Chapter 61 – Warnings

The wind was harsh and cold. If Richard were a believer in signs and portents, he would have considered it a warning. But he was not. So he took it for what it was, just bad weather.

Gritting his teeth against the onslaught of icy wind, Richard tugged his cloak tighter around his body, trying to use the hood to shield his face. His lungs already ached from inhaling the freezing air, and his legs were growing numb with all the climbing. Glancing behind him, he briefly pondered how Cadelf was doing. He was old, a monk and scholar, probably not used to all the hiking. But when he looked back, the elder monk seemed to be doing just fine, walking steadily behind Cara, his cowl up, and habit tucked snuggly around his frame.

As for Cara, her expression was neutral, gave nothing away, merely staring off into the grey horizon with a flat stoic stare.

Richard shifted his boots in the loose gravel beneath his feet as he trudged onward, continuing up the slope of the Rang'Shada Mountains. He could see patches of snow here and there, with some wiry weeds sprouting up between some rocks, fighting with all their might for what little sunlight they could reach, which wasn't really that much to begin with. There were even a few wild flowers that dared to grow at this high altitude.

He paused at one brush, amazed to see some purple berries. Cara came up behind him, letting out a breath of annoyance at the stop.

"We should keep going, Richard," she said, shouting over the howling wind.

Looking back at her, he inclined his head, before returning his attention to the berries. Cadelf puffed up alongside him and grinned merrily.

"Ah, frostbites!" the monk enthused, pushing past Cara to pick a few from the brush, popping them into his mouth. Richard and Cara stared at him in utter amazement. He swallowed and smiled. "Their like elderberries. We grow them around the monastery at Obentan. They are quite good. We should pick some for later."

Richard nodded and began doing so. Cara eyed them warily, before plucking one plump berry and cautiously tasting it. Satisfied that it would do no harm, she too helped to collect a batch, dumping them into an empty leather pouch.

Now with some snack for later, the troupe continued on, trudging up the mountain slope. The hike continued until nightfall. When the sun began to set, Cara scouted ahead, and was able to locate a cluster of rocks that stacked high enough to offer some shelter from the blistering cold and wind. By the time Richard had a fire going, flurries had already begun to fall.

Cara shivered and tugged a blanket out of her pack, wrapping it over her shoulders. She hunched down near the fire and rubbed her hands together before blowing on them and holding them out to the flames. Cadelf chuckled slightly, and she shot him a seething glare.

"Sorry, Cara, guess I forget that you're used to the deserts of D'Hara," the monk said, shifting on his bedroll, still tucked up nice and cozy in his habit and cloak. He pulled the book they'd found under Mount Aydin in the hidden place Alric Rahl had constructed for his one and true heir.

Richard glanced up from poking the fire with a stick, catching the gilded words along the book's red-leather cover glittering in the flickering light of the flames: Kai'taug.

Throughout their journey south, heading for the Ovens, Brother Cadelf had been familiarizing himself with the text within the old tome. Richard would have tried reading it himself, but it was written in Darah, the old tongue that had preceded High D'Haran. Cadelf was one of the few who knew how to read it.

"Learn anything yet?" Richard asked.

Cadelf's grey eyebrows came together in a frown. "Not on the subject we need. No," he informed them. "However, there have been several references to Tes'vorgo."

"Tes'vorgo?"

"Yes, the End Times," Cadelf's scowled down at the book. "However, that's a very rough translation."

Richard chewed on some of the berries they'd collected earlier and narrowed his eyes, thinking on that. "Is it related at all to what's going on now?"

"Possibly," Cadelf hedged, sounding cautious to make a firm declaration on the subject. "I will know for sure once I've read more."

Richard gave a nod, and slumped back onto his bedroll, letting the man get to it. He glanced over at Cara and watched the Mord'Sith shudder in the chilly breeze. She caught his gaze and narrowed his eyes.

"I hate the cold," she growled, before turning her back to him and curling up in a ball on the padding of her bedroll.

He turned away, letting his eyes settle on the fire. For a while now, Richard had been feeling this strange sense of foreboding, as if something bad was going to happen or had happened. He'd remember a little about his past, and what he did remember, pained him. His first time with Kahlan had been forced, with her believing he was someone else, taking her against her will. But then… she'd responded to him, but still thinking he was someone else, and had reached completion. The horror and hurt that had strummed through his body when that had happened still felt raw and real, as if it had occurred only the other day. But it hadn't. That had been more than a year ago.

The wind howled, and he shivered, not from the cold, but from that foreboding feeling again. It swept over him like a gentle breeze, squeezing into all the crevices and small places. His heart hammered in his chest, and for a moment, he could swear that the howl was more than just the wind.

Cara suddenly shot up, eyes wide in alert, hands clutching the daggers that had replaced her agiels. "Was that a wolf?" she asked, her voice on the edge of fright.

Cadelf looked up from his book. "I don't think so, Madam Mord'Sith."

She gritted her teeth, rounding on the monk with a heated glare. "I told you to stop calling me that!" she snarled.

The monk smirked, his ice blue eyes dancing with mirth. Obviously he was having too much fun with it to stop. "Aye, that you have, madam," he emphasized that last part, much to Cara's annoyance.

She pointed a threatening finger at him. "You're lucky magic is gone, old man," she spat out. "Otherwise you'd face my agiel!"

"Shh!" Richard interrupted their bickering. He was sitting up now, his eyes wide.

"What is it?" Cara asked, her voice still holding that irritated hint, but softened.

"I thought I heard something?"

"It's just the howl of the wind," Cadelf tried to reassure them.

"No, not that…," Richard's voice trailed off as he narrowed his eyes, staring off into the bleak blackness of the surrounding mountainside. "It was something else."

"The Chimes?" Cara questioned, shifting anxiously. Richard could understand, their last encounter with those magical beings had not been pleasant.

He shook his head. "No."

Slipping his hand down to his waist, he gripped the hilt of his sword, wishing that it could still strum with the beat of magic as it once had. It still functioned as the Sword of Truth, but its power had been greatly diminished since the release of the Chimes. Pushing his cloak off, Richard jumped to his feet, ready to face the unseen foe that was out there, lurking in the darkness.

"Richard?" Cara called out, trying to stay him. He didn't need to look to know she was now standing, matching his stance.

He ignored her. His innate tracking senses taking over. Hooking his fingers tighter around the handle of the Sword of Truth, Richard stormed off into the dark to face whatever was out there.

XXX

Her breaths were coming out in pants, and her chest ached from heaving so desperately to fill her lungs, but she couldn't stop. She had to keep going. After everything she had experienced and seen, she would not let this happen. Not to an innocent babe.

The moment Kahlan had sobbed out the command to have the child killed, Cynthia had known what she had to do. She didn't like it, but it was what was necessary. She reasoned that Kahlan wasn't in her right mind, especially after the early and difficult birth. Her judgment was clouded, and her orders could not be taken seriously. However, that did not stop the First File, or the Mord'Sith for that matter, from doing as commanded by the Mother Confessor, wife of the Lord Rahl.

So, she ran. She ran hard and fast, cradling her newborn nephew to her chest as she fled through the dark halls and corridors of the People's Palace, searching for a safe haven from the horrors of the world she'd found herself in.

The pounding of boots followed behind her, echoing off the cold stone. Cynthia risked a glance over her shoulder, catching sight of the red leather of the Mord'Sith as Nyda took the lead. It was a frightening sight, seeing a sea of crimson and black. The flutter of capes and clatter of chainmail mixed with the creak of leather as her pursuers picked up the pace, steadily matching hers.

Darting to the left, Cynthia skidded to a halt, and turned sharply, banging her shoulder into one of the doors. The hinges groaned in protest, but the hard wood gave wall, opening up enough for her and the baby to slide through. She quickly slammed the door shut, and bolted the lock. She didn't know how long it would hold them off, but she needed a moment to regroup and actually thinking about what she was doing.

Her chest expanded and contracted as she heaved in deep gulps of breath. Looking around, she found the chamber to be dark with just a slit for a window on the opposite side. She leaned against the stone wall to give herself a moment of rest, and to allow her eyes to adjust to the dark.

To be honest, Cynthia really didn't understand what was so bad about a male child. She had always thought that men wanted sons, and that their wives wanted to give them sons. But the look on Kahlan's face when she'd discovered that she had given birth to a son was like nothing Cynthia had ever seen. It was a kind of horror mixed with sorrow and grief and despair. Kahlan truly was terrified of the child, which was confusing. All Cynthia knew was that she had to protect the baby. She'd seen too much death, too much suffering, to allow any more… especially when the targeted victim would be her nephew.

The baby let out sharp little gasps, wiggling in her arms. Cynthia clutched it to her chest, placing the infant's head near her heart. She ran her fingers soothingly down the back of his head, cooing softly, trying to calm him.

"It's all right, little one," she whispered into the dark. "You're safe with me. I'll protect you."

Just then a loud pounding began from the door. And voices shouted for her to open it. Cynthia jumped away from the door and blew out a breath of worry. She scanned the room she'd locked herself in, searching for a way out that did not involve the door she'd used to enter. Squinting in the dim lighting, she finally saw it—a winding stairwell dropping down into the stone floor.

Flying away from the wall, Cynthia nearly jumped down the steps, two at a time. She had to be careful, though, since it was damp and cold, providing from the occasional patch of mildew growing along the flat stone slabs. If she didn't pay attention, she might slip and fall, and that would surely result in not only her death, but the child's as well.

Above her, Cynthia could hear the evidence of her pursuers crashing through the locked door. It tumbled down to the floor in a thundering crescendo, the sound resounding down the tunneled stairwell. Soon the reverberation of rushing boots, as the others immediately took off after her down the slick stairs, deafened her hearing. Some mild curses and grunts followed once they discovered the danger of going too fast.

A howl of wind blew past her, and Cynthia stumbled, letting out a startled yell as she careened down the curved stairs, bouncing off the walls and wrapping her arms around the small bundle she held. She closed her eyes and gritted her teeth against the incoming pain. Grunting and huffing, she tumbled down the stairs, the infant emitting a shrill cry as they fell. Dear Spirits, protect us!

She collided against a sidewall with a resounding thud. Dust particles sprinkled down on her as she bounced off it and continued to roll down the stairs. Everything hurt, and her ears felt like they would burst from the high-pitch wailing from the infant, whom she kept tightly clutched to her chest, protecting it as best she could. Cynthia blinked and glanced up, seeing a landing looming in the distance that was coming ever closer. It was a small cessation in the downward spiral of the stairwell, and her only hope to stop her fall.

Tensing up her legs, Cynthia was prepared to use them to end this, when her back bounced off the sharp edge of a stone stair, causing pain to shot up through her spine. She cried out in agony, missing her moment of opportunity. Ramming hard against the landing, Cynthia immediately felt all the air expel from her lungs. A sheering pain flashed across her awareness, followed not long after by nothing but blackness.

XXX

"Richard!" Cara's voice rang out across the slopes, carried further along by the wind.

He lost his footing in a slush of snow and collapsed hard onto his backside. His arms flailed out as he fell, and he lost his hold on the sword. It clattered down to the rocky ground besides him as he fumbled around in the wet snow bank. Twisting his torso, he stretched out and grabbed the pommel, pulling the sword back to his chest and heaving himself up out of the shivering pile of white powder.

"Lord Rahl!" Cadelf shouted, followed not long after by Cara's voice, again calling his name.

Richard groaned, and brushed over the snow from the underside of his trousers, as he tried to get his bearings. He had no idea what he'd been thinking, rushing out into the darkness with no clear path ahead of him.

The wind howled around him, harsh and intimidating, and he narrowed his eyes. He could swear he heard something, but what? He couldn't say. Sighing, he slumped his shoulders in defeat and embarrassment. Turning around, mindful of his footing, he hollered back to his companions, letting them know that he was all right.

Cara was the first to appear out of the mist, her blonde hair whipping around her face like a banshee. "What were you thinking?" she yelled, jabbing her finger into his chest with almost enough force to knock him back onto his backside.

Richard chuckled and shook his head, brushing his hair back as he rammed the Sword of Truth home, back into its scabbard. "Honestly, I don't know," he blushed, again feeling embarrassment over his ill-conceived march into the darkness.

Cara scoffed and rolled her eyes, punching him in the shoulder with an annoyed look before pulling him into a rough embrace. "Don't you do that again, Richard! You hear me?" her voice choked up, and if he hadn't known any better, he would have called it a sob.

Stunned by her show of emotion, Richard hesitantly returned the gesture, patting her back awkwardly before she released him, a glare in her eyes, and a fist tightly wrapped around his arm. Before he could respond, Cadelf was colliding with them. Cara let out a curse as they collapsed into the snow, becoming soaked with the slush. Richard was the first to recover. He stood, shaking his head, and stilled, spying what it was that had distracted Cadelf so much that he had ran into them without noticing.

Standing before them, lit by a halo of moonlight around her auburn hair, was none other than Shota. She was draped in a wispy grey dress that billowed about her in the wind and flurries. A dark brown wolf fur cloak hung on her shoulders, but she let it fall when her almond eyes locked with his.

"Witch!" Cara snarled, jarring him out of his trance as she charged past him, hands reaching for her daggers.

"Cara! No!" Richard called after her, but it was too late.

A tight smile graced Shota's full lips. In a move that was surprisingly fast, the witch woman dodged Cara's assault, sending the Mord'Sith hurtling into a mound of snow. Letting out a disgruntled curse of animosity, Cara pulled herself up and glared at the witch woman.

Shota merely smiled serenely at her, before turning around to face Richard.

"We meet again, Seeker," she said, her eyes skimming his features. "Though not all of you is here."

Richard frowned. "I remember what you've done to me and Kahlan, Shota," he asserted.

"Really?" she laughed lightly, ignoring the seething glare from Cara coming from behind her. "Last I heard you had lost all your memories."

"Some have returned," he hedged, not sure how much he should reveal to the cunning witch woman.

Shota gave him a tight smile, then gracefully knelt down to retrieve her fur cloak, draping it over her shoulders and pulling it around her slender frame.

"Zeddicus is well, I hope," she spoke as she tied the clasp around her long neck.

"Yes, he is," Richard gave a nod, and then knitted his eyebrows together. "Enough small talk, Shota. What do you want?"

"Why would I want something? Isn't it enough that I am simply here, talking with you?" she asked enigmatically.

"Nothing is ever that simple with you, Shota," Richard countered, cautiously watching Cara as the Mord'Sith stalked back to his side. He didn't need Cara making any more rash attacks.

"True enough," Shota relented. "Then I shall get straight to the point, Seeker. The world is at a crossroads. Shift the balance to one side or the other, and the fate of everyone could be decided. We are at a hair's breath from oblivion. You must act, and soon, to restore the balance and prevent the destruction of us all."

"And how do I do that?" he questioned, slowly lowering his hand to the hilt of the Sword of Truth.

Shota's almond eyes flicked down, catching the movement. She smiled at him reassuringly and pointed a long delicate finger past him. "He knows," she declared.

Richard frowned, confused, and looked over his shoulder, seeing Cadelf. The old monk's mouth dropped open and his eyebrows shot up in bewilderment.

"Me, madam?" he question, cautiously.

Shota gave an airy laugh, her eyes sparkling in a way that Richard did not like. She inclined her head and smiled sweetly at Cadelf. "Yes, you," she replied. "You carry a book with you that holds the answers. And only you can decipher them."

Cadelf tentatively reached into his robes to pull out the book. Shota's eyes lit up with a hungry sheen. Her gaze fixed on the book for several seconds before she lifted her knowing eyes to the Seeker. Her lips twisted up into mysterious smirk.

"Be warned, Seeker," her voice sang out in a light ambiguous tone, somehow adding more weight to her words. "To succeed in the task before you, one of your number must pay a price. What that price is, I cannot say. Only the one who must pay it will know and understand how it shall be paid."

Their eyes were locked, and Richard swallowed thickly. She must be talking about him. He was going to have to pay some sort of price to save the world and those he loved. He knew it. He had always suspected as much. And he was willing to do so. Richard would do whatever he had to. As long as Kahlan and the others survived.

Shota stepped forward, her eyes downcast and mournful. She reached out a hand and lightly caressed Richard's face. "Be brave, Seeker," she murmured. "Your heart shall be tested many times before this is over."

And then, she was slinking back, disappearing into the mist of flurries. Gone.

Cara let out a startled gasp and pulled a dagger from its sheath, skulking forward a step or two. She swung the blade around the space that had once been occupied by the witch woman.

"Where did she go?" she demanded, sneering into the mist.

"Back to the Reach, I would assume," Richard said, tilting his head back to gaze at Cadelf. "Do you know what she meant about the price that is going to have to be paid?"

Brother Cadelf licked his lips nervously, his skin deathly pale. He shook his head, and his eyes flicked up to Richard's. "No, Lord Rahl, I don't," he answered, but there was something in the old man's eyes that made Richard question the truth of those words. He sighed, and decided to let it go… for now.

"She's not to be trusted," Cara proclaimed, her gaze heated and fixed on the spot Shota had once stood. "All lies. Her words are lies."

"It was a warning," Richard said, suddenly realizing it. "She was warning us about what is to come."

Cara frowned and looked at him hesitantly. "How can you be so sure?"

"I don't know, I… I just am."

Letting out a breath, which fogged before her face, Cara inclined her head. "If anyone has to pay a price, it's going to be me," she said. "Nothing can happen to you, Richard."

He swallowed and returned her determined look. Stepping forward, he placed a hand on her shoulder and gave it a comforting squeeze. "We don't yet know what the price is," Richard said. "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

Cara nodded her head in agreement before sheathing her dagger and running her fingers through her long blonde hair, pulling it back into a messy ponytail. "I should have had it braided before we left," she muttered as they began the hike back to her camp.

"Why didn't you?" Richard absently replied.

Cara's face heated up in a blush and she averted her eyes. "Ben likes it like this," she said, her voice barely loud enough for Richard to hear her answer.

He pursed his lips and suppressed a smile, happy that Cara had found someone who loved her. She deserved to be happy after the amount of suffering she'd had in her life. They continued on in silence, both oblivious to the faraway look in the eyes of their companion, Brother Cadelf.

XXX

When she opened her eyes again, she was sprawled out on her back in a dark damp cavern, with droplets of water from hanging stalactites tapering down from the ceiling. Cynthia blinked, and let out a groan, feeling a pounding in her head. She tried to sit up, but everything hurt. She clenched her jaw and suppressed the excruciating agony. Her first thought was the baby and its welfare.

Turning onto her side, she spotted him, arms and legs flailing about as he cried his lungs out. With a moan, Cynthia heaved herself up off the ground and stumbled over to him. Dropping onto her knees, she quickly gave his tiny little body a once over for injuries. Thankfully, he looked none the worse for wear, his flushed face and piercing cries the only evidence of his distress. Scooping him up in her arms, Cynthia used a nearby stalagmite for leverage as she pulled herself up off the rocky scree and debris around them.

She arched her neck and peered upwards, to the only source of light, realizing that the stairwell landing must have given way, dropping them down into this underground cavern. Cynthia turned her attention back to the baby, gently caressing his soft head as she tried to soothe him. He babbled and cried, but eventually settled down and nuzzled his head against her chest, his mouth opening and closing against her breast.

Cynthia lowered her eyebrows in sympathy. "I know, you're hungry, but I'm not your mother, sorry baby," she cooed softly, placing a kiss on his little forehead. He whimpered quietly and squirmed in her arms as she turned around, finally taking in her surroundings.

The cavern she was in opened up into a larger one, and she slowly walked forward. Tunnels, cut into the rock, branched out in all directions, and it was not long until she discovered where she was. It was the catacombs, the ancient tombs buried underneath the city. Niches were carved into the rock, some empty, some filled. She could see the bones of the ancient D'Harans who had been laid to rest and interred down here. Some even still had hair and beards, thin and scraggly, but still there.

The catacombs were like a labyrinth. If she weren't careful, she'd get lost. But before she could fully process what she was going to do, Cynthia heard the sounds of boots hitting the rocks behind her. The baby let out a high-pitched cry, giving their position away.

"That way!" she heard a gruff voice shout.

"Shh," Cynthia cooed the infant, clutching him to her chest as she picked up the pace, running through the narrow crypts as fast as was safe.

"CYNTHIA!" Nyda, the Mord'Sith, called out her name, pleading with her. "DON'T RUN."

She shook her head to the command, not willing to obey. Digging her feet into the hard dirt, she pushed herself forward, bumping her shoulder against a corner as she turned. She tried running in a serpentine pattern, zigzagging around the various niches, filled and otherwise.

Taking a corner too sharply, Cynthia tripped over a rock and stumbled for a couple paces, before screeching to a halt in the center of a wide chamber. The orange glow of torches lit the vaulted ceiling, decorated in stucco. She glanced around and saw that soldiers and Mord'Sith covered all the other passageways. She spun around, intent on going back the way she came, but she came face to face with Nyda.

The Mord'Sith held up a hand, cautiously approaching her like she would a frightened dog. "Cynthia, please stop. There is nowhere for you to go. Hand over the child."

Cynthia shook her head, tears sprinkling down her cheeks.

"Cynthia," urged Nyda. "Don't make me use force."

Behind her, Cynthia could hear the soldiers of the First File unsheathing their swords, just in case they needed them. She glanced over her shoulder and stumbled back, fumbling with the bundle in her arms. She was not going to give them her nephew.

"What the—?" Captain Zimmer stumbled back, the flame on his torch crackling and bursting as it intensified.

Cynthia squinted her eyes, watching in astonishment as every torch began to do the same. The soldiers sputtered and cried out, dropping their torches as the fires began to consume the wood. A foul wind swept through the chamber, pulling dust and debris into the air. A funnel of particles materialized around Cynthia. Her eyes grew wide and fearful, not understanding what was going on. It looked like magic, but that was impossible. There was no more magic left in the world.

"Cynthia!" Nyda shouted over the din, her arms outstretch. "Jump to me!"

She shook her head, too afraid to do anything. A cracking sounded above her and the stucco-ceiling fell away as large stalactites descended through the crumbling facades, raining white plaster down on them all. Cynthia pulled the baby closer to her breast, shielding him from the falling debris. He began to cry, loud and high, a terrible wail.

"Shh, don't worry, I got you," Cynthia tried to soothe him, but he kept crying, squirming about as the world crumbled around them.

Thick fat droplets of water dripped down on them from the points of the stalactites, and her nephew only cried harder, his tiny face flushing with the strain of it. She caressed him, trying to shush him, but he was too overwhelmed.

"Dear spirits!" she exclaimed as she noticed him beginning to glow.

She raised terrified eyes and glanced up at Nyda. The Mord'Sith's eyes were as wide as saucers, her mouth hung open in stunned silence. Cynthia turned her attention back to the baby as he began to struggle, his tiny legs kicking and his arms flailing about. It was like he was writhing in pain.

The strange manifestation of light intensified, making the infant glow even brighter. It was so intense that Cynthia had to squint to protect her vision from being blinded by the light. Soon water was falling in streams down off the tips of the stalactites, pooling around her feet, moving on its own. It circled around her, containing both her and the child within its circumference.

Flecks of golden light materialized around her in an unearthly aura of color. The flames danced up into the air, spiraling around and hovered across the chamber much to the horror and stupefaction of the soldiers and Mord'Sith, who all shrunk back in terror.

"It's the Chimes of Death!" someone hollered over the cacophony of noise.

A strange ethereal hum floated through the air around them as the flames skipped along the floor, meeting the circle of water and then sprouting up towards the ceiling in a fiery inferno. Cynthia clutched the baby to her and screamed as the cyclone of wind swirled around them, pulling her off the ground and into the air. The baby's wails reached a crescendo and then silenced, followed by a damp coldness that invaded almost every surface in the chamber. Frost instantly materialized on the ground and walls.

The wind vanished, and Cynthia was dropped to the ground. Her legs buckled and she collapsed, crying out as she fell. The baby was silent, and her fears began to run rampant with worries. She shifted, pulling him out of the swaddling cloths. His eyes blinked and he looked up at her, sated and calm. Cynthia quickly ran her fingers over his brow, his arms, legs, and chest. She pressed her palm flat against him and released a breath when she felt his tiny heartbeat.

"What just happened?" Nyda's voice rang out in the stillness.

There was one final wisp of air, particles danced around the room, breezing past Cynthia, and she could have sworn it felt like someone was caressing her cheek. But then it was gone. The flames dimmed back to there normal illumination, and water stopped sprinkling down from the intruding stalactites.

Cynthia laid on the floor, breathing heavily, not knowing what had just happened, yet fearful of doing anything.

And then came a thunderous boom. A wall exploded outward, knocking several soldiers and Mord'Sith down. Debris littered the floor; dust and rocks tumbled about. Cynthia coughed in the aftermath, narrowing her eyes and holding the baby to her breast.

"Intruders!" Captain Zimmer shouted in alarm.

Swords were unsheathed, and there was a flurry of activity. Cynthia was yanked to her feet, and her heart rate rocketed up until she saw Nyda's eyes.

"Behind me, now!" the Mord'Sith commanded.

Cynthia did as she was told, positioning herself behind Nyda. Several Mord'Sith fanned out around her as the clamor of fighting drifted over to them. She could hear screams and cries, bone crushing noises. It sounded like a battle. And then Nyda was being flung aside. Two Mord'Sith rushed forward, blocking Cynthia's view, but they were struck down. A large broad blade, glistening with blood had sliced them in half.

Huge brutish men appeared before her, grabbing at her. Their teeth yellowed and rotting. Their breath stank, and their handling of her was rough. She tried to fight them off, but they were too strong. And she was still cradling her nephew to her chest. They pulled her to the other side of the room, by the collapsed wall. A tall man with leather armor and a brown cloak stood there, a kneeling Captain Zimmer before him.

Cynthia's breath caught in her throat as she saw the beaten and bloody captain of the First File. His eyes darted up to her and he winced as the man behind him gripped his hair and pulled his head back.

"Where is the Lord Rahl?" the tall man with the beard and leather jerkin demanded. His tone was terse yet calm and stern. This man was a commander. He stood with the bearing of someone important.

Zimmer glared up at the man and spat blood at him. The man stepped back and growled low in his throat. The commander's eyes flicked up to the man behind Zimmer, and he nodded.

Without warning, a large serrated knife swept down and savagely cut through Zimmer's throat. Cynthia cried out in horror as the captain convulsed, blood flowing out of the ghastly cut before he went limp. The captain's executioner released his hold on his hair, and Zimmer collapsed, face first, into the rubble from the fallen wall, dead.

"General Vicck, sir!" the man by her right called out. And at the same time, the brute holding her snarled, "Look what we found, General!"

The large man—General Vicck—slowly turned to face them. His expression was hard and unemotional, which terrified Cynthia even more, given what she'd just witnessed. And from his bearing and standing, not to mention the markings on his armor, she recognized him as being of the Imperial Order. This was not good. Not good at all.

Vicck's calculating eyes narrowed as he took her in. His brow was bathed in a sheen of sweat. He raised his arm, as he wiped his forehead, and beckoned them closer. "Let me look at her," the general spoke in a low and commanding voice. "Bring her into the light."

The men obeyed and hauled her forward.

The commander scratched his beard and examined her. "Long hair, white dress… and what's this…," he reached out and yanked on her arm. Cynthia resisted, but he tightened his fingers around her forearm and his nails dug into her flesh. Her eyes watered in pain and she released the tension in her arm, letting him pull it back, revealing the bundle in her arms. "A baby." He squinted in the dim light. "A newborn, by the look of it."

"Sir?"

"It's the Mother Confessor," Vicck grinned, his large fingers clamped around her jaw, directing her face up, so he could get a better look at her features. "I've seen her once before, from afar, but I'd recognize her anywhere."

"What was she doing down here in the catacombs?" one of his subordinates questioned, looking hesitant.

"Isn't that obvious, you fool! Trying to escape," the general snarled and shot him a glare.

The subordinate cowered away, wincing as if preparing to be struck. Vicck turned back to Cynthia, ignoring the fool, and smiled down at her like he was her long lost friend. He ran his fingers through her long lush hair and sighed.

"It's a pity I'm going to have to give you to him," he murmured. "He doesn't know how to appreciate a beauty like you… such a waste." Vicck tightened his grip around her forearm and yanked it further back, scooping the baby from her arms.

She cried out and lunged forward, trying to get her nephew back, but the guards held her firmly in place. Vicck cradled the infant in his arm and looked down at it, his eyebrow raised in surprise. "A male confessor!"

"Leave him alone!" she cried out, tears falling down her cheeks.

Vicck looked up at her with a smirk. "No wonder you were on the run, Mother Confessor," he shook his head at her. "Well, no need to fear now, you're coming with us."

He signaled to the men holding her with a jerk of his head, and then she was being swept through the gaping hole in the wall, towards the horror and doom that was the Imperial Order.