I AM SO SORRY ABOUT THE 11 MONTH WAIT GUYS. omg I'm beating myself up over here. :( I am a bad bad easily sidetracked person.

Er, speaking of easily sidetracked, hopefully I'll have Edoc'sil updated soon. I am working on it, I'm just lacking inspiration. Again. Damnit.

So this might get confusing. If you have any questions, PM or drop a review or whatever!

Disclaimer: Inheritance is not mine.


Scene II: Exercitus Damnatorum (The Host of the Damned)

"Where is he taking the eggs?"

"I don't know!" The man screamed, arching against the bonds restraining him. "I don't know, I don't know!"

Eragon tsked, almost pityingly. "Come now," he said. "I know that you know. The thief is your brother, Master Ockramsson. I'm sure he told you something." With a lazy flick of his sword, he drew a vertical red line down the captive's chest, admiring the way the blood gleamed stickily in the half-light. The man howled in agony.

"I don't know!" He sobbed. "I don't know, I don't know…"

Hissing in anger, Eragon circled the bound man. He and Saphira had, despite their best efforts, returned a little too late to Uru'baen. The Varden's thief had already escaped, taking three dragon eggs with him.

The palace was in an uproar and Galbatorix was furious; he had known the Varden had been in Doru Araeba, but he had expected them to still be there, and had been away in Dras Leona when the thief came to steal the eggs. That was the sole reason the thief had escaped—the King had left the safety of the palace in the hands of his magicians.

Those same magicians were "answering" to the King now. Eragon hoped their screams would stop before too long. If he was to hunt down the thief, he wanted to be well-rested.

The man in front of him was undoubtedly guilty of betraying his Empire. Eragon could smell it on him, that harsh tang of fear and sweat that set his teeth on edge and made the pit in his chest stutter with excitement.

Brisingr hummed in the Rider's hand. Soon.

Through complex bits of magic, Eragon and Saphira had learned the name of the thief; Tamar Darkfingers, youngest son of Ockram Halousson. Ockram had been one of the Empire's chief swordsmiths, a powerful, wealthy man, though he had died years ago. Tamar had run off while Ockram other two sons, Cordon and Matthias, had taken over their father's business. It was Cordon who sat in the interrogation chamber now, bound and bleeding. His brother Matthias had turned him in, claiming that the eldest brother knew of Tamar's whereabouts.

And so the poor bastard Cordon was here, bound, bleeding, slated for death, and so very guilty that the air stank with it.

Nothing could save his life, at this point.

"You say you don't know." Sheathing Brisingr, Eragon crouched in front of the man, his dark brown eyes solemn, empty.

Cordon whimpered in agony and fear.

"Your mouth says that you don't know," Eragon smiled, and the man recoiled for he saw nothing there, no feeling or empathy or human compassion. Eragon was a pit, all good emotions swallowed, devoured, the darkness inside his eyes sucking in all the light.

"But your eyes…"

Cordon closed those guilty things, almost as if shutting his eyes could rid him of the horrible stare that sliced into his soul.

"Your eyes tell me that you do." Almost gently, Eragon rested a hand on Cordon's sweat-soaked hair. "Come now," he said. "If you tell me, you will not be killed. You will be sentenced to life in slavery, yes, but that is preferable to death…"

Gulping frantically, Cordon looked at Eragon for several long, desperate seconds. "He mentioned Kuasta," he gasped, finally defeated. "He's meeting someone at Kuasta, someone who will take the eggs to the Varden."

Eragon smiled wider and wicked glee danced in his eyes. "Very good," he said, removing his hand. "You see? That was not so hard, now was it?"

Cordon looked pleadingly up at his captor.

"Guard!" Eragon shouted, bringing one of the White Guardsmen running. The Rider gestured at the bound man. "Untie him," he ordered, gesturing at the bound, helpless man. "Bring him something to eat and drink. I will return shortly."

Confused but too frightened to voice it, the Guardsman nodded and set about freeing Cordon. Disinterested, Eragon stalked through the dungeons, prowling up the palace, scattering servants and noblemen alike. Any and all feared the dark Rider—he had a reputation for being vicious and unforgiving, and nobles were his favorite prey.

Once he reached the throne room, he waited. Master, he called.

Enter.

Opening the large gilded door was too bothersome—the smaller, almost invisible side door was preferable, and within moments Eragon was inside the grand throne room, kneeling before the King of Alagaesia.

The huge window that took up the entire west wall was covered by its heavy velvet curtain today so the room was cast deep in shadow. The map of Alagaesia on the east wall was dark, but the Rider could still clearly see the great brown stretch of the north where forests and farmland had once been. Now there were the slave farms where elves toiled, attempting to coax food from the parched soil.

To the south was the blackened remnant of Surda, now slaveland where the dwarves labored, mining gold, silver, and iron day and night. The Hadrac desert had grown, extending in all directions. It was a mass grave, the sands alternately hiding and revealing the bleaching bones of Urgals.

Teirm was no more, a skeletal hull of what it had been. Human slaves where kept there, sent out to fish or build or mine from the iron-rich rock around them.

In the sixteen years since the end of the Rider War, the only place in Alagaesia that hadn't suffered was the center—Uru'baen, Dras Leona, Belatona and the other smaller towns and villages that had flourished and grown up around the three large cities. The land was harsher now, more unforgiving, but the people were stronger, tougher, and almost completely loyal to their King and his Riders.

"You have found something, Eragon." Galbatorix did not turn to face his servant. Through lowered lashes Eragon could see his shadowy shape slumped in the glittering throne. The deep shade hid his expression, but the Rider knew his Master's brow was furrowed and his face was twisted into a frown.

Displeasure radiated from the man like light from the sun.

"Master," Eragon began. "I interrogated the thief's brother, Cordon the swordsmith—"

"Son of old Ockram?" The King interrupted.

"Yes."

"If he was still alive, he would run the boy through himself," Galbatorix said darkly. "Ockram was loyal to the Empire down to his very bones. Tell me, which of his sons betrayed us? Or was it one of his daughters?"

"The youngest son, Tamar."

Galbatorix nodded. "The one they call Darkfingers?"

"Yes."

"Continue."

"I interrogated Cordon Ockramsson and he, after a little pain, confessed that he knew of the plot to steal from you—"

"From us," Galbatorix corrected gently. "This is not just my Empire, my friend. The eggs that were stolen were Saphira's, after all."

Eragon nodded deeply. "Cordon knew of the plot to steal from us," he continued, feeling the familiar rush of pleasure he felt whenever Galbatorix reminded him that he was part of the glorious Empire too. "He told me that Tamar was planning to flee with the eggs to Kuasta to hand them over to the Varden."

"Kuasta?" Galbatorix murmured, finally rising from his throne to pace the room, his robes swirling around him. "That city of superstitious fools? It is a cesspool of merchants, traders, and soldiers. Why didn't he choose one of the smaller towns, like Feinster?"

Eragon shrugged. "Kuasta has grown over the last decade, Master. It is large enough that a stranger could walk in completely undetected but close enough to the wilderness that the rebels could hide until the time was right."

The King made a sound of agreement. "Very well," he said. "My friend, I want you to send Tariku and his half-Riders to Kuasta. Show them Tamar's face, have them watch for him. When they find him, I want them to follow him to the Varden."

"Do you want them killed?"

Darkness seemed to swell in the room, pressing heavy and black and bitter on Eragon's tongue. When he was younger, he used to flinch from it, hating the feel of it sliding across his skin. Now he leaned into it, sucking it in, letting it wrap its black fingers around him like an old friend.

"No," said Galbatorix. "Have their hamstrings cut and their necks Collared. I want all of them brought here, to us, for public execution."

Eragon, still kneeling, bowed as best as he was able. "And me, Master?" He asked, trying to squash the feelings of irrational anger at Tariku for being sent instead of himself.

"Ah, my friend, I can feel your anger," Galbatorix said gently. "Come, stand up. You musn't be upset, Eragon. I am not slighting you or doubting in your abilities. If I sent you, I would only have to send you. As it is, I need your talents elsewhere."

Feeling better, Eragon stood at attention and watched his Master pace back and forth through the room.

"Send Ezera to Dras Leona and Uraziel to Belatona," the King instructed. "Iskierka to Feinster and Ka to Surda. The governors need to be warned that the Varden has surfaced again."

"It will be done."

"And you, my faithful friend, must return to Doru Araeba."

Instantly Eragon felt like protesting, but the King cut him off.

"Don't be angry," he said. "As I said before, I need your specific set of talents. Out of all my servants, only you have elf training. Doru Araeba is a pit of magic and experiments; the Riders did many things there in their last desperate months, and the Varden has been living there for some time. I need you to use your elf-talents to find everything they did. Records they kept, things they saw, things they took."

"You think the Varden found a weapon there," Eragon said slowly. "Something they could use against us."

"Correct. I do not know what the old Order did in its last months, and after they were defeated, I myself could not spend enough time there to uncover its mysteries, nor did I think of sending my Forsworn to search for me. It was only recently that I thought of this possible weapon. It is an error on my part."

A shudder passed down Eragon's spine. If his Master was worried, what did that mean for the rest of the Empire?

"Do you think the Varden is a threat?"

The King waved a dismissive hand. "An annoyance at best. Under Nasuada, the Varden had a host of twenty thousand at its peak. This Varden cannot have more than a thousand members, probably less. Doru Araeba could not house more than that. It is a barren wasteland—all the natural game has fled and the abominations the Riders created are not meant for eating. Fish could sustain them, but in all likelihood the Varden sent boats to Alagaesia to hunt for game."

"There is not much in the north," Eragon muttered.

"Exactly," said the King. "The goat-men you told me about could have been used for food, but I cannot see the Varden eating something with a human face. Perhaps they hunted the cat-birds or the winged horses, but as I said, creatures created by magic are not meant to be used as food."

"How long should I remain in Doru Araeba?"

"A month," Galbatorix ordered. "Use your skills. Plumb its secrets. Find what the Varden took. Then report to me at the start of winter."

Eragon bowed deeply. "Yes, Master."

"Good." The King waved his hand. "Be gone. Pass my orders onto Tariku and the other Riders."

Bowing again, Eragon backed out of the throne room. The moment he stepped into the hallway, the dark power slipped away, leaving him aching and missing its steady comfort.

That does not matter, he thought to himself. I have work to do.

Determined, the lead Rider set off down the hall, navigating his way through the maze-like palace. Fortunately, it had not changed much in the sixteen years of Eragon's service. At one point the city had been sinking and the palace with it, but with a full host of Riders at his command, stopping it was no challenge.

Eragon smirked a bit, feeling the sheer power of all the King's servants pulsing in the air as he got closer and closer to the dragonhold.

Sixteen years had been more than enough time to rebuild the Dragon Riders. For the first few years, it had only been Eragon and the Halflings, the monstrous half-Fanghur, half-dragon creations that lived through the energies of Eldunarí pushed in their chests.

Soon, though, Saphira's children began to find Riders, and within a decade, the new Order of ten was born. Saphira had laid somewhere near thirty eggs, and nine of them had hatched, each and every one loyal to Galbatorix.

They were the strongest in the Empire, the pride of Uru'baen, and Eragon was their leader, fierce and fearless and completely devoted to his Master.

The only drawback was that the dragonhold, with eleven dragons and thirteen Halflings in it, was growing a bit cramped.

The great door, almost as large as that of the King's throne room, was already open, and Eragon, gathering his power and control around him like a cloak, stepped into the noisy cave and waited.

Shruikan slept in his typical position in the very center, his huge black body coiled neatly.

Saphira was not too far from him, her blue eyes sharp and calculating as she rested her head on her forepaws. She felt his power and bared her teeth happily, drinking it in.

Gathered loosely around the oldest two were the rest of the dragons, Saphira's children. They were red, green, yellow, blue, black, purple, indigo, orange, and silver, all of varying sizes. Most of their Riders were gathered around the edges, talking amongst each other, civil, for once.

The Halflings, smaller than every dragon except Esca, the youngest, squabbled amongst themselves in their shrill voices, hissing and bickering over scraps of meat, their eyes lurid and their chests sparkling.

Eragon vaguely remembered the first time he had seen the beasts, alone in the shell of his childhood home. He had been shocked and terrified then, frightened of the bizarre, unnatural demons.

Now, though, he was just annoyed by their antics. They were weak compared to him, their power like a gentle breeze to his raging hurricane. They were tools, pets, experiments, nothing more.

The half-Riders were also sitting against the walls, watching their beasts warily, making sure none of them, in a fit of wild rage, wounded another.

The problem with the Halflings was that they were, first and foremost, Fanghur, wild, non-sentient beings ruled completely by their base needs. The Eldunarí that were shoved in their chests gave them enough of a dragon's intelligence and knowledge that they were useful, but even with the Eldunarí the creatures were prone to in-fighting and random acts of violence.

Eragon strode through these writhing, hissing, growling creatures and came to stand next to Saphira, resting a gloved hand on her scales.

Would you do the honors? He asked.

She hummed darkly. With pleasure. Tilting her sapphire head back, she drew in a great deep breath and roared, the very sound shaking the dragonhold to its core. Blue crackling flame shot high into the air, punching out against the clouded sky and her tail lashed the air, making it hiss.

Every head turned sharply to look at her, and she growled.

They fear me, she confided to Eragon. Can't you smell it?

Eragon allowed a smirk to lift the corner of his mouth. Yes, he replied. I can.

"What are your commands, sir?" A young man, brown-haired and sharp-eyed, standing next to a glittering silver dragon, bowed deeply to Eragon.

"Rise, Ezera," Eragon rumbled. "Look me in the eye."

Ezera did as he was commanded, looking his leader straight in the eye. He was an Uru'baen-born lad, only eighteen, and his dragon, Pillan, was the first of Saphira's children to hatch, fourteen years ago when Ezera was just a little boy.

Eragon had been there at the hatching, and from that moment he made the boy his, binding him, molding him, teaching him to serve the Master with all his being.

Ezera was a good Rider, and a good servant.

"Your orders?"

"Patience, my friend," Eragon soothed. "I shall get to you and your comrades in a moment. First, Tariku!"

From the wall, a tall, dark-skinned man with billowing robes and sharp features rose and moved to stand in front of Eragon. Tariku-no-Nashuwar had been a warlord of one of the wandering tribes of the south. His tribe had been at war with another and it had been defeated and cast down, leaving Tariku a bitter wandering warrior.

Galbatorix had found him using the Eldunarí of Brynhildr Thunder-eater, a fierce dragoness of the Warriors, a secret group of fighters whose mission was to destroy Urgal villages. Brynhildr's Heart of Hearts had been one of the King's favorites, and when her Eldunarí was planted into a Fanghur, it was the first to survive and become a Halfling.

Tariku was the only living descendant of Brynhildr's Rider, and as such he was the best candidate to bond and control the Fanghur that used her power. He was the unofficial leader of the half-Riders, and their loyalty was to him, at least for now.

Eragon hated Tariku. Perhaps he was biased, but the former tribesman was a repulsive creature. He was proud and vain and simpering, groveling at the King to curry favor and subtly trying to undermine Eragon's position as Galbatorix's right hand at any possible opportunity.

The lead Rider dearly wished that Tariku would fall out of favor so he could kill the scum and be rid of him for good.

"Yes, sir?" The extra emphasis on "sir" did not escape Eragon's notice. Tariku was subtly mocking him.

His lip curled.

"You are to take the half-Riders to Kuasta," Eragon ordered. "Set up a perimeter and hide yourselves. Do not let anyone see you."

"What are we looking for?" Tariku asked lazily, scratching the scar that adorned his nose.

Eragon was visited by the powerful urge to carve a new one through his throat.

"This man," he said, and easily blew past the loose barriers surrounding the man's mind. He shoved the image of Tamar Darkfingers into Tariku's mind roughly, enjoying the way the man winced. "He is called Tamar Darkfingers, and it is he who stole from us."

Saphira snarled angrily and the rest of the dragons took up the sound, snarling deep in their throats. Shruikan watched impassively.

"Can I kill him?"

"No," Eragon said in the ancient language. "You are to watch him and follow him to the Varden. Capture them, cut their hamstrings, Collar them, and bring them back. Do not let anything happen to the eggs."

Tariku shifted, standing taller. "I won't," he sneered. Pride rolled from him in waves. "Tell me, Rider, does the Master find you incapable of doing this? Would you rain your unholy fury down on all of Kuasta and wipe them all out or just let the thief slip through your fingers?"

Before Tariku could react, Eragon shot forward, drawing Brisingr in a swirl of blue. The Rider hit the taller man, shoving him back, and Tariku howled and toppled to the floor, flailing as the Rider settled on top of him.

Eragon coldly pressed the blade to the man's throat and leaned in so only Tariku could hear him.

"You are very lucky," he said lowly. "That Master favors you, otherwise I would gut you where you stand and hang you with your entrails. You would do well to remember, Tariku, that I am the Rider here. You are just a pale imitation, and I could kill you and Master would let me."

Tariku made a desperate choking sound, clawing feebly at the stronger man.

"Remember this, half-Rider. I am Master's right hand, his chosen. When I speak, I speak for him, and disrespecting me is also disrespecting him.

Tariku's dark eyes widened fractionally. Disrespecting Galbatorix was death.

"Now apologize," Eragon growled, his power humming, Brisingr biting into Tariku's throat lightly, drawing a fine crimson line.

"I am sorry," the man wheezed.

Eragon pressed harder.

"Sir."

"Good." The lead Rider stood up, leaving Tariku heaving on the floor. Reaching out, he dove into the minds of all the half-Riders, enjoying the taste of their fear.

"If this man speaks ill of myself or of Master while on the mission, kill him. If Tamar escapes, hamstring him; Tariku will take the thief's place before out Master for his failure."

"Yes, sir!" They shouted as one, fear in their eyes.

Saphira growled darkly. That was fun, she commented. Pity we can't kill the pest ourselves.

Pity, Eragon agreed. He shook slightly, rage a harsh taste in his mouth. I should kill him. He steps out of his place.

Master would be angry, Saphira said. We do not want to fall out of favor, and sooner or later, Tariku will fail and Galbatorix will let us feast on his heart.

Eragon smiled tightly, his blood bubbling in his ears. Yes, he murmured. Let's hope it will be sooner rather than later.

The half-Riders retreated, pressing themselves against the walls of the hold, their heads bowed and the Halflings silent.

They understood that they were to be quiet or face Brisingr.

"Ezera," Eragon said softly, sounding far gentler than he felt.

"Sir," Ezera replied steadily, his face impassive and blank. Eragon had trained him well.

"You are to go to Dras Leona," the leader said. "Inform the governor that the Varden has made an appearance and that he should take appropriate measures. Oversee the construction of some new defenses and interrogate anyone they have in the prisons suspected of rebellious activities."

Ezera bowed. "Yes, sir," he said sharply. "How long should I remain?"

"No more than two weeks," Eragon replied.

Ezera bowed again and Pillan dipped his great silver head.

We will honor you and the Empire, he said.

May the wind rise beneath your wings, my son. Saphira was fonder of Pillan than any of her other children, and she stood to touch noses with him briefly.

"Uraziel," Eragon said.

A stout tanned man with wild eyes and rough hands bowed. "Sir," he said hoarsely. Uraziel had been a fisherman's son, doomed to follow his father to the seas every day of his life until thirteen years ago, when Galbatorix found him and had him touch an egg.

A dragon had hatched and Uraziel became the second to join the new Order.

His dragon Aislin was the color of sunshine and dainty-looking, but long-fanged and fierce, a demon in aerial combat.

"You are to go to Belatona for the same reason," Eragon ordered. "Inform the governor, see to the creation of new defenses, and interrogate prisoners."

"Yes, sir," Uraziel said in that same hoarse voice.

Aislin bowed her head, her yellow scales flashing. We will bring honor to you and the Empire, she said respectfully, using Pillan's words.

May the wind rise beneath your wings, my daughter. Saphira touched her nose to Aislin's as well.

"Iskierka and Ka," Eragon called, and two women, one small and thin, one tall and strong, stepped up.

Iskierka was also of Uru'baen. She had been twenty when she had touched an egg eight years ago, and she had served loyally ever since. Her dragon Mo was red and stout, like Thorn had been.

Ka was from Surda. She had been taken as a prisoner as the country burned and touching an egg had been an accident, but since then she had proved her loyalty a hundred times over, putting down a Surdan rebellion five years ago with terrible determination. Her dragon Ganya was black like her sire, inky and slender.

"Iskierka, you are to go to Feinster. Ka, you are to go to Surda. Your orders are the same as Uraziel's and Ezera's."

The two women and their dragons bowed deeply.

"Good." Eragon and Saphira circled the Riders, watching them, searching for any signs of fear. Only Ezera watched them back, his eyes bright and quick. He was learning, observing their behavior to better replicate it.

Eragon felt a rush of twisted affection for the boy. He was so pathetic.

"The rest of you will continue as you normally do," he continued, still pacing. "Except for you, Leander. You and Esca are to report to the northern courtyard tomorrow at noon. You are the youngest of us, and therefore the weakest. If there is a chance, however slim, of the Varden fighting again, we must teach you."

The nervous young man, younger even than Ezera, nodded. Leander was a boy from the northernmost villages, only fifteen. He was something of a wild thing, wary, untamed, and easily startled.

His dragon Esca was smaller than any of them, barely six months old. His flame had come in only two weeks ago and he was nervous just like his Rider, a jumpy, easily spooked creature. His scales were orange, the color of flame, and so far he had shown no particular talent in any form of combat.

Leander and Esca were both thoroughly average.

Eragon planned to fix that.

Leander bowed nervously. "As you wish," he muttered. His little dragon did the same, bowing his head before shrinking back into the shadows as though they would hide him.

Was I ever that young? Eragon wondered, and then chased the thought from his head.

"Good," he rumbled, addressing all the Riders and half-Riders. "You are dismissed."

They all bowed hastily and went about preparing for their various missions and Eragon leaned against Saphira's warm solid shoulder.

Tariku is up to no good, she growled thoughtfully, her tail swishing. He's planning something.

I shall bring it to Master's attention. The lead Rider tightened his grip on Brisingr, imaging new and bloody ways to kill the former tribesmen. I must go. I am needed in the dungeons.

Saphira bared her teeth. Very well, she said. I will watch these ones. Perhaps the threat of me eating them will discourage any rebellion.

Good girl, Eragon chuckled.

She blew a tiny stream of flame at him. Have fun, she said. Who are you torturing today?

The thief's brother.

I thought you were going to let him live?

And I am.

The dragoness snarled in delight. Ah, she hummed. I see. Do try not to come back smelling of blood. It makes me hungry.

Of course.

The Rider patted her scales once, fondly, before striding through the open doors and down into the bowels of the palace, his hunger swirling around his heels.

The dungeons were his favorite part of the castle. Dimly-lit, damp, full of shadow, he could literally be anyone here, a hero, a monster, a savior, a demon.

It was power.

Nodding to the guards, Eragon pushed open the door to Cordon Ockramsson's new cell. The confused man jerked up, alarmed.

"M-m-master Rider," he stammered. "I have told you everything I know."

"Oh, I don't think so, Cordon." Eragon kept his voice pleasant, warm, and full of false promises. Brisingr scraped along the ground, screeching dully, sending up a shower of blue-white sparks.

"Now, Cordon," he continued. "Surely you've heard of the greatest power of the Riders? The ability to read minds?"

"Y-yes, of course," the man said, cowering against the wall. "We have all heard and admired your strength and magics."

"Lies," Eragon chided. "You are afraid of it, you hate it. But that is understandable, because you know that with this power, I can crush you like a cockroach."

Cordon let out a low, soft moan.

"Perhaps you wonders," the Rider plowed on, seemingly oblivious to Cordon's discomfort. "Why I did not use this power earlier, why I tortured you physically when breaking your mind like an egg would have been so much faster.

"Here's why, Cordon son of Ockram; physical torture weakens the mind. It makes you frightened, wounded, terrified, and your poor little mind becomes as unprotected as a child's." Eragon stopped his pacing and leaned in suddenly, grabbing a fistful of the terrified man's hair, yanking his chin up.

"You said I'd go free!" Cordon wailed.

Eragon smiled sharp and vicious. "I said you'd live." And he dove into the man's mind, tearing into his brain like wolves into a deer.

Cordon's anguished screams echoed all the wall through the castle, all the way up to Galbatorix, who threw back his head and laughed.


So long... Review, y/y?

:D

~WSS