Chapter 1: Departure

Eragon and Roran walked into Nasuada's room at Borromeo castle. It had only been several days since the Varden had returned to Aberon, the capital of Surda, but Roran had been haunted by new dreams of Katrina ever since Eragon had scryed her after the battle of the Burning Plains. He didn't know what kind of torture they had used on her and the thought of those desecrators with his Katrina was too awful to bear.

Eragon had immediately agreed to help Roran rescue Katrina. The young Rider felt that Katrina's kidnapping was his fault. If it hadn't been for him, the Ra'zac wouldn't have even gone to Palancar Valley, nor would they have killed Garrow, Eragon's uncle and Roran's father.

When they arrived, Arya was there, talking with Nasuada. The cursed girl Elva huddled in a corner; she followed Nasuada everywhere now, in case of another assassination attempt. They managed to catch a few words of what was being said.

"I promise you, Nasuada, the elves are coming. Islanzadí has promised to help us," Arya said.

"I believe you, Arya," said Nasuada. "But I don't know whether or not they will make it to Surda in time for the Empire's next attack. We must continue to gather followers and enlist more men in our armies. The dwarves are returning to Farthen Dûr to inter Hrothgar and then they will need to elect a new king. We cannot count on them at the moment."

Eragon cleared his throat and Arya and Nasuada turned to look at him and Roran. Eragon bowed to Nasuada, his liegelord. "Lady Nasuada," he greeted her.

"Shadeslayer," Nasuada said in return, beckoning Eragon to his feet. "To what do I owe your presence here? I'm in the middle of a meeting with Arya."

"I'm sorry, Nasuada," Eragon apologized for interrupting them. "This can wait until you're finished."

Roran elbowed him angrily. Eragon shot him an annoyed look. He knew Roran was worried about Katrina, but he had to respect Nasuada.

Nasuada's face softened. "We should have included you, Rider Eragon," she said. "Arya and I are planning for Empire's next attack."

Eragon looked at Arya. She was as beautiful as she always was. She avoided his gaze and he blushed slightly before hastily looked back to Nasuada. He nodded. "The Empire will return," he stated solemnly. "The Varden must be ready."

"And they will be when the elves arrive," insisted Arya.

Nasuada sighed, as if she'd said this many times already. "I am truly grateful for Islanzadí's support, Arya, but we have no way of knowing when the elves will arrive. We need more warriors."

Eragon nodded. "Galbatorix will send a much larger force next time."

"Thank you, Eragon," Nasuada said, glad he agreed with her. "And with the dwarves returning to Farthen Dûr, we will be short on men, even with Surda's army."

You will need more magicians too, Eragon, said Saphira from outside the tent. Don't forget that.

"You will also need more magicians," Eragon suggested, repeating Saphira's concern. "Galbatorix will have more of them, too. I'm afraid Du Vrangr Gata won't be enough this time."

Arya pouted. "The elves have the greatest magicians in all of Alagaësia," she reminded them.

Nasuada nodded. "I will discuss this issue with King Orrin later," she said. "Now, tell me, Shadeslayer, why are you here now? And why is Stronghammer with you?"

"Roran and I have come before you, Nasuada, in hopes of rescuing someone very dear to our hearts who has fallen into the hands of the Ra'zac," Eragon started.

"Oh?" Nasuada asked, begging him to continue.

Frustrated with the small talk, Roran pushed Eragon out of the way and bowed briefly before Nasuada. "My Lady," he said. "I am engaged to a beautiful young girl named Katrina. However, her father was not so happy about our engagement. When the Ra'zac came to Carvahall to find me, Sloan, Katrina's father, betrayed our village and me. He told the Ra'zac where I was sleeping and they attacked Katrina and me during the night. While I was only wounded, those desecrators kidnapped my beloved Katrina."

"Only my ignorance about the location of their lair stopped me from following them," Roran continued. "Now, Jeod tells me that the Ra'zac dwell in a place called Helgrind near Dras-Leona. Eragon must come with me. Alone, I pose no threat against the Ra'zac and have no hope of rescuing Katrina. But with a Rider, I can destroy those desecrators. Eragon and I come before you and seek your permission to pursue this dangerous task."

Moved by Roran's story, Nasuada sighed. "You continue to intrigue me, Roran. I would very much like to keep Eragon here in Aberon in case of another Imperial attack. He would be sorely missed if Galbatorix attacked while you were away. However, who am I to think I can control a Dragon Rider? If this is where your path leads you, Eragon, than you must go."

Roran broke into a huge grin. "Thank you, Lady Nasuada," he said gratefully.

Eragon thanked Nasuada as well. "I will return if we see any signs of another attack," he promised her. "I cannot abandon the Varden to Galbatorix."

Nasuada smiled. "We shall be fine when the elves arrive." She shot Arya a smile, but Arya didn't look too pleased.

When Eragon and Roran left Nasuada's room, Arya followed them angrily. She grabbed Eragon's tunic and turned him around. "What do you think you're doing?" she hissed in the ancient language.

Eragon looked at Arya in surprise. "I'm helping my brother," he replied.

"Murtagh is your brother, not Roran," Arya said coldly. Once again, Eragon felt a shameful feeling in his heart. Silently, he turned and followed Roran away from Arya, but Arya wasn't done with him yet. She grabbed his shirt again and pulled him back. "How can you abandon them, Eragon?" she asked incredulously. "I would have thought, of all people, that you wouldn't abandon the Varden and leave them to die at the hands of Galbatorix. You know what's about to happen, what they're up against!"

"Arya Svit-kona," Eragon said gravely. "What would you have me do? I cannot abandon Katrina to the Raz'zac and I cannot abandon Roran to chase after her alone."

Arya let go of him and stepped back, her eyes flashing angrily. "Upon my word as a Rider," Eragon promised, "I will return."

Eragon turned and strode back down the corridor with Roran. He hadn't a clue what was bothering Arya, why she was acting so strange. "We leave at dawn tomorrow," he told Roran.

"Tomorrow?" Roran asked. "No, we leave today!"

Eragon shook his head. "The day is already halfway spent, Roran," he explained. "No, we leave tomorrow. Saphira will fly us. We'll be at Helgrind in no time."

Angela burst into Eragon's room, dragging Elva behind her. Eragon looked up with a gasp. "Angela?" he asked in surprise.

"That's right," she snapped. "It's time for you to cure this poor girl!" She motioned to Elva, the poor girl that Eragon had accidentally cursed in Tronjheim.

Eragon looked to Elva. "Do you wish for me to cure you?" he asked. When he proposed undoing the curse before, Elva hadn't given him a straight answer.

Elva replied, "It does not matter to me, Eragon." Her cynical voice sent chills down the Rider's spine. "I would be content to continue protecting Nasuada and other members of the Varden from assassins. However, she," she referred to Angela, "wants you to reverse the curse immediately."

Eragon nodded and looked to Angela. "I will not reverse the curse now," he stated. "Elva is a valuable member of Nasuada's guard just as she is now. She has also expressed acceptance with her position."

Angela's face contorted with anger. "Promise me, Shadeslayer, that when she wants to be cured, you will do it."

"Vel eïnradhin iet ai Shur'tugal."

Do you have the new sword? Saphira asked as Eragon adjusted the straps of the dragon's saddle.

Eragon nodded. King Orrin gave it to me, he said, drawing the blade for Saphira to see. It was a magnificent blade with a golden hilt, but it was nothing compared to Zar'roc, the blade that Brom had given him after he'd stolen it from Morzan. When he fought Murtagh a few days ago, Murtagh had taken it back.

Roran approached the two with a smile on his face. A large hammer was attached to his belt. "Finally, Eragon," he said, "We rescue Katrina."

Nasuada appeared to see them off too. "Farewell, Shadeslayer," she said.

"I will be back in no time, Nasuada," Eragon assured her as he and Roran mounted Saphira. "Where's Arya?" he asked, looking for the elf.

"I don't know," Nasuada answered. "She hasn't been herself lately."

"Do you know what's bothering her?" he inquired.

Nasuada shook her head and stepped away from Saphira. "Good luck, Eragon," she said.

Eragon nodded to her and Saphira began to flap her wings and took off. Eragon watched as Nasuada waved to them. To Helgrind, Saphira, Eragon said.

You sound distracted, little one.

Eragon shrugged. It's just Arya. She could have at least come to say goodbye.