Arya gasped and raised her sword, but the Ra'zac struck her in the forehead before she could do anything else, and she crumpled to the stone floor. Elva toppled from her shoulders and landed hard next to her. The Ra'zac advanced, leaping on top of the unconscious elf and opening its horrible black beak in preparation to bite her.
Elva's body shook as she tried to fight the urge to jump between the Ra'zac and Arya; she knew the Ra'zac would kill her instantly, being as small as she was. However, in the same second that the Ra'zac opened its beak and Elva's body began to shake, the damaged door of Katrina's cell hurled into the Ra'zac's face and slammed it into the opposite tunnel wall. Elva gasped as she rolled over, and then vomited.
Elva could sense Eragon, rather than see him, as he walked out of the cell, stepped over Arya, and approached the wounded Ra'zac that was struggling to remove the metal door from itself. Elva knew that Eragon had used magic on the door to throw it at the Ra'zac, and with an enormous effort she lifted her head to see what magic he would use against the creature next.
Eragon cast a spell that split the door in half, and then he bent down and snatched up Arya's sword with inhuman speed as the Ra'zac rose to its feet, hissing and clicking. Then as the Ra'zac launched itself at Eragon, the Rider swung Arya's sword up in a wide arc. The blade met the Ra'zac just as it reached Eragon, and as Eragon brought the sword in a full circle, it sliced off the Ra'zac's arm.
The Ra'zac hissed and screeched in agony as its useless arm fell to the floor and green blood spurted from the stump that was left behind. Elva struggled to her feet and backed against the wall, trying with all her might not to vomit again. As she battled with herself, Roran thundered past her out of the cell.
Elva was too disoriented to have a very clear picture of what happened next, but from the sounds she heard and the pain she sensed, she deduced that Roran had thrown himself at the wounded Ra'zac and attempted to pin it to the floor. The Ra'zac struggled with lots of hissing and clicking, and managed to injure Roran with its beak as Eragon brought Arya's sword around again and sunk the blade into the Ra'zac's side.
The Ra'zac let out an earsplitting shriek and Elva flinched. She pressed her hands against either side of her head as she tried to block out the pain of Roran's and the Ra'zac's injuries, and tried to resist the urge to somehow relieve both of them simultaneously. This last conflicting sensation from her curse was confusing and overpowering enough that it almost drove her over the edge of sanity.
Roran, ignoring his wound, lifted a rock from the tunnel floor and smashed the Ra'zac's head with it. At the same time, Eragon twisted Arya's sword in the creature's side and then yanked it out. The Ra'zac fell to the ground and did not move again. Elva was abruptly relieved at the Ra'zac's death; it had taken the last bit of her willpower to resist throwing herself between the Ra'zac and Roran's rock. She sank to the floor with her head pounding. She lay there, barely conscious, fighting to keep from fainting completely, feeling Roran's pain from his injury and Katrina's fear as she listened to the battle from inside her cell.
Elva continued to lie there, fighting to stay conscious, as Eragon revived Arya and returned her sword to her. Elva was dimly aware of Eragon explaining to the elf what had just transpired; she could also see light at the edge of her vision, which meant that Eragon or Arya had most likely conjured a ball of light in order to see better.
The next thing Elva knew, soft hands were gently lifting her into a sitting position. She squinted at Arya's face and heard the elf's musical voice as if it was far away instead of right next to Elva's head.
"Are you alright?" the elf was saying. "The Ra'zac is dead; there should be nothing causing you pain anymore…."
But Elva could not comprehend any more of what Arya said; she felt more exhausted with each passing second, and as Arya lifted Elva into her arms, Elva felt the very last grain of her strength leave her. Her violet eyes fluttered shut, and she knew no more.
When Elva finally awoke, several days had passed since the prisoners of Helgrind and their rescuers had left the Ra'zac's lair. Elva was once again riding on Arya's back, strapped into the pack that Trianna had made for her.
Elva was starving; she had not eaten since before they infiltrated Helgrind.
Arya was running, returning to Surda the same way that she had left. Elva turned her head and saw that Eragon was running next to the elf, keeping perfect pace with her. Elva was impressed; as a human, Eragon should not have had the ability to run as fast as an elf. But then again, Elva reminded herself, he did look like an elf now; he had somehow acquired elvish looks, speed, and strength in Du Weldenvarden. Elva did not know how this transformation had taken place, but she thought that it must be some ancient secret of elvish magic that could not be revealed to or understood by most humans.
As the elf and Rider ran, and as Elva's mind wandered, Eragon turned his head to look at Arya and caught Elva contemplating him. He abruptly slowed down, and Arya, glancing at him, followed suit.
"I am hungry," said Elva pointedly, when they had stopped.
"You are finally awake!" said Arya, and Elva was surprised to hear the relief in the elf's voice.
"Aye," replied Elva. "I am awake, and hungry."
"We just ate about an hour ago," Eragon told her. "Perhaps you could wait a while, until we are ready to stop again?"
"We have already stopped," said Elva coldly. Dislike for Eragon welled up in her, and she immediately recalled her earlier thoughts of seeking revenge upon him for burdening her with this curse.
"We are out of bread," said Arya, ignoring Eragon and setting Elva down on the ground. She released the girl from her seat on the pack, dug into a side pocket, and continued, "However, I have been scavenging for berries and plants every day, and have put some aside for you."
With that, she produced some berries from the pocket and handed them to Elva.
"I know it is not much," Arya sighed, "but it is the best we can do for now."
Elva devoured the berries without even thanking the elf; she was too famished to remember to be polite. As she ate, Arya and Eragon told her what had happened after she lost consciousness in Helgrind.
After killing the final Ra'zac and rescuing Katrina from her cell, they had reunited with Saphira and found a way out of the mountain. Because Saphira could not fly with more than two people on her back, Eragon decided that Roran and Katrina should ride her, as Eragon was the only human who could keep up with Arya on foot. Saphira would fly Roran and Katrina to Surda and then return to the Empire to meet Eragon and Arya, who would, in the meantime, run as far as they could from Helgrind and Dras-Leona, and try to meet Saphira somewhere around halfway between Surda and Helgrind.
"It should not be very long now until Saphira comes for us," finished Eragon. "She can carry all three of us, Elva, because you are so small."
"Very well," said Elva. She ate the last of Arya's berries, and then stood with a fierce look in her eyes. She approached Eragon and stared at him with her violet gaze until he knelt down before her, lowering himself so that his face was on the same level as hers.
Looking the Rider straight in the eye, Elva said, "Eragon. You have promised me that you would attempt to lift my curse after the Battle of the Burning Plains. The Battle has ended, and fortnights have passed, yet you still have not done so. Please, Rider Eragon, lift this burden from me now."
Eragon stared back at her, considering her. Elva felt herself growing angry again. What did he need to consider? He had given his word!
Finally, Eragon frowned, and said quietly, "No."
Elva's fury broke. "NO?" she screamed, and ignoring her curse, she threw herself at Eragon, her tiny fists flying. He stood up and stepped away from her. She followed, punching and clawing at his legs, but her tiny knuckles and nails did nothing to his leggings or his boots.
"Elva!" said Arya, surprised. "Elva, stop!"
She grabbed the girl from behind and held her arms tightly.
"Let me go!" Elva growled through gritted teeth, but Arya held her tightly until she settled down. Then the elf set her down on the ground, where she abruptly vomited all of the berries she had just eaten into a horribly-colored puddle that trickled slightly toward Eragon, but stopped long before it reached him. This disappointed Elva; at least she could have vomited on him. He deserved much worse than that for breaking his word.
"Eragon, why will you not try to lift Elva's curse?" Arya asked. "I would do it myself, but it has to be you; you cast the spell. You gave her your word that you would try to help her, and now you are allowing her – a mere child – to continue to suffer!"
Elva could feel the guilt welling inside Eragon; this gave her little satisfaction, however. She did not care if he felt bad about cursing her; that evidently was not enough incentive for him to try to fix what he had done to her.
"I want to help her," Eragon said quietly, "I really do. I have ruined her life with the 'blessing' I bestowed. I ruined an innocent child. I made her unnatural, an outcast. However, this is a time of war, and you cannot deny, Arya, that Elva is very useful. She can sense anyone's weakness… she could even help us defeat Galbatorix! How easy would it be, Arya, if we could face Galbatorix with Elva and have her tell us how to defeat him!"
"Nothing is that easy," said Arya slowly. "Galbatorix could break into Elva's thoughts very easily and use her against us. And you assume too much in believing that knowing Galbatorix's weakness would make him easy to defeat. He is an incredibly powerful magician; I am sure he will always be a formidable enemy, even if we learn the secret to defeating him."
Eragon did not seem to know what to say; when Elva looked at him, he had his mouth open slightly but then abruptly closed it. He stared at Arya for a few seconds, and then stiffened. He turned to face due south and squinted up at the sky.
"Saphira approaches!" he said excitedly, and began running in the direction of his faithful dragon.
Elva sighed and looked up at Arya, whose slanted eyebrows were pulled into a frown.
"We will not give up on him," Arya said, in response to the murderous look on Elva's face. "I am sure that Nasuada will insist that Eragon keeps his promise; and as he has pledged himself to her as her vassal, he must obey."
"And if he does not," said Elva savagely, "he will pay for his mistake."
Arya's frown deepened, but she said nothing more to the girl as they began to walk after Eragon toward the large, startlingly blue shape that was Saphira landing in front of him.
Little one, Saphira hummed, touching Eragon with her nose. Elva was startled to find that the dragon projected her thoughts to all of them, despite speaking only to her Rider.
Eragon, however, communicated only with Saphira; after she had greeted Arya and Elva, there were several silent moments where Eragon was evidently speaking to her privately with his mind.
Finally he turned to face Arya and Elva, and said, "Saphira thinks it would be safer for Elva to ride strapped into the saddle like us, rather than risk her life by just holding onto her or having her ride in Arya's pack."
Elva seethed with rage; Eragon refused to consider her an equal! She was just a tool that he had created, although he had done so unintentionally.
Elva continued to seethe silently and imagine punishing Eragon as Eragon and Arya secured her to Saphira's saddle. Then they mounted the dragon themselves and tightened the straps around their legs.
Saphira took off and Elva rode her, silently hating Eragon, all the way back to Surda.