2/25/12 EDIT: As previously mentioned, I am going back and rewriting many of these chapters to fix characterization problems, information that doesn't sync up with later updates, plain old grammatical and spelling mistakes, and stilted dialogue. Sunset is getting a total rehaul, but most of the other chapters will feature far less drastic changes. Again, if older chapters after this one make no real sense, that's because they've yet to be updated. New and improved chapters will be posted with asterisks until everything is all nice and up-to-date.

Again, note that some material in Brisingr and Inheritance will NOT be compatible with this story. See bottom of the page for explanations if you're really that confused.

Pairings: Eventual EragonxSaphira, with some mentioned RoranxKatrina and MurtaghxNasuada (perhaps). Other pairings may or may not result, depending on my oh so fickle muse.

Disclaimer: I do not own the Inheritance Cycle. However, I do own the plot, any material you do not recognize as cannon, and my OCs.

Dusk was upon the Beor Mountains. Snow-capped mountain peaks sparkled crimson in the brilliance of the dying sunlight. Day-faring animals returned to their dens as night-dwellers went on the prowl. Those not so lucky were lifelessly carried back to caves in the talons of a dragon. In the lull between two very different times and worlds, an unusual stillness had settled over the world...

Not that all shared in the twilit tranquility.

Eridor, you're going to leave ruts in that floor if you continue pacing like- ERIDOR!

The King of the wild dragons snapped to attention, wrenching his gaze away from the cave entrance. His blue eyes, which burned so unnaturally bright in the growing darkness, softened apologetically as he gazed upon his mate.

Her scales were the color of sapphires, the same brilliant blue as her eyes. She was curled up in their nest, cradling her eggs with the experienced ease of a she-dragon who had seen countless hatchlings leave the birth-cave to start families of their own. Scars from past fights and hunts gone awry marred her formerly pristine hide. She was far from the delicate little yearling that had attracted males from all corners of Alagaesia, suitors Eridor had driven off tooth and claw at all hours of the day, but her beauty was timeless in his eyes.

I'm sorry, Safiri, it's just...

The Order's persistence? The disappearances? This strange nest? That one little upstart's new little group of Forsworn?

All of that. Eridor padded over to his mate's side. Being several years older than her, he was still close enough in size to entwine tails, draping one pale gray-membraned wing over her. It feels like the entire world is falling apart... and there's nothing I can do to hold it together.

Safiri rubbed her head against his, licking a little scar near the corner of his mouth. There's plenty of time to worry over the future, stoic one. Isn't this supposed to a time for celebration? A new clutch of eggs, the largest we've had in years...

Eridor nuzzled each of the three eggs fondly. His own scales were snow-white, but that seemed to have had little effect on the colors of his unborn offspring. Two of the shells were light blue, a perfect combination of his and Safiri's hues. The third was an emerald green, like that of Eridor's own mother. All three were male. The King of the wild dragons opened his mind to his unborn children, sending them thoughts of love and warmth.

The light blue eggs didn't reply, their half-formed minds still unable to comprehend the concept of mental communication. However, the little dragon in the green egg, pushed ever so slightly back against his father's mind.

Eridor rumbled contentedly deep in his throat. Mavalis, he murmured to the green-shelled egg. He then pressed his snout to each of the other two. Trinnean. Caradoc.

Safiri watched the tender exchange quietly, blue eyes brimming with memories and longing. They shouldn't have been alone in welcoming this newest brood to the world. Fully-grown sons and daughters from countless seasons prior should have surrounded them with new eggs of their own, should have filled the too-quiet air with their own roars and rumbles, should have been some of the many other extended relations inhabiting the neighboring mountains.

Instead, Safiri had laid her eggs in a nest she and Eridor had hastily carved from the rock, alone on a desolate peak that rang only with the howling wind.

Eridor glanced anxiously over at his mate. The sapphire she-dragon snorted, her tail tightening reassuringly around his. I know we hide here at the edge of the known world for our own safety, for the safety of our youngest. Our children, your nestmates, would keep our location secret to the bitter end. Vrael can't touch us here.

The snow-white dragon growled. It is not Vrael I worry about. The ancient pact binds him just as much as it does me. Despite the pleas of his council, he recognizes my decisions over all wild dragons as unyielding law, including those who can not yet speak for themselves. He looked softly down at his sons. The same can't be said, however, for those who go against everything the Riders seek to uphold.

Months ago, a new Rider had been found murdered in Ilirea, her young dragon nowhere to be found. Reports had determined the culprit to be Galbatorix, a former Shur'tugal who had gone mad after the death of his own bonded, and obsessed with vengeance after the council had denied him another. After slaughtering another Rider and dragon in cold blood, he had retreated into the wilderness and had been believed dead up until the very night chaos had erupted in Ilirea.

A young Rider by the name of Morzan had gone missing on the very same evening, and it had been determined it was he had allowed Galbatorix into Ilirea in the first place. Over the following months, other respected Shur'tugal, humans and elves alike, had defected to become the Wyrdfell, theForsworn.

Then the string of deaths and disappearances had started. Younger Riders who had left the safety of their cities behind had been found brutally murdered, the Eldunarya of their dragons ripped right out of their chests. Wild dragons were most vulnerable. First it had been solitary bachelors, then mated pairs without the protection of a larger family group, than entire small clans; everyone, from expectant mothers to the youngest hatchling, brutally slaughtered and missing their heart of hearts.

Safiri pressed their eggs closer to her chest. Vrael himself placed the enchantments upon this cave. We cannot be scryed or magically located. She snarled defiantly at an enemy she could see only in her mind's eye. We are King and Queen of the wild dragons, and no one shall touch our eggs!

Surely one of those damned traitors paid attention to their history lessons. If so, then they have everyone reason to tr-

A shadow not from the dusk fell upon the two dragons. Safiri positioned herself protectively over their eggs with a murderous snarl. Eridor's head snapped up, his eyes blazing dangerously... at least until he got a better look at the unexpected visitor.

The dragon standing in the cave entrance greatly resembled Eridor, right down to the unusual number of six horns crowning his head. Only, instead of being the purest white, his scales were stone-gray.

Jarshan? Eridor murmured, his relief quickly giving way to alarm as a chill crept down his spine. Brother, why are you so far from the others? Our nestmates, how are they? My sons, my daughters? So help me, if Galbatorix even dared to...

Jarshan had not budged an inch from the entrance. He watched his King and Queen solemnly, with the grim acceptance of an executioner about to carry out a sentence.

For the love of the First King, Jarshan, what's wrong with you! Safiri cried. She leaped to her paws, rushing over to her mate's younger brother to see what ailed him so. Or she would have, if she and Eridor hadn't suddenly found themselves unable to move.

The King of the wild dragons growled furiously, blue eyes like blazing suns in the twilight. Something unnaturally hot built up inside him, longing to be released, but his maw was sealed. His nostrils flared at the sudden stench of unfamiliar intruder intermingled with civilization. His sharp hearing suddenly detected a tail scraping against the rocks just outside the cave, an anxious growl, the squeaking of a leather saddle. The sound of a shattering heart, however, was only in his head.

Traitor! Eridor shrieked. Oath-breaker! Bond-breaker! Blood-breaker! My own nestmate, a servant of-

Jarshan cut him off with an enraged growl, eyes hard as stone. He opened his mind to both of the other dragons, feeling only stoic resolve for the unforgivable crimes he was about to commit against his own ruler, his own brother. Never a slave to humans, or to elves, Eridor! Never like you; agreeing to those terms of servitude, bowing to Vrael's every whim, handing over our unhatched children to slave-drivers, betraying Aiedail and the true members of our kind so blatantly!

Safiri's mind burned with the inferno she was unable to display. So you stand up for your beliefs by allying with a madman! By killing your own kin in cold-

Jarshan loomed over them both now. Eridor suddenly longed to see insanity in his brother's face, anything but the earnest conviction of a soul entirely convinced he was in the right. Our kind is notorious for our grudges, big brother, and our unceasing desire to see the wronged avenged. Do you honestly think your own life matters above all of the others so forcibly signed away by your orders? That the mothers who have their eggs pried away from them are any less important than your own? He growled, and any lingering bit of doubt in his heart of hearts was consumed by burning determination. I am acting upon our oldest and most sacred laws, those you gave up for your precious Riders.

Even in the midst of such soul-wrenching treachery, Eridor found the strength to mock. Are you expecting me to denounce everything I stand for, little brother? To suddenly see the light and beg you for the sweet release of death? A King dragon grovels to no one.

Indeed not. The stone-scaled dragon tenderly put a paw to Safiri's frozen face. Every fiber of her being fought against her invisible binds to try and tear that offending paw right off. Jarshan's regret suddenly resurfaced. Why did you have to choose him, Safiri? I would have provided for you and our hatchlings, I would have treated you like a queen-

In case you haven't noticed, I already am a Queen, Safiri broke in bluntly. Eridor beat you fairly for my attention, just as he defeated Vanilor for his crown. Her mind engulfed her mate's, drowning him with all of the love that would never see the morning's light. And I will never, ever regret my decision.

Jarshan lowered his head, revealing bone-white fangs as he did so. Fair enough.

Eridor's will broke. He whimpered like a hatchling calling for its mother, hopelessly thrashing against the binding spell as he groped against his brother's mind. Jarshan, brother, please! Not her! Not her! Not my Safiri-

Jarshan's claws raked hard and fast across his face. Paralyzed as the King of the dragons was, his pain receptors hadn't been dulled in the slightest. Selfish dog! As if I would let her suffer your death!

Quick as lightning, the gray dragon struck, his teeth burrowing deep into Safiri's exposed throat. Jarshan withdrew just as swiftly, a stream of scarlet following. The blood-splattered she-dragon was suddenly released from her enchantment, blindly kicking for a moment before finally falling still. Eridor could only watch in horror as his life-mate's luminous blue eyes glazed over with the finality of death. Her wondrous mind was suddenly extinguished like a candle before the winter wind, leaving a gaping void in his heart that brilliant soul had once occupied.

Safiri; his Queen, the mother of his children, the other half of his heart... was dead.

His anguish needed no roar; across Alagaesia, every single dragon clutched at their Eldunari in sudden shared agony.

Manic with grief and hatred, Eridor struggled against his bonds with renewed vigor. Coward! Traitor! MURDERER!

Jarshan said nothing. He tenderly brushed Safiri's face for a final time, a claw lingering over her eyelids before gently guiding them shut.

Blood and bones! Eridor shrieked. You shall rule over naught but blood and bones! With Aiedail as my witness, as a witness to your betrayal, no wild dragon shall follow you! Your only power shall be over their corpses!

Had the King of the dragons not been so lost in his madness, perhaps he would have noticed the twinge of guilty unease from his brother's mind. Jarshan turned pensively to the outside. Hm, it is sunset, I hadn't noticed. Rather symbolic, isn't it? This nightmare is almost over. A new dawn is on the horizon, one where dragons rule over dragons and men over men. Too bad you won't get to see it.

Eridor flicked his own gaze to the entrance of the cave, to a distant dawn he knew he'd never see. The stars were appearing overhead, silent sentinels to the mortal treachery below, the souls of so many fallen ancestors waiting to welcome him into their ranks.

Eridor just glimpsed a star he was certain had not been present the night before. This newcomer shone brighter than the others, and to a dragon's sensitive eyes, seemed haloed in a shade of unmistakable blue. Safiri...

All of his burning rage suddenly seemed to melt away. The King of the wild dragon looked upon his certain doom with something that went far beyond calm acceptance. You're wrong, Jarshan. Dawn shall come, and I shall be the one to bring it. I shall return, and I shall remember my vow. Safiri, our clan, our entire kind shall be avenged with your blood. And... I shall be the one to bring it to them.

Jarshan snapped. He struck with a viper's speed, spilling his own blood upon the ground. Jaws stained red with incriminating betrayal, the gray dragon recoiled from his own masterpiece, limbs trembling with adrenaline and barely-restrained hysteria.

King Eridor Bluefire, son of Vanilor and Ocurni, was dead. Free of his invisible bonds, the white dragon lay lifelessly on the floor. Even in death, his glazed-over eyes stared past his brother to the distant stars. How small he looked, so vulnerable and broken-

Formora calmly stepped in, surveying the carnage thoughtfully. Her angular features contorted into a sneer. "I take it you didn't get their Eldunarya."

Jarshan snarled, the ridge on his neck rising warningly. Safiri is among the stars, where she belongs. And as for my late brother... don't be tempted by the power he once wielded. He would have overrode your defenses in a heartbeat and strangled the sanity out of you.

The elf sniffed, gracefully making her way through the gore and to Safiri's cooling corpse. "You only say that because you're afraid your own royal power would be jeopardized. To the victor belong the spoils, do they not?" Formora knelt down, wrenching the single green-shelled egg she could spot from its mother's last embrace. "Only a single egg? I had only thought the wild dragons were being stringent with the Riders over the past few years."

We suffer from this strange blight just as much as your pets do, elf. Take it or leave it. Jarshan glanced outside, trying to ignore the accusing stars as he scanned the skies. My kin will feel this disturbance soon enough. It will be a long while before they calm down and accept their new King.

"And usurper." Tucking the single egg under her arm, Formora strode back to her dragon without a backwards glance.

The new King of the wild dragons lingered. Unwillingly, his eyes were riveted to two bloodied and battered forms as if he expected them to suddenly start breathing again. But this was no dream, no nightmare; Safiri's eyes would never open again, and Eridor had nowhere else to look but to the stars. After what felt like lifetimes, Jarshan turned away and left their cooling corpses to decay.

Yet, even as the two dragons slipped, one a usurper and another the bonded of a traitor, stealthily into the night, all of Alagaesia became aware of their crimes. Wild dragons everywhere clutched at their heart of hearts and screamed at the loss of something almost as important as their own life-mate. Even those bonded to Riders, who lacked such a primordial connection to their King, trembled fiercely and fought the urge to roar.

King Eridor and his queen had long since gone cold when a dragon finally arrived to personally confirm the inconceivable, and to discover Jarshan's stale scent all over the cave. However, no one else needed to know about what she had discovered beneath Safiri's corpse.

Elsewhere, the eldest of the royal couple's surviving sons and daughters gathered in the Spine with the oldest and wisest members of their kind. United for the last time in their grief and fury, the wild dragons funneled their combined magics into one last potent strike. Killing Galbatorix or any of his Forsworn was beyond their raw power. So was harming Jarshan, a fellow son of the mighty King Vanilor, protected from their wrath by his own royal blood.

But, where the humans and the elves were out of reach, their dragons were not. Let such murderers oath-breakers suffer the loss of a part of their soul, to feel the mind of their bonded partner wither and die as the nameless bastards they were as the inside. Let those treacherous dragons die as mere beasts.

Then, those who shared blood viciously turned against each other. There was a power vacuum to be filled, and any royal dragon worth their crown of horns would dare to fill it. Like wolves, the Forsworn were always there to pounce upon the weak. In their insufferable pride, no one noticed when their kith and kin started vanishing in the middle of the night, their nests found scattered and blood-spattered.

With no one around to make the wild dragons listen, Vrael found himself facing rebellion and outright anarchy in even the remotest parts of the Spine and Beor Mountains. And not a single un-bonded dragon trusted the Riders anymore; not after their enchantments failed to have saved Eridor, not after having granted Galbatorix such devastating power in the first place, and certainly not for ancient mistakes they stubbornly refused to forget.

Tensions erupted between wild and bonded for the last time. Further divided, neither side stood a chance as the scavengers slowly closed in.

Up above, the stars watched the unfurling disaster with their usual apathy.

So engrossed in their woes, no one below noticed the shining blue-haloed newcomer celestial ranks... or the even larger star right beside it that burned the purest white, both patiently waiting out a night both were certain was finite.

2/25/12 EDIT (continued): Older readers may notice Jarshan is a lot less of a one-dimensional, insane villain in this prelude. He -gasp- actually believes he's doing the right thing (for reasons yet to be fully explained) and was remorseful for brutally killing two innocents. On the bad side, this whole incident also puts him closer to the brink. Things are flowing smoother, though I am afraid the preludes may still get corny XD.

Spoilers for Inheritance:This story was written years before the last book came out, folks. The green dragon (often called Greeni by nerds such as myself) was open for interpretation. In Paolini's universe, the dragon became Firnen, Arya's dragon and Saphira's temporary mate (big surprise -.-'.) Mavalis, whose egg Formora took, is that egg for this story, and is a COMPLETELY different character than Firnen. Or else things would just get kinda gross...

Also, notice how without a unifying power to smooth things over, the wild dragons fell into civil war. No one's getting along with the Riders anymore. Things had been strained for a while, if you notice why Jarshan rebelled. So that one big effort to save all those Eldunarya and dragon eggs and hide them in Vroengard? Yeah, my Vroengard is kinda infested with something completely non-dragon.