Chapter 12

Escape

The light cast by the guttering torches caught a flash of crimson and clung to it, as if in anticipation for what would happened next. The guards fell slowly to the ground, blood jetting and pulsing from the wounds in their necks and torsos to stain the cold, damp walls of the castle. One tried to call out for help, but found that all he could manage was a choking gurgle. As he fell, his face turned at an awkward angle and he saw his partner fall to the ground in a similar fashion.

Murtagh stepped from the shadows where the light had not reached, the Voices in his head propelling him steadily onward, and passed the corpses indifferently. He clutched Zar'roc tightly in his hand, ready for whatever should leap at him from the depths of the castle.

But nothing did, so he continued on his way. His face was haggard from many sleepless nights and sessions with the Ra'zac; his hair was greasy and unkempt; but his eyes held the hard, glaring light of determination. Not the determination of a madman, but that of a man who has but one thing to live for and wishes to see his sole task in life completed, uncaring of what may happen to him along the way.

Go.

Murtagh nodded and continued on his way. His only worry was that Galbatorix would be made aware of the events that were transpiring in his keep.

We will take care of that, the voices whispered. Have no fear, Murtagh. Now make haste.

Eragon gazed down upon Alagësia. Saphira's body rose and fell beneath him, in time with her wing beats. The air rushed past Eragon's face, cold and biting, and small tears sprung from the corners of his eyes and blazed freezing trails across his cheeks. Thin strands of cloud whipped past him at random intervals, dampening his skin and sending a chill up his spine. But he registered none of this; something was happening.

Images darted through his mind—fleeting glimpses of what seemed like long-lost memories of blood and violence and death…but they were not his memories. Nor, he realized a moment later without knowing how the knowledge had come to him, were they memories at all.

He saw a flash of glittering crimson…stone walls…torches that popped and guttered in the darkness…blood splashing across the walls…

Eragon was afraid for a moment that, despite all that had happened to him lately, he was regressing back into his state of rage and hatred. But after a moment he knew that this was not true; he felt neither anger nor hate—only a sense of calm curiosity at the events unfolding in his mind. He continued to watch.

This way.

Murtagh changed direction abruptly, darting to the left and running quietly down the dimly-lit hallway. At the end was an unremarkable door, but he knew better than to think something unimportant was behind it. He paused for a moment and, using his magic, felt for other presences on the other side of the doorway.

He found but one guard—and he was asleep. Murtagh could tell that the man was old. This fact confused Murtagh for a moment until he realized that Galbatorix would wish to make the location of this prisoner as unobvious as possible. Murtagh quietly opened the door.

The old man snored softly, his head resting upon his chest, a bowl of cold soup on the table before him. Murtagh closed his eyes and pressed two fingers to the man's temple. Nothing changed—but Murtagh knew that the man would not awaken for many hours, even if he was disturbed.

Now Murtagh turned at last to the final door, this one locked with several enormous logs. With a wave of his hand, Murtagh cast the logs aside as though they weighed nothing. He pushed the door open on squeaking hinges and stepped into the next room.

A door…something whispering to him…an enormous red dragon…

Eragon started abruptly in his saddle. Saphira jolted beneath him.

Eragon! What is it? Saphira's voice was laced with worry.

It's… Eragon faltered. It's Murtagh. He's escaping with Thorn.

"What do you mean 'escaping'?" Arya asked skeptically once Saphira had landed. They were now in a secluded clearing a small distance away from the funeral party.

"I don't know," Eragon murmured, lost in thought. "It was as though…I had a glimpse into his mind for a moment, and I could feel and think everything he could. He's changed; that's all I know."

"Eragon, you have to be careful—this could be one of Galbatorix's traps."

Eragon looked up into Arya's face and saw the undisguised worry etched across her fine features—such an uncharacteristic display of emotion for her.

"I want to think that Murtagh is leaving of his own free will as well," she said softly, "but this just doesn't feel right."

Eragon nodded. "I know what you mean," he said, "but…I also know—I'm not sure how I do—that this is not a trap. Please, Arya, you have to trust me on this one."

Arya looked down at the ground, her arms crossed. Eragon could feel waves of anxiety radiating out from her and pulled her to him, embracing her gently. He felt the momentary flutter in his chest as he touched her.

"Trust me," he whispered into her hair.

"I do," she said quietly after a moment. "But I still worry."

"As do I," Eragon replied. "Now, let's go back to the rest of the group—they're probably getting anxious to leave."

They climbed onto Saphira's back and she leaped into the air in the direction of the caravan.

For what seemed the millionth time Murtagh glanced anxiously back over his shoulder. And for what seemed the billionth time the Voices comforted him. Murtagh turned back around and gazed ahead, but still he could not shake the feeling that he was being followed. He trusted the Voices, but…as much as he hated it, he trusted Galbatorix himself to appear any second even more.

He patted Thorn's neck absently as the great dragon's wings propelled them further away from Urû'baen. Murtagh was filled for a brief instant with hate as he gazed down at his dragon's scarred body. Hate not so much for Galbatorix, but for himself—for he knew, deep down, that he had been the cause of all the mighty creature's suffering.

You're wrong, whispered the Voices, but they said nothing else. Even so, Murtagh found a small amount of comfort in the words.

He hands drifted to Zar'roc at his side. Zar'roc, the sword that had taken so many innocent lives. Zar'roc, the sword of Morzan. Murtagh felt disgust at even the thought of his father. But for Zar'roc…for Zar'roc, Murtagh felt a sense of triumph; soon—very soon—the sword would be redeemed of his father's sins. Very, very soon.