Eragon roared hoarsely as Saphira dove into the thick of the battle once more, trying once more to break the lines of Empire soldiers in front of the wall. The sharp scent of charred flesh (cooking in the armor that was supposed to protect them), combined with the roar of leaping flames and the drumbeat of war, bore into his skull like a chisel. The soldiers made a wall of red, the Painless Ones poised before their city of Belatona and refusing to give up.

The Varden was losing hope with each passing moment, each passing minute of exhaustion and death without any movement to show for it. Nasuada had taken an arrow in the arm and had pulled out for medical aid, leaving Eragon to muster the heartless army.

It was like moving a mountain, or as Orik would say, chipping away an entire tree in _. Eragon was weary and the battle was still young; the elves were too far away for reinforcements; his only consolation was that Murtagh had not appeared. The Varden crawled forward and then ran back, gaining and losing ground, each time leaving behind scores of their brethren.

I swear, I shall be the ram if we cannot push through! Burn through! Saphira snarled, sending another tongue of fire amid the Empire ranks. The charred faces of the soldiers continued fighting until their necks were nothing but black stumps.

Fly over so we can see what's behind the gate. Eragon told her. We don't want your face to look like a porcupine.

She snorted and pulled around, coasting on a warm current as they circled around the city. Screaming civilians clogged the roads as they hurried toward the keep, many looking to the sky as the Dragon Rider passed over them. Saphira torched the soldiers on the wall as they passed by, setting their trebuchets and other devices of war aflame in her anger.

Her emotions spilled into Eragon like water crashing over a fall, giving him a new burst of adrenaline. Oromis and Glaedr's deaths would never be in vain- that alone gave them strength and purpose in the fight.

On count of three. Saphira began, hanging in the sky for effect. One.

Eragon began laying a shield spell over Saphira's face, to take the impact of the collision and to catch any weapons thrown at her.


She turned her head, tilted her wings, and the next moment, they were falling, falling, falling, the wail of the wind being the only thing Eragon could hear. Even his giddy laughter from the adrenaline was lost in the rush, and the next moment, just as he opened his eyes-


A mighty shudder ran through the walls of Belatona, the sound of scales, magic, and steel on the heavy doors echoing even though the noise of the battle. The Varden, for the first time, had hope, and a thundering chorus of their cheers renewed Eragon's energy.

But something was wrong.

He felt it first on his feet, like he was walking through mud. Saphira took to the sky even as her tail felt heavier, but the air seemed thick and sticky, pushing them back down.

Eragon remembered the first lesson he had from Oromis in magic- his folly of saying 'Release my calves!". The ancient language tumbled from his mouth as the spell to free them of the invisible muck took hold, but did nothing. He felt his energy rapidly draining away as Saphira torched all of the pathetic round-eared, two-leggeds within range. With a heaving gasp he cut off the magic, suddenly noticing how fuzzy his brain was. Wildly struggling to remember the ancient language, he screamed for Saphira to fly, and took hope as she spread her wings and thrust off of the bloody, charred ground.

They collided into an invisible wall, like a steel bowl had been placed over of the courtyard. Eragon could see Varden soldiers pouring into the city, but all bounced off of the force, unable to get in. The unfortunate soldiers who had been in the bowl were dead and little more than black piles of ash, while their companions were forced against the cold wall.

The twelve elves, lead by Blodgarm, failed to tear down the wall. Trianna and her hoard of magicians never got past the mass of soldiers. And as the minutes passed, darkness creeping across the landscape and turning the lake into an inky, unsettled mass, Eragon lost all memory of the ancient language, sure that the thick vapors within the shell were poisoned. Saphira thrashed and attacked the shell at every angle, but the mass had no breaks, no weakness that either could see.

"Find the magicians!" Eragon screamed through the bowl.

Blodgarm and the elves were gone the next moment, seeing that Eragon did not need any protection, but one, the thirteenth, hesitated, standing out like the moon in the black sky.

Arya, bloodied and bruised, put her hand on the wall and smiled ever so slightly, transfixing Eragon with that simple gesture. The battle raged all around her, but none dared to attack her, and Eragon had lost all notice of the intensity around them. He only saw her face, particularly the bottomless orbs making contact with his. Her green eyes bored into him like she was trying to say something without words, but he did not understand. Rather, Saphira nearly flattened him with a swipe of her tail.

But Eragon's eyes were fluttering shut; it was just so thick... it would be so nice to sleep... just for a little while...

Saphira found herself losing sight of the battle, forgetting why she was there... why there was so much death... why there was so much blood, and so many two-leggeds...

They collapsed simultaneously, trapped in the shell, without any recollection of reality.