Chapter 21: Clues
The wind howled and whistled as it passed through the naked trees of the forest in the mountainous region known as the Spine. The sky was grey and cloudy and small drops of rain had started to fall from the sky, watering the ground that emanated a characteristic pleasurable smell. Two dragons were flying in the sky, one silver and the other yellow, the color of the sun. The two riders shivered from the cold air as it hit their unprotected faces and Salador tried to warm his hands which had numbed from the cold as he covered himself with his furry coat. He then remembered the spell Eragon had taught them to keep them warm and cast it as he felt the continuous stream of energy leaving his body, as the spell started to work.
Alaina was looking at the horizon her hazel coloured eyes searching for the light from the lighthouse of Teirm and the walls of the city. She was also wearing a furry coat and brown travelling pants. The city was still far away, covered by the clouds that were low on the ground and the fog. She looked towards Salador and he averted his gaze after she saw a small smile on Alaina's lips. Salador blushed, mentally berating himself for allowing his emotions for her to show. He had started to like Alaina to the amusement of his dragon Gadaroth, as he had silly reactions when he saw her or talked to her. He would stutter or move his hands not knowing what to do with them, as an anxiety took him over whenever he talked to her. Finally, shaking his head he pushed away such thoughts.
He once again wondered what or who they would find once they reached the city. He remembered Eragon's warning when they split paths. "You must only investigate and if there is any danger you will fly immediately back. Under no circumstances are you to fight it". He did not know the reason Eragon had given this warning or what they were not supposed to fight and this made his heart beat faster. Not knowing was worse than if he knew their enemy, as with his mind he conjured up many horrors that could possibly become their enemy.
"Whatever happens I still have my new rider sword." he thought with satisfaction. Rhunon had forged the sword with the help of Thrain, the dwarven rider and he remembered with a smile the fascination Thrain had developed about forging weapons and his constant visits to Rhunon's forge as he strove to learn the secrets of the old elven weaponsmith. He reminded himself of the promise he had made to the dwarf that he would return for a drink as soon as this mission was over.
"Don't forget you have me to fight with you" Gadaroth, his yellow dragon, said with his deep bass voice that shook his mind.
"I will never forget that." Salador said in reply patting him on the neck affectionately. He loved his dragon with all his being. Gadaroth had grown a lot since he had first found him, so many years ago, even if it felt as only a few days had passed. At eight years old, he was one of the oldest dragons and he was a little bit more than half the size of Saphira. Salador still remembered when Gadaroth was little more than the size of a cat, when he had hatched from his egg that fateful day when he was being led for his execution. Instead he had lived and was now a dragon rider. For that, he owed his life to his dragon and he would never let himself forget that.
Suddenly at the edge of his vision, the walls of the city of Teirm appeared. Black smoke was rising from within the city and the smell of burnt wood was carried in the air for miles. Salador and Alaina urged their dragons on and the two dragons flew as fast as they could to reach the city as soon as possible. As the time passed, the city grew larger until finally they could clearly see the ruined buildings inside the city, some fires still burning in some of the roofs while others had collapsed and all that remained was black coal. The large lighthouse had no light, even though a storm was brewing, signalling that something was wrong within the city. The dragons landed outside the gate which had been ruined by an explosion. Salador and Alaina remained alert, both drew their rider swords ready to defend themselves if necessary from whoever attacked them.
The city was dead, nothing moved inside. All Salador could see were the broken bodies and blood of hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers. Black burnt arrows still marked some of the buildings and thrown spears could still be seen lying on the floor. Soldiers could be seen with horrible expressions on their faces as if they had tried to defend themselves from a demon. Pieces of rock had fallen from the walls of the destroyed houses and roofs had collapsed. Salador looked away from the site of the dead soldiers disgusted, and barely contained the contents of his breakfast, as it was raised to his mouth again. Suddenly the bodies stopped and a huge amount of footprints could be seen leading to the centre of the city, as if the soldiers had realized that their only hope was to retreat further in the city. Still, this had not saved them as more bodies could be seen there, and more blood on the ground.
"Who could do such a thing?" Salador wondered aloud. Silence was the only response he got as the dragons and Alaina were still stunned by the amount of destruction in the city.
"This is very odd. There are only soldiers of one side lying on the ground." Gadaroth said after a few minutes of examining the destruction. "Where have the other soldiers gone?" he continued.
"Perhaps there aren't any." Alaina replied. "I have heard of this before, even though I did not think I would live to see it."
"You mean it was caused by a powerful being?" Alaina's dragon, Arget said in a surprised tone after examining her thoughts. Silence fell as they all processed her words.
"How powerful must that being be to cause such destruction. It killed the whole city garrison." Salador said in awe. The being had to be at least as powerful as Eragon, if not more powerful.
He looked at Alaina still searching for the culprit among the ruins.
"Over here!" she shouted as she followed a large field with footprints, leading away from the city.
They all came running and saw what Alaina had found.
"Perhaps there were survivors after all." Salador said. "We must go and find them. They will know who did this." he continued.
"No, not yet. The dragons are tired and the weather is bad. We must rest here first." Alaina said quickly dismissing the idea and Salador was forced to agree with her.
"Then will you help me gather some wood?" Salador proposed and Alaina smiled.
"Of course". she replied as they both went to gather wood to prepare a campfire.
"Perhaps we can practice sword fighting too before we sleep." Salador said remembering the bruises he had on his body from their last fight.
"You want to lose again?" Alaina said with a smile. Salador did not reply but he laughed aloud in response.
"I am confident today. I can't let you win all the time anyway." Salador said jokingly.
"Very well. The challenge is on!." Alaina said her brown eyes sparkling with amusement.
They kept talking to each other, not wanting the conversation to end at that.
"What will you do after the war is over?" Salador asked trying to find something to talk about.
"I do not know yet. Many things could change" she said thoughtfully, as their eyes met once again. Salador blushed at that and hid his face trying to cover it with his hand as if he was wiping sweat from his brow.
When they finished gathering wood, they went back to their dragons who were already sleeping from exhaustion. They cooked their food, which they had taken with them as provisions for the trip to Teirm and tried to eat as silent as possible to not wake up the dragons, until their stomachs were full.
Salador lied down near Gadaroth, warming himself with the heat from his dragon's belly and looked at Alaina as she lied down on the floor beside Arget, her own dragon. Before he fell to sleep, he wondered what was happening elsewhere in Alagaesia. He hoped Eragon and the other riders could stop the, until now, undefeated forces of King Orrin, and could find a way to win the war and bring peace back to the land. His gaze finally fell back to the ruined city behind him, and once again he wondered what creature could possibly do so much damage. His thoughts turned to Alaina, glad that he was ale to spend some time with her, and his eyes slowly closed, his head relaxed as he finally succumbed to his tiredness.
A loud cracking noise could be heard as if a building collapsed, as Salador woke up with a start grabbing his sword from his side. He unsheathed the sword and looked around in the near darkness. Gadaroth was already moving in a defensive position to protect him from any possible harm, roaring a challenge to whoever had dared disturb his sleep. Alaina and Arget, were missing and Salador looked around frantically searching for them but he could not see them.
"Alaina!" he shouted as loud as he could, the sound echoing from the walls of the empty houses in the city.
"Where are they?" he thought with anxiety.
As if in answer, a loud scream pierced the air and the sound of metal against metal could be heard from within the ruined city, chilling his blood.