And finally...


"He saw an opening." –3,3 A Husband's Wicked Ways by Jane Feather

"I don't need to practice." –3,3 Sword-Sworn by Jennifer Roberson

"The gods are not served by slackness." –3,3 Night's Sorceries by Tanith Lee

The Way Forward

"Now!" There was an audible click as the Rada'Han closed around Nicci's neck. It felt cool against her skin.

She didn't move. If the dream had been real—if the Creator had told her the truth—if, if, if. Nicci needed answers, and she would only get one chance to test her new power.

She looked up into the coolly triumphant face of a blonde Mord'Sith she recognized—Brisha. Bending over Nicci, Brisha searched her quickly and efficiently. Nicci could have told her that Darken Rahl still had her blue dress, her spare knife, and several bowls full of her blood. All she wore now was a green dress she'd conjured out of leaves.

"Nothing," said Brisha, getting up and looking eagerly toward another Mord'Sith. Nicci squinted, trying to get a good look in the dawn light. Standing away from the others, hands on her hips, she was clearly the leader. Her lips were thin with impatience.

Brisha said uncertainly, "Did you want to train her for Lord Rahl, Mayline? She keeps escaping, and we get hardly any hostages anymore—be good practice."

Mayline stepped forward, and Nicci waited, every muscle tensed. She didn't dare try to use her magic until precisely the right moment—with Mord'Sith, there was no margin for error. "I don't need to practice," Mayline said contemptuously, turning away. "Tie her up. We're leaving."

The youngest Mord'Sith bent down to bind Nicci (she looked quite astonishingly innocent, but Nicci knew how easy that look was to come by), and an arrow whizzed over her head, striking one of the other Mord'Sith in the neck. She crumpled, and the whine of agiels filled the air as the rest prepared to fight.

Nicci quickly wriggled out of the half-done bonds and raised her head cautiously. A group of men let out attack screams; an older one, standing well back, was yelling, "Go, go! The gods are not served by slackness! For the Blood of the Fold!"

Seeing her captors so preoccupied (and wondering idly what the Blood of the Fold was, whether they served the Keeper, and if this was an assassination attempt upon her for her betrayal of the Keeper), Nicci crawled over to the discarded key to her Rada'Han.

"For the Blood of the Fold!" someone shouted nearly in her ear. Startled, Nicci fell backward to the ground, staring up at a large man brandishing a sword. Obviously, he saw his opening, since the Mord'Sith were all preoccupied and Nicci looked like a helpless victim.

For one frozen moment, Nicci's mind flashed back to the man who had raped her—her heart seemed to stop in fear—

Closing her eyes, she prayed she was a helpless victim no longer. Nicci gestured—and the man's yells stopped. Opening her eyes again, Nicci saw he was suspended in the air above her as though in molasses, his sword's point an inch from her heart.

Shivering, Nicci didn't pause to see what had become of the Mord'Sith. She just concentrated, and moments later she'd disappeared and reappeared again, completely alone, near an entrance to the Old World.

She looked at the key, and thought about leaving on the Rada'Han, as a sort of Statement. But no. She didn't want to lose the element of surprise. She took it off, and wrapped her arms around her stomach.

If the Creator had told the truth about this, then logically she had told the truth about the baby. Nicci's baby. With Darken Rahl.

She wanted to laugh.

Looking into the mists, Nicci knew she'd made her decision.

She was going home.