"You sent for me, Mistress?"
It takes her a few minutes until she has summoned the nerve to actually knock and when Denna pulls open the door of her chambers, Cara’s stomach twists into a knot, nonetheless.
But she has no time to consider it as Denna pulls her inside by a strap connecting her neckguard to her corset. The door shuts with Denna knocking her hard against it and Cara sees the unbridled fury on her face, clear like an early summer morning.
"What in the Keeper's name were you thinking?" Denna all but screams, her voice booming. Her face so close Cara sees the specks of light in her eyes, twinkling dangerously.
Cara had anticipated that Denna would interrogate her about her trip to the dungeons, but has yet to come up with an answer she can logically explain to the other Mord'Sith. How is she supposed to express in words that her loyalty to her outranks the one she has for their lord and master? She can't do that.
"What exactly are you referring to, Mistress?" She asks instead, realizing at once she should not have pushed Denna at this point. Her pale cheeks flare with a shade of red Cara has ever only witnessed once or twice. Denna rarely looses her well-trained composure, but when she does, people around her start dying like flies.
She expects an Agiel to her throat, a backhanded slap across her face at the very least, but Denna merely growls, low and menacing, "Cara." It is an abundantly clear warning; many do not have the pleasure of getting.
"I needed to see, if..." Cara begins and pauses, looking away from Denna's stare that leaves her feeling too exposed and vulnerable. She bites the inside of her cheek, tasting blood on her tongue.
"I needed to see, if you were... all right." She forces out with serious difficulty but Denna grips her chin harshly and forces her to look back at her. Cara expects to see the disappointment or shame over her weakness, but Denna's expression is carefully neutral, before she crushes their lips violently together. Her tongue slips into Cara's mouth tasting the iron. She hears Denna groan into her mouth and without thinking about it Cara pulls her closer, a hand against her cheek and kisses her back with vigor. She tries to convey everything in that kiss she can't compose words for; would die a death in agony for if she would ever voice them. Her tongue meets Denna's in its dance, trying to impart everything she is not supposed to feel, in a single brutal kiss that threatens to tear her apart with its intensity.
Eventually, Denna breaks their connection, breathing hard as she rests her forehead against Cara's. Her skin soft for everything she is not. For a moment they stand there frozen in time, while Cara inhales each one of Denna's ragged exhales.
When she steps back thereafter, Denna's face shows no more of her former fury, but looks wearier than only a moment ago. Cara can't see any of the bruises Darken Rahl left on her, for he has chosen to spare her face. But the way Denna is moving, more cautious and deliberate, is a dead giveaway.
"I don't even want to imagine what could have happened if he had seen you." Her voice is barely above a grave whisper and tinged unmistakably with apprehension as she walks back and forth in front of Cara. "What he had done to either of us..."
Her gaze seeks Cara once more. "You do know something like this can never happen again?" Denna implores, her eyes desperate and searching.
Cara only nods, unable to form the words at seeing her troubled to such an extent - fixing her gaze at the corner of Denna's mouth where her lipstick is slightly smudged.
"Never again." Denna repeats, imploringly. "Tell me that you understand!"
"I do." Cara confirms in the end, holding Denna's piercing gaze even as it feels like it cuts the flesh right off her bones the longer it lasts. Wondering if she sees too much, knows too much already.
"I ought to punish you for even thinking about it." Livid blue eyes flash at her. "Even more so, for actually setting a foot down there."
Cara leans against the door and swallows thickly. After agonizing long moments, Denna turns from her and slowly walks over to her desk. Cara exhales a breath she wasn't even aware she was holding.
"Leave... I have for another mission to prepare for." Denna calls over without looking at her - and Cara does just that.
She doesn't see much of Denna during the following days, apart from the short times in the dining hall. Cara knows Denna was right in admonishing her for the error of judgment and following her down into the dungeons. And most of all pull her Agiel - prepared to defend her mistress over her master.
But as the days pass Cara comes to the realization that Denna is not going to punish her for it either - nor does she send any of her sisters to do it for her.
Cara has just shrugged out of her leathers in Darken Rahl's chambers and waits for her Lord to join her on the bed, when Mistress Denna enters, in all likelihood the lone person in the entire People's Palace who can get away with walking in unannounced.
"Oh Denna, would you care to join us?" She hears her master drawl as he notices the blonde. Cara's eyes are on the First Mistress who is eying her in return, before her blue eyes shift to Darken Rahl once more.
"A tempting offer my Lord - one I would undoubtedly accept but pleasure must wait I’m afraid... General Nass has only just arrived. I believe you sent for him in an urgent matter?"
"I did indeed." Rahl confirms, but Denna doesn't look like she expected any different. "But surely we have some time to spare until he has made his way up..."
"He’s already in the Palace, my Lord..." Denna cuts in mildly, with a sense of servility Cara finds does not suit her.
"Well, that’s very unfortunate..."
"Indeed, my Lord." Denna replies and it actually seems to Cara like Denna is not thrilled about the fact either.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, my Lord." Denna confirms solemnly, while her eyes briefly stray to Cara's naked form once more. "At least the servants informed me, so I came here straight away to notify you of his arrival."
Cara watches on as her Lord strides out without further acknowledgment to either of them, undoubtedly to be dressed in a fresh set of robes by his personal servants.
"I would assume your services are no longer required, Sister Cara." Denna observes without inflection. She doesn't leave, but continues to watch with arms folded over her chest as Cara stands from the bed to get back into her leathers.
"It seems like it." Cara agrees, not entirely uncomfortable with the blue eyes roaming over her skin. Denna actually waits until she is fully clothed and it's a good while later when they depart from Darken Rahl's bedchambers. When they march down the corridor however his voice booms out behind them once more.
"Denna!" They both turn to see him rush towards them, robes swishing over stone.
"General Nass was only at the gate as you informed me! He is only just reaching the Palace as we speak! We could have doubtlessly indulged in..."
"I apologize, my Lord." Denna bows to him and Cara averts her eyes from the uncommon sight. "I can guarantee, I will personally see to the punishment of the one responsible by my very own Agiel. They won’t make such a grave mistake ever again."
"You well damn better." Darken Rahl growls before striding off, clearly not amused.
Cara looks over to her, but Denna seems rather unaffected by his outburst as they carry on walking. As she has probably witnessed quite many of those during her time as First Mistress, Cara muses.
"Your presence is required in my chambers in the early evening, Sister Cara. I've still some other work on my desk I need to complete first." Denna tells her once they are back in the temple and Cara can't help the curious gaze she sends Denna.
"Don't you need to find the person who mixed this up first, Mistress?"
"I had hoped you might be up for the task." Denna tells her with stoic features.
Cara raises a brow, unable to follow the blonde's train of thought. How would she know with whom Denna spoke to regarding General Nass arrival in the People's Palace?
Seeing the confused look on her face, Denna continues. "Just make sure you'll make it last, when you fuck me with my Agiel later." Denna husks against her cheek, leaving it tingling for hours to come.
This odd feeling in her chest expands once more, threatening to shatter the bones of her rib cage.
Dark painted lips find hers as Denna presses herself urgently against Cara's waiting body, steering her backwards until her back hits the wooden door with a dull thud. Restless fingers graze back and forth over the exposed skin on Cara's neck before they settle at last to cup her cheek. The consuming urgency bleeds out of their meeting of lips, trickling down to languid kisses that have Cara's chest constrict with a sudden vicious pull and release, leaving her gasping for air.
"When you have so much as a scratch when I get back, you’ll be sorry." Denna murmurs against her lips, low and possessive enough for Cara's skin begin to prickle. In the distance a bell chimes, and echos and Denna absconds from their nearness, even before Cara can commit her dark alluring scent to memory.
Once outside of Denna's chambers, the door falls with a heavy click into the lock behind them. Denna's unsettling, ever watchful gaze lingers on Cara's face for a moment longer, her eyes a turbulent shade of blue. Without another word, she steps back and while she saunters down the corridor toward the temple's entrance, Cara finds herself listening to the sharp clack of her heels against stone tiles.
"I shall not!" Cara calls after her and fears it might already be too late for Denna to catch, but at the last possible moment she turns to Cara one last time. Eyes sparkling, Denna winks at her with the ghost of a smile about her lips - and then, she is gone.
The bell tolls once.
Even if Cara had always known Denna was practically capable of doing anything she set her mind to, she had yet again underestimated Denna's ability to wield influence over Cara's life even without the older Mord'Sith being present.
Lord Rahl's assignment had no time limit per se, but no one expected the First Mistress to take much longer than a week, two at most. As the third week comes and goes, without a message via Journey Book, Cara feels early on already much uneasier than most of her fellow sisters. Dahlia picks up on her growing frustration almost immediately for she doesn't particular care to hide it, but the younger woman chooses not to comment on Cara's sudden compassion for their missing comrades.
But when none of her sisters in the temple or the generals of the People's Palace are able to make connection with Denna or any of the D'Haran guards accompanying her, the structured and ordered universe around Cara shows the first cracks and fissures.
With the discovery of Lord Rahl's own Boxes of Orden missing, it begins to crumble.
For a long while after, the disappearance of the two boxes from Rahl's uttermost sanctuary as well as of the D'Haran battalion and most significantly First Mistress Denna herself, remains a mystery.
With each passing day devoid of any sign - the hope of finding any of them still alive is fading fast.
At the beginning of the fourth week, she persuades her master to let her lead a search squad and follow the elusive trail from the Plaines of Morrow into a thick looming forest. And for a fugacious instant, Cara can nearly make out Denna's footprints in the loose soil, as she and five of her sisters stumble across dozens and dozens of D'Haran warriors.
Her heart speeds up at the sight of death and doom spread out before them. And Cara begins to wonder how she managed to block out the nauseating stench of rotting flesh up until now.
A tight knot settles in her stomach as she carefully weaves in between the bodies, eyes frantically looking out for a shimmer of red in between the blacks. Even if she is not sure how she will react to it, should she spot it.
She doesn't have to find out.
At the end of the day, they find them all - but one. And with the recovery and repatriation of the corpses to their place of burial in D'Hara, Cara's world plunges further into darkness.
For Denna is just gone - without a trace for her to follow.
The day they arrive back with the bodies, the temple's bell chimes at midnight. But not for the ones they escorted home, but for the one they have not.
It echos through the empty baths and the vast hallways, the assembly hall and quiet dungeons.
It rings every minute - for an hour.
For a long while after that, one month melts into the next without her even noticing. Stuck between a tumultuous past and a promising future, Cara tries to maintain at least some semblance of former order. All the while left to wonder about Denna's uncanny fate.
With the passing of time the air and temperature shifts with Denna's glaring absence and Cara steels herself against the ever growing chill prickling like needles over her skin. For she doesn't even know if she is still alive - or... is not.
The doors to Denna's former chambers remain tightly sealed like a tomb of memory for the First Mistress. And for the changing of many seasons even Darken Rahl seems reluctant to appoint another in Denna's stead.
The thought alone, that any of her sisters may be given permission to enter Denna's holy sanctuary or sleep in her very bed, is enough to make Cara's stomach turn violently. More often than not she spends her countless sleepless nights with a singular goal in mind. Over the course of time, she formulates a plan to achieve the sole possible outcome she might actually bear - and while doing so - finds herself settling back into a stately pace of life. She had never expected for this to happen this early on and finds herself craving Denna's guidance in a matter the older Mord'Sith would likely have killed her for.
In the end it takes her even less time to climb the ranks, especially with no one left she might care for not to get hurt. Dahlia has no such ambitions and seems content with the standing she has reached among her sisters, but now more than ever, Cara strives to achieve a higher place in the Sisterhood's narrow hierarchy.
And with Denna no longer there to cast a shadow, Cara rises like a phoenix from her still glowing ashes. Rewrites one chapter after another of her own history and reinvents herself as everything she ever wanted to be.
Season after season breezes by and not until Lord Rahl himself hands her a heavy shining key to her new chambers, Cara has come to terms of someone other than Denna taking her place.
The way to Denna's chambers is one she finds easy, even if she has made an effort to avoid passing it by since Denna vanished from the face of the earth.
A flicker of warmth seeps from the thick wooden door into her palm, as the tips of her fingers play back and forth over the intricate carvings in somber remembrance. Closing her eyes for one forbidden moment, she allows herself to revel in the recollection of their final meeting at this very spot. The brush of lips, her former Mistress' fragrance, Denna's unsettling watchful gaze directed at her - that far too soon vanish back into her memory.
At last she turns the key with trembling fingers and steps in. A sudden surge of longing guides her farther inside, where she braces herself against the back of the leather chaise, fighting down the torrent of emotion shredding her insides apart. Her breaths come quick and shallow and in the solitude of this room she can admit it's vaulted ceiling and those thick walls possess a far greater value and importance to her than any other place ever will.
The tightness in her chest recedes gradually, and she forces herself to breathe in the stale air, slow and measured. A few minutes pass until she can finally manage to take a look in all directions. Everything is precisely as it should be, right there where she can still see it vivid and alive in her minds eye.
Not even one of her sisters was permitted to set a foot inside these walls or unlocked the door since the First Mistress went on an assignment and never returned. It is the greatest gift, a pristine memento, untouched by the passage of time.
Unbidden, her gaze drops to silken bed sheets, still crumbled under the plush comforter. For one fleeting moment Cara finds herself wondering if she will find a trace of Denna's scent still lingering in the fabric, if she only inhales deeply enough. And what she will do when it eventually fades into nothingness.
With a shake of her head, she breaks loose of those thoughts and strides over to the arched windows, opening them wide. Crisp, fresh air pours into the room, clearing away the muggy and stagnant smell of the passing of one too many seasons.
On her way out, Cara halts at the four-poster bed briefly, teeth clenched as she pulls the comforter up to cover the entirety of the sheets beneath. A sign of her inner weakness she'll have to live with.
Deep within, Cara knows with absolute certainty; she won't be able to cast the memory of Denna out of her mind. If she is alive or dead, matters just as little as the faint possibility of seeing her again one day.
Denna is gone now.
And their only future - will always ever be their past.