"It's the Blood Rage! Run, my lord!"
But Darken doesn't run. He makes a snatch for the flying Shakai'ah, instead. Too late to save Giller, but in time to yank the power flowing from the Confessor through the magical needles to himself.
Abruptly, her eyes are blue and despairing again.
Darken smirks—and then the power washes through him. It's like fire, burning through his nerve endings, filling his soul with possibilities—
It's an intoxicating feeling.
The Confessor is free of her bonds—apparently the Blood Rage granted her unusual strength. Darken makes a note of that, wondering how to trigger the Blood Rage at will. He can't imagine that there is even more to being a Confessor than the new power racing through his veins—but he will soon. He's always been adaptable.
She picks up one of the discarded vials of anti-Confession, and, with great presence of mind, drinks it.
"My Lord?" Mistress Leanna asks uncertainly, as the Confessor—the former Confessor—grabs one of the Shakai'ah and advances on Darken.
But the Blood Rage has left her weak—Darken easily twists the needle out of her fingers, pulls her flush against him, and puts the needle to her throat.
"Kahlan!" the Seeker screams.
Kahlan, that is the Confessor's name—and the raw pain in the Seeker's voice makes Darken reconsider simply killing Kahlan out of hand. What will that avail him? She's far more useful alive, even if she has drunk the anti-Confession potion.
He grins evilly, and throws her to Mistress Leanna. Without the power now running through Darken's blood instead of hers, Kahlan will be no match for a Mord'Sith—else, he'll have to take a far more personal interest in their training.
"Keep her conscious," Darken says sharply. He can hear the high whine of Leanna's agiels behind him, and he wants Kahlan (pretty name…unusual spelling) to see this.
He strolls forward to where the Seeker hangs in chains. "Richard," he drawls. (The given name tastes odd on his tongue, but they are brothers, after all.) He extends a hand, feeling the power surging through him—his fingers close around Richard's throat, and he thinks of how easily he could kill the Seeker, the man born to be his bane…
He pauses, to savor the moment.
On cue, Kahlan screams, "Richard!"
Richard's anguished eyes meet Kahlan's. "I'll do whatever you want—just don't hurt her, please!"
"A willing victim," Darken sneers. "How…thrilling."
Almost regretfully, Darken lets go. He can feel his eyes swirling to black as the power, no longer held back by his iron-clad control, rises to the surface of his skin—and into Richard's.
It's fascinating—to feel all the possibilities of another's life pass into his keeping. Richard's choices have become Darken's choices.
"Command me, Confessor," Richard begs earnestly.
"NOOOO!" Kahlan screams. "RICHARD—!"
And so Panis Rahl is confounded at last.
Darken's lips curve into a smile.
"Kill me!" Kahlan begs.
"Now why would I do that?" Darken Rahl smirks. "I would hate to separate such destined lovers as you and Richard. Whatever would my loyal subjects think of such a crime?" And he laughs, and leaves Kahlan locked in a surprisingly well-appointed room with a Confessed Richard.
Richard's newfound respect and affection for Darken Rahl makes him rhapsodize about what a wonderful leader the tyrant Kahlan would've given her life to defeat is. But he doesn't hurt Kahlan when she disagrees, as she always does.
He may not remember what they're fighting for, but she can never forget.
Yet Richard's wounded pout—the knowledge that he is no longer himself, but merely a puppet, a slave (and not even to Kahlan herself)—is punishment enough.
The room has only one bed. But if Darken Rahl thinks Kahlan so depraved as to take advantage of Richard—the situation has certain horrible parallels to what she and Richard once hoped to find. She surely can't hurt him any more than she already has.
She tries to gouge holes in the walls with her fingernails, to distract herself from the knowledge that this is all her fault.
She's trapped, she's powerless, she's alone (worse; Richard-who-is-not-Richard is with her)—and it's only going to get worse.
In the middle of the night, she lies awake and wishes, ashamed of herself…if she hadn't taken the anti-Confession potion, she wouldn't feel this way.
No. Ignorance is not bliss—it is oblivion. Kahlan won't give up. Maybe Zedd can still do something—find another Seeker (sacrilege though the thought is). Kahlan will be satisfied with Darken Rahl's corpse at her feet.
Revenge is the only consolation she has left.
"Darken Rahl is the bravest man I've ever met. Even when he thought all was lost, he willingly took me into his confidence. Me, the Seeker, the man destined to destroy him—and he showed me that we don't have to be afraid. We can live in peace—no longer shall brother fight against brother! Let us take a step forward into the future—together. For Lord Rahl!" And Richard raises the Sword of Truth, and the crowd cheers.
This, he thinks, is the way it was always meant to be. His Master—his brother, so he has learned—is so wise and strong and good, and he was a fool not to see it before.
Willingly, eagerly, Richard preaches to the masses, knowing they will understand, and welcome the D'Harans as brothers instead of enemies—he has no doubt.
How can he, when his cause is that of justice?
Richard remembers when his Master asked him to call him by his given name, Darken. It was such an honor.
And then Darken asked, "Do you think Kahlan will ever love me as much as you do?"
Richard, surprised, said simply, "Of course, M—brother." Anything else seems impossible.
"If she were to become my wife…" Darken asked. "Would that hurt you?"
"I will be happy if you are happy, Darken," Richard replied. "I think…"
"You should give Kahlan time. All this has happened very suddenly for her, and I know she misses her powers. Not that anyone could blame you for taking them—you showed me true compassion and family, and I am so grateful, I—but, well, Kahlan is very stubborn. She thinks Zedd will find a way to destroy you, and break your hold over me—please, brother, don't hurt him. He's misguided, of course, but I know he could be a great asset to you—"
"Don't worry," Darken reassured. "I'm keeping an eye on the Wizard." He paused, and then said, as though unused to the words, "Thank you—brother."
Richard smiled then, and smiles now, remembering that moment. It is an honor, the trust his brother places in him. He doesn't deserve it—he is filled with shame for the thoughts he had before Darken Confessed him. Why couldn't he see that Darken only means well for the Midlands?
In the crowd, there is one who doesn't agree. Darken Rahl's soldiers sweep through, finding all those who seem less than enthusiastic, to bring them before the new Confessor.
First Wizard Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander claps and cheers with the rest, hidden under his disguise. There's a grim set to his mouth.
But the mission hasn't changed. If this is a taste of what Rahl will do with power…he must, at all costs, be prevented from obtaining the Boxes of Orden.
Kahlan is sitting with her head in her hands, while Richard whistles happily, when Darken opens the door. "The Sword of Truth is gone," he states, baldly.
Kahlan and Richard's faces are a study in comedy and tragedy masks, as they look up.
Darken's lip curls, studying Kahlan. "Don't worry," he says grimly. "I'll get it back."
It's strange, Darken reflects. If not for their self-flagellating natures and that odd sentimentality for a country torn apart by war yet chock full of free will, Confessors could rule the world.
Kahlan is a perfect example. "Why won't you kill me?" she wails, when he has the Wizard and the new Seeker, an upstart who dares step into his brother's shoes, brought before him.
Richard is by Kahlan's side—the best possible guard for his favorite unwilling witness. She can't bring herself to hurt him, even if she did manage to steal a weapon.
And Darken wants her to see this.
He reaches out with her power—the power that he could swear has always been his, so perfectly is it attuned with his soul—and takes the Wizard, and the Seeker.
And then he sends them away, to fetch for him the Boxes of Orden.
There will be nothing he cannot do, no one he cannot control…
Even her. She will love him, as they all do. He will even forgive her for taking the anti-Confession potion. There was still more, after all, for his favorite Mord'Sith.
(Darken has never slept alone in his adult life, and doesn't mean to start now.)
They will all love him, and obey him—no one will stand in his way.
And there will be peace at last.
Kahlan shivers, curled in a corner. She can't bear this.
She can't bear to be with Richard-who-is-not-Richard, whose never-ending panegyric to Darken Rahl gets on her nerves…
And repeats in her head, until she wants to believe it, anything to escape this agony—
He doesn't torture her. He makes Richard do it. Not with violence, but with love. The misplaced, wrong love of the Confessed for the Confessor.
It's strange, how easy Kahlan finds it, now that it is Darken Rahl who is the Confessor and not herself, to condemn the entire system.
Yet at least Richard does not have to live with the knowledge of failure.
The look in Zedd's eyes, just before—
Kahlan hates feeling this helpless.
Richard won't even let her kill herself, always watching her…
This can't go on.
So when Darken Rahl finally obtains the Boxes of Orden, and places them reverently together before Kahlan and Richard's eyes, it's almost a relief.
At last, it will be over.
He sends Richard away, and pulls Kahlan closer, tilting her chin so she must look into his eyes.
She stares, and waits for him to take her will and make her enjoy it…waits in vain.
"Force me," she says. "Make me your slave. It's what you want, isn't it? Why do you hesitate?"
"False love," he muses. "Which would you prefer—undisputed dominion, as I have surely achieved—or one last worthy opponent? There's something between us."
"Hatred," she breathes.
In spite of herself, she is fascinated. She can almost taste the tension in the air, and her heart races—she is plagued by thoughts of how his lips would feel…the fatal attraction of power, perhaps.
She can't feel this way—she is the Seeker's Confessor.
But Kahlan isn't a Confessor anymore—and the Seeker is an empty title.
Bitterness, anguish…why can't he make her forget her suffering? It would be so easy…
And perhaps that's it. He doesn't want easy—wants everything his own way, yet wants a challenge. He's wise enough to realize that life as the Master of endless slaves gets…boring.
Kahlan can understand that. And maybe she can respect a man who knows the value of his enemies.
"If you like," Darken agrees (not Lord Rahl—Kahlan won't submit. He doesn't want her to.)
And as he bends his head and kisses her, with all the fire of that hatred, that endless conflict…Kahlan moans, pulling him to her, giving in at last…
But she will never be a slave.
And, if he's wise, he won't let her prepare his meals or borrow his letter-opener…
Who knew submission could be so sweet?
Revenge is a dish best served cold, but Kahlan's soul is on fire.
When Darken gets the Power of Orden, he expects, until the last moment, that he will take Kahlan's soul as he has all the others who stood in his way.
And yet—without a living enemy witness, what is victory worth? It's too late to mock his father with his success, even if Darken cared to take that chance, which he doesn't (even this power might someday leave him, although not if he can help it). Richard is his, in his power at last, and he won't feel guilty for making them family.
(His affection for Richard has surprised him, but he accepts it—he even feels protective of his little brother.)
It's only now that the threat of the prophecy is removed, no longer hanging over his head, that Darken has time to think things through.
He has the forethought to see that life will be more interesting if Kahlan's thoughts remain her own. It will be a greater victory if she falls into his arms without the influence of Orden.
All his life, he's wanted to win the game—but what if there is no game? What if there are only souls, lonely and lost—what if Kahlan is the one who understands him best?
After a diet of adoration, her fury is…refreshing.
Fury, and something else.
He looks into those blue, despairing eyes. "There's something between us." He can feel it—is it her power? Is it Richard?
"Hatred," she supplies.
"If you like," he agrees.
He kisses her. She is all fire and passion and fury, and she hates him for who he is. It's strangely reassuring.
But the whys and wherefores can wait; they have a lifetime to realize the truth—perhaps, if Darken's understanding of Orden is at all accurate, even longer.
And the prospect of keeping two steps ahead of her inevitable assassination attempts is absolutely thrilling.
They fall together to the floor, wrapped up in a mutual loathing...
He runs his fingers through her hair, and Kahlan thrills at his touch (she's repelled, not attracted—obviously.)
It's only later that she realizes what an excellent opportunity she had to push the Boxes of Orden apart. Not that it would have done any good, unless she hit him over the head with one hard enough to kill, thus freeing Richard and the Midlands with one blow…
She hesitated. She didn't think of it.
And Kahlan wonders if she is a slave, after all.
Giving in is such temptation—like death.