the tree across from him.

"Yes, I do apologize for the setting—" Marcin gestured to the woods around them, his pompous tone snagging in the branches. "—but given the haste with which you desired to meet, I found it inappropriate to request proper arrangements at either of our castles. Especially since my main hall is a tad... gory at this time. Though I admit; I am curious as to how you've renovated my former lair."

A quiet, annoyed tut bounced inside Elise's skull. She kept her remarks to herself as Marcin strode toward them and closed the gap by several paces.

"If I may; the situation must be dire indeed for you to be so agreeable to meeting in the Northern Territory, considering how long it's been since you last set foot on these lands."

"I assure you—Lord Marcin—that I am here strictly out of the interest of the entire Sanctified Lands."

Marcin's lips curled in a sly smirk at Janus's remark, parting just enough to reveal his fangs. With his ruby red eyes, he glanced to Elise.

"And what about you? I know you've simply been aching to see me again."

"Quite a hilarious jest," she replied monotonously. "Always refreshing to see a lord who isn't afraid of taking lessons from his own court jester."

A hollow laugh heaved from Marcin's chest as he placed one hand over his stomach with moderate amusement. To Ellie's dismay, she quickly became the next target when he turned his attention toward her.

"I see you at least had the decency to show me respect by bringing along your thrall, Lord Janus."

Ellie's lips pursed as icy needles pricked her spine in annoyance and fear.

"At the risk of abashing you in front of your brood, I must inform you that my ward is by no means a thrall."

"No?" Marcin stepped forward once more. "If she is not a thrall, then of what importance is she to warrant being placed in your custody?"

"That subject is not a part of tonight's agenda."

Though Janus's voice grew firm, it did not deter Marcin's questioning.

"Could she perhaps be at all related to this threat descending on the Sanctified Lands? The one that you yourself mentioned in the missive that was delivered to me last night?"

"The threat is directly correlated with the frequent tremors, Lord Marcin."

In what Ellie could only perceive as a flash of motion, Janus brought an abrupt end to the discussion and gripped her shoulder as he pulled her toward him. A swift breeze passed behind them as Elise lunged to one side and gripped the neck of an assailant that everyone but Ellie seemed to have noticed. Her eyes widened as she stared at Elise, who dug her fingers into the neck of Narcyz as she lifted him with tremendous force.

"Marcin!" Janus's voice seethed with a rage unlike anything Ellie had ever heard.

"Indocile half-wit," Marcin scoffed, crossing his arms indifferently at his son's situation.

From eye sockets that once only reflected pure darkness were now two small glimmers of silver light. Elise chuckled faintly as she kept the vampire suspended off the ground.

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