All right! Here we go with the next chapter of "Dark Angel"! Thank you to everyone who's been reading, reviewing, following, and favoriting this story in spite of my long hiatus in writing it. I really appreciate it, and I hope you enjoy this next chapter. :D
DISCLAIMER: Only any minor OCs that might show up in the story, names for certain characters, as well as some of the plot ideas, are mine. Everything else belongs to Frictional Games.
August 3rd, 1839…
"Have you got everything packed up again?" Gabriel asked as he watched Daniel step outside with all of his bags.
Instead of answering immediately, Daniel stretched his arms over his head, following that with a loud yawn and covering his mouth.
"I assume you Englishmen are not accustomed to waking up at early hours?" the outrider chuckled after sharing a glance with the driver, who also looked amused.
"No," Daniel answered sharply, not in the mood to be teased at the crack of dawn, "I happen to be quite the morning person, thank you very much. I did not get much rest last night, that's all."
That's the truth, he thought to himself. He couldn't help but feel a chill go down his spine at the way that voice had snapped at him last night. And that awful red light…
It certainly did not like him declaring that he was going to continue to Brennenburg, that was for sure. But what else could Daniel do? He was only one town away from the castle; he couldn't just turn around and go home now. That would be incredibly rude to Alexander after the Baron had so graciously offered him help and hospitality.
Besides, as the voice itself had pointed out in one of their very first conversations, Daniel was not a child anymore. He was perfectly capable of making his own decisions, and he did not have to listen to anyone or anything. Nobody owned him.
"Well, Brennenburg is still an hour and a half away," Gabriel explained, "You may rest in the coach and I can wake you up once we arrive."
"No!" Daniel snapped in a frantic tone of voice, startling the outrider before he took a deep breath and composed himself.
"I mean, no thank you. There's too much to do today for that."
Gabriel shrugged. "Suit yourself, Englishman." He proceeded to mount his horse, riding over to the driver's compartment of the carriage to speak to him. Meanwhile, Daniel loaded everything into the back, climbing in just as they began the final part of their journey, leaving Der Mühle, along with the rest of Altstadt, behind.
This is it, Daniel thought as he settled in for the ride, reaching into one of his bags to take out an apple he had bought at a village halfway between Bremen and Altstadt. Before he could wipe it off with his shirt in order to eat it, he found himself holding it in his right hand, twisting and turning it as he studied its bright red, almost perfect surface.
It was then that he found his attention suddenly drawn to the other compartment of his bag that he hadn't opened since that first night in Canterbury. Taking a deep breath, he reached down and pulled out the Orb, marveling at the way it shimmered as he held it in his left hand. It was exactly the same size as the apple, and the longer he held onto it, the more he felt himself get lost in its power. Even with Smith and Taylor's help, Daniel still felt like he knew so little about the artifact. There hadn't been much time to study it at home, except when he had finally repaired it, which he still didn't quite understand. How had he known what to do so easily? He'd only seen it in its entirety once!
"That voice from the void," he whispered to himself, a new thought suddenly coming to mind, "It was only after the second time I spoke to it that I was able to put it back together."
He closed his eyes as he had a flashback to that nightmare, not long after he had retrieved Herbert's trunk from the customs house. Look closely, the voice had said before showering him with Orb pieces that had fused together in exactly the same manner.
"Was it…trying to teach me how to repair the Orb?" Daniel realized, his eyes widening as if he was having an epiphany.
Of course! He thought, It had to be! How else would I have known what to do as soon as I woke up?
But…why would it do that? How would it even KNOW how to do that?
That horrible voice…it couldn't possibly be connected to this artifact.
Daniel sighed as he sat back, finally managing to put the Orb away as he took a bite out of his apple, enjoying the sweetness of it as he tasted sugar on his tongue. He watched as sunlight seeped in through the curtains, and once again, his attention was drawn to the sunrise. Up ahead was the forest that Gabriel had told him about the previous night, and to his right was a vast farm filled with cows grazing for the day. Three farmhands were hard at work, not only keeping an eye on the herd, but also mending a fence that looked like it had been broken down not too long ago. An older man patrolled the premises on horseback, and Daniel watched as Gabriel tipped his hat in greeting.
"Guten Morgen, Herr Zimmerman!" the outrider called out, but unfortunately, Zimmerman didn't appear to be in the mood to talk. He simply looked up from his horse, gave Gabriel a curt nod, and then turned and rode away.
Daniel wondered why he seemed to ignore everything around him, but a few minutes later, he found himself staring at a woman and two teenaged girls who had emerged from the distant house. The girls carried buckets in their hands as their mother held a baby in her arms, and they made their way over to one of the cows who hadn't immediately started grazing. The younger of the two girls knelt down as she placed the bucket under the cow and began milking her, being as careful as possible as her sister kept watch. She was all dressed in blue, Daniel noticed, her brown hair braided into two pigtails. A wave of sadness coursed through him the longer he stared at her, which caused him to reach for the Orb once more as he placed it back in his hand. The more he stared at it, the more he found himself suddenly hating it and everything it had caused since he'd found it.
I've got to find out what's going on, he thought as he rotated it back and forth, I don't know how, but I've got to break this curse somehow.
It wasn't long after the group passed the Zimmerman dairy farm that they finally entered the forest. Daniel felt a chill go down his spine as the sunlight disappeared, only being filtered through the tree tops. Thankfully, it provided enough light for Gabriel and the driver to see where they were going, though the archaeologist suspected that they would've known the way regardless.
The pine trees towered over them, and despite the summer weather, Daniel felt cold as he hugged himself to keep warm. As they got closer to Brennenburg Castle, he couldn't help but replay the voice's words in his head over and over again. It was nothing if not extremely persistent, especially with not wanting him to go meet Alexander. But if he was right about it trying to teach him how to fix the Orb, what else did it have in mind for him? Why? What else did it possibly know about the relic? What did it have to gain from all of this? Could it have potentially taught him more if he had given it the chance?
Had he been too quick to dismiss it?
How could I possibly be second guessing myself at this point? He silently chided himself as he clenched his fists. Here he was, just a forest away from Brennenburg, and he was already having doubts about his decision to come here.
Eventually, he chalked it up to anxiety over meeting a new person. It was the same feeling he'd had when he first met with Smith, and even the voice took a while to convince him to open up to it the first couple of times. This feeling was nothing new to him.
I'm certain that's why I feel so conflicted right now, he reassured himself, Once I become better acquainted with Alexander, that feeling will go away.
Daniel glanced out the window, turning his gaze to the outrider who had just addressed him.
"We're here," Gabriel announced, pointing up ahead, and Daniel poked his head out the coach window just in time to see Brennenburg Castle itself.
He'd never seen a more majestic creation! The castle itself was situated on top of a hill, its highest towers reaching above even the tallest of the forest's pine trees. It looked medieval in structure, which made Daniel wonder how Alexander had come to own it. Had he inherited it from family members?
He supposed he would have to ask once he was settled in.
As the coach continued to pull up to the gate, all three men remained unaware of the Guardian traveling directly behind them, sluggishly plodding along as its powers waned for the day. The only evidence of its presence was the fact that the forest was slightly colder than normal and the wind had grown a little stronger. However, none of the humans were wise to it, which allowed it to follow them as it kept watch over its charge.
As Daniel continued to marvel over Brennenburg with wide eyes, the Guardian's uneasiness from the night before returned tenfold, and not just because it was still angry that Daniel had dared to speak to it with such bold defiance. Not only was there something sinister about this castle, but also something familiar. The entity couldn't figure out what it was, but ever since Daniel had stopped in Altstadt, it had gotten the strange feeling that it had been here before. Not recently, but centuries ago, before it had moved to Africa.
Yes. That sounded about right.
It still wished that the young man would simply change his mind and go home, though. It seemed that he had started to express doubts about this whole undertaking, and the Shadow sorely wished that he would actually listen to his high intuition. He had already started to put the pieces together himself, even if it was unintentional; what did he need to still meet with Alexander for?
Nevertheless, all it could do was stop and watch as the coach finally pulled up to Brennenburg's front gate. When it turned to gaze at the highest tower, it spotted a silhouette of a man standing in the window, looking down at the scene below him. Baron Alexander, it presumed?
At the same time, Daniel climbed out of the coach and reached for his bags. He hoisted them over his shoulder as he took a deep breath and turned back towards Gabriel and the driver. The Shadow could see just how nervous he was from the look on his face, as if the reality of what he was about to do was truly sinking in now. He was about to put his faith in a man he barely knew, who had sent him a very cryptic letter.
"Well…I suppose this is it, then," Daniel said to the outrider as he adjusted his bags, "Thank you both for taking me this far. I…I really appreciate it."
"You're welcome, Englishman," Gabriel responded as he touched the brim of his hat in a final farewell gesture, "Good luck."
And a minute later, he and the coach driver were turned around and heading back into the forest. Daniel merely watched as they continued on their way until they became nothing more than small dots in the distance. Once they were gone for good, Daniel turned to face Brennenburg again, taking a deep breath as he just stared at the massive structure in front of him.
But he wasn't alone. Even though the Shadow disagreed with what he was doing, it was still by his side as it gently pushed him forward with a light wind. He had come this far and made his intentions clear the previous night; he might as well keep his word and just get on with it now.
After briefly looking around in confusion at the nudge he had just received, Daniel slowly started up the path to the castle's main entrance, the Shadow following closely behind him. Even it couldn't help feeling apprehensive; it just wanted to know what it was about this place that seemed so familiar.
It seemed like an eternity, but eventually, Daniel and the Guardian made it to the front door, and the archaeologist's hands became sweaty and shaky as he reached out to knock on the door. His pulse skyrocketed as the door slowly opened with a loud creak, revealing a dimly lit hallway with only a few torches as a guide.
"H-hello?" Daniel called out, getting nervous once again when he realized that the door had opened on its own. He had been expecting Alexander to meet him here, but so far, he was nowhere in sight. Maybe he wasn't even home.
That was certainly not a comforting thought.
Daniel cautiously continued further into the hallway, taking note of the high windows and decorative carpet on the floor. So far, the inside of the castle looked just as medieval as the outside, which again made him wonder how Alexander had come to possess it.
It wasn't until he made it to the more brightly lit main entrance that he and the Shadow heard a deep, powerful, authoritative voice call out from somewhere above them.
"Daniel Thatcher, I presume?"
Daniel jumped and glanced up at the balcony above him, where he spotted a man staring down at him as he rested his hands on the marble banister in front of him. He appeared to be very old, his skin withered and wrinkled and his long hair as white as snow. He was well dressed in a white shirt, black pants, tall brown boots, and a long red coat with the letter "A" embroidered into the side. He carried himself with the utmost dignity, leaving Daniel feeling very intimidated as he eventually found his voice once more.
"Y-yes," he stammered clearing his throat, "Are you Baron Alexander?"
The baron nodded, much to Daniel's relief, as a knowing smile graced his face. "Yes," he confirmed, "I am Alexander. Welcome to Brennenburg Castle."
END OF PART THREE