Disclaimer: I don't own Eragon or anything associated with the Inheritance Cycle. The quotes I have included in this are taken directly from the first and second book of the Inheritance Cycle. I do not claim to own them in any way, shape or form.

Claimer: I, SussieKitten, own this plot and the story. Borrow or steal my plot, my original characters (should they appear) or story and I will report you.

Warnings: Modern AU with roots in canon lore and plot. References to sexualities like male homosexuality and heterosexuality. Hints at polyamory. References to incest, as befitting a relationship between Murtagh and Eragon. Swearing or strong language. References to abuse. Living a tough life. What could arguably be called living in a constant state of hunger (please do not replicate). Ridiculousness that is to be expected from the Eragon universe. Reincarnation. Worship of reincarnation. A character that is painfully aware of the ridiculousness that follows this premise and not liking it one bit. If any of this disturbs you, click on the "back" button. I won't tolerate any flames.

A/N Once upon a time, I want to say earlier this year, I got the idea for a really basic – if such a thing exists – reincarnation plot. I wrote about 200 words, hit a wall and put it aside.

Fast-forward and we're looking at...well, this.

I want to blame Ireland since by moving here I found book #1 and #2 for cheap (in English, because I didn't own those titles before now if you can believe that), and therefore inadvertently encouraging me to go ahead with this stupid thing. Because my god it is so stupid. Just ask Murtagh; he'll agree with me lol.

What you need to know to (hopefully) understand this story is this; reincarnation happens, say, every 200 or so years, and some people are lucky enough to remember bits and pieces – if not more – of it. This takes place in the modern era, meaning our crew has gone through several reincarnations by now.

Certain things are doomed to happen during every reincarnation. I'm sure you can guess what those are. And it's up to our beloved heroes to, well, do their thing. Let's see how it went on this time around, shall we?

(There are a few cameos in this and I don't outright name them all. But I'm sure you'll recognise them anyway ;))

This has been looked over by Jay over on Tumblr, though you can bet any mistakes you find are mine. You have been warned.


Destiny:

Or Some Other Nonsense Like That


"I told you before: I don't want to go to the Varden."

Eragon frowned. Was that all that was the matter? "Don't want to...or can't?"

Murtagh tried to shove Saphira's leg off him, then gave up with a curse. "Don't want to! They'll expect things from me that I can't deliver."

"Did you steal something from them?"

"I wish it were that simple."

Eragon rolled his eyes, exasperated. "Well, what is it, then? Did you kill someone important or bed the wrong woman?"

"No, I was born," Murtagh said cryptically. (344, Eragon)

-;-

"Next stop is Carvahall Station. Next stop, Carvahall Station."

Murtagh's eyes opened.

Outside the scenery was still flying by. Palancar Valley almost seemed to cradle the train as it sped through; river on one side and cars on the other. The Spine ranged black and deadly on the other side of the river; a stark contrast to the smaller, more rounded mountaintops that separated the valley from the rest of Alagaësia.

The windows steadily showed more houses, closer grouped together. They were entering civilisation again after having left Therinsford behind. The train started to slow down.

Murtagh grabbed his things and headed towards the doors. He shouldered his bag and waited for the train to come to a stop. Other people were getting out of their seats, grabbing their belongings, shuffling along towards the exit. Murtagh ignored them all.

He was the first one out of the car. Murtagh stepped further onto the platform and looked around, taking it all in.

He had never been to Carvahall before. It was a small, sleepy farming town. It's neighbour, Therinsford, was a far more popular stop. While Carvahall was closer to the lake, Therinsford was not quite as enclosed by the Spine and had broader transport links. Carvahall had mountains, seemingly endless farming fields and Lake Anora glimmering faintly in the distance.

Few people had cause to visit Carvahall. Murtagh would be willing to bet that the people coming off the train with him were commuters, travelling anywhere between Carvahall and the cities along the Northern line to make their living or go to school.

Few people, that was, except for him.

Murtagh tightened his grip on his bag and started to walk.

-;-

"You thought I was stuck in some rat hole chewing on hard-tack," said Murtagh, rolling upright with a grin. "Actually, I expected the same thing, but Ajihad lets me have all this as long as I don't cause trouble. And they bring me huge meals, as well as anything I want from the library. If I'm not careful, I'll turn into a fat scholar." (464, Eragon)

-;-

Once upon a time, things had been different. The world had been full of all sorts of magic and magical creatures. The elves thrived in the forest, the dwarves were happy in the mountains and underground, witches and wizards communed with the land, and dragons roamed free.

Then the Rider Wars happened.

At least, that's how the story goes. What actually happened has long since disappeared from the history books, almost with careful precision. What is known is that there were once elves, dwarves, humans, magical kin and magical beings living in peace. Something broke that peace, something that ancient scrolls only refers to as the first and second Rider War. Terrifying beings rose out of the earth – Urgals, Kull, Shades, Ra'zac, Lethrblaka and all other sorts of unimaginable horrors. Dragons were thought nearly extinct after the first war and never fully recovered after the second.

There are dragons now, of course. Time and non-interference allowed the race to slowly come back from the brink. It's still rare to see a dragon outside of Vroengard, not that Murtagh blames them. If he had half the lifespan of a wild dragon and had been hunted just as ferociously, he would have shied away from humans too.

Murtagh smiled bitterly at the thought.

His childhood hadn't offered much in the way of comfort, so he'd found it in other ways. He'd often snuck away to the library and hidden himself away there with a treasure hoard of books, titles ranging from the smallest and simplest of things to the largest and most obscure. Alagaësia's history had struck a chord in him. Or rather, her lack of history had.

So little was known about the time that came before. When the time had come for Murtagh to take what he could and get out, it almost seemed natural to follow the one passion he had allowed himself to cultivate. He'd allowed himself to take one luxury item for the road; a book from the library so yellowed and dusty Murtagh doubted it would even be missed. Dracons, Whyrm, and Theyr Kin, the title said. It was Murtagh's favourite.

His reason for coming to Carvahall was simple. It was just a farming town – had, in fact, always been a farming town, so far as history was concerned – but it was rumoured to once have produced something so precious that not even the history books could afford to leave it out of their records; a Dragon Rider.

The name of the Rider had long since been lost or forgotten, deliberately or otherwise. But their existence had been scorched into the earth, into the very soul of Man. And they had come from Carvahall.

There was rumoured to be a relic of them – a monument, a tomb, perhaps nothing more than a ruin – somewhere in the Spine. People had gone looking for it, but no one had found it. But Murtagh wasn't most people. He didn't give up simply because the road ahead looked tough. He'd be dead by now if he had.

Finding the mountains were easy. If anything, missing them would have been impossible. Finding a path to take was more of a problem. He could only hope he wouldn't have to venture up them to find what he was looking for.

-;-

"Do you think I enjoy this?" Murtagh shouted. "My life has been threatened from the day I was born! All of my waking hours have been spent avoiding danger in one form or another. And sleep never comes easily because I always worry if I'll live to see the dawn. If there ever was a time I felt secure, it must have been in my mother's womb, though I wasn't safe even there! You don't understand – if you lived with this fear, you would have learned the same lesson I did: Do not take chances." (352, Eragon)

-;-

Murtagh bought some supplies at the store, ignoring the curious looks he was getting, before heading for the road that led towards Lake Anora. There was likely a bus he could have taken, but Murtagh preferred to save money and only use it when he absolutely had to. He could have walked to Carvahall if he'd been so inclined – and probably would have too, if not for the little almost run-in he'd had in Gil'ead. Speed had seemed essential then and still did.

Several towns had passed since then, but Murtagh still felt like someone was staring at him. He ignored the phantom sensation and carried on. He walked until the town disappeared behind a bend in the road before slipping into the forest that surrounded the road. He didn't have much in the way of clothes, but what he had was well-maintained and suited for the one thing that propelled him forward.

His boots had been clean and unmarked once. They were now caked with dirt and worn in, but they had yet to fail him. The colour of his jacket had faded over time, but it still kept wind, water and chill at bay. His jeans had rips and tears, but that fashion was apparently coming back because no one had looked at his clothes and asked if he was homeless. He always chose a sweater with one eye on the weather and the other on what he planned to do with his day. His current one had developed a hole at the sleeve, but Murtagh had taken the time to stop it and now used it as a thumb-hole. That, too, also seemed like a fashion that was on the rise.

The weather had been pleasant in town, but the air was getting colder the closer he came to the mountain range. He stopped to put his jacket on before continuing.

He had to stop at the bottom of the Spine to take in the sight. His travels had taken him to Beor Mountains once and they were awe-inspiring in a whole other sense. The Beor Mountains were so tall it was dizzying to look at them even from afar. The ridges that made up the Spine were so sharp and deadly Murtagh could feel goose-bumps travelling up his back.

He shook off the feeling and started to head further north, travelling alongside the Spine. His research indicated that the remnants of the Dragon Rider were somewhere in the Spine near Lake Anora. He hoped it wouldn't be as far north as Ceunon. The city was on the other side of the lake, and while the lake was by no means small it was the place mankind and elves collided. Elves, after all, had keen eyes. All it took was one curious child playing along the riverbank and then he was at risk of being spotted.

Murtagh shook himself again. He couldn't afford to think of that now. One thing at a time.

Hours slipped past in the shadow of the Spine and the trees. Murtagh felt them pass only as vague pangs in his stomach and a dryness in his throat. He stopped only when swallowing became painful and took a sip of water. Then he carried on.

His mind wandered as he walked, but he shut down many half-formed thoughts in fear of where they would lead. A voice echoed in the back of his mind, always present, though Murtagh had learned to block it out enough to sleep a few hours every night. That didn't stop it from crawling out unexpectedly, whispering honeyed poison just when he least needed it.

'Just imagine it, Murtagh. Wouldn't that be -'

Murtagh shook the voice out of his head. No. Not here. Not now.

He stopped when he reached a gentle curve in the lake – which was mirrored, though far more sharply, by the Spine. His mental map told him that Ceunon was still somewhere to the north-east. He sat down on an overturned tree-trunk and pulled an apple from his bag. He ate it slowly, allowing his eyes to look out over the water and take in the way the sun was reflected. He ate every bit, even the core, and threw the stalk onto the ground as he pushed himself to his feet.

He had long since gone past the point of mere exhaustion. He'd reached that sometime during his first month on the road and never looked back. Exhaustion was as much a companion as his nightmares. His feet ached, but he pushed himself on.

He stopped suddenly. The clouds had parted enough that the sun was shining on the mountain top just ahead. The base of it looked all wrong, he realised. The shadows didn't look the way they were supposed to. Murtagh grabbed his bag and walked a little faster, heart beating quickly in his chest.

As he came closer he realised it was a cave. The sharp edges of the mountain range made it hard to see. Murtagh could just as easily have walked past it if the sun hadn't shone directly upon it, casting shadows that seemed out of place. The edges of the cave were as sharp as the mountain it was carved into. It didn't look manmade at all, but that didn't stop Murtagh from feeling that it looked distinctly out of place.

He reached into his bag and pulled out his flashlight. He flipped the switch and secured the bag more properly before stepping into the mouth of the cave.

It smelled like damp earth and a sickly-sweet smell that told Murtagh something had died in here a long time ago and had since started to decay. Murtagh pushed past the smell and carried on, taking care not to step on something that could hurt him.

The cave grew narrower the further he ventured. He had to crouch several times. At one point he had to take off his bag and carry it against his chest to avoid the material getting ripped.

Then suddenly, just as the cave grew so small Murtagh was tempted to turn back, it opened into a large chamber. Murtagh stepped over a sharp spike and into the cavern, not caring that his mouth had fallen open.

It was massive. The light from his flashlight only just grazed the ceiling. It was warm too, warm in a way Murtagh associated with the caves and caverns he had visited over the years. But there was also something else underneath. Murtagh put down his bag, took off his jacket and tied it around his waist. He picked up his bag again before walking further inside.

He stopped at what appeared to be the centre of the cavern. He turned in a slow circle, letting the light travel over the walls. He stopped when the flashlight hit what looked oddly like something had been carved into the mountain. Murtagh hurried forward, bag bumping into his back, and didn't stop until he was almost close enough to touch.

It was a leg, he realised. A big, almost reptilian-like leg. He swept the light around the area until he could follow the leg up and up, past a puffed chest, sweeping over spread wings until he hit a snarling face.

A dragon. Someone had carved a large dragon into the mountain. Murtagh felt a laughter bubble up in his chest. He had finally found something.

He swept the light along the statue, looking at the intricate details and feeling his breath leave him. Had this statue been left to the elements it would have been worn and almost indistinguishable by now, that much was certain. But someone had carved it inside a huge cavern. Someone had wanted to protect it, preserve it.

He stopped when he realised there was something by the dragon's feet. No, not something. Someone. A figure, possibly male, clad in what had to be armour, holding a sword towards the sky.

Murtagh almost dropped the flashlight. He'd done it. He'd found it. It had been three years, but he'd finally found the Dragon Rider.

He stepped closer, eager now, and crouched to see if he could find any writing, anything that might give him the details traditional history refused to part with.

It didn't take him long. He stopped, fingers almost shaking, when he found the ancient writing that had been carved next to the Rider and his Dragon. He mouthed the letters, trying to find a way to shape them into what the language had evolved into over the centuries.

"Eragon," he said finally, voice rusty with disuse. "Son of Brom, Slayer of Shades, Guardian of Dragons, Friend of the Elves, Brother of the Dwarves, Saphira's Rider, Our Saviour."

Murtagh had to sit down. His knees felt shaky. The ground wasn't particularly comfortable, but he didn't care. His eyes stared up at the carefully carved face of someone who had died centuries before. Eragon.

"I finally found you."

-;-

"As for my rescuing you, I will admit that I've heard whispered tales of a new Rider and reasoned that by following the Ra'zac I might discover if they were true."

"I thought you wanted to kill the Ra'zac," said Eragon.

Murtagh smiled grimly. "I do, but if I had, I never would have met you." (279, Eragon)

-;-

Murtagh didn't know how long he sat there, staring up at something he had vaguely started to believe was just a legend. He was caught in a world of his own imagining. He couldn't stop picturing the carvings alive and breathing. He wondered how old the Dragon Rider – Eragon, had been. He didn't look old. Seventeen? Surely not older than eighteen. A man by that time's standards, but scarcely more than a child now. And what colour had the dragon's scales been? Blue. Something told him they'd been blue.

He was so caught in his own head that he didn't realise the things he was hearing wasn't coming from his own musings. Voices. Someone was coming.

Murtagh grabbed his bag and had to bite back a swear. He hadn't seen another exit to the cavern. He hadn't looked too closely, but knowing his luck he was probably trapped.

But Murtagh hadn't gotten this far by giving up as soon as something unexpected stepped into his path. He walked as quickly as he dared, crossing the cavern while trying to make as little noise as he could. If someone was coming then they were probably looking for the same thing he had been. As long as he stayed out of sight he would probably be safe.

The cavern walls were unevenly textured throughout. The wall where the statue was had clearly been smoothed and cleared, so the statue could be properly cleaved in and appreciated after. Murtagh simply had to find a dip in the wall and mould himself into it and hope whoever was coming weren't interested in looking around.

The voices slowly grew clearer, though Murtagh wasn't interested in listening in. His heart was beating too fast in his chest anyway. He'd managed to press himself against the wall just as someone stepped into the cavern. He wouldn't have known that if not for the awed gasp that echoed off the walls.

"Told you," someone said, meaning there were at least two of them. The voice was female and strange in a way Murtagh couldn't quite place.

"What is this place?" the other said. The voice was male and sounded almost painfully young.

"A place forgotten by time," the girl said. "Come. It's over here."

Murtagh heard them walking across the floor. They had flashlights of their own, but it only helped Murtagh to locate them. He couldn't see who was holding them.

They made for the statue, as he'd predicted. They stopped there and one of them – the girl, most likely – shone their light at the place Murtagh knew the writing was. "Go on. Read it."

The boy shifted on his feet. "I'm not good at translating old Alagaësian, you know that, Saph."

"I think this will come to you quite quickly," 'Saph' said.

The boy made a sound of faint disbelief before crouching down - if the movement of his flashlight was anything to go by.

It was silent for an excruciating couple of minutes. Murtagh was tempted to try to sneak off when the boy made a sudden and louder sound of disbelief. "Saph, you can't be serious!"

"I am," the girl said and she sounded it too.

"There's no way," the boy said vehemently. "Just because our names match -"

"Yours and mine," 'Saph' interjected, "and our circumstances too -"

"No way!" the boy interrupted. "No way, no how!"

"Eragon -"

Murtagh stiffened. The rest of the words washed over him, unheard. The boy's name was Eragon? And, if his friend were to be believed, her name was Saphira. And if their circumstances matched that meant they were dragon and rider.

"No!" the boy – Eragon – said loudly. "Just because of what that fortune-teller said, no. I refuse to believe it."

"Eragon -"

"And besides, so what if it were true?" Eragon continued, clearly fired up. "There's no way things back then are going to mirror what's going on now!"

"But your dreams -"

"Are just dreams!" Eragon said, voice almost shrilly. "They're just – just figments of my imagination. There's no way -"

"The elves have stories about this, you know," Saphira said and this time Eragon fell silent.

Murtagh could hear his heart beating in his chest. It was a wonder that Saphira – if she indeed was a dragon – couldn't hear it.

"Reincarnation," Saphira said. The word sent shivers down Murtagh's spine. "Past lives, old memories, history repeating itself."

"No," Eragon said firmly.

"Deny it all you want," Saphira said, sounding almost strangely calm. "Just because you would disregard your dreams doesn't mean I am going to do the same."

Eragon barked a laugh. "I suppose I'm just going to go up to old man Teller and ask if he's my real dad, then, or go out and look for a pretty elf princess or a handsome stranger who, as it turns out, is actually my half-brother?"

"Eragon," Saphira sounded tired.

"No, I didn't think so." One of the lights – Eragon's, in all likeliness – started to move towards the exit.

Saphira hurried after him. Their voices continued to echo as they made their way out of the mountain, but Murtagh found that he couldn't concentrate on their words.

Things had suddenly gotten very complicated.

-;-

"Perhaps," said Murtagh, "but the Empire wants you much more than me. If I'm captured, I could eventually escape." (289, Eragon)

-;-

It felt like hours before Murtagh could force himself to move again. The conversation he'd unwillingly been witness to was echoing in his mind. Reincarnation, Dragon and Dragon Riders, history repeating itself.

A part of him desperately wanted to rush after the two and ask to hear more. If reincarnation really was true, if this Eragon was dreaming about the past, then he had incredible insight into a time that had practically been erased from history. His dreams, even though they seemed to bother him, were a gift in disguise.

But it was not Murtagh's place. Nothing he'd heard was his place.

Besides, reincarnation was nothing but a myth. As wonderful as it would have been – the sheer insights it would have offered into history alone – it wasn't real. Couldn't be. That implied outer force at work or that everything was predestined and Murtagh didn't believe in destiny.

He forced himself to move and stretched the stiffness out of his muscles. It was painful to crouch on his way out of the cave, but he forced himself to make it. As breath-taking as the statue was he couldn't stay in the cavern all night. While he hadn't seen any signs of animal life, that didn't mean it a wolf or bear weren't about to make it their home for the night.

When he stepped out of the cave, the sun had almost set. He squinted against the red light and made sure to look around, but he was alone. He shouldered his bag and decided to do the opposite of what his heart was telling him to do; he headed north, further away from Carvahall.

He walked until he could no longer see the sun. Murtagh usually didn't make a habit of sleeping outside, but there were times when there was no way around it. He found an outcropping that would protect him from the rain, thankfully free of any recent animal-activity. He made camp there, eating another apple and taking another sip of water. He could easily refill the canteen in the lake, he knew that, but being on the road for so long had taught him to only do what was strictly necessary. If he got used to luxuries again, he'd fall down a very slippery slope and be forced to climb up it again.

Murtagh bundled himself as best he could. His sleeping bag was starting to show more than a few signs of wear and tear, but it still worked. And by sleeping in his clothes he rarely got cold anyway, so it was fine.

He slept through the night only to wake during the early morning hours to the feeling of being watched. He sprang into action, pulling out his hunting knife and looking around sharply. He spotted the intruder almost instantly. Considering what she was, that was deliberate on her part.

It was an elf. Murtagh didn't need 'keen' eyes to recognise her as one. She carried a bow on her back and a quiver along with it. Her hair was pulled back, showing off her pointed ears and sharp cheekbones. Her clothes were likely made of hide and other organic material, but were also likely far more modern than what her ancestors would have been wearing. There was a dagger at her hip that stood out to him like a beacon.

She said something and the almost musical lilt of the words meant it had to have been in Elven.

"I don't speak your tongue," Murtagh told her. He started to extract himself from the sleeping bag one-handed. He hadn't let go of the knife.

"Have you found him?" she said then.

Murtagh's grip tightened around the knife's grip. "What?"

"Have you found him?" she said, likely for a third time, her voice oddly sharp like she thought Murtagh was the one being weird here.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," Murtagh said as he stood. He was tempted to grab his things and run – or even to just run, but held himself back. He wasn't going to put his knife down until he knew it was safe. Considering he was dealing with an elf, that was easier said than done.

"You always find him first," she said. She hadn't come closer, Murtagh would have seen her move, but she sounded like she'd walked right up to him and shouted it in his ear.

"You have the wrong guy," Murtagh told her. He crouched and started to roll his sleeping bag up one-handed. Fuck shaking it out. He'd deal with the debris and bugs later.

"History repeats itself," she said, and shivers went down his spine again. "You always find him first, no matter how hard we try to beat you there. Tell me where he is, Murtagh."

A cold weight dropped into his stomach. Murtagh stared at her. He didn't think he was breathing.

"What?"

"Where is the Rider?" she said and now she was starting to sound aggravated. "We do not have much time."

Everything stilled.

Murtagh slowly put the hunting knife back in its sheath. He rolled up his sleeping bag and shoved it into his bag. He closed it and shouldered it before rising to stand. He looked at the elf coolly, trying his best to pretend his heart wasn't beating a mile a minute.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," he said coldly. "I'm leaving now. Don't follow me."

"Lives are at stake," she said, almost snapping the words. "We do not have time for you to be contrary."

Everything inside of him told him to run. The dark part of him, the one he had never been able to fully shake, told him to kill her.

His voice was slow and dark when he finally spoke. "I don't know who you are -"

"Yes you do," she said, though the tilt of her head seemed almost contrary to her words. "You are always one of the first to remember."

The conversation from the day before felt like a punch between his eyes, but Murtagh forced it back and away. "You have the wrong guy," he said again, firmer this time. "Goodbye."

"Why are you being like this?" she said. "You know I mean him no harm."

"I don't know who you're talking about!" Murtagh exploded.

The forest went silent around them.

Something came over her then, a harshness Murtagh didn't know had been missing until it was suddenly there. "Either you do not remember," she said, voice cold, "or you have already been turned." She pulled the bow from her back, taking an arrow with it, and Murtagh grabbed his hunting knife before he knew he'd moved. "I cannot risk it being the latter."

She moved, letting loose an arrow before Murtagh had time to blink. He felt himself move, using instincts he hadn't known he'd possessed before then. The elf was grabbing another arrow, but Murtagh didn't stick around to see her fire it.

He ran, weaving between trees and ducking under branches with a speed he hadn't reached before. He couldn't hear the elf but knew she was coming after him. Elves were light and quick on their feet. He was dead if he stopped and he knew it.

He ran past the cavern, not even pausing to think about ducking inside it. He was running back towards Carvahall – a bad choice, perhaps, though the other would have led them in a long loop around Lake Anora towards Ceunon. Ceunon was definitely further, at least where public transport was concerned, and Murtagh needed to get away fast.

He didn't know how long he ran for, though arrows flying past him let him know he was still being pursued. His lungs were burning, but he pushed past the pain and the dots in front of his eyes. He heard voices, though he didn't know if they were coming from behind him or in front of him. He didn't care either way. He just knew he had to get away.

He almost ran into a boy and a girl who seemed to be talking heatedly. He didn't spare them more attention than was required to scream at them to get out of the way, something they did with comically wide eyes and open mouths. He heard something that almost sounded like his name, but he kept his eyes firmly focused on what was in front of him.

There was a dilapidated farm not far from where the road leading to the lake. He could hide in the barn there, perhaps, and catch his breath for a while. If he even made it that far.

His lungs were burning badly now and he could barely see where he was going. He tripped over a root and had to grab onto a tree to keep himself from falling. His skin caught on the bark, tearing, but the pain was secondary to the one in his lungs. He collapsed to the ground, more gently than if he hadn't grabbed onto something. The entire world was swimming and he couldn't see past the black dots. He couldn't catch his breath.

This was it. This was how he died. Not with a bang, but with a whimper.

He thought he heard his name being called again as the world finally stopped spinning and went completely dark.

-;-

"...I understand that there may be things you wish to keep hidden in your mind, but as long as you do, we cannot trust you."

"You wouldn't trust me anyway," said Murtagh defiantly.

Ajihad's face darkened as Murtagh spoke, and his eyes flashed dangerously. "Though it has been twenty and three years since it last broke upon my ear...I know that voice." He stood ominously, chest swelling. The Twins looked alarmed and put their heads together, whispering frantically. "It came from another man, one more beast than human. Get up."

Murtagh warily complied, his eyes darting between the Twins and Ajihad. "Remove your shirt," ordered Ajihad. With a shrug, Murtagh pulled off his tunic. "Now turn around." As he pivoted to the side, light fell upon the scar on his back.

"Murtagh," breathed Ajihad. (403, Eragon)

-;-

He woke up slowly, head still swimming. He felt sick and his stomach warned him about the possibility of throwing up if he moved too quickly.

It took him a minute to realise why this information surprised him. He was feeling things. That meant he was alive. Had the elf not caught up with him?

"I think he's waking up," someone said. The voice sounded oddly familiar.

There was a yelp as Murtagh's arm shot out and narrowly missed someone. At least, that's what Murtagh assumed by the feeling of cloth slipping between his fingers. The world abruptly started to spin far too quickly and he had to turn over to vomit. There was a hand on his shoulder, but he couldn't even bring himself to push it away. He was too busy shaking as he expelled food and water that he really couldn't afford to part with.

"What were you thinking?" someone said, the voice sounding oddly far away.

"History repeats itself," another voice said and this one made Murtagh move.

Murtagh grabbed his knife and pointed it towards the second female voice, not caring that his chin was a mess or that he was still shaking. A form shot away from him, but Murtagh didn't focus on that. His eyes were on the elf that had chased him all this way and that was now likely here to finish the job.

"Get away from me," he rasped.

The elf looked pristine, even though she'd been running through the same forest as Murtagh. He fucking hated her for that.

The bow had been tucked away again, but he didn't trust that for a minute. He didn't trust the other two people he sensed nearby either. If they were talking to the elf, then they were in league with her.

"It's ok, Murtagh," the other female voice said. "We're not going to hurt you."

It took Murtagh a second to realise he found that voice familiar too. His head turned enough that he could look at her without looking away from the elf.

It was Saphira. It had to be. Her hair was blue like the sky – something that could easily be achieved with dye these days, of course – but they matched her eyes perfectly. Her split, almost reptilian eyes. There were delicate splatters of scales on her skin; down her neck, on the back of her hands, a few along her cheekbones. She looked almost petite, at least standing next to the elf, but there was an inner strength that just seemed to ooze out of her. It was magic, he realised. She was oozing magic. He hadn't known he could see magic before.

If that was Saphira, that meant the other form he sensed had to be Eragon, he heard himself think just as the boy ducked into view.

It was like looking at the statue again. His features were softer and more rounded than the statue, but they were unmistakably the same. He was so young, Murtagh found himself thinking. Fifteen, maybe sixteen. Brown hair, brown eyes, filled with an innocence that had to be etched into his bones.

This was the Dragon Rider? Murtagh almost found himself hoping it wasn't. The elf had made things sound very dire and he doubted this kid was going to be of much use in some huge battle against a big bad the elf hadn't even thought to name.

"How do you know my name?" Murtagh heard himself say just as the thought came to him. He could be addressing Saphira, he could be addressing the elf, he didn't much care. He had just wanted to be left alone, exactly the way he had been for the past three years. Was that too much to ask?

"He doesn't remember," Saphira said then, firmly and with conviction. She gave the elf a sharp look. "And you chased him."

The elf didn't look apologetic in the slightest. "I had to be certain."

I hate everyone in this bar, Murtagh longed desperately to say. He put away the knife instead and rubbed the back of his hand against his mouth. He felt absolutely disgusting. Great. The day was off to a fantastic start.

"Are you ok?" a voice said. Eragon.

Murtagh wanted to snap back, but he was honestly too tired. He tried to push himself to his feet instead.

There was a hand there, holding him down with ease. "I wouldn't recommend that."

Murtagh found himself staring at Saphira. When had she gotten so close?

"You fell quite badly," she continued. "You should probably rest a little while longer, maybe eat and drink something."

"Why do you care?" Murtagh found himself saying.

The elf sighed, but Murtagh honestly didn't care what she thought and hoped she'd keep her opinions to herself.

"You're important," Saphira said, sounding so certain and sincere Murtagh was almost tempted to believe her. "Also, Eragon tells me that humans feel compelled to take care of others of their kind regardless of whether they know each other or not. I'm trying to follow his example."

Eragon made a strangled sound on Murtagh's other side.

"Not all humans," Murtagh heard himself say. He wanted to hit himself over the head, but something told him that was a bad idea. If he was speaking this freely then he might have a concussion. It was probably not a good idea to make it worse.

Something in Saphira's face stiffened. She narrowed her eyes and gave the elf a filthy glare. Murtagh was honestly impressed by the ferocity of it.

The elf shifted on her feet once, twice, before going still again.

"This isn't usually how this goes," Saphira said as she made herself comfortable at Murtagh's left side. "But then every cycle is different somehow, even if the core things stay the same."

Murtagh had a very strong feeling that he was blinking dumbly at her.

"What do you remember?" the elf said and Murtagh stiffened.

Saphira sent the elf another glare before turning back to Murtagh.

"I have no idea what kind of drugs you're on -"

"Nothing," Saphira declared. "When it comes to the drugs and what you remember." She frowned. "That complicates things."

"We are still early in the cycle," the elf said and Murtagh really wished everyone would just shut up. "We can set things right."

"Drugs. All of you," Murtagh said.

"What do you know of Galbatorix?" the elf asked almost sharply.

Murtagh told himself not to stiffen, but he could just as sooner told himself not to breathe.

He still had nightmares about the last time he'd seen then-Senator Galbatorix King. King had taken him in when his father had been killed fifteen years ago, but he hadn't had much contact with him until puberty had kicked in. Murtagh remembered vividly when King's gaze had gone from disinterested to laser-focused. He'd run as soon as he'd been able.

"Then you know why we need help," the elf continued.

Murtagh shook his head and immediately regretted it. "I keep telling you," he said through gritted teeth, "you have the wrong guy."

"You are Murtagh, son of Morzan, son of the Black Hand, R-"

"Arya!" Saphira said sharply.

Murtagh felt a sudden urge to throw up again. He forced it down.

"One thing at a time," Saphira said like it was that easy. "You," she looked pointedly at Murtagh, "will rest. Eragon and I will go and get some things from town."

"I'm not staying here with her," Murtagh said with more venom than he knew he had in him.

The elf – Arya, presumably – didn't even blink.

"Then you can stay with Eragon," Saphira said, sounding almost chirp, and got to her feet. She headed off while Eragon made spluttered protests, the elf hot in her heels.

The silence that they left behind was awkward. Murtagh leaned back against the tree that had almost killed him and held back a wince when his hand throbbed. He closed his eyes and tried to pretend he wasn't hoping everything would just go away when he opened his eyes again.

-;-

"What happened then?" Eragon prompted.

Murtagh shrugged. "I grew up. The king brought me to the palace and arranged for my upbringing. Aside from that, he left me alone."

"Then why did you leave?"

A hard laugh broke from Murtagh. "Escaped is more like it. At my last birthday, when I turned eighteen, the king summoned me to his quarters for a private dinner. The message surprised me because I had always distanced myself from the court and had rarely met him. We'd talked before, but always within earshot of eavesdropping nobles. I accepted, of course, aware it would be unwise to refuse. The meal was sumptuous, but throughout it his black eyes never left me. His gaze was disconcerting; it seemed that he was searching for something hidden in my face." (389, Eragon)

-;-

Time passed, though Murtagh's head was too heavy for him to be able to judge it accurately.

Eragon kept shifting like he couldn't get comfortable. Murtagh eventually had to give up and opened his eyes to give Eragon a look.

Eragon's cheeks darkened. He looked down at his hands, which seemed as incapable to stay still as he did.

Murtagh was prepared to leave it at that, but Eragon apparently wasn't.

"If you don't remember, why did you come here?" he asked and Murtagh was surprised when Eragon didn't stutter.

"Drugs," Murtagh said and had to bite back a laugh when Eragon looked up in shock. "You lot are insane. What does it matter why I came here?"

"Because you always find me," Eragon blurted out.

"And what does that even mean?" Murtagh heard himself say and promptly wished he hadn't. Or, at least, that he could have made it sound less of a whine.

"You always find me," Eragon repeated. "That's how this goes. Saphira comes to me, and then I start getting these dreams, and then you show up. We used to go after Arya, but these days she tends to come to us. I think she doesn't like that you always get here first."

That made about as much sense as the elf – Arya – had done back at the lake. Murtagh wished desperately that this was just a fever dream, even though he knew it was too much to wish for. He had never been that lucky.

"And what is this, exactly?" Murtagh heard himself drawl.

"The cycle," Eragon said and promptly grimaced. "At least, that's what everyone calls it. It feels weird to me to say it. I picture a bike more than a circle."

Murtagh was tempted to laugh. He kept it at bay. He doubted his head would thank him if he gave in to the urge.

"We're not sure how often it happens," Eragon tried to explain, even though it clearly made him uncomfortable, "but every other century or so maybe? We're reborn or something, and every time we have to take down Galbatorix."

The man's name made him want to flee and Murtagh wished he could tell everyone to stop using it without waving a giant flag proclaiming 'GIANT WEAKNESS WAITING TO BE EXPLOITED' at the world.

"And you're sure that you just haven't eaten some weird mushrooms or something?" Murtagh didn't even try to bite back the words.

Eragon's cheeks pinked again. "That's more or less what I always say to you. According to my dreams, anyway."

Murtagh tried to picture this conversation being held the other way around and almost doubled over from holding in the hysterical laughter.

"I wasn't sure myself either," Eragon continued, either because he couldn't see Murtagh's dilemma or because he was doing Murtagh the courtesy of pretending he couldn't. "Saphira and I have been having this conversation pretty much every day for the past few weeks now. Then she went off and found this statue thing, and I just -"

The statue. The reason Murtagh had come to Carvahall in the first place.

"- and then you came running by, Arya right behind you, and -"

Murtagh flinched and Eragon stopped talking.

"I know this must be hard," Eragon said because he wasn't done talking; he'd just taken a break. "It's pretty hard for me too. But the evidence is kind of hard to ignore." For some reason, that was something he had to tell his knees rather than Murtagh himself.

"I don't even have half the evidence you do," Murtagh told him.

Eragon looked up sharply. "I could take you to the – no, wait, you're injured." He blushed.

"Been there, done that," Murtagh said once he realised Eragon was once again talking about the statue.

Eragon blinked owlishly. "What?"

"The statue," Murtagh clarified. "I've seen it. I mean, I guess I can see the resemblance, and the fact that you and your dragon's names are on the plaque is eerie, but." Murtagh was tempted to shrug and only just held it back. His head was still throbbing. It really was better not to tempt fate.

"This would be easier if you were the one explaining it," Eragon said and it sounded like he was pouting.

"Because then I'd be the one explaining it?" Murtagh said dryly and Eragon blushed again.

"Yes. You were always so much better at this," Eragon said firmly; like he knew what he was talking about.

"Look," Murtagh said, "if reincarnation was a fact, something that actually happened, then there would be proof. Bar some statue that is at least a millennium or two old."

"The elves -"

"Live in the forest and are exposed to too many weird-ass fungus spores for me to trust them at their word," Murtagh said immediately.

Eragon blinked at him. "You have a weird obsession with drugs and mushrooms."

Murtagh had nothing to say to that - nothing that didn't reveal far too much about the society he had grown up in, anyway - so he said nothing.

"But they have studied this a lot more than we have," Eragon said. "It's a pretty big deal in their culture, from what I understand anyway. They can't – actually can't – give a child certain names unless they know their souls match up."

"That sounds like more 'shroom bullshit to me," Murtagh said. "How can you even tell that a soul matches up, anyway?" He snorted.

For some reason, Eragon felt compelled to blush again. "Sometimes it's easy to tell," he mumbled, probably more to himself than to Murtagh.

"Oh yeah?" Murtagh heard himself say. "So, what, you're saying that you recognise me from this very short and very ridiculous conversation we've been having?"

Eragon bit his lip and looked up. "Yes," he said, not even hesitating.

Murtagh fell silent.

Eragon went back to staring at his hands again. Murtagh let him.

It was official, he thought to himself. The world had gone ahead and gone crazy while he'd been asleep. He closed his eyes and tried to force back the ache in his head. He had a better chance of doing that than wishing this was all a crazy dream, anyway.

-;-

Murtagh's eyes became inscrutable orbs. "I'm running away, like you." There was restrained sorrow in his words. "I do not belong to either the Varden or the Empire. Nor do I owe allegiance to any man but myself." (279, Eragon)

-;-

Murtagh was more than ready to get moving when Saphira and her elf friend came back. He'd finally caved and had a few sips of his precious water, though he hadn't dared to touch any of the food.

Saphira pulled a first-aid kit from the huge bag she was hefting around like she wasn't five-foot-nothing and, what, 90 pounds soaking wet? Then again, dragon magic worked in mysterious ways. She put it down next to Murtagh before promptly asking him, however nicely, if she could touch his forehead.

"Why?" Murtagh asked.

"Eragon still needs to properly harness his magic before he can attempt any healing spells," Saphira said and Eragon blushed so darkly it was a wonder his head didn't catch fire. "I can scan you to see if there's anything serious going on, even if I can't heal you. But at least that is better than nothing."

For all that he'd been brought up in the mockery of a home, occasionally filled with people that still made his skin crawl, Murtagh had learned a thing or two about magic. First and foremost that he didn't like it, and secondly that he really didn't like it around his person.

Strange, then, that he was so fascinated by Alagaësia and dragons, but who said fascinations had to make sense?

"I'd rather not, thank you," Murtagh forced out as politely as he could.

Saphira frowned softly before her expression smoothed out. "I forgot. You probably don't like people using magic on you."

Murtagh felt himself freeze.

That was an intimate secret, one he had never parted with before. He'd always talked around it, on the occasion where he'd been forced to, but he'd never gone and said it outright. And even if he had, it was impossible for these people to have heard about it.

Unless what they were talking about was actually true.

No. He forced the thought out of his mind. Reincarnation? Ridiculous. Completely and utterly insane.

"Here," Saphira said, like she hadn't shattered his entire world, and held out what Murtagh recognised as a low-grade pain-killer. "Do you have some water to take it with?"

Murtagh didn't answer her. He grabbed the foil, popped two into his mouth and swallowed them dry. His stomach immediately started to cramp but he forced himself not to grab his water. He didn't want to waste it.

The canteen bumped against his hand, then. "You can just refill it," Eragon said and Murtagh wanted to hate him then. He took the canteen instead and swallowed a few mouthfuls.

"How long have you been out here?"

Murtagh stilled. He forced himself to put the cap back on and put the canteen back into his bag. "A day," he said and even that little admittance was reluctant. He was not about to tell these crazy people that he had been on the run for three years.

"How long have you been running?" Saphira said next and Murtagh wanted to run, to flee far away and never look back.

"At least a few years," Arya said like she was just stating the obvious.

Eragon looked like someone had kicked a puppy right in front of him, laughing all the while.

"I can take care of myself," Murtagh said tightly.

"No one claimed you were incapable," Arya said and Murtagh wondered if she was incapable of saying something with any feeling in it.

"Then why ask?" Murtagh asked brusquely.

"No matter," Arya said and moved her hand through the air like she was brushing the matter aside. "We have more pressing matters. We need to find Brom."

Murtagh found himself looking over at Eragon. Eragon, Son of Brom, the plaque had said. Eragon had made some reference to a man – likely in town – and now looked like he regretted it.

"Why?" Murtagh found himself asking.

"We need to make contact with the Varden as soon as possible," Arya said and Murtagh was on his feet before he was even aware of moving.

"No, nope, I'm not going there." He had to cling to the tree to stay up, but he was staying up dammit. He was also not fucking going to the Varden. No way.

Saphira and Eragon were on their feet as well and were standing close to him like they were ready to catch him if he keeled over again. Over his dead body. He had already needed help once this month and that was one time too many.

"What you want is immaterial," Arya said and Murtagh really wished she'd learn how to talk like a regular person. "The cycle is clear. You will go there."

"Fuck the fucking cycle," he spat. "I don't believe in any of the shit you're sprouting and I got enough of King while living with him. I'm done. Through. You'll just have to deal with whatever this is without me."

"If you leave, you will only end up under him," Arya said coolly and Murtagh stiffened.

She didn't even have to elaborate. Murtagh knew exactly what she meant.

"With us, you stand a chance of maintaining your freedom."

Murtagh heard himself laugh. It was not a pretty sound. "A chance? Nice recruitment speech. All the same, I think I'll pass."

Arya's face hardened. "Do not be a fool."

"Sorry, that just happens to be my middle name, nothing I can do about it," Murtagh heard himself snark. He grabbed his bag and shouldered it even though his hand was still throbbing faintly and his head was threatening to floor him without even a moment's notice.

"You are going to your doom."

"Fucking stop with the doom crap!" Murtagh snapped. "I told you I don't believe you. Now let me go."

"We can't force him," Saphira said softly. "He has to come voluntarily, or not at all."

Murtagh wanted to thank her but forced it back. Nothing was making sense anymore. He had to get away from these people and the insane things they were saying.

No one stopped him as he walked – slightly unsteadily – past them. His inner compass told him which direction to take to get back to town. While he desperately wanted to be as far away from Carvahall and everything in it as possible, he had to get there first in order to get away from it.

-;-

"So why don't you join the Varden? They'll distrust you for a time, but once you prove your loyalty they'll treat you with respect. And aren't they in a sense your allies? They strive to tend the king's reign. Isn't that what you want?"

"Must I spell everything out for you?" demanded Murtagh. "I don't want Galbatorix to learn where I am, which is inevitable if people start saying that I've sided with his enemies, which I've never done." (391, Eragon)

-;-

He didn't allow the last day to really register until he was on a train heading out of town. He fell back in his seat then, eyes open and staring at nothing.

He'd gone to Carvahall to find a fucking stupid statue and had instead somehow stumbled upon a plot to get their current president thrown out of office. How in the hell? How was this his life?

Murtagh rubbed a careful hand over his forehead. It was all a little too much to swallow. Reincarnation, being stuck in the same loop, history forever repeating itself? No. It made absolutely no sense.

No, that wasn't strictly true. Humans did have an awful habit of not learning from their mistakes. After all, they'd elected fucking Galbatorix King, hadn't they, even though he'd been under investigation at the time and was due in court shortly after coming into power. He had bad news written all over him and yet somehow he'd managed to win over Trianna Magii even though she was far more qualified and – unlike King – didn't actively want to kill off parts of the population. But no, Gods forbid Alagaësia ever elect a witch over a regular human, let alone a woman over a man.

Murtagh pinched the bridge of his nose. History repeating itself happened frequently. Far too frequently. But to the point where souls were recycled like goddamn plastic and were doomed to go through the same motions again and again? No. Murtagh liked to think he had at least some semblance of control over his life.

He turned to look out of the window. The landscape was whirling by so fast it made him sick. He had to close his eyes again and swallow back the taste of bile.

There was no such thing as reincarnation. The things Saphira had known had to be because of her magic or perception or whatever. She'd probably seen how uncomfortable the thought of magic had made him. It wasn't something she'd known about him beforehand; it was something she'd deduced. And his name, well, there were probably still posters with his face and name on it somewhere. That was all.

The elf's creepy demeanour he put down to her being a fucking elf. They were weird to begin with.

He put his arms around himself as he wondered where to go next. The Varden was like a ghost that hung over his shoulder – with his father and King over the other – and he had no desire to deal with either of them. The problem was that no one knew where they got together, if they had a proper base and if so, where it was. Anyone could be linked to the Varden – or to King for that matter. Which meant that Murtagh had to stay really low – far lower than he had in years. He couldn't afford to be spotted or, worse, recognised. He'd come too far, gotten too used to the taste of freedom. He wasn't going back. He'd sooner die.

Aroughs, maybe. That was as far south as you could get in Alagaësia. From there it was just a jump, skip and a hop to the Southern Isles. He hadn't explored those yet. If he could still stomach the thought of investigating the old Dragon Riders, he could go there and see if there was anything worth exploring.

Maybe. He had to get the sour taste out of his mouth first and push away the feeling that he was doing the wrong thing.

-;-

"So what happened?"

Murtagh spooned more food into his bowl. "It's a rather simple thing, but all the more deadly because of it; I was seen in the street by someone who knows me. I did the only thing I could and ran away. It was too late, though; he recognised me."

It was unfortunate, but Eragon was unsure how bad it really was. "Since I don't know your friend, I have to ask: Will he tell anyone?"

Murtagh gave a strained laugh. "If you had met him, that wouldn't need answering. His mouth his loosely hinged and hangs open all the time, vomiting whatever happens to be in his mind. The question isn't whether he will tell people, but whom he will tell. If word of this reaches the wrong ears, we'll be in trouble." (291, Eragon)

-;-

It wasn't the first time he'd been spotted, let alone recognised. Murtagh had been forced to flee several times before – particularly during his first year on the run – but it was the first time it happened while he wasn't operating at what served as optimal speed these days.

He got sloppy. It all came down to that. He was tired after several nights of haunting dreams and he got forgot to check his six. Someone saw him, called his name, and Murtagh'd had no choice but to run.

He managed to get away, but only barely. He had to sneak past several identical black SUVs that he knew in his bones were looking for him. He ended up going for two days without sleep, heading east instead of south because the last thing expected of him would be to head in the direction of the capital.

Of course, he had no intention of going to Urû'baen. He wasn't suicidal. While it would be the definition of the long way around, he headed for Bullridge with the intent of walking the long way around to get to Furnost. The thought of slipping over the border into Surda was becoming more and more tempting with every passing day. If the desert hadn't been half as dangerous as it was, Murtagh would have crossed that instead and kept going until he hit a town King didn't have control over.

He passed out in a shack that had seen better centuries once he finally made it out of Dras-Leona and landed somewhere north of the capital. He couldn't sleep much, his nightmares and creeping anxiety wouldn't let him, but it allowed him to gather enough energy to carry on.

He made it to Bullridge far too slowly for comfort, though he was equally unable to stop looking over his shoulder or take convoluted routes to get where he wanted to go. He'd stopped in smaller towns and gas stations, always careful to keep his head down and make as little of an impression as possible, but it felt good to hit a bigger town at last. A bigger town meant he could blend in more properly. Smaller towns always made him feel like he stuck out like a sore thumb.

He gathered supplies there and allowed himself to spend a couple of days in a youth hostel, sleeping just as fitfully as he'd done on the road, but at least his back stopped complaining as much.

The only obstacle he encountered on his way out of town, one he had not for a minute thought to expect. He hadn't even made it far, just a couple of clicks out of town and along the older road that would take him along Hadarac Desert and eventually down to Furnost. As soon as he hit a gas station he had the excellent luck of practically running into a trio he thought he had left well behind him in a forest he still cursed to hell and back.

"Murtagh?"

And before he could hightail out of there, he was spotted. Because of course he was. Murtagh hated his life.

They were at a gas station next to a Surdan-make and model that had seen better decades and were clearly filling up to go somewhere. They looked like they were sleeping at least eight hours a night and got three solid meals a day. And there was Murtagh, still holding onto his battered bag, at least five kilos lighter – five kilos he probably hadn't afforded to lose in the first place – and looking like a steaming pile of shit.

Aces.

They were all staring at each other; like they were waiting for someone to make the first move.

Murtagh eventually decided it should be him. And his move would be to fucking hightail out of there.

Saphira moved before he could. She walked away from the car and headed straight for him. Murtagh tried to tell his legs to move, but it was like they were glued to the tarmac. Had he mentioned how much he hated his life recently?

"It's so good to see you," Saphira said like they hadn't left things off last time on a hell of an awkward note.

"I have to get going, unfortunately," Murtagh said and didn't even care if they heard the lie in his voice. "I have places to be, things to see. You know how it is."

"Where are you headed?" she asked. "We could drop you off."

Someone made a sound – Eragon he bet, considering Arya probably didn't make a sound unless it was to frighten the life out of someone.

"I'm good, thanks," he said with a tight smile.

"The Empire is looking for you," Arya said, because of course her opinion was needed in this situation.

"Who?" Murtagh heard himself say and immediately wanted to strangle himself.

"Galbatorix," Saphira said. "He used to be King once and this used to be his Empire."

Ah great, more reincarnation bullshit. Murtagh had missed that. Not.

"I can take care of myself," Murtagh repeated for what felt like the thousandth time.

"We're heading due south if you change your mind," Saphira said before heading back to the car.

Murtagh stared after her, only vaguely wondering if he really was starting to lose his mind. Then he started walking.

It took him about a hundred meters before he swore and turned on his heel. These people were clearly crazy, but so far they hadn't made any other alarms go off. They probably wouldn't hand him over to King unless it was to save their own skins, which they hopefully wouldn't have to. If he caught a ride to Furnost, providing they went that far south, then he'd shorten his travel time considerably. His feet would thank him.

"How far south are you going?" he asked just as Arya walked out of the gas station, looking as regal as what Murtagh assumed elves typically did.

Eragon bumped his head on the roof of the car on his way in. He swore and flailed as he tried not to fall flat on his face. He failed.

Murtagh tried not to smirk too widely as he faced Saphira.

Saphira looked...relieved, curiously enough. She smiled at Murtagh and nodded towards the back seat. "Jump in. We'll take you as far south as you want to go."

-;-

"You're avoiding the question," Eragon said, dabbing at his split lip.

"So what?" spat Murtagh as he stomped to the edge of the camp. After a minute he sighed. "It doesn't matter why I'm in this predicament, but I can tell you that the Varden wouldn't welcome me even if I came bearing the king's head. Oh, they might greet me nicely enough and let me into their councils, but trust me? Never. And if I were to arrive under less fortuitous circumstances, like the present ones, they'd likely clap me in irons."

"Won't you tell me what this is about?" asked Eragon. "I've done things I'm not proud of, too, so it's not as if I'm going to pass judgement."

Murtagh shook his head slowly. "It isn't like that. I haven't done anything to deserve this treatment, though it would be easier to atone for it if I had. No…my only wrongdoing was existing in the first place." (344, Eragon)

-;-

Calling the silence inside the car awkward would have been an understatement. Murtagh was tempted to say 'Boo!' just to see if it would get a reaction.

Saphira had slid smoothly into the driver's seat, making Murtagh wonder briefly if dragons – human forms or no – were even allowed to drive, and had glared at Eragon when he'd tried to ride shotgun.

Murtagh had no idea what was going on in the trio and he didn't care to find out either.

"So," Saphira said, "where can we drop you off?"

"Furnost," Murtagh said before he could regret it.

"You were going to hike there?" Saphira said and Murtagh could see in the rear-view mirror that her eyebrow was cocked.

Murtagh cocked one back. "Yes?"

"That's quite the distance," she said.

"I have walked further before," Murtagh said. "And I do take breaks."

She hummed, eyes once more back on the road.

The other two occupants of the car were almost pointedly silent.

Saphira tried to get a conversation going several times, but each attempt petered off. Murtagh wondered if she'd ever stop trying, but she didn't, not for long, during the six hours it took them to eventually make it to Furnost. By then the night had fallen and Murtagh was tempted to grimace at the sky. He hated looking for shelter in the dark, but sometimes there was just no avoiding it.

He stepped out of the car along with everyone else. They were at a camping grounds and Murtagh could hear the others talking about where they could put up their tents.

"You are welcome to join us," Saphira said just when Murtagh was wondering if he could make his exit without alerting them.

The three were staring at him. Eragon's eyes were very wide and his cheeks looked ruddier than normal.

"Thanks, but I'll be fine," Murtagh said.

"It really is no trouble," Saphira said and jabbed Eragon in the side pointedly.

"No bother!" Eragon yelped before glaring at Saphira.

Arya had clearly washed her hands off the whole debacle and seemed fully focused on setting up one of the two tents they apparently had stuffed in the back of the car.

"Sure," Murtagh said, making sure to sound like he didn't believe them at all.

But Saphira apparently took that as a confirmation of him staying with them as she practically beamed and said, "Great, then you can get the other tent out of the car."

Too tired to argue, Murtagh sighed and headed for the back of the car. He didn't have to stay the entire night. He could sneak off while the others were asleep. It wouldn't even be hard. He just needed to make sure that Saphira was fast asleep before making his move.

"Oh, wait!" Eragon called out, but it was too late. Murtagh had already rounded the car and was looking down at something he thought he'd never see again.

It was his father's old sword. The one that had gone missing after Morzan had been killed. Murtagh had been caught between wondering if King didn't have it squirrelled away somewhere and was just waiting for the right moment to hand it over to Murtagh – for some bullshit political reason and with a far greater cost than Murtagh would ever want to pay – or if Morzan's killer had taken it out of his cold, dead hands.

It had apparently been the latter.

Eragon was pale as death when he rounded the car. Murtagh was too numb to care why. His back felt tight and though he knew it was impossible, the scar felt like it was on fire.

"You should be careful with that," he said, voice carefully detached. He grabbed the other tent next to it, wishing uselessly that he could have focused on the bow and arrows or the wicked elven blade instead of his father's cursed sword. "It's sharp." He stalked towards Arya and started to put up the other tent next to her.

Arya didn't speak or look his way. Good. He wasn't in a mood to talk either.

-;-

Murtagh's eyes narrowed as he looked up from the rabbit he was skinning. "That sword. May I see it?" he asked, wiping his hands.

Eragon hesitated, reluctant to relinquish the weapon even for a moment, then nodded. Murtagh examined the symbol on the blade intently. His face darkened. "Where did you get this?"

"Brom gave it to me. Why?"

Murtagh shoved the sword back and crossed his arms angrily. He was breathing hard. "That sword," he said with emotion, "was once as well-known as its owner, the last Rider to carry it was Morzan – a brutal, savage man. I thought you were a foe of the Empire, yet here I find you bearing one of the Forsworn's bloody swords!" (280, Eragon)

-;-

Even though every bone in his body screamed at him to get far, far away from Zar'roc and Morzan's ghost, Murtagh bedded down with the others and stared at the opposite wall as he waited for the others to fall asleep.

Eragon and Saphira had thankfully done him the courtesy of not trying to talk him after he found the sword. He didn't know why; didn't want to think about why. That way lay madness and he was already mad enough, thanks.

He lay there for what felt like hours. Time passed at a snail's pace, but Murtagh had eventually had enough. He listened closely and made sure it sounded like everyone else was asleep before pushing himself up. Packing took no time at all. He'd perfected the art years ago. He climbed out of the tent soundlessly and made sure to close the flap after himself.

The moon was still high in the sky when he finally made it out. His chest felt tight and his back ached. He shouldered his bag nonetheless and allowed his inner compass to tell him where to go.

"Leaving so soon?"

Murtagh stiffened. He only barely held back a swear. Fucking elves and their fucking keen ears.

"Not that that's any of your business," he said, "but yes."

"Eragon regrets the manner of which you learned that the sword was in his possession," Arya said, sounding far too awake for the hour.

"I'm sure he does," Murtagh said coolly. "Just like I'm sure he would have told me himself. Oh, wait."

"Fool," Arya said, voice sharp. Her hair was loose, allowing the soft breeze to play with it. Murtagh supposed some would have found her beautiful. Personally, he was more likely to find someone handsome than beautiful.

"Well, if that was everything -"

"He will need you in the coming time," Arya said, voice tight like she was running out of patience.

"Not this again," Murtagh started to say, but Arya had apparently reached the end of her rope.

"Eragon is never as steady as he is with you by his side," she said, eyes angry and gleaming. "It is a fact the Varden has learned to accept over the cycles, loathe we are to admit it. As such I cannot allow you to leave."

"I'd like to see you try to stop me," Murtagh growled at her.

Her teeth flashed in the moonlight. "It would bring me great pleasure to do so."

"I'm not going to the Varden," Murtagh said, refusing to admit that he was scared of what she could do if she put her mind to it. Elves were terrifying and not just because they were clearly constantly hopped up on drugs. They were strong, fast and lived too bloody long.

"Yes, you are," Arya said firmly. "I will tie you up and carry you there if I have to."

"I don't think your precious Eragon would like that," Murtagh said mockingly.

Arya faltered briefly and Murtagh grinned savagely.

"That's what I thought."

"You will fall into Galbatorix's hands again if you carry on down this path," Arya said then, and now she just sounded angry.

"The future isn't set in stone," Murtagh countered, and now he was angry too.

"They are not," Arya said. "They are writ among the stars."

"Oh fucking spare me -"

"I have watched you die, defect, betray, crippled and rise victorious," she said and there was just something about the way she said it that chilled Murtagh to the bone. "And it all begins and ends with him," she nodded back at the tent Murtagh had slipped out of.

Murtagh snorted, swallowing past a suddenly dry throat. "Awfully convenient, isn't it, that I have to do what you want in order to, what, protect myself? Get out of this alive?"

"I have seen you die protecting him far more times than I have seen you die under an enemy banner," Arya said harshly.

Murtagh stopped.

Arya's cheeks were ruddy and her hands were clenched at her sides. She was clearly agitated. She took several careful breaths and Murtagh could only watch, still hearing the last thing she'd said echoing in his head as she calmed down.

'I have seen you die protecting him far more times than I have seen you die under an enemy banner.'

"You say the future is not writ, and yes, that is true," she said. The wind picked up, but she didn't seem to care. "But certain events are predestined. They will always come true whether we wish them or not."

"I don't believe in destiny," Murtagh heard himself say, voice hoarse like he hadn't spoken for days.

"It believes in you," she said eerily.

Murtagh shook his head. "I can't go to the Varden. They would just as soon throw me in a cell than trust me."

"Yes, this is true," Arya said; like Murtagh needed comments from the fucking peanut gallery. "But it is a far kinder fate than being Galbatorix's puppet." She tilted her head. "After all, is that not why you ran?"

The voice rose up, almost as if on fucking cue, and whispered in his ear. 'Just imagine it, Murtagh. Wouldn't that be -'

Murtagh shook his head again, firmer this time.

"Think of what Tornac would have advised you to do."

Murtagh's head snapped towards her. "Don't you dare -"

"I am not taking his name in vain," Arya said sharply before he could finish cursing her to hell and fucking back. "He lives."

Murtagh's heart stopped beating.

No. No, Tornac couldn't have. Murtagh had seen him die, had seen him take a shot meant for him.

"No," Murtagh said, voice cold and dangerous. "You're lying."

"She's not," a third voice said. Eragon, Murtagh registered. He didn't know when Eragon had woken up and frankly didn't care either. "He's alive. We wouldn't lie about him." Eragon sounded small and almost afraid. "We know how much he meant to you."

Murtagh turned around and bared his teeth at Eragon. "Don't you dare presume -!"

Eragon almost flailed right back into the tent in his hurry to back up.

"Stop it," Arya snapped. "He means you no harm."

"And you do?" Murtagh said, turning to her again.

"None of us does," Saphira said then, because of course she was awake too. Of course.

"You're all fucking insane," Murtagh said harshly. "I'm leaving."

"We won't stop you," Saphira said.

"Saphira -" Arya began.

"I told you," Saphira said, sounding calm and older than her years, "he comes voluntarily or not at all."

Suddenly her compliance was making him so angry he could barely see. Murtagh turned on his heel and stalked off before he could do something he'd regret.

-;-

"The man who taught you, Tornac, could make a fortune with a fencing school. People would come from all parts of Alagaësia to learn from him."

"He's dead," said Murtagh shortly. (288, Eragon)

-;-

Murtagh didn't know how far he walked, but he didn't stop until the day was almost dawning. His head was in shambles. He couldn't think straight.

She was lying. The elf had to be lying. He'd seen Tornac die with his own two eyes! It was just a plot, a sham, to get him to go where they wanted him to go. Them, with their fucking reincarnation obsession and whatever plot they were concocting that Murtagh knew was doomed to fail.

People couldn't just take on the president! He was too powerful. They'd made him too powerful. People had been blind, hadn't seen the evil pouring out of him, and now it was too late. Or people had seen and hadn't cared, because surely he didn't mean to be bad to them. Just the others, those dreadful others that everyone seemed so fucking obsessed with hating.

Murtagh stopped, suddenly aware of being out of breath and aching. He doubled over, hands on his knees, and tried desperately to breathe. It was harder than it had any right to be.

And even though it hurt to breathe, he had to struggle not to laugh. Eragon had seemed so normal earlier – or, rather, as normal as a Dragon Rider could be, he supposed. Rational, perhaps. And yet somehow, within the span of less than a day, he'd been completely sold on the idea Saphira had tried almost in vain to convince him of.

Murtagh was sorely tempted to blame brainwashing. But then maybe all Dragon Riders were a little insane. He didn't know, having never met one before. Maybe the magic drove them all insane. It'd certainly explain every witch and elf Murtagh had ever had the dubious pleasure of meeting.

He let out a sigh, heart still thundering in his chest. He pushed himself up to give his lungs more room to expand. He realised suddenly that he'd run the long way around the lake and was close to Beor Mountains. They were every bit as impressive as the first time he'd seen them.

He'd gone there once in search of another remnant of the Rider Wars. He hadn't found it. He wondered briefly if the trio were headed there before killing the thought.

No, he was done with those three. They were batshit insane. He'd be doing himself a favour by washing his hands off them.

He sat down eventually, painfully aware of the way his legs were shaking. He'd been walking fast-paced for hours. It was a wonder he hadn't collapsed. Every instinct inside of him told him to get farther back, away from the road, but his body wasn't having it. He'd move if he had to, but not a moment before. He just had to make sure he didn't fall asleep, then he'd hear and have more than enough time to hide from any approaching cars.

"Hey there!"

Approaching people, however, was apparently a whole other story.

Murtagh's head snapped around to see a figure walking down a dirt road that seemed to lead towards the mountains. It connected to the other road but was visibly a less travelled one.

Murtagh was surprised to realise the figure was, in fact, a dwarf. He was stocky, broad across the shoulders and would in all likelihood come up to Murtagh's shoulders – if he came from one of the taller families. If not, he was probably going to hit somewhere around Murtagh's middle.

The dwarf waved at him, meaning that the greeting had unfortunately been aimed at Murtagh. Fuck. The sense of apprehension only got worse when Murtagh saw a bow and quiver on his back.

It would honestly be his luck if he'd somehow managed to stumble across the Varden; it really and honestly would.

"Hello," Murtagh returned when the dwarf got close enough. He tried not to sound as conflicted as he felt.

"What a strange place t'bump into someone, eh, stranger?" the dwarf said, hands on his hips.

Yeah, it really would be just Murtagh's luck to have stumbled across one of the Varden's hideouts. There were not enough curse-words in all the languages in the world to properly express how Murtagh felt.

"I couldn't have said it better myself, stranger," Murtagh heard himself say and promptly wanted to cringe. He was really not having a good day, was he?

The dwarf bared his teeth in what was probably meant to be a grin. "C'mon, then. We've been waitin' fer ya."

To say that Murtagh was confused would have been an understatement.

"Waiting?"

"Ay," the dwarf agreed. He held out a hand and practically dragged Murtagh to his feet. Dwarves were also apparently annoyingly strong. "Ya took yer time getting' here. Where're the others? Didja get separated?"

Fuck, he really had stumbled upon a Varden hideout. He'd just been kidding about that!

"No, I -"

"Ah, that dinna matter," the dwarf said. "But we'd better get'cha inside before anyone sees us. Agents of the Empire're everywheres."

It was official. Murtagh hated his life.

"No, I was really just -"

"The others'll be fine," the dwarf said and practically started to push Murtagh along. "Girlie knows the way better than most anyone. She'll bring the others back safe."

"I'm really not -"

"Ya look hungry. Didja walk all the way here? Ya humans're crazy. Ya know there're easier ways to travel, eh?" The dwarf laughed.

And try as he might, but Murtagh was completely unable to get a word in edgewise. Which was then naturally how he ended up being brought into the mountains. Because of course there was a hideout inside the Beor Mountains. Of course there was.

No, wait, scratch that – apparently there was a whole underground city in the Beor Mountains. Had Murtagh mentioned that he hated his life?

-;-

Murtagh said, "If you find this Dormnad and then continue on to the Varden, I will leave you. Encountering the Varden would be as dangerous for me as walking unarmed into Urû'baen with a fanfare of trumpets to announce my arrival." (283, Eragon)

-;-

"Found 'im!" the dwarf shouted as soon as they walked out of the cave he'd all but shoved Murtagh through to get there. A cave, which they'd entered through a waterfall, like life had suddenly turned into a video-game.

Apparently the Varden – and probably other people who also were a fan of Dragon Riders – had a thing for caves. And, if the dwarf was any example, off-road four-wheel motorcycles.

...Then again, maybe that was just a dwarf-thing.

A group of men turned to face them. Well, two men, one woman and another dwarf. Murtagh knew his eyes were bugging out when he saw the woman, but hell, it wasn't every day a former presidential candidate turned out to be a member of the Varden.

The dwarf narrowed his eyes at Murtagh, but Murtagh was a little more preoccupied with the other two men. He recognised one of them; had, in fact, seen pictures of him in Morzan's study once. That was probably not a good thing. And the other looked like he wanted to gut Murtagh for breakfast and was still deciding just how to do it.

"This is him?" the latter asked.

"Said the passcode, a'right," the dwarf next to Murtagh said.

Murtagh wanted to groan. That was their passcode? Any idiot could find themselves saying that back! Just look at Murtagh!

The one that looked like he really wanted Murtagh dead crossed his arms. His hair was done in a style that Murtagh thought had been popular in Surda once, though his skin was more than of a desert-dweller. Not that it stopped him from looking regal and pissed off at the world.

"What's your name, boy?"

Murtagh had to hold himself back from saying that it had all been a mistake. That was how he ended up tossed into whatever these people considered a dungeon.

"I think it's better if we wait for the others to get here," Murtagh said, sounding far more resigned than he meant to. At least if the batshit insane trio backed him up he'd maybe be able to fashion his escape somehow.

The man narrowed his eyes. The one Murtagh thought he recognised – who Murtagh really hoped wasn't who Murtagh thought he was – suddenly got wide-eyed.

Murtagh rued the day he'd ever fucking gone to Carvahall. Biggest mistake of his life.

"I know you," the other man said.

"We haven't met before," Murtagh said quickly and hoped that would be the end of it.

"You're Murtagh."

Murtagh didn't even flinch as his arms were pulled behind his back and restricted. Honestly, he just wanted to sigh.

"I haven't done anything."

"Where is he?" the angry man asked.

"If you're talking about Eragon," Murtagh said; because knowing his luck they probably were, "he's probably just around the corner. We went our separate ways in Furnost, and that was around midnight."

No one seemed particularly comforted by his words, but then Murtagh hadn't expected them to actually believe him.

"Throw him in a cell."

That, however, he had expected.

"Your hospitality sucks, by the way," Murtagh said as he was led away by the once friendly dwarf. "And so do your passcodes."

The offended looks that followed him made it almost worth getting captured, but only almost.

-;-

Finally Murtagh turned to Eragon. His breathing was hard and fast, like that of a cornered wolf. He paused, then said with a tortured voice, "You have a right to know. I…I am the son of Morzan, first and last of the Forsworn." (368, Eragon)

-;-

Murtagh was surprised when he received his first visitor approximately an hour after he'd been thrown into an empty room and left alone. He'd been searched, relieved of his trusted hunting knife, but otherwise had all his possessions on him. The Varden were...strange captors.

Eragon's cheeks were ruddied with something that looked more like anger than a blush when he forced his way into the room. Murtagh had no idea what was going on with him and, quite frankly, was a little scared to ask. He was already too involved in this crazy scheme and he preferred not to be pulled further down the rabbit hole.

"They had no right to put you in here," Eragon said, almost stuttering over the words.

Murtagh spread his hands. "If they wanted a safer hideout, they should have thought of better passcodes. I literally just walked in here."

Arya – because of course Eragon hadn't come alone – rewarded him with a particularly nasty bitch-face.

Eragon's cheeks shifted into something that was definitely a blush.

"So, what can I do for you?"

"I'm getting you out," Eragon stated. "It never goes well when you end up in a cell."

That reeked of more reincarnation bullshit, so Murtagh really wasn't going to ask for clarification.

"That would be stellar, thanks," Murtagh said, trying and failing not to sound sarcastic.

"I have to go make my report," Arya said and turned on her heel to stomp off. Murtagh had no idea what he'd done to piss her off and really didn't care to find out.

"Where's your better half?" Murtagh asked instead.

Eragon blinked. "Oh, Saphira? She's off reuniting with our old teachers. I'm supposed to join her."

"But you decided to visit me instead? I'm touched."

Eragon's cheeks darkened.

"Don't let me keep you," Murtagh told him. "Something tells me I'm not going anywhere anytime soon."

Eragon's expression shifted to one of determination again. "I'll make it right," he said before rushing off like he had a Shade on his tail.

...Where had that analogy come from?

Murtagh shook his head. No matter. He had other things to worry about. Like how to break out of this godsforsaken cell.

-;-

There, against Murtagh's tanned and muscled skin, was a knotted white scar that stretched from his right shoulder to his left hip – a testament to some terrible agony.

"See that?" demanded Murtagh bitterly. He talked quickly now, as if relieved to have his secret finally revealed. "I was only three when I got it. During one of his many drunken rages, Morzan threw his sword at me as I ran by. My back was laid open by the very sword you now carry – the only thing I expected to receive as inheritance, until Brom stole it from my father's corpse." (369-370, Eragon)

-;-

His next visitor was much less welcome than the first two had been.

The man had silver-streaks along his temples now and crow's feet at the corner of his eyes, but the rest of him hadn't changed.

"Do you remember me?"

Murtagh wanted to grimace. "Why does everyone keep asking me that?"

The man shook his head. "Not from other lifetimes. From this one."

Murtagh crossed his arms over his chest. There was a rickety old bed in the room and a desk and a chair that had seen better days. He'd still taken the bed, no matter how old it and the sheets probably were, over the chair with the loose leg.

"I know who you are," Murtagh said eventually. "If we have met before, then I don't remember it."

The other man – Brom sighed. Even thinking his name brought a sour taste to Murtagh's mouth. "You were very young, then. Scarcely out of your diapers."

"Remind me, did my mother leave my father for you or did you leave him for her?"

His question was met with silence.

"You always were too perceptive for your own good," Brom said and Murtagh hated him.

"If this whole reincarnation thing is true," Murtagh heard himself say, "then why didn't you stop it?"

Brom shook his head. "It doesn't work like that."

"Like what?" Murtagh could feel himself getting angry. It burned in his chest. "And don't give me the 'certain things have to happen' crap. Unless, of course, you think abuse is something that has to happen."

Brom's face grew pinched.

"We try to reason with him in every cycle, but -"

"If you say certain things have to happen, I swear I'll -"

"I suspect we're always too late," Brom said and he sounded sad.

Murtagh fell silent.

"Galbatorix is cunning. He's seen through our plans more than once and I suspect he always makes sure to secure his most trusted allies as soon as he's able." Brom looked grave. "Willingly or otherwise."

"Why are you here?" Murtagh cut in. He was in no mood for wherever the current topic was going. He hadn't thought about his father in years – not properly – and he wasn't about to start again now. His past was just that; the past. He'd left that behind a long time ago.

"Ajihad is a paranoid man," Brom said. Was Murtagh supposed to know who that was? Probably the man Brom had been with earlier, then. "You have never managed to simply walk into Farthen Dûr before."

Murtagh had no idea what Farthen Dûr was but guessed it was probably the name the Varden had given this place.

"Lucky me, then," Murtagh said and meant exactly not one word of it.

Brom looked like he knew exactly what Murtagh was thinking. "With your permission, Ajihad would like our Readers to -"

"No," Murtagh said automatically. "My mind is my own. I won't let anyone read me."

Brom sighed but didn't look surprised. "I'll let him know."

He left after that, much to Murtagh's relief. Murtagh really hoped that was his last visitor of the day. He was done being social.

-;-

The bald man ignored him. He turned to Murtagh, who was still being held at sword point. "It's your turn now."

Murtagh stiffened and shook his head. The sword cut into his neck slightly. Blood dripped down his skin. "No."

"You will not be protected here if you refuse."

"Eragon has been declared trustworthy, so you cannot threaten to kill him to influence me. Since you can't do that, nothing you say or do will convince me to open my mind."

Sneering, the bald man cocked what would have been an eyebrow, if he had any. "What of your own life? I can still threaten that."

"It won't do any good," Murtagh said stonily and with such conviction that it was impossible to doubt his word. (384, Eragon)

-;-

He should have known better than to jinx it. He really should have.

"It's ok," Eragon blurted out as he all but barged into the room. "I got rid of them. You're safe now."

Murtagh cocked an eyebrow. "Thank you?"

"You're welcome," Eragon said and promptly blushed. "Sorry. I should have knocked."

Murtagh shrugged. "Well, I am a prisoner."

"You shouldn't be!" Eragon exclaimed and blushed about two shades darker.

"Look, if the old man gave you that sword then you probably know who it belonged to."

"I know who you are," Eragon blurted out before Murtagh could continue and promptly looked like he wanted the floor to swallow him. "I know who you are," he said again. "It doesn't bother me. You're not your father."

"I should hope not," Murtagh deadpanned. "I'd hate to suddenly find myself in what I can only assume was a polyamorous relationship with my wife and my former best friend, and spent my time throwing beer-bottles at my kid for fun."

Eragon looked like he was caught between blushing and blanching. It was really not the kid's best look.

"So, who exactly did you save me from?"

Eragon leaned back against the door, still visibly trying to gather himself. "Uh, the uh, the Twins."

That...told Murtagh exactly nothing. "The Twins?"

"The Readers," Eragon explained. "They're working for Galbatorix. The Varden is dealing with them."

"Great." Murtagh let his head fall back against the wall. "So now King knows where I am. That's just perfect. My day could not get any better."

"Oh, they didn't know you were here," Eragon said quickly. "Not many people do."

Murtagh wanted to say something very nasty about that not being why his very dead mentor hadn't visited him yet but held himself back. Eragon, while confusing and contradictory, hadn't done anything to deserve getting snapped at. Yet.

And because he was holding something back, naturally his mouth decided to let something else slip instead.

"What changed your mind?"

Eragon blinked. "What?"

Murtagh wanted to curse himself. Loudly. And in at least three languages. Ah well, too late to back out now. "I was there when Saphira showed you to the statue. You weren't exactly – ah, how do I put this? Open to the idea?"

For some reason, this made Eragon blush. He looked down and started fiddling with his hands.

"Compelling evidence," Eragon mumbled finally.

"...Am I allowed to ask what that was?" Murtagh asked.

Eragon's blush darkened yet again. Murtagh was seriously starting to wonder if the kid had a condition.

"You," Eragon said and promptly blushed even darker. "And-and Arya."

"...You're going to have to elaborate," Murtagh said when Eragon failed to do just that.

Eragon looked like he'd rather do anything other than that. "I recognised you," he forced out, proving that there was more to him than stuttering and blushing and a heap of contradictory things. "You and Arya. From my dreams."

"You know you tend to substitute faces in dreams with -"

"People you meet? Yeah, I do," Eragon said, looking up. "I read up on it when the dreams started to get really weird."

"As opposed to just weird?" Murtagh drawled.

"It's one thing to dream about dragons," Eragon said, "it's another to dream about an incident you know is going to cripple your uncle if you don't intervene, or knowing your cousin is going to get that job out of town before he even applies for it, or that you're going to meet someone before you even know their name."

Murtagh was not convinced.

Eragon looked frustrated. "You're so much better at this than me," he said again, mouth pulling into what looked distinctly like a pout.

"Or you're just easier to convince."

Eragon blushed again, though at least this time he had the backbone to scowl at Murtagh.

"They're going to release you soon," Eragon said, clearly unwilling to continue their current conversation. "I'll make sure of it."

"Awfully certain of yourself, kid."

"I'm not a kid!" Eragon protested.

"You're not eighteen either," Murtagh pointed out.

"Every time!" Eragon felt the strange need to say. He pulled the door open and stomped off, like Murtagh was supposed to understand what was bothering him this time.

Murtagh shook his head. The sooner he could get away from this place the better.

-;-

"You have a beautiful horse. What's his name?"

"Tornac, after the man who taught me how to fight." (285, Eragon)

-;-

"You're free to go," a nameless guard said some hours later.

Murtagh didn't trust that one bit. "Where's my guide out of this place, then, if that's true?"

The guard just shrugged at him.

"I think I'll stay here," Murtagh said. As much as he wanted to leave, he didn't want to get shot trying to sneak out either.

"Your call," the guard said and left, leaving the door open.

It didn't take long for Murtagh to hear footsteps coming closer. He heard a voice, hoarse, asking who someone was, and someone else answering. Murtagh was on his feet when a figure slid to a halt in the doorway, grabbing tightly onto the frame.

Murtagh felt the blood drain from his face.

"Murtagh," the ghost said – because it had to be a ghost, Murtagh had seen him die. "You're really here."

Murtagh shook his head, tightening his grip on his bag. "You're not here."

The ghost frowned. "Murtagh."

"You're dead," Murtagh snapped. "You're dead, I watched you die."

The ghost's face softened. "Oh, Murtagh."

Murtagh shook his head, backing away from the door. "No."

"I know you're confused -"

"No."

"- but please, allow me to explain."

"No!"

Someone else came running, but the ghost held up his hand and whoever it was stopped. "It's ok," the ghost said. "We're fine."

Murtagh just kept shaking his head as the ghost walked inside and closed the door behind him. Ghosts were immaterial, right? They couldn't touch things. But then, ghosts weren't real. No one had been able to prove that they were.

That meant that Murtagh was hallucinating. Oh, thank the Gods. Maybe he'd been hallucinating the last couple of months. Maybe he was still in Gil'ead fighting off that fever he'd had.

"It's really me, Murtagh," the ghost said. "Here, I'll prove it to you."

The ghost pulled down his shirt-collar and showed Murtagh a scar, still faintly pink, almost right in the middle of his chest. No one could have survived that. No one.

"It's ok, Murtagh -"

"No, I won't let you get in my head," Murtagh bit out. It was a ploy, had to be. Tornac was dead. He had to be.

"They left me for dead when you escaped," the ghost said, "Brom found me. It's thanks to him that I survived."

"No." Murtagh couldn't stop shaking his head – couldn't stop shaking, period. "It's not possible. You couldn't have survived."

The ghost sighed softly. "And why is that?"

"Because that would mean I left you," his traitorous mouth said.

Something came over the ghost's face – Murtagh was startled to realise it was grief before he was pulled into a firm hug.

"You didn't leave me," the ghost said and he was warm. So warm. It was hard to remember he wasn't really there, couldn't really be there. "I made you run, remember? I made you leave me behind."

Murtagh didn't want to remember. He saw that moment enough in his nightmares. He didn't want to think about it during his waking hours too.

"If you need to hear it, then I will say it, though I never blamed you for a second." The ghost pulled back and looked him in the eyes. "I forgive you."

Murtagh couldn't take it anymore.

"Get out."

"Murtagh -"

"Get out!"

The ghost sighed. "If that is what you wish." He left slowly; like it pained him to do so. Murtagh stayed stiff and in place until the door had long closed after him.

Then he broke apart.

-;-

"Do you still refuse to be probed?"

"Yes," said Murtagh sharply, slipping back into his tunic. "I won't let anyone inside my head." (404, Eragon)

-;-

"Are you ok?" Eragon asked when he visited sometime later – hours, days, Murtagh didn't know. Didn't care either.

"This is all a dream," Murtagh had decided. "That's the only thing that makes sense."

Eragon frowned. He scuffed his sneakers on the floor – and honestly, what Dragon Rider wore sneakers, anyway? Sneakers, old jeans and a t-shirt that was three sizes too big. His mind could have at least have conjured up some fancy leather armour.

Ah well. At least the elf had been dressed appropriately.

"Tornac's worried about you," Eragon said.

"Tornac's dead," Murtagh said bluntly and Eragon flinched. "Though, I suppose if anyone would be able to worry beyond the grave it would be him."

Eragon bit at his lip. He perked up suddenly like he'd gotten an idea. "Oh, have you tried pinching yourself?"

Murtagh titled his head in Eragon's direction. "If this is a dream or hallucination brought on by my less than savoury not-acquaintances, then they'd allow me to feel pain."

Eragon crossed his arms over his chest. "You have an answer for everything, don't you?"

"I don't think even evolution has an answer for the platypus, so no, not everything."

Eragon bit his lip hard; like he was trying to hold something back. His shoulders were shaking so it was probably laughter.

Murtagh let his eyes slide away again. There was a stain on the opposite wall and he was still trying to decide whether it looked like a malformed jellyfish or that one island – what was it called? Eoam? Beirland? One of those, anyway.

"Would Thorn help?" Eragon said it like it was supposed to mean something.

Murtagh found himself looking over before he'd told himself to move. "What?"

"Who?" Eragon said – no, corrected. "I guess you haven't met him yet."

"Great. More backstory," Murtagh drawled. "Who is Thorn then? Besides someone who clearly hates his parents. He either sounds like a complete and utter flower-child or someone Target puked on and who calls himself edgy and means it."

Eragon choked on something Murtagh was pretty sure was just air.

"You named him," Eragon choked out eventually.

"Me?"

"He's your dragon," Eragon said before Murtagh could prematurely have a midlife crisis about some illegitimate child he would have needed to be severely drugged to partake in creating. The truth, however, was somehow even worse.

"My dragon?" Murtagh deadpanned. "You're not serious."

"I am!" Eragon insisted. "The red egg is yours. Always has been. I mean, in the timelines when I find the blue egg before you do. Then things are different."

Murtagh was officially confused.

"A dream," he told himself. "This is all just a crazy dream or a seriously fucked up hallucination."

"Language," To- the ghost said, startling them both. "I taught you better than that."

"You're dead," Murtagh reminded the ghost. "I can do what I want."

"Not on my watch – dead or alive," the ghost said before Murtagh could contradict him. "You'd better quit while you're ahead, Eragon. Murtagh always was a stubborn one."

Eragon sighed and pouted again. "I know," he said and it sounded like he meant it.

"Fortunately, I have a better solution," the ghost announced and pulled out Murtagh's hunting knife. He held it out to Murtagh, shaft first.

Murtagh hesitated before accepting it. It had been a gift from Tornac once; when he'd been alive and Murtagh's life had only been nightmarish, not a complete hell. He'd taken care of it ever since.

"If this really is all just a dream or a hallucination," the ghost said, "then you won't mind stabbing me."

Murtagh nearly dropped the knife. "What?" he said, followed by Eragon's much louder echo of the same.

"If this really is a dream," the ghost repeated, "then I can't be hurt. So you can stab me and not be forced to face any consequences."

"No," Murtagh said viciously.

"And why not?" the ghost argued. "If I really am dead, then it's not like I'll feel it."

"I could never hurt you!" Murtagh said loudly.

"You did just fine when we use to spar."

"That's not the same!"

"And why ever not?" the ghost said.

"Because you were alive then!" His hands were shaking. It was getting harder to hold onto the knife.

"Then," the ghost spread his arms, "you won't mind indulging me."

Eragon was staring at them like they were mad. Murtagh didn't blame him one bit, even if he was just a part of Murtagh's subconscious.

"No." Murtagh put away the knife before he could drop it and accidentally end up stabbing himself in the foot.

"Murtagh -"

"No."

"Why not?"

"BECAUSE WHAT IF I'M WRONG?!"

The walls seemed to shake after his explosion. Murtagh clenched his hands into fists and kept his eyes on the floor.

Warms hands cradled his and slowly started to unwind them. Murtagh was shaking again by the time he looked up.

"I'm really here," Tornac said, "and so are you."

Murtagh let himself be hugged. One of Tornac's hands settled right over the scar, like it always had, and it was like Murtagh could feel the pain leech away.

Fuck it. If this really was all a crazy dream then Murtagh deserved something good for once. He grabbed Tornac and held him tighter than he had ever held someone in his life. He pretended he wasn't shaking and Tornac did the same.

-;-

"Are you all right?" asked Eragon. Murtagh nodded jerkily. "Did he get anything from you?"

"No."

"How were you able to keep him out? He's so strong."

"I've...I've been well trained." There was a bitter note to his voice. (386, Eragon)

-;-

"You're crazy," Murtagh told Tornac as he was guided out of the – well, dungeon, he supposed – and out into the main area of whatever the city had been called. Farthen Dûr?

"I've heard that one before," Tornac said fondly.

Murtagh wanted – he didn't know what he wanted but told himself this was enough.

"I still don't understand how you managed to survive."

"As I said, that is all thanks to Brom," Tornac said. "He said we were nearly two years too early but came regardless."

There it was again, more of that predestined crap. "Don't tell me you believe him."

"He knew enough that he had people in place that could alert in him case our lives were going to be in danger," Tornac said calmly and almost softly.

"Mine was never out of danger," Murtagh said and squinted out over the sprawling city that somehow managed to thrive inside a mountain range. It all seemed more than a little bizarre.

"Neither was mine," Tornac said, sounding almost amused. "I joined the Varden when I was younger than you. I haven't known peace for quite some time."

"That sounds like a mistake if I ever heard one."

Tornac laughed, loudly and brightly. Murtagh had thought he'd never hear that sound again.

"I never regretted it for a moment," Tornac said fondly.

These people were all insane. Murtagh still wasn't quite convinced that he wasn't dreaming or hallucinating, but at least it looked like it was turning out to be a good one.

-;-

Finally Murtagh spoke, the words slow and distinct. "My mind is the one sanctuary that has not been stolen from me. Men have tried to breach it before, but I've learned to defend it vigorously, for I am only safe with my innermost thoughts. You have asked for the one thing I cannot give, least of all to those two." He gestured at the Twins. "Do with me what you will, but know this: death will take me before I'll expose myself to their probing." (405, Eragon)

-;-

"Absolutely not!"

The room was practically on fire when they entered. Except it didn't seem to be Murtagh's fault – rather it was something else that had riled everybody up and Murtagh and Tornac were only fortunate enough to catch the tail-end of it.

There was an eclectic mix in the room. Murtagh recognised a scant few. Ajihad was standing to the side with a young woman that had similar enough features that she was probably his daughter. He did not look pleased. Neither did Brom, who was standing close by with his arms crossed over his chest. Trianna Magii was still there, though she looked like she'd rather be anywhere else. Arya standing like a guard at Eragon's side and there was a stunning blue dragon curled up behind them both. It took Murtagh a second to realise that had to be Saphira in her true form.

The two dwarves from before were also there, though Murtagh didn't know their names. There was another woman standing by herself, a feline-like animal sitting at her feet. And then there were two elves – one visibly older than the other and the other wearing a truly inspiring, well, there was no other word for it; bitch-face.

"We want to win," Brom said, meaning he had probably been behind the earlier outburst. "Storming his stronghold will not achieve that."

Ajihad's scowl deepened. "Then what do you propose we do, old man? We can't sit around and wait for Galbatorix to make the first move."

"Hitting him where he's strongest will never work," Brom said shortly. They'd clearly gone over this before. "And I refuse to sacrifice any more of our men in a diversionary tactic that is doomed to fail."

Eragon coloured suddenly. "Saphira has a suggestion and she wants me to voice it, but I'm not going to because it's a bad idea."

Brom pinched the bridge of his nose. The grimace on his face said he had probably guessed what her suggestion was and that he agreed with Eragon's assessment.

"If I may," Tornac said, bringing attention to them long before Murtagh was ready for it.

The entire room seemed to stiffen. There was no need to guess why.

"I used to be quite familiar with the security at most of Mr King's residences," he said.

"They changed their security when Murtagh ran," Brom said brusquely, though not harshly.

"The layout can't have changed much. I'll draw those plans for you."

Brom almost looked wryly amused, like there was a joke between them that the others weren't being let in on.

"That still doesn't tell us how we're going to give him what he deserves," Trianna said with a particular sort of viciousness that spoke volumes of how much she enjoyed being beaten at her own game.

"Does everything have to be so black and white?" Murtagh heard himself say. "Why not just hit him with a scandal and be done with it?"

The room fell silent.

The bitch-faced elf became even more bitch-faced. "And I suppose you happen to have one of those readily available?"

Murtagh made sure to keep his expression as even as possible. "As a matter of fact, I do."

Ajihad looked the opposite of impressed.

Brom, however, looked almost grudgingly intrigued. "Well, what are you waiting for," he said when Murtagh failed to elaborate, "a written invitation? Let's hear it."

-;-

"I'm only trying to stay alive," stated Murtagh. "No stranger's life is more important than my own."

"But you can't indulge in wanton violence. Where is your empathy?" growled Eragon, pointing at the head.

"Empathy? Empathy? What empathy can I afford my enemies? Shall I dither about whether to defend myself because it will cause someone pain? If that had been the case, I would have died years ago! You must be willing to protect yourself and what you cherish, no matter the cost." (352, Eragon)

-;-

In an utterly predictable fashion, half of the people in the room didn't like his suggestion one bit. But in an equally surprising fashion, some of them seemed to find it interesting.

"Absolutely not," Tornac said.

"Not so fast," Ajihad said, raising a hand. "It's worth discussing."

"Over my dead body!" Tornac snapped.

Murtagh tried to hide his flinch. It was a little too early to be joking about that in Murtagh's opinion.

"Do you have any proof?" Trianna asked, clearly holding something back with all the strength and willpower she possessed.

"He always does," the woman with the feline. She oozed every bit of magic that Trianna did.

Trianna's right eye twitched. "Where is it, then?"

"Somewhere safe," Murtagh answered before the other woman could creep him out even more.

"Then you had best go get it," Ajihad said gruffly.

"It's not that easy."

Tornac rubbed a hand over his eyes. "Please tell me you didn't leave it behind," he said, sounding like he already knew the answer.

"Not at the house," Murtagh said before anyone could start screaming. "I'm not that stupid."

"But in Urû'baen?" Brom said brusquely.

"Somewhere I knew it would be safe," Murtagh repeated.

"We will get the rest in order while you go get it, then," Ajihad said as if that sealed the matter.

"He's not going alone!" Tornac protested instantly.

"He's not going with you either," Brom said. "The Empire considers you dead and it's in our best interest to keep it that way."

Tornac looked like he had about a million things to say to that but somehow managed to find the strength to swallow them down.

"I'll go with him," Eragon said.

Saphira flicked her tail and somehow managed to radiate amusement.

Brom pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed.

"You can't talk me out of this," Eragon said before anyone could try to do just that. "I remember more than you do, so you should really try to stay on my good side." He sounded tough; really, he did, but it was ruined by the blush that started to crawl down his neck.

Brom looked distinctly unamused.

"Fine," Ajihad said. "But Arya is coming with too."

Murtagh would honestly rather eat glass, and judging by the look on her face Arya felt the same. Something told him that if he and Arya were agreeing on something then things were probably not going to end well. At all. For anyone involved, but especially for him.

-;-

Murtagh gazed up at the mountains. "I could leave and let you fly ahead with Saphira...That would force the Urgals to divide their troops and give you a better chance of treading the Varden."

"It would be suicide," said Eragon crossing his arms. "Somehow those Urgals are faster on foot than we are on horseback. They would run you down like a deer. The only way to evade them is to find sanctuary with the Varden." Despite his words, he was unsure if we wanted Murtagh to stay. I like him, Eragon confessed to himself, but I'm no longer certain if that is a good thing. (356, Eragon)

-;-

As a direct result of travelling back and forth for three years, Murtagh had started to leave caches in places he found himself going back to. They were always out of the way and carefully hidden, but had proved useful more than once. He only ever took with him as much as he could carry, but there was often a thing or two that was useful only certain times during the year or in a certain place but not really anywhere else. Leaving them in hidden nooks and crannies kept his bag no heavier than it had to be and still afforded him a little luxury every now and then.

Luckily for the Varden – or rather, luckily for Murtagh, considering their collective trust in him was probably not even enough to fill a thimble – the cache they were going to was close by.

"Why do you not carry it with you?" Arya asked as Saphira – back in her other form again – drove them towards the road in another four-wheeler. It was at the tip of his tongue to ask why Saphira seemed to be the driver of the three, but he held it back.

Assuming she was talking about the evidence, Murtagh said, "I am always at a risk of having to leave my things behind. This way I know it won't fall into the wrong hands."

"It could still be taken from you. It would just take you longer to realise it," Arya said.

Murtagh allowed himself to smirk at her. "It's safe."

Arya scowled at his non-reply but didn't ask again.

Eragon kept sneaking glances at him out of the corner of his eye, chewing at his bottom lip like he wanted to say something but couldn't work out how to say it. He ended up saying nothing in the end.

In fact, little else was said during the drive. Murtagh had given Saphira basic instructions beforehand, and apart from Saphira asking for further directions and Murtagh answering the car remained silent.

The drive wasn't long. Saphira took them through a narrow path in the mountains, so narrow and shadowed by such tall peaks that it almost didn't seem real. From there Murtagh directed her to head towards the border. It was only a few hours later that he told her to stop and got out well ahead of anyone else.

Murtagh preferred remote locations, especially when it came to his caches, and it was difficult to get somewhere more remote than an ancient battleground.

No one was sure when exactly the battles of the Burning Plains had taken place. All they knew was that there had been several and that they'd all involved Dragons and their Riders. The ground was still marked by it; flashes of black where the dragon fire had burned so hot that nothing could grow anymore.

There was tension in the air. Murtagh could feel it, though he wasn't sure what had caused it. Then again, knowing the crazy people he was travelling with he'd probably given them a triggery 'flashback' from what they believed to be a past life and they now hated him for it.

Murtagh ignored them. He hefted his bag higher and headed for the plaque that marked the battleground.

The Burning Plains were technically in Surda, though the edges of it were close enough that there was a marker placed along the Alagaësian side of the border as well. Murtagh couldn't be sure, having never been to Surda, though something told him the information displayed on Surda's plaque differed wildly from the one the Alagaësian government had deemed appropriate enough for the public.

He stopped in front of it and didn't even bother to take the time to read it. He turned on his heel and started to walk left, counting quietly to himself. It wasn't until he reached the grassy knolls he'd made use of that anyone approached him.

"And you say you do not remember?" Arya said, voice tight.

Murtagh put down his bag and crouched down, looking for the fox hole he knew was somewhere close by. "I figured something was up when you all went schtum." He spared her a glance. "And contrary to what I'm guessing the popular belief is, no, I don't remember anything."

Arya didn't look like she believed him. Whatever, that was fine.

Murtagh finally found the covered fox hole he was looking for and got down on his knees to uncover it. He removed the rocks and waited to see if anything started hissing or spitting at him before putting his hand down the hole.

Someone made a sound in the background, but Murtagh ignored it. He felt around until he found edge he was looking for. He dug around it with his nails until the box came loose.

Arya looked distinctly unimpressed when all he pulled out of there was matchbox.

"I get no faith," Murtagh said as he opened it. Inside there was a small, sealed plastic bag. Inside of that was a flash-drive.

Arya somehow managed to look even more unimpressed.

"That's it?" Saphira asked.

"I'll have to plug it in to make sure nothing's been tampered with," Murtagh said as he got up, "but yeah, this is it."

"Then let's head back," Saphira said and put her arms around herself. "I don't like this place."

"Spirits linger here," Arya said, which was probably her way of saying she agreed with Saphira.

Murtagh just grabbed his bag and started to head back to the car. He noticed then that Eragon hadn't said a word. Hadn't even moved away from the car, apparently. Eragon's eyes were locked on the Burning Plains, eyes almost unseeing. He didn't move until Saphira nudged him gently, and even then it was to jump and look at her like he'd seen a ghost.

The ride back was even more uncomfortable and quiet than the ride there had been. Once, just once, Murtagh wished he knew what the others knew just so he didn't have to sit around and wonder why.

-;-

Pushing himself to his feet, he coughed and said, "Murtagh...how can you be alive? I watched the Urgals drag you underground. I tried to scry for you but saw only darkness."

Murtagh uttered a mirthless laugh. "You saw nothing, just as I saw nothing the times I tried to scry for you during my days in Urû'baen."

"You died, though!" shouted Eragon almost incoherent. "You died under Farthen Dûr. Arya found your bloody clothes in the tunnels."

A shadow darkened Murtagh's face. "No, I did not die." (646-7, Eldest)

-;-

Predictably enough, Murtagh was told to hand over the flash-drive and any related passwords and then get out while the adults looked over his painstakingly gathered material. At least Tornac had the decency to look apologetic about it.

Murtagh took the time to look around the mountain city. It was really weird to think about how high up they had to be. They'd taken an elevator to get to the city itself, leaving Murtagh with no way to accurately gauge where they were at unless he felt like finding a balcony and experiencing what was probably an insane amount of vertigo.

People largely left him alone as he walked. A few nodded at him, raised a hand or said a quick hello, but no one approached him. Murtagh was beyond relieved about that.

He eventually found himself in a library. It was a huge circular room with a domed ceiling. There were several floors accessible by circular stairs along the walls. The smell of dust and old paper came over him and Murtagh felt himself relax. There was no one around so Murtagh let his feet carry him forward.

He hadn't been inside a library since he'd fled Urû'baen. He'd missed it profoundly. He hoped whoever was undoubtedly stalking him on Ajihad's orders liked books because he had no plans on leaving anytime soon.

He eventually found himself on the second floor among titles that spoke to him. Books on the first and second Rider War. Books on a third, fourth, and fifth war too. Fuck, how many had there been? Books on dragons and all sorts of other beings. Books on magicks and the proper use of it. Books on history and people that had long since been wiped from any official records.

Murtagh didn't even hesitate. He grabbed a handful of books and sat down in the first seat he could find. Then he started to read.

The first startling realisation he came to was that the crazy trio might have been telling the truth after all. Unless, of course, everything really was just one big, elaborate hallucination or mind-trick. But if it wasn't...

He found his name. His father's, his mother's, Eragon's, Saphira's, Arya's – a handful others he didn't recognise too. They all intermingled like a story that couldn't be told in separate parts; only as a whole.

He found a comment about the Rider bloodline and found his memory cast back to what he'd overheard between Eragon and Saphira that day. Eragon had mentioned someone, a handsome stranger, was it? That also was his half-brother? If what he was reading was correct, Eragon had been talking about him.

The book mentioned their dragons. The three eggs and the two dragons that had already lived past a war. How they were doomed to follow in the same footsteps as their riders.

Murtagh read about the red egg. Eragon had claimed that one usually was his, which the books seemed to support.

Red, like blood. Anger. Hatred. Evil.

That was him. The traitor, the betrayer. The books even said so. He was supposed to escape King only to be captured by him again, forced to serve, forced to do unspeakable things.

No wonder the Varden hadn't been able to lock him up quickly enough.

Murtagh shut the book and put it down carefully. He had to fight not to throw it aside. It was a wonder, really, that people seemed to want him around if his destiny – his predestined role – was to betray them all.

"It isn't always like that," a voice said and Murtagh looked up sharply.

It was the other witch. The feline creature stared at Murtagh before slinking off to parts unknown. The witch didn't seem to realise or care.

"Your role changes with each cycle," she said, giving Murtagh the very uncomfortable feeling that she had been reading his mind. "What is written here is only the instances that repeat themselves."

"But if they repeat themselves," Murtagh heard himself say, "then how can my role change with every cycle?"

He didn't believe in reincarnation and cycles, he told himself firmly. But these people clearly did. It was therefore only natural to learn what they thought and expected of him to better stay ahead of the game.

"Because you change," she said. "You are never the same. And so your role changes."

"That makes no sense."

"Life never does," she said, blinking almost drowsily.

"I don't like people in my head," he said and knew he sounded angry. He didn't care enough to apologise.

"I wasn't in your head," the witch said. "That's not where my strengths lie."

Murtagh crossed his arms. "Then what is?"

"Divination," she said and the very word made the hairs stand up in the back of Murtagh's neck.

"I don't want my future told," he said before she could offer.

"Then I won't tell it," she said. She folded her arms, making the bangles on her arms knock together. It seemed disproportionally loud in the otherwise quiet space. "But if you're ever curious, seek me out."

"How?" Murtagh said before he could stop himself. "I don't even know your name."

"Ask Eragon," she said as she left. Her familiar – the feline had to be her familiar, had to be – was weaving between her legs, but her pace didn't even falter. "He will tell you."

The silence seemed oppressive after the witch's departure. Murtagh was determined to ignore it. He grabbed a book on dragons and flipped it open on a random page. The words swam together, but Murtagh pushed past it.

He wasn't going to let some freaky woman unsettle him. He refused.

-;-

Murtagh's eyes glinted as he fingered the hilt of his sword. "In that case, I think I'll accompany you until you're out of danger. I've no better place to be. Besides, if I stay with you, I might get another chance at the Ra'zac sooner than if I were on my own. Interesting things are bound to happen around a Rider." (271, Eragon)

-;-

He was collected – there really was no other word for it – some hours into the night. Murtagh should probably have been asleep somewhere, but seeing as no one had given him a room or shooed him out of the library he was quite content where he was. He was less content being dragged away for what was undoubtedly going to be an unpleasant conversation.

The dwarf – or Orik as he introduced himself as – opened the doors with more fanfare than Murtagh thought was really necessary. Especially considering the pale, angry and/or disgusted looks that he was greeted with.

Orik, of course, seemed to take that as his cue and left Murtagh to his fate. Murtagh lasted all of ten seconds before Tornac crossed the floor and pulled him into a tight hug.

"Tornac -"

"Shush," Tornac said firmly. "I'm not letting you go, so you had better just accept it."

"I wasn't even in any of the -"

"But you still saw," Tornac interrupted. "And you said nothing to me."

"There wasn't anything you could have done," Murtagh said.

Tornac pulled back and grabbed him by the shoulders. "I could have gotten you out of there sooner!"

"And I would probably have been stuck roaming about as thirteen instead of sixteen - if these cycles of yours are to be believed, anyway," Murtagh said and hated every word that left his mouth. "Would that really have been better?"

Tornac's mouth grew pinched.

"Why did you never try to use this?" Ajihad said then and Murtagh was only slightly surprised when Tornac turned to glare at him.

"What could I have done?" Murtagh said before Tornac could say something stupid. "I was a kid, I was on my own. Who would have listened?"

"Any journalist worth his salt," Brom said gruffly.

"There aren't many of those in Urû'baen," Murtagh drawled. "But I guess that means you want to use it."

"We'd be foolish not to," Brom said. "This is good."

'Good' was not exactly the word Murtagh would have used, but...

"It would save us having to smoke him out and lose countless men in the process," Brom said next, looking at Ajihad. "His sympathisers would blame us and he will try to sweep it under the rug, but we can make sure he'll never be able to."

Ajihad didn't look pleased at all. He crossed his arms over his chest and scowled down at the laptop Murtagh guessed was still displaying his carefully gathered evidence.

"This isn't the Rider Wars," Brom said, rubbing at his left palm. "We don't have to fight fire with fire and get caught as the forest burns down around us."

Ajihad's mouth thinned.

"It won't end with this," Trianna said. "This is but a building block. We will have to dig deeper, find more, and keep poking every weak-spot we find." There was an eerie glimmer in her eyes. Murtagh remembered the few debates he'd been able to catch glimpses of and he remembered her looking that way just before she'd gone for the proverbial kill. "Let this be a war of words and watch him flounder to contradict himself."

Ajihad gave her a long, hard look. It seemed like years before, finally, he gave a sharp nod.

"Get it to our sources in Daret, Teirm -"

"- Dras Leona, Gil'ead, Alberon and everywhere between," someone else said, which was when Murtagh realised there was someone actually sitting behind the computer and was partially being obscured by it. It was the woman Murtagh thought was Ajihad's daughter. "I know how to do this by now, father. It will be in the news before the morning edition is out."

Ajihad gave her a nod before turning to Murtagh and Tornac.

"I will hold off on saying anything until we see how this plays out," he said and Tornac twitched.

"That's fine," Murtagh said. "Just make sure to hit him where it hurts."

Trianna's eyes flashed. "We will."

Tornac put a hand on Murtagh's arm. "Come on. It's late. I'll show you where you can sleep."

It was an excuse for Tornac to leave before he said something he'd regret and they both knew it. Murtagh still let Tornac pull him out of the room.

It was fine. He'd had enough of King and his men years ago. He didn't have to stay and physically watch the downfall. He could catch up with it later.

-;-

Murtagh stared at the ceiling. "You know, I find this imprisonment oddly peaceful. For once in my life I don't have to be afraid. I know I ought to be...yet something about this place puts me at ease. A good night's sleep helps, too." (465, Eragon)

-;-

Murtagh slept fitfully that night, dreams plagued by fire, screams and familiar faces. He woke up suddenly, feeling like he was forgetting something important and not being able to hold onto it.

When he finally gave up on getting anymore sleep, he walked out to a world on fire. The Varden's tech team must have worked through the night to spread the information as widely as possible because it was all everyone around him could talk about.

'Did you hear?' they all whispered.

And everywhere he went, everyone was saying something different.

'Abuse of magical creatures.'

'Abuse of magical powers.'

'Abuse.'

'Sexual assault.'

'Corruption.'

'Bribery.'

'Breaking magical laws.'

'Assault.'

'Murder.'

Murtagh had to stop and pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming.

"There you are," a relieved voice said and Murtagh turned instinctively towards it.

Tornac looked like he hadn't slept a wink last night. Murtagh imagined he didn't look much better himself.

"I've been looking all over for you," he said. "Come. Ajihad wants to speak with you."

Murtagh followed Tornac, hearing whispers everywhere they walked. They only started to slow down as they walked up to the room Murtagh guessed was their primary conference room of some sorts.

Tornac threw open the doors and stepped inside, lingering until Murtagh stepped in after him to close the doors. There was a strained hush in the room; like everyone wanted to speak but was too afraid to ask for permission.

For a moment Murtagh was cast back to the day Tornac had brought him up from the cell – which, as it startled him to realise, had only been the day before. It seemed like weeks had passed since then, not a handful hours. He almost wanted to pinch himself again just to make sure.

"You didn't waste any time," Murtagh said, looking at Ajihad. There seemed to be a million other eyes in the room, most of them pointed at him, but Murtagh ignored them.

"Galbatorix has been in power for far too long," Ajihad said shortly.

"They're going to throw out half the allegations," Ajihad's daughter said. "We'll have to be prepared for that."

"We'll make sure the right lawyers are in place to ensure that important allegations stick," Brom said. "He won't be able to regain his power in this lifetime."

"Next time you should just take care of him when he's a kid," Murtagh said and didn't even feel ashamed when people gave him varying degrees of shocked looks. "Some people are made evil, others are born. King is the latter."

Ajihad shook his head brusquely.

"Varden is born in the power-imbalance that Galbatorix always creates," Tornac told Murtagh. "We can't stop what we won't know is coming."

"Then make sure people know this time," he said. "Two-hundred years is not that much. Just leave a fucking paper-trail. The right people will pick up on it. You're also proof of that, right?"

Tornac gave him something that almost looked like a fond look.

"It's too early to be discussing the future," Ajihad said. "We have to make sure the present is still standing when this battle is over."

"It is never too early to be planning the future," the other witch said and Murtagh really needed to learn these people's names if he was going to stick around. Which he apparently was.

Trianna rolled her eyes and crossed her arms over her chest like this was a conversation she'd played part in before or heard many times over.

"You're free to do as you wish inside these walls," Ajihad said, looking sharply at Murtagh. "The fight has only just begun. We can't afford to let you slip out of our grasp again."

"Yeah, so your fancy history books tell me," Murtagh drawled. "Torture and betrayal aren't exactly how I want to spend my afternoons either."

Ajihad scowled and dismissed him with a sharp wave.

Murtagh was more than happy to take the out. He turned around and walked out, only aware of having been followed when the doors closed behind him.

Eragon looked tired and a little dishevelled, like he hadn't had a restful night either. Saphira flicked her tail, radiating amusement once again, before wandering off without so much as a how-do-you-do.

"You don't want to be in there?" Murtagh pointed a thumb at the door.

Eragon shook his head. "They don't need me, not really. I'm more of a figure-head than anything else, especially if we're not going into war."

These people sent teenagers into their wars? Gods above.

"Oh no, it's fine!" Eragon jumped to say. "Being a Rider means I don't need nearly as much training as you think. I pick up on things pretty quickly." He blushed. "I can show you if you want."

Murtagh cocked an eyebrow. "I hope you know how ridiculous that sounds."

Eragon's blush deepened. "Yeah. I wouldn't believe me either. Hence why I offered to show you?"

Murtagh almost wanted to point out how uncertain the kid sounded but held it back. "Sure, why not?" he said. "It's not like I have anything better to do."

-;-

"Even so, I'm going to carry it. I don't have a sword of my own. Until such time as I get one, I'll use Zar'roc."

Murtagh flinched as Eragon said the name. "It's your choice," he said. He returned to skinning, keeping his gaze focused downward. (280, Eragon)

-;-

Eragon brought him to a training area that was thankfully deserted. It was a decent size – large enough that Murtagh suspected it had been created with Riders and their growing dragons in mind. Murtagh was almost impressed. He was, however, not particularly impressed when the sword Eragon chose for the occasion was Zar'roc.

Eragon balked instantly and started to say something, but Murtagh waved the words away.

"If you need his sword to do it, then I'll deal."

"I do," Eragon said and it sounded like he hated himself for it. "I don't have my own sword yet. I don't know if I'll get it in this timeline." He looked down at the sword in his hands. "There isn't much need for sword-fighting these days."

"You almost sound sorry about that," Murtagh said, leaning against the weapon's rack.

Eragon grimaced. "It's not that I like it, it's..." He bit his lip. "My head gets quiet when I fight. It really isn't quiet otherwise."

Murtagh could sympathise with that. The only thing that had ever been able to shut off his brain had been reading a good book or training with Tornac.

"Go on, then." Murtagh grabbed a sword from the rack and twirled it experimentally. Tornac had taught him many things – things that hadn't necessarily seemed logical at the time, but that had been enough to shut off his thinking. Fencing, various martial arts, shooting with a bow and arrow, not to mention a large assortment of guns and, yes, how to handle a sword. The sword felt right in his hand, as though it belonged. It had never been that way with the guns. "Show me what you've got."

Eragon's eyes were wide and dark.

"What?"

Eragon shook his head. "Nothing." He cast a spell on his sword – probably to dull the edge – before pointing it at Murtagh. "Ready?"

Murtagh ran the edge of his thumb along the edge until he was satisfied with how blunt it was. He flashed Eragon a smirk. "Never ask your enemy if they're ready," he said before flying at Eragon.

Eragon yelped and brought his sword up just in time to block. Murtagh went to the side and swung his word around, but Eragon blocked his next blow his well. And the next and the next.

Murtagh was startled to realise he'd started to laugh halfway through the fight. Eragon swung at him, but Murtagh danced underneath it and turned just in time to see Eragon beaming.

"I'm guessing we've done this before," Murtagh said as he came at Eragon again.

Eragon ducked to the side and matched his blow. "A couple of times." His eyes were wide and sparkling. "So you're starting to believe us now?"

Murtagh smirked at him. "Not a chance," he said and swiped at Eragon's feet. Eragon jumped over it.

Time seemed to stop as they danced around the training area. Murtagh eventually had to call it quits when his muscles started screaming at him. He hadn't gotten a work-out like that in years, probably.

Well, at least Eragon was panting and sweating too. That made Murtagh feel better about himself.

"And you haven't been trained before this?"

Eragon shook his head. "I mean," he panted, "Brom's shown me a few moves, but I wouldn't say I've been properly trained yet."

"Damn." Murtagh walked over to the weapon's rack and put the sword away before he did something stupid like trip and fall on it. "All right, consider me impressed."

Eragon blushed again and Murtagh was honestly impressed he could see it through the flush that had already been present in Eragon's cheeks.

"While we're on the topic," Murtagh said and sat down on the closest bench, "well, adjacent to the topic."

Eragon put Zar'roc back into its sheath and took a seat next to Murtagh. Well, there was a good twenty centimetres between them, but they were on the same bench.

"When were you going to tell me we're half-brothers?"

Eragon's eyes widened and he spluttered on his next breath.

Murtagh leaned back and focused on slowing his breathing.

Eragon spluttered and choked for at least a solid thirty seconds. Murtagh was about to ask if he was all right when he stuttered and said, "Y-you remember?"

Murtagh shook his head. "I read about it."

Eragon visibly deflated.

"But I'm not surprised," Murtagh said and Eragon looked at him. "I remember you saying something about old man Teller being your father the day before we met, which I'm guessing that's the name Brom goes by now."

Eragon blinked at him, clearly confused.

"I made a few comments or three to Brom when he came to visit me and he didn't exactly deny it so I'll take as confirmation and never ever mention again." Murtagh shuddered. "I really don't want to picture it."

"I'm not sure I follow?" Eragon asked - because it was clearly a question.

"You know, my father, your father and our mother?" Murtagh waved a hand between them.

Eragon just looked even more confused.

"Oh. You don't know." Murtagh really wished he could rewind the conversation.

"What don't I know?" Eragon looked caught between frustration and confusion. "What about our parents?"

"Nothing, nothing. Forget I ever brought up the topic."

"No, what did you mean?" Eragon said and waved a hand between them. "What about our parents?" He stiffened abruptly and Murtagh saw the moment he realised it.

"Eragon -"

"Oh Gods above," he moaned and buried his head in his hands.

"In my defence, I thought you knew," Murtagh said.

"I really wish I still didn't!" Eragon said shrilly. "I thought you were joking earlier!"

Murtagh could sympathise with that. He'd been wishing that for years now.

Eragon whimpered softly. "Why does this always have to be so fucked up?"

"Hey. Language."

Eragon looked up and pointed at him. "You swear all the time!"

"I'm legal. I'm allowed."

"What does that have to do with swearing?!"

Murtagh shrugged. "Don't know, but it's what Tornac always told me."

Eragon squinted at him. "I think he was just floundering for an excuse."

Murtagh's lips twitched. "You're probably right."

Eragon continued to squint at him.

"Careful, or your face will stick like that," Murtagh said and poked at the furrow in Eragon's brow.

Eragon promptly blushed and ducked his head.

There was a voice whispering in the back of his mind and for once the voice didn't belong to King. Murtagh pushed it back regardless. This was not the time or place.

"Come on." Murtagh got to his feet and held out his hand. "I bet I'm a better shot than you."

Eragon looked up again. "Gun or bow and arrow?"

Murtagh smirked. "Either."

Eragon shot to his feet. "You're on!"

-;-

"But I must warn you, the Empire is searching for me. There'll be blood over it eventually." (281, Eragon)

-;-

It wasn't an easy fight. Even with the proof Murtagh had carefully cobbled together, they'd all known King wasn't going to just lie down and let them walk all over him. He would – and did – fight them tooth and nail. The process was going to take years and that was if they were lucky.

Murtagh took Tornac's – and yes, Ajihad's – advice and stayed in Farthen Dûr. Which proved to be a good thing when his face started to circulate again. Grainy CCTV shots of him were posted along with a list of confirmed sightings.

It made Murtagh's blood run cold. Even in the clusterfuck that was going on, King was still taking the time to look for him.

Maybe King believed in the whole predestined thing too and thought he needed Murtagh to fight back. Well, tough luck. Murtagh wasn't going to let himself get caught again, especially not now when he could guess what sorts of things he'd be going to.

He kept busy in other ways. He divided his time between his room, the library, the training grounds and the conference room – when he was deemed important enough to attend. He wasn't alone nearly as often as he'd imagined. Nasuada – Ajihad's daughter – sometimes joined him in the library, along with Angela – the other witch – and her pseudo-familiar Solembum (whose name still made Murtagh cackle to himself). He hardly ever trained alone. Tornac was often there, along with Eragon and Saphira. He'd gone up against Arya a few times and each time had been terribly humbling. He'd gone up against the other elf as well – Murtagh couldn't quite remember his name but thought it started with a V – and trounced him thoroughly. That had felt immensely good.

But listening to the gossip and sometimes checking things online himself was always enough to remind him. Of what he didn't know exactly, but it reminded him of something.

His dreams did that too; reminded him of things and then promptly faded from memory the moment he woke up. Glimmers of conversations and a face of two sometimes stuck with him, but never for long.

It went on for long enough that he eventually broke and had to talk to someone about it.

"Do you remember much?" he asked. "About these other lives everyone keeps going on about."

Angela looked at him almost serenely. Solembum swished his tail back and forth lazily. "I remember nothing," she said, "and also everything."

"How does that work?"

"I see the future," she told him. "I see things that have yet to pass and things that will never come to pass. When I see others, I can see them remembering their past and so I too can know that past. But I remember nothing of my own lives."

Murtagh frowned. "That sounds a little weird."

She did something with her mouth that almost looked like a smile. "I see so much that my mind has kept me from seeing too much," she said. "I'm glad I don't know more than I do. I would surely go crazy otherwise."

Crazier, Murtagh thought to himself. He tried not to flinch when Angela did smile at him.

"Do you think I'll ever remember?" he said, hoping it would keep her from saying something else.

"Do you want me to read you?" she asked.

Murtagh hesitated. "Do you have to? In order to find out?"

She shook her head slowly. "But it would help."

Murtagh made himself think it over before shaking his head. "My mind is my own. I can't, I'm sorry."

"No bother." Angela closed her eyes and whispered a series of almost melodic words to herself. When she opened her eyes again, they were glowing. "You have been made to forget."

Murtagh frowned. "What?"

"I suspect Galbatorix's hand in it," she said, waving a hand slowly in front of his face. Her hand stuttered suddenly; like it had been caught on something. "Yes. He put a spell on you."

Murtagh couldn't breathe. "A spell?"

"He isn't tracking you," Angela said as the glow faded from her eyes. "He only made you forget. He didn't think far enough ahead to attempt another feat of complex magicks before you ran."

Murtagh shuddered. "Can you reverse it?"

She shook her head. "Only he can."

Murtagh looked down and forced himself to breathe. He'd been reading all sorts of books lately. He tried to find the latest one on magic and made himself remember the words.

"Will his death break it?"

Angela paused. "Yes, I would imagine so."

Murtagh looked up at her. "Good."

He'd always thought that King's death couldn't come soon enough. Now he had just another reason to wish the man dead.

-;-

"How long are you going to remain imprisoned, Murtagh? You can't hide here forever."

Murtagh shrugged carelessly, but there was a weight behind his words. "For now I'm content to stay and rest. There's no reason for me to seek shelter elsewhere nor submit myself to the Twins' examination. No doubt I'll tire of this eventually, but for now...I am content." (466, Eragon)

-;-

Months had somehow flown past. His face was still being broadcasted – now as a potential witness in the King case, but Murtagh still didn't know if he wanted to step foot in the courtroom. He was just glad it was finally going to a courtroom and honestly, he felt like he had done enough. If he never had to hear King's name again it would be too soon. Being in a room with him seemed like too much.

He was also afraid of what would happen if he went. King had been arrested by now, sure, and placed under several magic-dampening charms, but what if one broke? What if he could cast another spell on Murtagh? He remembered their last meeting all too well.

'Just imagine it, Murtagh. Wouldn't that be -'

He shook his head. No. No, it wouldn't.

Things had slowly been changing over the months. Saphira's dragon form was larger now, though her other form wasn't ageing as quickly. It didn't seem to bother her any and no one else found it strange, so Murtagh didn't ask.

The intricacies of the Varden were slowly unravelling. Like the tension and not-relationships between some of the members and the unspoken but undeniable relationships between some of the others. Murtagh was still reeling from the time he'd talked in on Tornac and – well, the less he thought about it the better. Maybe he'd be able to get those images out of his head in this lifetime.

He still couldn't remember anything, but he was slowly starting to think that maybe everyone wasn't as crazy as he'd first assumed. Oh, they weren't sane, not in any sense of the word, but they weren't completely delusional either. It made him sad some days that he might not remember anything, not unless King bit the dust before him.

One change that was clearly exciting everyone else was the capture and seizure of King's assets, particularly the malnourished dragon in the basement and the two eggs in the room beside it.

Eragon had been brimming with excitement when the news had been announced. Saphira too. They were still waiting for the paperwork to finish going through the official channels, but they would both be in Varden's possession afterwards.

Well, they would inadvertently be in Varden's possession. Brom was a registered Dragon handler to this day, even though his own dragon had been dead for at least twenty years, and his credentials were enough to get him custody of the dragons until their appropriate Riders could be located.

Murtagh knew what was expected of him. Not just when it came to the red egg, but everything else. And he hated it.

"I might not remember in this lifetime," Murtagh said, forcing himself to think of something else. The words felt heavier than they had any right to be.

They were up on one of the platforms in the lower levels of Farthen Dûr. They were still far too high to even consider looking down and not passing out, but at least they weren't at the top.

Saphira flew by overhead, scales sparkling in the cloudless sky. Beside him, Eragon was smiling.

There was a pause before Eragon spoke. "If you don't mind, then I won't either."

Murtagh turned to him. Eragon was still looking up at the sky, but he turned as well when he felt Murtagh's eyes. "Seriously?"

"Yeah." Eragon was still blushing around him. Murtagh hadn't broached the subject – and knew he had to be the one. If Eragon got his wish they'd probably never have the conversation that was always waiting to happen.

"Even though you have memories I don't?"

"Yeah," Eragon repeated. "Our relationship is never the same even when you do remember." He looked down at his hands. "It's not like there's one way to go about this. Each life is different."

"Not that different," Murtagh muttered and Eragon's mouth twitched in a failed effort to fight back a smile.

A shadow swooped overhead and they both looked up in time to see Saphira take a dive. She grew smaller and smaller until it was almost impossible to see her. Eragon, when Murtagh looked at him, was still smiling. He was probably feeling what she was feeling. He wondered what the connection felt like and, a second later, wondered if he would be able to handle it himself.

"Are you excited?" Eragon said, looking away from the faint blue spec that was Saphira. "About the dragons coming here?"

"Are they really coming here, though?" Murtagh said, knowing it was a diversionary tactic. "Won't that be leading King's men to our doorstep?"

"Well, they're not going directly here," Eragon said and picked at the hole in his jeans. His knobby knee was sticking through. The kid had just turned eighteen and he was still all elbows and knees. "Brom's picking them up at the Surdan border. He'll take them to one of the islands from there. But we're going with him," he looked up at Murtagh, "right?"

Murtagh bit back a grimace. "You cleared that with him?"

"I have enough blackmail material on him to last several lifetimes," Eragon said without blinking. "I'm coming whether he wants me to or not."

Murtagh laughed.

Eragon bit his lip and looked away again, still blushing.

Murtagh leaned back on his hands and found himself watching two birds spinning around each other in what had to be a mating dance.

"I don't know if I'm ready for this," he heard himself say.

Eragon was looking at him. He could feel the eyes but didn't turn to meet them.

"I had a pretty shitty childhood," he said instead. "Being a Rider is essentially helping raise a dragon, right? How can you ever be ready for that even if your childhood wasn't a complete trainwreck?" He shook his head and stared right ahead. "Whoever thought it would be a good idea to make me a Rider was an idiot."

"You're always great with him," Eragon said.

Murtagh found himself looking over without knowing he'd moved.

"Thorn," Eragon clarified. "You're always great with him. Saphira too, when you get her. Having a terrible childhood doesn't make you incapable of being a great parent, guardian or Rider. If anything -" He bit his lip.

"What?" Murtagh said when Eragon failed to elaborate.

"I think it helps," Eragon said, squirming under the scrutiny. "It means you know what not to do."

Murtagh had honestly never thought of it that way.

"And besides, if you need help -"

"You offering to help me is not nearly as comforting as you think."

"Hey!" Eragon yelped.

Murtagh laughed and smiled at him to show he was joking.

"I'll take any help I can get," he said and ruffled Eragon's hair before he could stop himself.

"Not the hair!"

Murtagh smirked as Eragon tried in vain to pat it down.

The air was still between them again. Eragon muttered words of revenge under his breath as he gave up on his hair, but that had become normal now. Expected. It almost felt like...home.

"Question," he said and waited until Eragon was looking at him before continuing. "Is it incest if we were raised apart and somehow are apparently doomed to do this song and dance in every lifetime?"

Eragon's cheeks were so red they were practically on fire.

"Um," he said eventually, "I won't tell if you don't?"

"I think that cat is out of the bag by now," Murtagh said dryly and put his hand over Eragon's. He squeezed it gently. "But sure. I won't tell if you don't."

Eragon stared up at him, eyes wide and full of so many emotions Murtagh couldn't decipher them all.

Murtagh leaned in slowly, slowly enough that Eragon could pull away if he wished it, and kissed his cheek. Eragon's breath hitched. The skin was sun-warm and flushed under his lips.

Murtagh still wasn't sure how he felt about destiny and his whole life essentially being decided for him before he was even born. A large part of him still rebelled against the very idea, but another part of him was calm, accepting. Just because he had a role to play didn't mean anyone could tell him how to play it.

And besides, having a role had brought him here. It had given him Tornac back. It would soon – if everyone else was to be believed – bring him the closest and most unbreakable bond he'd ever have.

And then there was Eragon.

Eragon – with his huge eyes and parted lips – who looked exactly like someone Murtagh's heart told him he'd once known.

He leaned in and pressed a kiss to Eragon's other cheek. It was just as soft and warm as the other, and Eragon's breathing hitched again.

"All right?"

Eragon threw his arms around Murtagh's neck instead of answering and kissed him. Murtagh put his arms around Eragon's waist and pulled him closer. Something inside his chest sighed and settled.

No, he still didn't believe a whole lot in destiny, but he believed in Eragon. And that was enough for now.

-;-

"I don't care if the entire army is searching for you. You're right. I do need help. I would be glad to have you along, though I have to talk to Saphira about it. But I have to warn you, Galbatorix might send the army after me. You won't be any safer with Saphira and me than if you were on your own."

"I know that," Murtagh said with a quick grin. "But all the same, it won't stop me." (281, Eragon)


The End


A/N If you made it this far then you gave this crazy story a chance. I want to thank you for that. Thank you for giving this – and me – a chance. I hope you enjoyed the ride. I know I enjoyed writing it. :)

And before anyone starts; I know I didn't actually do a whole lot of the underlying "LET'S FIGHT GALBATORIX, BOO YEAH!" plot and here's why:

This is a modern AU based on a fact that these people have been going through the same motions time and time again. Meaning Galbatorix will have been a dick time and time again, and Murtagh would have been in the perfect spot to catch him in the act each and every time. And that's what happened. Murtagh and Galbatorix had their creepy talk and Murtagh went NOPE because he knows exactly what kind of man Galbatorix is. And when he splits, he takes his blackmail with him in case Galbatorix ever catches him again.

Also, I think that we all know that fighting someone these days isn't picking up a sword and challenging them to a duel. It's slaughtering their entire reputation and sitting back to watch them flail and fail at recovering it. That's exactly what Varden does and it's all thanks to Murtagh's carefully gathered groundwork.

I know I also barely dipped my toe into this universe. I know this fic barely scratches the surface on what could potentially be a very complex set of stories. But you know what? I'm glad this is the story I ended up writing. Any other life of theirs could have been a) potentially very tragic or b) hella long. 26k is, all in all, not a short story, but it's not my longest either. And I'm happy with that.

This was written and edited in the span of, essentially, two weeks. Half of it was written in one sitting because once the floodgate broke, it SHATTERED. I have no idea if this is any good or not, but at least it is. And it's the first new story for IC that I have written in forever. That alone, regardless of quality, is good enough for me.

Before anyone asks about my other fics, here's a short run-down. I plan to update about once a month once I get an internet provider and hope to be able to keep that schedule. I still have a few chapters lying around – which is good, considering I'm staying in my job for the next foreseeable future. I'm not sure what's next on my list, but we'll see.

But that's all for now. Until next time, everyone.