Chapter 16

The Long, Winding Road

After they buried Elva, Celestine said a prayer. As she stood, Galbatorix approached the site. Eragon looked his way and asked, “Is Suffering…?”

“Coping,” he said. “However, I am optimistic about his future.” His look grew even more serious. “What’s even more important, though, is what will you do now?”

“I intend to meet up with the Varden. I’m sure they’re outside the walls of the capital now,” Eragon said, trying to meet his eyes directly. He wavered, looking away for just a moment. “Unless you’d rather fight me here.”

Galbatorix frowned. “I had hoped that after fighting side by side—after saving your life—I’d have earned some goodwill.”

“You have earned my gratitude, but my fight against you wasn’t just for myself. I was fighting for all of Alagaësia. I will tell them the truth of what happened here, though. I owe you at least that much,” Eragon said.

Galbatorix nodded. He then took Celestine by the elbow and drew her aside. When they were out of earshot, he whispered, “Celestine, you put your faith in me, and we won the battle. Now, I just need a little more faith for a little while longer. I have some tasks that need doing here. Meet me back at Urû’baen. I won’t be far behind.”

“Thank you, your majesty,” she said.

He then called out, “Murtagh, I swear I will never compel your obedience again. I ask you now, as a freeman: defend the capital until I return, and help me rebuild the Riders.”

“I will,” he said. “Celestine, will you need a ride to Urû’baen?”

“Yes, thank you,” she said.

“Could we all fly together?” Eragon asked. “I want to discuss something with you both.”

Murtagh nodded his assent.

“Let’s ride out, then,” Celestine said. “The day drags on, and I don’t want to be over the ocean at night.”

“As you say,” Murtagh said. As he saddled Thorn, he added privately to Eragon, Whatever else you do, please let Celestine return home before continuing the war. Her own world needs all the help it can get.

I bear her no ill will—I vow to let her return if it’s possible—but are you sure you don’t want her staying here?

I would be thrilled if circumstances dictated that she had to stay here. But, if she could return home… It’s what she wants, and I wouldn’t keep her from it.

Eragon nodded. I understand.

Once they were several hours out to sea, Eragon reached out to them with his mind. He discussed many things with them. At first, he sought to know what they intended to do with respect to the Varden, but after Celestine made a passing remark about the results of the war in her world in which normals used technology to assert their independence from Mages, Eragon plied her with all sorts of questions about the governments of her world.

The conversation lasted them until well after they had passed over the sea. By then, it was time to land and set up camp for the night. After a meal and a night’s sleep, Eragon said that he needed to mull over his thoughts and wanted to travel at a slower pace, suggesting that Murtagh and Celestine go on ahead. After a brief breakfast together, they all soon departed. Thorn asked Celestine, What do you think Eragon will do?

I think he’s going to try to make peace with Galbatorix. I hope that peace can be obtained.

As do I. If there were peace between us, I would be able to spend more time with Saphira.

Celestine smiled. I noticed how protective you are about her. I thought you might like her.

What’s not to like? She’s beautiful, she has bright scales, and she has a huge wingspan.

She blushed. I see. That’s certainly interesting to know what you look for in a female. What does Murtagh look for, I wonder?

Oh, that’s easy! It’s—

Thorn, he interrupted, there’s really no need to get into that. She probably already knows anyway.

“But it’s nice to hear it sometimes,” she said.

“Let’s stay focused here,” he said. “Even if Eragon does try to reach peace with Galbatorix, what of the Elves and the rest of the Varden? They may not be keen to follow that path.”

“I doubt they would pose any problem without Eragon on their side.”

“You think not? I doubt Eragon will be on any side that fights against Arya.”

“That Elven princess? Why would he…? Does he like her?”

Murtagh laughed. “A bit more than that, I’m afraid.”

“So he’s smitten with her.”

“Smitten. Yes, that’s a word for it.”

“I hadn’t considered that complication. But I meant what I said. I won’t let Galbatorix send me home before there’s peace here.”

“Look on the bright side,” Murtagh said, glancing back at her, “with their army outside the walls of Urû’baen, whether they want peace or war, peace will come quickly enough once Galbatorix returns.”

Celestine shivered.

By the end of the next day, they all arrived at the capital. Murtagh and Celestine landed behind the tremendous walls and waited in the castle. Eragon landed less than an hour later.

* * *

Celestine went up to the walls after dinner the next evening. The Varden were camped outside, their numbers bolstered by a large army of Elves. Still, they didn’t appear to be doing anything significant. Presumably, Eragon was relating what had happened on the island. Perhaps he was winning them over to the idea of peace. Hopefully Galbatorix was as amenable to the idea of peace as he suggested. She eventually wandered to her room and prepared for bed. When she was ready, she knelt before the open window, raised her hands toward the sky, and gazed at the void between the stars.
Before she could begin her prayer, though, she was interrupted by the sound of someone knocking. She simply said, “Be with me,” before slipping her robe over her nightclothes and padding softly to the door. On the other side was one of the castle’s soldiers. “Follow me, m’lady,” he said. “Galbatorix wishes to speak with you.”

“He’s back?”

“Arrived less than an hour ago, I think,” he said. “Went straight to the library. Then sent me to get you.”

Celestine nodded and walked behind the young man as he led the way. “Did he seem… unhappy? Pleased?”

“He seemed the same as always, m’lady.”

“I’m not a noble. My country never had nobility aside from a brief kingship.”

“Then I don’t know what to call you.”

“You could call me Celestine. Or Ms. Faber if you prefer to be formal.”

“We’re almost there, Ms. Faber.”

When they arrived, Galbatorix dismissed the soldier and beckoned Celestine over. “Yes, your majesty?” she asked.

“Over here,” he said, leading her down a set of stairs in a dark corner of the library. It led to some dingy lower library. He retrieved a large stone slab and set it on a sturdy oak table. He gestured to it. “Can you read that?”

She stared at it under the torchlight. “No… What’s this about?”

Galbatorix sat down and cradled his head in his hands. Celestine sat next to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“I had hoped that Elva’s spell on me would end with her death or, barring that, that I’d at least be able to read it again. It would appear that spells cast using the Name of Names have quite a bit of ontological inertia.”

She looked at the stone once more. “That is the name of magic?”

He produced a parchment from his belt. “I had that tablet for forty years, but it’s not written in the language of Elves, Dwarves, humans, or even Urgals. It wasn’t until you gave me this that I figured out how to say it.” He looked up at her. “Are you certain you can’t read it?”

She didn’t give it another glance. “Even if I could, I wouldn’t.”

“I planned on using the Name to give me the power necessary to send you home. Do you still refuse to read it?”

A few tears meandered down her face. She sniffed and said with conviction, “I would rather be stranded here than rely on blasphemy to get me home.”

Galbatorix stood suddenly, pointed his finger at the stone, and growled, “Jierda.”

It broke into thousands of tiny pieces.

“Of course you would.” He then committed the parchment to the torch fire. “At any rate, it’s too dangerous to let anyone else learn it.”

“Elva did this world a service by taking that knowledge to her grave.”

Galbatorix stared at her for a few moments before standing and walking away. She followed along behind and asked, “So… am I then? Stranded?”

“I hoped to use the Name to alter the power requirements for the spell. Now that I can’t… There’s no one with enough power to send you back.”

“Dayus has all power.”

Galbatorix paused at the top of the stairs. “Then you must take up your case with him. I do not.”

* * *

In the morning, Eragon approached the wall and requested an audience with Galbatorix. They arranged a meeting place, setting up a large tent outside the walls as well as some distance from the Varden camp. Galbatorix attended, Shruikan and Thorn nearby, with Murtagh and Celestine. The Varden delegation included Nasuada and her general, the Surdan king and his general, the Dwarf king (who was his own general), the Elven queen and princess and eight of their generals, and, of course, Eragon.

Galbatorix sat down and removed his helmet, saying, “This day has been a long time coming.”

Islanzadí considered him through narrowed eyes. “Indeed it has.”

After introductions were made, the Elves immediately demanded that Galbatorix recount what led to the Rider War and to do so in the Original Language so that he couldn’t lie. Celestine couldn’t follow the language, but she presumed he told them the same things that he told her: how he lost his dragon, how he petitioned for another, how he was unjustly denied, how his friends had helped him get close to the eggs, how Shruikan had hatched for him, and how Vrael had accused him of forcing Shruikan to hatch for him and vowing to hunt him and his friends down. Some of the Elves’ expressions changed from anger to astonishment. Others grew visibly angrier until one of them pounded the table and said, “He may believe what he’s saying, but that cannot be the truth!”

Half of the Elven generals stormed out.

He grinned without mirth at Islanzadí. “Will you leave, too?”

She considered him for a moment. “No,” she said. “No, I don’t think I will, but answer me this: why did you not tell your side of the story to the other Riders as you have for us?”

“Why do you think I didn’t? I did! But Vrael was as convinced that I had used dark arts to force Shruikan to hatch as I was that I hadn’t—he could even say it in the Original Language,” Galbatorix said. “So, with his truth against mine…” He gestured toward the tent exit. “Well, you’ve already seen how most of the Riders reacted.”

“Perhaps we should ask Shruikan why he hatched for you?” Arya suggested.

“A fine idea,” Galbatorix said, reaching out to Shruikan with the request.

Shruikan’s voice filled their minds. I was indecisive as an unhatched. I knew I wanted someone great, but I had a hard time committing. My unhatched brothers and sisters and I always communicated with each other, talking about what we wanted in a Rider. In fact, the day Galbatorix was presented to our clutch, I almost hatched for him then, but I was indecisive, and my sister hatched for him instead.

Eragon interrupted. Jarnunvösk was your sister? I never knew.

Few did. As the years passed, all of my brothers and sisters hatched for others, but I could never bring myself to choose. Eventually, they placed me in other clutches, but it wasn’t the same. I grew so lonely, knowing my kin were all gone and fearing I may never find a Rider. Then, one day, I was brought into Galbatorix’s presence once more. He was different this time. I could feel his loneliness, his sadness, and his yearning for someone that understood him, and I knew that they were my own feelings, too. That is why I hatched for him. He is my father, my brother, and myself. I do not know how else to explain it.

“Galbatorix,” Eragon asked, “do you still want peace?”

“You know that I do. In fact, allow me to disclose a new discovery. Elva uncovered a cache of eggs and Eldunarí hidden by the Riders. They are now in my possession, so as it turns out, I do not need your help to rebuild the Riders anymore,” he said. “That I am here despite that fact should be proof enough that I sincerely want this war to end with no further bloodshed.”

Eragon shifted uncomfortably. “I was going to offer peace and to rebuild the Riders.”

Galbatorix prodded him. “But?”

“But I had terms.”

“And now you’re concerned that I won’t agree to your terms because you have no leverage?”

Eragon nodded.

“Well, tell me what they are so we can proceed.”

“First, I wanted to be sure that you acted honorably in your dealings with the other Riders. I’m satisfied on that point. As far as I can tell, you were falsely accused and reasonably defended yourself. Furthermore, you dealt with me honorably in our struggle against Elva. You’re a better man than many.” Eragon cleared his throat. “We must consider, though, that if we rebuild the Riders, as the centuries pass, what is to keep them from becoming again what they became in your time? Surely you don’t wish to reclaim the Rider’s noble heritage only to fear that long after your death it may again see corruption.”

“I don’t. What do you propose?”

“My second term is that the Riders must be split into three Houses—one led by you, one by Murtagh, and one by me. Once there are enough Riders, each House needs to be led by a Council of several—perhaps five or seven—Riders that will vote on the decisions of the House. The Council members themselves would be voted to the position by all of the Riders of the House. Furthermore, the Houses must be kept as equal in power to each other as possible,” Eragon said. “To that end, every Rider must forsake any position of governance in any nation.”

Galbatorix rose. “You seek to depose me from the Empire? Before I took over, all there was was chaos! Do you wish to see the land descend into darkness once more?”

“You have maintained order,” Eragon said, “but there must be someone you can appoint to succeed you! And the land won’t descend into darkness—not with three Houses of Riders to keep the peace!”

Galbatorix shook his head emphatically. “No. No! I will not—cannot!—forsake my people. And you have nothing to give that I need.”

He walked out of the tent.

Murtagh looked back and forth a few times before turning to leave. Eragon said, “Murtagh?”

He looked his brother in the eye. “I thought your idea had merit. He holds all the cards, though.”

Celestine poked Murtagh in the ribs. He jumped and asked, “What?”

“Follow him!”

“What do you expect me to do?”

“Add your voice to Eragon’s. Reason with the king.” When Murtagh looked down, she added, “You have to try.”

Murtagh left without a word.

Galbatorix hadn’t gone very far from the tent—he was about halfway to the dragons and seemed to be waiting as Murtagh approached. The king spoke first. “Three Houses of Riders, an elected Council for each—I see her hand in this.”

“On our way back, she talked a lot about her world and the governments in it. Separation of powers, elected leaders, yes, and it was almost entirely at Eragon’s prodding,” Murtagh said, “but, she never suggested this idea to us. Eragon put it together on his own.”

“Do you betray me? For her?”

“Betray? What? You once told Celestine that you never wanted to rule the Empire, so why cling to it so fiercely now?”

“I told her the truth,” Galbatorix said, leaning in close. “I was the only thing that stood between the people and a complete breakdown of social order.”

“Yes, you were,” he said, “and you kept things running. The Empire owes you its gratitude. And now, you have the ability to transition the people into a period of peace and freedom like they’ve never had before. But forget the messenger for a moment and just consider the idea on its own merits, would you?”

Galbatorix stood straight once more. As he considered his words, a sudden motion caught their eyes. The king turned as a spear pierced his armor and thrust into his side. Its wielder was one of the Elven generals that had stormed from the tent. Murtagh moved forward, reaching for his sword, but another Elf came from behind him, picked him up by the throat, and grasped his right wrist.

Galbatorix crumpled backwards, but kept a firm grip on the shaft of the spear to prevent his assailant from pulling it free. Murtagh kicked furiously at his own attacker, landing several hard blows to his chest and armpit before he was flung into the city wall. He bounced off and collapsed in a heap.

By that time, Galbatorix saw at least a dozen more Elves approaching now that their leaders had opened with a debilitating surprise attack. Galbatorix placed his palm against the Elven general’s chest and spoke, flinging him back several feet. He heard Shruikan in his mind, I’m almost there! And I’ve told the others, but they’re not as close. Just hold on!

Galbatorix couldn’t respond. Though he had deprived his attacker of his spear, the Elf drew his sword and closed in with a powerful swing. Galbatorix pulled his sword from its scabbard and blocked in a single motion, but the shock agitating his bleeding wound. Pain spiraled up his chest and down his legs. He gritted his teeth and swung, but the Elf leaned just out of reach before thrusting for his throat.

As he tried to bring his sword back around to block, it was as if time slowed down for him. His blade wasn’t moving fast enough, but it didn’t matter anyway. Murtagh’s opponent was closing in on his prone body. The other dozen Elves would be on him soon. The enemy sword point was inches from his throat when time snapped back into place.

Something knocked the blade away at the last second. “Traitors!” Arya landed amongst them.

Murtagh’s attacker stabbed at the unconscious young man only to have his sword knocked away at the last moment as well. One instant Celestine wasn’t there; the next, she was—sword in one hand and some sort of short, carved tree branch in the other. “Back away from him if you know what’s good for you,” she said, her voice brimming with barely restrained anger.

As he took a few wary steps back, his co-conspirator shouted back at Arya, “You have the nerve to call us traitors? Is it not you and your mother who have betrayed us to him?”

“How did it—” Galbatorix gasped. “—through my armor? My magic?”

Arya glanced at it. “A Dauthdaert. You used a Dauthdaert?”

“Exceptional times call for exceptional measures,” the general who had wielded the weapon said. “Now, stand down. This is a victory for good!”

“Good?” Celestine asked. “You ambush a man returning from a peace talk, and you call it good?”

“If the end is right, what matters the path?”

“How can the end be good when the path is evil?” Celestine said with a sour frown. “Does the wolf bleat or the lion low? Just as you know an animal by its call, you know a man by his deeds.”

“Stand down!” Arya shouted. “You may still receive clemency.”

“Brothers, finish the king. We will ensure the females don’t interfere,” he said, “and worry not: the queen’s daughter will not be harmed.”

“You should worry more about yourself,” Arya said, attacking.

As the one general parried, the other general moved towards Celestine, but she held out the stick in her hand and screamed, “Shruikan! To me!”

All of a sudden, the great, black dragon loomed over them. The Elves advancing on Galbatorix quailed as the creature loosed a terrible roar. Their swords trembled in their hands. “Quickly!” the general shouted. “Don’t let it be for naught!”

“It’s already for naught,” Celestine whispered, her sword moving deftly through the empty air and slicing an intricate pattern.

Shruikan opened his mouth and flames billowed forth. The mob backed away even as Arya kicked her opponent to the ground. The soldiers looked to their leader, ready to rally at his command, but as his eyes looked to the sky, he asked, “What… what is that?”

Three dragons were flying, nearly upon them—black, red, and blue. “The real Shruikan, I’d wager,” Arya said, “and Saphira and Thorn as well.”

“The real…?”

Arya smirked. “That female is quite adept at illusion, though I suspect the fire was no artifice.”

“Fall back, men! This fight is lost!” he yelled, scrambling away.

Eragon arrived shortly after the dragons landed. He and Arya worked to heal Galbatorix while Celestine tended to Murtagh. When he regained consciousness, she tapped the complementary branch that hung from his belt. “You kept it,” she said.

“Of course. You gave it to me,” he said. “Did the Elves hurt you?”

“Ha!”

Eragon called out, “Celestine! We could use some help.”

She hurried to them. Eragon explained, “The spear is anti-magical—but your magic should still work. Keep him stable while we remove it.”

She nodded, stretching forth her hands and exuding therapeutic power. Eragon and Arya had already healed the worst of the injuries despite whatever impediment the spear had presented. Celestine was sure her involvement was superfluous, but she appreciated their gesture of trust.

Once Galbatorix had recovered enough to stand, Murtagh asked, “What now, your majesty?”

He shook his head. “War follows me everywhere even when I flee from it.” He looked at Arya. “I will return to the castle—to consider my response.”

“Very well. I must return to my mother,” Arya said. “She needs to know of this conspiracy.” As Galbatorix turned towards Shruikan, Arya added, “And, king, for whatever it may be worth, I thought the idea of three Houses of Riders was worth considering.”

* * *

Hours from sunset, Queen Islanzadí called for Galbatorix to meet right outside the main city gate. Her army was behind her with several dozen Elves, unarmed and on their knees before them. Arya and Eragon stood just behind the queen. Galbatorix had brought Murtagh and Celestine with him. He said, “What is the purpose of this, O Queen?”

She motioned to one of her generals. The woman walked two men partway between Galbatorix and the queen before shoving them back down on their knees and slowly walking back. Islanzadí asked, “Those are the two who ambushed you?”

“Yes.”

She motioned to others on their knees behind her. “These are their co-conspirators. I’m fairly certain we found them all.”

“I have no doubt of your thoroughness. The point?”

“Justice. They are yours now. What will you do?”

Galbatorix nodded, but said nothing for a while as all eyes were on him. Finally he said, “Justice. A lovely word, but often an ugly business.” He looked at the Elf that had stabbed him. “What was your goal? To slay a monster? It’s a noble goal, sirs, and I applaud you for it. But, you were mistaken; what you attacked was not a monster, and I intend to prove it. Step forward Eragon.”

When the young man did so, Galbatorix continued, “I accept your offer—if it still stands. There will be three Houses of Riders and, when possible, a Council of Seven for each. All Riders must forsake all other positions of power. Not only will I step down as king, but I will go one step further. All of the vassal kingdoms of the Empire are now freed to be led again by their own nobles. The Empire is no more.”

“You’re sincere, O King?” Islanzadí asked.

Galbatorix grinned and said with a bow. “I’m no longer a king, your majesty. As for these men, in light of their intentions, I deign to mitigate their punishment. I remand them back to your custody unharmed; if you wish to punish them, it is your right, though I respectfully request that you pardon them as I have.”

“Galbatorix…” Eragon said.

“You almost look surprised, boy!” he said. “For a long time, all I wanted was the return of the Riders. I knew sacrifices would be necessary, but I’m pleased. What I’ve given up is far better than a sacrifice of blood, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I do.”

Murtagh stepped forward. “Riders, hear me. I have a suggestion for our first act.”

“Speak and be heard,” Galbatorix said.

He motioned to Celestine. “This young lady has done a great service in helping bring the war to a close. Though she was a stranger to our lands, she helped us. I believe it is time for her to return. Galbatorix knows the spell. Let us vote on whether we will send her home.”

“Murtagh, there is no way we can gather enough power to cast that spell. There’s no point to vote. It’s impossible to send her back.”

Eragon stepped forward. “We could at least vote to send her home if possible—vote on our intentions and then determine whether it truly is impossible or not afterwards.”

“Fine,” Galbatorix said, removing his helmet and producing some scraps of parchment. “Have it your way then.” He handed one to each of them. Placing his helmet on the ground, he said, “Mark yea or nay, then place it in the helm.”

He tossed his vote in and stepped aside. Eragon was next, marking his after some consideration. Murtagh was last. He stared at the parchment for a long time, aware that Celestine was staring at him. Finally, he marked his vote and set it with the others.

Galbatorix said, “Eragon, read the votes if you would.”

Celestine walked forward as Eragon retrieved the helm. He checked the parchments several times before loudly calling out, “The decision is unanimous. Yea.”

Celestine stopped and considered Murtagh. “Unanimous? You voted to send me home?”

“I did. Surely you’re not unhappy with the vote? I’m sure we won’t send you if you don’t want to go.”

“It’s not that,” she said, “but I was certain I knew how you’d vote. So… why?”

“You already know I’d rather you stay. It’s just I thought…” He trailed off.

“Go on. You thought what?”

“I thought if I’m going to lead a House of Riders, I need cast my votes not based on what I want personally, but on what’s the right thing to do.”

Celestine wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him full on the lips. She then drew back and said, “I’d wonder why you weren’t born in my world, but I can see it’s obviously because you’re needed here. If you maintain that heart, you will be a blessed leader.”

“Thank you.”

“No, thank you. Murtagh…” she said. “I don’t know if I can ever return here, but if I can, I will. And, if I can’t, I promise to find you on the other side of life. I will be with Dayus. Find me there.”

Galbatorix approached. “We voted to send you back if possible. I’m not convinced it is. I will share my spell, but I will not cast it if there’s not enough power behind it.”

Celestine nodded. “I understand.”

Eragon spoke up. “I will try to get as many involved as possible—Elves, Dwarves, Varden. Even if it’s just to donate their energy.”

“I will, too,” Galbatorix said. “There are many among the Eldunarí that will wish to contribute, I’m sure.”

Islanzadí said, “I wish to dispose of this wretched Dauthdaert. I can think of no more fitting end for it than to be broken down into energy and used for the spell.”

* * *

That night, before Eragon began recruiting volunteers, Celestine drew him aside and asked to speak privately. He led her to his tent and asked, “Is this important? I need to gather as many people as possible to help you.”

She nodded. “I know, and I thank you. This is important, and I’ll be quick about it.”

“All right. So what is it?”

“I understand you have feelings for Arya. Do you love her?”

Eragon’s eyes widened. “I… yes, I do. Why are you…?”

“Stay with me on this. What does that mean to you?”

“That’s changed a bit. At first, I was attracted by her beauty. I thought that was love. Then, I came to respect and admire her personality. I thought that must be love. But now… I just want her to be happy, and since she doesn’t seem interested in me, I guess that means I let her be. I mean, if she’s not happy with me, then…”

“If she did love you in return, though, is there anything you can think of that would make you leave her?”

“No. Well… It would have to be greater than our happiness. Lives would have to be at stake. That’s all I can think of. Celestine, why are you asking me these things?”

Two tears escaped the corners of her eyes. “I have to leave Murtagh tomorrow. I just needed to know I was doing the right thing. It helps to hear it from someone else.”

“You love Murtagh.”

“Lives are on the line in my world. If I don’t destroy the Mirror, people will die.”

“I understand. I’ll do the best I can to rally everyone to your cause.”

“Thank you, Eragon. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

When Celestine exited the tent, she noticed Arya standing some distance away, talking with another Elf. She thought she caught Arya glance towards the tent, but she wasn’t sure.

* * *

Early the next morning, everyone that was going to contribute gathered outside the city gate where the vote had been cast. Carn was among the volunteers—he’d been so enamored with the cleverness of Galbatorix’s spell that he couldn’t help but be a part of its casting. While everything was being organized, he found Celestine and said, “Anyone having a spell cast on them ought to know its full implications, but this one is so complex. Do you realize even if it works, you probably won’t remember what transpired while you were in our world? Perhaps not ever?”

“What must be, must be. I’ve made many sacrifices already, and still have more to make. If I can’t remember this place, it will have to be yet another precious thing placed on the altar.” Celestine glanced to where Murtagh was talking to Galbatorix before looking back at Carn. “Besides, even if my mind doesn’t remember, my soul will never forget.”

“I wish you good fortune, girl from another world.”

She grinned. “You can just call me Celestine.”

The old man laughed. “Very well. Celestine.”

She noticed that Eragon had joined Murtagh and Galbatorix, and none of them seemed particularly pleased. She excused herself and walked over to them.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

“There’s not enough power,” Galbatorix said.

“Not enough?” Celestine echoed. “But there are so many here!”

“Yes, I estimate we have enough here to convert you into information, transmit you to your world, and get you about halfway reassembled,” he said, “which is more power than I ever thought I’d see in one place, frankly, but reassembly is the most power intensive part of the spell—and that’s saying a lot. I won’t cast it.”

“Celestine,” Murtagh said, “you have a lot of power. Perhaps you could contribute some with your own magic?”

“Bah!” Galbatorix interrupted. “Have you forgotten that she’s the one being disassembled?”

“I may be able to help with that, Galbatorix,” Carn said. “Begging everyone’s pardon, but I couldn’t help but overhear.”

“Go on,” Galbatorix said. “How do you think she can contribute?”

Carn produced a parchment on which was written Galbatorix’s spell. “Well, I was thinking, if you cast the spell as written, she would disappear here—” he pointed to a part near the beginning “—and reappear in her world here,” he said, pointing to the end. “But say we reword this a little,” he said, quickly writing his thoughts onto the parchment, “like so. It’s still the same spell, but she would disappear here and reappear in her world just after.”

Galbatorix scrutinized the revised spell. “Hmm. Interesting use of the future perfect tense. Have you used that in a spell before?”

Carn nodded with vigor. “Oh, yes, I have. Just to test it, I once cast a spell to cook an egg and remove its shell. I spoke the portion of the shell removal first in future perfect, then the part that cooked it. Needless to say, it all happened in the order intended—not spoken.”

“If that is so, then it would allow her to contribute as much power as she possibly can, but the amount we lack is still far beyond her capabilities,” he said. “This is not a spell—it’s a suicide. I won’t cast it.”

Celestine’s protest was cut short by Murtagh’s sudden declaration. “I’ll cast it.”

“Don’t be a fool, boy,” Galbatorix said. “All you’ll manage to do is kill yourself and her. How many times must I reiterate that we don’t have enough power?”

“We don’t, but Dayus does,” Murtagh said. “Doesn’t he?”

“But we don’t have his name,” Galbatorix said.

“We don’t need his name. He said she’d need my help before the end. I thought that meant our fight with Elva, but now I’m sure he meant I need to help send her home—she needs me to send her home before the Mirror’s end.”

Galbatorix paused for a few moments before asking, “How can you be so sure Dayus will help?”

Eragon asked, “Celestine, does Dayus ever provide signs?”

“He has been known to, yes,” she said. “He’s done so many different things over the ages. I wouldn’t know what to expect. So… maybe look for something you’d never expect would happen?”

“Something we’d never expect? Anything more specific?” Eragon asked.

Celestine barely opened her mouth to answer when Angela arrived, “Well, I’m here. Might as well help send you back. I’ve been trying to get you out of here since we met, after all—only fitting I should be here now.”

“Let’s get this started,” Murtagh said.

While Eragon and Murtagh coordinated the crowd, Galbatorix and Carn conferred with Celestine on the best way for her to contribute. They settled on a large contraption of Carn’s devising that was able to store direct lightning strikes. Celestine would conjure the lightning—as much as she was able.

When everything was ready, Celestine stood in the middle of the field, surrounding by friends and former foes alike. Murtagh walked over to her and asked, “Are you ready?”
She nodded. “I am. Before I leave, you should know. I wish I could stay,” she whispered.

“I know,” he said. “I want you to know that I wish you could stay, too.”

Celestine nodded again, wiping some tears from her cheeks. “I know.”

They shared one last kiss before Murtagh walked away to stand between Galbatorix and Eragon. Galbatorix said, “You’ll be handling a lot of power, Murtagh. Don’t let it intimidate you. You won’t lose control as long as you cast the spell correctly.”

Dark clouds gathered in the skies as Celestine called up a storm. Bolts of lightning lanced through the air, striking the metal rods that fed the device. Murtagh let Celestine supply the machine for a long while until she nodded to let him know she was growing weary. “Dayus please let this work,” Murtagh said under his breath.

He began drawing on the energy around him—more than he’d ever handled before, more than he’d even dreamed was possible. And yet it kept coming, threatening to overwhelm him. Taking a deep breath, he began to cast the spell. When he spoke it, however, the drop in power was beyond belief—as though he had just watched a mountain range blow away like leaves in the wind. And still the spell demanded more power. One by one his sources of power were cut off from him as the donors reached the point of total exhaustion. First, the children and the elderly of the city. Then the other humans. Then the Elves and Dwarves. Then Eragon, Galbatorix, the Eldunarí, the dragons. Thorn would’ve given to the point of death, but Murtagh had to cut him off. He began drawing on the energy Celestine had stored, but even that great amount was like dropping pebbles into a bottomless well.

Murtagh finally reached the part in the spell where Celestine disappeared. Islanzadí turned the Dauthdaert into energy, which Murtagh channeled into the spell, but it was like a river pouring into the ocean for the ocean is never full. Soon, even Angela had to break away. Murtagh stood alone, speaking the last words of the spell.

With that, the yawning chasm gaped to receive the energy due it—all of his energy. Tears flowed down his face; his throat tightened. She’s gone. If I fail now, she dies. I can’t fail now. He fell to his knees; his skin grew cold. Please! Don’t let me fail! He grew lightheaded; small white spots appeared in his vision, growing in size and brightness until all there was was white. Far off in the distance he could hear Eragon calling his name, and then he knew no more.

* * *

Murtagh groaned, turning to his side.

“It’s a miracle you’re alive.”

Murtagh squinted as his vision adjusted. He was in a bed. Eragon was sitting in a chair beside him. “What happened?”

“I was hoping you could tell me,” he said. “You collapsed at the end of the spell. You’ve been unconscious for the last three days.”

“Three days?”

Eragon nodded. “And Thorn’s been asking after you every single one of them. …I thought the spell killed you.”

Murtagh sat up, still listless. “No, I’m alive…” He had a sudden burst of strength. “I’m alive! The spell must have worked!”

Galbatorix entered the room. “Perhaps, though with a spell that complex, it’s possible that when your life force waned, it cut off the last portion of the spell without actually killing you. It’s been known to happen,” he said. “Don’t let it bother you, Murtagh. There was no way to get enough power for that spell. You did the best you could.”

“No, I’m sure it worked. Celestine is alive,” Murtagh said.

“Whatever happened, I’m glad that I don’t have to bury you, too,” his brother said, helping him stand.

Murtagh embraced his brother and said, “Thank you for keeping me anchored. The last thing I remember before losing consciousness was you calling my name.”

Eragon looked puzzled. “I don’t understand. I gave so much of my energy, I blacked out before Celestine even disappeared. Whatever you heard, it wasn’t me.”

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Comment

  1. omegafett on 8 March 2014, 23:07 said:

    Yay! yay! Yay! update.

  2. Takugifian on 9 March 2014, 01:19 said:

    Oooh. Is this the end?

    re. the three houses thing, why can I forsee in generations to come a war between what will devolve into three factions, each trying to either destroy or rule over the others?

    Great writing, I really enjoyed this little story. I look forward to reading some of your original work.

  3. Royal_Terror on 10 March 2014, 02:06 said:

    Takugifian, I don’t think this is the end yet. I’m guessing there will be one more?

    I just realized that I’ve read the exclamation “Bah!” countless times but never heard it used except in reference to Ebenezer Scrooge. Is it a more common expression in the U.K (I live in the U.S.)?

    Anyway, good chapter! I have two questions though:

    1. Why did Carn have a machine “that was able to store direct lightning strikes?” Did he make it during the events of the chapter, or did he already have it? If he already had it, why?

    2. Why did everyone choose to just hope a deity would provide a power source instead of storing the people’s magic, waiting for it to regenerate, and then providing the remaining power? There would be less of a chance that Celestine would die–and if Dayus did help, why did everyone else have to contribute their own magic in the first place?

    If this comment is unintelligible, then my apologies; I’m writing this at 1 AM and my bra9in isn’t isn’t workig.

  4. Asahel on 10 March 2014, 15:17 said:

    Thanks everyone for commenting!

    Oooh. Is this the end?
    bq. Takugifian, I don’t think this is the end yet. I’m guessing there will be one more?

    Well, I do have a short epilogue planned, but I feel the main narrative is concluded. The large conflicts of The Mirror Looks at Eragon were the outcome of the war, the fate of the Riders, the rise of Elva as a nemesis, and the return of Celestine to her world. These have all been wrapped up now. How Celestine fares against the Mirror is to be concluded in her own story. The epilogue is just intended to give the reader a little look at how things are going since the conclusion of the war and wrap up one more smaller point that didn’t get resolved in the main narrative.

    1. Why did Carn have a machine “that was able to store direct lightning strikes?” Did he make it during the events of the chapter, or did he already have it? If he already had it, why?

    Carn didn’t already have the machine. He devised it with input from Galbatorix and Celestine. I figured on giving Carn a bit of the spotlight here since he was said to be such a clever spellcaster (but never really got to show it in the books).

    2. Why did everyone choose to just hope a deity would provide a power source instead of storing the people’s magic, waiting for it to regenerate, and then providing the remaining power? There would be less of a chance that Celestine would die–and if Dayus did help, why did everyone else have to contribute their own magic in the first place?

    I didn’t even think about it, but now that you bring it up, I probably should’ve put this part in the main narrative: I know that in the books, power could be stored in gems. Now, it wasn’t specified what sort of capacity those gems had, but I presume they were finite. The power requirements of the spell were absolutely mind-boggling. Even a mountain of gems filled to the brim with energy would’ve been just a small portion of what was needed. So, storing the energy wouldn’t really be a viable option. As for “everyone” choosing, really only Murtagh and Celestine are making the choice—they’re the only ones whose lives are on the line.

    As for Dayus helping, I’d actually like to get some discussion going on this one: How many people think Dayus did help complete the spell and how many believe Galbatorix is right that the last part of the spell cut off without killing Murtagh? And, if anyone else does think Dayus helped, do you have any explanation why he may have waited until everyone else had done as much as possible before helping?

    re. the three houses thing, why can I forsee in generations to come a war between what will devolve into three factions, each trying to either destroy or rule over the others?

    I’d also like to get discussion going on this one. I believe we can all agree that any human institution will eventually become corrupt no matter how well designed. So, how long do you think the Three Houses will remain noble (or at least stable) before devolving into three-way war and chaos? If you think it will take a long time, what factors do you think will keep it going longer? If you think it will be relatively short, what factors do you think will hasten its demise? And, in either case, what events do you see as most likely leading to its downfall?

    I just realized that I’ve read the exclamation “Bah!” countless times but never heard it used except in reference to Ebenezer Scrooge. Is it a more common expression in the U.K (I live in the U.S.)?

    I suppose it may be more common in the UK (I live in the US as well). I don’t really hear it used conversationally. I just use it from time to time in fantasy dialogue since it’s so delightfully anachronistic!

  5. Royal_Terror on 10 March 2014, 19:51 said:

    Asahel, I thought that the congregation had half the required power already. They’d only need enough gems to store that much, then wait until people recovered to get enough power, right?

    I’d also like to get discussion going on this one. I believe we can all agree that any human institution will eventually become corrupt no matter how well designed. So, how long do you think the Three Houses will remain noble (or at least stable) before devolving into three-way war and chaos? If you think it will take a long time, what factors do you think will keep it going longer? If you think it will be relatively short, what factors do you think will hasten its demise? And, in either case, what events do you see as most likely leading to its downfall?

    I never could get into writing freestyle; is it fun?

    To answer the question: At least enough that Eragon, Murt, and Galby become corrupt themselves or die…Which as dragon riders, may take a while. And then their successors might be good themselves. So–50-ish years minimum, 7,000 years maximum, probably.

    I suppose it may be more common in the UK (I live in the US as well). I don’t really hear it used conversationally. I just use it from time to time in fantasy dialogue since it’s so delightfully anachronistic!

    “Anachronistic?” “A Christmas Carol” was written as late as 1843!

    Seriously though, it may be some people still use the expression. Maybe the U.K. or Northeast? “Bawh” seems like a New Yorkerean think to say.

  6. Asahel on 10 March 2014, 22:36 said:

    Asahel, I thought that the congregation had half the required power already. They’d only need enough gems to store that much, then wait until people recovered to get enough power, right?

    Right, but when I said that a mountain of gems wouldn’t have only held a small portion of what was needed, that wasn’t hyperbole. We’re talking roughly 8 × 10^17 tons of gems (based on the best estimate I could find of how much a mountain weighs). The logistics of getting that collected and filled would be infeasible (maybe impossible; I couldn’t get a good answer about how many gems are on the Earth, and Eragon’s known world is considerably smaller). As I said, this should’ve been addressed in the text, but I didn’t even think of it as a potential plan. Sorry again.

    I never could get into writing freestyle; is it fun?

    I tend to think so. :D

    To answer the question: At least enough that Eragon, Murt, and Galby become corrupt themselves or die…Which as dragon riders, may take a while. And then their successors might be good themselves. So–50-ish years minimum, 7,000 years maximum, probably.

    Interesting! Quite a range there, too. Looking forward to seeing others weigh in on this before I offer my own thoughts on the issue.

  7. Brendan Rizzo on 20 March 2014, 18:05 said:

    All right, we’ve made it to the end. If you ever publish the story Celestine is from, be sure to tell us.

  8. Asahel on 20 March 2014, 18:23 said:

    All right, we’ve made it to the end. If you ever publish the story Celestine is from, be sure to tell us.

    Will do! I’m working on an extensive outline for a submission right now. Wish me luck!