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Orik pointed at a cluster of lanterns staked around a large tunnel opening a couple of miles away. “He should be here soon.”
Eragon waited patiently with the others, answering comments directed at him but preferring to speak with Saphira in the peace of his mind. The quiet that filled Farthen Dûr suited him.
Half an hour passed before motion flickered in the distant tunnel. A group of ten men climbed out onto the ground, then turned and helped up as many dwarves. One of the men—Eragon assumed it was Ajihad—raised a hand, and the warriors assembled behind him in two straight lines. At a signal, the formation marched proudly toward Tronjheim.
Before they went more than five yards, the tunnel behind them swarmed with a flurry of activity as more figures jumped out. Eragon squinted, unable to see clearly from so far away.
Those are Urgals!exclaimed Saphira, her body tensing like a drawn bowstring.
Eragon did not question her. “Urgals!” he cried, and leaped onto Saphira, berating himself for leaving his sword, Zar’roc, in his room. No one had expected an attack now that the Urgal army had been driven away.
His wound twinged as Saphira lifted her azure wings, then drove them down and jumped forward, gaining speed and altitude each second. Below them, Arya ran toward the tunnel, nearly keeping apace with Saphira. Orik trailed her with several men, while Jörmundur sprinted back toward the barracks.
Eragon was forced to watch helplessly as the Urgals fell on the rear of Ajihad’s warriors; he could not work magic over such a distance. The monsters had the advantage of surprise and quickly cut down four men, forcing the rest of the warriors, men and dwarves alike, to cluster around Ajihad in an attempt to protect him. Swords and axes clashed as the groups pressed together. Light flashed from one of the Twins, and an Urgal fell, clutching the stump of his severed arm.
For a minute, it seemed the defenders would be able to resist the Urgals, but then a swirl of motion disturbed the air, like a faint band of mist wrapping itself around the combatants. When it cleared, only four warriors were standing: Ajihad, the Twins, and Murtagh. The Urgals converged on them, blocking Eragon’s view as he stared with rising horror and fear.
No! No! No!
Before Saphira could reach the fight, the knot of Urgals streamed back to the tunnel and scrambled underground, leaving only prone forms behind.
The moment Saphira touched down, Eragon vaulted off, then faltered, overcome by grief and anger.I can’t do this. It reminded him too much of when he had returned to the farm to find his uncle Garrow dying. Fighting back his dread with every step, he began to search for survivors.
The site was eerily similar to the battlefield he had inspected earlier, except that here the blood was fresh.
In the center of the massacre lay Ajihad, his breastplate rent with numerous gashes, surrounded by five Urgals he had slain. His breath still came in ragged gasps. Eragon knelt by him and lowered his face so his tears would not land on the leader’s ruined chest. No one could heal such wounds. Running up to them, Arya paused and stopped, her face transformed with sorrow when she saw that Ajihad could not be saved.
“Eragon.” The name slipped from Ajihad’s lips—no more than a whisper.
“Yes, I am here.”
“Listen to me, Eragon. . . . I have one last command for you.” Eragon leaned closer to catch the dying man’s words. “You must promise me something: promise that you . . . won’t let the Varden fall into chaos. They are the only hope for resisting the Empire. . . . They must be kept strong. You must promise me.”
“Then peace be with you, Eragon Shadeslayer. . . .” With his last breath, Ajihad closed his eyes, setting his noble face in repose, and died.
Eragon bowed his head. He had trouble breathing past the lump in his throat, which was so hard it hurt. Arya blessed Ajihad in a ripple of the ancient language, then said in her musical voice, “Alas, his death will cause much strife. He is right, you must do all you can to avert a struggle for power. I will assist where possible.”
Unwilling to speak, Eragon gazed at the rest of the bodies. He would have given anything to be elsewhere. Saphira nosed one of the Urgals and said,This should not have happened. It is an evil doing, and all the worse for coming when we should be safe and victorious . She examined another body, then swung her head around.Where are the Twins and Murtagh? They’re not among the dead.
Eragon scanned the corpses.You’re right! Elation surged within him as he hurried to the tunnel’s mouth. There pools of thickening blood filled the hollows in the worn marble steps like a series of black mirrors, glossy and oval, as if several torn bodies had been dragged down them.The Urgals must have taken them! But why? They don’t keep prisoners or hostages. Despair instantly returned.It doesn’t matter. We can’t pursue them without reinforcements; you wouldn’t even fit through the opening.
They may still be alive. Would you abandon them?
What do you expect me to do? The dwarf tunnels are an endless maze! I would only get lost. And I couldn’t catch Urgals on foot, though Arya might be able to.
Then ask her to.
Arya!Eragon hesitated, torn between his desire for action and his loathing to put her in danger. Still, if any one person in the Varden could handle the Urgals, it was she. With a groan, he explained what they had found.
Arya’s slanted eyebrows met in a frown. “It makes no sense.”
“Will you pursue them?”
She stared at him for a heavy moment. “Wiol ono.” For you. Then she bounded forward, sword flashing in her hand as she dove into the earth’s belly.