So, I first wrote and published this first chapter of a sprawling story years ago. I've been bitten by the writing bug, and maybe this time I'll finally get it right! I am reuploading this first chapter as a new story in order to do some rewrites. This story begins post-"Desecrated" and becomes AU from that point.
Disclaimer: I do not own Legend of the Seeker. This writing is for entertainment purposes only and is not for profit.
Beautiful, Richard thought.
Morning sunlight, cool and bright, sliced through the canopy of leaves above. The breeze caught them, rustling and hissing, breaking and shifting the gaps between them; like a dance, the patches of illumination and shadow on the ground swayed, disappearing and reappearing. Somewhere nearby, a bird called a happy greeting. The air was comfortably crisp, fresh, and Richard breathed in deep. It felt wonderful to let it swell and swirl in his chest. His chin tilted back with the effort, and his eyes closed before he let it back out in a contented sigh. A small smile tugged at his mouth. He was ready to take another step. Bright shades of green filled his vision, filled his inner world. Here. Home.
On a morning like this, it didn't feel like the world was threatening to tear apart at the seams. Obviously, he knew the truth – it already was – but he could pretend for a few moments. It really did look like Hartland around here. He allowed himself a brief indulgence in warm memories of the life he had once led.
But the weight of the compass cradled in his palm and the Sword of Truth on his hip brought Richard back to reality. That was all then - now he had a mission, a duty. Find the Stone of Tears, save the entire world of the living. Quite a far cry from repairing bridges and running trails in Westland, where the greatest inconveniences were spooking simple robbers and preventing otherwise clueless travelers from poisoning themselves with the berries picked off of the wrong bush. All the same, here he was, trusting impulse and fortune, running into the vast darkness with nothing but the weak torch of piecemeal clues to light the way. He would swing his sword on the charge with as much might as he could muster. Sometimes, in that darkness, he would ricochet off of something unseen, lose track of his feet somewhere behind him, and come crashing to the ground.
But there was experience gained and lessons learned even in the gravest of failures and the worst of decisions.
Sometimes it seemed like he would never succeed. The shadows and obstacles threatened to engulf him completely. He had overcome so many already; it was enough to make any man tired.
Mornings like this, however, reminded him of why he was fighting in the first place. They told him that he could go on.
Reluctantly, slowly, he drew his gaze from the trees' lovely colors to watch the compass for a moment. The luminous blue orb of swirling lights danced and bickered with him as he adjusted his position, gently cajoling them to align. High-pitched noises droned from it, noises he couldn't name – noises created by magic. He began a slow turn, and stopped when the compass's glow intensified. When his eyes traced its point, there was another little spark of hope. It was the direction of their camp, the direction in which they had been heading the previous day. A fortunate sign. He gave a quick, determined nod to nobody in particular, to himself.
This beautiful morning was a message. Something was coming, carried in on the sunlight. He liked to believe that it was something good...though he could never truly be sure, especially now. Whatever it was, it lay in the direction the compass was indicating.
It was a relief to be back on the right course, and even more so to still have his companions together and unharmed. Nobody still trapped and suffocating inside of an ancient tomb, nobody overtaken by the nygax. They had left those absolute nightmares behind in Dunshire the evening before. That would be a birthday celebration Richard wouldn't soon forget.
It hadn't been all bad, though, he supposed. At least he had a chance to dance with Kahlan. Those few carefree moments nearly made the subsequent trouble completely worth it. With the memory of her smile blooming in his mind, he closed the compass and took another deep breath.
The scent of woodsmoke entwined with some sort of food quickly caught his attention, particularly the attention of his stomach. He hadn't realized how hungry he was. The thought of a hearty breakfast served to brighten his mood even more. With one final breath and stretch, Richard began the short trek through the underbrush to the clearing where the others were finally waking up. As he moved closer to its source, the aroma in the air began to change. The second smell carried by the comforting smoke started to transform from enticing to quite strange. Even closer, it became downright foul. For a moment, his face screwed up and he stopped in his tracks. Maybe he hadn't been smelling breakfast after all; it was Kahlan's turn to cook, and she hadn't made a bad meal yet. But if it wasn't breakfast, what was it?
That wary curiosity brought him to the campsite. "Good morning, everyone," he said cheerfully for not even the odor could compromise his mood. Nodding at the chime of overlapping responses, he placed his hands on his hips. "What's for…"
His words trailed off as he really looked at his friends for the first time. Kahlan was sitting to the side of the low-burning fire, rubbing the final remnants of sleep from her eyes, preparing for whatever the day would bring. Groaning hoarsely and straightening, Zedd had just finished gathering his bedroll.
And standing over the fire, staring into the cooking pot with thinly-veiled contempt, holding up a spoon in a way that seemed almost like a threat, was Cara.
His question concluded much less enthusiastically than it had begun. The unpleasant smell suddenly made sense. He held back in a sighing laugh, and Cara glared and pursed her lips without even removing her eyes from the simmering mystery.
"Cara offered to cook in my place this morning," Kahlan explained, more emphatically than was necessary or natural, shooting him a pointed look. It was a subtle reminder to be supportive, although she had to be dreading the meal just as much as he was – she simply hid it better.
Luckily (or unluckily) for Richard, the mystifying contents of the pot were ready to be served just as he rested on an overturned log across from Kahlan. He watched the lumpy, vaguely gelatinous, beige mess in his bowl carefully, as if it was about to swell up and eat him for breakfast instead. It was bubbling, too, quite sinisterly. This was not a good sign. The steam rising from it was making him nervous. Zedd and Kahlan, too, were perplexedly studying their breakfasts. Cara stood over them, watching, hands on her hips, still holding that damned spoon. Her sharp gaze flitted between them, just impatiently waiting.
One of them would have to take a bite eventually.
Kahlan, unsurprisingly, was the first to give in. Slowly, she raised her own spoon to her mouth. Richard didn't wait for her reaction, not wanting to see her expression of concealed pain before he had to taste it himself. Instead, he cautiously scooped up some of the whatever-it-was, mentally preparing himself to just get it over with. Maybe smells could be deceiving, he thought. He had heard of fruits that were awful to smell, but delicious to taste. With that notion giving him the closest thing to bravery (even the Seeker paled at the thought of actually ingesting Cara's cooking), he opened his mouth and closed his lips around the spoon.
Cringing, he realized how very stupid his optimism had been. The bitter taste was much worse than terrible. Apparently, Cara didn't need her Agiel to torture someone. He couldn't stop himself from reacting.
"Cara," he coughed as the viscous lump slipped down his throat, "what is this?" He tried with all his might not to grimace at the disconcertingly salty aftertaste. As soon as the question left his mouth, he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer after all.
With a huffy sigh of aggravation, Cara abruptly dropped the spoon and crossed her arms, shifting her hips to one side. A swift snap of her wrist sent blonde hair away from her face. "This," she replied, "is a reminder to all of you: never let me prepare a meal." Her voice was clipped and heavy with the sarcasm they had grown to expect from her. "Even if I ask." Here she looked at Kahlan, tilting her head and raising her eyebrows.
And Kahlan let out a soft laugh, smiling at the ridiculous seriousness of Cara's expression. Despite the taste lingering in his mouth, Richard had to smirk right along with her. She ran a hand through her thick, lustrous hair as she looked to him, now grinning. Blue eyes, bright and clear, sparkled in the sunlight, and the corners crinkled with the intensity of her amusement. Completely stunning, as usual. Richard felt his stomach work itself into a knot as her smile softened, eyes still locked with his. He watched her cheeks tinge pink, and heat began to wash over his own skin. He was overcome by sudden breathlessness, but he didn't particularly mind; he could turn down air and breathe her forever instead, to kiss her until she could no longer stand. To enter her space, to run his hand along the curve of her hips, and bury his face in her neck. His heart raced, bouncing nearly into his throat, and it was the typical reaction to her smile.
Until his ears began to ring.
The high-pitched vibration started quietly but still managed to curb Richard's smile. Almost immediately after he noticed it, it swelled and intensified until his head was full of it; he could suddenly hear nothing else. Voices and thoughts alike melted into oblivion. The awful pressure it created in the center of his forehead forced his eyes shut - when he tried to open them again, he couldn't without being slammed by a wave of dizziness.
Clenching his jaw against the sudden searing, he realized that his skin wasn't just welcomly warm, it was burning, fiery explosions right beneath the surface. The feeling in his stomach brought on by Kahlan's smile transformed from a pleasant tingle to an aggravated twinge, and then to a violent, painful tug. There was something was trying to tear away from his body, not concerned with how much it injured its host.
He braced himself against the unexpected, powerful pain, not wanting to let it show. His heart hammered away as a cold sweat began to accompany the throb. He tried to swallow, without avail, overcome by the agonizing sensation. Another joly of nearly it took the air from him. He barely kept himself from doubling over.
In the tiny part of his mind that was still partly coherent, he was instantly reminded of the headaches with which his Han had once plagued him. They would come on with the same urgency and rapidity, and with the same sensation of something attempting to escape. That pain, though, was central to his head alone. The quake and twist of nausea this one carried with it disturbed him. Besides, his Han was long absent, relinquished and gone.
This thought brought a streak of cold dread into the mix as well. This couldn't possibly be a resurgence of its power. Knowing what did not cause the pain was somehow worse than not knowing what was causing it.
There was something intangible, untouchable, incomprehensible, pulsing beneath the surface of the pain. A faint glimmer of something far beyond his control. Something forebodingly magical.
Richard gathered himself with monumental effort. The pain dissipated. Gradually. Another breath. Another. He chanced a look at the others, and was glad to see that his fit had gone noticed. Kahlan was preoccupied with reassuring a dubious-looking Cara that, no, breakfast really was just fine. Zedd's eyes were closed tight as he shoveled in mouthful after mouthful of the breakfast gruel, not willing to miss out on the mere act of eating, no matter how the food tasted. Another shuddering breath and Richard wiped a hand across his clammy forehead.
The sun was still shining above, as if the forest hadn't noticed the crash of pain either. Despite its warm rays, a chill ran through his body. A morning like this had never before been a warning. He tried to reason out the pain's unsettling undertone. Maybe Cara's cooking was the culprit. No, Richard thought, unsavory food couldn't possibly induce anything like that.
In any case, the pain was gone. Maybe it would be gone forever. Maybe it was nothing.
But if there was one thing Richard had learned since leaving Hartland, it was that nothing was always something.
Especially if magic was involved.
Something deep inside of him trembled and protested. He tried not to think of it again.