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Chapter 54: Black City No More

Eragon appeared out of the gloom, brighter than before, it seemed, and all the dragons parted before his glory.

"Come, Rider!" He called, his voice fuller somehow, not as wraithlike. "Come, and find what you need."

"I need nothing more!" Murtagh cried, bursting with a fire that was not his. "I must run, to save the living and free the dead!"

"And the living dead need saving as well." Eragon replied, his voice betraying his urgency. "Follow me, to see what the Traitor left, the last time he came here before retrieving the red egg."

The dead elf darted into the darkness, swifter than before, the dragons parting before his glory. Lost in the Vault, Murtagh had no choice but to follow him; but who was the living dead?

"Come, Rider, to cheat the Traitor of his last grasp of glory!" Eragon threw a rebellious fist in the air as the dragon wraiths around them roared and stomped their approval. "Come, Rider, to see the Names of many living and many dead, and some who are both! Help me, Lord Heir, help me find the name of the One Who is Not Living! Here, Lord, here, the Names."

Murtagh let a werelight guide his living eyes to see what the dead could read in the dark; at first, he thought the wall had been painted a century before and never tended, but then he realized the wall was covered in yellow pages, tacked and peeling from their bondage.

Names.

Hundreds of names- Murtagh reeled as he realized how many had been enslaved over Galbatorix's reign, and perhaps the oldest pages were from before the Fall...

"Find Shruikan's name!" Eragon implored him. "With two masters, he will be immobile, his mind torn between-"

"Contrasting orders." Murtagh realized, something like a calculating smile on his face. "And we can give his name to Lenora and the thunder."

"Well said, Lord Heir." Eragon smiled, his empty eyes for a moment filled with a life-like spark. "And I believe I've found it."

Murtagh snatched it from the wall and conquered the sudden distraction of finding his father's true name, which had to be there somewhere. "Where are the stairs, Eragon?"

Eragon spun on his heel and parted the sea of dragons once more; a speckled yellow dragon hatchling followed Murtagh, cooing and hacking as it tried to breath fire like so many of his brethren.

No more dead dragons.

Determination, hot and heavy, sprang in Murtagh's heart; the brown hatchling he had met what felt like an eternity ago would not suffer the same fate as so many of the dragons in the Vault, as lives barely lived, stolen by a madman's wounded pride.

He would die before they did.

"Here, Lord, the stairs." Eragon began. "We part ways here, for the dead are not allowed in the land of the living. I will remain the Protector; none shall pass through the fire unscathed."

"I will return, Eragon."

"Indeed." The elf smiled. "May the fire ever burn brightly in you, Lord Heir."

Murtagh smiled and pounded up the stairs, the heat of the flames- flames meant to consume- only encouraging him to run faster. Bursting into the throne room, he smiled as Solembum took a few steps back at his entrance; did he look different? He felt different, certainly; he felt alive, more alive than ever.

And justice needed to be served.

Furdor cowered in his prison, trembling at the sight of Murtagh.

Murtagh took a few steps forward, covered in dust from the Vault and smelling strongly like sulfur and smoke.

"Murtagh?" Solembum asked; was that the first time he had ever spoken to him? "What did the Lord Eragon require of you?"

Murtagh did not bother wiping the smile from his face, but the military side of him ordered him to control himself and complete the task at hand.

As much as Murtagh wanted to throw Furdor into the gaping hole in the floor and hear him scream as the flames consumed him, he had made a promise long ago to another deserving soul.

A soul who needed freeing.

Furdor whimpered as he approached; Murtagh's smile finally fell off of his face as images of Halia and Eragon's pain appeared before his eyes.

And this man- this monster- had done those things.

Murtagh wordlessly grabbed Furdor's collar and dragged him through the doorway of the throne room, a room that had so long been his prison- a room that he now ruled.

And as the massive oak and steel doors slammed behind the Lord Heir, the final remains of the throne collapsed into the gaping hole of the Vault.

The dragonhold was unusually empty.

Murtagh didn't need to ask why; he already knew, he already felt it from Thorn, who had escaped the dark hole that had been his home and prison cell.

"Shruikan!" Murtagh roared, his voice filling every corner of the labyrinthine dragonhold. "I have a prize for you!"

The massive dragon did not move, watching his ruby apprentice own the sky above the city, his massive eyes empty and unknowing.

"Shruikan!"

You must leave, hatchling-no-more. The dragon replied, still refusing to look at Murtagh. You must leave before He realizes what he has lost and comes to reclaim his prize.

It will be too late by then. Murtagh replied. I have crossed all boundaries; there is no hope that I will ever be enslaved again, and I have come to free you.

Do not torture me with such empty promises. Shruikan snapped, his jealousy bleeding through their touch. Leave, before I lose my tenuous loophole through my vows.

You will not harm us. Murtagh smiled, using Shruikan's true name. You will do none of the things Galbatorix ordered you. Instead, you will enact justice on Furdor, Son of Galbatorix.

Shruikan didn't move.

Murtagh paused, expecting a dramatic reaction from a dragon who had been enslaved for so long.

Nothing.

Shruikan?

Silence.

Thorn? Do you feel Shruikan?

I feel everything! Thorn cried; I feel the warmth of the sun and the cool northern wind; I feel the groans of a thousand souls and I feel the fire of another million. And I feel the pain of one who is torn between two Masters, and I would please ask you to back away from him, my two-legged, for his wrath is growing with each moment and I feel that staying close to him will not benefit you. Come stand closer to the edge, instead. Right NOW.

Thorn's mental push toppled Murtagh over, saving him from the sudden flame that landed where his feet had just been. Murtagh scrambled further away while Furdor whimpered in terror. Thorn was about to say something when-

You have my NAME! Shruikan roared, My NAME! And you DARE to use it? You dare to speak my name? And what have you done, hatchling-no-more, to rid yourself of your bonds? You changed your name, and here I rot, a century of dreaming of blue skies and northern winds and- and-

Murtagh watched in horror as a massive, boiling tear tumbled down Shruikan's snout and landed, steaming, on the dark floor.

-and I am just as bound as I was the black day he killed my True Rider, and now you use that same name to bind me here even further-

Another tear, easily the size of Murtagh's torso, landed hissing on the cold stone.

Just go.

Shruikan collapsed, letting his hill-sized body crash to the floor in a tangle of scales and claws and tail, laying his head down and closing his eyes.

Just go, hatchlings-no-more, and let me waste away in peace. Go, before I truly have to kill you.

I came to fulfill a promise. Murtagh whispered, clambering back up from the ground. I promised to save one for you. Do you remember?

Shruikan snorted.

Furdor is one of Galbatorix's sons, and he is yours to do as you please.

One black eye opened.

Murtagh summoned Furdor, who landed writing before Shruikan's snout.

The Black Dragon pulled back his head like he had smelled dung, his nostrils flaring and spewing smoke.

We will return. We will free you. Murtagh promised. But first we must free Eragon and Saphira and Halia.

Halia? Shruikan suddenly asked, his attention fixed on Murtagh rather than the dung pile at his feet. What do you mean, save her? Who has her?

I think Karth and Furdor re-captured her, somehow. Murtagh replied, grinding his teeth together and tightening his grip on Zar'roc. She'll be in Helgrind with Eragon.

Recaptured? Shruikan asked, forcing himself to his feet, shaking the whole castle in the process. How? Why?

I don't know.

Shruikan's black gaze fell upon Furdor. By this filth?

One and the same.

Go, hatchling-no-more. Shruikan began, his voice darker than Murtagh had heard it in so long. Go. I shall deal justice to this monster.

Murtagh gave Shruikan a wide smile and turned towards the mouth of the cave; the last thing he saw of Shruikan was the black dragon leaning down, nostrils flared, eyes burning, to inspect Furdor.

But the sun.

Murtagh blinked at the sudden brightness, smiling as Thorn glinted in the light.

We have a duty, Thorn.

Meet me at the gate.

Murtagh took a few steps forward, till his tips of his boots were above the city line. He stood there for a moment, standing on the same spot where he and Thorn had landed so many times, wounded, exhausted, and knowing that they were not going to get any respite.

He wiggled his toes over the vast expanse between himself and the ground, a shudder of pleasure running down his spine.

He could choose.

Just hours earlier, he had not been allowed within two feet of this edge.

Taking five deep steps back, Murtagh smiled at the edge, at the horizon he could see with his own eyes; he smiled at the vast emptiness before him.

You wouldn't. Thorn twirled around, hovering in the sky to watch his Rider. Oh no you don't, you stupid two-legged.

Murtagh could only smile.

One.

Stop it! Thorn snarled, though Murtagh could hear the humor in his mind.

Two.

You're insane. The dragon decided. You're going to die.

THREE!

Without a moment's hesitation, Murtagh sprinted forward, catapulting himself into the sky, plunging towards the Black City-

He could not help but laugh as the breath was snatched from his chest; he could not help but smile as the wind yanked at this hair and clothing, dragging him towards the street-

You IMBICILE! Thorn cried merrily; You absolute fool!

Murtagh had sense enough to slow his decent so he didn't impale himself on one of Thorn's spikes, but he landed in the saddle hard all the same, out of breath and burning with adrenaline.

To Helgrind! Murtagh cried, leaning forward as Thorn tilted towards Leona Lake.

To victory! Thorn agreed, To the Thunder!

A rumble like a storm vibrated the air around them; both smiled at Shruikan's first stirrings of justice.

And they passed over the city wall, as free souls, for the first time.