"So...we should be looking for the box somewhere here?" Kahlan turned to Cara while they proceeded further inside the sanctuary.
"Yeah. In a way yes, but we are already there." Cara had a confident expression on her face. "We, Richard, Zedd, it doesn't really matter, just stay with me. It's important that we are here."
Kahlan continued cautiously forward and Cara followed. In wider passages they walked side by side.
"Do you expect we will meet trouble? Do we need to fight?"
"Yes, I believe so." The expression on Cara's face didn't exactly correspond to what Kahlan expected. Cara was alert but like partly in another time.
It didn't take long to meet the first attackers. Cara spotted someone at the end of the hallway. It was the same situation as what they had had in the tavern, plus a flash of red light somewhere at the ceiling. Cara took the attacker neatly out before he, or she, didn't have time to raise the bow. Strangely enough, the body of the attacker started to pulverize into ash, leaving behind a formless pile of dark grey substance.
"Oh, Cara. What is this? The same thing as in the tavern? And the ash and the lights? Wow this starts to look dangerous."
After another turn on the path through the corridors, three sworded men attacked them like out of nowhere. Kahlan was now in front and fought two of them and Cara took care of the third one. It required much more effort from both of them, but from the corner of her eye Kahlan saw that Cara fought with a small smile on her face, with a kind of unexpected confidence.
"Who...what, who are these attackers Cara?" Kahlan gasped and looked at Cara with a big question mark on her face.
Cara put her agiels back.
"The 'guardians' of the box…they are just fools. Not really guardians. Fools who don't know how to handle the box. Hah, the box it's stronger than them."
"So…and these are not real people?"
"They are images that have come into flesh. You remember as Zedd said, the box can change our perceptions. It can feed itself from our imagination."
Even confronted with these strange things, the presence of Cara was so calm that it relaxed Kahlan almost totally. In a way she felt she had slipped into Cara's world, and indeed she knew that Cara was the main person of this story. She hadn't thought it this way.
They walked forward now with a lighter mood and started to see more decorated pillars, statues, altars, painted glass windows and mosaics. The outer world slowly disappeared and was replaced by another world and a new type of light that scattered from somewhere up and illuminated the path
"So what do all these texts and symbols mean?" Kahlan wondered.
"Oh I know only some of them. This, for example, is an ancient kingdom and its rulers, then their love and war affairs with a neighboring kingdom, their symbols are reproduced in these floral patterns", Cara explained a relief that Kahlan touched.
"Wow, and who has made them? Who has collected all these things here?"
"Artists, travellers, poets, sculptors, people who have heard the stories or seen some of these things with their own eyes. People of the town tell that they have wanted to recreate what they saw."
Another flashback... Cara falls into another time but in the same place...Her friend Stephania calls her, she is behind the pillar. Cara, Cara come to see this sculpture...look how beautiful it is...I follow her voice, we are friends, these are the first moments when I start to understand what friendship is about, it's an immense joy...Will I see you next summer Cara...Yes of course we will see I come again with my parents...you promise?...I promise I hope I could come earlier...Promise to me you come, promise you don't leave me…I want to say how important friend she is, how happy I am here with her...I'm shy, I hesitate...
The memory is strong, the face of Stephania, her brown hair and smiling eyes, Cara liked her. She never saw her again. In the autumn a Mord-Sith squad had taken Cara from her family, while in this part of the land Stephania and her family were killed during the unrest incited by certain warlords.
"This painted glass window… look at its cobalt blue, oh so intensive the color. And these flowers, these irises, how they have been sculpted. It's virginica right?" Kahlan's eyes shone when she looked at Cara.
She sees it, she feels it, like we did. For Stephania she couldn't have done anything at that time but still she felt she hadn't done enough. Now she felt she was given a chance.
"I like this particular room...Listen."
I liked her so much, Stephania. The times entangled in Cara's mind... different times...she is so much like her. The variants of irises, what more you need, a chance to relive, a very rare thing, a chance to set things straight...You must... what she should have done then...To not let things slip through your fingers...she wouldn't, not any more.
A shy smile, the hair that frames the face so beautifully.
"You are smiling."
They sat close to each other on the stone bench and started to discern sounds of water. It was like time itself progressed one drop after another. Their fingers were enlaced.
"Kahlan I want to say...you are more than a friend to me."
The surroundings and the place, the sanctuary itself spoke to Kahlan, the same thing that Cara had said. Cara had brought her there, she had brought her to the Box. This was it, there were no further ways to search. Kahlan looked at the walls, the ceiling, the decorations that represented the full spectrum of everything, wars, gods and goddesses, love scenes, stories, emotions. She realized that the decorative motive of arrows could be seen everywhere in this sanctuary, on the walls, corridors, chambers and pillars, everywhere.
Kahlan got it. The sanctuary itself was the Box of Times. It was the place of Cara, one of her places. How clear it was now...Kahlan smiled, damn, Cara knew it all the time. Or maybe she didn't or had forgotten it, but the Box was too strong, it called her back over the years, for a mission, for setting the arrows straight. It was Cara's secret, only she knew how powerful this place can be. Kahlan was part of Cara's story, she was happy to be part it.
"I love you Kahlan."
More than a part.
"Cara…", Kahlan said silently. Cara next to her, open and vulnerable, it was unbearable for Kahlan to keep things anymore separate, to keep a story separate from another. "I...I feel the same for you. Just promise you will be there. Promise." Cara had stepped into her story and she had stepped into Cara's. There was no way out.
"I promise", Cara kissed Kahlan's fingers and lips and they stayed long time silent.
The bright red, orange and green lights, already familiar to them, continued to play in the ceiling. Cara knew her mission with the box was coming to an end. Except one thing.
"Kahlan, there is the ultimate thing…I need to go through this with you. Will you trust me? It will be intense."
"I will, Cara."
"You must kill an image that you love. Richard and Zedd walk soon from that entrance."
"You must kill Richard."
"Cara no…", Kahlan touched her arm.
"Those Richard and Zedd are not the real ones. They are the final effects of the box, its perturbed arrows, the final incarnations. If you don't kill him, he will kill you. That person who looks like Richard will really kill you."
Kahlan felt weak and forceless, she had trusted Cara up to this points, and would trust her still, but the idea of shedding blood of a person who even looked like Richard was just… just too much. These thoughts were almost beyond her ability to bear - Sounds at the right side doorway interrupted her thoughts.
"Cara, Kahlan! You are here, good!" Richard and Zedd ran into the hall. "We found the box, it was in a chamber at the end of our route! Let's go quickly there all four of us."
"Yes", Zedd coughed, "yes, it's there. We didn't meet anybody on the route. We are curious what you are going to do with it Cara."
"Oh, g-good", Kahlan stuttered, looked at Richard and then back at Cara. "Cara?"
"We have other things to do Zedd. Something urgent. Kill or be killed, is that right Zedd? Oh you really look and talk like Zedd."
"I don't follow you Cara...", Zedd was perplexed.
Kahlan saw Cara observing Zedd. Cara's eyes were narrow and sharp. She waited for a final confirmation.
"Cara?" Zedd's voice was questioning. "Is everything all right? I know how you must feel when you are so close to fulfilling your mission."
"Yes, everything is very much right. Thanks for your words but what do you know about my mission? And no, oh no, you touch a big subject there, mister wise guy, whoever person you are from the depths of my mind. You don't 'know' my feelings", Cara said and approached Zedd, or the person who stood and coughed in front of her. Zedd wouldn't speak like this, she rejoiced, happy to have gotten her confirmation. "So you two found the box? Well done", she said in an ironic tone.
"Wow, take it easy, are you out of your mind? We just found it, okay? All is fine. Richard, take care of Kahlan", Zedd nodded at Richard.
"Sorry, but I won't take it easy", Cara said in a low voice. She grabbed one of her agiels and put it on Zedd's chest. "And not sorry. Let me salute you in a very special way for finding the box for me."
"No, no, no, what?! Cara stop!" Richard shouted and seemed paralyzed.
Zedd slumped on his knees and fell down on the stone floor. He wheezed and couldn't move, and Cara continued to press with her agiel. The lights reflected from the ceiling, the color of blood on Zedd's lips mixed with it.
"Kahlan", Cara's voice was low and demanding.
"I...I am sorry...", Kahlan looked at Richard, then Cara, then back at Richard and took slowly one of her daggers.
"I don't get you Kahlan. And what is with Cara? Ask her to stop! It's me, Richard. Don't tell me you see here someone else. Don't listen to Cara."
"I'm sorry!" Kahlan's face was twisted. She couldn't stand this any more, it felt too real, the image too similar to Richard, she waited desperately a sign that it was not him. A terrible thought tormented her. Is Cara right? The more he speaks, the more I start to believe this really is him.
Kahlan hesitated a few more seconds and tears formed in her eyes. She heard Cara's voice like from behind a fog… We go through this together… I don't leave you…she saw the lights in the ceiling intensify, becoming blood-red and playing like in the Northern Skies during the winter, she saw gentle eyes but also two clenching fists… a real Richard would never do that!…never... She pushed the dagger into the heart of the person that stood in front of her, he looked like Richard but it wasn't. The person fell down on the ground gasping, became weaker... It was terrible.
Kahlan fell on her knees, emotions took over. She knew it was not Richard but she couldn't look any more, she covered her face and sobbed.
Cara went to Kahlan and put her arms around her. After agonizing moments the lights in the ceiling started to fade out. The two bodies which had looked like Zedd and Richard started to transform into ash, then became unrecognizable.
"Kahlan!" Richard walked into the hall with Zedd behind him. "What happened, are you all right?" Richard saw the two piles of ash and ran to Kahlan.
Kahlan sobbed on the floor. They looked around but didn't see any more disturbances. It was over, the sanctuary was calm, the air fresher and the light bright.
"Cara, what now?"
Cara's voice was so determined that Richard and Zedd didn't ask anything more for a while and they started to walk back to the south gate.
"So…", Zedd started cautiously when they approached the entrance. "What about the box, Cara? Did you finally find it?"
"Oh, we didn't find it either. But I was sure we walked through all the corridors and chambers on our way, didn't we Richard?... Did you do the same Cara?"
"Yes, through all the corridors and chambers, of course."
It was much warmer outside than what they remembered. Richard saw colorful flowers and a greener grass.
"Oh look at the flowers, they are fresh. It's like...it's like early summer again. Damn that box really played us."
"I think it did", Cara smiled. "Yes everything is possible. For now things are fine, trust me. You remember, arrows of Emotions, War, Love and what not. They are fine for now, at least what comes to the box."
"I think we do have still questions Cara", Richard said. He saw Kahlan walk calm and happy. "Well at least me and Zedd."
"There are always questions. I can just give my Mord-Sith-kind-of answers, you can buy them or not, haha, how you like."
"First, who manipulated the box? Then, wherever the box is in that sanctuary, why it doesn't need any protectors? And did you know about this all the time?"
"Well, good questions. I believe many people have tried to manipulate the box. Probably it was more successful earlier, you remember what I told you in the beginning and what Zedd told you. But the successes didn't last long, the box is apparently much stronger than those who have tried to manipulate it. It's like forcing stories to too narrow paths or trying to not to make them mix", Cara laughed and looked at the others. "You like stories, huh? And hope this is deep enough stuff for you Zedd?"
Zedd smiled and tried to add something to Cara's explanation.
"Some local fools had probably tried things, messed it up a little bit...And whoever have found the box over the years, time and again, may have found it has powers?"
"Yeah I guess so", Cara continued. "It's ok. It led me here with you all, it related to my past, to some important things. No, I didn't know about this first, we needed the journey that I remembered it."
Cara made a little break and started to look bored of so much lecturing.
"So much speaking… Okay why it shouldn't have protectors? Well, you tell me. Should it have? Should the powers that affect or play with our imagination be controlled? Even if they mix things up a little bit? Or big time? Listen, if you spend your youth in Mord-Sith training schools, I can guarantee that you need powers of imagination, every single day. You must harness every damn bit of your imagination to stand it. But you can think about this what you want."
The path seemed to be clear, the arrows of the box set to follow their unperturbed flow, and all four in a happy mood. They were sure that new adventures were just about to start.
Cara threw a final look at the sanctuary, saw the main arc of the south gate and read the letters in the left and right side of the arc and the central piece. B.O.X. O.F. T.I.M.E.S. Exactly as she remembered.