Disclaimer: Not mine. No profit made.
Darken slept for what felt like days. He barely woke up when they sent off the Mord'Sith. There wasn't food enough to feed all eight of them for any length of time. The livestock left with the five women, making the fortress even quieter than before.
"We're almost out of food and we're too far from anywhere," Nicci said after kicking Darken in the kidney to wake him up. She glared down at Darken. "You led us here."
"He did," Darken gestured grumpily towards the hulking body on the throne. He was almost awake enough to be angry about that. He scanned the room to find the remaining occupant. Atia was wandering along the edge of the model, staring at her feet. She was in one of her quiet moods for which Darken was thankful. "What do you want?" he demanded, looking back at Nicci.
"You brought me here and you're going to get me home. I'm not going to starve to death on your account," Nicci tapped her foot angrily.
Looking around for the crow, Darken frowned. "Then do something about it and let me sleep."
"I'm telling you-" Nicci grabbed the front of Darken's shirt.
A burst of power threw her across the room. Darken stared down at his hand. He had power. He'd spoken a word and thrown someone as powerful as Nicci. As the realization hit him, he began muttering a defensive spell. Nicci's return swing knocked him down but didn't wind him. He manipulated the energy and sighed as it flowed through him.
Darken had spent so long without a body that he hadn't been able to remember what it was supposed to feel like. Walter's body was a body and therefore wonderful but it wasn't the body of Darken Rahl. Until he experienced relief, Darken hadn't been aware of just how much Walter's body hurt. The damage to Walter's spine, shoulders, and hips had ached for so long that he lost his concentration when they went away.
Nicci's next blow knocked Darken out.
Daughter of Night watched the fight with some interest. She was disappointed when the man lost. Picking idly at a scab, she went back to studying the model. Rage and despair warred behind her eyes.
The world was supposed to be hers. Instead, she was dressed in cast offs and begging for scraps with dunces who couldn't even speak properly. She knew Shivetya wanted her to teach the squabbling wizards how to talk. Despair rolled through her. Life wasn't worth living but her heart kept beating.
Nicci paced in front of the stairs to the bowels of the fortress. Her black dress snapped smartly at each turn. The crow had prevented her from finishing off Darken Rahl while he was unconscious. She was puzzling over Darken's belief that the demon had brought them there. Nicci still bore a grudge about being force-marched into the middle of nowhere.
She was the most powerful sorceress in the New or Old World and the demon could swat her down like a gnat. It could do whatever it wanted and she had to admit that Darken Rahl had not been very much like himself during the journey. Or maybe he'd been like himself only more so. Now he had power despite being in a body that shouldn't have any power. That wasn't the way it worked.
Shrugging and turning down the stairs, Nicci went back down to the ice caves. She tried to count the number of steps but lost track after seventy. Once down there Nicci quickly grew bored with the bodies encased in webs of ice and followed the chamber around to another flight of stairs. There she caught a whiff of something that reminded her of the Keeper. A slight hint of something gone off and something burnt.
Calves aching, Nicci paused for a breather on a landing. Three figures appeared in front of her. They were uglier than anything she had ever seen in the Underworld. They were bestial, ephemeral, and utterly alien. They studied Nicci with an intensity that would have unnerved her before she had sworn herself to the Keeper.
Nicci waited for a handful of heartbeats for them to do something. They simply floated in front of her until she continued down the stairs. Then they floated behind her, studying her like an animal in a menagerie.
The next landing had a doorway. Inside lay more treasure than ten horses could carry off. Gold, silver, gems, pearls, bronze, jade, tin, and every other precious material Nicci could imagine covered shelves. Boxes, jewelry, coins, weapons, and all other manner of decoration glittered in her witch light. The thing that drew her attention was a dark cylinder a hand and a half long and two thumb widths wide located near the doorway where the shelves were bare. When she picked it up she noticed that it was unusually heavy for an object of its size and there was a vibration to it that hummed along her bones.
Darken had a pounding headache when he woke up. It didn't help that the first thing he saw was an albino crow sitting on his chest. He grunted as he sat up and remembered what had happened. After taking a deep breath, he called on his magic again and relaxed as he created a witch light. The ball of flame floated in the air and he smiled his first real smile in a long time.
"We need to talk," the crow croaked.
He looked up and met the demon's baleful yellow gaze. Slowly he nodded. He could not and would not trust the being but so far, it was living up to its end of the bargain.
The demon didn't speak in words. Images and sensations flickered through Darken's mind. Shivetya, the demon, could only communicate limited amounts through the crow. The vast body of knowledge that Darken felt rolling through their connection was so far beyond words that he felt like he had the first time he had entered the Keeper's service. There was a nauseating sense that everything was in motion around him and that the power he was in contact with was the only safe footing.
Eventually, Shivetya released Darken Rahl and he stood, staggering. Shivetya hadn't been able to give him direct means of communicating with Daughter of Night but Darken felt like he understood the situation more clearly. "There is no Creator," he whispered. "Mother of Deceivers." His head was full to bursting with new information.
There was only one person to share it with.
Nicci came back to find Darken Rahl and the girl seated by a fire, waiting for her. Darken's hair was darker and movements were more certain than she had seen recently. She realized he looked the way his shade had appeared to her. Darken and the girl looked faintly luminous. Nicci's loins tightened uncomfortably as she looked at the girl. Even barefoot and wearing an old shift, Mord'Sith gloves, and the remains of a horse blanket the girl was unnaturally lovely. The two sets of blue eyes that turned Nicci's way were more disturbing than the spooks. "Is there anything left for dinner?" she demanded sharply.
"Mushrooms," Darken answered cheerfully.
"Mushrooms," Nicci repeated disapprovingly.
The former lord of all D'Hara, previous foremost servant to the Keeper, and newly restored wizard giggled." It's quite good." He ignored the eyebrow Nicci arched at him. "Shivetya made them. They popped out all over him."
"That's disgusting," Nicci said, setting off another round of giggles from her two companions. "Who is Shivetya?"
The girl gabbled a something that started with Shivetya while Darken Rahl pointed at the vast demon. "We have much to discuss," Darken said.
Nicci sighed with a disgruntled expression. "What is there to discuss?" she asked as she sat. "I'm done being your hostage."
"No hostage talk. Not unless you're very naughty." Darken swallowed the giggle. "Talk about where we're going. Shivetya said you found the key." Darken spoke as he cut up another mushroom and put it in the pot. "Assuming that demon isn't lying, I've discovered some interesting things about our mythology. For instance, there's this being called Kina." He ignored the girl's electrified reaction. "She's a sort of goddess. She was the Keeper." He giggled.
Nicci sighed. "The Keeper was male."
"Kina was known as the Mother of Deceivers. Shivetya says he blew her up." Darken shrugged. "He could be lying but how are we going to double check unless we do what he says."
"And what does he say?" Nicci asked irritably.
"We take the key and go through the gate. Not back home but to a new place," Darken served up a bowl of water and mushrooms to Nicci.
The first bite tasted a little spicy and a little sweet. It wasn't something she'd want a lot of but it was pretty good. The third bite relaxed her. "Alright. We'll go. Are we going to bring some of this along?"
"Nothing else to eat." Darken shrugged again. "He says you met the Nef. They take care of the plain."
"Ugly ghosts," Nicci giggled.
"That's them." Darken nodded. "They're memory ghosts of the architects. Oh, out here we need to not use our real names. Names are power. Name a wizard and he loses his power. Or hers. While the situation may change, I think we're both better off not eliminating each other. I'm going to take Daughter of Night, Atia, where Shivetya wants her to go. He won't take kindly if you interfere. Then go wherever you want. Go back to D'Hara. I don't care."
Nicci took another bite, savoring her food as she contemplated Darken's words.
Darken had dozens of rationalizations sloshing around in his brain. He knew this was a bad idea. Possibly as bad as when he'd made his deal with- Kina. Darken shivered in the cold ambient light of the ice cavern. He made his way to the body of a beautiful blue-eyed woman with raven hair. The stitches on her neck stood out obscenely against her pale, flawless skin.
Her eyes met Darken's and he began the spell to release her.