No Other Choice

Darken Rahl, seething with impatience, struggled to maintain a façade of confidence while Sister Marianna and her Sisters of the Dark circled around the black agiel positioned in the center of the Mord'Sith chamber. Acutely aware of Mistress Dahlia's worried scrutiny, Darken was careful not to allow any glimmer of doubt or regret as the eerie chanting spelled the weapon, and green coils of dark enchantment wafted up toward the rafters.

His arms and shoulders ached from the exertions of the past three days – testimony to the weakness of his new body that, while it shared the physical likeness of his former self, was devoid of the magical frisson that Darken had always taken for granted.

Wielding an agiel against a wayward Mord'Sith would once have taken no toll on Darken's physical strength. But after three days of trying to break this Mord'Sith, he had been reduced to asking the Sisters of the Dark for help. He had managed to convince them that his goal was still to serve the Keeper, and Marianna was deluded enough to believe him.

If only he could lie to himself as easily as he lied to others.

He should have anticipated that he might need help because there was nothing in any way ordinary about the Mord'Sith he had been trying to break. But Cara had to be brought to heel. Everything depended upon it.

He needed her.

As desperately as Darken Rahl had wished to escape the Keeper, and as thankful as he was to be back in the world of the living, at least in the Underworld he had still retained his magic.

He had still been a Rahl.

Now, without the magic of the Rahl bloodline, what was he?

Who was he?

Mistress Garen, Mistress Dahlia and the remaining Sisters of the Agiel still acknowledged Darken as their Lord Rahl, as did a few scattered remnants of the Third Battalion, and he accepted their obedience as his due, craving it, clutching at it like a drowning man seeking purchase on solid ground. None of his remaining followers could ever know how lost Darken felt in this new body, in this new life. At the first whiff of hesitancy, of uncertainty, he knew they would abandon him.

Darken would not permit that to happen. He had his will, his intelligence, his cunning, his fierce determination to overcome any obstacle in his path. He still had his power to seduce and manipulate. He would use those advantages, and anything and anybody necessary, to obtain his objective.

And soon, very soon, he would have Mistress Cara back at his side.

Unfortunately, she would never again be the Mistress Cara that Darken had once known. He was going to be forced to destroy her in order to regain her.

She had left him no choice.

It was imperative that he find the Stone of Tears before his brother and take it to the Pillars of Creation. Then Darken, and only Darken, would gain the credit for saving humanity, thus earning him the Creator's forgiveness and, most importantly, averting eternal torment at the hands of the Keeper.

But first Darken had to break Cara of her misguided loyalty to the Seeker, a task that had proven impossible to accomplish thus far.

Cara had only herself to blame for the extreme measures he now felt compelled to take.

For days, chained, beaten, bruised and battered, Cara had continued to resist every attempt to make her see reason.

Dahlia's blandishments had lured Cara into Darken's trap, but Cara had turned on her former sister at the first opportunity after her capture.

Darken had fared no better in convincing Cara of the wisdom of rejoining his cause. She had withstood his taunts, had even been stoic in the face of his lies about their son. Perhaps telling her the boy had died had been a mistake, he mused. Truth to tell, Darken himself was not sure about the boy's fate, only that he had not sensed the child's presence in the Underworld.

But it was Cara's contempt that had finally brought Darken to this final extreme.

Richard will find me and he will humiliate you – again.

Cara had actually had the audacity to smile at the mention of Darken's defeat.

A defeat brought about by her betrayal.

If you were half the Lord Rahl he is, you wouldn't have to break someone to get her to do what you want.

The words still twisted in Darken's gut.

Barely conscious, Cara had managed the strength to laugh in Darken's face when she flung that ultimate insult in his face, her words so akin to those he had been forced to endure throughout his childhood.

Even now, beneath his pretense of self-assurance, Darken could almost hear Panis Rahl's mocking laughter echoing in response to Cara's condemnation.

Your brother will always be better than you, stronger than you, more loved than you.

Your brother will always be the true Lord Rahl.

You will always be the imposter.

Panis Rahl was wrong.

They were all wrong.

Tonight Darken would prove to Cara who was the true Lord Rahl.

She would once again know her true master.

But it would never be the same.

He had never wanted her back this way.

Darken had only desired his Cara back, with all of her fire, her insolence, her fearlessness, her streak of independence.

He would have forgiven her betrayal if Cara had only been willing to acknowledge Darken as being the true Lord Rahl, superior in every way to the Seeker.

If she had only acknowledged Darken as being the better man.

Darken didn't relish the thought of a broken, dead-eyed shell who had once housed the real Cara, a puppet who would do his will without thought.

Why couldn't she just have admitted her transgression and taken the position he so eagerly held out to her?

Darken had made the offer and she had refused.

Now he had no other choice

After tonight, this Mord'Sith would still be a ruthless weapon, honed to perfection, ready to fight and die for her master. Yet she would no longer be - Cara.

But there was no more time to waste in pointless sentimentality.

The chanting had ceased and all was in readiness. A silent expectancy filled the chamber as Sister Marianna silently placed the spelled agiel in Darken's hand. He didn't even glance at it as he stalked over to the grating.

Approaching the woman whose free will he was about to obliterate, Darken felt a sudden rush of pride in Cara's final, futile, act of defiance as he permitted himself a last moment of regret .

His Cara - a fighter to the last.

Only the slight hitching of Cara's breath betrayed her fear as they faced each other.

She had always been so special - the strongest, the most intelligent, the most beautiful, the most trusted.

She had always belonged to him.

His Cara.

Looking up into her glistening eyes, Darken thoughtfully wiped her spittle from his chin, wishing he could delay the inevitable.

"I'm looking forward to this," he lied, touching her bruised side, ever so gently, with the agiel.

TItle: No Other Choice
Rating: T/PG-13
Warning: Implied violence consistent with canon
Spoilers: Up through "Eternity"
Summary: Darken muses on Cara's inexplicable defiance in "Eternity", and regrets that he may have to destroy the very qualities that make her so unique to him.