Chapter 11

Separation Anxiety

Before taking flight, Murtagh told Celestine that they’d make a quick stopover in Dras-Leona for supplies prior to heading for Vroengard. She had asked why he’d been so late for departure, but he only said he’d tell her on the way.

I could have told you that Eragon would’ve acted that way, Thorn told him.

I just hoped… I don’t know. How can I forgive him if he won’t let me?

I only recently found out that there’s more to forgiveness than not eating someone. You should probably ask Celestine.

“You’ve been quiet,” Murtagh said, his voice raised enough for her to hear him over the wind.

“You said you would talk to me on the way,” Celestine replied. “I was just waiting until you were ready.”

“I tried to forgive Eragon before leaving.”

“I gather it didn’t go well?”

Murtagh laughed. “He said he did nothing wrong, started accusing you of bewitching me and trying to lead him astray. It went downhill from there.”

“I admit it’s easier to forgive someone that wants your forgiveness.”

“So, what should I do?”

“Hmm, so you are serious about this?”

“I… That is… It’s important.”

“Why?”

Murtagh didn’t say anything for a while. “I didn’t think I’d have to tell you why it’s important to forgive others.”

“You’re supposed to forgive him for his own benefit. If you do, then you’ll benefit, too. If you try to forgive for selfish reasons, then neither of you will benefit because you won’t really forgive him.”

“Sounds complicated. Surely you have some advice for me?”

Celestine rested her head against his back. “Imagine yourself in his place. What if you had just accused one of Eragon’s friends of trying to bewitch him?”

“I would never make such an unfounded accusation.”

“Not the point. How would you feel? You wouldn’t want him to hold it against you, would you?”

“I guess not.”

“If you don’t like it, don’t do it to others.”

“Is that in that book of yours?”

“Not exactly, but many of our wisest teachers say it is the summary of Holy Writ.”

“It does make some sense. Hard to put into practice in that situation, though. Is that how you forgave that slave trader?”

“I’m not sure my own personal reason will work for you.”

“Why not?”

“Because I actually believe in Dayus.”

“Oh that. I was trying to downplay that vision because of Galbatorix. You have no idea what he’s capable of, and I can’t even tell you the half of it.”

“So you do believe the vision?”

“I guess. I mean, is that the way Dayus usually acts?”

Celestine sat straight. “What do you mean?”

“Handing out bad news and not even answering what I was praying about?”

Did you…?

Something large and blue crashed into them from above. The saddle was cut in two. Celestine’s stomach lurched as everything solid came out from beneath her. She reached for Murtagh. He reached for her. Their fingertips barely brushed each other as she plummeted.

She hoped Thorn had been flying high—she would need time to cast this spell. Her hair whipped behind her until she wrapped a shield around her. She then placed a larger shield around that and a yet larger shield around that. That was all the time she had.

The outer shield struck the ground, obliterating instantly. The middle shield shattered when it hit the ground shortly thereafter. The final shield distorted her vision of the ground as it stretched, but it stretched too far. Once it broke, she hit the ground hard. She heard a cracking sound and screamed in agony. It was her right kneecap. Her arms and ribs were severely bruised, but the pain in her knee stabbed at her like needles. It must have broken.

Celestine rolled to her back, spitting out dirt and gasping. Each breath in was a sharp pain, and each breath out a dull one. She couldn’t see Saphira or Thorn in the sky—no way to tell how Murtagh fared. She looked at her knee, already able to see blood oozing from beneath the dented plate, and wished, as many healers had before her, that she could heal herself.

What was she going to do now?

She was within sight of a large lake on her left. Good thing she hadn’t landed in that—she probably would’ve drowned before she could get her armor off. The landscape was strewn with rocks of various sizes. To her right, there was a dilapidated wall that had probably encircled a small village ages ago. The rest of her armor had come through the fall better than her right knee plate. She reached to the pouch on her belt and pulled out her charmed twig. It was unharmed and her first thought was to use it, but Murtagh was probably still in the air. If he was unable to catch her again, she’d never survive another fall like that.

Looking ahead, she saw her sword had landed nearby and, in the distance far past it, she could see the mouth of a cave. She rolled to her stomach and focused on her sword. “Tendren des fortia,” she said, trying to pull her weapon to her. She had to concentrate and say it three more times before she could finally drag it to her.

When her sword reached her, she just lay next to it for a while, panting. “Dayus, watch over Murtagh. Keep him safe. Watch over me, too, please.”

She heard some small rocks tumble over each other and looked towards the partially ruined wall nearby. Several men were trying to conceal themselves behind it, but one had stumbled. Having lost the element of surprise, they were now coming out from behind the ruin. There were five men—three with swords, one with a blacksmith’s hammer, and one dressed as a magician.

Celestine began crawling to a nearby boulder to put at her back. As she did so, she prayed, “I thank you for blessing me with adversity to make me stronger, but if you don’t mind, perhaps next time you could go a little lighter on the blessings.”

She made it to the rock and pressed her back against it. The men were cautious in approaching her despite her condition. She weighed her options. It would be difficult to cast anything with this mind-numbing pain.

The one with the hammer stepped forward. “Surrender!” he yelled.

“It’s wise of you to surrender,” she called back. “I graciously accept.”

“Don’t play games, girl,” he replied. “Toss your weapon aside and surrender.”

“You thought I was playing?” she asked. “You could be right. I’m only lying against this rock because I can’t stand with a broken knee. But then… Perhaps I don’t need to stand.”

With that she floated almost a meter off the ground, two large fireballs in her hands, and lightning crackling around her. “Now! Surrender!” she yelled.

The man stepped back a bit, but the magician stepped forward. “I spoke with Arya Shadeslayer about her fight. If I may?”

“Go ahead, Carn.”

He spoke a few words and waves of force swept through the floating girl until she disappeared, revealing that Celestine was still sitting on the ground. “If you could float,” Carn said, “I doubt you’d be injured in a fall.”

“Aren’t you a clever one?” she said. “Too clever for your own good. I was trying to drive you off with illusions so that I wouldn’t have to kill you.”

One of the other men said, “You killed my best friend!”

“He also attacked me. Learn from his error.”

The man advanced toward her, but the one with the hammer, interposed his weapon, stopping him. “Wounded as she is,” he said, “she’s still dangerous.”

The man bowed his head. “Yes, Roran.”

“You sound reasonable, hammer man,” she said, “but you misunderstand. I’m not dangerous despite my injury but because of it. When I’m not distracted by blinding pain, I could handle a small group like yours—no casualties, no problems. Without fine control over my magic, though, it would be like taking the sword from a Makotan sword-hero and giving him… well, a hammer. Killing you would still be just as easy for him. It would be leaving you alive that would be hard.”

“She’s bluffing us, Roran,” the third man said, stepping beside him.

“Doesn’t matter either way,” Roran said. “We can’t win this war as long as she lives.”

“Something much bigger than this war is going on, Roran. Devastation the likes of which you can’t even imagine is coming, and I’m trying to stop it, so if you’d kindly leave me be…”

Suddenly, her hair and the golden highlights on her armor changed to more of a bronze hue before returning to their original color. “Carn…”

“Clever girl,” he said before casting his spell again.

The girl with her back to the rock disappeared; the real Celestine had been trying to crawl to the cave, but she hadn’t even gone ten meters. The last time she’d cast a double illusion had gone much better, but then she hadn’t been dealing with a broken knee, either. The men charged her. She drew her Forcecast and began shooting. She knocked two of them out, but when she aimed at the spellcaster and fired, he cast the same spell Murtagh had used in the bath. The projectile just changed course when it got close to him. She shot at Roran and the other man still standing, but Carn extended his protective spell over them, so the result was the same.

“Carn! What is that?” Roran yelled.

“Some kind of invisible projectile,” Carn said, wide-eyed, “but I have no idea how she’s silent casting them, especially in her condition. Her magic may be even more different than Arya indicated.”

As they spoke, Celestine continued firing, increasing the power with each shot, hoping that she could just make one strong enough to clip the spellcaster. None of them touched him. Desperate, she increased the power to a dangerous level. The shot was so powerful that when it warped around Carn and impacted the ruined wall behind them, the wall exploded, raining down chunks of ancient masonry on them.

A fist-sized chunk rebounded off the back of Carn’s head. He collapsed in a heap. Roran and the other man were both knocked down, caught under a large pile of debris. Celestine sighed heavily and crawled towards them. It took her several minutes to get close. They weren’t dead, and Roran and the man beside him were still conscious. The one that she didn’t know the name of started begging, “Please don’t kill me.”

“For the love of everything holy!” Celestine said with an annoyed edge in her tone. “Could you try using your head for something other than a helmet rest?”

“If she wanted to kill us, she could’ve done it at a distance,” Roran said.

Celestine appraised Carn’s condition as she spoke. “There’s something much bigger than your blasted war going on.” He seemed like he’d be out for at least a few hours.

“You aren’t worried we’ll report back to Eragon?” Roran asked. The other man shushed him, but then averted his gaze from Roran’s disapproving look.

“Of course I am,” Celestine said, “but what’s to be done about it? You’re disarmed and the battle is over, so I can’t kill you. I can’t exactly secure prisoners of war in my condition. I can buy myself some time, but that’s about it. When you do eventually report back to him, tell him everything I’ve told you. He’s more than welcome to help stop the destruction.”

Roran, however, had a nasty puncture on the side of his thigh. “Hmm,” she said with a frown. “That might bleed out before you could get back.”

“What do you care?”

“All life is precious, and none can be replaced.”

“So why did you kill all of those men?”

“Would you hush already? If you don’t know the answer to that question, I wouldn’t be able to explain it to you,” she said, extending her hands. She began chanting her healing spell in order to focus on it entirely. In short order, Roran’s bleeding stopped, but his leg was still badly bruised. Celestine let out a long breath and said, “Sorry, I think that’s the best I can do right now.”

“You can’t heal yourself?” he asked.

“Obviously not,” she replied. “Thank you, though, for your concern. It’s touching.”

Celestine spent the next ten minutes using the debris to form rocky restraints as well as a rudimentary cast and crutch for herself. She then hobbled toward the cave in the distance as quickly as she could manage.

That night, she sat in the cave, her armor carefully arranged beside the fire she had constructed for herself. Her cast was off for the moment. She considered the enchanted twig again. Surely Murtagh had fought off Eragon by now. But, was he flying around looking for her? Probably. That would be most efficient. If she teleported to him, would he be able to catch her before she fell? Just the thought of falling again made her heart sink in her chest. She shook her head. Maybe later.

Her rumbling belly reminded her how hungry she was. She hadn’t eaten since just before leaving Belatona—many hours ago. She had some rations packed, but if Murtagh didn’t make contact with her soon… There weren’t any animals in the cave that she considered edible. She could try some hunting tomorrow. The lake would probably have animals gather at its waters. Probably predators, too, but with her Forcecast, it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

As she was thinking, she heard a soft noise from the mouth of the cave and saw a silhouette outlined by the moonlight. She picked up her gun. She couldn’t tell who it was just by the shadow, but whoever it was would be able to identify her easily in the firelight. She pointed the Forcecast and said, “Who’s there? Murtagh, if that’s you, you’d better tell me right now.”

No answer. She wasn’t taking the risk. She started firing, and the figure charged. Apparently, everyone knew the spell to deflect incoming projectiles because not a single one hit him.

He knocked against the shield she’d erected, but broke it down with his bare fists in mere seconds. She tried to club him with her gun when he dove at her. He batted the attack out of the way. She screamed as the impact jostled her leg. By the firelight, she could now see his face.

Eragon sat astride her, pinning one arm to the ground and pressing his sword to her throat.

“It appears I’m at your mercy,” Celestine said. “It remains to be seen whether you have any.”

“Why did you let them live?”

“What? Why wouldn’t I let them live?” she asked. “They were unarmed and defenseless.”

“Didn’t you realize that they would report back to me? That I’d find you?”

“Yes.”

“If you’d killed them, I probably wouldn’t have found you.”

“Would you have preferred I killed them?”

“No! Roran is my cousin—he’s like a true brother to me, unlike that traitor you’ve enchanted.”

“Then what’s your complaint? You didn’t want me to kill them, and I didn’t.”

After much thought he said, “I don’t understand why you would let them live when they were a danger to you.”

“So, should I kill you?”

Eragon blinked, stunned. He said, “You can’t.”

“Not the point. If you honestly think it’s right to kill those that could be a danger to you, then killing Roran and the others and you would be right. Do you believe that?”

Eragon shook his head. “You’re just trying to trick me. We’re never going to win this war as long as you support the Empire.”

“Have you even started asking yourself whether there should be a war or not?”

“I have to kill you,” he said. His sword trembled against her neck.

“I’m hardly in a condition to stop you,” she said. “Consider, though, that I’m trying to save your own homeland from imminent destruction. You may need my help to stop it. If you kill me, you may doom everyone you love.”

“And if I don’t kill you, Galbatorix may win and continue to oppress everyone.” A small trickle of blood ran down her neck as he pressed harder against her.

Without warning, something threw Eragon off her, dark and fast like an avenging angel. Celestine sat up in enough time to see Murtagh storming out of the cave after his kin. She was stunned for a moment, but soon thought he might need her help. She retrieved her gun and began the slow process of making her way to the mouth of the cave. Murtagh returned before she was halfway there.

“Hold still,” he said. “What are you doing?”

He knelt beside her, took her by the shoulders, and gently rolled her to a sitting position. “You’ll make your injury worse,” he told her as he lifted her robe over her knee, exposing the hideous wound to the cool night air. “Just relax,” he said as he cast his spell and placed his hands on her knee.

Warmth and comfort permeated her knee, traveling down to her toes as well as up her thigh. “Where else?” he asked.

Celestine raised her arm. Murtagh gently caressed it, the healing suffusing her limb. “The other one, too?”

She nodded and again he attended to her.

“Anywhere else?”

She pointed to her side. “My ribs,” she said quietly.

As she began to lift her robe higher, Murtagh stayed her hand. “I don’t need to… look to heal,” he explained.

She nodded again as he slid his hands under her robe and lightly touched her ribs, healing them as well. She took in a deep breath, free of soreness. Then, he noticed the thin red line on her neck and sealed it without a word.

Finally able to move her leg without pain, she stood and walked around and said, “Thank you.” She turned back to him and saw that he was sitting down with his elbows propped up on his knees and his face buried in his hands. She rushed to his side. “What’s wrong?”

He shook his head.

She pulled his hands away from his face and repeated, “What’s wrong?”

His face contorted in sorrow. “Forgive me, please,” he whispered.

“Forgive you? For what?”

“I forgave him and let him go. I should’ve killed him for what he did,” Murtagh said, “but I forgave him. I don’t even—”

Celestine pressed her lips to his with force and passion. She felt such a rush that she kissed him again, cupping his face with her hands. By the third kiss, she was starting to worry about how to stop herself when Murtagh suddenly grabbed her shoulders and held her at arm’s length. “Thorn!” he said, jumping to his feet and running towards the cave mouth. “Hurry, we must stop him!”

Celestine rushed after him, wondering what was going on. Was Eragon attacking Thorn with Saphira? When she exited the cave, Thorn was clawing the ground and writhing in pain while Murtagh shouted, “Fight it, Thorn! Fight it!”

“What’s going on?” Celestine asked, unable to determine the source of Thorn’s pain.

“I’m free of the oath,” Murtagh said. “Galbatorix gave us strict orders. If either of us broke the true name oath, the other is supposed to inform him right away. Thorn is trying to fight his orders, but he won’t be able to much longer.”

“Oh, Thorn. Oh, Thorn, I’m so sorry,” Celestine said. “I only know one way to help. Valos esetem.”

Thorn froze in place. “Celestine!” Murtagh yelled. “Stop doing that!”

“You said we needed to stop him, and I did. I may be able to change his true name with these dragon words, but…”

“But what?”

“This word I know, it’s like a reset. His mind will revert all the way back to how it was when he first hatched, and all of his memories will be gone. He’ll have to relearn everything.”

“No. Don’t do it.”

Celestine heard Thorn’s voice in her mind. Do it.

“Thorn! No!”

It’s the only way. I’d rather have my mind erased than betray Murtagh. I’d rather die than betray my friend! At least this way I can live and become his friend again.

“Thorn… No,” Murtagh said. “Celestine, please, there has to be another way. Isn’t there anything else you can think of? Anything at all?”

Celestine paused to think. Finally she said, “Well… I don’t know if it would work, but there is another command I know. It makes just a small change—it changes his word, but perhaps that would be enough?”

“We can at least try.”

Celestine, promise me. If it doesn’t work, don’t allow me to betray Murtagh. Do what you must.

I understand, Thorn.

“Valos derata. Terak ba ji sol.”

She heard the new word: Truos.

“Here goes everything,” Celestine said. “Truos etuhet.”

Thorn began moving again. He walked in a circle and looked at the sky. “Thorn?” Murtagh asked. “How are you?”

Thorn looked at Murtagh first and then Celestine. It worked! I’m free! For the first time in my life, I’m finally free!

Thorn nuzzled Murtagh and even wrapped his tail around Celestine. Thank you, he said repeatedly. You two are the best humans I’ve ever known.

The rest of the night, Thorn remained vigilant at the cave entrance while Murtagh and Celestine found shelter inside. As they sat near the fire, Murtagh said, “Now that I’m not under Galbatorix’s orders any longer, there’s much I need to tell you. He’s deceived you.”

Celestine repeated, “Deceived me? About what?”

“He can’t send you home.”

“But… the book of Holy Writ… He got it from my world. Surely he can reverse the spell somehow?”

“That’s not the problem, Celestine. It’s the energy required,” Murtagh said. “The way he explained it was that he didn’t actually get the book from your world. He brought its information over into our world. The information contained in that book required about as much energy as running half a mile. He said he could convert your body into information and send you back, but the amount of information was mindboggling. He said imagine a library shelf that held 1,000 copies of Holy Writ. Then imagine a library with 1,000 of those shelves. Then a city with 1,000 of those libraries. And, finally, imagine about 270 of those cities. That’s how much information your body contains. The energy it would take to transmit it from our world to yours would be impossible. He’s been stringing you along so that you’ll help him get his dragon back.”

“I see…” she said. She sat down near the fire and hugged her legs close.

“Celestine, I’m sorry,” Murtagh said. “If I could’ve told you any earlier…”

“I know.”

“One other thing. He’s not a religious man—I’ve never seen a single altar to any god in the entire castle.”

Celestine laughed lightly. “Honestly, I kind of suspected that. For his own sake, though, I hope he doesn’t try trifling with Dayus. I don’t expect that would end well. So, does he really want peace with the Varden, or is that just another lie?”

Murtagh shrugged. “Hard to say. He’s so good at lying, it’s difficult to tell when he’s sincere.”

“I’ll want to speak with him soon.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea. He’ll just take control of me again.”

“I wouldn’t let him do that.”

“I’m not sure you could stop him.”

“There’s a lot you don’t know about me.”

“True, but there’s much you don’t know about Galbatorix. He’s cunning beyond anything I’ve ever seen. I guarantee he’s figured out more about you than I have.”

“How?”

Murtagh sat back. “In addition to reading Holy Writ, he’s read my memories of everything we’ve been doing. Some of the things I don’t understand, I’m sure he’s surmised.”

“And what haven’t you understood?”

Murtagh shook his head. “I wouldn’t even know. He finds value in details that no one else would find important. I’d wager he even knows what those bumps on your back are.”

“You saw those? In the bath… I knew you saw too much!”

Murtagh held up his hands. “I said your modesty was intact. The rim of the tub came up to your waist and you had your back turned to me. When you turned around, I honestly only saw your eyes before I went tumbling.”

Celestine crossed her arms and frowned.

“Anyway, what are they?”

Celestine looked away. “Just something I inherited from my great grandfather. Everyone on his side of the family has them.”

“I promise you, Galbatorix already knows what it is you don’t want to tell me.”

Still not looking at him, Celestine said, “Well, if he does, he should know not to trifle with me, either.”

Murtagh sat closer to her before leaning in for a kiss.

Celestine placed her hand against his chest. He took hold of her hand and continued to lean in. “No,” she said.

“But…”

She looked him in the eyes. “I’m sorry I kissed you. Murtagh, we can’t… Murtagh, I’ll only break your heart.”

“Celestine.”

“Murtagh, I’m leaving! You know that! We can’t be together.”

“I already told you that Galbatorix can’t send you back.”

“Then I’ll find another way. I was sent here by an Elf. Maybe the Elves here know a way to send me back.”

“And what if you can’t? Would it be so bad to stay?”

“It’s not that. You just don’t know what will happen if I don’t get back.”

“Because you’ve never told me about it. What happens if you don’t get back?”

“Millions dead. Billions forced into servitude. Maybe worse.”

“How… do you prevent that from happening?”

“The normals in my world have discovered how to use the non-magical forces to create amazing things—machines that can fly faster than a dragon, machines that can launch projectiles at targets kilometers away with pinpoint accuracy, machines that can fly across entire continents and explode with enough force to obliterate cities. But now there is a magical artifact—a mirror—that drains the power that normals use for all but the most basic technology—technology like your non-magical people use. I’m trying to destroy it.”

Murtagh sat back. “Why?”

“The normals want it destroyed. The Mages want it to remain. Even now they wage war that grows larger every day. The war will cost millions of lives until the mirror’s effect covers the whole planet. Once that happens, the Mages will return normals to their place as our servants—after eliminating the undesirables, of course.”

“I can sympathize with the desire for freedom.”

“If I destroy the Mirror, I destroy the main reason for the war, and I take away the power that would subjugate the normals again.”

“Can’t someone else destroy the Mirror? Does it have to be you?”

“I don’t know. It could be me; it could be my sister; it could be Eve.”

“Eve?”

“My… other sister. The point is, I believe it’s me.”

“There you go again, keeping me in the dark.”

“I don’t want you to get attached!”

“I’m already—!” he began. “Suppose you find another way back to your world. Maybe I can go with you.”

“You ought to stay in your own world,” she said.

“Why would I want to? My only living relative has rejected me. Roughly half of the world wants to kill me. The most powerful man in the world wants to enslave me. I’d rather live in your world than mine.”

“We’ll see,” Celestine said, lying down. “What do you think we should do tomorrow?”

“Let’s continue to Dras-Leona as planned. We’ll get our supplies and head on to Vroengard.”

“What about Eragon? And Galbatorix?”

“I’m more than enough to handle Eragon. I’d wager you are, too, now that you’re healed. As for Galbatorix… Once we stop whatever is happening in the northwest, I intend to stay far away from him as long as I live.”

Celestine lay on her side, facing the fire. The soft light outlined the curves of her body with a diffuse, warm glow. She said, “I want you to be happy. You should find a nice young woman. Get married. Raise lots of fat babies.”

She soon drifted off to sleep. Murtagh lay down, keeping the fire between them. Quietly, he said, “I’ve already found a nice young woman.”

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Comment

  1. Brendan Rizzo on 30 December 2012, 17:51 said:

    Oh crap…

  2. Taku on 30 December 2012, 23:51 said:

    Another brilliant chapter. I like the concept for your world, with the war between magicals and normals. I’d definitely be interested in reading more.

  3. Asahel on 6 January 2013, 17:22 said:

    Thanks both for commenting.

    Another brilliant chapter. I like the concept for your world, with the war between magicals and normals. I’d definitely be interested in reading more.

    Glad you enjoyed it and like the premise of the book. I’d be very happy to get it published so that everyone can read more!