The Unraveling or The Perils of Powerful Magic

ZEDD: There is one way, but the results are unpredictable. It's called the Spell of Undoing.

KAHLAN: He's controlling Richard.

ZEDD: I can try to reverse the spell…

"I wish there was another way…"

Zedd watches this other Cara, a normal woman with a normal life. She was meant for more than this, he thinks, and hates the way destiny drags people all unwilling into its toils.

"But there isn't," he finishes, thinking of the Keeper, and saving the world.

The Spell of Undoing requires all his strength, all his attention—so it really must be coincidence when he catches the faintest glimpse, out of the corner of his eye, of the arrow. It flies in a deceptively lazy arc, straight for Cara's chest.

Zedd knows it's impossible for any magical residue to be left in him—everything is wrung out of him, every last drop of power like water from a sponge, to bring him back to a world where Richard is not Rahl's slave by the power of Orden, where the Keeper's forces are held at bay, if not yet defeated…

And yet.

That Cara should die for his mistake seems so unjust. She has her whole life ahead of her, for all she pretends she's seen so much nothing can surprise her. She deserves better than the mess he's made of her life, deserves better than what Rahl did to her—deserves everything.

(She is a woman in a million—how does Richard do it? And how does he remain immune to her charms? His and Kahlan's love must be pure.)

It's not the first time Zedd has let someone he loved die to save the world. But he's swearing off that particular sacrifice. It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, and his heart is too heavy for the burden of another life—particularly this life—lost.

Reserves of power he didn't know he had come to his aid—a light breeze blows the arrow off course. It embeds itself in the trunk of the tree to which Cara is tied.

Behind him, Zedd hears Kahlan start fighting the Mord'Sith—it must be them, he can feel the faint, subliminal screams of their agiels like pinpricks on the edge of his awareness—but his whole being is focused on the Spell of Undoing.

Cara whimpers, as the sky darkens and the unnatural fire reaches her, throwing her face into sharp relief.

There's a dizzying sensation where all worlds are one, and Zedd can hear Dahlia saying, "Lord Rahl wants you alive. But if you resist, he'll settle for dead," at the same time as Kahlan screams Richard's name—

The last thing he sees is Cara's terrified face, her eyes bright with fear, and he wants to apologize—this mess is all his fault—but he can't get his lips to move—

When he opens his eyes, Richard and Kahlan are staring at him.

"I said," Kahlan enunciates slowly, as if afraid Zedd is getting senile. He doesn't even have the energy to glare at her, knowing if he doesn't eat something soon he'll just collapse right here, wherever here is. The Spell of Undoing burns a lot of power. "Now that we know Rahl was last at the Rift near the Pillars, we should go there before he decides to throw the Stone of Tears into it and ensure the Keeper's victory."

"He won't do that," Richard says stubbornly. "He's changed."

"How can you say that?" Kahlan demands, completely ignoring Zedd now, and glaring at Richard.

"Where's Cara?" Zedd asks, wetting his lips. He really needs a drink.

Richard and Kahlan look involuntarily to one side of the grassy clearing. Cara lies in a heap on the ground, ropes pooled around her and the tree to which she had been bound. Zedd doesn't need to check, he knows she is dead—but he turns her gently over anyway. She looks…peaceful, as she never did in life. Soft, vulnerable—he doesn't like it.

"How could you—?" he tries to say, but the words stick in his throat.

"I had to," Kahlan defends herself. "She was—Rahl's magic made her—there was no other choice!"

"It's all right, Kahlan," Richard says, looking pale. "I know Cara would understand."

Maybe the strangest thing of all, Zedd thinks, is that Richard is right about that. He can hear Cara now, tossing her shorn hair back and saying proudly, 'Being executed by the Mother Confessor was an honor.'

It's just too bad he doesn't agree.

"Rahl has the Stone," he says, in a voice he hardly recognizes as his own. "And Cara is dead."

"We have to—" Kahlan says strongly, ignoring Richard's gentle touch. Zedd senses she doesn't want comfort, and his eyes narrow.

"Rahl's evil magic has been transferred from Cara to Kahlan," he asserts firmly.

"What?" Richard and Kahlan exclaim together.

"I am not—Rahl's magic—how?" Kahlan says angrily.

"When you Confessed Cara," Zedd explains.

"What can we do?" Richard sounds horrified.

"There is one thing…" Zedd replies. "The Spell of Undoing."

Kahlan is still protesting when Richard finishes tying her to the tree. In this world, Zedd has already realized, he never did the Spell of Undoing on Cara. And so Kahlan Confessed her, and she told Richard and Kahlan where Rahl had been, with the Stone. Rahl is undoubtedly halfway to the Keeper by now, of course.

And Cara is dead.

Well—not for long.

It's cruel—they were on the brink of victory. Richard had found the Stone, at last, and they were so close—and now Zedd watches the way things are unraveling, with the perfect choreography of nightmare.

They'll never get the Stone back from Rahl in time to stop the Keeper. And even if Rahl desired to save the world himself, he wouldn't be able to do it. He's not the Seeker—and there is too much blood (Cara's blood) on his hands.

Once, Zedd swore he would never again use his powers for personal gain. After he helped out a friend and caused a tyrant to be born, in fact.

But, he's starting to think, oaths are made to be broken.

It's not that Kahlan couldn't have been by affected by Rahl's evil magic from Confessing Cara—like some horrible disease of the soul, catching and fatal. She could have been.

But she wasn't.

Zedd knows for sure when the Spell of Undoing sweeps from him like some sort of cleansing fire, burning away reality. He can feel Kahlan's magic humming through the air, held back by nothing more than her will—there is no trace of Rahl's Underworld-cursed torture about it. It is a torment all its own.

(Kahlan is still glaring at him.)

He tries to feel what the spell changes, but he can barely stand—that was the third time he performed high magic, and on an empty stomach.

He sways, and opens his eyes.

He still doesn't see Cara, and Richard is staring at him.

There's no sign of Kahlan.

"Zedd, we don't have all day," Richard says, and Zedd wants to bury his face in his hands and weep.

They won't have any days, not if the Keeper has followed him here.

(A silly conceit; the Keeper, like Death, is everywhere.)

When Zedd looks around properly, he sees he's at a wedding reception. The trees are green and glowing with health, the people are all smiling, there's a girl standing next to Richard, her dress some kind of elaborate crossing pattern of fabric, her hair a sort of red-brown, raising her eyebrows…And, thank the Creator, there's a table groaning under the weight of all the food for the guests.

"You may kiss the bride," Zedd says, completely at random. In all fairness, he's never been married himself, nor has he officiated a wedding before. But he's been to plenty of them. He's hoping Richard and the mahogany-haired woman, who looks familiar, somehow, have already stepped into the marriage circle and vowed to love one another above all others before the Creator—

Although shouldn't Richard only be marrying Kahlan? He knows the two face obstacles, but he's never known anyone more determined than Richard—and is that George Cypher, wiping proud tears from his eyes over there?

Richard and the mahogany-haired woman—Anna, that's it—kiss, to polite applause from the audience.

Zedd waits for the crowd of congratulators to assemble, and then heads straight for the buffet.

How humbling, to realize that even such things as the fate of the world, and one woman at the center of it all, whose soul Richard has snatched from the Keeper and whose heart is pure and good—to think that all that must wait on something as mundane as hunger.

When Zedd has snatched a decent meal, and is biting into an apple, he finds Richard again. "Congrashulashins, my boy," he says, and swallows. "What happened? Where's Cara? For that matter, where's Kahlan?"

"Well, Anna moved back to Hartland last year and we completely reconnected, it was like magic—" Richard babbles, and then he frowns. "Who're Kahlan and Cara? Zedd, are you feeling all right?"

"The Keeper," Zedd says, fear making him almost regret that last bite of apple. Almost, but not quite. "Have there been any rifts here? We have to hurry—He'll destroy the Land of the Living!"

Richard is staring at him confusedly now. "Zedd, maybe you'd better sit down for a minute," he says. "All this excitement—you'll feel better if you rest."

"What have I told you about treating me like spun glass?" Zedd demands angrily. "I may be old, but I'm no invalid, Richard Cypher! And if you think—"

Richard is nodding, smiling—not really listening.

Zedd remembers the careful façade of harmlessness he cultivated, while watching over Richard in Westland. It seems the boy knows nothing of magic, or Seekers, or Confessors—or Mord'Sith.

What's worse, he knows nothing of the Keeper, who will be here soon enough. Zedd can feel Him now, a malevolent Presence, cold not-breath at his back…

He must find a world where the Keeper is winning, but Richard and Kahlan and Cara (Creator help him, most of all Cara) live and fight for justice.

He sighs inwardly. He's going to have to do the Spell of Undoing again. There's nothing else to be done.

He more than half suspects some powerful magic has kept Richard here, and shies away from thinking that it's all his own fault.

"You can't go!" Anna pouts. "It's our wedding day!"

"I'll just be a minute," Richard soothes. When they're out of her earshot, he adds to Zedd, "this had better not take long."

"Don't worry," Zedd says hollowly. "It won't."

They walk all the way to the Boundary, because Zedd wants to make sure it's still there, impassible as always, a bar between him and the Stone of Tears but, alas, not a bar between the Keeper and himself…why must this be so difficult?

All he wants is a world worth saving, with the means and opportunity to do so. Is that such an impossibility?

The green woods look peaceful enough, but for Zedd they are crowded with hidden terrors. It's almost worse that here there are no banelings, no Sisters of the Dark…no Rahl. And yet where is he? Surely he's still crushing the people of the Midlands under a booted heel, no doubt ably assisted by Cara, who, if she lives, will still be his right hand…

It's not a vision that fills Zedd with confidence for the fate of the world.

Nonetheless, it breaks something in him to perform the Spell of Undoing on Richard, no matter how necessary. The boy is happy here, with the family he lost, with the girl who is not a Confessor…isn't his life easier, without all that magic in it?

Isn't he happier as a simple woods guide, who will never know what it is to have a destiny…

This time, Zedd can feel the tendrils of the Spell, spinning backward through time, and he tries to trace them. Yet every time he collects a strand of magical cause and effect, two or three others escape his grasp, and events simply unravel in a colossal stream of inevitability…

When Zedd opens his eyes, Richard and Kahlan are staring at him.

They're not alone; by Kahlan's side is Darken Rahl, smirking, dressed in ultra-formal robes, Kahlan's hand tucked under his arm.

"Wizard?" Rahl asks, and his voice is a fist wrapped in velvet. "Shall we begin?"

Zedd stares, and Richard prompts, "We are gathered here today, before the Creator…" He, too, is formally dressed, and Zedd's distracted mind notes Kahlan's elaborately worked gown and tamed hair.

He has just enough presence of mind not to ask his usual question of, 'Where's Cara?'

It would take a more obtuse man than he is not to see that Rahl is in charge here. Discretion is clearly the better part of valor.

This time, the Spell makes him go through the entire wedding speech—it's lucky he's good with fanciful ad-libbing.

Rahl and Kahlan kiss, and Richard smiles as though this doesn't hurt. Zedd stares at him.

That's when the door bursts open, and Cara leads a small army of bedraggled-looking people, armed with kitchen implements and spears. Cara is still in her Mord'Sith leathers, which Zedd thinks is a relief.

He watches her approach, hair streaming—not braided, but not short—long and luxurious, even longer than Kahlan's—eyes snapping fury. She is careful not to look at Rahl.

One of her followers is not so clever. Rahl meets and holds his gaze, and Zedd thinks he understands when the man falls to his knees.

Rahl has the Power of Orden.

"Stop!" Rahl shouts, but only Richard, Kahlan, Zedd, and Rahl's personal guard freeze. He makes a face, and an ambiguous gesture, and Zedd can move again.

He wonders how Cara remained immune to the Power of Orden—in this world, are the laws of magic completely different?

Cara's raid is ultimately unsuccessful, though Zedd watches her swipe the Sword of Truth right out of Richard's hands. He follows her out into the night.

"You!" she says, when she and her rag-tag band of followers have dispersed and gone to hidden boltholes in the city. Zedd recognizes Dunstan, the capitol of D'Hara, and has a pang of nostalgia for the old days, when he and Panis Rahl used to race each other down the hill, on sleds, to the applause of the whole court…the trick was to let Panis win by a hairsbreadth and then be so good-natured about coming in second that all the ladies thought, here was a man you could trust…

Cara slams him against a convenient wall, and Zedd finds himself regaining focus on the present. "What are you doing here? Did Lord Rahl send you to spy on us?" she asks, glaring up into Zedd's face.

"No," he says, shocked into honesty. "This isn't my reality. I'm just trying to get back to my own world—the Keeper is going to destroy all life, unless Richard can stop him—"

Cara frowns, holds up a hand (she's still grabbing a fistful of Zedd's robes with the other), and pulls something from her ears. Zedd, interested, realizes she's stuffed some sort of gummy substance in her ears, so she couldn't hear Rahl's Orden-enhanced voice. It's a good idea—might she be interested in a temporary deafness spell?

Cara glares at him. "You're one of Lord Rahl's. Did he really think to send a Wizard against a Mord'Sith?"

"I assure you, Cara, whoever you think I am—whatever you think I've done—my eyes have been opened to Rahl's evil character, and we have to do something before it's too late. Will you help me stop the Keeper from destroying the Land of the Living?"

Cara tilts her head, watching him. "It's Mistress Cara," she corrects. "And if you're lying—"

"I wish I were," Zedd says heavily.

Cara studies him for a tense moment, and Zedd tries to look as trustworthy as possible. (At least in this reality, they're all alive. That's something.)

At length, she lets him go, steps back—"Fine," she says gracelessly. "The Keeper is plotting to destroy all life. What do we need to do?"

"Destroy the Boxes of Orden," Zedd says grimly, thinking at least that will free Richard and then they can find the Stone of Tears, and hopefully this time without all that hero-ing, because there just isn't time—

Cara is rolling her eyes at him. "Any idea how?" she says impatiently.

"The Sword of Truth," Zedd says wonderingly, thinking that things really are falling into place now—but using the Sword to destroy the Boxes killed Rahl—on the other hand, the air was full of powerful magic then, Kahlan's Confessor power, Cara and the other Mord'Sith—and it was Richard's Sword. So maybe—

It seems too big a chance to take, but Zedd can't see that they have a lot of choice.

Cara and Zedd sneak back into the Palace, followed by those few remaining hard-bitten souls who have managed not to look in Rahl's eyes yet, protected by all the concealment and deafness spells Zedd can muster, and Cara's convenient gummy stuff.

All goes well—until they reach the pedestal upon which the Boxes of Orden rest.

An alarm sounds—Zedd winces when he recognizes it as his own magic, no doubt compelled by Orden, rebounding against him—soldiers appear out of nowhere, though thankfully Rahl remains nowhere to be seen.

In the midst of the fighting, Zedd loses track of Cara—

There is a tremendous explosion as the Sword of Truth plunges into the center of the Boxes of Orden—

Green fire curls around Cara—"NOOOOOO!" Zedd shouts—

Time seems to stop; Zedd can feel events spiraling out of his control, and desperation makes him wonder if Cara is doomed to die in this fight—how could the Creator be so cruel?

This is worse than nightmare, because it's all real.

Zedd curls invisible, magical fingers around Cara and yanks her backward, away from the powerful magic explosion—

Everyone else is dead or gone or both; Zedd, kneeling on the floor beside Cara, can't bring himself to care.

She stirs, her skin fading as he watches, an unhealthy green—she takes the gummy stuff out of her ears and smiles up at him. "Did we win?" she asks.

Zedd laughs, a hollow laugh that hurts something within him.

"You fought well," she says, reaching up to touch his cheek. "I'm sorry I couldn't save the world for you."

"You can—you do!" Zedd says desperately. "I can heal you—"

But she's shaking her head. "Don't you have somewhere to be?" she asks. "Something about an alternate reality?"

Funny—he'd thought she hadn't heard that. Or can she read his mind?

"You can't die," Zedd nearly screams. "Not again!"

"I never thought to die in my bed," Cara shrugs. Then she winces. Her breath is shallower now.

"Why did you help me?" Zedd asks suddenly. "I've killed you."

"Rahl," she says, frowning furiously. "Must be stopped. You were right—saving the world. He killed my son."

"Your son!" Zedd exclaims. Of course! He'd forgotten all about the boy! But if Cara's son had never been born, Dahlia couldn't have lured her away from them, and Rahl would never have tortured her back to him, and this nightmare would never have existed!

Quickly, he spreads his fingers over Cara's stomach, feeling the faint impressions her son's birth left on her body. Anytime someone is born, there is magic—he can trace it back, can undo it—Zedd no longer needs the dangerous Grace or even a more simple pentagram.

He doubts any wizard in the history of magic has ever become so practiced at the Spell of Undoing as he has.

This time, when Zedd opens his eyes, not only Richard and Kahlan but also Rahl and Cara are staring at him.

What's worse, they're standing at the Pillars of Creation, there's a green rift in the distance, there's no sign of the Stone of Tears, and they're looking at him expectantly.

Zedd stares, looking from Kahlan's faintly resentful expression to Richard's blissful one, Rahl's smug stance and Cara's white leather.

"What are you waiting for, Wizard?" Rahl drawls. "This double wedding won't start itself."

Dear Creator! A double wedding? Now this is a nightmare.

It doesn't take a genius—or maybe Zedd's familiarity with the Spell has finally enabled him to start remembering events he never witnessed—to figure out that, if Rahl never killed Cara's son, she no longer felt so dead set against him, Richard gave him a second chance, he joined them on the quest for the Stone of Tears, and now all four of them have lost their senses, choosing to be married in front of the Pillars of Creation before repairing the Tear in the Veil—assuming they even have the Stone of Tears.

Zedd looks at Rahl and sees red. "YOU!" he shouts, grabbing Rahl by his ridiculous robe-vest hybrid thing. "YOU MURDEROUS BASTARD! THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT! YOU TORTURED CARA, TRIED TO MURDER RICHARD, MADE KAHLAN MARRY YOU WHEN YOU HAD THE POWER OF ORDEN, KILLED MY DAUGHTER—I'VE HAD ENOUGH OF YOU, WITH YOUR SMIRK—THINK YOU KNOW BETTER THAN ME—YOU'RE JUST LIKE YOUR FATHER, HE WAS A REAL SMOOTH TALKER TOO—"

Zedd stops talking to catch his breath, and, viciously, reaches into Rahl's personal history and twists

He's often wondered what would've happened if he never acquiesced to Panis's request. If Darken Rahl were never born, surely the world would be an infinitely better place. (The man thought he was good enough to marry Cara—!)

Now appears to be an excellent moment to find out what a Darken Rahl-less world would look like.

Gray, Zedd decides, when he opens his eyes. Neither Richard nor Kahlan is staring at him, because neither of them is present.

Cara is there, though, and Zedd almost weeps with relief. "You're alive!" he gasps, and takes two steps forward to hug her before remembering she doesn't like to be touched.

But this Cara, not dressed in leathers but a worn peasant dress that is as gray as the sky, hair long and swaying down her back, steps forward the rest of the way, and catches his hands.

"Don't scare me like that, Wizard," she says shakily. "I almost lost you."

And then she kisses him, lightly, on the lips.

Zedd is too surprised to do much of anything, but he does enjoy it. Maybe, he finds himself thinking bemusedly, this world can stay…

Cara sits down on a dead log, smoothing her skirts absently over her knees. "What happened?" she asks.

Zedd, tired, hungry, and lonely, finds himself telling her everything—how he is a refugee from another reality, how the Keeper is chasing him through each and every one of them like a bane, a punishment—everyone knows Wizards are lightning rods for the Keeper (all that powerful magic)…tells her of Richard's bravery and Kahlan's determination, tells her of their struggle to save the world…doesn't ask her where Richard and Kahlan are now.

(Zedd has a sinking feeling that Darken Rahl never having been born means Richard—and Jennsen—were never born, either.)

"Wow," Cara says, when he finishes, running down and out of words at last. He feels bone-weary, beyond tired, and knows he has already pushed himself past his limits. Yet when Cara looks at him, he doesn't feel like a broken old man.

He has enough power to save her and the world. He must.

"Here," Cara says, looking concerned. "You should eat something."

And then she pulls some bread and a persimmon—glorious persimmon!—from her pocket.

Zedd is halfway through the bread, and the persimmon is merely a marvelous memory, by the time he realizes something is wrong.

Why isn't Cara more worried about it being the end of the world? She looks tired, too—her eyes look defeated.

That look—Zedd hates that look. Cara should never look defeated—isn't this the Mord'Sith who believes even Death is no more than another obstacle to get around?

"What is it?" he asks, terrified that he doesn't want to hear the answer.

But before Cara can speak, an army of banelings appears out of nowhere. Zedd summons Wizard's Fire, and it almost burns his skin, his magic is stretched so thin.

At last, there are no more. Ash falls around them like rain, and Zedd isn't sure if it's from his Wizard's Fire or a nearby volcano, and isn't sure it matters.

Cara is on the ground, bleeding from what looks like a terminal wound.

Zedd summons his healing powers, thinking this may very well kill him—he doesn't have enough strength to banish Cara's wound from his own body.

She puts a hand on his wrist. "Don't," she whispers. "Zedd, I'm dying."

"Not for long," he says grimly.

"I think…if you love me—if you love the woman in your reality—I think I know what she would want you to do."

Zedd bows his head, and a tear falls onto Cara's throat. Sadly, it has no miracle-working powers.

"I think your Cara would want you to save the world," Cara breathes, "And save her son."

And her eyes close.

Zedd cries over her body for what seems hours, but nothing changes. After a time, he thinks to extend his senses over the barren landscape. He can feel rifts in the Veil to the Underworld all around him, and suddenly understands why the Keeper has done nothing to attack him yet.

It's another several moments before he realizes something else: there is no one here upon whom he can perform the Spell of Undoing.

Which means…either this is the end, or—

Savagely, Zedd turns his powers inward, finding memories—travelling with Cara, Richard and Kahlan—he concentrates on one particular image, any image, and twists

There is nothing so alive as lightning in the world he is leaving—where he might have been the last living soul.

In the next reality, Cara really is a princess, and Zedd is the court jester—it feels strangely appropriate.

She's being courted by Prince Darken, but Queen Kahlan, Cara's adopted sister, assures Zedd the negotiations could go on for months…

It's quite a nice little reality, actually. Zedd and Cara and Richard and Kahlan are one happy family, Richard hanging on Kahlan's every word just as he always has…

But Zedd can feel the Keeper's cursed breath on the back of his neck. The first rift appears the second day, as if by magic.

(Zedd has lost count of how many days it's been—the summer solstice is close, too close—)

When Zedd opens his eyes this time, all seems well.

The Keeper has a foothold in the world, there are rifts—but Richard and Kahlan and Cara are all alive and well.

There's just one problem—or maybe a whole series of tiny problems.

Richard is a little too tall, broader than he used to be—his hair is a little blonder, his laugh a little heartier…His eyes a little colder.

Kahlan is a few inches shorter, and her hair is a few inches longer. The adoring looks she casts Richard are a little too servile, a little too much like the way she looked at Rahl when he had the Power of Orden…

Cara's hair is braided again, and her eyes are a different shade of green. She looks…lonely. And hard as stone.

None of them are the people Zedd remembers. He hardly listens to their version of past events, although the twist that Rahl is Richard's father rather than his brother gives him pause. (Did he miss something…?)

But everything is wrong.

It doesn't take Zedd long to do the Spell of Undoing again. (There's something wonderfully, deliciously intoxicating about the Spell, something about the way all the different possibilities swirl past him, flowing into a whole new world—Zedd could almost believe they are his creations, these nightmare realities.)

Zedd feels caught by the magic—it's like watching a Gar sweep headlong toward you, knowing it's about to kill you, but unable to move.

It's like feeling the ground give way beneath your feet just before you realize you've strayed off the path and this is the way to the cliff…

It's like staring into Rahl's Orden-enhanced eyes or feeling a Confessor's hand around your throat…

It's the knife-edge instant before the unspeakable happens.

It's a nightmare.

But it's real.

At last, Zedd is lost in a place with no strange alternate friends and enemies—no living souls at all.

The rifts surround him, green fire dancing in the gray air—even worse, Zedd can feel his own thoughts wearing thin.

The Keeper's constant whispers (POWER…ETERNITY…REMAKE THE WORLD—THIS TIME DO IT RIGHT…) and Zedd's own cannibalistic use of his memories have made him weak. He isn't sure how long this can go on.

He's lost count of the days—the eternities he's been strolling through…

"WHY?" he shouts, at the uncaring sky. It's obscured by green fog, and Zedd wonders if he'll ever see the sun again. "WHY DOES SHE HAVE TO DIE? WHY ARE YOU PUNISHING HER FOR MY MISTAKE? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME?"

'Sometimes, the greatest harm can come from the best intentions,' a wry, feminine voice quotes, in his ear.

Zedd falls to his knees, no longer able to stand under his own power, slowly starving to death, and more than a little taken aback.

The Creator has never spoken to him before—Wizards, as a rule, pay a good deal of lip service to She who brought life to the world, while never going out of their way to meet Her. There's something a little too dangerously close to sacrilege about magic, after all.

(Zedd remembers when he took the powers of the Creator on himself, let Darken Rahl be born, and unleashed hell on the world…only to discover, in his wanderings through realities, that a world without Darken Rahl is just as bad. Is there no hope left? Must the Keeper win?)

Zedd bows his head, shuts his eyes, so as not to see the Keeper's victory, and whispers, "Help me. Please, help me."

Save the boy, the Creator orders. It's as though She's just been waiting for him to ask. Her voice is quieter than the faintest whisper, and louder than the highest scream. Save the boy, and all else will fall into place.

And then Zedd feels Her presence leave him. He curls up into a ball on the ground and weeps.

When he recovers himself, he looks through his memories, and the memories of all the other Zedds that could have existed, that do exist, somewhere. The boy…She must have meant Cara's son.

It takes Zedd a while to find the right twist to make, in events, so that Cara's son will live.

This time, he doesn't do the Spell of Undoing—it's more like a Spell of Doing. Of careful crafting, nudging people here and there—it's tedious, and difficult, and every breath Zedd takes seems like it must be his last…

But finally, he has the shape of the Spell in his mind.

It's as though he's watching over the boy—Zedd watches him being born, watches Cara, stoic and hurting and tragic and so young, watches Darken Rahl take the boy, hand him to a servant…

Watches the servant, distracted by another Mord'Sith with a shopping list of chores, hand the baby to a maid, with instructions to see him safely to General Egremont…

The maid takes one look at the boy and falls in love with those expressive green eyes—as anyone would—she smuggles him out, back to her home village…

Her mother takes him in, a kind matronly woman whose husband is in the Resistance…

The boy grows, walks, talks, laughs…Zedd thought he would hate the child—this is Rahl's son—but he can't. All he sees is Cara, all he knows is this is an innocent child…

The boy's adoptive father is killed, and then, after Darken Rahl wakes up from his very own nightmare of the Seeker, he starts asking questions—finally realizes that you can't trust people to kill the right baby, after all…

The maid who saved the boy's life is killed, and just before Richard sends Darken Rahl to the Underworld, where his screaming rotten soul tears a rift in the Veil, the soldiers come for the boy's adoptive mother.

She and the boy run—they're found by Sisters of the Dark not long after Cara dressed as a princess in the Margrave's Palace, and the boy's adoptive mother dies.

Zedd grieves for these necessary deaths, he is still human enough for that. But then, no good deed goes unpunished—and some lives are more important than others.

The Sisters of the Dark argue about what to do with the boy—they sense his Rahl magic, can feel how many times he has narrowly escaped death—notice how his eyes (Cara's eyes) are the exact shade of Underworld green.

Meanwhile, Nicci mentions the rumors of the boy in passing to Richard, when she is holding Kahlan's soul hostage, and Richard listens and remembers—

Cara complains about yet another side quest, but Richard is adamant…

Nonetheless, they suffer through an ancient evil curse and Rahl's resurrection before they find the quarreling Sisters of the Dark, kill them, rescue the boy…

He's mistrustful, scared, a long way from any home he's ever known…and yet. The bond between him and Cara goes deeper than anything Zedd has ever seen.

Zedd is ashamed—knowing he failed as a parent (could he protect Taralyn from Panis Rahl? Can he protect Richard from Darken Rahl, the Keeper, and perhaps most of all his own destiny?)

Kahlan is wildly, dizzyingly jealous, Richard approving and kind as always…

Cara is overwhelmed. Says she's not cut out to be a mother, what is she thinking—!

The boy travels with them, anyway.

Until one morning, when a Mord'Sith named Dahlia finds their camp…

With a start, Zedd yanks himself back into the present. The eternal now—tells himself this is his last chance.

(If he chooses again, he must save the world and leave Cara to die.)

"The true Lord Rahl is in danger," Dahlia is saying. "I need your help to save him."

"Darken Rahl may have used magic to return to the Land of the Living," Cara says sharply. "But Richard is the true Lord Rahl."

Zedd can feel the fury coming off her in waves—she's been like that ever since she put two and two together and realized Darken Rahl never sent her son to be trained by the Dragon Corps, he guesses shrewdly.

She will never forgive Rahl—and she shouldn't.

"I'm not talking about Darken Rahl. Or the Seeker. I'm talking about your son," Dahlia says.

Cara's frown deepens, and she casts a quick glance toward the tree behind which Kahlan is helping her son put on his new boots.

"You mean our own Sam Rahl?" Zedd asks, and waves a conjurer's hand.

(This particular magic trick has taken him six years and an eternity of alternate realities.)

The boy has Cara's eyes set in Darken Rahl's face. His parentage is unmistakable.

"I—" Dahlia says.

"You lied to me, Dahlia," Cara hisses. "Why?" She has the other woman pinned to a tree, now, her eyes flashing fire.

"Lord Rahl sent me to find you," Dahlia says. "Cara, don't listen to these people—they've made you soft, turned you weak—and for what? The Seeker? Cara, they can't love you like I do."

"You don't love me," Cara says, in disgust. "You don't know what love is."

And she turns away, pulls her son into her arms, and lets Kahlan Confess the last person chaining her to her old life.

Zedd's smile could light an entire forest on fire.

When he opens his eyes, Richard and Kahlan are staring at him.

"No…" Zedd moans—this can't be, he fixed it—! The Keeper's victory is surely at hand—! What has he done? Is Cara all right?

"Rise and shine," Richard says bracingly. "Cheer up, Zedd: we saved the world."

He and Kahlan walk away, Cara's son between them…they make excellent godparents. Sam Rahl's start in the world may have been chaotic, but he'll never want for either love or protection while he travels with Uncle Richard and Aunt Kahlan.

Only Cara stays. She bends over Zedd, and kisses him fully awake. It's bliss, and Zedd lets himself hope—

"Thank you," she says, at last.

"For what?" Zedd asks, bewildered.

"Everything."

He's still staring at her in confusion—and delight. (She lives, she breathes, she's here, with him—!)

"You talk in your sleep," Cara explains, lightly. "And I find you made me who I am today."

"You were dead—I had to do something!" Zedd replies, not sure if she's grateful or sardonic—

"Come on," Cara says, hauling him to his feet. "It's a long walk to Aydindril."

"Particularly on an empty stomach," Zedd agrees.

"I live in dread of the day Richard swears he can live by love alone," Cara says, rolling her eyes.

And everything is back to normal.

Except that Cara walks beside him, and she's watching her son…and she's happy. Alive, well, and happy.

The Keeper is defeated. All is right with the world.

Zedd thought this was a nightmare. Now he's convinced it's a dream.

He can't bear the thought of waking up…

There is still a green, howling darkness in his heart. Sometimes, it whispers that things could still be better, so wouldn't it be a good idea to try the Spell of Undoing again…? Fifty-seventh time lucky?

But Richard and Kahlan are where they belong—together—and Cara is happy at last—her son lives—the world lives—

And Zedd won't let the nightmares out of his heart again. Not now that he has so much more than he deserves.

Magic is a trick for getting more than your share of good things in the world—and Zedd is very, very good at it.

The nightmare realities will live only in his darkest thoughts. He swears to never let them exist again—

(But then, he once swore to do no harm—he has betrayed friends and family, erased whole worlds…)

Maybe he himself is the nightmare, Zedd thinks—and shivers in the warm sunlight.

The boy lives—is that enough?