Killing with Kindness

The Seeker's training is almost complete, Denna wrote in the journeybook before her, her handwriting thin and sloping, its delicacy incongruous considering she was writing in blood. And I have also captured the Confessor who travels with him, she added, after a thoughtful pause. Should my Lord wish to ascertain for himself the success of my efforts—

She broke off, absently nibbling on the end of her quill, her braid falling over one shoulder and brushing her cheek with a dry whisper.

he might condescend to dig the spare Rada'Han out of the closet, just to be sure. It would be shocking indeed if the Seeker's Confessor should make a slave out of my Lord just as the Seeker kneels before him.

Whatever my Lord decides, I and the prisoners will remain entirely at his disposal.

There is another Confessor at the gates, but we are taking steps to deal with the problem.

Denna shut the journeybook decisively, but did not at once return to Richard's training. She wanted to give him and the Confessor time to gaze soulfully into one another's eyes and realize the finality of their future as her pets, before she separated them. Soon, Richard would complete his training—the final test, Denna had already decided, would be for him to kill the Confessor.

But the Mord'Sith were equal opportunity in this respect—Denna had every intention of forcing the Confessor to kill Richard in her turn, and was toying with the idea of letting him be Confessed and killing one or both of them to release him…

In the meantime, though, there was no reason not to enjoy the novel experience of having a live Confessor in her power.

The Seeker was a challenge, there was no denying that—Denna knew, as surely as Lord Rahl did, that not one of her Sisters would have been able to come close to her progress, in so short a time…but the Confessor—Kahlan Amnell—her touch would mean a death in agony even a Mord'Sith was supposed to fear.

Denna squashed a tiny flicker of curiosity about what it would feel like (she was in charge here, and just because she was a connoisseur of pain didn't mean she was suicidal), and stood up, restlessly pacing the floor of the temple's study.

Like all the rooms in the Mord'Sith temples, it didn't have more than the bare essentials—in this case, a journeybook, a table, an inkpot and a dagger for spilling blood, a chair, a hard sofa, a window seat, and a spare set of chains just in case—but it was still a tremendous luxury, particularly since her use of the room was a privilege, contingent upon her command of this particular temple.

Denna prowled to the window and stood looking out, letting her restless anticipation build…

Idly, she remembered she ought to make sure her Sisters were seeing about killing the other Confessor, the one who had a whole village ready to do her dying for her.

Coward—Denna would never hide from a fight.

"Mistress Denna," someone drawled from the doorway.

Denna turned at once, her fist over her heart. "Lord Rahl," she said breathlessly, her eyes modestly lowered.

He must have come through the pentagram in the main hall—there was one in every temple, and of course the People's Palace, so that Lord Rahl might travel wherever he pleased within his own domain, with a minimum of fuss and time wasted in transit.

"I believe," he said coolly, "that you said you had something for me."

Darken had not planned to interfere with Denna's training of the Seeker—he liked to give his Mord'Sith, particularly Denna, who was one of the best, plenty of breathing room so that they could indulge their creativity—but he'd been meaning to learn more about the powers of Confessors for years now.

And then, too, he remembered the Seeker's Confessor from the many hours he'd spent scrying for them both, following their haphazard progress through the Midlands as they disrupted his rightful dominion and encouraged all and sundry to pointless rebellion—

She was beautiful enough to warrant a small change of plan.

Denna, as per his orders, did not reveal to the servant she summoned that Darken was present. The last thing he needed was the entire schedule of the temple disrupted as the Mord'Sith and their slaves attempted to gain favor—it would be pointless, in any case. If Denna could pull this off—and she'd never failed him yet—she would have won more favor than anyone.

He must remember to tell her so—there was nothing like incentive.

"Fetch the Confessor," Denna ordered.

It didn't take long—Darken, watching Denna, saw the way her skin flushed with her anticipation, her fingers gripping her agiel…

And then Constance and Francilla brought the Confessor in, her hands bound and her dress muddy, her hair tangled—but her eyes defiant.

They hung her in the chains no room in a Mord'Sith temple was without, and silently withdrew—although Darken caught a significant glance between Denna and Constance, the latter pleading and the former stern.

"Do nothing to harm the Seeker," Denna said. "He is mine."

"NO!" the Confessor cried, almost as though the words were being wrenched from her throat, as Constance regretfully shut the door. "He's mine!"

"Confessor, you know better than that," Darken chided, stepping forward and pulling her hair gently back from her neck. The Rada'Han clicked into place, Darken tossed the key to Denna, and she tucked it in an inner pocket of her leathers, just over her heart. "Finders, keepers."

Certainly he meant to find the Boxes of Orden before his brother—no, not his brother, they had nothing in common, save the perfidy of Panis Rahl, and even then, due to smiling fates and a meddlesome wizard, his brother had largely escaped that—the Seeker, could do so. And, really, when Denna completed the Seeker's training, he would in fact prove an ally in that struggle, telling the populace what a kind and caring Lord Darken was…

It really was a good plan.

And then there was the Confessor…

"I will never betray Richard, no matter what you do to me," the Confessor said defiantly, raising her chin.

Almost casually, Denna began unlacing the Confessor's bodice, her eyes on Darken's (the Mord'Sith were experts at the swift removal of even the most byzantine garments)—he gave her an almost imperceptible nod, from where he stood behind the Confessor.

This was Denna's show, after all—Darken wouldn't spoil her triumph for the world.

"Is that so?" Denna purred, when she had the Confessor stripped to her corset. "But I'm not the one who left the Seeker all alone to fall into my clutches. He cried your name for hours, until I forbade it him."

Without warning, Denna struck the Confessor with her agiel, making her sway in her chains—she cried out, and Darken caught her hips, steadying her—he heard her breath hiss in. "Richard will destroy you," she said resolutely.

Darken leaned closer, to whisper in her ear…"Are you sure that's what you want? Confessor? Or have you so far forgotten your duty to the people you claim to serve? Your Seeker has already killed more people than any of my poor efforts."

Or at least more people per week—Darken might have quite the head start, but the Seeker was still catching up surprisingly quickly—if sheer numbers mattered.

Denna touched her agiel gently to the hollow of the Confessor's neck, eliciting a strangled scream, as the Confessor threw her head back, her hair rippling against Darken's shoulder, in a futile effort to escape the pain—

"You love Richard, don't you?" Denna purred, pulling back her agiel and tapping her cheek with it, as though considering where to apply it next. "It must just kill you to know that I got there first."

"And it must just kill you," retorted the Confessor, "to know that you will never have Richard's love. You've been torturing him for days, and I'm still all he can think about."

Denna struck lightning fast, then, fury coming off her in waves, and Darken knew he'd have to step in before she beat the Confessor to death—

All things considered, he rather enjoyed the way the Confessor could still make Denna lose control when she was shivering with terror and pain—although clearly he ought to discipline Denna—this sort of behavior was not what he'd come to expect from her.

She always took a personal interest in her captives—it was what made her such an excellent Mistress—but the Seeker seemed to have gotten under her skin.

No matter, he supposed—not as long as Denna was as surely under the Seeker's, working her poisonous magic.

Darken put a hand on Denna's arm as she drew back for another blow, and said softly, and for her alone, "You remember, don't you, Denna? Sometimes, it behooves us to put pleasure before pain."

Denna was almost panting, but she nodded, sheathing her agiel (although he saw her cling to it, as if for strength), and then taking another step, right into the Confessor's personal space.

"What are you doing?" the Confessor asked, alarmed, as Denna took off one glove and ran gentle fingers over her exposed and sensitive flesh.

"Have you ever been touched?" Darken whispered, running a hand through that glorious hair. "The Seeker can never be yours, lest you destroy his soul. The Mord'Sith are justly famed for their skill with pain—but they can also bring you the pleasure you despise yourself for seeking."

"No…" the Confessor whispered, but her voice lacked its previous strong defiance.

Denna's eyes were hooded, as she expertly brought the Confessor to a state of arousal as intense as the beating had been, and Darken traced the Confessor's parted lips with one finger before, regretfully, stepping back.

"I thought—" she said, opening her eyes. "Aren't you going to make your rape of my country complete, Lord Rahl?" she asked bitterly, his title twisting her lips into a sneer.

Darken smirked, watching her watch him. "I will take everything from you," he replied, lowering his voice to an almost subliminal hiss, "but not until you beg me to."

"I will never—" she began furiously, but then she gasped, and Denna smiled smugly as the Confessor's power rose like a hurricane wind, surely strong enough to sweep both Darken and Denna away, had they not taken precautions.

Darken, aware that time was slipping away and that there remained the problem of Deerfork to occupy his attention (it was annoying, the way so few of his soldiers seemed capable of independent thought—he had to get back to the People's Palace, had already dallied too long…), caught Denna in a crushing embrace that threatened to squeeze the air from her lungs.

She responded enthusiastically, and Darken could've sworn he heard a faint moan of protest from the Confessor at being ignored.

But now that she and the Seeker were in his control, he would hardly neglect his other responsibilities—did they imagine they were his only concern? Already, dozens of imitation Seekers sought to destabilize his hard-won peace.

Darken bore Denna to the floor, ignoring the sofa, not far from the Confessor's discarded white dress, and once again put pleasure before pain.

"You have done well," he told Denna, before his necessity-driven departure. "I shall await your tidings with great…anticipation."

"Thank you, my Lord," she said, glowing.

Darken left, in a swirl of robes—already looking forward to his return. The Seeker and the Confessor would both beg at his feet—and he would reward them as they deserved.

Kahlan shivered, as the Mord'Sith—Mistress Denna—unlocked her chains and threw her unceremoniously to the floor.

Shame rose in her like bile, that not only was she helpless against Richard's tormentors, but that they had made her feel—only for a moment—the joys of being other than what she was.

If she were not a Confessor, she would not need to guard her emotions around Richard, certain that one false move, one careless touch, and she would have doomed them all.

If she were not a Confessor, she would hardly be in a Mord'Sith temple—she did not fool herself into thinking that she had any other value to Darken Rahl but as a hold over Richard and over the people of the Midlands, for whom she was more symbol than living woman.

Of course, if she were not a Confessor, she never would have met Richard.

As Denna dragged her to her feet—Kahlan had just managed to redo a few of the laces of her gown, her underskirt dusty from where it had lain discarded on the floor and now sticky with her blood, and other things—

"Come," Denna said evilly, lips twisting into a terrible smile. "It's time for Richard's last test. And just to make things interesting—" she pulled a key from her hastily re-donned leathers, and unlocked the Rada'Han around Kahlan's neck. (Kahlan fought an insane desire to hold onto it, the suppression of her power the only way she could see of protecting Richard from herself—but she wasn't the only one he needed protection from.) "Let's see whether you would rather die at your love's hands, or destroy him at your own."

She pushed Kahlan roughly forward, and Kahlan tried to push back, bewildered and furious—how could someone touch her the way Denna had and then kill her? All in one afternoon?

But, unbidden, Darken Rahl's words returned to her: "I will take everything from you…but not until you beg me to." Why did it feel like a promise?

And why did the thought heat her blood—with rage, certainly, but something else as well?

Kahlan blinked back tears, trying to wrench her thoughts back to Richard, where they belonged.

But Richard couldn't kill her, because he loved her too much—instead, he killed Denna. Kahlan was not sorry.

She did not care what became of those monsters. She only prayed for the day when Richard would fulfill his destiny and kill Darken Rahl. (The casualties were necessary, and they were mostly D'Harans, anyway—who was Darken Rahl to reproach her?)

"I love you," she told Richard, wishing they'd had time to search the place for the Rada'Han. "But Richard, your mission is far more important than whatever feelings we may have, that's why we can never act on them. We can never let our guard down. We have to bury them. Can you do that?"

He turned away slightly, scowling. "Well, if there's one thing I learned from Denna, it's how to suffer in silence."

But that wasn't really true, Kahlan thought. For one thing, Richard didn't suffer in silence—he freely admitted everything Denna had done to him, though he kept the details vague out of consideration for her and Zedd's feelings.

It was Kahlan who couldn't bring herself to talk about what had happened—not, she told herself firmly, because she was ashamed of it (she had been helpless, after all) but because she was ashamed of how she'd reacted.

The worst part was the feeling that she'd had a taste of a different world—seen how the other side lived.

And now she couldn't stop thinking about it—about Denna, about Darken Rahl. About people who didn't let her Confessor power keep them from touching her. (Kahlan knew many men dreamed of having a Confessor without her power claiming them—yet Darken Rahl had said he would wait, until she begged him to take everything she had, everything she was—which would be never, she told herself resolutely.)

So why did she feel as though she were the one who'd been broken?