Chapter 6

Kahlan's eyes flew open trying to grasp her surroundings as she pulled sharp breaths into her lungs. After what felt like plummeting through a black abyss, she'd slammed to a halt. Her senses were overwhelmed; it was hard to take it all in. Her nostrils were flooded with the stench of rotting decay and sulfur. She was under something…no, someone. She pushed at the bodies pressing in on her, rolling them off her. Naked and covered in dirt, she tried to gain her bearings, fear threatening to consume her.

"Welcome to the Underworld, Kahlan."

Rahl stood before her on a small stone platform, just outside the mass of writhing bodies.

Kahlan curled onto her side, shielding herself as best she could from his lustful glare.

"Don't be shy, Kahlan. You and I are going to soon be veryclose."

She pulled from somewhere deep within herself, forcing herself to remain calm. She raised her chin in defiance, "Only by the hand of the Keeper. I have the same disdain for you in death as I had in life."

The hiss of an ominous voice from some great unseen void echoed out: "Send her to me, my son." The fear on Rahl's face told Kahlan whose voice it was. Rahl did not look pleased, but he could not disobey.

No longer concerned with her nakedness, Kahlan stood stone still, too terrified to move. She knew the beast before her was the Keeper himself. He exuded evil. Pain emanated from his being: she could feel it in her bones, aching. Burning. She wanted to turn away so she wouldn't have to look into its fiery eyes but she was transfixed. Short black hair covered the beast's towering skeletal frame. Kahlan was not fooled by its sickly, emaciated appearance. It radiated power. The thing moved closer, its hot, fetid breath on her face. It rose high above her sending a single tear slipping down her cheek. Unable to make her feet move but desperate to put some distance between herself and the revolting being in front of her, Kahlan dropped to her knees.

The creature did the same.

Crouching on all fours, it let out a low rumble of a lustful growl. Like a screeling stalking its prey, the black body slinked closer. Unable to flee, Kahlan leaned back on her haunches as the thing skulked over her. Fear gripped at her throat, choking off her air. The beast kept coming, forcing her flat onto her back, pinning her to the ground. Clawing at the dirt, Kahlan tried to burrow deeper into it. The beast's claw-like fists were on either side of her, trapping her where she lay. She had no where else to go. The snout of its wolf-like head nudged at her neck scratching her with its coarse, dark fur. The green mist of its putrid breath hung in her face. Kahlan tried, but could not contain a small cry of panic.

The creature liked that.

It hovered over her, its raspy breathing now a slow, heavy pant. Orange eyes stared into Kahlan's just a whisper away from hers. She agonized over what it was going to do to her. After what seemed an eternity, a long, thin tongue, more like a serpent's than a wolf's, flicked from its mouth to taste her. Kahlan's stomach lurched at feeling the rough scrape of it on her skin. It slithered where it pleased, burning like fire wherever it touched. "I am not the firssst," it hissed, its scorching tongue twitching about her.

Choked with fear, tears streamed down Kahlan's face, falling to the dirt below. She felt the fur of the beast's legs press against her thighs, forcing them apart. She tried to scream but could make no sound. Her mind grappled to remember Richard, her reason for doing this. Too terrified to even call his name she simply waited for the end. Dear spirits, please…let it be over soon.

Richard quickly laid Kahlan's lifeless body on the bed. He needed to move fast. He hoped he understood what he'd read in the book. If he was wrong, they were both dead, and the Keeper would have her forever.

Gripping tight to his sword, Richard went to the table where he'd left the book, glancing down at it one last time. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the pendant and hung it around his neck. The square, inky black stone fixed to a dark leather thong lay over his own tooth pendant. He gave Cara a pointed look. His tone left no room for argument, "Kahlan first." She gave a quick nod of understanding. Zedd looked from one to the other, not sure what to make of it.

Richard slipped his hand to the knife at his waist, pulling free the blade, plunging it deep into his own heart.

"Nooo!" His grandfather watched helpless as Richard dropped to the floor, dead.

Richard had known it was the only way. If Cara had used her Ageil, Zedd would hold her responsible. He didn't want that, especially if something went wrong. This was entirely his decision.

Kahlan closed her eyes, wanting to fight, knowing it was hopeless. She had willingly traded her soul for Richard's and at any moment the Keeper would take her as his own. How could this be happening? It was too vile to even contemplate. She realized this was his plan all along, using Rahl to get to her. How could she have been so blind? The Mother Confessor was to bear the Keeper's offspring. How utterly frightening. The creature readied to take her, pressing its weight against her chest and the realm of the Underworld was filled with an unearthly roar.

But it wasn't the Keeper's.

Richard's world went white with fury, the strength of it unlike he had ever known. He was complete annihilation unleashed. With an explosion of wrath and flashing steel, the Keeper was obliterated, thrown clear of Kahlan and cleanly severed in half, the Seeker's raging form standing over him.

But as quickly as he'd been slain, the still writhing and shrieking beast began to reform back into a whole, rising up, stronger than ever. Orange fire flared in his eyes and they settled on Kahlan. He would have what he wanted.

Never taking his eyes from the beast, Richard slipped a strong hand under Kahlan's arm and slid her behind him.

Gripping his sword tightly in both his hands, Richard's chest heaved with his every breath. He called on every ounce of rage he'd ever felt. The fury he felt at Shota's vision was a dim comparison to what coursed through him now. Wrath like never before flashed in his eyes, dark with fury. The black stone of the pendant hanging around his neck now ablaze with the same green cast of the Underworld, shining out like a beacon.

He was poised, ready to strike. Ready to take on the Keeper himself. "Dance with me Death."

Kahlan watched in horror as the beast roared and leapt through the air...and then she was gone; hurtling up through the abyss toward the light.

She was suddenly gasping for breath. Opening her eyes she found Zedd and Cara leaning over her. It didn't take her long to figure out what was happening. At seeing Richard's lifeless body lying next to her on the bed, she commanded Cara, "Give him the breath of life!"

Cara reached over and folded down the collar of Kahlan's dress, revealing the scar of Rahl's lips on her chest. "Not until the mark is gone."

Fear for Richard forced Kahlan to action. In an instant, her grip was tight around the Mord'Sith's throat. "Do it now." She was second's away from releasing her deadly power into her.

Cara didn't flinch. Her demeanor remained cool and determined. "Richard knew Rahl would come for you. He told me if that happened he wouldn't let you go alone. He didn't know what he was going to do, he was hoping to find something in the books, but he commanded me not to give him the breath of life until the mark on you is gone."

Kahlan's grip remained fixed as she weighed Cara's words. Richard's life hung in the balance.

Cara's green eyes glared back her. "You're not the only one willing to die for him."

Kahlan knew the truth of that. She released her grip. "Two minutes."

Lost to the fury, Richard hacked away at the Keeper. He had learned from the books of the Wizard's Keep about the magic behind the pendant. Without the Stone of Tears, he didn't have the power to stop the Keeper, but it did provide him with a measure of protection. It drew strength from the rage of the one who wore it, much like the Sword of Truth. With that strength, it drew power from the Underworld turning it back against itself, helping to protect him. It also allowed him to enter the Underworld as he was in life, clothed, with his sword.

A hot burst of flame spewed forth from the beast's mouth, threatening to devour Richard in its heat, but the brilliant light of the pendant shielded him, sending the fire back upon the Keeper, leaving him wailing in agony. The beast rose up on its hind legs, smoke rising from its singed fur. It hissed with anger and disbelief, "You wear the Pendant of Life!"

Richard knew that not only did the pendant help protect him here in the Underworld, but whoever wore it would be protected from the life bleeding magic of the Keeper's mark. To the Keeper, it would be very valuable.

Richard made him the offer he'd come here for. "Remove your mark from Kahlan and I'll give you the pendant."

"You wish it were that simple, Seeker. Once the mark is placed it can't just be removed. It needs a soul. You must pick whose soul you are willing to condemn."

"You are the one who has placed the mark, I condemn no one. If a soul is required to take it from her, I offer mine."

Richard knew the beast couldn't leave the mark upon him while he was protected by the pendant. He had no choice but to risk it. Slowly, he reached for the thong around his neck and placed it on the ground in front of him.

Richard cried out in agony at the mark once again being placed on him. He fell to all fours, panting from the pain. He gripped his fingers around the pendant as it lay in the dirt and pushed himself to stand. Dangling from his fingers, he held it out to the Keeper.

The Keeper slowly made his way for him. "Your love has cost you greatly. You have made an unwise bargain."

As the beast reached to take the pendant from his hand, Richard felt the sudden pull of being torn from the world of the dead.

Before he even knew what was happening, he was greeted by Kahlan, Zedd and Cara as he sucked in the sweet air of the living.

Alone now in Kahlan's room, they lay together on her bed, drawing comfort from each other's warm embrace. Richard had so feared what might happen to her he was unable to even form words. Kahlan kissed his tears. "I'm alright Richard. We're together now." His strong arms moved up her back to hold her more tightly, to prove she was really there, safe in his arms.

They lay quietly as Richard undid two of her buttons, gently pulling at the fabric of her dress. He needed to see for himself. His fingers lightly explored her flesh, relief washing over him at seeing the mark was in fact gone. He pressed his mouth to her smooth skin, taking comfort in just holding her tight. They couldn't seem to get close enough. The demand brought on more out of need than desire, Richard wrapped his legs around her, keeping her as close to him as possible, wanting to protect her. Their fingers buried deep in the other's hair they clung to one another.

His words were loving but adamant, "Never do that again Kahlan. Don't ever offer yourself for me." His emotions welling up inside him, he gripped her tight around the neck kissing her firmly before hugging her gently to him. "I'd rather spend an eternity in torment than have you spend one minute in that nightmare. Promise me."

Kahlan clearly saw the agony that gripped him. She wrapped her arms lovingly around his head, cradling him to her. "I promise Richard." Only then did he start to calm. His mouth sought hers pulling her into a deep kiss. A kiss that assured him they were together and safe. A kiss that showed just how deeply he loved her and that he would do anything for her. A kiss that said, for her, he would go to the Underworld and back.

The End

Thanks for reading! Hope you'll read the next story in this series: Forfeit