TA-DA! Okay, I apologize for the wait. Some things came up and stuff, and writer's block- well, it took awhile. Sorry!
THIS IS THE LAST CHAPTER OF ELDUNARI. Wow, guys. It's been over a year- one year, eight months, and nine days- since this story began, and it's been a crazy ride, for both you and for me, if some of these reviews are to be taken seriously. I've had a blast- my first foray into fanfiction was NOT a disaster- and I've been blessed with great reviews, new friendships, and the sort of homicidal fan-love that's kept me going all this time.
I want to say thank you, from the bottom of my heart. Guys, I've had such fun doing this, and I'm glad that I've fufilled the goal of all authors- to excite, to shock, to anger (in other words, to cause emotion)- and I'm glad that you all have sincerely had a good time. Some of you are newer, some of you have been with me since the beginning, some of you are chronic lurkers, some of you are fanatical reviewers. And I love you all. I do, really. It's the readers that keep an author going. No author will write if s/he has no readers!
Okay, I just feel like putting up the story stats, to show you guys why I'm so honored and excited:
As of today, June 18th, 2010, Eldunari, by wilskysong has:
6 C2 communties
2,233 reviews (holy crap, guys!)
161, 937 hits (holy shitake mushrooms!)
Wow. Just... wow.
With that aside, I proudly present the fortieth and final chapter of Eldunari. I sincerely thank everyone who has reviewed, read, whatever. You all rock!
Dedicated to my two wonderful, wonderful betas, Arya Shadeslayer and chupacabrita, without whom none of this would be possible. You guys are so amazing, and so dedicated, that it makes me want to cry. Thank you, you guys. I mean it.
Disclaimer: I do not own Inheritance Cycle, but at this point I've deviated so far from the original story that it barely even matters anymore.
"The storm has broken the world around us, and we are always left to pick up the pieces." -Muhammed Farid Alai
Chapter Forty: Stormbreaking
Murtagh was dreaming.
Brown eyes, wide, young. This prisoner of the Ra'zac was only a child, and he was hurt and tied up and mistrustful.
But Murtagh, old, weary, battle-scarred, liked him at first sight.
"Lightning… burned… muscle dead…"
"Just let…die. He's…traitor."
"No!" Murtagh screamed, his throat raw, bleeding. "No!"
But the monsters eat Tornac anyway, and do it slowly, his blood staining their silver teeth crimson.
"Keep at…. If… dies, Lady… angry."
Blood blood everywhere, oozing from the walls, the sky, the ground. It surrounded him, drowned him, and their faces floated past, borne on a river of crimson…
Mother, eyes blank and brown, her skin gray as blood drenched her clothes…
Brom, his eyes blue and dark, his chest ripped open, his love for his son bleeding out into the swirling tides…
Tornac, chopped to bits, his eyes blinking in shock, hands and feet floating past at different times, all twisting lazily in the water…
Oromis, eyes closed, solemn, his body stiff as he sank into the red…
Eragon, his eyes open, his mouth screaming, chest black with charred, burnt skin…
"…please…live, Murtagh…need… you…"
"You should go back." Eragon said, settling on a log. The two brothers were in a forest and the dappled light was warm and golden; nearby a river flowed almost silently, clear blue, thousands of faces reflected in its flawless surface, thousands of memories and fragments flashing in the gentle sun. "You're needed."
"I don't want to go back." Murtagh replied. "Nothing hurts." And it was true. There was no pain in his back, in his heart. He was calm, at peace, and comfortable. This forest, with its silence, could become home.
Eragon looked at his brother and his eyes were old. "You're not a coward, Murtagh." He murmured. "You need to go back."
"It will hurt." Continued the blue Rider. "It will hurt a lot, but you're strong, and they need you."
Blue eyes met brown, silent, observing. The hero and the villain. The beloved and the forgotten. "Why don't you go back?" Murtagh asked, turning away to watch the river. "The Varden needs you more, and you are the leader of the Riders. They need you for guidance."
Eragon watched his brother silently, and his dark eyes were soft. He didn't say anything, but he didn't have to.
They need you, too, his eyes said. They need your courage and your cunning, your determination and your will to survive.
"I'll go back." The red Rider finally said, heavily. He paused. "Will you come with me?" Please, he thought, please, I don't want to be alone.
Eragon tilted his head, smiled sadly. "Later." His voice was ancient and a little sad. "Later."
"I'm going to hold you to that." Murtagh told him, standing, walking back through the forest. There was light all around, warm, familiar, and Eragon called something but his voice was muted and faded and then…
So much pain.
It exploded in front of Murtagh's eyes and he arched, screaming in agony. There was a fire in his chest and it was blistering him, burning him alive, and he howled and howled.
Voices erupted, too loud, much too loud, shouting and calling, and there were hands on his chest, adding to the fire.
"Murtagh!" A commanding voice. Familiar. "Murtagh, look at me!"
The red Rider forced his eyes open and then screwed them shut. Too much light, all at once, flooded his eyes, blinded him. He didn't want to see. He wanted to hide, to run back to the darkness and the haze and Eragon's voice in a golden forest, but the fire in his chest wasn't letting him.
"Look at me!" Snapped the voice, ancient and cracked. Rhunon. Something cool was on his chest, something that smelled like roses and Du Weldenvarden, and slowly, the pain receded.
It was still there, an insistent ache in his chest, a fresh burn, ready to flare up at a moment's notice, but he was alive and breathing and he could open his eyes without the light driving nails into his brain.
He saw the old elf woman's face swim into view, and there were others in the… tent? Yes, a tent, because the light poured through the thin white cloth and he could hear the moans of the other injured.
Rhunon had a cloth that dripped water and glowed pressed to his chest. Magic.
Nasuada was there, and the sight of her face made Murtagh's heart twitch, and he hissed in pain.
She was older, Nasuada. Her face was wearier, her eyes dulled. There was a fresh gash on her cheek, and Murtagh knew it would scar.
Vé was there as well, murmuring in the ancient language, his eyes closed.
Rhunon slowly removed the cloth, and Murtagh blinked tiredly, confused. His mouth was heavy, his throat sore, and there was a fiery ache that ran from his chest to his right leg.
He tried to speak, but the words caught in his throat. Determined, he tried again. "What…?" He rasped, aware of how harsh his voice was.
Where was Eragon? Murtagh tried to sit up, tried to scan the tent for his brother, and he shifted too fast, too wrongly, and the fire returned in full force, jackknifing through his body—!
He cried out and fell back, and he remembered—
Galbatorix screaming in rage, his memories exploding in Murtagh's mind—
The blue Eldunarí, hothothot, breaking open, Zar'roc spilling the azure light like blood—
Lightning, sparks, heat, falling from the back of Shruikan with blue-white light chasing his heart—
Fire snapping, wings rushing, and the white light leaving his body and Eragon, the brave, foolish younger brother, on wide wings of flame, taking a bolt of lightning to his heart, and falling, falling—
NO! Murtagh shouted. Pain was everywhere, because Eragon was dead, he died, and he, Murtagh, was to blame. You should have let me die, you idiot. He howled.
There were shouts of shock and fear in the tent; a big crimson nose tore open the flap and knocked aside all comers. Thorn rested his nose against Murtagh's bed.
The red dragon didn't say anything to the partner of his heart; already in their bond they knew that no words could ease the grief or the blame.
"Murtagh." Rhunon tried again, her voice sad and understanding. "You're going to hurt yourself, you idiot." She forcibly held the Rider down, ignoring Thorn's angry growl.
You shouldn't have saved me! Murtagh directed at her, throwing his thoughts furiously, sorrowfully. You should have saved Eragon instead.
Eragon chose to save you. The sword-maker snapped, her mind-voice biting. He chose to save your life and now you have to live with it!
I don't want to.
Child! Rhunon was angry now. Petulant brat! You've been given a gift—life! Your brother died so you could live, and you're going to waste that gift begging for death?
You told me that I had to die. Murtagh snarled back, half-mad with pain and grief. Twice you said to me 'die and eclipse your father. It's the only way.'
The elf was silent for a moment, and Murtagh, his eyes prickling, glared. Go away. He said.
For a moment the elf didn't move, and then Thorn snapped at her, his dagger-like teeth missing her face by inches, and she bowed her head.
Very well, insolent child. She said. I will go. For now.
And she left gracefully, leaving Murtagh alone with Nasuada and Vé.
"Can you speak?" Asked the quiet elf.
Vé nodded and busily set about tending to the horrid wound on Murtagh's chest. He could see it in Thorn's eyes; a vivid red burn, shaped like an explosion, jagged and painful. Murtagh remembered the lighting, all white light, and how it thrilled through his body, following his blood around and around as it snapping at his heart with its burning teeth.
Vé's hands soothed the burn, and Murtagh recalled that the elf was more of a healer than a fighter. He was concerned—was he hurt? Was his dragon? What about the others?
"We are all okay." The elf whispered, reading the worry in the Rider's face. "Everyone else survived, but Saphira was captured and Kindmother died."
Images—Ophelia falling, her chest torn, her body ruined, and Saphira, crying out as she was dragged away—flickered through Murtagh's mind. He let them wash over him, and his eyes pricked with grief.
Murtagh nodded minutely, numb and painful at the same time. Eragon and Saphira and Ophelia, gone. Two dead, one probably wishing she was. And the Varden was probably in shambles. On the ground there had been significant amounts of death and dying, and Galbatorix—had he left?
"How long?" Murtagh wheezed. "How long has it been?"
Vé's face was impassive, stone-like. "Five days." He whispered.
Murtagh wanted to ask more but Vé finished wrapping the chest and bowed out. I will return. He promised silently. I must carry news of your awakening back to the others.
The others? Murtagh asked Thorn, glaring at the fluttering cloth of the white tent. Why would they care?
The red dragon's wide eyes were sad but gentle and a little proud. You're the lead Rider, now. He rumbled. Eragon-finiarel made you his right wing—you're supposed to take his place.
Murtagh almost choked on his sorrow, and it splashed from his throat wetly in a noise that sounded like a laugh. Me? He asked, swinging his head weakly to look his dragon in the eye. Me?
You. Thorn said, subdued, and nosed the red Rider. Raw sorrow spilled from him—he missed Saphira, he was scared, and he too had responsibilities to accept. He was the leader-of-the-pack. That hurt Murtagh worse than anything; his dragon, who, had he not been forced to grow, was nearly seven months old, barely 'mature,' and was now accepting the responsibility of leading the dragon pack.
Thorn's vermillion eyes were wide and lost. We were young when we left Uru'baen. He commented, his voice heavier and older than it had ever been.
Murtagh was silent. He stared up at the white cloth, the light filtering through. His chest ached, his heart cried out for relief.
There was none.
I cannot lead them. He thought, wildly, tiredly. Sunna and Vé, Erik and Konungr, and now Deloi and Lovissa and Talon and Raltin. They weren't his Riders, his Clan. He would have followed Eragon anywhere, because that was his place; he was the man in the shadows, the man with the ferocity and the loyalty (and yes, he was loyal, despite what the Varden would say. He was so loyal that it hurt.) to finish what was started.
He was Eragon's right hand. He, Murtagh, was not supposed to be the leader.
And yet, he was.
Die. Rhunon had said.
Die. Galbatorix had shrieked.
Die. The Varden had screamed.
Die. Glaedr had snarled.
Don't. Eragon had murmured, in a forest of golden light.
I could go either way. Murtagh thought idly, his mind exhausted, his body hurting, his eyes itching and burning with unshed tears. And he could—he could live or die, at this moment. His chest was on fire, the pain bone-splitting, the lightning wound angry and red. It would be easy to succumb. But…
Thorn's eye was apprehensive, but only for a heartbeat. They understood each other; they understood their burdens, and the choices they had made and would make.
They could give up. They could very, very easily give up.
Die. Said Rhunon.
Don't. And Tornac's eyes were filled with something indefinable, something that Murtagh had never fully understood until the second he made his choice and swung his legs over the bed, his blue eyes glinting.
I will not give up. He said, and with a flick of his thoughts banished the jeering voices chanting for his death.
The tent spun back into focus, all fluttering white light. There were many men lying on makeshift cots, some near death and others near recovery.
Help me. Murtagh said, and he stood up.
Almost instantly he regretted it—his leg screamed in agony and he collapsed, falling into Thorn and jarring his wounded chest.
Hissing in pain he sagged against his partner, paralyzed, unable to move, and then he felt cool hands on his bare shoulders, guiding him back to the edge of his caught. Through swimming eyes he saw dark, slender, calloused hands.
Her hands were gentle, surprisingly. Murtagh expected her anger, her yelling. He had left her, after all, had abandoned the Varden and fought against them, though not of his own choices. Eragon had been furious, and Eragon was –had been— the most forgiving man in Alagaesia.
"Sit." She ordered, and the Rider, fire still burning throughout his body, obeyed. Thorn made an anxious sound and nosed Murtagh gently.
"What…?" Murtagh gasped, breathless with pain.
"Your leg." The leader of the Varden replied softly, curtly. "The lightning left your body there, and Rhunon says that the muscles inside it were damaged. She… couldn't repair them in time."
Murtagh sat still and listened, absorbing her words, and strangely, he was not all that upset. He was crippled, then. His leg was ruined, the muscles burned and charred by lightning. He should be angry, hurt, furious. Cripples were useless, cripples couldn't fight.
But he felt strong.
The scar on his back tingled. He had been crippled when he was three years old, sliced from shoulder to hip. He hadn't been able to walk for months, and running had taken years to accomplish—this wound on his leg was nothing.
It was a limp.
He could live with a limp.
He looked straight into Nasuada's eyes. There were brown, like he remembered. Serious. Sad.
So much sadness in the world today. He reflected, and with a heavy grunt, lifted himself again and leaned heavily on Thorn. Nasauda he would deal with later.
He had a clan to deal with first. He took a few halting steps, and his head whirled with agony.
Step, limp. Step, limp. The pain was almost unbelievable, shattering his concentration, spiking through his leg, his chest in hot flashes. His face was wet by the time he had walked five feet.
I can't make it out of the tent, he gasped. Let alone the city.
"Here." Nasuada said, her voice still gentle but sharp. Zar'roc was in her hands, and without flinching Murtagh took it. The blade tingled in his hands and he pulled it from his sheath, checking for damage.
To his surprise, there was a white burst of lightning now streaking the blade—the heat from the breaking Eldunarí had defeated even Rhunon's enchantments, bleaching the metal forever in the shape of a white bolt of lightning that broke apart and scattered down the length of the red sword.
Again, Murtagh did not mind. His sword, like himself, was now scarred. His mouth twisted into something that might have resembled a smile, even though he was nearly blind with pain and heartbreak.
Using his scarred sword as a crutch, he made his way towards the light, hissing in agony, his right leg trembling and groaning. Thorn was there, ready to catch his Rider should his injured limb give out. Again Nasuada stood in his way, and she was holding a fresh tunic. Her face was impassive, but Murtagh saw a gleam of respect there.
With painful difficulty he shrugged the shirt on and staggered stiffly out into the light, hissing as his limb protested.
The light assaulted his eyes.
The fields of Belatona were barren, the golden crop burned or cut down, the ground tossed and churned, the mud a stinking cesspool of bodies, blood, and stagnant water. Even five days later, the bodies of the dead had not been removed, simply because they were too numerous. Instead of burials the bodies were being piled together and set on fire, and the smoke tinged the air with the acrid reek of charred flesh. Murtagh paused, his legs shaking beneath him, and looked at the bloody earth, the river that roared and raged and churned, and the pyres that spat dirty flames into the air.
And then he turned away and limped towards the city.
The walls were pulverized, chunks ripped from the ramparts. Half of the Varden's war machines were shattered, crushed and torn up. The walls were damp with blood and rain; it was clear that the storm had continued long after the battle.
Murtagh winced, shoving down the memories, and steadied himself against Thorn.
Where's Ophelia? He asked softly. He remembered the dragoness falling, landing near him and causing the ground to shudder, her body breaking and tangling in on itself.
We burned her. The crimson dragon responded sadly. Three days ago.
All of her?
Even the bones. Thorn murmured. He opened his thoughts and Murtagh saw Ophelia, her scales peeled away, her flesh and muscles gone, her bones alight, blackened, bathed by fires of swirling red, yellow, bronze, and indigo.
Murtagh cast his eyes around him once more, and noticed that no one working to pile the bodies would meet his eyes. The trio, one dragon, one woman leader, and one crippled man, past many busy beings, and not one of the many races present met the red Rider's eyes.
They did cast sneaking glances at him, but they quickly turned away. As they entered the city, these glances increased, and low steady murmur rippled around them.
"What's wrong with his leg?"
"He fought Galbatorix…"
"They call him Stormbreaker…"
Stormbreaker. A shiver passed down Murtagh's spine. The main street was crowded, the Varden, or what was left to it, gathered to watch.
What do they all want? Murtagh asked, pain making him wince. He didn't want these people to see him limp, falter, his leg shaking and his eyes over-bright.
Nasuada walked beside the Rider, her eyes fierce, and her presence seemed to discourage the Varden from trying anything, though they did not feel or look particularly angry. Mostly they watched with bald curiosity, their eyes sharp and keen, judging.
Thorn growled lowly, his teeth bared.
"Longfangs." The crowd hissed, drawing back.
Longfangs. Murtagh echoed to himself, and a bitter sort of smile twisted on his lips.
Stormbreaker and Longfangs, Longfangs and Stormbreaker. It's funny how something as simple as a name can make something sound so strong. He mused. It was funny, really. The irony tickled under his ribs and hurt his heart. Thorn's name made him sound ferocious, mean, hard, and the poor dragon was seven months old and sweet and childlike.
And Stormbreaker sounded noble—there was nothing noble about Murtagh. He was a gutter rat, an orphan from the streets, abandoned by everyone whom he cared about, even his foolish younger brother.
The irony almost choked him, and his leg shuddered under the weight of it.
Climb on my back. Thorn pleaded, anxiety shining in his bright eyes.
No. Came the stubborn answer. Murtagh's face tightened, his muscles jumped. I will not show them weakness.
The odd trio limped down the main road, towards the keep, the Varden closing behind them, watching, whispering. It was disconcerting but the Rider held his head high, his blue eyes bright and flashing, for Eragon and his sacrifice.
They reached the gate of the keep, and the roars washed over Murtagh and sent another shiver down his spine. Leaning heavily on Zar'roc, his eyesight swimming, he blinked in shock.
The clan was waiting for him. They too had grown old; Murtagh saw it in their heads and their eyes. A little over a week ago they had been living in a cave, convinced the world wouldn't hurt them, and now they were scarred and tired, sadness and determination lining their faces.
All their eyes were trained expectantly on him, and the red Rider realized that they were waiting for him to claim his position.
The indigo Rider, Raltin, was the odd man out, because his face was twisted unhappily and his dragon (Talon, if memory served) was wearing a little snarl on his dark face.
Have those two been causing trouble?
Thorn snorted angrily. Yes. He hissed. Talon is a bully and Raltin is an ingrate. They treat the Varden like slaves, and Talon tried to beat me yesterday.
He attacked you? Murtagh was alarmed.
Tried. Thorn sniffed. He's too underfed to fight me.
We'll have to do something about that, then. Murtagh rumbled grimly. Very stiffly, he limped forward to stand directly in front of Raltin.
The other Rider was older, but only by a few years. His face was smooth, his hair so brown it was almost black, his eyes a dark green. Frankly, there was nothing remarkable about him.
Murtagh resisted the urge to sneer. Raltin, however, did not.
So you think that you have the right to lead the Riders? Murtagh asked, speaking to Raltin and Talon alone. You think you have the strength?
The indigo Rider sneered. I have more right that you. I have never abandoned my fellows. What gives you the right, coward, traitor?
Eragon gave me the right. The red Rider hissed. I fought Galbatorix for the right. What have you done, Raltin Morlansson, you who hid in a cave when four of your fellows flew out to fight? Erik has more right than you; Vé has more right than you.
Raltin was silent, his eyes flashing with anger.
Who will support you? Murtagh asked, and he widened his thoughts so all nearby could hear him. If you fight me here, now, who will fight beside you? Confidence surged in his blood—Eragon's confidence, maybe, acquired when Eragon fell to the earth—and he knew that he would win, that his position was secure.
It was a position he did not want, but a position that he would take.
Raltin's face darkened, his mouth twisting. He took a step forward—
Konungr growled, deeply, lowly, and Erik shifted his stance, his massive hand on his sword. Sunna went low, tense, her teeth bared. Even Deloi and Lovissa, who knew next to nothing about Murtagh, went taught against Raltin.
Triumph, surprisingly, flared hot in Murtagh's veins. Temporarily, his pained leg, his wounded chest, was forgotten.
No one will stand with you. Murtagh said softly, and he waited.
Finally, Raltin stepped back and bowed his head, accepting his defeat.
Satisfied, the red Rider looked around him. All the dragons and Riders were watching him, and no one offered a challenge. They accepted his place, his command, but it was more than that, it was—
It was acceptance of him, of Murtagh, of the man who was the son of Morzan and the man who broke open a storm.
It was surprising and warm and almost enough to alleviate some of the pain in his shaking limbs. Gratitude flushed through him, and he remembered from his readings the words Vrael had spoken to his Riders and his dragons when he had stood up, accepting his place and his duty.
"Long live the Riders." He said, and instantly he was nearly deafened by the roars. The dragons stamped, spitting jets of fire high into the air, their bellows bouncing off the stones and reverberating through the air.
They were broken, but they were whole.
There was a gaping wound where Eragon had stood, and it hurt, and the Riders would not forget him. They would honor him with their victory, with their triumph over their greatest enemy.
Galbatorix would pay for the pain tenfold.
For a moment, the sorrow and pride and pain almost knocked Murtagh to the ground; he felt the gravity of it pull at him with enough force to strip flesh from bone.
Eragon was gone, but he was not forgotten.
Murtagh, surrounded by his new clan, by his family, tilted his face towards the sky. The clouds had scattered all across the bruised skyline, the sun, weak but visible, cast its light.
The storm had broken over Alagaesia, shattering it and cracking it open, and now Galbatorix faced the enemies that poured from that wound.
Murtagh leaned heavily on his sword, letting the sounds wash over him. He was still in for a journey, he knew. He was crippled, his brother was dead, and, judging by the looks that Orik the Dwarf King, Roran Stronghammer, and even Arya Shadeslayer, he had much to do to repair the damages inflicted on the Varden, both at his own hand and at Galbatorix's.
The baby dragon on Arya's shoulder, surveying the world around him with wide emerald eyes, was a promise.
There was a light at the end of the darkness.
Suddenly warm, the red Rider leaned on Thorn. Hatred and pain stalked him, bit at his heels, but so did courage, and love, and strength.
For a moment he saw the golden lights of a forest, and Eragon, sitting on a log, waved tiredly.
Good luck. He said. May the wind rise beneath your wings.
The sun was shining despite the darkness.
The storm had broken.
Squaring his shoulders Murtagh looked to the heavens once more, and determination swelled in his blood.
The time to fight had come.
Ta-da? Okay, like I promised, the first chapter of the sequel, Edoc'sil, is going up later this evening or very, very early tomorrow. Review this, if you want (please) and then go check it out!
Peace be with you, my friends and commrades.