Chapter 1

She felt a swift pull on her soul and was suddenly hurtling through the darkness. In a cold rush, her breath returned to her. She hurt everywhere. She recognized the sweet, salty taste of blood, still a warm pool in her mouth. Resting on an arm, she turned her head and spit it out, sucking in the dusty air around her. Her head pounded. She wasn't sure if she was dead or alive. Then she heard a familiar voice.

"Welcome back from the dead, Nicci."

In an instant she was sitting up. Before even drawing a breath she sought her power, wishing to fling him far away from her. It didn't come. She reached deep within but still it wouldn't come. It was then she noticed the cool press of metal against her skin. She groped at the Rada' Han securely fastened around her neck. As realization set in, fear filled her eyes. She knew she was powerless against him now.

"I have great plans for you – now that it appears my brother has defeated the Keeper. But first, I'm going to draw you a nice warm bath." Darken Rahl's eyes bored into her. He was going to make her pay for what she did to him...and pay dearly.

She pushed herself back, toward Katrina, the Mord-Sith who had revived her.

A flick of his cold, cruel eyes commanded Katrina to begin. She grabbed a fistful of Nicci's hair, holding tight and thrust her Agiel against her neck, careful to inflict the utmost pain without drawing more blood. Katrina's traditional waist-length braid swung like a pendulum over her shoulder as she elicited cries of agony from her victim.

Rahl watched with a slight smile as he traced a finger over his lips. She had a seductive manner about her, even in this. He pulled his eyes away when the stench of Nicci's blood and fear permeated his nostrils. "That's enough, Katrina. Clean her up. She's an absolute mess."

Nicci could hear the flies buzzing about the corpses scattered throughout the town as she was dragged through the dirt streets. She wondered if it might be better had she been among the dead. With a sudden jerk, a heavy hand plunged her headfirst into the well, up past her shoulders, holding her under for what seemed an eternity before at last yanking her back up. Nicci sputtered, gasping for breath before she was again plunged into the tepid murk.

Katrina held tight to the sorceress' hair, forcing her to look at Rahl as he stepped close. "You are going to pay a high price for what you did." He gripped tight to Nicci's jaw, painfully forcing her to purse her lips and leaned in close, "A very. High. Price." He shoved her from him and looked to Katrina. "Gather your sisters. I want to be to the Temple by dawn."


She was surprised at how good she felt. How right everything seemed to be. Standing shoulder to shoulder with the wizard, Cara watched the waves below crashing into a turbulent eddy of cold, gray sea. Their violence seemed a stark contrast to the solace around them.

She could sense the wizard felt it too. The world suddenly seemed at peace. They had defeated the Keeper. The Midlands was free from the reign of terror that had held it hostage for so long. But she felt something else too. Deep within her heart. It was an almost all forgotten feeling…something akin to happiness, but more profound: Joy. Joy for the man who had shown her she was more than just Mord-Sith; the man who had shown her compassion and friendship. He had risked his very life to save her - they all had; the Confessor and Wizard too. And they had done something she never believed possible: They had granted her forgiveness.

Cara wasn't sure which affected her more deeply: that she had helped vanquish the Keeper of the Underworld, working along side her previously sworn enemy, or the fact that that enemy, who was now her friend, was free to be with the woman he loved…a woman who had the power to destroy him. A small smile pulled at her lips…Only Richard would find a way to be with a Confessor. Realizing it was the depth and strength of that love that protected him left her awestruck.

Richard had suspected it for some time now – He had somehow known that his love for Kahlan was so complete, so consuming, that being confessed by her could make no difference in his feelings and would therefore, leave him unaffected by her magic. It was the way of the Seeker…some things he just knew. He couldn't explain it, but he had come to trust his intuition. Their giddiness at discovering the truth of it had them at the dais now; standing before the Stone of Tears, kissing, as new lovers often do. Zedd and Cara had quietly stepped to the edges of the cliffs, giving them a few moments privacy in their newfound joy.

"Richard," Kahlan whispered, pausing between kisses, her fingers locked tightly behind his head, "you had better stop kissing me like this or we'll need to find a quiet place to be alone."

He groaned with the thought of it; having her alone was very much on his mind. His arms circled tight around her holding her to him. He answered her in a husky tone, "I've been waiting a long time to have you alone," before leaning in to kiss her again.

Kahlan wanted the moment to go on forever, but at last broke away, resting her head on his shoulder, her arms wrapped tight around him. "I can't believe we did it. After everything we've been though…after how horribly it seemed it would all end…it's finally over." Her eyes set on the Stone of Tears as she held him. Created in her grief, a reminder of her agonizing pain just a short while ago when she believed he was lost to her forever.

His big hands slid up her back, winding into her hair, tugging lightly so he could look into her eyes. "It's not over Kahlan. It's just beginning." For a brief instant she remembered when they had killed Darken Rahl, when the boxes of Orden exploded. They had thought everything was over then too, that they were safe. But the worst had yet to come. She looked disconcertedly into his gaze as a shiver ran up her spine. Richard's smile soothed her, his voice soft and comforting. "We can be together now." His thumb idly stroked her cheek. "Our life together is just beginning, Kahlan."

"I like the sound of that" she beamed.

He took a quick glance to check where Zedd and Cara stood. They were well off in the distance overlooking the bluff, watching the ocean below. His eager eyes found hers, holding her gaze intently. "I know this isn't the Falls of Aldermont…," he began, "…and Zedd and Cara are just over there…" The way he looked at her made everything else fall away. "…but I don't want to wait a moment longer." She no longer noticed the wind or the crashing of the sea. At that moment, the way his eyes held hers, she wasn't sure if she even knew her own name. All she knew was him and the way he held her. "I love you Kahlan. I want you with me always." He leaned closer, "Tell me you'll stay with me and be with me always. Tell me you'll marry me."

She looked at him through a watery blur. Overcome with emotion she couldn't speak. She swallowed and licked at her lips trying to find her voice. At long last it came, "There's nothing I want more, Richard. I love you, forever." His warm lips on hers told her she wasn't dreaming.

"Let's get you back to Aydindril, where the Mother Confessor belongs. We can be married there."

Kahlan liked that idea. She would send for Dennee to have her sister share in their joy. Jennsen too.