Summary: 'Hunger' AU; Kahlan dies, not Cara. Rahl tries to persuade her to take the deal and become a baneling. At first she resists, but when it is the only way for her to save Richard, Kahlan betrays her principles and accepts the deal.
Notes: For a disucssion at the People's Palace, and for the dark bingo wildcard, prompt: betrayal
"No," Kahlan said. Every day he asked her and every day she refused. She would not become a baneling.
Rahl shrugged. "As you wish."
She hated that he approached her with something like deference, for she could never be certain how much of it was real and how much an act. She hated that he'd given her clothes – blood-red, of course, as if her white Confessor dress had been stained with the lifeblood of everyone she'd ever killed. She hated the flicker of disappointment that crossed his face whenever she refused him.
"Why do you keep tormenting me?" she asked.
"Torment? I could inflict such agonies upon you," Rahl hissed, stepping forward into her personal space, one hand grabbing at her chin. Then his anger was gone as suddenly as it flared into life. His fingers caressed her face, then he stepped away.
"I always admired you, Kahlan, despite our differences. I understand that you refuse to take the deal out of some misplaced ideas of loyalty."
She stayed silent. She would not betray Richard. She would not betray her sacred calling.
Rahl waved one hand at the rock wall behind her. "I merely offer you the chance to save Richard. Watch."
Kahlan turned and saw Richard – her beloved Richard – and Zedd, with Cara just behind them as they walked across a green field. The magical vision swam slightly and then steadied. The rocks of the cavern were barely visible through it.
Richard checked the compass, then pocketed it, pointing a little way to the left of their current direction. Zedd nodded. Then, in eerie silence, for the vision had no accompanying sound, a horde of Sisters of the Dark attacked.
"Richard." The word fell from her lips before she knew it. Rahl paced behind her and she closed her eyes a moment, trying to focus. Richard would win. Richard was the Seeker.
When she opened them again several of the attackers were dead, but there were still so many. And Zedd was down, a dacra in his back, and Cara was fighting two women, and blood marked Richard's left cheek. Richard was swinging his sword desperately but they were outnumbered.
"Say the word and I will return you to his side," Rahl said softly.
Kahlan shook her head, her gaze fixed on the unfolding horror.
"Either way you'll be with him soon," Rahl said. "See how he's tiring. He's barely slept since you went missing, and he's exhausted in both body and spirit."
Richard took down a tall woman with blonde hair but staggered as her companion slashed at him with her dacra, slicing open his shoulder.
"Say the word," Rahl said.
Richard was on his knees now. He thrust the sword behind him, managing to wound his assailant. His eyes went wide and Kahlan saw him unmistakably yell 'Cara'. Was she dead? She could be in some other part of the Underworld even now. Why wouldn't the vision show Cara?
"Perhaps we've seen enough," Rahl said, and shook back his sleeve, raising his hand as if to wipe away the vision.
"No," Kahlan gasped. She couldn't bear to watch, yet she couldn't let him take this away from her.
"You want to watch Richard die?" Rahl asked as if bemused – and she hated him for this charade, for all the lies he told her, for the way he was constantly trying to manipulate her. Yet now he was her one chance to save Richard.
A Sister of the Dark hefted her dacra. It would hit Richard, Kahlan knew it.
"Give me the deal," she snapped.
"As you wish."
And now she was in the field, her dress once more white, her daggers in her hands. She easily deflected the dacra with one dagger and threw the other blade, where it landed in the throat of the dacra's owner.
For a few minutes there was nothing but chaos of the sort Kahlan had learnt to thrive on, the literal cut and thrust as she fought for her life, for her companion's lives, for the survival of the Midlands.
It was over now, though, and Kahlan had to face what she'd done. "Richard."
"It is you." He staggered forward and she embraced him, weeping.
"I looked for you, and you didn't come back, and then I had to leave because a village was being terrorised by banelings, and I was going to look for you –"
She let him ramble for a while, holding him tightly, feeling his heart beat against her chest, feeling the wind in her hair and her own blood pounding in her veins. Alive. But at what cost?
"Richard," she said at last. He raised his head, his own eyes damp, face bloody.
"Where were you?" he asked.
"Later," she said. "Zedd, Cara."
Horror filled his face that he could ever have forgotten about them. As one, he and Kahlan turned to look at the devastation.
Cara was dragging herself to her feet. She was bruised and moved stiffly, but seemed otherwise unharmed. She blinked a few times as she noticed Kahlan. They hurried towards her.
"I'll explain later," Kahlan said, pausing only to squeeze Cara's arm.
"Zedd?" Richard asked, kneeling at his grandfather's side, relief spreading as he saw that Zedd was still alive. "Hold on."
"Let me." Cara bent over to pull out the dacra. Kahlan winced as Zedd yelped in pain.
"Zedd," Richard said again, trying to help the wizard to sit up.
"I just need a…moment." Zedd let Richard support him until he could sit unaided. He saw Kahlan. "What in the spirits?"
Now that the immediate danger was over and all eyes were on her, Kahlan had no choice but to tell them the truth.
Or maybe not.
"I – I was captured," she found herself saying. Her conscience glared at her while her mouth ran on, spinning an incredible tale of captivity and escape.
"I'm so glad you came back when you did," Richard said, hugging her.
Liar, her conscience said. Yet how could she tell them the truth? She couldn't bear to see the grief in Richard's eyes when he knew she was dead, the disappointment that would follow when he realised she'd betrayed her principles.
Cara stared at her and Kahlan wondered for one dreadful moment if she could see the truth.
"Are you hurt?" Zedd asked and Kahlan shook her head. He must never touch her, she thought, for surely he would know she was a baneling the moment his magic met the Keeper's, the only thing keeping her alive.
They ate and then Zedd felt strong enough to burn all the bodies – Kahlan felt something akin to guilt as she helped Richard and Cara pile up the dead so they could not rise as she had.
Richard finally allowed Zedd to heal up his own wounds, though Cara insisted she was uninjured. They all walked on another few miles and made camp, and as they bickered and joked during their supper preparations, Kahlan could almost forget her dilemma.
Just after midnight, when the moon was high in the clear sky, Rahl visited her, a ghostly form that turned the campfire's low orange flames into tall green ones.
"How are you enjoying your new life, Kahlan?"
Of course he'd waited until she was on guard. She glared at him.
"I'm doing what I must to protect the Seeker. Once the Veil is repaired, I'll gladly die." She wasn't as certain of this in her heart as she made it sound, but he couldn't know that. Besides, once the Veil was repaired she might die anyway, for banelings were the result of the tear, a symptom of the sickness that covered the land. Repairing the Veil would rob the Keeper of much of his power once more, and banelings should vanish – she both hoped that were the case and yet hoped it were not. Selfishly, she wanted to stay here, alive, with Richard.
"You must kill again today," Rahl reminded her.
"I know." She glanced over at Richard, who was sleeping soundly. "You won't tell them, will you?"
He shook his head, a sly smile on his face. "I will leave that particular pleasure to you."
Never, she swore. Richard must never know.
For a week Kahlan hid her condition. She was always relieved when they came across someone they could fight and kill – she'd never delighted in killing before and, she told herself, she didn't delight in it now. Still, the joy at knowing someone's death had brought her another day alongside Richard was overwhelming.
Cara always seemed to revel in combat, and Kahlan found herself envying the Mord'Sith's casual approach to life and death.
Then came the day that they'd seen no-one else, not even an innocent, not even a sheep. Kahlan felt panic gathering in her chest and wondered if the weakness in her limbs was due to her fear or part of the decomposition that began whenever she didn't kill quickly enough.
"Are you all right? You look pale." Richard peered at her with concern and she shook her head.
"I'm fine," she lied. Much as she hated Rahl, she found herself wanting his help. He was obsessed with her, as her brief time in the Underworld had proven conclusively. Yet rather than demand she stay at his side, he'd pushed her to take the Keeper's deal, over and over, until she'd accepted. Would he step in and give her a reprieve, she wondered. Was that within his limited powers, gifted to him by the Keeper?
The sun was low on the horizon before she knew it and Kahlan kept her head bowed lest her deterioration become visible to the others. Then, thankfully, finally, a lone D'Haran jumped them, his eyes wild.
"Kill the Seeker," he yelled as Richard easily parried his haphazard blows. "My village is gone because of you. Banelings. Banelings everywhere."
Richard quickly subdued the man while Cara watched, ready to step in if he needed her. Then Kahlan stepped forward, knowing this man was her only chance.
"No," Richard said. "He's grief-stricken. Confession isn't necessary. Just some compassion."
Kahlan shook her head. She reached out and put her hand around his neck. "I have to."
The sky was darkening and she could feel a chill rising up through her bones, a heaviness in her feet. She had to do this, and quickly.
With her free hand, she thrust the dagger into his heart. He looked surprised, then his eyes glazed over and he fell over, dead.
"Kahlan," Richard cried. His eyes fell on her bloody dagger. "Why?"
Kahlan wiped the dagger absentmindedly on her dress, leaving red streaks upon the pristine material, "I'm sorry," she said brokenly. "I had to. I had to."
Cara's agiel hummed in her hand. "You're a baneling," she said.
Kahlan nodded, unable to speak.
"You knew?" Richard asked.
"I suspected." Cara sheathed her agiel. "But a baneling Confessor is better than no Confessor at all."
"That's ridiculous," Richard shouted.
"We kill often enough that it shouldn't be much of a problem," Cara said.
Richard continued to argue with Cara but Kahlan wasn't listening. She stared at the body of her latest victim and wondered what torments Rahl was inflicting on him.
Zedd put one hand on her shoulder. "We'll find a way to save you," he said. "You ought to have told us. Trusted us."
His gentle tone pushed her to tears once more.
The next day they stopped at a village and Kahlan held court, tried, sentenced and then executed a criminal.
The day after that she and Cara sought out a raiding party and killed all four men without hesitation.
The day after that they found themselves miles from any settlements and panic set in once more.
"There must be a cure for this," Zedd cried in despair. "If only I had more time, and access to the library at Aydindril."
"Well we don't," Cara said. "So it's up to you to fix this, Wizard of the First Order. Use some of that powerful magic you're always bragging about and bring Kahlan back to life."
Zedd was too distraught to counter her accusation of bragging, which Kahlan took as a bad sign. She sank to the ground, her stained dress quickly becoming damp from the grass, still wet from an earlier rain shower.
"Kahlan," Richard said, kneeling at her side. "Kahlan, hold on."
"I'm so tired," Kahlan said, watching the sun dipping behind the trees. She had until midnight to provide the Keeper with another soul, but the longer she waited the harder it was to go on – though her desire to live and so to kill grew ever stronger. "I'm sorry."
Richard kissed her and Kahlan tried to memorise every detail of it, because it might well be the last kiss he ever gave her.
"Kill me," he said, sitting back on his heels, eyes grimly determined.
"Richard, no," Kahlan said. "You're the Seeker. The world needs you. I could never hurt you."
"Cara can bring me back."
Cara raised one eyebrow. "Your faith in my abilities is touching, but there are times I cannot revive someone. It is a risk."
"My body will still be warm and she won't slit my throat," Richard said. "I know the rules, Cara. We can do this."
"The Keeper will not like being cheated," Zedd said.
"I don't care what the Keeper likes," Richard said fiercely. "Kahlan, please. I can't lose you."
He drew one of her daggers and pressed it into her hand. "Come on. Do it."
"Richard," Zedd said, but it was obvious he didn't expect his pleas to be heard.
Richard positioned the dagger against his chest. "I love you," he told Kahlan, staring into her eyes. He clutched at her hand and, together, they plunged the dagger into his body. Kahlan let out a wail of anguish as he fell against her, dead.
Cara laid Richard out on the grass, his sightless eyes staring at the sky, and gave him the Breath of Life. Kahlan watched, holding her own breath until she saw Richard breathe once more.
"You see," Richard said. "We can beat the Keeper." He moved to hold her, but she turned away.
"I'm a monster," she wept. "Don't touch me."
Supper was a sombre affair. Richard sat with his back to a tree, arms wrapped tightly around himself. Cara was polishing her agiel. Zedd was muttering to himself, still trying to think of a spell that could save Kahlan.
Kahlan had barely eaten and now she was sat close to the fire, trying to warm herself, though the chill she felt was nothing to do with the night air.
"Kahlan," Rahl said. She looked up into his ghostly form. "Brother. We barely got chance to talk earlier."
Richard glowered at Rahl. "You have no place amongst the living," he said.
"Neither does Kahlan."
"I'll put the fire out," Cara offered.
"Not so fast," Rahl said. "You believe you've found a loophole, don't you? That you, Kahlan, can kill Richard over and over again, and you, Cara, can bring him back. The Keeper is not pleased with this. The Breath of Life is another of His gifts, and for you to use it to pervert another of his offerings is blasphemous to Him."
"How dare you speak of gifts and blasphemy," Zedd said. "To be a baneling is not a gift, and only the Creator is worthy of our love and respect. We will curse and rail against the Keeper as a matter of decency. Blasphemy against the Keeper is as praise for the Creator."
Rahl tipped his head to one side. "So righteously indignant," he said. "Yet the fact remains. Unless Kahlan kills again tomorrow – and the soul of the one she kills remains in the Underworld – then the Keeper has ordered me to instruct any new banelings that their primary mission is to hunt down and kill the Seeker and his Mord'Sith."
Kahlan swallowed hard. "Then I will die," she said. "I will return to the Underworld with you."
"No," Richard yelled.
"No," Rahl agreed. "Much as I want you by my side, the Keeper wants you in the world."
"If the Keeper wants me alive, then I must die," Kahlan said. "I cannot serve Him."
"You have been serving him since you took the deal," Rahl scoffed.
"I might yet be able to save you," Zedd told her. "But not if you die now."
Kahlan bit her lip and looked into Rahl's eyes. "You have the Keeper's ear," she said beguilingly. "Can you not intercede on my behalf? I killed two men yesterday – give me a day per death, rather than a death per day. I will kill for the Keeper with abandon when I come upon those deserving of death. Simply let me stay my hand when there are none but innocents around me."
Rahl considered this a moment. "I doubt the Keeper will take such a deal," he said. "Yet for your sake, I will ask this. I will return shortly."
He vanished and the flames died down and were orange and yellow once more.
"You cannot trust him," Cara said in disgust.
"I have few choices," Kahlan said sadly, burdened further with the knowledge that none of them were good or right or pure.
She should never have taken the deal.