The sound of thunder echoed across the mountains, awakening Daniel. His entire body was racked with pain, each joint stiff and sore. A large gauze bandage was neatly wrapped around his broad chest. A dark stain of blood marring the white cloth. The young man attempted to sit up and examine his mysterious wounds but a wave of nausea and a jolt of pain forced him back down. Grimacing, Daniel clutched his forehead and groaned weakly. What had even happened to him? The last thing his hazy mind could recall was walking down to the inner sanctum. He struggled to grasp at the fleeting memories; each time he got close to recapturing the events of last night, they would slip through his fingers like grains of sand. Everything ached and at that moment all Daniel wanted was the bitter taste of laudanum. With painstaking effort, the Englishman rolled onto his side and weakly rummaged through the oak nightstand. Shaking fingers brushed against the cool glass, searching for his laudanum. With his remedy in his hand, Daniel sighed in relief. The bitter liquid provided him with a distraction from the uncertainty of last night's events. Daniel haphazardly cast aside the glass vial, not caring about the broken glass now littering the floor. With the pain now dulled; Daniel rested his head against the feather down pillow. He felt himself drifting into sleep once more when a deep, commanding voice dragged him back into the waking world.
"I see you are finally awake Daniel. You gave me quite a fright last evening." Daniel startled at the sight of the old baron.
"What happened to me Alexander? I don't recall a thing from the night before."
"You were attacked by one of the Gatherers my friend. It had gone berserk and went on a rampage. Forgive me, for had I known one of them could make it that deep into the castle, I would have accompanied you." His words soothed the young man's apprehension. The baritone voice dripped with reassurance. Poked and gnarled fingers rested against Daniel's sweat-streaked skin.
"What of my salvation though? You wanted me to go meet you at the inner sanctum did you not?" The baron remained silent for a moment. His aged face etched with concern.
"Fret not about that Daniel. Your salvation will still come to my friend. Tonight, we shall retrieve the last of the vitae."
"Oh? The ritual will salvage my soul from the clutches of the Shadow?" Daniel was still confused. Why had Alexander wanted him to go to the Inner Sanctum? Was all that a ruse, or something else...
" I know you are concerned about my intentions Daniel. Everything that happened last night was of no importance I assure you. It was foolish of me to put you in danger over such an insignificant thing." Alexander held a cool cloth against his wounded chest. The baron removed the bandages and started cleaning the ragged slashes.
"Once you are well, we can get ready. I have located a dairy farm north of the castle. There are five residents, enough to complete the ritual. Tonight, we go by carriage and strike when they are least prepared."
"Sounds easy enough. I doubt a bunch of lowly dairy farmers will stand a chance against us.
"The Zimmerman’s will be the final key to the ritual. I doubt you will have trouble completing our plan."
"Of course Alexander. I will do whatever it takes to assure my salvation! They will be a means to an end, just like the rest!"
"Exactly my friend. I will awaken you when the time comes. Soon, we shall be dining on the fruits of our gruesome labour" Alexander gave him a hearty clap on the shoulder, causing Daniel to wince in pain.
"Alexander, when we have extracted the needed vitae, will you be saved as well? The baron paused; a strange look of melancholy graced his amber eyes.
"Um, of course, Daniel. Don't concern yourself with the fate of an old man. It is your life I am trying to save after-all. Your loyalty will be vital to the warding ritual. Staunch trustworthiness will be your salvation my friend, something you have been doing in spades." Daniel nodded sagely. He was ready for his salvation, his final trial was only five corpses away.
"I shall follow your every word my Lord. Just promise me that you will be there when the Shadow comes."
"Of course Daniel. I would never betray your trust for anything."