Death's Mistress: Sister of Darkness launches The Nicci Chronicles, Terry Goodkind's entirely new series with a cast of characters centered on one of his best-loved characters in the now-concluded Sword of Truth.
One-time lieutenant of the evil Emperor Jagang, known as “Death’s Mistress” and the “Slave Queen”, the deadly Nicci captured Richard Rahl in order to convince him that the Imperial Order stood for the greater good. But it was Richard who converted Nicci instead, and for years thereafter she served Richard and Kahlan as one of their closest friendsand one of their most lethal defenders.
Now, with the reign of Richard and Kahlan finally stabilized, Nicci has set out on her own for new adventures. One of her jobs will be to keep her travelling companion, the unworldly prophet Nathan, out of trouble. But her real task will be to scout the far reaches of Richard Rahl’s realm. This will take her and Nathan to visit the mysterious witch-woman Red, to tangle with the street life of the port city of Tanimura, to fight lethal battles on the high seas, and ultimately to a vast magical confrontation far from home…with the future of life itself, in the Old World and the New, at stake.
Full of life and story, this is a sweeping, engaging tale in the grand Goodkind manner.
The Nicci Chronicles
1. Death's Mistress
2. Shroud of Eternity
3. Siege of Stone
About the Author
TERRY GOODKIND is the author of the worldwide bestsellers making up the Sword of Truth, and the #1 New York Times bestseller The Omen Machine. He lives in Henderson, Nevada.
Read an Excerpt
Sister of Darkness
By Terry Goodkind
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2017 Terry Goodkind
All rights reserved.
Another skull crunched under Nicci's boot, but she kept trudging forward nevertheless. In the thick forest, she could not avoid all the bones underfoot or the clawlike branches that dangled near her head. The way would have been treacherous even in full daylight, but in the deep night of the Dark Lands, the trail was nearly impossible.
Nicci never bothered to acknowledge the impossible, though, when she had a task to complete.
Piles of moss-covered human remains cluttered the shadowy forest. Yellowing bones stood out in the gloom, illuminated by moonlight that seeped through the leafy vine-strangled boughs overhead. When she climbed over a rotted oak trunk that had collapsed across the path, her heel crushed the old shell of another skull, scattering ivory teeth from a gaping jaw — as if these long-dead victims wanted to bite her, like the cannibalistic half people who had recently swarmed out of the Dark Lands.
Nicci had no fear of skulls. They were just empty remnants, and she had created plenty of skeletons herself. She paused to inspect a mound of bones stacked against a lichen-covered oak. A warning? A signpost? Or just a decoration?
The witch woman Red had an odd sense of humor. Nicci couldn't understand why Nathan was so insistent on seeing her, and he refused to reveal his intentions.
Crashing through tangled willows ahead, Nathan Rahl called back to her. "There's a big meadow up here, Sorceress. We'll make better time across the clearing."
Nicci did not hurry to catch up to the wizard. Nathan's impatience often led him to make rash decisions. She pointed out coolly, "We would make better time if we didn't travel through the thickest forest in the dark of night." Her long blond hair fell past her shoulders, and she felt perspiration on her neck, despite the cool night air. She brushed a few stray pine needles and the ragged lace of a torn spiderweb from her black travel dress.
Pausing at the edge of the wide meadow, the wizard raised an eyebrow. His long white hair seemed too bright in the shadows. "Judging by all the skeletons, we must be close to our destination. I am eager to get there. Aren't you?"
"This is your destination, not mine," she said. "I accompany you by choice — for Richard." The two had trudged through the trackless forest for days.
"Indeed? I thought you were supposed to watch over me."
"Yes, I'm sure that's what you thought. Perhaps I just wanted to keep you out of trouble."
He arched his eyebrows. "I suppose you've succeeded so far."
"That remains to be seen. We haven't found the witch woman yet."
Nathan Rahl, wizard and prophet, had a lean and muscular frame, azure eyes, and handsome features. Although the two men were separated by many generations, Nathan's face, strong features, and hawklike glare still reminded Nicci of Richard Rahl — Lord Rahl, leader of the much-expanded D'Haran Empire, and now leader of the known world.
Under an open vest, Nathan's ruffled white shirt was much too frilly to serve as a rugged travel garment, but he didn't seem to mind. He swirled a dark blue cape over his shoulders. The wizard wore tight but supple black pants and stylish leather boots with a flared top flap and dyed red laces for a flash of color.
As Nicci joined him, he put a hand on the pommel of the ornate sword at his hip and gazed across the starlit clearing. "Yes, traveling through the night is tedious, but at least we keep covering distance. I spent so many centuries in one place, locked in the Palace of the Prophets. Indulge me for being a little restless."
"I will indulge you, Wizard." She had agreed to take him to the witch woman, but after that she had not decided how best she would serve Richard and the D'Haran Empire. "For now." Nicci was also restless, but she was a woman who liked to have a clear, firm goal.
He smiled at her brusque tone. "And they say prophecy is gone from the world! Richard predicted you might find my company frustrating as we traveled together."
"I believe he used the word 'obnoxious.'"
"I'm quite sure he didn't say it aloud." They crossed the dew-scattered meadow, following a faint trail that led to the trees on the other side. "Nevertheless, I am pleased to have such a powerful sorceress protecting me. It befits my position as the roving ambassador for D'Hara. With my skills as a wizard and a prophet, we'll be nearly invincible."
"You are no longer a prophet," Nicci reminded him. "No one is."
"Just because a man loses his fishing pole doesn't mean he ceases to be a fisherman. And if my gift of prophecy is taken away, I will still muddle along. I can draw upon my vast experience."
"Then perhaps I should let you find the witch woman yourself."
"No, for that I need your help. You've met Red before." He gestured ahead. "I think she likes you."
"I've met Red, yes, and I survived." Nicci paused to regard a knee-high pyramid of rounded skulls, a sharp contrast to the peaceful starlit meadow. "But I am the exception, not the rule. The witch woman likes no one."
Nathan was not deterred, nor had she expected him to be. "Then I will work my charms. So long as you help me find her."
Stopping under the open sky, Nicci looked up into the great expanse of night, and what she saw there frightened her more than any moldering skeletons. The panoply of stars, twinkling lights strewn across the void, were all wrong. The familiar constellations she had known for nearly two centuries were now rearranged with the star shift Richard had caused.
When Nicci was a little girl, her father had taken her out into the night and used his outstretched finger to draw pictures across the sky, telling stories of the imaginary characters up there. Only two weeks ago, those eternal patterns had changed; the universe had changed, in a dramatic reconfiguring of magic. And when Lord Rahl realigned the stars, prophecy itself was ripped from the world of the living and sent back through the veil to the underworld. That cataclysm had changed the universe in unknown ways, with consequences yet to be seen or understood.
Nicci was still a sorceress, and Nathan remained a wizard, but all the intricately bound lines of his gift of prophecy had unraveled within him. An entire part of his being had now been simply stripped away.
Rather than worrying about the loss of his ability, though, Nathan seemed oddly enthusiastic about this unexpected new opportunity. He had always considered prophecy to be bothersome. Imprisoned in the Palace of the Prophets for a thousand years, considered a danger to the world, he had been denied the opportunity to lead his own life. Now with prophecy gone and the undead Emperor Sulachan sent back to the underworld, Nathan felt more free than ever before.
He was delighted when Richard Rahl sent him off as a roving ambassador for the newly expanded D'Haran Empire, to see if he could help the people in the Dark Lands — a thinly disguised pretext for Nathan to go wherever he liked while still ostensibly achieving something useful. The wizard had been eager to see lands unknown. (And the way Nathan said the words made it sound like the name of an actual country, "Lands Unknown.") Knowing his intent, Nicci couldn't possibly let the wizard go off alone. That would have been dangerous to Nathan and possibly dangerous to the world. While the battered D'Haran army returned from the bloody battles, and the dead were still being tallied and mourned, Nicci had accepted an important mission of her own. A mission for Richard.
Everyone from Westland to the Midlands, from D'Hara to the Dark Lands, and even far south into the Old World, needed to know that Lord Rahl was the new ruler of a free world. Richard had decreed that he would no longer tolerate tyranny, slavery, or injustice. Each land would remain independent, so long as the people followed a set of commonly agreed-upon rules and behaviors.
But much of the world didn't even know they had been liberated, and there would surely be petty warlords or tyrants who refused to accept the new tenets of freedom. Richard needed to know the extent of his empire, so much of which remained unexplored, and that was a service Nicci could provide, gathering information as she traveled with Nathan.
Nicci believed in her mission wholeheartedly. This was the dawn of a golden age. In the Old World, what remained of the Imperial Order in the aftermath of Emperor Jagang and his predecessors was now a mixed bag of local leaders, some of them fair-minded and enlightened, others abusive and selfish. If any local leader caused trouble, Nicci would deal with the problem. Though she knew Richard would back her up with his full military might, she did not intend to bother the whole D'Haran army, unless it became absolutely necessary.
Nicci would make certain that it did not become necessary.
On a more personal level, although she loved Richard with a depth she had never felt for anyone else, Nicci knew that he belonged with Kahlan, and she would always feel out of place close to them. She didn't belong there.
By going off with Nathan to Lands Unknown, she could serve Richard, but also have a new freedom. She could have her own life.
* * *
"I've heard what the witch woman can do." Nathan strode along with far too much cheer in the brightening morning. He tossed his blue cape over his shoulder with a flourish. "I need to ask something of her, and I have no reason to believe she won't grant it. We're practically colleagues, in a certain sense."
They maneuvered through a dense grove of spindly birch saplings, pushing aside the white-barked trees as they followed the mounds of crumbling bones. Nathan sniffed the air. "Are you certain this is the way?" "Red will be found if she wants to be found." Nicci glanced down at the staring empty eye sockets filled with moss. "Many people regret finding her."
"Ah, yes — be careful what you wish for." He chuckled. "That should have been another one of the Wizard's Rules."
"Up on her mountain pass, Red left the ground strewn with thousands and thousands of bones and skulls from a great army of the half people she slaughtered single-handedly." Nicci looked from side to side. "But some of these remnants are much older. She has been killing for a long time, and for her own reasons."
Nathan was undeterred. "I shall endeavor not to give her a reason to kill us."
The granite boulders around them grew more prominent, shaded under lush maples and domineering oaks. A tingle crept along the back of her neck, and Nicci looked up to see a muscular catlike thing regarding them from the top of a large, rounded outcropping. The strange creature had green eyes and darkly spotted fur. Seeing them, it let out a sound that was partly purr, partly growl.
Nathan leaned against a birch, unafraid. "Now, what is that animal? I've never seen a species like that before."
"You lived most of your life locked in a tower, Wizard. The world has many species you haven't seen."
"But I had plenty of time to peruse books of natural history."
Nicci had recognized the animal at first glance. "The Mother Confessor named him Hunter. He is Red's companion." The catlike thing's pointed ears pricked up.
Nathan brightened. "That must mean we are close."
Without seeming to hurry, Hunter jumped down from the boulder and trotted off through the birches, guiding Nicci and Nathan along. "He has led me to the witch woman before," Nicci said. "We should follow."
"And of course we shall," Nathan said.
They moved at a fast pace, following the creature through the slatted birch forest and tangled underbrush. Hunter paused every so often to glance over his shoulder, making sure they were still there.
Finally, Nicci and Nathan emerged above a serene, hidden hollow. The outstretched boughs of a gigantic lichen-covered oak spread over the entire glen like an enormous roof. The bitter smell of smoke rose from an ill-tended cook fire that burned in a ring of stones not far from a fieldstone cottage constructed against the side of the opposite slope.
As if waiting for them, a thin woman sat primly on a stone bench in front of the cottage, watching them with piercing sky-blue eyes. She wore a clinging gray dress, and her hair was a mass of tangled red locks. Black-painted lips made her smile ominous instead of welcoming. The crow perched on her shoulder looked more curious about the visitors than the witch woman did.
Knowing full well how dangerous Red could be, Nicci met the other woman's gaze without speaking. Even though he had seen the countless skulls, Nathan ignored the danger and strode forward with a hand raised in greeting. "You must be the witch woman. I am Nathan Rahl — Nathan the prophet."
"Wizard, not prophet," Red corrected. "Everything is changed now." Her black lips smiled again, without warmth. "You are Nathan Rahl, ancestor of Richard Rahl. I have been called a seer and an oracle, but I have had enough visions to last me for quite some time. I foresaw that you would come to me."
The spotted catlike creature sat beside her, blinking his green eyes as he faced the visitors. Still seated on her stone bench, Red fastened her gaze on Nicci. "And Nicci the Sorceress. I'm pleased to see you again."
"You have never been pleased to see me," Nicci said. Part of her wanted to summon her magic, release a flow of destruction, both Additive and Subtractive Magic, anything that might be necessary to blast the witch woman into ashes. "In fact, you commanded the Mother Confessor to kill me."
Red laughed. "Because I foresaw that you would kill Richard." She must have seen the dark edge of Nicci's anger, but she showed no glimmer of fear. "Surely you can understand. I had only the best of intentions. It was nothing personal."
"And I did kill Richard, just as you predicted," Nicci said, recalling how that decision had nearly torn her apart. "Stopped his heart so he could travel to the underworld and save Kahlan."
"See? So it all worked out for the best, then. And I did help you to bring him back." The crow on Red's shoulder bobbed forward, as if nodding. The witch woman hardened her gaze. "Now, why have you come here?" Nathan stood straight and tall. "We've been searching for days. I have a request to make."
Widening her black smile, Red indicated the countless skulls around her in the glen. "I receive many requests. I look forward to hearing yours."CHAPTER 2
Without asking permission, Nathan adjusted his cape and took a seat beside the witch woman on the stone bench. He let out an exaggerated sigh. "I am a thousand years old, and sometimes I feel the age in my bones."
Nicci looked at the wizard, not hiding her skepticism. She had traveled with him for many days and many miles, and he had seemed completely healthy and spry. She doubted such an obvious ploy for sympathy would work with Red.
The crow took wing from the witch woman's bony shoulder and flapped up to settle on one of the lower branches of the enormous oak. The bird scolded Nathan from above.
Red shifted her legs and turned toward him. "A thousand years? You must have stories to tell."
"I do indeed, and that is part of the reason I'm here. Since the Palace of the Prophets was destroyed, the antiaging spell has failed, so now I grow old as all mortals do." He looked at Nicci with a twinkle in his eye. "The sorceress is aging too, although she certainly doesn't show it."
"'Aging' is another word for 'living,' old man," Red said with a sharp chuckle. "And I presume you'd like to go on living."
"I've just begun to live." The wizard leaned back on the stone bench as if he were relaxing in a park. "Now ... for my request. I have heard of a thing that witch women can do, and I'd be curious if you might do me the honor?" Nicci also listened attentively, just as intrigued, since the wizard had refused to tell her his plans, despite the lengthy and arduous journey here from the People's Palace.
Red tossed her thick braids, making them wriggle like restless snakes on her head. "Witch women have numerous skills, some wonderful, some dangerous. It depends on which ability interests you."
He laced his fingers together over one knee. "The Sisters of the Light possessed journey books, spell-bonded journals in which they could record their travels and also send messages over great distances. But a life book ... ah, now that is something different. Have you heard of it?" Red's intense pale eyes showed her interest. "I've heard of many things." She paused for just a moment. "And, yes, that is one of the things I know."
Excerpted from Death's Mistress by Terry Goodkind. Copyright © 2017 Terry Goodkind. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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