The darkness feels crippling. Daniel tucks his knees close to his chest and rocks himself back and forth. His mind is steeped in a deep delirium. He tries to intake even breathes to calm his broken psyche, but the air itself is suffocating him.
This is it. This is end of his life.
He had carried Agrippa's severed head into the Inner Sanctum and tossed it into the portal as soon as it had appeared. Yet, the shadow had consumed him nonetheless. Alexander, too. The elder man had screeched in pain and terror once it overwhelmed his body. Then, Daniel had been consumed as well. The shadow had been relentless in its pursuit and in death. Daniel had awoken in plain darkness. It stretches into a void of blackness that seems never-ending, and the silence that permeates the atmosphere is unnatural and strange.
The gashes across his chest and limbs still ache. The pain keeps him anchored in reality in some small, feeble way. He focuses on it, particularly the worst wound he has sustained on his arm. His torn sleeve sticks to his skin, which has been ripped asunder under the shadow's ministrations. Deeper still, his muscles and sinew are rent to the white bone underneath.
He wracks his brain, drawing on distant memories of anatomy lectures and texts that he had delved into when he was still a young and innocent scholar. The radius, that's it. He squeezes his eyes shut tight and concentrates on the throbbing tissue in his forearm. His radius is exposed. He assesses his other wounds quietly. The discomfort is a pleasant distraction from the darkness.
Suddenly, there are murmurs in the dark. Daniel does not dare search for them; his sanity is already waning. It has been slipping from his grasp for quite some time, after all. He passes the voices off as a consequence of his damaged mind, but they keep getting louder.
Then, light. It shines through the back of his eyelids. He opens them in astonishment. Although the blue lights are soft, they light the darkness with the radiance of a multitude of stars and blind him. Daniel manages to get to his feet, albeit unsteadily, and stumble forward, to the three suspended lights.
"There he is. Do you see him, Weyer?" Agrippa's familiar accent reverberates through the dark. Daniel feels hopeful tears spring to his eyes upon hearing the man's comforting voice.
"He deserves so much more. Please help him, I know you can."
He nearly falls again, but he catches himself. Forcing his injured body to move is unbearable. The lashes feel like liquid hot fire. Nevertheless, he persists. His heart is hammering inside his chest as he slowly hobbles to the lights.
"Don't worry, Daniel." Agrippa says, relief evident in his tone. "It will be alright."
The lights pulse and brighten, until they completely consume his vision. Daniel feels himself floating in nothingness but, unlike the darkness, its embrace is warm. He's falling into a comforting cushion so unlike the cold and damp castle of Brennenburg. It temporarily shocks his body, and he feels his adrenaline racing in time to his hammering heart as he slowly ascends from the void that had originally claimed him.
The light dims until he can see once again. He realizes that he's lying in a bed, with thick woolen blankets tucked over him. Natural sunlight brightens the room from a window nearby. He runs his fingers along the silk sheets, his mind an array of questions as he takes in his new surroundings. The room is immaculate and organized. Mahogany bookshelves line the adjacent wall that are filled with volumes of novels and unusual trinkets. A desk sits across from it, littered with various salves, gauze, and medicinal bottles. A single window with parted curtains alights the bedroom.
Daniel twists his head and grimaces. A headache throbs in the front of his skull. He is stricken with a sudden bout of nausea. From his position against the pillow, he can see a lit candle on the bedside table. The sight of it brings everything flooding back to him.
Brennenburg... horrible, disfigured monsters... Alexander's wicked grin… agony and the dark…
He sits up in an instant and is immediately assaulted with pain. He cries out, tears running down his feverish cheeks in rivulets. His torso is stiff under the pressure of a dozen bandages, as well as his right arm. He inhales deeply and tries to concentrate. What has happened to him?
Ignoring his wounds, Daniel struggles to untangle himself from the covers and press his bare feet onto the cool flooring. A sudden chill makes goosebumps dance across his skin. He grips the edge of the mattress with his uninjured hand and pushes his body upward. His knees threaten to give out as soon as he stands. He holds his breath and waits for the dizziness to subside.
Once the room stops swaying, Daniel takes his first uneasy steps forward. He glances at the bookshelf on the way by, but none of the texts make sense to him. The titles on their spines are printed in a foreign language. He pushes himself to the door, sweat dotting his forehead with the sheer effort. What is wrong with him…?
With shaking fingers, he grasps the metallic doorknob in his hand and turns it cautiously. A short hallway lit with half a dozen strange, electric lights burning against the maroon walls stretches out before him. On the other side, he can hear indiscernible voices amidst a conversation. Daniel leans heavily against one wall as he traverses the hall. His breathing is ragged and uneven as his vision swoons in nauseating colors.
Suddenly, he stumbles and collapses against the ground. The voices cease instantly, replaced by the sound of hurried footsteps coming in his direction. Someone is lifting him in their embrace. Daniel blinks slow in an attempt to see clearly. Above him, an expression of concern on his younger face, is Agrippa. It takes him a moment to realize how starkly the man's appearance has changed. When they'd first met in Brennenburg, Agrippa had been nothing more than a starved, dilapidated body of a man without a jaw. He had spoken through a device and managed to keep Daniel calm throughout the entire ordeal of collecting the orb pieces and escaping the shadow's clutches. In fact, Agrippa had been with him to the very end.
Daniel reaches out to touch his face, not quite ready to accept what his eyes are seeing. When his fingertips meet solid flesh, his heart leaps.
"Agrippa." He whispers.
The older man takes Daniel's hand into his own and holds on to it tightly. "It's good to see you awake, my boy."
Behind him, another figure hovers nervously, "Agrippa, he's not well. We should bring him back to bed."
Agrippa nods in agreement and scoops Daniel into his arms in one swift movement. Daniel lays his head against his chest and allows the man to carry him. He is far too weak to stand on his own again, anyway. Daniel's mind is spinning as the bedroom door is opened and he's placed carefully on the covers of the bed. He watches Agrippa pull the blankets back over him in a daze; the other man occupies himself with the bottles scattered across the desk.
"Agrippa," Daniel fears his voice has become too soft to hear, but he's relieved when the older man's emerald irises dart to him in question. "What's happened? Is the shadow…"
Agrippa shushes him gently and combs his fingers through Daniel's long brown hair. He finds himself leaning into the man's soothing touch.
"You are safe, Daniel. Rest easy, please. Weyer and I will explain everything to you soon."
Weyer approaches the bed with a glass vial held precariously between his fingers. The blue liquid inside it sloshes around as he holds it to Daniel's lips.
"This is a concoction that we've been administering to you, Daniel. It's both an analgesic and a sleep aid." Weyer says. Although Daniel had only read notes pertaining to Agrippa's student, his voice is rich and reassuring. He does not resist when the edge of the vial is placed against his lips. The medication tastes sour in the back of his throat, and he coughs uncontrollably. Weyer rubs his back in soothing circles until the fit subsides.
Daniel lays back into the pillows and waits for the tonic to take effect, but the sleep aid takes hold of him almost immediately. His eyelids become heavy, and the last thing he sees before falling into an uneasy sleep is Agrippa and Weyer watching over him with worried, yet hopeful, expressions.