Inheritance (The Inheritance Cycle 4) - Page 49

When they shot out of the cloud, millions of tiny droplets clung to Saphira’s body, and she sparkled as if diamonds had been affixed to her already dazzling scales.

Her flight continued to be unsettled; one moment she would be level, but the next the unruly air might shove her sideways, or an unexpected updraft might lift one wing and send her slewing off in the opposite direction. Just sitting on her back as she fought against the turbulence was tiring, while for Saphira herself, it was a miserable, frustrating struggle made all the more difficult by knowing that it was far from over and that she had no choice but to continue on.

After an hour or two they still had not sighted the far side of the tempest. Glaedr said, We have to turn. You’ve gone as far west as is prudent, and if we’re to dare the full wrath of the storm, we had best do it now, before you are any more exhausted.

Without a word, Saphira wheeled north toward the vast, towering cliff of sunlit clouds that occupied the heart of the giant storm. As they neared the ridged face of the cliff—which was the largest single thing Eragon had ever seen, larger even than Farthen Dûr—blue flashes illuminated the folds within as lightning crawled upward, toward the top of the anvil head.

A moment later, a clap of thunder shook the sky, and Eragon covered his ears with his hands. He knew that his wards would protect them from the lightning, but he still felt apprehensive about venturing near the crackling bolts of energy.

If Saphira was frightened, he did not sense it. All he could feel was her determination. She quickened the beat of her wings, and a few minutes later they arrived at the face of the cliff and then plunged through it and into the center of the storm.

Twilight surrounded them, gray and featureless.

It was as if the rest of the world had ceased to exist. The clouds made it impossible for Eragon to judge any distance past the tips of Saphira’s nose, tail, and wings. They were effectively blind, and only the constant pull of their weight let them differentiate up from down.

Eragon opened his mind and allowed his consciousness to expand as far as he could, but he felt no other living thing besides Saphira and Glaedr, not even a single stray bird. Fortunately, Saphira retained her sense of direction; they would not get lost. And by continuing to search with his mind for other beings, whether plant or animal, Eragon could ensure that they would not fly straight into the side of a mountain.

He also cast a spell that Oromis had taught him, a spell that informed him and Saphira exactly how close they were to the water—or the ground—at any given moment.

From the moment they entered the cloud, the ever-present moisture began to accumulate on Eragon’s skin and soak into his woolen clothes, weighing them down. It was an annoyance he could have ignored had not the combination of water and wind been so chilling, it would have soon drained the heat from his limbs and killed him. Therefore, he cast another spell, which filtered the air around him of any visible droplets, as well as—at her request—the air around Saphira’s eyes, for the moisture kept collecting on their surface, forcing her to blink all too frequently.

The wind inside the anvil head was surprisingly gentle. Eragon made a comment to that effect to Glaedr, but the old dragon stayed as grim as ever. We have yet to encounter the worst of it.

The truth of his words soon became evident when a ferocious updraft slammed into Saphira’s underside and carried her thousands of feet higher, where the air was too thin for Eragon to breathe properly and the mist froze into countless tiny crystals that stung his nose and cheeks and the webbing of Saphira’s wings like so many razor-sharp knives.

Pinning her wings against her sides, Saphira dove forward, trying to escape the updraft. After a few seconds, the pressure underneath her vanished, only to be replaced by an equally powerful downdraft, which shoved her toward the waves at a frightful speed.

As they fell, the ice crystals melted, forming large, globular raindrops that seemed to float weightlessly alongside Saphira. Lightning flared nearby—an eerie blue glow through the veil of clouds—and Eragon shouted with pain as the thunder boomed around them. His ears still ringing, he ripped two small pieces off the edge of his cloak, then rolled up the scraps of cloth and screwed them into his ears, forcing them in as far as he could.

Only near the bottom of the clouds did Saphira manage to break free of the fast-flowing stream of air. As soon as she did, a second updraft seized hold of her and, like a giant hand, pushed her skyward.

Then and for a long while after, Eragon lost all track of time. The raging wind was too strong for Saphira to resist, and she continued to rise and fall in the cycling air, like a piece of flotsam caught in a whirlpool. She made some headway—a few scant miles, dearly won and with great effort retained—but every time she extricated herself from one of the looping currents, she found herself trapped in another.

It was humbling for Eragon to realize that he, Saphira, and Glaedr were helpless before the storm and that, for all their might, they could not hope to match the power of the elements.

Twice, the wind nearly drove Saphira into the crashing waves. On both occasions, the downdrafts cast her out of the underbelly of the storm into the squalls of rain that pummeled the sea below. The second time it happened, Eragon looked over Saphira’s shoulder and, for an instant, he thought he saw the long, dark shape of the Nïdhwal resting upon the heaving water. However, when the next burst of lightning came, the shape was gone, and he wondered whether the shadows had played a trick upon him.

As Saphira’s strength waned, she fought the wind less and less and, instead, allowed it to take her where it would. She only made an effort to defy the storm when she got too close to the water. Otherwise, she stilled her wings and exerted herself as little as possible. Eragon felt when Glaedr began to feed her a thread of energy to help sustain her, but even that was not enough to allow her to do more than hold her place.

Eventually, what light there was began to fade, and despair settled upon Eragon. They had spent the better part of the day being tossed about by the storm, and still it showed no sign of subsiding, nor did it seem as if Saphira was anywhere close to its perimeter.

Once the sun had set, Eragon could not even see the tip of his nose, and there was no difference between when his eyes were open and when they were closed. It was as if a huge pile of black wool had been packed around him and Saphira, and indeed, the darkness seemed to have a weight to it, as if it were a palpable substance pressing against them from all sides.

Every few seconds, another flash of lightning split the gloom, sometimes hidden within the clouds, sometimes streaking across their field of vision, glaring with the brightness of a dozen suns and leaving the air tasting like iron. After the searing brightness of the closer discharges, the night seemed twice as dark, and Eragon and Saphira alternated between being blinded by the light and being blinded by the utter black that followed. As close as the bolts came, they never struck Saphira, but the constant roll of thunder left Eragon and Saphira feeling sick from the noise.

How long they continued like that, Eragon could not tell.

Then, at some point in the night, Saphira entered a torrent of rising air that was far larger and far stronger than any they had previously encountered. As soon as it struck them, Saphira began to struggle against it in an attempt to escape, but the force of the wind was so great, she could barely hold her wings level.

At last, frustrated, she roared and loosed a jet of flame from her maw, illuminating a small area of the surrounding ice crystals, which glittered like gems.

Help me, she said to Eragon and Glaedr. I can’t do this by myself.

So the two of them melded their minds and, with Glaedr supplying the needed energy, Eragon shouted, “Gánga fram!”

The spell propelled Saphira forward, but ever so slowly, for moving at right angles to the wind was like swimming across the Anora River during the height of the spring snowmelt. Even as Saphira advanced horizontally, the current continued to sweep her upward at a dizzying rate. S

oon Eragon began to notice that he was growing short of breath, and yet they remained caught within the torrent of air.

This is taking too long and it’s costing us too much energy, said Glaedr. End the spell.


End the spell. We can’t win free before the two of you faint. We’ll have to ride the wind until it weakens enough for Saphira to escape.

How? she asked while Eragon did as Glaedr instructed. The exhaustion and sense of defeat that muddied her thoughts made Eragon feel a pang of concern for her.

Eragon, you must amend the spell you are using to warm yourself to include Saphira and me. It is going to grow cold, colder than even the bitterest winter in the Spine, and without magic, we shall freeze to death.

Even you?

I will crack like a piece of hot glass dropped in snow. Next you must cast a spell to gather the air around you and Saphira and to hold it there, so you may still breathe. But it must also allow the stale air to escape, or else you will suffocate. The wording of the spell is complicated, and you must not make any mistakes, so listen carefully. It goes as such—

Once Glaedr had recited the necessary phrases in the ancient language, Eragon repeated them back to him, and when the dragon was satisfied with his pronunciation, Eragon cast the spell. Then he amended his other piece of magic as Glaedr had instructed, so the three of them were shielded from the cold.

They waited, then, while the wind lifted them higher and higher. Minutes passed, and Eragon began to wonder if they would ever stop, or if they would keep hurtling upward until they were level with the moon and the stars.

It occurred to him that perhaps this was how shooting stars were made: a bird or a dragon or some other earthly creature snatched upward by the inexorable wind and thrown skyward with such speed, they flamed like siege arrows. If so, then he guessed he, Saphira, and Glaedr would make the brightest, most spectacular shooting star in living memory, if anyone was close enough to see their demise so far out to sea.

The howling of the wind gradually grew softer. Even the bone-jarring claps of thunder seemed muted, and when Eragon dug the scraps of cloth out of his ears, he was astonished by the hushed silence that surrounded them. He still heard a faint susurration in the background, like the sound of a small forest brook, but other than that, it was quiet, blessedly quiet.

As the clamor of the angry storm faded, he also noticed that the strain imposed by his spells was increasing—not so much from the enchantment that prevented their bodily heat from dissipating too quickly, but from the enchantment that collected and compressed the atmosphere in front of him and Saphira so that they could fill their lungs as they normally did. For whatever reason, the energy required to maintain the second spell multiplied out of all proportion to the first, and he soon felt the symptoms that indicated the magic was upon the verge of stealing away what little remained of his life force: a coldness of his hands, an uncertainty in the beating of his heart, and an overwhelming sense of lethargy, which was perhaps the most worrying sign of all.

Then Glaedr began to assist him. With relief, Eragon felt his burden decrease as the dragon’s strength flowed into him, a flush of fever-like heat that washed away his lethargy and restored the vigor of his limbs.

And so they continued.

At long last, Saphira detected a slackening of the wind—slight but noticeable—and she began to prepare to fly out of the stream of air.

Before she could, the clouds above them thinned, and Eragon glimpsed a few glittering specks: stars, white and silvery and brighter than any he had seen before.

Look, he said. Then the clouds opened up around them, and Saphira rose out of the storm and hung above it, balancing precariously atop the column of rushing wind.

Laid out below them, Eragon saw the whole of the storm, extending for what must have been a hundred miles in every direction. The center appeared as an arching, mushroom-like dome, smoothed off by the vicious crosswinds that swept west to east and threatened to topple Saphira from her uncertain perch. The clouds both near and far were milky and seemed almost luminous, as if lit from within. They looked beautiful and benign—placid, unchanging formations that betrayed nothing of the violence inside.

Then Eragon noticed the sky, and he gasped, for it contained more stars than he had thought existed. Red, blue, white, gold, they lay strewn upon the firmament like handfuls of sparkling dust. The constellations he was familiar with were still present but now set among thousands of fainter stars, which he beheld for the very first time. And not only did the stars appear brighter, the void between them appeared darker. It was as if, whenever he had looked at the sky before, there had been a haze over his eyes that had kept him from seeing the true glory of the stars.

He stared at the spectacular display for several moments, awestruck by the glorious, random, unknowable nature of the twinkling lights. Only when he finally lowered his gaze did it occur to him that there was something unusual about the purple-hued horizon. Instead of the sky and the sea meeting in a straight line—as they ought to and always had before—the juncture between them curved, like the edge of an unimaginably big circle.

It was such a strange sight, it took Eragon a half-dozen seconds to understand what he was seeing, and when he did, his scalp tingled and he felt as if the breath had been knocked out of him.

“The world is round,” he whispered. “The sky is hollow and the world is round.”

So it would appear, Glaedr said, but he seemed equally impressed. I heard tell of this from a wild dragon, but I never thought to see it myself.

To the east, a faint yellow glow tinted a section of the horizon, presaging the return of the sun. Eragon guessed that if Saphira held her position for another four or five minutes, they would see it rise, even though it would still be hours before the warm, life-giving rays reached the water below.

Saphira balanced there for a moment more, the three of them suspended between the stars and the earth, floating in the silent twilight like dispossessed spirits. They were in a nowhere place, neither part of the heavens nor part of the world below—a mote passing through the margin separating two immensities.

Then Saphira tipped forward and half flew, half fell northward, for the air was so sparse that her wings could not fully support her weight once she left the stream of rising wind.

As she hurtled downward, Eragon said, If we had enough jewels, and if we stored enough energy in them, do you think we could fly all the way to the moon?

Who knows what is possible? said Glaedr.

When Eragon was a child, Carvahall and Palancar Valley had been all he had known. He had heard of the Empire, of course, but it had never seemed quite real until he began to travel within it. Later still, his mental picture of the world had expanded to include the rest of Alagaësia and, vaguely, the other lands he had read of. And now he realized that what he had thought of as so large was actually but a small part of a much greater whole. It was as if his point of view had, within a few seconds, gone from that of an ant to that of an eagle.

For the sky was hollow, and the world was round.

It made him reevaluate and recategorize … everything. The war between the Varden and the Empire seemed inconsequential when compared with the true size of the world, and he thought how petty were most of the hurts and concerns that bedeviled people, when looked at from on high.

To Saphira, he said, If only everyone could see what we have seen, perhaps there would be less fighting in the world.

You cannot expect wolves to become sheep.

No, but neither do the wolves have to be cruel to the sheep.

Saphira soon dropped back into the darkness of the clouds, but she managed to avoid getting caught in another cycle of rising and falling air. Instead, she glided for many miles, skipping off the tops of the other, lower updrafts packed within the storm, using them to help conserve her strength.

An hour or two later, the fog parted, and they flew out of the huge mass of clouds that formed the center

of the storm. They descended to skim over the insubstantial foothills piled about its base, which gradually flattened into a quilted blanket that covered everything in sight, with the sole exception of the anvil head itself.

By the time the sun finally appeared above the horizon, neither Eragon nor Saphira had the energy to pay much attention to their surroundings. Nor was there anything in the sameness below to attract their attention.

It was Glaedr, then, who said, Saphira, there, to your right. Do you see it?

Eragon lifted his head off his folded arms and squinted as his eyes adjusted to the brightness.

Some miles to the north, a ring of mountains rose out of the clouds. The peaks were clad in snow and ice, and together they looked like an ancient, jagged crown resting atop the layers of mist. The eastward-facing scarps shone brilliantly in the light of the morning sun, while long blue shadows cloaked the western sides and stretched dwindling into the distance, tenebrous daggers upon the billowy, snow-white plain.

Eragon straightened in his seat, hardly daring to believe that their journey might be at an end.

Behold, said Glaedr, Aras Thelduin, the fire mountains that guard the heart of Vroengard. Fly quickly, Saphira, for we have but a little farther to go.


THEY CAUGHT HER at the intersection of two identical corridors, both lined with pillars and torches and scarlet pennants bearing the twisting gold flame that was Galbatorix’s insignia.

Nasuada had not expected to escape, not really, but she could not help but feel disappointed at her failure. If nothing else, she had hoped to cover more distance before they recaptured her.

She fought the whole way as the soldiers dragged her back to the chamber that had been her prison. The men wore chest plates and vambraces, but she still managed to scratch their faces and bite their hands, wounding a pair of the men rather severely.

The soldiers uttered exclamations of dismay when they entered the Hall of the Soothsayer and saw what she had done to her jailer. Careful not to step in the pooling blood, they carried her to the slab of stone, strapped her down, then hurried away, leaving her alone with the corpse.

Tags: Christopher Paolini The Inheritance Cycle Fantasy
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