Chapter Two

All he could hear was screaming. All he could see were scenes of destruction. All he could taste was blood. All he could feel… was unbearable pain.

He opened his eyes and found himself atop a tower, overlooking a walled city. Outside the wall was a massive army assembling, preparing to attack. As he looked around he muttered to himself, "It can't be, this is… the Varden's siege of Urû'baen."

Before he could do anything else, the scene changed. He was now in Galbatorix's throne room, Nasuada chained to the wall. The demented man was there, torturing the young woman. He was using a pair of blacksmith tongs to remove her nails one by one, her screams echoed through the chamber, filling him with hate and rage.

He thought to himself, 'This isn't what happened… this isn't real.'

Galbatorix turned to him and said, "What perfect timing. Your brother and his little elf friends will be here soon. Imagine how they'll react to find their precious Nasuada dead."

"You're going to kill her? That wasn't part of the plan!" he found himself shouting.

"The plan has changed. Besides, I'm not going to kill her… you are," Galbatorix replied with a sadistic grin.

"No I'm not. You're dead! This isn't real!" he shouted with pure hatred in his voice.

Galbatorix smiled as he uttered a name in the Ancient Language. He then simply said, "Kill her."

He tried to fight it as his hand drew Zar'roc against his will. He fought against his legs as they brought him closer, one agonizing step at a time. He was soon standing over Nasuada, the gleaming red blade held above his head. She looked him in the eyes, pleading with him not to do it. He fought even as the blade came down and plunged into her flesh. As she screamed, he screamed.

"….up!" a voice called out from far away.

Everything was dark. There was no light, no sound, no smell. All there was… was the taste of blood, and the unbearable pain.

"Wake up!" the voice called out again… it seemed familiar.

'Who's calling to me?' he thought to himself.

"Murtagh! Wake up!" the voice called a third time. This time he recognized it, and he forced himself towards consciousness.

As he regained consciousness, the first thing Murtagh noticed was that he was laying on something soft. The second thing he noticed was that he hurt… everywhere, right to the very core of his body. The third thing he noticed was that there were other people around him, three to be exact.

The first was an older man, who Murtagh judged to be in his late fifties or early sixties. He had broad shoulders, and a muscular build, the kind one got from doing manual labor all their life. His hair and beard were just starting to turn gray, and he had the eyes of a hardened warrior. He was sitting in a chair to his immediate left.

The second was a young woman with bright red hair. She had a lean muscular build from what he could tell. She carried a Rider's sword at her waist, the sheath a royal purple color, and an amethyst on the hilt. She stood near the door to the room.

He recognized neither the old man nor young woman. The third person, who was on his immediate right, he recognized. He weakly greeted her, "Arya."

She replied simply, "Murtagh."

He looked around for a moment before he asked, "Where am I?"

"You're in Carvahall. You and Thorn suddenly appeared out of thin air outside the town's walls. That was four days ago," Arya answered.

Murtagh smiled weakly at this before he said, "Carvahall… so my spell worked then. We got away from them." He then looked at the older man and asked, "You're Roran, aren't you? You've gotten old cousin."

"That I have. But what happened to you?" Roran asked in turn.

Murtagh suddenly panicked and practically shouted, "Is Thorn alright?"

Murtagh gasped at the pain that rocked his body and Arya stated, "Calm down. Thorn is alright, now. You were both in poor shape when we found you. You're lucky we got to you as quickly as we did, or you both would have died."

"Lucky? No, luck had nothing to do with it. When I casted the spell I was focusing on you Arya, that way we were sure to end up close to your location," Murtagh replied grimly.

"So you did use the transportation spell. On both you and Thorn no less. How far away were you when you used it?" Arya asked seriously.

Murtagh thought for a moment before answering, "I honestly don't know. We were so far north that it took us almost two months to get there from where we had been living, that being a few weeks' worth of flying from here."

At this point the young woman by the door spoke up, "You used the transportation spell to bring you and your dragon here from that far away? How are you even still alive?"

"Who exactly are you?" Murtagh asked instead of answering.

Roran was the one who answered, "You met my daughter once a long time ago Murtagh, she was only three or four at the time though."

Murtagh looked between Roran and Ismira a few times before laughing slightly and saying, "Well I'll be… another member of the family is a Rider. I really have been gone for too long. To answer your question Ismira: Thorn and I combined all of our energy to use the spell, that's the only reason I'm alive after using it."

"But even with your combined powers… it was a steep gamble Murtagh. What happened up there?" Arya asked.

Murtagh became silent at this before asking, "Did I say anything when you found me?"

Ismira answered the question, "All you said was, 'They are coming', that's it."

"Ah…" Murtagh paused before continuing, "It started a few years after Eragon killed Galbatorix, after I came back for a while. Thorn and I were up north, I had just finished building a small cabin when we felt it. It was like the world pulsed… the air, water, ground, and magic all at once. It came from further north, it almost felt like something was calling out to the entire world. We got a bad feeling from it though and chose to ignore it. Starting a few months later we noticed small bands of people heading north. They were few and far between, so we figured they were just nomads. We felt the same pulse a handful of times over the years, and we noticed that each one was stronger than the last, and that the groups heading north were proportionally larger. The last one was a few months back, and there had to be close to two thousand people in it. But what was the last straw was what was with them: Lethrblaka… and Ra'zac."

Everyone jumped slightly when Roran jumped to his feet quickly, a look of pure hate on his face. "I thought they were all dead," he stated with venom in his voice. Ismira cringed slightly at her father's tone, she had heard the story about the Ra'zac's involvement with the attack on Carvahall, and kidnapping her mother.

"No… you, Eragon, and Saphira may have killed the ones who served Galbatorix back then, but he had more of their eggs stashed away. Two were with the clergy of Dras Leona, they were killed by Eragon and Solembum… but there were still more hidden elsewhere," Murtagh replied.

"How many were there?" Arya asked solemnly.

"There were three of each that we saw. They were several miles away and didn't notice us. When we saw those damned things we decided to follow this group to see what was going on. We followed their trail for nearly two months, making sure to stay far enough behind as to not draw the attention of the Ra'zac and their parents. We went so far north… the lands we found were so barren, they looked as if they had never seen any season but winter. It even got to a point where the sun barely came over the horizon, traveled along it a while, and then sank back below it. Then we found where all those people had been going… it was a huge, open plain, with a narrow, black mountain at the exact center. The plain was full of people, and other creatures that I have never seen or heard of. There were at least a dozen Lethrblaka flying overhead… and I could feel a massive, dark presence emanating from the mountain itself. And then… before we could react…" Murtagh trailed off.

"You were attacked," Ismira concluded.

Murtagh nodded solemnly, but remained silent. Roran spoke up next, "What attacked you Murtagh?"

"Shades… two of them. They had sensed us the moment we were close, and shielded their minds from us to catch us off guard. We were careless," Murtagh replied as his eyes narrowed.

"Two Shades?" Arya asked in genuine shock.

"Yes… at first. It took almost everything we had to hold them off, but it wasn't long before the closest Lethrblaka and Ra'zac noticed the fight and got involved. We started accumulating wounds quickly, I somehow managed to decapitate one of the Shades… but as you know that won't kill it. Even as he dissipated, a third Shade, this one female, arrived to take his place. It was clear from the moment the fight started that Thorn and I couldn't win. But that's not even the end of it…" Murtagh trailed off once again. His strength was failing him, he was feeling the seductive pull of sleep catching him.

"What happened after that Murtagh? I know you want to rest, but you have to tell us what happened next," Arya pushed.

Murtagh nodded as he took a deep breath and continued, "Then… whatever is in that mountain lashed out at us with its mind. It shattered our defenses like shale. I've never felt a mind so evil, and alien. This made Galbatorix look like a mischievous child… the things I saw in its mind when I tried to fight back. I managed to see glimpses of what it's planning and I knew we had to get out of there. I somehow made my way to Thorn, grabbed onto him, he channeled his energy into me as I prepared the spell… next thing I know I'm waking up here talking to all of you."

All four were silent for several moments before Roran asked, "What is it planning?"

"It's calling out to the entire world, gathering every creature with darkness in its heart that it can in order to amass an army of unprecedented power. It wants the world… and its first target is Alagaësia. I get the feeling it showed me that so I could pass the message along," Murtagh replied with a dead tone.

"But why Alagaësia? What's so special about us?" Ismira asked.

"If I had to guess: the Riders and their dragons, probably the Elves as well. It feels that if any land could be a potential threat… it's us, and wants to crush that threat immediately," Murtagh answered, he was starting to lose consciousness again.

Arya saw this, and not wanting him to be haunted by these memories said, "Thank you for bringing this warning. Slytha." With that one word Murtagh fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

"So what now?" Ismira asked, she was terrified by what Murtagh had told them.

"We have to warn Nasuada, the Elves, the Dwarves, the Urgals… everyone," Roran stated.

"That's right," Arya confirmed. She then turned to Ismira and said, "Ismira, I want you and Ianthe to ride for Ilirea and tell Nasuada what Murtagh has discovered. Share your memory of this conversation with her if need be. Have her send word to King Orik, Nar Garzhvog, and Orrin. I will send word to Ellesméra to inform Lord Däthedr of this."

"Yes Arya-ebrithil," Ismira replied, using the proper honorific respecting her "aunt's" position as the second in command of the Riders. She then asked, "Why not ride for Ellesméra though?"

"I have to remain here and continue to treat Murtagh and Thorn's wounds. We will join you in Ilirea before the week is up. Now prepare to leave immediately," Arya replied.

Ismira nodded and went to leave the room, but Roran added, "I'm going with you to Ilirea. I'm not going to standby and just wait for something to happen." Ismira nodded and they both rushed out of the room to prepare to leave.

Arya watched them leave and she sighed sadly as she said, "I had hoped we could live in peace for at least as long as we lived in misery." She paused as she looked out the window which faced west and then continued, "I wish you were here. We could use your help with this… Eragon."