Song of the Chapter: Evening Falls - Enya
The hidden village's howling stone was concealed behind a row of ruined buildings. Eragon picked his way through the wreckage and transformed only on the other size. Although their fight with the Bulblins had further damaged their interiors all structures were still standing. He carefully kept his draconic body from actually bringing any down.
As always he hummed along to the stone's melody and drifted away to the dreamscape. The Golden Wolf awaited him, Hyrule Castle looming beyond his perch.
"This is the final song I have to teach you. We have nearly reached the end of our journey together."
Eragon blinked. The Golden Wolf had first sought him out unbidden, but every subsequent time he had needed a howling stone to summon him again. He hastily recounted six skills learned and five stones sung to. He wanted to ask if his mentor was almost ready to rest, but fell silent under the wolf's expectant gaze.
Instead he hummed his final melody, the Golden Wolf joining in. This song was a rousing ballad, a rallying sound meant to invoke courage. Eragon's own heart soared with anticipation for both the culmination of his quest and one final encounter with his predecessor.
The howling stones were once Sheikah stones, weren't they? They bear the same weeping eye Impaz identified as her tribe's symbol.
"Even in my time the Gossip Stones were ancient. Ostensibly they were for communicating across vast distances. They also pierced the minds of those who strayed too close to them to glean their deepest fears and secrets." Eragon flinched. "It took clever magic, supposedly only possessed by master Sheikah, to access the Gossip Stones' secrets so that potential threats against the kingdom might be uncovered. Their enchantments have all but worn off by now."
What do the Sheikah use now? he wondered. Perhaps Hyrulean magic had its own form of scrying.
"Charms they guard most jealously, for there are many who'd kill for such magic. Their tribe is far too skilled in warding off spirits for me to have bothered them further." An ear flicked. "Now take sword in hand and find me."
As the Golden Wolf leaped into the abyss a vision of Hyrule Castle's sickly yellow wards flashed before Eragon's eyes. He did not dread his quest's inevitable end. A part of him knew it would always come back to Zelda's death place.
Twilight's shadows stretched long and dark by the time they arrived back in Kakariko. Renado and Gor Coron awaited them alongside an anxious Ilia in the sanctuary.
"Is the person who rescued me alright?" she cried.
"Impaz is just fine," Eragon soothed. From his pocket he pulled forth the horseshoe charm. "She wanted you to have this back as proof she made it through. She said it meant a lot to you."
Ilia gently cradled the charm in her hands. "I... knew you once. You... crashed into our spring with a dragon. Yes... The scent of hay, tending a dragon's broken wing... It's all coming back to me." Her eyes closed. "You and Saphira were like something out of a fairy tale. You leaped into danger to rescue our children and was always so patient to them." She opened her eyes with a slight scowl. "And you and your brother both have a knack for riding off on Epona without permission."
"To be honest she stole herself," Murtagh admitted ruefully. "I was just along for the ride."
Ilia's lip quirked. "Like you three, Epona just wandered into Ordon one day. No matter if we kept her penned or stabled she always found her way out when she wanted to. I'm always afraid of the day she won't come back." She looked down at the charm in her hands. "Eragon, I knew you and Saphira would leave one day, and your time in Ordon would become like a dream for us. I made this horse-call for you. It was supposed to be a parting gift, so that you might always remember Hyrule when you played it and knew we were all more than a dream."
Eragon's hands trembled slightly as she handed the horse-call back to him. He had been presented priceless treasures by dwarf kings and elfin queens. A farm girl's homemade gift should have paled in comparison, but it was something beyond measure.
"I could never forget you, Ilia," he said softly. "Much less Ordon Village or all of Hyrule. We'll always hold this horse-call and think of this land."
Ilia's brow furrowed until she noticed Saphira's brilliant blue eye peering through a hole in the building's wooden shutters. Yes. We shall treasure it always.
Renado and Gor Coron flinched in surprise. There were excited outbursts from the eavesdropping children outside. Ilia herself looked quite bemused.
"I always thought you were too intelligent to be a mere beast," she said softly. "Forgive me for ever thinking otherwise."
In the past I've often refrained from speaking for fear of upsetting the people around me that are quite content in thinking I am but a dumb animal. Especially here, Eragon and I thought it had been for the best. We'd already fallen from the sky, after all, and we didn't want to alarm you further. She chuckled in chagrin. Lately I've tired of others speaking for me. After such a heartfelt display of honesty I could keep silent no longer.
"I know that voice," Gor Coron muttered with a frown. Then his eyes widened. "Vervada?"
Your patriarch fortunately cannot remember being saved by humans, Saphira said brightly. There's no reason for him to ever know he was also saved by a dragon in human form.
"Yes," the elder agreed with only the slightest waver to his voice. "No reason at all."
Not about to be left out again, Saphira resumed Hylian form. Her mind radiated delight at the crowd of children that assailed her with enthusiastic questions and cries of disbelief. She waded through the chaos to join them, firmly closing the door behind her so that Beth and Talo had to peer through the broken shutters to spy on them.
Murtagh rolled his eyes at her melodramatic reveal. Grabbing the wooden carving from Eragon's pocket, he presented it to Ilia. "Impaz wanted you to have this so that you might always remember her friendship."
"Thank you," Ilia said softly, holding the carving close. "I'm glad she's okay, but I wish she would have come you."
"Impaz wanted to remain where she was. We couldn't force her from her home against her will." Eragon turned to Gor Goron. "The bridge is gone and easy access to her village blocked, but Bulblin raiders still got in. Impaz is an old woman by herself. We killed them all, but we might not be around if something else tries to settle there."
Gor Coron dipped his head. "Gorons are well-used to difficult terrain and respect elders of all races. I am sure Darbus would not object to sparing some guards for one wise old woman who bravely risked herself to save another."
Renado's unreadable gaze appraised them all before he at last motioned toward the cellar entrance. "Telma's acquaintance is still down there investigating the statue. It's been there since long before I became shaman. My predecessor knew nothing about it either."
Saphira nimbly leaped down into the hole without bothering with the tattered netting thrown over the side of one wall. Eragon and Murtagh followed.
Eragon had never been inside the sanctuary's cellar before. During the Twilight he had been trapped as a dragon and had relied upon Saphira's Hylian form to reach areas he could not. The basement started as a narrow shaft as dirt but widened into a larger chamber. Wooden beams that supported the sanctuary above braced the walls. Shad himself stood intently before a giant stone statue of an owl set into one of the walls.
Shad was so engrossed he did not notice them until Saphira cleared her throat. He whirled around, reaching for the dagger in his notebook. Noticing who was behind them, he stood up straight, and awkwardly cleared his throat.
"Oh, hello. Didn't see you there."
Murtagh stared past him to the stone owl. "Why are you so obsessed with that statue?"
"The Sky People must have left it behind. It's as the same as the one in the manuscripts my dear father left me. There are many similar statues around Hyrule, but this one is different. Here, look at the belly..." Eragon squinted where Shad was pointing. Upon the owl's stomach was a raised seal that resembled an eyeball. "There's something written there, you see? This, too, was in my father's notes. It's called Sky Writing. My father believed this statue was under a seal only the right spell could break."
Eragon pulled Impaz's leather-bound from his pocket. Inside its yellowed pages was text even Midna considered alien chicken scratch. "Do you recognize this as Sky Writing too?"
Shad's dubious squint widened into a bewildered expression as he frantically skimmed through its pages. "Where on Din's green earth did you get this?"
"A Sheikah," Murtagh said flatly.
"A Sheikah? They're the elusive protectors of the Royal Family. Oh, of course! The Sky People must have had contact with their pages!" With a giddy laugh Shad pored over the book. "Granted there are symbols missing, but I have never seen a work of Sky Writing this complete before. I think there's even a spell in here to break the statue's seal!"
"What are the chances the spell does something else?" Saphira asked warily.
"Very little. I'm the foremost expert on Sky Writing in Hyrule, I'll have you know." Shad hesitated. "But perhaps you three should stand back. Just in case the seal breaks a little more violently than I anticipated."
They rolled their eyes but retreated back into the narrow shaft anyway. Eragon kept one expectant hand on the Master Sword's hilt. In his shadow Midna muttered something about crackpots.
"R-Right. Let's try it out!" Raising the book before him, Shad chanted an alien spell in a low, steady voice. Something in his cadence reminded Eragon of the excited babble Ooccoo and her son had exchanged in their own tongue. His shoulders slumped as the seconds crawled by. "No reaction. I don't understand! This had to have..."
He trailed off as an odd humming filled the air. Murtagh frowned in suspicion as he withdrew the Dominion Rod from his bag. He had never given it back to Midna after she had complained about lugging around enough useless things. The rod once again shone as if brand new, its end pulsing with magic. Shad's jaw dropped.
"It's called the Dominion Rod," Eragon explained hastily. "It controls statues enchanted by the Sky People, but we thought it had ran out of magic. Your spell must have imbued it with more power." He frowned at the statue's seal. "The rod usually enchants a spot in the statue's center, but I don't think it will work on this one."
On Murtagh's urging he tried just to be sure. The orb's power impotently flowed over the statue's still surface before returning to the rod.
"The other owl statues all have holes in their bellies," Shad said excitedly. "I have all their locations memorized. Maybe if you move enough of them around you might uncover the spell for the seal."
Murtagh arched a critical brow. "How many owl statues are there?"
"Six, I believe."
"And they're scattered across Hyrule?"
Murtagh frowned at the stone carving the statue was set into. "The Dominion Rod just moves statues around, aye? Why not remove the statue? What's important is what is concealed behind it, not the statue itself."
Shad chuckled. "My dear father once tried to bomb a statue. They are shockingly resilient. Another testament to the Sky People's durable enchantments."
Saphira cocked her head as she surveyed it. "It's not that big. And it's not set firmly into the wall. There's space between them."
Eragon caught on. "Enough for your claws?"
Shad straightened. "Ah. I had quite forgotten you were... capable of that. If it isn't too much trouble, may I ask-"
"No," Murtagh growled. Grabbing Shad by the coat, he hauled him into the shaft so that Saphira might have room to transform.
Despite his irritation she preened regardless. "Another time, perhaps. When there isn't a kingdom to be saved."
Once they were clear of her she transformed. Shad gasped, frantically scrawling things done in his journal as the she-dragon pried her claws between the statue and its stone frame. With much growling and mental cursing she finally succeeded in toppling the thing forward. Shad's father had at least been right about the statue's durability. Its sleek surface appeared unmarred.
Behind the statue was a narrow passageway. Saphira resumed human form and was the first to step through. Shad eagerly followed at her heels.
Some of the cavern roof above had crumbled to allow the dying daylight. The ruined artifact's shadow loomed large over them all.
"Amazing!" Shad gasped. "Spectacular. This must be the Sky Cannon I read about in my father's notes. I knew my intuition was onto something when it led me here. Legend says its innards are powerful enough to propel someone into the heavens."
"And then send them crashing back to earth?" Murtagh muttered.
"Supposedly the Sky People's enchantments were so precise the Sky Cannon always safely dropped a passenger off to the City in the Sky. But it looks quite out of shape now and the skylight here is far too narrow for a safe take-off." Shad tilted his head resolutely. "We need to locate a cannon specialist. It'll cost a small fortune to repair the cannon and widen the opening here, but in a few weeks we should be ready for an expedition!"
"Shad," Saphira reminded him gently. "I can fly."
"Ah, yes." He fiddled with his glasses in chagrin. "I do not suppose there is room for a third passenger?"
"We're seeking a dark artifact that corrupted its surroundings," Eragon explained. "It would be safer if you waited for us to cleanse the city first."
"I understand," the scholar said softly. "I don't want to be in anyone's way. Just give me a moment to help you out." Despite the dim light he bent over both the Sky Cannon and the book, muttering to himself. Finally he scribbled something down in his journal and ripped out a page. "Here. These should be the City in the Sky's coordinates."
"Thank you," Saphira said earnestly. "And I do promise to take you up there when I have the time to do so."
"Do you suppose in the mean time I might borrow your book and your wonderful Dominion Rod? I might find symbols my dear father could only dream about."
Already feeling terrible for stomping upon the scholar's life-long dream, Eragon wished to leave him a simple consolation prize, but the City in the Sky was supposedly an Oocca settlement. Both the book and the Dominion Rod might once again prove invaluable. He promised Shad he could one day have them both.
They settled down for the night in Kakariko's inn. Over a simple but hearty meal Eragon and Saphira both regaled the children with an enthusiastic (and heavily censured) endition of their adventures. Even Murtagh proved surprisingly talkative when cajoled by adorable youths. Their past beyond Hyrule was a subject carefully picked over. The children were easily distracted by their more outrageous recollections and simple spells. Renado was tactful enough to not press the issue in public. Shad was too busy poring over the book for the short time he had it to bother paying attention. He diligently sketched out the Dominion Rod and the book's Sky Writing in his journal.
The Gorons watching over the town did not eat with them as they favored rocks from one particular cavern over any cooked meal. News of Vervada's true identity had still spread. Gor Coron pointed out she had technically never lied to them, for her human form was very much Hylian, it was just that she also happened to be a dragon too. A dragon that had helped calm Death Mountain and liberate their patriarch. Their grumbles were still smoothed out. Gorons proved surprisingly amenable to human-shaped dragons over alcohol.
When they retired for the evening Eragon found himself unable to sleep. Shad had fallen asleep drooling into the open pages of his journal. Privately he debated with Saphira and Murtagh over what to do. In the dead of night he and Midna finally slipped out with their blessing. The inn's residents were too deep in dreams to notice their absence.
First they crept down to the sanctuary's cellar and warped the Sky Cannon to Lake Hylia. Fyer was still awake and running his attraction. The old man called it a hunk of junk with potential. For a generous amount of rupees Eragon persuaded him to repair it. Even after he and Saphira left Hyrule Shad would have a way to access the city of his dreams within a few weeks' time. Ooccoo and her son would have a reliable way home.
With the deal hammered out they left Fyer to ponder over his new project and slipped back into the darkness.
"Can we go back to bed now?" Midna groused. "We have a big day tomorrow."
Eragon wanted nothing more than to agree with her. His eyes instead settled upon Hyrule Castle's distant shape. Against the starlit sky its barrier cast a sickly glow. His heart tugged him onward.
Midna sighed. "You cleared it with everybody this time, right?"
Eragon nodded sincerely. "He's waiting for me outside the barrier."
"And causing the rest of Hyrule's sorry guards to run in terror. Better go save their sorry asses from the big bad ghost wolf."
Recalling the hysteria that had broken out when he had last swooped down upon Castle Town as a dragon he instead entered the capital on foot. Most civilians had retreated to their homes for the night. Eragon slipped past the patrols easily. Only two guards watched over the castle's entrance in the central square. A simple spell had them asleep on their feet. Midna muttered they probably did that every night regardless of his interference.
He easily ascended the stone steps leading up to the castle. Its oaken gates were unguarded and unlocked. Slipping through the narrow opening between them, he discovered the Golden Wolf sitting patiently at the verge of the barrier.
His mentor slipped into a crouch as Eragon unsheathed the Master Blade. For a final time the Golden Wolf pounced and dragged him down into the dreamscape.
The Hero's Shade appeared as he always did. His form was no less ragged and his breathing no less labored. Still he sighed as if the world's weight had been lifted from his shoulders.
"At last... the time is now. This is the seventh and final hidden skill I can pass on to you. This forgotten skill is the ultimate secret technique, and it tests the true courage of the one who wields it. Are you ready to master the final skill, which can be earned only by the one true hero?"
"Very well. First prove yourself capable of wielding this land's magic."
The Hero's Shade settled into a fighting stance. Eragon raised the Master Sword and willed his power into it. The resulting jump strike knocked his mentor off his feet.
"Does the barrier block even you?" Eragon wondered as the Hero's Shade regained his footing.
"He made it especially for me. I was the one who came closest to killing him, after all, and perhaps he fears me still as he does no ther. But I am beyond death now. Let him see you and know the power to defeat him surpasses me."
As they lined up for the final spar Eragon found himself comparing the Shade to the man he had briefly glimpsed in the Temple of Time. The ornate armor and rotted features obscured all resemblance. Even the height looked wrong. Though the Shade's elaborate helm made him look deceivingly tall, he still towered a head over Eragon. The green-clad man had appeared his height, if not even shorter.
"I glimpsed you in the Temple of Time," he blurted out. "You looked a lot shorter."
The Shade chuckled hoarsely. "I knew I had felt strangely familiar eyes upon me. The Master Sword deemed a seven year slumber long enough. I was but seventeen, boy, still with some growing of my own to do. But not this much. There is nothing truly physical about the dreamscape. Our true bodies are elsewhere. This stature commands your respect, does it not?"
Eragon merely rolled his eyes. His ancestor already cast a shadow larger than life through his legacy. He had not needed to make it so literal, but he had also chosen to appear as both beast and rotting corpse.
"You have mastered numerous hidden skills and now house the spirit of the true hero. You now have the ability within you to magnify the power of your spin attack. But the only time you can draw out that power is when your energy brims at its fullest. A drop less and it will be unable to manifest."
Eragon waited for the Shade's demonstration. He only barked a laugh better suited for his wolf form.
"I am a shadow, Eragon. This power is beyond me. Show me the same is not true of you."
For a final time they crossed blades. Then the Hero's Shade leaped back. Within moments Eragon was encircled by his doppelgangers. Eragon slipped into a low stance, bringing the Master Sword back as he poured every drop of strength into it. He roared as he pivoted his feet and swung out. From the blade erupted a blood-red burst of power that shattered the false copies and sent the true Shade sprawling.
He climbed to his feet and inclined his head. "The final hidden skill, the great spin, has been passed on!"
Eragon nodded and demonstrated the technique a second time. He expertly twirled the Master Sword in his hands before sheathing it. His spirit thrummed with a sense of fulfillment.
"You have at last mastered all of the hidden skills. Although I accepted life as the hero, I could not convey the lessons of that life to those who came after. At last, I have fulfilled my obligations. You who have marched through countless foes, each mightier than the last... You, who now gaze to the future with vision unclouded... Surely you can restore Hyrule to its stature of yore as the chosen land of the gods. Farewell!"
The dreamscape faded away in a brilliant light. As the ground beneath his feet gave out, he heard the Shade call, "Go and do not falter, my child!"
Eragon awoke with a grunt. Midna, form unshadowed, peered anxiously down at him.
"Well?" she asked.
He stood. "I learned the final skill."
"And did your ancestor find peace?"
Eragon opened his mouth to reply the Shade had indeed eased his regrets and passed on to the next world, then promptly closed it when he could not recall his mentor stating any such peace.
"No," he whispered. "I don't think he did."
A century was little more than a blink of an eye to his kind. They were not much younger than creation itself. And yet he could not remember a time he did not hunger. Sacrifices, willing or involuntary, chopped-off limbs or entire villages, scarcely satiated him. Even sealed away for decades, offered blood and flesh by the twisted descendants of his priests, his slumber had been restless. Nothing could fill the void his name had left behind.
His master kept him on a tight leash. Occasionally he was allowed to feast upon a rebellious village but had to leave their bodies behind. The shambling puppets his master crafted from their empty husks offered little sustenance anyway.
His hunting grounds were strictly limited to those who dared cross the borders. It was dangerous territory as his siblings were always eager to contest the boundary lines. Iduneya lashed out with fang and fire fueled by fearful reverence. Menoa was a malevolent wall of forest. Sur was the storm and the raging sea and the power of pure faith had been long ago stolen from him. Their brother Beor was the distant mountain range who had turned their back upon their plight.
Hadara had first fought him back with horn and hoof. Though few had dared escape into her deserts they had clashed more often than their three siblings combined for they had once been twins. She loathed what he had become. He loathed her freedom. He longed for his winds to be driven back by her sandstorms and scorching heat. Her hatred reminded him he was more than what he had become.
His twin had fallen silent. Her realm was cold and quiet and made even avoid even testing the border. Strange black little parasites spilled over from her lands. They tasted bitter and curdled even his stomach. He ate them regardless. The smaller the infestation in his domain, the less his master wanted to retaliate. Hadara was sealed away in her spring, smothered in shadow, but not robbed of her name. Eternal imprisonment far outshone eternal nameless hunger.
Fortunately, his master was far too busy raising his last armies to pay much attention to the borders at all. Hadara was safer that way.
Murtagh bit back a curse as awoke from a dream too vivid to have been anything but another vision. For a long time his mind reeled as it tried to make sense of very inhuman thoughts and feelings. Eventually it all began to make terrible sense. The shadow beasts spilling into Alagaesia from the Hadarac Desert. Neither had the armies of rotted corpses shambling south.
His mental shields had failed in his sleep. The children in the inn with him were mercifully unattuned to his mind and blissfully oblivious. They slept soundly, their dreams not haunted by even mundane nightmares, for three great heroes were in town tonight.
Saphira was not so ignorant. In the darkness her blue eyes blazed. Enough of his dream had spilled into her mind for her to not question it.
The Hadarac Desert is in the Twilight. I recognized that magic on the borders. She spoke mentally so the children did not stir. Her thoughts conveyed foreboding no audible voice could.
Murtagh nodded grimly. He pointedly tried not to think of Nasuada, of how she had once told him about her family in the Hadarac Desert's wandering tribes or how he had last seen her vulnerable on the Surdan border. Saphira pointedly wondered about everyone else except Nasuada.
Silently they packed their bags and left to await the others.
I never really intended to have Saphira reveal herself, but her character hijacked that scene. She was ready to be out and proud to everyone after a partial reveal to the Group XD I also intended to give Murtagh a vision to let the group know how much of a shit show the situation in Alagaesia has become at some point. It wasn't until I was trying to wrap up this chapter with Eragon and the Hero's Shade I decided to write it here.