Au Contraire

By: Moojuice Nne of the Mayonaisse

Okay, okay, I know you guys really hate me right now. But Right As Rain has not died yet, I promise you! I just need a little time to get my ideas together and on paper. I am so sorry for the delay!

As for this… Well, who can resist a shirtless Achmed in the first chapter? . It's a rewrite for a horrible attempt at a start for a fanfiction. And, it's raining outside! What a great way to start a fic—a wet and shirtless Achmed:) I'm going to have more fun with this than I thought!

Erik: Yessss! She's off my case for a while!

Nne:dragging Achmed down the hallway of her lavish Bishie Harem: Don't get too comfortable, Erik. I don't trust you when you're alone, so I brought in some rabid fans of yours to do what they please.

:Erik turns towards the doorway, his eyes wide with horror, as a huge crowd of fangirls bursts into his room, carrying black leather pants, strips of bedsheets, and other various items in which to dress him in and tie him to the bed.:

Erik: God, this is Erik. WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS TO ME!

Achmed:from the back room: I HAVE TO TAKE OFF WHAT!

Translations (I love this part!):

Etre non: screw it all

Verse One: The Hearts of Millions

Achmed had often thought that clouds were masters of deception. Their absence was usually presumed to be a time of blue skies and sunshine; the next day, though, the people would be tormented with heavy rains and shafts of white-hot light falling from the heavens. But now, churning desperately over the Teeth like an enraged dragon ready to plunge into a fit, were clouds of formidable black, gray, and slate tones, which cast fitful shadows on the arid lumps of earth that bordered the colorful mountain range. Distant, hollow roars of thunder caused the ground to tremble with anticipation of the storm to come.

The King of the Firbolg stood resolutely on a gently sloping hill, facing the seemingly endless stretch of grassland that was the Krevensfield Plain. His body was swathed entirely in black; the only patch of skin visible on him was the bridge of his nose, his mild forehead, and his eyes. The latter of this group were two entirely different colors; the left orb was a clouded shade of blue, as if a past injury had rendered it blind, while the right was defiantly golden, a startling contrast to the weaker iris of its companion. The King's arms were crossed over his chest; he stared broodingly at the blades of dry grass as they waved to the churning skies above them. Another peal of thunder rattled the air around them, causing the sensitive network of veins and nerves that were etched painfully onto the Bolg lord's skin to sting faintly. His mouth, covered with a mask of black silk, twisted slightly to the side in a grimace.

He had been able to escape the wedding of the half-Lirin, half-human singer, Rhapsody, and her dragonesque husband, Ashe. They had apparently met when they were much younger, and had fallen in love all over again after their lengthy separation. The confusion of it all still stunned the otherwise indifferent ex-assassin: he, Grunthor, and Rhapsody had inadvertently escaped the cataclysmic destruction of their home island, Serendair, spending the equivalent of four hundred years underneath the surface of the earth. Achmed believed that their time together had changed him—obviously, it had not phased Rhapsody, who almost immediately met up with her dragon-like boyfriend.

He could tell that some part of him was experiencing an uncomfortably strange feeling; it originated deep within his heart and sent waves of anger exploding through him whenever he saw Rhapsody and Ashe together. He tried convincing himself that they were happy together, and that he would have to be patient and wait his turn when Ashe's heart finally stopped beating. But that would be a long time.

Eternity is longer, he thought grimly.

But, even as he had stood with Grunthor on the hill, looking down at the festival goers, watching Rhapsody with particular interest, he had tried to lie to himself.

She knows she is mine.

The dance they had shared…the triumphant feel that coursed through his veins as he saw the look on Ashe's face as he hoisted Rhapsody into the air, balancing her weight in his palms and letting his shoulders do the work, for final spin in the song. They had both received wild applause from both the dancers and those too drunk to stand up. Rhapsody was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. Even Achmed had to duck his head to hide one of the rare smiles that curved his lips.

Achmed! I didn't know that you could dance so well!

Suddenly, a drop of water landed with a barely audible plop on the dust at Achmed's feet. He glanced down, disinterested. The clouds' tint deepened to a dusky charcoal. The rays of the sun were all but blotted out; it was as if twilight was taking over the early hours of the morning. Rain began falling fast onto the parched lands, flattening the grass with its force, urged on by gusting winds that were strong enough to bend trees in their wake. Sheets of water blasted into Achmed from the side, plastering his black vestments to the chiseled muscles of his long-limbed body.

Achmed looked lethargically up at the sky, grimly noticing that the clouds had bluffed yet again; they had lightened up almost immediately to a blinding gray color. The navy blue and charcoal black tints had gone. He lifted his hands up to his head and slowly removed the black silk that hid his lower face from view; this he let drop from his gloved fingertips and be carried away by the gusting winds. Then, his fingers undid the metal clasp that held his cloak around his neck; this garment fell into the slippery mud behind him, weighed down by the cwellan so that it would not blow away. He pulled the lose-fitting black shirt off of his arms, revealing a garment made of thick leather strips that began at his neck and followed the musculature of his upper body to his torso. Reaching behind to the small of his back, Achmed undid a heavy metal clasp; it came apart with a loud snap, and the strips of leather loosened and fell off of the King's body like a shed skin. And so, the King of the Firbolg stood mutely, the entirety of his upper body exposed to the pelting sheets of rain. His dark brown hair hung limply in front of his eyes.

Suffering is permanent, obscure and dark, and shares the nature of infinity.

Achmed's body was quite unlike the petal soft skins of the other nobilities in the regions of the world. His was marred by the Dhracian's trademark; a thin web of raised veins and nerve endings that covered his entire being. The lines began on the top of Achmed's head and were carefully carved onto his face like tribal markings. They traveled along the lines of lean muscle, curving around Achmed's arms and his neck, spreading thin crimson trails that traversed the broad expanse on the ex-assassin's chest. The web was extremely sensitive, developed in necessity for hunting F'dor, the Dhracian race's most hated enemy. It allowed the user to feel the presence of whatever he was hunting, and, coupled with Achmed's unique talent of being able to hone in on his victim's heartbeats, proved to be a fatally unerring deformation. The only downside to this sensitivity, however, was that the slightest breeze that came in contact with the web caused the user excruciating pain.

And Achmed was no exception.

The skin on his back shuddered violently each time a raindrop hit it; his muscles were coiling, tensing, assaulted with burning, racking agony. Achmed's hands were clenched into rock-hard fists, his shoulders were trembling. The finely toned muscles on his stomach were going through vicious spasms, and yet no sound came from the Firbolg lord's lips. Instead, he stood there, gritting his teeth together, his eyes shut tightly, the raindrops running down his face like tears.

Think about the pain. Take your mind away from what you have lost.

A laughing voice, warm, sensual, and velvety, filled his mind.

Achmed! I didn't know that you could dance so well. Shall we try your luck with a waltz?

Achmed's eyes snapped open, and his mouth opened slightly. Raindrops slid past his lips and down his multiple throats—another blessing/curse of the Dhracian bloodline that rushed through his veins. For each chamber of his heart, a section of the whole of his throat was dedicated, solely for the purpose of singing a different part of the Thrall ritual used to capture and destroy F'dor spirits.

"…Why do I feel like this?" he whispered to the sky, his voice thick and husky with pain. "I do not…do not…."

The rain was burning like acid on his skin. Every inch of his body throbbed incessantly, begging him feebly to get in out of the rain. His vision was blurring at the sides.

"Etre non!" he snarled. "Let her have that draconic bastard! This is not what I came here to do."

Suffering is permanent.

Achmed let his eyelids slide closed, shutting his mind down, letting the world slip away from his comprehension, freeing himself from the bonds that tied him to the life he now led. He let the last strand of his consciousness travel back through time, through worlds that were destroyed hundreds of years before, to a time where he was an assassin of renowned skill; where he could hunt down anyone he chose, at any time, any place. Where his blood lore could find victims from hundreds of miles away.

When he had passed through the Fire at the earth's Heart, he had lost the heartbeats of millions; now he could only track a handful of First Generation Cymrians. The silence inside his head almost drove him insane not one year ago.

He was desperate to let his power come to the surface again. He would, once again, be the assassin whose prey was doomed even before they met.

But now, he was tearing himself apart from the inside to see how he accomplished the tasks that had once seemed so easy to do. He had to expose most of his skin web to the elements to enlarge the size of his blood lore's awareness.

"Please," he whispered hoarsely, his sandy voice barely audible above the scream of the winds. "Please…."

Where have the hearts of millions gone?

Beads of sweat and blood mixed with the rain that spilled down Achmed's mottled skin. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open; both were clouded over with a milky film. He let out a strangled gasp and lurched forwards, falling onto his hands and knees.

Find the hearts of those millions.

The dull thudding sounds at the back of his mind were growing steadily louder, filling his ears with the unsynchronized throbbing of a group of about ten beating hearts. Achmed took a deep, steadying breath, and let his mind stretch out even farther, searching for someone, anyone, to hone in on.

At first, there was nothing. Achmed strained, ignorant of the pain that shot through his back and upper arms as those muscles ripped apart under the stress of the vicious spasms that were passing through them.

Then, in a fleeting moment, a flickering instant, Achmed felt a singular pounding—the franting pulsating of the heart of a person pursued—crescendo above the monotonous thrumming that rang in his ears.

A searing bolt of pain shot across Achmed's shoulders, causing the Bolg leader to lose concentration completely. He opened his mouth to scream, but blood bubbled up from his throats and down his chin. Coughing hoarsely, Achmed shakily pushed himself off of the ground. His body screamed mercilessly at him, no longer pleading, but rendering him almost immobile as involuntary shuddering and spasms paralyzed his muscles.

Achmed turned his head, gazing past the loose strands of hair that obscured his visage, over his marred shoulder, the gold of his right eye flashing with pain and annoyance. Someone was rapidly approaching from the vast expanse of the Krevensfield Plain.

Achmed knelt down, sinking his teeth into his lower lip to stifle the groan as the strained muscles of his back rippled painfully beneath his skin. He strapped the leather garment onto his chest, heaving a shuddering sigh as the skin, which was bruised and marked with tiny, needlelike bumps caused from the rain, took refuge underneath the thick leather. He buckled the straps at his throat and at the small of his back, then pulled the black cloth shirt over his head. Picking up the weighed-down cloak with some difficulty and donning it, he pulled the hood over his head and removed the cwellan from his agonized shoulders. He began coughing again and spat onto the ground, tasting—and seeing—blood.

He turned to make his way back to the Cauldron, ignoring the sluggish, labored beating of his fatigued heart and the rapid approach of the stranger from the Plain.

Rhapsody, Grunthor, and Ashe all sat at the large wooden table in the council chamber, staring in uncomfortable silence at the merrily blazing fire that burned in the grate. Rhapsody, who had changed from her lavish wedding gown into a plain white shift and a knitted shawl, chewed nervously at the sides of her thumbnail, her emerald green eyes dark with worry. Her newlywed husband was leaned forwards in his chair, elbows on his knees, staring intently into the fire. Grunthor tapped his claw-like nails on the polished wood of the table, occasionally clearing his throat loudly just to disturb the peace. The pounding rain that had disrupted the wedding a few hours earlier had diminished to a slight drizzle.

After a long wait, Rhapsody broke the silence. When she spoke, the fire blazed in the hearth. "How long has he been gone?"

Grunthor sighed heavily, a thoughtful look on his leathery features. "Erm…hrnnn…uh…maybe, I dunno, six hours?"

"Where could he have gone?" Rhapsody asked nervously, her voice tremulous. "This isn't like him."

"Oh, believe me, duchess, it is. Sometimes he's got wanderlust—"

Rhapsody shook her head frantically, her wheat-colored tresses coming loose from the bun that she had pulled them into. "No, he wouldn't go out in this rain on purpose. He hates water, remember?"

"There's a lot of things that he puts up with that he hates," Grunthor muttered, casting a quick sidelong glance at Ashe, who had remained silent. Rhapsody glared at him, bringing her thumb away from her lips. Grunthor cleared his throat again. "Oi meant that he hates being in rain," he said politely. His nails dug into the table.

Rhapsody pushed herself out of her chair and began pacing up and down in front of the flames. Every time she passed the open grate, the flames crackled higher, as if heralding her position in front of the roaring fire. "He should not have left in the first place. I didn't see him after my dance with him. Did he come back to you?" she turned expectantly to Grunthor, who shrugged his broad shoulders.

"Oi can't remember, duchess."

"Maybe he went to another part of the Cauldron and we don't know it," Ashe suggested, his voice warm. He was trying to calm his wife down. "I'm sure he's fine, Rhapsody."

"No, no, no, I want to see him."

Suddenly, the door that connected the throne room and the council chamber flew open, and a Bolg guard leaned his head in.

"His majesty has just returned," he said in a scratchy voice. Rhapsody's face flushed with relief.

"Oh, how wonderful! Is he going to come in?"

The Bolg soldier cocked his head quizzically at her, then turned around and held a short conversation with his companion. When he readdressed Rhapsody, there was a hint of confusion in his tone.

"His majesty is…is not…faring well, I suppose, so no, he will not be joining you."

Rhapsody's face fell again. Grunthor was out of his seat in a minute and was headed for the door. Ashe heaved a heavy sigh and pulled himself out of the chair wearily. There were signs of deep exhaustion around his eyes. He smiled gently at Rhapsody. "Would it be too much for me to wait here?" he asked. "I don't want to aggravate Achmed the Snake's condition with my presence."

Rhapsody laughed and kissed Ashe warmly on the lips, savoring the familiar taste of his mouth before pulling away and heading for the door.

"Of course, of course. I can tell you're too tired to do anything else tonight."

Ashe's eyes widened in protest, but Rhapsody was out the door before words could pass between them.

Rhapsody caught up with Grunthor on the way to the Firbolg King's chambers. The seven-foot Sergeant-Major's strides were rapid; the Lirin singer had to run to keep up with him.

"You're right, duchess," he said, his voice low. "This isn't like Achmed at all."

"Yes. He's usually here to insult Ashe."

They turned the corner into a dark hallway; at the end loomed a heavy black oak door. The entrance to the King's chambers.

The guards were missing from their posts; Achmed must have dismissed them.

"I wonder why he didn't have enough sense to come in out of the rain."

Grunthor came to a sudden halt in front of the door. The inner chamber was silent. He gestured helplessly to Rhapsody.

She lifted a tiny hand and knocked timidly on the door. "Achmed?"

No answer.

"Achmed? It's Rhapsody. Are you all right?"

A voice, grainy and throaty, answered her from deep within the chamber.

"…I am fine."

A series of wet coughs punctuated the King's short sentence. Rhapsody's eyes grew wide with horror.

"Achmed, I'm coming in. This isn't right."

She turned back to her companion. "Stay here. I'm going to see if he needs any medicine."

Grunthor cocked a bushy eyebrow and leaned up against the wall. "Whatever you say, duchess."

Rhapsody turned the handle and pushed the door open. Blackness—and silence—greeted her. She smiled sadly in spite of herself—despite his wealth, despite his power, Achmed could not bring himself to accept the stereotype of being a Lord. His bedchamber was probably the most sparsely furnished room in the entire Bolg kingdom.

The room had a single, solitary candle lit upon the dark marble desk that rested against the wall parallel to the King's bed, which was covered in smooth sheets of black satin. The room held an earthy, cold scent—indeed, the walls were carved out of black stone, and the power of the mountains emanated into every corner of the moderately furnished bedchamber. The room seemed to suck all of Rhapsody's worries into its self-generated darkness; the only light in the room was that coming from the candle, and it was by this light that she saw the stiff form of Achmed.

His back was facing towards her; his shoulders were hunched; he was leaning over the desk, bracing his hands against the cold marble. His cloak pooled on the ground at his booted feet. His head was bent; a general gesture of defeat that Rhapsody had never seen him in before. She walked lightly across the room and rested a hand between his shoulder blades. She felt Achmed suck in a quick breath; the muscles under her hand quivered feebly, tensed, and shifted unnaturally. She felt a shudder pass from him and up her arm.

"Gods," she whispered. "What happened to you?"

"Don't…touch…me…." The order was whispered, but still carried enough angry undertones to warn Rhapsody that Achmed was in no mood to be toyed with.

"Why did you go out in the rain? Why did you abandon the festival of my wedding?"

There was no answer. Rhapsody looked at the flame of the candle, willing in to grow larger. The little spark obeyed; in an instant it burst into a blaze that almost ignited the entire candle. The Firbolg Lord's form was now completely visible in the ruddy light.

Rhapsody gasped, clapping her hand to her mouth to stifle her scream.

Achmed's back was bare, and Rhapsody could see the traces of the weblike veins that crisscrossed over his pale skin. But something was horribly wrong.

The entirety of his back was covered in a painful-looking rash that was warm and wet to the touch. A huge scar ran from one shoulder to the other; the skin around it was purple and lumpy. She could see the rest of his muscles knotting, contorting, moving restlessly under the King's deformed skin. The breaths that he took were ragged and uneven; every once in a while he coughed hollowly. He was clutching a scrap of black silk, running the cool, smooth fabric between his long fingers.

"Achmed," she breathed. "What happened to you?"

The King halfway turned, grimacing as his muscles cried out in protest and ground against each other. He gazed at the blond Lirin singer. Her dark jade eyes were frantic with worry, and her face had blanched to a papery white as she viewed the raw flesh that was his back.

Try your luck at the waltz.

His lips turned up in a trembling smile. Blood escaped from his mouth and ran in a smooth line down his chin.

"…I didn't have enough sense to come in out of the rain."

Cliffhanger, yes. I love 'em.