Chapter 24

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Ellie's eyes danced around the carriage during their return trip. The judgmental stares of both Elise and Janus drove her to an awkward state of avoidance of which she had no escape. Having given both of them sufficient time to speak their minds, Ellie shrugged her shoulders and instead took the initiative upon herself.

"Whatever you have to say, you might as well just say it already."

"I cannot believe that you did that," Janus started. "We're lucky that Marcin responded as he did. Contrary to how he presented himself tonight, he is typically more prone to lashing out, especially when humiliated."

He crossed his arms and turned toward the window, though his gaze was still fixed on Ellie through a squint.

"Did I not say to leave the conversation to me?"

"I don't like that man."

"I don't either, but that doesn't—"

"—Well, unlike you, I don't have the patience for creeps like him."

The tension between Ellie and Janus was unlike anything it had been since her arrival in the Night Realm. If Elise had eyebrows, they would have clearly painted her surprise at the tones being exchanged. Though perhaps she shouldn't have done what she did, Ellie stood by her actions. However, there was no part of her that wished to keep the argument going.

"Look, I'm sorry. I know things work a certain way here, I just—I couldn't stand him. Everything about him felt wrong, like someone who gets away with atrocities simply because he's charismatic. You saw how he acted toward his own son after Elise got to him, what he did to Joshua's hand."

"Believe me, Ellie; I know." A pained breath escaped Janus as he eased his back against the carriage seat. "I've seen what he's capable of firsthand. The last thing I wanted was to have anything to do with that man. Unfortunately, I didn't have much other choice, given the situation."

"If it's any consolation," Elise chimed in. "I'm confident that I would've been able to get the two of you out of there relatively unharmed if the situation grew dire due to Ellie's commentary."

"Consolation for our safety, perhaps, but not for the fate of the realm," Janus added.

The sight of Elise clutching Narcyz by the neck brewed in Ellie's mind, the sensation of awe returning with every vision. Now that things had calmed down, she had more time to mull over the events of the evening.

Waiting for them upon their arrival at the castle was another carriage situated near the stable. As they stepped out, the door opened and Bedelia exited her own carriage with a cheery smile.

"Good evening. I'm anxious to hear how your meeting went."

"Wasting no time, I see," Janus sighed.

"How did you know we were on our way back?" Ellie asked.

"The detector told me as soon as you closed the gate and were safe and sound. Either that, or Marcin kidnapped the lot of you and it was time for me to initiate a rescue."

"Speaking of Marcin," Janus said. "He agreed to lend his assistance to the plains assault. That is, if we provide the horses."

"Really? He did?" Bedelia cleared her throat. "I mean, I just didn't expect him to actually agree to it."

"I thought he wouldn't, at first. However, Ellie told him off and somehow that changed his mind. I simply don't understand that man, but so long as we get the aid that we need."

Bedelia turned toward Ellie with a satisfied grin.

"You told him off? During your first meeting with him? A woman after my own heart."

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