Title: Need No Strings
Author: pristineungift
Rating: Hard PG-13 / Soft R
Wordcount: Appx. 1,400
Pairings/Characters: f!Darken/Zedd (Just go with it. _)
Warnings: Graphic Fantasy Violence; Torture; Sensuality; Dub-Con (not sex); Gender Bending.
Summary: Part of the Wizard's 63rd Rule Collection. Takes place in the same AU as Mistress of D'Hara. A look at the scene at the end of Puppeteer in which Darken Rahl confronts Zedd about the Box of Orden. How might have things gone differently if it was f!Darken doing the interrogating?

Notes: This picks up in the final scenes of Puppeteer. Assume that the rest of the episode went the same way. All lines you recognize are from Puppeteer. I got the inspiration for this oneshot from a comment vorquellyn made on Mistress of D'Hara.


Need No Strings

At last, Daria held the third Box of Orden in her hands. Soon, she would be safe from her bastard brother. Soon, her empire would be whole, united in their love and loyalty to their Mistress.

But something was not right.

A frown creasing her brow, Daria swung her long black braid over her shoulder, then pulled one of her red leather gloves off with her teeth. When she laid her bare hand against the Box of Orden, she knew what bothered her.

There was an echo of Orden's power, yes… But it could not deceive one who had held the real thing. All Mord'Sith could feel the currents of magic around them, and Daria Rahl had other abilities besides.

This box was a fake, made to look like a Box of Orden and endowed with enough power to fool those ignorant in the ways of magic.

"What," Daria bit out, "is the meaning of this?" She whirled to face Queen Milena, the red velvet riding cloak she wore over her leathers swirling and flaring. In the low light of Tamerang's treasure room, Daria Rahl glittered like a ruby. "Are you trying to trick me? This box is a fake."

"What?" Milena asked, the hair piled in a horrendous style on top of her head shaking with her movements. "That's impossible." Her complexion turned a splotchy red, giving her face the look of curdled cream.

Daria focused her Mord'Sith ability to cancel out magic on the box, watching as the illusion faded. "Someone has enchanted an ordinary spice box to look like a counterfeit Box of Orden." Emphasizing her point, Daria flipped the lid of the plain box open and turned it so Milena could see.

Frightened now, as she well should be, Milena stuttered. "But n-no one in my castle has magic."

Truly, this woman was idiotic. Daria grit her teeth, her lightning blue eyes flashing. "You are stupid," she told Milena, then looked past her to where the guards – and more importantly, Daria's faithful Egremont – stood in the doorway of the treasure room. "Seal the castle. Let no one in or out. And bring me the puppeteer."

She did not order Egremont to be careful. He always was.

-l-

The puppeteer was caught and brought to the treasure room so quickly that Daria barely had time to come to a conclusion that brought an echo of a pang to her heart.

Another betrayal. One day I will learn that the only man worthy of my trust is my almost-father.

Timing her movement for the greatest dramatic effect, as she had learned under her training mistress, Daria turned to see an old man in threadbare orange robes.

Those robes had been opulent once, before age and hard wear. Those robes had sent a niggling trickle of memory through her when she first saw them in Tamerang's throne room, during the puppet show.

Those robes had been a gift from her father.

"I've been told you arrived in Tamerang two days ago," she said to the wizard.

"Yes, Mistress Rahl. Performing for you and Queen Milena has been the pinnacle of my career!" He smiled, and it was as patently false as the rest of him. "Perhaps my lady has called me to see more of my artistry?"

Daria's lip curled. "Hardly." She looked to Egremont. "Bind his hands."

"But what?" the wizard said, still playing the confused entertainer. "I don't understand."

"A precaution," Daria told him as she slinked forward, her riding cloak slithering along the floor behind her. "You know you cannot use your powers against a Mord'Sith, unless you have grown very foolish in your old age. But I'd sooner not have a trench opening at my feet, or my soldiers cooked with Wizard's Fire."

In truth, it was Egremont she feared for, but she would never say so aloud. She would not name him as her weakness.

"Wizard?"

"Yes! Wizard!" Daria spat, drawing her Agiel in one smooth motion and cracking the wizard across the jaw, driving him to his knees. The high whine of her weapon revealed her rage. "I grow tired of this game."

Her soft contralto was deadly, a bloody blade sheathed in velvet.

She pointed with her Agiel at the spice box resting on the pedestal where the Box of Orden should be. "Only a Wizard of the First Order could conjure a false Box of Orden. And only three such wizards have been born in the last hundred years. One died," she touched her Agiel to the wizard's chest, "one works for me," she dug her Agiel into his neck, "and one disappeared around the same time as I cleansed the town of Brennidon."

She raised her Agiel high, and the man on his knees before her flinched.

But Daria never delivered the expected blow. Instead, she gently ran the knuckles of her free hand over the wizard's weathered cheek, then cupped his face. "Did you think I would not recognize my old teacher? That I would not see the golden wizard in the old man? You have let yourself go," she fingered his greyed hair, "but you are still the man whom I spent my early years thinking myself half in love with, Zeddicus Zu'l Zorander."

She drew out each syllable of his name in a seductive purr, remembering well the golden locks and strong features Zeddicus had when he allowed his magic to keep him youthful.

His eyes were the same.

Zeddicus flinched away from her, and this time it did not please Daria. She snarled at him. "And then you left me. You betrayed me. You, who had always been kind, went to help my father's bastard at Brennidon. And now the Seeker is back, and here you are… Why, Zeddicus?" she asked, suddenly sounding like the broken girl, the lost princess the wizard had known. "Tell me why."

But Zeddicus was not to be moved. She could see the way his shoulders stiffened. The way he set his expression in stone. The way he prepared himself for the worst she could do.

"I'll never tell you anything. You can kill me, but you'll never know where the box is."

Daria bent down, her lips ghosting along the wizard's, their breath intermingling. "I do not doubt that, wizard. But… I have always loved a challenge."

She kissed him, letting her tongue play along his bottom lip. She had known Zeddicus well, once upon a time, and doubted he had changed much.

She was right.

Though his will was made of iron, his body betrayed him. Zeddicus had always had a weakness for flesh. It was not much, but after a few moments, Zedd's lips parted for her kiss. In that instant, Daria drove her Agiel up into the soft spot beneath his jaw, and slid her tongue into his mouth when he gasped. Torture magic crawled across his face and her own, the black lines gliding across the connection of their lips.

Daria inhaled deeply through her nose, stifling a moan. Zedd shuddered.

In a week, maybe less, he would be her loyal pet.

"Mistress," Egremont's voice pulled her from her work. "I've just received word that the guards at the south gate have allowed a little girl to leave."

Daria locked her gaze with the wizard's. He did his best to make his eyes blank, but she could read him to the depths of his soul.

"Find the girl!" she snapped, and the wizard began to laugh.

"Mistress Rahl!" he taunted. "Defeated not by the Seeker, not by the First Wizard, but by a ten year old girl!"

Did he think that an insult?

Clearly he did. He laughed and laughed, mocking cackles that filled the treasure chamber, a sneer making even his blue eyes ugly.

In that moment, he was just like Panis Rahl.

Daria saw red.

A primal cry uncurling inside her at having Orden slip through her fingers, at the insults this man heaped upon her shoulders, she forgot her plans to train the wizard and slammed her Agiel into the center of his chest, just over his heart.

His dying wail did little to calm her.

"That has always been your problem," she told the cooling corpse. "Yours and my father's. You use girls as puppets, and forget they need no strings. They have a power of their own."

She fought to catch her breath. And for a moment, she thought she had won a small victory. Even if the box was lost, she had rid herself of a powerful enemy.

And then Zedd's body disappeared with a magically whispered, "Told you I was the grand puppeteer."

Daria's scream of denial echoed through the halls of Tamerang.