Chapter 1 - The Arrival

Disclaimer : Any thing related to any book of the Rhapsody series is clearly not mine, as it belongs to Ms. Elizabeth Hayden. This applies to all future chapters.

The Arrival

This was not where she was supposed to land. At least, she didn't think it was. According to Phyla, the machine was to take her directly to the Firbolg king's throne room, and this was most certainly not it.

The woman surveyed the land around her. She was standing on a pathway, recently used she noticed, carved in a winding course into a rugged mountainside. All around her rose more jagged, teeth-like crags. The wind whipped at her cloak; threatening to rip her hood from her head and tear the scarf around her mouth from her face. As she shifted her weight, her toe nudged a few pebbles over the path's edge. The rocks bounced off the mountain's side as they careened downward, but the woman did not hear them reach the bottom. She imagined it would be a breathtaking view in the daylight.

Muffled voices came to her ear on the wind, along with a more distant, low, hammering sound. The woman glanced behind her as the gruntings came closer. Through the darkness she thought she could see the shadows of several stocky, muscular men of some kind. Guards? thought the woman. The shadows drew nearer, then halted suddenly. One of them pointed a short, fat finger in her direction, and immediately the four phantoms began running toward her. Guards, she determined to herself as she took off along the path.

Under normal circumstances, the woman would have lost the pursuing creatures in a heartbeat, but seeing as she was traversing a narrow mountain path, in the dark, with absolutely no idea where she was going, it took all of her cunning to just keep from hurling over the edge.

She ran blindly through the night, hoping not to fall off the path or run into any other guards standing watch. That would cause her more delay, and that would not do. Unless, she thought, I was being pursued by the Bolg King's guards, in which case they would bring me straight to him. She slowed at the thought, and the guards came into view once again. But best not to take chances, she told herself, increasing her pace.

Her pursuers began shouting, the woman glanced over her shoulder. They were calling to someone. She returned her eyes to what lay ahead and saw that she was fast approaching the entrance to a tunnel leading inside the mountain. An entrance with four more armed guards.

The woman did not hesitate, she was never very good at stopping anyway. Instead, as she came upon the waiting sentinels she ducked her head and fell into a somersault. The sentries crashed into one another in a dazed heap as the woman rolled back onto to her feet and continued into the tunnel.

There was some light on the other side of the entrance; dim torches burned quietly in their sconces along the hallway. Fire...a small voice whispered in the back of her mind. Her fingers twitched.

A flame from one of the torches suddenly leapt into a furious fire and streaked across the tunnel, creating a temporary roadblock for the woman's hunters. The ones closest to the flame cried out in out in pain from the heat and sudden light. The woman veered around a corner.

Solid wooden doors lined both sides of the new stone corridor. Must hide, the voice in her head said. She spotted a door that had been left slightly ajar and headed toward it.

Achmed stared anxiously up at the ceiling, the silk sheets of his bed providing no comfort. His skin prickled. He shot up in bed. Something was wrong.

He could feel the static in the air, heard the sentries' shouts. He grabbed his self-made cwellan and opened his door a crack.

A hooded and cloaked figure was barreling down the tunnel at a reckless pace. The figure looked up. Achmed narrowed his eyes, but could not see into the shadow of its hood. The figure suddenly shifted its course and headed straight for Achmed's bedchamber.

The Firbolg King cursed and ducked back into a corner of his room. He was visibly seething at the fact that an intruder had managed to infiltrate his mountainous city. It made him even more furious that he had had no warning, and that he had no idea of the intruder's identity.

The door burst open and the cloaked figure dashed inside, shutting the door quickly behind him. Achmed sighted his cwellan at the trespasser's head.

The woman hurried inside the room and shut the door swiftly behind her. She braced herself against the cool wood, pressing her ear close to its surface. When she had heard all eight sets of footsteps pass by she sighed, and turned around.

Indescribable pain tore through her head; beginning behind her left eye and searing a path into her skull and then her down to her very core. She let out a strangled cry as her hands flew to her eye. She numbly felt the edge of a thin metal disk, and cursed again.

She lifted her head up to face her assailant: a tall, thin man in black, as shadow-like as herself.

"Dam you," she muttered through gritted teeth.

Achmed was as close to shocked as he'd ever been when the invader didn't immediately drop dead when the three razor sharp disks embedded themselves into his head. He cried out and grabbed at his eye with both hands. A string of curses flew out of his mouth that the Bolg lord, despite not being able to understand the words, thought rivaled the Sergeant Major even on his best day.

As the intruder swore at him, Achmed noticed the inflection in his voice, and realized that the 'he' was a 'she.'

The woman clenched her jaw and gritted her teeth as she fought back the searing pain. When she had conquered the worst of it, she straightened and looked directly at her attacker.

Achmed met the woman's gaze, well, what was left of it, squarely. A whisper-thin metal disk protruded from her left eye. The rest of her face was streaked with mud and blood.

"Well, what do you think?" she asked in a muffled, far-away rasp. "The latest craze among the Undead?"