Chapter Fifteen: Bound
On a starry night, a dozen Sisters of the Dark chant in the woods. "Keeper of the Underworld; hear our prayer. Though we walk in this world we live only to extinguish the light. We bow before and faithfully do your bidding."
One of the sisters removes her veil and looks around. "Sisters, twice now Nicci has failed to kill the Mother Confessor. She shames us all in the eyes of the Keeper, but we can succeed where she has failed."
"How?" Another asks.
"By taking her Han." She answers. All the Sisters in the circle lift up their veils.
"She's too powerful."
"Which is why we need to increase our strength. Some of you will have to sacrifice your Han." She looks at the group of Sisters but no one immediately volunteers.
"How will we decide?"
"We've already decided." The four chosen Sisters reach out to the Sisters on either side of them and take their Han. Now the circle of twelve has become a circle of four.
Alone in the woods, Nicci prays to the Keeper. "Great Keeper of the Underworld as I walk on the path to eternal darkness, grant me the strength to carry your will." She senses the approach of her fellow sisters and kneels to the ground as they take out the dacras and throw them at her. The weapons stop in midair before even getting close. Nicci stands and addresses the Sisters. "Marissa, do you really think your Han can compete with mine?"
"I'm not here to compete with your Han, I'm here to take it." The Sisters walk closer to Nicci, who remains calm.
"There are only four of you. Either you overestimate your power or you underestimate mine."
"Each of us already killed two sisters, and each of those two sisters had previously killed five. So you see Nicci the odds aren't four to one but forty to one." The four sisters are now close enough to grab their dacras, only for Nicci to mutter a spell and disappear in a flash of light.
Nicci appears in a cave and uses her powers to set a log alight. She stares at the fire and begins chanting. The flames grow and Darken Rahl appears in the center, Nicci kneels.
Rahl looks at her. "Sister Nicci."
"Lord Rahl, have I displeased the Keeper?"
"The stench of your failure passes through the veil to sicken him even in the Underworld." He sneers, making the woman look down in dejection. "Yet there is one way you may regain his favor."
This causes her to look up with eager eyes. "Tell me."
"Bring me the Stone of Tears."
"Lord Rahl the compass which points to the Stone of Tears only works in the hands of the Seeker."
"Well then, if you cannot control the compass you must find a way to control the Seeker."
"What about the Mother Confessor? The prophecy says that the Keeper is doomed to fail as long as her pure heart beats."
"We can address the problem of the Mother Confessor's beating heart once you get the Stone from the Seeker."
Nicci looks at the flames, lost in thought. "I may know a way to control the Seeker, find the Stone and kill the Mother Confessor."
The traveling heroes sans Richard lie sleeping around a campfire. A blackbird flies in close to Kahlan and looks down, plucking a hair from Kahlan's hairbrush before flying away.
The crow lands close to Nicci, who walks over and takes the hair from it. "A strand of the Mother Confessor's hair, you have served the Keeper well." She walks away from the bird and over to a cauldron with liquid bubbling in it, she drops the hair in and begins to chant as she stirs the liquid. She brings up a ladle of the brew and pours it into a cup and drinks the cup down.
The next morning, Richard notices Kahlan shiver. "What's wrong?"
"Oh, I just didn't sleep very well."
Richard gets up, walks over to her and kneels beside her. "Since she took Trinity with her, Cara probably won't be back from her hunt for a little while if you want to get some more rest."
Kahlan gives him a smile. "I'm sure I'll be fine."
"Richard!" Cara calls. Everyone rises to their feet and arms themselves at the sight of Nicci in the hold of Cara and Trinity.
"We were chasing a buck." Trinity tells them.
"And found something better."
Richard steps forward, looking at the captured woman with a hard gaze. "Where are the rest of your Sisters?" Nicci gives him a sly smile.
"Answer him!" Cara pushes her Agiel into Nicci's throat. She lets out a scream but so does Kahlan. Zedd rushes over to the Confessor.
"Cara stop!" Richard orders.
Cara pulls away the Agiel, leaving Nicci panting with a smile on her face.
"What has she done to me?" Kahlan asks.
Zedd looks her over. "She's cast a maternity spell. It replicates the connection between a mother and a child in her womb. Whatever happens to the mother happens to the child."
"Kahlan's survival is now completely dependent upon mine." Nicci tells them smugly.
"A spell of that magnitude would require all of your Han; she can't use any other magic."
"I don't need any other magic to get what I want." She pushes something between her teeth with her tongue.
Richard looks at it. "An alkala stone."
Nicci pulls it back into her mouth. "I'm sure you know it's deadly. If you don't do as I say all I have to do is bite down and the Mother Confessor will die."
"And what is it that you want?"
"You're going to lead me to the Stone of Tears. And if any of you attempt to follow us Kahlan will die."
"And so will you." Trinity points out.
"I serve the Keeper, I'm not afraid of death. Neither are the four powerful Sisters of the Dark who are trying to kill me and take my Han. Since I can't use my magic I need your protection. If you want her to live."
"Kill her." Kahlan says. "Cara can bring me back with the Breath of Life."
"To revive her you'd have to revive me and we'd be right back where we started." Nicci explains. Kahlan turns to look at Zedd as Nicci walks closer to Richard. "I'm going to the bridge now and if you're not with me by the time I get there the Mother Confessor and I will meet the Keeper together." She turns and walks away as Richard sheaths his sword.
Kahlan shakes her head. "We can't let her do this. She's using my life as a weapon against you."
"Right now we don't have a choice; Zedd can find a way to undo the spell." He starts after Nicci but Kahlan stops him.
"Whatever happens, do not let her get the Stone."
"I won't let anything happen to you."
Zedd points towards Nicci. "Then you'd best not let anything happen to her."
Richard shares a sympathetic look with Kahlan before starting after Nicci.
Kahlan turns to Zedd. "Do you know how to break the spell?"
"I do, but…"
"But what?" Trinity asks.
"The only way to break the bond is to reestablish the stronger bond. The one with Kahlan's real mother."
"My mother's dead."
"There may still be a way. The maternity spell extends through death, so does the bond with your mother. I could summon her spirit from the Underworld."
"I'd be able to see her again?" She asks, hope in her eyes.
"It wouldn't last longer than a few moments but it may just be long enough to reestablish the bond and break the spell."
"Then do it." Cara urges.
"Conjuring the dead isn't that simple. It's a complicated spell it requires many ingredients. The most important being an object that belonged to your mother. Something she treasured."
Kahlan sighs. "When Dennee and I left home we were lucky to get away with the clothes on our backs. My father has everything my mother owned."
"Do you know where we can find him?"
Kahlan looks away in thought. "The last I heard he was living in Grimalia."
Richard follows the directions of the compass before closing it and putting it in his pocket. He turns to Nicci. "Even if we find the Stone and you destroy it, even if you kill yourself and take Kahlan with you, you won't win."
"Your fight against the Keeper is futile, in the end he will win. He always does. Life is fleeting, death is eternal." She tells him. The Seeker shoots her a look and looks over his shoulder when he hears the sound of metal scraping, Nicci looks back too. A dacra flies out of the woods behind them, Richard and Nicci both duck as the dacra goes over their heads and into a tree. "They found us."
Richard pulls out his sword as the four sisters run toward them. "Run!"
Nicci does as he says.
Zedd, Kahlan, Trinity, and Cara walk through the woods.
"Grimalia is just over that ridge." The wizard says.
"My father's estate is just west of that river." Kahlan tells them. "If he's still there."
"How long's it been?" Trinity asks.
"Close family." Cara notes sarcastically.
"Cara…" Zedd scolds.
"It's all right." Kahlan tells him. "When my father was Confessed to my mother of course he was completely devoted to us but when she died we found out who he really was. I was five, Dennee was only three. He forced us to Confess people so he could build his own fortune. Men with wives, families, turned into slaves. They gave him everything they had. There was one man, Devon, when we Confessed him his wife was devastated. She begged us to give her husband back to her. I remember thinking that next to my mother she was the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. My father thought so too. He made us Confess her and order her to his bed."
Cara looks at her in shock. "You had a power, he didn't. You could've Confessed him."
"I know that now but he was this huge terrifying man and we were just little girls."
"You don't have to talk about this Kahlan." Zedd tells her.
Trinity nods. "He's right, it's upsetting you."
Kahlan stops, panting heavily. "It's not that."
"What is it?"
She looks at them. "It's Nicci."
Nicci runs as fast as she can, Richard following behind her. He grabs her by her arm and makes her stop. "Wait! Wait! I've seen this before." He looks out at the open field before them at the edge of the woods, skeletons littering the ground. "This whole field is loaded with dragon's breath mines left over from the war. If we cross it the Sisters won't be able to follow us."
"They won't need to, we'll be dead."
"I can get us through. Follow my footsteps exactly." Richard looks down at the ground and begins to walk; Nicci looks around and follows him.
The Sisters continue to pursue them.
Richard looks down at the ground leading Nicci who is following him closely. She turns and looks back behind them. "Hurry, they're getting closer."
Richard continues on as the Sisters run up to the edge of the field. One of the Sisters runs ahead of the others and out into the field without looking at her foot placement. Her eyes go big when her foot hits one of the mines and she stops suddenly. She hears the mine ticking as she looks down, then the mine explodes taking her with it. Richard and Nicci look back when they hear the explosion. The other Sisters stop short.
"We can't go through, it's too dangerous." Marissa says before throwing her dacra at Nicci. Richard grabs her around her waist and pulls her to the ground but not before the dacra hits Nicci's hand.
Kahlan gasps in pain and grabs her hand, a cut appears on hit.
Zedd looks at the wound. "Nicci's been hurt."
"Which means Richard's in danger."
Richard and Nicci lie on the stomachs in the tall grass and crawl through the field of dragon's breath mines. Richard carefully looks here and there for a mine, Nicci is not being so careful and one of the mines trip and begins ticking.
Richard looks back at her. "Don't move! Dragon's breath doesn't explode when somebody steps on it but when somebody steps off it."
Nicci looks down at her hand, careful not to move.
At the tree line, another one of the Sisters throws her dacra at Richard and Nicci. Richard hears the dacra coming and jumps up to deflect it with the Sword. He falls down next to Nicci and looks at her hand. "Stay low and don't move." He crawls ahead as Nicci watches after him, worried. He reaches a crater from another, older, explosion of a dragon's breath mine. He grabs a large rock and crawls back to Nicci with it. "Here, I'm going to put down the rock and you shift your hand. Do you understand?"
He rises up again with the sword to deflect another dacra. Richard looks back down at Nicci's hand and moves the rock into place. "Now." He slides the rock where Nicci's hand was as she removes it from the mine. "Ok. Come on." They crawl a short distance then he grabs her by the waist and helps her stand.
One of the Sisters is about to throw another dacra but Marissa stops her. "They're too far. Don't waste your dacra." She smiles. "I have another idea." She begins to chant as a spider crawls down her arm; it glows brightly as she finishes her spell.
Zedd waves his hand over Kahlan's wound as he chants but is unable to heal her. "I've tried every spell I know. The wound won't heal until Nicci heals her and she can't use any magic."
"Then we'll just have to keep it clean then." She pours some water onto her hand as Cara and Trinity walk up.
"Your father isn't at the manor." Trinity says.
Kahlan looks at them. "He moved?"
"Something like that." Cara says.
A man sits in a jail cell with his head back and eyes closed. He opens them when he hears a door opening and sees Kahlan, Zedd, Trinity, and Cara standing before him. "Well, well."
Kahlan looks at him with a stony face. "Hello father."
"If you've come to pass judgment on me you're too late." He says.
"I don't need to judge you. I'm sure you're guilty of whatever it is you're locked up for and more."
"I'm sure you didn't come all this way just to insult me."
"I've come for my mother's things. Where are they?"
"I burned them."
"I doubt that. My mother's jewels were very valuable." She walks down the stairs to stand right in front of the bars to the cell. "And as much as you hated my mother we both know you love wealth more."
"Don't you have a palace filled with jewels in Aydindril, what do you want with mine?"
"They aren't yours."
"Unfortunately that's true. They belong to a warlord named Arimus now. When Rahl fell Arimus seized control of Grimalia and threw everyone who opposed him into jail. My estate was the most admired in the province so Arimus took it and everything in it."
"Then we'll get the jewels from him." She turns to leave but he speaks, making her stop.
"Arimus doesn't even know that he has the jewels."
She turns back to him. "What do you mean he doesn't know?"
The man stands up. "Oh my dear daughter, I'm not a fool. Life has taught me that in a single moment you can lose everything. I buried the jewels, your mother's and all the rest, on the grounds for safe keeping."
"Where?" She asks, but he just stares at her. "Tell me."
"Or what? You'll Confess me? Would you make a love slave of your own father?"
Kahlan's face falls, they both know he has called her bluff. She turns away from him and Zedd walks forward. "A sorceress put a dark spell on Kahlan. Whatever happens to the sorceress happens to her. If you don't help us your daughter could die."
His face doesn't change, clearly unimpressed with Kahlan's plight. Zedd makes an understanding grumble in his throat. Kahlan and her father look at each other. "One word from the Mother Confessor could get me out of this hell hole and I could take you there myself."
Zedd looks at Kahlan and takes a step away from her father to stand closer to her.
"I could arrange a short furlough." She says.
The man laughs. "That's not good enough. I lost six years of my life when I was Confessed. I have wasted months behind these bars, I will not lose any more time. Do we have a deal?"
Kahlan stares at him.
Richard removes the wrap from around Nicci's hand to look at her wound, revealing an angry red color and still very bloody. "It's gotten worse." He looks over his shoulder to a house nearby. "There's a farm up ahead, we'll stop there and treat it."
"My hand is fine; you're only worried about Kahlan." She tells him.
He takes off the wrap completely. "If you don't treat this properly it's going to fester and that'll slow us down. Is that what you want?"
Inside the farmhouse, an old woman treats Nicci's hand. "How does that feel dear?"
"Better, thank you."
Richards gazes out the window and watches as an old man chops at his garden, some of it burning. "Why is your husband destroying his crop?"
The old woman walks up to Richard. "Our fields have been overtaken by snake vine. It feeds on whatever we grow. A few weeks ago the vines overran our neighbor's garden. It crept in his window, strangled their little boy where he was playing in front of the hearth. Poor child." She looks down, upset.
Richard puts his hand on her shoulder in comfort. "You know the Sword of Truth can cut through just about anything. I could help your husband kill the snake vine."
Nicci looks up from her hand and over at Richard unhappily.
The old woman smiles. "Bless you Seeker. He's been in that field for days." She rushes out of the house to tell her husband the good news. "Edwin!"
Nicci gets up from the table and stands near Richard. "Tell them you don't have time." Upon the look of disbelief he sends her, she moves her tongue in her mouth and once again shows him the poison stone. She sweeps it back into her mouth and leaves the house. Richard starts after her but the old woman and man stop him.
"Edwin, this is the Seeker." She says. "He's going to help us."
"I'm so sorry but I don't have time to help you after all." Richard reluctantly tells them, watching their faces drop in disappointment. "I'll come back as soon as I can." They watch in despair as he runs to catch up with Nicci. "I could've killed the snake vine, it wouldn't have taken long." He says angrily.
"Do you always stop along your quest to help people?" She scoffs. "No wonder you haven't found the Stone of Tears." Richard shoots her a disgusted look. "Even if you had solved their problem what about the people at the next farm, and the next?"
"You know just because I can't help everyone doesn't mean I shouldn't help anyone."
Nicci stops and turns to Richard. "That's exactly where you're wrong. What would you do with a horse whose leg is broken? You'd put it out of its misery. This world is like a lame horse. Helping people only prolongs their suffering." She continues on her way, Richard glares at her back as he follows.
Trinity and Cara follow behind as Frederick leads them to his estate. Things have been a bit different since Trinity's close brush with death. Cara in particular; she was different. Not in a way that others would notice, but not everyone was Trinity.
Ever since she was cured from the Arachne bite, Cara has been hovering nearby almost all the time. Not in an obvious way but with little things. Such as, when hunting together; instead of splitting up to cover more ground or lead their game into a trap, Cara took it upon herself to use the opportunity to brush up on her archery skills instead of letting Trinity take the kill. Or when going to fill the water skins and Cara offers to help her carry them; something she's done before, but usually that was an excuse to get some alone time together. Now Cara is there to vigilantly scan their surroundings, making sure trouble isn't headed their way.
The upside of being poisoned was the time she was able to recover. Zedd had wanted her to rest a bit more than she needed to, so Trinity used the time she had to pester him into helping her craft her whip. The smooth metal of the weapon is now wrapped up and hanging from her waist. With the click of a button, the metal pops out, transforming into deadly blades along the weapon.
"I know this is a bit insensitive to asks," Trinity whispers to Cara. "but why not just Confess him so we know that he's not lying? I mean, I know he's her father but she doesn't seem to have any love for him."
Cara sighs. "Because he used the fact that he was confessed by her mother to guilt Kahlan; but I agree, the smart thing to do is Confess him. But her need to prove herself better than this waste of a man thinks she is could lead to trouble if he is lying."
"Okay, so confession is off the table. If it comes down to it, do you think we'll be able to convince her to let you interrogate him?"
Cara gives the idea some thought but the group begins to slow down before she is able to answer.
They stop, looking at Frederick's estate from a distance. "The treasure's in a clearing past those trees." He turns to Kahlan. "You could catch one of the guards by surprise and Confess him, you could order him to kill the rest."
The Confessor shakes her head. "No. We'll wait until nightfall and slip in unseen and get the jewels without killing or Confessing anyone."
"Isn't that what you do, Confess people?" he sneers.
"You don't know anything about me."
"Frederick, why don't you and I circle the grounds, see what we're up against." Zedd speaks up. The two men stand up and start off leaving Kahlan, Trinity, and Cara behind.
Cara moves over to sit beside Kahlan, Trinity at her side. "He may be a bastard but his strategy was sound."
"It was brutal and cowardly, just like he is." Kahlan seethes.
Cara looks at her. "I believed the worst about my father." She waits for the woman to meet her eyes. "But I was wrong."
"It isn't the same. You were tortured into thinking that your father had betrayed you. I know what my father did. I lived through it." Kahlan looks away.
"You survived, that made you stronger." Trinity asks.
"I don't want to talk about it!" She snaps, surprising the women. They avoid her eyes and Kahlan lowers her head in shame. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to snap at you, I'm just…very tired."
Richard and Nicci walk through the dark woods.
"You're exhausted." He says. Nicci trips on something and Richard grabs her arm to steady her. "We need to stop and rest."
She continues walking. "You're only trying to stall our journey to give your friends time to break the spell."
He follows after her and grabs her arm, pulling her to a stop. "If we keep going without rest we won't be able to fight the sisters when they attack again." The wind picks up and the sound of thunder echoes through the skies. "It's going to rain soon. If we spend the night at the tavern we passed by the time we set out in the morning the rain will have washed away our tracks."
In the tavern, Nicci falls back in the bed, her eyes closed.
Richard moves the blanket up to cover her. "Warm enough?"
"I'm sure Kahlan's very cozy but if I get a chill I'll let you know." She turns onto her side, away from him.
"I'm going to see if somebody in the tavern will sell us some horses." He leaves the room and Nicci's eyes snap open.
Richard fiercely rides the horse back to the farm house and pulls it to a stop when he sees it. He opens the door and enters the house to find the interior covered in snake vines, the old woman and man have both been strangled by the vines. His blood boils and he releases his rage on the vines, hacking and slashing all that he sees.
Zedd, Kahlan, Trinity, Cara, and Frederick watch the guards at the estate.
"They're changing shifts, now's our chance." Kahlan starts off with Frederick following after her. Zedd, Cara, and Trinity remain behind.
Frederick leads the way when Kahlan lets out a breath and falls forward holding onto his arm for balance. "Are you all right?" He asks, placing his hand on Kahlan's.
Kahlan snatches her hand away. "I'm fine. Just a little dizzy."
Nicci slam a stein down on the bar and slides it forward where it meets up with five other empty steins. A man in the tavern takes notice of her.
"Barkeep!" He walks to stand next to Nicci at the bar. "Get the lady another glass of wine."
Nicci turns to look at him with a smirk on her face, the man answers with a smile.
Kahlan and Frederick walk towards the stump of a tree. "This is the spot." He says, putting his hand on it and pushing it over, revealing a box hidden underneath. He pulls the lid up on the box and looks at Kahlan. "Can you hold this?"
She bends down and takes ahold of the lid as he reaches inside the large box to a smaller box, revealing what looks like a jewelry box, and he opens it. "Just hurry."
Nicci and the man enter her room. He goes to push her down onto the bed but she holds out her arms, stopping him. "Hit me." She orders, only to receive an unsure look. "You heard me."
"If that's what you want…" She nods her head and he pulls his hand back and delivers an open handed slap to her face.
Kahlan's head whips to the side with the hit of the blow to Nicci, she stands panting from the impact.
"Kahlan?" Frederick asks. She stands panting for a moment before she is knocked off her feet from another blow to Nicci, letting out a small scream of pain. Frederick looks over his shoulder, lets the lid to the big box close and goes over to her. "Kahlan? Are you all right?" They hear the guards shouting as they move toward them.
"Over here!" One shouts as he enters the clearing. He sees Frederick help Kahlan to her feet.
Zedd, Cara, and Trinity come running. They guard themselves as the guard is joined by another and they both take out their swords. Kahlan is in the lead, walking a bit unsurely, and she engages with the first guard. The others run forward and engage in the fight leaving Frederick behind. Kahlan ducks a blow from the sword of the guard when she doubles over in pain as if hit in the gut, feeling another blow from Nicci.
Zedd uses his powers to shove aside one guard, four more appear behind that guard and rush at Zedd who uses a magic pulse to knock them all off their feet. Kahlan is still engaged with the first guard becoming even more unsteady; she loses her footing and falls to the ground as the guard laughs at her.
The man punches Nicci in the face once again.
Kahlan struggles to her feet but is knocked back to the ground, panting.
Nicci stands up; blood running from her mouth and a bruise forming on her cheek.
"You're bleeding." He says.
She steadies herself. "Again."
He shakes his head but still pulls his arm back and punches her again.
Kahlan's head jerks to the side with the blow, her wounds matching that of Nicci's. She drops her knife and moans in pain.
Nicci is punched again.
Kahlan falls back to the ground. The guard uses this moment to swing down at her with his sword, she barely has enough time and thought to bring up her remaining dagger and deflect his blow. He reels back to stab down at her with his sword when he's hit from behind by something and falls down to his knees screaming, revealing Frederick, who had picked up Kahlan's fallen blade and has drove it into the guards back, he goes to Kahlan and helps her stand.
Cara finishes off the guard she has been fighting against with one final strike of her Agiel and Trinity slashes down at a guard in front of her. She looks around and sees Kahlan once again get thrown to her back by a blow Nicci has received, she hurries over to check on her. "Cara!" Trinity calls the blonde, who rushes over to Kahlan as well.
"I can't move." Kahlan gasps.
The man lies on top of Nicci, pinning her body with his weight and her arms with his hands.
Richard walks into the room. "Get off her!" He grabs the man his shirts, throwing him off of Nicci.
Kahlan sits up with a gasps.
Richard picks the man up from the floor by his shirt, fury written on his face.
"I was only doing what the lady asked." The man says.
Richard looks over at Nicci, who gives him a sly smile. He lets the man go and pushes him toward the door, he quickly leaves.
Nicci feigns a pout. "You spoiled all my fun."
She stands up from the bed facing him fully. "You went back to help those farmers even though I told you not to, didn't you?" She asks, seeing the truth on Richard's face. "Now you know the consequences of disobeying me." She takes a few steps to get closer. "If you do it again Kahlan will pay the price." She picks up his hand and runs the back of it in the blood running from her mouth, showing it to him. "You have Kahlan's blood on your hands Richard. But perhaps you'd like to make it up to her." She leans in to whisper in his ear. "We could make her feel better." She pulls back and looks at him before moving in for a kiss.
He shoves her away from him. "What kind of monster are you?"
Once again, she gives him her sly smile.
Kahlan, Zedd, Trinity, Cara, and Frederick are running through the woods when the Confessor stops.
The others top as well, turning to look. "Kahlan are you all right?" Zedd asks.
"I think it's over."
"Do you need to rest?" Frederick asks her.
She shakes her head. "No. I feel a little better now." She cradles her jaw.
Richard holds an ice pack to Nicci's jaw. "This should help the swelling."
She takes the bundle from him and holds it to her face. "I used to take care of people too." Richard shoots her a look of disbelief and stands. "It's true. When I was a young novice all I wanted to do was serve the Creator and become a Sister of the Light." She takes the bundle away from her jaw and looks at it, playing with it in her hands. "To prove I was worthy I volunteered to go on a service mission and give aid and comfort to men in prison." Richard leans against a wall, facing her and crosses his arms listening. "There was one prisoner; he liked to hear me sing hymns. He asked to pray with me, alone, and I told the guard it would be all right. As soon as he left, the man forced himself on me." The admission gets a small reaction out of Richard, but not much of one. "I went back to the Prelate and told her what had happened. I admitted I wanted to kill the man. But the Prelate said the Creator had given me a great opportunity to grant the sacred gift of forgiveness."
Richard stands straight with a doubtful look on his face, walking over to sit in the chair beside the bed. "What did you do?"
"I went back and tried to forgive him. I prayed to the Creator to let the light shine through me, but the man forced himself on me again. I was so ashamed. I didn't want to tell the Prelate that I had failed. But that night, when I went to sleep, I dreamed of slicing his throat with my dacra. And I knew that was a message from the Keeper. A promise that if I served him he would protect me. So the next day, I went back and I slit the prisoner's throat. That was the last rotten breath he ever took. I didn't feel a shred of guilt or horror at what I'd done. All I felt was powerful. And that's when I knew I had truly become a Sister. A Sister of the Dark."
"What happened to you was wrong."
"The whole world is wrong. That's why the Keeper wants to end it. And I thank him every day for giving me the strength to help him."
Richard shakes his head. "Nicci, you are strong. But I don't believe a person's strength comes from the Keeper or the Creator. Your strength is yours and yours alone. And what you do with it is up to you." He gives her a long look before standing up and walking away, leaving her to her thoughts.
Zedd, Trinity, and Cara stand not too far away as Fredrick watches Kahlan look through the jewelry box.
Trinity wonders off a bit, knowing it's only a matter of time before Cara appears, as she's wont to do ever since she woke up from the Arachne bite. It's not long before she hears footsteps near her.
"You shouldn't wonder off." Cara tells her.
Trinity closes her eyes and takes a deep breath, burying her frustration. "I'm fine. No one knows we're here."
"Anything thing can happen."
"I can take care of myself."
"Cara!" Trinity turns to her. "I'm fine!" A brief look of hurt flashes across the blondes face. Trinity runs her hands down her face with a sigh. "I sorry, I didn't mean to snap at you." She tells her. "It's just…ever since I woke up from the Arachne bite; you've just been…there. Not that I don't like being around you, but it's like you don't trust me to take care of myself."
Cara crosses her arms and stares out into the trees. "When you were bitten…there was nothing I could do to help. I didn't know if Richard and Kahlan would be on time with the cure and if you died, I wouldn't have been able to save you." She blinks away the potential tears in her eyes. "What we do is dangerous, but that was as close as I've ever come to losing you." She looks at Trinity. "I don't ever want to feel that way again."
Trinity looks into Cara's eyes and pulls her in for a kiss, after a moment she pulls away and rests her forehead against Cara's. "I promise to always do my best to come back to you…just as you do for me."
Cara wraps her arms around Trinity, holding the girl close to her.
Kahlan shakes her head. "I was sure once I saw her things that I'd remember, but I don't even know which are hers let alone which ones meant anything to her."
Fredrick looks at a piece of jewelry in his hand. "When I was under Confession, I bought this for your mother in celebration of your birth." He hands her a beautiful blue jeweled necklace. "I got her these earrings to match when your sister was born." He pulls the earrings out of the box and hands those to Kahlan as well. "Your mother wore them every day."
Kahlan stares at the jewelry in her hands. "I can't believe I forgot."
"Maybe there are other things you don't remember."
She looks at him, anger showing on her face. "I remember enough." She returns her gaze to the jewels.
"Like when we used to have lunch together? And you liked it when I would cut your apples in the shapes of stars." He says, getting Kahlan to look back up at him. "And I would lift you up to feed the cores to the horses."
Kahlan shakes her head. "You only did that because you were Confessed."
"You're right. I didn't choose to be with your mother or to have children. I was forced. You've spent three days subject to the whims of your sorceress. I spent six years Confessed to your mother."
"Confessors don't choose honorable men for their mates."
"So you're saying I deserved it?"
Kahlan nods her head and looks away.
"Hm." He unwraps something from the box. "Look at this." In his hand is a small, but beautiful stone carving of a woman. Kahlan looks at it as he holds it up to examine it himself. "Her name was Leah. I made this for her. Her father was a stone carver. And when I asked for her hand in marriage he offered to teach me everything he knew. I took to stone carving right away. I'd found my calling."
"My father. No son of his was going to become a stone carver. Or married to the daughter of one. Oh, he hand more ambitious plans for me. He got me a commission in the Dragon Corps. I couldn't wait until my service was finished so that I could get back to what I loved. But before I could, your mother Confessed me in battle."
Kahlan looks at him as he carefully wraps the statue back up. "What ever happened to you, it doesn't justify what you did to us. For years I was terrified of what you were going to force us to do next. Dennee cried every night and I couldn't even comfort her because you had bound our hands."
He looks away, abashed. "There's no excuse for what I did. But you should know that as afraid of you were of me, I was even more afraid of both of you."
Kahlan shakes her head in disbelief and looks away.
"Knowing that with one touch my own children had the power to destroy me again." He finishes, sharing a long look with his daughter.
The others walk up. "You've found something?" Zedd asks. Kahlan turns to him, but Fredrick is still deep in thought.
Kahlan hands him the jewelry they found. "Her necklace."
Zedd studies it. "Now all we need is sunlight. The spell won't work without it." He looks up at the sky. "It'll be just a few more hours now."
"I'll get more wood for the fire." Fredrick says, setting the statue down and walking away.
At the Inn, Nicci lies asleep on the bed while Richard sleeps in a chair with his arm resting on the table and propping his head up. The window of the room is slightly open and a spider crawls through. It crawls up Nicci's body up to her neck. Nicci wakes up with a scream as the spider bites her.
Kahlan awakes with a gasp.
Nicci sits up quickly and the spider falls to the floor where Richard stomps on it. "That was no ordinary spider. It was sent by the Sisters of the Dark. I only have a few hours left, at most."
Kahlan probes at her neck with her fingers, feeling two puncture wounds.
Nicci releases a hiss when Richard pulls her hair aside, looking at the bite. "We need to get you to a healer." He says. "Now."
"There's only one thing that can save me from this poison. The nectar of the Midnight Blossom. It only grows in complete darkness in the Caves of Arborea."
"We passed those caves yesterday. It can't be coincidence that the one thing we need to save your life is so close. It's a trap."
"The Sisters will be waiting for us."
"If they wanted you dead why not just use a stronger poison?"
"They want me to go to the caves so they can kill me with their dacras and steal my Han."
"We don't have a choice. If you don't get that flower you'll die. And so will Kahlan."
Nicci holds on tightly as Richard pushes the horse to ride faster.
Trinity watches in worry as Cara tends to Kahlan.
"You'll be fine once the spell is removed." Cara says.
"It's Richard I'm worried about." Kahlan says weakly. "Once the spell is broken Nicci will be able to use her magic."
"Richard can handle Nicci." Trinity tells her.
Fredrick walks up with a small bundle in his hand. "This should help with the swelling." He moves her hair aside and places the bundle against her neck as Zedd chants.
"Can you speed it up Wizard?" Cara asks. Zedd sprinkles something over a circle of stones as he chants, ignoring her.
"If I die, make sure Richard knows it wasn't his fault." Kahlan's voice slows and she blinks sluggishly.
"You're not going to die." Cara says, worry clear on her face.
"You just have to hang on for a little while longer." Trinity tells her.
Kahlan's eyes close and a tear slides out, she falls back and Fredrick lowers her to the ground.
"No! Kahlan!" Trinity cries out.
Richard holds Nicci in his arms as he runs into the caves. "Hold on Nicci!" He gently lowers her to the ground and runs over to some glowing purple flowers on the ground of the cave, grabbing a handful of the flowers before running back to her. He kneels down and crushes the flowers in his hand, holding them above the spider bite. The milky white liquid from the flowers drop onto the bite, but Nicci remains still and pale. Richard holds his fingers to her pulse. "Damn it Nicci, fight!" He shouts, his voice echoing through the cave as he squeezes more nectar onto the bite. He feels for her pulse once again. "Come on, stay with me!" He lifts her head up and cradles it against his chest. "Come on!"
Cara holds Kahlan's head in her lap and Trinity cries into her shoulder. Fredrick runs a hand through Kahlan's hair.
"Don't do this! Don't give up!" Richard yells, grabbing the flowers and squeezing one more. Nicci does not stir. He cradles her head against his cheek as he begins to cry. He puts his face against Nicci's and cries harder. He rest his chin against her forehead and speaks, but not to Nicci. "Kahlan, I'm right here. I love you so much."
In her unconsciousness, Kahlan can hear Richard.
"Can you hear me Kahlan? I love you. Can you feel this?" He gives a little laugh and kisses Nicci's forehead. He backs up and looks down at Nicci thinking of Kahlan. "And this?" He kisses Nicci's eyelid thinking of his love for Kahlan. He pulls his lips back but only a fraction. "And this." He gives a kiss to Nicci's lips hoping that Kahlan can feel him. As he is kissing her Nicci's eyes flutter open but he remains unaware. "I love you." Nicci's lips return the kiss and it continues for another second before Richard realizes what's happening. He pulls away with a gasp and looks down at Nicci. "You're alive."
Kahlan's eyes flutter open.
"Kahlan?" Her father gasps.
She looks at them with relief.
"Can you stand?" Richard asks.
"I think so." Nicci says.
Richard helps her stand when he hears the sound of blades clanging. They gasp and bend out of the way of a flying dacra. The Sisters of the Dark have arrived. "They're here."
A thick wave of smoke appears in the opening of the cave.
"They're trying to smoke us out." He looks at Nicci. "We need your magic to fight them. Break the maternity spell."
"Even if I wanted to, I don't have time or the ingredients."
Richard looks at the opening with alarm on his face.
Kahlan's mother's necklace lies in the center of the ring of stones atop a smaller pile of stones. Zedd chants over them. The blue stones and the necklace begin to glow brightly as a white light emits from the magic. It coalesces into the form of Kahlan's mother, who looks very much like her with long brown hair and the necklace glowing blue around her neck. She smiles warmly at an awestruck Kahlan.
"My beautiful Kahlan."
Kahlan smiles, still looking at her mother in awe. "There's so much that I want to tell you. That I want to ask you."
"Kahlan this won't last much longer, you need to touch hands." Zedd strains.
She gives her mother a large smile and walks with her hands raised. Her mother's hands are already waiting to meet hers. The white light of the magic surrounding Kahlan's mother travels up Kahlan's arms. "From the day you were born I knew your destiny would be extraordinary."
Kahlan looks at with tearful eyes as she shakes her head. "Mother, I'm not strong enough. I need you."
"Even when you were a little girl your heart was as good a guide as I could ever be." Her smile warms as a tear streaks down Kahlan's cheek. "I'm so proud of you Kahlan."
The intensity of the glowing spell begins to fade and Kahlan's face turns to despair. "Please don't go." She disappears and Kahlan's hands stretch forward trying to reconnect with her, but she is gone. The necklace falls back to the pile of rocks and stops glowing. Kahlan looks down with tears streaking her cheeks. Zedd lowers his hands, panting.
A bright green light surrounds Nicci. Richard sees the glowing and turns toward her. "My magic, it's back." She says, shocked.
Cara moves her hair from Kahlan's neck, seeing that the mark of the spider bite is gone. "It worked."
Zedd nods as Kahlan wipes the tears from her face. "Then Richard's life is in Nicci's hands now."
Marissa and two other Sisters stand outside the opening of the cave.
Nicci walks around Richard and strides towards the opening. She stands just in front of him and lifts her arm, sending the three Sisters flying backwards violently. She continues her way out of the cave, pulling out her dacras. She hits two of the Sisters and absorbs their Han. The third one, Marissa, scrambles to her feet and runs away. Nicci retrieves one of the dacras and throws it at the back of Marissa where it embeds into her. Marissa's head detaches from her body and falls one way while her body crumbles to the ground in the other direction. Nicci breathes heavily as her eyes glow green. She looks behind herself to find Richard standing ready holding up the Sword of Truth.
Nicci doesn't look impressed or worried. "I could still force you to lead me to the Stone."
"I will fight you until my last breath."
After a long, tense moment, she speaks again. "The Prophecy says you'll find the Stone and give it to the Enemy of the Light. You're of more use to the Keeper alive than dead." She takes a couple of steps closer to him staring at him hard before walking away.
Richard lowers his sword and turns towards her, watching her leave in shock.
Kahlan and Fredrick stand awkwardly in front of each other, neither sure what to say.
"Thank you for getting me out of prison." He says. A ghost of a smile appears on her lips. "I know you had your reasons. But thank you."
"At the manor you saved my life. We're even."
He moves a couple of steps closer to her and she lowers her head looking away from him. He holds on tightly to the straps of the backpack uncomfortably, the thought of hugging her leaving his mind at her reaction to him. He nods his head slowly, sadly, and turns away; leaving.
"Father." Kahlan calls. He stops and turns back toward her. She turns around and picks up the large chest of trinkets from the ground. He looks at her, surprised, and walks back to her. "Despite where these came from…I suppose they're yours." She holds the chest out to him. "I don't have any use for them." He looks at her for a moment before taking the chest from her hands. "Maybe you can start a new life. An honest one. You know, it's not too late to become a stone carver."
He gives her a smile and nods his head, she turns to walk away. "Kahlan." She turns around as he opens the chest and reaches in. He takes out the necklace and earrings. "These belong to you and your sister. I want you to have them." She places her hand on top of his, the necklace and earrings sandwiched between them. He grips her hand and holds it for a moment. He closes his eyes for a moment, realizing that he could touch his daughter without fear of her Confessing him. "I'll keep this and I'll do as you said. But not because the Mother Confessor told me to. Because my daughter asked me to." They stare at each other for a long moment, then he removes his hand from hers leaving the necklace and earrings in her palm.
Richard walks fast, his face lighting up when he sees Kahlan, who does the same, throwing her bag down and hurrying towards him. "How did you find me?" He asks.
"I spelled your shoes." Zedd tells him.
"That old trick?" Richard and Kahlan embrace each other happily, large smiles on their faces.
"Do you think I'd let you walk off with that witch without knowing how we'd get you back?"
Richard and Kahlan pull away from each other just enough for him to cradle her face in his hands and place a kiss upon her lips. "I'm so sorry for everything that happened to you."
"I'm fine, now that I know you're safe."
Cara walks up to Richard, running her eyes over him. "You seem to be all in one piece."
He looks at her. "Good to see you too Cara." He receives a smirk in return.
"What happened to Nicci?" Trinity asks.
"She's still out there."
Nicci sits by the fire at night. The flames flare and Darken Rahl appears. Nicci looks at him with no fear on his face.
"The Keeper is not pleased."
Nicci gives a little sigh and stands. "Actually, I've been thinking about the Keeper. And since it appears that you still run his errands perhaps you could deliver a message for me." She tells him, making him bristle at thinly veiled insult. "Tell your master I no longer serve him."
"Don't tell me the Seeker has gotten to you."
"My loyalties aren't with the Seeker. Nor are they with the Creator or the Keeper." She gives him a small smile. "My strength is mine, and mine alone." Her eyes glow green once again. "And from now on, I serve only myself." She lifts her hand, palm up, and blows on it. The fire is extinguished, taking Rahl with it.