Welcome back, I Am Arya readers! And for new readers, just plain welcome! I am thrilled to present you with the alternate ending to Inheritance! *wild cheering*
Honestly, I'm printing this out when I'm done and taping it in the back of the book and forever pretending that the canon ending doesn't exist, and never existed. Please enjoy the first chapter! (Yes, it starts out very similar to the actual book. Yes, I jacked a lot of material. Give me time and trust me, this will turn out better. But for now, baby steps! It begins to change by the end!)
Begin: page 728, paragraph 8 (hardback version)
(for those of you with a different copy, the 41st paragraph of the chapter entitled "Sea of Nettles")
Arya! Eragon thought desperately. He tried to find her with his mind, but was met with failure. Either too much material separated them, one of the spells woven throughout the mined-out crag separated them, or… or she was dead.
No. She's not dead. He reassured himself. She had not been in the room as it collapsed; that much he knew, but he wondered if she would be able to find her way back out again, now that the throne room was blocked.
But as they emerged from the ruined citadel, Eragon forced such thoughts from his mind as the air cleared, and he was able to see the true scale of the destruction that the blast had wreaked on Urû'baen. It had ripped off the slate roofs of many nearby buildings and set fire to the beams underneath. Scores of fires dotted the rest of the city. The threads and plumes of smoke drifted upward until they collided with the underside of the shelf above. There, they pooled and flowed along the angled surface of the stone, like water over a streambed. By the southeastern edge of the city, the smoke caught the light of the morning sun as it seeped around the side of the overhang, and there the smoke glowed with the reddish-orange color of a fire opal. It possessed a terrifying beauty that he stood dazedly to admire as the two nameless children ran off to their own home. The door to the house flew open, and a balding man with a sword at his belt stepped out and wrapped the two of them in his arms. He gave Eragon a glance, and then hurried the children inside.
"Just think. One day they'll be able to tell their children how it came to be that they were mere yards away from the Black King Galbatorix facing off with Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Brightscales, and how they witnessed his demise," Eragon mused, oddly comforted by the thought.
Saphira merely hummed.
Thorn sat a number of yards away from Saphira, and Nasuada carefully helped Murtagh down from his back. The man slumped against Thorn's belly and began to recite spells of healing. Eragon likewise attended to Saphira's wounds, ignoring his own for the moment, as hers were far more serious. The gash on her left foreleg was as wide as both his hands put together, and a pool of blood was forming about her foot.
"Tooth or claw?" he asked as he examined the wound.
"Claw," she responded.
Nodding at this, Eragon proceeded to mend it, as well as a gash of his own. But as he worked, he kept an eye on Murtagh—watched as Murtagh healed his gut wound, as well as the injuries of his dragon. Nasuada remained at his side the whole while, her hand resting on his shoulder.
Eragon then turned to Elva, who was standing nearby. She appeared pained, but he saw no blood upon her. "Are you hurt?" he asked of her.
The girl's marked brow furrowed, and she shook her head. "No. But many of them are," she remarked, indicating the people fleeing the citadel.
Grunting a noncommittal response, Eragon once again glance over at Murtagh. He and Nasuada were standing now, talking to each other.
Then, Murtagh reached out hesitantly, and when he was not stopped, grasped the neck of her tunic and pulled it away, ripping it. Eragon had drawn Brisingr halfway out of its sheath before he saw the farrago of livid welts below the gentle curve of Nasuada's collarbone. The sight struck him like a blow; it reminded him of the wounds on Arya's back after he and Murtagh had rescued her from Gil'ead. It clawed at his heart that in both cases, he had failed to rescue his friend in a timely enough manner to prevent it.
Nasuada nodded and bowed her head.
Again, Murtagh began to speak, although this time, Eragon was sure, in the ancient language. He placed his hands upon various parts of Nasuada's thin body, his touch gentle and tender—even hesitant—and her expression of relief was all the evidence Eragon needed to understand how much pain that she had been suffering from.
He watched the pair for a moment longer, marveling at the softness Murtagh displayed in Nasuada's presence. Then, a sudden rush of emotion swept through him. His knees grew weak, and he sat on Saphira's right paw. The dragon lowered her graceful head and nuzzled his shoulder, and he leaned his head against her warmth.
"We did it," she said in a quiet tone.
"We did it," he repeated slowly, hardly able to believe the words. He could feel Saphira mourning the death of another dragon, even if he was mad and dangerous, and gripped her scales. Feeling light, almost dizzy, the rider had a sensation that he might simply float away from the surface of the earth. It seemed impossible that Galbatorix was no more. As Eragon contemplated the fact, something within his mind seemed to release, and he remembered—as if he had never forgotten—everything that had transpired during their time in the Vault of Souls.
A tingle shot down his spine. "Saphira—
"I… I know. The eggs!" she crowed.
Eragon smiled wearily. As a race, the dragons would not pass into the void. They would survive and flourish, and return to their former glory, as they had been before the fall of the riders.
"Look!" cried Elva, pointing.
Immediately, Eragon turned and saw Arya walking out of the dark, crumbling maw of the citadel. With her were Blödhgarm and his spellcasters, bruised and scraped, but remarkably, beautifully, alive. In her arms, Arya carried a wooden chest fitted snugly with gold hasps. Behind her, the elves tended to a long line of bulky metal boxes that floated along beside them.
More relieved than he assumed was proper to let show, Eragon sprang up and ran over to them, startling Arya by unceremoniously swinging her up into an awkward, box-hampered embrace. When he let her go, her cheeks were tinged a lovely shade of pink.
"You're alive!" Eragon exclaimed, elated. He skidded over to Blödhgarm and embraced him as well, although with less reckless abandon than he had used with Arya. The furred elf regarded him for a moment with his yellow eyes, but soon broke into a smile, flashing his fangs.
"We are alive, Shadeslayer."
"And those are… the Eldunarí?" Eragon queried, speaking softly and indicating the levitating boxes.
Arya nodded, meeting his eyes, which told him all he needed to know about the condition of the dragons trapped inside. They were damaged and traumatized, years beyond recovery. But recover they would. And yet those wonderful depthless eyes held a glint of… something else.
"And is that…?" Eragon motioned toward the chest she carried.
The elf woman glanced around to make sure no one was close enough to see; then she lifted the lid the width of a finger. Inside, nestled in velvet, Eragon saw a beautiful green dragon egg, webbed with veins of white.
Lifting Eragon's heart, Arya's face shone with unadulterated joy: something he craved to see only more of. Grinning mischievously, the rider beckoned the other elves closer to them. When they had gathered close, he whispered to them in a flighty string of the ancient language and revealed the secret of the eggs on Vroengard.
They did not shout or laugh, but a few, including Arya, let out little squeaks of excitement. Their eyes gleamed, and the entirety of the huddle trembled with excitement. Grinning incessantly, Eragon bounced on his heels, delighted by their reaction.
Simultaneously, Saphira and Arya uttered an exclamation. Shifting his gaze, Eragon saw Nasuada standing alone in the courtyard. Next to her was a pair of saddlebags that Eragon didn't remember seeing on Thorn. A breath of wind tousled the air in the courtyard, and he heard the distinctive sound of dragon wings. But of Murtagh and Thorn, nothing remained.
"Where are they going?" Eragon yelped running at Nasuada. Twin tracks of silvered tears painted her cheeks, and for the first time since her father's funeral, she seemed perilously close to losing her composure altogether. "Nasuada, where?" the rider repeated, more gently this time.
"Away." The word was dead and listless, and her chin trembled for a moment before a cold mask of indifferent strength closed around her features and she stood a bit taller.
Cursing, Eragon took a guarded peek into the saddlebags, only to find exactly what he suspected: more Eldunarí. "Arya, Blödhgarm!" he shouted shortly, gesturing at the bags vehemently. The elves nodded and rushed forwards.
With that, Eragon bolted to Saphira, not needing to explain himself. It took only a moment to spring into the saddle, and Saphira took less than that to spring into the air in pursuit. Cheers rose from the city as the Varden caught sight of her through the smoke and dust, flapping quickly in order to follow Thorn's musky scent trail through the air. It led her south, out from under the shadow of the overhang, where it turned and curved up and around the great stone outcrop, fleeing north, towards the Ramr River. For several miles, the trail ran straight and level, slipping over generous wind currents. But once the broad, tree-lined river was almost beneath them, the scent began to angle sharply downwards.
Studying the ground ahead, Eragon spotted a flash of crimson by the foot of a small hill on the other side of the river. Saphira clearly had as well, as she began a lazy spiral downwards until she alit softly atop the hill, where she had the advantage of height. The air off the water was cool and crisp, carrying with it the scent of moss, mud, and sap, these smells overlaid with the clamorous white noise of the rushing river.
By the edge of a field of nettles sat Thorn. Murtagh stood next to him, adjusting the girth on his saddle. Forcing his hand away from Brisingr's pommel, Eragon tentatively approached, a bit wary.
Without turning around, Murtagh demanded, "Have you come to stop us?"
"That depends. Where are you going?"
"I don't know. North, maybe… somewhere away from other people."
"I hoped that you and Thorn would stay."
Murtagh uttered a bark of mirthless laughter. "You know better than that. I have only ever caused problems, and besides, the dwarves would never stand for it. Not after I killed Hrogthar."
Blinking away a pang of hurt, Eragon asked curiously, "Why did you do it? Kill Hrogthar?"
As if it were obvious, Murtagh murmured, "To appease Galbatorix. Why else? From the beginning of that battle, I knew that I would let you go. I knew that Thorn would be put through immeasurable pain as a result of this same decision. It wasn't an option; I had to spare him from what I could. In the end, I had to choose between capturing you and Saphira and killing Hrogthar. You know my choice. There are things worse than death, and I chose the lesser."
"You would do well to tell this to the new king," Saphira pointed out after a poignant pause. "I, for one, forgive you. You would still have to answer to the dwarves, but between your reasoning, which will be understood, and the fact that I myself will vouch for you, they will, I think, be lenient."
Eragon nodded seriously. "I regret that you killed Hrogthar, but I understand why you did so. The dwarves would punish you but I…" He hesitated a moment. "I agree justice should be served, but I too will ask that you be forgiven, at least for the most part."
Murtagh simply blinked sorrowfully and muttered, "Arya is a dragon killer. That can't be easy for her—an elf killing a dragon. You should talk to her and make sure she's all right."
Without thinking, Eragon replied, "I will," surprised at the depth of Murtagh's insight.
"I'm not—we're not—" Murtagh continued, touching Thorns sturdy blood-red side, "what we once were. That is how we could defy Galbatorix. But even as you know from so long ago, I will not mourn the death of someone who was a threat to me. What has changed… I will not mourn the death of someone who was a threat to myself, or someone I love. And now... now that extends beyond Thorn. Would the dwarves understand that, Eragon? I lack honor in their eyes. There would be trouble."
In the back of his mind, Eragon could feel Saphira and Thorn talking to each other. Saphira, he knew, would tell him later what had passed between them. "What is it that you want?" he asked of the red rider, his gaze never wavering from his face.
"I want… I want to sit and think. Make a home for myself." was the response, long in coming.
For a moment, Eragon considered these words, a breath of wind kissing at his light brown hair at stirring the fine robes that Murtagh was garbed in. "I think—I know—you want more, Murtagh." Eragon said simply. "Peace and a life of your own, yes. But you're my brother, and I know you. You're a good man, and you've never been allowed to become what you really are. Stay in Alagaesia Murtagh," he pleaded, "and despite any initial turmoil, you will prove yourself the best of us all. You've already convinced Nasuada. And Roran won't be long in coming. He's your cousin as well as mine, and you've never even met him."
Appearing sorely tempted, Murtagh opened his mouth, shut it again, and then shifted his gaze out over the horizon. "It… it wouldn't work. Thorn and I need time alone; we need time to heal. If we stay, we'd be too busy to figure things out for ourselves."
"Were you to ask to be left to yourself, I would respect your decision," Eragon retorted. "Going north to the unknown, or an isolated peak in the Spine, what's the difference? Other than you'll be closer to people who care about you. Closer to Nasuada, whom I know cares a great deal about you. And closer to… to other dragons."
"Eragon! I wanted to tell them!" Saphira snorted, disgruntled.
Murtagh's eyebrows shot up into his dark hairline. "Tell us… what?"
Even Thorn's eyes harbored a sharp spark of curiosity.
Somewhat mollified, Saphira projected her thoughts to the both of them. "The egg that Galbatorix had—it isn't the only one in Alagaesia. There are more, hidden in the same place where we found the Eldunarí we brought with us."
With disbelief evident on his face, Murtagh turned towards him. At the same time, Thorn arched his neck and uttered a joyful trumpet that rang across the plains, startling a flight of swallows from the branches of a nearby tree.
"How many more?"
For a moment, Murtagh seemed unable to speak. Then: "What will you do with them?"
"Me? I think Saphira and the Eldunarí will have some say in the matter, but probably find somewhere safe for the eggs to hatch, and start to rebuild the Riders."
"Will you and Saphira train them?"
Eragon eyed Murtagh determinedly. "To the best of our ability, yes. But with just the two of us training them, and even with the elves' assistance, their education wouldn't be complete. That is why I wish for you to help. You and Thorn have a wealth of knowledge to share with the new dragons and riders, and I wish nothing more than for you to share it. Wherever we choose… it will be quite isolated: far from normal people. You would have complete freedom to do as you choose, so long as you remain a good master to your students. There will be peace and time for you and Thorn, but also joy and new hope to surround you."
"Will you accept?" Saphira requested softly, her glittering azure eyes fixed on the red pair.
Murtagh tilted his head back and released a long breath. "The dragons are going to return, and the Riders as well." He laughed softly. "The world is about to change."
"For the better, I should hope," Eragon said, smiling a little.
For what Eragon knew was probably the first time in a long while, Murtagh smiled back. A silence ensued then, as Murtagh turned to his dragon and the pair closed their eyes, conversing amongst themselves.
Finally, the great scarlet dragon cracked open his gleaming eyes, shifted, and moved around Saphira until he was able to peer down at Eragon. With a mental voice that was surprisingly musical, twanging and humming as he spoke, Thorn said, "For now, we shall travel to the Spine and set up residence there until such a time as the land has calmed. Despite your best intentions, it is my desire to experience freedom—real freedom—for the first time. But, when the time comes and Alagaesia has settled with a new monarch, we choose to accept your offer. We will go with you to hatch the new age of dragons, and to teach them as well. We must teach them not to fear. Fear is good in small amounts, but when it is a constant, pounding companion, it cuts away at who you are and makes it hard to do what you know is right."
Nodding respectfully to the male dragon, Eragon couldn't help but smile a bit. "Thank you, Thorn."
All of a sudden, a sense of great anger, grief, and ambivalence pressed heavily against Eragon as Glaedr's consciousness enveloped his mind and, it seemed, those of Murtagh and Thorn, for they tensed, as if in anticipation for battle. Eragon had forgotten that Glaedr, along with the other Eldunarí—hidden within their invisible pocket of space—were present and listening.
"You killed my body and you killed my rider," said Glaedr, words bitter as an oak gall, hissing the statement that was so flat and simple, yet all the more terrible because of it. "But I understand that it was Galbatorix who drove you to it and that it was he who swung your arm, Murtagh… I cannot forgive, but Galbatorix is dead and with him, my desire for vengeance. Yours has always been a hard path, since each of you hatched. But today, you showed that your misfortunes have not broken you. You turned against Galbatorix when it might have gained you only pain, and by it you allowed Eragon to kill him. Today, you and Thorn proved yourselves worthy of being considered Shur'tugal in full, though you never had the proper instruction or guidance. That is… admirable."
Murtagh bowed his head slightly, and Thorn murmured, "Thank you, Ebrithil," startling even Murtagh. But he soon overcame this and glanced at Eragon. "Can you remember the name of the ancient language now, or is Galbatorix's magic still clouding your mind?"
"The clouds remain," Saphira answered for him, shaking her head irritably.
Then, Murtagh spoke the name of names twice: first to remove the spell of forgetfulness placed on Eragon, and then again so that Eragon and Saphira might learn the name for themselves. "We must never share it with anyone else," the elder of the two pointed out. "If every magician knew the name of the ancient language, the language would be worse than useless."
Eragon nodded in vehement agreement.
Holding out his hand, Murtagh then reached out to him, and Eragon grasped hi by the forearm. "Farewell for now… brother."
Murtagh grinned. "Let us hope it isn't too long, brother. I look forward to growing into a crotchety old man, teaching youngsters the old ways with you graying at my side."
Thorn's snort of laughter set the grass at their feet on fire.
Once more, Murtagh checked the straps on Thorn's harness before climbing into the saddle. As the dragon spread his impressive crimson wings in a ripple of muscle, the man called out, "See to it that the dwarves see the memory of why I did what I did. I truly am sorry."
With that, the sparkling red dragon took three loping steps away from the sea of nettles and leaped into the sky, leaving tracklike gouges in the soft earth below. He circled over them once, twice, three times before he turned and sailed proudly to the west, towards the Spine.
Beaming at the thought that he would soon see his brother again, Eragon took his place on Saphira's back, and they departed from the knoll and returned thence to the wreckage of Urû'baen.