Author's Note: This is a dark fic. There are hints of Eragon/Murtagh if you really squint, but if you're looking for sex and/or bunches of roses and love and unicorns, adios, find another fic. This is largely introspective, Eragon's POV, focusing on the effects of war, the relativity of morals (and everything else), and Eragon's mind fracturing as he bears his burden. Not sure whether this should be T or M, so to be safe, I'll just go with M. Reviews are always nice :) Italics means a flashback or Eragon's introspection. Also: I've read Brisingr many times, but did not feel the need to make Eragon and Murtagh half brothers, as this drabble takes place sometime after the end of Eldest, as though Brisingr has not been written.

Disclaimer: I do not own or claim to own any part of Eragon or the Inheritance series; all of that creativity can be attributed to Christopher Paolini.

How Thin the Line

Miles and miles of death stretched out in front of him, behind him, encircling him with its passive taunting: Look at what you've done. Congratulations, you won the battle, almost by yourself. Here's a medal, a ceremony, we reward you for your manslaughter. Please keep up the good work.

The bodies were seemingly faceless as they lay strewn over the dry, dusty, now blood-soaked plains, stripped of their identities as they were stripped of life, erased from earth as easily as they had come to it. Maybe more easily. Quickly. Swift and nearly painless. They'd known their end was coming, anyway, when they saw him. After all, what was he if not a killing machine? Perfect in execution, literally and figuratively. Almost beautiful in the way he moved as his sword sliced through armor, flesh, blood, bone, right to the core as was necessary.

It was sickening.

The faceless became faces when he closed his eyes and he saw the lives he had cut short swim in front of him, dizzying in their potency. They left him weak, made him double over and retch until bile was all that was left in his stomach, his muscles trembling from the fatigue of carrying this burden. And it could only be him; he was the only one who was capable. A gift, some said. He disagreed.

No one knew that with each killed enemy (but who's the enemy? The lines are thin and aren't you as bad as them, don't deny it, that could have been your brother—) the weight grew heavier. That every night he woke covered in sweat, suppressing screams.

They all haunted him.

No one knew…

Tired. So, so tired. There seemed to be lines on his face where there were none when he looked in the mirror, the shadows under his eyes more exaggerated than they used to be.

War had taken its toll, in more ways than one.

The casualties continued to grow in sickening numbers, falling upon his shoulders and weighing him down with every step, but still he walked on, bearing his burden with as much grace as he had left. There was not much.

He did not sleep anymore. Not without the aid of Angela's hand-crafted pills that knocked him out into a beautifully dreamless sleep. Otherwise…he couldn't bear to shut his eyes. The bodies that were heavy in daylight suddenly became crushing and he began to drown in them, gasping helplessly against the dead rotten flesh of his friends and enemies alike. The nights he'd woken up screaming, shaking, covered in sweat, were too many to count before he'd finally given up on sleep altogether.

Arya was always there, suffocating him too with her thin arms around his shoulders, the breath on his neck making him squirm inside.

Once he would have welcomed her embrace, but he'd learned to push those he cared about away. That way, it wouldn't hurt when they died.

Still he fought on, following Nasuada's orders mechanically. For that was what he was, was it not? A machine, designed to kill with perfect precision. The born executioner, complete with skill and finesse. Weapon included (but not always necessary).

The endlessly mounting pile of bodies spawned from his fatal caress used to fill him with hate and self-loathing, but as time passed, he grew desensitized and disillusioned. Honestly, he welcomed the change, although he knew the nightmares would continue to haunt him until the day he died.

There was a certain lack of control that he felt, hanging in the air around him as he fulfilled his duties in a hardened silence. He had finally recognized the fact that he was no longer his own master, and dissatisfaction sat in the pit of his stomach at all times, weighing him down further.

He was in chains, and only he could feel them.

His emotions were all that he did have control over anymore, and he forced them away into the darkest corners of his mind, which only became prevalent when he slept.

So really, he'd solved all of his problems.

Or almost all.

There was one more weight that was heavier than the rest, heavier than the deaths of his friends, heavier than the burden that was his own life. Him. The one whose name he refused to utter, and when he heard it, found himself fleeing, disregarding where he went as long as he could escape. Saphira knew, but their relationship no longer allowed for any exchange of comfort, of which he was eternally glad when it came to this issue. He was sure this would eat at him from the inside out for the rest of his life until there was nothing left of him. At times, he welcomed his death, and he wasn't sure what kept him pressing on. Arya could only guess, although Eragon was sure she knew. She had always been perceptive, something he'd once admired but now scorned. What was perception, anyway? It tended to be flawed. The war was a result of flawed perception, it seemed to Eragon.

The war itself was a stalemate for the time being and the Varden were slowly but surely losing supplies, while the Empire continued to tax the people to fund their armies. The stalemate would end, and then the Varden would be crushed. Eragon could only help so much, and he was evenly matched on the other side. Eragon was aware that each man he killed would result in more murder on both sides, and he was the driving force.

As time passed and the atrocities on both sides increased in number and effect, Eragon had become progressively unsure as to what he was fighting for anymore. Weren't the Varden just as bad as the Empire when they burned a town, destroyed a trade route, all for the cause? Nasuada seemed to think they were entitled, but Eragon felt differently, and he knew he was right. It was all relative, and he was as bad as his enemies.

Nasuada had organized the war council yet again, but Eragon couldn't see what more there was to discuss. He'd long since tuned out the quiet discussions and turned inward, just thinking, as he so often did these days. Arya had been first to notice his silence, but was intuitive enough to leave it be. Eragon remained thankful that the elf understood him as well as she did, although she didn't know much at all, Eragon had realized a while back. After the first battle on the plains, things had shifted for him, and he would never talk about it. Not even with Arya.

Saphira was another story. Always in his head, Eragon could not bring himself to completely block her out—she was his other half, and the dragon, at times, knew him better than he knew himself. However, she quickly learned to keep quiet. Conversation between them was now routinely about the war. That was all.

"…What do you think about that, Eragon?" Nasuada finished, and Eragon blinked.


Nasuada pursed her lips in disapproval. "I suggested having some of our better soldiers intercept, pillage, and destroy the Empire's most used trade routes in order to both gain supplies for the Varden and hinder Galbatorix's efforts. Would you be willing to assist?"

Eragon was silent for a long moment, calculating. Then, "No."

"And why not?"

Eragon could tell Nasuada was having difficulty suppressing her frustration with him.

"The trade routes will be too heavily guarded for any of our soldiers to have a chance of succeeding. I'm sure Galbatorix will have foreseen such a tactic, as he is aware of our own dwindling supplies. I would not advise it." Eragon crossed his arms and leaned back against one of the sturdy wooden poles that held up the tent, closing his mouth and keeping his eyes fixed on Nasuada.

"Then what do you suppose we do?" Nasuada said, exasperated, throwing her hands up.

Sighing, Eragon unfolded his arms and stood again, making his way towards the entrance to the tent. Before exiting, he turned to Nasuada to speak one last time. "Honestly, Lady Nasuada, I don't know. Figure something out. For the time being… I couldn't care less."

Eragon felt a dim satisfaction from his statement, although altogether, he still felt empty. He had been rude, and once word got around, his attitude towards Nasuada would probably be injurious to the Varden's loyalty to their leader, but he would not continue to lie to himself or the people around him. He no longer believed in the fight. Not after the burning plains. Not after he'd lost everything. At first, he'd thought that with nothing to lose, he would be more invested in the cause. Instead, he came to the realization that no matter the outcome, he was bound to his duty as a Rider and that would forever be the case, and who he fought for was of no issue, especially not with the blurred line between sides. Years of fighting had left him disillusioned and, now, empty. Twenty-one years was a short time to live, but Eragon was finished.

Sometimes he asked himself, rhetorically, why he continued to fight, to listen, to obey.

He could never answer all parts of the question.

As disgusted as the realization had once made him, he fought on because it was all he could do to be certain of his own existence. If he could take a life, then he must be alive. When he ceased to be able to, then he himself would cease to exist. In a way, it was utterly true. If he stopped fighting, he would be of no importance. Disposable.

And for now, he was indispensible.

He was careful not to lose such a status. It was all he had left.

But to continue to obey—Eragon could not figure it out. It would be so easy to fight for himself, but he was realistic enough to conclude that with both the Empire and the Varden against him, he would be killed quickly, and despite his loathing for what his life had become, human nature persuaded him to cling to the inherent desire to live, to persist no matter what.

He'd taken time to weigh his options, and really, he had only three. Continue on with the Varden (Eragon didn't think he could bear it), die (but he couldn't do this, either, not yet), or take control of his own destiny.

The interesting thing was that this last option, the most appealing, required a certain…shift…in sides. At least for him.

He was prepared. He'd sacrificed everything for this war and it had gained him nothing. His values were meaningless in the face of violence, so he'd left them behind and fought on without them.

His overall lack of care once might have worried him, but now he could use it. He no longer felt tied to the Varden or his so-called friends; as time went on, a foreign feeling had burrowed in his soul and he now felt it rising, taking hold of him. Hate. It tasted strange on his tongue, but he wasn't one to back down in the face of the unknown.

"So be it. I take my leave of you…brother." Murtagh's lips no longer held a cold smile but instead slid into a thin line, hurt etched there for a fraction of a second before leaving no trace of emotion at all.

Eragon leaned heavily on some fallen soldier's sword, watching as Murtagh walked away carrying their father's sword, Zar'roc, and his pride.

Truly, he'd lost more than that.

Mechanically, Eragon stood long after Murtagh had disappeared on Thorn, their blood red silhouette fading against the darkening sky. The battle field was empty of living men, and Eragon felt more alone than ever.

Every good memory had been tarnished, dirtied, and suddenly, all he could do was hate. Hate the life he'd chosen—or rather, the life that had been thrust upon him—and the brother he now knew Murtagh was, and this war, and everything it stood for. What was left for him?

Nothing. There is nothing.

(Let me, hear me scream, feel the pain I feel let me show you how the emptiness hurts worse than when I thought I was whole, you did this, your fault, I hate you.)

The nothingness threatened to overcome him and suddenly Eragon couldn't breathe. He gasped, clutching at his hair as he closed his eyes and tried to breathe again but his lungs constricted as tears streamed from his eyes.

MurtaghMurtaghMurtagh why?

The one he'd been closest to had betrayed him, and now he would be forced to kill him. Maybe that wouldn't be so bad. This would torture him always. The pain was worse than anything he'd ever felt. To lose himself in it would be so easy…to just give up…

He'd never been one to take the easy way out. Always looking for a challenge. Now, though, things were different. In a matter of several moments, his life as he knew it—fragile as it was—had been shattered into shards too minute to piece together again.

And his father—

Bile rose and Eragon vomited on the ground, wiping his mouth on his tattered shirt when he was finished. He was the spawn of evil, was he not?

He barked out a harsh laugh, cursing himself in his mind as the grief gave way to something stronger, a little like anger but more like fire. (The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, does it now, and maybe I was being presumptuous to believe I could be someone to make a change for good. Maybe I'm just like you, like Murtagh. Are you happy?)

Opening his eyes, Eragon's lips twisted into an almost deranged smirk. It was betrayal of the worst kind, but hell if he wouldn't embrace it, wouldn't endure. The feeling of nothingness was suffocating, but maybe…maybe it was better than feeling at all. Hate would come easily, was already embedded deep within him and he could feel it expand with every shaky but calming breath he took. Looking to the sky, Eragon laughed until there was no energy left in him to laugh. It was the last time he laughed.

And far away, in a prison of a home, Murtagh felt something inside him break.

(They can't give me what I want but you can, you can, I don't want love not anymore I just want to feel, to know I'm here, just want some control, just want you).

Arya found him on his way out, intercepting him like she always did no matter the circumstance, though this time was different and she knew as well as he that she wouldn't—couldn't—stop him.

She stood silently in front of him, pain apparent in her eyes. Eragon was tempted to brush past her, but some familiar emotion washed over him that forced him to stay still, though it was gone as quickly as it had come. Control, that was all he wanted, and he'd be damned if he couldn't have it.

"Where are you going to go?" Her voice was soft, resigned. She didn't bother to ask why.

"…You know." He didn't explain; she had always been perceptive, too much so, and to her, he was sure his discontent had been blatant and piercing and devastating in its own way.

Arya shook her head as he spoke, and now Eragon wanted to run. He wanted no opposition to this, only encouragement. He should have known better than to expect Arya to give him what he wanted. That had never been the case, and it angered him how predictable she still was.

"Eragon…it will kill you. You know it. Don't do this. Don't leave what you—don't leave. You have everything you could want here."

A lie. Arya knew her words fell on deaf ears anyway.

"I have nothing here, and nothing anywhere else. Except him. But he, he tortures me. His existence makes me loathe him all the more. Once I rid myself of him, I can feel free again. But for now, I'm trapped inside my own mind, fighting a war I don't give a fuck about, and I refuse to stay this way."

Arya took a step closer, flinching as Eragon stepped back, away from her. At one time, he might have leapt at the chance for contact, but not anymore. Not since the burning plains. Since then, he didn't care, didn't pretend that he loved her anymore.

"You will be missed," the elf whispered, and Eragon closed his eyes as she quickly pressed her lips to his cheek. He felt a weak breeze trail her as she left.

No. I won't, he thought as his face hardened and he made his way to Saphira.

…didn't think about how the others would feel, not anymore. His desertion tasted sweet and a little bitter on his tongue, but it was the first thing he'd tasted in a while so hell if he wasn't going to relish it.

As they flew, he felt Saphira's terror but blocked it out, though in his own mind he repeated the mantra—for the better, this is, it's something tangible and it's mine and I'll get what I've deserved, it's better, we'll be free…

It was too easy, almost, the way they flew right into the Empire's hold, but they meant to do it, and that made all the difference.

Once upon a time, Murtagh was his best friend. They were closer than brothers, even, a bond knitted between them so strongly that it appeared unbreakable, something that could last and endure through all life threw at them.

But life had been brutal with its lies and when honesty kicked, it aimed for the heart and never missed.

In a way, Eragon was grateful for all that had happened. He'd been weak before, tempted by love, something he knew, in the back of his mind, was untouchable but still he'd hoped. Not anymore, and he'd be lying to himself if he thought he could deny the feeling that hate gave him. Power eclipsed all else, and that was all he needed.

Closer than brothers.

The irony.

It felt a little like making a deal with the devil, but Eragon was already damned and what could he do but embrace it, really?

So much waiting…Eragon did not know how much longer he could stand it. The more time passed, the more he felt his resolve waver. But it could not waver. He was too far past the point of no return, and he knew that all he had to do was remind himself of why he was here in the first place and it would be alright.

And he did.

For a day, he waited in a cell. One day. It seemed like weeks. As he waited, he thought of the bodies, and at first, that made it difficult to breathe, but then he focused on his purpose, envisioned vengeance, so sweet it sounded and tasted even better, like sex with the kick of liquor. What at first he'd viewed as broken now seemed iron in its strength. He was indispensible, the best at what he did, and now he'd use it the way he was supposed to. Beautiful in the way he moved as his sword sliced through armor, flesh, blood, bone, right to the core as was necessary. He relished it. (I was born for this, why fight it when I can use it…)

Anger, suffering, power—all the things it was still possible for him to feel—were what he was attentive to. Love was a lie in the time of war, and hate was easy.

One day.

He hated them all. Nasuada, presumptuous, unconsciously arrogant, and more self-serving than she'd ever admit to being. Angela, too knowing but never really understanding. Elva—a curse he'd brought about. Arya.

Eragon's lips curled into an ugly, bitter sneer and he swung his fist at the wall to his side, feeling the bones shatter in his knuckles and savoring the physical pain.



You said that it would be ok. You never helped. All of it was for the cause. LiarliarliarLIAR. I hate you.

And him. (Hate you the most.)

If there was one thing Eragon couldn't stand, it was a liar, and they were all liars, the worst kind of liars because they'd used him and appeased him as long as they could but not anymore. Not now. He wasn't their golden boy anymore and revenge sounded so pretty in his mind and on his lips and that, that tasted like power. Addicting and perfect.

He would be last.

Eragon would kill them. One by one, slowly so that they'd get the chance to feel what he'd felt for so long now.

(My little dominos, I touch one and you all fall down, all fall down. Fear me like you used to fear me. I am your Hell. Feel it like I felt it. Come running to me, I know you will, but my sword is in hand and your legs will stop before you can save yourself. You can't save yourself. I'm coming.)

Eragon's head fell back against the cell's rough stone wall as he gingerly ran his good fingers over the ones he'd broken, feeling bits of rock embedded in the torn, bloody skin. Upon entrance to the castle, he'd had his magic stripped from him. He felt bare at first, but it was quick to get used to. Feeling human again, but more than that, because he knew he was better and stronger and faster and indomitable. His hand could heal on its own. After all, he was the master of pain.

(I always endure, just like you taught me, brother. I swear I'll outlive you.)

The sound of the cell door being unlocked and opened startled Eragon and his eyes snapped open, an indiscernible, ominous smile tainting his lips as a guard beckoned him forward.

Slow but steady, they made their way up through the castle, the dark stone walls making the halls cool and dim. It was refreshing. With every step Eragon felt his heartbeat a little faster, felt his adrenaline and the enormity of his choice growing. So much power in one person. This was intoxicating, he decided.

Finally, the guard shoved him into a room and shut the doors with an air of irrevocability behind him.

The king sat against the wall on the far side of the room, his throne massive but not overbearing of the king's own presence. Done on purpose, most likely. The room seemed darker, even, than the halls, the torches surrounding the walls providing the only light. The two men were utterly alone, and for a moment, Eragon fought the urge to shiver; he could practically feel the authority, the supremacy, emanating from the king.

A deal with the devil, indeed.

Taking several steps forward, closing the distance between them as he did, he knelt before the king, feeling the shocked tension electrify the air around them. When the king bade him stand, Eragon spoke.

"I have a condition. Then I'm yours." He knew he would be perfect, knew he would never have to worry about pleasing through morals.

The king's thin lips turned slightly upwards sardonically. "Of course. As I expected, and I'm interested... But why the change of heart, noble Shadeslayer?"

The tone was mocking, but Eragon ignored it and the question. "I want Murtagh dead. You can have me in place of him, or you won't have me at all."

Death was favorable to life in which Murtagh still breathed. He didn't deserve to taste the relief of air, didn't deserve anything but pain and the nothing that he would become at Eragon's hands.

It all came back to Murtagh. He was the problem. He was the one that drove Eragon crazy with pain and misery and hope and despair all at once, the one that had built something up so beautifully and then torn it down with sickening ease. Love turned to hate so quickly, and really, there was such a thin line between the two emotions that it did not make a difference anymore.

Murtagh was all that was left on his conscience.

After that, he would have no more conscience.

He'd been destroyed by his crimes, destroyed by his own brother, but he would rebuild himself, and he would be the one in control.

The silence was maddening, dead and heavy, and hung in the air as the king's eyes rested on Eragon's blank face.

The request was almost more surprising than the Rider's presence. During Murtagh's torture, the king had delved deep into his mind and discovered the bond between the brothers, had had some idea of what Murtagh's betrayal would do to Eragon, but had never expected this. And here he'd thought Eragon would be the one impossible to convince to join him. For once, he could accept being wrong.

The deal was agreeable to him. Murtagh was far more expendable than Eragon, especially now that Eragon was offering himself. Murtagh, so difficult to turn and still resistant. Galbatorix felt it at all times, and knew that eventually, Murtagh would have to be disposed of, despite his value as a warrior. Murtagh was too volatile, too angry with his apparent lack of freedom, led by this resentment and never pausing to think of the consequences, and evenly matched as he was with Eragon, Galbatorix could see that Eragon had more potential.

Slowly, the king smiled. It was cold and did not reach his eyes. Eragon found it mirrored his own.

"You have a deal, Eragon Shadeslayer. I assume you want to dispose of Murtagh yourself..?"

Eragon nodded, anticipation building as he felt the satisfaction grow within him. Finally. This was all he'd wanted. Murtagh's betrayal had nearly killed him, but now, now he would have his revenge, and an almost crazed grin spread across his face.

(Maybe I've lost my mind, but sanity is relative... all of it is relative and now you're in my clutches, want to feel your body turn cold under my blade. I am the Executioner.)

The king watched Eragon closely, studying. Clearly something had broken inside him. But it was apparent to Galbatorix that he would have no trouble with the Rider. He could mold him precisely as he wanted, and Eragon would be his personal killing machine. He'd control all of Alagaesia even more quickly than he'd planned, and Eragon would not even pose a threat to the throne, for it was plain to see in Eragon's eyes that that was not the Rider's goal.

(Make him angry, give him hate, and men will fall.)

And Eragon savored it. Savored his choice, reveled in the power, closed his eyes and let it sink in too deep to ever be expelled. It tasted like alcohol; a hot, beautiful burn in his throat that he'd continue to indulge in no matter its effects, and its effects would be devastating, but he would carry on.

He'd sworn fealty to the king. All that was left now was Murtagh.

Always Murtagh.

It all came back to Murtagh.

Eragon stared into the glassy water at his feet, looking blankly at his own reflection. It meant nothing to him anymore. He knew how he appeared on the outside—battle-worn, young, attractive, strong, and maybe a little tired—and that was all he needed to know.

Clenching his teeth, he stood from his crouch and placed his hand on the hilt of the sword that was at his waist. He'd had a new sword fashioned for him by the elf that had constructed Zar'roc. Brisingr, he named it. Fire. It was fitting. A bite that burned, scorched through the skin thoroughly, blistering scars the result.

Murtagh had been on a scouting mission, and was scheduled to return later that day. Eragon would intercept him. He'd thought it over long and hard, turning it around in his head, finding all angles, deciding, calculating. This was all he wanted. He was glad Murtagh would be forced to fight back, if only because of the spells placed by Galbatorix that never allowed him to surrender, especially not since the burning plains.

Everything happens for a reason.

Turning towards Saphira, Eragon closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out through his mouth; it tasted bittersweet, like sugar burnt and charred, like something close but just out of reach. (Not for long, though. Close, so close, I can taste you, but I want to feel you, feel you struggle, feel you weaken, feel you suffocate like I used to. Hate it. Despise it. I hate you…)

Flying was no longer enough, no more the freeing sensation that it once had been, and he climbed up onto Saphira's back with a sense of routine. Their connection amounted to nothing anymore, and it was perfect in its empty obstinacy. Duty bound them, and Saphira embodied a weariness that had once weighed upon Eragon, but that he had cast away when he'd sworn fealty to the king. Her strong wings beat against the wind with resistance, lacking the drive that Eragon had rediscovered.

As they flew, Eragon's mind filled with images, ones he knew would be disturbing to Saphira but that he reveled in.

blood, too much, seeping from everywhere and he watched as Murtagh choked on it, crying out in sweet agony. Eragon could taste Murtagh's fear and oh, god, that tasted the best, he wanted more

Murtagh's screams as Brisingr sliced through armor, flesh, blood, bone, right to his core because the best kind of pain hurt the deepest and the hardest and fuck if he wouldn't force it upon Murtagh…

skin, pale and bruised and freezing and lifeless, a life he'd taken away not because he could but because he wanted to…

because I endure…

A dark, blood red silhouette appeared against the skyline, just like the burning plains except this time it was drawing closer, bringing with it a burning closure that made the air shimmer with anticipation.

Eragon smiled, then signaled for Saphira to land. He knew Murtagh would come to him. Their bond had always been magnetic, and even through his hate Eragon could admit its slightly mesmerizing allure.

The waiting was worth it. His adrenaline spiked with each flap of Thorn's wings, bringing his enemy, his brother, closer. Eragon yearned for it. This hate, it was almost like desire, and truly, he was insane (always relative) but it felt good flowing through his veins, giving him an energy he hadn't felt in years. He longed for Murtagh, just so he could break him down. Wanted to touch him, choke him, hurt him with his hands and his seductively hateful words. Craved the feel of his brother struggling underneath him, screaming and begging for a mercy that Eragon no longer possessed. Eragon slid his tongue along his lower lip, tasting his own emotions before spitting them out into the dirt where they belonged.

When Murtagh jumped from Thorn's back, Eragon straightened from his relaxed position against Saphira. He could feel every heart beat in his throat and he swallowed inaudibly as his eyes reached Murtagh's face for the first time in over a year.



Murtagh took two steps towards Eragon, a tumultuous mix of emotions clear and present on his face, none prevalent as much as the resignation.

"Eragon…" Murtagh said, barely a whisper, his voice betraying more emotion, although he sounded as though he did not quite know what to feel. "You're so stupid." His voice cracked on the second word as he shook his head, and Eragon winced as his mind flashed to an old memory that he'd tried so hard to force himself to forget.

But that was another time and age, and memories meant nothing without the emotion to go with them. Eragon gave a thin lipped smile, his eyes still betraying his anger before he spoke. "No, no. I was smart. I got what I wanted, and it was so easy. In the end, not much has changed for me, at least. Everyone else is fucked, but frankly, I really don't care. My goal was revenge, and look, here you are. God, I hate you so much. You ruined everything," Eragon admitted, his face cold and blank just as Murtagh's had been so long ago on the burning plains.

"What happened to you…?" Murtagh asked, staring at Eragon as if he thought if he looked hard enough, he'd see what he wanted to. He was prepared to just hand himself over to Eragon, accept this death because really, it was all he'd wanted for a long time and Eragon deserved retribution for the pain Murtagh had caused him, but of course Galbatorix had thought to prevent surrender, so he would fight. It sickened him, and he fought back the bile that arose in his throat, along with something less pleasant that burned all the more strongly; he didn't care to identify it, but knew what it was.

Eragon drew his sword as he watched Murtagh carefully, his eyes never leaving his brother's. "I have nothing. You, you took everything. You betrayed me. Lied to me. I should have expected it, honestly. Nothing else has gone well for me, why would this be any different?" Eragon gave a short, bitter laugh, shaking his head. "But no matter. I don't feel anything anymore. Once upon a time, this might have killed me. You were my best friend. But I hate you. More than anything, I fucking hate you," Eragon said, laughing a little bit again as he ran a hand through his hair, tugging on it slightly in his almost crazed impatience.

Murtagh had attempted to keep a blank face but Eragon saw through it, saw what was really there, and could not stop the sick glee from spreading through his body.

"So fight me, Eragon," Murtagh sighed, closing his eyes for a long moment to staunch the tears that threatened to fall before opening them again to look right at Eragon. "I'm tired of this life. Maybe you'll realize what you've done later on and feel some regret. But," he finished, his voice harsh as he watched his brother, "I won't hold my breath."

"I've been tired, Murtagh. The least I can do is force the burden upon others now." Eragon's face was hard, bitter, and it hurt Murtagh to look at it.

"This is not you," Murtagh said, his voice wavering slightly. "I'm—I'm sorry things happened the way they did. I never wanted to betray you. Eragon... You know that, you have to know..."

Eragon closed his eyes, taking a deep breath, inhaling the memories and then expelling them, a sense of finality washing over him. "Don't apologize to me. I …don't care anymore. You say you'll be better off dead anyway."

It was like it used to be, but wholly different as well. The swords clashed, but there were no spells to soften the blows, no grins, only hate and the intent to kill.

As they fought, Eragon truly felt again for the first time in over a year. Felt the breeze against his sweat-drenched skin, felt his muscles burn, tasted the dust on his tongue, and suddenly his senses overwhelmed him. He staggered back, his eyes wide as Murtagh advanced towards him. And this was all he had. Kill or be killed. Murtagh thought he was the one to forever endure, but Eragon had taken his place when he made his deal with the king and it was he that would endure, just because he could.

What was one more life on his nonexistent conscience?

Nothing. This life meant nothing but revenge and he would take it with authority because the man in front of him, his brother, had taken everything else.

There was a man he'd once known who'd beaten his old horse to death in the road because it wouldn't pull a cart fast enough. Eragon's young mind was horrified as he thought that the man had done it just because he was able to. At the time, it had sickened him. Haunted him for months after. He'd been younger then, too young.

Murtagh had asked what had happened to him. He was that man, now, and he understood. When you had nothing, when you were empty, it was all you could do to feel.

Eragon stumbled to his feet quickly and with the last of his strength and all of his determination, knocked Murtagh's sword from his hand and pinned his brother to the ground. He placed the blade of Brisingr against Murtagh's neck and watched his chest heave, watched the life flow through him with the knowledge that soon the blood would not pulse but would spill onto the ground and the body beneath him would lie cold and pale.

"It's all I can do to feel," Eragon said, voicing his thoughts as the breath caught in his throat and he watched Murtagh's sad, understanding eyes. Murtagh reached up to place his hand on Eragon's cheek, his eyes voicing everything that he could not say with the sharp silver blade against his throat. Eragon froze at the contact, swallowing audibly before gripping Murtagh's wrist and taking the hand away, slowly but with confidence. No torture. No prolonging this. He'd waited too long, and it would be swift and easy and over.

He steeled himself momentarily and with one swift motion, sliced completely through the bone at Murtagh's neck. Flesh, blood, bone, dead.

A killing machine. Perfect in execution, literally and figuratively. He was the executioner.

Eragon stood, wiped the blood that had spurted from Murtagh's neck to his hands onto his clothed thighs, and stared down at Murtagh's body, allowing a single tear to run down his dirty face, creating a solitary streak that he wiped away with the back of his hand before he composed himself, taking a deep breath, letting the air fill his lungs in a way that gave him the illusion that he was whole. He felt renewed. Content. Strong.

With one last glance, Eragon's lips curled into a smile, noting the irony. "I take my leave of you, brother."