Summary: 'Bloodline' AU; Darken discovers Jennsen hiding in the chamber before she can steal the Boxes of Orden.
Notes: Inspired by a discussion at the People's Palace. Spoilers for 'Bloodline' and 'Fever' – I used some of Darken's tactics from the latter in this fic. Minor violence, minor character death [as per canon]
Darken swept into the room and paused in front of the pedestal. Two of the precious boxes sat upon the plinth; soon, very soon, the third would be his. Then he would have everything he had ever wanted...
He ran his fingers over them and then picked up one of the boxes. It was surprisingly light for such a powerful object, though the decoration at least hinted at its value. He pressed the side of the box to his cheek, fancying he could feel the magic within it coursing through his skin. Soon, soon, soon—
He froze. Darken was no fool and had survived more than a dozen assassin attempts; his natural alertness, honed by necessity, told him that someone else was in the room. Impossible, his rational mind told him; the magical wards would prevent anyone from entering.
No, he told himself. I sense someone.
Slowly, carefully, he placed the box back onto the plinth. He stood very still, listening, determining the exact location of the intruder, steeling himself to attack. He was rarely unarmed and though he wasn't carrying his sword, there was a dagger in his right boot if it came to it.
Darken turned as if to leave the room, then, like a cobra, attacked the intruder who was hiding in an alcove. There was a high pitched scream. Darken, expecting a man, and had been ready to use his fists, hesitated. He clutched at the woman and dragged her out into the centre of the room.
Woman? Barely, he thought. Frail looking creature with gorgeous red hair -
Red hair was rare, especially in these lands. There was only one person he knew of with such a trait, and it was the same person who could walk untouched through his magical defences.
He'd told Denna that he feared this child over all others, and it was true that the Pristinely Ungifted one posed a very real threat to him and his plans. However, seeing her tremble—yet trying to look resolute—made him reconsider. What harm could she possibly do him?
"Jennsen," he said.
"You—you know who I am?" Her eyes were wide with fear.
"Yes." Darken relaxed his grasp a fraction of an inch, knowing he'd already bruised her left arm and right shoulder. "Do you know who I am?"
"D-Darken Rahl," she said, twisting in his grasp. Foolish girl; she'd hurt herself more that way.
"What are you doing here?" She was here to steal the Boxes of Orden, obviously, but he wanted to hear it from her, wanted to hear the 'why'.
Jennsen bit at her lip. Darken tried very hard to be patient. If the girl was here then Denna had failed—maybe she even been Confessed and told Jennsen how to get inside this chamber. In which case, Denna was probably already dead. That grieved him a little; he was especially fond of Denna, for he'd trained her himself.
"Denna," Jennsen said. "She—she told me to come here and take the Boxes of Orden."
"She was Confessed?" Darken asked. He released Jennsen lest he inadvertently hurt her before he'd learned everything he could from her. He took a step away, keeping himself between her and the doorway.
"No," Jennsen said. "She—she's killed my mother. She said I had to bring her the Boxes and then she'd bring my mother back to life." Her pale face crumbled and she began sobbing.
Darken swallowed and tasted bile. To kill the peasant woman as leverage to gain the third box was an understandable ploy, but what mischief was this? Surely Denna had not betrayed him.
Suddenly he wasn't grieving over her actual or potential demise.
Darken wondered how to turn this sorry affair to his advantage. He ran appraising eyes over Jennsen. He'd never laid eyes on her before today, relying on second hand reports for details of her life. She was pretty, though perhaps that was no surprise. Still, such a delicate little thing—
A flash of memory; his father, Panis Rahl. "The boy is a weakling."
Darken surreptitiously flexed his arm muscles. He'd spent a lot of time building them up, still put in hours of sword play. He was no weakling now. He had proven Panis Rahl wrong at every turn. Perhaps he was judging Jennsen too harshly. She was a Rahl, too, and the bloodline was strong. With some guidance, she could become a powerful weapon.
"You're a monster," Jennsen said suddenly, choking on her tears. "You sent Denna to murder my mother just so I would give you the stupid Box of Orden."
Darken shook his head. "No," he said softly. "No, I did no such thing." It was true; he'd left the specifics of the mission to Denna—in retrospect, that had been a mistake.
She turned a tear stained face to him, suspicion in her eyes. "You wanted the Box."
"Yes. When I have all three, there will be peace throughout the land." He didn't have to fake his earnestness in this regard. "But I could never harm you."
It was a gamble but you didn't get anywhere in life always playing it safe. Darken tipped his head, gazing intently at the frightened girl.
"You are Pristinely Ungifted. For generations, the House of Rahl has found your kind and murdered them at birth." He saw her sharp intake of breath, let that sink in for a moment. "I have known about you your whole life, Jennsen. And yet I have let you live. Do you know why?"
She shook her head.
"Because I am not without compassion, no matter what lies you have been told about me. And because you and I were sired by the same man, Panis Rahl."
Jennsen took a physical step backwards at that.
"He was a monster," Darken said, pressing his advantage. "A tyrant. He couldn't even love his own son." He hung his head, let his sorrow show. Through the curtain of his hair he glimpsed Jennsen's face, tried to gauge her reaction.
"My mother tried to protect me but Panis had his own designs and would not be thwarted." Let her think that Panis had killed Darken's mother; his own memories were so blurred and mixed with Palace gossip half-truths and his own fantasies that he no longer knew the truth of her death.
"Oh." It was a quiet sound, but Darken knew he'd caught her attention utterly. Protective mothers and those who hurt them—more common ground.
Darken straightened up, and paced the room. Jennsen made no move to escape nor to attack.
"Panis believed in a prophecy that marked me to be as cruel as himself, and that spoke of another who would kill me. Panis grew obsessed with this—he took other women—" Darken stopped, abruptly, waited three heartbeats. "He wanted so badly to give me a brother whose purpose in life was to murder me."
Jennsen was shaking her head frantically in disbelief that anyone could be so cruel. Darken warmed to her for that.
"My mother is a good woman," she said desperately.
"I have no doubt." Darken stood very close to her, lowered his voice as he bent to speak into her ear. "No blame attaches to her. Panis lied to her, of that I am certain. Just as your mother lied to you. Just as the Seeker lied to you."
She stiffened at that. Yes, Richard had gotten to her. It had always been a possibility, but Darken had never expected it to happen so soon. The fool hadn't even known of her existence until a few hours ago.
"I killed Panis Rahl," Darken admitted. "And I am not sorry, for he made my life an unending misery with nothing to look forward to but an ignoble death at the hands of my bastard sibling. And as I inherited all that had been his, so I inherited all of his journals, all of his informants, all of his knowledge."
"He sired Richard to kill me, but when it was believed that Richard died just after he was born—" no sense directly mentioning the massacre right now, "Panis tried again. Yet a daughter was beyond his consideration. Worthless."
She lifted her chin at that, defiant. Darken's heart leapt in his chest as he saw the Rahl fire in her eyes.
"When I learned of you, a Pristinely Ungifted child, my first instinct was to act like my forebears and kill you. Yet I am not my father, and I could not hurt my sister." He touched her shoulder, tenderly this time.
"You're really my brother?" she asked.
"So Richard is your brother too?"
Darken inclined his head. "I do not know if he knows this, or if it would make any difference. The wizard Zorander has filled his head with nonsense about prophecy such as that which poisoned my own father against me."
Jennsen reached out and put her hand on his. "I—I didn't know any of this. I spent this morning milking our goat, and now my whole world is turned upside down."
"This is why I didn't come to you and tell you of your heritage," Darken said. "I wanted you to have a normal life, free of such fears that have plagued my every waking moment and haunted my dreams."
Was that a lie? It wasn't one of the major reasons he'd left her alone, but now he'd said it, he had to wonder if it wasn't marginally true.
"I never intended to interrupt your peaceful existence, Jennsen. But events have spiralled out of my control. I sent Denna to you to protect you as best she could, and, if you would agree to it, to find the Box of Orden. I ordered her not to disclose your identity, wanting to save you from this knowledge."
Jennsen nodded, caught up in the tale.
"Alas, Denna has turned on me; Richard killed her, did he tell you that? Only the Breath of Life from one of her Sisters brought her back from the dead, and she has never been the same since. She has no loyalty left, I see that now. She seeks to hurt me by overstepping her boundaries and threatening my family."
Darken wondered if that were too much, but Jennsen seemed to accept it. Well, she'd gained one brother already today, what was one more in the grand scheme of things?
"You'll make Denna save my mother." It was a statement. Jennsen had nothing to bargain with but their newly discovered familial bond, yet she was instructing him on how things would go. Another sign of her Rahl blood, another thing Darken found to appreciate in her.
The trick, he thought, would be to keep her off guard while he bent her more fully to his way of thinking. And he had just the thing.
Darken moistened his lips and turned away from Jennsen. "I would, if it were within my power," he said sadly.
"What do you mean?"
He heard the fear in her voice, had to suppress a smile. "Denna lied if she said she could bring your mother back."
"No." She was crying again, he could hear it clearly.
"How long did it take for her to explain the route to you? How long did it take for you to get here? How long would it take for you to get back?" Darken spread his hands in a gesture of hopelessness.
He turned to face her. "Her body will be cold by now. She cannot be revived. I am so very sorry."
And that was a lie, for he cared nothing for Taralynn, though some small part of him did care that Jennsen was hurting. The Zorander woman's death was the crowning moment for this tableau, the one thing that would break Jennsen's spirit.
"No. No." Jennsen sank to the floor. Darken moved to kneel in front of her.
"The wizard knew this," he said gently. "He lied to you too. They all care more about destroying me than protecting you." And when he put one hand on her shoulder, he was amazed to find that Jennsen threw herself forward - and that somehow he was now hugging her.
It was a very awkward position to be hugging in, and a very odd circumstance that had prompted it, but despite it all, Darken found himself not only thrilled at how well his plan was working out, but felt a warmth within him that she would turn to him for comfort.
"There, there," Darken whispered, rocking her against him. "I will take care of you now, beloved sister. No harm shall ever come to you while you are under my protection."
And for a number of reasons, that at least, was true.
He may have lost Denna, and he still hadn't taken possession of the last Box of Orden, but all things considered, Darken thought, things were looking up.