Violets and Virulence
(Sequel to Violets and Violence)
An Inheritance fanfiction, set following Brisingr... by "MS"
Characters/Settings © Chris Paolini; Story © Author
Chapter One – Irruption
Eragon Shadeslayer was utterly exhausted to his core. The hastened flight from Du Weldenvarden to Feinster and the ensuing battle had robbed him of every shred of magic he possessed. Now was a time to rest and recuperate.
He knew, of course, that it was his duty as the last free Dragon Rider to present an image of courage and fortitude to his enemies and allies alike. But what else could he do when his reserves were spent? Pitch forward where he stood in a few days' time when the very last dregs of energy abandoned him? No, that was a fool's errand. He would rest.
Saphira, however, was not quite ready to retire. Her empty stores required more than a respite to fill; she needed sustenance, which meant a hunt. Now that Surda had in essence annexed Feinster, there was no cause to fret over her being spotted by locals; this would not prevent him from worrying over her welfare, but it lessened his concern. If all but another dragon attacked her, she would dispatch them with great ease and they would become part of her meal.
The darkness of his tent was a welcome relief from the harsh sun. Light he normally reveled in was ugly and daunting to his tired eyes. Tossing his armor wherever it might lay, he crawled to his bedroll and flung himself upon it, already sinking into the waking sleep he could not enjoy so fully as the true slumber he'd forsaken after the Agaetí Blödhren. One of many unwelcome side effects of his metamorphosis. Still, rest with a heightened sense of awareness was better than no rest at all.
An hour passed, and as he dreamed of Thorn and Glaedr doing vicious battle in the expanse over Gil'ead he began to feel the aches and weariness ebb from his bones. Perhaps his mind would find no peace, but his body was too wrung-out for it to resist.
The unthinkable happened; someone was approaching. Why, oh why? Didn't they understand how deeply he needed this? There couldn't be a single member of the Varden who had somehow escaped learning of his daring fight against the newborn Shade, Varaug – not to mention the red spilled in the streets from Galbatorix's unwilling soldiers at his hand. Any imbecile could fathom the toll such actions would take; he'd earned his half-sleep. If they expected a warm welcome, they expected too much from him, even if it were Nasuada herself.
The coppery smell of blood stung his nose as light poured in from the tent flap. His stomach clenched. Rolling to his back, he glimpsed a thin figure clad in light armor outlined by the rays, hair spiking at odd angles – and a blade, dripping quietly. The figure advanced.
In one fluid motion, Eragon drew Brisingr from its sheath where it lay nearby and raised it just in time; it clanged loudly against steel. A sharp scraping sound filled the air as the blade was pressed in, sliding along his own's length. With a grunt, he shoved and the figure was thrown backward, but did not loose its footing. Springing to standing for but a second, he lunged, but the figure dipped under the attack, angling for his chest; no, he was too weakened, his reaction would not be timely, something vital would be pierced! Could he dodge to the side to avoid a mortal wound? How could this being match his enhanced speed? Was it an elf?
The assailant grappled him, driving him to the ground; he had not been skewered after all. In two quick movements, hands were encircling both wrists; they were small and thin like the arms they grew from but strong as tempered iron. A stalemate; he could in no way angle his sword from this vantage point to strike, but as long as he was being held at bay his opponent was unable to do so, either. Then, as he began to outline a hasty spell in his mind, the head darted in toward his...
And kissed him.
"Mphg!" he cried out into the connection – what manner of perverse attack was this? Was it intended to besmirch his honor? But perhaps it hadn't been an assassination; the invader never once struck to kill. At the next slight movement against him, he felt a startling familiarity in the visceral contact, and opened his mind the barest crack to test his theory.
'Good morning, Shur'tugal.'
Only then did he use a sudden heft to roll the two of them over, pinning his would-be attacker to the ground with knees on thighs and hands on forearms. Now that their positions were reversed and his back was to the meager light from the edges of his tent-flap, he could just make out the individual he'd expected.
"Is this how you greet all your lovers? With flash of steel and forcible restraint? Very curious... but I'm not altogether sure that I dislike it."
The broad smile on Elva Shiningbrow's face betrayed no hint of remorse. Even so, it took him a round ten seconds to decide it truly was she whom he was observing.
"By Volund... what have you done?"
"Done?" she asked, blinking innocently up at him. "It appears you shall be the one perpetrating misdeeds this day, if one were to judge by our positions."
Inwardly cursing her precocious nature, Eragon stood and stalked the length of his tent before whirling on her, an admonition ready on his tongue – but he was struck dumb by the sight of her. Further change had been wrought within the young witch-child since their last meeting. Her height had possibly doubled, her shoulders and hips widened, and her face was almost beyond recognition; no longer did she bear the rounded, simplified features of youth, but vestiges remained. He could not forget that in a literal sense, she would not be a woman for another fourteen years; her aging was unnaturally accelerated by her strange, unconscious manipulation of magic. Still, it was difficult to argue with what had become of her.
"You approve?" she said in a low tone, twirling as if merely trying on a lovely new skirt she'd found at the market. "It's a betterment in some ways, and cumbersome in others. Quite a mixed blessing, this adulthood."
Her grin danced with mirth. "Didn't I declare myself capable of matching you year for year?"
As her mocking violet eyes bored into him, he shook himself and glanced at her clothing; light armor, as he'd noticed before, over tunic, breeches and heavy boots. She was fitted for battle, echoing Arya's typical accoutrements. Upon her brow she wore a bandana similar to the one her temporarily-altered form had sported during the Blood-Oath Celebration to conceal her telling silver sigil, and long black hair was tied up and out of the way, creating the spiny effect he'd glimpsed. When he again looked to her weapon, he at once identified it as the dagger he'd bade Rhunön fashion for her – and it was indeed caked with drying fluid of men.
"How... did your blade come to be so smeared with death?"
"The same way any blade does; through use." She gave it a flick and droplets spattered the ground, reducing its coating. "You were not the only dragon-marked representative of the Varden fighting this day, my Eragon."
"You, fighting? Why?"
Her eyebrows drew together. "You ask the most trifling questions. Why do you fight, hmm? Why do any of us? Why is the sky azure and the land verdant? Come now."
Finally able to suppress his shock at this reunion and her changed form, he cleared his throat and said, "Then you've found a warrior to train with? That is a relief. I had worried after giving it to you that... well, that it would do you little good if you had no knowledge of its-"
"I believe I mentioned when last we spoke that Solembum had conceded to give me a few pointers," she said, shifting her gaze from him to her dagger. She produced a handkerchief from behind her breastplate – one stained by sweat, but otherwise clean – and polished away the crimson liquid. "As you'll recall, that was some weeks ago. I'm an unparalleled master of the implement now, so says my tutor."
Then, as the gore-free weapon caught the light, he found himself startled. "That mark. In the ancient language, it's... oh, Elva, was it really necessary for you to add insult atop injury? I feel ashamed enough to be going on with, as you're aware."
"No, Eragon." Her smile became gentler, though her luminescent eyes still held that haughty smugness. "You will continue to regret what you did to me until you lay cold in your grave, and I'll not coddle you, not shrink from reminding you to take greater care with the fates of others."
"But in this case, it was not my sole reason. You gave this to me to act as interim guardian while we were apart, did you not? What other title could it bear?"
He squinted at the symbol: Skölir, or "shield". The very word he'd misused when accidentally turning her into a focus for all sorrow among the Varden had been bestowed upon her primary mode of defense. Soon thereafter he forced his eyes away.
"Why do you pout, old friend?" she asked him lightly, stalking over and rapping him on the shoulder with enough force to bruise any mortal man. "Skölir has done all you intended and more. Do not bemoan its name."
"Hmm." After another moment, still unable to look at her, he murmured, "It is... apt, I suppose. Not that it makes me any fonder."
"As you like it." Shrugging, she stepped back. "Now, tell me honestly... how do I look?"
"Many thanks," she said flatly. "I was fishing for something along the lines of 'elegant' or 'comely'. Perhaps 'buxom' might have been overly hopeful, given my slight frame, but..."
Eragon laughed ruefully as he walked over and sheathed his sword. "You haven't changed at all. Not underneath that spindly exterior."
"Spindly?" When he laughed again, she scowled at him. "Neither have you grown – particularly in maturity. Still an uncouth knurlhiem."
"And you've gained the wisdom of sages in a few brief weeks? Bah! You're still the tiny, bothersome waif with a lewd mind that I met in the northern forests."
"Really? I bested you in combat, didn't I? Is this a feat that waif could have accomplished?"
His smile faltered, and hers grew smug. She had; it was difficult for him to admit, and though he might rationalize that he had a long way to go before he was up to full fighting strength once more, the fact remained that she had deflected his attack and held him at bay, sneaking in for an intimate gesture before he could gather himself to rebuff.
"I can't believe you kissed me."
"I can't believe you let me," she tittered, sheathing her purple blade at last and striding to him, hands on hips. "Losing your touch, Argetlam?"
"Losing my tether is more accurate."
Her poisonous eyes blinked and she frowned sadly; dimly, he registered she'd wedged her mind into his and beheld his exhaustion, but he couldn't bring himself to snap at her. "Oh... but I see now, your stores of energy have been depleted most completely from today's events. I apologize, Ebrithil, I... yes, I should have been aware of your state even before I stepped brazenly into your tent. You were ill-prepared to thwart my wiles."
"As if it matters in the slightest to you."
"Of course it does," she said as she moved to the tent flap. Once there, she turned and shot a smirk over her shoulder. "What sport can be enjoyed properly when the prey doesn't have a fighting chance? We'll revisit the issue when you've recovered."
Just as she was ducking out, he barked, "Elva!"
His inner mind howled with frustration. Must she be so very impossible? "I am glad to see you, and unharmed. Now go away."
The corners of both eyes crinkled. "Away I go."
Eragon determinedly held himself in his state of rest until the hour of the evening meal arrived. Even then, he merely emerged to have a light supper of bread and cheese and a hastily-concocted mushroom stew, transferred some niggling power to the belt of Beloth the Wise, and returned to his bedroll. As long as no pressing business approached him, he knew full well that his greatest responsibility as a Dragon Rider was to be amply readied for his next battle. Anything less was unsatisfactory and reckless.
Soon after, he was aware of Saphira rejoining him and curling up next to his tent. She made no move to disturb him, merely sent him a vague emotion of bemusement and contentment before sleeping herself. He was glad to have her so nearby once more.
Nightmares besieged him during the night, drawing him down into the grip of trance. Ghastly dreams of Oromis dead, of Murtagh speaking in Galbatorix's voice... of fields of entrails at his feet and scores of Shades advancing on he and Arya, on Roran and Orik and Nasuada. Through it all, Glaedr lamented his lot in life, wailing to the heavens from inside the Eldunarí that served as home and prison for his soul. It was most taxing, and he came back to his surroundings sheathed in perspiration, gasping for breath.
The images were no more, flickering and fading behind his eyes, but still their memory haunted. It was a wretched world he inhabited where all must die around him, slain by those with a thirst for power beyond what they were worthy of wielding. He shifted to rise, to splash a few handfuls of water on his face and thereby banish the horrific scenes.
Something weighted him down. Instinctively, he raised a hand to remove the obstruction and was unsurprised to find Elva's head beneath his palm.
This again, he thought as he peered down at her. Her hair had been unpinned and fanned across her back, and her warrior's outfit had been replaced by a simple crimson dress. In the corner of the tent lay her headband and the belt supporting her sheath piled next to a pair of traveling sandals. Eragon stroked the crown of her head and listened to her contented sigh, and he smiled.
Oh, Cursed-By-Blessing... so very much and yet so very little of you has transformed.
That thought, however, forcibly brought about another: how much she had transformed outwardly. It had been sweet – if inconvenient – for her to curl up on his chest in his treetop living quarters within the borders of Ellesméra, when she was hardly tall as his knees. If such a small thing brought the tortured girl any wisp of happiness, then why deny it to her? Alas, now...
It was a plain truth that Elva was superficially older. Perhaps only a few weeks had passed since he saw her at Roran's wedding, but her body had lengthened, gained curves it once was devoid of. To be lying beside any woman in this way, no matter relationship or true age or what have you, carried very specific implications that could not be easily dismissed. What would he do if a guard came bearing news or commands? Implore them to wait outside the tent and pray that none were around when she stole away to witness their apparent indiscretion? It would not do.
"Wake now," he whispered, grasping her shoulder. "I'll not relent to your pursuits."
"Hmnh..." She shifted in place, arm tightening around his bare chest... and when he felt her own grinding into his, soft and yielding through the single layer of fabric, he could not stave off the heat flaring in his face. This would not do in the slightest!
Her head snapped up a few inches, violet eyes blinking dully. Saphira's mark shimmered upon her brow; he'd not seen it yet against her more mature features, and he noticed that it had stayed the same size even as the rest of her did not. It went a long way to reduce how unnerving such a blight was, but its presence still made the bandana necessary.
"Elva, you cannot be here," he hissed urgently. "Come, you must find your way back to your own tent before light."
"Why not?" She again lowered her cheek to his chest, kneading against him. "Oh, you feel so exquisite... when the time is right for you to take me as your wife, imagine what a fantastic encounter shall await us!"
"Relax," she laughed easily. "I'll not sully your reputation, Shadeslayer. Can we not enjoy sharing the warmth of our bodies for an hour?"
"No, I don't believe that is a wise course of action!"
Her eyes raised to peer at him, a bemused expression in place. "What on earth is the matter with you? This never seemed to bother you before." Then he felt her mind brush his, no more than testing their connection – and she drew back in shock. "O-oh!"
"I... this disconcerts you when it once did not. Highly! Goodness, my changed appearance seems to have made a greater difference than I initially suspected."
Eragon averted his eyes from her, staring intently at the upper corner of his tent. "There's a... possibility that you're correct."
Seconds passed as Elva stared down at him from a sitting position and he refused to return her gaze. He braced himself for her to pounce, to deflect a kiss or wandering hands. But when he at last felt her touch, it was upon his own hand, both of hers enclosing it.
"What have we lost?" she whispered. "You know from your own journey through my mind that... that being next to you, it was one of my deepest joys. For it to be denied to me because of so small a thing..."
He knew. He knew how desperately she missed it – and he had as well, after a fashion. It was nice to have someone to hold, independent of the circumstances. That it was no longer appropriate that they do so sickened his heart as it did for her, but to no avail; one cannot change the past.
Now her hands were trailing up his chest, and he stiffened, teeth clenched. Seemingly, she could not fight her true nature. When her lips parted, he expected to hear words of wooing, or for them to simply mash into his. Instead, she spoke haltingly.
"Will you... accept me as I am, then? If you can no longer think of us as friends, then take me as more. We could – and we have, back when... Eragon, don't you see that I'd rather rend my own gut than be kept at arm's length from my master?"
He grasped her forearms roughly and forced her back, saw her flinch when he did so. "To even fathom such a deed is... it's grotesque. You know my feelings on this. We cannot, and we shall never a second time. Do you hear?"
"Then hold me!" she pleaded. "Hold me for no other reason than I am warm, and you are cold! Only do not cast me away!"
Eragon could not believe his ears. Where had her resolve gone? Her caustic wit, her playful flirtations? "It isn't... we... Elva, we are ill-suited for anything of the kind."
"How I have missed you!" she urged, eyes narrowing as she fought back an emotional display that would have undermined her words. "Our bond is one you cannot pretend is nonexistent, Master. Would you force me out into the night when this is where I belong?"
"It is not where you belong!" He took several steadying breaths, then released her hands. "You... expect too much from me."
"I expect nothing other than for you to acknowledge the bond. Beyond that, I am resigned."
As she waited for his answer, she placed herself in the respectful kneeling position of an apprentice, fists on her knees, eyes pointed down at them. He lingered over indecision, and she held fast. Perhaps in the time they had spent apart, she had matured in some small ways other than structurally. His concerns remained about not only what rumors could spread of their spending evenings in the same bedroll, but also what might transpire between them in the night... and yet there she sat, yearning for him to embrace her, for anything he could give.
"I acknowledge our bond," he told her gently, sorrowfully. "I care for you, earnestly, and I hope you understood that to begin with. But please, Elva... it is not proper for you and I to..."
When he found he could not finish that thought without the wave of nausea breaching his defenses, he fell silent. One minute stretched on as if it were a myriad. Then, in slow and deliberate movements, Elva went to her things and outfitted herself to depart. Immediately following when she had pulled tight the straps on her second sandal, she returned to his side and placed a hand on either side of his jaw.
"I'll not give up," she promised him soberly, twin orbs of disquieting radiance piercing through him. "You've won this battle, but a long and bloody war lies ahead of you, Shadeslayer – and I am not referring to the Varden or that pest Galbatorix."
"Waíse hljödhr, little one!" he begged of her, teeth clenching. "Must you go on so?"
"Aye. I shall not be waylaid by your reticence." Then she stood, her back turned to him, and said in a sharp voice, "I warned you not to forget where my heart lies. Upsetting yourself because you disregarded my words... that is upon your head, not mine."
The lithe adolescent that was now Elva swept from the tent in two quick strides, and Eragon found himself alone to agonize over his plight.
To Be Continued
NOTE TIME: So maybe this will make some people happy, maybe it'll piss people off instead... but either way, I decided I wasn't through with Elva yet! A lot of you asked for a sequel and I couldn't get the ideas out of my head - especially after I finished Brisingr. Ready to see Shiningbrow turn into a force of nature? This one's going to be longer by a few chapters so I hope you've got the stomach for some rocketshippy Inheritance goodness!