Disclaimer: I don't own Legend Of The Seeker or anything else associated with the show.

Chapter Twenty Five, Part Two.

The sun had just begun to sleepily lift it's head over the horizon, sending long rays of brilliant light stabbing into the darkness of the frosty night and catching the scores of soaring white marble towers that reached joyously into the sky, vanishing into the clouds alongside the numerous stone turrets of the prestigious People's Palace from the East side. The divine home of Lady Rahl, a place of exquisite beauty, untold magic and the largest structure ever built in the known world, always shone like a gleaming beacon of strength and power at dawn, shining even brighter then the ocean of golden sand and silver dust that formed the barren Azrith Plains, the lowlands surrounding D'Hara's Capital city for as far as the eye could see even from Lady Rahl's private balcony near the very precipice of the granite Palace.

Yet to be gently touched by the sun's first beams of yellow and pink light were the thousands of plain but incredibly large and sturdy oak garrisons strategically dotted throughout the infamous Plains, which housed D'Hara's immense army of two and a half million of the world's finest soldiers in such a precise style that no living soul wishing to visit the Heart of the Empire could pass through the lowlands without being noticed by the fifty shrewd D'Haran sentries that patrolled the ramparts of each of the long rectangular shaped forts, day and night. The thousand men of the First File, or the Ring of Steel as they were more widely known, were spread out over the four garrisons closest to the towering one hundred foot high and magically bolstered City Gates and Ramparts, ready to charge in if ever they were required inside the Capital, or to ride out into the Azrith Plains and resolve problematic situations that occurred out in the lowlands, often it was to do with simple matters like trade as no army had ever managed to reach, much less cross, the Azrith Plains in over three thousand years when the Palace was constructed.

"Sir!. Sir!. You must wake, Sir!" Commander General Trimack of the First File, a stout older man with fifty six years on his back, woke with a grunt when young blonde Captain Needa, his second in command, burst into his personal chamber with a mask of sheer panic painted across his rugged face. The tall steel door slammed into the wall nosily, undoubtedly leaving an indentation in the oak, but as Trimack sat up on his single cot he became less concerned about the potential damage to his quarters and more worried about the stricken look on Captain Needa's face.

"What is it Needa?" He groaned drowsily, shoving the basic woollen sheets off of himself and reaching for his black pants from where they lay on the floor. The daily military drills that kept the D'Haran army in battle-ready conditions at all times didn't begin until after Devotions, and Devotions didn't take place until two hours after dawn, so he knew it must be the prisoner that had Needa in such a dishevelled state. He could only imagine what could have possibly occurred during the night after he'd left two highly disciplined lieutenants on prisoner watch, and what he envisioned was not remotely pleasant.

"The Prisoner, Sir, he has-" Needa choked on his own breathless words.

"If you tell me he has somehow escaped, or he has been injured without due cause, I will have your head, and the heads of Leidan and Guralf, mounted on pikes to roast in the midday sun. Lady Rahl gave strict orders that he was not to be harmed until Mistress Denna arrives later on today to conduct an interrogation" Trimack warned with a dark glare.

The bald headed man shoved first one foot into his pants leg and then the other, pulling them up until his nudity was masked from the younger man and he could secure his trousers at his waist, his wide dark brown belt was still threaded through the loops on his pants from the previous day. As he fastened the steel buckle, he became aware of how his once broad and muscular body was changing, he was by no means paunchy as a D'Haran soldier's training only allowed him to gain weight in muscle, but his waist certainly wasn't as lean as it once was. Trimack sighed sadly as he reached for his sheathed and lethally sharpened broadsword, the blade always slept beside him leaning against the wooden wall between his cot and his bedside table ready to save his life at any time he called on his sword, getting old was a dangerous business. He secured the crimson leather scabbard to his belt by the thin tie located at the mouth of the weapon's sheath where his sword's elaborate hilt proudly protruded.

"He hasn't escaped Sir. He'll not be going anywhere ever again, except into a fiery pit in the Underworld" Needa looked as if he might vomit at any moment like some sort of milk-livered sop who had never seen battle.

Trimack frowned to himself while he rested a hand to the top of his bed side table for balance and pulled his armour plated boots onto his bare feet, he alternately rested each boot on the edge of his bed as he hastily tied the laces. Needa was a seasoned soldier, young though the man was, Needa had fought in the Galean Rebellion alongside himself when the Galeans had attempted to revolt against the D'Haran Empire's peaceful alliance with the Midlands. The Rebellion itself had been crushed within two days on the border of Galea's Capital City and their King had subsequently been forced to recognise that his former enemy, D'Hara, was now a predominant voice in the Council of the Midlands after the entire Galean army was decimated and the King was faced with execution should he fail to conform to Lady Rahl's peace terms. Trimack gritted his teeth as he reached for his tunic, folded on top of the wooden trunk at the end of his cot, he pulled the black tunic over his head and smoothed the fabric over his softening pectoral muscles and stomach. He could give a good guess as to why Needa looked so disturbed, the man was good friends with Leidan and Guralf and if the two lieutenants were responsible for the prisoner's premature death then the Mord'Sith would peel the skin from their bones regardless that Dagget was a traitor. Lady Rahl had wanted Dagget interrogated before hand, any other outcome was simply unacceptable.

"Dagget is dead?" He questioned the Captain with a calmness he didn't feel. He'd thought Leidan and Guralf possessed a little more self-control, that they'd get through the night's watch without incident or interaction with the Prisoner. Was he really getting so old that his instincts were beginning to fail him?, like an old bear gone blind?. Fear seized his heart in a clawed hand at the thought, he'd always been a loyal D'Haran soldier with great repute, he wasn't capable of being anything else.

"Yes Sir, by his own hand" Captain Needa reported, clasping his gloved hands together in front of himself. The young man still looked ill.

Trimack heaved a sigh of relief that Leidan and Guralf had not been involved as he crossed his small chamber, not only was he alleviated that his instincts as a solider were still in tact, but his mind was also put at ease knowing that he wouldn't have to hand the two young lieutenants over to Lady Rahl's Elite Mord'Sith to be punished. Death by Mord'Sith was never easy or quick and the victim always begged for the end before it came, desperate pleas that resonated out from the bowels of the Palace and echoed loudly across the Azrith Plains to the very edges of the lowlands before they bled out into canyons and other scenery beyond. The horror of listening to those bone-chilling shrieks was only amplified by knowing it could take days to cross the Plains even on horse-back and the screeches never quietened, not even for an instant, he couldn't begin imagine how loudly the Mord'Sith made their pets scream inside the Palace, but that is why Mord'Sith are so feared and respected, their ability to inflict such pain that The Keeper, the Master of Death himself, would pale at watching.

"A small mercy..." He grunted. Brushing passed his second in command, Trimack decided that he would investigate the situation in depth and gather all the information and answers he may be asked to supply later before he'd dress in full armour and report to Lady Rahl ahead of Devotionals.

"...Come Needa" Trimack called to the Captain, leaving the taller man to pull the steel door to his bedchamber shut as he swept down a short corridor only a few metres long.

His apartments formed a horizontal 'L' shape in the garrison, separate from the soldier's shared barracks. The main entrance opened into a receiving area, with basic furnishings to placate someone after a hard journey, a door lead from the outer chamber into a short corridor that curved sharply and meandered to his bedchamber, once again with basic furnishings, though he was the Commander General of the Elite D'Haran soldiers, and had been elevated to that position by Lord Panis Rahl himself, he liked to keep his chambers plainly equipped as a reminder of his humble beginnings. A third door, which was always locked and the unique key remained around his neck on a length of black cord, lead from his bedchamber to his study, easily the most important location in his apartments, that was where he kept his Journey Books that connected his garrison to the People's Palace and the other forts among other things that held great importance. After walking into the outer chamber, he strode around the grouping of unpadded chaises that formed a square shape at the centre of his chamber, toward the main entrance, he threw the door open and stepped out into the cold morning air. He paused long enough to acknowledge the guard outside his chambers and to let Needa catch up with him.

"Sargent Webber" He spoke quietly to the lone sentry who had kept vigil outside his apartments.

"Commander General Trimack" Webber inclined his head, his grotesque helm concealed all of his face from view, Webber held a lethally sharp spear in his right hand, he nodded to himself, the man had an excellent throwing arm and aim, honed over many years of training. All men of the First File were veterans of combat.

"When our brothers finish dressing, see them all to a bowel of porridge and then get them into formation for Devotions" It was an order he gave every morning to whichever sentry guarded his apartments over night, it was a ritual that needed no reminder from him, but he had become a man of habit many decades ago.

Every morning the men of the First File all spiritedly vied for the right to be on the front line of their sharp formation when they would all turn to face the Palace, place their fist over their heart in salute, drop to their knees and as one strong voice reverently give the Devotional to their beloved Lady Rahl for two glorious hours, being on the front line made one feel closer to the Mistress of D'Hara even though they couldn't see her.

"Sir" Webber inclined his head.

Trimack nodded his shaved head and he started across the wide dirt courtyard that partitioned his quarters from the soldiers barracks with Needa following closely. The courtyard comfortably fit two hundred and fifty men in formation; ten rows of twenty-five D'Harans. The courtyard was where they gave Devotion, and occasionally sparred to pass the time. The barracks were likewise split to house the soldiers, twenty five moderately long cabins running symmetrically to each other in two columns; twelve on one side and thirteen on the other, each cabin had ten cots inside and a privy chamber. Summer or Winter the men all ate breakfast outside beneath the D'Haran sun, staring up at the People's Palace and praying to The Creator for Lady Rahl's continued good health. The prison block dominated the right side of the garrison, running from the front rampart to the back wall, with one heavily guarded entrance. The kitchens were the same on the left, only there were multiple entrances into that arched building. The sweet scent of porridge floating about on the morning air told him the cooks were already awake.

"You look ill Needa" Trimack commented as he strode purposefully toward the prison block.

"I have seen many horrifying sights in my time, and a lot of them at your side, Sir. But I have never...I never thought it possible for a man to..." Captain Needa shook his head in disbelief and covered his mouth with the back of a hand. He thought it better not to press his second any further, lest Needa vomit in front of his subordinates, the Captain was well respected and well liked by the men but such a humiliating act wouldn't result in anything good.

"Open the gate Sargent Sterling" Trimack instructed the highest ranking guard outside the prison block. Sterling saluted with fist to heart before he turned, gesturing five other men toward the heavily bolted, abnormally wide iron door to the block. All six soldiers were tall, broad and enviably muscular as a result of their tireless training, and all six men were left sweating lightly and grunting with strain as they wrestled with the thick bolts running both crosswise and perpendicularly into the walls and the ground.

"Steel yourself Needa" Trimack advised as Sterling and his men finished unlocking the door and began to thrust it inward, two additional pairs of big gloved hands appeared on the door, fingers curling around the edge, from inside the prison block. He deduced Leidan and Guralf must be pulling the door open, while Sterling pushed for the same result.

"Sir" Needa swallowed tightly. Trimack clapped Sterling on the shoulder for the man's efforts as he stalked passed.

"Leidan, Guralf. Show me the body" He whispered for the lieutenants' ears only once he was inside the prison block, there was no point in creating a scene in front of the rest of his men.

The two blonde men glanced between themselves, looking to him, just as physically ill as Captain Needa. Leidan, a few inches taller and a year older than Guralf, stumbled unsteadily down the long wooden walkway, subdued light flickered from torches mounted on wooden columns supporting the flat roof, to the right. The entrance opened into the middle of the prison block, offering a choice of steel-barred cells to either the left or right of the narrow passageway. Trimack noticed a pool of violet coloured vomit halfway down the corridor as he followed the younger men toward the end of the cell block; Dagget had been the sole prisoner. The silence, occasionally penetrated by their footsteps, was heavy and stifling. Dagget's cell partition of steel bars was already ajar. Stepping inside the small compartment, Trimack took a breath as he noticed Dagget's corpse was curled up on the floor, knees to chest and back facing the entrance, a pool of thick dark liquid surrounded the body. At present, it looked like the prisoner had run head first into the wall, and if that was the case, he couldn't quite see what had the three soldiers lurking outside the small dark cell so affected. They'd all seen worse. They'd all done worse.

"Bring me a torch..." He turned his head and held out his hand, with the other he gripped the hilt of his sword, Guralf quickly appeared around the threshold to the cell with the requested source of light, he took the torch from the lieutenant and cautiously approached Dagget's corpse, almost like he expected it to leap back to life. With the tip of one boot, Trimack turned the body over onto it's back, the crackling orange light from the torch in his hand illuminated the silhouette of Tom Dagget's muscular body sprawled limply at his feet.

"...Mother of Creation" Trimack gasped in shock when he saw the fatal wound and it wasn't a head injury as he'd first suspected. Dagget's cotton shirt was ripped open, down to his stomach, and there was a deep gaping hole with jagged edges in the upper left side of his chest. The scent of blood and sweat that assaulted him was flagrant, the stench made his eyes burn and the grizzly sight made his stomach roll.

"As you're aware Sir, the prisoner didn't have any weapons on his person when he arrived at the Palace, Captain Ulic of the Dragon Corps searched Dagget himself. But there was a non-fatal incision already in his chest..." Needa began as Leidan and Guralf struggled not to vomit from the memory their Captain retold, even though they were on watch at the time and would have told Needa the story. He didn't care how he heard the report.

"...Leidan and Guralf here noticed the incision when Dagget ripped his shirt open an hour before dawn, spouting nonsense about how he was going to please his Mistress, then he...the prisoner pushed his fingers into the wound and started ripping his own chest open with his bare hands, like some sort of madman" Needa shook his head.

"Spirits...The sickening sound of tearing flesh...And muscle" Guralf moaned pitifully.

"I'll never understand how a man could do that...To himself" Leidan added with a groan.

Trimack closed his eyes and tried to dispel the image that wedged itself into his mind's eye, put there his men's frank descriptions. He opened his eyes once again as a terrible thought struck him so forcefully he nearly swayed hazily on his feet, something was missing from the body and it couldn't have just vanished. He lifted the torch higher for greater clarity and carefully scanned along the sides of the pale stiffened corpse but he failed to find what he was searching for. He had to swallow the burning bile sudden being violently spurted up his gullet.

"Gentlemen..." Trimack nearly gagged "...Where is his heart?"

It was then that he noticed a tidy hole in the prison floor, it looked like it could have been dug with a trowel it was so punctilious, oddly enough Dagget had curled around the hole as he'd died and there was a trail of fresh blood leading across the floor from the corpse and down the circular opening in the stone cobble flooring that spanned the entire prison block.

xxxxXxxxx

Nicci was dressed in a black, silk, floor length robe, complemented with a wealth of detailed swirling silver trim that ran the edges of her robe. Her loosened mane of long silken blonde hair cascaded over a high collar that drew attention to her slight oval shaped jaw and an indecently low neckline bared an immodest amount of creamy cleavage. Her robe was secured by eight elaborately intertwined satin bows that coursed from her flat lower abdomen to beneath her generously full breasts. The was two long slits in either side of the flowing garment running from her dainty ankle to the seductive curve of her hips and bared her black knee high leather boots along with a fare amount of the flawless golden skin and toned muscles of her lithe thighs. She wore nothing else beneath her formal attire, that she reserved for prayers when she was outside the Palace of Prophets, whereas inside the Palace of Prophets The Prelate Of The Sisters of the Light couldn't be found wearing anything else. Nicci's chosen form of ceremonial wear was by far more decadent than anything any of her numerous predecessors would have ever worn, but as enjoyably hedonic as the folds of fine silk felt sliding over her body, her robes were still highly practical. The long black sleeves fitted tightly to her lightly muscled upper arms, flaring outward from the middle of her forearms to allow the necessary space to conceal the two deadly Dacra she always carried on her person within easy reach. The flared ends of her satin sleeves were deliberately tailored a little longer than need be to hide the action, however skilfully practised, of her using her magic to pull her weapons free from their confines and into her elegant palms, thus offering her the element of surprise in any attack, but her long black sleeves did nothing to hamper anyone's view of the solid gold signet ring on the ring-finger of her left hand, the face of the ring, passed down from Prelate to Prelate, proudly displayed the symbol of The Creator-a sunburst pattern. She'd add her wedding band to the gold signet ring if and when she ever remarried, placing it closest to her slender knuckle, just as she had done during her first marriage to Marianna. A brief smile touched Nicci's full pink lips, blooming into a toothy grin of elated anticipation and longing when she thought about Kahlan in a flowing white wedding gown, with titillating undergarments made of transparent lace underneath.

Her grin faded, like a flame extinguishing beneath an avalanche as she rounded a corner in the Palace's never-ending labyrinth of long winding halls, most of which she'd yet to explore save for those she walked on a daily basis. It was far too easy for one to get lost in the People's Palace to go investigating without a knowledgeable escort alongside, according to her own guide the majority of servants never learned their way around the entire Palace even if they spent their whole lives working at the Home of Lady Rahl and apparently more than one person had gone missing over the years and the body hadn't been found for days some times weeks. She supposed she would have to wait until Kelia was dead before Denna would consider finishing her tutorial of the Palace grounds. As she turned the corner, she stepped onto a particularly long stretch of marble corridor that stretched out before her like a road, it was illuminated by the mellow morning light spilling into the hallway from evenly spaced, large, arched windows with their gleaming panes stained crimson to depict the emblem of House Rahl, an ornate letter 'R'. Mounted seven feet high on the stone walls next to each window was a cast iron bracket with a new unlit torch inserted, those in use during the especially cold night had already been replaced by the morning staff even though the sun hadn't been in the sky for more than half a candle mark, they liked to make a start on their duties before the bells rang for Devotions. Lucubrate tapestries with splashed with rich colours were hung here and there on the walls, showing serene countrysides, infamously vicious and bloody battles where D'Hara had emerged victoriously and beautiful mountain ranges such as the Rang'Shada. A procession of lavish crimson carpet lead the way down the wide hall, silencing the sounds of her boot heels as she gracefully stalked along the hall. Finely crafted mahogany tables, about the same height as her hip, were pushed up against the white marble walls, supporting refined vases of fresh white and red roses with decorative greenery that released their pleasing floral scents into the clean air filling the lavish hall.

"Lady Rahl is expecting me" Nicci said quietly to the two tall blonde Mord'Sith standing guard outside the double doors leading into Cara and Dahlia's outer chamber.

As was procedure, she drew to a stop in front of the leather-clad, unnervingly stoic faced women, waiting for their approval before she reached for the solid gold doorhandles. The Prelate's tone was light and melodic, smooth like well-tended velvet, despite the grave circumstances that summoned her to the monarch's apartments at such an early hour. She felt a pang of anxiety stab through her chest she noticed that both fearsome-looking Mord'Sith had her Agiel unsheathed and clenched tightly in her crimson gloved fist at the ready, not because they viewed her as a threat to Lady Rahl, but because they knew their sovereign Mistress was in agony and they could do nothing to ease Cara's pain, so they shared it in the only way they knew how. Though both Mord'Sith couldn't have been more than nineteen years old, there was nothing remotely youthful in their cold blue eyes as they swept their hard gazes up and down the length of her body, the other blondes emitted nothing but the calculating confidence commonplace to Mord'Sith as they appraised her menacingly. If she hadn't already known that all the especially efficient Mord'Sith in the Palace were trained by Raina should would've guessed from the particularly incisive glint in their eyes, it was identical to the glacial expression Raina adopted when someone she cared about was in danger. An icy shiver ran down her spine, forcing her to stifle a shiver, as she stood there being shrewdly studied by two of the only creatures alive who could effortlessly stop her magic regardless of their age and the strength of her power. It was the instinctive fear one with the Gift experienced whenever a Sister of the Agiel was near for the simple fact a Mord'Sith could capture the magic of anyone foolish enough to use their Han against them.

"Enter" Mistress Vika finally said, her melodic voice was a mix of steel and frost. The two Mord'Sith, like everyone else, knew that she was a friend of their Mistress, and that the Old World as a firm if not unofficial ally of D'Hara, so she couldn't begin to comprehend how insensate the two blondes would be when dealing with someone whose loyalty to Lady Rahl was in question.

Nicci inclined her head slightly before she stepped closer to the doors and reached for the gold doorhandles. The routinely oiled hinges didn't make a single sound she pushed the heavy oak doors open, she elegantly stepped inside the Lady Rahl's outer chamber, the back hem of her silk robes dragging along the crimson carpet as she drew the doors shut behind her with a subdued click. Cara and Dahlia's outer chamber was easily large enough to swallow two moderately sized houses and still provide ample room to move about. The overall style was simplistic but the furniture was nothing but the best and kept in spotless condition. The finest silks and cottons padded the finely crafted chaises placed at the centre of the room for visitors to sit on while they waited to be addressed. Several tables and tall stacked bookshelves were painstakingly carved into arrays of mesmerizing beauty and intracity. The thick furs covering the marble floor belonged to the most dangerous beasts roaming the wilds of D'Hara and were all hunted down and skinned by Cara. The dozen of free standing, jewel encrusted, gold candelabra placed around the huge room to provide the most light during the night would fetch a handsome price, enough to purchase entire estates. More vases of white and red roses were scattered across the chamber on polished surfaces of furniture. The immense windows, four of them consuming most the far wall with Rahl emblem staining the panes, gleamed brightly and seemed amplify the sunlight flowing into the vast room and made the marble walls gleam. Wood and kindling was assembled in the huge hearth, the mantle cradling the impressive fireplace was considerably taller than any of the bulky D'Haran soldiers patrolling the halls. Hanging from the wall in between two of the big windows across from where she lingered by the door, the Devotional was woven in gold thread into a tapestry of black silk. Even though Nicci had been as silent as a mouse entering the outer chamber, and there was a goodly distance between the entrance and the arched bedchamber door, an anxious mother was capable of alarming feats, even detecting a mouse's tiny paws hitting the floor.

"Nicci. Get in here. Now" Out in the hall Mistress Vika's voice had been cold, but the sound of Cara's permanent drawl beckoning her in toward the bedchamber was glacial steel swathed in wool, like an undeniable siren's call luring a sailor to his gruesome death. Nicci gathered her resolve around her like a winter cloak to ward off the sudden chill slithering up and down her spine, unlike with the two Mord'Sith sentries outside the outer chamber, she was unable to muffle her shiver of trepidation before she took a wooden step in the direction of Cara and Dahlia's bedchamber, and another, and then another. All too soon she passed through the arcuate entryway to the other room, just as impressively furnished as the outer chamber and almost as large, most of the monarch's sleeping quarters was dominated by the huge four-poster, crimson canopied bed. She discovered Dahlia, with her long mane of chestnut brown hair free from it's signature braid and the Mord'Sith Queen was sheathed in a tight maroon coloured nightdress that hugged her lithe body in all the correct places to greatly compliment her alluring form, the brunette was curled up in the middle of the bed, atop the silken Rahl red bedsheets, with her arms tightly wrapped around Lily's trembling body. She could only just hear the soft lilting octaves of Dahlia's voice as the Mord'Sith crooned comfortingly to her ailing daughter, but there was too much distance between the threshold to the room and the effetely wide bed for her to hear the soothing words Dahlia whispered to her youngest daughter. Cara and Zedd stood close to the bedchamber door with their backs turned toward her as they spoke in hushed tones.

"How is she?" Nicci approached the Lady Rahl and the First Wizard slowly and whispered to them quietly. She didn't want to risk disturbing the two brunettes cuddled together on the bed. She winced compassionately to herself when she noticed, even over the distance amassed between them, the sheen of glistening perspiration coating Lily's little body. Clearly the Princess was running a high fever, but oddly as her Han floated through the room, she couldn't get a sense of whether Lily's symptoms were being caused by an actual illness or it was something to do with the girl's magic. She had a sense for these things, but what else could possibly be causing the child so much discomfort?.

"After ridding myself of the idiot physician who had some rather doltish suggestions that he thought were helpful. I have established that there is nothing physically wrong with Lily..." Zedd grumbled solemnly with wistful eyes aimed at the little girl clinging tightly to her mother.

"...But when I tried examining her with my Han, I encountered a protective barrier around her stronger than anything I have ever felt before. I couldn't penetrate it to see if her magic was growing out of control, and even if I could have, the process would've been extremely painful. Regardless, years of experience tells me that it is impossible for one's power to increase so dramatically over night that intervention and training is needed from the Sisters of the Light. But then, we have never seen anyone like Lily before. I don't know what is wrong"

"When the Gift starts to rage out of control the headaches come first and they can last for months if not years before the Gifted starts coughing up blood, which is one of the more advanced stages. I may have only a limited understanding of Lily's magic, but like you said Wizard, I do not think it could have matured to that extensive point in twelve hours." Nicci wrapped her arms around herself as helpless confusion assaulted her from every angle. She wanted to scream her frustration, her worry for the child she felt great affection toward, but then she thought of how Cara and Dahlia must feel, watching their daughter continue to cough up blood into a stained rag the Mord'Sith Queen held up to her child's lips and suddenly her own concern for Lily paled in comparison.

She hated not being able to say for certain what was wrong with Lily, not only did it frustrate her in a pedantic sense, but she truly feared that if she and Zedd couldn't locate the cause, and quickly, then the symptoms would soon have dark consequences for the Princess. But where did they start their crucial investigation when everything they knew about typical magic couldn't necessarily be applied to Lily?. The blind were leading the blind.

"What happens after?..." Cara abruptly bit out between perfect gritted teeth. She glanced at her slightly shorter friend, knowing precisely what the Lady Rahl was asking, but resistant against giving the answer. She didn't want to see Cara crumble.

"...After they start vomiting blood. And if they don't learn to control their Han, something I know Lily won't be able to do when she is like this. What. Happens. Then?" Cara demanded with tormented anger. She could sense Cara's helpless fury, the Lady Rahl was angry in her bones, the tension flowing off of the other blonde's lean body was like a gust of wind, it rushed over her skin as if she were a hapless leaf blowing around in a hurricane, piercing her muscles without mercy, pushing and pulling the response out of her no matter how badly she tried to bury it.

"...Momma..." At the small sound of Lily's voice, husky and haggard from her recent bout of coughing and vomiting, Cara's attention shifted away from Nicci in an instant and latched onto her daughter and her wife. Nicci stepped closer to Zedd's tall and skinny frame when the Lady Rahl strode purposefully toward her bed, she eyed the numerous pouches attached to the wide brown leather belt that secured the elderly Wizard's simple robes. Suddenly a keenly beneficial idea hit her in the back of her head.

"Do you have any Boneset with you?, and Hops?..." She urgently inquired of the grey-haired man next to her. Zedd looked down at her for a moment, his bushy eyebrows drawn into a frown of confusion.

"...We are both agreed that we should not try to use our Gifts to force our way through the barrier surrounding Lily. Its doubtful that we could anyway being as her magic is stronger than mine, and yours by default, also we both know that the process is too invasive and painful unless the recipient is in a position to help us examine them, which the Princess isn't. But we can't leave Lily in this state. Boneset is used to treat advanced fevers and relax severe muscle cramps, an infusion of that with Hops, which is used to treat insomnia, will help relieve her pain and get her to rest until we can isolate the cause and devise the proper method of treatment" She explained rapidly to the Wizard, but quietly to avoid disturbing the other three people in the chamber.

"Bags!. Of course you're right Nicci, I cannot believe I didn't think of that myself, but I do think I have a little..." Zedd grumbled and growled to himself as he went rooting through the large leather pouches at his waist.

His rumblings grew progressive louder as he rummaged around his deep pouches, rattling phials as he searched for a specific two containing Boneset and Hops, it wasn't long before she felt the need to thunk him on the back of his head to remind him to be quiet, and she was about to do so, when he suddenly pulled out a four-inch rectangular box made out of thick blown-glass from a pouch at his right hip, the covering was forged out of chrome steel and if she wasn't mistaken there was a magic shield to stop any unwanted person from opening it, or maybe it was to keep something from getting out.

"...Hold this for me will you, it is in my way" It wasn't a question, and she hadn't any time to say 'no' or even ask what was in the mysterious container before it was shoved into her hand. She wrapped her fingers around the box, taking a moment to prepare herself for what she might be about to uncover before she lifted it up for inspection. Shocked, she nearly dropped the box when she caught sight of eight monstrously hairy legs entwined with white webs, two horribly prominent fangs wrapped around a piece of pipet that was used for milking venom, and worse still, six beady black eyes were staring back at her shamelessly.

"You bastard" Nicci grimaced in disgust as she held the gaze of one very large brown Phoneutria spider, renowned for being the most venomous spider in the entire known world.

"I'll thank you not to use such language around Felipe Nicci, he already has a vicious bite" Zedd scolded absently, a wry smile tilting his mouth upward as he returned to his quest of searching for Boneset and Hops in the same pouch he'd pulled the hideous arachnid out of.

"'Felipe'?..." Nicci echoed, tearing her eyes away from the boxed spider in her hand to glare at Zedd incredulously "...You named one of the most dangerous creatures in all of Creation, a thing more widely feared than Gars, fucking Felipe!?" She hissed through gritted teeth.

"First you label him a 'bastard'. Now its 'fucking Felipe'. If I didn't now any better Nicci I'd say you were scared of him" Zedd smiled at her devilishly. He finally pulled a small phial of crushed Boneset, it looked like a chalky white power, from his pouch.

"Nonsense. I wasn't calling Felipe the bastard..." Nicci smiled smugly at the indignant Wizard glowing and scowling at her insulted, narrowed eyes.

"...And to address your ludicrous suggestion. I spent three years in the arachnid pens at the Palace of Prophets milking their venom to create antidotes for the local populace, so, no I don't fear spiders. But if I did, and if I had dropped Felipe here housed in his glass box, what would you have done with a Phoneutria spider on the loose in the People's Palace?. I imagine the Mord'Sith wouldn't be too happy with you placing Lady Rahl's life in danger"

"There is nothing to fear, not that I expected you to be scared of him or spiders in general, which is a very good thing because Kahlan is absolutely terrified of spiders, even the little ones. The glass is spelled so that it will never shatter and the lid is also spelled so that none but I can open it. Its all quite safe I assure you, especially considering Felipe has been chewing on the pipet for several hours. His venom is all but drained for now, ready for me to create more of the antidote to his venom that the Palace has been low on for a few weeks now" Zedd stated as he pulled another phial out of his pouch, this one containing Hops, a clear liquid. She'd suspected as much, after all, the Wizard would never do something so blatantly hazardous as to have such a dangerous spider in a loose container.

"And I suppose you carry Felipe around to alleviate your loneliness Wizard?" Nicci drawled sarcastically as she handed Felipe back over to the Wizard. Zedd slipped the boxed spider back into his pouch.

"Certainly not. I have to keep him with me because he unnerves my assistants and distracts them from their work..." Zedd said with a frown of contempt.

"...I need something to mix these with" He murmured thoughtfully, holding both phials in his hand. Nicci glanced around the chamber, taking notice of the goblet sitting on the bedside table. Instead of disturbing the three Rahls cuddling closely together on the four-poster bed, she held out her elegant hand and released a small amount of her magic, the goblet winked out of existence for an instant before it reappeared in her hand. She was relieved to see three-fingers worth of water already held inside the cup's golden cusp. She could have sent for the goblet to be refilled, it wouldn't be a hardship considering there was a fresh-water well close by in the labyrinth of halls, one of thousands in the Palace, but she wanted Lily to be resting comfortably as soon as possible.

"Here..." Nicci held up the goblet, watching intently as Zedd pulled the stopper free from the phial of Boneset. Neither of them was absolutely sure how much of either herb to give the young Princess because they hadn't yet identified the root cause of her symptoms.

"...Just an ounce of Boneset and fifteen drops of Hops should put her to sleep until the evening"

That was the dosage she'd recommend for an adolescent, but the Gifted were strangely resistant to these type of remedies, and in the unlikely event Lily did wake sooner than expected she'd leave more of the herbs with Cara and Dahlia while she and Zedd went to work on solving this strange occurrence. She intended to contact her Sisters at the Palace of Prophets via Journey Book and command that they begin researching the strangest, most archaic forms of magic. In essence it was the same thing she'd been doing for weeks, searching for the answer to the riddle of what Lily's magic was and where it originated, but they would cover more ground if the entire Sisterhood began working on the puzzle. Zedd grunted his agreement as he used his Han to scoop out the appropriate weight of Boneset with an invisible hand and sieved the white powder into the goblet of water she held.

"Then you and I should go to the library. I know where Panis Rahl stored his confidential books on ancient magic that he inherited from his ancestors and that Cara now owns but has very little interest in" Zedd murmured as he cautiously poured fifteen drops of Hops into the water. Nicci nodded her acquiesce and carefully began swirling the cup in her hand for a few moments, waiting for the herbs to dissipate and mix together before she slowly approached the four-poster bed from Cara's side. Lily was cradled tightly between both monarchs, trembling and whimpering between bouts of violent coughing. Cara had one lithe arm protectively slung over the little brunette's waist and she was comfortingly cupping Dahlia's slender hip while the Mord'Sith tenderly stroked Lily's hair and crooned comfortingly little nothings into the Princess's ear.

"Lily needs to drink all of this. It'll taste absolutely vile but at least she'll sleep peacefully for several hours" Nicci murmured quietly, extending the goblet to Cara. The other blonde woman reluctantly glanced away from her beloved wife and child long enough to take the jewel encrusted goblet from her. The pain swirling at the depths of Cara's aquamarine eyes and the sight of Dahlia's lower lip quivering with misery made Nicci's chest hurt, she wasn't even aware of moving her hand until she was clutching her chest over her heart.

"Momma...Nicci..." Lily whispered, her eyes were glazed and unfocused for the longest time. Nicci could hardly breath as she urgently waited for the Princess to finish speaking in her painfully hoarse voice "...You have to go to Agaden Reach...Shota knows how to help...But you mustn't trust her...Even for a moment"

xxxxXxxxx

Agaden Reach was cradled deep in the Rang'Shada mountains, surrounded by a jagged wreath of tall snow-capped peaks that stretched high into the thin air. The remote valley was encircled by a menacing wall of big trees that twisted together that added a forbidding air to the woods where no one ever entered and came back out, not even Wizards dared to venture into the home of the Witch Woman.

Dark figures kept to the thick shadows of the infamous woods, the strange creatures could be heard but never seen through the mist and vapours that danced demoniacally along the grotesquely twisted deadened tree branches and dangling vines, at times the clouding grey fog would twist and spin at the passing of animals, cloaked in the darkness that only grew blacker the closer they travelled toward Agaden Valley. Hollow calls echoed through the rank smell and shapes were reflected in the black surfaces of the murky swamps.

Agaden Valley was at the edge of the grim forest, spread out far below the monstrous wood a long green valley was lit brightly by the sun where the sound of rushing water could be heard for miles. Gigantic rock peaks stood almost straight upward from fields of golden grasses among stands of oak, beech and maple that rippled in the fresh air. Mazes of vibrant brush, tight trees and fern covered boulders framed streams meandering among the fields of green grass and the banks that formed gentle hills of the valley. The surrounding forest bleeding out into the valley was like the night clashing with the day.

Beyond the towering mountains, the dark oppressive woods and the majestically beautiful valley, at the centre of it all, set among a carpet of grand trees was a place of grace and splendour. Delicate spirals stretched into the sky, wispy bridges spanned the high gaps between towers and stairs spiral around turrets where colourful flags snapped; a large Palace of mesmerising beauty. Inside the Manse, there was a small square room covered in deep green moss and vibrant vines that reached downward, trying to touch their beloved Mistress as Shota, wearing a floor-length strapless gown of sapphire blue velvet, slowly paced around a large circular pool of water sunken into the stone floor. A vision played out on the surface of the deep pond, a lazy smirk toyed with the corner of her mouth as she watched Lily Rahl nestle with her apprehensive parents on a four-poster bed of crimson silk.

"Indeed. Princess Liliana Rahl, I can help you. But the true question is; what will my assistance cost your rather exquisite mother?..." Shota waved her elegant hand casually, dispelling the vision for the water's surface as she drew to a stop before the pool, she crossed her arms beneath her breasts as she cocked her head to the side.

"...I'd best prepare some tea and scones" The Witch Woman mused aloud with a sly smile.

xxxxXxxxx

"Agaden Reach is in the Midlands, in a remote pocket of the Rang'Shada. Even if we left this second on the fastest horses trained by your Mord'Sith it would still take over a month to travel over that distance depending on weather conditions, and that doesn't include the return tip to the People's Palace. It wouldn't be safe for Lily to stay on the infusion of herbs for that long, she could become dependant on them, or they would stop having the required effect on her and its doubtful they will help her like they would work on you or I as it is..." Nicci shook her head slowly as she watched Cara's white-knuckle grip on the stone railing of her marble balcony tighten even further as she spoke, to the extent she was actually surprised when clumps of white granite didn't crumble into dust beneath the other blonde's hands. With her arms crossed beneath her breasts, The Prelate leaned back against one of the towering white stone sculptures that supported the arch cradling the double glass doors that lead from the gargantuan balcony, offering an outstanding view of the oceanic gold and silver Azrith Plains and the majestic Capital City sprawled out over a thousand feet below where they stood, into Cara and Dahlia's lavish bedchamber, where Zedd was currently preparing small bundles of herbs for Lily to take later in the day when the little girl awoke. Another benefit to taking Boneset and Hops; they worked swiftly together, she just hoped Lily would sleep for a long while to make up for lost rest during the night.

"...When I came here I brought an urn of White Sorcerer's Sand with me. If you draw a spell in High D'Haran with the Sand, it adds exceptional strength to it. I could use the Sorcerer's Sand to Spirit the two of us into Agaden Valley in just a few moments, but my Han will be severely depleted for a few weeks after. If Shota were to attack you, I won't be able to combat her magic nor will I be able to return us to the Palace. We'd have to travel back by foot until we could purchase some horses"

"There is another way to get there" Cara finally said.

The light breeze toyed with the loose ends of the other woman's long blonde hair, released from it's usual confines and pinned back from Cara's face by diamond clips that gleamed brightly in the sunlight shinning down on them both. Nicci frowned in puzzlement as the slighter shorter blonde, still wearing the flowing black silk nightgown from the night before, began to pace along the length of the wide balcony, easily several dozen feet long. Lady Rahl seemed to be mulling over her own thoughts before she gave voice to them. Cara turned back to her at last with a mask of expressionlessness painted across her maddeningly perfect face. Abruptly Nicci's attention darted toward the sudden knock on the glass balcony doors, she shifted to the side, catching sight of Ulic's immense muscular form clad in full crimson leather and chain mail armour through the glass balcony doors before she threw them open. Standing aside while Ulic nodded his blonde head in acknowledgement to her, before he dropped to his knees before Cara with his head bowed in reverence, the huge man saluted his Mistress with closed fist to heart and in a strong, deep baritone gave the Devotional.

"Rise Ulic..." Cara tiredly gestured the six and a half foot man onto his heavy armour-plated boots "...What is it?" Lady Rahl asked when the Captain of the Dragon Corps stood tall before her with his hands clasped together behind his back. Nicci frowned when Ulic turned so he could speak to both herself and to Cara without seeming rude or dismissive to either one of them.

"A visitor for you Prelate Nicci. She claims to be a Sister of the Light. Mistress Triana and Mistress Garren have her under watch in your chambers Prelate, the Mother Confessor insisted that she be brought inside the Palace on account of her pregnancy. She did give the Devotional before hand" Ulic reported.

"Marianna is here?" Nicci asked

"That is the name she gave at the gates, Prelate" Ulic answered plainly with a nod.

"She is one of my administrators and a close friend from the Palace of Prophets" Nicci explained when Cara looked at her in question.

She left out the fact that Marianna was also her former wife as it was no longer of any importance. Marianna had since remarried another of their close friends and Sisters; the two were now expecting their first child, a daughter. She and Marianna had always made better friends than wives to each other, though they had certainly been better lovers than friends, partly because she had never truly given her heart to Marianna in the way a wife ought to love her spouse. She had wanted a companion after a century of meaningless relationships and liaisons, and Marianna, a few years older than herself, had made her affection and desire for her well known from the moment they had reached adolescence. It had seemed logical to her, they both wanted something and only the other could provide it. Their marriage had been long, relatively happy and filled with passion, but eventually they had come to realise that as pleasant as their union had been, they didn't have the same love extolled in poems. The separation had been a mutual decision, one Nicci was grateful she'd chosen to broach, because Marianna had found true love and now so had she.

"Go and see what this Marianna wants from you while I make preparations for the journey. Then return to me so we can leave as soon as possible for Agaden Reach. Ulic, before you attend Devotions go with Nicci and inform Mistress Triana and Mistress Garren that I want the woman under constant watch while she remains here in my home, but she is not to be harmed or harassed without due cause. Nicci, feel free to emphasise that command to Triana if need be" Cara smirked a little, fondly albeit absently. Nicci nodded, Triana was easily riled at the best of times and with something so clearly afoot she imagined the brunette Mord'Sith was chomping at the bit for something or someone to make a wrong move so that she could vent her anger and frustrations out on, it was very probable that she would have to stress Cara's instructions to Triana before she returned to their Lady Rahl.

"I won't be long..." Nicci said to Cara, but the other blonde had already stalked wordlessly back into her bedchamber to be with her beloved wife and her cherished child. She was eager to set off for Agaden Reach so that they could help Lily, perhaps not as eager as Cara on account of the maternal instinct to protect one's child running amok in her friend's head, but still, she was prepared to do almost anything to see the little Princess healthy once again.

"...Lets be off Ulic"

Nicci strode into Cara and Dahlia's bedroom, casting one last sombre glance to the three Rahls cuddled together on top of the four-poster bed before she walked out into the elaborate outer chamber with Ulic close behind her, his heavy footsteps resounded loudly to the rear. The two blonde Mord'Sith standing guard outside their Mistress's chambers were still as silent and cold as ice sculptures, ice sculptures that would never melt even with the mid-morning sun flowing into the wide marble hall, stretching out before her like a long road with ornate and impressively expensive furnishings. As long as her stride was, as fast as her long legs carried her, it was still a long walk to her and Kahlan's chambers. It required a good twenty minutes for her to weave her way through wide and extensively decorated halls bathed in sunlight, marble corridors adorned with rich tapestries and small tables supporting vases with bouquets of fresh and sweet smelling flowers, welcoming antechambers that connected the labyrinth of halls and corridors emptied of servants and nobles who were now attending Devotionals in Devotion squares located throughout the People's Palace and out in the numerous courtyards. She even had to scythe her way through a desolate, well-tended, indoor garden, one of many that teemed with flourishing apple trees and other rich vegetation, an open roof allowed sunlight and the fresh morning air to bathe her voluptuous body, only a long winding marble path reminded her that she was in fact indoors and not outside in an orchard. After descending a large spiral staircase by three tiers, she imagined there were hundreds of thousands of individual steps amassed in that single stairwell alone, and striding purposefully down several plush hallways she was finally confronted with the set of tall oak double doors, incised with the emblem of House Rahl, she paused momentarily with her graceful palms resting on both solid gold doorhandles. With an internal wince, she suddenly realised that she could quite possibly be walking into a tempestuous storm, if her long-dead marriage to Marianna had somehow come to light in conversation she was about to be faced with a very angry Confessor, or worse, what if her beloved mate was upset that she had failed to mention her former wife?, she'd had ample time to do so in their long and intimate talks. She wouldn't know if Kahlan had been informed of her previous marriage until she entered the outer chamber, but she found herself dreading the consequences of her silence as she lingered outside her apartments with Ulic waiting calmly behind her. She growled to herself, mentally preparing herself for either of Kahlan's perceived responses, before she shoved the double doors open with a blank expression.

Two dark-haired women were sat next to each other on one of the four oak chaises dominating the centre of the large outer chamber, cold and stoic faced Garren and Triana loomed close by on their feet, and though Marianna had chosen to forgo the traditional veil for some reason, she could instantly tell the difference between the two seated brunettes; her love, Kahlan, sat to the right, her thick satin smooth dark-brown hair was gloriously wavy in comparison to the fine, straight strands belonging to Marianna. She swallowed tightly when she heard the lilting sound of Kahlan's melodic voice streaming together with the alto of Marianna's in an easy conversation.

"I hear I am in high demand, and by four frighteningly beautiful women no less. Its like my sixteenth birthday all over again" Nicci drawled with a honeyed smile. She truly hoped she wasn't about to be confronted with an upset Confessor. Kahlan's misery would tear strips off of her heart. Her mate's tears would kill her. Ulic moved out from behind her and hastily strode toward Triana and Garren, he respectfully inclined his head to them, before he began whispering softly.

"I don't know whether to be jealous at the thought, or flattered that I've caught the attention of such a debauchee" Kahlan tilted her head to glance at Nicci over the back of the chaise. The Prelate breathed a sight of relief, but inwardly she cringed, the news of a previous marriage would be better coming from her lips, but how was her soulmate going to react when she found out that she had been seated next to her former wife?.

"Not just my attention, love..." Nicci placed her hands on the back of the chaise and leaned downward to capture the sweet softness of Kahlan's perfectly plump pink lips with her own in a pert yet gentle kiss. Tender warmth blossomed in her chest, singing a golden tune that rushed through her veins. It was a comfort to be with her love after seeing Lily in pain along with Cara and Dahlia's motherly distress. Kahlan was her haven, her port in a storm, her oasis in a desert.

"...My heart as well..." Nicci whispered privately against her Confessor's addictive mouth. She smiled at the loving twinkle dancing in Kahlan's beautiful sky blue eyes, those stunning eyes she adored. She withdrew slightly and finally turned her attention to Marianna, the other Sorceress quietly watched them with a smile of genuine happiness playing across her lips.

"...How do you like my mate, Mari?" Nicci tilted her head as she leaned her weight against the back of the chaise.

"I hardly think you are deserving of a woman with such repute, old friend. Whereas you are notoriously cranky and sarcastic, I find the rumours surrounding the Mother Confessor's kind heart to be utterly true. Or has Kahlan here tamed your acerbic tongue?" Marianna cocked her head teasingly, returning the look Nicci gave her.

"In part, but you will find foul language is still my forte" Nicci purred with a smirk. Kahlan and Marianna laughed.

"Indeed..." Marianna glanced at Kahlan with an amused smile "...Mother Confessor, I think only you will be capable of teaching your mate some decorum. Its sorely needed. She once blurted out the most indecent curse during morning prayers, and being The Prelate none could chide her for it" Kahlan's melodic laugh rang out again.

"I only cursed because I remembered I had left one of the arachnid pens open..." Nicci defended herself with a grimace at the memory.

"...And it was not a true curse, I only said..."

"Nicci!" Kahlan scolded immediately. Nicci rolled her eyes exasperatedly but otherwise remained quiet. Marianna grinned smugly at The Prelate.

"Thankfully Nathan managed to catch the awfully hairy creature before anything unfortunate could happen" Marianna shivered at the thought of a spider with free reign of the Palace. Kahlan nodded her head sympathetically. Nicci rolled her eyes again, unbeknownst to the two brunettes, she would never understand how a full grown person with command of the Gift, or extensive combat training, could fear an admittedly very ugly, but ultimately harmless creature. Most venoms were not without their antidotes. She smiled suddenly, she looked forward to an endless future of saving Kahlan from spiders, and reaping the 'rewards' of her 'heroism'.

"As much as I would delight in sharing memories Mari. I have pressing matters to attend with Lady Rahl, so I must ask for a blunt answer; what brings you here with no forewarning?..." Nicci breathed out with a frown. Marianna's entire demeanour changed rapidly, darkening to the extent she felt like all the giddy nostalgia present just a moment before was sucked out of the chamber leaving a taut silence that she found deeply disturbing. Her friend's dark brown eyes closed for a moment as her hand came to rest on her swollen stomach where her unborn daughter rested soundly.

"...What you wish to tell me Mari, you can say in front of Kahlan, and Triana and Garren. When you are ready" She coaxed softly, she got the sense that whatever news her friend carried with her from the Old World was paining her, which could only mean she wasn't going to like what Marianna had to say.

"Its Merissa..." Marianna whispered. The sheen of tears suddenly brimming the other Sorceress' eyes struck a bolt of dread into her heart.

"...Nicci, she has confessed to me, that she is a Sister of the Dark. Not just one of them, but their leader"

"That can't be!" Nicci snapped without giving the ridiculous notion any consideration. She had known Merissa since they were in the Workhouses together as young children, starving, impoverished and emotionally neglected by parents who didn't understand the power that manifested in their daughters at adolescence. They knew the suffering in the World better than most, they had endured it until the Sisters Of The Light had come to take them away from it all. Like her, Merissa was devoted to helping other people who suffered as they had, not to helping The Keeper unleash more misery.

"Nicci..." Marianna whispered imploringly. Nicci pushed away from the chaise with a primal sound of disbelief resonating in the back of her throat and began to swiftly pace the length of the chamber. She shook her head as she paced, Merissa wasn't a Sister of the Dark, she couldn't be, she would never turn against the Light. The mere thought disquieted her, but she didn't have to entertain it because her friend was not a servant of The Keeper.

"Nicci" Kahlan said firmly. The sound of her mate's voice dragged her attention back to Marianna, tears of anguish wended their way down the other Sorceress' face. She exhaled sharply and stalked back to the chaise, placing a comforting hand on Marianna's shoulder.

"Tell me. When?. Why?." Nicci whispered. She felt sick to her stomach, but she had to know, she had to know if she could have prevented it.

"She said that she joined them when we were fifteen. I don't know why she told me now. Maybe its because the baby is expected soon...Merciful Spirits Nicci, what if she has done something to our baby?!. Promised her to The Keeper?!. What will I do then?!" Marianna desperately grasped at her wrist so tightly she could already feel purple bruises begin to form. Nicci parted her lips to defend Merissa, to assure Marianna that the other woman's wife would never hurt the innocent child growing in her womb. But she simply couldn't. She had thought that she knew Merissa, but if her friend was truly a Sister of the Dark, then she didn't know Merissa at all and she could make no such assurances.

"Here is what you will do Mari. Kahlan will take you down to the infirmary and Zedd, the last Wizard of the First Order, will examine you for any signs of dark magic. When I return, if she has done something to your baby, I will do everything in my power to help you both. But I cannot do so now, Cara and I must travel to Agaden Reach within the hour in order to help Lily" She glanced down at Kahlan as she spoke, she smiled soothingly when a spark of distress erupted in her love's eyes. And then she cast her eyes over to Triana and Garren, though she couldn't see beyond their unreadable masks, she knew they appreciated being updated on Lily's situation, the Princess was their niece, the youngest daughter of their Lady Rahl, they loved Lily like the little girl was one of their own; unconditionally. Ulic had already crept out of the chamber for Devotions. Kahlan nodded her head understandingly and reached out to place a soothing hand on Marianna's knee.

"Remain calm Mari. Breathe deeply..." She squeezed Marianna's hand comfortingly. An inadequate touch to comfort a woman grieving the loss of her wife, her soulmate and the mother of her child but it was all she could give.

"...I just have to know one last thing; where is Merissa now?" Marianna covered her mouth with her free hand, trying unsuccessfully to stifle a mournful sob.

"I begged her to renounce The Keeper and to ask for The Creator's forgiveness. The look she gave me, it was so cold, she'd never looked at me like that before. And that is when I knew, the woman I love is a ghost. I told her that I would never let her near me or the baby unless she turned back to the Light. But she left the Palace of Prophets that day, and hasn't been seen since..." Nicci felt her own eyes sting with tears of agony as she watched her friend break down into sobs, she blinked rapidly, realising with frigid finality what she would have to do when Lily was well again. She couldn't allow one of The Keeper's servants to roam about the Land of the Living, thinking up ways to destroy all that was good in the World on the behalf of her Master. She would have to hunt down and kill Merissa.

"...I know what telling you this means, what you will have to do, Nicci. But please, please try and convince her to turn back to the Light" Nicci nodded woodenly.

"I will try..." She promised sincerely "...Come now, you need to go to the infirmary. The day may be young but we've all got important things to do"

Marianna cradled her pregnant stomach in her hands as she stood up and shifted around the chaise, sniffling to herself, Nicci touched her hand to her friend's shoulder again as the brunette passed her, earning herself a shaky smile from the other Sorceress. Triana and Garren were close at hand obeying their orders to keep watch over the pregnant woman, Garren opened the chamber doors for Marianna to pass through while maintaining a forbidding air of lethality about her, Triana remained behind Marianna with her gloved hand resting lightly on the hilt of her Agiel. She wondered if Marianna's woeful tale hadn't struck a cord with the mated pair.

"Kahlan...I have to tell you something..." Nicci murmured when the other three women had disappeared out into the hall. Her beautiful mate frowned in puzzlement, tilting her head curiously.

"...I was married to Mari, a long time ago. In fact, because of the Ageing Spell surrounding the Palace of Prophets, I married and divorced her before your grandmother was even born"

"I suspected as much..." Kahlan crossed her arms beneath her full breasts. Nicci was taken-aback briskly, she shook her head and just stared at her mate lamely. This wasn't the reaction she'd been expecting, far from it, her Confessor didn't seem to be angry or upset and she hadn't a clue what to make of it. Was this the calm before the storm?.

"...I'm a Confessor, reading people is a large part of what I do"

"But you are not angry!" Nicci exclaimed with eyes wide with surprise. Kahlan smiled to herself, that confident little half-smile that made her heart pound in her chest and a dull ache form in the pit of her stomach. She mouth grew dry as her love ambled toward her, curvy hips swaying and bright blue eyes twinkling.

"Angry?. No. Like you said, I hadn't even been born at the time so how could I be angry?. Besides you never loved her the way you love me, did you?" She took a deep breath when Kahlan's arms snaked around her slim waist possessively, she linked her long fingers together at the nape of her mate's neck, staring down into the slightly shorter woman's eyes. There really wasn't any anger reflected back at her, Kahlan looked like a little kitten ready to nuzzle her but her woman wasn't upset or annoyed at her. She smiled tenderly, she wouldn't complain if Kahlan did start nuzzling her, she wouldn't complain at all.

"No..." Nicci shook her head, lightly stroking her hands down her mate's lean shoulders "...I never loved anyone the way I love you" She cupped Kahlan's beautiful face in both her hands as she leaned forward to brush their lips together, it was a soft rapturous connection that made her heart flutter in her chest, especially when she felt her Confessor's arms tighten around her svelte waist and the other woman's lips began moving beneath her own. If only she didn't have to return to Cara, she could attempt to lure Kahlan, absent a Rada'Han, between her thighs where she so desperately wanted her mate after months of chastely sleeping beside her love.

"I have to get going. I don't know when I'll be back, Cara was strangely vague about our method of travel, but she seemed confident that our journey wouldn't be overly long." Nicci murmured regretfully against her love's lips as they drew apart by an inch or so. She rested their foreheads together, savouring Kahlan's warmth melding in with her own, the feel of the Confessor's curves pressing into her statuesque body and the brunette's haunting scent, committing each sensation to memory so she wouldn't get cold out on the road. Though her perfectly shaped blonde brows were heavy with confusion over what Lady Rahl had planned.

"I could endure a long separation if it means you being careful. Not only does no one know for certain what a Witch Woman's abilities entail, Shota is one of the most devious people I have ever had the misfortune of meeting" Kahlan sighed heavily, her muscles tensed with concern.

"Don't worry about me. I imagine Dahlia will not allow Cara to leave the Palace without at least two Mord'Sith to guard her and then it won't matter how powerful Shota's magic is. I won't let my guard down, not until I come home to you"

xxxxXxxxx

"What was she like, Kelia I mean, before she was broken by Catha?" Shayla murmured to Regin as the two Mord'Sith stared out at the Azrith Plains from the grand balcony adjoining Regin and Sophia's bedchamber. The elder Princess, her mate and their best friends were confined to chambers until Lady Rahl said otherwise. Shayla and Regin leaned their forearms on the tall stone rail, the two blonde Mord'Sith stood so close together that their shoulders were touching. Regin tilted her head toward Shayla, the other woman was only an inch shorter than herself, before she cast her attention outward toward the ocean of sand and garrisons. She didn't see much point in answering the younger blonde's question; Kelia was a traitor, pure and simple. She would be dead soon, at the hands of a loyal D'Haran, perhaps at the end of her Agiel if she were confronted by her former friend. She sighed as she struggled to recall a memory of Kelia without the consuming influence of Catha.

"Kelia was an Omega Sister, she had no interest in the hierarchical chain that everyone else is constantly climbing or descending. She bred and trained the horses at Bohan and Jandralyn. It sounds like an inconsequential task until you're riding through the Empire one day and your horse is confronted with a snake in the grass or the scent of lion and their training is the only thing preventing them from bolting. Our horses are bred specifically to ensure superior strength and speed but they still have to be taught courage, obedience and endurance. Kelia was really good at it because she liked horses, not that she ever admitted that aloud..." Regin's full lips suddenly drifted into a half-smile as she blindly looked out at the gold and silver Plains stretching out in the distance and the huge marble city hundred of feet below the balcony. She saw Shayla glancing at her out the corner of her dove grey eyes as they leaned against the balcony railing together. Her smile ebbed when she realised that she had more bitter memories of Kelia than pleasant ones even though they'd been born in the same town and they'd been friends ever since they were little.

"...I will never be sure as to why Catha took Kelia as a second pet, its not usually done and the bitch never seemed all that interested in Kelia anyway, especially when I was around which was all the time. Kelia became a lost puppy following after me while I was being lead around on a leash by Catha, and no, that wasn't a metaphor. Catha took my virginity with her Agiel in front of the entire Temple I was bound to the floor by a chain connected to a collar around my neck. She took me every way imaginable and while she did I found Kelia looking at me, with anger and jealousy. But I've moved on from that, what really bothers me now is that I don't have anything left of my innocence to give to Sophia and my thighs are permanently branded with Catha's marks" Regin sighed regretfully. The mid-morning breeze brushed her face, if she were anything other than Mord'Sith she might have been thankful for the cool air because if she had been a lesser woman she would have blushed at recounting the tale of her stolen purity. It wasn't like her experience was the worst in the history of her Sisterhood.

"Nor I..." Shayla murmured softly, filling their companionable silence. Regin tore her gaze away from the Azrith Plains to study her best friend.

"...We are all trained in the arts of pleasure when we reach adolescence. 'Pleasure is the inverse of Pain, knowledge of one makes mastery of the other so much easier'" Shayla quoted her mother perfectly.

"'Break someone with Pain and they'll obey you. Break someone with Pleasure and they'll love you'." Regin nodded her head, quoting Denna herself. Denna had taught many generations of Mord'Sith that lesson, and they had in turn gone on to teach others, until she met Jennsen and she lost her will to bed anyone else.

"Because of who my mother is I got to choose who took charge of my sexual training. Sister Veronica, was not only exceptionally beautiful and several years my senior but she had a reputation for being magnificent in bed and by the Spirits was it underrated, on one occasion I reached climax and she wasn't even touching me, she finished me with a look and a command. Its true what poets yip about though, making love with Dani is so much more pleasurable than any other experience because I love her. Veronica was gentle when I gave her my virginity, but she was never remotely gentle again. Ever since Dani and I became mates, I haven't been able to decide if I would prefer to have been pure during my first time with Dani like she was, or if I prefer knowing every way imaginable to please her." Shayla chocked her head and pursed her lips in thought. Regin firmly clapped her friend on the shoulder.

"I suppose it doesn't really matter. We cannot change the fact that we've been trained vigorously in art of sex, nor the fact that our virginities belong to women who are not our mates, though your experience with Sister Veronica sounds a great deal preferable to my own. But we have given our women something that we shall give to no other; our love. And Mord'Sith mate for life."

"Behold Sister Regin is a Paradigm of Truth..." Shayla drawled sarcastically with a small smile. Regin chuckled her amusement before she absent-mindedly reached behind herself to rub the sensitive back of her neck, just above the top of her neck-guard.

"...Does this mean I have been with more women than you?" Shayla suddenly asked with a sly smirk.

"Probably. Catha took ownership of me at a young age, occasionally she would have me service a friend of hers while she watched but still, she was viciously possessive. I've only been with a handful of women. But I've only ever truly enjoyed sex with Sophia"

"I've finally beaten you at something dear Sister" Shayla nudged her shoulder against Regin's and beamed a proud smile brimming with competitiveness. Regin allowed her own self-satisfied smirk to cross her face, her younger Sister Of The Agiel abruptly appeared very uneasy in the mid-morning sunlight shinning down on them from above, making the wide white marble balcony gleam brightly like the rest of the People's Palace.

"Don't look so proud Shay, if Dani catches wind of this conversation she'll not be pleased" Regin teased, arching a brow as the platinum blonde began sputtering. The two young Mord'Sith pushed themselves away from the balcony rail to face each other with their hands on their slender hips. Shayla scowled up at her.

"And once again Sister Regin seizes the fucking upper hand" Shayla grumbled with a roll of her vibrant green eyes and a frustrated wave of her gloved palm. She laughed at her younger friend, as they turned and lazily leaned back against the balcony rail facing the glass double doors that lead into her and Sophia's bedchambers. She crossed her arms beneath her breasts as Shayla braced her elbows on the railing. The heavy maroon coloured bedroom drapes, inside the room, were drawn shut preventing them from seeing inside.

"I've said it once and I'll say it again, your skills are improving rapidly, it won't be long before you stand over me victorious in the training ring..." Regin breathed with a fond smile aimed at the other girl. Shayla inclined her head, recognising the complement.

"...But until then I will dedicate my efforts to making a dignified loser out of you Shay" She laughed liltingly at the dark glower she was faced with.

"Very funny Regin..." The younger blonde grunted "...What do you think they are doing in there?" Shayla nodded her head toward the glass double doors with the curtains closed. The two Mord'Sith had been herded out onto the balcony sometime ago, and there hadn't been much sign of them being allowed back inside by their mates. But at least it was a nice day out.

"Dani hinted it had something to do with my and Sophia's wedding. Something to do with dress materials, maybe?" Regin shrugged one shoulder.

"Oh if it concerns frilly dresses, I do not want to know and they are welcome to their secrets..." Shayla shivered mockingly. She nodded her agreement, a Mord'Sith had no business talking about dresses, tearing the utterly useless contraptions from a lover's body maybe, but certainly not speaking of them.

"...That being said Sophia is not known for her appreciation of formal gowns and the like. The Princess is an honorary Sister of the Agiel, she likes red leather. Perhaps you should go and save your mate Regin"

Before she even had the chance to tense and do as her friend suggested, the heavy maroon drapes on the other side of the glass doors were jerked open and the doors were yanked inward. Regin's full lips pulled into a huge smile when Sophia ran out onto the balcony, barefooted and wearing formfitting leather pants with a strapless tunic that ended two inches above her waistband.

"She is a mad woman!. A mad woman with lace!..." Sophia yelled, aquamarine coloured eyes twinkling as she dove into Regin's outstretched leather-clad arms. She wrapped the Princess up in her strong embrace, she sighed contentedly as her lover's sinfully delectable curves pressed into hers and the younger woman tucked her head beneath her chin. Sophia's arms went around her slim waist.

"...But I think you will like this particular piece of clothing" Sophia tilted her head up to Regin with a sultry smirk. The taller blonde tilted her head, she knew exactly what her lover was referring to, a small grin played across her lips as she lowered her head and pressed a tender kiss to her fiancée's succulent mouth.

"What colour?" Regin rasped against her mate's lips as she held the younger blonde close to her chest. The slightly shorter blonde leaned their foreheads together as the warm sunlight poured down on them in brilliant rays.

"You're just going to have to wait and see lover" Sophia nipped at her lower lip teasingly. She growled huskily in the back of her throat, earning herself a lilting laugh from her mate. The slight breeze carried more of her beloveds scent to her, her every sense thrummed with pleasant awareness of her her Princess close proximity.

"Oh the Princess is a tease..." Shayla chuckled amusedly, leaning further back on her elbows braced against the stone railing.

"...And there is the Light of my life. What is this I hear about you working with lace my love?" Regin lifted her head from Sophia's, tightening her arms around her lover as Danika stepped out onto the marble balcony with a slight blush staining her magnolia pale cheeks.

"Lace underthings for the wedding night" Danika elaborated as Shayla straightened and the Confessor stepped into her own mate's arms. Regin heard Sophia chuckle hauntingly into the column of her throat.

"Mm do you think we could acquire some of those Confessor Amnell?" Shayla purred suggestively to the brunette. Danika nibbled on her lower lip, trying to hide a smile, the brunette woman leaned into her lover and whispered something into the platinum blonde's ear, making the Mord'Sith grin widely. The kiss that the other mated pair then shared was equal amounts of tenderness and heat. Regin tilted her head when she heard movement in the bedchamber, her expression turned stoic as she carefully pushed Sophia behind her on the balcony, her gloved hand came to rest on the hilt of her Agiel, blades of agony roared up her arm like shafts of lightning and fire.

"Princess. Sisters. Confessor..." Mistress Carmella, a tall buxom redheaded Mord'Sith around her age, greeted with cold civility as she stepped out onto the balcony "...I am to inform you that Lady Rahl is leaving the Palace for Agaden Reach and that she commands you to remain here until her return"

"A journey that could take months even on the fastest horses" Regin arched an eyebrow incredulously.

"Actually..." Sophia murmured as she leaned her hip against the balcony rail with a tight smile, suddenly reminded of why they couldn't leave their apartments; Lily. Lady Rahl wanted her eldest daughter where she was safe.

"...When my mother was fourteen she was out in the mountains that separate D'Hara from the Midlands. She went investigating a cave invested with Gars, after 'dealing' with the Gars she found an egg which she returned to the Palace and when it eventually hatched a couple weeks after, the young inside was a red dragon"

"Are you trying to tell me that Lady Rahl has a pet dragon?" Regin blinked.

"My mother called her Scarlet..." Sophia smiled sweetly and patted Regin's upper arm "...Scarlet will be able to fly my mother and three others over the distance in a day or so"

"Just another excellent reason not to get on the wrong side of Mistress Rahl" Shayla commented with a smirk.

TBC. . .