Beta: meridian_rose – Thank you for the absolutely fabulous job you did!
See the end notes for literary references. In Part II I don't take the time to really explain the plot of 2x07. You may be confused if you aren't familiar with it. Also, thanks to angstbunny and evilgmbethy, who have heavily influenced certain elements of this story through fic and discussion.
Part I: Black as the Pit
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
Time was fluid in the underworld. Like the river of green fire that snaked its way through the broken, blackened ground, it twisted and turned, swirling in lazy circles and then rushing forward in an unstoppable torrent.
At times, Darken Rahl did not know if he had been dead for minutes or centuries. Perhaps it was both. Perhaps it was neither. The Keeper did not care for the rules that bound the earth he had helped the Creator forge.
The Keeper did not care for a great many things. He was a fickle master – rewarding Darken for his service one moment, and then torturing him the next, burning him inside and out for some imagined slight, the failure of some impossible task.
Sometimes, Darken thought the Keeper burned him simply because he could. The Dark God augmented Darken's own meager magic when he was among the living. And now, in death, his spirit was for the Keeper.
Darken Rahl had made a deal of damnation, and he was paying for it. He paid, and paid, and paid.
In the moments when his death seemed only seconds ago, he remembered why he had first called on the Keeper. First spilled his blood in a dark ritual of summoning.
Power. Safety. Love.
He was just a young man. A boy, really. He wanted the love of the father who boasted of a second son. He wanted to feel safe when he laid his head down to sleep.
For both things, he needed power. Power beyond the sparks in his blood. He had more magic than most, but not enough for a Rahl. Not enough for his father.
No, he was a weak heir. A sickly child, with dark hair. Perhaps he wasn't even a Rahl. Rahls were blonde, everyone knew that. Even as a youth, Darken was too clever for his own good. Clever enough to understand what the courtiers whispered about when his father's back was turned.
Some said that Panis had been cuckolded. Dark haired Prince Darken was surely the son of General Egremont, or perhaps the Margrave of Rothenberg. The queen was a noble of the Margrave's court, and she visited home often enough.
Just wait, the whisperers said. When Panis Rahl died, then they would have their proof. Only a Rahl could command the Rahl Bond. When the prince was unable to, the truth would come out.
Darken never knew if his father believed the whispers.
But it didn't matter. He'd proved them all wrong, in the end.
Panis Rahl would never love him. Panis Rahl was plotting to kill him through the instrument of this unseen, better loved, second son.
So Darken took the power the Keeper gave him, and he killed his father. The people had a new Lord Rahl.
The first he formed the Rahl Bond with were those who had always doubted his royal blood. Then he killed them and had their heads mounted on the palace gates.
He didn't say why. He didn't have to.
In the moments when he nearly forgot who he was, who he had been, none of it seemed worth it. He burned for years, screaming in a pit of green fire, the Keeper's voice in his ears and the stench of his own singed hair in his nostrils, and treacherous time passed slowly and quickly all at once. He writhed in pain for decade upon decade, each second of each minute of each day lasting longer than his earthly life.
He forgot why he had ever done anything, wanted anything, if he ever was anything . The only part of himself he stubbornly hung on to, that could not be scorched away even by unholy fire, was his name.
Rahl. Darken Rahl.
Who spilled the blood of thousands.
Rahl, Darken Rahl, of the house of ill fame.
Rahl, Darken Rahl, the unwanted first son.
Rahl, Darken Rahl, who died in dark flames.
He repeated this mantra, in his mind, in his heart, clinging to the ineffable sense of self tied up in those three syllables. No matter how often and how long the Keeper tortured him, his name kept him grounded. Brought his identity back to him in flashes of red and gold.
His spirit remained unconquered.
And so he moved through the underworld, doing the Keeper's bidding, biding his time. He was not content to remain here, burning and forgetting, only to remember once more in a cycle of torture for all eternity.
Having spent time in hell, he longed for heaven. Even if it meant earning his place.
It was a dangerous path he walked. A delicate balance. A razor's edge. He had to both please the Keeper enough that the god would not devote time to torturing him into oblivion, and yet subvert the god's plans so that he could perhaps attract the attention of the Creator.
He started by watching Richard's dreams. Willing or not, Richard too was tied to the Keeper. It made Darken grit his teeth, even as he exploited the connection to slip unseen into his little brother's consciousness.
It seemed he could have nothing for himself, not even the darkness that stained his soul, black as the pit that kept him prisoner.
Richard dreamt often of Kahlan, and children, and even more often of Kahlan and sex. Darken enjoyed those, an invisible watcher.
"You can't hurt me, Kahlan. You could never hurt me," Richard would tell his dream woman, before kissing her tenderly, pulling her into his embrace.
In some dreams she readily capitulated to Richard's desires. In others she protested that she was afraid, that she didn't want to confess him, giving Richard the opportunity to make grand speeches about the power of love that seldom made any kind of sense.
Night by night, Darken grew to know his brother, perhaps better than he knew himself. It reminded him of the spell he had once used, to make Richard think he was back in that tiny village he'd grown up in. To get him to divulge the location of the third Box of Orden.
Occasionally he grew frustrated with Richard's sickeningly sweet idea of love making, and exerted his influence on the dreamscape to make things more interesting. Twice he twisted Kahlan's form into Cara's, and relished the guilt that flooded Richard for enjoying the dream no less. Once he replaced Kahlan, not with Cara, but with Jennsen, thinking to amuse himself.
He was oddly hurt by Richard's self-disgust.
But most often when he intervened, he took the form of Kahlan, or Zeddicus, and planted ideas, compulsions, suppositions, to aid Richard in the search for the Stone of Tears.
Beware, you go into a trap.
Head north, along the mountain pass.
A screeling has been set loose.
Richard thought he was being guided by his own innate abilities as the Seeker, but it was Darken, whispering in his ear.
And then came the day that Darken felt a ripple in the river of time, a shimmering, spidery ladder into the world of the living.
Someone was experimenting with death magic. With resurrection. Even the Keeper felt it, though he was less sensitive to magic than one thought a god would be. To Darken it seemed that all expected the Keeper to be hyper aware of everything that happened on earth. In truth, it was the opposite. The Keeper was so vast, so distant, that it took immense power to draw his attention to a mortal if he was not already watching.
Seeing his chance, Darken entered Richard's latest dream, and told him to travel toward the necromancer.