This is the last chapter, guys! It's going to be a shorter one, but it wraps everything up nicely.
I had to choose between two endings, and I gave you the good one. You're welcome.
Come on, little one, I am waiting.
Alexander paced the Inner Sanctum, but with much less urgency than he had earlier. He knew Daniel's mind was going, if it wasn't completely gone already, and that the winged man would follow his directions and follow the Gatherer. He'd been telling the truth when he said it would not harm Daniel. All he needed for it to do was bring him here, and then…
Daniel thought he should be confused, but he really wasn't. The creature he once called a monster calmly led him through the castle, letting him use his lantern or ignite a torch occasionally. It did not object when he stretched out his wings, ignoring the dull ache in the bad one again, and one of them brushed its back. It did not try to stop his mindless chatter as he filled the silence he'd come to dread. Best of all, none of the other monsters tried to hurt him while he was walking with this one.
They reached a strange glowing tunnel, and the glow died out as they drew nearer. The creature accompanying him stopped, and he stopped with it.
No, no. You come through, Daniel. You don't need an escort any longer. I will keep you safe now.
Alright, then. He stepped past his guide, brushing it with a wing in thanks as he did, and confidently strode into the tunnel. It sparked occasionally, but he wasn't concerned. The door at the other end was heavy, and it opened with a creak when he shoved it.
There was a room that he thought was made of sand past the door, but yet another door at the other end was open, so he thought he could just ignore this place and move on.
The words inner sanctum flashed in his mind as he came into the final chamber. He didn't know how he knew that. Alexander was standing…no, he was hovering slightly above a platform that put him above Daniel's head. He was surrounded by a blue aura that may have been cast by the Orb sitting on a pedestal in the center of the chamber.
"Ah, you've made it," he said, and his voice echoed through the entire room. "I was wondering when you'd arrive."
"My guide didn't seem to be in much of a hurry," Daniel offered tentatively. Alexander laughed.
"Oh, of course. I hope it didn't frighten you."
"Not at all." He was surprised to find he wasn't lying.
"Good, good. Now," the baron lowered himself until his feet touched the platform. "I have a very important question for you, Daniel."
"What is it?" The tone of Alexander's voice put him on edge.
"I understand you have struggled to find me so you could kill me. Do you still wish to kill me?"
Kill Alexander? That was silly. Why would he do that? Some of his bewilderment must have shown on his face, because Alexander smiled at him. "I think that means no. Do you wish to come with me, and see my realm?"
Daniel's answer was irrelevant. He would probably die either way. The Shadow was overtaking Castle Brennenburg, and his little companion wouldn't last long. If he passed through the portal with Alexander, there was a good chance the journey would kill him. At least Alexander had given him a choice. He'd felt sorrow at the thought of one of his servants murdering Daniel, and knew he'd grown too attached. But he couldn't give him up now without a fight. Daniel was harmless by this point, anyway. There was no need to worry about another betrayal.
Daniel didn't look indecisive, but he wasn't answering. Instead, he was gazing up at Alexander with apprehension and wonder, and the baron had to force himself not to fidget. Finally, his shoulders and his wings drooped in unison, and he smiled.
"I think I'd like that, Alexander," he said happily (maybe a little too happily, but that wasn't important).
Daniel felt like he was dying. His insides were all in the wrong places, and his outsides were burning. He couldn't draw in a breath to scream, but he thought the scream might tear him up if it was trapped. He knew he was dying.
Suddenly he could scream, and he did, letting the sound rip out of his throat and pierce the air. His insides were rearranging themselves again, and he choked on his next scream. His back arched in agony.
A voice was speaking next to him, but it was too faint to make out what it was saying. He didn't care what it was saying. He was dying.
Alexander! He tried to speak, to tell Alexander that he was dying, but nothing came out except a whimper.
I am sorry, little one. I did not tell you of the danger of entering the portal. We are doing all we can to help you. Be patient with us.
Be patient? How could he be patient? And yet…
The pain was fading, ever so slightly. He didn't even realize it at first, but then he didn't need to scream anymore, and then he could breathe again. His insides stilled, and the burning on the outside was cooling. He relaxed.
There. Very good. I think we can save you.
Daniel didn't need saving. He needed to rest.
Alexander stood by Daniel's bed, watching Justine tend to him. He looked like an injured bird, with his wings spread out across the sheets, twitching with their owner's pain. His lover glanced back at him and smiled. It was the most beautiful smile he'd seen in centuries.
"He will live," she murmured. "I suspect that makes you happy. He must be special to you."
Daniel was special to him. He was his mad little pet now. He'd protect his pet. He and Justine would ensure he stayed just mad enough, and they'd live happily together.
Alexander went and knelt on Daniel's other side, where Justine wasn't. Yes. We have saved you, little one. You will be safe with us.
He didn't know why humans cast out these winged creatures. They made such wonderful companions when their minds unraveled.