His name was Darien Rahl, but one typo and some press bias later, and he was widely known as Darken Rahl. Not that he minded; Rahl was of the opinion that there was only rarely bad publicity and that it was far better to be feared than ignored. This set him at odds with his campaign manager, Michael Cypher, who pointed out how they themselves had used the stain of bad publicity to their advantage. The private investigator they'd hired had come through with some high quality photos that left no doubt in the imagination that Arthur Margrave, his election platform being one based on high moral standards, had committed almost every sin on his own list of offences. Margrave had stepped down in defeat and his replacement, John Herald, was no threat in the face of Rahl's charisma.
Rahl's family had emigrated to America before his birth. His father had claim to an English title – one that still existed, but had no lands attached to it. Rahl was fond of the gravitas and nobility the title conferred on him. Therefore he was more likely to be soothed when someone addressed him as "Lord Rahl".
No amount of bowing and scarping would help today, Denna knew. This was Cypher's fault. He insisted everything be documented: every illegal act, every underhand payment. She had a suspicion it was his backup plan, leverage that would keep him alive once Rahl tired of him – he had a habit of tiring of his staff quickly. Two books of accounts were kept, one the legitimate accounts of a wealthy man in the running for a senate position, detailing his shares in the Corporation, the campaign funds, the security expenditures. The other held all this with the addition of the dirty laundry that must never see the light of day – and worse, not just the accounts indicating services such as the private investigator's pay, but copies of all of the scientific reports of the Corporation. The ones that were less about the bottom line but did explain how many deaths had been caused by Giller's experiments.
That such a ledger even existed was a gross negligence. Cypher had downplayed its danger, claiming it was a necessary risk. He feared an attack on the Corporation (and there had been attacks) and to lose all their research would be a tragedy. The only solution was to keep a copy of everything in the secure vault below the science facility maintained by the Corporation (Rahl Industrial Corporation but only ever referred to in-house as the Corporation, or the Corp).
And now the vault had been breached and the ledger was gone.
Denna was head of security and it was her responsibility. She thought about running, but knew Rahl would find her. She would have to tell him, and Lord Rahl's temper was legendary. Her only hope of remaining unscathed was to find a scapegoat. The theft had to have been an inside job, that much was obvious, but so few people had access to the lower levels, let alone the vault, that she had few people to choose from.
In the finish she made her decision, though he was undoubtedly innocent, being too ambitious to risk bringing Rahl down before he was in office. Michael Cypher might try to stab Rahl in the back and steal his position once elected, but beforehand there was no point, and the man didn't have the morals to have turned against Rahl for the crimes he'd committed. But it was him, Giller (beyond reproach in Rahl's eyes), Denna, Rahl himself, or Egremont, and Egremont had been out the country on business for the last week, had been photographed just yesterday at a reception in Toronto, so she had no choice.
If Cypher was innocent, then who had taken the book? Denna had a terrible feeling it was someone close to her, someone who'd stolen her keycard and used it to break into the vault. Someone smart enough to turn off the CCTV and then return her keycard before skipping town. She knew it had been a mistake to trust Grix. He'd been a one night stand that had turned into a weekly affair. And now he'd betrayed her – all attempts to locate him had failed. And Rahl must never know that her poor choice in lovers had led to this tragedy.
Denna entered Rahl's office, closing the door behind her. She knelt immediately. This was no time for pride. Submission, however, might save her.
"My Lord Rahl," she said, feeling sweat gather beneath her tight red t-shirt. "I bring grave news."
"Indeed?" Rahl asked, leaning back in his chair. He swept back a lock of long dark hair from his face. Cypher had told him to cut it in order to look more like a politician than a rock star. Rahl had laughed at that; he enjoyed the thought of being a rock idol, and he said people were tired of politicians and their empty phrases, their dull suits, boring haircuts. He said he wanted to stand out.
"My Lord Rahl," Denna said again, praying he wouldn't kill her, "the vault was breached last night."
Rahl was on his feet in an instant, eyes flashing in anger. "The vials?"
"No, My Lord," Denna whispered. "Only one thing was taken." She whimpered, hated herself for the weakness. "The Book of Shadow Accounts."
Rahl's scream of rage echoed throughout the top floor of the building. Other workers who heard it chose this time to get coffee, take emergency personal time, and in one case, resign.
Inside his office, Rahl had Denna pinned against the wall, his hands at her throat. "How could this happen?" he demanded.
Denna choked, barely able to get her breath. "Someone – on – the – inside," she wheezed. Rahl loosened his hold a fraction and she drew a harsh breath. "The vault was opened, not broken into."
"There are only four of us with access to the vault," Rahl told her.
"I believe it was Michael Cypher," Denna said. "It was his idea to keep the treacherous book in the first place, my Lord, and he is George Cypher's son."
George Cypher had often spoken out against Rahl. When Michael had joined Rahl, he and his father had never spoken again. Michael hadn't even attended his father's funeral. To this day, Michael didn't know that Rahl had arranged for a switch in George Cypher's medication that would prove fatal, and had paid off a medical examiner to ensure this never came to light. But if Michael had discovered it, he might well have turned on Rahl.
Rahl released Denna and she sank to the floor. She rubbed at her throat, felt the marks in her skin where the leather thong of office had dug into her flesh.
"You are certain?" Rahl asked.
"Who else could have done this thing, my Lord?" Denna asked. "I shall search his desk; I am sure to find proof." And she would, because she would plant it.
"Confirm your suspicions," Rahl said. "Find the book."
The book was gone, of course. Denna printed off some anti-Rahl propaganda and "found" it in Michael's desk while Triana and Dahlia held him for questioning in her office. She forged an email that he'd been planning to send to a known investigative journalist, Livia, who'd been sniffing around for the story that would bring Rahl down ever since he'd made his announcement to stand for office.
"He has betrayed you," Denna said sorrowfully when she made her report to Rahl. "Betrayed us, our cause."
"Where is the book?" Rahl asked.
"He will not say," Denna said. "We used all of our powers of persuasion." She touched the Taser at her hip, the ever-prevalent weapon of Rahl's security staff.
"Bring him before me," Rahl said.
Michael, bruised, and shaken by the cruel and repeated application of the Tasers - despite his pleas of innocence and requests for mercy - was dragged into Rahl's office
"Listen, Darien," he begged. "I didn't do this. Why would I? I want to see you in power. I have sacrificed so much for that."
"You're about to sacrifice some more," Rahl seethed. "Do you think you could deceive me? You know what happens to those who betray me!"
"Wait, I know–" Michael never got finish the sentence for Rahl nodded to Denna, who knocked Michael unconscious with one vicious blow.
"You wish for me to kill him?" she asked. "We could make it look like an accident – or a murder. I have some suitable suspects for the police to look into. Anna Brighton's public break-up with Cypher is on record, and she did threaten violence against him. It wouldn't take much effort to frame Anna and leave us in the clear."
"No," Rahl said, fingering his beard. "That would be a wasted opportunity."
Richard Cypher stared at the letter.
"We regret to inform you," he said bitterly. They might as well have been telling him that his DVD was out of stock, sorry for the inconvenience, but they hoped he'd continue to shop with them. This was no way to be told that his brother was in a coma and unlikely to recover. That it had taken a week to inform him was another matter.
There'd been news reports, but nothing conclusive; that Michael Cypher had stepped down from his position was the only clear fact, that illness had been a factor was a rumour. And Rahl's charisma and recent donation to a children's charity quickly drew attention away from this minor bump in his campaign.
"I'm so sorry, my boy," Zedd told him, pushing his half-moon spectacles back on his nose. They were sitting in the reading area of the second hand bookstore. It held two old but comfortable stuffed sofas, a table, and a fire that burned even during the hottest summer days.
Zorander's bookstore had been here since anyone could remember. Richard's father had brought him here to swap out books he'd finished with and choose new ones – and Zedd had always put aside books he thought Richard might like.
Fairy tales and fantasies, mythology, stories about heroes. These were staples of his childhood. As he grew up, Richard still loved science fiction and fantasy, but his tastes broadened and he devoured books on survival tactics, travel, and the law. These days Zedd put aside books on the required reading list for courses in criminology, because while he'd travelled for a while and was currently saving up money from his job - life guarding at the local leisure centre - Richard had expressed a wish to join the police force.
"I haven't spoken to him in five years," Richard said. "And that was when I called him and said he had to come to our father's funeral. Which he didn't."
"I remember. His work-"
"Don't make excuses for him," Richard said. He sighed. "I didn't think this would bother me so much."
"He's family," Zedd said. "It's hard to cut them out of your life completely."
Richard stood and paced, the letter crumpled in one fist. "It says there were drugs involved. That doesn't sound like Michael."
"You said yourself that it's been years," Zedd told him. "Perhaps he's changed."
Richard folded the letter and put it in his pocket. He stared at a nearby shelf and removed a book, shelving it two books further to the left. Zedd tended to group books by subject or genre and then in an order approximating alphabetically. Richard liked to shelve things more tidily, not least because he knew it irritated the older man who claimed he knew where every single book was unless 'some idiot has moved them around'.
"I should go and see him," he said.
"Are you sure that's wise?" Zedd sipped his tea. Richard's sat, un-tasted, on the scratched coffee table. "It would only upset you further, and he wouldn't know that you'd been there."
Richard shook his head. "I kind of feel I should. They said he's in a private facility, receiving the best care Lord Rahl can provide."
Zedd snorted. "Lord Rahl," he said. "A man with delusions of grandeur if ever I saw one."
"He really does have a title," Richard said, and glanced at the wall by the cash register which was covered in newspaper clippings and adverts and certificates that Zedd had collected relating to his store and his self-published book of poetry. "People like to be proud of their heritage and achievements."
"I don't lie to people," Zedd scoffed, unwilling to admit to being a glory hound himself. "I may occasionally exaggerate but that's just business."
The bell above the door sounded and a young woman rushed in, breathless. She was wearing a black vest top that showed off ample cleavage and a long black skirt. When Richard took his eyes away from the cleavage he noticed the spotless white coat that trailed almost to the ankle of her boots, and thought he'd have got a coat like that dirty within about two minutes of putting in on.
The woman hurried over, sweeping a lock dark lock of hair back from her face. She was beautiful, Richard thought, even while flushed and distraught.
"Mr Zorander?" she asked.
"Depends," Zedd said evasively, sipping his tea again. "You're not an auditor, are you?"
She shook her head. "No, not at all. I'm Kahlan Amnell, from the District Attorney's office. Or I was."
"District Attorney?" Zedd asked, shiftily.
"You're not Kahlan Amnell anymore?" Richard asked, puzzled.
She stared at both of them. "I'm not with the DA's office anymore," she explained. "I've been let go."
"Fired," Richard said helpfully.
This finally got him the full measure of her attention.
"Who are you?" she demanded.
"Richard Cypher," he said, holding out his hand.
Kahlan paled, her already light skin turning the colour of porcelain. "Related to Michael Cypher?"
"My brother," Richard said. "For the moment."
Zedd got to his feet. "What do you want with me, Kahlan Amnell, previously of the District Attorney's office?"
"To defeat Lord Rahl," she said. "Darien Rahl has committed terrible crimes and is in the process of committing further evil deeds. I have reason to believe he is using human subjects in his company's latest drug trials without their consent. I believe he has killed to clear the way to taking office. And I have no proof, but now I know proof does exist and I would find it. And I think you can help me, Mr Zorander."
Richard stared at Kahlan. "Are you one of those conspiracy theory nuts?" he asked.
Kahlan turned on him, blue eyes flashing in anger. "He killed your father, Richard. George Cypher spoke out against Rahl and people were listening. And now, for whatever reason, Rahl has poisoned your brother."
Richard stepped in close to her. "How dare you waltz in here and start making ridiculous accusations," he said.
Zedd got to his feet. "Enough. I knew this day would come. I just hoped it wouldn't happen now. I've got a new book coming out, you know."
"I'm amazed Rahl lets you live to pen your erotic verse," Kahlan said.
"I've kept quiet," Zedd said. "I've never betrayed him openly and to have me killed would just draw attention to the connection between us."
"You and Rahl? You own a second hand bookstore! You write smutty poetry!" Richard was confused and upset by this sudden turn of events. He'd mourned his father and now he had to accept the fact that George Cypher had been murdered and there was justice to seek. He'd relied on Zedd as a friend especially with George and Michael out of his life, and now Kahlan was saying that his trusted confidante was involved with the people who had hurt his family.
"It's not smutty, it's erotic, and not all of the verses are sexual in nature," Zedd huffed.
"The poetry? That's what you want to talk about?" Kahlan placed her hands on her hips. "Mr Zorander, we have a chance to take down Darien Rahl once and for all. But my contact in his organisation has gone silent and now I need your help."
"Darken Rahl," Richard said. "Zedd always calls him Darken Rahl."
Zedd nodded. "And with reason. Let me make some tea and put up the closed sign and I'll do my best to explain."
ZEDD Z. ZORANDER
Many years ago Zedd had been a respected scientist. The previous Lord Rahl, Piers, had favoured his research and funded his work. His son, Darien, was being groomed from a young age to take over the Corporation of which the scientific endeavours were one part. The Corporation had interests in aerospace, defence, crops, and of course, the pharmaceuticals industry. Zedd's work on slowing the aging process was an important part of that.
Darien went to college to study business but when he was orphaned just two months into his studies, he changed his major to political science. Chief Operations Officer Egremont became acting CEO until Darien graduated and then the new Lord Rahl took the reins of the Corporation.
He cleaned house, eliminating board members disloyal to him, and acquiring a controlling interest in the company. He began weeding out projects that were too controversial or might otherwise interfere with his political ambitions, and instituted new projects with a focus on societal improvements.
Except for Zedd's work. Darien had an interest in this most controversial project, and he wanted it to continue. And he made it clear to Zedd that he expected results. So Rahl pushed further into the field of medicine, and while most of the work he supported would save lives, there were secret projects that were quite the opposite.
Zedd's conscience wouldn't let him work for Rahl once he witnessed a death that was caused by the unsanctioned testing of one of the new drugs. Rahl had only been concerned that an autopsy wouldn't implicate him. Zedd left, and Rahl told him that one word to the police, the press, or anyone who might damage his career, and he'd hunt down Zedd's family and dispose of them first.
Zedd was a widower, and had one estranged daughter. While they'd had their differences, he would never risk her safety. In fact after leaving Rahl's employment, he tried building bridges with her. Tara Lyn Zorander gave birth to a child soon after Zedd had found her, but died shortly afterwards from unknown causes. Heartbroken and unwilling to risk his grandson's life by his association with the Zorander name, Zedd let friends of Tara's arrange an adoption.
A compromise was reached on this last point though; the Cypher family, with one son and a longing for another that had gone unfulfilled, were chosen to raise Richard Zorander. And Zedd moved nearby and made a new life for himself, and he and George Cypher kept watch over Richard as he grew into a fine young man. Rahl never bothered them during the intervening years and Zedd had grown complacent about the threat – until now.
"You say George Cypher was killed by Rahl?" Zedd said. "How?"
Kahlan shrugged. "My information suggests Rahl's beloved pharmaceuticals may have played a part."
"Rahl makes vaccines," Richard said. "Painkillers. Those new drugs that help heart disease. I know there's a lot of hatred for some of his work, but are you certain he's doing evil?"
"Rahl makes money from his good works," Zedd said. "He gains publicity. And not everyone in his employ is working for sinister ends. But the fact remains that Rahl also manufactures poisons to employ during wars and drugs for social compliance."
"Social compliance?" Richard asked, puzzled.
Zedd hung his head briefly. "I was working on ways to turn back or halt the aging process," he said. "But it's not just one issue, age. It's physical problems, everything from stiff joints to the effects of gravity on our skin. It's mental issues about memory and concentration. And while I was working on the issue of lucidity I stumbled on something terrible."
Kahlan leaned over and put one hand on his shoulder. "Go on. We need to know," she said softly.
"I found a way to manufacture a compound that can affect people's memories and thought patterns. To make them docile, if that is what is required, amendable to media messages and instructions from those in authority."
"Brainwashing," Richard said.
"More or less." Zedd sighed. "If Rahl ever gains enough political power he'll find a way to disguise it as something beneficial and introduce it into the water supply, and then he won't need to charm people. He'll just order them to do his bidding. At first I thought he was joking when he said it could be used to control people but he meant it. I thought there could be some good uses for it – rehabilitating violent criminals, for example – but Rahl's ambitions are boundless."
"He must be stopped," Kahlan said.
"He has access to this drug?" Richard asked.
"I destroyed as much of my work as I could, but there were things my assistants knew," Zedd said. "Rahl has no doubt been trying to recreate and perfect it ever since. There's one more thing, Richard, one more terrible thing about it."
Richard threw out his arms. "What on earth can be worse than everything you've both told me so far?" He wanted to go back to bed and find this whole day had been nothing but a bad dream.
"The drug could only be made using human test subjects," Zedd said sorrowfully. "It's possible technology has moved past that now, but at the time, no artificial chemicals could match some of those extracted from living people."
Richard's mouth fell open in disgust. He drew out the crumpled letter.
"Is that what's happened to Michael?" he asked, voice tight with anger.
"I don't know. As I say, technology has moved on. Yet Rahl always used human test subjects for his secret drug trials. It seems unlikely he's moved on from that, despite the risks it poses to his ambitions and his freedom. I'm sorry," Zedd said.
Richard paled and marched to the front door of the shop.
"I need a minute," he said and left, the bell jangling as the door slid past it.
"It's a lot to take in," Kahlan said softly.
"He's strong," Zedd said. "He'll be all right."
Kahlan nodded. "I hope so."
"More tea?" Zedd asked and she held out her cup.
Several hours later Richard returned, grim determination on his face.
"How do we stop Rahl?" he asked.
"Find the Book of Shadow Accounts," Kahlan said decisively. She'd explained it to Zedd and now outlined what she knew of the artefact to Richard.
"Then that's what we'll do. Where do we start?" Richard asked.
Zedd cleared his throat. "I may have an idea. Let me just get a few things. My coat, for one." The long brown coat was at least as old as Richard, for he remembered the old man wearing it every season except summer as far back as his memory stretched. There were some embroidered panels and these were much faded with age, but overall the camel coloured coat was still in fairly good condition.
Kahlan and Richard waited for him to ready himself, Richard shuffling about impatiently. Zedd took up a battered rucksack and then put it down and opened up a drawer under the desk. He pulled out an old envelope and handed it to Richard.
"This was your mother's," he said. "I was waiting for the right time to tell you, to give you this. I'm not sure where she acquired it."
Richard tipped the envelope open over his hand. A metal object fell into his palm. It was a two inch long brooch in the shape of a sword, with blue gems at the pommel and each tip of the guard. The word "Truth" was etched along the blade.
"That's pretty," Kahlan said.
"Thank you," Richard said, and nodded to Zedd. "I wish you'd told me before, but we'll talk about that later. I'm glad to have something from my birth family."
Kahlan gestured. "May I?" She picked it up and carefully pinned it to the breast pocket of Richard's denim jacket.
Cara Mason was ambitious. No-one knew just how driven she was. She'd been a cheerleader, a gymnast, and those things overshadowed her academic accomplishments. She wasn't the top of her class in any subject, but she did well in many. She'd considered medical school, but it didn't feel like the right thing, and she'd joined the drama club, which was fun, but still not her calling.
She decided she was going about things the wrong way. Being trained for a position didn't guarantee you a job. No, the trick was to get a job first, and then get the right training. And the best job was one with plenty of opportunities for promotion, preferably in a large company with a high profile.
She'd have taken any job in the Corporation, from sweeping the floors to sorting the mail, because everyone knew Lord Rahl was going places. As it was, she found herself in the Security division. Security officers in the Corporation had to be physically fit, and have some training in self-defence. Check. They were also expected to be able to monitor the work that went on in the company and not be easily blinded by science. Check. They weren't just protecting the staff or the work, they were protecting Lord Rahl – they were his Eyes and Ears, as the literature said. And Cara was smart, and had a good memory, and so she met these criteria too. They must also be able to render medical assistance if necessary, and Cara's summer with the Red Cross when she'd flirted with the idea of becoming a doctor came in handy here. She completed all of the training courses required of her in under six months, a record for any Security Officer.
She was proud to wear the uniform of the Security Division even if wasn't the most comfortable outfit. The red T-shirt was figure hugging as were the tight black jeans. She loved the heeled boots and the oxblood leather jacket. She envied the higher ups – Mistresses, they were nicknamed, for woe betide anyone talking back to them – who wore the three-fold leather thong about their neck that signalled their elevated status.
She loved knowing she was working for the man who would, when the time was right (and elections were drawing closer) and the voters willing, become one of the most powerful men in the country, a paragon of both politics and private enterprise. That he was charming and handsome just added to his appeal.
Cara loved the feel of the specially developed Taser at her hip. Rahl's stance on weaponry was that it should be available where necessary (rural areas), regulated in others (cities) and non-lethal wherever possible. It was his attempt to woo both the pro- and anti-gun lobbyists. By arming his own staff with only Tasers rather than handguns he claimed he was showing faith in the basic goodness of people and of the efficiency of law enforcement. The Tasers had the "Drive Stun" capability, so it could be held against a target without firing the projectiles, causing pain without incapacitating the target. Mistresses were unofficially known to use this "pain compliance" feature to interrogate suspected wrongdoers.
The Tasers supplied to Mistresses and Security officers were blood red, a special order just for Rahl's staff. They were also adapted by Giller to be extra sensitive, amongst other modifications. Cara had shocked herself with the weapon on more than one occasion due to the modifications; every Security Officer had. It was rumoured that Denna actually used her Taser on herself as a matter of course; either to harden herself against its effects or possibly because she derived some pleasure from it - no-one knew for sure.
Orphaned at a young age, Cara was used to making her own way in the world, and saw no harm in using her physical attributes to impress people. If in doubt, she stayed silent; that way no-one could judge her by her words. She did her best to be on good terms with the people she worked with.
After a month guarding the floor where all the records were kept at the Corporation HQ, Cara was moved to the science facility, generally referred to as the Lab. This was actually a promotion, for she was made to sign yet more nondisclosure agreements before taken downstairs to the secretive lower levels.
Human test subjects; Cara wasn't against the idea in principle, though volunteers who had little other choice besides death was what she had expected when told about the people she would be guarding. Garen, the Administrative Supervisor for the level (glorified secretary, Cara thought privately) was, despite the cloak-and-dagger atmosphere, quite chatty when the mood took her, and seemed glad to have Cara there.
"I mean he's creepy, brilliant but creepy," Garen said, even as she typed furiously while Cara leant on the reception desk and sipped coffee. It was her first day here and if Garen wanted to bring her up to speed all the better. Giller was who Garen was talking about and it was Giller's notes she was typing up. Garen had worked at the Lab for five years and knew everything about it, including the vault that was hidden behind barred double doors at the end of the basement room.
"Only Rahl and his cronies are allowed in," Garen explained. "Egremont, Cypher, Giller, and Mistress Denna." Which had of course piqued Cara's curiosity about what the vault might contain.
"Samples, I think," Garen said, when Cara had wondered aloud about the vault. "It's supposed to be so secure that if the whole building fell down on it, the vault would survive."
"Is that likely?" Cara asked. "That the building would fall down?"
Garen shrugged. "Maybe, if someone bombed us. People think we're up to all sorts of disturbing things down here," she said.
"It looks as if we are," Cara pointed out. Garen just laughed.
Cara liked the night shift best; the lack of daylight wasn't so terrible when you knew you weren't missing it by being downstairs. Also Garen wasn't there, and even Giller usually went home by nine or ten at night. It made for a quiet, soothing time. Cara had asked about the patients and Garen had been dismissive; test subjects were apparently fairly replaceable and didn't justify the expense of keeping medical staff on site twenty four hours a day. The building was secured and the basement in particular difficult for anyone to access, and this was thought to be good enough – the vault breach, much later, did nothing to change this state of affairs.
So during night shifts Cara would sit at her desk, situated quite near Garen's, and watch the security monitors for a while, then do her perimeter sweep. Sometimes Giller's lab technician, Jennsen was still there, monitoring an experiment Giller was running. She was a quiet and thoughtful young woman and sometimes Cara would take her break in the kitchen area at the same time as Jennsen to catch up with her.
"Do you like it here"? Cara asked one day.
"It's different to what I did before," Jennsen said.
"You'll laugh," Jennsen said, nibbling at a pastry.
"I won't." Cara gave her best "serious" face.
Cara didn't laugh, though she was surprised, and a small smile crept onto her face.
"How did you end up here?" Cara wondered.
"The same way anyone does, I suppose," Jennsen said cryptically. She brushed crumbs from her lab coat. "Well, most of us."
"You mean Giller's subjects?"
Jennsen swallowed nervously. "I need to get back," she said and left the room.
It was fortunate Cara hadn't been on duty the night the vault was breached, she having being on day shift that week, because the officer who had been on the night shift was afterwards nowhere to be found. Cara got the opportunity to witness Giller's work firsthand the next day as he and Jennsen induced the comatose state that would keep Michael Cypher out of Rahl's way – and provide Giller with another test subject.
Two days later, back on night shift, Cara was alone in the basement. So she wandered over to Michael Cypher's bedside and found herself talking to him; someone she could voice her concerns to who could not betray her.
"I love my job," she said. "And I'm going places. This is the best opportunity of my life. Rahl has many good deeds to his name, so many lifesaving products, has created so many jobs, and has such noble goals in mind for his political office. And then I see what goes on down here, and I wonder, for a moment, if I'm wrong. But I'm in too deep now, I think, to merely walk away. If I'm honest, I don't want to. I'm an 'ends justify the means' kind of person."
She paused. She didn't know Michael Cypher beyond his public persona. She'd met him twice; the first time was when she'd been sent to take some files to the campaign headquarters while she had been at the Corporation HQ. He'd smiled as genuinely as a politician could, and greeted her politely. He'd been happier then, still engaged to Anna Brighton.
The second time she met him was her third day on duty at the science facility, when he'd come to place something in the vault. He'd nodded and called her 'Mistress' and the thought had thrilled her so much that she hadn't corrected his mistake. Garen had, when told of this later, thought he'd been too busy looking at Cara's cleavage to notice her bare throat – and who could blame him. He'd seemed harassed, anxious, distracted. He'd lost weight since the last time she'd met him, and Cara thought he ought to take a vacation somewhere far away in the sunshine and away from the stress of the job.
It wouldn't be inconceivable that he'd started taking drugs to cope with the stress of his work and the anguish over his break-up with Anna, but Cara was almost certain it wasn't true.
"Garen says you're officially here because of a drug overdose. I know that when we use the word 'officially' what follows is a lie. It's to do with the vault, isn't it? The timing is no coincidence. But why would you steal from it when you already had unrestricted access to it? And why would you be so foolish as to stick around afterwards? You're many things, but foolish isn't one of them."
She was sorry it had come to this. But he'd clearly overstepped. Cara swore she would not make the same mistake.
Shota's Visions was an old looking store, with paint peeling from the wooden door and window frames. Richard peered through the dusty window; there were television sets from every era – or least as many as he'd been alive. Huge, CRT televisions, in their ugly wooden boxes sat next to slimmer, newer models. The carpet looked as if it had been there since the seventies.
"Zedd?" he asked. "Here?"
Zedd just nodded miserably. Kahlan shrugged and pushed the door open. They all filed in, Zedd hanging back reluctantly.
Inside Richard found shelves of VHS and Betamax videos, Laserdiscs, boxes of cassette tapes, and magazine files stuffed with manuals for all manner of electrical equipment.
"Can I help you?"
Richard turned. A woman had come out from the rear of the store through a bead curtain. Dressed in black, with red hair stretching to her waist, she was wearing an impressive array of bangles that jangled as she walked sinuously towards them.
"Hi," Richard said. "Um, what sort of place is this?"
"I provide for those who would see. And hear, sometimes. If you suddenly find yourself in possession of an eight track and have no equipment to play it on, or need a piece to repair a Panasonic Video Recorder made in 1980, I can help. Technology moves so quickly and we risk losing the integrity of our records. Oral memory isn't what it was, and books have their place, while on the other hand digital archives promise to store entire libraries on compressed disks, kept safe from the outside world."
She spun, indicating the store. "This place bridges the gap, the moment when technology began to outstrip books but before our current digital age. This is a museum to analogue and all it accomplished."
Richard nodded thoughtfully, but the woman had moved past him.
"Zedd," she purred. "It's been a long time."
"Not long enough," he grumbled.
"So why are you here?"
"Rahl," Zedd said, as if the very word disgusted him.
"I see. And these people?"
Zedd pointed. "My grandson, Richard, and former ADA Kahlan Amnell. Kahlan thinks there's a book that lists Rahl's crimes; it was stolen recently. It seemed like something you might have acquired. You have no love for Rahl. It was one of things we had in common."
Richard stepped forward. "Pleased to meet you -" He faltered as he realised he had no idea what her name was.
"Sharona Otago," she said. "Shota, for business purposes."
"Sharona?" Richard asked.
"Like the song," she agreed.
"Like the poetry?" Richard glanced at Zedd. "Is this the woman so much of your poetry is about?"
Zedd turned away haughtily, poking at a mimeograph. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"I have to tell you I do not have any such mythical book," Sharona said, returning her attention to the subject at hand. "Books were always your domain, Zedd. Yes, I have heard the rumours, but I suggest you try elsewhere."
Seeing the disappointment on Richard and Kahlan's faces, Sharona pointed to the back room.
"I'm sorry I can't directly help but I do have other ways of seeing," she said. "Visions can mean many things."
"Like what?" Kahlan asked.
"I read the Tarot," Sharona said. "I'll read for you if you like, Richard. On the house, for old times sake. Zedd's old times, that is."
Zedd snorted. "Trickery."
"What can it hurt?" Richard asked, deciding to humour her. "Sure."
Sharona led Richard into the back room. It was a large kitchen-like area with a sink, electric kettle, one table, two chairs, an electric fire, and two candles on the table, elegant in their silver holders. Sharona went to a drawer by the sink and returned with a box of matches, a cloth, and a box of cards.
She spread the deep blue cloth upon the table and lit the candles, placing them at the top edge of the cloth. Then she sat and opened the box, shuffling the cards.
"Sit," she said and Richard took the chair opposite. She handed him the cards. "Shuffle them for as long you want to," she said and he did so.
They were larger and thicker than normal playing cards, and there were more of them in a pack, so it took him a while to get a rhythm going. When he felt he'd thoroughly mixed the pack and she couldn't be picking cards pre-determined for her own purposes, he handed them back.
Sharona put the pack on the cloth and lifted the first card from the deck, placing in down in a particular spot. She then laid other cards around this first card in a pattern that appeared natural to her, but seemed to have no logic to Richard.
Sharona closed her eyes a moment and then turned over the first card. "This is the signifier, which represents you," she said. It was The Fool. Her eyes widened.
"Should I be insulted?" Richard asked.
She shook her head. "Not at all. This is the first card of the Major Arcana, and the last, for the cards tell the cycles that all of mankind travels endlessly. The Fool is also known as the Seeker. See how he steps out boldly, with no preconceived ideas, ready to experience all the world has to offer."
She turned two more cards. "These are your helpers. The Empress, and the Magician. A motherly figure, caring, nurturing; and a male energy, maybe a doctor, scientist or trickster."
Was it coincidence that this particular deck showed the Empress wearing a white dress? Richard watched Sharona turn over another card.
"The Reversed Emperor opposes you. A charismatic figure whose abuse of his power makes him a tyrant."
"Rahl?" Richard guessed. He was beginning to wonder if he'd shuffled the cards enough. She turned over another card.
"The Hanged Man. A time and space between such concepts as time or space. Stillness. Meditation. Reflection. Observation. Vulnerability. Sacrifice." When Richard didn't respond, Sharona looked at him. "None of this means anything to you? This is one of the forces pushing you on your journey."
Richard considered a moment, then touched his pocket where the letter sat. "It might mean my brother," he said.
Satisfied he'd found some meaning in the card, Sharona didn't press him for details. She turned over more cards.
"The High Priestess will guide you. But the Tower, falling, says you will have to face up to something terrible. And the Knight of Swords may prove your greatest strength or your downfall. I cannot interpret these yet, for these things are what may come to pass. Watch out for them.
Sharona turned over one last card. It was the Ace of Swords. Her gaze flickered to the brooch on his jacket.
"This is your goal. To seek justice and truth. To face challenges. To overcome adversity through intelligence and instinct as well as physical prowess."
She gathered up the cards. "Go with my blessing, Richard Cypher," she said. "I feel much depends on you now."
"But go where?" he asked.
"The High Priestess. I could be wrong, but it may refer to Verna. It's almost too obvious though," Sharona said. "Zedd knows her. She may be able to help."
"I can always tell when people are lying," Kahlan warned. "So, you and Sharona-"
"That conversation is off limits," Zedd said gruffly. Kahlan smiled and wandered around the store, fascinated by the array of objects. She was examining an ancient fax machine when Richard returned to the storefront.
"Well?" she asked.
"She said we have to find someone called Verna," Richard said, which was all that he felt like revealing. "And that you knew her, Zedd."
"I do," he acknowledged. "And I know where we can find her, but I will not be welcome. She might listen to you two, though."
"Oh, no," Kahlan whispered. Richard turned to see she was staring at one of the televisions. Its size belied its advanced age, but it was still in good working order, and it was currently showing a news channel.
"DA Brandstone killed in car bomb" read the headline across the bottom of the screen. A perky blonde reporter was explaining the details over the backdrop of footage showing a burnt out vehicle.
"I think you got off lightly with being fired," Richard said.
Kahlan nodded solemnly. "He must have carried on pursuing Rahl, she said, wiping away a tear. "And I fear I may still be in danger."
"Then don't let his death be in vain," Zedd said. "We need to get moving, and at least while we're on the road we're not such easy targets."
Rahl strode through the lower level of the science facility, his ankle length black coat billowing out behind him. The coat had the Rahl crest embroidered on the breast pocket and delicate decorative stitching at the cuffs. He was magnificent, Cara thought. Chief Mistress Denna was accompanying him, of course, sharp eyes appraising everything and everyone for potential danger or just plain slacking off.
Rahl was asking quick fire questions and Giller, Denna, or anyone in his eyeline was quick to respond.
"And Michael Cypher?" Rahl asked as they approached Cara's desk which was near to where the test subjects were kept.
"Over here, Lord Rahl," Giller said. Cara wasn't sure if the man had ever heard of shampoo because his lank hair was permanently greasy. His lab coats were at least pristine, otherwise, genius or not, she thought Denna would have ordered him scrubbed down on pain of termination. "He is very promising."
"Yes," Rahl said in delight. "He's a very healthy young subject, ideal for our purposes, isn't he?"
"Yes, Lord Rahl," Giller said. "He is of great benefit to our research."
Rahl grabbed a chair, sweeping it behind him and sitting next to Michael's bed.
"Oh, Michael," he said in mock sorrow. "I am so sorry this happened to you. So very, very sorry." Then he laughed loudly and the sound sent a shiver down Cara's spine.
"How long will he last?" Rahl asked, all pretence of concern gone.
Giller shrugged. "As you say, he is a healthy subject. He should survive many months – even a year or so."
Rahl clapped his hands. "Excellent." He stood, kicking the chair away behind him. "What else is there to see?"
His eyes found Cara and she lowered her eyes as she'd been told to do if ever in the presence of Lord Rahl. She was not a Mistress and had not earned the right to confront him.
"Well, well, who do we have here?" he purred, and walked over to her, circling her thoughtfully.
Denna scowled behind his back. "Her name is Cara Mason, my Lord."
"Cara. That's a pretty name." Rahl leant in so close she could feel his breath upon her neck. "Get me her file, Denna. Giller, show me the laboratory."
And then he was gone, barking orders randomly to various staff members. Denna shot her an evil glare and followed Rahl. Cara wasn't sure if she'd just had the closest shave of her life, or had just missed out on the biggest opportunity of it. As it turned out, it was neither. But had she left at that moment and never looked back, things would have gone very differently.
Later that day, Rahl smiled as Denna escorted Cara into his office.
"Sit," he said, and she complied, taking the chair opposite him. He had her file open on his desk.
"I've been reading about your accomplishments," he said. "You have quite the scientific mind, Cara, plus physical stamina and an aptitude for technology. It says here they call you the Angel of Life. Why is that?"
Cara swallowed, gathering up her courage. "Local press exaggeration. It is merely that I have saved several lives," she said. "I was trained in resuscitation techniques as are all your security forces. I just have had opportunity to put my training into practice."
"Hmm. This newspaper clipping says that it was only after you took over the resuscitation efforts that this accountant's life was saved. Perhaps you are special."
Cara kept her gaze lowered. "I wouldn't speculate, my Lord."
Rahl flipped the file closed, ran one finger across his top lip thoughtfully. "I think your talents are being wasted, Cara."
She forgot herself, looked up, afraid he was going to terminate her contract. "Lord Rahl?"
"You should have been elevated to the status of First Officer long ago."
"A Mistress?" First Officers were the elite personal security personnel known as Mistresses; Cara had applied twice to be granted a post but shed been ignored.
"Yes," he replied. "Though we don't officially use the term. Sexist, you understand. I don't want us sued for discrimination." There were men in the security forces of course, with their dark jeans and grey t-shirts with the corporation's logo in red upon them, and black leather jackets. But only a select few made it to First Officer status and even then they were given posts elsewhere – one body guarded Egremont, for example – but none stayed at Rahl's right hand.
"Thank you, Lord Rahl," she said.
He waved one hand imperiously. "I haven't finished yet."
"Sorry, Lord Rahl." She looked down, contrite.
"I want you to stand at my side. Learn everything about the business. An intern, if you will. You have the ambition, the skills, the experience of being within the Corporation. The politics will come easily enough.
Denna glared daggers at Cara. As if sensing this, Rahl turned. Denna's face was carefully blank by the time he laid eyes on her.
"Denna is my head of security and irreplaceable," he said as if placating her. "But there are duties that are outside the scope of her responsibilities, duties I need someone I can trust to assist me with. I seem to be having the most terrible luck with my staff recently. As you may know my previous personal assistant, Constance...met with an unfortunate accident."
Constance hadn't, as far as Cara knew, been taken as a subject for Giller to play with, which probably meant she was dead. Recently Cara had realised just how often people who opposed Rahl tended to die. Like Chase Brandstone, George Cypher, and Michael Cypher – who was as good as dead now Giller had a hold of him.
As if reading her thoughts, Rahl went on, "And with Michael Cypher – indisposed – I need a supportive shoulder to lean on from time to time. My new campaign manager is, I'm assured, a marketing genius. He's also an idiot, which is why I try to keep him in a different city from myself at all times. It's for his own safety; I cannot strangle Sebastian via the telephone."
He laughed and Cara laughed too, though her mind was whirling. Intern. Right hand. Supportive shoulder – did he mean sex? She thought it was implied by his tone.
So, you will accept the position?"
"Of course, Lord Rahl," Cara said.
"Good." Rahl spun his chair. "Denna, induct her into the glorious ranks of your First Officers."
"Yes, Lord Rahl," Denna crossed the room and put a hand on Cara's shoulder. "Come along, Sister."
Sister was a title used amongst the First Officers. Cara was thrilled at the sound of it, even through her fears and doubts – and the feeling that Denna hated her. This was what she wanted, though. She would rise high now. Internship meant he would teach her the ropes. She'd learn more about the workings of the Corporation and help him get elected. She might even one day become Executive Officer if she played her cards right, or perhaps a senator's aide.
Denna took Cara to the First Officers lounge and used her keycard to gain access. She led Cara to a room with leather sofas, a low table, and a plasma screen on one wall. "Wait here."
Cara sat and waited. This was a room much nicer than, and almost as large as, her entire apartment. A sign on one wall pointed towards a Changing Area. A Mistress, braided hair damp, came past.
"Hello?" the woman said uncertainly as if Cara wasn't supposed to be here. And without the leather at her neck, she wasn't.
"Denna is finalising arrangements for my induction to become a Mistress," Cara said coolly.
The Mistress smiled. "Welcome, then. I am Raina.
Raina pointed behind her. "The pool is lovely. Be sure to make use of it. And the sauna!" She nodded politely and headed out of the lounge.
Denna returned several minutes later with a buff coloured envelope. She tipped out a keycard and handed it to Cara.
"Keep that on you at all times. It's your new ID. It allows access to almost everywhere, both the Corporation offices as well as the Science Facility, and the office space dedicated to Lord Rahl's political ambitions." She handed Cara another Taser.
"That's not a replacement," Denna said. "It's a spare. Keep fresh batteries in it. First Officers are never without a working Taser." The next item from the envelope was the one that made Cara's heart pound in delight.
"Stand up," Denna said. Cara did so and Denna stepped behind her. She held the leather thong, a triple woven strand of deep red leather in both hands and placed it over Cara's head. For a moment Cara feared Denna might try to strangle her with it; Cara's martial arts skills were not in question, but Denna was an exceptional fighter and Cara wouldn't take her down easily if it came to a physical fight.
Then the thong was fastened securely and Denna stepped away.
"Cara Mason," Denna said, voice icy, "I welcome you to the post of First Officer, and the Sisterhood of those who serve Lord Rahl faithfully, wiling to lay down their lives for him, dedicating themselves to fulfilling his goals."
Cara nodded. She touched the leather at her neck. Finally.
"You ought to grow your hair out so it can be braided as most Mistresses wear it," Denna said. "The non-disclosure papers you signed remain in effect, of course. Remember that, because you will now have almost unparalleled access to information about every aspect of Lord Rahl's life."
Denna stared hard at Cara as if trying to read her mind, to judge her loyalties. Cara held her gaze, unfazed.
"I have no clue what method is in this madness of making you his intern," Denna said at last. "Tomorrow, report to Lord Rahl. I'm sure he will have thought of something for you to do by then. Fetching his coffee, perhaps. For now, return to your post at the Science Facility."
"Yes, Mistress," Cara said.
"Sister," Denna reminded her sourly. She disapproved but she'd obey the rules, and that was something, Cara thought.
"Yes, Sister," Cara corrected. She vowed to come back and have a proper look around the lounge later. There were rumours about hot tubs, a bar, and king-size beds inside the lounge area. Investigating such wild claims would have to wait however. She went to the Lab and informed the relevant staff members of her promotion.
"We saw the email," Garen said in hushed tones, pausing as she typed up more of Giller's scrawl. "I'm jealous, of course, but I wish you luck."
Email, already? Rahl was moving quickly on this.
"I won't forget my friends here," Cara promised. There was glory to be had in working for Rahl but there were plenty of pitfalls and it was better to have a network of allies than risk going it alone.
She wandered the whole basement floor one last time, pausing at Michael Cypher's bedside. He was the only one she was certain that Rahl had caused to be put here, rather than acquired after a genuine illness or injury. It still prickled her conscience a little. He was still alive, though not for long, Giller had said. Yet there was still some hope he might be saved, which was more than could be said for DA Brandstone, or Constance.
The non-disclosure agreement was taken very seriously by Lord Rahl. And now she might be expected to punish those who disobeyed it. It was a sobering thought to counterbalance the ecstasy of her achievement.
"I'm to be promoted," she told Michael. "And I'll take your situation as a warning to tread carefully."
ON THE ROAD
"Who's Verna?" Richard asked as Zedd drove the battered van at precisely the speed limit.
"An acquaintance," he said, nudging his driving glasses further onto his nose.
"The way Sharona was an acquaintance?" Kahlan teased from the rear seat.
"Not at all." Zedd glanced over his shoulder. "You'll see why."
Kahlan shrugged, then wiggled about. She ran her hands all over the seat, feeling around for something, and finally pulled a crumpled road atlas from beneath her behind, throwing it to the floor. "Then why won't she see you? Rahl again?"
"Yes," he said. "She is still suspicious of me, even now, though it was she who helped arrange your adoption, Richard."
"She's a lawyer?" Richard asked.
"No." Zedd saw a road sign and brightened up. "Let's stop and get pie. I'm starving."
There would be no more discussion until Zedd had eaten, Richard knew. He grinned at Kahlan.
"You like pie?"
"There are people who don't?" she asked with what Richard thought was the most wonderful smile in the world.
The stop for pie had been followed by more driving and then two more stops for using the bathroom. Richard took over the driving when they resumed their journey after the third stop. Zedd let Kahlan ride up front and was soon snoring in the backseat to Kahlan's amusement.
"You really didn't know he was your grandfather?" she asked.
"No. But we've always been close," Richard said.
"Does that make it worse, the betrayal?" she asked seriously.
Richard thought for a moment. "Yes," he said. "But I guess I understand why he lied. He didn't want to be associated with me to protect me, and given what's happened to my father and now my brother, he had reason to be paranoid."
Kahlan reached over and put one hand on his knee. He could feel her warm skin through the rips at the knee of his jeans.
"I'm sorry to have disrupted your life."
He shook his head. "It's okay. I wanted to join the police force and make a difference. Well this is a way I can make a difference, and get justice for my family too. And you're a very pretty disruption."
He laughed, and she laughed too.
"Thank you," she said.
"Clara!" Zedd sat bolt upright.
"Zedd?" asked Richard, concerned.
The old man shook his head and rubbed at his eyes. "Sorry. I was just dreaming."
Kahlan peered ahead. "Maybe we should look for somewhere to stay the night. It's starting to get dark."
"On it, my lady," Richard said with a grin.
Safely home, Cara took a long, luxurious bath. She sipped at a chilled glass of white wine and touched the thong around her neck. She didn't intend to ever take it off now it was hers. Everything was falling into place.
Tomorrow she'd go and take a dip in the swimming pool, one of the many perks of being a Mistress.
"Mistress Cara," she said and liked how it sounded.
Kahlan wandered out of her motel room. Richard was there, staring up at the night sky.
"Hey," he said softly. "How's your room?"
"Adequate," she said after some consideration. "I just needed some air."
"Me too." Richard fingered the sword at his breast. "It's been a long day."
She nodded and moved towards him. "I know."
"For you too," he said quickly. "I mean with your friend Brandstone being killed. I'm sorry."
"He was a good man," Kahlan said sadly and blinked away tears.
"We'll make Rahl pay." Richard held out his hand and she took it. "I promise you."
She moved in closer and leant her head on his shoulder. She'd never believed in love at first sight but Richard stirred feelings in her like no man ever had before.
Richard slept little – not that he'd have slept well with Zedd's snoring anyway. Kahlan had the motel room next to theirs and through the ridiculously thin walls he heard her wandering about in the early hours. He was relieved when it was morning and they could be on their way.
It was another two hours drive to the mansion where Verna lived. This turned into three and a half hours after Zedd made them stop for breakfast and then got lost – though he'd never admit the latter, passing it off as a short-cut.
At last they pulled up outside an imposing house that was surrounded by tall brick walls and black wrought iron gates. "Sisters of Light" proclaimed a plaque on the wall.
"What is this place?" Richard asked.
"Verna lives here," Zedd said. "She's part of a sort of an order that devotes itself to spiritual matters."
"It's a convent?" Kahlan asked.
"I'm unsure of the specifics," Zedd said. "They worship the Creator, and they try to do good works. They have a broad skill set and it was these woman, Verna in particular, who helped arrange your adoption, Richard. Despite that favour, Verna despises me for my work with Rahl. I'll wait in the van."
Richard looked at Kahlan. "Do you want to come? You're fighting Rahl."
Slowly, she shook her head.
"You should do this alone," Kahlan said. "Verna might be more forthcoming to just one person, especially if you begin by asking about your mother."
Richard nodded and climbed out of the van. He walked up to the gates and pressed the intercom. After a moment someone answered.
"Sisters of Light. How can we assist you?"
"My name is Richard Cypher. I'm here to talk to Verna about my mother, Tara Zorander. It's a matter of some urgency."
There was silence for almost five minutes. Richard ran appraising eyes over the security. He might be able to scale the wall if necessary, but he'd be seen on one of the many CCTV cameras.
"Sister Verna will see you," the intercom voice said finally. "Please wait for an escort. Be aware that no weapons are allowed within the confines of our sacred space."
At last, a woman came to the gates. Pale skinned and brown haired, both features accentuated by her odd garb. A sleeveless, loose flowing red-orange robe covered her from shoulders to ankles, and a matching veil covered her hair.
"Richard Cypher," she said, opening the gate. "I'm Sister Verna. Welcome. You're not armed?"
"No," he said.
"Come with me," she said, shutting the gate securely behind him. Richard glanced around. The sanctuary included a large grey Gothic edifice set in an expanse of well maintained lawns and flowerbeds as well as what appeared to be a stable block.
"Is this a convent?" Richard asked as he followed Verna along a gravel path.
"Not exactly," Verna said. "Our sect long ago severed all ties to the Church. We saw the Creator as encompassing both male and female energies and as likely to appear to us in female form as that of a man. We also need no male intermediaries to talk to the Creator and our sect allowed women to become priestesses. We are currently a female only sect, hence our name of the Sisters of Light, and we provide a safe haven for abused women as well as a spiritual retreat for those wishing to dedicate their lives to the betterment of all."
"How do you help people, if you're not a proper church? I mean, are people distrustful?"
Verna smiled. "We never wear our colourful dress outside these walls. We move undercover, volunteering our skills and services wherever they are needed."
"What about money?" Richard asked, pausing at a fishpond to study the Koi carp.
"We play the stock market," Verna said simply. "One of our Sisters was a banker for many years until she longed for a simpler existence. And we are the owners of a jewellery manufacturer. Have you heard of the Radahan range?"
Richard nodded. Everyone had. "Polished steel with sacred engravings and some of them have embedded gemstones. Supposed to be magical, help with everything from infertility to migraines. Widely regarded as crackpottery until that singer wore one and got her voice back."
Verna smiled. "We make quite a lot of money from those. And the dacra triple pointed pendants are very popular." She nodded to his brooch. "That is from the same manufacturer; the style is unmistakable."
"It was my mother's," he said and she nodded.
"Anyway, Richard, you didn't come here to quiz me about how a small group of women like to play dress up in their garden, did you? You said it was urgent."
Richard sat on the ground by the pond.
"It's about Darien Rahl," he said.
A shadow crossed Verna's face briefly before the serenity returned. To his surprise, she gathered up her robes – revealing black leggings beneath them – and seated herself on the gravel beside him.
"Darien Rahl's father gave my predecessor the jewellery concern as a gift," she said. "When Darien took power he tried to buy it from us, buy out our shares, discredit us. When it became obvious he would draw more attention and possible sympathy to us by these actions he desisted."
"Why? What does he have against you?"
Verna shrugged. "He believes we are working against him. With some truth to that. Before I found my place with the Sisters I worked for one of the Corporation's satellite offices in Phoenix. I stumbled across some reports about ethical concerns with some of the research.
"When I tried to take it further I was fired. I don't have any proof but I know he is still carrying out the pharmaceutical research. I've offered help and advice to some of those falling foul of Rahl and using my contacts have gotten at least two former employees new identities to escape his wrath. DA Brandstone was one of the unlucky ones who never had a chance."
Richard studied Verna a moment. "Do you know of the Book of Shadow Accounts?"
"It's a myth," she said. "Rahl would never be so foolish as to allow such a thing to exist."
"My brother kept the book," Richard said. "His name was – is – Michael Cypher. And now he's in a coma, fallen victim to Rahl, and the Book is missing. ADA Kahlan Amnell, Brandstone's assistant is with me, looking for the book, as is my grandfather Zedd, who once worked for Rahl."
"Zedd," Verna said in distaste. "He is your grandfather but I have no love for him, Richard. Do you know some of the things he has done?"
"He has renounced his work with Rahl and wants only to destroy him," Richard said. "He said you helped him with my adoption."
"For Tara Lynn Zorander's sake I helped him, yes. She was a supporter of our work."
Richard nodded. "I'm sorry I never got to know her. Sister Verna, I'd love to hear everything you know about my mother, and one day I'll come back so we can talk. But right now I have to find the Book. We spoke to Sharona Otago and she said the Book might be with you."
Verna lifted one eyebrow. "I understand why she said that. As I explained I have provided refuge to those fleeing Rahl and someone who knew of me might well bring me the Book for safekeeping. Alas, I have never seen this artefact. Until I do, I will continue to question its existence."
Richard sighed. "I need it to destroy Rahl," he said. "That's what we all want, isn't it?"
Verna stood, brushing dirt from her robes. "I will make a few calls," she said. "That is all I can promise. Do you have a cell phone number?"
Richard rejoined Zedd and Kahlan outside the sanctuary's gates.
"Well?" asked Kahlan, anxiously.
"She's going to ask her contacts," Richard said. "Also, I think everyone I've ever known or will ever meet has at some point worked for Lord Rahl."
They got some lunch and tried to talk of other, more pleasant things, than Rahl, with little success.
"Sharona talked about the Tower," Richard confided. "I wonder if she meant Rahl's headquarters. A skyscraper could be the Tower she meant, couldn't it?"
Zedd nodded and took another slice of pizza. "Yes, but it would be a very literal interpretation. The Tower card, I believe, refers to violent or radical change. It can mean an illusion is shattered or a long held belief is proven to be false."
"How much more I can lose?" Richard asked plaintively. "What other secrets can there be for me to uncover?"
Kahlan gazed at him with sympathy. "It's a difficult time for you, for all of us," she acknowledged. "Zedd, is it possible the Tower could refer to Rahl? If we topple his empire, wouldn't that count?"
"Possibly. But Sharona was reading for Richard." Zedd shrugged. "I'm no expert on the Tarot. Sharona used to read it for me when we were together, and I only know what she taught me."
The day dragged on and Verna didn't call them back.
"I'm going to talk to Rahl," Richard said at last. "We're getting nowhere looking for this stupid book. Let's go to the source."
"Richard," Kahlan began, afraid of what violence this might provoke.
"I want to meet him, this man who has destroyed my adoptive family," Richard said, "along with so many other lives. I want to see for myself what we're dealing with."
"Rahl is not be trifled with," Zedd said.
"But I have a right to see him," Richard said, taking out the now crumpled letter. "He has my brother and I think he owes me an explanation in person for what happened."
It wasn't a good plan, but it was the only one they had right now.
As night fell, Verna called.
"Richard, I've spoken to every single one of my contacts and they to theirs," she said. "I must reiterate my doubt that this book even exists."
"If it doesn't, then why was Michael removed from his position?" Richard asked. "Kahlan's contact insisted the theft of the Book of Shadow Accounts was the reason."
Verna was silent for so long that he thought she'd hung up.
"Richard, we need to talk. Come back tomorrow afternoon."
Richard stared at the phone. "She can't find the book anywhere, but she wants to see me," he said. "Tomorrow."
"We're going to have a busy day," Zedd said. "Richard, I've been thinking. Where is the best place to hide something?"
"Where it won't be found?" Richard said.
"Where no-one will look," Kahlan corrected.
"Exactly. And where would no-one look for a stolen item?" Zedd asked.
They considered a moment.
"The place it was stolen from," Richard said with realisation. "Maybe the book isn't out in the world and can't be found because it's still in Rahl's office."
"Not his office. When I worked at the Lab, there was a vault in the basement level where we did our top secret work," Zedd explained. "I'd hide something as valuable as the Book of Shadow Accounts in that vault. And if I stole it and didn't know where else to hide it, I'd leave it in the facility somewhere."
Richard nodded, determined. "Then it's more important than ever to go to Rahl," he said, "and demand to see Michael for myself."
A WORKING RELATIONSHIP
Cara arrived early to work the next morning and let herself into the lounge. She headed for the changing room where she slipped off her uniform quickly. She was wearing a tiny red bikini underneath. She took up a fluffy towel from the wooden shelving and went to the poolside.
She wasn't alone. Rahl was already in the pool, long powerful strokes taking him to the end of the pool. She watched, entranced. His long hair trailed behind him.
At the end of the pool he stopped, turned to face her. Water glistened on his skin. Cara let her gaze travel over his muscular frame, feeling desire spread through her, making her nipples stand erect and dampness gather in her bikini briefs
"Good morning, Cara," he said. "Don't be shy. The water's warm."
"Yes, my Lord," she said.
"Not so formal right now," he said.
Hesitantly, Cara put down the towel and slid into the water. It was warm, deliciously so. It soaked her bikini top. She ducked down, damping her shoulders and hair. It tasted slightly salty, more like the sea than the usual chemical taint of a swimming pool.
"You swim?" he asked.
"Yes, Lo – Darien," she said, adding boldly, "As you well know. It was in my file."
He laughed heartily, the sound echoing from the tiled walls.
"Yes, I read your file. I was making conversation." He swam to the poolside and heaved himself out of the water, sitting on the edge with his legs dangling in the water. His tiny red swimming trunks left little to the imagination.
Cara swam, aware of his gaze. She completed four lengths of the pool before pausing near him. He smiled approvingly. She ducked back down, and did another length backstroke, staring at the ornate ceiling. She turned and headed back again, stopping near the middle of the pool when she realised Rahl was nearby, waist deep in the water.
"Such finesse," he praised her.
"Thank you," she said, pushing her back from her face.
He stepped closer. She stayed still as he moved into her personal space, the damp skin of his arms touching her own. To her surprise, Cara realised Rahl had shed his trunks and was now naked. Her eyes flickered involuntarily downwards to the water before she firmly fixed her gaze on his eyes.
"Oh, you're not prudish, are you?" Rahl said. He reached up and stroked her cheek leaving a damp trail across her face. "Do I not please you, Cara?"
She was torn. He was lovely, she had to admit. He was also her boss – would it be worse to reject him or to embark on an ill advised affair? And she knew better than most what he was capable of; getting on his bad side could be a fatal mistake.
"I find you attractive," she said, hoping that would suffice. It wasn't a lie.
"And I you," he said throatily. He pressed his body even more tightly against hers. She felt his arousal and it sent a shiver of excitement through her, her own body responding in kind. He pressed damp lips to her throat and Cara wrapped her arms around his neck and planted her knees at his hips.
She supported her own weight – helped by the buoyancy of the water – as he tugged at her bikini briefs, pulling them down towards her knees. His hands were on her lower back, his mouth at her throat, and then he entered her, possessing her body utterly and completely.
Cara showered, still unable to believe what had just happened. Sex. In a pool. With her boss. With Lord Rahl.
She turned off the water and picked up her towel, dabbing at her face.
"Did you enjoy your swim?"
Cara stiffened at Denna's voice. "Yes, Sister," she replied.
"The pool will need to be cleaned," Denna said.
"I would advise it," Cara agreed, keeping her voice calm. She couldn't be blamed for Rahl's actions and she and Denna both knew it. Was Denna jealous of what Cara had just experienced? Had she once been the one Rahl made love to in inappropriate settings?
Denna tossed something on the bench near Cara's clothes.
"Plan B," she said. "Our Lord Rahl has many fine qualities but his reluctance to use contraception is not one of them. An unwanted pregnancy now would ruin your career, Cara, and would be an unthinkable scandal for Rahl."
Cara nodded. In the heat of her passion she hadn't even thought about the need for protection. She knew Rahl had access to medical records and was probably only sleeping with those he was mostly sure were free of disease – and, as she was, taking birth control. Pregnancy was unlikely, but she wasn't going to argue with Denna.
"Thank you, Sister," she said. Denna glowered at her a moment.
"No bastard of Rahl's will ever be allowed to live to challenge him," Denna warned. "If he desires an heir, it will come from a carefully chosen woman of suitable breeding." Then she turned on her heel and left the room.
Cara felt anger rise up hotly in her cheeks, insulted at the suggestion she was of inferior genetic material. She rubbed hard at her skin. Denna was jealous indeed and potentially dangerous. Cara would have to watch her step.
BREAKFAST WITH RAHL
Cara was sat on the sofa by the window and reading reports, familiarising herself with the details of Rahl's empire. At his desk, Rahl was reading his emails – and looking over at Cara with a frequency that suggested he would be wanting a repeat of their encounter in the pool sooner rather than later.
There was a knock at the office door – closed, Cara thought, in case Rahl had wanted to have sex with her in his office next.
"Enter," Rahl called, composed and business like as the door opened and Denna entered. She stood to attention in front of his desk.
"My Lord," Denna said. "Richard Cypher is here."
Rahl stared at her, uncomprehending for a moment. "Cypher?
"Michael Cypher's brother," Denna explained.
Cara's eyes widened. This was surely an unexpected development.
"What does he want?" Rahl asked suspiciously. "If it's money, see to it." He stroked at his facial hair.
Cara wondered if Cypher was hoping to claim negligence by his brother's employee as a factor in his drug overdose. To make things simpler the "incident" was said to have occurred on these very premises rather than at Michael's apartment. Richard could have only a very flimsy case against Rahl but flimsy or not, right now Rahl couldn't risk the bad publicity.
Denna shook her head, her braid banging against her shoulders. "He says he wishes to see his brother. To acknowledge for himself the conditions under which Michael Cypher is kept."
Rahl leant forwards, expression darkening. "Is that so?"
Denna nodded. Rahl drummed his fingers on his desk as he considered his options.
"Can we dispose of him?" Rahl asked at length. Cara barely kept the shock from her face. Richard Cypher had done nothing wrong and did not deserve to be killed. And yet he posed a threat to Rahl and he would be dealt with. It troubled her conscience, as Michael's punishment did, despite her sworn loyalty, and no little attraction, to Rahl.
"I regret that may be difficult," Denna said. "There are rumours that he travels with Kahlan Amnell."
Rahl's eyes flashed with anger. "That bitch? I should have had her destroyed along with Chase Brandstone," he said through gritted teeth. "Too late now, I suppose."
"It might arouse suspicion if both she and Michael Cypher's brother were to die right now," Denna agreed, adding, "Perhaps later."
Rahl stood. "I will talk to him," he said decisively. "Bring him to the rooftop – and order refreshments."
Denna bowed her head and left. Rahl sighed.
"This will be very tiresome," he said. "If Richard Cypher so much as twitches wrongly, Cara, I expect you to use your Taser on him. If we're lucky he may then fall from the rooftop; hardly my fault if he attacked me in his grief over his brother's overdose."
Cara nodded, one hand at the device on her hip. "Of course, Lord Rahl. I will protect you with my life." She could only hope this wouldn't involve Richard's death.
"Come, then." Rahl gestured. "Let us go and meet Richard Cypher."
Richard was on high alert when Denna reappeared at the lobby. He'd been firm, then insistent, then belligerent in his demands to speak with Lord Rahl. The reception staff had alerted Denna and he'd tried similar tactics with her. Threats to involve the press had finally sent her back upstairs to her employer's office.
"Forgive the delay, Mr Cypher," she said. "Please, allow me to take you to meet with Lord Rahl."
She led him to the elevator and used a keycard to swipe at the keypad before pressing the rooftop button. Richard tried to stay calm and collected but it wasn't so easy being trapped in a small space with a woman like Denna.
"Is it true they call you Mistress?" he asked as the elevator crawled upwards.
Denna's lips twitched. "Yes, it is."
"Did you know my brother?"
"Not well. He had his own security escort." Denna glanced over her shoulder at Richard. "You were close?"
The tone wasn't outright mocking but Richard sensed the veiled insult.
"Not in the last few years," he said. "I had been hoping to make amends once he wasn't so busy with the campaign."
At last the doors slid open. Sunlight streamed into the enclosed space. Denna strode out, hips swinging. Richard followed, blinking at the brightness. They were on the rooftop which was decked out with a tiny eternity pool, a decking area with a large table and several chairs, and various potted trees and flower planters. The table was shielded by a parasol. It was covered in a deep red cloth and littered with trays holding bottles, glasses, and what Richard dismissed as "posh nibbles".
A man was seated casually at the table. Darien Rahl. There was no mistaking him, the shoulder length dark hair, the dark suit with the Rahl crest embroidery. No tie, the white shirt left open at the neck. Dark glasses covered his eyes but the overall profile was exactly that Richard had seen so often in the papers.
A woman stood nearby, alert. Pretty, blonde, wearing the female security garb Denna did, with the damn Taser on her hip. Strong featured with coral lips and deep green eyes that met his in an assessing manner. Richard held her gaze a moment, letting her know he wasn't afraid.
Rahl got to his feet, whipping off his glasses in a showy manner, flipping them closed and dropping them into his breast pocket.
"Richard Cypher," he said. Now Richard could see his eyes; very blue, piercing, intelligent, dangerous somehow. The voice was cultured with an English accent, possibly from his schooling or maybe just from his desire to trade on the title his heritage bestowed on him.
Richard approached him warily and shook hands firmly.
"Darien Rahl," he returned, unwilling to use the title. Rahl didn't bridle at this, merely nodded and gestured to the table.
"Come, sit," he said. "Thank you, Denna."
Richard caught a flicker of displeasure at this dismissal but the woman nodded and took her leave.
"Help yourself," Rahl said. "Orange juice, water, champagne, Scotch. If there's something else you desire?" As he spoke he poured himself a glass of champagne.
"Thank you, this will be fine." Richard took a seat.
Rahl motioned to the woman. "Cara, be seated." To Richard he said, "Cara is my intern. Your brother's accident has left me bereft of so much help and support that no single person can replace him. My new campaign manager, Sebastian, is doing his best, and many others have stepped up to shoulder a share of the responsibilities but Cara is the one at my right hand, as Michael was. She has a lot to learn, but she's doing admirably."
Richard saw the pride and joy on Cara's face at these words of praise. He wondered how sincere Rahl was – the man was a politician and no matter his tone, the actual feelings behind the words might be very different. It also raised the question as to why an intern was wearing the jeans and jacket of a security officer rather than a suit. He poured himself some orange juice while he gathered his thoughts.
"We are so very sorry," Rahl went on. "No-one foresaw your brother's actions, not even I, and that pains me greatly. I had no idea the pressures of the job had made him turn to pharmaceutical relief."
Richard nodded. "Thank you," he said. "I'm still coming to terms with it myself. As you are probably aware, Michael had not been in touch with me for some time."
Rahl pushed a plate of canapés towards Richard with one well-manicured finger.
"He rarely spoke of his family," he said. "I advised him to go to your father's funeral but Michael was a stubborn man."
"Is," Richard said. "Not was."
"Of course," Rahl said, contrite.
Richard gestured to Cara. "Orange juice?"
She looked to Rahl who nodded almost imperceptibly before she pushed a glass toward Richard. Richard filled it with juice and Cara nodded in thanks.
"So, Mr Cypher," Rahl began.
He wasn't a man used to being interrupted and it showed before Rahl schooled his face into a neutral mask once more.
"Richard. What exactly can I do for you? If it's a question of your brother's personal effects –"
"As I explained to your Chief of Security, I want to see him." Richard sipped at his juice. He leant back in the chair. If Rahl or his security-intern-woman decided to attack him, he had limited options up here. The elevator might not even be available without one of the keycards Mistress Denna had used to access the rooftop.
Rahl studied him a moment. Richard wasn't sure what Rahl was looking for but eventually Rahl took up his champagne flute and took a sip. He dabbed at his lips with a napkin. Stalling, Richard thought.
"Michael Cypher is being cared for at a private facility," Rahl said. "It is owned by the Corporation. He's family and it seemed the least we could do. It deals in cutting edge treatments. Much of the work we're doing is highly classified and access is strictly limited. Of course, given the circumstances, that will not be a problem. Cara will escort you."
Cara shot her employer a startled glance before she hid it by bending over for a napkin. Rahl didn't see it, but Richard certainly did.
"I'll ensure you receive a warm welcome," Rahl said. "And rest assured, all of the expenses are being taken care of. All employees receive a generous benefits package and, as I said, he is family."
"Your generosity is appreciated." Richard eyed the canapés and decided against taking one.
"Cara, please take Richard to the facility and show him every courtesy," Rahl said, getting to his feet.
Cara stood too. "Yes, Lord Rahl," she said.
Rahl nodded. "If there's nothing else?"
"Not right now."
"Then please excuse me. Election season is upon us," Rahl said. He walked to the elevator, passed a keycard against a sensor. The doors opened and he stepped into the elevator. Cara watched him depart and drained her glass.
"Whenever you are ready, Mr Cypher," she said.
"As you wish." She tipped her head, studying him.
"What is it?"
She shrugged. "There is little family resemblance between you and Michael."
"I recently found out I was adopted. Michael is not my brother by blood." Richard gave a wry smile. "That doesn't change my feelings towards him."
"Of course not."
"Can my girlfriend come with me?" Richard asked. He deliberately specified Kahlan this way to emphasise the emotional support she might provide. She was waiting in the van with Zedd, just around the corner, ready to accompany him. "I don't want to do this alone."
Cara hesitated; something Lord Rahl hadn't instructed her on, he guessed.
"Lord Rahl told me to extend every courtesy," she said as if convincing herself. "That will be acceptable."
"I'll call her, have her meet us downstairs," Richard said. "What about transport?"
"That will not be a problem," Cara assured him.
Cara used the limo ride to study Richard and Kahlan. For him to show up looking for his brother was one thing, to be in the company of Kahlan Amnell suggested he was more interested in what had happened to Michael than if he was being taken good care of. And even this wasn't the whole truth. This was clearly not just them teaming up to investigate Rahl, it was personal, a fact evidenced in every tiny glance, every touch between the two. Kahlan's hand on Richard's knee when he looked pensive, the smile on her face when he brightened up and pointed to something out of the window.
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. She had to be on her best behaviour, after all. Still, there was something almost sickening about the depth of feeling between them.
"I'm sorry?" Cara said, realising Kahlan had asked her something. She'd got lost for a moment, comparing the gentleness of Richard's movements towards Kahlan with the boldness of Rahl's towards her.
"I was just saying it's a very important position you hold. You must be thrilled at such an opportunity."
Cara nodded, then remembered her manners. "I regret the circumstances," she said. "But I do appreciate the chance."
"Rahl is heading for the senate," Kahlan said. "And you with him? Or will you be helping supervise the business concerns while he is occupied with politics?"
She shrugged. "I will do whatever Lord Rahl wishes. I hope to stay at his side, ensuring he can fulfil all of his obligations effectively."
Kahlan was staring at her in a way that was making her uncomfortable so Cara glared back. Richard sought to break the tension.
"I like your necklace."
Her hand went to it, unbidden, a symbol of her devotion. "Thank you," she said uncertainly.
They reached the facility and Cara waited for the driver to open the door.
"You should prepare yourself," she said as she led them to the front doors, keycard in hand. Kahlan slipped her hand into Richard's, squeezing it hard. Something akin to jealousy stirred deep in Cara's soul, knowing she would never be permitted to comfort Rahl so publicly – nor would he return such mundane affection.
Richard slipped on his denim jacket. Cara's gaze was drawn to the brooch where the sunlight caught the gemstones. He caught her looking and smiled. She kept her own expression neutral and led them inside.
Thanks to the email announcement, the leather necklace, and her keycard, Cara received only deferential looks where she drew them at all despite having two strangers with her, and they took the elevator without incident.
It was a strange feeling to be back here; it felt like a lifetime ago that she was just another security officer in Rahl's employ. Cara shook off her reverie and squared her shoulders. The doors slid open.
Garen looked up at them, as did a security officer that Cara didn't know by name. Not a Mistress, and so as soon as she saw Cara's credentials, the woman lowered her eyes briefly in deference.
"This is Richard Cypher," Cara told Garen. "Here to visit his brother."
Garen nodded and pointed unnecessarily in the right direction.
Kahlan had taken a step closer to Richard. Cara understood her discomfort. There was something disquieting about this basement level if you weren't accustomed to it. Devoid of natural light, kept cool if not cold, with the chemical smells of science and medicine and the hum of the fluorescent lights and beeps of the equipment.
Every door that could be closed had been, every curtain around every bed, occupied or otherwise, had been drawn. Every visible desk had been cleared to contain only the bare minimum of equipment. Clearly Garen had received warning, presumably from Denna, that unauthorised visitors were coming and to minimise the danger of them seeing anything incriminating.
"This doesn't feel like a place of healing," Kahlan said softly.
"It is a research facility," Cara said. "And Michael's best hope of survival." It was probably even true, given that no-one but Giller knew what had been done to the elder Cypher brother, or how to undo it.
"What's that?" Richard pointed to the double doors that hid the vault.
"A secure storage facility," Cara said. "As has been explained, this research is confidential, valuable."
"And dangerous in the wrong hands?" Richard asked.
Cara declined to answer. She marched over to the nearest curtain and drew it back. "Your brother," she said.
Jennsen chose that moment to appear, arms loaded with files. She stopped dead, startled.
"Something you require?" Cara asked archly. Jennsen stared at Kahlan, then back at Cara and shook her head. She headed back the way she'd come.
Richard had taken the seat Rahl had once sat in, but his concern and grief was genuine. Kahlan stood at behind him and put one comforting hand on his shoulder.
"What if I want to have him moved somewhere else?" Richard asked, not looking at Cara. He took one of Michael's hands in his.
Cara hesitated. "I do not think that would be advisable. This facility –"
"Is locked away from the world. I would rather have him where I could visit him more often." Richard looked at her now, challenging her authority.
"That would be your right," Cara said. And a good way to put himself in a similar position. "But you should talk to Doctor Giller first. Moving your brother now might result in his death."
Richard was about to say something else but was interrupted by a shrill siren as an alarm sounded.
Emergency lights, separate from the main fluorescents, lit up along the walls. Steel shutters could be heard nearby, falling into place. Cara drew her Taser and looked around.
"What's going on?" Richard asked.
"Wait here," Cara said and strode towards the desk. Garen was typing frantically, head cocked as if to hear the headset better as she spoke on the phone.
Garen shot her a "gimme a minute" look, but it wasn't disrespectful so Cara didn't retaliate.
"Looks like a breach," Garen said at last. "Ground floor. Fire door."
Garen typed some more. "None reported. Maybe someone just slipped out for a smoke."
If it were the case they'd be slipping out of their employment permanently. Any breach of the security doors automatically triggered a lockdown of the entire facility. Cara waited impatiently for the acknowledgment that a full sweep of the building had been made. Only then was the lockdown lifted.
Richard and Kahlan were on their feet, alert for trouble when Cara returned to them.
"False alarm," she said. "Are you ready to leave?"
Richard nodded. "I'll be in touch with Doctor Giller," he said.
"As you wish," Cara said. She led them to the elevator. As they travelled back up to the ground floor she pointed to the pin on Richard's jacket.
"I think I have seen that brooch somewhere before," she said.
"I only inherited it recently," Richard said. "I don't know its history."
Cara led them outside. Richard blinked in the sunlight. They travelled in silence on the limo ride back, Kahlan holding onto Richard's hand the entire time.
"Thank you, Cara," Richard said as they all stood outside the headquarters.
She bowed her head slightly. "It is my pleasure to serve guests of Lord Rahl."
"It's not going to be easy to get in," Richard said when they rejoined Zedd at the van. He explained about the security measures.
"And that was just me opening one of the rear fire exits," Zedd said. "We need a better plan."
"I have to meet Verna this afternoon," Richard reminded him.
"Time for lunch then," Zedd said and Kahlan opened her mouth to protest how early it was, realised it was pointless to do so, and shrugged.
Cara spent the rest of the day with Rahl while he did paperwork. He'd questioned her about Richard Cypher and she'd told him everything she could about his state of mind and the false alarm security breach. Rahl had seemed satisfied for the time being and had gone back to signing a stack of reports.
Cara was supposed to still be reading, and getting herself educated in all the important areas her new position entailed, but her thoughts were distracted. Richard's grief had seemed genuine enough and he could still demand Michael be removed from Giller's care. That would never be allowed, not when it might expose them all. Us all, Cara thought. She was suddenly in deeper than she'd ever anticipated. She was an accessory and with her new position there would be no dissembling about being merely a security guard. She had full access to almost any information on Rahl that she wanted.
Not that it mattered. The legal system was the rock and Rahl was the hard place and she was trapped between them. Michael had been innocent, as much as anyone that high up in the organisation could be and look how that had turned out for him. Rahl was taken to rash actions when enraged and he got angry often. If there was so much as a hint that she was reconsidering her loyalties she wouldn't survive to tell the tale.
But she wouldn't kill Richard Cypher, she swore to herself. There had to be a line and that was hers.
For one moment she wondered if Rahl could read minds. Her hand went to her Taser.
Rahl leaned back in his chair. "Paperwork is so tiresome."
"Yes, my Lord."
"You're finding that report dull? You've been staring at the same page for the last ten minutes."
Cara knew she'd have to be more careful in future. She forced a smile. "The minutiae of legal reform has rendered me almost catatonic."
"Then perhaps something a little more immediate and physical," Rahl said.
Cara stood and stripped off her t-shirt. If he occupied by making love to her he couldn't be watching her doing something untoward. If he trusted her enough to be intimate with her then maybe he wouldn't' suspect she was having doubts. It was a risk but a calculated one.
"So eager," Rahl purred, pleased, fingers rubbing at his lips.
"I am always eager to please my Lord," Cara said with such conviction she almost believed it herself. She was still attracted to him which helped, though with more reserve than before.
Rahl began to unbutton his shirt and she shook her head.
"Allow me." Her strong, nimble fingers unfastened the buttons and spread the shirt open. She ran her middle finger down his chest, between his well developed pectoral muscles. Cara climbed into his lap and nuzzled at his neck.
There was a knock at the door.
"Go away," Rahl yelled.
"Lord Rahl?" It was Denna, her voice muffled by the door.
Rahl swore and gestured. Cara slid to the floor, taking the opportunity to run her tongue along his chest before she drew back, a promise of more to come later. He'd be furious with Denna for interrupting and be too busy thinking dirty thoughts about Cara for any suspicion to arise, if she were lucky.
"Lord Rahl? There are details to be finalised for the press conference."
"One moment, Denna!" he shouted, doing up his shirt. Cara looked at the door then back at Rahl and rolled her eyes. It offset his terrible rage somewhat, one corner of his mouth quirking into a smile.
When Denna was finally granted entry, Cara was sitting demurely by the window, reading the report once more and Rahl was at his desk, pen in hand. Cara wasn't sure why he cared if Denna knew they'd been about to have sex, but for whatever reason he'd not wanted her to see evidence of it for herself. But she knew and she gazed daggers at Cara – who pretended not to notice.
Take that, Cara thought smugly, turning a page over. Now who's his favourite, Denna? Now who's not suitable breeding stock? Now who's the one he'll trust more than all others?
It was a little after two o clock when Richard arrived at the Sanctuary to speak with Vena once more. This time she took him into the main building and led him to her office.
"Please, take a seat," Verna said. Richard sat on the overstuffed sofa and Verna took a chair opposite him. "Richard, there's something I have to tell you. You're going to be angry and upset and you have every right to be. Please understand that I hesitated to tell you in order to protect you. It was Tara's dearest wish you were kept safe."
"This is about my mother?" Richard asked with a frown.
"This is about your father," Verna said. "I've prayed for guidance and now I believe that the right thing is for you to have all of the facts. You're a man now, not a child, and you have the right to make your own decisions."
She sighed and took off her veil. She held it in her lap, worrying the material.
"Your adoptive brother, Michael Cypher, came to see me. It must have been just before the accident."
Richard didn't bother to correct her terminology. Accident, incident, assassination attempt. They all had the same outcome.
"He was agitated," Verna said. "And more than a little drunk. I refused him entry to the Sanctuary until he said it was about his brother Richard, who I had placed with George Cypher."
Michael paced the office while Verna sat in her chair.
"The thing with Rahl," Michael said at last, "is that you need an exit strategy if you work for him."
Verna nodded. "He is a dangerous man."
Michael stumbled, half-sat, half-fell onto the sofa. Verna leant forwards.
"If you need my help to escape, say the word. It doesn't matter what you've done in his service, if you wish to be free of him I will help you. That is my sworn oath in the service of the Creator. Help any who ask."
He turned bleary eyes on her. "I don't think you can help me," he said. "I may have gone too far. It's taken almost a year, and a small fortune, but I've found a secret that rivals Rahl's scientific endeavours. Rahl can lay the blame at Giller's feet, if someone exposes the existence of human test subjects. But this…"
Verna moved to sit beside him. "How much do you know?"
"Piers Rahl fathered two more children after Darien," Michael said. "Both out of wedlock. Both shortly before his death. One I'm still tracking; believed to be a daughter. The other was a son born to Tara Zorander. His name was Richard and you oversaw his adoption."
Verna swallowed. "The daughter I know nothing of. But yes, there is another son."
"If Darien should die, Richard would be the next Lord Rahl," Michael said. "Darien has always feared someone will usurp his position of power. He will not allow Richard to live if he discovers his existence."
"The very reason he was adopted out in the first place," Verna agreed.
"But Zorander...that's the crazy old bookseller my father was friends with," Michael said. "Richard Rahl…that's my brother, isn't it? Richard Cypher."
Verna nodded. Michael put his head in his hands.
"My father always loved him best," he said. "And now I find Richard wasn't even his son. I tried so hard to make him proud but it was always Richard he worshipped. Even my ex-fiancée, Anna, she adored Richard from afar. I've always been second best, except for where Rahl was concerned. He's made me an important part of his life. And now I've ruined that too."
Verna put one comforting hand on his shoulder. "I cannot speak for your father," she said softly, "but I'm sure he was proud of you even if he didn't show it. Nothing would have made your father happier than you working against Rahl instead of for him."
Michael sat up and shook his head. "I'm not even trying to work against him. I'm just trying to protect myself. What I need from you is proof. A copy of the adoption certificate. You got it sealed, somehow. I need it. That, or DNA profiles of Darien and Richard will be the proof of this."
Verna hesitated. "You ask for a knife," she said, "that you think will protect you but can easily be turned against you. You said it yourself; Rahl will not allow Richard to live. What do you think he will do to you for harbouring this knowledge"?
"Let me worry about that," Michael said.
"I gave him what he wanted," Verna said. "When you asked why Michael might have been targeted by Rahl other than for losing the book, I could only imagine that it was this."
Richard looked away a long moment. "The Tower," he said. "Everything I ever believed about my family has been a lie. To find out I'm related to Darien…to that monster!"
"You're a good man," Verna said. "I can see that in you. But don't make the mistake Michael did. Leave, Richard. My sources tell me you are with Kahlan Amnell, herself a threat to Rahl. Take her and go. Leave the country. I hear New Zealand is very nice, and Rahl has no business interests there."
"Emigrate"? Richard stood, anger flashing in his eyes. "I will not run. Rahl must be stopped. And if Michael was collecting information to use against him, then I'm more convinced than ever that the book exists. We believe it's within the science facility, and we will find a way to retrieve it."
Verna shrugged. "I can't stop you. I can only pray for your safety."
Kahlan held Richard to her, soothing him. Zedd was stood at the window of the motel room, angry at what he saw as his daughter's betrayal.
"This man, this tyrant, is my brother," Richard said. "His blood runs in my veins."
"This changes nothing," Kahlan said. "You share one parent, not two, nor your upbringing. You are not Darien Rahl."
"But I am Richard Rahl. It does change things." He sat up and smoothed down his rumpled hair. "We still have to stop him though."
Zedd nodded and turned to face them. He looked older, frailer, shaken by this latest revelation. "We stop him. For all we know, Darken Rahl hastened his own father's death. He must be brought to justice."
Kahlan reached over for her laptop. "Richard, there's a ray of hope. My contact is back. I told them we think the book is somewhere in the Lab and they responded they thought it unlikely but that they'd find a way to look for it."
A slim ray of hope but better than none.
Cara went home and ate before changing her clothes. Black shirt, black jeans, navy woollen coat. She wasn't sure yet what she was going to do, but she had to do something. The security breach at the Lab gave her an excuse to be there if anyone dared question her. Woe betide anyone who did, because the leather thong at her neck remained in place, as did the keycard on her lapel and the Taser at her hip. She slipped the secondary Taser into her coat pocket and glanced at herself in the mirror. She fluffed at her hair, then settled her face into a calm mask of authority. She was Mistress Cara.
She hesitated outside the building. There was no easy way to get, even with her keycard, save the front door. Any other entrance would sound the alarm and that was not acceptable. So she strode boldly up to the doors, using her keycard where necessary. The security officers were on their patrol and she wouldn't be seen by them, having timed this just right. She'd be seen on the CCTV cameras though, up until she was in the elevator, which couldn't be helped. After that there were no cameras; Rahl and Giller were too paranoid about footage being stolen or hacked into somehow. It was a minor blessing and it was how the theft had occurred from the vault in the first place.
She'd half a mind to see what was in the mysterious vault, though just sitting in her old place of work where everything had seemed simpler, or going through Garen's computer and the security report on the lockdown were other things she was considering. When she stepped out of the elevator, all such thoughts were pushed out of her mind.
Jennsen looked up guiltily. Garen's desk was a mess, Jennsen kneeling on the floor rifling through files. The security officer's desk was similarly disturbed. Cara took out her Taser.
"What do you think you're doing?" Cara demanded.
Jennsen held her chin up proudly despite the danger she must know she was in. "Looking for the truth."
"What truth would that be?" Cara asked. "You know what goes on here. You are complicit in what crimes are committed here."
Jennsen nodded. "I know. But the Book of Shadow Accounts will bring Rahl down once and for all."
The blessed book. Cara rolled her eyes. "The one that was supposedly stolen even though it doesn't exist?"
"It does exist," Jennsen said fiercely. "Michael Cypher kept it. And it's still here somewhere. I know it."
Cara ought to have rendered the girl unconscious by now but she hesitated. She tried to remember the last time she'd seen Michael Cypher upright. The night he'd come to the vault. She'd moved away to her desk to give him privacy while he accessed the vault, but she'd glanced over a few times. He'd brought his PDA and knelt on the floor using it, before putting something back into the vault and then closing the vault and the covering double doors over the safe.
"Why would you want to bring down Lord Rahl?" Cara asked.
"He killed my father," Jennsen said, adding, "Piers Rahl."
"Piers Rahl is your father?" Cara asked sceptically. "You have proof of this?"
"You think evidence of this is in the book?"
Jennsen shrugged. "I'm not after recognition as a Rahl. My mother never wanted that either. But I want justice." She reached under her shirt and pulled out a pendant. It was a sword that hung, point downwards, with a green cabochon gem at the crossbar. Justice was inscribed on the hilt. "He gave her this and now I wear it to remind me of my goal."
That's where she'd seen the sword before, Cara remembered. The sword brooch Richard wore with its blue stones was a match for one she'd once seen Lord Rahl wear. His pin had red stones and lies was inscribed along its hilt. She only recalled it so well because Garen had been looking at the photos of the press conference and zoomed in on it. She'd thought it appropriate that a politician would wear something saying "lies" so brazenly, though the cursive script might have said Lees – Darien's mother's maiden name. Which raised the question, if Piers had fathered another child, why not two?
"Piers told my mother he wanted to put a stop to some of the projects he was overseeing," Jennsen said. "That he was turning over a new leaf. But then he died. In rather suspicious circumstances."
Cara bit her lip, using the pain to focus.
"This book," she said at last. "Did it ever occur to anyone that it might not be a book at all?" At Jennsen's questioning look, she said, "A flashdrive would be much easier to hide."
Jennsen's mouth fell open. She closed it quickly. "How could we find something so small?"
Cara shrugged. "I'll help you look."
"Why?" Jennsen asked.
"Don't look a gift horse in the mouth," Cara said sharply. "We've got a lot of work to do."
They spent three hours searching the lower level. Every filing cabinet and storage closet was opened and searched, as was every drawer, every archive box – any box in fact. Cara tore apart the kitchen, pulling out the spare mugs from the back of the cupboards and looking inside them, even searching under the sink for fear the drive could have been taped to the pipes.
Cara seriously thought about cutting open the furniture but finally decided against it. Whoever had taken the drive had hidden it but probably had to hurry to do so. They wouldn't have had time to neatly cut open and then repair the shabby armchair in the kitchen, for example. She closed her eyes. Where would she hide something precious?
She went to the vault and pulled open the double doors to reveal the metal stronghold behind them. She swiped her keycard. Nothing. One of the few things in Rahl's empire she was denied accessed to. Perfect, she thought angrily. Because maybe the drive was hidden within the vault's expanse.
"You have to put the code in," Jennsen helpfully. She was trying to tidy up the mess with no success. The place looked as if a tornado had been through it.
"Code?" Cara's brow furrowed. Of course, the keypad was there for a reason. But she hadn't been given a code. Pressing buttons randomly would only trigger an alarm.
"Giller's is his birthdate," Jennsen went on blithely. "I've seen him enter it. But I've never been able to grab his keycard to try it. I don't know if the codes have to match or any code with any card will do."
"We're about to find out," Cara said. "Come and enter it."
Jennsen did so, nimble fingers dancing over the keypad. The vault's electronic lock turned green, beeped. There was the sound of a bolt sliding back. Cara tugged on the handle and the door opened.
"You really think it's still in here? Denna searched it twice," Jennsen said.
Cara scanned the shelves. "I needed to see for myself." She shivered. "It's cold."
"The vault is refrigerated to protect the samples."
It made sense. Cara let her eyes travel over the shelves. The top two held various test tubes and bottles. Some were transparent, others in dark coloured glass that hid their hue, while others were various shades of milk white and chardonnay yellow. One was an almost luminous green. Cara picked up a syringe, pre-loaded with a purplish liquid, and raised her eyebrows.
"That's what Giller uses to put people in the comatose state for testing," Jennsen supplied.
Cara examined the cover over the needle and, satisfied it was intact, slipped the syringe into her coat pocket. She continued to search the vault, opening up every book, and rifling through all the papers. At last she had to admit defeat. She closed the vault door but not the wooden covers.
"What about the patients?" she asked with renewed inspiration.
Jennsen frowned. "Giller would have found anything hidden by now, or I would have. I change the bedlinens regularly."
Cara tipped her head. "How well do you clean the place?"
"I dust. I mop," Jennsen protested.
Cara walked over to Michael's bed and lay down on the floor, sticking her head underneath the bed. She ran her fingers along the metal frame – and drew a sharp breath when she found an unexplained bump. She got one finger and her thumb around it and pulled the object loose. Holding it tightly in her palm she scooted back out and sat up. Hardly daring to look she opened her fingers.
"You found it," Jennsen said in delight.
Cara nodded, stunned. A tiny flashdrive with double sided tape affixed to one side was sat in her hand. BOSA was scrawled on it.
"We need to see what's on it," Cara said. She got to her feet and strode over to Garen's computer.
The alarm sounded, lights and sirens as before.
"You didn't close the vault properly!" Jennsen pointed an accusing finger at the flashing amber light of the vault keypad. "The alarm sounds automatically if it's left open too long."
Cara shoved the drive into Jennsen's hands. "Hide this," she said. "Come on."
The elevator would be locked, Cara knew, and this was a basement with no windows to the outside world. She led Jennsen to the emergency stairwell and together they headed up the stairs. At the ground floor, Cara tried the fire door but it refused to budge, in contravention of all safety regulations.
"Lockdown," Jennsen reminded her fearfully. "Protecting the facility's secrets is more important than saving our lives."
Cara pulled out her Taser and pressed it to the electronic lock of the door, activating the Taser's drive stun. The lock squealed, sparked, and went out. The lights flickered in the stairwell. Cara pushed at the door and it opened.
Shoving Jennsen ahead of her, Cara exited the building. Her breath showed in the chilly night air. Shouts of the few security guards could be heard nearby. They were at the side of the building, away from the front entrance, which might buy them a few seconds. Cara pulled out her cell phone and gave it to Jennsen.
"Run," she said. "I'll be in touch."
Jennsen nodded fervently and dashed away over the grass. To Cara's surprise, the girl disappeared under the bushes lining the perimeter fences. There must be an exit route that she was unaware of.
"Halt," yelled a male voice, shining a light in her face.
Cara lifted one hand, the one with the Taser in it, to shield her face. The other she used to flick back her back and draw attention to her neck. "Report," she ordered.
"Mistress," the man replied automatically. He lowered the flashlight. "There's a security breach. Unless this is a drill?"
Cara refused to answer. "Check the front entrance," she ordered and he went obediently. Cara walked as quickly as she dared to her car and drove away, blood pounding in her ears. What the hell had she done? And why? It was much too late now to change her mind though.
Jennsen didn't dare go home. She walked for what felt like miles until she came to a café. Right now she wanted to be surrounded by people. Rahl feared bad publicity more than almost anything else and hurting her in front of witnesses would certainly count as that.
Cara had made her leave without her car keys, her purse, or even her coat. She'd dumped her lab coat in the first trashcan she'd come across. She used Cara's cell phone to call a friend and waited.
Jennsen then waited, sipping coffee she wouldn't be able to pay for. She sat near the counter, keeping watch on the door. Occasionally she put her hand to the pocket of her jeans where the precious flashdrive was nestled against her hip.
Thirty minutes later Sean arrived and took the seat opposite her. "Are you all right?"
"Fine. I just need some money and the laptop." Sean was the closest thing to family she had in the city, being an old friend of her mother's. Jennsen had briefed him on what to do if she were ever in trouble. She'd never believed she'd one day be finally in possession of the Book of Shadow Accounts nor sitting in a café without so much as pocket handkerchief, but she'd taken precautions and was now glad she had.
"Lucky I had your spare key." Sean handed over a rucksack. "Your laptop and a change of clothes are in there. And here's your emergency cash."
Jennsen took the wallet and tucked it into her other pocket. The waitress brought Sean coffee and he sipped it while Jennsen booted up her laptop. She typed frantically.
"Please be there, Kahlan," she begged. A moment later there was "ping" in response.
"I have it," Jennsen typed. "BOSA."
"Where are you? Are you safe?"
"Safe for now. We need to meet. I will come to you." Jennsen hit send. It never hurt to be too paranoid where Rahl was concerned and she'd rather go to a location she could check out for danger before entering rather than alert anyone reading the messages to her current location.
The response gave the address of a motel and a request for her to "be careful." Jennsen smiled and turned off her laptop, slipping into the rucksack. She gulped down the rest of the coffee.
"I need your car," she told Sean.
"Let me come with you."
"No. You've got a daughter to take care of and this is my problem, not yours. You've done more than enough. Just let me borrow the car and then go home."
He sighed and handed over his keys. "I'll pay for the drinks and get a cab home," he said. "Please be careful."
"I will." Jennsen slipped the rucksack on and dashed out of the café.
Kahlan was reading her emails when the message came through.
"Richard, it's my source," she called excitedly. She was in his room, sitting at the coffee table, while he sprawled on the bed. Zedd was sitting on the only other chair, eyes shut. The boxes of Chinese takeout they'd been enjoying until a few minutes ago were scattered around them.
Richard sat up immediately and Zedd opened one eye at her announcement. Richard came and looked over her shoulder as she typed.
"He wants to come to us," Richard said.
"She," Kahlan said, sending the address. "Some of the things she's said, the choice of words, I'm fairly certain my source is a she."
They tidied up the motel room as best they could. It seemed inappropriate that they'd greet someone risking their life bringing them the book in a messy room. Kahlan paced nervously while she waited.
There was finally a knock at the door. Kahlan took a deep breath and flung it open.
"Kahlan Amnell?" the girl asked.
Kahlan nodded. "I am. Come in. I saw you, didn't I, at the Lab?"
"Yes." She entered, looking uncertainly at Richard and Zedd. Kahlan saw her discomfort and smiled warmly.
"This is Richard Cypher, you remember? And Zedd. They're on our side."
Jennsen nodded. "I need amnesty. I've…I've helped Giller, but if it wasn't me it would have been someone else. And I've been trying to find the proof to destroy my brother."
"Brother?" Richard asked with a frown.
"Half-brother." Jennsen pulled out the flashdrive. "Piers Rahl was my father."
"Sowed his oats far and wide, didn't he?" Zedd commented, earning himself a glare from Kahlan.
"He was my father too," Richard said. "Or so I've recently been informed. The book has proof of it."
Jennsen handed Kahlan the flashdrive. "Then it's on there. That's the book."
Kahlan stared at it for a long moment and then laughed. "We were being so literal," she said. "Remember what Sharona said? Books being replaced by technology? She was more right than she knew."
Kahlan crouched down and put the flashdrive into one of her laptop's USB slots. She frowned. "It's encrypted."
"What did you expect?" Zedd asked. "Let me. I know a thing or two about security software."
While Zedd worked his technological magic on the drive, Jennsen told Kahlan everything she could about her connection to Rahl. She also apologised to Richard for her part in Michael's punishment.
"It's Rahl and Giller I blame," Richard said. "And Michael should have let Verna help him, should have come to me. Rahl cannot be taken down by just one person. He's too powerful, too dangerous."
He sighed then smiled at her. "Besides, we're family. I've never had a sister, not even a half-one."
"Jennsen, how did you find the book?" Kahlan asked, still unable to grasp it being called anything else after all this time.
There was a furious knocking at the door. Richard stood and went to stand at the door, ready to fight. Kahlan put Jennsen behind her. Zedd put one hand to the drive, ready to snatch it from the laptop.
"Who is it?" Richard demanded.
Richard grabbed the nearest object, which happened to be a table lamp, to act as a weapon. "Rahl's security-intern?" he whispered.
"No, no, she helped me," Jennsen said urgently.
Richard hesitated but at a nod from Kahlan he opened the door. Cara tipped her head.
"Richard Cypher," she said. "Hello again."
"Mistress Cara," he responded.
"Probably not for long," she said, pushing past him.
"How did you find us?" Richard asked.
"Jennsen has my phone; I traced the GPS chip."
"So you're on our side now?" Richard asked suspiciously, circling Cara. She stood stock still, completely unfazed.
"I think you have a chance to take Rahl down," she said. "I don't intend to go down with him."
"That's the truth," Kahlan said, studying Cara's face. "Though she's very hard to read."
"Aha!" Zedd clapped his hands in triumph. "Not bad for man who remembers when a gramophone was the height of technological advancement!"
Kahlan went to him and watched as he opened up file folders. "My God," she said softly. "Accounts. Employee Records. Drug Trials. It's all here. And look – this latest folder, Cypher. That must be about Richard."
Zedd opened the file folder and the documents inside. Scanned images of adoption paperwork and a birth certificate were inside the folder, along with a text file containing Michael's notes on Piers Rahl's other children.
"That's you, Jennsen," Kahlan said in amazement. "The missing daughter."
She nodded and remembered something. She tugged at the chain around her neck and showed them her necklace. "It matches your sword, Richard."
"Rahl has one too," Cara said. "It says Lies, as far as I can make out, though it might be Lees."
"Truth," Richard said, pointing to his own sword, "Justice. Yes, lies would be appropriate for Rahl. Sharona said the sword was my symbol, standing for justice. Looks like we have a whole suit of them."
"This is all very fascinating," Cara said. "But can we use this information, which we've risked our lives and ruined our careers to get, to bring down Rahl or not?"
"Absolutely. We could do with printing some of this off, and backing up the information to another drive though," Kahlan said. She began searching the internet for local late opening print shops or computer suppliers that could supply them with a way to get hard copies of the vital files.
"And find another motel room. Keep moving for the moment. But then what?" Zedd asked. "Who do we trust?"
"We make it public," Richard decided. "Tell as many people as possible at once."
"Lord Rahl is holding a press conference in the lobby of his headquarters tomorrow morning," Cara said. "Would that suffice?"
Rahl stood in the Lab, staring at the destruction. His cheek twitched in agitation. Denna took a careful side step, trying to stay more than an arm's length from him.
"Denna," he said with deceptive softness. "You are my head of security, are you not?"
"Yes, Lord Rahl."
He turned to her, eyes blazing with rage. "Then explain to me how the vault has once more been breached!"
Denna bowed her head. "I do not know, Lord Rahl." Her cell phone buzzed insistently but she didn't dare answer it.
"Where is Cara?" Rahl bellowed. "I want her here, now!"
"She was here last night," one of the male security officers said. "I thought she was conducting a security drill after the lockdown."
"Fool!" Rahl screamed.
Denna had taken the opportunity to answer the phone. Now she nodded grimly. "Lord Rahl, we are picking up chatter from our online spies about what could be the Book of Shadow Accounts. It seems someone claims to have it and has taken it to a third party. I suggest, giving the timing, Cara has betrayed you."
Rahl grabbed a paperweight from Garen's desk and flung it across the room where it shattered, spilling glass shards over the floor. "Find her!" he ordered.
Denna nodded. "Lord Rahl, a moment?"
"How will we get past security?" Jennsen asked. "He'll be watching out for us."
They were all sat in Zedd's van, parked a short distance away from the headquarters. Richard was using binoculars to spy on the people gathering for the press conference.
"We'll go first," he said. "Cara has her ID, it might get us in. We'll cause a distraction. Then Kahlan comes in with the files."
"No. I'm coming with you. My accusations will carry more weight. The press know me," Kahlan argued. "Jennsen and Zedd should come in last."
Cara rolled her eyes and said nothing. Richard debated it a little longer but everyone knew Kahlan was right about this. Richard's brother had been Rahl's campaign manager but Kahlan Amnell had been Chase Brandstone's right hand and had been in the public eye herself.
"We should have weapons," Richard said.
"I do." Cara pulled out both her Tasers. Richard stared at her. "What? You've seen a Taser before?"
He nodded slowly. "They're a weapon of sorts," he said as if working something out. "I was thinking too literally about it, assumed you would be male. And then, when you said Rahl had a sword brooch too I wondered..."
"What are you talking about?" Kahlan asked.
"The Tarot. Cara, you're the Knight of Swords."
"I'm what?" Cara asked.
"We'll explain later," Kahlan said. "The conference is about to start. Let's go."
Cara flashed her ID at the security guard; the woman wasn't a Mistress and barely looked at it once she saw the leather thong of office. Kahlan and Richard followed her closely and edged their way through the crowd that thronged the lobby. Cara led them to one side. Rahl was at the podium, Denna nearby. Cara ducked instinctively, gesturing for her companions to do the same.
Cara stopped by a pillar and waited, grabbed at a passing employee. "Tell Mistress Denna there's a disturbance at the fire exit," she hissed, pointing away from her. The woman nodded and hurried off to talk to Denna. Cara risked a peek. Denna strode off away from the podium and away from Cara's position. Quickly, Cara hurried forwards. She Tasered the only remaining security officer close enough to stop them before Richard could be noticed by the press.
Rahl was in mid-speech when he was accosted. Richard leapt onto the podium.
"Lord Rahl," Richard said loudly. "I am Richard Cypher, adopted brother of Michael Cypher who you ordered drugged to prevent him from telling the truth about you."
Richard blinked as cameras flashed wildly and he had to speak louder over the buzz of excitement he'd caused. "I am your brother too. My father was Piers Rahl!"
"Lies!" Rahl snapped.
"I have proof! And proof you are using human test subjects in your pharmaceutical research!" Richard was now yelling at the top of his voice to be heard over the clamour from the press. Denna was heading back towards them as were two other officers. Rahl reached under the lectern that held his speech and pulled out a gun.
Cara stepped up behind Rahl, thumbed the Taser to maximum and applied it to his back. With her other hand she stabbed him with the syringe she'd stolen from the vault, depressing the plunger and then tossing the needle away behind her. Rahl convulsed under the electricity but Cara didn't stop until Richard stood up and called her name. She withdrew her hand and Rahl slumped to the floor.
"Arrest her!" shrieked Denna as she and now the local law enforcement officers present moved in.
"He had a gun," Richard yelled, wrapping protective arms around Cara who was staring, seemingly dumbstruck, at her fallen leader. "She was protecting me. I, too, am Lord Rahl!"
And then Kahlan was there then, arms spread in front of them, defending them both. "We have proof," she said. "I, Kahlan Amnell, previously of the DA's office finally have the evidence that Chase Brandstone died trying to procure."
With impeccable timing, Zedd burst in through the double doors, brandishing the hard copies of the paperwork, Jennsen at his side. "I've got it," he yelled. "The Book of Shadow Accounts!"
Denna was already backing away, slipping into the excited crowd. A police officer secured Rahl's weapon while another beckoned for the paramedics who were in attendance at the gathering.
"Is he dead? Did I kill him?" Cara asked.
"Even your modified Tasers aren't supposed to kill," Richard said.
Cara leant in close so none could hear and said, "I didn't just Taser him. I gave him the drug they used to incapacitate Michael Cypher."
Richard stared at her. "Rahl's my brother. I want justice but I don't want him dead."
"He would never have let any of us live," she whispered. "He had to be put out of action."
Richard struggled with his emotions at this news. He couldn't condone what she'd done, but part of him was grateful. Now Rahl's evil empire would fall. Now he would be recognised as a Rahl himself, something that still made him taste bile. Perhaps he could be the benevolent leader neither of his brothers had been.
He glanced at Kahlan, standing in front of them and bit back a smile that would have looked inappropriate under the circumstances. She sensed his gaze and turned, gave him a nod of affection.
He was suddenly exhausted and wondered if he were holding Cara up or if she were supporting him. Maybe a little of both, and that was okay with him.
The hotel suite was luxurious, which was good, because they weren't going outside for a while. Reporters and angry Rahl supporters were besieging the hotel.
Zedd was reading the paper which was carrying the story while Kahlan had the TV on mute, watching the news, and reading through a ton of paperwork while making notes all at the same time. Lucinda, the new DA, sipped coffee. Richard was sat on the sofa, toying with his brooch. Jennsen was curled up in one of the chairs while Cara was sat cross legged on the floor despite the abundance of soft furnishings.
"And Cara's immunity is guaranteed?" Kahlan asked.
"As promised," Lucinda said mildly. "She and Jennsen will gain immunity for their testimony."
"Her assault on Rahl?"
"Defence of others," Lucinda agreed. "Rahl's weapon was loaded and his fear of Richard usurping him obvious from Cara's statements. My office agrees that he intended to kill Mr Cypher."
"I didn't kill him." Cara's tone was neutral.
"No. Though it seems he was somehow exposed to the one of the pharmaceuticals he was testing in that damn facility of his. Somewhat ironic. I suppose you have no idea how that happened?" Lucinda asked with one raised eyebrow.
Cara met her gaze steadily. "None."
"Do they think they can save him? My brother?" Richard frowned. "Either of them, I suppose I mean."
Lucinda spread her hands, at a loss. One of the test subjects had died but the other two unfortunate victims along with Michael and Darien were alive if not well.
"Some of the best scientists are working on that right now," Zedd said, not looking up from the newspaper. "Oh, for the love of –"
He held out the newspaper for them to see. Shota was pictured above a double page spread article. Bullet-point headlines were given below:
• Revealed: I am the Sharona of Zorander's erotic poetry
• Amazing: How my Tarot reading predicted Richard Cypher's success
• Exclusive: The truth about Richard Rahl's upbringing
Richard laughed out loud. "She was right about everything," he said. "Let her have her moment of glory."
ELIXIR OF TEARS
Denna knelt on the floor, bare concrete rather than the luxurious wool carpet of their previous base of operations. The photographs and papers scattered around her told the story of Rahl's fall from grace. Rahl, comatose, a criminal, had lost everything. Except her. Which is why the stinging at her slapped cheek hurt even more. Didn't he realise she was the only one who still cared for him?
Rahl paced angrily. "I will have him dead for this," he swore. There was a smell of damp in the basement, the only furniture comprising one battered plastic chair and an old mattress heaped with several off-white sheets.
"Yes, Lord Rahl," Denna replied. "And it is better the world believes you as good as dead in order for to take your revenge on the pretender and his cohorts." She wanted Cara for herself, though she doubted Rahl would allow that. She'd betrayed him and Rahl hated betrayal.
"The only bright spark in this whole affair is that I'm not being pursued by the police" Rahl muttered. "That, and my offshore accounts. I'm not completely ruined, though it will take time to gain access to my funds."
Denna nodded. "I did well, did I not? To find a double who looked so like you and arrange enough cosmetic surgery to ensure he would pass scrutiny?"
He crouched down, caressed her where moments before he'd struck her in anger.
"Yes, Denna. You did well. Poor Walter. Still, better him than me." Rahl leant forward and kissed her. Denna closed her eyes in pleasure.
There was no finesse in their lovemaking. Rahl channelled his anger into this act, fingers bruising Denna's shoulders as he thrust against her. Denna didn't care. He was her's now, would have to rely on her, something he hadn't fully grasped yet.
She wound her fingers into his hair, tipped her head back in ecstasy. This was her rightful place, in the bed of and in the uttermost confidences of Lord Rahl. Ready to help him regain his position of power. Poised to take the reins if the opportunity were to present itself.
Later, as she pulled on her clothes – white t-shirt, black skirt, the thong discarded, and her hair loose about her shoulders, for she was in disguise now – she said, "There's one more thing, my Lord."
She'd been saving this surprise for when she was sure he was convinced of her worth.
"I took the liberty of removing a vial from the vault before the press conference. It's in a safe deposit box for when you're ready to begin your experiments again."
Rahl, still sprawled on the mattress, his nakedness only half-covered by the tangled sheets, lifted one eyebrow. "You saved a sample?"
"No, my Lord," she replied. "I saved the most recent version of the Elixir of Tears. Project S-zero-T, if you recall."
Rahl's lips quirked into a smile. "Giller always did have a habit of giving his projects overly romantic names," he said. "Our social compliance project, it's finished then?"
"Giller hadn't had time to test it fully but given the results of the previous version and that this is an improvement even on that, I would say so."
"Oh, that will do nicely, Denna," Rahl said, pleased. "With the vial of Tears, we will do better than win some ridiculous election."
"If the drug is as promised, Denna, we will rule the world."
Darien laughed and Denna thought that the nickname Darken Rahl had never seemed so appropriate.