Dahlia dropped to the ground after the blackness of confession devoured her eyes. Kahlan let her slip away, her face a cold mask of indifference. She felt no sympathy for the Mord-Sith before her, for having taken Cara and twisting her back up into the knot that Kahlan had worked so hard to unravel.
"The compass is useless," Richard spoke from behind her shoulder, out of breath. Cara lay prone on the ground, disoriented from Richard's blow to the back of her head. Her limbs moved without purpose, too weak to find foundation on the ground.
Kahlan immediately kneeled down in front of the confessed Dahlia, speaking the Mord'Sith's name to get her attention, "Dahlia, Dahlia! You don't have long to live." She cupped Dahlia's face in both of her hands and forced their eyes to meet. "If you're going to serve me, you have to do it now. Tell me where Rahl is taking the Stone."
"I'm sorry, mistress. I don't know," Dahlia whispered, voice broken by her inability to give Kahlan the information she needed. She drew in a shuddering breath. "I beg of you, forgive me."
The tears streaming down Dahlia's cheeks momentarily stunned Kahlan. She had confessed very few Mord-Sith, but up until now she had never noticed the intensity of their confessions. D'haran soldiers, cruel criminals, and bandits were quick and eager to do her bidding, but it was unlike the show of emotion in front of her. In Stowecroft, Kahlan recalled the first words to spill from Nathair's mouth, horror at her own actions followed by the desperate plea to listen to the truth of her wicked deeds against Cara.
Dahlia suddenly slumped over, her head slipping into Kahlan's lap as she sobbed. Kahlan blinked away the prick of tears in her own eyes, never expecting her evolving compassion for Cara to affect the way she thought of other Mord-Sith. Kahlan hesitantly slipped her arms around Dahlia, a last comfort, and an apology that she had to force this woman to bear her last moments of life in piercing pain.
"Without the compass we might not find Rahl or the Stone before the solstice," Richard gravely explained.
Dahlia moved, her head tilting up pitifully to look at Kahlan as leathered hands gripped desperately at Kahlan's skirts. "I will do anything for you, mistress. Please, don't abandon me for my failure."
Kahlan blinked, her mouth parting in shocked silence. Dahlia continued to beg, her voice cracking as her pleading dwindled into incoherent sobs. Tears sprung anew, and her fingers pawed at Kahlan like a child being torn from their mother. She didn't think her mistress would give her the chance to redeem herself. Kahlan was still staring at Dahlia in surprised confusion.
"She's still alive," Richard's voice echoed Kahlan's thoughts. "I don't understand."
Responding instinctively to such thorough distress, Kahlan tenderly stroked Dahlia's cheek, the caress immediately quieting the Mord-Sith. Kahlan felt a brief flutter in her stomach as Dahlia leaned into the touch, smooth red lips brushing softly against Kahlan's palm. There had been few she had confessed that acted with such a level of intense devotion. Most stood quietly, eager to be commanded, or if they were not quite it was an endless stream of infatuated blather. Confession was an all consuming love, yet it still varied between each and every one of her victims. She hoped that Zedd and Richard hadn't noticed her distraction.
"Dahlia, my powers should have killed you. How are you still alive?" Kahlan asked curiously.
Perhaps Darken Rahl or the Mord-Sith had found a way to protect themselves from her destructive touch. The very idea was chilling.
"I don't know," Dahlia replied, her eyes wide and lost because she had failed to answer Kahlan's question—another failure. Then, brown eyes sparked with an answer, and quickly said, "Do you wish me to die? Would that please you?"
"No, don't do that!" Kahlan recoiled in horror. When Dahlia looked like she was about to cry again, Kahlan quickly added, "I don't want you to die. I want you alive."
The truth of those words was piercing. Dahlia quieted again, calm for the time being.
"We need to see if Cara knows where Rahl is taking the Stone. Zedd, help me," Richard explained as he grabbed Cara by the arms and started dragging her to the nearest sturdy tree.
While Zedd held Cara up, Richard started securing her against the trunk with a thick cord of rope. Kahlan stood up, a slight pull at Dahlia's arms to stand as well. The confessed woman hovered close, her hands occaisionally rising up to touch Kahlan, a feather caress against Kahlan's arm, her hip, the small of her back. Kahlan grabbed Dahlia's hands with her own, indicating stillness with a touch instead of a verbal command.
"Richard, she's coming to," Zedd announced and stepped away, noticing that Cara's eyes had fluttered open, flickering around with growing clarity.
Richard had just finished securing her feet when she spoke, "You know what you need to do, Richard, but we both know you don't have the stomach for it." Her wicked chesire grin was unnerving, mocking.
Richard's jaw clenched, but he remained silent. Zedd raised a hand above Cara, evoking a magic that revealed twisted black lines swirling on Cara's skin. Glowing red pulsed along her neck and up her face, one eye darkening with black while the other glowed a sickly crimson. Cara's breathing shuddered, her gaze becoming distant until Zedd stopped.
"She is in the grip of an insidious magic." Disgust was evident in Zedd's voice. He cared for Cara and knowing she was being manipulated with villainous magic caused a level of anger he rarely experienced. "As dark as any I've felt before."
Realization dawned on Richard. "It's how Rahl turned her against us."
"Lord Rahl merely showed me the error of my ways," Cara spat back. "I was fool to ever follow you."
Richard shook his head as the two men stepped away, back down the path where they had dropped their packs, Zedd muttering something about needing wizard's sand for a powerful spell. Kahlan was left alone with the Mord-Sith. She stared hopelessly, the feeling of uselessness etching sorrow onto her features. Cara finally settled her focus on Kahlan, ready to turn her lashing tongue on a new victim, but her face fell when she realized who was standing at the Confessor's shoulder.
"Dahlia?" Cara's eyes locked on the other Mord-Sith, confusion and relief lacing her voice. Then she noticed the way Dahlia gazed longing at Kahlan. Cara erupted like a furious volcano. "She's mine, Confessor!"
"Cara..." Kahlan choked, but she had no words. Hands pulled at her shoulder until she turned.
"I'm yours, mistress," Dahlia rejected Cara claims, as if she needed to convince Kahlan of her devotion, loyalty, and affection. "I don't love Cara anymore. I love you, only you."
"Dahlia!" Cara screamed, causing the other Mord-Sith's eyes to skirt her way before they flitted back to her mistress.
Kahlan sucked in a short breath, grabbing Dahlia's shouldes, and forcing the Mord'Sith to face her fully. "What did you say?"
A hopelessly devoted smile spread across Dahlia's lips. "I love only you."
Kahlan shook her head. "No, before that."
The Mord-Sith's brows furrowed slightly. "I no longer love Cara," she said, then added with ardor, "Just you."
Cara burst into mad, pained laughter. "Yes! Make her say it again, Confessor! You twist the agiel with such compassion." Her words dripped like vicious acid.
Kahlan swiveled her head back and forth between the two Mord-Sith before her blue eyes bore into Dahlia. Her whispered voice was tinged with marvel at what she had just discovered. "You loved Cara. True, real love."
Kahlan understood now. Mord-Sith were supposed to be the polar opposites of Confessors, their powers rooted in the depths of hate. Confession caused them agonizing pain because of the backlash of the two powers meeting in discord. Love was incapable for them, rejected with determination. Kahlan couldn't look at Dahlia, her action, in the same light, taking on a dimension of emotion that Kahlan never would have considered before. Dahlia's love for Cara hadn't prevented her from being confessed, but it had protected her from her power's execution.
"And now it's yours, Mother Confessor," Cara said, no longer speaking in anger, instead dominated by bitterness and resignation. "Just take my life, it's all I have left for any of you to take away. Richard is too much of a coward to do it, and Rahl will never let me go."
Kahlan saw more than the dark magic controlling Cara. Love tucked away and hidden, coveted as a soothing balm for a violent world. How terrible it was to live as a monster, yet if you could just have that one precious slice of happiness to make everything bearable. Would it not be better to have Cara confessed at her side than a mangled version of her friend at Darken's? A small voice in Kahlan told her that what she intended to do was no better than what Rahl had done to Cara, but Kahlan tamped it down. She would find a way to fix this.
Kahlan walked over to Cara, and wrapped her calloused finges around the soft skin of Cara's throat. "Do you trust me?" she asked, blue eyes searching green. She saw a flicker of wicked red try to fight its way to the surface, and the pulse Kahlan felt under fingers jumped erratically, but Cara's eyes were suddenly bright and determined.
Kahlan nodded once, and released her control. As the black overtook her eyes, her vision tunneling until she saw only Cara, she heard her name whispered like faith. Never before had the tingling rush of magic felt so much like a caress.