“You're playing a dangerous game,” the evil sorcerer said, his voice harsh. A dark scowl crossed his face, adding to his intimidating presence. “Mind control can blow up in your face quite easily, Zedar.”
“I think I'm doing quite alright, Belgarath,” Makor replied nonchalantly. “You see, if Rin doubts me---even for a moment---she'll pay a heavy but temporary price. As long as she's compliant, she'll do just fine. Besides, with her overwhelming need to please, she'll do as I say just to make 'Makor-sama' happy.”
Rin's brows crinkled as she took in Makor's words. The fog swirled and eddied in her mind as it started to ebb away. Everything seemed so far away---and yet she could sense great danger. It crackled all around her, warning her to be wary. Her hand clenched tightly in anger---at this Demon Lord---and she wondered why.
As Makor's words sunk in, doubt curled inside her. He had all but admitted to using her mind against her---hadn't he? A dull ache settled at the base of her skull the more she struggled to understand his words. She stared up at Makor, her eyes locked on his dark melancholy gaze. Something told her she shouldn't trust him, but she couldn't grasp why. Madness flickered in the depths of his dark eyes, making her want to recoil from him. And yet, she couldn't look away.
Rin gasped in immense agony as a sharp pain stabbed into her temple. She staggered, seeing stars. As she glanced back towards the Demon Lord, a strange halo circled Sesshomaru's head from his prostrate and silent position on the floor before her. The longer she stared at him, the more a vast wrath built within her. Somehow, it was Sesshomaru's fault that she suffered this headache. He had done this to her. The little girl gritted her teeth, pushing that pain aside. Makor needed her to subdue the vile creature. She would not fail him.
As soon as she recommitted to her conviction to help Makor, the pain disappeared as if it hadn't been there at all. The conversation between the two sorcerers faded into the background, skimming across her awareness only to float away as inconsequential.
“You see, Belgarath? She's mine now,” Makor said, his voice triumphant. “You so much as try and draw in your Will, and I'll snuff Rin's mind like a candle. She'll be a gibbering idiot and useless after that. We wouldn't want that, now would we?”
“One has always found your arrogance to be your worst trait,” a strange but cruel woman said. Her gold eyes hardened and a harsh expression marred her flawless face.
“Poledra---,” Makor said, his voice cold. “Don't you want to know how I managed to take Rin from you---right from under your nose?”
The woman stood taller, her eyes snapping with fury. She did not reply.
“It was easy. It happened in that grove. While Belgarath and I made enough noise to wake the dead, I planted my first seed into her mind---waiting for the precise moment to take control.” Makor laughed darkly. “I watched from afar, digging into her subconscious until I found her worst nightmare. You'd think it'd be when she was killed by wolves, but no. You know what it is? This Demon Lord leaving her behind, rejecting her. She fears it so much. After this, he will. And so, here we are.”
“There has to be more to this than sticking it to me,” the cruel sorcerer said. “You took Rin for another reason, Zedar.”
Rin didn't understand why the old man kept calling Makor by another name. She also didn't know why he slandered Makor by claiming that he had taken her against her will. She had chosen to stay with this sorcerer. The other one had to be a liar. Their conversation seemed scrambled, and anytime she tried to focus on their words, she found it hard to grasp their meaning. It didn't help that they dressed identically---or that their faces were so alike. This other sorcerer wanted her for his own dark purposes. She wouldn't let him take her away---not when Makor so clearly needed her.
The little girl kept her eyes trained upon the Demon Lord knelt at her feet. While Makor handled the other sorcerer, she would keep this creature submissive to her Will. She clenched her hand harder, watching his lithe form bend slightly from the sheer force of her power. The curtain of his silver mane cascaded down onto the floor, ruddy in the firelight. It fanned around him, adding to his ethereal beauty. Sesshomaru's cold golden eyes locked on her, his expression cruel. Rin knew him to be her enemy now. For his duplicity, she wanted to see him bow low to the floor.
Rin felt foolish for trusting Sesshomaru all these years. He had duped her into thinking that he loved her. He had repeatedly bald faced lied to her. Sesshomaru had acted as if he had cared. Looking into his elegant face, twisted into a mask of hate, Rin couldn't believe she had ever fallen for his deceptions. Obviously, he had come here to kill her---to tie up the loose end she provided. How could a vicious monster---a Demon Lord---ever love someone? She had to stop him here and now before he could enchant anyone else.
“Come now, Belgarath,” Makor replied, his voice silky. “You truly are a foolish old man if you can't figure out why I'd choose this gentle little girl over any other in your current ragtag band of adventurers.”
Out of the corner of her eye, the sinister old man's eyebrows rose in shock. “The Orb. You want her to steal the Orb.”
“Rin is not like Eriond, you fool,” the old man said, his hard voice crackling in the air.
“Rin,” the woman's voice brushed across her mind. “Listen to me.”
“Resist her, Rin. She's with the dog,” Makor's voice snapped in her head. “She wants you to let him go so he can lie---don't let him move or speak. He will use others as he has you.”
A flash of doubt crossed Rin's mind. What if Makor was wrong about the Demon Lord? Imposed over the harsh expression on Sesshomaru's face, the little girl swore she saw a soft, gentle visage instead. Love blossomed there, his gold eyes locked on her imploring. In their softness, a naked devotion flared. He reserved it just for her---Rin knew it. The longer her eyes met his, the more her confidence wavered.
Another sharp pang stabbed into her mind, causing her to hiss in pain. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to push it away. It throbbed, settling into her temple. As Rin opened her eyes, she saw the Demon Lord's face mar into a mask of rage. Her resolve steeled at the sight, wanting to punish this demonic animal for trying to ensnare her yet again. Her focus returned to subduing him. She let the confrontation between Makor and Belgarath fade into the background. In her intense concentration, their voices seemed far away, the words unimportant. Her job was to hold this evil beast in his place---and to keep him silent. Rin trusted Makor to handle the rest. She would not fail him.
“No. Rin's not like that little boy. She's better,” Makor said aloud. The words made pride swell in the little girl's heart. “I know she has the power to steal it away---and unlike last time, Ctuchik isn't waiting to take it from me. I never thanked you for taking that talking corpse off the game board, Belgarath. Means when she wrestles the Orb away from that bull in a china shop you call your grandson, she'll come straight to me with it.”
“You really have lost your mind, Zedar,” the bad old man replied, his tone outraged. “If Rin should do what you're compelling her to do, she'll be killed instantly. The Orb will see her intention---your intention---and retaliate without mercy.”
“And even if she dies, I still win.”
“Rin, please, you need to unclench your Will. You need to listen to me,” the strange woman's voice whispered again. “Zedar is the one using you---not your pack-leader.”
Rin flicked her eyes towards her, drawn in by her honey gold gaze. The longer Rin looked into their depths, the less angry she felt. This tawny haired woman seemed familiar and trustworthy. The little girl relaxed her hand as her conviction drained away. This woman was an ally, not a foe. Rin didn't remember her name, but she knew that she should listen to her.
Rin's knees buckled slightly as white-hot pain seared through her temples. She gasped loudly and tottered a moment. It felt as if someone had shoved a sharp knife into her skull and twisted it. She would do anything to remove this terrible agony.
“No! Rin, resist that woman. She's the one making your head hurt. Keep all your attention on the Demon Lord or he'll kill us both,” Makor commanded.
Rin's blurred gaze snapped back to the Demon Lord. For a brief moment, she saw unconditional love across his beautiful face. Its honesty and purity caused Rin to doubt Makor. Could this dog demon truly be a monster---or was he wrong? Looking into Sesshomaru's gold eyes, the little girl found peace. Her heart soared with joy at the ethereal adoration in his expression. Somehow, Rin knew this Demon Lord only looked at her this way.
The headache surged, her temples throbbing. Rin rubbed them with a shaky hand. As she stared intently at Sesshomaru, his face morphed into a mask of pure hate. Rin realized that he had nearly fooled her once again. As soon as she saw Sesshomaru as the monster, her headache ceased. She shoved her Will at him, forcing it down on his shoulders. His body wavered as he fought not to bow forward. He growled softly as his lips drew back to reveal sharp white fangs. His golden eyes flashed a brilliant scarlet, glowing with his evil power. The markings on his face became darker, etching into his pale skin. His feral appearance made him all the more dangerous. No matter what, the little girl had to first subdue and then eliminate the terrible threat this demon posed. She squeezed her hand harder, taking comfort in the gesture.
“And if Rin fails to retrieve the Orb for you, Zedar, the Child of Dark will punish you in ways I can't even begin to imagine,” the other sorcerer said. “Are you that willing to risk your freedom?”
“I don't really care who wins the grudge match between Light and Dark, old man,” Makor retorted. “No matter who wins that, I lose, wouldn't you say? I have no doubt that if Belgarion's successor wins, you'll hunt me down and if Naraku wins, well---a half-demon becomes the new Torak. My victory, Belgarath, is in taking you down with me. Step one is to destroy your precious little sister.”
“Rin, you need to stop,” the woman whispered again. The thought skimmed over Rin's vast rage. “Zedar wants to hurt you and your pack-leader by turning you against him. Don't let him. What you see on Sesshomaru's face is an illusion---I know you've seen past it to the truth.”
Rin clenched her teeth, resisting the evil woman's influence. She had no desire to suffer another headache. Besides, Makor counted on her. She could not fail him. She had to prove that she was worthy to stay with him. She stared at the Demon Lord, determined to see him bow low as a vanquished foe.
The Demon Lord resisted, his back rigid. He tottered, bending ever so slightly but remained firm. He held his head high, his shoulders squared. At his side, he clenched his hand into a tight fist. His demonic aura flared around him as he drew upon its power. As strong as Rin's Will was, it appeared Sesshomaru was her match. It would be a contest of strengths, and the little girl found it thrilling. It challenged her, and she would best him to prove herself.
“If taking Rin away is your ultimate victory, why didn't you outright kill her?” the old sorcerer asked, his tone icy.
“Now where is the fun in that? For you, I want her to suffer for a long time,” Makor said, his voice deathly quiet. “I'll break her little by little. I have time, old boy. First, she'll drive this Demon Lord away---and once she has, I'll let her realize it so her heart is so broken she'll have no choice but to turn to me. She'll be a shell of herself, easy to manipulate then, no?”
This exchange of words---this brutal discussion of her fate made Rin waver momentarily. Her head throbbed again as she felt the doubt curl in her stomach. She bit her lip, pushing it away. She couldn't let Makor down. Once she redoubled her efforts, her headache ebbed.
Rin clenched her teeth and pushed harder onto the Demon Lord's shoulders. It kept him in place, and yet she wanted desperately for him to bow forward. He swayed, but would not yield. His silver mane lifted as his demonic power surged to counter her attempts. As much as she wanted to see Sesshomaru press his cruel but beautiful face to the floor, Rin began to fatigue. She could only pour so much of her Will into this before it exhausted her. If she didn't break him and soon, she'd fail to keep the Demon Lord from killing them both.
“You think I'm just going to let you do this and do nothing?” Belgarath asked, his voice cold. “I won't let you do this to Rin.”
“You can't come at me as long as she's with me, old man,” Makor replied. “Remember, I hold her sanity in the palm of my hand.”
Rin's vision tightened to a narrow tunnel. Her eyes locked on Sesshomaru's golden ones, finding them swirling with matching rage. They flickered red several times as the hate within the Demon Lord built. It made her shove more of her Will at him, trying to subdue him fully. He strained against her power, refusing to give in. Rin squeezed her hand harder, drawing on even more of her Will.
“Rin, stop. You'll exhaust yourself if you don't stop. Zedar is trying to destroy you,” the unusual woman pleaded in her head. “Let your Will unclench, Rin, dear.”
Rin shook her off, closing her mind to her thought. She stood straighter, pulling on more power. Her clenched hand raised up, following the new flow of her Will. She needed to focus it tightly---to push all of its force upon Sesshomaru---now. Her legs trembled as exhaustion settled over her mind. Her Will began to burn out slowly, unable to sustain much more of this stalemate. Without thinking about it, Rin grabbed her amulet in her fist, hearing a click in her head as a mental thread snapped.
It was as if a window opened and she could see past the anger, the pain, and the nightmare used to turn her own mind against itself. With a clarity Rin could not explain, she saw just how Makor---no Zedar---had done this to her. She could see the way he had trapped her with one of her worst nightmares, causing her to see her lord---the one that had saved her countless times---as her enemy. He had locked her in it, making her so susceptible to his suggestions. Zedar had cornered her mind, smothering it with his own, forcing her to do as he commanded---and she hadn't realized it until far too late.
Immense and crippling guilt swept over Rin. Once again, the little girl had failed Sesshomaru. Once again she had proven herself unworthy to stay with him. He would surely reject her totally. She had shown how weak she truly was. After all, she had been easily lured here. Rin realized that it was beyond being physically weak this time. She was mentally weak---unable to see the manipulation that had consumed her so completely when it was clearly in front of her face. Sesshomaru would never ever tolerate such a pathetic creature in his puissant presence.
To make matters worse, Rin had humiliated Sesshomaru in front of these people. She had used her Will upon him, bringing him to his very knees. Rin shuddered, knowing that this transgression would be most unforgivable. How could he ever take her back into his care if she would do something so demeaning to a powerful being like him? Rin knew he tolerated her humanity---would he now that she had done this? Tears streaked down her cheeks as she realized that Sesshomaru would cast her aside permanently now. She had finally crossed a line, and there was no redemption for her. She couldn't say sorry enough for it to ever matter.
And then, anger flared anew in her. It boiled in her veins, giving her a new burst of energy. How dare this Zedar lie to her? How dare he lie about his intentions? How dare he do this to her?
Rin turned, balefully glaring at Zedar. She said coldly, “Liar! You are a liar! You made Rin break her promise to Sesshomaru-sama! You made her leave the tent and come here and do such horrible things to him! You told Rin she'd go back to Sesshomaru-sama as soon as it was safe! You liar! How dare you do this! This is all your fault!”
With her new clarity, Rin took advantage of her link to Zedar's mind and saw straight into one of his worst nightmares. It sat on the surface, dominating so much of his consciousness. It swirled, waiting to overwhelm him. Knowing precisely how he had forced her into one of hers---making it reality---Rin turned it back on him. She made it envelop his mind, and he recoiled from her in horror. With an iron determination, Rin held his mind with her own, staring into his dark eyes to force him to submit.
The weight of rock settled over her vision. It surrounded her, encasing her. This was Zedar's worst nightmare. Vast darkness constricted the old man, trapping him. His mind writhed as it tried to break free from her torment. Unwilling to let him get away, Rin wrestled his mind down and held it as she forced it to endure Zedar's worst fears made reality. She shoved his mind into its darkest corner, drowning him in it. Zedar was trapped, his spirit snapping as she tied him to it.
“No! Master! Please! Help me!” Zedar cried aloud. The old sorcerer clutched his head, his dark eyes haunted and his face pale. He shook his head frantically as if he could dispel the images she bombarded him with. “Take it away! Let me out!”
Rin stared at Zedar with hate. She said, her voice deadly, “You did this to Rin, making her see her worst nightmare so she would believe it had happened. You made her think Sesshomaru-sama had left her! You will pay.”
Rin crushed her amulet, the one etched with her lord's image, and flooded Zedar's mind with more images of rock and darkness. His mind cowered away into a smaller and smaller space as it scrambled to break free from her torture. Rin intensified her attack, forcing him to face it head on. Rage flooded her for what he had done. If he would dare use her own nightmare against her, she would make sure he knew just how it felt.
“Please!” Zedar cried, his tone wheedling. “Get me out of here!”
A rough hand grasped Rin's shoulder, squeezing hard. The old man tried to drag her down to the floor with him as he writhed in agony under her fury. Rin stepped back, staring down at him with resentment. This Zedar was a pathetic and worthless being. She could see it now as he stared up at her with terror etched across his weathered face.
“How dare you make Rin break her promise to Sesshomaru-sama!” Rin shouted, her voice vibrating with anger. “How dare you make Rin use her Will on him!”
Zedar flinched before her, curling into a tight ball. She kept shoving his mind into the darkest corner of his darkest fears, holding him in place. To twist the knife deeper into his heart, she realized beneath his fear of rock and darkness was Belgarath himself. Zedar feared the old man so much---saw such inhuman rage and anger on his face, and trembled at its sight. She assaulted Zedar with this terrible image, making certain to fill his entire mind with its devastating countenance. It made Zedar tremble and babble incoherently, rocking himself as he could no longer escape the horror she inflicted upon him.
A gentle hand settled onto her shoulders. “That's enough, Rin.”
Rin squeezed even harder on her amulet. Her eyes met Poledra's sympathetic ones. She frowned, shaking her head. “No. It's not. It'll never be enough! He wanted Rin to hurt Sesshomaru-sama. He wanted to take Rin away from him. He lied!”
Rin sent the specter of Belgarath after Zedar again, relishing in the way he cringed. He had tried to break her---to make her see her lord's anger and hate---and now she would break him, instead.
“Little sister, you've made your point,” Belgarath whispered. He gently touched her other shoulder. “Let me handle him, Belrin. Zedar can never do this to you ever again.”
Like a key sliding into a lock, Rin felt completed. The anger drained out of her and her body turned, facing Belgarath. It was as if that had been her name all along.
“What---what did you call Rin?”
“Belrin. Bel means beloved. You're my sister. Aldur told me I'd know just when to call you by your real name.” Belgarath gently led her away from Zedar's whimpering form. He said softly to the wolf-woman, “I think our little lily has found her bramble, Poledra.”
Poledra accepted Rin from the old sorcerer's grasp. A soft and mysterious smile crossed her lips. “One thinks it's about time, Old Wolf.”
Belgarath drew himself up and strode towards the prostrate Zedar. He stared down at the other sorcerer, drawing in his Will. “I warned you not to make me do this to you again, Zedar.” Regret and sorrow tinged the old man's voice. “You've left me with no choice but to put you back underground.”
Before he could unleash his power, Zedar transformed into the raven, flying through the slatted window into the light of early morning. A forlorn cry echoed back, the sound full of misery.
Belgarath swore. He said, “Burst!”
The table in the center of the room splintered into a pile of kindling.
Poledra hugged Rin tight. She let her go and said softly, “You've done well, Belrin---but you forgot something, dear.”
Rin's nose wrinkled. “What, Poledra-sama?”
“To let your pack-leader up,” the wolf-woman said. “You have to let him go.”
“Oh,” Rin blushed. She hadn't realized that her Will still forced Sesshomaru to remain on his knees. At the height of her fury at Zedar, she had tied the two things together. She hadn't realized that she still drew on her power, so accustomed to the strange tingling at the base of her skull from using so much of it for so long now. She flicked her wrist as she whispered, “Release.”
Belgarath quirked an eyebrow. “Young lady, we're going to have a talk about those gestures at some point.”
Poledra shook her head. “One thinks you worry too much over that, Old Wolf.”
“It's about style, Poledra! It's the Word that is important. Gestures aren't necessary. She shouldn't let a bad habit take root or she'll be doing it centuries from now,” Belgarath retorted, a slight pout crossing his face. “I've had the same fight with Polgara for thousands of years.”
“One notes that you have yet to win with her.”
Sesshomaru slowly stood, his body finally free of her imposed power. He stared at her with wonder, his gold eyes filled with questions. Rin stared back, taking a tentative step towards him. The Demon Lord rushed her in one motion, blurring. He grasped her tight in a crushing hug, holding her close. Rin wrapped her arms around his shoulders. He trembled as he held her against his chest. His fingers curled into her hair, gently stroking through her thick tresses.
Rin lifted her head, looking into his exquisite face. She reached a hand up, brushing a finger across one of his cheek stripes. Her mind linked to his, and without meaning to, she saw into Sesshomaru's worst nightmare as she had Zedar's. She gasped softly, realizing that the Demon Lord feared the same thing she did. Sesshomaru feared her rejection and her leaving him behind. This powerful being feared losing her above everything else. Flashes of scenarios skimmed by her consciousness---most of them involving her being hurt or killed in some brutal manner. These were Sesshomaru's greatest nightmares. She realized that they were normally buried so deeply inside---and only brought to the surface by what had happened tonight. She recognized his fear so clearly as if it was her own.
It was the first time that Rin truly understood that Sesshomaru needed her as much as she did him.
She explored his face further, seeing the tender expression settle over his features. Love radiated from his visage---so much so that she wondered how Zedar had ever hidden its truth for even a moment. His eyes shone like liquid gold. Relief flickered in their depths. Sesshomaru shakily threaded his fingers through her hair. He searched her face, almost as if trying to commit it to memory. The Demon Lord kissed her forehead gently, lingering a moment as if she might disappear.
As he pulled back, a single tear streaked down one cheek. He whispered to her mind, “This Sesshomaru nearly lost you---,”
Rin brushed the tear away with a thumb. She whispered back, “Rin knows, Sesshomaru-sama.”
Sesshomaru hugged her close again, taking a shuddering breath as he inhaled her scent. Slowly, the Demon Lord sank back to his knees, taking her with him. Rin settled into his lap, letting him take all the time he needed to collect himself. She felt safe, held against his solid form. His silver mane shielded her from the world, and in this moment, it was simply the two of them. Everything else faded. The little girl leaned her head onto his shoulder, her arms wrapping around his torso as she relished being with Sesshomaru.
She whispered again, “Belrin knows. But you didn't lose her---and you never will. Not ever.”